You read about Volkman, Mort?
That ain’t him. Volkman was the fat man used to work with me; he was in here a time or two. Always pulling at his glasses, said he had to give his nose and ears a rest.
They was attached to his head by an elastic strap, that’s why.
Naw; his glasses. You’re a funny man, Mort. You been fencing merchandise for me for six years and I never knew you was such a funny man. When you’re done with the jokes, though, you want to share them pretzels? I don’t see your name on them.
Anyway, Volkman worked with me at my day job; you know—washing windows. That’s why he wore the strap. The building is fifty-seven stories; if something should slip off and fall, it’s a long way to the concrete.
Tell you the truth, I couldn’t stand the guy, but I put up with him. That line of work, it ain’t easy finding someone can handle the heights, so you take what you get. Yeah; like finding a fence you can trust. You stick with them, even if they got ways you don’t care for—like hogging bar pretzels.
Don’t get your shorts in a wad, Mort; I’m just ragging you. You want another beer? Yeah; you’re listening, so I’m buying.
Hey, Barkeep, two more, okay?
So, Volkman. He hummed old show tunes, the whole time we was working, just loud enough the words rolled around and around in my head, with no way to get out. Always pulling his pants out of his crack, and then sniffing his finger. He picked his nose, too, and he’d wipe it down the side of his coveralls. Said he didn’t want anybody getting hit by a booger bomb; then, he’d grin, like he knew something nobody else did.
For lunch, the guy ate peanut butter and tomato sandwiches, Mort, and washed them down with some stinking Gatorade knock-off. And he talked all the time. Weird crap. The Mayan calendar and the end of the world. Bigfoot. Klingon mating rituals. All the time, every second we was up on the scaffold. Yak, yak, yak.
Thanks, Buddy; yeah, keep the change.
Here’s looking at you, Mort. Drink up and I tell you what happened, why I don’t figure I can do business with you anymore. Hush now; just listen.
See, three weeks ago Volkman told me he sees little guys that ride on everybody’s shoulder. Right off, I said, “Like some sort of angel or devil, whispering in your ear?” Ragging him, you know? He said,
“Maybe.” And he grinned.
Sure, I ask him how come I couldn’t see them; he said they were invisible to everybody but him, that he could see them because he got knocked on the head last June, when he fell off the water tower up at Highpoint.
Here’s the kicker; he claimed they talk to each other and his tells him everything. We’re up there on the scaffold, working on the west face of the forty-third floor, and Volkman said my little guy’s upset because of what I do, you know, after hours. Just came out and said it, like he didn’t understand it would piss me off that he knew.
He told me everything. Places, merchandise, how I got in, how I got out. He knew about you, too, said you keep too big a cut. He said he won’t tell a soul, even though it’s wrong, me stealing all that stuff.
Calm down, Mort; I took care of it. Like I said, it’s a long way to the concrete.
I said to him, the way you like to talk, Volkman, you ain’t going to be able to keep your word. He looked at me then and I could see that he’d just figured out he should of kept his mouth shut. Too late. He put up one hell of a fight, but I pinned him to the rail, popped his line, and pitched him over the side. One, two, three.
Now you remember him, don’t you? I told the cops and the newspaper and television people he unclipped his line to shake out a kink and we got hit by a gust of wind. Sure, they bought it; I’m squeaky clean, you know that.
You bet your ass I’m still jacked up about something. Volkman didn’t go easy. He was shouting and pawing at me, and when he went over the rail, he stuck his fist in my face and yelled, “I got you!” And he grinned.
That’s the thing got me jacked up, Mort; just like those damned show tunes, I can’t shake this notion out of my head. It just gets louder and louder. What if there are little guys? What if they’re a part of us, an important part; one we can’t replace? And what if Volkman had my little guy in his fist when he went over the rail?
I keep telling myself Volkman figured out what I was up to some regular way. I keep telling myself there’s no such thing as little guys, that Volkman was just a screw-loose fat man with funny ideas.
Oh, yeah, Mort; I keep telling myself.