Chapter 3

Mickey Mantle and Carlís Green Goop

I

            No matter how fast I got to my locker and got down to the lunchroom, Roman was already through the line sitting at our table eating.  Except this Monday he wasnít.  Our table was empty.  Maybe he had to stay after class to work on a project.  Something didnít feel right though.

            I went through the line and got my two slices of pizza, grabbed a Dew at the pop machines, and went to our table to eat, hoping that Roman would show.  Half the lunch period had passed and still no Roman.  Maybe he was just sick.  Maybe Iíd misunderstood and his reunion back in Iowa was more than a weekend event.  Thatís what I wanted to believe, but what I really thought was maybe Johnny and his thugs had jumped Roman when he had gotten back or even before school.  Iíd played cards with Johnny on Friday, won sixty-seven bucks as a matter of fact.  Nothing was said.  Johnny had ample time to take care of the problem at the top of his shit list over the rest of the weekend though.  I looked over at their table trying to get a read on their faces.  Johnny was loud and obnoxious, but that was normal.  There were no fingers pointing or looks of contentment.  Still something didnít feel right.

            After lunch I asked a couple of Sallyís friends if they had seen Roman.  Two of them had Roman in their British Literature class second hour.  Roman was not there either.

            I decided before the last bell rang that I would drive over to Romanís place after school, but when I got to my car Sally was waiting on me.  She looked hot let me tell you, wearing a short mini-skirt and a shirt that was obviously a couple sizes to small.

            "I thought you had cheerleading after school?"

            The evil smile was back.  "I do but I wanted to give you a surprise instead."

            "Okay?"  I still had no idea where this was going.

            "Iím ready," she said still with the grin of Satanís daughter.

            "Ready?" I asked.

            "My parents arenít home until five or six."

            Now I got the idea.

            Finally.

            "I was going to check on RomanÖ" I stopped in mid sentence as her smile faded and those naughty eyes were replaced with anger, "Önever mind, heís just down with the flu or something."

            At her house, we never made it past the living room.  She had me naked in a couple of seconds and she was still throwing off her clothes.  I knocked over a plant on their coffee table on my way down to the floor.

            "Donít you think we should go to your room at least?"

            "No, right here," she said in between breaths and kisses.

            God she was hot.  Iíd seen her naked of course several times, but this was different.  This was the time.  We went on with the fondling and kissing for several minutes.  I put the rubber on.

            "Go ahead," she said.

            I heard nothing more beautiful in my entire life.

            "Oh shit," she screamed, pushing me off to the side.  She started gathering her clothes off the floor and couch.

            "What the hellís wrong?" I said.

            "My dadís home, didnít you hear him pull up the driveway?  Weíve only got a couple of seconds."  With that Sally darted to the bathroom, running with clothes in arms like she had just done a small load of laundry.

            Where the hell am I supposed to go, I thought.  No time.  I started to dress throwing on my boxers even though I still had the condom on.  I had one leg in my jeans and went for the other but lost my balance and fell over the coffee table.  I heard the back door open.  I jumped to my feet sliding my second leg in my jeans.  I zipped up and buckled my belt.  The plant was still lying sideways on the floor next to the table.  Sallyís father was walking through the kitchen.  I set the plant back up.  What else?  My shoes were still by the front door.  I ran over and forced my feet in without tying them.  I scuffed as I walked trying to get the back of the shoe to go over my heel.  There, got it.  Thatís it right?  Your shirt dumb ass.  After I popped my head through the neck hole, I picked up one of the magazines lying on the coffee table and pretended to be in deep thought.  Sallyís father walked into the living room.

            "Hey there Tony," Sallyís dad said, happy to see me. "What are you doing here?"

            You mean who am I doing?

            "Sallyís cheerleading practice got canceled so she asked if I wanted to go to the mall with her.  She had to come home and change I guess.  You know women," I said with a confident smile.

            "What are you reading there?" he asked.

            The truth was I didnít even know.  I turned over the cover.

            "Cosmopolitan?"

            There was a confused look on her fatherís face.  My confidence was fading.

