Miranda's Dance

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Chapter Twelve

This isn’t happening! God, I didn’t see this coming at all! Of all the things that could’ve gone wrong tonight, this is the fucking worst! How could this happen? How could I not know about this? It’s because I’ve had my fucking head up my ass ever since I got that goddamned eviction notice! I wasn’t paying attention! Fucking stupid, Miranda! Charlie always said that if you get distracted, you get killed – or worse! Well, this is a million times worse! God, what do I do now? Charlie’s in the hospital and there’s no way in hell I can get to see him tonight. Even if by some miracle I could get to the hospital before dawn, they wouldn’t let me in. Hospitals don’t allow visitors in the middle of the night. I remember that much from my old life. They wouldn’t let me in to see him until morning at the earliest, and that’s if they let me see him at all. They might not. Hospitals usually restrict visitors to relatives and people who don’t look like shit. I don’t think I could convince the nurse at the desk that I was his long lost daughter. Let’s see: he’s an old black man who’s been on the street for fifty years, and I’m a red-haired white woman who’s young enough to be his granddaughter and I look like I slept on a heating grate. No, I think they’d suspect something. I can’t believe this! Oh, God! What am I going to do?

Listen to me, feeling sorry for myself! What the hell is wrong with me? Charlie’s the one who’s sick. God, he’s in a hospital! It must be fucking serious. I guess I should be happy for him. I mean, if he’s sick, then what better place for him to be than in a hospital? Then again, if they admitted him to the hospital, it must mean that it’s really fucking bad. Leon was right: Charlie hates hospitals with a passion. He told me that a hundred times. He was in a hospital in Vietnam and he said he never wanted to go back to one again. My God! I don’t even know what’s wrong with him! He looked all right the last time I saw him. Well, he looked as all right as he ever does. What happened? It could be anything. He’s an old junkie with about a hundred fucking things wrong with him. Christ, what if he’s dying? The thought of me dying without getting to say goodbye to Charlie is bad enough. The thought of him dying without me getting to say goodbye is too much. I owe him everything. He saved my life. He made it almost bearable. He saved me from a fate that’s a hell of a lot worse than death. Charlie kept me alive and going for all this time and he never asked for one damned thing in return. How can I let him die without telling him how much I owe him? How can I let him die without saying goodbye? How can I leave without telling him he’s the only fucking person left to me that I’m going to miss? Christ, what the fuck am I going to do?

All right, think! Think, Miranda! Solve the problem! What the fuck do I do? Maybe I should put it off? Maybe I shouldn’t kill myself tonight? Charlie will be out of the hospital in a day or two, right? And even if he isn’t, I can get there tomorrow. I can get in to see him. Yeah, I can do that. I’ll bet if I tell the nurse who I am and tell her to ask Charlie, he’ll tell her that it’s OK and he wants to see me and they’ll let me in. They’ll do that, right? It’s only an extra day; two at the most. I can do that. I can do a day or two on the street. Forty-eight hours. It’s nothing, right? I mean, I was on the street for the better part of seven years. And it’s not like I ever really left. I’ve just been out here with a dingy little roof over my head. So I go back for a day or two. It’s no big deal. A couple of days. I can do it. I’ve done it before. What’s an extra two days, right?

God, who am I kidding? I can’t do it. There’s no way in hell I can do it. That was the whole point of this thing. It’s taking me every ounce of strength I’ve got left to go through with this. I can’t go back. I can’t go back to what I was. If I do, I won’t have the strength to go through with it. I won’t be able to jump. I barely have the strength to do it tonight. I’ll think about it and I’ll plan for it, but in the end I’ll just slip back into what I was and I’ll never get out again. Not ever. Before I know it, I’ll be filthy and back on dope and living like an animal. Less than an animal, actually. It’ll be worse than before. I’ll hate myself even worse than I ever did. It’s taken me all this time just to psych myself up for this. It has to be tonight. It has to be. I’ll never be able to do it if I don’t do it tonight. It’s now or never. That’s how it works. Shit! This is what I get for spending the last few days in bed, feeling sorry for myself! I’m a fucking idiot! I used to do this when I was a kid and I was going through a lot of shit, and here I am still doing it! Some things never change. Yeah, right! Only this time it’s going to cost me. It’s going to cost me big. You see? This is what I fucking get for being such a spineless piece of shit! If only I’d gotten my worthless ass out of bed, I’d have known Charlie was in the fucking hospital and I would’ve gone to see him and everything would be fine. Shit, I’d already be dead! I wouldn’t be here right now! But because I’m a fucking worthless piece of shit, I didn’t do what I should’ve done! I didn’t know about any of it and now he’s there and I’m here and I’m fucked! We’re both fucked! Miranda, you fucking mental reject! You are one useless fucking bitch! God, I fucking hate myself!

