By Robert Russell
Title: How to get a free meal from pretty much anywhere
Listen up, it’s super easy. Go to any restaurant, the classier the better, order a meal, eat it, and just when you’re about to finish, say something racist to the waiter. Play it up a bit. Soon the manager will come and eventually they’ll kick you out. They get so uncomfortable, it’s hilarious. it’s easiest just to get you outta there as fast as they can. You’ll be out before you pay. And boom, you got yourself a free meal.
Chad reclined in his chair, kicked his legs up onto the ledge, and locked fingers behind his head, staring at the screen. A subtle smirk across his face, he rested, proud and relaxed for a moment before curiosity pulled him back into the screen to refresh the page. Comments were already pouring in. Ten, twenty, forty, then a hundred, all messages he would read later. Dinner’s sweet fragrance was seeping into his room from under his closed door, singeing his nose-hairs and making him salivate; spices, pepper, oh wait, chicken parmesan. Okay, Mom, coming down! As he swiveled his chair, his desk top vibrated suddenly. Across the lit-up red, white-starred, and blue X inside of his phone sprung a new message.
Mitchell: are we still on for tomorrow
Chad: hell yeah man, meet me at the range at 3
Mitchell: 9 mm?
Mitchell: word, see you there
“How was your day, sweetie?”
“It was pretty good, Mom, how was your day?”
Chad’s stomach grumbled loudly as he took a seat. His brother Roy, ten years younger, was seated left, his right hand balled around his fork; his father, a burly man hunched over on the other side of the chicken platter scarfing down his food at an alarming rate; and his mother, the cook and matriarch of the family, was at the head gleaming happily at the eating men. Dinner together as a family, Dad said the grace, hands in hands, good food and conversation ensued, jokes, pleasantries, ease, every evening. It was a routine Chad would never admit was one of his daily highlights.
“Pretty good, thanks, it was hot as the dickens out in the garden today, but looks like my little cukes are starting to sprout, thank God.”
“Boys, I want to talk to you about something. You may have heard what’s going on this weekend downtown, and I want you to stay away from it, mainly you, Chad, understood?”
His father had his elbows up on the table, serious business. Sinewy arms cradled his plate. His receding hairline glistened as it always did, and infrequently a drop of sweat would carve its way down his forehead, force through a thick brow, and drip into his eye, but he would never wince. His low voice, muffled behind chews of food, instantly quieted the table. Chad’s mom gave him an eye.
“What’s going on?” squeaked Roy. A boy of eight, he was the runt of the family, but curious and bright, traits doubtless in his genes.
“On Saturday, there’s going to be one of those protests again down at the Outlets. A lot of bad people are going to be there, and it might get dangerous, so I don’t want you two going down there, understood?”
“Understood,” the two muttered in unison.
“My new thread has up to two hundred comments now,” Chad calmly boasted while loading a clip, pointing the machine down-range. The field was hot in the Thursday afternoon, even hotter under bulky earmuffs. The Virginia sun was never merciful. The face in the target danced in the radiating heat through the waving, tawny grass.
“No shit. Not surprised, honestly. It’s a damn good idea,” Mitchell chirped. He was taller than Chad, but skinnier. The two had been close since grade school, both now fresh out of high school and working in a transmission parts warehouse on the outskirts of town. Mitchell wanted to get into cars; Chad wasn’t interested.
“Yeah man, people eat that shit up. I know it’s like my hundredth post or so but it’s still kinda exciting, getting replies and all, even if they’re mostly just calling me names. Fun getting a reaction, you know?”
“You ever tried it?”
“The trick? Nah man, probably wouldn’t. Would you?”
“Hell yeah, man. It’d be funny as hell, watching people squirm like that, plus free food.”
“True, I just wouldn’t want to get punched in the face. Ready?”
Mitchell clipped on his ear muffs and nodded to Chad who, at the signal, emptied the magazine into the picture 30 yards down, each pop a surge of adrenaline, every recoil a shock of electricity that set the hair on his arms at attention.
“Woo! Nothing to even lock up now!” shouted Mitchell removing his ear muffs and wiping his brow.
“Yeah man, little thing has some power, doesn’t it?” Chad said looking down at the piece. He removed his muffs.
“I’ll say! Let me give it a go.”
Chad released the empty clip and reloaded it.
“Be careful with this thing.”
Mitchell took the weapon, raised it quickly, and immediately began firing, instantly shredding the picture down-range. The roaring series of pops struck Chad hard and fast. He immediately threw his hands up over his ears and screamed at Mitchell to cease fire. The clip was empty.
“Jesus, man, nearly blew my ears out!”
“Sorry bro, just couldn’t help myself. This thing is awesome!” Mitchell was laughing, seemingly unaffected by the noise.
“We’ll do one more each, then I gotta get back.” Chad took the pistol and retrieved another magazine from his pocket.
“Say, man, you excited for Saturday?” asked Mitchell still simpering.
“My parents don’t want me to go.”
“But you’re still going though, right?”
