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Cold Turkey
About the Author: Steve Liskow ( has published over 50 short stories and been a finalist for both the Edgar Award and the Shamus Award. He has also won the Black Orchid Novella Award twice. His latest novel is Words of Love.

Harley Markham stands to my left, serving stuffing to the homeless who creep by like a freight train, their clothes faded to the color of pavement. So are their eyes.

“This is so stupid,” Harley mutters. His lower lip is thick as a turkey drumstick when he pouts, and if he were any bigger, he’d need a street number. He’d also probably be playing in tomorrow’s Thanksgiving Day football game against East Side, but he doesn’t have a “C” average, the minimum to be eligible for sports.

“No.” That’s Ms. Wiznacki, our guidance counselor. She’s on my right and wears an apron like the rest of us, her hair with its emerald streak peeking from under the paper cap. She’s got to be at least thirty, but, even in the apron, she’s seriously hot.

“Stealing a car with almost no gas and no spare tire,” she says. “That’s stupid. And then having three joints in your pocket when the police catch you.”

“I found them in the car.”

“Right.” She ladles squash onto another plate. “You’re lucky you just turned sixteen in August so your juvenile record didn’t get brought up.”

She’s got him there and we both know it. The judge gave him community service and probation instead of locking him up, so he’s with the rest of us at the Sullivan Street Food Bank, serving for the Thanksgiving feast. It’s worth six of his sixty hours, and Ms. Wiznacki is making sure he works every second.

I serve another helping of mashed potatoes to the woman in front of me. Her face has more cracks than the blacktop outside.

To Harley’s left, Rimshi Kalvati, who will probably be our valedictorian in another year, carves turkey like a Ninja, the meat slices falling off the bone with a rhythm I can almost tap my foot to. She wants to be a doctor, and she probably holds the Guinness Book record for dissecting a fetal pig in honors biology. Harley wanted to carve, too, but his nickname is Harley Mayhem because he gets in so many fights. No way they let him near a carving knife.

It’s the day before Thanksgiving, so school let out at noon. We started serving here at two, and the line still snakes down the hall and out the doors. Fortunately, it’s mild for November. The dining area has faded yellow walls and worn tile, the color somewhere between mashed peas and snot, depressing as hell. It seats about two hundred, and every seat is full, some people balancing their trays while they wait others to finish and leave so they can sit themselves.

Ginny Frazier wanders around taking pictures for the yearbook. She takes one of Rimshi carving, then another of Harley and me with Ms. Wiznacki. She wears her boyfriend’s varsity jacket, twelve sizes too big, and keeps hitching it up so we can see how she rocks her tight jeans.

“Man, I’d like to stuff that turkey.” The lights flicker off Harley’s nose ring.

“Bad idea,” Ms. W says. “Her boyfriend is Russell D’Agostino. That’s his letter jacket she’s swimming in.” The starting left tackle, Russ-Dag is the only guy in school bigger than Harley.

Rimshi is pretty too, but the polar opposite of Ginny the Blonde. She’s slim and petite with raisin eyes, black hair and a complexion smooth as glass. Since she’s serving next to Harley, he tries to chat with her, but she doesn’t respond. I can’t decide whether she’s shutting him down or just shy. Either way, he doesn’t give up.

A cop bursts through the doors and scans the room. He approaches us and speaks to Ms. W.

“The building’s now in a lockdown. The bank on Broad Street just got robbed, the two suspects may still be in the area.”

“What do they look like?” she asks. The bank is only three blocks away.

“Two white males, one in a blue hoodie and the other in a red and blue plaid flannel, both in jeans.”

We look at the homeless people packing the room.

“Well,” Ms. W says, “that narrows it down, doesn’t it?”

The cop looks at the crowd again.

“Uh, since everybody’s already in here, you can keep on serving.”

Harley scoops stuffing onto the plate of a woman thin as a wishbone. She’s wearing a hoodie, but it’s gray. Her sneakers are worn the same gray, and her face has that hopeless dazed look I’ve seen for the last three hours.

“Why would they head this way?” I ask. “The highway’s half a mile in the other direction.”

This story appears in our NOV 2023 Issue
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