Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Walking Homeless

Walking Homeless

                                                               Al Lamanda

Copyright 2010 by Al Lamanda
Five Star Publishing, a part of Gale Cengage Learning
First Edition. First Printing: February 2010
Published in 2010 in conjunction with Tekno Books and Ed Gorman.


Shortly before 8:00 p.m., Captain Walter Taft phoned his wife from his office at the Special Crimes Division in Lower Manhattan to tell her he would be leaving in a few minutes. Joan, his wife of thirty-two years, told him dinner would be on the stove and ready when he arrived home. She also told him their youngest son had called from New Hampshire to ask how they would be celebrating Father’s Day next week.
“The boy needs money?” Taft had asked.
“Of course,” Joan told him. “He’s in college.”
“Find out what he needs,” Taft had said. “We’ll give it to him on Father’s Day in exchange for the new tie he’s sure to give me.”
“I have it on good authority that this year’s Father’s Day surprise is a new shirt,” Joan said. “Cream-colored with button-down collar.”
“He charged it, I assume,” Taft said. “Which means we’ll get the bill.”
“What are fathers for?” Joan said.
“When you find out, clue me in,” Taft said.
After hanging up, Taft set his next day’s agenda in order on his desk. There were six pending cases he would shuffle over to the district attorney’s office for review. From there, an ADA would determine if the cases had enough merit to proceed with prosecution. If one or more did, an ADA would call for one of Taft’s detectives, and they would open an investigation and proceed from there. Bank fraud and identity theft were the biggest issues so far this year, due mostly to increasing use of the Internet. Widows and their life savings were the number one target of Internet fraud artists, who sucked them in with promises of rainbows and financial security for their golden years.
Taft locked his desk, put his feet up, and lit the half cigar he smoked at lunch. Smoking, of course, was prohibited by law in any city building, but how do you break a thirty-five-year habit just on somebody’s say so. Besides, retirement was six months away and he felt like bending a rule or two. Knowing the smoke was illicit made it taste that much sweeter. As he puffed, Taft’s eyes wandered to the photograph of his wife that sat on the edge of his desk. It had been taken twelve years ago when Joan was forty-two. She seemed so young and vibrant, a picture postcard of perfect health. Before breast cancer began eating away at her flesh and stealing her life. Before the years of treatments and waiting for the cancer to return; even though it hadn’t, the threat always loomed large in the background. If she were to leave him, would he be capable of taking care of himself? He didn’t want to find out, although he suspected the answer.
Cigar in his mouth, briefcase under his arm, Taft left his office and rode the elevator to the basement parking garage where his eight-year-old Buick was parked in a reserved spot. Even though it was June and warm, Taft let the car run for a full five minutes before putting it into gear.
Exiting the garage, Taft drove away from 100 Center Street to Park Row toward the Brooklyn Bridge for his nightly commute home to the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. Thirty-one years ago, they’d purchased the three-story, seven-bedroom brownstone for under forty thousand dollars. They had raised two sons and a daughter in that home and it would seem odd to no longer own it, but with retirement set for the first of the year and Joan’s health a factor, it seemed inevitable. A real estate agency quoted a listing in excess of a million dollars, claiming that was modest for the trendy, upscale neighborhood of the new Park Slope.
The new Park Slope? As far as Taft could tell, the only thing new about Park Slope was that they had cleaned up the junkies and the homeless in the park so that yuppies could buy old buildings, renovate them, and turn the neighborhood into an upscale yuppie haven. There was a time not so long ago that he could walk his dog in the evening and not see one person on the street under the age of sixty-five. Now, with the yuppies riding their bikes, joggers, and “Park Slope parents” causing stroller gridlock, you took your life in your hands waiting for the dog to do his business.
At Frankfort Street, Taft turned and headed toward the Brooklyn Bridge. Swelled during the day with financial district workers, the streets near the bridge were vibrant and alive. After dark, this section of Lower Manhattan was a dark and seedy ghost town. A few blocks west, the beautiful people began buying up old tenement buildings and renovating them into Tribeca palaces, but they hadn’t encroached this far east yet. Given enough time, the beautiful people would make a loft apartment out of just about anything, so it was only a matter of time before Bowery became another word for privileged.
A block before the entrance ramp to the bridge, Taft caught a light and prepared himself by fishing out some one-dollar bills. Not ten seconds passed before a large man wearing winter clothing emerged from the shadows under the bridge and approached Taft’s car. The man had long, greasy hair under a wool cap and a full, dirty beard. He held a spray bottle of water and a squeegee, the tools of his trade. He sprayed the windshield and wiped the water with the squeegee, then stood with his hand out to take payment for his labor.
Taft looked at the man. His eyes were dark and empty, the windows to a lost soul. It was pointless to wonder what had befallen him to bring him to his present state. Years ago, when the public demanded that something be done about Times Square, the solution was to clean up the area by putting in a Disney Store and driving out the smut industry. The tourists felt safer, their money flowed, and the project was hailed a complete success.
Ask this man if he thought the project was a success. Along with the smut industry, the homeless moved on. Taft noticed more and more of them had taken up residence in the dark and deserted streets under the Brooklyn Bridge just a few blocks from the shelter near the Bowery, less than a half-mile from the yuppies in their Tribeca lofts.
Taft held two one-dollar bills in his left hand for the man. The man looked at the bills, then at Taft. He surprised Taft when he took the money and spoke. “Thank you,” he said gently.
Taft smiled at him. “You’re welcome.” Up close the man stood a good six four and had the wide shoulders of an athlete.
“I thought you were DHS,” the man said.
The nightly bean counters, Taft thought. As part of the homeless reduction program instituted by the Department of Human Services, field personnel go out into the street and physically count the homeless. Then they take their count, compare it to the eight million residents of the city, and announce to the media that New York has one of the lowest percentage rates of homeless of any city in the country.
That was all bullshit as far as Taft was concerned. Any number would seem small when compared to eight million. And who knew how accurate their count numbers really were? By his own account, Taft couldn’t remember seeing the same man wash his window twice in a week at just this light, so who could say where and when the homeless would migrate to.
“NYPD,” Taft said. “Captain.”
The man nodded. “Well, captain, the light’s changed.”
Taft gave the man a slight wave as he stepped on the gas and drove his car across the bridge into Brooklyn to his million-dollar Park Slope home and a home-cooked meal.
The man stood watching Taft’s car move onto the entrance ramp of the bridge until the taillights disappeared, and then he turned and walked under the overpass and sat on a milk crate in darkness to wait for the next windshield to come along. As he sat, the man removed a crumpled package of cigarettes from a coat pocket and lit one with a match. He did a tally in his head of his nightly income and figured he’d made about twelve bucks. A couple more hours and he would head over to the shelter.
Three men suddenly emerged from the darkness under the bridge and stood in front of him. Like him, they wore layers of filthy clothing, and had long unwashed hair and beards. They smiled at him and showed yellow, decaying teeth.
“Looks like you had a good night tonight, John,” one of the three said.
The man looked at them without moving. “Fair.” He recognized them from the shelter dining hall, but had never cared enough to learn their names. They knew his, though, and he took that as a bad sign.
Another of the three pulled a long kitchen knife and waved it under the man’s face. “Hand it over, John,” he said. “We’ll fucking cut you.”
The man stood up, tossed his cigarette, and looked at the three. He towered over them and seemed completely unafraid of their threat. “So cut me,” he said.
Not until the following morning when he arrived at his desk and settled in did Taft become aware of the murders that had taken place not thirty feet from where the homeless man had washed his windshield the night before. The victims were three homeless men. One had been stabbed through the heart. Another had had his windpipe crushed. The third had had his neck twisted until it snapped, severing his spinal cord. Homicide detectives working the case had no leads, but the general consensus was that the homeless killed the homeless for panhandle money and cheap wine. Not exactly new or newsworthy in this town, to say the least. They would run with the investigation until the newspapers moved the story to page thirty-six, then they would file it under back burner and forget all about it and move on to the next victim of modern life in the big city.
Taft picked up the city paper and read the story in the Metro Section. He made a few calls to Homicide and, as expected, they had few resources to waste on the faceless when there were rich and important people to worry about. Unless the mayor or someone of equal importance demanded that the case remain active, it was considered circular filed.
Taft hung up, put his feet up on his desk, and thought there were three fewer beans for the DHS to count.
Then he went to lunch.


