Hartford

        Work kept Woody on the straight and narrow.  The kitchen was a cocoon he could wrap around himself.  He couldn’t say he loved his job, but it served a purpose.  The time it  occupied kept his mind off drinking.  He’d fallen into a schedule, up at five,  in work from six to two thirty and home in time for tea by four.  The routine lulled him into the belief that everything would work out and his life would keep him out of shelters and low on the radar. 

        It was a Monday and Woody was coming home.  As he approached Sophie’s house he noticed a knot of people on the sidewalk outside.  He immediately thought that the old lady had a heart attack or worse.  He ran to the front porch.  The people were neighbors.  He quizzed them and found out that some of the local teeens had tried to break in and were driven off by a neighbor who was alerted by the commotion.  The pollice had been called and had not yet arrived.  Inside he found Sophie trying to compose herself.  He talked with her and went into the kitchen and put a pot of tea on the stove.  Consistency would help her regain some kind of equilibrium.  He poured her a cup and sat listening to her account of what happened.  She’d gone out to check the mail when a trio of youths tried to force her door open after she’d gone inside.  They were chased off by a retired postman who lived next door. 

        The police arrived and asked questions and simply told her that nothing could be done.  If only the neighbor had overpowered one of them and held him.  They could do something then.  The cops left after a half hour telling Sophie that she could come down to the station and file a report.  Woody has heard all of this before.  The street people were preyed on and little could be done if one of them had been rolled or worse.  He tried to ask her questions to get some information.  After a while, Woody had a description, sketchy as it was, of one of the intruders.  He assured Sophie that he’d tell the police the new data.  He cleaned up after tea and asked if Sophie if she’d have dinner.  She didn’t.  All she wanted was to lay down and rest.  After she fell asleep, Woody showered and watched TV until he was tired.  He turned an idea over and over in his brain.  Those kids needed to be taught a lesson.  That was stupid.  He couldn’t do anything.  He was as broken inside as the juvies who tried to break in.  At nine he went to bed.  He lay awake thinking about what had happened.  In truth, he had nothing invested here.  Sophie was just an old lady who had the bad luck to live in a crappy meighborhood.  Not a ghetto, but on its way to becoming one.

          The next day at work went as expected in at six out at three.  He had tea with Sophie and after cleaning up he excused himself.  He went out and walked to the Xtra Mart up the street.  He bought three cans of soda and scoped out the teens hanging around the parking lot.  One stood out.  A tall lanky kid with cafe au lait skin and corn rows. He semed to be the leader.  He walked up to him, as steady as his nerves would allow.

          “You know anybody who tried to hassle the old lady down the street?” He asked.

           “No, want me to hassle her?” Came the reply.

            “No, but it would be a bad idea if it happened again.”

            “Why, she got a gun?”

             “Worse.  She’s got protection. Bad protection, some guy from downtown.”

             “Why you tellin’ me?”

              “You seem to be the man in charge here and it would save you a hassle. Just sayin'”

            He’d set the trap.  He knew they’d be back and he’d be waiting.

            That night he spent time sitting in the parlor watching the front window.   There was little traffic up and down the sidewalk.  He was paid off.  A walker in a hoodie slowed down and stopped at the walk that led up to the porch.  The watcher looked the place up and down and moved on.  “Perfect” Woody thought.  Now all he had to do was wait.  He was at a disadvantage, they knew when the payback would come, he didn’t.

        His patience paid off.  Three days later there were four kids hanging at the end of the walkway.  They were working up nerve.  Woody was already psyched.  They charged the front door.  He was waiting.  When they were ready to hit the door he pulled it open.  A keg sized kid slammed into Woody’s fist.  He was hit in the gut. He doubled over and the three behind him fell forward onto him.  He delivered a rabbit punch to the second.  The third one got up and swung at Woody.  He connected.  Woody felt it to his core, but he kept it together enough to deliver a shot that dropped the punk.  His cornrowed buddy was last and Woody grabbed him and pulled him in.  He hit him square between the eyes.  He heard the cartilage in the nose break and felt the target go limp.  The keg on the bottom tried to pull at Woody’s legs. He pulled loose and delivered kicks until the motion ceased.  He couldn’t stop.  Something pushed him to keep on punching and kicking.  He felt good.  This was the best he felt in years.  His four assailants found their feet and legged it down the walk and up the street.  Woody chased them, hoping one would turn around and come after him.  He could feel and taste the blood.  He dropped the roll of quarters into his pants pocket.  When he was back inside the house Sophie was on the phone dialing 911.  He stopped her.  He told her it was taken care of.  He said she should go back to sleep.  She went back to her room.   Woody went upstairs and showered.  He couldn’t fall asleep.  He was still ready to go.