Miranda's Dance

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Chapter Thirty-One

Irv was right: I really have been overwhelmed with nostalgia tonight. I was always unusually nostalgic for someone my age, but tonight it’s really gone into overdrive. The closer it gets to the end, the more I keep thinking about my home and my family and what it was like when I was a little kid. I keep going back there. Maybe everyone does? Well, if they know they’re going to die in a few hours, anyway. I don’t know. I guess it’s because it was the only time in my life when I wasn’t a total fucking mess. I’m a piece of shit adult and I was a pretty fucked-up teenager, but I have to admit: I was a great little girl. Even I knew it back then. I wish I’d never grown up. I wish I could’ve stayed eight years old forever. That would be paradise. Not even heaven could be better than that. I loved being a little kid. Everyone else couldn’t wait to grow up, but not me. Our house was perfect and we lived in this amazing neighborhood with parks and trees and I was the youngest, so I got spoiled a lot. For some reason, my brothers didn’t seem to mind. I had almost everything I wanted, though looking back, I didn’t want very much. I mean, I wanted toys like most kids, but I didn’t feel like I had to have everything in sight. About the only thing I wanted a lot but never got was a dog. Mom was terribly allergic to dogs, so we couldn’t have one. Fortunately for me, there were about two dozen dogs in the neighborhood, so I had plenty of furry friends to play with. We’d get the occasional stray coming through, too. I sneaked more than a few of them into the basement when I was little. Mom and dad would wonder why I’d suddenly spend so much time down there. I’d tell them I was just playing a game or something and they’d buy it. But eventually they’d hear my little guest barking his head off. Then he’d get the boot and I’d get yelled at. They always got over it pretty quick, though. Mom and dad always felt kind of guilty that we couldn’t have a dog. What else? Oh, I never got a slingshot. Boy, did I ever want one of those! I know it’s not a typical girl thing, but in some ways, I wasn’t a typical girl. They had these really cool slingshots called wrist rockets. They were like, ten times more powerful than a regular slingshot. I asked dad for one and he takes off his glasses – I told you about his glasses, right? Anyway, he takes off his glasses and gives me this look, as if I’d just asked for a pipe bomb! He says, “Go ask your mother.” So I asked mom and she lowered the boom on that idea so fast, there was no chance of asking her to reconsider. It was like, “Absolutely, positively, not a chance in hell, Miranda!” She was like that. So I never got the wrist rocket. Or the BB gun – but that’s another story.

But that was OK. I had plenty of other cool things. You should’ve seen my bike. I had a really cool bike. It was fire engine red with red sparkle handgrips and sparkles on the seat. You pedaled backwards to put the brakes on. I’d get it going really fast and lock up the brakes and go into a power slide. That was a blast! I think I went through more tires than any kid in the neighborhood, just from doing that. It was perfect for me because it was built like a tank. I was really hard on it. I rode that thing places it was never meant to go. I rode it places a mountain goat wasn’t meant to go. I even tried jumping over a few trash cans with it. That was a popular stunt where we lived. Some kids were too scared to do it, but I was as good as any of the boys in the neighborhood. One time I didn’t quite make it, though. I tried to jump over three cans and the ramp wasn’t long enough. Talk about a crash! I went ass-over-tea-kettle right over the handlebars and really knocked the wind out of myself. I wound up with big scrapes on my hands and a gigantic bruise across my chest. Mom freaked when she saw it. She said she’d throw my bike in the trash if I ever tried that again. Needless to say, that didn’t stop me. I even made it over the three cans once we got a better ramp. It wasn’t the last time I fell, though. I was a real daredevil on my bike. God, I loved it! I think I may have loved it more than that bracelet. I got it for Christmas when I was eight and it was exactly what I wanted, right down to the color. I can still see it in front of the tree. I remember it vividly. I’ll never forget it. As far as Christmases went, it was probably the best one of my life.

It’s funny, I can’t remember what happened to it. I don’t think I saw it again after I turned thirteen or so. What happened to it? I can’t remember. Being crazy, I have these huge gaps in my memory. At least, I think I do. It’s really weird. There are big parts of my life where I remember only bits and pieces. Sometimes I don’t remember a damn thing. Maybe it’s the dope? It’s probably a combination of things. So what the hell happened to my bike? To tell you the truth, I’m not sure I ever knew. It probably sat in the garage for a few years and then mom threw it away. Why not? No one was using it. Even I’d outgrown it. I hope she didn’t give it away. If she did, it might end up out here – or someplace just like this, but in another city. I’d hate to think that someone like me was riding my old bike through skid row at night. No, that’s not very likely. If she did give it away, she probably gave it to the church to sell in one of their yard sales or something. She’d want it to go to some kid who would love it as much as I did. Christ, I haven’t thought about my bike in years. So many years! But now that I have, I want to remember it just the way it was. I want to remember that there was a time in my life when I was a normal kid and I was happy and there were things in my life that I loved. I want to remember what it was like when my bike was the most important thing in my life. Could there be anything better to remember on the last night of your life? I’d sell my soul if I could go back to that time and place and stay there forever. I really would.

