While in New York, Richie had gotten a tour book on what roads to take for extended bicycle trips. He figured he could drive those roads since they would not be as busy as the highways and he could keep a low profile. Wherever he could, he picked up hitchhikers to avoid looking like the description the police were probably using. First he went to Detroit and abandoned his car on the street. He bought another car with cash and drove through Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, and eventually ended up in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His encounters with hitchhikers made him realize that things were rough everywhere. Some of these people were down on their luck from a bad divorce, medical bills, or escaping from an abusive situation. This gave him the idea of staying at a homeless shelter and staying there while he figured out his next move.
Except homeless shelters were not like hotels. They were packed with people. Some of them developed bad habits like drinking or doing drugs. Others were mean, like dogs fighting over the crumbs society left behind. Richie ended up sleeping in his car often or paying cash for a cheap hotel room for never more than a night. He caught the eye of an older couple working at a homeless shelter and they evaluated his as well.
“Looking for something, son?” the older man asked. Richie was about to answer when the older woman grabbed Richie hands and checked out his palms.
“Smooth and soft as a baby’s behind,” she said. “ You’ve never done any physical work in your life, have you?”
“Of course I have. Just not lately,” Richie said. She laughed.
“Hiding from someone? We don’t hide criminals,” the older man asked.
“I’m not a criminal. I haven’t been charged with anything.” The older couple looked at each other.
“Your clothes are wrinkled and a little dirty, but you can tell they’re nicer than what you can get from a thrift store. Your shoes are scuffed, but they look like they’re expensive. I think you need to come into the office.” Richie followed them to the back where they had a tiny room set aside with a filing cabinet, an old wooden desk, and a few chairs. The older man got behind the desk and motioned to the chairs. “Have a seat.” The woman stood to the side.
Richie told them he was a tax attorney and he told them the story of how he and Jimmy were drinking and how the accident occurred. But then Richie kept having to go back to give the complete picture.
“Did you love this Linda woman?” the older woman asked.
“I thought I did.”
“You didn’t give her much of a chance to explain, did you? You were married. Didn’t she deserve a second chance? Why did you give up on her so easily? Why did you marry her in the first place?”
No one had ever questioned him so hard about Linda before. But that’s not to say he never asked himself these questions. It gnawed at him day after day. And now there were additional consequences to his turning his back on Linda. Would he and Jimmy devolved into an argument if he was still with Linda? Would he have even been there for the homecoming if he was still with Linda? No one had ever asked him why he married Linda. He wasn’t sure of the answer. Was it love? Did he really love her? So many thoughts. So much to think about. Richie just wanted to be alone to think these thoughts. Instead, he was being interrogated in a homeless shelter.
“Let up a little, Sarah.”
“We can’t be harboring fugitives, David. They’d love to shut this place down. They’re just looking for an excuse.”
David, the older man, raised his hand to calm down Sarah, the older woman. “I realize that, Sarah.” Looking at Richie, David continued, “It’s not just your life that’s at stake here. All those people out there would probably perish if this placed close. Where would they get food? Where would they sleep? We’re already turning people away and it breaks our heart to hear their stories, too. Most of these people got a bad draw of cards in life and they have to play the hand that’s been dealt to them. You seem like you—up until recently—have had a nice life. That can’t be said for many others.”
The importance of their work was starting to make a big impression on Richie. These people were truly doing God’s work.
“I understand. I don’t want to get you into trouble. I’ll leave. I just ask you not to contact the police about me.”
“What’s there to talk to the police about? You’re one of many strangers that pass through here. We don’t do a background check. How could we? But tell me, what is it that you’re looking for?”
“I was looking for a place to sleep and a place to think, I guess.”
David looked at Sarah. “We’re here to offer shelter.” David then looked at Richie. “Stay the night. Think about you’re next move. Charlie will set you up for the night.” Richie got up and left. Sarah scowled at David.
The next day, as Richie gathered his stuff, David asked him into the office again. Once again, Sarah stood to the side.
“Have a seat, Richard,” said the older man. Richie stiffened when he heard his name.
“We have a friend on the local police force here. We need friends like him to keep the doors open. They know the community would be worse off without us. Anyway, we managed to discreetly find out about your status without divulging anything. You have not been charged with anything and, as far as we can tell, you won’t be. But that’s not to say the police in New York have lost interest in you. They want to talk to you. It seems that there was something in your friends blood that wasn’t alcohol. Do you know anything about it?”
“Something other than alcohol? Like what?”
“They wouldn’t say. Did you drug your friend, Richard?”
“No.” David looked at Sarah, then back at Richie.
“Why should we believe you?”
“Because I could have just as easily died instead of Jimmy or even with Jimmy.”
Sarah could not keep quiet anymore. “And why do you want to stay here when you could be defending yourself back home?”
“I just want to be alone with my thoughts. I would like to figure out why things are the way they are. I’m trying to understand.”
“How do you intend to find out?” asked David.
“I don’t know. If I could help you both around here for a while, that’d be great. I’ll work around here, doing anything you want and I’ll think about things on my own time.”
“We don’t have much use for a tax attorney,” Sarah said.
“I’ll do anything.”
“Check with Charlie and see if he needs anything. Me and the Mrs. need to talk.”
David smiled. “I guess you don’t know much about us and we know a lot about you. In a previous life, Sarah used to be a nun and I used to be a priest.” Richie looked at them differently again.
David went on. “I used to visit her convent, hear confessions, say Mass. We got to know each other. We both became a little disillusioned with the church, but not the teachings. In another time, we would have been married and been able to stay in the church. Not now. We are still dedicated to doing God’s work and we’re dedicated to each other in love.” Richie was a little overwhelmed by David’s story. Dedicated to each other in love, he thought to himself. Richie nodded and left the room.
“What are you thinking, Sarah?” David asked.
“I just don’t think he’s going to be much help” she said.
“Well, I believe him. Let’s see how he does. If he doesn’t pull his own weight, we’ll part ways. Okay?” he prompted. David got up to leave and Sarah went into his arms.
“He’s a lost soul. I hope he finds his way here,” Sarah said.