It’s Me – Chapter Ten

Luke never returned to the bar.  Neither did Fleming.

But life went on.  Larry and Mel continued to have their “tiffs” and Gil continued to smooth things over with free beers.

Gil had never told his story and most likely, never would.

“People’s lives are like road maps,” he once told Fleming.  “Sometimes their travels are etched on their faces and other times, they’re etched on their souls.  Sometimes we get to hear their stories and sometimes we don’t.  Then there are times when we have to ask ourselves; in the grand scheme of things, does hearing or not hearing, knowing or not knowing really matter?”

He wondered about Luke and he wondered about Fleming.  From the beginning, they were two doomed people.  Luke was a cursed soul, looking for absolution and burning his candle on both ends.  Fleming was an ill-starred savior, who thought Luke could be rescued.

He remembered telling Fleming, “pain can render unbelievable torture and the desire to help can, and so often does, result in failure.”

They both burned brightly but ever so briefly.  He missed them.  They had touched him and left an everlasting mark.

Two months after Luke told the final chapter of his life to Fleming, word got back to Gil that he had died.  He had finally succeeded in drinking himself to death but it had been hurried by an accidental, or as some witnesses believed, intentional fall in front of a car.

He languished in a semi-conscious state, only occasionally, softly mumbling “Jenny.”

Medically, there wasn’t much that could be done for him, except give palliative care and hope for the agonal last breaths of death to come soon.

He was given no special treatment, just the same care that is most often given to drug addicts and alcoholics.  After all, he had done this to himself so there wasn’t much, if any, sympathy.

He never had a single visitor…until one day, a woman came in and asked to see him.

“Are you family?” the nurse asked.

The woman said “I…knew him.”  The nurse smiled and said, “come with me.”

She led the woman into a bleak, dark, sterile room.

She seemed to have a bit more empathy than most of the other nurses. “He won’t know you’re here and it’s just a matter of time before…well, you know.  It’s a pity, isn’t it?  We don’t know if he has any next of kin. There will most likely be no one to mourn for him.”  Then she smiled and said “take your time, honey.”

Luke lay there, pale and gaunt, with tubes inserted and machines beeping the familiar cadence of a heart rhythm.  The woman looked at him as if trying to will him to open his eyes, but he didn’t.

Just a few minutes later, his journey finally ended and his days on Earth were over.  A smile came to this face and he took his last breath as the woman leaned down and whispered, “it’s me.”

 

 

Esto es el fin de la historia.

 

*The ending is purposely ambiguous.  Who was the woman?  Was it Fleming?  If it was Fleming, was she showing compassion by trying to give Luke peace before he died?

Or was the woman Jenny?  Or was Fleming really Jenny?

There are several hints in the story.

 

 

It’s Me – Chapter Nine

After Luke left, Gil came over to Fleming and said “this is getting heavy.”

Fleming looked toward the door and almost trance like said “you think?”

Gil said “oh yeah.  His guilt is his albatross.  His cross to bear.  His unpardonable sin…at least to him.”

Luke didn’t come to the bar the next night or the one after.  Three days later, there he was…sitting on the last stool at the end of the bar.

Fleming came in and sat beside him.  She said nothing nor did he for the first few minutes.  She noticed a band-aid on his left hand and some discoloration around it.  It was the kind of discoloration that one might get from having an IV invade a vein by an unskilled nurse.

Fleming finally broke the deafening silence and asked “are you okay?”

Luke turned and said “I’m just great.  Can’t you tell?”

“What happened to your hand?” she asked.

He looked at her with that ever familiar sneer and said “I got it stuck in someone’s mouth after they kept asking me stupid questions.”

Then, like someone had just put the needle back on a record, Luke’s story continued to play.

“I…I had this…I was concerned about Jenny, of course, but I still had that disappointment about it essentially being an open and shut case.  You know, get a description, a positive identification, slap the cuffs on, make an arrest, go to court and get a conviction.  Cut and dried.  No Deerstalker cap required.”

