Story: Blind Men of Broadway
By: Arthur Davis
“My shoes are wet.”
“You walk through a puddle and you expect them to be dry?”
“I expect no more from you,” Abe said lowering himself onto the bench they resided on from noon to three every weekday, weather permitting, although with Sam’s arthritis and Abe’s sciatica and gout, even the surety of warmth wasn’t enough to guarantee their appearance. Abe bent to watch the dark watermark grow back from the tips of each his tightly laced shoes, a life of its own fed by a lake-sized puddle that filled at the slightest drizzle.
The bench sat at the top of a median slip of land between Eighty-Third and Eighty-Fourth street; as many twenty-foot wide island dividers intersected by east-west streets which ran down a stretch of the spine of Broadway..
“You said that.”
“It’s going to rain again. I know,” Abe said squinting up at the clouds as though they had offered him personal insight into their intentions.
Sam glanced over at the theater marquee on the west side of Broadway and 84th. The theater had once been the pride of the old neighborhood. Several years ago, it was subdivided into twin triplexes. Most of the time there wasn’t a movie he, Abe, or their friends were interested in seeing. “The last time you said you knew, it cost you a dollar.”
“That’s because you listened to the weather forecast before you came out.”
“What I may have heard, and I am not saying I did or didn’t, had nothing to do with the wager.”
“It wasn’t a wager, it was highway robbery.”
Sam noticed Lucy Kellogg pulling her shopping cart up the street. That meant it was exactly one o’clock, when Lucy went shopping and stopped off at the L & A Butcher to bring lunch to her husband Arnie, who still believed in a fair cut for a fair price. Lucy was seventy-three and prided herself on walking a mile every day, and upon returning home, rewarded herself with a glass of Chianti. “You say that only because you lost.”
“I say that because you took advantage of me,” Abe grunted.
“So, you want your dollar back?”
“You feeling guilty?”
“Guilty?” About many things—decisions that were stilted by bias, anger and jealousy. “No. But I know how it upset you.”
“It was the deception that counts, not the loss.”
“Shame on you for saying that. It was a fair wager. And your feet will dry and you obviously recovered from your monumental monetary loss.”
Lenny Saperstein came into view and stopped at the Duane Read store, the first section of The New York Times tightly folded under his arm. He stood transfixed by the endless array of sales items. He didn’t trust any number or claim to value. Or pretty much anything or anyone.
“He gets slower each day.”
“He’s eighty-eight. What do you want from him?”
Abe remembered when he played stickball with Lenny Saperstein. The stocky left-hander could crush a pink Spaldine over the roof of the six-story apartment building across the street. He liked to recall brighter days, more so now that the simple process of recall was clogged with so many blank spots. “I want to be as spry as he is when I am his age.”
“I thought you already were his age.”
“You’re a robber, and an unkind one at that. Now, shame on you.”
“The blind man cometh,” Sam said nodding toward Pete, a heavyset, bald, black man tethered to his attentive German Shepherd guide dog, Ernie. Pete Hatcher looked like he’d been a bouncer way back, when in fact he played the piano for Bennie Goodman’s orchestra, and then worked a few television shows before he succumbed to drugs and went blind from bad alcohol the day after peace was declared in Vietnam. He stood at the corner of Broadway and Eighty-Fourth Street each afternoon, his tin cup rattling with pencils that were also under the protection of Ernie.
“That has to be worse than death.”
“Lots of afflictions can make life worse than death,” Sam said as if he had been waiting for the opportunity.
“Why do we always talk about death? It seems to me the closer you get to it the more you would want to avoid any reference. Who cares what some scientist or religious nut thinks about it, or our neighbors or about the so-called charm and dignity of getting old; or that after a certain age you have no cares or responsibilities in the world?”
“So does indigestion, but you don’t see everybody past seventy-five talking about it.”
“Indigestion is not permanent, Sam.”
“When your time comes, it comes. What else matters?”
