The Sock Puppet

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic
Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Submitted: January 11, 2016

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Submitted: January 11, 2016

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Alvin exits the mall as he always did, on the other end from where he entered.  That made it less likely any one would notice the change of clothes.While he was in the men’s room, he carefully folded up the suit and stowed it in the duffel bag.  The frayed blue jeans and faded tee shirt he wears as he heads to his destination are much more comfortable.

The overpass at 42nd Street and Webb Highway is one of his favorite spots.  During rush hour and at lunch, the traffic backs up and gives people plenty of time to read his sign of the day.  “Will Work For Food.”  “Disabled Veteran, Can’t Work, Please Help.”  “Lost Job, Kids Are Hungry.”

Alvin makes good money playing off of people’s emotions.  None of the things he writes on the cardboard signs are true.  He’d stopped looking at himself in the mirror years ago.

Occasionally he remembers the words of Mr. Clark, his 7th grade history teacher.  “Alvin, you are the stupidest smart kid I’ve ever met.  And the hardest working lazy person.  It would take less time to do your homework than you spend making up your fancy excuses.  In the unlikely event you ever get your shit together, you will be dangerous.  I’m not going to hold my breath.”

After barely graduating from high school, Alvin tried a variety of careers.  It was easy to get jobs in sales.  But making money was a different matter. 

When he saw a drug dealer on TV, bragging about how much money he made, he figured he would give it a try.  An hour after purchasing a pound of marijuana, the guy showed up at Alvin’s apartment with armed friends.  When he regained consciousness he had a black eye and a broken nose.  The weed was gone.

Alvin thinks about the one time he actually did get his shit together.  For a little while, anyway.  Mostly it was luck. 

He felt sorry for Freddy, the drunk guy at the poker game who emptied his wallet before he passed out.  A couple of guys helped Alvin carry him to his car.  Freddy was too drunk to tell Alvin where he lived.  Alvin managed to get him inside the door of his tiny apartment before he passed out for real.  When Alvin got up the next morning, Freddy was on Alvin’s computer, trading stocks.  By the time the closing bell rang that afternoon, Alvin had learned the basics of day trading.

That was 1997.  Alvin got in at the beginning of the internet bubble.  For the first time in his life, he was making money.  He was luckier still when the mortgage companies refused to loan him money for a house.  They referred to the numerous bad checks on his credit report, and always grimaced when he told them he was a professional day trader.  In perhaps the only wise financial decision he ever made, Alvin saved up enough money to pay cash for a house. 

If he had a mortgage, he would have lost the house when the financial markets went to hell in 2008.  In a matter of a few weeks, the easy money from day trading was gone.  Forever.  Alvin quickly went through his savings.  Aside from a house, furniture, a car, and some clothes, he was broke.

He stopped paying for insurance, phone, and cable.  But he still had to pay the HOA fees and property taxes.  And buy food, and pay for utilities.  When he saw a man hand a $10 bill to a bum holding a sign, the light bulb went on.

The next morning, he drove the Infiniti past the brick wall that separated his neighborhood from the rest of the city.  As always, he waved to Carl, the guard who opened and closed the ornate, metal gate.  The cardboard signs were in the duffel bag as he entered the mall.  They were under his arm as he walked out.

In a place as big as Los Angeles, there were enough mall bathrooms and street corners to keep a fake homeless person busy for a long time.  Alvin figured out which corners yielded the best results.  He began developing personas.

Bill, the laid off auto worker, has three children staying with him in the shelter.  The kids always need money for school supplies and new used shoes. 

Chuck is a disabled Iraq veteran.  He walks with a limp due to injuries received when the IED mangled his Humvee.  Alvin found a nice fold-up cane that fits in the duffel bag.

Robert’s wife needs expensive chemotherapy, they discovered the cancer right after he got laid off.  Medicaid only covers the basics.

And so on.  At home, in the evenings, Alvin counts his money.  Even on bad days, he brings home some ones and fives.  On good days, hundreds of dollars.  Once more, Alvin is able to pay bills.  At night, he spends hours watching the news and human interest stories, taking notes.  He looks for new hot button topics he can use to arouse emotions in his marks. 

Let’s say Walmart is getting blasted for cutting worker’s hours.  A Sharpie and piece of cardboard are all he needs to become a helpless victim of the mega-corporation.  He constantly refines his characters.

Bill became adept at whistling.  He got a twenty the first day he did Sweet Georgia Brown.  The guy in the Cadillac told him he played college ball and grew up wanting to be a Harlem Globetrotter.

Chuck smiles and waves at everyone, barks at dogs, and makes silly faces and baby talk when kids are in the car.  He is Alvin’s top producer.

Robert learned some dance moves and can outdo any kid holding up a sign in front of a pizza joint.  Alvin realizes he is staying in shape while Robert makes money.

One day Alvin is at the bank, depositing his stack of wrinkled bills, and it occurs to him.  He’d been doing the beggar act for two years.  He is making money.  He had opened an account with an online broker and was investing again.  This time, no risky day trader strategies.  Just conservative, blue chip investing.

Alvin thinks about what Mr. Clark told him years before.  He had become the hard working lazy person his history teacher predicted.

That was just before Alvin met Annabelle.

