«Honey, Why don’t you go pick up your stuff.» My mother’s voice comes gentle and soft as she is tapping the back-side of my thin, crusty hair. «We are going to visit your Grandpas. Would you like that?» She grins a big smile as I can feel her breath on my ear. In my hand there lies a set of colorful plastics and building blocks of toys I have been accumulating the last few weeks. I keep my eyes focused on the tools in my hand as I continue juggling with them.
«Do we have to? I want to stay at home.»
«I know you do honey,» she says as she keeps crossing her hand into my hair. «but here’s what. Why don’t you gather all your favorite toys in a bag and we can take them all with us as we go? This way you won’t miss a thing. What do you say?» She askes with her whispery smile.
«Mia, let’s go we need to leave, now.» the voice of my father comes aggressive and abrupt from downstair, as his steps are throbbing away in the wooden floor.
«OK, honey why don’t try to make it faster. We’ll wait for you downstairs. OK?» she persists as she raises up from her squat position harrying dowsnstairs.
It’s only a few minutes later that we gather up everything and we rush away with it, in the car. Grandpa’s house is a few hours distance and we rarely make that trip without notice. I take my seat in the back, with my brother and sister, as my parents sit silently in the front. The whole journey goes by, hollow and muffledly, apart from the occasional eruptions of screams we may get from time to time.
«What did you do this time to make such a mess. How can you be so irresponsible? You have children, don’t care about them?» my mother would yell every now and then as my father would ignore her casually and undisturbed, keeping his eyes on the road. It was remarkable how someone could remain so calm when everything around him seemed to take a toll. But that’s how it always goes with my father patiently undergoing the occasional wrath from mother, with his usual technique of avoidance.
My Grandpa’s owned a huge countryside house that would extend the size of two or three normal houses in the city. It was luxuriously comfortable and spacious, with handmade wooden furniture that he had gathered piece by piece from trees on his own and sculpted to fill the place with everything a house would need. Tables, chairs, beds, and a number of other occasional house equipment, were all made in the little lab in the basement where he would keep bothering with at various times. The whole place was blended in nature surrounded by a big farm of various kinds of crops and fruits, with the green leaves surmounting it and hiding it under the natural spectacle. It would always give the impression that it was intentionally merged in the landscape as if it was kindly fit within the whole like a normal oak tree would be. Never to intervene or disrupt any of the surrounding natural processes.
Living together my Grandad and Grandmom, managed to hold their beautiful household through the demanding farming life while he would also maintain his teaching occupation. Although we would visit them every few weeks, it was always a planned trip meant to last over the weekend or some bank holiday. This time, it didn’t seem to be any of those cases though.
We arrived at the forefront area of the house after traversing a little small bumpy road that precedes it. I would always enjoy that part of the road that would last for about 5 minutes, as it would seem like driving inside the forest per se. Immersed right into our natural Inhabitat. My father marched into the house as my mother took us slowly into the main saloon where Grandpap was sitting while waiting for us.
«Finally the three little espionages arrived.» he chuckled as he tapped and greeted every single one of us.
He was a sweet old man with a gentle and wise voice that always seemed to love everything he had in front of him. He would wear his woolen little brown jacket above his shirt, cover his face with his big thin golden glasses behind which would lie eyes full of love and wisdom. I always liked being in his presence, although on this occasion something felt abstractly wrong.
«What is dad doing?» I pointed in the room next to us, as he seemed to be having a heated discussion with mother and Grandmom.
«Nothing to worry too much you little gentleman.» he tickled my belly. «Why don’t we live the grown-ups having their little discussion while we..» he turned me around showing me the landscape outside the window «go outside to pick some of the juiciest little apples you could ever find.»
«Yes! let’s do that» I yelled as I jumped in celebration.
We moved outside in the little orchard where a number of little and bigger trees would lie one after the other in sequences expanding in the horizon where the eye could meet.
«This is where we keep our little apple trees. They always sour out in autumn when the long summer-heat starts subsiding.»
We stood in front of a little tree as he pulled a little branch closer to examine together with me.
«Apple trees need lots of sun to come to life, absorbing all this energy and then turning it in one of the most delicious fruits earth has to offer to us.»
He turned to me holding one of the apples in the branch.
«It’s this time of the year that they get this mature red color, with the yellow spots covering it all around right after summer ends. Once they have maximised their natural nutrients they grow up bigger and bigger becoming crispy and sweet.» he gestured every word with his hand emphasizing his love of this whole process.
«Can I try one Grandpa?»
«Of course you can try, why do you think we came all this way!» he chuckled. «Now I want you to be careful because apples are gentle and delicate and we need to make sure we don’t damage any of the tree’s branches while we steal its fruits, right?»
«You always want to twist the apple nice and slow,» he said as he turned around one of the apples in a steady way. «you never want to pull it away because this could harm it heavily. Twist it enough and…voila!» he said as he picked one of them in his hand. «You get this magnificent crunchy thing that contains for you all the best nutrients,» he said as a big crackling sound came the moment he took a bite.
«Here, you try,» he said as he passed the branch to me.
We spent the next few hours in the orchard, enjoying nature and all its various fruits. Little did I know about how this day would be the last time I saw my father and this farm was to become my home for the next years to come.
«Mr. Clark, are you ok?» secretary Lucy asks me cutting me off of my little recollection. The memory took me away from the over-populated offices of the busy New York city streets, that I stand in, as I still hold the phone in my hand even though the conversation had finished for quite a while.
«My grandfather is dead,» I say timidly.
«Mr. Clark I am so sorry.» she approaches me with her two hands coupled together. «Can I help you with anything? Would you like something to drink?»
I decline with a gesture as I throw my head in my hands.
My sister made the phone call to inform me about the news and even though everybody seems expectant of it due to his old age, there was nothing beforehand to reveal any sign of degression at all. His health was doing well, he was still active with his wood-work and some social activities he was tackling in the last few years. For all I could tell, this felt a strange incident that somehow doesn’t make that much sense to me at all.
«Should I notify Mr. Edwards? Would you like me to let him know?»
«No, it’s fine I will talk to him myself. Besides, I will need to get away for a few days. We should get a few things straight first.» I respond.
«As you wish Mr. Clark»
The office I’ve been working on is a little marketing firm I and my partner Jason holds for the last 10 years. Even though we built it while being best friends with the optimism and excitement of two young men making their first bold move together, we have been distanced quite a lot in the last period due to a number of incidents that brought us to opposite sides. He, always aggressive and defiant, me, always adopting a more considerate and thoughtful approach, what used to be a partnership of two people that complete each other ended up being a bunch of quarrels, leaving us separated and barely speaking about anything besides work and business.
I take a few minutes to recollect myself and walk over to his office on the opposite side of the building.
«Jason, do you have a moment?» I ask as walk inside.
«Eric, please, of course, have a seat» he responds pointing to the chair opposite to him.
He is dressed in a suit and a straight white shirt, his characteristics lean and scarce as he always was slender and skinny, he takes a puff from his cigar as he starts talking before I say anything.
«Eric, I know you have your objections with taking a second client in the same category, but I have a good reason to believe this is going to be the best for us. Maybe a bit risky but..profitable for sure»
His mind goes immediately to one of the biggest bluffs this firm has ever made, but this is not where my mind is focused at the moment.
«Jason, this is not what I want to talk to you about» I gesture with my hand to make him stop.
«There has been an incident,» I say as I raise up. «I might need to leave for a few days.»
«Leave? What do you mean? what happened?»
«My grandfather, he passed away. I will have to visit my hometown to make sure, everything is ok.»
«Eric, take as much time as you need, of course. You know we might not have as much time together as we used to, but I’m always here for you. I mean in case you need anything. Don’t be afraid to pick up your phone and give me a call.»
I nod to him condescendingly as he taps my shoulder.
The sun disperses his light horizontally over the orchard, as he is barely visible over the mountains. The trees fill the landscape with their green leaves that kindly pass their blood to the apples. I’m still trying to fill my basket with the best possible ones I can get, as my grandpap just showed me. Across the lanes in the distance, I can discern the figure of a female as I twist my hand among the branches. Blonde, angelic hair, full lips fleshy and red contrasting the white sleeveless dress, she laughingly watering the trees, I stand beside the lane observing her for a good few minutes.
«Eric, stop strolling around, we need to get back to the house. Everybody is still waiting for us.» says my grandpa as he gestures to me to harry up. But her figure stacks with me for the following days as if it’s marked with an indelible pen.
«I didn’t know you were so close to your grandad,» says Evelyn my current girlfriend waking me up from my staring to the ceiling. She has her hand around my chest as she leans her head against my shoulder.
«I was. I mean he was like a father to me taking the place of my real one, once he left. I grew up with him in that farm under his veil before I travel here, getting into the city life and all that you see right now.»
«What happened to your real father? You never told me your story about the past.»
«Well, that’s because we never learned the story ourselves. He always had trouble with the police and his drug activities. He was in and out of prison for a good few years. Probably he still is, rotting over and over from one jail to next as he spends his time over some basement.»
«It’s what he deserves,» I say as she glances at me with an expression of a small surprise.
«Maybe now that your grandfather passed away he changes his attitude. You never know how people change over time.»
«Well, I doubt this is the case with my father. He was a special case of man. He didn’t hesitate to abandon his family of three children in a split of a second when the time came to it. He could die right at the side of the pavement and I still wouldn’t bat an eye..» I breathe the smoke from my cigar outwards as she gives me another one of those looks.
«How long are you planning to stay there. You are not going to abandon city life for good are you?»
«As long as it takes, honey. I need to make sure I get everything straight before I come back.» I take another sip of my cigarette.
«What do you mean?»
«My whole family is gonna be there. Mother, brother, sister. I can’t leave them like that. We need to support each other in times like this.»
«Right,» she says as she turns upside, looking straight up. «You never told me though.»
«How was life growing up on the farm? You never talked about it to me.»
Her voice was romantic and filled with nostalgia as if missing some long-forgotten past.
«It was, perfect. The way all houses should be. Strong family bonds, big beautiful house, nature, huge dinner tables. This person taught me anything I know today.»
«Did he? he sounds so great,» she says as she leans back at me again.
«What kind of person was he exactly?»
«He was the kind of person that would make you comfortable no matter what was going on around. He would make you laugh, teach you things, pass on his infinite wisdom» I pause while I sip from my cigarette. «He used to maintain a support group till the end of his life.»
«A support group? What is that, you mean like a phycological group?»
«Yep, one of those. He would always try to help others while putting himself behind, for anyone else. Probably this is what got him at the end.»
«Don’t worry sweetheart. I should be back in no time. I promise you.» I say as I kiss her in the forehead and snap right back into my memories.
I walk along the half-led alley among drunks and beggars. It’s already late but there are still the hard-core tough joes out there making their way through the last round of the night. The area is filled with declining little bars ready to accommodate any loser that may ask for some company. Yet this place is not what it used to be. Turn your head around and you could be confronted with a Pocketknife asking you for your wallet. Miss your focus for a second and gangs can gather around you and beat you to death because they didn’t appreciate the expression on your face. Things are definitely not the way they used to be, not the way they used to be when I was around anyway.
I take a turn at the end of the road, among the red-brick walls that extend beyond the structures. A few meters away I can see the little glossy, shiny neon tablet at the top of a little bar as it stands above the head of a porter. «The Ray’s Pub» sign, radiates like an 80’s disco band, with every color the rainbow has to offer. I pause a little bit from afar as I admire the bad-taste of it, before I start approaching, making my way into it.
The place is dim-lit with a huge circular bar in the middle and smaller leather round-tables dispersed all around it. There are a few spots available on the sides but I make my way in the main area as I take my seat right at the center of it.
«Hey honey, why don’t you fill me in with some of the good stuff you have,» I say to the little blondy beside the bar. She has a little bad-ass, always annoyed kind of expression as she fills my glass. A little bit too much attitude if you ask me.
It’s only a few minutes after I pull out my cigar that one of the old acquaintances takes notice of my presence. He approaches me on my side with an over-excited smile.
«If my eyes don’t fool me. Jeffrey Clark, per se. Who would have thought..»
«Hey Johny, long time no see,» I keep my head straight as I speak.
«Word came out that you got out of jail for some time now. We were wondering whether you forgot about us or if something had happened to you. What took you so long?»
«I had some business to take care of.»
«Business..right..» he nods his head.
«Is Ray around. Why don’t you give him a shout.» I say.
«Oh sure, he will love to hear this. I can’t wait to let him know about the news. Just give me a second» he says as he walks inside.
These kids have learned nothing about life yet, still, here they are thinking that one day they will grow to own the world. It doesn’t take 5 minutes for Ray to come out and find me. The person that we used to run things together in the whole town before I got sent away to prison for the last few years. I see him approaching me with his big belly, wearing his hat semi-leaned on top of his head.
«Finally, I thought you forgot about me,» he says. «Let’s have a sit somewhere more comfortable.»
We take a table in the corner as he seats right opposite to me. He is in his 60’s, the same age as me, and smokes one of those big Cuban cigars that can fill a whole room with their heavy smell.
«Jeffrey you know I love you, but if you think we are gonna get down to business again forget about it.» he plunges in, directly to the subject without hesitation. Nothing I didn’t expect.
«I got the police chasing my ass 24-7. They follow strict policies now. They buzz your balls with questions and checks on your every move. We can’t afford to run girls around the city anymore. It’s too much of a trouble.»
I have my drink and let him spit it all out before responding to his rant. Classic old Ray, he hasn’t changed a tiny bit.
«Last time we mixed up with some Russian girls they busted on us in no time. They took them all away for prostitution and sent them all back. Never saw them again in my life.» he says as he expands his hands on his sides.
«Ray..» I say as I interrupt him «I was expecting anything before I come here but never to see you turn into a pussy.»
«Do you even listen to what I’m saying?» he pleads.
«If the right people get their cut nobody messes with you. It’s how it always worked around here.»
«Jeffrey let me ask you something,» he says as he leans in to me. «You got raised under a good family. Your father was a good man, a peaceful man, a teacher, he taught you things. Made you grow up and have your own family. How did you turn out like this? What is in for you?» he asks as he stares at me.
I take a deep sip from my cigar and have the full drink before answering. «People always assume that you see. But here is the difference. He was always good to others outside his own family. He would run errands and do social work for everybody else but never spent a single minute with his own kids. He would try to prove to everybody that the world is a good place made out of noble people.» I stand staring at him for a second. «Screw that,» I say as I twist my finger in my table. «I’m here to prove otherwise. While having a great time as well» I raise my eyebrow as I wink and grin a little smile at him.
«You bastard. You were always a pain in the ass» he moves his head as he chuckles. «You can have it your way but you are fully responsible for whatever you do. I don’t want to bother with any of it, got it?» he says as we raise up heading towards his office.
«I got it, pal» I say as I tap on his shoulder. «You can leave it all up to me. Nothing to worry about.»
The next morning I wake up early for the little trip to my old house. It’s 5 o’clock and Evelyn is still asleep in the bed, as her red hair is covering her freckled cheeks. I make sure I land her hand carefully on the side as I raise up slowly and start getting ready. It’s still dark outside but by the time I reach home, it’s gonna take the whole day. I put on my shirt and pick up my baggage as I throw it in the back of the car. I haven’t get started but all these memories keep itching my head like a huge pimple.
«You always want to pay your respect to the wood,» says my grandpa as he passes his hand smoothly over the big plank that we try to turn into a little table.
