John Ferguson, long and lean and sharp, is perched on a stool in a New York City drugstore, his shoulders hunched over the counter. His face, fleshless and dominated by a beaklike nose, is pointed down at his hands, which are moving back and forth across the Formica counter. He has curved his long, thin fingers so that each hand is shaped like a talon, and now, slowly, he brings the hands together until the fingertips touch and then withdraws them. He repeats the process time after time while the fat man standing beside him fidgets and stares at the moving hands. The fat man has a pink, anxious face, and he is clutching a piece of paper in his right hand, which he keeps out of sight.
"You get better looking every year, my friend," says Ferguson softly, looking at his hands. "For 10 years he's been asking for my autograph. He must have it 50 times already. Huh, friend? How many times can you ask for the same autograph?"
The man says nothing. He smiles or winces, it is hard to tell which. He takes the paper from behind his back and places it with a pencil in front of Ferguson.
"Please, Fergy!" the man says. "Make it out to Big Sheldon."
"Big Sheldon," says Ferguson, looking at the paper. "His name is Big Sheldon. Last year he said he was a minister. Tell me, Big Sheldon who gets better looking every year, what kind of a minister has a name like that?"
The man smiles again, or winces, and Ferguson signs the paper. The man snatches up the paper and takes a deep breath.
"What do you do with all my autographs, huh, Big Sheldon who gets better looking every year? Do you swap three of them for one Bobby Orr?"
"No," says the man as he moves backward toward the door. "I swap five of them for a ticket," and he is out the door and gone.
"I see," says John Ferguson, very softly. "I see."
A few minutes later, gesturing toward the door through which Big Sheldon has departed, Ferguson says, "All the fans love me. When I retired last year I received thousands of letters from fans in every town in the league, all asking me to come back. I am the villain who makes the game interesting, they said. Without me they would have no one to hate. So I came back." Ferguson laughs at the thought. It is a mirthless laugh, just a breath really, and his thin lips twist up into his cheek, forcing his left eye to blink.