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A Token of Gratitude

A token of gratitude


Estimated reading time — 25 minutes

There’s a certain impersonal charm to grocery stores. People pass each other, usually avoiding eye contact and cloaked in a security blanket of inconspicuousness. And the homeless that you often find outside of these places, well they might as well be a light pole or a park bench, hiding in plain sight.

Duncan Wickman was a busy man, much too busy to give back to those in need. But today was different. Today, whether you call it humanity or “good in the world,” his graciousness overrode his apathy, and he took time out of his day to show compassion to the less fortunate. A simple act that would change the course of his life forever. . .

Duncan looked down at his Rolex as he stood in line, holding a pack of spring greens mix and a bottle of sweet tea. He knew he was probably late for something, but just what it was escaped him. As he scurried out of the grocery store, a homeless man sitting next to the Coke machine called out to him.

“Hey buddy, you got any change?”

Duncan, who would normally keep walking, stopped and turned around. A charitable feeling seemed to come over him.

“You thirsty?” he asked the man.

“Sure, I’d take a soda.”

Duncan smiled as he sat his bag on the ground and pulled out his wallet. He put two dollars in the machine and handed the man a soda. The homeless man smiled widely as he cracked it open and took a swig. He sat the drink down and shuffled through his backpack, then pulled out a dirty glass beer mug.

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“Here, it’s a token of my gratitude.” He held the mug in the air towards Duncan, who reluctantly grabbed it.

“Thanks,” Duncan said. He dumped out the cigarette butts that were scattered in the bottom as he walked towards his car in the parking lot. He opened his door and threw it into the backseat.

That evening, after he got home, he grabbed his briefcase out of his car, along with the mug that laid next to it on the seat.

“What’s that?” his wife Lillian asked curiously as she chopped some vegetables in the kitchen. Their son Aiden burst out from around the corner and hugged Duncan.

“It was a gift. A token of gratitude,” he said with a smirk. “I bought a soda for a bum outside of the Albertson’s, and he gave this to me.”

Lillian got a surprised look on her face. “Since when did you start associating with those people?”

“I don’t know, something just kind of came over me.”

“Well just be careful, so many of them are either crazies or high on drugs.”

Duncan chuckled as he washed out the mug under the kitchen faucet. “I was homeless once.”

“Shut up,” she replied.

“No really. I shot my dad in the eye with a rubber band gun and he got so mad I ran out of the house and spent the next night at a campground near where we lived. Survived off of beef jerky and PEZ candy.”

She laughed. “I don’t think that counts.”

Duncan wiped off the beer mug and held it up to the light as he looked it over. He could tell by how heavy it was, it was probably commercial grade. It cleaned up nicely he thought to himself.

April 20th.
“Hi Duncan,” the secretary of his law firm said in her nasally voice. “This is kind of strange, but we just had two of our main clients terminate their contracts with us.”

Duncan sat up in his office chair and a look of concern came over his face. “What? Don’t tell me one was the Saunders trial?”

There was a brief pause. “Yes, that was one and also Dominic Fratelli.”

“Shit! Well, did they say why?”

“Saunders is citing that you’re not returning his phone calls, and Fratelli says that you haven’t been listening to his wishes.”

“I wasn’t able to return Saunders phone call yesterday because my phone locked me out for some reason, and Fratelli needs to take a plea bargain, otherwise they’re gonna fry his ass!”
Duncan spent Saturday at the driving range with some colleagues.

“Would you believe that son-of-a-bitch Dean Saunders just dropped me as his attorney? The trial of the decade and midway through he decides to terminate me.” Duncan swung his club fiercely, launching his golf ball down range. The group of men looked around at each other.

“Actually Duncan, Saunders is now my client. He called me a few days ago,” Tony Spicola said. “You know how it goes sometimes – I couldn’t say no.”

Duncan, despite the surprised look on his face, tried to play it off. “Hey business is business, right?

“You’re not upset are you?”

Duncan grinned sourly. “Upset? No. Don’t worry about it.”

Tony smirked. “Good, because afterwards I put a down payment on a condo for me and Brittany.”

Duncan spoke with Lillian after he got home. “I just can’t believe the balls Tony has take a client of mine like that!”

“Listen, it’s one client. And if you were in Tony’s shoes with an opportunity like that, what would you do?”

“Well I would hope that I wouldn’t fuck a friend over like that.”

“Maybe you should start advertising again?”

He sighed and looked away dismissively. “I haven’t had to advertise in years!”

Lillian rubbed his back with a look of despair on her face. “Just think about it, ok?”

