Chapter 25 ~ Rosa Is Ready To Spill Her Guts About Joe’s Dad

Chapter 25 ~ Rosa Is Ready To Spill Her Guts About Joe’s Dad

Father Tim pointed to the table motioning Joe and Sam to take a seat. Joe noticed two place settings already on and Sam sat on the table. One place setting was at the head of the table. The other was on the side in the middle of the table. Joe tapped Sam on the arm an moved his head toward to the side of the table with no place settings. Joe and Sam no sooner sat down when Rosa came with two more plates, napkins and silver ware and set them in front of them. 

She stared at Joe for a moment, “Chu looks jus like him. Why you want find that …” She turned and went back to the stove. 

Sam said, “The apple pie smells delicious. The whole house smells better than any restaurant I ever been in.”

Rosa turned around and smiled, “You got to be a good man. Chu watch out for the guy next to you. The apple don’t fall far the tree.”

“Rosa,” said Father Time.

“Lo Siento,” said Rosa.

Father Tim said, “Rosa’s story is important. We’ll wait until after we eat, then we can talk. Where do you live, Joe?”

“I live in Columbus. That’s where I’ve lived my whole life. My parents were killed in a car crash a little while back. I’m their only child. I was going through the their things when I found this letter …”

Father Tim held up his hand motioning Joe to stop, “So you’re a Buckeye. You go to Ohio State?”

“I’m a Buckeye through and through.”

“What about you, Sam? Are you from Ohio?” asked Father Tim.

“Hell no. Opps, excuse me. I better watch my tongue,” a red faced Sam apologized.

“No need to apologize, Sam. I’ve heard worse and I’ve said worse. If that’s the worse thing we ever do, we’re in good shape when our time comes.”

Sam said, “I’m not a Catholic, but I don’t hold anything against you. In fact, I like what you said. Is that one of your church teachings?”

Father Tim laughed, “I rely on God’s mercy and love. I make enough mistakes every day that I’d be lost if I didn’t have a merciful God.”

“You mind fist bumping me with that?” asked Sam extending his right arm with his fist closed. They fist bumped. Then Sam said, “When I was a kid I cut the grass at Saint Patricks in Terre Haute. I think the pastor hired me because I hung out with Teddy Cochran. Teddy was an altar boy.”

“So, you’re a Hoosier. Terre Haute was home of the legendary Larry Bird. He was some kind of special basketball player.”

“You like basketball? Everybody in Indiana loves basketball. They ain’t much for football.”

“I went to college in Indiana,” said Father Tim.

“You went to Purdue or IU?” asked Sam.

“No, I went to the small football university to the North, Notre Dame.”

“You’re one of those Fighting Irish?” exclaimed Sam.

“Through and through. I bleed green every fall during football season. This weekend they play Michigan State at home and I have tickets. I can’t wait.”

“Enough football talk. It’s time to eat,” said Rosa setting a platter of chicken fajitas with grilled onions and peppers on the center of the table. Then she placed two bowls of salsa, a bowl of sour cream, a plate of flour tortillas, and grated mozzarella cheese on the table.

Sam started to reach for a tortilla when Joe punched Sam’s thigh. Sam brought his hand back and placed it on his lap.

Father Tim smiled and said, “We’ll thank the Lord for our food. Bless us oh Lord and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounties through Christ our Lord, Amen. Bless Joe and Sam on their travels. Keep them safe. And, whatever Joe finds, let him find your peace above all else.”

Joe fought back a growing lump in his throat, nodded and smiled at Father Tim. 

Rosa said, “What chu all waiting for. Dig in. What chu don’t eat, I gonna take to the women’s shelter down the street. I always make five times more than Father Tim can eat.”

Joe learned Rosa’s parents immigrated from Monterrey, Mexico. She was born in the US two weeks after they crossed the Rio Grande some fifty years earlier. Her parents were migrant workers, campesinos, she called them and they worked the farms from the Rio Grande Valley up to the Canadian border every year. Father Tim said Rosa started working at rectory as the housekeeper about the same time he came twenty-five years ago.

