Robert kept walking.
“I’m talking to you, twinkie!”
Robert guessed the speaker was 20-feet away, far enough to raise the possibility that the comment was directed at some else. But in his heart he knew better. He’d gotten off at the wrong subway stop. He could reach his destination in time if he walked quickly, provided there was no trouble.
He searched for a helpful face, someone who might discourage a confrontation with this unseen menace.
“Don’t disrespect me, twinkie.”
The hoarse voice was nearing. Robert ducked into a bodega, stopping at the bread section. With his head down he turned slightly to the left to see if he’d been followed. A hulk of a man with a thick gold chain around his neck was at the start of the aisle.
“Twinkie, you deaf?”
Robert shuffled to the right until he reached the end of the aisle, then he ran towards the front door.
“He’s robbing you,” shouted the man.
The bodega owner pulled out a pistol and charged out the door, spotting Robert running down the middle of the sidewalk, about 30 feet away. Meanwhile the hulk slipped two pints of Tiger Rose into his vest pocket. The owner waved at a police car and then pointed at Robert who was rounding the corner.
Robert heard a police siren and stopped. He ran towards the cruiser, waving his arms. The cruiser jerked to a stop and an officer emerged from the car with a gun pointed at Robert.
A few minutes later two officers escorted Robert into the bodega. The taller officer said, “Jimbo, is this the guy?”
“Yeah, he took some liquor,” said the owner, pointing to the shelf with bottles in disarray.
“Okay, Junior, where’d you put the stuff?” asked the officer.
“I didn’t take anything,” he replied. “I’m late for a poetry recital.”
The two officers laughed. Sid, the shorter officer, asked Robert for identification. He examined the driver’s license closely.
“What’s up, Sid?” asked the tall officer.
Sid knew Robert’s name—it had been in the morning paper in an article about a poetry reading, but he didn’t want his partner to know he followed the arts. “I’ll check him out,” said Sid who left for the squad car. He returned a few minutes later and announced that Robert was “clean.”
Sid almost offered to drive Robert three blocks to the reading, but thought better of it; instead, he spent the rest of his patrol regretting he hadn’t given Robert a lift.