Bossman by Vi Keeland

Chapter 3

Chase – Seven Years Ago

I stared at Peyton’s giant-sized face as I guzzled a bottle of water. The ad covered eight stories of brick on the corner building across from my new office.

“Stop slacking and get to work.” The life-size Peyton let herself into my office, dropped her guitar case on the couch, and joined me at the window. “I cannot believe how big that thing is. You told me one billboard ad. That’s a whole building. That tiny little chip in my front tooth is, like, three feet wide now.”

“I love that chip.”

“I hate it. The director at that callback I had yesterday told me I needed to get it fixed and lose ten pounds.” She lifted her hand to her mouth. “I need to get a laminate or a veneer or something.”

“You don’t need to fix shit, and he’s a moron with no taste.”

She sighed. “I didn’t get the part.”

“See? Told you. No taste.”

“You’re biased because I have sex with you.”

“No.” I pulled her close. “I sat through a fucking opera last week because you have sex with me. I tell you you’re a good musician because I’ve been to every show you’ve played since college, even when you’re hidden in the orchestra pit. And since you started acting, I’ve seen every one of your off-Broadway shows.”

“Off-off-Broadway shows.”

“Wouldn’t off-Broadway cover any show that isn’t on Broadway?”

“No. Off-Broadway is a small show in Manhattan with less than five hundred people. Off-Off-Broadway is that show I did in the Village in the coffee house.”

“You were really good in that.”

Peyton gave me a skeptical face. “What part did I play?”

“The hot girl part.”

“I played the mother who was dying of tuberculosis. You had your nose in a crossword puzzle the entire time.”

Oh. That play. “I might have missed some of that one. In my defense, I had just found crassword puzzles. Come on…three-letter word for something that goes in dry and hard, but comes out wet and soft? I was busy counting the letters in dick, cock, pecker, and prick a dozen times each before figuring out the answer was gum.”

“You’re such a perv.”

I gave her a chaste kiss. “Where are we going for dinner, Chip?”

She covered her mouth but smiled. “Don’t call me that. I could go for Thai. How about that little place in Chelsea we went to last month?”

“Sounds good.” I took one last look at my new billboard as I flicked off the lights and closed my office door.

Outside, I turned left to head to the nearest subway station, but Peyton turned right.

“Could we catch the 3 train on Broadway instead of the usual one?” she asked. “I want to stop over at Little East.”

“Sure.” Peyton had started volunteering at food banks and shelters when we were in college. I loved that she was passionate about helping people. But this place had some rough, transient types. It wasn’t unusual for a fight to break out a couple times a week. I’d tried to broach the subject of her safety. Unfortunately, her volunteering was one of the few areas where she wouldn’t bend.

When she was five or six, her loser of a father walked out, leaving her mother with Peyton and two other kids. Her mom could barely make ends meet on two salaries, and with only one, she was forced to decide between food and rent. She chose rent, which meant they were regulars at the local food bank for a few years until things got better.

One of the more frequent visitors at this shelter was sitting out front when we arrived.

“Hey, Eddie,” Peyton said.

I’d met the guy before. He was probably only in his forties, but the streets had aged him. His words were few and far between, but he seemed harmless enough. Peyton had a special bond with him—he’d say more to her than he did to most.

“What happened to your head?” I leaned down, careful to keep the distance I knew he needed. He had a wide gash near his temple.

“How’d that happen, Eddie?” Peyton asked.

He shrugged. “Kids.”

Lately there’d been incidents of teenagers beating up on homeless people overnight out on the streets. Eddie wasn’t big on sleeping in shelters. The places were almost always over capacity, and he had issues with people coming too close.

“New shelter on 41st opened,” I said. “Just passed it the other day. Might not be too crowded since it’s new, and the weather is warm.”

“Yeah.” Never more than a one-word answer for me.

“I think you should go to the police, Eddie,” Peyton said.

With all the time she’d put in at these places, she still didn’t get it. Homeless people didn’t go to the police. They walked the other way when they saw them coming.

Eddie shook his head furiously and pulled his legs up to his chest.

“That looks serious. You probably should have had stitches. Do the kids who did that come to this shelter?” she asked.

Again, Eddie shook his head.

After a few minutes, I finally convinced her to leave the poor guy alone and go inside to do what she’d come to do. When we went in, the shelter manager, Nelson, was cleaning up dinner service.

Peyton immediately started to interrogate him. “Do you know what happened to Eddie’s head?”

He stopped wiping down the table. “Nope. I asked. Got the usual response—nothing. You’re the only one he says more than please and thank you to.”

“Do you know where he sleeps at night?”

He shook his head. “Sorry. The city’s got more than forty homeless communities, and that doesn’t include setting up shop under a train trestle somewhere on your own. Could be anywhere.”

Peyton frowned. “Okay.”

“I know it’s not easy. But we can’t help the ones who won’t take our help. He knows he’s welcome to stay here anytime.”

“I know.” She pointed to the storage room in the back. “I forgot to take the inventory list. I have an audition tomorrow, so I’m going to do it online from home.”

While Peyton was gone, I looked around the shelter. The place had recently been painted, and each volunteer had donated a framed poster with their favorite motivational quote. There were probably a dozen in matte black frames running down the long wall of the cafeteria. The first one read Even at the end of the darkest night, the sun will rise again.

“Is this one yours?” I asked when Peyton returned with a folder.

“Nope.” She gave me a quick peck on the lips. “You can read them all another time, and I’ll give you a reward if you find the one I brought. But I want to catch Eddie again before he’s gone.” She tugged my hand. “So let’s go.”

Eddie was no longer sitting outside, although he was easy enough to spot. Halfway up the block, he was ambling along. He had a limp on the right and a garbage bag slung over his left shoulder.

Peyton saw him just before he rounded the corner. “Let’s follow him. See where he goes.”

“Absolutely not.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s dangerous—and an invasion of his privacy. We’re not following a homeless person.”

“But if we know where he sleeps at night, maybe the police would help.”

“No.”

“Please…”

“No.”

“Fine.”

I should have known she wasn’t going to drop it so quick.

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