From “Street Life”
He coughed. The cold had settled heavily into his chest and the exertion of climbing the stairs from the street seemed to make it worse. Sweat formed on his brow despite the cold. A fever? Maybe. He'd woken up with the sweats a dozen times the night before, feeling the tightness in his throat-- like a rope slowly strangling him.
"Hey!" the attendant at the door snarled. "You can't come in here. There's a service going on."
"Service, my ass," Jim `Toad' Delancy said. "Scalping is more like it. Get out of my way before I knock you down."
The mousey man took a tall step back, then rushed away, through the narrow ante-chamber and into the chapel beyond. Delancy sighed and glanced around. No one else was guarding the door and the narrow room was a collection of religious literature, most of it nonsense handed out on the street for tourist consumption, asking for the same limited spare change that the beggars needed for food.
His face reddened. The voice of the mousey man rose and fell announcing his arrival. He followed the man's trail to the inner door, the stained glass glittering with the flickering candle light from within. He pushed inside. The small chapel was stuffed, the homeless and the hopeless, their gnarled, dirty faces turning as he arrived. He knew many of them by name, all of them by sight. Some were even friends of his during the various migrations from one side of Greenwich village to the other. But now, most of them wore a single mutual expression of terror that had swept over the city during the last few years.
Delancy had seen such desperation before, twenty years or more ago, not here along the Bowery, but ten thousand miles away where the stinking smell of jungle mingled with gunpowder and gasoline, where the streets of Saigon were stuffed just as full with families of slant-eyed people looking like these. He remembered the cardboard villages that made up those slums, and the odd expression of shock that filled the faces of peaceful people displaced.
The same displaced expression showed on these families, and it was the same desperation that made them seek the help of snake-oil salesman like The Preacher.
"What do you want here, Delancy?" the preacher asked.
He was a small man dressed like a priest, his narrow jaw jutting out over the collar like chunk of stone. But it was his eyes that Delancy mistrusted, shifting dubious eyes that did not look at him directly.
"I want to know if it's true," Delancy said. "I want to hear from your own lips that you're selling out."
Again the eyes refused to meet his.
"Not selling out," the Preacher said. "Shifting priorities."
Delancy coughed. It was half laugh half curse, and through tearing eyes he glared at the men.
"What priorities?" Delancy asked, glancing over the faces of the crowd. The faces of expatriates who had been neglected by the recent flag-waving parade downtown, soldiers from the various wars that been excluded from priorities like food and shelter, rotting in under-funded missions like these while the cheering crowds went home to warm meals in the suburbs. None of them seemed to comprehend the point Delancy was making. "Closing down the mission shifts these people onto the street. That's no priority."
The Preacher's face reddened, the pudgy nose and furry brows images reminding Delancy of a professor he'd once had-- even the crinkling upper lip when angry was the same.
"I think matters of this sort ought to be discussed in private," the preacher said with more than a little overtone of indignant outrage.
"So you can do more of your dirty work behind closed door?" Delancy said, noting the stirring in the crowd, the looks shifting from face to face as the whispered word of the closing went round, those faces shifting from shock to pain to rage. "No way, pal. You've been milking the city for shit-loads of money for years, fudging your homeless figures, charging Hilton prices for your rotten little flop house. No one's said anything so far because we've figured something is better than nothing and there are people who preferred your hypocritical sermons to being robbed in city homeless shelters. But if you think you're going to take your money and run, you have another things coming..."
Delancy fell into a fit of coughing. But the crowd filled in the space, some of the younger men-- veterans and hippies alike started shouting all at once, wanting to know what was going on here and why hadn't they been told.
"Are you really selling the place?" one elder man asked, bent over a home-made cane made of poison sumac.
"Calm down, people!" the Preacher yelled, using his best preaching voice. The crowd calmed somewhat, shushing each other to hear what he had to say.
"Let him speak!" someone from the rear of the assembly yelled.
"Well?" Delancy asked. "We're listening."
The Preacher adjusted his jacket, pulling down on the sleeves with an exaggerated neatness, staring at Delancy with the angry bureaucratic expression. It was an expression Delancy had grown used in the years since Vietnam, having seen it on the faces of drug councilors and representatives from the Veteran's Administration whenever questions of money were raised.
"It's not a simple issue any more," the Preacher said. "Things have gotten difficult around here the last few years, with Reagan cuts, then Bush's and now the city and state. It's almost impossible to make ends meet any more."
"Almost but not quite impossible," Delancy said. "Maybe you should take the money you've been syphoning off for all those years and put it back into the mission."
Again came the dark look, the look of a cornered animal.
"Don't accuse me of anything, Delancy, unless you can prove it. We've done quite a bit for this community over the years, but that's all coming to an end. We can't do any more. That's the reality."
The murmuring started again, the angry whispers slowly rising into shouts. But Delancy held up his hands to silence them. He coughed, fishing a dirty handkerchief from his pocket, then spoke.
"The reality is that Winter's coming," he said. "And the streets are stuffed with people. Things were bad when we had Thompson Square Park, but now no one's got even that."
Agreement rose in the crowd and Delancy caught glimpse of a few familiar faces, people who had lived in the park before. But there were others whispering, who had been part of the park scene, too, and his gaze narrowed on a rat-like figure near the center who he'd seen handing out Anarchist's literature, squirming now, ducking back behind a taller man.
"What's the hurry, Preacher. And what are these people going to do when you're gone?"
"The city shelters aren't as bad as you make them out to be, Delancy," the Preacher said.
"Oh? Have you ever been in one?"
Again came the flushed face and the angry stare. "I've been taken on a tour once or twice."
"A tour?" Delancy said, emitting an angry laugh. "And I suppose that oreal mayor was your tour guide, eh?"
"Look, it's pointless to argue with me," the Preacher said. "What's done is done. People will get on just fine in the shelters-- a lot better than they would if they stayed here and I ran out of money completely."
"Can't you wait till spring?"
"No. The budget cuts devastated us. We'll be lucky to make it to Thanksgiving," the preacher said, then looked at Delancy with a peculiar glint in his eyes. "I don't suppose you and your little band of thieves could come up with any money to keep it open longer?"
Delancy coughed. The others were looking at him now, wearing the same desperate look that the Viet-kids wore, hiding behind their eyes an equal rage that would explode someday-- on him, the city, the preacher, the shelters, the cops-- someone and any one that happened to be in their way when the truth hit home, and the truth about this home-front war they were the victims of; how some select crowd of gentle rich planned their extinction.
Delancy had heard only rumors of the plan that would empty Manhattan of the poor and needy, and make it a playground for the rich, raising the rents and the price of food, shifting jobs to regions south where wages were less and unions non-existent.
The idea had been a good one, one that would send the poor scurrying from place to place as they livelihood shifted, but a plan that had failed miserably. The truly poor never moved. The truly poor fell out of their jobs and into the streets, some taxing the system by dying there, others selling out to the welfare roles, but many remained, finding a strange new frontier life waiting for them-- full of violence and disease, but full of freedom, too-- a terrible, degrading freedom that over time slowly killed.
"Don't try and turn it on me, Preacher," Delancy said. "We're all doing what we can down here."
The last stressed syllable was the breaking point. Delancy staggered towards the pulpit. "You righteous son of a bitch!"
"Stop him!" the Preacher yelled, falling off the steps as he backed away, hands gripping at the microphone stand as if to use as a weapon. "Don't let him come near me."
"What are you afraid of Preacher? Everybody in town knows I'm non-violent. Or do you have a guilty conscience about something?"
"No, no, I'm not feeling guilty about anything," the man said, squirming back another step, his brow thick with moisture.
"Not even about the little game you've been playing with the cops?"
"What game? What are you talking about?"
"No?" Delancy asked, aware of the crowd now leaning forward, trying to hear the whispered words from the alter. "That's not what I heard from my spy in Bungy's office. My spy says you've been working with the police to drive us from the street."
The Preacher's jaw fell, leaving an open, wordless mouth. But it snapped shut again as he dignity returned. "And why shouldn't I? You and your hoods aren't helping anyone. You think you're some kind of Robinhood down here, stealing from good hard-working people to give to scum."
"Scum? These are the same people you're supposed to be helping."
"I help those who help themselves."
"And you help yourself to quite a lot, but that isn't even my concern. What will it take to keep this mission open, Preacher?"
"Buy it," the Preacher said. "Then you can do what you like with the place. I don't care who I sell to as long as I get my price."
"More money, preacher? Where's your Christian spirit. I thought you were supposed to give to the poor?"
"I have given, but there's only so much left to do, and with the value of the property...."
Delancy felt something sink in him, he sagged back and coughed. Langston had slipped his greedy fangs into the good Preacher, there was nothing left with which to stop him. He had seen it before in every corner of the East Village, Langston's magic touch converting dilapidated homes into playpens for Yuppies. Sometimes the old and new buildings sat side by side, though on the street one could tell the conversions from the fences installed around the doors and the bars on the windows and the fancy curtains floating out open windows like flags of victory.
"Face reality, Delancy. Poor people don't belong in New York any more."
"Nothing human does, from the look of it," Delancy said, leaning against the back of a pew. The anger had faded from the face of the crowd. Alarm had replaced it. In their eyes the search had begun to replace the mission.
"Get out of here, Delancy," the Preacher said, sensing victory. He straightened and again tugged down on his sleeves. "Get out before I call the police."
Delancy laughed weakly. "Oh yes, I forgot. You have connections with Bugman, don't you?"
"I said out!"
This time the voice was commanding again, echoing through the chapel like the voice of God.
"All right, Preacher. I'm going. But I'll be back-- and if you're lucky, there won't be a lynch mob behind me."
He staggered down the front steps coughing uncontrollably, stopping on the sidewalk to lean over the rail. A green gypsy cab beeped its horn at the curb, its driver waving for Delancy to come.
"All right, all right!" Delancy barked. "Just hold your horses a second, can't you see I'm sick."
The horn beeped again.
"Damn it, Hare, you little bastard!" Delancy said, still staggering as he yanked the passenger side door open. "You're still as impatient as you were in Nam. Can't you slow down for one Goddamn minute?"
"I don't make a living sitting outside hobo homes," the driver said. "Are you getting in or what?"
Delancy fell into the seat, but did not close the door-- in fact, he was too weak to grab its handle for a moment and stared at the dash board in an idiotic daze.
"Damn it, Jim," Hare said, shaking his shoulder. "Close the goddamn door. It's cold out there."
"I know," Delancy said, stirring himself to drag it closed. Another coughing fit racked him.
Hare shook his head. "You sound awful. Have you seen anyone for that?"
"Who has time?" Delancy mumbled. "Any way, it's not as bad as it sounds."
"Right," Hare said. "In other words, mind my own business."
"I didn't say that, old buddy," Delancy said, looking at his friend-- at the twitching nose and mouth by which the man had gotten his name, a constantly moving bundle of nerves that would die if forced to sit still. "You're getting sensitive in your old age."
"I've always been sensitive," Hare grumbled. "Especially when it means me having to bury friends I've dragged from death in Nam. Why don't I drive you over to Doc's place and have him look at you?"
"This late?" Delancy laughed. "The fool's probably flat on his back by now, dead drunk. I'll be all right. I just need a couple of days rest, that's all."
"You haven't been sleeping?"
"Who can with all the shit going down in the city. Even if I didn't have the sweats all night or wake up from coughing, I'd be up worried about where people are going to stay."
"Speaking of which, how did it go in there?"
Hare hooked a thumb towards the front door of the mission.
"It didn't. The bastard's selling out of Langston and there's no talking him out of it. This'll probably be a tennis club for the Soho crowd next year."
Hare's nose twitched as his small eyes stared at the drive-side window at the doors. The lights of the chapel glowed and the sound of heavy organ rumbled out into the street like a dirge. A few street people staggered out the door, looking up and down the street as if lost.
"No other options?"
"He'd likely sell to me if I could raise the money. But damn, the real estate values in Manhattan for that one place could feed the homeless for a century. Even if we could raise it, we'd have better use for the cash."
"Can he be convinced otherwise?"
Delancy's gaze narrowed. "Convinced? You're beginning to sound like the anarchists, buddy. Next you'll want to start a kangaroo court."
"I don't see any other court doing something about this," Hare said in a defensive tone. "People are gonna be hurting soon because of him."
"And what would you propose to do? Kill him?"
Hare shrugged. "The anarchists aren't all wrong about the rich down here. I mean they were right about what happened over at the park, weren't they? Those yuppie bastards hounded the prescient until the cops closed the park."
"That's not exactly how it happened. The yuppies wanted the park for themselves. Now nobody's got it."
"But they got our homes. I mean they're taking over the old buildings and pushing us onto the street. You have to expect some anger from people when they've got no home."
"Anger, yes, violence no. Didn't we see enough of that over there?"
Hare shrugged. "It seems to me the gooks had the right idea. You keep taking crap from people, sooner or later those people think you like it."
Delancy nodded. He'd felt that, too. It was part of the right wing mentality that went from precinct house to the white house-- this idea that people enjoyed living on the street or in shelters, sponging off hard-working tax-payers. He'd seen the hard-hats anger uptown, pissing down from construction sights on sleeping homeless.
It was easy to hate the tools, rather than the manipulators. It was easy to reach them, too. A bullet from some dark alley could deal with such men. But the real purveyors of trouble here, were not so easily reached, hiding behind walls of bureaucracy-- in City Hall, in Trump Towers-- pulling the strings that sent countless puppets out into the world. It was that way in Vietnam, 1967, it was that way now in New York City, 1991. And as far as Delancy could see, it would always be that way-- one peasant pissing on another in the name of some superior being.
"So where do you want to go?" Hare asked, his impatience now marred with a sulking anger.
"I know, just drive around. I have to think."
"Drive around, he says, as if the great East Village Toad was paying for gas."
"I'll give you something," Delancy said, fishing a wrinkled five spot from out of his jeans.
"Five dollars? And where did you come by this vast fortune?"
"I pinched it from the Preacher's poor box," Delancy said with a grin. "At least that much will actually see the poor."
Hare took the money and stuffed it into a box under the seat, then put the car in gear. He drove down East 2nd a few blocks. The ragged buildings giving way to reconverted houses. The Yuppies had marked out their territory with painted metal fences that took up half the sidewalk as if they owned that, too. But there were plenty of other buildings which had not been converted yet, buildings still in transition, with real people hanging laundry out of the fire escapes. Other buildings had been abandoned or shut up, greedy landlords warehousing apartments in order to triple rents. The whole process devoured the poor who could least afford the rising prices. Sometimes, landlords would shut down services. It was an illegal practice, but the city inspectors were slow or did not inspect at all-- taking money from the landlords to let things be. The heat would vanished one day. The lights, the next. Till life in the building became so unbearable people had to move. Now, many of those buildings stared back, their windows blocked with grey wood or sealed with cider block. Junkies and crack-heads often broke into them, keeping warm around small fires inside, dropping off into their drug haze till the fires engulfed them and the buildings.
"Turn down 11th," Delancy told Hare.
"I want to see the old neighborhood."
"There is no old neighborhood any more," Hare said, but turned just the same, the red-stone bulk of St. Nicholas on the left. But it was the park that drew Delancy's attention.
"Turn here!" Delancy shouted.
"It's one way the wrong way, damn it."
"Then go around the block. I want to look at the park."
"There's nothing to look at. Just a lot of locks and cops."
"Just do what I say all right?"
"Sure, sure, till the Preacher's five bucks runs out anyway."
He went down Eleventh to Avenue C. On one side, an old brick factory mocked them with empty windows, the burn marks of some ancient fire now the work of an anthropologist. On the other side, the arched doorways of the Free Baths shimmered in grey stone, a small `for sale' sign inviting renovation. None of the uptown Liberals were fighting for its survival as a landmark, but it was. It was a time and place which could never come again, and Delancy felt the chill as they slowed make turn at the corner.
