Book 1: Billie Joe's Journey
by Rick Beck
I became acquainted with a different side of San Francisco. As my feet met the wet, damp concrete, cold shivers ran through me. I was sure I shivered because of my lack of apparel, but chilling fear also accompanied me through the empty streets. Each time a car passed we pressed ourselves into a doorway. We didn't speak and Gene moved like a tall, wily cat. The further we went, the more lost I became.
When my feet became too sore to walk further, I asked him to stop. "Gene, I've got to rest my feet. And, I'm cold." "I'm cold too, but I don't want to go downtown. I'll have to fight my way out of some hole if they take me too. Ain't happening while I can still run"
Gene came back and stood over me with his hands on his hips and looking mean.
"I'm tired too. I'm cold too, but we sit around here moaning about it, we're dead meat. I ain't going back to juvy."
"My foot hurts. I've got to rest it."
Gene kneeled down on the street next to the curb where I had parked myself. He yanked my foot up, rested it on his leg and used his thumbs to spread my toes.
"Fuck!! Cut that out!" I yelled. "That hurts!"
"No doubt. I'll take you to Jesus. He's down by the warehouses a few blocks. You'll be all right. He was an Army medic. He can always fix up a small wound. Come on. Get your ass up. We can't sit around here I tell yuh!" Gene sat down and put his arm around my shoulder when I didn't get up. He leaned his face against my arm and we looked at my filthy feet hanging in the gutter. He stood after a few sympathetic moments and extended his hand. He helped me until I found a way to walk that protected the wound. I followed him and tried to keep my mind off our problems. I wondered where Ty was. I thought about Jake. I knew they would all be in a world of trouble. Jake was in his uniform, and they'd have no difficulty sorting out who he was. I worried about him going to jail. We turned a corner and there was a long row of tattered and broken warehouse doors.
"Come on. Jesus' place is just in back of here."
At the corner of the warehouse was a fence without fencing and a thicket of brush and shrubs. Gene moved through an opening I couldn't see, and there was a big Amana box that had once contained a refrigerator. "Jesus. Jesus! It's me, Gene," he called, not too loud. "What you want man? It's sleep time."
A man in a heavy, green coat, with wool gloves, a cloth hat and a scarf wrapped around his neck climbed from the box. Gene introduced us.
"Jesus, Billie Joe. He hurt his foot. It might need stitches. I thought you could fix it."
The lantern hissed and bright light blinded me. The man didn't say anything but looked closely at my foot after pouring alcohol all over his stubby fingers. He had a bag with all kinds of medical stuff. He poured alcohol over my toes, and then wrapped my big toe to my second toe with adhesive tape. He made a gauze bandage and covered the cut, wrapping tape all the way around my foot.
"This isn't too good, but I guess you aren't looking for no questions. Jesus asks none. Could use three stitches. Tetanus? No matter. You kids never listen to me. Stay off it for a couple of days. It should start to heal on its own we keep it clean and the bandage fresh."
"Jesus, you told me you'd help me if I needed it. We need it bad. Ran out on the cops. They probably are looking for us. As you see we didn't have time to pack."
"Gene, I help you. I can't help all kids. I got my house. I got Jesus. That's it. You boys get in. I make room, but Gene, you don't bring me no more boys here. You'll have me lose my house again. I no want to lose it."
"This is a good one. What happened to the one I helped you bring up."
"Cops come. They run me off. Took everything but what I could sneak away with. Sneaky bastards came just before dawn. That's dirty pool. No respect for a man's sleeping."
"Where'd this place come from?"
"I know stuff. I can't give away all my secrets."
"I'm not looking to score one. I just wondered. This is the best one yet."
"Buddy. Vet I new from Nam. He works at appliance store now. He fixes me up. I go and tell him when I'm needing me a new house. That night I have a brand new corrugated box that was sitting out by the trash. Damn nice. Plastic coated or something. Even the rain don't bother it." He looked us over critically. "Come on boys. You get to bed. I need me my sleep."
Gene indicated I should crawl up in the box with him. I felt like it was out of some dream. I could hear the guy putting stuff away and then the light went out.
