The Losers | Chapter 6 of 15

Author: David Eddings | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 1539 Views | Add a Review

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It was snowing when they reached Spokane, a swirling snowfall of tiny crystalline flakes that glittered in the streetlights and muffled the upper floors of the buildings. The traffic on the white-covered streets was sparse, and dark, ill-defined automobiles loomed, bulky and ominous, out of the swirling white with headlights like smeared eyes.

The bus pulled under the broad roof that sheltered the loading gates at the terminal and stopped. “Spokane,” the driver announced, and opened the door of the bus.

The trip had been exhausting, and toward the end had become a kind of tedious nightmare under a darkening, lead-gray sky that had spat snow at them for the last hundred miles. Raphael waited until the bus emptied before attempting to rise. By the time he had struggled down the steps and reached the safety of the ground, most of the other passengers had already joined family or friends, reclaimed their luggage, and left.

The air was crisp, but not bitterly cold, and the Muzak inside the depot came faintly through the doors.

There was another sound as well. At first Raphael thought it might be a radio or a television set left playing too loudly. A man was giving an address of some kind. His words seemed to come in little spurts and snatches as the swirling wind and intermittent traffic first blurred and then disclosed what he said.

“If chance is defined as an outcome of random influence produced by no sequence of causes,” he was saying in an oratorical manner, “I am sure that there is no such thing as chance, and I consider that it is but an empty word.”

Then Raphael saw the speaker, a tall, skinny man wearing a shabby overcoat of some kind of military origin. He was bald and unshaven, and he stood on the sidewalk at the front of the bus station talking quite loudly to the empty street, ignoring the snow that piled up on his shoulders and melted on his head and face. “For what place can be left for anything to happen at random so long as God controls everything in order? It is a true saying that nothing can come out of nothing.” The speaker paused to allow his unseen audience to grasp that point.

“These your bags?” a young man in blue jeans and a heavy jacket who had been unloading suitcases from the bus asked, pointing at Raphael’s luggage sitting alone on a baggage cart.

“Right,” Raphael said. “What’s with the prophet of God there?” He pointed at the skinny man on the sidewalk.

“He’s crazy,” the young man replied quite calmly. “You see him all over town makin’ speeches like that.”

“Why don’t they pick him up?”

“He’s harmless. You want me to put your bags in the station for


“If you would, please. Is there a good hotel fairly close?” “You might try the Ridpath,” the young man suggested, picking up Raphael’s suitcases. “It’s not too far.” “Can I get a cab?”

“Right out front.” The young man shouldered his way into the station and held the door open as Raphael crutched along behind him.

“If anything arises from no causes, it will appear to have arisen out of nothing,” the man on the sidewalk continued. “But if this is impossible, then chance also cannot—”

The door swung shut behind Raphael, cutting off the sound of that loud voice. Somehow he wished that it had not. He wished that he might have followed the insane prophet’s reasoning to its conclusion. Chance, luck—good or bad—if you will, had been on Raphael’s mind a great deal of late, and he really wanted to hear a discussion of the subject from the other side of sanity. His thoughts, centering, as they had, on a long series of “what-if s,” were growing tedious.

A few people sat in the bus station, isolated from each other for the most part. Some of them slept, but most stared at the walls with vacant-eyed disinterest.

“I’ll set these over by the front door for you,” the young man with the suitcases said.


The Ridpath is one of the best hotels in Spokane, and Raphael stayed there for four days. On the first morning he was there he took a cab to a local bank with branches in all parts of the city and opened a checking account with the cashier’s check he had purchased in Portland. He kept a couple hundred dollars for incidentals and then returned to his hotel. He did not venture out after that, since the snowy streets would have been too hazardous. He spent a great deal of time at the window of his room, looking out at the city. While he was there he had all of his pants taken to a tailor to have the left legs removed. The flapping cloth bothered him, and the business of pinning the leg up each time he dressed was a nuisance. It was much better with the leg removed and a neat seam where it had been.

On his third day in Spokane it rained, cutting away the snow and filling the streets with dirty brown slush. It was when he checked his wallet before going to the dining room for supper that a rather cold realization came to him. It was expensive to be disabled. Since the disabled man could do very little for himself, he had to hire other people to do them for him. He skipped supper that night and sat instead with pad and pencil adding a few things up. The very first conclusion he reached was that although the Ridpath was very comfortable, staying there was eating up his funds at an alarming rate. A man of wealth might comfortably take up permanent residence at the Ridpath, but Raphael was far from being a millionaire. The several thousand dollars Uncle Harry had given him in Portland had seemed to be an enormous sum, but now he saw just how small it really was. “Time to pull in the old horns,” he said wryly. “I think we’d better make some other arrangements.”

He took the phone book and made a list of a half dozen or so nearby hotels and apartment houses. The next morning he put on his coat and went downstairs to the cabstand at the front of the hotel.

The first hotel on his list was the St. Clair. It was totally unsuitable. Then the cab took him up Riverside to the Pedicord, which was even worse. The Pedicord Hotel was very large, and it looked as if it might at one time have had some pretensions about it. It had long since decayed, however. The lobby was filled with stained and broken couches, and each couch was filled. The men were old for the most part, and they smoked and spat and stared vacant-eyed at a flickering television set. There were crutches and metal-frame walkers everywhere. Each time one of the old men rose to go to the bathroom, a querulous squabble broke out among those who stood along the walls over who would get the vacant seat. The smell was unbelievable.

Raphael fled.

“Just what are you lookin’ for, man?” the cabdriver asked when Raphael climbed, shaken, back into the cab again. “A place to live.”

“You sure as hell don’t wanna move in to that dump.”

“How can they live that way?” Raphael looked at the front of the Pedicord and shuddered.

“Winos,” the driver replied. “All they want is a place that’s cheap and gets ‘em in outta the cold.” He stopped and then turned and looked at Raphael. “Look. I could drive you all over this downtown area—run up a helluva fare—and you’re not gonna find anyplace you’d wanna keep a pig in—not if you thought anything

about the pig. You’re gonna have to get out a ways—outta this sewer. I’m not supposed to do this, but I think I know a place that might be more what you’re lookin’ for. How much do you wanna pay?”

Raphael had decided what he could afford the previous night. He rather hesitantly named the figure.

“That sounds pretty close to the place I got in mind. You wanna try it?”

“Anything. Just get me away from here.”

“Right.” The driver started his motor again. They drove on back down Riverside. It was raining again, a misty, winter kind of rain that blurred the outlines of things. The windshield wiper clicked, and the two-way radio in the front seat crackled and hissed.

“You lose the leg in ‘Nam?” the driver asked.

“No,” Raphael replied. “I had a misunderstanding with a train.” He was surprised to find that he could talk about it calmly.

“Ooog!” The driver shuddered. “That’s messy. You’re lucky you’re still around at all. I saw a wreck like that out in the valley once. Took ‘em two hours to pick the guy up. He was scattered half a mile down the tracks.”

“How far is this place?”

“Not much farther. Lemme handle it when we get there, okay? I know the guy. You want a place where you can cook?” “No. Not right away.”

“That’ll make it easier. There’s a pretty good little restaurant just down the street. You’ll wanna be on the main floor. The place don’t have an elevator.”

The cab pulled up in front of a brick building on a side street. The sign out front said, the barton, weekly-monthly rates. An elderly man in a well-pressed suit was coming out the front door.

“Sit tight,” the driver said, climbed out of the cab, and went inside.

About ten minutes later he came back. “Okay,” he said. “He’s got a room. It’s in the back, so there’s no view at all, unless you like lookin’ at alleys and garbage cans. He’s askin’ ‘bout thirty-five a

month more than what you wanted to pay, but the place is quiet, pretty clean, and like I said, there’s that restaurant just down the street where they ain’t gonna charge you no ten bucks for a hamburger. You wanna look at it?”

“All right,” Raphael said, and got out of the cab.

The room was not large, but it had a good bed and an armchair and a sturdy oak table with a few magazines on it. There was a sink and a mirror, and the bathroom was right next door. The walls were green—every rented room in the world is painted green—and the carpet was old but not too badly worn.

“Looks good,” Raphael decided. “I’ll take it.” He paid the landlord a month’s rent and then went back to the Ridpath to get his luggage and check out. When they returned to the Barton, the driver carried his bags into the room and set them down.

“I owe you,” Raphael said.

“Just what’s on the meter, man. I might need a hand myself someday, right?”

“All right. Thanks.”

“Anytime,” the driver said, and left. Raphael realized that he hadn’t even gotten his name.

The weather stayed wet for several weeks, and Raphael walked a little farther each day. Quillian had told him that it would be months before his arms and shoulders would develop sufficient strength to make any extensive walking possible, but Raphael made a special point of extending himself a little more every day, and he was soon able to cover a mile or so without exhausting himself too much.

By the end of the month he could, if he rested periodically, cover most of the downtown area. He considered sending for the rest of his things, but decided against it. The room was too small.

Spokane is not a particularly pretty city, expecially in the winter. Its setting is attractive—a kind of basin on the banks of the Spokane River, which plunges down a twisted basalt chute in the center of town. The violence of the falls is spectacular, and an effort Was made following the World’s Fair in 1974 to convert the fairgrounds into

a vast municipal park. The buildings of the downtown area, however, are for the most part very old and very shabby. Because the city is small, the worst elements lie side by side with the best.

