Julius had an uneasy feeling that he was being followed. It churned in his stomach like a bad burrito, but he had no evidence to back up his suspicions.
Julius was frequently on edge, always aware of his surroundings. He had lived his early years in foster care after his parents were gunned down while on vacation in Peru. Julius was only six at the time, and was in the care of his babysitter, while his parents hiked through the Amazon Rainforest with a tour group.
After running away from several of his foster homes, Julius took to the streets, and that is where he remained until recently. Now, at eighteen, he found it more difficult to appease to the mercy of the pedestrians passing by. Even the police were harder on him. They treated him like a criminal just because he tried sleeping inside a bus shelter out of the rain one night. It was a tough life, but he had adapted well.
It was a cool autumn evening, and Julius made his rounds in downtown Los Angeles searching for scraps of food or items that he could sell or trade, when he came across a hundred-dollar bill. It was the first time he had ever seen one up close, let alone, held one. He cautiously looked around to make sure nobody was looking, and he slid the money into his front right pocket then calmly walked away.
Finding that money would allow him to rent a room for the night and sleep on a bed, something that he hadn’t had since he was in foster care. He walked into a rundown motel called “The Aces.” It was owned by a former card shark, and run by his brother-in-law, a sleazeball named Louie.
Louie sat behind a Plexiglas window, smoking a putrid-smelling cigar. He wore a white undershirt stained with the various foods that he ate since the last time he washed it. Sitting on the counter in front of him was a small television. He repeatedly hit the side of it expecting a better picture to appear on the snowy screen.
When Julius approached the desk, Louie’s eyes never left the screen. He just gnawed on his cigar and said, “Thirty dollars for the night or ten bucks per hour. What’ll it be?”
“One night,” Julius said coyly. He had never paid for a room before and wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do.”
“Here’s your key,” Louie grumbled, setting the key on the counter. “You got room eight. Check-out is at 10:00AM.”
Julius grabbed the key and turned to walk away, but Louie grabbed hold of his arm and spun him back around.
“That’s Thirty bucks in advance, buddy,” Louie snarled. The sound of WWE Wrestling blared from the television in front of him and Louie quickly glanced down to see what happened. Julius reached into his pocket and pulled out his hundred-dollar bill. He stared at it a moment longer, then reluctantly handed it over to the manager. Louie looked it over and asked Julius if it was real. Julius had no idea but told him it was. The man opened the till and handed Julius back his change.
When he opened the door to the motel room, Julius was met with the odor of what smelled like a mix between dead rodents and Lysol spray. It wasn’t the worst smell that he had ever encountered, so he didn’t complain. The first thing he did was turn on the radio. There were no televisions in the room, but there was an AM/FM radio built into the wall. He tuned in to a classic rock station. The song, “Panama” by Van Halen could be heard through the static.
Stripping down, he soaked his clothes in the bathroom sink. He then turned on the shower in the dirty tub and stood under the warm water. He used the bar of soap that the motel provided to wash his hair. As he began to rinse it off, the water turned cold. He quickly shut it off and dried off with the dingy white towel that hung from a hook on the wall. With his hair still half-full of soap, he turned the water back on and rinsed it out under the icy water.
After wrapping the towel around him, Julius wrung out his filthy clothing, and hung them over the shower curtain rod to dry. By this point, he was beginning to feel tired, so he pulled back the covers on the bed. Other than some bleached out stains, they seemed clean, at least cleaner than what he was accustomed to, so he let the towel drop to the floor and climbed into bed. It didn’t take long before he fell fast asleep.
A noise woke him during the night, and when he opened his eyes, he saw the silhouette of a person standing outside his window. He watched carefully, expecting that someone was going to try and break in, but the shadow walked away. Julius just assumed it was his paranoia getting the best of him again and he went back to sleep.
The next time he woke up, it was to the sound of a fist pounding on the door, which was soon followed by the voice of Louie saying that it was time to check out. Julius told him that he would be right out. He jumped out of bed, still half asleep, and slipped on his damp clothes before opening the door. Louie stood there with a scowl on his face.
