Title: The Boxer
Beta: I want to thank seattlecsifan for sticking with me on this… especially when I know the way I describe concept pieces isn't always clear.
Summary: People come to Vegas for all kinds of reasons…
Author's Notes: This is what happens when I listen to music... I end up with a song like "The Boxer" going through my head.
X X X
Kevin Hanks hadn't considered himself stupid. The funny thing is, nobody else had, either – not when he got that job working at the sugar beet factory right out of high school, not when he won the local bowling tournament. Only one dissenting voice had sounded, when he'd informed his family that he intended to move to Las Vegas. His mom, the rock of his life.
Growing up in a small, rural town outside Boise, Idaho, Kevin always figured his life would consist of friendly betting on BSU Bronco football, beer after work on pay day at the local bar, and eventually marrying a local girl and having babies. It was also a life he never wanted.
There'd always been something restless about Kevin, and those who knew him best simply couldn't see him settling down. So, when he announced one day that he intended to take the bus down to Las Vegas, Nevada, no one was particularly shocked… maybe surprised, but not shocked. The fact was, a lot of people were restless to get out of rural Idaho; it's just most never did. Most eventually died and got buried in the desert cemetery on the edge of town.
Inhaling deeply, Kevin stepped off the bus, listening to the whooshing of cars in the distance. In the bus station, the dinging of slots being played echoed into the night. At twenty years old, he felt like he was on the verge of something, and hesitated at the bottom of the bus stairs. He could almost hear his mother's gentle voice and what she's said before he boarded the Greyhound. "Kevin, you call me if you need help. Las Vegas isn't big, but they don't call it 'Sin City' for nothing."
He'd rolled his eyes, but at that moment, Kevin had to physically push away the shivers of hesitancy. He drew his jacket closer around his shoulders, and huffed a laugh. The feel of a hand on his shoulder made him realize he was holding up the elderly woman behind him. On the long trip down, he'd discovered she was here for a 'girl's weekend' with a bunch of other geriatric women.
"Are you all right, Kevin?" she asked with a frail, wobbly voice.
"Yeah," he replied, smiling wide, and helping her down the last step.
Standing stooped a bit, the old woman gently pat his arm and said, "Now you help me with my bag, son. There's a shuttle waiting to take me to the Luxor waiting right over there."
Even the grime of the north end of Vegas didn't take away from the adventure rioting in his veins, and he couldn't keep the perpetual smile from his face.
Overcoming his nerves, he willed a surge of energy to replace the fatigue and ache of muscles cramped from sitting in a small seat for too long, and reached for their bags, dropping hers into a van waiting to deliver the old woman and her friends to the strip.
Kevin gave the old woman a smile, and turned from the bus station, his bag over his shoulder… and soon stepped onto Fremont. Before long, he stood where the street was domed with laser lights, and absolutely stunning. Laughing, he spun around once, and worked his way toward Las Vegas Boulevard. Nirvana. Shadow and Light.
Stopping for a moment, he sat on a local bus route bench, and listened to someone play the guitar down the block, singing, "I am just a poor boy. Though my story's seldom told. I have squandered my resistance for a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises…" Kevin smiled at the folk singer, finding it fitting that he should arrive to music he loved.
Hoisting the bag over his shoulder, resting it on his back, Kevin made his way down the strip nearly a mile, before heading off the beaten track – he simply didn't have the funds to stay in one of the nicer places, so he went in search of someplace cheap.
X X X
He couldn't figure out why he couldn't get a damn job. Never in his life had he been out of work for long. Growing up in farm country, someone was always on the look-out for help. If a job couldn't be found working the fields, then it helped that every blessed soul in a small town knew every other blessed soul. Except for old John Taggert, the town drunk, just about anyone was employable.
Pulling his wallet from his back pocket, Kevin sat down in the diner and slowly counted out the cash he had left. One hundred and twelve dollars and… sixty three cents. Time was running out for him, and for half a second he considered calling his mother; but still he held back. His parents had given him a good sense of pride growing up – never borrow what you can't repay immediately, and always hold up your own end of responsibility. How could he call and say, "Gee, mom. It turns out you were right, and I should've stayed home and married Susan Drake after all – her dad could've put me to work in his fields, and I'd be fine right now."
Instead, he stopped calling home.
That night in his pay-by-the-week hotel room, huddled on his bed, Kevin wrapped his jacket tight around his shoulders to ward off the winter cold in the heatless room. Reaching out, he watched his breath puff against the neon glowing into his North Las Vegas room, and flicked on the radio. He took some comfort in the music, "When I left my home and my family, I was no more than a boy in the company of strangers in the quiet of the railway station running scared."
