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Tommy hurried through the crowd with the long green duffel bag thumping against his thighs. He had an appointment. One he could not afford to miss. He needed to deliver his bag, with its contents intact, by 3 PM sharp. Even one second late could bring dire consequences, which he was not prepared to face.
Having serpentined his way through the pedestrians, he stopped at the street corner and waited for a break in the traffic. He breathed in deeply and his lungs desperately sucked up the air while he glanced down at his watch. “2:51” blinked on the digital display.
“9 minutes,” he thought. “That’s not a lot of time.” He pulled the bag up to his chest and he could feel the bag’s hard lumpy prisoner. Or was it prisoners? He could not be sure and in fact, he didn’t really care. The only thing that mattered was time and he was running out of it.
He glared at the streetlight that refused to change colors and decided he could wait no longer. Ignorant of caution, he stepped off of the curb …
The moments that followed all meshed together into a blur of lights and sounds that he could not distinguish. A car here, a tanker truck there, a motorcyclist…in Tommy’s frenzy it seemed like the vehicular traffic was intentionally out to mow him down. But he heard not the horns and taunts of angry drivers, only his own heavy, labored breathing, with the image of the curb on the other side of the street drawing closer as he raced across the busy road. The scope of the immediate danger that faced him became clear once the screeching of the brakes of a city bus pierced his ears. But its headlights were already behind Tommy, as he mentally patted himself on the back, confident that he would survive such a crazy stunt, all for a stupid duffel bag.
The next thing Tommy saw was the hard concrete ground of the sidewalk. His left foot sent pain up his spine, after it had tripped against the elevated surface of the curb, sending the bag flying into the wall of a storefront after rolling around several times against the dirt and rocks. As he stood up, the fresh scrapes and cuts in his hands and arms diverted his attention away from his delivery. Tommy grunted through the hurt, and wiped clean the blood off his hands on his jeans, slowly dusting himself off before looking at his watch and realizing that he was wasting precious time.
“The bag, the bag!” he said to himself. He looked around; a parked car, a homeless man, a telephone booth, an abandoned grocery cart, a homeless man…
The unkempt man slowly bent down to examine the contents of his new prize. Obviously he wanted what was inside, but he pulled back his hand after brushing it against the bag. “Get away from that!” Tommy cried, alerting the man to firmly hold on to his newfound possession.
Tommy hadn’t the time for this. His nine minutes had dwindled down to six, and all of a sudden he had to deal with something he hadn’t expected. The nut could be taken down, Tommy figured, but he would certainly put up a struggle. Which is what he did, once Tommy lunged at him for the bag. The tussled for a bit as the bag shook loose and fell right back onto the ground.
In their exchange of blows, he heard a click right before a sharp pain bit his leg. “Damn it!” Tommy shouted as the old man ran away, leaving the duffel bag on the sidewalk, “Creep stabbed me!”
He was afraid to look down, but much more frustrated that this day wasn’t going quite as planned. Had there been passersby on the sidewalk, they might have figured it amusing. Strange enough, with all the traffic zipping up and down the road, there were no bystanders to observe, much less help. Tommy had to see it for himself. In his right leg there was no knife, only a screwdriver tangled up in the threading of his jeans. It still hurt like hell, though, but he wasn’t bleeding, and the duffel bag was his again.
Four and a half minutes.
His left foot was still sore, and his right leg was hardly in perfect shape. Tommy made a run for it as fast as his could, limping here and there towards his destination, and carrying the bag that had been the center of his woes. For the first time, though, it was giving off heat, its contents having been shaken about. Whatever was inside must have been in a safety container of some kind. Now it was loose, and with growing certainty Tommy figured he would have to face some consequences, even more so if he didn’t make it on time.
Being a delivery boy is no fun, he figured. All Tommy wanted was some extra cash, and having suggested it to his boss, he was given this one task that he was sure not to screw up. Never mind that rumors about his employer suggested that he was definitely getting into some shady affairs, to say nothing that his destination was in a part of town that was less than reputable. Having a budget that included a girlfriend was going to get him in trouble indeed.
It literally was just around the corner, a rundown hotel that was the destination for his delivery. Tommy didn’t want to contemplate any notion that those who were waiting for the duffel bag would be lenient by a couple of minutes. He didn’t even want to pay attention to the growing wet spot at the bottom of the bag. What was in it that was leaking? A chemical compound, a toxic poison, what?
