My Black Thursday

 

 

5:40 PM Thanksgiving Day.

 

 I’m hating my life right about now.  Not enough to do anything crazy or rash, just an unpleasant sensation that I’ve lost control of part of my life and now I’m paying the consequences.

 

 “Joe,”  The walkie talkie on my hip crackles to life.  It’s Norm, one of the other security guards.

 

 “Go ahead Norm,” I respond.

 

 “Joe, the Loss Prevention guy wants one of us to go and check the front of the store.  He says it looks like somebody cut the line and people are getting agitated.”

 

 I can picture Tony, the stores loss prevention specialist, sitting in his darkened office with a cup of coffee and a protein bar, or banana or something else in his other hand and want to tell Norm to tell Tony to do it himself, but that’s why we’re here.  “I got it Norm,”  I say.

 

 Norm is seventy four years old, when he was sixty he took a buyout from the windshield wiper factory.  What they didn’t explain to him was that he’d better have a plan for when the money ran out.  I guess it wouldn’t matter anyway, they make their wipers in Mexico.  He’s been a security guard for eight years now.   He can’t retire because his wife is sick and he needs the insurance.

He’s not one to shirk, but this morning he’s not looking too good so I don’t mind picking up the slack.

 

 “Have you seen Kyle?”  Norm asks over the radio.

 

 ‘Negative, I don’t think he’s here yet.”

 

 The head cashier lets me out one of the service doors and I make my way to the front of  the store.  We had a light dusting of snow this morning but now a fine mist is falling and the tires hiss on the dark asphalt as the cars stream into the lot.  They’re the late comers, there is already a line of a couple of hundred people waiting for six PM and the doors to slide open.  What was once a quaint tradition has become a feeding frenzy of consumerism.  About fifty yards down the line I spot a man standing about ten feet apart from the others staring at me.  I head his way.

 

 “C’mon open the door!”  somebody says as I pass by.  I’ve got no answer to that so I keep going.  I walk up to the man standing by himself, stopping about ten feet away.  He’s about fifty years old and he’s wearing an old dirty parka.  He’s still looking straight ahead.  I’m standing directly in front of him but it’s like he’s looking through me.

 

 I look at the people in line.  A few of them are looking back at me, one or two of them doing so out of the corner of their eye.  No one says a word.  I look back at the man in the parka.

 

 “You’re going to have to get in line sir.”  I say to him.

 

 “I was in line,”  he says through barely parted lips, so quietly I barely hear him.

 

 I look back at the line.  There is a tall guy in line in a ski jacket.  For the first time I notice that he has a kid with him, a little boy of around five or six.  It’s the lady behind him that catches my eye though.  She’s looks from the older man in the parka to the tall guy in front of her and nods.

Part of me doesn’t want to get involved but I am aggravated already and  don’t feel like letting the inmates take over just yet.

 

 “Sir, I need you to let this man back in line.”

 

 The guy in the ski jacket makes a face but doesn’t look at me.  I glance down at his kid who is looking up at me blankly, the kid looks exhausted.  Ski jacket finally speaks, “he stepped on my kids foot…” he says derisively, “And he stinks.”

 

 I let out a breath and say, “Look, we open in about five minutes, just give yourselves a little room and you’ll be inside soon.”

 

 The people in front of the younger guy oblige by stepping forward allowing the man in the parka to reluctantly take his place back in the line.  I take one last look, hoping that this is over and then turn to go back inside.  It’s cold and damp out, at least one reason why these people are miserable.  As I walk away I hear the guy in the ski jacket, “Fuckin’ Rent-A-Cop.”  I keep walking.  This is not where I thought I would be at thirty eight years old.

 

 After my dad’s construction business shut down, (the old man had a bad habit of not paying his taxes, at all, ever)  I’ve been trying to make it on my own.  It’s hasn’t been easy,  most of his equipment was seized and I’ve been dealing with  less than positive name recognition hustling, trying to get work.  I can’t afford to employ anyone yet so I can only bid on small jobs and I seem to spend more time bidding jobs than actually doing them.  I have two kids to support from my ex wife, Kathy, so here I am, picking up as many hours as I can as a store security guard at the local Super Center.

