Chapter 19: Story
Holly and Ned sat down along the slope beside the drain pipe, looking intently at the grizzled man who lounged on the pipe in front of them. He wore a small, faded green kufi on his head, hiding his graying hair underneath it. His face was crinkled with age, and his kind eyes glowed warmly out of the dim surroundings. He held his hands in his lap, moving them expressively as he spoke softly. His dark, rich voice echoed below the bridge as he told his tale.
“Well, like I was sayin’, me and Darryl was good friends. We tried to stick together, you know, have each other’s back. ‘Course it wasn’t always that way. Fact is, when we first met, we didn’t much care for each other at all.
“You see, we first met when I tried to work his part of State Ave. one day. I hadn’t been doing too well on my old strip, so I thought I’d move up further north and see if I could do any better.
“The week before, I’d managed to come across some tools at a construction site and had nabbed a squeegee there, so not only was I imposin’ on Darryl’s section of the street, I was also doing the exact gig he was. Not to mention, I was just learnin’ the trade, you know, and I hadn’t really had a chance to hone my technique. So I wasn’t doin’ the best job of cleain’ the windows, ‘specially compared to Darryl.
“It was all right the first few days, since we didn’t run into each other. A couple of guys had told me that Darryl normally squeegeed that section of the street, but to be honest, I didn’t care. I was just trying to eke by, know what I mean?
“But eventually, Darryl and I ran into each other. He had been hearin’ stuff about another guy down on his street ruinin’ his reputation and all, so when he finally saw me, he wasn’t to pleased. But if you know Darryl, he wadn’t one to get real angry and up in your face about somethin’. So he stopped me later that afternoon after most people had cleared the street ad I was headin’ home, and he simply asked me to move either further north or further south.
“He explained that he’d been workin’ that partickler section of the street for some time, and that he had reputation that he’d built, and it just wouldn’t work to have two guys tryin’ to squeegee the same section. He explained that it made more sense for us to split up ‘cause we’d be able to have more customers.
“Wal, what he said made sense, but it wasn’t what I wanted to hear. And him bein’ so friendly about everything, I didn’t take him seriously. So I told him he could shove it and I just kept on goin’, doin’ what I always did.
“Next day, Darryl came up and said basically the same thing, askin’ me to move on north or south again. And again, I told him the same thing. But he was a persistent bastard, and every day he came up to me, polite as the last time, and explained the situation again.
“Eventually, it got to the point where I was considerin’ movin’ on just so I wouldn’t have to listen to his lecture every day. I started tryin’ to avoid him during the day, but he usually found me.
“One day, I had had it partickly rough, and there he was, comin’ on to ask be to move on, and I just lost it. I let him have it. We got into a bit of a scuffle, and Darryl, bein’ as mild-mannered and small as he was, didn’t put up much of a fight. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hurt him real bad or nothin’, but I did pound on him a bit.
“It made me feel a lot better, and I thought that he’d finally get the picture that I wasn’t plannin’ on goin’ anywhere, but the next day, he found me again and started talkin’ to me.
“This time, though, he’d changed his tactics. He said that if I wasn’t movin’ on, the least I could do was stop ruinin’ his reputation. So he offered to teach me how to do a better job with the squeegee. I could hardly believe my ears. I mean, I’d just hit him up the day before – he still had a bruise on his face from where I’d let him have it.
“But as usual, it was a genuine offer, so I spent that day workin’ with him, learnin’ his technique and listenin’ to him ramble on about his experiences and whatnot. Man, he liked to talk.” He paused, smiling and shaking his head.
“I mean, Darryl’d talk and talk and talk – didn’t matter if no one was listenin’. He just liked to talk. But anyway, that night he invited me back here, to this bridge, with him, and we spent the rest of the night talkin’ ‘bout everything under the sun.
“And that was really all it took. We started workin’ together every day, and he taught me a lot. And he and I just became real good friends. I don’t really know why. By all accounts, we really shoulda still hated each other. We were very different people, but somehow we ended up makin’ it work.
“Eventually he and I agreed to stop workin’ together. It really made the most sense, since we could cover twice as much area in the same amount of time. He finally got his way, I guess – I moved on up a lit further north and he stayed working his area, but we would get together here at the end of the day, and share whatever we had. Sometimes he had a good day, sometimes I did, most times neither of us did, but we shared everything and we ended up all right I guess.
“As time went on, me and him didn’t talk as much as we had, and he started spending more time at the shelter, I guess. I never much cared for places like that, though he told me St. Ives was diff’rent. Anyway, when we started hearin’ all the stories ‘bout people disappearin’, we decided we’d better start stickin’ together again. It just made sense. So we started workin’ together again, and we did all right.
“But one night, Darryl decided he wanted to go to the shelter for a meal, and when I told him I really didn’t want to go, he just left without me. I didn’t seem him until really late the next day. I figgered he’d just ended up stayin’ the night there or somethin’, but when he came back he was all beat up. He’d stopped by St. Ives ad I guess got cleaned up, but he looked terrible. He was limpin’, cuts and bruises all over his body – he was a wreck.
