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Ed Peaco writer

Next Steps for Monte

by Ed Peaco

So many annoyances had piled up—so many bewildering medical documents, so many well-meaning but annoying people calling, texting, knocking. The speech was two days away, and Monte hadn’t written more than Hello, I’m Monte Thompson.

Recently he was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, a form of dementia. In lieu of a cure, his neurologist prescribed many steps that might keep Monte’s brain staying on that plateau for as long as possible. One of the steps was to keep talking, to share his story at a meeting of the local association of The Memory Team.

Monte was nervous. His capacity for thinking and writing was slow these days, and his speech had become a bit halting. He found himself grasping for words that were just out of reach, feeling like a slug, a slug with cognitive difficulties. Anyway, it was worth a try. A few months ago, people called him a hero for what he did on his last day at work. He was proud of the job that he’d held for many years as a writer and editor, and the only person in the company who could provide voice-over narrations. It was a tough time. He couldn’t find the words he needed to talk to his doctor, or the guy who mowed his lawn, or a server at a restaurant. Who knew ordering tacos could be so hard? He was getting used to writing scripts for most conversations, face to face or on the phone. If he didn’t have a script, the outcome would be a mess. The presentation for The Memory Team group would take forever to write.

That day he began scribbling, slowly, and he decided on three topics: neurology, orthopedics and employment. Then he was disturbed by the thump of the back door. It was Cable, Monte’s nephew, bringing home two six-packs, chips and guacamole. He had the ability to distract Monte in small ways that caused big distractions. Cable lived with Monte because Cable didn’t like his father who lived in Los Angeles. Cable found a job as a bartender in the thriving city of Bristol Springs, Missouri. He kept reminding Monte what the neurologist said: Keep talking. Both of them were grappling with Monte’s dementia.

“Hey, Uncle, I got this idea for a way to write your speech. Start with the first thing that happened that day, then the next, then the next. You know what happened.”

Monte started with getting fired by the big boss, leading to an active-shooter incident and his big breakdown, all on the same day. He felt like he shouldn’t talk about certain workplace events; he didn’t know everything. He was running away, or hobbling away, on his finicky new titanium hip. He didn’t understand what the gunplay was all about. Monte led his team across the greenway to a wooded area beyond and over a fence to safety. They made it, with the help of his co-workers and his old rope ladders that he’d used at work for lunchtime workouts, back before his hip had acted up, eventually leading to pain and hip replacement last year. As he scribbled, he realized how much he’d been through in just the last year or so. What a mess! One good thing was that the hip felt better now, but the aphasia and other brain stuff were way messier.

Another interruption: Tori, Cable’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, hastened back to the house to fetch the phone attachment she needed for her customer-payment system. She was sharp-witted, a speed-walker, striding with a purpose. Her hairstyle was two-fold. On one side of her scalp, she had an undercut. Over the rest of her crown, she had long hair gathered in a ponytail with a streak of blue violet. Tori had originally worked with Monte at their old place of employment. He’d been fired and she opted to quit after the bullets whizzed by. Who could blame her? She had multiple part-time jobs now and was, in Monte’s opinion, too curious about his condition. She had unending questions. She and Cable seemed to want to mess with his business. She kept asking what he had.

“My brain is compromised due to dementia.”

“What kind?”


“What kind?”

“Primary progressive.”

“What’s that?”

“The kind where you can’t find words.”

Then she always wanted to talk about that horrific day at work.

“Do you have PTSD? Flashbacks? Nightmares?”

“No, no, and no.”

“I still think about it. Do you need help? What can I do?”

“Tori, you’re a nice person, but I’ve had enough. You’re an enterprising hustler in the gig economy, but you’re going on, chattering like a four-year-old.”

“Oh, sorry. I’d better get going.”

After he shooed Tori away, he went back to his speech. Monte liked Cable’s idea, and he ran with it, although it was slow going for the slug.

—   —   —

Monte was nervous as he entered the big room for the monthly meeting presented by The Memory Team. Tori told him that being nervous is good, up to a point. He glowered. After the preliminaries, Monte began with, “Forget Alzheimer’s or any kind of dementia. Just run your life the best you can, and do what you want as much as you can.”

Then somebody in the crowd shouted, “Easy for you to say.”

That ticked off Monte, all things considered. “Yeah, and I can say that, too.” He looked at the people in the chairs and continued to discuss his disorder. “FTD is an umbrella term for a number of brain disorders, not a bunch of florist shops,” which got a few snickers from the chairs. “Disorders like Alzheimer’s and Primary Progressive Aphasia.” He went on to explain that he was in the early stages of PPA, and he emphasized that he was thankful for this time when he could still do things almost as well as before, but more slowly and sometimes forgetfully.

“Whatever stage of your disorder, make the most of it, because you may lose what you have at any time,” he said. “Don’t mope!” That launched another laugh. Then he looked down at his pages with the three topics. Beginning again, he said, “And now, to the story of my strange and scary incident at work.”

After he described each part of the rush to safety, there was a swarm of questions about the exodus, and a heckler popped off, “You sound like a disgruntled employee, some sad sack who got the shitty end of the stick. Why are you talking about all this stuff that happened one day at work, and nobody got hurt except maybe the boss?”

“I don’t want to talk about that part of the incident,” Monte said.

“You sound like a fraud.”

“If you say so,” Monte said. Next, he summed up and finished with “Don’t mope!”

He hoped to break free from the gaggle at the podium and move to the refreshments, but he was caught. Cable gave him a thumbs up from across the room. Conversation covered short-term memory, difficulty with finding words, and spelling issues. As Monte was getting ready to leave, he saw a tall woman approaching, with a white mane of hair like spun candy.

She reached him with congratulations. “I like that title, ‘Forget Alzheimer’s.’”

“Thank you.”

“I wanted to say more, but I forgot. This is what I get for becoming a senior citizen.”

“I’m a senior citizen, too,” Monte said.

“I have more seniority than you, Mr. Thompson. Oh, I’m Nova Grimes, a writer who can’t write much anymore.”

“What kind of writing?”

“Novels of love, dissension and redemption—or revenge,” she said with a smirk.

“I used to write stuff for outdoor magazines. I’m the trail walker who can’t walk very far anymore, and I’m also the voice-over guy who can hardly talk.”

