The next night, Fleming came in and Luke was already sitting in his usual place, holding his glass like it could by some means, hold the key to his salvation. Glancing toward her, he said, “do you not have anything better to do than stalk me? You’re pushy, and it’s getting a bit annoying.”
Fleming had decided that she was not going to be chastised or basically told to shut up again. She could be sharp-tongued too, and warned him that if he chose to do verbal battle with her, there was a good possibility that he would lose.
“Goddamn,” he said. “You remind me of Jenny. I think I would like for you to leave me alone.” Fleming was quick to retort. “Do you think you are the only person in the world who has problems? Do you think you and you alone are the only person who has experienced loss?”
Luke, getting more and more agitated said, “my life is none of your business, and what makes you think that I have suffered a loss? Fleming said, “because I recognize loss, and I know what it does to a person.” Raising his glass in the gesture of a toast, Luke loudly said, “congratulations. You’re a prophet. I guess that makes you the knower of all things past, and the healer of all things wounded, right?”
The past had not been kind to Luke, and the present was unimaginably cruel. He was like Icarus, who had flown too close to the sun, and was now waiting for his fiery death.
Fleming didn’t say a word. She just looked at him and smiled. That seemed to calm him down. It was almost as if he lay down his sword and yielded, as he quietly spoke. “Fear, rage, loss, grief. Those are all great catalysts for revenge, retaliation, retribution, or the total destruction of ones’ self.”
In his usual disjointed style, shifting from anger to silence to explanations, he ran his fingers around the rim of his empty glass and said, “they had Jenny in a back room and I went in to talk to her. She was shaking, and was absolutely scared to death. I told her that she was going to be fine. She looked at me and said, ‘do you promise’?” Luke looked at his empty glass, shook his head and said, “I promised her.”
Then he got up, pulled three twenties from his leather wallet, tossed them next to his empty glass, turned and walked out.
After he left, Gil came over to Fleming and said, “this is getting heavy.” Fleming looked toward the door and almost trancelike said, “do you think?” Gil said, “oh yeah. He feels guilty about something, and his guilt is his albatross. His cross to bear. His unpardonable sin…at least in his eyes.”
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, ignoring his abruptness that had become second nature. 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, although it was fractured and disjointed.
“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 she was. I mean, we were talking about the mob. She must have trembled for days, and 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’. Even when her voice was trembling with fear, she would always say, ‘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. He was looking back in time. A time he was trying so desperately to escape. A time when his 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 mere few seconds before he pulled it away. Even though he was looking down, 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 sometimes imagine, and also fear that she’s resting next to James Riddle Hoffa. Isn’t that ironic? His middle name was Riddle, and one of the greatest unsolved riddles ever, is “where is Jimmy Hoffa?”
Luke stood up, pulled four Benjamins out of his leather wallet, tossed them next to his empty glasses, turned and walked out.
To be continued______________________