Monday, January 14, 2008

Broken Angel

It was perfect weather for a parade, and on a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon, Main Street was packed with people. The sidewalks on each side of the roped off street were still crowded even though the main parade had just ended. The people were now waiting to see a man.

The man was a famous celebrity, not an actor or a singer, but a businessman. A very wealthy businessman who didn't actually earn his wealth, he stole it, as is the tradition. Reputed to be heartless in business dealings he was personally responsible for thousands of people losing their jobs and homes, at a time when jobs are no longer being replaced with new ones. He ransacked pension funds, spending the money on slickly contrived illegal investment schemes that brought back a thousand times his investment and laundered it to offshore banks. He then filed bankruptcy and thousands lost their entire life savings. He was quite proud of himself.

He gave no thought to destroying lives or families, to the suicides of over wrought hopeless people, to mortgages foreclosing by the tens of thousands, or any of the pain he caused.

This man was unconcerned with any effects his business dealings had on people, he cared only about his profits and success. One of the chief architects and key players in the devastating ricochet of mergers and buy outs of the 80's, he continued to increase his wealth with the advent of outsourcing. Down sizing, streamlining, anywhere there's a corporate buzzword he'll be there.

He's been in too many investment scandals and frauds to count, and has gotten away with all but one of them. There was a token indictment, a trial to appease the outraged masses, and a guilty verdict ordering him to pay $250,000 and spend 15 years behind bars. He did six months in a country club penitentiary where he had every amenity including an office to enable him to continue his wheeling and dealing behind bars. It was hardly a punishment. And while $250,000 sounds like a lot of money, to him it was nothing. He got to keep the rest of the 26 million he'd gained committing the crime.

Through years of privileged access to money and the corporate aristocracy he'd accumulated a personal fortune of nearly ten billion dollars. He has never known a day of his life that was not extremely comfortable. He grew up in great wealth. He is well familiar with it's comforts and denizens, he knows the ropes and the connections. This is his norm and he could never tolerate anything less than the absolute best of everything.

Newspapers lauded his capitalist skills, doting on his contributions to the economy which he so busily and efficiently pillaged. He's a familiar face on the largest corporate news shows, mainstream financial talk shows and even public television. He's a darling of both the establishment and the government who never miss an opportunity to grovel and adore him, as though he were a hero. He is also known to have connections with organized crime.

This man has never done a single thing for the people of this country, in fact he is arrogant and open when expressing his depraved indifference to those he deems beneath him. He feels no inclination whatsoever to "give back to society". He couldn't care less about society. In fact, he believes society owes him everything, and that it is his right to pillage and destroy whoever cannot defend themselves against him.

But he does enjoy the groveling and attention of lesser beings, and that's why he came.

In spite of his well known destruction of the working class, his felony records and cut throat capitalism, crowds gather to see him where ever he goes. He charges exorbitant fees to be a guest speaker, and he stays quite busy doing it. Afterwards people always cue up to excitedly shake his hand and ask for his autograph, grinning at him as if he were a hero.

He is one of the top 100 people directly responsible for the total devastation of this country, but the people worship him. They want to see the rich man, the wealthy man who lies, cheats, defrauds and has stolen his way to over 800 million dollars of personal wealth.

His chauffeur driven black limousine is only minutes away from arriving on Main Street.

At this time the waiting crowd is subdued yet attentive. Many are hoping to be the first to glimpse his limousine when it turns onto the street. Eyes and heads occasionally glance to one end of the street and then the other, then return to their conversations.

It is 3:59 pm as a pleasant, barely noticeable breeze gently brushes over the crowd, then dissipates.

It is just at this moment that another man is beginning to round the south corner of this street. In a matter of seconds he will stumble on to the street, and stop at dead center, where he will be seen by everyone. This man has no idea where he is, nor is he even aware that there is a parade. He is in far too much agony to notice. He needs help.

He had been mercilessly beaten during a night in jail, not for committing any crime, but just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The police had arrived and arrested him without asking questions, and because he is homeless, dirty and hungry they treated him with utter contempt; berating him and trying to beat a confession out of him with various forms of cruelty and torture; some of it painful beyond description. This had gone on for hours. He'd been deprived of clean water and food, and even the use of a toilet. Now he was swollen and bruised and in obvious pain.

Less than five minutes before he'd been released from the jail, unceremoniously booted out onto the street once they'd decided he had not committed the crime, without so much as an apology. He was not offered any assistance by the police. They disdained him and didn't hide that fact.

Bruised and betrayed, starving and violated, he had slowly walked a block from the police station. He was exhausted and in too much pain to go much further. He needed to find a safe place to lie down and sleep, but he was very hungry. He desperately wanted to be in a safe place, to clean up, tend to his wounds and sit down to a decent meal.

Standing in an alley way, in the giant cold shadow of a great gray building he studied his surroundings. He needed to make sure no one was looking. Then, bending down he removed one of his battered shoes. Carefully he felt inside it for a loose flap of fabric near the heel, then opened it and gently pulled out a single tightly folded fifty dollar bill. It was all he had in the world. It was given to him by a kind passerby a month ago, an act so charitable and generous that he couldn't bear to spend it. He thought it could be his lucky charm, a sign that things would soon change for the better. He'd decided to keep it hidden away and promised himself he would not use it unless he was in truly dire straights. This qualified.

