Eddie was desperate to find any job that would pay the rent. His mom couldn’t help him out anymore ever since his stepdad found out about the hundreds of dollars missing from their bank account. In fact, he was absolutely livid when the repo guy came to collect their car. Eddie didn’t even have the nerve to show up to their anniversary dinner after that. He then had to take every and any job he could find. He has been a dishwasher, a line cook, a courier, a subject of numerous drug studies, a nighttime security guard, a dog walker, and his least favorite, a rat catcher. He really loved the dog walking gig, but when one of the fourteen dogs he was walking at the same time escaped from his grip and attacked a toddler in the park, the owner had him blacklisted.
Tuesday, he got a text from Bernie, his old boss from that catering gig. “Hey, how do you feel about looking after a kid? Know you don’t do dogs anymore lol!”
He quickly replied back, “NO KIDS!!” He could see the three dots pulsating back and forth on his phone, then, “You sure? There’s lots of $$ with this.” Eddie thought, You kidding? I can’t even take care of a dog.
He got home to find one of his roommates watching South Park.
“Rent’s due,” Rick said, without turning away from the TV.
“Yeah, I know,” Eddie murmured. He looked at his last text. He then typed, “Ok. When?”
Bernie quickly typed back, “tmrw at 3. you’ll pick him up from school.”
Wednesday was a cold and dreary day. Eddie forgot his hat and knew he was going to pay the price for it. Great, Eddie thought, I’m gonna come down with pneumonia cuz of this gig. He didn’t have the money to buy one off of a street vendor, so he kept pacing back and forth with his hands cupped to his ears while he was waiting for Willie on the street corner. The double doors flung open to a steady stream of kids spilling out onto the sidewalk from the nondescript brick building. There was a rumble of chatter and laughter among the prepubescent mob. Some were huddled around in a circle whispering into each other’s ears while pointing and looking at the group next to them. Others were hollering and elbowing each other as they walked off to catch the bus.
Eddie swung around to find a scrawny blonde who was about almost as tall as he was. He was chomping on a snack-size bag of Cheetos with half of the neon orange crumbs falling out of his mouth.
“Hey yourself. Eddie.”
“Well, Willie, where are you off to?”
“You mean you don’t know who you’re supposed to hand me off to?” he asked incredulously. He was clearly annoyed at being treated like somebody else’s problem all the time.
“Eh, I have this address…” he was fishing for the address in his pockets, “Oh, yeah, here it is. 347 Park. C’mon.”
“I want some ice cream first.”
“But it’s freezing out.”
“I want mint chocolate chip,” Willie said, as he gave up on the unfinished bag of Cheetos and threw it away.
“Because ice cream in itself isn’t cold enough, you pick a flavor that’ll make you feel even cooler?”
“It’s my favorite.”
Eddie took one look at the kid’s face. This kid is unbelievable, he thought, Eh, well, he needs some fattening up anyway. Besides, I can warm up somewhere indoors. “Well, we’re not in any rush, are we?”
Willie shrugged. He was too young to understand the concept of time. Eddie took him to the deli across the street. All the windows and doors were taped over with faded advertisements for cigarettes and shampoo. A little bell rang when they entered. There was a small, wrinkled old lady behind the counter. She reminded Eddie of a raisin. She took one look at him and started screaming at him, “You get outta here! I’ll call the cops again, jackass!”
“What the fuck are you talking about lady? I’ve never been in here!” Eddie’s face turned crimson, “I don’t care if you’re, like, eighty years old! I’ll knock you out if I have to!”
“Get out!” She started grabbing for something underneath her stool. Eddie quickly grabbed Willie by his coat and bolted out the door with him. They kept running until Eddie ran out of breath. They only got to the street corner.
“Ok, kid,” Eddie said between breaths, “No ice cream. Let’s go. I’m gonna drop you off, then I’m gonna forget that today ever happened.”
When they got to the address, the security guard looked Eddie up and down hard and said, “The fuck you want?”
“Just dropping him off, sir.” Eddie shrugged off the guard’s attitude. He wasn’t in the mood to pick a fight, especially with someone who might be armed.
