It was 5:06 and Matt had just walked into High Park; Mike and Tim and I had been there since our characteristic time of 4:00. Six months had passed since the demise of Lagarde; I must say that many moments of consternation had enveloped my mind during that time but I had eventually just let it go. After all, a receipt for a guitar string was not exactly an ironclad indictment and when I had confronted Matt with what I had seen in the dumpster he had just laughed it off saying “I had run across an old guitar in my closet and decided to replace the missing string.” Thus I decided to leave the whole thing alone; no one else seemed to be worried about it so I dropped it.
Matt had no sooner gotten his Bud Lite and shot than a grey haired rather stout man with a noticeable limp came over and pulled up a chair beside Matt. “Hey guys,” he called out. It was Gilly Glade, a quote unquote “friend” of Matt’s. Matt had told me one time that if he was ever your friend that it was forever, no matter what, and his relationship with Gilly certainly proved that vow. Matt had regaled the island with crazy stories of how he and Gilly had had several fistfights over the years; one of the more interesting ones involved Gilly climbing up on a low porch roof and leaping down on top of Matt when he approached his apartment. Then there was the time when Matt’s beloved Minnesota Twins ballcap went missing and he found it half burned in his front yard; this event occurred after a drunken shouting match between Matt and Gilly at Mitch’s Tavern. That was the famous time when Matt had been thrown out of the bar and walked down the stairs and slammed the door so hard. Thank God it did not break the glass.
Gilly had shown up during the last week and it was almost like he was stalking Matt; he was ever present, even though Matt did everything humanly possible to avoid him. Tim and Mike pretty much ignored him, as did I, but his presence was a distinct drag on the typical island atmosphere. And of course to round out his sterling personality Gilly was a used car salesman; in fact, even after all the things that had happened over the years, Matt had just recently bought his delightful Honda Accord Sport from him. I remember Matt asking me to take a look at the car before he bought it; I agreed, having no skin in the game, but I also remember the resentment that Gilly showed when I pointed out that the plastic front bumper had a small gap where the two parts met. If looks could kill. I left at my usual time of 6:00 after hearing Gilly drone on about some house he was fixing up, I think for his son. My friends were equally enthralled with what he had to say; every time Matt got a chance he was doing some serious eyerolls and Tim and Mike were doing inward eyerolls (trust me, I can tell. I invented the term.) Tim and Mike left at their usual times, as did I; when I departed Gilly was serenading Matt with some tale of a “creampuff” he had sold to some Mexican who could speak no English.
I thought about the situation with Gilly hanging around so much, but in light of what had happened with Lagarde I was more than a bit hesitant to mention it at the island. It turns out I did not need to bring it up. The next day at 5:09 when Matt arrived he conducted a visual sweep of the bar and started in on Gilly.
“He sure is worrying the hell out of me,” he said, looking around the island to see if there were any reaction. Both Tim and Mike just mumbled something about “no problem, I hadn’t noticed,” or words to that effect. I said nothing. Then Tim chimed in with “after your third shot yesterday I did notice that you reacted to something Gilly said by getting that steely gaze and holding your arms down by your side and clenching your fists verrry tightly.”
“So you saw that, huh?” Matt said, a rather forlorn look coming over his face.
“Yep, me too,” said Mike. “Maybe you just oughta off him,” he continued, laughing out loud. Tim joined in on the laughter; since the Lagarde episode it had become sort of a standard joke that Matt had done it. Of course no one took this seriously; well, almost no one. I preferred to keep the book open on that mystery. This little interchange kind of lightened the mood, Matt even managing a half smile while the laughter was going on; however, the situation tensed up again as Gilly came limping up to the island, his chair in hand. Matt, friend forever, scooted over to allow him room. Gilly said hello to everyone and immediately launched into a very salacious story about his ex-wife that no one, except Matt, had ever met and that none of us wanted to hear about. Another eyerolling session, inward and outward ensued. Even though it was only 5:30 I was about ready to take off; Tim and Mike had just made an early departure. I delayed my takeoff, for I noticed things were heating up in the Matt-Gilly world.
When I looked over toward where Gilly and Matt were at the end of the island I saw that war clouds had gathered over the “life-long friendship.”
