I wrote the following story sometime in the early 2000's, and it is one of my earliest works. I'd like to think that my technique has improved, and I'd probably have written it differently now, but I don't like to go back an change things. It feels a little like re-writing history. I hope you enjoy it. Even though I'd probably do it differently now, I still like the story. It was fun to have it unfold in my mind.
A Visit with Gabe
by Mike DeCamp
The old man wandered down
Hackley Avenue oblivious to the stares of
passing motorists. His over-sized
trousers were held up by suspenders and bunched up at his shoes. His plaid flannel shirt was frayed at the
collar, torn in several places, and rolled up to his bony elbows. Salt and pepper whiskers sprouted on his
chin, giving him that old-time grizzled look, and to top off the whole package,
gray hair poked out from under his sweat-stained and misshapen Cincinnati Reds
baseball cap. He was obviously homeless,
maybe even a drunk. He was definitely
out of place in this neighborhood.
Congerville Woods wasn’t an upscale development by any standard, but it was at least considered upper middle class. The homes had a minimum of four bedrooms and two full baths. The lawns were landscaped and manicured. The oldest house was no more than two years old. On
side, it was the place to live. Muncie
As the old man walked along, mumbling to the air, two teenagers passed by on a joy ride. When they reached the end of the block, they swung around and pulled along side the old geezer.
“Who ya talkin’ to, old man? Your ole buddy, Mister Whiskey?”
The homeless man ignored the taunting and kept moving down the sidewalk.
“Hey, I’m talkin’ to you! I know.... You need a drink. Don’tcha?”
The old guy kept quiet.
“Scott, pass me one of those beers.”
The boy took a longneck bottle of Budweiser and dangled it out the passenger window.
The man just kept on walking.
“Come on old dude. You know you want it.”
“Okay, be that way,” the young man said, and he threw the bottle at the old man.
It whizzed past his left hand and smashed on the sidewalk in front of him. The two boys raced off, tickled with themselves because of their amazing cleverness. They’d had enough fun with this guy. There were other fish to fry. Too much fun, too little time.
The old man watched them drive away. There was no anger in his eyes. There, also, was no hurt to be found. He simply watched them go, and then plucked a plastic grocery bag from his back pocket and carefully picked up the broken pieces of glass. When the last shard was retrieved, he continued his course as if on a mission.
Bryce was a sensitive, but athletic ten-year-old with a problem. The chain had come loose on his bike, and he was focused on fixing it near where his driveway met the sidewalk. When a shadow fell over him and stopped, he assumed it was his best buddy, Ronny.
Without looking up, he said: “Hey, Ronny, do you know how to get this chain back on this sprocket?”
“Well, son,” the old man said, “my name ain’t Ronny, but I think I can prob’ly help ya.”
Bryce was startled and jumped back. He looked up into the face of an old guy with scruffy whiskers, wearing dirty clothes, and quickly backed away. He wasn’t scared exactly, but mom and dad made it clear that he should be wary around strangers.
“Well, uh, okay,” Bryce replied.
As the old man bent down to work on the bike, the boy made a wide circle into his front lawn, keeping a good ten feet between him and his helper. The man didn’t seem dangerous, but he looked dirty, and Bryce could smell the faint odor of beer.
“What’s your name young fella?” the old man asked as he tugged on the chain.
“I’m not supposed to tell strangers my name.”
“Well now, I s’pose that’s a good policy in these times. My name is Gabe.”
“Nice to meetcha, Gabe,” the boy replied, being polite.
The chain popped into place, and Gabe stood up.
“Do you live around here, my young friend?”
“Wow, thanks. How’d you do that? Uh, yeah, I live right here.” Bryce was so excited to have his bike repaired, that he almost missed the question. He pointed at his family’s house.
“Is your mom or dad home, so’s I could meet ‘em?”
Bryce wasn’t suppose to let a conversation with a stranger get this far, and he knew it. He couldn’t come out and answer that question, so he said he’d go check. As he backed up to his front door, he looked at Gabe’s eyes and all of his fear melted away. The old man’s eyes were deep, soothing, and there was just something in there that made him feel good.
The boy disappeared into the house, and after a few minutes, he returned with mom in tow. Jen was thirty-five, a red head, and very nearly in perfect shape. She’d worked very hard at it after Bryce had been born. She wore a very modest, but attractive yellow sundress, and her hair was pulled back into a ponytail.