Raphael became accustomed to the sight of drunken old men stumbling through the downtown streets and of sodden Indians, their eyes a poached yellow, swaying in bleary confusion on street corners. The taverns were crowded and noisy, and a sour reek exhaled from them each time their doors opened. In the evenings hard-faced girls in tight sweaters loitered on street corners, and loud cars filled with raucous adolescents toured an endless circuit of the downtown area, their windows open and the mindless noise of rock music blasting from them at full volume. There were fights in front of the taverns sometimes and unconscious winos curled up in doorways. There were adult bookstores on shabby streets and an X-rated movie house on Riverside.

And then it snowed again, and Raphael was confined, going out only to get his meals. He had three or four books with him, and he read them several times. Then he played endless games of solitaire with a greasy deck of cards he’d found in the drawer of the table. By the end of the week he was nearly ready to scream with boredom.

Finally the weather broke again, and he was able to go out. His very first stop was at a bookstore. He was determined that another sudden change in the weather was not going to catch him without something to read. Solitaire, he decided, was the pastime of the mentally deficient. He came out of the bookstore with his coat pockets and the front of his shirt stuffed with paperback books and crutched his way on down the street. The exercise was exhilarating, and he walked farther than he ever had before. Toward the end of the day he was nearly exhausted, and he went into a small, gloomy pawnshop, more to rest and to get in out of the chill rain than for any other reason. The place was filled with the usual pawnshop junk, and Raphael browsed without much interest.

It was the tiny, winking red lights that caught his eye first. “What’s that thing?” he asked the pawnbroker, pointing.

“Police scanner,” the unshaven man replied, looking up from

his newspaper. “It picks up all the police channels—fire department, ambulances, stuff like that.” “How does it work?”

“It scans—moves up and down the dial. Keeps hittin’ each one of the channels until somebody starts talkin’. Then it locks in on ‘em. When they stop, it starts to scan again. Here, I’ll turn it up.” The unshaven man reached over and turned up the volume.

“District One,” the scanner said, “juvenile fifty-four at the Crescent security office.”

“What’s a fifty-four?” Raphael asked.

“It’s a code,” the man behind the counter explained. “I got a sheet around here someplace.” He rummaged through a drawer and came up with a smudged and tattered mimeographed sheet. “Yeah, this is it. A fifty-four’s a shoplifter.” He handed Raphael the sheet.

“Three-Eighteen,” the scanner said. The row of little red lights stopped winking when someone spoke, and only the single light over the channel in use stayed on.

“This is Three-Eighteen,” another voice responded.

“We have a man down in the alley behind the Pedicord Hotel. Possible DOA. Complainant reports that he’s been there all day.”

“I’ll drift over that way.”

“DOA?” Raphael asked.

“Dead on arrival.”


The lights went on winking.

“This is Three-Eighteen,” the scanner said after a few minutes. “It’s Wilmerding. He’s in pretty bad shape. Better send the wagon—get him out to detox.”

Raphael listened for a half an hour to the pulse that had existed beneath the surface without his knowing it, and then he bought the scanner. Even though it was secondhand, it was expensive, but the fascination of the winking flow of lights and the laconic voices was too great. He had to have it.

He took a cab back to his hotel, hurried to his room, dumped his books on the bed, and plugged the scanner in. Then, not even

bothering to turn on the lights, he sat and listened to the city. “District Four.” “Four.”

“Report of a fifty at the Maxwell House Tavern. Refuses to leave.”

“Spokane Ambulance running code to Monroe and Francis. Possible heart.”

“Stand by for a fire. We have a house on fire at the corner of Boone and Chestnut. Time out eighteen-forty-seven.”

Raphael did not sleep that night. The scanner twinkled at him and spoke, bringing into his room all the misery and folly of the city. People had automobile accidents; they went to hospitals; they fought with each other; they held up gas stations and all-night grocery stores. Women were raped in secluded places, and purses were snatched. Men collapsed and died in the street, and other men were beaten and robbed.

The scanner became almost an addiction in the days that followed. Raphael found that he had to tear himself from the room in order to eat. He wolfed down his food in the small restaurant nearby and hurried back to the winking red lights and the secret world that seethed below the gloomy surface of the city.

Had it lasted much longer, that fascination might have so drugged him that he would no longer have had the will to break the pattern. Late one evening, however, a crippled old man was robbed in a downtown alley. When he attempted to resist, his assailants knifed him repeatedly and then fled. He died on the way to the hospital, and Raphael suddenly felt the cold constriction of fear in his stomach as he listened.

He had believed that his infirmity somehow exempted him from the senseless violence of the streets, that having endured and survived, he was beyond the reach of even the most vicious. He had assumed that his one-leggedness would be a kind of badge, a safe-conduct, as it were, that would permit him to pass safely where others might be open to attack. The sportsmanship that had so dominated his own youth had made it inconceivable to him that

there might be any significant danger to anyone as maimed as he. Now, however, he perceived that far from being a guarantee of relative safety, his condition was virtually an open invitation to the jackals who hid in alleys and avoided the light. He didn’t really carry that much cash on him, but he was not sure how much money would be considered “a lot.” The crippled old man in the alley had probably not been carrying more than a few dollars.

Raphael was unused to fear, and it made him sick and angry. In the days that followed he became wary. He had to go out; hunger alone drove him from the safety of his room. He took care, however, always to go in the daylight and at times when the streets were most crowded.

In time it became intolerable. He realized that even his room was not an absolute sanctuary. It was, after all, on the ground floor and in the back. The front door of the building was not that secure, and his window faced on an unlighted alley. The night was filled with noises—small sounds he had not heard before and that now seemed unspeakably menacing. He slept fitfully and dreamed of the feel of the knives going in. It was not pain that he feared, since for Raphael pain was no longer relevant. It was the indignity of being defenseless, of being forced to submit to violation simply because he would not be able to protect himself that he feared.

It could not go on. He could not continue to let this fear so dominate him that it became the overriding consideration of his life. And so he decided to move, to take himself out of the battle zone, to flee even as Christian had fled from the City of Dreadful Night. And ultimately it was for much the same reason—to save his soul.

There were apartments to be had; the want ads were full of them. He bought a city map and rode the busses, seeking a location, a neighborhood that could offer both convenience and greater security. The newer apartment houses were all too expensive. The insurance settlement and his disability income from Social Security and the policy his father had carried for him provided him with enough to live on if he was careful with his money, but there was not really enough for extravagance. He began to concentrate his

search on the north side, beyond the churning turbulence of the river, as if that barrier might somehow hold off the predators who roamed the downtown streets.

It was luck, really, when he found it. The apartment was not listed in the paper, but there was a discreet sign in a downstairs window. The bus he customarily rode had passed it a half-dozen times before he realized that the sign was there. He got off at the next stop and went back, his paces long and measured, and his crutches creaking with each stride.

The building had been a store at one time, wooden-framed, and with living quarters for the owner upstairs. There was a large screened porch across the front of the second floor and five mailboxes beside the bayed-in downstairs door that had at one time been the entrance to the business. The entire structure was somewhat bigger than a large house, and it sat on a corner facing two quiet streets with older houses and bare trees poking up stiffly at the gray winter sky. The roof was flat, and there was a small building up there, windowed on three sides.

“I saw your sign,” Raphael said to the T-shirted man who came in answer to his ring. “Do you suppose I could look at the apartment?”

The man scratched his chin doubtfully, looking at the crutches and the single leg. “I don’t know, buddy. It’s that place up on the roof. Those stairs might give you a problem.”

“One way to find out,” Raphael said to him.

“You working?” the man asked, and then went on quickly: “Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to be a shithead, but if you got behind in your rent, I’d look like a real son of a bitch if I tried to kick you out. I had a woman on welfare in here last year who stopped paying her rent. Took me six months to get her out. I had social workers all over me like a rug—called me every dirty name in the book.”

“I’ve got an income,” Raphael replied patiently. “Social Security and disability from an insurance policy. They bring in enough

to get me by. Could I look at it?” He had decided not to mention the railroad settlement to strängen.

The man shrugged. “I’ll get the key. The stairway’s around on the side.”

The stairway was covered, a kind of long, slanting hallway attached to the side of the house. There was a solid handrail, and Raphael went up easily.

“You get around pretty good,” the man in the T-shirt commented as he came up and unlocked the door at the top of the stairs.

“Practice.” Raphael shrugged.

“It’s not much of an apartment,” the man apologized, leading the way across the roof to a structure that looked much like a small, square cottage. “There sure as hell ain’t room in there for more than one guy.”

“That much less to take care of.”

It was small and musty, and the dust lay thick everywhere. There was a moderate-sized living-room/dining-room combination and a Pullman kitchen in the back with a sink, small stove, and tiny refrigerator. Beside the door sat a table with two chairs. A long sofa sat against the front wall, and an armchair angled back against one of the side walls. There were the usual end table and lamps, and solid-looking but somewhat rough bookcases under the windows.

“The bedroom and bath are through there,” the man in the T-shirt said, pointing at a door beside the kitchen.

Raphael crutched to the door and looked in. There was a three-quarter-size bed, a chair, and a freestanding wardrobe in the bedroom. The bathroom was small but fairly clean.

“Hotter’n a bitch up here in the summer,” the man warned him.

“Do all these windows open?” Raphael asked.

“You might have to take a screwdriver to some of them, but they’re all supposed to open. It’s got baseboard electric heat—you pay your own utilities.” He quoted a number that was actually twenty-five dollars a month less than what Raphael had been paying at the Barton. “You’ll roast your ass off up here in July, though.”