“So, if a car jumped the divider and came toward us, what would you do?” Abe asked.
“Miss you,” Sam returned immediately.
“You wouldn’t die too?”
Abe turned toward him. “Really! And when was the last time you spoke with God?”
“Never have. But I’ll know if he is real when the time comes.”
“You really believe that.”
“I’ve always felt it.”
Abe was unsettled. They had been friends for years. Every so often, he thought what it would be like to spend the day without Sam. Sam’s wife Molly died in a nursing home two years ago. She had been critical for months until after her last crisis another medication was added. It was too much for her system to manage. Betty, Abe’s wife, passed away nearly four years ago. Blessedly, in her sleep. They grew together as a couple whose needs were met with the other’s simple presence. It was a delicate affair. Neither man spoke much about the past but were easily startled by the truth, or recognizing the frailty of their own existence.
Abe raised his legs straight out. His brown trousers draped over his bony legs as though the material was flipped over a shower curtain rod. He did this every so often, as a young man might jump up and swipe the underside of a canopy, just to prove that he still can, just to make certain that time was passing for everybody else but him. “They’re still wet.”
“They should fill that hole. It’s been there since last winter.”
“They’ll fill it the day the fairies sing.”
“Disrepair everywhere,” Sam mourned.
“Remember how it used to be?”
“I remember everything; air you could breathe, water you could drink, food that tasted like it came from the earth instead of poisoned with chemicals from a laboratory, music that had melodies, rhythm, charm and intelligence and rang true to the soul, conversation without cursing, privacy you could depend on, and government minding their own goddamn business. I remember all of that.”
“Did you know that there were twenty legitimate theaters along Broadway at the turn of the century and eighty, twenty-five years later?”
“Not like today,” Sam said.
“It runs north exactly fifteen miles beginning at Bowling Green at the base of Manhattan.”
“Was it you who told me that the Dutch settlers named the West Side, Bloemendaal after a town in Holland’s tulip region?”
“And Bloemendaal became Bloemendaal Boulevard, the main thoroughfare of the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam then, finally in 1889, after being called Bloomingdale Boulevard, it was officially designated as Broadway, parts of which were a wilderness of planking, unsafe drainage, and precariously balanced street car lines.”
“If they only knew what it would turn out to be.”
“No one could imagine what it would turn out to be. Not a hundred years ago, not a hundred after we are gone. Things evolve until they are unrecognizable. You never know when, or if it’s too soon to judge them.”
“You’re defending Becky again.”
“No I’m not. But I do have your best interest at heart.”
“But there’s no interest in my heart. So let’s not discuss it.”
“Sam, don’t do this,” Abe asked. “Not today. The sky’s clearing, we even have a few birds to entertain us.”
“Becky is not like your daughters Abe. Their good girls. They call and visit you. They’re concerned for your welfare. They love you.”
“How do you know Becky doesn’t love you?”
“How do you know she does?”
“Becky will work herself through this Sam. You have to believe that.”
“I’ll be long gone when and if she does.”
“OK, you win,” Abe said knowing when to stop and when to pursue, “so what else do you know about Broadway that I don’t.”
Sam closed his eyes. The theater lights were low. The music to the second act was just beginning. Molly was young and vibrant, clutching at him as he ran his hands up her thing in the balcony of the Broadhurst Theater. It was the first time he had been so aggressive. Later he learned that she wanted him to touch her after he first took her hand for a walk.
Sam had recently found a packet of Molly’s love letters. They were romantic and encouraging, tender and revealing. There were eight of them. One for each week he spent in London where he went on business only six months after they were married. He would unfold each letter on the kitchen table every morning now and read them all at once until the sorrow was too great. When Abe found out, he asked Sam if he was purposely trying to break his own heart just to end the longing.
He cleared his mind of the letters, though the ring of Molly’s love would not diminish. “If you listen hard enough, you know, you can hear them.”
“The fairies. You just have to know how to listen.”
