CHAPTER EIGHT: SHADOW (3/4)

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Sol tightened his coat as he stepped with Goone outside one of the hotel's rear exits. The morning was still young and there was little sunlight to warm the shadows.

"I really don't like this plan," Sol said for the hundredth time.

"You don't have to like it," said Goone. "You just have to do it. Remember: stay in the open and don't go—"

"Don't go inside any place on my own, I know."

"Good. And here, take this." Goone reached into his pocket and produced a small silver coin with a hole punched through the centre. On one side were the letters R and F, while on the other were the words: LIBERTE EGALITE FRATERNITE.

"This is French," Sol said, taking the coin.

"I know. If something happens, I want you to go to throw that under the nearest stone arch it and go through it."

Sol nodded and tucked the coin safely in his pocket. "Where will you be?"

"I'll be around, but don't bother trying to look for me; you won't see me. Go on, then, get moving."

Sol took a deep breath and stuffed his hands in his pockets before marching off into the street. As he turned the corner, he glanced back casually to see if Goone was following him, but the detective had already vanished.

*   *   *

The walk to St. Mark's Place was not a relaxing one. Sol couldn't help but give every person who walked past him a wide berth as he locked eyes with them, wondering if they might be the enemy in disguise. If they were, they paid him no attention and left him to his business.

The sight that greeted him outside The Tub was not one he'd seen before. The pavement was piled high with furniture: countless wooden chairs and tables were stacked beside cabinets and shelves and flimsy bed frames with their thin mattresses.

A crowd had formed to watch as men hauled The Tub's wares out of its home and added it to the heap, though as Sol got closer, he realised most of them were actually watching Mr Zero who was giving a speech from the edge of the street. He was talking theatrically into the lens of a film camera.

"...And there we shall continue our service as in the past: feeding men at thirty-three St. Mark's Place, The Tub, from five in the morning, until seven at night. From five until ten, oatmeal, with all the coffee they can drink, and all the bread they could eat. Thence on, from ten until seven, thick soup. Not dishwater, but thick soup. And all the bread they could eat, and all the coffee they can drink. For those who are naked, we will clothe them. For those who are famished for fellowship, we shall give them friendship. And for those who are without shelter, as far as we can, we'll shelter them, as long as we can. It may be—"

Zero's speech was cut short when two policemen arrived to put an end to the spectacle. One forced the cameraman to stop filming while the other went to work breaking up the crowd.

"Clear the road!" he shouted, waving his arms about dramatically, but the people paid him little attention and only those directly in his path moved aside. "Come on now, move!"

"Move along, boys," Zero said, and the crowd grudgingly dispersed. The officer then turned his attention to Zero.

"You're taking up the entire street, Ledoux."

"I am vacating the premises as ordered. I did not summon a crowd, nor can I control the will of free men. What they do is not—"

"Alright, alright, just keep them off the road; you're holding up the traffic." The officer left Zero there and departed the way he'd come, his steps slowed by the crowd which seemed to thicken deliberately around him. Sol drifted into the gap left by his wake, feeling somewhat safer amongst his downhearted brethren.

"Do you still need movers?" he asked Zero.

"As many as are willing," Zero replied, looking suddenly tired. "If I don't clear the streets by the end of the day, I imagine thieves will clear them for me. Anything you can transport to number thirty-three would be greatly appreciated."

So, for several hours, Sol walked back and forth along St. Mark's Place, shuttling chairs and tables and anything else his arms could carry to the basement below the grocery store just a little way along the road. It was a much smaller property than the old Tub at number twelve and hardly big enough to accept the vast hoard of furniture, let alone be furnished by it, but Zero wanted as much of it off the street as possible.

While Sol's body was occupied with work, his mind was busy with other matters. He felt terribly exposed under the sun's cold light, walled in by buildings and people and junk, but Goone had assured him he would be safe. He looked around from time to time, hoping to catch a glimpse of the detective through a dark window or watching from the corner of some building, but if he was there, Sol never saw him.

When there was no room in the basement to fit another chair, the volunteers piled what was left outside on the pavement. Zero thanked them and gave each of them a quarter, directing them to a mission where they could get a hot meal. As they filtered off with their small rewards, however, Sol suspected most of them were heading for the nearest speakeasy.

"Aren't you hungry?" Zero asked him when he realised Sol was the only was still remaining.

"Always," Sol replied.

Zero paused for a moment before reaching into his pocket and taking out another quarter and handing it to Sol.

"What's this for?" Sol asked.

"You carried more furniture alone than most of those other boys combined."

"I don't feel right taking more than the others."

"You are not taking; I am giving. You must keep your strength up, friend. Now say no more about it or I will consider myself insulted."

Sol nodded and pocketed the quarter. Zero was about to say something else when he started coughing. It was a hard, hacking cough rooted deep within his chest. His face reddened as he struggled to get his breathing under control.

"Sickness is on me already," he croaked. "This is all I need." With that, The Tub's owner tottered down the stairs to be with his tangled belongings. With an uneasy sigh, Sol turned up his collar and started north.

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