Sunday, November 14, 2010

Chapter 8 (begun)

To the Woods

Johnny woke up in a bunkhouse, which was what the street people called it when a bunch of them all slept together in a sort of pile.  Walker Crow said they didn’t call it that in New York, or Philly, or pretty much anywhere else, and theoretically he should know.  But “bunkhousing” is what they called it in DC.  This particular bunkhouse was behind some memorial or other off Scott Circle.  Someone had a tarp, and Dan the Man had piles of chicken that the nearby Popeye’s was just going to throw out, but he talked the manager into giving to him instead.  As always, he had showed up with his big goofy grin and shouted “Who’s the man?!?”  So it was a bit of a party, and the cops only came by once, an older beat cop who just shook his head at them and told them to keep it down and don’t scare the tourists (which of course was silly, ’cause there were no tourists in Scott Circle, at night, in the middle of the week, in the fall).  And then they just bunkhoused right there and all woke up in a mass of limbs.  Johnny didn’t really bunkhouse that often, ’cause he figured it was mainly a great way to get to know other people’s fleas and lice up close and personal, which didn’t really sound like that good a deal, but he honestly hadn’t wanted to be alone lately.  Not even alone with Larissa.

She was here, of course.  Buried somewhere in the pile of bodies.  Probably curled up underneath Jimmy the Squid, who was very protective of her.  Most of the reason people didn’t mess with Larissa was fear of Jimmy the Squid.  Jimmy didn’t talk much, but he was quick with his fists if you got on his bad side, and apparently the Navy had taught him how to handle himself.  When he decided you needed a beat-down, you got a beat-down.

So Johnny wasn’t worried about where Larissa was.  She had not left his side since they fled that alley where all the weird shit had happened.  They hadn’t really been talking about it, of course ... what was there to say?  Shit like that simply didn’t happen.  Beyond that point, the discussion went to places that Johnny had no desire to explore, and he suspected Larissa had even less.  Larissa was comfortable with facts.  This ... this was far from factual.

Johnny lay still for a while, waiting for the other folks in the bunkhouse to get up.  The light around him was blue, coming through the translucent tarp.  It was quite warm in there with all the body heat, and no one was poking him in the ribs or elbowing him in the face.  His legs were under someone, but they had taken everyone’s coats to make a sort of mattress that they were all laying on, so even that wasn’t awful.  He closed his eyes again, wondering if he should just go back to sleep, but the thought made him nervous somehow.  He guessed he’d been having a bad dream and his brain wasn’t anxious to go back there.  In fact, he suspected he’d been having nothing but bad dreams for the past two nights, but his brain had mercifully flushed them all, leaving just a patina of nerves and mild discomfort.

Suddenly the tarp was thrown back and Jimmy the Squid was sitting up.  “Up,” he grunted at everyone.  Larissa emerged from under him, and other heads appeared as well: there was Dan the Man, provider of chicken, and there was little Sanchez with his moustache that was almost bigger than he was, and here was Marge, occasionally known as Large Marge, but never to her face, picking herself up off Johnny’s legs (which explained why they were completely asleep), and there was a white head that Johnny didn’t recognize.  For a few minutes they all busied themselves getting themselves put back together.  Johnny got his coat back and spent some time walking the pins and needles out of his legs.  Sanchez folded up the tarp into a surprisingly small package and made it disappear into a pocket of his coat.  Jimmy the Squid pulled out some K-Y jelly and started to shave with a large knife.  The unfamiliar guy, who Johnny had now decided was the same fellow he and Larissa had met in Dupont Circle two days ago, was watching Jimmy the Squid with fascination.

“You can shave with that stuff?” he asked.  His voice quavered a bit, but Johnny thought maybe he just always sounded like that.

Jimmy the Squid grunted affirmatively.  “Just gotta clean the blade afterwards.  Ruin it elsewise.”

Sanchez stepped over and took the tube from Jimmy.  “Also very good for combing,” he grinned, applying a bit to a tiny comb he produced from somewhere in the depths of his coat.  He then carefully combed out his moustache and shaped it so it stuck out in both directions.  Larissa identified the moustache as a “Hungarian”; Sanchez himself called it a “Zapata.”  “Is just like mousse, eh?”  Sanchez grinned at the new guy and offered the K-Y to Johnny.

“Got a real comb?” Johnny asked.  Sanchez made the moustache comb disappear into one pocket and produced a larger comb from another.  Sanchez had a pocket for just about anything.  Once, Parking Jimmy had been talking about getting his ear pierced and Whiskey Sally said she could do it for him if they could just find a magic marker, a piercing stud, some peroxide, and a potato.  Markers were easy; people needed them for signs, so there was nearly always one at hand.  Polish Peg, ever practical, tossed in the peroxide.  Without a word, Marge held out a large, grubby hand with a piercing stud in it.  Parking Jimmy had started to look a bit nervous at this point.  “Yeah, okay, yeah, right, but so, where ya gonna get a potato from, right?” he stammered.  Smiling broadly, Sanchez reached into a pocket and produced a large white potato.

