Basement of St. Mark’s Cathedral
The room isn’t packed for the Tuesday night AA meeting. There are more people than usual, but still not a full house. There are a lot of bloodshot eyes with the requisite dark circles under them, and even more nervous twitches. It’s an anxious room, full of forced acceptance. A short, stub of a man is just standing to address all the not so eager faces. He looks as though life has started, only recently, to eat him from the inside.
“Hi. My name is Joseph Tolliver, and I am an alcoholic.”
There’s a moment of silence and then a dull, apathetic chorus returns with, “Hi Joe.”
That’s my little brother Joseph. He hates being called Joe. But we all have those little things we hate. You know, just get under your skin. One of mine is people who act like experts on any subject you happen to be talking about, from ballet to basket weaving. I guess that stems from my hatred of lies and liars in general. Talk about irony, huh?
Sorry. I’m losing focus. That’s my little brother Joseph. He got Dad’s name, poor kid. I got stuck with Luther, but I don’t mind so much in comparison. I remember Dad a lot better that Joseph does. He was only ten when Dad went away. Even at that age he was old enough to want to be Joseph, not Joe. He understood guilt by association.
This little kick of group meetings is something new brought on by Joseph’s girlfriend Amanda. She’s an alcoholic and, God love him, Joseph tries to be as supportive as he can.
“I guess I started drinking as a way to escape. It was just too much for me to handle after Mom died and my three little sisters came to live with me on the farm.”
For the record, Joseph is the youngest of three boys. Our mother is alive, well, and playing bingo in south Florida. He hasn’t had a drink since New Year Two-Thousand, and he’s never, to the best of my knowledge, even been within fifty miles of a farm.
He is a great liar though. If what they say about genetics is true, then Dad’s found immortality through his namesake. Normally I wouldn’t consider working with family. I’ve done it before. It’s always messy. But my best pitchman got pinched three weeks ago and need, or greed, has caused me to be a little more…open-minded.
The sounds of traffic on the street make it difficult to hear, as the members of the AA meeting file out into the brisk night air, but a rather loud voice catches Joseph’s attention.
“Hey Joe, got a second to talk?”
“What are you doing here? How did you find me?”
“Junior, you are as hard to find as a fat girl at a buffet.”
“I’m not even going to dignify…”
“Shut up. The deal is a one-time offer. It’s a six digit payday, an even split on a five man job. It’s two weeks work kid, and I’m shopping for a pitchman. You in?”
“No way. Luther, I can’t believe you! Asking this, after last time. You really are amazing. You truly have no soul.”
Last time. Right. Last time was in January of Two-Thousand. It was a sweet deal, but a little risky. Minimal contact, big take. Problem was that Joseph gets a little ‘shaky’ around religious people, and there were these three nuns…Let’s just say that it went poorly.
Joseph got a slap on the wrist, as a first timer, Time served and two years probation. He’s still miffed that I disappeared for a couple of years. Keeping a safe distance and all.
“Look kid, I’ll give you some time to think about it. I’ll be at the Paradise Inn by the Airport. Room two twenty-three. Call me.”
“Nice seeing you, Bro. Have a safe flight. Enjoy your little job, or jail, or whatever happens. Send me a postcard. My answer’s no.”
This is getting tired. He’s staring me down. Time to drop my ace.
“Shame, Jersey will be sorry to hear that you aren’t coming in on this one. Oh well, have a nice night little brother.”
Wait for it.
Wait for it.
With a shake in his voice Joseph replies, “Jersey?”
“Jersey’s still working with you Luther?”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll tell her that you…”
“Two twenty-three, at the Paradise? I’ll call in the morning.”
One thing about that boy: He’s always been predictable. He’s had a thing for Jersey Fontana since he was sixteen. She’s never even pretended to like being in the same room as him. He’s got determination; I’ll give him that. Poor sap.
Now the problem is finding Jersey. I haven’t seen her in over a year, but it still shouldn’t be that hard. I know she’s in town. My boy, Jules, said she’s been coming around to fence a few rings over the last few months. It won’t be as easy to track her down as it was ‘boy wonder’, but I think I can manage it.