Chapter 2 - Catch a Falling Man
The following chapter is from a serial fiction I am currently writing. The working title is Catch a Falling Man.
It is currently being published as a serial on Wattpad which you can find at on my profile
Brad Adams walked up the stairs of the Joyce Street SkyTrain Station as the December drizzle settled over the city. He tucked his chin under the collar, chastising himself for choosing a thin windbreaker. It was neither warm nor rainproof, but thinking ahead wasn't his way.
Vancouver's rainy season, with shortened days and early darkness, always added a depressing chill and an increase in shitty attitudes. Commuters, bright and friendly when graced by the West Coast sun, were grumpy, robotic ghosts in the rain, moving past each other without so much as a sideways glance. This weather could stay for weeks, the pittance paid for living in Canada's most favourable climate. He didn't miss Northern BC's cold and snow, finding wet times nothing more than slight inconveniences. Less chance of an awkward interaction with a stranger, suited him just fine.
Once reaching the main level and under cover, he watched others migrate to the platform's middle. Huddled together, their eyes moved from phones to tunnel and back again, as if trains wouldn't stop if they weren't being watched. The digital arrival screen updated from 2 minutes to 1. The distant metallic screech of tracks grew louder, causing passengers to ready themselves for boarding.
His back against the cold brick wall, he reached into his jacket and removed a bright yellow envelope, now soggy and limp. His thumb slipped under the flap, opening it.
Congratulations! SOUPER! He smiled at the fat cartoon chef, arms outstretched, holding a big bowl of soup.
Congratulatory messages, randomly scribbled inside, were nice enough. However, acknowledging 5 years of sobriety brought him equal parts happiness and sadness. These people, each living their own daily struggles and battered by a messy past, were his few social connections. He valued their support, but considered none close friends. He attended meetings, listened and shared, but the weekly outing was now something to cross off the to-do list. Human interaction... check. His work was his life, despite an awareness of the personal emptiness he mostly ignored.
The train arrived, and he slipped the card back into the envelope, moving closer to the tracks, staying away from the middle cars. Never growing accustomed to the lack of personal space in the city, he guarded his own. His farm upbringing had not prepared him, and often, he would wait for the next train during busy times.
Not a problem tonight, as earlier throngs of Canucks fans had come and gone. Home long before the game ended, he would avoid the hordes, their attitudes dictated by the amount of booze consumed and the game's result. Once spilled out of Roger's Arena they would fill an hour's worth of trains. The tail car was empty, and he took his seat in the back. No one behind him and everything visible in front.
The vibration in his pocket announced another email from work.
Don't look, asshole. Still finding difficulty in boundaries, he ignored himself and opened it.
The Vancity Freedom Program had been 18 months in creation. Designed to empower and lift disaffected youth out of poverty, the VCP was Brad's baby. The continued operation was his responsibility and it was always under budgetary threat, and another attempt to pull his funding crested the horizon.
Faceless Bureaucrats, ass-kissing the latest political appointee, were far removed from the realities of street life and the youth living it. In the comfort of perfect homes, full cupboards, and warm beds, a hand to mouth existence was too foreign a concept. Number and spreadsheets didn't explain why kids chose theft, drug dealing, or prostitution to survive.
The VCP was worth fighting for, and he did - ferociously. His sharp elbows left bruises, and while acceptable collateral in his eyes, enemies waited to exact some personal revenge. Poor decisions, as usual, left him currently vulnerable. Worse, it wasn't just about him anymore. Some were at much greater risk. Another lesson he had yet to learn.
5 program participants had completed the first and second stages, becoming peer Mentors. They attracted other candidates to VCP. It was them he thought of. In this violent world, human beings were valuable property. To pull a young person out of the sex trade was tantamount to grand theft. Without the safety the VFP provided, the aggrieved would target Mentors for retribution. His stomach turned.
The automated announcement jolted him.
"Next stop... Main Street - Science World."
Brad lived 3 blocks from Main Street Station, at the crossroads of two very distinct worlds. One direction led to Roger's Arena, BC Place Stadium, and the city's bustling commercial and retail sector, where top-end residential towers reached toward the sky. Trendy coffee shops, opulent office buildings, and glamourous stores painted a pretty picture of capitalist achievement. Though Victoria was British Columbia's Capital, Downtown Vancouver was the end destination for the Province's economic wealth.
In the other direction lay Canada's most dangerous and hopeless area. Vancouver's Downtown Eastside where drugs, prostitution, crime, and poverty came together in a sea of lost souls and walking dead. It was here, where foot soldiers like Brad fought never ending battles to make change.
He had lived and worked in both. Life was ugly here. Ugly, but real. Crimes and self-serving acts of the desperate were out in the open, rather than hidden in the stew of corporate greed. After dining on both, he preferred the taste of ugly honesty.