 

 Six PM, showtime.  Kyle, the twenty-something member of our crack security team, is still a no-show.  Punctuality has never been his strong suit.  Tony, the loss prevention guy, crooks a finger at me and Norm and we head to the front entrance.  As soon as they see us the people outside start to push against the sliding glass doors.  

 

 “Back Up!”  I yell with no effect.  I stick the key in and turn it.  The people pressing on the door are actually preventing it from opening so I grab the left side and pull it.  The door gives way and they rush in with me just stepping out of the way.

 

 I look over to the other door and Norm isn’t so lucky.  He’s trying to get the door open and pull his keys out at the same time and it opens just wide enough for two people to squeeze through and knock him  sideways.  I step over and grab him before he goes down.  

 

"You Okay?"  I ask Norm.  I notice Tony is nowhere to be seen.

 

"Yeah, thanks kid," he says.  He looks at the people swarming in and adds, "Merry Christmas, you Goddamned animals."  

 

 I find the slightest of gaps in the rushing horde and pull Norm out of the vestibule into the store.

 

 “Where’s the other one?”  Frank, the portly store manager, is standing right in front of us.  His looks pissed off, which isn’t unusual, but his face his red so it’s worse than normal.  

 

 “Who?”  Norm asks.

 

 “The other guard, Lyle.”  Frank says.

 

 “Kyle?”  I correct him.

 

 He glares at me and says, “Where is Kyle?”

 

 “He’s not here,”  Norm offers.

 

 Frank turns even redder and says, “Well, call him and tell him if he’s not here in fifteen minutes not to bother coming in.”  He turns around and heads back in the direction of the customer service counter, which is already three deep with customers waiting to be helped.

 

 “Do you have his number?”  Norm askes me.

 

 “Nope.”

 

 “Me neither, not that it’s our job to call the little shit anyway.”

 

 “Attention associates,”  A voice comes over the PA system.  There is something about the tone of the disembodied voice that tells me I won’t like what’s coming next.  “Code twenty five in electronics.”

 

 Norm looks at me puzzled.  “I’ll go check it out,”  I tell him.  “You should probably keep an eye on things up here.”  There are already lines forming at the registers.

 

 I make my way to the rear of the store and the electronics department.  There is a ring of people around the aisle in front of their cash register and I shoulder my way through it.  I see one of the store’s seasonal employees, Millie, with a cordless store phone in her hand.  She’s the one who called the code 25 or “Report in person” over the PA.  I follow her line of sight and see the two ladies on the floor next to a display for the Play Box Generation 4.  One of women is in her thirties, she is plump and wearing pajama bottoms and a Grumpy sweatshirt. (Grumpy the Dwarf, that is.)  She had a tall woman in her fifties in a headlock and they are grunting and cursing.

 

 Millie looks flustered.  She was placed here by a temp agency and I’m sure this isn’t what she’s used to.  She seems like a sweet old lady.  Frank and Tony asked us to keep an eye on here because there was a rumor that she had some kind of record.  She looks at me, pleading with her eyes.  I nod and go towards the women on the floor.

 

 “Ladies!”  I yell with no effect.  I put my hand on the younger woman’s shoulder and give her a good nudge.  “Let her go!” I yell.  They finally separate.  I notice that the younger woman has the older woman’s wig in her hand.  I get between them as they pull themselves to their feet.  It takes the younger one considerable effort, given her weight and the exertion it took to wrestle the other woman to the floor.

 

 “What’s the problem?”  I ask even though I really don’t want to know.

 

 “She stole a game system out of my cart!”  The younger woman hisses.

 

 “She had three!  The limit’s two!”  The older lady replies.  

 

 “Bitch!”  The younger woman howls.  She goes to throw the wig at her adversary but it hits me square in the face.  It smells like sweat and cigarettes.  I glare at the younger woman but she is undaunted.   She is still staring at the other woman but then she whirls around and looks at an empty cart.  “Now they’re gone!”    While they were rolling around on the floor, some other alert shopper must have emptied her cart.  As a matter of fact, there isn’t a single unit left on the display either.  “Goddamnit!” She yells turning back to me.  She looks over my shoulder and makes a move towards the other woman.  “Look what you did!”