Luke motioned for another drink and said “I’ll never forget how scared Jenny was.  She must have trembled for days.  I kept assuring her that she had nothing to worry about.”  He downed his drink and said “I promised that I would protect her.”

Before Gil had put the bottle back on the shelf, Luke tapped his empty glass on the counter and motioned for yet another.

“We put Jenny in a safe house.  Safe.  Boy.  That was a joke.  Almost every hour, she called and every time she did, she said ‘it’s me’.  I started teasing her, asking who else she thought would be calling me from the safe house.  Still, every time she called, she said ‘it’s me’.”

Luke gave Gil a nod and held up two fingers.  Gil brought another glass and filled it along with the one Luke was already holding.  Gil and Fleming both watched as Luke downed both glasses and motioned for two more.

When Gil brought the drinks, Fleming could tell that he was going to say something to Luke, and interrupted him.  “Gil,” she said.  “Would you bring me one of those?”  Gil looked at her, nodded and said “of course.”

Luke had a sorrowful look in his eyes as he stared into his glass.  It was as if he was looking back in time.  A time he was trying so desperately to escape.  A time when penance had been self-imposed and was going to be everlasting.

After several minutes, Luke asked Fleming “are you going to drink that or just let it mellow?”  Before she could answer, he picked it up and downed it.

Fleming put her hand on Luke’s.  He let it rest there for a few seconds and then moved his away.

She could see the pain in his eyes and hear the agony in his voice when he quietly said “Jenny.”

He sat there and picked at his glass as if trying to peel an imaginary label off the side.  “The day before the trial, Jenny disappeared.  There were no signs of forced entry into the safe house.  There was no sign of a struggle.  There was no blood or tissue evidence.  There was nothing.  She just disappeared.”

He looked off into the distance and said “I imagine she’s resting next to James Riddle Hoffa.  Isn’t that ironic?  His middle name was Riddle and one of the biggest unsolved riddles ever asked is “where is Jimmy Hoffa?”

Luke stood up, took four twenties out of his wallet, tossed them next to his glasses, turned and walked out.

 

To be continued_____________________

 

 

 

 

It’s Me – Chapter Eight

Fleming returned the next night and Luke was sitting on the last stool and the end of the bar.

As she sat down next to him, she said “I worry a little about you.”

Luke looked into the mirrored shelves of endless bottles of liquor, then looked at her and said, “do me a favor.  Don’t.”

Fleming said “too late.  I’m already vested in you.  I want…..”

Before she could finish what she was going to say, Luke slammed his hand down on the counter loud enough to turn heads and said “fine.  You want to know my story?  I’ll tell you.  Then maybe you’ll get off my back!”

Gil was slowly and inconspicuously edging his way closer to them.  He could see Fleming’s lips tighten in anger but she simply said “okay.”

After motioning for Gil to pour him another drink, Luke began.

“You were right.  I was in law enforcement.  So was my father.  He was a beat cop for 38 years and never once had to fire his weapon.

I was proud of him but I wanted more.  I wanted to carry that gold shield.  I wanted to catch the bad guys and lock them up.”  He smirked as if making fun of himself when he said “I wanted to serve and protect.”

He downed his drink in one gulp.  Gil poured him another and listened as Luke said “I served…but I couldn’t protect.”

Fleming asked “what do you mean, ‘you couldn’t protect’?”  Luke angrily said “do you want to hear this or do you want to interrupt by asking questions?

Again, Fleming’s lips tightened but she said nothing.

“I finally got that gold shield,” Luke said.  “My first big case was investigating the murder of a prominent banker.  When I got to the scene, I strutted in and took charge.  I was the big man.”

“We suspected that it was a hit,” he said.  “It was one of those ‘make your peace with God’ shots in the back of the head.  It had long been thought that he had been laundering money for the mob but nobody could ever prove it.  Maybe he decided to quit or maybe he got caught pocketing some of the money.  We didn’t know and to tell the truth, we didn’t care.”

