Waste

            Charles was overjoyed, and felt completely out of place being so. It was his second week on the refuse waste job he had landed driving trash trucks, and all couldn’t be smoother. He was adopting to city life in the “City of Angels”, and he was even hopeful to save enough to buy the fair condo he was living in. The place was filling up very quickly with all of the valuable junk he found every day while doing his dirty deeds.

            People threw away the damndest of things. Stereo’s, televisions, computers, antique furniture, artwork, hell this was going to make his new pad “pimped out” in a very big way. Now if he could get over all his co-workers “whats upchuck?” jokes since he threw up the first morning when his route “can man” Tom Toms, brought a dead cat into the cab.

            He and Tom were on the route, in the midst of the urban downtown jungle that was Los Angeles. They were riding down a long stretch of alley with no cans or dumpsters to hit when Tom spoke up.

            “I will never forget the look on your face…” Tom began.

            “Enough cat gut bragging! And no more what’s upchuck jokes!” Charles interceded loudly, yelling over the hum of the engine of the truck.

            “You know I got no easy namesake here Chuckaroo…” Tom started again.

            “Your playing?! Tom Toms is a hit man, go with the flow. Everything has a rhythm!”

            “Very funny. My ex, she called me Tom cat cause I’m always playing jokes. So I hope you’ll forgive me for my Peter Pan ways. If ye but come as a child…” Tom plainly stated in all seriousness.

            “If I came as a child, I’m would wring your neck next time you pull something like that!” Chuck quipped, pulling up to a mechanical arm friendly dumpster and lowering the trucks lift, giving it a “go ahead”.

            Just as the dumpster was being swung to the side of the truck by the lifts arms, a man with jet black pulled back hair, and an all black silk suit and a briefcase cuffed to his arm walked into the path of the receptacle. He stopped, annoyed at the inconvenience, turned and held up the briefcase, waving at Tom and Chuck. Just as they were about to wave back, the man lifted his other hand, and gave them the middle finger. Once again, Mr. Toms broke the silence with a drumming on the dash.

            “That was beat. Like to beat it, cause that guy gave me the creeps. Like a beat- down head. Made me turn beet- red.”

            “Enough beats Mr. Toms, enough! Beating a dead horse!” Charles shot back at the traditionally placed left side passenger seat at Tom.

            “I like dead things!” Tom sighed like a four year old..

            “Well I am dead, and beat, so let’s move outta the dead beats way instead of beating him dead!”

            “I see what you mean. The horse thing. The department of redundancy department.” Tom finalized the plan with a wave of his hand, and returned conjecture.

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            Later that evening at Charles newly christened downtown condo, he sat down at the new teak desk he had salvaged from it’s  ruined above – back shelving spaces. He had simply sawed them off, sanded, and it left the piece looking very classy. He was a little homesick for his freshly abandoned hometown of small town simple ways and symbolic freedom of space and super “ground hogs day” synchronicities back in Iowa. It was time to write a more qualified explanation to his ex, Leslie, whom he had left at the same time as leaving.

            The best parallel he could find was to tell her of the one corner on his route he had been noticing. Especially this morning when he stopped, did it catch his attention, or, should he have said “they” caught his attention.

            “My dear, when I left it was because, just that I was in a space that those around me did not take but a most basic and singularly foul attitude on everything. I saw some guys like that this morning, outside of a private club on my route. Standing around, feeding seagulls Alka Seltzer tablets to watch them puff up and die, and spilling up their turf to watch owners over with in their return for protection. Nothing about that life, or the \life I left behind there appeals to me as my true path. Atleast here, I earn an honest living with no strings attached. Small town politics is a silent, but deadly killer.”

            He ended with a quote from one of their mutual favorite movies. Then he sprayed a hint of his cologne on the eight pound paper, and left his mark. Sealing it into a business envelope and pushing a hundred dollar bill into its enclosure, he sealed, stamped, and addressed the  letter using a felt tip calligraphy pen making broad sweeping strokes.

            Just then, the phone rang. Charles still was unaccustomed to his new phone’s ring. It was an antique earpiece and microphone wall mount with a crank and everything, and he knew he could fetch a pretty penny for it if he should ever get in a pinch.

