If he was honest with himself, it was a desire to impress the girl just in front of him in line that made Huck use his knack so recklessly. At that point it had been almost a year since he’d dated Kelly, and increasingly whenever he saw an attractive woman he’d feel a powerful surge of overwhelming loneliness, with a concomitant desire to lick her neck. The licking thing he had successfully resisted thus far, but the loneliness was more intransigent.
This girl, though, was a keeper, or would be if only he could talk her. She was strawberry-blond, well-dressed, and he could tell just from how she spoke to the teller that she was hella charming, too. Maybe when she turned around, he could contrive to accidentally step in her way, and then when she tried to step around him, accidentally move in sync with her, as sometimes happened. “Want to dance?” he’d say. And when she laughed, he’d go on, “But really, do you want to go out dancing with me?” Then they’d hit it off, and fifty-one years from now they’d be toasting their fiftieth wedding anniversary together.
It was a good plan, but two things prevented it from happening. The first was that he was afraid there was still some pigeon shit on the shoulder of his Goretex jacket from just a few minutes ago. He’d wiped it off – he kept some wet naps with him for just that purpose – but it was raining outside and he wasn’t sure how good of a job he’d done.
The pigeon shit was probably payback for using his knack this morning. He’d been running late, and knew that if he had to wait twenty minutes for the bus, he’d get written up by his supervisor at Best Buy. So he’d used his knack, just a touch of the ol’ luck of the Irish, and the bus had turned the corner that very minute and picked him up.
It was a very minor abuse of power, and he’d waited all day for the payback. That’s how it worked: for every bit of good luck he forced, a little bad luck would fall. At work he’d faced a run of bad customers, and he thought maybe that had sufficed to balance the scales, but apparently not. Apparently there was just enough left that a pigeon needed to shit on him (again) to make the universe happy.
This was the natural rhythm of his life, and by now he was used to it. As he’d aged, Huck had become more and more cautious with his knack, suspecting that its abuse was part of the reason he was still working a crap retail job at thirty-four.
His best friend, Marty, refused to understand this principle, no matter how many times Huck tried to explain it to him. “One winning lottery ticket,” Marty would implore. “That’s all I ask. Why is that such a big deal? It’s just a few balls from one of those machines.”
“I tried that once,” Huck rejoined. “I got a Scratch-N-Win ticket for twenty thousand dollars. Then on the way home I fell down an open manhole and broke my leg. The hospital bill alone was eight thousand dollars.”
“Leaving you a net gain of twelve thousand bucks!”
“And a broken leg.”
“Hey kid, you wanna make an omelet, you gotta crack some legs.”
The second thing that prevented his dancing ploy with the strawberry blonde was the bank robbery.
His immediate thought on hearing shouts in the bank was, Is this some kind of promotion? Because the last thing I need is another credit card, no matter how many frequent flyer miles they’re offering. Then one of the two men fired a gun, and Huck hit the floor like a splatter of pigeon shit on a jacket.
His next thought was that this was some pretty bad luck, and he didn’t think he’d done anything to deserve something like this. But maybe this had nothing to do with him. It could just be natural bad luck.
The security guard was already on the ground, and one of the guys in ski masks was cuffing him with some mylar bands. The other guy was yelling at the strawberry blonde to get down, because she was somehow still standing up.
Huck flapped a hand at her, and she actually looked at him and seemed to understand. “Sorry,” she said, whether to Huck or to the robbers, it wasn’t clear. But she lay down on the ground after that.
The second robber was now yelling at the bank teller. They seemed to enjoy yelling a lot. Huck wasn’t sure why this was necessary, but he supposed it made them look more forceful. If you just asked politely, the tellers might not take you seriously. That kind of thing happened to Huck a lot.
On the bright side, his head was now close to the blonde’s. Barely whispering, just mouthing the words, really, he said to her, “Don’t worry, it’ll be okay.”
“How do you know?” she whispered back.
“Just a feeling,” he said, lamely. She sighed, in obvious fright, and now, exasperation.
It seemed to be taking a long time for these guys to rob this place. They were yelling more at the tellers. One of them fired a gun again, and they all flinched.
Finally they finished up, and the guy who’d cuffed the security guard ran toward the doors. It turned out they really had taken too long, though, because by that time there were several police officers outside, and by general consensus they shot that robber dead in the doorway. There was a whole hell of a lot of noise, and glass flying, and really, how could the cops know they wouldn’t hit a customer, too? But that’s cops for you.
“Aaron!” the second robber screamed. Aaron? Huck thought. That didn’t seem like a good name for a robber, but he supposed they didn’t get to choose any more than he did. He wondered what this guy’s name was. Jerry? Kevin?
The robber possibly named Kevin scrambled back amid the glass. “You!” he screamed.
Huck pointed at himself. “Me?”
“No, you asshole, her!” He seized the girl’s arm and jerked her up. “I need a hostage, and you’re it. Sorry, shit luck, I know. Come on.”
The girl’s eyes were wide and staring. The guy had one arm around her throat and his gun at her temple. “Please –” she said.
“Let’s go!” the guy shouted, and started walking her to the doors.
Suddenly Huck found himself on his feet, reaching out with one hand. “Hey!” he said, finding that he was yelling himself. Maybe yelling was contagious.
The robber turned, swinging that gun around. It was large and silver and blocky. His finger started to pull the trigger. Huck used his knack.
Used was perhaps an understatement. He pushed with it, harder than he ever had before, felt the energy moving up from his heart through his eyes and out through his hand. For a single second, those watching (namely, the robber and the girl), saw a perfect miniature rainbow behind him, like a prismatic half-arc halo, and beyond it there were bright fields of green and gold. Huck’s eyes likewise shone with a pure emerald light, and it may have been there were glowing clover leaves swirling around his hand.
‘Twas your great-grandmother, he heard his grandfather saying, or so I was told, as needed a pot o’ gold. The little man told her, that gold wasn’t free. She needed to trade, and what she traded was me.
Of course, Huck himself one only one-eighth leprechaun. Hopefully it was enough.
Kevin the robber pulled the trigger, barrel in Huck’s face. The gun clicked. They both looked at it. It had misfired, of course.
Huck grabbed for the gun, got a hold of the guy’s hand, swung him around so at least he wasn’t clutching the girl. For minute they swung around together, slipping on the marble. Want to dance? Huck thought.
Then momentum got the better of him and he slipped, losing his grip, sending him falling back literally on his ass. Again the guy pulled the trigger.
This time the gun fired. The bullet missed Huck altogether, instead ricocheting first against one concrete pillar, then the steel safe behind the tellers, and finally into the thief’s shoulder. The man screamed and dropped the gun, and then the police were inside and it was over.
“My name’s Anna,” the young woman told him outside. The police had given each of them a blanket to put around their shoulders, which made things seem nice and cozy.
“That was crazy, in there.”
“I know, right? What are the odds?”
She frowned. “For a second, I thought I saw… I don’t know, like a rainbow around you. Is that possible?”
He shrugged. “Anything’s possible.”
They talked for quite a while. Happily, she was single. More happily, yet, she gave him her number and they arranged to have coffee Sunday afternoon. “Are you driving home?” she asked.
“I took the bus.” He looked up the street, toward the bus stop, and saw that the #2 was right there on the corner. “Shit. There it is now. I have to run.”
“I’ll see you Sunday,” she said.
Quickly he shrugged off the blanket, turned and ran to cross the street. He ended up missing the bus, though, because he failed to see a silver SUV come roaring around the parked cars, and it smacked into him hard enough to send him flying a good eight yards, break his right arm and three ribs, and give him a mild concussion.
On the bright side, the ambulance was right there already. What luck!