«It has to be smooth in its whole length, even and polished across its body. Treat it too harsh and it’s gonna show. Misuse it and its gonna curve, lose all the nice lean shape it has.» He passed his hand slowly the other way feeling every part of it.
«We want to count 28” for each one of the legs and mark it with this pencil.» He marked a line with the pen on top of the wood marking a sign to pinpoint where to cut. «Can you handle it for the rest, young man?»
«Sure, Grandpa,» I say excitedly.
Right beside him, I discern the figure of the young lady as she takes the little dog off the house for a walk. She is glorious as always and somehow draws my attention fully to her.
«Are you paying attention to me young man?» says my Grandpa as leans into me and turns towards the direction I’m looking for.
«I think Maria is a little bit too old for you there, little buddy but don’t worry, once you grow up you will have the chance to meet the right person for you,» he says as he taps in my head.
I focus back on the road as I zone out of my head. The sun is already up and I have been through half the trip already. But there are things that have stuck with me since the last time I talked to my family. It turned out Grandpa didn’t die out of natural causes. He had an overdose. He got a good chunk of the pills he was prescribed under the doctor’s recommendation, shallowing enough to fill up an elephant. And the more I think about it the less sense it makes. Grandpa would never do a careless thing like that and neither would he be capable of committing suicide. At least not under normal circumstances, that is something I can tell for sure.
I keep driving for the next few hours till I reach right into the last part of the little forest-road before the house. This place hasn’t changed a bit since I last saw it and it brings back so many memories. I see the house and the long orchard in the front that we used to take care of for so many years. It feels more like a long distant dream than the actual place I grew up in.
I leave the car on the side and I march my way towards the front door. My whole family should be inside already and it’s been some time since I last met them face to face. I pass the keys in the door but I immediately feel a slight uneasiness as I unlock.
«Eric, finally..» uttered my sister as they approached to greet me. My mother, lean and slender, dressed in full black, came to me first and hugged me as she held her tears with a white cloth.
«It’s good to finally see you, my dear,» she said as she lightly passed her hand from my face. Her cheeks had been pulled inwards revealing her bone structure vividly through the hardships of the last period.
Across from us there lied my brother, Joshua, with his big muscular presence, and my sister Emma, with her rich curly brown hair. I glanced across to them as we all nodded to each other condescendingly. There are not many people that know me as well as my two siblings, even though we always had our good share of fights along growing up inside this farm-house.
I looked around me taking in all the little nuances of the place. Every area was covered with some wooden structure from my Grandpa. Light oak planes would decorate every little wall, from the ceilings and the various posters. The rooms spacious and comfortable would extend graciously one after the other as they would all blend in, in a seemingly single place that was just separated by scarce little wooden doors that were half-glassed in the upper part. The light would fall warm-yellow, in all parts of the house, as it was designed exactly by my grandpa. And everywhere there was a slight smell of trees and flowers filling the space with their light sense.
«It’s been a long time there, buddy,» says my brother as he approaches me and bumps my arm. «Good to have you back here with us»
«I see you’re keeping off quite well,» I say nodding at his big body-building shape making him burst into laughter.
«He always makes sure to not miss a meal,» says Emma as she gestures putting food in her mouth.
«As he always was,» I say.
«How is life in the big city going for you?» she asks.
«The same way it always had. Busy.»
«It wouldn’t hurt to visit us from time to time. Grandpa was always talking about you the last few days,» says Joshua.
I’m turning quickly to face him.
«You think I didn’t want to?»
«I’m just saying that you could arrange things more frequently,» he says as he expands his hands wide open.
«Joshua, now it’s not the time to have this conversation,» I respond gritting my teeth to him. «Hey let’s go outside for a walk, I think we should talk for a moment.»
We moved outside in the yard as Emma followed along right beside us. Joshua was always a bit abrupt and at times rugged, but it was all part of his warm-headed personality. we moved alongside the blocks of trees that would extend beyond us in lanes separated by little corridors of land.
«How was Grandpa at the end. Was there anything unusual in his behavior?» I ask.
«No, he was the same as usual. He would always make sure he would take care of his trees and then spend most of his time with his little hobbies. As active as he always was.»
«That doesn’t make any sense,» I say scratching my head. «Why would he take so many of the pills in the first place.»
«Most probably he wasn’t feeling that well and wanted to make sure they would do the work. That’s the only explanation we got so far at least.»
«And he emptied the whole bottle of pills? That doesn’t sound like Grandpa at all.»
«You have a better idea?»
«Maybe something happened that we don’t know yet. Something that put him on the spot and he couldn’t take it anymore.»
«Wait, are you suggesting that he ended his life purposefully? On his own?»
«I know Grandpa wasn’t the kind of guy that would act compulsively like that. But maybe something got the better of him and he couldn’t withstand it. We are all humans at the end of the day.»
«I think you go way too far with this theory, for a guy that wouldn’t visit his house beside Christmas,» he says as he stops the walk and turns aggressively towards me.
«Joshua I’m just saying that maybe there are things we don’t know at the moment.»
«You know it’s nice to just come here and play smart, nice, and easy when you weren’t here at tough times. You want to take your ideas and start making theories? Fine, but don’t bring any of that shit to the rest of us who just want to find peace. Got it?»
«Guys can you just please relax for a moment? What got into you so fast?» asks Emma as she hurridly approaches us trying to stop the fight.
«Nothing, it’s all good» I gesture. «We were just having a conversation»
We turn around and start making our way back to the house.
We spent the rest of the night mostly in silence apart from the random conversations on our recent doings. Joshua kept his job as a dietitian and health consultant, while Emma remained a teacher at the public school. She always loved dealing with kids and helping others so I’m sure she is in a great position where her talents are appreciated. My mother is mostly taking care of the house and the farm while making sure everybody else doesn’t lose his mind with all the latest events. She is probably the one that is having the hardest time of all while maintaining her cool in front of everybody. Not so much have changed after all, even after so many years.
We spend a good few hours talking and catching up after which I head upstairs taking a route over the house. I walk in the corridors I used to run on, when I was younger and climb the stairs I used to crawl on, while I was a kid. All wooden surfaces on the ground are covered with colorful carpets of symmetrical tiny patterns and circles, dispersing their whole surface. Their colors fluctuate from red to green to yellow, providing variance and uniqueness on every part of the house. I take the stairs upstairs where a series of rooms expand on the whole floor. My room is located at the end of the corridor, which is where I’m going to spend the night today, but this is not what I’m looking for right now. I take a left turn and head towards the opposite direction where a completely different room is placed. My Grandpa’s office.
I open the door and the lights by snooping the wall to my right to reveal a huge room filled with thousands of books. The whole place is just a big library disguised as the office of someone who liked to spend his time reading maybe a bit too much. There is a big desk in one of the corners and a few comfortable chairs arranged among the space. Above the surface of the desk there lies a yellow plastic sign with a mark to not touch anything. This is the actual place he died as he was found lying on top of it face down with his hands expanding across it. Next to the right of the desk used to be the empty bottle of the pill he took. I walk on the side as I imagine the objects the way they were shown in the pictures as I swirl around the office.
«Why did you do it, Grandpa? What got in to you?» I whisper.
I check the stack on top of his desk with the latest books in his reading arsenal. They are mostly books on sociology and phycology as he would like to get his hands on for pretty much his whole life. In the middle of the stack, I can discern a little sign of a notebook which I carefully take out while making sure everything else remains at place, as I exclaim a sign of surprise.
«The actual notes he was keeping just before he died».
It’s filled with scribbles and little short notes about a number of people and things that I’m mostly unaware of.
«Jenny: heavily damaged from mother’s loss. Struggling to find her way back.»
Or a bit lower,
«Nick: strong attachment to friends and the group. Tendency towards dugs»
I wonder if these are the people he used to see through the social gatherings he was having. This notebook is of great importance if I want to have any chance to find the reasons that led him in ending his life.
«I see you already found your way to the crime scene,» says Emma as she casually walks inside with a little smirk on her face. She is dressed in a dark blue shirt as her curly brown hair falls on top of it.
«I hope you don’t mind» I respond. «I needed to have a look in it on my own».
«Not at all. His last notebook,» she points at the book I hold in my hands. «He used to write on it pretty much the whole time.»
«Yeah, it seems like it,» I say as I pass through a number of full written pages fast.
«He was so obsessed with his work. All the way to the end»
She touches my hand temporarily.
«He used to keep himself busy with all the social work he was doing?»
«He had these two support groups he would manage once every week. They would consume most of his thoughts and energy really.»
«They would? I didn’t know he was that into them.»
«He was. It meant the world to him and he meant everything to them,» she started walking towards the library. «he would accept everyone in the groups. It could be a young boy who wouldn’t get along in his school, or a drug addict trying to sober himself out. He was like a guidance that would always be there for them. A steady shoulder when they didn’t have anywhere else to lean on.» she glanced momentarily at me as she tossed her hands a bit on the books of the library.
«How do we know it wasn’t something related to the groups that got the better of him. Maybe something bad happened in one of them, that disappointed him or put some sort of…pressure» I scolded as I was running all the different scenarios in my head. Who knew how these groups were run exactly or what implication they could have in an old man’s mind.
«Eric, I know what you are thinking and I plead to you to not go this way,» she said as she turned hurryingly towards me. «I know what is going on in your mind because that’s what I was thinking all the time as well. You think it wasn’t an accident. That maybe there was some external factor that led him to take all those pills purposefully and end his life besides having all of us into his life.» she swung her head horizontally in disbelief. «You are wrong Eric, nothing like that happened. He would never do such a thing. You are only getting there because you are trying to find closure in all this. And who can blame you really, it is all so much to take in, and it all came so fast.» she touched my chest gently with her hand as she approached me. «But things don’t have to go this way. We can just let it go and try to find peace in a different.»
«Let it go? How can you even say something like that?» I said as her face startled.
«Eric, I know what you are going through, trust me. I’ve been through it as well and I know how hard it is. But no matter what we do at this point,» she paused as she smiled at me, «it won’t bring him back.»
I take the road among some notoriously ill-famed areas in the middle of the night. It’s dark and the lights barely working, but maybe it’s better this way. There is nothing here to see other than drunkards and drug-addicts trying to make it through their night. Not the best source you can find for people, but you got to start somewhere. I park the car in one of the corners and take the road on the foot. This place is filled with little fishes that just are getting starting their career through the mud. Young adults trying to declare their independence to the world by trying their first joint or stubbing their first tattoo on their arm. It’s always better if they find someone more experienced to show them around.
I see a couple of girls curled in the corner as they are smoking their way out laughing while looking at their phone.
«Hey girls, care for a little coke? This shit I got here can get you reeeally high, trust me.» I say as I stand down beside them.
«Euu, get away from us your freak.» yelled the one on the left. Apparently this is not gonna be as easy as I thought.
I walk down along the same road as I get shoved off by a couple of other girly groups I meet along the way again before I spot something that seems rather hopeful in the far distance. A girl alone, dressed in jeans bottom to top, while hanging a little bag in her back.
«You couldn’t ask for anything better,» I say to myself as I make my way towards her. She is lying down half-consciousness and seems to be slightly underage around 16-17. The right age for a girl that has trouble at home and wants to revenge her parents.
«Hey, do you mind if I seat with you?»
She shrugs indifferently as she curls her lips showing that it wouldn’t make any difference to her.
«Ahh this body is so broken,» I say as I make my way slowly down to the little pavement. Our backs lean into the brick wall of the building behind us, as we face the empty borders of a grass area in front of us.
«You don’t mind if I smoke this do you? I guess it’s an old man’s bad habit.» I say as I pull out a little joint from my pocket.
«You know this place used to be much different when I was growing up. It was filled with farms and little houses with people that would go by living their lives in poverty, drinking milk right from the goat’s breast.» I put out a little grin of nostalgia on my face. «Now it’s all night-clubs and dirty bars for people to pass their time as they spend their money away, without aim or purpose.»
I extend my hand passing the joint to her casually, trying to not pay attention to her young age. She tilts her hair away as she picks it up while looking away.
«But enough with my shit. What’s your story? What brings you down to..this place?» I say as I point all around me.
«I guess…I couldn’t take any more of the shit that were going on in my home.» She sips a big one from the joint. «I had to drift before losing my mind.»
«Is that so?» I say as I take the joint back to my hands. «and what are you planning to do, do you have a place to stay? a job?»
«No not at the moment. I have a friend I’m waiting for though. He promised to help me.»
A blatant lie coming straight from her heart. The kiddo has no one and she is barely holding it together.
«I might be able to help,» I say casually.
«Yeah? How so?»
«I own a bar together with my partner. You can work there if you want while getting back at your feet.» I sip a bit from the joint. «We also have a room at the back with a bed in case you want to stay. It comes free with the job.»
«That would be great. I promise I will do my best on the job,» she said excitedly.
«No problem at all kiddo. What’s your name anyway.»
«Hanna, my name is Hannah,» she says with a big smile.
«And that is a beautiful name,» I say as I raise up. «Well, Hanna why don’t you follow me this way then?» I say as I point towards the car.
«Guys we need to make sure we have everything gathered up in the next few days. Joshua and Emma, you make sure you take care of the green ones, Eric and Maria you take the rest. Can you handle it?»
«Sure we can GrandPa!» I yelled with sheer excitement.
Maria, the attending girl was helping Grandpa and GrandMa with all the household and farm work for a few years now. Coming from a family of immigrants, Grandpa had willingly offered her the position knowing how hard it was for them to pass by, at these hard times. I would always admire her and love the way she would treat everything. Always kind, always loving, and warm-hearted she had nice things to say about everyone. Besides, even though she was in her late 20s and I was only 14 she was always nice to me and patient while trying to learn everything around the farm-work.
«Eric come on! We need to harry before they finish before us!» she would yell at me playfully. In the span of three days, we had managed to finish up the whole area we had to cover, even though it would usually take lots of people to bring everything down.
«Not bad for a first-timer.» she would utter to me. «The last one carries everything to the house.»
«No that’s not what we agreed» I would yell but she would already pass on to me running in front, with no way for me to catch up. In the end, we would lie down dead in the grass trying to catch our lungs from falling off our bodies.
«Hey don’t worry, I’m still gonna help you out. Just messing with you,» she said as we both remained over the grass.
«Hey, have you ever kissed a girl?»
«Me? em, no, why?»
«Would you like to try?»
That is how we first kissed, and it was the first I ever had till that point. Her lips soft and wet, they touched on me gently for a mere few seconds. Yet I already knew that it would remain carved in my memory as the best one I ever had.
The noise from downstairs brings me back to the current moment I raise up from the bed, trying to check what is going on from the little window. Joshua and Emma were having a little disagreement downstairs and from what I could defer, Joshua could barely keep it together. Warm-headed as always he probably learned about the conversation I just had with Emma and took it up to heart. It may require attention at some point but for the moment I just turn back to my bed and wrap up under the sheet. There is a long day coming tomorrow and I better gather up as much energy as I can.
The next morning I wake up early and immediately getting to work with every little detail I can scout out from his notebook. He kept a detailed account of every single member that ever passed from the groups although everything is scattered around in chronological order as everything came along the way. The notebook accounts for everything in the last couple of years which means he had already many more filled out previous to that, but even so, it should suffice to give me a good head start as it is.