“You know where to go,” he grunted. He pointed to the bank of elevators with his chin. Eddie was just glad he let them through. It was a good thing there was only one button labeled “PH” so he didn’t have to guess which floor. Even while they were still in the elevator, Eddie could smell a weird stench and hear music blaring. The thunderous bass made the walls and floor vibrate. It went straight through to his chest and it felt as if it were retiming his heartbeat to become in sync to the rhythm of the song. When the elevator doors split open, it was completely dark except for the corner by the window where a spotlight shined down on a man that was hovering over a desk attempting to assemble a glass object together.
“Hello?” Eddie tried to bellow over the music.
The man looked up. He looked like he hadn’t showered or shaved in weeks.
“Oh, thanks, man. I’m Dave,” the man said as he walked over to the two. He looked a lot younger close up.
“Uh, sure, no problem.” Eddie was totally confused. Is this where I’m supposed to be dropping off a kid? He couldn’t think clearly enough with the drum beats pulsating through his temples. The funky smell was stinging his nostrils at this point.
Dave picked out a money clip from his fanny pack which seemed to only hold one hundred dollar bills. “Here you go.” Dave handed over a thick wad, the biggest wad that Eddie had ever seen in his life.
“Uh, great, thanks. Let me know if you’ll ever need me again.”
Dave pressed the button for the elevator. Eddie quickly got in just in case Dave changed his mind and took his money back, or attacked him, or both. He didn’t know what to make of what was going on, but he was smart enough to know that he shouldn’t stick around to find out.
When he sprinted down the street as far as he could, he hunched over with his hands on his knees, heaving dry heaves. What is Bernie caught up in? He was bewildered. Even though he wasn’t known for having the strongest conscience- maybe sometimes a little better than Stalin- he still couldn’t help thinking about Willie. How could he just leave him there? For a second, he thought of running back, but his phone lit up. It was Gabby. “WHERE ARE YOU?!?”
Oh, shit. I totally forgot. “I’ll be right over.” He ended the text with a smiley face.
By the time he got to Gabby’s place, he couldn’t find any way to calm her down. “She’s at it again! I know it’s her. You’re gonna have to go and talk to her.”
“Babe, so what if she makes a little noise? She’s old as hell. She’s probably deaf.”
“Aw, naw. Whenever I bang against the wall, she turns the TV up even louder.” Gabby was shaking, like she was on something.
“She’s probably turning it up because she can’t hear over all your banging.” Eddie didn’t have the energy to get into it with another elderly lady in one night.
“Go. And. Talk. To. Her,” Gabby snarled.
“Maybe it’s Carol, your downstairs neighbor.” Eddie was good at diverting her attention. She got distracted as easily as a two year-old.
Gabby thought for a moment. “You know, you may be right. It’s not like that old hag would ever watch ‘The Walking Dead.’” She then turned to Eddie. “Go downstairs and talk to her.”
Eddie threw his hands up with a loud sigh and an eye roll. There was no way he was going to get out of confronting somebody for her. He gave up and went downstairs. He tapped on Carol’s door gently, then stood back and waited a few seconds. When there was no answer, he knocked a little louder.
The door from across the hall opened slowly, with a creek. “You looking for Carol?” A portly man in his sixties with a stained beige sweatshirt and smudged reading glasses asked in a benign voice.
“Is she in?”
“Two months ago-”
“Ok, thanks!” Eddie cut him off. He heard enough. The man seemed to be leering at him.
“Good luck if she owes you money. Her mom’s not going to give anyone back a single cent. I’ve tried.”
“Thanks again,” Eddie said, waving at him as he scurried back upstairs.
“Well?” Gabby asked. She was waiting for him by the door.
“She’s dead. Died a couple months ago.”
Gabby paused, then her eyes lit up. “So it’s definitely her!” Gabby screamed as she pointed next door.
“Honestly, Babe, I don’t have the energy to talk to her. Get some earmuffs or something. I’m beat. I’m going home. I’ll call ya tomorrow.” He gave a quick peck on her flushed cheek and left for home.