“Since when did you ever listen to anybody?”
“I’m not always as bad as you make me out to be.”
“You’re not religious,” Abe said, not accepting that agnosticism or atheism condoned or excused quirks in a man’s personality.
“You’ve always known that,” Sam said without the passion of the religion he embraced as a youth, as a young man, even as a father before he lost the twins in a car accident, before his daughter Becky disappeared to California and before his father took his own life after losing the mill. There is only so much grief a man can endure and belief one man can sustain. After it’s worn itself out it cannot be replenished. Then faith becomes a function of the calendar and simple expectation. No more, no less.
Molly chided him. “Either it’s in your heart Sam, or it never was.”
He disagreed with her so infrequently, but on this, they went their separate ways. “I don’t believe anything in life is that simple.”
She believed in him up to the end. Leaving him alone, to linger, without her support was the only thing that grieved her until she closed her eyes for the last time. It happened after he kissed her cheek. She promised him that if she became ill first that she would wait until he was at her side before passing away. She did not break her promise.
After she died, Sam was conflicted with rage and loss and with the fact that he had to carry on and felt no reason to be under such an unrelenting obligation. Certainly not for himself. Not even for Becky. Molly was the only thing in his life he really ever loved or believed in. She was the only person who ever believed in him, in what he said, did, how he conducted himself, and the trust she imparted to him. The loss was devastating and, like most men, Sam was bound to the privacy of his own soul, suffered greatly until finally confiding in Abe.
“It wasn’t me,” Abe confessed.
“I didn’t tell you about the Dutch. It was Paula O’Brien. She used to own the Countless Page Book Store on Amsterdam and Eighty-First Street.”
“Right, I remember. Terrific lady. Knew every street, every legend, and every secret. Her grandfather was connected to Tammany Hall, where organized, corrupt politics began in this city.”
“She told us that Columbia University occupies the old Bloomingdale Asylum, Saul Bellow lived at 333 Riverside Drive and had a view of the Hudson from his bathroom, Isaac Bashevis Singer lives up there, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall both grew up on the Upper West Side, the ghosts of The Ansonia, how John Lennon became the owner of the most apartments in The Dakota.
“James Dean was living in a walk-up on West 68th Street when he began filming ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ and ‘West Side Story,’ an updated Romeo and Juliet, had originally been called ‘East Side Story’ and the romance had been between an Italian boy and a Jewish girl; but by the time it opened in 1957 Maria had become Puerto Rican.”
“I miss Paula.”
The light alternated between red and green. People crossed from both sides of the divider to the narrow island with bags, luggage, shopping carts, holding hands, arguing, ignoring, laughing, pretending, and flirting. Many of the wooden benches had been repaired a few years back. A fresh coat of institutional green made the surface smooth and welcoming. They held more than two but were rarely used by more. Homeless slept on the benches on lower Broadway but only because the panhandling was better down there. Eighty-Fourth was a neighborhood, an ever-changing pasture of humanity feeding some, convincing others to move on.
They watched Ernie for a while, continuing to divide life into a series of changing traffic lights, who crossed but could not make it to the other side of the street and were stranded on the island divider. Who could not get off until the light changed? They made mind bets on who would run to make it across and who would be content to make it half way and wait nearby on the divider. They were wrong more often than either would admit. Mothers pushing carriages raced the light. Old couples urged themselves to the effort while young men and couples, untainted by their years, crossed with accustomed poise.
Both men had long given up commenting on how many older women there were. They believed that it would have been better if they, and not Molly or Betty, were taken first. It seemed a perverse injustice to leave two old curmudgeons and deprive the world of two wonderful spirits.
“Ernie’s having a good day.”
Abe was watching two men he knew walk into Digby’s. He just couldn’t place the names. “We should ask him if the weather has anything to do with how much he takes in.”
“It’s the location. Like in real estate; it’s location, location, location.”
