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At four a.m., Gabe woke to a thunderous banging on his front door. As he rose, he slipped slightly on the puddle of drool he left on the kitchen tile floor, where he had dropped after consuming Ana's pills. Regaining some of his direction, he proceeded to the front door and opened it without checking the peephole.

He just caught a glimpse of the two figures in the light before the bare bulb above the entranceway was unscrewed and extinguished. He barely steadied himself on the ripped wire mesh of the front screen door and tried to make them out, mist from the bay rising around their feet.

A bagged body was being held upright by a young man with a shaved head and pins stuck through his cheeks and chin. Gabe pulled his glasses down from the top of his forehead and gained enough clarity to notice that the body was wrapped in a dirty sack from head to toe and held tight by thick ropes.

Then the boy spoke, thickly: "Here is your wife, Mr. Nolan. Now where is my money."


The following morning, unusually cloudy with dim gray light, he met his Navy buddies at Starbucks, as was their daily routine since the coffeshop opened on Webster Ave, when Ana went into the hospital for the first and final time.

Sandy, Lou and Gabe were the USS Hornet's chief officers, and since the carrier was decommissioned, it lay like a huge steel tomb only a few miles from the Starbucks, out by the old navy yards.

Gabe arrived late, as he already consumed a few cups of coffee at home to sweep clean the brain fuzz and muscle ache from last night's exertions. He heard them shouting to him as soon as he entered. Sandy waved a fresh cup of coffee like a pendulum, tempting him since walking straight was still a burden.

"Remember that time when…" began all their conversations. Today's version continued: "I gave that South American girl her first puppy…"

Gabe hauled himself over the offered chair, but only breathed in the aroma, feeling seasick. He straightened as the coffee had its effect, and stared at his friends, their voices a soothing drawl that he welcomed. Lou wore his usual plaid shirt with suspenders and Sandy floated in the oversized gray pants, black socks and stained brown leather shoes slightly big for his rapidly shrinking feet. All in the beginning stages of evaporation as if aging were sucking out their marrow. They both wore red caps showing white hair thin to scalp.

Sandy stared at Gabe intently as Lou continued his monologue.

"She was in room 23, which is the day I was born, I told her, and she actually laughed at me."

"Oh, Christ, not the whore-from-Panama story again," Gabe wearily and flatly stated.

Seeing his silent partners, Lou caught the sense to shut his mouth, and looked through thick glasses at Gabe.

"We are both really sorry about Ana."

Gabe looked at Lou, and took crystal clear notes on every aspect of him, as if suddenly a microscope had been held up to his eye. He had been seeing people this way for days since Ana died. None of the details that he had skipped over in the past were spared him now. He had been removing his glasses often to resort to a blurring that helped the hours pass without migraines.

Lou's cap was hanging at a jaunty angle, papers stuffed in his pocket of plaid short sleeved shirt, striped suspenders loose over his thick chest. He had a habit of picking with long fingers at the palm of his hands, like an earthmover tilling dry and cracked soil.

"Well, you know that there is a way to assure that she will stay with you for the rest of your days."

Gabe was stoic and betrayed no response to this bait.

"Oh, come on, Gabe, you remember the instructions."

"I don't know what you are talking about," Gabe responded and brought the coffee cup to his lips, but stopped before sipping.

"You know full well, the cook on the Hornet. He told us back in '45 as we crossed the equator."

"Again, I don't know what you are talking about, Lou. And that is final."

"Just that he told us something that might help you now, like he helped Hattie and me."

"God bless her soul," Sandy intoned, while nervously straightening his lemon-colored bowtie.

Gabe threw back the chair, knocking it to the floor, and stormed out of the coffeeshop.

For the mile walk back to the house, and through the dense blackness of his rage, he only allowed two thoughts to pierce the blanketing.

I know full well the instructions.

But I refuse to allow them to touch Ana, he decided, while gingerly walking over the fresh soft soil in his backyard beneath which lay her remains.

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 Gallery and Photos by Mike McCaffrey © 2002 Artzar - All Rights Reserved