Monday, November 06, 2006

9. One for the Road

Cade took a sip of his gin and tonic, looked around the bar, saw about two dozen pairs of eyes locked on him, and decided he needed another, healthier sip. "Not that I care, but..."
Lindsay, sitting in the bar stool next to him, prompted him with a look to continue.
"Is this a gay bar?"
"What on earth would make you say that?" She was very amused.
"You mean other than every man staring at me? I realize I'm not completely hideous, but I'm..." he motioned from his face to his body and back again, "...and you're..." he made the same motion towards her.
"I've worked on most of the guys in here. Maybe they've gotten a little used to seeing me." She took a sip of her own drink, something mixed and electric blue. "Or maybe they're just not used to seeing you."
I've stumbled into one of those towns. Awesome. "Well, fortunately for all of us, I don't plan on staying long."
"Why is that? Markham not making a good impression on you?"
"Markham's just fine. I'd definitely like to bring my wife here some weekend. She'd love this place. There was one furniture store that I'd probably have to drag her kicking and screaming out of."
"How long have you been married?"
He didn't even have to think. He was always ready for this question. "Almost six years now."
She took a drink and held it to her lips for a moment before putting it down. "Happily?"
He laughed. "Yes. But thanks."
            "Hey, you can't fault a girl for trying." She leaned forward and whispered, "Honestly, can you blame me? Look at all these men in here and tell me what you see."
             He subtly (he hoped) knocked a cocktail napkin off of the table. As he leaned over to pick it up, he took a glance around the room. She was on to something: all the men were the same. Not necessarily in the physical way (though many of them did look alike and dressed in a similar manner) but in the wealthy, arrogant, trying to stave off old age but failing way. "A bunch of corrupt Senators?"
              "Pretty much. Do you have any idea how difficult it is for a woman my age - which is none of your business, just in case you were going to ask - to find a dateable man in this town? The last decent guy I found turned out to be...not so decent. Other than him, this place is full of nothing but money and hair-dye."
           He polished off his drink. The bartender asked if he wanted another, and he declined. "Lindsay, you didn't follow me to my car to talk about your love life. What do you know about the guy in the picture?"
She drained her glass and, unlike Cade, ordered another. She waited until it arrived to resume talking. When she did it she spoke with a subtle yet noticeable slur, and Cade figured that would be her last for a while. He wanted what she knew. "I know he was here a few months ago. I know his name is Matt Becker. And I'm pretty sure he's your brother."
* * *
Her candor took Cade entirely by surprise. He recovered and thought about lying, but decided that it would serve no purpose other than alienating this woman who was actually being up front with him. "Yeah. He's my brother. How did you know?"
"I wasn't really positive until you admitted it just now. I never knew his last name, so I just took a guess."
I just got snookered good. "But what made you think that in the first place?"
"Looks, for one. Age, personality - although Matt struck me as a little more of a free spirit whereas you seem more disciplined - and some other things. It was fairly obvious."
"Impressive. Now tell me why you couldn't just say this in your shop?"
She touched his hand briefly. "Look, I didn't know you. I barely knew Matt, but I liked him. I didn't want to put someone on his trail who shouldn't be, you know? So I watched you closely. Any man who would casually take his dog on a walk in the park probably doesn't have bad intentions on his mind."
Cade said nothing, but motioned for her to continue with a raised eyebrow.
"Like I said, your brother was here a few months ago. Three, tops. He came to the shop, like you did, got a massage, like you did, gave a good tip, like you did. The whole experience was eerily similar."
"I'm not surprised. I grew up wanting to be him." This hurt him to say. Not because it wasn't true, but because they were speaking about Matt as if he were still alive which, to the best of Lindsay's knowledge, he was.
"That's sweet. That's also all I know about him."
She paused.
"No, that's another lie. Can we get some air?"
* * *
They walked along the sidewalk, pausing occasionally to look in a window at an antique or high-end gadget. Cade waited her out. Whatever she had to tell him, he wasn't sure he wanted to hear it, but knew that he had to. It would not be pleasant, he was afraid, and he hoped Matt was still the guy he remembered.
"I think your brother may have been a drug addict." She blurted this out quickly, apparently happy to be rid of it.
"Matty? No way."
"Cade. I know the signs. Trust me."
Cade tilted his head at her.
"Alcohol. And some other things for a while. But alcohol is the one that"
He thought of the two drinks she had in the bar. He moved his mouth to speak, but she beat him to it. "Virgin."
"But you started slurring and everything."
"I was playing the drunk ditz. At that point I hadn't completely ruled out sleeping with you yet. You, however, did."
"Sorry." He realized how ridiculous the apology sounded, and they both laughed for a moment. Soon, the laughter died and the serious nature of her knowledge descended upon them once more.
"Like I said, he was looking for something. He acted mostly normal, but little things he did, the look in his eye...I'd bet my life that he needed a score, I just couldn't figure out what it was that he was on. I had him naked on the table; no needle tracks, no bruises. It was weird: he behaved like a regular guy, but also like a junkie. I realize that makes no sense, but that was my impression of him."
Cade thought of a video he had seen in a college course once. In it, a man was hopped up on PCP, and it took eight or so grown men to subdue him, and they could barely hold him. The superhuman strength Matt had shown that night...Cade doubted it, but he couldn't discount the similarities, either.
They had reached his car. Did he plan to leave already? It seemed like he had gotten what he could from Markham, but he had no idea where to go from here.
Lost in thought, he almost missed it when she said, "Route 11. Just keep going."
"What?" he asked, wanting her to repeat it.
But she was walking away from him quickly. He almost called out to her, but he saw a figure half-hidden in shadow. He wondered if he was looking at Mr. Not-so-decent. He thought about finding out. He figured he could take him in a fair fight, even in his battered condition, but weapons were always a possibility, and he had a wife to get home to eventually. It just wasn't worth it.
He climbed in. Lindsay had disappeared into her own shadows. Loki, now awake, jumped into the front seat. "We'll take you out at the next stop, boy."
That stop would be somewhere on Route 11.

To be continued...

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