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A homeless man is inspired by the determination of a disabled girl
“Hold it ladies.” The NYPD patrolman stepped out in front of the two girls.
“W-what’s wrong, Officer?”
He tilted his head to the right and spoke into his shoulder mic, “Hey, Penelope. This is 714. What’s the description on the two female juvies?”
The girls heard the dispatcher’s voice on the officer’s speaker, “Number one; Caucasian, approx four-foot-nine, brown hair, vermillion blouse, blue jeans.” A block of static came from the speaker, sounding like a strangled chicken.
The officer clicked his mic. “Vermillion?”
The first girl glanced down at her clothing, and then shot a look at her friend.
“Number two;” the dispatcher said, “African American, four-foot-eight, shoulder-length locks, chartreuse top. That’s green to you, and pinkish pants.”
“I got ’em,” the officer said into his mic.
“No wants on the AA. Bring in the white girl.”
“Rodger that, Penelope.”
His beard was bushy and unkempt. Shaggy dark hair curled from under a black stocking cap. In his threadbare raincoat, he could pass for a man of sixty, but his age was less than half that. His coat had been a rich tan before the previous owner threw it away. Now it was a faded snuff-color with splotches and stains of uncertain origin. Most of the buttons were gone and the cuffs tatty.
When he found an old copy of the New York Times, he shook off a soggy cigar butt and opened the paper, glancing through the pages. “Ah, good,” he murmured when he found what he looked for. “The crossword puzzle is only half finished.”
At that moment, a garbage truck rattled to the curb beside him and wheezed to a stop. A squirrely little man in a baggy blue uniform jumped off the rear bumper to grab the trash container. But the man didn’t dump the can into the back of the garbage truck; he just stood there, gripping the can with both hands.
Cameron glanced at the garbage man and noticed his head had a strange shape; pointed on the top and wide at the back of his jaws, reminding Cameron of a wedge with a few sprigs of rusty-red hair.
When the man continued to stand there, holding the trash can, Cameron decided he must be waiting for him to throw his newspaper away. “No.” Cameron stepped away from the can. “I’m not finished with—” He was interrupted by a loud clanging noise coming form an alarm box on the front of the bank building. He jerked his head toward the bank where a man in a black ski mask burst through the front door and ran toward him. The man carried a large bag; like an overstuffed pillowcase.
Cameron was dumbfounded. Here was a man who had obviously just robbed the bank, running directly toward him. He wore a raincoat similar to Cameron’s and he waved a silver pistol, scattering pedestrians in all directions. But not Cameron; he was rooted to the spot, mesmerized by the event unfolding before him. He could do nothing but stare at the sprinting robber. A quick motion caught his eye and glanced to his left to see the garbage man turn and hurry behind the truck with the trashcan.
The robber blindsided Cameron like a linebacker heading for the goal line, knocking him into the idling garbage truck, and then he fell to the gutter. By the time Cameron scrambled to his feet the robber had disappeared around the back of the truck.
A shout came from a huge armed guard who stumbled from the bank and turned toward Cameron. From deep inside the bowels of the garbage truck, the hydraulics squealed and then the empty trash can hit the sidewalk behind him. Cameron jumped at the sharp noise that sounded very much like a pistol shot. He turned to see the uniformed trash man glance up and down the street. The man said something in a whisper and a well-dressed stockbroker came from behind the truck. He adjusted his suit jacket and straightened his long blond hair as he stepped onto the sidewalk beside the garbage man.
“Stop…” The sweating bank guard gasped for a breath. “Stop that man!”
Cameron turned to see if he should try to grab someone. But before he could take a step, the trash man and the stockbroker shoved him to the cement. One of them pushed a knee into his back while the other twisted his arm sideways.
“What the heck are you doing?” Cameron yelled, craning his neck to see the two men.
“Hold him, boys.” The bank guard puffed to a stop. He braced a hand on his knee, trying to catch his breath while pointing his revolver at Cameron. “He just robbed the bank.” The guard knelt and pressed the gun to Cameron’s temple.
“You got the wrong—” Cameron began.
“We saw him, Sir,” the trash man said.
“Yeah,” the stockbroker said. “He ran this way form the bank.”