“Digby’s wouldn’t be the same without old Pete out there.”
“You remember when it was only one storefront and Cecil Digby worked the fruit stands and sliced the cold cuts and made deliveries. Now look at it: five storefronts wide and gets written up in newspapers from Boston to California. He’s dead and his kids take credit for creating a goddamn New York City landmark.”
“You ever give him anything?”
“Sure,” Sam said recalling the last time and reflecting that, in moments of despair, his generosity, as well as tending to his own health, flagged.
“I’ve never seen you drop anything into his cup.”
“I do it when you’re not looking. So you wouldn’t tell me I was cheap or uncharacteristically generous.”
“Why can’t you just give him a reasonable amount?”
“You just said you were either too generous or cheap. I don’t understand why.”
Sam never got tired of talking to Abe. It required little effort and left him plenty of time to let his mind drift. Then, every so often, Abe would make the most insightful, discerning observations and force Sam to reappraise his evaluation of his old friend. “Neither do I.”
“What did you have for lunch?”
It took Sam a moment to recall. “A cup of tea.”
“That’s not enough,” Abe said, showing his concern. Sam had been losing weight, not that he was much of a specimen, neither was, it was just that any weight loss after a certain age becomes immediately apparent.
“You’re not telling me something.”
“I’m telling you that it’s none of your business, Abe Levy.”
“That’s supposed to be funny? A threat?”
Sam repositioned himself. It was an indication of his agitated state. He wore it as a naked man would a bathrobe. Any conversation of concern for his welfare sounded like it came from Molly, or at her insistence, as if she were speaking to him through Abe. It was more difficult to bear as he knew that with every month, his awareness of the little things, the pills, the water, the simple taking care of yourself tasks, were slipping into unimportance. He resented Abe for caring, Molly for leaving him, Becky for being who she was and not what he needed.
“You want to go see a movie this weekend?”
Sam thought about this for a while. “Why this weekend?”
“I don’t know.”
“What difference does one day make over the other? When has Saturday been better for us than a Tuesday? Or a Monday?”
“You’re supposed to go to movies on the weekend.”
“That’s when you were ten years old,” Sam said, recapturing no image of his childhood. These lapses had become more frequent, but did not concern his doctor. Then again, his doctor was seventy-four with problems far more threatening than a patient not recalling the color of a friend’s bicycle when he was eleven.
“I don’t know.”
“We should steal motorcycles during the week. But only the big, nasty loud, machines. And only from Monday to Friday. That way when the weekend comes, we’ll need the rest. Take in a few movies with the other crazy, yelling popcorn-tossing jerks they let into theaters these days.”
The screech of tires drew their attention, with every other pedestrian, down toward Eighty-Third Street and Broadway. A taxi had nearly missed a woman with her teenaged daughter. Passersby berated the cab driver who remained impassive in his battered yellow car. His windows drawn, his expression implacable, believing such unavoidable things happened in his profession. The lights turned.
“A page every thirty seconds,” Sam said. “Like a book. Every thirty seconds new faces, new cars, and trucks—some eager, others indifferent. Everyone caught up in their own world.”
“Who’s the guy talking to Ernie?”
“An undercover cop,” Sam replied.
“The older you get, the more transparent you become.”
“He works out of the one-nine. I saw him last year when the Triboro Liquor store on Seventy-Third and Amsterdam was robbed. The place stacked with police cars three deep and this guy pulls up in an old Plymouth and walks past every cop without being questioned or stopped. He never once identified himself. A half hour later, he walked out of the liquor store with the precinct captain. He drove away. That’s how I know.”
“You were with me.”
“I know that,” Sam said, theatrically indignant.
“We were having lunch, corn beef, at Sterling’s Deli, when the robbery took place.”
“What’s your point?”
“How come you didn’t say anything then?”
“I knew we would have this conversation and I wanted to surprise you with how observant I was.”
“The only thing I am impressed with is how much of a storyteller you’ve become,” Abe answered dismissively.
