NEWARK, NEW JERSEY, 1954
My mood was raw enough to make a blonde cry.
Even after thinking it through, I still had doubts about my partners. While I was removed from the hustle a few ways from Sunday, the little voice in my head gave me reason to worry. In reality, this should feel like the home stretch, but it’s been my experience that things can – and will - get hotter than a $3 pistol if you’re not careful. I’ve seen it too many times.
The lacquer cracker on the jukebox kept skipping so I told the corn-fed giant-of-a-barkeep to unplug the hunk-of-junk once and for all or find something worth playing. I didn’t feel like hearing a platoon of horns. It wasn't the time for jump blues. At least not for me.
“This is a tavern, Bubb, not a morgue. We need music,” Barkeep grumbled.
I flipped him a nickel and grumbled back, “Then go find something quiet. An onion ballad sung by that skinny twerp ... And the name ain’t Bubb. It’s Moretti ... Nick Moretti.”
Barkeep’s eyes squinted and then lit up as he snapped his sausage finger. “Hey, you used to write about the fights, right?”
All of a sudden he was my best friend. Like I needed more of those. “Man alive, you were really good with those predictions,” he went on. “Made me lots of cashola. Next one is on me.”
I didn’t wanna ruin his night and tell him they weren’t exactly predictions, but who was I to burst his bubble? I smirked as politely as possible. “Thanks, but that was a long time ago, barkeep.”
He leaned in. “Say, I haven’t seen your name in ink for a while,” he said fishing. “What happened?”
“I’m a city editor now. Hit the big time,” I answered, half-joshing. What I didn’t tell him was I was starting to circle the drain. It was a simple truth.
My life had become a nightly blur of fight halls reeking of beer burps and stale sweat. I’d had to get away for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the fight game, but as the city editor, I could enjoy it like every other schnook who had sat on the city desk dipping donuts into stale coffee.
I watched Barkeep hunker over to the juke and oblige me with some softer music. I thanked him by raising my drink. Lighting my Chesterfield, I enjoyed the soothing ivory-twinkling of the song and, for a small moment, I felt calm. What’s more, the tonsil paint was doing its job, so I asked the corn-fed Goliath for a refill. “The good stuff,” I requested.
I threw down a five spot and Barkeep sensed I needed some quiet. “Leave the bottle,” I said. A seasoned man of his trade, he knocked on the bar and went back to scraping water stains from shot glasses.
Checking my watch, I went back to thinking about my partners and which of 'em even deserved their share of the cabbage. I thought about hopping a silver bullet by morning and no one would see this two-bit newsman again or even think twice. Enticing? Sure, but I didn’t have the money yet.
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