Sasha sat and watched the leaves fall from the trees in Central Park. It made him feel young again. Of course, he was not young. He was very old. Layers of tan skin cascaded upon one another to create his face. His bright blue eyes, now his only staple, shone through the layers. Women used to fall for those eyes. Women still did if you asked Maggie, who lived next door to him in their small apartment complex. Sasha lived alone now. His wife had been dead for four years. He’d said goodbye to her in a room that overlooked Central Park. That was part of the reason he liked the Park so much. If he concentrated enough he could feel her in the wind. David watched Sasha sitting on the park bench across the way. David himself sat on the edge of a fountain, a homemade sandwich in one hand and a Guinness in the other. He was a large balding man, fifty percent muscle and fifty percent beer belly. He had tattoos that snaked their way around each of his arms, and another two on his neck. He also had a token lumberjack beard and a hardness to his face that cracked like an egg when someone made a joke. David recognized Sasha from the many nights he spent in his pub, causing a ruckus. Once Sasha passed the two-beer mark, he became a story-teller of epic proportions. He would reenact scenes from the fable he was telling, standing on a table and brandishing his umbrella. He always had an audience, David thought as he took a swig from his drink. The pub had an ongoing wager of whether or not Sasha’s stories were true. They kept the tally marks on a black board that used to be for Trivia Night. So far, they’d covered both sides and David was thinking about ordering a new one. If they believed all of Sasha’s stories, he became a debonair adventurer who had braved the rain of bullets in both Germany and the Middle East, working for no one other than himself, to right the wrongs in the world. That was the difficult bit. According to Sasha, because he was wanted in so many countries for acquiring secret information, he was forced into hiding in the US. “Well why are you telling all of us about it now?” one of his audience members once lamented. “Bah,” Sasha said dismissively, his Russian accent revealing itself, as it always did when he was drunk. “Most of my enemies are long dead now, and even if they did come for me, I’ve still got more than enough skill to beat those bastards.” There was still a surprising balance among the guesses of whether the stories were true or false. David should probably be giving Sasha part of the profits that he brought in from all the people who came in either to see Sasha or to talk about him. Sometimes David wondered what it would be like to run a regular pub, where people talked about football or politics. It seemed all his customers had become Sasha conspiracy theorists. David noticed he’d run out of sandwich and crumpled the saran wrap and tossed it in one of the green trash cans. He looked at Sasha one last time. The old man hadn’t moved. It looked to David like he was waiting for something. Whether it was death or another beer, David had no idea. He shoved his hands into his pockets and walked back towards the pub. … Sasha pushed open the door to David’s pub. The bell clinked, signaling his arrival. It was nearly empty. A trio of young men sat at one end of the bar and a couple sat at the other. Sasha pulled his hat off and hung it on the coat rack. He walked to the center of the bar where David was polishing mugs. “What can I get’cha?” asked David, glancing up from his work. Sasha chuckled. “доброта, you know what I want. I’m here just about every night of the week,” he said. David smiled slightly as he pulled out a Guinness and popped the top off with one hand. “There it is,” said Sasha with satisfaction. He took a long gulp. David put the mug away and leaned forward. Sasha wiped his mouth with the edge of his sleeve and waggled his large grey eyebrows. “ням. Good stuff,” he said, and David laughed. “People have been wondering what story we get to hear tonight.” David pulled back to grab another mug, having gotten straight to the point. “Have they now?” asked Sasha. “You tell a story once and all of a sudden people want to use you as weekly entertainment. We might as well start advertising!” He put his hands up as if imagining the poster. “The Great Russian Spy Sasha! Every night at David’s! Of course, I wouldn’t do it for free. I’d need some payment,” he said, rubbing two of his fingers together. “Alright, alright,” said David, “Your drinks are on the house tonight.” Sasha grunted and nodded in acknowledgement. The usual night crowd began to filter in as people got off work. David surveyed the crowd in his pub between orders. Seeing the different people was one of his favorite parts of the job. You had bookworms with surprisingly high alcohol tolerances, college kids with surprisingly low ones, business men and women stopping by after work, one or two hippies, and a couple pairs of parents who made David’s their weekly nights out. Most of them were here for Sasha. At first, David was a little disgruntled that people came here for Sasha, instead of his quality microbrews or fish and chips, but David’s and Sasha had become a package deal. You couldn’t have one without the other. As the night continued, the pub was filled with the happy sounds of chatter and clinking mugs. A couple in their early 30s moved from admiring the tally board to approaching Sasha. “Hello, my name is Dillon, and this is my wife, Emilia,” the man said a little tentatively, extending a hand. Sasha gave him a once over before shaking his hand and then Emilia’s. “May we sit?” she asked, and Sasha grunted with a nod. “I suppose we were really wanting to ask you about your stories,” said Emilia. “My stories? Aish,” said Sasha, “Now why would you be interested in those? What about your story? Tell me that one first.” The couple glanced at one another, “Well,” Emilia started, “I met Dillon when he came wandering into my dad’s bookshop. What year was it? Sophomore?” “Junior,” Dillon corrected. “Anyways, he looked lost. Said someone recommended him to come in here for his textbooks that semester. He was getting his degree in Business and I’d just finished my Masters in English that summer, so I wasn’t sure if I could help, but two hours later we were sitting on the hardwood floor thumbing through classics.” She shrugged as if to say, ‘and then it was happily ever after.’ “Now then. What about one of your stories? I notice you wear a wedding ring? There’s got to be quite a story behind that,” she smiled in expectation. “No, not really. Anya picked it up from St. Petersburg.” Emilia’s smile fell. Sasha took a long swig from his third bottle of beer. “I will tell you one story, though,” he said swallowing and smacking his lips. “It all started in the Himalayas. Anya and I were hunting a band of sex traffickers for months. It was just beginning to get cold . The winds were strong, and it felt like daggers were cutting into your ears.” He dashed to the coat rack and pulled a scarf from it, wrapping it around his head and face. “We got inside info that they were going to meet with a buyer in a tavern in Darjeeling. It was dark when we arrived in town. Back then, the streetlights were still lit with real candles. There were pockets of light every 3 feet. We had to be careful not to be seen. There were guards and thieves around every corner,” he said, placing his back against the wall of the bar and looking around for threats. “It took a long time, going from shadow to shadow, but eventually we got to the tavern. It wasn’t much different from this one. Smoke hung in the air. Someone plucked a sitar in the back. The men were boisterous as always, playing cards and drinking. The leader caught my eye. His name was Vihaan. God, he was a piece of work. Made my stomach turn just looking at him. He had a scar over one eye. It was from his father, or so the rumor went. I’d seen him do too many horrible things. I longed to put a matching one on that other eye. I wanted to jump across the tavern and put a bullet through his chest, but Anya held me back. She always knew when I was about to do something rash. I know if she hadn’t been there I would have killed that man and then his men would have killed all the young girls we were trying to protect. My angel, Anya,” he reminisced for a moment before yanking out a chair and taking a seat. “We sat and waited. No one took much notice of us. People came through all the time. It was early morning by the time Vihaan and the buyer shook hands and left. Anya and I swiftly followed. They walked toward the edge of town. I could see Vihaan’s men holding torches. The girls were shackled together and shivering. We got as close as we could without alerting them,” he said acting out such. “Vihaan un-shackled four girls and tied them together with rope. The buyer was waiting. I looked at Anya. She had fire in her eyes, glowing like a cat’s in the night. I knew that look. She pulled out her gun and I did the same. She zigzagged away from me to flank the bastards. Before they even registered what happened, two of them were dead. The girls screamed as their captors fell to the ground in pools of blood. The buyer grabbed them while Vihaan pulled out a sword. I’d always been a fan of hand to hand combat, so I pulled out my own,” Sasha said, grabbing his umbrella. “Anya went for the buyer, wrestling with him for the girls. I fought Vihaan with every ounce of my strength. The clashing swords sent sparks into the night. He leered at me while he fought. ‘You’re from the tavern’, he growled. I didn’t respond, too focused on our battle. I jabbed at him, he dodged and parried. This town was mountainous, so we were climbing over boulders, trying not to be sliced open in the cold air. With the luck of Heaven, I pushed Vihaan down and disarmed him. That was when I felt the pain,” he said, staggering back into a table and knocking it over. “I put my hand to my chest and saw blood. It was pouring out of me. The bullet had gone straight through,” he said, unbuttoning his shirt to reveal a dark brown scar. “I only had time to turn around to see my killer, who held a smoking gun, before I passed out,” Sasha fell to the floor and closed his eyes. Everyone looked at one another, startled. “Then,” Sasha’s eyes popped open, “the next thing I knew I’m in a tent in the middle of a mountain pasture. Anya had beaten those the rest of them all by herself and the only injury she gained was a slice on the cheek. I demanded to know what happened, but like the Russian woman she is, she demanded that I relax. I asked what happened to the girls. She said they were in the next tent over. She had telegrammed one of her trusted contacts to come retrieve them and take them safely home. I was bedridden for three weeks. It’s a good thing Anya trained under a doctor for so many years. I always told her, she was my angel. I would have died that night without her.” Sasha climbed back onto his stool. He pulled his fourth beer towards him and drained it. His eyes glistened a little. David looked in dismay at what Sasha had created in almost ten minutes. The center of his pub was a mess, with chairs and tables overturned. Sasha still wore the stranger’s scarf around his head, and people were starting to applaud. David needed a drink. Sasha moved from his 4th drink to his 5th, and once the couple realized they would get no more out of Sasha, they left. Slowly, as night lagged into morning, everyone was gone except for Sasha. David would’ve pulled his drinks back, but Sasha spent the rest of his time caressing the last few drops of his 5th, whil staring into space. He finished washing the last glass and went to try and jog Sasha out of his stupor. “Sasha,” he tried. He came around the corner and gave the old man a gentle shake. “Sasha,” he tried again. The old bugger was asleep. David sighed and shook him a little harder. “Sasha!” David said louder. Sasha moaned a little. “я проснулся. I’m awake,” he said, in a heavy Russian accent. “I’m taking you home,” said David. He turned the lights off and pulled one of Sasha’s arms over his shoulders. Sasha put his weight on David and they wobbled out of the pub. As David locked the door, he realized he didn’t know where Sasha lived. He thought about what he normally did with drunks, dropped them off at the nearest police station. But he couldn’t do that to Sasha. It wasn’t like he was dangerous. He could sleep on the couch. David walked the three blocks to his apartment, Sasha leaning on one side. He opened the door, feeling great relief to be home, and gently placed Sasha on the couch. Sasha stirred a little as David threw a blanket over him. “Goodnight my darling Anya,” said Sasha. Later that night, David lay in bed, wide awake. He kept mulling over Sasha’s story. It’s possible that Sasha worked in the Himalayas, but did he really fight off an entire gang all on his own? Tonight, with the scar, it made David wonder. That wasn’t natural for Sasha, but granted, this was the first story where he’d really talked about Anya. He’d mentioned her name before, but never a story that included her The more he thought about it, the more he realized how little he knew about Sasha. For a man that came into his pub every night of the week, they never talked about what was happening now. It was always some story in a far off place, from years ago. It was quite possible David was the closest “friend” Sasha had, and he never asked about his current life. Just as his eyelids were beginning to shut, David made the decision that it didn’t matter if Sasha’s stories were one hundred percent true, he gave people entertainment and happiness and that was the important bit, wasn’t it?