“How long we gotta stay out here, Nimrod?”
“Don’t call me Nimrod. I told ya that before!”
Neiman stamped his feet, which only refreshed the slimy chill of the large amount of slush that had already leaked through the bottoms of his boots. He was standing on the busiest corner in town in twenty degree weather holding a huge sign that said “Sanford’s Sporting Goods. Going Out For Business! 3 Days Only!” Neiman’s partner held a similar sign, but his stature allowed him to hold the sign high above the traffic whizzing by. Neiman gazed at him with exasperated contempt. He swore his eye balls were starting to freeze. Neiman pointed at the big man’s hat.
“Jesus! Fix your hat, Dan. Ya look like a retard out here.”
Neiman giggled a little at his own irony. After all, Dan was a retard, but one of those kind that could actually do stuff like have a conversation and not have to be watched every second. Dan shuffled his feet and did a dance like he had to go to the bathroom. The guy looked like a version of Elmer Fudd built by Dr. Frankenstein. Close to seven feet tall with hands like platters and a round head that sat on his shoulders like an orange sitting on a table. Dan straightened his Green Bay Packers hat then stared back at Neiman with eyes like blue marbles in a pail of milk. Neiman spread his arms.
“How much longer we gotta stay out here?”
Neiman leaned out into traffic a bit so he could see the bank sign clock two blocks down. Shit, it had only been a little over two hours. It felt like a day. The wind got suddenly colder.
“We got another few hours, Dan. Then we can go back.”
“How long’s that?”
“A while, Dan. Try not to think about it. Walk around a little. It’ll help keep you warm.”
Neiman knew if he didn’t distract Dan he would be trapped in a long circular conversation with him that would include copious amounts of whining and repeated requests for the time.
Neiman had known he was going to have a long day when the Rescue Mission director told him at breakfast that he was assigning Dan to go with him to work at Sanford’s. Neiman not only hated being partnered up, but this was a little worse because he felt uncomfortable around Dan. Neiman felt Dan was unpredictable and could quickly become uncontrollable if something spooked him. Truth be told, Neiman was a little frightened of being responsible for Dan. If something happened to him, it would fall on Neiman. This fear of responsibility was one of the root causes for Neiman’s being in his present situation. Whenever his responsibilities became too great, he drank. A lot. An inhuman amount. Over time his drinking solved the responsibility problem for him like booze solves most problems if you allow it; by leaving you with nothing but yourself and the liquor. No responsibilities, no family, no home, nothing. Neiman had been cool with it until he’d begun to lose whole days, and when he wasn’t doing that he was starving and freezing to death out on the streets. He had had just enough wit left to figure that he needed a better plan. The first step to this still nebulous plan had been to find food and shelter. He’d stumbled into the Mission on a clear, cold night in November and had been there ever since. It was now February and his head was just now surfacing from the ocean of drink and deprivation. The last thing he needed was to be charged with taking care of Dan. Neiman took it as a sign that he needed to update his plan and focus on getting the hell out of the Mission.
At breakfast that morning Dan was working his way through an enormous pile of corned beef hash when Neiman came up to his table. The sight of Dan shoveling the Alpo-like stuff into a maw that was lined with semi rotted teeth almost caused Neiman to lose his own breakfast right there. He focused on a point beyond Dan’s head.
“Looks like it’s me an’ you today, big boy.”
“I ain’t a boy. Pete says I’m a grown-assed man.”
Pete was one of the senior residents who had almost completed the Rescue Mission program for rehab. Neiman hated Pete because he knew the dude was scamming and he always put on this Snoop Dog bullshit nigger front. Neiman knew the guy would be dealing and using within a week of leaving the place. Pete had told Neiman once that for him, coming to the Mission was what normal folks call taking a time out. It was this and the fact that Pete had been the one to come up with the Nimrod nick name that caused Neiman to build a pretty good hate for the guy.
Neiman shrugged at Dan and hooked a thumb over his shoulder towards the front entrance of the Mission building.
