But Jacob and Mallox did not know what had unfolded in the night.
Only hours before, soft footfalls in the dark traveled the empty streets. Quick steps had grown close then pattered far into the distance swallowed by the night breeze.
Two men tucked their heads lower onto their chests, shoulders touching, and listened. Neither moved for what seemed a long time. Tony’s knee pushed up against a bin, his thighs muscles tensed to the point of sweating pain. A deep wince was all he dared to relieve it. It’d been years since he’d had to squat on his haunches. He was too old to be hiding behind a bin.
There were so many small sounds in the night. Branches creaked on nearby trees. A can swept by wind rattled down pavement. And he could feel the sudden drop in temperature. Chill of deep night burrowed through Tony’s clothing and settled uncomfortably on his skin, prickling the spaces between goose bumps. The sweat on his forehead soon turned into cold droplets.
Time passed. The man beside Tony stretched his arms and settled back to rest his butt on the ground. In the dark he appeared to be younger than Tony. Tall and slender, looked to be the type with an easy life, unencumbered with things that drag one down.
Tony breathed in, it felt good to finally breathe, and leaned backwards. He knuckled his leg muscles. There was a sting of rawness around his gut, on the overlapping skin where his waist used to be.
He sat on the hard pavement, next to the unknown man. They did not speak. Tony straightened his back to flex his shoulder muscles. The other man moved to stand but quickly dropped to one knee.
“What is it?” Tony’s voice sounded higher than usual.
“Thought I heard something,” the man said in a whisper. He peeked out from the bin’s edge.
“What?” Tony’s eyes darted around. He wasn’t going into a haunch again unless necessary.
“dunno… ” The man’s finger pointed. “This thing is in the way.”
Tony strained to hear and identify noises in the night. The wind strengthened, one gust sent things flapping and flying. A candy wrapper, carried on the wind, floated free, unburdened by content. On its own the wrapper soared as if it had wings. It hovered against the barrier of the bin, in frozen forward motion for a breathless moment, then whisked skyward. Maybe it was the dark or the whoosh of wind in his ear, but Tony longed to be like that wrapper. Not weighted down.
The other man pushed at the bin. “What is this thing doing here, anyway?” The bin rocked slightly back and forth with a hollow sound.
Tony grabbed the edge to steady it. “That thing is a bin,” Tony positioned his shoe against one of the bin’s back wheels. He gave it a gentle shove forward. Without front wheels the bin scraped the ground and tipped slightly forward. Tony grabbed the edge again to keep it upright. “Empty,” Tony said, feeling how easy it was to maneuver with his hand. “Nothing in it.”
“Nothing?” The other man turned to look at Tony. “What kind of sick f’er would stick a bin on the street with nothing in it? There are some f’ing crazies out in the world, my friend.” The man moved his face closer to the bin. “Are you freakin’ kidding me?” The man stabbed at the bin with his finger. “Wheels and everything… and nothing in it! What do you call that?”
Tony was amused. “A big rolling thing full of nothing,” he said. “That’s what you call it.”
The man’s voice grew loud. “What’s the point? Why wheel a bin around with nothing in it?” Spittle sprayed as the man spoke.
“Yes,” Tony said after a long pause. “What a wonderful thing.”