"Go down another block," he said.
"But I thought you wanted to see the park."
"Need I point out that the park is the other way."
"There's something I want to see first."
"Okay," Hare said, pushing on the gas. The front shocks taking the jolt of the pot-holed street badly. "I seem to remember you doing this to me in Nam, too."
"That was different. We were looking for people then."
"And we're looking for what now?"
"That!" Delancy said, pointing off to the left. "Stop the car."
Hare doubled parked. But it clearly didn't matter. The street was half dug up, huge metal planks bridging great divides. City warning horses with burned out blinking lights jutted from either side. Old tenements cluttered the block without sign of renovation. Life down this far on 11th hadn't changed yet. It was the same dismal and dark place it had been since the beginning of the century, a ghetto within a ghetto, with crumbling foundations and broken sidewalks, and ragged people stretched out in convenient, out of the wind places. Young black and hispanic kids darted in and out of the doors, leaping over the sleeping bodies.
"And what exactly are you talking about?" Hare asked. "There's nothing here but junk."
"Look again," Delancy said.
"You mean that abandoned lot?"
"Is it abandoned?"
"It's full of crap... Oh my!"
Delancy laughed and eased open the door. He stopped half way out to cough, phlegm coming up into his fist with a streak of blood. He shivered and cross the worn street, asphalt had worn itself away, back to the original cobblestones. But his gaze remained fixed upon the lot. Graveyard would have been more suitable a name, though nothing there had ever been alive. Instead, stuffed animals and dolls of all shapes and sizes stared out from the inside of the fence, tied to tree branches and bushes, all of them stained from years abandoned, some without eyes, others missing limbs. In the lot's center, even the trees had died, leaving a small forest of leafless branches, reminding him of the spikes along the sides of Vietnam roads upon which the bodies of collaborators hung.
"Does it remind you of anything?" Delancy asked Hare, who was staring open-mouthed at the display.
"No, yes-- I don't know. It has a buddhist feel to it. They used to sit in groups and stare at the trucks as we went by, looking half dead, their eyes always full of hate."
Delancy nodded. "It's the feel of magic," he said. "Poor people's magic. It's very powerful stuff. In Nam, that magic was telling us to go away. I don't know what this is saying."
"I'm not sure I want to know," Hare said. "Let's get going. I have to make some money tonight."
Both men retreated back to the car.
Tompkins Square Park was under siege. A fence had been put up around the entire four block square sealing off the entrances and exits, leaving a vast expanse of unused gravel paths, concrete play areas, and changing trees. Delancy stared out the window at the line of blue uniforms which formed outside the fence, their badges like markers to some elite army that had nothing to do whatsoever with New York City. Even their faces were wooden, their jaws set in the rigid line of grim defenders, holding night sticks tight as if waiting for attack.
"They've been hassling everybody," Hare said. "They roust anyone that even looks like they want trouble. And they've been saying nasty things to the dikes, too."
Delancy grinned. "That could cost them. Even I wouldn't want to get the gays up in arms."
"They don't seem to care. Maybe they're following orders?"
Delancy sighed as the cab moved up along one side of the park, the images of the past leaping out of it in various stages of his life, as a boy swinging from the trees like a monkey, as a teenager skinny-dipping in the one-time pool. This last he remember most vividly and the anger it had inspired in him when he found out the public was excluded from the pool.
"Just for city officials," one of his friends had said, hatching the beginnings of a plot that nearly got them caught. He remembered the coolness of the water on that hot summer night and the sudden wild frenzy of splashing which had attracted the attention of the police, he and the others leaping over the fence, yanking up their pants as they ran, leaving a trail of wet footprints for the police to follow.
Now, there was no pool, though the brick building remained behind which he had hid. It like everything else in the park was abandoned now, caught in the political struggle between rich and poor and who had the right to occupy this place.
The same anger filled him now when he thought of the beatings and the closing of the park, the rich, yuppies complaining of the nightly trash-can fires and the near ritualistic dances that went around each, black, white, hispanic faces mingling into to melting pot of poverty out of which none could climb.
What the hell could the mayor be thinking about letting the police do this to these people?
"Bugman is getting too big for his britches," Hare said, easing around the corner back onto Avenue A. The cops thick as school children on the corner of 11th and A, congregated around the public telephones. Many of them jabbering away at girl friends or lovers or their own private drug connections.
"Bungy's only part of the problem," Delancy said, coughing again. "He wouldn't get away with any of this shit if the mayor didn't let him."
"Yeah, but he's carrying it too far. The whole neighborhood's like a concentration camp-- like those hamlets we used to dump the gooks in overseas. They watch everyone. They climb on people's roofs, looking in their windows. But the worst part is the hassal on the street sales. They're rousting everybody who puts down a blanket or offers a book for sale. If it keeps up, we won't have any money in our till to give anyone.. ut oh!"
"What?" Delancy said, startled out of his own thoughts. One of the cops had stepped in front of the car, waving for them to pull over.
"Just what I need!" Hare moaned. "They're gonna tow me in for being a gypsy."
"No they won't," Delancy said, rolling down his window as a sergeant in a white hat came up. "Can we help you officer?"
"I don't understand."
"I said out, motherfucker!" the cop said, dragging open the door and Delancy out. This was repeated by two officers on the driver side for Hare. More officers grabbed Delancy and shoved him against the car, patting him down.
"Watch your hands!" Delancy said, yanking himself free enough to turn around. The red-faced cops glared at him.
"What did you say, punk?" one of them said, jabbing at his chest with his night stick.
Delancy was quick, grabbing it and the cop, circling around them man till the stick was pressed up against the cop's own adam's apple.
"Don't try it!" Delancy warned the other cops who started to advance. "I'll break his neck."
"He can do it too," one of the cops near the curb said. "That's Toad."
The cops backed away. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, he's around here all the time."
"Let go of my buddy," Delancy said.
The cops on the other side of the car did not respond.
"I said let go!" Delancy pulled the night stick tighter. The cop yelped.
"All right, all right," the sergeant said, motioning the others to let Hare free. Hare staggered from their grasp, a little ruffled but undamaged.
"Now what's with the hassal?" Delancy asked. "We weren't harming anyone."
"It was a mistake, all right, Toad?" the sergeant said. "Just let my man go and we'll call it even."
Delancy shoved the man away him and into the arms of his fellow cops.
"Even? No," Delancy said. "It's more complicated than that. You people are out of control around here and that's got to stop."
"Don't push it, Toad," the sergeant said. "Even you can only get away with so much. Get out of here before we run you in."
"Jim," Hare whispered, motioning towards the car. "Let's do what he says-- for once."
"All right," Delancy said. "But I want you to give Bugman a message."
"I'm not a messenger service for Captain Bungy," the sergeant said.
"Then put it in your report. Tell him there's only so much bullshit people down here are going to take before they explode. You little brownshirts keep pushing them, he'll have a riot."
"Jim! Please!" Hare said.
Delancy sighed and got in the car. Hare gunned the engine, turning up East Seventh street.
"That was goddamn close," he said, his nose twitching as he looked back in the rear view mirror. No one was following them.
Delancy coughed and fished two cigarettes out of his pocket, lighting them both, pushing one into Hare's shaking fingers.
"It's strange," Delancy said. "Somebody big is pushing city hall into all this. No one would do this kind of thing otherwise."
"Langston, of course. That son of a bitch wants us out so bad he'd have us shot if he could."
"But why bother? I mean, people are getting pushed out now."
"Not fast enough, and not out of the park. In that I'll agree with the Anarchists. Tompkins Square Park is a symbol of resistance that these people can't let stand. You let them live free like that, they get used it, they start thinking they're really free. Unlike the yuppies who've come to except their slavery."
"What? Those rich fucks slaves?"
"To money, my dear friend. Just like the South Vietnamese Generals were."
Hare seemed to ponder over this a moment, then shook his head. "Where to now?"
"The slop-shop," Delancy mumbled. "I need to cheer myself up."
Hare nodded and steered the car across 1st Ave to 2nd, then down 2nd Avenue to East 2nd Street, where he took another left into the narrow roadway cluttered with trash cans and huddled human figures.
"You know for all your preaching about non-violence, you were pretty quick on the trigger back there," Hare said, half laughing. "Would you really have squeezed the cop?"
"I don't know," Delancy muttered as the cab pulled up to a vacant section of curb-- two stripped cars parked on either side of a fire plug. Delancy got out. Hare did not.
"I have to go earn some money," Hare said. "You got your five bucks worth. I'll see you later."
"Sure," Delancy said, moving to close the door.
"Stay out of trouble, okay? This ain't no helicopter, and Belleview ain't army surgery."
Delancy grinned and coughed. "Later, Hare," he said and slammed the door.
The gypsy cab pulled away with a squeal of tires, leaving behind a heavy settling smoke and the sense of loss. Delancy shrugged this off, coughed hard, leaning against a lamp post till the fit passed. Then, he looked at his building.
From the outside, it looked like any of the abandoned buildings he had studied during the ride around town with Hare, bearing the same dull marks of city closure, grey planks sealing windows and doors like English pennies on a deadman's eyes. Yet, there were glimpses of life, illumination creeping out from under the doors and windows, and the sound of people moving around inside.
It infected the street. Unlike the abandoned streets farther east, there was a hustle and bustle here, even among the obviously ragged, people coming and going with a purpose that did not pertain to Langston's downtown Yuppie life. In a way, it reminded Delancy of when he grew up, before the closing of Ellis Island and the sudden curtailing of immigrants from overseas, when poverty didn't always equate with lack of hope, when tradesmen and store people thrived within their own little block-sized communities.
Nor was the mix so different now, black skins, hispanic speakers, even the slanted eyes of those Hare still rudely called `Gooks' moved with a certain air of dignity among the ragged clothing and shaggy faces of their white counterparts.
But there were negative elements, too. Too many. Junkies, crack-heads and winos laying in the doorways up and down the block, the sad remains of those who had previously lived in the park, who'd been beaten out by police and their dogs, chased from park to park, corner to corner, till there was nowhere else for them to go. Many of them would die when the winter came. Many of them were half-dead already, their precarious sleep disrupted by convulsions and cries of pain.
Of course the living arrangement in the park had been a bad solution, but the best of many bad solutions, giving people an alternative to the violent and Aids infested shelters which the city offered people as home. What bothered the city and the yuppies living around the park was the independence which these people showed, living in tents, cooking over open fires like some new tribe of American Indian seeking to claim back their piece of Manhattan. Poor people-- especially the homeless, were not supposed to feel pride or act too carefree.
The bulk of the park's inhabitants wandered around the park, outside the police barricades, cursing and complaining at the line of cops till Bugman's boys chased them away with clubs. The most brutalized of these were still in the hospital's charity wing getting their busted heads sewed up, or waiting court dates in jail.
"Hey you!" Delancy barked. A shadowy figure looked up from the steps before the building, a gnarled little rat of a man with nervous eyes and an arm-load of leaflets. "I thought I told you people not to hang out around here?"
"Ah, man, I'm not doing nothing wrong?"
Delancy advanced on the man and snatched one of the papers from his hand. It was another manifesto, part of the political trash that had helped complicated the situation when the people were still in the park.
He crumbled it and let it drop at the man's feet. "You're handing out this bullshit, that's enough. Get out of here before I get pissed."
"It's a free country," the figure said, his jaw setting in the usual expression of anarchistic defiance. Superficially, he looked like many of the street people, his sneakers were dirty as were his clothing, but all was relatively whole and the jeans, jacket and sneakers were not salvation army issue but bought in some New Jersey mall with plastic.
"Not around here it isn't," Delancy said. "I don't need you calling attention to my building the way you people did to the park."
"Fascist!" the man hissed, using the tone and argument with which they whispered so often in the ears of the oppressed, stirring them up for battles which they themselves wouldn't fight. "That ain't nobody's building."
"You want someone to escort you?" Delancy asked.
"Yeah," the anarchist said, drawing his feet apart as if to fight. "Let's see if you're as tough as people say you are, Mister Toad."
Delancy's throat tightened, as he eased closer to the figure, the old anger welling up. He grabbed the man by the collar and thrust him against the side of car. The pile of paper scattered on the sidewalk at their feet.
"Listen, friend!" Delancy growled, pressing his fist into the other man's throat. "I don't want to hurt you or anybody any more. But if you push me too far, I'll do something we'll both be sorry for. You dig?"
The man nodded. "I didn't mean nothing, Toad, honest. I was told to come over here..."
"I know. And you can tell the rest of those assholes I won't have them mucking up an operation that actually helps people, instead of sponging off them. Now get!"
He cast the fellow away. The anarchist staggered, looked back once at Delancy, then vanished around the corner, leaving the pile of paper loose on the sidewalk around Delancy's feet.
He turned back towards the building. A few of the old men looked on, half expecting to be next. Delancy glared at them for a moment, then shook himself.
"Damned fools," he mumbled and eased through the rusted gate and down the short spiral of stair to the basement storefront. Here, the window had remained whole, steamed over now on the inside with shapes of people moving back and forth against the dull light. He tapped on the glass. Something scurried to the door. It opened a few inches revealing the stark features of a tall black woman, her hooded eyes studying him in the dark.
"That's me," he said.
The door opened and the woman grabbed him, nearly breaking his back in two with her hug. She pushed him away and looked at him. "It's been weeks since we've seen you. How have you been?"
He shrugged. "A little under the weather, but all right, I guess."
Her gaze narrowed. "By the look of you, I'd say you were a lot under the weather. Have you seen Doc?"
"I don't need Doc," Delancy said. "I don't have time to put up with his shenanigans, even if I did."
"But you don't look well. Have you been eating enough?"
"Actually no. But then, I've not been hungry either."
"Well, you'll eat now. Come on. You're more than entitled since you're the one who pays for this stuff."
"I don't pay for anything. We all do," Delancy said, but followed the woman in. She sealed the door behind him, redoing the series of locks.
"We're not open all the time," she explained. "With all the cops patrolling the neighborhood, it isn't safe. We've set times for people to come and then we hurry them in and out as quick as possible."
"A good idea," Delancy said, looking over the interior of the store. It was a narrow space, but Ashaki had done wonders with it, dividing it into two sections long ways with a long counter as the divide. Behind it, sink-sized pots boiled with various stews and soups. Buttered bread and plain corn cakes were piled on plates waiting to be issued. Several dented stainless steel coffee urns provided refreshment, though sugar and cream were often in short supply.
"I'm not hungry, honest," Delancy said. "And you need all you can for the others. I'll get something later."
Ashaki looked dubious, standing a foot away from him with both hands on her hips, her traditional african clothing a melting pot gold and silver, stark against the drab grey in which the room had been painted. There was sweat on her black face and concern in her eyes.
"All right, Jim. But next time I see the Doc, I'm gonna have him look you up. Something's not right with you, I swear."
Delancy laughed, but in the middle of the laugh went into another fit of coughing. Ashaki grabbed his arms.
"Coffee," he said finally after the fit had passed. "I could use some coffee."
"Coffee it is," Ashaki said and motioned for one of the other women to bring him a cup. He drank slowly, his hands shaking. Ashaki looked even more concerned.
"You heard the news about the mission?" he asked after he had finished half the cup.
"Yes," Ashaki said. "But it only fits with what's been going on down here for the last year or so."
"If he sells, it means you're going to get hit with the excess. How are you set for supplies."
Ashaki shrugged. "We have what we need for now and a pretty steady outlet for more. But God knows, we've already been strained to the limit by the closing of the park."
"But you're holding up?"
"For now. We managed to get most of the food stuffs and equipment out of the other place before the police raided it. But a lot of people are confused, especially with our limited hours here. They keep going to the other place. I've spread the word on the street, but it's slow getting around. Once it does, however, we'll have to move again before Bugman's spies find us out."
"He has spies everywhere," Delancy agreed. "But we have spies, too. I got someone good right inside the station house. That's how we got warning in time so you could move your stuff."