May 3rd.

“This was a case of mistaken identity. The state has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that my client, Mr. Xavier Garcia, assaulted Mr. Williams on December 18, 2021. Numerous witnesses have corroborated his accounts that he was instead visiting with friends, miles from where the alleged assault took place. Even Mr. Williams himself has contradicted his own testimony. Your honor, today we seek an acquittal of all charges. This concludes the defense evidence,” Duncan said, then smiled confidently.

The judge exited to her quarters for a recess. Duncan turned to his client. “The only thing you gotta worry about now is where you’re gonna celebrate at after we win this.”

The judge returned to her bench after a short time. “Mr. Xavier Garcia has been charged with assault causing bodily injury. In particular, it is alleged that on the evening of December 18, 2021, Mr. Garcia brutally attacked Mr. Darius Williams after an altercation that the two men had.” The judge looked towards Duncan. “Sometimes relying on questionable friends and acquaintances as witnesses, doesn’t always present the most solid foundation for a defense case. That coupled with the circumstantial evidence that the state has presented, I conclude that the state has established its case against Mr. Garcia beyond a reasonable doubt. Mr. Garcia, I would ask that you stand now; I therefore find you guilty of first degree assault and sentence you to ten months in the Pueblo County Detention Center.”

Duncan had a look of shock on his face. “Questionable witnesses,” he mumbled. His client looked over at him grimacing.

“Don’t worry, we’re gonna appeal this,” Duncan whispered to him.

“The judge didn’t like the fact that one of the witnesses was a prostitute that Garcia hired for the night. She held it against him the whole trial!” Duncan said to Lillian as he undid his tie. She listened from the bathroom.

“Well, you can appeal it right?”

“Oh I’m gonna appeal it, that’s for sure!” He walked over to the dresser and grabbed his glass of scotch and took a drink. The drinks were becoming stiffer and more frequent. Lillian walked in the room.

“Another one?”

Duncan flung his arms in the air. “Yes Lillian, I’m having a drink. It’s been a long day and I’m just trying to relax, ok? Duncan had been sober for seven years. It didn’t mean he didn’t enjoy and drink now and then, but he hadn’t had an “incident” for quite some time. It was always in the back of his wife’s mind, and with anyone who’s an addict, relapse is always a hellish reality.

She looked at him with a sinking look on her face. “I just – don’t want you to get to that place that you were in when you were drinking heavy. . .”

“Christ, what is it with you? You just have to keep bringing up my shortcomings, don’t you? It’s not enough that I have my own law firm. It’s not enough that I buy you this beautiful house that we can’t even fucking afford to live in!” He turned away and took a deep breath, then turned back around and walked towards Lillian, who had tears in her eyes. He put his arms around her. “I’m sorry. I’ve just been under a lot of stress lately and was. . . self-medicating again, which I know isn’t the answer. I love you, and I don’t want you to have to worry.”

June 10th.

With business declining, Duncan had finally caved in. He stood in his office surrounded by a film crew as he began shooting for a commercial. The director was a young, overzealous film school graduate who treated the shoot more like a trailer for the next Expendables movie.

He carefully positioned Duncan, who was holding a sledgehammer, next to his certificates on the wall. “Listen, you’re Duncan the Hammer, so when I yell action, I want you to swing your hammer over your head.” This was totally ridiculous Duncan thought to himself, but he went along with it anyway. “Ok, action!”

He swung the sledgehammer over his head. “I’m Duncan Wickman, but my clients call me the sledgehammer!” Over the years, I’ve helped thousands of people win their cases. That takes experience and aggressiveness!”

“Cut!” the director yelled.

He spoke to a producer off to the side between takes. “I never thought I’d be advertising again.”

The producer cracked a smile. “TV advertising is a no-brainer. After a few weeks, your phone will be ringing off the hook.”

June 29th.

It had been just over two weeks since Duncan’s commercial first aired on TV. He laid a stack of papers on his secretary’s desk.

“So. . . any new clients so far this week? he asked her.

“One today; divorce case. But actually, business seems to have slowed down more.”

Duncan put his head down. “Fuck!” he whispered under his breath. He looked up with a distant look in his eyes. “What’s going on? I went from averaging ten to twelve cases at once, to two all of the sudden. I’ve never had this little of a case load, even when I was starting out.”

His secretary looked up at him. “Maybe I could stand in front of the office, twirling a sign?” she said in her dry, sarcastic tone.

Duncan frowned. “So much for that damn commercial, have you even seen it playing?”

