Authors: Steven J Patrick
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery, #Retail, #Suspense, #Thriller
We were both quiet for a moment, thinking, I guess, of things as they are and things as they should be.
"You haven't called Mom, lately," I prodded.
"Jesus, I know," the Director of Central Intelligence groaned. "I tried about 45 minutes ago but…"
"She's at Garden Club today," I replied.
"Shit, that's right," Dewey North sputtered. "It's Thursday."
"No biggie," I smiled. "I told her you're busy."
"I'm always busy," he murmured. "That's no fucking excuse."
"She's busy and happy." I chuckled, "She doesn't sit by the phone waiting for our calls."
"I know…still," he said uncomfortably.
"I do, however, sit by mine," I needled him.
"Hey, butt face, I called you, remember?"
"To flip me shit and threaten to have me prosecuted!" I laughed.
"Well, hell, if you can't threaten your own brother, who can you threaten?" Dew laughed.
"Glad I could be there for you, Bevis," I smiled. "Seriously, though, do I have to lean on a couple of your field agents to get a phone call? What do I have to do to get you to bring my niece and nephew out here? Shoot somebody?"
"Shoot me," he chuckled. "At this point you'd be doing me a favor."
"Buck up there, Sparky," I said easily. "After all those ass-kickins' I gave you, Washington oughta be a cakewalk."
"That's an interesting and colorful memory ya got there, ace," Dew observed. "You probably remember the Cubs winning the world series, too."
We talked for a few minutes about this and that; two middle-aged guys bitching about jobs and kids and how to shop for Christmas. Two kids who wanted nothing more out of life than to become the left side of the Cubs' infield someday, wind up as a prosperous but solitary private eye, way the hell out in Seattle, and head spook of the world's main spook-shop. Underneath all the latent menace, the elbow-rubbing on Capitol Hill, the lost loves, and altered dreams, we're finally two little boys from Virginia, still chasing after their mom's approval.
And may it ever be thus.
My brother told me he loves me and I said the same to him. And in that moment when I cradled the phone, I tried to imagine what my life would be without hearing or saying that; without that tuning fork that resonates deep in your belly at the thought of your parents, a brother, a sister, a good friend, a spouse…a child. In that moment, it became clear to me that Joe's punishment had been exacted far in advance of his crimes; exacted by one of the colder faces of God, who makes some of his children hollow as a schoolboy's promise and hopeless as sunken ships.
A cool wind swept in my window, fresh and salty from Elliott Bay. I shivered slightly, there in the late summer's morning, but I knew it would soon pass and that the chill was actually in me, in the knowledge that, but for an accident of birth, I could have been Joe, Joe could have been me, and the world would have gone on laughing up its sleeve, tumbling in its path, as oblivious and inevitable as it is right now.
I got up and closed the window anyway. In Seattle, you just never know.
I went out with Paula Farrier about half a dozen times. It was a lot of fun, good conversation, intellectual stimulation, and a woman who loves the M's almost as much as I do. That don't grow on trees either.
Ultimately, though, there was something either missing or maybe too much present. I began to realize that my nine years' withdrawal was, yes, about figuring out my own shortcomings but it was also, I learned to my dismay, about some of the things that people like me and Paula Farrier know that other people, thankfully, do not. Inside me, I discovered, there is a pervasive darkness that I never fully confronted until I saw the reflection in Paula. We may, as Joe suggested, really be infested with the spirits of those we've battled, defeated, jailed…killed. It shows up in cops and prosecutors and soldiers and the like as depression, emotional deadness, or black humor.
I realized that I had seen too many things like what happened with Joe and those memories limited my ability to take things like the many small crises and rituals of romance seriously enough. That, as much as anything else, was at the heart of my failures at love and Paula, whether or not she had come to the same realization, was in that place, too.
Eventually, we stopped calling, stopped making plans, and my life became its comfortable rut again.
My third day back, my office bell rang and I opened the door to find a delivery driver with a hand dolly loaded with three cases each of Fobiano and Screaming Eagle. I stared at him as though he were a unicorn until he handed me the note from Jack, with just one word inside: "Bonus!"
I opened one of the Screaming Eagles that evening, sitting on my deck, watching the sunset with new eyes and thinking far-away thoughts. In some irrational, impulsive gesture, I stood as the sun winked out behind the Olympics and poured about $300 worth of the glorious stuff off my deck, onto the earth below.
"Ashes to ashes," I whispered.
I thought of Joe frequently, especially as I watched, more and more often, those luminous sunsets over the Olympic Mountains, burning to black the Phoenix sky that would rise at dawn to do it all over again, a glory without end.
I hoped that, wherever Joe was, that light was shining on his face, lighting the dark corners of his soul. I like to imagine that, anyway, since much of Joe lives in me and my own end, but for a few breaks along the way, could have figured to be very much the same.