OK, think! Stop being a little bitch about it and think! What can I do? I can’t see him and I can’t wait until tomorrow. What can I do? How do I get word to him? How do you get word to someone who’s not here? You call him. No, I can’t do that. I don’t know the number and there probably isn’t even a phone in his room. Besides, if I’m not family, then there’s no way they’d put the call through. Not this late, anyway. Maybe I can write him a letter? That would work, right? I could leave it with someone and they’d give it to him when he gets back. I could do that. There are people out here who would get it to him. That’s a good idea. But what the hell would I say? I know what I was going to say to him when I saw him, but it’s different in a letter. Things get lost when you’re not there to say them yourself. Important things. How the hell do I say what I want to say in a fucking letter? How do I make it clear that I have to do this and I have to do it tonight? That I just can’t go back to what I was and that it has to be this way? I mean, I could tell him how much I owed him and how grateful I am for everything he did for me and how much he meant to me, but would that be enough? Maybe I could even tell him I loved him? I do, you know. He’s the only person I love in the world. Well, besides my family, that is. And there’s no way I could ever tell them about all of this shit. That leaves just Charlie. He’s the only one who understands. He’s been like a best friend and a teacher and a second father to me all in one. If there’s anything left of me that’s worth a flying fuck in the world, it’s because of him. Without him, I’m lower than the shit in the alleys that we scrape off of our fucking shoes. But can I say all of that in a letter? Can I make him understand that I owe him so much and I know he’s going to be disappointed in me, but I just had to do it? Can I make him believe that it’s not his fault and there was nothing he could have done to prevent it? Can I tell him he didn’t fail me, but that I failed him? Is there any way a bunch of words scrawled on a scrap of paper could convey all that after everything we’ve been through together?

No, I don’t think so. A letter would be cheap. It would be nothing more than a fucking suicide note, and those things are so goddamned pathetic that I already swore I wasn’t going to write one. I mean, what the fuck is the point of a suicide note? If you kill yourself, that pretty much says it all. One look at your prematurely dead body should be enough to tell everyone that your life was a pile of shit and you couldn’t take it anymore and that under the circumstances, dying was a hell of a lot better than living. The note is pretty much superfluous. Unless you want to fuck someone over, that is. I’ve heard about people who write these fucked-up suicide notes. You know, notes that say shit like “It’s all your fucking fault” or “I always hated your guts and I hope you find my bloody, stinking, rotting corpse and it fucking traumatizes you for the rest of your fucking life!” Too bad I can’t write one of those. It might actually be fun. No, I’m not in a position to blame anyone but myself. That’s the one thing I’ve known from the very beginning. It’s the one thing that never changes.

Get a grip, Miranda! Fuck! Can you believe I can’t even think my way through this shit? Some smart girl, huh? OK, I’ve got to think straight. Think. Don’t freak out. All right. I can’t do it the best way, so I have to settle for second best. I have to do something, and I can’t do it the way I want. So what’s my next best move? OK, a letter is my best bet. I mean, what else am I going to do, right? I’ll just have to find a way to make it sound right. God knows how I’m going to do that. I’m no Shakespeare. I haven’t written anything serious since high school. I hope I can do better tonight than I did back then. All right, it’s settled: I’ll write Charlie a letter. I’ll find someone to give it to him. A lot of people are tight with Charlie. They’d go out of their way to make sure he gets it. The old-timers. Leon, Monroe, Georgia Nick. There’s lots of them. Finding someone to deliver it shouldn’t be a problem. God, I hope it’s not a problem. Jesus Christ, what the fuck else can go wrong tonight?

All right, I need to head back toward the eastern part of the sector. Junkie land. That’s where I’ll find…oh, fuck! OK, we’ve got company! Look sharp! Damn! That’s Jesus. God, he looks like shit! He looks like he’s been hiding in the sewers! I was wondering about him the other day. I haven’t seen him for weeks. He’s usually a regular around here. He’s one of the younger guys. He’s like four or five years younger than me. Can you believe it? Not even thirty and he’s already out on the street. I wonder where he’s been? Jail? Maybe. He’s not wearing a cast or a bandage or anything, so he probably wasn’t in the hospital. That usually leaves jail. There aren’t a lot of other options out here.