“You were reasonably fluent up there.”

“I had a script,” Monte said.

“How did you get here?” Nova asked.

“My nephew drove me.”

“My daughter Abbey and my granddaughter Celeste drive me around. Otherwise, I’m housebound.” She quickly thrust a business card into his hand. “Text me. Call me, please.”

Monte looked down at the cookie selection and when he looked back, she was gone.

—   —   —

For a few days, Monte examined Nova Grimes’ card, repeatedly. He thought about her being in the publishing world and himself a newly retired marketing scribe. What was it that she wanted from him?

Writer of original stories and novels

Editor of books and periodicals

Special projects

He googled her and found many pages of real work, but the references stopped three years ago. Monte decided he couldn’t lose anything but a few minutes of texting. She seemed to be a reasonable person. Nova replied, thanking him for contacting her and praising him on his talk and the way he handled that heckler. She asked Monte to call the next day, around two o’clock, if he were free to chat by voice, not fingers. Texting, they chatted about being retired, and Monte asked what more she wanted out of life. She replied, “I want good conversation, that’s all.” Before she logged off, she wrote, “I just want to expand my horizons.”

At the appointed time, he called and they chatted about horizons—beyond visits to church, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and Walmart. Abbey set strict rules for when Nova was alone in the house: Don’t use the stove, don’t use the space heater, don’t answer the doorbell, and don’t go outside, all so she wouldn’t get lost or burn the house down.

“It seems a bit much,” Monte said. “Are you on your own, ever?”

“They both work at the noodle company. Sometimes Celeste comes back for lunch. Abbey calls all the time to check on me. It drives me crazy.”

“And what about your writing and editing?”

“That’s a long story. Maybe we can meet and talk about it.”

“Or, how about an early afternoon movie?” Monte, thinking he could persuade Cable to do the driving to Nova’s house, then to the movie complex, and the reverse afterward. “Think of what you want to see.”

—   —   —

As Monte and Cable arrived, Nova, wearing a long velvet top, slim tie-cuff pants, and sandals, presented her choice: “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.” Celeste offered to be the driver and chaperone, but Nova said that wasn’t necessary. Celeste could hold down the fort at home.

“Working around Abbey: That’s kinda adolescent, don’t you think?” Monty said. “All those rules?”

“I’ll tell you,” Celeste said. “One night when Gramma was still living alone, she went on a long walk and Mom couldn’t find her. Mom was scared then and she’s scared still. She doesn’t want her to be on her own.”

“Why not just text Abbey to let her know where we’re going?” Monte said.

“No, we’re going, and nobody else needs to know.”

At the enormous complex, Nova took Monte’s hand as he steered her out of foot traffic in the middle of the hall. He said, “Just to make sure, this isn’t a date, right?”

“No, not a date! I was holding your hand so I wouldn’t lose you, that’s all. Isn’t it great to go somewhere other than a doctor’s appointment?”

After another few paces, Nova paused at the women’s room. Monte said he’d wait for her if she wanted to stop in. As he loitered, he thought about the time that women used in the bathroom and his mood went from puzzled, to a little annoyed, to worried and then to terror-stricken. Feeling ridiculous, he stopped a woman about to enter the ladies room, and he asked the stranger to look for a tall, skinny, elderly woman with long white hair. Monte did not see the woman who he stopped, and he had not found Nova. He went through the building with growing panic. Then, in an explosive glimpse of puffy white hair, he saw Nova and went to her. Nova was whimpering and Monte was sweating, his heart pounding. They seized each other in a smothering clutch.

“Where were you?” Nova asked.

“What happened? Where did you go?”

“Going to the movies is harder than I thought it would be.”

“I think I know what happened,” he said. “There are two doors for the bathrooms. You went out the other door, and you expected me to be right there.”

“Really, two doors?”

“Keep holding my hand.”

They found the right screen with plenty of time to chat about losing and finding each other, and feeling small in the massive maze.

Monte said, “You know, back there at the ladies room, I wanted to shout out your name, but my brain hadn’t uploaded your name yet. That’s really bad. Sorry.”

“Hey, I get it. One time, I looked at my daughter, and I didn’t know who she was. It was for just a minute. She was really worked up about that. So was I. Since it happened once, it might happen again.”

They were silent through most of the film, until the scene where Billie is thrust off the stage and the police arrest her. Nova shouted “bastards!” Another voice yelled a refrain,cops!” At the end of the film, with Billie in a hospital with liver failure, Nova expelled a soft groan.

When they left the complex, Monte was getting fretful about Cable’s timing. They needed to get back before Abbey did. Grimacing, he said, “We could be late.”

“So what? Don’t worry about Abbey. I’m still the big mama in that house, even though I’m all messed up.”

When they arrived at Nova’s house, Abbey’s car was in the driveway. They approached the front door. Loud angry voices emanated from inside.

“That’s Abbey and Celeste,” Nova said.

“You OK?” Monte asked.

Nova nodded and told them, “Stay here!” But Monte got his foot in the door before Nova could shut it. 

They all entered and faced Abbey’s rage. “Hey, here you are, little miss delinquent with your juvenile shambles of an escort. Who’s that lunkhead, the wingman?” She glared at Cable and continued. “What were you doing? You could be one of those pathetic faces on the evening news. You could be wandering into another state. You could have been hurt!”

“Oh, Abbey, we went to a movie.”

Celeste was trying to say something. Abbey told her to shut up. Cable also was silenced. Monte looked back and forth as the women went at it.

“You shut up, Abbey,” Nova said. “Nothing happened. I’m not gonna sit here all day. Your rules are good for you, but not for me. I want more from the rest of my pitiful life.”

“All of these things that I’ve put into action—the security, the rules, my calls—are for your protection, Mom,” Abbey said. “Who’s your boyfriend? Don’t tell me.”

Nova sent out a peel of laughter. “I don’t have a boyfriend. Do you, my dear?”

Celeste barked, “Gramma can do what she wants!”

Abbey said, “Sure, she can, and I can scrape her off the pavement. And as for you, baby girl with the nose ring, you lied to me. You let Gramma out of the house with that baboon!” She paused for a moment to shove Monte and Cable out of the house.

