Copyright © 2001
All Rights Reserved
I was hurrying along a foggy street in a bad section of Chinatown when a particularly dirty and unkempt bum hobbled out of the shadows and asked me for some spare change. Since I had come to this part of town only because I was the junior partner at the law firm I worked for, I was irritated at anything that would slow my leaving, especially now that I had accomplished my task and had gotten old man Lo to sign the papers.
As I angrily thrust my hand in my suit pocket and scrabbled around for some change, I looked more closely at the shadowy figure that was detaining me. And stopped dead in my tracks.
"Ryan?" I asked incredulously. "Ryan Long? Is that really you?"
The man looked at me with dull eyes. Finally a spark of recognition came on. "Thomas? Tom. You look good, man. Look. Hey, I m sorry. I didn t know it was you. Ah, just forget it. Sorry."
I couldn't let him go. It was just too much of a shock. I mean, this was Ryan Long! Only ten years ago we had graduated from college together. This was the guy I had wanted to be like all through college. He was Mr. Everything. All-Conference quarterback. Student body President. Mr. Joe Cool. He had half the women on campus, and then finally settled for, Mary Klein , the Homecoming Queen, the kind of woman that studious geeks like me only dreamed about. Last I heard, he and Mary were engaged. And now, here he was - a bum?
I grabbed the sleeve of his filthy black overcoat. "Ryan. Don't leave. Can I help you? Ryan, what happened to you?"
Ryan stopped. He groaned and put a hand to his left leg as if in pain. He then sighed and turned slowly. He half coughed, half laughed bitterly. In the slightly better light, I could see that he was missing two front teeth. He also looked like he hadn't shaved, or washed for that matter, for at least a week. It suddenly occurred to me that Ryan smelled very bad.
My thoughts must have been on my face, because Ryan gritted his teeth and said, "Yeah, I m sure I look totally screwed up. Ten years ago, I wouldn't have given two cents to a person like me. Then he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. You want to know what happened to me? Okay. If you buy me a drink, I'll tell ya."
He started down an alley. As I hesitated, he smiled grimly. "Come on. This place I know doesn't water their drinks. And they won't let anybody kill you for your shoes."
I followed. We went through what seemed like several alleys. The odd smells and the dense fog seemed overwhelming. It was like the bowels of a different world. When I was absolutely sure we were lost, we entered a seedy, smelly, little dive that apparently had a name which translated to The Green Frog.
A tiny Chinese woman behind the bar nodded recognition at Ryan as we entered. Next to her, stood a huge bald black man, perhaps six foot ten, who had one eye that was all white. He had his arms crossed, as if imitating Mr. Clean, or the Jolly Green Giant, except that there was nothing remotely jolly about him.