Pawn takesKing part 31

Donny reaches the yellow caution tape just in time to see Greg being hauled out on a stretcher. Greg seems panic-stricken, and is kicking his legs feebly beneath a white cover.
    "GREG!!!" Donny shouts, to be heard over the sirens and running vehicles. Greg turns his head sluggishly in Donny's direction. A thick bandage is being pressed against his neck, and it is dark red. He is covered in blood, his entire upper torso practically oozing. Before any more interaction can be made, Greg is lifted into the ambulance bus.
    Donny had failed. This time, it might mean another person's life. Donny scans the scene, and sees another man being tended to. He is thin as a bean pole, and wears a track suit, with a line up the side. The jacket was unzipped, and Donny sees the man has a gaping chest wound. Where is Jessie? Did the sinister sociopath make a clean escape?
    In answer to Donny's question, another figure is wheeled on a gurney as well. The entire upper part of the blanket is soaked through, and dripping with crimson. The paramedics stutter on the walkway steps a little, and a hand drops out from under the sheet. There is a bullet hole in the palm, and Donny recognizes the sheep-skin trim on the wrist cuff. Jessie Baxter is no more.
    A gambit has played out, beyond Donny's influence. Two players were down, and the victor had yet to be crowned.
    Donny spies a woman amongst the manslaughter. She has a baby clasped in her arms. The woman is a mess, with a helluva blackened eye, and a bloody nose. Her nice dress clothes are splattered with blood and torn as well. The baby is howling to beat hell. Donny shakes his head, but the sight remains. The child is in a chicken outfit. One of the paramedics reaches out to take the baby from her, but the woman jolts away, letting no one touch the baby girl but herself. The mother shambles over to the streetside, watching the ambulance with Greg pull out. Her head tilts back to the sky, the cords in her neck straining outward. She emits a mournful cry that Donny can hear all the way on the opposite side of the street. Slowly, she collapses to the curb, embracing her child. Another EMT drapes her with a fuzzy blanket. Donny turns aside. This was all his fault. Donny couldn't prevent anything.
    Donny is shaken up. Even at his fastest speed, Donny wasn't quick enough. Donny wondered how much horsepower a bum had within himself. Donny cried. His self-depracating jokes grew stale. He wanted to feel better, but nothing seemed to do the trick. Donny curled up on his haunches, and rocked back and forth, tears streaming once again. He had failed Greg.
    Donny sat across the street from the pawn shop for hours. As people crowded around, Donny overheard the gist of what went down. Jessie had car-jacked the woman's van. Pulling  a move straight outta Grand Theft Auto, Jessie had gone on a rampage, blasting both Greg and some other dude outside the store. Greg had evidently picked up a piece somewhere along the way, and shot Jessie all to shit. No one knew if Greg survived.
    The vigil began like most things: It started with a suggestion, someone throwing the idea out there. Before Donny knew it, candles were purchased from closeby, and were handed out to all in attendance. Even Donny got one, as the somber 40-something lady handed them out from a cardboard box. Donny lit his immediately. Apparently there was a religious aspect to lighting a candle, but Donny wasn't feeling it. More than anything, it was the show of camaraderie for a man few of these folks knew that Donny experienced. They didn't sing hymnals, and there was no collection basket. People just stood there, candles glowing, wishing Greg luck. The fucking guy was an honest-to-god hero. He was also one tough hombre, taking down the scum of southeast Iowa.
    The mother returned some hours later. She was sporting a change of clothes, which were jeans and a sweatshirt, and her daughter no longer looked like poultry. The girl now wore a simple blue dress, and clutched her mother's neck in a death grip. Donny hoped the lil gal wasn't traumatized by it all. Why should the innocents suffer, too??? People spoke briefly with the woman, and Donny tried to position himself so he could overhear. Her name started with an R, that's all he could make out. Miss R wasn't in a mood to chat. She was pale, and frightened. The candle gave her a ghostly luminescence that was more horrifying than beautiful.
    She kept her eyes fastened to the front of the store. Donny could see where several gun blasts had hit: the front door, the display window, the brick wall. Police were putting up little plastic markers, with numbers on them. They must be cataloging all the spent shells, and bullet impacts. It was all so surreal. Channel 9 requested an interview with Miss R, but she declined.
    Donny maneuvered through the crowd, doing some soul-searching. He looked up for a moment and saw Benjamin. Ben looked just as shocked to see Donny.
    "Ben?" Donny asks in a hushed voice.
    "Is that you, Donny?" Ben asks quietly.
    "It's been a long time," Donny says shakily. This was too much. First, the sight of Greg on his deathbed, now his old boss was beside him.
    "You shaved the 'stache, I see," Donny says, rubbing his fingers across his own top lip.
    "Yeah," Ben says, his mouth widening into a grin, "I shaved off the old pussy-tickler."
    Ben's wife playfully whaps his chest, rolling her eyes. Michelle, that was her name. Ben looks so youthful with his mustache shaved off. It must've been recently done, because Donny still sees the faint porcupine whiskers dotting the skin.
    Neither know how to proceed. They had a long history, he and Ben. There was so much that went without saying, but so much that also needed to be said. Ben leans over and whispers into Michelle's ear, careful not to burn her with his flickering candle. Michelle nods and turns back towards the crowd.
    "Let's take a walk, Donny," Ben says, gesturing with his head to an open area. Donny follows, brandishing his own candle. Eventually, they stop their stroll and look at each other.
    Ben clears his throat. "I'm gonna be up-front with you, Donny."
    "Okay," Donny says, not knowing what to expect. Did Benjamin have knowledge of Donny's crimes?
    "Are you on the street?" Ben asks bluntly.
    "How long has it been, Donny?"
    "Well, let me see. Ever since I left Digital Dreams, I've been hopping from one shithole to another."
    "Have you tried staying in Marissa's house?"
    "Evan owns the place now. There was some--unpleasantness between him and me. I can't go back there. He won't allow it."
    "They have shelters, you know, Donny."
    "I'm way ahead of you, Ben. I already filled out the forms for the application. I'll check back with them in a week or two."
    "What are you gonna do until then?"
    "I dunno," Donny says, shrugging and throwing his hands up, "I'll just hope it doesn't snow, I guess."
    Ben rattled off this line of questioning pretty quickly. Now, all things disclosed, they turn back towards the Pawn and Payday.
    "The poor bastard that owns this place went through a real shit-storm," Ben says absently.
    "Yeah, I know the dude," Donny relates, "he hired me out to do some work on the store."
    "Really?" Ben asks with disbelief, "wow, that's crazy. Who woulda thunk it?"
    "I hope he lives through this," Donny says, with calm reflection, "he didn't harm anybody. It's a fucking shame. It really is."
    "I'm glad you're trying to help yourself," Ben says admirably, "God hopes those who help themselves, you know."
    Donny snorts with laughter. "You're still on that god kick, huh Ben? I guess the 12 steps really push that kinda thing."
    "Have you ever considered going?" Ben asks passionately, "it's a good thing, Donny. Don't knock it till you tried it. I could be your sponsor, you know."
    "No," Donny says without inflection.
    "I'm not cut out for the whole 'making amends' thing," Donny says, "I've done bad things, Ben. I'm not sure God has a place up above for me. My elevator is headed down."
    Ben looks alarmed. "You could stay with me, you know," he says, "I have a  guest bedroom. You'd be more than welcome there."
    Donny glances back towards Michelle. Like with Steve, Donny could predict problems living with Ben and his wife. Women could be the most giving souls in the world, but all that philanthropy seemed to stop well short of Donald Grieves. And rightly so. Donny was a crook, and would not amount to anything, except a filled grave.
    "No." Donny says.
    "On one condition," Ben continues, as if not hearing Donny's refusal, "you gotta attend meetings with me. And you gotta promise to stay off the smack."
    "I can't promise that," Donny says, denying adamantly, "the drugs have their hooks in me, and won't let go."
    "Are you clean now?" Ben asks.
    "I've only stopped taking Oxy because I can't afford it," Donny explains, "if I had the funds, I'd be off the wagon again."
    "I've got a new phone number now," Ben says, taking out a business card, "if you ever change your mind, or get into trouble, call me. Day or night, you call me, okay dude?"
    Donny takes the card. He will not call Ben, he already has decided. Let Ben be free of the whirlwind of bad kharma that Donny had swirling around him.
    "Sure, Ben."
    Ben nods, and before closing his wallet, takes out a $10 bill. He offers it to Donny. Despite his pride, Donny accepts the cash.
    "You take care of yourself, Donny," Ben says, replacing his wallet, and walking back towards Michelle.

