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Chapter 1 – Stick 'em up!
It felt like it was going to be another cold night. This time of year, the weather could be really unpredictable and I prayed that the oncoming winter would be mild. I shook my head at the thought. When you lived outdoors, homeless like me, prayer could be comforting, but it hadn't been doing much for me lately. Actually, I couldn't truly say that. I still had my pack that hadn't been stolen or taken away from me forcibly, at least not yet, and I was able to get enough money every now and then to get something to eat, or a cheap motel room so I could clean myself up a little bit and sleep the whole night without worrying about whether I was going to get shanked, robbed, or molested in my sleep. At least I hadn't had to resort to crime in order to stay alive, just panhandling on street corners. I couldn't say the same for my present company, however.
James came stumbling my way, looking a little worse for wear. "I got some stuff we can pawn," he said coughing.
He was covered in something red and oily looking. "What the hell happened to you?"
"Some bitch doused me in pepper spray," he spat through squinting eyes. "That shit burns. Fuck, I'm going to have to go to the creek to clean up," he said stumbling down the bank. He dropped his pack on the shore and tumbled head first into the water. He popped up after a few minutes. "This shit really fucking burns, man. Remind me not to mess with pepper spray bitches again," he said just before dipping his head back into the water.
James had been homeless for a year now. I was kind of surprised to find him on the streets because we had worked together before our company started with the layoffs. James was in the first group to go. He was good at his job, but he didn't have the same seniority I had. In the end, it still didn't save my ass, either. I had been homeless for about a month now. I ran into James my first week on the street when I accidentally rested on the wrong corner and some guy went bat shit crazy, saying I was in his territory.
Luckily for me, James knew him and knew how to calm him down. I'd admit that I kind of followed him around like a lost puppy after that. He knew where all the good places to sleep were already and where all the good trash cans were to find somewhat edible food. He also knew of a couple of patio style restaurants that didn't clear their tables quickly so we could usually snag some leftovers over the railings when no one was looking. Of course, James would steal the tips, too, but I didn't. It felt wrong enough that we were taking the food. He told me that I needed to toughen up or I wasn't going to make it.
I only wondered where the hell it was I was trying to make it to.
I went from a middle-class peon average Joe in processing to being a homeless man in what felt like overnight. When I looked back at my life, I really didn't see much of a difference other than I'd had a roof over my head and I wasn't cold at night. I'd been barely making it from paycheck to paycheck and now I was barely making it from meal to meal, really not all that different. At least I didn't have creditors calling me at all hours of the day and night. I smiled to myself at that thought.
"It's not funny, jackass, this shit burns."
I let out a sigh and decided to help him. "I wasn't laughing at you. I was laughing at how lame my life is. Just stop rubbing it; you're going to make it worse." I took out my water bottle and told him to open his eyes. I sprayed it directly onto his eyeballs, not letting him shut them. "Take off your clothes and scrub yourself down with this," I said tossing him a washcloth I had kept from my apartment. I didn't get to grab much, but I was right when I thought that would come in handy.
James stripped down grumbling and started washing up in the creek. "You should hurry up, the sun is going to be setting soon and you'll freeze your ass off if you're wet."
He pulled out some dry clothes from his pack and frowned. He only had a t-shirt and jeans. His warmer flannel shirt was covered in pepper spray and there was no way he could put it back on.
"Here," I said tossing him the shirt off my back. "I have another one in my bag." I dug around and pulled out a sweater. I wasn't going to use it until it got colder, but what the hell.
"Thanks, man. Hey, that's a nice sweater," he said eyeing it. It made me a little nervous because I knew he wasn't above stealing. That was what got him into this current mess in the first place.
"So, what did you pick off of the pepper spray chick?"
"Just a GPS and a cell phone, but they're nice ones. We can pawn them and buy some smokes and Jack, make a night of it."
I wasn't into smoking or drinking. "Or we can get a cheap motel room and wash our laundry," I offered.
He rolled his eyes at me. "I just bathed," he said pointing to the creek. "No need to waste the money on crap we can get for free."
"Right, what was I thinking?" I said sarcastically. Of course, he didn't catch the tone and headed to the pawn shop. I didn't go with him because I didn't want anything to do with that mess.
I sat under the bridge for a while watching James's pack along with mine. I scratched the scruff on my chin and ran my hand through my now long hair. I had been in need of a cut for a couple of months before I was evicted, but I didn't get it done trying to save money and make ends meet. It didn't work and now I was just another long-haired, shabby looking homeless man.
I heard sirens going off and hunched down a little more. I didn't know what was in James's pack and I didn't want to go down for anything I didn't do. I heard shouting and it sounded like James. I guess he would be getting a warm room tonight after all. I eyed James's pack warily again and then tucked it safely behind some bushes. I didn't know what was in it and I had a feeling I didn't want to know.
