A Town Called Whisper – Chapter Five

The last name on my list was Sherry Plemmons, a 29-year-old woman from Pawtucket, South Carolina.  Searching her name led to an article written more than seven years earlier.

She had successfully battled and beaten death before, but it had been a Pyrrhic victory.

According to the report, she and her eighteen month old daughter were traveling down a winding, mountainous road.  A semi-tractor trailer drifted into her lane, causing her to swerve.  She lost control of her car and it flipped over several times, coming to rest at the bottom of a steep embankment.  Her daughter was thrown from the car.

Sherry suffered serious injures but managed to get out of the car and crawl up the hill.  When she reached the top, she saw her daughter sitting in the middle of the road, apparently okay.  Her daughter saw her, raised her arms and called for her.  Before Sherry could get to the top of the hill, another car came around the bend and ran over her little girl.

Her subsequent depression took its toll and it would be years before she would recover.  Not only did she have to suffer the loss of her daughter, she had to suffer the loss of her husband.

He could never quite reconcile in his mind that somehow the loss of their child had not been her fault.  He left her, and she plunged into an even deeper depression. Several suicide attempts were unsuccessful, and for a few months, she was a patient in the mental ward of the local hospital.

With the help of family, friends and years of physical and mental therapy, she slowly began to recover.  Understanding that the death of her child and the failure of her marriage had not been her fault, had been a long arduous journey, but she had persevered and emerged triumphant.

“The light in her eyes,” as her parents said, “was starting to come back.” She began to socialize and had even started to be comfortable riding in a car.  Driving a car again however, was a hurdle she had yet to conquer.

One day while out shopping with friends, on a whim, she bought a raffle ticket from a local high school booster club.  The grand prize was an all expense paid trip to Las Vegas.

When she won, although vehemently denied, it was suspected that the drawing had been rigged in her favor.  It was the first thing she had ever won, and she was determined to go, and go alone.  He parents begged her to invite a friend for company, but Sherry reassured them by saying she needed to get used to doing things by herself.

As she was ready to board the plane, she laughed and said, “don’t worry if you never see me again.  It will just mean that my ship came in.”

_____________________

Many of us associate death with some sort of Divine intervention or design. I believe we need to, in order to make sense of a loss that simply cannot be understood or readily accepted.  We don’t want it to be final.  We want to know that there is something after.

None of us will escape death, but when it comes too soon or by what seems to be unjustifiable means, it calls into question, at least for me, the motives of this so-called merciful God.  It makes us question His motives.  It challenges our faith.

There are five stages of grief.  Acceptance is the last.  Some people reach that stage, while others never do.  Those who can’t or won’t are left with a gaping wound in their hearts and become frozen in a world of unanswered questions.

As a reporter, it is my job to tell a story and leave the reader with a comprehensive understanding of the basic who, what, where, when and why.  Why has been a question asked by people throughout the ages.  For some, the answer to why is the only road to acceptance.  We ask, but sometimes, acceptance is only realized when we understand that there are and never will be any answers.

_______________________

Whisper was slowly and methodically put to rest along with the remains of its extraordinary residents.  An entire town was gone, leaving only a footprint of what used to be. A marble cross, engraved with the names of the people who lived and died in the town called Whisper was placed in what was once the center of town. A large granite boulder, bearing the image of an airplane and the names of the passengers was placed in front of the cross.

These people are gone, but they will be remembered. Every time someone reads their name, or runs their finger across the etched letters, they will be remembered.  They once lived and loved and laughed and cried.  That will be their legacy and it will withstand the test of time.

My stories of just five of the lives lost on that day was reduced to four, as I chose not to include Joshua Beacham.  My stories were meant to put into perspective the fact that these were more than names on a victim list.  I wanted readers to know them intimately.  I wanted readers to question why their lives were extinguished in such a violent manner.  I wanted readers to mourn for them as if they knew them personally.

I put the town called Whisper behind me, along with the souls who met their fate that day.  I have never returned to the site, but I have heard stories of visitors who swear they hear chatter where Leroy’s barber shop once stood, and marvel at the smell of fried green tomatoes wafting through the air.

I won an “Excellency in Journalism” award for my story of “A Town Called Whisper.”  I now work for a large metropolitan newspaper, where my special interest stories are published weekly.

That event changed my life forever.  I still ask why, but now I am a little more at ease with the difference between the burning need for answers, and the simple act of acceptance.

 Kaniec.

A Town Called Whisper – Chapter Four

The first name on my list was Joshua Beacham, a 31-year-old man from Chicago, Illinois. Mr. Beacham had recently left his home town of Chicago and settled in Goose Neck Hollow, Kentucky.  Why he was going to Las Vegas is anybody’s guess.

Tax records showed that he drifted from job to job, mostly involving manual labor.  I could find no evidence of him ever having been married, divorced or siring any children. I did, however, find an arrest record from just one year earlier.

Most of it had been redacted, with the exception of the date, city, state of the infraction and the final verdict, which stated the charges had been dismissed.  I checked the microfiche of the local newspaper in Chicago and found that days’ edition.

Sometimes, you regret looking too closely into someones’ past and this was one of those times.  What I discovered literally made my blood run cold. According to reports, Mr. Beacham had savagely raped and murdered an eight-year-old girl from his neighborhood.  He had been seen following her home from school in his car, and was the prime suspect when she disappeared.

They found her broken little body in the woods adjacent to his house and a manhunt ensued.  When he was stopped by the police, they found her clothes and bloody underwear in the truck of his car.

