Friday, December 25, 2009
Fisher had to wait for more than an hour outside the office, but he didn't care. He just wanted the job. In all his life he had never wanted a job this badly. He couldn't account for all the years he had wasted skating by, years of not given a shit. That was history. Today he needed to work. He needed to prove his worth to his wife and to their baby growing inside of her. The revolution starts now. Phillip's freckled face poked out from behind the door.
“Sorry to keep you out there so long, Fish,” said Phillips.
“No problem, Red.”
The office, like Phillips, was small and neat. The computer monitor's screen saver showed a photo of a red haired young man in uniform and Fisher remembered hearing that Phillip's son was in the service.
“How's your boy, Red?”
“Good, Fish, thanks for asking. How are things at the restaurant? Keep meaning to come on over.”
“The restaurant is fine. But I have no business working there. You know it, I know it, the customers certainly know it. Am I really the one you want to talk to if you think your fish is overcooked?”
“I guess not,” Phillips said with a laugh.
“I'm a sportswriter. That's what I've always been, and I think I'm pretty good at it.”
“You are, Fish. There's never been any question about that.”
“I want to get back to work, Red.”
Phillips rolled a pen in circles on his desk and pursed his lips as if he was about to whistle "Dixie".
“The trouble is, Fish, there's not much to offer you. I mean there's work, but not what you're qualified for.”
“I'll take whatever you got.”
Phillips continued to roll the pen.
“Well, at best it'd be high school ball, mainly. Time to time some Junior College.”
“That's fine,” said Fisher. “Whatever you got.”
“And the pay... not what your used to.”
“It's fine. It's the work. I want to work.”
Phillips rolled the pen off the desk. “Here's the thing, Fish,” said Phillips bending down to retreive the ballpoint. “We've known one another, what?”
“So we know that I know all about... the past. What's done is done and I shouldn't have to give you any lectures about 'just do the damn job.'”
“So the ponies...”
“It's not gonna be a problem. That's... no more.”
Phillips rolled the pen again, a pointer on a wheel of fortune. Finally he snatched the pen and said “All right, Fish. You've got yourself a job”
“Yeah. You telling me I'm making a mistake?”
“No,” Fisher laughed. “I'm... that's great.. Thanks Red, thanks.” Fisher reached across the desk and shook Phillips hand.”
“You still drink, right?”
“All right.” Phillips pulled a bottle of Johnny Black from his desk drawer and filled two football stenciled shot glasses. “Hey, didn't I hear you got married?”
“Yeah, well. What can I tell you?” Fisher said nothing about the pregnancy. He and Jo were keeping it quiet until after the amniocentesis.
“That's great, Fish.”
Beyond checking how much time was left before the next race, Fisher never thought about the future. He never considered the singularity of his life, he never considered the consequences either for himself or anyone left in its wake. He was like a cat, he lived in the immediate, he dealt with the needs right in front of his face. He leapt from the stove when it got hot, only worrying about where to land when in mid-air. If he had lost some of his nine lives along the way, he wasn't counting. But it was different with Jo. She was the first person he wanted to share with, the first he'd come running home to with his catch still in his mouth. He wanted her to be proud of him, he wanted to see her smile.
For the first time, he was thinking ahead. He was thinking about what is was going to be like to be a family, to come home from work and tell Jo what had happened, what he saw, what he wrote. He was thinking how now he wasn't alone in life, how he had someone to lean on through the bad times, someone to laugh with about the odd, and someone to celebrate with when fortune shone; “The normal life.”
A step up in class, thought the detective, looking at the two tiered restaurant. Mrs. Landy had made out all right. Paduano wiped his brow with a handkerchief. He was sweating like a pig. Once before he'd been in Florida in summer, and he'd soaked through a week's worth of shirts in two days. He packed double this time.
His police chief told him “It's a closed-case, Paduano. They're small potatoes. Stop wasting the department's time and money.” Maybe the chief was right about the size, but a rotten potato was still rotten. Two witnesses has reported seeing a grey-green Chevy turn on to Shore Drive at one-thirty the morning of Landy's “accident.” Mrs. Landy's phone call, recorded on the answering machine, corresponded to that time. A mere coincidence everyone agreed. Everyone except Paduano. The cop son of a cop, Paduano didn't believe in coincidence.
