A LONG WAY FROM NOWHERE is divided into five Books and an Epilogue: BOOK 1 The Memory Box; BOOK 2 Hidden Among the Magnolias; BOOK 3 The Goodbye Wedding; BOOK 4 Tumbleweed; BOOK 5 Let the Mourning Doves Fly Free; EPILOGUE What Goes Around. I will be posting each book from December through May on Sunday mornings.
THE MEMORY BOX
“I get what you’re saying Emma. I just want to someday hold on to something that feels good. I may not now to be able to define it, label it, picture it, but I want to somehow know when it comes along I’ll be open to it. I just thought, not taking Texas reality into consideration, all of you and I a possibility. I guess, I still have much to learn.”
Before they fell asleep they had put every inch of the black and white chessboard in the private corner of their memory boxes, where love lingered in the silent wonder of coming together—if only for the moment.
Billy Joe’s first response to learning about Bums premonition of doom and gloom was to light up a joint and tell Luc about the two other health clubs he had worked for that shut down for one reason or the other.
“This is a dog-eat-dog business, and unless you happen to be that one shining star like Jumpin Jack, a health clubs life expectancy is dependent on the location, membership, and whether or not exercise is in fashion.”
Billy Joe knew the exercise business was a moving target. That’s why he wanted to become a sensei and to open his own dojo, a neighborhood operation where once you build up a membership they’re part of the business. He at least had a vision of possibility based on previous accomplishments. Luc, however, had nothing behind him except a trail of broken possibilities and a nowhere ticket to somewhere.
“If Bum gave you the impression something was coming down, and with him splitting the scene, you need to be as far away from any shit that happens as you can get. Arkansas gave you a light sentence for the conspiracy charge compared to what you’d get in Texas. You don’t want it surfacing here. The only suspension you’d get for anything to do with dope here, unless you are connected, is hanging by your balls in a cell. Don’t know what to tell you Luc, except you don’t want to be around trouble when troubles around you.”
Luc thought this was exaggerating the possibilities, but then again… “Fair enough Billy Joe. But what could really happen? The worst case scenario, the Club folds and we’re out of a job.”
With the Fourth of July falling on a Thursday the Arlington staff were looking at a long weekend of dismal days. By Wednesday they were already dying of boredom with only a couple of the members dropping in for the occasional workout. It wouldn’t have made much of a difference if all the members came in. Jimmy was nowhere to be seen for days on end, and Connie seldom emerged from her office. Emma took on the role of meet and greet whenever the occasional visitor wandered in.
At the end of the day Luc, Emma, and Carlos waited at the front door for the ride back to Turtle Creek with Connie. She was not in her office. They could hear raised voices again emanating from Jimmy’s office. When Connie finally came through the door the look on her face was of someone who could bite the tail off a rattler. It changed immediately to surprise with the staff standing in the lobby. Connie slammed the door behind her, but not before Luc caught a glimpse of Jimmy, elbows on the desk and head in his hands.
“What are you doing standing there? Have you been eavesdropping?” Her voice was strained.
Luc was expressionless. This was an ongoing saga he didn’t want to be a part of. “We’re waiting for you Connie. It’s closing time.”
She regained her composure. “Everything closed up tight and cleaned up?” Without waiting for an answer. “Wait by the car, I’ll be right out.” She marched into her office.
Connie gave them the good news as they pulled out of the parking lot. The Arlington Club was going to be temporarily closed for repairs until after the Fourth of July holiday weekend. They thought they’d be looking at a mini vacation, until she followed up with the bad news. She expected them to replace the part-time staff at Turtle Creek and work regular shifts.
On the holiday and the following Friday only a few members trickled through the glass doors. Saturday was okay for the coffee and bagel crowd, but after that it dried up. With Jimmy and Connie nowhere in sight Billy Joe made an executive decision to close early.
Luc and Emma stayed behind for a sauna and Jacuzzi, mainly to ease the tension and relax before heading back to the apartment. Sitting in the Jacuzzi he broached the subject of where they were going from here, assuming things fall apart.
“I don’t know. I just hadn’t planned for this at all. I thought I had a secure job for at least a few more years. Maybe I’ll take some courses at the Junior College like Felicita. It doesn’t look good does it Luc?”
“Connie and Jimmy, they’ve got something going on and you’re right, it doesn’t look good. Who knows, if Arlington goes under and Turtle Creek’s doing okay we may all still be working.”
“If not, how about you, what will you do Luc?”
“Find another job is what I’ll have to do, and I’m back to the beginning of not having a clue what that will look like. I know Billy Joe wants to open his Karate school and I could help him, but financially it’s all pie in the sky stuff for the foreseeable future.” He sat silently thinking about a number of options, none of which had any clear path to fruition. “I do know if possible, I want to keep our relationship going. It may be a long time before we get to sit in a Jacuzzi together if it all goes down, but as the song goes—who knows where the wind blows.”
