A Sucker Every Minute

By: Catherine A. Graham

Disclaimer: Perhaps if I had been alive at the time of its original airing, I would have been able to purchase the rights to Dark Shadows.

Author's Note: Drabble-ly goodness. Reviews are appreciated, but not to be begged for.

Willie Loomis stuffed his hands further into the pockets of his old gray windbreaker, keeping his traveling duffel balanced carefully on this shoulder, and sighed. It was cold; New York winters always were. There was a time he had been used to the frequent bouts of snow and ice that so characterized East Coast life. But, Willie hadn't been stateside in six months or better. A season of long days in the Caribbean sun had left him both spoiled and well-tanned. He couldn't help the shiver that left goosebumps up and down his back, no more than he could the instinct to hunch his shoulders, pulling the clearly-meant-for-late-autumn-at-best jacket closer against his body.

A few months in paradise after a short stint as a dockhand on the New England coast could never cure Willie of his longing for New York, though. Especially around this time of year. New York winters really were beautiful. Even more so when one took the time to just take in the sights. Time was a luxury one grew quite accustomed too when he had spent as long as Willie had on the unemployment list. Not that it bothered him – Willie actually liked to imagine the unemployment ratio in the United States going up thanks to his lazy ass. He smirked at the thought, seemingly oblivious to his current homeless state. As long as he didn't start to look like he was homeless. He ran a hand through his windswept hair to ensure that it hadn't become scraggly like the old drunk's he had passed sitting a snow bank a few blocks back. He attracted a fair amount of attention from the female sex and was arrogantly aware of his boyish good looks.

Snowflakes spiraled down as much from his hair as from the sky above to fill in the tracks his shoes left in their wake, and a sound crunch took to accompanying every fall of his brown work boots. He moved his toes around inside them and felt the satisfying squish that meant water had leaked through the soles and into his socks. The action brought a tingling sensation to feet he hadn't realized were previously numb. It was slightly unpleasant, and almost painful in a way – he did it again. Always a glutton for punishment, Willie. The feeling reminded him of countless pairs of hand-me-down shoes he had ruined in weather like this, of daily cases of near-frostbite he brought on himself. No doubt about it, he was happy to be home, where people didn't think strangely of his Bronx accent and his sometimes less-than-perfect English. That was the thing about New York – no one noticed you if you didn't notice them.

Willie had always thought Central Park was the only place to spend Christmas Eve, if only because the last place on earth he had wanted to be was home, and now, he was all the more sure of it. Gaudy lights of red and green and other colors that had nothing to do with Christmas strung themselves out through the trees where leaves had once been, casting a cheery glow into the night sky. Pigeons sat plump and happy from an abundance of winterberries and old women whose hands were always open with fistfuls of last Sunday's breadcrumbs or the fruit that had sat on the counter long enough that it became wrinkled and mushy. Willie thought he had seen a movie once about an old woman who sat on some steps in front of an even older building and sang a song about feeding the birds. The pigeons reminded him of that woman and her movie, and even though he couldn't place which movie it was, it made him smile. But, Willie wasn't a romantic, he reminded himself.

As he turned to follow the curving walkway, Willie noticed a snow-covered, lonely-looking bench and decided to make himself at home there. He brushed what snow he could off the bench, but it must not have helped too much, because as soon as he sat down, Willie could feel the cold dampness of melting ice soaking into the seat of his pants. Adjusting his sitting position didn't seem to help much, so he just figured he'd live with it.

He was the only one in the park, Willie was willing to bet. Of course he was. It's Christmas Eve for Christ's sake. Where do ya think everybody is? Home, most likely. Where it was warm. Willie wondered briefly were Jason was. When Willie had proposed that they spend the night making reminiscent in Central Park, Jason had been quick to come up with some other, more-pressing, issue to occupy his time. Jason wasn't really a reminiscent guy, and even if he had been, Willie told himself, his home was in Ireland, and he'd want to be reminiscent there. Not somewhere he wasn't the least bit familiar with. It made sense, and Willie couldn't blame Jason for it – after all, it wasn't like he was a romantic.

