David had dealt with the fat woman before. She was what his mother would call a crapapple. Each time David went into the store, he hoped she would be different, that she would display some sign of civility, of customer service, anything to show that she wasn’t a crapapple. Crappies had to be dealt with in the harshest ways possible. David didn’t see this as a big deal under normal circumstances, but since she was so close to his apartment, bringing her to justice presented a risk. And while he had patience when it came to mitigating the risk—that was insurance talk his mother had taught him—sometimes the need to act won the battle over the need to wait.
He stepped up to the counter. He placed is carton of 2% milk, can of Mountain Dew, and Juicy Fruit on the counter. He tried to make eye contact with the woman—her nametag said Kathleen—but she kept her eyes averted as she scanned the items and pushed them back toward him.
“Six sixty-six,” Kathleen said between almost comical smacks of her green gum.
David smiled. Not out of courtesy, but at hearing his favorite number three times in a row. “Aren’t you going to offer me a bag?”
She stopped chewing. “Do you want a bag?”
“It would be nice.”
The woman sighed heavily, as if he had just asked her to climb a flight of stairs, which he doubted she could do. She reached under the counter and ripped out a plastic bag. After peeling it apart with long, gaudy pink fingernails, she snapped it open. She threw the gum and the milk and the Mountain Dew in the bag and slammed it on the counter. “Happy?”
“Very much so, thank you.”
“The proper response when someone says ‘thank you’ is, ‘you’re welcome.’” He smiled again, this time in the hope that she would correct her mistake.
Kathleen rolled her eyes and resumed massacring the gum in her mouth. “Next.”
David took the bag off the counter and left the store.
His ears burned as he made the small trek to his apartment. Mama would’ve reached across the counter and slapped Kathleen. She would’ve then written a sternly worded letter to her manager. If that didn’t get the woman fired, she would’ve sat in front of the store with a sign until the Mean Maggie was fired.
David’s mother had no patience for the rude. Which also meant David had no patience for such behavior.
For justice, yes. But not for Mean Maggies and Rude Rudys.
David often wondered what happened to society. What went wrong in the years since he was a child. In the time before, people had manners. In the time before, people knew the value of kindness. In the time before, customer service meant something. But that’s exactly what it was, wasn’t it? The time before. Today, manners had gone the way of the dinosaur. Today, there was no accountability for Mean Maggie like Kathleen. Who did that crappie think she was? Why did she think she could treat him like that? He was a customer, and as a customer he deserved to be treated with a fair amount of respect because, after all, he was giving them his money, and his money, which he earned by working hard forty hours a week, was not to be taken lightly, but that sourpuss took it lightly and acted like his money didn’t mean anything and acted like he was just some piece of poop and didn’t belong in the store, and it wasn’t hard to offer a bag, or to smile, or to say “you’re welcome,” or “have a nice day,” but for some reason Kathleen, that fat sow behind the counter at that dirty convenience store had forgotten all of that. By the time David got home he decided, as he had decided dozens of times in the past, it was time to make her pay for the sin of indecency, it was time to make her understand the pain he felt when he was disrespected as a customer and as a man and as a human being, and whatever risk there was taking someone so close to home was relegated to the background, effectively drowned out by the choir of voices (Mama) telling him he
must make her pay.
teach her some manners.
Maybe then she’d learn to respect him. Or maybe she’d even
beg his forgiveness.
Mama always knew the right things to say to make him smile.
David reached his door on the second floor of the modest apartment building and stuck the key in the lock and turned it back and forth several times. On the sixth turn, he cracked open the door and peeked inside. His left eye scanned the small living room for any signs of intruders. He sniffed the air, checking for the smell of cologne or perfume or body odor or some indication someone had violated his space. When he was satisfied that his apartment was left unmolested in fifteen minutes he was gone, he slipped inside the door, quickly closed it, and flipped the deadbolt six times. He set the chain and placed the wooden chair that he kept just inside the door against the door handle and moved the bell—which was on a swiveled hook above the door—in front of the door. Nobody would get in while he was there. If they tried, he would know and he would be ready. In his thirty-seven years, David had learned to always be prepared for the unexpected.
