Saffron [Part I]
“I’ve grown a five o’clock shadow from just listening to you nag.”
There was nothing more utterly insipid than watching ice melt in winter. It was much worse than watching paint dry in spring but in situations like these it was a necessity.
It was boring moments like this one that made me wish I had a watch—at least then I’d have something more appealing to look at as I waited—but lucky for me I never needed one to know that I was running out of time.
I had less than twenty-two minutes left and this pan of ice didn’t seem like it was going anywhere.
“Kayden!” a familiar voice hollered from behind me.
“Frank,” I greeted back, turning my waist slightly so I caught sight of the man as he lumbered into the narrow alley, trash bags in hand.
“I thought you wouldn’t be back; thought you had finally abandoned me,” Frank scratched at his beard with his free hand then rubbed his belly as he walked towards me. “Have you?”
“I’m here now, aren’t I?” I returned my gaze to the melting ice. Sometimes watching it bullied it into heating up faster, though Frank would never believe me.
“Oh sorry, I didn’t get to read the note that you didn’t leave me.” He settled on the heap of cardboard and washed rags piled on the wall opposite me. “So where have you been these twenty four hours?”
“Out,” I tilted the pan to one side to let the part that had already melted warm the rest. “And it hasn’t been twenty four hours yet.”
“I left just before midnight and that was the last I saw of you,” Frank took a pocket watch out of his jacket. “It’s a quarter to ten now. So what have you been doing for approximately twenty-one hours and forty-five minutes?”
Before I could say anything, he added, “And don’t give me any bullshit about sightseeing or visiting friends. We both know you prefer to spend your days wallowing in despair.”
“And don’t you dare lie and tell me that you were on a run,” he blustered, the pocket watch swinging lightly by its chain, “because guess who showed up at 4am on a freezing Saturday morning inquiring about your whereabouts?”
“Frank, I really—”
“That’s right,” he snarled. “Ron—effing—Cisco. When they couldn’t get in touch with you, they came looking for me and of course I didn’t know nothing so they politely told me to inform them the moment I laid eyes on your sorry ass. . . So what sort of trouble are we looking at?”
“The shitload you’ve gotten yourself into.”
“I’m not in any—”
“Really? Because Ron Cisco doesn’t make personal visits for no reason, and anyone who runs for the Cisco’s can’t stay out of trouble for long,” he banged his fist on his prosthetic leg. “Take it from someone who’s been there.”
“Well, I stay out of trouble. I don’t know anything worth killing for,” I fixed a grin on my lips. “And I’m getting out soon.”
“No one gets out.”
"I am,” I got to my feet and turned to face him. “I need to borrow your knife. I’ve grown a five o’clock shadow from just listening to you nag.”
“You know I love you like my own son.”
“You know—” I wanted to say but my sentence was cut short when I had to dodge the knife as it whizzed past my cheek and imbedded itself into the wall behind me.
“Sure,” I told him instead as I wrapped my fingers around the hilt of the blade, “but you don’t need to worry so much.”
“Want me to do that for you? You’ve not had the steadiest hands of recent.”
“It’s just the jitters,” I yanked the knife out of the wall and tested the sharpness of its edges with my thumb, “I’ll be fine today.”
“I believe you. Your eyes don’t look so dead today, so I’m not afraid of you trying to kill yourself,” Frank clicked his tongue to punctuate his rare breed of humor. “I went to the store, bought that horrid coffee that you like. It’s in your flask, by the way.”
“Have I ever told you how much I appreciate you?”
“Never, unless you were on something,” he looked at me intently as he combed his fingers through his thick brown beard. “Are you?”
“Nope,” I squatted in front of the pan again and grabbed the thermos flask out of the wet cardboard box behind it.
“You sure?” Frank asked as I poured the still-steaming coffee into the cup that doubled as the flask’s cover.
I took a sip then placed the cup in the pan of ice before answering. “I think I would know if I was on something.”
“I would have thought the same if you didn’t suddenly go MIA yesterday.”
“Really Frank,” I dipped the knife into the water in the pan then held it up to my jaw, “can’t you just accept that I’ve finally found something to do with my free time?”
“No,” he said emphatically, “I cannot. And where’s your scarf?”
“Your scarf. The big grey blanket that you hang around you neck and never let anyone else touch since the moment you finally finished knitting it.”