His hands shook from hunger as he wrestled the bill from the shredded shoe lining. He was so glad that it was still there that he felt like crying.

He resisted the urge to break down, it wouldn't be seemly for a veteran; because in spite of society's disrespectful treatment of this war vet, he still had his self respect. He did not judge himself by his clothing as they did, and he would not allow his pain and inability to understand his fellow man's attitude toward him, keep him from retaining his dignity. Such as it was.

He now replaced the shoe onto his bare foot with one hand, and holding the fifty dollar bill in the other he glanced down the street looking for someplace to buy food. He could get a cheap hotel room, just for one night, to give himself a soft place to lay down and a single night to begin to heal his battered body. He could actually get some rest if he didn't have to stay awake all night to protect himself. He'd be out of danger in a small room with a locked door and a sturdy brace.

It sounded very good to him, so he headed for just such a place. Hotel Fancy was dirty and run down, and rented by the hour, day or week. It was host to prostitutes and johns, drug addicts and suicides. It was a likely place for the homeless to go whenever they managed to beg enough money to buy a room for a day or two and get a rare, coveted hot bath. With real soap and everything.

His footsteps were slow and shuffling, every move he made hurt. But as he walked he imagined hand washing his clothing in the hotel sink, then being able to have clean clothes again, to wear the next day. Things were looking up, he told himself. After a hot bath his hair would be clean and he wouldn't smell so bad, and that would make it easier to go into a store or restaurant to find some food. He wouldn't get run out so fast. He might actually get something decent to eat.

Lost in thoughts of a real hot meal, he didn't even see who stabbed him. His eyes were fixed in horror on his fifty dollar bill as it was grabbed roughly from his weakened grasp. It slipped through his fragile fingers as the knife blade retracted from his left lung, and back out of his body. Sadness and anger burst forth in a single soundless cry, "No!"...

The feeling of sadness and disappointment literally overwhelmed him as the pain of the knife wound hit, changing his hopeful expression into an open mouthed grimace of desperation and agony. It was almost too much for him to bear. Now he was having serious trouble breathing.

His military training told him he had to get help or he would die, but he was out of the sight of passersby. He did not want to die. More than anything he wanted the chance to keep on living and regain his pride, to be welcomed back by the family that discarded him after the war, to prove his worth and be loved, to have a normal life again. It was what he wanted more than anything else in the world. If he couldn't make himself seen, he would die where he lay.

With all of his strength he struggled to his knees, and then to his feet, leaning on his outstretched arm, his shaking hand flat against the building. Then turning, he grimaced with pain, and saw he was only a few feet from the corner; the corner of Main Street. Someone would surely see him from there.

He went for it. The blood loss made his already weakened condition all the more fragile and his head spun as he staggered for the brightly lit patch of sidewalk ahead. He had to make it. He just had to.

On Main Street, the crowd was beginning to grow restless. A chorus of chattering voices echoed between store fronts as the sunlight began to dim. The clock on the bank tower chimed the hour, it was 4pm, precisely. It was at this exact moment that he stumbled around the corner and out into the middle of the street. A street lined with expectant parade goers; people who were waiting to meet one of the richest men in the world.

All eyes turned to him immediately. The hum of voices was punctuated by whispers and gasps and a few pointing gestures. He felt himself losing consciousness, and as he fell to his knees, he looked out at the faces, which were no more than a blur, and he whispered, "Help me .... Please ... ". He fell face forward onto the dark pavement, then lost consciousness. He was so afraid he was going to die.

It was now that the crowd could finally see his blood soaked back. But no one in the crowd made a move to help. They were too appalled, too concerned that their involvement would prove to be an inconvenience, and he was too disgusting. His face had barely hit the pavement when at the other end of the street the very wealthy man came round the corner in his chauffeur driven open top limousine. It gleamed in the dappled sunlight.

His gorgeous tailored Italian suit was made of a soft, silky deep blue material that shimmered each time he moved. His perfectly shaped padded shoulders and the perfect all over fit of this expensive handmade garb made a stunning and strong first impression. The blue of his eyes matched the blue of his tie which had tiny golden stars woven throughout in a sprinkle pattern, and they were made of 24 karat gold.

His gold watch glittered out from under his shirt sleeve as he raised his right arm to greet the crowd while flashing a perfect white smile, which was just as fake as his thick brown colored hair. The limo slowed to a full stop, and he stood and raised his other arm in the air making a "V" shape. V for victory, the name of his latest book. He looked fabulous, quite impressive, and very wealthy.

The marching band began to play and he just stood there like that, smiling, receiving hand thrown hailstorms of colorful confetti from the crowd. The people on both sides of the street went wild, cheering and applauding him. Many began to rush toward his car, surrounding it and calling out his name. There was much excitement and fuss as the music blared, and it beat out the perfect rhythm to match the crowd's exuberance. The once calm street had now become a celebratory circus of idol worship.

A pretty young woman leaned into the car to hand the rich man a pen, then excitedly asked him to sign her copy of his book. As the man complied with exaggerated gestures, much to her giggling delight, at the other end of the street, the cold, hungry, beaten and stabbed veteran died in the street, alone.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:03 PM

    Good story. Let us see more.