This story first appeared in the August 2011 issue of Crimespree Magazine.

Dan Caruso was reading the paper as he sat in his lounge chair, feet up, cat purring as she napped on his lap. He was at the obituary section, which at his age served more as an unofficial high school reunion than his reality. Dan found comfort knowing that he had outlasted (knock wood) even the best of his classmates. The soft light from the lamp on the end table next to his chair cast a warm glow on the family room. That along with the drone of the TV lulled him to the verge of dozing off himself.

 

The name jumped out at him, and he startled himself alert, quickly lowering the footrest as the cat dashed off his lap.

 

“What?” said his wife Megan who was sitting in her matching lounge chair doing her nails while watching Jeopardy.

 

“This woman in the obituaries,” Dan said as he read the item. “A childhood friend, Shannon O’Connor, at least that was her name then. She married one of my best friends, Nick Gallo.”

 

“Oh, I’m sorry. Does it say how she died? What is Paraguay?” Megan said not taking her eyes off the TV and smiling when Alex Trebek told her she was right.

 

“No, it just says ‘suddenly.’ That can mean anything from a heart attack to suicide to a car accident. Wow, I feel awful.”

 

“Who is Brando?” she said, continuing to play the game.

 

“Nick and I and a few other guys were as close as kids can be,” Dan continued. “We played Little League together, football in the streets, rode bikes all over the place, typical kid stuff. I haven’t seen him since we were about thirteen.” His mind’s eye saw the thirteen-year-old Nick, the biggest kid in their crowd. Short cropped black hair, blue eyes, a devilish smile and broad shoulders highlighting his tall frame. Nick was easily the best athlete in the neighborhood and at the time Dan felt lucky to be his friend.

 

“Do you want to go to the wake?” Megan asked.  Then shouted, “Who is Keats?” and shook her head when Alex said John Dunne was the correct choice.

 

“No, I don’t think I’d be comfortable going,” said Dan ignoring her quiz playing. “It’s been so long since I’ve had contact with Nick, he probably wouldn’t even recognize me. Besides, it’s tonight and there wouldn’t be time enough to get over there. But I think I’ll leave a condolence message on the guest book at the paper’s website.”

 

“That would be nice,” Megan said as she returned to working on her nails and shouting out questions to the Jeopardy answers.

 

Dan got up from his chair annoyed with Megan. It wasn’t the first time he felt that way in recent years. He found himself wondering lately where their marriage was headed. Things hadn’t been the same since Megan had her mastectomy. Their relationship had settled into a routine even before that, and while the cancer within her was killed, its soul lived on eating away at their marriage. She became more reclusive, not wanting to be around people very often. Worse, she was shutting out Dan more and more.

 

He went into the den skirting around the treadmill, which he hardly used anymore, but which Megan used faithfully. He signed onto the computer tilting his head back a bit to take advantage of his bifocals, cursing the effect the passage of time had on his eyes. He went to the paper’s website, and found the obituary entry for Shannon Gallo. He clicked on the guest book and made a brief entry:

 

I was a childhood friend of Shannon and Nick, and was so sorry to

hear of her passing. My thoughts are with them both at this time.

 

He put his name and email address at the end of the entry and clicked “submit.”

 

His mind wandered to the past and he could see Nick throwing him a pass as he ran in the street under the football and caught it racing to the end zone, which was just past the parked green Plymouth. He saw Shannon’s young smiling face as he interceded with her on Nick’s behalf, easing their puppy love to fruition. He sighed as he signed off the computer and returned to the family room.

 

A few days later Dan was thrilled to see an email from Nick. It expressed thanks for his message, and asked what he had been up to. Dan immediately replied, filling Nick in on his marital status and his job, and ended it with a suggestion that they get together. After a few more exchanges, Nick agreed to stop at their house for a visit so they could really get caught up, and talk over old times.

 

“I don’t now why you couldn’t meet him out somewhere,” said Megan the night of the visit.

