Friday, November 28, 2008

Spare Change #28

I’m waiting outside of Tommy’s place, keeping to the shadows of the building next door where I can see his entrance without too much worry of being seen. I’m going to have to be careful not to spook him when he shows up - I don’t know if he’s carrying that gun around or not.

My breath slips out in white clouds as I try to shrink into my black wool coat; along with a pair of old jeans and a few long sleeve shirts, it makes up my new wardrobe from Chateau Karl. I’m going to have to find a wool hat to go with them – my ears are freezing. This is a night I’ll be grateful for the extra blankets he gave me as well. Maybe I’m getting soft, maybe I’m getting too old for this street life.

Work went flying past today - I can’t remember ever being so busy at any point in my entire life. Between the arrival of three boxes of new albums that needed to be shelved, regular visits from Officer Strickland, more customers than any two previous days put together and getting things ready for DJ’s return I don’t know how I found time to breathe.

It’s probably... no, it’s definitely a good thing I was running around all day. It kept my mind off of Ashes and Tommy and kept me focused on what was right in front of me. Even when Officer Strickland came by we only talked about the store and music, I even suggested a few albums for her to check out when she was off duty. Officer Cruz stayed in the car, to everyone’s relief.

Karl came by to help me finish stocking the shelves after closing and then escorted me to the bus that took me here. He had offered to accompany me but it was a token offer – we both knew I had to convince Tommy to talk to the cops on my own.

The air is getting colder, the night darker and still no Tommy. Maybe he’s abandoned this home in favour of one that Ashes doesn’t know about. I couldn’t blame him if that was the case, I know I would have done the same if I was in his ratty sneakers.

That is one of the perks of living life the way we do – if you need to move, you move. No mail to worry about, no change of address forms to fill out, no notice to be given. Just pack up your things and find a new place to settle down. If this thing with TJ works out that might be the only thing I miss.

While TJ took her turn in the shower this morning I was finally able to ask Karl about the money. He was pretty relieved to hear I finally had a plan for it... I bet he was figuring that money would gather dust and never see the light of day again. But it sounds like, if I can get some sort of steady work with DJ when he gets back in two days, it will be enough to convince a landlord to rent a place to me and TJ.

Which is a bit of a scary thought... and a bit of an exciting thought... and...

The sound of gravel being disturbed by slow, steady footsteps brings me back to the moment. I remain hidden as I wait for the source of the noise to appear, knowing there’s no guarantee it will be Tommy. I damn well hope it is though, I’m ready to go home and crawl under all the blankets I can find. Maybe stop for hot chocolate on the way.

A figure veiled in shadow appears around the corner of Tommy’s building and pauses to look around. I hold my breath and stay still, pushing away an urge to call out his name until I know it’s him. Then the person steps out of the darkness and everything slows down, until time is frozen and all my thoughts are silenced. Except for one.

Is this woman Ashes?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Spare Change #27

Dipping warm, buttered bread into a bowl of homemade chicken soup – how can such a simple act bring such great pleasure?

“This is wonderful TJ,” Karl says around a dripping spoonful of broth. “I should have you two over for dinner every night.”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” she replies with a poor attempt to conceal her pleasure. “Just a little something my mother taught me a lifetime ago; I’m surprised I remembered it, to be honest.”

We’re sitting at Karl’s small square kitchen table with Mozart serenading us from the stereo in the next room. It’s a meal deserving a fine wine as a companion but we’re all sipping water – two of us out of fear of a slippery slope, one out of support.

“That sweater suits you J, and it’s a pretty good fit,” Karl tells me. “After dinner we’ll go through my closet and see what else works for you.”

“You’ve already done too much for me, I can’t -”

“I haven’t done nearly enough,” he interrupts softly, shaking his head. “I’ve got too many things in there anyway, I hardly wear half of it.”

I shift uncomfortably in my chair and take another bite of bread. I’m not sure why I can accept charity from strangers but not friends; maybe it’s the intimacy of it that upsets me. Rather than reply I look around his home again.

It’s a good size for two people, a bit cramped with three. There are a few paintings by local artists on the wall, some postcards stuck on the fridge with a random sampling of ceramic animals and comfortable, well-worn chairs and recliners scattered around the kitchen and living room.

I feel out of place in a proper home but I could get used to hot showers and working plumbing. Maybe getting a place with TJ wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. I’ll have to talk to Karl about my money situation later, when we’re alone.

“You’ve got a lovely place here,” TJ says. “Could use a woman’s touch though, if you don’t mind me saying so. You got any prospects lined up?” Ah TJ, Queen of Subtlety.

“Work is taking up too much of my time and energy to even think about dating,” he says with a sad smile. “But we’re trying to find room in the budget to hire me an assistant; even a part-time one would make an incredible difference.”

“That’s great,” I say, my eyes flicking involuntarily in TJ’s direction. “What sort of work would you want them to do?”

“Oh, mostly office work – it’s ridiculous how much of my day is spent faxing and photocopying and filing.”

“Well isn’t that something,” I say while looking at TJ. “It looks like you’ve got an ideal candidate right here in your kitchen!” TJ blushes and takes another spoonful of soup, keeping her eyes on the table directly in front of her.

“Is that right? Well the money isn’t guaranteed to be found for the position but if it does you’ll be the first to know,” he tells the top of her head. She looks up and flashes him a quick smile before returning to her soup.

We finish the meal in happy silence, three people enjoying the peace and warmth of a good meal with good friends. It feels like my life is turning an important corner; I can’t see what lies ahead just yet but I’m not afraid of whatever is waiting for me. Something suspiciously similar to hope is growing inside me.