You want to hear something strange? I wasn’t making that shit up about bikes on skid row. We actually have bikes out here. Of course, they’re not like mine was. Most of them barely work anymore. They’re rusted through. They don’t have any pedals; just the mounting struts. The seats are trashed. Some of them don’t even have tires. Just rims. I’m pretty sure all of them are stolen. But they’re here, and people still ride them. It’s kind of dangerous to have a halfway-decent bike out here because there are a million assholes who will gladly stick a knife in your back so they can steal it, but you do see them sometimes. A few years ago, I traded a guy five hits of Xanax to let me ride his bike for an hour. I didn’t want to keep it. I just wanted to ride it. I was going through a particularly bad phase and I thought it might cheer me up. Can you believe it? I traded about thirty dollars’ worth of dope to rent a beat-up old bike for an hour. That guy must have thought I was crazy. He was right, of course. So I guess it made sense. Anyway, I rode it over to Miranda’s Place and just rode around inside the building. Up and down the levels. It was the most fun I’d had in years. I just rode it up and down and around in circles, all alone in the garage. I tried to ride with no hands, but it had been a while. My balance wasn’t what it used to be. No junkie’s is. It didn’t matter, though. It was great. I almost felt like a little kid again. Kind of like the way I felt before life got to be too much to bear. You know, before I realized there was no hope for me. I almost felt as if I wasn’t really here. For a few seconds here and there, I almost felt like I could’ve been in some parking lot near my old neighborhood, riding my bike around and around just for the hell of it. Just like I used to do. Now that I think about it, that may have been the best hour of my life since I hit rock bottom. When it was over, I brought it back to the crackhead. He couldn’t believe it. Hey, I said I’d bring it back in an hour and I kept my word. I try to keep my word, even if no one else does. It was probably the first time anyone had kept a promise they made to this guy in years. So I gave it back to him and he got on it and rode away. I never saw him or the bike again. That’s the way it works out here. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t insist on keeping it. If I had, I would have ridden it again and then that one time wouldn’t have been so special. It was special. Thirty dollars’ worth of dope for an hour on a beat-up old bike in an empty garage in the middle of the night on skid row. I think it was the best deal I ever made.

This is getting depressing. I need to focus. Time’s getting short. Speaking of keeping my word, it’s about three blocks to Metropolitan Hardware. It’s one block over and two down from here. Remember, I promised Troy and Ronnie I’d stand watch while they try their little suicide mission. That’s exactly what it is, too: a fucking suicide mission. Ripping off Metropolitan Hardware is practically an express ticket to jail. In all the years I’ve been out here, I’ve known maybe three times where somebody got in and out of that place without getting caught. I was the lookout for one of them, and those guys got out because they smashed the door with a big piece of concrete, ran for the nearest display case, smashed it, and grabbed everything they could in thirty seconds. They actually started counting down out loud as soon as they got through the door. Smart boys. That’s how I got my knife. It was in the display case. It was my fee. I wanted a really good knife, so Charlie went in and picked it out. He said make sure they grab that one and they did. So I got lucky on that one. Anyway, after that caper, they replaced the glass in the doors with this polymer shit that’s stronger than steel. It also packs a nasty surprise: it bounces! If you throw something heavy at it, it’s like throwing it at a trampoline. It’ll bounce back and nail you right in the face. A few people have found out the hard way. They actually found a guy lying on the sidewalk unconscious from that. He tossed a brick at the window and it bounced back and nailed him right on the forehead. Knocked his ass out cold. No more smash-and-grabs at Metropolitan. I guess you have to expect that from a hardware store. I mean, who better to know about shit like that? Anyway, it sounds like Troy and Ronnie have some harebrained scheme cooked up. I’m actually curious to see how they plan to pull it off. Two break-ins in one night: that’s a first for me. And I just said how I try to keep my word. I told them I’d do it, so I’ll do it. I’ll go by and stand watch while they get themselves sent to fucking prison for about ten years. I’m not kidding: it’ll be at least ten years. With their records, they won’t be getting out anytime soon. But I’m not taking any chances. I’m going to hang way back. I can’t run, and I’m not crawling into any more crawlspaces tonight. And I’m sure as hell not sticking my neck out for somebody’s suicide mission. I’ve got my own to worry about.

Well, I’m here, but I don’t see them. That’s the back door; almost at the end of the alley. One look at that fucking bank vault-looking thing should be enough to convince anybody that this is bullshit. Where are they? At least the cops aren’t surrounding the place. That’s a good sign. Maybe they called it off? Then again, maybe they already hit it and they’re gone? Either one would be fine with me. I really don’t want to do this. In most places, the alarm could ring for hours before the cops show up. When this one goes off, they show up fast and they show up in force. And when they catch you, they give you an extra-nasty thumping because you had the nerve to hit the place. It’s like they take it personally. The owner must be a big contributor to the policeman’s ball or something. Most of us aren’t stupid enough to hit it anymore. It’s been at least two years since anyone broke in here and got away with it. Even I’m not crazy enough to try it.

