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Chapter 17: Scene 62: First night in Portland


ThinkLink: Have you ever been alone in a big city, or someplace you didnít know your way around?

       A clock on a bank building flicks on the time -- 1:14, and then the temperature -- 52. I walk in the dark along an empty street toward downtown. In a big city like Portland I figure people'd be out in the middle of the night, but nobody's around. It's just rained. There's a fresh, sharp smell in the air. I splash through puddles on the street and watch the colored pictures the neon lights make on the wet pavement. A light-colored car turns the corner and I step back into a doorway.

       What if Montgomery does a bed-check in the middle of the night? When Tony ran, Pat said they put out an APB , had Cops looking for him all over the state. I push back deeper into the shadows and the car goes by. No printing on the car door. I let my breath out in a big swoosh. Beats me why Tony gets such a rush out of prowling the streets.

       On the corner I see a restaurant all lit up. Red neon flashes on and off. Lucky's -- All Night . I edge up to the window. All dark tan and dismal inside. I walk past slow. Nobody there but the counterman , so I walk in.

       "Too late to get something to eat?

       "Nah, but it's late for you to be out, ain't it?"

       "Just got into town. I'm looking for a friend, but I'd better not wake him up in the middle of the night."

       "What'll it be?"

       I finger the change in my pocket. It's the last of my spending money from Eagle Crest. There's three dollar bills rolled up, but I'm not sure how many quarters I saved to call Mom on the pay phone. I hate to spend any of it. "A doughnut and a glass of milk."

       "That'll be a buck. Come far?"

       "Not too far. I got a ride down from Seattle."

       "Don't be out there on the street this time of night. We got a curfew here."

       I nibble around the edges of the doughnut to make it last so he won't try to sell me more. Or tell me to go back out on the street. But he ignores me and goes through a door into a back room. I hear voices. At first they talk low and I strain to hear if the counterman's calling the Cops on me.

       Then they start to bellow at each other and I know it's not about me. There's crashing and banging, and a man comes rushing out of the back. He peels a dirty apron off over his head and throws it on the floor. He yells back at the counterman, "That's it, Ken. I'm leaving. Wash your own greasy pots. The shelter's better than this."

       The counterman follows back in and watches him go out the front door. "Damn bum," he says. "It'll take me all night to clean up that mess."

       "I can do it," I tell him.

       "You're just a kid. I need..."

       "Try me. I've washed dishes before. I'll do a good job for you."

       "You can't do worse than that shithead." He looks me over. "The job's only Friday and Saturday nights. You come to work at six at night and leave at four in the A.M. Pays two-fifty an hour, cash after every shift."

       "But I thought minimum ..."

       "You want it or not? I can get plenty of bums in off the..."

       "Sure. I mean, I do."

       "We don't do much trade after midnight. That's when you clean the kitchen, mop the floors, clean the counters -- that kinda stuff. What you can't do is go in the storage room and sleep like that no good son-of-a -...!"

       "I'll show you." I knew I could take care of myself. My first night in town and I'm making money already.

       "OK, come on back to the kitchen. He left one hell of a mess."

       Mess is no word for it. Water and food scraps are smeared across the floor in front of the dishwasher. Pans and dishes piled up on the counter. Grease all over the stove. I get the gunk off the floor first, and then I load the dishwasher. Every time Ken comes back to the kitchen, I'm hard at work. I scrub the counters and the stove, put the pans away, and mop the floor. It's almost five when I finish.

       Ken comes in and gives a whistle. "Job's yours if you want it. Come back tomorrow afternoon by 5:30 and I'll find some grub for you to eat before you go to work at six."

       I follow him back into the front. Ken opens the cash register and pays me in dollar bills. "It wasn't quite four hours, but you did a good job, so what the heck. Here's ten. I'll put a sack with a couple of leftover muffins on the counter for you. Take 'em along for breakfast."

       "Thanks, Ken. I mean Mr. UhÖ"

       "Ken's fine."

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 Updated on 5/13/04

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