Miranda's Dance

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Chapter Twenty-Eight

Give me a minute, would you? I need to collect myself. Thinking about that shit really did a number on me. I haven’t thought about it in that much detail for a long time. God, look at me! I’m a fucking mess! Thank God that guy at the roach coach gave me these napkins. I don’t always have something to wipe my eyes and blow my nose with. Shit, my nose still hurts from Ricky’s ass kicking! Hey, I’m really sorry about dumping all of that shit on you. I didn’t mean to make it your problem. Jesus, I can’t believe I told you that story! I never wanted to tell anyone about it. I think you can understand why. It certainly wasn’t one of my finer moments. It was more like my lowest of the low moments. I’m not really sure. I just know it was something I’d planned to take to the grave with me. Well, so much for that idea! The cat’s out of the bag. Like I said, wait until I’m dead and then you can tell whoever you want. As long as it isn’t my family. You can’t tell my parents and you can’t tell my brothers. How will you know who they are? I don’t know. I guess you won’t. So just be careful who you talk to. Jesus, why would anyone want to repeat that story? It probably made you as sick to hear it as it made me to tell it. Anyway, I need to sit down for a minute. Remembering that whole thing really knocked the wind out of me. It fucked with my mind. It always does. And that’s on top of getting my ass kicked and twisting my ankle and crawling through a sewer and Charlie being in the hospital and whatever the fuck else happened tonight. Jesus Christ! I’ve really been through the ringer, haven’t I? God, what a nightmare this has turned out to be! It was all going to be so easy. I keep saying that, don’t I? I’m like a fucking parrot who only knows how to say a couple of sentences. I guess I’m a lot more annoying than I thought. Now there’s something that should come as no surprise to anyone.

OK, here we go again! It seems we’ve got company. Down the alley. Over there, by the air conditioner ducts. See them? There’s two of them. Well, there’s two of them that I can see. But it’s the one you don’t see who’ll kill you. You have to be careful about that. If there’s no one there; assume that someone’s there. If there’s one person there; always assume there’s someone else there, too. Charlie learned that in Vietnam and it applies here, too. Anyway, they don’t seem to be paying any attention to me. I wonder what they’re up to? If they’re here at this hour, then they’re definitely up to something. If you’re in an alley at this hour; you’re either fucking up or you’re passing through on your way to fuck up somewhere else. Listen! Do you hear that banging? Yeah, they’re fucking up, all right! Now I know exactly what they’re up to! They’re a couple of burglars. It’s a tunnel job. They’re trying to tunnel through a wall. People do that shit almost every night out here. Going through the front door is way too risky. The cops can see it from the street. You want to go through the back, but the back doors to most of these places are heavy steel. You couldn’t blast through them with a bazooka. But you can always tunnel your way through the wall. The people of the night love to tunnel into places. It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. The funny thing is, I didn’t think there was anything worth stealing in these buildings. There are no stores here. I thought this was all offices and shit like that. Great place for a fucking office building, huh? Right at the edge of skid row! How’d you like to work here every day? Anyway, there’s nothing worth stealing in an office. They don’t keep cash in these places, so what are you going to take? The furniture? Who’s going to buy a bunch of fucking furniture from you? And computers? Those things are worthless. What the fuck are we going to do with a computer? We’re not what you’d call computer people. So what the fuck are they after? Maybe they know something I don’t? Well, I might as well check it out. After all, tonight’s my last chance to get in on a tunnel job. They’re a skid row tradition, you know. And I’m a traditional girl at heart. What? You don’t believe me? Don’t I look like a traditional girl? Yeah, yeah! Quit laughing!

OK, it looks like we’ve got a standard operation here: one guy’s working while the other one’s playing lookout. Typical. You get wrapped up in the work and you don’t notice there’s suddenly a bunch of cops standing behind you, pointing guns at your head. That’s why you need a lookout. I recognize the guy playing lookout. His name’s Darnell. I know him, but not very well. He’s been out here for about two years, I think. Maybe a little longer. He’s a major crackhead, which explains why he and his friend are tunneling into that place. He must be a crackhead, too. It’s like I told you: they’ve got to have that crack! That means they need money. The state won’t pay for it, so they need to steal. Hence the tunnel job. Darnell’s big on tunnel jobs. He’s done a bunch of them. They’re sort of his thing. One look at his arms will tell you he spends a lot of time swinging iron against a brick wall. He’s definitely got some guns on him. I guess it’s not enough for him to just steal for a living. He must feel like he has to work for it. Maybe it soothes his conscience or something? Oh, who am I kidding? He doesn’t have a fucking conscience! This is skid row, remember? Out here, a conscience is a disease, and this place will cure you of it in no time.

“Hey, Darnell!”

Oops! I shouldn’t have done that! I startled him. He nearly jumped out of his skin. Some lookout, huh? That’s crack for you. It turns you into a seriously paranoid motherfucker.

“What the fuck? Oh, hey Red! Damn, you scared the shit out of me, girl!”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

“You alone?”

“As usual. You got something going on?”

“A little tunnel job. God damn! What the fuck happened to you?”

Even in this dark alley, he can see I got my ass kicked. God, I must look really bad!

“I wrestled an alligator.”