 

 I block her way and the other woman realizing she was safe for the moment decides to help out with; “Fuck you, fat ass.”

 

 The younger woman stops when her shoulder runs into my outstretched hand.  She’s almost a foot shorter so she steps back, looks up at me and says, “Don’t touch me!”  She goes to slap me but I block it.  It is taking every last bit of self control not to punch this troll in the face.

 

 “I’m going to sue this place!”  She says.  “I’m going to call the cops and tell them what you did to me!”  

 

 After the frustration and the anger and the despair that I have felt so far I have an unexpected reaction.  I actually laugh out loud.  For some reason this shuts her up.  “Have your attorneys call mine,”  I say.

 

 That didn’t help.  She is breathing heavy and a glob of spittle is forming at the corner of her mouth.  “I want to talk to the manager!”  She demands.

 

 Most of the spectators have dispersed now that the fight is obviously over.  Even the woman with the wig has disappeared into the store to resume her holiday shopping.  I nod my head and motion to MIllie to hand me the store phone.  I punch in the number for the PA system and say in a saccharine tone,  “Frank, please come to electronics for customer service.  Frank to electronics.”  I hand the phone back to Millie and tell her,”  Why don’t you go somewhere else.  I’ll wait for Frank with our guest here.”   Millie looks grateful and nods.  She turns and heads off down an aisle.”

 

 “You think this is funny?”  I turn and see the troll has started up again.  “I’m going to have your job.”

 

 I’m just about to tell her she can have it when my radio comes on.  “Joe!”  It’s Norm and he sounds frantic.

 

 “Go ahead Norm.”

 

 “You better get up here.”

 

 “What is it Norm?”  I ask.

 

 I hear the beep of him keying his radio then nothing.  “Norm?”  I prod.

 

Finally he says,  “A guy in a work jacket just parked his car right in front of the entrance and walked in with a guy in a Santa suit.”

 

 Now what?  “What’re they doing.”

 

 “Uh...Santa’s getting up on the customer service counter.”

 

 “Hey!”  I hear the lady say as I head back to the front of the store.

 

 Sure enough there is a man in a Santa suit standing on the customer service counter with a red velvet bag.  Even the most jaded of shopper seem to think this is unusual enough to stop what they're doing and take notice.  I’ve got to admit, it’s a good suit, not some cheap sack cloth knock off.  The beard looks convincing too.  If this is a prank it’s an elaborate one.  I’m about twenty feet away when he starts to speak.

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” he starts as he reaches into his bag.  “I need your undivided attention.”

He pulls out a small black box with a button and an antenna on it.  The crowd even though curious, seems to be getting restless, wanting to get on with their conquests.  “Hey! “  He yells.  “Shut the fuck up!”  The crowd quiets for a moment and then he holds up the box and pushes the button.  A blue light comes on near the antenna.  “That’s better,”  he says.  “Just to make sure I have your rapt attention, I should tell you now that all of the exits have been booby trapped with C-4.  They will stay that way until I am finished.”

 

 A loud murmur breaks out and then Santa pulls out a gun.  Chaos ensues.  People who can, duck behind registers and down aisles.  The two ladies working at the customer service desk hug each other as they shrink to the far end of the counter.  I see Norm,  he is about five feet away from Santa but he hasn’t moved.  It gets worse.  Santa unzips his jacket and he has what looks like more explosives taped to his torso.  The only other person who didn’t duck for cover is a guy about ten feet away from me with long hair and a beard wearing a dirty Carhartt jacket.

 

 “EVERYBODY STAY WHERE YOU ARE!”   Santa bellows. The store falls quiet with the exception of a few people literally crawling away.  There are still a couple of dozen people in the vicinity of the front of the store, immobilized by fear or something else.

 

 “That’s better!”  Santa goes on.  “I need to go over my naughty list.”  He looks down at Norm, who seems frozen.  “You sir!  Who’s in charge if this establishment?”