He said, “It’s 10:15AM. I should charge you for an extra day!”
Julius looked at him with fear in his eyes. The man just looked back and told him to get lost, so Julius ran off as quickly as possible. The chilly morning air made Julius shiver because of his damp clothes, so he decided to duck into a small diner. The woman behind the counter shouted out, “Paying customers only, pal!” Julius reached into his pocket and pulled out the remaining money and held it up for the woman to see. He had forgotten to remove the money from his pocket when he washed his clothes, so the bills were still dripping onto his hand. The woman nodded and told him to take a seat.
Moments later, the waitress arrived with a menu. “Did you need a few minutes, or do you know what you want?” Julius found her attractive and stuttered his reply.
“Um…I think…Yeah, I need a minute.”
She smiled and said, “No problem, Sugar. You let me know when you’re ready, okay?”
Julius smiled and nodded as he watched her walk away. He then counted what remained of his money and looked at the menu. He decided on the “Hungry Man Breakfast” that consisted of two eggs, two sausages, three slices of bacon, hash browns, toast, and a choice of coffee or juice. He chose coffee even though he had never tried it before. At least it would warm him up. The waitress asked him if he wanted cream and sugar with his coffee and Julius asked her if that would cost extra. She just laughed, assuming that Julius was being sarcastic.
While waiting for his food, Julius noticed a man sitting in a booth at the far side of the diner. He was dressed all in black and wore a plain black ball cap. He held a newspaper in his hands and his head was tilted down toward it, so Julius was unable to see his face, but something about him seemed odd. Julius continued to stare, hoping for an opportunity to catch a brief glance, but his concentration broke when the server retuned with his food.
He devoured his meal, savouring every grease-filled, salty morsel until it was gone. When he tasted his coffee, his first reaction was that of disgust, but after adding cream and sugar to it, he began to enjoy the rich, full-bodied taste. When he looked back toward the man in black, he was no longer there.
The waitress returned after he finished his meal and handed Julius the bill. He carefully pulled the money from his pocket and handed her a soggy twenty-dollar bill. She daintily held it between her thumb and forefinger and gave Julius a strange look. Julius apologized and explained that he forgot to remove it when he did his laundry. She acknowledged his explanation and told him to have a good day.
When Julius stepped outside, the man in black stood against the wall smoking a cigarette.
“Do you want a smoke?” he asked Julius.
“No, thanks, I don’t smoke,” Julius replied.
“Good for you. It’s a terrible habit. I tried quitting several times myself, but can’t shake it.”
The man began to walk toward Julius, so he took a few steps back.
“Relax,” the stranger said. “I’m not going to hurt you. I was just hoping I could talk to you for a minute.”
Julius started to get that uneasy feeling in his stomach again. He wasn’t sure if it meant trouble, or if it was all the greasy food that he just gobbled down.
“I hope that money helped you out,” the man said.
Julius stood there shocked for a minute before replying.
“What money? What are you talking about?”
“The hundred-dollar bill I left for you yesterday, over in the park next to the fountain.”
“Have you been watching me?” Julius enquired.
The man paused. “Yes, but don’t get the wrong idea. I want to help, Julius.”
“How did you know my name?” he asked with surprise.
“I have been searching for you for a very long time…Since your parents died.”
“Did you know my parents?”
“Not really, but I met them once. Do you mind if we sit in my car and have a talk? I have something important I need to discuss with you.”
Julius was leery, but his curiosity got the best of him. He wanted to hear about his parents, so he agreed and followed the stranger to his car.
Once inside the car, the man started the engine and turned on the heat to help dry the clothes that Julius wore. He introduced himself as Charlie, then began to tell him a story.
“It was twelve years ago, when you and your parents were in Peru. I worked for the government at the time, and I was given an assignment to track down a dangerous criminal nicknamed, ‘The Viper’. My information led me to the Amazon Rainforest in Peru where this criminal was trying to reach a group of rebels that were based in the jungle just east of Jordao. Not wanting to raise any suspicion, I tried to blend in with the tour group that your parents were part of.”
