Part 6. Jimmy Sprocket
= 17. =
Homeless, hopelessas he walked in the rain, Martin was less conscious of being hunched over, shivering, and wet than he was of having witnessed what amounted to a madwomanís suicide, or maybe legally self-manslaughter, or make that womanslaughter. She had tried to murder him, and had killed herself instead. None of it was his faultyet every fiber in his being, from a lifetime of principle and well-meaning, demanded that he turn himself in and explain the truth. At the same time, he kept calculating that he might be mistakenly presumed to have murdered the woman, or some other crime. All he had done was step briefly on a porch to get out of the rain after his car broke down. Now he just wanted to reach Los Angeles, cuddle with Chloë, and make a try at working for Alienopoliswhich would be the dream of a lifetime.
He was now without a carwhich sat outside the dead womanís houseso it would not be long before he was at least circumstantially connected with the case by police. There would be fingerprints inside the house. Yes, he was more tempted than ever to flag down one of those cruisers with flashing lights passing in the rain. But he wasnít readynot yet. His momentum and stubbornness pointed toward LA. So he resolved to keep trudging until he got things properly mulled over in his head. He had over two hundred dollars in his wallet, so he would have enough to eat and something to treat Chloë to sushi.
Rain continued beating down. Lightning flashed, and thunder growled.
Martin sought refuge in a glassed-in bus shelter. There, as if by a miracle, he found an old army-type blanket folded neatly on one of four benches arranged in a C-shape. Gratefully, he draped himself in the blanket, smelling a combination of horse manure and machine oil. If he had to guess, he thought the blanket might have fallen from one of those trailers transporting a horsemaybe to or from the Del Mar Fair Grounds not far south, in fact not far from where Joe Logan was just now tending bar.
Martin looked at his cell phone, which still had juice, though the battery indicator was down one bar. It was now eight p.m. He had been on the road barely three hours, and already his world had forever changed. Worse yet, he would have been at the UCLA campus by now had the automobile gods cooperated. How was it possible that fate could throw such boomerangs at his head?
He thought about calling Joe. What would that accomplish? He might get ride home in the wee hours of the morning. Bars closed by two a.m., and staff normally worked at least an hour or two cleaning up, setting up, counting money, and so forth to close out one day and prepare for a six a.m. opening. Poor Chloë
what must she be thinking? She was probably getting worried.
He stared at the phone. Should he call? Would he sound normal? Or would he sound so weird and depressed that she would become frightened. He resolved to call herbut to wait a little while first, to calm down, consider his options.
At the moment, he was wet and cold. The army blanket was by now a warm, soggy wrapper. It kept out the worst of the wind. Oh god it was hailing now. What else? Hail the size of meatballs rattled down on the street, banging on the roofs of cars parked along the curb. Not only that, but the hail balls bounced around. The wind drove them in little herds, in circles, in rows spinning down the street. Water rushed in gutters, carrying anything past that wasnít nailed down. Martin watched a brick, a newspaper, a childís doll, a garden gnome still holding its lantern, and an empty gallon wine bottle go sailing past.
The nuclear option occurred to him. He could make the ultimate surrender and call his parents. His dad would not hesitate to brave the elements, possibly with a leering, triumphant Nancy perched in the passenger seat to lecture him on why he was the most stupid male for miles around; after hugging him, of course. Ee-yeahhhÖ. Maybe not, after about two secondsí contemplation. What about Alicia or Joe or anyone else? He decided to consider the Joe option after midnight. Joe was just down the road a few miles. He could swing by and pick Martin up if worst came to worst. Then again, how much more worst could worst become? Okay, he made up his mind, heíd call Joe at eleven. Barring that, heíd call Uber and get a ride home. Heíd have to explain to Chloë that fate had intervened. His heart was broken.
Right about that moment, he saw a very strange sight.
Coming down the street was a young man on a bicycle, driving in this storm. The guy was hunched over, pumping the pedals with trudging, laborious slowness while gripping the handle bars. It was an older model bicycle, not quite a clunker, but not a racing bike. It was maybe what marketing people called a touring bike. The guy riding it had a hat pulled over his features, just revealing a hard-bitten face and a frontiersmanís beard. He was draped with a black poncho whose shiny wet rubber surfaces kept getting clobberedplop, plopwith hail. On his back, the bicyclist carried a huge rucksack with all sorts of appendages hanging from it, including ragged, folded garbage bagsthe entire Gestalt bespoke homelessness and a kind of tidy desperation.
