Chapter 20 Summary
When Alfred arrives at the apartment, he is smiling and eager to tell Aunt Pearl all about Jelly Belly’s new job at a fancy restaurant. When he starts to tell her about the fight, she stops him and says the police were there looking for James. Tonight James broke into the Epsteins’ grocery store—right through the front window. He got away but cut himself badly, so the police are sure he is not too far away.
Before Aunt Pearl can say anything more, Alfred is out the door and “running hard, into the bitter night wind.” The park is dark and silent and white with new snow. When he reaches the cave, Alfred hears heavy breathing and calls to James. Although Alfred has come to help, James tells him to go away. Alfred is not deterred, reminding James that this cave belongs to both of them.
As he crawls inside, James lights a match, and Alfred can see that one of James’s arms and hands are bleeding badly, and he knows James needs to go to a hospital. James says he does not care if he gets an infection or loses his arm, but he finally quiets and admits it hurts. He allows James to wrap his arm and slow the blood. He notices the bandages on Alfred’s face and asks if James won his fight. Alfred says, “sort of.”
Because Alfred offered to help, James wants money and promises he “ain’t hooked” and can “stop any time.” Like a true friend, Alfred promises to help James “beat the junk.” He is confident that they can do it together. The night Alfred’s mother died, James promised to “stick with” him, and now Alfred intends to do the same for James.
Donatelli, Henry, Martin, and Spoon are willing to help James once he gets clean. Alfred is going to go to night school and work in a recreation center for children, and he will get James a job as well. Although “nothing is promised,” James will never know if he can be successful until he tries. He might even get to build things one day.
James is afraid to go to the hospital because he is already on probation, and this time he will be “sent away.” Alfred is sure Epstein will help if Alfred asks him, but even if James has to go away, it will not be forever. Alfred will be waiting to help because James is his partner.
James refuses to go, so Alfred noisily begins to leave the cave and tells James goodbye. James changes his mind, and Alfred immediately reaches back into the cave for his friend. He pulls James out into the cold and half-carries him through the park.
James is weak because he has lost so much blood and Alfred holds him upright, saying he has plenty of blood for him. Alfred leads James through the park toward the streetlights.