“Well I would not have been thrust into that untenable situation if you had been decent enough to give me a ride home. You were not even drunk, and I could barely get astride my moped,” Matt was shouting, his teeth clenched and arms stiffly beside him with his fists balled up. Matt was referring to an oft told story about how after Gilly would not give him a ride home from the PR he had rear ended a car on Dare Street; the accident was pretty bad, the collision sending Matt onto the back of the Volvo he hit. Fortunately he was able to walk home, although in great pain. Even more fortunately the moped was not powerful enough to require the recording of an identification number; the Peter Boyle look alike abandoned it.
“I was too drunk; you can ask anybody who was there. If Bernie were here he would back me up,” Gilly shouted, feeling secure in his alibi courtesy of a dead man. This comment only fueled the Matt fire.
“Well, I am not selfish like you are; I care about people. Like the time Barbara Ann needed a ride and I dropped her off at her condo and proceeded to hit the fire hydrant in front of the Mellow Mushroom and lose my frigging license for two years. That’s how much I care about people, not that YOU would ever be able to identify with anything like that,” Matt yelled, and stomped out of High Park. As I left I looked back at the island; Gilly was sitting there snickering.
Things had resumed somewhat of a normal status by the next afternoon; the four o’clock trio was present and Mike was talking about his wife’s latest idea about where to move to. Apparently she had decided that Raleigh was too big and expensive and they needed to escape. Two months ago it was Waynesville, then it was Wilmington, then Sanford. But her restless meanderings had taken a turn.
“She wants to stay in Raleigh now and go solar and wind for energy; guy comin’ over tonight to talk to us,” he said rubbing his hands over his long hair and exhibiting a very prominent eyeroll. “I have given up; nowadays I just tell her to do what she wants. Her ideas have always paid off in the long run; I can’t wait to see where the windmill is going,” he said, laughing and getting up to get another drink. When Mike returned it was Tim’s turn to vent a little. As you know he called his mother faithfully every week while he puffed on a Marlboro on the sidewalk outside the bar. He usually spoke of how she went on about medical issues but today it was a different wrinkle.
“My 87-year-old mother has started talking like a valley girl,” he said, shaking his cap laden head and giving a big ol’ eyeroll rivaling Mike’s earlier one. “Her response to any question requiring an affirmation is “fershure”; that started last week, then this week I was complaining a little about something that had happened at work and she told me to “take a chill pill.”
“And she has never done anything like this before?” I asked, stifling a giggle.
“Never, never, never,” he replied, burying his head in his hands.
“If she were a teenager I would suggest that she was going through a phase, but obviously that weren’t the case,” Mike said, employing one of his Ohio colloquialisms that he sprung on us occasionally. It was 5:08 and Matt was coming in the door of High Park. He had “Columbo” in tow, our local jack of all trades and master of most. Matt had been talking about getting him to do some work for him. “Columbo’s” real name was Mark but he had been given his new moniker a couple years back by Slash, the peripheral who had orchestrated our change of venue from The Office Tavern. The whole scenario was fomented by a true story I told one day at the bar; Slash was in there with his lovely former stewardess wife, Wanda. I know it is supposed to be “flight attendant” but sue me. And I still say Oriental instead of Asian and I still say “care- a- be-un” and not “carrib-i-un”; so there. What happened was I had occasion to purchase a new car, well, new to me. It was Easter weekend and I was down in Wilmington visiting relatives; I had driven my ’86 Celebrity that I was given after my mother died. On Easter Sunday I was getting ready to set out for home and George, my wife’s brother-in-law and I were standing in front of the celebrity when I noticed that one of the front tires was showing some metal. I was looking at it and said “I am going to get another car soon” when George looked at me and said “I think I would do it right away.” Turns out he was more than a bit prophetic; I headed out 40 West toward Raleigh and only got 30 miles before my left front tire, the one with the exposed metal, blew out. I managed to get the jack and donut out of the trunk (I am satisfied the jack was virginal) and was able to get the tire changed, the car falling off the jack only once. Well, I got back to Raleigh and went to Carmax after work on Easter Monday and told my Somalian salesman “show me all your Toyota Camrys”; he had eight of them. Anyway, I drove the deep blue XLE and fell in love with it and bought it that day. (I would tell you about how I tried to get my Somalian salesman to reduce the price by giving me $500 for the Celebrity and how he just grinned at me, flashing his giant white teeth, and shook his head and gave me $100 for it but I have already digressed plenty.)
Getting back to “Columbo” he had occasion to call me that Monday night to ask if he could borrow my extension ladder; I told him he could and he said he would pick it up the next morning. It was full-blown pollen season in Raleigh so my lovely XLE was a greeny yellow the next morning; I was appalled and rinsed it off before heading out to work. So the next day at the bar I was about to tell Mark about my new purchase when he looked at me through his heavily smudged glasses and said “you bought a new car.” I was taken aback to say the least until he explained.
