The day was Saturday, February 1. The get together for all Rosencrantz Hardware employees began in their store around 9PM. The building had closed early at 6PM so the caterers and entertainment crew would have time to set up the flowers, balloons, DJ booth, and tables for food and drinks. The store’s owner and head manager, Terry Olson, a slightly rotund but energetic fellow in his mid 50’s, spared no expense. It was, after all, the high-ceilinged, very spacious hardware store’s 25th anniversary, and he wanted to do it in style.
I’m not much of a party going person myself. At the last two jobs I worked, I never did attend their Halloween or Christmas soirees. The excuses I’d used – strep throat, possible pneumonia – worked. None of the other employees hounded me about it and, since it didn’t affect my job in any way, they were inconsequential absences.
I decided to go to the 25th anniversary event because my roommate, also a Rosencrantz employee, threatened to tell the managers I wasn’t really sick. It wouldn’t have interfered with my employment, but since they placed an emphasis on teamwork there, I figured what the heck, just go with the flow.
There was a pretty good turnout that night with each of the nearly hundred employees bringing one guest each. People were having a good time. The DJ spun tunes people danced to. The food was a mixed bag of Chinese, vegetarian and Italian cuisine. At least one of the punch bowls was spiked. The multi-colored balloons, printed up in Rosencrantz’s own print shop, looked professional in every way. Strewn throughout the store, the place looked like a kiddy playpen.
Around 11:30 PM, I heard what sounded like knocking coming from the front glass door. As my table was closer to the front of the store than the others, I got up to see who was knocking. Just then, one of the managers, Louis, approached from a group.
“Hey, Joey,” he called me. “You can have a seat. I’ll see who’s there.”
Compliant, I sat down as he requested. I watched him walk towards the front door and opened it a little.
“Yes?” Louis asked the man whose face I couldn’t see.
“I need help!” the stranger shouted.
“Sorry,” Louis responded. “We’re having a get together right now.”
“My girlfriend needs help!” the man yelled. “Now!”
“Call 911!” Louis exclaimed angrily, then shut door.
As he walked by, I called out to him.
“Hey, Louis. Who was that?”
“I don’t know,” he answered. “Some lost guy. You having a good time?”
“Yes,” I answered.
After Louis walked away, I couldn’t stop thinking about the stranger. Rosencrantz Hardware, a massive store with entrances for cement trucks, power lifters and lawn tractors, was located right off a busy highway. There were no homes nearby. The only way to get to the store was by driving or taking a bus. There’d been some difficulty getting to work lately because the curve coming off the highway was under construction and the lanes were reduced. Also, since the streetlights were out, it had been difficult to navigate at night. Part of me kept thinking, or hoping, the stranger didn’t experience something too tragic in relation to the awkward highway exit.
I left the party around midnight. The first thing I saw walking out of the building was an ambulance driving down the boulevard with its roof lights on. Getting into my car, I drove out of the parking lot where, just a few yards up the road, a mangled auto was getting hitched to a tow truck by two men. Eyeing them momentarily, I continued on home.
The next day I was working at one of the front cash resisters when, around 5 PM, an egg came crashing against the front entrance. One of the managers, Randy, walked out to the door and opened it.
“Rosencrantz sucks!” I heard a man yell. “Rosencrantz are killers!”
“Get out of here or we’ll call the police!” Randy shouted.
“You guys are going down!” the man screamed again. “Mark my words!”
“Stop harassing the customers!” Randy ordered him. “Get away from this lot!”
“Y’all are gonna pay for what you’ve done!” the man blurted, his voice a bellowing tenor with unmistakable anger.
Randy closed the door, walked over to a cell phone attached to a post, and called Mr. Olson. When he was finished speaking to him, he called 911. Minutes later, the police arrived. As I was on break, I stood outside to watch the commotion.
The angry stranger had a poster in his hands with the words ‘Rosencrantz are Murderers!’ on it. As one officer was talking to the man, another cop was just about to walk inside the store.
“Excuse me, officer,” I called him. “Who is that man?”
