Miranda's Dance

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Chapter Twenty

Hang on! We’ve got something going on up ahead! Some sort of commotion! I can’t see what’s going on, but I know for a fact that it’s…oh, shit! Did you hear that? It sounds like a fucking stampede! What the fuck? What the hell is that? There’s a guy over there at the mouth of the alley! He’s freaking out about something, that’s for sure! He’s…

“One time! One time!”

And that’s the signal! Oh, shit! Did you hear that shouting? That means the fucking cops are here, and they’re looking to jack people! But what the fuck’s all that racket? It sounds like someone’s running this way! This definitely isn’t good! Oh, fuck! There’s four or five guys running out of the alley! The cops must be doing a fucking swoop and scoop!

“Hey, guy! What the hell’s going on?”

“Cops! Yo, girl! Haul ass! Now!”

You don’t have to tell me twice, pal! Four guys go tearing ass around the corner; it’s got to be something serious!

“I said run, bitch!”

Oh, God! He wasn’t kidding! Cops! A whole fucking army of them! And they’re headed straight for me!

“Stop right there, lady! Don’t fucking move!”

Shit! They see me! Don’t look back! Just run, damn it! Run!

“You! In the green coat! Stop!”

Christ, there must be half a dozen of them! And more in the alley! Half a dozen cops chasing down four guys? What the fuck is going on? Oh, shit! Here come the rest of them! Right for fucking me!

“They’re heading south! Split up! Stay together and cut them off!”

“Got it! You take those guys! We’re on the girl!”

“Roger that! Go! Go!”

And now they’re looking to jack me! What the fuck did I do? Who cares? Just keep running!

“Stop right there, bitch! Twenty-Seven Central to dispatch! We’re in foot pursuit of a white female! Red hair, green jacket and blue jeans! Southbound through the alley! Officer needs assistance!”

Oh, shit! He just called it in! That makes it official: they mean to catch my ass! What the fuck? What the fuck did I just get into? These guys look like they’re ready to kill someone! Oh, God! Please don’t let them catch me! Keep running!

“White female; red hair, green jacket! Heading south! Request a perimeter!”

Shit! He’s calling in the troops over the radio! I’ve got to get the fuck out of here fast!

“Cut her off! Don’t let her get to the street!”

Oh, shit! It’s a cop car, coming up fast! He’ll pull out in front of me and that’s it! I’ve got to do something! Go for the street!

“Police! Stop where you are, lady!”

“Look out!”

“She’s in the street!”

“Dispatch! The suspect’s running westbound! Running through the traffic!”

“Fucking crazy bitch! I said stop!”

“Stop right there!”

No fucking chance, asshole! They’ll beat me black and blue if the catch me! Shit! The cop car’s speeding up! He’s going to try to cut me off! Or run me over! Oh, Jesus! What was I thinking? I’m going to get hit for sure!

“Look out!”

“Ninety-Five Central to sector car northbound on Palomar! Stop the traffic! Stop the traffic!”

“Units in foot pursuit, we’ve got it! Stay on her! Don’t let her get away!”

“Roger that! She’s going for the apartments! West side of the street!”

You’re damned right I am! The Rutledge is just past that lot. There’s a hole in the fence behind the bushes. If I can get in there, I can lose these motherfuckers! They won’t go for that hole, and they’ll never get through the gate in time! I can lose them in there! Keep running!

“Stop, bitch!”

“You’re gonna get shot!”

“Cut her off!”

“Light her up!”

“Where’s that sector car?”

If that cop car makes it into the parking lot before I get to the fence, I’m fucked! Come on, Miranda! Move it! Run! You’re almost there!

“Stop, bitch!”

“We’re gonna fucking kill you!”

“You’re gonna get shot, bitch!”

What is with these fucking assholes? What the fuck did I do to deserve this much heat?

“Fuck you, assholes! Leave me the fuck alone!”

Oh, way to go, Miranda! Yeah, that’ll make them stop chasing you! Just keep running! Almost there!

“She’s going for the Rutledge! Cut her off!”

“Get a unit to the south!”

“Watch the gate! Watch the gate!”

I’m not going for the gate, motherfucker! The hole’s at the bottom of the fence. I’ve got to watch my head going in. If I get caught on the fence, they’ll grab me by the ankles and pull me out. There’s no way I’m going to wiggle away from four cops! Almost there! Now! Go for it! Lose these assholes!

“Where’d she go?”

“What the fuck is she doing?”

“She’s in the bushes!”

“Watch out! She could be armed!”

“Anybody see a weapon?”

“Watch yourself! Somebody light up those bushes!”

Where’s that fucking hole? There! There it is! Hurry, damn it! I’ve got to get through that hole before they light up the place! They’ll see me with those goddamned cop flashlights! They’re like fucking floodlights!

“I don’t see her!”

“Quiet! I can hear her!”

“Get your ass out here, bitch!”

“Don’t make us come in there after you!”

“Yeah, that’s gonna cost you big time, bitch!”

