Today’s Quote by Ray Bradbury on Writing

We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.

Ray Bradbury

Today’s Quote by Kurt Vonnegut

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.

Kurt Vonnegut

Chapter 42 ~ Heartbreak Knows No Boundaries

Chapter 42 ~ Heartbreak Knows No Boundaries

Joe, Sam, and Jody sat in a booth by a window at the Pancake House. The booth was parallel to Sunset Drive. Joe and Sam sat on one side of the booth, Joe closest to the window. Jody sat facing them. Joe and Jody studied the four page menu enclosed in plastic covers. Sam waved to the waitress.

Two minutes later, the same tall slender waitress who waited on them previously walked toward the table. She was wearing a white shirt with the letters P H embroidered on the corner of her left lapel The top three buttons of her shirt were unbuttoned. Her hair color changed from an ash blonde ponytailed look to a short hairstyle strawberry blonde.  She carried three coffee mugs looped through fingers on her left hand and in her right hand she held a full pot of dark coffee. She set a mug in front of Joe, Jody and Sam and then filled their mugs with coffee.

Sam spoke, “I met your sister the other night. She’s pretty, but she’s not as pretty as you.”

Joe wanted to stick his finger in his throat. Jody put her menu down and watched.

“I was hoping you’d come back, handsome.”

“It’s Sam.” He read her name tag, “Pleasure to meet you, Missy.”

“I remember you like the blueberry pancakes and lots of hot blueberry syrup and sausages in a separate plate. Do I have that right?”

“You are as smart as you are beautiful,” said Sam.

Missy glanced over at Jody, “I’ll bet he’s the same way with all the girls.”

“I’ve only know him fifteen minutes. We met at the airport. Sam is the real deal. A perfect gentleman and handsome.”

“Don’t let it go to your head, Sam,” Missy laughed then took Jody and Joe’s order.

Thirty minutes later, the trio pushed their plates to the side. Missy cleared the table and refilled their coffee mugs. Joe said, “Ready to tell me the story?”

“Not so fast, Joe.”

“Don’t,” Joe said to Sam who was about to punch him in his bicep. “What’s the problem, Jody?”

“I’ll tell you all I learned about Joe Ritchie or Rich, whatever you prefer. I’m not holding out on you. I want to give you some context on why your story grabbed ahold of me and won’t let go. I didn’t grow up in Ohio. I grew up in a small town in northwestern Kansas. It’s right on I-70, maybe you heard of it, Victoria. My mom and dad owned a hardware store. I’m pretty handy at fixing things, because I hung around the store when I wasn’t in school. Dad loved to talk with the farmers. He even had part of the store set aside where the farmers could come in and sit and grab a free cup of coffee and talk politics, weather, crop prices. Stuff like that. 

Most of all, he loved mom. He’d always sneak up on her and give her kiss. He’d make an excuse he was heading to Denver or Wichita, we were about halfway between those cities. He’d drive all that way only buy mom a special gift. He loved to surprise her. Mom would kiss him and tell him it was the best gift ever. I never heard them argue. Not even one cross word. Everybody in town is Catholic. They even sent us from the public school during the day for our religious instruction. Church was such a big part of everyone’s life.

“Sounds like you had the perfect childhood,” said Joe.

“I did, Joe. It was perfect. Too perfect,” a sharp look of pain cut a path across Jody’s face.

Sam sat silently, his hands folded together in front of him. His eyes looking into Jody’s eyes as if he were trying to read her mind.

Jody paused. She glanced out the window and stared into the park on other side of Sunset Drive. She slowly turned back to Joe and Sam. “It was Tuesday, May 7th. I was in 5th grade. School was about a quarter-mile from where we lived. I walked home with my friend Tonya. I always reached my house first. Mom usually waited on the porch for me. She wasn’t on the porch that day. I thought she might be in the kitchen. I said goodbye to Tonya and went around the back. Lazy, our dog, barked at me from his run at the back of our property. He really wasn’t lazy. The name stuck when we got him from the pound because he liked to sleep. 

We always kept the doors open. Nothing ever happened in town. I opened the door and walked in. I called out, “Mom? Mom?” There was no answer. I thought maybe she went to the hardware store. Every once in a while that happened. I wasn’t alarmed. I grabbed a glass of milk and an apple. I drank my milk and took my apple and walked to the hardware store. 

When I got to the hardware store, I saw dad. I said, “Where’s mom? She’s not at home.” Dad looked at his watch. He went to the phone and called home. Of course, there was no answer. He asked Bud to take care of the shop, he had to stop by home for a few minutes. Bud was one of the workers. The phone was ringing when we went through the front door. Dad answered the phone. I saw his face change in an instant from a ruddy complexion to white. He was a big man. He was six feet three inches tall and solid, like two-hundred thirty pounds. I don’t think he said two words. He kept nodding his head and saying uh huh, uh huh. He was talking into a landline. It was the kind of phone that set on the wall. He let go of the receiver and let it hang. 