“That’s important too.”
“Look at them go at it.”
“Maybe Ernie is not blind. Maybe he’s a stakeout. What if he can see,” Sam suggested, getting more excited with his conclusion, “What if he’s an agent working undercover for the police. Maybe he is a deep agent for a foreign country. Been here for decades.”
“I don’t think he’s a spy or undercover agent. It’s got to be the dog.”
“Ernie. Yes, of course. You may be right.”
“It’s easy when you have the answers,” Abe concluded quietly.
“Your shoes dry yet?”
“Better. But my rear end aches.”
“You always say that about this time of day.”
“So shoot me because it’s sensitive.”
“Eat properly and you’d have some extra padding down there. That’s your problem—you’re too thin, Abe.”
“We weigh the same hundred-forty.”
“But I keep my padding on my ass.”
“How clever of you. Did you decide that years ago too, just so you could be prepared when we were going to have this conversation?”
“How did you know?”
“The same way I know Pete is blind and you’re crazy.”
“You’ll believe me when you see him go running after a robber.”
The light changed but not quickly enough for a man in his forties to become stranded on the island. As he stood restless, Sam buttoned his windbreaker, drawing the man’s attention. “Sam Weinstein?”
Sam looked up, startled. They were voyeurs, rarely participating in the flow of life about them. A week could go by and the pair might never speak to anybody on the bench except for giving directions, and even then, they were alert to the one who proposed they were lost. If they were teenagers, especially young black boys wearing expensive sneakers, as they had long ago confided in each other’s prejudices, both men pretended they just moved into the neighborhood.
“Do I know you?”
“Benny Lawrance,” the man said, standing somewhat taller than when he arrived. “I knew your daughter Becky. Becky Weinstein. We went to high school together.”
Sam was unable to connect the slacks and shirt with the jeans and slovenly shirts all Becky’s friends once wore, as if they would change clothes in recognition of passing from one grade to the next. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s OK. We weren’t that close. I just recall that you went to a parent-student day with her. My father couldn’t make it. He never went. I was envious of every kid, especially Becky, because you looked so proud of her.”
“I remember that.” Sam’s voice was painfully muffled, as though he would rather be speaking of something he had some experience with.
“And she seemed so happy to have you in there, sitting in the back of the classroom.”
Words became difficult. “I never knew that.”
He was surprised. “Oh, definitely. I overheard her talking with her friends about how much you taught her and how you were always there to help with her homework or book reports.” The light turned once then cycled again. “I have to go. But please, when you speak to her, tell her Benny Lawrance said hi.”
Sam was distracted, clouded by emotions he had long ago denied, but managed a level of civility. “I will. It was nice to meet you.”
Becky Laura Weinstein, the one who made the grades, had the imagination, was a class leader, until it all came apart. Bouncing Baby Becky, Molly used to call her sparkling, dark-haired little princess—the one who carried the hope of her family with her. And when the child found out about the burden of her legacy, the expectations only enflamed her natural rebellion. “Was it wrong to want everything for your child?” Sam would ask Molly in bed at night long past the sensible hour of sleep. “Is that wrong?” Apparently, it wasn’t, only, as Molly later realized. The error was in letting the child think the expectations were a source of pressure rather than a sign of pride and confidence.
“Thanks for introducing me.”
Sam turned, hopeful that Abe’s hurt was more posturing than pique. “Sorry.”
A large trailer truck rumbled up to the red light. The flatbed was loaded with sheetrock and four by eight-foot sheets of plywood. Going uptown for renovation work that never ended in the city. Old buildings torn down or being gutted for gentrification. “When was the last time you saw one of those this far up on Broadway?” Abe asked.