            We continued to small talk.  I was barely listening, just enough to respond or nod.  I just wanted out of there.  I still had that damn condom on and it was slimy and uncomfortable.  He continued to talk, telling me about his new golf clubs that he got for a heck of deal.  My eyes wandered from his eyes to around the room, to the way Sally ran off for the bathroom.  Did I forget something?  The floor!  I looked down and there it was.  The condom wrapper.  An empty condom wrapper at that.  He noticed I wasnít paying close attention and began to look around the room also.  I took a step forward and covered the wrapper with my foot.  Sally came back into the room in a different outfit thank God.

            I did a pivot turn so I didnít step off the wrapper.  I was sweating now and my stomach hurt.  My crotch itched badly.  I donít know which was worse, trying to stay on the wrapper or the discomfort of the condom.

            "So, you ready to go to the mall?" I said shooting a stern eyebrow-lifting gesture at her.

            That was stupid.  I canít go anywhere until her father leaves the room because of the fuckiní wrapper under my foot.

            "Yeah letís go," she said.

            "Uh, donít you want to show your father that thing you were talking about?" I opened my eyes widely.

            She just stood there.  The wheels were turning but nothing was coming out of her mouth.  I knew she had gotten an "A" on a paper she wrote for Brit. Lit.  Hopefully she had brought it home with her.  Hopefully it was in her bag upstairs in the room.

            "You know the paper you wrote," I said.

            "Oh, yeah, come upstairs, daddy, I want to show you this."

            Sallyís dad walked by me and patted me on the back.  I did my pivot turn once again so I could turn and face him.

            "Man, Tony, youíre soaked and your cheeks are flushed.  Are you feeling all right?"

            Think quick, dumb ass.

            "Iíve got PE last hour and we got timed in the mile today.  Iím just a little out of shape, I guess."

            "You better get after it, baseballís coming sooner than you think," he said smiling again.

            The two of them walked up the stairs.  Thank Christ.  I picked up the condom wrapper and stuck it in my pocket.  I had to get out of there and quick.  The condom was driving me nuts.  I heard Sally and her father talking about the paper and what a good job she had done.  Home free.  They came back down the stairs.

            I opened the door and let Sally go before me.  I started out the doorway until her father saw the tag on the back of my shirt.

            "You know you have your shirt on inside out, Tony?"  This time there was no smile.  "Cheeks flushed, sweating, and nervous.  I didnít get off the boat yesterday son.  I think itís better you go on without Sally."

            I noddedóthe only thing I could do reallyóand walked to my car.

 

II

            I drove off heading for home.  I steered the Pinto with one hand and pulled off the troublesome condom with the other.  It was no easy task, but well worth it.  I rolled down my window and threw the semi-used rubber out.  My crotch was still uncomfortable.  Not only was the itching sensation getting worse, the condom felt like something cold and dead.  The worst part wasnít the condom though.  It was the fact that I had been waiting for this since the middle of the summer, thought about at least three times a day, and when the moment finally arrived and I didnít finish the deal, it almost hurt.  Physically I mean.  Iíve heard people refer to it as blue balls.  Once you get going and just stop, it canít be healthy.  I wasnít about to finish the job myself, especially driving the Pinto.  But I couldíve and probably shouldíve for my physical well-being.  I guessed I would just have to suffer through it.  Blue balls.  Yeah blue balls was right.

            Halfway home I turned the Pinto around back south, not to Sallyís, but to Romanís.  In the excitement and then let down, I had forgotten he wasnít at school and I was still worried about him.  Changing my focus would also help my predicament down below, I supposed.

            I pulled up in front of 25 Kingdom.  This time I didnít hesitate to walk up to the porch and the front door.  I knocked hard.  No answer.  Rang the doorbell several times.  Nothing.  No footsteps or movement from the inside.  The shades on the front window were up so I looked in, cupping my eyes with my hands to fight the glare.  Inside it was dark, too dark to see anything.  I knocked again on the door this time saying it was me, Tony.  I turned the doorknob but it was locked.

            I heard a voice from across the street.  "Over here."

            The house directly across the street was 26, the one I mentioned earlier, and on its front porch stood Roman, waving his left arm.  He held his right arm oddly, in a position like it was in a cast.  I walked over.

