Scribbles: The River Excerpt

The River
Brian D. Jones

July 2001

     When you can’t sleep, the river’s a good place to relax and reflect.

     When you can’t sleep, can’t pay your bills, can’t hold a job, have no more markers to call in and no more friends to sponge off, it’s a good place to live.

     So I do.

     In the hours between last call and first light, the channel’s quiet.  The party boaters are sleeping it off or getting it on, safe in their slips, the lakers and container ships are off-loading iron ore and Panasonic VCRs, their holds to be refilled with lumber and Chrysler minivans for the return trip to Toronto, Tokyo and Timbuktu.  The dark, overengined smuggler cigarettes have finished dancing with the Coast Guard cutters in the pale moonlight; if their boats aren’t boarded and their prints inked by midnight, the narc-skippers are home free, counting their cash.  None of them attempts to cross the river after the marina bars close.  Too easy for a coastie to spot.  They need the random white noise of gunkholers and weekenders for cover.

     I don’t.

     That’s why I like these small hours of night handing off to morning.  The river’s mine.

     Only from the river, under the moon, does Detroit appear powerful and prosperous, an assembly line -powered great white shark, with Windsor playing the remora role on the Canadian shore.  Thanks to ice age whimsy, the Canadian city is almost due south of the Big D, a time-tattered source of conversation with geography -deficient Yankee visitors to the Great White North. But never without a smile from the “canucks.”
     The great white is the remora’s meal ticket, and the remora needs no reminding.

     That’s why I live on my boat, on the river.

     Sort of.
     As I chug past Peche Isle, where the contents of the huge shallow pond of Lake St. Clair are squeezed south into the gullet of the Detroit River, to be passed further south into the great lake Erie, I spin the wheel to port and point my bow back downstream.  When I feel the current lend a lazy shove to my stern, I cut the engines, let the river handle navigation, and drift.

     And think.

     In a different time I would have gone below and fumbled through the icebox for a beer to accompany the dark silence, but not anymore.

     I won’t lie to you, though; the thought still enters my mind.

     Hell, it hardly ever leaves.

     The bottles in the icebox are another reason why I’m at where I’m at.

     Sort of.

     The “sort ofs” are why I spend so many nights drifting.  The “sort ofs” keep sleep at bay, and the riverdrifting keeps the “sort ofs” at bay, most nights, allowing exhaustion to land me around dawn , most nights.

     Not this one.

     I knew what had happened.  I knew how it had happened.  I wasn’t so deep into the bottle that I could deny authorship of those events, but they were losing their importance.  The whats and whys and hows don’t seem as damaging, as damningly important as they used to.  They don’t matter as much anymore, and that makes the seductive call of the rationalizing “sort ofs” harder to ignore.  Self-serving seductive sirens of “sort of;”  effective alliteration, ain’t it?  That thought, that phrase, makes me smile.  My past is gone, but not forgotten.

     The sirens sing:
     “You can go back.  It wasn’t  all your fault.  You don’t drink anymore.  You’re older, wiser, you’ve learned your lesson...”
     Second verse, same as the first.  And so on, and on, and on...

     Drifting allows me to face the “sort ofs” and kill them.  One by one by one.
     Until tomorrow night.

     Lately, as I drift, I‘ve been coming to a conclusion that is unexpected, and a little unsettling.

     I’m content.

     The “sort ofs” really don’t matter.  I don’t want my past to be my future; I can’t picture going back as being a step forward.  That was then, remembered like a sepia-toned black and white snapshot, and this is now, where I try to stay.  Now requires no deciphering, no analysis, no introspection.  Now happens now, and you take what you get.

     Tomorrow takes care of itself and defies expectations anyway, so why plan ahead?

     So, why have I started planning?

     I reach ahead of the compass binnacle for my tobacco pouch and refill my grandfather’s briar.  I spark the cherry blend to life with a snap of my Zippo, and gaze at the shrouded shore through the fragrant fog of smoke.  The glowing bowl is a comfort.  This boat and this pipe are my only ties to the past, and I only have these because no one wanted them.

     Except me.

     A colleague who won’t return my calls anymore once joked that my boat and I bore a striking resemblance to each other; a little rough around the edges and out of fashion, but solid.
     She should see us now.

