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Letters, Lost and Found

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            He fell asleep sitting up with his head on his knees and woke up with the dawn light peeking in through the warehouse's high, (broken, mud-streaked) windows. The sun filtered through in wide beams, turning everything golden (like stained glass windows in a church, with the smell of the candle wax and his ma always lit a candle for Stevie when he was sick, which was mostly always). 

            He dug the tool kit out of the duffle and set about opening up the arm. If he didn't think too much about it, he knew exactly what to do.  He found the syringes and tracker the note mentioned, pulled them out and crushed them into the concrete flooring with his heavy black boot. (The syringes did smell weird.) He found another tracker hiding farther up in the arm and crushed it too, but that was as far as he could get without taking the arm off to get a better view.  He didn't know how to take the arm off, or even if he could. He knew that it had been upgraded at least once, but did it take surgery to get it off?  He didn't know.  He thought about the note that talked about needing help, about having once had a group with him, a team, and he suppressed the urge to break (and/or kill) things. He did stomp on the trackers and syringes a little more for good measure, but he didn't really have time for self-indulgence. With the trackers gone (he hoped), he needed to move to a new, uncompromised location.  If there was still money in that Banque Swisse account, his next digs might be considerably swankier than an abandoned warehouse (hotel with a big bathtub).

 

            He changed into the clean clothes, leaving the tac stuff in the bag and untucking his shirt and pants cuffs to look less military. He tossed the old clothes in a dumpster and stashed the duffle in a locker at the bus station, then found a pawn shop in a sketchy part of town where he wouldn't seem out of place (not hard to find in DC). He bought a laptop, then hit a drugstore for a burner phone, soap, a razor, deodorant, and rubber bands to hold his hair back (hygiene being evidently a low priority for HYRDA supply caches). It was a small store but the variety of stuff piled on the shelves was bewildering and there was no soda fountain or lunch counter. (He'd have to go somewhere else for food; the C rations were definitely a last resort.) 

 

            He spent a long time sniffing the wrappers of bars of soap trying to decide which one he liked (plain Ivory for Steve because he got a rash); he eventually settled on Irish Spring (hilarious, plus smelled good) and a bar of Ivory because it just didn't seem right to walk out of there without it. The deodorant aisle went beyond bewildering to completely fucked up.  They had different deodorant for men and women now?  Why were there so many different kinds?  Was there Irish Spring deodorant?  He couldn't find any, so he grabbed a bottle at random, and then actually had to stop himself from laughing out loud because he'd picked up Right Guard.  (Drugstores in the future were a laugh riot.)  It turned out they had special rubber bands just for your hair, in a predictably dizzying array of choices.  He found a big package of black ones that said they were "ouchless" (whatever the fuck that meant – not a lot of experience with ouchless lately) and a plastic comb. Safety razors had also proliferated (why the fuck would you want five blades on a razor?  Why five and not twelve, if you're just going to start shoving extra blades on there?) He picked up the simplest looking ones, which were also the cheapest but still ridiculously expensive (there better be some money in that Swiss account because at this rate the cash from the duffle wouldn't last very long).  On impulse, he grabbed a plain, unmarked baseball cap (who the fuck were the Nationals?), a black marbled notebook and a pen, then he went to check out. The cashier sniffed and carefully avoided eye contact (looking homeless was an excellent means of invisibility).

            By the time he was done with this shopping extravaganza, he was starting to feel strange, shaky and a little nauseated.  Not too far from the Walgreens was a storefront with a few people loitering outside who looked like they were living rough. There was writing on the windows (Catholic Charities Emergency Shelter and Drop-In Center) that said that they had showers.  He edged through the group on the sidewalk and went in.  There was a foyer with a card table covered in a cheap plastic tablecloth with a coffee urn and cups and sugar and all, and a wooden counter with a big dark-skinned fella with long hair standing behind it.

            "Hiya, brother," the fella said. "Come on in and get some coffee if you wanna. I ain't seen you here before, I don't think."

            He had to clear his throat before his voice would work. "Used to be catholic, maybe," he said. "Was hoping to get a shower." He was surprised about the catholic part; he didn't know he knew that.

            The man smiled. "You don't have to be catholic to get a shower," the man said.  The man reached under the counter and his hand was reaching for a knife before he realized. The man just pulled out a little sack, though, and he relaxed.  "Here's a towel and some soap and stuff for you," the man said. "Showers are just at the end of the hall."

            He took the bag and went down the hall as directed. He'd thought it would be nice to be clean but now that he was looking at the big room full of white tile, with the shower heads at intervals (always so cold, and more cold, cold water, hard spray flaying his skin), he wasn't feeling so sure. At least there was no one else around (that could change at any time); he should probably try to hurry. He pulled his gloves and hat off and set them on a worn wooden bench along the wall of the room. There was a kind of button you pushed to get the water started and it was warm, at least. Once he started it, he couldn't figure out how to stop it, so he quickly shucked off the clothes and dug around in the little bag to find a rough white towel, a tiny bar of soap wrapped in paper, and a disposable razor. He set the towel on the bench, unwrapped the soap but pulled his new tube of shaving cream out of the bags from the drug store. The water stopped after a minute so he pushed the button again. The water was still warm (it felt nice).  Not knowing how long the warmth would last, he hurriedly soaped himself up. The lather turned grey on his skin. He rinsed and soaped again, and the lather stayed white this time (so much blood, you'll never get clean). He used the soap on his hair three times before the lather stayed white. The water turned off every two or three minutes and he pushed the button to turn it back on. Every time, it came back warm. He used his new, good-smelling shaving soap and razor and shaved by touch (don't look in the mirror, don't look). Finally, he finished up and the water stopped again. He dried himself off and put his clothes back on, then found the plastic comb he bought and started combing out his hair. It was really tangled (way too long) and he pulled a lot of it out before he managed to drag the comb all the way through it without getting caught. There was a big tangle of hair on the comb (like something Ma's cat coughed up) that he threw in the trash can near the door. He opened the package of hair bands and pulled his wet hair back (tomorrow you can do pigtails for me, Bucky, before we go to school), replaced his hat and gloves, and gathered his bags together. He threw the wet towel in the laundry hamper next to the trash can on his way out.

            The same fella was still standing at the counter, this time with a small brown paper bag. "Lookin' good, brother," the man said. "Feel better?"

            He nodded but didn't trust his rusty voice or social skills to get any further than that.

            The man held out the paper bag.  "I thought you might could use something to eat.  Just a couple of sandwiches and an apple but maybe it'll take the edge off anyway."

            He took the bag and looked in the man's face, wondering why the man was being so kind. The man's mouth curled up just a tiny bit, (smiled) not quite a smile, though, but like the eyes were smiling but the mouth was still trying to make up its mind.

            He tried to make his mouth do the same thing but he was pretty sure it didn't work. "Thank you," he said, having at least that much of a brain left.

            "You take care, used-to-be-catholic," the man said. "Come back tonight if you need a warm place to sleep."

            He nodded again and made his escape.