I start out and I keep a separate account with everything I find interesting. People of interest, events, notes that may give out some hint on what was going on in the last period of his life. I have only just started and I can already find a number of cases that are worth looking into. Many of the group participants were troubled, mistreated kids or wives that were victims of domestic abuse or negligence. People carrying too much baggage on their own and would intrigue Grandpa enough to take steps into helping them. Could it be that he overestimated his abilities and took it too far in one of these cases? Did he step into areas that triggered the wrong people into giving him a hard time? I have to make sure I don’t miss anything important as every little detail could matter.
I’m already half-way through the notebook but I have noted down two cases that are worth looking into. «George Marsh», a young teenage boy that was dealing with depression and drugs while being terrorized and harassed by his heroin-addicted parents. A father that was beating both him and his mother, he grew up mostly on his own by abandoning school and getting a job from the age of 12. And I can already find a number of notes denoting his plans on calling the police on his situation. If for any reason he proceeded with it and they learned about it, it might have caused lots of trouble even if he was just trying to help.
Then it is «Sarah Fowler». A woman abused daily by her husband that never dared to call in on him or ask for a divorce. She would face a number of beatings every time he would get drunk leaving her many times with bruises and marks all over her body. If this guy was as violent as it is described here, then he wouldn’t stop from revenging the guy that turned him in to the police if matters reached that point. Both are cases worth looking into and I can’t wait to see what comes out of it.
«Eric, are you awake?» my sister knocks on my door. «Hope I am not interrupting,» she says kindly as she timidly picks into my room.
«No, no, not at all I was just planning to come down anyway»
«Yes you do that, I have breakfast ready for you. I’m sure you must be starving,» she says as she closes the door back with a smile on her face.
At the table I see my sister sitting in one of the corners as my mother is gathering up some of her stuff.
«Finally, he is awake.»
«Come, come, Eric,» says my mother. «You need to eat, you had a long journey yesterday.»
«A kid is always gonna be a baby for his mother no matter how old he gets,» says my sister.
«Yep, absolutely true» I consent.
«You two make sure you have a good breakfast and I’ll catch up with you later, OK?» She gives me a kiss as she harries up. «Speak to you soon».
«Is everything OK she seems quite anxious?» I ask.
«Oh don’t worry about that. She is always very abrupt in the mornings.»
«OK,» I grudge as I smell the omelet that stands in front of me.
«You know, I wanted to apologize about yesterday. I shouldn’t have talked like that.» I say to her.
«Eric, stop worrying so much about every little thing. I understand what you’ve been going through and honestly, if you believe it is right to look up on anything, you have all the right in the world to do just that. Nobody can push you away from it.»
Her tone is understanding and sympathetic, showing compassion as she always does.
«Thank you, Emma. That means a lot.»
«You were always the most restless one of the three but I think we can trust you now»
Her comment makes me chuckle. Emma was always the caring one for all of us, being the older and more mature she would act something like a second mother in the family.
«How are things going with you anyway? Are you still seeing this cab-driver of your?» I say as I take a bite out of the sourdough bread.
«Yeah well, you know things are not as rosy as we would like them to be,» she takes a shy grin expression, «I guess things aren’t always coming the way we were fantasizing when we were kids, are they?»
«No, I guess they don’t,»
Her hair is falling right in front of her eyes as she avoids direct contact by looking downwards.
«How long have you been seeing each other now? Is it 3 years? 4?»
«Five and a half»
She raises her fingers to showcase it.
«You know, bob is a good a guy, I know he is. He just has his own kind of trouble lately, as we all do at times. Things have taken the better of him but we are all trying our best, right?»
«Emma,» I say as I touch her hand, «don’t let anyone ever, EVER treat you any less than you worth it. Do you hear me?» I take a pause as she nods her head.
«You are always there for everybody else but you always forget that one person that matters most than anyone else. You» I say as I point at her.
«Thank you, Eric»
Her eyes have been watery and it feels like she has a whole set of baggage holding inside her.
«You know things weren’t always like that with him. He used to soft and kind, and…caring. He would always make sure I have everything I need and put me before anything else,» she pauses as she takes a deep breath. «But, sometimes life can be quite tough on people. You know how it is.»
«Emma, if you need me to go and talk to him just say the word and I can..»
«No, no that’s not it, it’s not him. It’s me mostly and these drinks I’ve been having from time to time.» she points at some bottles of whisky on the side. «But I’ve been working on it. I’ve been seen Dr. Jones lately and it’s going great already. I haven’t touch any of it for quite a while now.»
She had a drinking problem for quite a while, hiding it for the most part from everyone in the family till one night Joshua found out when he visited her and we’ve all been keeping an eye on her since then.
«I know you are going to be just fine in no time, sis,» I say as I squeeze her hand. «And I’m going to be right in your side for everything you need.»
Time passes as we finish off our breakfast. It’s always nice spending time with family and your loved ones, especially when you haven’t seen them for a long time. It feels like delving back to my past the way we would always spend time together in the mornings sharing our breakfast and our thoughts.
Yet, today is looming a busy day ahead with some initial meetings I want to kick off. «George Marsh» is the first one pumping out of the page. I have his address, the places he usually hangs out, and the address of the place he is working at. Grandfather made sure to do his due diligence and keep everything organized just in case they ever come in need. And apparently, he was right.
«So what are you planning to do today? Care to go for a walk» asks Emma as she drinks a bit of her orange juice.
«Oh no, I don’t think I can, I have so many things I need to take care of. Sorry» I say.
I greet her and give her a hug, as I make my way out. The comfort of the family, morning breakfast has to give way to the harsh and cold day that lies ahead. It is still quite early with the landscape in front of me to appear as if it is fixed, frozen like a picture that is gonna stay as such for a little while before the day begins. I move across the glass door and step down the few outwards-stairs that lie before the entrance door before I spot something that stops me dead in my tracks. Mother is approaching towards me, together with another woman, as they both chat facing each other, making their way closer to the house. The woman’s figure makes an undisputed claim. She has shiny, golden hair, fleshy full lips, red as the heart of a peach as they contrast her white glowing skin. Her focus is given fully to the mother as her smile draws big curvy lines over her face. It’s Maria, probably visiting us to share her condolences with the family. She is wearing a light black shirt and a Raffia Hat with a black ribbon tied on top of it. She takes a sad expression as she touches my mother’s hands who gives her a little kiss on the forehead while hugging her. Mother turns around her head and spots me as I stand a bit further away and immediately gets her attention on me.
«Eric you won’t believe who I found out in the street as I was returning home. I was just about to take a left turn in Dane street and then across the road, I spotted her as she was waiting for the bus. Can you believe it? It’s Maria! You used to work together all these years.»
I grin out a big smile as they approach me and try to hide my startlement.
«You two excuse me for a second now, I need to make a phone call and I’ll be right back,» said my mother as she walked inside the house.
«I didn’t know you were here already,» she says as she reveals a set of big white teeth under her wet-red lips. «Have you arrived recently?»
«Just yesterday» I respond. She puts her hand on her hat so that the wind doesn’t shove it away. She keeps herself in a good shape and has a strong positive aura as she always used to. Her big blue eyes stable and calm looking straight ahead like her whole focus is generously handed out as a gift. Her skin is flushed, among the light wrinkles that are shaping imperceptibly across her face and her whole attitude is excluding a strange easiness with every little move or word she is speaking.
«I heard you moved to New York. You opened your office there.»
«I did» I nod. «It’s a very different place.»
«But you are happy, and that’s all that matters,» she says as she points to my heart.
«I’m still not sure if I made the right decision. Maybe I should have stayed here with Grandad. Making sure he was ok. That he had everything he needed.»
«Your Grandfather was a wise man. And he would always support your decision to chase after what you want. Had you stayed back you would always wonder how things would be had you actually decided differently. You would never be happy like this.»
I shy away my eyes on the ground as I put a little smile on her words.
«Your grandad was really proud of you. He was always talking about his little ‘Eric’ like you were his biggest achievement.» She tapped gently on my arm as she came a little bit closer.
«Maybe he was, but he also needed my help. And I wasn’t there for him the same way he always was for me.»
«Eric..don’t be so harsh on yourself» she uttered, «Some things are not in our hand to control.»
I glanced at her as I took a little breath out.
«Sometimes I feel you resemble him so much.»
«Maria,» yelled my sister as she rushed and threw her body on top of her. «I can’t believe you finally came. Please come up» she said as they all walked upstairs. Yet I had a different matter to attend that required my presence. I turned the other way as I watched them immersing into the house and headed towards my car.
I slid open the door of the little back-room located behind the bar, as I see Hannah lying down in the little room. She is only a kid, but she has a strong character and enough autonomy to make it on her own. Exactly the kind of people I appreciate. I take a seat in the little chair opposite to her bed, as she still sleeps heavily with a slight snore, right across me.
«Hey kiddo, wake up,» I whisper as I nudged her.
She opens up her eyes slowly giving a good, strong rub on them.
«Ahh, what time is it?»
«It’s time to get out of bed,» I say as I open wide up the curtains letting the sunlight fuse into the room.
«So early?» she asks as she covers her eyes. «It’s only eight o’clock»
These little kids can be quite funny at times. I let the comment pass, as I keep it up, with my upbeat attitude.
«Come on. I have something to show you. Dress up and find me in the bar in five.»
I walk outside and take a seat over one of the tables while waiting for her. It is a good day today, a training day, where she gets to experience the world in a different way than what she used to till now. The point in time that marks the turn to the real world as she weans away from the pacifier and her mother’s milk and gets a glimpse of what it is really like to be out there, all by yourself. It takes work but within time, she will be in a position to compensate for all the trouble.
She slacks off as she walks towards the table wearily, slugging her feet towards the seat across me.
«Did we really had to start so early?» she asks disappointed.
«It’s part of the job, kiddo. From now on you need to start at exactly this time. I don’t make the rules.» I say as I raise my two hands in the air.
«Have you ever done waitress before?»
She declines with her head.
«Well, this is gonna be your post. You are gonna need to take orders, pass them back to the kitchen, and bring stuff back to the customers. Simple enough?»
«I guess so.»
«Don’t worry, you are gonna do just fine. I’m gonna be here for everything you might need.»
«Thank you, Mr. Clark,»
«Jeffrey will do. Now follow me, I want to show you something.»
I bring her back to the bedroom as I take on a little package that I brought in, this morning. We move inside and I leave the box in the bed as I open it up and extend the contents.
«Now look at this. What do you think?» I ask as I extend a couple of little dresses in their full length. They are beautiful and colorful, from the ones that I know she will appreciate.
«Oh my God, Jeffrey they are amazing.»
«I didn’t know your size but I can change them for you if they don’t fit well.»
«No, no, not at all. They are perfect» she says as she checks them in front of the mirror.
«Glad you like them, honey. I want to make sure you got everything you need. I know it must have been hard for you, trying to make a new start while having nothing on your back. It reminds me of the way I started up.»
I sit on the bed.
«Did you have it tough?»
«I was all alone when my parents were wasting their money on everything else while depriving me of my dreams. I decided to leave them aside and do it my way instead. Prove to the world that I can make it, that I can be something with my sole skill, needing no one but myself.» I glanced over at her. «I made the point that I don’t need any of them to be content.»
«You did a great job, Jeffrey,» she says as she stands on my side.
«That’s why I want to make sure you have everything you need to make it to this damn world.»
I glance around. «I know this place is not much but it should be OK for now.»
«It is absolutely great.»
I nod as I raise up from the bed.
«I really appreciate everything you’ve done for me, Jeffrey,» she says catching up from the door. «I’m gonna make sure I won’t fail you. You have my promise.»
«Jenny the little blonde girl at the bar will guide you in everything you might need. You can go to her for stuff about the job or what have you.»
«Thank you, Jeffrey,» she whispers while I make it out of the room.
Right across the corridor, I notice Ryan as I close the door behind me.
«You sure you know what you’re doing there?» he asks as I approach him.
«Just wait and see,» I say as I walk right past him.
«Honey, I’m telling you it was terrible. We just got into a fight about the timeshifts and nobody wanted to back away from it. Can you believe they want me to have night-time after all the work I’ve done already?»
Evelyn is fully on today as she rants over her abusive working environment and senseless co-workers. She is irritated and enraged, probably for a good reason, yet my mind drifts along as I can barely keep my focus on the conversation.
«That is just horrible.»
«This guy John, is such a prick I can barely keep it up. I’m right on the brink of quitting all the way and shove the finger right in front of their face. There is literally nothing else I would lime more right now.»
«I’m a hundred percent with you, whatever you choose. If that’s how you feel, then, you should go for it.»
«But on the other hand, I kinda need the money, I can’t afford to take the step and leave just like that. The bastards, they are so lucky it’s a bad timing for me.» She exhales a big breath. «Anyway, enough with my stuff. When are you coming back? It’s only a few days you are away and I can barely keep it up together.»
«I know honey, I’m sorry, it’s just not that easy at the moment. Everybody in the family is kinda shaky and I just need to be here to make sure everything is fine.»
«I know honey, I’m sorry, it’s just not that easy at the moment. With all the family and stuff, I’m afraid it’s going to take some time to get everyone back up straight.»
«Oh, it must be tough. I can only imagine how it is to deal with something like that. How are things with the rest?»
«Well, you know everybody is going through it in his own way, I guess. Everybody is reacting differently but I’m mostly concerned with mother. She takes the biggest weight of us all.»
I take a turn over a little square and park the car in the corner. This the neighborhood where George Marsh is supposed to live, assuming the papers were right anyway.
«Oh, poor woman., honey just make sure you stand on her side OK?»
We continue the chat a bit more before I greet her, and stand by for a few seconds, trying to get my head around the little task that lies ahead. I twist my head in all directions as I close my eyes, making sure to relax all the little muscles around the head. A little trick Grandpa taught me that I employ every time I detect tension in me.
Right across me extends a square-park with various trees emerging from the sides, like it is all one single huge plant at the center of the city. An antithesis to the blatant cement that expands beyond it, declaring a totally different setting. I walk across the road and head towards the little cafe I know ‘George Marsh’ is supposed to be working on. Assuming he hasn’t drifted off just yet, I might be lucky enough to find him right there.
I arrive in front of the place after a few minutes, it stands like a little cubicle of bricks among a series of bigger, shiny stores that drown it in its humility. It has big purple curtains covering the glass-windows and a little red door on the side of it. I push it on and walk inside observing the series of the dark-metallic chairs and tables in it, that stand empty apart from a couple of tables that are occupied. I approach the barista and nod to him.
«Hey, excuse me,»
He is sweeping a glass with a white cloth and his shirt is wrapped up way above his elbows.
He leans forward as I gesture to him. «I’m looking for a guy that is working here. His name is George Marsh. Know him?»
«George? Yes, of course, I do. The little prick left last week without notice, leaving me on my own to take care of the whole place alone. He is lucky I didn’t chase after him» he says as he points with his finger. «The prick..»
«Do you know where I can find him? Where he hangs out?» I say.
«Pff, you can never know with guys like him. Look over the Darn street where he and his friends usually spend their time at, selling dope.»
I make my way out as I pick his picture out of my pocket. A young kid, with long straight hair falling in front of his face and eyes full of excitement. I found his picture from Grandpa’s collection of photos, as the group would embark on a series of them making a reference of their progress. His characteristics are mostly foggy, but still, it could help me spotting him assuming I have a good look.
I find the street a few minutes later and start walking across it. If anything was true, from what the barista said, he should be somewhere here, making his pass while selling drugs, the way he used to do when he initially got into the group with Grandpa.