Monte hopped into Cable’s pickup and they drove the short distance in silence until Cable slapped the steering wheel and said, “I really feel a whole lot better now that we’re outta that fuckin’ cat fight.”

“It was my idea,” Monte said, shaking his head.

“To get into a cat fight?”

“No! The movie. It was only a movie.”

—   —   —

The next day, Cable was supposed to pick up his dad at the airport, but he’d forgotten about it. Larry and Monte were brothers, though not particularly close. Larry was flying in from LA for a long weekend. Monte shook the car keys in Cable’s direction and told him that he might be late. “For what?” Cable asked. “Oh, shit, my dad! But I need to get to work!” The Error Code Bar was celebrating its grand re-opening after a year of being shuttered.

“Get your ass outta here. I’ll call for a limo for your dad. He’ll want first class.”

Monte understood the reasons for his visit: to be sure Cable was gainfully employed, and to check on Monte’s health. The only enjoyment Monte could see having his older brother around would be to make a few ridiculous remarks at his brother’s expense, like when they were kids. Monte always thought of Larry as a dull blowhard, bragging about his business and getting nosy about other people. He’d made it big in the tech world and seemed perpetually disappointed in Cable. Larry hadn’t been in contact much with Monte since the diagnosis, either. He expected a less-than-happy visit. He checked Larry’s flight; it was thirty minutes late.

Once he arrived, the peaceful lull was broken; Larry barged in, grousing non-stop about the flight. Monte toted his bags up to the spare room, noting no twinges from his hip, grateful for last year’s hip surgery. But what happened to traveling light? Next, Larry was asking for wine and something to eat.

“How about cheese and crackers? No wine. Cable might have a bottle of Jim Bean.”

“Where’s Cable?”


“So, that’s something anyway. Why didn’t you pick me up?”

“I don’t drive anymore,” Monte said. “Not for a couple of months now.”


“I probably could drive, but I don’t want to. If I get stopped by a cop, even for just a broken tail light, my speech might be blocked, and the cop might think I’m stoned or drunk.”

“Are you messing with me?” Larry asked.

“In a sense,” Monte said, enjoying Larry’s confusion.

“You said you had that aphasia thing.”

“Oh, yes, aphasia, she’s my girlfriend.”

“Why are you saying such idiotic things? Is it dementia or what?”

Monte laid out the jargon, the cognitive faculties that would be degrading over time, and that there was no cure. “Too bad you weren’t here for my speech.”

“Any clinical trials?” Larry asked.

“Yes, but somebody would have to drive me three-hundred miles every month to participate. If I want to go somewhere, it won’t be to a research center for scientists to gather data for five years, and for what?”

“What about your work trauma thing?” Larry asked. “Flashbacks, trouble sleeping? Also, have you thought about selling your house and moving into an independent living place? It’s a seller’s market, you know. ”

As Monte tried to keep up with Larry’s barrage of questions, Tori came in the back door, dragging a tote bag. She looked totally drained, sweaty and tired. She and Larry greeted each other. Monte forgot for a moment that they’d met last year.

“What happened to you, little lady?” Larry asked.

“Tori has four jobs, and this one’s in a branch bank,” Monte said.

“Yes, very busy,” Tori said, trudging back to her car. Returning, she transported her bounty of a big take-out carton from Wingin’ Chickin and placed it on the table.

“Thirty-six wings. Save some for Cable. I’m not sure when he’ll be home.” She found the beer and the Jim Beam and brought it all to the table. 

“Wonderful,” Larry said. “You really understand hospitality better than my brother. I really mean it.”

Larry ate twelve, Monte six, and Tori four.

Larry asked about her jobs and how she tracked her income and expenses.

She reported about personal shopping, pet sitting, balancing the books for food-truck owners, and working in a bank during off-hours. “I always get paid immediately because I have a card swiper on my phone that funnels my money direct to my bank account. Nobody can say, ‘Oh, I don’t have it on me right now.’”

“What do you do at the bank?” Larry asked.

“If you really must know, I scrub floors and toilets.”

Larry persisted in asking her about her resourceful approach toward work, droning on and on. Tori seemed to like the attention. Monte found it annoying.

Later in the evening, Monte didn’t want to listen to Larry, so he went to bed. After a few minutes, he was awakened by Cable’s entrance and the charged voices of both Larry and Cable. Monte could heard them arguing. It was a little after midnight. Larry had knocked back the rest of Cable’s bottle of Jim Beam, and there wasn’t much beer left, either. Cable was peeved and went upstairs, stomping hard; Tori followed, and their raised voices made sleep almost impossible.

—   —   —

Before breakfast, Tori told Monte that Cable found an old bottle of Percocet pills in Monte’s bedroom and was ready to help himself. That’s what the fight was about. She was still livid. “Opioids! He’s a likable guy, but he doesn’t have good judgment. He’s not for me.”

 “I’ll deal with that,” Monte said.

 “Don’t tell Larry. Cable has too much on his plate now.”

“My fault. I should have dumped those pills long ago. Those were from my hip surgery. Cable is really stressed about his dad and his new job, but no excuse.”

Later in the morning, Monte went with Cable to get groceries. They sat in the pickup and sorted out Cable’s problems in a way that made both feel good. Cable apologized and assured Monte that he would stay on track to help Monte with the things he couldn’t do anymore.

 When they returned they found Tori and Larry at Monte’s desk, pouring over his medical and financial documents, and looking up the value of his home according to Zillow. Larry was pontificating about the gig economy and advising Tori how to successfully move into the corporate economy. Monte was absolutely furious. 

“What the hell are you doing with my stuff?”

“We were only trying to help,” Tori said. She avoided Monte’s glare and had the grace to look a bit guilty.

“Is this the snooping economy? Whaddaya say, big brother? Hey, Tori, you know everything from Larry about the schmooze economy and the boot-licking economy. How about the go-away-and-don’t-come-back economy!” His hands shook as he tried to gather up various papers from the desk.

“Uncle, I don’t blame you, but just chill. Dad, why do you have to keep doing this shit?”  

Tori turned to Cable and said, “Larry has some good ideas for my employment.” She turned and left the room as Cable stood there shaking his head, not knowing what to say.

“This is fucked up. So, now what?” Monte asked.

