They don’t make them like Frank Bengling any more. People are people. Ideals are ideals. Frank was somewhere in-between. It hurts to think I almost destroyed him. But it takes more than petty selfishness to kill an ideal, no matter what it might do to the man. It takes something strong and furious to kill an ideal. Otherwise it hides and bides its time. Then it comes back stronger than ever.
Most people don’t put too much thought into rules. As long as you don’t get caught who cares if you don’t pay your taxes or your child support. Frank was a throwback. Every time he broke a rule, it broke his heart a little more. I can’t help but want to die when I think I was the one who led him into this dark world of regret. But this isn’t about me. It’s about something more important. It’s about Frank Bengling.
I think a couple months ago Frank hit his low point. It’s debatable when that exact moment was. You got a lot of valleys to choose from. My pick was the night Frank went to get a drink after work. It was an ordinary bar, dim lighting, no windows, there was a happy hour and a bunch of losers who sterilized their losses with alcohol. Frank stepped inside with a margarita in his mind and a smile on his face.
He sat atop a red cushioned stool. Rita was behind the counter with her long earrings dangling into her curly hair. She gave him the eye. She would be with him in a minute. The minute let Frank think about maybe doing some scuba diving this weekend.
“What’ll it be, Frank?” Rita asked with a snap of her gum.
“What do I always get when I finish a case?”
Rita answered with a lipstick stained smile. “A margarita.”
“You got it Rita. Lovely Rita. Did anyone ever tell you, you look a little like a military man?”
“Only by every Joe that ever heard that Beatles song.”
She mixed Frank’s drink.
Frank loved that day. He fooled himself into believing it was going great. Then he felt whisky breathing on thevback of his neck. “Are you Frank Bengling?” asked thevbreath.
Frank spun the stool around to see a familiar face hevcouldn’t remember. Where had he seen that red beard and angry brown eyes? “I’m Frank Bengling. What can I do you for?”
With no warning, World War III hit Frank’s stomach. The punch had a lot of momentum. Enough to force Frank off the stool. “That’s for ruining my marriage.” The red beard said as he spat down on Frank’s cheek.
Rita saw the whole encounter from behind the bar. It took her a few seconds to get out that aluminum baseball bat. She waved it around and told that ruffian. “You get the hell out of here. If I ever see you again I’m calling the police.”
The red beard told her, “No cop in this town would arrest me for punching him.” He walked out the bar feeling more like a man.
Rita knelt like in church to attend to Frank. “Are you OK Frank?”
Frank lied. “Yeah. He just knocked the wind out of me.”
He did more than that. He reminded Frank that no matter how good things might seem, they’re never as good asthey should have been. Rita helped him to his feet. He rubbed off the saliva, but he couldn’t swipe away the pity in the eyes of his fellow bar patrons.
Rita noticed this and invited Frank to get himself cleaned up in privacy. He followed her into the bar’s broom closet and Rita got out the first aid kit. “Let me get a look at your stomach.”
She unbuttoned his shirt to a flat belly that any 43 yearold that did 600 sit-ups daily could have. There was a tiny open sore. Rita patted down the wound with an iodine dosed cottonball. “What’s the story with that guy? Did you sleep with his wife?”
He stayed silent for a while. Rita was sure it was a crime of passion. Then Frank ruined her romantic fantasy. “No. I… I did worse. I deserve it. A couple months ago the guy’s wife came into my office. She said her husband was cheating on her and she wanted some proof. So I followed that guy around, McNichol was his name. Cripes, I even talked with him once at a bar. After a week I caught him fooling around with a waitress in a parking lot. I took some pictures and gave them to his wife. She divorced him. He’s got every right to hit me.”
“Does this happen to you a lot?”
“Not as much as it should.” No, Frank felt he should get clobbered like that every day and every minute for what he’d done. He didn’t even feel he deserved to be alone in a room with such a kind woman. “What are we doing in here? I’m OK and you got a lot of drunks depending on you.” Rita backed away from him. He jumped off the stool, rebuttoned his shirt, and returned to the cigarette stained atmosphere of the bar. Frank’s margarita waited patiently for him. The drink was hard to enjoy. They were meant to be Frank’s personal reward for bringing home the bacon. But that uppercut reminded Frank that’s like a prostitute rewarding herself after a night with a sailor.
The margaritas kept coming anyway and with them came the regret. This was not the way Frank envisioned his future. Alone on a Tuesday night with no one waiting up for him at home.