He continued.  “After interviewing several people who worked for him, I was told that there was an eye-witness.  I remember being a little disappointed.  Having an eye-witness didn’t involve any investigative expertise or sleepless nights or the usual angst you see on television shows about detectives who ‘care so deeply’.”

Luke motioned for another drink.  Gil poured and looked at Fleming.  He had one of those “wow” looks on his face.  She wasn’t sure if it was because of the story or the amount of whiskey Luke was downing.

“Anyway,” Luke continued, “it turned out that the eye-witness was Jenny.”

Gil couldn’t muffle his sudden surprise intake of air.  Luke angrily said “why don’t you come over and pull up a stool?  That way, you won’t miss anything.”

“My apologies,” Gil said as he once again offered his display of surrender and retreated further back.

Fleming wasn’t going to once again be chastised or basically told to shut up, so she said nothing and listened as Luke continued.

“They had Jenny in a back room and I went in to talk to her.  She was shaking and absolutely scared to death.  I told her that she was going to be okay.  She looked at me and said ‘do you promise’?”  Luke looked at his glass, now empty and said “I promised her.”

Then he got up, took three twenties out of his wallet, tossed them next to his glass, turned and walked out.

 

 

To be continued______________________

 

 

 

It’s Me – Chapter Seven

Again, Fleming didn’t answer Gil and he knew she wouldn’t.  He also knew that her first visit to the bar hadn’t been happenstance, and her now regular visits weren’t because he made a mean Club Soda.

He began to think that Fleming was as much of an enigma as Luke.  Those two people had found each other in a most improbable way, which appeared to have almost been predestined.

Fleming seemed to be full of life, while Luke had an urgency for the angel of death to finally give him peace.  She was drawn to him like a moth to a flame and in Gil’s experience, that scenario was always an irresistible and dangerous attraction.

The next few weeks, Luke had begun to open up to Fleming a little more, but he was looking haggard and full of angst.  As soon as he downed one drink, he was motioning for Gil to pour him another.

Several times in the past few weeks, Gil had mentioned to Fleming that he was concerned about Luke’s drinking.  “I’ve seriously considered limiting how much I’m willing to serve him but as long as he doesn’t cause a fuss…like Larry and Mel down there, I really have no reason to govern how much he drinks.  He’s a grown man and he knows what he’s doing…and so do I…and so do you.”

One night, Fleming walked in and Gil shrugged.  He walked over and said “he’s not here.”  He could tell Fleming was disappointed as he watched her slide onto the last stool at the end of the bar.

She surprised him when she ordered a Single Malt.  He leaned over and said “okay.  This is getting a little bit creepy.  You’re sitting in his place and you’ve ordered his drink.  What’s going on with you?”

Fleming said “I just feel so sorry for him.  I don’t believe I have ever seen a more tortured soul.”

Gil said “I know you feel sorry for him, but like I said, you have to be careful.  You can’t save everyone and you certainly can’t save him.”

Gil wiped the counter and said “let me ask you something, again.”  Fleming looked at him and hesitantly said “what?”  He said “why…why are you so fixated on this man?”

After some thought, Fleming said “I told you.  I think I can help him.”

Gil said “but why him?  There are many folks in here that could use a friend or someone to help them.  You singled out the one most unlikely person in the entire bar to…what?  Rescue?”

Then he looked at Fleming and said “there’s something going on here that you’re not telling me.”

Fleming said, rather curtly, “don’t pull your psycho mumbo-jumbo on me.  Not everyone’s actions or inaction’s can be explained or diagnosed by Sigmund Freud.”

“True,” Gil said.  “But I know unusual and inexplicable behavior when I see it.  And I know when there’s an underlying cause…or story behind that behavior.”

Fleming looked at Gil and said “I tell you what.  Let’s get out our scalpels and start dissecting each other.  We’ll start with you.”

Gil raised his hands in the surrender position and said “touché.”

Fleming stood up, took a twenty out of her wallet, tossed it next to the untouched glass, turned and walked out.