“That’s him, mom. He’s the guy who fixed my bike. His name is Gabe.”
Gabe was exactly where Bryce had left him. He was standing there wiping the oil off his hands onto his flannel shirt, and looking at their house.
Jen stepped through the doorway and said: “Uh, hello mister…”
“Just call me Gabe, ma’am.”
“Hello, Gabe. Thanks for fixin’ Bryce’s bike.”
“Oh, it was nothin’. I’ve fixed bike chains hun’erds o’ times.”
“Bryce told me you wanted to see me. Did you want me to pay ya somethin’?”
“Oh, heavens no. I just wanted to meetcha to make sure the nice young fella didn’t get in no trouble fer lettin’ me help him.”
“Well, he’s in no trouble. Is there anything I can do for ya?”
“If’n it wouldn’t be too much trouble, I could use a nice glass of ice water.”
Jen stared at the old man for a few seconds, and her heart went out to him. She was the source of Bryce’s sensitivity. She was highly emotional and empathetic. Sometimes it seemed that she could feel the pain of others better than she could feel her own. She was feeling Gabe’s pain, and she determined to help him out.
“Okay, Gabe. Come on in out of the hot sun, and I’ll get you a nice big glass of water.”
“You sure, Ma’am?”
“Yeah, come on in and I’ll fix ya right up.”
Gabe followed Jen through the door, and she led him past their comfortable living room and into the kitchen. She motioned for him to sit at the table, so he pulled out a chair and sat, as she opened the cupboard to retrieve a glass.
“Call me Jen.”
“Uh, Jen, do you have a place where I could throw away this broken glass? Some boys broke it on the sidewalk down the block, and I picked it up.”
“Sure,” Jen replied and she took the plastic bag full of broken beer bottle, walked to the garage door, and plopped it in the waste can.
As she filled the glass with cold water from a jug in the refrigerator, she decided to make some small talk. She wanted to find out more about this strange old man in her kitchen. She knew she should be a little uneasy about having a stranger in the house while her husband, Tom, was out, but somehow, she felt completely safe. She didn’t sense any danger. More than that, she sensed a security.
“So, Gabe, where ya from?”
“Oh, I’m from the City of
,” was Gabe’s reply. Angels
huh? How’d ya get from LA to my
neighborhood here in Los Angeles ?” Muncie,
“I just travel all over the place, fixin’ things.”
“Must be an interesting life.”
“It does have its moments, Ma’am.”
“So, were you lookin’ for somethin’ to fix when you wandered down our street?”
“I’m always lookin’ for somethin’ useful to do, but it looked nice down here, so I walked on in.”
Jen decided to go a bit further than just a glass of water. He obviously needed some help, and she was determined to give it. Tom would be uncomfortable with it, but he’d just have to get over it. She felt for this old man who was poor, hungry, and all alone in the world. She pulled up a chair and sat across from him.
“Gabe,” she started, “I don’t have anything to fix around the house, but I would like to help ya.”
“Sorry. Jen, I don’t really need anything.”
“Well, I don’t mean you no offense, but I’ve got to disagree. Your clothes are a mess, and I bet you wouldn’t mind a hot shower.”
A huge smile filled Gabe’s face and he looked like he was about to jump out of his skin with excitement. “Oh, a shower would be so nice. Are you sure it’d be okay?”
“Oh, sure and I bet my husband, Tom, has some old clothes that would fit ya.”
“Jen, please don’t put yourself out so much for my old bones.”
“It’s no big deal. Come on. I’ll get ya set up in the bathroom, pull some clean clothes out for ya, and when you’re all done, you can have dinner with us, too.”
“I don’t know how to thank ya, or what to say.”
“Just be good company, and tell us some interesting stories at dinner. That’d be thanks enough.”
Jen went to work and pulled together all the things he would need: clean clothes, soap, shampoo, spray deodorant, shaving cream, and a disposable razor. She showed him how the fixtures worked, gave him a clean towel, and left him alone to transform himself.
With Gabe in the shower, she busied herself with dinner preparations. The menu was the classic fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, and yeast rolls. They would follow that up with some strawberry cheesecake. She’d have to run an extra mile tomorrow, but it would be worth it.
She nearly had the chicken cut and cleaned when Tom walked in from the garage.
