Chapter 45 ~ Miracles Happen

Chapter 45 ~ Miracles Happen  

Father Oscar asked Joe, Jody, and Sam to come with him to room off of the lounge area. They walked into a conference room. There were three black leather soft, living room type chairs, a similarly covered sofa, and a long coffee table in the center of the room. A Bible and a book on coping with loss sat askew on the table. Father Oscar pointed to the sofa and an adjoining chair. Sam quickly stepped toward the chair. Joe gave him a look and shook his head. Joe and Jody sat on the sofa.

Father Oscar said, “We use this room to talk with family members. It’s hard watching someone you love die. My mom and dad are still alive. My younger sister drowned ten years ago. We were close. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. I can’t count the number of men and women I’ve seen die here. I see suffering on the face of the dying. I see suffering on the face of family who feel powerless to change events. Every day I’m asked why and I don’t have an answer. The men and women who work here and volunteer to be here bring a deep sense of compassion to the dying and living. The work is so intense we schedule communal prayer sessions three times a week to support each other and pray for strength. It’s the only way we regain our strength to push on.”

Jody slid a bit closer to Joe and held his hand. Her eyes filled with tears as Father Oscar’s words triggered a memory. Father Oscar said, “You okay, Jody?”

“I’m okay, Father. I remember going to see my grandma in a hospice. She really raised me. It was hard. You’re right, you don’t get over it.”

Joe squeezed Jody’s hand. He said, “What about Ritchie? What’s his story?”

Father Oscar held Joe’s eyes for a moment, then spoke, “I met Joe a little over four years ago. It was right before I got my assignment to Sister Jean’s. It was early in the morning. I don’t remember the exact time, three or four. Brother George and I were working with the homeless in a park two blocks away from St. Rose’s Hospital. My iPhone vibrated. I answered it. Sister Joyce asked me to come to St. Rose’s Hospital to give the last rites to a man who was expected to die within the hour.  I left Brother George and ran the two blocks to the hospital. When I entered the ER room, they hurried me into a room where I saw a broken, battered body. The man’s eyes were closed and swollen, his nose literally pointing down his cheek. His lower jaw hung agape off to one side. Three doctors were working on his legs and arms. They all were broken. A doctor looked at me and said, “His name is Joe Ritchie. It was in his wallet. I made a guess he’s Catholic. We’re trying to save him. It will be a long shot if he survives. I’d put it at one hundred to one against him.”

“What did you do?” asked Joe.

“What I’m supposed to do. I walked behind the doctors and began praying over Joe. I didn’t have the oils we usually use, but I knew the prayers the church uses in administering the last rights by heart. Are you all Catholic?”

Joe nodded. Jody nodded. Sam shook his head.

“The last rites are a sacrament given to people in danger of dying where we pray for their soul. When I saw Joe, I was sure he wouldn’t be alive when the sun rose. After I administered the last rights, I left and returned to the park where Brother George was playing a guitar and had four homeless men singing with him. I wish you could meet him. He fits in wherever he is. I’ve never met anyone quite like him. He is the holiest person I’ve ever known. You’d never know it. He doesn’t wear it on his sleeve. There’s something about him that makes you know you’re in the presence of a special person. Brother George and I drove back to the Franciscan house. I told him the story. He looked at me and said, “He’s going to live.” That’s all he said. I didn’t question him. There are five of us Franciscans and two lay men who live at the house. We’ve learned not to question Brother George. Every once in a while he’ll tell us something that doesn’t make sense until it makes sense. You know what I mean?”

Sam shook his head, “I do, Father. Harry Daniels had the same gift.”

Joe gave Sam a look. Father Oscar said, “I believe you, Sam. The Spirit touches people in ways it’s hard for most of us to understand. Why someone gets the gift and others don’t is a mystery.”

Sam smiled and nodded.

