Hughie Brown stared at the rat; the rat stared back at him. Each occupied a far corner of the same dumpster. Hughie thought rats were supposed to have red eyes because of something he read in a book a long time back in college, long before his Juris Doctor degree. Maybe that was at night when they fluoresced like a cat’s. This rat had matte-black eyes and whiskers that filtered the air continuously while it poked its nose into the surrounding trash. Hughie wondered how the rat made it into the same dumpster because he’d been forced to dive through the open lid, scraping both thighs and tearing the tender flesh of his palms from a steel burr on the rim.

Fear gave him wings; he flew down that alley once his botched holdup became clear. Despite the fear of lockjaw (assuming he made it out of the dumpster without being cuffed by screaming cops), it was the only thing he’d done right that day since he walked in and handed the teller the note he’d labored on for an hour, crafting each block letter. He’d torn up a dozen drafts in fear that someone might identify his handwriting—yeah, that’s exactly how Hubert Brown used to do his letter S’s, some long-forgotten classmate said to the phantom cop…his hand shook as he formed the wiggly block letters demanding “all the cash,” even adding a hasty postscript: NO DYE PACKS OR ELSE!!!

The tripling of exclamation points pleased. Both exclamatory and immature, his clever red herring. No self-respecting writer of lawyer briefs would ever use one, let alone three. As soon as the teller’s eyes cut to the message he handed her, Hughie planned to flip open the flannel shirt to show the butt of the gun. With its pink-tipped barrel out of sight in his pants, as per law for all toy guns, she’d have only time to glance, not enough to tell it was a water pistol.

Instead of forking over the money, she calmly gazed at him and swiveled off her chair. Hughie watched her, his mouth agape, brain firing off a cascade of crackles. “Hey!” he shouted—except that came out in a choking gurgle. Amazingly, she returned with the manager beside her. Hughie noticed how the light picked up amber highlights in her hair.

“What is this about, sir?” the manager asked.

Hughie stared at the wavy pattern in his tie—and bolted for the door. His plan was to head for the parking lot where his battered Honda sat out of range of the bank’s CCTV cameras.

Instead, he turned left, toward Capitol Hill, where he’d been hanging out with the rest of the street people, that sorry parade of les misérables looking to score drugs or cadge money from the few passersby foolish enough to wander Seattle’s worst high-crime area.

Knowing he was too far to make it without being spotted by a passing cruiser, he turned into an alley separating a paperback bookstore and an out-of-business furniture store. As soon as he spotted the dumpster with two lids flipped open, he amazed himself with a one-handed vault. With the rat for company, he sat in an adrenalin-drained stupor amid the stench of rotten food, contemplating this disaster in his life.

It wasn’t as though he robbed banks for a living. Hughie Brown did nothing for a living. As soon as he could con a friendly-looking caseworker into believing his story of “severe stenosis of the lower vertebra,” handing her the doctored MRI he’d bought in South Park from a junkie, he allowed the working taxpayers of Seattle to pick up the tab for his living expenses. Subsistence living wasn’t what he’d planned, though. He also hadn’t planned on a drug habit that sent him spiraling downward to join the masses of falling-down addicts and mentally deranged homeless existing between Pike and Pine Streets.

What cost Hughie his first real job at a reputable law firm six months ago was a joke—just a lousy, ill-timed joke at the office Halloween party. Two of his peers talked him into wearing a papier-mâché “toilet suit.” Jake Roethlisberger from Wills and Estates and Donnie Coltrane from Torts, both aspiring partners, talked him into wearing it as a gag. His face daubed with pancake makeup and disguised behind a tower of toilet tissue rolls, he hunched down in one of the stalls in the women’s lavatory waiting until his knees cramped. He nixed Donnie’s plan to wear a GoPro headband to capture the moment, arguing he just got hired and didn’t plan to wind up in a lawsuit.

“Stop wiggling,” Jake commanded. “That plaster of Paris shit crumbles every time you move.”

Hughie thought his knees would crack if he had to wait one more minute when he heard the restroom door open and footsteps cross the tile floor. The door to his stall opened and he heard a shuffling sound, clothing being pulled down. Before he knew it, he had a below-decks view of Shirley Beamis, the office manager’s broad, orange-skin-pitted ass cheeks and hairy cleft looming toward him. As soon as her nether quarters felt Hughie’s lap, detected the seismic shift beneath her buttocks, she leapt to her feet, screaming, her cotton panties ripping apart in her haste to pull them up. Hughie, encumbered by his ridiculous costume, pieces half-stuck to various body parts as he emerged from the restroom, walked in grim silence down a gauntlet of withering scorn from the staff—Donnie and Jake predictably absent—as plaster lumps of his fake toilet dropped from him. Down the hall, he punched the elevator buttons in a fervor to escape, flee. He spent the weekend on his apology to Shirley and the entire firm, a wasted effort because his termination was hand-delivered in certified mail just as he left this apartment on Monday.

Ergo, his short-lived, second career as an impoverished and desperate stickup artist.