“Yeah whatever, big man. Look, finish up quick because we’re gonna work together at Sanford’s today. The van leaves in 15 minutes. Dress warm – we’ll probably be outside for a while and its cold out.”
Dan squinted at Neiman, his eating hand never stopping its circuit from plate to mouth.
“You gotta help me get my stuff.”
“Alright. Wait here when you’re finished I’ll come get you and help you with your stuff.”
Neiman left him to finish while he went and gathered up his own gear. He had a pea coat that worked well keeping the cold out if he layered stuff underneath it. By the time Neiman was finished getting ready he had every stitch of clothes he owned on his body. He worried about his lack of gloves and the rubber boots he owned had cracks everywhere. He had a feeling the two pairs of socks he had on weren’t going to be enough. Passing down the hall towards Dan’s room he met Pete coming the other way.
“Nimrod! Don’ worry ‘bout Dan’s stuff, I got him all set. He’s waitin’ downstairs in the lobby. Damn son! Y’all look like Frosty the Homeless Snowman! Y’all probly only be out for a hour or two. Ya don’t need all those clothes.”
Neiman shook his head.
“I’ll take my chances. Can always take the stuff off.”
Pete gave him the eye like he was laughing at him on the inside.
“Okay, okay. You do what you gonna do. Have a good one today.”
Neiman just nodded and turned back down the hall. He met Dan at the front door. Dan was dressed in colors that made him look a little like a giant traffic cone. Red snow pants with a yellow ski jacket and yellow and green scarf. His gloves were yellow and he had on a yellow stocking cap with a Green Bay Packers logo on the front and a ridiculously huge pompom on top. Neiman noticed that as dumb as the stuff looked, it was all brand new. The ski jacket was a Columbia brand, he knew those weren’t cheap. Neiman had shop lifted one before. Dan was a sort of mascot at the mission and Neiman had no idea why he was there. Neiman knew he’d better not let anything happen to Dan or his name would be mud with everyone. The thought was making his breakfast turn sour. He piled into the van with Dan and a small group of other recovering drunks and addicts being dropped off at their day jobs. Neiman told himself again that he had to get a plan together soon, otherwise every day was going to be a long day if he had to keep this shit up.
Sanford’s Sporting Goods was on the other side of town and the best way to get there was by the highway, but they couldn’t take that route because everyone knew Dan got carsick on the highway. So they wound their way through side streets that were either clogged with snow or polished to a frictionless sheet of ice. When they arrived at the store Dan was the first one out, but not before he spewed his morning’s intake of hash all over the sidewalk from inside the van door. Neiman, shuffling out right behind Dan almost fell on his face trying to avoid the mess.
“Well, hell Dan. That stuff doesn’t look any better the second time around.”
No one laughed at the joke and the others in the van all gave Neiman the stink eye before they buttoned up and drove off leaving him and Dan at the curb. Before they could go inside Mr. Sanford himself came out and met them on the sidewalk. He went right to Dan and shook his hand vigororously.
“Well hey there, big boy! Haven’t seen you in a while! I’m glad you come! How have you been?”
Sanford was barely five feet tall and round as a basketball. Dan looked down at him like an ostrich getting ready to peck. Neiman noticed that it was okay if Sanford called him “big boy”.
“I’m fine Mr. Sanford.”
“And how’s your ma? You been keepin’ in touch?”
“Yah, I call her once a week ‘cause they make me down to the Mission.”
“Well good! Good! You ready to do some work today?”
“Yah, me an’ Nimrod’s ready, Mr. Sanford.”
Sanford frowned and shifted his gaze to Neiman, looking surprised to find a second person standing there.
“Nimrod? That you’re real name, son?”
“No sir – just a nickname the guys at the Mission gave me ‘cause it rhymes with my last name, Neiman.”
“You sure it ain’t because you’re stupid?” Sanford beamed then winked.
Neiman resisted the knee-jerk reaction to clock Sanford in his round, porky face.