Move your ass, Miranda! They’re getting closer! Crawl, damn it! Crawl! You’ve got to get through that fucking hole!

“I see her!”

“Where?”

“Over here! Over here!”

“You got her?”

“She’s going under the fence!”

“What?”

“There’s a fucking hole in the fence!”

“Grab her!”

Like hell you will, cop! Almost there! Don’t stop! Keep moving!

“Stop, you fucking bitch!”

Got it! Get through! Hurry! Move, God damn it! Move!

“Grab her, quick!”

“Fuck! She’s through! She’s inside the fence!”

You’re goddamned right I’m through, motherfucker! So what do I do now? The front door is locked with a buzzer! No way will the manager let me in! What else? Think, Miranda! You know this place! Shit! I could try for a side door or a window. No time! Shit! I’ve got to get out of here! I’ve got to lose these assholes! Between the buildings! Or in the parking lot!

“We’ve got to get in there! She’s headed into the courtyard!”

“The gate’s locked!”

“Let’s go! Over the fence!”

“Are you crazy? It’s got to be ten feet!”

“Call it in! The sector car’s got the key to the gate!”

What? The cops have a key to this place? Fucking great! This place is a junkie and a whore spot. The cops know it as well as I do. I’ve got to find a place to hide! I can’t just hide in the bushes and hope they don’t see me. They’ll have the helicopter light the place up or worse: they’ll set the dog on me! I’ve got to get out of here, fast!

“Light up the courtyard! She’s in there somewhere!”

“Watch it! Watch it!”

“Get your fucking ass out here, bitch!”

What the hell is going on? I was minding my own fucking business! The way these guys are acting, you’d think I robbed a bank or something! God, what the fuck is going on tonight? Those guys want to fucking kill me! But I didn’t do anything! Leave me the fuck alone! Just leave me the fuck alone!

“Ninety-Five Central to all units at the Rutledge! Guys! Over here! At the gate! We’re in!”

“Roger that, Ninety-Five! Spread out! Watch the corners!”

“Come here, bitch!”

“We’re gonna fucking kill you!”

“Get your ass out here now, bitch!”

Fuck! They’re in! Where do I go now? There’s a laundry room down those steps over there! Sometimes people leave the door open so they can sneak shit in! It might be open now! But I can’t risk it! If I go down that stairwell and it’s locked, I’m fucked! They’d hear me down there and there’s no way out! I have to go for the back of the building. The fence is a lot shorter there and there’s a flood channel that leads to the sewers. I’ve ditched the cops in there a few times. Oh, God! I don’t want to go in there! I hate the sewers! Shit! They’re inside the gate! Can I get this window open? There doesn’t look like there’s anybody in there! If I can just get the window open. I can…what the fuck? Up above! God damn it! It’s the fucking helicopter! I didn’t even hear it!

“There she is!”

“Air unit, can you light her up?”

“She’s over here!”

Fuck! There goes the floodlight! Fucking helicopter! That’s it! They can see my ass now!

“She’s running!”

“Stop where you are, God damn it!”

Run, damn it! Run!

“She’s headed for the back!”

“Split up! You go down the walk! We’ll go straight! You go for the fence! Air Unit, keep her lit up!”

“Air Three to units in the apartment complex, we see her. She’s going for the fence at the south side of the complex.”

That’s it! I’ve got to go for the sewers! Damn! Please, God! Let that fucking ladder still be there! It’s at least ten feet into the flood channel! If I have to jump it…shit! They’re almost on top of me!

“She’s going for the fence!”

“Stop, bitch!”

“Leave me alone! Leave me alone, God damn it!”

“Stay on her!”

“I got her!”

Like hell you do, asshole! Run! Oh, fuck! I didn’t even see that one! He’s got me! He fucking grabbed me!

“I got her!”

Shit! He’s got me in a fucking bear hug! I’ve got to get loose! Throw your arms up and drop to the ground! Just like Charlie taught me! That’s it! I slipped him!

“Fucking bitch! She’s loose! She’s running! She’s going for the fence!”

I’m on the fucking fence, motherfucker! Hurry! Climb! Get over this thing before they grab me again! Shit! He’s going for my legs! Don’t let him grab you, Miranda! He’ll pull you right off!

“Get the fuck off of me!”

“Get down from there, bitch!”

“Let me go!”

“I can’t hold her! Someone give me a hand, damn it!”

Don’t let the others get here! Get loose! Now! Kick him! Hard!

“Get off of me, motherfucker!”

“Look out!”

“Fuck you! Let me go!”

Got him! That hurt him! He’s down! Now! Get over the fucking fence! Move!

“Damn! You fucking bitch!

Oh, nice going, Miranda! You just kicked a cop in the face! I think he’s bleeding! Now they’re really going to fucking kill you!

“Guys! Get clear! Get clear! I’ve got the shot!”

Gun! He’s going to shoot me!

“I’ve got the shot! I’ve got the shot! Last chance, bitch! You want to die?”

“Bauer, don’t shoot! She’s got no weapon!”

