Ambitious considering the work I have to do this month, but worth it, I believe.
These competitions keep me writing, so I will sing their praises. If you’re not a writer, consider donating on behalf of those who are on the NaNoWriMo website.
I’m officially starting on the 5th of this month and working on NOVEL 3: THE DAILY GRIND
Here’s a description:
Ten individuals are at a crossroads in their lives: a college student; a pizza delivery driver; a first-time mother; a nurse with an Alzheimer’s-stricken parent; a child playing dress up; a prospective father; an Irish setter; an accountant training for a triathlon; a barista; and an author.
Each faces a choice: a decision between acting on instinct or through measured choice, of listening to others or one’s own inner voice. As these individuals negotiate their decisions, brushing against each other on an otherwise normal autumn evening, they unwittingly circle a university coffee shop–The Daily Grind–where someone is waiting who may have all the answers.
Stay tuned for more updates and don’t forget to COMMENT ABOUT BURCH below.
Burch is finished. You can find him in Part 1 if you’d like to follow him again. I hope you had as much fun reading as I had writing him, but now I need to know…
What did you think?
Did you like the story? Did you see the ending coming? What are your burning questions?
Let me know!
Want to keep reading fiction on this blog?
Let me know!
Have a great idea for what I should do next?
Let me know!
For July, you can expect the same NaNoWriMo updates as I work on TDG, or NOVEL 3, and prepare to launch The Handyman. Do you have something else you want to see? By now you should realize I really need you to…
Alexander Burch III stepped onto the street and breathed deeply. He’d slept only one night in the overpriced hotel room and it was enough. Sometimes the bed was a welcome relief. Others, like last night, he spent tossing and turning, waiting for time to pass.
This was where he liked to be. In the early morning hustle and bustle of the streets. It would take him a day or two to grow back enough stubble to be unrecognizable, but he already sported some growth. His fancy clothes and the rest of his cash he’d left in the room for housekeeping. Burch had a good reputation there. He was always quiet and kept to himself. Left without a fuss and with a big tip. He was welcome.
Out here he had to fend for himself. He wasn’t anyone’s son or grandson, and he didn’t own anything but what his eyes took in. It was all he needed. He made his way down the street at a brisk clip, trying to get away from the moneyed part of the city as quickly as possible.
As soon as he felt the city’s eyes off him, which didn’t take long, Burch again adopted his shuffling gait. Why hurry? He had nowhere to be and all the time in the world to get there. It would be another day or two before he went back to the coffee shop, but no one but Sophie would miss him.
She would be full of news. How Mr. Burch had shown up just as expected and blown them all away with his knowledge of the inner workings of the shop. He had fired the perpetually-late manager and promoted Sophie in her place. She never would have expected it, but it was what Sophie had wanted for so long.
Al would listen and nod and try to keep from smiling. He smiled now thinking about it.
He shuffled along, no longer caring about scuffs on his new shoes, wondering absently where he’d find his next meal.
Al walked past a park, an iron gate and fence surrounding it. A lovely spot. Not the best view in the city, but he already owned that. Al walked past again. When there was a break in the crowd, he donned his beanie and then untucked his shirt. Eventually, he sat. This would do for a day or two.
He milled around, found a better-looking watch, and waited for 5 PM. The airport was the best place to wait since that’s all anybody did there anyway. He studied some of the people. Made up histories about their lives while he waited.
At 5 promptly, he heard his name called over the loudspeaker. He rose from his seat and headed to the airport entrance. There was a man with a sign that read BURCH, though he didn’t need it. The driver recognized his charge immediately and extended a hand for a shake.
Alex shook the man’s hand and asked after his family. They chatted on the way back to the car, a sleek Lincoln parked in the loading zone. Alex let himself sink into the cool leather and closed his eyes.
When he woke, they were at the hotel. Alex could tell by the way he cleared his throat that the driver had done it a few times.
“Sorry about that,” said Alex, handing the driver a 20. He got out of the car. He straightened his spine, grabbed his briefcase, and headed inside.
“Hello, Mr. Burch,” said someone on his left. A hotel employee. She was holding out her hands for his briefcase. He let her take it. “Right this way, sir,” she said and took off at a brisk clip toward the elevators, her behind twitching nicely beneath her skirt.
Alex let her lead him all the way to his room, though he had no trouble finding it. He stayed in the same one every time. He let her open his door, settle his briefcase on the desk, then turn down his bed before he entered the room. He gave her another of his twenties and waited for her to leave.