“We really need to talk about things once you’re willing to listen,” Larry said. “Not that you ever will though. At least Tori gets what I’m saying.”

“I’ve listened long enough. You need to listen to me! I’m done with this.”     

Cable helped Monte collect his documents and put them in a briefcase. Then Cable suggested he and Monte take a walk around the pond at a nearby park to calm down a bit. Getting out of the house would be good.

When they returned, Larry’s luggage was gone and Tori’s belongings that she’d had in Cable’s room were gone, too. A short note was on the kitchen table propped up with a juice glass. In Tori’s handwriting, the note said, Taking UAL to LAX. We tried our best. Bye!

“What? Isn’t this weird? Larry and Tori? This makes no sense.” Monte said.

“Really screwy, for sure,” Cable said. “I get my dad; he’s been like that all the time. But Tori? Yeah, my fault. Anyway, I gotta go to work.”

Monte noticed a text from Larry: “Will call you soon.” He wanted to send a snarky reply, but that would start another dustup. He wouldn’t reply. He needed peace and quiet.

—   —   —

Monte tried to reach Nova every day for almost a week with no response. Cable told Monte that he was moping, and he agreed—moping about the crap from Larry, which Monte understood as issues that he needed to deal with, but it just bugged him that he couldn’t reach Nova. With a stroke of brilliance, he called Celeste. She told Monte that Nova was under the weather but she would be up for a visit any time, cleared by Abbey.

So, Monte asked Cable for a ride to Nova’s place, once again.

During the drive, Monte recalled some fragments of things Nova had said about losing parts of your brain and about which disease was worse: Alzheimer’s or word-loss disorder. Either way, you could end up in the same place.

“Wow, that’s really depressing,” Cable said.

“Well, it’s my world now,” said Monte. “Just trying to get a handle on things.”

Once they arrived, Cable announced he would stay in the pickup.

“Hey, Abbey’s just protective,” Monte said. “OK, that ‘wingman’ comment probably still stings. So stay here. I’ll be out soon.”

Abbey’s door-bell camera sounded Monte’s arrival. When he stepped into the living room, Abbey gripped his shoulder and apologized for her previous outburst. “I’m glad you came, but take it easy.”

With a gentle knock, Monte entered Nova’s room. He found Nova in a chair with a book in her lap, possibly sleeping. “Hey, Nova,” Monte whispered. “How are you?”


“What are you reading today?”

“Sorry, I’m not grasping who you are.”

“Oh, I was with you when you yelled ‘bastards!’ in a full theater.”

“I did?” Nova said. “I did!” She looked up at him and grinned. “Monte!”

“Yes, it’s me!” 

“Now Abbey will let me go places with people we know, if I keep in touch. Juvie stuff, but better than nothing. She decided you’re OK.”

“How did that happen?” Monte asked.

“Celeste bombarded her with all the good stuff she found about you online, those outdoors articles and the speech at The Memory Team.”

“How does Celeste make it from the doghouse to the penthouse so quickly?”

“She’s smart.”

He sat next to the bed as they chatted about the movie. She did seem pretty wiped out. When he went back to the living room, Abbey asked him how Nova looked.

“I’m not sure, she might have just been tired,” Monte said. “Anyway, she had a laugh.”

Back in the pickup, he told Cable about his visit.

“So, what you’re saying is, it was good, but maybe watch movies at home,” Cable said.

—   —   —

Next morning, Monte made a protein breakfast of eggs and sausages. He asked Cable to take him to the beginning of the rail trail. It was a great day for a hike and he wanted to make the most of it. Cable said he could drop him off, but he couldn’t pick him up until later. The bar was changing its decor and Cable would have to work a double shift. Monte was OK with that; he had packed plenty of water and a few energy bars. The day was sunny and his hip wasn’t giving him any trouble. It was so calming, being outside. After a while, he went off the trail onto a hilly path, just to see where it went. In no time, he ran into a guy riding an ATV. He hopped off his four wheeler and accosted Monte with a threatening stance. He told Monte that he was standing on his land and he needed to leave. Spontaneous conversations were the worst for Monte. He was jittery as he hoped words would pop out. He started to talk but every lane of speech was blocked. There wasn’t any script for this! He made an about-face and went back to the trail, shaken by the encounter. He hoped he wouldn’t see that guy again.

Monte didn’t check his phone until lunch, when he found a long text from Larry telling him that he and Tori would come back later that day, and apologized about the invasion of Monte’s documents. Tori also sent voicemail apologies.

“We went to LA for a little fun and I ended up getting a job there in mobile banking, thanks to Larry,” she said. “I got just a week to pack, fly and find a place to live. Isn’t that great!”

At first, Monte was annoyed with Larry, then thought he should learn to be more amicable. After all, Nova was working through family issues; he could, too.

As he finished his hike, he called Cable to see when he would be able to pick him up.

“Not yet. Stay at the trailhead and hang,” Cable said.

Monte sat on a stump for a while, then strolled around the area, noting a stream, a run-down house, and a highway sign decorated with bullet holes. Weirdly, a stretch limo rolled slowly up to the trailhead. The doors opened and piling out of the vehicle came Larry, Cable, and Tori. They seemed excited to see him.

“Hey, we’re on our way to the restaurant of a great country club, Three Sycamores,” Larry said. “We’re all going.”

Monte was sizing up Larry, wondering how he could so easily help Tori but not his son or brother. What was going on? At least Larry came back. Maybe he was going to be reasonable after all.

“Hey, how’s the hip?” Cable asked. “I took a long dinner hour. I brought you clean clothes. You can shower at the clubhouse. You’re really ripe.”

“Monte, smile, OK?” Tori said. “What did you see on your walk?”

“A grumpy guy. I tried to talk to him. It wasn’t pretty.”

“Well, keep talking,” she said. “I looked up aphasia.”

“Yeah, I know about that, too,” Monte said, as they climbed into the limo.


Ed Peaco is a writer of short stories and a freelance writer of articles about music. His work has appeared in The MacGuffin, Alabama Literary Review, Santa Fe Contest, and other journals. During the COVID years when musicians were locked out, Peaco had very little to write about for an article. However, music can be funneled into the short story, such as Langston Hughes’s “Dance.”


