April, 1961. Corner of 5th and Broadway. Lorain, OH. It was the last time anyone would see Jacob “Blind Dog” Penny play again. The last time anyone would see him, period. He’d come back home. Back to Paradise Alley. And nobody knew why. Except me. I raised my hands and pretended to snap a picture with a pristine Kodak. We didn’t have cameras on the other side. But I wanted to remember this moment. Blind Dog was here to give me a message…and he knew the price he’d have to pay to speak with me. But first, I’d let him finish his set. He was on fire tonight….
Tommy Kirk stood outside of the window, peering in. What the hell was in that cocktail the bartender had given him? The Ginger Bread? The Red Ginger? He couldn’t remember the name of it. But it sure did fuck him up. And now this kid standing in the alley behind him was claiming to be his son. The last thing he wanted to deal with was post abandonment issues from some hipster with arm tats. He put his head down and wheezed a little. It was going to be a long night. And that’s when it started to rain…
The last time they saw the chef he was slipping his hooded sweatshirt on and hoisting that mysterious bag he always carried onto his burly shoulders. The shift had been long but good. Cheerful but exhausted goodnights were exchanged as he turned down the bartendresses offer of a cold beer. “Not tonight,” he’d said in an unusual tone of voice. “No, not tonight. Hasta mañana everyone.” Six days later no one had seen hide nor hair of him. Vanished into thin air. Not a clue as to where he’d gone or what happened to him…until, ten days after they’d last exchanged those late night pleasantries, his shoes showed up to work – without him.
The Rain Man had been chasing his brother for over three years. The Night Man was hard to track, but he knew he was in the right place. He was close.
This alley seemed to be where everything was centered in this town and his schizophrenic brother wouldn’t be able to resist such a hub of activity. The Rain Man knew it wasn’t going to be easy, bringing his brother in. But justice was justice. And the death of Ahab the Sailor wasn’t going to go unnoticed…
It was time to suit up again. The night on the snow covered roof was still fresh in his mind. The mysterious couple had shown him some amazing things. Magic. He sighed. He didn’t need this in his life. But they professed to be on his side. The jury was still out. What he did know for sure was that Blough was out there. His nemesis from those years spent in the Arctic circle with the Inuit Samurai…he had followed him here. He would have to deal with him. Before he could posses anyone else. That terrible hook hand…and that tattoo that swallowed souls.
“Everyone has their vices.” The voice from behind him was a gruff accented one, Boston area the bartender figured. He turns to greet his new guest. “For some it’s sex, others drugs or alcohol, then there are those all about money or power,” he paused, lifting his can of Stroh’s with the hook that replaced his right hand. “Those sorts of vices get men killed, so you’re just fine popping those little sugar pills my friend.”
The bartender nodded, tossing the last few M&M’s into his mouth simultaneously. “The name is Mulligan,” the stranger said with a slight cackle, apparently having amused himself. “Jack Mulligan, but people call me Orca…because…” He turned his good hand over, palm down on the bar, revealing a wrist to elbow tattoo of incredible intricacy – a listing tall ship being smashed by what looked like a killer whale. It was a particularly detailed and garish scene on the man’s arm – bodies, apparently the ships crew, strewn about the water, masts snapping like matchsticks, anguish and fear everywhere. Except, in the center of the messy chaotic scene was one man, a calm, confident looking figure with a hook for a right hand. There seemed to be a big grin and a calm on his face that belied the situation. And he was clearly readying a harpoon to try and finish off the giant sea creature.
“I hunt fish…BIG fish.”
Stropko walked in after tossing the last unruly customer of the night. “Amateurs” he said. The ex-hockey star, settled into the role of a chef and fiancée was tired of dealing with the kids that came through his bar every night. He stared out at the lake and wondered at the coming storm. It was unusual for this time of year. Then he noticed the strange man walking along the pier. The harpoon gun sat comfortably in his left hand. His eyes squinted…the man looked dangerous…and oddly pigeon toed…
Cold waves, no, frigid freezing waves soaked Vincent Guticelli’s pant legs. The pieces and parts of the splintered rowboat beat themselves against the breakwall turning into splinters.
