Under the mouse-gray clouds with a pissed-off wind at his back, Harrison “Harry” Brophy walked at a brisk pace, considering his advanced age. A lifelong San Franciscan, Harry was among the last of the old guard, a San Francisco liberal who voted for Jack Kennedy and still lived in the city. Harry was born up north in Petaluma but lived in San Francisco since he was seventeen. With age, Harry’s back came to tilt at a thirty degree angle. Despite that lean he was still vigorous and agile. There wasn’t much of an expression on his wrinkled face, which he wore clean-shaven. A starched white shirt fit perfectly on top of his dark slacks and brown leather walking boots. Harry was out hunting for a gift for his wife, Donna Lee Brophy. Their anniversary was coming up in a couple of days and they would be celebrating fifty-two years, three children and one grandchild, a boy named Habib Kumari. Harry was out to buy a gold ring for Donna, from the Cartier store in Union Square. He made the thirteen-block walk from his home on Clay street with a hop in his step, moving as if he were a much younger man.
Harry grimaced, but stopped well short of anger, as he passed a stinking pile of human shit on the sidewalk. The bum that left it there was only a dozen yards further on: panhandling, loitering, malingering, or whatever. He maneuvered around a green-haired, pierced idiot staring, blank-faced, into the black hole screen of their iPhone twelve. Harry ignored a dirty bus stop which smelled of urine and marijuana and was plastered with homosexual rainbow propaganda among other things. A man wearing a wig, dress and heels clomped along, passing Harry on his left. Harry paid the man no mind. There was another bum on his left, then one on his right. Harry marched forward with a steely gaze and firm lips, making no reaction at all to his surroundings.
Soon, Harry saw the familiar store front — he had purchased necklaces, bracelets, earrings and rings for his wife Donna from this same Cartier store numerous times over the years, for other special occasions — moments later, he was browsing inside the store. He didn’t think of anything else as he browsed, he just focused on the jewelry. The memories of how Union Square was during his young adulthood were too distant to bring back. Long gone were the days of classy White men in suits and their wives, girlfriends or mistresses wearing dresses, with almost everyone well-proportioned for height and weight. It was impossible to tell if Harry still pictured Union Square as it had been — before the American decline — or whether he just took it for what it had become. Outside, the angry wind kept blowing, the sun kept trying to peek through the cloud cover, and DeeKwan ‘Lil’ Kwan’ Jackson lurked outside, just milling about. The aspiring rapper eyed Harry Brophy up and down through the window as Harry made his way to the counter.
“Well hello! And how can I help you today?” asked Sharon, a well-put-together White woman — she looked French — who worked at Cartier and addressed Harry from behind the counter. Sharon looked to be in her late forties or early fifties. She stared at Harry and seemed to recognize him, perhaps from one of his prior visits to the store.
“I’m looking for a ring for my wife. Our anniversary is coming up,” said Harry with a warm smile.
“Well, congratulations,” said Sharon, smiling back at Harry. “Any particular style in mind or do you just want me to show you some options?”
“Gold. I think gold for sure… besides that I will just take a look at what you have.
Sharon went to work behind the counter, gathering up a handful of rings and placing them, two at a time, in front of Harry. Harry perused them carefully for the next twenty minutes, discussing the options every so often with Sharon.
“What do you think of this one?” he asked, holding up a gold ring engraved with a design featuring intricate lines and ridges and raised circles and such. “I love its size,” he commented, gazing at the piece.
“It’s very nice,” replied Sharon.
“Or this one?” asked Harry, again holding up a ring with a lion design.
“Hmm! It’ a tough decision,” said Sharon. “I like them both but if I had to choose I think I like the first one better.”
“Decisions, decisions . . .” replied Harry, still considering his options.
Harry held both rings up for more than a minute. It seemed that he was down to two finalists.
Lil’ Kwan, outside, stretched his arms toward the sky and pretended to yawn. While he did so, he peered inside the store window, looking straight at Harry Brophy. After he got his look, he turned and sauntered a few steps to his right.
“I’ve decided. I’m going with this one,” said Harry, sliding the first option toward Sharon.
“Great choice,” she replied. She put the lion ring back in the display and started the process of packaging up the ring. They completed the transaction, with Harry providing his bank card to made the purchase.
“One more thing, Harrison,” said Sharon, after they were finished with everything.
“Oh, yes?” said Harry, realizing that Sharon had seen his full name on his debit card.
“You might want to put it in this… bag,” she half-whispered as she held up a brown paper bag emblazoned with the “Chipotle” logo.
Harry looked confused, so Sharon continued with a little nod toward the Cartier bag saying, “You need to pretend it’s a burrito.”
“A what?” Harry asked, high-pitched, eyebrows raised.
“Just pretend it’s a burrito. It’s not, well, it’s not…” Sharon trailed off without finishing her thought.
Harry responded with a look which was either vague understanding or indifference to Sharon’s message. It was impossible to tell which.
“Oh, okay. A burrito,” he replied, putting the smaller bag containing the little box and twelve hundred dollar ring inside the takeout fast-food bag. “Thank you so much.”
“Thank you, Harrison. And take care,” said Sharon with a sales-woman’s pinched smile.
Harry left the store. Ten yards, twenty yards, thirty yards, half a block, two blocks — he made his way toward his home. Harry had no idea Lil’ Kwan was fifteen yards behind him and closing in like a one-man pack of hyenas.
Harry felt pleasant. More than that, he felt tolerant and hate-free as he passed the same type of street urchins that he saw on his earlier walk. The last thing Harry heard before Lil Kwan’s fist smashed into his face was a couple rushed footsteps growing louder and louder from behind before culminating on his right side. Lil’ Kwan’s punch broke Harry’s jaw. Harry immediately lost his balance and he was unconscious by the time his head, then the rest of his body, hit the pavement.
“Dat’s what I be thinkin’ ‘bout yo privilege n’ shee-it. Why you gotta be like that?” squealed Lil’ Kwan, standing above Harry’s now-lifeless body.
Lil’ Kwan grabbed the Chipotle bag with his left hand and emptied the contents with his right. He stashed the Cartier box containing the ring inside his jacket pocket. A few seconds later, Lil’ Kwan turned with a sniff and strutted back in the direction from whence he came.