A Cart Full of Junk
by David Lubar
Turk was in a mood to do some harm. He was hanging out at the corner of 4th
Sreet, where the movies used to be. The place was boarded and shut, like almost
everything else on the block. Gray was with him, along with Mackler, Johnny, and
a couple of others. Across the street, an old guy came around the corner, pushing a
shopping cart stuffed with junk. Bad timing.
Turk stepped away from the wall. "Let's go shopping."
He strolled across the street, angling to end up ahead of the old man. Gray and the
others followed. There was no need to rush. The old guy couldn't run with the cart,
and Turk knew there was no way he'd leave it behind.
The one flickering streetlight behind Turk jabbed his shadow like a spear at the old
man. The rest of the lights had been shot out long ago.
"Hey man," Turk said as the old man got close. "Mind if I look?"
The old man stopped walking, but didn't speak. As Turk stepped toward the side of
the cart, the old man reached under the blanket that draped the shapeless mound of
possessions. Turk froze, ready to dodge if the guy pulled a knife. He'd seen street
people could go crazy without warning, slashing out with a surprising fierceness.
Turk knew how easy it was to end up sprawled across the curb in a puddle of blood
The man removed something soft and small from beneath the blanket.
"A gift." As he rasped the words in a low voice, he flicked his arm. "From all of
"Hey!" Johnny shouted.
Turk turned and looked. Johnny was clutching whatever the man had thrown.
"Gloves?" Johnny held them up. "This is crap. There's a finger missing." He threw
the gloves down.
Turk grabbed the edge of the cart. "You giving us junk?"
"Gifts," the man said. He barked out some sound between a laugh and a cough.
Turk shoved him with both hands. The guy had no more mass that a stack of paper
bags. He tumbled, and stayed curled against the sidewalk. It was too easy to be
"Come on," Turk said. He led them away, in search of something more amusing.
He found it soon enough.
Some fool had parked a new Taurus on 3rd Street. Turk hadn't expected to stumble
across such a generous gift that night, so he wasn't prepared to make the most of it,
but he figured there'd at least be time to snatch the stereo and a couple tires. Like a
pit crew, they went to work at their usual tasks. Turk yanked the stereo while Gray
popped the trunk and pulled out the jack.
It went fine until Johnny grabbed the right rear tire. The car slipped off the jack.
The rim slammed down on Johnny's hand.
They left the tires, but Turk kept the stereo under his jacket when they dropped
Johnny off at the emergency room. There was no point waiting for him. It would
be hours. And the screams were getting on Turk's nerves.
Gray kept babbling about it the rest of the night.
"It wasn't my fault."
"I didn't make it slip."
"Johnny should have been more careful."
And on and on until Turk felt like hitting him in the face with a brick. It was as bad
as the screaming.
The next night, Turk saw the old man again. As Turk crossed the street, the man
was already reaching into his cart. He pulled something out and threw it towards
Gray caught it. "One sneaker? This is useless." He threw it at the old man, nailing
him in the shoulder.
"Yeah," Turk said. "What's wrong with you? You think we want junk?" He
pushed the old man down. Then he grinned. It might not be any fun to push the guy
once, but it could become an enjoyable part of his nightly routine. He gave the guy
a kick in the ribs, but not too hard. He didn't want to break him just yet.
"Let's go get Johnny."
When Johnny came to the door, his hand was wrapped in a huge wad of bandages.
"Freakin' mummy," Turk said.
"I lost a finger," Johnny told them.
Turk's gut rippled. He didn't like the idea of losing body parts. "You coming?" he
"Yeah." Johnny joined them.
They walked ten blocks to the closest subway stop. Turk hoped there'd be
something interesting under ground. Something to play with. Or someone. But
nothing exciting was happening.
Until Gray slipped on a piece of a meatball sandwich someone had dropped near
the edge of the platform.
He fell at a bad time. There was an express train coming. He almost managed to
scramble clear, but he got clipped. His left foot was mangled so badly, even Turk
didn't have the stomach to look at it. At least Gray passed out, so they didn't have
to listen to any screams as they carried him up the steps.
"One foot," Turk said aloud after they dropped Gray at the hospital. "One
sneaker." He realized a person with one foot would only need one sneaker. And a
person with a missing finger would need gloves with the same finger missing.
"Let's find that old man," he said. It was time to stop this. Whatever was
happening, Turk knew how to end it.
They didn't find him that night. When Turk spotted him the next evening, two
blocks from the subway, a chill ran through him. But he didn't back off. Fear was a
sign of weakness. Weakness got you killed.
"Hey, you!" He jogged toward the old man. Turk expected him to keep walking, or
to turn and run.
The old man did the unexpected. He shoved the cart toward Turk. Then he scurried
for the corner. Turk didn't bother to chase him. He knew he could catch up with
the guy after he checked out the cart.
"What's this crap?" Mackler asked, pulling aside the blanket.
The cart was filled with scraps of cloth. As far as Turk could tell, they were all the
same. Turk reached in and lifted out a piece of knitted wool. The others all reached
in and grabbed one. The shape seemed familiar, but incomplete. Turk noticed a
label. Size 7½.
A hat? Turk thought.
"Half a hat," Mackler said, completing his thought.
Turk looked up. The old man was gone. He looked back in the cart just as Mackler
pushed aside the mutilated hats, revealing an object underneath -- something made
of wires, batteries, a mouse trap, and several dark sticks the size of road flares.
Turk's brain screamed for him to turn away, but the bright flash erupted too
quickly for his body to obey. The explosive force struck him and the others full in
When the rain of flesh and bone was finished, any of the singed and smoking half
hats scattered across the sidewalk would have fit nicely on what was left of Turk's
head. Though Turk and his gang were beyond caring what they wore or how they
Around the corner, the old man hadn't flinch at the sound of the explosion. He had
other things on his mind. It was time to look for a new cart.