When Gerry returned to the lobby he was in civilian clothes. Old blue jeans and a gray Mets hoodie. He appeared to have taken a shower. The lobby smelled like my father, Old Spice and whiskey. Gerry returned the spare key to the Abruzzi’s apartment to the lock box. He had an old baseball in his hand, a Rawlings hardball, which he tossed lightly into the air and caught nonchalantly, and a can of Budweiser in the other. No reason to hide anything. Not anymore.
“Sir, where’s your uniform?” I asked.
“It’s in the trash compactor. I mucked it up. Shot?”
“You’re killing me.”
“I do that to people,” Gerry said, pouring two drams of Tully. “Here’s to getting what you deserve.”
“Cheers.” I did the shot. I knew I needed to relax a bit. I was close to the point of no return. I couldn’t be hammer smashed face in the lobby. One shot away from sloppy. “Can I ask you a personal question?”
“Uh oh,” he said. “Sure, make it fast because I have a plane to catch.”
“It’s nothing bad. I was just curious how come you never got married or had kids? I think you would have been a good dad, you know.”
“Well, there’s a few reasons. Have you ever told a woman that you loved her?”
“I have,” I admitted, with a strange amount of embarrassment.
“Did you mean it when you said it?”
“Yeah, I meant it. I thought so, in the moment, that I did. I thought I did at that time. Things change.”
“Not so much anymore, huh? Emotions are untrustworthy. Feelings are deceitful. Tricky fucking things, aren’t they?”
“No, not so much. Love is an unsafe place. It’s funny my last girlfriend would make these jokes about my mental health, about how unstable I was, they weren’t really jokes, you know. That was how she really felt about me and maybe she wasn’t so wrong. A bit insensitive but whatever. She found humor in referring to herself as my psychoanalyst as opposed to being my girlfriend. We weren’t dating. She was treating me. This idiot took a psych class as an elective and applied every diagnosis and all the behavioral patterns she learned to me. It was all very textbook. She’d say these motivational things to me if I was too deep in my own head. I’m not good when I’m in there, know what I’m saying. You’re paranoid. You’re this, that and the other thing. But sometimes a feeling, like a real gut feeling, isn’t a delusion but a revelation, but a cathartic reveal. You know the truth because you can feel it. It hurts. When the truth presents itself, and somehow over time it will and you say to yourself, so was I crazy if what I felt was right? They all lie. They cheat. They’ll tell you it was only one time as if that’s at all reassuring. It’s not. And it’s no different than hearing someone tell you they’re going to stop doing drugs or they’re never going to lay a finger on your mother again. I have no patience for disingenuous reassurances. I have no willingness to entertain empty promises. It’s rarely the one time and it’s almost never the last time. Colossal untruths. It’s best I don’t love anyone and I don’t, I don’t love anyone, not anymore.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a better understanding of something someone else has said to me as you have right now. You’ve been wounded for a long time. Haven’t you, my young friend. So one reason is exactly that, trust. I couldn’t have my freedom risked if the relationship went south, and they almost always do.”
“I’ve felt something I haven’t wanted to feel for as long as I can remember. Rather not talk about me though. You evaded my question?”
“My side job.” Gerry laughed.
“The mysterious side job,” I said.
“Yes. Another major reason is if I had married a beautiful lass and had some badly behaved kids my side job would have potentially put them in jeopardy. Loving someone as you well know makes you vulnerable. And maybe my doctor’s bag would get my lovely wife and my bad ass kids hurt, or worse. I wouldn’t be able to handle that amount of hell. I’ve always anticipated retribution for my crimes, I believe in accountability and not making excuses for my actions, and it seems retribution has presented itself to your old friend Gerry.”
“Just so you know I know what your side job was and I won’t ask you to say it out loud. Retribution?”
“That’s a good boy,” Gerry said, pouring another round of shots, while I scratched Ichabod’s ear. “A toast to rungs in a ladder.”
“Rungs in a ladder?,” I said, drinking the smooth amber in a snap. “What was that about reprisals?”
