An Old Friend
Arnold’s fingertips pulsed. Memories encircled them, weaving through their etchings and plucking away at the moisture there.
The fingers grasped at the remote, pressing for volume, desperate to dull the sounds of sickness.
A knock joined the effort, and Arnold let out one single, thankful gruff of breath as the demons of introspection dissipated and one of his men opened the door. “Sir, he said he was an old friend?”
Frank Carlisle stood behind the man in the doorway.
A warm grin welcomed him. “Not a friend. Family.”
Frank entered and set down a crystal vase of gardenias. The smell filled the room, sweet, something like reunion.
“How did you find me?” Arnold asked.
“I always know where you are, Arnie,” Frank took off his old ivy cap, setting it gently on the beeping monitor, “even when I don’t want to know.”
Silence settled, and the two men watched each other, years of love and regret swelling so that tears brimmed over Arnold’s eyes and Frank smiled one of his rare smiles.
“Are they treating you good?”
“My guys make sure of it.”
“How did it happen?”
“Some headhunter, through the window.”
“Through the chest, it looks like.”
Arnold barked in response, stirring a surge of pain. He looked away from Frank, coughing, and fixed his eyes on the hat. It was brown and worn, the only unpolished feature of Frank’s appearance. Arnold could sense the white stripes that used to be there but he couldn’t see them, maybe because he could remember a time when they cut deep within the brown, impressionable.
“Do we know his name?”
“Not yet; boys are on it.”
“What’s his description?”
“I don’t know. Medium build. Black hat, black coat, black all over. He’s not someone you describe, Frank.”
Arnold looked over at his friend again, tearing his eyes from the hat and sighed, powerless. “Lincoln and 4th, just before the long patch of bushes. Took off towards the trees.”
Frank nodded, silent. He walked over to the side of Arnold’s bed, placing his hands on his. “I don’t want you to worry.”
“I’m not worried. I’m…content. Content, Frankie, content.”
Frank picked up his cap, preparing for leave, preparing for goodbye, and turned off Arnold’s monitor. The machine stopped.
Arnold sighed happily, the sounds easing at last. “That’s better.” Frank took the syringe out from inside his coat. It was cold, striking compared to the warmth of his friend’s hands just moments before. Arnold watched him, content. “You remember when we were little and our fathers wouldn’t let us play together but we did it anyway?”
“I remember, Arnie.”
“And we’d hide out back in your shed like we were fugitives on the run and I wanted the Brando jacket with checkers all over and you just wanted the cow skin. We never got them but we were still fugitives. Do you remember, Frank?
Arnold smiled again at Frank as a tear traced his cheek for the first time. Arnold nodded. “They caught us good sometimes, though,” he chuckled. “Hey Frank, you think that’s how your hat got so ratty? It always jumped from your head when you got it good.”
“Our fathers aren’t here.”
The syringe hollowed and only time was left. Frank drew the corner chair closer and sat so he could hang onto Arnold.
“They’re not here.”
“But we are.”
“We’re always here.”
“Why did life want us apart?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it couldn’t handle us together.”
Arnold’s eyes closed, slowly, soundlessly, nothing like the snap when you’re trying to hide from what’s outside.
“Are you afraid?” Frank asked, abandoned in the quiet.
“I am afraid for you. You, I worry about.”
They were still.