Tommy heard his own heartbeat racing as, for the first time, he feared for his life, not only from what faced him at the destination but what may also be in the duffel bag, as an oily liquid began to seep from the bottom.
He checked his watch again as the emotionless display read two minutes to the top of the hour. He raced down the corner as fast as he could, ignoring every obstacle, from road blocks on the deteriorating sidewalk, to bits of glass from a blown-out window, to a pair of cops that Tommy didn’t notice were chasing him down simply for being in the wrong neighborhood. A cat got in his way, and he did his best to jump over it. An unforeseen crevice in the ground snagged the bottom of his shoe, and Tommy pulled with all of his strength his foot out of it.
Until the worse finally came to worse.
“Stop right where you are!” the cop in front of him said. Tommy stopped in his tracks, absolutely certain that he was toast. The officer calmed him down, “We just want to know what you’re doing in these parts, is all.”
“Yeah, well, I got a delivery to make,” Tommy staggered between breaths.
“A delivery, huh? Why don’t you tell me what’s in it?” he asked, his hand drawing closer to the bag.
Tommy pulled it against his chest, saying, “I really need to make this delivery.”
The cop chuckled out loud, flashing a grin, “And if I don’t let you? You’ll do what?”
He laughed aloud again, causing the pigeons nearby to take flight. To Tommy, this was adversity at its worst. And this was the last straw. He had no verbal retort. He just ran.
“Hey, get back here!” the officer cried to the fleeing delivery boy. He started to run after him, only to have the nearby cat trip him up but good, causing him to fall onto his face, giving Tommy just the distance he needed.
By now the package was ruined. The oily residue has enveloped the entire bag and was dripping all the way to the meeting place hotel. Tommy had made it exactly on time, though – three o’clock on the dot – so perhaps having lost any chance at being paid, he might just be spared with his life.
“What the hell happened to you?” a stocky and overpowering man said, standing over Tommy.
Tommy looked down at himself. His clothing was all torn, his hands and arms were all dirty, and he had just noticed that he had recently ripped a new hole in his shoe.
“Never mind,” the man said in a thick accent, “At least you got—Jesus, is that it?”
The delivery boy gulped down, and nodded very slowly.
“Kid, if this is ruined, you’re going to get it but good, do you hear me? Give me that!”
The bag was snatched from Tommy’s hands as it was put on a table with other shady-looking men seated around it. They all recoiled back as the sloppy mess that was the duffel bag was slammed down onto the table. Tommy couldn’t see the man open it as his back was turned to him. The man brought his head closer to the bag, and then exhibited what could easily be thought of as slight disgust. One by one, the other men showed their disappointment.
“I guess it’ll do.”
“Could be better, though.”
“Can’t have it like that!”
The first man turned his head around to look at Tommy. Tommy stood in the doorway, wide-eyed. He couldn’t imagine what was coming to him.
“Alright,” the man said, walking back to Tommy. He stood over him and shook his head. The delivery boy stood upright, stoic. Perhaps he could meet his fate with some degree of dignity. But inside, he was shaking as the man reached into his suit.
“Tell your boss,” the man said, “That we said thanks.”
They shared a moment of awkward silence, before Tommy uttered, “Huh?”
“Do you got hearing problems, boy? Here’s your tip,” he said. He took out what was in his suit and showed it to Tommy.
Tommy was granted one more breath. He didn’t want to look in his hand. Perhaps if he did…but he looked, anyways. Between the man’s big, thick fingers was a twenty dollar bill.
“Take it,” the man said, “Perhaps you’ll do a better job of delivering it next time.”
The delivery boy slowly reached for the money, weakly placing it in his own hand. The man gave him a nod and a sly wink before heading for the table. “Alright, boys,” he said, “Lunch!”
Lunch!? Tommy had yet to contemplate the full realization of it all, as damaged boxes of food – including one ruined container or stuffed mushrooms drowning in melted better – were taken out and handed to his associates. For the first time, the pre-business chatter of the group of men drowned out Tommy’s breathing, which had not yet calmed down. He continued to watch; one man got a triple-decker sandwich, another got a plate of paste, while a third went straight for his dessert, however ruined.
“Lunch,” Tommy thought to himself.
“Hey kid,” the first man said, “What’re you still doing here? You want some?”
They all laughed as Tommy was frozen in nervous contemplation. All that running around had really made him hungry.