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Deep in the bowels - They're still people...
Angel of Mercy Part 4
by Begin Again
| Category: || General Fiction |
Posted:|| April 13, 2010 Views: 215|
I no longer felt like a cop, or a decent human being for that matter. Having roamed the streets for five days, attempting with little success to sleep amongst the sour odor of the masses, and agonizing over the painful gnawing of my empty stomach, I knew the answers weren't to be found inside the mission.
Gathering my few precious belongings, I warily maneuvered my sleep-deprived frame through the sea of snoring bodies and stumbled outside into the crisp, morning air. Spontaneously, my lungs inhaled, desperately trying to replace the stagnant muck they'd been breathing for eight hours. Gagging and choking, I leaned against a light post, spitting bits of slime into the street.
Maybe he is doing them a favor.
As quickly as the thought popped into my weary mind, I shoved it aside. My chosen career was to protect everyone, regardless of their station in life. The so-called Angel of Mercy had no right to decide who lived and who died. It was my job to find him and bring his killing spree to an end.
First, I needed a quiet place to rest. Placing one heavy foot in front of the other, I staggered down the sidewalk in search of my sanctuary, a small neighborhood chapel. The ringing bells in the tiny steeple surprised me -- I'd forgotten it was Sunday.
Inside the candlelit chapel, the Mass had begun. Thoughts of free bread and wine enticed me through the doors. I slipped into a corner pew in the last row, praying no one would notice me.
Still a detective at heart, my eyes scanned the perimeters, familiarizing myself with the chapel. A white-haired priest offered a prayer over his small flock as they knelt, heads bowed. My eyes met those of a young child, peering over the back of a pew, several rows in front of me. His gaping mouth spoke volumes as to how much I looked the down-and-out bum. I quickly turned away, feeling like some sort of monster.
I leaned forward and rested my arm on the back of a pew. Within seconds, my tattered coat became a cushion for my head, and I drifted into a blissful slumber until the sounds of shuffling feet from the departing congregation signaled the end of the service.
I'd missed Communion and my anticipated breakfast.
Slipping through a side door to avoid prying eyes, I found myself in a small garden surrounded by blooming lilac bushes, an oasis in the center of poverty. Two angels stood guard over a small pond. A waterfall spilling over the rocks added tranquility to the peaceful setting. As I moved toward the gate, I realized I wasn't alone. A man, wearing a dark suit, was partially hidden in an alcove. He raised his head from the book he'd been reading, and our eyes met for a moment. Closing his book, he stood, crisply nodded and disappeared behind the row of lilacs.
My growling stomach took precedence over the stranger, and I left the garden in search of some much needed nourishment. To my surprise and relief, a car horn blared as I stepped onto the sidewalk. The familiar sight warmed my soul.
Assured that the area was deserted, I hastened my step toward the car. The door swung open as I approached and the smell of warm cinnamon rolls, breakfast sandwiches, and steaming coffee assaulted my senses. Tossing my backpack in the rear, I jumped into the front seat of my God-sent-Cafe-on-Wheels. My prayers were answered.
"Jerry, I could kiss you." The sight of my partner's face was pure heaven, and trust me, I hadn't ever thought of him in that light before now.
"You do and I'm out of here, breakfast and all." He laughed and handed me the McDonald's bag. The aroma screamed, 'Eat me! Eat me!'
The first sausage sandwich disappeared before Jerry had the car in gear. As I chomped on the second one, gulping fresh brewed coffee in-between, my partner quickly filled me in on the current status at the precinct.
"You look like crap, Max." Jerry cracked open the side window. "Your current cologne leaves a lot to be desired, too."
"Any time you want to change places, feel free to speak up, pal." I wiped my mouth on my sleeve, and then shamefully remembered, most people used napkins.
"Van Buren is hounding me for information. Talon, some squirt of a reporter at the Journal, has been plastering the plight all over the newspaper every day. His slant makes this guy sound like he's doing the city a favor, removing the vermin."
"Great! All we need is a cheering section for our guy and the killings could really escalate."
"Got anything yet?" Jerry had driven to a secluded residential area and parked.
"The clientele in the mission are beginners. They keep to themselves, mostly afraid to talk with anyone." I swallowed the last of my coffee. "The way I see it, I'm going to have to really rough it if I want to find this guy."
What's your next move then?"