I could smell him when he crawled in. I stayed up next to Gene. Luckily there was plenty of room. Gene did what I needed more than anything. He put his arms around me. There was some loose paper he put up around us but we managed to press together for the warmth the other's body gave us. It gave me warmth and something else that always seemed to rise when I touched another guy this way. I laid my fingers so I could feel him. I guess I was pretty tired. I fell right to sleep after we found the proper cuddle.
The sun was trying to shine when I woke up, although it was still overcast. I was cold, but I could feel Gene up next to me. That warmed me some. I wondered where our host had gotten off to. I tried to turn over but rattled all the loose paper inside the box.
"Shit," Gene said.
"Where's that guy?," I asked.
"Jesus? He's out collecting. He goes at sun up." "What's he collect?"
"Whatever he needs."
"He steal shit?"
"No! Not Jesus. He gets things out of the trash. Dumpsters and shit. People throw stuff out he can use or sell or trade to someone for something he needs. He gets food. He's been at it years. Longer than you and me've been alive. Man's an artist. You wait. You won't believe it."
"Why does he live that way?"
"I don't know. Why do we live the way we live? It's the way things are. You just do what you got to do, man. Why do you question everything?"
"He was in the Vietnam War?"
"He says. Says it was bad shit, too. He started drugs over there. He said they all did it. It was the only way not to go crazy, only he said it didn't work so good for him. He went crazy anyway. He won't be around people. He doesn't trust anyone. Maybe me on good days."
"Why doesn't he go get some help. He was in the war and all. They got to help him. They owe him"
"He says they tell him he's just a drunk. They can't help him."
"Shit! Lucky we caught him sober. If he's drunk, he's no good."
"What do you do for him makes him help you?" "Fuck you. It doesn't come to that. He thinks I'm his kid. I guess he adopted me. I come by, I crawl up in his box. He gives me food and lets me stay with him. He talks about dead guys. He talks about that war. I ain't never going to no war. Fuck that shit! Then he starts drinking and I split." "What do you do here?"
"Talk to him. You get him going he can tell you some shit."
"About the war. Mexico. Where he came from. His brothers and sisters. He knows stuff. He worked as a medic in the war. He's pretty good at doctoring. That foot looked nasty. He fixed it right up. Pretty handy guy."
"I never slept in a box before."
"Get used to it. You aren't with mommy and daddy any more, and what do you have against me any way?" "What are you talking about?"
"You're stuck up. First with Ty, and then with Jake. You ignored me. I wanted to be your friend from the start and you wouldn't even look at me."
"I saw all I needed to see. You don't know what I look at. You might be surprised."
"It's because I went with Sharon that first night, ain't it? You don't like me because I do it with women. It's just because of the guys. They all think I'm superstud. They get me going. I need that. I don't like her. I don't even touch her."
"I didn't say I didn't like you. You said it."
"You act like you don't. I had to about force myself onto you last night. You acted like you didn't want nothing to do with me. Most guys jump to get some of me, and you act like your shit don't stink. It does, and there ain't no perfume for that."
"I'm sorry. You wouldn't understand."
"Try me. Maybe I'll keep helping you if you do." "Don't leave me alone, Gene. You're all I got now. I lost everything. I had my money in my shoes. If I'd taken time to grab them, I'd not have got out that window. The cops were right on my ankles when I hit the roof. I don't know anyone. I'm afraid to be alone."
"I understand that. We're all scared, Billie. It's the way it is. You act special, and you don't look so special any more. You got bags under your eyes. Your face is dirty, and you're damn near as skinny as me, only no one is that skinny."
"I do like you."
"You didn't act like it. You ignored me. You're saying that to keep me helping you. I ain't no fool."
"I wanted you. I wanted to be with you. That's not saying a lot. I wanted to be with Tim and Tony, too. Whenever I see guys doing sex, I get all worked up. It's like I have no control over myself. I was too scared to act any different than I did. Ty protected me. I wanted him to protect me. Jake replaced Ty, and protected me, too. I have a hard time thinking you can replace Jake. I'm scared of everything."
"Fuck you. You're a free man aren't you. If I hadn't led the way, you'd be in the lockup. On your way back to Bumfuck, where ever your ass come from. I may not be a toe to toe fighter, but the man never gets me. I can climb up the side of a building and slide through a crack. You stick with me and we might not be able to beat our way out of trouble, but I'll show you how to slip your way out of trouble. Never hit anything head on, always outflank the problem. Go around. Don't ever go straight forward. You got your needs. I got mine. You want to play with me, you're going to pay."