He went to the refrigerator and opened the door. Close, reopen, close, reopen. The magic number was six for reasons he couldn’t explain. At one point, long ago, he knew why the number six had some significance. Not so much now. The whispers (Mama), the ones that kept him up at night, eliminated rationality long ago. All that was left was
And above all else,
Something that Mean Maggie knew nothing about. But she’d learn soon enough.
In time, they all learned.
His dinner, as it was most nights, consisted of mixed vegetables, chicken breast, and a cup of diced peaches in heavy syrup. He sat the plate on the TV tray and flipped on the television. Wheel of Fortune had started, which meant he missed the six o’clock news. Darnit. He missed the local evening news. He knew his latest act societal correction—a rude teenager who brought his broken monitor into the store—was sure to be the lead story. He set aside the disappointment. He would catch the nine o’clock news, even if he had to watch that other channel with the guy who looked like he was probably a jerk to everyone. Even his name, Chance Alford, made him sound like a Rude Rudy. David fantasized about meeting him. He would knock Chance out with the sleepy juice and make him pay the price for the unpleasantries he surely unleashed on those around him. He figured Chance was the kind of guy that would yell at a waiter just for forgetting to refill his water. He didn’t know this for certain, but he fancied himself a good judge of character, and such judgments, even those made by just looking at a person, were never wrong. One day, David would teach the guy on Channel Six a lesson and
make his head blood red.
It’s the only lesson a Rude Rudy would understand.
David separated the peas and carrots and corn and lima beans into small piles on his plate, and cut the chicken breast up into small pieces. He ate the peaches one at time, and when he was done with the peaches, he ate each pile of vegetables separately—also one at a time—and when that was done, he ate the chicken. He hoped that Mama would be proud that he still ate the way he showed her.
After dinner, David washed his dish and utensils. He put them away, counting each plate, bowl, spoon, fork, and knife to ensure nobody had stolen Mama’s gift to him. Once the sink was scrubbed and dried and shined, he flipped off the light—only Rude Rudys waste electricity—and set off to his bedroom.
David inspected the futon, which was low to the ground to ensure nobody could hide under it, and checked the dust on the blinds. The faux wood window covering was the only part of his apartment that he allowed to get dirty. Dust was nature’s fingerprint collector. Satisfied that nobody had disturbed them, he went to the closet and pulled the chain to turn on the light. His clothes, organized in groups of six by season and color, were likewise undisturbed. He breathed a sigh of relief and pulled a plastic bin from the top of the closet. He pulled the chain to turn off the light, moved to the bed, and set the box down.
Inside the bin were his teaching tools. There was chloroform, and rags, and plastic bags and a mask and latex gloves and other things he would use during his lessons. He first checked the bottle of chloroform to make sure he had enough—Kathleen, being a robust woman, would require a bit more than the others. He shook the bottle, and then took off the lid and peered inside, careful not to get a whiff. It seemed to be enough, but he made a mental note to put in an order for more.
David slipped on a pair of gloves and put the mask on his face. He pulled out one of the rags and took it, along with the sleepy juice and a plastic bag, to the sink. Once the rag was thoroughly drenched, he slid it into the plastic bag and returned to the lesson bin. After unzipping his favorite fanny pack, he placed the (sleepy) rag bag, a fresh mask, and a fresh pair of gloves inside. David put the lid back on the box and checked each corner several (six) times to make sure it was closed. He returned it to the top of the closet and pulled down another box, this one containing contained the lesson tools.
Which one to use? He needed one befitting such a fat, rude, and unhappy woman. He picked one up, and then another, and then another. Each one was either too small or too blunt or too special to waste on someone like Kathleen. He grasped one at the bottom, his sixth choice. He weighed it in his hand and examined the sharp point at the end. A dot of red spread across his finger tip. Perfect. He closed the box and returned it to the closet. After practicing his routine with his chosen tool, he placed it in the lesson bag and slid into a small crevice under his bed.
David showered, clipped his nails, and brushed his teeth. He crawled into bed, the light from the bathroom casting a soft glow over the room. He hated the dark. Other voices came to him when there was no light, and those voices often brought about feelings of guilt for what he had done, and so he left the light on. He stared at the slow turn of the ceiling fan, watching the shadows the blades made with each pass.
