Thinking that Gil must be pulling her leg, she almost laughed out loud when she said, “surely you’re not serious.”
Gil looked toward Mel and said, “regretfully, I am.” He paused before he said, “Mel was a highly respected professor at an Ivy League college. That’s where he met his wife, Aubrey. She was a lovely girl. She had brains and beauty and everyone said they looked like Barbie and Ken. They got married and became the local ‘it’ couple. They 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’s words were almost painful as he continued. “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.” You know, cheating on a good woman is like throwing away a diamond and picking up a piece of cheap paste.”
Gil shook his head in an almost knowing way, and quietly said, “I’ve known so many men who had beautiful wives, beautiful lives and wonderful marriages, but they threw them all away for a piece of trash. Sorry if that offends you.”
Fleming told him that she took no offense, and after wondering if he was speaking from personal experience, asked how Mel came to own the Tire store.
“He came back,” Gil said,” and the only job he could find was washing dishes at Joes’ Café. His reputation had proceeded him and he started drinking heavily. But just as he had about decided to leave town again, his father died. God rest his soul, he couldn’t have passed at a better time. Mel inherited the store and it seemed to give him a purpose, I think. He stopped drinking as much and reconnected with Larry, talked him into working for him and the rest as they say, is history.” He looked at her and said, “people tend to forgive and forget in time. I guess that’s a good thing.
Fleming glanced at the once again now empty stool at the end of the bar and said, “Gil, you were going to tell me his story.”
Gil had noticed her watching the man on the last stool at the end of the bar every time she came in. He leaned over and said, “you’re wasting your time on that one.”
“What do you mean?” she asked. He said, “I know lots of stories and I’m pretty good at reading people, even people who have never said more than seven words in almost two years.”
“Seven words?” she asked. “What seven words?” Wiping a glass with a cloth before putting it on the shelf, Gil winked and said, “Single Malt Scotch and keep them coming.”
Fleming smiled almost flirtatiously as she said, “I’ve heard that only rich, classy men drink Single Malt Scotch.” Gil said, “you’ve heard that, have you? Well, I would say that you shouldn’t believe everything you hear, and you shouldn’t believe everything you see.” He smiled as he handed her a Club Soda and said, “on the house.”
Fleming said “well, then what’s your story?” He smiled and said, “my story is my story and if and when I get ready to tell it, I’ll tell it.” She wondered if that was psychological mumbo-jumbo or if Gil was just a private man. Or maybe he had his own tragic, or heart-breaking story.
He told her that owning a bar and being everyone’s counselor had its advantages. He said, “I listen to people’s problems, much like a priest, but I can repeat everything I hear.” That was followed with a burst of laughter.
The next few weeks, Fleming came in, ordered her Club Soda, chatted with Gil and watched the man sitting on the last stool at the end of the bar. When available, she always sat one stool away from him. There seemed to be some sort of understanding that no one ever sat right beside him. At least she had never seen anyone sit there.
Night after night, he stared into his glass, like a fortune teller trying to read his future. He never glanced toward Larry and Mel when they started getting rowdy, nor did he ever glance toward her.
Gil looked at the last stool at the end of the bar as the man stood up, pulled a Benjamin from his leather wallet, tossed it next to his empty glass, turned and walked out.
Gil looked at Fleming and said, “remember when you asked, ‘what’s his story?’ Well, like I said. I am pretty good at reading people. I can tell when a man is on the prowl. I can tell when a woman is looking for a meal ticket, and I can tell when a man is trying to drink himself to death.”
To be continued_______________________