Around Midnight

by Jay Eckert

Dina was walking slowly down a grassy hill in Saint Luke’s Cemetery, when she spied Daniel, Tony and Bobby huddled together about twenty feet away. They were standing on the grass, alongside Kennedy Lane, quietly talking to each other. This would be awkward and likely unpleasant, she knew, but so was burying the love of your life.

Daniel, Tony, and Bobby were Rick’s closest friends and the last people to see him alive. Then again, that was not entirely true. Rick’s killer was the last to see him alive.

They were an eclectic mix of personalities with, as far as Dina could tell, some strange and possibly sordid history. She had no detailed knowledge of any of it beyond what Rick had described as “misspent Brooklyn youth”.

So, feeling uncomfortable, but well within her rights, she approached them. “Guys? Do you have a couple of minutes?” she asked.

Like a flock of birds changing course, the three of them turned as one to look at her. Despite moving in unison, they could not have appeared more different. Daniel, the tallest of the three, with dark hair and a dark complexion looked as if he had just smelled rotting fish. Tony was short and had sallow skin. He was slowly shifting his eyes back and forth, but otherwise seemed completely indifferent to Dina’s presence. She had met Rick’s friends a few times and never got the impression that they liked her very much.

Bobby was the exception. He inclined his head slightly, gently smiling, and took her hands in his.

“Dina,” he said, “I am so sorry. How are you doing?”

Bobby was neatly dressed, athletically built and had a healthy tan. He was handsome in a way that reminded her of Rick. Dina noticed Tony and Daniel looking at him apathetically. She turned to Bobby and smiled a cheerless smile.

“I’m doing…” and then she paused to think about how she really was doing, “Ok, I guess.”

“Dina, if there is anything we can do, anything at all,” said Bobby, glancing sideways at Daniel and Tony, “please let us know.”

“Thanks guys.”

“So, um,” said Daniel, “we’d better…”

“Listen,” interrupted Dina, reaching her hand out to Daniel, who seemed to recoil. She paused, staring at Daniel, and then said in measured tones, “You know we haven’t had a chance to talk about what happened.”

“No,” Daniel replied, “we haven’t.”

“The police haven’t been able to figure out what happened to Rick so far, and I just thought that, well, since you guys were with him before…”

Dina’s voice started to break up and she covered her face. She felt a hand on her shoulder, and when she looked up, she saw Bobby standing beside her.

“It’s okay,” he said soothingly. “We’re here for you.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, and gently shook her head, as Bobby lowered his hand to his side. Taking a deep breath, she continued, “The police told me they had been watching the area because a few people had been murdered over the last few months. They still haven’t found the killer, and they think it might be related.”

“Wow,” said Bobby, “I didn’t know that.”

“Yeah… So, anyway, you guys were with him before he… was killed.”

Daniel gave a meaningful look toward Tony and Bobby, but Bobby was looking right at Dina. Tony seemed to be looking at a tree in the distance.

Turning her gaze back to Bobby, she said, “Bobby, can you tell me what happened that night? Before, Rick left, I mean.”

Bobby looked at her…

* * * * *

I expected this, and I told Danny and Tony that it would happen. Dina was bound to ask us about Rick. I was certainly ready.

Poor Dina. Poor pretty darling Dina. She looked so nervous and uncomfortable. It broke my heart. It really did. So, I thought back to that day—that rotten day.

It had started with a phone call. Rick had called each of us that morning to ask if we could meet at the Slaughtered Lamb down in the Village for drinks that night. He said that he had something to tell us all—something exciting. When Rick gets excited about something, you have to go with it, so, I said sure I would come. We all did.

I showed up about eight o’clock that night. Danny was already there and Tony came in a couple of minutes behind me. Of course, Rick wasn’t there yet—not that surprising knowing Rick—so we ordered a round of drinks. Tony asked me if I knew what Rick wanted to tell us, and I said I didn’t know. Danny said he had an idea, but just then, Rick walked in, grinning like a kid going to his birthday party.

The three of us were standing at one of those bar tables, and he marched right over.

He began, “Men…”

I loved when he started us off with that.

Anyway, he just came right out and said, “I asked Dina to marry me last night… and she said yes.” Then he kept right on grinning that grin, looking at us all. His jaw looked like it was a hair’s length from being stuck in that position. How do you resist something like that?