"How old are you?"
"Fourteen and five months."
"Why are you out here?"
"Nowhere else to go."
"You got it?"
"Nope. I was just tested. Still clean. Had a little touch of something else. They cleared it up with a couple of shots. I usually let people do for me. Everyone loves taking me on with their mouth, so I go along with that. I do slip up at times, but I try to play safe. I don't want that shit. I think Jake and Tim and Tony are all clean. Sharon was, but she's been real active lately. I shouldn't have done that with her the other night, but everyone wants to see me in action. The guys all cheer me on. I like that. Only thing I ever done worth anything. I ain't too bright, and I'm not much to look at, but I'm hell when you get me in bed."
"I almost found out."
"Yeah! Come to think of it. We were rudely interrupted. Want a rematch before Jesus comes back? We got time."
Gene placed my hand on him. His bulge couldn't be missed. The pants took on a new dimension when I rubbed him. I got dizzy and faint almost immediately.
The strident and commanding voice startled me. "You boys roll out a there. Time to house clean," Jesus said. I slid out on my butt and Jesus threw a shirt over my head. "That's my best one. Thick. Warm. Keep you dry. These are my Sunday shoes. I never know when it is Sunday any more. They'll be too big, but we got paper to fix it. Socks are a bit worn out, but better holes than dirt, huh! I tried to find a second pair to fill the shoes."
"I can't take your clothes, Jesus."
"Jesus takes care of his boys. You need it . . . Jesus got it . . . you got it."
"Where'd you dig this stuff up, Jesus?" Gene said. "Have my place to keep things. Figured it was time to get rid of some stuff. Here. This is a shirt I wore in Mexico. Too small for me. I kept it to remember, but I don't care now. It look good on you, Gene. Tennis shoes, picked up on rounds. Think they big enough. They get bigger we be sticking two together to get your feet in. No socks for you feet. I'll find some. Stuff from the bakery. Sweet rolls. Pastry. Here's donuts. Don't toss many away. Some old milk from behind the market. It's not sour, but I don't drink after today. Eat up. Jesus got rounds. Anything my boys need?"
"Condoms?" Gene said, grinning.
"In Jesus' box, Gene. You boys shouldn't be doing no shit. You know about that AIDS shit. Condoms aren't foolproof. Keep it zipped. That's what I tell you. This boy is too nice for you, Gene. You leave him alone. Jesus doesn't even do it any more. I don't want to die a that shit. No, sir. You be best to leave this boy alone."
Jesus pushed a shopping cart away from the thicket, mumbling to it. It was loaded with bottles, cans, and what looked like trash. I put the shirt on and was grateful for the silk lining inside. It was everything Jesus said it was. Gene put on the red and blue shirt with the festive decorations. It did fit him pretty good in the arms, but the body sagged on him. It was a handsome shirt and looked freshly cleaned. His big toes stuck out the sides of the tennis shoes. I couldn't get the leather shoe on my bad foot. It was tan with the very top panel over the toes being white. They looked worn, but well kept. They still showed their last shine. The size was nine and I wore an eight and a half, so I knew they'd fit okay. I wondered why Jesus gave me his good things. It made me sad to think he lived in a box and pushed a cart and he gave us his best stuff. I didn't understand that. Once again I wanted to cry about it, but I put the shoes aside until I could walk. I kept the shirt on so I'd stop shivering.
"Want to, ah, use one of those condoms, Billie?" Gene asked.
"Gene, thanks for the help. You're right. I wouldn't have made it if it wasn't for you. Even with wanting to do something with you, right now I can't. I don't know what I'm going to do. I thought I had some time. A few days. A week. My time's run out. I can't do what you guys do. I don't know why I can't. I just can't. We got all day. We can eat and then think about other stuff. I want to do it when we both want to do it."
