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The Smudge

There were two women sitting at the counter of DANNY'S DINER when Peter Spivey walked in after work. Girls really, and their flimsy satiny clothes and gaudy made up faces marked them as prostitutes taking a break from a long night on the street. Ignoring his usual stool next to the pay telephone, he went on past and slid into the last booth along the wall. Experience had taught him that. Associating with the women that scoured the city for money at night usually meant for a more complicated cup of coffee.

Mabel, the top heavy waitress who shook her double dees at him every time he came in -just for laughs- got a kick out of Peter's diffidence. She teased him as she sloshed steaming coffee from her glass pot into his cup, "You look like a guy that comes in here a lot. 'Bout this time of the morning too. Hm."

Peter cocked one eyebrow into an " Oh, ain't-you-funny" look.

"Naw- you can't be him." Mabel grinned. "Guy always sits at the counter."

"I happen to be in the mood to look out this window tonight." Peter swiveled his head demonstratively. "I like watching the traffic."

Mabel barked a soft short laugh. "I got news for you, buddy." She jerked a thumb behind her. "Traffic's over there."

Chuckling, Peter picked up his cup and took a sip. "Blonde looks young," he remarked.

"Yeah. She must be alla sixteen. Shame to see 'em out here that young."


"Well? You wanna piece of pie with that coffee sir? A danish?" Mabel shook her chest at him. "A couple of these?"

"Hmm?" Peter studied the front of Mabel's smock for a moment. "No. I'm on a diet."

"Lemme know if you change your mind stud." Mabel giggled and drifted away.

A flash of light in the night sky caught Peter's eye. Lightening, a long ways off. He saw a long jagged trail split the dark canopy over the city and as he watched it, a hint of movement blurred inside the shadows across the street. Peter peered. There was someone -no, two someones out there and they seemed to having some kind of a fight. The larger of the two figures suddenly surged forward, pouncing on the other one. Thick arms jerked back one after another and smashed down. Over and over, until the one on the ground had to be to be bruised and bleeding and broken and maybe worse.

Peter pushed himself out of the booth and rushed across the room to the swinging kitchen door. He pushed his head inside the hot steamy kitchen and called, "There's something going on outside. I'm calling the police."

"What!" Slapping his long spatula on the grill with a loud metallic ching, Red, the cook planted his hard dark eyes on Peter's face and his low raspy voice demanded, "What are you talking about?"

"There's a fight." Peter headed back out again. Mabel said something from the back of the kitchen but he was already at the phone.

One of the girls at the counter noticed the commotion outside and squealed, "He's killing that poor guy!"

The other girl echoed, "He's going to kill 'im!"

As the 911 operator came on the line, the two girls raced to the window and started jabbering. A female voice said in Peter's ear, "911 emergency."

"There's a fight," Peter tried to control the tremor in his voice, "Going on outside DANNY'S DINER, on the corner of Filmore and Gaines."

"Sir, are the participants black or white."

What did that matter? Peter said quickly, "White I think. It's too dark to tell for sure."

"How many people are involved sir?"

"Two men. One of them is getting beat up pretty bad."

Suddenly the blonde girl by the window screamed. Mabel and Red had come out of the kitchen and Mabel groaned, "Oh God!"

Peter stared out the big plate glass window but he couldn't see what was going on outside. Red rushed to his side, yelling, "Tell them to get someone down here now!" Peter stared at him blankly and Red grabbed the phone. "This is Red Bartlett, the owner. We need a squad car down here right now. There's a man getting killed outside!"

Peter moved toward Mabel and the two girls. He saw that the big man outside was kicking the one on the ground. Big long swings of his leg came up and they could all hear the ugly thumps from inside the restaurant. The blonde girl covered her mouth and raced for the bathroom to get sick.

Without thinking, Peter went forward and smacked the window. The man across the street stopped and looked their way. After a moment he turned and ran off. Peter gazed out at the poor man lying halfway on the sidewalk with his legs in the street. There was a dark spot on the sidewalk near his head.

Red hung up the phone. He told Peter, "They're on their way."

"I'm going out there." Peter hurried for the door of the restaurant with Red right alongside him. Mabel straggled behind, but she didn't follow them outside.

When they got across the street, Red let out a curse. Peter knelt down and felt the injured man's wrist for a pulse. It was weak. "He's alive."

The tee shirt the man wore was torn and bloody. His lips were swollen and one side of his face was a mass of dark bruises. There was a large pool of blood that looked like it had leaked from the back of his head.

Peter stood up and looked down the street. "Where are they?" he complained.

As if in response, the distant wail of a siren sounded. "Wonder what this was about," Red muttered. "Drugs probably, in this neighborhood. I'm going back inside."

As Peter watched the big cook head back across the street, he wondered if he should follow. There wasn't anything he could do for the injured man, but it seemed wrong to just leave him like that. Then he remembered something he'd heard about shock victims and he sacrificed his jacket, laying it over the victim's body.