I decided to head down to the corner by the home improvement store. I had a black marker, so I snagged a piece of cardboard from the side of the road for a sign. I figured I was picking up litter and recycling at the same time. I made a sign saying I would work for food, and I really would. I knew some people thought that was bullshit, but it wasn't, at least not to me. I was going to be wanting some dinner in a few hours so I had to hustle if I was going to get something to eat tonight.
I stood on the corner and made one dollar and twenty-five cents. Looked like the dollar menu it was. I was getting ready to head to the closest fast food joint when I saw another wave of traffic queuing up to come through. I held up my sign one more time and was surprised when a huge old pickup truck with a small female driver slowed a little, looking at my sign curiously. She didn't stop or offer me anything, but the way she looked at me pinned me in place. I tried to offer her a smile, but she had sped through the intersection before I could.
When the light changed, I crossed the street and headed out to get dinner. I got my sandwich to go because I didn't like the way people looked at me or cringed away from me when I sat in the restaurant. I was walking back to my night spot with my dinner bag when some headlights blinded me. I put my hand up squinting, unable to make out who it was or what they wanted.
"What's in the bag?" I heard a woman's voice ask.
"A double cheeseburger," I answered because that was what it was.
"Throw it over here."
"What? No, this is my dinner."
"Fine, set it down and back away from it."
"NO! I'm hungry, what the hell is your problem?"
"I have pepper spray," she threatened.
I dropped my head in defeat. I didn't have another shirt and it was too damn cold to wash it off at this time of night. The bitch had me. I set the bag down. "Come on, please, it's my only dinner and I don't have any more money."
"Back away from the bag."
"Please don't take it," I begged like a weak little girl.
I still couldn't see her features, but I could see the outline of her form in the headlights. She was holding her hand out like she was pointing something at me. I was guessing it was her pepper spray. She opened the bag, looked in it, and then stood up, not touching the burger inside or picking up the bag.
"Take off your shirt."
"What? Ma'am, I'm not that kind of person. I don't just…"
"Shut up, take off your shirt, and hold your arms out."
"It's freezing cold tonight, Ma'am. Why are you doing this? You've got a car to sleep in."
"Now!" she said holding up the pepper spray.
I did as she asked, taking off my shirt, shivering when the cold damp night air hit my skin. I'd stayed pretty muscular from working out before when I had access to the company gym, but I'd lost some of my body fat that helped keep me warm since I didn't get to eat very regularly.
'"Toss me your shirt and hold out your arms," she demanded and I hesitated. "Hurry up before you freeze your butt off," she snapped. I tossed her my shirt and I noticed she sniffed it. She walked toward me cautiously. She was just out of arm's reach and eyeing my arms. "Turn your hands up," she commanded, so I did. "Now take off your shoes."
"Look, you can have my sweater, but please leave me my shoes. They're the only ones I have and they won't even fit you."
"Take them off now!" she snapped. I sighed and toed them off. "Your socks, too, and sit on the ground and stick your feet out. Do it now," she commanded.
I dropped my head and pulled off my socks. To my surprise, she squatted down and looked at my toes. "You got some freaky toe fetish or something?" I asked annoyed.
"No," she said and threw my sweater at me. I quickly put it back on, thankful that she gave it back. "Put your shoes back on. Where are you sleeping tonight?"
"What's it to you? Are you going to try and steal my pack or something? Look, lady, whatever you want, just tell me now, okay?"
"Get in the truck and don't try anything funny."
"What? You're kidnapping me?"
"Are you homeless?"
"What's it to you?"
"Are you really willing to work?"
"Yeah, but I'm not a gigolo."
"Shut up and get in the truck," she commanded.
"Can I bring my dinner?" I asked.
"Of course, now hurry up, it's getting cold and we have a lot of work to do before we turn in."
When I reached the truck door, I recognized the truck. The cab illuminated when I opened it and I could make out the face of the girl that had driven past earlier. I stood staring at her confused.
"Move it, slow poke, I need to get this stuff unloaded and secured before it rains tonight."
"It's going to rain tonight?"
She let out a huff. "Get in already."
I saw her move the pepper spray to her pocket and then I climbed in once I knew it was safe.
"So, you don't smoke or do drugs?"
"No," I answered.
"So, why are you homeless?"
"That's a personal question I'd rather not answer to someone who just tried to steal my stuff."
"I did not try and steal your stuff."
"Well, you assaulted me, holding me at weapon point, making me strip."
"I had to make sure you were safe, it was not an unreasonable request for someone in my position to make."
"What exactly is your position?"
"Employer. I want to hire you to fix a few things. I already have the stuff I need to do it, but I realized as they were loading it into my truck that I would not have enough muscle to move it on my own. I remembered the sign you held and decided to hire you."
"Gee, thanks. Next time, why don't you let me know that before you hold me at weapon point and tell me to strip? I would have done it with a smile and not have freaked out the whole time about losing my clothes and freezing to death."
"I wouldn't have stolen your clothes."
"Well, some people do steal clothes, so just remember that next time you pull crap like that."
I could have sworn she rolled her eyes at me.
A/N thanks for reading please review.