Adam woke in the dark. He always woke in the dark. His house (technically owned by a family by the name of DiLuca) was less house than lair, less home than den. There was no electricity. No running water. He played no music, read no newspapers. He lay down in the basement of the old tenement. What little light might have been cast by the windows was choked off from the sun by weeds and debris or boarded over. His sole homage to his lost humanity was the alcohol he used to help distance himself from it.
His dark-adapted eye picked out the shapes of the bottles around the mildewed mattress he rested on. He pushed past a couple empties with his hands and hooked a vodka bottle by its neck, dragging it across the basement floor with a fluted scrape of glass against concrete . He swirled the bottle and felt it slosh before propping himself up on the mattress and unscrewing the cap to the bottle. He tilted it back and pulled deeply from the bottle. He cleared his throat, coughed, and drank deeply again, finishing off the bottle. He put the bottle down and turned over on his stomach feeling around the mattress for other bottles, scattering them with his hands. All empty. Grocery day.
He pushed himself up and got shakily to his feet. He kicked empty pop tart wrappers, liquor boxes and vodka bottles out of his way and put on his jacket. Inside the pocket was the slip of paper and an envelope with $5,000 in it.
The steps were wooden and creaked as he climbed them. He opened the door and was momentarily dazzled by the wan light streaming in from the cracks in the wood slat frame, or around the plywood covered windows. It was hot, and the air was wet. His shirt felt tacky on his skin, but he left the jacket on for the extra pockets, the pockets of his jeans long since worn through. He stepped into the light and closed the door.
The main floor of the tenement was rain-rotted and smelled of mildew. The steps leading up to the second floor rooms were mostly missing. Weeds vined through the moisture-gapped slats and climbed water-stained and mold-black walls to clutch broken light fixtures in green tendrils. He could hear the cicadas shrilling outside the building. He picked up a length of chain from behind the door where it lay coiled and cold like a slumbering serpent. A padlock dangled from the end of a link, and he unhooked it, pulling the key from the lock and pushing it into his pocket before opening the front doors, and walking out, trailing the length of chain. He squinted his eyes from the sun and the yard grew silent, the cicadas stilled abruptly for a moment before resuming their song.
He pushed the chain through the door handles and pulled it shut tightly, leaning back and pulling on the ends of the chain before bringing them together and hooking the links with the padlock. He snapped shut the hasp and tugged it. He walked down slanted steps and around the side of the house, retrieving a weathered shopping cart, and drug it out into the street.
* * *
The clerk looked up from his “Hot Rod” magazine. He saw the bum shambling across the parking lot, barefoot and black with filth, pushing a shopping cart with a wobbling front wheel. He was new, only been in the liquor store for a week, but he’d received “informal training” on this. He rushed to the back of the store and grabbed the case of Karkharov Super Premium Vodka and carried it out to the counter. Karkharov Super Premium vodka differed from gasoline in only one major category: it was cheaper per gallon. At least that’s the quip the clerk had heard as his manager had helped him prepare the “Care Package”. He bent over to pick up a plastic bag of groceries (if poptarts, Slim Jims and Twinkies can be called groceries) and put it next to the cardboard box. The ‘groceries’ were purchased by his manager from another store and stockpiled in the back, bagged in advance, then replaced behind the counter as needed.
“He comes in every two days or so,” he’d been schooled. “Pays in hundreds and leaves. Don’t talk to him, don’t offer him change, don’t ask for more money, don’t do anything but put the box and the bag in that shopping cart and get him the fuck out of the store as fast as you can.”
“What if he asks for something else?”
“What if he doesn’t pay?”
“He will, but if he doesn’t don’t worry about it, just let me know.”
The door chimed warning and the clerk shook himself from this recollection to see the bum pushing the cart in the front door. His stink preceded him to the register. His hair was matted and greasy, his hands and feet were black with dirt, crusted with something that almost looked like dried blood. He was staring down at the floor.
The clerk hurried around the counter, breathing through his mouth, and grabbed the box, dumping it into the cart. He pulled the grocery bag by the straps, sliding it over the counter and swinging it in beside the box. From the pocket of an oil-stained jacket, the bum was pulling an envelope. He reached two fingers inside and pulled out two one hundred dollar bills and handed them without looking to the clerk, who was looking inside the envelope.
“That’s some wad o’ cash you got there, buddy,” he said.
The bum growled something and his hand shot out and grabbed him by the throat before pushing him back against the counter.
“You don’t fucking talk to me. . . EVER!” his voice rasped like a smoker’s, at once hoarse and guttural. He was pushing up against the clerk, his eyes burned inches from the clerks, his lips pulled back in a feral snarl, fingers clutching at his throat. His breathing rattled heavily in and out as he advanced on him. The smell of him was in the clerk’s nose and it made him want to retch.
“Y-yes. . .,” he offered haltingly.
The bum pushed away from him, and the clerk fell back against the counter, knocking over a lottery display. Shaken, he stared after him as he pulled the cart out the store, not looking up from the ground where his blackened feet walked over gravel and small pieces of broken glass alike as if he wore shoes.
He walked back behind the counter and breathed heavily for a minute, collecting himself. He badly wanted to bathe.
Continued in Part 4: http://yourfaceismyblog.blogspot.com/2010/11/part-4-into-thick-of-it.html