Chapter 26 ~ Rosa’s Story Turns Joe’s World Upside Down

Chapter 26 ~ Rosa’s Story Turns Joe’s World Upside Down

Rosa gripped her white cloth napkin in her right hand as if she were trying to strangle the breath out of it. She raised the napkin to her dark brown eyes and dabbed at them. She said, “I got to tell this story to somebody besides Father Tim. Father Patrick was the Pastor when I was hired. Thank God for Blessed Sacrament. They the only place gonna hire a Mexican woman even though I was an American citizen. Everybody is asking me for my papers. They all think I sneak across the border. I was born here. That makes me a good a citizen as anybody else born here.

“At first I was the house cleaner. They already got a cook. Father Patrick, he like American food, use know, he likes steak and potatoes. He hates vegetables. I tole him more than once he better eat vegetables, but he dint. You know what happened? He got a heart attack ten years later and dropped dead right over there.

“Rosa pointed her arm toward a spot on the floor in front of the refrigerator. I still can see him. Plop, that’s what it sounded like. I was doing dishes. I hear this plop and there he was. I scream but the other two priests are out. The cook is gone shopping. I’m all alone. I run to Father Patrick, he opens his eyes. I hold his hand and I start praying. He looks at me and says, “I’m sorry.” Poof, he’s gone. I know what he’s sorry about. He’s sorry about hiring that sum oh bitch, Joe Ritchee.”

“The story I gonna tell was when Father Tim comes here. He comes two weeks after I am hired. Two weeks after Father Time comes, Father Patrick hires Joe Ritchee. He got the good looks. He got the black hair. He got the dark eyes. He got the features. And, the way he moves if use a woman with any blood flowing use gonna chase him and try to land him. He knew this. He don’t have to do anything to get any woman he wants. He only got to give them the look.”

Joe thought of his mother and wondered if she felt the same way as Rosa did about Joe Ritchie. He had only taken a bite of his food. He couldn’t eat.

Rosa continued, “I’m working in the church. I can’t go flirting with anyone. Father Patrick, he doesn’t like any nonsense going on with the help. I can’t afford to lose this job. Father Tim, here, he knows how I feel. He sees me looking at Joe when Joe doesn’t know it. Joe been working here two weeks and he starts talking to me. Small talk, he tries to use Spanish, but he don’t know what he’s saying. I think it’s cute the way he says buenas dias. He says, ‘bonus days.’ Father Tim, he got the eye. He knows what Joe is doing. I’m cleaning library and Father Tim is in the library doing his sermon for Sunday and Father Tim say, ‘Rosa, can we talk for a minute?’

“I says, “chure.” 

Father Tim says, “You have the eyes for Joe. I can see it.”

“I turn red. I say, ‘I don’t know what chu talking about.'”

“Father Tim, he says, ‘I didn’t enter the seminary until I was in grad school. I dated. I know the signs.”

“I says, “So?”

“Father Tim says, ‘Watch out. I don’t have a good feeling about him. Father Pat can’t see it. He thinks Joe’s a saint. He’s not and he’ll use you. I’m not going to say another word. Trust me on this one, Rosa. You’re a nice woman and you deserve better.”

“I tell Father Tim not to worry. Nothing is going on. At the time nothing was going on, so I was telling the truth. A week later, I’m in the laundry room and Joe comes in. I see him and my heart starts beating. He gives me this kind of smile I can’t describe. If I was chocolate I melt all over the floor. I’m putting clothes in the drier. He comes up behind me puts his arms around my waist and pulls me up and the next thing I know we’re kissing. It’s not long before I spending the night at Joe’s apartment. Three months later my period doesn’t happen. Joe knocked me up. Did he ever. I know I’m gonna get fired. I tell Joe. He tells me it’s impossible, I must be sleeping with someone else. That sum ah bitch. I don’t sleep around. I was in love.

“The next day Father Tim see me. I keep my back to him because I’m crying. Father Tim asks me what’s wrong. I break down and tell him the whole story. Father Tim says don’t worry, you’re not going to lose your job. He tole Father Pat and I hear them arguing. Father Tim he hollers at Father Pat and lets him know what’s the right thing to do. Father Pat gives in and he doesn’t fire me, but he believes Joe. 