Father Oscar continued, “The next afternoon, I went to St. Rose’s Hospital. I expected to hear that Joe died regardless of Brother George’s comment. I asked about Joe at the receptionist desk and was told he was in intensive care and critical not expected to survive. I went to intensive care and spoke with the nurses and the hospitalist, they all shook their heads. A week later he remained in a coma, but began to show slight signs of improvement. They moved him to the neurology unit. I started visiting him each day around three. I read to him. I told him stories. I have no idea if he heard me. I stayed a half hour then when back to my work.”

“How long was Joe in a coma?” asked Jody.

“Joe looked like a sci fi movie. Tubes were in his nose, mouth, and arms. His legs and arms were in traction. Doctor’s still needed to operate on his jaw and nose. They couldn’t because of his condition. They reset his nose the best they could. The swelling in his eyes was gone and the deep black and blue was turning yellow. He’d scare most anyone.”

“When did Joe wake up?” asked Sam.

“I know the exact day. It six weeks later on October 4th.”

“What made that day so special that you remember it?” asked Joe.

“There were two things, Joe. One, October 4th is the feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi, the founder of my order. The other thing was Brother George. We have a small chapel in our house. That’s where you will usually find Brother George if he is not out working with the homeless or drug dependent people or lost kids. I came into the chapel to pray. I sat down in the rear row. Brother George was in the front row. There were only three rows. He was kneeling in deep prayer. I sat on a chair and began to pray. Maybe it was five minutes later, maybe longer. I don’t recall. I remember Brother George saying without turning around, “Oscar, go to St. Rose’s now. Joe is going to wake up.” That’s all he said. I got up and went directly St.Rose’s hospital. I went to Joe’s room. He looked comatose to me. I held his hand and said, “Hi Joe, it’s Father Oscar. For the first time, he squeezed my hand. I started to cry. Not out loud, but I couldn’t stop the tears from running down my face. After a moment, I prayed the 23rd psalm with him. He squeezed my hand again when I finished. He wouldn’t let go of me. I stood there. Then he opened his eyes and tried to speak. He couldn’t with all the tubes in him. I smiled and told him, everything was going to be okay. He was going to live.”

“And then?” asked Joe.

“Miracles happen, Joe. Miracles happen,” said Father Oscar.

 

Tomorrow – The conclusion of Searching for Dad

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Chapter 41 ~ Joe & Jody Meet

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

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?”

“Sometimes. Why?”

“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?”

“Yah?”

“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 38 ~ A Discovery & A Decision

Chapter 38 ~ A Discovery & A Decision

Joe pulled the BMW into a Mobil station near the I-40 interchange in Kingman. Joe filled the gas tank and watched Sam amble toward the store. He hadn’t noticed Sam’s bowlegs. Joe thought Sam should have been born a cowboy. He smiled and looked down at his legs, straight as telephone poles. Joe played football, ice hockey, and baseball. He always thought the guys who were a bit bowlegged were better football and ice hockey athletes. He topped off the gas tank and walked into the station. Sam was thumbing through People Magazine. Five minutes later they were on I-40 headed east for Flagstaff a bit over two hours away, most of the ride traversed through Native American reservations and Federal government land. 

Sam was staring out the passenger side window at the landscape putting one pretzel after another into his mouth conveyer belt style.  He stopped for a moment and turned toward Joe, “You know much about Native Americans?”

Joe said, “Not much. The little I remember comes from a history class in high school or college and I’ve forgotten most of that.”

Sam said, “Most people only associate Native Americans with nicknames of sports teams like the Cleveland Indians or the Washington Redskins, or the Florida State Seminoles. Or, with casinos.”

Joe said without looking at Sam, “You’re an expert?”

My great grandaddy was a full blooded Cherokee Indian. I got some of his blood in me. When we get to Flagstaff there’s a Navajo Indian reservation, they call it the res in Tuba City, that’s north of Flagstaff. Let’s visit it. So you can git a better understanding of what it’s like to be a Native American these days. It’s not a pretty sight.”

