The Hobo And The Kid
THE HOBO AND THE KID
DONALD HARRY ROBERTS
“Jingle Bells...Jingle Bells Jingle all the way. Carollers, two teenagers and a couple of kids stood outside my office door singing their hearts out. Gerty, Roadie, BoSnuggles and I stood in the doorway listening. A gentle snow tumbled from the blanket of grey\white cloud shrouding the city. It was Christmas Eve and it seemed the city was in a beautiful, deep calm.
Three pm was announced by the clock in the town hall tower. Across the street, toward Monarch Square the Royal Crown Bakery was in full swing. The smell of fresh bread and pastries wafted along Douglas St., turning heads.
I shot the carollers a fin then headed down town with Roadie and Bosnuggles at my side, tethered to my belt with two silver link chains. It had been a while since we went walking down-town. They pranced along beside me, Roadie on the right Bo on the left...It had been that way since they were pups...I never had to train them...the bond was enough. I always feel better with my pack....probably because of those first years of my life, though long ago now....I still sense the pack mentality in myself...something I have never felt among humans with a few exceptions...like Gil Langstaff and my old army unit who stood together or died.....and died.....
I worked my way along Douglas St. through the milling shoppers to Monarch Square. At the corner I stopped at a vendor selling roasted chestnuts and hot chocolate and bought his stuff. Then gave up some change to a few pan-handlers, the pros that is and side stepped a few grubbing for booze money.
You gotta love the city even if it doesn’t always love you. Some times it is generous and gracious but it has a bad habit of changing on a dime and become cold, treacherous, and unforgiving.
I passed by an alley way a few blocks east of Monarch Square. I glanced into the shadows and my thoughts drifted back to a time when it use to be home to an old Hobo named Jess. No last name. It reminded me of just how tough life could get in the city and the story that goes along with Jess’s memory.
I could hardly believe it was nine years ago.
Christmas Eve. I had just come back from my annual stroll down town and was sipping a hot toddy when the door opened and this kid carrying a piggy bank in his arms wandered in as bold as bold can be. Without a hello or greeting of any kind and trying to sound like a street wise brat he said. “Hey Gumshoe I got a hundred bucks here and I want you to find my sister. She ran off a couple of hours ago and...well... my folks is scared ya know.”
I damn near started to laugh but the serious look on the kids face stopped me, obviously just as scared as his folks.
“Put the jar down before you drop it kid and have a seat.” I pointed to the straight back wooden chair in front of my desk. The kid put the jar on my desk and plunked himself down.
“Just give me the scoop Gumshoe. Can you help me?” He tried to sound tough but I could hear a tell tale quiver in his voice.
“What’s your name kid. I don’t help folks unless they tell me their name.”
“Jimmy. Jimmy Mortinson. My sister is Katey. She’s the one that run away. Not my older sister Patricia”
The tough kid act was fading away. So was the fake street lingo.
“That’s a good start kid. Now tell me what makes you think Katey has run away.”
“Well.....she....I guess we all are kind of spoiled. Katey wanted something for Christmas that is pretty expensive and Mom said she wasn’t sure her and Dad could afford it but Mom was only teasing, but Sis took her seriously and got all grumpy. She told me she going to run away, but I didn’t believe her. Then she did and well....I heard about QJ Rouge and came here hoping you could find her before Mom and Dad found out...and........”
“You didn’t tell your parents!” I interrupted sharply.
“No they would get mad.”
“That was not too smart kid. I’ll have to call them. Give me your number.”
“What about client confidentiality?” The kid shot back.
“Can the jive kid. Your Sister could find herself in big trouble.” I replied sternly, startling Jimmy into giving up the number.
I snapped up the phone and dialled. After three rings a woman’s voice came on the phone. It was cautious.
“Am I speaking to Mrs. Mortinson?”
“This is she.” 35 minutes later Mr. And Mrs. Mortinsen rushed into my office.
Here Begins the story of The Hobo..(Jess) and the kid,(Katey) which I promise will wind its way back to my office eventually.