Tears are streaming down Rosa’s face. She stopped speaking, closes her eyes for a minute before continuing. “Eight months later two things happen, I give birth to the most beautiful baby girl use ever seen. I name her Graciaella. I love her. Joe won’t even come to see her. It’s his child. She’s got his eyes and his hair. It don’t matter because Joe leaves Blessed Sacrament.”

Father Tim interrupted. “Joe left Blessed Sacrament with the Sunday collection. One of the ushers saw him grabbing it and told me. I told Father Pat. I thought he might have a heart attack. We called the police. Joe Ritchie was caught heading toward Salina. Father Pat got the Sunday collection back but wouldn’t press charges. No one knew where Joe Ritchie went. He disappeared off the face of earth as far as we were concerned.”

“Good riddance to that piece of trash,” said Rosa.

“Rosa,” said Father Tim.

“Lo siento,” said Rosa.

“I have a sister?” said Joe.

“Yes, you got a beautiful sister. She going to graduate school at Boston College. She gonna be a lawyer.”

“Can I see a photo?” asked Joe.

Rosa smiled for the first time. “One minute. I gots lots of photos.”

Sam watched Joe and what he saw wasn’t a look of happiness that he had half-sister. What he saw was a dark look the kind he saw when human feeling is wiped away with human anger

Chapter 24 ~ Joe Picks Up Clues to His Father’s Past

Chapter 24 ~ Joe Picks Up Clues to His Father’s Past

Joe and Sam traveled across Missouri Route 36. The landscape was a mixture of wooded areas, cornfields, soybean fields, and small towns. Joe set the cruise control at 70, just over the posted speed limit of 65 mph. They stopped three hours later in Cameron for a fill up and bathroom break when Sam threatened to let go in Joe’s BMW. It was fall, they talked football and the baseball playoffs. Sam was pulling for the Cardinals to go deep into the baseball playoffs, but he had no hope for University of Indiana football. Joe talked about the Cleveland Indians going deep in the baseball playoffs. Both men agreed it would be good to a Cleveland against St. Louis in the World Series. When they weren’t talking sports, Sam twice asked Joe for his iPhone. Twice Joe told him no. 

When they left Cameron, they exited Route 36 and turned onto Interstate 35. Interstate 35  travels through Kansas City and straight to Wichita. If you stay on it long enough, north or south,  you’ll end up in Canada or Mexico. Once they entered Kansas, I-35 turned into a toll road. Joe picked up a ticket from an automatic ticket dispenser. The speed limit was 70 mph.

Sam broke the silence, “You got yourself wound up tighter than a squirrel during squirrel hunting season.”

Joe gave Sam a half glance, “There’s no such thing as squirrel hunting season. I’m not a hunter and you know that.”

“That’s what you know. You went to college and you think you got all the answers. You don’t got half the answers, any fool kin see that.”

“When is squirrel hunting season?” said Joe giving Sam a smug look.

Sam chuckled to himself. Then he said, “You grew up in the city, am I right?”

“So? Lots of people grow up in the city,” said Joe.

“Hell, if you grew up in the country where the real folks live, you’d learn every day is squirrel hunting season. That’s why squirrels are always twitching and acting like it’s their last day alive, which it probably is. In the city where they been domesticated. You been domesticated? Jody wants to domesticate you.”

Joe shook his head, “That’s a lame answer. It’s not official. And, I’m not interested in Jody. I am not domesticated.”

Sam laughed, “Touchy, touchy. She’s reeling you in bit by bit. You got her lure stuck in the corner of your mouth. Sam lowered his window and stuck his arm outside the car and waved it. Take a look Joe, this is all open range, it’s called the Flint Hills. You won’t see a house here. It’s got the richest grazing land in the world. Ranchers bring their cattle in here all over the world during the summer to get fat. In the spring, they do controlled burning to make sure the grasses stay pure. Sometimes the turnpike gets shutdown because of the smoke.”

“How do you know all this stuff?” asked Joe.

“You think I stayed in Terre Haute all my life? I learned the way any smart man learns, by living. Try it sometimes.”

“I didn’t mean to say you were dumb. I was only asking a question,” said Joe.

