Tattered boots found unstable footing in the snow as David Diegert trudged two miles to his night shift job at the Mini-Mart. Without money life sucks, he thought, as the cold penetrated his coat and numbed his toes. His snow-impeded pace slowed his walk. Normally he passed the time checking e-mail, reading the news or playing Big Game Hunter, but today he was left with only his thoughts since his service had been cut off for non-payment.
His job was lousy, but with only a high school diploma in the rural economy of Northern Minnesota, Diegert was lucky to have it. Minimum wage sapped his efforts at financial progress. He hated living at home with his parents and older brother but he hoped the raise he was due would give him enough to get his own apartment. He also hoped to save some money for college although right now a car would be nice.
Scuffing the snow off his boots on the doormat, he would later have to clean, Diegert stepped inside the front door of the store. He smelled the pizza cooking and heard the hot dogs sizzling but his senses had grown numb to these and they only served to dull his appetite. Barbara, his heavyset co-worker, looked up from the counter she was cleaning and gave him a nod. Standing next to the door of his messy office the store manager, Barley Cummings, eyed him quizzically. Barley was proud to tell anyone who asked, and even those who didn’t, that he was named after the main ingredient for making beer. Cummings beckoned him over with his fingers.
“Didn’t you get my e-mail,” asked the rotund manager?
“No,” said Diegert breaking eye contact. “My phone’s dead.”
“Well we’re downsizing.”
“You’re making the store smaller?”
“No, I’m making the staff smaller and I had to let you go.”
“And you told me with an e-mail?”
“Yeah, thought I’d save you the walk. Look, your passcard has been de-activated and unless you’re gonna buy something you gotta go. You don’t work here anymore; Tonto.”
Diegert absorbed the news with disappointment while anger and embarrassment rose up inside especially since Barley used the nickname from high school which he hated.
“I’m due for a raise and so now you fire me.”
“It’s called corporate cost control,” said Cummings matter of factly as he put a hand on Diegert’s shoulder nudging him toward the door. Diegert slapped the thoughtless boss’s hand away and shoved him up against the soda machine.
“Don’t fuckin’ touch me.”
Cumming’s huge belly shook as Diegert pressed him back against the soda fountain. The store manager’s wide ass activated the dispensers, which soaked his pants.
“Don’t do anything crazy,” pleaded the overweight imbecile who never realized that the muscles which bound Diegert’s 6 foot 2 inch frame were so strong.
Releasing his grip on Cummings and stepping back, Diegert thought about crazy. He looked at the shelves of chips, the stacks of soda bottles, the cardboard displays of cookies as well as the refrigerated cases full of beer. He wanted to smash it all, clear the shelves with a sweep of his arm and toss the soda behind the counter where it would crash on the sandwich boards and the pizza oven. Then he would shove a shelving unit right through the glass bursting the bottles of beer. He wanted to destroy the entire shitty little store where he had wasted so much time. But he did not.
Stepping away from the frightened fat man Diegert said, “I’m walking outta here on my own.” He turned and left the store having dropped his employee passcard on the floor.
As he walked down the dark country road Diegert heard the acceleration of an engine and saw his tall shadow cast on the road by flashing lights of red and blue. Over his shoulder he peered at the County Sheriff’s car as it passed by and pulled in front of him, nose to the snowbank blocking his path. Officer Paul Tate stepped out of the car and walked back to Diegert.
“Dave, I’m placing you under arrest.”
“Oh come on, Tates.”
“Don’t give me any shit. Barley called it in and you have the right to remain silent.”
Officer Tate handcuffed Diegert and put him in the car.
Locked in the processing room at the Police Station, Diegert sat alone for a long time which allowed his thoughts to wander back.
Sitting on the couch, which was really a foam mattress on top of an old door held up by cinderblocks, David and his Mother, Denise, huddled under a blanket in the cold house while she read to him from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. She cleverly created a distinct voice for each character. David loved the adventures of Hogwarts and was magically transported there by the imagination of his Mother.
“God damn it, there’s not enough beer in here,” bellowed David’s Father; Tom as he pulled his head up from inside the fridge.
“I told you to have at least a 12 pack in here all the time,” he shouted as he slammed the fridge door. Denise stopped reading, rose from the mattress and went to the kitchen.
“You fuckin’ Injuns can’t count past five,” Tom said as he shoved the tall dark haired woman into the cupboard door. Fourteen year old Jake quickly left the kitchen and closed the door to his upstairs bedroom.
“Leave her alone,” demanded little ten year old little David. Dressed in pajamas, he stood defiantly between his parents facing his Father with a look of determination.
“Ha Ha Ha,” his Father laughed. “Look at the little bastard standing up to protect his slut of a Mother. Come on little man let’s see what you’re really made of.”
Tom Diegert put up his fists and so did David. Tom flinched his left and smacked David’s face with his right snapping the young boy’s neck and spinning him onto the floor. Blood oozed from his lips as his Mother screamed for Tom to stop. He turned his rage on her slapping her face and shoving her up against the counter.
“This is my house and you’re my wife and I’ll do whatever I goddamn want.”
David stepped behind his father, kicking him in the knee. Tom spun and backhanded David across the face, knocking him tumbling over a kitchen chair.
“You think you’re a tough little guy, eh? Let’s see how you like this!”
Tom opened the kitchen door and threw David out into the snow of a Minnesota winter night.
The door slammed jolting David Diegert out of his recollection of that night over ten years ago.
