Tuesday, February 21, 2012

700 Hoboes: Marlon Fitz-fancy's Miracle Dog. And Goatee.

Not all hoboes were slovenly, stinky homeless drifters. One was a fastidious, stinky homeless drifter. Let's face it - there was not a lot a hobo could do about the stink. His name was Marlon Fitz-fancy, and he wore a purple suit made of velvet. Most hoboes made no attempt to keep themselves groomed, or clean, for that matter. They generally didn't have the soap, mirrors, running water combs, razors or vanity for such endeavors. This was one of the main reasons they were so unpleasant for members of the non-hobo population to be around for any length of time. Well, that, plus the fact that so many hoboes were dangerous criminals, and frighteningly insane.

Marlon wasn't insane, so far as he knew, and he prided himself on being the kind of criminal who only stole what he needed. Sometimes what he needed was whiskey, and one of those times was today, for today, the dog catcher had broken his heart. This morning, Nikki Fitz-fancy The Astounding, Marlon's best friend of nearly ten years, had sprinted off in chase of some old lady's poodle on the platform of Alexandria Union Station - a chase that had not ended well. The poodle was young and fast, and Nikki - more coyote than dog, but getting on in years - was quickly cornered and captured by a couple of porters, and handed over to the dog catcher. If Marlon couldn't produce three dollars - two for the fine and one for a license - by five o'clock, the dog would be destroyed. It was already three-thirty. Or thereabouts. Marlon had to take the average of three different bank clocks, because no one on the street would give him the time.

He was used to people not giving him the time. As hard as he tried to keep himself clean and groomed, it was a constant struggle. His missing eye didn't help, either. He had lost it as a bystander in a gangster drive-by when he was nineteen, and had never managed to find it again - or a suitable replacement. For a few years, he had a smooth, nearly-spherical river stone, but it had long since been lost. He had tried marbles and of course eye-patches with varying degrees of success, but today, unfortunately, was an olive day. It doesn't matter how clean you are, and you can smell like lilac and fresh-baked cookies; if you have a rotting olive for an eye, not many people are going to give you the time of day.

Marlon Fitz-fancy tied a couple of old handkerchiefs together and banded them around his head, covering his eye, and set about begging on King Street. By four-thirty, he was in a panic. He had collected only $1.55, leaving him well short of the fine itself, and he knew they wouldn't release Nikki to him without a license. He would have to steal the money. His two previous attempts at picking pockets had failed so spectacularly that he didn't even consider it, this time. He was fast enough, but the actual theft had to be easy, or he'd surely fumble it.

The corner drugstore over on Duke Street was his best bet. It had a soda fountain and a very elderly woman behind the counter. He didn't have time to case the joint, so he just sauntered up behind a man who was getting up to leave, waited for him to turn his back on the two dollar bills he had placed on the counter atop his check, grabbed the cash and ran. Had Marlon had the time to case the store, he would surely have noted the young man stocking shelves near the exit. He was tackled less than a block away. The lad was about to start pounding Marlon's face into a crimson stain when the pharmacist from the store arrived on the scene, breathing heavily.

"You get back to the store, son. I'll take care of this bum."

Marlon held his hands in front of his face and cried, "I'm sorry. I only took two bucks. It's for my only friend. You don't understand!"

"What are you yappin' about, bub? This ain't no Hooverville. We got laws around here. And decent folk. Where's the two bucks?"

"Please. I'll work it off. I'll clean up, or stock your shelves or something. I gotta get Nikki outta the pound before they kill her!"

"I don't think so. Just give back the-- Say, did you say your dog's name is Nikki?"

Marlon lowered his hands. "Yes sir. She ran off at the train station, and they got her. Please help a fella out."

"Is your name Marlon?"


"Marlon Fitz-fancy? And Nikki Fitz-fancy The Astounding? Let me get a look at you."

"Do I know you, brother?" Marlon stammered.

The pharmacist reached for Marlon's makeshift eye-patch, causing an instinctive flinch. "It's okay. Just let me get a look at that eye... I knew it! I thought I recognized that ridiculous goatee and your voice, but the eye cinches it. I'm Bill Barker. Don't you remember me?"

"Oh sweet Jesus." Marlon sighed. "Billy! You saved me and Nikki from that gangster who wanted to be our business manager. I can't believe it! It's been, what, eight years?"

"Something like that. I see you're still wearing what's left of that purple nightmare of a jacket. Shoulda recognized that, too. And what did you call that bit of fuzz on your chin, anyway?"

"It's a charcoal demon, but the fellas always called it a rusty demon, on account of my red hair and secondhand razor. Look, I really will make it up to you. Can you help me get Nikki back?"

"I can't believe that mangy thing is still alive! Of course I'll help. Come on - I got a car. It's behind the store. You two still doing your act?"

"It's been a while, but yeah. Sometimes."

The conversation on the ride to the pound, many blocks away on Duke Street consisted mainly of Billy explaining the circumstances of his escaping hobodom, getting a college degree and finding his way into pharmacy. There was also a lengthy reminiscence of the act that Marlon and Nikki still occasionally performed. She was truly an astonishing dog, with great physical skill, a keen sense of comedic timing and no fear whatsoever. Her tricks had made Marlon somewhat of a hobo celebrity for a number of years. He credited her with saving his life on countless occasions, either by earning a buck with the act so they could eat, or by fending off cops or robbers or other baddies. As Bill's Model A puttered past a bank clock that read at least 5:01, Marlon began to hyperventilate.

"They killed her at five sharp, I just know they did!" he sobbed.

"They might not have. You don't know for sure. It's Friday. They might leave today's for Monday. Here it is - right here. Let's go." Bill left his car in the middle of Duke Street, and the two men ran for the door to the pound. It was locked.

"Dammit! I know she's dead. That dog catcher had it in for me. I could tell." Marlon cried.

"Well, I hear a lot of barking in there, for a place that supposedly just put down all its dogs. I bet they left 'em all for Monday. Let's see if there's a back door."

There was a back door, and there was the dog catcher. There was also very nearly a round of fisticuffs, as Bill and Marlon convinced the man that it would be in his best interest to take the three bucks and let Nikki go free.

Nikki had to think about it for a moment, as she had already found a boyfriend, but she said her goodbyes and ran to Marlon, knocking him to the ground and licking his face until the handkerchiefs and olive had come free.

She ate the olive.