    As the candles go out, one by one, the people disperse. Donny stays. His own candle has extinguished, but he picks up several others from the ground. People were so wasteful. Donny found some candles that weren't even halfway burned down. Waste not, want not, Donny thinks to himself, as he sparks up another discarded candle.
    Eventally, only two people are left: Donny, and the mother. She doesn't notice him, but Donny studies her from afar. Were she to glance over, the solemn moment may be broken up by the creepy image of Donny, hunkered over a light that made him look evil. She, however, looked the part of the saint. Her candle was burnt so low, there was streams of wax dripping off the edges. Donny saw more candles at her feet, some hollowed out with flame, others brand new. How long would she stand there like that? Donny was getting tired. Standing on concrete for a few hours even is an ordeal. She had been here almost since it began. She showed no signs of fatigue, nor that she was planning to retire. Her baby is asleep in her arms. Miss R rocked gently, swaying slightly, to soothe her child.
    The mother owed her baby's beating heart to Greg. It was a totally altering outcome. Nothing would be the same again.
    Donny felt a strange connection to this lady. It wasn't sexual, or stalkerish, but a purely abstract bond. Greg had said he didn't have many friends. Well, at least Greg diversified his acquaintances. The full range of society was here now. Donny was at one edge of the spectrum of poverty, while this angel seemed to be on the other, very well-to-do side. They were like bookends to the pages of life.
    Donny ceases his ranting thoughts. IT was not proper to think he shared anything at all with this woman, other than that they both knew Greg. He licked his thumb and snuffed out the candle with it. As he walked away, Donny tossed the candle into the trash. Donny wished Greg would pull through. He also wished Miss R would be okay, too. Without any light to guide him, Donny disappeared into the darkness of nightfall.

Uploaded 01/22/2013
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