I want to put a bullet in his head.
The thought was simple, to the point, and exactly what Dutch wanted. The world sucked these days, and honestly, the holidays were the worst, Christmas being the big lie of them all.
Dutch walked up the street, passing cars lined along the road, his guitar case slung over his shoulder. Occasionally he passed a few folks getting out of those cars, their jackets buttoned or zipped all the way to their necks, ski hats on their heads, ear muffs over, well, isn’t that obvious enough? They carried their fold out stadium chairs and blankets, and a few of them even had bags, thermoses and doughnuts (the last of those supplied by the Krispy Kreme four blocks from where Dutch parked his car). A couple of times he gave a nod, only to not get one in return. Yeah, the world sucked, and Christmas was the epitome of that suckage.
Half a block away, he could see the police car as it made a left turn onto the street he was on. It circled back and blocked off the road. He still had time. Seeing the cop would have made some men run—especially men with the intentions he had—but not Dutch. They wouldn’t notice him, and if they did, no one would remember him. He looked like an ordinary middle-aged man holding onto his dreams of being a rock star. By the time they figured out where the shot came from, he would be long gone and his disguise—a graying beard, green contacts, a ball cap happily proclaiming he loved the local college team—would be burning in a 55 gallon drum down on Hobo Row. And the gun? A smile crossed his face. Some cop was in a heap of trouble when he was finished—never leave your car door unlocked when there’s a rifle on the front seat. Idiot.
He rounded the corner of The Sewing Shop. The little store used to be a Kress all those years ago, back when dime stores were as popular as dollar stores are now. He leaned on an old rail—the same one that had been there when he was a kid and his grandma had worked as a cashier at Kress. For a brief moment he was taken back to the days when he would sit at the back of the store, at the small diner there, and would eat a tomato and mayonnaise sandwich and drink a root beer float—an honest to God root beer float, with IBC root beer and Pet vanilla ice cream. Christmas back then wasn’t as commercialized as it is now. No, there were none of those Black Friday sales, Pre-Black Friday sales, Late Evening Thanksgiving Day sales, and there was no mad rush to get the latest overpriced toy. People actually enjoyed the season—the season, mind you!—without the whole need for bigger, better, more expensive gifts. Oh, how he missed those days.
A couple walked by him, clearly having seen better days before marriage and laziness had kicked in and the pounds were packed on. The woman pulled a red wagon with two kids in it who were old enough to walk on their own two feet. The man carried everything else—the chairs, blankets and, yes, somehow he managed a box of those doughnuts. Lagging behind was a teenaged boy, his hair black and covering his eyes, his clothes a little dirty and as black as his hair. His hands were shoved down deep in their pockets and he walked hunched over as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. He could have passed for Joey Ramone when he was a teenager.
“Come on, Darren,” Mom called without looking back. “We want to get a good seat so your brother and sister can get a lot of candy.”
“Whatever,” Darren said back.
Dutch almost chuckled, but refrained. No need to give them a memory they could recall later. It didn’t look like Darren cared too much about the candy or the parade. He understood how Darren felt. The holidays and all their suckage, and there he was, guitar case slung over the shoulder, the perfect Ebenezer Scrooge just waiting for the party to get started so he could crash it.
“Don’t ‘whatever’ your mother,” Dad said, whipping around as fast as his portly body would let him while trying not to drop anything. Especially not the doughnuts, Dutch thought.
Darren stopped. Though Dutch couldn’t see his eyes, he could feel the disdain the boy had for his family. Maybe Dutch should do him a favor and just lie in wait for them, maybe put that bullet he had for good old St. Nick in Dad’s brain instead. He shook his head. No, that wouldn’t do, that wouldn’t do at all.
He checked his watch. Half an hour to go. Then he watched the Happy family, Mom, Dad, Darren and the Siblings Duo. Darren leaned against a light post near the edge of the street and said very little to anyone. Mom and Dad set up the chairs, then laid a blanket out in front of them. The Siblings Duo sat on them and constantly argued back and forth. A couple off to their left moved their seats down a few feet. Mom wasted no time, spreading her’s and Dad’s chairs out, taking up space that someone else could have used.
Dutch shook his head, grit his teeth. They were America—the epitome of what the country had become. Selfish and arrogant and rude. No wonder Darren didn’t want to be with them.