            It was dark inside the house.  Very dark at first, but my eyes slowly adjusted to the lighting.  The floor was wood, an orange couch sat in front of me, and the walls were wallpapered with some sort of green and brown plant shapes.  Going through the front door not only got me into the house, it warped me back to the seventies.  I looked around the room for a lamp or even a light bulb on the ceiling, but there was neither.  To my left were a couple of lit candles and Roman sat behind them next to somebody else.  I could hear a radio, but the volume was turned way down.  A talk radio show came from the speakers.  The room smelled like vanilla.

            "Hey there fella, have a seat if it suits ya," said the person sitting next to Roman.

            That voice and choice of words was unmistakable.  I had heard it a thousand times at The Tavern.

            "Carl?" I asked already knowing the answer.  I sat down feeling more comfortable about the situation.

            "Carl ítis," he said back.

            "Shit, I didnít know you lived here.  I didnít even know you two knew each other."

            "Ah yes.  Lived here for twenty ought years now I guess.  But I always know my neighbors, even the new ones or the ones that are just passing by," Carl said.

            A small bowl sat over a flameóalmost like some sort of Bunsen burneródirectly in front of Roman and Carl.  In the bowl boiled a thick green liquid, and from it I could see the fumes rise as smoke.  Roman held his right arm over the smoke.  I could see the cuts running from his elbow to his forearm.  Carl held onto Romanís right hand, both holding Romanís arm up over the boiling green stuff and steadying it so he could dab in some kind of lotion into its cuts.  Carl used only his fingertips over the cuts, smooth and soft.  Roman still grimaced.

            "Weíre just fixing up your friend here.  I borrowed this remedy in Thailand some years ago," Carl said.

            "What the hell happened to you anyhow?" I asked.

            Romanís teeth gritted tighter every time Carl applied the ointment.  He talked with his lips tight like a ventriloquist.  "People back home arenít as friendly as they are here Tony."

            "You got jumped?" I asked again.

            "You could say that."

            "Christ, I thought you were haviní a tough time of it here with the lunch thing and then the Jack and Brunno incident."

            Roman just smiled.

            "Five more minutesíll do ya fine there," Carl said continuing to put the goop on Romanís injuries.

            As I watched Carl a couple of things crossed my mind.  The immediate thing of course was the scene in front of me.  I couldnít help but reminded of a hog roast with Romanís arm being hung over a smoke pit, and Carl every few minutes basting it like a concerned chef.  The subtle thing was that Carl seemed to know exactly what he was doing, like some ancient medicine man at night using his fire in front of his teepee for light.  Except there was no campfire, only candles, and I was somewhat sure that Carl was not a Native American.  Not a hundred percent sure, but almost.

            Carl put a lid on the Bunsen burner fire and immediately the green liquid quit boiling.  He moved the bowl aside and began to wrap Romanís arm with gauze.  After a few turns the deal was over.

            "There," he said. "Good as new in less than a day.

            "I appreciate it," Roman said.

            "No worries my friend, you would have done the same for me," Carl said. "Say Tony, you want a brew?"

            "No thanks, Carl."

            Roman stood up and exchanged goodbyes with Carl, thanking him again.  I followed Roman across the street to his house.  We stopped at the sidewalk just beside the Pinto.

            "So you gonna be at school tomorrow?" I asked.

            "Iíll be there for sure tomorrow," Roman responded.  "Thanks for worrying about me Tony."

            "I wasnít really worried, I just knew there had to be a good reason for you not being at school."

            That was bullshit though.  I was worried.

            I opened my car door and got in.  I turned the key but the Pinto made an awful noise like bullets were ricocheting in the engine, and smoke began to roll out from under the hood.  I shook my head.

            "Shut it down," Roman said walking over to my door.  "Has it done this before?

            "No, unfortunately this is a new one," I said.

            "Help me push it up to the garage."

            So me and Roman pushed the piece of shit up the driveway.  The driveway had a slight incline but it wasnít anything we couldnít handle even with Roman having only one working arm.  The garage was only about fifty feet from the road.  We stopped at the garage door.