There was something almost prophetic in hearing, "Laying low, seeking out the poorer quarters where the ragged people go, looking for the places only they would know."
X X X
Standing desperately on the loading dock in the industrial area west of the glitz and glamour of the strip, Kevin bustled to the front of the line, desperation feeding him. He was out of money; had been for a few weeks. Living on the street, where he constantly had to worry about who he was pissing off, left a knife-edge of fear always slicing at his throat with a feather-light touch. Something in him wondered just when that knife would slice through, leaving behind the remains of an honest man.
"I'm sorry, but we have all the people we need today," a middle-aged man sporting a beer belly yelled to the dozens gathered. Most looked ragged, and for a moment, Kevin wondered how he'd gotten to this point. How had he become one of the homeless he always pitied?
Shuffling hopelessly away to the far end of the loading dock, he stuck his hand in the change hopper of a pay phone hoping for loose change; and finally picked up the receiver. With trembling fingers, he began to punch in his home phone number, and stopped. Instead, he hung up slowly and stepped back.
He felt dirty, hopeless, worthless.
Passing by a truck, he stopped for a moment, and blankly listened to the radio, "Asking only workmen's wages, I come lookin' for a job, but I get no offers, just a come-on from the whores on 7th avenue…"
Numb, and out of options, Kevin made his way to the next warehouse along rows of warehouses west of Fremont. Place after place, building after building – eventually they all became a blur.
X X X
He wanted to go home. Silent tears rolled down his cheeks, as Kevin tried to find a comfortable place to sleep. If his parents saw him in that moment, no amount of Christian charity would keep the shame from their eyes. So many times, he'd wanted to simply call his mom and ask her to come get him – to beg her to take him home and to say he'd made a mistake.
But the nickel bags he'd sold that week, followed by the pure bout of self-loathing kept him low, and hiding in his own mind.
Closing his eyes, he could see the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, capped with snow and glistening pure in the winter sun. He could see his friends in their rusty old pickup driving by his house after shift to pick him up for a quick game of pool and an easy beer. Sometimes, age didn't make much difference in a small town – sometimes twenty one was just a number, because a man working for a man's wage earned the right for a post-paycheck beer. Hell, sometimes the sheriff would even join in on a game of pool or darts.
The honking of a horn shook Kevin, and with a trembling hand he reached into his pocket for the pipe as he moved around the side of the building. It wasn't like he was hooked or anything. He'd only tried it a couple of times. "It's just meth," he thought, lighting up the pipe, taking a hit, and letting himself go to the drug.
A few minutes later, he made his way back toward the strip, hoping to sell off the rest of his product before reaching the bright lights that seemed to make him so happy. The sounds of rushing cars seemed so loud, but welcome. Blaring neon all around Vegas beckoned, and somewhere in the distance he could hear someone singing, "Then I'm laying out my winter clothes, and wishing I was gone, going home…"
It gave him pause, and he felt nothing but envy for the singer… and panic for himself.
X X X
Six months to the day, a young man stood on the tracks of a railroad bridge, and glanced down at the pavement below. He'd lost it all – his sense of self, his sense of hope, his sense of life.
Wearing nothing but the clothes in which he'd arrived, Kevin began to lightly sing, "In the clearing stands a boxer and a fighter by his trade, and he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down or cut him til he cried out, in his anger and his shame, 'I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains.'…"
It was so easy to sit on the edge of the concrete Jersey barrier, swing his legs over, and simply…
X X X
The lights of the patrol car flashed in strobe-style around the damp pavement. In the past thirty minutes, a haze had settled in, leaving everything a little more wet than a CSI would like it. Dropping the Denali into park, Nick cut the engine and walked over to Brass, who stood back from the body in the cool night air.
"If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say we've got a jumper," Brass said.
It didn't take long for Nick to find the drugs, and Kevin's Idaho driver's license.
"Christ," Nick muttered. "Kids come to Vegas every day looking for a dream and end up finding a nightmare."
On the edge of the crime scene, a young man from Laramie, Wyoming shook his head. He'd gotten lost after getting off the bus, but a nice police officer had pointed him in the right direction. Brent Anderson didn't really want to spend the rest of his life working on a ranch.
The ruggedly built teenager walked in the direction of the strip, under his breath singing, "I am just a poor boy. Though my story's seldom told…"