“Hey, Jesus! I haven’t seen you in a while. Where’ve you been?

“Hey, Roja! Como esta?

Why the fuck does he do that? He knows I don’t speak ten words of Spanish. Roja means red. That’s about all I got from that.

“Como what?”

“It means ‘what’s up?’ What’s goin’ on, girl?”

“Not much. How about you? I haven’t seen you in weeks. You look like you’ve been hiding underground. Did you catch a case or something?”

“No, but they’re tryin’ to put one on me. That’s why I’ve been layin’ low. My PO’s lookin’ for me. Big time!”

That figures. “PO” means parole officer. That’s one of the many people you definitely don’t want to meet out here. Not if you value your health and your freedom. And your teeth.

“Did he put a warrant out on you?”

“Big time. He flagged my ass.”

“Oh, man! That’s fucked up. That means the cops will be looking for you, too.”

“You got that right, girl. Them motherfuckers have been askin’ around on me.”

“Well, you’d better watch yourself. The cops are up to something big tonight.”

“Yeah, I saw that. Fuckin’ cops, man! They’re all over the place! What the fuck’s goin’ on?”

“Search me. But you’re right: they’re everywhere. They’ve got the helicopter out, too.”

“This is not good for me, girl! I got to find someplace to crash tonight. Someplace safe. You know any places?”

“Not really. Not right now, anyway. Where have you been staying?”

“That place on Atlantic.”

“That empty building?”

“Yeah, me and some guys had a squat there. It was pretty good for a while.”

“What happened?”

“What the fuck always happens?”

What always happens is that someone chases your ass out. Either the cops, or whoever actually owns the place. And they’re not exactly gentle about how they do it. Beatings and bullets are par for the course.

“I got you. Hey, did you hear Charlie was in the hospital?”

“Yeah, I heard that.”

“Do you know anything? Is he OK? Did he OD or something?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think it’s the dope. I heard he got real sick, like pneumonia. I heard they took him away in a fuckin’ ambulance. Must’ve been pretty bad. That motherfucker don’t like hospitals.”

“No, he doesn’t. I really needed to see him tonight.”

“Well, if he ain’t dead, he’ll be back in a couple days. He ain’t got nowhere else to go.”

“Just like the rest of us.”

“What are you talkin’ about? You got a room.”

“Not anymore. They’re kicking me out.”

“Seriously? They gave you the note?”

“I’m afraid so. I got the notice a few days ago.”

“Time’s up, huh? That’s how it always goes. That’s fucked up, chica.

See? Everybody out here knows how this shit works. Sooner or later, they give you the boot. Nothing good ever lasts. Not in this hellhole.

“Tell me about it.”

“Always ends up like that, don’t it? You got a place to squat?”


“Got any leads?”

“Not a one.”

“Damn, I was hopin’ you had some ideas. I’m fucked if I stay out here.”

“Sorry. The best idea I’ve got for you is don’t get caught.”

“That’s the plan. Look, I don’t want to stay in one place too long. Them POs; they got eyes in the back of their heads. You know how it is.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard.”

“I got to get goin’. I’ll see you around, chica. Hey, sorry you lost your crib.”

“Me, too. You watch your back, OK?”

“Always do.”

Yeah, famous last words. Sometimes literally.

Unfortunately for Jesus, that won’t be enough. He won’t last much longer out here. They’ll find him. His parole officer, I mean. They always do. They’re worse than bloodhounds. Those motherfuckers find everybody out here, especially if you’ve got a parole officer looking for your ass along with the cops. That’s like being double-fucked. Parole is a serious fucking deal out here. It’s a major part of life on the street. You see what a girl learns prowling around at night? I never knew anyone who was on parole until I got here. Hell, I never knew anyone who ever went to jail before. Now I couldn’t tell you how many parolees I know. They’re everywhere. Sometimes I think parole created this place. That’s kind of how the system works. A lot of people end up out here as soon as they get out of prison. They’ve got nowhere else to go. No one will take them in, and it’s not like they can set something up from prison before they get out, so they end up here. Can you believe it? They just throw you from one hellhole to the next and they don’t think twice about it. But that’s the system for you. You do your time and then they toss you on the street with nowhere to go and they expect you to stay out of trouble. Fat fucking chance! OK, sometimes they get you a room in a dump not far from here, but most people just hit the bricks. Either way, here you are. What really sucks is that even if you’re lucky enough to get one of those dumpy little rooms, you usually lose it pretty quick. You’ve got to pay for that shit and most parolees can’t do it. That’s enough to get you thrown back in the slammer right there. They can violate you for not keeping your job or losing your room. Oh, yeah! In a heartbeat! They usually help get you a job when you get paroled. It’s not much of a job, and a lot of these guys have major problems adjusting to life on the outside. And on top of that, some of the bosses make you give them a cut of your salary if you want to keep your job, which means you have even less money than you thought you’d have. It’s illegal, but no one seems to do anything about it. People on parole aren’t what you’d call a high priority for the good people of the Emerald City. Even Social Services doesn’t give a shit about them. As far as Social Services are concerned, you’re still the prison’s problem. You got a problem? Tell it to your parole officer. We don’t want to hear it.