Sam stared absently south. From the bench you could see almost to Seventy-Second Street, which in the 1970s was called “needle park.” Every night after eleven o’clock, addicts were shooting up in the streets. The financial crisis of the 70s forced open the doors to mental institutions and scores of shelters that once housed drunks, junkies, prostitutes, the deformed, and deranged. That was a quarter century ago. A quarter of a long lifetime, if not interrupted by the loss of loved ones, loss of health. The accumulation of disappointment. Sam pushed himself back in time, but too many doors were closed, locked for fear that if opened they would never close again, to see to the back of his child’s high school classroom.
It was so simple. His wife was ill. Bronchitis. Becky wasn’t thrilled but finally accepting. She feared being embarrassed. What fourteen year-old wants her father in school; to be used by others for months afterward to tease and torture, to question and criticize. But they went and it worked out. But that didn’t matter to Becky. She was rebelling, and she never stopped. She complained for weeks to her mother that her father acted foolishly, wasn’t fair in his dialog with her teacher, was not smart enough, was not responsive, was not the father she wanted him to be. He never forgot the tales Molly brought back to him for the rest of the school year. It began then. The rift between father and daughter. It got worse. It got personal. It never healed. And, as was his doubtful and suspicious nature, he was plagued with the fear that she had even the vestige of reason to support her resentment.
The truck pulled away just in time for Sam to be rattled out of his suffering. “What?”
“Sam, look! Pete’s moving away. Something’s wrong.”
Sam followed Pete as he pulled Ernie to his feet under the watchful direction of a tall man in street clothes who directed him down to the corner of the next block where the traffic was too congested for people to open up their hearts and pockets in safety. He had no idea who the man was who had been speaking to Pete, other than he looked like most people from the neighborhood. A mixture of middle-class families, singles, and those who live off the side streets that feed from the great, thick, spine of Broadway, moved through the weeks and years never quite certain of where their next meal or laugh might be coming from.
“Something’s wrong,” Abe said again.
“You may be right.”
Pete and Ernie crossed Eighty-Third and were moved down to Eighty-Second by the man. It was much quieter street, with less retail traffic. Fewer people to solicit from. Ernie dropped to the pavement as Pete began to rattle his cup and begin to beg. But without the draw of a Digby’s and the safety of the storefront, stopping to give a neighborhood figure what change remained in your hand, Ernie was going to suffer.
“Well, look at that.”
But Sam was preoccupied. A car had pulled up just across the street from the bench, a nondescript late model black sedan. While Abe bemoaned Pete’s circumstances Sam realized what was happening. A young black man helped an older black man out of the sedan. The two of them and a seeing-eye dog marched to Pete’s old spot. They spoke momentarily, then young man returned to the car and drove off.
“You think Pete has a problem,” Sam asked directing Abe’s attention to the new resident.
“Can they do that?”
“These days anybody can do anything.”
“This is not the time to philosophize.”
“From little crimes come larger crimes Abe. First come the squeegee men. They wait for cars to come off the bridges and Eastside and Westside highway. When you stop at the first traffic light, they descend on your car and wipe your window whether you want them to or not and demand money for their sloppy effort. Then the panhandlers come, not the ones with lost limbs or who belong in a wheelchair, but the ones who will use whatever they can to scam for a drink or buy drugs. Now we have an old man, a friend, being chased by some organized element so their man, who I doubt is blind, can take up the spot. It’s sickening. Just terrible.”
Abe grew distressed. “We have to call the police.”
“Is that what you want?”
“We have to help Pete.”
“What happened to the Abe who doesn’t want to get involved? Who believes the business of others is no business of his?”
Abe grimaced. “This is different.”
“Why, because you know him?”
“Because it’s the right thing to do.”
Sam decided not to pursue the issue. Yes, it was the right thing to do. But there were many right things to do and few men did them. Mostly, it was not a loss of courage, but courage itself had no longer become much of a necessity. The measure of a man was gauged by how successfully he could get by his boss, not if he could fend off invaders from another territory or clan. It was also that people had become withdrawn into themselves, more interested in shutting their door, sheltering themselves and their families, and not wishing to get involved, especially when they thought by doing so their name, phone number, and address might fall into the hands of those they were unmasking. It was also the issue of the police who were now showing up in the tabloids, their hands full of cash, their pockets stuffed with confiscated drugs. What once held the nation together seemed not to be working anymore and there was no leadership to guide us out of the indifference.
