tanding on the sidewalk, outside the Terminal Bar near the corner of Fifth and Vermouth, Manx pounded another nail into his coffin. It was midnight. Everything shook loose in this town ‘round midnight. Inside, Charlie Barnet was blowin’ a fat, rich sax on the juke and it was spreading like molasses across the empty dance floor. It was prom night for the hawk.
Outside, that tired old melody lay down on the sidewalk and waited for the clop-clop of death to reign up to the curb and take it away from all this. This delicate moment was lost on the crowd of late-night losers and literary stumblebums, who shuffled past on their way to Palookasville. He wasn’t sure where Palookasville was, but he’d heard that it was down by the Harbor, somewhere between Wilmas and the ‘Island’. Judging by the burn-outs that he’d seen thus far, it wasn’t anywhere that he’d like to be.
But then, he was never where he’d like to be. He was always somewhere he’d wished he wasn’t. So it goes.
The street was littered with the leftover scum that the cops had failed to rehabilitate in Night Court. A skinny hombre named “Frito” circled around him like a shark with the seven year itch. He sniffed the air for that first sign of fear. Manx avoided eye contact, knowing that he’d have the first dance with Mr. Machismo if he did. Hombre malo. Muy bad medicine.
Manx caught a glimpse of his face. He looked like a weasel. Manx had known a guy down in the harbor, once, who looked like a weasel. Was this his son? While he pondered this, the weasel moved off, still hungry. He had an itch that only murder could scratch.
In the distance a dog barked.
Someone leaned on a horn, impatiently, as if they were taking an unscheduled solo. The city pulsed and throbbed to the rhythm of the night with a horn section provided by the intersection of the one-ten, one-oh-one and ten-west. The City of Commerce was taking an extended drum solo and the MTA provided a Bootsy Collins-bass line, as it bored through the guts of the city.
Manx thought about that, about how the city was being gutted by a giant subterranean mole, even as he stood on that street, with the denizens of the dark. Even as the little dramas unfolded behind the walls of the buildings around him, even as someone begged for more and, elsewhere, someone begged for less. Even as Frito was scratching his itch and an act of revenge was being plotted. Even as the moon cycled slowly overhead, making its way back to an early retirement trailer park at Paradise Cove, even as the sun was gassing up for that long pull over the Banning pass.
He thought about God and the atomic clock, about the universe expanding like the air escaping from a blown-up balloon, suddenly released and whooshing recklessly around. If this was true and the universe was really like a balloon, Manx wondered what would happen when the air ran out? What would happen to the balloon? Worse still, what would happen to us?
He let out a long, low whistle of amazement.It was midnight and the night was young.