GM - Story #7

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Chapter 10

Winona laid out her extra pair of underwear, her hairbrush, a pair of ratty boots, a ruffled skirt, a beige tank top that used to be white and a tattered t-shirt. Her plastic bag, filled with about 50 cans and bottles, rattled as she tossed her few belongings on top of her haul. The cans crunched as she threw in the heavy boots.

Cliff stood by the troll, watching for Hutch and Peters’ cruiser. He could hear the troll’s voice sneer at him, but the urgency of staying out of view from the roving police distracted him from the vision.

“The streets are quiet,” he called to Winona. “Let’s get moving.”

They scrambled down 36th to Woodland Park and turned up the hill, following the same route they took to get to Fortunato’s Pizzeria. They passed the laundromat where the shop owner had threatened them with a broom. A woman and her daughter, walking toward them, quickly crossed the street to avoid passing near them. A man walking his dog brushed by them, tugging at the animal to pace down the street.

A few cars passed. Cliff heard distant sirens from over a ridge up the hill.

“We have to get off the street,” he said.

“We can’t go too far from the Aurora,” she said. “The organic market’s the only place that pays for cans. We have to figure out how to get there and back without getting caught.”

Winona led him to an alley between a coffee shop and a record store. At the back of the alley, a damaged fence lay half destroyed against the brick exterior of the coffee shop. They walked through the narrow gap between the shop and the businesses facing the opposite direction on Stone Way. The narrow channel between the building opened and an uneven cobblestone patio stretched between a long row of apartment buildings. The space opened into a hidden patio between the back doors of the apartments. Each unit had a sliding glass door and small sitting area. Some had chairs, small round tables and even recliners.

Thin birch and blue spruce trees decorated one of the patio areas. Another featured potted magnolia. The three-story apartment cast shadows across the canyon and obscured the sound of the traffic.

“We can hang here for a bit,” Winona said. “Until the afternoon when everyone come home from work. It’s all, young couples with jobs living here. We got til five or six.”

Winona found a padded recliner chair next to one of the units and flopped. Her plastic bag rattled and clanked as it settled at her feet. Cliff hesitated, looking at the second and third story balconies for signs of residents. Satisfied they were alone in the alley, he took the recliner next to Winona and laid his head back on the pillow.

“Imagine sleeping on this shit every night?” Winona sighed. “I’d be two inches taller.”

“I miss sleeping on an actual mattress,” Cliff said.

“Me too,” Winona replied. “Ain’t nothing so sweet as sinking in and feeling those coils hold your back like a set of hands. You think we could get in the building and get some sleep, in style?”

“We’re going to get off the streets,” Cliff said. “But not by breaking, entering or stealing.”

“Right,” Winona scoffed. “You’re high.”

“We don’t need pissed-off homeowners kicking us around and punching out our teeth. You heard Duff. He’ll never get his back again. We need to be smart. We can do it the right way.”

“You’re higher than those two skanks passed out under the bridge,” Winona sassed. “Crazy-ass idiot, you ain’t never getting off the streets.”

Cliff paused. He shifted on the recliner and turned to face Winona.

“How many cans did you collect this morning?” he asked her.

“Like 100,” she answered. “Plus, I got about 50 or 60 in the bag right now. When it gets dark and the owners of the apartment come back, we can risk hitting the grocery store up by Alex’s apartment.”

“Ok, so that’s like ten bucks,” Cliff said. “But we only looked for an hour or so.”

“We had a pretty busy day,” Winona mused, kicking her feet onto the recliner and arching her hands behind her neck.

“Let’s say we could collect eight bucks an hour each,” Cliff said. “That’s 16 bucks each. We do that, say six hours a day. Leave an hour for lugging them over to the market maybe three different times, we could be in for nearly $100 bucks a day.”

“I ain’t looking for cans six hours a day,” Winona said. “You crazy? One hour in the morning gets me something to eat for lunch, and I’m good to go. I don’t need $100 bucks and I sure as hell ain’t wasting my whole day lugging cans all over the city.”

“How about four hours a day.” Cliff continued. “That’s a half day’s work. We take scraps from your son at the pizza place at night. And pocket like $60 bucks a day.”

“Too much of a pain in the ass,” Winona said. “If I wanted to work my tits off, I’d be in one of them offices in that building by the channel.”

“Figure, $50 dollars a day comes to $350 bucks a week,” said Cliff. “You need new socks, another jacket for the winter, another pair of boots to replace those ones you’ve got in the bag with the holes in them, you could probably afford to buy what you need.”

“I could sure go for a couple dozen pairs of underwear,” Winona mused. “These weren’t brown when I first got them.”

“For $30 bucks, you can stay in one of those hostels and sleep on an actual mattress just like these,” he continued. “Even better, with springs and clean sheets.”

“Oh, God,” Winona almost purred. “To wear a bra again.”

“There you go,” Cliff encouraged her.

“It sounds tempting,” she said. “But I got my sleeping bag for free.”

“If we can agree on a plan, put in some hours, we could start to save enough money to clean up and buy nicer clothes. Maybe one of us could get a job, like at the Dunkin Donuts cleaning up or something.”

“I like sleeping half the day,” she said. “How about you collect cans for six hours and I collect for one or two?”

Cliff rubbed his forehead and stared at the slats over his head from the wooden deck above the terrace.

“Ok, give me two hours and you got a deal,” he said.

“Serious?”

“Sure,” he smiled. “Why not?”

“And we split the money even?”

“If that’s what it takes to get you motivated to join me, then yes. I’ll work six hours and you work two. We’ll split the profits evenly.”

“You got a deal, suckah,” Winona laughed. “And, you were a business man? Making thousands of dollars a year? No wonder you’re a bum now.”