He hadn’t said a word.
Alex took a look around his suite. It consisted of two rooms, a living area and a bedroom, an enormous bathroom and a conference area. Burch spun in a slow circle, taking it all in. Then he checked the closet. His suit was there, freshly pressed and delivered by the hotel cleaners only the hour before, according to the tag. He thought he could still feel the warmth from the iron on the pressed pants.
Alex took another shower and shaved again, more because it was part of his routine than because he needed it. He picked at his new haircut and put on the suit. He was fastening the last button when there was a sharp knock at the door.
He opened it.
The same driver from before. Chances were he’d never left. Alex said nothing but followed him downstairs to the running town car.
The coffee shop with the green awnings and the old-timey script was just closing for business. A few stragglers placed last-minute orders and the dedicated computer workers gathering their belongings to head home. Alex leaned back against the leather seats and waited patiently.
Alex pushed through the barbershop door, setting the bells jangling, and joined the bustle on the city streets. He sported a new cut, a fresh shave, and a different identity.
Al was gone, and Alex had things to do.
He hailed a cab—a necessary expense—to get to the other side of town quickly. He had more of a deadline now, less time to waste. Speaking of time…
A cab finally stopped for him. Alex told the driver he needed a mall, but sat forward on the seat, his eyes scanning the passing streets for what he really needed…and there it was. He tapped the cabbie on the shoulder and pointed.
The strip was a faded has-been full of empty windows and low-rent chains. One of these was a shoe store. Alex pointed until the cabbie parked in front.
“10 minutes,” Alex said, halfway out the cab door. The driver did not protest.
The store was dusty and faded. Though a chime greeted him, no human did. Not that this bothered Alex. He went straight for men’s size 11. Predictably, there were few options, but he chose a pair of gray New Balance marked $60. He doubted it cost half that to make them, though the box proclaimed this price a steal at 70% off. Alex didn’t bother to try them on, but gathered the box and hurried to the front of the store. His shuffle and amble were gone.
He found a wallet and a pair of sunglasses that weren’t too cheap looking, but none of the watches would do. It was a small touch, but an important one. Still, Alex saw no one. He considered leaving then knocked on the counter.
A young Asian man poked his head through the back door. He was chewing.
Alex gestured with the shoe box.
“Give you forty” he said. He thought it a generous offer considering he could have lifted them easily. He waved the bills in his other hand.
The young man swallowed and wiped his chin. He nodded then disappeared.
Alex placed the bills on the counter and left the store.
The cabbie was still there.
Alex needed a few more things, so he let the cabbie proceed to the mall. On the drive over, Alex changed his shoes. He put most of his money in the new wallet and gathered his unnecessary items into the plastic bag from the Salvation Army. On his way inside, he dropped the bag into an outdoor garbage bin.
Alex entered through the food court, inhaling the mixed aromas and feeling his stomach cramp in protest, but he did not slow down. He could eat later. He blended into the lunch crowd, relaxed but efficient, unhurried but determined.
In only two stores he found the rest of his items. A watch, a briefcase, and a baseball cap. He donned the hat and emptied his pockets into the briefcase.
Alex found a service exit and took it. Adopting the stance of a tired retail worker, he moved past the massive parking lot and onto the main road before he hailed another cab.
Al poked his head into the dining room, saw no one he knew, and after making sure the hall was clear, took the money out of his cigarette pack and put it into the pocket with the shower key. As he walked the hall past the sleeping areas, he removed his hat and the band of bills he kept there. Into the pocket they went. Standing against the door, looking into the main sleeping area, Al removed the folded bills from small pockets of his jeans, the ones where no one ever looked, no matter how many times he’d been rolled, and slipped them into the same pocket.
His other pockets were empty except for the change from his purchase. Finally, he made his way to the bathrooms. Al checked the toilet area first, and it appeared to be empty, so he hurried into the handicapped stall and sat on the toilet. Al crossed his right foot across his left knee and removed his shoe. He lifted the insole and removed the bills, which he stuffed into his pocket. Then he took off one sock, removed those bills, and pocketed them. Finally, he checked his other sock and the last bills. He did this for his left foot as well, hurrying in case someone came in. No one did.
He had 23 ones, 9 fives, 7 tens, 5 twenties, a fifty, and two quarters. Two hundred and eighty-eight dollars and fifty cents. Al was amazed. It was more than he thought. More than he’d ever had at one time.
