Chapter 15 – Joe and His Navigator
Joe left the gas station knowing a bit more about Joe and the Flamingos and not much else. He was sure Sam was altogether. He chuckled to himself about the donuts he bought for Sam and how Sam hustled him for both coffees. No loss on the coffee. He tried to think how he’d describe the coffee. The dark roast smelled like burned rubber, and the taste left a bitterness in his mouth he hoped wouldn’t linger past his next cup of coffee. The only similarity to coffee was the color and the color wasn’t great. When Joe was ten feet from his car, he pressed the remote to unlock the car doors. There was a Starbucks close by where he’d get a real cup of coffee. With any luck, it’d take away the bitter taste in his mouth.
Joe walked to the driver’s side of the car. He opened the door and slid in to the driver’s seat. As he pulled on his seatbelt, the passenger door opened and Sam slid in carrying his donuts wrapped in brown paper napkins in his right hand and Joe’s coffee in his left hand.
Joe turned and stared at Sam. Sam had a toothpick sticking out of the corner of his mouth, and he was wearing an old St. Louis Cardinals’ baseball cap. His shaggy gray hair stuck out from the edges of the cap and covered the tops of his ears.
Joe said, “What are you doing, Sam?”
Sam ignored Joe. He sat the coffee in the cup holder, put the napkin covered donuts on his lap, and slip the seatbelt on. He said, “I’m your co-pilot, navigator, what do you think I’m doing? What are you waiting for, let’s hit the road.”
“Do I have to call the police?” asked Joe. Joe was now convinced Sam was nuts.
“Don’t do that, it’s not in your best interests,” said Sam matter of factly.
“What’s in my best interests is to have you unbuckle the seatbelt, and get out of the car. I’ve got twenty dollars for you if you’re nice enough and leave without causing any trouble.”
Sam turned his head slightly toward Joe. He said, “Sonny, you don’t know the diddle about life. That’s a fact. You probably been to college. Me? I made it to the eighth grade. But I learned a lot more than you ever did in college. You ever learn how to go across the country hitching rides on freight trains? I don’t think so. You ever learn how to make it day to day when you don’t have a job and nobody is hiring? I don’t think so. I got more street smarts in my baby toe then you got in your whole body.”
Joe’s temper was nudging the boiling point. He fought to control it.
Sam said, “What’s it going to hurt to have me along for the six hour ride to Quincy? That’s where you’re going.”
Joe stared at him. He couldn’t figure out Sam’s game. Joe’s iPhone chimed. He glanced at his phone. Jody sent him a text.
Sam continued, “Think of me as your big brother. I’m going keep you out of trouble. I gonna help you find your dope tokin, coke sniffing excuse for a father.”
Joe’s eyes widened. His heart began racing. He didn’t mention anything about searching for Joe Ritchie, let alone Joe Ritchie being his dad. He couldn’t think of anything to say.
“The longer we sit here, the older we’re both gonna get,” said Sam.
“What makes you think Joe Ritchie’s my father and I’m searching for him?” asked Joe.
“I’m not as smart as a lot of folks. One thing I got is a memory. I don’t forget and I don’t forgive. I got a score to settle with Joe Ritchie. I don’t know what you’re going to do with him when you find him and I don’t much care. You look just like him. When I first saw you, I thought I was looking at Joe Ritchie’s double. I knew you couldn’t be him because you looked like him way back when I saw him. And, you got that little bitty birthmark under your left ear on your neck, just like him. It’s the same place, same color, and it’s shaped a little like a grape. I just guessed at the rest. Let’s go. Look, leave me in Quincy if you don’t want my company any further. I got to get out of this town. I’m living with my sister and her good for nothing boyfriend. I swear he’s cooking meth in garage. He keeps it locked.”
“Why are you looking for Joe Ritchie?” asked Joe.
“He stiffed me and Kenny out of our money. I don’t forget and I don’t forgive. He’s going pay me with interest. I figure he owes me.”
“Only to Quincy,” said Joe. He started the car and headed to Starbucks.