“Oh definitely. Let’s hit the range again tomorrow, I’ll crash with you tomorrow night if that’s alright, then we can hit it the next morning.”
“Perfect. Why don’t your ‘rents want you to go?”
“Say it’s gonna be dangerous.”
“I still just wanna be there, to see it, see what’s it’s like, to see these sensitive people out in the open, you know? To see people all riled up. Something primitive about it all.”
“You and your words, man. I just wanna see some action. Hell right if it’s dangerous, bring it on!” Mitchell was bouncing in his boots.
“Hey Chad, can I ask you something?”
Chad spun in his desk chair around to find Roy swaying in the doorway, little hands in his pajama pockets and looking down at little bare feet.
“Yeah man, what’s up? Come on in.”
Roy trudged into the room and hopped up gingerly onto Chad’s bed.
“What did Dad mean ‘bad people?’”
“Oh like at the protest happening this weekend?”
Chad rolled his chair a bit closer to his brother, thinking about how to respond, choosing his words carefully.
“Um, well, Roy, unfortunately there are bad people out there in this big world, people who want other people to think and act a certain way, and want other people to believe in what they believe.”
“What do the bad people believe?”
“Well, most of them, a lot of them believe that certain rights, things that we are free to do in this country, are not actually rights anymore, that we aren’t free to do those things anymore.”
“See, they think that good, responsible people are actually bad people, and they don’t like to listen to them, and when they do listen, they don’t like what those people say.”
“The bad people think that the good people are bad people?”
“Hmm, yes, in a nutshell.”
“And they need to listen more better?”
“Yes, they need to listen more better. Everyone needs to listen more better.”
Friday night, Mitchell and Chad sat in Mitchell’s truck, burgers and fries in their laps, radio static interspersed with commercials filling the cab. The two, exhausted and sweaty from hours of rounds in the blazing heat, were relishing the air conditioning.
“Oh man, I’m getting amped up for tomorrow!” Mitchell broke the silence with a mouthful of meat, followed with a loud slurp of soda.
“Yeah, man, I wanted to tell you, I’m actually kinda having second thoughts,” Chad responded back.
“What? What do you mean?”
“I don’t know, man, like, what’s gonna happen? Everyone’s just gonna be shouting at each other, maybe a few fists get thrown, maybe even a few arrests, and then what? Nothing’s going to happen.”
“What? Dude, you can’t miss out on the showdown of the year! The whole world is watching! This is the time to stand up for what you believe in! So what if punches get thrown, so what if people get arrested, so what if someone gets killed, this is what living looks like!”
“Yeah, man, I don’t know, just seems unnecessary to me, like, nobody’s listening to each other, I don’t know, riling people up on the internet is one thing, and even that, I mean…I don’t know, it’s just like…I’m not trying to get punched in the face.”
“I’m not afraid to get hit, watch them try to hit me, see what happens.”
“But alright man, do you. I’ll drop you back off at your place.”
They two set off down the road, the static of the radio the only sound between them. Chad felt his jeans for his phone, not there. Looked down by his feet, not there. In the crevice of the cushion, not there. He turned in the passenger seat, looked under the firearm case in the back seat, found it. There was never any reception out on the back roads so he scrolled aimlessly through his old photos, stopping on a family picture taken at the lake last summer. He looked at it for a moment. The four of them stood at the edge of a shining water, Roy a bit sunburned but still smiling. It was a hot day he remembered. The Virginia sun was never merciful. Chad selected the photo and set it as his phone’s background just as Mitchell pulled up to his house.
“Hey man, just be careful tomorrow. You know how these things go.”
“Whatever man, you’re being a pussy. You’re missing out on the event of a lifetime, on making history. Suit yourself.”
Chad slept in late Saturday afternoon. It was a dreamless and undisrupted sleep. That is until his mother barged into his room and shook him violently.
“Chad, get up right now!”
“Why? What’s going on?”
“Come downstairs, right this instant!” and with that, she stormed out.
His mom had never spoken like that, her voice filled with such urgency and worry. Chad swiftly rolled out of bed, scrambled to put on some clothes, and flew out of the room and down the stairs.
In the foyer, Chad was met with two broad-shouldered men in blue, looming silhouettes against the light emanating from the windows. He stopped with a shudder, surprise, then confusion, and then dread.
“What’s going on?”
“Sir, do you know a Mitchell Harley by chance?” One of the officers stepped forward, his thumbs cocked into his belt, chin lifted high, eyes peering down.
“Uh yeah, why?”
“Well sir, Mr. Harley shot and killed a protester at the rally this morning. He was apprehended by the police, and it was discovered that the firearm he used is registered in your name.”
Chad froze, terror shooting down his spine seizing his arms and legs. He had forgotten to grab the case from Mitchell’s truck.
The other officer chimed in.
“Sir, is it true that you have an online profile under the username Chad the Magnificent?”
A second wave of shock seized Chad by the spine, and he choked to find a response.
“Uh…um…yeah, but I…”
“Sir, we’re going to need you to come down to the precinct.”