Raphael, however, was looking out the window at the top of the stairs. The slanting enclosure that protected the stairs had a solid-looking door at the top. “Is there a key to that door?” he asked.

“Sure.” The man seemed to have some second thoughts. “This won’t work for you,” he declared. “You got those stairs, and what the hell are you gonna do when it snows and you gotta wade your way to the top of the stairway?”

“I’ll manage,” Raphael said, looking around at the dusty furniture and the dirty curtains over the windows. “This is what I’ve been looking for. It’ll do just fine. I’ll write you a check.”


The landlord’s name was Ferguson, and Raphael made arrangements with him to have someone come in and clean the apartment and wash the dusty windows. He also asked Ferguson to get in touch with the phone company for him. Telephones are absolute necessities for the disabled. Back at his hotel he sat down and drew up a careful list of the things he would need—sheets, blankets, towels, dishes, silverware. He estimated the cost and checked the balance in his checkbook. There was enough to carry him through until the first of the month when his checks would begin to arrive from home. Then he went to the pay phone down the hall, called his uncle in Port Angeles to ask him to ship his things to his new address.

“You doing all right, Rafe?” Harry Taylor asked him.

“Fine,” Raphael replied, trying to sound convincing. “This downtown area’s a little grubby and depressing, but the new place is in a lot nicer neighborhood. How’s Mom?”

“About the same.”

“Look, Uncle Harry, I’ve got to run. I’ve got a lot of things to take care of before I move. You know how that goes.”

“Lord yes.” Harry Taylor laughed. “I’d rather take a beating than move. Take care of yourself, Rafe.” “You too, Uncle Harry.”

The last few nights in the hotel were not so bad. At least he was getting away. The scanner did not seem as menacing now. There was a kind of excitement about it all, and he felt a sense of genuine anticipation for the first time in months.

He moved on a Friday and stopped only briefly at the apartment to have the cabdriver carry up his bags and turn on the heat. Then he had the cab take him to the shopping center at Shadle Park, where there were a number of stores, a branch of his bank, and a supermarket.

The shopping was tiring, but he went at it methodically, leaving packages with his name on them at each store. His last stop was at the supermarket, where he bought such food as he thought he would need to last him out the month. The prices shocked him a bit, but he reasoned that in the long run it would be cheaper than eating in restaurants.

At last, when the afternoon was graying over into evening, he called another cab and waited impatiently in the backseat as the driver picked up each of his purchases.

After the patient cabdriver had carried up the last of the packages and come back down, Raphael climbed to the top of the stairs, stepped out onto the roof, and locked the door behind him with an immense feeling of relief.

“There, you little bastards,” he said softly to the city in general, “try to get me now.” And then, because the night air was chilly, he hurried inside to the warm brightness that was home. He locked the apartment door and closed all the drapes.

He put a few things away and made the bed. He fixed himself some supper and was pleased to discover that he wasn’t that bad a cook, although working in the tiny kitchen was awkward with the crutches. After dinner he unpacked his suitcases and hung his clothes carefully in the wardrobe. It was important to get that done right away. It was all right to live out of a suitcase in a hotel, but this was his home now. Then he bathed and sat finally at his ease in his small living room, secure and warm and very pleased with himself, listening to the scanner murmuring endlessly about the terrón from which he was now safe.

For the first few days there was an enormous satisfaction with being truly independent for the first time in his life. At home and at college there had always been someone else in charge, someone to prepare his meals and to look after him. The hospital, and to a lesser degree the hotels where he had stayed, had been staffed. Now he was alone for the first time and able to make his own decisions and to care for himself.

He puttered a great deal, setting things first here, then there, arranging and rearranging his cupboards and his refrigerator. When his belongings finally arrived from Port Angeles, he dived into them with enthusiasm. He hung up the rest of his clothes and spent hours meticulously sorting and placing his books and the cassettes for his small but quite good tape player in the low bookcases. He rather lovingly ran his fingers over his cassettes—the usual Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms and the later Romantics, as well as a few twentieth-century compositions. He worked to music after that. He kept very busy, and the days seemed hardly long enough for everything he wanted to accomplish. The apartment was small enough so that he could move around quite easily in it, and he felt very comfortable knowing that the door at the top of the stairs was locked and that he had the only key.

And then, after a week, it was done. Everything was arranged to his satisfaction, and he was quite content.

He stood in the center of the room and looked around. “Okay, baby,” he said quietly to himself, “what now?” His independence was all very fine, but he finally realized that he didn’t have the faintest idea what he was going to do with it. His life suddenly loomed ahead of him in arid and unending emptiness.

To be doing something—anything—he crutched outside ontothe roof, although the air was biting and the leaden skies were threatening. It was only midafternoon, but the day seemed already to be fading into a gloom that matched his mood.

A light in the upstairs of the house next door caught his eye, and he glanced at the window. The man in the room was talking animatedly, gesturing with his hands. Several cats sat about the room watching him. He did not appear to be talking to the cats. Something about the man’s face seemed strange. Curious, Raphael watched him.

The man turned toward the window, and Raphael looked away quickly, not wanting to be caught watching. He feigned interest in something down over the railing that encircled the roof. The man in the lighted window turned back to the room and continued to talk. Raphael watched him.

After several minutes the iron-cold air began to make him shiver and he went back inside. When he had been about nine, he had developed an interest in birds, and his mother had bought him a pair of binoculars. The interest had waned after a summer, and the seldom-used binoculars had become merely an adjunct, a possession to be moved from place to place. He went into the bedroom and took them down from the top shelf of the wardrobe. He turned out the lights so that he would not be obvious, sat by the window, and focused the glasses on the face of the man next door.

It was a curious face. The mouth was a ruin of missing teeth, and the nose and chin jutted forward as if protecting that puckered vacancy. The eyes were wary, fearful, and moved constantly. It was the hair, however, that began to provide some clue. The man was not bald, at least not entirely. Rather his head was shaved, but not neatly. There were razor nicks here and there among the short bristles. Two unevenly placed patches of sparse, pale whiskers covered his cheeks. They were not sideburns or any recognizable beard style, but were simply unshaven places.

The strange man suddenly froze, his eyes cast upward, listening. He nodded several times and tried once to speak, but the voice that only he could hear seemed to override him. He nodded again, reached up with both hands, and ran searching fingers over his scalp and face.

“Crazy,” Raphael said with almost startled realization. “This whole goddamn town is filled with crazies.”

The man in the house next door got out a shaving mug and brush and began stirring up a lather, his face intent. Then he started to slap the lather on his head and face, stopping now and then to listen raptly to instructions or urgings from that private voice. Then he picked up a razor and began to scrape at his head and face. He did not use a mirror, nor did he rinse his razor. He simply shook the scraped-off lather and stubble onto the floor and walls. The cats avoided those flying white globs with expressions of distaste. Lather ran down the man’s neck to soak his shirt collar, but he ignored that and kept on scraping. Little rivulets of blood ran from cuts on his scalp and face, but he smiled beatifically and continued.

Raphael watched until his eyes began to burn from the strain of the binoculars. The name “Crazy Charlie” leaped unbidden into his mind, and he watched each new antic with delight. He sat in the dark with the scanner twinkling at him and watched the strange, involved rituals by which Crazy Charlie ordered his life.

Later that night when Charlie had gone to his bed, leaving the lights on, Raphael sat in the dark on his couch listening to the scanner and musing, trying to probe out the reason for each of those ritual acts he had just witnessed. The despair that had fallen over him that afternoon had vanished, and he felt good—even buoyant—though he could not have explained exactly why.


And then there were two weeks of snow again, and Raphael was housebound once more. He listened to the scanner, played his music, and read. As Quillian had told him he would, he had reached a certain competence with his crutches and then had leveled off. He could get around, but he was still awkward. Fixing a meal was a major effort, and cleaning his tiny apartment was a two-day project.

“That’s when you need to get your ass back to a therapist,” Quillian had said. “If you don’t, you’ll stay right at that point. You’ll be a cripple all your life, instead of a guy who happens to have only one leg.”

“There’s a difference?” Raphael had asked.

“You bet your sweet ass there is, Taylor.”

He considered it now. He could put it into the future since there was no way he could go out and wade around in knee-deep snow. It seemed that it would be a great deal of trouble, and he got around well enough to get by. But in his mind he could hear Quillian’s contemptuous verdict, “Cripple,” and he set his jaw. He was damned if he’d accept that. He decided that he would look up a therapist and start work again—as soon as the snow was gone.

Most of the time he sat and watched Crazy Charlie next door. He had no desire to know the man’s real name or background. His imagination had provided, along with the nickname, a background, a personal history, far richer than mundane reality could ever have been. Crazy Charlie had obviously once been a somebody—nobody could have gotten that crazy without a certain amount of inspiration. Raphael tried to imagine the kind of pressures that might drive a man to take refuge in the demon-haunted jungles of insanity, and he continued to struggle with the problem of the rituals. There was a haunting kind of justification for each of them, the shaving of the head and face, the avoidance of a certain spot on the floor, the peculiar eating habits, and all the rest. Raphael felt that if he could just make his mind passive enough and merely watch as Charlie expended his days in those ritual acts, sooner or later it would all click together and he would be able to see the logic that linked them all together and, behind that logic, the single thing that had driven poor Charlie mad.

It was enough during those snowy days to sit where it was warm and secure, to listen to music and the scanner with an open book in front of him on the table, and to watch Crazy Charlie. It kept his mind occupied enough to prevent a sudden upsurge of memories. It was very important not to have memories, but simply to live in endless now. Memories were the little knives that could cut him to pieces and the little axes that could chop his orderly existence into rubble and engulf him in a howling, grieving, despairing madness that would make the antics of Crazy Charlie appear to be profound-est sanity by comparison.