On the recorded call, Mrs. Landy was heard asking Jack Landy when he was coming to the party. But all of the Edgar's staff Paduano spoke to said everyone knew that Landy was never coming to the party. More than likely the call was a signal to whomever Mrs. Landy was working with. Never for a moment did Paduano believe Jo wasn't neck deep in her husband's demise. Look at this new place, this double-decked "Sloop John B". Clearly she had benefited from the turn of events. And now she was married to a former Rosehill sports reporter named David Fisher who, like like Mrs. Landy, appeared to have an air-tight alibi. Spent the night in the sack with his editor. His car didn't match the description of the Chevy. But now a car matching the description had turned up. It had taken a month to trace down the previous car ownership, and if the owner was in Florida, Paduano was going to find her, regardless of what “a wild goose chase” his chief thought of the whole business. He wiped his face one more time and walked up the stairs to the restaurant.
When he saw the stocky man sitting at the bar with Jo eating a of plate hush-puppies, Fisher immediately thought “cop”. But before he could discretely back out the door, the man turned and looked Fisher in the eye.
“Fish, this is Detective Paduano, from Rosehill,” said Jo. This is my husband, David Fisher.”
Fisher put the flowers and champagne on the bar and shook hands.
“Hello, Detective. Long way from home.”
“Yeah,” said Paduano. “Forget how warm it is here. My blood's too thick.”
Yeah, that and stuffing you face with free fried food, thought Fisher. Deep down where fear never completely disappears he knew eventually someone was going to show up; why the fuck did it have to be today? Christ. Time to play dumb.
“Here on vacation?”
“No, I'm following up on Jack Landy's, uh, accident.”
“Oh, I thought that had all been...”
“No.” Paduano finished the last hush-puppy and washed it down with a gulp of Bart's root beer. “Excuse me,” he said. “Weakness of mine, fried food. I've got the cholesterol of a sperm whale.” He wiped his face with a napkin. “I was bringing Mrs. Landy...
“Mrs. Fisher,” Fisher corrected.
“I'm sorry, Mrs. Fisher... I was bringing Mrs. Fisher up to date on some new information concerning the car.”
“What car?” asked Fisher.
“The grey-green Chevy Malibu that was seen driving out of the restaurant lot the night of the accident,” said Paduano.
“We were never able to chase anything down,” Paduano continued. “But last month a car matching the description was reported in a minor traffic accident. We were able to trace back the ownership of the car to the night of Mr. Landy's accident.”
“Huh,” said Fisher.
“The car was registered to a Robin Grant, of Sugarloaf Shores, Florida.”
"Robin Grant?" Fisher looked at Jo. "Do you know a Robin Grant?"
"No," she said.
"I'm sorry. You probably want to talk to Jo about it."
“That's all right,” Paduano said. “I'm about finished for now.”
A small cabin cruiser slowly motored along the inlet as Fisher walked with Paduano back to his white rent-a-car in the marina parking lot. Jo had left them to take a call with someone from the buildings department.
“You the David Fisher used to write for the Dispatch?”
“I thought so. You covered my kid on the basketball team at Rosehill. Jimmy Paduano. He was a sophomore then. That old fart Coach Reed mostly made him ride the pine.”
“Yeah, he came off the bench and scored eleven in the second half against Lakewood.”
“I remember,” Fisher lied.
“You spelled his name wrong.”
“That's O.K., they always get it wrong.” Paduano smiled at Fisher; just a couple of Rosehillians talking sports a thousand miles from Nassau county. “I spoke to your editor at the Dispatch, Claire Richardson.”
“You did? Why?”
“Oh, I saw that your name came up as a co-owner of this restaurant.”
“Uh huh. Yeah.” So what, thought Fisher, but he didn't say it.
“Ms. Richardson said you'd been fired.”
“Too bad. I liked the way you wrote.”
“Well, I'm working down here. The Palmetto Star. Maybe I can get you a subscription.”
“Mrs. Richardson said you knew Jack Landy?”
“Knew? I don't know about that. I met him once or twice doing an article about his golf.”
“And... his wife?”
“I met her when I was doing the article. What are you getting at?”
“Ah, don't worry. Ms. Richardson told me you were staying at her house on Westview, Thanksgiving night.”
“That's right. Listen, I thought that thing with Landy had all been closed.”
“Umm.” Paduano kicked at the tire of his car. “The department, the County for that matter, made a judgment based on the evidence at hand. But...” He looked at Fisher. “...there's always been some un-answered questions.”
“Well, anytime a man gets knocked down in a freezer there are some questions.”
