After J and I broke our kiss and embrace neither of us said a word. We closed the office and walked to the elevator. The elevator stopped at the 2nd floor. Carlos stuck a leg in, followed by his head sporting a gold canine and five tooth smile. J slid over to the door opening and gave him a look that peeled the paneling off the sides of the elevator. Carlos stepped out before having his nose reshaped without the benefit of a plastic surgeon. When J turned to press the close door button, Carlos flipped me a thumb’s up.
We walked the two blocks to the corner of Loomis and Ocean Drive. Maxine’s Deli sat on the corner as it has for the past forty-three years. Zagats gives it a five star rating.
I turned to J and said, “I’m getting the pastrami and sauerkraut rueben with Maxine’s special dressing on marble rye and I’m passing on the dill pickle. I’m going to have a bottle of the oxygen infused water.” I tossed in the last item to show J I was health conscious,
J said, “I’ll have the same.” Her words were spoken with the same emotion one might have waiting for the light to change from red to green.
I passed on the dill pickle. I didn’t want to take a chance on pickle or garlic breath. J did the same. It spoke volumes to me. We walked side by side to Ocean Drive. We crossed the street and picked up the pedestrian path that curled at the edge of the cliff overlooking the reserved beaches and ocean. The firs three benches were occupied, I pointed to the fourth, “Is this okay?”
J nodded. She didn’t speak.
We sat. I opened the bag, pulled our a rueben’s out, and unfolded the wrapping paper half way around the sandwich. When I handed it to J, I said, “Mustard packet?” Mustard packets are always a good way to break the tension. I think I’ll stop by Maxine’s on the way back and grab a handful for the next group session.
J gave me a smile carried by a love beat. She said, “Yes, thank you.”
My heart was in rhythm with the ocean waves lapping against the shore. We ate silently staring out at the ocean. A cool ocean breeze, the sun at our backs, and my black Venus next me made this the most perfect moment of my life. I wanted it to last forever.
J only ate a half of her sandwich and wrapped the rest up. She handed it to me. I placed it back in the bag. I was still hungry, but I wasn’t about to ruin the moment, I did the same with my sandwich.
A brief moment later J said, “What happened? Explain it to me?”
I said the first three words that came to mind, “I love you.”
J turned turned toward me and took both my hands in hers, “M, I fell in love with you the moment I saw you. I fought it. You’re filthy rich. I grew up dirt poor. You’ve never worked for anything. I’ve had to struggle to get this far. I still owe over one-hundred thousand dollars in student loans for college. Your white. I’m black. You don’t have a serious bone in your body. I take life very seriously, it’s the only way I survived. Mama can’t stand you. I can only imagine how your mother and father will react when they see me. Do you understand all this?”
I stared into her eyes, I know she was speaking to me, I didn’t hear a word. I only wanted to look at her and hold her.
“Well? Speak to me,” said J.
I said, “I love you.”
“You didn’t hear a word I said, did you?” said J.
I nodded my head and gave her a silly grin.
“Oh M, you are like a comfortable shirt I want to toss out, but I can’t get rid of it.”
I leaned toward J, closed my eyes, and kissed her. Some moments later when we broke our kiss, I said, “Seriously, will you marry me? I don’t have a ring with me. I’m serious. I’ve never been more serious in my life.”
J let go of my hands and turned back and looked out toward the ocean seeking an answer. I turned toward the ocean and tried to use my highly limited mental powers to detect any good karma I had floating through the universe. This was one of the times I wished I watched the PBS special on developing good karma. Twice I tried to start a conversation, twice J shook her head. I sat and stared and waited.
Fifteen minutes went by before J turned toward me. “M,” she said. “I know I love you. I don’t know if I want to marry you.”
I blurted, “Is it the sex. You want to discover if I’m great in bed. I have great reference.”
J started laughing the deep laugh I heard when we first met. I started laughing too until tears were running down my cheeks. J dabbed at them with Kleenex from her purse.
Eventually a moment of calm occurred. J said, “M, I want you to introduce me to your parents. Not tonight. Tomorrow night at dinner at your house.”