            “What’s up Chuck?!”,

            “Yes, hello, this is Charles!”

            The caller had an indiscernable low, raspy almost mumbling tone to his voice almost as if he had one hand over the phone. He interrupted Charles.

            “Listen carefully. I have business on your route. It is no ones business. Don’t get stiff, if you see a stiff, because you’re going to get a stiff reward. I’m Sal, they call me “the Sicilian” or something…”

            The caller hung up in midsentence.

            The following day at around noon, Charles and Tom pulled the truck over for Tom to run into a local legend deli for a roast beef and provolone sauce smothered select “master” sandwich as Tom called them. It was near the area where the private club was Chuck had observed the day prior in his letter to Leslie. As he stared off into the distance down the street through the truck windshield, he saw a man of huge stature heading directly for him.

            “Sal?!” Charles asked himself aloud.

            A moment later, the man approached Charles curbside window and stood by the truck. He appeared very concerned, and wasted no time in introductions.

            “I called you last night. Sal. You know. You see anything today, say ten blocks North, you keep a lid on it.”

            The two hundred and fifty pound man in the pin striped, well tailored suit pulled out two envelopes from within his inner jackets enclosure.

            “These are for you and your partner.”

            Charles mind raced as he tried to find some convincing, viable explanation to this man who obviously wasn’t used to taking “no” for an answer, as to why he could not accept. But it was too late. Sal, “The Sicilian” had no more handed him the envelopes when he turned to the side and left with a wave of the back of his hand.

            Hands shaking, Charles opened the thicker of the two envelopes. Contained within was two thousand dollars mostly in hundreds. The money was old money, dirty money, money that could make him. In several different ways.

            When Tom returned, he swung the truck  around to the front of the private club he had observed, guessing this was the most appropriate place to give Tom his envelope. Tom turned ash white, and put the envelope in his back pocket without opening it. Just then, immediately after  Chuck’s explanation, the door to the club opened, revealing it’s winding dimly lit corridor that greeted its visitors with a prohibition – era looking speakeasy lobby. Out came the man they had seen the day before, with the briefcase, who had given them the finger. He briefly took notice of the two in the truck, and held up his thumb and his forefinger, like a gun. He pulled the trigger, and smiled, seeming very amused by himself as he addled down the street.

            Charles and Tom watched in the side view mirrors as the man, passing by a young kid of only fourteen or so, turned and smacked the kid in the face. When the kid started to yell, he hit him with fists, and then finally, as the youth lay on the ground, he kicked him in the ribs a few times. In broad daylight, for no apparent reason, and with no further concern, the man pulled out a Berretta and aimed it in the young man’s face. After a moment of loud spoken words, he returned the present moment to its place. He put the gun in it’s holster and walked away.

            Charles turned to Tom and said the only thing he could think of, “What a whack!”

            Tom turned blue, and threw up out of the window.

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            That night, Charles pulled one of his five other junk phones out of the closet, and curled up on the couch to talk to Leslie about all of this. After trying three different headsets, they finally found the one that allowed them both to hear each other. When she answered the phone in that soft country style, he almost didn’t know what to say and hung up. But he didn’t.

            “I think I’m in trouble, Lez…” he began nervously.

            “What else is new?!” she mimicked in a very casual manner.”

            “I need the advice of a very reasonable cold hearted bitch.”

            “That’s what I’m here for.”

            Charles related the events, about the payoff and the sinister man, the supposed stiff and about “Sal the Sicilian”. When he was done, he felt no better having shared it with someone, though because of her distance did not have to fear for her.

            “Leslie Trident has seen better things for you, Charlie. You know Charlie, you gotta stop brown nosing! Call you Charlie brown. Definite blockhead.” she replied to his emotional dump after a few respectful moments of silence.

            Charles thought carefully for a minute. Then he said, “Plainly put, which will stand the test of time? Only time itself.”

            “Ooh! Ahh! Zen!” she squealed.

            “Ahh zen indeed,” Charles agreed.

            They ended their conversation with a brief moment of awkward silence where they used to exchange “I love you’s” and then they hung up. Chuck was tired after the days stressors and just wanted to get a good nights sleep. As he lay in bed counting sheep til sleep would come, he found himself wondering if in deed he had been right about his move here. It was as if the move had only placed more of the same pressure on him to take bold action, just what he had been trying to escape. Finally, after about an hour, he drifted into sleep.

