“Hey, you are a little old of a person to be hanging with those young after hours types.” The Eastern Bloc voice is the first thing I’m conscious of. That familiar damn pain in my neck is the second. I pull myself upright and realize I’m in the rear seat of a taxi cab. It’s dark out. I pick up my phone and see the time… hours have gone by and it’s close to 10 p.m. I reach down to see if I have all my belongings, like they said I would. And I do indeed. I even have that wad of mystery money.
“You pick up a lot of people there partying, huh?” I ask the cab driver.
“Oh yeah, all hours.” he says in a long drawl.
“Ever see anyone else that shouldn’t be partying with that crowd?”
He looks at me in the rearview mirror and with a smile says, “You mean how many like you I see? Haaa Haaa,” he fills in for an amused crowd with his own laughter. “Let’s just say, if I wanted to make my money like the paparazzi do, off the lives of others’ lives, I would do very well.”
“But at what cost of your own?” “You are exact in this statement, my good friend.”
I lean back on the seat and watch the streetlights pass by, as my head spins round and round. Where the hell is Norma? I pick up my cell and ring her; it goes to voicemail. I see familiar signs— five, maybe ten minutes from home. What a trip. What a day. What the fuck indeed. The cab pulls up to my house and I reach for my wallet.
“No no no, my friend. It’s all paid for.”
I shrug and stick five dollars in the money slot. “For the conversation.” “For a friend, that is always free. But if you insist, I will oblige. Have a good evening.”
“You too, my friend.” I exit the cab and make my way up the driveway slowly, completely on guard this time, walking like some out-of-shape drunk ninja, only this is just an out-of-shape, scared-as-shit punch drunk ex-lawyer.
I unlock the door to a few lights that are already on. Now to figure this whole ransacking, possible theft and missing Norma business. I swing the front door open fast, expecting someone to attack me. “Norma? You home?” I go to the bedroom (I never made it that far earlier) and poke my head in. She’s not there. I go to the front two rooms in the den and the shared office, turning on all the lights, noticing things missing. I go back to the bedroom and look in the closet and realize what’s going on. I collapse a little and turn around to leave the room when I see the envelope on my side of the bed. No fucking shit, I think to myself.
I walk over to it like a school kid walking up to the teacher’s desk for a scolding and open the envelope. Ha, it’s the ones she had left over from doing the invitations for our friend’s wedding. I love her frugalness.
Harry, I know this will come as a surprise and I can’t go into what’s going on in my head with you. I’ve been keeping some very deep-rooted issues for a long time and I have realized I can’t burden you with my troubles, so I’m leaving you. I know we shall see each other again, and I hope you will forgive me. Take care, thanks, Norma.
I’ve always loved her handwriting; she still writes in a beautiful scrolling cursive. For once, this noisy-ass neighborhood is silent, not even a fucking dog barking, a police car or helicopter flying around, no asshole on a crotch rocket, Harley, short-piped car screaming though this little valley corridor in this little mountain neighborhood of one of the largest cities of the world… not a sound to distract me from this sudden emptiness.
I think I need a drink. My phone rings; it’s a number I don’t recognize. I get excited thinking it might be Norma, but don’t want to risk disappointment. So I let it go to voicemail. I reach for the bottle in the den bar cabinet.
“I think this drink deserves some ice,” I say to myself as I walk to the freezer. Then the landline rings. I let the voicemail take this one, too. I need a little privacy.
I get the ice in the tumbler and start turning off all the lights as I walk back to the front den. I sit at the desk and pull out the wad of cash, taking a big hit of the drink. I start counting all the money and separating the really bloody bills out.
The voicemail finally starts recording the caller’s message. ”Harry, this is Rex Rey, I got your number from a mutual friend of ours, Clare Anisa. Look, I wonder how free your schedule is and if you may be currently available for hire. It’s for something a little different than what you’re normally used to, but still very much within your expertise. Give me a call at 012-345-786-234 and I can set up a meeting with you to discuss more. Hope to hear from you, Harry. You come well recommended. Oh, and I hope your passport is current.”
I’ve counted 150 of the bills (all one hundred dollar denomination) when the answering machine stops. I’m about halfway done, maybe a third. Hard to tell when the money is stuck together with blood.