The idea made him sweat but also made him calm. The more he had, the more he was willing to lose. Right now, he was willing to lose about half, though only a hundred would be comfortable. None would be excellent.
Al listened again. Footsteps. He wished he had thought to drop his pants. The footsteps came closer, then passed by without slowing. Al grabbed his money, tossed the plastic bag with his purchases on the floor, then stood and dropped his pants. He picked up the plastic bag, maneuvering the jeans and socks to the top, then started to sort his money. The fifty, all the twenties, and tens went into a roll. He unfurled one pair of socks, put the roll inside the sock, and rolled the socks again lengthways. He refurled the first pair of socks into the second pair. Then he took one five and four ones and stuffed them into the right front pocket of the jeans he was wearing. He took another five and put it in the breast pocket of his shirt, folded neatly, behind the cigarette pack. The remaining fifty-nine dollars he put in the various pockets of his new jeans.
Al flushed the toilet and left the stall.
The shower area was also empty. Al threw his plastic bag into the first stall. He stripped bottom to top, placing his shoes on the available bench, then his socks, jeans and underwear, three shirts, and hat.
Still, there was no one around. Al stepped into the shower and double-tied his plastic bag. He threaded one of the loops over the shower head as far back as it would go before turning on the water. The contents might get a little damp, but that was a small price to pay, and it was warm out. Al soaped and shampooed himself, reveling in hot water and clean skin, but keeping an ear out for someone entering the showers. No one did.
Al turned off the water and retrieved his bag. He toweled off and put on his new underwear, jeans, and shirt. He folded his old shirts and his old jeans and left them on the bench. Al tossed his hat in the bag with his other shirt. The old undershirt, socks, and underwear he threw away. Al put his money back where it belonged. He did so quickly and efficiently.
On his way out, he stopped by the dining room to see if there was any food. They hadn’t started lunch yet, but the ladies there liked him, so they gave him a peanut butter sandwich, an apple, and a milk carton. It was delicious.
“You look like a new man, sugar!” Debbie said, fanning herself theatrically.
“Feel like one too.”
“Now, don’t wait so long before you come back and see your girlfriend, you hear?”
“I won’t, Miss Debbie, I’ll see you very soon,” Al promised as he walked out the door. The cowbell jangled as he exited.
Al made it another two blocks before he changed his gait. He lifted his head and straightened his spine. The difference was subtle but the effect was undeniable. He no longer looked downtrodden. He looked like…well…like anybody. His steps were more sure and his bearing more erect. No one looking at him could have told you anything about him.
Al reached yet another door and set the bells jangling. Three faces looked up when he entered the barbershop.
“Hey man,” said the barber, “do for ya?”
“Can’t you tell?” said Al and gestured to his face. The three men laughed.
“Sit right here,” said the barber indicating the chair in front of him. “We’ll make you pretty in no time. I’m Mick, and this here’s Tito and Squash.” Al nodded to the men’s reflection in the mirror as he sat down.
Just yesterday, a group of six or so tourists had filed out of the coffee shop chatting to each other about how good the espresso and cranberry scones were in this cute little shop. Someone suggested a group photo. A tall blond man with a Nikon looked around and spotted Al sitting by the shop.
“Hey man, um, d’you think you could, um, I mean, would’ja mind takin’ a picture of us?”
A shorter woman with excessively curly hair tugged at the blond man’s arm and said something, shooting suspicious looks at Al, who had to keep himself from smiling.
“What? It’s fine,” the blond man said to the curly woman before turning back to Al, “Would’ja mind? I’d be happy to pay ya.”
Al just nodded–he spoke as little as possible–as he rose from the sidewalk. He took the Nikon from the blond man, a little surprised at how light it was, and studied it while the group arranged themselves for the photo.
“It’s the button up there on the top, on the right,” the blond man said, already grinning. The curly lady watched Al intently. She looked wound up–ready to pounce–waiting, he guessed, to see if he’d run off with the camera. She couldn’t guess it was the last thing he wanted. He centered the group on the viewfinder screen and snapped a picture. They asked him to take one more. He did.
As the blond man took his camera back, he pressed a folded bill into Al’s fingers. Al mumbled his thanks, then glanced down at the bill. It was a crisp 20-dollar bill. He looked up quickly at the blond man, who was still grinning, sure the man had made a mistake.
“No, no,” the man started and clapped Al hard on the shoulder, “you get yourself somethin’ to eat, all right?” and he and his group walked away, looking for more of the “real” San Francisco.
