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BLACK HELICOPTERS

          EPISODE 12

THURSDAY the SIXTH - 8:12 AM

          The Jefferson Street sanctuary occupied the rear half of a ground floor of a derelict warehouse on one of the shabbiest blocks of the shabby East End of the indisputably shabby city. Though the hour was late, by charitable standards... the City shelter and those maintained by religious institutions tending to kick their clientele out by dawn... a half a dozen widely scattered human forms, still huddled under filthy sleeping bags or blankets, lay snoring on mattresses of cardboard or, for the lucky, stained and ragged foam. Oblivious to the weak sun streaming through the sole window, to the running and screaming of a brigade of small, ragged children, to the pop-up blotted, disembodied voice of Geraldo interrogating a bedazzled celebrity on the shelter television with the blown picture tube…

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          The furthest portion of the long room was blocked off by a partition and countertop of scrap wood, behind which more misaligned boards were divided into makeshift cubicles in which grimy bundles reposed in numbered slots; a few skinny, wary cats perched atop the more comfortable of these, waiting for the Rapture… or a rat. A sorrowful-looking black man, well past retirement-age, waited at the counter while Andy unloaded a black plastic garbage bag of stale dumpster pastries into a plastic tub – free for the taking.

          "Thanks for handling my shift, Eddie," he said.

          "S'alright," the man said softly. "Wasn't planning on goin' anywhere, nohow. TV picture's out again; think I know where I can get a replacement. Gotta slip out for ten, maybe fifteen minutes later, but I'll be back by noon."

          "Just empty out the place and lock up. Tree forgot, last week, and we lost some guy's pack, and they also made off with one of Bertha's shopping bags."

          "So what?"  Eddie scoffed. "Nothing in them but tin cans, ten years old, crud, old torn up newspapers. Even the cats don't go near her slot."

          "I ain't no detective," Andy replied, shrugging, "I ain't no TV Judge Rudy either. Everything else OK?"

          Eddie put a bony fist to his chin, remembering. "Tyresha... says she'll be back for the kids by ten. And uh... Lee says this strange guy come in with Paulie.  Both hyped up on some bad crank, crazy talkin', outa jail or the bughouse, somethin', talking about all the women they're gonna rape, all these guys from back in the day that he was gonna take down. Finally drank himself to sleep, both of ‘em left early. Militia dude... looked like one of them fellows with the Convention, Killer-man side, dig?  All dressed up Army but old, tattered, probably real. Not Iraq One, too young for Costa Rica… maybe been to Iraq Two or one of them other sandy places, talked like he'd been dusted or had his brains scrambled by a roadside bomb. Closin' all them crazyhouses as the government does, people just waitin' for someone to get wasted so they can get to keep their date with Mister Lethal Injection. Wouldn't let anybody check his backpack... Lee thinks he must’ve been packin'..."

          "Who's on tonight's shift?

          "Reg and Karin."

          "Shit! Leave 'em a note an' I'll drop by or try to call. Last thing we need, you know, is someone shootin' up the place again..."

          "Phone's off," Eddie added.

          "Goddam, when did this happen?"

          "Sometime or other yesterday. It was off when I come in... Lee didn't know nothin'..."

          "Fuck!" Andy said, kicking at the bag of stale pastries. As he did, an elderly woman wheeled up in a chair that might have belonged to an asylum in the '30s; a Depression-era conveyance of wood, wicker and metal with a questing cockroach hauling itself up to explore an armrest.

          "Andy! Andy Mor'son!" she called out.

          At least two of the sleepers grunted and tossed, almost coming awake.

          "That's me. Morning, Miz Webster... hey, I thought the City found you a hotel room. Some Bollywood Hilton..."

          "My teef hurt," she declared, then stopped, shook her head and re-entered the Sanctuary's time zone. "I run away from that place, Mr. Andy. Run!... ha ha, ha ha!  Was full of mouses! I's afraid even to lie down, they run all over my body, those mouses. When you gonna take me to some nice dentist?"

          "Not until the Conks leave," he replied quickly. "Too many strangers in town."

          "They no good!" Miz Webster declared. "They sit up all night an' talk that Commonism! Should go get jobs somewhere else, and let poor ol' women get their teef fixed. S’not fair!"

          "No ma'am," Andy assured her, "it's not. But they'll all be gone next week!"

          "That's good. Cause otherwise, you run a clean establishment. No mouses here in Mister Andy's place. That Mayor Pinhead spend so much on his corruption, can't even buy no cats for those Hindu hotels. Lord, he don't even have to pay for them, that APTA gives cats away or else hoosh!... off to the gas chamber. Like your brudder, Eddie!" she cackled, grabbing her own throat and pretending to strangle herself, letting her tongue hang and a decaying gust escape from her mouth. "OK, don't want to burden you wif an old woman's troubles. Probably won't be round much longer, nohow..." she sniffled.

          "That's not true," Andy replied. "Just hold out one more week until those Conks get gone. Oh... and Eddie, put a sign on the door about the phone when you go out. People expecting messages, from day labor, probation... they got to make other arrangements."

          "Phone bill ain't gonna be paid?"

          "Not while the Conk protesters are in town. They’re cheap, cheap bastards in designer sneakers!  An' if any TV you bring back's been liberated from somewhere, make sure it's not from anywhere round here, or anything the cops’ll recognize."

          "Now why would I go about doin' a thing like that?" Eddie waved him off.

          "Cause you a t’eef!" Miz Webster called out from her chair, clamping her bony wrists around the dark gray purse she carried in her lap. "I know you fifty-seven years, I knowed your mother, your brudders, I knowed your father... he die up in Jaminoe too, takin' de gas..."

          And the old lady grabbed her throat again and shook like a saint in the midst of ecstacies and revelations; one of the bums on the floor coughed, then resumed snoring, and some kids pushed an empty bottle rolling across the floor, following Andy on his way out of the Sanctuary and into the morning.  

         

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