It was a mild December Friday, still in the 50s come the second week, but what Jenkins saw gave him chills like a three-night blizzard in a cold water basement flat.
Of course, that’s where he lived, a basement apartment in Plattsburgh, so close to Quebec that some locals sounded half-French. But to find old Mrs. Scheinblum waiting at the stairwell with a cop froze him from heels to hairline. Old habits died hard and getting the business end of a billy club was a habit he’d been trying to break since he got out of Dannemora’s Clinton Corrections Facility in September.
“Uh, something wrong, Mrs. Scheinblum?” Jenkins trained a kind of tunnel vision on his landlady. You develop this the same time you grow eyes in the back of your head in a max joint like Dannemora. The last time Jenkins looked at a uniform-type, even from the corner of his eye, said uniformed-type and eye met at the end of a blue-sleeved fist.
“You had a visitor today, Mr. Jenkins, and I’m letting you now that I want you out of here by the end of the month. I don’t need that kind of riffraff dirtying up my property, do I Ronny…um, Officer Laroque?”
Jenkins felt the chill again, even though beads of sweat formed at his temples.
“You heard the lady, pal. And I think I want you out of here, hell, out of this town, by the end of this weekend. Don’t make me come back to find your sorry ass in my aunt’s place on Monday,” the cop said, stepping into Jenkins’ line of sight, close enough to spit on Jenkins cheek with his North Country-accented “pal” and “place”.
“C’mon, I just got a job at the Bouyea Bakery this week. I’ve been clean and kept this rathole even cleaner since I moved in last month. You can check with my PO,” Jenkins said, as he curled his fingernails into the palms of his hands. That was a painful trick he taught himself his second week in Tryon, the youth detention center downstate, as a reminder and deterrent to his temper getting the better of him. He was fifteen going on 30 at the time.
Laroque pushed Jenkins against the damp brick wall of old lady Scheinblum’s place, his forearm against Jenkins’ neck.
“I said by Sunday, punk. And I’ll be by to check.”
Jenkins’ hand brushed against one of the rusty bars that failed to keep out the irony from his soon-to-be old apartment. He wanted to rip it out and beat the cop’s French pumpkin dome with it, and then stick the old lady’s head between two of the remaining ones.
“Okay, okay, I’m leavin’,” he said. “But can you at least tell me who stopped by that brought all this on?”
“He didn’t give a name, but I don’t need no long-haired, sandle-wearing freaks knocking on my door asking for the likes of YOU. Obviously high on something. Never stopped smiling. So phony with his ‘thank you’s’ and ‘bless you’s’,” the old lady said.
And Jenkins felt a chill again, only it was different this time. The kind he’d get when his grandfather’d come to the house and bring him to the amusement park or a ball game. He was the temporary answer to his prayers. And then the old man died.
Jenkins knew, though. He said he’d come and he’s come, he thought.
“What’re you smilin’ at, shithead?” the cop said, pushing him back once more.
“Nothin’ really. I just wanted to know who stopped by.”
“Well, he better not come by again, understand?”
“You won’t see him,” Jenkins said. His heart was pounding. He could barely wait to run downstairs and get ready.
That night, Jenkins sat at the old kitchen table, picking at the cracked Formica top with his fingernail. It still had blood beneath it from digging into his palm. He jumped at what sounded like a gentle knock at the door.
“Who is it?” he said.
“Time to go, my friend,” came the soft voice he heard on the other side of the door. “We’re waiting for you.”
“Be there in a sec,” Jenkins said, picking up the knife in the middle of the table and slashing once, twice, three times at his right wrist. Then he took the slippery handle in his right hand and carved four more into his left.
The last one was a bloody underline to the long tat he got in Dannemora last Christmas that read: Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
“Comin’,” was the last thing he said.
© 2017, photograph and story, Joseph Hesch