Jack was learning more and more things about himself. He’d learned not to trust people driving black SUVs. He’d learned that he didn’t respond at all to the name Quinn. He’d learned that he had some seriously dangerous moves that came out when he was intimidated in small spaces.
And last, but certainly not least, hitting the road in a loose roll at thirty miles per hour hurt. He’d seen people on TV do it, but they never got into the serious case of road rash that occurred when you were working to protect your head from the unforgiving pavement. His arms were a mess despite the jacket he’d been wearing, and his hip had taken the brunt of the fall, making it so that he’d limped away from the scene. Either the driver was a wuss and wasn’t about to come after him or Rand was really hurt because no one chased him. The second car that had been following couldn’t get over in traffic, which meant that they couldn’t get at him either, and that was another bit of luck in his favor.
It was a situation that could have been avoided if he had just listened to his gut in the first place and kept moving instead of sitting in a motel room and trying to pretend like he was an average joe. Well, he wasn’t average. He wasn’t sure what he was, but he knew he had to keeping moving if he wanted to find out the answer to that question.
Deciding to bite the cost, Jack took a taxi to the nearest bus station and bought himself a one way ticket to Ballston Lake. He wasn’t sure what he expected to find there, but at the very least he would manage to get some sleep and be on the move, so it was a win win situation all around. Besides, it would give him a chance to sit and think about what he’d just done. He had assaulted two people, dangerous people who no doubt had serious connections. They were probably telling the truth about being some seedy agency that got results, and who knew – Jack or Quinn or whatever his name was could have quite possibly been one of their top covert agents. He could have had information about this terrorist group and he could have been the key to taking them all down. But right then, he knew nothing about any of that. That life was over until he found his own answers. Until then, he was Jack – amnesic, drifter, and AMA from a Boston hospital. And he was definitely in need of a nap.
Jack slept all the way to Ballston Lake. It was a nice little place. There were lots of trees, at any rate. Considering it was the second place he’d been to in his entire remembering, it wasn’t half bad. And even though he was hungry and could have used a shower, Jack wasted no time tracking down the dry cleaning service listed as his home address on the piece of plastic he’d obsessed over. It was the only scrap of evidence that he belonged anywhere, even if it was some company that cleaned suits. He wasn’t sure how it all tied in, but he’d take a step in the right direction and figure it out.
Cao Dry Cleaning was a hole in the wall establishment, squished between a dollar store and a travel agency. It was easy enough to find, and even if he hadn’t been looking for it, he would have smelled it. The scent of the chemicals made itself known long before he even walked through the door. Jack knew that smell. It was a nigging thing on the outskirts of what he figured was once his memory and he knew he was in the right place because of it. He just hoped he didn’t actually live there. He didn’t see himself living a long life if he was inhaling that crap day in and day out.
Pushing the door open, Jack listened to it chime as he took in the place. There was a front counter and behind it were rows of tagged clothing on revolving lines. There were a few potted plants, but nothing too exotic. To tell the truth, he’d been expecting the place to be covered in Vietnamese bobbles to bless and sanctify the area. However, it was bare and impersonal, like no one had bothered to do more than stick a receipt book on the counter beside an ancient looking cash register. The simplicity was nice, though. It didn’t make anyone uncomfortable or uninvited. Jack could tell the people running it took good care of the place.
“Welcome to Cao Dry Cleaning,” a teenage girl greeted, coming out of the back and flipping open a book on the counter. “How can I help...you.”
Jack watched as her tone changed as she caught sight of him. She looked surprised, perhaps a bit confused. It wasn’t the kind of look Jack wanted to draw towards himself, but he supposed he had it coming. The jacket he was wearing had a couple blood smears, his jeans had rips from the fall, and he was willing to bet that his shoes looked like they’d had better days. If he hadn’t borrowed these clothes, he might have felt bad about it, but as it was, he was just too tired to care anymore.
“I think you know how you can help me,” he replied on a chance, hoping she knew more about what was going on than he currently did.