     I no longer have the fiscal regularity for nautical niceties, and it shows.  The brass is tarnished, the teak decking weather-whitened, and the lines and radio are overdue for replacement.  But, the old tub still floats, the engines are strong, and she always knows where home port is.  Hecate is a little older, a little more experienced, a little less attractive, but still seaworthy.

      I’m in the same condition.

     The suits and wingtips are gone.  My deck shoes have two piece uppers and four piece laces, and my hair is receding from my brow but would be well past my collar, if I had one.  I’ve weathered.

On balance, I’m content.  I think I’m where I want to be, and where I’d like to stay.  It’s a novel sensation.

     So why do I still hear the “sort ofs” singing?

     Tonight, that’s why I’m riverdrifting.



     His lips curled in a tight, mirthless smile, the only outward sign he would allow of his thoughts.  Thoughts composed of disbelief, rage… and, mostly, grudging admiration.

     This must have taken years.

     He mind-processed the tableau, and evaluated the possible resolutions to the challenge the scene presented.  Lesser men “thought”, or “puzzled” over “problems”, or “crises”.  He saw challenges to be processed, the process consisting of evaluating all possible action and the resultant possible outcomes, until the best-suited action was planned, resulting in the most- favorable outcome. Presented with this current situation, lesser men would panic, and make hasty decisions to control the damage, without seeing the long term havoc that would inevitably result. Lesser men would fold.
     He had a word for lesser men.

     For as long as he cared to remember, he had never been lunch.  Lunch was a meal he ate.  Daily.  With great relish.

     The thought of becoming the menu was the furthest thing from his mind.  This was a challenge, and he had yet to come up against a challenge greater than his abilities. He may admire his challenger, but he never had any doubt that he would prevail.

     He always did.

     Still, it was a hell of a scene, an outcome he had considered, but never really taken seriously as a possibility.  He evaluated the room before him, his eyes registering every cubic inch, noting every visual detail: the sheet-bound, frenzy-eyed nurse, the open window, sans security bars, the open closet doors and dresser drawers, signs of hurried packing.  His nostrils picked up the sweaty stink of fear and exertion. His ears recorded the sounds of gagged panic-edged respiration, the frantic furtiveness of wrists against restraints. The challenge, however, was not what he sensed before him, but what was absent.

     The girl was gone.

    He heard footsteps on the hallway runner behind him, perhaps not as confident as they would normally sound. Without turning, he spoke.

     “We have a challenge.”
     A throat cleared, and a voice, like the footsteps, came to his ears with less confidence than he usually heard.  “I have the detail on the grounds, the lawns and paths are lit, the gates are locked down, and the dogs are out. I went to full fugitive alert status as soon as Kendricks called it in on his patrol.  I logged it at 5:42”

     “Don’t bother.  She is long gone.  Turn the lights out, get the detail back to normal duties, and explain that this was a test.”

     “Sir, she can’t be gone more than fifteen minutes, maybe much less, and there is a good chance she is still on the gr-”

     He broke in, his volume quietly conversational, his tone one of cold detached fury.
     “What kind of fucking idiot are you, Jackson?  Take a look at this.  What do you see?  I see a well- planned, well-executed escape, by someone who seems to have a solid working knowledge of our security procedures, which makes sense, since she is the reason we have these procedures.  Procedures, I will add, which you designed, and are paid well to execute, procedures and policies and personnel all under your purview, which, to use another word that begins with p, seems to have been money I have pissed away.  I want this place back to normal immediately, because the first part of containing this challenge is to make sure that no one outside these walls even thinks there might be a challenge.”

     A loud gulp, and a quiet “understood.”

   He turned and strode back down the hallway, Jackson at his heels, the hapless, still- restrained nurse already forgotten.

     “Kendricks is to return here immediately.  You and I and he are going to have a briefing. You may not know where she is now, but I know where she is headed.”
   “Ten minutes, my office. Get it done.  Now.”

    He could hear terse muttering into a walkie talkie, muffling the increasing tempo of equally frantic footsteps, as Jackson spun and left in search of asses to chew while trying to cover his own.

  Alone again, he allowed himself another death’s-head smile and a quiet salute.   “Enjoy your run, girl.  It had better be worth the price you’ll pay.”