“That’s Michael Beaufort,” he told me. “He’s holding Rosencrantz responsible for the death of his girlfriend.”
“No one’s died here,” I informed him.
“Not here,” he enlightened me. He turned and pointed to the section of the road that curves where there’s a concrete wall.
“He and his girlfriend were in an accident last night right over there,” the officer explained, “but she died this morning.”
“Sad,” I stated, shaking my head. “Too bad.”
“Yeah. The young man said he tried to get help from here but no one would assist him. Excuse me.”
As the officer went in the store, I looked out across the lot and saw Michael speaking to the second officer. I learned later on that the protestor was allowed to continue his tirade, it was legal, but he had to remain at least 50 feet from the entrance.
Over the next few days, Michael’s protest picked up steam. Soon, there were, at times, ten people out in the lot protesting. Eventually, the local news discovered Michael’s plight. Just one week after the accident, he was interviewed by a TV station.
From an outpouring of sympathy, more and more protestors joined him till approximately there were fifty or sixty at a time in the lot. Slowly, customers started turning away from Rosencrantz and taking their business elsewhere. Mr. Olson, adamantly refusing to meet with Michael, simply continued his business as if nothing was going on.
In the ensuing weeks, he watched as his bottom line fell. Sales were down and people were more than happy to take their business across town. Michael Beaufort became a local celebrity. His story touched so many people that websites sprung up in his honor. Even though he was raising a little bit of money through donations, he swore he’d keep protesting till he received a heartfelt apology from Mr. Olson. The head manager, however, refused because he perceived it as an admission of guilt. Michael simply thought Mr. Olson was being a corporate bully and would never acquiesce to the will of the “lesser” man.
As with all protests, the numbers started dwindling till, one night, it was just Michael alone. On that night he was by himself, and the store had been closed for an hour, he was sitting in the parking lot with his placard snacking on some fast food. He heard the loud pierce of screeching tires coming from the exit ramp. Looking over, he saw a BMW overshoot a fallen pylon, skid, and slam into the concrete wall. Instinctively, he got up and ran to the crash.
As he neared the car, he could see the man inside, bleeding from the forehead, still breathing. The automobile’s front, hood and two doors were all dented in, the glass smashed out, and the airbags deployed.
“Are you alright?” he asked the stranger.
“I think my legs might be broken,” the man replied. “I’m stuck, though.”
Michael surveyed the scene quickly then looked at the hood where he saw fluid dripping under the smoking engine.
“You have to get out of this car right now! It’s gonna blow!”
“Help me, please,” the stranger begged.
Michael pulled on the left side door but it didn’t budge. Running around to the right side, he yanked that door open after two tries. Pushing the passenger seat back, he unhooked the stranger from his seatbelt and, using all his strength, extricated him from the car. He pulled him to the rear of the car. When the two were about twenty feet away, the BMW exploded.
Minutes later, the fire department, police and an ambulance arrived. As the stranger was being taken on a gurney he motioned to stop when he saw Michael.
“Sir,” he stated, “I want to thank you for helping me. You saved my life.”
“No problem, Mr. Olson,” he replied.
Mr. Olson was stunned. He didn’t realize the protestor knew who he was.
“Your ID was on the floor of your car,” Michael explained, handing him his wallet.
“I’m so sorry about your girlfriend,” Mr. Olson apologized. “I truly didn’t know. I promise I’ll make it up to you. You must hate me.”
“I’m not like you,” Michael advised him. “You should go to the hospital now. You’re losing blood.”
Mr. Olson waved as the paramedics wheeled him into the ambulance. Michael nodded, turned and walked over to the Rosencrantz parking lot. Picking up his protest sign, he ripped it in half, threw it in a recycle bin, and exited the lot.
© Robin Ray
Robin Ray is an author/musician from Seattle, WA. He has written numerous screenplays, novellas, short stories, poems, songs & fairy tales. Some of his fiction has appeared in magazines such as Red Fez, Enchanted Conversation, Darkest Before the Dawn and Powder Burn Flash.