The first few raids had caught them all off guard. Foodstuffs and equipment vanished, even though Delancy's legal-eagles managed to get the charges dropped. It was the same game Bugman played on the street hawkers, confiscating goods with the idea of trying the street market out of business. There were always new regulations circulating down from city hall, allowing the police to do what they wanted. The Bugman had carte blanche and there was little anyone could do but stay out of his way.
But over the last few weeks, things had gotten worse, new sweeps coming unexpectedly out of nowhere, even without the usual warning signs at the precinct house. Delancy had stationed people out front as part of the early warning system. But the key was a soft-hearted old friend from the street who had taken to a desk job over the last few years, passing out information whenever anything came across his desk. It was, however, an unreliable information source, since the man could not afford to get caught. So far, however, the last few places were empty by the time Bugman's boys made their raid.
"Yeah, but I'm scared, Jim," Ashaki said. "This is the biggest food feed ever and there are people who can't be trusted coming and going with everyone else. We try to be careful, but there are so many people these days that Captain Bungy's spies slip in without noticing sometimes. We were barely out the back door of the other place when the cops were coming in the front. And if we had to move this batch in a hurry, I don't think we'd get away in time."
"You worry too much," Delancy said, squeezing her shoulder. "How about another cup of joe before I look at the rest of the place?"
She laughed and took his cup, filling it herself. The smell of the cooking stew filtered through the unappetizing haze that had surrounded him lately, stirring up a bit of hunger, though he easily quenched it. He would eat later with Hare as some cheap burger place.
Ashaki handed him the cup. He sipped it, feeling the warmth work down into his raw throat.
"I'm worried about winter, too," she said. "Without the park I don't know how we're going to keep everybody warm. The last few winters were relatively mild-- but I'm scared about this one."
"I've got plans," Delancy said with a wink. "You'll see. There's a hundred buildings like this would down here. If I can find the money, we'll set them up, too. It's the loss of the mission that's going to hurt. Doc can't handle all the medical stuff and Belleview's a butcher shop. Half the people we send there wind up worse than when they went. So what about a tour upstairs?"
She nodded and took him out the back door into the small square that served the tenement houses as yards. The crumbling cider block wall had been patched, a storage shed constructed in the corner full of clothing and bedding and cans of food. Much of it the product of night-time raids on state relief warehouses uptown, where tons of such things rotted away undistributed, part of the formerly federal programs that had been passed down onto the back of the states during the Reagan years. What money remained went to paper pushers and social workers, leaving nothing for resupply or distribution. The theft in Delancy's mind was nothing more than volunteering his services to the incomplete cycle. But even that would not work forever, with someone catching on to the theft, or the supplies themselves running out.
"We've done a remarkable job," Ashaki said, leading Delancy back into the building through another door. Beyond it, the hall had been repainted and fixtures repaired.
"Lightman's been up and down the place redoing wiring. He says some of it hadn't been changed in since World War Two."
"That's the case with most of the buildings this side of town," Delancy said, pausing at the first of the apartments. "But why are all the doors off?"
"Heating," Ashaki said. "The system's just to antiquated to heat the apartments individually. So Gasman and some others are fixing up a blower that'll push heat up and down the halls. It's something we can take with us quickly in case we get raided."
Delancy examined the first of the rooms. Smell of paint was still thick in the air, and the room an off white that reminded him of the hospital in the Philippines in which he had stayed after Vietnam. There were no beds, but plenty of thin mattresses spread across the floor, reminiscent of the flop houses closed by the city during the early 80s. But it was cleaner with a sense of wholesomeness about it.
"It looks good," Delancy said. "When do you start moving people in?"
"The first cold night," Ashaki said. "But with the way things look, we're still not going to have enough room. We're making plans to send people down to several smaller places on Avenue C. They don't have electricity there, but Lightman said he'd check them out once he's finished here."
"Tell them to be careful down there," Delancy said. "That street gang turf and they don't like us as it is."
"What else can we do?"
"I don't know," Delancy mumbled, fishing in his pocket for a broken cigarette. He light the filterless half and sucked in the smoke. "If I could keep open the mission...."
"That's hardly an answer," Ashaki said bitterly. "The way I hear it the Mission was almost as bad as the city shelters and the welfare hotels. That's what happens when you rely on Christian charity."
"Don't put down the missions," Delancy said. "The Preacher's only what's left from a much nobler tradition."
Ashaki looked at Delancy strangely. "You're beginning to sound like a social worker, Jim."
"No, no," he said with a laugh and gush of smoke. "I just did some homework. The library is full of junk about the old missions and what they did. Back in the early sixties, most of the experts figured they'd had the homeless thing licked. Then came the hippies and the war, and between those two and Republican economics, it got turned around so now it's as bad as it ever was-- worse than the great depression in some ways. Back then, the church was still strong in this city and the missions plentiful. But since Washington cut federal benefits, even they have faded, and those that survive are run by thieves like the Preacher who make a pretty buck off the poor."
"But if he makes so much money, why is he selling?"
"Because he sees the end of a good thing," Delancy said. "The city is finally finding an answer to its homeless problem, just the way the nazis did its jewish one."
"Your exaggerating again, Jim," Ashaki said.
"Am I? We might not have concentration camps, but we've got plenty of streets on which people can freeze to death." He dropped the cigarette onto the floor and crushed it with his heal. "Let me get out of here. I've got things to do."
Ashaki led him back through the store then out to the street, touching his hand as he climbed the stairs from the basement storefront.
"Do take care of yourself, Jim," she said. "And see the Doc when you get a chance."
"Sure, sure," Delancy said, and headed briskly towards the corner, digging out coins from his pocket for a phone call.
He called the stationhouse from the public phone of Houston and Bowery-- police cars roved the boundary between the two precincts like the former Iron Curtain, eyeing Delancy from the security of their car.
"I'd like to speak with Sergeant Maxwell."
"He's not in today, can I help you?" The beep of the recording device sounded like another voice on the far end.
"No, I'll call back another time," Delancy said, slamming down the phone.
He leaned against the phone pole and coughed for minutes, the back of his throat like raw red meat when he was through. He spat saliva splattered with blood. Maybe it would be a good idea to go see Doc.
Delancy wandered West. It had been a long time since he had come this direction. There was rarely a need, and the memories it conjured up were often too painful for frequent endurance. These were the streets of his youth, the dreams of the East Side gypsy looking over the wealth of the artist life, believing that he could have a bit of that magic if he held onto his dreams. But Vietnam had a way of tearing dreams out of people's heads, often with taking something more physical as well. And when Delancy had come home finally, this had been the last place he'd wanted to see. Though as he crossed Broadway, the sense of nostalgia drew up in him, the lights of 8th Street shops glittering with almost the same intensity as they had when he was a kid, though now they promoted more macho stuff than the peace and love he remember, Desert Storm t-shirts and Heavy Metal compact discs. Shop window after show window divorcing itself from the glories of the past, settling for the same mundane greedy life that had surrounded the city for generations.
At University Place, he turned left and was immediately confronted with the grand arch of Washington Square Park. Even it had not come through the years unscathed, its base marked off with police barriers. The old institution was crumbling and the city was too broke to make repairs.
And yet, it and the park brought back the old feeling of protection he had felt here as a kid, the college like an invincible wall through which none of the city's fury could penetrate, knowledge and understanding the all-powerful cure for ills of the world.
He sat wearily on the inner fountain circle beyond the arch, watching the few stragglers from the college wander by. The cops here were strangers, out of a different precinct, but bearing the same ignoble air as they moved from one end of the park to the other, rousing drug dealers and perverts from the rest rooms, rousting gays from their necking in the dark.
He was tired and felt the urge to lay down on one of the knolls of grass deeper in the shadows. How long had it been since he'd had a decent night's rest? Between the coughing and Bungy's face floating in his dreams, like a vision of satan, always laughing at him, always promising him that he would find himself in jail.
Bungy and he went back a long way, back to the old neighborhood when Bugman had been a beat cop walking up Avenue D with night stick and bad attitude, scowling at the Irish and Italian gangs with all the sympathy of a stream roller, picking on Delancy with particular delight.
"You're going to wind up living in the gutter, boy," the man said, promising no measure of redemption, offering him now way out. Bungy had been part of the reason for Delancy coming here, stepping over the border of Bungy's world and into the parade of peace. Not that he had believed any of the love-stuff at first, but over time, he had come to understand them, and after his three cycles in Nam, the hippies the ones who'd healed his wounds. In them, he had found soul-contact lacking in the system. They had felt his pain, while the institutions of the system looked upon him as some kind of freak. The ordinary, wondrous Americans who had cheered so loudly for the slaughter in Iran had spit upon him and others like him for daring to lose their war in Southeast Asia.
"Hey you!" someone said. Delancy looked up. A pair of cops stood side by side, tapping their palms with night sticks.
"Is something wrong?"
"No," one of the officers said, exaggerating the `o' sound into something mocking. "We're just here to make sure you're comfortable."
"Up, punk!" the other one said. "We don't want your kind in our park."
"Don't mouth off to us," the first one said. "Just get the hell out of here."
Delancy nodded. He was too tired to be angry. He coughed and rose and wandered out the south side of the park, into the heart of Greenwich Village. This was largely populated by tourists, students and musicians. Sixth Avenue was better, poets and artists mingling with drag queens in something more akin to the East Village, though the shops here were more expensive and the waving American flags prominent and annoying, displayed mostly for the Soho yuppies who came here to dine.
Doc's place was a small place off Sheridan square, above an exotic pet store. The stink of the animals filled the narrow stairs and dark upstairs hall, the scratching and crying like something out of a jungle. He had to bang hard on the door for the near deaf man to hear him, and even them, the man grumbling.
"Coming! Coming! Hold your goddamn horses, will you!"
A while haired, bleary-eyed man yanked open the door. He looked about much like a doctor as he did a banker or a stock broker, his hair uncombed, his jaw a silver growth three day or more from its last shave.
"Toad!" the man howled with a sudden change of attitude. "What a grand surprise. Come in, boy. Come in. But mind the mess."
The two room apartment was indeed in shambles. Clothing and trash thick across the entire floor with a single footpath marking the man's continual movement from room to room. The front room served as livingroom and bedroom. There were empty bottles of gin everywhere, cheap brands, expensive brands, brands Delancy had never heard of. News papers and magazines covered the chairs. The man swiped them to the floor in an effort to make room for Delancy to sit.
"So what brings on this unexpected visit?" the man asked, sitting himself in one of the chairs, motioning Delancy into the other. The slant of light from the florescent kitchen ceiling lamp gave the man and room the sense of grave. He flicked on the lamp which helped define the mess better.
"I'm here for your professional services," Delancy said.
The man's face darkened. A thick bundle of wrinkles flowered above his brows. "No!" Doc said. "I'm not going to come over and be family practitioner to your lot of misfits. I've told you over and over I'm out of sympathy for anyone but myself."
"It's me, Doc," Delancy said, launching into yet another fit of uncontrollable coughs.
Doc looked up startled, his wizened eyes studying Delancy's face for a moment. "So I see," he said. "Let me get my instruments."
Minutes later and a few intentional coughs to the cold touch of Doc' stethoscope, the old man sat back shaking his head.
"How long have you been coughing like this?" he asked.
"Weeks, months-- it's hard to tell."
"And you've seen no one about it?"
Delancy grinned. "I'm seeing you, Doc."
"I'm not a real medical man any more, damn it," Doc said. "And this isn't a proper office. I'd need to see inside that chest of yours to know what's going on."
"Yeah, but you suspect something, right?"
"I suspect a lot of things."
"Tell me more about what's going on. Are you eating well?"
"Hell no, but then few of us are these days."
"What about sleep? Where have you been crashing out?"
"A small place over on 12th and 2nd Avenue. A bunch of old timers are living there. It's not a shelter or anything."
"But full of your sponging street friends, eh?"
"We can't let them sleep on the street. You know Bugman."
"And just how much sleep have you been getting?"
"Not enough, I suppose."
"Coughing up blood?"
Doc sighed and folded his instrument back into his black bagged. This last he closed with a snap and looked up steadily at Delancy. "You need help, Toad."
"So help me."
"I can't. But a clinic would. But first you need tests, and some sane place to live. Maybe Arizona or Utah."
"What are you telling me that I'm dying of cancer?"
"Not cancer, tuberculosis, from what I can gather and a pretty advanced stage. Not advanced enough to kill, unless you're stupid enough not to get attention."
"Damn," Delancy said, rebuttoning his shirt, looking at the mess, but seeing none of it. He sat heavily into the chair again. "You got a drink?"
"That isn't the medication I had in mind."
"Do you have a drink or don't you!" Delancy snapped.
"Yes," Doc grumbled and vanished for a moment into the kitchen, returning with two water glasses filled with clear liquid. No ice.
Delancy emptied his with in a few delayed gulps and put the glass down on the cluttered lamp table.
"You have a cigarette?" he asked.
"What do I look like your benefactor?"
"You only have to say no."
"But I won't. I never have with you, have I?"
Doc fished out a brand new undented cigarette from a polished golden case and lit it for him. Delancy sucked in the smoke, then coughed, and after a moment of saying nothing, abruptly stood.
"I'd better go."
"To a clinic?"
"Maybe later," Delancy said, moving around the bulk of Doc towards the door. "But there are more pressing things at this moment. Winter's coming. There are supplies to be found. I really shouldn't have taken time to come here, but I needed to know-- didn't I?"
"Fine," Doc said, sipping his own drink. "I guess the next time I see you is at your funeral."
Delancy grinned. "You've said that before, Doc."
"This time I mean it."
She was across Sixth Avenue from the Waverly Theater, her hair the same iron grey it had always been, though the years had bent her back some, making her looked hunched, as if she had been pulling a wagon of stone instead of the same old wooden cart of paper flowers. The oranges, blues, reds and yellows seemed to frame her among the artists who displayed nothing so aesthetically pleasing behind her on the fence.
Delancy hadn't seen her in years, though had heard rumor of her death time and again from people wandering East from former communes. She still looked like a hippie, hair bunned up with a blue flower protruding, wearing a sweeping ground length dressed that revealed only her dirt-stained sandaled feet.
"Flowers for sale!" she cried, voice as sweet as he remembered.
Whatever her name had been before her coming, no one remembered. Since the Sixties she'd been called `Mother Jones,' famous in both villages for the odd-shaped paper flowers she perpetually sold, a hand-crafted bit of beauty which Delancy had seen no where else, and suspected she made herself.
She held them up now like dozens of different colored children, waving them in front of the faces of tourists and gays with sad, pathetic effort that always resulted in sales.
It was she that had first found Delancy curled into a westside doorway, the wound of his mind still unhealed from the war. It was she that had dragged him up to her small West Village room, buying him drugs to help him kick his habit, and taught him the ways of the street.
"Momma?" he called as he cross through the still moving wall of yellow cabs, horns blaring around him as tires and brakes squealed to avoid hitting him. "Momma is that you?"
"Jimmy?" the old woman said, looking up-- but there were white circles where her pupils had been, the cataracts as thick as lenses over her eyes. "Jimmy is that you?"
"Yeah, Momma," Delancy said, touching her hand with the palm of his hand, her hands rising to his face, feeling his features. "It's me."
"It's been so long, Jimmy," she said. "I've heard you've been doing things over on the East side."
"Yeah, Momma. Good things. Just like you taught me to do. Things to make people feel better."
"That's what I heard, Jimmy," the old woman said, but still frowned, her fingers falling to his shoulders where they tightened. "But do be careful, Jimmy. They don't like people being kind in this world. They'll hurt you if you do too much good."
Delancy laughed and hugged the old lady.
"Look," he said, pushing her away to look at her. "I got a house going over on East 2nd. If you need something to eat or a place to stay, just come on over. They'll take care of you, all right?"
