It was one of those dead winter days when your mind just can’t work because the same cold, dull gray swallows the sky, the concrete … your memories.
It was the sort of desolation only a hungover New Year’s morning could render.
And it was just the sort of solitude Sam needed more than anything after a year that left him feeling lost and deflated.
He soaked in the hush of a city still reeling from months of uncertainty and still sleepy from muted celebrations the night before.
Things had to get better.
And then Sam turned the corner … and things got worse.
There, half a block ahead of him, a small, nervous crowd gathered in a circle. Even from that distance, Sam could hear their worried whispers, smell their anxiety.
He should have about-faced, headed back downtown. But that wasn’t how he lived.
Instead, Sam took a deep breath, stood up straight, and strode toward the pile of trouble. Twenty seconds later, he laid a hand on the jagged shoulder of a stooped old man and pushed him to the side.
The gawkers hardly noticed Sam picking his way through the throng, but the policeman standing at the center sure did.
“Hold it right there, mac,” the cop said, jamming a meaty palm against Sam’s chest. “This is a crime scene.”
Sam peeked around the thick blue uniform to find a crime-scene guy surveying the victim, whose limbs were flopped this way and that.
“Name’s not Mac,” Sam said, brushing past the cop and stepping over the chalk line. “And there’s no crime here.”
The policeman’s jaw dropped as Sam kicked the fallen Christmas tree right in base. Dry, brown needles salted the wet pavement.
“It was just his time,” Sam said, then walked off into the gathering fog.