The whiskey poured into the glass, swirling back and forth, rising steadily. Norton observed with eagerness, the precious liquid couldn’t pour fast enough. The bartender laid down a fresh napkin, placing the glass on top.
“Whiskey straight doll,” She said, smacking her gum from the side of her mouth. “You holler at me if you need anything else, okay?”
“Will do.” He took the glass in his hand, gesturing his appreciation to her. He drank and savored every drop.
He was an alcoholic. He wanted to quit, he understood that lifestyle would ruin him, but he couldn’t stop. The liquor called out, seducing and leaving him at her mercy. Deep down, he loathed himself for not being strong enough to put an end to his addiction, but he could not control the situation any longer. He had paid the price, his wife of fifteen years and his two children were gone. His job was also in jeopardy, all because of her -the devils poison! But he no longer cared – he had hit rock bottom. Now the alcohol, his last remaining companion, would not abandon him.
“Can I get you another?”
Norton turned, an old man, short and feeble, dressed in a brown tattered pin-striped suit stood directly in front of him. He wore a wool fedora hat, matching in color, with a black band.
“Are you talking to me?” he replied.
“I do believe you are precisely who I am speaking to, Mr. Hamel.” He smiled at him, pulling down on his hat with a bony hand.
“I’m sorry, We met?”
“No, not exactly.” He sat opposite from him, struggling to slide into the booth. “My purpose for being here, Mr. Hamel, does not require us to be acquaintances. He leaned in. “Our business, can be handled over a drink – or two.”
Norton jerked his head, not understanding the things being said.
“Yeah? What kind of business would we handle, stranger?”
“Ah!” the old man said, lifting a shaky finger. “An important matter indeed Mr. Hamel!”
He motioned to the bartender for another round, then returned his attention to him. “First, let’s have a drink shall we? The occasion calls for one!”
“You call me by my name, but I do not recall yours?”
The old man chuckled, squirming in his seat.
“The name would be Pitts, Mr. Pitts! Tonight Mr. Hamel, I will offer you the one thing you long for. The thing you need most can be yours this night!”
Norton couldn’t help but find the whole thing humorous. Who was this old fool? What was this business he spoke about? The bartender placed a glasses next to each of them, then walked away. Norton raised the glass and took a drink, Mr. Pitts smiled and took one himself.
“Alright Mr. Pitts, I don’t know how you know my name or what you want with me, but I’m not in the mood to talk about nonsense tonight. I appreciate the humor, though, you’re….. funny. I would however, like to be left alone, to drink in peace.
“Here I thought we were getting along splendidly. I suppose I should of expected your kind to be so unwilling to listen to the wonderful things I am offering.”
“Mister, no disrespect, but I’d like to be left alone. So if you don’t mind, buzz off!”
“Will you not answer?”
“Will you not answer your cell phone?”
“What on earth are you blabbing about? You are really my nerves!”
“Your cell phone will buzz in five seconds, your sister, Sarah, will be inquiring about your weekend. I believe she wants you over for a delightful visit.”
“Enough! You need to -”
Norton stopped – his coat pocket vibrated.
“Go on, you will find that old Mr. Pitts is not as mad as you make him out to be!”
Norton drew the cell and looked at the screen – Sarah, just as he said.
“Norton, can you talk? I need to ask you something.”
“You were going to ask me about my plans this weekend.”
“How did you know?”
He lowered the cell, his heart raced. Sarah continued speaking, but her words drowned out from the shock. Moments later, however, relief spread through his body.
“Nice try, sis.”
“You can stop now, the joke is over. You had me for a second.”
“Brother, what are you talking about? Are you alright? Are you drinking?”
“Yes. Yes, I am.”
He hung up.
“Now I understand, clever! How much did she pay you to pull this stunt?”
“Still don’t believe me, eh?” Pitts said, sighing. “O ye of little faith! Even Jesus, however, sympathized with his disciples.” He flicked a small piece of lint off his sleeve. “Well, how then, can I prove to you Mr. Hamel, to show you the things I am saying are true?”
This guy is something else, he thought. The evening wasn’t going as he had planned, he felt hot and uncomfortable. The mood turned dull. What action must he take, to rid himself of him?
“A million dollars!” Norton said. “One million dollars, in cash, right here on the table.”
Mr. Pitts laughed at his request, stomping his frail feet beneath him. Norton broke out in a laugh of his own, realizing the absurdity of his demand.
“Alright old man, you really must go.”
Mr. Pitts calmed his laughter.
“Writing me off already?” Mr. Pitts said. “Is there no gratitude for what’s been done?”
“Done? Mister, all you managed to do is waste my time.”
“Oh, but you see, Mr. Hamel, I have done much more than that!”
Norton grew irritated.
“And what would that be?”
“Money, Mr. Hamel. Did you forget?”
“Money?” Norton said, amused. “Oh, you mean the invisible money on the table?” He pretended to be amazed, slapping his hands on his face like a child. “Sorry, old man, That won’t work.”
Mr. Pitts shook his head. “No, no, no, no! Not invisible, definitely not! You might want to take a look under the table.”
Norton laughed. “A million in cash, under the table?” It was the longest laugh he’d let out in some time.
But Mr. Pitts no longer laughed. He no longer smiled. He nodded at him to take a peek.
Norton’s laughter receded to a slight chuckle. Embarrassed, he leaned over and glanced under the table.
