Tad took one more look in the mirror. He turned slowly to make certain he hadn’t missed anything. While he knew he didn’t look as rough as most of the people who spent their days living on the streets, he hoped he’d be able to pass as a newcomer, not a total fake. The only thing he had on him was his driver’s license and his cell phone. Both were tucked inside one well-worn boot.
Satisfied, finally, he grabbed the jacket he’d picked up at a near-new shop. He took his keys from the hook by the front door and let himself out of the apartment. When he got down to the second floor he knocked on the door of a friend who knew what he had planned.
When the door opened, she looked at him appraisingly. “You’ll pass,” she said and then changed her mind. “Your hands are too clean.” She stepped back to let him inside. “As luck would have it I was just about to empty the vacuum bag. Guess who gets the honors now.”
Tad laughed. “Lucky me.” He followed her into the kitchen where the vacuum stood beside her trash basket. After a second’s thought he dropped his keys on the counter, went to the sink and dampened his hands first and then emptied the bag. “Better?” he asked, holding out his filthy hands for inspection.
“Wipe some of it off. Right now you look like you’ve been playing in a mud puddle.”
With an exaggerated eye-roll he obeyed. Finally she was satisfied.
“Everything else is good. When will you be home?”
“I don’t know but if it’s too late I’ll call you first and you can leave the key to my place…umm, under my doormat. Thanks for doing this.”
“Not a problem. Just be careful.”
“I will be, promise.”
He left the apartment building without running into any of his neighbors, for which he was heartily glad. He didn’t want to have to explain why he looked like a vagrant. He had decided to start where he’d last seen the two young men and work his way out from there. He honestly didn’t expect to find them back at that particular dumpster—not after what had almost happened to them there—but it was a place to begin.
Two hours later he was wondering if this was an exercise in futility. He had wandered half the alleys in the downtown area and seen sights that made him wish he had been able to bring his camera along. But the two young men had not been in any of them. He had even stopped at some of the soup kitchens where, much to his surprise, he had been treated like a normal person despite how he looked. For some reason he’d expected to be lectured or forced to listen to some religious spiel. Neither of those things happened.
It was nearing midnight when he got to the bus station. From the research he’d done online he knew that the homeless often used it as a place to get warm until they were kicked out. He stepped inside, paused to look around, and not seeing them he turned to leave when a hand landed on his shoulder.