Hey, I kind of like that story. I might as well use it. Who knows? I might even start a legend out here: Miranda the Alligator Wrestler. It sounds better than Miranda the stupid psycho junkie who got her ass kicked for being desperate and stupid, doesn’t it?

“You done wrestled a what?

“An alligator. The sewers are full of them. Didn’t you know that?”

“Huh? Oh…oh, yeah! Yeah! Sure I knew about that shit! You actually wrestled one?”

“Just a little bit. He fucked me up pretty good, so I took off.”

Christ, people out here will believe fucking anything! Did you ever wonder how urban legends get started? There you go! You just saw the beginning of one. Come back here in two years and you’ll be amazed at what they’re saying about it.

“Yeah, he definitely fucked you up! You got to stay away from them motherfuckers! Don’t be hangin’ out in no sewers.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Anybody down that way?”

“No, it’s clear. You’re good. I haven’t seen a cop car pass by in a while. But you might want to cut down on the noise, though. That’s what caught my attention.”

“Yeah, it’s loud as a motherfucker in here! Straight concrete on the other side. Reflects the sound. That ain’t good.”

“Who’s working the iron?”

“Dude named Colin. You know him?”

“I don’t think so. He’s doing the heavy lifting tonight, huh?”

“He needs the experience. Got to teach him, you know what I’m sayin’? Got to learn how to do it for himself.”

Yeah, we do like to pass our talents along to the next generation. If it’s a big job, they’ll take turns with the iron. You have to. It’s brutal work. It takes a lot out of you. You get blisters on your hands and shit. I know. I’ve done it a couple of times, myself. Hey, sometimes a girl has to prove herself to the boys. I’m no John Henry, but I get the job done.

“You’re the best, Darnell. He’s got a good teacher. So where did you get the crowbar?”

“Back of a truck. Got two of ’em.”

“Nice score. You taught him well. It looks like he’s almost through.”

“Yeah, it’s about fuckin’ time! He’s been workin’ on it for a while. Shit, I’d have been through the whole damn block by now!”

“New guys. What are you going to do with them?”

“Tell me about it!”

He may be new, but he’s pretty good. He’s knocked a hole in that wall big enough to crawl through. There he goes! He’s in. But he won’t stop there. Remember, you have to get the shit out of there. Depending on what you want to steal, you need more room. It’s no big deal. Most of the time, once you get the main hole finished, it’s all downhill from there. He could make that hole big enough to walk through in no time at all. I’ve seen people do it. You’d be amazed at some of the tunnels we dig on skid row.

“Hey, Darnell? What’s in there?”

“Clothes, mostly. Good ones, too.”

Really? I had no idea. Hell, if I’d known that, I’d have broken in there years ago!

“What kind of clothes do they have?”

“I don’t know. A whole bunch. This here’s one of them wholesalers. They sell to the shops. You know, by the walkway? I seen ’em bring the shit here in a truck. I figure we’ll get a few bucks for it.”

“At the swap meet?”

“You know it! That shit goes fast when it’s still got the labels. They know it’s new that way.”

“Clothes are heavy and bulky. You’re going to need carts to get that shit out of here.”

“Yeah, we got two of ’em. They’re down the alley. We’ll bring ’em up when we’re ready.”

Fucking shopping carts! They’re like the camels of skid row. Where would the homeless be without them?

“Do you want me to keep a lookout while you guys grab your shit?”

Why the hell did I just volunteer for that? Damn, that was generous of me! I really just planned to watch.

“Hell, yeah! I appreciate that shit!”

“OK, I’ll sound off if I see anyone. Make it quick.”

“Always do!”

Darnell’s right about that. He’s not one of these idiots who spends forever in the place and ends up getting busted as he crawls out of the hole. He’s smart enough to know the whole thing about any rip-off is time: you have to get in and out fast. A tunnel job always sets off a shitload of alarms. Lucky for us, there are so many false alarms out here at night that the cops usually take forever to check them out. But they’ll get here eventually. Count on it. You don’t want to get caught coming out of a hole with an armload of shit. Or worse: you could get caught inside the place. If they catch you inside, they might send the dog after you. I love dogs, but I don’t love getting bit by them. A police dog will definitely take a chunk out of your ass. I mentioned that already, didn’t I? Damn! I really am like a fucking parrot tonight! Blame it on the head injury.

“Yo, Red!”

Damn! That was fucking fast!

“Damn, Darnell! Are you guys are done already? That was fucking fast!”

“No, just thought I’d ask: you want me to grab you somethin’?”

On the last night of my miserable fucking life, he asks me that? I’d laugh if I didn’t ache so much!

“Gee, I don’t know. I could use a silk blouse and a tailored skirt for the office. Oh, wait! I’m a junkie on skid row! No, I’m good.”


I see my humor is lost on him. People out here have no imagination.

“I’m good. I don’t need anything.”

“Gotcha. Sound off when it’s two minutes. That’s if we don’t get out first.”

“You’re burning time! Go!”