She nodded. “Yes, I already seen it twice today.”

He sighed. “Well, at least I can pay you to do something.”

August 3rd.

Duncan laid wide awake next to Lillian in bed, when he suddenly turned to her. “I was thinking about asking a couple of the guys I play golf with if they could use another attorney in their office.”

“What are you talking about?” she said groggily.

“I can’t afford to keep the firm open, I don’t have the business anymore.”

She removed her sleep mask. “You’ve just had a bad couple of months-“

“Well I can’t afford to have another bad month!” He sighed. “This isn’t something that I want to do. This lifestyle that we’ve become accustomed to. . . I don’t know how much longer we can maintain it.”

After playing a few holes at Saturday’s golf game, Duncan finally managed to open his throat up wide enough to swallow his pride.

“So uh, on a professional note, would any of you guys be interested in a merger of sorts?” Duncan said as the men walked toward the clubhouse.

Dennis Bates tuned around. “Merger?”

Duncan put his head down. “I think I’m gonna end up closing the firm.”

“What?” Dennis said shocked. “Since when did Duncan Wickman ever have to worry about keeping his doors open?”

“Well Dennis, up until about three months ago I guess,” he replied. “Anyway, if any of you could use my services, I’d look at it as a personal favor.” The men all looked around at one another, and there was an empty silence.

Dennis finally spoke up. “I’ll keep you in mind Duncan.”

Then Harry Campbell chimed in. “I just hired two interns.”

“I only hire females,” Tony laughed inappropriately. “No, I’m kidding. I’ll keep you in mind pal.”

Duncan nodded glumly.

September 17th.

Duncan stared longingly at his law degree certificate and thought about the feeling that he got when he won his first case. He pulled a shooter of bourbon from his shirt pocket and took a drink, then threw the empty bottle onto the floor. “You can clean it up you sonsabitches!” he mumbled to himself pitifully. The doors had closed on his practice a few weeks earlier and he packed up the last of his belongings.

Later that afternoon he lugged the packing boxes downstairs at their house, when he heard Lillian’s car pull into the garage.

“Hello!” she called out.

“Down here!” he replied.

Lillian went downstairs and seen Duncan putting away boxes. When he turned and faced her, the smile quickly left her face.

“What’s wrong?” Duncan asked.

“You’re drunk again, aren’t you?”

Duncan tried to hide it, but he couldn’t conceal the smell of whiskey on his breath. “No, why would you think that?” he said, slurring his words.

“Liar!” Lillian said as she darted upstairs.

Duncan threw down the box he was holding and clenched his fist, knowing that he blew it again. The glass beer mug that was packed inside, fell out onto the floor, making a loud thud and rolled next to his foot. He reached down curiously and picked it up. He looked at it, surprised that it didn’t shatter, then threw it back into the box.

“I want you to start going to AA meetings again,” Lillian said after she was sure that Duncan had sobered up.

He turned to her. “Fine! I’ll start back up tomorrow, right after I get out of the unemployment line!” He scowled. “When I asked the guys if they had any openings at their firms, they couldn’t even offer me a position as a janitor,” he said bitterly.

September 23rd.

The following week was turbulent between Duncan and his wife. They barely made eye contact, let alone spoke. Then one day, Duncan came home holding a bouquet of roses.

“I came with a peace treaty,” he said as he smiled and handed them to Lillian. She took them and looked down at the ground tepidly. He gently grabbed her arms and gazed at her.

“Look, we can start over. You, me and Aiden. I got offered a job; it’s a legal assistant, not exactly what I was wanting, but it’s a foot in the door.” Lillian looked up and smiled softly.

“And we can sell this place, it’s too much house for the three of us anyway.”
Her smile wavered. “But I love this house-“

“I do too, but there’s no way we can stay here on my income now.”

She nodded heavy-heartedly.

October 5th.

Duncan and his wife sat in the office of a realtor they had hired to sell their home.

“Ok Mr. and Mrs. Wickman, so I ran the numbers and I have a little bit of troubling news. You folks had your home built a few years back when the housing market was hot. You’ve heard the term a seller’s market right? Well now we’re in a buyer’s market. The feds raised interest rates and now we have more homes for sale than we have buyers. It’s not as bad yet as the crash in 2008, but I think you’re gonna be underwater.”

Duncan looked over at Lillian nervously.

“So you owe a little over eight hundred thousand on your mortgage. After comparing recently sold properties and similar homes on the market, I think a fair asking price would be more like. . . seven hundred and fifteen.”