“And is that a sad song or a happy one.”
“The song is about two Irish brothers immigrating to the states on two different ships. A breeze blew one north and one south and they ended up on different sides in the civil war. I think Sands, who wrote it, saw how coincidences or small irrelevant happenings can change one’s history. Not to say losing your job is a small happening.”
“It’s a big happening Luc,” she slid across the water to lean up beside him, “and I’m afraid it’s going to change for us, and the wind is not a small breeze, but a gale.”
Going back to work at Turtle Creek Monday morning was like attending a funeral where no one was dead yet, but everyone was hanging around waiting for someone to die. When Connie showed up, she informed everyone Arlington was closed for repairs until further notice.
The big event for the staff came on Tuesday, and it had nothing to do with exercise. Louella had nabbed six tickets for the Doors concert at the Dallas Memorial Auditorium. They were on the floor, in front of the stage, and it was a night to “Break on Through to the Other Side.” Billed as A Feast of Friends it was a perfect night for Luc and friends to wear off all their frustration in a hot, sweaty abandonment, under a blanket of lights, smoke and music. From “Soul Kitchen” to “When the Music’s Over” it was a night—and a morning to remember.
They had all slept in. Luc and Emma were just dragging themselves out of bed by the time Billy Joe had showered, dressed, and was heading out the door. He figured Connie would have opened up by the time he got to the club. When Billy Joe ran up the flight of stairs and onto the patio, Hoot was standing in front of the glass entrance with a couple of members. Connie was never late and Hoot was never early. The day was not getting off to a good start. Billy Joe asked the members to hang out on the patio until he got things rolling.
“Looks like you’ve been rode hard and put up wet.” Hoot commented as he followed Billy Joe into the lobby.
“Something like that Hoot. I’ll get the lights if you can get a start on opening up the rooms. Emma and Luc should be right behind me.”
Luc and Emma walked into the lobby just as Hoot rushed up the stairs and stopped at the top, looking all choked up.
Billy Joe came double stepping up the stairs and passed Hoot.
“Good timing Luc. Connie and Carlos aren’t here yet. Can you help Hoot on the men’s side, and Emma, I just turned on the lights on the women’s side if you can start there.” He stopped. Luc and Emma were staring at Hoot.
Billy Joe turned around. “What’s up Hoot, you look like you’ve seen a ghost?”
“The ghost of Jimmy maybe!” Hoot jabbed his finger towards the stairwell. “He’s…Jimmy…he’s sitting in the sauna with his clothes on and he don’t look so good.”
They scrambled down the stairs, into the hallway and up to the door of the dry sauna. One by one they peeked through the small window. Jimmy was propped up on the bottom bench dressed in his Jack LaLanne jumpsuit, his eyes closed peaceful like, and his hands on his lap.
Emma turned to Hoot. “He’s looking real pale, and he kinda has a smile on his face. Do you think he’s dead?”
“I don’t know but the thermometer reads way over the limit, he ain’t movin, and there’s an empty bottle of Jack Daniels beside him.”
The club members were sent home after being told there were mechanical problems with the air conditioner and it needed to be fixed before they could open. The police were called. Connie was reached at home, and would be arriving shortly. Nobody understood why she stayed home this particular morning, and no one asked.
The salespeople were notified and declined to come in. Luc called Bum. Even though he was no longer an employee, Luc felt Bum should know. The message on his machine said he’d be out of town for a few days, if it was important leave a message. No message was left. Luc figured that somehow Bum was aware of what just came down, and a chill ran up his spine.
Before the police and Connie arrived, Billy Joe gathered everybody together.
“I’m going to ask Luc to leave, he doesn’t need the complications. He wasn’t here. Is everyone okay with that?” Hoot shrugged.
Emma gave Luc a squeeze. “I’ll catch up with you at the apartment.”
Once the police arrived and cordoned off the area it took several hours to complete the initial investigation and send the body on its way. Connie showed up just prior to the police and didn’t act the least bit surprised at the turn of events, until she was questioned, and then she was totally distraught and in full cleavage while making her statement. Hoot could have been the number one suspect after telling the police what he thought of the boot lickin’, ornery son-of-a-bitch and glad he was dead. Carlos never did show up and was on the list to be called in for questioning, primarily because he was Mexican. No one seemed to care about Luc. Billy Joe and Emma, after making their statements, sat around on the patio drinking Jimmy’s juices until everyone cleared out and Billy Joe could close up. He left his keys with Connie, who was looking mighty comfortable sitting behind Jimmy’s desk drinking a glass Jack’s juice.
