I hadn’t seen these guys in years, not since high school graduation. We used to hang out together all the time, roaming the neighborhood, never really doing anything bad, nevertheless always on the lookout for cops. Jack nearly always had a nickle bag of pot on him – just enough to keep us paranoid. People called them the Three Musketeers: Jack, Pete, and Darren. I was always the odd man out, the musketeer wanna-be. On most occasions they let me hang with them. I felt like I was in then, and took the ribbing they gave me as part of the dues for being cool.
Now we sat around a table in the dimly lit McNeal’s Bar and Grill. The place was crowded, loud, and smokey – no place I had ever been and no place I would have ever picked. But then, they never asked me. Pete still smoked like a chimney so they chose someplace where he could indulge his habit.
Jack signaled the bar girl, sticking up four fingers to order another round. He still liked to play the central roll, mister big shot, though now I knew I made more than twice his annual income. Who says high school reunions are worthless? Fine by me, let him pay.
“So what ever happened to Brenda Small?” Darren asked as he worked the shells off a handful of peanuts. Jack flinched. Pete took a quick drink of his beer.
Brenda and I had been an item in my Junior year. Beautiful girl, lovely personality, sharp as hell. Never did put out for me, but that made me like her even more.
“She died,” I said.
Darren’s smile drooped into a slight frown.
“Oh man, sorry to hear that. I didn’t know…” He tossed the shelled peanuts into his mouth and started chewing. “How’d that happen?”
“Her husband killed her.”
“No shit.” He shook his head. “Too bad you two didn’t get married.”
Wasn’t it though.
Jack abruptly stood to go to the bathroom just as the new rounds arrived. Pete followed shortly. Darren and I sat in awkward silence until he distracted himself by scanning the bar for likely pickups. No matter he had a wife and three kids waiting for him at home.
It was no secret the Three Musketeers were the ones who spread the rumors about me during our last summer of school. One of Jack’s football team buddies, Mark Ritter, had taken a shine to Brenda. Since we were going steady he needed something to break her away. I found out later that Jack came up with the idea.
Rumors started circulating that I poisoned a dog and tortured cats. None of it was true, but people started repeating it. A lot of my classmates started looking at me differently. I told Brenda it wasn’t true but when she asked around well, there were three of my closest friends all saying some version of, “Uh huh.” She dropped me like a hot rock.
Brenda went on to marry Mark Ritter. Then last year, two days before their seventeenth anniversary Mark came home drunk and beat her for the last time.
Now, a night after our twentieth high school reunion the four of us spent the evening catching up on where we were in life as if nothing had happened. I sipped my beer and bided my time. When the three of them were good and gone I suggested they’d had enough and should head home to sleep it off.
“I think Jack can still drive,” I advised as I led the way to Jack’s car.
Timing was important. I had to get them into the car before the roofies rendered them completely unmanageable. Jack climbed into the driver’s seat and fumbled to get the keys into the ignition. I helped Pete into the front seat and then barely managed to get Darren into the back. Once safely tucked away I put on a pair of gloves and turned the key. Jack’s Taurus fired right up.
The unsigned suicide note I placed between Jack and Pete read, “We made a pact in high school to go out together. All for one, and one for all. It’s time. The drugs and booze should ease the way. We are sorry.”
I ran the garden hose I’d stolen from Jack’s yard last night from the exhaust into the back window, closed the door, and quietly walked away.
© 2012 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.
Photo by HeadCRasher via Flickr Creative Commons – attribution, noncommercial, and share alike.