Current lunar phase: Waning Crescent

JULY

2009


Go looking in Herald Square.

I grabbed my overcoat and hat and headed toward the IRT. It wasn’t a cold day, especially not for February, but summer was a long way off, and the spring didn’t seem to be close either. I pulled my collar up around my neck and hustled down the cracked sidewalk of Prince Street. I reached the subway entrance, and descended into the gray of its mawing mouth.

A train was pulling in as I passed through the turnstile, and with its wheels squealing at just the right pitch, I knew was an uptown train coming to a stop on the platform below. My lucky day. I hustled down the steps and into the waiting car. The doors clanked closed, engines started whirring, and we were off. Four stops later, I was following the sea of glass-eyed New Yorkers up the steps into Herald Square. The rumble and squeal of the trains hit the honks and chatter of the street above. Soon the latter had washed over the former, its only vestige the underfoot rumble of a downtown train churning by. I was standing on the corner of 34th and Broadway, looking for a lady.

Turns out finding a redhead on the street isn’t as easy as it sounds, at least not in the dead of winter. The hats of the New York woman! It wasn’t quite the crowd on Fifth, but it still could have been a display at the Natural History Museum. From my station at the light post on the southeast corner of Thirty-fourth, I saw a whole parade of headgear, from fedoras and furs to bowlers and brims a foot wide. I was lucky to get even an inch of mane between the bottom of her cap and the top of her collar...and by then she’d already have passed. Not that it stopped me, I spent a while zigzagging after red streaks. Somewhere near the far crosswalk, I’d hurry to come astride, flash a smile and ask them about the weather. It’s in a dick’s best interest to be inconspicuous, and I had a feeling I was hardly so, trailing women back and forth across Broadway. I got more glares in that hour than an ugly tax collector, and from the women who had the courtesy to respond, not once did I draw out a southern drawl.

After an hour, I decided to change strategies, and positioned myself on the southwest corner of the busy intersection, watching the coming foot traffic from the side of a newspaper stall. I’d only stop ladies with no hats at all. That was the true sign of a Southerner...a woman who was not fashionably prepared for New York’s frigid weather.

“Ruby?” The first hatless redhead I stopped gave me the kind of icy stare that could only come from a native New Yorker, and I quickly dropped my fingers from where they’d landed on the arm of her mink. The second redhead, upon closer inspection, was a girl so young and frightened by my approach that I instantly knew she couldn’t have been my lady... I’d have put money on her being a Midwestern farm girl, a week off the bus from Ohio and so embarrassed by her knit cap in the sea of sophisticates that she’d stuffed it in a hotel drawer.

I was scouting for my third when a voice from behind grabbed my ear and spun me around. “One paper, please.” The request, which my newsman was obliging with a fresh copy of the afternoon edition, was drawn out with a tongue that was borne only of one city: New Orleans. My eye ran from the seller, to the paper, to the face of its recipient: a knockout number with mane of red cascading down her houndstooth coat.

“Ruby?”

She looked up from the masthead to me.

“Who’s asking?”

I reach my hand to her wrist, and slid two fingers around its inside. “A lady who fits your description has gone missing. Red head from New Orleans.”

Her face dropped. “I don’t know how long she’s been missing, but I’ve been right here for five years.” The newspaper man grunted his confirmation from behind a rack of weeklies. “Vito can tell you, I’ve been get my papers here since nineteen-twenty-t—well, you get the picture.”

“Well then, do you know another lady that fits your description?”

She huffed. “Well! What kind of question is that?” Duplicity, it seemed, ruffled more feathers than a hand around her wrist. I pulled my paw away and she drew the paper up close to her chest.

“An honest one. I’m a friend of a friend, and looking for her.”

She narrowed her eyes. “Listen mister, ladies like me don’t have many friends, and none of them are honest.”

“So have you seen her?” She stormed off without another word, hardly pausing to see if traffic was coming her way before stepping into the street.

“Always a fire cracker, that one. You are lucky you are not a lover.” The old newspaper man, as gray as the newsprint he sold, shook his head with a tired sigh. He glanced down, and something caught his eye. “Hey buddy, have you seen this?” I turned to the man, just as he foisted a fresh edition in my face.

Follow the redheaded lady.

Accept the paper from the newsie.

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