“I wasn’t running anywhere—”
“Shut up, you mangy crack-head.” The guard pulled a set of handcuffs from the back of his belt. “Cuff him for me, boys. You’ll probably get a fat reward for this one.”
A squad car skidded to a stop on the opposite side of the truck, and as the siren whined down, two cops pushed through the growing crowd of onlookers.
“We got the perp, officers.” The bank guard struggled to his feet. “He didn’t even run half a block before we caught him.”
“All right,” the first cop said, glancing down at Cameron. “Whose cuffs are those?”
“Mine,” said the guard.
“Take them off. They wouldn’t hold a kitten for five minutes.”
“Henry,” Sergeant Finnegan said. “Stop playing with your cell phone and put the cuffs on this guy.”
“Yes, Sir.” Corporal Henry clicked one more photo and then put his phone away. He snapped a pair of heavy-duty NYPD cuffs on Cameron’s wrists while the stockbroker and the trash man held his arms firmly behind his back.
Sergeant Finnegan grabbed Cameron by the biceps and hauled him to his feet while Officer Henry patted him down.
“He’s clean, Sarge,” Henry said.
The sergeant turned to the guard. “How much did he get?”
“I don’t know. You’ll have to ask the teller after she gets cleaned up.”
“What? Did he shoot her?” The cop yanked Cameron’s stocking cap off and unrolled it. He shoved his fingers through the eyeholes. There was also an opening for the mouth, just like a ski mask.
“Nah, she pee—” The guard glanced at the gathered crowd. “Ah, I mean, she had a slight, um…” He leaned closer. “A slight mishap.”
“Oh, okay. Never mind. We’ll check with the bank manager. Henry, put this jerk in the back of the squad car.”
“Should I read him his rights, Sergeant Finnegan?” Officer Henry took Cameron by the arm.
“Yeah, sure, knock yourself out.”
Corporal Henry stopped when another man, wearing the same type of blue uniform as the garbage man, came from the truck’s cab. His lopsided nose and cauliflower ear reminded Cameron of a boxer who had taken too many punches to the head.
“Hey, Officer,” said the truck driver. “You wanna move your cherry top? I gotta get back on my rounds.”
Sergeant Finnegan scanned the crowd and then glanced toward the bank. He stared at the garbage truck for a moment. “I guess that’s all right since we got him. Henry, after you Mirandize this guy, lock him in the back seat of the squad and when the garbage truck pulls out, park here by the curb. I’m going inside the bank.”
A few minutes later, from the back seat of the squad car, Cameron watched the wedge-head garbage man in the baggy uniform step onto the back bumper of the departing garbage truck. He smiled at Cameron and touched two fingers to his forehead. The stockbroker was nowhere in sight.
“Hey, Henry,” Cameron said.
Corporal Henry turned in the driver’s seat to look through the wire mesh at Cameron. “What?”
“Don’t you realize I don’t have the gun or the money?”
“Hang on a sec.” Officer Henry checked his shirt pocket for something. “Ah, here it is.” He read from the card, “You have the right to remain silent…”
Wickersham glared at him for a moment. “Where’s the money, St. Lawrence?”
“Henry the cop said I had the right to remain silent.”
Wickersham’s bushy eyebrows were quite mobile, shooting up and arching like a pair of bat wings. “What’d you do with the gun?”
“Look,” Cameron said, leaning his elbows on the metal table. “I didn’t have a gun. I didn’t rob the bank so I didn’t have the money either.”
“A dozen people saw you running from the bank with a bag of money and flashing a pistol.” The eyebrows flattened out, hooding his dark eyes.
“They saw a guy who looked like me running from the bank. The bank robber ran into me, knocked me down, and then ran behind the garbage truck. What did your witnesses say about that?”
“They saw you fall down and then two guys jumped on top of you.”
“So, what did I do, eat the gun and the money?”
“You must have handed them off to an accomplice.”
“How could I do that with two guys on top of me?”
“That’s what I’m asking you.”
“What did the garbage man and and the stockbroker say?”
“The two guys who jumped me.”
“Oh, they were gone by the time I arrived at the scene.”
Cameron leaned back and folded his arms over his chest. “Well, they’re the ones you’ve got to talk to. They must have seen something. Without the gun and the money, I don’t see how you can pin this on me.”