"I thought I couldn't. It wasn't like I wasn't already doing it with everyone in my neighborhood, but I didn't think you took money for it. Too much fucking fun to get money for it. Then, I got hungry, needy, they're always there with their wallets. Comes a time when you need what they got bad enough to give them what they want. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but one day. They know you'll be needing it sooner or later. If not you, someone. May as well do it and have some fun as to just do it for business. That's how I feel. Too much fun to make a business out of. You'll like me. I'll be good for you."
"I just don't feel like it right now. We've got plenty of time. You hold onto the condom and we'll get around to it. I know I want to. I just don't want to right now. I'm hungry. Let's eat."
"That's cool. I can wait. I'm not in no hurry. I'll be here when you want to."
Gene did stay. Jesus came back with lunch meat and bread for lunch. There was a radio he got batteries to run. We kept it down and stayed around the "house". My foot throbbed and Jesus advised I stay off of it for a few days. He worked carefully to change the bandage several times. He always poured alcohol all over my foot. It was curious how clean he was with the wound, and yet he smelled and was in obvious need of a shower or deodorant or something. By the third day I was able to put my foot in the shoe. Jesus helped me to walk around in the parking lot. He thought it was healing fine, but I shouldn't walk much for a few more days.
Gene and I went through half the condoms Jesus kept in his medical box. He said they were free and he could get all he wanted. I kept expecting Jesus to want to do something with Gene, but he never did. He never slept on our side of the box. We waited for him to go out on his morning rounds to supply us with food, one morning a belt, a pair of socks for Gene, and other odds and ends. We took to "having fun" as Gene called it, and I was mostly glad for someone to hold onto, but I found myself enjoying it more and more. Gene never wore out, and was always ready to go another round. There really wasn't much to do but sleep and eat and "have fun." When we stopped doing it I held him while we talked. He loved to be admired. We had to touch one another almost all the time when Jesus was absent.
I don't know what day it was when we walked back into The Castro. None of the kids were on the street. Gene had gone up once and learned Jake had been arrested. He was AWOL from the army after being caught with another guy one night. They charged him with all kinds of shit. He was looking at ten years in some prison in Kansas. That's why he came back to the streets, to get lost in a place he knew well. Someone had turned him in. The other kids were all lost inside the system someplace. No one knew anything about anyone. Ty had not reappeared. They were looking for a kid named Billie Joe. Gene brought me a flyer with my picture before I went naked onto the streets.
We walked around most of the day. It was nice to get out of the box-house, but I too was starting to smell myself. I looked into the shops and could see the dirt on my face. I hardly recognized myself. My eyes had sunk into my head . There were lines on my face where there had been none. We didn't talk to anyone, but stood outside the diner where some people talked to us as they passed. It was well after dark when we went back to the box.
"Who the fuck's out there," Jesus screamed.
"It's me, Jesus. Gene."
"Get the fuck outta here. I can't take care a you no more. Go away. Leave me alone can't you."
He stood up and his eyes were wild. His arms flailed in the air as he yelled at no one and fought with the night. "Come on. Can't be around him he gets like this. Come on. He's gone. Jesus isn't home tonight."
Gene dragged me down into the lot as I looked over my shoulder seeing the gentle Jesus screaming like some wolf barking at the moon. His arms were raised over his head as though he were trying to become so large no man would come near him, and yet I didn't think it was a man that Jesus feared. I felt his shirt around me and wondered why things were the way they were. I fought my tears as Jesus fought the night. I recognized his terror and wondered if I would stand screaming in the dark some day.
We huddled in a doorway along the route we had taken that first night. The streets a block away were still alive with people and cars. We held each other and kissed as I cried for Jesus and Gene and me. I wanted Gene. I felt alive and excited by him. I kissed him hard and tried to swallow his great, massive tongue. We whimpered and moaned while the city carried on around us.
"How long before we can go back?"
"He gets like this. You can't be around him. He goes wild. Hit me once. I learned not to be around him when he goes off. It isn't Jesus. I don't know who that is. It isn't him. Don't be mad at him."
"Goes off how?"
"Drinking. Goes off the wagon. He tries. I think it helps him having me around. Then he can't take any more. He's okay, and then he's like that. Days. Weeks. I just stay away until I end up there one night with nowhere to go. He's usually okay for awhile. Glad I'm there, and then he gets like this."
"Sad. Why doesn't he get help. He's a nice guy. He seems so nice."