 

“We’ll be more comfortable here and be able to spend as much time as we want reminiscing. Besides, I wanted him to meet you. C’mon, it’ll be fun, maybe you’ll learn something about me you didn’t know.”

 

“Maybe,” she said frowning, “but you know how I feel about having company.”

 

The doorbell rang and Dan jumped up to answer it. When he opened the door, Dan felt a flush of warm memories at the sight of Nick’s blue eyes, still radiant after all these years. He was taller now, about six five, hints of his muscular youth still there. His hair was thinner, and his stomach a bit bigger, but Dan decided he would have had no problem recognizing Nick even if he ran into him on the street.

 

“Nick, so glad to see you,” Dan said as he extended his hand for a handshake.

 

Nick pushed it aside and, surprisingly, embraced Dan in a hug. “Same here,” he said as he hugged Dan. “It’s been a long time.”

 

The embrace broke, and Dan led Nick into the family room to introduce him to Megan. Nick politely shook her hand and gave her the bottle of wine he was holding, “Here, this is for you,” he said awkwardly. “Just a little something for your hospitality.”

 

“You shouldn’t have,” Megan said as she took the bottle, half meaning it.

 

“Oh its nothing,” Nick said, smiling brightly. “Gee, how did this balding guy wind up with a beauty like you?”

 

“Thanks,” she said blushing. “Why don’t I open this now, Dan can you help me find the corkscrew?” she said walking toward the kitchen.

 

“Oh sure,” said Dan a little puzzled. “Excuse us, we’ll be right back,” he said to Nick as he followed Megan into the kitchen.

 

“I don’t like his smile,” she said as soon as the kitchen door closed.

 

“What are you talking about, you barely met him. Give the guy a chance will you? So typical.”

 

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“It means lately you don’t want to socialize with anyone any more and I’m getting tired of it. Nick’s an old friend and I’d like you to be civil to him, do you think you can do that for a few hours?” Dan ignored the pain on her face as he pushed the kitchen door open to return to Nick.

 

“Married a teacher huh?” Nick said to Dan. “Get to live out the fantasies we used to have with Miss Smith, remember her?”

 

“Yeah, she was hot,” said Dan as they both laughed. After a brief awkward silence Dan said, “I was so sorry to hear about Shannon, what happened?”

 

“It was a freak thing,” replied Nick, “she took a misstep going down our cellar stairs, fell and hit the bottom step the wrong way. The doctors said her neck snapped and she died instantly. I still can’t believe it happened,” he said as he lowered his head.

 

“Wow,” Dan said. “What a shame.”

 

“Yeah, I’m still kind of numb, I don’t think it hit me yet.”

 

“Is there anything we can do?” asked Megan returning from the kitchen with the open wine bottle and three glasses on a tray. She glanced at Dan as she said this, with a sarcastic look that said “Am I being friendly enough for you?”

 

“Well, right now, how about we talk about the old days, that’s what I came here for, right?” Nick said with a sheepish smile.

 

“Right,” said Dan. “Hey, remember our Little League team that won the league championship that year? I think I have a picture of the team. It might be fun to see if we can remember everybody’s name. Let me go get it, I’ve got to dig it out of the junk, I mean treasures, in the basement. In the meantime you two can get acquainted.” Megan shot him a disapproving look.

 

“Sure,” said Nick, “go ahead, I’d love to see it. I’ve got a pretty good memory, I’m sure I can name them all.”

 

Dan hurried out of the room and down the basement stairs. He hoped that the wine and Nick’s charm would help loosen Megan up a bit and make the evening more comfortable. He rushed over to a stack of boxes in the corner opposite the furnace. He started going through the first box but the picture wasn’t there. Not in the second box either. This was taking longer than he wanted.

 

He took the top off the third box, which he decided would be the last one he looked in, he didn’t want to be rude to his guest. The first thing he saw was a framed picture of he and Megan smiling, arms around each other, on a Cape Cod beach. He felt an aching desire to return to those days of quiet walks along the beach, or strolls through the quaint streets. Those memories of their happier times were fading with each passing year.

