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THE BACKPACK

How A Decent Upstanding Man Is Driven To Commit A Crime

By Barbara FarrellPublished 3 years ago 9 min read
THE BACKPACK
Photo by Bulkan Evcimen on Unsplash

Marvin stands in the alley blending into the shadows of the dirty brick wall, his back against a dumpster. His tall wiry form is well hidden from the street and the dull light coming from the lone lamp post a few yards away. For twelve years he carried garbage to that dumpster that now shielded him from prying eyes. Twelve years gone and not much to show for it. He had poured his heart and soul into the tiny diner behind him that his parents had owned. Their hopes, and his too, was that the diner would be his one day. His parents and him had worked so hard at keeping him out of the gangs, off the streets, and out of trouble. Not an easy task for a poor struggling black family living in New York City. That life is gone now. Both his parent’s dead from COVID-19. Dying last fall in hospital, only days apart.

Without them, in less than a year, Marvin’s life fell apart. The diner is bankrupt and is now closed permanently. With this pandemic raging there is no work for him to find. Marvin is months behind on all his bills and is one step away from being homeless. That threat is what brought him here tonight. Patiently standing in the shadows. Waiting…

Half an hour passes, Marvin is growing numb from the stillness. He stretches to loosen himself up, tightly grasping the small iron rod in his hand. He knows its almost time. Getting ready, he pulls his black ball cap down low and hikes up a black bandana over his nose. Zipping his dark blue sweat jacket up he pulls the hood over his ball cap. Now an unrecognizable figure hiding in the dark, Marvin waits some more.

Finally!

The dark blue sedan he is waiting for slowly drives by and parks a few feet in front of the lamp post. He knows that in a few minutes another man would walk down the street carrying a backpack. The man would get in the sedan for a minute, then get out carrying a different backpack. Before the diner closed, Marvin had watched this ritual happen every month for the last few years. Well, that exchange was not going to happen tonight, Marvin had something else in mind. After wondering for so long what was in those packs, tonight was the night, Marvin planned to solve part of the mystery!

Slowly inching forward, Marvin holds his breath. Like clockwork the man, he is expecting, appears right in front of him. Much to his surprise, Marvin does not hesitate, he raises his hand and strikes with the iron rod. The man crumples to the ground in a heap, dropping the iron rod Marvin grabs the backpack. Sending up a little prayer he prays he did not just kill a man. Tucking the backpack under his arm, Marvin turns and takes of running. He runs as if the hounds of hell themselves were nipping at his heels.

He is almost at the end of the alley when he hears the shot ring out, then another. The shots, almost simultaneously, ricochet off the dumpster on his left. With his heart pounding like a jackhammer in his chest, Marvin pushes himself to run faster. He is through the alley. Breathing hard, Marvin turns right, slowing to a fast walk. Crossing to the other side of the street he hurries down the sidewalk and dips into another alley. Stopping, with his heart still pounding hard, he leans back against the brick wall and peers around the corner looking at the entrance to the alley he had exited only moments ago. He sees a large bald man run onto the sidewalk. His hand is tucked into his coat, Marvin assumes, correctly, that he is hiding a gun. Marvin pulls his head back sharply, shrinking back into the wall. Seconds pass. Cautiously peeking out again, Marvin sees the man looking up and down the street. Then suddenly, the man angrily turns back to the alley, disappearing back into its dark abyss.

Sighing with relief, Marvin pulls the hood and baseball cap off. Hauling the bandana down around his neck Marvin takes off running again, slower than before, but still with a sense of urgency. He feels the sweat trickling down his back, he pushes himself on, he needs to get off these streets. Marvin runs through two more alleys and pops out about half a block from the subway station. Marvin is scared to death the bald man is still searching for him and hurries down the block. Marvin takes the first step down into the subway station, he is hoping to find sanctuary there from the men he just robbed.

Marvin could not believe that he had pulled off such an audacious robbery as he heads to the subway platform. It is not very crowded, but almost everyone is wearing a mask, so Marvin takes out his blue disposable one and hooks the elastic around his ears, trying to blend in. He takes his bandana off putting it in his coat pocket, then unzips his coat trying to look more relaxed. Hard to do with the sweat beading on his forehead and running down the sides of his face. He feels like everyone is staring at him and he clutches the stolen backpack closer to his side. At last, the train arrives. Marvin darts a last furtive look up and down the platform, then gets on the train. Still holding on to the backpack for dear life, Marvin sits in the back, suspiciously watching everyone as they come and go.