We all offered our congratulations and ordered another round of drinks and then another. Then… another. And another. You get the idea. Happy bullshit and drink, as Rick liked to say. The night was about bullshitting and drinking.

I remember looking at Rick about a half hour before he left, and he looked as happy as a man can be. He said he was marrying the most beautiful woman he had ever met and he couldn’t wait to get the rest of his life started.

That was intense… now that I think about it.

Was I sad? Now that is a good question. I suppose I was. Things were about to change.

Anyway… Rick left around midnight. I left a little while later, and took the subway home. Danny and Tony stayed for a while, I guess. I was at work the next morning when I got the call. They found his body in an alley a couple of blocks from the bar. What they did to him was… sick. I can’t understand it. What kind of scum does something like that? I mean if you want to mug somebody, just take his damn wallet, and leave him.

* * * * *

Dina’s grey eyes were blazing as she stared at Bobby.

Bobby said, “Did they ever find his wallet?”

“His wallet? Oh, you knew about that?” she said shakily, “No. No they didn’t find his wallet. Anyway, thank you, Bobby.”

Bobby smiled weakly back at her.

Dina looked around at the tall oak trees surrounding the four of them, thinking how unlikely it should be that at twenty-five, she would now be spending time in this place.

Turning back to the group, she said, “Danny, what can you tell me about that night?”

Drumming his fingers petulantly on his leg, he replied, “It’s Daniel. Not Danny.”

Raising her eyebrows, she replied, “Can you tell me what happened that night… Daniel?”

* * * * *

Bitch on wheels. It’s as simple as that. Rick should have known, but she had him fooled. It became obvious to me after a while. She wouldn’t let him play poker anymore. She wouldn’t let him go to hockey games with us. Hell, she wouldn’t even let him watch them on television. He couldn’t be there for his friends when they needed him.

She changed him. Even Bobby noticed that he was wearing different clothes.

Now I’m supposed to stand here and tell her what happened as if she was the only person who was in Rick’s life. Bobby kept telling us that she would ask, and that she had a right to know. I guess he’s right, but I do not have to be happy about it. So, what did happen that day?

Like Bobby said, Rick called us that morning, and told us to meet him at the Lamb that night. Frankly, I was surprised that he was allowed out at night.

Oh, for Christ’s sake, Bobby, don’t give me that look.

I got there a little early, hoping Rick would be early too. Bobby is right; I did have a hunch and I wanted to talk to Rick in private first.

Rick didn’t show up early, though. Bobby and Tony got there first and we ordered a few beers. They kept asking me if I knew why he wanted to talk to us. “No,” I said, “and if you keep asking me, you’re going to need a proctologist to find those empty Heinekens.”

After a while, Rick showed up and told us the news. Bobby and Tony were definitely surprised. “Rick!” said Tony, “Holy shit!” That was about it, but it was still a lot for Tony. He had this hilarious look on his face too. I guess it was shock or surprise, or something like that.

Bobby was all smiles, but I didn’t say too much. I figured I would get my chance. The three of them got to ordering another round of drinks. It was probably the most Rick had to drink in… oh, I don’t know. When did he start dating you, Dina?

Bobby, just look away if you don’t like it.

Drink-wise, I tried not to keep up with the three of them. I needed a clear head for what was to going to happen. Rick got completely plastered. He probably didn’t even know his name by the end of the night.

A little before midnight, Tony and Bobby had to empty their beer barrels, if you get my drift, so I had a few minutes with Rick. I had already thought of what I was going to say and was going to get right to the point.

As soon as the men’s room door closed, I said, “Rick, do you know what you’re getting yourself into?”

“Well gee buddy, I’ve knocked back a few but I think I’ve still got a few brain cells left. Of course I know what I’m getting into. I’m getting married,” said Rick.

“Things haven’t been the same since you and Dina hooked up.”

He looked at me, and hiccupped. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you’ve forgotten your friends, man. You don’t hang out with us anymore.”

“Oh, c’mon, yah big baby. Just because I don’t play poker anymore…”

I interrupted, “Rick, it’s not just poker.” Rick had opened his mouth to say something else but I cut him off. “And it’s not hockey night either.”