“She fucking took out an officer! ADW on a cop! Fuck her! Everybody get clear! I’ve got the shot!”

He’s really going to do it! He’s going to fucking shoot me in the back!

“You’re fucking dead, bitch!”

“Goddamn it, Bauer! I said don’t shoot! Put it away! That’s an order!”

Run, damn it! This is my last chance! I can make it! There’s the flood channel! Almost there!

“Sarge, she’s going for the flood channel! Air Unit, you still got her?”

Almost there! Hurry!

“Get over the fence! Get her before she gets in the fucking channel!”

Almost there! Come on, damn it! Almost there! Fuck! I fell! Get up! Get up, God damn it! Run! Hurry! Run!

“Stop, you fucking bitch!”

What do I do? I can’t even hear myself think! The helicopter’s right over me! God, it’s so loud! I can’t even think! The floodlight’s got me! I can’t see! It’s too bright!

“Go away! Leave me alone! Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”

“Stop! Put your hands in the air!”

Shit! I don’t see the ladder! I’ve got to jump! Oh, God! I’ve got to jump! Now! Do it!

“What’s she doing?”

“She’s going to jump!”

“Crazy bitch! Stop!”

“Don’t do it, bitch! You’ll break your fucking leg!”

“Stay on her!”

Do it, Miranda! Jump!

“Stop!”

Jump, damn it! Jump! Yes! I did it! I did it! Oh, fuck! That hurt! I hit hard! God, it hurts! It hurts! My ankle! I think I broke it! Don’t think! Run! Forget the pain! Go for the sewer pipe! Right there! The other side of the channel! They won’t chase me in there! Hurry! Go! Go! Go!

“She’s over! She’s in the channel!”

“She fucking jumped!”

“Air Unit, can you still see her?”

“Get over the fence! Does anybody have her?”

“She’s gone, guys. She’s in the sewer pipe.”

“Where’s it lead to?”

“How the fuck should I know?”

“Does anybody see her? Air unit, do you have a visual on her?”

“Air Three to units on the perimeter, negative on the visual. She went into the sewer pipe. She’s in the wind.”

“Fuck! Sarge, do we go after her?”

“In there? Are you crazy? Fuck that shit! She’s gone! Call it!”

I did it! I got away! They’re not coming after me! Thank God! They won’t risk coming in here. I’m clear. For now, that is.


Oh, God! It hurts! It hurts! My ankle! It hurts like a motherfucker! I think I broke it! Oh, Jesus fucking Christ! It hurts like a bitch! Why were they chasing me? Why? I didn’t do anything! Goddamn it! I didn’t do anything! Motherfuckers! God, I hate you! I hate you all so fucking much!

“Hey! Do you hear me, cops? Do you hear me, you motherfuckers? I hate you all! Fuck you! Fuck you all! I hope you die! I hope you all fucking die! Leave me alone! Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”

God, that was stupid! Good going, Miranda! Just what you want to do when you’re hiding from the cops – start screaming at the top of your fucking lungs! Yeah, that’s a good idea. Gee, it’s not like they won’t find you when you do that! Shit! Why is this happening to me? I didn’t do anything! Why? Why? Why is this happening? Look at me, God! I’m hiding in a fucking sewer with a busted ankle and I’m screaming my fucking head off! Why are you doing this to me? What did I ever do to you? What did I do to deserve this? Why are you always fucking with me? Why?

Oh, great! Now look at me! I’m fucking crying! Jesus fucking Christ! What is wrong with me? Why am I being such a fucking baby? It’s not like this never happened before. Shit, the cops chase me about once a week! A lot of times, they catch me and kick the shit out of me! What the fuck is wrong with me? I got away! I should be happy! I should be proud! I burned those motherfuckers! Did you see how I kicked that one asshole right in the face? The motherfucker tried to pull me down by my leg and I fucking stomped right on his fucking face! I probably broke his fucking nose! Good! I hope I did! I hope I broke his fucking nose and he needs surgery and he’s all fucked up for the rest of his fucking life! Serves him right! So why am I crying? Why the fuck am I shaking? What the hell is wrong with me? Forget it! Just stop being such a goddamned pussy about it, Miranda! Hell, I should be glad this happened! Shit like this is fucking proof that I’m doing the right thing! I mean, do I honestly want to live like this for the rest of my fucking life? Hell, no! There’s no doubt about it: killing myself is the right thing to do.

