“Here’s to you, Mark. You were a hell of a judge! Enjoy the well-earned retirement.” Teddy Warner toasted as he tapped his bottle of Yuengling against Mark’s scotch. Teddy was the last friend that had come out for Mark’s retirement party. It wasn’t a big event or anything, just a small gathering with some of the cops and lawyers he’d known as well as a fishing buddy or two. Big events weren’t Mark’s style.
“Thanks Teddy. Are you gonna be OK going home?” Mark asked, taking a sip of scotch. Teddy chuckled as he put his FOP baseball cap on his bald boulder of a head and slid on his coat.
“I’ll be fine. Carol’s waiting outside with the car. Are you gonna be OK getting home?”
“You bet. Thanks for coming out.” Mark wished his friend a safe trip home after they set a time to meet for lunch. With Teddy’s departure, Mark was back to being on his own. Just another patron in a bar that had long since changed from the first time he’d been there. The old bartenders were gone along with most of the patrons he’d known. Now it was a mix of young people in a bar with one foot caught in the past. Photos of old timers and local celebrities still hung on the walls but were slowly being pushed aside for flatscreen TVs showing the game. Mark sighed and took another sip of his drink, enjoying the calm.
“Excuse me? Mr. Reynold?” a man’s voice broke Mark out of his contemplation. He turned to see a man looking right at him.
“Yes? Do I know you?” Mark asked, unable to place the face smiling so intently at him.
“Oh sorry, the name’s Roman. I’m sorry to interrupt you but I overheard your friend before he left. You’re Judge Reynold, yes?” The man asked, his voice awash with serendipitous excitement.
“Former judge, yes. Have we met before?” Mark asked, still confused as to who this stranger was.
“Not in person but you lectured at Temple once. Mr. Reynold forgive me but you’re something of a local legend in my neighborhood. You were the judge on the Aronov case in ’96 yes?”
Mark was caught flat-footed. The Aronov case felt like a lifetime ago. Some Russian jew from the Northeast part of the city who’d been running some gambling racket out of his barbershop. It was a straightforward enough case, hardly worth taking any great note of.
“Yes, I was the judge for that.” Mark said slowly. The man smiled at him again and extended his hand. “It’s a real pleasure to meet you, sir.” The two shook hands and Mark smiled as he studied the fellow. He was young and wiry with dark blue eyes set deep in his angular face. His jet black hair was close cut and his face shaved. His hands were gloved and his overcoat hung open, dampness from melted snow still visible on the shoulders. Despite his friendly demeanor, there was something off about him. His movements were as if a current of electricity was pulsing underneath his skin, a static energy that Mark couldn’t quite place.
“What brings you here?” Mark asked Roman.
“Oh I just stopped in here for a drink on my way home from class. I’m glad I did though. Can I buy you a drink sir?” Roman asked.
Nice to have a fan Mark thought.
“I’ll take another scotch on the rocks. And you can call me Mark, kid.” Roman gave him a smile and turned towards the bar. With his new acquaintance gone, Mark finished his drink. He wouldn’t say no to someone buying a round for him. He’d have preferred his first twenty-something fan to be a girl but a drink was a drink. He just hoped this kid wasn’t trying to fuck him.
In a short order, Roman rematerialized with a glass of scotch in one hand and vodka in the other.
“Cheers.” Mark said as he toasted his new friend. “So you know the Aronov case?”
Roman threw back his drink before speaking. “Everybody in my neighborhood knew the Aronov case.”
“It wasn’t such a big case. God, what was his first name again?” Mark struggled through the cobwebs in his mind to recall the name. Like a weathered photo, he could vaguely remember the man, standing in the courtroom looking forlorn and defeated on the day he sentenced him.
“Oh in my neighborhood, even little news was big if it was local. I think it was something with a J-“
“Julius! That’s it” Mark plucked the name from the dark as the memory came closer to the surface.
“Right that was it. Anyway the whole event was all anybody talked about.” Roman said, trying to pull up the memories himself.
“That must have been a little before your time wouldn’t it?” Mark asked, trying to figure out what was behind this kid’s interest.
“Oh I was about 10 or somewhere close to it. My mother would talk about it all day though. She talked about everything but this was a major event. Practically feels like a part of my life it was such a talked about thing.” Roman said, smiling to himself, no doubt recalling the memories.
“I didn’t think it was such a big deal.” Mark said, honestly at a loss the notoriety at the case. He’d been part of far larger and high profile ones in his time. What the hell was so special about this small time gangster from Bustleton?
“Maybe it wasn’t a big case but it got me interested in law. Kind of set me up on the career path you know?” Roman said. Then it all clicked in Mark’s head. This asshole was looking for a fast-track to employment out of law school. He gave a little chuckle and patted the kid on the back. He was smart pick a smaller profile case. Most of the other brown-nosers wanted to talk all about his work on the Philadelphia mob. The kid was clever…but not clever enough.
Mark entertained the kid’s questions about his career and about how he decided the sentence, all the usual subtle attempts to build a personal rapport. He enjoyed another scotch and led the kid on, content to let him think that he was making any sort of progress. The law school grads were usually out this time of year, searching for some way to get a leg up or find some special patron. Mark had little patience for them. Nobody had helped him when he was starting out.
“I gotta take a leak.” Mark announced, taking a break from Roman’s attention and feeling the scotch catching up with him. He stood on surprisingly uneasy legs and shambled towards the bathroom.
Heh. Caught up in the pageantry.
The bathroom was a small room with a single urinal and dirty white tiles on the floor. Years of drunken patrons had left the walls covered with graffiti and scribbles. The florescent light twitched and flickered to life as Mark stepped into the space and stumbled towards the urinal. He wondered if that last scotch had been a good idea as he relieved himself.
You only retire once, he comforted himself.
The door opened and Roman stepped in. Mark glanced over and breathed an unsubtle sigh of annoyance. Couldn’t he even piss in peace?
“Look can you give me a minute here, kid?” He said. Even with his senses dulled, he felt the kid crowding close behind him.
“Sorry, I’ve just got a quick message for you from my father, Julius.” Roman said, his tone cold and menacing. Mark paused as he tried to make sense of what the kid said when he felt a hand grab the tuft of hair on the back of his head and jerk his head back. Before Mark could even process what was happening, he felt a white hot slicing pain across his throat as bright hot blood spurted out onto the wall. In an instant the knife had run the course of his throat and he felt all the breath in his body escaping through the wound. Instinctively, he clutched his throat as more blood poured out between his fingers.
He slumped against the wall and tried to turn around. He saw Roman panting and holding a straight razor in his left hand. Mark could feel his pulse slowing against his fingers as he crumpled to the floor, his blood making the tiles slick. He looked up at the kid standing just far enough away to avoid any incidental spray and felt hatred pouring out his eyes. Roman stood there with a cruel and satisfied smile on his face like he’d just unloaded some great weight.
Mark’s head grew light and his vision greyed. The pain in his throat became more and more distant as his eyelids grew heavy.
Roman leaned down, his face close to Mark.
“Ваше оскорбление было возвращено”