It was never a love story…not really…
I stepped back…I could not believe that Tommy Clark was standing less than three feet in front of me…smiling that disgusting smile of his.
My heart began to pound like a jack-hammer.
I had been wrong…all these years…I had been so wrong.
Not everyone was dead after all.
They say…that if you are ever confronted by a vicious animal, you should never run. They will instinctively think you are prey and chase you .
And when they catch you…and they will catch you…they will kill you.
Instead, shout as loudly as you can or grab a couple of rocks and bang them together.
Your chances are good the animal will be momentarily startled at least for a short time…giving you a chance to escape.
I had no rocks. My mouth was so dry I could hardly swallow…much less shout. And what exactly would I shout? So I stood and waited.
“You look good, Riley.”
I suddenly felt dizzy and I swayed just a little.
“I need to sit down…” I said and made an effort to walk back to where I had been sitting.
But Tommy took my elbow and steered me out the door of Larson’s.
“I think what you need is a drink, Riley. I know I could use one. There’s a friendly-looking little bar a couple of doors down.”
It had started to rain ever so slightly…and still holding tightly to my arm…he led me down the block.
Maybe Tommy had mellowed. It had been so many years. Maybe this was just a chance encounter.
Maybe his frightening smile was just a…smile. Maybe this was a dream and I would wake up.
And maybe pigs could fly…
Two doors down from Larson’s was the kind of neighborhood bar that seldom saw strangers…especially in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon.
Sure enough…when we walked in…the three men at the bar turned at the sound of the door opening…stopped talking and just looked at the two of us.
Tommy gave them a nod and then guided me to a booth way over in a corner by a window. It was stuffy in the bar and Tommy opened the window a little. The cool air felt good.
An older woman…perhaps in her sixties came right over and leaned against the side of the booth. I had a feeling she may have been the owner.
She gave us a cool smile…and I’m sure she was thinking…”Now…who the hell are you two?”
But she said pleasantly, “Nice rainy day, right?”
I returned her smile…and desperately tried to think of something I could say or do to get me out of this booth…and away from Tommy.
I had decided…pigs can’t fly.
“Where is the ladies’ room?” I asked.
She looked away from us and pointed to a neon sign on the other side of the bar…past a few tables.
I made a move to get up…but Tommy reached across and put a restraining hand on my arm…
“Riley, can you hold on for just a couple of minutes? Let’s order first. I’m starving.”
He gave the waitress a big smile and said, “We’ll need a second or two.”
He reached for the little menus propped up by the salt & pepper shakers. His jacket fell open a little.
That’s when I saw the holster…and the gun.
“Sure, blue eyes…I’ll be back.”
Tommy smiled at her again and then turned back…but there was no smile for me…he knew I had seen the gun.
“Oh, don’t be scared, Riley…I’m not going to kill you. The gun’s not for you. I always carry now…it’s legal in Minnesota, you know…or maybe you don’t. You’ve been gone for such a long time.”
But I do have a story to tell you and I want you to hear it. I want you to know how…” he paused, folded his hands together in front of him, took a deep breath…and then began again.
“I want you to completely understand the consequences of your foolish actions that night when you and your uncle decided to call the police.”
I made an effort to speak but before I could say anything…
“No…let me talk. I’ve waited a long time, Riley.” Tommy seemed very calm…not angry at all.
I relaxed a little.
“Fine. I’l listen to you, Tommy. But I read about Sheila and Gerald in the newspaper. I know what happened to them.”
“I read that about six months after we were all expelled from the University of Minnesota…they blew themselves up in an abandoned apartment building in New York City…along with four innocent teenagers who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“…and Mikey…I can’t help it that his marriage failed…or should I say marriages…and that he felt that suicide was the solution to his problems.”
“That’s not on me.” I said, feeling more sure of myself now…
“I’ve even kept track of you…Tommy…but I thought you were dead.”
“I heard you went to California after the Kent State tragedy. But then I heard nothing more about you.” I said.
“You were so active in the protest movement…it was like you disappeared.”
“What happened…?” I asked.
Tommy didn’t answer but instead signaled the waitress over and ordered two whisky sours and two cheeseburgers with fries.
Apparently Tommy’s memory was still good. He ordered my favorite food and drink combination from our college days…and still today, as well.
The curtain was fluttering beside me and I was just about to close the window when the waitress quickly returned with our drinks.
Again…Tommy gave her a big smile…and I’m sure she was thinking…big tip. Well. Maybe…
“I’ll be back in a few…” the friendly waitress said.
I took a sip of my drink. Wow! It was strong…better go slow, I thought.
Tommy, however, drank almost half of his glass before putting it down.
Then he leaned to the side so he could look around me.
Instinctively, I turned to see what he was looking at…
A group of eight or nine young people had come into the bar…all laughing and talking and carrying prettily, wrapped boxes.