OK, I need to get it together. I need to stop whining and get the hell out of here before they come looking for me. God, I hate it when I get like this! I can be such a fucking girl sometimes! If Charlie could see me right now, he’d be pissed. He’d be ashamed of me. I’ll bet he would. All of those things he taught me and here I am, acting like a fucking baby on her first night on the street! God, pull your ass together, Miranda! You’ve got shit to do. OK. I need to catch my breath and think. All of that running really drained me. OK, I have to get the fuck out of this sewer. I don’t think the cops will come in after me. They won’t send the dog in here. It’s too dangerous. And they sure as hell don’t want to crawl through this thing. I don’t blame them. God, I hate it. I hate this fucking sewer. I’ve been in here before and it always creeps me out. Why? Because in addition to everything else, I’m fucking claustrophobic. Yeah, it’s true. Can you believe it? That’s just what you need to go along with being crazy, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve always been that way, but ever since I ended up out here, I’ve been afraid of getting caught in some cramped, out-of-the-way place. Maybe because I know how that happens to people and they end up dead. I’m serious. I’ve come across some bodies in some fucked-up little places. I’d think about them stuck in there and screaming for help and of course nobody would come to help. God, I hate being in little places. I feel like they’re going to swallow me up or something. They shake me up something good. I fucking hate it!

Enough already! Just breathe. Take it slow. Don’t fucking lose it now. Yeah, easier said than done. My heart’s pounding like a fucking jackhammer! I’m fucking claustrophobic and crazy with a busted ankle that hurts like you wouldn’t believe, and now I’ve got to crawl the fuck out of here! You don’t mind if I just rant and rave until I get out of here, do you? It’s what I do when I get scared shitless. It actually helps sometimes. Jesus, how much do you want to bet I run into a bunch of fucking rats? Shut up and crawl, damn it! Faster! Move it! Fucking rats! Every time I’ve been in one of these things, I hit a pack of rats. That’s another reason why I hate coming in here. And there they are! Get the fuck out of my way! Move it! I’d stomp on you if my ankle didn’t hurt so much! God, it’s fucking killing me! I’ve got to do something about it. Hey, now that I think about it, maybe I missed a golden opportunity back there? I mean, that cop was going to shoot me. I should’ve let him. He’d have been doing me a favor. No, he probably would’ve shot me someplace that wouldn’t kill me. He’d have shot me in the back and paralyzed me. Besides, that sergeant wouldn’t let him do it. I heard him tell the cop to put his gun away. No, there was no chance I was going to get off that easily. All right, take a deep breath. I’ve got to get out of here. I can’t stay in here. They still might do a search, or they might decide to set up on the other end of this sewer pipe and wait for me – assuming they know where it lets out. It goes about a block and then it opens into a ditch next to some fucked-up old building by the Lord’s Grace Mission. It’s a pretty easy climb out of that thing. Now that I think about it, I doubt they’ll look for me over there. It’s not like the cops are up to date on where the fucking sewers lead. Fortunately, we are.

There, you see? Made it! And the cops aren’t waiting for me. That wasn’t so bad, was it? Oh, who am I kidding? That was fucking disgusting! Goddamned rats! Thank God I’ll never have to go through that again! Unless God sends me to hell, that is. Maybe that’s a preview of what’s waiting for me on the other side? Jesus, in a few hours I might be begging to be back in that that fucking sewer! It might be heaven compared to where I’m going. Please, God, don’t do that to me. Give me a break, OK? Haven’t I been through enough? Oh, fuck it already! I need to quit whining! I made it! I should be fucking glad! Hell, maybe jumping into that flood channel was like a warm-up for later? I mean, I’ll be dropping about ten times as far when I go off of that roof, but it’ll probably be similar. I guess I should’ve paid attention when I was falling. That way it wouldn’t come as a shock to me later. I’d have a better chance of keeping my cool on the way down. I don’t want to be like those people in the movies who shriek all the way down. I need to keep it together. Too bad I didn’t pay attention. And for that matter, it’s too bad I didn’t land better. Shit! My fucking ankle is killing me!

Let me sit for a minute and catch my breath. I think I was hyperventilating back there. Hey, being scared shitless and running a hundred yard dash and an obstacle course with a bunch of angry cops on your ass does that to you. Just give me a minute. I guess you’re probably wondering why the hell I ran back there. You probably think that if I hadn’t run, the cops wouldn’t have chased me and none of this would’ve happened. Wrong! Maybe that’s how it works where you live, but things are different out here. This isn’t the Emerald City. When you see more than two cops hauling ass down the street after someone; you take off! You take off fast! You don’t think about it. You just run like a motherfucker. You see, they’re obviously looking to kick some ass, and out here, they don’t really give a shit whose ass it is. They’ll beat the crap out of anyone they can catch. As far as they’re concerned, one asshole’s as good as the next. I’ve seen it plenty of times, and I’ve been on the receiving end of it, too. It hurts. It hurts a lot. It’s what my mother used to call “a thing to be avoided.” Thou shalt avoid it like the motherfucking plague! When you see the cops coming down the block in force, it’s like seeing a fucking tornado headed your way. You don’t just sit there and hope it passes by you. You get up and run like shit. You don’t hesitate. You just run. You run because you’ll be one sorry motherfucker if they catch you. Count on it.

