Chapter 27 ~ His Soul is as Black as Tar
The next morning, Joe and Sam headed toward Boulder. Joe picked up a lot more information than he expected. He felt a terrible storm building inside him. It was like one of the late spring super thunderstorms, with clouds as black as a moonless night illuminated only by angry cloud to ground flashes of streak lightening that turned the dark night into day for a second or two. His two hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles turned white; his jaw appeared to chiseled into place, incapable of movement or speech.
They’d been to Quincy and now to Wichita and they’d gotten no closer to finding Joe Ritchie. Ninety minutes out of Wichita, they connected to I-70 at Salina and headed west toward Denver. Boulder was a half hour’s ride northwest of Denver. The highway and land on both sides of I-70 accompany them through Kansas was as flat as a table, it gradually rose in elevation from Wichita’s 1299 feet above sea level, to the mile high city of Denver, 5280 feet above sea level.
Sam glanced over at Joe and said, “You ever been to the Rockies?”
Joe shook his head.
“You’re call yourself a sportscaster and you never been to Denver? They got all the pro teams there,” Sam pushed back.
Joe didn’t look at Sam, he said, “I’ve been in Denver a number of times. Most of it covering a sports event. I went to a sportscasters convention there two years ago. You been there?”
Sam said, “I’ve been here, there, and everywhere in between. Of course I been there. I been to Boulder, too. I don’t spose you been to Boulder. You probably hung out at the sports bars with all your buddies. You shudda taken the thirty minute ride to Boulder. It is a beautiful place. You wait and see, you’ll fall in love with it at first sight. Did you know Father Tim liked the way I fixed the dishwasher before we left? He asked me if I want the maintenance man’s job there. That was nice of him offering me the job. I like Rosa. I wonder if she’s got someone. Whoever he is, he’s got to be the luckiest man on the planet.”
“I’ll turn around and take you back,” said Joe.
“What’s eating you? I do something that’s making you act like a hungry bobcat?” asked Sam.
Joe half glanced at Sam, “It’s not you. Every place we’ve stopped I find out Joe Ritchie left a trail of pain. I was thinking about that, you’re fine, Sam. I think Father Tim’s a good judge of character. You didn’t take it, because you’re sitting here with me. Why not?”
“I’m a man on a mission. I’m sposed to take care of you and keep you straight. If I deviate, I have to answer to my boss. I mean the big boss. What do you think of having a sister?”
“I don’t know her. She’s only a half sister anyway. She not my family,” said Joe.
“She’s half more family than you got at the present moment. I ever tell you about Riley Turner?”
Joe stared out across the wide Kansas prairie. The wheat fields were all harvested and he could see to the edge of the earth on either side of the road without seeing a human being, tree or a house. He didn’t say anything.
“I’ll take your silence for an affirmative answer.” Sam said, “Riley Turner got a head as thick as yours. Only difference between you and Riley Turner is you’re alive and Riley Turner is dead. Riley and I was friends. I won’t say we was good friends, but I was Riley’s only friend up to a point. He was one of those foster children. He got moved around from house to house because of his bad mouth and attitude. Riley was an auto mechanic, a damned good one too. He could fix a car just by looking at it. He joined the army and two month’s later the army sent his sorry ass home. They said he was unfit to serve. He couldn’t get along with anybody. He couldn’t follow orders. He came home and fixed cars. Folks took their cars to him and put up with with his crabby ass attitude because he fixed their cars and fixed them good.
“Where’s this story going, Sam. I don’t see any point to it,” said Joe.
Sam went on as if he hadn’t heard Joe. “Riley’s life changed the day he fixed Marcia Macon’s Ford. He fell in love with her at first sight. After he met her, he cleaned his nails, washed the grime and grease out of his knuckles, and got a haircut and started taking her out. Marcia fell in love with him, too. They were going with each other for two months before they moved in together. Even Riley’s customers noticed the difference in how he spoke to them. For the first time in his life, Riley Turner felt loved. As time went on, Marcia wanted to get married. Riley liked things the way they were. Marcia said she was leaving if they didn’t start planning a wedding. Riley, in a fit of anger went back to the old Riley everybody disliked and let Marcia have it. Marcia left Riley standing at his doorway. He was stilling yelling at her when she packed her car and drove off. He went back to being Riley. Marcia, by the way, met a nice guy a month later and the next year they were married. Riley, for his part, starting being weird, never going out. Six months later, he was found dead of a heart attack on the floor of his garage. He’d been there for a week and it was only the stink from his decaying body that caused someone to call the cops to investigate. The point being, Riley had a chance for family and blew it. He didn’t see Marcia as a gift. He took the gift and threw it away. You’ve already thrown away Marie. Now, you’re throwing away Graciaella. Remind me not to give you a Christmas gift, you’ll only toss it out the window when I ain’t looking.”
The silence that filled the BMW was like the silence heard in a perfect vacuum. There were two bodies with eyes frozen on the road ahead as they passed through miles and miles of flat prairie home only to deer, fox, rabbits, and coyotes.
It wasn’t until they entered Hayes did Sam speak, “There’s a Starbucks at this Exit. We both need a cup of coffee and a bathroom break. I apologize for the last part of what I said. I had no right to say that. The first part, the story about Riley Turner and the lesson from his life stands.”
Joe gave a right turn signal and slowed down preparing to take the exit. When he came to the stop light at the end of the exit ramp he said, “Apology accepted, Sam. I’m confused. I thought I knew what I was doing when I started searching for Joe Ritchie. That’s part of it. I can’t find it in me to refer to him as my father or dad or pop. He’s a man whose DNA I have by the accident of birth. The more we hear about him, the more I believe his soul is as black as tar. He has no redeeming qualities. There is nothing good about him.”
“Why don’t you turn around and go back to Marie?” asked Sam.
“I don’t know. It’s driving me crazy. I can’t let it go. I want to see him face to face and tell him about the people he hurt.”
“Your mom and Rosa saw something in him besides his good looks. I don’t believe after what you told me about your mom and what I seen in Rosa that their eyesight is so bad they can’t spot a bit of good. Maybe they both thought they could work with that good and make a man out of him.”
Joe didn’t answer. He crossed over I-70 and turned into the gasoline plaza. He pulled next to a pump in front of a long green building. He saw the Starbucks logo at the far right end of the building.
Sam got out of the BMW, turned toward Joe and said, “I’m not as young as you, I’m heading to the restroom, pronto.”