Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Drunk Eli


Drunk Eli

By Michael Cannata

                      "Get the fuck out of the way you old drunk!"

                The sentence was punctuated by a kick in the side to the homeless man that was squatting in the warm doorway, away from the cold outside.

                "Leave him alone, Flash!" The girl exclaimed. "He ain't hurting you! His name is, Eli. Are you OK, Eli?"

                The young girl leaned over the drunk as he cowered in the corner. She tried to reach out and touch him but the drunk, Eli as she called him, just shrunk deeper into the corner.

                "Come on bitch!" Flash barked. "I got some serious business going on here. I don't need you playing nurse to that waste of flesh!"

                "Okay!" she replied, and jumped up to follow Flash up the stairs in the decrepit tenement. She turned back just long enough to see the drunk, Eli, talking to himself again.

                She didn’t know anything much about him, only what she heard on the streets. Eli, or at least that's what everyone called him, first showed up in the neighborhood about 2 years ago. He spent most of his time panhandling at the corner or in the small park two blocks down from where she and Flash were today.

                The story was that he was a Vietnam vet. He used to work at a warehouse near the shoe district but he lost his family for reasons no one really seemed to know. He stuck to the same few blocks and people got used to seeing him around. Eventually he became invisible to the people that worked, lived or simply lingered around the seedy part of town.

                He was best known for his habit of picking up old electronic junk from the cans that lined the streets. He would then have some very animated conversations with people from all points of the world. When asked, he would explain that he was doing recon work for his friends that were left behind in 'Nam.

                The working girls liked him for another reason. Eli would never let any harm come to any of the girls if he saw it happening.

                He was never a bother to them or any other person on the streets, but he would always come to the aid of any of the girls that got caught up in a confrontation… be it a john or their pimp. If he saw someone threatening or hurting any of them he would rush up to the attacker, roaring in a loud voice and point an old military knife that still gleamed in the light.

                He looked small and almost frail hunched over in his long dirty coat. But when threatened, he would rise up to his full six feet and three inches in height and suddenly seem very formidable and dangerous. Invariably, the men causing the trouble would just move away as fast as possible.

                Tonight was a cold night. It wasn't unusual to find Eli taking shelter in whatever hallway he could gain entrance to. Flash and the girl were up on the 5th floor doing their business while Eli stayed hunched in the corner. He heard the door slam and their laughter alerted him to their approach. He started talking rapidly into his latest electronic contraption as they came down the squeaking stairs.

                Flash looked at him with a contempt that was magnified by the drug addled look in his eyes. He clutched a large brown bag tightly and close to his body. "Didn't I tell you to get the fuck out of here you stupid ass drunk?" He pulled out a gun from inside his jacket. "I ought to waste your drunken ass right now you piece of filth!" He waved the gun in Eli's direction as spittle flew from his mouth.

                "NO!" the girl screamed, getting between Drunk Eli and Flash. "Come on, Flash. We don't need any trouble now. We got everything we came for! We need to get out of here! Don't do anything stupid!"

                For a second, Flash and Eli's eyes locked. The lack of fear in the drunk's eyes made Flash hesitate. The look seemed to pierce right into Flash’s soul. He reconsidered his decision to shoot, Drunk Eli.

                Flash and the girl walked out of the hallway and into a sudden and unexpected show of force by a large number of police dressed in swat gear. Drunk Eli knew the rest of the squad team would be headed up the back fire escape stairs. No one in the building would be getting away tonight. The drug enforcement agents were swarming the building. It was the bust they had been working on for two years.

                Eli just lay still in the warm corner of the hallway as the police went about their business. Once Flash and the girl, along with about a dozen of the major dealers in the area were whisked away in a squad car an officer entered the hallway.

                "It's all clear." was all he said and turned to leave.

                Drunk Eli, waited another 15 minutes before standing and stepping out into the night. He shuffled down the empty street to the nearest subway entrance and got on the first train. As he got further away from the place he had been working undercover for the last two years, he finally breathed a sigh of relief. He had come too close to dying tonight. But his job was done. In the morning he would talk to his unit commander and ask to be reassigned.

                He had done his job well, but still, he hated the feeling that came with his success. An innocent girl, caught up in a life she had no control over, would be going to jail along with Flash; A girl that had risked her own life to keep him from the wrath of Flash. He would remember to tell his commander about what she had done. Maybe he could help her at least.

                He hoped his wife would still be awake. The last two years had almost destroyed his family and his marriage. Tonight he could finally tell her it was over and he would be home a lot more from now on.

                He hoped she would be awake when he got home. If not he would wake her. He longed for her embrace tonight more than most.

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