James W. Howell glanced up at the tall building. At one time he had occupied one of the corner offices at the top. He pulled up the collar of his well-worn overcoat to ward off the chill in the air. People brushed by him as if he did not exist. For the twenty years he had walked Wall Street there had been much fanfare. Now nothing. He had risen to the top of the corporate ladder. Once his word had been gold. Lots of money had been invested and exchanged when he spoke. The reflection in the glass window looking back at him caused him to wither. Youthfulness now spent, he appeared haggard and much older than his years. When did the hair at my temples turn white? He thought. Clothes once top of the town and envied by many, now just well-worn threads hanging loosely from his waist where once they were tight. The fall from his success on Wall Street had been swift and hard when the crash of ’29 humbled a nation and the world at large. Three years had passed since that black Tuesday day and he reminisced of a time when he had lived in a grand home with his family. Now he slept under a bridge, alone, and in a cardboard box. Hunger constantly stabbed him, a daily routine, though not two hours before he had stood in a soap kitchen line to get his first feed. He rifled his pockets for change. What little money he had he earned playing piano at a local speakeasy, behind a restaurant called Toby’s, three days a week.
James placed his last dime on the counter to pay for his gravied pot-roast dinner with potatoes and beets. Toby Carmichael slid the money into his chubby palm. A few minutes later he returned with a stein of his best suds, his forehead glistening with sweat. Sparse, greasy spaghetti strands of hair covered the lid over the friendly glow on his moon-shaped face.
Toby asked, beginning to frown, “How are you my friend? In all the years that you have come here I’ve never asked where you sleep.”
James gulped down halfway the golden liquid in the stein and placed it on the table. “Ah…good ale as usual.”
“Only the best for you,” replied Toby.
“You remember where I used to live?” Toby nodded. “I’m not far from there. As for my family, my wife and two kids are living with her aunt.”
“And where would that be?” Toby replied.
James scooped up a forkful of mashed potato and dipped it in the gravy before putting it in his mouth. “West coast…outside of L.A. Damn good supper!”
Toby raised an eyebrow then two. “You know James I never thanked you.”
“I wouldn’t have this place without you.”
James glanced at the clock on the wall. “It’s not far off eight. And I will soon be descending to your back room with haste.” The legitimate clientele ate front room while others tapped...