A black leather briefcase lay at his feet. His jaw dropped, not believing what he was looking at.
“I took the liberty of naming the tag, in case you still doubted, of course.” On the handle, a tag read:
His eyes lifted, locking with Pitts. How could that be? He was sure there was no case when he sat down. How could his name be on the tag? The old man had nothing in his hand when he approached him. A million things ran through his mind.
“All that is needed to bring about change, is a little faith Mr. Hamel.” He tapped the table with his hands. “Well, let’s have a look!”
The black briefcase rested on the table’s surface, it was in pristine condition. Norton’s hands glided over it, confirming to himself it was real and not an illusion. He undid the latches simultaneously, and began to lift.
Mr. Pitts stopped him. “Careful Mr. Hamel, you wouldn’t want greedy eyes coming across so much money.”
He lifted slowly, exposing only a fraction of what lay inside. His eyes widened, stacks of one-hundred dollar bills lined the edges. He shut it immediately. Mr. Pitts smile returned.
“How?” Norton asked, baffled.
“Don’t try to solve the mystery, I assure you, you will not succeed. Only, understand that I am what I have been stating from the beginning, a giver of gifts!”
“And this, this is my gift, resting on this table?”
Mr. Pitts took a deep breath and sighed. “No, I’m afraid not Mr. Hamel. This was merely a measure taken for you to realize something about me. How else would you come to believe?”
Norton hugged the briefcase. “Oh, I believe! There’s no more doubt, I believe every word!”
“Good Mr. Hamel, very good indeed. But now, how about we get down to business?”
“Business?” Norton said.
“Yes, the only business I have to be here. To offer you what you are longing for.”
“Longing? Old man, what I am longing for, what everyone longs for, is on this table!”
“No, Mr. Hamel.” He took a drink, then set the glass down. “What you long for is not in material things, or in stacks of money.”
“The hell it isn’t!” he said. “I’m keeping this case, no matter what you say, I’m keeping it!”
Mr. Pitts face showed disappointment. “Keep what Mr. Hamel?”
“The money!” he stated. “You’re not taking it, I won’t let you!”
“What money Mr. Hamel?”
“The money! The money that’s -”
It dropped on him like a brick. He lifted the case – empty. He searched for words that never came.
“That money, was never meant to be yours, Mr. Hamel. If it had, I assure you, it would be gone soon enough.”
Norton wanted to scream, to demand the money be put back. But he knew deep down, that whatever was happening, at that moment, was meant to be.
“Money comes and goes,” Mr. Pitts said. “Material things age and rust, but true happiness Mr. Hamel, that surpasses all.”
“What are you getting at mister?”
“Before you walked in here, you desired only one thing – to forget. Your wife, your children and the home you made for yourselves, no longer exist. You yearn for them to return, because that is the thing you long for, the thing that has always brought you true joy. You choose to consume and forget because the loneliness haunts you day and night.”
Norton’s emotions got the best of him.
“Yes. That is true, just as you have said. But my wife has made up her mind, she wants nothing to do with me. Believe me, I’ve tried countless times to mend our marriage, and every time, it’s all been in vain. Yes, I am haunted by the their ghosts, by the lack of their laughter and physical presence. So I drink, because it fills the void that is my misery. It numbs the numerous mistakes I have made over the years!”
“What if I can change all that? What if I can make all things new, just like it used to be. You do remember how it used to be don’t you Mr. Hamel?”
Norton stood silent for a long while.
“Yes. I do remember.”
“Mr. Hamel, I am here to give that back to you, you need only to accept it.”
He didn’t understand, who was this strange man, meddling in his his life?
“Who are you?”
“That, is a long story. But don’t concern yourself with such matters now, do you accept what I am offering to you?”
“Yes. I accept. But why me? Surely you didn’t come here from wherever it is you come from, to give me this gift without wanting something in return.”
Mr. Pitts was impressed. “Now you’re catching on, Mr. Hamel! You are correct, these gifts do require something in return, but do not bother yourself with that now. I would rather you concern yourself with answering your phone, it will be buzzing in three seconds.”
“My phone?” Norton said. “I don’t under -”
It was like deja Vu. Mr. Pitts smiled, adjusting the brim of his hat.
“Who is it?”
“Your wife, Mr. Hamel. Calling because she misses you, your children as well. They want you to head over to them.” He reached and drew his wallet out of his pocket. “Well, go on, you don’t want to miss this call, I assure you.”
He no longer doubted, he knew what he was saying was the truth. He answered the call.
“… I miss you.” His wife said. “The kids, they’re asking for you. They miss you terribly! Please come to us, we can talk about things. Perhaps, we can make us work after all.”
“I’m on my way.” He hung up.
He looked forward, blindly. He couldn’t believe what was happening, she wanted him back, she had a change of heart, she was willing to forgive him. The old man was far from mad, he was telling the truth the entire time.
Mr. Pitts began to stand, supporting himself on the edge of the table.
“Where are you going” Norton asked.
“My business here is done, Mr. Hamel. I have to be off, other pressing affairs call upon me.” He pulled out a twenty-dollar bill and tossed it on the table.
“Will I see you again?”
“Only time will tell Mr…” He paused. “Norton, only time will tell, Norton Hamel.”
He left him, disappearing into the crowd. Norton opened the empty briefcase and laughed, but it didn’t matter. He picked up the glass of whiskey, then stopped. He placed it back down. This time, she would not seduce him.