I wanted to slap his smug face, watch his squinty eyes open wide in shock. Instead, I hid my balled fists in my lap and tried to smile. Tony gave me the side eye and shook his head slightly when our eyes met.
It all started when our writer's circle decided to begin submitting our stories to a writer's competition. Some of us weren't quite ready, but Gerald, Tony, Melissa and I all felt we were. Ann agreed to type up our submissions for us as some of us had "technical difficulties". I could type, but I had to give up my internet service after losing my job during the Covid 19 epidemic. Tony's dyslexic - reading his work is an adventure requiring the Rosetta Stone to figure it out. Gerald has one of those voice activated things that type it up for you...we should have known something was foul when he agreed to go in on this so readily.
So, what happened was that our stories were submitted all right...all in Gerald's name. Ann claimed it was an error and was very apologetic, but Josephina swore that she saw Gerald handing Ann some money, she thought as payment for typing up our submissions. Melissa called Ann a mercinary bitch and Gerald a talentless wanker, threw a cup of lukewarm coffee at Gerald and stormed out. She wasn't returning anyone's calls. Tony was presenting great poker face...I figured he'd be the angriest because it was his story that had won. Mine only came in third place, but damn...I really needed that fifty dollars. And fat face Gerald sat there smirking and refused to give us the money WE had earned.
"I really don't see why you're so upset," he began. Tony cut him off.
"C'mon man, nobody can be THAT stupid! We're mad because not only did you take credit for our work, but you're taking the money too. That's not fair." Gerald waved his hand airily.
"It's not that much money. Besides, where's your proof? The winning contributions were in my name. Unless you have something in writing from an independent source confirming that the stories were your original work, you can't prove a thing in court."
I jumped to my feet.
"What the hell is WRONG with you, Gerald? We all know you didn't submit those stories. You didn't write them, you don't deserve the credit for them, and you SURE don't deserve the money!" I could feel the blood rushing to my face and the slight dizziness of my blood pressure going into the danger zone, but I couldn't stop.
"You're nothing but a parasite, Gerald. Give me my damn money! Or I'll..."
He leaned back in his chair and gave me an insolent smirk.
"Or you'll do... what, exactly? Are you aware that you are uttering a threat?"
I lunged at his face, screaming and my hands curled into sharp taloned claws reaching for his eyes. Tony and Dave grabbed me and hauled me outside, where Tony slammed the door shut and Dave kept me pinned against the wall until I stopped struggling and swearing. When I dissolved in miserable tears, he finally let me up and hugged me as I cried.
"It's just that...I really needed that money... even fifty would be a help..." I sobbed into a wringing wet handful of tissue. Dave nodded sympathetically.
"I know...I can use extra money myself what with Dolores laid off and Mandy still so sick. But...you can't assault people. And he WOULD call the cops, the miserable little jerk."
There came a timid rap on the door, and Tony cracked it open. Ysmine was standing there wringing her hands. I couldn't hear what she said, but Tony nodded and shut the door, turning to us.
"He did call the police. We need to get out of here."
I was drained at this point, and allowed Dave and Tony to lead me around the outside of the building to the parking lot. Gerald was there, waving his hands and ranting...it ramped up considerably when he saw me. Numbly I heard him running on about how I was going to jail for assault...that he was going to sue me for everything I owned, that he was going to sue EVERYBODY involved in "the vicious attack upon his person and his character," blah, blah, blah. By this point I just felt tired and defeated. I had jumped at him in desperation, just as I had written that short story, and I was just as empty physically as I was inspiration-wise. Both efforts had used up my reserves, and I was an empty husk, split open, having scattered my contents to the wind. I waited for the police to come, too weary to leave as so many of the others had. I wondered what would happen to my cat. Would my landlord hold my furniture? I sat at the rickety old picnic table, a dumpy, unemployed, 63 year old crazy cat lady. Surely I would appear relatively harmless? I sat, willing my racing heart to slow down before it exploded while Gerald ranted on in the background. Tony stayed next to me - I think he was afraid that I was going to code. Dave was trying to calm Gerald. I closed my eyes.
A screech of brakes and a shriek snapped open my eyes. There was a cruiser at the curb, and Gerald was lying several feet away, blood pouring from his mouth. The shaken rookie was standing next to Gerald, calling for a bus and back up.
I felt sorry for the kid, this was his second solo tour of duty and he was sobbing like a girl. He kept repeating " I didn't even see him. He just jumped in front of me". The ambulance crew threw a cover over Gerald and sedated the rookie while the other cops interviewed us. Apparently, Gerald was ramped up, had started running around flailing his arms and wound up racing into the street in front of the cruiser. Dave was a big help during all of the hubbub. As a former state trooper, the big man took charge of the scene until the detectives showed up. The captain, a tall, pretty African American woman turned out to be a cousin of Dave's wife, or something. I really wasn't paying attention. One of the EMTs took my blood pressure and had me sit quietly after giving me a pill. She wanted me to go to the ER, but I just wanted to go home and sleep.
Two hours later, the coroner took Gerald's corpse away and the police had finished questioning me and the other witnesses. I refused several offers of a ride... I just wanted to be alone. I rose stiffly from the picnic table in the corner of the parking area and walked towards the small building where the Beckett's Landing Writer's Association held their (as it turned out) last meeting. I needed to pee, and to get my purse and my manuscripts.
I walked into the building and picked up my stuff. Looking around at the now unpopulated room, I saw something on the floor...a knapsack. Gerald's knapsack.
There were no surveillance cameras... really, nothing to steal except for other people's dreams, and there isn't much street value there for the average crook. Should I? If need justifies action, surely I was justified and then some. I picked up the bag and carried it with me into the bathroom while I did my business.
After I washed my hands, I pulled on my gardening gloves, opened the zipper and started going through the contents. His wallet was in there - he always wore sweat pants so he had no pockets.
Yeah, I took what was in there...$375.00, you better believe I took it. What was I going to do, leave it for somebody else? I found his keys, too, so I drove his car to his comfortable suburban house, passing a bus stop on the corner nearby. He apparently made his living doing something with stocks, and doing well by the looks of it. He seemed to live alone, employing rent-a-girl agencies for housekeeping and sex. I saw the receipts. He had no pets, not even a houseplant. And what sort of person has their own naked portrait up in the bedroom? Yuck!
I carefully searched the house. I found drugs, weed and some sort of pills, which I left on the bed. I found a safe behind another portrait of Gerald, fully clothed this time, thank God! The combination was easy to get...his birthday, of course. I was beginning to appreciate just what a sick puppy he had been. In the safe was a shiny pistol of some sort, what looked like gold bars and some coins and a wad of cash stacked like a Dagwood, about seven inches of greenback dollars.
I was stunned. What sort of man has all this, and steals from others who are in need? I took it all.
Stuffing my loot into a shopping bag, I left his knapsack on the floor by the couch and dumped the car keys on top. I would catch the bus home, I thought, and divvy up the proceeds of my robbery. Dave's little daughter would get the most to help with the hospital bill, and Tony would get his share of the writing contest money. I would give Mandy her portion as well, and I would use the rest to keep me afloat until I found work.
Yes, that is a good plan, I thought. Because what's the point of leaving the stuff here, right? The dead have no use for gold.
Hmmmm, that would be an excellent title, wouldn't it? Humming, I pulled the door shut and walked towards the bus shelter on the corner, already starting my next story and feeling better than I had in weeks.