Al watched them for a few minutes–they had already forgotten about him, pointing and talking–before resuming his seat by the café. He looked at the 20 again, shook his head, and guided it to the secret pocket he had sewn to the inside of his shirt pocket, where the bill nestled against two other 20-dollar bills and a 50.
Today Al found the 39th-street shelter looking sad and deserted from the outside. This was good news: no special breakfast or job fair going on this morning. He pushed open the glass door almost apologetically, hearing the clank of the cowbell attached to it.
Debbie looked up. She was a round woman of indeterminate age and perpetually sunny disposition despite her surroundings. She was light-skinned—more cream than coffee—with dainty freckles from her cheekbones to her eyelids and hair that sprung from her head in tiny tight ringlets.
She looked up from her crossword over her blue reading glasses as the bell rang, and her face exploded into a radiant smile.
“My main man Al! How you been, sugar? Haven’t seen you in a hot minute. Where you been hidin yaself? And when you gonna take me on that date?”
“Oh, you know,” Al replied, ducking and smiling, making tentative eye contact, then looking away, “been working so hard, can’t hardly seem to find the time for anything.”
“Well, you just let me know when you do find the time so I can tell that husband of mine I’m not cookin that night.”
“Will do, will do. Say, Miss Debbie, got a shower free?”
“Honey, you know I do for you.”
She handed him a key and offered to hold his bag—she knew how likely he was to get rolled back there too–but he explained it was his new clothes and thanked her but said he’d keep it. Al stuffed the shower key in his pocket and moved through the shelter, scoping the place and the people.
He’d been awakened and asked to move along three times before finding an unoccupied covered doorway just before sunrise. He’d headed to his café, as usual, beating the morning manager.
Al leaned against the warming stucco of the café, eyes closed to the sun on his face, and watched the kaleidoscope of purples, blues, greens, and oranges inside his eyelids.
The cafe’s door had a bell, and Al heard it as someone entered or exited. He didn’t open his eyes, but he knew it was Sophie, his favorite barista, coming to wish him good morning.
Sophie always brought him a steaming cup of coffee–likely the first of the day–and chatted to him for a few moments.
Al rarely talked back, though he did thank her for the coffee. He didn’t have much else to say or space to say it. The weather, sports, and city happenings were always on Sophie’s mind, and what was on her mind came out of her mouth.
Al nodded along. That’s how he knew today was the day. The impending visit from the far-away owner.
Al waited until Sophie went back inside before dropping to a squat. He enjoyed his coffee– savored it, really–then waited another thirty to forty-five minutes to be sure. No one approached him or seemed to notice him at all. He was part of the background. Part of the city it would rather not see and often chose to ignore.
He slowly stood, shaking out his limbs. Al looked around, watching for watchers. After standing against the sun-warmed stucco for another twenty minutes or so (God, he loved this spot), Al shouldered off and started his slow, shuffling walk uphill.
No one was around–a joke, really, since there was always someone around in this city–so he dug into his front shirt pocket with two fingers. There was a pack of cigarettes in there, but he was going for the roll of money safety-pinned inside.
Al pulled both from his pocket and stopped to light a cigarette while carefully thumbing loose a twenty and tucking it nimbly into the sleeve of his lighting hand. The rest of the money slid neatly into the cigarette pack with his lighter.
Al didn’t really like to smoke–it attracted others–so he tossed the cigarette after a block.
From there, it was only another five blocks to the Salvation Army Store and a new set of threads. Al chose carefully, flipping through each shirt and pair of pants as though preparing for an important business meeting.
In a way, he was. He needed to blend into two very different environments, so he must choose carefully.
Al finally decided on a white-ish thermal shirt that looked a little chewed at the sleeves and collar but fit pretty well, dark wash jeans a half-size too big, and a fleece lumberjack shirt he would save for later. He kept his shoes and hat since he didn’t find better options, but he got two new pairs of socks and some underwear. After making his purchases–a grand total of $11.50–Al pointed himself in the direction of the nearest shelter.
It was a little after nine, he thought, plenty of time for most everyone to have gotten out of dodge for the day. There might be a few stragglers who wouldn’t blink at the chance to fleece him– might, in fact, be hanging around for just such an opportunity–but there was only so much he could do about that.
Al had more cash on him now than he usually did at this time of the month, and he didn’t mind parting with a little of it if necessary.