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.
I ran down the slick pavement of the boulevard. The gargantuan I was chasing moved like a motorman, heedless of the streaming waters.
My lungs were on fire. My heart was pounding like a drum. I had that taste of blood in my mouth that comes when I push myself too hard. The cops were falling behind, but I stayed in the fat man’s wake, even though he continued to put distance between us.
He put on a burst of speed like Kent Herbeck rounding third base and heading for home plate.
I stayed behind him like I was following the North Star.
He turned hard into an alley that was as black as a canyon on a starless night.
I saw him bust through the back door of a tailor’s shop. The dim illumination coming through the transom was the only point of light anywhere in that deep dark place.
He left me standing there; feeling as limp as a ribbon on the wet concrete.
The alley was narrow. I ducked into an alcove and waited while I watched the cops run past me. I had no idea what I was doing here, why I was chasing this man, other than the fact that I felt something momentous was taking shape.
I kept my eye on the back door to the tailor’s shop as I caught my breath, and the only thing I was thinking about was getting back to the shack I was renting, so I could begin to type this story.
Suddenly, a pair of headlights, turned into the alley.
The car sped up as it passed me, and then it turned into the loading ramp of the building next door to the tailor’s shop. It stopped in front of the garage doors at the top of the ramp. A light came on, and I ducked deeper into the shadows.
The car lights were tilted up toward the garage, and a small square box sitting on the dock next to the back door. The fat man, with his baleful eye came out of tailor’s shop. I watched him go down the alley, up the loading ramp toward the car; arms stretched out in a gesture of greeting, of welcome, and quite possibly of menace.
It suddenly occurred to me that I had seen that car before; downtown, by the park where I was staying. I remember seeing that car, by the dandelion fountain while I sat at my window drinking and smoking, and waiting for what seemed like hours for it to go away, so I could watch the college girls while I got sauced. I watched the car that day because everyone with a hundred yards of it seemed to instinctively avoid it, and if I was not crazy, it also seemed like the brids and the squirrels of the park avoided it too. Those minutes dragged from afternoon to evening, and I think now that it might have been that same man; the fat man with his glass eye, who finally came out of an apartment building, got into the car and drove away.
Maybe that is why I chased him when I saw him running from the bar; because I had recognized him. Even though it was only now, as I watched and waited again, that I put the pieces together in my mind.
Two squad cars came into the alley from opposite ends. I was lingering, still; hiding deep in the shadows with the garbage. It was clear to me that these cops knew what they were doing. These guys were not the paddies chasing us blindly down the street. They approached the loading dock with caution. There were no sirens. The squad cars were quiet, but the cherries were flashing, and the searchlights blaring all down the alley, and out into the street. It was like they were sending a message to anyone who might wander down the corridor…“KEEP OUT!”
The lights drove me back. To keep my cover; I ducked, and bobbed, and wove my way further into my hole, deeper into shadows, out of the driving rain. It was pitch black where I stood, but I still had my eyes on the car, and the fat man.
The squad cars turned off their searchlights. The glowing filaments were like eyes staring at me, bright with that halogen heat, steam rising off the glass as they slowly drove past.
Then, as if the presence of the cops did not matter, or maybe because they were expected; a door opened, and a slim woman wearing a broad-brimmed hat, and a fitted-transparent rain coat, stepped outside. She did not have much of anything else on beneath her sheer slicker, and she had those large brown cow eyes, with which she appeared to drink in her surroundings. She walked right past the fat man; who was looking at her with amazement on her face.
She stood by the driver’s door. The window cracked open, and it was clear she was saying something to the man at the wheel. The fat man was glaring at her with a look of hunger on his face. It seemed that a light sparkled in his stone-eye. As if on cue the rain let loose in another extra heavy burst. With that, the lady looked up, she turned toward the man and together they went into the building by the side door of the loading dock.
There was a silence. Everything was quiet except for the pounding rain, the blood rushing in my ears, and my heart thumping in my chest. I pulled another hit of whiskey from my flask. My hyper active nerves settled into a simmering mania. Enough whisky, and all moods were convertible into a lesser state of the same quality. I needed that conversion if I was going to take another step down this path.
Two cops; one from each squad got out of their cars, stepped into the soaking wet alley, water running in an ever broadening stream, rain dripping like a shower head from the rims of their plastic wrapped hats.
I thought I heard the fat man laughing from inside the building, and then a flash of lightning burned my eyes. The whiskey flask fell from hands, its contents poured out and mixed with the water pooling at my feet.
The thunder roared for what felt like minutes. It shook the street beneath my feet; knocking out the power for blocks. Now there were no lights at all, just the lightening scored into my eyes. I tried to blink it away, but when I closed my lids the hot flash remained; imprinted, fixed.
A thin scream pierced the rolling thunder. It echoed off the tall buildings lining the alley’s narrow corridor, and then it was gone, followed once more by the echoes of laughter, the mad bellow of the fat man.
The lightning and the thunder did a number on my senses. I felt like I was in shock, it felt like my days in the wars. It was not drunkenness, I had not drank enough whisky for that.
More than the thunder, the laughter was ringing in my ears; a repellant, nasty noise. An institutionalized sound; it belonged to a place where the men in white kept order, barred windows, locked the inmates in, strapped them down while sleeping in their narrow beds, just to keep them from hurting themselves. That laughter was insane.
I slipped out of my hideaway as silent as I could be, and I dodged the gaze of the cops in the alley, the driver of the car still parked on the ramp. I made my way up the loading dock.
I was not looking for a knocker on the door. I just reached for the knob, took a hold of it, and went through. Just as I entered I heard gun shots cracking, flashing in a weak imitation of the thunder and lightning of the storm. Then I heard a long harsh sigh, a soft thump, the rapid footsteps of someone coming my way; heading for the exit.