And away he goes! You notice how he said to give him a heads-up when two minutes have passed? I swear, every motherfucker on skid row must know I’m the only person out here with a watch. I’m like the village timekeeper or something. Shit, that’s a pretty good-sized hole! It’s bigger than I thought. It’s got to be about three feet around. Of course, I’ve seen holes in buildings big enough for three guys to walk through, shoulder-to-shoulder. And no, I’m not exaggerating. You’d have to see it to believe it. You know, watching a tunnel job is like watching something out of Alice in Wonderland. The only thing missing is the white rabbit. There’s a guy standing in an alley, digging a tunnel through the wall of a fucking building in the middle of the night. You’ve got bricks and block and concrete and shit flying all over the place. You’ve got sparks flying off of the iron and lighting up the alley. Sometimes there’s five alarms going off up and down the block. It’s so bizarre; it’s a wonder everyone doesn’t just fall down, laughing their goddamned asses off!

If I’m going to be the lookout, I’d better get to a place where I can actually see something. At least my busted eye hasn’t swollen shut yet. God, I ache! Every fucking inch of my body hurts! I can’t even jog down this fucking alley. At least I can walk fast. Let’s see, when you do this shit, you want to stay in the shadows. The cops will be coming in from the street, and they’ll be in the light. They’ll kill the lights on their car, but they’ll still be in the light from the street. Remember what I said about light and shadows and how you hide in them? There you go. If you’re a lookout in an alley, you want to put yourself just inside the mouth of the alley. Not too far. Just enough to stay in the shadows. The cops won’t be able to see you unless they’re right on top of you, and you never let them get right on top of you. That’s the whole idea of being the lookout. Don’t stand in the middle of the alley or you’ll get silhouetted against the backdrop. Stay close to a wall. And whatever you do, make damned sure you’ve got an escape route. Not for the guys inside, mind you. No, I mean for you. You sound off if you see the cops coming, but if the guys don’t get out in time, they’re fucked. You don’t stick around. Rule number one: save your own ass. Hey, that’s the way it goes. Everyone knows it.

Oh, look! Here they come! Damn, Darnell’s fast! He definitely doesn’t fuck around in there. Like I said, he’s good at this. He definitely knows his shit. He usually tries to get a look inside a place before he hits it so he knows where everything is. That’s smart. Digging your way into a place blind – especially in the middle of the night when it’s pitch dark – isn’t a good idea. A lot of these places are a fucking maze; especially the older ones. You can get lost really quick, and then you’re fucked. You’ll never find your way back to the hole in time. The cops will get you for sure.

“Yo, Red! Are we good?”

“Still clear. You pulled that one off quick.”

“I don’t want to get stuck in this motherfucker. It’s crazy in there. They got shit piled up all over the place. Here, help me pull this shit clear!”

“You got more coming?”

“Oh, yeah! We got a shitload!”

Jesus, he wasn’t kidding about the clothes! He’s got a lot of shit here. I don’t think I ever ripped off this much in a single haul. How much more could they have? Maybe too much. They need to get clear of this place. They’re almost out of time.

“Wrap it up, guys! It’s time!”

“Two minutes?”

“Yeah, at least!”

“OK, give Colin a hand with the rest of it. I’m gonna go get them carts.”

“Make it fast! The cops can see this shit from the street!”

“We got this. I’ll be right back.”

Christ, would you look at this shit? These guys hit the fucking garment motherlode!

“How much do you guys have there? Colin? Hey, Colin, are you in there?”

“Right here. Give me a hand with this. It’s heavy.”

“Holy Jesus! What the fuck have you got in here? A bunch of bricks?”

“Yeah, it’s some heavy shit. Just pull it clear of the hole. Got a few more to go.”

Christ, they’re going to need a goddamned diesel truck to haul all of this shit away! How the hell did they grab that much so damned fast? Darnell must have scoped this one out good!

“Hurry up! They’ve got to be on their way!”

“One more!”

“No way are you going to get all of this shit out of here! Not with just two of you!”

“We’ll get it out. Where’s Darnell?”

“He’ll be here in a second. Move! You’re burning time!”

I can hear Darnell with the shopping carts. He’s making a lot of noise. What is it about those things where they all make a fucking racket?

“OK, Red! Let’s load ’em up!”

“Darnell, you’ve got too much shit here! No way will it fit in those things!”

“We’ll make it. I got it all figured out.”

“You’re fucking crazy!”

“Shit! Look who’s talkin’!”

I should’ve seen that one coming, shouldn’t I? Hey, that’s what happens when you get a reputation.

“Jesus Christ, Darnell! This shit’s never going to fit in two carts!”

“Yeah it will! Just stack it tall! Come on! Let’s go!”

What the hell? It’s their caper. Maybe he does have it all planned out? I just want to get out of here before the cops come by. I’m in way too much pain to run anywhere. And if they fly over with the fucking helicopter, we’re toast!

“OK, we got from here. Thanks, Red.”

Is he kidding? The shit’s sticking out about four feet over the tops of the carts! It’s like a fucking Dr. Seuss cartoon! They’ll tip over for sure!

“Are you sure you guys can handle all of that?”

“Yeah, we got it! Let’s get out of here!”

“Where are you going to stash it? You can’t take it to the swap meet now.”

“Got that figured out, too. You know the wood shack over by the red poles?”

I know that place. It’s about a half-mile from here. The shack looks like an old storage shed. It must be at least fifty years old. It looks like it’s about to come crashing down at any minute.

