Bruno stood on the sidewalk re-checking the last known address of his uncle. He again glanced at the diner’s large semi-lit window. This is definitely the address. I’m at South End, Boston, aren’t I?
A neat apartment block with a diner covering its street level corner was unexpected. Although he was a stranger to Uncle Stan, he knew one thing to be true. My uncle likes working outdoors; not in a box confined by four walls. It would be like puttin’ a large bird in a small cage.
Standing in the snow was not going to supply him with the answers he was seeking, so he made his way into the diner and ordered a coffee.
“Have you worked here long?” he enquired of the woman behind the counter. To keep his hands warm he encircled them around the cup of hot coffee.
“I’m not from here, and I’m lookin’ for my uncle. I was given this address, but I think I’m in the wrong place.” Bruno was hesitant about asking a stranger of his uncle’s whereabouts.
“What’s his name?” she asked.
“No … don’t know him.”
She had lied. It is not up to me to tell a stranger we have a cook named Stan.
“The owner might know, but he won’t be back until tomorrow morning.”
Bruno drank his coffee and contemplated his next move. I don’t want to be drivin’ around lookin’ for somewhere to stay. “Do you know of any rooms to rent ’round here?”
“I’m not sure if they’re still available, but there’s a place about a block from here that had some. You could try them.”
“Just turn right into the side street and it’s in the next block.”
As he strode from the diner, he thought, I have to stay somewhere. It may as well be there.
Leaving his trucked parked near the guesthouse; he walked to the diner the following morning and ordered breakfast. The woman was nowhere in sight. However, a man stood behind the counter. I reckon he can take care of himself, if he needs to, Bruno thought, as he looked at the man in his mid-fifties, with thin greying hair, overweight, and about his height.
Unbeknownst to Bruno, the man he had observed was the diner’s owner.
Nick had looked up just as Bruno entered. He quickly concluded; he’s been through a hard life, even at an early age. Going by the damage to his face, he reminds me of someone who used as a punching bag. He could be a boxer, but he’s a slow one.
Bruno was neither; he was agile and strong. It was time for him to approach Nick. “I’m lookin’ for Stan Bobek. He’s my uncle.”
Before Nick could reply a raised voice and swearing suddenly came from the kitchen, and it carried throughout the diner.
“I’ll only be a minute,” Nick said, before walking to the kitchen’s doorway.
What he said, Bruno could not hear. There was a brief silence before Nick and a man were standing in the kitchen doorway, and looking in his direction. The man with Nick had the look of being hung-over, but even with Bruno not having seen his uncle in many a year he would have known him anywhere.
Bruno waited for Stan to finish his shift, then followed him to an apartment above the diner.
“Want a beer?” Stan asked, immediately on entering.
Frequenting bars Stan did not do as often as he would have liked; his meagre wage would not allow it. Drinking beer, either in his apartment or in the park on a sunny day with its pleasant surroundings, was his enjoyment. He was a sociable drunk, but when he visited a bar the beer had to be cheap and the entertainment free.
Bruno moved into Stan’s small apartment, and although they were of different age generations, they complimented each other’s way of living. It was Nick’s policy for anyone working in the diner to pay for his or her food, but Stan had a policy of his own. He’d pick at food as he cooked, and when the opportunity arose, he would take home any orders incorrectly cooked or ordered, rather than throw them into the bin. Bruno’s way of temporarily sharing the rent was to keep the apartment clean. Prior to Bruno’s arrival cleaning the apartment only happened when Stan thought it necessary.
Not the type sit around an apartment all day, work for Bruno was a priority. Within two days, he had gained employment at a large electronics warehouse. Ideal it was not, but after the first hour’s work he realised it was much easier than working on the rigs, and a whole lot cleaner. Even though it paid substantially less, living with his uncle and splitting the rent made it easier for making ends meet.
His work colleagues spoke of him, but usually when his back was turned.
For him, his appearance didn’t matter; it was up to others to adjust. He assumed their whispers were about his battered looks and disfigured teeth. He remembered an adage Jack had a liking for when they were back in the old country, “You were born with what God gave you!” Jack had an entirely different perspective on life. Having his son’s teeth repaired was not necessary; drinking was.
Unfortunately, for Bruno, his self-harming was becoming more frequent. Like heroin addicts, the more one used, the more one needed. He had become an addict, but he wasn’t about to follow in Jack’s, or his uncle’s, footsteps. His drug of choice was not alcohol.
The completion of Bruno’s allocation of picking and packing of items for delivery were always before shift’s end, no matter the quantity. Which put him in good stead with warehouse management. Avoiding arguments at work was easy. His colleagues considered it prudent to give him a wide berth. For him, creating enemies at work was never on his agenda. The warehouse was where he made his living, and it allowed him to pay his half of the rent, buy anything he could afford, and occasionally have a night out with Stan. His aloofness, others considered was his way of saying, ‘stay away’.
Replacing people at the warehouse happened regularly, and one new employee arriving at his section was Aldo, a young German. He took an immediate dislike to Bruno. Aldo did not like Polish people. He was a brash extrovert cocky type who only ever cared for himself. Their physiques were the one common attribute they shared. Where Bruno was a reluctant speaker, Aldo would talk ad nauseam, hindering most in his section. It became obvious to his supervisor that productivity was beginning to decline. Rather than dismissal, a transfer to a section more appropriate happened; rubbish removal. Instantly, he took umbrage at his new position; he considered it demeaning.
As he walked from the warehouse, Bruno’s survival instincts automatically triggered. He could see a small congregation of employees gathered near the perimeter’s front gate, with Aldo pacing back and forth in an agitated manner.
“I’m going to kill Bruno. I’ll kill him.” He repeated the threats as his right fist pumped into his left palm.
The once small crowd had suddenly expanded, but some bystanders were in a provoking mood. They wanted to see a fight that would fulfil their daily entertainment.
No forewarning did Bruno have of the impending fight, but he knew an attack was imminent long before approaching the gate. From years of bashings from his father, he intuitively knew the signs. On this occasion, he was prepared.
The fear of fighting was not a part of his psyche; Jack hadn’t raised a coward.
Aldo was airborne when his right fist struck Bruno’s left temple. Unfortunately, for him, it was only a glancing blow. The mostly harmless hit gave Bruno the opportunity to grapple Aldo and slam him to the ground. The force and speed of the would-be attacker hitting the hard surface rendered him immobile, temporarily. Dazed and winded, Aldo realised he had underestimated Bruno’s speed and agility.
What transpired next told of Bruno’s built-up hostility towards Jack? He sat on Aldo’s chest, raining powerful fists onto his attacker’s face. The ferocity of each caused the young German’s facial appearance to transform, quickly. From one considered normal, to one in need of surgery. “You’ll never do that again.” Only Jack could he see.
The crowd, initially, was boisterous, as most crowds at a fight are, but on witnessing the punishment, many were now alarmed. They stood motionless, and silent. Some turned away. The sight was hard to stomach. Then, out of desperation, some attempted to pull Bruno from the pulverized German, while yelling stop!
As he flayed his arms, Bruno turned and shouted at his grapplers, “Get you’re fuckin’ hands off me.” His actions caused some co-workers to tumble awkwardly to the ground. Some received minor cuts and grazes.
Although the crowd had a dislike for Aldo and his attitude at work, they did not want to see him in his present condition. On the ground severely battered, with blood oozing from his face.
The police arraigned Bruno on assault charges, and held him in a cell until he attended court the following day. The charges did not relate to the assault on Aldo, as the police had deemed it self-defence. The injuries to his co-workers led to the charge, and one of assaulting a police officer.
They grabbed me! I’m the victim!