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Shotgun-1

    Fine, I thought. Be that way. To get out of the alley I had to go sideways between two buildings, an alley smelling of urine and ankle deep with litter. I reached the street and saw that it was a side street, and I thought, the next thing I'd better do is catch a cab to Empire Hill. I'd catch me a Black Cab rather than a Yellow because, although a majority of the Black Cab drivers were, indeed, black people, they weren't American black people, descendants of southern slaves or anything like that. They were, instead, for the most part, true Africans, Ethiopians mostly, and it was quite possible that those black people knew nothing about Modesto so, therefore, knew nothing about the price on my head. I took a right towards Weary Way, the arterial that shot right through the Fairmont district, so that I'd be able to spot a street sign and be able to tell Black Cab's dispatch where to come pick me up. Found one right away. 39th and Weary. Cool. I slipped Ed Ware's cell phone out of my pocket. Now all I needed was Black Cab's phone number so I could...
    "Jimmy!"
    Fuck! Who called my name that early in the morning in that part of town? It wasn't Erly and it wasn't Charisma so...
    I turned.
    Fuck!
    It was Gascan. 
    I'd run right into the fucking Gascan Man.
    He looked at me like he couldn't believe what he was seeing.
    Because what he saw was twenty-thousand bucks. He'd heard about me, had heard about the price on my head, and here he'd just about smacked right into me. 
    Fuck!
    I think his real name was Leland, but I don't know that for sure. Everyone just called him Gascan or Gascan Man, and here's why: he was a panhandler, see, making his way through his days and nights by asking anyone who passed him for change, and he used a prop, and that prop was this red, plastic gascan that he carried around with him. His line was that he'd run out of gas, and he needed money so he could fill up that gascan. Did it ever work, that line of his? Well, yeah, with strangers it sometimes did. Anyone he knew, though...well, at the Bed of Roses, people would slip him a buck or two every now and then, but not because of the gascan because they knew that was a con. He never stayed in any one neighborhood for very long because his line was so weak that it never worked more than once, so he travelled around the city with that gascan of his, and, because he was a man who liked his crack cocaine, he was likely to be out on the street anytime day or night.
    And now, here I was, staring him right in the face.
    And the look on his face, on both our faces really, was one of stark terror.
    Terror, on my part, because I knew that the second I let Gascan out of my sight he'd get on the first phone he could find, if he didn't have one himself, to call Modesto and get his share of that twenty-thousand bucks. What filled him with terror was the fact that I spotted him even as he spotted me, so he knew I couldn't and wouldn't let him out of my sight. He knew I'd probably have to kill him to preserve my own life. 
    So we just stood there...
    ...for several seconds...
    ...and stared at each other.
    He'd made a mistake right off the bat by yelling out my name and drawing attention to himself. He should have gone right to a phone.
    "Hey Gas," I said.
    "Hey," he replied. He had that look like he was getting ready to make a break for it. I believe the only reason he didn't was because he figured I could probably outrun him, which was probably true. That's one thing about me. I'm a pretty strong guy. I had pretty strong arms and pretty strong legs from moving furniture four or five days a week for twenty years.
    "So where's your gascan?" I asked. "I'm not seeing it."
    "I don't use it no more," he replied. "The cops kept stopping me. They thought I..."
    "Yeah. Yeah. Whatever. There's something I need to talk to you about, Gas."
    He didn't reply. He waited for me to continue.
    "I need you to do a favor for me."
    "Sorry, but..."
    "You don't even know what I'm going to ask you."
    "Got to run. Got to get to church, man," he replied, his tone as smooth as truth. "Me and my wife, we're getting back together again, but she told me if I wanted to come home I'd have to start going to church with her again."
    "I didn't know you were married."
    "Eight years."
    "Any kids?"
    "Jimmy, I got to get going. I be seeing you later, okay?"
    "No no." I grabbed the sleeve of his sports coat. With my other hand, I pulled a wad of hundred dollars bills out of my pocket. "I need your help, Gas. I need a favor. I need a really big favor from you."
    He eyeballed the hundred dollar bills in my hand and stopped trying so hard to get away. It was the old bird-in-the-hand situation.  Sure, Modesto promised twenty-thousand bucks to have me tracked down, but how much would he actually pay when it got right down to it? As for me, well, there I was, hundreds in my fist, all ready to hand to him.
    "Okay, so I...What do I got to do for you, Jimmy?"
    "I heard somewhere, years ago, that you were a man who was pretty good at picking locks. Any truth to that rumor?"
    The pupils in Gascan's eyes went up and to the right. He was trying to think, to strategize. This had all come up so unexpectedly. "Well, I...I..."
    "I need to get into an apartment, an apartment up on Empire Hill. Think you can help me or not?"
    "What kind of apartment?" The question was a stall. He couldn't take his eyes off the hundred dollar bills I had in my hand. While he thought that over, I checked him out. He wore a light green sports coat, useless against the rain and winter wind. The cuffs of his long-sleeved, checked shirt were frayed. Thin and bony. This was a guy who looked like he could use a nice, warm breakfast followed by a long snooze in some cozy motel room somewhere.
    Which is to say, I had all that he wanted right there in my hand.
    "What do you mean, what kind of apartment?" I responded at last. "It's an apartment apartment. It's like there are thousands of them on Empire Hill."
    "But it ain't no high security..."
    "No, it's just an apartment."
    "But I need to..."
    "Hold it in your hand, Gas."
    He couldn't resist. He grabbed the money out of my hand, then fingered the bills, counting them, although I'd given him too many to count just like that.
    "You're telling me you can't get me into one lousy apartment?" I asked. "Do it for me, and I'll give you the other half of this handful of hundreds. It shouldn't take more than an hour. All we have to do, basically, is get to Empire Hill. You don't even have to go into the apartment with me. Just get me through the door."
    "But why do you..."
    "What difference does it make to you why I need to get in there? All you have to worry about is how we're going to get to Empire Hill. I ain't got no car, and the bus will take all day. I don't even have change for the bus. All I've got are hundreds."
    "I got a car," Gascan said. "It's only a couple of blocks from here. Come on. Let's go. I got to get to church."

                                                                                    CONTINUE