Freedom Lane: Assault in the Paper Goods Aisle
Frank Hooker walked through the back room of Star-Mart. He had been working as head of security since he was in his twenties. He was now in his mid-forties, had a bigger gut under his button-down shirt and much less hair on his head. He figured he’d lose a few more strands after what he was going through tonight. In all the time he spent working for this particular Star-Mart, he had never had such an odd night.
“How’s Jeffery holding up?” Arnold, the Star-Mart manager, asked. Jeffery was an early twenties stockman that had worked for Star-Mart for the last three years or so. He was tall, skinny, and had a head full of greasy hair over a face that still had acne scars from his adolescence. Frank had watched him on quite a few occasions, especially when it came to ringing customers on the register. Rumor had it that many of his friends had left the store with more in their bags than what they paid for.
“Jeffery’s shaken up,” Frank replied. “He says the woman punched him in the stomach, but he wouldn’t say why. I was in the area, but I missed everything except for when Jeffery went down and the woman tried to exit the store with her family.”
“Any word on who the woman is?” Arnold asked.
“Helen Masters,” Frank replied. “I phoned a friend in New Haven PD. She was arrested for assault a couple of months back. Walked right into a kids house and slapped him around a bit.”
“But she’s just an old lady,” Arnold said.
“She has a record for this kind of thing,” Frank said, shrugging. “But Jeffery won’t tell me why she hit him. I don’t feel comfortable calling the police to pick her up until we know for sure what happened.”
“Have you talked to her family yet?” Arnold asked. “They are waiting to talk in her defense.”
“Of course they are,” Frank said, rolling his eyes. Any number of shoplifters could be taking advantage of his absence. Earlier in the day a woman had her kid toss a jug of milk to the ground to distract the greeter while she left with a carriage full of merchandise. Later, a couple filled their arms full of stuff and ran out of the emergency exit to a waiting car. It had been a trying day, and Jeffery getting punched in the gut by this Masters woman wasn’t making his life any easier.
“I suppose I should talk to them,” Frank continued. “Maybe I can get to the bottom of this if I talk to them one by one. Find the inconsistencies in their stories. Etcetera.”
“Alright,” Arnold said. “I’ll send the first one in.”
Frank sat in his small office, waiting for Arnold to bring the first one in. It was going to be a long night, and Frank was going to spend the rest of it listening to stories in defense of a woman that would punch a twenty something year old stockman in the stomach.
Frank looked at the door, waiting for it to open and start this shit-show. “I need a fuckin’ drink.”
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
Season 3, Episode 5: Assault in the Paper Goods Aisle
“So you saw what happened?” Frank asked.
“I did,” Rose Masters, Helen’s wife said. She seemed sweeter than the surly old woman in the other room, but he was weary of her nonetheless. “I saw the whole thing happen.”
“Would you care to tell me what you saw?” Frank asked.
Rose took a deep breath. “I was halfway down the aisle across from where Helen was,” she said. “That boy was hanging around the same isle, eating a bag of peanuts…”
“Excuse me, young man,” Helen said. “Can you please tell me where I can find the toilet paper?”
“I don’t know,” Jeffery said, shrugging. “Somewhere over there.” The boy gestured somewhere to his right.
Helen turned and looked. “I don’t see it,” she said.
“Look,” Jeffery said, dumping some peanuts into his mouth. “I’m very busy. I’m late for my cig…” The boy began coughing violently, his hands went to his throat.
“Oh dear,” Helen said. “Are you choking?!”
Jeffery nodded. His eyes were wide.
“I can help!” Helen said. She began slapping the boy on his back. He shook his head when the peanut didn’t become dislodge. “Hold on, young man! I know the Heimlich maneuver!”
Helen went to the back of Jeffery and wrapped her arms around his mid-section. She started to thrust, attempting to loosen the peanut that was causing the boy to choke. After a few strong thrusts, the peanut came flying from his mouth, landing several feet away.
“Thank you,” Jeffery said, gasping for breath.
“You’re welcome,” Helen said, beaming. “The feeling I get saving a life is better than anything in the whole wide world. I should be thanking you, young man.”
Jeffery was speechless with unabashed awe.
“And yes, Jefferey,” Helen said. “Santa Claus is real!”
Jeffery’s smiled widened and stars formed in his eyes. “Really?” he asked. “He’s really real?”
“Really,” Helen said, her eyes glassy with tears of joy. “You just had to believe all along.”
“I knew it!” Jeffery exclaimed. “I believe! I BELIEVE!”
“I’VE HEARD ENOUGH!” Frank yelled.
The crazy old bag’s wife’s story was useless. They had the incident on tape, and Jeffery wasn’t eating a bag of peanuts or had the Heimlich maneuver performed on him. All he saw was a short conversation followed by Helen Masters punching him in the gut. He saw himself run up and help Jeffery up, watching the old lady gather up her son and walk towards the registers.