“Seven hundred and fifteen?” Duncan blurted out. “That’s almost a hundred thousand less than what we owe!”

“I understand that, and you can always ask for more. The problem lies in the bank. Banks don’t typically want to give borrowers more money than what a property appraises for.

“There’s a chance that you’ll have a buyer that brings cash to the table and in that situation you may get your asking price.”

The two looked at each other. “Could you just give us a few minutes to talk things over?” Duncan asked the realtor.

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“Absolutely. I’ll just step into the office next door, and when you’re ready, just come get me.”

Duncan turned to Lillian. “So here’s what I’m thinking. We list the house for what we owe on it, plus his commission. I can just pull from my IRA if we come up short on our payments in the mean time.”

“But that’s our retirement money,” Lillian said worriedly under her breath.

“I know, but I don’t think we have any other options at the moment.”

Duncan got their realtors attention and he stepped back into the room.

“So me and my wife have decided to list our home for the balance on our mortgage, plus your commission, so eight hundred and forty thousand.”

The realtor got a surprised look on his face. “Wow. . . ambitious! Ok, well like I said there’s a chance we might luck out and get a cash buyer, but otherwise-” he nodded, but not in an affirming way, “we just don’t want to scare off any potential buyers if you know what I mean.”

Duncan smiled ambivalently. “I understand and we’re prepared for that.”

On Monday Duncan started his new position at The Razo Law Group. He’d be working under one of the lawyers there and spent the morning getting briefed on his responsibilities.

“So Duncan, I understand that you’re a practicing attorney, so a lot of these tasks may seem a little mundane, but just know I’m happy to have someone of your caliber working for me,” the young man paused, then smiled. “Maybe this could even lead to a promotion for you, who knows?”

Duncan felt small and insignificant at that moment. I was winning cases before this kid even had hair on his balls he thought to himself. He forced a grin. “Thanks, I’m just happy to be part of the team.”

December 20th.

The weeks turned into months, and besides a few lackluster showings, their home still remained on the market.

Duncan walked through the master bathroom with their realtor. “Are you sure you’re showing buyers all the features of this place?” He pointed at the Jacuzzi. “Look at this custom tile work. I mean you just don’t see stuff like this, this place is stunning!”

“It’s very. . . grand. I just think this is one of those places that takes the right person to see it, and unfortunately in Pueblo, we just don’t have the clientele. Now if it were Denver on the other hand, there’s a good chance that it would have already sold.” The realtor paused.

“Duncan, I’m gonna shoot straight with you. It might be time that you and your wife call your bank and look into lowering the price. Neither one of us want to waste our time here.”

That night Duncan filed a hardship letter. He decided that their best option would be to lower the price of their home through a short sale.

“Once this place sells, the bank should forgive the difference,” he said to Lillian as he typed at his laptop. “Our credit score might take a hit, but it’s better than a foreclosure.”

January 8th.

Duncan nervously opened a letter addressed from their bank and read the contents. He threw it on the table and sighed in disgust.

“What’s wrong?” Lillian asked.

There was a long pause. “It’s a deficiency action.”

She had a puzzled look on her face.

“Basically, they want whatever we still owe on the house after it sells.”

Her face twisted with concern. “But what about the hardship letter that you filed?”

Duncan scowled. “They’re blood suckers!” He shook his head. “If you wouldn’t have wanted this damn house, we wouldn’t be in this mess. . .”

Lillian teared up. “That’s not fair.”

Duncan stared at her eerily. “Oh I’ll tell you what’s not fair – watching the business that you built crumble to the ground – or having your retirement fund drained in a matter of months.”
Lillian sobbed. “I just want our future together-“

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Duncan interrupted. “Future, what future? I’m working as an entry-level legal assistant, making grocery store wages. We just lost our house for Christ’s sake Lillian!”

Duncan looked up and saw Aiden watching tearfully from the top of the stairs.

“I can’t do this anymore,” Lillian said as tears streamed down her face. “I want out. . .”

Duncan arrived at work forty five minutes late the following day, stumbling into the office. Tyler, the lawyer he was working for, glanced at his watch, then walked up to him.

“Duncan, is everything alright?”

“I was – just, the traffic was bad.” He was so intoxicated that he could barely complete a sentence.

“Duncan, you can’t be here like this. Joe, could you give me a hand here?” Tyler called out.

“I’m gonna get you home. Amber, take a message for me until I get back,” he told the office secretary. The two helped Duncan to the parking lot and Tyler drove him home.

Duncan came in to work the next morning, but was stopped by the secretary before he could make it to his work station.

