Another Short Story from Soupy’s Vault

Self-indulgent? Maybe, but I really wanted to post something today and since no one else will publish my fiction I thought I would. Besides the beginning of this story cracks me up. Constructive criticism is as welcome as just flat out praise. There are certain parts of the story I am proud of, others that need some work, and others that need someone else to write them.

Enjoy. If I’ve ever forced you to read this story before, I guess you have the day off then, don’t you?


12 to 4

Greg Marston threw open the glass door to the lobby of his uptown apartment building and walked toward the elevators. He glanced at the art deco clock above the doorman’s desk; just a big hand and a small hand mounted on the marble wall really. 11:55. He had made good time.

“Morning Carl,” he said as he strode past the doorman. “Any one from Circuit City show up for me yet?”

“Not to my knowledge, sir. I just got here about a minute before you though. Expecting a delivery today, Mr. Marston?”

No, it was too easy, so Greg decided not to hit Carl with the full power of his sarcasm. Besides, he was too excited. His new 52 inch High Definition Plasma TV with DLP technology was being delivered today.

“Yes sir, Carl, my good man. Got a new TV comin’ today. (No sense going into the full description, it would probably be lost on old Carl anyway) Told me they’d be here between 12 and 4.”

“Good for you, sir. I gotta tell ya, it’s my experience that when somebody tells me between 12 and 4, that usually means about 3:45.”

Greg depressed the up arrow button between the two elevators. “Carl, when you’re right, you’re right.”

The doors to the lift on the right slid open and Greg slipped inside with a quick glance at his watch. 11:57. He really couldn’t believe the great time he had made from his office. He had contemplated using the company’s car service which was always a crapshoot in lunchtime traffic. He settled instead on the subway and a brisk jog the last two blocks home.

Greg adjusted his briefcase, an Italian leather attaché, in his left hand and pushed the number 14 button. The idea that he actually lived on the thirteenth floor was not something that was lost on him. The fact that they called it the fourteenth did little to placate him, which was fine because he truly required little placating about it. Greg wasn’t one to go in for superstitious behavior. ‘You make your own luck in this world,’ his father had always told him. And Greg took that to mean both good and bad. Besides, thirteen wasn’t inherently unlucky unless you were Jesus or a Norse god, and Greg was pretty sure he was neither.

“Can you hold that elevator?” A woman’s voice, just audible above the clicking of her heels across the marble foyer, wafted into the lift.

He reached out with his free hand and stopped the door from gliding shut.

“Thank you so much,” she offered. “I feel like I’ve just been behind schedule all day today.”

“No problem,” Greg replied.

The woman held the open door button and craned her neck out of the elevator. “Gage, honey. C’mon, hurry up, this nice man’s holding the elevator for us.”

Gage, a three year old boy holding a Spider-Man figure with limbs akimbo, shuffled into the elevator.

“I wanna push the button,” he demanded.

“Okay honey,” his mother answered. “Do you remember what floor we live on?”



Greg looked at his watch. 11:59.


“No. Think about it. Now what comes after five?”


“No, not seven. Well seven does come after five, but Mommy was thinking of the number that comes right after five.”

“Six.” Greg interjected.

The woman turned and faced him. Greg just raised his eyebrows and shrugged.

“Six!” Gage agreed.

“Right, six,” Gage’s mother affirmed, turning her attention back to her son. “Now can you find the number six on the wall?”

Gage smiled and pushed the number 2 button. “This one?”

“No. Higher.”

“This one?” he asked, illuminating another button.

“No, that’s 4.”

Gage lit the number 3.

“Gage, you’re not concentrating. Now where is the number 6 up there? Think.”

“Here?” Another button was lit.

“That looks like an upside down six, doesn’t it, Gagey? But that’s actually a nine. Can you find the number that looks like that one standing on its head?”

Greg couldn’t believe his ears, or his eyes for that matter. The bottom third of the elevator panel had been lit, and they had now stopped twice for no apparent reason. The doors opened and closed for the third time and a sigh escaped his mouth. The woman turned around again and glared at him. He checked the time again. 12:01.

“This one,” Gage declared triumphantly and depressed the number 5.

“Oh, so close,” his mother sympathized. “How about the one next to it?”