“He wasn’t talkin’ much either, and I knew better than to press him to tell me what had happened. So we just kept on doin’ what we always did for the next few days. I figgered he’d tell me when he was ready. And finally, about a week after it had happened, he did.”
James paused and leaned forward, lowering his voice substantially. “Now, there were two cops snoopin’ around here earlier today, askin’ about him and showin’ pictures and whatnot, but I didn’t tell ‘em anything.” Holly and Ned glanced at each other as James frowned. So Ames and Cobb had been by.
“I don’t like cops – don’t trust ‘em. Anyway, you have to understand, I’m takin’ a big risk tellin’ you this, just like Darryl took a risk by tellin’ me, but people need to know. Maybe then somethin’ can be done.”
He paused again, drawing Ned and Holly in closer before continuing at an even lower volume. “Darryl told me, that as he was walkin’ to St. Ives, that a man had pulled over on the street – he couldn’t remember exactly where – and started talkin’ to him. He had said he recognized Darryl from a time when he’d cleaned the windshield of his car, and he just wanted to compliment him on the job.
“He gave Darryl a twenty dollar bill, and then asked him if he wanted to make a lot more. He told Darryl that it was a really simple thing he needed done, and that if Darryl was willing there could be a lot of money in it.
“Darryl wasn’t one to believe in these get-rich-quick schemes, but he told me that the man seemed so sincere – so honest and friendly. So Darryl accepted the offer and had accepted a ride in the man’s car. He didn’t know where they had gone. He said they had driven for quite awhile.
“They arrived at some warehouse or somethin’, and the man had led Darryl into this huge empty room. Then, while Darryl waited, a whole bunch of men started coming in and standing around the inner walls of the room. Darryl said at least 30 to 40 men had come in, and they just stood around, not talkin’ to him or anything, just stayin’ quiet with these serious expressions on their faces, like they were anticipatin’ somethin’ exciting. Most of ‘em were wearin’ suits or sports jackets, Darryl had said, and they all seemed to be businessmen or somethin’ judgin’ from what they were wearin’.
“Then the man who had picked Daryl up walked in and started talkin’. ‘Well gentlemen, tonight we have a man named Darryl. He works down on State Ave. , where many of you work, and squeegees your windows for loose change… I think a lot of you are familiar with him.’ A lot of the men standing around let out a whoop, and the man smiled. ‘Well, I think you all know how this works, so who’s first tonight?’ A bunch of men raised their hands, and the man pointed to one in the back of the room. ‘OK, looks like you’re our lucky guy tonight. Make us proud.’ The man who’d picked Darryl up stepped out with the other men, and the one he’d pointed out stepped into the center of the circle with Darryl. Darryl didn’t know what was happenin’.
“The man took his shirt off and ran towards Darryl, and hit him square in the face, knocking him to the ground. He waited for Darryl to get back up, then hit him again. Darryl tried to get up and run away, or out of the room, but the men in the circle would grab him and throw him back in.
“I asked ‘im if he tried to fight back, and he said he did, but there were too many of ‘em. As soon as he got a good shot in, somebody else would step into the circle and beat him even harder. By the end of the night, he said he was just layin’ on the floor, blood leakin’ out of him, prayin’ that’d all be over soon. He passed out while they were still beatin’ on him.”
Holly felt like she was going to be sick. She had experienced her share of violence, but this beating that James spoke of sounded almost sports-like. Who were all these men? Did they really get off on beating a defenseless homeless man nearly to death?
James noticed his audience’s discomfort and broke off his more detailed description that Darryl had given him. His voice was still low and he looked around nervously, searching for anyone that might be listening in surreptitiously. Satisfied that all was clear, he continued.
“Anyway, Darryl came to after the man who’d picked him up splashed some water on his face. They threw him back into the car and drove him back to the street where they’d picked him up. Before they dropped him off, the man said, ‘Darryl, I hope you understand that if you tell anyone about this, and I mean anyone,’ – he was very clear on this point – ‘I’m gonna hunt you down and kill not only you, but every single person that you told.’ Darryl believed him. He said there was somethin’ in his eyes that told him he was serious.
That’s why Darryl wouldn’t tell nobody – and that’s why I’ve been careful m’self. But there comes a time when this kinda things got to be exposed, and maybe y’all can do it.”
James sat back on the pipe and sighed heavily. He was pleased to finally tell someone Darryl’s story, but worried too – now these fine people, friends of Darryl’s, also had the burden of Darryl’s experience? There was little doubt in James’ mind that the man responsible for Darryl’s abduction and beating was also responsible for his death. Would he also now harm these people, and James himself?
Holly and Ned looked at each other. They also understood the magnitude of the situation. It seemed their quest for answers had yielded some, but also created more questions.