# 67 – Inexplicable

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Liza got up to make another cup of coffee.  She needed a minute to digest everything that she had just heard without four pair of eyes boring into her.

So apparently…Bruce woke up early and decided to clear the snow from Liza’s walkway and car.  That’s when Michael showed up.  Jake, who didn’t have work because of the weather and who is always hot, was sitting in his living room with the windows cracked.  He “overheard” their conversation.  It turns out that he was right.  (He took an obscene amount of enjoyment in pointing this out to Liza.)  Bruce was, inexplicably, homeless.

His friend Michael, also homeless, frequented a shelter in Liza’s neighborhood.  Bruce and Michael were both in Adams Square the night that Michael rescued Liza.  They saw Brad lurking around, and Bruce sent Michael to sit with her.  Afterwards, Michael volunteered to look out for Liza when he was staying at the shelter in her neighborhood.  Bruce agreed, and gave him her address.  Michael was walking past Liza’s house this morning when he spotted Bruce and stopped to talked to him.

Jake heard their exchange and went outside to confront them.  Liza’s three self-appointed guardian angels were out front arguing when Sam, Jake’s boyfriend, showed up.  Sam thought that this was all none of Jake’s  business, but agreed that they should not leave Liza alone with Bruce and Michael, who could be a couple of demented murderers for all they knew.  So, the four of them decided that the best thing to do would be to make breakfast in Liza’s kitchen while they waited for her to wake up.  At least, this is what Liza thought happened.

The four of them had pounced as soon as breakfast was over.  They bickered and talked over each other like children vying to tell their mother their version of the story first.  What Liza most wanted to know, no one could (or rather, would) explain.  How had the dean of a large university ended up homeless?

 

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# 54 – Not a Taxi

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Bruce marched along on the other side of the street. He was looking down, but he would see her if he turned his head. She needed to get out of the middle of the street. Liza’s mind had stopped functioning, but her body was working again. A van drove past and she took the opportunity to bolt back to her side of the street. She crouched behind a taxi that was parked at the curb and tried to see Bruce through the windows. He was still walking. Thank God.

She didn’t want to talk to him. Nothing good could come out of that conversation. Plus, talking to him would delay the whole process of forgetting that he existed. They hadn’t spoken since the day he was released from the hospital in the summer. When she found out from his assistant that he had returned to campus and hadn’t contacted her, she realized that they were finished. Whatever. He didn’t owe her anything. An explanation would have been nice, but she wasn’t going to chase him down to get it.

27-15,” a loud, garbled voice blared from above her. Liza hopped back from the car, and crashed into a pair of legs. As she was flying backwards, she noticed that the taxi she had been hiding behind was a cop car. Its owner was standing above her looking really pissed off as he tried to stay on his feet. Splatters of coffee flew out of the cup in his hand. They slopped over his fingers and rained down on Liza’s hair. Dread spread through her. It was the same feeling you would get when you were sent to the principal’s office or one of your parents called you by your full name.

The cop steadied himself and flicked his fingers, sending more coffee drops into Liza’s hair. He pushed a button on the side of a radio mic that was attached to his coat. “27-15, go ahead.”

27-15, check for a fight on the highway at 32nd and Arch. Possibly one person down.” The voice sounded like the teacher from the Charlie Brown movies.

“27-15, ok,” said the cop. He bent down and yanked Liza to her feet. She squatted half way back down, aware that Bruce was still marching along somewhere behind her. “Are you looking for me?”

“No, I’m sorry. I’m hiding from someone. I didn’t realize this was a cop car,” said Liza.

“You were hiding. And you didn’t know this was a cop car… Is someone chasing you?”

“No,” said Liza. He stared at her like he was trying to decide if she was lying, crazy, or dumb. He must have decided that she was just dumb.

“All right, have a good night. Stay out of trouble,” said the cop. He hopped in his car and drove off toward Arch.

Jake materialized out of nowhere. “There’s seriously something wrong with you,” he said, shaking his head. But he was smiling.

“Where’d you disappear to?” asked Liza.

“I didn’t disappear to anywhere. What, was I supposed to lay all over the cop car too?”

“I wasn’t lying on the car. I just touched it.”

“And then you ran into…”

“Fell into.”

“Sorry, fell into a cop. I didn’t realize that you meant for me to do all those things too. Now I know for next time.”

Liza smacked him on the arm. “All right, all right.”

