Richard took another sip of scotch and stared at the screen some more. He didn’t send the message. He just scanned over it carefully, making spelling corrections and clarifying phrases. In essence, he was dickering. He could almost see those cat masks swaying back and forth behind the cellos in the back of his mind, sawing away at his theme song.
He felt warm, like the temperature in the room had gone up. He unbuttoned his black shirt and fanned himself with the loosened fabric. He supposed it could be hunger, and decided to poke through the fridge.
The refrigerator had plenty of food in it now, but it all required cooking, and just then, he didn’t feel up to it. He supposed he could heat up some of the vegan dish, but he still needed to go out and buy a microwave. He was almost ready to accept that invitation to dinner at Henri’s, but ultimately decided to break open a bag of chips and munch a few. After a few minutes, he decided that Herr’s BBQ Rib flavoured chips were passable, but weren’t really doing the trick.
He started buttoning up his shirt and headed for the closet to grab his coat. A slice of pizza right then…
There was a knock at the door. He was already standing there, but dearly wished he could just slip into the bedroom and hide until whoever it was left. Another knock.
“C’mon, old man, I know you’re in there. I saw you go up. Let me in,” a familiar voice demanded.
He hesitated, wondering if he could bluff her, wait her out. Then she knocked again, this time harder.
“Please,” she added, sounding slightly strangled. Seconds later, he was almost certain he could hear her sniffling.
He opened the door to find Stacey wiping her eyes, not yet noticing him. He decided to essay a “Hello,” and smiled warmly as she looked up at him with an expression of surprised relief. He stepped aside and waved her in, and she put her head down and shuffled in.
“How are you?” he asked, sincerely hoping things weren’t as bad as she was managing to make it look.
“I haven’t slept in days,” she reported solemnly. “I haven’t been able to think straight since I left here. I figured you probably wouldn’t want to see me again, but I didn’t know who else to turn to. It’s my brother, Charlie. I think he might be in trouble.”
“How can you be sure? Has he contacted you?”
“No, it’s just a feeling. I’ve had it before. The times he was taken away, I had the same feeling. I don’t dare call any hospitals looking for him, because they might be looking for me, too.”
Richard struggled to keep any show of frustration from his voice. He knew she couldn’t know what kind of day he’d had.
“So what is it you think I can do for you?” he asked softly.
“Could you call? Just ask if a Charlie Murphy has been admitted to the psych ward. Tell them you’re an uncle or something, or maybe a lawyer. I don’t know. What do you think would work?”
“Well, if I claim to be an uncle, they might want me to answer some questions, and if I claim to be a lawyer, they’ll probably ask for credentials. Either way, I don’t see how I could keep up the charade for long. And anyway, I still don’t have a phone line.”
“Seriously? What the hell have you been doing since I was here last?” she demanded weakly. He deliberately held his irritation in check.
“I haven’t had two minutes to myself to contact a phone company and get one hooked up yet. Every time I start to look into it, something else comes up and I’m gone again, not getting back until after hours.”
“But you were here all day,” she replied too quickly, and then explained herself. “I’ve been… waiting for a chance to speak to you alone. I recognized that girl that left this morning, and then saw your friend go up just as I was about to come see you this afternoon.”
“You recognized Andy? How?”
“I..” she hesitated, “I followed you when you two were buying groceries together. She’s not like a little sister or anything, is she?”
“No, Andy and I aren’t related. She’s a close friend.”
“Yeah, I sort of figured when she didn’t leave last night,” she replied, a note of disappointment in her voice.
“You seem to have been paying a lot of attention to what goes on in my apartment lately,” he observed. “I’d be flattered if I weren’t just a little concerned. Aren’t you supposed to be looking for your brother?”
“I told you, I need your help to find him. Once I have Charlie back, I promise, I’ll leave you alone,” she pleaded. “I just… I need him. We’re the same, him and me. He understands what I need. He knows how to look out for me.”
“You don’t suppose he might be trying to get some help for himself right now, do you?”
“No! Charlie wouldn’t abandon me! We need each other,” she cried. “We never would have lost each other, except the cops came for him and he had to run away so they wouldn’t take me too. He always took care of me, and now it’s my turn to do something for him. You have to help me. I need him,” she urged. “I need… help.”
She broke down, sliding down the wall and balling herself up on the floor. She was rocking and sobbing loudly, her eyes scrunched tight, chanting silently to herself between deep, sucking breaths. Not knowing quite what to do, Richard sat down next to her and carefully maneuvered himself until he had her head propped up on his lap. He stroked at her hair and made soft shushing noises, hoping it would calm her. It seemed to help a little, but she was still shaking and crying.
Without really thinking about it, he’d started humming a tune, and it took him a minute to realize that he was humming the introduction to In The New World. Thinking it might help her, he began singing the words. She sighed a little at the sound of his voice, and quieted down to pay attention.
All too soon, however, he reached the end of the chorus and realized he needed more words. He started thinking about some of the other passages he and Randy had worked out earlier, remembering one of the bits they’d come up with near the end of the jam, and started singing nonsense words off the top of his head.
You see a face carved in stone
Marking the days for a thousand years
And all your exploits explained away
With some strange, native names.
You try to get your head around it
Asking questions, getting nowhere
These wise men just cannot see
Your great cause is immune to blame.
And you won’t
Tracing patterns on the disk of years
And they won’t
Anything to wipe away your fears.
This is not
That your men are gonna want to hear
And they won’t
If your answers aren’t very clear.
Take these truths you can’t explain
Put them down and walk away
None of this will matter in the end.
The King has issued his decree
You can’t change the outcome now
And you will fail what you cannot defend.
In the New World
Justice turns a blind eye
The Sun will sink, the moon will cry
And you can’t ever tell them why.
In the New World
Shaking faith abandons you
Duty will not see you through
And you’re never really sure what’s true.
But you’re hanging on to hope
That the Lord is on your side
And the things that you do now
Will be found pleasing in His eye.
And the faces that you see
In this world you dare to change
Will not damn your soul to Hell
Though brother Sun has set and sister Moon does cry.
Please do not cry…
Richard trailed off, the words no longer coming, and looked down at Stacey, who had settled peacefully and gone to sleep. He carefully slipped out from under her and knelt down to pick her up off the floor, carrying her to the sofa. He grabbed a pillow and spare blanket from the bedroom and returned to tuck her in, and then turned down the lights and sat back down at his computer.
© 2011 Lee Edward McIlmoyle