The streets were free from pedestrians, and aside from the occasional car going by, Eddie felt like he was alone enough that he could finally relax, outside on the sidewalk where no one knew him, where he could blend in with the other objects: garbage cans, mail boxes, parking meters, fire hydrants, the bus stop signs. It was when he stepped inside of someplace where all the hostile energy rushed at him. He felt that there was a price to pay when he found himself on the rare instances in his life when he was happy. It always seemed to come right before a catastrophe was about to happen. Yes, it’s dangerous to be happy. You’re just asking to get shit on. Eddie strolled back and took his time getting home.
He was surprised to see Rick still up at this hour. He was usually crashed out on the sofa by midnight. He was making himself a sandwich and was in the middle of licking off the extra peanut butter from his fingers when he got in.
“Here’s the rent!” Eddie proclaimed as he slammed the cash down on the kitchen table. He never paid the rent on time.
“What’d ya do? Rob a bank?” Rick asked as he stared at the hundred dollar bills. “Oh, yeah, someone was looking for you.”
“Dunno. He didn’t leave no business card. He woke me up, though, with the door pounding. When he saw that you weren’t here, he left.”
“Well, what did he look like?”
He looked over at him, still sucking on his fingers, “Well, he kinda looked like you.”
A chill ran through Eddie’s spine. “What’d ya mean he looked like me?”
“Like, same face, hair. Like dat,” Rick said as he waved his hand up and down at Eddie.
Eddie was then thinking about that incident at the deli, and with the security guard. Did they think I was someone else? He then dialed Bernie’s number.
“Hey, so I dropped that kid off. What was that all about?”
“Yeah, so the dad’s some drummer in a rock band. I met him at this catering gig I did downtown for them a couple weeks ago. He got banned or somethin’ from picking up his kid from school, but the kid’s mom is in Texas somewheres so they needed somebody to pick ‘im up.”
“Who was the guy at the address?”
“The mom’s boyfriend. That’s her studio. I think she’s some sort of art collector. The dad doesn’t like the boyfriend too much. Boy, the shit he was sayin’ about him at the party-”
“Ok, so it was just a one-time thing? Dropping off the kid?”
“You mean Dave didn’t say anything about tomorrow?”
“No…” Eddie’s voice started to trail off as he was trying to put the pieces together, “But some guy was over here looking for me.”
“Sam? Sam was there looking for you?” Now Bernie started to sound uneasy. “Lemme call you back.”
Just then, Eddie’s phone dinged with a new text from Gabby, “GET THE FUCK OVER HERE. NOW!”
Gabby was still hysterical and wailing about some nut job that nearly attacked her when she answered the door a few minutes before Eddie got there. “He looked exactly like you! That’s why I opened the door. I thought something happened to you- that’s why you were acting so crazy!”
“What was he yelling about?”
“Some kid! You don’t have kids, do you?” Gabby asked, looking at him sideways.
“Naw, I did this job today, and-”
The phone rang. It was Bernie. “Hey, Ed, so, the kid’s gone missing with Dave or something. Sam’s frantic. He can’t go over to her studio because security won’t let ‘im.”
“Well, I don’t got him!” Eddie was getting agitated now, “You don’t think Dave kidnapped him or something?”
“Sam’s calling Lilly right now. Dave’s not the brightest guy but he’s not a kook.”
Gabby started hitting Eddie. “What the hell’s going on?”
“Sorry, Babe, I’ll explain later. Just- don’t answer the door the rest of the night. I don’t got no kids, I’m not upset at you, but I gotta go!”
He then ran back to Lilly’s studio. He braced himself for the barrage of insults that may be coming his way from the security guard, but he would know how to react, how to explain to him that he’s not Sam, the bad-ass drummer. But it wasn’t the same security guard that was manning the door. It was a gray-haired man that looked tired and worn. He may have been falling asleep when Eddie thrusted the door open.
“Hi, have you seen Dave?”
“Uh, you mean Casper? Mr. Casper?”
“He had a kid with him.”
“Yeah, they just got in ’bout… twenty minutes ago?” the guard said, while looking down at his watch.
“You sure? Can I go up and see ’em?”
“Sure, go on up.” The guard acted like he couldn’t be bothered to ring him, especially so late at night.
The elevator doors split open and there the two of them were. Sitting at the table by the window eating ice cream. Willie was beaming.
“I just wanted some mint chocolate chip.”