Thursday, 23 April 2015

Short Story - Bad Gone Good

Bad Gone Good
Original Image: Flickr | Troublemakers Inc.(Text added)
A while ago I entered a short story contest for The Toronto Star. Today the winners were announced and unfortunately I was not one of them.

While I might not have won the contest, I can at least publish the short 2,500 word story I wrote here.

The story is about a man who, try as he might, cannot commit a proper crime to save his life.

Please enjoy, BAD GONE GOOD:

prison; that’s where Jeff Meyer wanted to be two weeks after the divorce. Not locked up behind bars with all the murderers and true convicts, just somewhere local with minimum security. Apparently those places were run sort of like a one-star country club. From what Jeff had read online, inmates even had their own dorm rooms and access to classes like wood carving and computer studies.
It didn’t sound perfect but it sounded a lot better than being homeless, which was exactly where Jeff was headed considering he was jobless and his bank account was dangerously close to zero. Jeff’s friends had always warned him that Nancy was a gold digger and it turned out that they had been correct. She had dug him straight into a pit of poverty. The most pathetic part was that he still missed her. How on Earth had Nancy managed to secure alimony on top of getting the house and car? Especially considering that she was the one who had cheated.
The system was truly corrupt. Knowing that though made it possible to understand that the system could also be bent and twisted like a wet sponge to work in his favour.
Jeff’s plan was simple; commit just enough crime to be locked up, not behind bars, but behind a wooden door in a cozy dorm room. That way the rent and food all came out of the Canadian government’s pockets and not his own.
On top of the divorce, nearly three months of fruitless job searching, and celebrating his thirty-third birthday alone made life pretty miserable. This was the best idea Jeff felt he had come up with in a long time. The sheer idea of committing a crime made Jeff feel alive in a way he hadn’t felt in ages. In a way, he felt a little bit like he was Walter White from Breaking Bad.
With that to motivate him, Jeff left his rented single-bedroom apartment with a big smile and headed downtown, expecting a day quite unlike any he had lived through before. He didn’t have the slightest inkling just how right he would be about that.
The plan was simple. He would pull a fire alarm in Toronto City Hall. He had never pulled a fire alarm before and had always wanted to. Maybe it was the type of thing that every kid wanted to do growing up, but how many ever really got the chance? Fire alarms were like the big red buttons in any action movie, and every kid, heck, probably every adult secretly wanted to pull one at least once. This was like a dream come true. A small dream perhaps, but a dream nevertheless.
At fifteen minutes past nine, Jeff Meyer walked through Nathan Phillips Square towards Toronto City Hall, scarcely able to contain a grin that wanted to consume his entire face.
Careful Jeff, careful, he thought as he nervously approached the front doors of the small building between the large curved towers that made up Toronto City Hall. He wore a ragged white t-shirt and jeans with a hole above the left knee. It was probably best to already look like someone who was deliberately out to cause trouble.
Stylish men and women hurried past Jeff and pushed their way inside. The curved buildings loomed over him like titans, watching and judging his every move. Jeff took a deep breath and then confidently strode through the glass doors, following an important looking man who was yelling at someone on his smartphone.
A few people glanced at Jeff as they hurried past, but no one paid him any real attention. That was good. In the centre of the room there was a large white rotunda. A glass display case flanked by two flags stood at its base upon a blue carpet. Jeff walked along the marble floor and past the centre, keeping an eye on the walls for a fire alarm to pull. He found one soon enough near a bathroom. Breathing quickly and sweating profusely he leaned against the wall and began to count down from ten.
“Ten… nine… eight…” None of the dozens of busy people passing through paid much attention to the man who was about to evacuate the building. “Three… two… one…”
Jeff wrapped his fist around the alarm’s handle and yanked hard. Alarms immediately screeched as loudly as music at a nightclub, and people glanced around, mostly looking confused. Minutes later sirens blared from outside Toronto City Hall, and a police officer escorted Jeff from the building after multiple people had pointed in his direction, giving him up as the alarm-sounder. Once they were in an area quiet enough to talk, the young officer spun around and addressed Jeff.