“Not tonight? What are we going to do for the rest of the day?” I said hoping J was going to say make non stop passionate, unbridled love until we passed out from exhaustion.
Instead, she said, “I’m going back to the office and canceling group for tomorrow. I am going to the salon, then the spa, and you can pick me up at my apartment tomorrow for dinner. It’s 2342 Center Street, apartment 301.”
“What am going to do?” I asked.
“How old are you?” asked J.
“Thirty-three?” I said questioningly.
J said, “It’s time you figured it out if you really want to marry me.”
J was giving me a look I can only compare to a Discovery Channel show about ravenous mountain lions. I tried to smile but my lips felt glued shut. J said, “I advise you not to interrupt me, make a smart ass remark about sleeping with you tonight, or ask me to run off and marry you within the next five days. We are going to have a talk after the group is finished. We are not going to a restaurant. We are not going to a bar. We are not going to a coffee shop to have this talk. Do you understand me?”
I nodded. A sudden impulse I can only attribute to the goddess of love forced me to speak, “Does this mean you’ll contemplate marriage after five days?”
J rolled her eyes.
I wasn’t through. I said, “I’ll take that as a yes. Next question, You didn’t eliminate deli’s and eating on a bench overlooking the ocean? I take the pout on your beautiful pouty, kissable red lips as a definite yes.”
“You are hopeless,” said J.
“Well? Can we,” I said in a pleading tone.
“I will say yes to the deli and the ocean side bench. Not to marriage in six days.”
I started to speak and stopped when J shook her head and turned away from me. I was only going ask her if seven days would work.
As J was leaving my office, she turned and said, “Get ready for group. I hear them in the reception area.” J closed the door to my office and I imagined us making out on the bench overlooking the ocean after we finished our meal.
From the receptionist area J gave a quick hell fire sermon, “You better find a bra or you’re going to find a knuckle sandwich.”
I have to ask J, when we were sitting on the bench overlooking the ocean, if she is open to conflict resolution with Amber. I rolled my chair from behind my desk to the top of the semi circle formed by the group’s chairs. I hadn’t thought about the group since I last I saw them. I suppose I should prepare, but I don’t believe in preparing for group sessions. It’s my scholarly opinion based on hours of research at Foxy’s Sport’s Bar with my friends, that non preparation is the best preparation. When you non prepare, you then prepare for any circumstance. It’s counter intuitive. In non preparation for the group, which will be entering any moment, I took a nail clipper out of my pocket and began trimming my nails. I wasn’t quite finished when they marched in led by their drill sergeant, J.
I looked up from trimming my nails and was disappointed when I realized no one was missing. I went back to trimming my right thumbnail. Mother always said, trimmed nails on a man are a sign of good breeding. When I finished trimming my nails, I crossed my legs and removed my right foot Nike and sock. My intention was to trim my toenails.
Amber spoke, “Would you like a pedicure, Doctor Sanderstfuff?”
From the outer office J’s voice bounced off the walls in my office, “Strike two.”
I thought this might be the perfect segue into dynamic group growth. I stretched my leg out so that the bottom of my right foot faced the group. I said, “What do you see?”
From the outer office, “Oh dear Lord save me from this insanity.”
I must be a great psychologist because all five members were waving their hands competing to be the first to speak. I called on the muffin top, Tito Perez, “Okay muffin top, what do you have to say. Sorry, I didn’t think to have jelly donuts for you.”
“Doctor Sanderstuff, I’m sensitive about my weight. I’m calorie challenged. It’s not politically correct to call me a muffin top.”
“I didn’t realize you were calorie challenged, Tito. Your records didn’t say anything about you being calorie challenged.”
“Thank you for being sensitive, Doctor Sanderstuff. What I see in your foot is an image of a croissant in your arch.”
“Very good, Tito. I’ll make sure we have some croissants at our next meeting for you.”
“Thanks, Doctor Sanderstuff.”
“What do you see, Jill?” Jill’s the Amber wannabe.
“I see toes I want to kiss …”
Jill didn’t get a chance to finish. She was interrupted by the one with super hearing in the outer office, “The only toes you’re going be licking will be mine and I will keep my shoe on. I hope you like the taste of leather and shoe polish.”
