Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.
St. Catherine of Siena
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
Chapter 41 ~ Joe & Jody Meet
Joe and Sam waited in the baggage claim area near the bottom of the escalators at McCarran Airport. Limo drivers, searching the faces of arriving passengers, were holding iPads up with last names on them. Arriving passengers riding the descending escalators wore a similar look. Their faces glowed with the hope of a five year old child staring at the presents under the Christmas tree. Their eyes sparkled with anticipation.
Sam punched Joe on bicep, “There’s a good looking gal at the top of the escalator waving her arm like crazy. The one with the ball cap. Is that Jody?”
Joe forced a smile and waved, “Yes, and what did I tell you about hitting my arm?”
“Opps. She’s cuter than the first rose of springtime. All I kin see is her head, if the rest of her is as nice as her face, you got a winner.”
“Her blonde hair isn’t natural. I’m not sure about anything else, either.”
“My, my you can’t enjoy a woman who got all prettied up for you. You really need help, Joe. When we’re done with Joe Ritchie, maybe the Lord will direct me to lead you back to the world where a man kin look at a girl like that and fall head over heels in love.”
“Did you fall in love with her?” asked Joe watching Jody beaming at him as the escalator neared bottom.
“The first second I seen her. You’re already pre warned, pretty woman are naturally attracted to me.”
Joe took a quick glance at bowlegged, ruddy skinned, shaggy-haired, man. He admitted to himself Sam had a rugged look about him. He had the look of a man who could handle himself if need be and liked the outdoors. He tried to gauge his age. Joe hadn’t asked him how old he was. When they first met, Joe thought Sam was in his late sixties. Now, he wasn’t so sure. He was one of those guys that stopped aging. He shook the thought from his mind and stood off to the side of the descending escalator.
“Jody, welcome to beautiful Las Vegas. How was the trip?” asked Joe forcing a smile.
Jody stepped off the escalator, stepped to the side with her traveling suitcase behind her, She carried her backpack on her shoulders. She let go of the suitcase and threw her arms around Joe.
Sam stood back and smiled thinking, Joe, you got no chance, you might as well surrender. Look how she fit in those jeans. Perfect. Not to tight, just right, really just right. Oh my, oh my.
Jody stepped back and placed a hand on each of Joe’s shoulders, “You’ve only been gone two weeks and it seems like two years. It is good to see you, Joe. I really mean it. It is good to see you.”
Jody turned slightly to the right and caught Sam’s grin. Sam stuck out his hand, “I’m Sam. Joe’d be lost without me.” Sam laughed.
Jody started laughing an stuck out her hand, “Good to meet you, Sam. He needs somebody to take care of him. I’m happy he found you.”
Sam said, “Joe tried to describe you so’s I’d recognize you, but he didn’t do you justice. You’re prettier than the Rockies when the Aspen are all turning color. Let me carry your backpack and tug your suitcase for you.”
Jody squeezed Sam’s arm, “You are so sweet, Sam.”
Joe looked off in the distance and seemed to be asking, “Why me? Why me?”
Sam stepped to the side and let Jody pair up with Joe. He followed them as they walked to the short term parking garage. Jody started talking about the station’s rating being pulled down because Joe left. They caught up on station gossip and sports news coming out of Ohio State University.
When they packed Jody’s gear in the trunk, Sam held the passenger side door open for Jody. She thanked him and kissed him on the cheek. Sam slid in the rear seat. Joe said, “It’s too early for you to check in. You can freshen up in our room if you like then we can go for breakfast. Will that work?”
From the back seat, “Jody don’t need to freshen up. Open your eyes, Joe. She’s prettier than a sunrise on a perfect July morning.”
Jody half turned toward the backseat, “Are there anymore like you, Sam?”
“Fraid not, I’m an original, one of a kind. The good Lord threw away the mold when he made me.”
