by Jeff Baker
(A Billy Gonzalez Story)
I wasn’t out drinking with the ghost but I was the designated driver.
I’d been at a couple of parties at Jayce Mackey’s’s house. He’d started renting it my Junior year in college. One of those old bungalows between thirteenth street and the river. Little but cozy. And of course, it was haunted.
The ghost in question was Marvin, a twenty-something who looked pretty normal if you could see him. Sometimes things like that happened to me. I thought I should have gotten some cards printed out: “Billy Gonzalez: Weird Stuff a Specialty.” Jayce could see him too, probably because he was renting the house. Or maybe he’d hung out with me for too long.
Like I said. Weird stuff.
Marv was (or had been) a pretty nice guy. He said he’d been gunned down a couple of blocks away back in 1949 and had been buried in a construction site when they were adding the big sun porch onto the back of this house.
Jayce and I had both offered to dig Marvin’s remains up or call the police but Marv always said that it was too late for the police to do anything about it.
“The time to call the cops would have been before they pulled the guns on me,” he would joke.
Marv didn’t give a lot of details about the afterlife, mainly because he said he didn’t know many. All he knew was that he had to sort of “hang around the area for a while.” Largely he went unnoticed by anybody else. Sometimes he’d walk a few blocks away and wander through some of the shops and restaurants they’d built on the intersection. “When I got into town, that was all undeveloped land,” he said.
It was spring of that year when Marv suggested going out for a beer. Something he hadn’t done in a long time, and had never done in Kansas. But the suggestion went a lot further than that. Marv wouldn’t be able to have any beer unless he had me as his designated driver (he said he’d heard the term on television) and borrowed Jayse’s body for a few hours.
“That’s about all I can do,” Marv said.
There was something more than a little creepy about the idea, but it must have appealed to Jayce’s sense of adventure, so he agreed.
Jayce had Thursday off so I met them at the house Wednesday evening. Jayce was wearing his old college sweatshirt and jeans. Marv looked like he usually did; tousled reddish hair, white button-down shirt, black slacks and shoes and a suit jacket that had gone out of style when Eisenhower was alive.
“So,” I said standing there awkwardly in the living room. “We ready to do this?”
Jayce took a deep breath and breathed it out.
“Yeah.” Jayce said.
“Give me a moment,” Marv said. He stood there and shut his eyes, maybe gathering strength, reminding me for a moment of a stage mystic I’d seen. Then he walked over to Jayce, walked into Jayce, who shuddered and blinked a couple of times.
Jayce (or he looked like Jayce) looked up at me and grinned. “Yeah, this feels good.”
“How long are you staying in there?” I asked.
“I can manage it for about four hours, Billy.” Jayce/Marv said.
Okay,” I said heading out to the car. “Hey, is Jayce still in there? And what do you call you?”
“He’s kind of asleep. And just call me Marv,” Marv said out of Jayce’s mouth. He stood on the porch for a minute and then fumbled in Jayce’s pockets pulling out the house key. He grinned and locked the door.
Quentin’s Bar and Grill was a local place with good food and beer. When we walked in the sun had set and the music was loud and so was the big screen in one corner. We sat down in a booth and Marv pulled out his, I mean Jayce’s wallet.
“This round is on Jason,” Marv said.
The waitress came over and took our order. Small pitcher of beer, glass of cola for me, order of chips and dip for both of us. Marv gave the waitress who took our order a backward glance like he hadn’t seen a woman in seventy years.
“I’ve seen girls,” he said pouring his beer, “but I haven’t had a body to feel like I’m seeing girls since 1949. Cheers.” He raised his glass and I raised mine. He drained the glass in a couple of gulps and poured himself another.
“Hey, take it easy,’ I said.
“I really haven’t done this in a long time,” Marv said. “I’ll be okay.”
Jayce and I used to drink beer on weekends when he lived in the dorm. We even made out a couple of times, but we never talked about that and I always wondered whether he remembered.
Marv took the next couple of glasses pretty slow, just looking around the bar and gawking. He really hadn’t seen a big-screen TV in operation before and was impressed. Not so much by the music.
“Last time I went out with my buddies they were still playing a lot of Glenn Miller and Bing Crosby,” he said. “I don’t go for a lot of this Rocking Around the Clock stuff.”
Whatever was playing was more heavy metal grunge than anything else.
We were going to be here a while. When the waitress passed by I ordered a chicken quesadilla with lots of guacamole.
Marv kept drinking and talking, telling me about the women he dated and the gangsters he’d worked for and the gangsters who shot him up. I ate my quesadilla and checked out some of the guys in the bar which was fairly busy for a Wednesday night.
Within an hour and a half Marv was plastered. I figured I would be able to walk him out to the car. Then he mumbled something about needing to go to the men’s room and having not peed since 1949. Then he tried to stand up, slipped back in his seat and then Marv, the ghostly Marv in his 1940s outfit stepped out of Jayce who was still sitting there.
“Aw, man!” Marv said, standing by the booth shaking his head. Nobody seemed to notice him. Some guy heading for the pool table walked right through him.
Jayce sat there looking bewildered. Then his eyes bulged, his cheeks puffed and he bent over and unloaded whatever he’d eaten onto the floor.
I apologized to the owner, luckily I’d been in there a few times before and knew everybody. Besides I was the designated driver. I left the waitress a big tip and helped Jayce out to the back seat of my car. We drove back to his house with Jayce groaning in the backseat and a totally sober Marv singing old songs my grandparents knew.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I plotted out a longer version of this several years ago. It bears too much of a resemblance to an episode of the new series “Ghosts.” So, I’m offering the short version here!