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2006-07-29 - 11:07 a.m.

I saw something nasty this morning.

I was in Fells Point and so around nine-thirty I walked down to Thames Street and got some coffee, a bagel, and a bottle of water. It was already hot. On the walk back up Broadway--lots of drinkers at the bars last night and so I had to park six or seven blocks from the water--I noticed little splatters of red liquid on the sidewalk. At first, I thought it was the kind of red syrup that makes cherry snowcones. That's what it looked like. Then, still sleepy and looking down at the bricked sidewalk, I noticed that the splatters kept going, appearing at a frequency that went along with my own stride. They were two-inch smudges, like someone had stuck a thumb in each one and smeared it, but with three or four small drops next to each one, the drops about the size of thumb tacks.

After the sixth or seventh smudge, I thought I should look up, into the bright city, and, squinting, I did. A block ahead of me, at the next intersection, I saw a tall, thin guy, in his late fifties, limping badly, swinging his right leg around every time he took a step. I couldn't tell but it looked like he was grabbing his leg with both hands each time he had to move it. At the intersection, a city police pickup truck stopped at the light. There were two cops inside.

I said, "Hey, guys," and the cop in the passenger seat glanced at me quickly and said, "Yep, we got it." I pointed behind me and said, "The blood on the sidewalk?" And he hadn't noticed that. He thought I was talking just about the limping guy. He did a double take, saw the blood, and even though the light was still red, told his partner to go through the light. "We got it, thanks, though," he said to me. The truck sped ahead a block up Broadway, toward the Latin part of Fells Point, and shot awkwardly to the side of the street, into an open parking space, beside the guy. The truck's back end was blocking half the open traffic lane. I'd gone through the intersection by then and was a half-block behind him. The driver honked his horn a few times to get the guy's attention. He half-turned his head and threw up his hands in a show of tired resignation.

The passenger-side cop jumped out of the truck and then the driver-side cop. The guy, wearing cut-off jean shorts that ended at his knees, shuffled toward the cops. I could see his leg then. From the half-block away, it looked like, on just his right leg, he was wearing a knee-length sock that was bright red on just the front half. The hind part of his calf was pale with matted, dark hair. Some parts of his leg, like his ankle and into his sock, were darker, but higher up, the red was a bright, living red. The first cop leaned over to get a closer look, and, at a distance of a pace and a half that indicated he was not going to touch the leg, motioned for the guy to sit on the curb. He sat down, slowly.

The man mumbled something to the cops that I couldn't make out. By then I had caught up to him. He had three or four days' salt-and-pepper stubble on his face. He was drunk, out of it, or both. He wore a dirty white T-shirt advertising a brand of beer or a restaurant or bar and old white sneakers, the laces of which had been poorly tied.

The driver cop spoke into his shoulder-mounted radio receiver. "We need an ambulance to Broadway and Fleet," he said.

The man mumbled something else that I couldn't make out.

The passenger-side cop said, "It's either that or you were going to bleed to death."

Blood, dried a little toward his foot, was shiny and thick, coming from just below his knee. He had an inch-long gash at the tendon that connects the knee cap to the shin. When I walked past, blood was still coming out: not spurting, but pulsing, slowly, the fresh red covering the old red.

I kept walking. At the intersection, an older black man came out of the corner discount store there, a store that sells cheap blinds and bathroom rugs and plastic toothepaste holders, that sort of thing. He poked his head around the entryway and saw the cops. He shook his head and though I was the closest person, spoke to no one in particular. "I guess he got it looked at," he said.

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