Father Tim noticed Rosa hadn’t eaten a bite. He said, “Rosa, you’re not going to eat until you tell your story. Go ahead. Joe and Sam will listen while they eat.”

“You betcha. I not gonna eat until I spill my guts.”

Then Rosa told her story.


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 22 ~ Joe Sees Another Side to His Father

Chapter 22

Joe and Sam followed Donna through a set of swinging doors. They walked through the kitchen avoiding three cooks taking large slabs of charred ribs out of large ovens and carrying them to carving tables. They went into a small room off to the side in the back of the kitchen. There were two tables in the room with four chairs around each table. One wall had a large white board with cook and wait staff schedules. Another wall had two motivation posters, the first said, You Can Tell a Lot About a Man’s Character by the Way He Eats Ribs – Get it all over you. The other said, One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not enjoyed ribs. The other walls were painted in a barbecue sauce red color.

Joe and Sam sat on opposite sides of the table. Donna excused herself and five minutes later returned with a large serving tray covered with ribs, corn on the cob, corn bread,  two tins of barbecue sauce, and French fries. She set the food on the center of the table. Donna returned to the kitchen and brought back plates, napkins, silverware. Sam stood up and pulled out a chair for Donna.

“You were always the gentleman, Sam. Why I ever let you escape, I’ll never know.”

Joe saw Sam blush. Sam said, “I think you made a good choice, I am too much of a drifter, know what I mean? I can’t stay in a place too long before my butt gits itchy.”

The small talk continued while the three ate. Fifteen minutes into eating, Donna opened a toweletter and wiped her hands. She touched Joe’s forearm. “I don’t know what you’ve heard about Joe Ritchie. There’s a lot of talk that goes on about him and his group. You ever hear their music?”

Joe shook his head. He said, “I didn’t know he was my father until two weeks ago. Now, I’m dead set on finding him or finding out what happened to him. It’s something I have to do to close the chapter and move on.”

“I tole him to forget it.” Sam said, “It’s a waste of time chasing after a no good, bottom of the river scum. Joe’s just gonna be more disappointed, the more he finds out.”

“You’ve always been quick to judge, Sam. I see you haven’t changed a bit. You still hold a grudge against Joe for cheating you out of fifty dollars?”

Sam’s face turned as red as his barbecue sauce.

“Let’s see, Sam. You’ve been carrying that debt for a bit more than twenty-five years. That’s two dollars a year to carry anger for three hundred sixty-five days a year.”

Joe watched the interplay between Donna and Sam. Donna was letting Joe have it with both fists and wasn’t holding back. Sam, for his part, was taking it and not saying a word. 

Donna said, “I don’t mean to be so rough on you, Sam. You’re a good man. You’ve always been a good man. Let the fifty dollars go. If your hard up for dough, I’ll give it to you.”

“No thanks, Donna. I had it coming. Anybody but you telling me this, I’d have kicked their butt up and down both sides of the street. You’re telling it straight and as far I’m concerned from this moment on, Joe Ritchie and I are square. I still don’t like him.”

“I’m going to tell you boys a story.” Donna said, “Not too many people know this story. It happened after Joe got out of county jail for assaulting Captain Terry. I can tell you, Captain Terry deserved what he got from Joe and more. He’s a big time con man. He gets people to play music for him promising exposure on his riverboat. He promises to pay them, then he takes out money for the food and drinks they have during breaks of their performance. He also takes twenty-five percent of tips. Maybe Joe should have just walked away instead of losing his temper. God knows, Joe had a hair trigger temper.”

Sam glanced at Joe. Joe caught Sam’s look and turned back to Donna. He said, “What is the story?”

