I’m sitting in the back of my rusted out van with a camel shoved up each nostril. Camel cigarette that is. I have a hazy recollection of doing this as a party trick in my former life. I would insert a cancer stick into each nostril, filter end first, and take a nice inhale then I would blow these perfect smoke rings out of my mouth. Maybe not the smartest thing I ever did but I have done worse. Besides you only live once right? Death is the great equalizer. Even a hard case like me can see that.

Anyway I’m bored and kinda hungry. I haven’t worked in a couple of days so money is a bit tight. I figured the old cigarette trick might keep my mind off other things. It didn’t work though. That empty ache in your gut is kinda hard to ignore. Kinda like the empty ache in your soul or that cold clammy feeling you get when you wake up trying to hang on to your wife’s hand even when she isn’t there.

So I give up the camels, my last two, and decide to go for a walk. I had parked the van in a shit part of town with semi-decent folk who wouldn’t take notice of a beat-up van parked on the street. After all it isn’t just a van. It’s also my home.

The air is a bit brisk. I can feel the hint of fall coming on. Soon the fallen orange and red leaves will match the rusted hue of my van. I love the fall. It reminds me of death. The leaves and trees and plants all die. The world is in a constant state of decay anyway. Plants, buildings, vans, roads, people they are all in a constant state of decay. Entropy that is the word for it. Funny how I can recall a word like that but can’t seem to remember the sound of my wife’s laugh or the color of her eyes.

I start walking lost in my muddled thoughts. I walk past piles of rotting refuse, broken down cars, and street folk with broken down lives. The city stinks but you get used to it after a while. I walk past gangbangers, drug pushers, and ragged out whores. Even the trannies are out tonight. I walk long enough to get confused about where I am. This seems to happen a lot where my head just kinda numbs out and I have no idea where I am or what I was doing just a few minutes ago. I wake up enough to feel a need for a smoke.

“Hey brother can you spare a smoke?” I ask a corpulent greasy little fellow with thinning hair.

“Fuck off you bum.” Hey says. I look the guy hard in the face. He chuckles in a supercilious way and murmurs something to himself. He turns away shaking his head. What do you say to a guy like that?

He wades through traffic and crosses the street. He is looking over the street whores spread out along the corner. He’s dressed a little too nice for this neighborhood. For lack of anything better to do I decide to keep an eye on the bastard. Besides he kinda pissed me off.

He is sniffing around those whores like a dumpster rat behind a Chinese joint. I look at the whores myself. I try to remember my wife’s face but can’t seem to conjure it. The accident kinda knocked some of my memories away. I look at the whores thinking that a slice of pussy and a fresh cigarette might just slap the monkey right offa my back. Of course I don’t have any cash.

So I have my eye on the guy. He wants some bad. He grabs the cutest one by the hand and walks over to some Pedro’s nearby. Trying to cop some dope no doubt to go with his pie. He is arguing with the Pedro’s. The whore walks away and the Mex’s start pushing the guy around a bit, roughing him up.

This is when I start to get a cold feeling right in the back of my neck. I can tell something is about to go down. Sure enough they drag the guy into a nearby alley. Two of the Pedro’s one of him. Not fair in my book.

I walk across the street and right into the alley. I’m not sure what the hell I am doing or why. I ain’t stupid. I may get confused a bit and have hard luck but I ain’t no damn fool. I carry a sawed off piece of pipe with me wherever I go. A man on the streets needs defense.

So these two hyenas are hustling the asshole. I walk straight into the middle of them teetering like a flunky out on his 21st birthday.

“Get the FUCK outa here!” Says one of the Pedros.

“Hey brother can you spare a smoke?”

“I said get the MOTHERFUCK outa here!!” Now I’m looking at the asshole end of a revolver. The yolks in the Pedro’s eyes look kinda red in the shadowy darkness. I can smell his shitty breath. His hyena partner has the assholes’ wallet in his hands, rifling through it. I don’t like that.

WHAM! Out comes the lead pipe. I nail the smelly jerk right in his greasy forehead and he collapses to the concrete like a sack of rotten potatoes.