“Duncan, I’m sorry but I believe Tyler needs to have a word with you. If you could just have a seat,” she motioned with her head, “in the lobby.”

Tyler showed up a few minutes later. “Come on back Duncan,” he said as he ushered him to his office. He paused for a moment, the sighed. “I can’t have you back here, working for me after what happened yesterday.”

Duncan tried to smooth things over. “Listen, about yesterday. . . I had a really unfortunate set of circumstances arise the day before, but trust me, it won’t happen again.”

“I wish I could, but it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. There’s a chance that if you seek some kind of substance abuse counseling, maybe we could look at rehiring you again in the future.” Tyler gestured with his hands. “Look, whatever’s going on, I’m sorry. There’s help out there though.”

Duncan’s dignity melted into a puddle of goo on the office floor. He stood up and adjusted his tie, trying to maintain whatever composure he had left. “Well, thanks for the opportunity and for giving a shit – or at least pretending to.”

When he got home, Lillian’s car was gone. He stepped inside their house and found a note on the kitchen counter. It read:

“Going to stay with my parents, took Aiden with me. This isn’t the type of environment to raise a child in.”

“Bitch!” he exclaimed, slamming his fist down. In a fit of rage, he drug his hand across the table, sending everything flying onto the floor. A picture frame containing a photo of him and Lillian laid face up and cracked on the ground.

January 26th.

After finally selling their home earlier in the month, Duncan spent the better part of the morning loading his belongings into a moving van. Lillian showed up in the afternoon with her brother to pick up what things she still had left.

“You can have the furniture, I don’t want any reminders of this place,” she said to him.

A little later Duncan sat in the garage, separating his tools and smoking a joint. He flicked the ashes into the glass beer mug that was now sitting on a work bench. Lillian walked up to him with a surprised look.

She gasped. “You’re smoking pot now, really Duncan?”

He glanced up at her, but didn’t respond. He just kept sorting as he casually shifted his eyes back to what he was doing.

“That’s a great example you’re setting for your son!” she said as she shook her head and walked off.

The run-down apartment that Duncan was renting looked like a fun house that was decorated by the Kardashians with his chic, Italian furniture in it. He stood back and looked around after he finished unpacking.

“Looks like law school finally paid off,” he said with a demented laugh. He grabbed his bottle of whiskey off the kitchen counter and took a swig.

“Four!” Dennis Bates yelled as he swung his golf club. He adjusted his glasses as he looked down range. He turned to Harry Campbell. “Who the hell is that?”

Harry squinted. “It looks like Duncan.”

Duncan showed up drunk, carrying his golf clubs and stumbling towards where the men stood. “I know I’m a little bit late, but I was busy consulting with a client. Homicide. Guy offed his wife.” His eyes got big. “Hey, we can all relate right?” he said darkly.

Dennis scowled. “You’re drunk Duncan, and you look like hell!”

“That’s no way to talk to a fellow colleague Dennis,” Duncan replied.

“Duncan, you need to leave,” Tony Spicola said as he grabbed his arm.

“You get the fuck off me!” Duncan exclaimed as he ripped his arm away from Tony’s grip.

He pointed at the men. “Where were any of you when I needed you?” He teared up. “I gave you your start at my firm Tony. Then you go and take clients from behind my back!”

A security guard pulled up in his golf cart. “What seems to be the issue here gentlemen?”

“I’ll tell you what the issue is, this maniac is disrupting our game!” Dennis said. Duncan spit in his direction.

The security guard got out of his cart. “Sir, you need to leave this course right now or I’ll be contacting the police!”

Duncan grinned. “Ok – I’ll go,” he said staggering backwards. He then frowned menacingly. “I’ll go, but I won’t forget how you all turned your backs on me!”

February 15th.

Lillian heard a knock at her parent’s front door. Her mother came up to her room a few moments later.

“Duncan’s outside, he’s asking to see Aiden.”

Aiden came running into the room. “Daddy!”

Lillian crouched down and looked him in the eyes. “Go into the other room and play with your LEGO set ok.”

After he ran out of the room, she turned to her mother. “It’s not good for Aiden to see him like this.”

“Duncan, I’m sorry, but I guess Aiden’s not here right now.”

“I don’t believe that.” He forced his way past her mother. “Lillian! Lillian! I want to see my son!”

Lillian barged out of her room frantically. “You need to leave Duncan, or I’m gonna call the police!”

“I haven’t seen Aiden in weeks, you can’t keep him from me!”

All of the sudden her father came up from the basement aiming a shotgun at Duncan.