The fellow slid off his bike and wheeled it into the bus stop. "Evening."
"Hi," Martin said. "Out for a spin?"
"Not by choice." The man was a few years older than Martin, and might have been even older, so weather-beaten were his features. The beard made him look even older. He had not had a haircut in a long time, but tied his dirty-looking, stringy locks back into a ponytail. "What a night."
"Youíre telling me." Martin sat wrapped in the blanket, certain he looked even more miserable than he felt.
"Whatís your story?"
"Not much to tell. I had a life once. Thatís years ago. Now I live where I cansometimes beside the freeway, other times by the river down in San Diego. I sell cans, do odd jobs, get laid when I can, smoke dope when I can, get drunk whenever possible. I think that about covers it."
"I had a life," Martin said. "Up until about three hours ago. My car died, and I think I died not long after."
"Bummer," said the man. "Iím Jim. Call me Jimmy. No last name. Gave up on that when I became homeless. Folks sometimes call me Sprocket because of the bicycle."
"Looks like a nice bicycle."
"I didnít steal it, if thatís your next question." Jimmy was a tall, skinny man with sunken cheeks and bitter blue eyes. After pulling the bike out of the rain, he dug around in one of the backpackís many pockets until he found some tobacco, papers, and a lighter. It took him all of thirty seconds to roll a cigarette that looked like a joint, lick each end, and prop it between clenched teeth. The lighter flickered into life on the third click, and he inhaled. "You want?"
"Donít smoke, but thanks."
"The guy who owned that bike left it to me when he died of cancer. He went into the Veteransí Hospital in La Jolla and never came out. It was lung cancer. He was about sixty, I think. Jerry Montana. People called him that because he was from Montana. Nice guy."
"Suits the evening. Where are you headed?"
"I getcha. Noblest of causes. Or dumbest, if youíre being had."
"Right what? Youíre being had, or being noble?"
Martin laughed. "I feel noble, but then if I were being had, how would I know?"
Jimmy nodded as he sucked on his cigarette and filled the station with acrid smoke, like a burning bus or something. Martin coughed and waved a hand over his face. Jimmy shrugged. "You got any food? Dope? Anything to trade?"
"Just the blanket on my back."
Jimmy eyed the blanket with mercenary precision. "Looks like a good one. You keep it."
"Itís all I got," Martin said.
"That and a chick in LA and a ton of hope. Man, I envy you."
Seizing the moment, Martin said, "Look, I donít have any experience at this. How would you get to LA if you were in my shoes?"
"Hitch, probably. Iíd wait until itís not monsoon season though. You learn to be patient. Worst comes to worst, you just go to sleep somewhere under cover until itís over. Assuming youíre in a safe place. Me, I stay away from other homeless people unless I absolutely got to go near them for however long I need to and not a second more."
"Donít trust them, eh?"
Jimmy laughed, showing a row of missing or brown and rotten teeth. "You trust people?"
"I have my friends from school. My family. What about you?"
He shrugged. "I was put outside at an early age. My dad did drugs and beat us. My mom turned tricks she said to support us but ended up in a crack-snorting rodeo. They were both dead by the time I was fifteen."
"Any brothers and sisters?"
He shook his head. From his expression, Martin could see that Jimmy was beyond bitterness. He had accepted his fate. "My oldest brother used to molest my sisters. We finally beat him to within an inch of his life." He suddenly looked at Martin with big, haunted, otherworldly eyes. "You donít want to hear this. I relive it whenever I tell about it or think about it."
Martin fell silent. He was suffering from the cold. He shivered like an abandoned dog. The shivering came from the bones deep down. His entire body and soul trembled.
"Come on, man. We need to get us some hot grub. You with me?" Jimmy rose and prepared his bicycle home on wheels for the next little journey. "You come with me, youíll stop shivering."
"O-o-o-k-k-k-ay-ay-ay," Martin shivered.
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