What follows is a special The Wayfarers | Walking Dreams prologue that is a free read not included in the book. This is in essence the beginning of the beginning of the story. I hope you enjoy it, and God bless you – Jim Yackel.
It was supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year – but not so in the household of Martin Raichlin. Marty hadn’t had been able to find a “real job” in the two years since Gregg’s Pharmacy, where he worked shipping and receiving and as a stock clerk, finally went belly-up after forty years of serving the east side of Syracuse. The Gregg’s could no longer compete with Rite-Aid, CVS, K-Mart, and Wegmans; and the amalgamated jackboot of those corporate giants stepped on and squashed another small, family-run business out of existence.
Martin’s unemployment benefits had expired and he did his part to support his wife Molly and their seven year old son Elijah by picking up the occasional odd job cleaning, mowing lawns, or shoveling snow. The odd jobs were becoming fewer and farther between, so the family had to rely on Molly’s salary as a baker, cashier, and server at the DeWitt Bagelry. By the grace of God, the family was able to scrape together rent each month for their two-bedroom upper apartment on Thompson Road, kitty-corner from the Shoppingtown Mall. Likewise, and however barely, they kept gas in their white and lightly rusted 1998 Chevy Lumina that needed a new muffler, tires, and a tune-up. They ate with the help of a New York State food benefits card, but because the benefit was only $300.00 a month the menu had to be low cost and was not always high on nutrition and low on fat.
It looked as though the Christmas of 2009 would be bereft of gifts for the Raichlins, as after the living expenses were met there was little left for anything else this December. Young Elijah had learned at the tender age of five that there was no Santa Clause and that mom and dad had to pay for whatever Christmas gifts would be found under the tree. With this knowledge, he kept his gift list short and it contained only one item – a blue New York Giants t-shirt that he had spied at the Sears store in Shoppingtown Mall. Elijah and his dad were devoted Giants fans, and the shirt in question bore the likeness of Eli Manning – the boy’s favorite player – silkscreened on the front with his arm cocked to deliver a pass. “Eli” is of course short for “Elijah” and that is what drew the boy to be a fan of the quarterback who had to play in the shadow of his All-World older brother Peyton who tossed multitudes of touchdown passes for the Indianapolis Colts.
Elijah was home from school this afternoon, serving the third and final day of a suspension for fighting. The second grader was being routinely bullied by two third grade boys in the cafeteria and as well during recess. Elijah was a small, slight boy; this genetic inclination coming from his dad, who stood at 5’5” and weighed only 140 pounds. The two third graders were big boys who enjoyed hassling and harassing the small Elijah because of his diminutive size and easygoing temperament. The fact that Elijah was a world-wise and book-smart boy further infuriated the third grade bullies. The seven year old’s high cheekbones, piercing blue eyes; smooth facial skin and handsome facial features would inspire the bullies to call him the slang word that was also used to describe a female dog.
It was a Wednesday, less than two weeks before Christmas that Elijah sat home looking through the 2009 Giants media guide that his grandfather had given him. That prior Friday was the day that he reached his fill of being bullied by the larger third graders, one named Billy and the other Juan. When Billy grabbed the fish sandwich off of Elijah’s tray at lunch and began to eat it with an exaggerated “mmm” while smacking his lips (the boy’s mother had never taught him table manners. The boy’s dad was usually drunk or cursing at him – if he wasn’t at work as a guard at the Auburn Correctional Facility) Elijah’s repressed fury exploded. Indeed, this bullying had been going on since September, and despite the complaints of Molly and Martin, Mrs. Lester the school principle would do nothing to intercede.
While Elijah was slight, his small right fist was like a mini jackhammer as it collided with Billy’s nose. Blood splattered from the busted proboscis as the bigger third grader’s eyes rolled up into his head as he staggered backward, his mouth still full of fish and bun. Strangely enough, the remainder of the sandwich was still clutched in his right hand.
Juan stood stunned as all chatter ceased in the cafeteria. After several slow motion seconds passed, Juan whimpered “why did you do that, Elijah? He was just kidding, dude.” As a blue-haired cafeteria aid ran toward the scene, Billy lay on the floor between two round tables in a fetal position, crying “I want my dad! I want my dad! I’m dying! I’m bleeding to death! ” It was then that another third grader who sat at one of the round tables said “Billy, your dad is a drunken loser.” After this inappropriate comment, Billy began to moan and cry harder as he struggled but eventually regained his feet. Juan, the partner in bullying, had retaken his seat at one of the round white-topped tables and sat silent and wide-eyed.
“Dad, you’re not mad because I lost three days of school, are you?” Elijah asked his father as the financially struggling man was opening the door to head out of the apartment. “No, son, I don’t like violence, but you did what you had to do” was Martin’s response, attempting to appear stern and deadpan but in fact secretly delighted that his son had stood up for himself after the school had shown no interest in stopping the bullying. You see, Martin too was bullied as a young boy, because of his small size and social awkwardness.
