Met Frank Saxon in a dirty gin joint on Eleventh Avenue, the light bulbs burned out and the toilets backed up. Stink rose from the corners like steam from a manhole cover. The bartender’s name was Ted. Three times divorced, a four-day beard and a mouth that never turned upwards into a smile, Ted poured his gin and tonics without the tonic. I liked that.
I slouched next to Saxon at the bar. He tried to bum a cigarette. Asked, but I wouldn’t answer. I carry cigarettes, yeah, but Saxon’s no woman, and my smokes are only for the fairer sex. He asked again, and grunted a curse when I wouldn’t respond. Man was frustrated. He had every right to be.
Downed the first drink and Ted slung me another. He had a scar above his right eye, pale white. I always wondered what that scar was all about. Never did find out.
Saxon turned to me, his face red, probably insulted by my silence. He pointed a long finger at me, accusing. Lurched a bit. Bastard was drunk. He slurred out a long stream of profanity and started to get up, looking like he wanted a fight.
So I turned away from him – disrespected him, really – and downed my second gin (no tonic) in a swallow. Man wants to fight, he’ll have to show me he means it.
“Talkin’ to you,” Saxon spit, swaying in a wind that wasn’t there, his shirt stained with lunchtime spaghetti and his left shoe untied. “Day in a fookin’ life, man. Read da news ta day!”
“Sit down, Frank,” I said into my drink. Beatles. It figured. “You and me ain’t got time for this.”
“Wiff a little help from da friends!” The old drunk seemed suddenly happy. Quick mood changes. I always liked that about the guy. Frank, he could go from loving you to hating you in a minute, then right back again. “Tay … take sad songs an’ make ‘em better. Let ‘er inna yer heart!”
Put my finger in the air and before I could put it back down Ted had another drink in front of me. It was gone before Saxon was able to get his ass back on his stool. I wheeled about. Faced him.
“It’s time, Frank. It’s time.”
Looked at him long and hard. Real hard. He knew what I meant. The booze passed from his eyes, sober arrived, and he straightened himself out as best he could.
“So,” Frank said, “I … I guess I should say my goodbyes, then?”
“Yeah, say your goodbyes, Frank. This job isn’t going to be an easy one. Your goodbyes? This time, you’re gonna mean them.”
He sighed a sigh of defeat. He could be a wild card, Saxon, but the man lived up to his promises, even if he hated every last damn minute of it.
“What about Lucy?” he asked. “She can’t know.”
“We’ll take care of her. And don’t worry. She won’t know how things really went down.”
Look on his face said all that needed to be said. Time to go. I tossed Ted some extra bills as we left, ‘cause dad taught me to do right by the man who fills your glass. Then Saxon and I, we left Ted and gin behind.
A few weeks later, I came back. Saxon never did.