Fiction Saturday Encore – “A Safe Place”
Six months ago – it seems like six years – his life was quiet and predictable. He had a job that was less than perfect and he was in a relationship that he described the same way – less than perfect. He hired me to look into it for him because, as he said, “Whenever I’d think about the imperfections everything would tense up.” At least that’s how he said it to me – “Tense up.”
I’ve had to deal with some of the toughest, meanest, and downright sadistic people you would ever hope to not meet, but this little guy topped them all. Or maybe I should say “bottomed” them all. I didn’t think I could be surprised any more after ten years in this racket, but when I saw what he did to… I don’t want to talk about it or I won’t sleep tonight. Just imagine the worst thing one human being could do to another – then double it and you might come close. If you don’t vomit first.
And now I had to find him – to hunt him down. I don’t want to, but I feel obligated. After all, it was me who took the pictures that lit his fuse. Sure, the police were looking for him too, but they tended to work as well as anything you might buy from a TV infomercial at four in the morning. I figured it was me or nothing.
I’ve had all my contacts, snitches, and keyhole peekers sniffing at the wind for a month trying to get any clue as to where I might find him – Patrick Cumberland is his name. Tonight I got a call. Someone thinks they saw him, maybe. My snitch says that his snitch says that he’s showed up at the Beacon Light Mission hoping for a meal. I needed to get down there – now.
Why is it that every Mission for the down and out and the misfits of the world – why is it that they all look like something that should have been torn down fifty years ago? The people looking for help there are feeling bad enough; they don’t need to go into a building that looks as ragtag as they do.
As I pulled up to the Beacon Light Mission – there is always parking in front – there were about a half dozen men lounging on the steps, waiting for the bible service to end so they could go in for a meal and a warm cot for the night. It was already getting into the mid-40s and Fall officially starts tomorrow.
I didn’t need to ask directions about where to find the head honcho. I knew my way around the building. It seems that half of my jobs call for me to scrape the bottom of this particular barrel. It’s a terrible place to hide. It’s a terrible place to go if you want to be inconspicuous. It’s just a terrible place. I’ve slept there.
“Yes, he was here, but not with the name Cumberland.”
Reverend Billy looked down the page full of names. He got so much Federal and State money for each person he fed and sheltered so he kept meticulous records. Meticulous and I’m sure just as legitimate as his “Reverend” certificate that hung on the wall behind him.
“Here he is. Todd – Sweeney Todd. I remember him because of that. You know – the musical and all that?”
“Uh –huh. Is he here tonight – now?”
“No. This says he was here two nights ago and again last night, but that means he won’t be here tonight. Two nights in a row, then they have to leave for a couple days. Otherwise we’d turn into a hotel and that would mean a whole new set of regulations and such.”
“And no cash from D.C.”
“No.” He paused and looked at me like he had just bitten into something stale. “Why are you looking for him? He didn’t seem very dangerous. He looked more like a lost bunny.”
“One very sick and twisted bunny. Any idea where he might go on a night like tonight when he can’t flop here?”
“Please don’t say ‘flop.’ We are not a flophouse. We are trying to save both their souls and their bodies, and, as to where he might be tonight – if he has some money – one of the real flophouses down by the waterfront. Without any money – your guess is as good as mine. Would you care to make a small donation?”
“My taxes aren’t due until next April.
I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend the night crawling under every bridge abutment and behind every dumpster in town. I don’t care how much I want Cumberland’s scrawny neck. He’ll have to surface again and I’ll be waiting. But I’m going to need some help.
* * *
“I assume you’re up on this creep. I mean – you’d have to be dead not to be – unless you’re like me and you only buy a paper to look at the sports page and the crossword puzzle.
“He came to me because he thought his wife was running around on him. She was, and I don’t blame her. Her husband, the piece of trash I’m looking for now, treated her like a slave – worse – he treated her like a slave’s three-legged dog. I didn’t like him from the start, but he paid in cash and I was behind on just about every bill I had.
“When I showed him the pictures – her and some guy comparing moles – he went berserk right here in the office. It was all I could do to keep him from killing me just because I was handy. I wish I’d… Oh, I wish I’d become a priest like my mother wanted, but Donna Jean Shansky was better looking than my mother, so….
“Tonight we’ll go back to the mission – you and me. If he’s back for another “hot and a cot” we’ll double team him. Handcuffs, ankle irons and a couple of hits to the kidneys – just so he won’t feel like fighting back. I’ll take my .38 along, just in case. Ready? Let’s stop for a burger on the way. I’ll drive.”
– to be continued –