“When I came to pick up the ladder I saw where someone had rinsed off a car; I knew you would not do that to the Celebrity so I just put it all together,” he pronounced with a smug smile. Pretty clever I must say. The next day Slash the peripheral was at the bar and I told him the car story and he immediately started laughing; “damned if we ain’t got a ‘Columbo’ amongst us,” he managed to get out after he recovered. Of course the nickname stuck. It is sort of funny that Slash the peripheral created the name for Mark; it must run in the family because his lovely wife Wanda is responsible for my sobriquet, which is Shady. If I might digress just a bit more I will explain how that happened, and then back to the bar. I promise.
Several years ago, when we were all going to Billy Davis’ Office Tavern, we were in there one afternoon when Larry brought in this buxom girl by the name of Heidi. She was buxom, attractive, and wild, all prerequisites to be ushered by Larry. Seems like Heidi was a little short on gas money, so she started flashing her top and dollar bills started accumulating on the bar. Even Dennis, the Curmudgeon, totally appropriately named, got in on the action, asking Heidi if he could feel them, and when answered in the affirmative, plopped down two bucks and the massage was on. To be perfectly honest all Slash the peripheral did was watch and give her two bucks for gas; however, at one point during the revelry he looked at me in a serious way and said “don’t mention this to Wanda.” And I didn’t, for a good six months. Then one day at the bar I started telling the Heidi story and about what the Curmudgeon did and Wanda overheard it and she inquired, looking at her husband, “and you were there?” As the late Billy would occasionally utter, “that sent it way past the nut-cuttin” and Slash was in trouble. And so was I. I guess it was the classic “shoot the messenger” scenario because on the spot she chastised me roundly and pronounced that I was “shady”, a second nickname that stuck. Slash the peripheral told me later that it took Wanda six months to get over my ill-timed revelation. Digression overload.
The light-hearted banter about Mike’s wife and Tim’s mother came to a close abruptly as the grey haired gimpy overweight “friend for life” of Matt’s plopped down on an empty chair beside his bosom pal. Cascades of inward eyerolls from everyone except Matt, who performed a monstrous eyeroll, managing to turn his head away from Gilly before he conjured it up.
Gilly started blathering immediately and went on about how he used to get unsuspecting friends to drive used cars way up Capital Boulevard to dealerships; “yea, think you got in on that a little, didn’t you ol’ buddy,” he said, giving Matt a little push on the shoulder. To his credit the lifelong friend was able to limit himself to an inward one. Tim, Mike, and I managed a bit of conversation among ourselves while this was going on but the “annoyance level” was up there. Matt would shoot looks of extreme boredom occasionally when he caught the eye of one of us; I am pretty sure that at least once I saw the beginning of the Peter Boyle clenched teeth look and the fists beginning to ball up, but I couldn’t swear to it. Gilly continued with every topic known to man until the three of us stirred in preparation of fleeing. Mike was the first to abandon ship, mumbling something about having to fix dinner. Tim was next, claiming he had a sudden urge for a Snoopy’s hot dog.
“Oh, just hate,hate hot dogs. Gag me with a spoon,” I caroled out to Tim as he exited.
5:09 the next day at the island. Matt had just gotten his second Bud Lite and shot when the chubby grey haired one descended upon us. The obligatory salutations were exchanged, Mike and Tim sort of mumbling them and avoiding eye contact, while I was the model of politeness.
“Hi Gill,” I proffered, which was met with a somewhat look of surprise from ol’ gimpy. I thought I would kind of shake things up and maybe give Gilly someone else to mess with instead of his usual Matt concentration. I should have known better.
“Oh, hi Dave,” Gilly said, and then pounced with all the used car salesman fervor he could muster. “I noticed that 2012 Camry you are tooling around in is looking a bit ragged. Who is responsible for that great paint job?” he said, exhibiting a jackal grin. Obviously he was referring to my damaged left side from a hit and run sideswipe and the horrible job I had done with spray paint on the right side where I had scraped it on some bushes while backing out of my driveway. I explained these flaws patiently, telling him about how my friend Lieutenant Columbo had done the best he could with bondo on the left side and how I had screwed up the other side with an ill-advised application of spray paint.
“Too bad, a man of your standing ought to be seen in a better vehicle,” he offered, “you know how people tend to judge you by what you drive.” All I could come up with was a blank stare; first of all I was not aware that I had any lofty standing in the community and secondly I wondered how he even knew what my car looked like. I was about to ask him this question when he moved on.
