Not a Moment to Lose
Cherie stepped briskly down the sidewalk and turned into the alley to take the shortcut to La Petit Cup, where she was meeting Max for breakfast. Normally she’d never take the alley but it was mid morning and she was late. A quick glance at her watch showed the time 10:10 so she decided against sending Max a text since she’d be there soon. As soon as she passed the row of odorous garbage cans she heard them rattle and a hand reached around her neck and covered her mouth while wrenching her backward.
Max held the pocket watch in his hand and idly turned it over and over. What a crock, he thought to himself. This old thing isn’t worth the time it will take me to walk down to the pawn shop on 5th and Elm. Why didn’t the old scrooge just give me some cash like she does every year? All that nonsense about this being a very special watch handed down from generation to generation in her family.
Cherie felt a sharp pain in her side and realized that the bastard had stabbed her! She tried to wrest herself from his grip and call out but the hand remained tightly across her mouth. She flailed against him trying to land a blow with elbow and heel but he gave the knife a vicious twist as it sank deeper. She could feel the warm blood pouring down her side, the feel of a red hot poker inside her making her vision turn grey and her legs buckle beneath her.
Max slipped the watch back into his pocket feeling it’s uncomfortable cold bulge against his leg as he walked toward the diner and his breakfast date with Cherie, his on again, off again long time girlfriend. As he walked his thoughts flitted from subject to subject and he put away his irritation at his grandmother over the lame watch. She had been good to him, raising him after his parents were killed in a car crash when he was only 12. It hadn’t been easy for a 60 year old factory worker to raise a prepubescent boy with a knot of grief in his heart and a chip on his shoulder. The insurance money had helped, she was able to retire early and move them into a bigger apartment in a nicer neighborhood, but she remained very careful with the money.
*The hulking monster of man let Cherie flop to the ground, disengaging the butcher knife, and rolling her over on her back. She struggled weakly but put up no real resistance as he drug her over to the dark space on the other side of the garbage cans. *
The diner was crowded this morning, on New Year’s Eve, and he eagerly searched the booths for Cherie’s face. Damn, not only was she not here, there wasn’t an empty booth to be had. He was going to have to wait at the counter until something opened up. The pocket watch made an uncomfortable lump in his jeans as he sat on the chrome unpadded bar stool. He took it out and placed it on the formica counter beside his phone. He popped the cover to look at the time noticing the intricate carvings on the cover. The time showed 10:19 and the time for their breakfast date was 10:00. Almost 20 minutes late, this wasn’t like Cherie at all. She wasn’t the kind of woman to keep a guy waiting just for the drama of it.
*The man grabbed a frayed length of old extension cord he had in his battered shopping cart of his prized possessions. He bound her hands and took out a filthy scarf to stuff in her mouth and tie tightly behind her head. *
Out of the corner of his eye Max caught the movement of an elderly couple heading toward the cash register, bill in hand. He turned and spied the newly vacated booth and slid off the stool and bolted for it before someone else could get there. The bus boy shortly thereafter was clearing dishes and wiping down the table. The red headed waitress came over and snatched up the tip, stuffing it into a handy apron pocket. She sat a menu in front of him and smiled at him playfully, knowing how to work the good looking customers. Max told he was waiting for his girl but he’d take a cup of coffee, please. She laid another menu on the table and went off to get the coffee, checking on a few other customers as she made her way back to the counter.
Cherie looked bleary eyed at the man hovering over her, not quite understanding what had happened to her. Basic instinct was filling her with terror and telling her to RUN! But her injury was severe and her body wouldn’t respond to her mind’s frantic commands.
More minutes passed as Max sipped the delicious coffee but still no sign of Cherie. He thought to check the time again and realized he had left the pocket watch on the counter. An unreasonable bolt of chagrin shot through him at the thought of losing possession of the watch. You’d think he’d lost his wallet from the way his gut clenched in alarm. He slid out of the booth and strode up to where he had been sitting at the counter, which was now occupied by older disheveled looking man bundled up in a dirty trench coat.
The man hovering over Cherie rubbed his hands in anticipation. His recent time in prison had been spent with him planning this very moment. Only two days ago, on Christmas, had he moved his base to this alleyway and here was the perfect target, dropped right into his hands. He unbuttoned her blouse and pulled it apart, not surprised that the wanton whore he’d caught sashaying down his alley was wearing no bra.
“Excuse me, sir”, Max said to the trench coated man, “I left my watch on the counter right in front of you just a few minutes ago. Did you see it?”
The man turned toward him with a gap toothed smile and pulled the watch from a grubby pocket, “Ya mean this one? Well too bad fella, finders-keepers!” and he turned back to the counter. Max was gripped with a sudden and utterly frightening flood of panic. He had to have his watch back and he had to have it now. A scant half hour ago he was lamenting to himself about it being a worthless gift and now for some reason it was suddenly the most important thing on earth.
Cherie felt the cool air on her naked torso and tried vainly to struggle and kick at her assailant. He chuckled an evil laugh and brandished the butcher knife at her, then poking its tip at the base of her throat where her pulse was pumping just under the skin. “That’s right, girlie, give me a reason to cut you again, been waiting a long time for this.”
It was almost like someone else was in control of his body as Max lunged at the geezer and tried to snatch the watch out of the dirty pocket. The old man lost his balance and fell backwards off the bar stool, causing them both the crash to the floor, with Max on top. “Noooo, man it’s mine now! I ain’t never had no watch this nice before,” the old man cried as he tried to struggle out from under Max and get to his feet. Max felt like he was outside of his body looking down at himself wrestling this poor man over a watch. Yet he knew he wouldn’t stop, that he had to have that watch in his possession. There was an urgency, almost a primal command, to be holding that watch and that time was running out.
*Cherie tried to take herself away on mental wings. She called out to Max with her heart and mind. Please help me, don’t let me die here, she repeated to herself over and over. The maniac straddled her now and sensuously ground himself against her pelvis. The pain of having his weight on her lower body was excruciating and the tears ran down her cheeks as the blood gushed from the wound on her side. *
The waitress looked up at the clock, almost 11:00, thank goodness the manager was due in any time now and he could deal with this mess. People were standing up at their booths watching the melee, some starting to call out to Max to leave the old man alone while other were taking out their cell phones to video the scene. At last Max had the pocket watch at his fingertips and was able to grasp it and pull it from the pocket. He rocked back on his heels and stood up, feeling very light headed and strange.
At that moment, the 11:00 hour struck and the watch began glowing in Max’s hand. It became warm and Max watched in amazement as the minute hand began ticking BACKWARD. Slowly at first, but gaining speed it rewound itself. At the moment the hour hand was forced back to 10:00 there was a whirlwind surrounding Max and the air pressure seemed to drop to nothing. In an instant, Max was gone, and the scene in the diner returned to the crowd that had been there an hour ago.
Max found himself standing at the alleyway entrance on the other end of the block from where he can started an hour ago. He looked up to see Cherie hurrying down the block toward him on the way to their breakfast meeting. She looked up and saw him standing there with surprise on her face. “What are you doing here, did you come to walk me the rest of the way?”
Max scrubbed his hand across his face and looked at the pocket watch in his other hand. The time was 10:01. He had no memory of walking that last few blocks to get to this side. “I guess I must have been daydreaming, and I was a little early, so here I am.”
Max and Cherie linked arms and walked around the block (not taking the shortcut through the alley) and had a charming breakfast at La Petit Cup. The pocket watch remained a treasured possession for rest of his life.