Leonard pulled his sleeping bag higher, trying to close
the gap between the bag and the scarf he’d wound
around his neck. Even in California, the small hours of
an April night were chilly. He burrowed down into the
bag, the plastic sheeting underneath him rustling and
prompting a muttered complaint from Jose, sharing his
space under the bridge for the night.
Footsteps echoing off the broken pavement made him open
his eyes, peering through the small space between scarf
and hat. Footsteps meant danger to homeless people such
as himself – gangs out for a bit of fun, police
keen to move him on or junkies high on whatever they could
get their hands on. Junkies were the worst, unpredictable,
often violent. Only last week he’d encountered one
who was convinced he was an angel, meting out justice
on anyone his addled brain deemed unworthy.
had run, but he’d later heard the junkie had smashed
through the temporary camp some of his friends had set
up, throwing everyone’s belongings into the river
before turning on one unfortunate and beating her so badly
that she ended up in the hospital. Leonard shivered and
pushed back the edge of his sleeping bag to get a better
look as the footsteps grew closer.
Not the junkie back for another round of mayhem, but three
dangerous looking gangers. Sensing trouble, and glad that
he had chosen a dark corner, Leonard unzipped his sleeping
bag as quietly as he could. The gangers were poking the
piles of rubbish that had accumulated under the bridge.
What could they be looking for? He stuffed his sleeping
bag into an old sack and took a firm grip on his precious
carrier bag of possessions, ready to make a fast getaway.
One of the gangers poked a long stick into a heap of cardboard
boxes. There was a yell, and someone Leonard didn’t
know erupted out of the heap, fists swinging. The ganger
clubbed him with the stick, sending the homeless man reeling.
The ganger zip-tied the man’s hands and started
dragging him away.
All around Leonard, homeless people were waking up, gathering
their things and preparing to flee. One young girl simply
left everything behind, running on sparrow-thin legs for
the relative safety of the lit streets. The second ganger
caught her easily, clamping a hand over her face and kicking
her feet out from under her.
Leonard saw Jose throw something at the first ganger’s
back, limping after him to try and rescue his victim.
A third ganger stepped out of the shadows and flipped
something around Jose’s neck, turning and hoisting
the old man up, making him cough and choke. Leonard stuffed
his fist into this mouth to keep from screaming. He huddled
down, willing himself to become invisible, and watched
with tears in his eyes as the three homeless people were
dragged away and loaded into a van parked at the end of
the alley. Only when the van had rattled into life and
roared away did he allow himself to cry.
What could he do? He couldn’t chase the van, but
he had to try and rescue Jose somehow. He felt anger at
himself. He should have gone to help Jose the way Jose
had gone to help the other man, but his courage had failed
him. He looked around, his gaze lighting on a torn and
rain-soaked pamphlet lodged behind an oil drum. He picked
it up, mouthing the words written on it: Santa Luisa Mission.
Doc would know what to do.
Leonard gathered his things and set off through the grey
dawn towards the Mission.
* * * *
MacGyver hitched his rucksack on his shoulder and walked
up the steps to the Mission. Sunlight slanted through
the high windows of the old building, shining on the polished
floor, the boxes of donated books and on the dust motes
dancing in the air. He paused, breathing in the coffee-and-laundry
smell of the mission, and nodded to Doc, kneeling in a
sea of half-sorted books.
“How’re you doing?” MacGyver smiled,
pleased to see his friend looking so well. He crouched
down and unloaded his bag of books onto the floor. “A
few more for your collection, here.”
“I’m well, and thank you for these.”
Doc picked up the top two books and smiled.
“Zane Grey? These will be popular, I’m sure
of it.” The mission had been a lifesaver for Doc,
providing him with a place to live and a job, one which
allowed him to use his teaching skills and give something
back to the community. He’d started a reading program
for those of the local homeless who had slipped through
the cracks in the school system, and his collection of
books was always in need of new titles. A roof over his
head and a steady income had improved Doc’s health,
and MacGyver reflected that Doc looked younger now than
when they’d first met.
The door banged open and a dishevelled figure burst through,
falling full length into the pile of books. The carrier
bag he’d been holding split open on impact, sending
the contents shooting under the racks of donated clothing
against the wall. A filthy sleeping bag in a sack rolled
away under the stairwell. Doc and MacGyver scrambled up
to help the fallen man.
“Leonard? Is that you?” Doc kneeled down,
pushing back the matted curtain of hair. “What on
earth is wrong?” MacGyver listened, but couldn’t
make out the words in Leonard’s panicked speech.
Doc seemed to understand, for he nodded and helped Leonard
to his feet, leading him into the office. MacGyver gathered
as many of Leonard’s scattered possessions as he
could find, and followed.