Donna said, “After Joe got out he went looking for Gloria. Gloria Fallon, the Flamingo’s singer, she had a voice and a body to match. Before Joe got sent up, she and Joe were really into each other. During the time he was in county, Joe never really trusted Gloria. When I visited him in the county lockup, he’d always ask me if Gloria was fooling around behind his back. I’d tell him the same thing, ‘Why don’t you ask her.’ That ended it until I told him Gloria and Danny Dubliski started up and took off without saying where they were going. They were going to make it as a singer and guitar player. Danny had a decent voice, but not as good as Gloria’s voice. Joe took the news news real hard. That was about the same time Max was diagnosed with lung cancer.”

“I heard Max is alive and living with his sister,” said Joe.

Gloria nodded. “Yes, Max is alive and living with Sylvia on Harrison. I guess you already know that. He’s got dementia, so I don’t know how much good he’s going tell you. When Joe heard Max had lung cancer, he visited him every day at the hospital while they took out Max’s right lung, started him on chemo and radiation. When Joe wasn’t in Max’s room, he was working the night shift at the soybean factory to pay for Max’s health care. Joe lost thirty pounds caring for Max. He gave up playing music. He only thought of taking care of Max. That’s what he did for six months until he was sure Max was in remission. By that time, Max’s sister, Sylvia moved from Hannibal to Quincy to be closer to her brother. She’s had a hard life. Her husband died in a mishap at the truck factory. Her oldest son got arrested for cooking meth and he’s doing hard time in Joliet. Now, Sylvia has her hands full taking care of Max. She has to leave him to work and she’s never sure if he’ll be home when she returns. Four times she had the police put out a silver alert for him. Joe took off after that. He was set on finding Danny and beating the living hell out of him. He heard they were in Wichita.”

“How do you know Joe went to Wichita? Anything else?”

Donna reached into her purse and pulled out a postcard, “I got this from Joe. They got a big airplane industry going in Wichita. Joe shoulda hooked up with it. Anyway, he sent me this postcard of the Boeing factory. He said he was working as a custodian at Blessed Sacrament School and church. You might want to check there. I lost track of him after that. What have you heard?”

Joe and Sam looked at each other. Joe said, “I learned he went on to Boulder. That’s where I planned to go next. Wichita is kinda on the way. I think I’ll stop by and maybe there’s a housekeeper or someone at the church who remembers him. Thanks for meeting with us.”

“Why don’t you wait in your car. I want to talk to Sam alone for a few minutes,” said Donna.

Joe wondered what that was all about. He nodded, shook Donna’s hand and headed out of the room and into the kitchen.


Chapter 23 Will Occur on Monday, April 16, 2018 Joe Discover Two Sides of His Father

Chapter 22 ~ A Reunion of Sorts

Chapter 22 ~ A Reunion of Sorts

Joe and Sam left room 212, took the elevator down to the lobby and walked through the lobby. Sam dressed in slightly worn jeans, and a long sleeve blue denim shirt, frayed at the cuffs and missing the top button, stopped and grabbed a banana and an orange. He whispered to Joe, “You gotta git the good stuff before the crowd gits here. I got three of those kinds of tea supposed to help you sleep. Me, I never have trouble going to sleep because I got a clear conscience. I got em for you.”

“What makes you think my conscience isn’t clear?” asked Joe.

“I ain’t the person running away from a woman I love and my work. You’re running away from your responsibility and chasing a shadow you’ll never catch.”

“Let it go, Sam. Let’s get dinner and see what Donna has to say,” said Joe opening the doors to the BMW. 

Joe pulled out on Broadway, took a right and headed toward the Mississippi River. Nothing was said between the two men on the short ride to Riverside Grill. The parking lot was nearly three-quarters full when Joe pulled in. Sam punched Joe in the bicep.

“What did I tell you about that?” barked Joe.

“You think I look okay? I held my good looks over time, I don’t think I’ve aged too much. What do you think?”

“I didn’t know you back then, I can’t judge,” said Joe.

“How old do you think I am. I mean, go by my looks,” said Sam.

Joe wanted to say eighty. Instead, he said, “You look about fifty-one if you’re a day,” said Joe hoping Sam wasn’t younger.