God damn! My fucking ankle is killing me! I’m beginning to think it’s not broken. I can put a little pressure on it now, and if it was broken, I probably couldn’t put any pressure on it. I’d be screaming so loud, they’d hear me in fucking Timbuktu! So it’s probably sprained, not broken. That’s a good thing. But either way, I’m not going to be able to walk on it like this. I’m going to have to get it wrapped. Fuck! There’s a fire station around the corner, but that’s a risk. They probably wouldn’t have snitched off Kane, but just I ran from the cops. Hell, I kicked one of them in the face! Somehow, I don’t think they’re going to let that slide. Even if none of those assholes recognized me, they got my description. I heard them shout it on the radio. Once they put it out, someone like Loomis or Villanueva will know they’re talking about me. How many redheads with a green army jacket are running around out here? If they put the word out to find me, the guys at the fire station will snitch me off the minute I knock on the door. Some of them know my name. But damn! I’ve got to do something! This hurts like fucking hell! It looks like it’s already starting to swell up. If it’s broken, it’ll swell up like a fucking tree trunk. It’ll cripple me, and that’ll seriously fuck up my plans for later. I guess I don’t have a choice. I just hope nobody sees me limping over there. There’s got to be a hundred people hanging out by the mission over there. They’ll see me. And some of those assholes might decide I’m an easy target.

It’s just a little further to the fire station. God, I can’t believe I made it this far. This shit hurts! Well, this night is definitely one for the books! I got chased by the cops, kicked one of them in the face, and fucked up my ankle jumping into a concrete ditch to get away. Then I crawled through a giant fucking sewer pipe and now I’m off to the fire station where I hope the cops aren’t waiting to throw me in jail. How many people do all of that in one night? Shit, how many people do that at all? See how your little girl turned out, mom and dad? Aren’t you fucking proud of her? She’s such a Girl Scout. Yeah, right! So what do you think now? I’ll bet you didn’t expect this shit. Trust me, nobody ever does. We’re just full of surprises out here at night. There’s no doubt life on the street can be exciting sometimes. Very exciting. And under different circumstances, I might even look forward to telling someone this story. My dad used to say that it’s OK for bad things to happen to you as long as you get a good story out of them. This is some story, huh? But I don’t think that this night is what my dad had in mind when he said that. Besides, dad was made of better stuff than me. Nothing ever seemed to faze him. I always envied him for that. As it is, I wish this shit hadn’t happened. I wasn’t looking for any excitement tonight. Far from it. Even if I didn’t plan to kill myself, I don’t have the strength for this shit anymore. I just can’t do it. I’m all used up. Hell, shit like this makes me wonder how I ever lasted this long. I honestly don’t have a fucking clue.


I made it! Praise Jesus! Thank God it wasn’t any further! This Fire Station must be the worst post in the city. I mean, if you went to all of the trouble to become a fireman, wouldn’t you be pissed that they sent you to skid fucking row? I’m surprised these guys don’t take to setting fires instead of putting them out. Seriously, I’ll bet a couple of years working out here could drive you to do it. Well, I’m not here on a social call, so let’s see what’s up. All right, everything looks normal. So far, so good. I don’t see any cops out front. That’s good. Now, if I can just see through the windows on the garage door. I have to make sure the fire engines are still in there. If they’re not, I’m fucked. That means they’re putting out a fire somewhere and there’s nobody home to wrap my ankle. Christ, why do they have to put the windows up so damned high? Don’t they know how short I am? I’m going to have to stand on my fucking tiptoes to see in there! OK, Miranda. Take a deep breath and get ready for some serious pain. Ready…up! Oh, Jesus! Fuck! Fuck that! God damn! That hurts like a fucking son of a bitch! Don’t ever do that again! Well, at least the fire engines are there. Now all I need to do is convince them to help me out. Since I walked here, I’m clearly not on death’s door. That means there’s always a chance they’ll just tell me to fuck off.

“Hello? Is anybody home? I need a little help.”

You’d think they’d have a doorbell or something. What if they’re upstairs asleep? How will they hear anybody knocking?

“Hello? Is anybody in there?”

Oh, thank God! The door’s opening! Now, let’s just hope it’s not a dozen cops waiting for me! Nope. It’s a fireman.

“What do you want, honey?”

Damn! He actually opened the door. This guy must be new. They almost never open the door around here unless they know you. This place attracts a lot of psychos, as you can probably imagine.

“I hurt my right ankle. It’s pretty bad. I can barely walk on it. I was wondering if I could get a bandage from you?”

“Are you bleeding?”

“No, I mean to wrap it up with. I think I twisted it. It might even be broken.”

I don’t like the look on his face. It says “fuck off.” It’s sort of the universal language with these guys when it comes to the homeless. I’m afraid tonight’s not going to be my night.

“If you’re not bleeding; get lost!”

“Please? It really hurts!”

“So take an aspirin.”

“Can’t you just give me a bandage?”

“Can’t you just go to the clinic?”

“It’s closed.”

“Go tomorrow.”

“I can’t wait that long! It’s really bad. I can’t walk on it. If I wait until tomorrow, it’ll be a lot worse. Please? Just a bandage? I’ll wait out here if you want. You don’t have to let me in or anything.”

“How’d you hurt it?”

“I fell.”