Parole. Living on borrowed time. So many people out here are on parole that sometimes I think I’m the only one who isn’t. Everyone out here knows what parole is all about. It’s basically time off of your sentence for good behavior, but they factor in a lot of other things, too. You get your good time for behaving yourself. That pretty much means not killing or raping anyone and staying out of the occasional prison riot. Then you get your work time, which is time off for working while you’re in prison. Since you pretty much have to work, your work time is a given. Then they throw in things like overcrowding and what you did that got you thrown in jail in the first place and some other shit that I can’t think of right now. It all means the same thing: early release. They call it the difference between court time and real time. Ten years from the judge is actually six years of real time, or something like that. I don’t know the math behind it. Maybe there isn’t any? Maybe they just reach into a hat and pick out a piece of paper with a number on it? You know, I wouldn’t be surprised. Frankly, I don’t think anyone gives a shit about how or why they figure out who gets paroled, just as long as they’re one of them. You know, I got paroled so I don’t care why. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. God knows I wouldn’t.

Of course, one chickenshit violation and they revoke your parole and you’re right back in prison. That’s what Jesus is running from. They’re looking to violate him. That’s another wonderful little fact of life out here. People disappear out here all the time and a parole violation is one of the leading causes. Charlie taught me that when I first got here and I would wonder about people that seemed to disappear overnight. They got violated. Nothing scares a parolee more than getting violated. That’s where the parole officers come in. During the day, you sometimes see a couple of tough-looking motherfuckers in what looks like an unmarked police car, but they’re actually parole officers. The minute they show up, everyone runs like shit. They run even if it isn’t their parole officer. Hell, some people run and they aren’t even on parole! That’s understandable. You see, whenever a parole officer comes down here, he’s not on a social call. He’s looking for someone, and you’d better hope it’s not you. God help you if it is. What’s your prison number, motherfucker? That’s how a parole officer says hello. Parolees are more afraid of them then they are of the cops. Cops need a charge to bust you, but if you’re on parole, your PO can violate you and send you back just for giving him a nasty look. I’ve seen them do it. And they’re not gentle about it. Not by a long shot. They can do some serious damage. One of them slammed me face-first into a lamppost because he was looking for some guy and I didn’t answer his questions the way he wanted. He almost knocked me out cold. For a minute, I thought he broke my nose. It was bleeding like shit. I guess I was lucky. A nosebleed isn’t much. But it’s not surprising that they act like that. Oh, I’m not defending them or anything. They’re fucking dicks, if you ask me. It’s just that since all they ever deal with is assholes, they don’t take any shit. Give them so much as half an excuse and they’ll beat the living shit out of you. They don’t care if anyone’s watching. They might even kick the shit out of the bystanders just for the hell of it. Hey, most of them are going to be on parole someday anyway, so why not give them a head start on their education? And they’ve got the tools to do it, too. The POs around here carry these metal nightsticks that fold up like a giant car antenna. Man, those things will do a serious number on you! They flick them out with a flip of their wrist and before you know what’s happening, they start wailing on your ass. They call it getting in some stick time. The cops call it that, too. The law loves to beat you with sticks. Go figure. And do they ever know how to use them! Take it from me: you don’t fuck with a parole officer. They’ve got badges and guns just like the cops, but they’re not out here to play public servant. As far as they’re concerned, the only thing a parolee understands is an ass kicking and they’re more than happy to oblige. Two, four, six, eight; who are we going to violate? You, motherfucker! Step out of line and they will get your mind right – fast! Thank God I’m not on parole. Those are some seriously brutal motherfuckers. You almost never see them at night, though. I guess they work regular hours. I suppose that’s another reason why a lot of parolees out here become people of the night.

