A Mark and Stephen Tale.
By C.W. Cale
Officer Canton and his partner pulled their black and white police cruiser to a stop outside the downtown convention center. Canton jumped out and opened the back door allowing a man to exit the vehicle. “Here you go Stephen, home sweet home.”
“Hey thanks again for your help, Lou.” He shook the officer’s hand.
“You just take it easy Stephen. –and keep out of trouble!”
He smiled without humor, “Out here? Don’t bet on it.”
Lou’s partner Connie Purcell called out, “You flag us down if you need anything.”
“Always do.” He smiled and turned away as the cruiser moved on. He took a deep breath of the smoggy downtown air, “Well, here we are, buddy, home sweet home... indeed.” He strolled casually into the alley and called to the man gesturing wildly at him. “Rex, how’s life tonight?”
A well bearded man in a shabby coat flashed a dental nightmare at him. “Stebben! Gotta subbon herya! Gotta subbon obbah herya! Gotta come obbah herya!”
A small female sat near the trash crying. She held her oversized coat tight around her and rocked slightly.
“When did she show up?” Stephen slowly approached.
“Herya dis zaftuhnuhn. Takin up mah space.” He growled.
“Okay, okay, I’ll take care of it Rex. I’ll take care of it. Sweetie? Hey, sweetie? Wake up now.”
The girl woke with a start and kicked herself deeper into the pile of trash.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay. We’re friends. We’re here to help.”
High pitched cries came from the cluttered debris.
Both men looked at each other bewilderedly. As they pulled on her feet and she cried out in a different voice. As she appeared they noticed her bulky coat hid the fact that she had a baby in her arms. She kicked free and scrambled back into the pile of debris.
Stephen lowered himself down to her level and crawled forward, “Hey, you two come out of there. It’s okay.” he whispered.
His words to her were met with a hubcap slammed against his head. “Krrang!” The alley exploded with stars and quickly got very dark as Stephen collapsed to the ground.
He lay still enjoying his nap until a familiar voice called to him from inside his head. “Stephen? Stephen, you have to get up. People are counting on us.”
Stephen answered silently, knowing he would be heard. “Mark?”
“Get off my ass, okay?” He stayed down and continued to rest.
The voice continued, “Stephen I’m sorry, but you have to wake up now.”
“Because the girl needs me I suppose?”
“Well, that and Rex is trying to steal your clothes. You ought to try to wake up now.”
Stephen fought off the stupor, “Dammit, Rex…” Stephen pushed the invading hands away, “Rex. Back off. What are ya doin’?”
“Stebbin, I jess wans yahta wake op!”
“Yeah, then why is my coat missing?”
“Oh, I gossit herya, trynna get da coldda wake yow op!”
“Yeah. Yeah, okay.” He noticed the shabby dinner jacket Rex wore. “Do you need a new coat? Oh, Geez Rex, look at this thing. It’s winter, man. You’ve got a summer weight coat on. Why didn’t you just ask me for some help? Do you want this coat? Hey, it’ll look good on ya! Here ya go.”
“Nah, dabbit! I woudunt tappen yow coat!”
“Now, I know, I know, I just think you’ll look good in it. Looking sharp, Rex. King of the Alley needs a good looking outfit, right?”
“Naah man! You gonna gibbe dat coat? For real?”
“Well, I’m swapping with you okay?”
“Weh hob damb I do likes it!”
“Ah, Rexxie, don’t just take things, okay?” he tugged the onto Rex’s shoulders, “Asking? Asking for help? You may be surprised how many people,” he tugged the coat into place around Rex. “People will help you out.”
“Ah, dissa warmb!”
“Yeah, and this coat of yours makes me look, -hey.” He spotted a bloodstain on Rex’ old coat. “Rex? What happened? Are you hurt?”
“Nah, dis frub day gurl! Day gurl hadda cutup face. Bleedin.”
The voice from within insisted, “Stephen?”
“Alright, Mark. I hear ya.” he said out loud.
“Who Mark?” Rex asked.
“You don’t want to know, Rexxie. Hey, no more taking stuff alright? The king of this alley doesn’t need to steal. The king asks for help okay?”
“Ya’ll raight I hears ya. I hears ya.”
“Rex, Which way did ‘they gurl’ go?”
Rex swiveled around and looked both ways. “Uh, she, run off, dat way. Done gone down by da li-bary.”
“Sweet! Okay, you be careful, Rex.” he hurried down the sidewalk towards the library while pulling on the tattered sports jacket. He noticed a few flakes of snow starting to fall.
The voice in his head kicked in again, “Stephen, that was a good thing you did there. Did you feel any fear or coercion to give up that coat of yours?”
“Leave it alone Mark.”
“You didn’t. I know you didn’t. You done good. You didn’t need to make him feel small either. Not calling attention to your deeds, just doing what’s right. See, I always tried to explain that to Paul. To care for the neediest in your community is to care for your community, which is to care for yourself, but a deed done simply to attain praise is…”
“Yeah, okay, okay whatever. We have a girl and baby to find.”
“You remind me of someone.”
“Lay off that stuff. I got work to do.”
Mark laughed for a while. “You sound like him too. I gotta start writing this stuff down. I used to be quite good at that. It’s been a while.”
“Where’d she go?” he scanned the side streets around the library. “God damn it, lady! Sorry, Mark. Lady where are you!” He ducked into the alley behind the main building. “Come on! It’s cold out here!”
“What, Mark, what?”
“Having ears, do you not hear?”
