Tom Cruise awoke in the morning and shuffled down the hall to the bathroom. He yawned, stretched his arms over his head, and turned on the light. He stared into the small vanity mirror above the sink and grinned. I'm Tom Cruise, he thought.
"I'm Tom Cruise." He said and smiled his multi-million dollar smile. He picked up his electric toothbrush and brushed his perfectly white teeth. He washed his face and dried it with a face towel.
Then he looked back in the mirror and winked, "I'll see you later."
He got dressed, sipped a cup of coffee, grabbed his sport coat and stepped outside his door. He closed and locked it, and started down the stairs whistling a tune and juggling his keys. He stopped in mid-flight and turned around. He looked up at an identical set of three brown doors at the top of the stairs.
"What the hell . . . "
A small oriental woman opened the middle door and stepped outside with her cat.
"Go, shoo!" She commanded.
"Hello, Ma'am. Do you know who I am?"
She looked at him quizzically, and darted inside, closed and bolted the door.
"I'm Tom Cruise!" He shouted into empty space.
He pivoted around and continued down the staircase.
"At least I was until this morning."
He stared at the fat black emblem on the key ring.
"A VW? I drive a Volkswagon?"
He stepped down into the foyer and opened the door. A row of mailboxes was lined up along the wall.
"Jack DeLong, Robert Honeycutt, Ann Fong. Ann Fong? Tom Cruise, William Taft." Tom smiled and tapped the mailbox.
"Tom Cruise," He confirmed.
Whistling, he skipped outside down the flight of steps and scanned up and down the tree-lined street for his car. He gazed at his keys again.
"VW, VW, which one?"
He looked intently at his clothes, a white shirt, striped rep tie, navy blue blazer, and khaki cotton trousers with brown socks and cordovan penny loafers.
"Penny loafers?" He scratched his head and sighed.
"I'm on a research assignment, that's it, or I'm in a very bad dream."
He strained his head down the street.
"Where's the damn car?"
He flipped his wrist and glanced at his frayed brown leather wristwatch, then pressed down on the VW logo, and a car beeped down the street. He jogged down in the direction and stopped in front of a bright orange Jetta.
"That can't be my car." He tentatively pulled the car door, and it flew open. He slammed it and backed away. A shiny black Lexus S.U.V. stood motionless next to the Jetta.
"That's my ride."
He gawked at the keys in his hand hoping they would change, clicked the button again, and the Jetta's doors locked.
"This is a joke, right?" He screamed at white puffy clouds in a bright blue sky.
He drove on autopilot through the busy downtown thoroughfare and almost ran a red light, but he slammed on the brakes as a pretty brunette carrying her shoulder bag veered in front of the Jetta. Tom glanced in the rear view mirror, drummed up his best sheepish smile and flashed it at her. She gave him the finger and crossed the intersection. Nonplussed, he rolled down the window.
"Hey, wait a minute!" He shouted. "I'm sorry." The brunette ignored him and picked up her pace.
A beefy construction worker stuck his head out of a beat up pick-up behind him. "Hey, asshole. The light's green. Move it."
Tom wheeled his head around. "Don't you know who I am?"
"I don't care if you're fuckin' Tom Cruise, move your ass."
Horns beeped like crazy behind him. Tom tucked his head inside the Jetta and shifted into gear. "I am fuckin' Tom Cruise," He seethed. He caught his reflection in the rear view mirror. "Aren't I?"
He flaunted his trademark grin, and put on his trademark Raybans. He turned the corner and drove past the Winter Street Emporium. On impulse, he reached inside his blazer and took out his picture I.D. It was faded but still a pretty good likeness of Tom.
"Talk about your accurate research," He commented. "It's all in the details, the most minute, insignificant little detail sometimes tells all you need to know about a person. I knew I should have taped this. We can go back to it later, yeah, the DVD for "Average Joe", the making of an everyday life in the urban landscape of America. Cool."
He signaled right to turn into a parking garage when a small S.U.V. pulled out of a spot behind him. He swiftly backed up, gauged the angle and maneuvered into the spot. He jumped out of the car, flipped the keys in the air, dropped them inside his coat pocket, and crossed the street. He stood in front of the smoky glass doors and admired his reflection.
"This is real, this is downtown Pittsburgh." He listened to the traffic, the horns, and watched the pedestrians pass by; some conversed with each other, others talked on cell phones, several carried shopping bags, and a few walked babies in hooded strollers.
"God, I love this!" He exclaimed.
"You're late, Tom." The tall, boyish sandy haired Manager, Mr. Conlon, glared at Tom from behind the cash register as Tom strode past the shoe displays to the back of the store.
He paused. "It's Bob, remember Mr. Conlon."