“What do you mean 'gets knocked down' ?”
“You said 'anytime a man gets knocked down in a freezer.'”
“Did I? Huh.” Paduano was like a fisherman waiting for his fish to catch itself. “I meant 'knocks himself down'. Sounds funny, doesn't it? Anyway you say it. 'Man knocks himself down'.
“What do you mean?”
“Well... He owns the place, he walks in the freezer every day without knocking himself unconscious. Suddenly one day he forgets?”
“So what are you saying? You saying it wasn't an accident?”
“I don't know. Just being a cop.” They stood in suddenly tense silence broken only by the sound of boat motor revving from the marina.
“Did I tell you my kid is starting now?”
“Yeah, he's the second leading scorer. Twelve-point-two points-per-game. The Dispatch has got a girl covering the games now, can you believe it?
“Least she spells 'Paduano' right.”
Fisher climbed the office walls waiting for Jo to finish her call with the building inspector. Out of nowhere this God damn car and this gum-on-your-shoe cop.
“Yes, I sent the original to you Friday,” Jo said to the inspector.
“Get off the phone, Jo,” Fisher was shouting at her in his head. “We need to talk. Get off the fucking phone!”
“No. I'm sure it was the original. Could you check on that? Great. Thanks. Right. Good-bye.” Jo hung up.
“Robin Grant? Who the fuck is Robin Grant? Nobody, right.”
“I should have told you,” said Jo.
“Told me? Told me what?”
“That's Sarah,” said Jo.
“Robin Grant. That's Sarah, Sarah Dupre or whatever she was calling herself.”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute. You're telling me Sarah was driving outside of Edgar's that night?”
“Her car was.”
“What? You're saying she saw me come out?”
“I don't know, Fish. They told me there was a car, somebody saw a car on Shore Drive. They never said it was her car, they never said that until today.”
“I don't understand. What the hell would she be doing there?”
“She's... She's the one I used to trash the, you know... after I lost all that money. She's the one who helped me fake the break-in at Edgar's.”
“Her! You used her?”
“Who would you have used? Someone from the Rotary?”
“And what. You paid her?”
“Of course I paid her.”
“What do you mean of course? How do I know?”
“Jo, I'm just trying to understand. You said you paid her. How many times did you have to pay her?
“A couple of times.”
“What? Two? Three?”
“I paid her after. And then I paid one other time.”
“When she needed some money.”
“What did you expect me to do?”
“Every time she needs money...”
“Fish, She kept her mouth shut.”
“Are you sure?”
“You heard the detective. He doesn't even know who she is.”
“He knows she owned a God damn grey-green Malibu that was outside of Edgar's on Thanksgiving night. What the hell was she doing there?”
“I don't know. Maybe she was stoned, or drunk... Maybe she wasn't even in the car.”
“Then who the hell was? Come on. It had to be her. You know what she wants, don't you? She wants more money, more money to keep her mouth shut. That's why she's here.”
“Who's here? Sarah?”
“You've seen Sarah in Manatee?”
“Where did you see her?”
“I ran into her at the track.”
“The track? When? You didn't tell me about it. When did you see her, Fish?”
“It was when you were... when you were giving me all that shit about the bounced checks and...”
“Did you fuck her?”
“What! Where did that come from?”
“When you came home with the flowers? You fucked her.”
“Not at all.”
“Jesus, Fish! What, you won a race, then you, you... Jesus Christ, do you sleep with everyone you win a race with?”
“I'm not fucking anybody. She told me she was living down here. Going to... I don't know. Clown college. Some shit. I had no idea about you paying her off. None.”
“You should've told me, Fish.”
“I had no idea you were paying her off. She was just some twat at the track. I swear to fucking God”
“You see her again?”
“No! No. Just that one day. Ran into her, hello, and that was it.”
“Paduano must think she's here.”
“Why? Did he say something?”
“No. But he didn't come all the way from Rosehill just to ask about a car.”
“He doesn't think it was an accident.”
“He said that?”
“He said 'he's always had questions'.”
“If he finds Sarah... Do you know where she's staying?”
“Me? Why would I know where she's staying?”
The phone rang, Jo let the answering machine pick up.
“You tell her about the Sloop?”
“No. I didn't tell her a thing.”
“Oh God, Fish. What are we going to do?"
"Nothing. We calm down. Car gets in an accident, everyone goes a little ape shit."
"Fish, you don't know this detective."