She nodded sharply, calling something Vietnamese over her shoulder. Jack didn’t know the language and assumed that he’d never bothered to learn it when he did have a memory, seeing as how most people needed to learn things like Chinese and Japanese for business, rather than Vietnamese. He wasn’t so sure that the place even had a purpose after the war, but then, he supposed there were a lot of covert purposes for countries like Vietnam. The ex-war zone was probably a great place to conduct under the counter government business or even the drug trade. If he turned out to be some international drug smuggler, he was going to laugh himself silly.
It took only a moment before there was a middle aged Asian man popping his head around the corner, stopping Jack from speculating any further about Vietnam. The man’s face lit up into a smile at the sight of him and he came around the counter to greet him properly, hand out in greeting.
“John! What bring you back here?” He asked, accent not as thick as someone just recent to the country, but still noticeable. He was still smiling as he shook Jack’s hand vigorously in greeting. “Wait. You come for clothes, right? I get you clothes.”
Jack grabbed his arm before he could dart off. While new clothing would be wonderful, he had things he needed to ask first.
“You know me?” he asked, just to clarify.
“Of course, John. You relocate my family here ten years ago,” the man answered, looking quite serious. “I have you to thank for all this.”
Jack watched as he proudly gestured around the shop. Well, one man’s castle, he supposed.
“Listen, I’m having a bit of memory trouble. All I know is that I put this address on my driver’s licence and I was hoping you could tell me something.”
“Ah, so it happened,” the man nodded as if this were something he had been waiting for. “You warned me of this. I am Cao Công Sơn. My family has run this establishment for ten year.”
Wait...he’d warned this little man that he might lose his memory? Yeah, something fishy was going on here. Cao seemed more than content to keep talking, though, not giving him an opening. That was alright. That wasn’t the kind of thing one forgot. He’d have to ask about it later.
“You, John Gibson, helped us get here. You said if you ever came back that I was to give you clothes and a bag.”
Well now, that was interesting. “A bag?”
“Yes. You said it was verra important. I keep it here in the shop, just for you.”
At least he wouldn’t have to go anywhere to get it. He was already sick of travelling. If he never saw another bus, it would be too soon.
“Come, come,” Cao offered, waving him along behind the counter.
Jack could honestly say that he couldn’t remember ever been in the back of a dry cleaning shop before. It was something he was actually interested in seeing just to say he had. It wasn’t all that impressive. They had the average chemical cleaning that you couldn’t duplicate at home, what with the industrial machines and all, but nothing jumped out as exciting or memorable. It was a full family operation, or so he supposed as he saw two women who looked like they were mother and grandmother to the brood. There was even a young kid running around between them, handing the women various clothing baskets and items. He was around seven or right years old, clearly the younger sibling to the girl who’d greeted him at the desk. Cao hadn’t been lying when he said that Jack had gotten his entire family out of Vietnam. If only he could remember why he did it or even how he did it. Really, he’d settle for being able to remember his middle name.
Harvey? No, Horton...something with an H...
Cao led him back past the shop into a small living area. He figured this was more what he was expecting the shop to be like – it was decorated with Vietnamese bobbles, and there was the distinct smell of something Asian in flavor cooking. The furniture was crammed into the small space to make up a kitchen and a sitting room, making Jack feel like he was too big for the space. He recalled what Isaac joked about back at the hospital. Maybe the family did all live in the back there, cramped into the shop like a bunch of rats. It was a sad thought. What was even worse was that Jack knew that the man wouldn’t have put his family through all this and lived for ten years in his shop in Ballston Lake if he had have had better prospects back in Vietnam. However bad it looked for him in America, clearly there were worse places.
Jack’s eyes followed Cao into a closet where the man was standing on a step stool to reach something off the top shelf.
“Cao, you said that I warned you about this?” Jack asked, thinking this was the best time to get answers.
“Oh yes. You phone two month ago and tell Cao that you be showing up. You say you may not remember me or what you leave,” Cao supplied, stepping down off his stool with a bag in hand.