This was the way the conversation went between Joe and Sam as they traveled down I-35 through Lawrence, Topeka, Emporia, El Dorado, and until the came to Exit 50 in Wichita. They exited onto Kellogg and took a left on Rock Road and drove for a mile until they came to E. Douglas. Joe took a left. He said, “It’s a little after one, let’s go to Blessed Sacrament Church and see if anyone knows anything about Joe Ritchie, then we’ll grab some lunch.”

Sam nodded. Then he said, “You want some advice or you going to be stubborn?”

“What?” said Joe.

“You’re going to be traveling through an independent town in the middle of Wichita. It’s Eastborough. The speed limit is twenty miles an hour. The cops will nail your butt if you’re going twenty one miles an hour. If you want a ticket, it’s up to you. I won’t say another word.”

Joe glanced at his speedometer. It read forty miles an hour. He hit the brakes as his BMW went past a sign saying, Entering Eastborough, Drive Safely. Speed Limit 20 – Strictly Enforced.

Joe said, “I owe you Sam.”

“Don’t mention it, you can git me a decent lunch. I don’t want no salad or fast food.”

Ten minutes later Joe pulled into the parking lot of Blessed Sacrament Church. Joe and Sam walked to the rectory, rang the door bell, and were answered a minute later by a small dark haired, Latina woman Joe assumed was the housekeeper. She said, “Can I help chu?”

Joe said, “Is the pastor in?”

“What chu want wit Father Tim? He’s busy, he gonna eat lunch in ten minutes. If you selling, give me the information, I’ll give it to him. If you converting, come back in an hour. If you need to go to confession, those are on Saturday.”

“I really need to see him. It will only take a few minutes, promise. I’m not selling anything. I’m trying to find my father.”

“Why dint you say so in the first,” said the housekeeper. She left and walked down the hallway before disappearing to her left.

Sam nudged Joe, “Git a load of that smell. I smell apple pie in the oven and some of those Mexican fajitas on the stove with green peppers and onions. Father Tim does okay. I bet he weighs over two hundred pounds the way that senora feeds him

A moment later, a thin gray haired man, in black pants, black shirt and Roman collar came down the hallway. He smiled at Joe and Sam and when he was five feet away, he said, “I’m Father Tim. How can I help you?”

Joe gave Sam a quick glance then said, “Hello, Father Tim. This is my friend, Sam. My name is Joe Astore. I’m trying to find my father Joe Ritchie. I heard he worked years ago. You probably never heard of him, perhaps there is a custodian or someone who might have known him. I just learned he’s my father and I’m trying to find him.”

“My God, Joe Ritchie. Joe Ritchie. You’re Joe Ritchie’s son. I can see the resemblance. Come in gentlemen. Would you like to stay for lunch and we can talk? I’m starving.”

Sam spoke, “That’s kind of you, Father Tim. We accept your invitation.”

Father Tim started walking down the hall toward the kitchen, he spoke as he walked, “I knew Joe Ritchie. This is my second tour at Blessed Sacrament. The first time, a number of years ago, I was a much younger priest. Blessed Sacrament was my first assignment after my ordination. Time flies, that was twenty-five years ago. Now, I’m back as the pastor, and I have two new priests trying to learn the ropes, just like I did back then.”

Father Tim turned to is right and entered a large kitchen area with a table and six chairs. He said, “Rosa, do you mind setting two more places for at the table. Joe and Sam are going to join us.” Then Father Tim said, “Joe Ritchie was hired as church custodian one month after I arrived. Oh, yes I know Joe Ritchie. What do you want to know?

Rosa looked over her shoulder, “Joe Reechee?” Then she said something in Spanish neither Joe or Sam understood. 

“Rosa, Joe here will want to know your story, too,” said Father Tim.

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.”

Chapter 14 – Part 1. An Old Man Has a Long Memory

Chapter 14 – Part 1 – An Old Man Has a Long Memory

Joe stood in front of three coffee machines, dark roast, regular, and hazelnut. Joe poured a small cup of dark roast for himself and a regular for the old guy. The old guy stood in front of the donut tray with a paper plate in his hand. He stacked two jelly donuts, two glazed donuts and one bear claw on top of each other. Joe walked over to the counter and pointed to the old guy.

The cashier hollered, “Hey, Sam, how many donuts you got?”