“Eddie will be along soon,” Sam said, lifting his hand.
“Don’t bother to check your watch. He’s already late.”
“So he is,” Sam said, flicking the glass face of his watch.
“Strange day don’t you think?”
“You mean we’re ripe for that invasion of yours?”
“Don’t start with me, Sam Weinstein.”
“You know I respect your opinion.”
“So much so that you told everybody that I thought we were going to be invaded by little red men from outer space.”
“I told Phyllis exactly what you told me. It wasn’t even the reason for the conversation. I can’t help if it if she talks a lot.”
“No you didn’t at all, Sam Weinstein.”
“That you suspected the earth was ripe for invasion.”
“That I had read that several scientists thought that the earth was ripe for invasion. I’ve told you that a million times.”
Abe was annoyed. “You knew she would repeat that to everyone. That hag couldn’t keep her mouth shut.”
Sam felt a little squeamish about the incident. He had distorted the truth, just a convenient bit. “We were just talking. About how well run Digby’s is.”
“Anyway, thankfully they were wrong.”
“I’m sure you were relieved not to be taken prisoner.”
“There’s Eddie,” Abe said pointing to the policeman on the corner of Eighty-Second and Broadway.
“You got eyes like a hawk.”
“What the hell is he doing over there off his beat?”
“Waiting for Martians.”
Abe slapped Sam with his cap. “One day they’ll show up!”
“And come right to this bench and ask your advice.”
“Right. And I’ll tell them to take you first.”
“Maybe they’ll use me in an experiment. Me and one of those sexy young rollerbladers who wears cutoffs up to their crotch and a tight tank top so you can see their nipples from a block away. They’ll want to know how we mate.”
“You’re a sick old man.”
“You think you could get better company?” Sam asked, but both men were preoccupied with events unfolding from their box seats. Though neither offered any bets as to the outcome, their silence marked the breadth of their concern.
“First Pete is off his mark, now Eddie is on the wrong side of the street.”
“Hey, you still have me.”
“You’re the one who didn’t want lunch. What did you have in mind?”
“We could go for a walk, get some coffee and Danish, and tell Eddie about Pete. I’m sure he’ll be upset too.”
“We never do something like that.”
“Don’t you think we should? Shake up our lives a bit? I mean besides stealing motorcycles?”
“Pretty risky, that.”
“What are you afraid of?”
“Certainly not of cherry Danish.”
“What about girls on rollerblades?” Sam asked, folding his hands one over the other, devilishly waiting for some magic potion to bubble and brew.
“No wonder people in the neighborhood think you’re crazy.”
Sam pushed himself up “A minor personality flaw.”
“You want to go now?”
“No, let’s wait until January and get buried under five feet of snow. Then we’ll go get a cup of coffee.”
Abe got to his feet. “Smartass.”
“Come on, worst thing that could happen is you’ll have a good time. Get you out of your rut and some fat off your butt.”
“I can’t believe you told Phyllis what I said.”
“Abe, it was nothing.”
“Everybody thought I was nuts.”
“That’s why they’re not surprised that we hang out together.”
The sky was brightening. What remained of the storm clouds was being swept from Broadway. “Beautiful day.”
“Isn’t it? My favorite month.”
“Mine too!” Abe returned, surprised.
“See and you didn’t think we had anything in common.”
“There he is,” Abe said, nodding in Eddie’s direction.
“Let’s go tell him. I am so angry about this.”
“Me too,” Abe said walking faster than usual.
Eddie spoke sharply into his cell phone and was immediately joined by another officer and both crossed Broadway. “They’re getting away!” Sam said urgently.
