The preacher, Bart Archie, poured a shot of whatever was in his flask into each coffee cup. His office was barely the size of a closet. Loose papers and food wrappers filled up most of his desk. Layers of paint peeled away from the walls. A sickly-stale smell, something like old gym socks and cigarette smoke, filled the room.
The chapel offered two different types of ceremonies. Conventional for people who felt the act of getting married in Vegas was enough of a thrill and unconventional ceremonies for people who wanted to mark their marriage by having an impersonator preside over their vows. People could choose from Elvis, Liza Minnelli, Dolly Parton, and Michael Jackson.
Bart presided over the conventional ceremonies. And while he wasn’t the Elvis impersonator who attended Simon’s ceremony, he still had access to the chapel records.
Bart took a sip of his coffee and then stood up, walking over to a rusty, file cabinet. “Let’s see. It was 2016?”
“Yes.” Simon choked on his coffee. Whatever Bart spiked it with was much stronger than what he was prepared for.
Bart bent down, pulling open one of the lower drawers. “March 26th?”
“Yes.” Simon’s heart raced. He was so close to finding his mystery wife. He rubbed his sweaty palms on his pants. His hair stood up on the back of his neck. This was it. This was what he’d been waiting for. All the past attempts: storming into the chapel and demanding information; pretending to be a cop and serving a fake warrant; getting drunk and begging – all of this attempts failed. But now, here he was, impersonating a romance novelist. Pretending to do research for a story. This was the one act that was about to pay off.
Bart pulled a thick file out of the drawer and then sat back down at his desk. He blew a layer of dust off the front cover.
The thick cloud went straight toward Simon, causing him to cough and sneeze.
“Sorry.” Bart sounded sincere as he passed a tissue box to Simon.
Simon yanked a tissue out of the box, sneezing into it. “That’s okay.” He choked on the words as he sneezed a few more times.
Bart opened the file and glanced at the first page. “We married 75 couples that day.”
“Sounds like it was a busy day.”
Bart nodded. He licked his fingertips and began flipping through the marriage certificates.
Simon’s excitement turned into anxiety. His stomach churned.
“What if she’s angry with me,” he thought. “What if she hates me for how things ended? What if she never wants to see me again?” Acid reflux scorched his throat as he sat there and pondered the possible outcome. “What if she was so drunk she doesn’t even remember? What if she’s remarried and has a bunch of kids? What if finding her is actually the worst thing I could do? What if I ruin her life?”
“You don’t look so good.”
Simon looked up at Bart. “Uh. Yeah. It’s acid reflux, I think.”
“That happens.” Bart reached over, opening a desk drawer. He pulled out a small package and tossed it to Simon.
Simon accepted the antacids, popping one into his mouth.
“Ah ha!” Bart pulled a piece of paper out of the file. “I think I found what you’re looking for.”
The door to the office opened up. A tall, slender woman with red hair popped her head in.
“Bart, you’re 10:30 is here.” She glanced over at Simon. Her eyes grew wide. “You!” She said through clenched teeth.” She burst into the office, slamming the door into the wall. “What are YOU doing here? What is HE doing here?” She turned toward Bart.
“You know this fellow, Ruthie?” Bart sat in his chair. His back was straight. His shoulders and arms were tense.
“You bet I do. He was my husband.”
“You’re what?” Simon fell out of his chair.
“You’re married?” Bart asked.
“Not exactly,” Ruthie scowled at Simon. “We met. We got drunk. We got married. It was all sunshine and rose petals for 12 hours. The next morning he was gone without so much as a note.” She stomped over to Bart, snatching the license out of his hands. “Who’s this?” She glanced down at the paper. “Another one of your victims?”
“It’s not what you think.” Simon pulled himself off of the floor. He stared at her, trying to remember anything about her. Nothing came to mind. He had no idea who this woman was.
“I think you’re a scam artist!”
“I think you’d better leave,” Bart added, placing a reassuring hand on his coworker’s shoulder.
“Please. Let me explain.”
“Out!” Ruthie’s arm flung toward the door.
To be continued…..