What a lovely, encouraging evening. It’s almost enough to make me forget that I’ll be spending tomorrow dealing with Tommy.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Spare Change #26

I exit the police station to be greeted by the subdued glare of street lights and a cool evening wind that pushes my sweater against my body. The air here stinks of car exhaust and greasy Chinese food; there are three Asian restaurants on this block alone and they seem to be in a perpetual battle for the worst food in the city.

I step to one side of the doors, lean my back against the wall and close my eyes. It feels good to be alone at last, to have room to think and to breathe and … to just be.

The events of the day flash by in my mind like one of those terrible movie trailers that show all of the important scenes. I used to catch a matinee when the weather got too bad to be outdoors but it’s been a while now. Maybe I should start doing that again.

During a pause in the playback of today’s story I realize two things: the first being that there are two people having an animated conversation just around the corner from me; the second being that I know both voices.

I peel myself off the brick wall and step around the corner of the building so that my eyes can confirm what my ears already know. The sight of Karl and TJ sitting on a bench, carrying on like old friends, is momentarily disorienting.

“Oh good, you managed to avoid getting locked up for the night,” Karl says with more relief than I want to hear. He stands up, his hands hidden inside the deep pockets of his heavy coat, his eyes frowning at my outfit. “The weather is turning, we need to get you some warmer clothes.”

I give him a weak shrug but before I can reply TJ is in my arms, her cheek pressed against my chest. She smells like a campfire.

“Good to see you too,” I mumble into her hair. She says nothing, just hugs me tighter. My eyes find Karl’s and he smiles a whole-hearted, happy smile. “This is TJ, but I suspect you already know that.”

“She came by the store just before closing looking pretty peeved that a certain someone hadn’t returned her call,” he says. “Once I explained the situation she insisted on joining me in your retrieval.”

“And had a little get to know each other session while we waited,” TJ says into my sweater before pulling away slightly to look into my face. “So what’s next, are we off to find Tommy?”

“That can wait until tomorrow,” I say. “I’m ready for sleep right now.”

“Well you’re not sleeping at the store again,” Karl says. “I’ll set up my guest room for you… for both of you if you like.”

“That’s very kind of you,” I reply while looking at TJ, sharing a memory of peaceful nights spent in each other’s arms. “I’ll take you up on your offer; TJ can make up her own mind.”

“That sounds great Karl, thank you very much,” she says over her shoulder. “Can we stop at a store on the way there to pick up something for dinner? I’d like to cook tonight to pay you back.”

“You don’t have to do that, please don’t feel obligated…”

“I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t,” she says with a sparkling laugh. “Now let’s get J out of the cold.”

Friday, November 7, 2008

Spare Change #25

“State your name.”



“No, just J.”

Officer Cruz gives me an ‘I’m in no mood for this crap’ look but says nothing. This is not off to a good start and I expect it’s about to get worse.

“Last name?”

“I don’t know.”

He stares at his computer screen for a good minute without so much as blinking. I try to get Officer Strickland’s attention but that’s pretty hard to accomplish when you’re under the impression that you’re one wrong breath away from being shot.

“You don’t know your last name?” I can almost hear his teeth grinding and his pulse is visible in the vein protruding from his right temple. It’s kind of like a cartoon character… except nobody is laughing.

“I was six years old when my father died,” I tell him slowly – but not too slowly, I don’t want him to think I’m patronizing him. “If he ever told me I’ve long since forgotten and I’ve never even seen a birth certificate… not mine, not nobody’s.”

Officer Cruz mulls that over and decides to let it go; either he doesn’t care enough to dig deeper or he knows he has no way to figure out if I’m lying or not. I’m just glad he does.

Before our fun little chat can continue we’re interrupted by the jarring ring of his desk phone. Cruz rips the wireless from its brown dock and just listens, no greeting required for this call. He hangs up with an electronic beep and glares at me briefly before standing up.

“Don’t move,” he tells me, “I’ll be right back. If I find a paperclip out of place when I get back you’re spending the night with your buddies in the drunk tank.”

He storms back the way we came and I let him go without a reply, back to playing the good, humble little bum. Any citizen of the street worth his cardboard knows the rules: keep your head down, never speak out of turn, never get angry and you might just stay out of trouble.

Alone for the first time since I got here, I can finally take in my surroundings without threat of violence or jail time. The voices are constant, both quiet and loud; a symphony of keyboards; the floor tiles have been scrubbed so clean they reflect the harsh overhead lights back up at me; it reeks of really cheap, really bad –


“Yeah, I mean no, no thank you,” I tell the coffee pot bearing Officer Strickland. “A glass of water would be great though.”

“Sure thing,” she says and then, with a conspiratorial wink, “Officer Cruz gone to get the welcome wagon?”

“He didn’t say but that must be where he’s run off to,” I tell her with a quick smile. “I don’t suppose you could take my statement in his place?”

He’d be none too happy about that,” she says with a quiet laugh. “I don’t need that headache today, thank you very much.”

“That’s funny – I was getting the distinct impression that he would like nothing better than me being taken off his hands.”

“Officer Cruz can surprise you sometimes; now hush up honey,” she says with a previously unheard hint of the South, “here he comes.”

She fills his coffee mug to the brim before returning to her desk, my water seemingly forgotten. Cruz sits down with a creak of leather and a resigned sigh. He inspects his desk closely, his dark eyes examining every inch before they turn back to his monitor without comment.

A mighty crack of his knuckles and then: “Alright, Johnny Boy – start at the beginning and don’t leave anything out, not even the smallest detail.”

So I begin with the meeting with Tommy in his alley and tell him everything I can, and almost everything I should. Because every good bum knows that telling the cops everything is never a good idea.