Hey, now here’s a skid row landmark. You don’t want to miss the landmarks. That huge place over there with all of the people out front is called the Shepherd Mission. Pretty damned intimidating, isn’t it? It looks more like a fucking fortress than a place for doing God’s work among the poor. The truth is, all of the missions look like that. It says a lot about what life is really like out here. As missions go, the Shepherd Mission is the king. I think it’s the biggest one out here. There are always about a hundred people hanging around it, day or night. I’ve been inside a few times, but I don’t know how many people it holds. A few hundred, probably. It’s sort of the center of attraction for mission life. Someone told me it’s the oldest one out here. I guess that’s saying something. It’s funny, but I’ve always wondered just how old it really is. I don’t know why, but I’ve always been curious about shit like that. Sometimes I think these missions have been here for hundreds of years. I know that’s not true, but it sure feels that way. If you think this is a big crowd, you should see it during the daytime. There’s always a shitload of people hanging around in front of the place; especially during feeding time. If I’m out and about during the day, I’m one of them. But even though they lock the doors around seven or eight o’clock, people hang out here all night long. Most of them don’t hang out here for any particular reason, though. They just figure it’s as good a place as any to spend your time. People just don’t have any place else to go. It’s not like any of us has a pressing social calendar, you know. Like I told you already: we don’t have a lot of demands on our time.

Fucking missions on skid row! I sometimes wonder which came first? I mean, did they build the missions and then skid row sprang up around them, or did skid row come first and they built the missions right in the heart of the place? It’s sort of a fucked-up take on the whole chicken-and-the-egg thing. You see what I have to deal with? That’s my fucked-up brain for you. I actually think about shit like that. Sometimes I obsess about it. Anyway, as much as I’ve needed the missions over the years, I really hate them. I hate going anywhere near them. It’s not the fact that they’re the most obvious symbol of how everyone out here has completely failed at everything in life. That would be bad enough, but there’s a lot more to it. For one thing, they look like shit. It’s like they were designed to look run-down and scary on purpose. That’s to be expected, though. As you might imagine, everything on skid row looks like shit. The whole place looks like the aftermath of a nuclear war or something. A lot of that is our fault – the people out here, I mean. We’re as hard on our surroundings as we are on ourselves. And we sure as hell don’t take care of the place. Neither does anyone else. Why would they? Anything anyone did to make the place look better would be a waste of effort. I mean, who’s going to appreciate it? Us? Not hardly.

Still, everyone congregates by them. If you can’t find a spot to park your ass outside of a mission, there are plenty of alleys nearby. You can always find a spot there and you’ll still be in the thick of it all. There’s an alley about half a block away from this place called Grand Alley. I think I mentioned it already. We call it that because it’s so damned big. In a lot of places, it would be considered a street. It’s a very important alley out here at night. Shit, would you listen to me? An important alley? You know you’ve hit rock fucking bottom when the alleys become important to you. But they are. They’re important to everyone out here. Alleys and the homeless at night go together like fireworks and the Fourth of July. You don’t just have to know the alleys out here; you have to understand them. For one thing, they only seem to lead to other alleys. All roads may lead to Rome, but all alleys just lead to other alleys. At least, that’s been my experience. Since I got here, I’ve spent most of my time in the damned things. That’s true for most people out here. Alleys are like the freeways of the inner city. They’re the best way to get from point “A” to point “B.” People out here wander through them constantly. They’re perfect for us. They’re places you go when you don’t want to be seen, and we sure as hell don’t want to be seen. Think about it: alleys were created so that stores and buildings could do things out of the public view, like dump their trash. They don’t want you to see the ugly side of their business, and no one wants you to see a bunch of ugly motherfuckers like us. Keep it in the alley. Out of sight; out of mind. Anyway, the whole idea is that you’re not supposed to see what goes on in an alley. That becomes even more important at night. Well, to us, at any rate. What with the kind of business we’re conducting; we can’t afford to be seen. Staying out of sight means staying out of jail. That’s why the alleys are perfect for us.

You learn a lot about alleys when you spend so much time in them. To begin with, you learn to watch where you step. There’s a fair amount of shit in these alleys, and most of it isn’t dog shit. It’s human shit. Like I said before, people shit in these alleys like they’re a public toilet. It’s disgusting. Hey, it’s not like there aren’t bathrooms out here. There are plenty of construction sites with those portable toilets around, and while they aren’t the cleanest things in the world, they’re a lot better than squatting down and shitting in an alley. Unfortunately, a lot of people out here don’t see it that way. Fucking pigs. Just thinking about it makes me want to puke. About the only thing worse than coming across a pile of shit in an alley is coming across someone taking a shit in an alley. Maybe it’s just me, but the sight of someone squatting down and taking a shit is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying something! I just want to kick their legs out from under them and make them fall ass-first into their own shit. Of course, they’d probably just get up and wipe their ass against the wall for lack of toilet paper. I’ve seen people do that, too. Jesus Christ! Even dogs don’t do that! God, this is one seriously fucked up place!