Jody turned and faced Joe. She put her hand on his shoulder, “Joe. We need to talk. The sooner the better. Is there a breakfast place nearby? I’m starving. I had a cup of coffee at the airport. I slept most of the way here.”
Sam chirped from the backseat, “Joe, let’s go to the pancake place near the Residence Inn. This time of day it’ll be a full menu.”
“Sounds perfect. I love pancakes,” Jody said. “Seriously, Joe. We need to talk. I don’t want to tell you the story now, but I’ll give you a teaser like we do on the six o’clock news and sports to get people to watch at eleven.”
Joe tilted his head at bit toward Jody as he turned onto Sunset Drive, “A teaser? What kind of teaser?”
“The reason I couldn’t find anything about Joe Ritchie for the past five years is because he changed his name. I was searching under marriage records. I was searching under criminal records. I searched under deaths and driver’s licenses. I didn’t think of checking beyond that.”
“What’s his name?” asked Joe.
“He changed it from Joe Ritchie to Joe Rich,” said Jody. “I’ve got a story for you, but I’m going to make peace with my appetite first.”
Chapter 40 ~ You Can Learn a Lot by Playing Poker
Joe exited at Anvil Road, took a left, crossed the overpass and turned onto the entrance ramp to I-40 west. Sam said, “This is the text I’m sending Jody, Great news. Text info on flight. I’ll pick you up at McCarran. You’re the best, Joe
“I didn’t say she was the best. Don’t send it. You know what she’ll think. You didn’t mention you. I don’t want to pick her up. I’m playing into her hand,” said Joe.
Sam smiled and touched send.
“What did you do that for? I wanted to say something different,” argued Joe.
“Opps,” said Sam with the kind of grin a child gives when they’re caught sneaking a piece of candy.
“I should take you to McCarran, buy you a ticket to anywhere and leave,” said Joe.
Sam started chuckling. When he stopped, he said, “You play poker with your buddies?”
“I bet you lose most of the time,” said Sam.
Joe thought back to the last time he played poker with Tony and a couple of his other buddies. It was always Thursday night, girls night out. Marie was off with her friends until eleven. The last time he played, he lost a hundred dollars. The time before, he lost seventy-five dollars. The time before he won ten dollars.
“Not all the time,” Joe said defensively.
“I’d like to have you in the poker game they hold at Catfish Coolege’s house. Having you in the game be like picking blackberries in August. I’d have enough to fill my belly and fill my bucket,” said Sam.
Joe didn’t want to hear any story about Catfish Coolege. He said, “What’s your point?
“Watch your speed. They catch speeders by aircraft. I heard a trucker say some states are using drones to catch speeders.”
“What’s the point about poker,” Joe frowned.
“Funny thing how Catfish got his nickname. You’d think it was because he liked catfish. Fact is, he hates catfish. He don’t fish and he won’t eat fish. It’s his wife that loved catfish. She made it every Friday. She told him he can learn to eat it or go hungry. Catfish said, he wasn’t gonna eat catfish and he’d go out and have a burger and beer with his buddies on Fridays. His wife claimed this was abandonment and sued for divorce. He was okay with the divorce because he learned she was having an affair with Jimbo Guthrie who runs the all you can eat Friday night fish dinner at Guthrie’s Restaurant.”
“What’s the point?” Joe begged.
“I’m getting there. When you’re playing poker you got to know the basic strategies and odds. That all makes sense. What lots of people who play poker don’t realize is that you’re really reading people. The better you can read people, the better your chances of winning. Granted you have to have the right hand. This is my point. Jody’s holding a pat hand. She’s pretty sure what she has in her hand is a winner. You got nothing. You’re only chance of winning is to bluff your way through. Jody knows you got nothing. She knows she holds all the winning cards. You gonna throw away your money by calling her bet or you gonna fold your cards and move on to the next hand?”
Joe raised his eyes up looking for a comeback but he knew Sam was right. He didn’t want to tell him he was right. He said, “Okay, I’ll fold my hand. You feel better?”