"Sure, Jimmy," the old woman said. "Sure."
And then, he was gone again, hurrying crosstown, back to where he belonged, his own gaze suddenly clouded.
He called the station again from a phone on the far side of the park, a new voice answering with the change of shift.
"I'd like to speak with Sergeant Maxwell," he said.
He waited on hold, listening to the continual beeps, then Maxwell's gruff voice.
"It's me, Delancy."
"Goddamn you, man! What the fuck were you thinking of?"
"Did you rough up some of the boys down by the park?"
"I kept them from roughing me up," Delancy said.
"And managed to create hell for everyone in the process. Captain Bungy's hit the ceiling, saying that you ought to be brought in on charges."
"Is there a warrant?"
"No. But only because the press has been harping on the habits of some not so clean cops down there. Apparently some prostitute got raped and the locals are blaming it on cops. You know the routine. And besides, the mayor's taking a lot of heat for closing up the park, especially from his own constituency who thought they elected him to stop that kind of thing. It's a regular target shoot down here. But Bungy won't forget. He doesn't like you any way and this is only one more thing for him to get even for."
"He keeps a list?"
"More a score card. Just try to keep out of his way for a while, will you?"
Delancy laughed. "I try, but he keeps putting cops in front of me."
"Then walk around them. You don't want a war on your hands. Not with the way things are these days."
"But there's already a war going on. It's not just the park, it's the whole precinct. He's sweeping up our market in front of Cooper Union and raiding our feed-flops on the East side."
"Look, Delancy. This isn't a safe line. Okay?"
The cop's voice on the far side wasn't exactly frightened, but it was part of the thing that separated him and Delancy, the clean, good, socially correct soul that had been raised up in a proper way even with the oppression of the Lower East Side as a background, marching like a hero unscathed through Vietnam to come home to a police job in his old neighborhood.
"Can I call you at home?"
"Later," the cop said and hung up.
"Damned fool," Delancy muttered into the dead receiver, then slammed it back into place and walked away.
The sidewalk in front of Cooper Union was a packed as ever, blankets spread out on three sides of the reddish stone building like a picnic, with appliances, clothing, cameras, watches, books & magazines there for the right price, with tourists, punks, gays and old hippies lingering over each, bartering with the unwashed salespeople. Some of the exchanges were heated, especially over items still in their original packaging, new things that `dropped off the back of some truck.' Most of the other items were used, stolen or found, or taken out of some treasury of richer neighborhood trash.
He knew them all and how they'd come here, their stories as complicated at the city itself. Most of them were men. That had always been a tradition of the bowery. There were other places that women went to, other burial grounds to which they fled.
"Hey, Toad-man, what's happening!" a big black dude said, slapping Delancy's hand. "You ain't been around here lately. We thought you got busted."
"Me? Busted? Do I look crazy? Put me behind bars and I go crazy."
"Yeah, well you take care. There's rumor on the street that the man don't like you much."
Delancy laughed, but frowned the moment he turned away. The others were looking at him, too. The gnarl-limbed and broken-toothed veterans of the street, staring at him like they would a marked man.
"What the fuck are you looking at?" Delancy yelled. Their heads snapped away, though a few tourists stared at him now.
"Psst, Toad!" a small old man hissed, waving him over towards a blanket somewhat hidden in the building's shadow.
"It's the anarchists from the park, man. They've been saying bad things about you, like you're in league with the cops."
"It seems you chased one of their boys away from your place on 2nd street. They're calling you a fascist."
"Why those stupid sons of bitches," Delancy said, racked by heavy series of coughs. "And these people believe it? After all I've done for them?"
"The anarchists helped them in the park, you didn't."
"I thought the whole issue of fighting an army of police a stupid move, especially when Winter's coming."
"They don't see it that way."
Delancy glanced back at the others. Business went on as usual, but not without some sideward glances at him.
"Damn!" he said and paraded back through them, across the street to the Astor Place station where he found a telephone.
"All right, Maxwell," Delancy said as soon as the cop's sleepy voice came on the line. "What's so secret that you couldn't tell me on a tapped line?"
"Everything, Delancy. All hell's breaking loose in the station house, shake-ups and bad news. It seems the mayor's peeved about all the news coverage down here and wants everything cleaned up good and proper, not just the park but the streets."
"And what does he propose to do with these people? I mean a lot of them are here because the city and state dumped them out of their mental wards. And others are here because the Mayor's friend, Langston bought up their homes."
"He doesn't care. Jail for the ones that persist on making trouble. The others can move out of the city."
"But they're not gonna move, damn it. That's the whole point."
"Then there's gonna be more trouble than you can imagine. They got more raids planned for down there than you can imagine. They got one going tonight."
"A raid? Where?"
"Damn! I wish you'd told me that sooner," Delancy said, glancing over his shoulder at the Cooper Union building and the sudden appearance of police cars on every street, easing forward, waiting for the right moment to strike. "Look, you keep me informed, you hear."
He hung up and charged across the street, coughing as he shouted.
"The cops are coming! Get your butts out of here!"
The vendors looked up startled, like a herd of steer just on the verge of stampede.
"Didn't you hear what I said?" Delancy said, pushing his way through the tourists. "You want to keep your merchandise, move it, and move it now."
He pointed towards the blue and white cop cars that gathered like sharks around them, waiting and watching. The panic broke and the street men grabbed up the corners of their blankets without regard to the content of the merchandise, clocks and watches clanking as they tossed them like sacks over their shoulders.
"Run!" Delancy said. But already, it was too late for some. The cops had already begun their sweep on the St. Marks side of the building, cars rolling up onto the curb, sirens blaring. Those on the Astor place side who had heard Delancy swept away, running towards Broadway like a tribe of drunken Santas bearing gifts, just avoiding the closing wall of police cars sweeping up the Bowery to cut them off.
Among them was the long black limousine used by Captain Bungy. It paused at the curb, a window running down on the rear passenger side. The puffy face of the senior cop appeared for an instant, glaring at Delancy. A moment later, it closed again and the car moved on.
They waiting for him when Delancy arrived, standing before the flop-shop like a defeated army, their angry faces thick with protest. Even without their pamphlets and signs, he knew them. `Anarchist' was written all over their faces like the mark of Cane, part of that brain-washed correct thinking Delancy had seen in the eyes of captured Cong years before.
"We want to talk to you, Toad!" one of them said, a coal-haired Eastern European with a thick accent and scarred face. His name was Kelleman.
"Talk," Delancy said, leaning against the spiked fence that encircled the basement stairway. "Then get the hell out. I told one of your boys I don't want your kind dirtying up my building."
"Your building?" Kelleman said, echoing the words of the other anarchist. "You're getting as materialistic as Langston."
"You know what I mean," Delancy said.
"All we know is that you're splitting up the community," Kelleman said. "That's it easy for the Langston and the police to divide us."
"I am? How? I've done nothing to disturb your little revolution."
"Or done anything to help it either. Half the East Village would listen to you if you told them to rise up."
"And half of them would wind up in jail or Belleview because of it. You and your violence hasn't done much to keep the park open or people sheltered."
"Our violence? Word's all over town about what you nearly did to the cop."
Delancy blushed. "That was a reaction, done without thought."
"And one that's got Bugman peeved at us all."
"He'll calm down if no one does anything stupid," Delancy said.
"And meanwhile life goes on as usual, with Langston tearing down or renovating more and more buildings for the yuppies. Word's out that the minister just sold the mission."
"I heard he was selling," Delancy said. "I didn't know it was a done thing."
"It is. And there'll be more of it unless we put our foot down."
"Get out of here," Delancy said with disgust. "I've got things to do."
He turned and skipped down the steps the group behind him mumbling and glaring as he tapped on the door. Ashaki's long black face appeared at the curtain. She smiled and let him in.
"I've decided to take advantage of the sleeping facilities," he said. "My place doesn't have heat, and the weather people are predicting a cold spell." He lit a cigarette and coughed, clutching his chest.
"Sure thing, Jim" Ashaki said."Are you all right?"
"Of course I am," Delancy said. "I just got back from seeing the Doc."
"What the hell's going on?" Delancy asked, waking to a sudden ruckus around him. A blanket had been thrown over him during the night, but it was no enough, a chill air eating at the edges. The tip of his nose was cold as were his fingers and toes. And he was not alone. Around him, the huddled masses of the street had been brought in, crowding his small chamber with their steamy breath and scent of unbathed bodies.
"The weather people were right," Ashaki said, huddling inside a winter coat at the door. "It fell into the twenties last night. We had to open our doors and let people freeze on the street. But we can't handle them all and there are people outside on the step crying to be let in. Along with some anarchists from the park. If something isn't done, it'll attract the police for sure."
"Damn fools!" Delancy said, climbing out of the relative warmth of the blanket. "You have a cigarette?"
Ashaki shook her head.
"Oh, well. Show me the way."
She led him back into the hall. This was stuffed with bodies, too, thin mattresses and thinner blankets making up for the lack of heat in the building.
"I thought Gasman turned on the heat in here," Delancy said, stepping over the tangle of arms and legs stuck across the floor.
"He did," she said. "This is the best we can get from it. We never expected much."
She led him through the store, which was warmer and full of wonderful smells. Coffee and stew would be waiting for the men in the morning. But outside the door, the cold swept down with a Canadian wind. Faces glared at him as he exited, a frigid and angry as the wind.
"What's this shit about not having any more room?" Kelleman said, standing with many of the same men from the night before.
"Don't you ever sleep, Kelleman?" Delancy asked. "Or do you and your boys march up and down the street protesting night and day?"
"Just answer the question, Toad. Why can't we get inside?"
"Because we're overbooked," Delancy said. "Thanks to your antics in the park, a lot more people showed up here looking to get warm."
"That's all we're asking. Maybe you just left orders for us not to be let in."
"Because of your politics?" Delancy said with a laugh. "That's even more ridiculous than the one about me dividing the community."
"It's cold, Toad!" Kelleman said, teeth chattering. Other men stamped their feet. None of them were overdressed, though some had knit caps and socks over their hands as mittens.
"And we don't have room," Delancy said. "Go down to the other places near Avenue C. They'll take you in."
"And let us freeze," one of the other men shouted.
"Or get beat up by the gangs on the way," another said.
"We all take our chances," Delancy said. "And you're making the survival of this slop-shop risky. Go away."
"You're a son of a bitch, Delancy," Kelleman said, motioning his gang to leave. "But we'll remember this."
"I'm sure you will," Delancy mumbled and turned, then stopped. "Hey! Come back here."
Kelleman and the others stopped. "What now? You want perhaps to send us to the City Shelters next? That's certain death and you know it. Or did you feel guilty about sending two dozen men to freeze?"
"More that than liking you, Kelleman. We still don't have room upstairs, but you and your friends can stay in the kitchen till it time to serve food."
Kelleman eyed Delancy. He wiped a bit of frost from his black moustache and shook his head. "I don't get you, Toad. What's your angle?"
"Just what I said. You want in or what?"
"Yeah," Kelleman said with a sigh. "We want in."
Hare's dented gypsy cab was waiting outside hours later, when the feed had finished and the sheltered masses had wandered back into the streets to do their daily ritual of begging and stealing and selling. Delancy had lingered in the kitchen for longer than needed, watching Ashaki as she guided her help through clean up. There would not be another meal till nightfall, and she shooed him out finally, telling him she needed her rest, too.
Hare cursed as he came around the car. "So there you are!" he bellowed. "I've been searching for you for hours."
"What for?" Delancy asked. "You have a cigarette?"
Hare flipped one out of a Marlboro pack and lit it with a butane. "Bad news," he said finally when Delancy had sucked in enough smoke to ease the need for nicotine.
"What? More cops?"
"No, Poncho and Turnkey. The cops found their bodies this morning. They froze to death in one of the old buildings."
"I think they got confused. It was the place cops raided last week. I figure they didn't know about the move until it was too late to ask anyone and stayed with some Junkies over night. A small fire broke out and attracted the attention of the man and there they were."
"Damn!" Delancy yelled, banging his hand into the cold spiked fence. The cold metal bit at his flesh with flakes of rust and shooting pain. "I knew I should have announced the change better. Word of mouth is just too damned slow."
"Well, you can't advertise on television," Hare said. "I mean the cops find these places quick enough as it is."
"But a poster or something might have helped."
"Poncho couldn't read anyway, and Turnkey was near blind."
"Still, I should have done something. Damn! Whose got the bodies now?"
"The Belleview morgue."
"And the families?"
Hare's face crinkled with distaste. "If anybody wanted them, they would have claimed them when they were alive."
"Not necessarily," Delancy said. "Maybe the city doesn't know where the families are. Neither one of them were anxious to have people know about them."
Hare grinned. "Hey! Poncho's still listed MIA and was proud of it."
"Can you find me some numbers for their families?"
Hare shrugged. "Maybe."
"Try. I'll be wandering around St. Marks, near Cooper Union. The cops raided it yesterday, I want to see the damages."
"Okay. But it won't be until later, I got some fares to the airport schedule."
Delancy sighed and coughed and sucked on the last of the cigarette. "I don't think either of them's gonna wander off."
Delancy didn't head West right away. He stood and watched the cab vanish, metal scraping metal as it hit a series of potholes. Then, he walked slowly in the opposite direction, headed towards the east, down into no-man's land, where the neighborhood remained unclaimed by developer or police. The scattered remains of gutted cars were spread across the side street making walking or driving hazardous. He glanced up into the buildings at the broken windows of still occupied housing, the old tenements looking exactly as they had when he lived here as a kid. Only more lonely, lacking some important ingredient to make this place a neighborhood. It was a graveyard now, full of dead faces that occasionally glanced out at the street, mostly huddling around iron stoves if the gas was still on, or around the more dangerous kerosene heaters if it was not. Many of the buildings had been closed off by the city, many bore the mark of repeated fires, windows blackened out, walls showing the varying discoloration of different fires.
He was nearly at the old building when a kid stepped in front of him, a hispanic boy wearing t-shirt and cutoff jacket, but little else, hands gripping a rusted piece of pipe like a weapon.
"Hey, dude," the boy said, grinning, those his eyes were hard, and from the sound of shoes on the gravely walk, others had closed off the street behind him. "You know whose turf this is?"
"No," Delancy said, though he did know. "Tell me?"
"This is La Sangre's turf, man," said a smaller boy pulling Delancy around. A full dozen others lined the street with sticks or pipes, half laughing, but all bearing that same hard-eyed look.
"You don't belong here, dude," the first boy said, stepping to the side so Delancy could see him.
"Neither do you," Delancy said in a sad tone that drew a frown to the boy's face.
"Didn't I tell you this is our turf?"
"That's not what I meant."
"What are you here for?" one of the others asked. "Crack?"
"To visit some old friends," Delancy said. "More precisely, to see where they died."
"You friends with those two old bums?" the first boy said, shifting his pipe a little.
"We served in Nam together."
"That's cool. But that don't mean you got a right to walk where you want to. You dig? I mean we can't let anyone come through here or everyone's gonna want to do it."
"You let my friends come."
"Hey, they was hurting, dig?"
"And I'm not?"
The boy looked straight into Delancy's eyes. The hard stare wavered a little of what it found.
"Yeah, you're hurting," the boy said.
"So show me where they died and I'll go away."
The boy hesitated, looking back at the others, and then he shrugged. "This way," he said, and moved down the right side of the block to an open door. It had been sealed by the city, but the firemen had chopped through it to get to the fire. The boy hopped through the jagged door and into the hallway beyond. The stairs had been removed. Part of the city's system of fighting reoccupation by squatters and homeless. The buildings were dangerous, they said. They were also often owned by Langston. A ladder, however, had been wedged in the place of the stairs and the boy scrambled up it like a monkey, dragging his pipe behind. Delancy went next, and behind him others came.
It was cold here and the second floor still smelled of fire, though the stains of black seemed to have been contained to a single room.