Alleys are usually strangely lit. Remember how I told you about the weird lighting out here? It’s just as weird in the alleys. For us, lighting in the alleys is a tool. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. You learn how to use it. How to manipulate it. You learn that while you can see from a dark place into a lighted place, you can’t see from a lighted place into a dark place. If you’re standing beneath a floodlight or a streetlight, you can’t see one foot beyond the area that’s lit up. It can make you vulnerable. You learn how to use that to your advantage. Sometimes you make it that way. By that, I mean that a lot of the dark spots in the alleys aren’t there by coincidence. They’re made by the people out here. We break the floodlights in certain places to create these dark spots so we can hide. And we’re not the only ones who do it. Sometimes the cops shoot out the lights so they can sneak up on us without being seen. The only difference is that when we do it, it’s vandalism. But when they do it, it’s in the line of duty or some shit like that. Of course, shooting a gun at a streetlight kind of announces your presence to the whole fucking world, which kind of defeats the purpose. But they still do it. For some reason, a lot of cops just don’t seem to think that far ahead.

Another thing you learn out here is that you never assume you’re alone in an alley. That’s particularly true at night. That’s an assumption that can get you killed, or worse. There are so many places to hide and places where you can’t see that there’s no way you can be sure that someone’s not standing three feet away from you. You might sit for two hours in the same spot and not hear anything and then all of a sudden someone appears out of nowhere six inches from you. Talk about being freaked out! I know. It’s happened to me more times than I can count. And I’ve done it to other people, too. Believe me, just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It makes you paranoid, but out here paranoia isn’t a character flaw. It’s a necessity. You won’t last long without it. You learn to hide because hiding is a necessary skill out here. And even if there aren’t any dark places or holes or crawlspaces to hide in, you can still hide – if you know how. You learn how to blend in. You learn how to disappear against the background. I’m serious. You can actually disappear physically. I know it sounds completely crazy, but it’s true. There’s something about this place at night. It’s like the laws of physics are different. You can actually become the things around you – a door, a dumpster, a switchbox, a lamppost – anything. It’s incredible, but it’s true. People look right at you and they don’t see you. They see the door. They see the dumpster. They see the background. They don’t see you. You are the background. It’s almost supernatural or something. I don’t understand how it works. I just know that it does. I know because I can do it. Maybe it’s the power of suggestion? Maybe it has something to do with light and color? There aren’t any bright colors out here and sooner or later, even the people turn the same color as the surroundings. I don’t know. Whatever it is, it works. Ask anyone who’s been out here for a while. We vanish all the time. We can control it. It’s mind-blowing. Christ, the army ought to send their soldiers here. Maybe we could teach them how to do it? They should learn it. It’s the ultimate camouflage.

Let’s see, what else? Oh, another thing you learn is that there’s a lot of shit hidden in these alleys – besides the people, I mean. People are always hiding things out here. We hide the things we don’t want to lose. We have to. It’s the only way to keep it. People out here will fucking kill you for anything and everything, so you have to hide what you’ve got and the best place to hide things is in an alley. And for that reason, it’s also the best place to find things, if you know where to look. You can find dope, dope paraphernalia, food, clothes, money, sometimes even jewelry. You can find all kinds of shit. You can find a lot of stolen shit in these alleys. Next to finding dope, finding stolen shit is like hitting the jackpot. People break into a place and rip it off, and then they hide the shit in a nearby alley so that if the cops catch them, they won’t get caught with it. Then after the cops let them go, they can just go back and take their time carrying it away. But if you’re lucky, you get to it first. I’ve found all kinds of shit out here hidden underneath a tarp or a pile of garbage – clothes, computers, tools, stereos – you name it. That’s how I got the radio back in my room. It was in a big pile of shit that I found hidden underneath a stairway. Whoever pulled that caper really scored big. There must have been a couple thousand dollars’ worth of electronic gizmos in there. The radio was near the top of the pile. That’s why it caught my eye. It was something I could use and it fit under my coat, unlike most of the other stuff. Too bad I didn’t have a bigger coat, huh? Anyway, I really wanted a radio and here was one for the taking. It was my lucky day. I figured the thieves wouldn’t miss it, so I took it. To be honest, I didn’t care if the thieves missed it. What were they going to do? Call the cops? Hey, officer, she stole our stolen shit! Arrest her! Uh, not likely, pal. It’s actually a pretty nice radio. I was really lucky to get it. It’s one of the few things that actually made life out here a little better. It’s about the only way I know about anything that’s happening in the real world anymore. Listening to it is like a small link to the life I used to have. To be honest, it’s the only one I’ve got left.