Cliff closed his eyes and felt the breeze brush through the gap between the buildings. After a few minutes of relaxation, his stomach tensed as Winona reached under his shirt and unbuttoned his jeans. The next half hour blurred by as he held her back tightly and she flailed on top of him.

As they lay in their post-coital melt, soundly asleep in exhaustion, the porch light suddenly flicked on and an angry voice jolted them awake.

“Get the hell off my porch,” a heavyset, middle-aged women in a business suit screamed at them. “I’m calling the cops.”

In a frantic rush, Cliff hoisted his pants and Winona grabbed their bag of cans and spare clothes. They bolted through the winding alley between the buildings and exited the complex into the street. They barely had time to cast their wary gaze up and down, instead, running clumsily across the road and up North Stone Ave., cutting across 41st street and hiding in the doorway to a church on Woodlawn.

“We need to stop and rest,” Winona complained. “My feet are killing me. My legs are like Jello right now. I ain’t run like that in years. I need to lay down.”

“We’ve got to dump the cans,” Cliff said, catching his breath. “They’re slowing us down.”

“You’re the one who wants to make all this money,” Winona panted. “I got my spare underwear in there, which I need to change soon. You got these ones all wet.”

They ventured to the back of the church by the garbage dumpster and sat in the shade of a hedge between the rear of the building by the parking lot, adjacent to a play park. Cliff emptied Winona’s clothes from the bag and handed her a pair of her underwear. In semi-plain-sight, she peeled the old pair out from under the sundress that Kipp gave her and replaced the dirty pair with the new pair, which didn’t look any cleaner to Cliff. A giant bag of empty wine, beer and soda cans sat next to the metal dumpster. Both Cliff and Winona filled their bag as high as they could and piled both their full bag and the bag from the church neatly against the side of the dumpster.

“Jackpot,” Winona said, smacking Cliff on the back.

“You know,” Cliff said. “We’re in Wallingford, and I’m pretty sure this church is where the shelter is. I think that light in the basement window is where you go. Maybe we should crash here for the night?”

At Cliff’s suggestion, Winona bristled and turned her back.

“What?” Cliff asked. “You don’t want to sleep on a nice mattress?”

“I don’t do shelters,” she huffed.

“Why the hell not?”

“I got my reasons.”

They both hushed at the view of a sleek black and grey police cruiser, moving slowly into view. The faded dusk sun glinted off the windshield as it crept up the church driveway toward the playground parking lot. Cliff and Winona moved closer to the hedge and blended into the leaves as if part of the foliage.

As the car rolled by in slow motion, they could make out the beady eyes of officer Peters and the fat, flabby face of their nemesis, Hutch. The car stopped on the other side of the hedge. They could hear the officers, but not see them. The two doors opened and then slammed shut. In the reflection of the church window, Cliff could see the black-clad shadows walk along the edge of the playground. They inspected the tennis courts and peered through all the apparatus on the playground. They split apart and officer Hutch descended the stairs to the basement door, disappearing into the building as Peters pulled out a flashlight and inspected the grounds of the playground.

Cliff put his hand across Winona’s chest and lightly nudged her to seep deeper into the hedge between the trunks of the trees. A beam of light roved the area where Winona had just finished changing her underwear. Their black bag sat on the pavement, adjacent to the Church’s garbage container.

Cliff felt the light cross right by his nose, buried deep into the middle of the hedge. The door to the shelter closed and Hutch emerged from the basement of the church.

“See anyone?” Hutch called to his partner. “They’re not inside.”

“Nah, nothing,” Peters replied.

“The call came from an apartment on Woodlawn,” Hutch said, as Peters vacated the area behind the hedge and returned to the car in the parking lot. “We should try the elementary school on 39th. Plenty of little places in that playground for them to hide.”

The two doors opened and slammed closed and the police car sped out of the parking lot back onto the streets of Northwest Seattle.

“Damn,” Winona exhaled as she slowly eased out from within the confines of the hedge. “I might need another pair of underwear after that.”

Cliff gathered the bag of cans and rolled Winona’s spare clothing into a ball inside her jacket.

“We should stay here tonight,” Cliff said. “I think it’s the only safe place to sleep.”

Winona scrunched her face in disgust.

“I got bad memories,” she said. “Plus, we got all these cans. We can’t bring them in there. They’ll all get stolen. This place is packed with desperate losers.”

“We need to trade them in.”

“With them two maniacs out there looking for us? No thanks,” Winona said. “Plus, I can’t walk nowhere else. We either sleep out here, or, I guess we gotta go in there.”

“We can get a cot and a decent meal,” Cliff argued. “It’s the best choice we have.”

“What about the cans?” Winona asked.

Cliff looked over his shoulder toward the bay. Winona’s round, curly hair eclipsed the streetlight, giving her a penumbra halo.

“I’ll run them down to the store,” Cliff said. “I feel fine. It’s getting dark and they’re up by the school on 39th. I can cut down Densmore to 35th or 34th and walk along the water over to the back side of Fremont. It’ll be the first ten bucks of our new partnership.”

“60 vans in one bag,” Winona said. “Another 50 in the other. It’s not worth the five bucks.”

“It’s dark,” Cliff said. “I’ll stay off the main roads. We’ll get you some fresh new underwear tomorrow.”

Winona looked at him, worried. He moved toward her. He caught the sides of her mouth, lit by a combination of the silver moon and the orange streetlight. Her eyes flared and she twitched into a half-smile as he approached. With his warm hand along the side of her cheek, he leaned in and gave her a soft kiss. After his lips brushed hers, he looked her in the eyes and told her he’d look forward to sharing a cot with her when he returned.

“Ok,” Winona said. “Just don’t leave me alone here overnight. These places give me the creeps.”

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