 

He put that picture aside and continued his search. He finally saw the team picture at the bottom of that box. He returned the remaining items to the box, put the top back on, and restacked the boxes. He bounded up the stairs and approached the family room saying, “Here it is, I finally found…” his words stopped as quickly as his feet, as he stared open mouthed into the family room.

 

There he saw the wine bottle on its side on the coffee table, a growing red stain on the carpet. Megan duct taped to one of the straight-backed kitchen chairs, with another strip of duct tape around her mouth. Nick stood by Megan’s side with a gun pressed against her head.

 

“What the…” Dan stammered, “Is this some sort of joke?”

 

“Does it look like a joke?” Nick said coldly.

 

Dan looked at him incredulously, then at Megan and saw the fear in her widened eyes, a soft moan escaping behind the tape. “What are you doing Nick? What’s this about?” Dan blurted.

 

“Why don’t you sit down and make yourself comfortable. Oh, I’m sorry, you already are comfortable aren’t you, what with this big house, cushy job and all.”

 

“Look, just tell me what you want, why did you come here?”

 

Nick gave Dan a blank stare for a moment, then shouted a little more forcefully “I said sit down,” as he pressed the gun harder against Megan’s head, eliciting a whimper from her.

 

Dan sat on the couch opposite them looking into Megan’s pleading eyes. Her look gave him a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Her eyes expressed a fear and lack of hope that he fought to suppress.

 

“Now,” Nick said, “this is about payback. Payback for what you stole from me.”

 

“What are you talking about?” said Dan. “We haven’t seen each other for thirty years. What could I have possibly stolen from you?”

 

“Don’t pretend like you don’t know,” sneered Nick. “I remember like it was yesterday. I can still see you and Shannon always talking privately to each other, sitting on the stoop laughing and having a good old time.”

 

“What! We were kids. Most of the time we were talking about you,” said Dan. “Don’t you remember, I was your go-between with her. Relaying mushy messages and all that ‘what did he say, what did she say, tell him, tell her’ stuff. There was never anything between Shannon and me.”

 

“Bullshit! You stole her heart. She was always in love with you, even though she wound up with me. I’ve always known it, and it’s eaten at me for all these years,” said Nick with daggers in his eyes.

 

“Wait a minute, think about this Nick,” pleaded Dan. “If that’s true, don’t you think she would have been in touch with me over the years, or at least tried to contact me? Did you ever see evidence of that?”

 

“Things could have been going on that I never knew, but that’s not the point. Even if she never saw you again, her heart was not mine. I was second choice, an afterthought, the next best thing. You were the one she always wanted.”

 

Dan was confused. Nick wasn’t making any sense. They were all good friends as kids. There was never any flirting between he and Shannon. Where was this coming from? How was he going to get them out of this? “So what exactly is it you want Nick? Money?”

 

“Money?” Nick repeated the word as though considering it for the first time. “This isn’t about money, but okay Dan-o, throw me your wallet. Just toss it over here very carefully.” Dan reached into his back pocket and tossed it softly to Nick. “Let’s see,” said Nick as he glanced though the contents, “three hundred bucks, not bad pocket money there Dan-o, the lawyer business must be going okay.”

 

“Take it,” said Dan, “you’re welcome to it. We don’t have any other money lying around the house. Why don’t you just take that money and leave quietly and we’ll forget this whole thing happened. We won’t make any trouble for you Nick, just take the money and go.”

 

“I thought I made it clear this isn’t about money, although that’s a fringe benefit if you will. I’ll tell you what, I’ll believe that you don’t have any more in the house, but lets go visit an ATM and take out some more, what do you say, want to go for a ride Dan-o?”

 

Dan considered this quickly, get him out of the house, away from Megan, yeah that might be best. “Sure,” he replied. “But I have to tell you that I put a cap on the amount I can withdraw from an ATM in any one day, I can only get five hundred.”

 

“That’ll be fine,” Nick said, “eight hundred for an evening’s work? Not bad, I’ll take it. Now where do you keep some scissors?”

 

“Why?”