I spot a group of guys, a couple of blocks away in front of a basketball court with a tall wire fence. One of the guys leans back on it, while the rest surround him making a little circle. I try to distinguish his characteristics but he is way too far to make anything out of it. I get closer. I see short dark hair, white skin, and full fleshy lips, not exactly what is presented in the picture I carry with me but the facial parts match. I stand back for a while till I find the right opportunity to approach him and it doesn’t take long till the other guys kick-off. The perfect opportunity for me as he is standing on his own.
«Hey, what’s up,» I say from afar.
«Hey man, looking for something? I can get you anything you need.»
«No, that’s OK, I’m not looking for that.»
«Then what? Are you a cop?» his face takes a disapproving expression.
«No, I am not that either. I just want to speak to you, are you, George Marsh.»
«What? Who the hell is that guy? Never heard of him»
«Hey, I just need to speak to him, I promise. He might be the only person that can help me actually.»
«I don’t know who that person is, you fool. Told’ya already.» he turns around and starts walking over the street trying to avoid me.
«Hey wait, this is about Henry Clark,» I say as I run over his side. «It’s only a few questions, that’s it.»
He stops abruptly.
«Who did you say?»
«Henry Clark, I’m actually his grandson. Eric»
He stands and looks at me with a blaze expression. I wait.
«Ok follow me, maybe I can help you, but you can’t let anyone know that we spoke to each other. Got it?»
We find a little pub across the corner and take a seat. He seems secretive and mysterious as if he is trying to avoid indiscrete eyes from seeing us together.
«So you are his Grandson? The one over at New York?»
«That’s me. Had he said anything?»
«He talked about you a few times. He would mention how you got away on your own and got to make it with nothing but your sheer will.»
«It was motivational and shit..»
«Well, maybe things were a bit skewed on the good side.»
«Maybe that’s what we needed. Henry would give us what was best for us, every time.»
«Maybe he was too good for his own good,» he says.
«How is that?»
«Man, the guy wouldn’t stop at anything if it was for the right purpose. And listen, I have nothing but respect for the old man. He was like a father to me, and to all of us. But damn me if he hadn’t annoyed some of the wrong people in the town.»
«What do you mean? How so?»
«Take your pick. Abusive parents, bullies, aggressive husbands. He would stand against anyone if it was to help someone in the group.»
«Was he reporting the cases to the police?»
«Only as a last resort. Most of the time he would take it up to his hands.» He leans over the table. «This girl Sarah in the group. Her husband ended up in the hospital for two weeks. Some say that the old man fought him with his own bare hands.» he raises his eyebrow.
«Do you think this guy has something to do with it?»
«I’m just saying, the old man would get involved in areas he didn’t have to. It was too risky. He would get himself hurt one way or the other, eventually.»
«And what about you? Did he help you in the same way as well?»
His face straightens up.
«He did talk to my folks once. They had some sort of conflict, like a warning, but that was that.» he shrugs his shoulders.
«What are you planning to do? Are you going after the guy» he asks.
«I’ll do whatever it takes kid. Whatever it takes to get to the bottom of this.» I raise up and make my way out.
Hanah carries a tray full of drinks and plates, as she marches on with bold, confident steps. She has been doing a great job in getting up to speed with everything and she is picking up all the tricks and bits of the job like no one I’ve ever seen. Hard-working, disciplined, strong-minded, she has all the good qualities to be a member of value to other people. But iron takes heat to be molded, and so we too, need adversity if we are to move ahead in life, assuming we ever get the chance to do so anyway. She leaves the drinks and a couple of plates at a table of two men. The one is old with greyed out hair and grunge attitude, the other young and soft.
«What is this, that’s not what I asked.» utters the old man, «I said eggs on bread honey, not scrambled eggs. Eggs on bread, is this a joke?» he chuckles as he turns over to his friend.
«I’m so sorry sir, I’m gonna take the order back and fix it for you as you want.»
She makes a slight bow and turns away, rushing into the kitchen. She is young and has lots to learn yet. Life is gonna make sure she learns actually, whether she likes it or not.
She comes back, with the new plates after a few minutes, dressed in the red prone and white hospital custom she owes to wear.
«Here you go sir, Eggs on bread. Just like you asked.»
The man stares at his plate and opens his mouth.
«What is this, bricks on bread or something?» he taps his fork over them. «How am I supposed to eat that, this is over-cooked». He turns to his friend. «Hey Johny have you ever seen bricks over bread? It makes for a perfect breakfast. I’m telling ya, boy!»
Hannah keeps standing over his side head ducked down, shying away from responding anything.
«It’s eggs on bread, over easy, honey. That’s how we make eggs around here. Not hard, easy. Is this so hard to get right? Should I write it down for you in a note or something?»
Hanah’s head plunges inside her shoulders as the guy keeps on yelling.
«Excuse me, sir, do we have a problem here?» I say as I approach over the table.
«Sir, yes we have a problem,» he turns to me, «I gave my order but they can’t get it right, it seems. I asked for eggs on bread and they…»
«Sir,» I say as I lean closer to him. «I don’t think you understood me very well. I said…do we have a problem?» I stare at him threateningly in the eyes, making the point that things might get tough. His eyes dart.
«No sir, everything is fine. No problem at all.»
I smile. «Exactly as I thought.».
«Come on honey, time to get back to work,» I say to Hannah.
A few minutes later I catch her in the corridor beside the kitchen as she stands, leaning over the wall.
«Hannah, let me have a word with you». I point to her to take a seat. «Look, I know things can get tough at times. People are not always nice out there, you will meet all sorts of people along the way, pricks, assholes, you name it.»
«He had no right to speak like that to me.» she pleads.
«No, he hadn’t. He shouldn’t have done it and he took his lesson. That’s why I make sure to always keep my eyes open. I won’t let anything bad happen to you.» I turn around and face her straight up.
«Jeffrey, you have been so good to me. I don’t know what I can ever do to repay you.»
«Shhh,» I say as I raise my finger over my mouth. «You don’t have to do anything at all. That’s not part of the deal, remember?» I say as she puts a little spontaneous smile. «I’m here to protect you, not the other way around, right?» she keeps her eyes downwards. «Right?» I ask again persisting for her agreement. She nods.
«Cool, you can go back to work now.». She raises up. «Oh wait, I forgot something,» I say.
I stand up and approach her. «Here is a little gift I want you to have.»
I take out a beautiful golden necklace as I pass it over her head.
«It looks great,» I say as I pull my body backward.
«Oh, my good Jefferey I can’t believe you took something like that for me.» She stands in front of the mirror as she admires herself wearing it. «It’s so beautiful».
I continue standing beside her as I cross my arms around my chest.
«Jefferey I don’t know what I would do without you.» She comes over to my side and kisses me on the cheek. «You are the best.». She gives one last smile before she opens the door and leaves.
By the time I return home, it’s already afternoon and everyone is sitting in the living room chatting, over drinks, and nuts. On the right side stands mother and Maria as they exchange their loving and caring looks, drawn to each other like they are the last two people in the world. Emma and Joshua are sitting on the left, together with a third guy I have no recollection of, and the two guys seem to have a heated discussion. They are passionate and persistent in their opinions but seem to enjoy the conflict at the same time. Although I’ve never seen him before, something is telling me he is Bob, Emma’s boyfriend.
He is wearing white pants and brown leather shoes, as he is calmly holding a glass of whiskey in his hand. His shoulders are wide and square, and his limbs extend long before him, intruding the area right beneath the little coffee-table, for what it seems to be quite a tall guy.
«Eric, where have you been for so long?» Emma utters as she approaches me scoldingly. «We were waiting for you for a while now, and you wouldn’t even pick up your phone.»
Damn, the phone, I must have left it in the car throughout the whole time.
«Oh yeah sorry, I had to attend a business meeting with Ryan and I was focused on my laptop the whole time. It was kind of urgent..» I lie trying to sound as convincing as possible.
«I believe you haven’t met Bob just yet, have you?» She turns beside her as she presents him like it’s a product revelation of some sort.
«Bob, nice to meet you.»
«Eric, I have heard so much about you,» he says as he stands up from his chair. He really is quite tall, passing me over a whole head, he looks more like a basketball player that stands in front of an average person than a humble cab-driver. He has one hand in his pocket as he extends the other one to greet me. His back stands straight up, making him look even more distanced and tall.
«And I only hope they are just the good things,» I say as I smile at them.
Mother is standing up and urging us to move over to the table. She says the food is ready and we should have it now, while it is still warm.
«We can’t disagree with that now can we?» I joke with Joshua.
I let everyone walk along first as I observe Maria straightening up her knee-heavy shirt and following along with mother. She holds her arm-in-arm as she grins a big smile at her and tingles her hair on the side.
«I can help as well,» utters Emma.
She marches towards the other two, joining the girl’s group, while I, Joshua and Bob march towards the table. I take a seat in the right end corner, as Bob and Joshua seat side by side opposite to me.
«So Bob I hear you keep a cab. That means you must witness a lot every day.» I chuckle.
«Eric, trust me, you don’t want to know what is going on out there.»
His voice is whispery and conspiratory.
«It’s chaos. The world is marching towards disaster and nobody is doing anything about it» Joshua and I glance at each other as we turn back to him.
«If you ever happen to go around at night and see what is really going down at that time, you will get a whole different perspective about this city, I can assure you of that.»
Joshua fills our glasses with white wine. It is coming straight from our cellars and immediately springs the memory of Grandfather as he would usually have some right after dinner.
«To Grandpa. May his soul rest in peace,» he says as we bring our glasses together.
The whine is clean-cut and has a strong taste. It is tingling my mouth as it flows smoothly down my throat.
«I totally get what you are saying, man. Things are getting worse and worse every day,» responds Joshua after gulping a full shot. «Just look around and you’ll see how crime and violence are pretty much everywhere. Streets are filled with junkies and gang-members, and we can’t even walk home without the risk of getting mugged.»
«Exactly my point,» says Bob.
«And where is the police in all this? What do the TV-channels show in their news broadcasts? Nothing, they cover everything up.» He takes the bottle of wine out and re-fills our glasses as Emma brings some of the dishes over to us.
«You know things weren’t always like that,» says Bob as he leans over the table pointing somewhere beside me. «There used to be disciplined. Honor. Family used to be important, a sacred thing keeping the society together.» he clenches his hands together as his fingers touch between the two hands.
«That is like poetry to my ears,» says Joshua.
«Without family, children have no base. They grow up and they are groundless. It’s like a bottle of water that has no bottom. What will happen if there is nothing to keep everything together.» he pauses as he looks at both of us.
«The whole wine is gonna flush away, straight down to the ground. There is nothing holding it in anymore.»
«That is exactly right my friend. Couldn’t have said it any better myself,» says Joshua as he taps him on the shoulder. «I like this guy, he is cool!» he looks at me as he points at him with his finger.
Emma and Maria bring the rest of the plates as they take a seat at the table with us. Everything seems delicious and enticing, as they stand over the table sizzling with smoke, filling the room with their tense smell. The table is packed with all kinds of food, from pork and beef to vegetables and salads, it is rich and preposterous, the way we used to have it every time we had guests.
Maria seats right on my side as Emma and Mother take the rest of the two available spots on the right. The only chair that is still empty is the main one at the left, the one Grandpa used to settle on.
«To Henry,» says Emma as we raise our drinks together.
«So did we miss anything interesting here?» asks mother.
«Not much, we just had a discussion about politics and society,» I respond.
«Oh, you have that discussion. I think it’s safer had we stayed back inside» She says sarcastically as all three of them chuckle.
«Well, it’s an important issue, it impacts everyone,» says Bob. «It’s a reality that we need to face before everything we take for granted gets wrecked.»
«I’m 100% with you brother. The kid has a point» says Joshua as he glances over at us.
«Take young children for example. This is the best way to understand where society is at the moment. Kids are getting crazier and crazier every year that goes passing. What does that indicate if not broken homes and shattered families.»
«Grandpa always strived hard to bring awareness and help these families,» says Joshua.
«Even in classes, kids are losing control. They may get into terrible fights over nothing, starting from a young age. Ain’t that right honey?» he says bringing Emma into the conversation but she calmly responds with a slight nod of the head, as she passes her hand lightly from his arm.
«One thing is for sure unless parents start taking steps nothing ever is gonna change,» says Mother.
«So what about you, Eric? You are still running your business in New York?»
«I still do» I nod in an extravagant manner.
«It is an advertising firm right?»
«Advertising and marketing, that is correct.»
«He always wanted the busy city life,» says Emma, «a small place like this town would never be able to hold him in.»
«He couldn’t hold his feet together since he was a child, let alone stay calm for five minutes,» says mother.
«And how is it working so far for you? I mean, are you happy over there?» asks Bob.
«It is different, it’s a more upbeat way of living,»
«I think he regretted leaving home from quite early on but he never had the guts to admit it,» says Emma staggering me with her directness.
«A place like New York brings more alienation than anywhere else. If corruption exists here once, it is gonna be much more evident there,» answers Joshua.
«Alienation. I like this word,» responds Bob. «This is where everything is getting us nowadays. Towards alienation.»
«Honey, now it’s not the time for that discussion.»
«Always is a time for this discussion. Don’t try to shame me,» he says in a loud voice, bringing silence to the table for a few seconds. Everyone around the table is somewhat socked but we continue the conversation ignoring the incident.
«This food is simply amazing. How did you make it so nice?» asks Maria starting a conversation with mother. It was a sudden transition but at least it managed to stop the guy from making any more damage. He is impulsive and uninhibited and I cannot help it but wonder what Emma is doing with a guy like this, being right on the opposite side of this spectrum.
The lunch continues on and we all seem to have a good time emptying our glasses and cracking jokes and old anecdotes of embarrassing kid moments. Yet my mind has been drifted along almost completely to Maria, who radiates and fills everything with her energy as usual.
«You never told me what happened after I went away,» I tell her. «Did you get married? Settled down?» she giggles.
«I did get married once. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.» she stabilizes her head over her hand as she brings the past into her mind. «We divorced five years after we got married. And thankfully we had no kids together, I wouldn’t want them to be raised with a single parent. It’s just not the right environment.»
«No, it definitely isn’t» I agree.
«So what about you? Did you settle down yourself?» she passes her finger over my arm teasingly.
«No, unfortunately, I didn’t».
«Let me guess, you never wanted to get tied down, be put in a cage. Wanted to live free every day?» she chuckles.
«No, no that’s not it.»
«I guess, I never found the right one,» I say as we pause for a second.
«You are a good guy, Eric. You will find the right person for you sooner or later,» she says as she holds my arm for a bit. «You deserve it.»
We continue the lunch for a while before we finish off, light-headed and dizzy, from the wine we consumed all this time. I must have forgotten how potent it can be as I can barely stand on my feet without misstepping. We greet all of the guests before I walk into my room and let my body fall head down onto the bed. This had been quite a day.
The house broker opens the door, in what seems to be a ravaged and worn-out house with dusty, old mud, glued all over it. He is a fat guy with a full-blown, bald head that happens to know all the bad houses in the area.
«This is one of the best you are going to find at this price,» he says. «Trust me, it may not seem like much but with a little bit of refurnishment it’s gonna be as good as new.»
He is wearing some ugly, fat, skeleton-glasses and his shirt comes short over his waste, depicting parts of his belly every time it happens to stretch out.
«What else is inside?» I ask.
«It has everything you might need, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, an office, there is plenty of space to arrange it as you please, pretty much. Let me show you,» he gestures at me with his hands.
