By Ralph E. Moore, Jr.,
Special to the AFRO

We stepped off the train in Manhattan, N.Y. as if we owned the town, but neither Erich, Chris or I had any idea where we were going.  We were in New York to find our classmate and friend, Vic Thomas.  He had a way of wandering off like that, his mother told us, when she called.  

“That damn boy has wandered off again. Probably to New York. Swears he wants to be an actor.  Does he look like Harry Belafonte to you? He thinks he does!” said his mother. 

“Anyway, can you and Erich and Chris go up to find him?  I think he’s up there somewhere. 

He’s been gone six weeks, no calls, no letters to me, no nothin’,” she continued. “Find him for me please and bring him home. Call me!” 

Then she hung up. She was one of those people. In the relationship with her, you always worked– for free, forever.  

Once I called Erich and Chris, they agreed right away to join me in the search. For some strange reason, we took a train.

We wandered around New York’s Penn Station for a few minutes. Erich got one of Nathan’s famous hot dogs with everything, Chris bought a book and a Coke and I picked up a couple of candy bars. 

“What are you eating?,” Erich asked me as if he had made a healthy choice. “Candy, the food of the gods,” I said, somewhat sarcastically. “Let’s get started looking for Vic. I have his old address down on the Lower East Side—Tenth and Avenue C.  It’s a start  and it’s the last address I have for him.”

What an unlikely set of detectives we were: I was the tall, skinny, street smart and be-speckled one with an oversized Afro, who was always going for the laugh. Chris was tall, fair complexioned, athletic looking and would be going to Harvard University in the fall—he was the bookworm and he had a certain easy charm about himself. Erich was kinda stocky and kinda the coolest: a convertible car, a longtime girlfriend (two years) and a well-paying summer job.  

He and I would be going to Johns Hopkins University in the fall. We were all high school classmates, including Vic. But with all we thought we had going for us, we couldn’t find a needle in a needle factory or a record store. However,  we hoped it would be exciting or at least fun trying.

We left the station and grabbed a gypsy cab. I sat up front and Erich and Chris took the back seats. Erich, through the first bites of his hotdog, asked, “Where are we going?” 

“I told the driver to take us to the Lower East Side, remember?” I said. 

“What’s the ride going to cost us?” Chris asked. “I have to keep track of my expenses. I might be able to use this in a course when I get up to Harvard.”

I began to wonder if I would have been better off doing this search by myself. At the next red light I considered hopping out of the cab and walking away forever– but my suitcase was in the trunk of the taxi-cab. Maybe we were all just a little tired from the train ride up from Baltimore.  I decided to cut my fellow sleuths a break and hang in there. 

Suddenly, Erich started screaming, “Stop the cab! Stop! Now! There’s Vic! ”  We could only see the back of the guy but he had that distinctive gourd shaped head, baggy clothes and that walk of his. He was listening to his transistor radio. 

Chris, the runner among us, reached him first, tapping him on the shoulder from behind, “Vic, we’ve been looking for…” Just then a startled 40-something-year-old Hispanic man yanked his ear phone from his ear and asked, “Que pasa?” 

“Oh!” we all said, stopping in our tracks.

At least we were in the right neighborhood.  The Lower East Side was a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood.  Why Victor Thomas chose to live there was beyond me… “Sorry”, I said. “We thought you were someone else.” 

To be continued…

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