“Fell, huh? I’ll bet! Hey, Angelo! You got another charity case out here!”

Charity case? I guess that’s better than being called a fucking homeless deadbeat. That must be Angelo, heading over here. I’ve never seen either one of these guys before. Good. That means they probably don’t know who I am. If they don’t know who I am, they’ll be less likely to snitch me off to the cops. At least that much is a good thing.

“What’ve you got, Sam?”

“She says she banged up her ankle and she’s in a lot of pain. She wants a bandage to wrap it.”

“How’d you do that, lady?”

“I fell.”

“Fell how?”

“Down some stairs.”

“And you landed on someone’s fist?”

“No, I just fell. I was…a little clumsy.”

“Uh-huh. We get a lot of that out here. You need to be more careful.”

“Yeah, thanks for the tip. Can you take a look at it, please?”

He’s deciding whether to tell me to go fuck myself. Come on, give me a break! Just be nice for once in your life!

“I’ve seen you before. Over in Grand Alley. Yeah, I’m sure of it.”

Shit! He might know me after all. God, don’t let him snitch me off! Please!

“I hang out there sometimes. I’ve been out here for a while.”

“Yeah, you’re the crazy chick who spins around in the parking lot.”

Oh, he knows me, all right! Here’s hoping he doesn’t know I’m currently on the cops’ shit list.

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“I thought so. OK, come inside. I’ll take a look at it.”

“Thanks. Really.”

Thank you, God! Now, if I can just make it across the room! Jesus! Fuck! It hurts like a motherfucker!

“Damn, lady! What the hell have you been doing out there?”

“What do you mean?”

“You stink like shit and your shoes look like you walked through a swamp!”

“What do you expect? I’m homeless. I was hanging out in an alley.”

“More like a goddamned sewer!”

Damn! This guy is sharp! I just hope he hasn’t spoken to the cops already. He may sit me down and have me wait while he calls them to come get me.

“So how’s the ankle? Can you walk on it? You need some help?”

“I made it this far. I can make it to that chair.”

“Which ankle?”

“My right one.”

OK, Miranda. Just take it easy. Just get over to the chair and…oh, shit! That fucking hurt!

“Whoa, lady! Are you OK?”

“Sorry. I thought I had it.”

“Maybe I’d better help you. I don’t want you falling in here and breaking your neck.”

“Thanks.”

“Just sit down here and take your shoe and sock off. I’ll get a first aid kit.”

I guess my luck’s improving. I even get a real chair to sit in. Damn, this place is fucking clean! I’ll bet you could literally eat off of the floor. It’s a world of difference between here and what’s just outside of that door. But that’s skid row for you: it’s always about the extremes. There’s never anything in the middle. It’s either all the way one way, or all the way the other.

I always liked these places when I was a kid. Fire stations, I mean. I always thought the fire engines looked neat. I still do. I used to love those things when I was little. There was a fire station right near our house. If you were a kid, they’d let you go in and look at everything and they’d blast the siren sometimes. I even got to hold the fire axe once. It was one of the high points of my childhood. There’s a lot I don’t remember from being a little kid, but for some reason, I remember that one vividly. I guess every little kid remembers their visit to the fire station. God, I wish I could stay here. In the fire station, I mean. In here, it’s like being in another world. It’s so clean. It’s warm. They’ve got lights and they’ve even got chairs to sit in. I’ll bet there are warm beds upstairs. You don’t have to watch your back. Maybe they’ve even got a dog? I’d like to pet a dog one more time before I die. I’ve never seen one here, though. Too bad I can’t stay here. This is what I get for being born a stupid human. If I’d been born a Dalmatian, I could stay here and be the mascot. I’ll bet it’s a pretty good life.

“All right, lady, let’s take a look. What’s the matter? Can’t get your shoe off?”

I think whatever I did to my ankle kind of wedged it onto my foot! It won’t budge!

“I’m trying, but it really hurts.”

“No problem. Let me try.”

“You’re not going to cut it, are you?”

“No, I don’t think that’ll be necessary. Just let me get some gloves on.”

I’ll bet if I still lived on the street, he wouldn’t even let me take my shoe off. I remember how my feet used to look back then. If you think this sewer slime is bad, Trust me, you ain’t seen nothing! He’d have had to saw my shoes off. I’d go months without taking them off. They had so much shit on them; they were practically bonded to my feet. And my feet! Oh, God! They were a nightmare! Back then, my feet were fucking black! Asphalt black. They were covered with tar and God knows what else. I always had blisters and cuts and shit. It’s a wonder I’ve still got my toenails. The smell was enough to knock you on your ass. For a while, my socks were held together with duct tape. All of that doesn’t sound like much, but taken together, it hurts like you wouldn’t believe. There were times when my feet got so bad, I could hardly walk. Sometimes I used to be afraid I’d wind up like one of those barefoot members of the tinfoil hat club. Their feet are pitch black, and it’s not just from the dirt. A lot of them have gangrene. Anyway, my feet are pretty clean now, but I can’t say the same about my shoes. After all, I’m still walking through the same alleys and shit every fucking night. And that stroll through a sewer pipe certainly didn’t help. It’s funny now that I think about it: this is probably the last time I’ll ever take my shoe off. The next time it comes off, the coroner will be yanking it off of whatever’s left of my body.

