I had hoped to get it ready by celebration day. Alas! Think you can all agree if I dedicate it to a driven lady.
This one is for you dear Sue.
Revelations from the hereafter.
The words rang hollow.
He had to dig deep into his memory. When did he and Gino last meet, or rather why and when did their paths split? Twenty, twenty-five years ago? He had lost track.
Now as he sat there at the dead man's bedside it felt like yesterday.
Still he wondered why Gino had called for him.
After all this time.
It didn't make sense.
But he would never know, would he. Gino had died a couple of hours earlier.
Chief Ironside shook his head. What was he doing here?
He had arrived a little after 8 pm. and that was the first time he met Gino's wife.
It had struck him how much her voice had a lovely timbre.
As if they were old friends she had insisted he call her Irene. And so he did.
He didn't feel very comfortable and kept asking himself why he had, after all, indulged this plea?
He could have come up with a plausible excuse. He was a busy man. Everyone knew that. No one would have doubted his sincerity or hold it against him.
But it was not his style. And so he had come. He had to: in memory of an old, deep running friendship.
Yes, they grew up together, they once were real bosom buddies. Together with George, his sister Helen, Will and David. A group of close friends. Yet Gino and him had an even closer bond. Today, if asked why, he most certainly couldn't come up with an explanation. That's just how it was.
Chief Ironside nodded and smiled as he recalled these souvenirs. Bosom buddies. Like hell they were until something, he hadn't the faintest clue about, put an end to it.
Of course the war hadn't arranged things. That's when they got split up for the first time. All of them had been involved in one way or another and survived that horrible period. Sure it had changed them profoundly and nothing ever was the same again.
It soon became obvious that Gino tried by all means to shun meeting with his old friends, Bob included. Gino always had the perfect excuse and one day he simply vanished.
Now as he sat there watching Gino, this whole situation left him with mixed feelings. Sure his heart ached, he was a compassionate man. Still Ironside found it hard to grieve a man he no longer knew as his friend, let alone bosom buddy.
That's when in the dimly lighted room a photo caught his eye and he wheeled over to the desk it stood on. Gino was definitely a nostalgic. He took the photo and studied it. There they were, the five of them; young and happy-go-lucky.
As far as he knew all of them were still alive, well except for Gino that is.
George had found his happiness in cooking. After a difficult start he had stumbled upon the woman he needed. One with a good doses of common sense and that so desperately needed entrepreneurs feeling. It was something George lacked completely making him jump head over heels into a business he had highly underestimated.
Opening a restaurant demanded more than being a good, even excellent, cook. Something he would soon learn at his own expense.
Where he miserably failed at first, it became rapidly a success story once in the hands of his lovable Daisy. Alas they had moved to the L.A. region.
Chief Ironside almost started mouthwatering as he remembered the delicious chili George had prepared especially for him, when he had stopped by a couple of years ago. Involuntarily it made him laugh as he thought of the chili, Mark usually served him; canned chili.
Helen; the fair-haired girl. One day she had arrived with Gino and after that she'd become a regular with the group. She had finally married a real estate manager and moved to New York. That was about all he knew.
Already in their younger days they didn't have much in common. It had always annoyed him she never demonstrated much interest into what was captivating them five boys.
She only wanted to be pretty and she undeniably was. But she wasn't his type.
It certainly explained why she had since then slipped his mind.
Will, William, was the only one he still met every now and then. Their meetings were courteous, nothing more.
Will had gone into politics. Since his father had been a very active member within the republican party in San Francisco it appeared quite normal that the son would one day follow into his father's steps.
Young Will always managed to make politics part of their conversations. More than once however did it end with him, angry, walking out of the others. It simply amused them to get Will on his high horse.
So many years later politics definitely still wasn't Robert Ironside's cup of tea.
Being frequently confronted to it as part of his job he had learned it rarely served anyone's purpose but the politician's.
"Gino loved that picture." Ironside looked over his shoulder. Irene stood there leaning against the doorpost.
He put the frame back in place and turned his chair towards her, "How long you've been standing there?"
"Just long enough to see how that photo took you down memory lane."
"Why, Irene? Just why did he call for me now? He must have told you something."
"Cross my heart, Chief." she said shaking her head. " He didn't even ever mention your name again since…" she hesitated and then looked him straight in the eyes before adding,
" … that night."
