“Don’t blame the sinner,” was easy to read from afar. For spray paint, it wasn’t bad. The artist might actually have a future if they stuck with their craft and stopped spray-painting cars…especially my car.
“Nice paint job, Father Thomas. Probably a friend of someone you’ve saved”
I recognized Earl’s gravelly voice behind me. Actually, I smelled Camels long before he opened his mouth. He’d stopped smoking a year ago but still oozed it. I often wondered if he just naturally smelled that way.
“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” I asked.
“I’m the cleaner and you’re making a run, right? You’ll need a cleaner.”
Earl took a picture of my artwork before he tossed his bag in the hatchback and jumped in the passenger seat. We’ve been working together for nearly three years and have seen a lot more than two poor bastards like us should have to see. I slid into the driver’s seat and adjusted my mirrors.
“Nobody else drives this car. Why do you do that? Jesus! How long’s the list today Father Thomas?” Earl asked.
“It’s just habit, Earl. We won’t be out long tonight,” I answered. “And it’s just Thomas.”
“Heard that before,” Earl muttered with a grin.
* * * * *
We were quiet as we crossed town. It was dark and we’d soon have our hands full. A red light bathed the car as I crossed Grant Street without stopping. We were making good time but we always ran one light on the way to a job. If we didn’t get attention from the cops, we’d have a smooth night. Getting pulled-over was a sure sign that the night was going to get hairy. I can’t explain it but it always works.
“Family tip you off on the guy tonight?” Earl asked.
“Yeah, they said his name was Charlie and he disappeared six years ago. They thought he either ran off with a woman or got killed.”
“They call the cops? File a report?”
“Didn’t sound like the type to file reports.”
I wasn’t being an ass. I was being honest. The people I spoke with on the phone sounded like they may have been the subject of a police report or two but never the initiator of one. Somebody along the way found Jesus and started to do some soul searching. They found Charlie in the South Hills and went to get him. What they found scared the shit out of them. That’s where I come in. Well, that’s where we come in. I save ‘em and Earl cleans ‘em.
The light at the bridge gave the bus stop crowd time to admire my artwork. By the looks of the crowd, at least one was going to piss in the bus on the way home. I should mention there’s no toilet on the city buses.
* * * * *
As we turned off Carson Street, Earl spotted our guy.
“You still have pretty good eyes for an old man,” I said.
“Just park the car, Thomas.”
I pulled-up behind a minivan with stick figures covering at least a quarter of the back window.
“Busy people,” Earl chuckled.
I was too focused on the homeless man sitting against the fence to pay much attention to Earl’s wit. Plus, he didn’t need the encouragement.
I slowly moved closer
“Charlie?” I asked in the homeless man’s general direction.
“Who wants to know?” he replied.
“Sounds drunk,” Earl added.
“Don’t they all?”
Charlie got to his feet and started moving towards us. I could tell by his eyes that he was our guy. Our clientele have dead eyes. You can look as deeply as you want. You won’t see anything but inky blackness interrupted by an intense spark. That’s the life left in them. Trouble is, it’s not theirs. A cockroach migrating from under Charlie’s hat distracted him. He never saw the 7-inch blade leave my jacket and pierce his chest. He never saw Earl’s stream of holy water in mid-air before it doused his face. The white light and roar of a freight train further confirmed everything. Charlie’s family was right; Charlie was dead and had been dead for awhile. The demon animating Charlie probably jumped from a hooker or another junkie.
I don’t blame the sinner, I save them despite themselves.
“Clean him up, Earl. I’ll be in the car.”
This piece was intended for Yeah Write’s Speakeasy but I didn’t get it finished in time to submit. The assignment? Begin the piece with “Don’t blame the sinner” and base it (loosely) off of the photo. Enjoy! Comment!