Arnold ushered Rose out when Frank called him on the walkie talkie and brought him Helen’s brother, Paulie. Paulie had an instant attitude, even before he sat in the hard plastic chair. “I think you need to let my sister go,” Paulie said. “You’re making a big mistake here.”
“Am I?” Frank asked. “We know that your sister punched Jeffery. I’ve seen the tape. Do you know what transpired? If you do, I’d love to hear it.”
“Oh would you?” Paulie asked. “Because I thought you asked me back here for a friggin’ tea party. I started to become suspicious when I realized the crumpets haven’t been set out yet. I rarely go to a tea party that isn’t preceded with crumpets, YOU FRIGGIN’ STUNAD!”
“There’s no reason to yell,” Frank said, rubbing the bridge of his nose. “Just tell me what you saw or heard please.”
“Alright,” Paulie said, sitting back and crossing his arms. “You really want to know?”
“Yes,” Frank said, his headache worsening by the second. “Please”
“Fine,” Paulie said. “But you’re not going to like it.”
“I’ll be the judge of that,” Frank said.
“OK,” Paulie said, loosening up. “There’s my sister walking down the asile, looking for toilet paper. All of a sudden this little, blonde mook comes up to her…”
“Outta my way!” Jeffery said, nearly shoving Helen. “I gotta hot date with with a cold piece of porcelain.”
“I’m sorry, dear,” Helen said, meekly turning away. She’s an old lady, after all.
“What did you just say to me?” Jeffery said, turning around. “Did you just call me ‘dear’?”
Helen looked confused. “Why yes,” she said. “I did.”
“How am I a ‘dear’?” Jeffery asked.
“I asked,” Jeffery interrupted. “How am I, someone you have never met, a ‘dear’? Have we taken long strolls through the park? Did I take you to the carnival and win you a big, pink teddy bear? Have at, at any point in my life on this planet, rode the friggin’ tunnel of love next to you?!”
“No,” Helen replied. “But…”
“Then how, in the name of all that his holy, am I your ‘dear’?”
“Look,” Helen said, backing up in fear. “It’s just an expression.”
“OH!” Jeffery yelled, throwing his hands up. “So now I’m an idiot?!”
“I didn’t say…”
“But you implied it,” Jeffery said. “That’s it! We’re taking this outside.”
“What?” Helen said, taking a step back. “But I’m a defenseless woman.”
“I give a crap about your life story now?!” Jeffery said, taking a step towards Helen. “How about I bust up your face, putana?”
Jeffery threw a quick jab, hitting Helen in the jaw. Her head snapped back. “I didn’t want any trouble,” she said. “But you just found it.” Helen threw a punch of her own, hitting Jeffery right in the stomach. He clenched his gut and doubled over.
“Oh my God!” Helen said. “I didn’t mean… It was just a reaction. Please, let me help you.”
“You made a big mistake, lady,” Jeffery said, slapping Helen’s hand out of the way. “How dare you threaten and hit me, you old bat. I know people. I know whole families. You’re dead! Your entire family is dead! Your pets are dead! YOUR FRIGGIN’ MAILMAN IS DEAD! My buddy Nunzio the icepick is going to paying you a visit sometime. You won’t know when, but one day you’ll wake up with a friggin’ icepick in your friggin’ throat.”
Frank pushed his chair away from the table, loudly dragging it across the floor. “You can go now, Mr. Ventriglio!”
Frank had two stories now. The first one involved Jeffery choking and believing in Santa Claus. The second involved Jeffery throwing the first punch before channelling Goodfellas to threaten a seventy-nine year old woman with his mob connections. Frank didn’t have much hope when the woman’s adopted son, Da’Quarius, was brought in to make his statement.
“Wha’chu gonna do wit Helen?” he asked.
“That all depends,” Frank said. “I really need to know what happened out there.”
“You already had Rose and Paulie up in here,” Da’Quarius said. “You got all da info you need. Just let Helen go already. You know it’s only a matter of time. What do you make here anyway? Six bucks an hour? Is it really worth it to harass an old lady and her family. Can you even look yo’self in da mirror after doin’ dis shit?”
Frank’s headache had turned into a full-blown migraine. “Look, kid,” he said. “Tell me what went on and we’ll see. I need to get a statement from all of you.”
“Fine, cracka,” Da’Quaruis said. “As you already know, Helen was just lookin’ for da doo-doo papers…”
“Yo,” Helen said, walking up to Jeffery. “Where da doo-doo papers be at?”
“Next aisle, biddy,” Jeffery said. “Wit da tissues an’ paper towels an’ shit.”
“Thanks, mo’ fucka,” Helen said. “I gotta get me some triple ply, bitch.”
Then, all of a sudden, the Ten O’ Clubs gang ran all up in there. “Oh shit,” Jeffery said. “Is dat dem Ten O’ Clubs runnin’ all up in here?”
“Well it ain’t their grandmas,” Helen said. She pulled her 9mm from her purse and turned the safety off. “Helen Masters ’bout to make some bodies turn cold up in dis biotch.”
“I got yo back, biddy,” Jeffery said, pulling two Uzis from behind his Star-Mart vest. “Da paper goods aisle is my fuckin’ turf!”