While on trial, his attorney brought forth the fact that the arresting officers had not asked permission to open the trunk, which constituted illegal search and seizure.  Therefore, the evidence was inadmissible.  Without that evidence, there was not enough to convict, and the judge reluctantly concurred, and the case was dismissed. According to written reports, Mr. Beacham smiled at the little girls’ parents as he walked out of the courtroom, a free man.

As a reporter, I am supposed to be unbiased.  I am never supposed to vocalize an opinion, but I found myself struggling with wanting to end this segment of the story by applying a disgraceful epithet to this monsters’ name, and delighting in the fact that his body had been justifiably torn apart.

•Matt Perkins was a 37-year-old man who hailed from Kansas City, Missouri.  He was the top salesman for The Royal Typewriter Company. He was on his way to Las Vegas to promote the newest model called the “Royal Skylark.”  He had snagged an audience with the publisher of the Las Vegas Sun, probably hoping to persuade him to equip the newsroom with the latest, highly anticipated electric typewriters.

He was married and had three daughters, aged 10, 12 and 14.  By all accounts, he was a regular Joe.  He paid his taxes, was an attentive husband and father, and enjoyed his work.  He was highly thought of around his hometown, and was liked by his friends and colleagues.

I ran across an anecdote quoted in his hometown paper, as told by his boss at his funeral.

“Matt Perkins was beyond excited about the new Royal Skylark.  It had some weight to it and apparently not realizing this, he dropped the prototype he was to take to Las Vegas and broke it into several pieces.”

“A quick call to the company guaranteed another one would be waiting for him at his hotel.”  His boss’ voice cracked when he said, “before he left for the airport, I told him it was a good thing he wasn’t going to be carrying the typewriter on the plane with him, because he might drop it and make the plane crash.” 

If his boss felt somehow responsible, he didn’t verbalize that belief, nor did anyone else.  Still, that phrase, “you might drop it and make the plane crash” had to weigh heavy on his mind.

I’m sure Reverend Smythe would dismiss any feelings of responsibility and offer a platitude along the lines of “it was just his time to be called home.”
And he would say that it wasn’t up to me to question why God would take a loving husband and father away from his family.  He would say that, but I could not justify to any degree, the death of this obviously good man.

Myrna Brown was a 42-year-old woman from Augusta, Georgia.  For years, she had worked at a local bar in the heart of downtown, called The Whisk-A-Go-Go.  It was a franchised branch of the original Whiskey A Go-Go club on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.

Myrna could still hold her own, looks and figure-wise against any twenty-five year old, and not many people knew her true age. It was no secret that she had seen many things and done and heard many more.

Since the Masters were held in Augusta every year, she had been privy to the lives of the rich and famous visitors, and the even more rich and famous golfers. During the tournament and after the match of each day, those rich and famous folks would pour into the Club, and a good time was had by all, including Myrna. She was not one to stand on ceremony when it came to these men. Their celebrity didn’t elevate them to any sort of superman status, but it did afford them a certain je ne sais quoi.

The year before, one of the most famous golfers of all time “strayed” and he paid for it.  After a night of drinking and carousing around, he passed out. Without a second thought, his “courtesan” promptly rolled him.

Apparently everyone knew about it, but it was kept out of the local and major newspapers and other outlets for the protection of his reputation, and to prevent embarrassing his trusting and unsuspecting wife.  One newspaper, The National Enquirer did not bury it, but that paper was considered to be nothing more than a trashy rag, and the stories were reputed to be mostly unbelievable.

Nobody paid much attention to what was written about the incident…but I did.  The courtesan was interviewed with the promise of anonymity but through my aforementioned charm, I was able to acquire the name.  It was Myrna Brown.

Myrna must have known that the odds of her ever “consorting” with another golfer were going to be pretty slim.  According to one of her friends at the Whisk A Go-Go, she sold everything she owned and was headed to Las Vegas.  She was hoping to find a job in one of the casinos and knew that her profession was legal there.  She also knew at her age, competition would be stiff, so a week ahead of her arrival she had scheduled an appointment with a plastic surgeon to give her a brand new set of firm twins.

Ms. Brown’s lifestyle may have been questionable, but was she on the plane for atonement?  Was she on the plane to pay for stealing from the golfer?  Reverend Smythe would say, “vengeance is mine.  I will repay, says the Lord.”  If that is true and he was repaying Ms. Brown, when will the man she stole from pay his penance?  Where was the justice in this one-sided punishment? She suffered a violent end, and he lives to commit adultery another day.  How could this be fair?  Again, as Reverend Smythe would say, it was not for me to question the decisions of the all-knowing and all-powerful God.

Chick Larson was a good-ole-boy from Birmingham, Alabama.  He had just celebrated his 75th birthday and was on his way to headline at the Las Vegas Sands Hotel.

For years, residents had enjoyed listening to Chick stand in the middle of Pritchard Park and tell his outlandish tales and gut-splitting humorous stories, including how to land a “real mountain wife” and how to “quietly” get rid of her, “if’n she weren’t no good at cookin’.”

Chick had driven a city bus in his early life, but he liked to drink a bit and would sometimes doze off while waiting for passengers to board.  He was eventually fired, became homeless and instead of turning his anger outward, he developed a remarkable sense of humor. He slept under a park bench unless it was raining or snowing.  In inclement weather, he would nestle inside the alcove in front of Gentry’s pharmacy. Chick always marveled at the over-sized mortar and pestle replica in the storefront window, and when inebriated, it was even more fascinating.

