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Chapter 20: Pat


ThinkLink: Have you ever had to get help for someone who was sick or injured?

       "You go on," I tell Vonda. "I'll be down later." I walk over and squat down in front of Pat and tap him on the shoulder. "Pat. You awake, Pat?"

       Pat pulls his head up and stares at me. No more good-boy look. He's pasty-faced and sweaty. His hair's greasy and hangs down over his eyes.

        "Cowboy? Where'd you come from? I thought you was in a forest camp somewhere." He grunts and pulls himself around so he can sit with his back against the wall. "Where you hanging?"

       "Up on Emory. Where you said. I keep thinking you'll show up."

       "How you getting by?"

       "Victor gives me stuff to deliver. And I got a job washing dishes on weekends. Only pays two-fifty an hour, but I get to eat there days I work."

       "That ain't even legal wages . How'd the guy pay you? Out a the till?"

       "Yeah. So what?"

       "You ain't even on the payroll . He's paying you out of the till and he's pocketing the real pay for a dishwasher. You got nothing."

       That burns me . "So how good are you doing?"

       He doesn't hear that I'm mad. Or doesn't care. "Been staying with my Ma. Thing's going all right. Staying clean. Going to this group McGill put me in. Then me and Ma started yelling and I split ."

       "So. You coming back to the house?

       "Nah. Don't you neither."

       "Huh? Why?"

       His eyes are almost closed, like it hurts to look out of them. "Saw Tony last week."

       "He's on the run again?"

       "Half-way house. Got a job taking care of sick people. Nursing home. Pleasant View ." Pat slumps down and turns gray. "Gonna spew." He rolls over and purls out green goop onto the bricks.

       "You shithead. What'd you do to yourself?"

       "Got some bad stuff." He half grins at me hanging over him. "Better now. Don't worry, I ain't going to barf all over you." He shivers. "Feel better now. Be OK."

       I stare at him. "Come back with me to the house. You can't stay here."

       He rouses up. "Don't go back there. Kid I got my dose from; he says they heard a raid's coming down. Guys upstairs dragging stuff out of there. Stay away."

       Then Pat slumps over and passes out, at least I can't get him to talk to me when I shake his shoulder. I run for help. I look around for a security guard. Tess is up on the corner of Liberty talking to some kids. I take the steps up two and three at a time. "Call for an ambulance quick," I tell her. "There's a guy down there who's had some bad stuff. He's really sick. Worse maybe."

       Tess grabs a phone off her belt and I tear off for Emory Street. Maybe I can get my sacks out before the Cops get there. And get the cash I stashed behind a loose brick back of the furnace. I run hard until I get a pain in my side, then I jog regular until I get close to Emory. Before I turn the corner, I spot two cop cars parked on the side street. I stop at the corner. Five guys in uniform , are going in the front door.

       I walk along like I belong in some house down the street, still thinking I can get around the side of the house and into the basement. Then the Cops come out the front door, hauling Victor by both arms. He spots me. "Kid. Come here. You tell 'em. I ain't done nothing. Kid come here."

       I turn and start to run. Behind me I can hear Victor. "You little piece of shit. You tell 'em I ain't done nothing."

ThinkLink: Johnís life is really scary right now. What would you do to keep yourself safe?

       I look behind me, but the Cops are too busy with Victor to chase me. If I was a cop, I'd chase me. For a witness at least. But I guess they got more important stuff to do. I slow down when I get back down on Broadway. When I get close to Lucky's , I cross over to the other side of the street. Can't let them see me. Cops might come there looking for me. I told guys at the Square Pat was my cousin, so now I better not go back there. My chest hurts from pulling air in and out hard while I run. I cut back to a walk and try to breathe slow and easy.

ThinkLink: Where was the scariest place you ever had to sleep? What made it so scary?

       I stop in front of a department store to get my breath. I see myself in the big plate glass window. My hair's grown down over my ears and it's as greasy as Pat's. My clothes are as scruffy as his, too. I look harder. A streak of dirt smears across my cheek. That's me. Your ordinary street kid.

       Street kids make me think of the bridges. When you got no where else to go, Vonda'd said, there's always the bridges. I head for the river. With shadows from big buildings falling across the streets, I realize I'd better get a move on if I'm going to find a place to stay before it gets too dark to look. Walking through the park along the river, I can tell there's no staying here all night. Too open. At the end of the park I find a staircase leading to a bridge. Up on top I jog along a sidewalk until I get to the middle. Looking over I'm darned if I can see where to spend a night. It's all water underneath, one side to the other.

       At the other end of the bridge I come down into a warehouse district. I catch sight of a couple of men huddled up against pillars under a freeway . Cars shoot by overhead in a constant rumble that'll make them deaf overnight. Watch your back, Vonda'd said. Some dangerous dudes down there.

       Further on I find an alley behind a warehouse . Cars have left the lot for the night and I don't see signs of a night watchman. Not that he'd likely leave signs. It's almost dark when I hunker down in a doorway in the concrete wall next to a trash bin. I'm scrunched up there, half-asleep when I hear the click of dog paws on the pavement. I look up at a big German Shepherd, ears laid back, staring down on me, trying to decide to eat me for dinner or save me for later.

       On the other end of the rope around the dog's neck, is a guy even dirtier than me. I wait for him to yell at me for taking his spot, but he kind of smiles, showing missing teeth all across the front.

       "You got money, kid? Spare me a buck or two?"

       I eye the dog and then look him over. "You think I'd be here for the night if I had some money? Some place to go?"

       He grunts and goes about making a nest for himself. He pulls a cardboard box out of the trash, rips it open and spreads it out on the other side of the bin. He dumpster dives for newspapers and spreads them out. Finally, he and the dog curl up, warmer than me by quite a bit.

       "Where you headed?" he asks.

       "No where. I don't know."

       "Been there. Where's home?"

       "On a ranch ."

       "No shit. I been on a ranch once. Some kind of rodeo going on. You a bronc rider ?"

       "Not me. Not that kind of ranch ."

       "So why don't you go back? Better than here."

       "Can't. Why don't you go home?"

       He doesn't answer for awhile. "Thought about it some. Always meant to do it when I had a little money in my pocket. Some clothes. A bus ticket. Never all happened at the same time."

       "So what do you do now?"

       Another long pause. "Day work sometimes. Go over to the mission, trucks pick guys up there to work in the fields. Do clean-up work some."

       He rattles some paper and pulls a bottle out of his pack. I can hear him slurping it down. Might make him mean, I think, but then maybe it'll just put him to sleep. Some time later I hear him snore, so I guess that's what it does. I doze. Curled up on concrete's not the best way to get a good night's sleep. When I get cold I rummage around in the trash for newspapers and cardboard. The dog sits up and growls low. The guy stirs, but doesn't wake up.

       A car squeals its wheels turning into the parking lot and I wake up with a jerk. It's broad daylight and I know I got to get out of here. I look over, but the guy with the dog is gone. He must have an alarm clock in his head that tells him it's time. I run around the corner before the guy in the car can see me.

       Back on the street I look for a place where they'll let me use a toilet, but there's nothing but concrete-slab buildings for blocks. Finally, I take a leak back of one of them. From the smell, I'm not the first one.

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 Updated on 9/30/03

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