One More Ride: Chapter 1: Down and Out

The doorbell was ringing.

Again.

Norville Rogers walked from his study in the back of the house around the left staircase, across the parquet floor, past the marble Venus to the front door. He stood there a moment as the bell continued ringing. He took a deep breath, blew it out, and finally answered the door, cheerily greeting his guest.

“Hey, Fred. How’s it going?”

“Lousy. As usual.”

Fred had obviously been drinking. As usual.

“Come on in, Fred,” said Norville, cheer ebbing. “I’ll get you something to eat.”

Fred shuffled in and followed his old friend to the dining room, where Norville set meats, cheeses, lettuce, tomato, onion, bread, and condiments on the table.

“How come after all this time you still don’t have a servant to do this for ya?” asked Fred.

“Aw, come on, Fred. We’ve been over this. I like doing things for myself.”

Fred looked irritated. He was in a bad mood, and he wanted to share his misery.

“I guess I’d wanna do things for myself too, if I was used to people doing things for me all day long.”

Norville sighed; they’d done this so many times. Despite their friendship of twenty odd years and Norville’s continuing good will, Fred still resented him. The first time he had voiced it, it had hurt Norville considerably. That was five years ago. Now, it just rolled off. It rolled off Fred’s tongue, as easy as saying ‘hello,’ and it rolled off Norville’s back just the same.

Usually.

“Nope. You wouldn’t let anyone do anything for you, would you, Fred?” Norville asked politely as he made Fred’s sandwich.

“Dang right I wouldn’t,” Fred said bitterly. “I take care of myself.”

Norville resisted the sudden urge to punch Fred in the mouth for his blatant hypocrisy.

“You haven’t taken care of yourself in three years, you lying, cheating, pathetic, alcoholic has-been!”

That was what he would say. Fred had it coming anyway. But he looked at Fred, who was already tearing into his sandwich like a man who hadn’t eaten in days. The sad thing was, it was the literal truth. Norville knew Fred spent what royalties he still received on booze. He made the long walk up Mystery Lane to Norville’s house when he didn’t have anything to eat, which was about twice a week.

Norville got mugs down and poured coffee for both of them. They sat eating in silence, Fred wolfing down his sandwich and Norville enjoying some dried fruit from the cabinet. Norville had checked the calendar this morning, mentally noted the anniversary, and had called into the office to let them know he wouldn’t be in. Now he waited.

Fred finally finished his dinner, and seemed to be in a better humor.

“That was a good sammich, Shag.”

“The name’s ‘Norville,’ Fred.”

Fred’s brief good humor was gone. He readied his vilest remark.

“You know what, Shag? You’ve sold out. You’re a sellout.”

Norville had heard this before, and he had alternately either been wounded or shrugged it off. He put down his fruit and started his reply calmly.

“You’re right, Fred. I’ve sold out. Norville Rogers has sold out to ‘the man’. Not only that, he is ‘the man’, because he knows where his next meal is coming from. He’s sold out because he owns a successful company and drives a nice car.”

Now Norville was starting to raise his voice, unconsciously, of course, but his tone of voice was moot: what he was about to say couldn’t be said in any polite way by anyone.

“But most of all Norville Rogers is a big sellout because he didn’t blow all his money on booze and repeatedly cheat on a woman who loved him more than anything until she left him all alone, a penniless broken-down derelict who has to beg for food!”

He expected Fred to get angry, and he kind of hoped he would; Norville had had his black belt for years and never gotten to try it out.

But Fred just sat there looking sad. When he spoke again, his voice had lost all its vitriol, and had a resigned quality to it.

“You’re right, Shag. It was my fault that Daph left me.”

He sighed.

“And you put up with me long past what any other friend would’ve. I’ll let myself out.”

Fred got up and walked out of the kitchen to head to the front door. He looked like a deflated balloon.

“Aw, come on, Fred. You don’t have to go.”

Norville heard the front door open and close quietly.

Chapter 2

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