Detroit has been a Catholic mission, a battleground, a trading post, a battleground, a manufacturing behemoth and a battleground, in roughly that order.

     It has never been forgiving.

     Ask the strikers at Henry Ford’s River Rouge  factory- those that lived, never worked for old Henry again.
     Ask the working stiffs whose homes burned during the riots of ‘68-  those who still care are still waiting for promised rebuilding assistance that will never come.

     Ask any Big Three autoworker chronically “laid off” during the last decade and a half- it’s hard to feed a family on vague assurances of call-backs.

     Ask me.

     Just after seven in the morning I nudged Hecate toward home.  I’d searched the river for sleep and found none, so as the rising sun warmed the sharp angles of the skyline, I’d picked up my fishing rod and cast upon the waters.

     I should have searched harder for sleep.

     Fishing is a time-tested river distraction, but if the fish aren’t biting, you aren’t distracted much.

     They weren’t; I wasn’t.

     Conveniently, I gave up on both fish and sleep as the dredged ditch optimistically labeled “Riverview Marina” blighted the view off Hecate’s starboard bow.  The engines had barely warmed up before I hung fenders over  the gunwales and ran fore and aft lines to the sagging dock the marina rents me without conscience.

     This is home.

     Riverview wasn’t much of a marina when the pilings first punctured the riverbank thirty years ago, and eleven different regimes of ownership have brought no noticeable change, except for the worse.  Every year the docks inch closer to becoming rafts, and every year the slip rental climbs, an ascent invariably blamed on “improvements.”

     Probably to the owner-of - the moment’s home.

     Still, shaky architecture aside, it’s the only marina on the river that’s open year-round, the dock-end gas pump dispense almost affordable, reasonably combustible fuel, and the other tenants don’t bother, steal from, or even acknowledge Hecate and I.

     It’s as perfect as you get in Detroit.

     With the old witch as secure as she was going to get, and sleep continuing  it’s refusal to tap on my shoulder, I triaged the galley, hoping for breakfast.  Cleaning out the icebox and food locker, I gorged myself on a box of stale animal crackers and a can of Vernor’s, and wished I’d caught a fish.

     Groceries moved up to second position on my priority list.

     Paying for them continued its record streak at number one.

     As I chewed the last baked elephant, I reviewed my economic options.

     Chewing the cracker took longer.

     I didn’t bother opening my wallet; I knew the contents by heart.  Driver’s license, two dog-eared snapshots, social security card.  No cash, no checks, no credit cards, no bank-machine card.  Examining my saving and checking account balances was not an option.

     I had neither.

     In the v-berth locker in Hecate’s forward cabin was a can of spare change, collected during the months of my waterborne residence, that constituted my emergency fund.  My current situation didn’t qualify.

     Being flat broke wasn’t an emergency;  it was normal.

     Time to go to work.

     I crushed the empty Vernor’s can and tossed it toward the bag where it’s five discarded siblings resided.  I’d return them later.  Cans were gas money.  I offered a silent salute to deposit laws and stepped onto the swaybacked dock.


     Time to dance.

     I walked down the dock to the shack that bore a weathered plank grandly identifying it as “Office,” and tried the door.  Which was locked, as usual.  You don’t need an office much when all the tenants mail their monthly payments to a P.O. box.
     A quick survey of the interior through a window which had never known the touch of a cloth elicited the absence of the cordless phone handset from the cordless phone base unit, and proof that the shack was uninhabited.  To whit, nobody was sitting in any of the three chairs, and there’s no place to hide in that eight-by-ten box.  Putting the facts alongside each other led me to wander to Champ’s boat, which is where I should have gone in the first place.

     Champ rarely goes into the office, but he never misses a call.

     I turned away from the water and scuffed across the gravel parking lot to Champ’s permanently landlocked Chris-craft.  The boat’s hull hasn’t been river-wet since Nixon’s presidency, which bothers Champ not at all.  He’s terrified of water.
     He loves the boat, though.

     It’s why he took the job managing the marina.  “I needed a legit job, I needed a home.  I got both.”

     It’s not much of a home.  Then again, it’s not much of a job, either.

     Champ has tenaciously held onto both for more than a decade.

     That’s Detroit.

     Climbing the battered aluminum step-ladder leaning against the hull, I found Champ.  In his view, he found me.
“Just the man I’m lookin’ for.”