«This is the kitchen and it comes equipped with all the tools.» He opens and closes the drawers showing me everything the room entails.
«A strong fridge, oven good and steady, it just needs a little bit of cleaning,» he says as we spot a huge spider net inside of it. «But it should be all fine once you get it started.»
We move towards the inner rooms.
«This over here is the main bedroom. king size bed and mattress included.»
He throws his weight on top of it, bouncing up and down a bit.
We move on to the rest of the rooms as I try to ignore the various bugs and small animals occupying the place already. The house is big and spacious yet it’s going to take the better of me to bring it down to living conditions.
«And that’s about it,» he says with a little pop from the top of his feet. «It is honestly a much better place than it looks. The owner passed away and his son just wants to get rid of it as fast as possible. He doesn’t want to bother you see.»
«I understand,» I say.
«That’s where the good price is coming from really. No other place can offer so many rooms for that price and I doubt you can find anything that good at this range really.»
«It’s good enough, I’ll take it,» I say catching him by surprise. «Just prepare the papers and let’s close the damn thing».
I take the car and drive back to the bar as I contemplate the new house. It’s gonna take lots of work to bring everything together but hopefully, it’s gonna bring it all back at the end. I take a seat at one of the bar tables and pick up my newspaper. It’s noon already and Hannah should be getting off sooner or later.
«Jeffrey! Where have you been?» she asks me with excitement as she sits right across from me.
«You won’t believe what just happen. I just got paid for the first time! Look at all this, it’s nice and warm..» she takes out her month’s salary which must be the first she has ever made. It ain’t much but it sure seems like a success to a first-timer.
«Well done kiddo. I’m proud of you» I say.
«So what’s up with you? Haven’t seen you here for a while.»
«I know, I’ve been running left and right today non-stop.» I stare at her wallet. «Is this your first one?»
«It is!» she says giving out a triumphant punch.
«We should celebrate it. I have an idea».
«Pick up your stuff, we’re going for a little ride,» I say.
We take the road and drive for a good few minutes before we stop in one of the most popular places in the city. It’s a mall filled with numerous stores and shops that contain anything imaginable to a human mind. We walk inside as we observe the armageddon of people passing around us as they make their shoppings.
«Wow, that is cool,» she says.
«Hey look at this,» I grab her attention as I bring out my wallet.
«You see this little card over here? It has an allowance of a few thousand bucks in it.» I wink. «I want you to take it and empty it out as fast as you can.»
«What? Jeffrey..» she stands a little bit back, «I don’t want to put you into such trouble. I think this is a bit too much.»
«It ain’t too much. It is fine. I want you to be happy. You are making your first steps and you deserve it. Trust me.»
She straightens her face as she contemplates it.
«Kiddo, this is an important moment. We need to commemorate it. Got it?»
«Now,» I say as I bow down to my knees. «I want you to take this card and beat the shit out of it. You think you can handle that?»
She hesitantly picks the card up from my hand as grins out a shy little smile.
Sarah Fowler. She is a blonde, timid little woman that has been consecutively abused by her husband but never had any courage to act on it. A nurse in her real life, she keeps a low profile in all areas and does everything she can to not interfere with anyone else on her way. An attitude that explains why she always tries to be nice to everybody she meets and why she limits the strength of her voice to the lowest possible level.
I stand inside my car, across the entrance of the Metrical center, which expands over the whole square with its five-store structure, and has square windows arranged one after the other. I hold a hot coffee in my hand as I wait patiently, staring at the door for the right moment to come. It’s 6 o’clock and according to my information, it is the time that she finishes up work and returns home.
The sun is barely visible already, as the days shrink considerably, in comparison to the long summer ones. It’s the time people finish up work and fill up the sidewalks as they carry their work bag on their shoulders.
I keep on waiting as I glance back and forth between the front door and the picture of her, that I hold in my right hand. Sarah is a young pretty girl with big brown eyes and chubby cheeks. Had you seen her randomly on a street you would assume she was a girl content with her life and fulfilled in pretty much all areas. Yet somehow her path took a tough turn somewhere along the lines and she drifted into a road of passivity and apathy.
A few minutes pass and I see her getting out of the medical center, with a long brown trench coat and black leather boots, that seem a little bit too big for her petite shape. I let her pass ahead before I get out of the car and follow her along, as I walk briskly in close proximity. There are many people passing back and forth around me, that offer a natural coverage for my little endeavor but I still take good measures to avoid any exposure to her. I follow her along as she turns in the various streets and takes her time in front of the shop-windows before she enters a little supermarket.
«Probably a random change of plans» I whisper.
She picks up a little basket and starts parsing through the corridors, picking up random products from the shelves. She has a relaxed attitude and her demeanor seems laid back and patient.
I approach her while she holds an item upfront and examines its contents, making my move before she gets moving again.
«Excuse me, mam, would you have a moment?» I ask her as she turns around to face me.
«Sure, how can I help you?»
Her eyes have swole up in anticipation as she holds the basket with her both hands in front of her. Her voice thin and timid sounds more like a natural whisper than an actual voice.
«I’m Eric Clark. Grandson of Henry. I believe you got to know my grandfather for quite a while?»
She stands back somewhat startled as she pauses for a couple of seconds.
«Yes, I did. We used to work together in some meetings…»
«The support group. Right?» I ask getting her back in course.
«Right, in the support group. Henry used to run them for quite a few years before he…» she pauses again tilting her head, «You know, I’m really sorry for your Grandfather and your loss, it was devastating for me and all of us in the group really. It’s so sad that something like this happened to him.»
«Thank you,» I say.
«But I’m sorry. I don’t think I can help you in your research. Now if you excuse me..»
She leaves the basket on the ground and marches out of the super-market.
«Sarah please, wait,» I say as I follow her outside, but she would keep her fast pace without paying any attention to me.
I keet following her closely but she starts running even faster towards a taxi-stand. She is making her best to avoid talking to me and I need to figure out what is exactly the reason for it. I pull her arm backward as gently as physically possible and turn her towards me.
«Sarah, I promise you. I only want to talk to you, nothing more.»
«You want to talk? That’s what Henry wanted as well, but he never kept his promise. He pressured Nick as hard as he could, and then talked to the police and accuse him officially, causing more trouble than actual good.»
She turns her back at me again.
«Sarah, I promise you I won’t do anything you don’t want me to do. I just want to ask a few questions. That’s all, and then we can both go home. Would that be ok with you?» I speak softly and kindly as I can feel her attitude changing to the better.
«Ok, I guess, if it is only a few questions.»
«Just questions and it will only take a minute,» I say. «Please let’s have a seat over this little patio.»
Right beside us was this little outwards cafe with the small tables on the front. I thought sitting down might be good to make us feel a bit more relaxed after this chase on the streets.
«Can I get you anything to drink? Would you like some beer or coffee?»
«Just water, please. I won’t be staying here for long.»
«Water will do, and some beer for me,» I say to the young waiter as we finally got some peace.
I take a little cigarette out and light it up as I turn over her. She still stands reserved and shy in her seat as if refusing to let her guard down. She avoids direct eye contact and has retracted her posture to the minimum possible size with a slight curve of her body inwards.
«So, from what I know you and my Grandfather were working together in that group?»
«That is correct.»
«For how long was that exactly?»
«Couldn’t tell you for sure,» she shrugs her shoulder a bit, «maybe two, two and a half years…something like that.»
«You mentioned my Grandfather didn’t restrict himself with mere talks but talked to the police as well. What happened exactly?»
The waiter interrupts us again as he leaves the beer and the water on the table stopping Sarah just before responding.
«So?» I say after a while. «I promise I won’t bring you towards any uncomfortable position in any way. This is mere interest for my Grandfather, that’s all» I try to caress her anxiety of getting into more trouble than she already has in her life.
«Eric» I contribute.
«Eric. I’m not sure if you are aware of the group and how it would work exactly. But all this was merely talk-therapy. It was like talking to your friend or a family member about things that maybe troubled your mind and you had nowhere to turn to lighten up this weight.»
I nod trying to encourage her to continue.
«But many of the cases would be border-line with extreme incidents. People would deal with real trouble, like people chasing them, or…» she looks a bit downwards «members in their surroundings giving them a hard time.»
She turns back up at me with a thrust.
«It was in these cases that Henry would always take things further. He would go and talk to these members, try to soften them a bit, or make them understand. Many times these talks…didn’t end up being the best choice. It could enrage them even further into taking things to even worse levels.»
«Is that what happens to you as well, Sarah? Did my Grandfather enraged your husband?» I ask trying not to sound too interrogatory.
«Henry talked to Nick but he shouldn’t have. He only made him think that I was talking behind his back and he couldn’t trust me at all.»
She looks down at her watch. «I’m sorry Mr. Clark, I shouldn’t have done that. I need to leave.» she starts running across the pavement as she tries to avoid me again. I leave some money on the table as fast as I can and try to catch up with her. If I knew this night would contain so much running I would have brought my sport shoes.
I catch up with her in the next corner and pressure her to give me more answers.
«Sarah, please just one more question.»
«Oh for God shake’s Eric, why do you keep bothering me, why don’t you just go away and leave me alone?» she pleads with tensity.
«When Henry called the police on your husband, did he caused trouble to him enough to make him seek revenge? Answer me.» I say as I grab her from the shoulders.
«I don’t know, let me go, please.»
«Did he threaten to strike back for talking to them? Did he promise to revenge and attack back? Tell me.»
«He could be, I don’t know, please let me go. The incident made things worse than before. He threatened me and forbid me from going to the group since then and his behavior became harsher than ever before. I never saw Henry again and withdraw our weekly meetings.»
Her head was swirling on her neck as her eyes shaped a black shade from her cries.
«He shouldn’t have done it. He angered him and guys like Nick are uncontrolled and impulsive.»
I let my grip loosen up a bit as she grinned a sign of relief.
«Now please excuse Mr. Clark. I need to return home» she said as she passed away right in front of me.
Nick, her husband, is working as a mechanical engineer, for a small, local business. He usually dawdles before getting home, spending time with his pals at the pub, drinking and looting till the later hours. He is the kind of person that could get into a fight if someone looks at him in the wrong way, or he is in the mood for it and if he got confronted directly by Grandpa he could easily have sought out payback. I get into the car and make sure the gun is locked and loaded as I turn on the engine. This night could demand stronger measures if it comes down to it.
I reach into the bar and take a seat over a side table that is dark enough to provide coverage through its location. I order a beer and remain calm minding my own business and making sure I am not noticed. Nick and his three friends stand around a tall table, a bit further away, as they blab their way out with jokes and laughter. Loud and sleazy, they make lots of noise while drinking enough alcohol to act mindlessly, and provoke anyone who passes near them, into a fight.
I wait silently at my table as I watch Nick heading towards the toilet. It’s located at the inner part of the bar and could easily become a trap if not handled properly but it’s better to take him now that he is alone than dealing with all the rest of them together. I walk past the wooden swing doors and get inside the room that is constructed with light-blue tiles, filled with curly shapes, that fills up the whole upper half of the walls. There is another guy inside already, in the opposite lane from Nick, as he finishes up and heads towards the washing basins. I take a random spot and wait for the guy to leave the room before I make my move. Within seconds it’s just me and Nick, as he stands in front of the mirror scrutinizing his face. I walk and take the spot right beside him.
«It’s a good night out there, right?» I say nodding at him.
He turns his head smugly and grins.
«Yeah, I guess it is alright.»
He leans in again as he continues cleaning his teeth close to the mirror.
«Some beer, nice chicks, a good company…that’s all it takes pretty much..» I say.
«Yeah..whatever,» he says as he tries to ignore me.
I turn around and face him as I lean over the basin.
«It really takes just a few things to be happy, yet we always find ways to screw everything up one way or another.»
He drys up his hands as he keeps his face straight.
«It’s a fucked up world man,» he says.
He tries to bypass me but I pull out my hand and push him right back in his previous position.
«Not so fast, pal. There is something I want to talk to you about first.»
«Henry Clark? Do you know him?»
«Who?» he asks bewildered.
«Don’t act like you don’t understand. You had a conflict with him. He spoke to you about Sarah and asked you to take it down a notch.»
A guy tries to enter the room but I turn back and stop him.
«Bathroom is closed pal. Come back in five.»
Nick puts a big grin on his face.
«You’re talking about this old man? Ha, yeah I remember him. He came down one night to reason with me but I’m not sure, I think I just..declined his offer» he laughs.
«And what did you do when he called you in to the police? Did you declined the offer again?»
«Hey look pal why don’t you beat it out of here before I smack you down to the ground,» he says as he points his finger at me.
I grab his hand and twist it making him scream in pain as he leans downwards to his knees.
«I think you need to do better than that pal,» I say as I start punching him as I push him towards the wall.
«Please, stop don’t hit me» he yells, «I didn’t do anything we just talked and I shoved him away. That’s all.»
He screams louder as I twist his hand even harder.
«What did you do to him after he called the police? How did you revenge him? Answer me.»
«I didn’t do anything. They just came and asked questions but nothing happened, man. I swear.»
I draw back my hand to hit him again but he stops me as he starts talking again.
«Ok ok, I just bashed on my woman. I stopped her from ever visiting that stupid group of hers, but that’s it. Man, I don’t know what are you looking for here»
«You are a sickening bastard, Nick. You treat everyone like shit and you think you can get away with it.» I keep punching him in the face till his head drops on the ground filled with blood.
«That’s for what you did to Sarah. If I ever learned that you touched a little hair of her, I’m not gonna be that kind to you. Got it?»
I grab his shirt but he can only gabble a few ineligible words as he stands merely conscious.
I raise up and burst out of the bathroom as I see his friends rushing in to check on him. I start walking faster reaching the car while they run right beside me, but I start the engine and break off before they have a chance to get to me.
I march together with Ryan over the corridor, as we continue our heated discussion. Hannah is standing at the kitchen together with the rest of the guys, as they are still remotely visible from our position.
«What they claim has no base at all. We’ve paid all the fees already and we have no other obligation to them. This is just crazy.»
«Jeffrey unless you are diligent enough to bring all the necessary papers for every little shitty regulation they have, they are going to find a way to grab all the money away from you. It’s only a matter of time.» He shatters the papers he is holding in front of my face as his face turns red. «And they will always find an excuse if they want to. Right now, it is called occupancy rights. We were supposed to have a stupid certificate for that. Get it?»
We start moving towards his office as he continues his rant. His temper is fuming like he is about to explode. I try to keep him calm as much as I can, as we walk inside his office and take a seat over the desk.
«How much do they want? Maybe we can buy them out.»
«Oh yeah, we can buy them out. Maybe we can pull out a tenner from our pockets, shove it in their face, and then everything is fine. How come I didn’t think of that. God, I’m so stupid.»
I pause as he continues his yells while standing tall in front of his desk.
«Twenty fucking five grand. That’s how much they ask from us this time. Where are we supposed to get all this money from? Do I have a chicken that bears money or something? Do I need to find a loan shark to save my ass? I don’t know it seems like they screwed us up big time Jeffrey. They are gonna close us down I’m afraid.»
«Ryan, please we are going to figure this out. I promise you. Just let’s review the papers once more, and we will find a window out of it.»
He continues his banter for a while, yelling for the next hour or so. At the end of it, we sit down exhausted and drained after been unable to figure out any easy way to solve it.
«You see, I told you. They have everything covered up, pal. This is not the police we are dealing with here, this is mafia.»