# 53 – Liza and Jake

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“How about him?  He’s hot.”

“We’re not looking for a hot guy.  We’re looking for an old homeless guy,” said Liza.  She bounced up and down on the balls of her feet to generate some heat.  It was unseasonably cold for late December.  They said on the news that they might actually have a white Christmas this year.

Jake got up and stood next to her.  “Uh huh, right.  Remind me why we’re out here freezing, instead of cyber shopping in front of the TV.”

“Other than that it was your idea?” asked Liza.

“Yes.”

“This guy…”

“The homeless guy?”

“Right.  The homeless guy, Michael, saved me from this guy I met online that turned out to be a nut.  But he knew my name somehow.”  Liza was getting a headache from the cold and the cigarettes.  They were at Adams Square, standing by a smoker’s station outside one of the buildings across from the park.

©iStock.com/JordiDelgado

©iStock.com/JordiDelgado

“And, you’re planning on confronting him if you spot him?” asked Jake.  He opened his coat and adjusted the shears that were dangling from his belt.  It didn’t look so much like he was trying to secure them as make them look stylish.  Liza grinned.  They looked like hairdressing scissors, which would fit the stereotype.  Jake was her next door neighbor, the one who fixed her leaky roof.  The shears were roofing shears.  He caught her expression and shot her his bitchy look.

On the night of her encounter with Michael and Brad, she went to check the back door one last time and interrupted him saying goodnight to his boyfriend.  After Sam left, they sat talking for hours in Liza’s kitchen.  Jake was a genuinely nice guy, but he was also a sarcastic ball-buster.  He teased Liza about her door locking paranoia.  She busted on him for being such a stereotypical gay guy, in such an atypical way.  When they were in his garage getting ready to leave, he searched through his meticulously organized roofing tools for a good impromptu weapon.  A hatchet would leave an unflattering lump under his coat and he didn’t want to get his new slate hammer dirty.  He finally decided on an old pair of roofing shears.  The garage was decorated with signed photographs of old-time movie actresses:  Lauren Bacall, Greer Garson, Vivien Leigh.

Jake lived alone too and they became friends in the past couple of weeks.  When Liza was unable to let this thing with Michael go, he suggested that they come down here and confront him.  It was a good idea in theory, especially with her giant, shear wielding bodyguard, but she really didn’t know what she was going to say if they found him.  Liza shrugged.

“I still think this has something to do with your man,” said Jake.

“He’s not my man.  He was never my man.  He’s never going to be my man.”  Liza took a deep breath and pulled out another cigarette.  Jake shook his head and swatted the air in front of him before she even had it lit.  “Sorry,” said Liza.  “Tell me again why you think this has something to do with Bruce?  I haven’t seen him since the summer.”

“The summer, when you rescued him from a horde of homeless people?  You think that’s a coincidence?” he asked.  Jake buttoned his coat back up and ran a hand over his wavy blond hair.  Liza wasn’t attracted to him, but she always had the urge to touch his hair.  How did he get it like that?  Did he use gel, or did it just fall into place that way after he washed it?  Men were so lucky.

“Why not?” asked Liza.

“Come on.  The bum in the witch hat who was watching you guys that time, him going to that homeless hangout, your buddy, Michael, helping you for no reason.  I don’t know.  It seems weird.  I mean, we run into homeless people all the time living here, but they usually just beg for money.  You said this guy didn’t even want to take anything.”

“I still don’t see what this has to do with Bruce,” said Liza.  “Wanna walk around again?  I’m getting cold.”

“Sure.”  They made it halfway across the street when Liza spotted him.  She froze, as if he were deer that couldn’t see her if she didn’t move.  Jake took another step before realizing that she stopped.  He turned and then followed her gaze back across the street.  “You said he wasn’t hot.”

He was wearing khaki pants and a grey hoodie.  She might not have noticed him if it hadn’t been for his distinctive walk.  “He’s not.  That’s not Michael.”

# 52 – Twice

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When Liza was a kid, her parents joked that she lived in her own little world.  She could entertain herself all day drawing or playing with her stuffed animals.  This was no less true of her as an adult.  Well, minus the stuffed animals.  She figured that this was the reason that she liked unused places, like the garden, or dreamy places, like the Square at night.  Different places and things interested her.  They caught her attention.  People and their words usually didn’t.  A lot escaped her notice as a result.  Over the years, she’d developed the habit of reviewing the day’s conversations when she was unwinding at night.