Located a half-mile from the Brooklyn Bridge entrance ramp, situated along the street known simply as the Bowery, the second oldest shelter in the country occupies a five-story building that has stood in its exact location since 1900. While students play Frisbee in Washington Square Park, a short walk to the west, 125 of the city’s homeless seek hot food, a bed, and a brief reprieve from the swelter of the July heat. Oftentimes during the summer, when shelter regulars don’t bother to come in for meals, six of the staff of eight volunteers load up pushcarts and bring hot food to the homeless in the streets. Otherwise, some of them would literally starve to death inside their cardboard boxes.
Charles Williams, a large black man of about fifty, took great pride in his kitchen. As head chef and director of a staff of a dozen volunteers, it was his responsibility to order food, recruit donations from local grocery stores, plan the meals, and oversee all operations within the kitchen and dining area. After five years on the job, Charles prided himself on his expertise in running a kitchen for the homeless. Unlike a restaurant, or even a small diner, the shelter kitchen had to cater to the needs of hundreds of homeless men and women who had all but given up on life. Their needs were particular, especially in the area of nutrition. For most, a hot bowl of stew was the only thing besides cheap wine they put into their stomachs in a twenty-four-hour period.
Lunch was Charles’s favorite meal of the day. Most of the regular population was still sleeping off the previous night’s booze and would never wake in time to make breakfast. A great many got started on the evening’s drinking before rush hour and never made it to dinner. Lunch was, for many, their only meal, wedged in between bottles of wine. Hundreds would line up for his beef stew or fried chicken, although his meatloaf seemed to be the most popular item on his menu.
Tonight’s meal consisted of beef stew, fresh bread or cornbread, several types of dessert, milk, and coffee. Fresh fruit and cereal were available at every meal. Nearly every seat in the 125-person–capacity dining hall was occupied. With four volunteer servers behind the serving line, Charles took a break, filled a mug with coffee, and shared a table closest to the door. Charles often chatted with many of the homeless at the shelter. He found that some had led very interesting lives before taking up residence on the street. Like that stockbroker who was reported to have been worth a hundred million before losing half to a failed marriage and the other half to the bottle. Another favorite was a doctor, a surgeon who had lost his nerve, then his practice, followed by his wife, family, and home. They came from everywhere and from all walks of life, but always with one common denominator: tragedy drove them over the edge and out onto the streets where they took up residence inside a bottle.
Some were mystery men and women, their origins unknown, and that made them even more intriguing. Such a case was John Tibbets, who opened the door and entered the kitchen just as Charles stood up from the table. At six foot four, John was a massive wall of a man, made to appear even larger by the several layers of clothing he always wore. His long, dark hair poked out from under the wool cap on his head and that, along with his salt-and-pepper beard, made Charles think of an old-time mountain man. Like in that old Robert Redford movie Jeremiah Johnson. Mountain men living in the frozen hills of Colorado, fighting Indians and surviving by their wits, courage and strength.
Except that as far as Charles could tell, John possessed no wits to live off of. In the three years John had been a regular at the shelter, Charles hadn’t heard the man speak five hundred words. Five in a string was pushing it. Usually hello and good-bye were all the man had to say.
Tonight was no exception. John stood in the open doorway and stared almost straight ahead as if seeing the dining hall for the first time. “In or out, John,” Charles said. “Air conditioning costs money.”
John turned his head to look at Charles. “Grab a tray, John,” Charles said. “I got your favorite tonight. Beef stew and corn bread.”
John nodded and walked to the tray counter. Charles walked around to the other side of the serving line to wait for John. He showed up with a soup bowl and spoon and waited for Charles to ladle the bowl full of stew. “You want corn bread or regular?” Charles said.
“Corn bread.”
Charles placed two slices of corn bread on John’s tray. “Where’s your cart tonight, John?”
“Alleyway. Want me to move it?”
“I didn’t say that. Come back for seconds. We got plenty.”
John nodded and turned away, scanning the tables for an empty spot. He walked to a vacant table for two in the corner, set his tray down and then went to the coffee machine for two mugs of coffee. Returning to the table, John sat and immediately began to eat in silence, ignoring everything and everybody around him.
Behind the counter, Charles and his volunteers got an early start on cleaning up. Charles was wiping down the stainless steel guardrails on his side of the serving line when Julie Warner, director of the shelter, opened a door that connected to the kitchen and joined him.
“It’s after eight,” Charles said. “What are you still doing here?”
At thirty-five, Julie was a tall, striking-looking woman with shoulder-length dark hair and piercing dark eyes. If she wore makeup, Charles could never tell. If she used perfume, Charles could never smell it. She was always dressed well, though conservatively and somewhat out of date.
“The cardinal’s inspector is coming tomorrow,” Julie said. “The last-minute details are always the hardest.”
Charles nodded. “I forgot. What are they inspecting this time?”
“All of it,” Julie said, looking out at the tables. “Kitchen, sleeping quarters, shower facilities, rec room, church, and medical staff. The books.”
“Must be budget crunch time,” Charles said.
“I don’t know where the last twelve months went,” Julie said.
“So I should give things an extra good shine before I lock up tonight?”
Julie smiled. “Your usual is good enough.” She looked at John and nodded at him. “How is he tonight?”
“Old John? His customary. In three years, I haven’t heard the man say a hundred words. Tonight, he was talkative. Said a dozen.”
“But no trouble?”
“Not a peep out of him.”
“You’re going home, then?”
“Be careful,” Charles cautioned. “It’s getting dark out.”
“I will.” Julie smiled. “Goodnight, Charles.”
Julie walked around to the other side of the serving counter and crossed the room to the front door. As she passed John, he looked up from his bowl of stew and watched Julie open the door and step outside. As the door closed, John returned his attention to eating.
A moment later, the front door opened again and a homeless woman known simply as Maggie walked in. Like John, Maggie was dressed in layers of filthy clothing, including a wool cap over stringy gray hair. From looking at her, it was impossible to determine Maggie’s age. A thousand bottles of cheap wine and sleeping in the streets had taken a toll on her face and skin. She could have been forty, or sixty. It was doubtful even she knew.
Seemingly ignoring her surroundings, Maggie walked to the serving line for a tray and a bowl and then waited for Charles to ladle out the stew.
“How are you tonight, Maggie?” Charles said. He placed two slices of white bread next to Maggie’s bowl.
“I’m the queen of fucking England,” Maggie said. “How you think I am?”
“Why don’t you sleep in a bed tonight, Maggie?” Charles said. “Have a hot bath and some clean clothes. It will do you good.”
“Because you’ll take my wine,” Maggie said. “And I need my wine for my arthritis.”
“You ain’t got arthritis, Maggie,” Charles said. “The doctor said so.”
“What do doctors know about how a person feels?” Maggie said and turned away. She scanned the tables, which were now half empty, then walked directly to John’s table and sat down opposite him.
Still eating, John didn’t look up or acknowledge Maggie’s presence. Maggie bit off a piece of bread and smiled at John. “Evening, John,” Maggie said.
John looked up at Maggie as he shoved the last bit of cornbread into his mouth. Without saying a word, he stood up and carried his bowl to Charles for a refill. When he returned to the table, John immediately began to eat without looking at Maggie.
“Where you been, John?” Maggie asked. “Ain’t seen you for days.”
“Around,” John said without looking up from his stew.
Maggie ate a spoon of her stew. “Around where, John?”
“Just around.”
“Is it a secret?”
John looked up from his stew and glared at Maggie. “Would you shut the hell up? I’m trying to eat a meal in peace here.”
Maggie ate another spoonful of stew and said, “No need to get testy with me, John. I used to be somebody, you know.”
“Yeah? What did an old hag like you used to be?” John said and continued to eat without looking at her.
Maggie looked at John and bit off a piece of bread. As she chewed, a tear appeared in the corner of her right eye. She ignored it as it rolled down her cheek. “There was a time when I was the belle of the ball, John.” The tear reached her lips and she licked it with her tongue. “Had men lining up around the block to take me to dinner. Better-looking men than you.”
“That isn’t saying much,” John said. “Now is it?”
Maggie bit off another piece of bread and slowly chewed it, watching John. “I don’t know what happened,” she said softly. “I just don’t know where it all went wrong.”
John chewed and swallowed stew, then washed it down with coffee. “Sometimes shit just happens all by itself for no good reason,” he said. “You wake up one day and here you are eating handout food and sleeping on park benches.”
Another tear rolled down Maggie’s cheek and she wiped it away. “Is that what happened to you?”
John stared at Maggie for several long moments. “I don’t remember,” he finally said without emotion.
Maggie shrugged her shoulders. “It doesn’t really matter now, does it?”
John didn’t answer as he removed a package of cigarettes from a pocket and slid it across the table to Maggie.
“Obliged, John,” Maggie said as she removed a cigarette from the pack.
Behind the serving counter, Charles watched Maggie as she tucked a cigarette behind each ear. Turning his attention to cleaning, Charles picked up a rag and began to polish the stainless steel guardrails.