"What night?" Ironside slowly moved closer. "You haven't said enough. Or have you said too much?"
He had now wheeled up next to her and grabbed her arm. "Irene! What night?"
"You really don't know, huh?"
"Well?" he pressed her. " Enough secrets don't you think?"
"That night in the hospital. The one he spent at your side after you were shot."
For a second the look in his eyes changed and he pursed his lips. How he hated being reminded of this tragic episode in his life.
"I don't remember." He let go of her arm. "I didn't know," he said softly, visibly stirred by Irene's revelation.
"No, you don't," Irene confirmed. "Well, at least that is the only thing Gino was willing to tell me when he came home the next morning. The only thing and," she started laughing "and that he almost came to fists with,... with,... oh yeah, God's dragon, that's how he called her. It took all of his persuasive powers before that nurse finally allowed him to stay the night in your room."
Ironside too started to chuckle. "Dear Sister Agatha. A real sergeant. An angel in disguise.
Still, I wonder why I have absolutely no recollection of his visit or why Sister Agatha never mentioned it?" he sighed eyeing at Gino's corpse.
"Because you were kept heavily sedated. It was only 2 or 3 days maximum after the accident, if I remember well. Gino was almost certain you knew he was there, even though you never opened your eyes. Something in your bodily reaction, he said. It let him to believe you heard him or at least sensed his presence."
Ironside wheeled back over to the man lying in state.
"You certainly knew how to keep a secret," the chief mumbled as he put his right hand on Gino's shoulder to pay his final respects.
A few seconds later he briskly swung his chair around and wheeled out of the room.
Ironside promised Irene he'd call her after the funeral, which he would be unable to attend, for on that very same moment he was due to appear in court, for a crucial testimony.
As he drove back to the office he continued thinking of what Irene had divulged.
Gino had kept vigil at his side in the hospital. Why? Why after all those years of silence had Gino chosen that particular moment to reappear and immediately disappear again afterwards? The question trotted in his head.
Chief Ironside parked the van near the elevator. Like an automat he performed a series of moves that allowed him to descend the van. He pressed the button and as he wheeled towards the elevator at least assured himself he heard the doors of the van close.
The office lay deserted and it suited him.
On the kitchen table Mark had left a few sandwiches but after tonight he sure wasn't hungry.
Right now however it was a drink, he thought, he needed. He wheeled over to the cupboard where he knew there always was a bottle of whiskey for him to grasp. He stuck it, together with a glass, between the left armrest and his torso and wheeled over to his bedroom.
The whole happening had exhausted him and he thought he'd go to bed to think it all over.
The glass stood, barely touched, on the night table and the light was still on but chief Ironside quickly fell into a restless sleep, and with it came the dreams.
… for the best we … sedated ... more .. then…until pain … diminished. Not much more … do .. now, doctor. yes… sist... gatha.
Ironside blinked his eyes and a bit bedazzled looked around. Alright it was his bedroom.
He felt the sweat on his forehead and wiped it off. He was just having a bad dream and he realized it had been awhile since his nights were haunted by the nightmare that left him a cripple. Why did he dream about that now?
He reached for the glass of whiskey, gazed at it. Not a good idea, he mumbled,
and just put it back without taking a sip.
The chief took a deep breath, turned of the light and lying on his back, gazing at the ceiling tried to relax.
It worked for within minutes, sleep had again taken over. And as the night proceeded came back the dreams.
.. can stay and talk to him but … doubt … hear you.
" Hello, Bob. It's me, Gino. Remember? The one who was always in for a good
joke." Gino pulled a chair closer and sat down.
" Gee, Bob. You scared the hell out of me. What have they done to you?
That nun just said the odds you'll survive are against you. That just can't be. I know better. I know you'll make it. You're tough, stubborn and downright indestructible. Aren't you buddy? Aren't you?"
Gino said with a timid laugh.
" Here I sit, talking to you and not all sure you hear me. Oh can't you give me a sign. Something small. Like lifting a finger.
Come on buddy! Make a little effort." Gino gently squeezed his arm.
"Come on !" He insisted.
" Well … that nurse, she said they used the heavy stuff on you to keep you under. So that sign, I bet I can forget about it.
