A Well in Emmaus Chapter 5 “Storm Clouds”   Leave a comment

Chapter 5

Storm Clouds

            They met at a corner bar in a working class neighborhood. Eric heard him out, rolling a beer stein between his two palms, contemplating the dark brew within as if it might have answers. You couldn’t call it fidgeting. If you didn’t know Eric, you’d think it was just an idle gesture, but Mike recognized it as nervous energy.

            “No,” he finally said after Mike had stopped talking. His green eyes hid behind dark lashes as he kept his gaze on the table and that slowly revolving stein.

            “It’s one last job and it’s good money.”

            “Yeah,” Eric agreed. “It’s really good money for in-country. Too good. And, my lease is up. I’m packed. So, no.”

            “I told them you’d say that, by the way,” Mike assured him.

            At the end of the bar, an old man lit a cigarette. The whole place smelled of tobacco, like a 50-year-old never-cleaned ashtray. Mike supposed most of these men spent their lives on these barstools. Why else would they be here on a Friday morning at 10 am. Wait … never mind.

            “I was hoping you were feeling better,” Mike explained.

            Eric’s shoulders slanted. Mike waited. It didn’t do any good to push him to answer. Mike had never known the definition of the word “oppositional” until he’d met Eric.

            “I started feeling better when I made the decision that I was done,” he explained. “So, no.”

            “Yeah. I’ll tell them, but they might not listen.”

            “Slavery’s still illegal in the United States, Mike,” Eric reminded. He’d never stopped the slow revolution of the stein in his hands. Now he took a small sip of the dark beer. “They can’t make me.”

            “No. They can just make you wish you’d said ‘yes’.” Eric shrugged. “So this is it?”

            “I leave Tuesday,” Eric repeated from earlier in the conversation. “I’ll call before I go.”

            “We could get together, tie one last one.”

            “Nah. I think that’s not a really good idea for me. If you and Alicia want to get together for dinner, okay, but drinking …. I think I’ll pass.”

            Mike took a deep swallow of his Dos Equis and nodded.

            “Right. I forget you don’t drink when the pressure’s on. I should know that after all this time.”

            Eric seemed relaxed, except for his hands. Mike wished he knew what that was about.

            “So, this is Alicia’s email. If you want to stay in touch,” Mike said, handing him a strip of paper.

            “I do,” Eric said, securing it in his wallet. “This isn’t me leaving you. This is me leaving the life.”

            “Right.”

            “You should think about it, too, amigo. Sooner or later, what we do, that ends in death.”

            “Or as emotional roadkill?”

            “Something like that.” Eric let a silence develop that was painful for Mike. “I am so grateful for your friendship, Mike. You have no idea how much it’s meant to me.”

            “I feel the same. It’s going to feel strange, not seeing you.”

            “BW will give up on me eventually and then I’ll invite you out.”

            “You’ll probably have a flight school.”

            “Don’t know. I’m not where I can see that right now. What is this job that BW is willing to pay so well for?”

            “I don’t know, but they’re activating a lot of us. They want me in New Mexico by Wednesday.”

            Eric set the stein down and looked at the display of his phone. He frowned.

            “I got something I gotta do. So, Alicia’s madre lives in Santa Fe, right?”

            “Yeah. I’m thinking about having her go there so we can meet.”

            “You’ve never met her? Man!” Eric shook his head, smiling at some private joke. “Yeah, you should do that.”

            “Maybe have her join me at the end of the tour ….”

            “No. Go Monday,” Eric suggested. “You’re an SOB when you get off a job. Let her meet the sane Mike before she gets to know you.”

            “Jerk,” Mike teased.

            “I’m right.” Eric tossed some bills on the table, more than generous for the one, albeit imported, beer. “Text me if you want to get together for dinner. Make it tomorrow or Sunday, because I’m out of here first thing Tuesday morning.”

            “Sure. I’ll talk to Alicia. You take care, man.”

            “You know it. One last thing?”

            “Which is?”

            “The movers come for the last of my stuff this afternoon. I’d like not to do a cross-country trip unarmed.”

            “You said you’re feeling better?”

            “I am.

            “For sure?”

            Eric looked Mike right in the eye.

            “I swear I won’t try to hurt myself … at least not before I leave town.”

            “Not the most comforting assurance I ever heard,” Mike told him.

