March 21st, 1969
I got it. All three thousand dollars. I was surprised that he made the payment in ten dollar bills. You would think $3000 in $10 notes would take up a lot of space, but it’s only a couple of inches thick. I must have counted it a dozen times to make certain. I haven’t handled this much cash in ages. Even in my previous life, where I was the CEO of a billion dollar enterprise, I did all my transactions over the internet or used plastic.
Hell, I even employed people to do my buying and selling for me. I also had a couple of check accounts, but ironically I never wrote out a single check in the last ten years of my previous life. The era of the credit card must still show its efficient head back here.
Also, anybody that needs cash has got to go stand in a long queue at the bank. I can’t recall when the first ATMs were installed, but they were certainly the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Shit, we don’t even have sliced bread yet!!!
The money drop didn’t go quite as smoothly as I had hoped.
Another of my frustrations is that I don’t have a time piece. This means that I have to constantly ask people around me for the time. A watch is definitely at the top of my birthday list this year. Digital watches are also still a long way off and back here people still use am and pm a lot. If I had told Joaq to catch the 15h10 bus, he might not have known that it meant 3:10 pm.
Anyhow, I got to the park at about 2pm and, to my shock and surprise, he was already there, sitting on one of the park benches. At first I figured that he must have come early to be on the lookout for any person arriving who might be the possible pick-up, but in retrospect I realize that he was just making sure that he wasn’t going to be late for the drop-off.
Still, he did seem to be scanning the area and the faces of everyone that passed by. I also suspected that the play area of the park was probably one of his chief hunting grounds, but today his attention was more focused on the adults passing through on the paved way.
I decided to have some further fun and let the predator sweat some more.
I approached from behind and asked loudly, “Where’s Gigi and Gaston?” His whole body seemed to give an involuntary spasm.
“Jack? My goodness! You gave me quite a start!”
“Sorry! Where are the dogs?” I asked restraining my laughter.
“At home. I…uh…got to go do some business in town.”
“Why you sitting here then?” I said glancing at the plain brown paper bag clutched in his hands. “You bring something to feed the pigeons?”
“This?” he said clutching even harder. “No, it’s for me. It’s…uh…just a sandwich for later. The bus only arrives after three. I thought I’d relax awhile in the park while I wait.” He seemed perturbed at my presence. I liked that immensely. “What are you doing here?” he asked anxiously.
“I came to play awhile. I told a friend to meet me here, but I don’t see him yet. I told him I’d be here at two. What time is it now?”
He glanced at his watch. “Ten past.”
“It’s still awhile before your bus comes. You wanna come push me on the swings till then?”
I could see he was just bursting to tell me to bugger off, but he managed to smile and say, “Sorry, Jack, I’m still feeling a little under the weather.”
“Oh yeah, I almost forgot that you weren’t feeling so good the other day. What is it? Flu?”
“Yeah, a pretty bad case too. So I don’t think you should be hanging around me right now. I’m actually off to see a doctor.” Then he gave a cough and sniffed.
“Sorry?” he asked frowning.
“If I get sick too, I can stay at home for awhile. No school! Hoo hoo!”
“Don’t be silly. Now run off and play. Come on, off you go. I insist. Besides, I’ve decided I’m going to go wait at the bus stop.”
“Okay,” I said moving off towards the swings. “I hope you get better soon.”
I sat on one of the swings and watched as he moved off swiftly towards the bus stop still clutching tightly to the bag.
I stayed on the swing until I heard the old town hall clock in the distance chiming three. Then I ran towards the bus stop.
“Oranges!” I said loudly. His body gave that same beautiful involuntary spasm.”
“What?” he asked unable to conceal his annoyance. “I thought I told you to go play?”
“Yeah, but I just remembered something that I thought you should know.”
“I hear they say you should eat a lot of oranges. They got plenty vitamin C. And that helps to prevent colds and flu.”
“Yeah, it’s a proven fact.”
“Thank you, I’ll remember that,” he said glancing nervously down the road. “Now go play.”
“Of course it ain’t gonna help you none now because you already got the flu.”
I could practically reach out and touch the desperation in his tone. “Fine! Okay! Did your friend turn up?”
There was a kid about my age on the roundabout. I pointed at him. “Yeah, that’s Melvin over there.” Then before Joaq could say anything I blurted, “I just remembered a joke. Wanna hear it?”
