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Living on the Streets......
Angel of Mercy Part 3
by Begin Again
| Category: || General Fiction |
Posted:|| April 11, 2010 Views: 242|
The Angel of Mercy's fourth victim lay on a cold slab in the morgue, carefully being attended by Maggie's caring hands.
Jerry and I had spent two hours at the crime scene, another two hours cajoling unresponsive transients, prodding them for any small morsel of information that might lead us to our killer, and came up empty ... nada ... nothing. It appeared as if no one had information or even cared about the gruesome deaths. The general consensus in the bowels of the city was - "It happens!" In my mind, our presence among the homeless made more of a disturbance than our perp.
"Now what?" Steam fogged Jerry's glasses as he raised his cup of brew to his lips. "Another body and we've still got nothing."
Polishing off a jelly doughnut, I carefully licked the remaining strawberry filling from my fingers. "My bet's still on Penwell."
"Oh, my God, Max, you'll be walking a beat again if you don't stop pounding that drum."
"You got anything better?" I watched the veins thicken in Jerry's neck, a red flush crept over his face. I recognized the telltale signs. I'd pushed one too many buttons.
Coffee sloshed over the rim of his mug as he slammed it down on the desk. "You stubborn, pig-headed, son of --"
Saved by the bell. Jerry snatched the telephone receiver and bellowed into it, "Homicide, Slater speaking." A few words from the other end of the line and his tone changed. "Sorry, Maggie. Lack of sleep and my idiotic partner has put me on edge."
The remaining conversation consisted of Jerry nodding his head, muttering an "okay" or "sure", and finally a "thank you." He hung up the phone and slumped into his chair.
"Well, what's up? Did Maggie come up with anything that might help?"
"Seems our latest victim didn't go peacefully. Maggie found skin under her nails." Exasperation was written across his face.
I bolted from my chair, propelling it across the room. "Fantastic!" Grabbing my suit jacket, I headed toward the doorway.
"Mind telling me where you're headed?" Twenty-five years in homicide and he still didn't catch on too fast.
"To Penwell's house, of course. If he's sporting a scratched face, it'll sure prove my point."
"And if he's not?"
"The way I look at it, what have we got to lose?" I tossed Jerry the car keys. "You drive."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Thirty minutes later, our car was parked in front of Penwell's home. Ringing the doorbell, I stood ready to make an arrest - case solved. Maggie's DNA tests on the skin under the victim's nails and Penwell's would match and I'd be strutting around like a peacock.
The door opened and Tom Penwell, dressed in black silk pajama bottoms, stood eye to eye with me. For an "old geezer" pushing 50, he was sporting one heck of a six-pack. His clean shaven face and bare chest were negative for scratch marks.
"Can I help you, gentleman?" His cool baritone voice was clearly edged with irritation.
"Tom, darling, I'm going to grab a quick shower. Care to join --" The familiar voice stopped in mid-sentence.
"We have visitors, Nita."
For the first time in my life, my mouth was open, but nothing would come out. Van Buren stood beside Penwell, wearing the missing half of the black pajama set and nothing else.
Grabbing a sofa blanket from the settee, she covered herself. "Caldwell, Slater, you better have a good explanation for this." In five seconds flat, the chill factor had dropped fifty degrees. Her black eyes blazed with anger.
Jerry was the first to recover. "Well, you see ... our case ... well ... it's going nowhere. Max had this idea ... of going undercover, Lieutenant."
"Is that right?" Jerry wasn't fooling her, but she must have liked the idea. Her cold eyes shifted to me. "So Max, you're volunteering?"
"It was his idea. He said the street people might trust another street person more than any of us. Maybe we could get some kind of lead."
"Sure, why not. Set it up, Jerry. Make sure there's always backup. Just in case, he screws up." A satisfied smile crossed her face. "You just might learn a thing or two, Max."
"But ..." Sweat trickled down my back. Living in alleys wasn't my style.