“Hey Honey, how’d ya hit ‘em today?” Jen asked.
Tom had spent most of the day on the golf course chasing a little white ball through sand traps, trees, and into small bodies of water. He wasn’t very proficient, but he had fun and he was getting better.
He kissed his wife on the cheek and said: “Oh, pretty doggone good today. I broke a hundred!” He was smiling from ear to ear. “It’s days like today that make ya wanna go back.”
“Was that the first time?”
“Naw, I’ve done it a couple of other times, but this is now two times in a row.”
“That’s great, Tom.”
“I saw Bryce outside,” Tom said, “Who’s in the shower?”
“Well, Tom, don’t be upset. Okay? It’s an older gentleman that helped Bryce fix his bike. I think he’s homeless and I…”
“Aw, Jen. How many times have I told you not to do this kinda thing?”
“He’s okay, Tom. I’m sure of it.”
“How, Jen? Just how can you be sure of it? How do you know he’s not some psychopath? How do you know he’s not in there right now planning something crazy to do to us? Ya know, most of those homeless guys were in mental wards until the budget cuts in the eighties.”
“He’s not crazy. Just wait til ya meet him. You’ll see.”
“Don’t do this anymore, Jen. It’s dangerous. You just never know about these guys. You’re gonna get yourself or Bryce killed. Please don’t do it again. Okay?”
“Okay, okay. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again unless you’re home. But, I just know you’re gonna like him. He’s just stayin’ through dinner and then he’ll be gone. Please try to be nice.”
“Fine, but I’m gonna be watchin’ him close. If he even acts a little off, I sendin’ him outta here. You understand?”
Tom pulled off his white golf cap and pushed his dark hair back off his forehead. Then he headed off to their bedroom to change his shoes and clothes. He really wanted a shower, but that would have to wait. He had to be keep an eye on this semi-welcome guest.
It wasn’t that Tom lacked compassion. He had plenty of compassion, so long as the person needing it looked like they didn’t. In his mind, poor people needed to get a job, and homeless people had made their own bed and now, they needed to lay in it.
The truth was that people that were different made him nervous. Diversity scared him. He liked to work with and live around other white, middle-class, clean-cut and shaven, English-speaking, moderately religious, Midwestern people. If they met his visual expectations, then they must be okay. If they had on dirty clothes, spoke broken English or another language, lacked a home, or had a different skin color, they set off alarms in his brain. All he could see was the evening news with him or his family as the victim.
This man in his bathroom had problems. He didn’t know what they were and he didn’t want to, but the man was in his house. That meant that whatever the problems were, his family was going to be subjected to them. They could be anything. He could be a drunk or a drug-abuser. He could be a criminal, running from the law. He could even be a murderous, sexual psycho with designs on Tom’s family. Whether the problems were big or small, Tom didn’t want them in his house, not now, not ever.
After nearly an hour cleaning himself up, Gabe emerged from the bathroom a changed man. He wore one of Tom’s older, blue golf shirts and a slightly faded pair of bluejeans. They seemed to fit perfectly. His hair was clean and neatly parted and combed to the side. His whiskers were gone, and a couple of small pieces of toilet paper stuck to his face where he had nicked himself with the razor. He still looked bony, but at least he smelled better.
Dinner was ready and Bryce had set the table. Jen called Tom in and quickly introduced him to Gabe, but not much was said until they had taken their seats at the table. Of course, Tom took the head of the table, with Jen on his right and Bryce on his left. Gabe sat at the other end.
Not being a religious family, they simply dipped up and began to eat, but Gabe quietly bowed his head. Then Bryce spoke up: “We should pray before we eat, too.”
“What?” Tom asked.
“I saw Gabe prayin’, and I think we should say Grace, too. I been learnin’ at church ‘bout prayin’ an stuff, and I think we should do it, too.”
Bryce had been going to church with some neighbors, but Tom and Jen just couldn’t get themselves up that early on Sundays. (Of course, Tom could if he had a tee time.)
“Well, go ahead and pray if you want, Bryce,” Tom said.
After Bryce had asked a blessing on their meal, Tom struck up a conversation with his houseguest.
“Just call me Gabe.”
“Okay. Gabe, where you from?” Tom asked.
