Eight

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He followed her at a distance, and she knew he was there but didn't let on. She led him to the waterfront, where small groups gathered in makeshift shelters beneath the old abandoned docks. He watched as she pulled item after item out of her sack, and saw the smiles on the weary faces that greeted her. She had even brought little chew toys for the dogs of the homeless. She led him into the heart of the city, where she had talks with the girls on the corners, and with the boys outside the bars. She found people where he'd thought there were only bundles and rags in the alleys and the lots behind the high-rises. He became so engrossed in his pursuit that he lost all caution, he forgot to jump and hide at sudden movements, at lights and noises.

Her trail led them back to her headquarters, where he peered down inside the basement windows after she had entered, and saw the vast kitchen and the dining room in the dim light of nearly dawn. Then he returned to his uncle's house, pondering over everything he had seen. The whole day he sat in his room and thought. He had many questions. He had seen nothing like that, read about nothing like that, knew nothing about it at all. It was as if he had discovered another planet, wrapped inside of this one and only visible in the dark.

He was prepared to renew his explorations that evening, but Ray brought home an unexpected visitor. Clayton had been put off long enough. He was bound to see for himself what his partner's guest was up to, and if the price of his curiosity was a large mushroom pizza to go and a bottle of cheap chianti, it was worth it. Ray held him back until at least it was nearly night, otherwise he would have to explain why Dave would refuse to come upstairs. He was already nervous enough as it was. His nephew had been "living" with him for about two weeks, and they'd had perhaps a total of two hours conversation during all that time. At least Dave's ability to talk had improved tremendously. Ray was hoping Clayton would notice nothing too unusual, aside from the smell.

When they arrived at the house, Ray hurried ahead and hustled downstairs to prepare Dave for the intrusion and push him upstairs, while Clay served out the food they'd carried over from the joint down the street. Ray didn't need to worry about Dave's attitude, as it turned out. He was willing, even perhaps mildly positive about the unexpected event. He followed Ray back up the steps and held out his hand to Clay as he entered the kitchen.

"Glad to meet you", Dave volunteered. "Ray has told me many things about you."

"Most of them lies", Clay replied, shaking the young man's hand. "Hope you like pizza", he said. "We brought a lot."

Dave was about to reply that he actually wasn't hungry but Ray intervened and declared that he should've called because Dave had already had dinner.

"It smells good, though", Dave offered, and Ray winced at that suggestion coming from the dead man. Clay didn't even notice Dave's confluence of odors. He was an old man who was used to smelly things, and the last one to complain about anybody's personal issues. He merely passed around the pizza and filled three glasses of wine. Dave accepted his and set it in front of him as they sat around the small kitchen table. At intervals he pretended to take sips although he still hadn't re-learned - or even tried - to swallow. Clay was all questions. He wanted to know what Dave was doing with his time. What his plans were. Ray stuffed his face with pizza and tried hard not to become upset with his partner, or his nephew, but again it turned out his anxiety was needless. Dave had an answer for everything. Ray was frankly startled.

"I'm working nights", Dave told them. "With the people from the shelter. Cookie Marquette."

They had heard of her, of course. When Clay pressed him about the kind of work he was doing and how much it paid, Dave didn't have a complete answer ready.

"Helping people", he said. "With their needs". He paused, uncertain about the question of pay. Ray came in to the rescue.

"It's apprenticeship for now", he said. "Meaning it don't pay, not yet."

"Oh, like volunteer work", Clay said and Dave nodded. Ray went on to add that everybody knew that Cookie's outfit had full-time people too and Dave was on that track. Clayton was impressed.

"They do good work down there" he nodded. "Must be rough, though, working nights. I never liked to do that myself."

"I like it", Dave said quickly. "I like the night. Daytime not so much."

"He's a regular night owl", Ray put in. "Hardly ever seem him when the sun's up. Some people are like that. You remember old Dennis? Wouldn't pull back his curtains long as there was daylight."

"Sure", said Ray. "It's what you get used to. I did a graveyard shift myself one time, way back in the day when I was a kid. Over at the rail yards, doing guard work. Just me and the dogs, all night long. Didn't care for it much."

"A lot of dogs out there", Dave said thoughtfully.

"Mean ones these buggers were", Clay said. "Ready as not to rip your neck out. Kept 'em on these long-ass chains. Vicious brutes."

Ray relaxed as the conversation turned away from Dave for awhile, until suddenly Clay was back at it.

"So what do you do for fun? You got a girl? What's your long term plans, anyhow? Gonna stay living here? I know it's none of my business and all, but, heck, well it is, seeing as how your uncle's my business partner and my oldest friend. I'm kind of like your uncle too, you see."

Dave nodded throughout the interrogation and finally, when Clay sat back to listen for an answer to any one or more of those questions, he said one word.

"Movies?"

"Movies?", Clay repeated. "What about 'em? Oh, you like 'em?"

"Like to go to the movies", Dave said simply, nodding. The thought had only just occurred to him. He had read in some magazine about movies, where people went and paid money to sit in the dark and watch a big TV together.

"What kind of movies you like?", Clay wanted to know.

"Any kind", Dave told him.

"Well, we oughta go some time", Ray suggested. Every one agreed.

Later, when Clay had talked and eaten his fill, he leaned back and said,

"Well, it's time I shoved off. The old lady's bound to be waiting up for me."

Dave stood and along with Ray walked him to the door, shook his hand again, said good night. As they watched him depart, Ray shook his head.

"You're a quick study, boy", he said. "I don't know how you pulled that off."

"Watch and learn", Dave said, and forced a meager smile to appear on his face.

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