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Jack grumbled a bit, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. It was going to go; it was really going to go.
Mike called a guy he knew and found out that the season opened on September 11, just about a month away. “At least that’ll give us time to get our affairs in order.” Mike laughed. “You know, quit our jobs, divorce our wives, and the like.”
We all laughed.
Suddenly McKlearey stood up. He’d been sitting in the corner, nursing his beer. “Where’s that fuckin’ paper?” he demanded.
Mike blinked and pulled it out of his shirt pocket.
McKlearey jerked it out of his hand, picked up the pencil Mike had been using, and laboriously wrote along the bottom.
“Louis R. McKlearey,” he wrote.
“What the hell—” Jack said, stunned.
“Fuck ya!” Lou snapped. Then he leaned back his head and began to laugh. The laugh went on and on, and pretty soon the rest of us were doing it too.
“Why you sneaky son of a bitch!” Jack howled. “You bad-mouthed the whole idea just to get us all hooked. You sneaky, connivin’ bastard!”
Lou laughed even harder. Maybe the others accepted Jack’s easy answer, but I wasn’t buying it. Not by a damn sight, I wasn’t.
After that, things got noisy. We all got to hitting the keg pretty hard, and it turned out to be a pretty good party after all.
I guess it was almost three in the morning by the time we got Mike home.
“I was gonna take you by to see Sandy,” Jack said as we drove back to the trailer court, “but it’s pretty late now.” His voice was a little slurred.
“Sandy? Who’s that?”
“Little something I’ve got on the side. She’s a real fine-lookin’ head. Tends bar at one of the joints. You’ll get a chance to meet her later.”
I grunted and settled down in the seat. I realized that I didn’t know this brother of mine at all. I couldn’t understand him. A certain amount of casual infidelity was to be expected, I guess, but it seemed to him to be a way of life. Like his jobs and his wives, he just seemed to drift from woman to woman, always landing on his feet, always making out, always on the lookout for something new. Maybe that’s why he wasn’t so worked up about Lou and Margaret. I guess the word I was looking for was “temporary.” Everything about him and his life seemed temporary, almost like he wasn’t real, like nothing really touched him.
I drifted off to thinking about the hunt. Maybe I was kind of temporary myself. I didn’t have a family, I didn’t have a girl, and I didn’t have a job. I guess maybe the only difference between Jack and me was that he liked it that way, and I didn’t. To him the hunt was just another thing to do. To me it already seemed more important. Maybe I could find out something about myself out in the brush, something I’d sure as hell never find out on a sidewalk. So I sat musing as the headlights bored on into the dark ahead of us.
IT wasn’t until Thursday that we finished up the deal on the car I was buying from Sloane’s lot. I guess I got a pretty good deal on it. It was a ten-year-old Dodge, and I got it for a hundred and fifty. One of the fenders was a little wrinkled, and the paint wasn’t too pure, but otherwise it seemed OK. Jack assured me that I wouldn’t have been able to touch it for under three hundred anywhere else on the Avenue.
It was cloudy that day, one of those days when the weather just seems to be turned off—not hot, not cold, not raining, not sunny—just “off.” I kind of wandered around the car lot, kicking tires and so forth while McKlearey finished up the paper work in the cluttered little shack that served as an office. I hate waiting around like that, I get to the point where I want to run amok or something. It wasn’t that I had anything to do really. I just hated the standing around.
Finally Lou finished up and I took the paper and the keys from him.
“Be sure to keep an eye on the oil,” he told me.
“And watch the pressure in the right rear tire.”
“Sure thing.” I climbed in and fired it up. Lou waved as I drove off the lot. I didn’t wave back.
There’s something about having your own car—even if it’s only four wheels and a set of pedals. You aren’t tied down any more. You’re not always in the position of asking people for a lift or waiting for buses.
I drove around for an hour or so through the shadowless light, getting the feel of the car. It was still fairly early—maybe then thirty or eleven in the morning—and finally it dawned on me that I didn’t have anyplace to go really. Jack was busy at the trailer lot, and I hate to stand around and watch somebody else work.
I thought about taking a run up to Seattle, but I really didn’t want to do that. None of the people I’d known would still be around. Maxwell had taken off and Larkin, too, probably. I sure as hell didn’t want to look up my old girlfriend; that was one thing I knew for sure.
