Up on the Roof, Out on a Limb

Part Five

(Part one) (Part two) (Part three) (Part four)

The buses were running late again, and when the 38 finally rolled to the curb it was mostly full. The door opened to reveal a surly driver scowling through the windshield to some distant perturbance. I grabbed my transfer and made my way toward the only open seat only to find it occupied by a half-eaten sandwich that no one had been willing to move.

It was an unremarkable sandwich. Submarine roll slathered with mayo, shredded lettuce, tomato slices and an assortment of cold cuts wrapped in waxed paper. A sandwich utterly devoid of imagination, yet intimidating in the questions it provoked. Who left it there? Why hadn’t they taken it with them when they left the bus? Was there something wrong with the sandwich? Was there something wrong with the eater?

My detective’s brain engaged the mystery but as the bus lurched forward I decided that, if you want answers you have to be willing to ask questions.

“Excuse me, sir. Is that yours?” I asked the man occupying the seat adjacent to the sandwich.


Despite his answer, the man made no further effort to turn his head toward me in even the slightest acknowledgment.

“Do you know whose it is?”


He continued looking down at the floor.

My line of inquiry was going nowhere fast, and despite the man’s conversational skill and personal magnetism, I determined that I would displace the grinder and sit beside him rather than stand. After all, a facsimile investigator’s life is nothing if not filled with mystery and danger. Someone had to find the courage to wrestle with the belligerent hoagie, and that someone was going to be me.

As I reached down I sensed that I had drawn the attention of everyone else on the bus. Eyes shifted. Heads tilted ever so slightly in my direction. Even the man in the adjacent seat took notice, blinking and shifting his position in rapt anticipation of my audacious move. Breaths were being held. Hearts were beating a bit more quickly. Emboldened by the silent admiration of my fellow riders, I clutched the sandwich and lifted it from the seat. A collective sigh of relief was exhaled.

There was a small, shining smear in the place where the sub had been. Undeterred, I sat without wiping it away, putting the sandwich on the floor beneath me. I felt in that moment like I could take on the world and licked my lips eager for the bus to reach its destination where I would transfer to another bus and be dropped off amid the city’s unrenewed urban rubble.

I prayed there’d be another mettle-testing sandwich on the next leg of my journey.

I transferred to the 79 and rode without incident to the Washington Street stop, then walked down toward the 1200 block and started looking for street numbers to get my bearings. The doors to the buildings that still stood were mostly locked behind the tattered remains of notices of condemnation posted by the city. Windows were a mosaic of plywood and broken glass. Trash had collected in every corner, whether blown by the wind or left behind by vagrants who were not in evidence in the late morning sun, having migrated to neighborhoods where the panhandling was more lucrative.

Somewhere in the high 1100s the buildings ended, replaced by vacant lots and chain link fences. I had a suspicion that the address was a red herring, but it was a nice morning for a stroll, so I kept going until I came to a lone squat, two-story rectangular structure remarkable in this stretch for its relatively good shape. Intact windows, trash-free grass that appeared to have been recently mown. A startling lack of graffiti.

The front door was solid and centered, and there was a roll-up, corrugated steel door to its right. The window to the left was of thick, frosted glass blocks with no apparent light coming through from the other side. Above the door was tacked a set of brass numbers: 1287.

It really was my lucky day.

To be continued…