Chicks’ lucky day came when a representative from the Hollywood Pictures Company, named Ben Sawyer was looking for local talent and caught one of his performances.  Through his connections with a pal in Las Vegas, he arranged for Chick to have a one-time shot at fame.  When Chicks’ age was questioned, Ben said, “don’t let his age fool you.  He is hilarious.”

On Ben Sawyer’s word alone, Chick became an unlikely local hero and was signed as the opening act for Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin. He had never been on an airplane, nor had he ever owned a suit.  Ben arranged for the plane fare, but not new attire. When the townsfolk heard the news, they all threw in and bought him a custom-made tuxedo that would have made any highfalutin movie star green with envy. The local barber gave him a free haircut and shave and even took him home to take a much needed shower.

I smiled when I heard about the suit, the free shave, the haircut and the shower the local barber gave him.  I imagined that’s what the good people from the town called Whisper would have done.
Chick was leaving nobody behind except the people of Birmingham, who he had entertained all those years.  They, like I would be asking the same question.  Why?  What was the reasoning behind letting a man finally get his shot at stardom, only to have it taken away before he ever got the chance to shine?
I was not liking this God that Reverend Smythe so staunchly defended.

To be continued______________________

A Town Called Whisper – Chapter Three

Over the next few days, I came to know the people of Whisper through Reverend Smythe.  He described a picturesque town, full of people you would expect to see portrayed in a Norman Rockwell painting.  Pansy Faye, Leroy, Ron, Elwyn and Billy Ray came back to life, and for a moment, I found myself wishing that I could turn back time.

Days slowly turned into weeks and the rescue equipment sounds became Whispers’ death rattle.  When the earth movers’ bucket scooped up a pile of rubble, there was a high-pitched squeal, as if the town was screaming while it was being eviscerated.

A worker uncovered the crushed, striped pole that hung outside Leroy’s barber shop and tossed it into the back of a truck, already heavy laden with debris.  A large shard of glass with the letter L painted in red, could only be from Lucy’s café. As those remains were being discarded, there were no smells of aftershave or freshly cooked fried green tomatoes.  There was only the overpowering smell of death.

Reverend Smythe, clutching his Bible, was looking haggard and worn.  It was clear that nobody in the town had survived.  He was trying to put on a brave face, and as any “God person” would do, hold on to his unwavering faith.

I had never really been touched by death.  My parents were still alive and so were both sets of my grandparents.  Aunts, uncles and cousins were still “kicking” as well. I had heard about death, and I had read about it.  I had witnessed mourning and the outpouring of grief, but one thing I never really bought into, was someone trying to explain an untimely death with the bullshit rhetoric of “God must have needed another angel.”

With childlike mentality, my question to Reverend Smythe was, “just how many more angels did He need?”  I wanted to know what happened to the ones He already had. “God has a plan for each of us,” he said.  I was familiar with that phrase and had dismissed it as casually as if I had heard “to each his own.”

I asked, “was Gods’ plan to obliterate an entire town? Was His plan to take all those lives for no other reason than He could?” I wanted to know why.  Why that plane? Why that town?  Why that day? Why that particular time? Why those people?  Why those passengers? Reverend Smythe said that I was not to question God or His motives, nor was I to question who He chose to call them home and when.

He said, “we are sent here to leave a legacy.  We may have a short visit or a long stay, but each of us leaves a mark and the people of this town will leave an everlasting one.  There is good in the world, son, and I have to believe that these people were here to share that goodness, however brief, and that is their legacy.”

I wasn’t sure I believed in what I considered to be senseless deaths under the guise of “legacies.”  I was much more likely to believe in Karmic justice. I believed in “the sins of the father.”  I believed in “an eye for an eye.”  I believed in “what goes around, comes around.”

I also knew that innocent people were sometimes collateral damage when the universe went on a killing spree.

I knew about the people of Whisper, but I knew nothing about the passengers on the plane.  I obtained a passenger manifest and decided to delve into their lives. I picked five random names.  I wanted to weave a tapestry of these people and try to find a reason for the unraveling of the threads that made up their lives.  I wanted to find some cosmic reason for their deaths.

What I would ultimately discover would be gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, and would leave me torn between feeling justice had been served, and questioning the very existence of a merciful God.

My editor approved the time and expense that my investigation would entail, and thought it could be presented as a weekly “human interest” story. I didn’t look closely at the list.  I just did a quick scan, and randomly put a check-mark beside five names. I didn’t know what I was going to find, but what I expected to find was normal everyday people, living normal everyday lives, cut short by a tragic event.

It was going to be a long, tedious procedure and in order to obtain information, some of it long ago tucked away in the archives of the courthouse, I was prepared to use any means available.  That’s what a good reporter does.

Those tactics could range anywhere from pretending to be a “newby” cub reporter to wooing everyone with my innocent and irresistible Southern boy-like charm. When I was just a “pup,” my daddy said, “son, don’t just be nice to the pretty ones.  Be nice to the ugly ones, too.  They’re so desperate for attention, they’ll give you anything you want.  They’ll even break the rules if you make them feel special.”

He was right, and although I didn’t necessarily echo his particular sentiments, I did find his advice to be helpful.  During my extensive research, I quickly discovered which employees would succumb to a wink and a toothy smile, and I knew which ones would fall for any form of hollow flattery.

Armed with time, an expense account, a notepad, a pen and the house wine of the South, I began pouring over documents.  Day after day after day, I scoured the catacombs of microfiche, yellowed with age and the warped and torn pages of heavy, dusty binders.

“My five,” as I came to call them, had stories and I was going to tell them.  I was still questioning the “whys” and I constantly reminded myself of Reverend Smythes’ belief that, “we all leave a mark.  We all leave a legacy.”