“Another time perhaps.” He glanced at his watch. “The bus will probably be here any minute now.”
“That’s okay, I’ll tell it fast.” He was about to open his mouth to object, but I started telling the joke. “They say if you get the flu and go see a doctor it takes fourteen days for you to get better. If you go see the pharmacist instead, then it takes two weeks. But if you stay at home in bed it takes up to a fortnight before you’re well again. Ha haa!” Joaq just stood there blank-faced staring at me. “Don’t you get it?”
“What?” he asked clearly irritated. He glanced anxiously up the road again.
“They’re all the same.”
“What’s the same?”
“Two weeks, fourteen days and a fortnight. It’s all the same. Ha haa!”
“Oh, yeah,” he said apathetically. “That’s clever. Very funny.” Then quickly added, “Isn’t your friend looking for you?”
“Probably. See you round.” I ran off. “Bye.”
I went over to the roundabout and offered to turn the contraption for the kid playing on it. He was only too happy for the offer.
As I pushed I watched Joaq pace up and down in front of the bus stop. His gaze went constantly between looking at his watch and staring down the road. Now and then he would glance in my direction, but then all of a sudden he stared intently up the road.
It was only now that I noticed the one-legged man on crutches wearing a long duffle coat and moving methodically in Joaq’s direction. It was also at this time that the bus to Sedgefield station rounded the bend.
Joaq obeyed the instructions to the letter. He placed the bag in the trash container and boarded the bus.
I watched until the bus had disappeared over the hill before moving towards the bus stop.
Then my blood turned cold. The one-legged man was scratching in the trash container.
“Hey?” I said behind him. He turned to face me and my heart sank as I saw the brown paper bag in his left hand.
“Yeah?” he asked looking down at me. “What’s up, bud?”
He had a piece of cardboard tied around his neck. On it was written: I gave a leg in Nam - What can you give?
I pointed at the board. “Is that true? Did you really serve in Vietnam?”
He leaned his crutches against the trash container and came to attention as best as a one-legged man can. Then he saluted. “1st Battalion, 3rd Marines!” he said loud and proud. “Lava Dogs! 1st in, last out! Hoo-hah! Fortuna Fortes Juvat!”
“What’s that mean?”
“Fortune favors the brave, bud. Fortune favors the brave. Hoo ha!”
“That’s right, bud! You maybe got a little something for a war vet? A spare coin or two for an old war dog?
“What’s up? Weren’t you brave enough or did fortune screw you over.”
“Never mind,” I said reaching into my pocket. “I don’t have much on me, but this will at least get you a cup of coffee.” I held out a clenched fist. There was nothing in my hand, but he wouldn’t know that until it was too late.
“God bless America,” he said reaching out and down. “And God bless you, bud.”
I retracted my hand slightly causing him to over reach and lose his balance. He stumbled, and in that instant I snatched the bag out of his hand and grabbed the large lapel of his coat pulling him forward.
He collapsed onto the sidewalk and I sprinted away with the prize. I stopped at a safe distance and listened as he sent a very long string of profanities in my direction. When he had finished I raised the plain brown bag and said, “Fortuna Fortes Juvat, bud. Fortuna Fortes Juvat!” Then I winked and ran off.
Besides $3000 in $10 dollar bills, I found something else in the plain brown paper bag; something that I initially considered to be offensive and unsettling.
Joaq had taken the audacity to include a small note that reads: I am neither proud nor relish in the things I have done. So, when Judgment Day cometh – I pray that God forgive us both.
I was infuriated. Who did this sick bastard think he is placing my actions on a par with his perversions and murders?
Sure blackmail is a dirty word, but I’m hoping that I’ve scared him into quitting his killing spree forever.
At first I wanted to destroy the note, tear it into a hundred pieces. But then I decided that it would make the perfect trophy; a token of my first great accomplishment in this second life.
One day I will have it framed. Yes, just as Uncle Scrooge McDuck in the Donald Duck comic books framed the very first dollar that he ever earned, so too will this be a constant testimony and reminder to the fact that I, Cornelius Crane, can overcome any and all obstacles; no physical handicap will ever deter me from achieving my goals. It is, after all, the brain and not the body that matters.
Well, now for the really hard part of this whole escapade! What the hell do I tell my folks when they ask me where I got the money?