            "Letís leave it here.  I have to move some things out of the way for it to fit," Roman said.

            Roman looked at me with that shit-eatiní grin of his.  He was still breathing heavy from pushing the car, but the wheels were turning in his head, I could almost see them behind his eyes, turning a lot faster than mine for sure and probably everyone elseís for that matter.  Turbo-charged wheels I imagined.

            "Iím not going to work tonight.  I think I can fix it," Roman said.

            "You know how to work on cars?" I said.

            Roman was still smiling.  "Iíve never worked on them before but Iíve read several books on the subject."

            "Books huh?  What the hell do I have to lose?  The next stop for this piece of shit is the junkyard anyway.  Besides I gotta drive somethiní and I sure as hell donít have the money for another car."

            "Leave it here then.  Iíll see what I can do later."

            "You got a phone?  Iíll see if Pick can swing by and give me a lift."

            "Sure come on in."

            We went back down the driveway to the porch and the front door.  If I live a thousand years Iíll never forget what was inside.  The front room was halfway like I imagined.  Clean and organized, hardwood floor polished to perfection, not a speck of dust anywhere.  To my left was a twin size bed neatly made, not a wrinkle to be found.  A couple of large stacks of books lay on the floor stacked as high as I was tall.  Although the books were of different sizes, not one edge stuck out further than the rest.  No TV.  No stereo.  Just books, hundreds of íem.

            "I havenít read those yet," Roman said as he gestured for me to come and see the other room.

             The bathroom was tiny.  It was neat, but it was hard to believe somebody got a toilet, tub, and sink to fit in a space that small.  Anyway, he opened a door to another room.  It was dark until Roman pulled on a thin chain hanging from the ceiling.  This room was small as well but not like the bathroom.  There wasnít a lot of room because of what filled it.  Six bookcases lined the room, from wall to wall, both length and width wise.  They were as high as the ceiling and leaving just enough space between them for one person to walk at a time.  Roman had his own personal library.  It didnít take me long to notice that the books were in alphabetical order by title.  The bookcases were stained a dark maroon-looking color, dusted and polished to the point of being able to see my reflection.  The last thing I noticed was the wallpaper, which wasnít wallpaper at all.  I went over to look at it closer.  It was baseball players side by side.  No, it was baseball cards.  Each one laminated and stuck to the wall somehow, covering every inch.  For the first time in a long time, maybe my entire life, I had nothing to say.

            Roman turned out the light and we went back into the main room.  The walls were covered with more cards from top to bottom.  I then understood why I didnít notice them at first.  The trim on the cards was all the same in each room.  The front room was black and blue trim; the library was the same maroon as the bookcases.

            "These are complete sets arenít they?í I asked in amazement.

            "Sixty-six years worth.  My grandfather starting putting complete sets together in his twenties.  By the time I was born you could buy the complete set and thatís what my father did for me, just like his father for him," Roman said.

            "Itís amazing.  Beautiful I mean.  Itís like having the history of baseball everywhere you look."  I walked over to the wall.  "These cards are in mint condition arenít they?"

            "I think the majority are."

            I walked into the kitchen.  It was done in red trim cards.  The bathroom was old-fashioned white edges.  A story popped in my head, the one every young boy hears from his dad or grandpa.  The one about how "I had Babe Ruthís rookie, but I put it in my bike spokes so they would make noise when I rode" or " Your grandma used Babe Ruth as kindling for the fire place."  This was the complete opposite of that.  Each card cared for and passed down in perfect condition.  Besides that, Mickey Mantleís rookie card stood right in front of me, eye level, about three feet from the bathroom door.

            "Do you know that your walls are pretty much made of money Roman?"

            "I never really think about it.  I could never sell them.  They mean more than that to me."

            I looked over at Romanís bed.  "You live here by yourself?"

            Roman nodded.

            I saw a picture of two people on the nightstand beside his bed.  "Where are your parents?"

            Roman gave a smile that took an enormous amount of effort it seemed.  "Theyíve passed on.  I went back to Iowa to visit their graves last weekend."

            "Iím sorry," I said and stopped the conversation.  I could see Roman didnít want to talk about it, and as bad as I wanted to know, I could wait to hear it when he wanted to tell it.  Roman changed the subject to how he came to live in the house.

