A man's body lay sprawled across the doorway to the Lamont Limelight.
Clarence Camden--owner and publisher of the weekly newspaper--stared down in dismay at the pathetic drunk who blocked the way into his office. He did not, for a moment, believe the man was dead, as an occasional nasal snort emitted from the reeking heap of filthy rags and even filthier flesh crumpled at his feet. But the intruder was out cold and effectively barred his way in.
Finally, he reached across the inert body and turned his key in the lock. He was not a small man, so making his way through the door, briefcase in hand, while avoiding any contact with the smelly bundle of humanity on the ground, was no easy task. Inside, he discarded the leather case and turned back to his immediate problem.
Kneeling on one knee, Clarence did not shake the man. Such an action would have required touching him, and unfortunately, the odor emanating from the ground discouraged contact of any kind. He spoke loudly.
"Hey! Hey, mister! Are you all right?"
No response. Clarence groaned and pulled a pair of driving gloves from his coat pocket, slipping them on with an unpleasant grimace. Even gloved, he allowed his hand only tentative contact with the other man's shoulder, administering a half-hearted shake.
"Wake up, sir! You have to move on now."
His visitor rolled over onto his back and continued to snore. His new position revealed a face that could have used a shave several days earlier. The movement also stirred up a stench that sent Clarence rocking backward in distaste.
"That's it," he muttered. "No more mollycoddling!"
With that, he stood and made his way to a small room behind the front office, emerging a moment later holding a large pitcher in both hands. At the open doorway, he stood scowling down at his uninvited guest.
"I hate to do this, mister, but I've got a business to run here." With that, Clarence dashed the frigid contents of the container full in the sleeping man's stubbly face.
It elicited precisely the reaction he had hoped for, as the pathetic fellow's eyes snapped open. He sat up, sputtering and cursing.
"I'm sorry to interrupt your slumber, sir." Clarence calmly watched as his erstwhile incapacitated visitor struggled to rise from his now soggy place on the ground.
"Allow me to introduce myself. I'm Clarence Camden, the owner of this establishment, which I fear you mistook for a free motel. I need you to kindly remove yourself from my doorway, so that others may enter without climbing over your body, which--forgive me for saying so--is far from a pleasant olfactory experience."
On his feet now, if a bit unsteady, the other man sent him a baleful glare.
"What'choo talkin' about, man? I don't understand your fancy, high-falutin words, so don't waste 'em on me. Why in blazes are you tryin' to freeze my rear off with that icy water? Talk about rude, mister--that was cold!"
Clarence was unperturbed by the onslaught of verbal wrath.
"I have already explained my actions. You were blocking the door to my place of business. I had to climb over you to get inside. And since I see you prefer a bit plainer language, may I just suggest that a bath is definitely in order? Your stench is quite intolerable to any sensitive nostril!"
"Well, excuse me!"
The offensive, and at the moment, highly offended, visitor's eyes flashed in anger, and Clarence found himself taken aback by their unexpected beauty. Golden, they were. No other word for it. Not brown, although that's probably how the man himself, with his preference for a simpler use of the English language, would define them.
They were large and framed by lashes so thick and dark that even Clarence, not as a rule given to studying the facial features of other men, couldn't help but notice. And they were not brown, not yellow, but somewhere in between. Even "amber" was only adequately descriptive. Golden. That was the only precise way to describe this man's unusual eyes.
While the inebriated fellow continued to rail and curse at the mistreatment he had suffered, Clarence studied him. He stood just over six feet tall himself, and the stranger was at least an inch taller, in spite of his slouchy posture. Matted and tangled hair, like his beard, should have been cut days ago, but it grew in thick, black waves. It crossed Clarence's mind that women would probably find that hair quite touchable, should the man ever think to wash it.
Though thin to the point of emaciation, the man's face was handsome. Not noble, though. No...those disturbing eyes were deep golden pools of bitterness. Clarence found them empty and cold, though in all fairness he supposed their owner's current anger could be somewhat responsible for that. His chin, though it sported one of those little dents women seemed to find so attractive, was weak.
So lost was he in assessing his visitor's appearance that the man's colorful tirade went mostly unnoticed until he felt his arm gripped with unexpected strength.
"Are you listenin' to me, man?" the drunk demanded.
Clarence glanced down at the dirty hand on the sleeve of his coat. "Take your hand off me, sir."
The stranger emitted a bitter, unpleasant bark of laughter, but his hand dropped away from Clarence's arm.
"Don't want me to touch you, do ya? What, I'm not good 'nuff? Who do you think--?"
All at once, the irate man swayed, and his face went white beneath its surface grime. Fearing he would pass out on the floor yet again, Clarence overcame his personal revulsion long enough to steer the unpleasant fellow to a small bench.
"You'd better sit down. Wait here, and I'll get you some water."
He hurried from the room, and when he returned a moment later, he was astonished at the change in his visitor's demeanor. Sitting on the bench in the little lobby was a crushed and beaten man who elicited an unbidden sympathy in Clarence, despite his determination to feel no such thing.
The stranger sipped at the water, carefully avoiding eye contact, and Clarence was discomfited to see a tear slide down one unshaven cheek. He said nothing, and the other man finally looked up at him.
"Look, man, I'm sorry. That cold water musta froze my brain. I had no call to talk thataway to ya."
He nodded, grudgingly accepting the other man's apology.
"Thing is, I need'jer help. I guess I ain't runnin a very good chance of gettin' it after all that, am I?"
Clarence closed and locked the front door before answering, preferring to have no customers until he was well rid of his caller. Still, something in the stranger's face tugged at his sympathetic nature, despite every attempt to quell it.
He cleared his throat and lowered himself onto the edge of a hard, high-backed chair across from Mr. Goldeneyes. "Well, I guess we'll never know, sir, if you don't tell me what it is you need."
A flare of hope briefly illuminated those eyes, making them compellingly beautiful. He dug into the pocket of his threadbare jacket and pulled out a crumpled and torn sheet of paper. Shoving it toward Clarence, he spoke in a rush, his voice hoarse.
"I ain't got no money. But I need to put an ad in yer paper. I gotta find her...for my wife."
Clarence picked up the grimy scrap, gingerly holding it between thumb and forefinger.
"Pleez bring her bak," it read. "Her mother greves."
Confused, he raised his gaze to meet that of the man across from him, who waited hopefully. "I think you'd better tell me what this means."
The other man's head fell forward, and heavy eyelids dropped down to cover those unusual eyes. When he spoke, shame and embarrassment warred for supremacy in his raspy voice.
"My name is Jack Kelly," he stated. "I sold my baby girl."