WHAM! I nail his Pedro partner right across the jaw. He joins the other worm on the filthy ground. I start kicking the bastards right in the belly with all I’ve got. The guy who got his forehead tattooed is showing only white in his eyeholes. The other guy is leaking teeth.

“HOLY SHIT! HOLY SHIT!” The asshole starts yelling. I’m still kicking the guy in the gut.

“Come on – Let’s get out of here!” He grabs my arm.

“Don’t forget your wallet.” I tell him.

“Oh yea Oh shit yea.” He says still pulling on my arm. He finally grabs his wallet and we haul ass. We don’t stop running for a couple a blocks. He starts to get winded so we slow down. Here I am down on my luck and I can still outrun this marshmallow. Kinda makes me chuckle. In fact I start laughing a bit.

“Sweet Jesus! Sweet merciful Jesus! You saved my ass!” He chokes out sucking air. “You saved my life my friend. How can I repay you?”

I let that one sit for a bit while he catches his breath. “Hows about a cigarette?”

“A cigarette? A fucking cigarette?! You just saved my life, I ask you how I can repay you, and you ask for a cigarette! You are a fucking piece of work you know that?” He pulls out a pack, heists one, and hands me the rest. We light up and relax for a moment enjoying the smoke. The asshole is still mumbling to himself.

“Those guys meant business! Not that I was scared but they would have killed me!” He’s rubbing the bald spot on his head. He pauses looking around, snaps his finger. “Hey I have an idea. You look like you could use a good meal and when was the last time you had a bath? You reek pal. How about I take you to my place you can cleaned up and get something to eat. What do you say? Least I could for a guy who just saved my life.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of the guy. The cold feeling in my neck comes back. I shrug it off. The only thing better than a free cigarette is free food. “Sure”. I mutter.

We snag a cab with some Ahmed driving and head south. I start to relax but the asshole starts complaining about the weather and how come weather men get to keep their job when they are wrong 50% of the time. All of a sudden I have a muddy picture in my mind of sitting on a couch with my wife cuddled up next to me watching the weather on the 11:00 news. Then I flash to her in the hospital dying and I’m stupefied watching the weather on the shitty little hospital TV while she sleeps sedated. I shake those thoughts from my mind.

The asshole keeps complaining about this and that until finally he tells the cabbie to pull over. I climb outa the cab. The asshole hops out, grabs my arm, and tells me to run like hell. He stiffs the cabbie. We run a few blocks and the Ahmed is honking his horn and cursing us in his foreign tongue.

“Those fucking cabbies deserve it. They’re all shysters.” He says panting. I didn’t like it much but I sure as hell wasn’t going to pay.

We walk another block and enter the lobby of a nice condo building with a doorman. The place is swank all decked out in marble and brass. We take the elevator to the 8th floor and enter the guys crib.

It’s a nice spread but not TOO nice. He shows me around, running his yap about how shitty the quality of furniture is these days and how they hire wetbacks and pay them 50 cents an hour to slap some cardboard together and call it table. He complains about how his wife never cleans, about how expensive utilities are blah blah blah. I notice his armpits are stained with sweat.

“So what happened to you? I mean how did you end up on the street? You an addict or alcoholic or something? Gambling?” He blurts this out.

I shrug. “I had an accident. Motorcycle awhile back and it kinda scrambled my brain a bit…” He looks at his watch.

“I have to run out.” He cuts me off looking a bit nervous. He looks at me dead on. “You aren’t going to steal anything are you?” I turn to leave.

“Ok ok, I had to ask you know? You saved my life so you can’t be all bad. Listen…” he says putting a clammy hand on my arm. His breath smelled like gin covered in breath mints. “Make yourself at home, get something to eat, get cleaned up. Oh – and if the wife shows up just ignore her. I always do.” I just kind of nod at him. What a mouth. Finally he leaves.

I make myself at home. I strip naked and climb in the shower and scrub myself until my skin is as pink as a baby baboon’s ass. You live on the street long enough you start to stink like like the street. I find a razor and blades and start shaving in the mirror when I notice someone looking at me.

“Who the hell are you?” She asks.