His suicide attempt may have looked like a tragic falling down. Not to him. Vancity Health and Addictions had provided him a path to sobriety and when he secured a job with them just 4 years later, he found purpose. Surviving, getting clean, and becoming a clinician felt like falling up.
Natural leadership skills, obvious in past careers, allowed him to push ideas like the Freedom Program. After wearing his boss down with dogged tenacity, they offered a deal. A month, on his own time, to complete a presentation to the management team. He would have to maintain his full caseload. After hours, he drove himself and finished the proposal in 2 weeks. Against vocal protest of his supervisor Martin, they gave the green light for a 6 month trial. This removed him from Martin's barebones clinician roster. Further raising tensions, peers pushed for placement on the VCP team, giving Brad his pick of the best. More shots fired in their personal war.
Martin Noble was a formidable man. Experienced, manipulative, and skilled in policy development, he carried serious sway within senior management. Brad played the amateur present, while Martin was a Grandmaster. Patient, focussed always on the endgame, Martin did not hate Brad's VFP. He hated Brad.
The deepening chill met Brad's first steps onto the platform. Rain fell harder, banging on the metal roof, leading a good number of the area's homeless to seek shelter inside.
Translink security, performing their regular sweep, engaged in the useless exercise of taking out human trash. The degradation angered Brad. No threat, these tired, cold, and hungry souls neither caused nor sought trouble. When forced into the dark alleys and abandoned buildings outside, they were easy prey. Real predators didn't operate under the lights of train stations and street lamps. Their hunting ground was in the shadows, far away from the train cops, city police, and consequence.
One old man had raised the ire of the young security guard working the south platform's south corner. Annoyed he wasn't moving fast enough, the guard pulled him along by his shirtsleeve. Brad had seen the man before. He had clearly deteriorated.
The guard's voice rose with each aggressive yank.
"Are you going to move, old man? Do I need to call the police? Let's go. Now!"
The man grunted through pain. "I'm trying."
"Try harder." Jerking him again.
"I'll walk him," Brad called to the young security worker, causing him to stop and turn toward him. He looked Brad up and down, his eyes sharp and defensive. He came closer.
"And who are you?"
"Does it matter?" Brad chose calm and shifted course. "I work for Vancity Health and this man is one of my clients."
"Ya? Then tell your client he can't be here. I've hauled him out of here twice tonight already. The next time I won't be as nice."
The old man stared at the floor. Brad stepped between them, pulling his lanyard from under his shirt to display his identification. He waited for acknowledgement, but received none.
"You made your point, I can handle it from here," Brad said. "You have a good night now."
He waited for the guard to process and choose a move that would allow him to leave with his authority intact.
"5 minutes. Off the property."
The guard walked away, his swagger proclaiming victory. Brad placed his hand on the homeless man's shoulder and smiled to signal a safe end to the conflict. The man wore no coat, no blanket, and his thin polyester pants and button-down shirt provided little protection from the elements. He had been wearing a coat the last time they had crossed paths.
"I'm not your client. I don't know you."
"You and I know that, but he doesn't. What happened to your coat?"
Quiet for several minutes, he shifted from leg to leg. He then described being beaten over a bag of empty cans. He lost the fight, cans, and the coat. The resulting injury left him unable to walk or climb without pain and rummaging for a replacement, or any cover, wasn't an option.
Slow, but steady, they descended the stairs while Brad probed for basic information. Answers came in short, breathy sentences, but the story was a common one.
Glenn was his name. His meager home lost to Renoviction. Landlords would expel all low-income residents from their run-down buildings in order to renovate, making way for a new class of high income tenants. Developers raced to capitalize on the current demand for upscale apartments and condos, and huge profits far outweighed any sense of social responsibility.
They reached the bottom of the stairs and Brad led the man over to a covered area south of the Station. He lit a cigarette, offering the man one and a seat on a small bench. He nodded an invitation to the open pack, to which Glenn shook his head. Brad scribbled a note on another business card and handed it to him, pointing up Main Street.
"There's diner a block down. Lucy's. Ask for Shan Lee and show her this. They'll give you some soup and let you stay until they close at 2:00, maybe even longer."
Glen nodded in appreciation. Brad told him the Mobile Medivan would be at Main and Hastings at 8:00am. The Nurse would check his leg. Operated by volunteer health care workers, the Medivan offered free medical services to the homeless Tuesdays and Thursdays. This provided minimal, but needed care.
They parted and Brad's thoughts again turned to work. The email requesting his presence at a meeting tomorrow, despite it being his single day off, was another attempt to get under his skin.
Death by a thousand meetings.