“The one with the signs on the side? It used to be white, but now it’s gray? That one?”

“That’s the one. Gonna stash it there. We can hang out in the lot ’til they open up the swap meet.”

“That’s a long way over to that swap meet!”

“We got time. It ain’t like we’re doing nothin’ else, right?”

“I guess not. Good luck, guys.”

“Catch you around, OK? Girl, you stay away from them alligators! Them motherfuckers will kill you!”

“Yeah, sure. ’Bye, Darnell. Good luck.”

Now, if I had half a brain, I’d get the hell out of here. The cops have to come by here eventually to check out the alarm. I don’t hear one ringing, but that doesn’t mean shit. I’ll bet there’s a silent alarm going off right now. And when they get here, they’re bound to see that big fucking hole in the wall. Then they’ll call for reinforcements. But I just have to see how these guys are going to get all of that shit out of here. Once they get it onto the sidewalk, they’ll probably be OK. The sidewalks are pretty smooth. But trying to push a shopping cart through an alley when it’s loaded to the sky with shit? Forget it! You probably know how hard it is to push one through a grocery store. Well, this is a million times harder. They’re going to try to push those fucked up carts across that broken pavement in a dark alley? Stand by! I see a fucking disaster in the making! Throw in the fact that two crackheads don’t have ten seconds’ worth of patience between them and this ought to be good for a few laughs.

“Hey, Darnell? Why don’t I go ahead and make sure it’s clear? I’ll let you know if it’s OK to move the carts.”

“Damn, Red! You really acting all generous tonight! What’s got into you?”

“Nothing. I just thought I’d help you out.”

“Cool! If you’re offering, we’ll take it! Go on up and see if they’re out there on the street.”

“OK. Give me a second to get up there. I’m not moving to well tonight. I’ll flag you if it’s safe.”

I wouldn’t expect the cops to come in from the far side of the alley. It would take them too long to get up to the hole and anyone who saw them would have a chance to bolt. The cops on the midnight shift are usually smarter than that. Well, the ones who actually work for a living are. Fortunately, there aren’t many of them. The rest are a bunch of fucking drones and they’re all asleep in their cars by now. Still, you never know. Remember what Charlie says: it’s the one you don’t see that’ll kill you. He’s right. Always be on the lookout for the one you don’t see. He’s there more often than you’d think.

“It’s clear! Get going!”

And here they come. God, would you look at those carts shake? How the hell are they going to make it to the shack with all of that shit? You want to know the craziest thing? Someone seeing them pushing a couple of shopping carts full of stolen shit down the sidewalk is pretty much the last thing they have to worry about. You’d think the sight of that would attract all kinds of attention, but it doesn’t. Not in this fucking freak show. Hell, on a busy night, a guy running down the street on fire is little more than mildly fucking interesting.

“Come on, guys! Get the fuck out of there!”

They’re taking too much time. They’re going to get busted if they don’t get out of there fast! They’re making too damned much noise, too!

“Hurry up! They’ve got to be on their way by now!”

“We’re comin’! Keep your voice down!”

Like I’m going to be heard over those squeaky-assed carts? Give me a break!

“Move it, guys!”

Something’s wrong. Colin’s headed for the wall! What’s he doing?

“Yo, Darnell! I got a problem here!”

“What the hell do you mean, you got a problem?”

What the fuck are they doing down there? Oh, shit! Colin’s losing the cart!

“Get hold of it, motherfucker!”

“Give me a hand, bro!”

“Get hold of it!”

Oh, shit! Not the window, guys!

“Motherfucker! Look out!”

“Oh, shit!”

Holy shit! He hit the window! He smashed it! God damn! That was loud enough to wake up the people in fucking China! Half the shit in his cart’s in the building! Oh, great! And there goes the fucking alarm! Christ! That’s going to bring every cop in the sector!

“Guys, get the fuck out of there!”

They’re not listening! Colin’s trying to get the shit that fell through the window! Mistake! Leave it! You’re going to get caught!

“Darnell! Hurry! Get the fuck out of there! Just leave it!”

“Chill out, Red! Yo, Colin! What the fuck are you doin’ in there? Get your ass out of that window!”

“I got to get the shit!”

“Don’t go in there, bro!”

“I’m just gonna lean in and grab it!”

He’s going to do what? He’s going to lean through a broken window into a dark room and grab all of that shit before the cops get here? Jesus Christ! He’s fucking crazier than I am!

“Guys! Get the fuck out of there now! The cops are going to be here any minute!”

“Just a second, Red!”

“Fuck ‘just a second!’ Move it!”

What the fuck are they doing? Is he really leaning in there? That broken glass is going to cut him to ribbons! And that’s if he doesn’t fall in!

“Damn, bro! Just leave it!”

Listen to him, Colin! Move your ass! Now, you stupid motherfucking crackhead!

“No, I’ll get it, bro!”

“Are you out of your motherfuckin’ mind? Leave that shit! We got to go!”

“I ain’t leaving this shit!”

“Colin, get your ass out of there! We got to go now!”

“I almost got it, bro!”

“Motherfucker, when I say get your ass out now; I mean get your ass out now!”