"Sure, Bob, Tom. Just be on time." Mr. Conlon opened a box of lavender high heels, and stapled a price ticket on the bottom of the sole. "And don't tell me about the traffic. Your buddies all managed to be here on time."
"Got it Mr. C. I'll be on time."
"Okay, go help the guys with the shipment out back."
Tom pointed to him. "You got it. I am here to serve." He hurried to the stock room where Matt and Ivory kept an eye peeled for walk-ins while they sipped coffee and gorged on donuts.
"Today we get the babes." The chubby salesman with acne goaded Tom.
"Yeah, mon. Today you do the slave labor while we raise some skirts." The dreadlocked black hustler winked at Tom. He stepped aside as Tom seized his time card and punched in.
"Hey, it's a free world, boys. There's plenty of tail for everyone."
"Not today. Not for you. Have you seen the shipment yet?" Matt grinned. "Busted."
"Yeah, that Tom Cruise thang ain't working today, 'cept in the back room," Ivory added.
"Whatever you say." Tom took off his sport coat and hung it on a hook.
"There's plenty of it to go around if you got what it takes," he added while he rolled up his sleeves. Ivory took a step inside towards him, his eyes like burning coals.
"What are you saying, mon? You serious?"
Matt stepped between the two men.
"What, you think that big shit eating grin is what gets you the ladies. You are wrong, mon. They see right through that shit. They are feeling sorry for you, that's what it is. Fact is they want to see if there is anything else behind that big ole smile."
Tom smirked, "I think he's jealous, Matt. What do you say? I think he's a bit short on the mojo."
Ivory butted into Matt, his fists clenched.
"I've got more mojo in my little pinky, mon. Who gets all the dates?
Tom rolled up his sleeves.
"I've got girls throwing themselves at my feet all the time."
Matt slid between the two combatants.
Ivory chuckled, "Then why haven't I heard about your dates? You're a homo, Tom. That's it, mon. You're a fuckin' fag."
Tom bristled, "Get out of my way. I'm gonna teach this mon a lesson."
"Bring it on, mon. I'm gonna kick your ass back to L.A."
Matt struggled to hold them off, and peered out the door.
"Wait a minute, guys. Wait a fucking minute! There are a couple of babes down front."
Tom rolled the work cart out from under the repair bench.
"You know where to find me, mon. Bring it on!"
He turned down the middle row and gawked at a mountainous pile of cartons.
"This is what I call grunt work." He picked up a blade and slit a carton open. He wheeled the work cart over, and then peeked outside the stockroom.
Ivory steamed by him carrying half a dozen display shoes. "It's my lucky day, mon. While you're slaving away, my lady friend and I, we'll be going to dinner and a movie by the time this transaction is over." He sailed by Tom out the door, boxes piled to his chin.
"Do you know her name, yet?"
"It's Mel . . . Marian, yeah, it's Marian, asshole."
Tom was knee deep in the shipment when the six-foot, stunning brunette Amazon, Princess poked her head around the corner sipping coffee. He looked up at her and grinned. She beamed back at him.
"Hi Tom. Where's Matt and Ivory?"
"It's Bob, Princess. Matt's following Ivory around trying to get some pointers on how to pick up women, and he's about to get his head handed to him from a babe who can't make up her mind."
Ivory burst into the stockroom carrying two more display pumps. "Damn bitch can't decide. She's driving me . . . "
"Ivory!" Princess exclaimed. He hustled past the repair counter.
"Ah, Princess," Ivory beamed. "You're looking ravishing today."
"You're not getting out of this one so easily. I heard you. We heard you."
"Do you want me to take over?" Tom jibed. "It'd be no problem, mon."
"Yeah, right, and ruin my big sale. She's buying two pairs, maybe three."
Ivory darted around the bend, and grabbed two shoeboxes, and jogged past them out the door.
"You shouldn't be the only one back here." Princess fumed. I'll send Matt back. He's always ducking work."
Tom stacked a load of shoeboxes on top of the cart. "Well, he sure ain't gonna learn anything from that dude."
Princess giggled, "Bob, you are too much!"
Mr. Conlon poked his head into the stockroom.
"Bob, I need you up front and you too, Princess. This isn't a coffee clotch."
"Coming, Mr. C," she zipped around him, while Tom leapt over the cartons and seized his blazer.
Two black teenagers with backpacks and matching braids plucked at a display case while Matt hovered over them.
"Hi girls, so what can I get you this . . . "
"You can get this big oaf away from us, and, whoa . . . "
She turned completely around and almost tripped over the bottom shelf. "You look like um, what's his name, that Mission Impossible dude . . . what's his name, Finesse?"
The shorter Finesse, crouched down in jean overalls, stood and checked him out from his shiny cordovan penny loafers to his jet-black hair. She yelled, "We got Tom Cruise workin' in a motherfuckin' shoe store!"