Katey Mortinson pulled on her boots and coat and slipped quietly out the back door. It was three o’clock in the afternoon the day before Christmas. She was crying, not because she was sad but because she was angry, more angry than she had ever been before in her long nine years of life. “This will teach them.” she sobbed as she made her way across the yards and between the neighbours houses to the street. As quick as she could walk, Katey made her way along the suburban streets, 15 blocks to down town and to the department store where she had seen the most wonderful toy, a mechanical dog that would walk and bark and wag its tail and even sit if you tugged on its collar.
For a long time she stood there dreaming about opening a gift on Christmas morning and hugging the big beautiful dog, all white and fluffy with a black circle around its left eye.
After a good long dream that made her even angrier, because it wasn’t going to come true, Katey went out of the store and walked along Queen St to Monarch Square and to her delight she found a vendor selling hot chocolate and roasted chestnuts. She had just enough money in her pocket to buy a drink and a handful of chestnuts.
There were lots of wonderful things to see down town. Like carollers, elves handing out Christmas candies, street musicians, an organ grinder and jugglers. It was so delightful Katey did not notice it had gotten dark and that there were not as many people on the street and the vendors were packing up to go home. One by one the stores began to close. Katey began to wonder what she was going to do now. She did not think about it getting dark and the stores closing. And every one going home........“But I can’t go home. I ran away and you can never go back. Ever!”
“Nope. You can’t” The voice came from behind Katey. She looked over her shoulder and saw an old man with white hair and a white beard, dressed in a worn out reddish/brown parka and faded black fedora , baggy old pants and rubber boots that looked ready for the dump.
Katey turned with a start and backed away a couple of steps. “Who are you?” she asked nervously.
“A runaway like you ... sort of.” The old man gave a bright glimmering smile. “Most folks round here just call me Jess.”
“Adults don’t run away.” Katey replied obstinately.
“Well I suppose not since they can do what ever they want with no parents to scold them.” Jess replied with a chuckle.
“Well you look grubby enough to have run away. Where do you live now. Obviously if you did run away like you say it must have been a long time ago.” Katey said curtly.
“A long time ago, well yes.....and no. As far as where I live. Well just down there.” Jess answered.” I have my own personal alley way and ain’t no one bothers me there. I am just on my way there for supper.” he added then started to walk away. “You are welcome to join me” he called over his shoulder.
“I am not supposed to even talk to strangers.“ Katey replied...“and certainly I do not go with them into alley ways.”
“Ok kid. That‘s good rules so suit yourself but its going to get very cold and dark and lonely out here tonight.” Jess warned. ”Best maybe you go home.”
“No.” Katey shot back and hurried off, but to where she would go she did not know. All she knew for sure was that she wanted to teach her parents a lesson. But as the Hobo said. It was getting darker and most of the people had gone home. The stores were all closed and the vendors were packed up and gone. There were only a few stragglers on their way to their cars and here and there folks emerging from the pubs and bars that were still open but would soon be closing their doors too.
Some where deep inside Katey knew she should go home andthat running away and having a great adventure was only a fantasy. It was turning out that instead of teaching her parents a lesson she was learning one. But she had not quite got it yet.
It was an hour before she came back to the place where she met the old hobo and suddenly finding him was much better than hanging out on the streets alone, or going home. She made her way along the street peering into each alley way she found and called out...“Mr Jess. Are you there.” and after three tries with no answer she was about to give up, but then, ”Hey little girl”, the soft voice came from behind her. Katey turned with a start and standing not 15 feet away was a man, an ugly man, all dressed in black with cold piercing eyes and though the voice was soft it was not nice or pleasant.
“Are you lost little girl. If you are I can help you. I have a place to get out of the cold.”
“No Thank You Mister. I am not lost. I don’t need your help.” Katey replied trying to sound unconcerned but her voice quavered.
The ugly man slumped a little at the shoulder moved a step closer. His voice got a little louder and the softness turned cold and raspy. “But its cold out here and soon there will be no one about to help you.” he moved closer and closer.
