Saturday, October 11, 2014

Late One Tuesday Morning - IV

The eyes flashed from above the line of a massive dark brown beard that completely hid most of the face and all of the neck.  A mass of hair the same color with bits of gray showing framed the head and hid the ears.  The apparition was standing behind the bench holding a guitar over the right shoulder by the neck with the other holding the strap of a bright blue backpack over the left shoulder.  His gigantic frame was draped in a dirty olive colored trenchcoat with the belt hanging loose, and those unblinking blue lamps above the beard gave Bill to believe he ought to find somewhere else to go.  He began to get up but the creature's skillet sized left hand came down from the backpack strap and waved him back down.

"No, man.  Stay!  I was just messin' with ya'.  Public bench after all.  Mind if I join you, though?"

The giant bowed to Bill with a flourish, low enough so that Bill looked straight at the top of the dusty brown mane, wondering if a small creature would peek out.  He stood up and strode around and plopped down on Bill's right, and gently set the guitar on the deck with it's neck against the edge of the bench.  Bill saw he was wearing a white oxford shirt, white and blue striped trousers and old leather sandals with tire tread soles.  His toenails were painted various colors and his feet were caked with dirt, but he didn't smell too bad, mostly of tobacco.  His hands were oddly clean.

The right hand extended toward Bill.

"Nice to meet you!  My name's Dan Rather.  What's yours?"  A grin with not unclean teeth broke through the furze under the nose.

"Bill.  Uh, just Bill right now."  His hand disappeared inside the other's firm handshake. "Uh, how's everything, uh, Dan?"

"Everything's great, Bill!  It's smacking pretty day, no one's on my ass for anything, and I ate well this morning.  Yeah, I gotta good thing goin' with a Chinese place over on Jackson.  I sweep the sidewalk every morning and I get pot stickers and sweet sour soup.  Not a bad deal for a little labor.  I keep it damned clean too.  How' bout you, man?  If you don't mind my saying so you're lookin' a little rough around the edges, Bill."

Between his size and his good nature, Dan Rather (or whoever he was), Bill decided, was not to be denied.  Bill had nowhere else to go, and the giant seemed friendly and unlikely to do anything violent.  If he was, what would that matter?  Bill's thoughts, while distracted, were verging toward ending it all.  If this giant went nuts and clobbered him at least he'd be out of it.

"Rough morning at the job, Dan.  Here."  He handed Dan the Dickel bottle and kept the water bottle to himself.  To his surprise, Dan pulled an old stainless steel sierra cup from somewhere and filled it with whiskey, then handed the bottle back.  Bill stared, fully expecting the man to drink half of the booze straight from the bottle in one long swig.  The delicacy displayed was yet another surprise.

"Well, hey man, thanks for the drink!"  Dan held up the cup and Bill, without thinking, touched the rim with the water bottle and they both took a sip.  Bill was beginning to feel the mellow he'd been searching for earlier.  Despite the alarming appearance and size of his new acquaintance, he began to feel thankful for the company.

"No problem.  Here, just help yourself when your ready."  He set the bottle on the bench between them. 

"Mighty kind of you, Bill.  Wanna smoke?"  He'd pulled out a pack of Camel filters and a zippo lighter.

"Uh, no I don't . . . well sure, why not.  Shit."  Bill hadn't touched a smoke in about two decades.  What the hell.  He took the offered lighter and noticed on it a symbol consisting of an anchor, trident and flintlock pistol.  It was an older lighter and well used.  He lit up and sucked in a lungful, forgetting in his now developed buzz that he hadn't smoked in a long time.  He erupted in a cloud of smoke and nearly fell off the bench coughing.

The big man erupted in laughter.  "Woohooooo!  Been a while, huh?  Hang on there, brother.  You can do it!"  He slapped Bill on the upper back, nearly knocking him off the bench again after he'd regained his balance.

Bill finally calmed himself down and took another puff.  That was better and he got dizzy for a minute or two.  OK.  Another cough or two, and he felt better.  It felt good to unhinge from his self discipline and just pollute himself. 

"Now that we got that over with, Bill, what seems to be the problem?"

"What problem?  What're you talking about?"

"The job, Dude.  What could happen there that would send a successful lookin' guy like yourself out here in the middle of a workday to sit here and get a heat on with the likes of me when you could be in there earning yer millions?"

Dan cocked an eyebrow, half turned toward Bill, rested his right ankle on his left knee and his cup of whiskey on his ankle, his cigarette tucked neatly between two fingers.  He looked for all the world like a street Paul Bunyan sitting at a table in a cocktail bar ready to discuss. 

Through the smoke and the whiskey, Bill began to realize there was a lot more to this guy than met the eye.  He'd encountered street people and oddballs many times, and wouldn't turn his back on any of them, but the dangerous craziness he feared from this gigantic figure was not apparent.  He was huge, but he was oddly fastidious, and clearly had reverence for certain things.  Hell, he was friendly in the midst of a world that seemed to hold no friendliness.  Despite the hugeness of everything about him, Dan Rather was the only person Bill had encountered that day who didn't seem to threaten him.  

"Well, Dan, I made the oldest mistake in the world."


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