 

 Norm says something that I can’t make out and then Santa asks, “And where is this Frank?”

 

 This is like a dream, not a good one but one of those surreal ones that doesn’t make sense but scares the crap out of you just the same.  Santa looks up and says in a sing song voice, “Oh Fra-ank.  come out and see Santa!”

 

 Nobody moves.  I look around and Frank is nowhere to be seen.  I make eye contact with the guy in the Carhartt and he nods at me.  I hesitate because this seems so odd.  This guy is as calm as can be considering the guy in the Santa suit he came in with looks like he is going to blow the store up.  

 

 “Fraaaa-aaaank,”  Santa sings out again.  As slowly as possible I sidle over to the other man, the one in the work jacket.

 

 “What’s your friends name?”  I ask in a low voice, nodding towards the guy in the Santa suit.

 

 The man glances at me and says, “No idea.  We just met about a half hour ago.”

  “And you brought him here?”  I ask through clenched teeth.

 

 “This is where he wanted to be,”  The man says.  “He seemed troubled.”

 

 “No shit,” I reply.

 

 Santa looks at Norm and says,  “What’s your name sir?”

 

 To Norm’s credit, he seems as calm as can be.  “Norm.  Norm Wheeler.”

 

 Santa looks over his shoulder at the two women behind customer service counter .  “Would one of you nice ladies be so kind as to put me on the store’s public address system?”

 

 Charlene, the older of the two women, takes a store phone out of her vest pocket and tentatively steps forward and hands it to him.  She slowly backs away without taking her eyes off of him.

 

 “How does it work?”  Santa asks, peering at the phone.

 

“Press star, sixty two and then the pound sign.”  Norm offers.

 

 “Thank you Norman,” Santa says cheerfully.  It takes him a couple of tries and then there is a piercing bolt of feedback.   Santa winces but then puts the phone up to his mouth.  “Hello?”  His voice booms over the store.  “Good.  Now I hope no one is being naughty and is thinking about going through one of the emergency exits.  If you do, you’ll be the lump of coal this Christmas.”  He stops as if to appreciate the joke and then goes on.  “Oh yes, and Manager Frank I’m still waiting.”  He raises the gun and points it at Norm.  I can feel the sweat start to run down my back.  “I don’t want to hurt Norman, he seems like such a nice man, but if you’re not here in ten seconds...well…”

 

 This isn’t a dream, there’s no waking up from this.  This is real.  I know Frank won’t be coming and I can’t watch this psycho go through a countdown and then shoot Norm.

 

 “Wait…”  I yell.  I put my hands up and get his attention.

 

 Santa looks at me and raises his eyebrows.  He studies me for a moment longer and then asks me,  “And what is your name, young man?”

 

 “Joe,  Joe Cercone.”  He doesn’t respond and we stand for a moment looking at each other.

“Frank isn’t in yet.”  It’s all I can think of.

 

 “Ho ho, oh Joseph, it isn’t good to lie to Santa!”

 

 He’s looking at me like he sees right through me and knows I’m lying.  I guess it’s time to drop the pretense.  “What is it you want?”  I ask him.

 

 He’s stopped pointing the gun at Norm, which is good, but it’s almost pointed at me.  “I want to speak to the man responsible…”  he waves the phone in a broad circle indicating the store, “for this.”

 

 I look at the guy in the work jacket.  “Can you help me out here?”  I ask him.

 

 He shrugs and says,  “I’ve already done what I can.  I’ve asked him not to hurt anybody.  He just want’s to be heard.”

 

 “Heard about what?”

 

 “This orgy of consumerism!”  Santa cuts in.  “Look at this place!  This is supposed to be the start of the holiday season.  It’s Thanksgiving day for God’s sake!  You people should be home with your families, not stampeding each other to buy a bunch of crap!”

 

 I think about this afternoon.  My ex inlaws were nice enough to invite me to dinner but I had to cut out early to come to work.  I had just about made the door when Hayley, my six year old daughter caught up to me at the door.

 

 “Do you have to go to work Daddy?”

 

 I scoop her up and we touch noses.  “Yeah, peach.  I do.”

