On guard

This is a prologue to a story about a person in law enforcement who loses everything and spirals into homelessness. Okay … I know prologues are supposedly out, and I have my doubts this bit will stay where it is, if it stays at all. But I am sticking it in my Works in Progress file to see if  defends itself. Comments critiques appreciated as always.

~

Prologue

Ker-r-r-ang!! It was not a sound the man expected to hear first thing in the morning. The reverberation and pain that cut through the regular morning fog in his brain was not something he particularly wanted to feel either. A click-click-click of stiletto heels had woken the man with a jerk and caused his head to crack against the metal lower railing of the porch where he had lain throughout the night.

The man heaved himself up to a seated position. He peered across the parking lot through a thudding haze in his head caused by a late night involving too many drugs, too many drinks and too little food. From the funeral home doorway—his temporary bed the night before—a mid-sized black Nissan Sentra, parked and idling in one of the further-most stalls, caught his eye.

He could make out two people in the car: a male driver wearing aviator style sunglasses slouching back in the pilot seat, and his female passenger, brown hair tied in a ponytail, also wearing sunglasses. The man could see that both wore non-descript dark tops; the male wore black, the female in blue. Both stared intently into the distance past the man and down the busy street on which the funeral home fronted.

It was before 9:00am and the funeral parlor employees had not yet arrived to light up the lime-green neon sign proudly proclaiming the business as “Osmans Funeral Parlor and Services” and, as a secondary duty, kick the homeless man out of his temporary domicile.

The man didn’t care what the duo in the car were looking at, although something was niggling away in the back of his addled mind about the combination of non-descript people in a unremarkable car. No use; it just wouldn’t gel. Didn’t compute. Couldn’t put it together. Didn’t matter, anyway; the man had his own agenda for the morning.

The clicking heels neared.  It was the funeral director. Shannon … no … Sharon was her name, thought the man through his fog. She was always nice to him. Today she was dressed primly in a navy blue suit and skirt combination, highlighted with a red and black scarf at her throat. Precisely coiffed blonde hair, black nylons and matching black stiletto-heeled pumps completed the image of a no-nonsense executive of death.

“Okay Bill,” said Sharon, “Time for one coffee, then you gotta go, okay?” She couldn’t help wrinkling her nose slightly as she walked by the man to open the double doors in the front archway. ‘Bill’ had first shown up in the doorway about a month ago. Sharon thought it was her charitable duty to at least give him a warm drink before she shooed him away.

Bill was not his name but the man responded with a nod all the same. Call me anything for a free coffee, he thought.

He sat for a time in the entrance, gathering up his filthy and torn North Face jacket and checking all of his tattered pockets to make sure someone hadn’t ripped him off in the middle of the night. Thankfully, he found the brassy dollar coin—a Canadian ‘Loonie’—as well as a Rothmans cigarette package containing one lonely cigarette and multiple wrappers from other brands. All still there, being gleaned from sidewalks the previous evening. He also located his box of ‘Char Boys’ and McDonald’s drink straw; a short length of yellow nylon rope and a corkscrew; a tiny red pocket-knife and small stainless steel teaspoon—bearing the black and blue discolouring of high intensity braising—and his prize possession: a clean—so far—white handkerchief.

As he found them he listed his possessions in a litany of personal wealth mumbled under his breath.

The man wiped a hand across his mouth, pulling at the matted grey mustache and beard and tasting the salty copper taste of blood that had dried on his lips while he had slept. The blood was from a combination of split lips and lacerated gums, apparently suffered from one of the numerous falls the man had orchestrated during the previous night’s drug-hazed shuffle across the city.

The man’s graying hair stuck out at all angles and was knotted from infrequent cleaning and encounters with chewing gum and other cast off effluent that littered the various cement beds on which his head often rested. He sweated as multiple layers of t-shirts, ragged dress shirts and sweaters that had kept him nice and toasty during the night caused him to swelter now under the intense rays of the rising summer sun.

He gazed in remorse at the new rips at the knees of his uppermost pair of jeans. He would have to make an effort to replace them during his upcoming binning session. All his clothes had stains and dirt on them, and stunk. The man did not notice this any more.

Others did.

He put his jacket on despite the rising heat and waited listlessly—muttering his recitation of possessions—until Sharon re-appeared with a white Styrofoam cup of steaming hot coffee, black with lots of sugar in it, just as she knew the man liked it. The man took the cup, humbly ducked his head and muttered, “Bless you”. Sharon was his Godsend this day and had been for every weekday morning for the last month.

“Okay-okay, Bill. Now … today I can’t wait for you to sit and drink it here, all right? I know it’s tough, but I’ve got a whole whack of clients coming in this morning starting in …” she looked at her cell phone, “ … Jesus, in ten minutes, and … and well I just can’t have you here, you know that … right?” Sharon bit her lower lip, and her eyebrows furled up in a worried expression. Every time that she had to kick ‘Bill’ out of the doorway, something made her stomach churn.

The man recognized the expression; he had seen it often in the faces of good citizens who felt helpless when confronted with the actual face of poverty, seeing the real bottom dwellers, practitioners of the scavenger lifestyle. Perhaps they wished they could do more. More likely would just rather not see it at all.

The man nodded. Cradling the cup in his left hand, with his right arm he elbowed himself up off the concrete floor to the top stair and stood up, amazing himself that he could still do so with the gnawing pains that gripped his stomach, back and joints.

He caught a glint of movement behind the Nissan’s windshield as the driver turned his head to talk to his female passenger. He could see them both laughing with great animation, flashing gleaming teeth and clean smooth throats.

Hmmn, thought the man, well-to-do. Maybe I can score something right off the hop here.

He shuffled over towards the car, careful not to spill the contents of his Styrofoam cup, hoping beyond hope for some early morning charity that might launch him at worst towards a bit of food for breakfast, and at best into a smorgasbord of a hot meal followed by copious amounts of alcohol and drugs.

What a blessing it would be, thought the man, if one score—just one score—could serve to wipe out the memory of yesterday and today. Allow him to do it all over again tomorrow.

As the man approached the sleek black 4-door he could hear the slight hum of its engine and see a faint wisp of fumes rising from the rear tailpipe. He fixed what he remembered to be a smile on his face and held out a grubby right hand as he neared.

It seemed as though both occupants of the Nissan straightened simultaneously and snapped to full alert as he came within range, their eyes wide and white-rimmed.

Then they visibly relaxed. Distaste drifted over both of their faces as they understood who he was and what he wanted. The woman sneered and made a dismissive gesture in his direction. The man could see the driver mouth some words at him with a growing look of scorn.

The man knew what the driver had said.

He turned and shuffled in an angle away from the car, towards the ribbon of sidewalk, thinking now only of locating a bin, finding more treasures, scoring a hit, and keeping an eye out for kinder people … the ‘good’ marks.

~

The driver sat bolt upright—as did his passenger—and shifted uncomfortably in his seat as the man approached their vehicle.

“What does this guy want?” murmured the woman beside him. “Do you think he’s a plant? Are we blown?”

“Nah,” said the driver as he looked closely at the approaching wreck. “He looks … familiar … but nah, he’s just another fuckin’ piece of shit! Fuck off, man!” The driver exaggerated the last two words so the drunk could read his lips.

The woman giggled and waved the shambling figure away. The two returned to their previous posture and went back to gazing intently down the street into the sharpening rays of the rising sun towards their target.

Just another day on surveillance.

Another day protecting society.

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