     I swung my legs over the gunwale onto the Chris-Craft’s aft deck (“back porch,” Champ stubbornly insists), and gingerly eased into an ancient aluminum lawn chair that suspiciously resembled a bear trap.  Satisfied that I wasn’t going to be immediately devoured by the chair, I turned my attention to Champ.


     “You had breakfast yet, white-boy?”

     The needle had dropped on the vinyl;  Champ and I hit the floor.


     “Well, I’m gonna eat.  Caught some catfish, oughta fry up real nice.  Some of ‘em only got two eyes, even.”   Champ wheezed a toothless bark of a laugh.  “Eat some, white-boy.  Then we talk.”

     He squinted sideways at me.  “Even white-boys can’t live on cookies and soda.”

     No, Champ doesn’t miss much at all.

     He can also do things with pollution-mutated Detroit River catfish that would make Wolfgang Puck hang up his toque. 

     “I could eat.”

     “Knew you could.”

     I knew he knew.  The dance steps sometimes varied, but the partner never changed.

     Champ levered himself from his throne, a long-suffering avocado green vinyl covered la-z-boy that the Sally Ann would have rejected, and stumped down the stairs to the galley below.

       It was painful to watch, but I left him alone.  I once tried to help him out of his chair, and my efforts were rewarded by a surprisingly solid kidney punch, five minutes of obscenity- loaded ancestral allusions, and a month-long banishment from Champ’s kingdom.  If he could have evicted me and  Hecate, he would have.

     Champ values his delusion of youthful health, and I value Champ’s unique services, so we endure the pain separately in silence.

     Forty years ago, a long-dead sports writer had hailed Champ as “the next Joe Louis,” in an article about a long-forgotten bout.  Thirty years ago, a Pulitzer prize-winning reporter had labelled him a “former boxer turned enforcer” during coverage of an attempted murder trial.

     Eight years in Jackson State, the diabetes that stole his right leg at the knee, and a daily diet of grease and unfiltered Camels couldn’t put him down for the count.  Champ is downriver Darwinism writ in three hundred pounds of flesh, bone, and prosthetic plastic and steel.

     Down here, tough gets you in the door.  Strong keeps you in the game.  Damn few stay at the table long.

     Champ has been here twelve years.

     Down here, Champ is the gatekeeper.  You need a job , a job done, or a job undone, he’s the man you see.  But, there is always a toll to pay.

     That’s why we dance.

     I closed my eyes and soaked up the early morning sun.  It was only June, and it was still early, but it was hot.  By noon, the humidity would be high enough to make breathing and drinking fraternal twins.  By August, as the summer peaked, the city would again redefine the cliche, “crazy with the heat.”  Car accidents and domestic disputes would escalate to brawls and involuntary manslaughter, and neighbourhood bars and package stores would become free-fire zones.

     That old conversational chestnut, “hot enough for ya?” was a call to arms in summertime Detroit.

     But now, the sun just felt good, the frying catfish smelled great, and smelling and sun-bathing were my only available time-killers, which was just fine with me.  In this dance, Champ led, I followed, and the next move was his.  Champ’s time was his own, and he felt my time was his as well, and he would take as much of both as he needed or wanted.  He’d talk when he was ready.

     Champ’s glistening bald head brushed the overhead of the galley as he pushed the catfish around the puddle of butter in a battered cast iron pan.  Without looking up from the fish, he continued to lead our two-step.

     “You doin’ anything today, whiteboy?”

     My turn to dip.  “I got some plans, yeah.”

     A barked laugh from below.  “Like shit!  You ain’t catchin’ no fish, you ain’t got no money, and you ain’t no place else, which tells me you need some plans...”

     A sausage of an index finger pointed through  the hatch at me.

     “... which I’ve got.”

     I surrendered. “Okay, it’s your play.”

     A grunt .  “Nice rhyme, whiteboy, but leave that rap crap to those who can, a’ight?”

     I shut up.  Champ doesn’t want conversation as much as he wants an audience.

     The fish had been slid onto plates of pan-scrambled eggs, in turn slid onto the discarded wire-spool table on Champ’s back porch, a cup of coffee had been pushed into my hand, and Champ had pretended to ease into his chair.