            This night was not the restful night he had imagined, however. As he slept, Charles was thrown from one violent upheaval of a nightmare to another as the terrors of his recent findings came into his superunconscious, and the Astral Realm became the playground of his tormentors and no longer his parallel respite and mentor. He dreampt last of all in the night, of a dark cloaked figure that looked like archetypical type artists depictions of death coming for another to be brought across to the other side. He awoke in a cold sweat, breathing heavily and feeling unsafe and guarded even in his own bed, under the cozy comforters that shielded him from the icy air conditioner he left on blast. This entire scenario he was facing was far from a simple turn of the blind eye, and his nightmares were just another factor in determining that he must face fate after all with the repose his small town left behind had been harping him about showing.

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            The following morning after cleaning up a large receptacle that was strewn all over the place from some looting scavengers in a nicer area of town in order to avoid giving the poor clients an extra large pickup fee on their obvious renovations cleaning, Charles felt it. It was that sick feeling in the pit of his gut that he couldn’t put a finger on, but knew instinctively that there was something devious and important that he was missing a delicate fact on that was about to happen, or had.

            They turned the corner past the North side fall line that marked the L.A. boundaries for the upscale middle class to be habitating, judging by the trash found there. Charles glanced at Tom, still shifting in his seat readjusting to driving from the “wrong” side of the cab and found Tom to be closing his eyes and taking a silent breather. The radio was off, and the CD player had burned out earlier in the morning after Tom had tried to play an old copy of his of “American Beauty”. At the moment, Chuck was grateful that it was dead. He needed to think, he needed to drive, he needed to watch for anything suspicious. Not that he knew what he would do if anything seriously happened.

            Of course, there was that time in Iowa when he had encountered a lost child in the middle of his ride home during the worst blizzard of that winter. The child was badly frostbitten, and looking and acting very somber and lazy eyed tired, and Charles had recognized and remembered his scout learnings on hypothermia. It was a wonder he had seen the child in the drift of snow he was immersed in as he had passed, though that had probably helped to insulate him against the cold as any good Eskimo could tell you. He had filled a long past needing to be removed kiddie pool in his covered bed with snow along with the rest of the bed. Being a hundred miles yet from civilization, he heated it up with his new heating system, opening the rear cab windows that opened to it.  He also placed a hot air venting space heater he happened to have on hand plugged into the cigarette lighter in the back. Once enough fills of the snow had melted and heated, a nervously sweaty thirty minutes later of sitting huddled in blankets with the near unconscious child, he had pulled the truck onto a snow bank to raise the cab’s bed to an angle with the pool covering the cracks in the tailgate. The rest of the water he then had dumped into the pool and filled it enough to make a difference. It was then that Charles had placed the child in the water at first cold, and soon room temperature to slowly return him to a normal state without putting him into shock until he got him to the nearest town emergency room. They had arrived with the kid wrapped in old navy blankets and firewood tarps just in the nick of time. He could trust his learning and instincts in a crisis, indeed.

            Charles turned the corner into the first building locked receptacle alley of this part of town. His gut turned for a minute when he saw a police cruiser in the rearview mirror, following closely. He leaned out the window, and checking the list, punched the alley gate code into the electric gate lock. From his mirror, he saw that the cruiser had pulled over, strangely just across the way.

            He absently manuevered the automatic arm to grab the dumpster without turning on the truck container’s grinding mechanism, grabbed the dumpster and began to empty it into the truck bin. It was then that he saw the cop running across the street outside of the alley, waving his arms frantically, apparently at Chuck. Over the hum of the mechanical arm, he heard another man’s voice yelling “Whitey! Whitey! Whitey!”

            Charles stomach turned violently in knots as he realized he did not know what, or how deep he was in for it now with the great karmic decider of events. Eyes glazed and fearful, he hit Tom in the arm to roust him as he absently stopped the arm from dumping the dumpster. He saw a black man running after the cop, and gripped the wheel so tight that his knuckles turned purple. This was not good at all.

            The policeman yelled.