She sidled up to Tom. "What's up, Tom. Are you on location? Are we in a movie?" She waved down the aisle. "Hi Mom! Guess what? I'm in a movie. Come over here Ilona. We're in a movie, girl!"
The tall girl in a Pirates sweatshirt ran at Tom shouting, "We're in a movie! We're in a movie with Tom Cruise!"
Finesse tiptoed down the aisle and paused.
"Where's the camera, Tom? Where's the fuckin' camera?"
"They're probably hiding them, Fen. That's why you can't see them, right, Tom?"
Tom threw his hands up. "Wait a minute, girls. First off, my name's Bob, and I work here just like that other guy, Matt. I'm just a salesman here to serve you."
"Yeah sure, and I'm Mother Theresa," Ilona proclaimed.
"Then you can start by kissing my butt." Finesse turned around and wiggled her ass in Tom's face.
Tom shied away, "That's way too personal ladies, but I will be happy to show you some shoes. What have you got?"
Matt leapt forward nearly bumping into Tom. "And if you play your cards right, he might let you be in his next movie."
"Matt," Tom pleaded. "There is no movie."
"Yeah, right. You're here doing research for . . . "
Finesse shoved some display shoes at Tom. "You can start by researchin' these."
"And these," Ilona added two more display pumps on top of his stack. Tom juggled them. "Matt, help me out, man."
"And don't be long, boys, we're busy girls," Ilona laughed. "Yeah, we got to get ready for our auditions." They sat down and zipped open their empty backpacks. Ilona whispered, "This should be like takin' candy from a baby."
Finesse nodded, "No shit, girlfriend. Mackie should be here any minute."
Tom flew down the rows in the stockroom, seizing one shoebox after another. From behind him, Matt whined, "Tom, you said we were gonna be in your movie, remember."
"Matt, there's no guarantee it's going to be made. We're still looking for the premise, and building on the conflict. You know, what kind of shit goes down in a shoe store for Christ sakes? And we have to find the character's arc for this average schmoe. No offense, Matt."
"None taken, Bob. Bob, right? Don't tell Ivory that. He expects to be in your next movie and . . . "
Matt came up to Tom loaded with boxes.
"Matt, where the hell is . . . ?"
"I got 'em all, Tom, let's go. I may not be that great a salesman, but I know where all the freakin' shoes are."
Tom clapped Matt on the back. "You da man, Matt! Let's rock and roll."
Matt and Tom laid the shoeboxes at the girl's feet.
"What took you so long?" Ilona asked. "We was gonna leave."
"Yeah, ain't you never worked in a shoe store?" Finesse chimed in. "We want to be served." She opened the boxes, and took out a tan moccasin and a brown loafer.
"Omigod, Finesse," Ilona cracked up. "Look at them shoes! They gonna look like boats on your big feet! What do you think, Tom?"
"They look good on you, real casual. Nice, on a summer's day like this."
Ilona slipped on a pair of low heel white pumps, and gazed up at Tom.
"Bob," Tom emphasized. "Remember, it's Bob. It's a nice match, and they look real good on your feet."
"That's cause she don't have elephantine feet, like me. Ain't that the truth!"
She plucked two sneakers off the display cap.
"Damn, these are cute. Show me these in pink and tan. Aren't these the cutest, Ilona?" She tossed them to Tom. "Go on. Off with you, Bob. We'll be right here."
"Yeah, we ain't going anywhere," Ilona declared. "It ain't everyday you get waited on by Tom Cruise."
"Son of a bitch!" He spat out under his breath.
The girls slid their backpacks out, shoved the shoes inside and zipped them up. Finesse threw her backpack over her shoulder. She looked up at a concave mirror. A grim looking skinny blonde guy was coming their way.
"Shit," She squawked. "Come on, Lon. We're busted."
Ilona raced after Finesse. They turned the corner, and knocked into Princess. Finesse ran to the door and Ilona clambered up on her heels.
"Ow, bitch!" She screamed, pulled the door open and ran outside. Ilona stumbled after her.
"Where's Mackie?" She shrieked.
Tom peered outside the stockroom and yelled, "Hey, do you know?" He held up the pink sneaker.
"They bolted, Bob." Princess rubbed her shoulder.
"What?" Tom asked. "Where?"
He ran down the center of the store and glanced down the sale aisle at empty shoeboxes.
"Son of a bitch!" He raced to the door. Ivory intercepted him and seized Tom's shoulder.
"Don't make this a race thing, mon."
"They stole the f'in shoes, Ivory!" He knocked Ivory's hand off his shoulder.
"You don't know that, mon."
"Well I intend to find out."
Tom leaped outside the doors and jogged down the street, as a rusty dented yellow Cadillac doubled parked.
"Stop!" Tom yelled. He sprinted down the street while the girls tossed their backpacks in the back seat and jumped inside. The car peeled off into traffic.
