Three Cowardly Acts (A Short Short Story)

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Sep 28, 2004
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Student or Learner
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American English
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United States
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United States
Appreciate any comments on this short short. How would it be more interesting? How it would be made better? Thanks.

Three Cowardly Acts

Peter sat by the television enjoying the movie when the phone rang. At first, he was hesitant about answering it. Maybe I should just stay put and let it ring itself out, he thought. However with his mother asleep in a nearby room, he quickly dismissed the idea and leapt to his feet, hurrying to stop the ringing. On his way to silence the disturbing sound, Peter glanced at the wall clock; the time was 11:45. It’s pretty late for a call on a Sunday night, he thought, as he picked up the phone.
With his eyes focused on the television screen, Peter said “hello” and waited for the caller’s reply. He was hoping the call would be short, so he could return to his chair and finish watching the movie without interruption. But when the caller, a stranger, said, “May I please speak to Peter Lazzaro,” the sixteen-year-old suddenly lost interest in the movie: “You’re speaking to him,” Peter said, no longer concerned with the movie.
“Peter, this is detective Patrick Mulligan of the 5th Precinct down on Elizabeth Street. I need to have a talk with you. Would you mind coming down to the station house?”
“Police? What’s this all about?” Peter said.
“We’ll discuss that when you get here,” the detective said.
“I can’t come now. It’s late, and I have work tomorrow.”
“Peter,” the detective said, “either you come down or I come up.”
Mulligan’s reply rattled the teenager. “Okay, give me about twenty minutes. I have to dress,” Peter said.
“Wise decision, Peter.” The detective said, and hung up.
What does he want? Peter thought, rushing back to the television to switch it off. As the screen went blank, Peter moved away from the set and reached for his clothes off the back of a chair and began dressing. After lacing his sneakers, he grabbed his wallet and keys off a bureau and left the room. Heading for the front door, Peter heard a sleepy voice coming from another bedroom, “Peter, who was that on the phone?”
“Oh, just some friend, Mom.” Peter said.
“Well, get some sleep, Peter. You have to be up early,” she said.
“Mom, I’m going out.”
“Out? At this hour?” She said, her voice becoming louder.
“I’ll be back soon,” he said.
“Peter, be careful and don’t be long,” his mother said.
“Mom, don’t worry,” he said, as he left the apartment.
When Peter emerged from his building into the dark street, he lit up a cigarette and started to think about the phone call. The teenager was baffled. He had no idea why he was being summoned to the police station, especially at midnight. Walking past a row of metal trashcans, Peter tried to pinpoint a time in the past few months when he might have gotten into some sort of serious trouble with the law; but he couldn’t.
He did remember, however, a minor incident involving the police. About a year ago, Peter and some friends were playing poker in a neighborhood park when a resident living in a nearby tenement telephoned the police and informed them of the unlawful activity. A squad car was immediately dispatched to the park, and all of the youths participating in the card game were rounded up and issued twenty-five dollar summonses for illegal gambling. To this day, Peter never paid the fine, but he doubted very much that the unpaid summons and the detective’s phone call had any connection. Heck, Peter laughed, if the city is trying to collect twenty-five dollars in the middle of the night, then it must really be in bad shape.
Moving at a brisk pace, Peter completed the eight-block walk to the police station in ten minutes. When he entered the precinct, he went straight to the information desk and told the policeman on duty that he needed to speak to Detective Mulligan. The desk cop pointed to a half-opened door, and Peter hurried toward it. When Peter tapped on the door, he immediately heard a voice inviting him inside. And as he stepped in the small office, he found the detective at his desk riffling through some papers. “Have a seat,” the detective said, motioning to an empty chair in front of his desk. The puzzled teenager quickly seated himself, eager to discover what this late-night trip to the 5th was all about.
Patrick Mulligan, a 30-year-veteran of the New York City Police Department, smiled and introduced himself. Wasting little time, the detective said, “Peter, this afternoon I got a visit from a Mr. Harold Rosenberg.”
Tensed, Peter leaned forward looking even more bewildered; the name was unfamiliar.
“Mr. Rosenberg,” the detective continued, “was extremely upset. He said that you were with his sixteen-year-old daughter Andrea last night. Is that true?”
“Oh Yeah, Andrea,” Peter said, now looking a bit more relaxed. “Is she all right?”
“Did you know Andrea before yesterday?” the detective said, ignoring Peter’s question
“No. We met only yesterday.”
“How?” the detective said.
“Well, she was walking with her girlfriend, and my friend Vincent stopped them and started talking to them right outside Jay’s Bar and Grill on Houston Street.”
“Where does your friend Vincent live?” the detective said.
“In my neighborhood.”
“How long have you known him?”
“Since we were kids,” Peter said.
“Okay, so you meet the girls . . . then what happens next?” the detective said.
“Well, when Vincent started making a play for Andrea’s friend, I decided to go for Andrea,” Peter said.
“And?” the detective said.
“Well, after we were all talking for a while, Vincent asked the girls if they wanted to go inside the bar for a drink. And the girls said okay.” Peter said.
“Peter, how old are you?”