A panicked thought then occurred to him: Kathleen might not be working the next day. With a trembling hand, he flipped on the nightstand light. He pulled the phone book out from the drawer. After he located the number to the store, he picked up the phone off the cradle, and placed it back. On the sixth time, he dialed *67, heard the confirmation tone, and punched in the number to the convenience store. A bored-sounding man picked it up on the fifth ring.
“Um, yes, hi,” David said in a raspy voice, “I was wondering if you could tell me if Kathleen is working?”
“No, she was working earlier,” the man said.
“Is she working tomorrow?”
“Let me check.” There was a loud thump, and then silence. A few moments later, the man returned to the line. “Yep, she’s working at eleven in the morning.”
“What time does she get off?”
“Who is this? Why do you want to know that?”
“This is an old friend of hers. Mick. I wanted to surprise her when she got off. I just got back into town and I thought—”
“She gets off at eight,” the man said and hung up the phone.
David looked at the receiver, put his ear back to confirm the man had indeed hung up on him, and laid it back down on the cradle. The man must’ve taken lessons in customer service from Kathleen. On a normal day, the conversation would’ve been enough to send David into a fit of rage, but on that night, as his head rested on the pillow, there was no such anger. No, his anger would be reserved for tomorrow at eight, and when that time came, Kathleen would be on the receiving end of it. David fell into a dreamless sleep, completely forgetting to catch the news.
His mind was too occupied by tomorrow’s lesson.
The morning air was cool and crisp. The April sun bounced off David’s glasses as he walked to work at the computer store. He whistled a Talking Heads tune on his two-mile jaunt, his plastic bag with his lunch and Mountain Dew—wrapped in tinfoil just as Mama used to do it—swinging by his side. He always felt more alive, as if he had an actual sense of purpose in an otherwise pointless world, on a day when he knew he had a special job to do. Working all day would test his patience, and the anxiousness and anticipation and pure excitement of his upcoming task would surely make the day pass by a little slower, but he knew he could endure it. He would find that special spot in his mind—the one filled with kindness and focus and purpose and the comfort of his obsessions—and let it take over his subconscious thought until, lo and behold, the day was over and he would walk home, change into his other outfit, and head out to complete the task he was born to do. All in all, it would be a good day.
He entered Stan’s Computers and Technology Emporium, the bell above the door jingling its hellos.
“Good morning, Mr. Hunter.” David walked behind the counter and set his bag underneath. He liked to keep his food and drink close to him so that nobody could poison it. The owner, Stan Hunter, was a nice guy, but sometimes even the nicest people could snap and decide to murder someone. David didn’t want to be another statistic.
“And to you, David,” Mr. Hunter said. “You seem chipper this morning.”
“Absolutely, sir. The sun is shining, spring is in the air, and I get to spend another day providing the best customer service in the metro.”
His boss laughed. “I wish I had half as much optimism as you. Can you lend me some?”
“Lend you some? Mr. Hunter, I would give it to you free of charge.”
He clapped David on the shoulder. “Mighty kind of you, son. I’m taking the deposit to the bank.”
For the rest of the day, David helped the customers of Stan’s Computers and Technology Emporium the only way he knew how: with patience, kindness, and a touch of humor. He took pride in making Mr. Hunter’s customers happy. For a normal person, such interaction may serve as a blunting device for one’s anger, but for David, his skills at civility only served to reinforce why he must teach difficult lessons to the ones who were unable to follow the standards of societal propriety that David sought so hard to follow.
Back at home after work, he ate his dinner and then readied himself for his mission. He liked to dress up for his assignments, not only to conceal his identity, but also because he enjoyed transforming himself into someone else. He slipped on a pair khaki pants over a pair of shorts. He put on a white button up shirt, the kind his grandfather used to wear, over a white t-shirt. He tucked it in and pulled up the pants as high as they would go, and then cinched the belt tight. David applied the mustache—a bushy gray one of theatrical quality—and smoothed it out. He swapped out his glasses for a pair with darker lenses, and topped off the disguise with a fisherman style hat. He strapped on the fanny pack and examined himself one more time. Satisfied, he left the apartment for his date with Kathleen.
