I gaze down the long barrel of a .45 leveled at my chest.
´You have the wrong man.´
´You may not be the guy I’m lookin’ for, but you’re close enough.´
The old codger on the Los Angeles sidewalk takes a step up and spews cheap wine breath, ´I was a bank robber. Red and me was the best east of the Mississippi.´.
The pistol sight hangs a yard from my heart, just out of reach. I follow it to the hand, and into the deep sorrowful eyes of the beholder. ´Did I tell you I was a bank robber? Me and red was the best west of the Mississippi.
Passersby weave about like current around stumps, and it´s the first time I´ve been the center of attention of bystander apathy.
´Tell me more,´ urging him to get it out.
´Well?´ he demands, expecting an answer.
´I still say you have the wrong man.´
´Son, my gun is still a-pointin’ at you.´
My mind races for words. The right ones can save me; the wrong ones end in a puff of smoke.
He doesn’t appear drunk. We’ve never met. This is real. I was just a regular citizen strolling a sidewalk a minute ago. More passersby flow around us. He is too alert to sidestep.
´You handle that gun like you know how to use it, I’ll make no bones about it. Nothing to fear from me, Mister. Say where did you get your gun skill? ´
´You’re damn right. Where? I was squeezin´ trigger in Shy Town (Chicago) before you were at mamma’s nipple. Red and me knocked ‘em down from Memphis to San Francisco and a lot of spots between.”
´Better believe it, sweet Jesus! It was a fine life until one caper on the getaway I didn’t outrun a bullet.”
´That’s right, son. Slowed me down and put an end to my career. Life ain’t been so good since.´
His eyes lower and mine water. Now he drops the end of the pistol, lets it fall to his side and suddenly raps smartly the barrel on his right leg. A metallic THWANG sends the foot traffic in a wide arc. As quickly the big .45 swings up to my breast.
´Tin, young man.´
´Don’t doze off on me, fella. You say you ain’t the one that shot me and I say you are. Why’d you come back for more?´
´You are a patient man, Mister. Anyone can tell you that. So tell me about the old days when the gun was necessary.´
´I’m ancient but I ain’t no fool. Why I oughta …´
A gravel voice booms behind me. I fear to turn that it will be my last because when a man with a tin leg and long barrel orders me stay still, I listen.
´Nick! old friend. The voice roars. Put that pea-shooter away. You know how thick the heat is around here. Put the gun in your pocket, ´ the commands. Could this be Red? Suddenly there is no chance to find out because I´m shoved between the shoulder blades past the gunman and down the sidewalk.
´Aw, all right, just for you, ´ sniffs the old man behind me. ´I’m just old. Did I ever tell you about when Red and me were the best bank robbers between Mexico and Canada?”
´A dozen times if you told me once, but tell me again.´
THWANG I lose the rest of their conversation in a metallic ring that reverberates in my ears to this day.