One of them was very, very pregnant. It was obviously a ‘farewell’ party for the beaming pregnant woman.
When I looked back at Tommy, he had the gun out and was attaching…what I knew from watching so many ‘cop’ programs on TV…a silencer.
My mouth flew open to cry out…but before I could even inhale enough oxygen to do so…Tommy very quietly said…
“If you say one word, Riley, I will kill everyone in this wretched hole in the wall bar…and first to go will be the cute, little pregnant woman.”
“Do. You. Understand?” He spoke each word so very carefully.
I could hardly breathe. But I nodded.
Tommy chuckled softly. “You really didn’t believe me when I said that I wasn’t going to kill you…did you, Riley?”
“Of course, I’m going to kill you.”
“I’ve waited fifty years to do this. Have you ever heard of that saying, ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’? Well, this ‘dish’ is almost frozen…and will be all the sweeter.”
“When Sheila and Gerald died…I was supposed to be with them. I was the explosives expert…but I was dead drunk in some crap apartment I was crashing at with some crap girl I had met at a bar.”
“Do you know why I was drunk, Riley? I had just received a letter…from the American Bar Association telling me that no state in this glorious country would grant me permission to practice law…due to ‘lack of good moral character'”.
“No moral character, Riley! Me…who had spent the best six years of his life working to prevent the deaths of thousands of young men in that stupid war.”
“And poor Mikey…he never got over the deaths of Sheila and Gerald.”
“He blamed himself for not being there…blamed me too…used to send me pathetic letters…trying to make himself feel better.”
“Finally, after five years of guilt that he couldn’t handle…he hung himself.”
“But what happened to me…you ask? I ended up in California and spent the next forty years working under a phony name, as a paralegal during the day.”
“They didn’t even check my fake references…they just wanted me cheap. And at night…I drank myself to sleep in front of the television set…waiting…”
“I always hoped I would see you again, Riley. After I “retired”, I moved back to Minnesota…kept an eye on little Alec and his lovely wife…and of course I bought this gun.”
“But you were always just a dream away…until your angry Letter to the Editor last month in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the increase in suicide rates of veterans.”
“You shouldn’t have used your real name, Riley. That was very careless of you…very careless.”
Suddenly there was a change in Tommy…the calmness was gone…replaced by a quiet rage.
“Everything that happened to Sheila, Gerald, Mikey and me was your fault, Riley…you and your stupid, interfering uncle…but I got him.”
“Now…after years of waiting…I’m finally going to get you.”
My mouth fell open. “Uncle Carl was killed by…”
Before I could finish, Tommy interrupted me. He was almost gleeful in his telling.
“I enjoyed reading the cops’ investigation on his ‘ambush‘ murder…they thought it was some former ex-convict…perhaps seeking revenge. It was revenge all right…my revenge.”
“Bastard…” I whispered under my breath.
Tommy carefully lifted the gun off the table and pointed it at me. I looked right into his eyes and saw those hideously fake, blue eyes wince just as he pulled the trigger.
It was so quiet…I can understand why they called it a ‘silencer’.
But I felt nothing but a whisper of air that brushed by my head.
Tommy looked so surprised…and then his head fell to the table with a thud and one bright blue contact lens popped out.
Years of smoking, drinking and hate had finally caught up with Tommy Clark…or whatever name he went by now.
I reached over and checked for a pulse…I thought I could feel a soft, little beat…
I breathed slowly and waited a few more minutes. I took a couple sips of my drink.
I could hear our waitress still taking orders from the party group. She would be a while…everyone was laughing…having such a good time.
I shuddered…knowing that Tommy would have shot that pregnant woman with no regret.
I checked again for a pulse. This time I could feel nothing.
“Be sure, Riley.” I said to myself. “Be very sure.” And I waited just a little bit longer…and then I checked again.
Nothing. The life of Tommy Clark was over…probably a nice, clean coronary…no questions would be asked. Old people die all the time.
I reached for his gun lying on the table. The barrel had cooled enough to pick it up and I gently removed Tommy’s fingers from the handle.
I put the gun in my purse and looked down at Tommy.
“Well. You’re all dead now…aren’t you?” I said and then I smiled…just a little.
I turned to the window where the curtains were still swinging back and forth…letting in the cool air..
I could tell just by looking…they had probable not been cleaned for years.
I pulled a corner of the curtain to the side….
…and there was a neat, little hole right under the window sill…could be almost anything…could have been there for twenty years…or twenty seconds.
I let the curtain fall back into place…hiding that little hole as it fluttered in the breeze.
…and waved “slightly frantically” at our waitress…who was now heading to the kitchen.
I called out in my best “shaky, frightened old lady” voice…
“Can somebody help me, please? I think we have a problem here…”