In time the snow disappeared. It did not, as it all too frequently does, linger in sodden, stubborn, dirty-white patches in yards and on sidewalks, but rather was cut away in a single night by a warm, wet chinook wind.

There were physical therapists listed in Raphael’s phone book, but most of them accepted patients by medical referral only, so he called and made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon.

It was raw and windy on the day of his appointment, and Raphael turned up the collar of his coat as he waited for the bus. A burly old man strode past, his face grimly determined. He walked very fast, as if he had an important engagement somewhere. Raphael wondered what could be of such significance to a man of that age.

The receptionist at the doctor’s office was a motherly sort of lady, and she asked the usual questions, took the name of Raphael’s insurance company, and finally raised a point Raphael had not considered. “You’re a resident of this state, aren’t you, Mr. Taylor?” she asked him. She had beautiful silver-white hair and a down-to-earth sort of face.

“I think so,” Raphael replied. “I was bom in Port Angeles. I was going to college in Oregon when the accident happened, though.”

“I’m sure that doesn’t change your residency. Most people who come to see the doctor are on one of the social programs. As a matter of fact I think there are all kinds of programs you’re eligible for. I know a few of the people at various agencies. Would you like to have me call around for you?”

“I hadn’t even thought about that,” he admitted.

“You’re a taxpayer, Mr. Taylor. You’re entitled.”

He laughed. “The state didn’t make all that much in taxes from me.”

“It did from your parents, though. I’ll call around and see what I can find out. I can give you a call later, if you’d like.”

“I’d appreciate that. Thank you.” He signed the forms she handed him and sat down to wait for the doctor. It was good to get out. He had not realized how circumscribed his life had been for the past several weeks.

The doctor examined him and made the usual encouraging remarks about how well he was coming along. Then he made arrangements to enroll him in a program of physical therapy.

Because he still felt good, and because it was still early when he came out of the doctor’s office, Raphael rode buses for the rest of the day, looking at the city. Toward late afternoon, miles from where he had first seen him, he saw the burly old man again. The old man’s face still had that grimly determined expression, and his pace had not slowed.

In the days that followed, because the scanner and the books and Crazy Charlie were no longer quite enough, Raphael rode buses. For the most part it was simply to be riding—to be doing something, going somewhere. For that reason rather than out of any sense of real need, he called the helpful receptionist.

“I was meaning to get in touch with you, Mr. Taylor,” she said. “The people at social services are very interested in you.”


“You’re eligible for all sorts of things, did you know that? Food stamps, vocational guidance—they’ll even pay for your schooling to train you in a new trade.”

“I was a student,” he told her dryly. “Are they going to make a teacher out of me instead?”

“It’s possible—if you want to get a degree in education.” Her voice took on a slightly confidential note. “Do you want to know the real reason they’re so interested in you?” she asked.

“Why’s that?”

“Your particular case is complicated enough to provide fulltime work for three social workers. I don’t really care for those people. Wouldn’t it make more sense to just give the money to the people who need it rather than have some girl who’s making thousands and thousands of dollars a year dole it out to them in nickels and dimes?”

“A lot more sense, but the girl can’t type, so she can’t get an honest job.”

“I don’t quite follow that,” she admitted.

“A friend of mine once described a social worker as a girl who can’t type.”

She laughed. “Would you like to have me give you a few names and phone numbers?”

“I think we might as well drop it,” he decided. “It’s a little awkward for me to get around.”

“Raphael,” she said quite firmly, asserting her most motherly authority, “we don’t go to them. They come to us.”


“You probably didn’t notice because I was sitting down when you came in. I’m profoundly arthritic. I’ve got so many bone spurs that my X rays look like pictures of a cactus. You just call these people, and they’ll fall all over themselves to come to your house—at your convenience.”

“They make house calls?” He laughed.

“They almost have to, Raphael. They can’t type, remember?”

“I think I’m in love with you,” he joked.

“We might want to talk about that sometime.”

Raphael made some calls, being careful not to commit himself. He remembered Shimpsie and wondered if she had somehow put out the social-worker equivalent of an all-points bulletin on him. He was fairly sure that escaping from a social worker was not an extraditable offense, however.

He was certain that the various social agencies could have saved a great deal of time and expense had they sent one caseworker with plenipotentiary powers to deal with one Taylor, Raphael—cripple. He even suggested it a couple of times, but they ignored him. Each agency, it appeared, wanted to hook him and reel him in all on its own.

He began to have a great deal of fun. Social workers are always very careful to conceal the fact, but as a group they have a very low opinion of the intelligence of those whom they call “clients,” and no one in this world is easier to deceive and mislead than someone who thinks that he, or in this case, she, is smarter than you are.

They were all young—social workers who get sent out of the office to make initial contacts are usually fairly far down on the seniority scale. They did not, however, appear to have all attended the same school, and each of them appeared to reflect the orientation of her teachers. A couple of them were very keen on “support groups,” gatherings of people with similar problems. One very earnest young lady who insisted that he call her Norma even went so far as to pick him up one evening in her own car and take him to a meeting of recent amputees. The amputees spent most of the evening telling horror stories about greater or lesser degrees of addiction to prescription drugs. Raphael felt a chill, remembering Quillian’s warning about Dr. Feelgood.

“Well?” Norma said, after the meeting was over and she was driving him home.

“I don’t know. Norma,” Raphael said with a feigned dubiousness. “I just couldn’t seem to relate to those people.” (He was already picking up the jargon.) “I don’t seem to have that much in common with a guy who got drunk and whacked off his own arm with a chain saw. Now, if you could find a dozen or so one-legged eunuchs—”

Norma refused to speak to him the rest of the way home, and he never saw her again.

Once, just to see how far he could push it, he collected a number of empty wine bottles from the garbage can of two old drunks who lived across the street. He scattered the bottles around on the floor of his apartment for the edification of a new caseworker. That particular ploy earned him a week of closely supervised trips to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

It stopped being fun at that point. He remembered the club Shimpsie had held over his head at the hospital, and realized just how much danger his innocent-seeming pastime placed him in. Because they had nearly total power over something the client wanted or needed, the caseworkers had equally total power over the client’s life. They could—and usually did—use that power to twist and mold and hammer the client into a slot that fit their theories—no matter how half-baked or unrealistic. The client who wanted—needed—the thing the social worker controlled usually went along, in effect becoming a trained ape who could use the jargon to manipulate the caseworker even as she manipulated him. It was all a game, and Raphael decided that he didn’t want to play. He didn’t really need their benefits, and that effectively placed him beyond their power. He made himself unavailable to them after that.

One, however, was persistent. She was young enough to refuse to accept defeat. She could not be philosophical enough to conclude that some few clients would inevitably escape her. She lurked at odd times on the street where Raphael lived and accosted him when he came home. Her name was Frankie—probably short for Frances—and she was a cute little button. She was short, petite, and her dark hair was becomingly bobbed. She had large, dark eyes and a soft, vulnerable mouth that quivered slightly when someone went counter to her wishes.

“We can’t go on meeting this way, Frankie,” Raphael said to her one afternoon when he was returning from physical therapy. “The neighbors are beginning to talk.”

“Why are you picking on me, Raphael?” she asked, her lip trembling.

“I’m not picking on you, Frankie. Actually, I rather like you. It’s your profession I despise.”

“We’re only trying to help.”

“I don’t need help. Isn’t independence one of the big goals? Okay, I’ve got it. You’ve succeeded. Would you like to have me paste a gold star on your fanny?”

“Stop that. I’m your caseworker, not some brainless girl you picked up in a bar.”

“I don’t need a caseworker, Frankie.”

“Everybody needs a caseworker.”

“Have you got one?”

“But I’m not—” She faltered at that point.

“Neither am I.” He had maneuvered her around until her back was against the wall and had unobtrusively shifted his crutches so that they had her blocked more or less in place. It was outrageous and grossly chauvinistic, but Frankie really had it coming. He bent forward slightly and kissed her on top of the head.

Her face flamed, and she fled.

“Always nice talking to you, Frankie,” he called after her. “Write if you get honest work.”

His therapy consisted largely of physical exercises designed to improve his balance and agility, and swimming to improve his muscle tone. The sessions were tiring, but he persisted. They were conducted in an office building on the near north side of Spokane, and he did his swimming at the YMCA. Both buildings had heavy doors that opened outward and swung shut when they were released. Usually someone was either going in or coming out, and the door would be held open for him. Sometimes, however, he was forced to try to deal with them himself. He learned to swing the door open while shuffling awkwardly backward and then to stop the seemingly malicious closing with the tip of his crutch. Then he would hop through the doorway and try to wrench the crutch free.

Once the crutch was so tightly wedged that he could not free it, and, overbalanced, he fell.

He did not go out again for several days.

He called the grim-faced old man “Willie the Walker,” and he saw him in all parts of the city. The walking seemed to be an obsession with Willie. It was what he did to fill his days. He moved very fast and seldom spoke to anyone. Raphael rather liked him.

Then, one day in late March, the letter from Marilyn came. It had been forwarded to him by his uncle Harry. It was quite short, as such letters usually are.

Dear Raphael,

There isn’t any easy way to say this, and I’m sorry for that. After your accident I tried to visit you several rimes, but you wouldn’t see me. I wanted to tell you that what had happened to you didn’t make any difference to me, but you wouldn’t even give me the chance. Then you left town, and I hadn’t even had the chance to talk to you at all.