Do you believe these guys? What the hell are they doing? I don’t know whether to laugh or scream! Christ! Look at this shit! He’s got Colin by the legs and he’s trying to pull him out! Would you look at these idiots? It’s like a fucking Marx Brothers film! They’re making enough noise to wake the fucking dead!

“I got you, motherfucker!”

“Look out!”

“Watch the cart! Watch the cart! Aw, shit!

And there goes the other cart! There’s clothes and shit everywhere! They’re never going to get it all in time! That’s it! I’m getting the hell out of here!

“Guys! You’re on your own! I’m out of here!”

Christ, I can hear them for all the way down here! Fucking idiots! They’re worse than a goddamned burglar alarm! And they’re still back there arguing!

“Motherfucker! I told you not to go in there!”

“Well, what’d you have to go pullin’ my ass out like that? This is your motherfuckin’ fault, motherfucker!”

“My fault? Motherfucker, you trippin’!”

“I had the shit under control, bro!”

“You didn’t have nothin’ under control, motherfucker! What the fuck’s wrong with you? Can’t even push a motherfuckin’ cart straight! Goddamned motherfuckin’ crackhead motherfucker!”

And I thought running hurt like hell! Laughing hurts even more! But I can’t stop! This is just too fucking funny!

See? I told you it would be good for a few laughs. Besides, after what I’ve been through in the last hour, I definitely needed to laugh. Yeah, that’s a crackhead caper for you. I’ll bet if you went back right now, they’d still be at it. It’s a miracle the cops didn’t come crashing in on them. When you set off two different alarms at either end of the block, it pretty much guarantees it’s a righteous break-in. The cops usually show up pretty quick. They do it right, too. They come in from either side of the alley at the same time and cut off your escape. Your only way out then – if you’re still inside the place – is to run out the front door and hope they don’t have it covered. Most of the time, that’s suicide. But hey, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Now that I think about it, I hope that Colin guy hasn’t been busted before. He probably left ten thousand fingerprints in that place when he reached in through the window. What? You thought all burglars wore gloves? Not hardly. We can’t afford gloves. Even if we could, there aren’t a lot of places around here that sell them. There have been plenty of times in the winter when I’d have given my eye teeth for a good pair of gloves. They’re just not easy to come by. So we just leave our fingerprints all over the place like a bunch of fucking idiots so the cops can figure out who did what around here. I guess that’s to be expected. After all, we are a bunch of fucking idiots.

You’d be surprised just how many capers out here end up like that one. Everything about this place is a fucking Theater of the Absurd, which explains my Waiting for Godot references earlier. Crimes are no exception. You should see some of the shit people try to pull off. We’ve got assholes out here hatching schemes that make the Great Train Robbery look like a ten-dollar smash and grab. Well, they would if they actually worked, which they never do. But it’s not a total waste. It’s one of the few things out here that’s genuinely good for a laugh. There’s something about crime and skid row that brings out the inner moron in people. But don’t try telling them that. We’ve got plenty of guys out here who think that they’re a real-life Professor Moriarty. He’s the criminal genius from the Sherlock Holmes novels, in case you didn’t know. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t. I didn’t know until I got here and Charlie made me read one of them. Anyway, these guys are constantly dreaming up the most harebrained schemes in the world. Throw in some crack or heroin or a shot of PCP, and you can pretty much count on a train wreck of almost biblical proportions.

We’ve got one guy out here that’s famous for that shit. He’s like Darnell and Colin back there, only a thousand times worse. He’s a big time crackhead and a burglar. I wouldn’t say he’s a professional burglar because that would be doing professional burglars a disservice. You see, he always plans these insanely elaborate schemes. I’m talking about mind-boggling shit. He turns the simplest fucking rip-off into a major Rube Goldberg sort of thing. He’s incapable of doing anything the easy way. Something could be a foot in front of him and all he’d have to do is reach out and take it, but that’s way too simple for him. He’d have to build a contraption with fifty moving parts to snatch it without leaving a trace. I swear, that’s how he thinks. I’m pretty sure his name’s Jim, but everyone calls him Disaster Man because everything he touches falls apart. His is the touch of disaster. He doesn’t even have to touch something to destroy it. He just has to get near it. You wouldn’t want to stand next to this guy in a thunderstorm because I guarantee that’s where the lightning bolt’s going to strike. It’s a wonder he’s still alive. Like I said, he’s always planning these insane schemes and they always go horribly wrong. I’ll give you an example: he once built this contraption out of steel rebars that he ripped off from a construction site. He said the thing was supposed to help him hang off of the roof outside of this particular building on Meridian and get in through the windows on the third floor. The place is kind of legendary because it’s built like a fortress and no one’s ever gotten in there. God only knows what they keep in there. So anyway, Disaster Man figured out that they didn’t have any bars on the third floor windows, so that would be his way inside. Getting up to those third floor windows was another matter. The only way up to the roof from the outside is to climb up the drainpipe. And once you’re up there, there’s a pretty serious overhang from the roof to the windows. It’s got to be at least three feet. I suppose it might work with the right equipment, but even then it’s quite a reach. Trust me, only a completely crazy-assed motherfucker would even consider trying to get in that way.

