There’s still some sleep, thank goodness, maybe just enough sleep to get me through this, I’ll get what I need, won’t I Mick? Mick? Cut me. JV.
I went back to the range, of course. I had to. After Nathan’s fall (the walrus was Paul. Stop. Stop. Can’t you fucking stop for one fucking minute, oh you’re in it, no forgetting, it’s what you’re betting, vetting, petting, zoo, Soo, move on, move on!), and after Soo lost her job, well, it wasn’t so pleasant to be around the house, just the three of us. At first we’d take turns watching Nate, kind of tag team parenting. One of us on the computer or on the phone looking for a job, trying to connect with someone, looking at all the job boards, talking to recruiters; and the other keeping an eye on Nathan. But, the slightest noise, a cry, let alone a scream (which are quite frequent from toddlers don’t you know) and Soo would come running (you did, I know you’ll say you didn’t, but you did and that’s OK, I don’t blame you). She didn’t want to give me a panicked look, and she didn’t want to make me to feel guilty or inadequate, but she did. Or I did. I just felt like an extra wheel, a worthless extra wheel (Steal, this book, was that a look?).
So, I just sort of started excusing myself. Stepping back and then just going out. I’d go to the park, but it was awful there alone after being there with Nathan, and I’d get nervous watching other kids, I’d want to run over and stop the kids from falling. I did once, rushing off the bench and dashing to a little kid who had leaned over the side of a slide, and his mother looked at me like I was a letch (step and fetch, it, is, starting again, shit, his, parting, brain, pain, hemispheres, changing gears) like I was going to snatch him or something. And that nagging feeling that someone was following or watching me wouldn’t go away either. And I dwelt on that (felt the hat, wool and brim, on a whim, a lark, out of the park, home run, run home, not fun, stop, roam, charges, barges, largesse, success, regress, egress, OK, are you done? One, more, Boer, War, Churchill escaped, you will be draped, with garlands and ribbons, the clawed hands of gibbons). If I could get distracted by that thought again, if I snapped again, and saw them and ran after them what would happen? What if I did get a job and that still didn’t go away? I thought about it logically, and I said OK, if they aren’t real, if they don’t exist then I can just ignore them and go on, but my mind kept going back to those pictures, those blurry black and white photos of me talking with Jake at the range. If I was imagining Perry and McMahon, why would I insert images of a real driving range into that hallucination? Unless the driving range wasn’t real either. So, I had to go back. I had to go back and find Jake or Bob or prove to myself that they didn’t exist. But when I did go back, I did find Jake. It was as if he was waiting for me. He saw me open that sliding half barn door and looked at me with what I assumed was expectation, mixed with a tad of concern (learn to burn, toast, roast, you are the most, annoying, cloying, voice, I have no choice, so you say, Go Away!) He walked towards the door and looked around the parking lot, and up and down South Kingston Road. He didn’t talk to me directly, not at first. I had my clubs and I walked towards him, but he looked away and said under his breath, “Get some balls.” I remember that. I remember thinking a lot about those very words. Kind of funny in a lame macho way. “Get some balls.”
So, I went in and got a small bucket of balls and started hitting them. Just pounding balls, trying not to think too much, trying not to look around to find Jake. I remember thinking even then, did I see Jake, or did I just then imagine seeing Jake (Take, a hike, strike, that, reverse it, black hat? Bullshit!).
But he came back, he had gone off to make a phone call. He came over to where I was hitting and started hitting balls on the mat behind me. “Nice shoes,” he said. I had left the white FootJoys in the trunk, opting instead for a pair of old hiking boots. “Don’t turn around. We don’t think you’ve been followed, but we can’t be too careful. We have to go somewhere else. Hit the rest of that bucket and then drive to Silverdale. There’s a place past the mall called TJ’s Tavern. Pull in the parking lot and wait five minutes before you come in.”
