Zev slowly worked his way eastward, dropping in elevation. He continued walking past the posh, gated communities that were pushed up hard against the mountains.
He found what he was looking for at the corner of Woodside and Virginia. The abandoned strip mall had a nine acre parking lot and it was crawling with hundreds of indigent men...just like him. The best place to hide is in a crowd. It is also the best place to get information.
He found a place to sit where he could enjoy an overview of the people in the parking lot. He chose to be east of the mall because that put the sun at his back and because the shells of the abandoned shops wrapped around the lot in the form of a “C” with the opening to the east. Zev did not know what was in those buildings nor did he harbor good feelings about them as an egress path.
Indigent men have time in gross-lot quantities. They do not rush.
Zev settled down to observe. Most of the men wore flip-flops or Croks and shuffled at half the speed he was used to walking. That would take some untraining.
Rushing attracts the attention of predators and prey alike. Predators see animals that run as a self-nomination process. Animals that are healthy and sure of their speed might reposition themselves but they won’t flee helter-skelter. To run is to tumble into an ambush or to telegraph that you are injured and need the head start.
Prey animals are attuned to using the behaviors of others in the herd to alert them to potential predators. An animal that runs is a signal that there is a killer stalking the edges.
Every animal is genetically hardwired to focus on the animal that appears to be running.
Zev was going to have to learn to slow down, way down.
The other thing he was doing was watching the group dynamics. Whether the group is on a playground, a corporate boardroom or an impromptu pedestrian mall, there are certain universal cues.
Zev simply observed. He did not want preconceptions to poison what he saw.
There appeared to be three groups on the lot. Two of them appeared to be hostile toward each other as they did not intermix, had a gap between them and they squeezed down to minimize contact area. In his head Zev labeled them Gang 1 and Gang 2.
The third group was larger in numbers and in area than the other two groups. People flowed between the gangs and the third group but not between the two gangs. Also, the people in the third group seemed to be more random and less oriented than the people in the gangs.
Zev knew he was looking for somebody in the third group.
It took two hours to find him.
Zev was looking for a super-connector. If that person had been a soccer player, it would been the midfielder that everybody passed to without hesitation. That midfielder would put several quick touches on the ball and then send it on.
Zev narrowed it down to three or four candidates in the first hour and then settled on THE super-connector over the course of the second hour. He was a middle-aged, black man of above average height wearing a hoodie and a camo, ripstop outer shirt.
Zev could have approached countless other men who were in the fringes. They would have been far less work to approach and Zev probably could have gotten most of what he was looking for. But Zev chose to not do that. Zev’s thinking was that the super-connector would have the best information and to affiliate with those on the fringe would have marginalized him.
It took Zev another hour to enter the crowd and to work his way to camo-hoodie as Zev thought of him.
“I am new in town.” Zev announced to hoodie. “Can you recommend a place to sleep and a way to get food that doesn’t involve getting scanned?”
Hoodie looked at Zev. “My name is Anthony. What is your’s?”
That took Zev by surprise. He hadn’t thought of how he was going to identify himself. He instinctively decided to go with an alias. “Folks call me Eehood.”
Anthony raised an eyebrow and then grunted an affirmative. “Stay away from the schools. The gangs have those nailed down. Stay away from the cop stations and the jewelry district. Churches are crowded but safe. Alleyways are OK if you are with a group or can defend yourself.”
“The cheapest street vendors are on Bay Road. If you are hurting for money, then atole y manteca* is the way to go. The lady with the yellow cart with the big, pink flowers will throw in a little extra lard if you can quote some scripture.” Anthony continued.
“So, where did you come from?” Anthony asked. “I know I have never seen you before.”
Zev made a small grimace. “I just came out of solitary. I can’t say that I have fond feelings for anything ‘government’. I just need to get my feet under me.”
Anthony nodded. A lot of people had been cycled through the mental “health” hospitals after they came to the attention of the PC police. Most were broken afterward. The rest were bent and needed healing.
Indigent populations are, by definition, transient. There are always people coming and going. Zev locked in his place in the Redwood indigent community four days after talking to Anthony. He was scouting out the docks when he overheard a conversation between a fishing captain and a petty EPA official. The captain would not be able to sell his catch because the EPA puke had seen an endangered color-phase of a common species in the catch. The market closed in ninety minutes and there was no way the captain could get the catch sorted.
Zev stepped in. He started sorting fish without being asked. Activating hands-free on his phone he told Anthony he needed a crew of twenty at the dock as fast as they could get there. The crew sorted the six-thousand pound catch in time for the captain to shuttle it to the buyer. All of the exotic color-phase were dead and could not be returned to the water without the EPA puke fining the captain for polluting. It was clear he had been shaking down the captain for a bribe.
Zev suggested that the four hundred pounds of unmarketable fish be given to the sorters as payment. The EPA puke wouldn't let the captain sell them. It didn't mean that people couldn't eat them.
Anthony’s home-boys had a fish fry that night. Zev made himself invisible after filling his plate. He really did not want these men to remember what he looked like in too much detail. That left Anthony standing as the undisputed hero.
After that, Eehood was able to move freely anywhere on the peninsula. Word got around: “Dude who doesn’t talk much and wears shaggy clothes the color of mud...good guy. Leave him alone.”
* atole y manteca is a thin gruel made with corn meal and flavored cinnamon or vanilla and lard, butter or other grease or oil. It can be drunk from a bottle even when cold.