 

“We have to cut this tape so Megan can come along.”

 

“Let her stay here, we don’t need her to go to the ATM. This is between you and me, isn’t it?” Dan pleaded.

 

“I think it would be best if she came, now about those scissors,” Nick said pressing the gun hard against Megan’s head as she winced.

 

“Okay, okay,” said Dan, “there’s a pair in the drawer of the end table.” Dan started to think about the potential weapon the scissors would provide.

 

“Get them,” said Nick cautiously, “but don’t get any ideas. Be very careful Dan-o, I pull this trigger and your wife’s head blows to pieces, I won’t blink an eye, you understand?”

 

Dan nodded and stepped over to the end table taking out the scissors. He approached Nick and Megan, but could see Nick was alert and his finger tense on the trigger. “Take it easy Nick,” he said, “I’ll just cut the tape around the chair okay?”

 

“Do it very slowly Dan-o. Oh, and leave the tape around her mouth, we love our women when they don’t make noise right buddy?” said Nick.

 

Dan cut the tape and Megan stood up, her eyes watering, drops of fear pouring down her face over the tape. Dan hugged her as she stood and whispered to her that everything would be all right.

 

“Enough,” shouted Nick, “put some tape around her hands and let’s get going. We’ll use your car; lead the way to your garage.”

 

Dan wrapped a strip of tape around Megan’s wrists, trying his best to keep it loose. He was reminded of their brief attempt to “get kinky,” but that was years ago. And this, this was definitely not kinky. Dan and Megan preceded Nick through the family room, and out into the garage. When they got to the car, Dan opened the back door and helped Megan in. He sat her on the seat and buckled the seat belt across her lap.

 

“No no Dan-o,” Nick said, “I think she’d be better off lying down on the seat. After all, a passenger with tape around her mouth might draw some attention don’t you think? Now unbuckle the seat belt and lie her down across the seat. No sitting up now,” he said directly to Megan, “or your husband’s brains will be all over the car. Okay?”

 

Dan unbuckled the seat belt and said “Nick, let me get a pillow for her head.”

 

“Want to put a few mints on it too?” said Nick sarcastically. “C’mon, just get her down and shut the damn door.”

 

Dan gently lowered her onto the seat. He tried to convey, with a look deep into her eyes, that they’d get out of this, but he didn’t know how convincing he was, since he really had no idea what to do. The fear in her eyes did not subside and he heard a groan escape her lips behind the tape.

 

Dan shut the door and Nick said, “You drive,” as he walked around to the passenger door. “No speeding, or going through traffic lights or stop signs. I want you to be the best driver you can be. No special attention tonight okay Dan-o?”

 

Dan didn’t respond, but just started the car and pressed the garage door opener. He pulled out of his driveway, pushed the button to close the garage door and took a right toward the strip mall where an ATM would be.

 

“Listen Nick,” said Dan as he continued to drive, “Megan has had some health problems in recent years.”

 

“So,” Nick replied blankly keeping his eyes and gun focused on Dan’s face.

 

“Breast cancer, had to have a mastectomy a few years back.” When there was no reaction from Nick, Dan continued, “Yeah, well, we’ve been having some trouble since then, you know, with our marriage and all.”

 

“Shit happens,” said Nick.

 

“Things haven’t been the same recently between us, but I love her as much as I did the day we were married.” Dan raised his voice a bit when he said this, hoping Megan would hear him as she cowered in the back seat. “I…I don’t want anything to happen to her, you know?” Dan thought he heard a murmur from Megan as he said this, but couldn’t be sure.

 

“Just shut up and drive,” Nick said.

 

Dan could see there was no getting through to Nick. His mind raced, what could he do? Dan was not a physical man; he hardly had been in any fights, even as a kid. Nick was taller and heavier than Dan, so overpowering him was dubious at best. Besides, that gun was pointed right at him. They pulled into the strip mall and Dan parked within vicinity of the ATM machine.

 

“Okay Dan-o, go withdraw your five hundred bucks, I’ll stay here and keep Megan company,” said Nick as he pointed the gun toward the back seat.”