There are a couple of ways to get in there. One of them is to go through the second-story windows in the back. Just look up there and you’ll see it’s no cake walk. You need a ladder and you have to pry the bars off and hope that the racket you make doesn’t bring the cops before you manage to get out. The other way is to go through a skylight on the roof, but that leads to the store’s main floor and that’s a long fucking drop. If you don’t have a rope to climb down; there’s no way you’d make it through the fall. If you survived, they’d haul your ass away in a full body cast. And how the hell would you get back out? You’d have to be Batman! I’ve heard people talk about doing it that way, but I don’t know anybody who’s got the balls to try it. Maybe Disaster Man? It sounds like something he’d do. Hell, he’d probably build a rocket belt and try to fly back up out of the skylight! Of course, a tunnel job is out of the question. This place has really thick walls and you’ll set off the burglar alarm with the first couple of whacks. That’ll bring the cops fast. You’ll never tunnel through before they get here. And when they do, they’ll turn you into a fucking piñata. I’m told you can try to go through the air conditioner vents, but I don’t know how big they are. We’ve got people who do that shit, though. They’re a lot braver than me. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to get stuck in there. I’m kind of surprised nobody’s ever stolen a truck and just crashed through the front of the store. People do that shit sometimes. Other than a bank, there’s no better place to hit than Metropolitan. That’s a hell of a distinction, isn’t it? They’re the store everyone most wants to rob. God, that’s like being in high school and being voted the girl everyone most wants to gangbang! On the one hand, it’s flattering. On the other hand, it’s pretty fucking sick.

OK, I think that’s them. Yep, there they are. I guess they’re going through with it. And there’s the ladder. It’s a window job. It figures. I wonder where they got the ladder? With these guys, I’m not sure I want to know. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn they killed somebody for it. And up they go! So far, so good. Hey, maybe they’ll even pull it off? That would be something.

“Hey, Ronnie.”

“Red? Oh, good! We was afraid you was gonna punk out on us!”

“I said I’d be here. I keep my word.”

“Damn! What happened to your face?”

“I’ll tell you later. I see you got the bars off already. That was fast.”

“Yeah, they came off pretty easy. We’ve been practicin’ on some other places with bars like this.”

That’s actually a very good thing to do. I didn’t think they were that smart.

“What about the alarm?”

“It’s taken care of. Over there.”

Jesus Christ! Would you look at that? So much for finesse! They just ripped the fucking box right off of the wall! Does that even work? Doesn’t that shit just set off the fucking alarm right away?

“Is that your idea of taking care of it?”

“Don’t sweat it! It’s covered! You just stay by the edge of the alley and let us know if the cops show up!”

“You mean when they show up! You guys are going to have about two minutes in there, tops! Do you know what you want to grab?”

“Got it all worked out. We’ll be in and out before they know it.”

“Yeah, well, make sure you are. Don’t get greedy in there. And keep your ears open! You’ll barely be able to hear me if I start shouting.”

“Don’t worry about it! Got the cart over there. Just sound off if you see the cops.”

“OK. Get going! Two minutes!”

“Nothin’ to it!”

Yeah, famous last words, idiot! Look at him! He’s not wearing gloves! He hasn’t taped his fingertips, either. That’s a mistake. Both of these guys have done time. The cops have their prints on file. They’ll definitely dust for fingerprints in this place. They’ll find them, too. You have to wonder about some people. It’s like they think they’re somehow immune to getting caught, and yet they’ve all done a shitload of time already. Go figure.

OK, they’re in! Oh, shit! They broke the lock on the fucking window! That’ll set off the alarm; box or no box. Time to start the countdown. Five seconds. No sign of the cops yet. Damn, I hate this! When you’re doing this shit, two minutes feels like a fucking hour. Come on guys, make it fast! Go down to the edge of the alley my ass! I’m not taking any chances on this one. No fucking way. I’m staying in the shadows and making damn sure I’ve got a way out of here. Twenty seconds. At least they were smart enough to break out the floodlight near the window. I just hope they did it a few hours ago. If they waited until just before they went in, some cop might notice it. He might notice that it was working before and now all of a sudden it’s not. Most graveyard cops aren’t that sharp, but you don’t want to bet ten years of your life on it. There are still a few hard-chargers out here after the Midwatch goes home, and Loomis said everybody got held over tonight. Midwatch might still be out here. They’ll pick up on it. Those guys are way too sharp for my tastes. Thirty seconds. Damn! I can hear them in there! They’re making a shitload of noise! Stupid! They’ll barely be able to hear me as it is! The signal isn’t what you’d call distinct, either. It’s pretty much me banging on the wall with this crowbar. It’s a big fucking place and the walls are thick. If they make too much noise, they won’t be able to hear a damn thing. Why the fuck did I agree to do this? Why am I risking my ass for them? Tonight of all nights?

Screw the shadows! I need to see the street. The cops won’t come through the alley first. They’ll check the front of the store before they come back here. If I see them first, I’ll have time to sound off. I’ll go to the corner and hide at the edge of the building. That should give me enough time to get back if I see a cop car. If there’s nothing there, I’ll come back here. Forty-five seconds. We’re almost at the halfway point. Come on, guys! Hurry up! Good. I don’t hear any cars. The side street is clear. I can stand here and see up and down the street for about two blocks in both directions. That’s one good thing about the city at this hour. About the only cars on the street are street sweepers and cop cars. You don’t have to deal with any other traffic. You can always see them coming. One minute! Move it, guys! Move it!

