Chapter 4: Mike
_Come on, come on… Just start already! _Another wheeze and gasp from the engine, but it still wouldn’t fully turn over. “Dammit!” Mike shouted as he smashed his right fist down against the front dashboard, cracking the brittle, sun-bleached plastic of the air vents.
The day had not been going well. Come to think of it, the week, the month, the year had not been going well. But today had been especially trying. Marie had given him crap again for coming in late last night, he’d overslept and got on the highway later than he’d hoped (no thanks to Marie, who hadn’t been persistent enough in making roll out of bed), and now the car was not cooperating.
This was ridiculous. Any other day but this one! Today was important! Today was the meeting about the Richmond account – his account. An account that he had nursed from its infancy at Copeland. An account that he had brought to the company himself. Copeland didn’t even know Richmond existed until he’d brought it in. And he’d turned the account into a cash cow. Mike Turner was totally responsible for turning Copeland Advertising into a large, well- respected firm, and he wasn’t getting any credit at all.
Not enough, anyway. And these new executives – young enough to be his children – were coming in, acting like _they’d _ built the company, yanking his talented staff away and putting them under other, less adept leaders. Then they had the audacity to complain when the returns on the Richmond account weren’t as high as usual. How could he be expected to produce results when they were giving crappy, unskilled kids to work with? Most of these kids didn’t know Z-Form advertising from their ass. And he was expected not only to train them, but use them to produce high-quality advertising for the company’s biggest account. Yeah, right, the logic made sense.
And these kids – all they knew how to do was use a computer. If they couldn’t do it digitally, they couldn’t do it. Not an ounce of artistic talent between them. They only knew how to click a few buttons, move a cursor around a screen, and hit the print key. Mike had come in with a few physical mock-ups and these kids were amazed. “This must have taken you so long,” they exclaimed. Damn kids, with their skateboards, their body-art, their Japanese anime bullshit. They didn’t know jack about advertising. How the hell did they get degrees?
Today was the day he was going to fix the problems. The bigwigs upstairs wanted to talk Richmond , and Mike was ready. He’d prepared several new ideas for the account, and had outlined a plan to rejuvenate Copeland’s advertising efforts. He’d even formulated a sound argument to get some of the more seasoned staff back on his team. Surely they could listen to reason. After all, it was the least the company could do for him. And the Richmond guys were ready to sign a contract renewal, provided Mike could produce some quality mock-ups for the new campaign. A renewed contract meant a bonus for Mike – a bonus he desperately needed.
But now the damn car wouldn’t start. He’d asked Marie three weeks ago to take it to the mechanic while he was at work, but apparently she hadn’t. She wasn’t good for much of anything these days. She was a decent cook, though, and he kept her around as a back-up if he couldn’t get any from the younger, more lithe interns. A man had needs, right?
Besides, in his occupation, he needed a wife – someone he could bring to company functions and provide his account-holders a sense of stability and constancy. The latest in a string of vacuous office biddies wasn’t the best choice for a dinner companion if clients were present; they needed to see him as reliable, honest, and consistent, even if none of those words had ever accurately described him.
This was ridiculous. The anger of the surrounding drivers on the highway was mounting quickly, and they sped by him honking their horns and screaming obscenities in his general direction. What was he going to do? He could call a tow truck, but by the time they arrived and he made it downtown, he’d have missed the meeting and his opportunity to get things back on track at Copeland would be gone. He already felt he was on thin ice with many of the executives – he couldn’t afford to make a bad impression at this meeting.
So what was he going to do? He slammed his fist on the dash again, sending pieces of broken plastic flying, and dialed Marie on his cell. No answer. Where the hell was she? There was absolutely no reason she wouldn’t be picking up this early in the morning. Dammit, dammit, dammit! He hit the dash three more times for emphasis, this time driving plastic splinters into his knuckles. He didn’t care. He had to get downtown.
There was more riding on this meeting than anyone realized. He needed that bonus, and in order to get the bonus, had had to convince the execs to give him his old team back. And to do that, he had to get to the meeting! It was a chain of events, all connected and reliant on the other, and he couldn’t afford to screw any one of them up at this point.
In a moment of sudden clarity, Mike noticed the train track to his left, running parallel to the highway. How close was he to a station? He could see the outline of the Whoorsley station in the distance ahead of him. Could he make it on foot? He glanced back and saw the light of an approaching train pulling to a stop at the faraway Allerton stop. He’d have to chance it.
He threw the door of his black Mercedes open, grabbed his briefcase, and dodged oncoming traffic and verbal assaults over to the shoulder. He briefly looked back at the car; he’d probably never see it again, but it was a small price to pay.
He loosened his tie and began to run towards Whoorsley as fast as he could. He hadn’t run like this since college, and his body apparently took great pleasure in reminding him of that fact with burning lungs, rubbery legs, and the complexion of a pickled beet. And this was only the first hundred feet.