"There!" the boy said, pointing into another room. "That's where the old men died."
Delancy eased in, stepping over fallen beams and clumps of plaster. A few old coats made up a poor death bed in the hollow of the junk. Something glimmered dully in the poor light.
"You have a flashlight or something?" Delancy asked.
"Hey, what do you think we are, NYPD?" the boy said, but produced a book of matches. Delancy struck one with his cold fingers bending the paper badly and crept closer under its brief illumination. He picked up the pair of dogtags and read off the name: Lt. Lewis Palonsky RA11773919. He clutched them in his hand as the match died.
"That it, man?" one of the other boys said.
"Yeah, that's it. Thanks," Delancy said, following them back the way they'd come.
Cooper Union was more vacant than it had been the day before, which no doubt, had been Bugman's intention to slowly drive the street peddlers out or crazy. Yet those that remained, greeted Delancy a bit more civilly. Even the anarchists nodded as he crossed over to the small island, the cold wind blowing harshly down from uptown. All were huddled and grim. Some were outright angry. There were items on the ground for sale, but few customers. It was more rally than thieve's market anyway, with Kelleman and others speaking out in loud voices, much the way they had often did in the park.
"How long are we gonna let the city get away with this?" Kelleman shouted. "Before long, we'll all be freezing to death like those two did down near Avenue C."
"Hey!" Delancy shouted, fingering the dog tags in his pocket. "Leave them out of this."
"Why?" Kelleman said, glaring at Delancy. "You're not going to try and say the city isn't to blame, are you?"
"The city, the country-- there's enough blame to go around. They're half responsible themselves. What are they doing here anyway, living like this? What are we trying to preserve here?"
Kelleman looked at Delancy with a puzzled light in his eyes. "Toad, man. You know as good as anyone what's what down here."
Delancy shook his head. "I thought I did," he said, coughing. "But I don't any more. I'm not sure this is worth fighting for-- if people want us out so bad, maybe we should go."
Delancy shrugged. He didn't have an answer to that one.
It getting colder again. Delancy deposited coins into the phone, dropping a dime in the process. His frozen fingers finding it difficult to retrieved it from the ground. A moment later, the line was ringing and Maxwell's gruff voice came on.
"So what's the word?" Delancy asked.
"Trouble, that's the word," Maxwell said. "Bungy came down on my butt like a load of bricks. He reviewed the tape and heard us talking."
"He knows someone's been informing to you about his raids and now I'm number one suspect. I wouldn't be surprised to find this phone tapped as well. That's way he works."
"But I need you, Maxwell."
"You need my information, you mean. And I need my job. No more, Delancy. I can't afford to lose my job over this. Not with twenty years coming up."
"I understand," Delancy said, then slammed down the phone.
"I got one," Hare said, shoving a piece of newsprint into Delancy's hand. "Poncho's family moved to New Jersey a few years back. The other one I couldn't get."
"This'll do," Delancy said, staring down at the paper. "Where's this Glenridge?"
"Fine. Take me there then."
"To New Jersey? Are you fucking crazy?"
"Tolls and gas is what's wrong to start with. And the state troopers over there are regular Nazis. They pull me over with the paperwork I got and I'll delivering meals to prison guards."
"You exaggerate. You're legal enough. Besides, if you take local roads, you won't have to worry about state troopers."
"Even if I knew Jersey well enough for back roads, the local cops are worse."
"Here," Delancy said, pushing a crumbled ten spot into Hare's hands. "That should cover most of it, and if it doesn't, think of it as doing a service to Pouncho. We'll be bringing his body home."
"He didn't want to go home," Hare grumbled, but engaged the gears and made the series of turns that took him downtown towards the Holland Tunnel.
New Jersey was as foreign as Vietnam was to Delancy, a land of motor cars and smoke stacks and manufactured suburbs. So it surprised him when the cab came out of the twists of the highway into the meadowlands. And scared him, too-- visions of rice patties and burning villages stark in his head. Even seeing the ghostly image of Giants Stadium did not completely ease the shock. His hands gripped the dashboard like a kid on a Connie Island ride.
"What's the matter with you, Jim?" Hare asked.
"Nothing's the matter. Just watch the road."
But the Meadows passed and the car clanked its way onto another highway, up long hills that led into the scattering lights of Suburbia proper. It was more diverse than Long Island, and not totally unpleasant, though he grew disoriented with the constant change of direction. There seemed to be little order to the lay-out of streets, and no sense of which direction was which.
Suddenly, they plunged into Newark-- New York's sister city which had predicted the Big Apple's decline. There were street people out, hugging themselves against the cold, gathered into clans that looked much like the Lower East Sides, and yet different, more lost, their desperation written on their passing glances. Some of them cursed Hare's New York license plates. Others whistled calling mockingly for a cab.
But even that vanished and the city faded behind them into some middle ground, not suburb, not city, but a mixture of both's worst points, empty store fronts and go-go bars like some spreading disease. Delancy coughed.
"How far?" he asked.
"We're heading into Bloomfield. It's the next town after that."
The concept of towns bothered Delancy, too. It reminded him of villages in Vietnam, each a petty fiefdom complete with corrupt local officials. Bloomfield came in a flurry of stores, then vanished again. Glenridge was another matter, smaller, but a sudden shift from the shanty-towns through which he and Hare had just come. Imitation gaslights illuminated its narrow streets, emphasizing the set back houses and large lawns.
"I didn't know Poncho's family had money?"
"They didn't. His younger brother made some deals, flying in Heroin from Laos for the CIA."
They slowed before a large stone house. The walkway had a string of smaller gaslamps that vaguely matched the town's. The trees were thick with grey ribbons that had once been yellow. A tattered billboard stood disparagingly on the lawn.
"Will you look at that," Hare said, stopping the car before it. This was much older than the ribbons and the painted letters almost impossible to read. But Delancy knew them. He'd seen them a thousand times in his last journey east from California, hometowns decrying the soldiers unaccounted for, confusing MIA with POW. He shivered and felt the dog tags in his pocket.
"You want me to come with you?" Hare asked.
"No. I don't want to scare these people."
He climbed out. It was colder here, lacking the warmth of buildings which provided heat to the street, and the subways rumbling underground. All this seemed too solid, his feet hurting as they stumbled up the walk. More yellow ribbons decorated the door with a shabby American flag to one side, worn down by neglect. He rang the bell. Chimes sounded in side, low and melodious, playing out some tune he should have known, perhaps a patriotic one considering the rest trappings. Footsteps followed it, coming quick up as the door opened.
A young man's face greeted Delancy.
It was Poncho's face. The same age now, perhaps, wearing a suit without tie, the shirt open at the collar. He looked Delancy up and down and frowned.
"Can I help you?"
"Maybe," Delancy said. "Are you Poncho's boy?"
"I'm sorry. Louie Palonsky. I'm looking for Louie's family."
The slight disdained look in the boy's eyes turned to alarm. "You knew my father?"
"Yeah, we served in Nam together. He was my CO."
"My God! Come in!" the boy said, opening the door so Delancy could step through. The interior was like some French Villa out on the Perimeters of Saigon, dripping fancy stones and soft-colored drapes. Mirrors seemed to hang upon every wall and he felt small in the hall, looking up the twisting steps towards the second floor and a woman leaning over the rail.
"What is it, Lewis?" the woman asked in that nasal uptown voice that Delancy hated. All the wealthy seemed to take it on.
"Someone who knew father," the boy said. "From Vietnam."
The woman gawked, then hurried down the steps, her heals clicking against the tiled surface. She hurried towards Delancy then stopped, examining him as her son had done a moment before, looking at the ragged face three days without a shave, and the rough green field jacket which had long been patched and repatched, matching slightly newer jeans and scuffed army-issue boots. Only the name had worn away from the breast, fading with the memory of the service from which it had come.
"You knew my husband?" she said her nasal tone now distinctly full of disbelief.
"Yes," Delancy said. "I came because-- because he died last night and I thought you should know."
"Died?" the woman said, half laughing, half outraged. "What are you talking about?"
"He was in one of the old buildings. It didn't have heat. He and another man froze to death."
"This is a poor joke, sir," the boy said. "My father was lost in Vietnam, Missing In Action."
Delancy started to laugh. It ended in coughing. He looked at them and shook his head. "Missing from government accounts of him, you mean. There are people missing in every war. In ours many of them came back not wanting to go home. Something had changed in them. Something made it impossible to go back to the old life. War does that. Your father was one of them."
He dangled the dog tags in front of them. "These belong to you," he said, dropping them into the boy's open hand. "The body's in Belleview morgue for you to claim."
"No!" the woman roared. "My husband's not dead! He's being held over there. Those nasty yellow people are holding him prisoner. We have photographs. We've seen his face. Get the photo, Lewis. Show this man the truth."
The boy hurried away into another room and returned with a hazy black and white photo framed in non-glare glass. Delancy looked at the four men pictured there. The original had been taken at a great distance, most likely from a hovering chopper. But it had been blown up so many times that the faces were mostly dots-- the shape of one looked something like Poncho. But who could tell?
"I've seen photographs of UFOs, too, ma'm. I don't believe them either. Who can say when this was taken, even if that was your husband. He's in the morgue now. Go get him, bury him. He deserves that."
"Get out!" the woman hissed, snatching back the photograph. "We don't need you or your nasty lies here. Get him out of here, Lewis."
"Please go," the boy said, taking Delancy's arm and leading out, easing the door closed behind him. He looked at the tags, then at Delancy.
"It's true, you know," Delancy said.
The boy looked confused. "But why? If he was that close, why didn't he come home?"
"Because he was ashamed to come home to you people after losing a war. America loves winners. That's what these yellow ribbons are all about."
Delancy turned away, easing back down towards the waiting cab. He made it to the door, but fell against it, coughing and weak, when he finally snapped it open and climbed inside, Hare waited.
"Well? How did it go?"
"As well as can be expected. Let's go home, Hare. All this clean air is making me sick."
Hare dropped Delancy near Broadway and eight saying he had to earn some money before the night was dead. Delancy watched him vanished downtown, weaving and honking through heavy tourist traffic. But even Hare had been quiet on the ride home, leaving room in the silence for memories of Poncho.
Delancy stopped in the drug store for a box of cough drops and a packet of Bugler tobacco, then leaned against the wall and rolled one as blue and white cop cars slowed to eye him. He grinned, pushed the finished product between his lips and lit it-- all with exaggerated motions. He meandered east, as if it was a bright spring day-- though the piercing wind shriveled him under the thin jacket.
Astor place was empty. So was the space around Cooper Union. He stopped. The mouth of St. Marks had the same vacant look to it, a few blacks hanging on the stairs to the gizmo shop, but none that Delancy knew. He jaunted across Bowery and signaled to a bored looking black sucking a tooth pick.
"What happened? Where's the fair?"
The black man looked at Delancy with a somewhat distant stare, took the tooth pick out of his mouth, examined it, then replaced it between his lips.
"The bum people got chased," he said with a vague note of contempt. "Some tried to fight, got their heads beat and arrested. Most of them ran away."
"Some Dudes say Bugman's cleaning up the place for Thanksgiving."
"I'll bet," Delancy moaned, looking around for a phone. He pinched the quarter in his pocket and dropped it into the slot. Maxwell answered.
"You fink!" Delancy said. "You knew Bungy was making a sweep when I called before and you said nothing."
"Hey! I told you I wasn't gonna do that any more, didn't i?"
"You're a son of a bitch, Maxwell, always hiding behind your badge or stripes when things get hot. You did that in Nam, too."
"I don't have to sit here and listen to you, Delancy."
"No, you don't have to do anything but fuck off."
Delancy slammed down the phone, and stroke down St. Marks, crossing 2nd Avenue, then 1st, till he came near Tompkins Square Park where a few of the old people still hung on the sidewalk, anarchists with their protest signs, rubbing their hands and blowing on their fingers.
Kellemen was among them, head wrapped in a white bandage. Both eyes were turning dark.
"So what happened?" Delancy demanded the minute he was within speaking distance. The man looked up, but could not look Delancy in the eyes.
"We got beat, man," Kelleman said. "They came in on us like they did in the park, and not just up at Cooper Union either. Everywhere at once. They picked on people who were just walking around minding their own business. Half my people are in the slammer for trumped up charges, most of the rest are in Belleview's emergency room. Word is that Bugman has promised the mayor to have everything nice and pretty by the holidays."
"He would," Delancy said, leaning against the cold metal gate of a pawn shop window, feeling the wind in his bones. He sucked a cough drop, but still hacked.
"They raided a couple of your places, too," Kelleman said.
Delancy straightened. "Which places?"
"Down near B," Kelleman said. "But there were people lined up outside your 3rd street place an hour ago waiting to get fed. If the cops see that, you'll get raided there, too."
Delancy cursed, then headed down towards 3rd street. Kelleman had been right, too. The line was still there, many of them shouting out, wanting a place to sleep. Delancy worked through the angry crowd to the door. The food issue was over but the kitchen light was on. Delancy pounded on the door.
"Go away," Ashaki's voice hissed as the door opened a crack.
"It's me. Open up."
"Oh, Jim, thank God!" She yanked him into the kitchen, her face thick with fear. "They're nearly ready to riot out there. And we've already filled up the place."
"What about the other houses? I heard they got busted."
"And closed down. This and the mission are the only two places left tonight. Unless people are foolish enough to try the city shelter."
"We've got to get these people off the street," Delancy said. "Bugman's on the war path, looking to bust everything that moves."
"But we have nothing, Jim. And I heard the Preacher's been turning people away from the mission, too."
"That son of a bitch has room. He could let them sleep in the pews of the chapel if he wanted."
"Well, he won't, so what do we do?"
Delancy peered out a gap in the door window. The face of death hovered over the mass of men outside as they stamped and chattered and yelled. "Why us?" Delancy mumbled, more to himself than to Ashaki. But she answered.
"Because we care," she said. "If we were like everyone else in this town, they wouldn't bother, they would just curl up and accept it. It's when you offer them hope that they come alive."
"But they're angry at us!"
"Anger is a sign of life, too, Jim."
"But they ought to be down by the Mis..."
He stopped abruptly and looked at Ashaki's face. A slow, sly grin rose on his lips.
"What is it?" Ashaki asked. "You have that look on your face again, the one that says you're going to do something stupid."
"Not stupid, appropriate. But there's no time to explain. Stay here, hold the fort. Don't attract any more attention than you have to. I'm going to distract this mob. If any more come while I'm gone, bring them in and let them sleep in the kitchen like we did last time."
"But what are you going to do, Jim?"
"Get them some Christian kindness."
"Never mind," he said, planting a quick kiss on her cheek. "Just hold on here."
He slipped out the door. The crowd grumbled, some recognizing him. Others too cold and angry to care about anything but the fact that he had come out from someplace warm.
"Let us in, Toad!" one of them cried.
"I can't. It's full," Delancy said. "But I know someplace that isn't."
"We ain't going to no city shelters."
"And I wouldn't send you there. I was talking about the mission."
"They don't have no room at the mission."
"So the Preacher says," Delancy shouted back. "But we all know how much room he's got in that place of his. We have to go make him take you in."
There was more grumbling, but much more assent. Delancy took the first step up towards the Bowery and behind him, people followed, only a few at first, then more and more, till it resembled a dilapidated forced march with the crippled stragglers hobbling behind as fast as they could.
"What's going on?" It was Gasman rushing up the street to meet Delancy and the mob.
"We've run out of room. We're going to try and talk some sense into the Preacher about his doing his priestly duties."
"I wouldn't bother," Gasman said.
"He's got the place closed up."
"Sure, the sale went through-- they're just waiting on the closing. We've got the change over notice in the office."
"Damn!" Delancy said. "Then that fucker doesn't have anyone inside the place at all."
"So it would seem."
"But these people are going to freeze!"
Indeed, when they came to the mission it was dark and the doors were bolted, and the squeaking voice of the attendant told them to go away.
