Short story City of Brotherly Love
Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love?
City of Brotherly Love
We must have circled at least three or four times trying to find a way into this neighborhood; with such narrow streets, it was impossible with seventy two feet of semi. I finally found a vacant place long enough at the curb and jumped out to survey the situation and the street map. Just my luck, we’re blocking a fire hydrant here, and we’re still five or six blocks away from our destination. It'll have to work for now.
I stroll to the corner and peer down the street, looks kind of grim with a stripped and burnt car a half block down a street so narrow only a small truck could pass. Looks like a real friendly neighborhood in “the city of brotherly love” I think, as I wonder if this is anywhere near where that teenager got beat to death on the steps of a church. Someone showed him a lot of love, after they wrongly identified him as being responsible for a rape earlier in the week.
As I climb back into my truck, I ask Mike to tie my dog “Kuzo” to the front of the trailer on a twenty five foot chain. Since the truck is Kuzo’s home, that will keep most undesirables at a distance. Kuzo is a Chow- Shepherd mix and he tends to be overly protective if he senses any danger or if he just takes a real disliking to someone.
After gaining access to several pistols that might be needed, I gather my paperwork and climb back down. I go to the trailer where my friend Mike is setting Kuzo up with food and water. I couldn’t ask for better help than Mike, or a better friend for that matter; they just don’t come any better.
“You want me to come with you?” Mike asks, as I hand him a 9mm Beretta with an extra clip.
“No, I’d rather you stay here and keep an eye on the truck and Kuzo. It would really piss me off if someone kills my dog or steals my truck; it would be a hell of a deal, if we got stranded here!”
“That’s no sh*t!” Mike tosses back, as I’m checking my .380 and sticking an extra clip in my coin pocket for easy access. “You better watch your butt!” Mike says as an afterthought as I stroll around the corner, and head into this dangerous place.
As I’m walking by the first burnt car, it crosses my mind that the police presence must be lacking in this neck of the woods. It’s still a warm fall afternoon, and people are out walking around and sitting on their front porches, relaxing after work or waiting for the night’s activities to begin.
I don’t get past the first block before someone yells,“Hey Beach! What the hell you doing down here cracker?”
I just smile their way with a slight nod and keep walking, going back to new dog theory. As the “new dog” in the neighborhood, provoke none, but never show any fear, respond only to real and imminent threats. Out of habit, I always smile, not big, just a stern slow smile; that tells most that you’re either crazy or you just don’t care if difficulties arise.
I’ve only got three blocks to make before making a left for two more; I can already see two more stripped and burnt cars before my turn ahead. As I pass the third one, two young men dressed as "wanna to be thugs," look hard at me and demand to know if I got any money.
I respond with my crazy smile and simply, “Yeah,” as if to say that won’t be what you get!
The neighborhood doesn’t really look that bad, not dilapidated ghetto, just older two story houses way too close together and most in need of a fresh coat of paint. Once I turn the corner, they’re all brownstone houses that seem to grow out of each other; without a blade of grass in between them.
Still, there’s a tension of danger that seems to penetrate my skin and chokes the air; as if unseen evil forces are in control here. Other than a few more snide comments yelled from the safety of their front porches, I make the rest of my short journey unscathed. I find the brownstone I’m looking for on Lucinda Ave. and knock hard on the sturdy door.
Someone asks, "Who's there?” from behind the door and hearing my clear response as her mover, a sweet elderly lady black swings the door open quickly. She looks at me, glances quickly both ways and behind me, then grabs me by my collar and jerks me inside slamming the heavy door shut.
“You aren’t here by yourself, are you?” she throws out at me. Before I can reply, she says, “There’s lots of bad people here! They do lots of bad things! That’s why I’m moving to California to live with my daughter.”
I respond with, “Yes ma’am, I left my helper and my dog at my truck because I can’t get my truck within six blocks of here.”
“Well, it’s a good thing you left someone at your truck. They grafittied that pack van yesterday in broad daylight, right in front of my picture window, but you shouldn’t be down here by yourself. They rob and hurt people all the time,” she says so solemnly, that I can’t help but take notice.
I proceed to explain that there will be some unavoidable delays and extra charges, since I can’t get close to her house, not to mention that, I really don’t want any graffiti on my new $2500.00 paint job. After making a few calls to make new arrangements, I reassure my customer that we will indeed be back to load all her earthly possessions on a truck and move her to California. I head back to my truck, where all is copacetic, and travel twenty five miles to regroup.
Now we’re headed back in a much smaller truck with a five man crew total, with two of us following in a car. I ask the driver about the church where the boy got killed; only to find out we’ll be going right by it on this route. He informs me that this is one of the worst “hoods” in Philly, and since it’s already pushing five o’clock, we’ll have less than two hours before dark. I respond that it won’t be the first time we moved someone after dark.
To which he says, “Driver, you don’t understand, yeah we’re black and from Philly, but we can’t be down here after dark. Hell, the cops won’t even come down here after dark. If we aren’t out before nightfall, things are gonna get bad!”
Being used to new twists of fate to consider, I come back with, “Ok, you three guys are on your boss’s dime, we’re going to have to go for the world record on this one. I won’t worry about doing such a thorough inventory, except on big and expensive items. If I miss a few things, just ignore it! You talk to your guys and get them to work like Satan himself is bearing down on us. I’ll throw each one of you an extra fifty bones to compensate for the trouble. I want us out of here thirty minutes before dark, no matter what! Will that work?”
He looks surprised that I work this in their favor, and says simply, “I think we can deal with it now.”
Within minutes we pull up to the curb, we get out with me juggling my paperwork to keep hold of it. As I gain control of it, I look up to see five or six thugs rushing at me in an obvious robbery attempt, the first two reaching under their shirts for their weapons. I shift the paperwork to my left hand, so I can grab for the pistol in the front of my pants just as it falls down my pants leg. I silently say, “I will fear no evil!” as everything around me seems to be in slow motion. I stomp my leg, the pistol hits the sidewalk, and I grab it and swing it in an arc just as the lead two are within feet of me. Neither one of them had cleared a weapon from their positions yet.
They all spin on a dime as someone yells, “He’s packing!!” I look around to see that the danger seems to have vanished, at least for the moment. Although the bull’s eye on my forehead for being a commercial driver was probably still there; the thieves know we carry a certain amount of money to operate a moving truck, now they know we pack too.
As we walk up to the house, my driver says, “How did you know that was going down?”
“I didn’t, I just believe in being alert and ready, because sh*t happens!” I say.
Jason laughs and tosses back, “I like you better all the time. Now we need to get this stuff on the truck and get out of here before it gets worse!” Needless to say we had her furniture loaded up and pulled away in no time flat, as if demons from the pits of hell were bearing down on us and our very lives depended on it! I'm sure they did. The rest of my trip out west was the same old thing, fading into the oblivious parts of my mind.
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