 

 I think the separation has been hardest on Hayley.  Jack is only three so he’s pretty adaptable.  When the family business dissolved I didn’t take it too well and every conversation I had with Kathy seemed to turn into a fight.  

 

 I come back to the present and look back up at Santa. “I don’t know,” I say to him.  “I don’t think Frank could help you even if he was here.”

 

 “Well...Who can?”  He replies.

 

 “Can I have the phone?” I say, gesturing to the cordless store phone in his hand.

 

 He looks at the phone and then at me.  He raises the gun slightly and then holds out the phone.  I’m frozen, for a split second I thought he was going to shoot me.   Then I realize  he wants to give me the phone as long as I don’t try to do anything heroic.  That’s the last thing in my mind at ten bucks an hour.  I slowly reach up and take the phone.  I take a step back, and satisfied that he isn’t pointing the gun at me any longer, I punch in 201, the number for the store managers  phone.  It rings five times, the seconds drag.  I’m about to give up when Frank answers.

 “What?”  is all he says as a greeting.

 

 “Oh, hi Frank.  How are you?”  I ask.

 

 “Jesus Joe.  What is it?”

 

 “Santa would like a word with the man charge.”

 

 Nothing at first but I can hear him breathing.  Then he says,  “Not going to happen.”

 

 Of course not, I didn’t think it was.  “Where are you anyways Frank?”  I ask.

 

 “In the count room, per protocol.”  The count room is the most secure room in the store.   It’s where all the money is counted and then banded up for deposit.

 

 “Protocol?  What protocol?”

 

 He grunts and then says, “Active shooter protocol.”

“Must not have got that memo,” I say.  

 

 “Where is he?”  Santa asks.  I look up and in his non gun hand he has another box with a button on it.  This one is wired onto the explosives on his body.

 

 “Frank?”  I say into the phone, holding a finger up to Santa.  “Are you seeing this?”  I know there are surveillance cameras in the count room and I’m assuming Frank and Tony have been watching the whole thing.  Tony probably with his ever present coffee cup.

 

 “Just hold on Joe,”  Frank replies.  The police are on the way and the corporate office has been notified.”  Then he adds, “You’re doing great.”  That’s all the bull shit I can listen to for now.  I push the “end” button on the phone and disconnect the call.

 

 I turn to the guy in the work jacket.   “Anything you want to throw in here?”  I ask him.

 

He just shrugs and says, “He would have done this with me or without me.  He said he had some things that needed to be heard and that if I went with him he wouldn’t hurt anybody.”

 

 I look at the guy.  I can’t figure him out.  He doesn’t know the guy in the Santa suit from Adam but here he is, helping him do whatever it is he thinks he’s doing.

 

 “I should have known!”  Santa gets our attention back.  “The perpetrators of this…”  Again he gestures around the store, “...abomination, haven’t got the nerve to show themselves.  No, they just sit back and have their minimum wage minions collect the filthy lucre from a bunch of Godless, soulless all-consuming zombies.”  He shakes his head and looks right at me.  “How old are you son?”  

 

 “Thirty eight.”

 

 “Do you remember the holidays when you were young.?”

 

 I think for a second and then shrug.  “Um, yeah.”

 

 “You can’t tell me that this is better!”  He turns to Gladys, the lady who handed him the phone.  “What about you Ma’am,  Isn’t there someplace else you’d rather be?”

 

 She nods and says, “With my grandchildren.”

 

 I think about the holidays briefly from when I was a kid.  It was one of the few times that we could count on seeing my dad for an extended period of time.  The rest of the year he would be out for hours hustling up business or God knows what else.  Mom said that it was because he loved us so much that he worked so hard.

 

 “Norman!”  Santa says, turning to Norm.  “What about you?  Where’s your family today.”

 

 “Um, my kids are kind of scattered around and...”  he hesitates.  “my wife, she passed away last month.”

 

 Everyones face falls, including mine.  I see Norm maybe once or twice a week, usually in passing, but I had no idea.

 

 “Sorry to hear that,” Santa says somberly.  “Still, this is not the place for you to be.”