"Tell the Preacher I'll remember this!" Delancy shouted, then turned back to face the rapidly growing crowd. They had picked up more. Ashaki had been right. There was the mingling of hope and anger in their eyes. They looking at him for an answer. Only he didn't have one to give them.
He looked at Gasman and slowly smiled.
"Say, friend," he whispered. "If I get them a building could you get them so heat?"
"What do I look like God?" the man asked.
"No, but you know how to turn things on."
"It depends on a number of things. Like whether there is anything to turn on and if the connections are still whole. Some of the places are so rotted out that we have to turn the gas off at the main."
"But if we find one, you can do it?"
"That's good enough," Delancy said, searching the crowd for faces of people he knew he could trust. "You and you. Go down 2nd street-- down around A or B. Look through the buildings till you find one with a boiler..."
"A gas boiler," Gasman said.
"... then get back to me quick."
They nodded and vanished. Delancy clamped Gasman's shoulder. "You go after them. If they find something, get started. I'll work the crowd down in that direction. Maybe by the time we get there, they'll have some place to stay."
Gasman nodded and hurried away. Delancy shouted to the crowd for them to follow. The grumbling continued. But the trust and hope held in their eyes. Delancy hoped he wouldn't betray it. Down the Bowery, a blue and white police car slowed on Houston, eyeing the mass of fleshing moving in their direction. It hurried on, but not without a report to Bugman, Delancy figured, and smiled. One small victory for the little people...
"We can't do it," Gasman said. He, Ashaki, Delancy and Hare sat around a small kitchen table in the slop-shop, cups of strong brew steaming before them.
"Why not?" Delancy asked.
"Because I'll get fired. You think Con Ed doesn't keep track of these things? Ask Lightman."
"They meter the abandoned buildings?" Ashaki asked.
"They do if they start noticing a heavy drain from an area, and what Delancy is talking about amounts to grand larceny."
"One building per block," Delancy said. "That's all I'm asking for."
"And I'm telling you it can't be done."
"But it would take the load off this place and prevent Bungy from wiping everything with a single raid."
"Yeah, but we don't have the supplies for that kind of operations, Jim," Ashaki said. "It takes more than putting on the heat in a building to make it inhabitable."
"Blankets, mattresses, food stocks."
"And you would need someone to watch over these places to make sure they don't wind up with the same violence and drugs the city shelters have," Hare said.
"I was thinking of letting Kelleman's people handle that."
"The anarchists?" Ashaki said, alarmed. "Are you crazy?"
"No, they're exactly the people to put in charge. This is what they're good at, organizing, and it'll keep them from making real trouble on the street."
"But they're unpredictable," Hare said.
"So is anyone who sees the kind of crap that goes down in this city," Delancy mumbled.
"What about the supplies?" Ashaki asked.
"Too bad we can't tap into the city shelters," Hare said.
"Why?" Delancy asked.
"They're overstocked. Despite all the rumors of shortages, those people have got a warehouse up in Chelsea."
"You've seen this yourself?"
"No, but I know someone who has. He used to be a night dick there."
Delancy stared off towards the steamy windows. "That would be something," he said.
"Don't think about it, Jim," Ashaki said. "This whole thing works now because we don't make too many waves. You start stealing big time like that and they're crack down on us hard."
"They already are," Delancy said, somewhat hotly. "That's the whole point of this. Between Langston buying the mission and the cops crawling around every other abandoned building we've had, these people have nowhere to go. It's the final push and unless we do something, some of them are going to die-- Like Poncho."
"I could get a truck," Hare said. "But I'd have to talk to Eddy first. He might not want to go along with it."
"Talk to him," Delancy said. "I'll talk to Kellemen about using some of his boys. This is the kind of thing that they live on."
Eddy knocked on the wooden garage door. It was an old dock warehouse that had survived the development purges by fortune of city ownership, the door bearing the rusted metal bands common with such places near the turn of the century. Delancy could almost smell the horse manure imbedded between the cobble stones and half expected a Keystone cop like figure to open it.
"What do you want?" a gruff iron-faced man said, peeping out from the inch opening as if a speak-easy look-out. "Oh, it's you, Eddy. I didn't even know you were still working with the city."
"Yeah, I am" Eddy said, a wobble of nervousness in his voice that did not prevent the other man from yanking open the door. "Can't beat the security no matter what the papers say. We got a pick up for some stuff."
"Really?" the man said, scratching at the bulge of belly that hung over the belt. His city uniform shirt was open for three buttons revealing a dirty t-shirt beneath. The crumbs from lunch lodged in the folds of blue fabric. "I didn't hear nothing about that. You got a manifest?"
"Why no," Eddy said. Delancy gripped his upper arm to keep the man from shaking. "They said they would call down here and let you know we were coming."
"Not a word," the man said.
"Well, maybe you should call them downtown."
"Now? No way," the man said. "Those people split right on time. It's after five now."
Eddy glanced back at Delancy looking confused.
"Tell him he can check tomorrow," Delancy whispered. The men in the truck grumbled at the delay. It was the coldest night of the season so far and they stamped their feet like children, urging them to hurry.
"Look, you can check everything in the morning. One of those son of a bitches simply forgot and the shelters need the stuff tonight. It's gonna be a cold one."
The man laughed. "It's already a cold one. But you know the rules, Eddy. I got to have a manifest or official word or nothing leaves here. The people downtown are very particular that way."
"Look, clown!" Delancy said, shoving Eddy out of the way. "We got to have that stuff. We're talking lives here."
"Say! What's going on here?" the man said, looking to close the door on them. But Delancy shoved it open and the man back inside.
"What's going on here is a poverty drive," Delancy said with a grin, as he waved towards the truck for people to come.
"About time, Toad," Kelleman said, rushing through the door ahead of his men, all of them blowing on their hands.
"Toad?" the attendant said, looking from face to face, then to Eddy.
"I'm sorry," Eddy said. "But all this is for a good cause, really."
"Man, you don't know what kind of trouble you're getting in, Eddy," the attendant said, scratching his belly again.
"And you don't know what kind of trouble you're in if you don't start opening doors," Delancy said, Kelleman now on the other side of the man.
The man looked from Delancy to Kelleman and back again. "Hey, friend, I only work here."
He went to the desk and pulled a bundle of keys from the drawer. He tossed it to Delancy who tossed it to Kelleman.
"Take everything," Delancy said. "Or as much as we can fit. Give priority to food and blankets."
Kelleman grinned. "Sure thing, Toad." Then he motioned to the boys and they started towards the doors.
The building had once been a stable of sorts, designed with stall-like rooms off from the door, each opened into a separate store room. The men moved into one, grabbing hand trucks and wheeling boxes of supplies from each, forming a small railroad in and out of the building.
Delancy motioned the attendant to the desk. "Have a seat, pal. This may take some time."
The man sat, staring at Eddy. Delancy lifted the phone from the hook and left it that way, smiling the whole time as the men moved passed.
"We have to hurry," Eddy said. "They change shifts around eight."
Delancy looked at the time clock on the wall near the door. "We have two hours. The truck will be filled long before that."
"You won't get away with this," the attendant said. "I mean I know who you are and I know Eddy and the cops will just pick you up and haul you in."
"Maybe," Delancy said, leaning closer to the man. "That is if you tell anyone."
"How am I not going to tell someone that I've been robbed?"
"How often does anyone check this place?"
The man looked startled. "Why-- I don't know. Someone must check it sometime. I mean...."
"That's not the point," Delancy said. "No one needs to know who came for the stuff. I mean, Eddy is a friend of yours, isn't he?"
"He used to be," the man grumbled.
"Oh don't be like that. He's not doing this any more willingly than you are. Are you, Eddy?"
Eddy shook his head, looking back towards the door as if he expected the police to march in that very minute.
"Then he won't get in no trouble when I tell," the attendant said.
Delancy sighed. "All right, have your way."
By seven thirty they'd gotten all they could fit in the truck. Delancy tossed the keys back on the desk.
"Give Bugman a message for me," he said. "Tell him people are not going to leave the streets like they did the park."
"Are you stupid?" Maxwell asked, shouting into the phone on his end so loudly that it hurt Delancy's ears. "I thought you had some goddamn street-smarts, Delancy."
"I do, at least I thought I did."
"Then how the hell did you think you could get away with this? And worse you let the man see your face. Every cop in the city knows who robbed the place."
"But no one will do anything about it," Delancy said. "Not without the shit hitting the fan."
There was a long pause and a sigh. "Delancy. Sometimes you're the stupidest person on the face of this planet."
"What's so stupid about it? Bugman isn't going to haul me in for that robbery. The city won't want the publicity. How's it going to look in the newspapers when it's discovered the city's been hording food and blankets meant for the homeless?"
"All right, so you won't get charged with it. But you're rubbing Bungy's in that shit. You didn't just embarrass him within the precinct this time, but in front of the whole goddamn city police force. He's peeved to no end and you're the one he's going to take it out on. Maybe not through the court, but in some back alley when you least expect it."
"I can watch out for myself, Maxwell."
"I hope so."
Delancy saw him a block away, the crazy maniac flying his cab down Bowery with all the care he did with choppers in Vietnam, swaying slightly from side to side as he paid more attention to the sidewalk than he did to the street.
But it was different the minute Hare saw him, brakes squealing in one mad sequence of smoking tires and beeping horn. The cab wound up half on the Cooper Union sidewalk and half off.
"Delancy!" he yelled, motioning him towards the car.
"What the hell....?" Delancy said, when he had yanked open the passenger side door.
"Kelleman sent me. Guess who's at the mission?"
Delancy stiffened. "Langston?"
"You got it. Kellemen spotted the limo outside the place ten minutes ago and sent me to get you. Langston's probably come to look over his new possession."
"Interesting," Delancy said.
"More than that," Hare said, breathing hard as if he had run up from the mission rather than driven. "Kelleman figures it's time we had a talk with the dude."
"I agree," Delancy said, slamming the door. "Drive on, General. It's time we met that son of a bitch."
The black limousine was parked squarely in front of the mission, an obscene contradiction of terms, two hefty men in ill-fitting suits leaning against its fender, blowing on their hands and smoking cigarettes. Hare passed them and stopped at the corner beyond them, where Kelleman and a few of the boys from the food heist stood.
"About time you got here!" Kelleman grumbled. "We were afraid he was going to leave before you came."
"Well, he didn't so relax," Delancy said, climbing out, pausing to a vicious fit of coughs.
"You sound worse," Kelleman said. "Have you seen a doctor."
"I'm all right," Delancy said. "Come on."
It was a small parade of six men that marched down the narrow sidewalk towards the mission steps. But the men leaning against the car noted it and straightened, looking that much more massive for the change of posture.
"And where do you think you're going?" one of them asked, stepping in front of Delancy as he turned towards the mission's metal gate.
"Inside," Delancy said with a smile.
"Like hell you are," the man said, folding his arms across his chest. He was broader than Delancy by inches on either side and taller by a head. But Delancy looked straight up into the face, his eyes narrowing, his mouth twisting into the grimace of acute anger.
"Get out of my way, friend," Delancy said in a tight voice. "I don't want to have to hurt you."
It might have been Delancy's delivery, for the smug expression vanished from the tall man's face, replaced by one less certain.
"You'd better do what he said, man," Kelleman said. "I've seen Toad fight."
"Toad?" both men said at the same time, looking down at Delancy with the same alarm. They looked at him. They looked at the others. And then, they let him pass through the gate. He climbed the stairs and turned when he was at the door.
"You boys might as well go home. We'll take care of Mr. Langston when we're done."
"Now wait a minute!" the one guard said. But two of Kelleman's boys touched his arm, jerking their heads towards the car.
"Don't worry," Delancy said with a smile. "We won't hurt him-- not in the way you think anyway."
Langston was a pudgy little man wearing an ill-fitting toupee and a two-thousand-dollar suit, the darling of the New York social register whose picture appeared regularly in the press-- though never with the startled expression with which he looked up at their entrance.
"What the fuck...?" he roared, nearly spilling a glass of perfectly good wine onto his suit. He and the Preacher were seated at the long common table from which free meals had been previously issued, the remains of an expensively catered dinner before them in silver serving dishes.
"Oh don't get up for us," Delancy said, sliding into the chamber with Hare and Kelleman at his side. "We just came to say hello."
"How dare you come in here uninvited!" the Preacher said, pushing himself back from the table. "I ought to call the police."
"And here I thought this was a house of worship, open to anyone and everyone," Delancy said, putting one foot up on a vacant chair.
The Preacher sputtered and sat down again with a grumble.
"Who are these men?" Langston asked. "And where are my guards?"
Kelleman laughed. "As for the second question, sir. You're men took the day off with pay. This here is the fellow we happily call `the Toad.' I think maybe you've heard of him?"
"Toad!" Langston said, his chair squeaking as he shoved back with alarm, the bulging eyes widening as they stared.
"Ah, so you have heard of me?" Delancy said with delight. "And here I was worried about formal introductions."
"What do you want?" the man said, recovering quickly from the initial shock. "I'll have you know I have no dealing with common criminals."
"I know," Delancy said. "The extra-ordinary kind in City Hall and much more profitable. But we just came to have a little talk with you about what you're doing to our fair city."
"And what am I doing to your city?" the man asked, wiping his mouth with a linen napkin, his fingers thick with gold and silver rings.
"Ruining it!" Kelleman said.
"Oh," Langston laughed. "Is that how you see it?"
"Sure," Hare said. "Everybody sees it that way."
"Not everyone," Langston said, his eyes catching on Delancy's. "Some people think I'm making it better after your stinking kind let it go to hell."
"Our kind?" Delancy said.
"Hippies, radicals. Whatever you call yourselves these days."
"Anarchists," Kelleman said.
"Whatever," the developer said with a wave of his hand. "For years you've had your way in this city, ruining it with social planning and money-sucking programs for the poor. What investor in his right mind would put money into these places, eh? But now, with a little incentive, look what I've done to regenerate these old buildings, bringing in tax-paying citizens again."
"And what about the people who've been pushed out onto the street?" Delancy asked. "The homeless and the hungry."
"Bah! More myths created by your shewed view. Bums and freeloaders looking for handouts instead of jobs."
"You son of a bitch!" Kellemen yelped. "I'll hand you something and see how you like it."
Hare and Delancy grabbed the man as he lunged at the Developer.
"No," Delancy said, whispering in the man's ear. "I have a better idea."
Kelleman looked up, his face twisted with rage. There was honest hatred in those eyes, the kind of dedicated fury which Delancy had seen in the face of the Vietcong, one that wouldn't beaten down by police actions and napalm. Still, he straightened, glaring at Langston as Delancy let him loose.
"People are dying out there," Kelleman told the man. "That has nothing to do with freeloading. It has to do with people like you wanting to make a profit on their bones."
"Perhaps Mister Langston needs to meet some of these `freeloaders' for himself," Delancy suggested. "Then maybe he'd get a better picture of things down here."
"Wait a minute, Delancy!" the Preacher said. "You can't take him outside, those people'll kill him."
"No way," Delancy said, waving a disbelieving hand. "Langston here is a man of quality. Who would think of hurting him?"
For the first time, fear crept onto the developer's face, his nervous eyes shifting from face to face like an animal waiting execution.
"Look, I can make it easy for you gentlemen," he said, reaching into his jacket pocket for his wallet.
"Keep your money, Langston," Delancy said. "What we want is your soul. Up with you!"
Kelleman dragged the pudgy man out of his chair.
"You have a coat?" Delancy asked.
The man cast a pudgy finger towards the wall behind the door. A long bar had been installed there with a hundred or more hangers upon which the impoverished visitors from the street could hang their things. Now, only Langston's seal skin coat hung their, looking much like the original dead animal from which it had been made.
Kelleman plucked it down and roughly put it on the man, kid gloves tumbling out one of the pockets to the floor, soft-fingered luxury that Delancy retrieved for the developer.