He paused and took a drag on his cigarette before continuing. Julius sat silently trying to absorb what he had learned so far. His vivid imagination allowed him to picture his parents hiking through the dense jungle with a group of strangers.
“I stayed at the back of the group, with your parents directly in front of me. They seemed like very nice people. I enjoyed our conversation as we hiked. Your mom was so interesting to listen to, that I had forgotten what I was there for in the first place. She talked about you a lot. They both did. I was so distracted, that I didn’t notice the ambush that laid ahead. The Viper was hiding behind a giant Oje tree as we passed by. He jumped out and was able to get off several rounds before I could draw my gun and return fire. One of his bullets caught me in the left shoulder, but I wasn’t severely injured. I stopped him with two rounds to the chest. When I turned to check on the rest of the group, I saw your parents laying in a pool of blood on the jungle floor. By the time I reached them, they had already passed away.”
Julius felt a throbbing pain in his head, and he fought back the urge to cry, though his eyes began to tear up. Charlie handed him a tissue and told him that it was okay to cry. Julius asked Charlie to tell him more.
“After that, I tried to find you and your babysitter back at the hotel, but the police had already been notified and you were taken away. I needed to leave the country immediately after what happened, so I couldn’t search for you anymore in Peru. Once I saw a news story about your parents on the news back in the United States, I tracked you down. It wasn’t easy though. You didn’t stay still for long. I lost track of you after your last foster home though. It was only by coincidence that I found you again. I was in L.A. tracking down a lead on another case, when I saw you walking down East 6th Street near The Midnight Mission. From there, I followed your patterns and waited for the perfect opportunity to talk to you, and here we are.”
Julius no longer felt like crying. He finally felt some closure. Nobody would ever tell him any information about what happened that day in the rainforest. As painful as it was to recall those events, it felt good to know that their killer was dead.
“Julius,” Charlie began. “In my line of work, I was trained to push off any emotions that may incur during my missions, but on that day, I felt responsible for your parents’ death. I may not have been the one who pulled the trigger, but if I did not put that group at risk by being there, then you would not be an orphan today.”
Julius silently nodded his understanding.
“Thank you, Charlie,” Julius began to reply. “I appreciate you going out of your way to bring peace to my troubled mind. I’m sure I will see my parents again one day. I doubt I will survive for too many years living on the street, anyway.”
“That was the other thing I wanted to talk about, Julius. Now that I am retired, I have a lot of spare time, and I was wondering if you would be interested in coming to live with me? You wouldn’t have to live on the street anymore.”
Julius could not believe what he was hearing. He just sat there with his mouth hanging open.
“I know we just met,” Charlie continued. “But I want to give you the life that you should have had. You don’t need to answer me right…”
“YES!” Julius interrupted. “Yes, I would like that very much, Charlie. I would be crazy to say no.”
“I’m glad to hear it. The first thing we need to start with is new clothes, then a haircut, okay?”
“Whatever you say!” Julius shouted with glee.
After a day of shopping and pampering, Charlie brought Julius to his villa in the Hollywood Hills. The sleek design of the home was accentuated by the spectacular view of the city below. In the back was an in-ground custom designed pool complete with a hot tub. Julius was in Heaven. He never imagined that at any point in his life, he would experience such luxury.
After a tour of the home, Charlie helped Julius settle in. Before leaving him to rest in his new bedroom, Charlie was surprised by Julius wrapping his arms tightly around his chest and thanking him again. Charlie hugged him back and said,
“I may not be able to replace your parents, Julius, but I will do my best to be all I can be to you. You may think that it is me helping you, but in truth, it is you that are helping me. The remorse that I have felt for the last twelve years had been eating me up inside, and now it is finally fading away.”
That was the beginning of a new life for the two of them. What the future held, was yet to be seen, but for now, everything seemed right.