“Nah, I think I’m smart enough. It’s just somethin’ that rhymes.”
“Well that’s fine! I’m glad they sent someone down to work with Dan. His mind wanders. Last time he was down here it was a little tough. But that was last time. We gonna do better this time, eh Dan?”
Dan didn’t answer. Dan was watching clouds go by. Sanford blinked and re-focused on Neiman.
“So…what’d you say your name was?”
“Oh! Yeah! Yeah! Nimrod! Well, okay! Look I only have a few hours for you guys today and its real easy work. We’re having a sale this weekend and we want to make a big splash. We’re calling it a “Going out for Business” sale. Get it? “Out for business”. The wife came up with that one. A real attention grabber!”
Neiman thought it was a stupid idea. People would only see “going out of business”. He smiled thinly at Sanford.
“Sounds good, Mr. Sanford.”
“You boys are gonna help get the word out. I’m gonna drop you off out at the bypass with a couple of signs and all you have to do is wave ‘em at the passing cars and make sure everyone that drives by sees that we’re havin’ a sale.”
Neiman was relieved. It sounded easy enough except for the standing out in the freezing cold part. He glanced at Dan. He was still looking around distractedly. Neiman thought he was being pretty patient. Sanford waved them inside then stopped Neiman at the door.
“Dan and I’ll go get the signs, son. Would you take that snow shovel and push that puke off the curb? Gotta get movin’ – I want you boys out on the corner before the morning rush!” Neiman could have sworn he saw Dan smirk a little as he toddled in after Sanford. So that was how it was.
Neiman and Dan rode out to their work spot in Sanford’s gigantic SUV which was painted a garish electric blue and orange with Sanford sporting goods signs plastered on three sides. The thing looked like an automotive version of Dan’s outfit. Neiman sat as far away from Dan as possible in case he got sick again. Neiman couldn’t imagine the guy having anything left to spew; the amount Neiman pushed off the walk had almost been too much for the snow shovel to handle. Dan and Sanders chatted, ignoring Neiman completely.
“Dan, do you like my car?”
“Yessir, it’s nice.”
“Like the colors?”
“Yeah. Blue’s my favorite.”
“Those are the colors of my favorite basketball team, the Detroit Pistons. Do you like basketball Dan?”
“Yessir. We watch it sometimes at the Mission.”
“Maybe sometime we could go see a game in person. How’d you like that?’
“I’d like that.”
It when on like this for the entire 15 minute drive out to the highway bypass. Neiman had been invisible, while Dan, by the time they reached their spot, had been offered a trip to see a Pistons game, dinner at a restaurant, a part-time job at Sanford’s and an autographed basketball that Dan would receive at the end of the day if things went well. At this last, Sanford fixed Neiman with a laser-like stare through the rearview mirror rendering him suddenly and uncomfortably visible once again. Sanford let them off on the only vacant corner of the intersection. There was a Village Pantry gas station directly across from their designated spot. When cars weren’t pausing for the stop light, they were careening by at better than 60 miles per hour. When Neiman and Dan finally got situated with their signs Sanford gave them the game plan.
“Okay boys, I’m gonna leave you out here for five hours. I’ll be back to pick you up and take you back to the Mission in time for lunch. Now, if you need to go to the bathroom or take a break and warm up a little you can go on across to the gas station. You can get a little coffee or somethin’ too – I have an account there. Just give’em my name. They know you might be comin, but they are also my eyes and ears so no screwin’ around and no slackin’ off or I’ll know.”
Again, he fixed Neiman with a dead fish stare then gave Dan a beatific smile. Neiman’s eyes drifted back to the gas station. Right above the entrance was a blinking sign. Packaged Liquors. Neiman felt a small stir deep in his brain pan. Next thing, Sanford was driving away and Neiman was there with Dan who was already wiggling and waving his sign at passing motorists like he was landing planes on an aircraft carrier. Neiman took up a spot a few feet away, facing the traffic coming the opposite direction; his back turned to the gas station. He didn’t move his sign at all. He shuffled his feet to keep warm and glowered at the cars as they passed. He’d already cleaned up puke for Sanford and he was damned if he was going to dance like a trained monkey for the guy. Neiman saw Dan out of the corner of his eye bouncing his sign and shuffling around in a kind of dance. He was singing “Yellow Submarine”.