“Sir, several people indicated you are the one responsible for sounding the fire alarm a few minutes ago. Is this true?”
“It is, officer. I take full responsibility for what I’ve done,” said Jeff, holding his arms up in front of him, with full anticipation of being handcuffed.
To Jeff’s surprise, the officer grasped his hand and shook. “Then on behalf of the Toronto Police Department I would like to personally thank you. I don’t know how you noticed the gas leak so early but we’re glad you did. You saved a lot of lives today.”
The officer let go and then walked over to talk to his team near their squad car. Jeff’s mouth was hanging open in disbelief.
“You have got to be pulling my leg,” he said.
Out of all the rotten luck, how could there have been an actual gas leak inside Toronto City Hall on the day he had decided to pull a fire alarm. Before Jeff even had a chance to escape, a journalist and camera crew fell upon him. By the time he finally got away it was nearly eleven.
That evening Jeff’s face was plastered all over the news and he was branded as a local hero and celebrity, which wasn’t exactly a good way to land himself a spot in prison. Jeff was watching from an old recliner in his apartment, nursing a dying bottle of Bud Light. As soon as the segment about the gas leak ended, his phone rang.
“Jeff? Oh my gosh, I just saw the news. Are you okay?”
It took Jeff a moment to pinpoint the voice in his tipsy state. “Nancy?”
“Of course it is. What on Earth were you doing at City Hall today? I can’t believe you saved all those people.”
Jeff smiled. His chest glowed with an unexpected sense of pride. “Yeah, I guess I did. I’m a hero.”
He went to sleep feeling slightly better about himself, but one phone call of praise from his ex-wife wasn’t enough to change the reality of his financial situation. Tomorrow he would put stage two of his plan into motion. Aggravated assault without a weapon; it was surely a guaranteed way to land himself a cozy spot in low security.
Early afternoon on Tuesday Jeff nervously strolled the downtown streets. He wore the same ragged jeans as yesterday and scoped out pedestrians for a suitable target. Jeff wasn’t a violent man. In fact, he was quite scrawny. However, he had taken karate classes when he was younger and at least had a basic idea of how to fight. The trick would be to pick a target who looked defenseless but also strong enough to not get seriously injured. Finding someone in their twenties, thirties or early forties seemed ideal.
It was almost 1:30 on the dot when Jeff made his decision. Sitting on a bench outside the Roger’s Centre was a white collared business man who looked to be around the same age as Jeff. The man had a briefcase on his lap and was glancing around as if he was waiting for someone. Across the street was a parked patrol car. It looked like the prison gods were smiling on Jeff today.
As Jeff approached, he was extremely aware of how hard his heart was pounding. Adrenaline surged with the knowledge of what he was about to do and he was drawing short rapid breaths like he had just finished running a hundred metre sprint.
“Hey, buddy,” Jeff said to the businessman as he came within talking distance.
The businessman spun his head and before he had a chance to react, Jeff snatched the briefcase out of the man’s lap.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing? Give that back!”
Jeff held it out of the man’s reach. “Want it? Come get it then.”
The businessman nervously glanced towards the patrol car and then stood up. Jeff charged at the man and pushed him over, which caused both of them to topple over backwards.
“Stop what you’re doing!” a voice in the distance shouted; probably the officer.
The businessman lunged for his briefcase and Jeff threw it backwards. It opened mid-air and bags full of white powder flew out and scattered across the ground in all directions.
“Wait… what?” Jeff said, turning and staring in stunned disbelief as the massive assortment of drugs flopped onto the pavement.
Using Jeff’s distraction to his advantage, the drug dealer struck Jeff hard in the face. Jeff cried out in pain and rolled off of his target. Moments later the drug dealer was struggling as an officer put him in handcuffs, while Jeff accepted a cold water bottle from a cute brunette and pressed it up against his face where he had been hit.
“Aren’t you that guy who was on the news yesterday for saving City Hall?” the brunette asked. “That was amazing! Can I have your number?”
