The sun was setting later now, deceptively bright. He poked his head outside the screen door of the trailer and the air was brisk and hard and cold. It was getting toward sundown. Cross went to the kitchen of the trailer and took a can of tuna from one of the cabinets. The rusty hinge made a small shrieking sound as he swung it shut. He found an end of a loaf of bread from the cafe in one of the bags on the counter, scattered with several unopened envelopes. He poured a cup of coffee from the coffee maker, took his six-blade knife from the drying rack and then went outside. His truck was parked in the dirt outside the trailer, facing the drooping sun. He put the coffee cup on the hood and then hoisted himself up on the hood of the truck. A breeze ran its soft fingers over him gently and then suddenly gusted, cold. He took a sip of the coffee. He tore away a shard of the bread, which was starting to harden. With his knife he carved away the top of the can and then, with the long pointed blade, he pulled up some of the oily tuna and scraped it onto the shard of bread. It made a sort of ball on the bread and he put it in his mouth and it tasted warm and rich. He made another one and ate it also. The breeze curled up again and this time when it gusted he closed his eyes and saw the orange glow on his gently closed lids and focused all his thought on the slight warmth on his face, as if willing his face to bring all its heat into him. The light grew dimmer and he took a sip from the coffee cup. The coffee was barely warm already. He scraped up the last of the tuna into a last shard of the bread and ate it.
He washed the knife and cup in the sick and put on his heavier coat and went out to the truck. It cranked slowly at first and then came to life. The path to the country road was still covered in snow but marked with deep tire ruts. He followed them until he turned onto hard blacktop.
Finn was working at the Uptown. He opened the door and the noise rushed out at him — voices yelling, beer mugs clanking hard wood, clinking of ice in glasses, the clatter of billiard balls, loud wild arcs of laughter, a pound of a loud bass line. The room was crowded and it made the light seem even more dim than it usually was. The TV was on over the far end of the bar and Cross made for it. A basketball game, a team in red breaking away from a team in white and quickly landing a basket. There was a stool at the edge, by the pillar where the bar ended. A man he didn’t recognize, with a full beard and hair that hung over his shoulders turned to inspect him as he shifted the chair. He scooched his chair a few inches further away. Cross ignored this and climbed up. Finn’s eyes lit on him from the other end of the bar where he was filling two pilsener glasses with light foaming beer. He pushed them across the counter to an unseen person, pulled a bill off the bar and put it in the register. He came over to where Cross was sitting.
“Hey,” he said. “Coke?”
Cross nodded. When Finn brought back an icy mug, he pointed up at the screen. “You guys on?”
Finn said, “They.” Then he said. “Got knocked out yesterday.”
Someone was yelling for him down the bar. He stepped away. The jukebox pounded at his ears. There was something going on around the corner, by the pool tables. Lots of shouting coming from in there, and every time someone came up by the bar to order another drink they were shouting and yelling. A man with a blue hat advertising tractors came from there holding four empty beer mugs, streaked with foam. He called out an order to Finn. After awhile there was so much noise Cross stopped hearing any of it. He took a sip of his drink and then looked up at the game.
It Wisconsin and Michigan State, who look pretty good. Wisconsin was getting beat at both ends of the court, and the close-ups on the TV showed guys covered with sweat. Michigan State was dribbling the ball lazily down at their end of the court, completely controlling the ball. One of the Wisconsin guards got the ball, a pretty gutsy steal, and was breaking down the court. He jumped to lay it in and all of a sudden there was a Michigan State player there, coming up and fouling him, knocking him flat on the court.
He realized Finn was standing there. “Brutal,” Finn said.
He turned back as two coaches bent over the fallen player. They helped him up slowly. “I don’t miss those hits” he said. He looked at Cross. “You teach your team to do that?”
“I don’t teach it,” Cross said. “Some of them do it.”
Finn smiled and stepped away. Somebody from the bar called at him to change the channel. They wanted to watch a wrestling match. Finn ignored them. A large group of people came out of the back room laughing, three or four guys and as many women. Two of the guys stopped at the bar and Finn brought out four six-packs. They handed him money and left. Finn came turned a dial behind the bar and the jukebox sound dropped. He got out the remote and turned the TV volume up so that Cross could hear it for the first time. Cross liked it better when he couldn’t hear the announcer, who didn’t have anything worthwhile to say.
The man with the beard sat with his back to him. A man on the other side of him, an older guy, with a few days’ growth of stubble and bloodshot eyes, was leaning forward across the bar, trying to get his attention. Then leaning back, trying to look around the man with the beard. “So!” he said, more than once. “So! So what happened in that last game?”
“Those free throws in the last two minutes,” the man said.
Cross shrugged again. “They didn’t make them,” he said.
“I know that,” he said. “You guys were so good. And then you just lost it.”
Crossed looked at his drink. “They played better than us,” he said. “That happens.”
“You guys lost your fight,” the man said.
Cross had seen this man once before. He hadn’t liked him that time either.
“Leave it, Walesa,” Finn said, who had appeared there again in front of him.
Cross shrugged. Finn looked up at the game again.
Cross said, “March madness.”
“I know,” Finn said. “Next week.”
Cross nodded. “You miss it?”
“I got to go one year,” he said. “And sit on the bench.”
Cross’ glass had left a puddle of perspiration on the bar. “You guys went to the final four.”
“We did,” Finn said. “And I sat on the bench.”
“You played some,” the man Walesa said.
Finn turned to him. “I used to know exactly how many minutes and second I played in all those games,” he said. “It didn’t add up to much.” He turned back to the TV to see the Michigan State center make an easy dunk. “My however-many minutes of fame. I’ve had ‘em.”
“You scored some,” Walesa said.
“Yeah, and I missed a key block, too,” he said. “I always heard about what I missed.”
“You guys went again last year,” Cross said.
“I didn’t,” Finn said. “I quit.”
“Quitter,” Walesa said. “I couldn’t believe that.”
“I never hear the end of that at home,” Finn said. He looked at Walesa. “Or here.”
“Yeah, well, this year’s team should have gone all the way,” he said to Cross. “You should have done better.”
Cross nodded. “Beginning of the year nobody thought we’d win anything.”
“That’s history already,” Finn said. “Nobody cares about history.”
Walesa shouted toward the TV.
Finn said, “Nobody cares, unless they think you made a mistake. Then it’s all that matters.”