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Mr. Manns had the gun to his head.

Rick the Ruthless was holding the gun.

Mr. Manns never had a gun pulled on him. He certainly never had one in his face, at his temple.

Rick … or Ruthless … we’ll call him Ruthless. How about Ruth? One of the fellow hoodlums called him that. Neither one – the fellow hoodlum nor Ruth – ran with an official gang. The both of them had been arrested – had that in common. Breaking and entering and public disturbances. A whole bunch of small stuff and some big stuff. Warrants and having records. Juvie when younger. All the boring but very serious and terrible stuff you’d think they’d have in their stories.

This isn’t about the fellow hoodlum. He doesn’t have a name, because he’s one of them. One of Ruth’s enemies or frenemies. Ruth would never say frenemy. Ruth didn’t have friends. He truly didn’t. He didn’t have a family nor friends who’d felt like brothers to him. He’d claim he did, but he didn’t believe it when alone. No one believes it about anyone anyway. They’re all backstabbers, betrayers, lost people.

Ruth was part of a lost people. He took to the streets. When out in the open, in the exposed city and slums, he didn’t protest anything but his house and what was in it. We’re not sure if he was beaten by Mom or Dad or raped by a brother or anything like that. Some major trauma and maybe fetal alcohol syndrome. That shit’s so hard to know sometimes. He never went to the doctor, threw a school book, smoked crack once …

Mr. Manns was a guy doing business. Some personal, some for pay. He wasn’t the greatest or brightest person. No one really knew about his genetic makeup or trauma either. His info isn’t less important than Ruth’s, but it’s probably less interesting. He broke a bottle over someone’s head one time. He had always hated his hockey coach. We don’t know a lot about him. You wouldn’t either. Not even if you were his closest cousin.

Mr. Manns was shopping. Afterwards, he wouldn’t remember the gift or even what type of gift it was. Ruth didn’t know the unwrapped present was for Mr. Manns’ friend’s birthday. A grown man buying another grown man packages of baseball cards? No, Ruth wasn’t concerned about the purchase nor the package in the bag. Not entirely unconcerned, but definitely not his motive to go after Mr. Manns. Those baseball cards have nothing to do with anything right now. But they had at one point become the reason and end result of Mr. Manns’ outing.

Ruth was strolling past the near-empty parking lot. He knew the security guard who patrolled it. They played ball together. Last week. Mr. Manns was a better basketball player, but that’s also irrelevant. There’s no way they would learn this about each other.

If you’re wondering about the purpose of this story, it’s this: we’re unprepared in life.

Not much more than that.

The mall was closing. No, the mall was closed. This is one of the topics Mr. Manns was mulling over. Some people said he knew things. Some may have thought he was dumb. In those interactions, and many others, he possessed above-average intelligence. His responses were a couple steps ahead of most.

The above digression, just that paragraph, is more central than the thing about life. Only because having a foggy mental moment was the main action. The target of this incident is Mr. Manns’ wandering mind. Is it wandering when one ponders and contemplates and wonders? They call it lost in thought, so maybe.

Ruth saw the opportunity. His eyes and brain took in the Range Rover and Mr. Manns’ nice jacket. The driver with a bag. The dead store. The lack of light in the lot. It was perfect, specifically, that broken parking-lot lamp. Ruth couldn’t laugh and hate on Mr. Manns for parking there, under the only damaged light, because it wasn’t dark when Mr. Manns had gone inside. Quickly, the sun had dropped out of sight and blackened toward danger without caution.

Ruth never would have called this guy Mr. Manns. It wasn’t a nickname (especially not with two Ns). Mr. Manns was seeing himself as Mr. Manns because he hadn’t yet had a chance to change out of his suit.

Let’s get to it.

“Here’s how this is gonna play out. Hand me the keys – I don’t give a fuck about the bag. Hand me the keys – nah, put the bags in the car and walk away.”

Mr. Manns did what he was told. Anticlimactic for you, but that’s how it went down.

Insurance. He lost whatever it was he bought forever. Traumatic. Forgetful – sort of. Details were lost for sure.

A couple years later, Mr. Manns – his first name is Clarence – Clarence had another gun pointed at him. His chest.

The trauma – the lame account we just went over – might have been triggered in Clarence. However that works with the body and mind … yeah, he had that happen. He had to have.

This time, Clarence was asked where the stash was.

To skip the confusing facts about whose cocaine it was first and how long Clarence had been snorting the drug up his nose and how some drug fiend would get the balls and information to raid Clarence is easier, so consider it skipped.

The purpose and point and center of this part – part two, if you will – is the same. The preparation for life and unclear thinking can come together at the oddest, most important time.

As the man – the robber, drug fiend – held the gun, he also asked about Clarence’s stash. We’ve gone over this, but we really should repeat it, because the intruder followed the question up with a countdown.

Clarence didn’t want to answer at first. Clarence was kind of frozen and kind of fighting. Urges, memories. An inner struggle. A big mix of thoughts and emotions. That place we can’t ever explain very well – why “trauma” works.

Normally, in real life situations, people – crooks like Ruth and this drug fiend guy – don’t count down. This perpetrator-fiend guy did. Actually, he counted up. “I’m gonna count to ten. You don’t tell me, I’m gonna blow your fuckin’ head off.” Yeah, the gun was pointed at his chest.

Maybe Clarence didn’t believe him because the gun was pointed at his heart and not his brain. Or maybe Clarence wasn’t in the moment because of the guy’s impromptu style.

“Nah, I’m counting down. Ten, nine, eight– ”

Clarence wasn’t brave or coming up with a ninja-fighting plan. A bunch of seconds back, back when he wasn’t answering, he did think of striking or pushing. At this time, however, he’s listening.

“Six, five, four– ” He truly loses track of the number counting. He’s nervous and …

It’s like he’s trying to catch up with himself. There’s a version of himself running, and he’s somehow wound up behind that self. Not him. Something weird like that, you know? Maybe he was counting too quickly?

“Two, one, zero.”

It was a pack of baseball cards!

BANG.

That never happens. A person – a piece of shit criminal – normally doesn’t count before getting an answer. They do it all the time in the movies.

Sometimes, in life, there is a countdown. Beyond teenagers asking about sex, there’s someone counting down as a threat, and a crime occurs.

In this story … you get it, right? Clarence Manns is dead and couldn’t do anything to stop it from happening.

The punk-ass invader probably got the stash, too.

Shit.

Dan Jones

Author Dan Jones

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