“I always knew I’d be gunned down lookin’ fo doo-doo papers,” Helen said. “Stay behind me, and give me some cover fire.”
“Sho thing, biddy,” Jeffery replied.
Helen fired shot after shot into the oncoming Ten O’ Clubs while Jeffery sprayed in a neat line with his Uzis. One by one, the Ten O’ Clubs went down, but the tide of the battle changed when Jeffery took a bullet in the gut.
“No,” Jeffery said, falling to the floor. Helen quickly scooped him up in her arms. “My baby mamma’s gonna have to raise Lil Smookie and Shaniqua on her own.”
Helen clutched Jeffery’s dead body as tears spilled from her eyes. “I’ll raise Lil Smookie and Shaniqua for you,” Helen said. “Right after I avenge you.”
Helen stood up, pulling a set of nunchucks from her purse. The second wave of Ten O’ Clubs was nearly upon her. “I trained with master Shen Ho Tanaka at The Yellow Dragon Dojo,” she said. “I know The Five Shades of Death, and I am a master of the nunchaku arts. Make your peace with your God, because you won’t be kissing you children goodnight ever again. Hail Satan!”
“Hey!” Da’Quarius shouted. “Where you goin’, security bitch?! You’re ’bout to miss da best part!”
The kid’s story was too much for Frank. He left to go find Arnold to see if they had gotten any kind of statement from Jeffery. All Frank wanted was a straight story and an ice cold vodka. “Any luck?” he asked, sitting down in Arnold’s small office.
“None,” Arnold said. “Jeffery won’t talk about it, no matter what.”
“Shit,” Frank said. “And all I got from her family was nonsense that went from bad to worse.”
“So you got nothing at all?” Arnold asked.
“Nothing,” Frank replied. “So we have no idea what was said before the old lady punched him. For all we know, he deserved it.”
“Right,” Arnold agreed. “And the old lady won’t talk?”
“Not a word,” Frank said. “It’s your call what we do from here, Arnold. If neither of them talk, then you’ll put on the show of arresting an old lesbian for possibly nothing. Is it worth the headache that might cause?”
Arnold sighed. “I hate this fucking place,” he said. “Let her go.”
Rose drove Helen, Paulie, and Da’Quarius home with an empty trunk. She refused to pay Star-Mart one cent after what they just put them through. They had kept Helen in the back room of the store for nearly two hours while the rest of them waited. There was only one though nagged in her mind as they left. “Helen?” She asked, waiting for a yellow light to turn red and then green again. “I don’t suppose you want to tell us why you punched that boy, do you?”
“Nope,” Helen said, looking out the window of the car.
“I’m sure he had it coming,” Paulie said. “Did you see that little kid sitting in the other office shaking like a leaf in the wind? You sure you don’t want to tell us, Helen?”
“Nope,” Helen repeated.
“Come on,” Da’Quarius said. “After we went in dere, defendin’ you an’ all? You can at least tell us why you punched dat punk bitch.”
“Nope,” Helen said a third time. The trio gave up asking and rode home in silence, lost in their thoughts. Helen was lost in thoughts of her own as Star-Mart became smaller in the passenger side window.
Jeffery was making himself look busy by moving random items in the paper goods aisle to the shelf. If anyone thought he wasn’t busy he’d likely end up ringing up customers for the remainder of the night. He worked for Star-Mart for three miserable years, and it never got much better. At this rate, he’d be well into his twenties before he got a management position and could come off nights and weekends.
“Excuse me,” and old woman said, approaching him. “Can you point me in the direction of the toilet paper.”
“It’s two aisles to the left of us,” Jeffery said. He suddenly saw a young, black kid taking stuff off the shelves and looking at them before haphazardly tossing them back. “Dammit,” he said.
“What?” the old lady said, turning to look too.
“That damn kid with the messed up hand over there,” Jeffery said, motioning to the aisle across the store’s main alley. “I just fixed that area, and he’s going to trash it. I should probably call our security guy to follow him for a bit. Those damn black kids always rob us blind. I wouldn’t be surprised if that little ni…” Jeffery doubled over as the old woman’s fist buried itself in his gut.
“That’s my son, you little punk,” she said through gritted teeth. “And he’s a good kid. You repeat a word of that bullshit again, and I’ll come back in here with a shiv. Try me if you think I’m joking, blondie.”
The old woman pulled her fist away and Jeffery fell to one knee, clutching his gut. She knocked the wind out of him, and he struggled to get it back in. He looked up as she walked away in the direction of the toilet paper like nothing happened. He coughed and noticed Frank Hooker, the store’s security guy, coming up behind him and helping him up. He knew Frank would want a statement about what happened, but he was too scared of the old woman to say anything.
“Come along, Da’Quarius,” the old woman said, catching up with the kid in the aisle across from him. She patted him on the shoulder as they walked away from where Jeffery and Frank watched. “I got the toilet paper. Let’s find Rose, pay for this stuff, and get going.”