James Shaffer
 Some months back Don and I bought a 300mm Nikkor lens from Paulie for $20. We knew it was hot. Everything Paulie touched was hot. He was a thief, young, but already a wise guy. He possessed no scruples, had no allegiances and did no favors without payback. He could have been a politician.

Later in our somewhat tentative relationship with Paulie, he would burgle our apartment. It'd been a nasty piece of work with a broken window, crowbarred locks and cracked doorjambs on all the closets where the hinges had been pried loose. Given the evidence, it'd been a desperate search for valuables. I'm sure Paulie was somewhat disappointed to find nothing much in the apartment of value except of course, hundreds of books. He should have read more.

We could never prove he'd done it, but we didn't need to. We didn't go to the police and we didn't report it.  If you deal with a dog, you have to deal with the fleas when you let the dog into your house.

 Paulie's slow but sure descent did not go unnoticed by everyone. We heard some months later that he'd had both his legs broken. It was a hit and run. He'd exited OD's Bar and stepped out between two parked cars to cross the street. It was dark. The car was black. No one saw anything. It should have been his wake-up call.

 We saw Paulie one more time after that. No, I'm wrong, two more times.

 The first was one night in the alley behind our apartment. As we approached our apartment door, we saw a guy further up the alley, hobbling, using a cane with every other step. He wasn't moving fast because he couldn't.

"That's Paulie," Don said. We both looked up the alley."I heard he got hit by a car.  "

"He got hit by something. He's definitely lost his swagger," I said, as his silhouette turned the corner and disappeared.

 The second time we saw Paulie was in the newspaper. It wasn't his obit, but it could have been. The article in the crime section reported that there'd been a dispute over an apparent unpaid debt. Paulie'd been shot and killed. The old booking photo didn't do him justice. It didn't capture the wise guy bravado, the wicked self-assurance we'd seen in the Paulie we'd known. Instead, it portrayed a young man's face in full frontal pose, then in profile. His eyes were wild and desperate like a caged animal's. For some, on that slow descent, it's all that remains in the end.

First published: February, 2014
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