           After nightfall, John pushed his shopping cart along Frankfort Street toward the Brooklyn Bridge entrance ramp. Except for a few passed-out drunks on the sidewalk, John was alone. At the corner by the traffic light, he removed a milk crate, a water bottle, and a squeegee from the cart and took a seat on the milk crate to wait. Since it was Friday, traffic across the bridge was heavy in both directions, and it would be a good night financially.
John watched the traffic light. It went yellow, and he stood up to approach the first car caught by the red light. John could see that the man behind the wheel was pissed off as he fished out a dollar bill.
John nodded to the man as he sprayed his windshield with water.
Three hours later, at 11 p.m., John packed it in for the night some seventeen dollars richer. He pushed his cart back to the shelter and stowed it away in the basement storage facility reserved for shelter regulars. Once inside the shelter, John was able to gain access to the large chapel from an interior hallway and connecting door.
The chapel was more a church. Built to hold 200 in its pews, the high ceilings and stained glass windows were reminiscent of the Fifth Avenue churches, which had built the structure along with the shelter in 1900.
John took a seat in the first pew and stared at the altar. A dozen large candles burned along the altar railing, and shadows of the religious statues danced on the walls as the candles flickered. From his pocket, John removed and dumped onto the pew the seventeen dollars he had earned washing windshields. Ten of the seventeen were in coins. He stuck seven dollars in bills into his pocket, then rose up and deposited the remaining ten dollars in coins into the collection box on the altar railing next to the candles. Returning to his pew, John lit a cigarette and smoked in silence.
Suddenly, with a loud echo, the door behind the altar and against the right side of the chapel opened and Father Joseph, the church pastor, came out with an armload of cleaning supplies. He carried the supplies to the altar, set them down, and looked at John.
“Good evening, John,” Father Joseph said pleasantly.
John nodded to the priest.
Father Joseph looked at the collection box. “Another donation?”
John stood up and turned to leave the pew.
“Wait, please,” Father Joseph said. He came down from the altar, skirted the last rail, and stood next to John. “Sit with me a moment. Please.”
John looked at the priest as he lowered himself back onto the pew. Smiling, Father Joseph sat next to him. “Nearly every night since you first arrived at the shelter three years ago, you’ve brought money to the church,” Father Joseph said. “I think it’s time you told me why.”
“No reason,” John said. “It’s just something I do.”
“Everything we do has a reason and a purpose to it, John,” Father Joseph said. “Maybe the reason is between you and God and I have no right to know, but there is a reason.”
“It …makes me feel good,” John said.
“Well, then. That is a very good reason,” Father Joseph said. “Yet I never see you at Sunday services.”
John turned his attention to the altar and stared at it.
“You don’t have to, but I’m going to say a prayer of thanks,” Father Joseph said. He clasped his hands and bowed his head.
As Father Joseph said a silent prayer, John turned his head to look at him.

