It all started over a drink he sent down to me. In a little tiny bar on a little tiny street, I started a fight.  Well, I didn’t start the fight but I finished it.  It had been a long time coming. When he first saw me, his first words were, “Hello, my boy.”  Though, the expression my boy was more for me being a man as opposed to me being his son. He slapped me on the back and his hand squeezed my shoulder real tight. Treated me like I was a house guest. Told me to have a seat at the bar and he’d be back.  There I was, standing in the doorway of his nightclub with a suit on.  I don’t think he recognized me. We had not seen each other in fifteen years.  It was now 1964.  I had just turned twenty three years old but looking at Papa Dudds was like looking at me in a mirror. 

            I came in there with sunglasses on. I didn’t want him or any of his followers to recognize me.  I sat at the corner of the bar.  The bartender said to me, “John, what can I get for you?” I started to correct him, to tell him that my name was Henry but then I realized that was a part of being in New York.  So, I told him I wanted Papa’s favorite: Jack Daniels on the rocks. I looked around.  My feet touched faded red carpet covered in mud and dirt and sweat and stink.  The place was named Papa’s after my father. 

Outside, a bright green-and-pink sign matched a young woman standing outside.  She had on the exact same colors and was panhandling for change.  People walking by, thought it was a gimmick and most of them ignored her.  I gave her all the change I had left: two quarters.

I inhaled the air.  Sitting down felt good for I had not really smelled New York in a long, long time.  There were a lot of things that I had taken for granted over the past twenty-three years.   I had taken for granted the sunlight, how when it shines down on your face, especially in a city like New York, there is not a lot of shade to protect oneself, and you curse and you curse the tall buildings that give off heat and punishment, that stifle your ability to exist in a large city where people ignore you anyway. 

I had taken for granted the ability to walk to the store whenever I felt like it, for a Coney Island hot dog. I loved to eat them all the time in Detroit and here in New York, I have only been here a few days but I have fallen in love with the city’s pizza. Up until last night, I took for granted the feel of a woman.  I wasn’t even sure I was doing it right until it began to feel right.  Most especially, though, sitting in that bar, I had taken for granted the ability of one to coexist in a space with other people as an individual, with the right to excuse them from around me.

            However, no one was too close to me, which I greatly appreciated.  In fact, the place was practically empty, deserted.  A few hobos along with the green-and-pink woman were outside waiting for the sun to come down and the music to begin and my father would deliver them from whatever brought them and kept them out there on those streets.  Papa wouldn’t even have to ask them where they came from; he would need to just tell them where he was going. So, when his right hand man from his glory days, a man named Taxi came back over, he asked me where I was from.  At this, I took a swig of my drink, sighed and  said, “Motown. Detroit, by way of the train.” A slight drop fell in the sparkle of his eyes and I was sure that somewhere in the back of him, a light bulb went off.  But he said nothing on the surface.  Only a polite nod of his head.  A smirk appeared on my face when I asked him where he was from and he said Kalamazoo, Michigan. I knew that was not true.  Nothing great had ever come out of that particular city.

We continue with small talk.  I stay hidden behind my sunglasses. He told me he had to go practice.  Taxi was beaming under the assumption that I had traveled all the way by train from Detroit to Chicago to New York to hear him play.  Silly as it was to me, I kept my mouth shut.  He complimented me on my suit and left.  On my way over here, for several blocks, a man had been following me.  I had learned behind bars to watch my back so when I saw him coming into the bar and sitting at the opposite end with a newspaper, stealing glances at me from behind, I was worried.

I thought perhaps someone from my past was looking for me but I couldn’t think of who.  After all, I was in a strange, foreign city  that I had never been to before.  The man at the end of the bar caught my eye in the mirror.  He had sunglasses on as well, only his were black and mine were brown.  He saw me staring at him through the mirror and raised his glass for a toast.  I nodded my head, irritated and looked away.  I didn’t feel like being bothered by anyone.  I was used to being in tight, crowded places and I liked having my space.  I assumed that he did because he gave dirty looks to anyone who looked to sit next to him.

The man bent over then as if his stomach was hurting.  I braced myself then for him to pull out a knife.  I had seen a man do that in the prison courtyard.  He had seemed like he was losing the fight and was doubled over in pain.  Instead, he had grabbed a knife someone handed him under the table and killed the other man senselessly.  But this man didn’t do that.  He took off his sunglasses.  He cried out in a low voice that something was stuck in his eye. When he stood up, I noticed his right eye, made of glass and piercing, looking straight at me, daring me to look back.

