David “Downtown” Brown held his lighter to the pipe he'd fashioned of aluminum foil and the empty carapace of a highlighter. He had made it in two parts, first removing the dried highlighter cartridge with a pair of rusted pliers and then burning a hole near the back end of the canister with his lighter, then shaping a square swath of foil into a bowl around his thumb and delicately punching a series of narrow pinholes into the bottom; He then set the punctured foil into the basin of the highlighter carcass. He pulled a rose-yellow crystal from the 1-inch ziploc bag he'd hid in his shoe, which he then placed into the makeshift pipe. The substance arced and crackled and melted and the acrid smoke – which smelled like burnt plastic and sour milk – filled his lungs.
He sat on an old area rug, matted and stained almost black, that had once been intricately patterned with gold and navy squares. The room's drywall was smashed outright, and all former wiring and plumbing had long since been stripped. It was down to the studs, and Downtown Brown was reminded of the little cicada exoskeletons that he'd found and collected in the summers as a child. The rest of the warehouse had stone walls and steel pillars and hard concrete floors, and the shards of broken windows lie unswept, but this little foreman's office bore the nuances of comfort that Downtown desired. It had a window looking out to the open factory floor and a thinly-paneled wooden door. It had a small desk in the corner that had been rifled through and all was looted but the pages of a brochure from a convention on industrial processes. Downtown knew this sort of shelter was unequaled for a man of his nature and devised to hustle his belongings over and craft his new nest before fall weather struck him dumb.
The warehouse sat in plain view of the freeway, and its lone drive ran parallel on the far side of a moderately busy on-ramp, the drive obscured by overgrown honeysuckle. He'd learned of it from his cellmate up in County. When the old city jail was condemned for destruction they'd moved its residents up north while construction on the new lock-up began. Dizzy From City-Jail replaced Downtown's cellmate upon his release, and Dizzy From City-Jail knew many things, namely the location of this paradise by the freeway. “It's right down the way from the city jail. Five minutes walking!” Dizzy From City-Jail had said, “it's the spot.”
Downtown's camp was set up under the Park Street Bridge and it would take him the rest of the afternoon to get back there to gather his things. He started immediately.
The September sun sat low in the sky and stared right into Downtown's eyes. He stared at his feet and aimed his stumbling gait towards the shade of buildings on the far sidewalk. The trees planted on the sidewalk had millions of tiny leaves that were all slowly turning pale green and even some yellow and they danced in his periphery. The bark was gray and sharp tines grew from the branches but Downtown grabbed for them anyway, enamored with their colors. He held them before him against the sky and noticed the gray stormhead coming from the south. He had to continue several miles west past the stadium and the arena before sneaking northeast through the Hill District and around the city park to get to his hideout.
He'd been so fond of Dizzy From City-Jail. Their first day as cellmates they'd shared a small bit of cocaine and told stories to one another about Outside. Dizzy was locked up for aggravated robbery – he'd popped out of an alley and popped a drunk boy in the mouth then took his wallet – and he got five years. Dizzy could never quit stealing. He took small shit from Downtown but Downtown didn't worry because he could always count on Dizzy for a high. Downtown himself had been in and out on possession charges and one ten month stretch for breaking into a car to sleep on a snowy Christmas night.
Traffic was heavy ahead at a big intersection and Downtown saw a boy in camo shorts with one arm holding a sign and collecting money from the cars. The boy had a young man's incomplete beard and an intentional dirt stain under his cheek. Downtown crossed over to him and the boy watched him with dull eyes, gray eyes like a donkey's and the grimace the boy wore looked affected as if his brain had been stirred by shocks, and the boy hesitated unknowingly as to how to react to Downtown's quickening approach – whether to call out or to stand his ground or to pray he simply passed by – and Downtown with a quick hand stole the boy's sign and smacked him hard across the face; one of the nearby cars honked cheerfully and another containing a balding man wound the window down and shouted in the boy's defense only to see the light change and his window went up as he rolled through and onto the highway. The boy, with his stubborn mule eyes, gracelessly called for support from the cars as they rolled to a stop but none of them had seen the exchange clearly and saw the cripple shouting at Downtown, who quietly held a corrugated sign reading: “Veteren, homeless. Bless you.” The armless cripple continued his verbal assault as he crossed the intersection but his size and his arm left him powerless against Downtown, who's daring look was too challenging for the boy. Downtown was collecting money from one out of four cars, including nice foreign imports. Before long he had forty dollars.
Maybe he'd buy himself a sleeping bag or a cot with his forty dollars and put it in the foreman's office and spend the winter in that little paradise. He'd have his desk and his cot and he'd try to read that brochure over and over until he understood it and maybe he could find an old charcoal grill to cook real groceries over. His mother had always bought chicken thighs and barbecue sauce and cooked them over flame. A young man with a beard rolled his window down and asked Downtown the unit he'd served in and Downtown looked at him in a stupor and said, “What?”