“We got one witness who can nail you for sure.”
“Who?” Cameron leaned forward.
“The bank teller you scared half to death.”
“Is this the man who robbed the bank, Miss Miller?” the detective asked, sliding a mug shot across the table.
She glanced at the photo. “Not unless he grew a beard and popped in blue contacts after he ran out the door.” Miss Miller, the bank teller, was about nineteen and rather plump. She chewed gum and toyed with a brunette ringlet dangling over her ear.
“I thought you said he wore a ski mask.”
“He did, but I could see his mouth, upper lip, and nose through the mouth-hole, and he had dark brown eyes, almost black.”
The big eyebrows knitted together as Detective Wickersham leaned forward. “How do you know he didn’t have a beard under that mask?”
“He might have, but his upper lip was definitely clean-shaven. This guy in the photo has a full beard and a mustache, unless it’s fake.” She glanced from the mug shot to the detective.
The detective shook his head.
“And his eyes were dark.” She picked up the photo. “I’ll never forget those eyes. He looked at me like a cold-blooded snake. I thought sure he would shoot me.” She tapped the photo with a crimson fingernail. “This guy has ice-blue eyes. He might be rather good-looking under all that hair. ”
One of the detective’s eyebrows edged up as the other came down. “Yeah, right.” He took the mug shot and slipped it into his file folder. “Well, thank you, Miss Miller.” He stood and she did the same. “We’ll call you if there’s anything else.”
“That couldn’t have worked out better if we’d planned it,” Keegan said.
“Yeah,” Weef said. “That bum in the raincoat. Where’d he come from anyway?” He lit a cigarette and then clicked his lighter closed.
“Who cares,” Keegan said. “He was the perfect fall guy.”
“He just stood there,” Beatle said, “watching until you ran right into him.”
Keegan puffed his cigar and blew a smoke ring. “It was perfect.” He punched a finger through the smoke ring.
“And those dumb cops,” Weef said. “They didn’t even go looking around for the money.”
“When do we get our dough?” Beatle asked.
“We got to let things cool down. We lay low, just watch the TV for any reports on the heist, and read the newspaper every day.”
“Yeah, but how long, Boss?” Beatle lifted his feet to the coffee table and leaned back in the sofa.
“Don’t worry about it,” Keegan said. “I’ll let you know when the time comes.”
“Hey, Dragon Bait,” Weef said.
Beatle glanced at him.
“Get your brogans off my furniture.”
“My brogans are a compliment to your flea market rejects.”
Weef made a move for him.
“All right, all right.” Beatle dropped his feet to the floor. “Don’t have a hissy fit.”
“Cameron Littleheart St. Lawrence,” the judge said.
“Yes, Sir.” Cameron stood and clasped his hands in front of himself.
Judge Wilson studied Cameron for a moment, taking in his scruffy beard and shabby clothing. “The name doesn’t seem to fit the persona.”
“I didn’t choose my name, Your Honor.”
“But you did choose your appearance.”
“Yes, Sir,” Cameron said. “I did.”
“Littleheart. I bet the kids in school had a ball with that name.”
Cameron thought about all the ridicule he had received from the other kids. They called him everything from “Little Head” to “Little Butt” to “Chicken Little”. He knew why the sisters at St. Lawrence orphanage gave him the name “Littleheart” but decided the judge wouldn’t be interested in that. He nodded in response to Judge Wilson’s remark.
“St. Lawrence is the saint of what?”
“He’s the patron saint of chefs, butchers, librarians…” Cameron paused and then added “and comedians.”
There were some muffled giggles from behind Cameron. He glanced to his right, but didn’t turn to see who laughed at him.
The judge quieted the onlookers with a stern look over the top of his glasses. “Pick one,” he said to Cameron.
The judge pulled off his glasses and swung them by one temple as he stared at Cameron. “All right, Mr. Patron Saint of librarians, this arrest form doesn’t have your street address filled in. Where do you live?” The judge twirled his glasses in a circle.
“General Sherman bench, Central Park.”
“Where do you work?” Judge Wilson asked.
“Then you’re a bum.”
“I prefer to call myself a temporarily displaced victim of the recession.”
“Maybe you’re the patron saint of comedians.” The judge glanced at the onlookers, but no one laughed.
