Alexandrine sat in the Rambler, stunned. Unable to move or talk or cry, she sat there with the car running in the road. She watched as the car with Juan Carlos and the two other assassins backed up and drove away. A fire truck, followed by two state police cars, came screaming up behind her. Alex pulled the Rambler off to the side or the road, waited for them to pass, and then she drove on toward the smoldering tractor, following the police cars.
The fiberglass cab, what parts were not melted from the fire, looked like a honeycomb, simply riddled with bullets. Alex climbed out of the car and slowly walked over to the cops, like she was on eggshells, still in shock. She pointed to the smoldering tractor and said, “My friend is in there.” The cops had a lot of questions, she had few answers. Soon after, they moved her away from the wreckage and cordoned off the area with yellow and black police tape. They took down all of her information and they said she should go. They would be in touch.
She walked back to the Rambler and wondered if Frankie would be left to die in peace, or would there be an investigation that would reveal his crimes and transgressions. In every game, there are winners and losers, but Frankie had, finally, really lost everything. She thought about how scared he must have been. She knew he feared death a lot more than most people. His entire life had been plagued by this fear.
She drove back to town slowly and in shock, directly to Turf’s, not a place she frequented, but a necessary stop. She parked the car out front and walked inside. Jack, the bartender was there. Pam sat talking to Jack and drinking a club soda.
Alex tried to smile and sat down next to Pam. She blurted out, “Frankie is dead. I thought you’d want to know,” and she started to cry. Pam, an acquaintance, maybe a friend, wrapped her arms around the big woman and cried with her.
Jack just said, “What the fuck and how?” Alex, wiping her face said, “It was the cartel guys. I saw them. They didn’t care. They were proud of their kill. What a scene! It looked like a war zone.”
Jack and Pam had more questions and Alexandrine tried to answer as best she could. Jack bought her a couple of shots of scotch and a Rolling Rock chaser. Then they all sat there quietly.
Finally, Alex said, “I guess it’s up to me to plan a funeral. I don’t think he had any family left, except a couple of uncles and some cousins. I should call them now.”
Jack handed her the phone from behind the bar as she fumbled and fought in her wallet for the small business card she carried. It had all of Frankie’s contact numbers written on it in tiny block letters. She looked at the neat lettering, Frankie’s handwriting, and she started to cry again. She called his uncle and they agreed she would make the arrangements.
Alex thanked Jack and kissed Pam on the cheek and said she’d call them when the funeral was set. She walked out toward the Rambler and drove home. It was starting to snow again. The day didn’t look so pretty to Alex any longer.
When Alex got home, she called the state police station, then the funeral home, then the brothel in New Orleans. Payton answered the phone. It was an afternoon of grim conversations. Payton didn’t say much, She called Zara to the phone. Zara said they would book a flight. Alex said, “There will be a few days’ delay, I’m sure. They will need to perform an autopsy. Senseless if you saw the truck. I cannot imagine what his body looked like.” Alex thanked them and said she’d be back in touch when she knew a date. She asked Zara to tell David, too, and Bianca. Zara said she certainly would.
Now all that remained for Alexandrine to do was wait. The early December days slid into mid-December. The short days, seemingly perpetual darkness and the waiting for the body to be released made the month seem even more grim.
Alex felt no holiday joy. This all seemed to be on her shoulders. She stopped by the bar a few times, and the conversations were often about Frankie. Alex commented to Jack and Pam that Frankie’s legend seemed to grow bigger and more twisted and complex by the day.
It was December twenty-first before Frankie’s body was released to the funeral home. Alex frantically tried to arrange the funeral for the twenty-third, get it over and done with before Christmas. It couldn’t happen. She called New Orleans and said the funeral would be December twenty-seventh, right in the middle of Christmas week. It just had to drag on.
Christmas was dark and ruined for many of Frankie’s friends and the hangers-on at the bar.
It was snowing pretty heavily as the day of the funeral dawned. This day simply had to be a little harder. It was as if Frankie was somehow in charge. Nothing worth doing was ever easy, and to his friends, this was worth doing.
The funeral home was an old Victorian, a confusing building with too many small adjoining rooms and lavish curtains on the windows. Not many flowers, but enough to give the rooms the nauseating smell of death, that sweet, ugly funeral home scent. Rows of folding chairs lined up to the right of the casket. At the front was a small podium.
At the home’s entrance was a small alcove where people could collect and smoke cigarettes, or take off jackets and shake the snow off their shoes. It was crowded with people who seemed a little afraid to come in.
Frankie told anyone who would listen that his recurring nightmare was to be at his own funeral and have all the women he fucked over the years attend. He said he wanted to live to be as old as the old lady. By then, he surmised, most of the girls would either be dead, have moved away, or be too old to travel. Dying so young really screwed up that plan.
Alex sat in the front row with the few remaining members of Frankie’s family. The older, large, poor, black woman sat among Frankie’s very white family, as if it was part of Frankie’s exit plan to make everyone just a little more uneasy. Actually, they all knew each other well and the family thought highly of Alex. His uncle said she was the only friend Frankie had who wasn’t trying to regularly kill him.