Although it was summer and occupancy was light in the sleeping quarters, John climbed to the fifth-floor loft where none of the twenty beds except his was occupied. In the summer, he selected a bed under a window for the breeze. During the winter, he moved closer to one of two steam heat radiators located on opposite ends of the loft. He stripped down to his underwear and lay atop the blankets. Propping himself up, John lit a cigarette and smoked in silence.
Putting the cigarette out against the window ledge, he got up and walked to the door. There was a circular hole where the lock should have been, making it impossible to secure the door. From under the nearest bed, John picked up an unopened can of soda and opened the door wide enough to rest the can on the door ledge. If someone were to come in while he was asleep, the noise of the can hitting the floor would wake him up. He had no idea why he did this.
Returning to bed, John tossed and turned until he finally burned off enough nervous energy to fall asleep.

Against a background of darkness and shadow, three men are engaged in a violent, hand-to-hand fight. Two of the men are fighting against the third and the third was the obvious, superior fighter. He kicked the legs out from under one man and knocked the other to the ground with a slash to his nose. A vicious looking knife suddenly appeared in the first man’s right hand as he jumped to his feet and waved the blade at the third man. The second man also got up and he and the first man closed in on the third man. The move was an obvious mistake and the third man moved with catlike reflexes, grabbed the first man’s arm, twisted and bent it downward until the knife dropped to the floor. The third man cupped his right hand, smashed it into the first man’s throat, spun and picked up the knife, and shoved it into the second man’s windpipe. Before the second man even hit the floor, the third man cracked his elbow into the first man’s throat, crushing it. Stepping back, the third man turned and vanished into the shadows like a ghost, leaving both men for dead.

John woke up screaming in the dark. His face was covered in a layer of sweat as he sat on the edge of the bed and reached for his cigarettes on the small stand by the pillow. Smoking wasn’t allowed by shelter rules, but who was around to enforce them and the cigarette was a crutch. Lately, the dreams had been getting worse and more frequent. At first, they were once a month, then every week, and now almost a nightly occurrence.
As he smoked, John’s hands began to steady. He tried to recall the dream, but it was hazy and distorted, and it vanished from his memory like the smoke from his cigarette. All he could remember of it was that, like the others, it was violent and ugly. He stood up and walked across the large room to the bathroom, guided by the tiny light given off by the emergency exit sign over the door. He paused to look at the can of soda. It was still in place on the ledge of the door.
Entering the bathroom, John turned on the light and stood before the mirror over the sink. He was shocked at his own appearance. His shoulder-length gray and black hair was a greasy mess, matted to his skull. The long gray beard that covered most of his face hadn’t seen water in a dog’s age. He took a final puff on the cigarette and tossed it into the toilet, then ran the cold water to wash the grime of sweat from his face. He used a face towel from the rack to dry off and then closely inspected his eyes. Even to him they appeared dark and empty. The deep-rooted bags and lines failed to tell him his age. He could be forty-five or he could be sixty-five. There was no way to tell from looking at him.
John returned to his bed and lit another cigarette. If he had to guess, he would put his age at fifty. The thing was, he didn’t know. He couldn’t remember anything about his life past the point of arriving at the shelter, and even those details were sketchy at best.
At dinner, when Maggie asked what had happened to him and he said he couldn’t remember, he was telling the truth. She said it didn’t really matter now and she was right, it didn’t.
Except that it did.
Just like the nightmares, they didn’t really matter, either.
Except that they did.
John put the cigarette out and lay on his bed to wait for sunrise.


           Julie arrived at the shelter at her regular time of 9:00 a.m. to find the cardinal’s representative waiting for her in the dining facility. His name was Donald Logan, a partner in the accounting firm of Logan, Masters and Peters, which the cardinal employed to handle the diocese’s financial affairs.
As she did every morning, Julie entered through the dining facility. She immediately caught Charles’s eye, and he gently guided her to the tiny man seated alone at a table. She knew immediately it was Logan.
“Mr. Logan,” Julie said, approaching his table. “Good morning.”
Donald Logan was a tiny, tiny man. Five foot two in his stocking feet, he offered her a small right hand, and it all but disappeared inside Julie’s. “Miss Warner,” Logan said in a soft, unemotional voice.
Julie took a seat opposite Logan. “Our appointment is for 9:30.”
“It is,” Logan said. “But I like to arrive early and see what I’m not supposed to.”
“And did you?”
Logan held up his coffee mug.
“What?” Julie said. “The coffee?”
“Wasteful,” Logan said. “I spoke to your man Charles, and we toured the freezer and storage facility. Are you aware of his purchasing habits, Miss Warner?”
“I sign off on all purchase orders.”
“Then you’re aware that he buys Colombian coffee in bulk from a distributor in Brooklyn.”
“Yes. We get a very good deal on bulk orders.”
“Even so, Colombian is two dollars a pound more than a blend,” Logan said. “I told Charles to switch immediately. Your savings will amount to thousands over the course of a year. And really, will your clientele be able to tell the difference?”
“Probably not.”
“Try definitely not,” Logan said. “Okay, let’s move on to your office.”

