He'd been having a dream; one of those turgid, anxious dreams you might get from eating too much before going to bed. In the dream he'd been sitting in a car with his family watching an exciting basketball game. Then he realized it was 5:50, leaving him only a little more than an hour to get to his hotel uptown and then get back down to meet his friends. He said his goodbyes and began to leave, then remembered he'd forgotten his suitcase, which was not much bigger than a big briefcase. It had a zippered pouch in front and he shoved his documents in and zippered it up and went onto the Avenue, probably a dream representation of Broadway, to hail a cab. Then he was uptown, in the 60s, and he couldn't remember the name of the hotel. The driver could not help with the name of the hotel, but he waited in the cab while Dicky went across an alley toward Lexington Avenue. But it was getting dark and, somehow, the alley did not lead to Lex, and when Dicky went back, the cab was gone with his twenty dollar bill. Then he was in a large, rather fancy restaurant named O'Reilly's, built underground, like at Grand Central, and when he came back out to the street it was raining, hard, and he realized he'd left his suitcase in the cab and that, for some reason, he was no longer wearing a shirt. Then instead of some avenue on the east side the sign on the corner said Park, and it was still raining, but not as hard, and it wasn't dark anymore, and it wasn't a dream.
Or if it was, Dicky was stuck in it, because here he manifestly, undeniably, was. Dripping, but not shivering. He wondered if he should call his father and dismissed the thought, not wanting him to have to drive all the way uptown. But what should he do now? He walked past a fire station and in the glass of the big garage doors he saw his reflection and realized he was not a young man, as he'd thought he was in his dream, but an old, skinny disheveled wreck of a man with short gray hair and a gray stubble and sucked in cheeks from lack of molars, and no shirt. He wasn't going to call his father because his father had been dead for decades. And he wasn't in Manhattan; this was some smaller town, with a skyline of two story buildings.
He fought the panic that was rising in him. There was an explanation for this; he could still think; his mind was clear. He was certain he could reason it out. But where in God's name?... He thought about where he'd come from. A town. He could almost see it, almost remember its name, but this information was fuzzy, faded, as if it had been part of the dream, too. All he needed to get control of this situation was one piece of something that wasn't floating around. He could build from there. But there was nothing to latch onto. The fear came back in another wave, a battalion of scorpions in his gut. He couldn't just stand there. That would be a bad thing to do.
Dicky walked around the corner of the brick building, opened the side door, noticing it was no warmer in the fire barn than it had been outside – summer, that was a good thing – and went up three steps to a landing. Directly ahead of him was a door to the fire barn. He could hear the voices of firemen in there. The stairs continued up on his left, and to his right was a small glassed in office with a switchboard and three telephones. A pudgy fireman with a flat top looked up from his magazine at Dicky, standing uncertainly in the doorway.
“Sorry to bother you,” Dicky said. “I know this sounds strange, but I must've had some kind of stroke or something. I don't know where I am and I can't remember how I got here.”
The fireman rose and clapped him genially on the shoulder. “Dicky! Another bad night, eh?”
Upon hearing his name, and receiving the knowledge that he was known, Dicky let down the guard he'd been maintaining so fiercely against the fear. The situation got dreamlike again after that. They put him in the Chief's car and took him to the police station. On the way, Dicky realized he was having some kind of attack of nerves, and that what he needed was a drink, just to calm him down. This thought was what he'd been seeking – something to attach to, something to build on. It became an obsession. In the police station he told them, “I just need a drink, is all. Just something to settle me down.” He said it over and over.
They sat him in a chair in a detective's cubicle and gave him a glass of water and a pill. Someone boiled water on a hotplate and made him an instant hot chocolate. It was warm, and sweet, and good. They all knew him, the cops, and they were as friendly as the firemen had been. The drink spread its warmth through him, and the pill began its work. He dozed off in his chair.
When he woke he said to Sergeant Langley, “Man, that was a bad one.”
“You okay now?”
“Yeah, I'm fine. I guess I should just go home.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
“You guys want a coffee or anything?”
“Jesus, Dicky. It's 3:00 a.m.”