Out of Business

“The fat sonofabitch is probably lying by the pool in Florida right now,” Frankie thought as he stuck his head in the door of Butch’s office. The file cabinet drawers were hanging out almost all empty. The waste basket next to Butch’s desk was overflowing with paper—stacks of invoices, sales receipts, merchandise tags, skin magazines.

He told himself he’d come to the store to pick up a few personal effects but really he was hoping Kathy the cashier, would come by to get her things. Standing in the vacant, trashed out store he stared at the check out counter where she usually worked. He watched her all day—being careful not to let her catch him staring. He had been offered better pay at another store but stayed there hoping somehow he could get something going with Kathy. He suspected she liked him but he wondered if he was “in her league”—she was a very pretty girl. But he always chickened out.

It occurred to him he might never see her again.

Sunlight flooded through the big front window—the store interior looked much bigger with all the racks, stands and display cases gone. Aldo, in his bakery on the other side of the pedestrian mall, called Frankie on his cell yesterday afternoon and told him a truck was parked in front of the shop—guys were pulling out and loading up all the furnishings and fixtures. Frankie told Aldo he didn’t care. He knew then as he knew now, Butch was gone and he’d never see his last two paychecks—nor would Kathy. Rage and helplessness filled him like a balloon about to explode. How many times in his life had something like this happened?—screwed again—a victim again.

He felt even worse for Kathy. Her old man had kicked her out and she was staying with friends—sleeping on their couch. He fantasized about her moving in with him.

“Guys like Butch can spot a sap like me a mile away,” Frankie sullenly told himself. He briefly thought about beating Butch senseless but pushed that aside—he knew in that situation he’d be the one getting the shit beat out of him.

Hands in his jacket pockets, Frankie wandered around the store trying to shake off the self-pity looking for something he could take home and use or sell. He noticed a scotch tape dispenser on the window sill. Picking up a small box he put the dispenser in it and continued looking. Maybe Butch screwed up and forgot something worthwhile.

A can of tennis balls, a partial box of cheap store logo pens went into the box. Under the cashier’s counter—there was Kathy’s hand lotion—and a sweater she kept at the store for when the AC was out of control. He picked up the sweater and held it to his face feeling almost giddy as he inhaled her fragrance—the shampoo, the perfume she used. He put it and the lotion in the box. Maybe he could take it to her. It was, after all—the perfect excuse to go over to her place.

He knew where she lived.  One of the things that made him suspect she liked him was she was always touching his hand and telling him personal information about herself—like the address she was living at. It crossed his mind there was a bus leaving from the corner bus stop within the hour going to her part of town.

The image of him getting on the bus, box in hand scared and excited him—then he wondered if he had enough change on him to take the bus. He had a side job but would not be paid for a few days. He checked his pockets—he had more than enough.

Suddenly he was again filled with rage at Butch—reduced to counting pocket change to see if he had enough to take the bus to a girl’s house. It felt as though Butch was trying to stop him from going to Kathy. He became aware of where he was standing–in the shop and in his life.  In his hands he held a mere symbol of love while looking out the front door to the world beyond–where the real thing was. To his back was the empty space formerly occupied by the bastard to whom he had given the power to be an obstacle to a life of worth, self-respect and larger purpose.  The truth suddenly washed over him—the real problem here was not Butch—Butch was just another scum bag—doing what scum bags do.

Snatching up the box he bolted for the door. Glancing at his watch he thought, “If I run I can just make it.”

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