     “I’m hungry.  I’m gonna eat, white-boy, while this fish is still hot, then we gotta talk.”

     Fine with me.

     Three plates and two cups each later, Champ ripped off a bowel-deep belch, settled back in his chair and gazed at the sky, seemingly lost in thought.


     He knew exactly what he was going to say to me long before I sat down at his table.  Feeding me breakfast and making me wait for him fed his ego, and if I tried to rush him, the dance would be over.
     And I would walk home alone.

     I couldn’t afford to.

     I could never afford to, which was why I danced.  Champ was my meal ticket, and ritual was the price.  Truth be told, I kind of enjoyed it.  It’s not like I had anything else to do.

     Without lowering his upturned face, Champ looked down the sight-line of his nose at me, and meandered to the point.

     “You know pumps?”

     “Water, bilge or fuel?”

     “Fuel, smart-ass.  Simps at Northview called me yesterday.  Got a customer, white doctor don’t like to get his hands dirty, an’ his reg’lar mechanic’s on vacation or some shit.  Gotta get done today, y’know? “

      He thumped his fake leg and growled a dark laugh.
     “Motherfuckin’ white doc’s  in no hurry to fix my leg, but a boat, well that’s important, I guess.  Shit.”  He shifted in his chair, adjusting his artifical leg with a habitual contemptuous backhand.  “You know them Volvo engines, right?”

     “I can figure it out,” I allowed.

     “Go see the man.  He’s got the parts, just ain’t got the hands.”

      “What’s it pay?”

       “Rush job, I told ‘im it was gonna take five hunnerd, if he wants faster than FedEx.”  In other words, if it absolutely, positively has to be done today.

        “So what’s my end?”

        “I take my usual finder’s fee.  I get one, the rest is yours.”

       Champ had probably nailed Simps for seven hundred, but I wasn’t about to complain.  I hadn’t seen four hundred expired presidents in one place in a while.

        “Okay, I’m on it.  I’ll take Hecate up there after breakfast.”

      A brief flash of white and gold from the middle of Champ’s face sealed the deal, and confirmed my thoughts on the size of his finder’s fee- it was the big man’s version of a shit-eating grin.
      “I knew you would, white boy. And I know you won’t let me down.  If you can keep that bucket of yours running, then one of them plastic-fantastic doctor’s boats ain’t no big thing.”

      Four hundred bucks for a two hour engine job;  my day was looking bright.
      It couldn’t last.

      It didn’t.


     “Got a freebie for ya too, John.”

      Anytime Champ doesn’t call me white boy, I know there is another shoe about to drop.  I waited.

      “A couple of suits were looking for you this morning.  Real dark-ass early.”

      “Cops.”  It wasn’t a question.  No one else Champ would consider a “suit” would be working outside nine-to-five.

     I know.  I used to work with them.  Sort of.

     “What’d you tell ‘em?”

    “Hadn’t seen you, hardly knew you, didn’t know when you’d be back, ‘do I look like muthafuckin 411 to you?’  The usual big, dumb, hostile nigger routine.”

     Champ would do almost anything for a fee… but he would never do business with a suit.

      “Thanks.  What do I owe you?”

      Champ’s battle-gnarled ham of a right hand swatted the question out of the air.
       “Keep Simps happy, and don’t make me look bad.  There’s more business to come from outta there, with all them rich white folks who ain’t smart enough to take care of their own damn toys.”

      In this world, there is nothing worth nothing.  My estimate of Champ’s extortion went up.  If he’s giving me free intel, then he must have hammered Simps for a cool thousand.

      What the hell.  Simps probably charged the doctor fifteen hundred. The doctor probably didn’t care as long as he could cruise into a slip at the Roostertail and impress all of the nubile young vultures lining the bar, looking for someone just like him to feed on.
     Riverfront economics.

     A crumpled piece of paper flew across the table and landed in my lap.

      “They left a card.  Said they’d be back.”  Champ snorted.  “If I saw you I was to tell you to call.  Uh-huh.”

     I made no move to pick up the balled up card.  “Thanks.  I’ll be sure to do that.”

     Champ started to clear the table.  “Best get your broke ass headed to Northview, whiteboy.  Them two looked a little intense, y’know?  Lookin’ like they be comin’ back, until you come back.”