“Cap?!?” he called out into the snowy, dark night. “Cap, are you okay?!” The liability of having lost not only the rowboat, but perhaps even the man rowing it gnawed at him despite his dire and desperate situation. Then he realized…it was cold. Very, very cold. Too cold for the thunder and lightning that continued out over the lighthouse.
Suddenly and surprisingly his cell phone came to life with an incoming call. Guticelli answered as he always did: “Vincent!” The voice on thee other end stammered and then faded. “V…v…vince…?”
“Duck?” he replied. “Is that you Duck?”
Timmy Duckfoot was the greatest drummer the world had ever seen. He used to stand in front of the propane cage at gas stations smoking cigarettes just to freak people out. Tonight, he would frighten people for another reason. The harpoon sticking out of his back made his signature duck walk even more erratic. He stumbled to his knees and whispered his dying last word. “Cannonball….”
McFinn sat quietly at the bar as it slowly began to fill with bodies. “Man,” he spoke to himself silently, “never did I think we’d see something like this in this city.” He smiled at the thought.
Just a week prior he’d nearly been cracked over the head with a plate ten feet from where he now sat and today he was a just a quiet customer at the far end of the bar. Stirring his smoky drink, he felt a sense of pride in his town for the first time, well, ever. “Taco combo?” a slightly accented voice asked him. “Yes sir,” he replied as the older gentleman sat the plate on the bar in front of him. “You enjoy those Mr. Policia,” the man said with a smile as he twirled and deftly cleared the table behind them.
McFinn watched as the older gentleman navigated the crowded room with a series of ballet like moves, plates above everyone’s heads, twisting, turning and never, ever colliding with a customer. In all of the years he’d spent as a cop, hell even his time as in the military special forces, he’d never seen someone move with such grace, purpose and control…the thought paused him. McFinn took a gulp of his drink and watched the man some more. He HAD seen someone move like this before. Exactly like this.
Another quick gulp then another glance as the waiter glided past him and down the hall to towards the kitchen. The feet…those nimble feet.
“No fucking way,” he said quietly to himself. “No fucking way!” He smiled at the thought and finished his drink pretty damn sure of what he’d just figured out. “Night Man…The Night Man moves like that! The Night Man moves exactly like that!”
The Night Man watched the window that used to be his as a child. The window he used to look out of, swearing he would make a difference. It wasn’t much different now then it was then. But he was…
Tyrone “Lil Flip” Penny kept the seminary collar in his pocket whenever he stepped out at night. It reminded him of a time when he thought he knew better. Tonight, he didn’t. When he saw the cop that had given him the jaywalking ticket, the bottled rage that got him expelled from the Episcopalians found its way to the surface. The ex Golden Gloves champion, ex marine, ex steel worker won out over the ex priest in him. The cop didn’t arrest him. He was cool. That other dude probably wouldn’t be so cool. When he woke up. Breakfast at blue sky. That’s what you did in this town after a brawl. The eggs were perfect. Maybe there was a god after all…
“Kurt! KURT!!! You don’t understand! I think there’s a warrant out for my arrest!” I sighed slowly and laid my paper down next to my coffee. It was 7:30 in the morning. Last night had left me drained and now I had Vincent “Cannonball” Gutticelli on the phone. “Vince, you’re a lawyer. How do you have a warrant out for your arrest?” “I can’t talk now! I have to go to the lighthouse! Do you understand?!” The lighthouse!” Then he hung up.
Vincent was the most eccentric attorney this town had ever seen. A mad genius who knew more about The Rolling Stones than they did. He could tell you Otto Dennings batting record for the 1942 Cleveland Indians. There weren’t too many people that could handle riding on the bulletin train that was Vincent’s stream of consciousness. I knew this may be a completely mundane situation, hyper intensified by Vincent’s giant brain. But it was kind of weird that lightning was flashing over the lake a few blocks up the street. In the middle of a snowstorm…
It seemed like a footnote to most, but as he sipped his coffee, set the paper down and surveyed the bar, he thought back to last night. Last night on that snowy rooftop. No one would believe any of it…not a word, but that was the moment this city changed forever.