Whether remarkable or insignificant, well-known or anonymously invisible, these people had once lived. They had loved and been loved. They had been children, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, sisters, brothers, wives, or husbands and they left a mark. They left a legacy.

These are their stories.

To be continued_______________

A Town Called Whisper – Chapter Two

On June 14, 1965 at 11:53 a.m. the people on the outskirts of Whisper felt the ground tremble, and heard what they said sounded like a sonic boom.

The people in the town of Whisper, most likely felt and heard nothing.

I worked for the bureau of a newspaper, not far from Whisper. Just as I got into the office, my editor called and frantically said, “look at the teletype.” I ran over to the machine, and read what was being printed on the small ribbon of paper being spit out with rapid fire. “Catastrophic event…town of Whisper…details unknown.”

I don’t remember affirming that I was, as they say, “on it.” I don’t remember getting in my car and starting it. I don’t remember how I got to the scene. I don’t remember ever having driven that fast, but I wanted to get the “scoop.” Every reporter wants to make a name for himself and I was unapologetically, no exception. I finally saw a road sign that said, “Whisper – 5 miles.”  A few feet down the road, I saw a badly dented and burned sign that I believed said, “Welcome To The Town Of Whisper.” What I saw after would be seared into my memory like an unfortunate tattoo that has been branded onto your body when you’re drunk, and becomes an event that later, you wish you could erase.

In what used to be the town, debris and body parts were strewn as far as I could see.  In the distance, thick smoke was bellowing like an angry volcano that had awakened, and was hell-bent on revenge for having been disturbed.

Something was wrong.  Something was terribly wrong.

As I walked toward the destruction, it was as if I had stepped into the middle of a war zone.  I’m not sure I can find the words to accurately depict what I was seeing.  The famous “oh, the humanity” phrase popped into my mind, but I’m not even sure that saying could describe the gravity of the carnage that lay before me.

Sheriff Monson was the high sheriff from the next county, and he allowed me into the area with the warning, “be careful where you step, don’t touch anything and don’t speak to anybody who isn’t law enforcement.”  I asked if it would be okay to interview a few people about what happened. He looked at me and said, “son, I’m not sure there’s anybody left TO interview.” I asked if he knew what happened.  He said, “as best as we can tell it was some kind of explosion, but at this point, my guess is as good as yours.”

There was rubble everywhere and I saw pieces of metal, bricks, and cars upside down in what I imagine used to be the street.  I will admit that I had no idea where to even begin.  The most dramatic thing I had ever reported on was an angry man who got drunk and threw several kittens down a dry well.  When he sobered up, he felt guilty but couldn’t get them out, so he started dropping food down to them. They grew up and had more kittens.  When animal control found them, there was a colony of more than 45 cats, living on top of each other in the bottom of that well.

Night fell and amidst the glow of the full moon, the scene took on an eerie feel.  Shadows looked like souls rising up and drifting away, and the quiet was almost deafening.

I had already decided that I was going to catch a few winks in my car so I could be there the first thing in the morning.  As I was walking away, I stopped and turned.  I heard birds singing.  It was night-time…there had been an explosion…a town had been annihilated…and birds were singing. A quote from Rose Kennedy came to mind.  She said, “birds sing after a storm.  Why shouldn’t people feel as free to delight in whatever sunlight remains to them?”

I was thinking, “who was going to delight in the next mornings’ sunlight?  The first responders?  Law enforcement?  Me? Certainly not me or the rescuers or what was left of the townsfolk.” The sun might be shining the next day but we were going to be in the midst of hell on earth, looking at bits and pieces of what used to be lives, and stores and homes.

I was exhausted and fell into a fitful sleep.  I was awakened the next morning by the sound of heavy equipment.  There were earth movers, cranes, firetrucks, ambulances and a plethora of law enforcement vehicles. Several news crews arrived along with reporters from various other papers.

I took a swig of stale water from a bottle that had been in my car for two or three days, and headed toward the scene.  Sheriff Monson was already there and shared some information he had gotten during the night. He said he heard from dispatch, that a Boeing 747 had crashed into the town.

I remember thinking, “if it was an airplane crash, where is the plane?”

Apparently, on impact, it had broken apart into what looked like a thousand puzzle pieces and no identifying marks could be discerned.  Only the size of the debris field could confirm that it was indeed a massive plane.

I don’t know why, but I asked Sheriff Monson where the plane was headed.  “What a ridiculous question,” I thought.  Did it really matter where they were headed?  He adjusted his belt, put his hand on my shoulder and as he walked away, said, “they were going to Las Vegas.”|

Las Vegas.  Sin City.  The place where, “what happens there, stays there.” The city where you can walk away a millionaire or lose your entire life’s savings with one throw of the dice.  None of the people on that plane were going to do either of those things. They had already gambled…and lost. There were 223 souls on board the flight, including the pilot, first officer, flight engineer and three stewardesses.  All were lost. The souls lost on the ground were not yet known.

Sheriff Monson and I noticed a caravan of official looking vehicles arriving. He looked confused as he asked, “who the hell are these guys?”

They were from the NTSB.  This was going to be the first major airline crash they investigated.  They took over and we were left with more or less, slim pickens.  I walked around, in an almost state of shock as I watched body bag after body bag being loaded into unmarked vans.

I learned that only one person on that plane was still fully intact.  One.  It was a stewardess and she was found in a tree, miles from the crash site, still strapped to her jump-seat.

The crash site spanned more than an eight-mile radius.  The National Guard was called in when it was discovered that people from other towns had descended on the area, and were pilfering suitcases, and taking jewelry off hands and arms they found in the woods.

