It’s four in the morning and I’m sitting in the 24 hour restaurant downstairs from my apartment. Parts of the checkered linoleum floors used to be white, but now wear a slightly yellowed tint; not necessarily from filth, but from time. I listen to drunken college students combatting their potential hangovers with water and greasy food in the booth in front of me. I shovel another bite of fried rice into my mouth and look out the window. The florescent light of the restaurant casts my reflection onto the window pane. There is a bruise forming on my cheek. Sweat still glistens on my forehead and my shirt clings to me damply. I wipe some soy sauce out of the stubble on my face and notice one of the cooks looking at me. He’s used to seeing me come in here this way from time to time. He never asks, but I know he wants to.
Luis and I used to come here. I close my eyes and imagine him sitting across from me reaching for the last spring roll.
I gulp back water, finishing off the red plastic cup and set my cash on the table before heading back outside. It’s one of those nights in September where it isn’t quite autumn yet but definitely isn’t summer anymore. I welcome the slight chill that continues to cool the sweat I worked myself into earlier. I start walking down the street toward a seedier part of town looking for more trouble.
It isn’t long before I heard a scream. Following the sounds of distress I turned down a side street and began running towards the commotion. As I entered the scene I noticed the backdoor light of another restaurant. It illuminates a man forcing himself onto a petite waitress. Rape is something that especially pisses me off. I run to him and pull him off of the waitress. She looks at me with hopeful eyes for a brief moment as I slam the man against the brick wall and shove my forearm against his throat to pin him. I can hear the waitress using her cell phone to call 911.
Police. Ah, I miss it. But that was another life. This is now.
The man takes a cheap shot to my stomach and as I double over a moment he grabs each of my shoulders and attempts to jam his knee into my groin. I step back as far as I can. His hands go loose on my shoulders and his knee misses me. I catch my footing and lunge forward to give him with a right hook. Blood flies out of his mouth in a spit stream. I don’t give him a break as I throw my leg up to kick him. He grabs it so I let him pull me to him. Then I slam my hands against his ears to throw off his equilibrium. He loses balance. I use that brief moment to knee him in his crotch while I deal an uppercut to his stomach. That’s when I hear one of the cooks come outside. He hits this asshole in the head with a pan and I can’t help but internally laugh at the cartoonish irony of this.
I feel him go slack in my grip and fall to the ground. Before the waitress or cook can talk to me I run out of the alley and back to the street. It won’t be long before the police or ambulance show up and I don’t have time to talk to them as they file their reports. I may be needed elsewhere and frankly I don’t really want anyone knowing who I am.
I continue to run until I round a few building corners. I scan my eyes around as I take in the fast food wrappers and empty plastic bottles that line the sidewalks in places. A subtle breeze carries a plastic bag like a tumbleweed. I take pleasure in a dandelion that has sprouted from a crack in the cement. Gotta enjoy those little things. A car speeds by with blasting music and the ground vibrates. A block ahead of me at a bus stop, I notice a man in a sweatshirt. He pulls one of those masks onto the lower half of his face the runners use in the winter and slips on the hood of his sweatshirt.
“Give me your fucking wallet.”
This sounds familiar. “Give me your fucking tray.” We never really escape prison. For a moment, I remember Brandon looming over me in the cafeteria, flexing his biceps that I could never fail to notice. He made sure everyone noticed them. And for good reason too.
“Give it to me man,” the mugger says and I snap out of my memory and into the present.
“No,” I say as the man raises his arms to grab me. My reflexes are faster and I am able to grip one of his arms. Yes, I still got it. It’s been years since I did an arrest, and only months since I was actually in prison. I still got it. Shit. I don’t still got it. He’s faster and manages to move around me pressing his chest against my back and an arm around my neck as he reaches into the pocket of his sweatshirt. Then I feel his gun pressed against my side.
“Don’t make me use this,” he warns.
“Alright, alright,” I tell him.
His hand reaches into the back pocket of my jeans where he fumbles with my wallet. The moment he has it, I feel the gun retract from me and I turn around very quickly and tackle him to the ground. Lucky for me, the guy let his gun fall. As I mount him, I can only see his eyes, but it’s enough to recognize that he can’t be more than eighteen or nineteen— early twenties at most. Just a kid, basically. I consider reaching for the gun, to threaten him with it, but I can’t let my prints get on it so I choke him to gain control. His hands spastically grip my wrists as he tries to free himself.
I could run, or I could restrain him and call the cops. Maybe my old partner will show up, if he’s even still a cop. I do miss Luis.
I miss our patrols. I miss him. He used to visit me when I was locked up…until he didn’t.
When the mugger is a little out of breath and stops fighting back, I release one hand to reach for my cell phone to call the police. I can restrain him here until they arrive and then rush off to blend back in with the darkness of the night. Unfortunately for me, he has spare weapons and before I can press the final “one” on the screen, one of his hands lets go of mine and he pulls out a pocketknife. I drop my phone and reach to control his arm. He fights me off with his other hand and lands a punch to my cheek. As my head swings away from him a moment, he stabs into my stomach.
I fall backwards, unable to breathe. He pulls the knife from me, which hurts just as bad as it did going in. He looks at me with terrified eyes for a moment. I don’t think he thought he would actually do this. I don’t think he thought his victim would fight back. Maybe I should have just given him my fucking wallet. Shit. He slides the sleeve of his sweatshirt down over his hands to cover them as he punches the “one” on my phone to complete the call and lays it next to me on the ground.
His hands are shaky. His voice chokes but he tries to keep his badass tone. Just barely. “Don’t tell them I did this. I don’t want to have to find you and kill you for real.”
You already have, I think. This kid has no clue. He’s just a mugger, not a murderer…but in a few minutes all of that will change. He runs away as the phone rings. Then it connects with the dispatcher. I can’t speak. It doesn’t matter anyway. They can’t help me. The pain fades away and the weakness is what takes over. I feel myself giving into it. Somehow I have already forgiven him. Easier to forgive him than myself. It was several years ago when I was him. Mistakes. Accidents.
I see Luis. He looks so tough as he restrains the perp. He looks over to me. Then I don’t see him anymore because the motherfucker’s friend jumps me. It’s the one that we’d been tracking. The suspected rapist, the violator of bodies. I fire a shot into his calf. He leaves me alone, but I don’t just handcuff him. I lose it. I just lose it. I am trigger happy. Next thing I know…the guy’s brains are on my face. I can’t see Luis through the brains.
Then I see him sitting on the other side of the glass, holding the phone. He tells me about everything but his new partner. He never talks about work. We know I can’t handle that. I show up one day drunk on bravery after a confrontation with Brandon. I tell Luis I love him. He leaves. I never see him again.
It won’t be long before they come. They will save me. Maybe I will live so that kid doesn’t have to feel too guilty. I hope they catch him though, so he can serve his time. I served mine. It won’t be long before they come. It won’t be—