Monte is Summoned to Building One

by Ed Peaco

Monte Thompson was trying to walk quickly from the parking lot to the heavy doors of Building One. He was hoping to stay ahead of the big boss, who Monte felt closing in on him. Derick Blockmenn, the Principal Partner and CEO of DataProbing Network, was someone to avoid. However, Monte had to be careful on his titanium hip, installed six months ago, and which had been causing as much pain as the human hip that had seemed to slowly disintegrate. In recent years, he hiked Mount Washington with three buddies, ran a half-marathon, and slogged through a mud-obstacle course. A year ago, he hit 55, and AARP ratcheted up its barrage of mail and pressure to enroll, but what was worse in that year was a boatload of torture in the left part of the pelvis. Complaining to himself, he denigrated the surgery as an old-man’s thing, but it had to be done. Rehab had been extended with physical therapy sessions, three per week. But there was more than just the physical pain. He had been taking off numerous half-days to visit neuro specialists and to take a battery of tests and an MRI to determine what was making his thinking so sluggish.

Today was one of those days when he had to slip away for a follow-up appointment at the big hospital downtown. The neurologist wanted to show Monte the findings of the MRI from a few weeks ago. Monte hoped he could dodge Blockmenn.

Entering DataProbing’s front lobby, Monte heard some banging behind him. It was Blockmenn, shoving the hydraulic mechanism of the front door, barging through the entryway, shouldering the door as if he were a linebacker, causing a metal-on-metal screech, muttering obscenities down the main hall. Monte ducked into the men’s room, hoping that hanging out there for a few minutes would be sufficient to shake the boss. Monte came to Building One rarely, to check if any of his mail was lingering at the front desk, and for the occasional staff meeting. This morning, looking this way and that, he thought the coast was clear, but he was wrong. Gangly and clumsy, with long, springy hair, graying and unruly—a twisted Einstein—Blockmenn almost knocked down Monte at the men’s room door.

“Hang on a minute,” Blockmenn said.

Then, while urinating, Blockmenn told Monte, “Get with Buster about the Natural Deep pitch. We need audio, video, text, today!” Monte wondered what Natural Deep was. Blockmenn told Monte to call Buster King, Monte’s supervisor, the hefty put-upon Managing Partner, and have him provide details. Blockmenn’s request threw Monte; he paused to gather his words. Buster was a prickly manager who tried to conceal his girth with billowy shirts. Standing by the sink, Monte phoned Buster, but the call went to voicemail, which made Blockmenn stomp away, fuming.

The DPN campus was composed of three small buildings, spread apart along a spacious greenway, with a wooded area beyond. Building One contained administration. Building Two quartered the specialists and investigators. The communication services were housed, including Monte’s team, in Building Three. “Blockhead,” as the staff called Blockmenn behind his back, could blow at any moment, for any reason. Longstanding employees said he had trouble with anger, pharmaceuticals, and substances, precipitating meltdowns and blowups, including one featuring fisticuffs with Buster and another with an investigator. A visit to Blockmenn’s office could be frightful, with swords and firearms mounted on the walls. From time to time, Monte thought about how he’d avoid those outbursts, or worse, an assault. He often cringed at the mismatch between the helping function of the organization and its dreadful creator. Like a terrible jingle that he couldn’t get out of his mind, Monte couldn’t stand the pretentious phrases of the mission statement, the fatuous boilerplate. What a load of crap!

DataProbing Network: a platform for those who need investigative solutions for casualties of catastrophic events, fraud, crime, and corruption. When government and law enforcement can’t or won’t help, DPN can perform functions tailored for the client, including investigators, litigators, scientists and communications experts, providing data-visualization tools, research resources, and voiceover video.

Eventually, Monte tracked down Buster in a meeting in which Blockmenn was ripping Buster a new one over the latest disaster. Monte listened briefly in the doorway. He learned a few things: Natural Deep was a natural gas producer. One of its offshore platforms in the North Sea had recently exploded. Blockmenn was livid about an investigator’s blunders that could lose the Natural Deep account.

“We have to be the first to know about shit like this, and know everything about it,” Blockmenn said. “Get off your lard-ass, Buster. If something blows up or somebody gets screwed, we need to be on it immediately!”

And Blockmenn to Monte: “Crap out all the appropriate proposals by the end of the day. Show them what we can do before somebody else does. Don’t waste time!”

Monte understood that this would not be a good day for slipping away for a doctor’s appointment. He shuffled back to Building Three and set aside the typical office morning chat, except for one dumb-ass Blockhead story: “I had a standing meeting in the men’s room with Blockhead!” Everybody had a good laugh, then Monte described the heap of work that had been dumped in their laps: the Natural Deep account. It was a setback for everyone and meant long hours ahead.

Monte took a moment to think about his own personal setbacks. His declining health and mental issues had recently caused the loss of a sweetie who had soured on him—one in a short list of sweeties following his divorce, including the dazzling Natalie, with whom he fumbled as she gave up on him. More important, he had trouble communicating at work: increasing forgetfulness, slow on the uptake, not finding the right words, all of which required co-workers to repeat discussions. Physically, his hip was flaring up with spiky shoots of pain, which required another visit to the physical therapist and the surgeon’s physician assistant. There would be no more running or hiking for a while, and not much walking, either. Just a mess all around.

He tried to recall when his mental fog started. It might have been with the hip replacement, or even before. Long after the anesthesia should have lifted, his head was still muddled. He went to a rehab place for ten days, then spent two weeks rehabbing and working from home, with the help of his nephew, Cable, who had plenty of time to help his uncle, as he’d been laid off from his job when the bar where he worked closed. Cable welcomed the cash Monte gave him to help with chores around the house, although Monte sensed Cable, who lived in a nearby remodeled barn, wasn’t really up to playing full-time nurse. Then again, Cable was the one who insisted Monte get a referral for a full neurological work-up, including an MRI for cognitive impairment.

—   —   —

Monte had arranged the time of the doctor’s appointment closer to lunch in hopes that his absence might not be noticed. He and Cable met the neurologist in her office to discuss the findings from the MRI. During a few minutes of pleasantries and questioning, the neurologist was looking at her screen. Then Cable piped up. “Sometimes when he talks, he sounds loopy, but not from those pills, because he won’t use them.”