The train ride, thankfully, was uneventful. Marvin is glad to be off and moving again. He is now only a minute away from his apartment. Still glancing about, not seeing anyone or anything out of place, Marvin steps up to his run-down apartment building, unlocking the door. Stepping inside, he heads straight to the stairs. He does not have the patience to wait for the elevator. The old building’s elevator takes forever. Taking the steps two at a time, Marvin stops at the top of the stairs on the fifth floor and hauls open the heavy door, heading down the dingy hall to his apartment. Taking his keys out, he fumbles a bit before getting the door unlocked. Quickly glancing up and down the hallway, he enters his apartment and closes the door, locking the deadbolt behind him. Just to be on the safe side, Marvin puts the chain on too. Turning back around, Marvin leans back on the door hugging the backpack to his chest, shaking uncontrollably.

Not knowing how long he stood there, Marvin finally pulls himself together and heads to the small wooden kitchen table in the corner, switching on lights as he goes. Laying the backpack down, Marvin is very anxious to see what he risked his life for tonight. Unzipping the pack, Marvin tilts the backpack up shaking the contents out on the table. The first thing out makes a loud clunk, Marvin’s eyes grow wide. A small handgun is now sitting there. Frozen for just a moment, distracted by the gun, Marvin tilts the bag more and empties the rest out. A bunch of Zip Lock bags tumble out with a little black notebook falling on top of them. Not daring to touch the gun Marvin moves the black notebook off the bags. He just stares! OMG! All the bags are filled with money. No wonder the bald guy tried to shoot him.

About an hour later, Marvin has the money counted and lined up on the table in stacks. There is two thousand dollars in each stack, mostly fifties and twenties. Wide eyed, Marvin stares at the $20,000 dollars of stolen money now sitting on the table. Elated, Marvin grins!

He needs a drink! Getting up, Marvin takes the couple of steps to the kitchen cupboard, taking down a glass. Reaching up again he takes down the half empty flask of cheap whiskey he had bought the week his parents died. Generously pouring a shot, Marvin downs the liquid. It burns, as only cheap whiskey can burn, all the way down. Pouring another shot he returns to the table.

Still ignoring the gun, Marvin picks up the little black notebook. The texture of the cover feels a lot more expensive than any of the ones his parents had bought for the diner. It was bound together with a black band, a ribbon was poking through at the bottom marking a spot in the notebook. Taking the band off, Marvin opens the book to the first page. On the top, it said Week One. Then there was a list of addresses, times, and dollar amounts written down to the end of the page. Flipping to the next page its format was similar too the first. The addresses and amounts were different, and the top of this page said Week Two. Turning the pages, and coming to the ribbon, Marvin looked at the top and saw that it read Week Twenty. Looking down the page he discovered the diner’s address, the dollar amount next to it was $20,000. His count was correct! Marvin grins again!

At least part of the mystery was solved. Marvin now knew that the man he attacked this evening and stole from, was doing a money drop. Marvin still had no idea what was in the other backpack, but he was quite sure now of one thing, the men were involved in some serious illegal activity.

Marvin sits at the table for a long time sipping his whiskey, happily staring at his windfall. He calculates how much he needs to pay off the debt he has been racking up since the pandemic started. Marvin’s excitement and happiness slowly disappears. With a heavy heart, Marvin comes to the realization that once all the bills are paid, he will have two or maybe three months reprieve until he is back in the same situation again. Broke and desperate!

Marvin turns with tears in his eyes to look at his parents’ picture that sits on the end table behind him. They seem to be staring at him with such disappointment in their eyes. Finding his voice for the first time since entering the alley that evening, he whispers, “I’m sorry. I was desperate. I didn’t know what else to do.”

He knows they would be so upset with him tonight. Assault. Theft. Gun Fire. That is not how his parents had raised him. Marvin sits thinking about it, an old adage pops into his head, “Desperate times calls for desperate measures”.

With that thought running through his mind, Marvin turns away from his parents’ picture, gets up, reaches for the gun and the little black notebook. Turning, he leaves the cash where it is and moves over to his couch. Easing his tired body down, he lays the little black notebook on his lap. With the gun in his hand, he aims it in front of him testing its weight. He has never held a gun before. He has no clue what make or model it even is. The gun feels cold and strange. He then thinks to himself, “It would definitely make a better weapon than an iron rod”. Laying the gun on the coffee table, Marvin again picks up the notebook. Flipping to the entries for Week 27 he starts studying the addresses and amounts. A plan was starting to form.

Turning to his parents’ picture once again, Marvin speaks to them as if they are there, “It’s only until the pandemic is over and I can find work again. I promise.”

His promise sounds hollow even to his own ears. Hanging his head in shame, Marvin vows to himself to do everything in his power to keep the promise he had just made. Sitting there with his spirit much more broken than it had been before, Marvin thinks to himself, “Things will return to normal and get better. The pandemic can’t last forever?”

Marvin’s head jerks up! With a frightened and worried look in his eyes, he answers his own question, “Could it?”

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    Barbara FarrellWritten by Barbara Farrell

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