"I know him."
"No, you have no idea. He's going to stick his nose in every hole from here to Rosehill."
“The case is closed and he's got nothing. He comes all the way down here, he doesn't have the car, doesn't have Sarah. He doesn't have a thing.”
The phone rang again, Jo hearing it was the building department, picked it up. “Hello, this is Jo Landy.”
“Fisher,” thought Fisher. “Jo Fisher”. Couldn't anyone get it right?
Friday, December 18, 2009
Fisher staggered out of the unfamiliar bed and tried to figure out where he was. A horn was blasting from somewhere. Christ, what the hell? He pushed away the curtains, opened the glass door and shielded his eyes from the glare of the tropical sun.
“The Bahamas. That's right,” he mumbled staring from the hotel balcony out at the island's busy harbor. It was all coming back to him; the presiding official, the ceremony... He lifted his hands and stared at his fingers, wondering what in hell had he done. He fidgeted with the unfamiliar jewelry.
“If it's bugging you so much, take the ring off,” said a voice from behind.
“It's not bugging me.”
“Like it's a pair of handcuffs.”
“You could always pierce your nose, put the ring in, and I could lead you on a rope.” she said, and laughed like a schoolgirl as he chased her back into the bedroom.
They found a secluded cove, undressed and spent the day swimming and sunning. As she lay in his arms twirling her fingers through the hair on his chest, Jo reminded Fisher that in all their months in Florida they had never once gone to a beach.
“Because you work too hard.” said Fisher.
“Like you'd ever go to the beach.”
“What do you mean? I love the beach. That's why they call me 'Fish'.”
They were late for dinner. Many of the other couples were already out on the parquet floor dancing to the music of the steel drum band. When Jo caught Fisher frowning at a particularly amorous pair, she asked “Is it that bad?”
He stammered “Not, not, not at all.”
“It's only a piece of paper. We can always burn it.”
“That's not it. It's just...”
“...you'd never thought it was for you. The house, the picket fence, the every day normal train.”
“Well...” He said staring at the bubbles rising in his champagne flute.
When he looked up he saw Jo's eyes were clenched shut. “Jo! Are you all right?”
“I'm fine. I should have worn a hat on the beach.”
“Do you want to go back to the room?
“No, I'm fine. Let's dance.”
“Are you sure you're...”
“Yes. Come.” Jo held out her hand and Fisher followed her onto the floor. Her body felt damp with sweat, but she smiled and held him tight, putting her head on his shoulder. Fisher could smell the sea in her hair. And as the beat of the steel drums picked up Jo shrugged off her malaise and swiveled her hips. Fisher was right there with her. She found that Fisher was surprisingly light on his feet. He spun her away and twirled her back.
“I didn't know you could dance.”
“When the wind is blowing in the right direction,” he said. Jo laughed and stood on her tip-toes to kiss him. They danced every dance, the fast, the slow, they even joined the obligatory Limbo line, tying for second place in the “how low can you go?” contest. A soft Atlantic breeze jostled the colored lanterns, and the steel drum beat slowed to a last waltz.
Jo and Fisher looked around the empty dance floor. They were the only couple left. “Where did everyone go?”
“To bed,” Jo said. “That's what honeymooners do.”
They explored each other's bodies as if it was the first time. Her breasts seemed larger to him, but she cried out when he squeezed them.
“I'm sorry,” Fisher said.
“They're just a little tender from the sun” she said.
He kissed them softly and gently. They made long, slow, love, and when they were finished and he started to slip outside her, she whispered “Don't, darling. Wait.” He stayed inside her until Jo fell asleep murmuring “I love you.”
Fisher lay awake listening to the waves hit the shore and thinking about the "sanctity" of marriage. His parents' brutal life sentence together was hardly a heavenly model. He remembered hiding under the bed with his hands over his ears while they screamed at each other until the neighbors called the police. “Biggest mistake of my life”, his father told him one night when he was stone sober. “Biggest fucking mistake of me life.” But his parents had never killed anyone.
Fisher slept late and woke to find room service breakfast and Jo waiting. She noticed his odd expression.
“You all right?”
“I'm fine,” he said. “You?”
“Tip-top.” She kissed him and handed him a cup of coffee.
They ate on the terrace and watched the boats heading out to sea.
“There's a boat... 'The High Water'. I think I've seen it at the Manatee marina,” said Fisher.
“What's so funny?”
“You. Talking about anything nautical.”
