John Dorroh

When Angels Wear Black 

“The corner of Dumaine and Dauphine,” he said, picking off a white string that had latched onto his jeans. “The place is called EAT. I can’t believe that you haven’t been there yet. Great place,” he added. “Their seafood-stuffed bell peppers are the bomb. And bread pudding with a vanilla rum sauce that rivals the stuff at Commander’s Palace. That’s what I’ve heard and read anyway. There’s usually a line.”

I stuck a piece of Big Red for a bookmark in Movable Feast and set it aside, eyeing my surroundings for a clock, forgetting to look at my cell.

“You always believe every word that Dasher writes about restaurants,” I said, “and you know we disagree with him most of the time. The man has no taste buds. He probably smoked for 50 years. Did Dasher write the review on this place?” I asked.

No response. Brian offered a quick shrug, which was his way of telling me to be quiet.

“We walking?” he asked.

“Yeh, for sure. I’ll meet you there about 12:15. Got a few errands to run.”

 “See ya there…I’m starving… breakfast today,” I said.

 I reclaimed my bench, opening my book, and began to read again. There was enough time for another chapter or two and still be able to stroll leisurely through the French Quarter to EAT.

The weather was perfect, a typical winter day in New Orleans. Sunny, cool but definitely not cold. Maybe 60 with a limp breeze, a few cottony cirrus clouds contrasted against the blue sky. Dead fronds of a palm tree made scratchy noises, reminding me of old, wrinkly crepe paper.

 “Mister, you got some money I can have?” said the voice from behind me on my right side. Generally not a nervous man, I jumped a bit.

Although his face belonged to a young boy, probably ten or eleven, he was dressed like an adult, a rapper—saggy pants, oversized Nikes, loose and untied, a huge Chicago Bulls jersey that could have housed two of him, and a fire-engine red baseball cap, laid to the side at an angle. He had an attitude.

“No, man,” I said. “I gotta hang onto all the money that I can get, you know. Hard times.”

He didn’t appreciate that I didn’t want to share, I could tell.

“Just a couple of bucks”, he suggested, boldly suggesting an amount for my donation. He smiled, tilting his perfectly round head to the side so that I could see one gold and one silver tooth. The gold one was embossed with a five-pointed star, the silver with what appeared to be tiny initials, “AKA.”

I looked around to check for any possible back-up with him, and to see if I was alone at the Moonwalk. There was no one, just the scratchy paper sounds of dead palms fronds, some low-pitched belches from barges on the Mississippi, and two sleepers whose lifeless bodies lay side-by-side, curled up beside a statue, which was covered with pigeon droppings.

Since this little tyke was beginning to get on my nerves, I figured that it was time for me to make a move. I got up, tucked my book under my arm, and began walking out of the park, my new-found pest continuing to track his prey, beginning to harass me verbally.

“You know what?” he asked from behind me, trying to step on my heels. “You a son of a bitch, mister, a real piece of dog shit.  You so old and ugly you just like dried dog shit.”

I kept walking, knowing that it would be wrong to let him know that he was beginning to push my buttons. I looked for a policeman, or some place, maybe a shop where I could ditch him.

His mouse-like face harbored beady eyes, which stared coldly through me. Oversized ears gave him a cartoonlike appearance, but I wasn’t laughing. He was persistent like a horsefly, determined to snip a piece of skin and taste blood. His mouth was still moving, expletives erupting like some incredible dirty-word volcano.

I contemplated breaking out into a sprint, but he would have probably been able to keep up. What good would that have done? It would have been a ridiculous site.

He kept stepping on my heels, which was the pisser. If the little son of a bitch would just quit stepping on my heels, he could call me all the names he wanted. That wouldn’t bother me so much.

I crossed Decatur, running into the Hibernia Bank. He didn’t follow me inside, nor did he leave the immediate area. I could see him through one of the windows, peering inside with his nose pressed against the window pane. I broke line to ask the teller to please get security, that there was an emergency. 

“What kind of problem?” she asked.

I was embarrassed to tell her that I was being chased by a kid and that I needed reinforcement of some kind. But I was in a predicament, and I knew that if I went outside, I might kick the shit out of him and end up on the evening news. Not good.

“I’m being harassed by a person in front of your bank,” I told her, “and I need some help. I didn’t see a policeman, so I’m hoping that your security can help me. Or call an officer for me. Anything. This is getting old.”

“Got a cell phone?” she asked, coldly.

My expression told her that that was not the best question that she could have asked me, given the circumstances.

“Stand over there,” she nodded, “and I will get you security.”

“Thank you.” Finally!

I could hear comments by the customers in line, and one in particular apparently did not care if I heard her.

“What’s up with that?” she said to the man behind her. “Can’t he take care of his own problems?”

Wonder what she would do if some punk was getting in her shit? I wondered.

 I stared at the shiny marble floor and began to count the squares, losing count where customers’ feet and legs blocked my view, causing me to lose concentration. There were three potted palms in big brass planters, and two of them looked diseased, their leaves mottled with white splotches and sick yellow leaves.  What is it with all these sick palm trees? I thought.

 The cool air in the bank felt good on my face, my back. Even though it was officially winter, the late-morning sun made the room feel like a greenhouse.  I noticed oil paintings by a local artist, one contemporary, a little boy clutching his mother’s skirt, a look of terror in his face.