All clear. There’s no one in either direction. A minute and fifteen seconds. Come on, guys, get the fuck out of there! Get out now and you’re home free! Shit! I’ll bet they’re getting greedy. They’re taking too much. They’re stealing tools. Those things are heavy. They’re not easy to carry, and they’ll have to bring them upstairs and toss them out the window. Drop a bunch of tools from that height and they’ll make a shitload of noise when they hit the ground. A minute and thirty seconds. Come on, guys! Come on! What the fuck is taking them so long? They can count to a hundred and twenty, can’t they? Maybe not? These guys aren’t what you’d call rocket scientists. They wouldn’t be hitting this place if they were. I hope they don’t plan to fill up that fucking cart. Imagine pushing a fucking shopping cart with about a hundred pounds of tools through a fucking alley. It’s going to be murder. A minute and forty-five seconds! That’s countdown, damn it! Fifteen seconds left! Come on, guys! Get the fuck out of there! Don’t be fucking idiots! Take what you’ve got and get the fuck out of there! You can still make it!

OK, that’s two minutes! Time’s up! Where the fuck are they? Stupid assholes! Fine! I’ll go back and tell them to get their stupid fucking asses the hell out of there!

“Let’s go! Guys! That’s two minutes! Get the fuck out of there!”

Shit! They can’t hear me! Bang on the wall. Not too loud or the cops will hear it. Where’s that crowbar? Oh, there it is. Come on! Damn! No response! I can hear them in there! If I can hear them, then they can hear me! Why don’t they come out? Stupid fucking bastards!

“Now! Troy! Ronnie! Let’s go! It’s time!”

Damn! What the fuck was that? Something crashed in there! Christ! That shit was loud enough to wake the dead! What the fuck are they doing?

“I said let’s go! Now! Goddamn it, do you fucking hear me? Let’s go!”

I can hear them. They’re on the stairs. They’re coming out. Finally! Stupid motherfuckers! Oh, shit! I hear a car! Please, don’t let it be a cop car! I can’t tell by the idle yet. I’d better go down the alley and check. If it’s a cop car, I’m getting the fuck out of here!

Oh, shit! It’s a cop car! And he just killed his lights! That means he’s headed here! Get out of there, guys! Move!

“Hurry up, God damn it! We’ve got cops out here! Move it, motherfuckers! Go!”

Where the hell are they? Oh, fuck this shit! If they’re too stupid to get out of there, then I’m not sticking around! I know they heard me. Christ, the cops probably heard me and they’re almost a block away! Where the hell do I go? I’ll never make it to the far end of the alley in time, and if I head out onto the street, those cops will see me. The street in front of this place is too lit up. There’s a space between the buildings about halfway up the alley. It’s pretty cramped in there, but I can probably squeeze through it. I’m small enough. It leads to the street behind Meridian. I can’t believe I’m doing this shit! I got my ass beat senseless, and now I’m going to try to squeeze between two fucking buildings! Fuck it! As long as those cops don’t have any friends with them and they don’t do the one-block-over deployment thing, I should be good. I’ll also be able to see if fucking Dumb and Dumber get out of there in time!

OK, I made it! Good! I’m in the clear, but the guys aren’t out of there yet. What the fuck are they doing? Jerking off? They’re going to get caught! They’re going to get fucking caught! Stupid motherfuckers! Why did they ask me to be a lookout if they weren’t going to listen to me?

“Yo! Red! Where you at?”

That’s Troy! Finally! They’re coming out. Jesus, Christ! Look at all the shit they’ve got! They’ve got fucking tool boxes! Are they insane? They’re never going to get all of that shit out of there in time! What the fuck are they thinking? As soon as they drop it out the window, those cops are going to hear it! It’s going to sound like a fucking car crash! Forget the shit, guys! Just leave it! Run! Run, goddamn it! What are you doing? You’re going back in? Jesus, they’re going back for more shit! You stupid fucking assholes! Don’t be greedy! Be smart! Run!

“Guys, we got cops out here! Forget the shit! Run!”

Fuck! I said that too loud! Spotlights! Oh, God! They’re pulling into the alley! That’s it! They’re dead! There’s no fucking way they’ll get out now! The cops are going to see that ladder! How could they miss it? See? This is how people get caught! They do stupid fucking shit! They take too much fucking time! I told them, didn’t I? Two minutes! I told them get in and out in two fucking minutes! But do they listen? Fuck, no! They don’t listen to shit! Oh, great! See the spotlight? They’re lighting up the fucking ladder! That’s it! Game over! Those motherfuckers are toast! Oh, great! One of the cops just leaned out of the fucking car!

“Partner! We got something here! A ladder!”

Gee, you think? What was your first fucking clue, asshole?

“Yep! It’s a good one! Call it in! Get us some back-up! Lock this place down!”

“Got it! Watch that fucking ladder! They might be coming out!”

Here we go! Any second now, there’s going to be five fucking cop cars around the building! They’re fucked! Oh, and here comes Troy with an armload of shit! Great fucking timing, moron! Wave to the nice policemen pointing their big fucking guns at you!

“Police! Don’t move, motherfucker!”

Yeah, like they had to announce it! I think the cop car and the guns were a dead giveaway!

“Come out slow, asshole! Drop that shit and keep your hands where I can see them!”

“Don’t do anything stupid, asshole!”

Uh, don’t you mean don’t do anything else stupid? Fucking morons! This is what happens when you don’t fucking listen!

“Don’t shoot! I ain’t got nothin’ on me! I ain’t armed!”

“Try anything and we’ll blow your ass off that ladder!”

“Drop it! Drop that shit!”

“Yes, sir!”