“You told me you'd never been at sea in your life.”
“Hey, you don't know. Maybe I'll get a boat someday,” Fisher said.
“What would you call it?”
“The Normal Life.”
They were getting ready to go to the beach when Jo said she didn't feel well. Something she ate disagreed with her and she started vomiting. Fisher picke up the phone to call the hotel doctor but Jo told him not to bother. She just wanted him to sit with her. "A little nap, and I'll be fine,” she said. As she fell asleep she mumbled that he should “Go have some fun.” He sat by her side for an hour watching her sleep. His legs were stiff and he decided to go for a walk. "Have some fun", eh? What did you do as one half of a couple in a place built for twos? He circled the pool twice, watched a group of honeymooners climbing aboard a catamaran before he drifted into the perpetual dusk of the hotel casino.
He told himself he was “just watching”, he had no intention of playing. He never liked casinos, anyway. There was no sense of sport here, you couldn't size up a roulette wheel like you could a thoroughbred at the paddock. But when a roar went up from the fifty dollar minimun craps table Fisher bought chips for five hundred and found a spot next to a man whose glasses were askew over his face.
"What's the point?" Fisher asked the man.
"When in Rome," said Fisher betting fifty dollars each on the six and the eight and hedging his bet tossing a ten dollar chip on the two. The hot shooter was blowing on the dice, shaking them in both hands like a cocktail. C'mon, buddy. Let it roll.
In less than twenty minutes Fisher had lost half his stake. The table was cold as death. Time for a smart man to walk away. “Fifty on the eight and six,” Fisher called tossing the chips for the dealer to put in play.
Fisher sat alone at the bar letting the Bahamian rum soothe the beating. Easy come, easy go. Have some fun. Sure thing. The bartender gave him change for the single fifty dollar chip Fisher had left from the five hundred. Fisher stared at the twenty thinking about a story Jo told him back in Rosehill.
When she was a girl, Jo said, her father would leave her all day at the shore while he played cards. She was a natural swimmer and competed with the other beach kids, body surfing and seeing who could stay under water the longest. An older girl bet her twenty dollars she could hold her breath longer. Determined to win, Jo decided she would stay under until she had counted to one-hundred. She planted her self, sitting underneath the surf, counting in her head. “One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three...
At fifty, she felt light headed, but she could see the other girl was still there holding her breath beneath the waves. At seventy-five, Jo bit on her lip to fight off the pain in her air-starved lungs, at eighty-five she thought she saw dolphins dancing on the other girl's head, at ninety she blacked out. When she came to on the beach, she tasted blood from where she had bitten through her lip, a worried crowd had gathered around her, she could hear the siren of an ambulance from up on the boardwalk, and in her hands...
Fisher called his hotel room on the house phone but there was no answer. Huh. Still asleep? He walked along the docks. Evening was falling, and the sound of laughter mixed with the clink of cocktail glasses from the decks of the moored yachts. A small fishing boat eased between the bigger boats, its nets filled with flying fish fighting to free themselves. A face from the helm of a cabin cruiser watched Fisher as he passed by. But Fisher had turned his back to the dock to look up at the hotel hoping to see the light on in his bedroom. He was surprised to see Jo out on the terrace.
He waved to Jo, but she didn't see him. She seemed to be looking at something behind him. Fisher turned back and saw only the line of bobbing boats; the face at the helm of the “High Water” had stepped back into the shadows.
Jo thought she felt well enough to join him at dinner, but she barely made it through the appetizers before she needed to go back to their room. And when she woke up in the night again vomiting, Fisher rushed her to the island hospital.
The facility was small and pristine. Fisher could see his reflection in the floors as he criss-crossed the waiting room talking to himself. “She going to be fine. A stomach flu, that's all it probably is, she's going to be fine. Please God, please.” A hand tapped Fisher on the shoulder. He looked up into the calm face of the doctor.
“Are you the husband?”
“Yes,” said Fisher, fiddling with his ring. “How is she?”
A broad smile creased the doctor's face, his teeth gleaming like the
floors. “Congratulations. Your wife is pregnant.”
“I didn't know what you'd think.”
“How long have you known?”
“I didn't for sure. I thought...”
“You should have told me.”
“I didn't know what you'd think,” she said for the second time.
“I don't know what I think.” He ran his hand through his hair. Pregnant? Pregnant! "I think I think it's great."
"Oh, Fish." She reached up and kissed him. "It's going to be fine. I swear."