 

 We all stand around for a moment.  Santa is just looking around the store like he’s  thinking of something.

 

 “Look,”  I say stepping forward.  “I couldn’t agree with you more.  I’m sure everybody here agrees with you.”  I look around for support and Gladys and Norm are nodding.  “I’ve got two kids of my own that I’d really like to see tomorrow.”   I’ve got Santa’s undivided attention now.  He’s looking right at me and sucking on his lower lip.  “There has to be a better way to go about this though.  Don’t you think?  I agree the people we work for are assholes but it’s a job, you know?   Granted they’re not making anymore money by opening  today than if they waited, they’re just spreading it out.  I get what your saying,  I do.  But do you really want to hurt anybody?”

 

 Santa frowns and the looks down his nose at me, considering what I said.  Then he laughs, the packs strapped to his body shake with his laughter.  He pulls himself together and then says, “No, Joe, you’re right.  Hell this isn’t a real bomb anyway.  It’s just  a bunch of boxes wrapped in white plastic.”  He raises the gun and smiles broadly.  “I just wanted to get their attention, that’s all.  This isn’t even loaded.”

 

 I hear a loud pop from somewhere off in the store.  There is a thud and then a pink mist erupts out of the top of Santa’s head, taking his red and white cap with it.  He topples over backward behind the customer service desk.  An instant later the few people left at the front of the store are screaming and running for the back of the store.  I look and see Norm, he’s on the floor buried underneath a fallen gift card display.  I get down on my hands and knees and crawl over to him.  I don’t see any blood but he’s not moving.

 

 “Norm!”  I yell.  I grab his shoulder and roll him onto his back.  He looks up at me and his eyes come into focus.

 “Jesus Christ!”  He says.  “I thought I was back in the Marine Corp.”  He looks wide eyed over my shoulder and I turn to see two cops, dressed head to  toe in black with assault rifles.  After a moment one of them says.  “Are either of you hit?”

 

 We shake our heads and they help us to our feet.

 

 An hour later we are still answering questions and giving statements.  Santa was rushed out of the store but he wasn't looking too good.  There was a lot of blood behind the customer service desk.  It was weird, but when they took him out on the gurney he looked smaller, his suit looked dirty and the beard  not so snow white.    The guy in work jacket was no where to be found.  The car they came in was gone too.  They were having a problem with the playback on the video surveillance system so they had no Idea where he or the car went.  He had apparently just blended into the crowd of shoppers who couldn’t wait to get out of there and move on to the next  store and try to make up for lost time.

 

 Finally Frank and Tony emerge from their hidey hole.  They’ve given their statements and I guess now they’ve come down to assess the damage with their own eyes.  Frank is on his cellphone and he looks like he just ate some tainted clams.  “Yes…” he says into the phone.  Who ever he’s speaking to must be doing most of the talking so I’m assuming it’s Richard, the district manager and Frank’s direct supervisor.  “I don’t know…” Frank squeezes in.  “Hang on, I’ll check.”  He puts the phone against his chest and then says to one of the cops,  “Excuse me, Lieutenant?”

 

 The cop looks up from the clipboard in his hand.  “Yes?”  He says.

 

 “Do you know how much longer you’ll be?”  From the look on his face I can tell Frank can't even believe he had to ask this.

 

 “Excuse me?”  The Lieutenant asks incredulously.

 

 “It’s just that…”  Before Frank can finish the thought Norm walks up to him and says, “Fucking weasel.”  And before frank can react Norm grabs his phone and puts it up to his mouth.  “Hello Richard?   Norm  Wheeler...yes that’s right...security,yes sir.”  Norm pauses and is listening.  “I don’t think we’ll be doing that sir.... as a matter of fact, why don’t you go fuck yourself.”

 

 Tony, the loss prevention manager, goes to grab for the phone but Norm spins to block him and Tony pushes him into a line of carts.  I grab Tony and turn him around.  He’s got that annoying sneer on his face until I punch him in the eye and drop him.

