What the... oh, my, you are still out there. I did not quiet expect that...
Please remember, chances of rude language, violence and nudity are always present. Same as before. And same as most likely in every chapter that will follow
It´s been a long time since we last visited the city. Summer has passed into autumn, and autumn has passed into winter some time ago... a very cold and snowy winter, I should add
Let´s see how our two friends are doing. And where better to begin as in the back yard of the abandoned factory grounds that the white haired man chose to be his home
Ah bull´s eye. See, down there, right behind the broken blinds- it´s Al
He is staring down on the snow that covers the back alley´s ground, untouched by human hand or foot for all it seems
It´s freezing cold inside the old brick building, and his breath is leaving little foggy marks on the dirty glass
It´s obviously getting dark
In the end, he turns around, shoulders sagging
Betty did not show up today
In fact, ever since it started to snow, she has been gone from his life. Vanished like a dream
He can still recall the last time she stopped by, days ago
"Mom says that it´s getting to dark to early now. And that it´s to cold to play outside all day... that I should stay in more. It´s no problem as long as I can just pretend school´s out later, but as soon as the snow holidays start... Al I´m sorry but could be I can´t come over for a while... mean, it´s not like I can tell her I am here with you..."
He has not owned any kind of calendar for ages now, and even if he had one he wouldn´t know at what times the schools close down. Well. Apparently said snow holidays must be just around the corner, as Betty has not come back
Motionless Al stares at the makeshift chair until his gaze falls upon a paper bag that must have contained some burgers or similar fast food at some point. A deli sandwich, eventually?
He doubles over in pain as his stomach demands for food with an audible roar. It has been days since he had something to eat, too, and he can no longer wait for the girl to return
If she should ever return, that is. She is a kid, after all. Might easily forget about him for good over the holidays. Who could blame her
With a grim expression, he digs through a pile of semi clean clothes and pulls a slightly warmer hoodie over his ragged tshirt. With little afterthought, he adds a woolen cap and leaves the building
After a few strides, he slows down and finally stops to look up at the sky
Seems like the snow is falling harder now
Baby it´s cold outside...
Cold enough to curl up and die. No way. He needs food, he needs shelter, and he´s been living on the streets for long enough now to know where to find both
Cracking his neck, he marches on
This it not his first winter in the city, and it will not be his last if he can help it, neither, goddammit!
Al carefully circles through the back alleys, avoiding the main streets busy with late snow day shoppers, racking back doors tentatively now and then to check if they might provide a slightly warmer place for him than the factory grounds
Coming around a corner, he finds himself facing some other homeless guy who managed to light a fire in an old oil barrel
Al slows down, staring longingly at the flickering flames
It´s easy to tell, this is not a thing he would normally do. But obviously he is thinking about the options at hand... he might team up with this guy, just to make it through the night...
Hesitantly, he takes a step towards the other man
He does not even get a chance to adress him
"What? WHAT? What d`ya want? Eh? Eh?! Ain´t got nothing for ya! Nuffin!!!"
"Easy, friend. I am cold, I just..."
"Friend? FRIEND?! Ain´t no friend of mine, ya, no! Never seen ya before! Get lost, this is my fire! GET LOST!"
Careful, buddy. This a big guy you are yelling at. At least one head taller than you. And he already had some bad days
But Al just rams his fists down his side pockes and turns to leave without a word while the nutter keeps screaming at him on the top of his lungs
"Move it! Leave! Go! My fire! MINE!! Go!"
Hour after hour, Al keeps on wandering, keeps on searching, but still no luck
As he passes a fenced parking lot he slows down once again, staring hollow eyed at one of the cars
Once upon a time, he owned a car just like that... could it be...
The chattering of his own teeth reminds him that this is no fun trip into Winter Wonderland
His mind starts to slip... he needs to find shelter. Warm up.
He straightens his cap and moves on. This is not a time to be picky... he has been avoiding bars at any cost for a long time, but right now the cost might prove a little to high. This particular rundown hole in the wall he is heading for right now has always been sparsely frequented in the past, and he hopes to get lucky for once and find it empty tonight
And just as he aims for the back door, he spots a man huddling up to a pile of wooden boxes, head leaning against one of them
The guy is not moving, and he is already covered with snow up to his knees. If it wasn´t for the barely visible little white puffs of breath, there would be no way of telling if he was still alive
But Al can see the puffs, and he knows the guy will be dead within the hour, frozen to death in his sleep, if left on his own devices
He nudges the guy´s shoulder. Once, twice, again and again until his head tilts up, finally
"Get up son, this is no place to stay. Come on. Take my hand"
With a start, the younger man rises and flinches away from Al all in one movement, pressing against the wood panelled wall behind him for support
Cautiously, Al takes a step back to give him some space
Surprisingly enough, the guy comes around quickly. Al has to adjust his first impression... he would have placed a bet that the man would be intoxicated and was preparing for one of those less than constructive lengthy discussions you usually have with those of a clouded mind. With teeth clacking madly, the stranger speaks up
"Eh, wow, must have... fallen asleep, thanks man, that was... close I guess. But I am good, really, will be on my way in a sec... just... let me rest for another minute, ´kayes... please..."