Gage eyed her suspiciously. She smiled and nodded. He looked to Greg who had given him a right answer earlier. Greg just stared at him. He had actually contemplated picking him up and throwing him out of the elevator at its next unnecessary stop. Gage smiled at him and pushed the number 8 button.

“Son of a bitch!” Greg yelled. He tried to hold it back. He really did.

The doors opened and shut on the fifth floor, and Greg restrained himself from depositing Gage on the other side of them.

“Do you have kids?” Gage’s mother asked Greg, pushing the 6 button.

“What?” Greg asked, still stupefied.

“Do you have kids?” she repeated.


“I didn’t think so.”

“What the hell does that mean?” he asked.

“Nothing. You just wouldn’t understand that’s all.” The door opened onto the sixth floor and she exited. “C’mon Gage. Apparently the nice man is in a hurry.”

Gage waved goodbye to Greg and moved slowly out of the elevator. Greg moved to the panel and hit the door close button five times in rapid succession until the door slid shut. He was hoping it would slam shut. Something dramatic. He tapped his watch. 12:06.

The elevator stopped on the ninth floor courtesy of Gage’s mathematical prowess. The door opened and closed and Greg remained the sole occupant; he climbed the remaining four floors without incident.

The doors opened onto lucky fourteen and Greg practically jumped out. “I’m gonna have to start using the stairs,” he said to himself as he walked down the hallway to his apartment.

* * *

When he reached his door, Greg blinked and looked at his watch again before letting himself in. 12:08. He picked up the wall phone in the kitchen. The slow and steady drone of the dial tone calmed him some. No messages. Circuit City did not try to contact him. The rest of the calming he left to a tall glass of Grey Goose. “I was the youngest person in the history of my firm to eclipse a billion dollars in sales, and I let a three year old kid rattle me like this? Fuckin’ crazy. And what the hell did she mean, ’I just wouldn’t understand?’” he muttered aloud over the shifting ice cubes in his glass, and checked the time on the microwave clock. 12:08. “Okay, okay, so my watch is a little fast. What the hell am I so worried about anyway? Good ol’ Carl’s probably right, I won’t see those bastards until quarter to four.” He raised the glass to his lips, savored a much deserved slug, and decided to forget about Gage and his mommy.

From the fourteenth floor (okay, thirteenth), the people on the street below more resembled cockroaches than ants. But there was still no sign of the Circuit City truck, and from his vantage point, Greg could see ten or twelve blocks in three directions. He topped off his vodka and planted himself on the leather loveseat in front of his soon to be replaced 27-inch tube television. The dhng sound it made when he turned it on had started irritating him about two weeks ago, and now it just plain infuriated him. He relegated the remote control to the sofa alongside the cable remote and the one for his six disc Sony DVD/CD player.

The clock on the DVD player and Greg’s Rolex could only agree that it was somewhere between 1:12 and 1:16. Maury had given way to Jerry Springer, and Greg found himself to be enjoying this brief respite from the world of Manhattan Commercial Real Estate. His tie was gone, and his suit jacket adorned the back of a stool at the counter. When he had bought the place, the woman called it a breakfast bar, but Greg rarely ate breakfast, so he found it all a bit misleading. He knew that residential realtors these days were urged not to call large closets walk-ins, for fear of offending our wheelchair-bound brothers, the term Family Room was even up for debate. And Master Bedroom, forget about it! He naturally assumed that breakfast bar would be the next casualty in the war on common sense.

Greg, being a numbers guy, did the math. Even if his was the second or third, or even fourth delivery of the day, his new TV should be arriving at any minute. But his expectant exuberance was soon swallowed by a gurgle just below his stomach and a stirring in his bowels.

“Shit,” he exclaimed, grabbing his cordless phone and making his way to the bathroom which, he had to admit, had a better ring than shower room or den of defecation or urination suite, though Greg himself never took a bath. And water closet always made him think of The Poseidon Adventure for some reason. He deposited the phone on the counter, and sat squat-legged on the pot leafing through the latest Sharper Image catalog. He thumbed through two full pages of air purifiers (he was quite content with his Ionic Breeze), Roomba’s new cousin Scooba, and docking stations galore for your iPod.