“You’re in no condition to see your son. Now I advise you to turn around and walk right back out that door,” he said stone faced, motioning with his shotgun.

Duncan put his hands in the air. “I don’t feel very welcome right now Richard. . . You could have at least offered me a refreshment first.”

Lillian’s brother, who was outside shoveling in the animal pens, overheard the commotion and ran inside. He grabbed Duncan from behind and threw him out of the house. He landed on the ground, then got up and dusted himself off.

“Lillian! You can take my house and my pension, those are all just things – but you can’t take my son, you hear me!” he said flailing his arms in the air. Lillian wept as she watched from her window.

“So on February 15th, Mr. Wickman came to your parent’s residence, forced his way in and was yelling aggressively?”

“That’s correct,” Lillian replied.

The court clerk sighed. “You wouldn’t believe how many women I see like yourself that are dealing with vindictive exes, stalkers, perverts, peeping Toms. . . the list goes on and on,” she said shaking her head. “You made the right decision by getting a restraining order though. It’s a way for us to manage those sickos.”

“Now if he does show up or starts harassing me, what happens then?”

“You call the police and he gets arrested. Violating a restraining order is a class 2 misdemeanor that’s punishable by up to four months in jail.”

Lillian smiled, feeling somewhat relieved.

April 11th.
Duncan walked into the Loaf N Jug to speak to the store manager. A young kid in sneakers with the tongues flared out, looking a little on the sloppy side walked out of the back room.
Duncan extended his hand. “Hello, I’m Duncan Wickman, I’m here for my interview.”

The kid shook his hand and pulled up his pants that were falling off his waist. “Hi, if you just want to follow me to the back, we can get started” he said opening up the half door that led behind the registers. Duncan followed him to a dimly lit office.

The kid turned down his speakers that were blasting music. “I got a few questions that corporate makes me ask. So why are you interested in a career with Loaf N Jug?”

“To be honest you were hiring and you’re about five minutes from my apartment.”

“Fair enough,” the kid responded as he typed at his laptop. He looked closely at his screen.

“It says you use to be an attorney? I gotta ask, why are you applying at a gas station?”

Duncan chuckled and looked down at the floor. “Well, I guess I wasn’t the best attorney, so I wanted to try my luck in the retail trade sector.”

The kid just stared blankly at him. “Ok, well you’re definitely qualified. Actually, probably overqualified. The last thing we need is a UA.”

“You guys UA here?” Duncan said surprised.

“Unfortunately, yes. That won’t be a problem, will it?”

Duncan left the store, feeling disappointed, when he noticed a man panhandling on the street corner. People seemed to be eagerly handing him money.

Duncan pulled up at the stop light, rolled his window down and flagged him over. He approached his car with a smile on his face, surely expecting some money or maybe even a pack of smokes. “Hey – how much money do you make out here doing this?”

“Excuse me brother?”

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“Do the cops ever harass you?”

“What the fuck you mean? You got some change or are you just gonna waste my time?”

Duncan looked down and searched his compartments for change, but all he could find was a stick of gum. “Here you go,” he said.

“What the fuck is this?” The light changed and Duncan began to drive off. The man threw the stick of gum at his car and huffed.

April 20th

Duncan looked out of his window, when he saw a tow truck hooking up to the front of his Mercedes. “No. Nooo!” he yelled as he ran downstairs and into the parking lot. “What are you doing?” he shouted.

The tow truck driver was a large, burly man in suspenders. He looked up as he finished attaching his winch. “You Duncan Wickman?”

Duncan nodded.

“I’m from the repo company, you didn’t make your payments.” He opened his passenger side door and pulled out some paperwork. “I got your order right here. Mercedes Benz C300. It says you’re three months behind.”

“I put that check in the mail last week!” Duncan exclaimed in desperation.

The tow truck driver just hopped in his cab and as he drove away, Duncan watched his reflection get smaller and smaller in the trucks side mirror. He kicked at the ground, then leaned on a light pole. “FUCK!” he screamed.

May 11th

Duncan sat on his couch, holding the glass beer mug. His expensive, Italian leather cushions had now lost some of their shape and were covered in stains and the occasional cigarette burn. He grabbed a terry cloth off the coffee table and began carefully buffing the mug to a shiny finish. The nightly news was on in the background.

“Tonight on News Five, Dean Saunders, a successful dentist and well-known social light, was found not guilty of sexually assaulting several women at his practice.” The news broadcast then cut to a clip of Saunders making a statement. “I just want to first of all thank everyone who believed in my innocence, and secondly say thank you to my attorney, Tony Spicola, who successfully defend me against these reprehensible accusations.”