Outside a crowd gathered. Word had gotten around and people came from everyone of the old houses. Many were veterans of Vietnam. Many more veterans of the war on the street, of the park battles and the battles with disease. Limbless limped up with broken crutches or no crutches at all. Faces were marred from battles with gangs and frost bite, missing fingers, toes, noses and teeth all part of everyday life.
"These are freeloaders?" Delancy asked from just outside the door. Only a few in the crowd recognized the developer, but these shouted, distracting attention away from the two guards who had not managed an escape. They had been roughed up some, mouths and noses bleeding, and were currently held waiting some further judgement.
"That's the son of a bitch!" one of Kelleman's men said. "That's the guy that stealing our homes!"
Some mentioned the park. Others the mission. But the anger rose and a flurry of bottles and stones clattered on the Mission front like hail.
"We'd better get him out of here before there's a riot," Hare whispered. "I think the Preacher is calling the cops."
Delancy pulled Kelleman to his side. "We got to get him to the cab. You think your boys can clear the way?"
Kelleman looked narrowly at Delancy. "What for? Why don't we give him to them?"
"Because I have something better in mind," Delancy said. "This way, we'll have the riot squad down here and murder charges on us all."
Kelleman didn't like it, but motioned some of his men towards the gate.
"Okay, Mister Langston. We're all going for a little ride."
Langston stiffened and looked towards his men. But they had vanished again, smothered by the crowd. Though Delancy thought he saw the flash of one of their torn, mis-fitting suits dashing around the corner ahead of a group of angry men.
"Don't worry. We're not the mob," Delancy said, shoving him down the steps and through the gate. The mob reached for him over Kelleman's men, tugging at the developers hair and clothes, yanking pieces of cloth from him like pop music fans stealing souvenirs. Someone got a ring. Another his tie clip. Then, with Hare holding the back door, Delancy shoved him in the cab-- a huffing, frightened little pudgy man, glaring up at the windows-- each filled with faces of poverty and pain and rage, their fists pounding and pounding on the hood and glass, itching to get at him.
"Move it!" Delancy shouted to Hare as both men slid into the front seat.
"You don't have to tell me, Jim," Hare said, starting the car. "It's my cab they're denting."
"Where are you taking me?" Langston asked, recovering quickly once the mob had vanished.
"You'll see," Delancy said.
"Hey! You could tell me," Hare said. "Since I'm the one that's driving."
"Take us East," Delancy said.
"How far east?"
"As far east as we can get without leaving the island. What do you think?"
Hare shook his head. "I don't know what to think. We've pushed things a little far here, don't you think? I mean, kidnapping the man?"
"No one's kidnapping anyone," Delancy said.
"Oh?" asked Langston from the back seat, trying to put himself back together. "What would you call it?"
"And introduction to the neighborhood," Delancy said. "We'll let you go soon enough."
Hare twisted the cab through the streets, avoiding the gaps where gas trucks had dug up and the pot-holed sections where the asphalt had been stripped by building fires. He drove east until the streets ended and the roar of the FDR sounded even with the windows closed. Beyond it, the East River glittered with the lights of Brooklyn and Queens. The double span of the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges glowed on the right like great glittering arches over which car traffic and occasional trains moved.
"Park the car," Delancy said.
Hare pulled the car into lot that overlooked the highway and park-- the strip of green that in the daylight looked over the river, its trees disguising the dilapidation behind it. But even the dark, the signs of it were everywhere, painted in gang slogans on crops of stone and electrical boxes, shimmering on the sidewalk and street in broken winebottles and car windshields.
"So what now, Mister Toad?" the developer asked. "Are you going to throw me into the river?"
"It's polluted enough thanks to your kind," Delancy said. "I was thinking more in terms of letting you walk home."
"From here?" Hare said, shocked. "He'll never make a it block in this neighborhood, even if they don't know who he is."
"Not my problem," Delancy said, then leaned over the back seat. "Give me your wallet."
"So you want to rob me, too," Langston said, spitting out the words as he fished the fat leather pouch from his inner pocket.
"No," Delancy said. "And any change in your pockets. All this will be waiting for you at the precinct house. You just have to make it there to claim it."
"You going to take my coat, too, see if I can weather the cold?"
"No need," Delancy said. "I'm not trying to kill you outright. At least not the way you've been doing to the people down here. Now get out and cross the street. We'll wait here until you're gone."
Langston glared at Delancy. It was a look that said there would come another time when the shoes were reversed. But he got out, hugging his coat closed against the cold and he recrossed the street back into the maze of streets that made up this end of the Lower East Side.
"He won't make it," Hare said.
"Sure he will," Delancy mumbled. "That man's a shark. His kind survive anywhere."
"You shouldn't have let him go!" Kelleman yelled, pacing in front of Delancy like a mad general.
"And what would you have me do with him?"
"We could have used him," Kelleman said. "We could have held him until the city gave us what we wanted."
The cold spell had broken outside, but the glass of the Blimpies was frosted just the same and the sky over the tops of the building was a universal white-- the white of impending snow.
"That would have been kidnapping," Delancy said. "I just wanted to teach him a little lesson."
"But this way we get nothing for all the trouble we caused."
"How long would your concessions have lasted when the FBI started investigating."
"Could you two please keep your voices down?" Hare said around a mouthful of sandwich. There was no one but the counter person in the store, and she looked dutifully bored, leaning against the counter near the register.
"I still don't like it," Kelleman mumbled and fell into the booth across from Hare. Delancy continued to stare out the window. Broadway was filled with moving traffic despite the hour, tourists heading to Chinatown or the Holland tunnel. The sidewalk had its own kind of traffic, purple hair and leather jackets parading back and forth, this generations hippies, wearing earrings and slave bands, sporting no sense of peace, only violence.
Then out of that mass of glitter and paint, he saw a face he knew-- the pained black face of Ashaki rushing down the sidewalk, clutching her black cape closed.
"In here," Delancy yelled, holding the door open.
She glanced up and rushed towards him. "Jim, it's terrible."
"Tell me inside, out of the cold."
She swept in. Hare made room for her at the table, but she shook her head, breathless from running. "I've been looking all over for you, Jim. They've busted the house."
"What?" Delancy roared, attracting the attention of the bored counter person.
"And not just mine. All of them. They've been sweeping through the neighborhood like gang busters. They got people from Con Ed and seem to know all the places to go."
"Damn!" Delancy said.
"Bungy's revenge," Hare said. "And boy is this ever trouble."
"How much money we have in the bail fund?" Delancy asked.
Hare shrugged. "Enough, I suppose. But not if we want to buy supplies for the rest of the winter."
Delancy turned to Ashaki.
"They got it all," she said. "I was out when they hit, but watched as they dismantled everything and loaded it into trucks. It'll be a long time before we can replace it all."
"Damn!" Delancy said again.
"I told you we should have kept Langston," Kelleman said. "We could have squeezed some cash out of him..."
"That's backwards thinking," Delancy said. "We have to think of something better than that."
"What?" asked Hare.
"First we get our people out of jail, then I'll figure out the rest."
He didn't see the car till it pulled up onto the sidewalk in front of him, four hefty men in workboot and jeans piling ontop of him in one single football-like play. By the time they piled off, two men held Delancy down as another put a foot on his chest.
A bandage showed white against the purple and pink bruises on the large man's face.
"You remember me, Toad?" the man asked.
Delancy blinked and cough, but focused his eyes, painting the face without the bandage or wounds.
"You're one of Langston's boys, right?"
"Right," the man said, pressing the foot down hard on Delancy's rib-cage, the rage roaring into his eyes saying he wanted to do more, but was held back by something-- most likely orders. "I got a message from Mister Langston. He wanted to let you know he didn't appreciate your little trick the other night."
Delancy smiled. "I'm sure he didn't. But he obviously got home all right in the end."
"Without any clothing," the man said.
"Really?" Delancy said in disbelief.
"It's not funny," the man said, foot pressing even harder, till Delancy could feel the beat of his heart against it, thumping madly.
"No, I guess not," Delancy grunted, thinking that one of the gangs down there must have taken a fancy to the man's expensive suit.
"But Mister Langston's not one to hold a grudge," the man went on, leaning closer. "He's willing to forget this little incident on behalf of better relations..."
"Which means he's too embarrassed to let anyone know he's been made a fool of," Delancy said.
"Whatever!" the man growled. "But he also told me to tell you if you interfere with his plans again, he'll kill you."
"Now that's what I call a good businessman," Delancy said, as the foot rose and fell again, this time on his face. When they were finally through with him, they dumped him out onto the Cooper Union sidewalk, the limousine speeding uptown.
"You all right, Jim?" Hare's voice asked out of a jumble of muted colors and shapes, the smell of tobacco and beer thick around him.
"I hurt," Delancy mumbled, pain throbbing in his mouth as he spoke and his teeth, chest, legs and hair.
"With good reason, you're a mess."
"What are you doing to me?"
"Me and the boys are putting you in my cab. We're taking you to Doc."
"No!" Delancy said, stiffening. The price of that resistance sending shockwaves of pain through muscle and bone.
"It's him or Belleview," Hare said. "You look that bad."
Delancy sighed and grunted again when the cold hands of the street people dumped him into the front seat.
"I need a cigarette," he said.
Someone thrust one between his lips. Someone else lit it. He sucked in the smoke, then coughed it out, losing the cigarette on the cab floor.
"Damn it, be careful," Hare said, sliding into the driver's side, retrieving the smoldering cigarette before it could burn the rug. "I only got one car, you know."
"Yeah, Hare," Delancy said, closing his eyes. "No one will give you another chopper when this one goes down, will they?"
Other men piled into the back seat and from the motion and racket of the car springs, Delancy imagined the enraged ride cross town, Hare beeping the horn the whole time, cursing other drivers when they did not move out of his way.
At the other end, the men carried Delancy up the narrow stairs, grunting and grumbling as they bumped their shoulders and knees trying to keep from hurting him.
"Put him down there!" Doc's voice said after a series of doors had led them into the apartment. The couch had been largely cleared, through the magazines crinkled under him when they put him down.
Doc's grey face appeared over him, the grim head shaking slowly from side to side.
"Now what have you gone and done to yourself?" he asked. "I thought you'd had enough of this kind of thing in Vietnam?"
"It wasn't exactly my doing, Doc," Delancy said, coughing out the words.
"That's what you say every time. For a non-violent man, you certainly find a lot of violence."
Again, Delancy coughed, the pain of these different from before the beating, as if something had broken inside his chest.
"I never said I was non-violent, Doc. I just don't see the point of it sometimes."
"Yes, yes, now shut up while I listen to your chest."
The cold stethoscope wormed its way through the layers of cloth, depositing its chilly face on Delancy's chest. Doc's grey face reappeared, it's expression startled.
"What is it, Doc?" Hare asked from somewhere out of view. "Is he that bad?"
"Outside of the obvious," Doc said in a slow and serious voice. "Just a couple of broken ribs." He leaned over Delancy and stared angrily into his face. "You haven't seen a doctor about that other matter, have you?"
"No, Doc," Delancy said, emitting a weak grin. "I guess I haven't."
"But it's been weeks!"
"There just hasn't been time, Doc."
"What other matter?" Hare asked.
"None of your business, Hare!" Delancy barked. "Please, Doc, please let's not talk about that right now."
"Right now is all you have, Jim," Doc said. "You're worse off by far than when you came to see me-- and it's stupid. There's plenty of medication for this kind of thing in the clinics. All you have to do is ask for it."
"I will, I will," Delancy said. "Just give me something for the pain right now. I need to sleep or something."
"All right, I'll fix you up. But damn it, don't come back to me next time unless you've had that other thing taken care of."
"Sure, Doc," Delancy said, closing his eyes. "And thanks."
"So what did he mean by the other thing?" Hare asked, sliding into the driver side after helping Delancy in.
Delancy's chest was wrapped, making it difficult to breathe. But it was better than the pain. One arm was in a sling, nothing broken apparently, but strained and weak, lying limp now. His face was the worst part. The nose had been broken. So had a couple of teeth. Both eyes had taken on the purplish color of eventual black.
"Nothing," Delancy said. "Just forget it."
He focused out onto the street then frowned. "Say, wasn't that Benny I just saw, and there's Grove, and Burt and Laura. What's going on? What are they doing over on this side of town."
"Getting out the 9th precinct," Hare said. "The word's been out for days."
"Bungy's declared war on the street people."
"Oh, that's shit. He's been at war with us for months. What makes it so different that people got to split?"
"You haven't heard?"
"I've been trying to find another central house."
"The cops have been beating people up. We thought that's what happened to you at first when Langston's dudes dumped you. There's no rhyme or reason for it. Anyone they see on a back street, they beat up."
"Damn," Delancy said, staring out at West 8th street as Hare turned onto it, the circus of lights and stores and people a mockery to what the village had once been. Some tourist took a picture of the passing cab. Delancy gave her the finger.
Delancy eased down into the Blimpie booth as Hare fetched him a cup of coffee. Ashaki shook her head. Her clothing had changed into something more conservative. Gone were the African patterned dresses and thick, dread-locked hair. She looked tired with her hair combed straight back. Her shoulders shuddered again and again despite the heavy coat and work clothes.
"We just don't have the money to start over again," she said, sipping on a cup of weak chicken soup. "It's over, Jim. Even the places we set up temporarily are busted after one or two nights. And they aren't being gentle any more, they wreck and beat people. Most of the volunteers I had have split saying they can't take it any more."
Hare came back with Delancy's coffee and sat next to Ashaki. He looked tired, too, and his nervous glance was as prominent now as it had been during the war, constantly looking towards the window, waiting for the enemy in blue to come rushing in.
"It's gonna be a white Christmas," he mumbled, staring out at nothing.
But Kelleman appeared, waving at them through the window as he and two of his boys shoved through the door.
"Hey, Toad! I heard the bad news. Welcome to the club. The cops got a half dozen of my boys by the park and did they up, too. Three of them are in intensive care."
"It was Langston, not the cops that got me," Delancy said, not bothering to look up from his coffee.
"The same thing. What I hear is Langston and Bugman are like this." He held up two fingers entwined. "Have been for years."
"Well it hardly matters now," Ashaki said. "We can't do anything any more."
"There must be a way," Delancy said, banging the table with his good hand. "They can't chase us out of everywhere."
"But they have, Jim," Hare said.
"Not for long," Kelleman said, grinning.
Delancy looked up. Kelleman's face glowed, some bit of self-satisfaction there in the eyes that Delancy had seen years before in the eyes of the CIA, after they had dumped prisoners out the sides of flying Choppers.
"So what is that supposed to mean?"
"It means the police have pushed people too far this time, Toad."
"Yeah, right out of the precinct."
"No, not all of them. Some of us aren't going to be forced out. That's what I came to talk to you about. We got some weapons stashed down in a basement on East 13th. We're gonna take back the park."
"That's crazy," said Hare. "The cops'll kill you. They expect something to happen there."
"I know, I know. But the snow's coming and people need that place. It's now or half of them will be dead by spring. I came to ask if you wanted to join us. You got a good reputation in this part of town. Other people will join in if you say the word."
There was a long delay. Delancy stared away, not at the street exactly, but at the blurred image of passing people, hair and clothing styles suddenly foreign, orange and purple people stepping out of the psychedelic posters and into real life. People had become the hallucinations. Life had become the bad trip which the hippies had dreaded like the bomb.
"No," he said. "I won't condone taking the park. It's stupid and people are going to get killed for nothing."
Kellemen rose to his feet, his eyes angry. "It's all we have, Toad. Even your fancy little plans for buildings have fallen apart. If we don't take the park we have nothing."
Delancy stared at the man, shaking his head slowly. "And you don't understand. Those people out there, the ones the pay the taxes. They don't like us in the park. They think we're stealing it from them. When the city starts killing us, they're going to cheer the cops on like the yuppies did the last time."