I was getting tired holding my leg up, I said, “Well that about wraps it up for today, we’ve had a big breakthrough. I’m glad you all could witness it.”
Prince spoke out without being called on, “I missed the breakthrough, Doctor Sanderstuff. I was thinking about something else. Can you tell me what it was?”
“That will teach you to pay attention, Prince. Things move so fast in group, it’s no telling where and when the next breakthrough will happen,” I said knowing I didn’t know what I was taking about. One of my drinking friends used the term breakthrough one night when he was talking about his relationship status. Or, was it breakup? I’m not sure. This was a good time to toss it out.
“Can I tell you want I was thinking about?” asked Prince.
“Well, hurry. I have an important luncheon date and I can’t be late,” I said.
“It’s only nine forty-five,” said The Sage.
“Did anyone ask you the time?” I said.
“No, I was just trying to help,” said The Sage.
I said, “You’re regressing. Trying to help is counter productive to helping. Wrap your peanut sized brain around that one.”
“That’s telling him,” Amber cooed.
Prince raised his hand again, I said, “You’ve already taken up too much of the group’s time, Prince. I’ll let you speak, but you can’t speak at our next meeting.”
“Thank you, Doctor Sanderstuff. As everyone here knows, I was convicted of bigamy. I had three legal wives at the same time. For my part, I only lived with one at a time. I never bothered to divorce any of them.”
“So?” I asked.
“So, I want to propose to Jill. Jill will you marry me? We can share the same cell. It will be kind of cramped, but we’re both up for full release in six months.”
“Tito?” asked Prince.
Before I could delve deeper into Prince’s proposal to be his fourth wife while he is still legally married to three other women, Amber blurted, “Doctor Sanderstuff, Doctor Sanderstuff.”
I turned toward Amber and saw she rolled up her top to the top of her bra. I said, “Nice navel ring.”
“Doctor Sanderstuff, I know you’re infatuated with Ms. J, but did you know her blonde hair is not hers? It’s either a wig or extensions.”
The door to my office burst open. J’s eye’s flashed like a pit bull’s eyes when it see raw meat. J snarled, “Strike three. All you loser but balloon breasts clear out.”
There was a mad stampede for the door. I hurried in front of Amber, I held my arms out, “J listen to reason. You don’t want to join Dante in prison, You want to honeymoon with me in Tahiti.”
J grabbed me by my arms. For a brief moment, I thought she was going to throw me out the window and Amber would soon follow. I had to do a pattern interrupt. This is another term I learned watching afternoon TV over cocktails at the club after a grueling round of golf. I took my arms and wrapped them around J and pulled her tight against my body and placed my lips on her lips and kissed her with the passion bottled within me since I first saw her. Five seconds, ten seconds and then I felt J slide into a state of relaxation and return the intensity of my kiss.
Neither one of us knew it at the moment, but Amber slid out unharmed to catch the bus ride back to the prison.
I left with a runner’s high when I left the elevator and walked into my office. I figured it was a runner’s high because I wasn’t drinking, I don’t do drugs, and Mother and Father didn’t keel over and leave every cent to me with no strings attached. I got my high from turning down Carlos’s attempts to make me into a bad boy to win J. I never felt this good before. This was a different feeling. I felt good when I bought something. It never lasted. I felt good when I went drinking with friends. I felt good when I hooked up with a woman I didn’t know and she took me home and we had acrobatic sex. This was a different kind of good.
“It feels good doing the right thing. You need to do it more often.”
“Don’t take the feeling away from me. Let me alone,” I begged my conscience.
“Far from it. Do it more frequently and you’ll get used to it. It’s a good feeling,” said my conscience. Then he added, “Caio.”
I walked into the office prouder than a peacock. Hell, I was good. There’s got to a special place in heaven for me when the time comes. No sir, I may be the best man that ever lived. I was thinking of my drinking buddies, I was better than all of them. I was better than Father. I was better than Oscar. I’m not comparing our sexual prowess. Oscar is a superstar if I’m to judge by Mother’s demand for services. I’m better than Victor. I’m better than Carlos. It’s moments like these that I consider converting to Catholicism. The Pope would declare me a saint before I died. I wonder if there ever was a Saint Artin or a Saint Double M?
