It was a bitter winter evening in New York the night I met Rufus. A sinister cool mist had been blown in by a nasty, biting wind, the kind that sends a shiver right down to your bone marrow, but thankfully I wasn’t outside. I was sitting in The Magic Hat, a tiny, smoky jazz club, one renowned for its lack of classy clientele, throwing back whiskey sours like they were going outta style. The bitterness of whiskey had always made me flinch, not that I cared about the flavour of the damn things, so long as I was filling my blood-stream with some kinda alcohol, I was keeping off reality for another 30 minutes. A combination of a bad week and lousy weather can push a guy to find any kind of numbing anaesthetic nearby, even overpriced bullshit like whiskey. I slammed another $5 on the counter and ordered my fifth one that night. I could tell the barman didn’t like giving me it, but he also knew that if I kept this up I’d pay his month’s rent, so he poured another Scottish demon into a glass for me, placed two ice cubes in the drink, sighed, and handed it to me. I thanked him and took a sip. Recoiling from the bitterness, I noticed a new guy had walked in. He was a tall, skinny fella, about 6 foot 3, brown hair and blue eyes, and he was grinning like a goddamn clown. He took off his long, black leather coat and hung it up on the bar stool he then sat on. God I hate that. You’re trying to have a miserable time, drowning your memories in a decidedly crummy establishment like The Magic Hat, when some cheerful bastard rolls in with a face like he’s just won the lottery. The son of a bitch beckoned over the barman and ordered champagne for everyone. What a philanthropist. I downed my drink and slammed the glass back on the table. I wasn’t going to hang round to find out why this son of a bitch was so cheerful, least of all to drink his goddamn champagne. He was a weasel, I knew it from the moment he walked in and I was going to stay sure of it until the day I died. I wanted nothing to do with him.
“Hey Jack, what’s your problem?” He grabbed me as I tried to leave. “I’m getting you a nice tasty glass of something for nothing and you’re striding out of here like I just insulted your mother. Take a seat, c’mon, if you ain’t happy now I’ll make you happy.”
“I very much doubt that, sir,” I said, and tried to keep walking.
He grabbed me again and looked dead into my eye.
“You’d be surprised.”
He fixed me with that deadly serious stare, not a sign of mirth on his face. I don’t know why that convinced me, but it did. Something about his face was so stern, so convinced that part of me just had to know why he was so sure. I pulled up a bar stool and sat on it. I couldn’t stop looking at his eyes, such a violent blue, a glint of life constantly sparking in them, like electricity. He suddenly dropped his severe look and laughed. “C’mon! Have a drink of bubbly, eh champ?”
I took the glass of champagne and sipped it. It was good. Damn good in fact, seemed The...