A police siren wailed, a loud whoopwhoop that hurt Dutch’s ears. The parade was starting. Looks like they were just waiting for the sun to go all the way down. His thoughts took him back to his childhood days again, when Grandma and Grandpa would take him to the parade, not at night, but during the day. He remembered how the floats started rumbling down the street around ten in the morning on Saturdays (to him, it was the only Saturday of the year that was worth leaving hot chocolate and cartoons behind for something outside in the cold). And it had been on a different street—the same one the Krispy Kreme was on now—and he would sit between his grandparents on the edge of the sidewalk. There were no folding stadium chairs or blankets placed on cold concrete. There were no doughnuts or hot chocolate from thermoses. There were certainly no complaints or whining. Those drew swats on the bottom and a swift exit from the festivities.
The cop drove by, his blue lights like strobes. Dutch looked away. The first vehicle crept by, a truck with a Christmas tree in the back, lit up with fake presents beneath it. The people riding in the truck’s bed with the tree were bundled up and waving, their smiles seemingly frozen to their faces.
Walking on either side and behind the truck were various teenagers and women holding bags of candy. They ran to both sides of the road, dropping candy into outstretched hands, skipping a few kids here and there—though probably not intentionally—and moving along at a brisk rate to keep up with their float. Several of the kids who didn’t get candy poked their lips out. A couple of parents complained loudly that their child was missed, then grumbled some more when the givers ignored them.
He shook his head. Tis the season of giving and grinching and complaining, as well.
Dutch turned, went back the way he came, careful not to draw attention to himself. He rounded the backside of the building, scanned the parking lot for any stragglers who may have just arrived. When he saw none, he made his way along the back until he came to the ladder bolted to the block structure. The store’s name may have changed, but that old ladder was there when he was a kid. How many times had he shimmied up and hung out on the roof where nobody could see him? He had no clue, but it was good to see that some things hadn’t changed so much.
He could hear some folks cheering, hear the amped up high voltage music of Trans Siberian Orchestra as another float passed by, probably with a few men being pulled on a trailer and playing air guitar. That made him smile, if only for a moment.
Again, he looked around, and saw no one. Dutch climbed, the guitar case shifting from side to side as he did so. He reached the flat roof and pulled himself all the way up. So far, so good. He pulled a pin light from his coat pocket, flicked it on. Though the flashlight itself was no bigger than a tube of lipstick, the glow of white that it put out stretched several feet in front of him, making it easy to walk along the roof without stumbling over anything that could have been left behind by kids who ventured up there over the years.
At the edge of the front of the building, he peered over a wall that was about two feet in height, plenty enough space that if he needed to duck quickly he could do so. The tail end of one float that was nothing more than strung lights on the hood and top and bumper of a beat up sedan passed right in front of the Happy family. A marching band followed—he saw the black and garnet colors lit up by white lights that had been attached to the uniforms and knew it was the band from his alma mater. He watched as they passed by and then another vehicle took its place, creeping along slowly. The next car blared a song about white Christmases. Following behind the car were several people carrying bags—more candy givers. They looked happy to be passing out the treats to the children, but like the ones from earlier, they couldn’t hit everyone. It would have been impossible to make sure each kid had a small candy cane or tootsie roll or whatever was being given out. And, like before, the Happy family was passed over. This time Mom stood, though it was a struggle to get to her feet. The stadium seat seemed to exhale in relief once Mom was up.
There was a moment where it looked as if Dad would say something. He raised a hand as if to say, ‘calm down,’ then dropped it without so much as muttering the first word.
Several others watched as she yelled at one of the candy givers. The woman— who couldn’t be too far removed from her teens—gave her a shocked, wide-eyed look before hurrying away, crossing the street to the other side. Darren shook his head—an embarrassment was what his mom was, and probably his dad, as well.
Dutch placed the pin light in his mouth and unsnapped the guitar case. The rifle fit neatly inside—though barely. He turned off the pin light and placed it back in his pocket before picking the rifle up. It was light, and that was a good thing. Dutch peered through the site, aiming it toward the sky and staring at the stars. Lowering the gun, he nodded. The site was accurate—he had tested it the day before out in the country where his own Mom and Dad used to live before they died a couple years previous. All four cans he placed on fence posts went down, no bullets wasted on misses.
