Joe hits rock bottom this week. His despair is justified as he digs into what happened in this timeline. Because this is a serial, the events go by quickly as I try to tie each week’s entry into an episode. When I turn this serial into a novel, however, there is a lot of juicy detail that can be expanded. I can’t wait.
If you want to catch up on the previous installments of this serial, you can click on these links:
In all timelines and in his entire life, Joe had never felt this uncomfortable around his brother. He considered getting out of the truck at a traffic light and running back to the storage unit to get out of this timeline. Something felt terribly wrong. Physically, he had never felt worse. He had strange cravings for tobacco and alcohol that he had never experienced before.
What happened? How did things get so bad?
Joe didn’t know the answer to these questions and Mike wasn’t talking.
“Where are we going, Mike?”
“We’re going to my apartment. You need to get cleaned up and get some clothes that aren’t falling apart. After that, I don’t know.”
“Apartment? What happened to your house?”
Mike gave Joe a look filled with disgust and hate. Joe didn’t recognize his brother for a second.
“What the hell is wrong with you? You know damn well I lost my house just like you did. Of course, I lost my family too. You didn’t have one to lose.”
Joe felt as if he had been stabbed. The cravings grew in proportion. What the hell had happened?
Eventually, Mike maneuvered the truck into a parking lot and pulled into a space next to a shabby apartment building. Mike followed him past a garbage strewn lawn and up a sheltered concrete staircase that had a permeating smell of urine.
Mike inserted a key into chipped and faded door with the number 5 on it. Joe followed him into a small, one-bedroom apartment. The carpet was threadbare and the paint was in serious need of being refreshed. It appeared that his brother was living quite modestly, but the apartment was neatly organized, as was Mike’s nature.
“You go get in the shower. There’s soap and shampoo in there. I’ll find you some clothes.”
Joe was anxious to divest himself of the odor that surrounded him. He turned the water in the small shower to hot and peeled off his clothes. He didn’t know how long he had been wearing them, but based on the conditions of his socks and underwear, it was much longer than a day.
Joe climbed into the hot shower and let the nearly scalding water pulsate over his body. He scrubbed himself so hard that he felt like he was removing the top layer of skin. He couldn’t get clean enough. While in the shower, he tried to plan what to do next. He had to find out what happened and figure out how to correct it. This timeline was the worst, just from the little bit he had observed.
Joe heard the rustling of a garbage bag in the bathroom. He peered out from behind the shower curtain and saw Mike gathering his filthy clothes with a look of disgust on his face. By the time Joe turned off the shower and began toweling off, he saw a fresh set of clothes waiting for him hanging behind the bathroom door. Mike had also put out a toothbrush, shaving kit, and other toiletries for Joe’s use.
Joe wrapped a towel around his waist. He was disturbed by the amount of slack in the towel, he was thin with no muscle tone, but had a protruding belly that likely denoted poor nutrition. He wiped the fog from the mirror and, as he shaved his face clean, he was disturbed by the image of the man that looked back at him. He looked ten years older even though only two years had passed since he stopped the merger in the old timeline. He wondered again what had happened during that time. He also wondered how he was going to find out. He couldn’t just casually ask Mike without arousing suspicion and his brother didn’t seem to be willing to converse.
Joe finished shaving, put on some deodorant and dressed in the clothes his brother provided. The clothes looked somewhat familiar and were of a pretty good quality. They were a bit large, however, and Joe had to cinch the braided belt that Mike provided to keep the pants from falling down.
“Those used to fit you,” Mike said as he poked his head in the door. “You look like a skeleton, Joe. What the hell has happened to you?”
Joe wished that he knew what had happened to him, and to his brother. He wanted to ask Mike about his mother and father, but he didn’t want to make him think he was losing his mind.
“These are my clothes?”
“Yeah. I hung on to some of your stuff when you disappeared. I’m not sure why, but I guess you’re lucky I did. I’ve got some shoes that you left out in the living room. You can put them on when you leave.”
Joe got the message. His brother didn’t want him around. Honestly, he didn’t want to spend any more time in this timeline than he needed to. He knew he had to go back to the storage unit, but he didn’t want to go until after dark. He just hoped that the code for the keypad was the same in this timeline. Once he had on the shoes, Joe went toward the apartment door. As he was leaving, Mike emerged from the bedroom.
“Hey, go get something to eat.”
Mike pressed a $20 bill into Joe’s hand.