While Jo dressed, Fisher stood by the window looking out at a group of boys playing cricket on a field across the street from the hospital. Daddy Fish? What were the odds of that?
“Funny,” Jo said buttoning her blouse.
“Find out about the baby in Nassau Hospital.”
“That's where I was, Nassau County Hospital, that's where I was when they told me Jack was...”
“Don't think about it.”
“No, Fish, I wasn't thinking... I was thinking, I don't know, thinking about the balance. We took a life and now we can give one back. Do you... do you know what I mean?”
“No.” He didn't want to think about it, he refused to think that there was any connection, that this baby would be stained with their sin. “They have nothing to do with each other. Nothing.”
Friday, December 11, 2009
There were few flowers. Only a handful of employees from the restaurant attended the ceremony. A Manatee official presided. Fisher wore the only suit he'd ever owned.
Jo, dressed in a simple cream colored dress, finally seemed at peace.
Friday, December 4, 2009
“Jo? Jo? What is it?
“I thought you were gone,” she said.
“When you didn't come home I lay here all night thinking. And I couldn't... I couldn't even remember the last time we even touched each other. And I thought how big is this bed? How many miles between your side and mine?
“ And I start thinking who is going to hate who first?””
“I don't hate you,” Fisher said.
“Then why,” she said, starting to shake, “won't you touch me?”
Fisher reached across the bed and wrapped his arms around her. She felt so small and frail, as if he could snap her in two. He held her tightly, waiting for the shaking to stop.
“Fish,” she said finally. “If you could have half the money, would you go?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Is the money the only thing keeping you here?”
“No. No. Is that what you think? I brought back over seven thousand dollars. If I was going to run....”
She wriggled free from his arms. “If I tell you something?”
She took a Kleenex from the box and blew her nose. “I've been going to meetings.”
“What do you mean?”
“Because I'm afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“Losing the restaurant.”
“Nobody is losing the... how are you losing the restaurant?”
“I don't want to go to the track. O.K.? I don't want to go there and lose everything I have because that's the way I always do it. That's my pattern.”
“Pattern? Oh Christ, Jo. That's the mumbo-jumbo phony-baloney they give you at those God damn... It's not a pattern.”
“Go damn it, Jo! If that's the bull shit they're force feeding you...”
“They're not force feeding me anything.”
“You God damn bet they are. Your 'pattern'? That's the kind of idiotic, totally useless...
“I don't want to do it anymore. Don't you understand? I don't want to go to the track. Not them. Me. I don't want to go. And... I wish you'd stop trying to make me go.”
“What? You think I'm what? That I'm forcing you to go to the track?”
“Yes,” she said.
He raised his hands in the air as if pleading to a higher authority. “I'm not. I'm not forcing you to do anything. Never have, never would. Why would I? Why would you even think...
“Because,” she said, “that's the only place you love me.”
“You think our... what we have is based only on the track?” Jo nodded her head. “Not true. Complete absolute bullshit. Is that ... is that what they're telling you in there?
“Fish. They're not telling me. I'm telling you."
“Can't you see? They're turning you against me Jo. That's what they do. That's their whole... They feed you this bullshit, they, they brainwash you. It's totally a sham. Come on. You know it is. Then they expect you to stand up like a robot and spill your guts. That's what they want. Tell me you didn't stand up and spill your guts like all those losers?”
“Thank fucking God, for that.”
“But... I wanted to.”
“You wanted to?”
“And what would you say? Jo? What would you say?”
“That I...” she made a face like she had a toothache. “That I'm a compulsive gambler. That I've lost so much money, that I want to never have to go again. That I feel I should be punished.”
“Punished? Jesus, Jo. Punished for what?”
“For my miserable life.”
“And... for killing my husband,” she said.
Fisher head snapped back as if he'd been clocked. “What! You're going to stand up and say that?” He was screaming, she put a pillow over her head to mute the onslaught. “You can not be serious! Jo! Afraid you'll lose the restaurant? You can count on that. Jesus Christ, Jo. Should be punished? Jesus, Jesus Christ.” Jo heard something, but she wasn't sure. What was he doing? She lowered the pillow and saw Fisher doubled over laughing. He was laughing so hard tears were falling to the floor. “Punished. Yeah, you'll be punished. We'll all be punished.” And then the laughter stopped. “You don't tell them a thing,” he roared.
“You don't tell them a God damn thing!”