“That’s what I thought. I’m sixty-seven and I look damn good for my age. It’s because I live a good life,” said Sam.

Joe didn’t respond, he undid his seatbelt and opened the car door. He stepped out of the BMW and was hit by the sweet smell of barbecue.  “You’re wasting time, Sam. Can you smell the barbecue?”

Sam said, “If Donna said it was good, it’ll be good.”

Sam twisted the rearview mirror around and said, “Donna’s gonna have to take it or leave it.” 

Joe said, “It’s been twenty-five years, Sam. Donna may have changed. Don’t get your hopes too high.”

They walked inside. Two girls who looked they were students at the nearby community college stood behind a podium, chatting. Sam nudged Joe aside and walked up to the girls, “We want a table where Donna is the waitress.”

Both girls looked into the dining room, then they looked down at a plastic map of the seating area, each table had a number. Her tables are full, all of our wait staff are very good, how’s about Melanie, she will take care of you.”

Sam said, “I want a table where Donna will wait on us.”

Joe came up next to Sam, and flashed his smile, “Sam’s an old friend. We’re just passing through town. Donna knows were coming. I bet if you tell her Sam and Joe are here she’ll be happy to pick up the other table. Joe said pulling out his wallet and taking a five out, “Here’s five dollars for Melanie for losing the tip. Will that work?”

The two girls, now both smitten with Joe, nodded and together said, “Uh huh.”

Joe and Sam sat opposite each other at a table against a window facing the Mississippi River. Sam looked around the restaurant. A male wait staff came over, brought them menus, and said drinks?”

Joe said, “We requested Donna as are server.”

“Not a problem. I’m just helping out. Donna’s in back putting together a tray.”

Joe said, “Thanks, do you have a local brew?”

“You’re kidding, right? Or, you’re new in town. We have Bud regular and Bud Light. 

Sam said, “Bring us two Bud regulars and do you have any homemade bread?”

“Be right out. Donna will over shortly to take your order.”

Sam stared at Joe, “Stow your uppity attitude about beer. Bud’s been around a lot longer than you and it’ll be here when all the other crap that’s posing for beer disappears. I’m hungry, how about we get the feast for two? You kin have the chicken, leave me all the ribs and corn bread.”

“Not a problem, Sam,” said Joe.

A moment later, a woman’s voice from ten feet away, “If it isn’t the most handsome man I ever seen? Sam Fidler, you old coot, you haven’t changed in twenty years.”

Sam stood out of his chair and turned and stared at the woman smiling at him. Her hips were wider. Her hair color changed from blond to brunette. The ponytail gone and replaced with shorter hair style. Her breasts were bigger than he remembered but so was her waist. Sam said, “Donna, how do keep looking so good every man wants to take you home?”

Joe watched Sam and was fascinated. Sam didn’t bat an eye. Surely this wasn’t the same woman Sam knew twenty years ago, but he didn’t let on. And, neither did she. He wished he knew more people like these two.

“Tell that to Harry. We been together for ten years. Harry says he happy with his common law marriage, but I keep working on him.” Donna said, “Who is this stud sitting at your table? Hi, I’m Donna. OMG, you look just like him.” Donna put her hand on the back of the chair to steady herself.

After a moment, she said, “Let’s go in the back. I’d just as soon keep everything private. There’s a place we all can eat and talk. I’ll have Joel, he’s the young man who took your drink order, cover for me. I’ll tell you all I know about your father.”

Chapter 21 ~ Joe Learns a Lesson

Chapter 21 ~ Joe Learns a Lesson

Joe drove along state route 57. He kept his speed at the posted 55 speed limit. Sam whacked Joe on his bicep. “Watch your speed, it slows down to 30 when we go through Marblehead.”

“Don’t hit me on my arm. It’s not like I can’t hear you.”

“Touchy? Afraid of what you might hear when you talk to Max Stein?” said Sam matter of factly.

Joe saw the speed limit sign, slowed down, and looked at the old worn out buildings and homes, “This is Marblehead? It looks more like a ghost town.”