Joe said, “Some other time, Sam. I’m headed home. I left Columbus to find Joe Ritchie. Glad I didn’t. After what I know about him I might have done something or said something I’d regret for the rest of my life.”

Sam said as casually as a dog flicks a flea off an ear. “Why are you headed home? You got no job. You got no girl. Your grandmother is living in your apartment. What I see you doing is climbing back into the womb. That’s what I see you doing. You want momma to protect you. She can’t do that anymore. You and me, we’re orphans whether we like it or not. Be careful there’s a work zone ahead. It’s gonna narrow to one lane, the left one. The speed limit is 45 miles per hour. There will be a radar trap somewhere in it, you can bet your last dollar.”

Joe shook his head and rolled his eyes. Sam had a way of talking that kind of made sense and at the same time got under Joe’s skin quicker than a doctor’s needle. Joe took his foot off the accelerator, signaled to move to the left lane and pulled behind a sixteen wheel opened bed truck carrying watermelons. Joe’s mind bounced Sam’s words back and forth as if it were a pro tennis match. His mental tennis game was still going on when Sam punched him on the bicep.

“Ouch.”

“You see that? Didn’t I tell you?” said Sam pointing at an Arizona State trooper who had three cars pulled over and was writing tickets. 

Before Joe spoke. His cell phone chirped, a text message. Sam’s left hand moved with the speed of a rattlesnake striking a mouse that wandered too close. He passed the phone from his left hand to his right hand and said, “You’re driving in a work zone. You read the signs, you hit a driver, you could do hard time. If you’re holding a cell phone, you’re gonna do hard time. This is Arizona, not Ohio where they is easy on criminals.”

“Who sent the text?” asked Joe.

Sam looked at the screen and started laughing, “Your fan club president.”

“Jody?”

“You’re starting to catch on,” Sam chuckled. He punched in Joe’s four digit passcode and opened the text. Then he read the text. When he finished, he said, “Jody says she sent the info in an email because what she had to say was too long. Which one of these things is an email?”

“The one that looks like an envelop,” said Joe.

“I got it. Isn’t that the damndest thing. I shoulda figured it was an envelop.”

Sam touched the email app and it opened up. “You got lots of emails. After I read Jody’s email, I’ll go through the rest for you and read the important ones out loud. This one must be it. It says, Jody and a funny little symbol then KCMB dot c o m.”

“That’s her, Sam. That’s her email address at the station. Touch the highlighted part and the email will open up,” said Joe. 

Sam touched the screen and began to read. His lips moved as he read to himself.

Joe glanced at him and knew it was no use hurrying Sam. After a long moment, Joe blurted, “You finished? How long is this email?”

“I’m finished. I’m finished. What’s your hurry? We’re fifty miles out of Kingman and about a hundred from Flagstaff. The next exit is thirty miles ahead.”

“Thanks for the travel update. What did Jody say?” insisted Joe.

Sam laughed, “I kin pull your chain as easy as I kin flip a switch to turn on a light. Is it this easy for everybody?”

Joe thought about Sam’s comment. There was a bit of truth to it. Marie put up with it and so did his best friend Tony DelPetri. At work, he kept his edginess under control. Once he was out of work, it flowed as easily as water out of a faucet, especially if he was in a lousy mood. 

Sam chuckled, “I’m tormenting you, Joe. Before I read the email, prepare yourself, you’re gonna have to make some decisions.”

“Decisions? What kind of decisions?” Asked Joe.

“Jody found Joe Ritchie.”

“She did? Where is he? Is he alive? What’s he doing?”

“That’s where the first decision comes to play. Once you make that decision, the second decision will answer itself.”

“What’s the decision?” demanded Joe.

“Hold on big fellow,” said Sam as if he were talking to a horse. “Let me read the email to yah.”

