Johnny Pomodoro was not about to let the scene he found himself walking in on turn into a “situation” and spoil what had up to now been a perfect day.

It had kicked off right out of the box, when he double-parked in front of Bagel Industrial Complex on Broad Street for his usual dozen assorted to go. “What’s shakin’, Sal?” he asked the counterman for probably the 338th time, as he flipped him his usual ten spot and grabbed the paper sack from his mitt in one well-practiced swipe.

“Nothin’ much Johnny, take it light pal,” Sal called after him. Or had Johnny heard it so often it was just the sound of a tape playing in his head?

Johnny looked up towards his pickup just in time to see the Trenton Traffic Enforcement scooter pull up. Doing the street-side shuffle for the last five yards, he face-to-faced the Meter Maid Man just in time to see pen poised above ticket book.

Johnny knew the score. “Morning, officer… Ramirez,” Johnny cooed in his oiliest imitation of sincerity, after Evelyn-Wooding Dick Tracy’s name tag. “Good thing I caught you before you rode away. Sal said I should give these to you, somethin’ about Traffic Enforcement Officer Appreciation Day or somethin.’ Enjoy, officer!”

Johnny’s second stop of the day, a visit to the client of a friend to pick up overdue vigorish for a bookie friend of his, the first of a few he agreed to do that day in exchange for a future consideration that Johnny had in mind. That collection went down as smooth as silk, but it was the unexpected karmic bonus Johnny earned just after that made this day unlike any other he’d lived since, well, maybe ever.

There was something about the woman parking the tired-looking Saturn that had caught his eye. Or was it the loser car she was driving? Nah, it was her. Not too young, not too old, not too together, not too bad. Looking sad, desperate somehow, distracted, and in a hurry to get somewhere. While stashing the envelope under the seat of his truck while he turned the key to get to his next stop, he noticed a thing that she hadn’t noticed. She had left her headlights on and hurried off.

Looking back on it, why did he give a rap? Who cared if somebody, chick or not, Johnny didn’t know or care to know, returned to a dead battery in the middle of downtown? Call it Divine Intervention, destiny, whatever, but the feeling came over him that this would be the last straw, the end of her rope, and that only he, Johnny Pomodoro, could prevent that from happening.

Forgetting about his truck, the envelope, and his next appointment for the moment, he threaded through the last of the lunch-hour traffic and followed her into the Chapel of the Divine Spirit a half block away.

The scene told the story; the coffee urn, the cigarette smoke, the affirmations tacked on the wall, the ‘You’re a stranger in this here town, ain’t ya, podnah?’ looks he got from everyone when he walked in.

The meeting was about to start, and she had obviously been running late. Day care? Meeting with a divorce lawyer? Who knows, but she had made it there on time, if only just.

“Hey, sorry Miss, Johnny huffed and puffed. “You don’t know me, but I saw that you left your lights on and it looks like it might rain, and I hated the idea of you’re gettin’ stuck, and...”

The look on her face said ‘Whoever you are, thank you for understanding what my deal is’ as she fished out her keys, made a quick apology to whomever, and headed out the door. Johnny must have gone through all the motions a body has to go through to get out of there and get back to his truck, but the next thing he actually remembered doing was jetting over to his next appointment, feeling ... good. Very, very good. Like maybe he’d saved a life, or at least preserved a little piece of one. Nice.

That’s why, heading back to his pickup after his last appointment, he was determined not to let some tow truck “operator” rain on his parade. “Operator.” Yeah, like being able to hook a chain to a bumper and pushing on a handle made you an “operator.”

Dumb-ass truck driver, he sneered to himself as he sprinted toward his pickup. There’s only one operator in this burg. Me! Johnny Pomodoro!

Johnny was half a block away from his ride when he saw that the show was about to start. The first clue was the guys at the firehouse across the street, already facing the action, perched on their lawn chairs and sucking down Coors Lites. Concealed discretely, of course, in paper sacks. After all, this was a respectable neighborhood. Yeah, right.

Diagonally across the way, set up like clay pigeons in a shooting gallery, was the line of parked cars. Commuters mostly, or “young professionals” who were moving in in droves with their Beemers and Lexus (what the hell’s the plural of Lexus, anyway) lately their Piouses, and rubbing the old-timers the wrong way with their Un-Tuckit sport shirts and their skinny venti white chocolate mocha whatever. That was the part that galled Johnny the most; arrogant a-holes lining up to spend a sawbuck for coffee that tasted like burnt re-cap tires, and loving every crappy drop of it.

Yeah, technically the block across from the firehouse was a no-parking zone, but on most days Johnny had an understanding with the precinct, and they let him slide. Except on days like this, when the powers that be ordered a crackdown, probably because some hotshot banker jamoke looked cross-eyed at a councilman’s niece behind the counter at Starbucks when she made his mocha grande with 2 percent instead of organic oat milk.

Johnny also didn’t fail to notice that he had to finesse the situation a little more than usual, when he spied the city cop riding shotgun in the cab of the tow truck, ready to pounce on any Assistant Vice Presidents who might threaten the “operator” with… With what, thought Johnny, a lawsuit?

Fortunately for Johnny, he arrived before the grease monkey had attached the hook. The unwritten rules of the streets of this town were few, but one iron-clad rule was that until the hook was attached, you still had a chance. Positioning himself between the cop’s view and the hook-wielding dude, Johnny flashed his wallet.

“What will it take for me to drive this thing home?” he asked, in his best strictly business tone.

“Fifty,” came the reply, no hesitation.

Johnny pushed three folded twenty’s into a grease-stained palm.

“I don’t make change...”

“Merry Christmas, Pal!” deadpanned Johnny, as he jumped into his cab and fled the scene.

“Wa-hoo!” Johnny exclaimed, as he jumped onto Route 1 and headed for his crib. “Karma, baby! Freakin’ karma! What a freakin’ day! Johnny Pomodoro rocks!” he exulted, lost in the moment.

Too lost to notice the siren, and the flashing cherry top of the cop car in his rear-view mirror.

Lawrenceville resident George Point’s freelance work has appeared in the New York Times, U.S. 1, and other local and regional publications. He currently produces and presents Book Talk! for radio station WDVR FM in Hunterdon County. In past years he has served as a reader of submissions for the Summer Fiction issue.

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