A Smelly Surprise

How many times in my life have I done something like interrogate someone in an abandoned building? And this one and only time, it’s got to be interrupted by some kids…at least, I hope that it’s kids…and not Captain Richie…

As it turned it out, it was neither. Two disheveled men, one fair-haired and tall and another shorter with a darker complexion, stumbled into the room with makeshift weapons of old pipes and sticks. Even though they wore clothes that didn’t fit well and though they were somewhat tattered and stained, they didn’t appear to be homeless. Indeed, despite the obvious age due to wear and tear, their clothes appeared to be maintained well, and the battle-ready brothers sported well-groomed profiles. The fair-haired one took a step forward, and when the window’s light struck his pale face, I recognized him as a local townie who lived in the streets and was likely a remnant of the European population who had abandoned these homes long ago. The various scars on his hands and neck indicated a harsh life that likely would have inspired another depressing tale from Hans Christian Andersen.

“Hey, what the fuck are you guys doing here?” bellowed the Tall Matchstick Boy, waving his pipe. “This is our place! And you can take whatever gay shit you’re doing in here and do it elsewhere!”

“Gay shit?” shot back Octavio. “You come over here, and I’ll show you some gay shit!”

The smaller, darker companion still stood in the shadows, and I couldn’t make out his visage…but for some reason, he seemed oddly familiar from just his general outline. However, when the overpowering odor of Five Hour Energy reached my nostrils, I was finally able to conclude the identity of our fubsy fellow.

I shouted past the menacing gringo. “Hey, Billy…is that you?!?”

In response, the hostile stance of the darker fellow gave way, and he lowered his stick to his side as he took a few steps into the light. When the sun’s rays illuminated his features, it confirmed what I had already known in an olfactory sense.

The friendly, dimpled mouth hidden in a thin dark beard became a welcoming beacon of upturned radiance under dark hair and eyes. “Peter?!? Hey! What are you doing here?”

And it’s here that I should probably explain a few things. Rhonda, being a more charitable person than me, had dragged my curmudgeonly vessel to one of her kind-hearted activities a few months ago, one of working in a nearby soup kitchen for the homeless. Even though I had been reluctant at first, it was due solely to the slovenly desire to sit on the couch, not due to the clientele. During the late 1980s, the issue of homelessness (along with hunger in Africa) had been part of the zeitgeist of that time, and being an ardent fan of exposing myself to the unmitigated truth, I wanted to find out the true story for myself. So, as opposed to the majority of my inbred peers who wanted nothing more than to drink and burn cars in the pits around Marshall University, I convinced my friends to embark on a fact-finding mission in Pittsburgh. In this social experiment of the summer, we lived for three days among the homeless denizens of the Steel City, and in that short time, I learned a great deal. The young homeless were usually disenfranchised, drug-addicted, or runaways; they either died or eventually learned a life lesson (that became a secret when they finally matured and got a job). The older homeless, on the other hand, were usually mentally or physically ill with no illusions of hope, and they resigned themselves to an early death, drinking themselves into a cavalier bliss or a bitter stupor. Of course, there were many other variations, but those are too many to simply list here. However, it’s safe to say that I had developed a certain comfort level when present in their company, especially when engaged in mischief that required all of us to run quickly in one direction.

However, after my initial foray of working at the kitchen, I found myself less and less resistant upon subsequent trips. It seems, much like the Grinch, that a benevolent spark had caused some sort of catalytic reaction among my chemical ones, and it had expanded and stretched the meager heart inside my frame. Accompanying the travails of serving this food (which was of surprisingly decent quality), I had met and conversed with our clientele, many of whom turned out to be the hillside nomads who lived in the tented cities of the crevice under the Palisades. It would be an understatement to claim that these Hillsiders were among the most congenial and independent homeless to be found anywhere; in truth, they thought of themselves as a proud, noble tribe. I had even witnessed them shouting out to young overweight female joggers, not with cat calls but with benevolent shouts of genuine encouragement. And it was at the soup kitchen where I had met and befriended the Hillsider known as Billy, a lover of aromatic therapy who had developed an affinity for Five Hour Energy (since Aqua Di Gio was a little out of his price range). Necessity or desperation is the mother of invention, and stranger adaptations have been known to occur. It’s said that isolated Siberian towns, bereft of vodka in harsh winters, had resorted to drinking their cheap perfumes, and to this very day, they still prefer them as evening apéritifs. So, I suppose that wearing an energy drink as a cologne is only slightly bizarre in comparison.

“What are you doing here, Billy?” I questioned.

“Oh, nothing, man,” said Billy suspiciously, having much less confidence than when talking about his dubious tastes. He looked over at his fair-haired friend. “Matt, put down the pipe. I know this guy. He’s cool.”

Matt, on the other hand, was not allayed by the prospect of Billy’s familiarity. “Hey, they’re your friends, not mine! So, tell me…what the fuck are you assholes doing in here?!?”

At this point, I could have attempted to devise some sort of elaborate lie, hoping that my compatriots would assist me. I could have hoped to scare them off somehow…or maybe I could have told them that we were, in fact, in the middle of a gay porn shoot. However, since the surreal absurdity of the given situation was almost insurmountable, I yielded to the buckling weight of the present, and I went with the more insane but easy option: I decided to tell the truth.

“Well,” I began, taking a deep breath and pointing towards Joe, “this guy here is Joe, and it’s quite possible that he’s part of a black market ring which chops up the illegal immigrants who live here in Little Peru, and we’re trying to get more info out of him.” I grimaced as I said the words, knowing how ridiculous it sounded…but I kept going anyway. “Supposedly he and Captain Richie have a bunch of guys in little red suits that go around, promising to help the sick ones and then actually killing them…taking their organs in the process.”

With the precision of a gear in a tourbillon watch, Matt calmly turned to Joe but threw his trill voice towards me. “What did you say?!?”

“I know,” I said, shrugging in defeat. “It sounds ridiculous…”

Matt raised his pipe, brandishing his weapon like a MLB slugger at the plate. His crimson eyes had that certain look of one who yearns for vanquishing vengeance. “You helped Captain Richie take my sweet Maria? No lyin’? For real?!? ‘Cause if that’s true, I’m about to bash your fucking brains out…”

Peter Bolton is the author of Blowing the Bridge: A Software Story and has also been known to be a grumpy bastard on occasion.

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