Well, it turned out we had just the crazy motherfucker for the job: Disaster Man! You should’ve seen this thing he built. It was beyond fucked up! It looked like a giant fishhook with handlebars and a rotten old plywood board that was supposed to be a step on the bottom to stand on. The thing must have been seven feet long and weighed about thirty pounds. Nothing on it was nailed or bolted or anything. He had it all tied together with strips of electrical cord. I’m telling you, this thing had fucking catastrophe written all over it! So he manages to get it up to the roof by tying it to his back and climbing up the drainpipe. That was pretty impressive all by itself. Remember, this is three stories up! Once he’s up there, he hooks the thing to the overhang and hangs it over the side. That he was able to do that much without killing himself was nothing short of a miracle. Then he goes for the gold. A bunch of us are watching while he’s standing on it and trying to reach out and jimmy the window open with a metal rod. Then all of a sudden, the fucking thing just spontaneously disintegrates. It just came apart all at once. The handlebars came loose and the step broke off and the thing just lurched to one side. Disaster Man tried to hold on, but there wasn’t anything left to hold onto. The thing was in pieces. Then the stupid motherfucker comes crashing down towards the pavement. He’s screaming all the way down: three stories! God, you should’ve heard those screams! First, he bounces off of the second floor ledge. That slowed him down a lot. It must’ve hurt like shit, but it probably saved his life. Then he slams into the metal awning over the first floor windows, crashes face-first into a dumpster, rolls off onto the ground and lands face-down in a big puddle of piss water! The whole thing sounded like a fucking car crash! Slam two cars together at about twenty miles an hour and you’ll get the idea. I still can’t believe he survived the fall, but somehow, he did. I guess bouncing off all of that shit on the way down softened the impact. Anyway, he’s rolling around in this puddle of piss water half-conscious, when what’s left of his brilliant invention breaks loose from the roof. It made this weird sound when it broke loose. It bounced off of the ledge and the awning just like he did, and then it landed right on top of him. God, it must have set off every alarm on the fucking block! If it hadn’t hit the awning, it would’ve killed him for sure. It fucked him up good, though! Oh, Lord! Did it fuck him up good!

So a bunch of cops show up about ten seconds later and find Disaster Man half-conscious and down on all fours with this thing on top of him. Between the handlebars hanging off and the big hook on the end, it looks like it’s got him pinned from behind and it’s fucking him in the ass. I’m serious! He looked like he was being raped by a giant Praying Mantis or something! It was fucking hilarious! He’s completely dazed from the fall and he’s clearly in a lot of pain, and all the while he’s trying to pull this metal contraption out of his ass! It was the funniest goddamned thing I ever saw! Everyone else who was there would agree. The cops almost fell over; they were laughing so hard. One of them gets on the radio and says they need the Jaws of Life so they can pry this thing out of Disaster Man’s ass. They asked him if he wanted to report a rape. They described the suspect as a giant metal Praying Mantis, which is pretty much what it looked like. They even gave him the number to a rape crisis center. God, they were fucking merciless!

Then they asked us if we saw anything. Of course we said no, but they knew we were lying. We were all laughing so hard, it was obvious we saw the whole fucking thing! I was laughing so hard, I was actually crying! The cops were shining spotlights on the busted awning and where the plaster came away from the rooftop, and they were just shaking their heads in total disbelief. It was risky for us not leaving before the cops showed up – remember, this was felony burglary – but it was so damned funny that we just had to see how it all turned out. Believe me, it was worth the risk. The cops took him away in an ambulance and he got locked him up for a couple of months. Shit, he was lucky to be alive! How many people could’ve lived through a fall like that? But as soon as he got out, he was back on the street with another brilliant scheme. Disaster Man – the sequel! He’s a classic. I wish there were more like him.

I really need to get moving. I can’t walk very fast, so I…wait! What’s that? Do you hear that? Oh, shit! Cops! I knew I should’ve gotten the hell out of here sooner! Damn! I can’t run! It hurts too much! My fucking muscles are on fire! What do I do? Hide! Find someplace! Quick! Come on! Come on! Where can I go? There! Behind the air conditioner! The cops won’t go back there! It’s too dirty and too fucking dangerous. They’ll light it up, but if they don’t see anyone, they’ll take off. Shit! It’s going to be a tight squeeze. There isn’t much room under there. Hurry up! They’re coming! Move, Miranda! Move! Oh, God! It hurts! It hurts like a motherfucker! I can barely bend myself to fit back here! I think I’m going to scream! God, it hurts! Shut up! Stop being such a bitch! Do you want to get caught with a fucking tunnel job and a window smash back there? Forget about the pain! Don’t think about it! Think about jail! Just stay out of sight. All the way to the back. Cover your face. Pull your coat over your head. Your clothes will blend in. Your face won’t. Army green. They won’t see your coat back here. They never do. That’s it. Don’t move. Don’t breathe. Don’t make a sound.

Yeah, they’re here about the break-in. They’ve got the alley lights on. Floodlights on either side of the car’s roof. They can light up the alley as bright as day with those fucking things. But I’m down here. The light won’t reach back here. I’m still in the shadows. They can’t see through the floodlights into the shadows. Use the light and shadows. Remember what Charlie taught you. Oh, shit! They’re right in front of me! Keep going, motherfuckers! Come on! Keep going! Shit! They’re stopped! They’re not moving! They can’t be more than five feet away! This is bad! This is very bad! If I move, they’ll hear me. Fuck! The pain is fucking killing me! Shut up! Don’t blow it now! Don’t move. Don’t breathe. Don’t make a sound. I can hear them. I can hear the police radio. If I can hear them, then they can hear me.

