Thick cigarette breath assaulted me as the man in the tattered Red Sox jacket put his hand on my shoulder, "Hey boss, spare a dollar..." it hung there not as a question but an instruction. I couldn't sidestep it or the man. His gently tightening grip, neither affectionate nor comforting, but oddly somehow both soft and malevolent made the hairs on my neck stand up. The harsh cold wind pushed at me, up the darkened street gaining speed between the concrete buildings. It buttressed me helping the man stop me on that corner.
I gave him a steely look, and he inhaled quickly through his nostrils, "Sorry guy." I tried to wave him off, but his hand didn't move. I had to look him in the eye.
Quiet, gray blue eyes surprised me, they looked like they still had the sparkle of youth, maybe a forty years old but his weathered face told a different story. Craggy, fractured and leathery ridges told of many more years and hardship born of living outdoors. Then in a flash, those eyes lost their luster and bore into me.
"Sorry guy?" He said, "I don't think so." His hand now found the tendon to my neck and his grip gathered force. There was no paradoxical soft evil holding me, it was throttled aggression.
"Whoa," I tried to jump back. The situation devolving, "Easy brother. I don't have nothing."
He seemed to summon height and brought his breath full bore on me. "I saw you just win that tournament in there. You can spare a dollar." Again, not a question.
He tilted his head back and forth and raised eyebrows.
My wallet, fat with $100 bills pressed against, my leg, surely it stood out as obviously as it felt. I feared merely pulling it out would lose me all of what I had won.
The grip gathered more force, "Spare a dollar, spare two."
I could smell the sweetness of cheap rum on his breath too. In the shadows, I saw a figure behind him.
Suddenly, the figure burst out of the concrete doorway, "Fuck this man."
This new man had no subltety to him, he bull rushed past the first man. His pupils dilated like saucers, heavy saliva dripping from his lips, but even though I saw those features at the time I didn't process them. Only the gun had my full attention, a scratched beaten revolver, the barrel pointed at my temple.
The man with the gun spoke, "Give me your fucking wallet or fucking die. Spare a dollar bullshit, spare the wallet motherfucker."
I shrugged, "This is a mistake."
"Ain't no mistake here, give the man..." the first man started.
I slowly grabbed at his wrist, "Let me explain something to you fellas. I'm a littel bit irritated you stopped me here in the cold..."
The man with the revolver looked quizzical getting ready to do something even dumber...
"Now, I did win a poker tournament, and that was fun, but I'm a police offer. So before you go and make an even dumber mistake then this collosal fuck up of an armed robbery you are attempting why don't I spare, why don't I spare you guys by walking this way. You walk that way and we'll pretend it never happened. Course I see either one of you on this corner again, there's going to be problems."
"You a cop?"
"This offer has a very small window. The colder I get the quicker it closes. So take your fucking hands off me, but that gun away, now, and walk the other fucking way."
My eyes went back and forth between the two.
"Yeah... okay. That's a deal." The gun lowered and the two looked at each other with fear, and turned around and walked the other way. I walked to the corner turned, took two steps into the darkness with the same confident pace and then ran.
Bluffing isn't fun.