Old Ben woke to the sounds of traffic on the bridge above. He peeked out slowly from behind the newspaper that was covering his head to observe the sun rise golden across the river. Rush hour was just starting. It would get much noisier very soon. Everyone would be up. Not even the soundest sleeper could could get any rest with the incessant cacophony of the vehicles overhead. He rolled out from his sleeping bag to start the morning coffee and to scrounge up some breakfast.
Ben did not actually consider himself homeless. He had built a fine shelter made up of wood and aluminum that he had gotten from a nearby construction site. They were just scraps. No one cared that he took them. He just loaded up the cart that he had attached behind his bike. Ben went scrap picking most every day. He looked for metal that he could sell to the scrap dealers over on Washington Avenue. He usually made enough to buy a little food for himself and the others. Sometimes he found other items that were useful, those he brought home. He had actually built a wood burning stove from things he found here and there.
Ben was proud of the fact that he didn't have to pan-handle to get by as many of the other homeless did. They usually had pretty good meals from the little money that Ben made and the out of date products scavenged from dumpsters behind grocery stores. That was Eddie's job. But, lately the scrap pickings had been lean and there was not much to sell. Eddie had been chased away from their favorite grocery store by some teenagers. He was a little scared to go back because they had threatened to beat him up if they saw him again. Eddie had wanted to take Big Willy with him, but Ben said no.
Willy didn't like being around being around other people. He was a really big kid with the mind of a child. Somehow, he wasn't quite right in the head. Ben found him after he had run away from his father's house. From the little bit that Willy had told them, they figured he was better off with them. His father had treated him real bad. Willy had scars from being beaten. He told Ben that his father called him a "retard." It might have been true. But, he still shouldn't have called him that.
Ben always kept Willy at the camp so his father couldn't find him and so nobody would steal their stuff. Not that Willy would have stopped anyone. Ben just told him to look mean and tell anyone who came to "Git!" It worked well, they never lost anything. Willy was by nature very gentle, but he could look mean if he wanted to or felt threatened.
While Ben was making coffee, Eddie began to stir. Eddie stretched long and hard trying to work out the ache in his bones from sleeping on the ground. He could not remember the last time he slept in an actual bed. The closest he had come lately was an old mattress he had found dumpster diving over at the "U." It was easy picking at the college when all the kids were going home for the summer. The dumpsters were overloaded with fine stuff! The buildings owners didn't mind because it would cost them to haul it all away. Ben had chided him for taking the mattress because there was more valuable stuff to be had. But Eddie had insisted and he carried it back as best he could, sometimes dragging it. Within a week it had gotten wet and by the end of the month rodents had made a home inside. They just ended up using it for firewood.
Ben had met Eddie outside a homeless shelter downtown. It was wintertime and very cold. Someone had mugged Eddie and had taken his good coat. Eddie hated the homeless shelters. Someone was always picking on him because he was small. Ben bought him back to the bridge. They had been together since then, almost two years.
Eddie was hungry. " Damn Ben, I want something real to eat today!" Ben half smiled at the comment. Eddie was always ornery in the morning and always had the same complaint. "You had just better find something today then. Breakfast is not gonna just walk on up to ya!" Ben liked teasing Eddie in the morning until he got past his orneriness.
"You may be wrong about that today Benny boy. Look what's walking down to the river!" Ben looked to where Eddie was pointing and spotted a couple of ducks with babies coming down the hill towards the river. "Duck soup!" said Eddie with glee.
"Eddie, now don't you go messing with them ducks."
Eddie was not listening and had already started creeping towards the river. He wanted to cut them off before they got to the water. They stopped as he got close and began to hiss. The babies were chirping wildly as the older ducks continued to hiss. Eddie got to about five feet away when one of the ducks charged, then flew at his face. He was surprised and backtracked quickly, but tripped and fell backwards over a rock. He looked up to find Willy staring down at him holding a big stick.
"Don't hurt the duckies!"
"It's OK Bud, no one is gonna hurt the duckies." Ben had gotten there quickly. " Just put down the stick," he said gently. "You don't want to hurt Eddie!"
Willy lowered his arm and dropped the stick. He glared at Eddie. "Don't hurt the duckies." Willy turned and walked back to the shelter.
The ducks were long gone by then, swimming down the river to safety.
Ben reached down and offered a hand to Willy, helping him up. " You alright Eddie? That was a nasty fall! I thought that daddy duck was going to take your eyes out."
"I did too man. That was one nasty duck!"
"What were you thinking man?" Ben teased, "You can't have duck soup for breakfast!"