The only thing I could think was that I wasn’t very important to you anymore—maybe I never really was. I’m not very smart about such things, and maybe all you really wanted from me was what happened those few times. No matter what, though, it can’t go on this way anymore. I can’t tie myself to the hope that someday you’ll come back.

What it all gets down to, dear Raphael, is that I’ve met someone else. He’s not really very much like you—but then, who could be? He’s just a nice, ordinary person, and I think I love him. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me and wish me happiness—as I do you.

I’ll always remember you—and love you—but I just can’t go on hoping anymore.

Please don’t forget me, Marilyn

When he finished the letter, he sat waiting for the pain to begin, for the memories with their little knives to begin on him; but they did not. It was past now. Not even this had any power to hurt him.

His apartment, however, was intolerable suddenly, and although it was raining hard outside, he pulled on his coat and prepared to go down to the bus stop.

For only a moment, just before he went out, there was a racking sense of unspeakable loss, but it passed quickly as he stepped out onto the rain-swept rooftop.

Willie the Walker, grimly determined, strode past the bus stop, the beaded rain glistening on his coat and dripping from the brim of his hat. Raphael smiled as he went by.

Across the street there was another walker, a tall, thin-faced young Indian moving slowly but with no less purpose. The Indian’s gait was measured, almost fluidly graceful, and in perhaps a vague gesture toward ethnic pride, he wore moccasins, silent on the pavement. His dark face was somber, even savagely melancholy. His long black hair gleamed wetly in the rain, and he wore a black patch over his left eye.

Raphael watched him pass. The Indian moved on down to the end of the block, turned the corner, and was gone. It kept on raining.


By mid-April, the weather had broken. It was still chilly at night and occasionally there was frost; but the afternoons were warm, and the winter-browned grass began to show patches of green. There was a tree in the yard of the house where Crazy Charlie lived, and Raphael watched the leaf buds swell and then, like tight little green fists, slowly uncurl.

He began walking again—largely at the insistence of his therapist. His shirts were growing tight across the chest and shoulders as the muscles developed from the exercises at his therapy sessions and the continuing effort of walking. His stamina improved along with his strength and agility, and he soon found that he was able to walk what before would have seemed incredible distances. While he was out he would often see Willie the Walker and less frequently the patch-eyed Indian. He might have welcomed conversation with either of them, but Willie walked too fast, and Patch, the Indian, was too elusive.

On a sunny afternoon when the air was cool and the trees had almost all leafed out, he was returning home and passed the cluttered yard of a house just up the block from his apartment building. A stout, florid-faced man wheeled up on a bicycle and into the yard.

“Hey,” he called to someone in the house, “come and get this stuff.”

A worn-looking woman came out of the house and stood looking at him without much interest.

“I got some pretty good stuff,” the stout man said with a bubbling enthusiasm. “Buncha cheese at half price—it’s only a little moldy—and all these dented cans of soup at ten cents each. Here.” He handed the woman the bag from the carrier on the bicycle. “I gotta hurry,” he said. “They put out the markdown stuff at the Safeway today, an’ I wanna get there first before it’s all picked over.” He turned the bicycle around and rode off. The woman looked after him, her expression unchanged.

Raphael moved on. His own supply of food was low, he knew that, and there was a Safeway store only a few blocks away. He crutched along in the direction the man on the bicycle had gone.

The store was not very large, but it was handy, and the people seemed friendly. The stout man’s bicycle was parked out front when Raphael got there.

It was not particularly busy inside as Raphael had feared that it might be, and so he got a shopping cart and, nudging it along the aisles ahead of him with his crutches, he began picking up the items he knew he needed.

Back near the bread department the stout man was pawing through a large basket filled with dented cans and taped-up boxes of cereal. His florid face was intent, and his eyes brightened each time he picked up something that seemed particularly good to him. A couple of old ladies were shamefacedly loitering nearby, waiting for him to finish so that they might have their turns.

Raphael finished his shopping and got into line behind the stout man with his cartful of damaged merchandise. The man paid for his purchases with food stamps and triumphantly carried them out to his bicycle.

“Does he come in often?” Raphael asked the clerk at the cash register.

“Bennie the Bicycler?” the clerk said with an amused look. “All the rime. He makes the rounds of every store in this part of town every day. If he’d spend half as much time looking for work as he does looking for bargains, his family could have gotten off welfare years ago.” The clerk was a tall man in his midthirties with a constantly amused expression on his face.

“Why do you call him that?” Raphael asked, almost startled by the similarity to the little name tags he himself used to describe the people on his block.

The clerk shrugged. “It’s a personal quirk,” he said, starting to ring up Raphael’s groceries. “There’s a bunch of regulars who come in here. I don’t know their names, so I just call them whatever pops into my mind.” He looked around, noting that no one else was in line or standing nearby. “This place is a zoo,” he said to Raphael in a confidential tone. “All the weirdos come creeping out of Welfare City over there.” He gestured vaguely off in the direction of the large area of run-down housing that lay to the west of the store. “We get ‘em all—all the screwballs in town. I’ve been trying to get a transfer out of this rat trap for two years.”

“I imagine it gets depressing after a while.”

“That just begins to describe it,” the clerk replied, rolling his eyes comically. “Need anything else?”

“No,” Raphael replied, paying for his groceries. “Is there someplace where I can call a cab?”

“I’ll have the girl do it for you.” The clerk turned and called down to the express lane. “Joanie, you want to call a cab?”

“Thanks,” Raphael said.

“No biggie. It’ll be here in a couple of minutes. Have a good one, okay?”

Raphael nudged his cart over near the door and waited. It felt good to be able to talk with people again. When he had first come out of the hospital, his entire attention had been riveted upon the missing leg, and he had naturally assumed that everyone who saw him was concentrating on the same thing. He began to realize now that after the initial reaction, people were not really that obsessed by it. The clerk had taken no particular notice of it, and the two of them had talked like normal people.

A cab pulled up, and the driver got out, wincing in obvious pain. He limped around the cab as Raphael pushed his cart out of the store. The driver’s left foot was in a slipper, and there was an elastic bandage around his grotesquely swollen ankle.

“Oh, man,” the driver said, looking at Raphael in obvious dismay. “I told that half-wit at dispatch that I couldn’t handle any grocery-store calls today.”

“What’s the problem?”

“I sprained my damn ankle. I can drive okay, but there’s no way I could carry your stuff in for you when we get you home. Lemme get on the radio and have ‘em send another cab.” He hobbled back around the cab again and picked up his microphone. After a couple minutes he came back. “What a sere wed-up outfit. Everybody else is tied up. Be at least three quarters of an hour before anybody else could get here. You got stairs to climb?”

“Third floor.”

“Figures. Would you believe I did this on a goddamn skateboard? Would you believe that shit? My kid was showin’ me how to ride the damn thing.” He shook his head and then looked across the parking lot at a group of children passing on the sidewalk. “Tell you what. School just let out. I’ll knock a buck off the fare, and we’ll give the buck to a kid to haul your stuff up for you.”

“I could wait,” Raphael offered, starting to feel ashamed of his helplessness.

“Naw, you don’t wanna stand around for three quarters of an hour. Let’s go see if we can find a kid.”

They put Raphael’s two bags of groceries in the cab and then both got in.

“You know,” the driver said, wheeling out of the lot, “if I’d been smart, I’d have called in sick this morning, but I can’t afford to lose the rime. I wish to hell the bastard who invented skateboards had one shoved up his ass.”

Raphael laughed. He still felt good.

They pulled up in front of the apartment house, and the driver looked around. “There’s one,” he said, looking in the rearview mirror.

The boy was about fourteen, and he wore a ragged denim vest gaudy with embroidery and metal studs. He had long, greasy hair and a smart-sullen sneer on his face. They waited until he had swaggered along the sidewalk to where the cab sat.

“Hey, kid,” the driver called to him.

“What?” the boy asked insolently.

“You wanna make a buck?”

“Doin’ what?”

“Haul a couple sacks of groceries upstairs.” “Maybe I’m busy.”

“Sure you are. Skip it then. There’s another kid just up the street.”

The boy looked quickly over his shoulder and saw another boy on a bicycle. “Okay. Gimme the dollar.” “After the groceries are upstairs.” The boy glowered at him.

Raphael paid the driver and got out of the cab. The boy got the groceries. “These are heavy, man,” he complained.

“It’s just up those stairs.” Raphael pointed.

The cab drove off, and the boy looked at Raphael, his eyes narrowing.

“I’ll go up first,” Raphael told him. “I’ll have to unlock the door at the top.”

“Let’s go, man. I ain’t got all day.”

Raphael went to the stairs and started up. Halfway to the top, he realized that the boy was not behind him. He turned and went back down as quickly as he could.

The boy was already across the street, walking fast, with the two bags of groceries hugged in his arms. “Hey!” Raphael shouted at him.

The boy looked back and cackled a high-pitched laugh.

“Come back here!” Raphael shouted, suddenly consumed with an overwhelming fury as he realized how completely helpless he was.

The boy laughed again and kept on going.

“You dirty little son of a bitch!” a harsh voice rasped from the porch of the house directly across the street from Raphael’s apartment. A small, wizened man stumbled down the steps from the porch and staggered out to the sidewalk. “You come back here or I’ll kick the shit outta ya!”

The boy began to run.

