The lady who owned the laundromat watched Charlie like a hawk as he put his clothes into the washing machine.  He removed everything from the pockets of his dirty coat and then dragged off his reeking sweater and threw it on top.  He even had a little bag of soap this time to add to the mix.  She watched closely until he put his money into the machine and then her gaze slid elsewhere.  

He turned the knob and pulled it to put the machine into action and grimaced as he saw the water spill on to his coat.  Some part of him always winced when he did that, since he knew that coat had a tag that said it needed to be dry cleaned.  He shook his head ruefully and chuckled to himself.  A bum who hadn't washed his clothes in a month worrying about dry cleaning his jacket.  Ridiculous!

He had showered this morning in the shelter, and found himself contemplating going naked when he really looked at the clothes he had to put against his newly cleaned skin.  It was a little late to be fastidious, but today was a good one and he would make use of it.  

The young doctor at the clinic had given him a pair of pills today and they had really taken the pain in his back down a few notches.  He almost felt like a man again, then memory broke in on that thought and he grimaced.  No he was not a man, but at least he felt something closer to human than he had in quite some time. 

He looked over his notes.  It had been some time since he had added to his quote collection.  His notepad was well worn, but there were still some blank pages at the end.  Maybe he would go to the library once he had changed clothes.  He wanted to get out of what he had as soon as the clothes in the washer were clean.  He flipped through the pages of what he had written and allowed himself a small smile at some of it.  It occupied him until his wash was done, and then while shifting his load he felt a familiar throbbing coming on and frowned.

He started the dryer and tried to stretch some of the tight pain away while he could still move somewhat freely.  It helped a little, but that small reminder of impending pain soured his mood and he found no more interest in his filthy little book of quotes.  He threw it down on the little table with the other bits and ends from his pockets with a sigh.

He saw the laundromat lady watching again and sighed.  Her dark eyes peered at him underneath her haggard array of curls with suspicion.  How many times had he been in here over the years, and still she thought he would steal someone's clothes.  He had been many things over the years, but never a thief, though perhaps his life might have turned out better if had been.  He shook his head at that thought and noticed he was muttering to himself when he caught people looking at him strangely.

He grabbed a crumpled magazine from atop the table and perused the contents.  He sensed the irony of a bum sitting there reading a fashion magazine, but he had nothing better to do and he did admire some of the beautiful women in their fancy dresses.  It had been a very long time since he had touched a woman.

He smiled as images of Morag flashed in his brain.  For some reason the smell of soap and cleanliness reminded him of her.  He could remember her scent better than the hazy images of her face and body that were drifting through his brain.  A sudden image of her lying in his hall with sightless eyes crashed on him and he gave a jerk.  

He gained his feet in a rush and chucked the magazine back on to the table, where it slid slowly across before slipping on to the floor.  His back flashed at the sudden movement, and his urge to pick up the mag diminished as he realized the pain was coming back like a tide.  Good.  He would pay that price for what he had allowed to happen.

As his thoughts turned more sour with the state of his back he found the timer on the dryer slowed to a crawl.  He gritted his teeth as he waited for the cycle to end.  Once it did he gingerly wrapped them all in his now clean coat and shuffled out of there.  

It was a block to the shelter, where they would let him change, and then another few to the bus depot, where he could store the remainder of his clean clothes and the dirty ones he would keep in a bag to keep them separate.

Thirty minutes later he was making his way to the cafe with a warm tummy from the few swallows he had taken from the bottle next to his chest.  He recognized a young lady as she walked past him.  She had a yellow flower replacing the red one she had worn yesterday.  He still noticed some things, even when in his bottle.  She smiled warmly at him and he found himself smiling back.  

A few steps past her the smile died on his face.  He recognized one of the men in the pair that followed in her wake.  They shoved past him as he stood there gaping.  They did not even really notice him as they followed the young beauty down the sidewalk.

That one had aged too, but nearly so much as had Charlie.  Age or not he would never forget that face, and he was not so addled that he did not recognize that look on his face.  And they were following her.  He stood there for a few seconds and watched them walk down the sidewalk away from him.  It was none of his business, and he was only an old man now anyways.  There wasn't anything he could do.  

Still.  Charlie was moving now in spite of his thoughts.  Faster than he had moved in years.  His back screamed at him, but he ignored it.  He even straightened a bit as he gained speed.  She disappeared from view, and he caught the look as those two smiled at one another.  She was going to go in the back!  What was she thinking?  Hadn't she noticed them?!?  

He knew there was a small dark parkade where the back entrance to her apartment was, she would never make the door before they caught up to her.

He caught up to them just as they turned into the alleyway.  It seemed like someone else's hand had gripped the bottle in his coat and was now bringing it down upon the head of the one who he had recognized.  It cracked against his head with a very unsatisfying clunk, though it did not shatter as Charlie expected.

With a cry the man dropped to his knees, but his companion struck like a snake and smashed Charlie down with a punch.  The bottle did shatter then, as it hit the pavement.  The one he had hit with the bottle got to his feet, and peered at him as he shouted curses.  Then they started kicking  Charlie covered himself as best as he could.  

He tasted blood and knew pain with each kick, but he smiled in triumph.  He had distracted them.  He heard shouting and hoped someone would help him, but he knew better.  He kept smiling until a well placed kick caught his temple and he went limp.

The End

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