Wednesday, October 18, 2006

8. Markham

Cade, he and his canine companion having been fed, and fed well, left Yuri's place armed with a cell phone number, orders to call if they needed anything, and one damn lead that probably wasn't a lead at all. Something about "beggars" and "choosers" put that into perspective for the time being.
He sat at a traffic light, turning a plain white business card over in his hand. This had been the only thing of note found in Matt’s wallet. The front had an embossed image that Cade, being an informal student of world mythologies, identified as the Rod of Asclepius. The image of a serpent winding around a staff, in addition to often being mistaken for the Caduceus, was a well-known symbol for practitioners of medicine. Beneath the image were the words "Holistic Healing" and the town of Markham, MA, which Cade had never heard of, but it sounded ominous, anyway. Very Lovecraft-ian.
He flipped it over. The back of the card had nothing but "Jasmine" written in Matt's telltale scrawl. That was what really piqued his brother's interest. His thoughts were interrupted by an impatient honk behind him; the light had turned green while he hadn't been paying attention. He waved to the driver behind him, and then he drove, going to see about a girl.
* * *
Cade pulled into town and was almost a full three hours away from what would the first threats of physical violence directed at him that day. The day was waning, and the sun was just about to dip below the trees. The leaves exploded in that light, giving Markham a surreal, movie-like quality.
He parked on the street, fed the meter, and opened the door for Loki. Eager to stretch his legs, the dog complied without any prodding. On went the leash and they walked, in no particular hurry to get anywhere. The first thing he noticed was the architecture; the second was the cobblestone side streets. There was a strong Victorian influence here, and even the more modern shops followed suit.
On its surface, Markham was seamless, beautiful.
Then he noticed the luxury cars everywhere. Lexus, Mercedes, and high-end sports cars were everywhere. There was money here. He looked over his shoulder at his GMC, which stuck out like a very sore thumb. At least the air's free, he thought. Probably.
He noticed an antique bookstore, cleverly named "Antique Books." He walked in, an honest-to-goodness bell over the door signaling his entrance. The clerk, a young man in very fashionable frames, looked up from computer screen. He gave a very pleasant greeting and then cast a look at Loki. Cade said, "Sorry, I'll tie him up outside."
"Will he chew anything?" the clerk asked.
"Not unless you keep my shoes lying around."
That elicited a laugh. "Then no problem. I won't tell if you don't. Are you looking for anything in particular?"
Cade thought about that. "Now that you mention it, do you have a first edition of Little Women? Longshot, I know."
"Not much of one. I don't have it here, but I can get it. You'll be happier if you don't ask me how, though. Is price an object?"
"For the trouble I got myself into by taking this trip? No. Is this your place?"
The clerk/owner nodded. "That's me. Actually, it's my father's place, but he's mostly retired. I'm helping out here until I start grad school in the Spring."
"Good for you, uh..."
"Matt Lee."
The name made Cade hold his breath.
"Something wrong, sir?"
"No. Nothing." He looked away and casually ran his fingers along every spine on a shelf while he composed himself. "Hey, is there a place in town called "Holistic Something-or-Other?"
"Healers. Four blocks down. If you've never had acupuncture before, or even if you have, I recommend Tammy."
* * *
"Is there a girl here named Jasmine?" he asked of the receptionist, a petite brunette who was on the annoying side of perky.
"No-sirree! But today we do have Tammy, Kristen, Lindsay…”
“Okay, thank you.” He turned to leave.
“Are you sure you won’t stay? You look kind of tense!”
“I’m a little tense because you-“
“We have aromatherapy, acupuncture with Tammy, who, I don’t know if you’ve heard, is the best, herba-“
"How about just a regular massage, then?" Loki was back in the car, and his doctor had told him that massages would help ease the pain from his beating. "You do those here?"
"You bet we do! Lindsay is just finishing up with a client now! She's your girl!"
"Hooray, Lindsay!"
Unsurprisingly, the receptionist didn't pick up sarcasm all that well. She motioned him to a chair while she made a call.
* * *
Cade sat on the table, feeling every one of his aches, as if his body was issuing a challenge to the as-yet-unseen masseuse. He was just one big "ouch."
The girl he assumed to be Lindsay walked in. She was a striking redhead. He was a happily married man, and it’s not like he wouldn’t take a massage from a fat guy named Bjorn, if need be, especially in his current condition...but he was also still male, and he was pretty sure he wouldn't complain about Lindsay to management.
"Hi. I'm Lindsay."
"Cade." They shook hands. Very soft skin. Duh...masseuse.
"Okay, just a back and shoulder rub today?"
"Then just take off your shirt and lay down, so we can get started."
He unbuttoned his shirt and draped it over a chair. His bruises looked awful, the stitches even worse. She looked over from where she was preparing the oils or whatever she was going to use, and her professionalism slipped long enough to blurt out, "My God, what happened to you?" She blushed and fell over herself apologizing to him.
"Don't worry about it. There attempted break-in at my house." He lay on his stomach, fitting his head into that head-hole thing at the end of the table. He wondered if it had a name. She began working on him. It was painful at first, but that subsided quickly enough. She was, in fact, very good.
“Better?” She purred.
He made an effort to nod.
“May I ask you one more question about your bruises?”
"Did they get him, I hope?" Her voice came to him a little muffled by the towel around his head. That or the drowsiness seeping in around his edges.
"Yeah. Yeah, they got him."
He was asleep in minutes.
* * *
She woke him up with a gentle shake of his shoulder and a velvet voice. "Mr. Becker?"
He sat up, groggy. "Whoa. How long was I out?"
“Happens all the time,” she said, with a note of pride in her voice. “How do you feel?”
“Almost like I’m not covered in bruises.”
She smiled at that.
He put his shirt back on. “Pay at the desk?”
He reached into his wallet, looked, and pulled out a fifty. He handed it to her. She motioned that it wasn’t necessary, but he insisted; it had been worth every penny.
“Is there anything else I can do for you?” It was probably his appreciable male ego talking, but to Cade it sounded suspiciously like a double entendre, if not an outright invitation. He didn’t bite, but he did pull a picture of his brother out of his jeans pocket. “Ever seen this guy?”
Her reaction was hard to read. She had the look of someone who was genuinely trying to remember a face, only failing to do so. But Cade could swear there was a hint of something else.
“I’m sorry, no.”
He stared at her for a moment. “Positive? I found your business card in his wallet.”
“I’m sure.” Still genuine, and still, Cade thought, hiding something.
“Well, thanks, anyway. Fantastic massage, by the way. Top-notch.” Without another word, he walked out of the room, paid Ms. Perky, and left. Dusk had fallen on Markham.
He walked back to his car, almost entirely pain-free for the first time since…
He opened the passenger door. “Let’s take a walk.” Loki raised his head and climbed out. They strolled through a nearby park. Loki did his business; Cade cleaned up after him. When they got within 100 feet of the car, Cade saw a silhouette leaning against it.
A silhouette with red hair.
I knew it. I friggin’ knew it.
Cade said nothing as he opened Loki’s door. The mutt gave a distrustful woof at the new person, but hopped in anyway.
She said, “Let’s talk.”
To be continued...

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