“They are all around us… the connections, fragments of connections, the spokes waiting for new connections. I seen it, in the war, in my life, in the dice. It happens, and when it does, you ride the wave or sink like lead.”
The smell of bum, stale sweat, and rotten teeth swept up before the next tirade like surf before the wave.
“Look son. I been in three wars. I seen more men dead than you probably ever called friend. My lives stack up like a late night better’s chips against your paltry ante. Shut the hell up a spell. Gimme half that sandwich, and I might tell you a secret or two.”
Brendan eyed the chunk of turkey in between the mayo-soggy bread he had just chewed a lump out of. Everything tasted like plain oatmeal since he started smoking again.
The bum moved like a snake, but one who had already struck, and was not worried about it’s envenomed prey. The half hero was gone before Brendan could manage another bite, but that was relative, given the bum’s near-toothlesness, and his distinct lack of desire to take another bite after watching the bum gum the sandwich. The recess kids and the traffic from Fifth avenue pulsed like a distant heartbeat.
The bum belched loudly, and the smell ended any chance of Brendan finishing the last part of his half of the sandwich. He put it down on the bench and slid it towards the bum. The bum eyed it suspiciously, wiped the mayo and crumbs from his beard with the back of his sleeve, and pocketed the remainder of the hero, paper and all.
Standing, the bum stretched. His back popped, fifteen popcorn kernels going off almost the same time. Brendan thought he was going to be free to enjoy the last twenty minutes of his break, but then the bum fished out a half cigarette from a shirt pocket, and sat back down again.
Sighing, Brendan looked the man next to him in the eyes.
“I don’t have a light. Maybe you should ask that guy over there for some matches, I think I saw him smoking when I sat…”
The bum popped a match on his thumbnail, and lit the half-cig in one motion. Brendan wondered how he missed the match.
“Secrets, son, are not meant to be kept. Pandora knew that, so did Benedict Arnold, and Richard Nixon. I’ll lay a big’un on you now, even though you are a snot nosed prick who doesn’t deserve the light. “
Brendan snorted, but his retoirt died in the back of his throat with the stare the bum fixed him with. Something slid over the mans face – a hard look came to his eyes, and suddenly his eyebrows seemed like wild kudzu, hiding all sorts of man-eating beasts in their overgrown tangles.
“Son, when someone is gonna tell you a secret, you shut the fuck up.”
Brendan paused, considering why he said that, as the bum took a drag on his cigarette. He only ever responded in that way to his father, who had drilled it in to him with repetition and a 4” black leather strap.
The bum shifted on the bench, farted, and started speaking as he flapped his shirttails, fanning the stench off the back of the bench.
“There is a gun under that rock yonder. Same gun that killed the mayor three days ago. Got fingerprints on it too, cuz the hider, he didn’t have no gloves on when he put it there. I seen the whole thing from the bushes when I was takin a shit.”
The bum pointed vaguely to a large stone sitting just at the edge of the overgrowth, near the path the benches sat on. The childrens' teacher blew a whistle to line them up to go back to school. Brendan thought he heard the maple tree above him sigh in the breeze.
“Get the fuck out mister. They’ve been looking for that guy since Monday, and there is no way he made it all the way up here after that shoot-up. You are so full of it it is comin out your…”
The bum stood up, and Brendan felt the rough caress of macadam on his cheekbone before he realized the man had slapped him hard across the face, knocking him off the bench. Between the swimming white spots, and the whistling in his ears, he could barely make out anything but the looming shape of the man striding away. As he found his feet, Brendan made out
“Look fo yourself, fuckin dumbass honky.”
Brendan shook off the spots, but the whistling remained. He touched his fingers to his bottom lip, and they came back red. He wondered why he wasn’t surging with adrenalin, or rage. He just hurt, and felt like he was apart from his body in a way.
Looking sideways, he found a seat on the bench from his knees, Brendan realized he was as alone in Central Park as he ever had been. He couldn’t see anyone, even the bum. The whistling in his ears bothered him worse than the telltale tingle of pain starting deep in his face.
“That bum had a goddamn big mitt.”
Brendan grabbed his half-empty Snapple, and held it to his face as he stood up from the bench. Looking around, he saw a jogger in the distance, noone else around.
Wincing at how much sharper the whistle got when he stood up, Brendan took a few steps, leaving his unopened bag of chips on the bench. Witha deep breath, he started over towards the rock the bum had pointed to.
Where does it go from here? You tell I write.