The manhole cover was a few feet from a small two-way road, a road that was lined on both sides by quaint wooden buildings with pointed roofs. Snow was piled up on both sides of the street and sat heavy and cozy within the branches of the many fir trees surrounding around us. Mountains ran along the horizon in the distance, vanishing up into the clouds. I would’ve found it beautiful if I hadn’t begun to fear my fingers would freeze and snap off.
“Well, this is lovely,” observed Thomas, standing with his hands on his hips, surveying the road. “It’s like we’ve passed through a magical and mystical sewer tunnel and been transported back in time to the good ol’ days.”
I had no response except to exhale a cloud of very cold breath. A loud mechanical grinding noise grew louder from our left, mixed in with the sound of moving ice and slush. We turned our heads and saw a large red snow plough push down the street, its plough angled so the snow fell to the side of the road.
“Oh,” said Thomas. “There goes my time travel theory. It is a beautiful little village, though, out in the snowy mountains.”
I slid the manhole cover back into place, and we stepped away from the sewer entrance, and headed down to the pavement by the road. “Do you have any money?” I asked, patting down my trouser pockets. My wallet was still in there.
Thomas lifted up his jumper and t-shirt to show a travel pack strapped tight around his waist. He tapped it with his hand. “In here, mate.”
“Good, good,” I said, spotting a shop that had just what I wanted. “Let’s just go in there and get some clean dry clothes.”
A few minutes later we emerged from the store looking like official mascots for the town; everything we bought had the name Redstone emblazoned in red somewhere on it. After purchasing the clothes, which were mostly fitness clothes, we had changed into them in the dressing rooms. While dressing, I had noticed the bruises lining my body in the mirror, trailing down my ribcage like the tattoo of a footpath. I think I had been too cold to feel them at first. There was also a large bump on my forehead where Thomas had collided into me in the boot of the car. I pressed around it and massaged the swelling with my fingertips. It was going to be there for a while. I couldn’t tell if anything was wrong with Thomas. He appeared to be having the time of his life.
Thomas slid his hands into his pockets and glanced around the town like it was a theme park. “What are we going to do now, then?”
“Food,” I said. “The cashier in there said there’s a place down the road called the Miners Café.”
“Lead the way,” said Thomas, locking his arm with mine. We crunched on through the snow down the mostly empty street. The snow plough was heading back in our direction.
“How badly beaten up are you?” I asked.
“A few aches and pains, but nothing too serious. My head hurts the most from head butting you and having the car boot slammed down on top of it. But just bumps, no broken skin or loss of blood.” Thomas waved to the plough driver. “I wonder if he’ll let me have a go,” he said, his gaze following the plough down the road.
I pulled hard on his arm. “No, Thomas. Not right now.”
“Oh, okay,” he smiled, his tone playful.
In spite of the cold, I found the rage, anger, and fear that had been slow roasting my heart over the last twelve hours was easing. Thomas pointed to a large cream coloured building with a red trim and electronic yellow icicles lining the windows. The wooden sign sticking out of the ground in front was half covered in snow so that we could only see ‘Café’ in red lettering. “Is that it?”
I looked through one of the large downstairs windows and saw a couple of workers in white shirts and red waistcoats, standing behind a glistening bar. One of the workers was wrapping tinsel around a small Christmas tree. “Yeah, it has to be.”
Thomas let go of my arm and ran up to the sign. The hidden lettering was driving him crazy. He brushed away the snow. “Yep, Miners Café, look.”
“Now that we’ve confirmed it,” I smiled, “how about we go and order a meal?”
Thomas ran towards the door, kicking up the powdery white snow. My heart danced irregular in my chest, and I was simultaneously reminded of being a child and what it was to be in love with the world.
The waitress, a lady in her late thirties with long mahogany hair, placed the beers down on our small table by the window. “Here are your drinks,” she smiled, “and your food will be out shortly.”
Thomas watched her lower the silver serving tray to her side and followed her hips into the kitchen. “Does she remind you of Wonder Woman?”
“Yeah, in the sense that she is a woman,” I replied, sipping my beer. “Oh, this is good.”
Thomas lifted up his own glass and supped off the top. He nodded, “Yeah, it is. What did she say it was, Vixnu?”
I nodded and glanced out the window. Snow had started to fall again. “Funny name, isn’t it?”
“If you had your own beer, what would you call it?”
I held up my glass and studied a small stream of bubbles working their way to the surface. “Probably just Matthew’s Beer.”
Thomas leaned back in his chair and squinted at me across the table. “Matthew’s Beer? No offence, mate, but that’s well crap.”
I laughed. “Yeah, I can probably do better than that.”
There were two other couples in the restaurant with us, sitting at their own tables. I noticed they had removed their jackets and placed them over the backs of the chairs. I did the same thing with Thomas’ green puffer jacket and instantly felt less confined and stuffy. Thomas had a gray sweat top over his white woolen jumper, but didn’t seem in a hurry to take it off. I stretched my legs out underneath the table.