The water pressure on the fifth floor wasn’t the best, but it was good enough for a hot shower. John scrubbed his body with generic soap and washed his hair and beard with no name brand shampoo he found under the sink. He came out of the shower feeling clean, if not groomed, and stood naked before the bathroom mirror. Whatever his age was, however it had happened, from the neck down, he was a large and powerful beast. Wide shoulders flared down to a thickly muscled chest, flat stomach, slim hips, and legs made up of sinewy muscle. As he touched his face, he noticed the muscles in his arms tighten and bulge. He must have, he reasoned, done quite a bit of weightlifting in his previous life, whatever and wherever that was. Then there were his hands. Massive bear claws with wide palms and bulging knuckles, the kind of hands a heavyweight boxer developed from years of pounding a heavy bag.
What really disturbed him was the ugly scar to the left of his right shoulder. It could only be the scar made from a bullet wound, yet he had no memory of ever being shot. The same for the thin, long scar across his stomach. It had to be from a knife, yet there was no memory of ever being stabbed.
Turning away from the mirror, John didn’t bother with a towel. He had air dried, anyway. He went to his bed and smoked a cigarette. Maybe he could talk to Julie Warner and ask for her help. She seemed like a good person, like someone who really cared.
John reached under his bed for the footlocker and flipped open the lid. Inside was his supply of old but clean clothing and he reached for a shirt.

Logan spent three hours inspecting Julie’s files. He made a yellow pad full of notes that he reviewed with her over lunch in the dining facility.
“I see a 15 percent increase in electric bills over the previous year,” Logan said as he ate a slice of Charles’s prized meatloaf.
“It was a cold winter and it’s been a hot summer,” Julie said.
“Yes.” Logan flipped pages on his yellow pad. “I’m recommending you switch food vendors to a less costly distributor. There is a food broker company in California that will package and ship for 10 percent less than you currently pay for delivery less than seven miles from here.”
“What about quality and nutrition?”
“They are government approved,” Logan said. “And I doubt,” said he continued, pausing to wave a hand across the room to the half-full tables, “that these people know the difference between Grade A beef and dog food. Make the change, Miss Warner.”
“We’re talking about people here,” Julie said.
“Homeless people that the church provides for at great expense to its parishioners,” Logan said.
“But still people.”
“Who are eating a better meatloaf than my wife makes,” Logan pointed out. “So, if you want to continue caring for these people, costs must be cut. Otherwise, services must be cut. Then everybody suffers, but mostly them. The choice is yours.”
Julie’s silence was her agreement.
“Now then, let’s move on,” Logan said and flipped another page on his yellow pad. As he talked, Logan was completely unaware of John, who was seated across the room and staring at Julie. Not until John had approached the table and stood over them did Logan stop talking and look up at him.
“Yes, John,” Julie said, pleasantly.
“Am I interrupting?” John said.
“You are,” Logan said with irritation in his voice. “We are in the middle of a meeting.”
“Sorry,” John said and looked at Julie. “I was wondering if you would be available today.”
“I’ll be in my office when we are finished with our meeting,” Julie said. “You can stop by then if you like.”
“Thank you.” John nodded and turned away.
Logan said, “Let’s move on to the sleeping quarters,” and stood up without giving John a second glance.

Standing in the center of the fifth-floor sleeping quarters, Logan scribbled on his yellow pad while Julie silently stood by and waited. Sliding his pen into his jacket pocket, Logan looked up at Julie, who was a good six inches taller. “More waste. It costs money to heat these floors and cool them in the summer. I count three ceiling fans and two wall-mounted ones on each end. You said your occupancy during the summer is about 60 percent, so why are all five floors in use?”
“It’s true we run at 60 percent during the summer, but most of the regulars are particular about their beds and their floors,” Julie said.
Logan turned his head to the left and right before turning back to Julie. “I see evidence of one bed being used on this floor. The entire floor lit and cooled, water heated for one person to use one bed.”
“When you put it that way,” Julie said.
“There is no other way to put it,” Logan said. “Close two floors until the weather turns and you’re at full occupancy.”
Without having recourse, Julie nodded her agreement and Logan took that as a sign to move on. “I’d like to see the chapel next. Is Father . . . ?”
“Yes, Joseph. Is he available?”
“He’s in his office.”

Logan, Julie, and Father Joseph stood in the rear of the chapel as Logan scribbled notes on his yellow pad. “You requested paint, new roofing on the gables and a remodel on the bathroom in the basement,” Logan said, looking at Father Joseph.
“That’s correct,” Father Joseph said. “I submitted the forms to Julie and she forwarded them to the diocesan office for approval. Is there a problem?”
Logan wet the first finger of his right hand with his tongue and held it up to feel the air. “The air conditioning is on.”
“It’s eighty-seven degrees outside,” Father Joseph said.
“Outside,” Logan said. “In here it’s no more than sixty-eight. How can I justify requests for building repairs when money is being wasted on cooling an empty building?”
Father Joseph looked at Julie and she softly shook her head at him. “It won’t happen again. I’ll see to it. Is there anything else?”
Logan glanced at his wristwatch. “Dinner is being served, correct?”
“Yes,” Julie said.
“I’d like to observe.”