            “Freeze everything! Don’t move! Don’t do anything! Stay in the truck!”

            Just as the officer reached the open window of the cab on Chuck’s side, the black man slowed his gait and stopped yelling. The beat cop looked pale and shocked, with that slight tinge of red in his cheeks that showed he was revving up for the excitement his job demanded he endure as he grabbed the rim of the window and pulled himself to eye level with Charles. His stale, hot breath wafted from his panting mouth as he pulled himself close to Chuck’s face and with a very stern and commanding look in his eye barked at both him and Tom, “Man down in the trash! You don’t move, or move anything! Stay in the cab and keep your arms on the dash where I can see them! I am going for a look.”

            The cop then released the latch on the driver side door and opened it, before running around to the front of the truck where the dumpster was hanging, half empty with, to Chuck’s shock, a body hanging out of it now and over the front of the cab.

            “Hands up! Now!”

            The officer pulled the trash entangled body from the receptacle awkwardly and it fell with a heavy thump like a gym bag falling off of it’s resting place in the structure of a building, and onto the cement covered ground. He took it’s vital’s, and slowly lowered his head, looking somberly into the ground beneath him as if he didn’t know if it were going to swallow him up. He then closed the corpse eyelids with a too well practiced brush of his hand, and stood, facing Tom. He briskly walked to the can worker side of the cab and opened it’s door as well. Tom spoke up.

            “We didn’t know! I swear we didn’t know!”

            The beat cop grabbed Tom by the arm and pulled him harshly out of the cab. He lined him up with the hood of the truck and waved for Charles to come out of his side.

            “You too. Come around here, now. Slowly.”

            Chuck did as he was told, swinging a leg onto the boarding ramp on the side of the truck behind the wheel well and grabbing the outside side handle, swung down. He then walked around to the other side, the left side of the truck.

            “I know you probably don’t know what is going on, but you never know in this town. Sorry if old Clemens scared you. To explain, I am Officer Whitey, and that is one dead victim.”

            Charles tried to say something, but just turned red, and choked on his own words. Tom spoke up again, “We didn’t know! I swear we didn’t!”

            Another squad car pulled up to the scene, having been radioed of the situation from Whitey’s shoulder mounted radio during Chuck’s dismount from the job vehicle.

            “Son, that is too many times you have told me, and judging by the look of your partner here, I am afraid you are getting the rest of the day off. I am taking you both in for questioning.”

************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************            Late that night, after being released from his cell at midnight, Charles found himself sleepless again. He was lying in a freezing chilly blast with beads of sweat dripping down his brow, agonizing over what had occured. Should he have spoken up to the authorities about this sooner? Would it have kept the end of another human being’s precious life from coming to it’s untimely, dishonorable, violent and abrupt halt? These were questions of such a deep nature, even his Bible, which he turned to often for comfort in times of indecision in it’s gold leaf wisdom filled pages he felt could not put him at ease. It was almost as if he knew he would not find the answer until it presented itself in a shift of all luck and fate, just perhaps as God had tested Job.

            Morning came and sleepless as he was, he rose and dressed and brushed his teeth and did his bite to eat and got rolling. This time, however he brought his gold chain and cross that had been an heirloom gift to him from his grandfather, obtained originally by his ancestor who had crossed on the Mayflower. It was a priceless treasure, but looked so new in it’s quality that no one could have ever guessed. He often felt guilty for not adding it to a museum collection. But tradition was tradition, and he could not bear this day without it, as he had been told would happen.

            The route proved to be unusually easy all  morning, which only succeeded in adding to his ill- at – ease temperment as he grew nearer the killing ground. At noon he and Tom stopped at a hot dog stand while Tom played his recently acquired drum for a small child dribbling chili down his chin. They had found it in a pile of torn canvasses downtown, and Chuck had teased Tom so badly, he had no choice but to pocket the Tom. It was all the pocketing they would have to do this day, he hoped. If only fate could drum up a cavalry to end their predicament as hey drew nearer to ground zero. If two thousand dollars could only could be counted as zero.

            Though they had parked blocks from their usual segue, as they completed their beat circle and chili dog dances, Chuck saw him out of the corner of his eye. Sal, “The Sicilian” was running as fast as his fat ass could carry him, puffing all the way down the block like a nineteenth century steam locomotive rolling down the track.