After a long shift on a street corner, Alvin was in the mall for the final change of clothes of the day.  It had been one of his best takes ever.  He couldn’t wait to get home and count the money.  The last thing he was expecting to see in the men’s bathroom was a woman, lying on the floor in a stall.  She had a knife in one hand.  Blood was streaming down her arm. 

For the second time in his life, Alvin performed an altruistic act.  He shouted “What the fuck are you doing?” and grabbed the knife from her hand.  He threw it across the bathroom, pulled off a wad of toilet paper and held it against her wrist.

He asked again, “What is your name?  What are you doing?”  She made eye contact with him but did not speak.  Alvin looked at the wound on her arm.  He hadn’t paid much attention in biology class.  But he knew that blood was supposed to stay inside of veins.  She was lucky.  The cut went through the flesh, but the blade hit bone and tendon, not any veins.

Alvin had learned to pack food, water and a first aid kit in the duffel bag, along with the clothes and signs.  He put some gauze on the wound and wrapped it with an elastic bandage.  The bleeding stopped.  The woman was watching him the entire time, but had still not spoken.

 A voice in the back of Alvin’s mind was telling him to run as far away from her as he could.  But a damsel in distress, and a pretty one at that, can evoke powerful emotions in even the most cynical man.  Alvin looked her over.  She was skinny as a rail.  He asked her, “When was the last time you ate anything?”  She looked down but did not speak.

Alvin put his hand around her good wrist and led her out of the bathroom.  He deposited her in a chair in the food court.  He said, “Don’t move a muscle.  I’m going to keep an eye on you while I get some food.”

There was nothing but teriyaki sauce and a couple of grains of rice left on the plate when the girl finished eating.  Alvin wondered how hungry you have to be to eat that fast.  He was still in reflex mode when he took the girl to his car.

He remembered he was still wearing his beggar clothes.  Carl will notice the woman when the Infiniti pulls through the gate.  Alvin didn’t want to have to explain why he was wearing a dirty tee shirt with holes in it.  He needed to change clothes.  But what would the woman think if he began undressing in front of her?  The problem solved itself when he saw she had fallen asleep.  She was slumped over and her head was resting on the door.  Alvin buttoned up his shirt and drove home. 

She barely stirred when Alvin carried her in and put her on the sofa.  She slept while he ate.  He watched the news, took a shower, and got into bed.  Just before he turned out the lights, the woman walked into his room.  She said, “My name is Annabelle.”  She took off her clothes and climbed into the bed.

Alvin got used to having a woman around the house.  He gave up asking questions about her past.  She would never answer.  When he explained what he did for a living, she said, “I could do that if you teach me.”

Annabelle was a quick learner and the take increased noticeably from the first day.  There was something about a skinny, pale girl with long black hair, dressed in tattered clothes.  As a group, young males were not particularly charitable to Alvin.  But their wallets opened for Annabelle. 

After a few weeks, she pointed out the obvious.  It was time for her to go off on her own.  They could make more money working two corners at a time.  It took a full day without her for him to get his head back in the game.  He really missed her.  Alvin realized he was falling in love with Annabelle.

It didn’t take Alvin long to figure out she was better with numbers than he was.  And more responsible.  He tended to wait until the last minute to pay bills.  When he got tired of her gentle but persistent pestering, he turned the finances over to her.

He got used to having to wait to get on the computer in the evening.  Annabelle insisted on checking email, the bank accounts, and paying any bills, every day, before he read the news and did his research.  For the first time in his life, Alvin could open his checkbook and be confident the balance was accurate.

It was a spur of the moment decision, one afternoon, when he stopped at the jewelry store on his way back through the mall.  She had been with him for almost a year.  He decided to buy a ring.  Tonight, Alvin would ask Annabelle to marry him.

He was surprised when the credit card transaction was denied.  The clerk said, “The card is at its limit.”  Alvin knew that couldn’t be true.  Annabelle paid the balance on all the cards every month.  He handed the clerk a different card.  Same thing.  He tried his debit card.  Insufficient funds.

Alvin was confused and could only think of one thing.  He needed to talk to Annabelle.  He pulled his cell phone out of the duffel bag.  No answer. 

He had dropped her off at another mall that morning.  He headed to the parking lot.  His day continued to get worse.  The Infiniti was not there. 

He had enough cash in his wallet to pay for a taxi.  He had the cabbie drive to the corner where Annabelle should be.  She wasn’t there.  He went home.

After a few minutes on the computer, the harsh reality began to sink in.  Annabelle had run his credit cards up to their limit.  Jewelry, clothes, cash advances.  His checking, savings and investment accounts were empty.  He put two and two together.  She knew where he kept the spare car key.  She had taken a cab after he dropped her off, and stolen his car.Alvin realizes he will never see Annabelle again.

It is dark and Peter is yelling into his cell phone while he is driving.  He didn’t become the owner of the largest real estate firm in Denver by being nice to people.  Peter barely noticed the woman standing on the bridge railing as he drove past.  He slammed on the brakes, put down the phone, and jammed the Mercedes into reverse. 

His first reaction was, if someone is going to jump, I want to watch.  The river is more than a hundred feet below the railing.  But there is something about the pale, slender woman with long black hair.  Peter asks her, “What is your name?”


© Copyright 2017 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.

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