Julie and Logan stood next to Charles as several homeless men and women went through the serving line.
“Chicken, mashed potatoes, two vegetables, two kinds of bread, dessert, milk, and coffee,” Logan said.
“Is there a problem?” Charles said as he ladled gravy onto chicken for a man in line.
“You’ve prepared food for a hundred, but I doubt you’ll see half that this afternoon,” Logan said.
“That’s true,” Charles said. “In the summer, many don’t come in from the park and such to eat. What we do is load up what’s left on serving carts and volunteers go out to them. For those who don’t come in, it’s the only food they get for the day.”
“I suggest you cut your portions by half in the summer unless they come to you,” Logan said. “The amount of money you will save . . .”
“Absolutely not,” Julie said. For the first time anger was in her voice. “We will cut back on air conditioning and close floors until the fall, but not on food. We are feeding the homeless men and women of this city, many of whom cannot care for themselves. To follow your suggestion is the same as starving some of them to death and as long as I’m director of this facility, that won’t happen. You can tell the cardinal for me that as far as I’m concerned he can sell one of his limousines to pay for the food.”
There was a moment of silence during which the only sound came from Charles as he exhaled loudly. Then Logan scribbled a note on his yellow pad and glared at Julie. “I’ll tell the cardinal you said that.”
“Tell him,” Julie said. “Maybe he’ll come down here and see for himself what we do here.”
“His Eminence has fifteen other shelters to worry about,” Logan said. “Why should this be the only one to escape budget cuts?”
“We are the largest and most prominent,” Julie said. “The mayor won his reelection on his promise to get the homeless off the streets and make them safe for tourists. Large cuts will mean they take to the streets again.” Julie leaned in close and glared at Logan. “The mayor and the cardinal are close friends, aren’t they?”
“Yes,” Logan said.
“Is there anything else?” Julie said.
“I’ll see you to your car.”
With his yellow pad under his arm, Logan followed Julie to the front door. As Julie opened the door, John stepped inside from the street, startling Logan.
“Excuse me,” John said.
Logan glared up at John, who politely stepped around him.
“Good evening, Mr. Logan,” Julie said.
“You’ll have my report in a day or two,” Logan said. “Good night.”
Julie closed the door and looked up at John. “You wanted to see me?”
“Do you want to have dinner first?”
John shook his head. “This will only take a minute.”

John stood in front of Julie’s desk and looked at her. After a minute of silence, Julie said, “Yes, John, what is it?”
“My medical records, do you have them?” John finally said.
“Are you ill?” Julie said. “The doctor isn’t here today, but I can phone him if you want.”
“I’m not ill,” John said.
“Then what is it?”
“I have scars,” John said. “On my body. I was wondering if there was anything in my files that might tell me where I got them.”
“You don’t know?”
“What kind of scars?”
John unbuttoned his shirt, removed it, then removed his tee shirt and stood bare-chested before Julie. She looked at the hole in his upper chest and the line across his abdomen. “I’m not an expert on scars, John, but that one on your chest looks like a bullet wound and the one across your stomach may be from a knife.”
“That’s what I think,” John said. “But I can’t remember where they came from or how I got them.”
Julie turned in her seat, opened a file cabinet, fished around for John’s file, and removed it. Before opening the file, she perched reading glasses on her nose. As she read, John put his tee shirt and shirt on, and then stood and waited silently for her to finish reading.
“Your records from Bellevue Hospital state that they noted the scars for identification purposes, but make no mention of their origin,” Julie said. “Apparently you had them when you arrived.”
“Arrived from where?” John said.
“They don’t say.” Julie looked up at John and the reading glasses slipped a bit down the bridge of her nose. “They probably don’t know.”
“Can you find out?”
“How? Those scars are probably years old.”
“Ask the doctor,” John suggested. “Don’t hospitals keep records of gunshot patients?”
“I believe so, yes,” Julie said. “The doctor will be here tomorrow. I’ll ask him to check into it.”
“Thank you.”
“Anything else?”
“No,” John said.
“Better grab some dinner before it’s all gone.”
John turned and reached for the door.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Julie said. “We need to close floors four and five until the fall. Diocesan orders. Will that be a problem?”
“No. I’ll bring my stuff down to three in the morning.”
“Thank you. Enjoy your dinner, John.”

Alone at a table, John sipped after-dinner coffee and played with an unlit cigarette. He hadn’t noticed Maggie come in, but suddenly she slipped into the chair opposite him with a tray of food.
“Evening, John,” Maggie said. “I could use one of those if you don’t mind.”
John slid his cigarette pack across the table. Maggie picked it up and removed three. “I got a new bottle tonight, John. Like to come along and help me empty it?”
“What do you got?”
“Apple wine. On sale for two eighty-nine.”
“Where did you get two eighty-nine?” John said.
“Men will pay plenty for what a woman’s got down below, John,” Maggie said, sheepishly. “Even an old piece of leather like me.”
“That’s a kind offer Maggie, but I’m tired tonight,” John said. “I’m going to turn in early.”
“Suit yourself, John,” Maggie said and ate a piece of chicken. “You know where I’ll be if you change your mind.”
John nodded as he took a sip of coffee. “Maybe you should stay in tonight and get some sleep.”
“It’s a beautiful night, John,” Maggie said. “There’s plenty of time to stay in when I’m dead. You should remember that.”
John stared at Maggie as she chewed and smiled at him. It occurred to him that he would like to remember anything.


