Rain fell gently on the pavement as commuters sped sped by, not really noticing the faded buildings on this doorstep to the city. An old red clad five story bore the sign Royal Hotel, its windows small and uninviting, nothing more than a flop house.

Just to the east the bright lights of china town and to the west the tall buildings of Vancouver’s profit. The blocks around the Royal, left as is, uncared for and unloved by anyone.

Paul a wheel chair bound man managed the Royal. Rent was by the week or month. Most tenants were forgotten souls, minimum wage workers, disability pensioners, drinkers and newly landed immigrants. They immigrants would be quickly gone, the rest stayed. Paul kept a lid on everything, collected the rent and handled any trouble. He had a small room behind the front desk where he lived. The owner far away in Toronto. 

Paul always dressed neatly, wearing a sweater or gray sports coat. He possessed a bearing, in part because of his large size, not often found in this pale district. There were reasons why he was here though, why he had grown old in this place, why he seldom smiled. 

His future had looked promising when he was 35. It all turned for him on a dark night, with too much to drink and a drive. A time when he loved a beautiful young woman named Emmy, he always remembered her warm smile, dark eyes, the excitement she had about life. How he had drifted into the opposite lane hitting a car. An accident that killed the other driver and left Emmy in his arms dying before help could come. How his legs were crushed. He couldn’t get out and flag down passing cars. The accident cost him his love, the use of his legs and future. No one wanted a cripple around who had killed others. 

This Royal job was the only one he could find. He could still hobble around enough to take care of himself, but his life now mostly limited to how far his wheel chair could take him. 

Many years had passed. He had long given up drinking, but the memories never left. Paul would sometimes sit outside the hotel front, smoke a cigarette and remember that time. The guilt never left him for long, fate left him here to be with other lost souls in this forgotten place.

That afternoon a two bit street criminal named Rodney came in with a young girl. She caused Paul to take a pause, somehow she reminded him of Emmy. Unlike most, she had not already been ruined by the street, life and hope still showed through her eyes. She held onto Rodney as they checked in like he was some savior, Rodney and Trish Smith he wrote on the ledger. 

Paul had been around long enough to know most people on the street. Rodney’s street name was “Little Boy.” His young looks and way attracting women. Those looks hid the real Rodney. He was no savior, he was the devil, a robber of souls, a cold callus street man, a pimp. He had seen this all before, he would keep her here for a while, groom her to make money for him on the street. She would be left with nothing but emptiness and the need for the next fix.

Rodney pulled a large wad of money from his pocket and tossed $500 on the counter for a month of rent. Paul thought about turning them away, he didn’t want to be a landlord for stuff like this, but something caused him to let them have a room. 

It didn’t take long for old patterns to emerge. First there were the nights he saw Rodney and Trish leaving to live it up in the city, returning with broad smiles. Then the starry eyes only drugs caused. Sometimes Rodney would bring along another woman, a friend as he called her, probably one of his old time girls. They called them “mamas” on the street because they kept a pimps girls in line. Trish would be passed around. Soon the sweetness of Rodney would turn to demands and abuse. He knew Rodney would eventually leave, Trish ending up in one of the places Rodney used as his cribs, her chance at a life ended. One morning when they left, Paul could see bruises on Trish’s face.

Paul’s anger grew. One night Rodney came in alone. Paul was working on closing the ledgers for the day. Rodney’s drugs and booze showed on his face. He knew the night would be nothing good for Trish. Paul shouted out “Why don’t you leave the girl alone, she’s young with a life to live.”

Rodney stoped and moved toward Paul, “Look man, what you say? You talking to me. Stay out of my business. Look at you just an old guy in a wheel chair. You're nothing to nobody. You're not even a real man anymore. I am Little Boy. I’m the man around here.”

Paul shouted back, “You? Nothing but a scum, a blight. You think you're something, but you're just a piece of crap on the pavement, a waste of skin. Why don’t you clean yourself up.”

Just then Rodney lunged forward pushing Paul’s wheel chair, crashing it and Paul against the wall. With all the strength he could muster, Paul swirled the chair and started to stand bracing himself against the wall. 

“Don’t even try it old man,” Rodney blurted out. 

Paul made it to his feet and reached under the counter as he turned toward Rodney, pulling out a pistol he kept there and swung it hitting Rodney’s face. Rodney recovered and lunged toward Paul again, but Paul had one more move in him sinking his left hand into Rodney’s gut.

Rodney fell to the ground grabbing his mid section. Paul fell back into his chair. Pointing the gun toward Rodney, “Get out of here and don’t come back. If I see you around here again, I will call the police. I know everything about you, the mama you use, where you get your drugs, the girls you're trying to ruin. Do you really want to test me? Just come back and see what happens. They’ll treat you different little boy, behind bars.”

Rodney pulled himself up from the floor staring the gun in his face, he gave Paul one last defiant look, but left.

The next morning broke bright at the Royal, sun poured into the lobby from the front door window. Paul looked out, regular people passed by on their way to work. Around noon, Trish came down to the lobby. Her first words were asking Paul if he had seen Rodney.

“He’s gone, left just like that” Paul said snapping his fingers. “But there’s a whole world out there, look at the sun, just walk out. Go home Trish, it’s no good here for you. Here’s the rent money you paid, use it go go home.”  

Trish looked at Paul, she caught her image in a small mirror behind the lobby desk and remembered the hurt from when Rodney had slapped her the night before. She looked tired and worn.

Paul seeing her pause, “Here, take the money.” His mind almost slipped for a moment as he started to call her Emmy, but recovered. “Trish, just go home. You're alive and have a chance for a good life.”

She looked at him oddly, but took the money and swung her purse over he shoulder walking out the door. She turned and gave Paul a last glance as the door closed. Paul didn’t know what her future would be. She might find Rodney and be trapped again or with luck escape his grasp. He didn’t know, but felt peace as she walked out. He had saved her, given her life again, at least for today.

David Young