That night, she thought over her date with Brad.  Did she miss something that should have set off alarms?  Did she misinterpret the look he was giving her when he saw her in the Square?  She thought about everything carefully and decided that the answer to both was no.  Then she thought about her encounter with Michael.  She liked him.  Not only that, she felt like she knew him.  No, she realized, she felt like he knew her.  Liza reviewed her memory of the mob of homeless people that she rescued Bruce from over the summer.  She was pretty sure that he wasn’t one of them.  Then she thought about the way he put his hand on her back when he ushered her to her car.  Wait, hadn’t he led the way to her car?  She remembered the way he patted the back of her hand.  It had been almost grandfatherly.  Did they know each other?  Before he was homeless maybe?  No.

Liza checked the locks on the back door one last time and made her way up to bed.  Snippets of their short conversation were replaying in her head.

“That your boyfriend?”

“It’s my niece…That’s not my boyfriend.”

“But you know him?”

“Yeah.  Kind of.” 

“Come on…Liza!”

That was it.  He said her name.  She didn’t tell him her name.  He said it twice.  “Nice meeting you too, Liza.”  He never even looked at the card.

# 51 – Cookies

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©iStock.com/aimintang

©iStock.com/aimintang

Mick was ushering her down a path quicker than she would have thought him capable of moving.  She wanted to see if Brad was following, but every time she started to turn, Mick would place a hand on her back and say, “Come on!”  It occurred to her that she could be getting herself into more trouble by blindly following this random homeless guy.  Scary Witch Hat Guy popped into her head.  Mick seemed alright, but then, she had thought the same thing about Brad.  She decided to keep following him.  They were headed in the direction of her car, and the park was filled with people.  A lot of them turned and stared as Mick and Liza power walked past.  She had on heels and a skirt from her date.  Mick was wearing stained jeans, over-sized black boots, and a pea coat that looked like it had caught fire on the one side.

They exited the park and walked up to her car.  Mick motioned for her to get in.  She fished the keys out of her purse.

“You ok to get home from here?” he asked, puffing away on his little cigar.  He turned and looked behind him.

“Yes…thank you.”

“Don’t worry about it.  Get in.”  Liza got in the car, started it up, and lowered the window.  “You be careful,” he said.  He leaned down and patted the back of her hand that was resting on the steering wheel.

She had a thought.  “Hang on.”  Liza dug around in her purse and pulled out a bag of breakfast cookies and a ten-dollar bill.  She passed them through the window to Mick.

“No, no.”  He took a step back and waved his hands in front of him.

“Take it!”  Liza hated feeling like she owed people.  She also liked this guy and genuinely wanted to help, even if it was in a small way.  She thought of the two extra bedrooms in her house, but didn’t mention them.  He wouldn’t come and it probably wasn’t a good idea anyway.  “Please.  Just take it.”

He glanced behind him, then turned back to Liza.  “Ok.  Thank you.”  He took the cookies and the money, patting the back of her hand again.

“It was nice meeting you.  Thank you again for helping me,” said Liza.  “Do you mind if I ask your name?”

“Michael.”

“Michael.”  Liza laughed.  “No way!”

He regarded her, mid-puff, from under raised yellowy white eyebrows.  “That funny?”

“No.  It’s just…it reminded me of something.  Sorry.”  Nice.  Be rude to the guy who just saved your ass.  “Really.  Thank you again.”  She handed him one of the business cards that she used when she did freelance work.  It had only her name, email address, and cell number.  “If you ever need anything…I don’t know if you have access to…”

“Thank you.”  He stuck it in a pocket without looking at it, and took a step back.

Liza put the car in gear.  “It was nice meeting you, Michael.”

“Nice meeting you too, Liza.”

# 50 – Mick

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“Are you one of those…” he waved a nicotine-stained finger in circles.  It was as if he was trying to get his memory running.  They were sitting in a gazebo in Adams Square.  Liza wasn’t ready to go home, so she had decided to sit down and see if she could draw something.  A homeless guy who looked like Mick from the Rocky movies sat next to her a few minutes later.  “Um…”

“Artists?”

“No.”  Mick squinted.

“Illustrators?”

“No.”

Liza sighed.  Maybe she should have gotten up when he sat down.  Was she that hard up for company?  No, she could have hung out with Brad longer.  Mick had seemed interesting, and truthfully, he was a welcome diversion from the sketch that she was struggling with.  “Painter?  Sketch artist?  Cartoonist?  Designer?”