By around ten o’clock that evening, fatigued and famished but not wearing leg irons or doing a perp walk for the cameras as a disgraced former lawyer, he poked his head above the rim to see if hordes of police were poised to take him down. Nothing, nada, zip. Just the pervasive stench of the alley. By then, he was nose-blind to the stench from the dumpster itself; his companion in ignominy long gone to wherever rats go when they’ve had their fill.


More desperate days later, he roamed about Capitol Hill when a pleasant-faced, young male in his mid-twenties with tattoos and a buzzcut asked him if he’d like to make a hundred bucks.

“I’m not gay,” he replied.

He wasn’t upset or even surprised by the man’s offer. He’d had several bizarre offers before in this stretch between Pike and Pine Streets.

“A hundred bucks to fight this guy, an old bum.”

The thought of money to buy food alerted his stomach juices; the man heard the gurgle from where he stood.

“Why me? You fight him.”

“Ever heard of Bum Fights? A hundred busks cash to take a few swipes at this other bum—this other guy.”

“How do you know I’m a citizen in distress?”

“You smell like dogshit. Your eyes are pissholes. I figure you can use the money.”

“What’s in it for you?”

“Clicks and eyeballs, homey. I video it with my smartphone, upload it to my YouTube channel.”

The other guy—“a stoner, a geezer half your size and twice your age”—was waiting for them behind the Cal Anderson pool that night in a semi-circle of a dozen young men, all college-aged, none looking like the street people he’d jostled shoulders with since his abortive bank job. The old timer was everything the YouTuber said, and Hughie was starting to feel shame and pity for the decrepit old man until someone near him handed him a bill and shoved him out of the crowd’s inner circle.

Another man stepped forward from behind the crowd. He was big enough to eat apples off Hughie’s head. He looked fierce, and the sneer on his face said he couldn’t wait to get the mayhem started.

Hughie looked around for the YouTuber, but he was nowhere to be seen, and Hughie himself was dazed by the hazy glare of so many cell phone lights shoved in his face. He noted the illuminated makeshift ring where the battle with the big man was to occur. The man’s face expressed a sneer of contempt; he couldn’t wait for the action to commence.

A Derringer isn’t a noisy gun, but when it goes off close by, the effect is as good as large-caliber weapon. The crowd dispersed in all directions. The last to run were the YouTuber and the ringer meant to beat Hughie to a bloody pulp for the sake of “clicks and eyeballs.”

“Take off, motherfuckers!” the shrill voice shouted, “or I’ll give you something real good to film!”

They left in the same direction, the bigger man making a show of taking his time.

The one who saved him was a girl—slim, dark clothing, tattoo sleeves, wild, unkempt hair.

“Come with me before those assholes change their minds.”

“Do you know them?”

“Yeah,” she said. “They look for stupid assholes like you. That guy, Rory. One of his bum fights left this homeless guy braindead. At least the guys out of the weather and getting fed—from a tube.”

“He said he does it for YouTube.”

“You’re dumber than a bag of dicks if you believed him. You might could put one on for a day, maybe two. He uploads all kinds of that gruesome shit to the dark web.”

“Why don’t the cops do something?”

“Are you out of your fucking mind? Seattle cops don’t investigate rapes nowadays.”


Her name was Jordan. She took him to her “home,” a tent in a homeless encampment the cops left alone because it was out of sight of street traffic.

She brought him food. She found—stole, more likely, Hughie believed—a tube of Bactrim ointment for his infected hand. They ate soup together—some food pantry giveaways of outdated stock. She asked him for nothing and expected nothing back. She kept the four-shot Derringer on her all the time except when she slept, and then, it was tucked for easy reach under the sofa cushion she used for a pillow.

Jordan was an abused child abandoned to the streets by a junkie mother. She remembered a house in San Diego, but that was too many years back, she said. She never knew her father. Once they had to hightail it deeper into the brushy undergrowth when a camera crew with the KOMO News logo approached, looking for yet another sob story of the wasted lives of the residents of the encampment.

When he felt they’d shared enough confidences, he asked her how she survived. “What do you do for money?”

They were eating cold chicken soup out of cans at the moment.

“Anal sex,” Jordan replied calmly.

Hughie sputtered, slobbered his soup.

“What’s wrong?”

“Oh nothing,” he said. A few weeks ago, I was a newly-minted lawyer. Now I’m talking to a street whore about anal sex…

Little by little, she revealed that a clutch of pederasts met at certain places in the South Park district looking for male prostitutes. She charged 50 dollars apiece, dropped her pants and bent over.

“Doesn’t it…hurt?”

“Hell, what these losers stick in there isn’t as big as what comes out. I walked around with a banana up there when I decided to make money that way. That bother you, bank robber?”

The simpering way she called him that told him his attempt to make himself sound less like the halfwit amateur she thought he was sound like a reckless act of bravado failed miserably. She used the computers at the public library and showed him the Xeroxed article captioned “Bank Heist Failed” in a small paragraph on page seven of the Times.