Duncan frowned and changed the channel. “Suck ass,” he muttered to himself.

Taking the bus to the business district, Duncan was exposed to the gritty underbelly of the city. He sat next to an elderly Hispanic woman. “Do you need to switch seats?” he asked her.
She looked over at him, but didn’t respond.

“Are you getting off soon, do you need to be in the seat next to the aisle?”

“No entiendo,” she said with a confused look on her face.

He stared out the window, watching the scenery fly by, when he could see someone glaring at him from the corner of his eye. He looked over his shoulder and saw a rough looking man in tattered clothing scowling at him. He nervously hid his wallet in his sock and looked away, wishing the bus ride was over already.

He got off at the bus stop and walked into the Walgreens. He went to the first-aid section and took off his backpack, looking around for security cameras. He pretended to be reading labels, as he unzipped his bag. At the moment he was about to steal a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, the store manager rounded the corner. Duncan clumsily fumbled the bottle, causing it, along with several others to fall off the shelf.

“I know what you’re doing, and you need to get the hell outta here before I call the cops!” the manager said excitedly. “I don’t need any more of your kind stealing from here!”

“Sorry,” he whispered shamefully. He stepped over the pile of bottles and walked out of the store.

When he got home, he chugged a bottle of whiskey and rolled up his pant leg, exposing an open wound. He poured the whiskey over his laceration and painfully gritted his teeth from the sting of the alcohol. He then ripped an old t-shirt into a strip that he used as a bandage.
The next morning, Duncan loaded up his backpack with all the personal belongings that would fit inside it. An eviction notice sat on his kitchen countertop. He ventured out into the city carrying a cardboard sign scribbled in marker that read:

HUNGRY AND DESPERATE, ANYTHING HELPS! GOD BLESS.

Seems pretty straight forward he thought to himself as he sat on the curb, resting his back against the stoplight pole. He sat there for several hours as the traffic came and went. When someone would motion to him, he’d hold out his mug and they’d drop in some change or hand him some food or water.

At the end of the day he counted out his money. Nine dollars and fifty two cents. Nine dollars for five hours of panhandling. It was somewhat discouraging, but he was able to buy a sandwich and a shooter of brandy. It helped to warm the bones as the temperature dropped in the evening. He took shelter in an alleyway. A stairwell on the side of the building that he slept next to served as an awning.

The next morning he returned to the same spot, but seen that another man was already begging at the intersection. He continued walking across the street, then sat down next to a building, propping up his sign and placing his mug in front of him.

“Hey! You didn’t see me over there?”

Duncan looked up from resting his head between his knees and saw the man that was standing at the intersection hovering over him.

“I already claimed this spot!”

“Sorry, I don’t know how all this panhandling shit works,” Duncan replied wearily.

The man squinted. “Hey I recognize you. You were the sketchy dude that was asking me all the questions a while back.” He snickered. “You stick out like a sore thumb. What the fuck are you doing out here?”

Duncan sighed. “Probably the same thing you’re doing out here.”

“Can I be real with you? You look like a cocky white boy. Either that or the po po. Either one can get you killed out here.” He looked down at Duncan’s mug. “Nice beer mug. I’ll be taking that as payment for renting you out this space.”

“Excuse me?” Duncan replied.

“What, you don’t understand English now white boy? Well I’ll repeat it in my language. GIVE ME THE MUG BEFORE I KNOCK YOUR FUCKING TEETH OUT!”

“You aint taking my fucking mug!”

The man lunged for it and the two men began to scuffle, eventually falling down in an alley. The man pinned Duncan down and began punching him in the face. Duncan was dazed, but managed to swing his arm, catching the man in the side of his head with the beer mug. He rolled off him and grabbed his head. When he took his hand away, it was covered in blood. Duncan felt a rage erupt inside him. He jumped on top of him and began to bludgeon him, using the mug like a meat mallet.

After several more blows, the man finally stopped struggling and his body went limp. The side of his head was caved in and Duncan was covered in blood. He looked around to see if anyone had seen, then quickly checked the man’s pockets for any money or valuables. He grabbed his feet and drug him next to a dumpster, then with every ounce of energy he had left, heaved his body inside.

He sat down next to the dumpster, out of breath. He wiggled his front tooth, which was lose from the punches he took to the face.

May 23rd

After several weeks of living on the streets, Duncan learned quickly how to defend himself, who to trust and just how long he could stay in a certain spot before attracting the attention of law enforcement.