Reverend Smythe had been out of town but rushed back to Whisper when he heard what happened.  He was there to offer as much comfort as he possibly could, but seeing death on such a large scale was something for which he was ill prepared.

A few of the workers broke down even though they were used to seeing death.  They had seen it many times but these deaths…these deaths were horrendous.  They were picking up legs, arms and even heads.  They were finding tiny limbs that belonged to children.  Some of the bodies were literally fused to parts of the plane.

This kind of massacre could bring anyone to their knees.  More than once, I turned my head and wiped tears from my face.  I never considered myself to be overly religious, but I wanted to raise my arms and look to the Heavens and scream, “why?  If you’re such a loving God, why?  What purpose could this possibly serve?”

I watched as Reverend Smythe prayed over every body part recovered.  Who, if anybody had survived in town was still unknown. The wreckage had demolished the buildings and the hope of finding anybody alive was fading. Reverend Smythe was never one to give up faith that the Heavenly Father would protect his flock, and he was going to need his faith now more than ever.

When a Seacrest green Chevy trunk was uncovered, Reverend Smythe crumbled in agony.  Billy Rays’ body was found in the mangled wreckage. That young man was never going to marry. He was never going to have children and watch them grow up. That young man was never going to see his black hair grow back, and turn grey.

To be continued______________________

The Road To Mercy

There is a place where worn and tattered souls go.  It’s a place where the broken, bruised, battered, forlorn and down-trodden are welcomed with open arms.  There is no cover charge, nor is a membership required.

It’s a place for those who have been condemned simply because they were different, or have been judged because they finally broke under the weight of agonizing, soul-killing despair.

It’s a place for those who were discarded after they sought comfort and understanding for illnesses, which could not be seen or touched.  It’s a place for those whose cries for help were ignored.  It’s a place for those who fought for their very existence, only to wish that they had failed.

Mercy does not offer healing, for some souls can never be healed, but Mercy offers peace.

Those who have suffered a lifetime of abuse, neglect and numbness of the heart, find respite there.  Those who have felt so much pain that they no longer feel anything, find solace there.

Those who are touch starved, will no longer be paralyzed with fear.  Those who have lost a lifetime of everything they once held dear, have a place in Mercy.

The road to Mercy is well traveled, and even though it is known that there is a last resort outlet, it is no deterrent to those who seek to escape their torture.

Whether they choose to open a vein, buy a bottle of liquid courage, swallow a handful of pills, tie a noose, or load a gun…those souls are walking toward the road to Mercy.

When they finally arrive, they are home.

The Book Man – Chapter Three

Luther went outside to bring in the reindeer and take down the lights. He put the ladder against the house and just as he reached the top rung, the ladder slipped and Luther fell.

Old man Barnes and Rufus had already made it back home, but two of the neighborhood children, out with their new sleds, saw him fall.  They ran over to him and said, “book man.  Are you okay?”  When he didn’t answer, one of them told the other to run home and call 911.

When the ambulance arrived, the children were asked if they knew his name.  “Book man,” one of them said.  The medic said, “Mr. Bookman?”  The child said, “no.  Not Mr. Bookman.  He is the book man. “Is there anybody at home?  Wife?  Children?” asked the medic.  “No,” the children said.  “He lives by himself. We call him the book man because he’s always buying books.”

The medics loaded him up and took him to the hospital.  Shortly after he was taken to a room, Luther slipped into a coma.

Word quickly spread around the neighborhood about the beloved book mans’ accident.  Old man Barnes had been able to get in touch with Cole and begged him to come to the hospital.  What he wanted to say was, “maybe now you can actually find the time to visit this fine man you have disappointed so many times.” He wanted to say that, but he didn’t.

Cole said that he and his family would take the first flight out, and old man Barnes agreed to meet them at the airport, wondering of course, if they would actually be on the plane.

Old man Barnes went to Luthers’ house and found the familiar pillowcase full of books that he had just bought, still in the back of his beloved Chevy. He decided to pick one to take to the hospital so he could read to Luther. He had always heard that even when someone is in a coma, they can still hear and understand. He hoped that was true.  

The book he chose was, “The Old Man and The Sea,” by Ernest Hemingway. When he put it on the front seat of his car, he stared at it for a moment. Scratching his head, he thought to himself, “I could swear Luther already has this book,” but that wasn’t very important. Seeing Luther was. He sat beside the hospital bed and quietly started reading, occasionally glancing at the sleeping Luther, hoping he would open his eyes.

Later that afternoon, it was time to drive to the airport and he surprised when Cole and his wife were actually on the plane.  They had left Luthers’ little darlings at home with their maternal grandparents.  “It was just easier,” Cole said.

Old man Barnes once again held his tongue.  All Luther had dreamed about for the last several years was getting to see those little girls he called his darlings.  Those little girls he had bought gifts for.  Those little girls he had planned on helping build a snowman.  Those little girls he hoped would giggle at the reindeer with moving heads. Those little girls who he said were the spitting image of their grandmother.

Old man Barnes was silent as he drove Cole and his wife to the hospital. When they walked into Luther’s room, there was an audible gasp from Cole. The doctor was just leaving and Cole asked for an update.  He explained that there had been no change in Luther’s condition and truthfully, he didn’t really think there ever would be.  Due to his advanced age and frail body, the trauma had just been too great for him to ever recover.  At least that was his prognosis.

