Our pitiful finances meant the kid’s Jack-o’-lantern was a carved yellow squash lit by a half-burned birthday candle. A black plastic bag I snagged heading out of the printing shop served as his costume.
“G-g-ghosts are white,” he whined.
“You ain’t no common spirit,” Marie shot back. “You’ve got invisibility.”
Damn close, given he’s mixed and lives in the child poverty zone. Part of the marrying Marie package. He’s an infectious-canned-laughter machine for my stand-up comedy routine. One that fails to fill our dwindling coffers. In our house of woe, he disrupts the tension.
Marie and he went trolling for treats. I did the same. Only mine would be more substantial than candy or popcorn balls or saltine crackers slathered with peanut butter, if anyone doled those out anymore.
The bus dropped me off near my work. Located at the edge of the city’s decaying industrial zone, the printing plant produced bank checks, business cards, stationery, monogrammed letterheads, and keeping up with the time, a line of computer 3-D products.
Given the boodle the boss stuffed into his ancient safe, it’s a bustling operation. “Don’t trust banks,” he’d said, “nor security companies.” After tonight, he might reconsider.
In the alley’s shadows, I donned my costume—standard black hoodie, latex gloves, and mask. Ghoulish with shaggy white hair at the fringes, its open mouth had protruding coffee stained irregularly shaped teeth. The twisted, switchback nose matched my heart palpitations and roiling gut.
I popped a couple of antacids and steadied myself against a concrete building facing the plant’s office. Studied the rusted metal door, twenty feet away. Behind it, a new life for Marie and the kid and me. My gaze traveled back to the street. Walk to it and our lives continued to suck. Did I really have a choice?
I advanced toward the door with the confidence of a wannabe comedian stumbling onstage to face the wrath of alcohol-liberating critics. Deep breaths with each step failed to quail my apprehension. That usually happened after the fifth joke. The one that received the chuckle. Using my Irish brogue, which works despite my Gypsy-Italian heritage, I mumbled it as I approach.
Most of ya here know drinking causes double vision. Alcohol don’t bother me sight, but something about a bar is hell on me ears. The other day, after a hellish shift printin’ business cards for one of them weenier doctors, I joined me fellow mates at our favorite hole in the wall. Got good and comfy. Waitress appears at me side and says, “Comfortable?” I gives her my charming stare. Shakes me head, wondering why she asked if I’d “come for ta bull.” I shakes me head again and says, “Ain’t interested in no bull, but if ya gotta fried clucker, pluck her up to go.”
It worked. Sorta. I knelt down, pressed my masked covered ear against the rusty door. Nothing. Pulled out a computer printed copy of the boss’s key and slipped it into the lock. Turned. Gently inched the door inward.
POP exited the narrow opening. “F**k!” Then a heavy thud.
I braced myself hard upon the brick wall, squeezed my ass cheeks, sweat popped out on my upper lip. Blood thumped through my ears with avalanche velocity.
Get a grip. This is for Marie and the kid.
Five deep breaths later, I’m on my haunches, inching the metal door more, its hinges squealing like a castrated calf. Once the gap was wide enough, I low-crawled inside, across the cold concrete floor to a predetermined spot and then rose to one knee. Army training was good for something after all.
Darkness and the smell of the plastics, magnetic and petroleum-based inks, and cleaning fluid hung in the office. Though the boss didn’t trust security firms, he swore by the installed cameras that eagle-eyed his workspace and a two-door combination safe that could easily fit an NFL linebacker. Lot of good that would do him tonight. Still my neck hackles snapped erect.
I switched on my cellphone’s dim light, thanks to one of the shop’s brown coffee filters covering the lens. Stacked folders and papers blanketed the boss’s green metal desk.