by Paul Beckman
He couldn’t go home and face Katy’s badgering, so he hung out in McCallister’s nursing beers hoping to run into old friends who’d stand him a shot. A noisy group entered, and he recognized the voices from when they all worked the late shift getting the morning paper ready to run for the midnight crew. Those were the days—noisy, crowded, typewriters banging away, announcements over the speaker from the editor singing out the countdown time, and a mickey in his desk drawer calling to him. He was once a decent reporter and people liked hanging around with him listening to his stories but that was then and this is now, he sucked in his gut, swallowed his pride, and made his way over to their table. “Long time no see,” he said, and he got murmurs in return. “I could use a stiff one if you’re inclined and they were embarrassed for him and invited him to join the group and they ordered fish and chips all around and depth charges and Mike told them how he chipped his tooth the first time he had a depth charge. The oohs came on until he said he was celebrating his eleventh birthday at the time and the oohs turned to guffaws and he loaded his plate with fried cod and chips, and with a big smile his chipped tooth all prominent he told a story with every round and then as it was getting close to his turn to buy, he said, “Time to go home to the old ball and chain.” And they shook hands all around and he thanked them for the food and libations and pulled his sport coat tight around him and walked out into the winter weather where he circled the block looking for a cardboard box, an unused heat grate, or an unlocked building where he could go in and warm up comfy-like in the hall corner. He found an unlocked door and went in like he lived there walked around the hall and found himself a nice comfy spot behind the stairs where he dozed off and never woke up in this unheated empty building. If Mike knew how many old friends showed up at his wake, and how many kegs for black and tans, and bottles for shots and more shots, he would’ve made more of an effort to face Katy and her badgering that freezing January night.