"No help for him. He's tried to get help. The Vet Hospital just looks him over and sends him on his way. There's nothing wrong with his body. His mind is busted up inside. He told me stories of that war. Things he saw. Things they did to people. Things he ain't never forgot. He saw his friends in pieces. He tried to keep the pieces together, but he couldn't. He couldn't keep them together, and for some reason that made him go to pieces too. Whatever it was, he ain't never getting over it. Don't take no shrink to see that."
"That's sad. Someone could help him."
"No one cares, Billie. You haven't figured it out yet. We are nobody. We'll never be anybody. Society don't care for nobody. You got to earn the right to be cared about. Jesus thought he did earn it. He went and fought their fucked up war and they should help him, but he's nobody again. That's all. He's nothing to the people who could help him. Not unless there's another war they can use him in." Gene's arm was around my shoulders as the tears ran. I always wanted to cry these days. My insides were all upside down. I was hungry and cold again. I knew the terror waited just out of sight. I held Gene and kissed him as he pulled me up on top of him.
"Want to do it?"
"What we been doing all week. Do it."
"Right here in this doorway. It'd be fun doing it in the street."
"Of course we are, that's why I want to do it here. Let's do it. I want to cum. I need to cum."
He rubbed my hand on him as it peeked above his pants.
"No, Gene. No! That's stupid. We would get locked up for sure."
"Just checking. I figured I could talk you into anything after the way you've been loving me the past few days. And I thought you didn't like me. I guess I still need to work on you though. One day I'll say let's do it in the street, and you'll grab the condom out of my pocket."
We held each other when we stood up. We kissed. I liked his lips. They were the biggest thing on him except his . . . you know. I wanted to keep kissing him, but we decided we needed to find a place to stay for the night. We held hands and walked up toward the main drag, me in my shiny brown shoes with the white tops, and him in his tennis shoes with his big toes sticking out the sides. We must have been a sight. I could smell myself and him, and I loved it. I was still alive.
We scooted up behind the dumpster near the bakery, hoping we'd hear them throw out the day old stuff. There was cardboard and paper to keep us warm. It was windy, but it wasn't bad up close to the building. We did hear the lid slam and waited until the door closed. Jackpot! We collected what we could carry and went and found some old milk by the market. We ate and drank until we were ready to pop. We took some of our goodies to the box in the thicket and left it near the opening before sneaking away.
Gene had seen a car that looked abandoned and we went there. We checked it out and climbed into the back seat. It was dark and scary. I didn't sleep much. Gene snored and we held onto each other until dawn. I woke him up at first light and told him the cops would surely come and check it out. We moved on.
It was close to the weekend again when Gene told me his plan. "I've played it your way, and we're making it, almost. I can earn twenty dollars in half an hour. If I stay out for the evening, I can get us enough for a room and some real food. We can't keep dodging around. You look like shit. I feel like shit. I got to go to work. I know you don't like it, but I got to. It's got nothing to do with my liking you or not liking you. It's business out here."
"I know." I looked into his eyes.
"I thought you would sooner."
"I wanted to be with you. I figured you'd leave me if I did it. There ain't no choice now."
"No. I won't leave you, Gene. I depend on you. I need you. I love you."
"Me too, but I need to eat and to get one night's sleep where I ain't got one eye open. I got to do it tonight. You don't have to come. I'll meet you where you say."
"No. Don't leave me."
"If you go, if you get in the car, if they make you do it, I can't stop them. You don't want to do that, and I don't want you to. I'll meet you and we'll have money, but I don't want you to go with me. I don't want you to see them with me. You'll start hating me again like after you saw me with Sharon."
"You can't leave me. Please! I won't hate you. I love you. I couldn't ever hate you."
Gene held me and we both cried. I knew what he had to do, and as much as I disliked the idea, I thought that maybe I had to learn to do the same thing. I felt empty now, and, really, what did it matter? It was a way to survive. Everyone I had met and learned to care for was doing it. Why was I so special that I couldn't do it? It just took some getting used to. But the idea of it scared me.