“Ah, yes. And here we are. The recompense is in motion. Requital. So many great words for good old fashioned revenge. So there’s no great way to say this. So I’ll just drop this truth in your lap. Ichabod already knows. I am sick. There is no fifth stage. Terminal. Shea stadium and myself will soon be but a memory.”
“I’m so sorry, Gerry.”
“Thank you, lad.”
“I’m so, so sorry.”
“Well, don’t cry or anything. That doesn’t help anybody.”
Ok, I said, trying to fight back the emotion.
“Rainer, I’m in need of a favor from you. I have a dilemma. As we’ve discussed I never married and I have no children. I have no heir. I have not a soul in the world to pass my belongings onto. My plan helps us both. I have some documents that will need your signature for the sake of posterity.”
“What are you doing? What are you talking about?”
“You need a place to stay, don’t you? What are you going to do sleep in the basement of this god awful building forever. Not necessary when I have a house to bequeath.”
“I can’t accept this,” I stammered. “This is too much. I don’t deserve it.”
“What I hath lost noble Rainer hath won.”
“I don’t deserve this, Gerry. I can’t. I don’t feel good about this. I can’t accept this.”
“You can and you do and you fucking will,” said Gerry, lifting a Manila envelope. “This is not a handout. I’m giving you the luxury of a foundation to climb up from. The ladder. The house is paid off. There will be some money for taxes and education or whatever you decide to do with your life. It won’t last forever so you have to be your own man and find your own path. Be successful. Be happy. There is a catch, naturally.”
“I mean, this is a lot to absorb. Sure. A catch. There is always a catch, right?”
“You will have to adopt Ichabod. You have to swear to me that you will take care of my boy. I know the pup loves you so what do you think?”
“That is not a catch. I’d feel more comfortable inheriting Ichabod rather than your house and your money,” I said. “It would be an honor to care for Ichabod as my own.”
“Well, if it makes you feel any better Ichabod prefers to live in the house, so pretend it’s his house and you’re his new roommate. Whatever puts you at ease. My lawyer will be in touch with you in the next few days. And in about two to four months everything I own will be yours officially. The keys are in the envelope. With passcodes to the alarm system and some basic knowledge of the house. How the boiler works. Where important things are in the house. The motorcycle is in the garage. Detailed instructions of what Ichabod likes and his vet records. This is your last shift here. I’ve spoken with Murphy. It’s all sorted. You can begin a new life for yourself once this shift ends. You’ve climbed a rung, bud. Don’t stop there.”
“Is this for real?”
“Very real. It’s yours. Make life your own.”
“I’m terrified and excited all at once but what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to roam around Amsterdam, looking at pretty women in the windows, and pondering about the existence of aliens while ossified and stoned out of my face. I’ll continue my routine until I can’t anymore and then I’ll Hemingway myself.” A double barrel shotgun to the forehead.
“You good with that?”
“I have to be.”
“I can never thank you enough, Gerry. This is unbelievable. Every bit of it.”
“I’m going to need a cab. I can’t miss my flight.”
I turned on the taxi light that blinked a red beacon to the cabs patrolling 57th street. I brought his luggage to the curb and waved my hand in the air while Gerry stayed in the lobby and said farewell to his pup. I didn’t watch, and gave them their privacy. A cab made a quick u-turn and pulled up. I opened the back door and put the luggage on the seat and told the driver, JFK. Gerry walked out of the building while Ichabod watched him, pawing at the glass window of the door. We shook hands and both tried to break the other’s hand.
“I got something in my eye,” Gerry said with a smile. Before he got into the cab, he stopped, “Rainer, I forgot to tell you.”
“Tell me what?”
“About the carotid. The article in that JAMA magazine was spot on. Quick was not what he deserved but it’ll suffice. If anything comes of it, just be honest, my race is run neath the sun. When I played for the Mets my favorite thing was hitting for the cycle.”
“I was a ball player,” Gerry said, throwing the baseball to me. It was signed, P. Abruzzi, in script with the number 59 scrawled beneath the signature. “I was a ball player.”
I know, I said to him. I knew Gerry Nevins was a ball player.