‘I’m good,’ said Lonnie, waving a hand at the neb dealer
and passing him by. The dealer went on with his business,
showing off his nebulizer packs. ‘Neb, my man? Two dollars.
Hey, sister, howbout a pack?’
Lonnie rounded the corner of Cottage Grove, pulling his
coat close around him, and eyed the queue that had already
formed before the auto-store.
I gotta start getting up earlier, thought Lonnie,
checking his watch.
He crossed the street and joined the back of the queue.
The woman in front of him peered over her shoulder and smiled.
Lonnie returned her smile as she turned back around, then
checked his watch a second time: eight o’clock.
The graffitied shutter of the auto-store began to roll
upwards, rattling and grating against the guiderail,
eventually revealing three dispenser units. As the last of the
green-gold shutter disappeared into the auto-store facade, the
dispensers blinked into life.
‘Dispenser one please. Dispenser two please. Dispenser
three please,’ called the emotionless voice of the auto-store.
‘Let me get a twelve pack of nebs.’
‘Just a water.’
‘Okay, I want two packs of cheese, a large carton of
instant milk, twelve eggs, and make sure none of them is
Lonnie watched the woman before him approach an available
dispenser and list off her groceries.
‘All out of diapers,’ the dispenser told her.
‘For God’s sake, okay ––’
‘Dispenser three please,’ called the auto-store, with
Lonnie next in line. He stepped up to the dispenser, fishing
in his pocket for his identification chip.
‘A bottle of Wild Irish.’ ‘Identification chip please.’
Lonnie pulled the chip from his pocket and inserted it
into the reader.
‘Authorised,’ said the dispenser. ‘Twenty dollars will be
taken from identification chip C200424324. Please confirm.’
A familiar buzzing and whirring sounded from inside the
dispenser, and a moment later, out popped Lonnie’s order.
‘Would you like a bag?’
‘I’m not paying for that shit,’ said Lonnie, reaching
into the dispenser compartment and taking his bottle of
‘Thank you for using American Auto-Store.’
Lonnie turned away from the dispenser, unscrewing the lid
of his Wild Irish until it opened with a satisfying snap. He
breathed in its warmth, allowing the richness of the liquor to
fill his lungs and make him tingle all over. Throwing the lid
into the gutter of the street, he pressed the bottle to his
lips and began to guzzle down the dark red liquid.
The bottle was nearly half empty by the time Lonnie had
crossed back across the street. He took another gulp and again
turned the corner of Cottage Grove.
‘Fuck you man!’
Lonnie saw the neb dealer conducting business with a
customer, each man scowling at one another. As he drew nearer
the two men, the customer made a sudden swipe for the neb pack in the dealer’s hand. Though the dealer tried to pull away,
the pack was knocked from his grasp. It fell and cracked open
on the sidewalk, the liquid-nicotine leaking from the glass
bottom. The dealer’s closed fist had connected with his would-
be customer before the latter had time to react; he swayed
sideways, as the dealer followed in with another blow.
Grabbing his attacker by the shoulders, for balance as much as
defence, the customer forced himself and the dealer backwards
and into a store front. They clattered against the shutter and
fell to the ground. Bystanders watched as the pair tussled.
‘Stop it!’ called an onlooker. ‘Hey, stop it! You want
the cops to come knocking?’
The two men continued to scuffle, punches dropping any
time one of them could wrestle an arm free.
‘Stop that,’ hollered Lonnie, now only a few feet from
the men. He placed his liquor in his coat pocket, gripped a
flailing arm and pulled it upwards, then seized the exposed
torso of whichever man he had grabbed hold of. ‘Get off each
Lonnie pulled the torso upwards, prying the two men
apart, and stumbled backwards on the uneven sidewalk. He fell
directly onto his backside, leaving him winded and gasping for
Lonnie caught his breath, looked up, and recognised the
dealer, standing next to him, straightening his jacket and
dusting himself off at the elbows. Lonnie was just getting to his feet when the blue and white police car pulled up beside
them, its siren whining. Onlookers began to move on down the
block and away from the corner; others continued to watch.
‘Shit,’ muttered the dealer.
Something killed the siren. With the engine of the police
car still droning, both the driver- and passenger-side doors
swung open. Out stepped two officers at a mechanical pace.
‘Do not move,’ ordered the officer nearest the sidewalk,
as the other skirted the vehicle and joined its partner. ‘Stay
where you are.’
‘Officer, I haven’t ––’ began Lonnie.
‘Raise your hands.’
Neither Lonnie nor the dealer complied.
‘Hands in the air. Now.’
A holster snapped open; a bolt pistol levelled at
‘Now,’ repeated the officer, blankly.
Lonnie raised his arms above his head, continuing to
protest. ‘Officer, I’ve done nothing wrong here, listen to me.
I was walking by ––’
The driver-side officer advanced on Lonnie, drawing a
pair of handcuffs, as the other continued to aim at his chest,
its sickly blue eyes unblinking.
‘Please, officer, I’m trying to explain –– The officer gripped Lonnie’s raised arm and pulled it
down behind his back. Lonnie had felt the touch of an officer
many times before; the deathly cold that accompanied it,
however, always took him by surprise. The officer twisted his
‘Hey, let go of me!’ Lonnie pulled his hand away from the
‘Do not resist arrest,’ the officer stated. It made for
Lonnie wrists again. Lonnie pulled away. The officer lurched
forward, throwing its arm around Lonnie’s neck.
‘Get off of him!’
‘There’s no need for that!’
The cold of the officer’s arm numbed Lonnie’s neck, the
back of his head. Then the pressure of the chokehold.
‘Get off of me!’ gasped Lonnie.
The officer continued to apply pressure.
‘Leave him alone!’
‘You’re hurting him!’
Lonnie tensed his jaw, pulled at the officer’s arm,
trying to loosen its grip.
‘Let go of him!’
‘He didn’t do anything!’
He pulled his chin inwards towards his chest and bit down
into the officer’s pearly, translucent skin. The pressure
didn’t lessen. ‘Let go!’ yelled Lonnie, losing breath and struggling
with the officer. His arms had begun to lose feeling. ‘You’re
– hey! – you’re hurting me!’
‘You’re hurting him!’
‘Somebody do something!’
‘Leave him alone!’
‘They’re gonna kill him!’
‘Get off of him, skinjob!’
‘They’re gonna kill him!’
Lonnie’s eyes began to blur when the pressure suddenly
subsided and the chokehold broke. Lonnie fell to the floor,
breathing painfully, sensation returning to his arms. He
staggered to his feet and began to run, not knowing in which
direction he was heading, but running, running as fast and
straight as he could.
‘Hold it there.’
‘We will shoot.’
Lonnie rounded the corner as several shots rang out. Feet
rushed. A woman screamed. Lonnie hit the sidewalk with a thud.
The bottle in his coat pocket shattered.
‘Suspect down. I repeat, suspect down.’
Lonnie drew deep breaths, heat searing through his back
towards his chest, each attempt shorter and raspier than the
last. Red liquid flowed down the sidewalk, followed by an ooze
of dark crimson. Lonnie’s eyes rolled. He glimpsed the
blinking auto-store dispensers, free of any queue.
By Charlie Jones