As the meal wound down, I realized Moriarty was still missing. Nobody else had seen him. Loud and noisy inside, I stepped out and tried calling him.
“Yeah?” slurred a confused Morty, barely audible over street traffic, bad reception, and noise from the El he was on.
“Where’d you go?”
“Look, man, it’s no good. I tried and I’m sorry, but I failed, and there’s nothing left.”
I almost joked that when everything is gone, there’s always Nothing left, but Mort didn’t seem to be in a playful mood. “You sound drunk. What are you talking about?”
“I’m through with it. I’m going to go down to the roof of my office, and I’m going to end it all.”
I felt a real jolt. Everything tingled, and my brain seemed to be floating. I desperately tried to pull myself together. “Please tell me you’re joking!”
“No, man. Look, I’m sorry, but this is the only option. I love you, you’ve been a good friend, but I’m through. You can have all my stuff. Except the guitar. Moses gets that.”
“Please don’t do anything crazy. Can we talk about this?”
He said something garbled, and then either hung up or we got disconnected.
I called back. No answer.
Again. No answer.
A third time.
“WHAT DO YOU WANT?!” he shouted.
“Morty, I’m begging you, please. Don’t do this. Tell me where you are. I’ll come get you.”
“I’m, I don’t know. On a hell. In train.” More noise, more garbling. “I’m so fucking sick of this,” I think I heard. It was hard to tell.
“Look, come back, or tell me where you are. We’ll talk.”
He said something I couldn’t follow and hung up.
I called again, but no answer. I tried a second and third time, but he refused to pick up, or he had no signal. I left a pleading message on his voicemail, asking him to call back, asking him to wait and give us a chance to do whatever he needed. All the while, I’m pacing up and down a street, but it’s not a real street. The people on sidewalk aren’t real people, and the passing cars aren’t real cars. They’re imaginary, illusions I barely register as I walk back and forth, shouting and begging on the phone, my only connection to the one thing that matters right now. I heedlessly step in front of a turning car. It brakes. I walk on as if it doesn’t exist, through ghosts of people I do not see. If anything happens to Moriarty, all of this may as well not exist. The only reality is at the other end of the line, where I’m leaving a desperate message for a lost soul who may or may not ever hear it. It could be the message that saves a life. It could also be the message the police listen to as they investigate the phone record of a dead man for clues. It could be the message I play to myself, over and over, when I inherit all his stuff, except for the guitar.
This was an excerpt from Chicagoland. The complete novel is Kindle format through Amazon.