His perusal of the magazine was interrupted by three sharp blasts, which sounded to Greg like a tuba player was standing right there in the bathroom with him repeating the same note. B flat. The timing of the first blast was as unfortunate as it was alarming. Greg thought it came from his ass. It wasn’t until the horn was replaced by a loud, persistent ringing that he realized it was the fire alarm.

“Well isn’t that just perfect?” he mused while his hand sought out the empty toilet paper roll on the wall. “Son of a bitch.” He alternately wiggled and clenched his cheeks on the toilet seat, allowing anything that may drop to drop before cautiously hunching his way to the cabinet beneath the sink while his gray Armani suit pants hugged his ankles.

* * *

Small groups of people clustered in conversation littered the sidewalk outside the apartment building when Greg made his exit, Grey Goose and cordless phone in hand. He squinted in the early afternoon sun. The warmth of the day intensified the slow, dull buzz he was starting to feel from his cocktail.

“I don’t see any smoke. Do you see smoke?” It was Wanda Harrington, the President of the Tenants’ Association. Greg recognized her from her picture in the monthly newsletter.

“No ma’am,” Carl agreed. “How ‘bout you, Mr. Marston? Did you smell anything on your way down?”

“Can’t say as I did, Carl, my good man,” Greg replied cheerily enough. “Are the afternoons always this exciting around here?”

“Oh, heavens no,” Mrs. Harrington chuckled. Greg thought he may have even caught her blush a little. “Mr. Marston, is it?”

“Greg. Please call me Greg. I’ve told Carl that a million times but he insists on the formality.” And then to Carl, “You’re a dying breed, Carl.”

Carl eyed Greg with a somewhat bewildered expression. He honestly didn’t know whether to shit or go sailing after Mr. Marston’s comment, outwardly he appeared to be taking it as a compliment. “Didn’t see any smoke around the back side of the building, neither,” Carl offered. “Could’a been a false alarm, but we won’t know ‘til the fire department gets here.”

“Or until the place burns down.”

Greg’s remark soured the faces of both Carl and Wanda Harrington, whose face was well on its way before Greg uttered a word, and he gulped a hearty mouthful from his glass.

“Keep an eye on the sixth floor,” Carl took back the reins on the conversation, “that’s where the alarm was triggered.”

Greg coughed, spraying the vodka he had just ingested all over Wanda’s smart yet springy lavender blazer. “Did you say sixth floor?”

Carl’s answer trailed off in Greg’s ears as his eyes intently surfed the crowd for a familiar three year old. “Excuse me a moment, Carl, Mrs. Harrington,” Greg said and beelined it to a group of people about twenty yards away.

“What do you know about this Mr. Marston, Carl?” Wanda inquired after Greg had departed.

“Nice enough guy, ma’am. Little sarcastic at times. He certainly seems a bit distracted today.”

“Maybe it’s all the vodka he drinks in the afternoon,” she contemplated, patting her bosom with a silk handkerchief. Out of habit, Carl retrieved his own hanky, a red bandana with paisley designs, and proceeded to help Mrs. Harrington clean the stain from her jacket.

She glanced down and saw Carl’s hand on her breast. “I really do not require your assistance with this, Carl.” Her tone was more friendly than either had expected.

* * *

Gage stood in the middle of a clutch of women. They were discussing everything from Baby Einstein to innovative recipes for macaroni and cheese. Everything but the situation at hand. The potential fire. He had relinquished his Marvel hero figure in favor of a T-Rex and a Velociraptor (both plastic) which he was forcing to fight in midair by basically crashing them into one another and making Pow! and Khoo! noises.

“You,” Greg bellowed, closing in on the group, and diverting much of the crowd’s attention from the building. “That’s just about right. I should’ve figured you’d be in the middle of all this.”

“Is that him?” one of the women asked Gage’s mother, eyeing Greg with motherly disdain.

“Yep. That’s Darth Ele-Vader.”

Greg ignored her quip and stooped down to Gage’s level. “You pulled the fire alarm, didn’t you?” His hands were now on the toddler’s shoulders. “Didn’t you?” he repeated, not realizing he had started shaking the child.