“No.  One of those people who draws the funny pictures of people.”

“A caricaturist?”

“Yes!”  He smiled wide, flashing one lonely tooth at her.  It wasn’t a bed tooth, straight and only slightly yellowed.  She wondered if he was nice looking when he was younger and (presumably) not homeless.  He was nearly toothless and his skin was like worn leather, but he had these lively blue eyes.

“Nope, none of the above,” said Liza.

“So what’s this then?”  He waved the stained finger at her sketch pad as he pulled out a pack of little cigars.

“A hobby.”  She shook her head when he held the pack out to her.  “No, thank you.”  Liza fished a cigarette from her pack and lit up.  “I have some.”

“That your boyfriend?” he asked.

Liza stared at the picture.  It was supposed to be Casey as an angel.  Liza was no da Vinci, but damn, was it that bad?  “It’s my niece.”  He nudged her with his elbow and pointed with the little cigar.  Brad was standing near an entrance about twenty yards away.  He was looking at her.  Darn.  She felt like a mean girl.  Liza thought about going over and telling him the truth, but the way he was looking at her gave her a sick feeling.  Mick looked like he was thinking the same thing.  “That’s not my boyfriend,” said Liza.

“But you know him?”

“Yeah.  Kind of.”  Liza watched Brad, trying to decide what to do.  She wished that she had remembered to put the knife in her purse.  It wasn’t doing any good back in the glove compartment.  Mick turned his head.  He was probably getting ready to bolt.  She didn’t blame him.  Liza stuffed her sketch pad into her bag and pulled it over her head so that it sat across her body diagonally.  She put the pen in her front coat pocket.  It was better than nothing.

She was trying to psyche herself up to make a move when Mick turned back to her suddenly.  “Come on,” he said.  He stood and waved her in front of him with one hand.  The other was extended toward the nearest opening in the gazebo’s railing.  He was ushering her out of the gazebo in front of him.  Liza flicked her eyes in Brad’s direction and back to Mick.  She didn’t know what to do.  “Liza!” he snapped.  Liza jumped up and walked out of the gazebo ahead of him.

# 37 – These Situations

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Bruce was still on his knees; in too much pain to get up and too stubborn to collapse completely.  A nasty bruise was forming on the outside of his left forearm.  Other than that, it looked like most of the damage was to his head and face.  Liza crouched next to him to get a better look.  There was a deep gash on the side of his head.  One eye was swollen shut, his nose didn’t look right, and blood was smeared everywhere.  Liza started to feel queasy so she looked away.  She noticed that some of the residents were peeking out from their tents and blanket piles.  A few were edging their way toward Liza and Bruce.  She took a deep breath and stood quickly.  Liza stared back at them as she retrieved the butterfly knife from the ground.  She opened it and tucked it into the side pocket of her work pants.  The blade sliced through the bottom but stayed.  Liza had visions of severing an artery and dying in a pool of her own blood back here.  What would the homeless people do?  Liza imagined them wrapping her in liquor-soaked newspapers and setting her adrift in the river on top of an old car hood.  They would flick cigarette butts on her until she ignited.  At least her funeral would be unique.

She moved back to Bruce, who was trying to push himself to his feet.  “Are you going to be able to walk?”  He nodded slightly.  “Ok.”  Liza helped him get to his feet.  He was shaky.  She ducked under his right arm and wrapped her left arm around his waist.  She wasn’t so much holding him up as letting him use her as a human crutch.  She got him into her car and gave him her blazer to use to try to stem some of the bleeding.  He buried his face in it and flopped back against the seat.  Liza pulled her knife out as she walked around to the driver’s side and got in the car.  She could see them watching from beneath the underpass, but no one approached.

Liza sped up the access road.  They were almost back at the intersection when a cop car turned down the road.  She thought about flagging him down, but she didn’t know everything that had happened.  Why had Bruce gone there?  Why were those homeless people beating him up?  Liza slowed to a more moderate speed and hit the recline button on Bruce’s seat.  She looked straight ahead and pretended to fiddle with the radio as they passed each other.  Yep, don’t mind me.  I always drive down this abandoned dead-end road on my way to work.  The cop slowed down as they passed each other, but he didn’t stop her.  Liza took off as soon as she was back on the main street.