“Don’t buy booze or cigarettes with this. Use it for food.”
“I will, Mike.”
Joe put his hands on his brother’s shoulders and his eyes misted.
“I’m sorry, Mike. I really am.”
“I’ve heard that before, Joe. You need to turn yourself around. I don’t have the strength or the desire to help you, but you need to do it for your own sake.”
Joe left the apartment feeling empty, but a sense of determination grew in him. He saw the suffering that his brother had experienced just by looking into his eyes. He couldn’t let this stand. He needed to investigate this timeline and to do this, he needed access to a computer. Mike’s apartment wasn’t too far from downtown Langerton and there was a public library there with computers.
Joe grabbed some fast food breakfast. He wanted to conserve the $20 that Mike had given him so he could ride the bus from the library to the storage unit. He walked the five blocks to the Langerton central library and again felt nauseous and out of breath. If nothing else, he needed to get out of this timeline for his own health. As he walked into the library, he found that the computers were all in use. There was a sign-up sheet that showed him he would have at least an hour before he could get on one. In the past, libraries had newspaper articles and other records on microfiche, but in these modern times, everything was accessible only by computer.
For whatever reason, Joe decided to do some reading on the history of Langerton. Joe knew his family went back to the early days of the town. He pulled a volume on some of the notable events in the town’s early history without a plan of really looking for anything. He was just wasting time until the computer was available to him and was also trying to squelch the cravings for tobacco and alcohol that were constantly gnawing at him.
Joe skimmed through the volume and then decided to check the index. He looked up the name McLean and found about a dozen entries. He knew his early ancestors were settlers in Langerton and owned a substantial farm and early general store. The depression took most of that away as customers dwindled. He was able to trace things to his grandfather, an accountant by trade, in the 1920’s. He worked for a firm in town and lived downtown near his office.
On a whim, Joe looked for the name, Provenza, in the volume. There was a single entry. It showed a marriage in 1947 of Angelo Roselli to a Carmela Provenza. The Roselli name had several entries as this family was the closest to gangsters that the town of Langerton had. They were underbosses for some mob figures in Buffalo, and funneled gambling and prostitution money from western Pennsylvania to their bosses in western New York. It was interesting that a Provenza was related to this family, but Joe didn’t give it much thought.
As he spent his time buried in the history of the Langerton Chiefs, his hour of waiting time expired and he made his way to the single unoccupied computer. He brought up the Google search engine and then keyed in the name of his firm. A number of newspaper articles from 18 months prior formed a list on the results screen. Eighteen months was about six months after Joe pulled out of the merger and about two years prior to the current time. Joe was shocked by what he saw.
He saw the name of his firm intertwined with the FBI and court cases. He had an hour before the next person had the computer and he needed to slow down and digest what he was seeing. Apparently, someone in his firm was using the personal information of clients to perform various illegal acts including embezzlement, identity theft and tax fraud. To make it worse, they were able to cover their tracks by providing an audit trail to several high-profile members of the firm including Mike and Joe himself. The case dragged on through court for nearly six months and, in the end, the culprit was caught, but not before doing irreparable damage to the firm and the people that worked for it. Even though Joe, Mike and the others, weren’t culpable in the activities, the damage to the firm’s reputation, combined with minimal coverage of the resolution of the case, made customers move away from the firm in droves. Joe now understood what happened. He had failed to stop this from happening and, as a result, had descended into a pattern of self-destruction. He had let his family down.
As he scrolled down through the articles, another piece caught his eye. The headline read, McLean Couple Killed in Horrific Crash. Joe felt nauseous, but couldn’t stop himself from clicking the link. He immediately saw a picture of his parents. As he read the story, his guilt grew exponentially. Apparently, his father had been driving along a rural foggy road with his mother as a passenger. The story said that the couple had been visiting the younger of their two sons who was in a substance abuse rehabilitation program. The article speculated that either poor visibility, a medical condition or both had caused his father to lose control and drive off an embankment into a group of trees. Both died of their injuries. This had happened six months ago.
Joe let out an audible sob which elicited uncomfortable stares from his fellow computer users. He composed himself and looked at the time on the screen. He had about 15 minutes left. He wasn’t sure he wanted to find out anything else. Then, for no good reason, Joe typed in the names Roselli and McLean into the search engine. He didn’t expect to find anything and he did find very little. What he found, however, was perhaps the reason that he could not repair the timelines that he lived in. He may have found the answer. Now the question was, would he be able to go back and fix it?