Tom dodged between the onrushing vehicles. He threw open his car door, jumped into the driver's seat, gunned the engine and bounded into traffic.
"A yellow shit bucket shouldn't be hard to follow."
Mr. Conlon burst through the doors, and shouted, "Wait, Bob. I called the cops." His voice trailed off, while a police siren wailed and a squad car screeched to the curb.
"There he goes, the orange Jetta. He's the one going after the thieves . . . "
The solemn gray haired officer glanced at the snarled traffic, and glowered.
"What, is he nuts?" His window rose, and siren blaring he took off after the Jetta.
Mr. C cupped his hands together and shouted, "He thinks he's in a movie. Maybe he is."
He spun around, and jogged up and down the street.
Tom weaved through the traffic and just caught sight of the Caddy up ahead about to take a left on a yellow light. He pressed the accelerator just as he saw the black and white bearing down on him. He waved in the rear view mirror, and made a left turn when the traffic light flashed red.
The cop spat in his radio. "I got a psycho in an orange Jetta, chasing another psycho in a yellow Caddy on Winter Street and Durant, stolen shoes for Christ sakes. He just waved to me and oh shit, he's taking a left turn on red in the fuckin' intersection."
The cop car sped around the braking cars lights flashing and horn screaming. "He's gonna get himself killed. Who the fuck does he think he is, Tom Cruise? I need back up. These motherfuckers are crazy . . . What? He thinks he's in a fuckin' movie."
The cop threw down his radio, as the Caddy pin wheeled up a side street, the Jetta in hot pursuit. Tom threw on his shades, and waved again to the cop to catch up to him. "I hope they get all this. This is awesome."
Mackie in the Caddy watched the joint he was smoking slip from his fingers onto the Wendy's bag on the rug. A spark caught, and the bag burst into flame.
"Fuck, Finesse, move bitch, the fuckin' bag's on fire. Get over here."
He took his foot off the gas pedal and stomped on the bag. Finesse vaulted over the seat, and stomped on his foot. "Ow, fuck, fuck bitch, get your fuckin' dragons offa me." The car swerved down the end of the road.
Tom bore down and rammed the Caddy. Mackie jerked forward and back, and Finesse smacked into the windshield and bounced back. Ilona flew over into the front seat and her knees rolled and smashed into the dash. The car shot across a dead end and hit an elm tree in the front yard. Mackie flew into the windshield headfirst.
Two cop cars zoomed down the street from opposite corners.
The airbag slammed into Tom's chest and face, while the Jetta limped across the street and skidded over a freshly mowed manicured lawn.
The chasing cop car slowed to a crawl at the corner. The veteran cop wiped his brow and looked up and down the street. He picked up his police radio.
"There are no fucking cameras."
He lowered his radio.
"This is a fucking disaster."
Tom sat up at the edge of the hospital bed and stared through the bandages swathed around his head at a tiny vanity mirror. He felt his hands touch his chest, his stomach, his back, and his legs.
I'm all right, he thought. I'm . . .
A doctor in a white lab coat moved into view.
"Hi Bob. You've got some powder burns from the airbag deploying. You'll be okay. We put some salves on it, but you'll need the bandages for a few days."
"How'd I do?" Tom asked.
"How'd you do?" A raspy voice intoned. "You caught the mother . . . the perps. Is that okay?"
Tom twisted his head to one side and saw a husky cop whispering to someone beside him. The glare of a bright light blinded him. The cop stood in front of him. Tom raised his forearm over his eyes.
"The driver, Mackie's got a fractured skull, he ain't going nowhere. The girls were luckier, a banged up kneecap, and a few bruised ribs. Oh yeah, and we got the shoes."
"The light, it's in my eyes."
The light darted behind him, and Tom saw the cop grinning from ear to ear.
"You are a hero, my friend, but I guess that's not unusual for you."
The cop took Tom's hand and shook it.
"As usual, you saved the day."
The cop let go of Tom's hand.
"What did I do?" Tom slid off the bed, and woozily regained his balance.
"The chase!" The cop exclaimed. "You were awesome, weaving through traffic, making daredevil turns, ramming them when they had nowhere to go."
"I did that?" Tom inquired. He gazed into the mirror.
"Of course, you did. You're Tom Cruise."
Tom stared at his own fearful eyes.
"I'm Bob, just . . . Bob."
The Director yelled, "Cut! Print!" He slapped Tom on the shoulder.
"That was beautiful, Tom!"
Tom turned around slowly, and stared at the Director and the crew.
"Am I Tom Cruise?"
The Director stepped right in front of Tom.
"If you're not, who is?"
The cop passed into his line of vision.
"Hey buddy, are you all right?"
"Do you know who you are?"
Tom jabbed a hand into his back pocket, pulled out his I.D, and held it at arms length.