When the police arrived I was already pulling out of the parking lot, making my escape, looking back with a smirk and shouting, Seeya, suckers! The joint can never hold me! I’m too smart for you limey, low-down, no-good coppers!
I put my getaway on hold to stop across the street for a filet of catfish from Publix. I remembered hearing somewhere that the acids in fish were supposedly healthy for you and I figured, if I was about to go on the lam, I should probably get a nutritious meal in. It’s a “good” fat, people say about fish. And most of the time, let’s face it, people ain’t wrong.
A few minutes ago I’d broken the law — no, I didn’t break it, I shattered it in pieces — but that was me now. I’d spent the last 24 years of my life as the good guy, see? Holding doors open for dames, offering guests water when they stopped by, taking home leftovers from my folks’ fridge so they wouldn’t go bad.
I was the model son, the perfect employee (right, Brian?), a pillar of my community. And I was sick of it.
If getting mine meant I’d have to look over my shoulder for a while, that one day I’d land in the pattywagon, maybe even find myself face-down in the hokey, so be it. At least I’d go down with my dignity.
Everyone in the editorial office left at 5 p.m. Friday, but I stayed behind. It’d been that kind of day. Meetings, interviews, business expos … the kind of day that makes a fella thirsty, and I ain’t talking about for juice.
Growing up on the mean streets of Palm Coast, though — smack in the middle of the middle class — no one understood that, for me, it was more than the day. It’d been that kind of life. I’d always had rotten luck. Back in school, my mother, sometimes this broad would make chicken on days I felt like beef. Or she’d try to sneak turkey instead of pork sausage into her pasta sauce, as if she were fooling anybody.
Sometimes, she wouldn’t even cook at all and, like a refugee, I’d have to heat up franks in the toaster oven or, worse, make due with a bagel.
You don’t want to know what else.
So when I set off the security alarm at work, yeah, I was making a point. This’ll show ‘em, I thought. The screams of the sirens were a mirror to my inner yearning, fists crashing at the cages of propriety and order, wails piercing the delicate eardrums of quiet suburbia.
This was 21st century civil disobedience. For the 5-0, it wouldn’t be a crime of passion, it would be one of inconvenience, and there was nothing the boys in blue could do about it.
I was a rebel, and I’d finally found my cause.
The office was empty, aside from a couple ad junkies next door. I was alone, and here was this brand new alarm system, basically begging for it.
Yeah, I claimed it was an accident, that I wasn’t thinking and used the code I use back home. But that’s what criminal masterminds do: they deny, and distract. It’s all a game in misdirection.
“Oh, no, no, no!” I said, running to the adjoining office. “What’s the meaning of this racket? I was only trying to arm the alarm on my way out!” I pushed my face muscles in angles that felt like confusion or stress. Angles that looked like innocence.
I was playing possum, I tell ya. Playing dumb. Pulling patsy. And I had them eating out of the palm of my hand.
“What a dope I am,” I said, bashfully rubbing the tip of my shoe over the carpet, kicking a nearby pebble with my heel. “Look at me, shaking like a leaf.”
When the fuzz pulled up, I was pulling out. The sirens were silenced, the office was back to normal, but here were Palm Coast’s finest, “protecting and serving.”
I’d planned it perfectly to look like a misunderstanding: here was this well-meaning, nice-guy journalist, a real sap who was too thick to tie his own shoes let alone figure a new system.
But I’m no dummy — I knew detectives were probably already wise to my play. I pulled up the collar on my trench coat and slipped on my shades and fedora before parading my ride past the caravan of incoming cop cars.
I even waved.
Truth is, the panic button was there, a single spot of blue on an all-white wall mount. It had a shield painted on it, as if that meant something. It was sitting there, almost like a dare, staring at me like it knew I’d never press it. As if it knew the first thing about me.
But I didn’t even know the first thing about me. I was 24, and an outlaw. And pulling cons like this made me hungry.
At the Publix checkout some skirt, a wispy thing with hair and eyes and no real clue about the world, asked if I’d have anything else with my fish.
“Pack of smokes,” I grunted. Then I remembered the photos of black lungs they showed us in middle school and said, “Dollface, don’t bother.”
I mean, she saw my collar and fedora — she knew I was bad news. There was really no reason to rush into this thing.