The One That Came Back

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Chapter 16 Well of misery

The clinic on Calebra was a small practice hemmed in on one side by a dollar store and some fleabag hotel on the other. It had an empty green lot in the front. Porter had expected something a little bigger, like a hospital or a resort, not a building that looked like a family doctor’s office. The weather was hot as usual.

Porter looked around the reception area. It was sparsely decorated in subtle tones. Benign paintings of plants and kittens adorned the walls. There were a few magazines on a coffee table in the waiting area that looked dated and well thumbed. Other than that there wasn’t much that suggested you were in a rehab clinic: no pamphlets or posters.

“Err… ahem. Excuse me?”

Porter turned his head towards a squeaking noise from behind the desk. He moved closer and saw that there was someone behind it; she was just obscured by a rather large monitor. She was a petite and pale redhead with glasses that looked like they were screwed on too tight. Her hair was tied back in a loose ponytail. She was in her mid-twenties, fairly attractive, with a boxy, squashed nose lightly dusted with freckles. “Yes, can I help you with something?” she said, leaning forward on her chair and trying to make herself more visible to get his attention.

Porter put on his hawker smile.

“Yeah, I’m looking for my brother. I was wondering if you could help me. He’s got our mom really worried,” Porter said.

“What’s your brother’s name?” she said, returning a limp half-smile.

“Jack Hide.” Porter moved closer to the desk and leant on it with a single elbow, watching her face closely.

He was trying to make her uncomfortable, by increment, and it was working. The sooner he got what he wanted and was gone the better.

Satisfied, she started clacking away as loudly as humanly possible on a large, old grey keyboard. With every tap, Porter could imagine bony fingers popping bubble wrap made of plate glass, like nails on a chalkboard, but the board was the inside of your skull and the nails were dirty toenails.

He smiled, still looking at her face. She had a nice, long, smooth neck but not much of a chin to speak of. Not that a woman needed a big chin, but some chin was necessary to stop your head falling off your neck. She caught him looking out of the corner of her eye, which was fine: he wasn’t hiding it; quite the opposite. The more heat he put on her, the faster she’d work.

“We have one Kyle Hyde, but no Jack.” She looked at him and then looked back at the monitor.

“That’s him. Do you have an address?” He put both elbows on the desk and leant over to see the monitor.

She swiveled the it away and said, “I’m sorry. We can’t give out the addresses of our patients, unless you can prove you’re next of kin.”

“How do we do that? You wanna take my blood, check my prostrate?” Porter smiled. It was so easy to tell when redheads were uncomfortable, their pale skin flushed; you could see it from space. He waited and didn’t say anything, just left it hanging there, letting the silence build.

There were two kinds of people when it came to facing awkward silences: those that embraced them and got belligerent, like a teacher dealing with a naughty kid. They had an authoritarian personality. The other type was more common. Most people would do almost anything to make a silence end, shy of selling their mother at a discount. Most people just wanted to help and make other people happy, even if it meant throwing out everything they believed, in a split second of awkwardness. All you needed to do was apply pressure. No one was perfect. People were like locks. And there were no locks that couldn’t be picked if you poked at them long enough and with a long enough stick.

The blushing came back and Porter smiled. “Look…” he said, breaking the tension, “All you need to do is step away, for a second, and get a cup of coffee and you’ll never have to know anything happened.”

She was flustered now. He was impatient and he’d worked her hard and maybe too fast, laid it on a little too thick, but he’d given her an out and she had to take it or call security. If this place had any. Maybe she was security and there was a shotgun under the desk in circumcision range.

“Erm, I’m sorry, I can’t do that.” She put up token resistance, just a stalling tactic.

“Look, all I need is an address. I just want to make sure he’s alright. That’s all,” he said emphatically, adding a little shakiness to his voice.

“OK, I’m going to go to the bathroom and I expect you to be gone by the time I get back,” she said as she stood up from her chair.

A little too much information, but that was fine.

Porter smiled and mouthed ’thank you,’ as if she’d done him and his imaginary family a big favor that he could never repay. She’d literally cured cancer by going to the bathroom. If she washed her hands after, the Dalai Lama would give her a standing ovation.

He watched her go and, as soon as she was out of sight, he went to the other side of the desk. There was no fixed address listed for ‘Kyle’ at all; he wasn’t making this easy.

There was one forwarding address listed: 147 J Street, in the warehouse district.

It hit him like a ton of bricks: the tattoos. The cross had been a given, but the others, the letters, hadn’t made any sense. Porter had thought the J might have just been for Johnny or Jack, or something like that, but the ST had to have meant something. Maybe it wasn’t for two separate words. Maybe it was just an abbreviation for ‘street.’

Or maybe he was leading himself on a wild goose chase.

-

Nulidad was sitting in a room in the San Antonio Detention Centre. They had moved him from the child’s centre to the jail across the street after his record from Interpol came through.

He was wearing a white pair of pants and a blue shirt. They looked like hospital scrubs, sterile.

His cell was small. It came equipped with a blue phone embedded into a white column on the back wall.

He’d spent most of his time sitting on his bed, making collect calls to whosoever would answer. He was looking for something, shopping for something: a new identity, a new family. He had gotten a taste of something: the love of a family, or something close.

The phone rang and he answered: “How did you get this number?”

Mom gave it to me.” The voice was sly and slow and contained a threat.

“Who is this?” Nulidad said.

“I could ask the same question. What was your name again? Your real name?”

“What do you want?”

“The real question is, what do you want? I can pay your bail, get you out of town, and you can keep on keeping on, ya feel me?”

“Why would you do this for me?”

“You know why. You’ve got a big mouth.”

“So you can kill me, like you kill Johnny?” Nulidad hissed.

“Now, who said that? I didn’t kill Johnny and, if I did, I wouldn’t talk about it on a phone in a jail.” Jack paused and sucked in a breath.

“You don’t know me. You don’t owe me anything.”

“I want you out of my hair and you want out. It’s a win-win for you. I can help, but you have to make up your mind now.”

Nulidad breathed through his nose, making a whistling sound and said, “OK.”

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