“I’m from the City of
,” Gabe replied. Angels
is a big place. What kinda work did ya
do there?” Los Angeles
“Same thing I’m doin’ now. I go around and fix things.”
“Is that what your father did?”
“Oh, no. Not really. He’s in the manufacturing end of things.”
“What’s he make?”
“All kinds of things.”
The conversation continued like this for some time. Tom would ask a question, and Gabe would reply with a vague answer. Every exchange left Tom less satisfied than the one before. He was becoming more and more certain that this homeless, old guy called Gabe was up to something.
Before Tom could think of another question, Gabe turned the tables and asked his own question: “Where do you folks go to church?”
“Well,” Jen replied with some embarrassment, “we don’t. Bryce goes with a neighbor. We’ve been meanin’ to, but we always seem to have a reason not to. We encourage Bryce to go, though.”
“Yeah,” Bryce broke into the conversation, “and I been learnin’ all kinds a stuff. I’ve learned ‘bout God, an Jesus, and angels, an…”
“We think it’s good for his social growth,” Tom interrupted.
“Oh, it’s good for more than that,” Gabe said. “It will change his life. It will instill morals and ethics. It will give him faith, and most importantly, he can know the Almighty One.”
Tom was offended, and a little embarrassed by Gabe’s opinion. He believed in God, but only on his own terms. Organized religion was hypocritical and demanding. It seemed to him that the best way to know God was to get away from people and enjoy nature (like on the golf course).
“Mr. Gabe,” Bryce jumped back in, “did you know that the bible says that angels sometime visit people and they don’t even know it?”
“Oh, sure, Bryce. I’ve read that myself.”
“You don’t believe all that Bible stuff, do ya?” Tom asked.
“Sure, I do.”
“Yeah, right, and the next thing you’ll tell me is that you’re Jesus Christ himself. All you people think that kinda crazy stuff.”
“Tom!” Jen objected.
“Well, they do. They drink too much or take one too many drugs and the next thing you know, they’re saying they’re God or Jesus, or they talk directly to Him, or somethin’ like that.”
“Tom! He’s our guest!”
“Okay, okay. I’m sorry, Gabe.”
Tom wasn’t really sorry, but Gabe wasn’t really offended. He had expected the outburst from Tom. He’d seen it plenty of times before, in plenty of different places. Folks just make assumptions about other people based on their own skewed vision of the world, their own warped perception.
“No offense taken, Tom”
Before they could lapse back into their question and answer session, there was a knock at the door, and Tom rose to answer it. It had gotten dark outside and as he peeked through the window, he couldn’t quite see who was there. He flipped the switch for the porch light. Nothing. It must be burned out, he thought.
He could see their outline. They were two young men, maybe teenagers. Their hair wasn’t long, and they were white. He could make that much out, so he opened the door. The light from inside illuminated the first boy from the shoulders down, and the clothes were neat, clean, and from designer labels.
“I’m sorry to bother you, mister,” the first one said, “but our car broke down. Could we use your phone?”
They looked like good-natured boys from the area, so he let them in. As they entered, the boy in back dropped a light bulb, which smashed on the concrete stoop. Simultaneously, the first boy drew a gun and pushed Tom backward into his living room.
The moments that followed were terrifying to Tom and the others. The intruders forced everyone into the living room. They both had pistols and were waving them around, threatening to shoot anyone who moved. They were jumpy and unsure of what to do next. That made them even more dangerous.
The boy who had entered first was the leader, so he took charge, instructing them all to sit down. He wore a baseball cap, Nike T-shirt, and designer jeans. He reeked of beer, now that he was enclosed in the house, and was obviously drunk.
The other boy was dressed similarly, but was much more passive. He looked continually to his partner for direction. He was drunk too, and wouldn’t stop giggling.
“Which one o’ you’s the big, bad papa?” the leader asked. “Who’s the man of the house?”
“I am,” Tom replied in a quiet voice.
“What? Wha’d ya say? Speak up, dude!”
“I said, ‘I am’” This time Tom raised his voice.
“Well, ya don’t have ta yell at me.” The invaders broke out into loud chuckles.
“Okay, big daddy. You’re gonna show me around, while my buddy here keeps an eye on the others. I want all your good stuff. Ya hear? Don’t hold back on me, or somebody’s gonna get hurt. Okay?”
Then he spoke to his partner: “Anybody moves, blow ‘em away.”
