Skinny hobbled into the Tin Man’s at about 11:50. He had ditched the crutches for a cane. He gave me a little smile and a tip of the head.
I was delighted to see another small break in his armor. I stood and gave him a knuckle tap. “How’s the ankle?” I asked.
“Chillin,” he said.
“Skin,” I said, “this is my partner, Ned. Ned, Skin.”
They guardedly shook hands. Ned wasn’t a knuckle guy and Skin wasn’t a shaker; awkward.
“You up for a nice beefy hotdog down at the Costco?” I asked Skin.
Skinny looked around and seemingly finding he wasn’t the center of attention, he shrugged his shoulders and gestured. “After you, old man,” he said.
We drove down to the Costco in Ned’s extended cab pickup and ate ourselves silly on hotdogs and chocolate shakes. We talked about the Giants and their recent sweep of the Dodgers. The kid actually had plenty to say and it was his opinion that their winning ways had a lot to do with Dave Rigetti the pitching coach. He knew all of the pitchers and the pitches they threw by name. I could see this made an impression on Ned and that was no small feat. I was beginning to feel this was going to work.
We piled back into the pickup and drove over to the site. The old hardware store looked tired and lonely with its boarded up windows and doors. All of the plywood had been tagged by bored kids and neighborhood gang members. Some of it was tasteful, some of it not so much.
Both Ned and the kid were subdued. They both had their personal demons to wrestle with. For Ned it was good and bad memories. For the kid? I was wondering how much of the spray paint was at the behest of his own hands. I decided to risk finding out.
“Nice paint job,” I said. “You have a hand in that, Skin?”
“What you gettin at, old man?”
“Clearing the air. I could care less. Some of it is actually kind of cool and valuable. We are going to use it in our plan. The vulgar stuff we’ll junk or paint over it. Just wanted to know if any of it was your handy work.”
“Just clearin the air?” he questioned.
“Yup, just clearing the air.”
“Yah. I did my share.”
“Show me,” I said.
“You want me to show you?”
All three of us got out of the pickup. I could see that I had Ned’s rapt attention as well as the kid’s. We strolled over to what was once the barn for the kiln dried lumber.
“That wall is mine,” he said. “If anyone touches it, I claim it back. That’s my signature.” He pointed to a coiled cobra with bared fangs. The whole wall was a collage of color and shadowy representations of man and animal. It was the push and pull of someone struggling to surface from a very dark and lonely place.
“It is excellent,” I said, “better than Picasso. Our first order of business will be to dismantle it and put it in racks for storage. We’ll be using it later when the new building goes up.”
Richard Rensberry, Author at QuickTurtle Books®