Chapter 31 ~ Gloria Tells of Her Betrayal

Chapter 31 ~ Gloria Tells of Her Betrayal

Gloria pointed her forefinger toward Sam. She said, “I knew Sam would be the tough one to convince when you walked in. You get a sense of these things after a while. You learn to pay attention to the different cues potential customers signal without knowing it.”

“How did you know we were searching for someone?” asked Joe thinking Gloria’s fingers were the longest he’d ever seen on a woman. If only she’d lose the purple nail polish.

“Isn’t everyone searching for someone or something?” she said.

“I guess,” said Joe. “Do you mind telling me about Joe Ritchie?”

Gloria tensed. Her purple fingernails disappeared inside of fists. She released her right fist and grasped hold of her left wrist squeezing it as if it were a pump and she were choke it. She waited, her mouth clenched tight. When she spoke, at first she offered her words grudgingly, then they flowed like honey on hot summer’s day, “I loved him. I really loved him. I’m not sure what it was about him I loved, but I loved him. Maybe it was his eyes.”

She stared at Joe, “You have the same dark and deep brown eyes Joe has. He’d look at me with his eyes, they had an impish sparkle and shined almost like a diamond. He’d touch my arm or face in a certain way and I’d forget why I was mad at him. I’d say we were together more or less ten years, but that wouldn’t be right. I was faithful to him most of the ten years. What was I supposed to do when he took off for weeks without saying anything. But, the fool I was, let him back. I doubt he was faithful to me for ten days. It didn’t bother me. I said to my girlfriends, ‘Joe is Joe and he’ll always end up with me.’ I believed it. You know what it’s like to realize you wasted ten years you can never get back?”

Joe shook his head. 

Sam scratched the tip of his nose with his thumb. He said, “It didn’t bother you? Why? I don’t know any woman who’d let it go.”

Gloria laughed, “We played small places. Sometimes we’d connect with a name performer coming through and be the warmup. It didn’t matter where we played, the women who came, age didn’t matter, fell in love with him. I was naive. When he got tossed in county in Hannibal, I decided to take off with Danny. That’s my life story going from one loser to another. I’m a smart woman, why am I stupid when it comes to guys?”

Joe shrugged. 

“Tell me about it,” said Sam. “I’m the male version of you.” He laughed at his humor.

Gloria gave a half hearted smile. She said, “I wouldn’t call Danny and me lovers, but we were together if you know what I mean. We made our way to Denver and into Boulder. Joe called me and told me about Max’s songs. He gave me a song and dance it was really his stuff and we’d take it over the top. Two days later he showed up. I left Danny and went back with Joe. That’s when everything changed.” 

“What happened?” asked Joe.

“Joe and I were together for month. We’re playing clubs in Lyons, Estes Park, and Louisville, and here in Boulder. We’re making enough to get by. Joe wanted to go to Vegas. That’s all he talked about. We agreed we’d go after the tourist season. It was August 14, a Tuesday. My period was late. I went to the drugstore and got a pregnancy tester kit. An hour later, the kit confirms what I suspect. I was really happy. I decided to wait until the morning to tell him, let him get a good night’s sleep. I made him his favorite breakfast, steak and eggs and hash browns. You’d think he’d be happy. When I told him. He screamed at me. He blamed me for getting pregnant. He told me to have an abortion. He said he had a couple of kids and he didn’t need anymore in his life.”

“What did he do?” asked Sam.

“The son of a bitch told me he’d leave me if I had the child. He had a violent temper. You never knew what might set him off. Most of the time he kept it under control. I saw him nearly kill a drunk who was hitting on me at a club where we were playing. He was fortunate he wasn’t arrested on that one. I told him I was going to have the child. I thought it would bring us together. He threw his coffee cup against the wall, splattering coffee and glass everyplace, He took his arm and swept all the breakfast dishes and food off of the table onto the floor. Then he walked out the door. I sat at the table staring at the door, then the floor with the steak and eggs and hash browns all over the kitchen. I was unable to move. I don’t know if I was frightened or numb, or in a state of disbelief of what happened.”

A silence so deep enveloped the room. The room became a deep cavern where no life or light exists. Even the traffic sounds of the highway disappeared. Joe and Sam had no idea what to say. Gloria’s face and eyes recoiled with vivid images becoming as real to her as the day it happened. 

The silence lingered until Gloria spread her long fingers out on the table, palms down, and said, “Two hours later, he came back with Starbucks coffee and bagels from a bagel shop we liked. He strolled in as if nothing happened. It was his way. He found me in the bedroom lying on the bed. I remember being curled in fetal position. He laid down next to me and put his arm around me. I stiffened. He started singing this little song of his in my ear and I felt the tension slowly leave my muscles. I promised myself when he left it was over. My promise lasted two hours. What a fool. I don’t know a bigger fool than me ever lived.”