“Your mom is taking a nap because she has to work tonight. I’m going over to the mall to do some Christmas shopping. If you need mom, just wake her up” Martin said to Elijah as he went through the door and into the apartment building’s hallway; seemingly preoccupied if not overly concerned.
Sears was one of Shoppingtown’s anchor stores; it being on the lower level of the west side of the mall, facing Kinnie Road as well as Erie Boulevard East. Martin was on the escalator, headed toward the boy’s clothing department, where a display of a particular style of New York Giants t-shirt was on sale for $15.99 each.
Martin had $2.33 in his checking account and two One Dollar bills in his wallet. He loved his son dearly and wanted him to have a Merry Christmas. The Eli Manning Giants shirt would make this Christmas special, but Martin was nearly broke. What could he do? How could he not have a Christmas gift for Elijah this year? What distress the man was suffering through as his stomach did flip-flops, his heart raced, and dizzying anxiety overtook him.
Twenty-three year old Kyle McCrone sat in the Sears Loss Prevention office, watching the feeds from the security cameras placed around the store. The television monitors before him provided views from all over the store and from the mall parking lot and parking garage as well. The feeds that were of most interest to McCrone were those of the checkout areas where the cute high school aged girls cashiered. It had been three days since he had made a bust and the 6’4” 240 pound cop-wannabe was aching for some action. When he saw Martin Raichlin’s head darting form side to side while a Giants t-shirt was being pushed up through the bottom of his black leather jacket, the Loss Prevention Manager yelled “yesss!!!!” as he burst from his chair and headed toward the office door while radioing to his assistant named Jules “we’ve got a live one in the boy’s department. He shoved a bunch of t-shirts up under his jacket. Go wait by the second floor mall entrance and we’ll nail ‘em!”
Jules radioed back seconds later “I see him. His jacket isn’t puffy, so maybe he has one item, but a bunch? I don’t think so.”
Martin’s conscience made him do the right thing. As badly as he wanted to give the Giants t-shirt to his son as a Christmas gift, he could not steal it. He had never stolen a thing in his life. He pulled the shirt out of his jacket, placed it back on the display table, and began walking toward the second floor mall entrance.
As Martin passed though the security alarm gates they did not sound as no stolen merchandise was on his person. That did not prevent Jules from yelling “sir, hold it right there please” – nor did it stop Kyle McCrone from diving on and tackling a confused and bewildered Martin Raichlin.
Martin’s forehead hit the mall floor hard and as he struggled to maintain consciousness he could hear McCrone bark “where the hell are the shirts you took? I got you on camera takin’ them!”
“I didn’t steal anything. You can search me!” a suddenly fully-lucid Martin anxiously replied as McCrone dragged him to his feet by grabbing the leather jacket’s collar. There was a considerable size difference between Kyle McCrone and Martin Raichlin, and the gung-ho yet inept Loss Prevention Manager used this to his advantage.
After being strip-searched in the Sears Loss Prevention office, it was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that Martin had no stolen merchandise on his person. He explained to Kyle McCrone and to DeWitt Police officer Diane Dawson that yes, he had placed the shirt under his jacket but was then convicted in his spirit not to take it; whereby placing it back on the display. McCrone so badly wanted the bonus pay of catching a petit larcenist this day, but ultimately, no crime was committed. Martin had explained his life’s struggles and his son’s one-item wish list to both McCrone and Officer Dawson, and he was convinced that he could see the cop’s eyes welling up as McCrone was seething and pacing with his fists clenched, muttering expletives under his breath. While the Loss Prevention Manager looked the part of a policeman with his high and tight haircut and thin moustache, he in fact lacked the maturity, composure and the wisdom to even get through a police academy. Certainly, he would never make it on the streets.
Still, because of the fact that he did briefly have concealed merchandise under his jacket, Martin Raichlin was barred from ever entering that Sears store again. Officer Dawson escorted Martin from the store, and once leaving the lower level and entering the parking lot, she said “Mr. Raichlin, before you go, take this Twenty Dollar bill up to J.C. Penny, where they have the same t-shirts for $14.99. Buy one for your son and make his Christmas merry. Remember, I didn’t slip you this twenty, got it? And, you had better not let me catch you in this Sears store again!”
As twenty-seven year old DeWitt police officer Diane Dawson stood next to her cruiser, she remembered her father and how he struggled to provide good Christmases for her and younger sister Erika after their mom died 15 years ago. It was those thoughts and memories of her now departed father that again encouraged her to tear up. Indeed, it was a major challenge for her dad after he went out on disability from being seriously injured while working construction. He was lovingly dedicated to raising two girls who were about to be teenagers without his wife’s Godly patience, kindness, and loving care. Money was tight and there were several years where nothing but hardwood floor waited under the tree on Christmas morning.
As a man exited the mall and headed toward the parking garage for his green Ford Focus – planning to drive to see his child – he wondered what had happened that would cause an attractive young police officer to cry while on duty.
For the whole story, read The Wayfarers | Walking Dreams which is the prequel to The Wayfarers | Five Feet From the Cabin Door, both available in Kindle download and soft-cover book through Amazon.com at this link.