I crouched at the edge of the bridge, staring downwards into the culvert. It was muddy from the recent rains, unusual in a normally sunny San Diego, and a small stream of water flowed across the ground and under the bridge I stood on. There was also a large man in a trench coat dragging a body. He was thankfully, unaware of my presence.
I’d been watching him for some time, trying to figure out what to do about it. I’d happened upon him on my way back from school, arms full of shiny new text books. It had been almost twenty minutes according to my pocket watch since I’d first found him. I’d followed stealthily along above him ever since, a silent observer.
Calling the cops wouldn’t do, since I did not own a cellphone. In the time it would take to run to the nearest payphone, surely my quarry would elude me. I couldn’t fight him because I was just a small girl and woefully unarmed. So I was pretty much just left with following him until some grand plan occurred to me. This kind of stuff happens to me all the time.
Back to the day’s events. Trench Coat Guy, dragging a body, me standing above him, slowly following along. I couldn’t make out his features too well, since the brim of his coat was pulled up and he wore some kind of floppy, rain proof hat. But I got the feeling he was tired. Dragging a body has to take a lot out of you. I almost felt sorry for the guy.
Of course I felt more sorry for the victim, who seemed a young man that couldn’t have been more than twenty. Probably a college student like me. Time dragged on, just as he dragged his victim, and it started to grow cold. The clouds above threatened more rain at any moment, and I started to grow worried. I hadn’t brought an umbrella, and I didn’t want my new school books to get ruined. Mom and Dad would have a fit. The only thing I had to keep the rain off was my Charlie Brown Snoopy Cap. It gave me but small comfort.
Another city block and the culvert started to slope gradually but steadily downwards. A few hundred feet more and it went completely underground, somewhere into the sewers. Trench Coat Man disappeared inside of it.
With a sigh, but not a moment’s hesitation, I gave him just enough of a lead so that he might not hear me and jumped down after him, landing in the water with a splash and nearly losing my balance. I know some water got on my books, but I just prayed they would dry off okay. I also prayed for my own safety while I was at it. Figured I might as well.
Picking up the pace a little, I started off in pursuit. I would have felt better if I’d had my best friend Mousy here, riding along on my shoulder like he always used to. I hadn’t seen him for twenty years, yet part of me hoped he might still live.
I heard a curse some ways ahead of me. Trench Coat Man wasn’t happy about something. I stopped dwelling on the past and started paying a little more attention to what lay before me just in case.
All kinds of junk had been washed into the concrete pipe that I now walked through, most of it just drifting along the little river that flowed down the middle, but some of it getting stuck against the sides. Thankfully, dimly lit lights had been installed along the walls every few feet, probably for the benefit of any rogue maintenance guys who happened to wander in. Otherwise I would have been completely blind.
I passed something that looked like a dead skunk, though it didn’t stink too badly. It lay on its side, one paw stuck out towards me as if beseeching me to help it. I made a mental note to come back later and give it a proper burial.
More time passed, and the temperature seemed to grow warmer the longer I traveled. The concrete probably insulated this place from the weather outside. I pulled my Snoopy Cap snugger down on my head all the same and continued on. Rounding a bend, still thinking about the skunk, I nearly ran right into the Trench Coat Man.
He was maybe five feet away from me, facing me directly as if anticipating my appearance. The body lay just a little way to his side.
“Thought I heard something,” he said, his voice low and gruff. He was holding a wicked looking knife in his left hand. It wasn’t a professional killer’s weapon, I actually think it was nothing more than a kitchen knife. But it looked sharp enough all the same.
“Hi!” I said brightly, waving a hand at him. “I’m Nil. What’s your name?”
I could see his face clearly now, and it was just as low and gruff as his voice. The man was dirty and unshaven, almost certainly a hobo of some kind.
“Are you alone!?” he barked at me, waving his knife.
In answer, I lifted my handful of textbooks.
“Do you think a college student with nothing but text books to defend herself would really come alone?”
His eyes shifted left, then right, as if expecting someone to jump him at any moment. I pointed towards the dead body.
“What’s that guy’s name?”
The Hobo glared at me.
“Don’t know. No one said I had to know his name.”
“Well don’t you think that’s impolite? To kill someone without even introducing yourself?”
The Hobo’s eyes narrowed.
“You trying to be funny?”
“Nope, I’m just being me. Slightly insufferable, yet lovable all the same.”
He just stared at me for a bit, probably trying to figure out what my game was. I decided it was time to advance my plan to stage two.
“What do you say we make a deal, Mr. Hobo?”
His eyes narrowed into two suspicious slits.
“You help me drag the dead guy to the nearest police station, turn yourself in, and I’ll testify on your behalf that you cooperated to the fullest extent of the law. I’m sure they’ll go easy on you.”
Okay, I never said my plan was a good plan, but it was the best I could come up with on such short notice. The Hobo just stared at me like I was insane. Which I guess was the right thing to do, since I did spend my previous life in a mental ward.
“Are you nuts or somethin’?” he asked. “You want me to turn myself in just like that? Just because some punk little girl told me to?”
“Pretty much!” I replied, grinning. “What do you say? I’ll even write to you in jail to keep your spirits up. We can be pen pals!”
The Hobo stared at me for a full minute, disbelieving. Then he glanced to his side at the corpse. Then at me again. Then at his knife. With a half-smile as if to say ‘why not?’ he charged. Shucks.
I ducked low and sideways, going under his knife arm and butting him in the knee with my head. It hurt. A lot. But he wasn’t expecting such a move and it made him wobble, almost losing his balance.
I shuffled around behind him before he could orient himself and leapt, grabbing him around the neck and bearing down on him with all my weight. I didn’t weigh much, but it was enough to knock him down.
He hit the ground hard and I bore into him with my knees, knocking the breath from him. The impact shook me loose and I rolled to the side, landing in a puddle of water. I heard a growl of anger from the Hobo and felt two rough hands close around my leg.
I went with him instead of away from him, letting him haul me in closer so I could kick him in the head with my other leg. The guy was durable. He took the kick without flinching and pulled me closer, reaching down and placing one giant hand around my head.
That scared me. He was a whole lot stronger than diminutive little me. Prying his hand off my head wouldn’t do much, so I’d have to think of something unexpected. And quick. So I bit his finger. Not the most sanitary move, but it worked. He screamed in pain and let go, giving me enough time to wriggle my hands around his neck and press my fingers into his carotid arteries.
I had a lot of skill at strangling people from my previous life, though in this one I had no intention of killing anyone. However, if I only half strangled him that would be okay. It would be enough to ensure that I didn’t die, and that maybe just maybe I could get through this alive.
He growled and squeezed harder, one of his fingers pressing into my eye. But I had more practice at this then him, and a moment later he let go, instead desperately trying to pry my own hands from around his throat.
His fingernails dug into me and I just hoped he’d remembered to clean them. Last thing I needed was a staph infection. But it was too late. His eyes fluttered and his grip weakened. I had him.
A moment later he collapsed completely. I held on for just a second longer and let go, hoping I hadn’t killed him. Exhausted, I rolled off of him and just lay in the water on my back, sucking in air. Once my breathing steadied a little, I struggled up to my feet and knelt over him, feeling for a pulse. It was there but weak.
Yay. That meant I wasn’t a murderer. Even in self-defense I would have considered it murder. I don’t like killing people. I know that from personal experience. Now I just had to find a way to notify authorities before he woke up and tried to kill me again. Sigh.