“Loopy?” Monte asked.

“And a couple of times, he didn’t know where he was,” Cable said.

Grinding his teeth, Monte told Cable, “Hey, could you stop talking?”

She shot a glance toward Monte. “So, the report,” she said. “There’s no stroke, no tumor; but the scan detected mild atrophy of the brain.”

“That doesn’t sound good,” Monte said.

“Well, few very small foci of increased T2 signal in the bilateral subcortical white matter. …”

“What?” Monte lost her; nothing made sense, even after two attempts.

“You have mild cognitive impairment,” she said. “You might have early-onset dementia. The anesthesia from the hip replacement surgery some months ago may have accelerated cognitive decline. Tests show word loss and halted speech suggesting a progressive trajectory.”

“Meaning it gets worse, right?”

“Yes, you may eventually lose speech entirely.”

“Oh, that sucks!”

“There are many kinds of dementia, and there is no cure. Sorry to say.”

“Sorry to what?” Monte asked.

“I’ll set you up for a PET scan. It’ll show more about what your brain is doing.”

Cable tried to calm him down, but Monte got worked up when he heard sorry to say.  Then he stood up and walked out, reeling from the doctor’s words.

—   —   —

Back at DPN and eating lunch at his desk, Monte took a moment to calm down and count his blessings, such as they were. At least he worked in Building Three, as far from Blockmenn as possible. His team was talented and energetic. The three people in the media studio were versed in writing, editing, and producing. Each had a specialty: Michael (words), Charity (visuals), and Monte (audio) including voiceover for video. He was known for his gentle vocal tone, even when describing the worst explosions, natural disasters, and massacres around the world. Ironic that his diagnosis would affect his speech.

He and his team thought of the people in Building One as super-conservative and themselves as embracing a lefty fellowship. If anybody needed anything, Tori, the sharp-witted courier, would provide it. Tall and thin, she often speed-walked from building to building, pulling a red wagon filled with everything from printer cartridges to Earl Grey green tea. The best perk was the bucolic feel of Building Three, ensconced near trees and bathed in green space. Monte had always enjoyed walking around the grounds and into the woods on his lunch hour. A few years back, he hooked rope ladders over a weighty branch of a big oak and climbed just for fun. That was before the hip problems arose.

Michael, back from lunch, stopped at Monte’s desk. “I heard about fireworks at Building One today. Could it spread here?”

“You mean Blockhead might come to Building Three with a flamethrower? Not likely,” Monte said. “Blockhead likes to push around the sycophants in Building One.”

“I’ve been thinking about—this might seem silly—but, what about an escape plan?” Charity said. “Do we have one?”

“Like a secret passageway, a false wall?” Michael said as he chuckled.

The concerns of his co-workers, in lieu of that morning’s eruption, seemed to make sense. “Maybe we should think about that,” Monte said.

Tori interrupted this conversation with her daily visit to Building Three. She stopped, as usual, at Monte’s desk to tease him about his work. “Here you are: The Michael Bublé of Bloodbaths, The Pavarotti of Panic, The Sinatra of Sorrow.”

“Thank you very much. Just trying to make terrible events a little bit more pleasant,” he said with a little bow, while trying to get back to work.

Reflecting on the appointment with the neurologist, Monte knew he’d been lethargic and forgetful since coming back from his hip replacement surgery. He spent much more time in the sound booth than he would have before the surgery. Colleagues had to address him more than once to get his attention. He had trouble pulling words out of his mouth. Moreover, he noticed that people were seeing him speaking off a script, and when the discussion went beyond the script, he went silent as he worked through a speech block. It was scary. What was happening? Dementia, more goddamn dementia! What were his co-workers thinking? He worked through dinner and into the night, eventually collapsing for a few hours of sleep on a couch in the studio. Still he wasn’t done.

The next morning, seeking coffee, he already felt fried. Buster tromped into the studio, elbows out, standing over the three co-workers. With a loud sigh, he said, “We lost the Natural Deep project. You guys were too slow yesterday. The big guy is not happy.”

The threesome looked at each other, making grave faces. Buster conveyed again how disappointed Mr. Blockmenn was and described other work coming up.

Then Buster pulled Monte aside to ask him about his health and questioned the quality of his work. This was the first time anything like that had happened to Monte—ever. Both men remained silent for a short time.

“So, you’re the leader in Building Three. We need you, but, what’s up?” Buster asked.

“I’ve had some pain with the hip, and I don’t get enough sleep.”

“What can we do to get you back into the swing of things?”

“It’s up to me.”

“Yeah, but think about what’s going on with you. I don’t know what it is, but it might be more than just sleep. I’ve heard stuff about you, like, you’re not all there. We need you to be on top of things, all the time. Do you grasp what I’m saying?”

“Give me a little time to get myself into shape.”

“I’ll be checking in from time to time.”

No way was Monte going to use the word dementia, or mention his visit to the neurologist. How long could he fake being fully functional? Occasionally, he looked at a word and couldn’t pronounce it, or it made no sense unless he focused on it for a while. His work pace had been slowing down, and he knew that Buster and Blockmenn had become aware of it.

—   —   —

A few weeks later, Blockmenn summoned Monte to his office in Building One on a Monday morning. Monte arrived early. Blockmenn was not in his office. His longstanding admin, Victoria Deutsch, with ash-blonde helmet hair and extensive makeup, extended a hand toward a chair for Monte. “Feel at home, this is an amicable settlement,” she said.

“What settlement?”

“Didn’t he say?”

Suddenly, Blockmenn surged into the office and dropped loudly into his chair.

Victoria gave Blockmenn a stern-mother stare. “Be civil,” she told him. “Apparently, we have to start from the beginning.”

“Make it quick,” Blockmenn said.

Monte sat across from the Principal Partner, who began pushing papers into a single pile. Victoria presented a packet of termination and compensation documents.

She said, “Mr. Thompson, we know about the issues you’re confronting—”

What she said made Monte flinch. He wanted to eke out a few months more. Stuff gets around. Who blabbed? Who cares? Nobody had to tell anybody. The issues showed up every time he opened his mouth.

“—and we want to help you in any way we can,” Victoria said. “We will extend to you twenty-six weeks of severance compensation and health insurance.”