Neiman was to the point of stepping out in front of the next semi that came roaring by when Dan finally stopped tonelessly repeating the line “We all live in a yellow submarine, yellow submarine, yellow submarine”. There was about five minutes of blessed silence before Neiman heard Dan’s footsteps crunching in the snow, coming up behind him. Dan whined about the time and getting cold. Truth be told, Neiman was getting a little frozen himself. The bank clock down the street let him know they had over three hours left. The wind was picking up and dark clouds were moving in. Snow clouds. He told Dan to walk around a little faster to get warm. Neiman’s gaze fixed on the gas station. The packaged liquor sign seemed brighter in the gathering gloom. Time to take a break.
“Hey Dan – let’s go over to the gas station to warm up and maybe get some coffee.”
Dan’s moon pie face lit up then instantly went dark.
“I don’t like coffee. Do ya think they have hot chocolate?”
Neiman clapped the giant on his back.
“I’m sure they do – let’s go get out of this cold.”
They trudged hurriedly across to the station once the light turned. Neiman’s eyes moved not an inch from the blinking liquor sign as they made their way across. When they got inside, Dan announced that he had to go to the bathroom. Neiman waved Dan on without looking at him. Neiman was busy scanning the shelves.
“Yeah Dan you go on ahead – I’ll get your hot chocolate.”
There was a spot where you could make your own cup of coffee, cappuccino or, by God, hot chocolate. Neiman poured chocolate in the biggest cup he could find then made himself a small cup of black coffee; Tanzanian Yirgacheffe, whatever the hell kind of coffee that was. He brought the cups up to the counter, looking over the shelves and shelves of liquor bottles behind. Neiman knew it wouldn’t do to put booze on Sanford’s account, but he had a five stashed in his coat that was his emergency fund. If standing out in the freezing cold for another few hours with an annoying half-wit wasn’t an emergency, he didn’t know what was. He set the drinks down and was about to order a half pint of Kessler’s when he spotted a small plastic bucket full of airline sized bottles next to the cash register. The bucket was being held by a plastic polar bear wearing a stocking cap just like Dan’s. The cap was emblazoned with the word “Rumplemintz”. Neiman knew the brand. Schnaaps. One hundred proof liquid candy cane goodness. The counter guy pointed at the cups.
“That gonna be it?”
“Uh, yeah. This is gonna be on Al Sanford’s account. He said you knew we were coming.”
“Oh yeah sure. Lemme get the ledger. You’ll have to initial.”
When the guy bent to get under the counter Neiman took a quick look-see around then swept a fist full of the small Schnaaps bottles into his coat.
They crossed the street while Dan tried to slurp his cocoa, walk a straight line and talk all at the same time. It was like watching a three legged cat trying to bury turds on a frozen pond. Dan made it to the corner without getting run down thanks to Neiman running traffic interference for him.
About five minutes later Dan finished his cocoa. Refreshed and revived he started up with “Yellow Submarine” again. Neiman popped the lid off his untouched coffee and tossed it on the ground. He fished two bottles out of his pocket and one after the other he expertly unscrewed the tops using a thumb. He dumped them into the cup. He opened a third, and drank it down not caring if Dan or the passing traffic saw him. Instantly the old familiar warmth and well-being spread throughout his body. It started to feel like the cold wasn’t there anymore; not warmth necessarily just neutral temp neither cold nor warm.