“It’s not about how I feel. I’m not looking for my father. I’m here to help you out. Recall the movie The Blues Brothers?”
“Just like the Blues Brothers, I’m on a mission from God,” said Sam.
“If you’re on a mission from God, how is this thing going to end,” contended Joe.
Sam reached for the bag of pretzels. He said, “When we get to Kingman, let’s stop and get a refill, these are really, really good. Now, for your question. How do you want it to end?”
“I’m looking for an answer, Sam. I’m not looking for another question.” Joe said, “A part of me only want to see him physically, not talk to him. I want to see what he looks like. Another part of me wants to get in his face and say, ‘I’m the son you never thought enough about to see.” I’d like to hit him as hard as I can for what he did to mom. I wouldn’t shed a tear for him if he was in line at a soup kitchen. That answer your question?”
“Too bad we don’t have a punching bag for you to hit. You got a lot of anger you’re holding on to. You sure you don’t want a pretzel?”
“Can you blame me for being angry? How would you feel if you were in my shoes? Look what we’ve learned about him. He cheated Max out of his music. He robbed Gloria of ten years of her life. What about Rosa and his daughter? Monica? She hasn’t hit bottom. How many did we miss? What do you say to all that?”
Sam finished chewing a pretzel, then took the bag and tipped it upside down into his mouth catching all the pretzel crumbs. He took a sip of his soda and said, “Two things come to mind. You ever hear of Willie Wilson?”
“Here we go again, Sam. Whenever you get stumped for an answer you start telling me a story about some guy you knew and try to teach me a life’s lesson. I don’t even know if these people are real. For all I know you’re a natural storyteller and you like pulling my chain. You like getting a rise out me so you can show me where I was wrong and where you are right.”
Sam didn’t answer. The miles passed one after the other. A half hour later a sign on the right read, Kingman 30 Miles. Sam punched Joe on the bicep.
“Ouch. I have black and blues on my arm where you whack me. What is it you don’t understand about me not wanting you to hit me on my arm to get my attention?”
Sam said, “You telling me you don’t want to learn from Willie Wilson’s experience? If you don’t want to hear it, I won’t tell you. It’s up to you. No skin off my back. Intelligent folks learn more from watching other people and listening to other people than by reading a book. A book gives you one kind of knowledge. It may or may not be useful. It’s like reading a recipe. My grandma baked the best chocolate chips know to mankind. Everybody wanted her recipe. My grandma was the kindest woman I ever known, she’d write out the recipe in long hand, there was no computers then. Truth is, even though the recipe was exactly the same one she used, she was the only one winning blue ribbon after blue ribbon at the county fair for her chocolate chip cookies. Her extra ingredient was love. She put lots of love into baking them. See, everybody was interested in the ingredients. Nobody wanted to watch her make her cookies.”
Joe turned a slightly apologetic look toward Sam, “I apologize for unloading on you, Sam.”
“I don’t remember anything, Joe. After we stop in Kingman, I’ll tell you about Willie Wilson.”
“I’d like that, Sam. I’d really like that.”
Chapter 30 ~ The Psychic Bares Her Soul
Madam Li Pul looked past Sam and said, “I am not Gloria. What do you want? Please leave me alone.” Her body sagged as if the air had been let out of her. Her eyes sharpened, It was as if she were looking for a way to flee or fight and not able to decide.
Joe tugged on Sam’s shirt sleeve, “Let’s go, Sam. It’s not Gloria. Leave her alone.”
Sam stood his ground. “I kin spot a game a mile away. Your feel sorry for me look is not gonna change my mind. You’re Gloria Fallon. You kin call the cops and have me arrested for trespass, I don’t care. I got a mission to help this poor fool out and your lying isn’t helping me.”
Joe said, “Sam, I’m leaving. You’re on your own.”