“Hey, what are you doing, asshole?”

“Look out!”

Jesus fucking Christ! He dropped the fucking tool box on their cop car! Great move, Troy! Put a big fucking dent in their car! What part of “Don’t do anything stupid” did you fail to understand? You’re going to get a nightstick up your ass for that one!

“What the fuck are you doing, asshole?”

“You said drop it, officer!”

“Not on my car, you stupid son of a bitch!”

“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to!”

“Get your ass down here, motherfucker!”

“Don’t shoot! I’m comin’ down! Don’t shoot!”

“Face down on the ground, asshole! Keep your hands where I can see them!”

I’ve heard that voice before. I saw that cop earlier. He was riding with…oh, shit! He was riding with Hoekstra! The other one’s Hoekstra! Oh, this is fucking it! If Troy moves, he’s a dead man! Hell, he’s probably a dead man anyway! Hoekstra will kill you for a lot less than scratching up his car! That fucking psycho? Oh, shit! See the flashlight? Here it comes!

“You fucking asshole!”

“Tune him up, boss!”

“God damn right!”

Oh, Jesus! Right on the fucking head! Troy’s down on the ground! That shot probably knocked him out cold! Shit! He’s down, assholes! Why the fuck do you have to kick him like that? That asshole Hoekstra wears steel-toed boots! It’s like getting kicked with a fucking hammer! Oh, God! That one broke a rib! No fucking doubt! It probably took out his goddamned lung! Shit, he’s going to fucking kill him! God, I don’t want to watch this! Hoekstra’s practically foaming at the mouth!

“You fucking dropped that shit on my car! You see what you did? Look at that shit! What the fuck is your problem, motherfucker?”

“I’m sorry, officer! I’m sorry!”

I was wrong. Troy’s still awake. That’s not a good thing! It means they’ll fuck with him some more!

“Sorry? You’re fucking sorry?”

“Give him something to be sorry about, partner!”

“You mean like this?”

Christ! There goes another rib! I don’t think he cares if you’re sorry, Troy! Just shut up and don’t move!

“Cuff this asshole!”

“You got it, boss. Come here, motherfucker!”

Where the hell is Ronnie? Probably hiding in the store. I’ll bet he heard the screams. He probably saw the spotlight, too. That’s not a good idea. Hiding, I mean. If he makes them come in after him, they’ll take it out of his ass! Hell, they might even set the dog on him! He’ll end up in jail with an ass full of teeth marks. And God help him if he lays a hand on that dog! They’ll fucking kill him for sure!

“Who else is in there, motherfucker?”

“No one, sir!”

“Wrong answer!”

Jesus! He whacked him square across the back with his fucking flashlight! That’s a bad shot! He could paralyze him like that! And he knows it, too! God damn it, Hoekstra! Wasn’t breaking his fucking ribs enough?

“I said, who the fuck else is in there?”

Give it up, Troy! Just give it up! Don’t make it any worse! It’s over! You’re both caught! Give it up or he’ll fucking kill you!

“There’s…there’s another…another guy!”

“What guy?”

“He’s…Ronnie. Ronnie. He’s…he’s still…he’s still inside.”

“See? Now how hard was that? Oh, before I forget…”

Holy shit! Right in the head! Fucking Hoekstra! He told you what you wanted! Why the fuck did you have to hit him again?

“That’s for lying to me the first time! This is for lying to me the second time!”

Oh, God! Enough! Leave him alone, please!

“And this is for scratching up my fucking car!”

Please, God! I can’t watch! Fuck! He’s really going to kill him! Do you hear that? More cars. I can hear the other cops in front of the store. Why don’t they come back here and put a leash on this psycho motherfucker? No, they’d probably just join in the fun. Come on, Ronnie! It’s over! There’s no place to go and no place to hide! Just give it up! Please! Before they fucking kill you!

“Hey, Ronnie! This is the police! We, uh…we know you’re in there! Your asshole friend gave you up! I guess he’s not much of a friend! Come on out, now! Don’t make us come in after you!”

“Yeah, Ronnie! Come join the party! We’ve got a present for you!”

Would you listen to that kid? Hoekstra’s boot sounds as crazy as he is! I guess he trained him well. Great! Another fucking psycho with a gun and a badge! Welcome to skid row, asshole! Just the place for you!

“Come on out Ronnie! We’re calling the K9 unit! Don’t make us send the dog after you! Get your fucking ass out here!”

God, Ronnie! Don’t wait for that dog! He’ll rip your fucking balls off! Just give it up!

“Don’t shoot! I’m comin’ out! Don’t shoot!”

Finally! Don’t do anything stupid, Ronnie! Please don’t do anything stupid! They kicked the crap out of Troy and he gave up easy! They’ll kill you if you fuck with them!

“Come on out, motherfucker! We got something for you!”

Yeah, I’ll bet you do! Fucking Hoekstra! God, I hate that guy! Lord, can’t you fucking hit him with a lightning bolt or something? I don’t care how you do it, just kill him! Turn him into a fucking pillar of salt! Just get rid of him and send him to hell where he belongs! Fuck!

“Don’t shoot! I ain’t got no weapon! I’m givin’ up!”

That’s it, Ronnie! Go easy! Don’t fuck it up!

“Come down here real slow, boy! Don’t try anything!”

“No problem, officer! No problem!”