Several city blocks under the entrance ramp overpass that led to the Brooklyn Bridge, those who frequented the dark and deserted streets called it Cardboard Box City. They raided dumpsters by the outlet stores in Lower Manhattan and dragged the largest boxes to the area, lined them with any rags they could find, and called it home. They stayed all summer until the threat of freezing to death drove them to the shelters or the subways. Even on the warmest July nights, they built fires in stolen city trash bins and drank the night away by the fire.
Hawkins was a powerful beast of a man, a former dockworker along the Brooklyn waterfront who’d allowed himself to go to seed. His once powerful chest sagged dramatically and his protruding belly gave testimony to the many thousands of bottles of cheap wine he’d consumed during the last ten years. Still, his arms, shoulders, and neck gave pause to anyone thinking of trying to take something that belonged to him. As he swilled wine from the bottle and leaned back against a milk crate, he displayed a mouthful of yellow teeth as he smiled at his friend Grimsley.
“What’s taking him so fucking long?” Hawkins said, dribbling wine down his chin.
“Dunno,” Grimsley said. “She’s in rare form tonight I guess.”
Grimsley, like Hawkins, was a former dockworker, although they hadn’t known each other until they arrived at the shelter five years ago. Not as large as Hawkins, Grimsley was nonetheless a violent and dangerous man if provoked, and Hawkins, although not afraid of Grimsley, did his best not to irritate his friend.
Less than six feet away, inside a refrigerator-size cardboard box, Hawkins and Grimsley could hear Qualls and Maggie going at it. “Don’t spill my bottle, you fucking pig,” they heard Maggie say, which prompted them both to laugh.
“C’mon, Qualls,” Hawkins said. “Get it the fuck over with. We got business to tend to.”
“Goddammit,” Qualls yelled from inside the box. “The fucking bitch passed out.”
“So what?” Hawkins said. “Finish her and get out here.”
Hawkins and Grimsley listened to Qualls squeal for thirty seconds, and then he appeared from the box, zipping up his pants. “Fucking bitch,” Qualls said. “Last time I go third.” Turning, Qualls kicked the box. “Fucking old bitch.”
“Shut up and get over here,” Hawkins said.
Qualls sat down next to Hawkins and Grimsley, placing his back against a milk carton. “What’s so important you made me rush?”
Hawkins looked at the wine bottle in his hand. “I’m sick of this cheap, fucking wine. I used to drink nothing but Walker Black on ice.”
“Used to,” Qualls said. He was as large as Hawkins was, though not as violent. “And I used to fuck your wife, what of it?”
Grimsley snorted his laughter as he sucked on a wine bottle. “He ain’t never had a wife, ain’t that right, Hawk?”
“I had a wife,” Hawkins said. “A damn pretty one. Too pretty. Took up with some stockbroker type and I kicked her ass out right after I broke his face open with a tire iron. Good riddance to both of them.”
“I never had a wife,” Grimsley said. “But I had me a lot of ripe ass back then.”
“Like you said, had,” Qualls echoed. “What you got now except those rags on your back and that eighty-nine-cent bottle of wine in your pocket and that drunken whore inside that fucking box?”
“Shut up, the both of you,” Hawkins snapped. “I’m making a point here.”
“So make it,” Qualls said. “Or shut up.”
“It don’t matter shit what we had, only what we have now and what we have now is this piss shit, cheap wine,” Hawkins said. “And I’m sick of it.”
“We’re all sick of it,” Grimsley said. “So what?”
“So we need to get us some real money, that’s what,” Hawkins said.
“How?” Qualls said. “Put on our Sunday suits and go job hunting?”
“No, but I’ll tell you what we need,” Hawkins said.
“Yeah, what?” Grimsley said.
“We need us a gun.”
“What for?” Qualls said.
“You got a gun and you got money,” Hawkins said.
“And where we gonna get a fucking gun?” Qualls said.

Alone in his bed on the fifth floor of the shelter sleeping quarters, John moaned softly in his sleep as he tossed and turned. Covered in a sheen of sweat, he suddenly bolted awake and sat up in the bed. It took a moment for his head to clear and his breathing to return to normal.
As the mist inside his head lifted, John realized it was another bad dream that had awakened him. He reached for his cigarettes and smoked in the dark as he tried in vain to remember any details of the dream. It was as if there were a firewall between him and his memory. After a few minutes, his head throbbed from the effort and he gave up trying to remember.
Holding the cigarette between his lips, he reclined on the bed and smoked in silence. He didn’t know what time it was. Did it matter? Returning to sleep would be useless.
Standing up, he grabbed his clothes off the vacant bed next to his and went into the bathroom. Some fresh night air might be just the thing he needed to clear his mind of its cobwebs.

Officer Gary Nevin was into the third hour of his shift as he drove his cruiser along Frankfort Street under the Brooklyn Bridge entrance ramp. His partner of two years had stomach flu and had called out sick, and Nevin opted to ride alone rather than pull someone off his or her regular duty. One night, it was no big deal. He had walked a beat alone many times and that was much more dangerous. A ride in a cruiser was nothing compared to that. Besides, nothing much ever happened down here except for drunks fighting with winos over cheap booze or a place to sleep.
Something on the street directly ahead caught his eye, and Nevin slowed the cruiser to a stop twenty feet from it. From that distance and in the dark it appeared to be the body of a man. Inching the cruiser forward, Nevin stopped six feet from the body, left the engine running, and got out with his flashlight in his right hand.
Shining the flashlight over the body, Nevin said, “Hey, buddy. You okay?” He tapped the shoulder of the body. “Buddy?”
When there was no response, Nevin bent down for a closer look. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the image of something and turned just in time to see Hawkins swing a wine bottle at his head.
Years of training kicked in and Nevin turned his body away from the attacker, but the bottle caught him above the right eye on the temple. Struck with such force that the bottle shattered, Nevin felt the bone behind his eyebrow crack. He tried to stand, but a wave of dizziness overcame him, and he pitched forward to his knees. From his left eye, Nevin saw the man on the ground roll over and grin at him, and he knew they were after his weapon.
The man on the ground, Grimsley, lunged toward Nevin, and Nevin pulled his nightstick, but he hadn’t had a chance to use it when Qualls appeared behind him and struck him on the back of the head with a rock.
Nevin lurched forward and landed on his hands, and his three attackers went to work kicking him. Still conscious, Nevin felt his weapon pulled from his holster but was unable to prevent it from happening.
“Got it,” Hawkins said.
“Finish him off and let’s get out of here,” Grimsley said.
“Get the spare clips first,” Hawkins said.
Qualls rummaged in Nevin’s utility belt for the extra magazines kept in a leather pouch. “Got’em,” he said.
“His money and wallet, asshole,” Hawkins said.
Qualls fished out the wallet in Nevin’s back pocket, removed the money, and tossed the wallet aside.
“Okay, stand back,” Hawkins said.

John walked the streets under the Brooklyn Bridge and felt the cool summer air clear his head. He looked for Maggie and found her passed out inside a rank, cardboard box, and he knew it was useless to try to wake her.
Smoking a cigarette, John figured to walk around until daylight and then maybe have some breakfast before moving his stuff from the fifth floor to the third. As he came to Frankfort Street under the entrance ramp to the bridge, he spotted several men fighting in the shadows. At first, he wasn’t concerned because they were always fighting over loose change and wine or the best place to sleep. Sixty empty beds with clean sheets and they would rather kill each other over a filthy box cover. He was about to change direction and walk away from it, when he heard a voice in the darkness plead, “Please, I have three kids.”