He clamped his mouth shut with a click.

“You haven’t been there for us.”

“What are you talking about?” Rick asked.

“Shit, Rick. When Tony’s mother died, you didn’t come to the funeral. It was a fucking Saturday, man. It’s not like you were working. You could have come. You should have been there.”

“I couldn’t. Dina…”

“Yeah, I know. Dina and you already had plans to go away that weekend.” I glared at him. “A real friend would have found a way to be there.”

“But, Dina said…”

“Dina… right. Tell me something Rick. Do you remember when the furnace in my building went out? I asked if I could stay with you for a few days until they repaired it.”

“Listen, you could have stayed with Bobby or Tony. Besides, it would have been awkward.”

“Rick, you’ve got two bedrooms at your place. Bobby and Tony don’t have the space. Never mind the fact that you crashed at my place for a couple of weeks when you needed a place to stay.”

Rick shouted, “Oh, so now we’re keeping score?”

I looked around apprehensively and noticed Bobby and Tony coming back from the men’s room.

I said in a low voice, “No. We are not keeping score. I am only telling you that things have been different since you met Dina. If one of us needed something before you met her, you would have been there. That’s not the way it is now. Shit. You gave up your freewill long before you gave her that fucking ring.”

It went on like that for a few more minutes.

At the end of it all, Rick sneered at me and said, “You know what? You’re just jealous. Fuck you.” Then he got up and left.

* * * * *

Dina looked at Daniel and said defiantly, “I’m sorry you feel that way about me.” She began to cry again. “I have my own friends too, you know. After I met Rick, I couldn’t spend as much time with them either.”

Daniel shrugged.

Wiping a tear from her eye, Dina asked, “So after you argued…”

“I said he left,” Daniel replied coldly, “I never saw him again.”

Dina was turning to Tony, but stopped when Daniel said, “You know what my last memory of him is?” Not waiting for a reply, he said, “It’s him looking hatefully at me, saying ‘Fuck You’.” He stared intently at Dina for a moment, a look of loathing in his eyes, and then looked away.

Turning, Dina mumbled, “I’m sorry for you.”

Dina faced Tony, whose eyes seemed to be following something behind her. She heard an unpleasant chirruping sound and turned to see what he was looking at. Two squirrels were racing back and forth on the lawn, chirping at each other. Together they tangled and rolled like small hyperactive tumbleweed across the lawn until they crashed into the base of a tree, which broke them apart.

Dina turned again to Tony and said, “Tony, can you remember what happened that night?”

Still watching the squirrels, Tony appeared not to have heard Dina.

“Tony!”

“I heard you, Dina.”

“Sorry,” she said.

* * * * *

It’s my turn now. What can I tell her? Boy, I can hardly remember what happened. After Rick left, it’s such a blur. Let me think.

You know what happened so far. I mean everything went down like Bobby and Danny said—at least the parts I saw. I came in after Bobby and Danny, so I don’t really know what they talked about before I got there.

I didn’t have a clue why Rick wanted us there, but what the hell. I love the Slaughtered Lamb. They named it after the pub in that werewolf movie—the one with the guy from the Doctor Pepper commercials. Totally excellent movie.

Anyway, so Rick comes in and lays out the deal. I couldn’t believe it. Now that I think about it, though, I shouldn’t have been surprised. It happens often enough. Things take me by surprise a lot, you know. I kind of go with whatever happens, and figure it out later.

We all got to drinking and talking about things. Danny didn’t say too much. I could have sworn he was keeping up with us beer for beer, but I guess he fooled me. Oh well, my mother always said my sister was the observant one… I don’t think my mother was very impressed with me.

That stuff Danny said… about Rick missing my mother’s funeral. I have to be honest. It didn’t really bother me. Shit, she had it coming—I almost skipped it myself.

There isn’t a whole lot more I can tell you. I was in the bathroom when Danny and Rick had that fight. Rick left before I got back to the table. A while later, Danny left—he was all pissed off. I left with Bobby.

* * * * *

“Wait a minute,” said Dina, “I thought Bobby went home first, and that you and Danny… I mean, you and Daniel stayed.”

“I… what?” said Tony.

Daniel said, “What the hell are you talking about, Tony? Bobby left before I did.”