"Undercover suits you, Max. Most mornings you look like crap anyhow." Smirking, she started to step away and then stopped. "Either of you ever mention today and you'll be walking a beat."
"No worry there, Lieutenant." Jerry pulled my arm and headed toward the car, muttering a string of swear words under his breath. We made the ride back to the precinct in stone silence.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
A stranger peered back at me from my bathroom mirror. Three days of unshaven stubble prickled my face. I jammed a baseball cap over my greasy hair. Instantly, I was transformed from Homicide Detective to homeless transient. My disposition matched my appearance.
For the next week or so, all my worldly possessions would fit inside a colossal, army-green backpack. A pair of well-worn blue jeans, several t-shirts, a sleeping bag, a paperback novel, a small bar of soap, a comb with several teeth missing, and a bottle of rum were the extent of my survival kit.
As the dusk began to settle over the city, Jerry found a quiet side street about five blocks from the Catholic Charities Mission. After rechecking the wire strapped to my chest, I pulled the backpack from the car, took a deep breath, and started my journey across Palisades Park.
Halfway through the popular recreational spot, the army bag was already getting the best of me. Finding the nearest park bench, I collapsed, gasping for air. Directly across from me, two small children played on the grass while their mother sat on the bench, My first sense of society's rejection came quickly. Grabbing up their belongs, while stealing furtive looks in my direction, the woman scooped up the tikes and hurried away. I'd become an outcast.
Several people in business attire hurried past me, clutching their attache cases. One white-haired lady pressed two crumpled dollar bills into my hand and pointed toward a street vendor. "Get a hotdog, son. It'll last longer than booze." Before I could answer, she shuffled down the path.
Fifteen minutes later, I stepped inside the dimly lit, decaying foyer of the Mission. I approached the desk.
"Tommy!" the elderly man boomed over his left shoulder to his unseen co-worker. "Got a new one."
Tommy, a pock-faced teenager with headphones growing out of his ears, appeared from the back room and led me to a flight of stairs.
Halfway up, he stopped and stood studying me. "Any history of mental illness?" he politely inquired.
There were times I knew the Lieutenant would have asked me to reconsider my answer, but since I was alone, I merely shook my head, mumbling, "Naw."
"Been homeless before?"
Apparently satisfied, he continued to the top, opened a cabinet, and handed me my bedding, consisting of a beige sheet and a raggedy lime green blanket.
"All right, you're all set," he said. "Take the elevator to the third floor. Your bed is number 119. Next door, the soup kitchen serves a free hot meal at 6 o'clock every night. Not the Ritz, but it's food."
I nodded and he hurried down the stairs.
The elevator doors opened to reveal one of the saddest slumber parties I'd ever seen. Rows of cots, positioned two feet apart, filled the room. As I worked my way down the crowded eyes and the maze of dangling limbs, the stench forced me to cover my nose. The disgusting smell was vaguely familiar. Not like mom's cooking, but more like hundreds of men in need of a shower and a bar of soap.
At six o'clock, I trudged off in the direction of the soup kitchen. My stomach was screaming, demanding food. I arrived to find a line of people stretching from the soup kitchen doors down the block. I estimated about seventy five people stood waiting: meth-weathered faces, fidgety crack heads, desperate women with small children, twenty-somethings, and the very old. Homelessness did not discriminate.
My first meal on the street consisted of goulash, mixed vegetables, a burnt breadstick and a plain cake donut for dessert. People guarded their trays, leery if anyone moved close. I quickly discovered, on the street, few trusted anyone, and especially with food or any means of survival.
A priest moved from table to table, offering blessings, sharing a bit of small talk, and then moving on. The people seemed to cling to his comforting words; a few even smiled and thanked him. When he noticed caked blood on a young man's shirt, he asked to see the wound. Satisfied it was a shallow cut, he moved on to another table. In my mind, I labeled the priest as one of the few who really cared.
My first night on the streets and I already had learned more than I cared to share in a lifetime.
Thank you Agnes for providing the artwork for my story.
and 2 member cents.
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