“Goddamn little bastard!” the small man roared in a huge voice. He started to run after the boy, but after a couple dozen steps he staggered again and fell down. Raphael stood grinding his teeth in frustrated anger as he watched the boy disappear around the corner.

The small man lay helplessly on the sidewalk, bellowing drunken obscenities in his huge rasping voice.


After several minutes the wizened little man regained his feet and staggered over to where Raphael stood. “I’m sorry, old buddy,” he said in his foghorn voice. “I’da caught the little bastard for ya, but I’m just too goddamn drunk.”

“It’s all right,” Raphael said, still trying to control the helpless fury he felt.

“I seen the little sumbitch around here before,” the small man said, weaving back and forth. “He’s always creepin’ up an’ down the alleys, lookin’ to steal stuff. I’ll lay fer ‘im—catch ‘im one day an’ stomp the piss outta the little shit.” The small man’s face was brown and wrinkled, and there was dirt ingrained in the wrinkles. He had a large, purplish wen on one cheek and a sparse, straggly mustache, pale red—although his short-cropped hair was brown. His eyes had long since gone beyond bloodshot, and his entire body exuded an almost overpoweringly acrid reek of stale wine. His clothes were filthy, and his fly was unzipped. In many ways he resembled a very dirty, very drunk banty rooster.

“Them was your groceries, wasn’t they?” the small man demanded.

Raphael drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. He realized that he was trembling, and that angered him even more. “It doesn’t matter,” he said, even though it did.

“Was that the last of your money?”


“I got a idea. I’ll go get my truck, an’ we’ll go look fer that little bastard.”

Raphael shook his head. “I think it’s too late. We’d never catch him now.”

The little man swore.

“I’ll have to go back to the store, I guess.” “I’ll take you in my truck, an’ men Sam’ll take your groceries upstairs for ya.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“I know I don’t hafta.” The little man’s voice was almost pugnacious. “I wanna do it. You come along with me.” He grabbed at Raphael’s arm, almost jerking him off balance. “We’re neighbors, goddammit, an’ neighbors oughta help each other out.”

At that moment Raphael would have preferred to have been alone. He felt soiled—even ashamed—as a result of the theft, but there was no withstanding the drunken little man’s belligerent hospitality. Almost helplessly he allowed himself to be drawn into the ramshackle house across the street.

“My name’s Tobe Benson,” the small man said as they went up on the creaking porch.

“Rafe Taylor.”

They went inside and were met by a furnace blast of heat. The inside of the house was unbelievably filthy. Battered furniture sat in the small, linoleum-floored living room, and the stale wine reek was overwhelming. They went on through to the dining room, which seemed to be the central living area of the house. An old iron heating stove shimmered off heat that seemed nearly solid. The floor was sticky with spilled wine and food, and a yellow dog lay under the table, gnawing on a raw bone. Other bones lay in the corners of the room, the meat clinging to them black with age.

A large gray-haired man sat at the table with a bottle of wine in front of him. He wore dirty bib overalls and a stupefied expression. He looked up, smiling vaguely through his smudged glasses.

“That there’s Sam,” Tobe said in his foghorn voice. “Sam, this here’s Rafe. Lives across the street. Some little punk bastard just stole all his groceries. It’s a goddamn shame when a poor crippled fella like Rafe here ain’t safe from all the goddamn little thieves in this town.”

The man in the overalls smiled stupidly at Raphael, his eyes unfocused. “Hi, buddy,” he said, his voice tiny and squeaking.

“Sit down, Rafe,” Tobe said, and lurched across to a rumpled bed that sat against the wall opposite the table. He collapsed on the bed, picked up the wine bottle sitting on the floor near it, and took a long pull at it. “You want a drink?” he asked, offering the bottle.

“No. Thanks all the same.” Raphael was trying to think of a way to leave without aggravating the little man.

“Hi, buddy,” Sam said again, still smiling.

“Hi, Sam,” Raphael replied.

Tobe fished around in a water glass he used as an ashtray and found a partially burned cigarette. He straightened it out between his knobby fingers and lit it. Then he looked around the room. “Ain’t much of a place,” he half apologized, “but we’re just a couple ol’ bachelors, an’ we live the way we want.” He slapped the bed he half lay on. “We put this here for when we get too drunk to make it up the stairs to go to bed.”

Raphael nodded.

“Hi, buddy,” Sam said.

“Don’t pay no mind t’ ?f Sam there,” Tobe said. “He’s been on a toot fer three weeks. I’m gonna have t’ sober ‘im up pretty quick. He’s been sittin’ right there fer four days now.”

Sam smiled owlishly at Raphael. “I’m drunk, buddy,” he said.

“He can see that, Sam,” Tobe snorted. “Anybody can see that you’re drunk.” He turned back to Raphael. “We do okay. We both got our pensions, an’ we ain’t got no bills.” He took another drink from his bottle. “Soon’s it gets dark, I’ll get my truck, an’ we’ll go on back over to the Safeway so’s you can buy more groceries. They took my license away from me eight years ago, so I gotta be kinda careful when I drive.”

They sat in the stinking room for an hour or more while Tobe talked on endlessly in his raucous voice. Raphael was able to piece together a few facts about them. They were both retired from the military and had worked for the railroad when they’d gotten out. At one time, perhaps, they had been men like other men, with dreams and ambitions—meaningful men—but now they were old and drunk and very dirty. Their days slid by in an endless stream, blurred by cheap wine. The ambition had long since burned out, and they slid at night not into sleep but into that unconsciousness in which there are no dreams. When they spoke, it was of the past rather than of the future, but they had each other. They were not alone, so it was all right.

After it grew dark, Tobe went out to the garage in back and got out his battered truck. Then he erratically drove Raphael to the supermarket. Raphael did his shopping again, and Tobe bought more wine. Then the little man drove slowly back to their street and, with wobbly steps, carried Raphael’s groceries up the stairs.

Raphael thanked him.

“Aw, don’t think nothin’ about it,” Tobe said. “A man ain’t no damn good at all if he don’t help his neighbors. Anytime you wanna use my truck, ?f buddy, you just lemme know. Anytime at all.” Then, stumbling, half falling, he clumped back down the stairs.

Raphael stood on the rooftop, looking over the railing as Tobe weavingly drove his clattering truck around to the alley behind the house across the street to hide it in the garage again.

Alone, with the cool air of the night washing the stench of the two old men from his nostrils, Raphael was suddenly struck with an almost crushing loneliness. The light was on in the upstairs of the house next door, but he did not want to watch Crazy Charlie anymore.

On the street below, alone under the streetlight, Patch, the one-eyed Indian, walked by, his feet making no sound on the sidewalk. Raphael stood on his rooftop and watched him pass, wishing that he might be able to call out to the solitary figure below, but that, of course, was impossible, and so he only watched until the silent Indian was gone.


Sadie the Sitter was an enormously fat woman who lived diagonally across the intersection from Raphael’s apartment house. He had seen her a few times during the winter months, but as the weather turned warmer she emerged from her house to survey her domain.

Sadie was a professional sitter; she also sat by inclination. Her throne was a large porch swing suspended from two heavy chains bolted to the ceiling. Each morning, quite early, she waddled onto the porch and plunked her vast bulk into the creaking swing. And there she sat, her piggish little eyes taking in everything that happened on the street, her beet-red face sullen and discontented.

The young parents who were her customers were polite, even deferential, as they delivered their children into her custody each morning. Sadie’s power was awesome; and like all power it was economic. If offended, she could simply refuse to accept the child, thus quite effectively eliminating the offending mother’s wages for the day. It was a power Sadie used often, sometimes capriciously—just for the sake of using it.

Her hair was a bright, artificial red and quite frizzy, since it was of a texture that accepted neither the dye nor the permanent very well. Her voice was loud and assertive, and could be heard clearly all over the neighborhood. She had, it seemed, no neck, and her head swiveled with difficulty atop her massive shoulders. She ate continually with both hands, stuffing the food into her mouth.

Sadie’s husband was a barber, a thin man with a gray face and a shuffling, painful gait. The feelings that existed between them had long since passed silent loathing and verged now on open hostility. Their arguments were long and savage and were usually conducted at full volume. Their single child, a scrawny girl of about twelve, was severely retarded, physically as well as mentally, and she was kept in a child’s playpen on the porch, where she drooled and twitched and made wounded-animal noises in a bull-like voice.

Sadie’s mother lived several houses up the street from her, and in good weather she waddled each morning about ten down the sidewalk in slapping bedroom slippers and a tentlike housecoat to visit. Sadie’s mother was also a gross woman, and she lived entirely for her grandchildren, a raucous mob of bad-mannered youngsters who gathered in her front yard each afternoon when school let out to engage in interminable games of football or tag or hide-and-seek with no regard for flower beds or hedges while Granny sat on her rocker in bloated contentment like a mother spider, ready to pounce ferociously upon any neighbor with the temerity to protest the rampant destruction of his property.

At first Raphael found the entire group wholly repugnant, then gradually, almost against his will, he began to develop a certain fascination. The greed, the gluttony, and the naked, spiteful envy of Sadie and her mother were so undisguised that they seemed not so much to be human, but were rather vast, primal forces—embodiments of those qualities—allegorical distillations of all that is meanest in others.

“She thinks she’s so much,” Sadie sneered to her mother. “She has all them delivery trucks come to her house like that on purpose—-just to spite her neighbors. I could buy new furniture, too, if I wanted, but I got better things to do with my money.”

“Are you Granny’s little love?” Sadie’s mother cooed at the idiot.

