Between drywall jobs, I booked it to Ocean Beach to beat some respect into a piss-ant thief named Nick Russell. He’d broke into a house in North Park the night before, robbed an elderly couple at gunpoint, and pistol-whipped both before fleeing.
None of it sat well with me, seeing as how the victims were beloved San Diego charity workers, known for their thrift shops that clothed the homeless and funded shelters. More personally, they’d lovingly raised multiple generations of foster kids, me included. Nick Russell too.
I’d lost track of where my younger foster brother was living, so I started at his day job. Hodad’s. A legendary burger joint on Newport Ave. close enough to the ocean to catch sea spray in your face while entering. Nick bussed tables there.
A hostess sat me inside against the west wall. Gave me a full view of the restaurant: each table occupied; walls plastered with dented license plates, skateboards, and every kind of sticker imaginable. More importantly, I had a front-row seat for the comings and goings of the staff.
I settled in. Adjusted the bulky piece in my waistband. Place was noisy as hell but smelled like grilled heaven. The double bacon cheeseburger and golden onion rings serenaded me. I resisted. Potentially chasing down a twenty-year-old with five thousand calories anchored in my gut had failure written all over it. Instead, I ordered a beer with the lowest alcohol content.
I nursed the lager for an hour. No sign of Nick. After tucking a twenty under my mug, I wandered to the kitchen. No one gave me a second glance it was that busy. I tapped a red-haired busboy on the shoulder as he unloaded his bin.
“Nick Russell working today?”
“He better be. I’m off in ten and he’s got the afternoon shift. Why?”
I strolled past him without answering and exited through the back into the alley.
A slight breeze carried smells of the ocean, citrus blooms, and weed. Beautiful day, even if my view at the moment consisted of overflowing dumpsters and zig-zagging powerlines obscuring a clear blue sky.
The sound of a small gas-powered motor approached then, and a shirtless kid on a rusted scooter zipped into the lot.
We locked eyes.
He recognized me too. I yanked my gun free before he could jet.
“Get over here!”
“Why? So you can shoot me?” He froze anyway. An unloaded gun serves a purpose. Two, for me. I rushed him, grabbed his arm.
“Get off me, old man.”
“Why’d you do it? You could’ve robbed anyone else.”
“I didn’t rob anyone.”
“Bullshit.” I squeezed his arm. “Forget what you stole. Where the fuck you get off pistol-whipping our parents?”
“They ain’t my parents!” Pause. Then, “How’d they know it was me?”
“Because they raised your dumb ass? You’ve got a unique stink? Shit if I know. Just tell me why.”
Nick slunk. “They got pills. I brought the gun to keep them off me. But Joe grabbed me on my way out, tried to stop me.”
He shrugged. “She got in the way.”
I punched his mouth with the gun. He fell backward and the scooter toppled. The gun escaped my grip, clattered to the ground, and slid under a hibiscus hedge.
“Fuck you!” Nick climbed back on the scooter and flew through the parking lot toward Newport Ave., quick as my jab. I chased after him.
Rounding the corner, he hadn’t gotten far among the heavy sidewalk traffic. Gaining on him, I wished I could’ve retrieved the gun, but figured my fists would suffice.
Nick jumped the scooter into the street, cutting off an orange VW van. I ran faster. Dodged hippies and tourists. Sand crunched under my boots. The ocean gleamed beyond Abbott, the cross street to Newport.
I lost sight of him but heard his scooter rev.
Then, tires squealed, a loud crunch, gasps and screams.
At the corner, I grabbed my knees, sucked wind.
Nick lay unmoving, mangled under a brown delivery truck, the scooter in a million pieces.
Nothing for me to do but head back to Hodad’s to order some grilled heaven with a side of onion rings.