It was the following evening when Jack Mason was finally released from jail. He was never formally charged with anything, only held under suspicion. He thought that they might try to charge him with DUI, but they didn’t. He figured either they couldn’t or didn’t want to bother with it. Whatever the case he was just glad to be out.
As he was going through the process of his release he had asked one of the officers what was verdict on the old man. He was told that the man had had a massive heart attack but didn’t go into any detail.
As he made his way through town hunting for an auto mechanic shop that had a wrecker he thought about what he had seen at the old man’s house. He could still recall the shadow that came out of the woods and through the man’s house. In his mind he could see this shadow leaning over and disappearing into the man. It had happened? Hadn’t it? Now he began to wonder.
Maybe it was all some crazy hallucination. He had drank quite a bit that day. Still, there were many days in the last year that he had drank too much and never had an experience like that.
He found a service station and garage that had a wrecker parked in the dirt to the side of the building next to a two-bay garage. To the right of the garage was a small, dirty office with dingy yellow glass facing outside. Taped to the door and windows was a notice of a sales on tires, and a notice that tune-ups, break jobs, and other minor mechanical work were done here.
When Jack turned into the office a bald man in his early fifties was on the phone rapping out figures from a sheet of paper he was holding.
“That’s all of them the man said after another minute. “I’ll get back to you later, okay? Yeah. Bye.” He hung up the phone and turned to Jack. “What can I do for you, kid?”
“I’ve got a car in a ditch, and I’m going to need some repairs done.”
“Okay. I’ll have a driver free here in a bit. He’s finishing up a break job right now. “I’ll need some directions to this car.”
“Well, you can’t really see the car from the road. I …”
“Just ride with him. I don’t need my driver looking for your car for an hour.”
“Sure,” Jack answered.
It was twenty minutes later when Jack rode out in a wrecker beside a bearded, heavyset man. The man was just a bit older
than Jack. He was twenty-five and Jack was nineteen.
“How did you end up in a ditch?” the bearded man asked.
“I was a little drunk.”
“A little drunk?” The man grinned.
“Okay. A lot drunk.”
The man laughed loudly. His laugh was somewhat high pitched, quite unlike his rough appearance.
Jack could only smile. Right now it just didn’t seem that funny to him.
The bearded man’s laughter slowly faded. “You gotta watch that drinkin’ an’ drivin’. Cops are getting real tough on that.” He turned toward Jack. “You didn’t get a DUI, did you?”
“No. But I did spend a night in jail.”
“What did they charge you with, reckless driving?”
“No. After I wrecked my car I walked to a house looking to borrow a phone and …the man living there had a heart attack.” The words came out smoother than he thought they would. Perhaps, he was beginning to believe that the old man had indeed simply died of a heart attack. “When the cops arrived they kept me overnight to make sure that it wasn’t something that I did.”
“Man, that’s a bunch of crap. They shouldn’t be able to do that.”
“Well, they did.”
“Who’s this guy that had the heart attack?”
“An older man. I think his house is coming up here on the left.”
“I don’t think I know anyone up this way.”
Jack suddenly remembered the book he had hidden. “Oh, you mind stopping by the man’s house a minute. I dropped my watch when the cop handcuffed me.”
“You’re not planning on going into the house, are you?”
“Oh, no. I’m just going to look out in the front yard. If I can’t find it in a minute or two then I’ll forget about it. You can just park on the side of the road if you want.”
They went another couple of miles before the house came into view. Jack pointed it out and the driver flipped on his flashers and pulled over on the right shoulder.
Jack ran across the road. Of course, there was no watch. He hadn’t worn a watch in almost a year. Time had meant little to him since the tragic death of his mom and dad.
He found the book and stuffed it halfway into the back of his pants, covering it with his shirt. He walked around the front yard another minute looking for his nonexistent watch then hurried across the street to the wrecker.
“Find it?” the bearded man asked as Jack slipped into the cab of the wrecker.
“No. There’s no telling where it is. I’ll just have to buy another one.”
“Was it expensive?” the man asked as he pulled off the curb into the road.
“No. It was about a thirty dollar watch.”
“You’re one of the few people I know who actually wears a watch. Most people our age just look at our cell phones.”
“Yeah. Well I’ve always liked a watch. And besides, my cell is in my car, broken. So, that’s that.”
The man nodded. “Too bad. By the way, people call me Ghetty.” He stuck out his hand. Jack shook it. “I’m Jack.”
“Jack. I think I can remember that. My real name is Ernest Kelly. I got the name Ghetty from winning a spaghetti eating contest. He laughed that high pitched laugh again.
“Spaghetti eating contest? Is that a real thing?”
“Sure. It’s not as popular as hot dog eating, but some of us like it.”
They were silent a moment before Jack spoke. “There it is. On the right.” He laughed. “You can see the path I took.”
Ghetti pulled off the road close to the tire tracks Jack had left. “This might take a while,” he said.
It took a little over an hour to get the car out of the woods. It required a long length of cable and a wench to work it close enough to get it hooked onto the wrecker. It was only a few minutes after that that the wrecker pulled into the station.
Jack waited in the little office of the mechanic shop for nearly thirty minutes while his car was being checked out. He had pulled the blue book out and held it in front of him. He was tempted to read it, but then decided that it would be better to read it later when his mind was so distracted. He was about to put it away when the mechanic stepped into the office. The bald man noted the book before speaking.
“Here’s the damage,” the man began, “you’re going to need a new battery and cables. The battery was knocked off its platform and shorted out. The auto parts place around town should have all I need to fix that.’
“Yeah, but that’s not all. You have a busted radiator as well. I may have to order one. There’s a chance that Burns and Son, a local shop that deals with automotive heating and cooling has one, but they’re closed for the weekend. It will be Monday before I can find out.”
Jack sighed. “I guess I’ll have to wait then.”
“Oh, and you’re going to need two more tires and a rim. I imagine you’ll also need a front end alignment. I’ll know more when we get everything else done.”
“Looks like I’ll be here awhile. Where can I find a decent hotel?”
“The plaza. It’s about three blocks up the road. It’s not too fancy, but it’s clean.”
He rented a room at the Plaza hotel for two nights hoping that that would be enough time to get his car up and running. He counted his remaining cash after he had paid the clerk for the room, and found that he still had nearly three hundred dollars left. That should do him, but if he came up short he could always call his uncle and ask him to send him more money. If he didn’t mind a little begging.
He settled underneath the shower soon after he had entered the room letting the constant stream of water wash away the dirt and fatigue that had spread over his body. Afterwards, he changed into a set of new clothes he had bought at a clothing store only a few doors down from the hotel.
For a while he tried to watch television, but his mind kept slipping to thoughts he’d just as soon forget.
He switched the television off and stood up. He started toward the door when the noticed the blue book that he had set on the dresser near the door. His first thought was to just leave it where it was, but the fact was he had stolen the book. If it was discovered that he had taken the book from the house the cops might try to connect him to the old man’s death. Which they couldn’t, but it might earn him a few more days in their jail.
He lifted the book and walked around the room a minute looking for a hiding place. He came back to the dresser. He had an idea. He pulled the bottom drawer open. It was as he suspected. The drawer could be removed. He removed the drawer and set the book on the floor inside the dresser, then slid the drawer over it.
He left the hotel room a few minutes later to find a bar only a few blocks away.
Getting a beer he sat at a corner table isolating himself from the few patrons. He sipped at his brew and listened to the juke box as memories began to seep past his defenses. He thought of his mom and dad. He missed the hell out of them. What hurt the most was the feeling that he was responsible for their deaths.