They came for him in the middle of the night, in that valley of time that nestles between late yesterday and early today. You know it, it’s the time when they tell us most people die. If only I’d been awake, I might have been able to stop it. I might’ve been there waiting for them, the Colt .45 on my belt and my fist wrapped around a set of brass knuckles. They wouldn’t have been expecting me. They wouldn’t have wanted to meet up with me. They damn well didn’t want any part of me. They only wanted my friend.
But I wasn’t there for him. I’d been seduced by a shapely bottle of red wine with an inviting aroma and a sweet wet kiss. She had practically thrown herself into my arms and directed my eyes toward the corkscrew, then the pilsner glass. Yeah, I know, but I prefer not to drink my wine from one of those sissy glasses the debutantes like to use. Call me a real man. I’ll plead guilty.
Oh, we had a lovely time, Miss Rose and I. Her kisses started cool, then warmed on my lips and teased their way down my throat. The next thing I knew I was jolting awake in the darkness with a sense of alarm, a dread that something had happened and I hadn’t been there to stop it. I stumbled up and found the light switch, with no idea of how the lights had gone out to begin with.
It was quiet. Too quiet, like they say in the old movies. Rose was sleeping on the floor with the empty pilsner glass, the two of them curled up together next to the sofa where I’d spent the night. The cats blinked in the sudden light and looked to me for an explanation. I didn’t have one. I looked around the room. The clock on the wall told me it was quarter after two. My watch said the same thing. But something wasn’t right. My hackles raised in suspicion. I went through the apartment with a cautious haste. Bedroom, bathroom, kitchen. Everything was perfect. Except that it wasn’t. My sixth sense was turning in tight little circles of alarm. And then it hit me in the face like the slap of a washrag soaked in English Leather. My little inner voice said “Damn!” Softly at first, then louder, and louder still, until it was a screaming thing inside my head.
I slowly sat back down on the sofa. I picked up my cell phone. I carefully, as carefully as if it were a ticking bomb and I was trying to disarm it, pushed the ‘on’ button. And there it was, staring me in my bleary eyed face. The time. Not two-twenty, but three-twenty. I shook the phone and stared. The damn thing looked back at me and laughed at me. I knew it was right. It was always right, and it was smug about it.
Three-twenty. It had happened again. They had sneaked in with their sneakily quiet sneakers and sneaked back out with my friend, Two o’clock. Taken him from right under my nose. They had made away with him while I slept, the Colt and the brass knuckles stored away uselessly in the bedroom. They were scared of me, so they had sent Rose to distract me while they bundled my friend up and shipped him off to . . . somewhere. Some place I knew I would never find. I knew, because I had looked before, plenty of times. I cursed. The phone silently mocked me and ticked off another minute.
Now my friend is out there, somewhere, alone and lost and frightened. Oh, they’ll bring him back in a few months, as always. In the middle of the night again, as always. Dazed and confused and not knowing what happened during all those months in between, as always. And I’ll welcome him back, and check him for injuries. And I’ll open another bottle of wine, a Chianti, maybe, because I know now I can’t trust Rose. I’ll take the pilsner glass back off the shelf and fill it, and I’ll spend the night telling Deuce about all the things he missed. And I’ll promise him, again, that the next time I’ll be there to stop them. And he’ll know again, as I know, that there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.