SEVENTY-FOUR, 2.0

Patrick stared straight ahead as the medic wiped the blood from the side of his face. The blanket they’d given him was heavy across his shoulders, but warm and oddly comforting, unlike the Dixie cup-sized coffee he sipped.

Across the alley were the overturned apple boxes, the fallen garbage can, and Patrick could just see the feet of the dead thief behind the maroon Olds that was still idling. Blood was pooling down towards the feet, from the gunshot that tore the man’s ear off when his head was next to Patrick’s. While he’d also been holding the gun to Patrick’s head.

He shook loose the memory, the snap of the bullet and the crunch of bone, and looked again at the yellow apple box, concentrating on the “So A-Peeling” tagline. The view was more comforting than anything else currently in the alley. A voice started to come in through the tunnel of Patrick’s vision, and he looked up to the uniformed cop, Officer Strapp. Blue and red flashing lights flickered across Strapp’s sunglasses. It wasn’t even sunny out, Patrick almost asked why he bothered to wear them.

“…tell us again what happened. Step-by-step.”

“Right now, we gotta do this?”

“I’m sorry, but while it’s fresh.”

Patrick diverted his gaze for a moment, to the end of the alley, where four cops were standing over the body of the other Thief, the one with the red jacket. “That one, down there, he comes into the shop about three o’clock. I remember that, because I was just eating my sandwich and I eat at three every day.

“He starts swearing at me, for no reason, and plunks down a gun on the counter. Nothing new, people selling their guns, and he just left it there while he walked around the shop. I pick it up, evaluate the thing, tell him ‘forty bucks.’ Gun was a real piece of shit, you understand. But it worked, I could see that, and I’d be able to sell it for three times as much, at least.

“He, the man in red, just nods, asked about a bathroom. I don’t have a bathroom, and I tell him this. He’s not having it, but as he’s getting irate I get a knock on the counter. By this time, see, I’m still staring at the man in red. Somethin’ don’t sit right.

“I turn at the counter, and there’s…that one.” Patrick nodded towards the feet behind the Olds. “Wearing his mask.”

Almost on cue, the Olds moved away, a cop behind the wheel. The Thief, long hair matted in blood, was indeed still wearing a mask, or what was left of it. Half blown off, the mask was shaped like a deformed Ogre’s face. The other half of the man’s head was a red-grey bubble of goo.

“He, the masked man, said something I couldn’t quite hear. So I ask him to repeat it, and instead he pulls me over the counter, by my collar here. You can see the mark it left, burned like a motherfucker. He shoves me towards the back, and the man in red catches me. I punch him, he punches me, then the masked dude tells me to stop, has his shotgun set on me.

“Next thing I know, man in red is pulling all my cash from the drawer, and from my safe, too. Puts it all in a bag that’s already half full of money, and that’s when I hear the sirens. You fellas, driving past at the speed of sound, or what felt like it. I guess heading to the bank?

“That masked guy, I saw blood dropping from his arm, maybe the security guards got a shot off at the bank?”

Strapp shrugged. “Still looking into it.”

“Kinda odd, though, these thieves robbing my shop after taking down a bank?”

“Creatures of habit, I suppose. So the Olds, this your car?”

“Yeah, I park it back here, I have the spot, it’s legal.” Patrick watched cops and EMTs drape a sheet over the body of the masked man, bring over the body bag. Some of the cops kick boxes out of the way, one gets on his knees and shoves the yellow “A-Peeling box” further to the side, then sits on it.

“Anything else?” Strapp is giving Patrick a look that says ‘continue, let’s get this over with’.

“They push me out back, this alley. Red jacket got greedy, took the money and run up the alley. Guess they had a falling out, almost punched the hell out of each other back here. I started the car, like the masked guy said to, and when he was about to climb in, you all started shooting. Thanks for that, I guess.”

Strapp nodded, said, “And the money?”

“What?” Patrick felt more blood trickle down his temple. He wiped at it with his finger.

“What happened to the bag of money?”

“The hell should I know? I was too busy dodging bullets.”

Strapp nodded again, then listened to a call on his radio. Patrick looked again across the alley, then down at his fingers — no blood, just sweat. He sipped the rest of the dregs of coffee from the Dixie cup.

The cops worked around him for another hour. They wanted him down to the station, but he convinced them to give him a day to recover, to feel better and think clearly.

After the sun set, Patrick picked up the yellow “A-Peeling” box. The bag of money sat underneath, half covered with blood.  He walked out of the alley with the bag over his shoulder, and never worked another day in his life.

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