At least the boot’s moving in to grab him. That should keep Hoekstra away. Ronnie might get out of this with just a couple of bruises. Too bad Troy can’t say the same.

“Put your hands behind your back!”

“Yes, sir, officer!”

“Give me your hand! I said give me it!”

“Hey, man!”

“Don’t fucking move!”

Jesus, Ronnie! Don’t fight! Oh, shit! Did he just take a swing at a cop? Is he fucking nuts? He’s a dead man! He’s fucking dead! Christ, he’s still trying to fight!

“Hey, fuck you, cop!”

“Watch it!”

“Get that motherfucker!”

Holy shit! They’re going to kill him!

“Take him down! Take him down!”


They’ve got him! They’re all over him! He’s fucking dead, now!

“OK! OK! I give up!”

“Too late, asshole!”

Oh, my God! He’s fucking finished! They’re going to beat the dog shit out of him right here! God, Hoekstra’s got his flashlight! He’s going to kill him!

“You fucking asshole! You think you can take a swing at me? You’re fucking dead!

Jesus Christ! That was a full-power shot to the back of the head! That’s a fucking kill shot! I could hear it from here! I heard his fucking head crack!

“Kill him, partner! Kill this motherfucker!”

“Sounds like a plan to me!”

Oh, Jesus! Make it stop! Please make it stop! God, they’ll kill him! Make it stop!

“You like that, you piece of shit? You want some more, motherfucker?”

Oh, my God! He just cracked Ronnie on the head again! He’s going to fucking kill him right in front of me! I can’t watch this! I’ve got to get out of here! Fast!

“Get up! Get up, you piece of shit! I ain’t finished with you! Get your ass up!”

He’s not moving! Oh, God! He’s not moving at all!

“Hey, partner? I think this asshole’s had enough.”

“I’ll be the judge of that!”

“No, really! He ain’t moving! I think he’s out cold!”

“Is he dead?”

“Nah, I don’t think so. He’s still twitching a little.”

“Too bad! I should’ve killed his ass!”

“He might still die on us. What do you want to do with him?”

“Fuck it! Cuff him and throw him in the car with the other one!”

“He looks pretty fucked up, boss. Should we get him an ambulance?”

“He don’t need no ambulance! Fuck him! Let him sit there and bleed!”

Bleed? He’s doing a lot more than bleeding! Christ, his head’s split wide open! I think his fucking brain’s been scrambled! They’ve got to get him to a hospital!

“You heard the man! Get up, motherfucker! Time for jail!”

Come on, Ronnie! Get up! Please get up!

“I said get up, motherfucker! Are you deaf?”

No, you stupid son of a bitch! He’s fucking unconscious! You cracked his head like a fucking eggshell and beat him half to death! Can’t you see that?

“I don’t think he’s going to do any walking, partner. You got him good!”

“He’s lucky I didn’t kill him!”

“What do you want to do with him?”

“I told you! Toss his ass in the car with the other one!”

“Roger that. Do we need a Sergeant?”

“Yeah, I guess we do.”

“What do you want to tell him?”

“Tell him he came at us with one of those wrenches. It was self-defense. He’s lucky we didn’t shoot him!”

“Hey, that’s exactly what I saw, partner!”

“Good man! You’re going to work out just fine!”

God damn motherfuckers! Fucking die! Both of you! Fucking die! I hate you! I hate you both! Fucking sadists! Shit! You see? You see what it’s like? That’s what living out here is like! We’re less than animals and there are no witnesses around, so the cops can make up any bullshit story they want! Yeah, boss! This guy tried to kill us with a wrench! Never mind that there’s two of us and we’ve got guns and shit! We had to do it! Self-defense; you know? Yeah, it was all his fault! Swear to God! Yeah, right! Fucking assholes! I wish you would all just fucking die!

“Hey, partner? Tell that asshole not to bleed on the seat! I just had this thing washed!”

“You heard the man, asshole! Don’t get any blood on the seat! Bleed on your asshole friend! He don’t look like he’ll mind!”

Watch: now they’ll get a bunch of other cops to search the building. They’re looking to see if there’s anyone else still in there. I’ll bet Hoekstra’s hoping for another victim. He probably needs him for his weekly quota. He needs to beat the shit out of a certain number of people every week or he doesn’t feel like he’s done his job. What an asshole! God, he’s fucking Ricky with a badge! Someone should kill his fucking ass! Oh, look! Now he’s going to set up a search of the building. He’s probably hoping he’ll find someone else he can torture!

“Partner, get on the radio and tell the guys out front to stay there. We’re going to need more units so we can clear this place. Have dispatch try to get the owner to open up the front door. And see if there are any K9 units still out. We need a dog for a search. Tell them we’ve got a confirmed break-in with two in custody.”

“Roger that. What if this asshole croaks?”

“Then tell them we’ve got one in custody.”

Yeah, ha, ha! Very funny, motherfucker! Fuck you, Hoekstra! That’s it! I’m getting the fuck out of here! There’s going to be about a half a dozen cops here any minute now. I want to be at least a block away when they get here. I can’t run on this ankle. I’ve got to get while the going’s good. I’m sure as hell not going to let myself be Hoekstra’s next victim. He’d finish what Ricky started. And there’s nothing I can do for Troy and Ronnie. Sorry guys. You’re on your own.

