A clump of dried mud fell from Kyle’s boot as he put his leg on top of the chain-link fence and hoisted himself into the backyard. No one had seen him as far as he could tell, thank fucking God.
The clouds were coming in thick and fast. Ten years he’d spent under that bridge and he swore if he had to endure one more storm there it would kill him.
After weeks of searching he’d found one home with an unlocked basement. It belonged to an elderly woman with a grey perm he’d spotted driving a Lincoln Town Car with a handicap placard. He’d scoped her place for days and the lights in the basement never went on.
He held his breath as he tried the knob. It could have been a fluke the time he tried it. She could have come to her senses and turned the lock, even set a deadbolt. She could have had a son that came over and noticed it was unlocked. Thankfully, neither occurred.
The smell of mold and mothballs engrossed him like a blanket. Despite the remaining daylight penetrating the basement windows, he needed his flashlight to see his way around. The last thing he wanted was to knock something over and alert the woman to his presence.
She must have been married at one point. Either that or she was a real outdoors kind of lady. The place was filled with tents and fishing poles, a deflated raft, even a kayak.
There was a dark spot under the stairs perfect for his sleeping bag. If she came down, it was possible he could hide there, be real quiet, and she might not even notice him.
He drank Wild Turkey and thought about taking off the next morning with one of the tents. When he grew tired, he nestled his head against the cinder block wall and fell asleep with the sound of rain against the window soothing him.
Hours later he woke to a car door slamming. Someone pounded their way up the front steps and hammered the front door. Kyle went to the window. The sight of a cop car on the street made everything hurt.
“I come back to my fucking house to eat my goddam lunch,” a man said above him.
The woman was stuttering. “Well, I see, but, well, I can tell that you’re angry, but I don’t like the thought of my tax dollars going to waste.”
Footsteps came inside, above Kyle’s head. “How am I wasting tax dollars, you nosey old bitch?!”
Kyle rolled his sleeping bag and capped his whiskey. Grabbing a tent would make too much noise.
“You are sitting in that house instead of patrolling, I know it.”
Something crashed to the floor, a lamp maybe. “You know the trouble I have now because you don’t mind your business?!”
Kyle heard the punches and the screams.
“Please. I won’t call again.”
A minute of crazy and the car was gone. Kyle left the basement making as little sound as possible, hopped over the fence just like he had the day before. It would have done him a hell of a lot of good if he had been able to grab a tent, he thought, but no way was it worth the risk.
A month later and it was painful how cold it was under the bridge. Freezing rain reddened and numbed Kyle’s face. He’d start losing fingers if life stayed this way, but he couldn’t risk another night in some old person’s basement. His first try came too close; those sounds from above gave him nightmares still, that old lady taking a beating like that.
Most of the newspapers he rolled into his clothes and his sleeping bag for insulation he didn’t bother to look at, let alone read. It was by some odd twist of fate that his eyes happened upon a curious headline: “Eighty-Year-Old Woman Found Beaten to Death Inside Home.”
That night he kept his face from the wind as much as he could and experienced another nightmare.