Unfortunate Business

Arthur walked through the door into the sunshine, briefcase in hand, and dreaded the walk to work. His office building was only a mile and a half away from his apartment. That was one of the perks of living in the city, he supposed. But he hated how crowded everything was. It always took him longer to walk to work than it should have. He was in a hurry this morning. There was a meeting at 9 o’clock at which he was supposed to present his proposal. He patted his briefcase unconsciously, feeling the reassuring bulk of the envelope.

Arthur nervously adjust his silk tie as he watched the heavy flow of foot traffic moving up and down the sidewalk from the stoop of his apartment complex. People paid little attention to him as he stood there watching them. With a small, tired sigh, Arthur stepped down the stairs to the sidewalk and joined the throng.

Arthur waded through the sea of people moving back and forth, to and from apartments and offices. Some of the people had the almost unkempt, disheveled look of those coming off a night shift, and others had that crisp, almost vacuum-sealed look he associated with lawyers. There were punk rockers, high school students, women going shopping, men drinking coffee and glancing at their watches, women applying makeup as they shuffled through the crowd, and everywhere was the noise and smell of automobiles.

Arthur was bumped and jostled as he did his best to stick close to the buildings. Someone as small as he was did their best to stay away from the street. It was only last week that he had read of some poor soul accidentally getting pushed out of the sidewalk traffic and into the way of a bus.

Arthur checked his Rolex and ducked into a small alley between two large buildings, taking advantage of the decrease in foot traffic to speed up. About halfway through the alley, someone jumped out from behind a dumpster and, with a disgustingly wet “THNK,” clubbed him in the head with what looked like baseball bat.

Arthur stared for what seemed like almost an hour, stunned, at the dark figure holding the bat in its hands and wondered why he was taking so long to fall down. Arthur noticed a large red splotch on the side of the dumpster. He wondered if it was blood. Maybe it was blood from a previous victim? But no, it was only rust, he realized, as he got closer to it; some of the paint had been worn off over the years and the metal below it began to surrender to the harsh elements of the big city.

Finally, with a “thud” that sounded like it was coming from fifty feet away, he hit the ground on his stomach. It was surprisingly dry. He had always imagined that the alleys where people got mugged had pools of water and slime everywhere. Thank goodness there wouldn’t be any wet spots on his freshly-pressed suit when he made his presentation. The ground was also very warm, despite the approaching winter.

Light kept flashing into his eyes as it reflected off cars passing by the far end of the alley and through the gaps in the passing crowd. Why did none of them come to help him? A driver in one of the cars should have been able to see him lying there, and surely one of the people on foot would have already called the police. But why did no one come to help him? Why did no one stop and look in the alley?

Hands rifling through his pockets. They took his wallet out of his jacket pocket, his cell phone from his pants’ pocket, and they just TOOK his entire briefcase. They didn’t bother looking through it. They just took the whole thing.

Arthur had an important letter and plans in that briefcase. They were part of a business deal that would finally get him that promotion he’d been dreaming of for the past two years. At 34, he would be the youngest junior partner in the history of his company. He would finally be able to get a house in the suburbs for Alice. He’d be able to buy each of them a nice car. An extravagant SUV that just guzzled gas. He and his wife would finally be able to have children, a dog, maybe even a cat.

But the hands had taken his briefcase with his letter and the plans for the proposed office complex. And now his watch too! They also began tugging at his wedding band. They were leaving him with nothing. Suddenly, the ring popped off his finger and the pressure of the prodding hands was gone. After a few moments, Arthur supposed that they had finally left him alone.

Suddenly, a pair of feet walked into his vision. He wondered what the feet were doing there. Where had they come from? Had they noticed him lying there and come to help? And what was that? There was a long, thin object next to them. It looked like it was round. The bottom didn’t rest very well on the ground. It dragged behind the feet, never once lifting from the ground like feet would.

The feet stopped right in front of his face and the round, thin object got closer to his face. He realized then that it was made of wood. Very well-polished wood. With some dark, wet splotches on it that partially covered some writing. The unstained portion read “Louisville Slu-”. He wondered what a “Slu” was.

Suddenly, it moved a little on its own, skittering about on the concrete, no longer following the feet. Then, it jumped up and disappeared from his sight. He heard another one of the meaty, disgustingly wet “THNK’s” from earlier. It seemed like he should have felt something. But he couldn’t quite place his finger on what it was he should have been feeling. It was all very odd. He had taken this shortcut through the alley almost every day for the past 3 years and he had never fallen down onto the ground, nor had hands ever searched him. He heard another of the “THNK’s” and thought he should have felt that too.

The feet finally started moving away. They ran down the alley and he saw then that the feet were attached to some legs, and these legs decided to go into the back door of one of the buildings bordering the alley. Arthur hoped that the feet and legs were going to call the police. But why, he thought, did he want the police? That’s right. The hands. They took his house in the suburbs with a car, kids, and pets. He wanted those things back. But first he needed a nap. He was extremely tired. He had been up so late working on his car and kids. He smiled as he drifted off, as the world slowly faded from his senses. At least he had remembered to make photocopies.