Frank’s Five Dollars

Frank’s five dollars wasn’t his own. He owed it to every cheap flop house and scrip writer in town. Everyone wanted a piece of Frank’s five dollars, but he couldn’t part with it. Frank’s five dollars was a raft, he would escape down the Nile on it’s crinkled back, there was no wind he wouldn’t course, and he shrugged his shoulders inside his five dollar overcoat. Frank’s five dollars was as big as all outdoors. Frank’s five dollars made Trump’s millions look like spare change. Frank’s five dollars was on fire. Frank’s five dollars was the last unspent money on earth. Nobody had that five but Frank, and he was going to keep it that way. Frank’s five dollars was heading for the grave, held tight in Frank’s greasy hand. Frank was a gambler, every time he hit the street. Sick and in desperate need, he wandered, mumbling in doorways, counting the blocks.

Frank was a wasted soul, played out years ago, a sad tale to tell if there had been anyone to tell it, looking into pawnshop plate-glass for something – he had a ticket in mind, but he couldn’t remember what it was he had hockled. Something worth five dollars. If he could find it, he could get it back. Frank’s five dollars could at least do that. Frank’s five dollars was an opportunity. Frank’s five dollars was a roof over his head. Frank’s five dollars was as dry as a bone, it was the good woman behind every man, the stone in his soup pot. Frank’s five dollars bled a little when he cut himself shaving. Someone once asked Frank for some money, he said he didn’t have any, feeling the familiar texture of his only five dollars in his tattered pocket. Frank’s five dollars was a reptile, Frank’s five dollars was a washed up vaudeville actor. Driftwood on the beach, sand in the hourglass. If Frank’s five dollars were laid out end to end, it would get you nowhere.

Frank’s five dollars wasn’t real. But then, Frank himself wasn’t all that real, so what difference did it make? Frank’s five dollars was burning a hole in his pocket. Frank was driven, Frank was unhealthy, Frank was five feet from an open manhole, Frank fell off the curb. Frank hung himself on a lamp post. Frank put his five dollars in an envelope and mailed it to himself. He never opened it when it arrived, was never sure it was really there, but was too afraid to open it and find out. Frank’s five dollars was a seven course meal, a four star hotel, Frank’s five dollars was a nine day wonder. Frank’s five dollars was the name of a jazz tune that hadn’t been written yet. Frank’s five dollars never was, and never will be again.


smash and grab

Lighten up, Junior,” I said, as we stood in the rain watching the Porsche burn. “There’ll always be another car.”Junior might have been an idiot, but he was a good judge of cars and sippin’ liquors. And never seemed to be without one, the other, or, more likely, both.

Yeah, but I fuck-all liked that one.” I don’t suppose he was actually crying, but it was near as he had come to it in probably his whole life. He really had loved that car.

We stood in the puddles, outside a cavernous shed down on the pier that housed old trains, a depot that had not seen a train actually move under it’s own power in 50 years. Under the corrugated tin roof was a collection of sorry old locomotives and former luxury coaches, now rat-infested and graffiti-festooned. A real party atmosphere. Me and Junior were going to have to hole up here, making a home of some sort, until the heat from our smash-and-grab blew over.

It really had been more of a smash, as we didn’t really grab much. Junior had screwed it up again, choosing the wrong department store to smash the stolen Mercury into. He said he had been told it was going to be easy pickings, stereos and high-end electronics, just load them from the shelves in the stock room into the trunk of the car and keep going the way we had come in – smash through the front windows, straight through to the back of the shop, load up, and smash through the back end, out into the parking lot where he had left his Porsche, and be gone before the alarm even had the chance to register in the local police office.

Instead, what we found once the Merc came to rest amid the broken glass and twisted display racks was women’s clothes. Hand bags. Shoes. Summer-fucking-sportswear. Stuff rich tarts flounced around in on Mediterranean cruises, wiggling their bums, hunting for half-dead rich old bastards to fuck and fleece. We raced through the rubble, tossing silk and cashmere and all that crap over our shoulders, in search of something that would be worth something on the street. No one we knew, or knew of, would have the slightest interest in any of this crap we were wading through.

Junior, what the fuck?” I yelled at him.

Oh, fuck off,” he yelled back, stuffing his pockets with jewelry and watches that we both knew he’d never be able to sell. At least it was something, and I hoped it would serve him as more than ballast to haul his sorry ass to the bottom of the river.

There’s nothing here, Junior. Who told you to hit this place?”

You know, those tossers up in the towers. Dip shits. I’m going to kill all of them, one by fucking one. Slowly”

I heard a siren, and then another, and finally a chorus of them, converging from all points in the distance.

Time to go, Junior,” I called to him. I searched in vain for something, anything, to grab as I ran toward the back of the store and the parking lot, something that might make my night worth a little more than an embarrassing story I hoped would never get told. I wrapped my fingers around the handles of couple of what I hoped were authentic Gucci handbags, and grabbed a handful of what looked like leather jackets, and ran toward the rear exit door, Junior hot on my heels. I didn’t spare the time to look back and see if he had gotten himself anything, I was too spitting mad at him. We crashed through the emergency exit, and threw everything we were carrying into the open trunk of the Porsche. Junior leapt into the drivers seat, and got the car moving almost before I’d managed to get through the passenger door. We screeched out of the lot, leaving a great deal of the rear tires smoking on the pavement, and bounced across the median into the parking lot of the shopping center next door just as the first police cars were pulling up to the front, and disgorging their peace-enforcement officers, thinking, I’m sure, that they had us trapped.