The child drooled and bellowed at her hoarsely.

“Don’t get her started, for God’s sake,” Sadie said irritably. “It takes all day to quiet her down again.” She glanced quickly at her mother with a sly look of malice. “She’s gettin’ too hard to handle. I think it’s time we put her in a home.”

“Oh no,” her mother protested, her face suddenly assuming a helplessly hurt look, “not Granny’s little darling. You couldn’t really do that.”

“She’d be better off,” Sadie said smugly, satisfied that she had injured her mother’s most vulnerable spot once again. The threat appeared to be a standard ploy, since it came up nearly every time they visited together.

“How’s he doing?” Sadie’s mother asked quickly, changing the subject in the hope of diverting her daughter’s mind from the horrid notion of committing the idiot to custodial care. As always, the “he” referred to Sadie’s husband. They never used his name.

“His veins are breakin’ down,” Sadie replied, gloating. “His feet and hands are cold all the time, and sometimes he has trouble gettin’ his breath.”

“It’s a pity.” Her mother sighed.

Sadie snorted a savage laugh, reaching for another fistful of potato chips. “Don’t worry,” she said. “I keep his insurance premiums all paid up. I’ll be a rich woman one of these days real soon.”

“I imagine it’s a terrible strain on him—standing all the time like that.”

Sadie nodded, contentedly munching. “All his arteries are clogged almost shut,” she said smugly. “His doctor says that it’s just a question of time until one of them blows out or a clot of that gunk breaks loose and stops his heart. He could go at any time.”

“Poor man,” her mother said sadly.

“Soon as it happens, I’m gonna buy me a whole buncha new furniture.” Sadie’s tone was dreamy. “An’ I’m gonna have all them delivery trucks pullin’ up in fronta my house. Then watch them people down the street just wither up an’ blow away. Sometimes I just can’t hardly wait.”

Raphael turned and went back into his little apartment. Walking was not so bad, but simply standing grew tiring after a while, and the phantom ache in the knee and foot that were no longer there began to gnaw at him.

He sat on the couch and turned on the scanner, more to cover the penetrating sound of Sadie’s voice than out of any real interest in morning police calls. A little bit of Sadie went a long way.

It was a problem. As the summer progressed the interior of the apartment was likely to become intolerably hot. He knew that. He would be driven out onto the roof for relief. The standing would simply bring on the pain, and the pain would drive him back into the apartment again. He needed something to sit on, a bench, or a chair or something like Sadie’s swing.

He checked his phone book, made some calls, and then went down to catch a bus.

The Goodwill store was a large building with the usual musty-smelling clothes hanging on pipe racks and the usual battered furniture, stained mattresses, and scarred appliances. It had about it that unmistakable odor of poverty that all such places have.

“You’ve come about the job,” a pale girl with one dwarfed arm said as he crutched across toward the furniture.

“No,” he replied. “Actually, I came to buy a chair.”

“I’m sorry. I just assumed—” She glanced at his crutches and blushed furiously.

“What kind of a job is it?” he asked, more to help her out of her embarrassment than out of any real curiosity.

“Shoe repair. Our regular man is moving away.”

“I wouldn’t be much good at that.”

“You never know until you try.” She smiled shyly at him. Her face seemed somehow radiant when she smiled. “If you’re really looking for something to do, it might not hurt to talk with Mrs. Kiernan.”

“I don’t really need a job. I’ve got insurance and Social Security.” It was easy to talk with her. He hadn’t really talked with one of his own kind since the last time he’d spoken with Quillian.

“Most of us do have some kind of coverage,” she said with a certain amount of spirit. “Working here makes us at least semiuseful. It’s a matter of dignity—not money.”

Because he liked her, and because her unspoken criticism stung a little, he let her lead him back to the small office where a harassed-looking woman interviewed him.

“We don’t pay very much,” she apologized, “and we can’t guarantee you any set number of hours a week or anything like that.”

“That’s all right,” Raphael told her. “I just need something to do, that’s all.”

She nodded and had him fill out some forms. “I’ll have to get it cleared,” she said, “but I don’t think there’ll be any problem. Suppose I call you in about a week.”

He thanked her and went back out into the barnlike salesroom. The girl with the dwarfed arm was waiting for him. “Well?” she asked.

“She’s going to call me,” Raphael told her. “Did she have you fill out any forms?” He nodded.

“You’re in then,” she said with a great deal of satisfaction. “Do you suppose I could look at some chairs now?” Raphael asked, smiling.


His world quite suddenly expanded enormously. The advent of the chair enabled him to see the entire neighborhood in a way he had not been able to see it before. Because standing had been awkward and painful, he had not watched before, but the chair made it easier—made it almost simpler to watch than not to watch. It was a most serviceable chair—an old office chair of gray metal mounted on a squat, four-footed pedestal with casters on the bottom. It had sturdy arms and a solid back, and there were heavy springs under the seat that enabled him to rock back to alter his position often enough to remain comfortable. The addition of a pillow provided the padding necessary to protect the still-sensitive remains of his left hip. The great thing about it was that it rolled. With his crutches and his right leg, he could easily propel himself to any spot on the roof and could watch the wonderful world expanding on the streets below.

Always before they had seemed to be quiet streets of somewhat run-down houses only in need of a nail here, a board there, some paint and a general squaring away. Now that winter had passed, however, and the first warm days of spring had come, the people who lived on the two streets that intersected at the corner of the house where he lived opened their doors and began to bring their lives outside where he could watch them.

Winter is a particularly difficult time for the poor. Heat is expensive, but more than that, the bitter cold drives them inside, although their natural habitat is outside. Given the opportunity, the poor will conduct most of the business of their lives out-of-doors, and with the arrival of spring they come out almost with gusto.

“Fuckin’ bastard.” It was an Indian girl who might have been twenty-three but already looked closer to forty. Her face was a ruin, and her arms and shoulders were covered with crudely done tattoos. She cursed loudly but without inflection, without even much interest, as if she already knew what the outcome of the meeting was going to be. There was a kind of resignation about her swearing. She stood swaying drunkenly on the porch of the large house two doors up from Tobe and Sam’s place, speaking to the big, tense-looking man on the sidewalk.

“That’s fine,” the tense man said. “You just be out of here by tomorrow morning, that’s all.”

“Fuckin’ bastard,” she said again.

“I’ll be back with the sheriff. He’ll by God put you out. I’ve had it with you, Doreen. You haven’t paid your rent in three months. That’s it. Get out.”

“Fuckin’ bastard.”

A tall, thin Negro pushed out of the house and stood behind the girl. He wore pants and a T-shirt, but no shoes. “Look here, man,” he blustered. “You can’t just kick somebody out in the street without no place to go.”

“Watch me. You got till tomorrow morning. You better sober her up and get her ass out of here.” He turned and started back toward his car.

“You’re in trouble, man,” the Negro threatened. “I got some real mean friends.”

“Whoopee,” the tense man said flatly. He got into the car.

The Indian girl glowered at him, straining to find some insult sufficient for the occasion. Finally she gave up.

“Fuckin’ bastard,” she said.

“Oh, my God!” the fat woman trundling down the sidewalk exclaimed. “Oh, my God!” She was very fair-skinned and was nearly as big as Sadie the Sitter. Her hair was blond and had been stirred into some kind of scrambled arrangement at the back of her head. The hair and her clothes were covered with flecks of lint, making her look as if she had slept in a chicken coop.

She clutched a tabloid paper in her hand and had an expression of unspeakable horror on her face. “Oh, my God!” she said again to no one in particular. “Did you see this?” she demanded of Sadie the Sitter, waving the paper.

“What is it?” Sadie asked without much interest.

“Oh, my God!” the woman Raphael had immediately tagged “Chicken Coop Annie” said. “It’s just awful! Poor Farrah’s losin’ her hair!”

“Really?” Sadie said with a faint glint of malicious interest. Sadie was able to bear the misfortunes of others with great fortitude. “It says so right here,” Chicken Coop Annie said, waving the paper again. “I ain’t had time to read it yet, but it says right here in the headline that she’s losin’ her hair. I just hadda bring it out to show to everybody. Poor Farrah! Oh, poor, poor Farrah!” “I seen it already,” Sadie told her.

“Oh.” Annie’s face fell. She stood on the sidewalk, sweating with disappointment. “Me ‘n her got the same color hair, you know,” she ventured, putting one pudgy hand to her tangled hairdo.

“That so?” Sadie sounded unconvinced.

“I gotta go tell Violet.”

“Sure.” Sadie looked away.

Annie started off down the street.

“Oh, my God!” she said.

Their cars broke down continually, and there were always a half dozen or so grimy young men tinkering with stubbornly exhausted iron brutes at the curbs or in the alleys. And when the cars did finally run, it was at best haltingly with a great deal of noise and smoke, and they left telltale blood trails of oil and transmission fluid on the streets behind them.

They lost their money or their food stamps, and most of the men were in trouble of one kind or another. Each time a police car cruised through the neighborhood, back doors slammed all up and down the street, and furtive young men dashed from the houses to run down the alleys or jump fences and flee through littered backyards.

Raphael watched, and gradually he began to understand them. At first it was not even a theory, but rather a kind of intuition. He found that he could look at any one of them and almost smell the impending crisis. That was the key word—crisis. At first it seemed too dramatic a term to apply to situations resulting from their bumbling mismanagement of their lives or deliberate wrongheaded stupidity, but they themselves reacted as if these situations were in fact crises. If, for example, a live-in boyfriend packed up and moved out while the girl in question was off at the grocery store, it provided her with an irresistible opportunity to play the role of the tragic heroine.