“Get your fucking hands off my son!” his mother shrieked, drawing even more attention to the scene outside the burning or not burning building. Greg did just that, and a sobbing Gage ran into his mother’s embrace. “You’d better just keep your goddamn distance from me and my son or…” she never finished the threat.

“With pleasure,” Greg replied with a flourish, picking up his drink and returning to a stunned Carl and Mrs. Harrington. His steps felt heavy, his face was red, and his head was swimming.

“Mr. Marston, what on earth was that all about?” Wanda was the first to speak up. Her scowl corroborated her tone.

“That? Oh, that’s nothing,” he explained. “I ran into them in the elevator earlier this afternoon, and we had a slight altercation.” His words, especially the last two, escaped him in a clumsy slur. “That’s all. The little brat, Gage (and he said the name tauntingly, childishly, and loud enough for his mother to hear), decided he’d prefer it if the elevator car stopped on every goddamn floor. And she let him do it. Parents really have no control over their fu–, I mean freaking kids these days.”

“I see,” Wanda replied, although she didn’t see, and she was hard pressed to sympathize with a man who decided to save only his glass of vodka from a burning building. “Perhaps it is a good idea for you to keep your distance from them.”

“Believe me, that’s what I intend to do,” Greg agreed.

“Can I ask you something, Mr. Marston?” she continued.


“You don’t have children, do you?”

“No ma’am,” he replied, annoyed at being asked that question for the second time today. “Why?”

“You just wouldn’t understand,” was all she said.

* * *

About an hour after the building was cleared by the fire marshal, and deemed safe for reentry, Greg found himself pacing nervously, ferociously around his living room. His Rolex declared the day four minutes older than the clock on the DVD player, which read 3:31. Between the Grey Goose and the day’s festivities, he had really whipped himself into a frenzy. Not to mention the delicious impression he had made on the President of the Tenants’ Association. He thought about drafting a letter of apology. To her, anyway.

He stopped his pacing long enough to refill his drink. There was a knock at the door.

“Finally,” he sighed, crossing the living room to the front entry.

No sooner had he cracked the door open than it was filled with a burly, scruffily bearded man who would have looked more at home behind the wheel of a rusty pickup truck with a bumper sticker warning other commuters that his kid can kick their honor student’s ass, than in an uptown apartment. Then his left eye went black.

With the exception of the obligatory arm punches on his birthday from his older brother Chuck, Greg hadn’t been hit, let alone in the face since fifth grade. And that was for snapping the strap of Gina Galante’s bra in the schoolyard. She had punched him pretty hard, but the sensation he felt now, standing in his own foyer was a fairly new one. He fell back on his heels, but managed to keep his feet beneath him. There was a growing part of him that wished he had just fallen over. But a larger part of him knew that wasn’t going to happen. Not today.

He struggled to open his eye even a slit. The swelling, which was immediate, caused it to be less than cooperative. Through the pool of tears which had collected on his lower eyelid which was now on the verge of overflowing, he spied his intruder still in the open doorway, just standing there, measuring him. And for the second time that minute, he wished he had just fallen over.

Before he could really assess the situation, Gage’s father’s hands were firmly on his shoulders. “You like to shake little kids, huh? Like to scare’em? C’mon, shake me then?”

Greg blinked his good eye in an attempt to jump start his brain. No use. Flooded.

“What’s the matter? You only fight with kids?” he scoffed at Greg shaking him like a ragdoll.

Greg, intent on stopping the shaking, was able to plant his left foot on the tile in his entryway, and managed to swing his right, weakly, toward the vicinity of his assailant’s genitals. Gage’s father caught his foot mid-kick. Unfortunate, but at least the shaking stopped. In the minute or so that followed, he had collected as much of his composure as he could have hoped for, hopping on one leg in his foyer. There was time for one last move, one last defense, one that he hadn’t called upon since that day in the schoolyard that would surely regain his captive leg and send this intruder running in fear down the hall. Bending his suspended knee, he hopped closer to Gage’s father, who stunk of gin, or was it Drakkar Noir? He stretched his arms, like Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid movie, closed his eyes tight, and brought his open hands crashing in on his enemy’s ears.

