(First Installment) (Second Installment)
The man on the phone wanted me to walk away while Angel Dust Dan took another hit – or two or three – of cocaine. I didn’t know how much was too much, but the man on the phone had been clear I was to leave with Dan’s phone.
I crossed the railroad tracks and turned to the north as the phone man had asked. My eyes flit to either side of San Pablo, looking through the hordes of homeless people and ordinary pedestrians. The man on the phone had said to look for a blind person. Would I know when I found them? I had the feeling the man on the phone wouldn’t let me miss the target.
I shook my head. Even if Angel Dust Dan weren’t dead, he may as well be. The economy was garbage, the war would never end, and he’d just flushed his wallet by snorting coke that… did I do that to him? Was it my fault?
I shook my head. Dan’s fate had already been sealed. The man on the phone had made me a thousand dollars from nothing, so how bad could he be?
I went several blocks before I saw a guy with an injury on his forehead. He sat just outside a building, shaking a can aimlessly. He held a cane in his hand, white with a red section on the bottom. I hung back for a moment, watching to make sure this guy was blind, both hoping for and dreading the phone call.
Dan’s phone vibrated in my pocket, so I jumped in the brief moments before it rang. I shuffled in my pockets and put it to my ear. “What… what do I do?”
“Go up to the blind person. Offer him a job.”
I raised a brow. “I don’t even have a job. How about you get me some income instead?”
“You’re doing your job right now. Go up to the beggar and offer a job. Get on the bus down to the lighthouse and find the man working at the mill. Take his deal.” The man on the phone hung up, and I clicked the new touchscreen off.
The blind man shook his cup. I puffed my chest; if the beggar were blind, whatever the man on the phone was planning couldn’t be worse than his current situation, even if it killed him. Steeling myself, I walked up to him and grunted.
The man didn’t look up to me, not really, but his head turned at my approach. “Donations?” the blind man asked.
I bit my lip before I said, “I’ve got a lead on a job you could do. Want it?”
He raised a brow and pulled his cup tightly to his chest. “Nobody’s got jobs now. What’s the catch?”
I shrugged. “It’s down at the lighthouse.” I reached down and took his hand. “Come on. It’ll be perfect for you, and you won’t have to beg anymore.”
My tug met some resistance, but after a moment, he gave in. “I don’t have a bus ticket. I can’t get there with you.”
“I’ll buy it.” I managed to get the blind man to stand without much more effort, and he whipped the cane out in front of us to raster.
He took my elbow. “Now, what kind of work do you have? What kind of pay does it give?” His cane hit a bike rack, so he sidestepped a little. “I don’t want one of those jobs where they pay you 10 cents an hour.”
I chuckled. “Ten cents an hour is illegal.”
“Ever hear of the subminimum wage?”
I chuckled. Subminimum wage? Was this guy off his rocker? “I wouldn’t worry about that.” I urged him forward, finding that the bus had pulled up to the stop just in time. “My guy’s got a job you can do. Sure, I could find a guy who’s not blind and all, but why do that? The economy will pick up eventually, and that guy will be fine. You? You’re the better pick.”
The bus ride took a while since we had to cross the bay, but it passed uneventfully. Plenty of people couldn’t afford this nowadays. We went past Alcatraz, watched where they were surveying to build a new bridge, and continued on to the lighthouse.
We got out of the bus, me leading the blind man with my elbow. “You doing ok?” I asked.
“I hope this is as good as you say.” He knocked his cane about.
A woman with a clipboard and a briefcase came out from behind a building. She looked to her phone – a nice, new touchscreen – and came forward as if she knew who I was and what I was doing. She put away her phone and stood primly with an extended hand. “Ms. Thorpe.”
I shook the hand. “James Shanahan.” Not my name, but my insurance agent’s.
“I’m a recruiter for a shelter for the blind. We pay a wage to give our workers petty cash for their own needs and provide additional, in-kind payment in the form of home-cooked meals and housing.” She opened the briefcase. “For you, I offer a finders fee, part of the take from my own recruiting gigs. Companies don’t get better deals than what I offer.”
The blind man hit her calf with the end of his cane. “Petty cash? How much are we talking?”
I gulped and nodded. “Yeah… how much are we talking? I don’t want to just drop him off at something that won’t help him out.”
“That’s inconsequential. We can guarantee food, shelter, and safety. Can your beggar’s cup do that?” She yanked the can of change from the man’s hands and shook it. “No.” With a gruff shove, she looked to me instead. “You’re the guardian, right? Just sign these papers, take your cash, and we’ll finish the rest.”
The blind man yanked on my arm. “It’s one of those deals like the backpack place – it’s slavery! I’ll get 10 cents an hour if I’m lucky, and I’m not going to do that. You lied to me, mister! Get me back across the bay!”
Ms. Thorpe removed a pen from her clipboard and offered the paper to me. She pointed to a dotted line, and I took the ballpoint with my right hand. A false signature on the line, and she handed me the briefcase full of cash. “Thank you, Mr. Shanahan.”
I looked down at the briefcase. Was… no, this was right. He was going to be fed and housed. Better than what he’d have otherwise.
She reached to the man, took his cane, and broke it across her knee. “You don’t need that where we’re going.” After peeling his grasp off my arm, she led him away to a car, stuffed him in the backseat, and they were gone.
The phone rang. Reluctantly, I placed my hand in the lapel and pulled it out. It was the guy – I knew it had to be. I answered with a push of a button and put the speaker up to my ear. “What do you want?”
“Write down everything that’s happened and what I’m about to tell you. Take that money. Buy a ticket to Vegas. Put a bet on-”
“No,” I ordered. “Who are you? I just… I think I just sold a guy into slavery! What the hell are you? Are you… are you me from the future? Is that why I’m writing this crap down?”
A pause. “You’re going to buy a ticket to Vegas. Go to Caesar’s Palace, find a poker table. You’ll find-”
“Are you the devil?”
A chuckle. “You’ll find a poker table with a lady dealer. She’ll have big boobs, the kind you like, and brilliant blue eyes. Play $100 on five hands, then -”
“No,” I said, listening to the voice. “No… you’re… you’re making me destroy people’s lives.”
“You’ve already ruined plenty. The economy’s in the toilet, and it was the fault of people like you. What’s a few more lives down the to? Besides, I think I’ve proven my usefulness. Now… play $100 on five hands, then $1,000 on the sixth.” He laughed. “You’ll do what I say. You are the devil.”
And he hung up.
I pointed myself to the subway and made my way to the airport.
(First Installment) (Second Installment)