“A friend.” I realize I don’t even know the asshole’s name. Not only that but I’m standing naked in front of his wife. She notices. I keep shaving. After a while she walks away. She returns in a moment with a drink in her hand.

“Would you like some?”

“Some of what?” I am wearing a towel this time.

“Drink silly.”

“No thanks.”

“Hhmmm whoever you are you clean up nice. You’re no fun though. More for me” Her hair is bottle blond and she’s a little too old for it. Maybe a little too pretty. That smile of hers has opened many a bedroom door.

“Why don’t you come out and join me when you’re done.”

“Do I have a choice?”

I come out wearing a robe that was hanging on the back of the door. By this time she is working on her second double Grey Goose and cranberry. She is kind of spread out over the leather sofa, her tight tan thighs unfurled luxuriously. She has prominent luggage bags under her eyes and her blond hair is sweeping over her face. She pats a warm place beside her on the sofa. I sit on the loveseat opposite.

“Where’d the husband go?”

“Who cares about him.” She takes a long drink. “Wife beating son-of-a-bitch” she mutters.

We sit for a time not saying much. She keeps drinking and by the creases in her forehead it appears as if she is struggling with some dilemma.

“Where you from?” She asked suddenly.

“Oh here and there.”

“Smart ass huh?” She gets a coy smile on her face. For a second I get confused and think she is my wife. I can finally hear her laughing. This was before the accident that fucked her up so bad she died. The same accident that rattled the shit out of my brain pan. The same accident that took my job away as an engineer because I could no longer concentrate…. My mind clouds up and I shake the thoughts out.

I start thinking that I should bail. Then the hunger pangs kick in and start jabbing me in the ribs. I get up and head into the kitchen. I make a sandwich while she hums a song softly.

I come back in with a sandwich and a glass of water. She gets quiet for a bit. I notice her looking at me intently. I start to feel like a sausage ready for grilling.

“You know….” She says standing up.

“A REAL gentleman would have offered to make me a sandwich as well.” She giggles a bit, unbuttons her blouse, drops it on the floor, and pulls off her skirt. She squats down on my lap in just her bra and panties.

“Soooo aren’t you a gentleman?” She whispers. Her hair smells of lilac and roses.

She stands back up, unhooks her bra, tosses it away and pulls off her panties. Damn. She has a beef of some sort with the asshole and I don’t want to get stuck in the middle. I don’t need any trouble.

She sits on the couch bare as a fresh picked cherry and not half bad at that. It’s been a long long time for me. She spreads out her legs. Ain’t much a man can do with that fuzzy peach staring him in the face. I feel that coldness in the back of my neck but I shake it off. Sometimes you have to let the cards fall where they may.

I jump in. After the hot shower I start to feel almost human for the first time in a long time. Shit I feel like a stallion. I grab her by the hips and kiss her hard. I lose my head. I should know better. A man with my hard luck can’t get anything that easy.

We are into it hard and heavy and in walks her husband sure as shit on a sundae. I try to stop but she won’t let me. She doesn’t care. Hell she just starts moaning louder.

Here he comes.

“Wait a sec pal…” I climb off.

“You filthy son-of-a-bitch! You BASTARD! I let you into my house and you FUCK my wife!!” He grabs me by the arm and starts punching me in the head. I punch back. He won’t stop. The asshole is crazy mad, mad as a hornet.

“I’LL KILL YOU – YOU FUCKER!!” He screams.

I let him have it. I don’t know what I hit him with but I grab something and it does the trick. He falls to the floor like a homesick brick. Blood is everywhere and his neck looks wrong. I run into the bathroom, rinse off the blood, and grab my clothes from the floor.

His wife is ranting like a lunatic. She’s screaming and crying. I just grab my shit and go. Hell I didn’t even get my rocks off.

“HE’S DEAD! YOU BASTARD! YOU FUCKING KILLED HIM! YOU KILLED HIM!” She’s screaming. I’m already out the door.

Later that night I sit in the back of my van and light another of the asshole’s cigarettes. My hands are shaking and my head is throbbing. I saved a man’s life and killed him on the same day. I chew on my hard luck.

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