Sam answered and waved, “I got five on my plate, but I’m gonna come back and get two to go.”

Joe paid the cashier and carried the coffees over to one of four booths that sat along the windows. Sam was already sitting down and eating a strawberry jelly donut when Joe arrived at the booth. Joe set a coffee in front of Sam and one on his side of the booth.

Sam spoke to Joe with his mouth half full with the Jelly donut, “What’s your name so I can thank you properly?”

“It’s Joe.”

“Thank you, Joe. I usually don’t eat much, but since you offered, I figure why not. These are good donuts, want a bite?” Sam said offering Joe the half eaten strawberry jelly donut.

Joe raised a hand, “No thanks, Sam. I’m not hungry. Tell me about Joe and the Flamingos. When did you meet Joe? What did he look like?”

“Not so fast, Joe. That’s funny, you got the same name as the Flamingo guy. Why you interested in them?”

Joe didn’t want to go into his story. He wasn’t even sure Sam could help him. But, Sam might know something. Joe said, “My mom loved that group, she had all their recordings.”

Sam put the rest of the strawberry jelly donut in his mouth and wiped the excess jelly on his hands onto this pants. Then he picked up a glaze donut. He held the glazed donut in his hand while he quickly chewed on his jelly donut. He took a sip of coffee, swallowed what was left of the jelly donut and then fit half of the glazed donut into his mouth. When he finished chewing the glazed donut, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and said, “Sometimes my eyes are bigger than my stomach. I got lunch and dinner on this plate. I thank you for my three meals today. About the Flamingos. I seen em twice. The first time I seen em was right here in Greenville when they performed with Merle. Boy that Merle Haggard was good. You ever listen to his stuff? If you listen to old country music he’ll be on it.”

Joe nodded to keep Sam talking.

Sam continued, “It was at the fairgrounds. Merle was the star attraction that year. The place was jammed to see Merle. They had a couple of warm up acts, Joe and the Flamingos was one of the warm up acts for Merle.”

“Joe and the Flamingos played country music? Joe asked.

“Let’s put it this way, that’s what they was trying to play. I was here with my buddy Kenny Langoff. You know Kenny?”

Joe knew this was a mistake. He began to look for a way to end the conversation politely.

Joe said, “No. I never met Kenny.”

“That’s a shame. Kenny ate hard boiled eggs whole, the shell and all. He’s the only one I ever saw could do that.”

“Quite a man that Kenny to be able to do that. When did you meet Joe?”

“Kenny was the sound man for the Flamingos. Kenny and me, we were in the Army together. Things was better for me back them. I rented a trailer between jobs. You ever live in a trailer?”

Joe shook his head.

Sam continued, “My rent ran out and I had to either pay up or get e vic ted. I didn’t have the dough to pay so I was going to leave early the next morning and drive my pickup to Rockport where I figure I could get a job on a barge on the Mississippi. I didn’t have enough money for gas all the way. I was going to try to do odd jobs like cut grass something like that. It might take me a week to get there. I stopped right in this here station. I filled my pickup truck with gas, then I come in here to go to the toilet. Just like I met you, I bellied up to the urinal. There were two of them at that time. Normally I would not look at the guy next to me. Nobody does that when you go. It’s an unwritten rule.”

Joe felt like he was running on a treadmill and making about as much progress as if he were. He knew Sam wanted company and he was going to drag out his story. Joe said,

“It’s a rule I live by.” He did this just to show Sam he was listening.

Sam took a long drink of his coffee, “I’m glad you didn’t bring me the hazelnut. I can’t stand it. I’m careful of the people who drink hazelnut coffee. You know why?”

Joe shook his head no.

“I think they cheat on their taxes. I can’t prove it. But I wrote to the IRS about it. They never answered.”


Chapter 12 ~ Joe Gets More Than a Fillup at at the Gas Stop

Chapter 12 ~ Joe Gets More Than a Fillup at the Gas Stop

Joe left Starbucks with mixed feelings about Jody Sanger. On one hand, he respected Jody’s ability as an investigative reporter. She’d discover anything anyone in Columbus knew about Joe and the Flamingos. She’d also find out any information on Joe Ritchie. On the the other hand, he always felt Jody liked him, liked him enough to get involved. He always hesitated, there was something about her that bothered him. He couldn’t put his finger quite on it what it was, but it was something. She was pretty, not in a knockout way, but she catch whistles from construction workers. She looked good in jeans. She was intelligent and witty. Still, he thought there was something.