Now, either a grown man’s ears are nowhere near as sensitive as a fifth grade girl’s, or Greg missed his mark, for when he opened his eyes again Gage’s father still stood there. And momentarily, Greg was only in possession of his left leg.

“Do me a favor, tough guy,” Gage’s father goaded, “just stay the hell away from my family.” And with that, he abruptly let go of Greg’s foot and sent him flying backward onto the tile floor. Greg heard his head hit the floor as if he were standing nearby then everything went dark.

* * *

“Mr. Marston. Mr. Marston. Are you okay? Mr. Marston?”

Greg opened his eyes to see Wanda Harrington leaning over him. Her lavender blazer was replaced with a lime-green, equally springy one. If his first meeting with Mrs. Harrington was worthy of an apology letter, this second one deserved an all expense paid trip to Bermuda for her and a guest.

“What time is it?” Greg heard himself ask, as he barely managed to get to his feet.

“Ten minutes ‘til six,” she confided. “I believe this belongs to you,” Wanda said, producing Greg’s cordless phone from her jacket pocket. “You must have forgotten it in all the excitement outside.” Her tone sounded very judgmental to Greg, who only extended his hand to accept the phone.

“Yea, sorry about this afternoon, the boy, your jacket,” Greg offered. He stood in front of her, still unsure of his legs. His left eye was already blackened and swollen shut, and his hair, where it wasn’t matted to his forehead, appeared to be making a right turn with its left turn signal on.

Mrs. Harrington simply nodded and forced a smile. “Do you need to go to the hospital?” she inquired not so much out of concern, but to fill the silence. “I could have Carl call you a cab.”

“No. No, thank you. I think I just need to get cleaned up.”

“Very well then. I’ll just show myself out.” Wanda pulled Greg’s door closed behind her. Greg thought he heard her say something else on the way out, but he couldn’t make it out. He was glad for that.

He made his way to the leather couch in the living room, careful not to catch a glimpse of himself in the mirror above the fireplace, picked up his drink from the end table and held it to his injured eye. Greg grabbed the phone from his lap, depressed the talk button, and raised it to his ear. The staccato of the dial tone caused his pulse to quicken. He dialed the access number for his voice mail service, entered his code, and waited.

An automated voice. “You have one new message, two saved messages. To listen to—“

Greg pressed the number 1.

“Message delivered at 2:37 p.m. Mr. Marston this is Butch. From Circuit City. Hey, it’s about quarter to three and we’re trying to deliver this TV of yours, but traffic seems to be a real mess in your area. Amsterdam seems to be closed. Something about a building fire. Anyway, doesn’t look like we’re gonna be able to get there today. I’m gonna go ahead and schedule you for tomorrow. Same time, between 12 and 4. If this is a problem, give me a call before five. Thanks, sorry about the inconvenience.”

Greg hit the star key twice and held the phone on his leg. It was too late to call Butch, but he wanted to call someone, but whom? His mom? His brother? Gina Galante? He retrieved his laptop from his brief case and decided instead to write a letter to Mrs. Harrington while the day’s events were still fresh in his mind. The computer booted up, more quietly and efficiently than his old TV, and Greg opted to check out the news online before composing his letter of feigned contrition to one Wanda Harrington. Nothing too exciting in the news, the immigration debate raged on, and the market was down a few points, which Greg attributed to his taking a half day.

Greg positioned his cursor in the Google search pad of his browser’s toolbar and typed the name Gina Galante. The first result advertised a Princeton realtor. Could be. He clicked on it. No pictures, but there was an email address. Greg clicked and began typing.

Dear Gina,

If this is the Gina Galante who attended St. Genevieve’s Elementary School in Flourtown, PA, words cannot express how sorry I am for snapping your bra strap in the schoolyard when we were in fifth grade. If this not the same Gina Galante, please disregard this message.

Greg Marston

PS I hope your ears are not still ringing.

PPS We should get together sometime.

His finger perched thoughtfully on his mouse’s left button, then clicked it, sending his 27 year past-due apology across the river to New Jersey.

“I think one apology is enough today,” he said to himself satisfactorily closing his laptop and turning on his TV with a thoroughly depressing Dhng.

copyright 2006

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4 Responses to “Another Short Story from Soupy’s Vault”

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