Through blood-soaked eyes, Nevin looked at his three attackers and knew they were going to kill him with his own weapon. At that moment, all he could think of was that his wife and three children would have to survive without a husband and a father. He did a quick calculation in his head of department insurance and the private policy he held and figured for the next ten years they could get by financially. But kids without a father stood less of a chance for success than kids with one, so in that regard he knew he’d failed them and his wife.
The big one with the yellow teeth held his weapon, a department-issued Smith and Wesson .40 caliber, semiautomatic pistol, directly in front of his face. Nevin was badly beaten and weak; he lacked the strength to cover his face with his hands. He knew his funeral would be closed casket and he heard himself say, “Please, I have three kids.”
The big one grinned and pulled the trigger, but the safety was on and the weapon wouldn’t fire.
“Fuck,” Hawkins said.
“What is it?” Qualls asked.
Hawkins looked at the weapon, realized the safety was on and switched it off. “Nothing. Shut up and let me do this.”
“Then do it and let’s get the fuck outta here before someone sees us,” Grimsley said, his eyes twitching back and forth.
Nevin watched as the big one with yellow teeth raised the weapon a second time and aimed it at his face. “Please,” Nevin begged. “Please.”
Without warning, John came from the shadows behind the cruiser, took hold of Hawkins by the right arm, pushed it down and twisted counterclockwise. The weapon fell to the street. Before Hawkins could move, John cracked him in the throat with his left elbow. Hawkins fell to the street and made a gurgling sound.
Turning to face Qualls and Grimsley, John cupped his right hand and shoved it into Grimsley’s Adam’s apple. Grimsley fell backward and doubled over. Suddenly, Qualls was alone and afraid and didn’t know what to do next. He looked around for a weapon, spotted the nightstick on the ground, lunged for it and picked it up.
John stood his ground as Qualls wildly swung the nightstick at him. “Come on, fucker,” Qualls snarled. “I’ll crack your fucking head open.”
John took a step backward and allowed the nightstick to pass by his face, then used his left arm to block the return swing and his right arm to crack down at Qualls’ elbow. The nightstick fell from his grasp. Grabbing Qualls by the neck in both hands, John twisted it counterclockwise until he heard the spinal cord snap. Then John released his grip and Qualls fell dead at his feet.
Behind him, John heard a noise and he spun around in time to see Hawkins aiming the pistol at him. As Hawkins fired, John lunged forward and punched him in the throat and the pistol fell from Hawkins’s hand. John cracked Hawkins on the side of the neck with his left hand in a slicing motion and Hawkins was dead on impact.
To John’s left, Grimsley, gasping for air, attempted to stand and John kicked him in the ribs until Grimsley rolled over face up on the street. In one swift motion, John smashed his right foot down onto Grimsley’s throat, killing him instantly.
Standing back, John looked at the three dead men around him in a circle. He completely forgot about the police officer until he heard the man gasping for air, and then he turned and looked at him. “Aw, shit,” John said.
Picking up the officer’s weapon, John walked to the patrol car where he tossed it on the front seat before reaching for the police radio. Keying the handset, John said, “Yeah, hello.”
A voice replied, “Identify yourself, please.”
“This is John.”
“John, this is a police frequency,” the voice said. “What is your authorization, please?”
“My what?” John said. “No, listen. You got a cop hurt pretty bad over here. I just wanted to let you know.”
“An officer is down?” the voice said. “Where, John? What is your location?”
John looked at his left hand and noticed blood. He touched a dark circle of blood on the left side of his abdomen and realized he had been shot. “The ramp under the Brooklyn Bridge.” Rubbing his fingers in the blood, he said, “Hey, listen. I think I’m hurt, too.”

Walter Taft was always thankful for small miracles. In this case, the miracle was that his wife’s nephew was somehow still alive. Along with two dozen uniformed officers, a team of detectives, a forensics team, and the medical examiner’s squad, Taft watched as the EMT’s loaded Gary into the ambulance. It was remarkable that he was still breathing, if not conscious. His face resembled Joe Louis after Marciano destroyed him in ’51. The EMT’s said he had suffered broken ribs and several broken bones in the face and skull. They didn’t know about internal bleeding, but it was likely.
As the EMT’s closed the ambulance doors, Taft turned his attention to Gary’s police cruiser. Several detectives were talking to the man who had saved Gary’s life.
One hour ago, when the phone rang, Taft had opened his eyes and immediately knew without picking up the phone that the news would be bad. After thirty-plus years on the job, Taft’s instincts for the resonance of bad news were well tuned. He left the house wearing a raincoat over pajamas, made the drive in nineteen minutes flat, and arrived just in time to watch Gary being loaded into the ambulance. He said a silent prayer of thanks that the boy was alive. A cop’s funeral was never a good thing, especially when the cop was family.
Taft nodded greetings to several detectives he knew as he approached Gary’s cruiser. “Is this the hero?” Taft said to a detective named Swanson.
“Name is John Tibbets,” Swanson said. “We think. No ID, lives at the homeless shelter a few blocks from here.” Taft motioned with his right hand toward the three dead men who were being poked over by a forensics team. “You did that?” Taft said.
Seated in the rear of the cruiser, John looked at Taft.
“Can you hear me?” Taft said.
“I hear you,” John replied in a soft voice for a man of such size.
A paramedic approached Gary’s cruiser. “He needs to get to the hospital right now. He’s been shot and he’s losing blood.”
“Sure. One second,” Taft said. He looked at John. “The report I got said you happened by when those three men were engaged in beating Officer Nevin and were about to shoot him with his own weapon. Is that correct?”
“And you intercepted them before they could shoot him?”
“What then? You disarmed them and what? Beat them to death? Is that what happened?” Taft said.
“How did you do that?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“No, I don’t.”
“You killed three men, but you don’t know how you did it?”
“That’s what I said.”
The paramedic reached forward, took John by the arm, and looked at Taft. “You can talk to him at the hospital.”
“Where?” Taft said.
“Manhattan General, with the cop.”
“That’s out of the way, isn’t it?”
The paramedic shrugged. “That’s where they want us to take him.”
Taft watched as John walked on his own power to the waiting ambulance, got into the back, and sat on the gurney. Amazingly, the man showed no signs of being shot other than the blood on his shirt and pants.
Taft looked at Swanson. “He doesn’t know,” Taft said.
“Who ever does?” Swanson replied. “In this fucking city.”