As it turns out, the cards and books werenít the most amazing thing.  The house was.  It was scheduled for demolition just a few days after Carl and Roman had met.  Carl owned the property and had renters from time to time but nobody ever kept the place up, even though their landlord lived across the street.  Carl grew tired of chasing and begging people for their money, so he let the place go empty.  The only problem was that like many other houses in the neighborhood, they were occupied, but not with paying tenants.  Bums and winos filled the rooms not to mention the crack whores that Carl always spoke of.  Needless to say they trashed the place.  As time wore on the wood began to rot and the ceiling leak.  Carl thought the house was beyond repair and had it scheduled for demolition.  That was before he met Roman, of course.

            Roman apparently came upon Carl one night on his way home from The Tavern.  Carl was passed out on the side of the road, lying in his own vomit, something I thought could never happen to the nightly Tavern patron.  Carl invited Roman to his house after the young janitor helped him home, and the two oddly enough seemed to have a lot in common; how much in common I would find out later.  Roman talked Carl into letting him fix the place up; fixing things was one of Romanís ever growing talents.  Roman worked for a solid month, first cleaning up the needle-infested house and then getting it in livable order.  He put on a new roof, gutted the interior, replaced boards in the floor and sanded and stained them.  Carl could see his determination and decided to help.  When it was finished Carl basically gave the house to Roman.  In Carlís view it was cheaper to give it to Roman than to pay to have it torn down.  Carl liked Roman from the start I think, just like I did.

 

III

            My Pops dropped me off at school the next morning.  Before I could get out of the car he tapped me on the shoulder and pointed at the parking lot.  There was the Pinto as baby blue as baby blue could be.  Roman obviously had fixed it and drove to school.  By the looks of it he had also washed and waxed it.  The only time the Pinto usually got washed was when it rained.  I ran over to take a closer look.

            I got in and noticed all the fast food wrappers that usually lined the floorboard were missing as well as the dirt and pebbles.  Although Roman didnít do his janitorís gig last night, he still found a way to clean something.

            At homeroom we had to vote for the Homecoming king and queen.  Heather and Johnny were on the ballot.  I was too, but I never won.  Johnny and Heather had been in the Homecoming court every year; this year would be no different.  What was different however was that I didnít vote for Johnny as I had the past three years.  I voted for Sam Peterman.

            At lunch I thanked Roman, and asked if I could pay him for the work.  My father paying would have been more accurate, but I asked anyway.  Roman, of course, refused.  He told me what the problem was.  He might has well have been speaking Chinese because I didnít understand a word of it.  It sounded complicated and long, but Roman said it wasnít that bad.  The bandages I expected to see on Romanís left arm were absent and the scabs were already beginning to heal.  Carlís boiling green goop seemed to be working its magic.  Heather sat at our table, as did Pick Bryant.  Johnny did his usual evil eye routine.  Jack and Brunno sat next to him like pit vipers ready to strike at any minute.

            It was hard to get a word in with Roman anymore because he and Heather talked the entire lunch period.  He hung on her every word, even taking time from his applesauce to look her in the eye.  I donít think Heather thought of him as more than a friend, but somewhere inside she was growing closer than that.  And who could blame her?  The guy listened to her talk about herself for as long as she could speak.  Is there anything women like more?  Roman liked what was on the inside.  That was my take on the situation anyway, and whether it was right, one thing was for sure: Roman and Heather were becoming good friends at the least.

           

IV

            That night Roman showed up for work twenty minutes early.  Roll call was at 6:45.  Yes you heard me right, the janitors had roll call like soldiers or policemen.  Being a janitor at Collingston High was serious business especially when Boss Chatterling was running the show.

