Dale Blake had been in a road race since leaving Pittsburgh. In this type of road race the drivers would start at equal intervals each day, driving as fast as possible to the next location, do the job that needed to be done and then start again the next morning. Dale was the road manager for the rock band “Rug Burn” as long as he stayed ahead of the band he was doing his job. The tour caught Dale in Denver. Dale had hoped to maintain a slight lead over the tour until the west coast, as long as he was doing his job, he was winning the race and getting paid. This was not the only race Dale was in the midst of loosing. He was in bed when Paul Shull walked into his room, Paul was the bands manager and in charge of everything except playing music. Paul ran things with an iron fist and accepted no B.S. from anyone, anyone but Dale. Paul had a soft spot for Dale, they had been through it all, right from the beginning and knew each other better then most brothers.
“What’s up?” Paul asked.
“What’s up with what?” was Dales response. He was cold so he didn’t even bother getting out of bed. “Why is so freaking cold in here?” Dale slurred.
“It’s not!” was the sharp reply.
“It’s always so freaking cold in Denver, why is it always cold in Denver?”
Paul stood looking down at Dale and said nothing. A look of sorrow and understanding came over his face, understanding and heartbreak.
“Your drunk, its ten o’clock in the morning and your drunk,” Paul sighed.
“Well the cats out of the bag, so I guess I better let this out to.” Dale reached under the bed and pulled a bottle of Jack Daniels out and drank from it. “Like some?” as he offered the bottle to Paul. Again Paul said nothing and just shook his head.
“Why for Christ’s sake are you drinking again?”
“This?” Dale said raising the bottle. “This is nothing big fellow, just a little to take the edge off, just a little nip. Are you cold? Why is it always cold in this damn town?” Dale set the bottle on the night stand and pulled the sheet up towards his chin.
“Dale,” Pauls voice tapering off.
“You can’t fire me,” Dale said from under the sheets. It was warm and white and snuggly under the covers. “You can’t fire me because I lost the race, how are you supposed to race when it’s so damn cold outside?”
“You’re drunk,” Paul Shull said.
“Oh yes, quite,” Dale Blake said, speaking directly against the sheet, feeling its texture on his lips.
“I should have known better, I should have never let you do the advance work here, not in this town.”
“It’s just another town, a little cold maybe, but just like all the rest,” Dale said.
“You didn’t loose your wife and son in any of the rest.”
“Was that here? In Denver? I’d almost forgotten about that,” Dale said. “besides that was an accident, sure you wouldn’t like a drink?” Dale asked once again.
“You need some help.”
“Me? Naw, I am sure I can finish this all by myself, thank you very much!”
“No, you need help with yourself, look Dale, it wasn’t your fault, and you know that.”
“What wasn’t?” asked Dale.
“The accident, the accident that Paula and Dale Jr. were in, it wasn’t your fault.”
“Yea, sure. That’s why they call it an accident,” Dale slurred. “I was right where I was supposed to be, doing what I was supposed to be doing, taking care of business, hey that would make a great song……” “ Humm, humm…taking care of business everyday.”
“Dale! Shut up!” Paul yelled.
“What? Oh, yea, no I was right where I was supposed to be, you’re right I shouldn’t have been driving that night, wouldn’t have made any difference, right Pauly? It would have happened anyway, right? Only I would’ve may….be, maybe been……Sure you don’t want some of this?” Dale asked after taking a long pull from the bottle.
Paul was staring down at Dale, “Look Dale,” he said with compassion in his voice, “Get up and let’s go eat somewhere, let’s get some food in you.”
“Naw, I’ve got everything I need right here,” Dale said as he patted the bottle.
“Your a drunken fool, when did you get into town?”
“Yesterday, yesterday about noon,” Dale said with the sheet pulled up over his mouth. He found he liked talking through a sheet. “Have you ever talked through a sheet?”
“Don’t try to be funny, it’s more pathetic than anything, your not funny.”
“I wasn’t being funny, I was just talking through a sheet.”
“Yes, you are talking through a sheet alright.” “Get up, let’s go.”
“No, I am staying here.”
“Come on Dale, get up and let’s go to work.”