“I hear more when you stop with the…” a cry came from the far corner of the alley. “Lady? Lady we need to get you some help. Where are you? Where…”
She stepped out of the dark crying and clutching her small parcel to her body. “Senor, ayudamisobrinoconlacasademitia…”
“She’s just a girl. Mark, some help here?”
“It’s just Spanish, Stephen. Sound it out.”
“You want me to help her or not, cause I could easily go home. It’s twelve degrees out here and I’m wearing a ratty dinner jacket.”
“Oh, please. I remember a bad night in Gethsemane. You think you’re underdressed!”
Stephen's teeth were chattering, “We could go discuss this over dinner if you like.”
“You aren’t about to let those two freeze to death!”
“Just translate old man!”
Strange and ancient languages filled his head, sounds swirled until finally words formed. He heard the girl’s words in Mark’s voice; the situation became clear to him. “Oooooh! You’re not the Mommy. Oh, Mark, it’s her nephew. Her Aunt was…”
Mark interrupted, “Stephen, Stephen I know the situation. Talk to her, not me.”
“Right.” He carefully took her arm and examined her face. His words changed easily into her language, “Hey, no crying. Your uncle won’t find you. We’ll find you a place to stay with the baby. Come with me.”
She broke down in tears, “I don’t know who to trust, just help us?”
He lowered his head to meet her eyes, “We’ll help both of you. There is a women's shelter three blocks from here. They have a bed for you.”
“No! I have no money. I have no visa. I can’t…”
“No, they don’t care about that. You just come with me. They only want to help you there. No government affiliation.”
“Que?” She cocked her head. “No comprende.” She howled with tears.
“Mark, what are you telling her?”
“Oh, sorry I thought you said double-mint irritation.”
“Why would I say that?” Stephen angrily asked.
“I’m sorry! You think you’re the only one freezing!” the voice muttered. “It’s colder than Palestine out here!”
A police siren sounded its whoop-whoop behind them. Red and blue rollers splashed light across the walls.
“Polizia!” she shrieked and pulled away from Stephen’s grasp.
“No!” He caught her around the shoulders. “Please you have to trust me for the baby. These are friends of mine! Listen to me! You two won’t survive the night out here! Let us take you to the women’s shelter! Only women there. You understand? No men! No men! You’re uncle won’t find you!”
She relaxed and let him lead her to the police cruiser.
“You swear he won’t find us?” she sobbed.
“I swear. They don’t let men inside. Not even me!”
The cruiser’s spotlight hit them. “Stephen you need a hand?”
“Lou. This girl’s got her infant nephew with her. She’s a little battered and bruised. She’s bleeding. The uncle must have beat up on her and she’s plenty spooked by you guys.”
Connie leaned over and shouted, “Tell her we’re off duty.”
Lou cut the rollers and killed the spotlight.
“Chica, these two are friends of mine. They only want to help you get you and your nephew into a warm bed for the night. Trust me okay? The ladies will help you figure out what to do tomorrow. You’re hurt, the baby is freezing; you won’t survive the night out here. Let’s just get you guys somewhere warm.”
“Si. Okay, mister. I will trust you.”
They piled into the back of the cruiser and the warmth inside the vehicle helped both of them relax. The baby seemed more sleepy than scared.
Stephen mentally thanked his internal partner, “Mark, you came through again. Thanks.”
“I couldn’t do it without you, Stephen.” the voice replied.
“So, we gonna head back out after this.” He asked.
“No, Stephen, You need to head home tonight. Take care of your household so you can work another day yada, yada, yada. –and frankly, I’m starving.”
Stephen sighed. “Lou, Connie, thanks. Do you guys think I can beg a ride home after this?”
“No problem, Stephen. I think you earned a ride from a couple of grateful public servants.” Lou smiled.
Stephen led the girl out and spoke with her before letting the volunteers at the shelter take her inside.
Officer Lou looked at his partner, “What are they speaking? Doesn’t sound like Spanish.”
Connie smiled. “I don’t know. It’s all Greek to me.”
“I swear, that Stephen, he must speak like maybe 20 different languages or something.”
Connie laughed. “You think so?”
“Yeah, the guy communicates with every stray dog we got out here. Been doing this for what, two years now?”
“Thank god he does. How many people has he turned around? He probably saved a dozen lives this year alone. Two more tonight, huh? Does he remind you of someone?”
“What, like an angel or somethin'?”
Connie sputtered with laughter, “No dumb-ass! He’s the spitting image of Steve McQueen, the actor! An angel! HA! You’re a riot, Lou! A riot!”
“He don’t look like McQueen. Maybe a little like Steve Buscemi.”
Stephen crawled back into the cruiser, “What are we talking about?”
Connie smiled at him, “Nuthin’. You hungry? Let’s get you some food on the way.”
Stephen heard a stomach growl. “Oh, God! what an excellent idea. Feels like I’ve been on fast! How ‘bout that gyro place over on Division?”
She squinted at his outfit, “What’s up with that jacket? You got a date later?”
Stephen inspected his stained lapel and smiled. “Yeah, right. I’m meeting Mira Sorvino later for martinis at the High Bar.”
Connie turned back around, “Everyone’s a smart-ass.”
Stephen sat back and picked at a stain on his new jacket. He remembered a time not too long ago when he was actually going to the High Bar for martinis. He sniffed at the jacket and took it off. The cold was so oppressive he put it back on, “Lord, I miss my old life.” he muttered.
Somewhere Mark laughed, “I’ve got to start writing this stuff down again.”