The encroaching mist was suffocating. The old man couldn’t see more than twenty feet in any direction except up, which was a steel gray sheet of clouds. Still, the birds came. Somehow they knew that he would be sitting here on this park bench, doling out breadcrumbs onto the damp, slick asphalt. A small timeworn analog radio leaned against the old man’s leg and a man was commentating on a baseball game. Somewhere sunny, the last game of the World Series was playing itself out. The reigning champions were winning.
The old man reached into a small brown paper bag, sitting like a child in his lap, and scooped up another handful of crumbs. He winced almost imperceptibly as his joints complained, needling his arm with pin pricks. He scattered the crumbs maladroitly and sighed. He clenched his fist over and over, masochistically trying to conquer his body. Then he sighed and gave up. The radio suddenly crackled to life. The challengers had just tied the game with a grand slam. He thought fondly back on the days when he held a baseball bat in his hand or a crowbar or a gun. Now it was all he could do to keep the crumbs from slipping through his bony, arthritic fingers. He let his hand fall limply into his lap and he watched the birds contentedly.
Something stirred in the mist and the birds scattered into the sky. A young man with a bored expression, dressed in a long black trench coat and a suit and tie, approached, but stopped short by ten feet. It was the bottom of the ninth and the challengers were up to bat.
There was a long moment of silence before the man in black spoke.
“Do you know who I am?” he asked.
“Sure, you’re Diamond Di Luca,” the old man replied.
“Do you know what I do?” the man in black asked.
“Yeah,” the old man sighed apathetically, “you’re Giancarlo’s cleaner.”
The man in black smiled mirthlessly before speaking again.
“I’d like to give you this before I go.” The man in black threw down a playing card facedown at the foot of the bench and disappeared into the mist.
With great effort, the old man reached down and picked up the card. Not surprisingly, it was the Ace of Diamonds. Somewhere behind him there was a muffled pop. An immense pressure slammed against the back of the old man’s skull that carried through to his face. Then the vision in his right eye went out. Darkness crept in from the edges quickly as he dropped the card onto the ground in a red, sloppy mess. Then there was nothing.
Somewhere sunny people were cheering. There were new champions in town.