City of Lies

ONE

Old man crawled out of the doorway on his hands and knees. Crawled out like a dog.

Sound from his mouth almost inhuman, face all twisted, like someone had taken hold of his hair and screwed his features a few inches backwards.

Blood on his hands, on the sidewalk. Blood on his knees. Made it to the kerb and then collapsed forward.

Smell in the air like snow, cool and crisp.

Later, people would be asked what they remembered most clearly, and all of them – one for one and without exception – would speak about the blood.

Snow didn’t come. Not that night. Would come a few days later perhaps, maybe in time for Christmas.

Had it come there would have been blood in that snow, spooling around the old man as he lay there, twitching and mouthing while cabs flew by and people went from one part of their lives to yet another; while New York made it safely out of one long day and hoped the next would be somehow better.

Such is the way of the world some would say, grateful for the fact that it had not been them, had not in fact been anyone they knew – and that, if nothing else, was some small saving grace.

People were stabbed and shot, strangled, burned, drowned and hung; people were killed in automobile accidents, in freak twists of nature; people walked from their houses every day believing that it would be a day no different from any other. But it was.

The old man lay on the sidewalk until someone called the police. An ambulance came; police helped the medics put the old man on a stretcher and lift him in back of the vehicle.

‘He try to stop the guy with the gun,’ a Korean man told the officer after the ambulance had peeled away, cherry-bar flashing, lights ablaze. It was a Sunday evening; the traffic was as quiet as it would get.

‘Who the hell are you?’ the officer said.

‘I own liquor store.’

‘Liquor store? What liquor store?’

‘Liquor store down there.’ The man pointed. ‘Some guy robbing the store . . . some guy with a gun, and the old man went for him—’

‘The old man tried to stop a guy robbing your store?’ the officer asked.

‘He did . . . guy was trying to rob the store. He had gun. He was pointing gun at my wife, and then old man come down the aisle and went for the guy. Guy got real scared and shot the old man. Don’t think he mean to shoot anyone, but old man scared him and the guy lost it.’

‘And where did the guy go?’

‘Took off down the street.’

The officer looked down the street as if such a thing would serve a purpose. ‘He went that way?’

The man nodded. ‘Yes, that way.’

‘You better come with me then . . . you better come to the precinct and make a statement. You could look at some pictures and see if you recognize him.’

‘Who?’

‘The one with the gun . . . the one who tried to rob you.’

‘Oh,’ the store owner said. ‘I thought you mean old man.’ The officer shook his head. Sometimes he wondered about people, how they managed to make it through each day.

The owner’s wife came down from the liquor store later, maybe half an hour or so. She carried a bucket, hot soapy water inside, in her hand a mop. She cleaned down the sidewalk, sluiced the blood into the gutter, and she too thought such is the way of the world, perhaps those words exactly, perhaps something close. She was Korean. She had a short