Three miles south of West Lane Avenue, Joe signaled to turn right exiting the 315 and turning on to I-70. If he stayed on I-70 traveling west he leave Ohio, drive across Indiana and Illinois. He’d go over the Mississippi at St. Louis and about thirty miles west of St. Louis he’d leave I-70 and take state route 60 north until he reached Hannibal, Missouri. There, he cross back into Illinois and be only ten miles from Quincy and hopefully he’d find Max Stein. And, Max could tell him where he’d find Joe Ritchie.

Joe set his speed at 69 mph, four miles above the posted speed limit hoping the police wouldn’t bother him if he stayed under 70. He traveled in the passenger lane and watched other cars pass him as if they were heading to an emergency room. He played music on his iPhone connecting it by bluetooth to the car speakers. He sang along with his favorite songs. He felt good. He was going to find out about his father, maybe even meet him. At the moment, he wasn’t feeling angry at Joe Ritchie. He was more curious. He less desire to form any kind of relationship with the Joe Ritchie than a two-year old has to take a nap. He only wanted to meet Joe Ritchie and say, ‘Thanks for being there for mom and me. Thanks for helping me play ball. Thanks for taking me fishing.’ The more Joe thought this way, the more his anger began to rise up again and his curiosity slink away to a dark recess in his mind.

He tried to drive the angry thoughts out of his mind by concentrating on the scenary. Both sides of I-70 were farmlands. Many still had cornstalks waiting for harvest for feed corn for cows or pigs. He passed into Indiana and it was more of the same. The sun was now rising behind his back. He looked at the time on the console and saw it was 7:45 a.m. He’d miss the Indianapolis morning rush hour traffic. Joe estimated he pass through Indianapolis about 9 a.m. With any luck he’d make Quincy, Illinois, by mid afternoon.

About thirty-five miles outside of Indianapolis Joe’s bladder began sending signals he needed to stop for a bathroom break. Joe checked his fuel level, he was a bit under a half tank. He decided to look for stop where he could refill his coffee at Starbucks and find a gas station. He wasn’t sure of the Indiana laws about hand held cell phones, so he asked Siri, the iPhone’s electronic assistant, “Siri, where is the closest Starbucks?” Siri answered, “It’s 32 miles ahead in Greenville, Indiana. Take the North State Street exit and turn left. Starbucks will be a .5 miles ahead on your left.”

It was all good. The sky was blue, the sun rising, and coffee was waiting for him. Twenty-five minutes later Joe exited I-70, waited for at a red light to turn green at the top of the exit ramp. He took a left and turned into the first gas station that looked like it had inside bathrooms. On the green light, Joe turned left and went on a bridge spanning I-70 below him. Joe spotted a gas station on his right, he made a right turn signal and pulled into a pump. He filled his gas tank. Locked his car and went into the gas station to use the toilet facilities. He might buy a pack of gum for the ride.

That wasn’t all Joe found when he went inside.

Chapter 9 ~ Digging Up Dirt

Chapter Nine ~ Digging Up Dirt

Joe stood up, walked to refrigerator, opened it, pulled out a bottle of beer, opened the bottle, and carried it back to his gramma. He said, “Gramma, this is your third beer. You sure you can handle it. You’re not a big woman. I don’t think you weigh more than a hundred ten pounds and you’re no more than five feet two inches tall.”

Teresa took a long sip of her beer then set it on the coffee table in front of her. She said, “Beer don’t bother me.What bother’s me is water. Water puts the weight on you. You don’t believe me? Go weigh yourself then drink a big glass of water, then weigh yourself again, you gonna gain weight. Besides, they put so many chemicals in water to make it clean you might as well be drinking laundry detergent.”

Joe shrugged and decided not to get into a debate on how many calories are in a glass of water. Instead he said, “I never heard of Joe Ritchie or any family with that last name.

There were no Ritchie’s living near us. I didn’t go to school with any. At least I don’t remember any families near us.”

Teresa looked at Joe and said, “You know why there was no Ritchie’s living near us? You want me to tell you why?”