Cole took Luther’s hand and said, “dad, I’m here.”  He was hoping to see a reaction from Luther, but saw nothing. Then, like a trumpet, they heard the sound that makes every nurse and doctor scramble to a room.  The scream of “code blue,” signaling asystole on the cardiac monitor. Despite their valiant efforts, Luther passed away.  Cole asked for a few minutes alone with him, and what, if anything he said, no one knew.

When he walked out of the room, old man Barnes knew Luther was gone.  He was surprised and a bit angry when he saw that Cole had tears in his eyes.  He was even more surprised at what he said, not even looking at old man Barnes or his wife.  He was looking toward the room where Luther took his last breath.

He said, “you know, you take your parents for granted.  You think they’re always going to be there.  You get busy starting your lives when you’re young, and you forget the sacrifices they made for you, when they were young.  You don’t have time for them, and you forget that they always had time for you.  You think there’s always going to be a next time to see them. You think there’s always going to be a next Christmas.”

All those feelings and statements were too late as far as old man Barnes was concerned. “Your dad is gone,” he said, “and he will never hear those words.  He will never hear the regret in your voice, nor will he ever see the tears in your eyes.  Your sentiments are a little too late, son. Death is final and almost always brings sorrow and regret, but how easy it would have been for you to say those words while he was still alive. How much joy you could have given him if you had just once…just once…kept your word.”

What old man Barnes said made Cole feel ashamed and he broke down.  After he gathered his composure, old man Barnes took him and his wife to Luther’s house.  They walked in and saw the stockings still hanging on the mantle.  The ornaments, carefully wrapped, still sat in a box, and the little angels, waiting for his little darlings, still sat on the floor next to the box.

Old man Barnes said, “Luther was a fine man, and he was beloved in the neighborhood.  He smiled and said, “did you know that he was called the book man?”

“The book man?” asked a puzzled Cole. “I don’t understand.”

“No. I don’t imagine you would understand,” old man Barnes said.  “He was called the book man and he called his books his treasures. He spent weekends buying them, and then building shelves to put them on.  Besides you and your family, his books were his most precious possessions.”

“Come with me,” old man Barnes said as he led Cole down to the basement.  Cole walked from room to room, stunned at what he was seeing.  All of the rooms were full of shelves, and all the shelves were full of books. Luther had meticulously put all of the soft covers together, and all of the hard covers together. He had even organized them by color. Some shelves held books of unusual dimensions, which he arranged in such a way that from a distance, they almost looked like a work of art.

Cole sighed, shook his head and said, “he didn’t want anybody to know.” Old man Barnes, himself a bit puzzled, said, “he didn’t want anybody to know what?”

Cole smiled and said, “he didn’t want anybody to know that he couldn’t read.”

I Ka Hopena.

The Book Man – Chapter Two

The next week, braving the chilly air, old man Barnes and Rufus stopped by as Luther was hauling the tree to the curb.  “Did you have a good Christmas, book man?” asked old man Barnes.  “How were Cole and the family?”

Luther, again trying to hide his disappointment, said, “well, they couldn’t make it.  The weather turned bad up there, and they were afraid they would get stranded somewhere on the way, but Cole said they would try to make it down after the first of the year. Luther said, “they sent me a nice card with a picture of the family on it. You should see my little darlings. They’re the spitting image of their grandma.”

Old man Barnes, trying to hide his own sadness, said, “well, I’m sure they’ll make it down soon.  Where are you off to now? Atre you after getting some more books?” Luther smiled and said, “I thought I might run into some good sales seeing as how it’s after the holidays.  You never know what I might find.”

Cole and his family didn’t make it down after the new year as hoped, so Luther continued to busy himself making shelves for his treasured books. Old man Barnes had once asked Luther who his favorite author was.  Luther smiled and said, “why that would be like asking somebody who their favorite child was.  To me, they’re all my favorites.”

Christmas rolled around again, and again Luther was anticipating a visit from Cole and his little darlings, who were now a year older.  This year, Cole had promised that “come Hell or high water,” they would make it down.

Just as last year, Luther visited the tree farm, wallet full of dollar bills, and once again, picked out the most beautiful tree he could find.  He brought the lights and ornaments down from the attic, and sang to himself as he decorated the tree.  Luther was getting some age on him, and it was getting harder and harder to lift heavy things like Christmas trees, but oh, the joy of finally getting to see his family made his efforts worth it.

While hanging lights on the outside of the house, the children in the neighborhood, bundled up like ticks about to burst, walked or rode by on their bicycles and yelled, “Merry Christmas, book man.”  Luther loved to see them having fun and would sometimes watch as they struggled to build a snowman out of powdery snow.  Unable to get it to stick together, it lent itself to making perfect snow angels. Luther remembered Cole making snow angels and when there was a heavy wet snow, he would ask Luther to help make what he called “the bestest snowman ever.” Luther always obliged, and it was a memory that he would never forget.

Christmas came and went, and again, Cole and his family weren’t able to make it down.  One of his little darlings had gotten sick, and Cole said they didn’t want to travel with a sick child, but promised Luther that they would make it down as soon as she got better.

As Luther was hauling the tree out to the curb, old man Barnes and Rufus were walking by.  Rufus walked up to Luther and when he bent down to rub his head, he started licking his hand.  It was as if he could sense the sadness in Luther.  Old man Barnes didn’t ask how his Christmas was, or how the visit with Cole and the family went.  He could tell that once again, Luther had been disappointed.

Luther hadn’t received a visit, but he had received yet another card from Cole with pictures of his little darlings.  How they had grown!  He was so looking forward to seeing them, as Cole had promised they would be down soon.

