James has been homeless and living in Los Angeles since the early 80s. He lived in foster homes around Portland until sixteen, and then he drifted down into southern California. He’s lived in Malibu, Pacific Palisades, North Hollywood, Westwood, the Valley, Receda, Burbank, El Toro, Chino, Pomona, Calabasas, and as high up as Oxnard among the oil derricks. In the oil fields he spent his nights in a ratty sleeping bag and kept his clothes tucked into the bottom. On the streets of Laguna Niguel where he lives now he’s called The Karate Kid even though he’s thirty-eight years old and has a beard. In middle school he was known as Ol’ Retard Jim-the Stupidest Chinaman on the West Coast. James is Korean. Every evening James crosses the Pacific Coast Highway from the back of the parking lot in which he sleeps and lives, and walks to Dana Point on Capistrano Beach to look at the sun submerge itself into the water. He usually falls asleep until eight or nine, and then he walks back to his parking lot, behind the dumpster, where he keeps some of his pint bottles of blackberry brandy and other things. James begs for money, which he uses to buy booze and get high. The take is usually pretty good in Laguna Niguel and just up the road in Laguna Beach. There are plenty of tourists during the high season, and James doesn’t get hassled by other homeless or crack addicts or rapists like he used to in Venice on the boardwalk. On a good day he makes fifty dollars. James uses the public bathrooms on the beach and the single washroom of the Laguna Niguel Chevron just off the Crown Valley Parkway. He has a standing deal with the operator of the gas station; in exchange for the bathroom key James gives him head. After that he goes and hits up his stash and swirls brandy around in his mouth, then swallows it. It’s dusk and James is awake on the beach looking at the sky losing its color. He came this time to see something but he fell asleep and he doesn’t remember what. He hears someone walk up behind him but he doesn’t look. He can’t remember what he came to see.
I need your help.
Six Toe Tommy?
Tommy the Sloth.
I need your help Kid.
Can’t it wait?
No. I don’t think so.
What is it?
I need your help. There’s a girl behind the dumpster behind Albertson’s in the plaza.
Over near where I sleep.
She’s hurt. I don’t know. Maybe she’s dead. I need your help.
Call the cops.
I can’t Kid. I got warrants.
Get someone else to call the cops.
That’s why I came to you.
Come on Kid.
How’d you find her?
Sometimes I go in the dumpster and look for ice cream. They throw it out from Albertson’s. Sometimes it’s not rotten.
The container stinks like rancid milk and dogshit, and there’s some kind of coagulated mass splattered on its side. James and Tommy the Sloth come around slowly and James holds his breath. The sun is down but there’s still plenty of light.
Christ it stinks. You find ice cream in here?
Sometimes before it goes bad.
You’re gonna get sick to your stomach.
I got more problems than puking from bad ice cream, Kid.
James steps around holding his breath. The girl is lying face down on the pavement.
There’s blood in her hair and a small puddle just beneath her face. James steps to her carefully.
She dead Kid?
James touches her shoulder. He can feel her back rise and fall a little. He grabs from the shoulder blade. The girl is small. He can’t tell if she’s underage. She’s wearing a pair of tight, black jeans, white gypsy shirt, brown stains on the sleeve. He shakes gently. Her back rises falls rises.
Tommy go get me my pint bottle of brandy.
From the bathroom at the Chevron. There’s two bottles just behind the water tank.
James hands over the key.
Just walk up and get me a bottle.
What about the girl? You gonna call it in?
Tommy get me the bottle.
You mind if I use the toilet? I haven’t used one in a while.
Where do you usually go?
In the water.
Lock up after you’re done. Bathroom is on the outside so you don’t have to go in through the mini mart. And if I ever find shit missing I’ll know it’s you. You’re the only one I’ve told.
I don’t like blackberry brandy Kid.
You like anything that gets you high.
Tommy the Sloth walks away. James sits next to the girl. Her back rises falls rises. Falls. She hasn’t moved the entire time. He looks up at the warm sky. It’s turning black. It’s turning something. The girl lies on the concrete. He stares. Falls rises falls.