The Crucible


Find a Penny, Pick it Up by John Sosnowski

Richard Connor, corporate accountant, age 43. Date of

death: August 5th. Cause of death: run over by a truck on 37th

Street near the Park Avenue intersection. Time of death: 12:45

PM on a Wednesday. Sympathy from bystanders: nowhere to be

found. Not in the Big Apple. Jackhammers continued to drone

in the background, and vehicle horns honked in frustration at

the hold-up caused by the body in the middle of a busy Manhattan

street. Other than the truck driver panicking about possible

litigation, the NYPD officer writing up a report, the Emergency

Medical Technicians hauling him away, and a few gawkers on the

sidewalk, the huddled masses yearning for another month’s rent

money are indifferent to the scene, hardened by big city life.

EMT Carlos Hernandez recognized Connor, as he’d broken

his leg after slipping on ice the previous winter. He’d spent

the entire ambulance ride complaining about how high a copay

at the hospital he anticipated, with not even a “thank you” for the

ambulance crew. The few eyewitnesses willing to stick around and

talk to the police all had the same story to tell: jaywalking across

the street during a rare break in traffic, the tall, wiry man stopped

mid-stride to pick up something small, like a coin. At this point,

he halted in the middle of the street and never noticed the truck

rounding the corner, coming straight at him a little too quickly.

What no one noticed was that this was no ordinary

penny. Entirely too shiny and new-looking for a 1972 coin,

the specimen from the Denver mint also carried a defect: a

botched mint mark reading “DD” instead of the proper single

D. Screw-ups like this are highly valued by coin collectors, but

this one’s managed to stay in circulation for forty plus years.

This is probably because no one managed to hold onto it for

long. I’m sure you know the old adage: “find a penny, pick it

up, and all day you’ll have good luck.” But you’d do well to

remember the addendum that it’s only good luck if it’s heads

up. The particularly frugal Richard Connor would’ve done well

to remember this before greedily snatching up a shiny Abraham

Lincoln in the street. The penny didn’t stay put for long, however,

as Chuck, always a man of minute superstitions, picked up the pretty

penny. He had no way of knowing, however, that this penny was

worth more than he bargained for.

Isabella De La Rosa, cleaning lady, age 75. Date of

death: June 26th. Cause of death: massive heart attack on a 37th

Street sidewalk, shortly after crossing the street around 3:30

PM. Circumstances were similar to those which would befall

Richard Connor several weeks later: an uncaring city went on

with business as usual as the woman lay dead. Some good samaritan

actually cared enough to call an ambulance upon seeing

the older lady collapse on the sidewalk, but it was too late

by the time Chuck Martinez’s ambulance reached the scene.

He’d seen enough in his near decade on the job not to get

broken up about much, but this one hit him particularly hard.

Ms. De La Rosa was like family to him. A good friend of his

mother’s, she lived a floor above him in the Spanish Harlem

apartment building where he grew up. As a teenager, he used

to take out her garbage. Chuck couldn’t fathom how a heart

attack could’ve befallen her; she was always a health fanatic,

never smoked, only drank a glass of wine a day, and vigorously

walked anywhere she headed; she’d often brag about

never needing a MetroCard. Little did he know, though, that

she’d also been stealing money from her employer, Hernandez

Funeral Home on 109th Street, for years. So what difference

was a penny lying tails up in the embalming room one day? It

was a penny that rode in her coin purse for about a month, a

penny that was accidentally dropped as she fiddled with her

coin purse while crossing the street, moments before she died.

A penny with a botched mint mark reading “DD ”

Timothy “T-Money” Henderson, drug dealer, age 30.

Date of death: April 16th. Cause of death: gunshot wounds.

Chuck Martinez had a feeling he’d get a call like this. He’d

worked for years to finally get daylight shifts on the ambulance

crew, but, team player that he was, he agreed to pull

night shifts for a couple of weeks until the new guys were

trained, ending the work shortage at his dispatch and putting

the out of whack schedule back in order. He didn’t miss

graveyard shift in the least bit because violent crime calls

like these were the norm. He’d seen shootings, stabbings,

and overdoses, and learned through his first eight years on

the job that getting used to seeing these things night in and

night out wasn’t the same as accepting it as a fact of life.

They tried their best to save Henderson as they

rushed to the nearest hospital, but the blood loss was too

severe. Another senseless killing, probably from a rival

gangster or dealer. As Henderson was pronounced dead on

arrival, Chuck took a hard look at his face and realized why

he’d seemed familiar. They’d attended P.S. 135 together.

Chuck recalled he’d had a nickname, “Dollar” or something

ridiculous like that, and they’d worked on an 11th grade

history project together. Well, if the term “together” is used

loosely — honor roll student Chuck did all the work while

T-Something-or-other was chronically absent from school but

managed to show up on presentation day. The pairing was

assigned, but Chuck had taken it in stride because at least the

hoodlum never actively gave him any trouble. He thought it a

strange coincidence to see the guy like this all these years later.

Police cleared Timothy Henderson’s pockets in search of ID

and confiscated the rest as evidence, but they’d missed a penny

he’d picked up face down earlier that day just for shits and

giggles, a penny that found its way onto the embalming room

floor as the body was dressed for his funeral.

Carlos “Chuck” Martinez never realized how many near

misses he’d had with the ominous DD penny, nor the power

of the seemingly mundane object. He accidentally threw the

penny in the garbage that night along with a convenience store

receipt for a bottled Pepsi and a lottery ticket he’d bought on

a whim — the Powerball jackpot winner. Model citizen Chuck

Martinez invested most of this into community betterment and

continued to live a fairly normal lifestyle as an EMT. Why did

the death dealer coin spare him? Some might say it’s because

the dark, shiny penny only went after those guilty of the sin of

greed, while others would say he was the lucky one who found

the penny heads up. We’ll never know.

August 9th: Die-hard sports gambler and garbageman Fred

Carlson just can’t get a break lately. He lost $200 on a Yankees

game, got a horrible night’s sleep because the already-late game went

into extra innings, and just had a trash bag break open. But on the

bright side, there’s a good-looking penny shining through the debris.