 

^^^

 Two hours later I’m sitting in the holding tank at the county jail, waiting to be processed.  Tony went ballistic when he came to his senses after I hit him.  He’s bigger than I am so I thought it was going to be on for a second.  Instead he just sputtered about how he’d been assaulted right in front of the cops and they were just standing around looking at us.  Reluctantly they brought me in.  

 

 I’m tired all of a sudden.  I close my eyes for a minute and try to make sense of what happened.

 

 “I’m sorry it had to happen that way.”  A voice brings me back around.  I open my eyes and look around the cell. There in the corner is the guy with the work jacket and the long hair and beard, Santa’s wheel man.

 

 “So they caught up with you huh?”  I ask him.  It’s weird that I didn’t notice him when I came in.

 

 “You could say that,”  the guy says.

 

 I shake my head.  “I guess I just don’t understand what he thought it was going to accomplish.”

 

 The guy just shrugs.  “I guess it was something he just felt he needed to do.”

 

“That’s crazy!” I say, frustrated at his quasi-zen-master bullshit.  “He had to know it wasn’t going to end well.”

 

 “Easy brother,”  the guy says holding up his hands.   “I tried to tell him that, but he said he didn’t have enough time.

 

 The kid on the bench next to me leans forward and throws up.  I stand up and make sure I don’t step in his sick.  “God damnit!” I let out.  I prop the kid up and his eyes roll around for a minute and then slowly come into focus.  
 

 “Dad?”  He asks

 

 “No, kid.  I’m not your dad.”

 

 “Cool,”  he says and closes his eyes.

 

 “His name was Bernie.”  I turn around.  The guy in the work jacket is talking to me.

 

 “I thought you didn’t know him,”  I say.

 

 “Not intimately, but I learned a little bit about him.  He was a widower.  Last month he was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's.  He’s had that Santa suit for years.  He and his wife never had kids of their own but he used to love to put that suit on around Christmas and go to schools and hospitals and watch the kids faces just light up.”

 

 “So he was going to do what?”  I ask.  “Suicide by cop?”

 

 “I don’t think that was his intention,” the guy says shaking his head slowly.  “I think he wanted to remind people that the meaning of the holiday was getting lost in all this commercialism and materialism.”  He pauses and stretches out his legs.  “I guess you could say though that it’s not just the holidays.”

 

  “What do you mean?”

 

 “Think about it Joe.  Don’t we all have a tendency to forget what’s really important from time to time?”

 

 “Joseph Cercone!”  A voice booms out from outside the cell.  It’s followed by the sound of a buzzer and the door sliding open.  There’s a large guard there, crooking his finger at me.

 

 “Yeah?”  I ask.  I’m confused.  One of the cops who brought me in told me that I might not see a judge for a bail hearing until Monday morning, seeing that it was a holiday and all.  

 

 The guard looks like he could pull my head off but then he smiles and says, “C’mon, you’re out.”

 

 I grab my jacket and sidestep the puddle of puke.  The jailor sees it and says, “God damnit!”  And calls for a janitor to come to the ward on his radio.  Then he says to me, “They’re not going to press charges.”

 

 “What?”

 

 “Yeah, it’s all over the news about how you and the other guy stalled  the gunman until the cops arrived.  I guess the company doesn't  think their hero should spend the weekend in jail.”

 

 I don’t feel like a hero.  I look back over my shoulder into the holding cell but it looks like the guy in the work jacket has gone to sleep with his hood pulled up.  

 

 God damned crazie Bernie and his Santa suit.  I’m still not sure what good he thought it would do.  Did anybody at the store even listen to what he said?  I doubt it.

 

 They bring me through a set of doors and I sign for my valuables.  Then it’s through another set of doors and I’m in the lobby.  I realize I don’t have cab fare to make it home from downtown and I’m wondering who I could possibly call when somebody pulls on my sleeve.

 

 “Are you okay?”  It’s Kathy, my ex.  She looks tired but genuinely glad to see me.  For some reason this makes me extremely happy.  Suddenly all the little things we used to fight  about seem unimportant.

 

 “C’mon,” she says after I tell her I’m okay.  “The kids are at my parents.  I told Hayley she could wait up for you.”


© 2014 David Coleman.