Chapter 37 ~ Hitting Bottom Hurts

Chapter 37 ~ Hitting Bottom Hurts

Joe drove toward the 515. Joe’s hands held onto the steering wheel as if he were afraid someone was going to take it from him. When the reached the intersection of Boulder Highway and the 515. He pulled into the left turning lane and signaled his intention to enter the 515 and head toward Phoenix.

Sam turned away from the passenger side window and said, “What’s in Phoenix?”

Joe shrugged, “I’m not going to Phoenix. We’ll catch I-40 in Kingman and head back. I’m going home. I’ve learned enough about Joe Ritchie to make me puke anytime I hear his name. He’s not worth chasing.”

Sam didn’t answer. Joe pulled onto the 515 and accelerated to 70 miles an hour, a bit over the speed limit, but enough to flow with the traffic. Outside of Henderson, the divided highway ended. A sign indicated Hoover Dam and the exit to visit the dam. Joe continued straight ahead until the road turned back into a divided highway. They crossed a large expansion bridge over a deep canyon where the Colorado flowed somewhere below them. Hoover Dam was off to their left. Cement barriers were high enough to prevent gawkers from staring at the dam and causing accidents. A sign warned drivers of dangerous cross winds.

Sam spoke, “There’s men who helped build Hoover Dam who that fell and are buried in the concrete that make up the dam. Did you know that? I learned it on cable TV.”

“That’s a myth,” said Joe.

“Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t,” said Sam. “I’ll tell you what’s not a myth. It’s this trip. It’s been hard as ice in the middle of a January deep freeze. At the same time, I think it’s been good for you. You got some answers. Maybe not the answers you want, but you got some.”

Joe ignored Sam. He said, “Where do you want to go? I’m heading to Columbus. You’re welcome to stay with me for a few days until you figure out what to do.”

Sam didn’t answer. He stared at the passing desert landscape, the mountains off in the distance, and an occasional Joshua tree. Sixty miles later, less than sixty words passed between the two, they passed a sign that read, Kingman, Arizona, 30 miles. 

Sam fished in a white plastic bad and pulled out a banana. He peeled it halfway down and held it in front of Joe, “Want a piece?”

Joe took the banana and broke off a third and handed it back to Sam, “Thanks.”

When Sam finished eating the banana he said, “You know Tony Peters?”

“Should I? Is this one of your stories where I have to learn a lesson?” said Joe.

Sam said, “How about Lyle Washington? You know him?”

“I don’t know Tony Peters or Lyle Washington. I never heard of them of them. Tell me the story. I know that’s what you’re going to do,” Joe said with a bit of chuckle.

“Tony Peters is about the smartest fellow I know. He didn’t go to college. He got kicked out in the tenth grade.”

“You mean he got expelled from school? He must have been pretty bad?” said Joe.

Sam said, “Tony got expelled because he had a short fuse. I’d say about a half inch long, which is only a bit shorter than your fuse. You look at Tony cross-eyed and he’d as soon bust you on in the nose quicker than you can sneeze. Man, he could punch.”

“He ever take you out?”

“One time, but I deserved it. I made a wisecrack about a girl he was dating. When I got up, I apologized. It was a good lesson for me.”

“Is this the lesson?”

“Listen and don’t interrupt, you might learn something.” Sam said, “About the fourth time Tony got kicked out of the school they made it was permanent. Everybody said Tony would be dead before we all graduated. He was headed that way. If there was odds on Tony ending up on a slab in morgue, it’d be two to one in his favor. Then one day, Lyle Washington is coming out of Tinkers. At the time, Lyle’s pushing fifty, maybe fifty-five, but he was in shape. Tinkers is one of those gas station that sells gas, and all kinds of stuff inside you can eat or drink. I don’t know who bumped who, but Tony and Lyle bumped. Lyle said excuse me. Tony took a step back and let a right fist fly. Lyle, he kinda twisted his body a little bit and Tony’s right fist went whooshing by. Lyle popped him two quick punches and Tony’s lying on his back on the asphalt. What happened next blew me away.”