Sam interrupted, “I’ve been around, you’ve got a long way to go before you make the top ten big fool list. There’s a waiting list.”

Gloria smiled, “Thank you, Sam. I have bottles of water in the closet over there, do you mind getting us three?”

“No problemo,” said Sam. He pushed out of his chair and walked to the closest. A case of water sat on top of a large tub of kitty litter. The shelves in the closest were filled with candles, incense sticks, herbs, rocks, and metals. He picked up three bottles of water and carried them to the table. He handed on to Joe. He set one down in front of him and he opened the third bottle and handed it to Gloria.”

Gloria smiled and took a sip. She said, “Next thing that happened, we were making love like nothing happened. You all know about makeup sex. Afterward, I thought it was all okay. Joe even took me out to dinner. Don’t trust him. Don’t ever trust him. Just when you think he’s doing something nice, all he’s doing is gaming you. He whispers to me, and he pulls a ring out of his pocket. It looked like a real diamond. It turned out to be as fake as him. Of course I said yes. I started crying I was so happy. He said, ‘I want to start right. After our gig next week we’ll go to Vegas and get married. Please have the abortion so we can start right. I know a legal abortionist who will help us out.’ I reluctantly agreed. Two days later I had the abortion. Some abortionist. I can’t have any more children. I carry a load of guilt I can’t let go and sometimes at night I talk to the child we never had. I call her Amy. That’s what I wanted to name the baby if it was a girl.” 

Gloria’s eyes filled, she brushed her cheek and nose with her sleeve. She took another sip of water. She spoke softly yet with an angry edge to it, “Joe was truthful about one thing. He left for Vegas after the gig. Only he didn’t take me. He said he was going to get things set up. I didn’t hear from him for three months. I got involved with a guy at a club where I sang. He was the piano player. Joe showed up one night and beat the living hell out of him. The cops came and he was sent to prison. That’s when I took off with Harry Lamont. I heard Joe moved to Vegas after he got out of prison. He could move to the end of the earth for all I cared.”

Chapter 23 ~ Joe Learns of His Father’s Betrayal

Chapter 23 ~ Joe Learns of His Father’s Betrayal

Joe and Sam stopped by Max Stein’s home after they left Donna and the Riverside Grill. Joe pulled up next to the curb, looked out the window at a small square house with worn white siding, and grass badly needing a haircut. He got out of the car, Sam followed him. They walked up a five foot long sidewalk. Joe rang the doorbell. It didn’t work. He knocked on the door. A heavyset woman, with blotchy skin, answered the door, partially opening it. She stared  the through the small space proved by the security chain. 

Joe introduced himself and explained he wanted to talk to Sam. He asked if she was Sylvia, she nodded and listened politely, but shook her head no. She told Joe Max’s dementia progressively worsened and on top of that, he suffered from emphysema. Sylvia said Max was sleeping and he usually slept most of the time. Joe asked if Max ever spoke about Joe Ritchie. Anger flashed across her face at the sound of Joe Ritchie’s name. She undid the chain latch and invited Joe and Sam inside cautioning them to speak softly. She led them into the living room. 

The smell of cooked cabbage, smoke, and  mildew filled the air causing Joe to stifle a gag reflex. Sam followed Joe and they sat down on a worn, stained, sofa. The coffee table in front of the sofa held an ash tray overflowing with cigarette butts, and three empty beer bottles. Sylvia plopped down in a worn E Z boy chair across from them.

“I don’t have much time. I got to be to work at Hardees by 8. I work the drive through window until midnight. It’s not much, but it’s something. I don’t suppose either one of you got a smoke?”

“No, ma’am,” said Joe.

“I gave it up ten years ago,” said Sam.  

“I can’t live without them. I don’t know what anybody told you, but I’ll tell you one thing, Joe Ritchie is dirty rotten son of a bitch,” said Sylvia sticking a thumb into the roof of her mouth and adjusting an upper plate.

Joe said, “I thought he helped Max when Max had cancer?”

“Hah!” Sylvia slapped her leg. “He helped him out okay. What he was really doing was helping his self out. That’s what he was doing. In his prime, Max was a genius. All he needed was a break. You ask anybody who heard him, he was as good a drummer as ever lived. Anybody tell you Max started playing drums when he was five? He never had a lesson. He picked it up all by his self. He could fill in on any song anyone played. You didn’t have to tell him the music. He was that good. He was even better as a song writer. The tramp Gloria, who slept with any man she thought might help her get ahead, convinced Joe Ritchie to steal Max’s music and make it his own.”

