Slices of Life: Just another stranger in the night

Was he running toward something or away from something. I guess I'll find out in the book.
Was he running toward something or away from something. I guess I’ll find out in the book.

I SAW HIM coming down the back flight of stairs in an old walkup hotel beside the railroad tracks where the trains didn’t run anymore.

In four minutes, it would be midnight.

He stood in the doorway and shifted his gaze from one side of the street to the other. For a moment, the shadows reached out and took him, then a shard of moonlight cut through the angry clouds, and his face was visible again.

He wasn’t nearly as old as he looked.

But bad whiskey and too many nights sleeping under a bridge in bad weather had aged him far beyond his years.

His day-old beard did not grow across the ragged white scar that scissored its way down his face.

The scar began just below his left eye.

It disappeared beneath his shirt collar.

A north wind swept a cold chill down the street.

He shivered.

He needed a coat.

“I lost it,” he said, when I asked him about a coat.

“Where?”

“Poker game.”

“Bad hand?”

“Bad luck.” He grinned and shrugged. “She cheated,” he said.

“You playing with a woman?”

“Had to,” he said. “She owned the cards.”

“Why did she want a man’s coat?”

“She was cold.”

“You should have bet money,” I said.

“It was the coat or the whiskey,” he said. “A man’s got to have a good drink when winter sneaks up on him.”

I didn’t argue.

“What happened to the woman?” I asked.

“She divorced me.”

“You married when she took the coat?”

“I was married when she took everything I owned,” he said.

“Why’d you let her have it?”

He shrugged again. “She could have had me or everything I owned,” he said. “She took the better deal.”

“You don’t blame her?’

“I even cried at her funeral.”

He grinned.

“And now you’re on the run,” I said.

“They’re getting close,” he said.

“The police?”

“The KGB.”

“Russians?”

“Near as I can tell.”

“Why do they want you?” I asked.

“I know who killed their President,” he said.

“I didn’t know he was dead,” I said.

“Neither does he,” the man said. “The night’s not over.”

I paused and looked at him for a moment.

“I could use a man like you,” I said.

“Why?”

“I’m writing a novel,” I said. “I could use you in the book.”

“Can’t help you,” he said.

“Why not?”

“I’m already in a book.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t recognize you.”

“I’m not surprised,” he said.

“Why not?”

“It didn’t sell.”

He shuffled off down to the depot, just a man alone and waiting for a train. I would have told him that the trains didn’t run anymore, but I don’t think he cared.

My noir novels, like Secrets of the Dead, almost always have a train. I meet a lot of good characters leaving or arriving on one.

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  • Carol Toberny

    You really know how to grab a reader!

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Thanks, Carol. I appreciate your being a faithful reader.

  • Caleb Pirtle

    Sit on the street corner for a while, day or night, and sooner or later a character wanders along, and you know he or she is perfect for a book.

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