The fashion district seemed to pay out the best. The rich folks were either some of the stingiest or most generous people you could encounter. He’d go for thirty or forty minutes without getting so much as a window to roll down, then – a five or ten dollar bill would find its way into his beer mug.

One day while sitting in traffic, Lillian noticed a homeless looking man with a cardboard sign walking down the row of cars that sat gridlocked in front of her. She didn’t think anything of it at first, checking her lipstick in the mirror and tending to Aiden, who was playing on his phone. But as the man trudged closer to her vehicle, she noticed him starring inside. When she got a better look, she gasped in shock. It was Duncan. He was thinner, and his hair was long and messy looking. He had a bushy, sandy brown beard that was beginning to gray. He approached her Range Rover with a deranged look on his face and pounded on her window.
Aiden put down his phone and screamed.

“Just be calm baby, everything’s gonna be alright!” Lillian said to him. She tried to ignore Duncan, staring straight in front of her, but this only seemed to further agitate him. He pounded on her hood with both hands as he slowly walked around the vehicle.

Aiden began crying. Lillian hugged him tightly. “Leave us alone!” she screamed hysterically. But Duncan just kept circling her SUV and hitting it. He finally stopped next to her window. He opened his mouth and grabbed his lose tooth, yanking on it with such force that blood splattered onto her windshield.

“What the fuck do you want?” she pleaded.

He grinned as blood ran down the side of his beard, seeming to take pleasure in tormenting her. She honked her horn and looked around frantically. Other cars began to honk their horns too. Finally, she screamed and punched the gas. There was nowhere else to go but up on the median, so she drove over the curb then turned into oncoming traffic.

She continued trying to comfort Aiden, who was still crying, then called the police on her phone.

“Yes, hello this is Lillian Wickman. I have a restraining order on my husband, Duncan Wickman.”

“Ok maam, did Mr. Wickman come to your work or residence?” the operator asked.

“Well no, I was stopped in traffic and he began banging on my vehicle.”

“Ok, was he following you?”

“No, he was walking on the side of the road, I believe he’s homeless.”

“Did he harm you?”

“Not physically, but he scared me and my son very badly.”

The operator paused. “I’m sorry Mrs. Wickman, but unless your husband was stalking you or came to your home, we really can’t do much.”

Lillian got a confused look on her face. “Wait, my husband just attacked my car, traumatizing me and my son, and you can’t do anything about that?”

“I’m sorry, but unfortunately in that situation, our hands are tied.”

Duncan sat outside of the 7-11 rocking back and forth while reading the bible. He looked over at the glass beer mug that sat on the ground next to him, when it suddenly dawned on him. Ever since he was given the mug, his life began a downward spiral. If he was to get rid of it, maybe things would turn around for him. He got up to throw it in the dumpster, when he heard a familiar voice call out to him.

“Duncan – hey is that you?”

He turned around, shielding his eyes from the afternoon sun, when he saw Tony Spicola standing in front of him.

“Here!” Tony tossed a wadded up dollar bill at him. He looked at his girlfriend and laughed, then turned to walk off.

“Wait!” Duncan exclaimed.

Tony turned back around.

“Here, I’d like to give you something too.” He held the beer mug out towards Tony. “Call it a token of my gratitude.”

Tony walked up to Duncan with a puzzled look on his face. “Thanks, I guess,” he said as he took the mug.

A few minutes later, Duncan slipped his backpack over his shoulder as he got ready to leave.
He turned his head suddenly to look towards the sound of screeching tires and crunching metal coming from the street. He walked up to the scene of a head on collision between two cars, one of which looked just like the Audi that Tony drove. Smoke barreled out from under the hood and the horn was stuck on. Duncan got up close, waving away the smoke as he tried to get a better look. It was Tony’s car. He laid slumped over in the driver’s seat. His face was covered in blood. The horn finally cut off, and besides a few screams from nearby pedestrians, there was a harrowing silence. Tony regained consciousness and began coughing up blood. He looked around disoriented, then saw Duncan standing next to his car.
“Help. . . please. . .” His breaths were shallow and weak, and he struggled to get the words out.

“Well Tony, sometimes life throws a curveball at you. Or I guess in my case, a duffle bag full of curve balls.” He giggled psychotically. “I lost everything; my family, my house, my dignity. . . but I was finally able to share that misery with someone else. See, that’s what life’s about Tony, giving back. Sharing. You’ll learn that too one day.”

Duncan tapped on his roof, as to bid him well, then kept walking up the street.

Credit: Bryan Asbury

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