Mean Streets

By Rocket

Episode 9.9

Part One

 


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.

Leonard 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.

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 eye.

“So 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 took over.

“Someone 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.

“I remember.” MacGyver grinned back.

“Three 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.”

“Wow.” 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 kidnappers?”

Leonard shook his head, his eyes filling with tears again.

“Would 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.

“Maybe.” 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.

“Were 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.

“OK, have 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.”

“I know.” 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?”

“Could 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, right Doc?”

“It’s true, he has.” Doc nodded, but Leonard shook his head.

“No way. 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 coffee.

“I talked 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.

“OK, we can work with that.” MacGyver nodded. “Any idea when they might be back at the bridge again?”

“Next few nights, most likely.” Leonard took another large bite and reached for the mug of coffee.

“Do you 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.

“Mostly. 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. Only Jose.”

“No problem. 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.

“I can try. You got a plan?” he pushed back his hair, wondering what Doc’s strange friend had in mind.

“Maybe.” 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?”

“Yes.” Leonard nodded. “If it means Jose will be safe, it’s OK.”

 

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