He said all this over the course of a few minutes. Casually, under his breath as I reached down to place a ball on the tee (see, I can be, quiet, Try it!). It seemed a bit superspy hokie, but I thought, “What the hell, if I’m going to go mad I might as well go in style.” I did what he said. TJ’s was a dump (slump, Shawn Green’s a chump, don’t go there, I don’t care! I can’t spare, another day, Go Away!) I watched closely to see if I was followed, to see if a Lincoln Town Car rolled past me when I pulled into the parking lot, but I didn’t see anything.
Inside, I looked around and saw Jake sitting in a corner, but he motioned for me to sit at the bar. I got a beer and pretended to be interested in the pre-season football on TV. How people watch that is beyond me. After two beers, Jake sat down next to me and said, “We thought you’d never show up.” Thought I’d never show up indeed. They knew all along. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were behind Soo losing her job, if they weren’t behind the both of us not being able to get jobs. If there is one thing I have absolutely no doubts about, it is the connected-ness of these guys. They know people. And they know people that know people (steeple, weeple, weeple?, it’s a word, don’t be absurd, headdress, repress, my mind you stole, asshole, wimple, ah simple, and the point, ha steeple, out of joint, sleep’ll, help, yelp, no more, or…).
We went into a private back room. It had a pool table. It reminded me more than anything of a place out on Geary, on the Irish Mile, Ireland’s 32. I went in there once with a buddy of mine and we were greeted with all the friendliness of a couple of clowns at a funeral (ethereal, venereal, Madrid, you did, not, do as you said, rot! Or go to bed!). We went upstairs looking for a pool table and interrupted what could have been an IRA meeting for all the quick silence and dagger-like stares that came at us. Well, TJ’s back room was kind of like that. It had a back exit, the aforementioned pool table, and a conventional table in the far corner with chairs and stools scattered about, the usual assortment of chalk, cues and bar paraphernalia. The decoration ran towards Beer Distributor Gothic, no portraits of Irish martyrs that’s for sure. It was mostly stuff you could find at any other bar in any other city in America.
Max sat at the table in the corner, talking with Bob and some other guy who looked like he was military, short hair, thick (that’s the trick, pony, phony! Holly Golightly, I’ll ask politely, do you think this is helping, a whelp’s constant yelping? Uhh, sorry, are we?).
Jake and I waited until they were done and the military guy got up to leave, walking out the back door and letting in a shaft of unfiltered natural light for a moment that seemed out of place and scared quickly back outside with the fast, loud, heavy closing of that back door. And, it was that sound, that deep thud of a closing metal door that served as the harbinger (words will singe her, now you’re in danger, Airborne Ranger, life, strife, wife, not that way, not that way, go away), the tolling bell, to my introduction to Max Unglohd (it’s her that you owed, not him, I continue unbowed, dim, wit, shit).
We shook hands and he just started talking. He knew who I was, he knew how I knew who he was, or at least how I knew his name was “Max” or at least would be for me. He knew what I needed and he knew what he needed, and he knew how to push all my buttons to make me see that what I should want to do is what he wanted me to do (true, this commentary, is it necessary? Begin, again). Don’t get me wrong, he was very charming about it. I’m not going to go into any detail about what he looked like or who he really might be. (I want you to have this, Soo, I want you to know the truth, but if this does get more widely distributed, I don’t want to jeopardize you or anyone in that organization. So, the less you know the better, as far as anything that could lead back to these people [steeple, you’re on thin ice, be nice, really, quite clever, is there a lever, a switch, scratch this itch, put an end, oh don’t pretend, you don’t know, so, So! If you know I know, well, there you go, can we move on, anon, ever, clever]).
He offered me a job, right off the bat (corked, forked, tongue, mung). He said he knew my work, that he liked what he saw and he was ready and willing to compensate me generously for my services (traverses, his verses, her vices, his spices). It was an unconventional job, though. It would require a lot of travel. I may not get to spend a lot of time with my family. At least not at first (worst, burst, cloud, too loud). The job would be demanding, but after awhile, after everything panned out, Max assured me that all the hard work would be worth it (bullshit, are you on board? Chevy or Ford, Honda Toyota, why I oughta).