We ended up, after a wildly circuitous route, parked outside the old train depot. We hauled all the questionable loot from the trunk to an old flat-car mouldering away just inside the shed, and I told Junior that we’d have to burn the Porsche

Too many federales saw us in it, too many of them know it’s yours, and too may of them are going to come sniffing around here looking for you – and, by extension, me. We gotta burn the fucker, and push it off the pier into the river.” I knew it was going to be hard on him. Junior loved that car. He stood in the drizzle, staring at the car. “You know we have to do this,” I told him.

In the end, it was Junior who doused the interior with gas and tossed in a flaring pack of matches. It burned brightly for a while, but the drizzle eventually reduced the flames to clouds of smoke, and we shoved the remains off the end of the pier and into the river, watching it slowly sink out of sight.

We moved under the shelter of the depot, and began sorting through the pile of crap we’d managed to remove from the store. I wasn’t too hopeful that we’d find anything that would make the night – and the sad loss of Junior’s fine automobile – worth our investment.

These leather coats might fetch a few bucks,” I said ruefully. We sipped with mock gentility from a bottle of Maker’s Mark that Junior had produced from the depths of his ever-present go-bag.

Yeah, and them’s real Gucci bags. Them’s worth something, ain’t they,” he asked, fingering the clasp of one of the bags.

Maybe, but not in our neighborhood,” I answered with a shrug. “We better get this stuff under cover before the coppers get here.”

As if on cue, the first “unmarked” patrol car skidded to a stop outside the depot. Junior and I just had time to haul a canvas tarp – a rotting hunk of fabric which ordinarily I’d have made every effort not to touch – over the pile of jackets and bags before Officer McGinty strolled out of the drizzle into the shelter, and stood, arms akimbo, rocking on the balls of his feet, offering us a slimy smile around the well-worn matchstick he held between his teeth.

McGinty! What a treat. I didn’t know you were a foamer,” I grinned back at him.

Tephra Shrines,” he scowled back, using a name that only my mother uses, and that only rarely. “I won’t pretend to know what a foamer is, but I can pretty fucking well assure you that I am not one, if it came out of your mouth.”

Aw, c’mon, McGinty, you don’t have to be a hard ass all the time,” I said, smiling at him. “Foamer. As in ‘one who foams at the mouth in their excitement over train operations.’ It’s a common expression. It’s in the dictionary. In any case, it’s nice to see you. How long has it been?”

Not long enough, Shrines. What have you and your little idiot boyfriend been up to tonight,” he asked, never taking his little beady eyes off mine.

Just keeping out of the rain. Like you, McGinty. Nothing to report,” and I gave him a sarcastic mock salute. There was an uncomfortable pause. Junior sniffed. McGinty and I both looked over at him.

What?” he shouted angrily. He was definitely crying. “I fucking loved that car,” was all he could manage, wiping his nose on his already crusty sleeve. McGinty and I looked back at each other, and another uncomfortable pause ensued – even more uncomfortable than the last if that was possible.

So, ah, go ahead, McGinty, have a look around if you want, “ I said, sweeping my arms wide. “As you can see, my associate has been through an emotional trauma, and we’d like to get back to sorting it out as quickly as we can – lessen the emotional damage, you know. So get on with it, snoop all you want. Just get it over with. I don’t know how long Junior here can keep it together.”

McGinty paused, looking from me to Junior and back again. He squinted at me, the matchstick working overtime between his teeth. If I’d had one, I would have offered him a replacement. I worried about a splinter in his tongue. But not really.

Fuck the two of you,” he finally said, waving his hands at me in a gesture of dismissal. “Or rather I’ll leave you to fuck each other.” He turned on his heel and splashed back out through the remnants of the evening’s drizzle to his partner waiting in the still idling patrol car. He got in, slammed the door, waving a finger at me, which I’m sure he thought of as menacing. The car squealed off in a wide arc and sped up the hill and out to the main road. I don’t think he saw the gesture I had aimed at him in return.

I looked at Junior, who sniffed and wiped his nose again.

What,” he said softly to me. “I really fucking loved that car.”

I know you did, Junior,” I said gently back to him, “and I’m sorry. But I think it’s best we divide up this junk – if you want any of it – and split up. You have someplace to go tonight?”

Well,” he said, turning to pull back the tarp covering our loot, and giving it a desultory once-over, “If one of these jackets would fit me, I’d take one. Otherwise, no.” He pawed thru the pile of jackets, half tried on what looked like the biggest one, but barely got his arm into it before tearing it off and dropping it back on the pile.

You know you screwed up tonight. Don’t you,” I asked as gently as I could, considering his already fragile emotional state.

Without looking up from the pile of stolen merchandise he nodded, and whispered a soft,“Yeah.”

OK, no harm, no foul,” I said, trying to sound cheery. “except for the car, and I really am sorry about that. Couldn’t be helped. You understand that, right?”

He nodded again. “I’m going to crash here tonight, I think. You,” I asked him.

Yeah, I guess.”

I reached out and rested my hand on his damp shoulder for a moment, and then moved off into the shadows between the dusty old train cars to seek out some place reasonably comfortable to curl up for the night. I left him standing gazing out over the dock towards the spot where we had last seen his precious Porsche, pulling again on his bottle of bourbon. I wondered if I’d see him in the same place tomorrow morning, or if I’d ever see him again. You never could tell with Junior.