When he turned around and faced me, tears streaked down his face. They wouldn’t stop. I screamed, “Is mom dead, Dad! Is she dead?” He shook his head no, he said so softly I could hardly hear him. “That was Lori Jenkins.” I said, “Yes?” There was more fear in my voice than a question. I knew mom was dead or something really bad happened to her. I said, “What happened, Dad.” He couldn’t hold back the tears, he started sobbing. I threw my arms around him. We held each other, I don’t know for how long. I was crying too. I had no idea why I was crying except dad was crying.”

Joe and Sam were as silent as statues. If there was any background music or noise in the restaurant, they didn’t hear it. 

Jody said, “Dad got himself under control. He stepped back a little bit and looked at me. He said, ‘Lori told me her husband Bill and mom ran off together. Bill left a note. She read it to me. They fell in love after the church Valentines dance. They’d been seeing each other on the sly since then. I didn’t know. Lori didn’t know. How could I have been so stupid?”

Jody was crying. Sam handed her a napkin from the napkin dispenser. The three of them sat silently. Joe and Jody stared out toward Sunset Drive. Sam’s eyes never left Jody. He signaled Missy and made a motion with his hand for a glass of water. Missy brought it over along with a small box of Kleenex.

After a while, Jody turned back, “Sorry guys. I still get emotional over it. It killed dad. He had a heart attack six months later and died. I ended up living with my grandparents until I went to college. Mom never showed up to the funeral. She never showed up. She’s living in New Mexico. She’s on Facebook. I tried to contact her and she told me to stay out of her life, she’s happy. She blocked me.  can’t find her.” 

“That’s rough,” said Joe.

Jody looked at Joe, “It’s the reason your story means so much to me, Joe. I thought if I helped you, in some small way, I might get closure.”

Joe nodded and reached across the table and held Jody’s hand. Sam watched.

Jody smiled, “Thanks, Joe. I knew you’d understand. You’re the only person outside of Victoria who knows the story. You and Sam that is. Now, I’ll tell you what you want to know.”

On Monday, Joe Learns About His Dad

Chapter 37 ~ Hitting Bottom Hurts

Chapter 37 ~ Hitting Bottom Hurts

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s a myth,” said Joe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He ever take you out?”

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

“Is this the lesson?”

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

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

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

“What happened?”

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

“He got drafted?”

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

“That’s rough,” said Joe.

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

“What happened to him?”

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

“You have my attention. Yes.”

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

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

“There’s hope for everybody.”

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

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



Chapter 36 ~ Hell’s Too Good For Him

Chapter 36 ~ Hell’s Too Good For Him

Monica made a slow motion sweep of her arm reaching for the whiskey. Sam pulled the bottle to edge of the table. “Bastard,” she screamed. “One tiny taste, that’s all. I’ll spill my guts.” 

Monica’s face held the hungry look of of someone who’s dream, like a raw egg tossed at a wall was shattered.  She leaned over the table top, her breast resting nearly on the center of the table and tried to grab the bottle. Sam lifted the bottle over his head. Monica laid her head on the table, both arms outstretched toward Sam as if she were pleading to an ancient God for one last drink. 

Joe turned to Sam, “Let’s give her a little and we’ll get out of her.”

“No,” said Sam adamantly. He glared at Monica, “I’ll bet a hundred dollars you got track marks on your arms.”

Joe said, “Sam, you’re too rough. We’re not here to save her. We’re here to get information to lead us to Joe Ritchie.”

Sam didn’t take his eyes off of Monica. We watched Monica slowly slide back the way to her chair as if she were being retrieved by a rope attached to her back and unseen force was reeling her backward. When she sat down at glared at Sam eyes cold enough to pierce steel, he set the bottle on the edge of the table out of her reach. He said, “Tell us about Joe Ritchie and Joe will throw in an extra twenty.”

Monica took a deep breath and leaned forward, placing her elbows on the table and her hands clenched into fists, knuckles touching in front of her.  She said, “The first month we was married it was great. Joe and I worked the same hours. He got a kick out of the guys and women who came to the club who liked my body.You’d be surprised how many women come to these clubs. It went to hell all of sudden. I never met any of the guys he said he played with the Flamingos. I don’t believe he ever was such a group. What a stupid name. It was a story he made up. He’d go out about ten in the morning and not come back until we went to the club about nine at night. It was a Friday night. On the way home, it was Saturday morning, about two, we went by a bar and went in for drinks. We got a table and we were talking. There were two guys at a table who kept looking at me. I told Joe about it. He looked at them and laughed. They kept looking and he got up and went to their table. He pulled up a chair and they started to talk. Five minutes later he came back. I said, ‘What was that about?’ He said, ‘The tall guy with the dark blue shirt, he’ll pay a thousand dollars to have sex with him.”