Forgive me for babbling on and on, but that’s what I do when I get stressed. And with Charlie in the hospital and me with no way to get to him, I’m about as stressed as I can be. OK, welcome to Grand Alley. I told you it was big. There’s always something going on here. Think of it as Shit Central for this sector. About the only times I’ve seen this place empty is when it’s raining buckets. When we get a lot of rain, the place turns into a fucking stream. No one wants to sit in a fucking stream. Not unless they want to catch pneumonia. There’s a shitload of dope dealing in here. Remember that dealer Rodolfo I told you about? He calls this place home. He starts slinging early, like around eight A.M. He likes to catch the morning crowd. He keeps going until about ten or eleven at night; sometimes even later. How the hell he stays at it that long is beyond me. I wish I had his energy.

Shit! There it is again! I thought I saw somebody back there! Over by the break! I told you I thought someone was following me! OK, now I’m really beginning to fucking worry. I could swear I saw someone back there. Just for a second. I didn’t get a good look. He was there and then he wasn’t. What was it I was telling you about disappearing right before your eyes? I think that’s what just happened. Fuck! I don’t know. Maybe I just imagined it? Maybe I’m just freaking out; what with everything that’s going on tonight? That’s probably it. Still, I’ve got a bad feeling about it. Like I said, I’m usually pretty good on picking up on when someone’s after me, and I’ve definitely got that feeling right now. I learned a long time ago to trust my instincts more than I trust my brain. My brain is completely fucked, but my instincts are pretty damned sharp. If someone’s following me, I want to know about it before they get too close.

Oh, see that white guy sitting against the wall? No, he’s not the one I saw. That’s Hank. One of my fellow junkies. Trust me, Hank wouldn’t follow me unless I was giving away free dope. Typical junkie, huh? As long as I’m here, I might as well say hello. We’re not friends or anything. To tell you the truth, he’s pretty much of an asshole. But then so am I, so I shouldn’t criticize. Oh, what the fuck? After tonight I’ll never see him again. I might as well say hello one last time. If you’re going to die, you should die on good terms with people, right? Even the assholes.

“What’s going on, Hank?”

“What? Oh, hey Miranda. I didn’t see you there.”

Believe it or not, Hank’s about my age. I say “believe it or not” because he looks about thirty years older than me. It’s not just the dope. He’s had one seriously hard life, and that’s before he ever got here. It’s a wonder he’s not crazier than I am.

“Jesus, you don’t look good, Hank. What happened? You get sick?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty fucked up. Worse than usual.”

Yeah, and I’ll bet I know what it is, too. He’s holding his arm like he’s in pain. That’s not a typical junkie squeeze like we do when we’re getting sick. That’s an “Oh my God, it hurts like a motherfucker!” thing. He must have fucked it up pretty bad or something. And knowing Hank, I’ll bet I can guess what’s wrong. Pay attention. This is one reason why you don’t ever want to be a junkie.

“What’s wrong with your arm?”

“I don’t know. It’s been buggin’ me for a week. It hurts like hell.”

“What happened? Did somebody hit you? Did you bang it against something?”

“Nah, I didn’t do nothin’ to it.”

Uh-huh. I know exactly what he did to it. This is probably going to be pretty gross.

“Let me see it.”

“Why? You gonna kiss it and make it better?”

“How about I just kick it and make it worse? Come on, Hank. Roll up your sleeve.”

“Fine. Whatever.”

Oh, shit! I fucking knew it! Look at that! I was hoping I was wrong. I don’t need to be a doctor to know what that shit is. That pus and the red lines on his arm are a dead giveaway. That’s a fucking infection. A bad one. It’s leaking pus! God, I can smell it from here! It smells like fucking puke!

“Jesus, Hank! What the fuck did you do? Hit with a rusty needle?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.”

“That’s bad, Hank! That’s really bad!”

“Ah, it ain’t nothin’ to worry about.”

“Bullshit! That shit’s serious! You need to get that looked at!”