 That’s me, I thought.  The other painting didn’t go well at all. It was too classic, perhaps a small family, turn-of-the-century, eating a Creole meal, everyone dressed in Sunday’s finest.

I tapped my fingers against the wall where I stood, wondering what was taking security so long to make an appearance.

Probably on a coffee break, I thought.

It took him about three minutes to finally make an appearance. I had just walked over to the door to see if the kid was still in sight. He had moved to the corner of the block and appeared to be harassing an elderly lady with groceries in both arms.

Watch your purse, lady, I thought.

I explained to Officer LeHaye what had happened, and he let me know without reservation that it was not a bank issue.

“I can’t leave my post,” he said.

“Well, can you radio a policeman for me?” I asked.

He looked at me, beginning to laugh and said, “Man, it’s a kid! A punk kid! There are certainly much bigger problems in the city of New Orleans than you getting picked on by a kid. I wish I could help you, but we’re just not set up for this kind of thing.”

“Okay. I understand. Thanks for your time,” I said. I turned toward him before I reluctantly walked out of the comfort of the bank and said, “If you see me on the evening news, you’ll know that you had a small part. Thanks again,” I said sarcastically.

And with that I surrendered the cool air of the bank, making a right in a beeline for the opposite side of Decatur, heading away from the direction that I would normally have chosen. I was in a trot this time, afraid to look back to see if my problem was still in the vicinity. I managed to gulp, look back to see if he was following me, and thank God I did not see him anywhere.

Home free, I thought.

I made the block, crossed Chartres, and headed toward EAT to meet Brian. I felt as if a crime had been committed, like I had been bullied when there was absolutely no need. I mean, I had taught high school science for 29 years in public schools, and I should have been able to come up with something to disarm this kid. He was a child, no more than twelve, but unfortunately I knew that far too often in large cities it was children who committed crimes, including shooting people.

About fifteen minutes had passed since this ordeal had begun, and my pulse had returned to normal. Suddenly I saw him, coming down St. Peter, heading directly toward me with that shit-eating grin on his face.

I began to panic and could feel my heart beginning to beat fast again.

“Hey dude, you tried to get away from me. You nothin’ but a big ass chicken, man.”

He kicked the sidewalk violently with his right foot, with such a force that his Nike almost came off. He stuck his fingers into the heel of his shoe, readjusting, pulling it back on.

He looked around to make sure that no one was looking and said, “Look at this motha fuckah,” showing me the bright charcoal gray handle of a small hand gun, which was tucked inside the elastic band of his underwear.

“Now I want some fuckin’ money, and I want it now, or I’m gonna blow yo motha fuckin’ head off. You got dat?”

I knew that this kid would not use logic, and my being an adult meant nothing to him, nothing at all. His gun might be a fake, and he could be messing with my head. But I wasn’t willing to take that chance; I had to do something, and it had to be something bold, radical.

Without saying a word, I gritted my teeth, releasing all the energy that I could muster, kicking the little shit-ass several feet into an alley. His expression told me that he certainly didn’t expect it. I kicked him so hard that he fell on his elbow and blood splattered against the side of the building and onto the pavement, just inches from his wretched, scrawny punk body.

He started to get up and I kicked him again, this time in his bony little ass. The hand gun flew out of his pants, landing about four feet from his body, and I lunged to recover it, grabbing it with bear claws, putting it into my pants pocket, feeling that I was now the criminal.

I never said a word. I made sure that he was not totally disabled and then I walked away, looking back a couple of times to see if he had emerged from the alley. Nothing, no movement. Good!

On the way to EAT, I stopped in a thinly populated bar and deposited the hand gun in the bottom of the bathroom garbage can, covering it with a wad of paper towels.

When I arrived at EAT at 12:15, I could see Brian sitting at a table in the window. He waved to let me see where he was.

“Good timing,” he said when I walked in. “I’ve got something to tell you,” he said.

“Okay,” I said. “Shoot.”

He told me that he had just heard that a bus load of German tourists had been held up on Canal Street by a gang of thugs.

“The whole damn bus commandeered, just like that in a wink, broad daylight,” he said.

“One man was shot, and he was called a hero by the news folks.”

Before I told Brian what had just happened to me, I ordered an Amstel –and a very dirty martini- went to the bathroom, and threw up.

“What the hell’s going on?” Brian asked. “You don’t seem like yourself. Tell me, man, what’s going on? What happened?”

I spilled my guts, delivering every detail, making Brian swear to keep his mouth shut, to tell absolutely no one. He was like that, always wanting to report stuff to the proper authorities. He had not learned his lesson yet—that getting involved always had a cost. It was better to handle your own problems. No one cared any more, so why bother?

The seafood-stuffed bell peppers should have tasted much better, but I suppose I had lost my appetite. The bread was the best part of the meal.

Published 11-12-17

John Dorroh taught high school science for more years than he cares to admit. He used writing and reading strategies to help his students discover science principles and concepts, and he wrote with them in and out of the classroom. He’s had poems published in digital and print journals such as Dime Show Review, Suisan Valley Review, and Poetry Breakfast. He’s had one book of flash-fiction published (99 WORDS) and a sequel in the making.