Katey began to back up....taking small uncertain steps and she began to shiver, not because she was cold but because she was becoming afraid. Even her nine year old senses told her that this man was not trying to be her friend.
“Leave me alone or I will scream.“ she warned fearfully.
“Look around little girl. Who do you think will hear you. Your Mommy and Daddy.” A cold snicker came with the ugly words and the man lunged forward.
Jess was tucked away in the back of his alley-way sitting comfortably in his chair, hovering over a small fire in his make-shift living room constructed of wooden skids, cardboard and sheets of plastic. He watched anticipating as the turkey stew bubbled lightly in the cauldron hanging over the fire. He was about to take a sip of warm apple cider mulled with cinnamon when suddenly he heard a scream more frightened than he had ever heard before. It startled him so much he spilled the cider down the front of his tattered, already stained parka. Instinctively he knew who was screaming.
As quickly as his old legs would carry him, with walking stick in hand, he hurried to the street. At the sidewalk he paused and peered around the wall of the alleyway. There he saw the little girl he had talked to a couple of hours earlier and a shadowy character moving in on her like a predatory animal. Jess’ own fear welled up in his gut, the sense of self preservation after long years living in the urban wilds. “Its always best to mind your own business. You will live longer.” He reminded himself, but as the thought rattled around his mind another came leaping in. “You’ve lived long and well you old crotch now go help the little girl do the same.” His mind’s voice was scolding.
Jess stepped out into the street and yelled sharply. “What’s going on here? What’s all the racket.?”
Katey turned and ran straight toward the old hobo and hid behind him, grabbing his right arm tightly.
“Hey old man you should mind your own business.” The creep snarled and started toward Jess, but a car approaching along the street sent the jerk running off.
“Come on Kid. I got something warm to drink and a little supper if your hungry.”
It was not a smart thing to do, going down a dark alleyway with a stranger, but at that moment it was better than being by herself on a cold, lonely street with even worse things lurking in the shadows.
When Katey saw the fire and pots and the box with a chair and a bed and a couple of suitcases in it she said, only half believing what she saw. “You live here!!!”
“I do indeed young lady. This is my home. Its comfy enough...warm enough and the rents cheap.” Jess replied cheerfully. “Now. Like I said I have something warm to drink, it’s apple cider with cinnamon and in a few minutes I have some nice home made Hobo stew, well, turkey stew from a tin” He chuckled again. “Here now, sit yourself down.” Jess handed Katey a fold out wooden stool. “All the comforts of home I have.”
Katey took the stool and sat close to the fire. “ It doesn’t feel warm to me.” she said roughly.
“Ah, but you get use to it little girl, or should I say you better get use to it because this is all you get when you’re a runaway, unless of course you want to steal or hurt people. then you get caught and end up in jail.....and that might be even worse than my alley-way here. But I don’t know that for sure cause I have never been to jail.” Jess replied softly.” Here now. Have some cider.” He handed Katey a tin cup and she tasted it tentatively. “MMMMMMMM....Its good.” She blurted delightedly..
Jess laughed heartily. “Then drink up little lady and have some more. There is plenty for both of us.” Then quietly he began singing a tune, a Christmas tune, though he only knew a verse or two .“Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm, all is bright”, and then Katey joined in and between them they sang the whole song. And when that was done they sang Rudolf The Red Nose Reindeers and of course Jingle Bells and then the old hobo did a fine rendition of T’was The Night Before Christmas, with lots of antics to mark the more exciting parts.
“Now. I think our supper is ready and a stew is no stew with out bread to sop up the gravy and after we can have a cup of tea.” Jess produced a loaf of bread from a box in his shelter and two round tea bags.
Katey smiled. “This is nice.” she said, but there was a note of doubt in her voice. Then. “Its Christmas Eve. Don’t you have any family to go stay with?”
Jess didn’t answer with words he just shook his head ,“NO.” and spooned some stew into his mouth. Then he said, “Nor will you in time. You might feel free now little girl but one day you will find yourself all alone in the world.”
“I wasn’t going to run away for ever. Just for a day or maybe two.” Katey replied obstinately.