"Guess I'll see if I can set up somewhere around the I-294 overpass near Lexington."
Jerry shoved his half-eaten cinnamon roll back into the box and started the car. My mouth was salivating. "You gonna finish eating that?" I pointed at the discarded container.
"Help yourself." He no sooner offered than I accepted.
Ten minutes later, after profusely thanking him, I was back on the street, hiking along one of the seedier sections of town. An abandoned automotive factory hugged the shoulders of the Rock River and dozens of giant cement pillars supported a myriad of on/off ramps and expansions of four-lane highways. Several abandoned cars, stripped of any value and vandalized, sat like discarded corpses amidst the uncut grass and weeds. A discarded tennis shoe, a teddy bear minus half its stuffing, and trash littered the area. On a slanted concrete slab near the floor of the freeway, lay a frayed mattress. A woman and two small children huddled together on it.
At second glance, I could see weathered faces and pairs of eyes from inside the cars, a roof sheltering them from the elements. The thump-thump of tires directly above echoed like native drums. Choosing a spot near the base of one of the columns, I dropped my back pack to the ground. This would be my sleeping quarters. Spreading out my sleeping bag, I crawled inside, hoping to get enough sleep before darkness claimed the day. I would need to be alert, to learn the ins and outs of living on the street.
* * * * * ** * *** ** *
Pure exhaustion claimed my body and I succumbed to sleep. It was dark and someone had built a fire, clear of all the dried weeds and branches. Numerous men, women and children huddled around, warming their aching bones. I climbed out from my sleeping bag, stretched and inhaled the night air. Silent alarms were triggered in my stomach and head. The aroma of food wafted past my nose. A loud rumbling echoed in response. It'd been a good twelve hours since my breakfast repast. Casually surveying my surroundings, I looked for the source of my agony.
A scruffy young man sat a few feet away, enjoying a hamburger. The unruly mop of red hair and cocked smile brought Raggedy Andy to mind. My stare triggered a look of his own.
"Don't be thinkin' ya can get your grubby paws on me sandwich, mate. I might be small, but I know I'm faster than you, ole man."
The 'ole man' stung. Five days on the street and I looked like I was twenty years older. Moved that way too, especially after sleeping on the hard ground. Never had I wanted the sweet comforts of home more than I did at that moment. Tentative thoughts of proving the boy wrong banged around my head. I was confident I could be eating that hamburger in less than sixty seconds.
As if reading my mind, he stuffed the last bite into his mouth.
I pulled open my backpack, discovered a half eaten candy bar and the bottle of rum. Unscrewing the top, I tilted back my head and let the liquor flow down my throat. I felt the warmth spread through my body.
"Trade ya, Mate."
My eyes surveyed my new acquaintance, wondering where his family was and how he'd ended up living on the streets. His spunk was admirable.
"Come on. Be a pal." He reached inside his coat pocket and retrieved another foil wrapped sandwich. "Give ya this burger for a swig of yer brew."
My stomach screamed - yes. My brain said no way. Torn, I simply answered, "Aren't you a bit young to be drinking?"
He tucked the sandwich back into his pocket before talking, "The way I see it, age can't be defined by a number." The boy spoke perfect English. Stunned, my mouth dropped wide open. Only moments ago, he was speaking like an uneducated chap and now his pronunciation was perfect.
He leaned over and stuck out his hand, "My name's James ... James Stewart, like the actor."
"Max ... Max Caldwell, like ... like Max Caldwell." I clasped his hand and we shook. His grip was firm, but not imposing. He snickered at my lack of a comeback.
"As I was saying, Max, you say I'm too young to drink. I say if I can take care of myself living on the streets, I'm not too young. I know I'm wiser than a newbie like you."
"Really ... why do you say that?"
"The number one rule of the street is to watch your back at all times and keep your belongings close. You fell asleep with your backpack lying in the open, begging me to take it from you."
I cast my eyes toward the backpack. The kid was right. Everything I owned could have been gone when I woke up.
"Besides, I'm older than you think. Be nineteen in another month or so."
I cast a doubtful look in his direction. Squatting on his haunches, he appeared to be shorter than five feet, about one hundred twenty pounds, and under all the dirt, lay a round, cherub face. My guess was fourteen, if he was lucky.