Thomas leaned down on his elbows. “This feels weird, doesn’t it?” he asked, watching the snow. “Usually we’re at work on a Tuesday, carrying the weight of routine and boredom on our shoulders. And now here we are,” he shifted his gaze and our eyes met for the first time. “Drinking beer in this beautiful little village in Colorado.”
“Thomas,” I said, shaky. “You just looked me in the eyes.”
In quick succession his eyes flicked back to mine and then escaped out through the window. “Is that a problem?”
I shook my head and laughed. “No, it’s not a problem. I’m just surprised. I’m so used to you staring at my chin.”
Thomas frowned and took two long gulps of his beer. “I usually don’t like looking people in the eyes,” he said, putting his drink down. “The eyes are usually so busy and hostile. Like people are forcing their way in to quiz my brain. I usually find it quite invasive.” He laughed. “I wish there were teeth in my eye balls so when people try to throw their gazes in, I could just bite them.” Thomas snarled and gnashed his teeth.
I laughed out loud and quickly covered my mouth for fear of embarrassment.
“So, just to clarify,” said Thomas. “What is our plan now?”
I groaned. “I don’t know.” The truth was I was starting to have fun, and we no longer had a business meeting to attend. “What do you think we should do?”
“Finish our beers and then order another one.”
“About the kidnapping,” I pushed. “And Mr. Myers.”
Thomas sighed. “It’s such an inconvenience, isn’t it? We were assaulted and that makes us victims. Shouldn’t that automatically mean we get left alone?”
I sipped my beer. “You want to be left alone?”
“Well, yeah. Don’t you? I don’t want the hassle of making a police report and having to recount what has happened to me in the last twelve hours. I keep mulling it over now and the details keep changing.”
“What do you mean the details keep changing?”
Thomas leaned back and gestured with his right hand. “It’s like my brain is editing film to make it more entertaining. Adding a soundtrack and splicing in alternate scenes and characters. By the time I talk to the police there’ll be snow mobiles, Alaskan timber wolves, bazookas, cocaine, and prostitutes.”
I sprayed beer on the table at the mention of prostitutes. I dabbed at it with my napkin. “Why would you do that?”
He folded his arms. “It’s what I do, can’t change it.”
Thomas exhaled through his nose, impatient. “When you need to pee, can you change that? Make your body so it doesn’t need to do it anymore? I mean, sure, you can hold it, but can you make the need vanish?”
I rolled my eyes. “No, but’s it hardly the same thing, is it? A bladder filling up with urine is not comparable in any way to the recollection of memories.”
Thomas’ eyes, which were now comfortable looking into my own, pierced deep into me. “Are you qualified to make that statement? Are you a neuroscientist?”
The waitress brought over our burger and fries. “Here you go,” she said, her voice soft and kind. “Would you like another beer?”
Thomas smiled, “Yes please. Another one of these would be lovely.”
“Sure,” the waitress chuckled. She turned to me. “And you?”
“Why not?” I replied. Thomas was in one of his moods and so more beer was probably a good idea. The waitress returned to the bar that was lined with gold and silver tinsel.
“Okay,” I continued. “So your issues with blending reality and imagination aside, you don’t think we should call the police?”
Thomas finished his beer and slammed the glass down. “Why do you keep asking me? What do you think?”
“I just want to get your input so I’m not making a unilateral decision. I, too, don’t want to call the police.”
“And what’s your reasoning, o wise one?”
“I’m worried that we would be detained and wouldn’t be able to return home. I’m willing to overlook the kidnapping in favor of getting home, actually. I don’t want to press charges. And it’s not like we have any information on why Myers was killed.”
“Except that it was probably Julie and her associates.”
I exclaimed, frustrated. “We don’t know her name is Julie!”
“The ball is already rolling, Matthew. I can’t stop it.”
I ignored him. “But we do know she had to have been involved. Does that make us witnesses?”
Thomas’ eyes opened wide and he rolled his head. “We weren’t witnesses,” he said, incredulous. “We didn’t witness the murder. If he was murdered. Granted, I couldn’t find a pulse, but maybe I was doing it wrong.” Thomas cackled, thoroughly amused. “I mean, what do I know about checking a pulse?”
I closed my eyes to recapture looking down at the still, naked man. There was little doubt in my mind he had been dead when we found him.
The waitress approached with the two tall beers, bent down at the knee, and placed them down on the table. “Two Vixnus,” she said, before noticing our untouched food. “Is the food okay?”
“I’m sure it’s great,” I replied. “We were just chatting.”
“Okay, well let me know if you need anything,” she said, and retreated to the bar.
Thomas picked up the ketchup bottle and doused his fries. “If you don’t want to talk to the police, then how much longer do you want to stay here?”
“Our return flights aren’t until Friday. So, why don’t we try and get a taxi back to our hotel in Aspen, do some skiing, and do our best to forget about everything else.”
The snow had picked up outside, flowing through the air like a vertical river, swirling and foreboding.
I picked up my burger with both hands and took a huge bite. I closed my eyes, and for a few brief seconds when the juicy burger hit my tongue, time and space vanished in an explosion of flavor. My desire to talk immediately ceased, and I kept my eyes closed to be alone with my food. I had no desire to go anywhere.
Anywhere at all.