That evening, Jeff hardly knew whether to laugh or fume. He had never done a heroic thing in his life and now for two days in a row he had made the news. Once as a local hero who saved City Hall and then the next day as a vigilante who had assisted the police in a major drug bust. Nancy called again after watching the news that evening.
“Were you just hiding this side of you while we were married?”
“Maybe I was,” Jeff replied, definitely feeling in higher spirits, with his mind on the brunette who had asked for his number.
Although his life was looking slightly better with a new hope for romance, it didn’t change the fact that he would soon be homeless. There was still one failsafe option Jeff had in mind to get arrested; grand theft auto. Stealing a car was stealing a car. That was a crime regardless of what anyone thought. Much like pulling a fire alarm, he had occasionally wondered how it might feel to steal a car, but never dreamed pulling it off was something that he would ever actually attempt.
Wednesday morning Jeff decided that this would be his last shot. If he couldn’t get arrested after stealing a car then there truly was no hope for him. This time Jeff was determined to get caught. In order to deal the criminal cards in his favour he elected to steal a vehicle near Jane & Finch, an area of Toronto that was infamous for its higher crime rates. It didn’t take him long to find what he was looking for. Parked in a plaza just outside a Bank of Montreal was a black Honda Civic with its passenger and driver doors wide open, and no one inside. To make this theft even easier, the engine was already running. This was extremely convenient because Jeff just realized he had no idea how to hotwire a car, which was sort of a major flaw in his plan.
Two days ago Jeff would probably have been too scared to actually go through with this crime, but after the fire alarm and the assault this was merely like climbing the next rung on his ladder of villainy. With a purposeful stride, Jeff entered through the driver’s side, and then reached over and slammed the passenger door shut. He floored the peddle and grinned an almighty smirk as the vehicle sped off through the plaza.
“YES!” he screamed, elated after finally committing the perfect crime.
Police sirens were already blaring and getting louder; they were like a crescendo as they approached from Finch and turned directly into the parking lot. Jeff’s heart pounded like the bass drum at a rock concert now, and he slammed on the brakes as three squad cars approached… and sped right past him.
With open mouthed disbelief, Jeff turned and looked through the back window.
“What the heck?”
The cars stopped in front of the bank and six officers got out. Five of them crouched behind their cars and pointed their guns towards the building. The sixth officer, a black woman, pulled out a loudspeaker.
“Put down your weapons and come out with your hands behind your heads! We have you surrounded!”
That was when it dawned on Jeff why the Honda Civic’s doors had been open and the engine had been running. He had just stolen the getaway vehicle to an armed bank robbery.
Jeff Meyer, prison inmate wannabe and thrice local hero. He was asked by the Toronto Police Department to interview for a job on the force. Lucianne, the girl who had wanted his number called and asked him on a dinner date. Friday morning Jeff was presented with an award by the mayor for outstanding civic duty, and was also gifted with a cheque for $25,000. After the ceremony ended, Jeff received his final surprise as he departed Nathan Phillips Square and prepared to return home. A gentle hand grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around.
“Jeff, you were amazing! I’m so glad I found you. I had to fight my way through the crowd to get to you.”
“Nancy, what are you doing here?”
Nancy grabbed Jeff’s hands and cupped them in her own. “I want to give us another chance.”
Jeff’s face flushed. Here was Nancy, the woman who he had fallen in love with, who had cheated on him, broken his heart, and taken nearly everything he owned, saying she wanted him back. Sadly enough, one week ago he would have done so unquestioningly. But he was alive now. Her sudden desire to rekindle their romance was questionable at best and downright suspicious at the worst.
“And why would I want to do that?”
“Jeff, honey,” said Nancy as she let go of his hands and wrapped her arms around his waist. “Don’t you still love me?”
Jeff gently lowered Nancy’s arms and pulled away. Nancy’s face contorted; it was as if she wasn’t sure how to react upon not getting what she wanted.
“Dear, for the last three days absolutely nothing has gone the way I wanted. Perhaps for the first time ever, I am taking control.”

Jeff grinned and walked away. After all, he had $25,000 and a date.