Music began to play on the stage.  Taxi was warming up.  He pulled out Ella on stage.  He was wiping her off with an old handkerchief.  Against my better judgments, I asked the bartender for another drink.  I couldn’t help it though.  It was cold in that room, even though the room was beginning to crowd with people.  I felt nervous for some reason, uneasy.  The man that had followed me in, that had been staring at me came over to me but hesitated for a moment to come up into my space because he saw me looking around.

Taxi snapped his fingers on stage.  A piano player sitting at the middle of the bar, stopped eating his sandwich, licked his fingers and went up there to start playing. An older woman with a gap tooth and a flower in her hair began dancing right in front of him.  Everyone else was beginning to sit down.  The room seated about fifty people and I guessed there were that many people in the room.  The man who had followed me into the bar was walking toward me. My stomach was growling.  The liquor was too hard on my stomach.  It had been so long since I had a drink. He held out his hand.  I shook it, cautiously.  

“What’s your name, fella?” I asked him.

“Dudds.  Henry Dudds,” he said.   I shook my head, chuckled.

“Well, that’s impossible.  Your name can’t be Henry Dudds because that’s my name,” I said.  I downed the rest of my drink and slammed my glass down on the table. I

was more amused than angry but I didn’t him to know that I was slightly worried

that I might have to defend myself.  I didn’t want to think then of the possibility of me getting involved in something that could potentially send me back to prison.

“Good.  Then, you are just the person I want to see,” he said.  He snapped his fingers at me.  I was staring at his glass eye instead of the right one, the one he could actually see through.  He started laughing at this spectacle. I cleared my throat.

“Have a seat,” I said.  He sat down next to me.  The bartender came and brought me a drink.  This time it was rum and a Pepsi.  I thanked him but he shook his head no.  Said it hadn’t come from him.  I asked him from where and he nodded his head in the direction of Taxi.  I turned and my father looked me in the eye.  He smiled but there was something devilish in his grin.  I began to feel uneasy.

“You’re a long way from home, Henry,” he said. 

I looked him in the eye then.  “How do you know my name, man?” I didn’t think he could have heard the conversation between Taxi and me.  The man had been sitting too faraway.

“Pops on stage told me.  He told me all about you,” he said.

“Oh, really? How did you know to follow me?” I asked.

“Old girl told me.”  I nodded my head.  I had just come from her place and she had seemed innocent enough.  After all of these years, she had not changed at all.

“Yeah, and I’ve come to tell you to get out of here.  Go home.  Go back to Detroit. I hear the Tigers might win the World Series?  Don’t be causin’ no trouble like that mayor of yours.”

“First of all, the Tigers haven’t won yet but they’ve got Sparky Anderson and they’ve got a good chance. Second, that man ain’t my mayor. I live away from the noise. Nice little quiet community about five minutes outside Detroit.  It’s called Oak Park. Just across Eight Mile Road.”

“Hmm. Fine.  Well, I’m sure you’re anxious to get back to Eight Mile,” he said.  The bartender came and sat another drink in front of me. 

I shook my head no.  “Not before I get a chance to talk to him.”

“Talk to him about what?” he said. He took off his black coat and hat to reveal his bald head.

“I came here looking for my father.  He used to be his right-hand man back in the day.  I thought he might know where he’s at and there’s some other things I need to talk to him about.  Just a few small things. Private things.”

“Such as?” 

“I said they were private.  Father and son matters.  You wouldn’t understand.”

One of the bass players on the stage had the crowd drinking and laughing and dancing and drinking.  The older woman with the gap tooth and the flower in her hair was singing now.  She had a husky voice that reminded me of Sarah Vaughan. I looked around for a moment.

            I realized that it hadn’t been too hard for the man to find me.  Most of the people in here were my father’s age.  Some, like the bass players, were around my age but most of his fans were older.  They were loyal.  Sitting there drinking what he drank, eating

what he ate and waiting for him to take them back in time.  They wanted to get away from people like myself.  Young people that didn’t appreciate their kind of music anymore and would laugh at them listening to him playing, turning their radios up and pumping more energy into their bands, drowning out a forgotten era.  It would very hard

to talk to him on a level where we could find something in common.  Suppose then I got mad and said something to him. These people might turn on me.  They might take shoes and purses and wigs and false teeth and beat me.  I laughed at the prospect.  I was not scared of them, after all.  But the man sitting next to me was repeating something that again, I did not hear.