I take a stand for a break as I walk over to the bar and get myself a drink. My head is so dizzy from the discussion, that it hurts. I place the drink on the counter as I start massaging my head temples. This has always been the instinctual reaction I embark on, any time I find myself under a stressful situation.
«Don’t worry everything is gonna be fine boss,» says one of the boys that work in the kitchen as he passes right behind me.
I pull out some papers and start examining them. They are a copy of the regulation, depicting every single rule, related to keeping a bar. They are so many of them that even a skilled lawyer could lose sight of what is going on. I take a cigar out and start smoking as I take the whole drink down in one shot.
«Jeffrey, hi,» says Hannah as she approaches me from my side with her two hands connected below her belly.
«Hey kiddo, is everything OK?» I say with a mild smile and a sluggish tone. My mood is so bad that I barely have the energy to talk properly.
«Hey look, I just wanted to have a word with you, but I don’t know if it is good timing,» she says as she glances over the papers in front of me.
«It’s good, nothing to worry about. What’s up?»
«Jeffrey, I just wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done for me thus far. You’ve been like a father to me and I don’t know what I would do without you.» she presses her lips together as she expels a burst of air.
«Hey kiddo, that’s so sweet, come over here,» I say as I give her a little hug.
«With all my problems we always focus on me and neglect to look out for you and what you need.»
«Ohh come on,» I say as I dilute the thought with my hand. «We’ll figure it out somehow.»
«Well it doesn’t sound like an easy fix,» she says.
«The bastards saved the best one for the end. They placed a little document down, unwrapped it in front of our faces, and boom. We have a big fat check we need to come up with or they are gonna take away everything we’ve been working on for all our lives.»
I take a big breathe as I cover my head with my hand.
«That is simply terrible. How can they do this?»
«Who is there to stop them? The police? Guess what, they are the police. There is no one else up the chain to report them to.»
«Ohh Jeffrey. If there is anything I can do to help, please let me know. I’m sure something good will come eventually.»
«Thank you, darling. You are an angel» I say as I caress her hand and I let her get back to her work.
It’s been a quiet Friday so far. Not too many customers or issues other than the one we are facing and the night is already heading towards its end. I make my way towards the inner offices on which I lay on for a while. A couple of hours pass and I march upon Hanna’s room as I knock at her front door. She comes up with her blue bathrobe and a white towel on top of her head.
«Hey Jeffrey is everything alright?» she says with a big smile. «Please come in.»
«Dress up,» I say as I nod at her. «We are going for a ride»
«Whereabout?» she asks.
«You’ll see. I’ll wait for you outside».
It takes a good few minutes till she gets ready. She has a red shirt on and her hair are falling rich and slightly wet down her shoulder. She gets into the car as we start driving away keeping my cards closed. She wants to know where we are going but I skip answering for now till we actually get there. She smiles as she makes minor chi-chat about her day at work. She lets me know about the annoying customers she encountered and the unstoppable rush as the orders that kept on coming. After a while, we reach towards Capton street as it extends long in front of us as it is decorated with big trees that follow one after the other.
I park on one side as I start digging in the back seat.
«Hey what is this place? It seems quite dark and these girls..» she points at a couple of prostitutes that are passing by in the opposite lane. «this place seems quite mysterious,»
I take out the box from the back and opening it up revealing a little black skirt and a tight red shirt.
«Oh is this a gift? Oh my, God Jeffrey, this is just overwhelming» she says as she grins a big smile.
She unfolds the little skirt as she dashes it in front of the legs.
«This is kinds of short though. I am not sure how appropriate it would be. And this shirt…» she drags it around as she feels its flexible cloth. «seems quite small as well. Is this the right size you took?»
I wait for her to relax with her blabber as she notices me after a few seconds.
«Honey, you know I wouldn’t ask you for anything unless it was a real need. Don’t you?»
«Of course Jeffrey, no need to even say that.»
«I’m gonna need you to do this for one night till we get back up straight again.»
«This? You mean..» she points at the girls outside.
«Get them as much money as you can kiddo,» I say as she turns to face me in a serious way.
«I’ll come back to take you in a few hours.»
Her eyes remain fixed at me as she glances back and forth between the street and me. I let her take her time.
«Just take them as much as you can,» I say again as she unlocks the door.
It’s already getting late as I take the road back to the house. The lights are dispersed across the street, shaping long distances of darkness in between, as I drive through this mostly deserted part of town. In my mind I still revisit the images of Nick pleading for me to stop as he raises his hand in front of him. He is the worst kind of person, an abomination that deserved everything he got today, but still, I doubt he had anything to do with Grandpa and his death. Maybe they had a confrontation, and direct contact but even if he caused some distress he is not the person that would do anything more than use his mouth and fists. So if he is out of the picture, then what could possibly happen to lead Grandpa into suicide? How could an old man like that put an end to his own life, knowing that he had a whole family on his side and that we would provide for him given the chance?
«Damn it,» I smack my hand over the wheel with my full strength, as I still try to keep control of the car at the same time.
This whole thing makes all the less sense the more time I spend on it.
I pass the road towards the house and park the car in the usual spot right outside. It is a small circular lane, on the side of the house, that provides enough room for your car, without being noticed by the rest of the family. A smooth convenience for the times that you get back home late after a long night with friends and alcohol. Yet as I approach the door I notice something unusual. The lights are open throughout the first floor, even though it is quite late and usually everybody is sleeping. I open the door and I see Emma and Joshua as they stand by, in the living room, brooding as their face has been diminished to an expressionless mask.
«Hey, Is everything OK?» I ask. «I wasn’t expecting to find you guys awake at this time.»
«Eric, what did you do?» says Emma as she holds her hands around her chest. «Sarah just called us a few hours ago and told us everything.»
My mouth drops as I lose my words trying to make sense of what happened.
«Did you really chased after her? You forced her to speak to you? Made threats? Eric, how could you do such a thing?»
She moves her head in disbelief as Joshua stands up from his chair hastily.
«What the hell were you thinking man? Are you fucking crazy?» he starts approaching me aggressively as I walk slowly back towards the wall.
«You took the initiative to start your own investigation, without saying anything to the rest of us? You decided to compromise the family name? Put us under the spotlight?»
He stops walking the moment my back touches the wall as he keeps staring at me.
«How do you explain all this?»
«Joshua, we can’t allow this case to drop like that. Grandpa didn’t die for nothing.» I glanced at both of them as they waited for me to finish. «Something led him to do it and as long as I have any power left in me I cannot help but try to figure out what happened. I owned it to him.»
They stayed silenced for a second as Joshua raised his right hand preparing to say something.
«So, wait are you saying that we don’t care enough because we are not doing anything?»
«I’m just saying that I cannot let it go,» I respond immediately «not like this at least.»
«Eric, we’ve all been devastated by what happened. You are not the only one to suffer or care about the truth,» says Emma. «But that doesn’t mean you can start running around and threaten people left and right trying to find out what happened.»
I stand by waiting as I clock my hands on my waist.
«And furthermore, Sarah and her husband are the last people that would be involved in some way to this. They can barely keep up with their life let alone harm someone like that. You should have told me before you take such a step.»
«Look all I wanted to do is just ask some questions…»
«Eric, you are lucky they didn’t call the police. Do you understand?» she asks as she scrolls closer to me. «And she would have done exactly that if it wasn’t for the fact that we know each other.»
«Hey, I’m sorry, I just wanted to help..»
«Next time just come to us first, before you do anything stupid,» yells Joshua as he points at me with his finger. «Your actions influence the whole damn family, not just you. You need to learn how to act accordingly».
I keep my head down waiting for them to leave, as they turn their back and move upstairs. My brother holds Emma by her back trying to support her as they walk through the stairs and I close my eyes momentarily as I lean my head back over the wall.
«This day cannot get any worse,» I say to myself as I pull the knot from the door behind me and head out towards the car. If there is anything I need to be right now it is certainly not here.
I take the car and drive to the other part of the town as I park over a street and turn off the engine. I pick the bottle of alcohol I have next to me and have one last shot from it before I storm out of the car. The wind hits the high temperature of my body as I walk across the road. I check the second floor of the building in front of me and see lights still open.
«At least she is still awake,» I say to myself.
I walk up the stairs and start banging on the door till the moment I observe the inner pre-hall being illuminated. Steps start coming closer my way, the door opens and I see her as she reveals herself with her rich blonde hair and her night costume. She tights her blue sweater jacket as she squeezes her eyes quizzically trying to understand what I’m doing at her house at this point in time.
«Eric, are you ok?»
«Maria, sorry I had to speak to you..» I say. «Do you have a moment?»
«Sure, please come in» she taps on my back as she guides towards the living room opening the lights up. «Please have a seat. Eric, what happened? you don’t seem very well.»
I raise my hands on my mouth as I stare over the ground, contemplating the situation.
«I screwed up, Maria. I let down everyone. My family, my grandpa»
«Eric, don’t talk like that, please. Tell me what happened to you.»
«You think my Grandfather would have forgiven me? For doing this to him? For letting him suffer on his own while I was in a different place far away from him?»
«Eric, it wasn’t your fault. You can’t blame yourself for everything,» she says as she passes her hand from my chest.
«I should never have left. I should be here all this time with my family, Grandpa…you…»
«Eric, I don’t know if what happened with us was something substantial or merely a…» she pauses as she smiles to me with a little tingle of her head. «flinch.»
«Was that what it was for you? A little flinch?»
«Who knows really. Maybe it was. Something to pass your lonely nights over the long summer days.»
«What if it was more though?»
«What if was a gift that was given to us as our only chance to find true love and we took it and throw it away in the garbage can? What if it was more than a flinch but we never..» I turn back to her. «realized it.»
«Oh Eric,» she says patting over my shoulder as she raises up from her chair. «You were always so romantic. So sentimental. You always reminded you Grandfather like that» she says as glances back at me. «Your passion was…captivating.»
I raise up from my chair and approach her as she has her back turned on me.
«Is that all?» I ask as she turns to face me.
«Maybe, maybe that is all there is.»
I glance over her bust as it reveals beyond the open cotton cloth. She holds a drink in her hand while smirking a slight grin on her face.
«I think you are lying,» I say to her cutting her expression off.
«Lying? How so?»
I take her drink out of her hand and leave it across the desk as I pull her towards me.
«I should never have let you, Maria,» I say as I kiss her. Her hand grips my shirt tight before relaxing and moving behind my head. Her lips are pressing on mine firmly and passionately, letting her guard down as her hands become limp and loose. I grapple her hair with my hand as I lead her down to the bed. Her attitude is timid but receptive, docile yet dynamic as she gives herself fully to a moment that resembles the whole past accumulated into a single’s moment burst.
The drive back home is silent and colorless. It feels more like a dream rather than reality. She leans her head on the side of her seat as she wraps her hands in between her two legs. It’s doubtful whether she can attune to anything that happens around her at this moment. It’s like her body is numbed and desensitized from the world, acting on its own accord beside her will. I let her take her time till she rests enough.
«You did a good job, kid,» I say while patting her back.
We arrive at the bar and I lead her to her back-room, letting her lie down on the bed. I take a blanket and I unwrap it carefully, as I cover her full body. She remains still and tranquil during the whole time till I close the lights and get out of the room.
I pull out the money counting them while Ryan is passing across the corridor, examining me as I’m doing it. He raises his eyebrow slightly as I put a little grin out.
«You see?» I ask as I flush the money over at him.
The next day I let things slide down through the whole day till she gets her power back. She seems a bit weak and frail but keeps up relatively fine given the circumstances.
«You did great, yesterday kiddo. What you achieved was really important to me.» I say as the waiter brings her a plate of omelet and some orange juice.
«These bastards are trying to shut us down. Now..» I glance a bit left and right, «now, we have a chance to shove it right into their face.»
She puts out a mild smile as she takes a bite from her plate.
«It’s just a few more money and then we have nothing to be afraid of. We can just flush them with our asses and they can go to hell!» I say with a little laugh.
«Are you off by much?» she asks.
I take a pause as I lean back and stare at her for a bit.
«What? Don’t tell me you still can’t get it together. Right?»
«Hey look,» I say as I lean towards the table. «I know it’s tough but If we do it just for this one more time. I promise it’s only for a couple of hours. Nothing more.» I lean back again. «But then we are just off the hook for good, you know what I mean.»
She takes the napkin as she sweeps over her mouth.
«Kiddo, I know,» I say as I interrupt her from complaining. «It’s tough, but it’s only temporary. It’s just for a day. After this…» I gesture a firework with my hand, «pfff…we are back with business as usual. Nothing to fear, nothing to hold us back. Clean like the blue sky…»
I put a big smile as I stare at her. She glances at me quickly contemplating the request.
«Just one more time..» I whisper again.
«Ok,» she says as leans in front of her plate again. «But after this, it’s all done.»
«All done for good,» I say back to her.
My head is still dizzy from the previous night as I drive through the highway. I try to divert any thoughts about the incident but my head keeps coming back to it on its own, like a leech that doesn’t want to get off your skin. Maria and her mesmerizing perfume keeps filling up the air all around me. How could I do such an impulsive move and what does it mean really. This morning I set out of bed the moment I woke up and tried to sneak out as fast as possible.
«Is everything OK?» she asked half asleep, but I just bypassed the question with a quick excuse and got out in a hurry.
I check my phone and I see a number of unresponded calls from Evelyn who has been trying to contact me the whole morning. I still don’t have the courage to talk to her so I postpone my response for the time being with a single text, till I get back to my feet. I check the sky and I see clouds start shaping for the first time after a long period, as I make my way back. There are still many things I need to attain to and since the Sarah fiasco, things have been led down to a deadlock. Both of the major cases from Grandpa’s support groups have been pretty much eliminated giving me little room to move. If they had nothing to do with it then who did? I will have to review the notebook once again, even more carefully just in case, I missed something the first time.
I park the car and make my way to the home where I find Emma sitting on the kitchen’s countertop as she holds a cup of tea in front of her with both her hands. She seems calm and tranquil standing in her long wide-leg, black trousers, and straight-up shirt, she seems as if she is comprised of little small parts that make her whole body.
«Hey,» I say, «I thought you would be out by now»
«Not yet, I still have about.. 15 minutes till my nightmare begins» she responds as she checks on her watch.
I approach her and sit right next to her over the countertop.
«Hey, listen. About yesterday..» I bring my hand in my mouth as I try to think about how to articulate it properly.
«Eric, you don’t have to explain anything about it. I understand.»
«Hey, I shouldn’t have approached Sarah without consulting you first. It was very reckless of me and could prove to be a mistake.»
«I’m sorry about that, that’s all I wanted to say.»
«You know the first time I showed you how to prune the apple trees you were just 14 years old. You could barely reach the various branches, let alone cut them properly. We would stand by with Grandpa and observe you as you would swirl around the trees trying to figure out what needs to be cut and what angle is the best to take. We didn’t believe you would make it, really. I would ask Grandpa, to intervene and help you out with it, but he would always stop me from doing it.» she chuckles as she raises her eyes towards me. «But then you started cutting off branches and pruning non-stop getting a good chunk of the trees, just in a couple of days. We couldn’t believe our eyes.»
«I think I was just trying to prove myself.»
«You were always very persistent. Stubborn even, to get everything your way.»
«It was then that I realized that you would always be a pain in the ass.» We start laughing a bit.
«I’m sure it wasn’t easy to have me as a brother.»