 

 

To be continued__________________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Me – Chapter Six

Fleming didn’t deny or acknowledge what Gil said.  She just smiled and said “see you tomorrow night.”

Weeks went by and Fleming and Luke were still playing mental chess.  A little ground had been broken but Gil noticed that Luke was coming in earlier and drinking more.

He witnessed their tete a tetes morph into real conversation.  He was an expert when it came to listening on the sly and hearing Luke’s story, made him feel almost guilty for eavesdropping.  He knew that Luke was a private man, as was he, but he continued to listen anyway.

Through the course of several days, Luke drank more and talked more.  Gil listened to the sad lamentations Luke spelled out to Fleming, after she once again asked “who broke your heart?”

“It was a girl named Jenny,” Luke said, “and she didn’t break my heart.  She left a hole in it.”

Fleming said “wait a minute.  You said your name was Forrest Gump and now you’re saying that your girls’ name was Jenny.  Are you feeding me a line of bull?”

Luke ignored her question and continued.  “I met Jenny at a little coffee shop right down from my office.  I thought she was the prettiest thing I had ever seen and we fell crazy in love.”

Then he looked at Fleming and said “you remind me of her.  I don’t know if it’s your eyes or your voice, but you sure do remind me of her.”

Fleming thought she caught just the slightest hint of a smile when he said “every time she called, she said “it’s me.”  She knew I had caller ID and she knew that I would recognize her number and her voice, but she always said “it’s me.  I’d answer the phone and say ‘what’s up?’ and she would still say ‘it’s me’.”

Fleming tempted the polite conversation and made a 90° turn when she asked, “where did you work?”  The old Luke returned as he downed his whiskey and abruptly asked “does it matter?”

Fleming said “you opened the line of questioning when you said the coffee shop was right down from your office.”  Luke snarled “what are you?  Some kind of lawyer?”

Fleming said “you’re right.  It doesn’t matter but I’m guessing that you were in some type of law enforcement.”

Luke was silent as he downed another glass.  Gil looked at Fleming and held up five fingers.  Fleming remembered Gil saying that he knew when a man was trying to drink himself to death and she believed he was right.  That was exactly what Luke was trying to do.  But she didn’t know why.

Gil poured Luke another glass.  Luke held it up and looked at it, almost as if hoping to find absolution in its warm amber color and sweet but bitter taste.  Without saying another word, he drank it, got up, opened his wallet, tossed two twenties next to his glass and walked out.

He had opened up a bit to Fleming and Gil was glad but warned her to be careful.  “He’s not going to fulfill your hopes and dreams,” he said.  “He’s what we call a dead man walking.”

“I think I can help him,” Fleming said.  Gil looked at her with stern but compassionate eyes and said “I think you can not.”

Gil had silently wondered but this time he wondered aloud to Fleming.  “Why are you so fixated on this man?”

 

To be continued_____________________

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Me – Chapter Five

Fleming wondered if the man on the last stool at the end of the bar was being, as he had called her, a smart-ass, or somewhere buried deep in the crevices of his psyche, he had a playful sense of humor.  But a sense of humor didn’t match the way he spoke.  He had the slow, deliberate, emotionless voice of a serial killer.

The next night, Fleming came in and sat next to the man on the last stool at the end of the bar.  She ordered her usual, then turned to him and asked “do you eat?”

With an almost sneer, the man on the last stool at the end of the bar, repeated “do I eat?”

Fleming said, “since you said your name was Forrest Gump, I imaging that you at least eat shrimp…maybe all twenty-one different ways to fix it.”

“Are you asking me to have dinner with you?” he said.

Fleming didn’t miss a beat when she said “thank you.  I’d love to, but if we’re going on a date, I think I should at least know your first name.  Your real first name.  I mean, I can’t keep thinking of you as the man sitting on the last stool at the end of the bar.”

He looked at her and said “not that it matters but, my name is Luke, and you don’t want to go on a date with me.  Did anyone ever tell you that you’re pushy?”

Fleming smiled and said “yes.  You did and I take that as a compliment.”