He put on a brave face and started the new year.  He tried to soothe his sorrow by thinking of the abundant treasures yet to be discovered. In true form, the next week he came home with a pillowcase full of books.  Old man Barnes and Rufus came walking down the street. He stopped and asked, “how many have you got today?”

Luther smiled and said, “I haven’t counted yet but, I need to get working on some shelves.  Cole and my little darlings are coming down soon you know, and I don’t want to be down in my basement building shelves when I can be playing with them.”

“When are you expecting them this time?” old man Barnes asked.

“Well, Cole promised that they would try to make it down in a couple of weeks.” Luther said.  “I have to tell you, I’m so excited, and I think this time they’ll make it.”

Alas, Luther would be left wanting again.  Cole said that things were just too hectic at work, but he was taking some time off around Christmas, and without a doubt, they would be down.

Soon Christmas was on the way and once again, Luther bought a tree and decorated it with lights and ornaments.  Once again, he hung his little darlings’ stockings on the fireplace mantle and filled them with goodies. He had bought two little porcelain angels, carefully wrapped them, and put them under the tree. He ordered a turkey dinner from the local grocer, and had taken the good china from the hutch.  This was going to be such a wonderful Christmas.

After last Christmas, Luther was scouring the local garage sales, and to his delight, he found a set of reindeer whose heads moved back and forth, and he got them for what he called “a song.”. He carefully packed them away, hoping they would make their debut the next year. The next year came, and he made his way to the attic, got them down and put them in the front yard. He thought they might make his little darlings giggle as they watched.  As he was hanging the lights on the house, the neighborhood children, growing up, and now riding bigger bicycles, rode by and said, “Merry Christmas, book man. I like your reindeer.”

Luther smiled and waved and hoped that maybe they could come play with his little darlings.  He was also hoping that it would snow so they could make their very first snowman in Papa’s yard.  He had an old scarf, an old hat and some of Arlenes’ buttons. He had picked out two perfect limbs for arms and he made sure he had a carrot for the nose.

But Christmas again came and went.  Cole and his little darlings couldn’t make it, but there was yet another promise of trying to visit after the first of the year.

Christmas night, nobody knew that Luther sat in his house next to the tree, and cried.

The next day, as he dragged the tree to the curb, Luther’s melancholy was clear to old man Barnes, who was finding it more and more difficult to hide his anger toward Cole…a man he didn’t even know.  He asked Luther if he was angry. “No, I’m not,” he said.  “I understand.  You know these young folks have a lot going on in their lives. They have work and children and friends.”  

He sounded as if he was trying to apologize for Cole. Old man Barnes looked at Luther and said, “you’re a good man.”  Luther smiled and said, “well, I try to be.”

Luthers’ family didn’t make it down to see him, but one of his hopes had come true. It had snowed and everything was covered in a white blanket that lent a sense of serenity to the entire neighborhood.  It was beautiful, but how much more beautiful it would have been had there been a snowman in the front yard, sitting next to the nodding reindeer.

To be continued_________________________

The Book Man – Chapter One

His name was Luther Malone, but everybody called him the book man.  He was an odd little fellow whose salt and pepper hair was balding in the familiar horseshoe pattern, and his favorite attire was an almost worn-out pair of paint splattered overalls. He could have most likely afforded to buy a new pair of jeans, but chose to spend his extra cash on books.

Well known by all the tellers, once a month he would visit The Bank of Paper Money, and ask for his “usual.” His son had set it up so that his bills would be paid as soon as his social security check had been deposited, which gave Luther the freedom to, as he said, “not have to write nothing.”

He was a friendly man who never failed to offer a smile, and throw up a hand when a neighbor was walking or driving by. Children, riding their bicycles, waved and said, “hey book man.” That was a highlight of his day, but not as much as finding books.

Every weekend at the crack of dawn, he would get into his old fire engine red Chevy pick-up, and begin the hunt for the books he called his treasures. After he went to all the local garage sales, he headed to the thrift stores. He was even known to dumpster dive behind the Salvation Army Family Store when it was closed.  His efforts were always rewarded and he would bring back sacks full of books after every outing. His favorite companions were a tattered, almost threadbare fabric wallet, overstuffed with one dollar bills, and a ratty, badly stained pillowcase.

He wasn’t prejudiced when choosing his books.  He didn’t care if they were soft cover or hardback.  He didn’t care if they were penned by a famous writer or a forgotten one-book author.  He didn’t care if they were thick or thin.  He didn’t care about any of those things because to him, all of them were things of beauty.

Old man Barnes lived up the street and had a little Jack Russell terrier, named Rufus.  The neighborhood had dubbed him, “the little Jack Russell terror” because he was fiercely protective of his master.  For reasons nobody really understood, the book man was the only person Rufus would let come anywhere near old man Barnes.

One day, old man Barnes on his daily stroll with Rufus, stopped and looked at the books in the back of Luther’s truck.  He shook his head and said, “well, book man.  How many did you bring home today?”  Luther smiled and said, why don’t you come over here and help me count? Old man Barnes started unloading them, carefully putting them into the paper bags and said, “it looks like you have 38.” Luther smiled, winked and said, “you don’t say?”

“That’s a record, isn’t it?” asked old man Barnes.  Luther said, “I think it might be.”  Old man Barnes said, “I reckon you’ll be busy making more shelves.”

When not out looking for books, that’s what Luther spent most of his time doing.  He wanted to have the entire basement of his house full of shelves from floor to ceiling, but those shelves would have to wait this week.