“And what do you think your folks will think about that?” Jess asked in a challenging tone.
Katey set her bowl of stew aside, crossed her arms and a pout formed on her lips. “They won’t care.”
“I see. Well we will have to find someplace for you to stay for the night. It’s dangerous out here, especially for little girls and I have just the person who can help us with that.” Jess replied thoughtfully, but I think it would be best that you call your folks and tell them where you are when we get to my friends place. Even if your folks don’t care, sleeping in your own bed in a warm house is better than an old box like mine.”
It was just after 5 when Mr. And Mrs Mortinson charged into my office rattling off questions so fast they all blurred together. Then they turned on Jimmy and started to grill him. It wasn’t anger driving them but fear. Mr. Mortinson said anxiously....“Son you should have come to us immediately not to...to.....this man.....”
Mrs Mortinson broke in distraughtly “Why on earth did she run off like this?” “Because, well because you told her she couldn’t have that mechanical pooch. The one at the department store.” Jimmy answered.
“But we did buy it for her.” Said Mr. Mortinson, giving me a side glance. “But that’s here nor there....we must find her....call the police...or.....or.....”
“I have already called the police Mr. Mortinson. They have people checking out every route from your house to the parks, down town and any where else she might have gone. In the mean time you are going to stay here and,” I was saying when Old Jess came wandering in the back door.
“Hey Jess, we are kinda busy right now.” I told him
“Sure....sure....Red....but you will want to see this.....now” Jess insisted.
“Alright....Alright.” I relented. “You folks wait right here. I’ll only be a minute.” I assured then followed Jess out the back door where I found Roadie and Bosnuggles sitting beside a young girl getting their ears scratched.
“Well now. Who do we have here?” I asked.
“This My friend is a runaway named Katey. She ran into some trouble near my alleyway.” Jess answered and described the trouble. “I figured if anyone could help her out it would be you.”
“And so I can but, wait here for a minute. Don’t come in until I call you.” I instructed then returned to my office.
I went straight to the phone and called Gil Langstaff and told him to call off the search for the missing kid. Then I turned my attention to Mr. And Mrs. Mortinson. “Well your daughter has been found.” I began and put my hands up to calm the parents before they got too excited and belched out a ream of questions. “Listen!” I ordered. “She does not know you are here and she has had quite a fright, but she is alright. Thanks to the old man who just came in here.”
“Well bring her in.” Mrs. Mortinson commanded urgently.
“Yes. Yes...this instant.” Mr. Mortinson added strongly.
“Sure, but calm down first.” I insisted.
When the Mortinsons calmed themselves I called for Jess. A minute later, guided by Roadie and Bosnuggles Jess and the girl came in.
Jess and I watched as the family was reunited. It was indeed a happy sight to see. Then when no one was paying attention Jess slipped out. I guess through the back door. I just caught sight of the dogs going out the dog door.....
“Well then. Now we can go home and....and... Mr......Well where did he go..” Said Mr. Mortinson.
“I know where he is.” Katey cried out. “And we have to go find him. He is all alone and, well, he doesn’t have a home. Not a real one I mean. He could come home with us for Christmas and that would be a wonderful present. Even better than a mechanical dog!!!!!!!!”
Well. That’s about it. Mr. And Mrs Mortinson and the kids stopped by a week or so later and thanked me for all my help and to tell me Jess had spent the entire Christmas holidays at their home. To their surprise he was a most gracious gentleman. Nothing like the images they had of Hobos. “And he had great stories to tell us.” Jimmy announced cheerfully.
“We went to see him at his alleyway today but he is not there and it seems he has gone. That old box he called home was not there either. It was like he had never been there.” Katey told me. “Its seems empty and lonely there now.”
Later that day I went to the alley way and it was just like Katey had said. She was right on the mark with the lonely part. The Old Hobo had lived in that alley way for years. Every one knew Jess and as Hobos go he was pretty friendly.
That was nine years ago like I said and I still wonder from time to time where the old boy went.
I suppose it will remain one of those unsolved mysteries that will follow me to the end of my days...... Merry Christmas every one. QJ