The judge slipped his glasses on and looked at the form. “This also says you don’t have a photo ID. Why is that?” “I wasn’t aware the law required me to have a photo ID.” Cameron paused and added, “Sir.”
“Most people at least have a driver’s license.”
“Your honor…” Cameron spread his hands. “I don’t even have a car.”
“All right, I’m giving you three weeks of community service. After that I suggest you get a job and find someplace to live, or else get out of New York City.”
“But, Your Honor, I was falsely accused of bank robbery and now you’re punishing me for doing nothing more than standing on the street, minding my own business.”
“Yes, those charges will probably be dropped, but if you give me any more of your smart lip, we’ll go back to the robbery charge, I’ll set bail at ten thousand dollars, and you can cool your heels in a cell for three months waiting for a public defender. And then, I may, or I may not, drop the charges. Now, do you want three weeks of easy or three months of hard time?”
Cameron opened his mouth, but then closed it. He stared at the floor. After a moment, he murmured, “I’ll take the three weeks.”
“Wise choice.” The judge hammered his gavel down a bit harder than necessary. “Now, get out of my sight.” He scribbled his signature on Cameron’s form and tossed it aside. “Next case.”
“Hi, kid. What’s your name?” Cameron asked.
“Ariion.” The girl wore a vermillion blouse and blue jeans
“Ariion. That’s an interesting name. Where did that come from?”
“It’s my mom’s name.”
“Then you’re Ariion Jr.”
“Something like that. What yours?”
“Cameron Littleheart St. Lawrence.”
“Wow,” she said. “That almost sounds like royalty. How did your parents come up with that?”
“I don’t have any parents. The sisters at St. Lawrence orphanage got the ‘Littleheart’ from a funny looking birthmark. My first name came from Sister Elizabeth Cameron.”
She glanced at his chest and then his arms.
“No,” Cameron said, giving her a wink. “You’re not going to see my birthmark. What’d they pick you up for?” He took a magazine from the wooden chair next to him and flipped the pages.
“Um, nothin’.” Ariion studied her nails. She and Cameron sat in a hallway in the basement of the courthouse.
“Nothing? You gotta be in for something.” Cameron leaned close, lowering his voice. “Bank robbery?”
Ariion giggled. “No.”
“Murder, I bet you killed somebody.”
“No.” She looked up at him. Her honey-brown hair falling over a shoulder, her eyes the color of an autumn leaf, and she had a soft fawn complexion.
She nodded, staring down at her left hand lying in her lap.
“Ah, you’ll get ten to twenty for that.”
“Really? Years?” Her eyes were wide when she looked at him.
He pursed his lips and winked. “Nah, just kidding.”
“St. Lawrence,” someone yelled from down the hall.
“That’s me.” Cameron stood.
“Start a line,” the bailiff said, not looking up from his clipboard. “Right here.” He pointed to the floor to his left.
Cameron did as he was told.
“Yes, Sir.” Ariion jumped to her feet.
“Right here, behind St. Lawrence.”
She hurried to her place.
The bailiff called five more names. A young woman, two men, and two teenage boys lined up behind Ariion. After the bailiff checked off their names on his form, he handed them over to a potbellied young man in a gray uniform. He led them outside to a minibus and hauled them to Central Park.
“You people are pretty much on your own,” the driver said after they lined up on the sidewalk on the edge of Central Park. “Lunch will be here at twelve sharp. If you miss it, you’ll have to fend for yourself. I’ll be here at five to take you back to the jail to be checked in. After that, you’re free until eight in the morning, at which time we’ll do it all over again.” He looked at each person in line. “Any questions?”
“Yeah,” one of the young men said. “What are we supposed to do all day?”
“Pick up trash and put it in your very own garbage bag.” He walked to the back of the bus and opened a small door. He removed a roll of black plastic bags and then took out several long sticks, like broom handles with nails embedded in one end. “I expect all these bags to be crammed full by 5 p.m.”
“That’s it? Nobody’s going to watch us?”
The potbellied man stared at him for a moment. “Watch you pick up trash? Not very likely.”
“Cool,” the young man said to his partner. “Piece of cake.”
“Yeah,” said the driver as he handed out the plastic bags. “Have a ball.”