Joe turned his head toward Sam. He’d only known Sam a little over a week, but he hadn’t seen this side of him. Sam had the look rattlesnake who wanted to strike the first thing that moved across its path. 

Sam softly said, “What did you say?”

“I said no. I’m not a whore,” Monica started to laugh. Well look at me now. It’s not so bad.”

“Well?” Sam encouraged.

“Promise you’ll give me the bottle when I finish. You won’t take it with you, give me your word,” she pleaded.

Sam nodded.

Monica pulled her hand back, “Joe said it would only be an hour. If I liked it, we both could quit and he’d manage me making sure I only got decent guys. He threw numbers at me and said we could leave Vegas and go to Hollywood and get a fresh start in three months. He held my hand and gave me the Joe look. He told me to pretend I was making love to him. That’s what he said. I told him to tell the guy it was twelve hundred and I’d give him the time of his life. That’s how it started. Joe was my pimp, but he called himself my manager. I was doing two or three guys a night. Our sex life went down to zero. Joe was making it with one of the girls back at the club. When I found out about it, I screamed. There was glass vase my grandmother gave me. It was close by and I threw it at him. He ducked and it shattered all over. He came over and grabbed me tight. I tried to fight, but he laughed. I told him I’d scream and people would call the cops. He dared me. I didn’t. I melted.We  made love. I told him I needed a week off, could we go on a trip. We flew to San Francisco. I was so excited I forgot to pack my pills. You can guess the rest.

He told me to have an abortion. I didn’t. He left me. I had a little girl, Nicole. I was all alone with Nicole. Joe moved out. He’d wouldn’t come by. He wouldn’t answer my texts. He never wanted to see Nicole. That’s when I met Leo. I work for him now. The county took Nicole away from me because they declared me unfit. So, I was busted a few times for drugs. Maybe I had a couple of STDs but they’re under control. That’s the great Joe Ritchie for you.”

“Any idea where he might be?” said Joe.

“In hell, I hope. Hell might be too good for him. Where’s my money?” 

Joe took another twenty out of his wallet and slid the six twenty-dollar bills toward Monica. 

Monica grabbed at the money as if it held an invisible magnetic attraction for her. Joe squeezed the money in his fist and lifted it in his hand over his head.

“Son of a bitch. You promised.”

“It’s yours. I promised you the money, I won’t go back on my word.”

“What more do you want,” Monica’s voice carried a tone of desperation. It was almost as if she were dangling from the 21st floor by a rung on a fire escape and her fingers were letting go one at a time.

“Let Sam and me find you some help. You can start over. It’s never too late. Don’t quit on yourself. Don’t quit on Nicole. She needs a real mother,” said Joe.

Sam half turned toward Joe. He knew Joe wasn’t kidding. Joe wanted to help.

“I want my money. I don’t need you. I don’t need help. When I quit the business, I’ll get Nicole back. Give me my money and my whiskey and get the hell out,” she screamed.

Sam tapped Joe on the arm and nodded. Joe placed the money in the center of the table. Sam put the whiskey bottle on top of the money.

Sam said, “Thank you.” 

Sam and Joe walked out of the trailer. When the reached the BMW, Monica stood in the open doorway, the bottle in her right hand, the money crumbled in her fist, and her rob lying at her feet. She uttered a series of words Joe and Sam heard before and hoped they never heard again.

“You did what you could, Joe. Monica’s got to crash and get knocked flat on her back. I only hope she still got a bit of life and fight in her, and there’s somebody close by to offer a hand.”

Stephen King’s 20 Tips for Writers

Stephen King’s 20 Tips for Writers

1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience. “When you write a story, you’re telling yourself the story. When you rewrite, your main job is taking out all the things that are not the story.”

2. Don’t use passive voice. “Timid writers like passive verbs for the same reason that timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe.”

3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend.”

4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”

5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar. “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.”

6. The magic is in you. “I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing.”

7. Read, read, read. ”If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”

8. Don’t worry about making other people happy. “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”

9. Turn off the TV. “TV—while working out or anywhere else—really is about the last thing an aspiring writer needs.”

10. You have three months. “The first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months, the length of a season.”

11. There are two secrets to success. “I stayed physical healthy, and I stayed married.”

12. Write one word at a time. “Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”

13. Eliminate distraction. “There’s should be no telephone in your writing room, certainly no TV or videogames for you to fool around with.”

14. Stick to your own style. “One cannot imitate a writer’s approach to a particular genre, no matter how simple what that writer is doing may seem.”

15. Dig. “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer’s job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible.”

16. Take a break. “You’ll find reading your book over after a six-week layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience.”

17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings. “(kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.)”

18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story. “Remember that word back. That’s where the research belongs: as far in the background and the back story as you can get it.”

19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing. “You learn best by reading a lot and writing a lot, and the most valuable lessons of all are the ones you teach yourself.”

20. Writing is about getting happy. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”

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.”