"I had disability." This said with a stuffed mouth and green eyes still fixed onto his plate.
"Is that all?"
"Food stamps." The words slide out between chews.
"Sounds like a pretty good deal."
Green eyes wince at the prospect of bad memories. Just his luck that the very tip of the bad memory iceberg is struck so early in the morning. The high-pitched voice sighs, "I started drinking again." I feel his mind engage like a rusted, squeaking transmission trying to pull out of first gear. "People think welfare is easy; it ain't. You got to go to all those meetings, keep all those appointments. You got to do what they want you to do."
Drained from the sudden onrush of emotion, Tredeau returns to his plate, fishes a half pancake onto his fork, and forces the gob into his mouth.
"You lost track of the appointments?"
"They threw me out of the hotel." Tredeau is silent for three heartbeats, then says, all in a rush, "It was winter and raining like hell."
I grab a flour tortilla, drag an edge of it through an egg yolk. "When was that?"
I wait while Tredeau's corroded mind laboriously turns. "Four, five years ago."
Mr. Tredeau may have chosen an appropriate career path. It's clear to me that he should not consider any job that requires dealing with the public. As if trudging through mud, I push on. "What did you do then?"
"I went down to L.A."
"Where did you stay?"
"I slept in the bushes alongside freeways."
"Why not a homeless shelter?"
"They're crowded," munch, munch, "dangerous, got a lot of rules."
"Like not drinking?"
"That's one of them."
This guy does not have a single sharp edge to grab onto. I have no idea where to go, fall back on "Then what?"
"I went to Phoenix for a while, then up to Las Vegas." This, as well as everything else the man has said, is meant to placate his benefactor. Tredeau either has no interest in his story or long ago vowed not to tell it.
"There's always work in Vegas," I say.
"I guess so, but I wasn't there a week before they had me in jail."
Tredeau stops chewing. I am startled at this development. Using more affect than I've heard all morning, he declares, "Hell, I don't know. I was sleeping in an alley and they arrested me."
"We're you passed out?"
"I was sleeping." Suddenly my chum lets slip another emotion: a pout. What do I have to do to get him to talk? I try, "What brings you here?"
"Looking for my brother. I heard he was living around here." Tredeau has finished his breakfast, orange juice, and coffee. He's beginning to look more like a 58-year-old. Color and shape have returned to his face. I order two more coffees and prod, "When was the last time you saw him?"
"A long time, maybe 20 years." I have yet to make eye contact with my breakfast guest. Now that his meal is finished, Tredeau looks at the street or the tabletop. I carry on, "What makes you think he's down here?"
"I got an uncle, he lives in Bakersfield. He told me he talked to Ray on the phone, and that Ray was retiring around Ensenada."
"When was that?"
"About six months ago."
"Did your uncle have an address for your brother?"
"Anybody in your family have his address?"
"My parents are dead. I don't talk to the rest of them, except for Uncle Tom."
"How often do you talk to your uncle?"
Okay, bingo, I've had it. I rap on the table with my knuckles until Tredeau looks directly at me. Using a don't-fuck-with-me tone of voice I demand, "Tell me about your brother. Take a moment and think about it. What does he look like? How old is he? Were you close when you were kids? How tall is he? How much does he weigh? What kind of personality does he have? Is he funny or sad or boring? Is he married? Does he have children? What kind of work is he retiring from? Give me the complete picture." The last is said flat and hard.
A trace of fear has returned to Tredeau's now emerald eyes. Brain pulleys begin to groan. "His name is Jerome, he's two years older than me."
"We joined the Navy together. He stayed with it. He was an aircraft mechanic." Full stop.
I can't stand this. I decide to lunge at the core of it. "Look, you're homeless. You're homeless in Mexico. What do you make of that?"
Tredeau uncoils an expression of genuine puzzlement. Startled, I ask, "You are homeless, aren't you?"
"I'm looking for my brother."