Click here for Part One
This dark part of the street would soon lighten up, he knew. He'd killed this Scott person just past the point in the city where things stopped being fun, or, rather, things stopped trying to be fun. Past a certain point, the are couldn't even sustain a barbershop, though presumably the people in this section had hair just like everywhere else. It was sad, and a little perplexing. Winnick knew that there were perfectly good explanations for these sorts of unofficial borderlines in cities throughout the world, but those explanations could only cover the rational ground. There was something else there, Winnick had always believed, something having to do with a general sort of sadness, that no one could really figure out, if they even noticed it, which he imagined most people didn't. Winnick felt it, but was at as much of a loss as everyone else seemed to be.
But all that was behind him now, because look, here were lights, and people, and bars and restaurants. That sort of thing. As the number of people increased, as he moved with the tide along crosswalks, he began to want to strike out at them. Not because they were, or appeared to be, having fun, while some other small group of people down the street were staying in for the night and probably having less fun, because he didn't truly care about that. He wanted to punch them, he believed, because there were just too many of them.
As he cross the street, the night around him lit back up into dusk, he fell in step behind a young man walking between two young women. Both women wore jeans that were similarly tight and similarly low-slung. Each girl had an arm wrapped around one of the man's, and whenever the man turned his head, Winnick could see his drunk, oblong grin.
"What?" the young man said to the girl on his right.
"She said," said the girl, "that she didn't want to meet me again, like, ever again. She said, 'I don't let people treat me that way, if if you're going to treat me that way, I don't ever want to meet you again.' She said, 'People like that aren't my friends'."
"I guess she doesn't have many friends, then," said the other girl.
"I know, right?" said the first, and by then all three of them were across the street, and Winnick lost the thread of the conversation, once it had jammed up against the crowding voices of the people moving like cars on a freeway all around them.
What time was it? Winnick though. Around 9:30, by his watch. He put his hands in his pockets. He passed by the entrance to a bar, outside of which sat a big bald guy wearing a black shirt, his hand out to receive the ID of a young kid hoping to get in. Winnick heard the bouncer say, "What's up, bud?" before he lost their voices, too. To his left now was an old couple, both dressed as though the casual attire of all the young people all around them were part of somebody else's night out, and had nothing to do with them. They were standing by a parked car at a meter, the car squat and blue and newly washed. The old man, much taller than she, had his hands on the hips of the old woman. She had her head tilted up, her lips ready for a kiss, her face white and powdered and crumbling like a squeezed doughnut.
Winnick passed them. As he did, he heard the sound of scuttling paper, and when he looked down he saw that he had absently kicked a tightly folded sheet of yellow legal paper along the sidewalk ahead of him. He brightened, and bent swiftly to pick it up, moving to the side as he did, away from the constantly moving mass of people. The paper was crisp, and Winnick thought it had been dropped recently. Opening it, and seeing that it was a personal note, he thought hopefully that it had been dropped on the way to being delivered.
Quit stealing my CD's and pills. Don't come to my house anymore. I will come to you're house.
Winnick read the note four times before refolding it and putting it in his pocket. His mind was racing. The note was to be hand-delivered, obviously, but to where? To Paul's house? Why a note? Why not pick up the phone? He tried to imagine, as he always did in these circumstances, the kind of person who would write such a note, and what history existed between these two people that would lead to this. A history of stealing, apparently, as well as either addiction or health problems, or both. Winnick's mind couldn't latch on to anything more specific or interesting, however, and he began to grow frustrated. He clenched his fists, back against the wall of a restaurant as people filed past, and then he forced himself to sigh. There was no time for this now anyway, he thought. When he got home later, he could spend time on the note, but not now. The reason he couldn't figure it out was because there were too many other things to be thought about and to do.
The Global filled his vision as he walked on. The whole thing was a sort of casual white, like an envelope, with dark blue awnings scattering its lower floors. He could see the outside dining portion of one of the hotel's restaurants, all black with light orange lamps casting a faint glow on people against the rails holding bottled beer, or sitting at tables, crowded over their food. He crossed the street diagonally, walking briskly straight for the Global's main entrance. He probably reeked of beer, and would take care of that in the restroom. Or probably no one would notice anyway.
Once int he lobby, Winnick stopped for a moment to gather himself. His instinct was to plow on ahead at full-speed, now that his blood was pumping and his brain was spinning, but he knew he shouldn't. Not that he knew for sure, but he believed that when he got like this his eyes went glassy, and maybe even shined unnaturally, which would be a big giveaway to anyone who looked at him for more than a few seconds, so while he slowed his walk as he neared the center of the lobby, he began blinking rapidly to erase the gleam. He felt that by the time he reached the ring of deep leather sofas in the lobby's center he had achieved this. The sofas were soft and comfortably brown, and at first he thought he should sit here and relax for a bit, but he discarded that notion. Off to the left of the white and nearly empty lobby was a darker room. The hotel bar, called Bozeman's. Winnick went in.
