The Billionaire Bum

By: Samantha Blair

Sean thought he still had some money on him, and I hoped he had the sense to hide it.

Down his pants would be the best place, but Jackson didn’t strike me as the type to favor putting cash in his Italian silk boxers.

I took the top bunk on the other side of the room. There was a bed separating us, which would hide me well enough but still allow me to watch over him.

Now came the tricky part. If he left to use the bathrooms, he would most likely lose his sleeping space. If he didn’t get in line now, he wouldn’t get a shower. He was observing the line forming at the bathrooms across the way, but he was also watching the other men in our room protect their sleeping spaces. I could tell he was conflicted.

He must have decided that sleep was more important than showering at this point, and I thought he made the right choice. If his luck held, he might be able to get a shower in the morning before heading out. At that point, protecting his sleeping space wouldn’t matter.

A shelter worker was making rounds and Jackson called him over. They had a short conversation and while I couldn’t hear it word for word, I got the basic idea. Jackson had asked him to borrow some money, twenty dollars, I think. The young volunteer had quickly and efficiently turned him down.

Rule number one of volunteering in a shelter: never give money to people who were likely to spend it on drugs and then harass you for more. There was no such thing as

“borrowing” in a place like this.

Jackson lay down on his bunk when the kid walked away. I couldn’t see what he was doing from here, but I thought he was probably rearranging his few possessions. Maybe he did realize the theft potential. I certainly hoped so.

I studied the four other men in the room. The two guys in the middle bunk appeared to be friends, maybe even brothers. One was guarding both beds while the other headed off to the bathrooms. They would likely switch before lights out. I didn’t see them as particularly threatening.

In the bunk below my own was an old-timer. He had to be at least seventy years old and looked more like ninety. Homeless people rarely lived past seventy-five or so. This life was hard on the body. He had already put his back to the wall, closed his eyes, and gone to sleep. I thought a man like that could probably sleep anywhere.

The guy who had taken up residence below Jackson had me worried. He had taken a good long look at Jackson before choosing his bunk. He was fairly young, maybe thirty, and I could smell the booze on him from the other side of the room. His eyes were red and bloodshot, and he had a crooked nose that had probably been broken more than a couple of times. He would need to be watched.

Luckily, I had slept for most of the day, because there was no way I would be able to let my guard down in here. The last of the stragglers were coming in now and nearly every bed was full. The last additions were the type that I had been worried about. The main room was getting rowdy as the first fight of the night broke out. A crazy drunk was screaming obscenities about someone who had supposedly cut in the shower line.

Jackson watched with wide-eyed fascination as the shelter workers made him go back to his cot and settle down. They turned off the water to the showers a few minutes later, much to the disappointment of the men still standing in line, and a few minutes after that, the lights went out.

Let the games begin.

Within an hour the place had quieted down. You could hear some loud snoring coming from various parts of the building. There were no doors on the smaller rooms so the sounds echoed down the hall easily. I hadn’t heard a peep out of Jackson, so he was either asleep or trying to be.

I flipped open my cell phone to check the time. Almost midnight.

At 12:15 another fight broke out in the main room. It was hard to know exactly what had happened, but it was probably a theft gone awry. It usually was. The shelter workers broke it up and threw both parties out into the night.

A little while later, someone started throwing up. God, what an awful noise that was.

And still, not a peep from Jackson. His downstairs neighbor had been quiet too, but I didn’t think I was lucky enough for that to last.

Finally around four o’clock my prediction came true. The guy below Jackson sat up and put his feet very quietly on the floor. I lifted my torso enough so that I could watch, but I didn’t leave my bunk. He stood up and took a peek at Jackson. He must be asleep.

It appeared that Jackson was using his jacket as a pillowcase. I didn’t know how heavy of a sleeper he was, but I thought it was unlikely that the guy could get it off of him without waking him. He’d also been smart enough to sleep with his shoes on. They would be gone by now if he hadn’t. Jackson was sleeping on his stomach, which left his back pockets exposed. I really hoped that he had the sense to move his wallet.

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