“Where the hell are you?” Jake snapped
when he got Tom’s answering machine. “It’s almost seven-thirty and nobody’s
here for cards. Get your ass over here.”
Jake was in the empty back room of Donny’s
Bar at their usual spot where they gathered every other Wednesday night for
some drinks, some chatter, and a night of poker. They had been playing for
years, and Jake always looked forward to the short-term escape from the real
world of nine-to-fives, car payments, and difficult relationships. As did the others.
So, where were they?
down at the phone he had slapped onto the table and was surprised to see how
large it was.
Kim must have bought an upgrade for him.
was up to him, he’d never get an upgrade. In fact, he had always preferred his
old-fashioned flip phone. But Kim was always taking charge. It was one of the
things he loved about her. And one of the things he hated about her. It
simplified his life to have a girlfriend who worried about the insignificant
stuff like what clothes to wear or what to have for dinner. But, staring at the
gaudy screen, he thought maybe it was time to become a bit more of his own man
and stop letting her run his life.
A young waitress approached. He didn’t
recognize her, but he never paid much attention to the staff here, except for
Donny, the portly bartender. Jake stayed focused on the cards. “I’m waiting for
my friends,” he said. “But get me a beer. No. Better make it a Coke. Got a bit
of a headache tonight.”
After she disappeared, he looked around
the empty room and wondered if he should call Bart and Steve and bitch at them,
too. He especially wouldn’t mind going after Steve, who had lately been eyeing
A few minutes later the waitress brought
his Coke. “Are you here every Wednesday?” he asked.
“Yeah. My regular shift.”
“Did anything weird happen here two
“Buddy, I can’t remember what happened
yesterday, let alone two weeks ago.”
“Back here. A fight or anything like
“A fight? That I would remember. Nobody
fights here at Donny’s. Everybody’s too busy sleeping.” She started to cackle
as she turned toward the main bar.
He stroked his temple as he watched her
leave. Something must have happened for them to be stiffing him like this.
Sure, they sometimes argued when they played, but they always got over it.
That’s what friends did.
After his first sip of his soda, he saw Tom
appear at the entrance to the back room. “How are you feeling?” Tom asked as he
“How do you think I’m feeling? I don’t
like getting stood up here on game night.”
“No. I mean physically, how are you
Huh? “I feel fine.”
“You haven’t had any accidents lately,
“Accident? Tom, what is your problem?”
“Well, the problem is that we haven’t
played cards in three months. Not since Steve died.”
Jake’s mouth dropped open.
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Am I okay? You’re the guy who’s talking
like a whacko. What do you mean, Steve died?” He pushed his chair away from the
table and stood.
“Steve is dead. You were there when he
“You’re nuts.” He started toward the
Tom blocked him. “Are you all right? Have
you been smacked in the head recently? Because it looks like you have some
“I’m fine. You’re the one who’s fucked
up.” Jake shoved him away and ran through the main bar. A silent big screen TV
lit the patrons who slumped on stools and didn’t notice any commotion behind
them. Jake rushed outside where he sucked in some fresh chilled air.
“Where’s your car, Jake?” Tom had
“My car?” He looked up and down the narrow
street. Daylight had faded and the streetlights were on. He crossed to the
small parking lot across the street, but his car wasn’t there. Had he driven? “I
guess I got a ride from Kim.”
“Yeah. Does that bug you, too?”
“When did you and Kim get back
“You guys split up a month ago.”
“You’re full of shit. Let’s go to her
place right now.” He spun and ran.
Kim lived about three blocks from
Donny’s in an old Victorian house that had been converted into rentals. She
would knock some sense into Tom.
“Jake. Wait a minute.” Tom’s voice was
distant because he couldn’t keep up. When Jake whipped around the corner at Kim’s
street, he jerked to a halt.
There were two police cars, lights
pulsing, angled on the street in front of Kim’s house. Just beyond them was an
ambulance, the back doors wide open. And across the street a car was smashed into
a light pole. It looked like—
“That’s your car,” Tom puffed from
Jake raced toward the house where two
EMTs were wheeling out a gurney. He could see a woman sitting on the gurney,
her head wrapped in a white bandage. “Kim?”
A policeman cut in front of him, holding
out a hand to stop him. “You know this woman?”
“Of course. She’s my girlfriend.”
“Are you Jake Millerton?”
“That’s your car?”
Shaking, he glanced toward the wrecked
vehicle. “I think so,” he whispered. But how did it get here?
The policeman gestured toward Kim. “She
says you assaulted her.”
Jake slipped to his knees. They had argued.
He remembered that now. About Steve.
He touched his throbbing temple.
“And she says we should reopen the
investigation into Steve Walker’s suicide.”