Liam met Mei-Lin at the bakery at eleven AM on Saturday morning.
Since the Israeli place didn’t serve lunch, they decided for a casual meal at Liam’s favorite hole in the wall, The Natural Food Bar, on West 72nd near Broadway. After all, they did make the best pita-pocket sandwiches on the planet.
They walked to Grand Army Plaza to get the #2 train, buying tokens at the booth.
There was a guy playing bass and singing jazz on the platform. He sounded really good.
“Look!” Mei-Lin exclaimed, “He’s only playing a string tied to a bucket!”
Sure enough, the man – dressed in corduroy slacks and a roll neck sweater, with a navy coat – was plucking one string attached to an upturned metal washbasin; but it sounded like a stand-up bass. Mei-Lin dropped a slightly crumpled dollar into the basket at the man’s feet.
Just then, there was a low and breathy horn blast, a gust of air, and the train flew into view. Fortunately for Liam and Mei-Lin, the train wasn’t too crowded. They found seats together in the middle of the car and sat down.
The train rocketed out of the station and on to the next stop. They went over the Brooklyn Bridge, and back underground (seeing what appeared as strobe-like grafitti “animated films” through the windows, while passing various artwork of restless local taggers). Since it was an express train, they arrived in Upper Manhattan in no time.
“These are delicious!” Mei-Lin exclaimed, as she devoured her tuna pita-pocket, “and the strawberry-orange juice is great too!”
I’m glad you like it, Mei-Lin,” said Liam, “I was a bike messenger in Manhattan for a couple of months before I worked at the bakery, and I used to get this on my break and bring it over here to eat.”, he said, as they sat on a bench in Strawberry Fields in Central Park. “You just have to watch out for the critters.”, Liam noted, as a group of frenzied squirrels scurried up a nearby tree. Normally it would have been freezing outside, but they were experiencing a strangely warm and sunny week.
They said and talked for a while. She told Liam she’d been a Christian since she was a little girl, and that her parents has originally come to New York from China back in the late 1980’s. She had two brothers, and there was some pressure on her parents to abort her when her mother became pregnant with her, as China was pretty severe on families’ having more than one child; especially if the second child was a girl. As the Chen’s had some relatives here from a few generations back, they had been able to pay some people off, and make it to the USA; just before the riots in Tiananmen Square.
Mei-Lin’s father owned a shoe-repair shop in Brooklyn Heights. He had managed to obtain financing for the business with help from his American-born cousin Lee Chang. Mei-Lin’s brothers (one older and one born later in the U.S., after his sister) worked in the shop part-time to help the family. Lee’s daughter, Lili, worked at the bakery in Park Slope, so when it was time for Mei-Lin to look for work, Lili helped her get a counter position working there; they shared some shifts, and the bakery was in a nice neighborhood, so it was a good arrangement.
Lili wanted to be a graphic artist, and was saving her pennies for future needs, and taking a few courses at the Polytechnic Institute of NYU in Brooklyn Heights.
Liam related how at the age of nineteen he had begun dating a young woman he he’d met in high school in New Mexico. Her name was Tina, and she was smart & beautiful, but he came to understand she was addicted to pills. He tried to get her into rehab, but after a while, she was so strung out, that he was at a loss as to how to fix the situation, and had to break apart from her.
At that point, he had earned his bachelors in education, and set off for the big city to distance himself from the situation. His high school buddy, Sam, who was a musical genius, had relocated to the East Village in Manhattan a year earier; he become an instant success in the local live music scene, and was also earning impressive amounts as a session musician. Sam had some great local connections and got Liam set up with a cheap studio in Park Slope, Brooklyn. A friend of Sam’s who owned the condo was going to Budapest for a year on an artistic scholarship, and Sam managed to get him to sublet it to Liam for a great price.
Liam discovered nearby Brooklyn College, where the graduate programs for school counseling degrees seemed vastly more affordable than say, NYU. He wanted to help kids in high school who encountered difficulties like he had, and figured that if he had some good teachers, who understood how to overcome such things, that with his perspective he could then help others do better.
They decided to walk past the nearby Dakota building and over to Columbus Avenue for some Mrs. Fields’ cookies with hot chocolate before heading back home.
Liam stepped out of the shop first, while Mei-Lin, who had insisted on paying for dessert, was delayed a moment when her zipper got caught as she was putting her pocketbook back in her handbag.
The sun blazed into Liam’s face as he emerged onto the busy street. He heard some shouting, and the world started to spin in slow motion, and he heard funny sounds that reminded him of playing his mom’s old records at a slower speed.
Three men in ski masks emerged from the First Merchant’s Bank, next door. They were already concealing their weapons, and were running furiously towards a dark SUV that was double-parked haphazardly with the engine revving high in park.
The shot buzzed through the air on a 92 degree angle, and popped open Liam’s flesh, just below his right shoulder. Liam staggered, brushed against the window of the cookie shop, but regained his footing, as the gunmen fled with three others into a black Cadillac Escalade. Mei-Lin, who had heard the commotion and the shot, emerged from the shop, called an ambulance on her cell phone just after the SUV tore away, and before too long, Liam was whisked into an ambulance; as squad cars swarmed the crowded intersection.
Mei-Lin, shaken but unscathed, was immediately eased in to the back seat of an unmarked police sedan by a female detective who gently asked her a few questions, and then put her in a cab to Brooklyn, saying the department would likely be in touch with her later, to gather more information on what she witnessed that day.