“You never got your hands dirty with hard work is my guess. People live in these houses. They raise kids in these houses. It’s all they kin afford. But you kin make fun of it because you got some fancy apartment and you go and eat every night in a fancy restaurant. These folks don’t exist to you. As for me, I’d just as soon have a beer with them than with you and your friends. They’re real.”

Joe didn’t say anything. Sam’s words stung like an attack of killer bees. He knew Sam was right, but didn’t want to admit it. The town was no more than a half mile long. He drove over a small bridge and the speed limit changed back to 55. 

The passed a soybean factory on the left. Joe looked over to his right, “You know what that is Sam?”

Sam turned to his right. “Those are storage caves. This used to be a big limestone mining area. You know the average temperature in one of the caves is about 55 degrees?”

“Year round?”

“Yep. When you get our room, git a room with double beds. I hope you don’t snore, because if you do, you’ll have to put me up in separate room.”

Joe was kicking himself for buying Sam coffee and donuts six hours ago. He was kicking himself for thinking Sam might help him. And, he was kicking himself for agreeing to let Sam ride to him to Quincy. Now Sam was talking about going on to Boulder. Joe took a right on Broadway and drove east until he came to a Fairfield Inn on the east side of town. He pulled into the parking lot. Stopped the BMW in front of the lobby door and said, “I’ll be right back.”

Ten minutes later, Joe came out of the Fairfield and saw Sam standing outside of the car using Joe’s cell phone. 

“What are you doing? Give me my iPhone?” demanded Joe.

Sam waved him off and turned his back toward Joe. Joe stepped closer and reached for the iPhone. Sam turned and started walking toward Broadway. Joe followed him. 

Sam stopped at the edge of the parking lot. He held the iPhone away from his mouth and turned to Joe, “Let me finish my call or I’ll toss your cell into the street. How will that work for you?” 

Joe threw his hands up in the air and went back to the BMW. He opened the door and sat inside. He whacked the steering wheel with his hand and winced from the pain he caused himself. 

He turned and looked in the sideview mirror and saw Sam walking toward the car. Joe thought as soon as he gives me my phone, I’m telling him we’re done, through, finished. This is the end of the road for you and me.

Sam opened the passenger door, slid in the car. He said, “You know who I was talking to?”

“No, and I don’t care. Give me my iPhone.”

Sam held the iPhone in his right hand. He said, “I was talking to an old friend, Donna. She works as a waitress at Riverside Grill on 3rd Street. She said they have the best ribs in town. You kin take me to Goodwill and buy me some clean duds. Then I can go back and shower and shave. Before you get yourself all worked up, the reason I called her was I asked her if she knew anything Joe Ritchie and his Flamingos since he hung out in this area. You know what she said?”

“What?” said Joe.

“All she said, I’ll talk to you when I’m on break,” said Sam handing the iPhone to Joe.

Joe kicked himself for judging Sam too quickly. He felt guilty. He said, “There’s a Wal-Mart nearby. You can get your clothes there instead of Goodwill.”

Sam smiled and said, “No thanks. I just as soon help out Goodwill, they do a good service giving people work. I don’t need no high class clothes.”

“Thanks, Sam. I appreciate your help,” said Joe.

Chapter 20 ~ Joe Learn About the Mississippi River

Chapter 20

“Hannibal’s got those photo lights, so watch yourself, don’t go through on orange. I hate em. This country is turning into a police state where they is watching every move you make. The government draws the line with me if they put a camera in the men’s room,” said Sam. 

Sam pointed to a light fifty yards ahead.  After they passed through the intersection, Sam motioned with his right hand to take a right onto US Highway 72 heading from Hannibal, across the Mississippi River, to Quincy, Illinois. 

Sam said, “I’ll read Jody’s text to you when we cross the Mississippi. I ever tell you I worked on a barge on this great river?”

Joe nodded, not wanting to hear the story again. 

Sam continued, “The river divides the US in half. It’s about 2400 miles long. You ever been on a river boat? They still have them mostly for dinner and dancing cruises and gambling. Slow down, there’s the bridge.”

