Short Stories

Last Toast

A cold mist dropped from the sky as Doc Sanders entered O’Toole’s Pub on the corner of Market and First. He seldom made it here on a Saturday after spending Friday night celebrating with Shelby Porter, his best friend, toasting survival of another week in Newberg, Oregon. Dan Ryan, the owner, nodded at him as he entered.

“Dan, bring me a double Crown Royal, a bottle of that Guinness Draught, and an iced glass.”

“Sure thing, Doc.” Dan nodded, smiling.

Few people called Doc by his given name of Roy Sanders. Maybe because he’d practiced medicine in town for thirty

years and delivered more than his share of its residents in the local maternity ward.

He took a seat by the window to view of the town’s main drag. The sleepy farming village awakening to rise on a

blustery day. The first dry leaves of fall sweeping down the street.

Dan brought the set-up, wiped down the table, placing the order before him. Doc pulled out his credit card and

handed it to Dan. Doc’s wallet flipped open to his picture section as Dan walked away, exposing a picture of him and Shelby at the lake last summer. He picked up the black bottle with the brass harp on the gold label and mumbled as he poured.

“Shelby, I remember the time we drank our first bottles of this stuff. You claimed the harp on the label meant it

was for angels. It was behind your grandpa’s barn the night of the homecoming dance when I realized we were anything but angels. God, that was fifty years ago, but it almost seems like yesterday.”

He watched Mac Iverson, the hardware store owner, putting a broom to the sidewalk in front of his shop. His

daughter, Faye, had been the girl who got away from the town healer and married Shelby after they both returned from Vietnam.

“You always were a lucky bastard, Shelby. Or maybe I was a coward too afraid to express my genuine feelings.”

He winced, taking a sip of Crown. “Yes, sir, I’ve got to wonder how it would have all turned out if I’d been the one to speak first.”

He’d kept his distance, as time passed, part out of respect for his friend. But mostly because he didn’t trust himself

not to let his true feelings for Faye slip out.

“I’ve been your friend and doctor for over fifty years, Shelby. I set your leg when you fractured it in that wreck up

on highway 99,” he said, running his tongue around the cup’s lip, “I found and rushed both you and the other driver to the hospital. Luck and my influence enabled you to avoid going to jail for drunk driving and possibly manslaughter. Hell, as it was, I had to pay that kid off not to press charges.”

He jerked the boutonniere off his lapel, crumpled it, and threw it on the table.

“I’ve covered for you plenty over the years.”

Memories dredged up with bitter tears. “You remember that Johnson girl. I sent her to one of my friends in

Portland. He quietly arranged her abortion. I never told Faye about it. The other townswomen never learned you were responsible for the sudden outbreak of STD’s with your fooling around.”

He licked the creamy caramel foam from his mustache, wiping the back of his hand across his lips. The dry roasted

bitterness of the draught caressing his tongue. All those years as his friend’s doctor and only now realizing he’d overlooked many of Shelby’s faults along with his medical problems. Maybe if he’d noticed the signs earlier, he could have helped or slowed Shelby’s disease. When Faye asked him to run an Alzheimer test on Shelby, it shocked him. She complained he’d become more forgetful and suffered severe mood swings. He’d written it off to age.

Doc took another sip of Crown and waved Dan over. “Bring me another bottle of Guinness.”

Dan delivered the drink and glanced out at the darkening sky. “Looks to be another wintry day in the making.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Nothing, Doc, I just noticed you are wearing your fleece-lined gloves is all.”

Doc rubbed his gloved hands together to increase the circulation. “Trouble, when you get older, is things don’t

work as they should anymore. Getting a little rheumatism and swelling in the joints.” Using his fingers, he rubbed the ache in his knuckles away.

“Tom Hammond from the County Herald came by here last night,” Dan said. “They assigned him to write a story

about Shelby’s killing. Tom came by to talk to some of his friends and started showing some of the photos he took up at the funeral home.”

Doc shook his head and pushed the empty bottle forward, “He shouldn’t have been doing any of that.”

“I’m just saying,” Dan grimaced. “Whoever went after Shelby must have been crazy. His body looked like he was

beat to death with a pipe, but the coroner insisted whoever did it only used his fists. Hammond said every bone in Shelby’s face appeared fractured. He had a broken wrist, and several busted ribs. Afterward, Hammond said Shelby’s attacker poured several bottles of Pavlova vodka over him. The sheriff thinks the killer was intending to set the body on fire, but got scared off. The sheriff told Hammond he’s looking for some homicidal maniac.”

Doc downed the last of his Crown Royal. “People need to mind their own business. Lots of people kill for reasons

other than being homicidal maniacs. The killer probably used the alcohol to denature any genetic material left on the body. I’m sure the sheriff will follow every lead to capture the man.”

Dan wiped at a damp spot on the table and picked up the empty bottle of Guinness. “Hammond was by here just

before you came in and said it surprised him you said nothing at the service this morning.”

“Just what the hell was I supposed to say? The man’s dead! The whore mongers in this town are going to remember

him as they always saw him, and nothing I could say will change their minds.”

Dan held up his palms. “I didn’t mean anything by it, Doc. I know he was your best friend. I didn’t mean any harm.”

“I’m sorry, Dan. The funeral this morning is bothering me more than I thought.”

Sparsely attended, none other than family were at the service and burial. Shelby Porter had few friends in the local

community. Several men in town had more than likely refused to take part because of the dalliance one or more of their wives had enjoyed with Shelby over the years. A good deal of other townspeople found Shelby too gruff. He rubbed many people like coarse sandpaper.

Faye had been there in her role as the grieving spouse. Sanders, as her doctor, had dispensed a couple of

tranquilizers to help her get through the service. He still noticed the slight discoloration around her eyes under the veil and remembered treating her at his clinic and recommending overnight hospitalization for observation the night Shelby died.

Faye’s makeup, the veil, and handkerchief did a remarkable job of covering her black eyes. Faye had confided to

him that night just how bad the last year with Shelby had been. Drunk, Shelby had resorted to beating her viciously whenever he became upset. Under sedation, Doc doubted she would remember him swearing to talk to Shelby.

“I’m just upset over the funeral.” Doc sipped his whiskey. “I’m going to put all this all behind me. Maybe head to

New York for a few weeks’ brief vacation.”

Dan’s eyes sparkled. “Always bitter back there this time of year. Say, I hear Shelby’s widow, Faye, is planning to stay

with her daughter in New York for a spell. Maybe you’ll run into her, Doc.”

“Never can tell,” Doc smiled. He couldn’t make up for the last thirty years, but he could start on the next thirty. He

raised his glass, “This one’s to my friend, Shelby. May he rest in peace.”

Doc set his glass down, rubbing his hands through the thick gloves to increase circulation. Damn, I hope my hands

heal before I run into her. Or at the very least, before I get back.