            “I never expected to have it come to that, so …. I can’t make promises for longer than I can keep.”

            “When you get where you’re going, you have family, right?”

            “Yes.”

            “Then promise me you’ll tell them if you start having those thoughts again.”

            “Sure. I promise.”

            “Okay. It’s your name, alpha-numeric.”

            “Seriously? That easy? I never would have figured that out.”

            “That was the point.”

            They stared at each other, awkward, for a long moment before embracing, then Eric glanced at his phone again.

            “Gotta rock. Call me.”

            The last Mike saw of him was his tall athletic form and dark curling hair going out the door. Mike finished his beer and then texted Alicia — YOU WANT TO GO TO NM, SEE YOUR MOM? MONDAY? SUNDAY? DINNER WITH RIC SAT?

            Mike tossed down some bills atop Eric’s and headed for his car.

            Shane watched him headed for his car from the front window of a coffee shop across the street, a pang of loneliness pricking his heart. His moment of distraction was all it took for Rigby to slide into the seat across from him. This time he looked like a businessman with glasses and a power tie.

            “How are you doing?” Rigby asked.

            “Better. Packing the last of my boxes seems to have helped.”

            “Don’t confuse busy-ness with euthymia,” Rigby responded. Shane grimaced. “I know I said you’d have no responsibility beyond packing, but something’s come up.”

            Shane grew guarded. Rigby had always been more or less straight with him, but his first handler had given him every reason not to trust and that had never worn off.

            “What’s that?” he asked.

            Rigby pushed one of the two coffee cups toward Shane.

            “What I’m giving you is vital. I don’t need you to do anything more with it than put it in your safety deposit box when you get to Emmaus. Someday, someone will come and ask for it. He’ll say Chavez sent him or else it will be Chavez. Or it might be me. Be careful who you give it to. Make sure I don’t have a gun to my head.”

            “Why? What is it?” Shane asked even as he took a sip of the coffee and felt the thumb drive under his hand. How did Rigby know that Shane drank green eye?

            “Now don’t go asking uncomfortable questions at this juncture. You’re out of here Tuesday morning?”

            “Maybe earlier. Once my stuff leaves today, I’m open.”

            “Make sure you are out of here by Tuesday morning. This conversation would usually involve you turning in your work phone and tablet, but I’m not deactivating Eric.” He pushed a portfolio toward Shane, who was surreptitiously sliding the thumb drive into a pocket. “He leaves International for Los Angeles headed to Thailand Tuesday morning. Shane hits US soil in Las Vegas Tuesday night. Your car arrives at Fashion Valley this afternoon. Key and plate number are in the packet. Make sure you’ve headed out before the sun comes up Tuesday.”

            They’d done such car swaps before, but this time Rigby had “laundered” Shane’s Jeep that he’d left parked in a storage unit when he’d gone to South American five years ago. It had been “sold” three times and currently belonged to Joel Rhys, the owner of Jericho Springs.

            “Okay.” Shane slid the portfolio into his inside pocket.

            “I’m serious. No later than Tuesday morning. What are your travel plans?”

            “Spend the night in Barstow, push onto Denver Wednesday, maybe spend the night –.”

            “No! Look at me, Shane!” He always called him Eric in public, so Shane’s gaze came up to meet Rigby’s. “You need to be in Emmaus or at least east of Denver by sundown Wednesday. Don’t be anywhere near any large cities. Got it?”

            “Yeah. Something’s up, isn’t it? BW is activating huge numbers according to Mike.”

            “You know I can’t tell you. Remember to treat this as a job until you get through Denver and swap out your license plates. You gave good advice to Mike about his mother-in-law. Timing’s good. This may well be the last time we speak for a long long time, so I want to say it’s been a pleasure working with you.”

            “How do you know what I said to –?” Shane read Rigby’s expression and shook his head. “There’s no such thing as privacy anymore, is there?”

            “Not in large cities, but maybe where your folks live. Some, anyway. Take care of yourself, Eric. When you get to where you’re going, let it heal you.”

            “Uh, yeah, I don’t think … it’s always been a place to take a break between adventures.”

            “Trust me. Life itself will be an adventure soon enough.”

            Rigby stood.

            “Keep your wits about you,” he advised and then he was gone. Shane shivered. Damned air conditioning! Taking the coffee with him, he headed for his truck.

All rights reserved Laurel Sliney dba Lela Markham 2014

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