A few minutes later two police cars got there. The police questioned Peter and Mabel and Red. The two girls had already left, not wanting to get involved. The ambulance came and took the victim away, its siren screaming.

Two of the policeman stayed longer than the rest. One of then came into the diner, asking Mabel, "Can I get two coffees to go. Cream and sugar for both."

Red was standing behind the counter, busying himself with something and Peter had slouched onto one of the stools out of habit. Peter looked at the policeman; he was a tall, wide shouldered man and he had piercing dark eyes and high cheek bones.

Peter remembered his jacket, but thought better of asking about it. It cost only ten or twelve dollars and it was probably ruined from blood anyway. Instead, he said, "That guy looked pretty bad. Do you think he'll be all right?"

The policeman's dark eyes stared for a moment. "Do you know who he is?" His voice was nearly gruff. "No you don't. That's Harvey Brandt, the pedophile."

Red stood up quickly, rattling some plates. "No shit? That mother f--ker! I hope he dies."

"Yeah." The policeman agreed. "Nobody is going to give a damn about what happens to him."

From the other end of the counter, Mabel put in, "I know Jennifer Jones- Chuck Jones's mother. I know.... That bastard got just what he deserved!"

"Whoever did this-" the policeman said slowly, "Did a service to the community."

Peter was stunned. It all seemed so surreal. He looked across the room at the plate glass window again and struggled to piece it all together in his mind. He'd met Harvey Brandt a few times. He remembered the soft spoken man with the odd way of telling unfunny jokes that you really had to think about before you could laugh. Harvey had come into the bar where Peter worked before he'd been arrested. He hadn't recognized Brandt beneath the bruises and blood and the darkness of the street.

Mabel moved past with the big styrophome coffee cups, "Cream and sugar, right?"

Peter looked up and saw that Red was going back into his kitchen, muttering something about how Brandt had gotten what was coming to him. The policeman was paying for his coffee and Mabel was torn between haranguing over Harvey Brandt's disgusting behavior and flirting with the officer.

Noticing his cup on the table in the booth, Peter got up and walked toward it. He felt enervated and his feet would barely move. When he got to the booth he stared out the window at the spot across the street where Harvey Brandt had fallen. He could still see the stain of blood over there. Slumping into the booth, he kept staring.

Peter remembered his surprise when Harvey had been arrested. They said that Brandt had molested three little boys and Peter hadn't believed it. People in the bar and Mabel and just about everybody Peter ran into talked about it for weeks and when Brandt's trial started the gossip flared up again and it was all you would hear. About how Brandt deserved castration or death for his crimes.

Peter had never said anything about his own feelings of course. How he liked Harvey Brandt because Brandt was smart and he knew about Hemingway and the cyclotron in Chicago and how the Romans had never conquered Scotland and they'd built that wall instead. Harvey was one of the few people who he could actually have an intelligent conversation with. But Peter had never dared tell anyone any of that. In a place like Broken Neck, Michigan such talk would turn you into a pariah.

Red stuck his head out of the kitchen. "You shouldn't've called them." he growled.

Peter looked over. Red's face was screwed into a glare. He told Peter again, "You shouldn't have called the police. Shoulda let that bastard die out there."

Fingering his empty coffee cup, Peter nodded deferentially. It was the only thing to do.

"I hope that bastard dies!" Red spat and disappeared back into the kitchen.

When Harvey Brandt had been found innocent the whole community had gone into an uproar. Threats were common, not only for Harvey but for the twelve men and women who had heard the evidence and set him free. Peter had always been confused by it. By the people like Mabel and Red who loved baseball and God and Christmas, who had good hearts that shrank away from a man like Harvey Brandt because he'd been accused, despite the acquittal. The depth of their hatred confused Peter.

He looked out the window again, remembering the act of laying his jacket over Harvey Brant's broken body. He felt glad he'd done it. But he was also glad that no one would ever know about his act of kindness.

There was a smeary gray smudge on the big glass window Peter realized. If he scooched his body forward the stain of blood on the concrete across the street disappeared behind it. He sat there leaning over the table, not seeing anything but the darkness outside.

Suddenly Mabel was there with a big pot of coffee. "Can you believe that? I hope that S.O.B. dies. I really do." One hand pushed at Peter's shoulder as she suggested, "Why don't you come sit in your spot?"

Forcing a little smile, Peter picked up his cup and got up and followed her back to the counter.

Copyright © 2009 DC Grondo

Wasteland by Miruna Ivanescu
Copyright © 2009
Miruna Ivanescu

DC Grondo spent years traveling throughout the Great American Southwest, first as a performer, then as a country western music concert promoter. He’s finally come back home to Chicago and is pursuing the dream of being a writer. Still searching for his literary niche, DC has written nonfiction articles concerning the enviroment and social injustice, as well as several stories ranging from science fiction to romance. His short stories and articles have appeared in The Fiction Zone, The New Times, The Q C Express, and The New Paradigm.