Rest for a minute? Yeah, sure
"Not an option, private! You are going to follow me inside that building and not leave unless your body temperature has risen to an acceptable level, copy?!"
Yes, Al has spotted the dog tags that the young man is wearing around his neck and decided to give it a go. Seems that he hit home, as the other guy is literally jumping to attention, or what may count as jumping to attention when you are halfway frozen
"Sir, yes, Sir!"
Cautiously suppressing a grin, Al turns on his heel and heads for the bar´s back door once again- followed by the perplexed stranger
But following he is, as the crunching of the snow under his feet tells our friend. So Al strides on, without as much as looking back
Sadly, the effect wears off pretty much the second as they pass the door to the delivery entrance of the bar, and some light reveals the state of Al´s clothing
"Um, eh... Sir... a word..."
"Yeah? What is it now, son?"
"I... I really appreciate your help, and... but I´d rather not go inside. I´ll just stay right here, warm up for a bit, ok? ´Cause, you know... the guy who plays the piano here, and I, we... go way back, and if he finds me hanging out here..."
Hang on a minute. The artsy piano player? Judging by Al´s reaction, he knows who the younger man is talking about, too, and does not seem to be all to happy about the memories coming up
"Kris? Don´t you worry about Kris, son. That... prick be the last of your worries right now. You´re shaking like a leave, you need to warm up. No discussion"
"No discussion. Just follow my lead, I´ll take care of Kris if necessary. - Or can you look me straight in the eye and tell me that you have a nice cosy apartment with central heating waiting for you?"
"... didn´t think so, either. Come on now. Brace yourself"
Just as he initially hoped, the bar is completely empty of customers. Must be a weekday, after all... or snow day itself, maybe?
Al points his chin towards a particularly well hidden accumulation of bar stools in a far corner of the room
"Let´s sit down for a bit, shall we"
Ah, right. Empty bar- empty but for the barkeep on late shift, naturally, who is watching the unlikely couple thoroughly as they take their seats without ordering anything
And if there have been any doubts as for if this is indeed the bar where we met Kris and his girlfriend the waitress first, they should be gone now. This is very obviously Xander- older, no doubt about it, but even if the different haircut and lack of makeup may be distracting, his tattoos will give his identity away any time
Xander tries to overhear the upcoming conversation but turns his attention back to the flatscreen tv when he fails
Mh, flatscreen. Seems like the passing of time has touched even this shabby place in the end
"Ok, the barkeep should leave us alone as long as we´re no trouble- and don´t smell too bad... so go ahead, spill it. What the hell were you thinking, taking a nap in the snow? And what do I call you, to begin with"
All out of a sudden, the young man seems to deflate, looking so hopeless... it makes you wonder if he sat down in that snowy back alley on purpose
"Dan... my name is Dan. I am sorry... it´s not that I don´t want to tell you, but it´s kind of hard to believe that you really give a shit"
"Who says that I do? Maybe I am just one nosy old bastard with nothing better to do"
Well that obviously caught our stranger - Dan- by surprise. Wide eyed, he stares at Al, lost for words, struggling to get back on track
In fact, he seems to be totally lost in thought once more, or is he listening to voices inside his head?
Al already regrets his harsh words, but there is no way of taking them back now
"Son, relax. I am sorry, that was... rude, I guess. Speak up. I don´t know you, but I actually do care enough about you not to want you dead, if that´s any comfort... hey, do you read me? Dan?!"
"No... yes... gimme one second"
Seemingly utterly confused now, the young man cranes his neck, turning to the counter
Muttering, he stares into the distance
"No... hell, no..."
Without warning, he slips down from his chair and starts to walk away
"Hey! What´s the matter? Where are you..."
But then it becomes very clear that it is the tv that has been attracting Dan´s attention
Frowning, Al joins him
What could possibly be...
"... PD is asking for your assistance in the case of nine year old ..."
Xander freezes on the spot
"... Bethany Muddler of High Grove, who is still missing after 4 days now. If you have seen this girl, or have any information on her whereabouts, please contact... "
WHAT THE FUCK?!