I watched Cliff watch the waitress walk away.
“What?” he asked, feigning innocence.
“Jeeze, Cliff, you couldn’t be more obvious.” I sipped my coffee.
“Like you don’t appreciate a nice posterior?” He sopped up the remains of his egg yolks with his toast, and pointed the dripping mess at me in lieu of a finger. “I see you making eyes at Angie, over at Mable’s.”
I felt myself flush a little.
“Have you asked her out yet?” he asked as he delivered the final morsel to his mouth.
I shook my head, no.
“I don’t need complications.” The waitress, Helen, came back with a coffee pot.
“You boys need any more coffee?”
We both slid our cups out toward her.
“Complications?” Cliff looked up and winked at Helen. She winked back.
“You know me. When I get close to people, bad things happen.” Seems to me everyone I’ve ever been close to dies. My mother. My sister. Probably my father…
Cliff snorted. “Bullshit. Nothing bad happened to Jen, except you letting her walk away, like a damn fool. Mary and I thought she was the real deal.”
I shook my head as we both started reaching for our wallets. “It just wasn’t going to work. She wanted something steady, someone who could give her a house with a picket fence, kids, a dog.”
“You should give it a try,” he said. It occurred to me I had just described Cliff’s house, his life.
Helen brought the check and we settled up between us, leaving her a nice tip. Helen always treats us well, so we always return the favor.
As we started to rise Cliff said, almost casually, “Did you hear Joe Hennessy died?”
I stopped, still not fully risen from the booth. “No. When?”
“Found him dead in his bed, early last week.”
I finished standing and gazed out the window. My reflection gazed back at me, looking beaten, worn.
“Do you know when the service will be?”
Cliff flinched. “Oh, jeeze, I’m sorry, Max. I should have called you as soon as I heard. They buried him on Monday. Down at Oak Grove. I just assumed you saw it in the paper.”
Not likely. I never check the obits.
“No one contacted you?”
I let out a bitter laugh. Who would contact me? No, my old work mates would just as soon shake hands with the devil. I didn’t exactly leave the force on good terms.
Cliff put a sympathetic hand on my shoulder and gently steered me toward the door.
“Everybody said he was crazy,” I reminisced as we navigated our way around incoming customers, a bus boy, and three children who had decided the floor made an excellent play station. “I guess he was, in a way.” We finally made our way outside and stood taking in the crisp autumn air.
“You know, he was in the Corregidor Death March. That might make you a little crazy,” I went on. Crazy Joe Hennessy – my first partner after I made Detective. I sat through many a tirade about the Japs, as he called them, while on stakeouts. His war experience made him bitter toward all things Japanese. Other than that one sore spot he had a good sense of humor, and he was a damn good detective. I could not have asked for a better mentor.
We worked together for two years before he retired.
After I left the force he called me on several occasions to see how I was holding up. We went out to lunch together occasionally. I lost track of him over the years, after he moved south of town, something I now regretted.
After Cliff pulled away I climbed into my Brougham and sat in quiet contemplation for a while. I roused myself from my reverie when I was starting sweating. Despite the cool weather, the closed car was getting hot. I fired up the engine and powered all four windows down.
I had a vague idea of where Oak Grove was, a small Baptist church south of town. I put the car in gear and headed for I-85. While idling at a light I played it safe and asked the GPS to give me turn-by-turn directions.
It was a pleasant drive, giving me time to be with my thoughts.
Once off the Interstate traffic was virtually nonexistent. I lowered the windows again and followed the directions my digital navigator gave me until I pulled into the nearly empty parking lot of the Oak Grove Baptist Church. There were three other cars in the lot.
It’s a small cemetery, so it was not hard to pick out the newest grave. I was surprised when I saw someone else standing near it. I knew almost immediately who it must be – Ami Motsomoto.
The old newspaper photo flashed though my mind: a busy front porch, several police officers milling about, and stepping out the front door, Joe Hennessy, holding a dark-haired little girl. The girl had her hands twined around Joe’s neck as if holding on for dear life.
The caption read: Corregidor survivor saves Japanese girl.
Technically, the caption was wrong. Her father was originally from Southern California, had spent his youth in an internment camp with his Japanese born parents. Until this case came along he would have just been another damn Jap as far was Joe was concerned.
None of that mattered anymore. There was a girl that needed saving.
She startled when my shadow fell across the grave, looked over to me with a wan smile on her face.
“I missed the funeral,” she explained, gesturing with the bouquet of grocery store flowers she held in her hand.
“I did too.”
She nodded sympathetically. “Did you know him?” she asked.
“He was a good man,” she said, stooping to lay the flowers where the headstone would eventually stand.
“Yes,” I said. “Yes, he was.”
© 2015 by J. M. Strother, all rights reserved.