            “No, I don’t think you understand.  You got to leave,” he said and put his hands on my shoulders and then I reacted.  Being in for prison for so long hardened my mind to anything this man wanted from me.  I felt the hand clamp down tightly on my shoulder and my fist connected to this side of his face.  He staggered back. 

            The crowd moved out of my way.  They stood in huddles over by the jukebox. Even the bass players had stopped.  Someone pushed a table out of the way so we could get closer to each other.  The bartender stood back with his elbows on the back liquor counter. Taxi was screaming epithets at me but I wasn’t hearing him.  He was calling my name like I had called his name when I first went to prison but we went there anymore.  I had been waiting for this moment for a long time. But my moment was being ruined by this man that was blocking my path.

            He responded to my fist with a big, sloppy grin on his face that revealed several missing teeth. His face was not bleeding but his cheeks were a puffy, red color.  He came straight at me but the man was running harder than I expected because he knocked me into a wall and several photographs fell to the floor.  A picture of my father and Charlie “Bird” Parker fell to the ground and the frame shattered into a million pieces.

            I heard someone groan, “Oh, no!”  Another woman, this time, young but not quite as attractive, came over to the broken photograph with a broom and dustpan.  She dusted off the photograph and placed it to the side before beginning to sweep up the mess that I had made.  I bounced quickly off the wall and came at him.  I placed his head in a head lock and squeezed tight.  The man winced out in pain.  By now, Taxi had exited the stage. I could tell by the look on his face that if he had been twenty years younger, he would have came at me. 

I didn’t care.  I still wanted him to come after me so I could break his hands again. 

Then, I thought I would come after him anyway because I hated him.  I hated him so much that I tried to pull the man in the headlock towards the stage.  I wanted us to fight up there and knock everything over.  However, someone gave the man a boost.  A glass bottle went upside my head and I winced out in pain.  I had been thrown into the lion’s den and there was no rope, no harness, nothing for me to grab onto and pull myself away.

            My body was bent; I was stooped over.  He elbowed me with his knee and I was knocked back onto a table.  He was coming at me again too quickly and I didn’t have time to react.  I grabbed a bowl of peanuts and threw the bowl in his face.  He caught one, held it up for the crowd in a mocking manner and then ate it.  They laughed and clapped and while he was grinning at them, I rammed into him and knocked him partially on the

stage.  There weren’t any musical instruments on the stage except for the piano. 

            I lunged for him again.  We rolled around on the stage, biting, hitting and kicking each other.  Again, someone came from behind and broke another glass bottle upside my head.  I turned around again to see who would not let me finish the fight.  Several men stood off to the side but they all had a look of innocence and awe on their faces. Besides,

I knew that none of them were brave enough to come after me.  They just looked on, edging the man on with fighting words, cursing words and misguided taunts.  I saw my father watching out of the corner of his eyes; he was also on the man’s side and not mine.

            But then I felt the man grab me from behind, just as I was feeling the sharp pain on my head.  He threw me across the table, which split in two.  My back now was in severe pain and I was losing the battle.  I was not afraid of him but I stayed on the ground a second too long.  I could not think clearly.  The broken bottle upside my head had weakened my senses.  He kicked me several times and shouted at me to get up. I was still on the ground.  My father, with a look of victory in his face, was laughing at me with the other men.  I wanted to stay on the ground and rest but then I knew my father would never respect me.  I would not respect myself so I stuck my foot out and tripped the man.  He fell into a table of empty beer bottles.  There was a look of surprise on his face. I pushed against some broken glass and my hands bled as I staggered off the ground.

            We lunged toward each other again.  I began chocking him and he began chocking me.  His powerful muscles bulged with the hatred of my father behind it.  A man that I had done nothing wrong to except been born and gotten in his way.  My muscles ached with the memory of my mother, whose face I could still remember years later.  The pull between us threw sweat in every which direction.  It was so electrifying that we began to sink to the ground.  Each one of us hoped that we would outlast the other.  I pulled with all of my might.   I put every thing I had into bringing him down.  I must have been chocking a little bit harder than he was to me for he then began digging his fingernail into my eye.  I screamed out in pain as I my eyes began to tear at the clawing of them.

I felt I was being tickled and punished at the same time.  The man laughed again and breathed a sigh of relief.  In a moment, I would be weak to the point where I would be at his mercy.  I knew then that this man, once worked up, might not stop until he killed me.  With that, in one swift movement, my left hand became a single grip around his neck and my other hand, the right one, fell down into between his legs and grabbed him there and twisted it.  The man screamed out in pain; his hand instinctively dropped down to protect himself.