The next few weeks, Luke had begun to open up 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 mentioned to Fleming that Lukes’ slow, deliberate descent into the death grip of alcoholism was becoming more and more disconcerting. “I’ve seriously considered limiting how much I’m willing to serve him, but as long as he keeps calling a taxi, and 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. It’s just hard to see someone slowly committing suicide.”
He looked at Fleming and said, “if you want to know the truth, I was hoping that when you started talking to him, and actually got him to respond, things might change for him, and no offense, but as charming as you are, I don’t think anything will change for him.”
The look on Flemings’ face echoed what he said. The next night she walked in and Gil shrugged as he said, “he’s not here.” He watched her slide onto the last stool at the end of the bar, and she surprised him when she ordered a Single Malt Scotch. 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 smiled and jokingly said, “maybe if I sit on his stool, his tortured soul will radiate into my subconscious and offer a bit of enlightenment, or I can just internalize his grief and sorrow and make them my own.”
Gil said, “I know you feel sorry for him, but like I said, you have to be careful. I keep trying to tell you that you can’t save everyone, and I dare say that you certainly can’t save him. He’s a ship that is slowly sinking. You can only watch as it disappears into the depths of oblivion. There will be no sound. There will be no howl…no gurgle…no whisper. It will just be gone.”
He wiped the counter and said, “let me ask you, for the third time. Why, why…why are you so fixated on this man?” After some thought, Fleming said, “maybe I’m just a fool for sinking ships.”
Gil wasn’t amused. He was serious, and again asked, “but why him? There are so many other people who could use a friend or someone to help them. You singled out the one most unlikely person in the entire bar to…what? Rescue? I think it’s more than that. I believe that there is something going on here that you’re not telling me.”
Fleming surprised Gil when she rather harshly said, “don’t pull your psycho balderdash crap on me. Not everyone’s actions or inaction’s can be explained or diagnosed by you, or by the inimitable Sigmund Freud.” She was showing a side of herself that he had never seen, and he was worried.
“True,” he 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 him 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 surrender and said, “touché.”
He watched as she, without a word, stood up, pulled a Benjamin out of her leather wallet, tossed it next to her untouched glass, turned and walked out.
Gil wondered if his relationship with Fleming had changed, but she returned the next night and with a smile, ordered her usual Club Soda. 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, “I’m afraid it’s 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 as discreetly as possible, edging his way closer to them. He could see Fleming’s lips tighten in anger as she 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 fired 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 he meant when he said he couldn’t protect. He angrily said, “do you want to hear this or do you want to interrupt by asking stupid questions? Again, Fleming’s lips tightened, but she said nothing.
“I finally got that gold shield,” he said. “My first big case was investigating the murder of a prominent banker. When I got to the scene, I strutted in, like I was the big man in charge.”
“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. For years, there had been a rumor that he had been laundering money for the mob, but no one 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 really didn’t care.”
“After interviewing several people who knew him, and a few who, unlikely as it may seem, actually admitted working for him, I was told that there was an eye-witness, who was actually in the bank when he was killed. I remember being a little more than disappointed. Having an eye-witness didn’t involve any investigative expertise, or sleepless nights drinking coffee and eating doughnuts, or the usual self-serving aplomb 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 Luke was telling, or the amount of scotch he was downing.
Fleming dared to suffer Lukes’ wrath when she again interrupted him and asked, “isn’t it usually a good thing when there is an eye witness?” The torment in his voice was almost tactile when he hesitated and said, “usually, yes, but that 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. Maybe you could grab a stack of napkins and start taking notes. Or maybe you could bring a tape recorder, leave it on the counter and listen to it later in case you missed part of the conversation.”
“My apologies,” Gil said as he once again offered a display of surrender, and retreated.
After visually scourging Gil, Luke stood up, pulled two Benjamins from his leather wallet, threw them next to his empty glass, turned and walked out.
To be continued__________________