Wherever Jason was, Willie had reason to bet that he was having a grand old time taking on the Big Apple. Willie – for tonight – was willing to just sit here and let the snow fall in his hair until it made those little icicles it sometimes did. He knew if he really wanted to wax reminiscent tonight, it wouldn't be hard for him to look up his mom – he highly doubted that she had moved from that dump of an apartment she had rented since their last less than congenial meeting three years before. But, considering how that had went, that particular idea scored just below slamming his fingers in an iron door on his list of ways of creating a semi-enjoyable Christmas Eve.

Nope, he was just fine right here. Loneliness wasn't a problem. In fact, Willie figured he was less lonely right now than he had been in his entire life. From experience, he knew it was a hundred times lonelier to be out here knowing that someone knew where you were… and just didn't care. His mom had been so wrapped up in her own fears of Willie's father that she'd never thought to protect him, hadn't blinked an eye when Willie had grabbed what he had and declared he was sick and tired of being beaten up and pushed around, and left, not saying where he was going or how he was going to get there. Well, he'd gotten somewhere, and no thanks to her.

He had Jason now. Jason taught him things no schoolbook ever had, things that Willie used everyday. The countries they traveled… the cons they pulled. Sometimes Willie forgot he was just a city kid from the wrong side of the tracks. At Jason's side, he really was something. Jason didn't say it often, but Willie knew he was a fast learner, and there were times the Irishman seemed genuinely proud of him. His oft-irrepressible Irishman's smile was proof of that. Jason had shown Willie that he didn't have to be poor anymore, that he didn't have to wonder where his next meal was coming from.

Willie had spent his whole life being poor. Being poor was the worst thing in the world.

Now Willie understood that no one had to be poor, including him. Because everything you needed was right at your fingertips. The only way to get what you wanted, Jason said, was to reach out and take it, because no one in this world was going to hand it to you. Willie was a firm believer in that philosophy now; for the first time in his life, he was able to get what he wanted when he wanted it. He was sure it wouldn't be long until they stopped living hand to mouth, until the "big one" came along that would leave them set for the rest of their lives.

Yep, his apathetic, self-absorbed mother could lie in the bed she had made. Willie sure in the hell didn't have to.

Christ, it's cold. Willie felt the goosebumps start up on his back again. Then on his arms, too. For the first time tonight, the reality came to Willie's mind that he didn't really want to sit out here all night long. But, he didn't have a whole lot of options. He wiggled his fingers in his pockets. They knocked against something round and smooth and ice cold – a quarter. So, he wasn't exactly rich right now. The fruits of he and Jason's last endeavor had been, for the most part, spent, and they were currently in that lingo between stints, when they got by on the occasional petty theft job. Willie counted himself lucky that he wasn't an overly scrupulous sort of guy – he couldn't remember a time when he ever had been. At that thought he chuckled to himself, knowing he'd have to lift more money than could reasonably go unmissed from some guy's pocket if he wanted to stay at a decent hotel in this area. And, even if did have money, he figured any self-respecting hotel manager would take one look at his shaggy, frost-covered hair, dirty windbreaker, and all around disheveled appearance and tell him to move along; after all, hardened hotel managers didn't operate in the same way as those innocent brunette girls charmed by his ready and rugged smile. So, maybe a hotel was out of the question.

But, that didn't mean he couldn't get out of the cold for a little while. Get a bite to eat. Maybe there was a cheap dinner in the area that was open at midnight on Christmas Eve. He wouldn't have to lift much for that. Three dollars, maybe four, if he wanted dessert, too. After all, it was Christmas Eve. No one would miss that much. He'd done it a hundred times before, and never gotten caught. It was a safe bet, and nothing worthy of a struggle with his conscience.

Willie picked himself up from the park bench and brushed off the seat of his pants. A little damp, but none the worse for the wear. Slinging his duffel over his shoulder, he made for the direction in which he figured the closest all-night diner would be.

Now to find the dumbest looking guy wandering around New York City on Christmas Eve. Jason said that in this city, a sucker was born every minute – Willie sure hoped it was true.