We went up near the diner. The heads bobbed up and down. It had to be the weekend. I stopped at a news rack and saw it was Friday. No one stopped to look at me or to talk to me any longer. My first night out there, I turned half the heads on the block. I looked into the window and my face looked more narrow and my eyes stared an empty stare as I studied my face trying to see who it was inside that baggy shirt amongst the dirt and grime I collected along with the pastry and the milk each morning. I had become one of them in just a few weeks. No matter how hard I held onto things, I ended up with nothing. A hot meal. A bed. I could do it for that. I could do it tonight. I wasn't anything special to anyone.
Gene came and pulled me out of the window.
"What's wrong with you? You look like you saw a ghost or something. Smile. No one will get near us you keep that expression on your face. Smile at the cars. Someone will pick us up in a few minutes. Some old guys likes it dirty."
The man was fat. He wore a gold necklace thicker than my bracelet. I touched it where I kept it up near my elbow. I could pawn it, I thought for an instant. I let go of it and forgot it. Gene waved me to the car after opening the negotiation.
"Both of you. Thirty."
"No. Me. Twenty. He goes. He's my cousin from out of town. He doesn't do that. Can't leave him"
"Your cousin ever bathe? You don't look like cousins. What's he? Seventeen, eighteen?"
"Yeah. Don't worry about him. I got more than you can handle, pop. You see what I got, you won't care what he's got."
Gene leaned the front of his pants into the window. I saw the mans face rivet where Gene held his hands after unzipping his pants. The door opened, bumping Gene's legs. He motioned with his head for me to get in the car. "Come on kid . No shit. I don't put up with no shit." Gene sat in the front seat and held it up so I could slide in the back. We drove up a block and turned toward Golden Gate Park. The man's hand stayed in Gene's lap. Gene leaned back against the seat and stared up at the ceiling. I heard his breathing change some. Gene's hand closed on the seat. The man alternated between looking at the street and looking at Gene's crotch. Gene seemed to be working to make sure the man was hooked.
"Damn. You weren't lying to me. You come home with me. Use it on me the right way, I'll give you forty and a warm bed and a shower."
"I can't leave my cousin."
"He looks innocent enough. He can come too. We'll all fit in my bed. King size."
"No!" I said. "I don't sleep with no one but Gene." "He's scared. He's never done anything. I can't leave him alone for long. We can do what you like, but I got to be with my cousin tonight."
"We can do it and you can sleep in the guest room with him. I'll still give you forty and breakfast."
"It's the best deal we're going to get, Billie. We've got to go with him."
"Okay. Guest room. Gene sleeps with me."
"He in love with you, Gene? Doesn't sound like a cousin."
"We stick together. We watch each other's back. Of course we love each other. We're cousins."
"I can understand that. Young boys need to look out for each other. Once we finish up, it's okay. You can sleep together. I don't take a long time. Just don't get a sweet thing like you that often. Where have you been? Damn nice meat you got there. Damn big!"
Gene and I showered together. I was surprised the guy left us alone. If he was filming us the steam sure ruined his view. We dried each other off and I hugged Gene and didn't want to let go of him. He put on a robe the guy gave him, and I put my clothes back on. He showed me a room across the hall from where they went. He told me to stay in there until he and Gene were done. He left the door open on his room, but I closed the one on the room I was in. I sat in a chair beside the bed until they were done. It was most of an hour and seemed like forever. I grabbed Gene when he came in and held on for dear life. I didn't want to let go. He kissed me all over my face and took me out of my clothes dropping his robe to present me with his testimony of love for me.
"We can go, but I sure could use a night in that bed. He's harmless. He's nice compared to most. He wants to meet me again tomorrow or Sunday. If we stay we get breakfast. Let's stay."
"I don't care Gene. Just don't leave me. That's all." "I'm not leaving you. Stop worrying. Why do you keep worrying?"
"Everyone leaves me. You'll leave me. I know it." Sleep came quick and easy. I woke up in his arms with his lips on mine. His tongue filled my mouth and drove me to a place that gave me the most gentle peace. His kisses showered my body and he took me there in no more than a minute. With his lips still wet with my love for him he once more kissed me long and deep, making me dizzy and crazy for his touch. I held on to him for dear life and returned the favor as his body yielded up his innermost secrets, leaving the evidence on my hand and on my body as we once more slipped away from the reality of who and what we were.
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