He sat on a stool at the bar and laid his forearms on the hard wood. Two stools down sat a middle-aged man, grinning up at a basketball game on an overhead television. This man was smoking, and there was an ashtray by his elbow. Cigarette smoke curled towards Winnick, and he flapped his hand at it, like he was waving away gnats. The man glanced at Winnick.
"I'm sorry," he said, shifting his ashtray a few inches towards himself.
"That's okay," said Winnick, putting on the face he believed would be most appropriate. "I'm in a bar, after all."
"That's true. I try to be polite about it anyway, but if you'd kicked up more of a fuss, I probably would have had to fight you."
Winnick laughed as the bartender approached.
"What can I get you?" the bartender -- young, fat and bald -- asked.
"A Foghorn," said Winnick. "And a shot of bourbon, whatever's cheap."
The bartender said, "You got it," and he walked off. He was back shortly with Winnick's beer and shot, and Winnick paid him.
"You know what's funny?" said the middle-aged man. "Or maybe not really funny, as such, but I stay here every time I'm in this city, which is a lot, and I come to this bar most nights I'm here, and none of these sons of bitches ever seem to remember me."
Was this man angry? Winnick thought.
"Oh well," he said, shrugging. He had nothing else to say.
"I talk to them. I tip well, or not badly, at least. Well, no biggie."
There was silence then for a bit, during which Winnick listened to the basketball players' shoes squeaking on the court. He drank his shot and sipped his beer.
"Saw a good movie the other day, up in the room," the man said, yawning mid-sentence. Winnick was starting to regret his decision to come to the bar, but he'd felt the need to let some time pass, and to cool his mind.
"Oh yeah?" he said.
"Yeah. Not porno. This was, it was one of those movies where it's a bunch of kids, and they're grown up, and they all come home for their class reunion, and everything's changed and whatever, one of the kids had died, and nobody could, you know, this kid was everybody's best friend back in school, you know? I don't know, it was kind of good. It made me kind of think, though, you know, I never go home, never go to any reunions, but it made me think maybe I should. See how everyone is, and who's who. I had some good times in high school -- "
"Right," said Winnick, nodding.
" -- okay? Good friends, real good friends, and I don't know where the fuck any of them ended up. Isn't that sad? You ever been to a class reunion?"
"Yeah, me neither! We should go. Not together," the man said, laughing, "because how well could that go? But you know, I think it's something that's good to do for yourself, if nothing else. But I liked the movie. It was called Remember That Time. You should order it. It's like five bucks."
"I will," said Winnick. He drank his beer down halfway.
"Sorry," said the man, after a while. "I get very conversational when I travel, with anybody I see." He held up his drink and showed it to Winnick. "And plus this. But I get restless when I travel, and I do a lot of it, so that probably can't be good, right?"
"Oh, I don't know," said Winnick; then, saying something he'd been led to believe was true, "It's good to travel."
"Maybe," the man said, sipping. "If you're going to Europe or wherever with your family. But I'm traveling so I can tell some guy 'You don't need to fire these people because we made such-and-such money last year.' That's not fun. That's not relaxing.
"No, I guess -- "
"Not that I want anybody to get fired, but it's no fun. What if they don't believe me? Or they decide it's not enough money? That's not fun."
"Maybe you should quit," said Winnick.
"I probably should have, years ago," the man said, nodding. "A bit late now. Christ, how many of these have I had?" He stared at his glass, as if he'd just realized it wasn't what he'd ordered. He looked back at Winnick. "What do you do?"
"Sales," Winnick said, without thinking.
"Christ," the man said, "quit now. You're young, get out. That's like, Put me in jail, but you gotta pay me, but not enough. Fuck it. I did that. Never again."
Winnick's mind fogged out for a second, and he remembered something he'd done several months ago. There was a woman lying in the middle of her living room, and her torso was opened up, and her intestines were lying all around her, spread out like stereo cable. And Winnick was standing above her, wondering what to do next.
Also, that same night -- and least he thought it was that night -- he had found a five-dollar bill on the steps outside his apartment. Along the top, in tiny print, someone had written: Give to Charles for video games.
Winnick shook off the memories and said to the man, "It's just what I'm doing until something better comes along."
"Yeah, but don't get caught sitting around. There's that saying, 'Life's what happens when you're sitting around?' And that's very true, my friend. When you start just sitting around, it'll eat up everything."
"Well, yeah, I know," said Winnick, finishing his beer. "That's what my wife says."
"Your wife's right. You movin' on?"
Winnick had started to stand.
"Yeah," he said. "Got to."
"Well, it was nice meeting you. I hope I didn't talk you to death."
"No, no," Winnick assured him.
The man put his hand out so Winnick could shake it, which he did.
"Mitch Downey," the man said. "Good to meet you."
"Paul Crosby," said Winnick. "Same to you."
END PART TWO