We walked through alleys, past dumpsters reeking of stale beer, under fire escapes and a web of telephone wires. Pigeons cooed overhead. Rats scuttled through the shadows; one tipped over a glass. I was tempted to turn and run. Instead I made conversation. “So, what do you do?”
“I trade futures on the S & P 500.”
“Naw. I tend bar at a nightclub.”
“You know what hot chicks are willing to do at four a.m. when they’re drunk and stoned?”
I thought maybe it was a rhetorical question, so I didn’t answer. We emerged from the alley onto an empty street, full of store fronts with “For Lease” signs displayed in the windows, no other people in sight. He sat on a bus stop bench.
The city was still pretty new to me. I had followed my girlfriend Maggie when she said, “Let’s move to Portland” since I trusted her and I had nothing to lose. But I didn’t feel as comfortable with this other me. “Um, where are we?”
He ignored my question and countered with one of his own. “So what’s your name?”
“Eric.” I was starting to doubt myself. As, I suppose, I should have. If you met a guy and followed him to some abandoned street, I’d be inclined to call you a dumb ass. “What about you?”
He nodded. “Eric.”
He didn’t answer. He said, “Well, so I’m your first, which means I have to explain.” A pigeon ambled toward us on the sidewalk; he picked up a pebble and threw it at the bird.
I noticed several other pigeons strutting toward us, and a smattering of sparrows on a telephone wire. I notice birds; it’s “˜cause I wanted to be an ornithologist once.
“Within 36 hours, we’ll meet again. It will seem to be by chance. But it’s guaranteed to happen. We don’t have to arrange a meeting or anything. It will happen. Understand?”
The concept didn’t make much sense, but the words did, so I said, “Got it.”
“When we do meet again, we’re going to fight.”
I examined him closely, wondering if he clenched his jaw like I did when I was trying not to laugh.
But his face was sincere. A mixture of envy and pity, maybe? It was like the expression I saw on Maggie’s face just last week when we spotted a young mother with twin toddler boys, both of whom seemed like a handful. He sighed. “Because if we don’t, then we’ll both die.” I hadn’t asked the question, but he’d answered it.