The office was dark, I turned on the light. Grandmother Houston cast me an approving look from her wall sized photo.
I said, “Good morning, Grandmother Houston. I am your best and brightest grandchild.”
I didn’t hear anything from the craggily faced bitch, so I know she agreed. Albeit, I’m her only grandchild. That is besides the point. I opened the door to my inner sanctum, turned on the light and there was Mother staring at me from her wall sized photo. I wondered if she was having an orgasm at the moment. As soon as the thought struck, I looked back, hoping my conscience was too busy social networking to catch that thought. The next thought that rambled across my mind, was what would Mother do if Father suddenly had a heart attack. He’s at least twenty pounds overweight. I feel sorry for his secretary. If Father died, would Mother marry Oscar? Would I have to call Oscar Father? The series of confusing, disjointed thoughts ripped my good feeling away. I tried to get it back, but it was as slippery as an eel, whatever that is, but I read the metaphor somewhere.
“Get centered. Get centered,” I told myself. I learned this phrase watching a Public Broadcasting special about meditation. I got bored after three minutes, surfed the cable channels before turning to Netflix to watch a standup comedy act. The way I understood it, to get centered you have to be in the center. This meditation stuff is not that complicated.
I approximated the center of my office. The center, as close as I could calculate was the front edge of my mahogany desk. I walked around my desk, moved my chair out of the way, placed my two hands against the desk and pushed. I’ll skip the weights today, I’m hoping I didn’t get a hernia. I climbed on top of the desk and stood at the front edge and faced the door. I didn’t care for the view. I turned and faced west looking out above the city and all those who serve the filthy rich. My gaze settled on the pristine sandy beaches exclusively reserved for the filthy rich and the blue ocean.
I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do while I stood in the center. I took my iPhone out of my pant’s pocket and checked my emails. I checked my messages in case J sexted to me to bring our relationship to whole new level. I felt a tinge of disappointed when I didn’t see a text from her. I took a selfie and posted it on Instagram and told my followers I was getting centered.
I was counting my likes on my Instagram photo when I heard, “What are you doing on top of your desk?”
The words from J’s lips to my erotic zone, supercharged my libido. Until the charge ran its course I didn’t turn around. Think of something, anything, anything but J, I told myself.
“Are you going to answer me, or are on drugs? I need to know. If you’re on drugs, two things will happen. One, I will call emergency assistance. And, two, when you get off drugs I will personally kick your ass and quit.”
J is a miracle worker. Whatever she did. Whatever she said, I was depleted of sexual energy or desire. At least momentarily. I turned and said, “I was getting centered. I was in the zone when you interrupted me.”
J put her hands on her hips, “You were centered? You didn’t look centered to me. You looked like you were scrolling through Instagram photos.”
I jumped down sticking the landing. I said, “Ten point zero, ten point zero, ten point zero. A perfect score from the three Olympic judges.”
J took a step closer to me. She grabbed hold of my right bicep, the one Carlos wanted to tattoo, and looked into my eyes. I wanted to kiss her. I thought she was going to kiss me to as she moved her face closer to mine. She stopped two inches away and smelled my breath. She let go and backed away, “You’re clean. You didn’t watch the whole PBS special did you?”
“The first three minutes. I got bored and switched to Netflix.”
Before J could speak the outer door opened and a female voice called, “Doctor Sanderstuff, I’m here a few minutes early for extra one on one.”
J turned around, “The only one on one you’re getting is my foot and your behind, Amber. Don’t come in here until the rest of the group arrives.”
“It may be a few minutes. I hurried ahead of them and when I reached the 21st floor, I pressed all the buttons.”
“She might really need my help, J. I’ll be okay alone with her. I won’t pay attention to her breasts.”
J cocked her head, and turned slightly sideways, “I know he can’t be trusted with her. I know. I know I have to keep an eye on him. I know he is emotionally immature.”
“Who are you talking to?” I asked.
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 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.
“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.”
“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.”