            “He’s gone!” Sal half yelled as he approached, out of breath.

            “Who’s gone?” Chuck retorted anxiously.

            “Tutlie! Hey, no. Not here. Walk with me back to your truck and I will relate.” said Sal.

            Leaving a confused looking Tom as he stepped, Charles knew that this could be their answer and immediately walked with Sal towards the “Waste” truck.

            “Tutlie, he’s the cleanup guy, you know…” Sal started, unsure of himself and still slightly out of breath.

            “Cleanup?”

            “Come on, don’t be dumb. I know what you know. And I have to tell you what I do. So shut up and listen. You owe me that.”

            “Alright.”

            Sal started in on a stuttered description of the “family” hit man’s fall from “grace”, and warned that he did not know who, what, where, when, why, or how much was to come from the now assumedly psychotic desperado.

            “I do not know how to tell you this, but he’s gone hunting. For prey. We are all p-ray-ing, if you know what I’m saying.” Sal admitted bashfully admiring Chuck’s cross hanging at his chest from the thin gold chain.

            “So, what does this have to do with me?” Chuck tried to get a grip on the reality.

            “You may be next for all I know. And that ain’t worth any amount of greenbacks I could push over. So watch it. That’s all I’m gonna say.”

            With that, Sal heavily nodded his head as if to convince a theater crowd of his decision, and started to move back down the street.

            “Thank you.” Charles said aloud, though almost to himself.

            Sal must have heard, because he raised his hand, flashing it’s hairy back without turning around as he waddled down the street in his brown tailored suit and square toed Italian leather shoes.

            Thirty- three minutes later, as Tom and he were rounding the corner where the corpse had given new life to his and revealed a higher order to all, Chuck saw him. It was Tutlie, out of the side view mirror, chasing a thin bald skinny crack addict looking creature, gun drawn, face in a sneer. As he drew nearer to Tom, down the block replacing trash cans to their safe curbsides, Tutlie slowed to a walk, and took aim at Mr. Toms with his shiny gunmetal silver piece he was infamous for using to issue new endings. The skinny vagrant he had been chasing took no short notice in realizing his chance, and darted off the other direction towards safety. Charles flew into action.

            He threw the truck in reverse and began thrashing the pull cord air horn of the truck with his fist closed tightly around it’s cord. Tutlie stopped his dead aim, and sneered in his direction. He took a shot at the truck almost immediately, leveling it with the windshield, now at a fourty- five degree angle from his contemptuous face. The shot ricocheted off of the side grip handle behind the wheel well and Charles heard it smashing harmlessly in ricochet against the wall across from him, mortar crumbling.

            He then put his foot as heavy on the gas as he could with the truck in reverse, and ducked. Tutlie, shocked at this new angle did not have time to adjust for another shot, and quickly made his way, sprinting to gain ground and get in front of the truck. Charles, from his vantage saw Tutlie pointing his gun and peering desperately with the look of a madman, craning his deep brown neck to try and catch a glimpse of his parry. Then he drew in front of the truck and began to laugh loudly, a wild an inconsistant cackle that stung Chuck’s ears.

            Staying low, he put the truck in gear and began to drive forward towards Tutlie. Tutlie slowly backpedaled, grinning from ear to ear, waving his Beretta in a cock sure fashion in a wide sweeping arc from side to side. Within ten seconds they had reached the end of their “chicken” game.

            The truck was now idling gently, Charles foot on the brake to stop it’s advance just twenty feet from the brick dead end of the alleyway. Chuck sat up, and took a good look at what was in front of him at this last and very final deciding moment.

            Tutlie, in his khaki shorts and green striped golf shirt, high pulled striped socks and brown loafers, stopped waving the large caliber Beretta and looked him dead in the eye. Both of their eyes went dead for a moment that seemed to drag on for hours as Tutlie took aim at Charles head through the windshield. Then it happened.

            Chuck tried to duck again, and catching his gold chain and cross on the wheel’s point turn axle knob, got caught. Involuntarily his foot slammed onto the gas pedal, sending the truck flying forward, and slamming Tutlie into the wall, cutting him neatly in half.