“Yes,” said Joe. He wanted to keep the conversation moving.

“That’s because the Ritchie’s are no good riffraff. Every one of them. They not the scum of the Earth, they lower than the scum of the Earth.”

“How do you know this, Gramma?” ask Joe trying to visualize what Teresa said.

“I tell you how I know. I know it because anybody who raise a son like Joe Ritchie can’t be any good and they got to be lower than scum. That’s how I know.”

Joe kept quiet. He took a small sip of his beer so he didn’t have to answer.

Teresa continued. Joe Ritchie he’s four years older than Annette. He quit going to Ohio State when he was a junior so he could start his own band. He got this stupid idea he can sing and play guitar. He got two other nobodies to quit with him and they start a group. He thinks he’s gonna make it big.”

Joe interrupted Teresa, “Did mom know him when he quit going to OSU?”

Teresa waved her hand, “No, she didn’t know him them. Don’t interrupt me. They start a group and call it Joe and the Flamingos. What kind of name is that? Nobody ever saw a flamingo around here. They start playing at some beer joints. Annette, she’s underage, but they go to this beer joint I think it was called The Crazy Cat but it’s closed. They don’t check the ID of the woman if they are pretty and Annette, she knock any man’s eyes out of his head. She got this dark, curly hair. She’s got these dark brown eyes. Her skin is a bit darker like yours and mine. I’m from southern Italy, not like the snobs from northern Italy. She’s got the face and body that make a man’s heart stop cold when he looks at her. You get your looks from her. Believe me, Joe Ritchie his face can’t make the cover of a dog magazine.”

Joe said, “She fell for Joe Ritchie, a college dropout? I never heard of Joe and the Flamingos.”

“Ah, you think I’m surprised you never heard of a has been, never was been? But, Annette fell for him like a ton of bricks fall right on top of her. She stop paying attention to her studies, she starts being Joe and the Flamingos groupie. When she come home we fight all the time. I tell her Joe Ritchie is a no good bum who not going to do anything with his life. Annette? She’s listening to her heart instead of me. I’m going embarrass you now, but you can’t embarrass the dead, so it’s okay if I say it. Annette dropped out of college and starts living with this guy. I beg her to use protection. She tells me not to worry. You ever know a mama not to worry, of course not. Six months later, Annette tells me she got a loaf of bread in the oven. You know what I mean? She was pregnant with you if you’re brain’s not so good.”

“What did Joe Ritchie say?” asked Joe.

“How do I know? He never come by. Me and Patrice never see him. Annette tells me the Flamingos are on the road and he’ll be back and they gonna move together to Hollywood when he makes it big. Then they talk about getting married. She ask me if she can stay in her room until Joe Ritchie comes back to get her. What I am going to say? Of course, she can stay in her room. You know what happened to the Flamingos? I tell you what happened to them. They flew the coop. They never came back. All she get is a few letters from Joe Wright. Joe Wright, huh! I shoulda named him Joe Wrong. But his real name is Joe Ritchie. Now you know the whole story. What you gonna do with it?”

“I’m going to find Joe Ritchie. I don’t know what I’ll do. I’m find him.”

“Joe, I warn you, you digging up dirt. You know what happens when you dig up dirt you should leave in the garden?”

“No, Gramma, I don’t have any idea.”

“You gonna end up tracking the dirt in your house and you gonna be sorry.”

Chapter 7 ~ Gramma Surprises Joe

Chapter Seven ~ Gramma Surprises Joe

Forty-five minutes later, Joe’s grandmother was sitting in Joe’s living room. Joe called from the kitchen area, “Gramma, you want bottled water?”

“No, I don’t want no bottled water, what else you got.”

“How about a can of soda. I have Diet Coke.”

“No, I don’t want no soda. What else you got?”

“Would you like a glass of wine? I have merlot.”

“No, I don’t want no wine. What else you got?”

“I have beer?”

“That’s good, bring me a bottle,” said Teresa.

Joe opened two bottles of beer, walked into the living room from the kitchen area and handed a bottle to his grandmother. He placed a napkin on the coffee table in front of her. She took hold of the bottle and held it up to the light and read the label.