The train passed him with about 1000 feet left. He felt as if his lungs were going to explode, but he kept going. He had to. Mike was not a religious man; he hadn’t prayed since he was a small child kneeling at his bedside, hands folded, but he prayed harder than he ever had that something, some one, would make that train wait. If he could make it, he might be able to make it all the way downtown and still have a few minutes to take the elevator up to the office.
And the train waited. Time just seemed to stop. The rest of the world kept moving, but that train was rooted, statue-like, at the Whoorsley station. Mike kept running, sweat pouring from his brow, legs numb, lungs pumping furiously, blood oozing from the dashboard-incurred injury he hadn’t even noticed yet. He made it to the rear car and literally fell into it. The passengers looked at him strangely, but he didn’t care. He’d made it, somehow. Perhaps this day wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
Chapter 5: The Corner
Ernie stepped his way back along Sullivan Street . The music was roaring in his ears again. The walk would get him warmed up; he’d be more than prepared to take on the kids at 34 th and Broadway by the time he arrived.
Some of the kids on “the corner,” as it was known to those in the elite circle of participants, resented Ernie’s presence, but no one could deny that he could move. Ken was sure to set straight anyone who argued about Ernie’s participation. Ken understood that despite appearances, Ernie wasn’t a grown- up, and the rest of the kids had nothing to fear from him.
A rising rhythm in the music caused a requisite wave to ripple through Ernie’s body. He loved that part of the song. In a sudden burst of inspiration, he jumped up, spun 180 degrees and landed on his back heels, still moving the same direction. A new move! He didn’t discover that many anymore. He’d have to try that out at the corner today. It would drive the kids nuts – especially Karen.
Ken teased Ernie all the time about his crush on Karen. He tried to deny it, but he had to admit to himself that it was true. There was something about the way she shook her body while out on the floor, moved her hips back and forth, and seemed to look right through him when their eyes met… he grinned. She should be there today, and armed with a new move, he was sure to impress her.
He rounded the corner and made his way along the Dominick’s parking lot. He stole a glance in the storefront window, searching for the nice girl with the blonde hair and a metal bar in her eye. Ernie had always found the piercing strange – why someone would do that to their body was beyond his comprehension – but she had been friendly to him, providing him with the occasional sandwich or soda on a warm day, so he eventually accepted the shiny metal accessory as a part of her.
She was kind to all the residents, past and present, of St. Ives, and many others that had never set foot there. She always had some spare change, a kind word, or a candy bar, or something. She often brought a pizza out on her lunch brea k and dined with the less fortunate in the lot, or, during the winner, brought small mugs of del iciously warm hot chocolate for all.
Ernie could nev er remember her name, but he’d nev er forget her face. She always took the time to talk to him when she could, and he appreciated it. She reminded him of Rho nda, but he could nev er remember her name. She’d told it to him many times, but it wouldn’t stick. She always giggled when he repeated it countless times in her presence to make sure he’d know it for next time. Perhaps he forgot it just so he could make her laugh again the next time they met.
There she was in the store, scanning items over the laser reader and smiling at the customers. She didn’t see him, but he didn’t have time to try and get her attention. Ken would be waiting at the corner.
In fact, Ken came out to meet him a couple blocks before the corner.
“Hey, Ern, didja hear?” Ernie nodded in confusion.
“Somethin’s going on down by the store. Cops and everything! Come on, lets go check it out!” Ken whizzed by on his bike, made a wide u-turn, and pedaled up beside Ernie.
“Man, I hope we can see somethin’. Maybe there’ll be a body and everything! Wouldn’t that be awesome?” Ernie wasn’t entirely sure he was ready to witness a dead body. He certainly wasn’t as excited as Ken, but with something this exciting going on, it was doubtful anyone would be at the corner anyway.
The fla shing red and blue of the emergency vehicles were visible a few blocks from the convenience store. Ken sped up and pedaled on ahead, leaving Ernie alone with his thoughts for a few moments. All he really wanted to do was jive down on the corner. Maybe he should just go back towards St. Ives and jive by himself for the day. No, eventually the kids would get bored or realize they weren’t going to see anything, and the corner would ramp back up to it’s usual buzz of activity. He’d just have to wait it out.
As he approached Ken’s chosen vantage point, men in blue police uniforms were wheeling a gurney into the back of an ambulance.
“Well, they ain’t in no hurry. He must already be dead. Come on, let’s go take a look!” Ernie groaned inwardly, but followed Ken as he clandestinely cut up the alley behind the store and emerged beside the nearly deserted far side of the ambulance.
“Come on, Ern, lift me up,” Ken whispered, gesturing at the small side window of the ambulance. Ernie grasped Ken under his arms and heaved him towards the window, holding him steady as he himself peeked in the window.
Ernie dropped Ken hard on the pavement as his vision cleared and he recognized who it was on the gurney.
It was Darryl.