The cab tailed Jo's car from a block behind. As the trafffic light on the drawbridge changed, Fisher urged the driver on from the back seat.
“Sit down, man. I've got her. No problem,” the driver said.
“No problem,” the driver said as he cruised through the yellow warning lights keeping the blue sedan in sight. Behind them the bridge was going up to let a tall sail boat pass. Ten seconds later and they would have been stuck on the other side and lost her.
Yeah, thought Fisher sitting back. No problem. All my life didn't I always get away? Rise, fell, did O.K.; O.K., yeah, I've been broke, sure. Been so broke I hocked my watch, sold my blood...
He remembered the nurse in the blood bank had red hair, wore an eye-patch and hummed “Hey Jude” as she watched the tube fill slowly with his blood. She filled three test tubes before pulling out the needle and slapping a band-aid over the tiny scarlet hole. Her good eye crinkled as she smiled and handed Fisher a donut. He still recalled how sweet it tasted. So sweet he smacked his lips.
The cab followed Jo's car to the recreation center and Fisher watched Jo park and enter through the breezeway. Making sure Jo wouldn't see him, he told the cabbie to let him out on the corner.
"Want me to wait?"
"No. Thanks." Fisher tipped the driver ten dollars and walked through the breezeway.
A man in a bright green shirt holding the sign-up sheet greeted Fisher at the community room door. “Do you have a sponsor?” the man asked.
“In New York,” Fisher said.
“Yeah, I'm just checking out this meeting. I heard some good things.”
“Well, sign the sheet, and we'll find someone for you. First name only.”
Fisher signed and alias and looked around the room. The meeting was packed. He had to climb over people to reach the one open seat in the back row. He stretched his neck looking for Jo and saw her sitting back straight like an obedient school girl in the front next to some guy with a pony tail.
If she was sitting any closer, Fisher thought to himself, she could be running the meeting.
A woman, Frances, was called up by the Trusted Servant. Frances had reached her five years and everyone stood up, stomped their feet, applauded, and whistled. Frances's voice croaked with emotion. She sounded like the dying Babe Ruth bidding farewell at Yankee Stadium.
“This is such a wonderful community and I am so lucky to be part of it. I have to give credit to all my friends, my family, everyone who stuck with me no matter how bad it got, all the money I borrowed and lost, all the times I slipped. My sponsor Jill, such a wonderful person. All of you here. All of you. So this isn't just my day. It's all of ours. Yes, yes. And I want everybody to speak today, to really let it all hang out.”
Applause filled the room Fisher shuddered as he peered through the rows and saw Jo's head nodding in agreement. What will I do, he thought, if Jo followed France's exhortation and “let it all hang out”? What will I do if she stands up and really spilled her guts?
What could he do? Pick up chairs, pull the fire alarm?
All these months they had stayed safe because they had been of one mind. Neither of them had gone off. They both knew that if one of them went off, then they'd both be fucked. There was no choice, they had to be one, had to be of one mind. She knew that. She had to know it, didn't she? Something caught his eye, a plate of sweet rolls and donuts next to a coffee maker. He smacked his lips thinking of going down on Jo, how sweet she tasted, how wet she went as he circled the tip of his tongue inside her.
So sweet, he thought, becomes in your mind like dope. He wasn't addicted to anything, not like these fools, so what was going on? He had never, never let a bet tear him up like this, and now here he was feeling as if he'd been gutted with a fish knife. The pain scorched in his stomach.
Please Jo, don't make me think, he thought. Don't make me think... what, that she would get hit by a car, or fall down the stairs, or with his bare fucking hands? Don't make me think, he thought.
Loser after loser stood up, prattling on about themselves and their battles with betting, and about Frances and her five years. Fisher didn't think he could take another minute, but he couldn't leave. Not until he knew she wasn't going to speak. And then...
“Hi, my name is Jo, and I'm a compulsive gambler.”
“Hello Jo,” everyone said.
It was all Fisher could do to keep in his seat. He looked around at the smiling faces. It was like a cult. He gripped, and squeezed the sides of his chair until the metal started to bend.
“I'd like to congratulate Francis on her five years,” Jo continued. “That's long. That's great.”
She paused, collecting her thoughts. When she spoke again her voice was soft. Fisher had to lean forward to hear her.
“I lost... I lost someone because of gambling. My gambling. So I know. I know how it is, what it can do to your life...”
She wasn't gonna say it! She couldn't. God damn it, Jo! Please, Jo, no.