She takes a sip from her tea.
«You know since father left us, it was quite hard for all of us. Especially mother who had to take care of all three of us on her own.»
«It was tough, but it had its good times as well,» I say nostalgically.
«By the way, what happened to father? Have you heard anything about him?»
The last thing I heard about him, was that he got into jail for a few years but nobody had visited him since then or tried to communicate in any way. He was involved in some sort of drug trafficking they said but who knows what else was going on besides that.
«Father..well, I guess he did his time after he ruined our lives and then he just got out of jail like…nothing happened really.» she drowns a little sob as she ducks her head towards the ground. «Now he is a free man, walking around the streets, making his best to destroy as many people as possible.» she tights her hands around her waist as she goes through the painful memories.
«Oh Emma, I shouldn’t have brought that up. I’m so sorry» I say as I give her a little hug but she stops me by raising her hand up.
«No, it’s fine, it’s not you,» she says as she keeps sobbing a bit more than I would expect.
«Hey is everything alright? What’s wrong?»
«Nothing, nothing, it’s just…» she takes a pause, «you know Eric, probably you didn’t have the chance to experience it, but things were quite harsh before we got here,» she nods her head. «father wasn’t the best person to be around back then.»
«No, he was terrible,» I say as I pat her back.
«He could get mean at times. Like really really mean, at some moments I would swear he was turning into a monster inside. Something that would just get hold of him and guide him to do all these…» she sobs, «terrible acts.» She continues to sob even stronger.
«Hey, hey, hey, it’s all fine now. I’m here for you alright?» I say as I hold her head. «I will never let anything bad happen to you.» I duck down to the level of the face, «Ever. OK? Do you trust me?»
She nods as I keep her in my arms. Father was a terrible person. But I never realized that he was out of jail for some time now. Maybe it’s a long shot but it’s definitely worth the trouble to see what happened to him all this time and what he is dealing with now. Father…I can still see him having his usual fights with mother, threatening her with his hand while uttering his rants, letting it all happen right in front of us as if it was something normal. Most of the time we only hear his voice during the night after he would come home drunk and wrecked, blabbering words nobody could understand but were loud enough to wake us up. Or in the rare cases that it would happen to participate in the family events where he would be sitting mostly silent and distant as I would just play around with Joshua and Emma. It all seems like a past-forgotten dream that got dissolved in the air by the wind leaving only reminiscent and grey images on the ground.
I still hold Emma on my hug as we make slight movements back and forth in some ineligible rhythm that plays in our minds. She grins a little smile as she closes her eyes and we both stay in that position for a good while, before reality snaps me right back at it.
I make my way back to my room and immediately start researching everything I can about father. Thankfully there is a dedicated service that informs family members about prisoners and their location with all the updated info they may have for them. Jeffrey Cark, was imprisoned more than 6 years ago, did a part of his sentence in one prison, then moved to another one, before he finally…got released three months ago. I feel my body shrilling the moment I see the information on my display. He only got out very recently which means that maybe he decided to find Grandpa for some reason and come in contact with him. I feel my neck drying out as I try to absorb this new turn of events. My heart is pounding hard in my chest asking to get out of my body. I take a good look as I write down the location of his current address and pick up the car keys in my hand. If anything else, I need to have a look at him on my own.
A few days pass without any new incident. We spend the day in the bar till it closes off and then occasionally visit a restaurant to have something to eat. The kiddo seems to be doing good already finding her mojo back a little bit every day. She whisper-sings some girly song on the radio as she moves her head with the rhythm.
«Come on Jeffrey, this is a great song. Sing along with me,» she says as she taps over my shoulder in tempo.
«I don’t know kiddo I’m way past the time that I would enjoy such songs.»
«Oh come on, don’t be so grumpy..» she scolds. «Where are we going anyway?»
«Now that I cannot reveal to you just yet. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait and see for yourself.»
«Is this one of your usual shocking surprises?»
«It could be..» I shrug.
It takes just a few minutes till we reach our destination and park the car. I bring her down to the house and I open the front door with a big ‘Ta-dah’ as I present the place with a grand gesture. This place took a good few days to put back together. Nothing was really working as it was supposed to or was in any good shape at all. I had to refurnish it, clean everything up, throw out any major rubbish filling the space, all in the hope to be somewhat more presentable.
We take a step in.
«Wow, what is this place exactly?»
«It’s your new home kiddo, I hope you like it because you can’t find such good things easily any more.»
«What? no way..» she says as she looks around with an open mouth.
«I mean how did you get something so big, this must be so expensive.» she starts examining the desk in the living room and test the armchairs for its bouncing abilities.
«I didn’t,» I say casually. «It’s an old friend’s house but he is out of town for a while and he will continue to be for the foreseeable future. He gave it to me for as long as I need it.»
«Now, he must be a good friend to do something like that,» she says as she examines the book in the library.
«He is. We used to be together in the army,» I say.
We move towards the inner rooms as she keeps scrutinizing the space.
«It’s nice, it’s a nice place,»
«I knew you are gonna like it. It’s a beautiful house. It only needs a bit of care but it has..potential in it» I say resonating the words with my hand.
«Jeffrey, look, this is a great place. It really is, really, really nice and I appreciate it.» she leans her head a bit sideways as some hair drop in front of her mouth. «But I was thinking about these last few days and…all the last events that took place.»
«Yeah and what?»
«I’m not sure if I should continue, doing this,» she says as she shyly twists her finger in front of her belly. «I think I should just get back to my parent’s house and make a new start.»
«Is that so?» I say as I move closer to her.
«I think I acted a bit compulsively, you know, I wanted to prove to them that I don’t need them to make something of myself,» she looks down.
«And you were right. You don’t need them. Back there you are just a pawn following the path they want. Here you are just free to do whatever you want,»
«Jeffrey I know I put you under a lot of trouble and I’m really sorry,»
«Look kiddo,» I say as I raise my hand at her. «Do you remember where you were when I found you? Lying down to the ground alone, not knowing what to do or where to turn for help?» I wait for her to catch her breath. «If it wasn’t for me you would still be lying there powerless and with no hope. You had to do a bit of street and you think what? that life is too hard on you?»
Her face straightens out immediately.
«You have no idea what people go through to make their living every day. You know nothing of what it took me to build everything I have right now. And you just sit there complaining about been given all this?» I gesture all around me.
«Jeffrey I’m sorry, I know I shouldn’t have done anything. It was all a mistake.»
«Now you listen to me here kiddo,» I interrupt her as I push her back on the wall. «You think your folks were mean and they will disapprove that you left from the house, what do you think they are gonna do when they find out that you were doing street for money? You think they are gonna like that?»
«Jeffrey..» she says as she darts her wet eyes left and right.
«You think they are gonna like that for their little girl?» I say as I pass my hands outwards from her crying cheek.
«They will raise their hands wide open and accept you back?» my voice is whispery to a level you can barely listen to it.
«Just like that, you’ll be the beloved daughter that just drifted to the wrong path before she sees the light again?»
«Jeffrey no, please» she cries,
«Please what kiddo? You think you can just shove your ass like that and then just leave?» I lower my hand towards her pussy as I start playing with it. «You think you can own everybody with that little pussy? Have fun with everyone and then vanish?»
«Jeffrey, please stop.» she pleads as she starts breathing heavily.
«Stop? Now is when the fun starts kiddo.» I grab her by the hair and shove her inside the room as she falls over the bed.
«Jeffrey, please stop»
I start unzipping my pants as she keeps trying to change my mind. She tells me that I’m like a father to her. That she trusts me and wants me to be part of her life. That she cares about overcoming all the recent troubles and wants the best of me. Yet she has a long way ahead till she understands how the world works. And the path isn’t always decorated with flowers all the way as she might have thought.
We make love as she keeps a blaze attitude all the way to the end.
«You need to toughen up kiddo,» I say as I get dressed afterward. «Life doesn’t always give us what we want, but we need to adapt to it based on the cards we have.»
I straighten up my shirt and walk towards the door.
«In the afternoon an important customer will come to visit you here. He a bigshot, important businessman, and well-loaded. Make sure you keep him happy. Got it?»
She stays unresponsive with her eyes open as she looks across the room, but I know she got the point well enough. I unlock the door as I make my way out.
It turns out father was imprisoned for a number of violations, including drug trafficking, personal use, forgery, and a number of frauds before getting locked down in jail. A good share of violations keeping in mind that he got raised in one of the most loving families a person could get. He still keeps his good physic and astute posture, and he seems to have found his ways with all his past-forgotten habits right from the get-go. He maintains a strong entanglement with his old friend, Ryan Conner, a well-known scumbag that holds his bar as coverage while practicing illegal activities on the side. He runs many of the city’s underworld but he got somewhat luckier and avoided imprisonment while father was rotting away in jail. They probably kept their good partnership like all the good-old-friends do.
I found him in the bar earlier today as I carefully observed him from afar. He spends the greater part of the day inside till afternoon when he departed, together with a young girl, and traveled towards this old, rusty house in one of the remotest areas of the town. They have been in there for a while, just the two of them, as I wait inside my car a bit further away, across the street. Who is that girl and what is her business with father and what can a little underage look after, with an old man that just got out of jail, when she should be home with her family or at school?
I try to be careful to stay out of sight for now although I doubt that he would be able to recognize me at all. He left when we were still kids and we never saw anything of him since and neither did he tried to contact us either. As far as I can tell it was always like both parties were just trying to avoid each other with everything in their power. But now it’s only a few months since he got released from prison and it happened to be at the same time with Grandfather’s death. It could be a coincidence but everything seems a bit too random, and it’s a long time since I took coincidences at heart.
I wait a bit longer till I stumble back as I see him rush out of the house alone, heading towards the car. His hair is pointy upwards and he is wearing oversized clothes as they plummet all the way around him.
He gets in the car and starts driving away as I keep him in close proximity but I realize that he is only getting back to the bar. He takes a seat at one of the tables before another guy joins him and seats right opposite to him. The new guy seems old and well-dressed, at least in comparison to the rest of the people and they have a chat for a good few minutes before they get out again. They get into their cars and start driving away with the new guy following father wherever he is going. A few minutes of driving pass and we stop right where it all began. In the house, I was waiting all along.
«What the heck is going on?» I ask myself as I watch them leaving their cars and getting into the house. It’s already late and God knows how long they are going to stay in there but I’m determined to follow all the way.
They stay inside for a couple of hours till the new guy gets out and leaves. The lights inside are still open and I can detect figures moving inside as shadows shape behind the closed curtains. I start wondering whether it’s worth the trouble to wait any more or leave the investigation for the next day but then I see father making his way out as well. I stagger in the decision of whether I should follow him or not, but knowing that he is probably heading back to the bar I decide to remain in my spot and try to figure out who is the girl that stays inside instead.
I make sure enough time passes for him to be at a safe distance before I approach the house minimizing any noise with my feet. Curtains are closed all around except from on little slit in one of the corners so I pick inside and see the girl curled on the couch under a big blanket as her eyes fixate on the wall. Her hair is wet and curly dropping over her white skin as if she just got out of the bath. In the opposite corner, the TV is open, playing a show that seems a bit too indifferent for her to notice. I wait a few seconds thinking about how to best handle the situation when suddenly my phone starts ringing making me rush below the window in a hurry trying to stop the ringtone.
«Damn it it’s Evelyn,» I whisper. I can’t check whether the phone was heard or not so I keep my head down as I slide over the side of the wall getting in the opposite corner as fast as I can. If there was a chance to make a move today it is now destroyed for good. I cross the road and get inside the car as I drive back home. There is nothing more I can do right now but anticipate the next day.
The next day finds me half-asleep, lying over the bed broken, after a restless night that was too distressful to get any sleep at all. The phone buzzes over the bedside for a while now, which I reluctantly pick up while remaining at the same heads-down posture.
«Eric, is everything OK, what happened? You haven’t spoken to me for four days now.» Evelyn gets straight to the point skipping any niceties right from the get-go.
«Honey, I know I’m sorry, it’s been quite..busy»
«Busy enough to not have time to call back? Eric, what is going on over there? Like really, this is not the kind of behavior you would ever use, by any means.»
«Darling nothing is going on, I promise. Everything is just fine, It’s just these family gatherings and relatives we keep meeting that make it so much harder to find peace.»
«Eric, I want you to get back here, as fast as possible. You can’t stay there forever, your life is here, as is your job, waiting for you to get back at them. This is not good for you, or us. Please promise me that you will come back soon, alright?»
I try my best to appease her for the next few minutes and reassure her that everything is fine and it was just a coincidence. Although that is not something I can verify for myself either. Since the night I spent with Maria, everything changed on things I would take for granted all this time and I’m not even sure whether any of my current life in New York has any meaning at all or whether I’m just avoiding things all this time I didn’t want to face.
I put on some clothes and walk downstairs hoping for a strong breakfast that will set me up for the day ahead. There are many question-marks still bouncing around in relation to father and I need to act carefully if I’m going to find an answer to any of them.
«Look who is finally awake,» says Joshua as I walk down the stairs. He is sitting in the thin bar tool in front of the leveled desk that resembles more of a medusa with its tentacles reaching to the ground. He is holding a slice of bread in his hand as he smiles at me with his left hand holding the side of the table straight to its corner as if waiting to scold me for my wrongdoings.
«Hey..» I say as I pause a bit, hesitating in the thought that another one of the heated arguments is gonna emerge. «is Emma around?»
«Just left a second ago. Please join me, there is plenty of this left» he says as he raises his slice up.
I take a little stand as I contemplate that his might go the wrong way quite easily if it is not handled properly. Joshua was always tempered and impulsive to cause a fight over anything that might seem incompatible with his views. Any misstep and we could be all over at it right where we left it a few days ago.
«Emma told me you still keep it up trying to figure out what happened,»
«Joshua, I promise I won’t approach any more..»
«No, it’s fine. Honestly brother,» he raises his hand to stop me from justifying anything while swallowing a big chunk of marmaladed bread as if he is not interested in that at all. «it’s fine,»
I feel my body releasing some of its tension as I lay back on the chair somewhat more comfortable.
«How is it going so far? I mean, what have you been looking at?»
I’m picking up a slice of bread and start spreading some jelly on top of it.
«Well, it’s not much just yet to be honest,» I try to keep as much information away as possible. «Grandpa had many people annoyed on him, but there is no one really that stands out as doing anything bad to him,»
«Maybe it’s because this is not what happened really. Maybe nobody really intervened to push him for it»
«Maybe..» I say condescendingly but I know for a fact that this could never be the case.
I take a bite as the sweet strawberry fills my mouth. Its smell brings me back to the time I used to have this breakfast almost every morning that I would wake up.
«You know, father has been out of jail for some time now,» I say casually.
He keeps his head downwards.
«Yes, I know.»
He glances up at me as he takes a big breath.
«I did meet with him, a couple of months ago. He said he wanted to see me, have a little chat together like father and son, and so I took the plunge and did it.»
«What was it all about? Did he ask you for anything in particular?»
«No, no nothing like that.» he refuses with his head. «he didn’t ask for money or help in that way. He just wanted to apologize,» he glances up at me, «to say he is sorry and he regrets everything that happened.»
«Yeah, I know it’s strange but he seemed different. As if he learned a few things along the way and changed as a person. I wouldn’t believe it in a million years, but it was like he wanted to get straight with everything. Clean like, leaving his past behind and making a new start.»
«Did he mentioned anything about his next steps or his plans in general?»