“Damn, lady! These shoes are nasty!”

“What can I tell you? It’s a mess out there.”

“I guess so. You need to get a pair of rubber boots. This shit is fucked up!”

“Hey, have you got an extra pair of those fireman’s boots?”

“What? Those big ones up there?”

“Yeah. Do you have a pair of those that would fit me?”

“Sure! Do you have four hundred and thirty bucks on you?”

“Four hundred and thirty bucks? For a fucking pair of rubber boots? Are you shitting me?”

“Honey, we walk through fire and rubble with those things. That kind of protection don’t come cheap.”

I guess that means I don’t get to play fireman for the rest of the evening. Too bad. It might have been fun.

“Could you loan me a pair for three bucks? It’s all I’ve got.”

“I’m afraid not. Besides, they’re heavy and they make your feet sweat. OK, I got your laces off. Now, this is going to hurt like hell.”

“It already hurts like hell.”

“Yeah, well, wait ’til I pull it off. Ready?”

“Ready.”

“Here we go!”

Oh, Jesus! Holy Mother of God! That hurt like a motherfucker! Is my fucking foot still attached? That felt like he yanked it clean off!

“Sorry! I warned you!”

“Son of a bitch! Oh, Jesus fucking Christ!

“Hey, don’t worry. Screaming just means it’s still attached to your leg. Does it feel any better with the shoe off?”

“No!”

“Give it a second. Can you move your toes?”

“I think so. Yeah.”

“OK, now try moving you ankle from side to side. Slowly! Don’t overdo it.”

“Ow! Mother fuck!

“That hurts?”

“It hurts like shit!”

“All right. Well, I see some swelling, but everything looks like it’s where it’s supposed to be. That’s a good sign.”

“Really? I’ll take your word for it.”

“It means it probably isn’t broken. It looks like you twisted it pretty good. You say you fell down the stairs?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you have any help?”

“What? Do you mean did someone throw me down the stairs?”

“More like out of a second-story window.”

Damn! He’s pretty good at this! I basically did jump from a second-story window. It was about twelve feet down to the flood control channel, so that’s about the second story.

“No, I just fell down the stairs over at Heller Plaza.”

Oh, good going, Miranda! Like he’s going to believe I got anywhere near Heller Plaza! That’s in the Emerald City! We’re not allowed over there!

“Are you sure? I’ve seen a lot of twisted ankles in my day, and this looks like it was more than a fall down the stairs.”

“It was a big staircase.”

“Hey, honey! Do I look like a fucking idiot?”

“Do I look like a fucking snitch?”

If he’s been working this sector for a while, then he knows what I mean. Whatever happens to you; you don’t talk. Never. Besides, I’m sure as hell not going to tell him I twisted my ankle running from the cops after I kicked one of them in the face.

“OK. Have it your way.”

“Are you sure it isn’t broken?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure. Here, let me show you. Does this hurt?”

“Owwww! Fuck! Stop it!”

“There, you see? If your ankle was broken, you’d have gone right through the roof. You wouldn’t have been able to stand it.”

“I couldn’t stand that! Jesus Christ! That hurt like a motherfucker!”

“I know, I know. But believe me, if your ankle was broken, it would’ve been ten times worse. Trust me. I do this for a living.”

“Could you do it without causing so much pain?”

“Nah, that wouldn’t be any fun.”

Oh, he’s enjoying my pain! Typical! What is it with guys and watching women scream?

“Fucking sadist!”

“I’ve been called that.”

Yeah, I’m not a bit surprised! Imagine how much damage he could do if he ever went to medical school!

“So you think it’s just twisted?”

“Pretty much. It’s sprained. That must have been one hell of a…a stairway you fell down. Yeah. Look, I’d tell you to stay off of it for a few days, but I know that’s not going to happen.”

“Not hardly. So what do I do?”

“I’ll give you a brace and wrap it up for you. You ought to be on crutches, but we don’t have any to give you.”

“I’ll take whatever you’ve got.”

“Yeah, I thought you would. Now, we’ve got to have a little talk before I give you anything for the pain. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

He’s talking about what kinds of dope do I use. I could see it in his face. The minute he rolled up my pants leg and pulled off my sock, he saw my tracks. He knows I’m a junkie and they have to be careful about giving painkillers to a junkie. It’s not unusual for junkies to injure themselves on purpose just to con a doctor out of the good stuff. I know. I tried it a few times. Sometimes I even got away with it.

“Those tracks of yours look old. Are you still using?”

“Not regular or anything. I chip now and then.”

“When’s the last time you got down?”

“About two weeks ago. No, wait. It was three weeks ago. I’m not really sure. They all sort of blend together anymore.”

“I’ll bet they do. Do you have any allergies?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Are you taking any medications? Real medications, that is?”