Larkin. I hadn’t really been thinking at all. Last time I’d heard from him, he’d been teaching high school here in Tacoma someplace. I guess I’d just associated Tacoma with guys like my brother and McKlearey and Carter—beer-drinking, broad-chasing types. Stan Larkin just didn’t fit in with that kind of picture.
Stan and I had roomed together for a year at the university. We didn’t really have much in common, but I kind of liked him. There are two ways a guy can go if he’s a liberal arts major—provided, of course, that he doesn’t freak out altogether. He can assume the pose of the cultured man, polished, urbane, with good tastè and all that goes with it. Or he can play the role of the “diamond in the rough,” coarse, even vulgar, but supposedly intelligent in spite of it all—the Hemingway tactic, more or less. Larkin was the first type—I obviously wasn’t.
I think liberal arts majors are all automatically defensive about it, probably because we’re oversensitive. The dum-dums in PE with their brains in their jockstraps, the goof-offs in Business Administration, the weird types in the hard sciences, and the campus politicians in the social sciences, have all seen fit at one time or another to question the masculinity of any guy in liberal arts. So we get defensive. We rise above them, like Stan does, or we compensate, like I do. It kind of goes with the territory.
Anyway, Stan had spent a year picking up my dirty sox and dusting my books, and then he’d given up and moved back to the dorm. Even our literary interests hadn’t coincided. He was involved with Dickens, Tennyson, Wordsworth, and Pope, while I was hung up on Blake, Donne, Faulkner, and Hardy. It’s a wonder we didn’t wind up killing each other.
I’d dropped him an occasional postcard from Europe, and he’d responded with the beautifully written letters that seemed, to me at least, almost like my picture of Stan himself—neat, florid, and somehow totally empty of any meaning.
At least he’d be somebody to talk to.
I wheeled into a tavern parking lot, went in and ordered a beer. I borrowed a phone book from the bartender and leafed through the L’s. He was there all right: Larkin, Stanley, and right above it was Larkin, Monica. Same address, same number. I remembered that he’d mentioned a girl named Monica something or other in a couple of his letters, but I hadn’t paid much attention. Now it looked like he was married. I don’t know why, but he’d never seemed to be the type. I jotted down the number and the address and pushed the phone book back to the bartender.
I finished my beer and had another, still debating with myself, kind of working myself up to calling him. I have to do that sometimes.
“Hey, buddy, you got a pay phone?” I finally asked the bartender.
He pointed back toward the can. I saw it hanging on the wall.
“Thanks,” I said and went on back. I thumbed in a dime and dialed the number.
“Hello?” It still sounded like him.
“Stan? I didn’t really think I’d catch you at home. This is Dan—Dan Alders.”
“Dan? I thought you were in the Army.”
“Just got out last weekend. I’m staying here in town, and I thought I’d better look you up.”
“I guess so. It’s good to hear your voice again. Where are you?” His enthusiasm seemed well-tempered.
“Close as I can figure, about eighty-seven blocks from your place.”
“That’s about a fifteen-minute drive. You have a car?”
“Just got one. I think it’ll make it that far.”
“Well then, come on over.”
“You sure I won’t be interrupting anything?”
“Oh, of course not. Come on, Dan, we know each other better than that.”
“OK, Stan.” I laughed. “I’ll see you in about fifteen minutes then.”
“I’ll be waiting for you.”
I went back to the bar and had another beer. I wasn’t sure this was going to work out. I wouldn’t mind seeing Stan again, but we hadn’t really had a helluva lot in common to begin with, and now he was married, and that along with a couple of years can change a guy quite a bit.
The more I thought about it, the less I liked it. I went out and climbed in my car. I pulled out of the lot and headed off toward his house, dodging dogs and kids on bicycles, and swearing all the way. It had all the makings of a real bust.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t. Stan had aged a little. He was a bit heavier, and his forehead was getting higher. He was combing his hair differently to cover it. He was still neat to the point of fussiness. His slacks and sport shirt were flawlessly pressed, and even his shoe-soles were clean. But he seemed genuinely glad to see me, and I relaxed a bit. He showed me around a house that was like a little glass case in a museum, making frequent references to Monica, his wife. The house was small, but everything in it was perfect. I could almost feel the oppressive presence of his bride. The place was so neat that it made me wonder where I could dump my cigarette butt. Stan gracefully provided me with an ashtray—an oversized one, I noticed. He obviously hadn’t forgotten my slobby habits. He had changed in more ways than just his appearance. He seemed to be nervous—even jumpy. He acted like somebody who’s got a body in the cellar or a naked girl in the bedroom. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
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