 

Dan got out of the car, trying to think but with little success. He read once that putting your PIN number in backward would alert the police. Upon checking further, however, he discovered the contention was an “urban legend” and such a system was not in place. Nevertheless, he decided to try it. He put his card into the machine, and put his PIN number in backward, but no lights flashed, a cop didn’t pop out from behind the machine, not even sirens approaching from a distance. He re-entered his PIN correctly and withdrew the five hundred.

 

“Here you go Nick,” Dan said returning to the car and handing him the money, “now how about letting us go? No questions asked, we’ll just drive back to my house, you can leave and we’ll forget this whole thing,” said Dan hopefully.

 

“Gee, I don’t think so Dan-o,” replied Nick, “I think we should go for a ride. Get in.”

 

Dan got in and followed Nick’s instructions and it became clear before long that they were headed to their old neighborhood. They pulled down Third Street when Nick told him to pull over.

 

“Recognize that house Dan-o?” said Nick tilting his head toward a house across from where they parked.

 

“Yeah,” said Dan, “that’s Shannon’s old house.”

 

“Right,” Nick said sadly. “See that alley between her house and the house next door? She and I used to make out there in the darkness. What did they used to call it, oh yeah, necking. Is that where you and Shannon necked too?”

 

“No,” Dan shouted. “How many times do I have to tell you, it wasn’t like that? We were all such good friends, what the hell makes you think she and I would betray you like that?”

 

“Call it intuition,” Nick sneered. “C’mon, let’s get out of here. Take a left at the corner, then a right on Main Street.”

 

Dan did as Nick said. As they drove along, Dan’s mind worked furiously to come up with something to get them out of this situation. He couldn’t seem to reason with Nick in his current state. He was a lawyer, a man of words. Maybe he could use that ability to distract Nick and then convince him to let them go.

 

“Hey,” he said, “remember that kid Andy Pike, the one who found that old car in the abandoned lot?”

 

“Yeah,” replied Nick with a hint of recognition in his voice.

 

“Remember how he checked to see if there was still gas in the gas tank?”

 

“With a match. Christ,” Nick chuckled.

 

“His hands and face were bandaged for weeks after that one,” said Dan as he thought he saw a flicker of his childhood friend in Nick’s eyes.

 

“What an asshole, what a bunch of assholes,” said Nick continuing to laugh.

 

“Was I an asshole too?” said Dan, encouraged by Nick’s laugh, hoping to capitalize on the reverie.

 

“You?” said Nick, “No.” Dan’s spirits lifted until Nick continued, “You, my friend, were a backstabbing asshole.”

 

Dan continued to follow Nick’s directions when he realized they were headed toward what they used to call “The Waterworks,” an old reservoir that the city turned into a small picnic area. There were picnic tables and metal grills spread out on the grassy area bordering the reservoir. A walking path was constructed around the water that wound its way through the forested area. Even though it was off some main thoroughfares, once you pulled not far from the road, it was pretty secluded. Couples used to go there and “park” making out until the car windows fogged. Nick was taking them places that reminded him of Shannon. Was it to ease his loss, or feed his anger? This time of year and at this late hour, The Waterworks would be abandoned. Dan suspected that once he pulled in there he and Megan would not be leaving.

 

Time was passing too quickly for him to think. They weren’t far from the entrance into The Waterworks, from which Dan had on doubt there would be no return. He decided he needed to take a chance and try something drastic. He knew he couldn’t overpower Nick without being shot. He had to somehow disarm him and gain the upper hand, but how? Then it hit him, chancy, but he had no choice. He slowly increased his speed at a rate he hoped Nick would not notice. Fortunately, Nick didn’t and just sat in silence. Although still pointing the gun at Dan, his eyes were glazed as though his thoughts were elsewhere.

