At first, it was just angry rumbling. I couldn’t make out many words but the tone was plain enough. If Vinnie had had an avenue of escape, he’d have run – so would I, in the same situation. I was beginning to think Mr. Myers had lost his mind – this could not end well – it was bound to come to blows.
I heard the broken English of Mr. Ruggiero from the next block over as the murmuring started to die down. “…is no right, you come, cause much trouble. Why you do that, Boy? We make you mad?”
“No…” The voice answering had to be Vinnie’s simply because I didn’t recognize it. High and thin, not at all what I’d expected.
“Then why?” Miss Dawson asked. I hadn’t seen her in months – her daughter had a baby a few weeks before Crystal moved in. I’d had no idea she was back.
No answer came.
“You should answer deese nice peeples.” I heard Sonya’s voice say. “You know.”
Vinnie looked around at her, probably as surprised as I was that a day slayer was present. That close, he had to know but I was too far away to sense her. I almost chuckled, knowing he had to be disconcerted from that – he was probably now more concerned with how a slayer had gotten so close without his noticing.
“We know what you’ve done, young man.” Mrs. Elmore spoke.
The murmuring died to let the elderly woman’s voice be heard.
“I don’t suppose the why is so important. Pride, power, greed, jealousy, revenge, anger – some combination, perhaps. It doesn’t matter so much – what matters is all the suffering.”
She paused. Vinnie was now looking at her, no longer concerned with Sonya.
“Not just the suffering you caused – your suffering matters too…”
Vinnie literally blinked.
“Yes, of course, it matters. But young man, are you really so foolish as to think you’re going to alleviate your suffering by making others suffer? It makes you feel powerful. It makes you feel vindicated. But it doesn’t make you feel better – not for very long, does it?”
Vinnie didn’t move, staring now at the old woman in her wheelchair.
“The pain comes back and you need something new to make it go away. A new distraction, more revenge, more money, more power, a new challenge – anything so that you don’t think about what really hurts. But in the process, you create new demons that come when you’re weak – guilt…”
“I DON’T feel guilt!” Vinnie screamed at the old woman.
“No? Shame, anguish – whatever, it comes and makes those long nights all the worse. Young man, do you think you are the only one?”
Vinnie just stared, taken completely by surprise.
“You’re not. The world is full of hurting people. Making more of them hasn’t really made you better, has it?”
“Old woman, you don’t know me!” Vinnie snapped, gaining control finally.
“I don’t need to – I know myself. I know my friends. I know my enemies – yes, even them. You’re just as human as the rest of us, young man. And you don’t have to be alone.”
“Oh, so that’s it – the God speech – save it. I don’t want your Savior.” Vinnie retorted.
“You’ve heard the Gospel then, good – and bad. It’s better for those who haven’t heard it than those who reject it. What scares you so? That God might forgive you – or that you have to forgive those who hurt you?”
Vinnie started to speak but thought better of it. Cursing out an old lady under the circumstances wasn’t wise. I was surprised he realized.
I had a pretty clear look at his face by then. I could see wheels moving behind those dark eyes. Maybe it was being cornered, maybe she just caught him off guard – maybe he could hear that she cared – I don’t know but it was getting to him. And he didn’t want to be gotten.
“What do you know, old woman?” He finally asked sarcastically.
“Much more than you want to admit right now, young man. When the time comes, find someone who will listen – a pastor, a friend if you still have any – or you can come to me. I live in 304 in the building behind me. Right now, you’re fighting yourself – then you’ll try fighting the world again. But eventually, you’ll need a friendly ear.”
“So you can preach at me?”
“So someone can help you – in more ways than just one.” She replied steadily. “But if it’s preaching you need, so be it. What you’ve been doing is wrong – you cannot use people they way you’ve been doing. Stealing, lying, manipulating – hurting – they are all wrong. Evil things in your heart, evil things in your actions and evil things you will answer for to the one Judge that can’t be ignored. But first, your own heart will condemn you – it already has, I hear it in your words.”
“You’re imagining things, old lady.” Vinnie’s voice went up a half note despite himself.
“You’re defensive, young man. And you should be – you’ve much to answer for. God loves you and will forgive you – but the consequences you will still have to deal with in the here and now. How hard you make that on yourself is up to you, but you will not be doing it here. When you’re ready to be helped, you’re welcome but while you are intent of hurting others, you are welcome nowhere.”
At that last bit, I saw real shock cross Vinnie’s face for just an instant. It had never crossed his mind that he was unwelcome – strange, considering the guy seemed to hate everyone.
“If you’re finished, Gladys,” Mr. Henderson spoke, “I believe this young man has somewhere else to be.”
Thomas Compton, an old cop that had walked the beat in this neighborhood when I was little, caught Vinnie’s arm. Another man, also a cop, got the other. Police in uniform began to close in as neighbors made way.
“I can’t get out as much as I used to but i will send you some things – and I will visit.” Mrs Elmore told Vinnie.
I don’t know if he heard her. The shock seemed to take all the fight out of him.