“You’re just sixteen and already drinking in bars,” Mulligan said, shaking his head.
Peter responded with a shrug and a sly smile.
“Okay, then what happened?” Mulligan said.
“Well, we spent about an hour in the bar and had about two drinks each. Then Vincent left with Andrea’s friend.”
“Where did they go?” Mulligan said.
“Don’t know.”
“And what about you and Andrea?”
“We left about twenty minutes after they did,” Peter said.
“And where did you two go?”
“I took her to some deserted street and started making out with her. After about an hour, we returned to the bar looking for Andrea’s girlfriend,” Peter said.
“Do you remember what time it was when you two got back to the bar?” Mulligan asked.
“I’m not sure, maybe one-thirty,” Peter said.
“Then?” the detective said.
“Well, Andrea’s girlfriend and Vincent were nowhere in sight. So I told Andrea I’d wait with her until they returned,” Peter said.
“Go on,” Mulligan said
“Well, I waited about forty-five minutes, and they hadn't come back yet. I started to get tired and told Andrea I was going home. She scribbled her telephone number on a piece of paper and handed it to me. Then I left.”
Mulligan stretched his long arms behind his back. The tall, lanky detective knew that Peter was telling the truth. However the cop readied himself to unload the question he longed to ask the teenager the moment the walked into his office. And, now, the detective wasn't so sure he’d get the truth. Clasping his hands on his desk, Mulligan stared hard at the teenager and said, “Peter, do you know anybody name Lenny, Leo, or Leonardo?”
“No,” Peter said.
“Are you sure?” the detective said.
“I’m sure,” Peter said.
Mulligan slid back his chair and rose quickly; the cop was no fool, but he felt foolish after having been lied to twice. ”Okay, Peter Boy, We’re done here. You can go home now,” the detective said, knowing he had wasted his time trying to get Peter to cooperate. However, overall, as far as Mulligan was concerned, he was well-pleased with the interrogation. The cop had hauled a suspect in off the street for questioning and had fulfilled his main concern, which was protecting himself. Now the cop could tell Andrea’s father that he had spoken with Peter and that the investigation is in full swing when Mr. Rosenberg calls the station house the next day. Clever police work by a clever cop.
Free to leave the police station, Peter appeared in no rush to go home. There was something bothering him. The teenager slowly lifted himself out of the chair and gazing at the cop said, “Detective Mulligan, could I ask you a question?”
“Shoot,” the detective said.
“Is Andrea okay?” Peter asked.
The detective was now ready to answer the same question that he had ignored earlier. Mulligan ran his fingers through his thinning blonde hair and said, “After you left Andrea alone outside the bar, this ‘Lenny’ character approaches her and tells her he knows where her girlfriend is. He then leads her into a tenement around the corner, breaks her jaw, and forces her to pull down her panties.”
On his way home, Peter dwelled upon the fate that Andrea had met at the hands of seventeen-year-old Leo Danzi, who lived right around the corner from Peter. The shocking crime had Peter thinking the unthinkable: that he should go back to the police station and hand over the punk to Mulligan. If anybody deserved to be “snitched on,” it was this son-of-a-bitch, Peter thought. But the teenager knew he was fantasizing, for in Peter’s world “snitching” was almost as bad as committing the horrible crime of rape. Peter understood that, now, with the police clearly out of the picture, the only possible way for Andrea to get any justice was through him, through his fists. Tomorrow, Peter thought, as he approached his home, I’ll get even with that lowlife punk.
It was 6:00 pm when Peter entered a telephone booth to call Andrea; he wanted to hear about the ordeal from her very own mouth. From his pant’s pocket, the teenager pulled out the scrap of paper containing Andrea’s phone number. Then he dropped a dime in the coin slot above the phone, and dialed, really not quite sure what to expect. The teenager gripped the phone and wished that detective Mulligan’s story was one big lie. When the ringing stopped and was replaced by Andrea’s soft voice, Peter became excited and shouted, “Andrea, are you all right?” The girl tried to answer, but it was difficult for Peter to understand what she was saying. Another voice, one much deeper, coming from an extension phone, immediately roared over hers: “Peter Lazzaro, you lousy creep. You hurt my daughter, and you’re going to jail.”
The fury in Mr. Roseberg’s voice caused Peter to panic. Unable to handle the shouting and the threats, Peter pushed the phone far away from his ear, yet still managed to hear Andrea pleading: “No, Daddy, it wasn’t him. It wasn’t him, Daddy.” Scared stiff, Peter let go of the phone, and as it dangled by its wire, he could hear the muffled shouts and sobs of both father and daughter. The sounds overwhelmed him, so Peter dashed out of the booth and slammed its door shut; he was shaking but relieved he could no longer hear any voices.
It wasn’t until he had moved safely away from the phone booth, that Peter regained his composure, and shifted his attention back onto his unfinished business, the lowlife Leo. Throughout the day at work, Peter had had been thinking about getting even for Andrea, about avenging her broken jaw and rape. And now, the time had come for him to take action, to put his own fists to use by pummeling the punk. Peter knew where he could find the Leo -- just down the street at the corner candy store. But instead of going directly there and confronting the punk, Peter chose to commit the third, and final, cowardly act. The teenager tore up the scrap paper on which Andrea’s phone number was written and tossed it into the gutter. Then he turned around and began, nonchalantly, walking home.
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