Tom and the leader moved off into the house, and you could hear the drawers being pulled from the dressers, and the clothes being ripped from the closets. Boxes were being dumped onto floors, and covers pulled loose from beds in the frantic search for valuables.
Meanwhile, the other bandit stood over them with his gun in his shaky right hand. He was nervous and scared, but he was also drunk, and that made it all possible.
“Scott,” he heard this softly, like someone had whispered into his ear.
“Who said that?” Scott demanded, but no one moved or confessed.
“Scott,” the voice in his head continued, “What are you doing?”
“Shut up! Which one of you said that?”
They looked at him in ignorance.
“Scott, this is wrong. Don’t do this, Scott.”
“How do you know my name?”
“Why did you let him talk you into this, Scott? You know you don’t want to do this.”
It was true. Scott didn’t want to do it, but the beer had run out and so had the money. Ricky had talked him into it. Ricky could talk him into anything. Ricky was his idol.
“Scott, just walk out and get help. It’s not too late,” the voice persisted.
“I can’t,” Scott replied, shaking his head as if to clear his mind. “Ricky would be mad.”
“Do what’s right, Scott.”
“I can’t. I can’t. I CAN’T!” He screamed.
Tom reentered the room with Ricky behind him carrying a pillowcase full of the family’s treasures.
“What’re you yellin’ about?” Ricky asked.
“Someone’s talkin’ to me, Ricky.”
“Shut up, stupid! You just told ‘em my name, dipwad.”
“Oh, man.” Scott moaned.
“Look,” Ricky said to Scott, “Me and the little lady here are gonna go back and do another search of the bedroom, if ya know what I mean, and when I get back, you can go search with her. Okay?”
“No!” Tom objected. “Please don’t. You’ve got our stuff. Please just leave, okay?”
“Oh, but there’s some more stuff I want. You watch ‘em, partner, and we’ll be back in a few.”
Gabe stood up and stepped between Ricky and Jen.
“This has gone far enough,” Gabe announced.
“Shut up, ya old idiot, and sit down.”
“I will not shut up, and I will not sit down! Furthermore, you will stop what you are doing or you will feel my wrath!” Gabe’s voice had risen to a near deafening volume.
Tom and Jen were dumbfounded. They couldn’t believe their eyes or ears. This old man would get shot if he didn’t shut up, but he just stood there like a dog guarding his master. Bryce, on the other hand, had that smile on his face that tells people that he knows something that they don’t.
Tom tugged on Gabe’s shirt. “Sit down, Gabe, before they hurt you.”
“Yeah, old man, sit down before I blow you away!” Ricky warned, as he pointed his weapon at Gabe’s chest.”
“Oh, Ricky,” Gabe said, “You don’t have the power you think you have.”
Scott had retreated to the other side of the room in a daze.
“You are a foolish old dude. You say another word and you’re dead.”
Gabe raised his arms out to his sides. “You are the foolish one.”
Three shots rang out as Ricky fired point blank into Gabe’s chest. THUD! THUD! THUD! Each round hit its target.
As the third bullet struck his chest, Gabe swung his right hand around and connected with Ricky’s head. The blow knocked the young man across the room and high against the far wall. His head bounced off the ceiling and he slid quickly down to the floor, unconscious. Scott fainted into an armchair.
Tom and Jen leapt to their feet! Bryce cheered.
“Oh, my God! Are you alright?” Jen yelled. She didn’t know what else to say. Tom couldn’t say anything.
“I’m fine,” Gabe replied. He turned to them and held out his closed hand. “You should call the police now.”
“But, he just shot you in the chest.” Jen insisted.
“I’m fine. Call the police now. I’ll be leaving, but they won’t give you anymore trouble.”
Jen noticed his outstretched hand. “What?”
“Take these,” Gabe said, “and remember. There is one for each of you.”
Jen reached forward, and Gabe dropped three slugs into her palm. He then pointed at a pillow on their sofa. It had three smoking holes.
“But, I saw…” Jen started.
“Yes, you did. But, how would you explain it?”
Gabe ruffled Bryce’s hair, gave Jen a gentle hug, and then turned to Tom. “Tom, I would suggest that you take your family to church on Sunday. Maybe that ‘Bible stuff’ will mean more to you now.”
Without another word, Gabriel stepped into the cool, night air and returned to the City of