This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
From Part 1
The taunting didn't stop as John pulled off the highway and onto a dirt road. He got out of the vehicle and screamed for the voice to shut up! It did. He sat by a stream and looked into the clear, blue water reflecting only a single cloud as it passed overhead. He could see his face, wrinkled by the gently tumbling waters. What had he become? He couldn't look at himself as the ridiculing started again. "You really screwed up this time, Johnny boy. It's time to get home and face the music - or the fire.
He returned home at the same time as any other day.
- Black - Part 1
The courtroom is hushed as the verdict is read. John Black is - guilty.
John came through the door wearing a big smile. He looked natural, but underneath he was falling apart. Little Kent was busy removing his father’s tie, a nightly ritual, while Maureen occupied herself with cooking.
“So how was your day, Honey?”
“Oh, you know. Nothing unusual. Just another day in the life. What did you do in school today, Kent?”
Kent’s sheepish grin told the story.
“Okay, Kiddo. Out with it! What did you do?”
“No, come on. Tell me what you did?”
Maureen cleared her throat. “Kent, tell Daddy how we spent our afternoon.”
“Oh, but Dad, it was really nothing. Bobby Jensen bet me a chocolate milk I couldn’t hit the wastebasket with a wad of paper from the third row. Dad, I’m the best pitcher in the whole Little League. It was an easy shot.”
“Well, Miss Connell was grading papers at her desk. Dad, really. It’s just a minor issue. The wastebasket sits beside her desk. Well, anyway, you know what they say, to make a long story short . . .”
“Yes, please do.”
“I missed, and the paper landed on her desk. That’s it, Dad.”
Maureen cleared her throat again, “I don’t think it is. Finish the story, young man.”
Kent hung his head and stuttered. “Well, Dad. See, it’s like this. The paper - well, you see - uh, the paper bounced and hit Miss Connell in the face. Mom had to come to take me home. I’m suspended for three days.”
It touched a nerve in John as he thought, “This kid’s suspended for three days for something he obviously did. I’m suspended for life for something I didn’t do. Where is the justice in that?” A look of emotional pain covered his face.
He noticed Maureen and Kent staring at him. He answered Maureen’s question before she asked. “Oh, it’s nothing, Honey. I was just thinking about how we so often reap what we sow.” His voice trailed off, “And sometimes we reap what we don’t.”
The long day had taken its toll. John had a headache, and the stress levels were rising. “Honey, I’m going to retire for the evening.” Maureen studied his face.
“Are you feeling okay, Honey? It’s only 8:30. Let’s see if you have a temperature.” She felt his forehead before getting the thermometer. “You are warm. Let’s see what this says.”
After a few seconds, the thermometer read 101.2 degrees. “John, first thing in the morning you’re going to the doctor for a checkup. I think you’re coming down with something.”
“Yeah. Yeah, Yeah. But right now, I’m going to bed.”
Crawling into bed, he pulled the blankets up to his chin. Then the thought struck him. He would play sick for a couple of days. At least, that would buy him some time.
Morning came. John awoke. He could hear Maureen talking to the doctor. It was obvious from Maureen’s side of the conversation that she had set an appointment. He continued listening as he heard Maureen dial another number. “Hello, Max. This is Maureen Black. John is a little under the weather today. He won’t be coming in.”
John jumped from the bed and ran to the kitchen. Whispering rather loudly he said,
Maureen, what are you doing?!”
“I’m calling Max to tell him you won’t be in today. Now, be quiet. She turned her attention back to Max. “Maureen, I wasn’t expecting to see John today.” Then he paused. “And Maureen, tell John to take care of himself. He disconnected the call.
Maureen stared at John for several seconds. If he didn’t have a fever before, he did now. His face turned a bright red. “So - Mr. Black. You knew this all along. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Honey, I can explain . . . “
“No need to. Max wasn’t expecting you to come in today. You could have told me you were sick yesterday. He would have allowed you to come home early. He’s been good to you over the years. Anyway, the doctor wants to see you at 10:45. I’ll get us some breakfast. You go lie down. I’ll call you when it’s ready.”
