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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Part 4 - Casing the Joint

Eddie learned a lot in his five days of house watching.  One thing it had taught him, for example, was that his morning coffee ritual, though satisfying, was impractical, since he had to piss almost immediately after he and driven, lost and in the dark around countless blocks of blackened buildings, flood-stained, windows shattered, front doors missing, past alleys where withered men slept under rag blankets surrounded by rain warped boxes or shopping carts.  He’d gotten his bearings and parked his car a few blocks away, approaching on foot.  A tenement across the street offered him a good view of the house (another tenement house), and later that day he paid a ridiculously small amount of money and rented himself a room there for the week.  On a whim he had signed his name “Tony Sporano”, the name of his apartment neighbor and car pool partner, but later felt guilty, as if he’d betrayed a trust.
He had arrived the first morni
He watched all day that first day without any sign of movement.  The house itself was a two story tenement not unlike the one he was watching from.  Weeds pushed through buckled sidewalk three feet high and choked the yard.  All the first floor windows were covered in sun bleached plywood boards.  The wood slat siding had fallen away in places giving the house a hollow look, like you could punch holes in it.  In some places weathered slats, pealed of paint hung from rusty nails like loose teeth.  On the second floor faded yellow paint chipped and pealed from the siding, the windows on the second floor were all boarded save one.  The glass in the uncovered window was shattered.  Vines grew up the side of the house and across the face of it, through the open panes.  Two plywood-covered doors led in from a landing that was no longer there, the absence noticeable only by the lack of chipped yellow paint outlining the missing structure.  When he returned to his car the window was shattered and his car stereo was gone.
The second day he saw the man leave.  He had marked down the time, noting that he had drawn a length of chain through the loops of the front doors and padlocking them in place.  Eddie waited.  He returned thirty minutes later, pushing a shopping cart, emptied it, and dropped a box and bag on the front stoop before unclasping the padlock and drawing it back through the handles, slinging the chain over his shoulder like a scourge before bending over to retrieve the bag and disappearing into the darkened building.  He emerged a moment later for the box, bringing it inside before dragging the shopping cart around the house where he dumped its side out of sight in the tall weeds. 
Eddie left then, but returned the third day with bolt cutters that he hid inside a jacket as he went up to his room.  There was again no movement that day, and, Eddie noted, no light from within either.
The fourth day the man had left again.  Again the door was padlocked.  This time Eddie waited until he was almost out of sight, then followed him, sweating with anxiety, his hands habitually running through his hair, nervously glancing about to see if anyone was watching him.  A liquor store proved to be the destination.  In and out in a minute or so he waited until he was gone and then crossed the street, pushing open the doors.
“Whew!  What is that smell?”
 The clerk glanced up from his magazine, shaking his head back and forth in disgust.  “You should have been here a couple minutes ago.”
“You get all the A-listers in this store, I guess.”
The clerk chuckled.  “Yeah, that one’s a regular.”
“Lucky you,” Eddie said, looking around the store.  “You guys sell beer in here?”
“Nah, just booze.”
“Shit, I was looking for beer.  What’s the guy before me drinking?  I wanna steer clear of that!”
“Vodka, man.  By the case.  You would not believe how much.”
Eddie wandered over to the counter.  “Yeah?”
“Yeah, a couple cases a week we sell that guy.”
“Jesus!  Drowning his sorrows, I guess.”
“Yeah, well he isn’t takin’ a bath in it, that’s for sure!”
“Wonder what his story is. . .”
“I don’t know man, but he’s bad news.  We buy groceries and booze and keep them on hand for him.  He comes in, drops a couple hundreds and goes out.  I don’t ask too many questions.
“Hundreds?  That guy can’t afford running water and he’s dropping hundreds here?”
“Yeah, a couple times a week, no less.  I’ll bet he spends four or five hundred a week in here on booze and junk food.”
Eddie shook his head.  “Is there a place that sells beer around here?”
“Yeah, man, walk out of the store, make a right and head up the street a few blocks.  They sell it at a little grocery store up there.”
“Alright, thanks for your help.  Invest in some air fresheners or something for this place will ya?”
The clerk chuckled and Eddie pushed out the door.  It chimed as he left.  The clerk looked back down at his magazine and didn’t notice when Eddie turned left and went back the way he’d come.
The fifth day of watching there was more darkness, more silence, no movement.
On the sixth day, the man pushed open the door to the building and stepped into the sunlight, and Eddie slung his pack around his back, waited for him to disappear, jogged across the street, cut the chain across the door, and disappeared into the ruin.

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