By Dan Smith
The old woman limped toward Collins, who backed two steps to the edge of the sidewalk to let her pass. He adjusted his ear bud and jacked the volume up all the way. He closed his eyes and surrendered to the beat in his brain. Too bad he couldn’t snort a little on the street, but that was bad for business and dangerous as well. Maybe he could slip into the alley and do a little if nobody walked up. Traffic was slow before noon, but there was always the odd fish that swam down here to Lake Street for an early taste.
“Excuse me, can I ask you something?” It was the old woman. She stood in front of Collins, a polite smile on her wrinkled face. She must be a hundred years old. What was she doing out here? Collins turned down the music. At some time in his life he had been told to respect old people, so he tried to be polite. She might be lost, but the clarity in her blue eyes didn’t fit with dementia.
“What can I help you with?” said Collins.
“Would you like to buy some Oxy-Contin?”
“Excuse me?” This had to be a gag. Or a set up.
“I think you heard me the first time. Oxy-Contin. You sell drugs, don’t you? I have some for sale.”
She reached into her purse and Collins clamped his hand on her wrist in an instant. He looked inside her handbag and saw that her skinny, blue veined hand held a translucent orange pill bottle.
“Sorry,” he said. “It’s a reflex. Are you with the cops? You’re supposed to tell me if you are, otherwise I can’t be convicted.”
“Young man, please let go of my hand, you’re hurting me.” Collins released her. “I’m not with the police. Let me explain.”
“Let’s get off the street first.” He motioned to the shaded alley behind him. “Don’t worry, you’ll be safe.”
The woman limped behind him to the shelter of a dumpster that was filled to the brim with rancid garbage, pungent in the mid-July heat. If she could smell it, she gave no sign. Collins looked across the street for any sign of observers. The threat of entrapment was foremost in his mind, but the lady had spoken the magic words. Even if it was a bust, a judge would toss it. The woman seemed a bit breathless. The effort of movement cost her plenty for such a short distance.
“You’ll have to excuse me,” she said. “The doctors tell me I have congestive heart failure and I need to stay inside during these heat waves.”
“So what can I do for you?”
“My name is Marjorie Phillips. My husband Stanley and I moved to a house only a few blocks away in 1946, right after he got out of the service. He was in the Army, landed at Normandy and fought the Germans all the way across France, Holland and Belgium. He won two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. We raised three daughters and a son. It was a wonderful neighborhood then. We watched changes happen through the years, of course. The neighborhood is different now. Last week a boy was shot to death just two doors down. It’s sad to see.”
“What’s the point, lady? I ain’t no sociologist.”
“Stanley died last month. He had a cancer that ate him like a snowball on the fourth of July. He had a lot of pain and the doctors at the VA couldn’t do anything except give him pain medicine. There’s so much left over and I have so many bills to pay. Times are hard, I’m sure you understand.”
Collins nodded. “So you’ve got something for sale, do you?”
“Yes. I could come back tomorrow with about a hundred of these pills. Do you think we could make a deal?”
Collins made the calculations. One hundred Oxys at thirty bucks each would give him an easy three grand for five minutes work. She looked so frail that one hard push should knock her down behind the dumpster. “I’ll give you a hundred dollars,” he said. “Meet me here tomorrow at the same time. Right here, by this dumpster.”
“Thank you, that’s very generous.”
The next day Collins made every effort to get there early. He had made some calls and several buyers were set to meet him later. He walked into the alley after checking the street for cops. As usual on a Sunday there was nobody in sight. His back pocket was tight with the profits from last night’s work: at least ten grand. The appetite of people for junk was a sight to behold. He went behind the dumpster and there she was: Marjorie, dressed in a threadbare blue dress, caring the same oversized hand bag. He masked his surprise with a quick “You startled me, lady.”
“I’m so sorry,” said Marjorie. “Have you got the money?”
“Sure.” He took a quick look over his shoulder to check one last time for witnesses. It would be easy to shove her hard against the wall, grab the hand bag and run. He could toss it later. He turned back and saw the muzzle of a .45 automatic pointing at him. Marjorie had a twisted grin on her face. “Stanley brought this home from the war. He kept it oiled and clean and in the last few years he taught me how to use it. He said the way the neighborhood was going downhill, I might need it someday.”
The gun spat flame and Collins toppled face first after the bullet tore through his heart and ended up somewhere down on 2nd Avenue. As his life bled away on the rough asphalt, Collins felt Marjorie’s hand remove his wallet from his back pocket. “The Little Sisters of the Poor are hard up this month. I’m sure your donation will go a long way toward helping them.”
BIO: Dan Smith is a physician who likes to write in his spare time. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org