Sheriff Michael Lowery crossed the room and stood before the chair to which Diegert was handcuffed. “It’s your lucky day son. Oh I know you lost your job at the Mini-Mart and you beat up your boss for firing you.”
“I didn’t beat him up Mr. Lowery,” protested Diegert.
“He says you pushed him into a soda machine, but I convinced him not to press charges. You’ve been arrested but you’re not being charged. You’re free to go.”
Diegert looked at him untrustingly. “This is the lucky part?”
“Yup, it is,” said the lawman as he unlocked the handcuffs. “But that’s not all.”
The Sheriff of Broward County handed Diegert a business card saying. “Major Carl Winston, U.S. Army Recruiter. I suggest you go see him and consider serving your country rather than assaulting its citizens.”
Sheriff Lowery took a seat next to Diegert. “Ya see, I know you’ve had it rough. I’ve responded to some of those domestic disputes at your house. But I also remember when you won States in wrestling. You were the first kid from Broward to ever go to States. I felt very proud down at the tournament.”
Diegert looked at him with surprise to learn that he had made the trip all the way down to Minneapolis for the State wrestling tournament three years ago. His Father hadn’t bothered.
“I want to see you do well in life. Tell Major Winston I sent you and he’ll be very understanding. But David if you piss away this opportunity you will not be walking out of here next time you’re arrested.”
Diegert stood up put the card in his shirt pocket. He hesitated before extending his hand to the Sheriff. They shook hands and Diegert walked out into the cold winter night.
The walk home was windy but the frigid piercing air was not nearly as uncomfortable as the dynamics of the Diegert household. Having grown tall and strong Diegert’s short, fat Father used his words rather than his fists to hurt David. Stepping straight into the kitchen of the small frame house Diegert encountered his Father’s scorn before he’d even taken off his boots.
“Hey dipshit, Jake told me you got fired from the Mini-Mart.”
“Well then I’m glad I don’t have to tell you.”
“Don’t you give me any of that wise-ass shit. If I stop getting calls from them to tow away illegally parked cars, I’m blaming you.”
Putting his coat on a hanger in the closet Diegert replied, “The failure of your business is not my fault.”
“Your maternal bitch isn’t here to defend you, so you’d better watch your mouth.”
Jake interjected, “Barley says you assaulted him and he had you arrested.”
“I didn’t beat him nearly enough. The charges were dropped and Lowery let me go.”
Diegert passed by the kitchen table where his father and brother sat with their brown bottles of beer, a bag of chips and two cigarettes smoldering in the ash tray. As David opened the fridge Jake said, “Don’t take any of our food.”
With a disdainful frowning smirk David said, “I’ve got my own.”
David stood at the kitchen counter making turkey sandwiches.
“What are you going to do without a job?” asked Tom.
Sarcastically David replied, “I don’t know maybe Jake will let me help him sell drugs.”
Jake looked up sneering at him as he raised his middle finger from his doughy fist.
“Now dipshit,” began his Father addressing David, “it usually takes a person about two months to find a new job. So I want the next two months rent up front.”
David turned to look at his Father with an incredulous expression of disbelief.
“I’m also raising the rent so you owe me $2000.”
Pounding the kitchen counter and extending to his full height, David spun to face the table at which Tom and Jake sat. With a sharp kitchen knife in his hand David said, “A $1000 dollars a month to shit in your toilet and sleep in the barn, no fuckin’ way?”
“Hey, you’re lucky to have a roof and I hate the way your shit stinks so if you want to live somewhere else go right ahead.”
Pointing the knife at Jake, David barked, “What about him? He lives in the heat and eats whatever he wants. Why the hell doesn’t he pay rent?”
“Look don’t make your problems seem like someone else’s,” nodding towards Jake, Tom continued “He has a very different financial situation than you, so fairness is not the issue.”
Jake sniped in, “You ought to try running a business rather than being an employee.”
“Yeah, well most of the time I was with Lowery he was asking me about crystal meth, oxy, heroin. I don’t think your secrets are safe anymore.”
“What did you tell him?”
“I told him you’re so fucking stupid that it would be real easy to set up a buy and have you show up with enough drugs to put you away for 20 years.”
Jake’s chair screeched across the floor as he bolted up from the table. David advanced quickly pinning his brother backwards, over the sink. He brought the knife to Jake’s throat. Jake grabbed his forearm saying, “Really, you’re going to cut me right here in front of Dad?”
Pressing the blade against the skin David said, “Gladly.”
The snap of a hammer being drawn back drew their attention to their Father whose Smith & Wesson 38 revolver was pointed at David.
“Let him go. Get your food and get the fuck out of here.”
David stepped back drawing the blade across Jake’s throat just enough to scare him. He moved back to the counter to finish making his sandwiches.
Jake rubbed his neck, checking for blood but remained at the sink from where he said. “If you snitch your dead you little punk bastard.”
The intensity of David’s glare conveyed the complete absence of love between them. He slammed the fridge door after putting away his food. His Father kept the gun trained on him while he put on his boots and coat. With his dinner in a plastic bag Diegert left the house and headed for the barn.
David had a small bedroom up in the loft of the old barn out back on the property. The room was defined by two exterior walls and hanging tarps which together formed a small rectangle. Since his Father used the building as a garage for working on cars, the odor of oil and gas permeated the floor and walls. A thermal sleeping bag and extra thick blankets insulated Diegert on his single bed. Illumination was provided by a floor lamp but there was no source of heat. Wearing a wool hat to bed, he often shivered himself to sleep but it was better than sharing a room with his brother under the same roof as his Father.