The preliminary conclusion was suicide. Heatstroke enhanced by alcohol in the blood stream causing organ dysfunction, brain damage, and death. It was a mystery how he could be sitting up. The investigation would be ongoing to look into the cause of suicide. The Turtle Creek club was closed for temporary renovations due to air conditioning malfunctions. The temperature in North East Texas hovered around 95 degrees daily, reinforcing the lie.
Luc met up with Billy Joe and Emma at Woody’s for a late lunch, or more appropriately a liquid lunch at the bar. Bum’s prognostication had materialized way before expectations and the three ex-employees of the Ambassador Health Club were still spinning over the day’s events. Billy Joe had called Carlos to fill him in on the morning’s event, and suggested he lay low in Little Mexico until the cops came looking for him. For all of them there were plenty of ifs, buts, and maybes, and the big one—now what?”
Luc felt a hand on his shoulder. “Is this another business lunch?” Adam had spotted him at the bar and came over to say hello.
He turned on his stool, “Hi Adam. No it’s a wake. You know Emma and Billy Joe?”
“Yes we met the other night. Who died?”
“Let’s grab a table, it’s a long story and we could use a third party perspective. What are you drinking?”
Luc gave the long and short of it with translations and interpretations by the gallery. At the end, Adam didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“If you were writing this story for my creative writing class Luc, I’d say you have a corpse on your hands that died, possibly not by his own hands. Which means there’s a story demanding resolution. You have a real mystery here, and that’s fresh meat for the Texas Rangers. I suspect you can all look at being subpoenaed. Probably something you don’t want to happen, Luc.”
“Thanks for the uplift,” Luc was already primed for the possibility.
“I don’t know if we want to hear the recommendations.” Emma was aware of what was coming down. “Hold off on those Adam, till I come back from the ladies room.”
“Frankly,” Adam said, as Emma walked to the back of the restaurant, “you’re best option Luc is to disappear for a spell. They don’t have anything on you to go chasing after, you’re just a pawn on the chessboard, but I think they will dig into everything, if you know what I mean.”
Billy Joe called it. “You can bury the past but if someone’s got a shovel and you’re in their radar, it will surface.”
“I guess I could always head back to Canada for a while.” To Luc this was the worst case scenario. “Here we go again.”
Adam could sense a degree of despondency and moved the topic over to Billy Joe. “What are your plans, do you have any reason to get out of dodge?”
“Not from my end. I’m born and bred in Texas and the world drops off at the border. Although I’d like a breather until all this blows over. Maybe the Ambassador will start up again with different managers, maybe not.”
Adam got up to leave just as Emma was returning.
“Did I miss anything?” she said.
“Yes and it ain’t pretty.” Billy Joe answered, as he motioned to the waiter for another drink.
“I can tell you all about it as I walk you home. I think Billy Joe and I still have a few things to ponder over before we make any decisions on our next move.”
Adam was right on it. “I’m just leaving Luc. Which way are you going Emma, maybe I can give you a ride home and fill you in?”
“Little Mexico,” she replied.
“Perfect, I’m heading in that direction.”
She slid off the bar stool, hesitated for the longest moment looking into Luc’s eyes. Then with an uncontrollable sigh of resignation, she kissed him.
“You ponder with Billy Joe. It’s been a long day. We’ll catch up tomorrow.”
When they finally left the bar and crawled back to the apartment Louella didn’t take kindly to their plans. She had curtailed her business since moving into the apartment and wasn’t at all accommodating to the idea of upping the hustle. Billy Joe didn’t have to worry about any subpoena and could maintain the status quo. However, he liked the idea of getting away from it all for a while. After they disappeared into the bedroom to discuss the situation under the covers, Luc sat at the kitchen table and wondered why he and Emma weren’t doing the same.
Louella was very persuasive and convinced Billy Joe he really liked their relationship, and he should stick close to home. She suggested he visit his sister in Athens. Help out on the farm until he got the wanderlust out of his system. By the time he returned to Dallas, the Ambassador would probably be under new management.
Knowing Luc had re-applied for his GI Bill, Billy Joe came up with a possibility for Luc. There was a Junior College in Athens, around an hour away from Dallas, and as a Vet, if Luc felt like continuing his studies it might be an easy buy in. They could check it out together and if it didn’t work, he could help out on his sister’s farm until he decided which way the wind was blowing.
Billy Joe had planted the seed. Before the chaos of Arkansas, continuing his education was priority number one. He had lost sight of his goal. He may have even lost sight of himself after landing in Dallas.
There were two phone calls to make, one to Bum and one to Adam. Bum wasn’t in, of course, so Luc left a message. He wanted to let Bum know about his decision to move on to Athens, but he also wanted to see if Bum might just be able to give Emma a hand in finding a job.