            Helen Chatterling was the head janitor and had been for at least thirty years.  She was a ginormous woman, six feet two and at least 250 pounds.  She was in her mid sixties but looked fortyish.   The name "Boss" was partly hung on her because she was in charge of the janitors.  When people think of janitors, they think of skinny old men with no teeth and a gray whiskered face hunched over a mop bucket and a dingy rag hanging out of their back pocket.  It might be like that at some places, but at Collingston it was much more.  Yes the janitors were the cleaning crew and that took up a lot of their time.  But they were also maintenance.  When light bulbs broke or the boiler went out or the plumbing failed or a lock couldnít be opened, who do you think took care of it?  It sure as hell wasnít the prison guards.  Those kinds of things werenít in teaching contracts.  Collingston had no security staff, so when fights broke out, (and they did on a daily basis), or when someone brought a weapon to school, the Bossís staff took care of it.  She herself broke up too many fights to count over the years, and her reputation was passed down from one generation to the next.  It was known that when the Boss broke up a fight she was going to get her licks in too.  She came from a different time and seemed to be immune to the ridiculous rules of education that govern us now.  The Boss was the boss because she had the power.  More than the teachers and the principal.  Maybe even more than the school board.  She was the only person who had a key to every lock and door in the school.  If you crossed her, she would get even.  Helen was on the front line, down in the trenches.

            At roll call she walked with a clipboard in hand and stopped to inspect each of her janitors one by one, quick but thorough.  Roman was first.

            "Swivel, is that arm injury going to keep you from doing your duty tonight?  Because if it is, you need to let me know.  I ran behind schedule all night yesterday because you called in sick and that is not going to happen again tonight.  If you canít suck it up and work with a little pain Iíve got a stack of applications sitting on my desk from students begging to be put to work.  You realize you are the only student janitor in this work force and being the only student is a privilege that Iím not sure youíve lived up to?  Are we clear Swivel?"

            Roman knew better than to smile.  "Crystal, Boss."  Roman also knew that Boss Chatterling was quite sure that he had far exceeded her expectations as a student janitor or just a janitor at all.  He could tell the way she talked to him.  The way she never interrupted his work.  The way that after the first week she never checked up on him.  She gave him a list.  He did what was on the list more quickly and more meticulously than anyone else.  The speech she had just ripped him with was for show, not for her or him, but for the rest of the janitors at roll that day.

            Roman had the third floor in the main part of the building like most nights.  The other janitors were usually doubled up on parts of the school but Roman was so fast Boss Chatterling assigned only him.  Light bulb changing was first because lights were on the ceiling and Roman always worked from the top down.  The bulbs were the long fluorescent ones, fragile and awkward, but Roman still managed to fit them on his cart and had yet to hear one shatter on the floor.  There were six rooms that had lights either burned out or flickering like strobes.  Roman changed them one by one, putting the old ones neatly on his cart. He climbed the stepladder, pushed up the plastic rectangle in the ceiling and moved it on top of one of the other cardboard-like rectangles that made up all the roomsí ceilings.  Dust fell out every time.

            Midnight was break time for the other janitors on Romanís shift, but it was quitting time for him.  He had finished his assignment twice as fast as the others and now it was time for him to go home.

            Roman exited the front of the high school at the main part of the building like he did every night.  There were three people and a dogótoo dark to see whoóin the parking lot across the street.  Roman paid little attention and turned left toward home.  The nights were beginning to cool and Roman had on a black flannel.  He pulled out an apple from one of the flannel pockets and began to eat his after-work snack while he walked.  The three figures in the parking lot began to follow behind him, a good distance away, with their dog leashed in front of them.  They thought they were unnoticed.  They were not.

            Just before the railroad tracks on Stephenson Street they caught up. Jack Rollings took a swing at Roman but Roman ducked, shifting to one knee with apple still in mouth.  He grabbed Jackís arm, which was now directly over the janitorís right shoulder, flipping him completely over, smashing Jackís back to the ground.  Brunno charged with his head down and arms outward, but Roman sidestepped him like a matador and clotheslined him at the same time.  Brunno did a one-eighty in the air and fell to his back as well.  The fight was like a well-choreographed dance routine with Roman reacting to their moves like he knew what was coming.  Thirty yards away the dog began to bark. Holding its leash was Johnny the Killer.  Johnny seemed to be watching in enjoyment as his cronies fought with Roman, even though it was futile.