Monte felt like he was wandering in a thick fog. There was a lot of talking from Victoria that he seemed to hear from a distance. He wasn’t surprised, but he felt a little queasy. Victoria proceeded with the exit protocol. She described each document and showed the stickers pointing where Monte was to sign. The process became lengthy as Victoria recited various paragraphs that she seemed to think important.

“Thanks for the generous payout, Derick,” Monte said. “Could be worse!”

“Whaddaya mean? You want more?”

“I meant to say—”

“I don’t want to know what you meant,” Blockmenn said, fidgeting with pens and a stapler. He opened a drawer and brought out three handguns, fondling each, one by one, somewhat like he was strangely washing up with a big bar of soap. Then he placed the guns across his leather desk pad. “Which gun would you want to have?” Blockmenn asked.

“Now Mr. Blockmenn, not that,” Victoria said, with a withering gaze, as if she’d seen this routine before.

Monte recoiled. “What the hell?”

“Oh, Monte will like it.”

Monte certainly never had anything to say to Blockmenn, even on a good day, which was almost never. What a ridiculous exit interview!

So Monte responded first with a smirk, then pointed to the more compact piece. “If I must, this one, but—”

“The Smith & Wesson Governor,” Blockmenn said. “Excellent choice.” He picked up the Governor in both hands and raised it a few inches as if it were a large piece of gold.

“This one looks like the gun that Dick Tracy used from comic books and funny pages I read as a kid,” Monte said, then he snorted, which escalated to a nervous cackle. Monte was surprised with his outburst; he was scared and boiling mad. If only he could find Blockmenn without firearms, I would beat him to a pulp. Monte listened to the thumping of his charging heart, like it might explode at any moment.

“What’s so funny?” Blockmenn lurched up from his desk. “Do you think this is silly? It’s a matter of death or life.”

“Come on, Derick. What would I do with a gun? This is weird!”

In a spark of rage, Blockmenn swiped the weapon off the desk and to the floor, where it crashed with a sharp smack, spinning like a top on the ceramic tile. Seething, Blockmenn threw his head back petulantly. The gun lay spinning on the floor. Victoria sat there like nothing had happened.

Bug-eyed, mouth agape, Monte shot out of his chair, which fell back to the floor. “What’s this all about? Butterfingers! Screw you!” The gun spun slowly to a halt. Monte looked down and found that the barrel was pointed at his feet.

Victoria stooped to collect it. “Be careful, Mr. Blockmenn.”

“I’m fine,” said the CEO. “Take care of these papers. Show me where I sign. Be sure he signs the non-disclosure.” Blockmenn grabbed some documents from the desk and others from the floor, and stalked out.

Victoria leaned to Monte, close to his ear, whispering. “You deserve a reason for Mr. Blockmenn’s demeanor. He is a gifted leader, but he has challenges. He sees things. He hears things. He has treatment, but he doesn’t take heed. Today, he went off his meds, and he has upped his vodka intake. Don’t worry. Everything will be all right in the end.”

—   —   —

Blockmenn had designated Buster to escort Monte off the premises, but Buster was pulled away to deal with the current Blockhead tantrum, allowing Monte to hobble back across the green space to Building Three. He was eager to tell everybody about the disturbance that Blockmenn fomented.

 “I was summoned to Building One today, and the place was totally toxic. More bizarre behavior from Blockhead—he’s barking up and down through the corridors, he’s pulling a full-blown roid rage. He pulled out three handguns for me to examine. When he left his office, I saw he had another piece in a shoulder holster. He is absolutely unhinged!”

“Creepy, but we all know that he experiments with all kinds of alcohol, drugs, and pills. He’ll make mush of his brain if he keeps going this way,” Tori said.

“Oh, and so why was I summoned to Blockhead’s office? He fired me. This is my last day at DPN.”

Hubbub broke out as people wanted to know when, how and why; it went on for a while, requiring Monte to provide answers: Any feelers yet? Where ya looking? Try the local broadcast outlets? Great voice for radio. You’ve got connections.

“You guys know why I’m leaving, right?”

“You’re lucky,” Tori said. “You’re getting out of here.”

“Not exactly lucky,” he said, after which he looked for some way to get away from the crowd. He thought Buster would have already kicked him off the premises, but he wasn’t around. Monte went to the basement to find his plastic storage tub. He scrounged about in the tub, finding a few obsolete devices, old manuals, and binders, the rope ladders that he had stopped using, and a full set of clothes for back when he used to bike to work. He lugged all of it upstairs, where he unloaded the printed material into the recycling bin, and dumped the rest in a trash can. He kept the clothing.

He steered Tori into an empty hall. “So, I want to tell you, but you probably had some notion,” he said. “It may be early-onset dementia. Brain power just gets less and less.”

“Some of us were thinking—”

“If I’m lucky, the disease will go slow,” Monte said.

“—I wanted to say something.”

“Dementia comes gift-wrapped in many ways. Google it,” Monte said.

She briefly covered her mouth. She said, “Sorry.”

“You can tell anybody,” he said. “Tell them I said you could. I don’t want to talk about it. Maybe later.”

He spent a few minutes with Michael and Charity showing them around the soundproof booth used for making audio tracks, extolling the quality of the end result, better than your own voice. In the bottom drawer of his desk he found a dusty Doctors Without Borders tote bag, and he stuffed it with the clothes and a few books. As he packed, the idea of leaving felt better and better.

A squawk from the intercom startled the people of Building Three. The intercom was ancient and hardly ever used. The sound was loud and distorted. It was Buster. He was blurting hysterically. “Blockmenn’s on a rampage. This is real. He’s going after Monte. Active shooter alert! Active shooter alert! I couldn’t stop him. Go, go, go right now!”