“Tim, don’t you think that maybe it is time to think about getting rid of that ridiculous Honda Element you have been driving forever,” he said, giving Tim the grin. Tim responded by just remembering he had an appointment with a Marlboro and his telephone on the sidewalk for his weekly call to his mother. In the wake of his departure the jackal turned toward Mike who was busy ignoring the conversation and preening his locks.
“And Mike, that Honda Civic has certainly seen better days,” he said, looking at Mike, who for the first time probably ever bolted from the island with two thirds of a drink remaining.
“What a blitz,” I thought to myself. I stole a glance at Matt, who was exhibiting what I would have to say was an absolutely beatific look, I presume because his life-long friend for once was not on him. I guess since I was the only one left whose vehicle had been disparaged Gilly turned his attention back upon me, Matt still glowing.
“I guess you know I sell used cars, Dave, and I can surely fix you up; in fact, I could have you sitting in a Toyota Camry just like yours, except not damaged, in a jiffy. I believe I noticed that yours is a GLE, the top of the line,” he pronounced, the grin expanding. I must say that it was a bit lonely weathering the storm alone, but after I hurriedly explained that I was retired and on a fixed income he retracted his sales claws, I guess figuring that I was a hopeless case. Of course Gilly had to fill the void, turning to his bud and starting in on how he had just the upgrade for him.
“I think you would be a lot more comfortable in a vehicle that sat up a little higher, Matt; only thinking of your welfare, friend,” Gilly said, jackal grin gone and replaced by a look of deep compassion and sincerity that did not quite come off. Talk about day and night, the glow beat a hasty retreat, being replaced by a trace of the Peter Boyle clenched teeth balled up fist look.
“You know, those SUVs ride pretty high and I am sure you would feel a lot better not having to crawl out of that low slung Accord. I can drive one up here tomorrow, or if you have time I could go get a nice one right now,” he said, jackal grin returning. Just then Gilly was interrupted by a phone call, apparently a hot prospect. I overheard him say “cash?” and apparently getting an affirmative response he then hurried out the door, throwing back a “see ya later.”
I sat looking at a somewhat relieved Matt. “My God, I can understand how he would be familiar with my car and Mike’s; he could have just seen us getting out of them in the parking lot, but how in the world would he know anything about Tim’s element? Tim always walks to the bar, so he is always out of his element.” Matt responded with a slight smile at my attempt to lighten the moment.
“It would not shock me if Gilly had followed Tim home from the bar one day just to see what kind of car he drives. He is a relentless son of a bitch,” Matt said, shaking his head.
“I have never seen Mike so shaken,” I said, “you know he is always so calm. Remember how he didn’t get rattled when the Lagarde thing was going on.” I reflected on what I had just said for a moment and then spoke. “Come to think of it Matt, I do recall that Mike said, speaking of Lagarde, ‘that goofy son of a bitch gives long hair a bad name,’ and I also remember that I thought Mike had a look on his face that ‘approached evil.’” Matt was nodding in the affirmative.
“Sometimes those seemingly calm types can flip,” Matt said. “Speaking of which, Tim had some pretty venomous things to say about the late Lagarde while that was going on, calling him a ‘friggin’ nut’ and saying ‘I don’t want to be around him at all’ are two things that come to mind.” I had heard those rather indicting phrases also; however, I withheld mentioning that Matt had uttered “yea, he’s gotta go” that same day there at the island. It was almost six and about time to head out; additionally, there was the chance that Gilly could return so I beat a hasty retreat.
5:09 at the island; Matt had just sat down with the Bud Lite and a shot.
“Where is your soul mate,” Mike said with a grin, “and where is Tim.”
“Gilly was just pulling up as I arrived,” Matt replied, “and I haven’t seen Tim. Jeez I wish Gilly would just go away. The conversation was interrupted by the sound of a scream from outside the bar. They all went over to the doors at the thermal break and out the main door; one of the girls that hang around up at the end of the bar was weeping as she stood over the body of Gilly Glade.
“What happened?” Mike asked, as he bent over Gilly, feeling for a pulse and shaking his head.
“I had just come out of Lady Fingers when I saw a car roar into the parking lot and hit this man as he was walking across the parking lot,” she said as several people called 911 on their phones.
“What kind of car was it,” Mike asked, “what did it look like?” “It was older and kind of square,” she got out between sobs.