Neiman began to feel better about standing out on a corner in the freezing cold. He downed the rest of the cup and fished around for more bottles. He had two left, which he promptly snapped open and poured into his cup. He took a sip and told himself to go easy and pace himself. Make it last. He looked over at Dan. The big doofus was singing at the top of his lungs now and he had figured out how to twirl his sign like a baton. About every third twirl he hit himself in the side of the head, but he kept doing it. He was having the time of his life. Every so often a person driving by would honk. Jesus Christ. Neiman drained the contents of his cup, stared hard at Dan bouncing around like some demented giant bear and tossed the empty cup into traffic. He watched the crumpled cup bounce off the windshield of an Escalade with pitch black tinted windows. Florida car, Neiman thought nastily as he smirked at the thought of the poor bastards driving around in the Great White North freezing their asses off. The car hit its brakes and swerved. It bounced over the curb and came to a stop just beyond where Dan was swaying and dipping to his own tune. Neiman gaped as three guys jumped out of the vehicle.
Neiman saw immediately that they were gang bangers. What the hell they were doing up here was a mystery. They had on the required uniform. Hoodies, flannel shirts, Raybans, baggie pants pulled down mid-thigh. One guy was rockin’ the bandana down tight, almost covering his eyes and another wore one of those dumbass pork pie hats. The biggest one led the way. Neiman watched, fascinated by the steam rolling off the guy’s bald head. They came straight for him bypassing Dan who stopped his dancing and singing to stare dumbly at the bangers as they pushed by him. The Big One walked up until he was nose to nose with Neiman. Even though the situation was dangerous, Neiman felt calm. He had hundred proof courage. Big One spoke in a whispered growl.
“What chew think you doin’ trowin’ trash at my car?”
The guy’s accent was laughable, Neiman smiled.
“Look, it was an accident. I didn’t mean anything by it, esay.”
Big One’s eyes narrowed.
“Who the fuck you callin’ ‘esay’? You Latino now? You thinkin’ you down if you talk the talk?”
“No man, I’m just tryin’ to be friendly.”
The guy stepped closer, touching Nieman nose to nose.
“Oh we friends now? You toss trash at my car an’ now we friends?”
He got a thoughtful look on his face.
“So, since we friends now I guess you could do me a favor, right?”
Neiman could see the other two smiling wolfishly just on the edges of his peripheral vision.
“Sure man. Wadda ya want?”
Big One hooked a thumb over his shoulder.
“Come over here an’ take a look at the mess you made on my windshield. See if you can do somethin’ about it.”
Neiman felt adrenaline killing the buzz. They walked over to the car, the three bangers surrounding him. Dan stared like a dog watching a magic trick; mystification coating his face. He reached out to Neiman as they passed.
“Are these friends, Nimrod?”
Neiman waved Dan away.
“Its alright Dan. We just have a little business to do.”
Big One gave Neiman a quizzical look.
“Nimrod? That your name? What kinda name is that?”
Neiman shook his head.
“It’s a long story.”
They got to the car. It was still running, its exhaust sending out huge clouds of vapors in the freezing air. Big One pointed at the windshield.
“Take a look. What chew gonna do ‘bout that?”
Neiman looked but couldn’t see anything. He shrugged his shoulders.
“I can’t see anything.”
“Look closer. It’s right there.”
Neiman started to bend closer when one of the three grabbed the back of his neck and slammed his head into the windshield with such force that a spider-web of cracks formed where his forehead met the glass. Neiman saw black spots popping then it was like he was looking out from a tank of water. Big One’s voice sounded tinny.
“Oh man, look what you did! Now its really fucked up! Now we got a problem…esay!”
His head was slammed into the car again and this time the black spots stayed. Neiman’s legs gave way and he fell to the ground. He cried out as the first few kicks to his kidneys landed square. After he pissed his pants he didn’t feel the kicks so much. They kept on coming and he could hear all three of the bangers yelling at him, but it was like they were too far away to hear what they were saying. One of the black spots opened up wide and Neiman headed for it. Right before darkness closed over him Neiman saw Dan grab Big One around the neck.