Doc had sat Leonard down at the desk and given him a cup
of coffee, which Leonard held in shaking hands. He looked
at MacGyver over Leonard’s head and shook his head.
It took Doc half an hour to calm Leonard down enough to
get the full story, by which time MacGyver had tidied
the books, unblocked the kitchen sink and mended the window
catch, making a mental note to fix his own hall window
that evening. He came back to the office, waited for Doc
to beckon him in, and sat down next to Leonard, making
an effort not to lean away from the man’s smell.
Leonard nodded his thanks as MacGyver gave him his bag,
now repaired with duct tape, but wouldn’t meet his
what’s going on?” MacGyver looked at Leonard,
who started to speak, then faltered and shrank away from
him. Doc nodded at Leonard’s panicked glance and
is kidnapping homeless people.” He held up a hand
to indicate to MacGyver that he had more to say. “Leonard
was under the bridge last night – the same bridge
where I met you, remember?” Doc smiled, remembering
MacGyver’s ‘Grazer’ disguise.
MacGyver grinned back.
gangers drew up in a van and kidnapped some of the street
people sharing the bridge space. Leonard doesn’t
think they were looking for anyone in particular, they
just grabbed the first people they found and then drove
away.” Doc looked across at Leonard, who nodded
vigorously. “One of Leonard’s friends was
taken – an older gentleman named Jose. He’s
worried that Jose and the others are going to be harmed,
and he wants us to help.”
MacGyver stood up and walked to the window, running a
hand through his shaggy hair. “I can call Kate,
but I don’t know if she’ll be able to help.”
He turned to Leonard. “Kate is a detective, and
she’s also my friend. Did you get the licence plate
on the van, or anything she could use to identify the
his head, his eyes filling with tears again.
you know them if you saw them again?” MacGyver sat
down and looked at Leonard across the desk. “Maybe
if you saw a photo?” He watched Leonard think about
this, then sigh and shrug.
Leonard’s voice was hoarse. He coughed, wiped his
mouth with his sleeve and scratched his beard. “I
didn’t stay.” He sniffed, and a tear splashed
onto the desk.
they wearing gang colours? Do you remember anything about
them?” MacGyver watched Leonard shake his head.
“How about the van? Colour or make, maybe?”
He stood up and shrugged helplessly at Doc as Leonard
shook his head again.
you heard about them kidnapping anyone before?”
Doc leaned forward, placing one hand on Leonard’s
sleeve. “Leonard, if we’re going to help,
we have to have a place to start.”
Leonard coughed again and nodded. “Maybe. There’s
always someone got it in for us, someone who wants to
make us disappear. But this was different. It was like
they were taking them for a reason, not just gangers doing
shi-“ He glanced at Doc and swallowed his next word.
“Like you’d round up cattle, y’know?”
you ask around? See if they’ve been anywhere else?”
MacGyver frowned. “I could come with you if you
like.” He shook his head at Leonard’s incredulous
stare. “No, really! I’ve done this before,
true, he has.” Doc nodded, but Leonard shook his
No-one talks to a stranger, they don’t have to.”
Leonard swallowed hard, gathering his courage. “I
got this.” He stood up, squaring his shoulders under
his tattered coat. “I owe it to Jose!” He
picked up his bag, slung his sack over his shoulder and
marched out without another word.
* * * *
It was night before Leonard returned, carrying the weight
of bad news on his shoulders. Doc pulled out a chair for
him and placed a sandwich on the desk next to the fresh
to everyone I could find.” Leonard sighed and picked
up the sandwich. “They’ve been around for
about two weeks, picking people up pretty much at random.
They do come back to the same sites though, especially
if they know there’ll be more people there.”
He took a bite of the sandwich.
can work with that.” MacGyver nodded. “Any
idea when they might be back at the bridge again?”
few nights, most likely.” Leonard took another large
bite and reached for the mug of coffee.
know all the people under the bridge?” MacGyver
made a note on the back of an envelope, looking up to
see Leonard making a rocking gesture with his hand.
But there’s new people in all the time, y’know?”
He swallowed and wiped his mouth with his hand. “I
didn’t know the other two who they took, not really.
Leonard, I need you to get everyone you can find to meet
me under the bridge tomorrow night. Can you do that?”
MacGyver smiled at Leonard, who nodded.
try. You got a plan?” he pushed back his hair, wondering
what Doc’s strange friend had in mind.
MacGyver grinned, and Leonard found himself smiling back.
“I just need to make a couple phone calls, get some
friends to help. That OK with you?”
Leonard nodded. “If it means Jose will be safe,