Another float passed, this time carrying the mayor and his wife sitting on the trunk of a convertible. They waved sporadically, the wife in a heavy fur coat, her hands covered by thick gloves, but still she shivered right along with everyone else.
The Temple Cars came an hour into the parade, nothing more than suped-up go-carts driven by older men who were part of the local Lodge Chapter. They zoomed in and out, almost hitting each other as they made their figure eights. When he was a kid, the Temple Cars were his favorite part. The smell of the exhaust, the way the tires squealed with each turn, the loud motors, the near to death moments as the cars grew dangerously close to the sidewalks.
Darren pushed off the light pole, uncrossed his arms. The look of disinterest left his face and he flexed his fingers. From where Dutch sat on the rooftop, it looked like Darren was suddenly nervous. Darren stepped around Mom. She swatted at him, no doubt a gesture of ‘move your butt.’ Still, he moved closer to the sidewalk. He knelt down next to the Siblings Duo.
Dutch watched, a steady wonder growing in his mind.
“What are you about to do?”
Could his loathing for his family be so strong that he would…
“Don’t do it, kid.”
A thought, fleeting as it was, ran across Dutch’s mind. Here he held a rifle with the intent to put a bullet in the icon of All That is Wrong With Christmas and he was suddenly afraid that some teenager living in a hell wrought by his family was about to push his brother and sister into the oncoming go-carts. His chest tightened and he swallowed hard as he watched Darren intently.
Then it happened. Instead of pushing the Siblings Duo into the road, Darren put his arms around their stomachs and pulled them back, just as the first of the Temple Cars reached them.
Dutch released his breath, his chest deflating.
Darren sat down on the concrete behind his siblings, no longer a statue against a light post, no longer a sulking member of society.
The floats passed, and one by one, Darren pointed out things the siblings didn’t seem to know. Dutch watched as candy givers went by and Darren helped his brother and sister to their feet and stretched their arms out so the candy givers would see them. The Siblings Duo squealed happily each time a candy cane was placed in their hands. At one point, the little girl gave Darren one of the peppermint treats, and in a display of true emotion, Darren openly hugged her, his Joey Ramone rebellious persona gone in an instant.
Loud cheers drew his attention from Darren. People were beginning to stand about a block away. In the distance was a red fire truck, and sitting on the back was Santa Clause. He waved his white-gloved hands to the crowds and he was probably smiling broadly beneath the frosty white beard.
Dutch lifted the rifle, looped the strap around one elbow and set the stock in his shoulder. He sited Santa, drew a bead on the jolly old man’s forehead.
“Come on, fat boy,” he said, and lined up the shot. Another hundred yards and Santa would be at the intersection, just thirty or so yards from the Happy family. He let the site trace its way to the perfect spot.
As Santa neared, the people on that block began to stand. Mom and Dad Happy struggled to get up from their seats, but Darren had little issue at all with picking up the Sibling Duo, one in each arm, and holding them so they could see better.
Dutch took several deep breaths, letting each one out slowly. His hands began to sweat, and that trigger finger grew itchy.
He glanced back to Darren. His sister held him around the neck, the brother holding tight to one of his arms.
Back to Santa. Just a few more yards and it would be all over. He lined up the shot again as if he were lining up a ten-point buck out in the country. It was an easy kill.
Another glance back to Darren. The siblings looked happy. There was no more Joey Ramone left in the teen—even the punk rocker look seemed to change with the smile that had grown on his face.
Santa was now beyond the shot point. Sure, he could line it up further down, but he had no desire to. Dutch lowered the gun and watched as Santa past by the Happy family, as the two little children in the teenagers arms screamed and waved. And Darren was smiling wide as he looked, not at Santa Clause, but at his siblings.
He set the gun back in the guitar case, then stood and watched as the crowds dispersed. It was a while before he made his way across the building and down the ladder, the guitar case strapped over one shoulder and across his back. He shoved his hands into his coat pockets and smiled. His thoughts came back to Darren and how protective he was of the Sibling Duo and how he picked them both up so they could see Santa Clause better. The parents might not have been worth the air they breathed, but Darren, the Joey Ramone look alike…in him Dutch saw hope.