“Hey, Officer Hoekstra! We got another one! Down the alley! By the wall!”

Oh, shit! They saw me!

“Light him up!”

Here comes the spotlight! Fuck the pain! Run, goddamn it! Run! Oh, fuck! They see me now! That fucking spotlight!

“Hey, you! Stop!”

Fat chance, motherfucker! I’ve got to make it to the end of the alley. That’s as far as that cop will go by himself. Hoekstra won’t chase me. Not with two busted-up assholes in his car. He won’t risk it. God, I can barely jog! Oh, shit! Another cop car! Now it’s a party! At least Hoekstra’s putting a leash on his boot! That’s my chance to get the fuck out of here!

“Partner, what did you see? Where did he go?”

“Somebody ran south down the alley! I didn’t get a good look.”

Run! Fuck the pain! Run like hell!

“Seventy-Three Central to the unit in the alley, we see your suspect! We’re on him!”

Shit! They put it out on the fucking radio! They’re going to try to cut me off! Run!

“Stop! Stop where you are!”

Oh, God! It hurts! It hurts! Don’t think about it! Run!

“Move in! Move in!”

If I can just make it to the end of the alley…

“Stop right there!”

Shit! They’re on the P.A. speaker! Every cop for two blocks will hear them! They’ll seal this place off! I’ve got to get out of here fast!

“Police officer! Stop, motherfucker! Stop where you are!”

There’s the cop car! As soon as they clear the middle of the alley, they’re going to gun it! They’ll do a front bumper takedown and bounce me off of the fucking wall! Fuck! It feels like my ankle’s on fire! I can’t run anymore!

“Last warning, asshole!”

They’re in the middle of the alley! I can’t outrun a fucking cop car! What do I…there! That dumpster! Right up ahead! Push it in front of them! OK, wait! Wait for them to gun it! Almost…almost…listen for the engine! There! He’s flooring it! Now! Push! Hard! Right in front of them!

“Holy shit!”

“Watch out for the…!”

“Brake! Brake!”

“Hang on!”

They wrecked! It worked! Oh, Jesus! He hit it dead on! That thing was full, too! It was fucking heavy! Christ, would you look at that! The whole fucking front of the car’s caved in! That thing is wasted! The windshield’s completely bashed in! Good! That means they can’t see through it! Remember what I told you about dumpsters and cop cars? Well, there you go! And here I go! Bye-bye, assholes! Fuck you very much! Oh, for God’s sake! Shut up and run, Miranda! Just run! Forget the pain! I can rest later! I’ve got to get the hell out of here, fast!

I need to catch my breath. Just for a second. I think I’m clear. No one else is coming after me. God damn! My ankle is fucking killing me! It feels like someone drove a giant nail right through it! I can’t believe I ran like that on a fucking twisted ankle! I don’t think these braces were made for running, either. And the ass kicking Ricky gave me sure as hell didn’t help. Christ, I feel like I’m going to collapse! My stomach’s in knots! I think I might puke again. I’ve got to sit down for a second. I should be safe here for a minute or two. I don’t hear any sirens. I don’t see any spotlights. I guess they decided I wasn’t worth it. Maybe they just didn’t want another fucked-up cop car? Boy, those guys are fucked! Those cops, I mean. They’re going to have to explain how I got away and their car is totally fucking trashed! That’s another thing you learn about cops out here: they get in some really deep shit if they fuck up their cars. Those things are expensive. I wonder if they got a good look at me? Who gives a shit? If they saw me, they saw me. It’s not like I’ll be around tomorrow for them to lock me up. Let them put a fucking warrant out on my ass. They can serve it on me at the morgue.

Well, this has been a hell of a night! First, some fucking crew-cut fresh out of the academy slaps a C-clamp on me and bounces my head off of a cop car! Then I go and kick a cop in the face! And now, I just totally trashed a cop car! I hope to God Loomis isn’t working now. Those cops saw me well enough that if they told him, he’d figure out it was me. And he knows me well enough that he’d probably find me before I made it back to Miranda’s Place for my swan dive. No way would he let me slide again. Not after that shit. Not after I was involved in that break-in at Metropolitan. He’d lock my ass up in a heartbeat. I can’t let that happen. I’ve got to be damned careful, here.

Jesus, Christ! Hoekstra must have hit Ronnie four times in the head with that fucking flashlight! I could hear his head crack from where I was standing! He’s got to have a skull fracture. You can kill a guy easy with one of those things. Remember what I told you? It’s worse than being hit with a nightstick. Cops can do some serious fucking damage when they want to. Their trained to do it. But some of them are just fucking evil about it! Like that fucking Hoekstra! OK, so Ronnie shouldn’t have taken a swing at them. That was pretty fucking stupid. But that didn’t justify cracking his head open like a fucking coconut! Damn, that was nasty! I wonder if he’s going to be brain-damaged? From the way he was bleeding, I wouldn’t be surprised. Did you see it? Did you see all of that blood? That’s a weird thing about blood at night: under a spotlight, it shines brighter than damned near anything. It’s like it glows in the dark or something. You can’t miss it. I sure as hell couldn’t miss it coming out of Ronnie’s head like fucking Niagara Falls! Damn! I told those guys to get the hell out of there! I told them, but they didn’t listen! Why the fuck didn’t they listen? You see what happens? You see what happens when you get greedy? Two minutes, I told them! Two fucking minutes! Why the fuck didn’t they listen?