A few family members, including the old lady, had hoped someday Frankie would settle down and maybe even marry Alexandrine. She was the sanity he needed in his life. She was his anchor. Alex heard of this idea one time and laughed, “What did I ever do to you people, to wish such a horrible fate on me?” and everyone laughed. Frankie and Alex loved each other, deeply, too deeply to ever let marriage come between them.
Pam arrived and sat next to Alex. A good-sized crew from the bar arrived shortly after. Pam walked up to the rich, dark brown closed casket and knelt down. The white curtains and frilly linen all looked so out of place to Pam, and to everyone; so foreign to the life Frankie lived. She whispered a silent prayer.
Alex stepped up next to her. Alex spoke to Pam in a whisper, “I know he always said he wanted a pine box. This is all a little over-the-top for our friend. I think I was up-sold by the funeral director.” They both laughed.
Pam looked up at her, “He appeared to me in a dream last night, Alex. It was as real as you or I are standing here. I felt him. He’s lost, floating somewhere, like a ship that has lost its mooring. I saw him in a dark and foggy forest. Frankie was calling to me to help him, to show him the way. We haven’t spoken much since that night with the gunshot. I wish we had. I’ve been on the same journey. He seemed to adapt easily to sobriety. I wish I could have helped him. As in everything he did in his life, I think he was working a little too hard to find God”
Zara appeared behind the two of them. She said, “Forgive me for eavesdropping,” and she offered her hand to both Alex and Pam and introduced herself.
Zara smiled, “We will have to talk later about his attempts to understand God when he was with me in the South. Yes, our dear friend tried, way too hard, and the result was always violent and left him feeling defeated.”
Pam said, “It’s not as hard as he made it out to be. Frankie could only survive in conflict. He once told me how peace and calm terrified him, like a poison, like something that would take away his super powers.”
All three women laughed at that thought. They returned to their seats, rigid and uncomfortable, with Zara sitting down next to Pam and Alex in the front row. They watched the others come past the casket and stop by to offer condolences, share a funny story, and then hurry off.
There was a silent rustle and motion that came across the room in a wave as a local minister, a cousin of Alexandrine’s, came to the podium. Robert was a well-dressed young man, possibly thirty, and clean-cut. He smiled at the room, “I am sure everyone here is surprised to see me. Alexandrine asked me to stop by to say a few words. I did not know your friend, but I know he wasn’t a big fan of the church.”
That comment actually brought out some laughter. Robert asked if anyone would mind if he said a quick prayer and everyone bowed their heads. Alex flashed back to the old lady’s funeral about a month ago, and smiled, thinking about what Frankie would do if he knew they were praying for him. He said a prayer for the nonbelievers and the Lord’s Prayer and he sat down.
The three girls sat and watched as about five more girls from the bar came by the casket, then finally Betty. By a quick count, about fifteen of Frankie’s former girlfriends had shown up. Pam said it was a respectable showing and Zara said it probably qualified as his nightmare and they all laughed out loud.
The funeral director came forward and said there was going to be a burial service at the family cemetery and all were asked to form a procession. He asked for some men to be pall bearers. Six guys, including Jack and David, went to volunteer. David said to Jack, “Two of six of his pallbearers are bartenders. That seems fitting.” The two men smiled at each other.
They carried Frankie’s casket to the hearse. Everyone got in their cars. It had started snowing really hard. Jack said to David, “Ride with me. I’m sure we have stories to share.”
They looked at the snow coming down. David said, “He’s going to make this hard right to the end. That’s fitting.” Alex, Pam, Zara, Payton, and David all climbed into Jack’s car and they drove off to the cemetery slowly, spinning in the snow.
As they pulled onto the burial grounds, Alex said, “No more funerals after today. I’ve had my fill. I need a break from all this darkness and sadness.”
Pam added, “I can’t shake that dream. It was so real. I felt him. I know it sounds crazy, but I feel he needs me. He needs to see me. If this snow ever stops, I have to go back to the garage. He’s still there, somehow. I need to go and talk to him.”
Alex said, “I’ll go with you. We’re only supposed to get a few inches of snow. It’s supposed to stop tonight. I’ll go with you in the morning.”
Zara added, “I would like to join you two, if you don’t mind.”
Alex said, “Certainly, you’re welcome to come. We were all his girls; we all were something different to him, but we all loved him and he us.”
The burial was cold and wet and uncomfortable for everyone. There is a surreal beauty to a graveyard in the dead of winter during a heavy snow storm. There were only three colors, white, gray, and black. The cars were parked out by the road, except for the black and gray hearse. People walked in on the unplowed snow, many walking in the tracks of the car that carried their friend. Alex, Pam, and Zara stood together by the open hole in the ground while the pallbearers carried Frankie for his last trip, from the car to the grave, not fifty feet from where the old lady was buried a month before. The shiny brown casket with a large pile of flowers on top stood out starkly against the colorless winter landscape.
They all stood silently in the snow as Robert said another prayer for the nonbelievers. In the middle of this cold, late December snow storm that now was starting to look like a blizzard, the crowd heard a loud bang and a rumble of thunder. Everyone looked at each other and smiled, a few looked up into the rapidly falling flakes and said, “Goodbye, Frankie.”
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