“We have to catch them.”
“Hurry, before the light changes,” Sam said moving ahead.
“I’m hurrying. I’m hurrying.”
“What’s your rush?”
“Who the hell knows, but I can’t go this fast for long,” Abe said slowing down as they made their way back up to the west side Eighty-Third and Broadway.
“It’s got to be the Martians.”
Sam stopped in his tracks and held out his arm to Abe. “My God!”
Both men stood as the Eddie and the other officer ran into Digby’s. The seeing-eye dog pulled away from the blind man and followed the policemen into the market. A squad car pulled up and two other policemen jumped out with guns drawn. One signaled everybody to back off. People scattered. Women scooped up their children. A gunshot rang out from inside Digby’s. Two masked men darted out and headed uptown. A squad car cut them off at Eighty-Fifth. They changed direction and came running back down Broadway.
“We’ve got to get out of here.”
But Sam wasn’t listening. His chest hurt. His feet were anchored to the pavement. He tried to turn but something held him to the position. Abe grabbed his arm as the two men approached. “We have to help the blind guy.”
“No, we have to help us.”
“They’re headed right for him.”
“Sam. They don’t care about him.”
At that moment the blind man who had taken Pete’s spot tossed his cup into the gutter, dropped to his knees and pulled out a black automatic. The two men were half -block away. The streets up and down Broadway were filled with pedestrians who were not aware of what was happening only a block away, and if a few observant souls were, they made no attempt to flee. Such is the nature of city temperament outweighing the vicissitudes of city life.
Abe pulled Sam toward the curb as the two men approached the blind man. Shots were exchanged. One of the men fell but the other had wounded the blind man. The remaining man continued weaving down Broadway. He swerved toward the curb and slipped, landing on his side, rolling over, then colliding with a barrier of garbage cans near the curb where Abe had dragged Sam. Two policemen were on him before he could get to his feet. Abe and Sam stood there while another half dozen officers collared the man. Sirens wailed in the distance as people swarmed into the streets. Because the scene of the capture took place at the feet of Sam Weinstein and Abe Levy, so did the photos on the six and eleven o’clock news.
The ambulance driver attended to the wounded officer who was finally stabilized and rushed to the hospital, while another team of paramedics administered to the thief who had been shot. His wound was superficial. Not like the decoy officer whose bulletproof vest had not stopped a bullet from grazing the femoral artery in his leg. When he came over to Abe and Sam, both had been quieted by a cadre of policemen, many of whom had recognized them from their post at Eighty-Fourth and Broadway. After giving their names, appreciation, and assurances that their health hadn’t been impaired, they were offered an escort home.
“No,” Sam said slightly shaky. “It’s too beautiful a day to go inside.”
Abe did want to go home either, not because he was ill or frightened, but because he had to go to the bathroom. The manager of Digby’s was accommodating and an hour after the tumult, Broadway returned to normal, though in New York City normal is more a state of mind than a condition of state.
“We never got our Danish,” Abe commented nodding to passersby.
“Is that important?”
“No,” Sam said patting Abe’s hand. “Only that we’re not hurt.”
“You were right after all.”
“The fellow talking to Pete was a cop. He had to move Pete so he could get the policeman dressed as a blind man in place in front of Digby’s.”
“I knew that.”
“What a liar you are.”
“No, really, I saw it coming. It all made perfect sense to me. I would have told you but I know how upset you can get.”
“Prevaricator! You’re completely incorrigible.”
“Now that’s not true at all,” Sam answered, his hand clutching his chest as if he had been grievously insulted.
“How can it not be true?”
“Because there’s a way, a guaranteed, scientific way to tell if I’m incorrigible.”
“Go ahead, you can prove it yourself.”
Disbelieving, Abe turned and asked, “Go ahead and what?”
“Try and corrige me. You’ll see how easy it is.”
Abe stared incredulously. “You were right, my friend.”
“Lots of afflictions can make life worse than death.”