            Roman took the apple out of his mouth (still chewing the last bite), wrapped the remainder in a handkerchief, and placed it in the pocket of his flannel.  Roman finished swallowing as both Jack and Brunno stumbled to their feet.  Jack shoved Brunno and made a circular gesture as if to tell him to surround Roman.  Brunno complied and was now in back of Roman.  Jackís gleamed with contentment at this abrupt plan or maybe to the fact that they had a plan at all.  Roman could almost see the drool slide down Brunnoís chin in anticipation.  Roman stood still with arms to the side, relaxed and waiting.  The dog continued to bark in the background.

            Stephenson Street was deserted at this hour, being a one-way street running north by the high school.  The city buzzed in the streets and blocks away from it, but the moon was the only witness to this event.

            Brunno and Jack simultaneously swung, one in front of and one behind Roman.  Roman backed up then sidestepped Brunnoís arm, grabbing it and using its momentum to carry Brunno to Jack; the two collided with a dull thud.  Roman bent down and swept one of Jackís legs from underneath him putting Jack on the ground once again.  Brunno threw another punch but Roman blocked and grabbed Brunnoís thumb turning it over and bending his elbow the wrong way.  Roman continued to hold on as Brunno cursed in pain, and a second later Roman had the brawlerís arm behind his back levering him forward and then tripping his feet out from under him.  Brunno fell hard this time, cracking his chin against the sidewalk.  Jack slapped his hand against the sidewalk in disgust as he stood up and then looked at Johnny who was shaking his head like a disappointed parent.  Johnny motioned for the two and they both walked back, watching Roman as they did.

            Johnny bent down and petted his dog, which was snarling and growling.

            "I want you to meet my pit bull Apollo, janitor.  Heís used to bigger meals than you but youíll do as an appetizer."

            Johnny whispered something in Apolloís ear and released the latch on his leash.  Apollo charged, not barking but snarling.  In a second the dog was in a dead sprintóa seventy-five pound pure muscle locomotiveówith teeth exposed and rounded powerful jaws protruding.  Roman stood his ground, lifting his arms like he was hung on a cross.  The dog jumped shoving its front paws into Romanís stomach, trying to knock him to the ground, but Roman rolled with the dogís momentum and deflected it.  The dog jumped again but this time with less force.  Roman again used the dogís momentum against it.  Apollo snarled, circling Roman like the janitor was wounded prey.  Roman stood motionless continuing to hold his arms shoulder high.  A few more circles and the snarls began to fade.  Soon Apollo was standing directly in front of Roman with head tilted in dismay, trying to make eye contact.  Finally Roman looked at the dog.

            "Are you hungry, boy?" Roman said with arms still even with his shoulders.

            Apollo began to whine as if he knew it was wrong to fraternize with the enemy.

            "What the fuck!" Johnny screamed from thirty yards away.

            Roman slowly removed the apple from his pocket and unwrapped it.  He took a big bite, cutting the apple with his teeth into two smaller pieces.  Roman knelt down with the two apple slices in hand and extended them to Apollo.

            "Get your ass over here, Apollo.  Heel. Now. Heel!"

            Apollo looked at Johnny, then at Roman, and then at the apple slices.  He ate the slices out of Romanís hand wagging his stub of a tail.  Roman petted him with the other hand.

            "Mother fuck," Johnny began to himself and then got louder. "You donít even like goddamn apples!"

            After Apollo finished he licked Romanís hands clean of the sticky juice.  Roman stood up and gave Apollo one last pat.  Roman turned and started south for home but Apollo followed, sniffing the sidewalk behind Romanís heels.

            "What are you, a fuckiní dog thief too, janitor boy?" Johnny screamed, patting his leg for Apollo to come.

            Roman stopped walking and faced Johnny.  Apollo turned around as well, following what he thought was his new masterís lead.  "Iím not the one with the leash in my hand, am I?"

            Roman picked up a decent size stick in a yard by the sidewalk, first swaying it in front of Apollo who was jumping up and down, and then flipping it through the air like a Frisbee toward Johnny and the boys.  Apollo chased the stick to Johnnyís feet and was now back in the control of his leash and rightful master.  Johnny glared at Roman. 

            Roman turned and walked home.

 


 


 

 

Chapter 4

 

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