“Cops still lookin’ for you?”

“I suppose,” Hughie responded glumly, his embarrassment aggravated by the knowledge that the FBI had jurisdiction over bank robberies, not an understaffed city police force—and they never forgot. If he wanted, he could have recited the criminal statute to her and the penalty, which started at 20 years in a federal prison, no “good time” or extra-day weekend like the state’s penal system.

“You can always go back to law practice,” she said. “Me, I got nothin’.”

“I’m disbarred,” he reminded her.

He flashed to Shirley Beamis’ broad ass, the dimpled skin, the whispering sound of her cotton panties tearing in her attempt to flee the human toilet. Donnie and Jake both called him within a day of his termination being announced sub rosa to the firm’s legal staff. Donnie told him Shirley was given a hefty “bonus” and asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement.

“You fuckers ought to go down with me!” Hughie shouted to each one. Donnie wept and begged him “for the sake of my wife and children” to keep stumm about his own involvement. Jake was more stoic on the phone, but Hughie knew he’d just gotten engaged to a society girl, and the knowledge he’d been involved in this “sexualized prank,” as one senior associate delicately put it, would wreck his pending marriage as well as his career. In the end, he agreed “to take one for the team,” but he told Jake that, if he ever saw him or Donnie at a bar, he’d take his $400 Easton Ghost softball bat to his head.

Weeks passed. Hughie stopped thinking about his family at the apple farm in western Washington. He slept all day sometimes, walking around the downtown at night, lost in the jumble of hustling addicts and nodding junkies asleep in front of stores or urinating in the street.

Jordan gave him a butterfly knife she’d admitted to stealing from an Army/Navy store to take with him. He tried to refuse it, but she became furious and threatened to gut him with it if he didn’t keep it on him when he left their tent. Jarred from his usual state of numbed indifference, he finally agreed.

She cares about me

That disturbed him throughout his rambling sojourn about the city that night and for a long while afterward.

A few days after that incident, Hughie contemplated how he was going to break the news to her. He found the only pay phone in the city that hadn’t been removed or trashed. He called a distant cousin in Phoenix, who agreed to fetch him. He sobbed on the phone to a relative he barely knew.

“You’ve got to save me,” he begged the man, who agreed to meet him that Friday near the Space Needle.

By the time he returned to the encampment, he found her delirious and spitting up blood. He picked her up; she weighed nothing. He ran with her two blocks to the place she called the Barf Hotel, dodging a man with a knife at one point. He set her down fast on the sidewalk and drew his own knife to ward the man off.

When no cars stopped or paid attention to him, he jumped off the curb in front of a car with an Uber sign in the windshield.

He threw a wad of bills she kept hidden in a slit in her pillow. The Uber driver was a Sikh who mumbled prayers en route to the hospital. He dropped them off in the semicircular emergency room entrance. Hughie was so nerveshot and covered in Jordan’s bloody spray in his lap that he heard only the last of the driver’s words—something about kasaya and “dirt” or “evil.”

He spent his nights and days in the lobby of the emergency room silently watching the parade of beaten-down humanity come and go. EMTs shoved gurneys with dying or wounded through doors meant to crash open to deposit their cargo and head back out to scoop up more of the city’s beleaguered and unlucky.

Friday came and went; he gave it no more thought than to note the day. He watched insipid daytime programs on the communal TV and waited for daily updates on Jordan’s condition.

“It’s end-stage TB,” the physician told him.

Every time the doctor spoke to Hughie, a look of annoyance passed over his pink, close-shaved features. He cut his eyes from Hughie’s face down to his hands to his shoes as though he were summarizing him in sections.

“When will he be released?”

“Didn’t you hear med? It’s final-stage. He’s not coming out. We’re transferring him to the county facility in the morning. Hospice will look after your friend.”

“You said ‘him.’”

“I must be stuttering today.” The doctor’s smooth forehead wrinkled briefly. “Yes, he, your friend—”

Her name is Jordan.”

“The patient you brought in is male. I didn’t need a diploma from a medical school to distinguish between male and female anatomy.”

Hughie was stunned to silence.

The doctor wasn’t inclined to sympathy, but he put a hand on Hughie’s shoulder. “You didn’t know. Maybe he had a good reason to assume a female gender…”

Hughie stumbled out of the emergency room and blinked into the cold sunshine. The rainy season was coming fast. The St. Martin de Porres Shelter would take him in but would close before he could make it.

Lighter by 30 pounds, tanned to leather, always hungry, he walked back to their place and found it ransacked of everything of value, including Jordan’s money. Res ipsa loquitur, a phrase from tort law rang in his head: “The thing speaks for itself.”

He walked in the direction of the shelter under a torrential rain, unhurried, mindlessly humming a Puccini aria he remembered from an opera his parents had taken him and which he hated at the time. Those twin sisters, Sorrow and Shame, yanked at his spirit as he walked through the rain that cleansed both his tears and drowned his sobs.