And for that matter, why did I even get involved in that shit? Why did I risk it? That could have been me back there with my head cracked open! With my luck, it wouldn’t have killed me. It just would’ve left me with massive brain damage. As if my brain isn’t damaged enough already! At least they’re not chasing me. I guess that means I’m in the clear. They’ll probably ask Troy and Ronnie about me. You know, who was your asshole friend running down the alley? They’re not going to let it slide when they lost a cop car behind it. No way. Troy might give me up, but there’s really no reason for it. They already beat the shit out of him. They’re not going to go easy on him for giving up a fucking lookout. I wasn’t even inside the place. No, they got the guys who did the job. That’s all they really care about. Besides, they’re probably beating the living shit out of him right now to make sure he doesn’t say anything about how they went to town on Ronnie. The cops aren’t supposed to hit you on the head unless they absolutely have to, but somehow, they always do. At least, they always do out here. They love to go for the head. They make jokes about how your head sounds when they crack it with a fucking nightstick. Believe me, there’s nothing funny about it. I’ve heard it more times than I care to remember. It’s a really sickening sound. You never forget it. Cops have a strange sense of humor.

As bad as they fucked Ronnie up, I’m surprised they didn’t get him an ambulance. I mean, they’re going to have to get him looked at. They can’t just throw him in a cell with his head cracked open. I know. I’ve been in jail. You learn things there, too. The jailers will stop them at the door if they try to book him with all of that blood gushing out of his head. I’ve seen them do it. It’s not that they care, of course. They just don’t want you dropping dead in their jail. They’re kind of picky about that. So there’s no fucking way they’ll take him like that. Central Intake is for people who can walk. You also have to be able to breathe without a fucking tube hooked to a machine. That pretty much leaves Ronnie out. But is he any better off seeing a doctor when he’s in custody? Not by a long shot. They’ll probably get some quack at the infirmary to look at him. That’s something else you learn in jail. Fucking jailhouse doctors! They’re the worst. I mean, what kind of an asshole goes to all the trouble of getting through medical school and then goes to work in a fucking jail? That should tell you everything you need to know about those guys. Show me a jailhouse doctor and I’ll show you a guy who left a scalpel in a patient during surgery. He’s probably in there hiding from a fucking malpractice suit. Yeah, that’s just the guy you want treating you when your skull’s been cracked into a half a dozen pieces! That fucking quack won’t do much more than hose off the blood and wrap a ghetto turban around his head. Oh, sure! That’ll fix it! Take two aspirin and call me in the morning – if you’re still alive. Poor Ronnie will be lucky if he isn’t permanently brain-damaged. He might even die. A beating like that can definitely kill you. The cops probably won’t let him die, though. That’s not because they give a shit about him. Not by a long shot. No, it’s because he’s under arrest. If he dies, it’s what they call an in-custody death. An in-custody death is a serious fucking deal. It’s a huge investigation. It means a mountain of paperwork. Cops hate paperwork. Even a piece of shit’s life is worth saving if it means getting out of doing the paperwork. I guess that’s a good thing. If it weren’t for the paperwork, they’d probably kill us all on sight.

Well, that’s it for me and crime. I got lucky twice tonight. There’s no way I’ll get lucky a third time. Fuck that shit. Besides, there’s no way in hell I can run another step on this ankle. No, that was the last caper I’ll ever be involved in. That’s actually an important milestone. My life of crime is now officially over. Good riddance. Believe me, stealing out here isn’t like the petty bullshit we used to do when we were teenagers. Back then, it was exciting. Part of it was the fear of getting caught, but most of it was just the thrill of doing something you knew was illegal. There’s none of that out here. There’s no thrill. There’s no rush. And everything we do out here is fucking illegal; especially at night. Out here, stealing is work; plain and simple. You need money and other shit and there’s no other way to get it, so you steal it. You don’t try to rationalize it or anything. You don’t think about who you’re hurting. You just do it. You do it because you have to and because you can. And there’s no giggling about “Gee, maybe we’ll get caught!” If you get busted out here, they don’t call your parents and have them take you home. Fuck, no. And you don’t go to kiddie court, either. If you’re lucky, you just end up going to prison for a couple of years. If you’re not lucky, the cops tune you up like they did back there. Then they throw your ass in jail for God only knows how long. There’s nothing romantic or even fun about crime out here. Everything about our world is criminal. We’re all criminals and crime is a way of life. We know it’s wrong and it doesn’t bother us because we’ve got plenty of other shit to bother us. Most of us never thought we’d be criminals, but as soon as we wound up out here, we took to it like a fucking fish takes to water. Crime is one of the many unifying factors in our lives. That’s kind of profound, isn’t it? It’s true, though. It’s kind of weird when you think about it: crime is a welcoming sort of unity, as opposed to the other unifying factors that define our lives on skid row. Charlie once told me that crime is the world’s greatest equal-opportunity employer. It doesn’t matter what color you are, or what religion, or if you’re a man or a woman, or if you’re rich or dead broke or whatever. Crime doesn’t care about that shit. Everyone’s invited. If you want to be a criminal, all you have to do is go out and commit a crime. Any crime will do. Then you’re in. You’re a criminal. Welcome to the club.

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