“What I really want to say is...” for a moment she choked on her words and someone said something and someone else “shh-ed” them. “What I want to say is... how glad I am to come to these meetings. How important they've been to me. Thank you.”
Fisher's chair slid from under him and he fell on his face. The room went silent.
Humiliated, Jo ran from the meeting and into the streets. Fisher pushed his way out and chased after her.
He caught up to her as she was fumbling for her keys trying to open the car.
"Damn you, Fish!" She was angry as he'd ever seen her. "What are you doing here?"
“Spying on me? Stalking me?”
“Of course you were. Why else were you here? You suddenly, what, thought you desperately needed a meeting?"
"Do you know how you embarrassed me in there? Do you even have a clue?”
“Jo, I'm sorry.”
“I can't go on like this, Fish. I can't.”
“I'm sorry. I'm sorry. What do you want me to say?”
“Jo, are you all right?” Stan called from the breezeway.
“She's fine,” said Fisher, disliking the long-haired interloper on sight.
“Jo...” said Stan, ignoring Fisher.
“I'm all right,” said Jo. “I'm fine. I'm fine. Honestly, I'm fine.”
Stan, unconvinced, continued lurking at the breezeway.
“She said she's fine. Are you deaf?” Fisher took cash out of his pocket and threw a twenty dollar bill in Stan's direction. “Go place a bet.”
“You're a jerk, man. You know that?” Stan yelled at Fisher.
“That right? And God made ponytails to cover up a horse's ass.”
Mortified beyond words, Jo climbed into the car. Fisher jumped in after her.
They drove in silence. Fisher could see the veins in Jo's neck pulsating. It would not have surprised him if she stopped the car on the drawbridge and shoved him out the door.
They made it back to the Sloop without bloodshed. Jo parked the car in the marina and sat with her hands over her head.
Finally, she spoke.
“What did you think I was going to say? Did you think I was going to tell them about Jack?”
“I don't... I don't know.”
Jo lifted her head. “You thought I was going to give you in, didn't you? Didn't you.”
“All that stuff you were saying. All that stuff about wanting to be punished.”
“I... Jo. I didn't know. ”
“Oh, Fish. Fish, I'd never give you in. Don't you know that?”
“Never. Look at me. Look at me."
Fisher looked. He saw the deep green eyes that lead him into a walk-in freezer on Thanksgiving night.
"Never. Never. Never in a thousand years. Do you hear me?”
"Do you believe me?"
“Oh Fish. What are we going to do We can't go on like this.”
“What do you want?”
“What do I want? I want you to give me some time. Let me run the restaurant, go to meetings without being followed...”
“I...,” Jo held up her hand and he stopped.
“You give me that time, give me the space... then we can look for a buyer, split the money... split up.”
“I don't want to split up.”
“Fish, we can't live the way we're living.”
“I already said... You don't want to go to the track? Fine. All right. I mean... Christ. Don't go to the track. Whatever you want. We don't go to the track. ”
“I don't want to split up,” he said. “I don't, I don't. I don't.”
Jo smiled. It was a smile he hadn't seen in weeks. “You don't think I know you,” she said. “You like to tell yourself nobody does, nobody ever will. But I do. I've known you since I saw you beat that man up in the parking lot. I'd seen him laugh at you when he didn't let you get your bet in, and that was wrong, and the world's not going to do a thing about it to make it right. Long string of people getting away and nobody does a damn thing. Presidents, big wigs, writing the world off on the back of napkins.
But people like us... we're on our own. So I understood why you needed to make it right. I thought, that's what I wanted.”
“Someone who needed to make it right.”
She kissed him. It was a soft kiss, a butterfly landing on a flower petal, but it cleaved Fisher in two. One side wanted to kiss her hand, her neck, her face, and the other side wanted to get his hands wrapped around her windpipe and press them together until her head flopped like a dead doll. He looked into her eyes and saw the reflection of his eyes looking into her eyes. He kissed her and then he kissed her again, harder. And again, and again. And their mouths were open and their tongues twirled and probed. And they were in their condo, he was carrying her across the bedroom by her naked ass, her legs wrapped around him while his cock angled up inside her. When they hit the bed, they were covered in sweat, still fucking, still fucking. Fisher's arms were free, Jo's eyes were closed, her head turned away as she moaned in pleasure. The thought lit in his head that he could do it now, she was helpless, he could do it now. No one would know, he could do it now.