“I’m going the speed limit,” said Joe.

“It’s your life. Hurry up to get no where and miss all the fun in between. When you gonna take time to smell the roses? Look, there’s an eagle diving down to snag a fish. You see that?”

“I’m on the bridge, I gotta to watch the road.”

“Eagles are about the most beautiful bird there is in my opinion. You ever see an eagle in person. I’ll take your silence for a no. You coulda seen one, but you’re in rush to find your good for nothing, no count, philandering excuse for a father.”

Joe bit his tongue. He couldn’t figure any benefit in arguing with Sam. If his head was hard as cement, Sam’s head was pure steel. There was no entry point.

“Well, Joey, you missed it. You missed the most beautiful river in the nation. You ever eat catfish out of the Mississippi?” asked Sam.

“We crossed the bridge. You promised to read the text to me,” answered Joe.

“You got a left coming up, git in the left hand lane or we’re gonna go all the way to Springfield. You want to know who’s buried in Springfield?”

“No,” said Joe.

“I’ll tell you anyway. It happens to be the greatest President ever lived, Abraham Lincoln.”

Joe turned toward Sam, “How’d you know that?”

“You think I’m an old fool. That’s what you think. You think your smarter than me. The only thing you got on me is age and it ain’t doing you any good. If I wasn’t sent on a mission to help you, I’d ask to git out and I’d hitch a ride. You are more trouble than a bag full of rattlesnakes.”

Joe signaled his intention to bear to the left and take the exit toward Quincy. He said, “I’ll be quiet. If I insulted you, I apologize, it wasn’t intended.”

“I’ll accept your apology and you can buy me dinner tonight to make up for it. I like ribs, lots of them,” said Sam.

Sam unlatched his seatbelt and put his right hand into his pants’ pocket. The dashboard on Joe’s BMW beeped indicating an unbuckled passenger. Sam ignored the beeping. He wiggled his fingers into his pocket and pulled out Joe’s iPhone. He set the iPhone on his leg and fastened his seatbelt. The beeping stopped. Sam tapped in Joe’s password from memory. The screen opened to Jody’s text. Sam began reading.

Hi Joe – Here’s a quick and dirty summary of what I’ve found. Joe and the Flamingos last known appearance was on July 22nd twenty-five years ago on a Riverboat excursion out of Hannibal, Missouri. According to the online archives of the Hannibal Currier Post, Joe Ritchie was arrested for assaulting the Riverboat captain, a guy by the name of Miles Taylor. He’s still alive and running the riverboat out of Hannibal. According to the paper, Ritchie accused Taylor for shorting the Flamingos on their pay and assaulted Taylor. Ritchie was arrested. He didn’t have enough money for bail. He made a plea deal and pled guilty to simple assault and served three months in the county prison. There is no record of Joe and Flamingos after that date. 

Ritchie was released on good behavior after serving six weeks of his sentence. The last reference to Ritchie is 18 months later out of Boulder, Colorado. According to the online archives of the Boulder Daily Camera, Joe Ritchie was arrested and charged for aggravated assault. He used a baseball bat to attack a patron at the Flatop Fillup Bar. The patron, Larry Olsen was sitting with Gloria Fallon between her sets. According to testimony, Fallon and Ritchie were living together for a while. They broke up and Fallon testified that Ritchie said he’d kill anyone who dated her. He almost succeeded. He was sentenced to eight to ten years in prison. He was released with good behavior after serving six years. He still may be in the Boulder area. Max Stein, the drummer, lives at 1017 Harrison in Quincy. I think he lives with a daughter. Let me come and help you Joe. Please.

“Now I see where you git your temper. Why don’t you turn around and go back home to Marie? Now you got this Jody who wants to git her hooks into you. You’re chasing trouble and if you don’t watch out it’s gonna bit you right in your butt.”

“I’ll take my chances,” said Joe signaling to take the Marblehead exit onto a farm road leading to Quincy.