David sat on a bench across from the store. The only remnant of the day was the orang-purple glow on the horizon. He checked his watch. His heart fluttered in his chest, and the palms of his hands grew clammy. He unzipped the fanny pack, and the smell of the chloroform soaked rag wafted up to his nose. The smell soothed him and cleared out most of the obsessive thoughts that plagued him. He readjusted the bag around his waist, his eyes never leaving the store. Six minutes after eight, the rude, fat Mean Maggie crappie at the convenience store walked through the door and took a left. David got up from the bench and, with a slight limp, crossed the street and fell in behind Kathleen as she walked down the sidewalk. He followed her for a few blocks. She never looked behind her, but even if she did, all she would see is an older looking man with a limp walking on the same sidewalk.
She stopped at an intersection and waited for the signal to change. David, his heartrate now beating at an even, steady rate, likewise stopped. He looked in the window of a Vietnamese restaurant. A small black child, with a noodle dangling from his mouth, waved at David. Normally, he would return the wave—he liked children and one day hoped to have his own even though he knew that was probably a long shot—but decided that might attract suspicion. Instead, he winked at the boy as the signal changed and Kathleen continued her trek to her destination. David hesitated for another moment, and then resumed his leisurely hunt.
He followed her for another two blocks. In half a block, there was an alley. It was there that David intended to dole out Kathleen’s punishment. He picked up his pace, ditching the limp in the process.
His mind was clear. The
to find safety in a
was pushed aside. His
for mankind replaced
He pulled the latex gloves from his pocket and slipped them on. He removed the rag from the plastic bag. As Kathleen came upon the alley, David drove his shoulder into her, catching her off balance. Her wide eyes met his as she stumbled into the safety of the alley. In a motion that was both fluid and experienced, he wrapped his arm around her neck and brought the rag up to her face. She struggled. For two panicked seconds, he thought that she wasn’t going to go down, that he had not used enough chemical, but her struggle soon stopped and she went limp. A dull smack echoed off the bricks as she tumbled to the ground.
Speed was now of utmost importance. He glanced around the alley as he returned the rag to the fanny pack. Confident they were alone, he pulled out his instrument and knelt beside her. David picked up her head by the hair. Even through the gloves he could feel her greasy sweat. The lingering odor of chloroform did little to mask the stench of her cheap perfume. The harsh yellow light illuminated her fat, rude face. Anger pulsed from the front of his head to the tip of his fingers. It gave the tool purpose as he dug into her skin. Red bloomed beneath his fingertips as he repeated each stroke six times. Within each held a note of victory in the crusade against
and against the
of the world.
When he was done, he stripped off the crimson-stained gloves and shoved them in his pocket. He admired his work for a moment before he strolled out of the alley.
Ten minutes later, David, sans disguise, joined the crowd surrounding the fat woman in the alley. A man and a woman knelt beside her, each talking in a low voice. Someone in the crowd said the police were on their way. David pushed closer to get a better view of his handy work before the authorities arrived. Next to the act itself, watching the immediate aftermath was his favorite part.
Kathleen groaned, and David felt an uptick of excitement. She was coming to, and in a few moments, she would understand exactly what had happened to her.
“Miss?” the skinny black man kneeling next to Kathleen said. “Miss? Can you hear me?”
Kathleen said something, though the words were slurred and unintelligible from David’s vantage point.
“Miss, can you sit up?” the black man asked. “Are you hurt?”
She nodded, and despite her heft, sat up, propping herself up with one arm. She touched her forehead with her fingertips. “My head feels wet? Am I bleeding?”
The man looked at the other woman kneeling beside Kathleen and gave her a nod.
“Well, ma’am,” the woman said, “something has happened.”
Kathleen’s eyes went wide.
The woman reached into her purse and brought out a small mirror. David fought to stand still during the climax of the show. She opened the compact mirror and handed it to Kathleen.
“Is that…” Kathleen blinked a few times. “What is that on my forehead? What does it say?”
The woman looked at the man and he nodded again. “It says, ‘rude.’”
Kathleen kept the mirror up to her face for another moment. After a second, her face twisted into a grimace and she let out a moan. She fell backwards and her head hit the concrete with a thud.
David smiled and worked his way back through the crowd. Another satisfied customer. He turned to look back into the crowd and a shoulder bumped into him.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” David said. “Excuse me.”
“Get out of my way, idiot.” Chance Alford, cameraman in tow, hurried to crowd gathered around Kathleen.
David squeezed the red marker in his pocket and smiled.