I watched the rain fall. I watched, and waited while the gutters filled to overflowing, and watched as the water spread into the street. I watched as the rain splashed in the growing pools, splashed off the concrete; pelting cars, soaking through the awnings of the store fronts that lined the street the busy street.
The cops were working their beat; despite the rain, but they were not working for the good people of the city. They were cops on the take, moonlighting for the pimps and hustlers. Their wet rain slickers shimmered under the street lamps, rain drops reflecting the light. The refracted sparkling drops of water shone like tiny stars jumping off their backs and shoulders. Cops on the beat with guns loaded, cops wrapped in plastic, walking past barrels of trash; they giggled at the working girls on the street, girls who, like them, came from bad places, and like them, girls who were not allowed to take a night off.
Rain drummed against the roof of the newsstand where I watched the action on the street, and waited for a story. Rain beat against the cars leaking oil, parked against the curb; oil dripping from their engines into the rivers of water flowing down the gutters; flowing with the rainbow film of a petroleum slick flowing into the street. The dirty water came up over the curb, pooling on the sidewalk. The newsstand man had had enough of it, and with my feet now soaked; so had I.
I felt the hard rain falling like a curse.
I struggled with my trench coat as the newsstand closed down, taking away my shelter, and I ran into the drugstore for a bottle of whiskey.
I used the fact that I had made a purchase to justify my lingering. The drugstore had a no loitering policy posted in the entryway; a means of deterring the vagrants, which on most days could easily mean me, but today I had the money for a flask, and buying it gave me the time I needed to wait, and watch the street life a little longer.
The cops kept busy with the working girls; blowing whistles, stirring them out of their hiding places, out of the alcoves, out from under the awnings where they were hoping to catch a break from the rain. This pleased the pimps to no end; having the boys on the beat do their jobs, while they sat snug in their cars. That is what they paid them for. The cash the cops took was not just hush money, those weekly payments were not bribes. The cops were on the payroll.
Rain could never stop the business on the street; no matter how long, no matter how hard it fell.
Nice, new, clean cars lined up in front of the hustlers, driven by not-so-nice people purchasing flesh, or buying drugs; hustler handing off wrapped parcels, brown bags, and baggies, through cracked car windows in the rain. The cops on the beat were not policemen. They were traffic control for a market that never slept.
There was some commotion in one of the taverns across the street. A big man was pushed out of doors of the corner bar; shoved onto the street by a group of men that I could not make out. I could not see them clearly through the falling water. They lingered in the doorway; blocking it from the fat man, if should try to get back in. Or maybe the fellows were just scared. Maybe they had already spent their courage. And were now just huddling together for protection.
I watched their arms and hands shooting out from the darkened doorway; flashing into the world…fists pumped at the air, fingers pointing, bodies pressed close to each other, for safety, out of fear.
The big man smiled wickedly; smiling with that diamond flash that makes you think of a villain in a movie. He rocked back on his feet. He seemed a little unsteady. He stumbled back toward the curb of the street; fell against a cream-colored coupe was parked in front of the bar.
I felt sorry for the bastard, with his fat face smashed into the side panel, his moustache hard-scraped by a piece of jagged metal peeling off the door. I could see that it shaved more than a few hairs off his cheek as a sharp line of blood began dripping down his chin, but then disappeared as suddenly as it came. I thought it was just the rain washing the blood off his face. Though it seemed to wash the wound away as well.
He was hatless, balding, drunk, but he was not defeated. The crowd of men in the doorway began to thin out. The fat man pushed himself up off the ground and pulled his leather raincoat around his huge frame. He looked in my direction, with the rain splashing off his face. I thought for a moment that he was staring right at me, staring through me, but then I saw the headlights of an oncoming car flash off his glass eye. I knew then that hollow stare which I felt sucking me in, sucking like a vacuum; that it truly was hollow, emanating from the lifeless stone in his socket.
A tall kid in a rubber jerkin came walking out of a bar, his glistening black hair plastered to his face by the rain. He had two things in his hand, the man’s hat; which I could see was an expensive boulder, and his tab, which was unpaid when he was tossed from the bar.
The beat cops were headed their way.
The fat man looked around. He took the measure of the street, and his mouth twisted into a grin. The dark night became even darker, as if the rain-clouded canopy above the city lights swelled and thickened impossibly past the point of bursting; before releasing the deep stores of water that they were carrying.
The rain that was hammering the city doubled its flow. Lightening flashed, and thunder cracked. Alarm bells peeled, and sirens wailed over the roof tops, jangled and sputtering in their rain-muffled voices.
I watched as the story I was looking for unfolded in front of me. Everybody on the street stopped in their tracks; the working girls, the cops, as another lightning bolt hammered into the tall boy, cutting him down like a slender tree, filling the whole street with hot-white light, licking the fallen boy with tongues of fire, as if he was being kissed by the Holy-Spirit. The thunder cracked louder than dynamite, shaking everything not nailed down, rattling the windows of every store on the block.
The fat man was laughing when the boy hit the pavement. He and he alone was un-cowed by the storm. He reached down swept his boulder from the hands of the fallen boy, with a grace move that belied his size; placing it on his bare head. His great frame shook. He made a gesture to the body of the boy laying in the pooling water on the sidewalk. His lips were moving as if in prayer, or more like he was telling the kid the secret words that would get him past the guardians at the gates of paradise. Then he turned on the balls of his feet and dashed away. He moved faster than any right minded person would imagine his bulk would allow.
I started after him, with the cops behind me.