“What was that? How did you know?” asked Joe turning slightly toward Sam.

“Keep your eyes on the road, Joe. I know because I was working the pumps. I worked the full service gas island. I pumped the gas, washed the windows, checked the fluids, and checked the tires. I saw it all happen.”

“What happened?”

“Lyle takes a step toward Tony and extends his arm to lift him up. Tony stares at him. I could see him thinking how he’s going come back at Lyle. He fooled me. He reaches out and grabs Lyle’s arm and says, ‘Will you teach me that combo?'” Lyle is the boxing coach at the boy’s club. He took Tony under his wing. Six months later Tony is fighting Golden Gloves. His whole personality changed. He lost the hair trigger. He started to have decent friends. I believe he woulda been the US Golden Gloves middleweight champ maybe gone a long way in the pros if Vietnam didn’t interfere. 

“He got drafted?”

“Hell yes. He got drafted. They sent him over there and six months later he’s home minus one leg.”

“That’s rough,” said Joe.

“That’s not all he lost when he came back. He lost his will to live. He didn’t go back to the gym. He started drinking. He was on the same road Monica is on. It got worse and worse. He was drunk all the time. His parents kicked him out. He was homeless. One day he was drunk as hell, sitting on the sidewalk outside Murray’s hardware store. He had a dirty can in front of him for change people might give him. I couldn’t stand to look at him. It was too painful.”

“What happened to him?”

“Lyle Washington happened to him,” said Sam. Lyle was jogging by with some of his boxers. He stopped. He told the guys to finish their run. He reached down with his two big black hands and grabbed hold of Tony under his armpits and lifted him up. Tony’s crutch lie on the ground next to his can. He tried to swing at Lyle. Lyle let go and let him fall. Tony began screaming at him to leave him alone. Lyle bent over and picked him up again. Tony took another weak swing at him. Lyle let him fall. This happened three more times. On the fourth time, Lyle put Tony’s right arm over his shoulder and they hobbled along until Lyle got him to the gym. Lyle had a cot in the gym. Sometimes he slept there. He laid Tony in the cot and stayed with him day and night for a month. Want to know what happened?”

“You have my attention. Yes.”

“Tony beat it with hard work, courage, and Lyle’s tough love. Lyle hired him as a custodian at the gym. Lyle’s dead now. He died of cancer four years ago. Tony runs the club. He graduated from high school, went to Indiana State and got a degree. You should see him. One time he was lower than nothing, now look at him.”

“There’s hope for everybody, right, Sam?”

“There’s hope for everybody.”

Joe half turned toward Sam, “You think we should go back and try again with Monica?”

“Tony was ready. He might have taken a couple of swings at Lyle, but he was ready. Monica’s not ready. You can see it in her eyes. She’s got the hunger. It’s eating her alive. You might as well ask this desert to turn into a crystal clear lake. It’s not going to happen. I been around a hell of lot longer than you and I know’d men and women like Monica. Not the same circumstances, but they got the addiction bug. You can’t reason with them. It hurts like hell cause you feel so powerless. She’s got to choose to get better. When she makes the choice, if death don’t claim her first, it’ll be like winning the lottery because she’ll have her Lyle Washington by her side.”

 

CHAPTER 38 ~ JOE HAS A DECISION TO MAKE –  WILL BE POSTED MONDAY.

Chapter 33 ~ Jody Digs Up A Lead for Joe

Chapter 33 ~ Jody Digs Up A Lead for Joe

Chapter Thirty-Three

The next morning, Joe and Sam sat in a Starbucks abutting the University of Colorado campus on Broadway. Their chairs turned toward the Flatirons and the puffy cumulus clouds building west of the mountains. Joe was staring at his iPhone. Sam eyes were on the mountains and somewhere beyond. 

