“Hey,” Bootsy said again, and lightly touched a non-gore-splattered spot on the old man's bristly cheek. He checked for a pulse, and though the wheezing relic on the floor would certainly not challenge any Olympians, his heart was steady and strong. Bootsy was careful not to break the old man's balsa wood shoulder blades as he shook him.

Hey,” he said again, a little louder.

There was a far-away noise coming from somewhere beneath Bootsy's seated position, something echoing and ethereal, like woodwinds on the breeze. Bootsy looked down in surprise; it was a moan.

Sir? Sir?”

He waited a moment, then looked nervously out a window, then back down to the wrinkled husk moaning at his feet. One glossy eye opened partway, but before the other one could follow suit, the man coughed out a phlegmy vulgarity, “Aw, fuck knuckles, man. You broke my fuckin' nose!”

I did. I'm sorry. But you did bash me in the head with your flashlight.”

God damn.”

Why did you hit me anyway? You could have caved in my skull with that Mag Lite,” Bootsy touched a finger to the aching, bloodied spot on the back of his head and winced, “I was just going through a desk for a phone number, not stealing shit. I'm not even armed, for Christ's sake.”

The guard gingerly sat upright, which brought a new intensity to the blood flow exiting through his nostrils, and rolled his eyes and tried to focus on something, “That's the thirty-seventh time my nose has broken since I been on this job.”

Jesus,” Bootsy said as he found a box of tissues atop a nearby desk and handed it to the guard.

The old man pulled a fistfull of tissues from the box and pressed them to his ruined olfactory organ.

Thirty-seven seems like a lot to me,” Bootsy surmised, his arms folded disbelievingly.

The old man harrumphed, “See all this high society art shit around you? It's all bullshit, man. I been working these docks back when docks were used the way docks were intended to be used.”

Bootsy couldn't keep his curiosity in check, “How's that?”

Contraband. The water was how the hoodlums of the day used to bring their stuff into the city. Needless to say, I was surrounded by mobsters and cons every night of my life, and they didn't take kindly to security guards getting too nosy with their crates. I've had more than my fair share of tussles with gents five times tougher than you, son.”

Bootsy nodded. He didn't want to get into some verbal sparring with the old guard, but one thing was certainly true, “Yeah, but you're also fives times my age.”

Fuck you.”

Grinning, Bootsy couldn't help himself, “Can I call you 'Pops?'”

Fuck you, kid. Seriously, blow it out your ass.”

Bootsy chuckled; he had to like this guy: beaten half to death and lying on the floor in a bloody heap and he was still looking to scrap. This was not false bravado, this old guy was the real deal. Bootsy held out his hand and helped the man to his feet, “People call me 'Bootsy.'”

The duffer threw aside his blood-soaked wad of Kleenex and spat a wad of blood onto the floor, “Congratulations.”

The End

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