Adam picked up the phone on the first ring. Luc filled him in on the possibility of returning to school.
“I guess you mentioned to Emma the possibility of my moving on, at least for a while anyway? How did she take it?”
“She was quiet when she heard the recommendation. When I dropped her off she thanked me for the ride in a voice that was barely audible. She wants to meet up with you before you leave.”
Luc told Adam about his feelings for Emma. He told him about her desire to rise above the discrimination and hate she had lived with. Luc asked him to follow up with her if he could. Adam was not new to discrimination. He had lived with it as well, all his life. It was not because of the color of his skin, but the color of his soul’s desire. He took her telephone number and promised to follow-up.
Shortly after saying goodbye to Adam, Bum called back.
“I think you’re doing the right thing kid,” he acknowledge after hearing Luc’s plans. Bum told him he didn’t think the Club would open for some time, but it would reopen, under a different name. As for the suicide, police were now investigating the possibility of foul play. No suspects had been identified so far. When Luc told him about Emma, Bum said he’d take care of it. Luc was beginning to understand “taking care of it” was what Bum did well, when he wasn’t selling Cadillacs.
Luc met up with Emma over lunch at the original El Chico restaurant on the northern edge of Little Mexico. It was a spacious restaurant, a dozen or more tables with canvas backed chairs. Usually busy for lunch, today was an exception with only few customers. The heat wave and excruciating humidity that had Dallas in its grip for weeks had finally let go and most people headed for the outdoors.
“Nice place Emma.” he said, as he sat down and looked around. “Looks authentic, I guess, not having been to Mexico.”
“El Chico caters to the Anglo clientele, but it’s also popular with the Dallas Mexican community. I took the liberty of ordering a pitcher of frozen margaritas.”
“Perfect.” There was an awkward silence as he looked over the menu. It all looked good but he didn’t have a clue what it was—rellenos, tamales, empanadas, papas etc. Tacos he was okay with, but that was it. “What do you recommend?”
Emma ordered for both of them. She seemed pleased he was thinking of going to Athens. She had relatives there and knew the town, and it was only a short commute from Dallas. Luc told her of his conversation with Bum, and mentioned Adam touching base. She didn’t react to either having long ago accepted it’s only real when it happens. What neither could do was reach inside and let their feelings overcome their survival instincts. It was something they had in common. Since they were children it was what buffered them from the inevitable hurt of separation, and its aftermath, the feeling of rejection. Another thing they had in common was change.
It was a quiet, sober lunch. Emma had nowhere to go with the way things had just unfolded. Like the Ambassador, there was nothing she had a hold on, nothing she could say that’d make a difference in the outcome. When they had finished their meal and the waiter cleared the table she opened the conversation.
“You know someday you’re going to have to put me in your memory box Luc.”
It took him a bit to register what she had just said. Someday could be anywhere from tomorrow to a lifetime.
“I’m not sure what you mean Emma. You are in there. You are locked in there. And you always will be.”
“That may be so Luc, but the reality is in the world we live in, in Texas 1968, there’s a whole lot of hate separating you and I, and although none of it is coming from us, it’s all about us.” She had lived with this all her life and knew the odds were so stacked against them, even betting was a fool’s rush.
Luc had no comeback to argue the point. He had not formulated in his mind what he’d actually say to Emma, just that he needed to somehow hold onto what they had shared, and leave the door open, no matter how vague, to some potential for a future continuation of the joy he felt in her company. Somethings you just don’t want to lose no matter the odds or the inevitability. It all sounded good but she only listened, and ended the conversation with a hope and a promise they’d remain friends.
The lunch crowd had long gone and every table but theirs was covered with clean linen and set up for the dinner crowd. The waiters stood by in the Mexican tradition of waiting patiently, never rushing, for the table to clear. They were blinded by the sun when they left the restaurant. It was a good excuse for not connecting eye to eye, making it less difficult to say goodbye.
Emma watched him as he walked away. She could have tried to hold onto this white boy but the odds were against it. He was everything she liked, a tight body rippled with muscle and tone, a mind raw and exploratory, a soul brother naïve to the consequences of his desires. He was a color without a color. The trouble was she was ebony, color of darkness, and the two them were on either end of the spectrum, and never the twain shall meet in the world as she knew it.
In her world the boundaries were well defined and the wall between them impossible to climb for the foreseeable future. She smiled thinking of their times in the Jacuzzi. It was something she stored away in her memory box. Anything’s possible she thought—but not this time.
To be continued Sunday January 3 BOOK TWO: HIDDEN AMONG THE MAGNOLIAS
A LONG WAY FROM NOWHERE is available on both Amazon and Kindle at John Thomas Dodds Author Page Reviews appreciated