“What’s this? It don’t have the same color as my Budweiser. I never heard of no Red Wing Brewing Company. What kind of beer do they make? This looks like the cheap stuff. You get on sale some place?”

Joe thought, you don’t want to know what I paid for the beer, it might cause an aneurysm. Joe smiled and said, “It’s a local brewery, Gramma. It’s really good. Try it.”

Teresa took a sip of the beer. She let it sit in her mouth for a moment. Then she said, It’s too dark to taste good. Definitely not as good as Budweiser. You know the beer with the big horses. I ever tell you, Joe, there are more horse’s asses than horses?”

Joe didn’t quite no how to respond. He said, “No, you never told me that one.”

“It’s true, Joe. A horse is a horse and it’s got an ass. A horse is not going to kick you out of your home and take away your money. Then you got people who there is no better description than to call them a horse’s ass. You understand this truth? Now, let me tell you about Estelle …”

Before Joe’s grandmother continued, he cut her short. He said, “Gramma, while I was getting our beers, I emailed a lawyer friend of mine. He owes me a big favor. He’s going to come over this afternoon and fix it so you won’t have to go back to the nursing home.”
Joe’s gramma said, “This is like Christmas in September. Estelle can’t sell my house until I sign the power of attorney. Now, I’m not going to sign anything. I been angry at St. Anthony for not answering my prayers, but I think he sent you to me, so I going to take him out of the laundry basket and put him back on the shelf.”

Terese raised her bottle toward Joe and said, “Salute, When I see this lawyer, I’m going make a new will. Estelle is going down the toilet. All she gonna get is five dollars for a meal at MacDonalds. I gonna put you in it.”

Joe said, “Thanks, Gramma, but maybe you and Estelle can work things out. I’m set. I don’t need anything.”

“Now, this proves I’m going leave everything to you. I gonna outlive Estelle anyway. She likes to make everybody think she’s a saint or something. She goes to church. She walks in church like she’s the Pope. Everybody knows she’s not the Pope but her. I could tell you stories about her but I ain’t gonna do it. Her husband he got no balls. He lets her run all over him like she’s a truck. He goes, ‘Yes, Estelle. No, Estelle. Whatever you say, Estelle.’ What kind of man is that who acts like he is a door mat? She don’t got my genes. She got Patrice’s genes, all the bad ones.”

Teresa sipped her beer and talked and talked and talked about Estelle. Joe gently moved her away each time, but it was a losing cause. Forty-five minutes and another beer later,

Teresa lost steam. She looked at Joe and said, “Okay, what you got on your mind?”

Joe leaned forward from his chair across from the sofa and said, “Gramma, I’m going to talk to you about something that may be difficult for you to talk about.”

Teresa said, “I’m in my eighties. You think I don’t know what’s going on in the world? You think you gonna tell me something that is gonna shock me?”

Joe sat up. He looked at his grandmother and decided to lay it all out for her. He said, “The other day I was going through the things in mom and dad’s house. I’m clearing everything out because I want to sell it.”

Teresa raised her hand. She said, “Don’t tell me no more. I know what you gonna say. I gonna save you some time.”

“How do you know what I’m going to say? I didn’t say anything, yet, Gramma? I don’t mean any disrespect, but let me finish,” said Joe.

Teresa wagged a finger at Joe. She said, “You listen, Joe. You went snooping where you not supposed to be snooping. And, because you go snooping where you not supposed to go snooping you find something you wasn’t intended to find. When you find it, you got your ass all tied up tighter than a leaky pipe with duct tape. How am I doing so far?”

“Keep going,” said Joe.

“You find out your mama, my Annette got herself knocked up when she was in college. And, you find out you was the one who slide down the chute and become my grandson. Do I hit the hammer on the nail?”

“Yes, but …”

“Don’t you give me no yes, but. You wanna know about your real father. You got this obsession. Am I right?”

“Yes, Gramma.”

“You listen to me. This man who knocked Annette up was a no good bum then, and if he is still alive, which I hope not, he’s even worse now. You can count on it,” Teresa made a gesture of washing her hands.

Joe said, “I going looking for him. Tell me what you know.”

“You want to know the story? I’m gonna give you the story and you better listen cause I’m only gonna say it once unless you want me to repeat it. You understand?”

Joe didn’t understand, but he nodded in agreement.