Luke turned away from her and said, “then I must have said it wrong.”

Gil, who was rarely out of earshot, looked at Fleming and gave her the “I told you so look.”

Fleming acted like she didn’t hear what he said and asked “shall we meet here or do you want to meet somewhere else?”

Clearly, Luke was irritated.  He looked at her and said “we’re not meeting anywhere because we’re not going anywhere.”

Having said that, he got up, took a twenty out of his wallet, tossed it next to his glass and walked out.

Gil walked over and said “I told you.  You’re wasting your time.”

Fleming said “at least I got him to tell me his name.”  Gil said “yep.  You did do that.  You know, something happened to him.  Something that was so traumatic, he became reclusive and I’d be willing to bet that he’s touch-starved.”

“Touched-starved?  What does that mean?” Fleming asked.

Gil said “it means that people who don’t have physical contact of any kind, become touch-starved.  People actually die from it.  We’re a societal species and we need contact.  When we don’t have that contact, we starve from the lack of touch.  Some people are so touch-starved for so long, if they don’t die, they actually think they might die if they are touched.”

He looked at Fleming and said “you’re not touch-starved but something’s missing in your life.  You come in here and chat and watch, but you don’t really have anyone.  If you did, you wouldn’t be in here every night.  I won’t pry, but I wonder what your story is.  And I wonder, with all the other men in this bar, why you’re so focused on him.”

 

 

To be continued_________________________

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Me – Chapter Four

Gil walked over to Fleming and said “you must have struck a nerve.”

Fleming looked at him and said “no…that was foreplay.”

Gil laughed out loud.  He was thinking that he wasn’t the only one who could read people.  Then again, it could just be that Fleming had a delicious sense of humor.

Fleming wondered aloud to Gil, if the man on the last stool at the end of the bar would come back.  She wondered if she had been too intrusive.  Gil said “only time will tell.”  She said “I have pretty good instincts about most things and I have a gut feeling that he will be back.”

Gil was torn between wanting the man on the last stool at the end of the bar to come back, and wanting him to be left alone.  On the one hand, it would be interesting to see the interaction between a man who was fighting demons…and losing, and a woman who was like the National Enquirer.  She had an “inquiring mind who wanted to know.”

On the other hand, sometimes inquiring minds are not allowed to know.  Sometimes, a person is already dead inside.  They’re just waiting for physical death and Gil had never seen a man who was more ready for physical death than the man on the last stool at the end of the bar.

The next night, Fleming walked in and there was the man on the last stool at the end of the bar.  She sat next to him and ordered her usual Club Soda.

After he served her, Gil was covertly eavesdropping as he pretended to be wiping glasses.

Once again, without looking at her, the man on the last stool at the end of the bar said “do you have any more questions…about my story…or my heart?”

She looked at him and said “do you have any more insults?”  He motioned to Gil for another drink and said “stick around.  I’m sure I can cut you down to size.”

Fleming didn’t miss a lick when she said “take a break.  You don’t have to be a prick every day.”

As Gil poured another glass of whiskey to the man on the last stool at the end of the bar, he knew he was witnessing a game of “one-up-man-ship.”  It was just a matter of who won and he was giving them even odds.

Staring at his drink, the man on the last stool at the end of the bar turned to Fleming and said “you remind me of someone.”

Fleming asked who, and he almost inaudibly said “someone I used to know.”

His answer was fraught with obvious pain and anguish and it was clear that the man on the last stool at the end of the bar was not one to bare his soul.

Still, Fleming knew that he had a story but for now, she would be patient.

Her sense of humor again caught Gil by surprise when she asked the man on the last stool at the end of the bar “so…should I call you Mr. Prick or do you have an actual name?”

Gil hoped his little snicker couldn’t be heard.

The man on the last stool at the end of the bar, stood up, took a twenty out of his wallet, tossed it beside his empty glass, turned to Fleming and said “My name’s Forrest Gump.  People call me Forrest Gump.”

 

 

To be continued______________________