Tony looked confused. “No, he… well he left, but then…”

Bobby was looking back and forth between Daniel and Dina. “Tony, you were shit-faced.” Smiling at Dina, he said nervously, “He had way too much to drink. He hardly remembers what happened after his fifth beer.”

“No, Bobby,” said Tony earnestly, “I know I was drunk but I remember you came back after Danny left. We caught a cab, remember?”

“You’re wrong Tony,” said Bobby, “I took the subway home. You’re probably confusing this with some other night.”

The exchange between Bobby and Tony, like a gathering storm, kept Dina and Daniel’s rapt attention.

“But Bobby, that’s not what I told the police. I told them we took a cab home together.”

Bobby looked horrified at Tony’s words. “Tony, I told the police I went home on the subway.”

Confused, Tony said, “You did? I thought… Huh.” Then he brightened. “This is better, though. Now you have an alibi, see?”

Dina gasped, while Daniel looked thunderstruck.

“What?” Dina asked.

Daniel’s face slowly settled into a knowing smile. “Very funny, Tony.”

Dina looked at Tony as if he were explaining the theory of relativity to her, and then gazed back at Bobby, who was not laughing.

“You shit,” said Bobby quietly.

“But Bobby, it’s better this way!” said Tony.

Louder, this time, Bobby said, “You shit, Tony!” Raising his left hand, he slapped Tony hard across his face. Tony yelped, and put a hand to his face. Shaking his head, Daniel began backing away.

The smile had gone from Daniel’s face while Dina was trying to fathom what had unfolded. Daniel called after Bobby. “It was you?”

Five feet away, Bobby stopped for a moment, saying nothing. He just looked back at Daniel and Dina, his face growing ashen. As Dina saw a single tear slowly running down his cheek, tears started to flow down hers.

“But why?” sobbed Dina. “Why you?”

Bobby did not answer. He shook his head awkwardly, then turned and ran. Within a minute, he was out of sight.

Dina, still sobbing, fixed her gaze on Tony’s eyes. “Tell me the truth, Tony. You owe me that much. What happened?”

Tony looked warily at Daniel then back to Dina. He took a deep breath. He spoke very slowly. “The first thing you need to know… is that Bobby was in love with Rick. He always was.”

Under his breath Daniel said, “Holy shit, he’s gay? Well… that explains a lot.”

Tony continued, “It was around midnight…”

* * * * *

It was around midnight—Rick had just left—when Bobby told us he was tired, and was going home. Right after that, Danny, who was still angry, said he needed to get some sleep and left too.

I decided to have another beer and a couple more peanuts. About fifteen or twenty minutes later, I was ready to grab my jacket, when Bobby came in looking kind of frazzled. He came over and told me to follow him to a quiet corner of the bar. I went.

He made me promise to keep my mouth shut, and told me what happened. After he had left, he caught up with Rick and talked to him. Bobby told Rick that he loved him in… a romantic way. Well, Rick was shocked. Bobby had never said anything about this before. Bobby told me that he had always been able to handle Rick dating women. I guess his getting engaged made Bobby snap.

It didn’t sound like Rick was real nice about it, though, and they wound up arguing. I guess it got nasty. Bobby told Rick that if he couldn’t have him, nobody would. Bobby carried a knife, and he… he used it on Rick. Bobby killed him.

* * * * *

“Holy shit,” said Daniel while Dina crouched on the ground, hands covering her face.

“Yeah,” said Tony, “And the funny thing is that Bobby told me it all sounded so… um… what was the word?” His eyebrows knitted together. “Oh, yeah. He said it sounded unoriginal and that he hated being part of a cliché. I think that was how he put it. It sounded pretty cool to me. The only thing that made him feel better about it was that he thought he could get me to keep my mouth shut. He said it gave things a little flavor.”

Dropping her hands into her lap, Dina looked up. “Flavor?” she asked.

“Oh, he got me to promise not to say anything because he knew that I paid a guy to kill my mother.”

Daniel and Dina could only stare.

Looking down, he continued. “She walked out on my old man, you know. He never got over it.”

“Tony?” said Daniel.

Looking back up at Daniel, he said, “So, yeah, Bobby thought I wouldn’t say nothing. The joke’s on him now, though, huh?”

 

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