“Sounds good.” John exhaled.
“The doctor says you’re good to go, Honey. Just take it slow and rest, okay?”
“That’s what I plan to do. I need a change of scenery and some fresh air. I’ll drop you off at the house, and I think I’ll just take a relaxing drive through the countryside.”
That being done, John proceeded through town stopping at a dozen businesses to apply for a position. In most cases, all he could do was to drop off his resume. Nothing was immediately available, but there were a couple of excellent possibilities. He was able to talk to Mark Baxter at Baxter, Chase, and Collins. He would check back in a few days.
John finished his day by taking a relaxing drive on the back roads. He stopped at the same stream he did the day before. The blue water had turned gray, reflecting the overcast sky above. A sense of loneliness covered him. He sunk low in depression. His thoughts traveled back to a happier time two days before. Everything was so together then. The Loser mentality was returning. His cell phone rang.
“Mr. Black, I understand you are looking for work. Is that correct?”
“Yes. Yes, it is!”
“I have a position available, but it’s not for everyone. It’s not an accounting position but has room for advancement for the right person. It’s a hands-on position and involves various hours. It can also be dangerous, but we include hazard pay. Might you be interested?”
“Yes, of course!’ John couldn’t contain his excitement.
“Good, Meet me at the southeast corner of 9th and Washington at 4:00 p.m. sharp, and we’ll discuss it more. See you then.”
An exhilarated John left immediately for his destination. He didn’t want to be late.
Driving his vehicle through the intersection, John pulled over and parked. The closest he could get to his destination was two blocks. He checked the time and started down 9th Street. As he stood at the corner, he looked at his watch again - 3:59. He watched the numbers change to 4:00 as his cellphone rang.
“Mr. Black, I want to thank you for your effort, but I am delayed. Can you meet me at 30th and Tasker in a half-hour?”
“Yes, sure. I can do that.”
”Great! See you then.”
Exactly at 4:30, John’s phone rang again. “Mr. Black, I must apologize one more time. If you can be at Warnock and Broad at 5:00 p.m., I’ll speak with you then.”
John felt frustrated and wondered if this might be a prank rather than a legitimate business meeting. Still, he agreed to meet. The 5:00 hour came and went. By 5:15, John was ready to leave when his phone rang.
“Mr. Black. This has been a test. I needed to see if you were reliable. You are. Few men would run from stop to stop as you have. You’re just the man my company is looking for, but we need to talk more. Do you have time now? We can close the deal on the phone.”
“Sure, let’s do it!”
“Okay, Mr. Black.” The caller’s voice turned deadly serious. “From this point on, I will know you only as Mr. Black. I will never use a nickname. You will refer to me only as Charles. Nothing else. Understood?”
A bewildered John listened as Charles resumed speaking. “As I said, this job pays well. You will work for commission, but each commission will be well worth your time. As I also said, the work can be dangerous. I will include an extra $1500 for each job you successfully complete as hazard pay.”
John interrupted but didn’t get far. “Charles, I have a questi . . .’
“You will speak only when spoken to. When I’m finished, you may ask anything you want. Until then, be quiet. Now, you will start tomorrow afternoon at precisely 1:30. You must finish no later than 3:00. These are important details. I believe you to be a detail-oriented man, are you not?”
Without giving John the opportunity to respond, Charles went on. “My manager will meet you at 1608 East Passyunk Avenue. He will have more instructions for you. Be diligent. Be on time. Follow the instructions to the letter, and there will be a fat paycheck for you at the end of the day. Oh, and Mr. Black, under no circumstances are you to mention this to anybody - not your wife, not your friends, not your enemies. Any slip-ups could cost someone near and dear to you their life. The call ended.
- Black - Part 3
Money - John Black - and a dirt road
© 2020 William Kovacic