“No. Nothing.”

Why would I? I told you: none of them ever worked for me.

“All right, that’s good. How’s your T-cell count?”

That’s how the pros ask if you’ve got AIDS. When you’re a junkie, you’ve got to know these things.

“I’m clean. No HIV, no Hepatitis, no nothing. I’m just a little psychotic, remember?”

“Yeah, I remember. Dancing alone in the parking lot is a dead giveaway. Are you on anything for that?”

“No. Not for years.”

“Why not?”

“It didn’t work. Nothing worked. I tried them all. I struck out.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I mean it.”

God, I think he does mean it! He looks genuinely sympathetic.

“It’s all right. I’m used to it.”

“Honey, I don’t need to be crazy to know that’s something you never get used to. OK, I’ll give you something for the pain. Don’t go slamming later on, OK? You don’t want to mix that shit with pharmaceuticals. It would be bad for you. Really bad!”

“I won’t. What are you going to give me?”

“Ibuprofen. That should help.”

“Are you kidding me? That shit’s like aspirin or something!”

“Yeah, well, when you go shooting that shit; damn near anything’s going to seem like aspirin. Let that be a lesson to you.”

“Can’t you give me something stronger? Please? It’s really bad.”

“We’re not authorized to hand out prescription pain pills. Now, if you were unconscious, we could hook you up to an I/V.”

“I could pretend to be unconscious.”

“Sorry, honey. I can’t do that. This shit’s pretty strong. It’ll help. You just sit here for a minute. I’ll be right back.”

“Hey, do you guys have a dog here?”

“A dog?”

“Yeah, one of those fire house dogs.”

“No, but I wish we did.”

“So do I. Can I sit on the fire engine?”

“Don’t even touch that fire engine! It’s spotless! And it had better stay that way!”

“Yes, sir!

Damn! That would’ve been a neat thing to do on the last night of my life. Like I said, I used to love those things when I was a kid. But I’m not surprised he said no. They never want you to touch the fire engine. Even when I was a kid, they hated that. These guys spend half their lives cleaning and polishing those things, so they don’t like it when kids get their greasy fingerprints on it. They sure as hell don’t like it when filthy homeless women who’ve just crawled through a sewer pipe and smell like a pile of dog shit park their dirty ass on it. And they don’t want my filthy fingerprints on it, either. They’d probably chop off my hand with an axe if I did that. I can’t say I blame them. When you live on skid row – or even just work here – you learn to appreciate what it takes to keep something really clean.

“OK, this should fit you.”

“That’s an ankle brace?”

“That’s a brace. It’ll hold your ankle in place. It’s got these air pads, like a balloon on the inside to make it more comfortable and fit better. You should be able to walk, but take it easy, OK?”

“It looks kind of fancy.”

“A fancy ankle brace? I don’t think there is such a thing.”

“What I mean is, it looks kind of expensive.”

“So?”

“So I don’t…I don’t have any money.”

“Don’t worry about it. There’s no charge.”

“Are you sure? I’ve never heard of you guys giving away shit like that. I was expecting an ACE bandage at most.”

“You’re right. We don’t usually give these away. But we don’t collect fees, either. We just fix you up. Besides, it’s a fucking plastic brace. How much could it cost?”
“A lot more than I’ve got.”

Look at his face! I think that really bothered him. I think he’s actually bothered by the fact that I’m down and out. Weird. Does he actually give a shit about me? Why the hell would he?

“Don’t worry about it, OK? It’s on the house. You need it.”

“OK. Thanks.”

“I won’t even charge you for the Tylenol.”

“Well, as long as you’re giving away dope...”

“Not a chance, honey!”

“Pretty please?”

“Forget it! Now, this is probably going to hurt a bit when I put it on. You let me know if it hurts too much.”

“How much is too much?”

“Like, if you feel like you’re going to pass out or your ankle’s going to explode. Something like that.”

“Oh, fucking great!”

“Hey, you’re getting this shit for free!”

“Apparently not!”

“OK, fair enough. Now just grit your teeth and hang tough! I’ll do this fast!”

“Easy for you to say!”

“Hey, I’m not the one who fell down the stairs. Ready? Here we go! Hang on!”

Just grit your teeth and…oh, son of a fucking bitch! That fucking hurts! Hurry up, damn you! That shit is killing me! Fuck!

“God fucking damn!

“We’re all done! It’s on! I think you’re going to find you can walk a lot better, now. Just don’t try running. And try to take it easy. Stay away from those stairs, if you know what I mean.”

“I do. And I’ll try. Thanks. I mean it. That was really nice of you. I wish I could pay you back.”

“I told you: we’re not out here to collect fees. You need help, we give it.”

After seven years out here, it’s hard to believe anybody does anything good for anyone. But here it is. I’ve got the proof right here on my ankle. I wish I could be more grateful. I want to kick myself for not being that way. You see what this place does to you? You can’t even appreciate charity the way you should. God, I can’t wait to be fucking dead!

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