The bus from Del Valle dropped him off in downtown Austin at Sixth and Red River. A little after 8 PM, it had been dark an hour and felt later. Early in October, when they arrested him, it had been warm enough that he could get by on the gray t-shirt and brown cords he'd been wearing. Now there were snow flurries and a brisk wind snapped his ass, prodding him along. He wrapped his arms around himself and tried to stay ahead of it. He didn't have that far to go. It wasn't that cold if he just kept moving.
He walked down Sixth past the bars that, at least for the time being, were forbidden him. It was still relatively early and the throngs of hipsters, jocks, thugs, groupies, aging skateboarders, bikers, and other fledgling and veteran alcoholics had yet to crowd the strip. Two police cruisers were parked along the street and a couple bike cops were creeping along. Kenny knew he should get through there before they noticed him and started feigning concern about his unseasonable dress.
He walked up Congress, past the Little City coffee shop. He went along the trail through the capitol's lawn and walked up Guadalupe. He walked past the Dog and Duck Pub, Veggie Heaven, Kerbey Lane Cafe, the Showdown, and Mojo's Daily Grind. He told himself he would eat there, get a beer there, a cup of coffee there.
It all had to wait, though. He still had to get his check from Seton Hospital, where he worked as an orderly; it was too late to cash it, but that was OK. It'd feel good to have the check in his pocket. It'd also feel good to see his coworkers and talk to his boss, Ed, about getting back on the schedule.
Ed was a young and hyperactive Asian who spoke in broken dude-isms. Often, if Kenny would so much as miss a trash can on a garbage run, Ed would freak out: dude man, dude man, we have to clean up after you -- what, you can't do your job? But when he'd called Ed at home, preceded by a recorded female voice informing him the call was collect from a correction facility, Ed not only took the call, but assured Kenny he'd still have a job when he got out. Just do what you gotta do, man, he said, I'll take care of things. When Kenny told him he owed him a million Ed said, Hey, we don't live in a black-and-white world. I know how it is.
In city jail, for breakfast, Kenny got an orange, a baggie of cornflakes and an eight oz. carton of milk. He didn't get a spoon, and figured he had to pour his cornflakes into his carton of milk and drink it. One of the other inmates, a pocked Hispanic man with stringy salt-and-pepper hair, told him that was for amateurs, that he poured his milk into his baggie of cereal and put the whole thing over his face like a feedbag. Kenny said, I see, and the Hispanic guy, who was missing his front teeth, just smiled at him.
Kenny wanted to sit somewhere, order off of a laminated menu. He wanted a cute redhead waitress with pert tits to refill his coffee and his water and bring him a hot meal on a porcelain plate. And he wanted to tip. He wanted to tip and flirt with the redhead waitress and that's what separated him from the mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers he was locked up with. If that made him an amateur then fuck it, he didn't want to be what those guys considered professional anyway.
It was entirely too possible, small as Austin was. They'd be warm and fed and he'd be cold and hungry. They'd ignore him and walk past him and go home to fuck and then laugh at him. They were a loved and happy and accepted couple. He was feral and pathetic; a possum, a rat, a roach, crawling into his nest-hole and plotting the next days forage.
Of course, Kenny had considered revenge of some form or another. He just hadn't decided how. He'd heard living well was the best revenge, but fuck all that. What was "living well" when so many people who'd fucked you in life had gone on to live even better?
But if he tried anything too soon he'd just be locked up again. He'd also prove right too many people who'd talked too much shit, not just Ted and Monica.
Maybe the idea was to let blood, get away with it, and then go on to live well. Either way it wasn't gonna be done on an empty stomach, so he stopped thinking about it.
Meantime, he grew to savor the taste of hunger. His stomach felt hard and empty and his ears rang. He knew to enjoy it, like everything else, while he had the chance. It wouldn't gonna be with him forever.
Oliver Hunt lives and writes in Chicago. He may be contacted by e-mail.