“Are you feeling better?” Rita inquired.
“Yeah, he just really knocked the wind out of me.” He felt awkward. “What’s the tab? How much do I owe you?”
“Tonight, the drinks are on the house, Frank.”
“So you mean all it takes for free drinks is to get your butt kicked?” Frank laughed at his joke until his swollen abdomen started hurting. “Here’s something for being good to me, Rita.” A crumpled ten dollar bill is left on the bar.
“Take care of yourself, Frank.”
If only it was that easy. If only he could enjoy the little things in life! But his past wouldn’t let him. It wouldn’t let him enjoy the Springsteen song on the radio as he drove home. It wouldn’t let him enjoy the cool wind that cleansed the air.
Come on Frank, enjoy that the exterminator did his job and no cockroaches are living in your house. Enjoy a night’s sleep without worrying about bad dreams. Only thing Frank could enjoy was feeding his tropical fish. He did. Then he slept.
“I’m sorry Miss, but you need an appointment to see Mr. Bengling.”
“That is what I’m trying to do. Make an appointment.” Maria said as she supported her nine month-old baby with her hip.
“Oh….” said Gina, Frank Bengling’s secretary. “What time would be good for you?”
“Right now obviously.”
Gina’s bifocals looked down at a notepad. She tisked,
“Well, Mr. Bengling doesn’t have any appointments right now, but he isn’t in. He might be attending to personal business, so if you want to wait for him you can take a seat.”
Maria took a seat in the corner. She was a very pretty girl, so she was not used to being made to wait. Gina Ruiz Leavitt used to be pretty too, and beauty didn’t get her anywhere. So Gina read her book and let Maria entertain herself.
Maria looked at her baby. He was sleeping so she searched through the magazines. They disgusted her. Hustler and Home and Garden was all that was there. She looked at her boy again. He was adorable with his eyes shut, but that got boring. She looked at the fish in the aquarium but goldfish bore her too. So she nabbed the Hustler. Flipping the pages made her baby waken with sobs.
Gina didn’t like being interrupted from her romance novels. She looked with scorn as Maria tried cradling her baby back to the Sandman.
“What’s all this racquet?” Frank limped in. A night’s sleep made his stomach even more sore.
“This is Miss Novella, Frank. She made an appointment to see you.”
Frank turned around and wished he made a habit of shaving every day. She reminded him of the Virgin Mary. So beautiful. So pure. And a mother. “Miss Novella, please come in.” He opened his office door for her. The sign read, “Frank Bengling, Private Investigator”.
Maria stood and Frank told her, “You can leave your kid with Gina. She has a lot of experience with kids.” He laughed. “She better with all the maternity leaves she takes.”
Maria looked at the school marm secretary and felt great pain for Gina’s kids. “No, that’s OK.”
She followed him into his office. Beams of sunlight speckled the room. Papers were all over the place. Frank started arranging them. “This place is such a mess. It’s no place for a child.” He hid his bottle of cognac, put down his briefcase, and finally sat down.
Maria had already made herself comfortable in the chair on the other side of the desk. He looked at her freckled nose while occasionally looking down at the baby so he could sneak a glimpse of her breasts. “So what can I do you for Miss?”
“I’m looking for someone.”
Frank took a deep breath and followed the same routine he always spat out when a woman was looking for her man. “Let me guess, the baby’s father?”
“And you want me to find out where he is?”
“Let me tell you something, Miss.” Frank made sure to gaze only into Maria’s coconut brown eyes. “Any man who runs away from a beautiful woman like you and a beautiful baby has got serious problems. The kind of problems that might not be healthy for you and the baby.”
“Well, thanks for the compliment, but we need him.”
“Alright.” Frank grabbed yellow, legal sized paper. “I’m going to need everything you know about him starting with his name. Please spell it.”
“Dennis. D-E-N-N-I-S. Bengling. B-E…..”
Frank stopped writing. “Bengling? Like my name?”
“Yeah that’s why I came to you.” The baby fed on bottled breast milk. “When I was looking for a private investigator in the yellow pages I saw your name. I thought you might be a relative. Are you?”
“My son’s name is Dennis Hercules Bengling.”
She held up her feeding child. “Well, then say hello to your grandson, R-O-G-E-R.” After a long chase, the past had finally caught up with Frank Bengling.
To read more about Frank Bengling and Maria Novella click here to order the novel Deadbeat.