Ted’s head was higgeldy with confusion and pain. A spit-dampened hanky had stopped the bleeding and cleaned the blood trails from his face. He needed at least two stitches but that was going to have to wait. He needed to order his thoughts more.
What had happened at the bank machine was either reality or insanity. Although he’d scorned the supernatural in the past (all those idiots with ghosts up their arse), it was a better option than admitting madness to himself. “Why me?” he asked. He now realised that no matter what it took; he was going to be at STAPLES on time with the money.
One thousand seven hundred and sixty-two rand. He double-checked. The result was the same. Almost forty rand short. With all his resources plundered and little time remaining, the shortfall may well have been the whole amount. So close but so far. Resort to the drastic, he advised himself.
It wasn’t long before he saw his solution. He pulled the Passat to the curb and parked in front of the NO PARKING sign. BENNY’S TEA ROOM proclaimed the sign above the door that he pushed open.
He allowed his eyes to compensate for the gloomy interior: A teenaged girl in a black mini-skirt perused the magazine rack. Behind her a young boy reached for a coke from the logo emblazoned fridge and then wandered off to choose from the chips and sweets. Both were to his left and presented no problem. On the counter, an old portable radio sang irritating kwaito. A tall but well-aged Zulu man smiled at him from the opposite side of the counter. Probably the aforementioned Benny.
This is your chance, Ted told himself. Do it quickly before anyone else enters.
“What can I do for you?” the shopkeeper asked with perfect English.
“I’m looking for a knife, nothing fancy. Just something good enough to peel an apple.”
“That I’ve got.” Benny reached beneath the counter and produced two knives. “You talk about general usage but most people who come to me nowadays talk about the crime. I don’t know which one you fancy but it won’t change your wallet. They both the same price. Forty-five rand. Do you want to have a better look before you decide?”
“Yeah, pass me the bigger one first.” Ted unsheathed the blade and pretending to admire it, glanced around. Everybody in the same positions. No point in wasting time. “Hey, the handle’s loose. You’re trying to rip me off with a defect. Look here!”
Benny leaned forward, his denial stopped in his mouth as Ted grasped his right wrist tightly and jabbed the blade slightly into his neck. Benny’s eyes shot wide! Blood dripped. Somebody screamed. Ted’s adrenaline rushed. Goddamnnit, he thought surprised, I’m enjoying this!
“Listen and you’ll live to sell more Coca-Cola. Move your free hand slowly. Keep it above the counter. You push an alarm and I’ll push it in and cut your jugular. Open the till.”
“Yes, Baas.” With Benny’s reversion to apartheid lingo, Ted knew that he was in command. First time that day. Control was good. All this time Ted had been flirting and skirting the law but now, in full defiance of it, a regular David and Goliath scenario, he realised that this was the role that he’d been born to play.
Tringgg! The till drawer spat out. At the sound of it, the girl screamed again. Still, no one entered the shop. Ted was amazed at his luck but then this was now Ted’s day. About bloody time! A sideward glance showed the girl and boy holding each other in the furthermost corner. Ted grinned at them.
Reversing his knife wielding hand, he slammed the iron handle onto Benny’s head. Benny staggered but never fell. His eyes gave birth to a daze. Tough old bugger. At least you think you are. I’ll show you. Ted extended as far as the counter would allow and drove a hit into Benny’s temple. In Ted’s mind the contact sounded like a punch from a dubbed kung-fu movie. I’m fucking invincible. The old man dropped, dragging a shelf of tinned food with him.
Ted grabbed a handful of fifty rand notes and exclaimed, “Thank you,” to himself. He shoved the knife into his waistband. As an afterthought, he grabbed the battery powered radio. Maybe because it was playing a rock ‘n roll number which was fine as he was feeling like a rock star.
The Passat lurched and the traffic embraced him.
Only two blocks later, Ted castigated himself for not stealing a watch. Time was spilling and he was ignorant of how much remained. And then what would happen to him. Still euphoric, he shoved the disturbing thought into the back of his mind. He turned the radio louder.
“Lost in a fright,
my lungs steal the air I need
I know where I am
I don’t know where I’m going…”
He knew this number. It was NAIL. God, he was feeling good. He let rip with the chorus.
“Six feet below, I’m losing my head
Six feet below, I’m visiting the dead…”
“Rock ‘n roll!” Ted shouted and for a moment let go of the steering wheel so that he could thump the dashboard. Suddenly the radio garbled, crackled and went dead. Before he could complete a frown of annoyance, it sprang back to the music but with way too much bass.
“Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear, where are you?
Are you wasting time crapping in the loo?”
Ted dismayed. His face paled with fear. It was the voice! The same person on the telephone.
“Time don’t stop, just keeps on running
Soon we’ll be Teddy Bear hunting!”
Stopped by a red robot with cars in front of him, Ted began to slam his hooter with trembling hands. Goddamnnit! Vehicles possessed every available gap and he was sandwiched by the pavement and double-parked cars. His destination, a huge face-brick building, taunted him from the other side. Fearing the betrayal of time, he accelerated with a crash into the car in front of him. Pushing the accelerator to the floor, he pushed it forward, noting that the other driver had been flung forward to bounce against the steering wheel.
“SHITTT!” The gap wasn’t enough to break free. In frustration he reversed, struggled the wheels left and jumped forward, honking the horn. Pedestrians scattered as the Passat scraped between two parked cars to jam itself between a traffic light pole and a yellow fire hydrant.
He was trapped.
“FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!”
He thrust his head through the open window. His torso followed and he toppled to the pavement, banging his balls against the hydrant. Nausea and pain engulfed him. He fought his way through it, staggering to his feet.
A crowd had gathered like leeches but they gave him considerable space. He could imagine how he must appear to them. Nobody wants to tackle a mad man.
A radio crackled. His ears tracked his eyes to a meter maid. She was probably calling the real cops. Despite his distress, he found himself liking her porcelain face and big, brown eyes that widened as he lurched towards her. He thrust a hand against a breast that was wonderfully soft…and then shoved hard. A few more people received rough treatment before he was through. Wincing from the discomfort in his groin, he ran.
Part 5 on Friday.