That night I stood with a foot on the rail and one hand on the bar, throwing shots of whiskey down my throat as a honky‑tonk band stirred up the crowd at Max’s Beachcomber. I pushed a shot glass across the bar, “Again, Max.”
Max filled the glass, “You wanna talk, Marco?”
“No,” I knocked back the shot and slammed the glass on the bar. “Again.”
Max hesitated, “I think you’ve had—”
“Again!” I growled then dropped my head, “Please.”
Max filled the glass and looked down at me.
I looked back at him, “I’m sorry, Max.”
“I know, Marco. I know.”
I picked up the shot and turned toward the crowd, absently watching the couples shuffle and spin as they made their way around the dance floor in a synchronized chaos. I looked down at the floor and closed my eyes. I took a deep breath, looked up, downed the shot, and put the glass back on the bar. I turned away from the revelers and spotted an open booth in the back corner. I did a stumbling imitation of a two-step through the crowd to go claim it.
I flopped down in the booth and leaned against the wall, kicking my feet up on the bench seat. I caught the waitress’s eye and ordered up a Lone Star. As the waitress sauntered off to the bar, I saw Cassi talking to Max, who looked over at me and nodded in my direction. Cassi made her way through the crowd to my time out corner.
“This seat taken?”
I threw my arm dramatically at the seat as I continued to stare at the dancers and absently rubbed my left ring finger.
Cassi sat on the opposite bench as the waitress returned with my beer. Cassi ordered a whiskey, neat, and turned to me, “How you doing Chief?”
We sat in silence watching the dancers until the waitress returned with Cassi’s whiskey.
I watched the waitress walk away for a moment, then said to Cassi, “Why did he have to get mixed up with a married woman?”
“Sometimes you just can’t choose who you fall in love with.”
I mumbled, “Yeah, well it ain’t fucking right,” and sipped at my beer as the band wound down a slow country waltz.
For a long moment, Cassi looked at me, then asked, “Who was she?”
I cocked my head and raised an eyebrow at Cassi, “Who was who?”
“The one who’s got you all knotted up.”
I grunted and turned my attention back to my beer, resuming the pace I started with the whiskey. The band started in on a western swing number.
I turned and put my feet on the floor under the table, took the last swallow of my beer then absently picked at the label.
“Her name was Suzi,” I began, “I had just graduated from the academy and it was my first day on the beat in Queens. She worked at the corner market where we stopped for lunch and was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. I was completely, totally, and innocently in love with that girl. I felt like I was a 14-year old kid all over again. After I’d been going there for a while she started coming around the counter and walking me to the door. No matter how busy they were she would walk me to the door. Then, one day, she hugged me and whispered ‘See you soon’ in my ear. She shook my soul and I thought my entire life would explode. It paralyzed me,” a trembling smile flickered across my face and just as quickly was gone.
“I didn’t do anything about it of course. I barely even talked to her. It took me a month to get up the courage to ask her out. We dated for about six months then I asked her to marry me on a carriage ride through Central Park at Christmas.”
The waitress walked by and replaced my empty. I nodded.
“I didn’t figure you for the romantic type,” Cassi smiled and idly sipped at her drink, barely making a dent.
I chuckled, “Yeah, well, it was probably ten below but I was sweating like a linebacker I was so nervous. By some act of God she said yes. We were married the following September.”
“I was a rookie cop and married to the prettiest girl in the greatest city in the world,” I tipped the bottle and felt the cold, crisp lager wash down my throat. “Living on a rookie cop’s salary wasn’t easy, but I put in some overtime and she stayed at the market so we got by. This was the mid eighties. Things were still pretty rough in New York back then, before Giuliani came in and cleaned it up. I worked the beat for nearly five years. I finally got my gold shield in 1990 and started working vice. I’d been working some pretty long hours with my regular patrol and all the overtime, so Suzi was excited about the change. She thought things would settle down and we could start thinking about a family.”
I sat back, took another hit of beer and looked over at Cassi, “I’m sorry. You probably don’t want to hear any of this.”