But then again … maybe that'll make it easier for me to spill it out, tell you why I've seemingly put an end to our friendship. It cost me Bob, but I didn't have a choice. Believe me.
I'm sure you'll understand."
Gino looked over his shoulder towards the door just to make sure they really were alone and then bent over towards his wounded friend so he could, with a soft, whispering voice, reveal what was eating at him.
" Bob … I kill people," Gino closely observed his heavily sedated friend hoping this terrible revelation might have effect.
All he noticed was some nervous eyelid movements. Yet it was all he needed to convince himself that Bob had heard him.
" And it is not mob related that's all I'm allowed to say. In fact I'm happy you aren't awake. At least no embarrassing questions I could never answer," he giggled.
How did it start? The war, Bob. I was a pretty good shot. Some people noticed it and … hired me. I did things … but then again ... it was the war.
However it didn't end with the war being over and …
How could I remain your friend knowing your sense for justice? I wanted to tell you and one day I was on my way to turn myself in but then they …" Gino stopped and again closely observed his soundly sleeping buddy. He swallowed and proceeded.
"Their treats to hurt my friends if I quit, I never took them seriously until …"
Gino pricked his ears as he heard noise in the corridor. Had the morning shift already begun?
The nun had clearly demanded he'd be gone by the time of the relieve and he had promised there would be no trace of him by then. He'd better hurry.
That morning Mark came in early as he knew the chief would need him to again go over the details of the testimony he was expected to deliver at the highly media followed mobster trial a few days later.
He shook his head as he noticed the untouched sandwiches on the table. Then went straight to the kitchen to start on the indispensable coffee.
A mug slipped out of his hands and with considerable noise almost like exploded into a hundred pieces when it hit the ground .
" … put their treat … execution…""
Ironside woke up with a start, though still half asleep lived the last instants of his dream
"... your… car accident…wife, ... so ...sorry, sor...ryyy."
Mark! Is that you?"
"Good morning chief," Mark shouted back. "Of course it's me. Who else?"
Mark quickly poured a hot steaming cup of coffee and with it headed towards the chief's bedroom. He found him sitting upright in bed with a puzzled look.
"Everything alright, chief?"
Ironside still half in a haze, "You didn't by any, , any, ….aahhhhh … coincidence see someone leave here?" He yawned, scratching the back of his head..
"No. I… uh,... I didn't. At this hour there's no one around except you and me. You're sure you're alright? Mark queried.
"I could have sworn he was here," Ironside said talking to himself.
He finally looked at Mark and sighed, "No, of course he wasn't here. He's dead."
"You've been dreaming, chief." Mark laughed. "And just who is dead?"
Ironside didn't reply as he began to realize he had indeed dreamed. From his subconscious, a night, one he had absolutely no recollection off, had indeed come to life.
"Who are you talking about, chief? Who is …?"
With a hand movement Ironside made Mark shut up and hissed, "damned!" as he realized that as inexplicably as this buried memory had invaded his mind as hasty it had hurried back to oblivion.
Ironside buried his face in his hands; "It's gone, Mark. The dream. I can't remember. It's gone. Nooooooooo! "
Incredulous, Mark, the mug in his hand, observed the scene and remained silent.
Again Ironside let out a deep sigh and then looked at his dumbfounded friend in the doorway.
"Well … are you gone bring me that coffee or are you waiting for me to step out of bed and get it myself."
That sounds better, Mark thought, and tried hard to hide a smile as he stepped over to Ironside's bed, handing him the cup.
"Bah! You call that hot coffee?"
"It was when I first came in. Want me to get you another one?"
"No it's alright. Now just give me a hand while you're here." Ironside growled throwing aside the blankets.
"Are we in a good mood again?" Mark replied.
This got him those blue steely eyes throwing him a look.
Without saying anything more, Mark helped his boss out of bed.
Ironside looked up at him and as to apologize for his, not so unusual, morning humor confessed, "It was a strange dream. So life likes. I feel like …, no ... I know for sure that someone confessed something very important and I just can't remember. It's gone, Mark."
"The gal in my dreams keeps on vanishing too." Mark joked.
Ironside grinned at Mark's reply.
"Oh, to hell with the dream." he sighed as he wheeled out of his bedroom and forgot all about the strangest and yet most important revelation he would ever get in his entire life.
The last confession of a dead man.