«Just that he will make sure not to repeat his past mistakes. He said he wanted to erase completely all his past demons for good and make a proper start this time. That’s all.»
«I see,» I respond.
«Father was always a different kind of person. Back in the day, he had turned the whole city against him including his partners at that point in time. They would threaten both him and the whole family as well, to a degree that we had to leave our previous house behind and come here.»
«It was a terrible thing,» I say, «but maybe it turned out for the better at the end.»
«Yeah,» he nods, «I think so as well. Better this way.»
I take a moment as I bring back to mind the day we came here again. Grandpa standing beside me talking to me about apples and the trees in the orchard. Feeling the leaves in my hand and the little frail branches as he would teach me about its various parts. Yet at the same time, father was inside trying to redeem the past that had accumulated into a big mass of horror, by leaving us here and disappearing from the world. It was the day that would separate the family, with us, starting a new life with Grandpa on the farm, and him continuing down his own detrimental path alone.
«Hey it was nice talking to you,» I say as I raise from the table. «We should do that more often,» I say as I greet him and get out of the house. I can’t wait till I get down with father and unclutter the situation. But first I have another matter I need to attend to.
The walls are painted in a light yellowish color as they are filled with various pictures and posters along the way. This is the little cafe in the town that Maria has been working for the last few months. It’s warm and friendly with comfortable little dark chairs and small tables dispersed in a small room that prompts to remind you of your own living room. There is a big brown library in one side of it and a number of magazines and newspapers gathered in small cubicles for the people to take as pleased.
Maria is standing beside the retail counter with her full yellow shirt that is filled with the cafe’s logo on its side. She has her eyes focused on the little coffee machine she is working on as her hands move almost mechanically.
«What can I get you sir?» she asks while her eyes are still looking downwards before she has the chance to notice me.
«Just some coffee,» I say as she glances back at me startled. «Black».
«Would you have any moment to have a chat?» I say as I point behind me.
«Sure, I can have my break in five,» she says as she leans over the desk-counter.
«Ok, see you then,» I say as I walk back to my table. I take my time with a random magazine as I wait for her. There is soft, slow music playing and the smell of fresh coffee surmounts me as it comes from the little cup in front of me. She comes over a few minutes later and stands over to the other side, crafting a little smile.
«So?» she asks.
Her hair is tied on the back but there is a fringe passing sideways in her forehead, as she straightens it out with her two fingers and tops it backward.
«I hope, I don’t interrupt you from your work,»
«Oh no, it’s fine. I was about to take a break anyway. It’s not the busiest time at the moment so, it’s always convenient.» she twists a little bit in her chair.
«So what brings you over to our little cafe?» she says pointing around. «It’s your first time here?»
«It is,» I say. «it’s a nice place,»
«Coming from a marketing expect that means something,» she says.
«Hey look, about the other day..»
«Yes?» she asks raising her eyebrow.
«I don’t know what it means for you. Maybe this is not the right timing or you are not at a point to get involved with..someone. But..»
«I think we should go out sometime, I mean, if you have some free time and want to spend some time together, it would be…»
«Eric, I would love to,» she responds. «It would be really nice.»
She smiles as she sips a bit of water.
«What happens when you leave though? I mean you are bound to return back to New York at some point, right?»
«I am.» I say «For a little bit at least. But I am not sure, things have turned quite nostalgic lately, now that I get to be here again I feel as if New York is not the right place for me after all.»
«Not the right place?»
«No, I don’t think so.»
She takes another sip as we pause for a bit. A few minutes later I let her get back to her work as I greet her and head back to my car. This was a nice break but for the time being there are many open questions that need to be answered surrounding father and that little girl before I get the luxury to delve into anything else. And if I am to grasp the situation it is clear where I need to start first. I take a big breath as I let my shoulders relax down a bit before I start on the engine.
I stand outside the house for a good few hours but there is no movement or sign of anyone inside. Fathers’ car is nowhere in the area and the girl must have been off already somewhere else. It’s already sunny outside with a minor hint of air as it pushes yellowish leaves on the ground. I take a step out and approach the rare window picking inside the living room. Everything is closed off as every other area I can detect from the point I am. I take out my pocket-knife and extend out a little metal-cord, picking the lock of the door. It takes only a few seconds before it cracks open with the characteristic release sound. I push slowly the door and check the room again as I make my way in.
The place is relatively big with many rooms extending beyond the corridor on my left side, while in front of me is the living room where the girl was lying the day before. It has a big white sofa in the middle right across a big black TV, mounted on the wall that is made out of visible old rocks across the room. An evidently old house, filled with antique furniture and all the sense of tradition and history that these entail. I take a step towards the little desk on the side of the room where a number of papers and books lie on top. I snoop around trying to find any document that depicts the identity of the girl or what her role is with father, but nothing relevant is in place. I open the little drawers, picking inside the various little stuff when a light noise comes from behind me.
«You damn bastard.» yells the girl as she thrusts a knife towards me that I barely stop at the last moment. «Die you piece of shit,» she screams as she starts kicking and jolting with her whole body as I can barely hold her hand from ripping off my throat.
«Wait I don’t want to hurt you,» I say trying to stop her but she keeps pushing with all her power as the knife cuts a part of my jacket.
«Just wait,» I say as I step a bit behind, «I just want to talk to you», but she runs towards me and jumps over my body with the knife. We keep on struggling before I get hold of her two hands and push the knife away with a little thrust. Now I’m standing right on top of her with both her hands tied under mine as she keeps yelling and urging me to get away.
«Just listen to me,» I say as she thrusts air out of her mouth trying to catch her breath.
«I’m not here to hurt you OK?»
She nods as I hold her mouth closed with my hands to stop her from calling for help.
«I’m just gonna talk to you for a little bit and I’ll leave you at peace. Can you handle that?»
She nods again as she closes her eyes.
«Ok, now I’m gonna release you, better not make any noise.»
But the moment I let her go she starts screaming again making her best to make herself heard.
«God damn it, why don’t you listen to me?»
She is young and has a petite body, but she can still exert a great amount of resistance on my holding. Next to me there is a little colorful cloth, dropped on my side that I pick up and use to tie her hands down. I lead her down to a chair and wait till she calms down again before I give another shot at it.
«I told you I’m not here to hurt you, girl,» I say as I stand ducked down in front of her. «I just need to speak to you for a moment. Nothing else.»
She nods again but I hesitate to pull out the tie from her mouth just yet.
«The man you that led you here yesterday happens to be someone I know. Someone from my past.» I glance over at her as she starts blinking her eyes at a fast pace.
«I just need to know how do you know him and what is the relation to each other. That’s all, OK?» By the time I pull out the bind, she is already crying heavily, barely able to speak.
«Please» she utters to me, «please help me…»
«Jeffrey, I think you are rushing with this…new girl of yours,» says Ryan to me from behind his desk. «You don’t know if she is loyal, or if she has the strength to take all this. It’s a dangerous game you’re playing here..»
«Since when did you become such a pussy, man?» I reply. «This girl is a cash machine that prints out fresh, hot money and will continue to do so for as long as I want her to,» I say as I spin the packet of cash I hold in my hands like a packet of cards. «Only yesterday I got one grand alone. And this is just the beginning, people are ready to pay a hefty amount of money for young girls like her.»
«Still, a single girl can only get you so much before she rots out.»
«It won’t be a single girl for long» I cut him out abruptly. «There are more of them to come. Soon we are gonna have so much money we won’t be able to spend them on time.»
«Are we?» he asks.
«We are,» I smile.
«No import,» I respond quickly. «It will all be good old country girls. Nice and young like this one we have now.»
«How do you know they are not gonna turn on you? These kids can rarely be trusted for anything nowadays.»
«I have my methods of persuasion.» I respond proudly. He chuckles.
«Ohh those methods..» he says, «funny how they always work»
«They apparently do. Tonight I have lined up another three customers to the little house. And wait to see how it unfolds when word comes out. It’s gonna be mayhem» I wink as I raise up from my chair.
«Time to get back, is it?» he asks.
«Time to get back,» I respond. «I haven’t been to the house the whole day.»
I step into the door, while it is still afternoon. The kid is probably sleeping inside as the living room is empty.
«Hey kiddo, wake up,» I yell at her. It’s already starting to getting darker outside and is not gonna be long before the first customer comes over. A rich old guy that made all his money back in the eighties and now he is spending them on hookers and casinos. Not a bad way to go if you ask me. At least he knows what he wants.
«Hey, kid,» I yell again. «where are you God damn it I have a customer coming soon and we need to get ready.» I start walking towards the bedroom. «Don’t tell me you are gonna give me any of the same shot as yesterday because I’m telling you, I’m not gonna take it very well this time». I open the door as I see her lying on her bed casually.
«Damn it don’t you hear me yelling all this time?» she stands there unresponsive. «Are you not gonna answer? What is the matter with you?» she starts pointing beside me.
«What, what are you pointing at?» I turn around as I see a tall guy right behind me.
«Hey dad, long time, no see,» he says and hits me in the head with a baseball bat as I fall to the ground. Everything blacks out instantly.
I wake up dizzy with my head swirling, as I try to move, but my body is fixed on the same spot, tied down to a little chair in the middle of the room. My hands are roped tightly behind my back and my eyes closed down with a little mask which prevents me from seeing anything.
«Hello? Who is there? Kiddo where are you? This is not a joke I’m telling you. You need to untie me right now or else…»
The mask shoves off from my face with a sudden thrust as the fog from the light hurts my eyes from opening them too fast. In front of me, a figure starts shaping, of a guy wearing jeans and holding a bat in his hands standing right in front of me waiting for me to come back.
«Wakey, wakey» he sings out. «Time to wake up old man.»
The figure becomes clearer and clearer as I start discerning his characteristics a little bit better. He is the guy that hit me previously, and his face is somewhat familiar yet I cannot put out exactly where I have seen him before. Probably he is an old friend of Hannah that decided to play the hero while having very little idea of where he is getting himself at.
«Who are you?» I ask, «What do you want from me?»
«You don’t remember me, do you? You have no idea who I am.»
«No, I don’t. Should I?»
«Come on old man. Doesn’t this face reminds you of anything at all?» he comes closer to me. «How about now?»
«Kid why don’t you stop playing games and tell me who the fuck you are and what you want from me,» I say blatantly.
«You are gonna learn, no need to rush.»
«What have you done with Hannah? Where is she?»
«I’m right here,» she says as she comes over from my side. «Did you miss me?».
She folds her hands in her waist and takes a pose as she waits for the man to take over again.
«Hannah, who is this guy? What are you doing with him? Help me get out of the chair right now. Do you hear me?» I try to get my hands loose but the bind is just too damn tight.
«Easy there, old man. Still quite impulsive ahh? Just like you used to be..» he says.
«Like I used to be? What is this shit you are saying. Who are you? Answer me right now damn it. How do you know me?»
«Why don’t you take a better look old man and tell me what you see.» he ducks down to my level. «Come on, it can’t be that hard.»
His face is quite familiar and I start suspecting that he is actually…could he really…be Eric?
«There it is. I think you got it now» he says as he sees the startle in my eyes. «You got it right you old man, it’s me, Eric.»
«Eric? Eric is that you really?» I start looking at them, back and forth trying to understand what is going on. «Eric, my son. What are you doing to me? Why are you having me tied down like that? Don’t you feel for your own father?»
«Did you feel for yours?» he asks.
«Mine? What the hell are you talking about?»
«Why don’t you leave all the bullshit aside, and set it all clean for once dad. What did you do to Grandpa? How did he end up killing himself?»
«Grandpa? You are doing all this for him? He was in his 80s for fuck’s shake, he was about to die anyway.»
«Why did you turn up against him? He didn’t do enough to raise you up?»
«This mother fucker.» I say.
«He gave you everything he had and you still ended up a scumbag, sucking off everything good out of this world.»
«You know nothing about your Grandpa, kid. You think he was good because he brought you chocolate on the special occasions that we would visit him. Well, guess what it wasn’t always like that.»
«Other people would be lucky to have someone like him to watch out for them.»
«Other people don’t know shit. YOU don’t know shit. You are just making it all up boy.» he pauses. «You weren’t there to see him ignoring his family while making public appearances for everybody else. You didn’t see him how he would snob his own kids, spend no time at all to them besides scolding them on how incapable they were in comparison to the rest. This man you are holding so high is nothing but pure evil.»
«Is that why you went after him? He didn’t pay enough attention to you as a kid?»
«He did everything for others but nothing for his own family. You fool you know nothing about it. I didn’t do anything to kill him he did on himself. He killed himself. You can’t put that on me.»
«He did, but you played your part in it as well. What did you say to him?» he asks.
«I told him the truth. I told him how he failed to raise me up, and how he led me to become the person I am now. I told him how his indifference kept me away from my confidence and spared me from my childhood. He kept asking me about Emma but never for once, not even once, did he ask me about me and how I’m doing. Never up to the last moment did he really cared about me at all.»
«Emma? Why was he asking about her.»
I pause. «I don’t know, he had his own obsessions. He was an old guy.»
He leaves his bat down to the ground as he turns his hand behind his back and pulls out a gun.
«What are you planning to do with it kid, kill me? Go ahead you little piece of shit.» he loads it up with his other hand as he leans forward.
«Now listen to me here you old man and make sure you listen well. I want to hear the truth and nothing but the truth.» his voice is whispery. «What happened to Emma? Don’t make me bring her all the way up to here because I could do that as well, got it?»
«Oh spare me, with that little bitch. She run right up to him, crying that she got molested for no reason at all. Girls nowadays are nothing but sensitive little pricks. They just want to blab about their hardships when they haven’t go through anything really.»
He looks downwards as he grabs his forehead.
«You did it, didn’t you?» he asks.
«I did what?»
«You hurt Emma?»
«No, of course not. That little bitch lied about everything. I would never lay a finger on her. I loved her, I was her father, don’t you believe me? It was all lies, LIES God damn it.»
He points the gun right at me as he cocks the trigger.
«I’m sorry dad, I hope God Forgives you», he says as the guns blasts over. And everything blacks out.
The police arrived soon after the shot. They found the body lying down on the floor with a wound in his forehead coming right out of my gun. They asked me how it all happened. Self-defense I said, I followed him, tried to rescue the girl, he resisted and then..there was nothing else I could do. It’s the same story that they are going to listen to Hannah as well before they put everything down and try to cover all cases, but I doubt there is anything else there for them.
Hannah is sitting with a little blanket over her shoulders as she stands in a little chair that the police got on for her. She is limp, tired after everything that happened but she is a strong girl and I know she will make it back.
Her parents are informed about the incident and are on the way to find her. Apparently, they didn’t know anything about what happened to her or where she was at, all this time. They were just doing their best to spot her by posting posters of her image and looking out for any chance to get her back.
She looks back at me and put out a little smile as she speaks the words ‘Thank you’ from afar. I nod. Jshousha and Emma find me a little later and I get them through the incident. They are both devastated and broken for father. I see Emma as she even cries for him, but I know these are not mere cries of sorrow, but release mostly. Release for all the evil she held inside her for so long. For the next period, I make sure I’m as close to her as possible and I stand by her side like the brother she deserved but never really got.
As far as Evelyn. It’s all history now, the same as New York. A chapter of my life that is closed and left behind for something new to come along, something that maybe is more fitting for me. I feel the phone ringing in my pocket as I pick it up and put on a smile. Maria is calling me. And it’s about time that I follow along the way I was always supposed to…0