Now, as far as Jack knew, his entire world could be in that bag. He was expecting something with some heft to it, like a hockey bag or a gym bag – something big that fit the fact that it did have a lot of value. The small messenger bag was a let down. It seemed pretty unsubstantial for something that was supposed to hold the secrets to his universe. Maybe this was a case of good things coming in small packages.
“Here you go, John,” Cao offered, holding out the bag.
Jack took it and walked over to the dining table, setting it down so he could properly dig through it.
“I never touch it. It went on shelf and there it sat, just like you say,” Cao commented, watching curiously as John opened the bag. Maybe it held answers for the other man, as well.
Inside was as much of a letdown as the outside. All it held was a couple passports, a couple stacks of bills, a fresh wallet full of credit cards and a licence that declared he was now Kenneth James Swanson, and...one gun. He picked it up, noting the balance of it before checking to make sure it was loaded. He wasn’t disappointed. Thinking that couldn’t be all, he dug around in the bag, finally pulling out a plastic baggie from the deepest corner of the bag. It had the words “First and Devon” written on the outside, a couple keys on the inside. They were unusual keys, not like the ones you saw for cars or houses. Whatever they opened, it was probably important.
“Well,” Cao commented, eyes firmly on the gun. “I’ll go get you clothes.”
Jack knew he’d managed to make the man uncomfortable, probably thinking about what would have happened if one of his children had opened the bag before him, but he couldn’t think of any way to apologise for it. He must have contemplated that happening when he’d chosen to leave the bag in the first place, but still chose to leave it. Some risks were worth the taking, he supposed. Deciding that he didn’t need to look at the items longer than necessary, he put them all back into the bag and waited. It only took a moment before Cao was dragging another bag out of the closet. Now this bag looked more like what he had expected. It was a black travel bag that had a red tag on the side. Cao handed it to him and bowed sharply before turning and walking out of the room. Jack opened it and was relieved to find it was just clothing looking back at him. Where the bag with the gun had been on a top shelf out of the reach of little fingers, the bag of clothing had been on the bottom of the closet where anyone could have gotten to it. They could have been easily reversed. If he ever did get his memory back, he hoped he felt properly contrite about leaving something so dangerous without telling Cao it was there.
Pulling out an outfit, Jack made good use of the privacy afforded to him and changed. He swapped the jeans for a pair of black slacks, the button down for a grey t-shirt, and the leather jacket for a black windbreaker. Everything fit well and Jack was sure he had picked out the clothing he was now wearing. It was something simple, but it made him feel like there was a chance he could be who he used to be. Just having something to wear that was his was a great feeling. Shoving his dirty clothing in on the far side of the bag, he counted underwear and socks, along with a couple more shirts and pants. At least he would have something to change into when his current clothing got dirty. He was even happily surprised to find a bottle of cologne in the side pocket, along with a shaving kit and a pair of aviator sunglasses. When he walked back out into the shop Cao only nodded at him as if this was who he was used to seeing; not the beat up guy who’d walked in not ten minutes ago.
“Cao, do you happen to know where or what First and Devon is?” he asked.
“No, but as my daughter is fond of saying – Google it.”
Jack merely nodded, shifting uneasily. Now that he had what he’d come for, he wasn’t sure what to do. “Thank you for keeping this. I know you don’t have a big place and it does mean a lot to me.”
“Room?” Cao looked confused before realisation caused him to smile. “You think we live in back? No, this is where we work. We have bungalow and two car garage three miles from here.”
The daughter laughed and son giggled a bit as if he’d understand the joke if he laughed, too. Jack felt the heat rise in his cheeks, but it wasn’t really something that bothered him all that much. At least he cared.
“John, we have a good life. You gave us good life,” Cao assured him. “Now we repaying the favor.”
“I’d say after this we’re even,” Jack replied, thinking that the man had done more than his fair share by keeping the gun for him.
He offered his hand to Cao this time and the older man shook it. If he had friends like this before he forgot who he was, then maybe he might just make it through this after all.