And that was how Parking Jimmy got his ear pierced.

Johnny combed the K-Y through his hair, trying to tease apart the many tangles.  New Guy stared at him in fascination.  “It really does work,” Johnny explained.  “I know it sounds weird, but it keeps you from looking like a crazy.”  He turned and offered some to Larissa, but she shook her head and borrowed Marge’s pink brush.  “Drew,” she whispered to Johnny.

Johnny blinked.  He started to ask “who drew what?” but then he remembered that that was New Guy’s name.  He smiled gratefully back at Larissa.  “Where’d'you get the lube?” Drew asked.

“Drugstore,” Jimmy the Squid answered.

Drew looked confused.  “Why not just buy the mousse then?”

Sanchez started cackling.  Jimmy the Squid just spat.  “My friend,” said Sanchez, “mousse is very expensive.  The K-Y, she is cheap.  Cheaper if you buy the fake, see?”  He pointed to the tube, which just said “PERSONAL LUBRICANT” on it in block letters, as Johnny handed it back to Jimmy the Squid.  “And the K-Y, she is versatile, you see?”

He pointed to Jimmy the Squid, who helpfully supplied “Can’t shave with mousse.”

“And there we have it.”  Sanchez winked at Drew, then clapped him on the back.  Drew looked uncomfortable with the close contact, but he’d just have to get used to that from the small Mexican.

“So, uh, what is this thing we slept behind, anyway?” Drew asked.  “There’s a statue of some guy in a robe on the other side.”

Immediately all eyes turned to Larissa.  She stepped forward, still brushing her hair with Marge’s pink brush.

“Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann, born April 10th, 1755 in Saxony, studied medicine at Leipzig and then at Vienna.  Practiced as a doctor for three years before giving it up because he thought the medicines of his time were doing more harm than good.  Invented homeopathy, publishing The Organon of the Healing Art in 1810.  Died July 2nd, 1843.  The Hahnemann Memorial was a gift from the American Institute of Homeopathy; it was designed by architect Julius F. Harder and sculptor Charles Henry Niehaus, and dedicated on June 21st, 1900 with President McKinley in attendence, less than 15 months before he would be shot and killed by Leon Czolgosz.  Hahnemann is carved in bronze, and seated on a pedestal bearing the words ‘similia similibus curantur,’ or ‘like cures like.’  The four bas-relief panels depict Hahnemann as student, chemist, teacher, and doctor.”

Drew stared at the little girl.  Sanchez just chuckled softly to himself.  Larissa finished brushing her hair and handed the brush back to a beaming Marge.  Dan the Man had wandered over as well (Johnny suspected he had been relieving himself by a tree) and slapped Larissa on the back.  “So, I’m Dan the Man, and this guy is Han the Man, eh?”

“Hahnemann,” Larissa corrected, frowning.

“Whatever!” Dan boomed.  “Sounds like my kind of guy!”  He laughed raucously.  Dan the Man did nearly everything raucously.

Jimmy the Squid stood up.  “Gotta go to work,” he grunted.

Dan the Man gave a rare frown.  He didn’t much care for the concept of work.  Sanchez just grinned at the man with the massive forearms.  “Got a job again, man?  Where at?”

Jimmy the Squid squinted back.  “Construction.”

“Good for you, hombre!  Get out there and earn those dollars.  I wish I could join you, my friend.”

Jimmy spat again.  “Could,” he said shortly.

Sanchez’s smile faltered a bit.  “Yes, well, you know, mi amigo, I am not suited for hard labor with my small frame and all.”  Jimmy the Squid grunted.  Sanchez scurried over to Marge and put his arm around her waist, his smile returning.  “And besides, who would take care of my mamacita here, eh?”  Jimmy the Squid just shook his head and walked off toward N Street.

Drew watched him walk off then shakily got to his feet as well.  “Good to, ah, good to meet you all.  Or see you again, as the case may ... ah, well, goodbye then.”  He headed toward Massachusetts.  Sanchez and Marge started walking in the opposite direction, towards Rhode Island Avenue.

Dan the Man turned to Johnny and Larissa.  “Just us left, guys.  Shall we see what sort of trouble we can get into?”

Johnny shook his head.  “Thanks Dan, but I think we’re just going to go scrounge up some breakfast.  You take care now.  And thanks again for the grub.”

As Johnny and Larissa headed back towards Scott Circle, they could hear Dan the Man calling after them.  “Sure thing guys!  Let’s do it again real soon!”

section break


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