Grasping In The Dark
Tom had an interesting day getting to work and an even more interesting time getting home. Carlton had eventually called him at home to say that they were going to have to abort today due to the farmer's protest. To Tom it was a novelty having weekends off, as he no longer worked shifts but Monday as well: paradise. Tom and Annie made the most of it.
They went on a long walk and made some decisions concerning Phoenix and then returned home. Tom then popped out to keep his arrangement to see Jack.
Since they were well known in Ronnie's they went to Lincoln's, the local bar by their apartments. They never went there, or hardly ever.
It was notoriously rough, filled to the brim with the miscreants of the local area; the place to pick up 'cheap' items of electrical equipment, like fridges and viewcoms. The only problem was, if you had friends around to your house it often turned out that the goods turned out to be theirs.
Tom entered the bar gingerly, the door had a little bell that tinkled it was an alarm for regulars to eyeball the newcomers. He passed a rough looking big guy, who sat on one of the bar stools, which were shackled to the floor. He uttered profanities to no one in particular.
The bar tried to have an English pub theme, but it was so half-hearted that no one noticed. There were a few items of brass on the walls and a defunct beer pump, bearing the name 'Bass' which no one had actually ever drank from, but due to the owner's indifference, the pump still stood on the bar limply.
The bar had lots of booths scattered around the edge, like choir stalls only with higher backs. Dimly illuminating each one were two red lights, with old red velvet lampshades. The paint above the lamps had been mercilessly burnt over time. Each of the tables bore marks of idle doodling in the wood.
Jack sat in the corner. He looked small, cold and pale. The lambent light above Jack made him look almost grotesque; he had dark shadows under his eyes. His beer sat in front of him, untouched.
Tom approached him. Jack gave him a weak smile.
“Is the beer safe Jack? Or am I going to pick up DIPSYS syndrome from it?” Tom said, trying to lift his spirits.
“Don't know. Haven't tasted it yet," Jack replied. He took a sip, "Tastes a bit watery but its safe I think."
“I'm going to get a beer, do you want some chips or nuts or something?"
“Pretzels would be okay. Yeah pretzels."
Tom ambled up to the bar. To his left the rough guy was still gurgling obscenities and a long way down the bar two guys were starting to argue about money. Tom walked away from them.
“Hi, its Jack isn't it, haven't seen you around here for a while. How’re you doing?
Tom didn't recogise the bargirl and didn't want to hazard a reply.
“No, not been in here for a while."
“How are you doin'?" she continued chirpily.
"Great, thanks great. Can I have a beer and a couple of honey nut pretzels?"
"Why, sure you can." She grabbed a beer from the fridge and uncapped it.
"My number’s 224477."
“Sorry, honey. We only accept cash now."
Tom fumbled around in his pocket and found a note. "There you go."
“Weird stuff going on at Carlton today. What do you think those farmers think they're playing at?"
“I'm not sure yet, I'm not sure they know themselves."
Tom grabbed his beer and wandered back to Jack; he felt a twinge of guilt at their now contrasting situations.
“There you go Jack. You okay?"
Jack took a deep breath and looked at Tom with a steady gaze. "No, Tom, I'm not okay."
“What's on your mind?"
“What do you think?" said Jack with asperity. Jack looked down at the table.
“I see you've been here before."
Inscribed in the table were the words Tom and Annie and the date. "Yeah, forgotten about that."
“I'm sorry Tom. Didn’t mean anything."
“It’s okay," said Tom," What's been going on?"
“Nothing new since we last spoke." Jack looked around the bar.
“Tom…I’ve a really weird feeling about all this.”
Jack looked at Tom with a quizzical expression in his eyes, searching
Tom's face like he had never seen him before in his life. "What do you mean?" said Tom evenly.
“What do you mean bad feeling?"
“Like I've been set up. I keep thinking it's something to do with Carlton and I keep half seeing faces in my sleep, I don't remember them and when I wake up I'm not sure I've even had the dream. It's a weird feeling Tom. It’s starting to freak me out."
“What do you see in your sleep, what faces?" Tom asked anxiously.
“I can't explain it, Tom. People watching me. Sounds stupid but in the dream it's like I'm playing or something, like playing with a mouse or something and someone, more than one person is watching me, I think they're laughing. I'm scared Tom, I'm real scared. What the fuck happened after the bowling alley? Tom, what the fuck happened?"
Tom ran his fingers down the bottle, brushing droplets of condensation until some water tubed into the grooves in the table.
“I wish I could tell you, Jack, believe me I really wish I could tell you, but I can't. I wish there was something I could do Jack, I really do."
Tom stretched out his arm. “I'm here for you, you know that."
Jack nodded solemnly. "Reckon the best thing you can do is go to this doctor and try and figure it all out."
Tom looked at Jack.
“You looked fucked up Jack. I'm sorry to say it, but you do. You need professional help. You ought to see this woman. It might help."
“Yeah, Tom? And what if I find something I don't want to know."
“I don't know, but suppose I find something."
“Then you know what you're dealing with, don't you? From what you've said, sounds like this woman wants to help you or she wouldn't have laid it on the line for you."
Jack bit his lip.
"You really think I should go through with it?"
“Look Jack, they've found your blood by the car. Now I don't know how it got there, you don't know how it got there, but one thing's sure. They sure as hell want to find out what happened, especially now. And if they can't find out the exact truth, then they might twist it around to get a conviction. This woman sounds like she might help. "
“What do you mean? Tom, you are doing nothing to calm my nerves here”.
“I'm sorry Jack, but there's no point in talking around. How long have we known each other, eh? Remember when we first met up in Carlton? Feels a long time ago now.” They both smiled with nostalgia. "'Member when we went camping up in Yellowstone? We go back."
“A good while," said Jack smiling for the first time.
