The street was full of people, all hurrying to get somewhere. No one noticed a young man leaning against a wall minding his own business, but he saw everyone who walked by. He gauged and judged each one in turn, trying to find the perfect target. The younger ones rarely used cash anymore, and the very old ones were too stingy, still living in a time when a nickel could buy a cup of coffee. His ideal mark was a young man out to impress his date. They needed the least amount of pushing to convince them to hand over cash. But Devlin’s stomach was growling, and he still had to find a place to sleep to tonight, so he was quickly becoming less picky.
Finally, a spoiled woman with over-priced shoes and a matching handbag came around the corner. She led two tiny dogs on long leashes and let them wander wherever they liked. Her balding, middle-aged husband trailed behind as if he had a leash as well, albeit a considerably shorter one. He would have to do.
Devlin let them pass before coming up behind them. He gripped the man’s arm and asked, “Excuse me. Could you spare a few dollars?”
The man stared and blinked before reaching for his wallet. He started to pull out a twenty-dollar bill, but then he reconsidered and grabbed all the bills. “Of course, of course. I’m just sorry I don’t have any more cash on me.”
“Thank you,” said Devlin. “You’re too kind.” He released the man’s elbow and quickly faded into the crowd. If thought about it too much about it, the man might have second thoughts. Instead, he would just shake his head and go on trailing after his trophy wife with a satisfied glow for the generosity he had shown in helping a stranger in need.
In the months since he had run away from home, Devlin had learned to control his gift with great accuracy. If he wanted, he could put almost any thought in a person’s head from great joy to crushing pain. Yet despite all this power, he was at a loss for what to do with his gift. He couldn’t be too obvious or his father would find him and send the Air Force to pick him up, but he couldn’t spend the rest of his life panhandling either.
He found an alley and ducked inside to count his haul. Two-hundred-forty-five dollars. It was his best score in weeks. It would certainly be enough to keep him alive for a while.
A pair of strong hands pushed him up against the wall. There were two guys, each barely older than Devlin. While the bigger of the two held him, the other one shouted, “Give me that money!”
Devlin grasped each of the punks by the forearm and imagined that they were on fire. Instantly they started screaming and patting out the flames that only existed in their minds. He smiled grimly as one of them began rolling around on the ground and the other ran down the street in a futile attempt to get help. While he knew he shouldn’t take so much pleasure at another’s suffering, even two lowlifes like these, he couldn’t help himself. It would only last a few minutes and then they would be fine.
The sound of a falling garbage can lid made Devlin turn around just in time to see another figure running off down the lane. He hadn’t seen the third one hiding back there. While he had made the other two forget what he looked like, this one could identify him, and even more importantly, tell others about what he could do. Running as fast as he could, he set off after him.
After ten minutes of twisting and turning back lanes and a few near hits by cars as they ran through traffic, Devlin was starting to get winded. He turned a corner and nearly ran straight into an old woman with a cart full of groceries. As she yelled at him to be more careful, he looked around to see that boy he had been chasing was gone. He cursed his bad luck and apologized to the woman. There was nothing more he could do for the moment.
He got something to eat at a nearby diner and considered his options. If he couldn’t find that kid soon and wipe his memory, he might have to move on to a new city. He didn’t want to do that yet. There was something about this place. He felt almost as if he had been drawn here. And yet, Devlin knew he couldn’t afford to get caught. He would keep enough money set aside for a bus ticket if he had to leave town in a hurry.
It was starting to get late, and Devlin realized that he would have to get in line at the shelter soon if he wanted to get a bed tonight. He left the diner and made his way down the strip to where the mission house stood. He was still a block away when he saw that something was wrong. The usual line of homeless were nowhere to be seen. There were only two guys standing out front when there should have been more than fifty.
“What’s going on?” Devlin asked the men.
“Shelter’s closed,” said one of the men. “Ran out of money from what I hear.”
“Dammit,” said Devlin, ” is there another one nearby?”
“Not that you’ll get to in time,” the man answered. “They’ll all be full by now with the overflow. Looks like you’ll have to find some place else to squat tonight.”
“Do you know a good place?” asked Devlin.
“If I did,” he answered, “I wouldn’t tell you. No offence, kid, but I don’t know you.”
“Just stay out of the parks,” said the other man. “They always send an extra patrol out to the parks when a shelter closes. Rookie mistake.”
“Thanks,” he said and started to walk away, looking for a cheap hotel where they wouldn’t ask a lot of questions. He hadn’t gotten more than a block before he saw that same kid walking down the street towards him. Certain he hadn’t made him, he ducked into an entranceway and waited for the boy to pass by. One minute passed and then another, and he started to think that he had turned around or gone into one of the buildings. He was just about to risk sticking his head out to look when the kid walked by. He reached out and grabbed the boy’s wrist. He struggled to pull away but Devlin was too strong. As he pushed the boy up against the doorway, he got his first surprise. This boy he had been chasing was really a girl.
To be continued…