Monte yelled through the halls of Building Three, “Let’s get out of here! Run to the woods!” He limped as rapidly as he could toward the trash can to retrieve the rope ladders. “Don’t go to your cars. The parking lot is next to Building One. Toward Blocker. I mean Blockhead. Who wants to run for the fence? I’m going now.” He pocketed his phone, gathered his rope ladders, hollered, “Last chance!” Then he went toward the trees. Five co-workers—Tori, Michael, Charity, and two others whose names he couldn’t remember—followed Monte’s limp-shuffle adrenaline-fueled gait across the green space into the brush. Some of the group were frantically texting and calling 911. He trudged through the prickers, the saplings, the big sycamores, and the downed-and-rotting trunks. Now he was hurting. He kept looking behind to make sure the others knew where he was. The escapees sped up when they heard a short spattering of gunshots. Monte stumbled upon two homeless men camped out with blue tarps and sleeping bags. He invited them to come along to avoid the crazy guy with guns, but they were only startled, and waved Monte away.

At last, the fence came into view. Monte hooked the first ladder over the top of the fence on the DPN side, then awkwardly climbed half way up, feeling something like a butcher knife jabbing into his thigh. He paused, then took it slow, placing the second ladder on the other side, and went over to check that the ladder was properly placed. Oh, throbbing pain! He waited for the pain to subside a bit, and he found a way to pull himself up mostly by his arms. He went back over to the DPN side to help those who needed it. Tori had trouble trudging in her sandals, and she was apprehensive about the ladders, but she managed to get over. One of the guys whose name Monte couldn’t remember, a hefty fellow, decided not to attempt the ropes. Michael said he had something like these ladders on his bunk bed growing up, and he hastened up, over and down. Charity, looking jittery, threw her pumps over the fence, and took the steps quickly. Monte followed.

“We made it!” Monte said. “So far, anyway.” He collected the rope ladders and carried them under each arm.

Charity looked around at the scrub trees and high grass lining the road, then she declared, “Whoa, we’re in the boonies. I’ve never been on this edge of town.”

“Me, neither,” Monte said. “When you enter DPN, you’re still in the city. But over the fence, we’re really out there.”

“I’ve been beamed up to another planet,” she said.

Wincing with every other step, Monte led the crew down a gravel road toward what he hoped was a main road.

“Hey, we have to keep moving,” Monte said. “We need to get far enough away so we can’t be seen.”

“Why are you toting those ladders?” Michael asked Monte.

“They’re souvenirs.”

“For crying out loud. I’ll carry them,” Michael said.

Monte fell back from the group, and they went around a bend. He slowed down, looked back where they had walked, then looked ahead. He didn’t see anybody. Panic set in.

—   —   —

Well, shit, let them go wherever they’re going, but I’m gonna sit here and feel each throb. Too loud to think. Am I thinking?

Can’t process. Getting canned: that calls for an up yours! Psycho Baby playing with guns, shit for brains. Those gunshots: that demands a full-throttle mother fucker!

Spent my best years in pig slop—that boilerplate, the pretentious crap that I wrote!

Blockhead, why didn’t you fire me long ago?

Early on: Got divorced. Then there was Natalie. Wow Natalie! Posted to Dublin. Could have followed her out of bumfuck DPN. What a sledge head I was!

Im the blockhead!

No more hikes, no more races.

Gimmy a wheelchair and fuck yourself.

Surgery stupor, now dementia, what’s next?

Aphasia, my sweetie till death?

Won’t see the guys anymore. No trails. No mountains.

No woman would mess with this mess of me.

Losing everything!

Oh, what’s this? Something’s wrong. What’s happening?

Where am I?

—   —   —

As the first one to notice Monte was nowhere in sight, Michael back tracked and found Monte on the shoulder of the road, panting, howling in a gutteral basso profundo.

“What’s wrong?” Michael asked.

“I’m kinda messed up,” Monte said. “Really lost. Scary.”

Michael pulled him up to sit and put an arm around Monte. “You OK?” Michael asked.

Monte looked around and saw the ladders. He said, “Oh, ladders. Yeah, yeah, ladders.” He didn’t want to stand up yet. Something had hit him like that wigged-out feeling from that anesthetic. “When I saw the ladders, I knew everything again—weird.”

Tori held his hand. “How do you feel? What do you need? You can’t help it, right? It’s that dementia, right? Sorry. I gotta shut up.”

“I think it was that I didn’t see you guys,” Monte said. “I was nowhere. Not sure where I was.”

“I don’t know either,” Charity said. She gave her water bottle to Monte.

“It’s a different not-knowing,” he said. “It’s not, it’s different—I can’t find the word. Sorry.”

“Hell, no. Don’t be sorry. You saved us from that madman,” Michael said. “You’re our hero!”

As Michael and Tori helped Monte get on his feet, Charity went ahead to a Smarty-Mart store. The others arrived in a few minutes. She bought bottled water for everybody. They sat on plastic chairs and called family and friends to say they were OK.

“Oh, my brain let me have that word. No, it went away. No, yes, I got it: embarrassing. A different kind of not-knowing.”

—   —   —

Monte wanted Cable to stay with him that night. Next morning, Monte’s phone was crammed with calls and texts with concerns for his wellbeing and news of what happened at DataProbing Network. Buster’s voice message: Blockhead went just-a-stumblin’, the Governor in one hand, bottle of Grey Goose in the other. I called the cops. They came in five minutes. When Blockhead heard the sirens, that was when he tried to blow his fuckin’ head off, but he botched the job. Nobody else got hurt.

—   —   —

Two days later, Tori came to Monte’s house and sat outside with iced coffee.

“I’m not going back,” Tori said.

“We’re still alive!”

“Another thing. I have a business proposition for you,” Tori said.

“Oh, really? I have no money to invest.”

Tori laughed. “Just saying, I’m gonna be a personal shopper—woo-hoo!”

“Cable gets my groceries.”

 “You’ll need more help than that. Come on, you could be my first client.”

“Not sure I’m ready for that,” Monte said.

“You can function almost all the time, except for when you can’t.”

“I’m going back to the neuro doc to have a PET scan,” he said. “That’s supposed to be the be-all, end-all for the diagnosis.”

“Then what?”

“Just carry on until I can’t, whenever that is.”


Ed Peaco is enamored with the short story. Many of his stories involve love (or like), blundering and redemption. He held editing posts at a newspaper for 27 years. In the next decade and continuing, as a freelancer, he’s writing about local music; and editing books, magazines and articles. The villain in this story, “Monte is Summoned to Building One,” is modeled on an eruptive boss. Peaco quit quickly, but Monte kept working too long. Peaco lives in Springfield, MO.