     I shrugged, and passed my plate and cup to the big man. “I’m clean.  I wonder what they want?”
     Champ’s monstrous belly shook. “They weren’t here to give you no Publisher’s Clearinghouse check, fool!  Whatever they want, it ain’t good.”

     He was right. 


      Nothing is the way it was.  The way it used to be.

      The girl stepped from the alley to the cracked sidewalk and scanned the entrance to the building across the street.
      It looked different, not like last time.
     She had been noticing that a lot on her journey downtown from the suburbs.   Houses being built by the dozen in freeway-handy developments in the ‘burbs gave way to houses burnt by the dozen as she got closer to the heart of the city.  Victors of the “If you lived here, you’d be home by now” development race farther out, and victims of Devil’s Night, Detroit’s homegrown urban renewal program, closer in.
     None of that was (really) different, overall.  Some of the cookie cutter subdivisions were new to her, and most of the hollow-eyed torched duplexes, but the overall pattern was familiar.
     (Really) different started when she climbed out of a cab on Woodward.  High over her head, she could see the shining General Motors logo topping the Renaissance Center.  That was different.  The neon glow of the casinos now running 24/7 a few blocks east was different.  The sense of urgency and purpose she saw in the stride of the people walking from the parking garages was different.  Last time she was in the city at seven in the morning, the only people she saw moving were crackheads and alkies who hadn’t bottomed out yet. Downtown seemed more alive.
      Not thriving.  Hell no, she thought, this is Detroit, after all.  But, the city seemed to be surviving rather than dying.
     Which really fucked up her plans.
     Careful to stay in the early dawn shadows, she conned the street, the cars, the doorways around her position.  Instinctively, she kept the mouth of the alley at her back, in case the need arose for a quick get-gone.
    No trackers on the scene yet.
    She clamped her jaws on a yawn and rubbed her eyes.  It had been one long-ass night.  Looking again at the building across the street, her tired, anxiety stressed brain finally qualified what was wrong:
     No activity.
     Every other office building on the block was eating up and spitting out cleaning crews, kitchen staff and eager beaver office dwellers, but no one had walked in or out of the WPA- ugly four storey block across the street.
      It was still early, the girl figured.  Why would government employees bother coming in before nine?  They can’t get fired, and no one cares about efficiency, she reasoned, even as her stomach tightened another half-turn. 
    Rationalization, she lectured herself. 
    Creating the best outcome out of the worst case scenario is not a smart idea right now, girly.  Last time you were here, there were people sleeping on the sidewalk out front at this time, waiting for the doors to open.
     This isn’t good.
      Feeling exhaustion trumping adrenaline, she  dropped to a wary crouch, turning so that her pack-cushioned back rested against the south wall of the alley.  Better.  Now she could see both the building across the street to the east and west  down the alley by turning her head.  She mind-slapped herself for not considering the possibility of someone sneaking up on her from behind earlier.
   “ A position chosen for ease of retreat is often easily attacked.”
    She heard the man’s voice inside her head, and tried to ignore the patronizing tones, hating herself for having to admit that he was right.  If one of the rent-a-drones had rolled up the alley behind her, her ass would have been grass.
     Thanks for the fucking advice, dad.  Can’t wait for the day when I can shove it right up your ass.
     Checking her watch, she realized that the nine a.m. bureaucrat start time was still almost two hours away.  She sighed, briefly closed her eyes, adjusted her back against the wall, and settled in to wait.  She was good at waiting.
    She had waited, and watched, for five long, furious years. She was done being scared, humiliated, violated, like she was when she would have been a kid.
    When she would have been a kid. It was her term, coined and kept in the mint of  her own mind. When she would have been a kid- that was how she always though of her early years.  
.   Her future had looked neither long, nor bright, and when she would have been a kid, she despaired of ever seeing adulthood, even as she had never seen childhood. That limp bag of weak emotions had driven her first impulsive escape attempt.  She had failed then, been captured and returned, but she had learned.
    He may have been an asshole, but her father had given her two unwitting and unwilling gifts: the girl had inherited his intelligence and his single-minded stubborn determination, two qualities masked when she would have been a kid by the gifts he had stolen from her.   She had cast that molten puddle of weak emotions into  a single billet of case-hardened anger, it’s mass and density virtually displacing the crucible of fear in which it had been born.  Holding onto her fury, embracing it, she tooled it into a weapon.
    Then she learned to aim it. 
     Five years ago, she ran scared.  This time, she was running smart.
     She was also running for her life.
     Fury is a fast burning fuel, and the undergrowth of fear grows quickly on the scorched earth of exhaustion left behind.   Unconsciously, she muttered the mantra that aimed the anger and quenched the fear, hot hard insistence replacing volume.
     This time you won’t find me.  This time you won’t get me.
      I’m younger,  older, wiser, smarter, tougher, and I’ve got nothing to lose.

