He slept in a box in a dead-end alley in the heart of the city. He lived on scraps and leavings at fast food restaurants and mini mart trash cans. He had no friends. He didn’t even have a name.
He was born with a name of course. Albert Benson. Al. But life’s setbacks: the Gulf War, Iraq, the terrible day to day atrocities of war took their toll. Unable to function in today’s world, he withdrew into himself.
It was late. The night noises drifted down the alley, bouncing off the dirty bricks. Al stirred and turned his face to the wall. He pulled his frayed coat higher around his neck and curled into a ball. Night noises were all part of his world.
Most night noises. But the scream and scuffle that reached his ears were not usual, not part of his world. He sat up and squinted into the murky night. The streetlight at the entrance to the alley glowed a sickly yellow, throwing off just enough light for Al to see two figures struggling. The man was holding a knife to the throat of a woman. His other hand was over her mouth.
Al threw himself out of his makeshift bed and lunged at the man. He knocked him off balance, sent him crashing to the pavement, hand still gripping the knife. Throwing himself on top of the man, Al waved at the woman.
“Run,” he said.
She stood there, frozen in fear, her hand covering her mouth.
With a stifled scream, the woman ran toward the alley entrance and safety. Al held the man in a death grip, his right hand trying without success to pry the knife out of the man’s hand. He had a flashback to Iraq where he had killed an enemy terrorist who had tried to knife him. The déjà vu of the moment gave him strength he had long ago lost since his return home. With a powerful twist, he freed the knife from the man’s hand. It clattered on the brick pavement, just out of Al’s reach.
The man put a knee to Al, doubling him over in excruciating pain. As Al struggled against the pain the man grabbed the knife. He fell on Al, plunging the knife into his chest. Al clutched the knife and groaned. With one last effort he pulled the knife from his chest and threw it at his assailant. It clattered harmlessly to the pavement.
His assailant turned and ran from the alley.
The two police officers stood over Al’s body, looking at it with no show of emotion.
“Third one this week,” one of them said. He yawned, reached for his radio and thumbed the switch.
“Officer Garvey here. DOA in alley. 3rd Street and Parker Avenue.”
“Roger,” came the reply. “Have a unit on the way.”
Garvey returned the radio to his belt and frowned at the body.
“What do you think happened here?”
The other officer shrugged. “Same old story. Some other bum killed him over half a can of stale beer, or something like that. He’ll never be caught. Not worth the effort.”
“You’re probably right.”
He glanced at his watch. “I hope the meat wagon gets here soon. I hate this place.”
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