I never know how to start these things; I'm a reporter, for chrissake, not an author. I guess I could start with 'it was raining'. Lord was it raining. New York twilights seem to always be one of three things, foggy, muggy, or raining. I was heading towards the Blue Moon, a tavern over between 1st Avenue and Avenue A.
Why, you may ask? Why was I heading to some grungy old bar that was most likely filled with old men and college students who like to think they're old men? Because I was looking for an old man. Not any old man, mind you, but a guy who contacted one of my bosses. He said he went by the name of Mike.
My name is Ben Brown. Benjamin to my family, Smokey to my friends, and Mr. Brown to the debt collectors; but Ben to my readers. Average height, average weight, brown hair and hazel eyes. I have a goatee, some long-lost fashion statement from high school that I never got rid of in college, and my hair tied back in a pony-tail. All in all, I'm not someone who sticks out in a crowd and that makes my job, and therefore my life, all that much easier. I'm a freelance reporter who tends to get the stories no one else wants to do.
Which is where Mike came into my life.
Mike had gotten a hold of my boss at a local 'zine that is printed here in NYC and handed out in small quantities. The editor likes to think of himself and his magazine as preserving the lives of people in print. I look at it as numbers on a paycheck, which translates to food on the table. Mike, like most men who are nearing the tombstone are wont to do, asked to have his story printed in the publication. Turns out he was a long time reader from when the thing first started. So Mr. Leibowitz asked me to head out and check out the place Mike wanted to meet at, talk to him, maybe take down a few notes here and there.
That is why I was crossing a street. In New York.
In the rain.
The goddamned rain.
The Blue Moon, or " lue Mo n" if you read the neon lights, was almost exactly what I had expected. A small, nondescript building in a line of small, nondescript buildings, brown side paneling with peeling paint. Surprisingly enough, it was rather cozy when you finally got inside. A pool table set up along one wall, a row of stools lined up next to a well used and thinly polished wood bar on the other. The bar itself is on a raised wooden platform, bare wood on top and thin green carpet along the rest of the floor in the bar. The bartender (and owner I presume) was the epitome of tavern owners. Short, bushy hair, small mustache, and a white shirt, with a rag in one hand and a glass in the other.
Looking around, I saw that I was the only other one in the tavern. Figures; the contact was late. Sitting down at the bar, I ordered a scotch and water on the rocks, an old friend I haven't visited much since finals at the university. That and McGurrie's Pepperoni Delight is the only thing that kept me going through four years of finals. Four years of rejected articles and rejected dates. Four years of dirty dorms, deadbeat dropouts, and decrepit dictators lecturing to legions of the unlearned.
The bell at the front door rang. Taking one last draw of my drink, I turn around, and in walks Mike. More accurately, in hobbles Mike. My first impression is that this is a man who's seen many better days. Hell, his better days have seen better days. He slowly walks in the door and lets it swing close behind him. No wonder he was late, I think to myself, It probably takes him ninety minutes to get out of the cab. The first thing I truly notice about him is his face. Softly set, his cheeks and jaw meet and sag a little at the jawbone. His mouth is turned down at the ends a little, almost like he's constantly frowning at bad news. His ears stick out from under his cap, but I see almost no hair to speak of. What really catches my eyes though is his. His eyes, I mean. Small, dark, sharp. Some old men get that senile look when they get older, where they lose focus and tend to let their eyes drift. Not Mike. When his eyes met mine, it was like a pinpoint had been set on my chest. His body shook, but his eyes never wavered.
I notice his walk favors to one side, and the sounds as he walks aren't quite right. As he steps up onto the wooden platform the bar is on, I see why. His left leg is gone. Well, not all of it, but a good portion of it, from half the thigh on down. He walks with a cane and a fake leg that looks more like Captain Ahab's Peg than a prosthetic. As he shuffles to me, his movements create a soft, almost hypnotic pattern, the thunk of his cane, the whumph of his fake leg, and the careful step of his one good foot.
Thunk, whumph, step. Thunk whumph, step.
Every step is deliberate, a carefully orchestrated cacophony of him almost falling forward. From his walk and his gaze, I get the distinct impression that this is a guy who doesn't miss much, if anything, and everything he does has a purpose. Suddenly a chill runs down my spine. I'm excited. If anything I pride myself on being able to read people and if I'm even half right about this guy, his story should be something. Why else would he go through the trouble of telling it?
Softly setting his cane to one side, he slides into the barstool next to mine and signals the bartender. Without a word, the bartender produces a glass, a bottle of whiskey, fills one with the other, and leaving the bottle between us, resumes his previous work of cleaning each individual glass. Mike takes a long pull before even looking at me again. Wetting his lips with his tongue, he looks at me and speaks.