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Chapter 14 – Sunshine? Super, Man!

May 8, 2012

Chapter 14 – “Sunshine? Super, Man!”

September 24, 1973 – Washington Square Park, New York, New York

“Yo. Jethro! It’s cool, man! We got lotsa cement ponds here for yas!”

The three punks were laughing. Braden could deal with that. He neither expected nor completely desired to fit in in NYC. His mom had warned him, there were drugs, criminals, con artists, girls who would pretend to like him and then take his money while he slept.

There was even that story about being drugged and waking up with a liver missing or something, but Braden didn’t put much stock in that one.

The three Italian loudmouths were rude, sure, but hadn’t he expected some of that? There were three of them so they felt safe. He certainly didn’t. There would have to be a whole lot more before he could trust he wouldn’t accidentally hurt one of them seriously.

“Ya gonna sing some Johnny Cash for us, Hayseed? Ha!”

“Naw, Iggy, that’s the Man in Black! He’s cool! This is the Okie from Muskogee!”

They laughed even harder at that.

Their mirth was cut short however. Suddenly one of them hit the ground. He was twitching and speaking gibberish. For just a second, Braden wondered if he’d been struck by the Spirit.

Standing next to the prone hood was a thin, kind of nerdy fellow. He was holding a shiny metal club.

“Yo! Ya hit my friend with that, I’m gonna stick it up your ass, Four-Eyes!”

Eli didn’t seem to notice the switchblades that had just come out. He was far more fascinated by how easy it had been to dispatch the very same punk he had seen snatch a purse near the park just the previous night.

“Promises, promises.”

Eli poured on the sissy talk far heavier than normal. He hoped the punk would charge him as a result. He was not disappointed.

“F***in’ faggot! Bleed, motherf… guhhh… errgg…”

Eli caught that one in the throat. The effect was partially paralyzed vocal chords and an inability to stand. It was more like randomizing the musculature, converting voluntary muscles to involuntary ones. Hence the gibberish and the falling to the ground.

The third punk ran shouting a single ‘faggot’ over his shoulder before disappearing.

Braden for the first time since he arrived in this godforsaken city was panicked. He was now a witness to… to… what was this anyway?

“You… you killed them? Poisoned them?”

“Huh? Oh, no. Just a small electrical shock. Kind of like a cattle prod.

“Watch!”

Eli gave the first victim another shock. The hoodlum wriggled, writhed, and tried to say ‘no’ but it was garbled.

“See? No permanent damage.”

Eli smiled at the out-of-towner. Braden was convinced the other young man was a serial killer, some kind of psycho.

“Uh. Well. Guess I’ll be going…”

Eli could see the other young man fishing in his pocket for a nickel. He was planning on calling the cops. Eli could not allow that. He was just getting started testing the shockstick and had other places to clean up once the testing phase was completed here.

“Hey, it’s okay. They aren’t hurt. They were harassing you. Not polite. Besides this one”, he gave him another mini-shock that renewed the spasms, “snatched a lady’s purse last night.”

“Then that’s a matter for the police.”

“Look, I’m guessing you haven’t been here long, am I right? The cops have their hands full with bigger fish. This place is a jungle. You gotta watch yourself.”

Was he threatening Braden?

“I can take care of myself, thank you. I think maybe it’s people like you I should look out for as well. Thank you and good night.”

Did he just insult Eli?

“Well, first thing I suggest is not walking around dressed like Paul Bunyon.”

That was it. All of Braden’s frustrations came out all at once. There happened to be one of those large, heavy, metal garbage cans nearby. Braden kicked it and it flew. It landed on the other side of the park, about 75 yards away. He glared at Eli once and stomped off. There was nothing more to say.

Eli stared in disbelief at the garbage can. It had not only been kicked easily, it was severely dented. He was sure it was from the kick and not the impact. And the distance…

“Hey. Hey! Wait!”

Braden didn’t look back, merely made a hand motion to go away. Eli ran up to him and tried to walk sideways within his field of vision.

“Eli! That’s my name. Eli. You can call me ‘a**hole’ if you like. I deserve it. You are?”

Braden kept walking and tried not to look at the strange fellow. But he did exactly what his mother told him not to do: he made eye contact. This Eli person had a completely different demeanor now. He was friendly. More like a puppy dog begging for a walk than a murderer. He had to bite the inside of his cheeks to keep from smiling or laughing. Braden kept walking silently.

“I’m at NYU. Undeclared science major. I’m thinking maybe electronic engineering or marine biology. Can’t decide. Maybe electronic biology or marine engineering by the time I’m done!”

Braden looked around. Where was a phonebooth when you needed one? He wouldn’t call the police, but maybe if he pretended he was it would scare the goofy guy away for good.

“You at the U? I’m guessing you’re a sportsman. Me, too! Fencing! Fighting Violets! You?”

“Hockey scholarship.”

“Cool. You in the dorms? You like it?”

Braden was supposed to be. In fact, he asked the gang he had the run-in with for directions to his dorm building. They had refused to help and started the barrage of insults.

“Uh. Yeah. It’s okay, I guess. Or will be…”

“C’mon… Uh…”

“Braden.”

‘Don’t tell them your name!’ His mother had been specific on that. Though this side of voodoo, he couldn’t imagine what someone could do with a first name.

“Look, Braden. I’m sorry. You’ve clearly had a bad day and on behalf of the Big Apple, please allow me to officially welcome you. Let me show you around.”

What else was there to do? Practice wasn’t for a few more days and he had no classes tomorrow.

“Yeah. Okay. Eli.”

“Now, listen. First thing is, the dorms suck. They’ll steal your stuff and you’ll get dragged into everyone’s drama. What you need is an apartment. And I happen to have a spare room.”

So that was it. He wanted money.

As if he knew what Braden was thinking, Eli continued, “Hey, I’ll charge you less than the U. No problem. Save a little money. I got a good deal. I’m holding the place for a… a guy. A wise guy. You know what I mean?”

“He’s on vacation or something?”

“Yeah, something.”

“How long?”

“Seven more years. Five on good behavior.”

Braden sighed. It seemed there was no getting away from crime in this town. It was everywhere. He wondered why nobody ever did anything about it.

“Hey, I’m just holding the place for him. It’s rent controlled, so it’s real cheap! I got a washer and dryer, so you can save on laundry, too!”

“Maybe…”

“There’s one more thing. I’m gay. I hope that isn’t a problem.”

What else?

“Sure, Eli. Just so long as we’re clear: I’m not. Okay?”

“Hey, no problem. You got your own room. Privacy, all that.”

They came to Braden’s truck. His stuff was still amazingly inside. There were no broken windows.

Eli, meanwhile, wondered what would happen if he got Braden drunk. Under those country music star clothes appeared to be a Greek god. Then Eli glanced back at the garbage can and thought better of it.

“Can’t always get what you want, I guess.”

“What’s that, Eli?”

“I said, ‘They’ll think twice about who they taunt, I guess.’ You don’t snore, do you?”

—–

©2011 Christopher C. Knall

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