Hard soles clop along the sidewalk stirring up gasoline vapor and sweet oak. A pair of once-black leather bootees with no laces, their vamps deeply worn, shuffle along the cement. A pewter mug, tied through its handle by silk thread, rolls and flops against the holed sides of a gray wool coat with each sway of the hips; its contents shake like a lazy maraca.
Six steps up from the sidewalk, a group of three young men recline at different levels. The highest of the men pushes his palm into his eye socket and rocks his head; he groans. “Will you two shut up about the damn bet, it’s payday now, we’ll settle it tonight.”
The percussion of the walking man slows with his gait; then resumes tempo a moment later.
The men on the lower steps curse and the bigger of the two cracks the other on the knee with a plump fist. “Screw that! Not waiting until tonight; I already beat this punk, I’m not spending any more on drinking games.”
This time the shoes stop. One brings up its toe, taps the cement twice, then returns to grind debris into the ground. The shoes turn about. The small man wears a greenish hunting cap, whose earflaps peel up and button on top, revealing the most outlandishly large sideburns the Newberry Townhome residents had ever seen. The rest of his face is bare and smeared with dirt; a pair of thick ovoid glasses teeter on his crooked nose; behind them: yellow eyes. He pulls back his cracked lips to offer the young men a yellow smile. “You boys say something about ‘debt’?”
The men, no younger than twenty five, but comparatively infantile to this ancient apparition, hesitate. But after checking with each other’s expressions, the man on the top step tosses his chin at the old man. “What’re you lookin’ at bro?” The other two laugh.
“I’m sorry I thought I heard someone talk about paying ‘debts’?”
“What the hell? You spying on us? weirdo, get out of here!”
The old man takes two gentle steps to reach the base of the stairs. He caresses his chin with a knob-knuckled hand, adorned with three crudely made rings and sooty fingernails that jut irregularly, and three heavy rings that could have been gold. “Oh, I’m afraid you have it wrong, boys. You see, I’m somewhat of a game man myself, and a bit more of an authority on settling debts. And it sounds like you fellows are in need of…impartial council?” Another yellow smile.
The men check ranks again. The large man stands and chews on the inside of his cheek. “Yeah, alright, I just want to make this clown see that he’s beat this time.” He begins with the name of the game, ‘flap-dragon’, in which the players must peck flaming raisins from a cup of brandy and hold as many in their open mouths as they can before having to extinguish the fire. The other two interrupt with explanations and corrections as he speaks.
As they explain, the old man dips his fingertips into the cup at his belt and draws them out, fingers powdered red, then rests the hand in his lower back, thumb hooked through the belt. He creeps a foot up the first cement step. “Yes, fine, fine, that’s all fine my boys, I don’t think we’ll have a problem here. No sirs, I believe we’ll end this before noon—but! there are just a few ground rules we need to go over before we do…” Now he did not smile.