This story is by BOB GREGORY and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“God damn it to hell! Cheap-ass piece of shit watch from Jimmy Wong!”em He had gone to bed early enough but was too nervous to sleep for the first two or three hours. Michael DeSantis stared at the time on the watch—4:24. He had looked at it when he woke during the night and figured he could sleep another couple hours. But when he woke again, some bright light was showing in the air shaft, and he knew that it had to be a lot later than 6:30. He couldn’t afford to be late for this job. It had taken him months to work himself in with Jake and Willie and finally be asked to work with them.
The Swiss watch with the name he couldn’t pronounce had kept perfect time. He had boosted it three years ago when he was seventeen. He would still have it, but he needed to pawn it to get the stuff he needed for the job. Michael was mostly a street guy. He knew a lot about working the streets, moving from job to job, a little shoplifting to make ends meet, not talking to cops, not always giving the right name—crap like that. But details about watches never crossed his mind. Somehow the Swiss watch just ran without needing any attention. He had not realized that Jimmy Wong sold him a wind-up watch with a 30 hour movement. Jimmy’s corner was at 112th and Lenox. He carried stuff in his pockets and tried to sell mostly to people he knew. On Tuesday night Jimmy had wound and set the watch and handed it to Michael for a twenty dollar bill. It ran down and quit early Thursday morning.
No time for a shower. He moved quickly through the junky, tiny apartment, taking a quick leak in the old, grimy toilet, grabbing the black pants with sharp creases and pulling them on over the old Van Heusen boxers that he had slept in. Shiny artificial leather belt, white shirt, black clip-on tie, his old, flat, worn wallet with maybe three or four bucks, his door key, some subway tokens and the small, light plastic-frame .32 pistol he had picked up over in Red Hook for too much money. Finally the dark blue jacket and shiny black loafers he had found at the Goodwill store—just about the right size and never worn much. Probably some guy had died and his wife gave his stuff away. Some water on his hands to slick down his thick black hair, glad he had shaved last night.
He still didn’t know what time it was, but he knew he was late and needed to make up the lost time. Out the door and down two flights to the street. There was a bank sign halfway down the block showing the time was 8:41. Shit! He needed to catch the cross-town bus a couple blocks south, so he ran, feeling uncomfortable in the jacket and tie. He had meant to get a cheap brief case or folder of some kind but had run low on money. Now he was glad not to be bothered with it. He was five-ten and not athletic, but in good shape from the labor he did sometimes.
When he got down to 59th, the bus was across the street. But before he could dodge through the traffic and get there, it pulled away He began running to catch it, but the traffic was not heavy enough to slow it down. He weighed his options—another bus in maybe ten minutes, or the R train, which meant running three crosstown blocks. He ran. He got to the R train platform out of breath and sweaty. There was a clock there, and he set the piece of shit watch to 8:49. He had eleven minutes to meet Jake and Willie on Lexington. Time dragged. Pacing didn’t help. He heard a train, but it was on a lower track. After nearly five minutes the R Train arrived. He was on as soon as the doors opened, even bumping a woman who was getting off. He swung into an orange plastic seat near the door. The pause in the station was the same length as usual, but it seemed endless. The run to the east seemed slow, though he could tell from the sound of the wheels on the rails the
speed was the same as always. Only one stop at 5th Avenue, again agonizingly slow. He was waiting at the door as the train pulled into the Lexington Avenue station. Out like a shot and up the stairs two at a time. Down the block to the meeting point. It was 9:04, and Jake was not there. He was a gruff, no-nonsense man and had been harshly insistent that nobody be late. He had timed the job very tightly and knew what he was talking about. He had pulled two or three bank jobs before and done some time in Sing Sing for one of them that went wrong.
Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Jake would never talk to him again. There would not be another chance. Michael was trembling from the emotions of frustration and disappointment as well as from all the running. He numbly caught the next westbound train. The east side was expensive, and even in the jacket and tie he didn’t feel like he fit in. Walking west from the station, he became aware that he was hungry. At a D’Agostinos he bought some kind of cheese pastry at the deli counter and got it to go in a bag with two or three napkins. Another block west there was a tiny triangular park with some bushes and a couple of park benches. Michael sat down, ate the pastry, looked around and slipped the small .32 from his pocket. He wrapped it in the napkins and put it into the plastic bag. He was on edge and shaking again, even though he had recovered from the running—more nervous than he had ever been after stealing from a store, though this time he hadn’t even done anything.
He didn’t like carrying the gun. He had never even had one before. Now it was in a bag that could quickly be tossed into a trash can or down a sewer if he saw a cop eyeballing him. He hoped he wouldn’t need to toss it because selling it could recover several bills he had laid out.
His mouth was dry. Except for grunting a couple of words when he bought the pastry, his only audible words had been his curses when he woke so late. Walking on toward Eighth Avenue he saw a shop that sold coffee about as cheap as anywhere in Manhattan. Inside he sat down, tried to relax and briefly inhaled the coffee aroma before taking a sip. A big screen TV on the wall had a sports update on the Yankees. Then some asshole began droning something about the economy that Michael didn’t understand. He tuned it out and took a full drink of the hot coffee. Almost before he could swallow, an urgent-sounding voice interrupted with a news bulletin: “This morning two armed men entered the Wells-Fargo bank at 58th and Third to commit a robbery. An armed security guard opened fire on them. They returned fire. The guard has a non-life-threatening wound. Both men were killed. Witnesses said they were nicely dressed and appeared to be just regular bank customers. They have not yet been identified. More updates on the News at Eleven.”
The trembling had almost gone, but it came back enough that the cup was shaking in his hand. Michael put it down and left the coffee shop. There was a hollow, dull pain in his gut. His body was shuddering—scared shitless like he hadn’t been since a cop collared him at age thirteen for lifting an orange from a fruit stand. He walked back to his place, taking deep breaths and slowly regaining a measure of calm. On unsteady legs he climbed the two flights of stairs, as tired as if he had unloaded vegetable trucks all day at the wholesale market. He needed a shower but kicked off the loafers and crashed on the bed in his clothes. He would sleep, and then he would have a lot of thinking to do.
A couple of months ago old man Jacobs up in the Bronx had offered him a thoroughly crappy but steady job at his scrap metal yard and offered to teach him the business. The old guy was in his seventies, and his wife just died last spring. He needed grunt work and somebody to keep the business going when he croaked. It might be better than the constant hustling and uncertainty.
As he faded into exhausted sleep, Michael’s last thought was about maybe scraping up enough money to get the Swiss watch back.