"My mother died three months shy of my fifteenth birthday. My gorilla of a father found the likes of his puny son disgusting, not to mention it interfered with his carnal cravings. The day I turned eighteen, he handed me forty dollars, a sack with some clothes, and bid me a fond farewell." Nodding toward a giant of a man, he continued, "I was one of the lucky ones. Goliath took me under his wing and taught me how to survive."
Thoughts of my childhood and the wild, crazy things I did at nineteen flashed across my mind. Kegs of beer and wild parties at the college dorm were calm in comparison to the backroom antics at Charlie's Grill. I'd been wild, but I always knew I had a safe home.
I handed him the bottle. He took a long slug and let it run down his throat. I honestly expected him to choke as the rum did a slow burn. Instead, he cracked a smile and took another swig. Satisfied by the warmth it provided, he handed me the burger.
Taking a huge bite out of it, I asked, "Where'd you come by all these fresh burgers, James? Didn't heist them off a delivery truck or something, did you?"
"Now, here I thought we were about to be friends, and you go accusing me of stealing."
"Just curious as to the source of my dinner is all. No offense meant."
"Goliath and I were down by one of the other camps, near Fremont Street. It was our lucky night because the Gov just happened to be down there too."
"The Gov?" Now my curiosity was kicking into high gear. Finally, someone was talking about something. Hell if I knew what, but my ears were listening to his every word.
"Yeah ... that's not his real name, of course. Everyone just kind of hung that moniker on him. He's quite the sight to see, walking among all us raggedy people with his smart suits and shiny leather shoes. He brings a bag or two of food every few days. No questions or remarks made either."
"Really ... not too many people would do that."
"The Gov's got a good heart. He's always asking about this one or that if he doesn't see them around. Remembers all of us by name. Gets really concerned if someone is ill or having a bad time."
"Boy!" A gruff voice blasted our direction. "Blabbering again, are ya?"
Shaking hands seemed out of the question. I smiled and nodded instead. Goliath towered above us.
"Told ya to mind your own school, boy. The Gov's a good man and prefers to keep his goings on to himself." Goliath glowered at the boy. "Got to guard a good thing whens ya got it. Heard he don't bring no more to the park people. When the cops rousted everyone after them killings, he done stopped."
"The boy meant no harm, Goliath. He was just praising the Gov."
"Yeah, the Governor's one of the best. He was askin' after Betty the night she was killed."
"Killed? One of your friends was killed?"
"Ole Betty was a tough one. She must 'ave put up a fight. Can't imagine her letting her guard down even if she was sick."
"Maybe she died because she was sick?"
No longer able to remain silent, James interjected, "Knifed her, he did! Saw her bloody body when they brought it --"
Goliath's huge hands grabbed the boy's shirt and lifted him off the ground. His legs dangled in the air. "You be showin' the dead some respect, boy. Releasing him, James sprawled across the weeds. A string of swear words spewed from his mouth.
Laughter rumbled from the big man. "We might live like animals, but we don't have to act like them. Boy needs to learn respect."
I nodded ...bursting with excitement inside. I realized I might have just gotten our first good lead. Our killer was someone the victims trusted, someone who cared, thought he was helping. First thing in the morning, I'd let Jerry and Van Buren know about the Governor.
The remainder of the night I huddled inside my sleeping blanket, listening to the thump- thump of tires, Once a lone coyote howled nearby startling me. I recognized the snicker from my nearest neighbor. Goliath was right - James needed to learn a little respect.
Toward dawn, I dozed off. The sound of voices buzzing brought me back to the land of the living. Women and children were huddled in small bunches. James, Goliath and seven or eight other men were in another group. Snippets of words assaulted my ears.
Along the hillside ...
On Fremont ...
Cops everywhere ...
Chasing everyone out of their camps ...
Crawling out of my sleeping bag, I stretched and casually ambled toward the men. Spotting me, James hurried to my side. "See that old man over there; the one with his teeth chattering. He saw a body near the tracks on Fremont."
I watched the old man, shivering. The sun flashed against something shiny in his fingers. I moved a little closer. I couldn't understand his mumbling, but I definitely recognized the silver cross he held in his hand.
The Angel of Mercy had struck again.
Parts 1 - 2 - & 3 can be located in my portfolio if anyone cares to read them. Thank you....
Thank you again Agnes for the use of your stunning artwork.
and 2 member cents.
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