The Names Have Been Changed

They were staying in Manhattan at the Gershwin. It has horns sticking out of the façade and the lobby is painted a dark, oppressive red. I saw Tom sitting at a table and headed over to meet him, but his lady friend, who was sitting with him, spotted me first. She’d never met me but assume I was Tim as I was walking toward them. Standing slowly, the small elderly woman greeted me warmly with a hug before I even had a chance to say hello to Tom. I hadn’t seen Tom since 1992 or so.  His white beard was shaved a bit closer and he now wore a straw hat. Something Tom never did as far I can remember. I had looked into some places I knew about in the area where we could grab lunch, but they both informed me that they wanted to go to an Irish pub. Irish pubs were where they ate every day while visiting the city, and they could see no reason for a change of heart now.

As we slowly walked down 5th Ave, Mary commented on the Empire State building and how it was her favorite. Tom told me about how Tower Comics used to have their offices there, and he went in every two weeks to pick up his paycheck and new writing assignments. At the pub they ordered tall beers and caught up with personal details. Who did I marry? Where is so and so? When did you last see Roger? After this and two more tall beers, both of them stumbled down the well-worn path known as memory lane. Tom told me about being at a party with Steve Ditko in the early 70’s and Mary told me about spending a few days in Greece with the Dire Straits back before they WERE the Dire Straits.
At a comic convention in Chicago, sitting at the hotel bar, Tom once spotted Bette Midler sitting not far away. He over heard her telling friends about a party in her room and he also over heard the number of said room. Later, after getting into Bette’s party and enjoying himself for about 30 seconds he was made to leave by some very large men.

Mary recounted the time Tom did some house sitting for a friend we’ll call Fred, who lived out in a VERY rural area. Tom was to watch Fred’s house and cats while he went on a trip.  Two days into Tom’s stay at the house, the water pump broke. Tom, who didn’t drive, was left with no water to drink, bath or to do the dishes with. Even though Tom was suffering from dehydration, he seemed most worried about the dishes. Thus, when dark clouds and thunder rolled over the hills, he piled all the plates on a tray and slowly transported them out the door and into the elements with the intent to wash them in the down pour. Sadly, The dishes never made it to the back yard. They teetered, slipped from his hands and shattering on the steps. Tom then did what any sane person deprived of water for three days would do. He got a shovel and buried the sharp broken evidence in a forgotten corner of the property accompanied only by thunder and lightening.

I was about to ask for the check, but more beers were demanded and Mary brought up a more sinister tale that she needed to get off her chest. They had a friend they would rather not name. We’ll call him Jimmy. Jimmy lived in their hometown and had become very friendly with them over the years. Mary stopped by Jimmy’s house one Fall day, as she often did to have a chat along with some percolating coffee, only to find Jimmy already had some company. We’ll call Jimmy’s friend, “Stan.” This was not a good time to visit as Jimmy had a job to do and the house was being watched. Their friend Jimmy, it turned out, was a contract killer. He was just about to leave on a job and knew the house was being watched. Stan told Mary she had to stay put in order to keep her safe. So there they sat, Jimmy, Stan and Mary. Mary felt ill thinking about it all. Knowing that Jimmy was leaving town to actually kill a person. Eventually Jimmy’s taxi came to take him to the bus station. From there he would take an out of state plane to the state his intended victim lived. After he got his ride, and after all seemed okay with Stan, she was free to go home where she told Tom about the incident and how she felt sick to her stomach.

For a while after that they both lived in fear. Always wondering if Jimmy would have to come by and “eliminate” them for knowing what they knew. As it turned out, Jimmy the hit man passed way from natural causes not long after. They told me they tried to be a little more carful when choosing friends after this. A few months later though, some new friends they had cultivated were encouraging them to get baptized so they could become Mormons.

But that’s another story.

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