     She opened her eyes, scanned her perimeter and allowed herself a combat vet’s still-alive smile.  Five years of determined anger is all it takes to escape Bloomfield Hills and make it into Detroit.  Usually, it’s the other way around.
     Five fucking years.
   She shook off the temptation to focus on all that she had lost, since when she would have been a kid.  Instead, she sit-repped her here-and-now.  “Sit-rep” was one of his terms, absorbed along with other lessons and language when she would have been a kid. Military slang, short for “situation report.”  She loathed utilizing anything spawned by him, even his language, but now wasn’t the time to worry about it.  Later, when she was free for real, she would purge his contributions from her vocabulary.
     Other mementos would be harder to erase.
    Right now, in the here-and-now, she would use his words, and his thoughts, and his tactics and any other goddamn tool and weapon at her disposal to win her war.  She had been held captive in occupied territory her entire life.  This was her only chance for freedom.  And, if she was very lucky, and very brave, she might be able to annihilate the opposing force and guarantee her freedom forever.
    That was the future.  This was the here-and-now.
   Her sit-rep wasn’t promising on the tool and weapon count, at least for fighting the here-and-now battle. Her pockets were empty; she had donated what little cash she had run with to the college kid who answered her roadside thumb and dropped her here. Her pack held no food.  No water.  No firearms.  Just clothes, her journal…  and the secret. The secret was her only externally mounted weapon.   Powerful, but it was a last resort one-shot.  The secret was a battlefield nuke, guaranteed to wipe out the opposing force, but of little value if all you wipe out are grunts, not generals.  She would use the secret later, in a strategic surgical strike on a target-rich environment. 
     If she was still upright and pulse- present on the battlefield when the time came.
    This time you won’t find me.  This time you won’t get me.
I’m younger, older, wiser, smarter, tougher, and I’ve got nothing to lose.

   She checked her watch again, and again noted nothing happening across the street.  Looks like her target intel wasn’t all that solid either.  Everything was different, and she didn’t know whether to advance or retreat.
   Indecision started it’s sneering “You’re fucked!” chant in her mind, the refrain growing in volume and insistence, threatening to shatter the fragile survivor’s confidence that had gotten her this far.
   “It’s hopeless!  You can’t win! You ran, but you ran to nothing, you dumb bitch!  You’re fucked!”
  She slammed her eyelids shut, pistoned her skull back hard against the bricks, and hissed through the starshow:
     This time you won’t find me.  This time you won’t get me.
I’m younger, older, wiser, smarter, tougher, and I’ve got nothing to lose.
     Indecision was bagged and tagged.
   Okay. She would stay dug in, and wait a little longer.

   The rising sun had crested above the skyscrapers to the east, the early rays reflecting from the mirrored silos of the Ren Cen, finally lightening the darkness at the floor of the concrete canyons, pushing back the shadows shrouding the front of the building across the street.  Now the girl could make out details of the building face, noting another difference:  there was a new sign hanging in the first floor window to the right of the door.  Two bold words were visible behind the dusty glass.
     For lease.


     She closed her eyes again, and again got a stranglehold on her rising panic.
     This time you won’t find me.  This time you won’t get me.
      I’m younger, older, wiser, smarter, tougher, and I’ve got nothing to lose.

    Okay, time to retreat, regroup, and rethink.  Get out of here, find some place safe and figure out what to do next.
    The girl stood, wincing as her knees popped, turned her back on the building across the street, and began to run down the alley.  She just missed seeing a black Crown Victoria cruise low and slow past the front of the former home of Wayne County’s Department of Child Protective Services.
    His scouts were in the combat zone.