"Hey! Hey, Rocky. Want some?"
An open bottle was shoved in front of his face by a very grubby hand and he almost gagged from the scent. He put a hand up, shoving the bottle away, gritting his teeth to hold back the vomit that threatened as the stench of his own body mixed in with the sickly smell of Wild Turkey and the odor of his unwashed buddy. That'd teach him to panhandle out in the rain. The frigging water'd cleaned out all that shit in his nose that usually kept him from smelling. Stupid shit. And he'd only made a few bucks too.
"Come on, Rocky, it's the good stuff. None of that fucking Baby Duck shit Lonzo swiped off that grade school brat, and all."
He pushed the offered bottle away again. "Get that shit away from me. Don't want it."
"Give it here then," Morty said, reaching over and grabbing the bottle from Dave. "If Mr. Rocky don't want, I do," he chuckled harshly before taking a huge gulp.
"Wassamatter, Rocky?" Dave asked, concerned at his buddy's actions. "You ain't never turned down a drink afore."
The man sandwiched between the two other slowly raised his hand and rubbed his eyes. The ragged half glove he wore, covering the palm of his hand scratched the tender skin but he ignored it. "Fuck off, Davey. Just don't like the way it hurts my throat, is all," he grumbled. The sleep finally started to fall away and his head came back up quickly. "Hey, what you calling me that for?"
A phlegmy chortle came from his left and he turned towards Morty, and then swore as he wiped some of the man's alcohol-laden spit off his face. "Cos you're famous, Rocky. Everyone knows 'bout you." Morty cackled.
"Yeah," Dave said. "Got your name in the paper and all. Like it better than Messy. Calling you Messy is like calling the kettle black and all."
Morty continued his cackling. "Yeah, we knows you's Messy otherwise you wouldn't be here." He broke off with a hacking cough finally hawking a huge spitball across the alley.
"Yeah. Yeah, you is." Dave turned his bleary eyes towards a lump further down the alley. "Hey! Hey, Louie. Wake up, Louie."
"What?!" A disheveled head emerged from the dark pile of tattered blankets, papers and garbage bags. "Shaddup, Davey. What you want?"
"Hey Louie, you got that paper still? That one about Messy and all?'
"Sure I got it. What you think I'm gonna throw away a perfectly good paper? It's fucking freezing out here. Now leave me alone." The head descended back into the pile and a loud snoring noise began.
"He wants to see it and all. Gimme the paper, man. He wants to see he's famous."
"Fuck you! I'm sleeping."
"Hey Louie," Morty called. "We got Turkey."
The pile erupted and a large black man shuffled down the alley dropping down in front of them. "Why you don't say?" he mumbled as he held out a hand.
"No way, man. Paper first," Davey said as he hugged the bottle to him.
"Fucking cheats…. Fucking freezing out here…. Need fucking drink, man… fucking freezing…" the man mumbled angrily as he searched around under his jacket, finally pulling a folded up newspaper from his left pant leg. "Gimme the fucking bottle."
The man grabbed the paper, squinting as he tried to make out what it said.
"Not there, Rocky." Morty grabbed it out of his hand and started flipping through. "There. See?" he pointed a grimy finger at the "What's up in your community" column. "You there. See? It says, 'Local bar features performances by the singing hobo.'"
"I can frigging read, Morty," he retorted and grabbed the paper back from the other man.
'A local bar in the city's west end has a new performer at its regular Thursday night karaoke sessions: a local hobo who is fast becoming the star attraction.
"He's been a regular fixture in the area for the last few years," said Tangles owner, John Kelly, "and with the weather being what it has been I felt kind of sorry for the guy so I let him in one night. I figured he could sit in the corner, away from the other customers, and get warmed up a little. Next thing I know he's singing along to the songs, and everyone was listening to him."
The city is no stranger to singing panhandlers: they hang out on street corners and infest the metro line, but this one is different, says Tangles regular Marcy Stomf. "I mean, only some of them are okay. The rest I just ignore. But him, he's good. I come early just to hear him, you know?"
Kelly says that he thought that first time was a fluke but that the hobo, who remains nameless, started showing up again on the really cold nights. Kelly figured his first act of kindness was coming back to haunt him until the night when his regular sound tech didn't show. "The karaoke nights seem to bring folks in and I thought we were going to be in trouble. No one else seemed to know the system until this bum starts pushing my other guys aside and sets it up right the first time. He's testing it out and singing along and folks are just staring, listening to him. I swear, the guy has the most amazing voice."
Regulars at Tangles have nicknamed the man "Rocky" because that seems to be his musical preference.
"He starts with the Bon Jovi, and some Poison. He even does the Boss real good. But put on some pop stuff, like Celine Dion, Backstreet Boys or Michael Bolton and he is out the door," said Stomf.
Kelly disagrees. "He just seems to know when to leave is all. He sets up the system, sings a few things to test its working and then heads out. I've tried to keep him here longer, because of the cold weather, but he just shrugs me off and leaves."
Others in the area are not impressed by Rocky's abilities.
Helen Wilson of the local Methodist church feels that Tangles' new star heralds the beginning of an unsavory element in the neighborhood. "First one panhandler appears then more. Soon you can't walk the street without being accosted by some drunk. Tangles is just pandering to that."
Kelly disagrees. "Rocky's been coming round for almost two months now and, sure, sometimes he doesn't smell all that good, but all he asks for in return for his services is some water, an occasional coffee, and a little food. He hasn't brought others around and he refuses any booze that the customers try to give him. All I know is that folks come in early now, just to hear him sing as he sets up. I think he's just a guy who's down on his luck and loves to sing. Maybe this'll help him get back on his feet. There isn't anything wrong with that."
Well, they say that music could tame the savage beast… maybe it can heal a ragged soul.'
He shoved the paper away, working hard not to let the tears that threatened roll down his face.
"See? See Rocky? You famous and all," Dave smiled, his broken teeth gleaming in the dark of the alley.
"Yeah, Rocky," Morty chortled. "So why don't you sing for us, man?"
"Yeah, come on, Rocky," Louie chimed in, holding the bottle out to him.
He lurched forward, pushing the bottle away and splashing some on Louie. The black man swore angrily - less at being splashed and more at the loss of some of the booze.
"What the fuck, Rocky!" Dave growled, grabbing the bottle back from Louie before the other man could take another gulp.
"My name's not Rocky. Don't call me that!" The man shouted as he stood. "Name's Messy. Got that? Messy! You ain't never gonna call me anything other than Messy! Got that." He shambled off toward the entrance to the alleyway muttering his name over and over again.
"Sure thing, Rocky. We got that, Rocky," Morty yelled after him. He turned back tot the other two with an evil grin. "Fuckin' Divas," he sniggered then dove forward, trying to wrestle the bottle of Wild Turkey from Dave's hands.