“It’s no big deal.”

Typical fucking junkie! He’d say the same thing about a fucking knife wound in the gut!

“The hell it isn’t! See those red lines running down your arm? That’s fucking blood poisoning! That shit can kill you! You have to see a doctor, fast!”

“What’s he gonna do for me?”

Is he fucking kidding me? I thought only crackheads were that stupid!

“Uh, fix it maybe? You need to get some medicine while you still can.”

“I ain’t got no money for that shit.”

Lord, even he can’t be that fucking stupid! Free clinic, anyone? What a fucking idiot!

“That’s why they call it a free clinic, Hank. You don’t need money. You need to get that shit looked at. Fast!”

“Yeah, I’ll think about it.”

“Don’t think about! Do it! I’m serious! You don’t fuck around with an infection. Not out here.”

“I’ve had ’em before. They ain’t no big deal.”

As you may have noticed, Hank isn’t what you’d call the brightest bulb on the fucking Christmas tree. I’ll bet his arm feels like he got hit with a sledgehammer! What a junkie!

“It’ll be a big deal when it kills you. Or worse, when they have to chop off your fucking arm. Remember Dupree?”

“I remember him. What about him?”

“Remember how he got that infection in his hand?”

“You mean when that whore bit him?”

“Yeah. Remember how they had to scrape the fucking bones in his hand because the infection got so bad?”

“Damn, Miranda! I don’t want to hear that shit! That was fuckin’ disgusting!”

To be honest, I don’t like thinking about that one any more than he does. It was fucking disgusting! And he said the pain was indescribable! And that was with a shitload of drugs!

“Yeah, well, that’s going to be you if you don’t get that shit looked at! You want them to chop off your fucking arm?”

“There’s nothin’ I can do about it tonight.”

“You can go tomorrow.”

“Yeah, maybe I will.”

“Maybe? Are you saying you’re just going to sit here until you keel over?”

“I’m just catchin’ my breath. I don’t want to go nowhere tonight. Goddamned cops are on the warpath.”

“Yeah, I know. What’s going on with them?”

“Not sure. I heard they found a body yesterday.”

“Just one? Is that all?”

“That’s what I heard.”


“In the alley behind the Rosslyn. He got stabbed five or six times.”

Jesus, that hardly rates as news around here! That’s practically death by natural causes!

“So what the fuck else is new? They find a body there about once a month.”

“No, this wasn’t no street dude. I heard he was some business dude. You know, suit and tie. Dude must’ve taken a wrong turn.”

“That’s a hell of a fucking wrong turn. The Rosslyn? That’s deep in our sector. What the fuck was he doing out here?”

“I don’t know. Buyin’ dope, maybe? I just know it’s a big fuckin’ deal. It was on the news.”

“Since when do you watch the news?”

“I was watchin’ at the methadone clinic. People there was talkin’ about it.”

Well, that explains it: some normal person gets killed out here and the news finds out and suddenly everyone goes ape shit. If it had been one of us, they wouldn’t have given a flying fuck. Like I said, a fucking body at the Rosslyn is nothing new.

“So the cops are putting on a show?”

“Don’t they always? Oh, Jesus! Fuck!”

Yeah, there goes your arm, motherfucker! And you thought you could just walk it off!

“It really hurts, huh?”

“Fuck yeah!”

He’s in seriously bad shape. I’m not sure he can wait until tomorrow. He needs to get that looked at right now. He could lose that arm.

“Look, why don’t you go to the fire station? Maybe they can do something for you?”

“Like what? I don’t need a motherfuckin’ bandage!”

“No? You see that shit oozing out of that abscess? Trust me, you need a motherfucking bandage! Besides, they’ve got painkillers. That’ll get you through the night, at least. Hey, maybe they’ll give you something for the infection? They’ve probably got antibiotics.”

“No, I’m just gonna sit here for a while.”

There’s no point in arguing with him. Junkies are a stubborn lot. And the worse we get, the less we listen to anyone. Heroin is weird that way.

“Fine. Just don’t let that shit go. I’m serious, OK? They’ll cut your fucking arm off. You want to end up like Nolly? A fucking hook on the end of a stump?”

“That ain’t gonna happen!”

“Yeah, I’ll bet that’s what he said. Right before they chopped off his hand!”

“He lost that shit to a goddamned train! Now leave me the fuck alone!”

Fine. This is pointless, anyway. Suit yourself, motherfucker. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. And have fun trying to shoot your dope with only one arm. Stupid motherfucker!

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