We didn’t talk about specifics that day. I think they just wanted to let that sink in. I tried to ask some questions, get some details, but they politely deflected them. Jake and Bob were in on the conversation, as well. Mostly as observers, listening and watching my reaction to Max, and only occasionally chiming in on their own. They just told me to come back to the Tavern the following Tuesday, and, at present, to not say anything about this meeting to my wife, or anyone else for that matter (fatter, chatter, stop, chop, hurt me, hurt you, free, blue).
I thought that would be easy enough. Soo and I were barely talking anyway. And I wasn’t exactly in the mood to go rushing out and make new friends. I think it’s safe to say, at that point, I was at a pretty low place, and going down (neat, repeat, no really I like it, your mouth is mealy, spit, sand, out of hand, grand).
But this seemed like a ray of hope. Here was someone who knew my work, that wanted to give me a job. I could turn things around with Soo, I could make it all up to Nathan, we could keep the house (grouse, I hear your complaining, I fear it’s raining, nothing new, phew).
The next few days were about as unpleasant as any the three of us ever spent together. We were in limbo (arms akimbo?, fuckoff, cough cough). All we could do was wait and take care of the kid and the house, except taking care of the house was like taking care of someone else’s house. It was as if we were preparing it for sale, not like we were making it nice to live in for the rest of our lives. There’s a big difference, that whole pride of ownership, American Dream thing (let freedom ring, there’s a lot more to say, don’t let me get in your way).
I just muddled through it. (Soo, I’ll be back. I’ll make it all up to you. I promise. [that’s sweet, heavy sigh, what a guy, done? Fun, not, thought, it was over, now we’re in clover, certain? Close the curtain]) Days just pass by when you don’t have a job, a purpose. There’s no week, no weekend, no dates or times, without that structure of the work week all the days just sort of blur together.
On Tuesday I made an excuse and went out. I spent more time looking in my rearview mirror than out of my windshield. I got to TJ’s and waited in the car for five minutes again, but didn’t see anything. I went inside and looked around as my eyes adjusted to the light, but I didn’t see anyone I recognized. I sat at the bar, ordered a beer, and thought, shit, I’m all fucked up (lost pup, shut up). I’ve imagined this whole thing. I had no clear sense of what was real anymore (close the door, you’re a bore, there’s someone there, get out of my hair).
But, Jake showed up eventually. He sat down next to me at the bar and said, looking at his watch, “In five minutes were going out the back.” So, I finished and settled up and just waited to follow his move.
He got up and walked slowly to the back room. I followed a few seconds later. In the back room he was waiting by the door, kind of listening with his head cocked. He acknowledged me with a nod. There was the sound of an engine and he motioned me towards the door with a wave of his arm (farm, not now, wow, grouchy, bad chi, tee hee). Outside, Bob was waiting behind the wheel of a large pickup truck. He said, “Get in,” which I did and Jake jumped in behind me, and we were off. They didn’t talk much. There was a lot of looking around. We got on the freeway and drove south towards Gorst (forced), past the floating cemetery of Navy ships, past Port Orchard, onto smaller roads. After awhile I stopped paying attention where we were going. There were twists and turns and I thought I might be able to find my way back to wherever it was we were going, but thinking back now if there was a chance that I could have found my way back to the place where they were taking me then there’s a high likelihood the place didn’t matter. That there would be nothing incriminating there if I did change my mind and decided to drag the cops back there instead (head, old, mold, sold, river, deliver, goods, woods).
That wasn’t likely. We pulled down a dirt road and bounced around for what must have been three or four miles, at the end of which we came to a small cabin in the woods. I looked around as we got out, but there wasn’t any view to speak of (love, really, truly, change of pace, human race, am I getting through, who says it’s you). A lot of trees, a wood pile with an ax in a stump (lump, trump, OK, you say). Smoke trailed out of a chimney. The weather was just starting to cool off. Fall was coming, and this place didn’t get a lot of sunlight, it didn’t look like it had central heating, either.
We went inside and Max was sitting with two more guys who looked like they were in the military or had been at some point. He stood up and shook my hand again (win, win).