“Leave then. I’m staying until Gloria tells me the truth,” Sam said in a low growling tone that sounded like an angry dog.
“I’m going to call the police. You’re forcing my hand,” said Madam Li Pul.
“Go ahead and call them and I’ll tell them you been defrauding people by saying your Madam Li Pul. I bet they’ll close you up tighter than a clam shell.”
Joe’s hand was on the door nob when he heard Madam Li Pul say, “I’m not Gloria. I don’t want trouble. Come in back and we’ll talk. Turn the open sign around.” Joe saw a metal sign hanging from a wire. The sign said closed. He flipped it around so the word OPEN faced him. The closed sign swayed back and forth coming to a rest against the door window.
Madam Li Pul swept the beaded curtain aside and walked through. Sam followed her and Joe followed Sam. The room was lit by one candle sitting in a six-inch tall purple glass cylinder in the center of round table. It gave off a fragrance of lavender. The candle’s flame flicked brightly causing shadows to dance on the walls. Four wooden chairs, each with a small purple cushion surrounded the table. A small cot pressed against the wall. On top of the cot was a well fed tabby. The tabby opened it eyes, glanced at Joe and Sam and then Madam Li Pul, then closed its eyes and went to sleep. A small refrigerator was next to the cot.
Madam Li Pul motioned Joe and Sam to sit in one of the chairs. She sat opposite them. Madam Li Pul said, “Gloria Fallon died ten years ago.”
Joe glared at Madam Li Pul. The only sound in the room was the rumbling noise from the traffic on nearby Route 36 and Baseline Road. He heard an obstinance in Madam Li Pul’s voice. Joe thought Sam figured it out. If it weren’t for Sam, they’d be on the road to Texas. He decided to sit there and let Madam Li Pul or whatever her name is make the first move.
Sam cocked his head to the side, “You used to be beautiful. Now you look like one of them zombies. You don’t have no color in your face. Your eyes look like there’s nobody home. What happened to you? I’m gonna give it to you straight, I’d say you look like hell, but you look worse than that. This whole thing you got going is a waste of your talent. I kin only think of one or two other female singers as good as you. You tossed singing away for this?” Sam swept his arm in front of him. He said, “You’re pulling on people’s feelings and making a buck to get by. It’s about the lowest form of a human being, only drug dealers are below you. Joe let’s get out of here. The stink is too much for me.” Sam pushed his chair back and stood up.
“Stop. I’m Gloria Fallon.” She looked at Joe and said, “I thought you were Joe Ritchie coming back into my life. What are you twenty-eight or nine? Look in the mirror if you want to know how Joe Ritchie looked at your age. I only hope someone taught you how to be a decent human being because Joe Ritchie never learned.”
Sam sat back in his chair. Joe and Sam fixed their eyes on Gloria. Her breasts rose and fell with the deep breaths she consumed. For a moment, she closed her eyes looking for a starting place. Her forearms rested on the table. Her clenched fists look ready to strike Joe or Sam if they came too close.
She opened her eyes and said, “I hate Joe Ritchie. I’ve never purposely hurt anyone or anything. If I find a cockroach in my apartment or this place, I trap it and carry it outside. I don’t believe in violence, but I’d make an exception for him. The death penalty is too good. He needs to suffer. Wherever he goes, he leaves a trail of pain. I was stupid I thought he was worth saving. If you want to get into the saving business, make sure there is something worth saving before you jump in with two feet. He fooled me like he fooled your mother and Max. To think, I took the songs he stole from Max. I listened to him when he told me he gave Max the ideas for the songs. It was a lie like all his other lies. If lies were bricks, he could build a brick wall a mile high and a mile wide.”
Gloria paused collecting her thoughts the way a small child collects dandelions in the spring. Joe and Sam watched. Gloria said, “I don’t know what good it will do you. I’m going to tell you my story. The only other person who knows is Harry Lamont. He’s Chief Living Waters.”
No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit. ~ Helen Keller