He spoke to Joe without turning his head, “You’re looking for answers, when you should be looking out the window.”

Joe kept his eyes on his phone, “I text Jody and asked her to see if there is anything on Ritchie in Vegas. I’m waiting for a reply.”

“Staring at that thing isn’t gonna make it happen? You’re missing. …”

Before Sam could finish, Joe snapped, “What am I missing?”

“You’re missing life. You’re missing the beauty of the mountains. And, a guy your age, you’re missing all the beautiful college girls walking by. I’m a lot older than you and I haven’t missed one of them. I’d definitely move here if I was your age.”

Joe kept staring at his phone, “I’m not stopping you.”

“Always the answer. That’s what you got. You got a fresh mouth and always the answer. It’s all about Joe and what Joe wants. In some ways, maybe you didn’t fall too far from the tree, if you know what I mean.”

Joe felt the hairs on the back of his neck curl up. The muscles across his chest tightened. His right hand gripped his iPhone as if he were trying to crush it. He started to say something, then stopped. Instead, he said, “I going to step outside and get some fresh air.”

Sam said, “The windows are open, there’s all the fresh air in the world in here. Did I come too close to home?”

Joe looked up at Sam and saw Sam grinning. Joe could help himself, he started grinning. “I don’t know, maybe. Gloria got to me, that’s all. I’ve got Joe Ritchie’s DNA and there isn’t much about him that’s any good. That’s scary.”

Sam laughed out loud, “Because he’s a deadbeat jerk, doesn’t mean you’re a deadbeat jerk. You were raised by good people. You don’t know how he was raised. Maybe he didn’t get the tough love you got. You ever think of that way?”

“No, I didn’t, Sam. It doesn’t excuse the trail of pain we discovered.”

Sam pointed out the open window, “Take a look at that gal on the skateboard. If I know how to ride one of those things I forget going with you and chase her. I’m thinking of growing a full beard, you think the ladies will like it?”

Joe laughed, “I think you’ll get employment as Santa Claus this coming December.” Joe’s phone chirped as he finished speaking. He opened his phone and said, “It’s from Jody.”

Before Joe could react, Sam grabbed the phone out of his hand. 

“Give that back,” said Joe.

“I’m the one who reads the messages first and spin em back to you. We got past practice going. Sit still. Have a sip of coffee while I read this and then read it to you.”

Joe stared at Sam and tried to read Sam’s lips as Sam read the text. Sam rocked back and forth as he read it. Every once in a while he glanced at Joe, then returned to the screen. When he finished reading, he said, “She’s got a thing for you, Joe. I’m not saying it’s good or it’s bad. Think of me as one of those flashing orange signs you see on the highway warning you there’s road construction up ahead.”

“Read the text, Sam. All Jody’s looking for is a story. She’s not interested in me.”

“You sure you went to college? She’s playing you like Tim Flaglor played the piano and he was the best I ever seen. She’s gonna run you over and you won’t know what hit yah.” Sam raised his hand policeman style, “Don’t say a word. I’ll read the text. Checked with a friend at the Las Vegas Review – Journal. He owes me a favor. He said, there was no record of a Joe or Joseph or a J Ritchie in Las Vegas until five years ago. Five years ago his name popped up on a marriage license to a woman named Monica Gomez. Ritchie’s age was listed at 49 and Gomez was listed at 19. He got a Nevada driver’s license that gave a Henderson address on 10245 Sunset Avenue, apt 234. I checked with the apartment manager, there is no resident by that name living there now. Seven months later, a J. Ritchie filed for divorce. He never renewed his Nevada driver’s license. Monica Ritchie currently lives in a trailer court at 432 Hildago Way. I can help you Joe. You need me. I haven’t been to Vegas in three years. It will be a vacation. How about it?

“What are you doing?” said Joe.

“I’m texting a yes to Jody.”

“Please don’t.” 

“Only kidding. Here’s your phone.”

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.”