Luther had been a widower for five years.  He had a son named Cole, who was married and had two little girls, who Luther called “his little darlings.”  It had been almost three years since he had seen them, and he had never even met the youngest. There was notable excitement in his voice when he told old man Barnes that Cole and his family were coming for a visit the next weekend.  “I keep the house right neat” he said, “but I’ve got to get the yard prettied up for them.”

He spent the next week pulling weeds and trimming hedges. He had already chosen the flowers he would pick to adorn the kitchen table, and he had wrapped gifts for his granddaughters that he found down the street at a sale two days earlier. The neighbors had come to know Luther well, and were always obliging when he said, “I left my glasses at home, and I can’t see the price. How much would you let this go for?”

The next week, old man Barnes stopped and asked how the visit went. Luther tried to hide his disappointment when he said, “well, something came up and they couldn’t make it.” His voice had an almost hopeful lilt when he said, “but Cole said they’d try to get here in a few weeks.”

He kept up his spirits by being ever vigilant in his quest to add to his vast collection of books, and he had become quite the expert at building shelves. He was not one to settle for plain planks held up by brackets.  His shelves boasted beveled edges and a dark mahogany stain, finished with two coats of wax.

Christmas was coming and the weather was turning cold, but it was no deterrent for Luther.  There were fewer garage sales, but the thrift stores were always filled to the brim with second-hand items, including an ever-present array of books. Thrift stores generally commanded a higher price than garage sales, but to him, his treasures were worth the few extra dollars. The workers at the thrift stores were also familiar with “the book man,” and would often help him count out his dollars, after he told them that he had forgotten his glasses.

Once again, a visit from Cole and his family was promised.  Luther hadn’t put up a Christmas tree since his wife Arlene died, but this year, in anticipation of his upcoming visitors, he went to a tree farm, tattered wallet full of dollar bills, and picked out the most beautiful tree he could find. He got out the old lights and ornaments that had long ago been relegated to a resting place in the dark, seldom frequented attic.

Opening the boxes, one by one, he smiled as he looked at each ornament, which had been so carefully wrapped by Arlene in happier days, when Christmas and family meant so very much. As he he unwrapped each one, those happy memories of days gone by came flooding back, and he found himself almost giddy with excitement.  

He re-wrapped the presents he had gotten for his little darlings before, and put a tag with Santa Clause making his way down a chimney, on each one. He bought stockings for them, and hung them on the fireplace mantle. They were filled with chocolate marshmallow trees, peppermint candy canes, and a little bracelet made of candy was tucked deep into the toe of each one.

It was going to be such a special Christmas, he thought as he plugged in the lights on the tree, sat down and basked in the soft glow of the tiny blinking bulbs. As he drifted off into sleep, he dreamed that he opened his eyes and saw Arlene. “Hello, darling,” he said. “I’m so glad you’re here. Our boy and our little darlings are coming to visit.” As her image faded, he begged her not to go, and awoke.

To be continued______________________

It’s Me – Chapter Seven

Luke returned to the bar the next night. Every time the door opened, he glanced toward it, like he was expecting Fleming, which Gil found odd. He had never seen him give any impression that he cared who was in the bar. His world had always revolved around having his scotch and being left alone.

Fleming finally came in and sat down next to Luke. Gil, unable to read his either of their faces, waited for the next dialogue, be it acrimonious or benign.

Luke finally looked at Fleming and said, “did I ever tell you that you remind me of Jenny?” Fleming smiled and said, “yes, you have said that a few times.” Luke said, “every time I look into your eyes I see her, and it disturbs me. You even sound like her. And you’re pushy.” Again, Fleming smiled and said, “yes, you have said that as well.”

Both Fleming and Gil were concerned as they watched Luke down his scotch at a record pace. Once again, like putting the needle back on the record, Luke began to talk. “Have you ever made the mistake of making a promise that you knew you couldn’t keep?” Fleming asked, “it that a rhetorical question?”

Luke put his head in his hands and said, “you never make a promise. Never. But I did. I made a promise and I didn’t keep it. I was so consumed with guilt, I could hardly function. I looked for her. I looked for her for years. I looked on every corner. In every crowd. In every car. In every store. I made deals with drug dealers. I literally begged, borrowed and stole for information.” He almost chuckled when he said, “one of the dealers said he heard that some witness had been given plastic surgery and sent away for their own protection.” That gave me hope, but you can’t survive on hope. At least, I couldn’t. She’s gone and it’s my fault because I couldn’t protect her.”

He turned to Fleming and said, “now you know my fucking story. Are you satisfied? Please just leave me alone.” Having said that, he stood up, pulled three Benjamins from his leather wallet, threw them next to his empty glass, turned and walked out.

After that night, Luke never returned.  Neither did Fleming, but life at the bar 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. 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 Fleming.  From the beginning, they were two doomed people.  Luke was a cursed soul, looking for deliverance and burning his candle at both ends.  Fleming was an ill-starred savior, who thought Luke could be rescued. He remembered telling her, “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 hastened by an accidental, or as some witnesses testified, intentional fall in front of a car.

He languished in a semi-conscious state, only occasionally softly mumbling the name, “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 hesitated and said, “I knew him.”  The nurse smiled and said, “well, I guess it doesn’t matter. Come with me.” She led the woman into a bleak, dark, sterile room.

She seemed to have a bit of empathy as she said, “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, and the saddest part is that 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 into his nose, intravenous lines into each arm, 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.  As he took his last breath, a smile came to his face when the woman leaned down and whispered, “it’s me.”

As she was leaving, the nurse said, “might I ask your name?”

Esto es el fin de la historia.

It’s Me – Chapter Six

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______________________