The door wasn’t there yesterday. He wouldn’t have missed that detail. He was trained by Kashadirian monks at the age of 4, for Rao’s sake. How could he have missed a door? The bald one and the lithe one had returned to their home above the shuttered speakeasy that evening and he was sure something was up. Nothing moved in the city that night. But he could sense something in the air. His instincts proved right as he saw the owners appear in the window of the door. It opened. They stepped out…and disappeared! “Welcome to the party, Night Man.” He swirled around and there they were. On the snow covered roof, behind him. Holding out a cocktail. “Magic” Night Man spat in disgust…”I hate magic.”
The day after…morning gleamed its way along the brick walls and the silence hung heavy, as if the raucous evening before had exhausted the aged building. George Kirk smiled to himself as he settled into a stool and stirred the phantom coffee in front of him. These were good people. He was glad they were bringing life back into the place he had been guarding from the beyond for so many years. And now, life was beginning to come full circle. Things were getting interesting down here again..
“‘Paradise Alley” my ass”, he thought as he hustled around it’s corner. The song that should have made him world famous had instead left him penniless and panhandling. Instant small city fame, it turns out, is a nasty Mistress and she really did a number on Jake Penny. “Blind Dog” they called him, and he sure as shit was. So blind that he never saw the backlash coming and when you live on borrowed money, well then, your living on borrowed time. Now here he was, slipping down that very alley, a beat cop on his tail, another man’s wallet in his hand and his blood on Penny’s shoes. “Gotta throw this cop off my trail”, his bourbon soaked brain told him. Just before his hustle broke into a run, he stopped for a half a second and kicked in a wooden door on the side of a building. “Yeah,” he figured, “he’ll think I busted in there…”
“They tell you don’ walk down Paradise Alley, you ain’t gon’ like what you find…don’t walk down Paradise Alley, you gon’ make a deal wit’ the devil in time…” – Jacob “Blind Dog” Penny, circa 1933- off of the first, and last, Lorain blues album to hit national airwaves: “My Town’s a Steel Town.”
“So,” the burly pizza maker said, nodding towards a black door on the back wall of his makeshift kitchen. “You are going to go through that door, there is a garage behind that. I’ve unlocked the small hatch on the garage door for you. You are going to go through the garage and get your ass out of here for sure. And, if you’re smart, you’ll get the hell out of this city. Hear me?”
“Thanks for this,” he said smart-assedly, placing the cold red meat onto the edge of a stainless steel work table. “Don’t serve this, okay?”
The chef smiled a warm smile. Kirk opened the black door and stepped into the cold, cluttered garage.
“Hey,” the chef snapped, “I’ve left you a cold can of Blatz on the shelf. Do NOT even think of touching any of these peoples other beer in there or I’ll make sure my plate breaks when it hits your face. Entiendes?” Kirk had lived in this town long enough to understand. Hell, he’d lived here long enough to have become half Hispanic by osmosis.
The cold can of beer tasted good to him as he flipped his hoody up and stepped out of the garage hatch into the night. “Of course I got myself into a mess,” he thought as he shook his head. There’s no reason for me to stick around in this god-forsaken city…never has been he told himself. Tommy Kirk headed down the back alley going nowhere in particular but for certain he was getting the hell out of town.
A younger man leaned against the back of the neighboring building smoking a cigarette. His hat was pulled down almost over his eyes. “Hey pal,” Kirk said, “can I bum a smoke?” The young man lifted his head and pulled his hat off. “Sure,” he said.
Tommy Kirk was speechless. As if twenty-some odd years had been erased, he found himself looking dead on into a mirror. “Here you go dad,” the youthful doppelgänger said, “you smoke menthols too?”