Before Gil could answer, he heard a commotion. “Geeze,” he said as he slowly looked toward the other end of bar.
Fleming watched as he sauntered over, talked a bit and then poured two draft beers and sat them down in front of the men who were having a rather loud “discussion.”
He walked back over and said “That’s Larry and Mel. They’ve been friends since they were little boys and they get into arguments over the damnedest things. Tonight, it’s over who was the best soccer player who ever lived. I’ll tell you, they act like an old married couple.”
Fleming laughed and said “it doesn’t seem to have been very serious.”
“It never is,” said Gil. “I go over and tell them to calm down, give them a free beer and then they’re best friends again. Sometimes I think the only reason they have those little tiffs is to get a free beer.”
He shook his head and smiled as he continued. “Larry works at Earls’ Tire and Lube. He’s been the mechanic there since he got out of high school and is probably the best in this entire county. People come from other counties to have their cars worked on, not only because he’s the best, but because he’s as honest as the day is long. He fixes cars and promises that not only will they run, they’ll roar.”
“Larry’s a real ladies man,” Gil continued. “He’s a sworn bachelor and says he intends to stay that way. I tell him that he’s not getting any younger and one day, some young filly just might sweep him off his feet. He always laughs and says ‘hey, I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box, but I’m smart enough not to end up like Mel’.”
“Like Mel?” Fleming asked.
Gil, a little more somber, said “Mel…now Mel is a cut from a different cloth. He was quite the ladies man too, and sharp as a tack. He was a little more ambitious than Larry and had high aspirations. He used to always say ‘I’m going to be rich and famous some day’.”
He shook his head and laughed when he said “I’ve never seen two people who were more different than Larry and Mel but for some reason, they forged a lifelong friendship.”
“After high school, Mel went to college, got a Master’s degree, graduated summa cum laude and…now he owns Earls’ Tire and Lube.”
Fleming almost laughed out loud. Surely Gil was pulling her leg. “You’re not serious,” she said.
“I sure am,” said Gil. “Mel was a highly respected professor at an Ivy League college. He met his wife there. A girl named Aubrey. She had brains and beauty and everyone said they looked like Barbie and Ken. They got married and became the local ‘it’ couple. They really enjoyed the high life and all the accouterments that went with that high life and they were the perfect pair, until…”
“Until what?” Fleming asked.
Gil said “until Mel made a fatal mistake. He met some floozy at the local college bar and well, you know what happens when men meet loose women. Aubrey found out and left him. He tried and tried to get her to forgive him but she just couldn’t. He lost just about everything he had in the divorce and I can’t say that I feel sorry for him. He had a beautiful wife and a wonderful marriage and he threw it away for a piece of trash. Sorry if that offends you.”
“It doesn’t,” said Fleming. “But how did he come to own the Tire store?”
Gil said “he inherited it from his father and God rest his soul, his father couldn’t have passed at a better time. Mel lost his reputation and his job, of course. He came back here and was washing dishes at a local restaurant. It was a sad sight to see but like I said, when you dance to the music, you have to pay to the piper.”
Fleming ordered another Club Soda and said as she glanced at the now empty last stool at the end of the bar, “Gil, you were going to tell me his story.”
Gil said “well, I’m pretty good at reading people but not when they have never said more than six words to me in almost two years.”
“Six words?” Fleming asked. “What six words?”
Gil, wiping a glass with a cloth before putting it on the shelf, winked and said, “Single Malt and keep them coming.”
Gil scanned the room and then stared at the empty last stool at the end of the bar. He looked at Fleming and said “I don’t know his story or his back story but I do know when a man is trying to drink himself to death.”
To be continued________________________________