“Ah,” I hummed as I scraped the stray hairs sprouting out the left side of my cheek with the blade, “you are overexaggerating.”
“I am not. You are absolutely obsessive with that thing, so where is it?”
“I gave it out—”
“Even a toddler wouldn’t—”
“—to someone who needs it more.”
“—believe the bull you’re spitting.”
“We are the most homeless homeless people in this city,” Frank said. “If there’s anybody who needs a scarf more in the dead of winter, they are already dead. You should have given it to me, kid.”
“Are you on something, Frank? Never knew my scarf meant so much to you.” I jerked my head back to catch the sour expression I knew was spreading all over his face but forgot that I was still holding the knife and accidentally cut myself.
Frank caught sight of it immediately and flashed me a knowing grin.
I dropped the knife back into the pan and scooped up my cup of coffee. Frank was only capable of making burnt coffee: bitter and scalding. The first time he offered me a mug of the stuff, it nearly seared my tongue off but now it had grown on me to the point where I couldn’t bring myself to drink any other type of coffee.
It was the only thing that could wake me up in the morning and keep me up for the rest of the day.
"This,” I pressed my thumb into the bloodless nick, “doesn’t count. I was already done shaving when it happened.”
“Sure,” Frank rolled his eyes and hit some feeling into his thighs. I didn’t need him to say it to know that he was freezing. “Just let me do it for you next time, kid.”
“By the way,” I splashed some of the melted ice on my face and wiped it off with the sleeve of my jacket. “I need more yarn.”
“Want to knit another scarf? We’ve got a lot—”
“I want another color—colors,” I told him and shrugged off my jacket.
“You know that’s impossible,” Frank sighed and accepted the extra layer of clothing with a smile, slipping my jacket over the one he already wore. “A motley ball of grey yarn, sure. But I can’t get you colors that people like, not for free at least.”
“I expected that,” I said and threw him the roll of ten dollar bills I had gotten out of my back pocket.
After he was done counting money, he looked up at me in surprise. “Are you sure that you aren’t on something? Since when did you spend money, Mr Thrift? And where on earth did you get that shirt from?”
“I’m clean, Frank. I got a job today and a friend gave me this shirt.”
“Are you giving it back? A job job? Are you sure?”
“No,” I sighed. “And yes, it’s a real job. No alcohol; no cancer sticks; nothing snuffed and nothing injected. I’m as clean as the day I was born.”
“Well,” he tucked the money into a pocket on the inside of his jacket. “What colors do you need?”
I smiled at the question, my thoughts drifting back to Olly’s expression when I told him I could make friendship bracelets. “Blue and pink.”
“Consider it done,” Frank slapped his chest. “Any deadlines?”
“I need them by at least Tuesday evening,” I told him.
“I meant today, you dimwit,” he snapped. “Ron said you had a meeting with them today and if you didn’t show they were you to come pay me another visit.”
“Oh,” I took a closer look at his pocket watch. “I have eleven minutes.”
“That’s good, you still have enough time to change that shirt and still make it in time,” he said.
I looked down at my chest then raised my gaze until it settled in him again. “Why?”
“You wouldn’t want blood getting on it when Ron Cisco beats you over the head with their stilettos, would you?” he asked with a wide grin then leaned over one of the trash bags. “I got your laundry from the boys today, so you’re in luck.”
“Did you pay them?”
“Of course,” he threw one of my black shirts my way. It looked so much like all the others I owned that I couldn’t tell which one it was, and that was a good thing because I knew that one of them had been doused with enough blood that the stains had gotten visible. The fact that this shirt wasn’t it, made it a good choice to see Ron in.
“Did you rip them off?” I rephrased the question and carefully pulled Olly’s shirt over my head.
“I’m teaching them street smarts,” Frank said in his defense.
When I was done folding the pink shirt, I placed it in the only layer of my backpack I was absolutely sure didn’t have any dirt then zipped it up. I might not be returning it but I didn’t want to have to was it anytime soon.
I pulled on the new T-shirt then turned back to Frank. “After you buy the yarn, give them the change.”
“I’ll give you more money later,” I told him before he could interrupt me. “I have a job now, remember?”
Frank grinned happily and slapped his thigh so hard that he winced afterwards. “Have I told you how much I appreciate you?”
“No,” I shook my head and pulled my hair free from its top knot. “And you never will, old man.”