Not that that roof is much to talk about: a tiny room in a run-down boardinghouse, little more than a bed, a hot plate, a small bar fridge and an ancient TV on a dresser and in a pretty bad area of town, or about as close to it as Seattle gets. Close to the I-5 and I-90 interchange, it’s only a few blocks north of “The Jungle”; a large wooded area where a large part of Seattle’s homeless population lives. His room might not be much, the old house looking like it’s about ready to fall down any time now, but it’s better than sleeping in the woods, particularly with what he’s carrying. He might take advantage of how easy it is to just look like another homeless man, invisible to most of the people on the streets, but roughing it in the Jungle is a risk he isn’t about to take, if he has other options.
He doesn’’t always find himself a room, depending on the city. He’d stayed in shelters or hostels when he could; which wasn’t often. The presence of so many people in one area with no doors or walls between him and everyone else usually meant that he didn’t get much sleep, unless his body had reached the point of total exhaustion. Oddly enough, he sleeps better outside than he does in hostels or shelters, as at least if he sleeps on the street he can find some small space to hole up in, where no one will even see him in the dark.
This week, though, he’s found the room, which though small, he can cope with. It isn’t like he’s there much, after all, as the walk to the day labor center in the morning takes about forty-five minutes and when he gets back in the evening there usually isn’t much time before he had to go to sleep, ready to start all over again the next day. It makes the days blend into one another, but that’s a good thing; they pass more quickly that way.
The men he’s worked with that week turn left at the corner where they’re dropped off as Jack continues walking straight across the intersection, none of them sharing as much as a nod of farewell. They hadn’t shared names, though Jack has his suspicions that at least one is a veteran, based on the way he carries himself and the expression in the man’s eyes. Not that that was uncommon to see, though Jack never actually asked for confirmation. This is work, not a support group.
He’s just crossed the intersection when he spots it: a car parked across the road. It isn’t that there’s any one thing so grossly out of place about it that it immediately sends up a warning. It’s subtle. It isn’t quite old enough to look like something someone around here would own, the plates looking perhaps too new, the body maybe a little too clean. The driver’s silhouette is just visible behind the tinted windows, and from the angle of his head, Jack can tell that the driver’s looking in his general direction.
Keeping his head down, Jack passes the car, using the glass storefronts to check if the car moves once he passes. It doesn’t, but that doesn’t keep the hairs at the back of his neck from prickling.
Picking up his pace a little, he turns down the next street, zig-zagging his way back to the boardinghouse. He doesn’t see the car again, but that doesn’t stop him looking at every other car on the street, looking for anyone going too slowly or with their head turned in his direction.
Just because he doesn’t spot anything of that type doesn’t mean it isn’t there, but even as he warily watches the traffic, he’s second-guessing himself. He’s trusted his gut on so many occasions and for good reason, but that doesn’t mean it’s infallible. Instinct and paranoia start to blur to the point where he isn’t sure where one ends and the other begins, turning the footsteps behind him into a tail, the movement of a hand into a pocket a threat.
Reaching the boardinghouse--one of two old, run-down houses that share the intersection with empty lots and decaying one- or two-story retail spaces--he unlocks the front door, scanning the foyer as he walks in. The owner is in his office to the right, TV blaring some old sitcom, as usual, and as Jack passes he spots the man’s eyes glancing at him--watching him?--from around the side of his paper.
Keeping his head down, Jack walks over to the mail slots, pausing for a moment (though he knows there won’t be any mail for him, or shouldn’t be) before turning to go up the stairs. Looking back, he sees the owner’s hand reaching for the phone.
His heart beating rapidly, Jack takes the stairs two at a time up to the second floor, fumbling with his key as he approaches his door.
It could be nothing. The garbage outside the office door every week testified to the owner’s tendency to live on crappy take-out and beer; there had been no strong food smells when he’d walked in. The man could just be phoning in his order after checking that whoever was coming in wasn’t someone he has to get after about rent or noise or a dozen other things.
Or he could be making a call to a government agency, as had been previously arranged by someone who’d come by looking for Jack. Look, when he comes back, all you gotta do is call this number. There’s a nice reward in it for you. You really going to pass up making a couple bucks by picking up the phone?
Or it could just be Jack jumping at shadows again, seeing things that aren’t there.
But even if the possibility is slim that there’s someone after him, that it isn’t just paranoia, it’s still a possibility. And with that on the table, there’s only one thing Jack can do: run.
He opens the door to his room carefully, scanning it for anything that looks even the slightest bit out of place. The pillow is still dented from where his head rested on it the night before, one end of his duffel still peeking out from under his bed. It doesn’t look like it, but that doesn’t give him any comfort.
Jack hasn’t unpacked--never does, no matter how long he’s rented a room for--so almost everything he needs is already in his duffel. Almost.
Pulling out his pocketknife, he quickly unscrews the vent cover and reaches in, hand groping for the bend in the vent about a foot back. Just around the corner, he feels the smooth nylon of the pouch he keeps his most important items in, mainly his money and I.D. He stuffs that in his shoulder bag along with the gun from under his pillow. The only food he has in his room is a box of granola bars and a couple bottles of water, both of which get shoved in his duffel. It’s because of moments like this that he travels light, doesn’t unpack when he gets somewhere. It makes it that much easier if he has to leave in a hurry.
Once he’s got everything packed, there’s the problem of how to get out. He doesn’t want to get within view of the office, and waiting for the owner to leave it isn’t an option. Creating a diversion might work, but at the moment, he’s blanking on anything that wouldn’t quickly make it obvious that he’d left. That rules out the front and back doors. Waiting also isn’t an option. The only thing left is to try and get out by an alternate exit.
Inspecting the window, it looks like while it had been painted over at one time, the paint job was pretty slapdash, and the paint has long since started flaking. Thirty seconds’ work with his pocket knife breaks what’s left of the seal, and he lifts the sash, sticking his head out. There’s an extension on the back of the building just below his window that he can climb out onto, but there’s a complication: the roof on it sags badly, and he’s not sure it’ll actually hold his weight if he gets very far from the wall. Even then, it seems dicey. However, it’s also his only option.
Only option other than staying and seeing whether this is all in my head, at least, he thinks, though there isn’t much chance of his actually listening to it. At this point the instinct to get out is just too strong; staying would probably send him into a full-on panic attack, and there’s always that possibility that his gut isn’t wrong.
Leaving the keys on the bed, Jack slings the duffel over his shoulder, and climbs out the window. Hugging the wall, he first closes the window as quietly as possible, then creeps along the wall, carefully watching where he places his feet. The room next to his has its curtains drawn; the room at the end is inhabited by someone who works the swing shift, and won’t be home for another few hours, so there’s no one from his own building at least to see his progress. The yard behind the house is narrow, screened from view along the long side by trees.
Reaching the edge of the extension, he drops his duffel on the ground, then lowers himself down from the roof. On the ground, he crouches for a moment, listening.
Normal traffic noises from the street, the sound of a TV and people from one of the windows next door, the dim roar of the freeways a few blocks away. Other than that, nothing out of the ordinary.
Grabbing his duffel bag, Jack makes his way through the yard to the street. From there he heads northwest, toward the Greyhound terminal.
The last buses to Portland or Spokane leave around midnight; walking to the terminal, even watching his back, should only take about an hour. He has lots of time, and by tomorrow morning, he’ll be headed east or southeast. Either way, it won’t be where anyone might be looking for him.