Placeholders

by Tom Mundt

This is about the time my skull got whaled upon by an anonymous assailant who will likely remain an enigmatic shadow until end times or the completion of the Chicago Police Department’s battery investigation, whichever comes first.

I was working with Roughshod on the date in question. That much I recall. Forgive me if several other details are a smidge hazy. Forgive me if I ask you to forgive me too much. It’s just my upbringing speaking loudly and clearly. Father, forgive them, for they do not know that dude.

We were Placeholders. Important men and women in need of the latest cellular technology entrusted us with their bulging wads, just to stand erect in single-file formation outside of grand cubes of glass and silver. Our office was the food court in the basement of the Chase building on Dearborn. We had a laminated sign and everything. U No Wait! was the name of our particular outfit. It had a certain ring. Our logo also appropriated the iconic imagery from the popular card game Uno, which lent gravitas.

Our take was an incredibly-reasonable flat fee of twenty-five USD. It was The Year Of Our Lord Two-Thousand-And-Eight and people were busy. We plugged a niche.

Roughshod furnished the muscle, and heart-healthy snacks. Before my injury I was a wordsmith, so I handled the client contacts. I also had good teeth and my smile assisted folks in remaining very chill. I got the cash up front. I sank it into a manila envelope that I then slid into a briefcase with a combo lock. The combo was the birthday of the only woman I ever loved. Her name was Erin Gray and she played the mom in Silver Spoons. Roughshod said I dated myself by aligning our security system with her but I didn’t care.

Another thing I remember from the day of the bludgeoning was the rain. It wasn’t raining and it was supposed to. I recall telling Roughshod that I intended to swing by the ABC-7 studios on State and complain to meteorologist Jerry Taft about that very fact. I wasted several minutes that morning searching for my rain slicker in the secret clothes pile I keep in the utility closet. I have to keep my garments there so my roommates don’t take it upon themselves to wear them out on the town and get salsa on my best duds.

Our client’s name was Rachel or Rochelle. No surnames, that was another rule. She wanted two Zircon Quartzes™, the ones that let you ask a nice lady for directions and recipes and things of that nature. Rachel or Rochelle showed us a bulge in her purse and then the bulge itself, which was a heavy-looking handgun. She asked us to please not dick around or get funny ideas. Roughshod said nothing. I said we wouldn’t. When we got outside Roughshod said it was a bluff and chucked his Orange Julius at some pigeons.

The deal was that we were supposed to call Rachel or Rochelle on her unsatisfactory, soon-to-be-replaced model when there were just a few people ahead of us. Then she would swoop in and seal the deal herself. People trusted, but not that much. Plus, they liked being in the stores. Guys named Chad who wore lanyards were at your beckon call for just about everything. Sometimes there was free popcorn if they were having an event.

There is another detail that jumps onto me now and that is the fact that it was hot. I took my shirt off and the young woman who was setting up the rope to keep shoppers fenced in on the sidewalk said I’d have to put it on in the store. I told her that scenario didn’t concern me and she made a face. By the end of the afternoon my skin looked like pink lemonade. Roughshod kept poking me because he thought it was funny that his finger pads left white spots. He also enjoyed hurting me but not severely.

When there were only two junior high toughs ahead of us I called Rachel or Rochelle and a few minutes later a taxi scraped against the curb. Rachel or Rochelle got out of the back and the lenses of her sunglasses were the size of silver dollar pancakes. She had a ten-dollar bill folded in half and she stuck it in the pocket of my t-shirt. I had never received a bonus before and I joked that I was like a mother kangaroo and the money was my joey but I don’t think she heard because she just turned her back to Roughshod and me. Not soon after, the lady usher said it was Rachel or Rochelle’s turn and that was that.

I suggested that Roughshod and I invest our income in the Burger King corporation. I was hungry but my primary objective was to break the fifty Rachel or Rochelle gave me, for payroll purposes. Roughshod said we could use his cousin’s bank. Sometimes they had Sour Apple Dum-Dums, my favorite, in the lobby. He knew a shortcut so I followed him through an alley. I stopped to pet an orange tabby on a fire escape and that’s when I entered a cold, black sack.

I woke up to the smell of dumplings. A guy in a white smock was tossing bags of them into a dumpster. There was a brown crusty shell around my hair that turned out to be blood in the shower. The contents of my briefcase had been replaced with a squirrel carcass.

Everything was at forty-five degree angles for approximately three weeks. I kept walking into chain-link fences. I didn’t go to the emergency room because my last trip ended with a lot of static from admins about insurance and not letting stray dogs into Intensive Care. It wasn’t my fault they followed me.

Roughshod was a no-show at work the day after. I thought maybe he had to take his mom to Hot Yoga but his absence stretched into forever. We never talked about it but he was the type of guy who wouldn’t rest until the scoundrel that smacked my pumpkin was made to pay for her deeds. Replacing talent like that is damn-near impossible. I haven’t tried since.

 

 

Thomas Mundt is the author of the short story collection You Have Until Noon To Unlock The Secrets Of The Universe (Lady Lazarus Press, 2011). Additional teambuilding exercises and risk management advice can be found at www.jonathantaylorthomasnathanmundtdds.com.

Thank you to healthissocial.com for Kubric image.

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