Like a Greek chorus, her friends would dutifully gather around her, expressing shock and dismay. The young men would swagger and bluster and leap into their cars to go importantly off in search of the runaway, forming up like a posse and shouting instructions to each other over the clatter of their sick engines. The women would gather about the bereaved one, commiserating with her, supporting her, and admiring her performance. After a suitable display of grand emotion—cries, shrieks, uncontrollable sobbing, or whatever she considered her most dramatic response—the heroine would lapse into a stoic silence, her head nobly lifted, and her face ravaged by the unspeakable agony she was suffering. Her friends would caution each other wisely that several of them at least would have to stay with her until all danger of suicide was past. Such situations usually provided several days of entertainment for all concerned.

Tobe was roaring drunk again. He staggered out into the yard bellowing curses and waving his wine bottle. Sam came out of the house and stood blearily on the porch wringing his hands and pleading with the little man to come back inside.

Tobe turned and cursed him savagely, then collapsed facedown in the unmowed grass and began to snore.

Sam stumbled down off the porch, and with an almost maternal tenderness, he picked up the sleeping little man and bore him back into the house.

Mousy Mary lived in the house on the corner directly opposite Raphael’s apartment and right beside Tobe and Sam’s house. She was a slight girl with runny eyes and a red nose and a timid, almost furtive walk. She had two children, a girl of twelve or so and a boy about ten. Quite frequently she would lock herself and her children in the house and not come out for several days. Her telephone would ring unanswered, sometimes for hours.

And then a woman Raphael assumed was her mother would show up. Mousy Mary’s mother was a small, dumpy woman with a squinting, suspicious face. She would creep around Mary’s house trying all the doors and windows. Then she would return to her car and drive slowly up and down the streets and alleys, stopping to jot down the license numbers of all the cars in the neighborhood. Once she had accomplished that, she would find a suitable spot and stake out the house, sometimes for as long as a day and a night. The blinds in Mousy Mary’s house would move furtively from time to time, but other than that there would be no sign that anyone was inside. When it grew dark, no lights would come on, and Raphael could imagine Mary crouching in the dark with her children, hiding from her mother.

“I wonder if I might use your telephone,” Mousy Mary’s mother said to Sadie one afternoon. “What’s the problem?” Sadie asked.

“I have to call the police,” the old woman said in a calm voice that seemed to indicate that she had to call the police quite frequently. “Somebody’s holding my daughter and her children hostage in her house there.”

“How do you know?” Sadie sounded interested.

“I’ve checked all the evidence,” Mousy Mary’s mother said in a professional tone. “There’s some tiny little scratch marks around the keyhole of the back door. It’s obvious that the lock’s been picked.”

“That so?”

“Happens all the time. They’ll probably have to call out the SWAT team.” Mousy Mary’s mother’s voice was dry, unemotional.

In time the police arrived, and after they talked with Mousy Mary’s mother for a few minutes, one of them went up on the front porch and knocked. Mousy Mary answered the door immediately and let them in, but she closed the door quite firmly in her mother’s face. In a fury the dumpy little woman scurried around the house, trying to look in the windows.

After a while the police came out and drove away. Mousy Mary’s mother stomped up onto the front porch and began pounding on the door, but Mary refused to open it.

Eventually, the dumpy woman returned to her car and continued her surveillance.

“Couldn’t you at least look into it, Raphael—for me?” Frankie’s lower Up trembled.

Raphael, sitting in his chair on the roof where they were talking, rather thought he might like to nibble on that lip for a while. He pushed that thought away. “I was a student, Frankie,” he said. “I can still do that. I don’t need both legs to study.”

“Our records show that you were a worker in a lumber mill.”

“That was a summer job back home when I was in high school and junior college. It wasn’t a lifelong career.”

“I’m really going to get yelled at if I don’t get you into vocational rehabilitation,” she told him. “And there are support groups—people to see and to talk to.”

“I’ve got a whole street full of people to see, Frankie.” He waved his hand at the intersection. “And if I want to talk with somebody, I can talk with Tobe and Sam.”

“But they’re just a couple of old alcoholics. We gave up on them years ago.”

“I’ll bet they appreciated that.”

“Couldn’t you at least consider vocational rehab, Raphael?”

“Tell you what, Frankie.” He smiled at her. “Go back to the office and tell them that I’ve already chosen a new career and that I’m already working at it.”

Her eyes brightened. “What kind of career are we talking about here, Raphael?”

“I’m going to be a philosopher. The pay isn’t too good, but it’s a very stimulating line of work.”

“Oh, you,” she said, and then she laughed. “You’re impossible.” She looked out over the seedy street. “It’s nice up here.” She sighed. “You’ve got a nice breeze.”

“I sort of like it.”

“Wouldn’t you consider the possibility of shoe repair?” she asked him.

That was startling. He remembered the Goodwill store and the girl with the dwarfed arm. Coincidence, perhaps? Some twist of chance? But the prophet on the downtown street had said that there was no such thing as chance. But what had made the words “shoe repair” cross Frankie’s trembling lips? It was something to ponder.

It was not that they were really afraid of him. It was merely that there was something so lost, so melancholy about his dark face as he walked with measured pace and slow down the shabby streets that all sound ceased as he passed. They did not mention it to each other or remark about it, but each time Patch, the one-eyed Indian, walked by, there was an eerie hush on the street. They watched him and said nothing. Even the children were still, suspended, as it were, by the silent, moccasin-footed passage of the dark, long-haired man with the black patch over one eye.

Raphael watched also, and was also silent.

And then in a troop, a large, rowdy group of more or less young men and, with a couple of exceptions, younger women moved into the big old house from which the tattooed Indian girl and her black boyfriend had been evicted.

They were nearly a week moving in, and their furniture seemed to consist largely of mattresses and bedding. They arrived in battered cars from several different directions, unloaded, and then drove off for more. They were all, for the most part, careful to be away when the large, tense-appearing man who owned the house stopped by. Only the oldest woman and her five children—ranging in age from nine or ten up to the oldest boy who was perhaps twenty—remained.

After the landlord left, however, they would return and continue moving in. When they were settled, the motorcycles arrived. In the lead was a huge man with a great, shaggy beard who wore a

purple-painted German helmet. The front wheel of his bike was angled radically out forward, and his handlebars were so high that he had to reach up to hold them. Two other motorcycles followed him, one similarly constructed and ridden by a skinny, dark-haired man in a leather vest, and the other a three-wheeled affair with a wide leather bench for a seat and ridden by another thin fellow, this one with frizzy blond hair and wearing incredibly filthy denims. None of the motorcycles appeared to be equipped with anything remotely resembling a muffler, and so the noise of their passage was deafening.

After they dismounted, they swaggered around in front of the house for a while, glowering at the neighborhood as if daring any comment or objection, then they all went inside. One of the young men was sent out in his clattering car and came back with beer. Then they settled down to party.

Their motorcycles, Raphael observed in the next several days, were as unreliable as were most of the cars on the block. They bled oil onto the lawn of the big old house, and at least one of them was usually partially or wholly dismantled.

With the exception of the big, bearded man in the German helmet, whom they respectfully called Heintz, the bikers for the most part appeared to be a scrawny bunch, more bluster than real meanness. In his mental catalog Raphael dubbed the group “Heck’s Angels.”

At his ease, sitting in his chair on the roof, Raphael watched them. From watching he learned of the emotions and turmoil that produced the dry, laconic descriptions that came over the police radio. He learned that a family fight was not merely some mild domestic squabble, but involved actual physical violence. He learned that a drunk was not simply a slightly tipsy gentleman, but someone who had either lapsed into a coma or who was so totally disoriented that he was a danger to himself or to others. He learned that a fight was not just a couple of people exchanging a few quick punches, but usually involved clubs, chains, knives, and not infrequently axes. As his understanding, his intuition, broadened and deepened— as he grew to know them better—he realized that they were losers, habitual and chrome.

Their problems were not the result of temporary setbacks or some mild personality defect, but seemed rather to derive from some syndrome—a kind of social grand mal with which they were afflicted and which led them periodically to smash up their lives in a kind of ecstatic seizure of deliberate self-destruction.

And then they were taken over by the professional caretakers society hires to pick up the pieces of such shattered lives. Inevitably, the first to arrive were the police. It seemed that the police were charged with the responsibility for making on-the-spot decisions about which agency was then to take charge—social services, mental health, the detoxification center, child protective services, the courts, or on occasion the coroner. Society was quite efficient in dealing with its losers. It was all very cut and dried, and everyone seemed quite comfortable with the system. Only occasionally did one of the losers object, and then it was at best a weak and futile protest—a last feeble attempt at self-assertion before he relaxed and permitted himself to be taken in hand.

Raphael was quite pleased with his theory. It provided him with a convenient handle with which to grasp what would have otherwise been a seething and incomprehensible chaos on the streets below.

And then Patch went by again, followed by that strange hush that seemed always to fall over the neighborhood with his passage, and Raphael was not so sure of the theory. Into which category did Patch fit? He was totally unlike the others—an enigma whose dark, melancholy presence seemed somehow to disturb the losen as much as it did Raphael. Sometimes, after he had passed, Raphael felt that if he could only talk with the man—however briefly—it might all fit together, the whole thing might somehow fall into place. But Patch never stopped, never looked up, and was always gone before Raphael could call to him or do anything more than note his silent passage.


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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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