GEORGE'S NOSE WAS OUT OF JOINT, and by God he wasn't going to sit around all day while he figured out what in heaven's name to do. "This is not my cup of tea," he screamed at his secretary Jennie. She wasn't sure if he was referring to the mug of Orange Pekoe that she had handed him moments earlier or if he was saying that he hated his job. That was the thing about George. No one was ever quite sure what he was saying whenever he spoke.
Today Mr. George James, a bondsman by trade, was trying to decide whether he should look for a prisoner who had jumped bail or just let the police handle it. He was good at finding people, if not so adept at communicating with them.
"Jennie?" he said on the way out. "I'm going to hell in a hand basket."
Jennie just gave him the same blank stare she had been giving him for the past 10 years. She wondered why she stayed on, but he paid her well for filing the occasional form and for answering a phone that rarely rang. But twice a day at least, she winced as she had to say, "Hello, you've reached the office of James Bondsman."
Jennie had gotten very good at interpreting what George meant by his mixed, but strangely clear, messages. She deduced now that he was off to Hell's Kitchen to find whoever had made a fool of him. But she couldn't make any sense of the hand basket comment. Jennie knew it had to refer to something.
Although George spoke only in cliches, he meant exactly what he said. Just then she looked out the window to catch a glimpse of her boss on his bicycle with a big basket hanging from the handle bars. "Ah-ha," she said, relieved that she didn't have to dwell on the matter any longer.
George, however, was deeply focused on the matter at hand: a 20-year-old punk named Adam from Manhattan's most rough-and-tumble neighborhood who swore that he wouldn't run out on bail. A few months earlier, a coked-up Adam had stabbed another doped-up kid over a girl who wasn't interested in either of them. "One bird, two stoners," George had joked to himself. But to the troubled young man handing him $1000 two weeks ago, he had simply said, "Put your money where your mouth is."
"I won't run," Adam answered.
"Never eat and run," responded George, who then shoved the thousand bucks in his client's slack mouth just to make it clear who was boss. He had a way of making a point, Jennie thought as she watched the young man cough up the dough.
When the news came down this morning that Adam had run nonetheless, George was more hurt than anything. He wanted to give the kid a break, but he was painfully aware that in the legal system no good deed goes unpunished. "An eye for an eye," he mumbled as he peddled past an optometrist's shop at the corner of 39th Street and 8th Avenue. "Leaves everyone blind," he lamented, remembering the words of Gandhi.
George parked his bike outside the Garden of Eden, a gourmet grocery store catering to the influx of ne'er-do-wells in the neighborhood. It was also where Adam had worked as a clerk before becoming a murderer.
George hoped someone at the store could help him find his client before the police did. But neither was going to go easy on the boy. George fancied himself the lesser of two evils as he walked around the store. He studied each shopper as he picked through the MacIntosh and Granny Smith apples.
Just as he was about to bite into one -- an apple, not a shopper -- the bondsman spied Adam snaking down the next aisle. George quickly turned around and found himself face to face with an impressive display of cutlery. Intrigued, he asked the stunning salesgirl what the deal was. "Buy one, get one free," Eve said without really acknowledging him.
George's heart raced. Is this what Adam had faced? Was this the girl he had killed for? She was so pretty, but so out of reach. And the knives were so handy. "God," George said,
"TALK ABOUT TEMPTATION."
Nancy Stearns Bercaw usually writes about retired sideshow performers, but she decided to change her act for this tempting assignment.