She looked into my eyes, “What happened once you made detective?”
I started on the label of the new bottle, “Unfortunately you can’t plan crime so things didn’t get much better. I was doing a lot of undercover work and working stakeouts a few nights a month. Gang bangers don’t exactly keep regular hours.”
Cassi took another small sip. I took a long swallow.
“We got by, took vacations to the Jersey shore when we could. Mostly weekends a few times a summer. I thought we were doing OK. Suzi seemed happy enough. I knew she wanted kids, you know, the whole biological clock and all that, but I always thought there would be time. If I could just work my way up, I could make Captain and maybe get my own squad or something. I was really making a name for myself. Arrests were up. My career managed to survive the disaster that was Mayor Dinkins and I really felt like I was making a difference. I didn’t want to slow down. I caught the attention of the brass and moved into homicide in ‘97 as a 2nd Grade Detective.”
I took another long drag on the bottle then put it down, making figure eights with its wet base on the table. I took a deep breath and continued without looking up.
“My time away from home was just too much for Suzi. She had an office job by then and started taking weekend trips with her girlfriends and going out with them after work. She would get calls at night and would go out to the back porch to take them, saying her girlfriend was going through a tough breakup or had a sick parent or was fighting with her husband‑lover‑boyfriend. I didn’t think anything of it at first,” I took in a faltering breath, “but I started to wonder after a few months. This was ’03. That summer we caught a big case—triple homicide—and it ate up most of my days and nights. One weekend Suzi told me she was going to the shore with her girlfriends and I said fine. She left pretty angry.
“Well, I pulled an all‑nighter that Friday, staking out the suspect, and when I got home the next morning my neighbor was out mowing his lawn. We chatted for a bit, then he asked where my wife was that morning, if she was feeling OK, because she usually never missed her morning run. I said she was at the shore with her girlfriends for the weekend. He looked at me funny and said he had seen her the night before at a restaurant with a guy she introduced as her cousin. I said she probably changed her plans last minute then I went inside,” I finished off my beer and sat back. “Suzi didn’t have any cousins.”
I locked my fingers behind my head and put my elbows on the table. Cassi reached out and placed her hand gently on my arm, “Oh Chief. I’m so sorry.”
I took my hands from my head and put them on the table in front of me, my fingers still locked tightly, “I confronted her and she fessed up, said she was tired of being alone all the time. I said nice of her to let me know. I’m out there serving my fellow man and she’s out servicing some piece of shit banker or stockbroker or tidy bowl man or whoever the fuck. She moved out the following week. We were divorced by Christmas, two years shy of 20 years married.”
Cassi grabbed my clenched hands in hers, “I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah, I know. And I’m the sorriest of them all. The following spring I called up my old partner Bobby Lopez, who was elected Texas Attorney General a few years earlier, and told him my story, told him I couldn’t bear being in the city without her, that I was interested in a geographic cure and did he know of anything. He said Sand Point happened to be looking for a police chief, I said that’s as good as any, he said with my record in New York he wouldn’t even have to pull in favors, I said fine. I moved down here the next month and started over.”
Cassi gave my hands a squeeze. I slid down in my seat and nodded at the waitress, who dutifully replaced my empty bottle with a full one, which was half gone before she reached her next table.
When we left, I surrendered to Cassi’s demands and handed her my keys. She drove me home and walked me up the front stairs, into my house, and down the hall into my bedroom. I placed a clumsy arm around her waist, frowning drunkenly as she took off my jacket. She put it over the chair in my bedroom, then took off my tie, shirt, and shoes, “That’s as far as I’m going, cowboy, you’ll have to manage the rest yourself.”
She walked me to my bed, where I feel awkwardly onto my stomach, a foot and an arm hanging over the side. Cassi smoothed the hair off my face and said goodnight, called herself a cab, and turned off the light. I mumbled, “night night,” which probably sounded more like, “nuh nuh,” as she locked the door behind her.