Friday, November 1, 2013

The Runner

Andy shivered awake in the black cramped space with a throbbing headache, his back against an itchy wooden wall.  Slits of sickly yellow light beamed in from above.  Far away, a door creaked open.  There was a loud thump followed by heavy footsteps.  Head spinning, Andy pulled himself to his feet and leaned his hot forehead against a cold metal surface.  A locker?  He peered through the slits.  A single naked lightbulb swung back and forth on a rusty chain. Shadows spun across a dirty stone floor.  On a decrepit wooden staircase, somebody in wet boots stood facing a burlap sack.

“Heavy bastard,” mumbled the owner of the boots and with a kick the burlap lump came tumbling down. The lump groaned at the bottom of the staircase.


Andy reached into his pockets. No keys, phone, wallet.

They said I was out of this. They said–

The door opened again and the wet boots stomped back down the stairs, this time all the way down. Revealing: Stalin mustache, finger wave greased up hair, suspenders, squinty eyes, dangling cigarette.


The burlap lump groaned louder as Rodriguez approached. “Shut up,” Rodriguez warned. The lump shut up.

Rodriguez ambled across the basement. He stood there for a minute in front of the locker, squinting.

“You awake in there, Andy?”

He thumped the metal with his meaty fist three times.  Andy’s head throbbed.

I’m standing right here and I can smell your shit breath. Asshole.

“Out like a baby. Little baby runner.”

Rodriguez put his cigarette out on the metal, shoved the butt into the slit, stomped back up the stairs. The door slammed shut. The word “runner” felt like a knee to the gut. Starting over again. Square one. The burlap lump at the bottom of the staircase groaned again.

Andy felt in the dark for latches, handles, buttons, anything. Nothing. Light peeled in from the edges of the locker. Feeling around the edges of his container revealed nails.

So I’m supposed to be their bitch. Again.

Andy pulled his knees up to his chest and pushed. The nails squealed against the rotting wood. More yellow light leaked through the sides. He pushed again. Another squeal. (And another plaintive groan from the bottom of the staircase.) Andy stopped, listened. Another push and the locker fell to the stone floor with a clang and there was a flurry of footsteps upstairs. They were unmistakable, what the hell is going on type of footsteps.

Andy’s whole body trembled like Parkinson’s as he limped across the room.  His joints creaked and popped.  The lump by the staircase groaned again. Andy kicked it on his way up the stairs, hissing “Shut up!” between clenched teeth.

The knob wouldn’t budge and his throat quivered as if a thousand tiny fish were trapped in it. A key jingled. The door creaked open and Andy threw his entire weight into it. The edge gashed Rodriguez’s face.

“Why, kid? Why? You got no point!” Rodriguez yelled after him from the porch.

Andy ran.  But not for them.  He ran down a cracked sidewalk under a hazy morning sun past rowhouses and run down corner stores, past street signs he didn’t know, out of some stupid neighborhood, into the middle of the street, in front of a yellow and black taxicab.

The cabbie turned around.

“Where to boss?”

The pleather of the backseat was slippery against Andy’s sweaty forehead. He wanted to puke.

The cabbie turned around.

“Hey. Kid.  You alright back there?”

“No.  Just drive.  Drive or I’ll kill you.”

“Alright, take it easy.”

The cabbie turned back around, put both hands on the wheel and started driving.