"And what would you have us fight for, one of your buildings back?"
"That's impossible now," Delancy said. "But it would be more appropriate."
"Fuck you then," Kelleman said and stormed out with his men. Delancy stared into his coffee.
"There's going to be hell to pay for that," Hare said.
"We won't pay it," Delancy said. "And neither will he. But a lot of innocent slops sleeping on the street will."
The snow came and the war started, just about the same time. Delancy leaned against a cold brownstone stair a few blocks west, listening to the raging police car sirens as they roared down towards the park. The gun shots came in a flurry of sound, a lot of first, then less and less, more of it coming from different directions and farther away as the fighting took to the streets.
Ambulances appeared. The East Side homeless trudged out like refugees, hobbling and crawling, some of them recently beaten. But residents came as well, huddled under expensive coats as they stared back into the battle zone.
"Damned Anarchists," they mumbled. "The police ought to kill them all."
But darkness and snow slowly silenced them all, the gun fire and the voices, leaving only the constant movement of people East, people Delancy had known for years, some of whom he'd not seen or thought dead, crawling out of their little holes, afraid of death. They were travelling finally, the way the social planners had wanted, but going nowhere to find nothing, seeking peace that only death could bring.
After hours, even they faded to a trickle of the most helpless-- the news cameras sweeping passed them in some desperate effort to explain the violence to an America that didn't care. Finally, the snow won and the light dimmed and Delancy lifted himself up again, looking at the empty street. There wasn't even a set of footprints on it now, save for the few pigeons who'd retreated from the park with the people.
Delancy slowly walked down towards the park. The smell of gunpowder lingered in the air despite the snow, a biting smell that had travel ten thousand miles home with the vets, settling over New York rather than Saigon. He cursed beneath his breath and coughed again, the phlegm now mostly red.
Down near the park, the police cars were parked bumper to bumper around the perimeter, like a circle of covered wagons waiting for the Indians to attack, with the park in its center, obscenely empty. Cops stiffened at his approach. He could hear their dull pistols scraping the car tops as they adjusted their aim at him, their eyes angry and wary, studying him as he turned the corner just shy of their barriers.
He didn't hurry, but didn't dawdle either, feeling the tension thick in the air, knowing that any accident or misread move could cost him his life. And yet, he lingered on the edge of it, searching the sidewalk for signs of death. A patch of blood appeared at one point. Empty cartridges at another. But there was none of the hell he'd half expected, the body count of homeless piled up waiting for bags, or the tumbled walls of churches over which great battles had been fought.
He continued down Avenue A till the park was out of sight, walking in the same careful pace till the sides changed, and in the shadows he sensed, rather than saw, scurrying figures with guns. They watched him, too. Waiting with the same outrage and pain, waiting for the first blue car to come through.
Delancy stopped. His head and shoulders were covered with snow. He felt like some strange long-forgotten race from the mountains.
"You," he said, calling to one of the shadows.
The shadow did not respond.
"Tell Kelleman I want to meet with him. Down by the boccie courts on Houston. Tell him, I've got something worth fighting for."
And then, Delancy continued on, walking towards Houston, but without hurrying. It would take time for Kelleman to get the word.
There were no old men on the boccie court tonight. It was a rare sight this late in the year, though Delancy stared at the dark trash-cluttered ground beyond the fence as if there were, seeing the old men through the eyes of a much younger soul, when even the hippies in their love-beads and feathers stopped to watch the competition. The changing generations seemed to have no power over this place-- trading new souls for old as the years went on, the Italian grandfathers fading into white-haired African-Americans, each with the same determined look up his face, each with the same bowling-style of throw.
Delancy shook himself and coughed, pulling his jacket tighter across his aching chest. Doc's bandages bit into flesh with each cough. A police car slowed, eyeing Delancy as it passed with the same fearful expression of patrols in Saigon. Did Delancy have a grenade beneath his coat or a gun?
But he looked too raged even for the anarchists cause and they turned the corner, leaving him to the cold park bench and the vacant memories of boccie.
It was a while later when the foot steps sounded, coming from the East side, hurried at first, then slowing to something more cautious. Kelleman dropped down beside him on the bench, dressed in dark colors, only his round polish face exposed and it bearing the confused expression of the defeated.
"So?" he asked, without looking at Delancy. "What exactly did you have in mind?"
"The mission," Delancy said without hesitation.
Kelleman looked up startled. "Why that?"
"Look," Delancy said, leaning forward to whisper, blocking the cold glances of falling snow as it seared down from the west. "You're the one whose been talking all the time about symbols, about how the park was important because it was the last refuge of freedom and all that."
"Well, the mission means something, too. It's not a symbol of freedom but of dependence, of a goddamn society that addicts people to a way of life and slowly withdraws the necessities. Besides, it's not guarded and easier to hold once the police catch on. The park is too wide open, easier for the police to storm."
Kelleman laughed. "You sound like a military advisor, I should have listened to you earlier."
"Well, listen to me now."
"Why?" Kelleman asked. "What's the use of it anymore. They're determined to destroy us and we can't fight back. They'll just drive of us of the mission in the end."
"Yes, I know. But we won't be a bunch of crazed radicals trying to steal the yuppie's park. This time, we'll be protesting their stealing our mission. You gotta play the media game, Kelleman, if you're going to play at all."
Kellemen considered this. "All right. It beats hiding out on the streets, I suppose. Most of my men are freezing to death. Is there any food?"
"I'm sure the good Preacher's been hording that for years as well as other things. Whether or not he's moved it is a question I can't answer. But I can get my people moving. We don't have much cash left after the bail funds and the crack down on our street vendors, but we can put on one good feed-- and friend, if anything will draw people to our cause, free food will."
A dull light glowed in one of the back grated windows and movement across it signalling a human presence within. Kelleman and Delancy huddled near the gate, the other anarchists hidden in the deeper shadows across the street. Word was spreading through both villages even as they moved, messengers announcing the reopened mission on a night when the snow was already inches deep.
"They'll come," Delancy assured Kelleman. "Perhaps more than we can handle."
"The more we get for this thing, the safer we'll all be," Kelleman said. "When do we tell the press?"
"I got people on that. Once inside, I'll make the proper phone calls. But let's get there first and hope that light isn't one of Langston's guards."
"Don't worry about that," Kellemen grinned. "This time you've got me and my boys with you."
"I wasn't worried, honest," Delancy said with a laugh, then slipped through the rusted gate and up the snow-covered stairs. The door was locked. He'd expected as much. He pounded on the weak wood, then pulled a hood up over his head, motioning Kelleman to the blind side of the door.
It took a long time, but footsteps sounded inside.
"Who is it?" the harsh voice of the Preacher asked. Kelleman and Delancy exchanged delighted glances.
"I'm hungry, Preacher," Delancy said in a gruff voice unlike his own. "And freezing."
"Go away," the Preacher said. "We don't do that sort of thing any more."
"But it's cold, Preacher. You want me to die out here?"
"Damn you," the Preacher said and snapped back the bar from the door. Delancy bent his head, keeping his face in the shadow of the hood. "You can't die here. The city shelter's just down the street. Go there. People die there all the time."
"I'm sure they do," Delancy said, shoving his way passed a shocked Preacher, followed quickly by Kelleman who signalled to his men across the street.
"Toad?" the Preacher howled. "You can't come in here now...."
"I can do what I want," Delancy said and coughed, pushing the preacher back towards the one lighted room. The chapel was cold and the vestments gone, dust frames hanging on the walls where religious pictures had been. "This is our mission now, not yours."
"We're taking it over," Kelleman said with a grin, brandishing a pistol which he vaguely aimed at the Preacher.
"My oh my, this is not good!" the Preacher moaned. "The closing is tomorrow and if there's trouble here..."
"Shut up!" Delancy said. "Where's the telephone?"
The Preacher puffed up with some imitation of indignity.
"Tell him, fool!" Kelleman said, prodding him with the pistol barrel.
"There!" the Preacher said, pointing towards the desk where he'd been working. Piles of cash filled the blotter, some of it counted and wrapped for deposit. Much of it loose, wrinkled and stained, the total accumulation of donations taken from desperate hands over the years.
Kelleman whistled. Delancy ignored it and punched out a number on the phone.
"Everything's on," he said the minute a voice sounded on the other end. "You know what to do."
He hung up again and then stared at the cash, fingering it with his good hand. "Such a waste, old man."
"You'll never get away with this, Toad," the Preacher said. "I'll tell the police who took the money."
Delancy laughed. "I'm sure you will," he said. "But will they be able to get it back. This just makes the whole thing more fun. We'll give out cash with the meal. Have your boys check to larder to see if there's food."
Kelleman motioned to several men who eyed the cash from the door, they vanished upon command. Delancy sat down heavily in the desk chair. "See what you can do about securing the place. Men up on the roof and all that. We don't want a Swat Team swooping down on us unexpectedly."
This time, Kelleman vanished. He returned with a grin. "All taking care of, Toad. And incidently, the larder's full. I don't know what rat-face here intended, but he certainly hasn't fed anyone in a while."
A few minutes later, others came. Hare, Ashaki and people from the old house.
"What's going on?" Ashaki asked, her face still marred with the loss of the old place.
"We're holding a midnight cookout," Delancy said. "And you're in charge of the refreshments."
"Jim, do you know how much trouble you can get into for this?"
"No more trouble than people are already in," Delancy said. "The point is we have to make a stand. This is where we're making it."
"I think Davey Crockett said something like that at the Alamo," Hare mumbled, sitting in the corner with his twitching nervous nose.
"We'll see," Delancy said. "Someone show Ashaki where the kitchen is and the beds. I believe we can handle a few hundred people in this place if we use the chapel."
They vanished. Gasman and Lightman appeared, summoned as part of the overall plan. They looked confused, yet mildly amused as well.
"I need you to pull some of your magic," Delancy said. "The first thing the cops are going to try and do is freeze us out. Can you people stop that?"
Lightman scratched his head. "Well, I can tap into lines from the building next door if someone can get me in there."
"No problem," Kelleman grinned, signally several others of his band.
"I'm sure I can do something like that, but I'll need some piping and such. And tools."
Kelleman shrugged. "I'll send somebody out to rip off a con ed truck," he said. "But it may take time."
"We're not going to have a lot of that," Delancy said. "So try and hurry."
It took hours for all of it to come together. The police didn't catch on till hours after that, after the phone calls from the press wondering what was going on at the Bowery Mission.
"Going on?" Captain Martin Bungy said. "Nothing's going on. We have everything under control."
But secretly, he sent his police cars out to see what could be seen. He might not have bothered. By midnight, the crowds had blocked off the street in both directions, by one it had spread from Houston to East Fifth, the hungry and cold and desperate and hopeless crawling out of the gutter from every part of the city, having heard some rumor of uprising and victory.
"Toad's taken the mission," the word went. "He's giving away money and food."
By two, the Mayor's office was in the act, screaming at the police chief and commissioners.
"Do you know what this will do to me? Bad enough this thing with the park, but a mission?"
Bungy and his men blocked off streets, trying to stem the tide of the thing, but this wasn't four blocks of park, and people snuck under and around and through his barricades as if they didn't exist, till it looked more like a Times Square celebration than a rebellion, people laughing and dancing before the noses of his police the way they had years earlier, the way the hippies had stuck flowers in the rifles and thoughts in their heads. Hard-nosed cops who had survived the pitched battles of the park suddenly took off ill, telling their comrades in private that they weren't going to fight this thing.
"Too big," they said. "And with all that press, we're not going to look very good."
Langston was last to know. But it was his pressure that moved the mountain to mahomet, insisting that this thing wasn't political at all, but a common crime with common criminals involved.
"I want them arrested, Mister Mayor," he said bluntly into his phone. "Or you won't see a sizable part of next years campaign funding."
They were out of money, blankets and food when the first shots sounded. Delancy stood in the door and saw something erupt in the crowd, a ripple at the distant edge which did not make the least bit of sense. He heard the cries next, like the echo of pain he remembered hearing after the dropping napalm in Vietnam. Something human suddenly vanishing in a single excruciating note.
"They're coming!" Kelleman screamed from the roof. "They're shooting teargas into the crowd."
But it was more than teargas, it was clubs, too, and men in body armor suddenly sweeping in from every direction, beating down upon hapless and helpless heads, a brutal repeat of the performance in the park, caring not one wit about who it was they hit or what the result. People fell, the police went on, making more of them fall and bleed, making more of them cry and beg not to be hit again, as if cold and hunger had not been enough of a blow.
Shots rang out from the roof. Delancy yelled for them to stop.
"You'll hit our people," he said. But the gunshot did not stop and they were soon answered. Machine guns spurting lead poison from the shadows across the street, biting at the wood around the roof.
A gas grenade burst at the bottom of the stairs, then another on the door. The grating over the windows kept most of them out, but the few which made it in caused havoc inside. A small riot started inside the church as the smoke poured through the pews like an stalking cat. People rushed up to avoid it, pushing and shoving their way towards the door, bursting the outer door and into the open, where the machine guns mistook them for anarchists and cut them down.
"No!" Delancy screamed, waving his hands at both sides. "Stop it!"
But the firing grew worse and a spark caught on some of the old wood. Flames burst up inside the front hall despite the snow and cold. Delancy raced back screaming for someone to find an extinguisher.
"There are none," the Preacher said from just inside the office, half laughing, half shocked at the madness, his eyes alive with it, the way they sometimes were when he preached about armageddon. "I sold them all for junk."
Ashaki appeared out from the kitchen saying the jerry-rigged gas line had broken. There was fire there as well.
Delancy grabbed the arm of one of Kelleman's soldiers. "Tell your friend that the place is on fire."
The man eyes widened slightly then vanished up a stair to the roof. Hare grabbed Delancy.
"You got to get out of here, Jim. Those cops are going to come in here shooting when they come. There's a back door to any alley."
"Fine. Get everyone out that way. I've got to..."
Bullets ripped through the front door, embedding themselves in the wall. The preacher laughed. Delancy grabbed him by the throat.
"This is all your fucking fault," he shouted, then fell into a fit of coughing made worse by the smoke. His chest throbbing with the need of air. His face stinging from the heat.
"Come on, Jim" Hare said, dragging at his good arm. "We've got to go, now!"
Delancy, however, did not move. He stared at the building already beginning to fall around him, flames licking through the ceiling and walls.
"Damn," he muttered. "It was all for nothing after all. We've managed to kill off our own people for the city and now we've even cleared the land for that bastard, Langston."
Hare yanked Delancy back as pieces of the ceiling fell, crashing into flames on what was previously the front hall. Back through the chapel, they went, Hare pulling, Delancy staring, the walls and windows quickly vanishing to the wide bite of fire.
"All for nothing," Delancy mumbled. "Every last bit for nothing."
They were in a narrow hall when the roof fell in on the chapel and flames gushed at them from that direction with the force of an explosion, rolling them off their feet.
Hare leaped back up. Delancy rose more slowly, something broken inside of him, not a bone, but a spirit. He wanted to find that heatless building down near Avenue C where Poncho had died. The cold seemed more merciful than bullets and fire-- more peaceful. He coughed, his head swirling with thoughts that were not his, that were nobody's-- images of war and death which had been cast out upon him like chicken wrappings or empty tin cans. He felt like one of the dolls down in the East 11th Street lot, tied to a dead tree waiting for the rot.
Then, they were out, into a narrow alley where the cobblestones had never been covered with tar, where the old horse barns still sat like rotting world war two outhouses, stinking not of shit, but of death and fire. He staggered as the building came down behind them, burning embers and anarchists separating him from the police.
"All for nothing," Delancy said, sagging against the cool snow-covered shack behind him.
"Come on, Jim," Hare urged, pulling him along the way he had a long, long time before, from another war where people died for nothing.
"Yeah, yeah," Delancy said, coughing his way to freedom.