“You see anything, partner?”

“Nope. Where was the alarm?”

“One block up. Address at the far end. But it says here there’s another alarm about halfway down the alley.”

“Do you think they went for two at once?”

“Could be. Some do.”

Come on, assholes! Move on! There’s nothing here! Get the fuck out of here! Go on! Leave!

“How do you want to handle it?”

“See if you can get an Air Unit to do a flyover.”

“Roger that. Ninety-Three Central, are there any Air Units available for a flyover at our location?”

Great! Just fucking great! I’m stuck here until they leave! And if they’re going to wait for a fucking helicopter, I could be here a good long time. Fuck! Just drive up to the end of the alley and see the big fucking hole, guys! That’s what you came for, isn’t it?

“They’re going to do a flyover, partner. Air Unit’s en route.”

“Roger that. Hold here and kill the alley lights.”

“You got it.”

“And keep your eyes open. There’s always fucking vagrants in here. If you see anyone, give ’em a good whack with your flashlight.”

“You know it, partner!”

I think that includes me. Shit! They’re not moving! And now they’re going to shut off their floodlights! Great! Just great! It’ll take a minute or two for their eyes to adapt to the dark again. Once they do, I’m fucked. If they take a good look in here, they’ll see me. If I can see them, then there’s a good chance they can see me. So I can’t move. I can’t make a sound. Even if for some reason they can’t see me; they can sure as shit hear me. If they hear me, they’ll light this place up with a spotlight and I’m fucked for sure. Don’t move. Don’t breathe. I’m not moving. I’m not moving, but something is. Something’s moving in…oh, Jesus! Rats! There’s a fucking shitload of rats in here! Oh, God! They’ll be crawling all over me any second now! God, please make them go away! All right, don’t panic! I’ve had rats crawl on me before. It’s no big deal. Just as long as they don’t bite me. If one of them bites me, they’ll all start biting me. Then I’ll scream. I’ll scream and the cops will light this place up and that’s it. They’ll hang that fucking break-in on me. Hey, one homeless asshole is as good as the next, right? God, please get rid of them! Shit! I can feel them crawling all over me! There’s one inside my coat! There’s two right by my face! I have to keep my coat pulled down over my face. I have to keep them away from my face, no matter what. Oh, shit! That cut on my head! They’re going to bite it! They’ll smell the blood! They’ll smell the blood and they’ll all start biting it! They’ll tear my fucking scalp off! Go away! God damn it, go away! Go away! Go away! Please go away! God, make them go away! Please!

Jesus, I can feel them all over me! There must be a lot of them. Sometimes you find fifty of them in a space like this. I can feel them tugging at my coat! They’re probably trying to chew through it. There’s one in front of me! It’s trying to get under my coat. I can barely see it. I can feel it moving against my hair, though. God, keep it away from my head! Just keep it away from my head! It smells the blood. I know it smells the blood! It’s going to start chewing on the gash on my head! It’ll start chewing on it and then they’ll all start chewing on it and I’ll start screaming! Oh, God! I’m going to start screaming and the cops are going to hear it and they’ll put me in jail and ruin everything! I can’t do it! I can’t scream! Just calm down. Not a sound. Not one sound. No matter what happens, don’t make a sound. Ouch! Fuck! The one inside my coat just bit me! Don’t panic! It’s not bad. It’s a rat bite. I’ve been bitten before. I’ve been bitten lots of times. It’s no big deal. I can handle it. Not a word. Not a sound. Ouch! Son of a bitch! Oww! God damn it! Go away! Go away! Leave me alone! Stop it! Stop it! Stop biting me! Oww! Fuck! I’m going to fucking kill all of you when I get out of here! I’ll fucking torch this place to kill you! Do you want to burn alive? Oww! Fuck! Stop it! Stop it! Oww! Oww! Damn! One of them just bit my hand! Ouch! They’re trying to get to my head! They smell the fucking blood! Oww! Hold on! Don’t lose it! The cops are right in front of me! Don’t blow it now! Just calm down. It’s just a rat. They’re all just rats. They’re just rat bites. Nobody ever died of a rat bite.

