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Just after I of my pickup truck, the two men stalking me had emerged from the shadows and then trailed me though the parking lot.
They lagged behind me about fifty feet. I slowed my pace, not that I wasn’t as slow as a tree slug already, to see if they would overtake me or hang back.
They hung back. Not good.
Any human at a normal pace should have passed me by now. I could feel their eyes punching holes in me, waiting for the right time to move.
Since I wasn’t up for dealing with any problems, I stepped it out as best I could. With a new-and-improved plastic pelvis and hip, along with tenmonths of physical therapy, I should be able to hobble a little faster. No such luck.The cane and gimpy leg would only go so fast. Grandma Moses on a pogo stick could hop circles around me.
Using the rearview mirrors on the cars parked along Lake Avenue, I kept tabs on my new friends without being too obvious, a little trick I picked up when I worked undercover.No need to give them more of an advantage than they already had.
The big one, a black kidmaybe twenty years old, wore a white wife-beater muscle shirt and black jean shorts. Mini-dreads jetted from his head like a frayed ball of yarn.The other kid, probably the same age, was an anemic white with a tattoo sprawled on his neck and a shaved head that glistened under the streetlights.
With each glance I caught, they feigned like they were talking to each other, but I could sense they were planning to pounce. And why not? I was an easy mark—a crippled guy negotiating the Orlando streets alone at night. One more block to go until I was at work.
Eleven months ago I would have enjoyed this game of cat and mouse. But then I would have been the cat, a big hungry one ready to swallow those thugs like the rodents they were. I hoped they were just playing a game.
I stole a furtive glance behind me, and my tails were nowhere in sight. I stopped and shifted all the way around.Gone.Must have headed up an alley.Maybe I was just losingmy mind.Hadn’t been out much lately.
I used to love the Orlando nightlife, the clubs and things to do; the pulse of the city at night energized me. It had changed so much in a short amount of time. Faster, meaner, a stranger to me. Like I was living on a different planet. I had grown up here, not long after Mickey scurried in, back when Orlando was more of a cowtown.
Now it’s a big city plagued with big-city problems.
As I approached the corner of Lake and East Jackson,Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumber raced around the corner right in front of me, both out of breath.They must have sprinted down the alley behind the store to cut me off just before I reached the intersection.
This wouldn’t end pretty.
“Hey, old man.”The ugly white kid checked up and down the street, like felons do when they’re preparing to do something monumentally stupid.
His buddy invaded my personal space on my left. “How about some spare change?” he said with an accent, maybe Haitian.
“Don’t have any change.” I eyed possible escape routes, though escape wasn’t likely in my condition. And I couldn’t count on anyone to help me, or even to notice, for that matter.On this corner, in a city of over two hundred thousand people, I was on my own…as usual.
“Then give up your wallet, or I bust your head like your leg is.”
The black kid pressed in on me.
“Okay.Okay.” I held upmy right hand while leaning more on the cane with my left. “I’ll give you my wallet. Just don’t hurt me.”
“Hurry up!”The white kid spit as he spoke, clenching his fists at his sides. “I ain’t got all night.”He was the alpha dog of the two.
If they were going to attack, he would lead.He needed to be tamed.
I reached back with my right hand, brushed past my wallet in my back pocket, and slipped my hand up into my waistband. I let go of the cane.The brass handle clanked as it bounced off the concrete, echoing around us.Huey and Dewey beaded in on it, drawing their attention down for the second I needed.
I unsnapped my Glock 9mm from its holster, then drew it to eye level, settingmy night sights on the white kid’s forehead. A stupefied look crossed his face, which must be a regular event for him. He wasn’t so alpha dog now.
“The leg’s busted, scumbag, but my finger works fine.” I gritted my teeth and leaned forward. “You wanna test it out?”
Both raised their hands. “We’re just playin’ around,man.”The black kid glanced toward his partner, who peered down the barrel of my pistol.
“I’m not. You got ten seconds to run before I call the cops.Ten. Nine.” They were half a block away before I hit five.
Retired cops can legally carry guns, even if they’re medically retired. At least I had that going for me. If not, I’d have been a quick lunch for those creeps. I thought about calling Dispatch and reporting it, but something told me my new friends would think twice for a while before robbing someone again, and I didn’t relish the idea of being listed as a victim again on an incident report with my old department.
I slid the pistol into its holster at my back, then snapped it in. I combed my fingers through my hair. The May air was thick and still. The adrenaline surge from the game with my buddies wasn’t all bad. For the first time in a while, I felt alive, energized.Too bad it would die down soon.
My cane lay on the sidewalk, which shouldn’t have been a big deal. But everything was a big deal these days.
As I stood without support, I felt like I was balancing on a dry, cracked twig ready to snap at any moment, sending me crashing to the concrete.My own legs were under someone else’s spell, because they certainly didn’t obey me anymore. I used to be able to roundhouse kick a heavy bag so hard it would bend in half. Now I had to mentally prepare to bend over and pick up my cane so I wouldn’t fall on my face like an idiot…or worse, a helpless child.
I shouldn’t have been too worried, though. Me and my physical terrorist—Imean, therapist—Helga, had been working on this. Her name really wasn’t Helga, but I liked to call her that. A linebacker- sized woman with viselike man hands, sweet Helga and I would rendezvous three times a week—whether I wanted to or not.
(If I didn’t go tomy therapy and doctors’ appointments, I didn’t get my medical retirement checks.) I imagine Helga’s former job was as an interrogator in a Russian gulag somewhere deep in Siberia, slapping, twisting, and pounding confessions from the prisoners.
I’ve cried out for mercy more than once on her medieval torture table.
I drew in a deep breath, then exhaled as we practiced. I eased down, shifting all my weight onto my left foot while rolling my right foot on its heel, stretching it out. Throbbing bolts of pain fired up my leg then my spine, like multiple shots from a Taser. I wobbled as my fingers brushed the cane, as if I were petting the head of a snake. My middle finger caught the lip of the hawk-bill handle, then drew it into my hand. I stabbed the tip into the concrete and pressed myself up.What a production.
As I righted myself, I took a second to compose, the nerve endings in my lower half signaling their dismay and rebellion. I checked my watch. If I was gonna make my shift as the night watchman at Coral Bay Condominiums, I’d have to hustle. I’d hate to lose my new job. But then again, I didn’t have much respect for someone who’s never lost anything.
My name is Ray Quinn. Eleven months ago, I lost everything.