“I am working right here, this is hard work, do you have any idea how hard it is to get this fucked up? Huh? Any idea at all,” Dale asked.
“Yea, I think I do….,” Paul answered.
“Hey Pauly, you want to know what I think?”
“Good, it’s good you don’t want to know, cause I am going to tell you anyway. I think that if I would have been where I was REALLY supposed to be, exactly one year ago last night, if I had been driving my family home instead of….instead of…., they would still be here. Do you know what I was doing Pauly? Do you? Yea I guess you do, don’t you? Well you get to hear it again, I was on my way to the next date…..Salt Lake, yea Salt Lake City to make sure there were enough fucking M & M’s in the fucking bands dressing room. I am checking the candy dish and my wife and kid are driving off the face of the earth.” Dale pulled the sheet over his face again. “I love it under a sheet,” he said.
“Bro, listen to me, we need to get you some help. What if I could fix it and get you into Betty Ford, down in the desert, get you out of here, down where it’s warm, I can pull some strings and get you in.”
“No, I don’t do programs very well, you know that Pauly. Besides I am perfectly happy here, all my life I’ve been perfectly happy here.”
“How long have you been this way?”
“In the bottle, how long have you been drinking again?”
”Pittsburgh, right before Pittsburgh. Philly maybe, can’t remember. Haven’t I been doing my work? Do you know what a pain it is to separate all the green M&M’s out, humm? To make sure the right kind of beer is on ice…..my God the spoiled bastards, I loose my family, but hey the freaking beer’s ice cold. I loose my family and get my ape back,” he touched the sheet with his tongue.
What? Ape? What the hell are you babbling about?”
“The ape on my back, my dear ape hasn’t been around for quite awhile, but he’s right outside that door, waiting. He can’t stand alcohol, so when I drink he just steps outside and waits. The poor ole fellow, he’s much more comfortable riding around on my back.” Dale moved his tongue around and around on the sheet. “He’s just as big as ever you know, I think he’s gone for good, then I take a peek back over my shoulder and there he is, smiling at me. But he hates alcohol so sometimes I can control him with booze, sometimes.” Dale took a deep breath, closed his eyes and let his head rest on the pillow.
“You need a program,” Paul said. “It’s nice at Bettys, you’ll like it, and all the big shots go there.”
“I am not a big shot, I am just me.” Dale was opening and closing his eyes under the sheet, he felt his eye lashes brushing against it. “I just love sheets,” he said as he slid the sheet down a little so he could see Paul. “You think I am drunk, don’t you?”
“Your shit faced,” Paul answered.
“You’re so wasted that your hallucinating, I just came from outside and there’s nothing in the hallway.”
“Oh yes there is, he’s just sitting there and waiting. Besides I am not drunk,” Dale repeated and pulled the sheet back over his eyes. “Dear lovely white sheet,” he said. “You do love me don’t you, pretty white sheet? Imagine Pauly, all this included in the price of a room, all this and pretty white sheets. Only in Denver…. I used to love this town Pauly, the mountains, clean air, I fell in love in this town, it’s where I met P……”
“I know,” Paul cut him off. “It’s where you met Paula, I introduced you to her.”
“Yea, I used to love this place.”
“You will again,” Paul said. “Naw, I am through with loving anything, I am through with everything except my ape.”
“I told you there is nothing outside.”
“Oh, he’s out there alright, in fact he’s banging on the door as we speak. But no, I guess you couldn’t hear him, he’s my ape. Hey, I just figured that out Pauly, you can only hear and see your own ape, not anyone else’s. Very profound, don’t you think Pauly?”
“What are you babbling about?”
“It’s a secret Pauly, my secret and your surprise,” Dale said. “I am not all that drunk Pauly, loaded up to my gills, but not really drunk.”
“What are you talking about?” Paul asked.
“Take a look,” Dale pulled his left arm out from under the sheet and shoved it towards Paul. “Look at that!” On the forearm from just above the wrist to just below the elbow were little dark spots, so close together that they appeared to be one long dark line. “Pauly, I’d like you to meet my ape. Mr. Ape, I like to introduce you to my bro….my ex bro…., in-law.”