“What unit did you serve in?” “Don't know.” “That's what I thought,” the man said, his wife pulled on his sleeve and begged him to wind the window up but he continued, “pretender, begging for money on false premise.” Downtown paused. “I need a dollar for the bus man you got a dollar?” The wife had reached across the young man's lap and was manually winding the window up and the man's accusations were drowned out. The man drove away. Downtown waited for some time but no one offered generosity so he took to walking to cars and tapping on windows. “Spare some change?” he'd ask, or “Got a dollar?” The sky was getting dark and the sun was thinking about setting and a strong cold breeze was moving in. “Gimme a dollar. I gotta get under before that rain. Got some change?”
Money didn't matter in the cut. Dizzy From City-Jail got locked up most winter times, weren't afraid of it. Got his food, got his bed. One night Dizzy was talking about ass – he'd had this girl he called Astroglide Allison who would do anything for a little coke – how much he missed getting blowjobs. He'd been in about three of his five at this point, and he said he'd do anything, anything, to get that real-life feeling again.
An hour trek stood ahead of Downtown, but that storm grew ever closer. Lighting flashed across the river's southern end and the wind was smacking garbage cans up and down the streets. Streetlights and signs mounted by fibrous steel wires swung precariously back and forth. A light mist slapped into Downtown like a thousand little pin-pricks and before long it was a monsoon. Rain was sitting six inches deep on the streets, the loose trash from upended cans quickly blocking sewage grates. Downtown's shoes, already worn full of holes, squished and farted as he stepped.
Dizzy From City-Jail had asked him if he'd ever been blown by a dude before.
There was a cardboard box and a milk crate under the Park Street Bridge, tucked away behind a concrete pillar on the western side of the bridge's undercarriage. There were two blankets, a pair of dice, two left-handed gloves, and a set of worn coveralls he'd deftly stolen from a work truck in the spring. The bridge was quiet and in the darkest corner of a nice part of town and he had stayed there knowing that he'd be alright if he kept to his shadows. He didn't steal or panhandle nearby, and his belongings looked no different from the normal trash the wind blew into the hillside brush along roadways – this allowed him to operate in comfort and solitude away from the rest and if he could simply get there he would stay there one last night before entering the green grass of the otherside.
“Think about it man. Nine months. Nine! Nine more months 'til you clear,” said Dizzy From City-Jail, “Ain't like nobody watching.”
Downtown huddled up under a steakhouse awning along the riverside road. The power had gone out down the whole street. The valet men that usually chased Downtown out were hidden away in European cars and as restaurant patrons sneaked out front for cigarettes and light several mistook Downtown for a valet man because of his black-on-black attire. A tall old man with narrow shoulders and an uncharacteristically broad gut spoke to Downtown, and his bow-tie quivered with the depth of his voice, “I won't pay for a cold steak in a dark restaurant. Your boss is a conniving shit.”
“Hell yeah he is,” said Downtown. “Here's twenty. Will you get my car?” “Yessir.” “Porsche 911. Gray. I've got the ticket here somewhere,” he said. “Give him forty, honey, it's pouring,” said the man's wife.
Downtown took the money and ran out into the downpour and threw the valet receipt into a stormdrain.
Tree limbs were being cast about like ships in loss of Poseidon's grace, they littered the street and cars with wiperblades smack-smack-smacking without pause had to navigate them slowly and even then several ended with popped tires. Downtown pocketed the forty and ran off into the ricocheting mist the bullets of rain left following impact.
He'd been wiped off the cocaine more than he'd expected and when Dizzy had undone his button-fly he'd felt stunned. He remembered drooling a bit and not much else. This wasn't unheard of in prison. Most guys went with it, he expected. He wasn't serving that long a term, hisself, but shit, nine months is long by any stretch.
When Downtown reached the last intersection before his ascent he prayed. He was soaked to an inner core he hadn't prior known to exist. He'd never been so cold. He stiffened his ruined feet and marched uphill and as he neared the underside of the Park Street Bridge he saw the cardboard box he'd stuffed his blankets in had blown loose in the wind and flapped now in the gutter. The blankets weren't in it, and he rejoiced that they at least were dry under the protection of the bridge. He rushed to get under the bridge and to spend his final night underneath and then recognized that his milk crate had been emptied of the coveralls as well. Downtown huddled in his soaked clothes, lying with his back propped against the corner joint of the bridge's foundation, thinking about his foreman's office, and if it would be uninhabited still when he returned in the morning.
He thought too – about Dizzy and his light fingers – while the rain poured outside the protective shell of the bridge, about how Dizzy had sneaked into another's cell before lunch and stolen his little baggie of weed. The wind blew hard and randomly, and it reached Downtown regardless where he cowered. He had smoked that bit of stale weed with Dizzy and their neighbor had ratted them to the thief's victim, who was a connected man. Shortly before Downtown's release, Dizzy was grabbed in front of their cell by a big man who held him and his smaller companion stuck him near a hundred times with the shaved end of a toothbrush while the big man dug his fingers into the wounds and ripped them further. Dizzy died on the floor of the cellblock as an alarm rang and Downtown cried in silence, as guardsmen swarmed the area as the men casually skirted away and Downtown has seen this image forever and as he reached into his sock for the remaining rock he cursed the foreman's office with its windows and its solitude and he cried.