Dan stopped singing and dancing when the Black Car pulled over. He didn’t like the guys that got out. They felt wrong. They felt like some of the men that show up at the mission. Their eyes all covered with scary dark glasses and wearing mean clothes. Dan was starting to have the bad feeling in his tummy like when he rides in the car and things go by too fast. He watched them closely when they talked to Nimrod. The Big One looked like a cage fighter like what some of the men watch at the mission. The mean ones who like fighting. Dan liked the wrestling show better. Pete said it was fake and no one really got hurt so it was okay. The Big One was almost yelling at Nimrod. Dan didn’t know what to do. He hoped they were Nimrod’s friends and it would be fine.
They walked over to the Black Car and Dan asked Nimrod if the men were friends. He didn’t even yell at him for calling him “Nimrod”. He just looked worried. Dan watched them close and suddenly one of them pushed Nimrod’s head into the car. Big One yelled at him then did it again. Dan saw blood and Nimrod’s eyes were all scary like a zombie’s. He fell down and the men all started kicking him. Dan was frightened to death, but Nimrod was a friend. Nimrod lived at the mission with him. Dan started yelling for help then he went to stop the men.
Dan grabbed the smallest man around the waist and was surprised at how light he was. He easily spun him around and threw him over the hood of the Black Car out into the road. His friend with the rag on his head stopped kicking Nimrod to watch where his friend landed. Dan grabbed his arm and twisted it up like he saw on Wrestlemania. He heard a crack sound and the man started screaming. Dan let him go and the guy fell on the ground next to Nimrod. The Big One tried to punch Dan but he jumped to the side then grabbed him around the neck in a choke hold and started squeezing. Dan heard cars honking and sirens. He kept squeezing, waiting for the Big One to give up. Dan felt him go limp, but he kept squeezing. The other man on the ground was moaning and Dan didn’t know where the one he threw into the street was. Nimrod wasn’t moving. The sirens got closer.
The first thing Neiman saw after swimming up through syrupy unconsciousness was Pete’s face. He smiled a huge grin showing his piano-key sized teeth complete with a gold incisor that fascinated Neiman; momentarily distracting him from the fact that he felt terrible. Like the worst hangover of his life combined with a case of the flu combined with a ride inside a cement mixer. Pete’s voice rang through Neiman’s head like a bell on fire.
“Heeey, buddy! You up! Man, you done got fucked up real good. Just lie still. You got all kinda shit broken and bruised. Good thing our man Dan was there to get your back. Otherwise…who knows?”
Neiman felt like his mouth was full of steel wool. He tried to speak.
“Oh Dan’s alright. The director’s straightening the shit out with the cops now. They gave Dan a ride down to the station. An’ guess what? The dude hurled all over the inside a that cruiser.”
Pete’s booming laugh made Neiman’s head vibrate like a tuning fork made of razors.
“Oh yeah! The cops er alright wit it though ‘cause Dan’s a regular hee-ro. Saved yo’ life he did, Nimrod! Those cholos were diggin’ you a dirt nap when Dan came chargin’ in an’ tore they ass up. Put ‘em all in the hospital. They say the big un probably won’t ever regain consciousness. Oh yeah, Dan’s a regular bad ass. You owe him the biggest thank you your sorry ass can think of.”
Neiman sluggishly processed what Pete told him, horror and sad resignation dawned. It couldn’t be. The big dumb Baby Huey had rescued him. Had even saved his life? He was a hero? Neiman moaned. Pete patted him on the shoulder, a shit eating smirk smeared on his face.
“Yeah, I know Nimrod. Life’s a bitch then someone stupid saves it. You just lay there and try not ta think about it. You just get well an’ we’ll see y’all back at the mission in a few months. I gotta go. I don’t wanna miss Dan’s press conference. See ya on the flip-flop buddy!”
Press conference? It just kept getting worse. Neiman felt nothing now. Pain faded, giving way to a budding determination. Neiman had months of free time ahead of him. He couldn’t go back to the mission. He couldn’t be Dan’s bitch for life. He had all the time he needed right now. All he needed to do was think; think of something good. Think of a way out. He needed to think of a plan.