“Oh my God Dale! What the fu…..What are you doing to yourself? You idiot! You haven’t touched that shit in years! I knew something was wrong, SHIT! This is my fault……. I should have at least sent someone with you or someone else altogether. I should have sent someone else, it was too soon after the accident for you to be here, I should have thought about that, damn I can’t remember everything….. it’s too much sometimes…..to try…….everything.”
“Don’t beat yourself up Pauly, it’s not your fault, don’t trip. You want to know whose fault it is?” asked Dale. “I’ll tell you whose it is, it’s not yours, it’s not mine, you really want to know Pauly? It’s Gods…”
“You’re crazy…..and high, yea crazy and loaded,” Paul said uneasily.
“Yea, maybe,” Dale muttered. “The way I see it,” Dale continued. “The way I see it God knows everything, he knows what’s going to happen before it happens, he made everything and already planned everything in advance. He put the ice right where he wanted it, right on the road where Paula and D.J. would run right over it, over it and through the guard rail. He knew it was going to happen, he planned that to happen, he allowed it to happen, why? Why would he allow someone as perfect as Paula and a child, he was only ten years old Pauly, ten years old. I should have been there, I should have been driving.”
“It wouldn’t have made any difference Dale, you driving wouldn’t have mattered, you all would have gone over that cliff.”
“Oh, yes it would have mattered alright, I would be with them now, instead of here by myself. So why would God allow two near perfect beings die for no reason and allow a piece of crap like me to go on living?”
“You’re not a piece of crap Dale.”
“Compared to them I was.”
“Listen Dale, I am going to get you some help. I’ll call Patrick Hayward over at Betty Fords, He’ll be able to get you a spot, I’ll set it all up and don’t worry the Band will be more then happy to pay, they owe you that much. But first let’s get you cleaned up and out of here, OK? Get up and shower and I’ll run down the street for some coffee and donuts, black and chocolate old fashion right?”
“Why am I still here Pauly?”
“Some would say it’s a test Dale, a test of character or of faith or perhaps both.”
“I think I failed,” Dale was sitting up now, leaning against the head board.
“No, you haven’t failed, failing maybe but I refuse to let you fail all the way. Jump in the shower and I’ll be back in twenty minutes with coffee, where’s your key in case you’re in the shower when I get back.”
Dale reached down and grabbed his Levis off the floor, dug around in his pockets and tossed the room key to Paul.
“Be right back,” Paul said on his way out the door.
Paul returned about twenty-five minutes later and used the key to let himself in. Upon entering Dale was sitting in a chair, facing the window with his back towards the door. Paul put the coffee and donuts down on the nightstand and grabbed the remote to turn the television off. Paul pulled a donut out of the bag and ate half of it in one bite.
“You know Dale,” Paul was talking around his mouth full of donut. “You’re not the only one who lost someone that night, I lost my sister and nephew, try to remember that, alright. This whole mess was hard on everyone, what about my folks, what about their loss?”
“Dale?” Here drink some of this, it’ll help you stay awake. Dale? Paul said again as he carried the paper cup of coffee towards the back of the chair. As he came even with Dales shoulder he reached out with his left hand and gently placed it on Dales right shoulder.
“Hey Dude, come on,” he said quietly. Paul set the coffee cup on the table next to a spoon and a Bic lighter, looking down he saw a syringe hanging from his best friends left arm, it was empty. Paul went to his knees and placed his fingers on Dales throat, there was no pulse, there was no breath. Pauly put his arms around his brother-in-law and rocked him slowly.
“You asshole, you selfish fucking asshole. I lost my sister and my nephew, you asshole, now I loose my best friend, what the fuck were you thinking?” he said as tears ran between his cheeks and nose. With a sweeping motion he pushed everything off the small table and through his tears he noticed a piece of paper flutter to the carpet. Pauly reached for it and picked it up, it was a hand written note;
I have failed at the race, I have failed Paula and D.J. and
mostly I have failed myself. The only one I haven’t
failed was God himself, after all wasn’t this his plan?
Paul pulled his cell phone from his pocket and through his tears dialed 911…….