 

Dan suddenly put is foot down hard on the gas pedal, and jerked the car toward a wooden power pole on their right. Nick was startled to awareness, but they were upon the power poll in a split second, too soon for him to take action. Just before impact Dan ducked to his right as the air bags engaged. The passenger’s bag hit Nick fully, and the gun dropped out of his hand. The driver’s bag knocked Dan’s glasses off and scrapped his cheek, but he was able to grab the gun from the floor of the car, which sheered off the pole and proceeded through a nearby fire hydrant.

 

Nick was stunned, and blood began to trickle from his nose. Once he regained his composure, he immediately looked toward the floor of the car for his gun before noticing Dan pointing it at him. He grudgingly said through clenched teeth, “Nice move Dan-o, but this isn’t over yet. Trust me, we’ll continue this reunion another time.”

 

He unhitched his seatbelt and reached for the door handle when Dan said, “Hold it Nick, you’re not going anywhere.”

 

Nick laughed, “You don’t have the balls to shoot me, when you were a kid you were afraid of your own shadow and I don’t think anything’s changed now.” He reached for the door handle and pulled it open.

 

It was then that Dan noticed the sparks flying outside the car. “No wait,” he shouted. Nick just looked back at Dan with a grin, and stepped out to the now wet pavement. Immediately his body shook violently and his eyes rolled in his head. He hit the ground continuing to shake as the electric current roared through him. Dan looked away as he could hear the sirens coming closer. A police car stopped about twenty feet away, and one of the officers announced to him over a bullhorn to stay where he was while they arranged for the power to be turned off. Dan sat back in his seat, sore but okay. “It’s over Meg, its over,” he said as muffled sounds came from her in the back seat.

 

When the cops said it was okay to get out, he hurried to the back door. The cops helped him get Megan out and he hugged her tightly as they took the tape off her mouth and wrists. She wasn’t hugging back though.

 

“Are you okay?” he asked as he pulled back a bit to look at her.

 

“Why did you lie to him about Shannon?” she asked.

 

“What?” he said, disbelieving.

 

“He must have had reasons for doing what he did; obviously he was pretty sure you two had something going on. Now I think of all those nights you spent at the office or supposedly at the gym. Were you with her?” she asked, tears in her eyes.

 

“How could you even think that?” he replied.

 

“I haven’t been a whole woman in years, maybe you needed more,” she said holding back the sobs.

 

“Look, I don’t know what Nick’s problem was, but I haven’t seen Shannon since we were kids and that’s the truth. I would never cheat on you, and don’t think any less of you since the surgery.”

 

“I don’t know what to believe any more,” she said, her voice cracking.

 

Dan wound up with a bruised rib and the abrasion on his cheek. Megan had a broken wrist and a bruised knee, but otherwise was okay. They would later learn that Nick had been under psychiatric care for some time. Lately, however, he had stopped taking his medication, and Shannon’s death, which was still under investigation, put him over the edge.

 

Dan felt sorry for Nick, despite what he did. Not the Nick who showed up at their door, but for that thirteen year old friend who shared so many good times with him. He didn’t know what happened to Nick over the years, or if some sort of genetic gene kicked in to change him, but he chose to remember him as that boyhood friend rather than the adult tormentor he became.

 

Dan felt some satisfaction for taking action rather than submitting to what he was sure was certain death. The cops admonished him for taking such a risk, but offered no other alternatives for what he could have done under the circumstances. Dan and Megan knew they had work to do to save their marriage, but both resolved to work at it. One thing Dan knew was that he would welcome returning to the routine that had been their lives before this incident. He would never again take Megan or their quiet evenings together for granted. There was a lot to be said for comfort

 

 

 

The End

 

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One Response to “Old Friends”

  1. Joanne Marino Lue Says:

    None of our St Anthony’s school friends would ever pull a stunt like this!! I thought this was going to be a feel good story when I saw the title. Boy I sure was wrongI! I was unaware that you are a writer until I saw Bob Gullie’s FB post today. Congrats. I’m anxious to read the other stories you have online. Hopefully Patty Serafino and I will get moving on another St. Anthony’s class of 61 reunion. I’ll keep you posted.
    Joanne Marino Lue


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