Oh, shit! One of them just crawled up my pants leg! God damn it! I’ve got to be careful. If I roll over on him, he’ll start squealing and then they’ll all start squealing and the fucking cops will grab me for sure. Don’t move. Don’t move your leg. Don’t think about it. It’s just a rat. It’s a city rat. It doesn’t have rabies or bubonic plague or anything. Besides, what do I care now? So what if I get rabies? I’ll be history before it ever kicks in. Fuck! It’s wiggling in there. I hate it when they do that! It freaks the shit out of me! Oh, God! Make it stop! Please make it stop! There’s still a bunch of them by my head. They’re pulling on my hair. I can feel it. They’re probably chewing on it! Shit! It’s that goddamned gash! They smell the blood in my hair! Go away! Go away, God damn it! Oww! Stop fucking biting me! Oww! God damn it! Shit, they’re all over my hands! They’re trying to get to my head. It’s the blood. Make a fist. I can’t let them chew on my fingers. Oww! Oww! Shit! It fucking bit my knuckle! Ow! Damn! That hurts! They’re chewing at the cuts on my hand! Stop it! Stop it! Go away! Leave me alone! I hate you! I hate you! Stop biting me! Please, God! Make them all go away! Please! Go away! Go away! Go away! Damn it! Get a hold of yourself! Fuck! Stop this shit! What is my fucking problem? I’ve had rats crawl on me a hundred times. It’s no big deal. It’s no big deal. I said it’s no big deal! Just hold it together. Just hold it together a little longer. Oh, God! They’re all over me! It feels like a thousand of them! I’m going to scream! I’m going to scream! Go away! Please, God! Make them go away!

“Who the fuck is that in my goddamned alley?”

Who was that? Who said that? That wasn’t the cops. I can’t see anyone. But someone’s here. Someone else. Who? God, please don’t let it be Moe! After that shit he just pulled, he’ll probably end up getting the cops to blast his ass! They’ll blow him away and seal off the fucking area and I’ll never get out!

“I’m talkin’ to you, motherfucker! I said who the fuck are you with your big fat ass in my alley?”

Oh, thank God! It’s not Moe. It’s some fucking drunk or something. He sounds pretty fucked up. But he can’t see me. There’s no way he can see me. So how the fuck does he know I’m here?

“Hey! I’m talkin’ to you, motherfucker! That’s right! You with your motherfuckin’ ass in that motherfuckin’ car! You hear me? You listening, boy? Get your fuckin’ ass the hell out of my alley! And take your motherfuckin’ car with you!”

He’s not talking to me. He’s talking to the cops. Actually, he’s motherfucking them! That’s a really stupid thing to do. Yeah, he’s either drunk or high as a fucking kite. This might be my break. Cops around here don’t like being motherfucked. They tend to kick your ass for it.

“Partner, light that guy up! I want to see who he is!”

“You got it!”

I can’t see what’s going on, but the way the guy’s shouting, he must be pretty close. But I can’t see him. Maybe the light will scatter the rats? No, it’s aimed the wrong way. They’re still picking at my hands! There’s still one up my leg! Shit! I can’t move! Not yet. They’ll hear me. Come on, guys! Go wrap a nightstick around that asshole’s head! That’s what you do to assholes, isn’t it? Or do you only do it to me? Fuck! Fucking rats! Leave me alone! Go away! Go away! Get off of me! Fuck! I swear, I’m going to start screaming any second now!

“What do you see, partner?”

“There he is! Right over there!”

“Hey! Get that motherfuckin’ spotlight out of my goddamned face, motherfuckers!”

“Aw, it’s just some crackhead, partner!”

“That’s right! That’s right, motherfucker! I’m on the pipe! You heard me! What you gonna do about it? With your motherfuckin’ car and your motherfuckin’ badge and your motherfuckin’ gun! You don’t fuck with me! I’m on the motherfuckin’ pipe!

“Fuck off, asshole!”

“What you done say to me, boy?”

“I said, fuck off before I come over there and shove a nightstick up your crackhead ass!”

“I’d like to see you do it, motherfucker! I’ll beat the motherfuckin’ snot out of your big ass! You just watch me!”

Jackpot! There’s no way they’ll let that slide! Oh, he’s going to regret that one! Come on! Go get him! Get out of the car and go beat the fucking shit out of him! Please! Please hurry up! I need to hang on. Just hang on. Just a few more seconds. I can do it. I’m going to get through this. It’s almost over.

“Get lost, asshole! That’s the last warning you’re going to get! Do you want to go to jail?”

“Yeah! Don’t make us come out there, you fucking crackhead!”

Shit! They’re not going to kick his ass? What the fuck kind of cops are they? Every cop out here can’t wait to hang his foot up my ass! Now this insulting motherfucker gets a free pass? Just my luck: I get a couple of lazy fucking drones!

“Warning? Motherfucker, I’ll give you a motherfuckin’ warning! Warn this! Right up your motherfuckin’ ass! Hah!”

“Look out, partner!”

Did he…? He did! He threw something! That idiot threw something at the cop car! It sounded like a brick! I think he broke the windshield! Jesus Christ! Did that crazy bastard just throw a brick at a cop car with two cops sitting in it? He must have a fucking death wish!

“You OK, partner? What the fuck was that?”

“It was a goddamned brick! Look what he did to the car!”

“Oh, that’s fucking it! Your ass is dead shit, crackhead!”

“You’re a dead motherfucker now!”

They’re not kidding! They’ll kill his ass for that! He’s going to get beat worse than I did!

“Bring it on, motherfuckers! Motherfuckin’ cops! I’ll put a hurt on both of y’all!”

“Come here, asshole! Your shit is fucked!

There they go! I can hear the nightsticks cracking him! And the screaming! Thank God! Now! Go for it! Run! They’re not looking! Run like hell! Forget about the pain! I know it hurts! It’ll hurt worse if I get caught! Run! Don’t scream! Don’t stop! Run!

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