“How do you know this?” asked Joe.

“I don’t have it first hand, but I know this for a fact. I know this because I was always there. He’d come in and see how Max was doing. Not all time, but occasionally he’d give me ten bucks toward Max’s health costs. Ten bucks don’t go far. It paid for a few packs of cigarettes that’s all. Anyway, every time Joe comes in the room when I was there, Joe starts talking about music. This always got Max’s interest. He was always asking Max about the songs he wrote. He said Gloria went on the road with Danny whatever his last name was while he was in county. He said Gloria needed new music and the Flamingos were going to get back together when Max was better. I knew this was a bunch of horse manure but I didn’t want to say anything to upset Max. When Max came home, Joe Ritchie kept coming and the next thing I know he stops coming. I asked Max about it. Max told me he gave Joe Ritchie all his original music. That was the only time Max and I ever fought. Joe Ritchie stole every piece of music Max ever writ. A year later, Max is listening to a station and he hears one of his songs. He starts swearing and beating his fist. He’s screaming, ‘It’s on the charts. That’s my song.'”

“Did Joe Ritchie perform the song?” asked Joe.

“Hell no. He can’t sing worth a damn. It was one of the big country singers. It could have been Garth or George or Tracy. I don’t remember. But it broke Max’s heart and he’s never been same.”

“Do you remember the name of the song?” asked Sam.

Joe glanced at Sam and wondered why he hadn’t thought of that question. 

Sylvia said, “I’ll never forget it. It was called “Fallen Angel. But the hit was called “Falling Star.” All the words was the same so was the music according to Max. He should know, he wrote it. We even went to a lawyer. The lawyer asked if we had a copy of the music. How could we, the excuse for a man who’s lower than whale crap and that’s at the bottom of sea, took it. Anyway, I got to leave and that means you two can get out of here. You don’t have twenty you can spot me? I’ll pay you back when you pass through town again.”

Sam gave Joe a look. Joe stood, thanked Sylvia for talking to him. He reached into his back pants pocket and pulled out his wallet. He took out a twenty and handed it to Sylvia. She tucked the twenty in her bra and walked Joe and Sam to the door.

The next morning Joe and Max were on the road, coffee in the cup holders. Joe had a breakfast wrap from Starbucks to go with his coffee. Max had a breakfast sandwich and coffee from MacDonalds. They headed back toward Hannibal and across Route 36 to Cameron, Missouri where they’d pick up I-35 to Wichita.

Sam took a sip of his coffee and said, “Who do you believe, Joe? Their stories are as different as night and day.”

Joe shook his head, “Who is Joe Ritchie, Sam? Is he as good as Donna said or as bad as Sylvia said. I’m more confused now than when we began. Donna wouldn’t know about the music. At least I don’t think so. It doesn’t seem like she hung out with Sylvia. If Joe Ritchie befriended Max while he was sick so he could steal his music, he’s about as low a human being as there is.”

Sam sat quietly for a while. He stared out the window as the crossed the Mississippi and went through Hannibal. Twenty minutes later, Sam spoke, “You ever hear of Ken Peterson?”

Joe’s first thought, here comes another story. Joe said, “Never heard of a Ken Peterson. Who was he?”

“You’re the sports announcer. How kin you call yourself a sports announcer and you never heard of Ken Peterson?”

“What sport did he play?” asked Joe choosing not to argue.

“I went to high school with Ken. That was when I lived in Terre Haute. I didn’t always live in a hick town like Greenville. Ken was two years ahead of me. He played centerfield for the high school team and I swear he was better than Willie Mays. Ken could hit the cover off a baseball. He got signed right out of high school by the Cubs. He played only one year of Triple A ball and the Cubs called him up. Have the woman who’s chasing after you look him up. He went to Spring training and won the starting job in centerfield. He lit it up. Everybody in Terre Haute followed what he was doing. He was going to be the next hitter after Ted Williams to hit four hundred. I know he would have made it. He was hitting four twenty two in the middle of July. He scared all the pitchers. That’s like getting a hit every other time. Then he fell apart. He stopped hitting. He was benched by the end of August. The Cubs let him go after the season.”

“What happened?” asked Joe.

“His best friend on Cubs stole his girlfriend. You may as well has stolen his life. Same thing happened to Max is the way I figure it.”

Today’s Quote by Will Smith

Throughout life people will make you mad, disrespect you and treat you bad. Let God deal with the things they do, cause hate in your heart will consume you too.

Will Smith