four a.m., Gabe woke to a thunderous banging on his front
door. As he rose, he slipped slightly on the puddle of drool
he left on the kitchen tile floor, where he had dropped after
consuming Ana's pills. Regaining some of his direction, he
proceeded to the front door and opened it without checking
He just caught a glimpse of the two figures in the light before
the bare bulb above the entranceway was unscrewed and extinguished.
He barely steadied himself on the ripped wire mesh of the
front screen door and tried to make them out, mist from the
bay rising around their feet.
A bagged body was being held upright by a young man with a
shaved head and pins stuck through his cheeks and chin. Gabe
pulled his glasses down from the top of his forehead and gained
enough clarity to notice that the body was wrapped in a dirty
sack from head to toe and held tight by thick ropes.
Then the boy spoke, thickly: "Here is your wife, Mr.
Nolan. Now where is my money."
following morning, unusually cloudy with dim gray light, he
met his Navy buddies at Starbucks, as was their daily routine
since the coffeshop opened on Webster Ave, when Ana went into
the hospital for the first and final time.
Sandy, Lou and Gabe were the USS Hornet's chief officers,
and since the carrier was decommissioned, it lay like a huge
steel tomb only a few miles from the Starbucks, out by the
old navy yards.
Gabe arrived late, as he already consumed a few cups of coffee
at home to sweep clean the brain fuzz and muscle ache from
last night's exertions. He heard them shouting to him as soon
as he entered. Sandy waved a fresh cup of coffee like a pendulum,
tempting him since walking straight was still a burden.
that time when
" began all their conversations.
Today's version continued: "I gave that South American
girl her first puppy
Gabe hauled himself over the offered chair, but only breathed
in the aroma, feeling seasick. He straightened as the coffee
had its effect, and stared at his friends, their voices a
soothing drawl that he welcomed. Lou wore his usual plaid
shirt with suspenders and Sandy floated in the oversized gray
pants, black socks and stained brown leather shoes slightly
big for his rapidly shrinking feet. All in the beginning stages
of evaporation as if aging were sucking out their marrow.
They both wore red caps showing white hair thin to scalp.
Sandy stared at Gabe intently as Lou continued his monologue.
was in room 23, which is the day I was born, I told her, and
she actually laughed at me."
Christ, not the whore-from-Panama story again," Gabe
wearily and flatly stated.
Seeing his silent partners, Lou caught the sense to shut his
mouth, and looked through thick glasses at Gabe.
are both really sorry about Ana."
Gabe looked at Lou, and took crystal clear notes on every
aspect of him, as if suddenly a microscope had been held up
to his eye. He had been seeing people this way for days since
Ana died. None of the details that he had skipped over in
the past were spared him now. He had been removing his glasses
often to resort to a blurring that helped the hours pass without
Lou's cap was hanging at a jaunty angle, papers stuffed in
his pocket of plaid short sleeved shirt, striped suspenders
loose over his thick chest. He had a habit of picking with
long fingers at the palm of his hands, like an earthmover
tilling dry and cracked soil.
you know that there is a way to assure that she will stay
with you for the rest of your days."
Gabe was stoic and betrayed no response to this bait.
come on, Gabe, you remember the instructions."
don't know what you are talking about," Gabe responded
and brought the coffee cup to his lips, but stopped before
know full well, the cook on the Hornet. He told us back in
'45 as we crossed the equator."
I don't know what you are talking about, Lou. And that is
that he told us something that might help you now, like he
helped Hattie and me."
bless her soul," Sandy intoned, while nervously straightening
his lemon-colored bowtie.
Gabe threw back the chair, knocking it to the floor, and stormed
out of the coffeeshop.
For the mile walk back to the house, and through the dense
blackness of his rage, he only allowed two thoughts to pierce
I know full well the instructions.
But I refuse to allow them to touch Ana, he decided, while
gingerly walking over the fresh soft soil in his backyard
beneath which lay her remains.