“If you regress and find you took drugs, it'll make things easier. Ellephanie needs someone to take the fall for Ralph's murder. He'll want the whole thing tied up, he won't want any loose ends flying around while he's trying to get elected. Nothing that could stick to Carlton. Potential deaths stink and stick bad. The stakes are getting higher. Look at the wall today." Tom put out his arm, "He'll put pressure on. You know what these guys are like."
“Get to the point Tom. You’re killing me here."
Tom reached out his hand and put it on Jack's forearm.
“Listen Jack, I don't like to tell you this, if you haven't figured it out. You are convenient Jack; your blood was there on McManan's body. You can't remember where you were and you've got no alibi. Whatever is hidden in your head’s maybe the best defence you've got, if only we can find out what it was. Suppose someone framed you, it's possible. Someone had it in for McManan. They drive by, having killed Ralph, and they see you are drunk. They give you a load of drugs, like this MT she was talking about. They get some of your blood from a cut or something and take it to where they've killed McManan and wipe it around, implicate you."
“Sounds pretty unlikely, how would they know that I wouldn't remember them? Why would they happen to have MT with them? "
Tom paused and bit his lip. Jack was looking away. He tugged on Jack's arm.
"Jack, goddam it, listen to me! I don't know what the truth is. All I'm saying is, that the truth maybe the best hope you have right now. There's no justice unless you can find weapons to create it. Finding out the truth maybe the best weapon you have got even if you can only find proof of getting MT."
“Or the worst, suppose I find something worse out."
“Like what?" Tom leant forward. Jack leant forward to meet him.
“Like I killed the bastard, Tom, I didn't like him and you know I have this problem with my temper."
“I think it's unlikely Jack, you were so drunk you could hardly walk, let alone have the sense to get angry. You were too gone Jack. You were a heap. In any case you wouldn't kill someone, you just wouldn't. I know you wouldn't."
“Like I said, I have been feeling weird lately, not myself. I'm almost scared of myself because I don't know. The whole thing seems to be getting larger in me, like it’s eating me up inside. Not knowing if you’ve done something’s worse than knowing. If you know, you deal with it. If not you worry about it.
It's like when I was a kid, doing something wrong, I used to muck about when I was a kid, but in the end I would always tell my Mom. If I knew she knew, then I knew that nothing would happen or I'd get punished and that'd be that. It was the not knowing if she knew that killed me. That was what got to me. I couldn't look her in the eyes. I swear she never knew what I'd done once, I was too careful but she'd see it...’ Jack paused, touched by the warmth of the memory and pointed to his eyes. He grew listless again.
“Jees," Jack started his voice trembling, "It's not like I've hidden her best dress, put roaches under the kitchen sink, or stolen some candy from the local store. The thing I've been trying to figure out is, how on earth they got me in, in the first place. Why did they choose me? How did they make the connection?"
“I don't know Jack. The same applies to me. I don't know how they even came to suspect me. It came right out of the blue, honest to God, I've still got the bumps on my head to prove it. I've got a theory though."
“Well those security guys at the bowling alley. They know the police guys. Maybe they mentioned we got drunk and threw us out. Maybe they took a flyer on it. Maybe it was just one of those empty leads they thought they ought to follow up, 'cos they didn't have anything else. .You know Goldentooth would get me in just for the fun of it."
“Yep, but not me."
“I know Jack. Maybe they were going to talk to us all. Maybe they were being thorough."
“Did they take some of your blood to check?"
“Well they certainly had the chance, but I don't remember it very clearly.”
Jack opened the pretzels and began to eat them almost without noticing.
“See this woman. Get a good lawyer. Use Goldstein if you can. Get a loan. Get it over with, whatever it is. Have you talked to Elsee about this?"
“Are you kidding? I told her they took me in for questioning but I didn't tell her everything. I told her I was, like you, a potential suspect because I had no alibi and they were asking around. What was I supposed to say, Tom ‘Hey, honey don't mind me I might just be a murderer? You think she would go for that in a big way?" Jack's voice wavered with fear.
“Okay, Jack, okay."
“I'm supposed to see this doctor, Silvia now. In fact, that's why I wanted to talk to you first, settle my mind to it, although I had agreed to go and see her anyway."
“Where does she live?"
“Up in Mayville."
“Do you want a lift?"
“No, I'd better not. She said to come alone. And Tom?"
“Don't go telling anyone about this, will you. She’s taking a risk here, doing me a favour."
Tom smiled. "Don't worry."
“Hey, I'll come with you some of the way, if you want." Jack paused for thought.
“Thanks for the offer. Think I'd quite like to walk up there on my own. Get my head straight a bit before I go in," Jack smiled weakly," so she can unstraighten it. At least I want to feel okay going in, God knows what she's gonna do to me."
Jack got up to leave. Tom got up; Jack put a restraining hand on his arm. "No, you stay here and finish your beer. And Tom. I'm real pleased for you the way things have turned\out for you,"
Tom opened his mouth to speak.
“No really. Shut up a moment, I mean it. You deserve it. Thanks for talking to me, I appreciate it."
“Be seein' you. Watch your back, Jack. Call me anytime, at all if there's anything you need."
“Thanks Tom," Jack said warmly slapped him on the back and marched out.
"It's the least I can do," Tom mumbled at the table.
Tom sat pensively for a moment, systematically clearing the beer label's condensation away. He got up, ordered a quadruple whiskey and knocked it straight back.
Sometime later, Jack lay on a couch in Silvia, the doctor's backroom. She had given him a soothing drink, which had relaxed his nerves and made him feel slightly dreamy. Jack began talking about the night at the bowling alley getting drunk, going outside.
Suddenly Jack became agitated and started waving his arms around, he just kept shouting "Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my..."It took a while before Silvia could make any sense out of him. She did in the end.