Did I say sexy? Whoops.
He looked a bit chagrined, maybe a bit annoyed. “Yeah, that was it. He played bass. We lost touch but, you know, found each other and shit on Facebook. Turns out these days, he’s a…a…well, I’ll just come out and say it, a ghost whisperer.”
I raised my brows. “Aren’t we considered that?”
He smiled and fished out a piece of Nicorette gum out of his pocket. He started chewing it faster than he should have. Old friend or not, Dex didn’t like talking about him. Or maybe it was the past he didn’t like talking about.
“This guy is supposedly a real ghost whisperer,” he said between chews. “He’s kind of for hire. People call him when they want someone to talk to their dead loved ones.”
“Are you serious?”
His mouth slowed down. “I am serious. Doesn’t mean I think he’s legit.”
He looked around him and peered through the door before continuing, voice lowered, “Actually, I think he’s full of shit. But he called me here and I don’t think he would have done that for nothing.”
And with that he spit out his gum and opened the door to the bar. “After you.”
I walked into the bar. It was dark, very dark, with shades pulled down on most of the streaky windows. It was probably to keep the heat out, and it was doing a fine job, along with the various huge wooden fans that whirred creakily from the ceiling. It gave the place a rather morbid, squalid feel.
A woman stood behind the bar serving a beer to a man who looked like Will Farrell’s Old Prospector from Saturday Night Live, complete with filthy hat and denim jacket. The bartender paused, looking us up and down before giving the man his drink. She was tall, pushing late thirties, weathered and no nonsense. She regarded us very cautiously with no hint of hospitality.
Dex came in beside me gave the woman a quick wave and smile. “Good afternoon. We’re here to meet someone.”
She didn’t say anything but her eyes shifted to the left.
To the left we looked. That part of the bar opened up into a much larger area. There were a couple of pool tables, an ancient pinball machine, scattered tables and chairs, a sawdust floor, lazily placed barrels for “ambience” and a row of booths. In the last booth sat a tall man, the only other person in the bar.
I looked at Dex and whispered, “Is that him?”
Dex stared at him and didn’t mutter a word, but I could see the recognition in his eyes, the wheels turning. We’d found him.
Max looked down at the table, writing something with care. He had earphones on, so he probably didn’t hear us come in but from the engrossed look on his face, he probably wouldn’t have noticed anyway. He was rather attractive – my first thought was that he looked like a ginger rockabilly. He had red hair pushed back into a top-heavy coif, thick lips that were ready to snarl. I couldn’t see his eyes properly but I bet they were green. He was wearing a faded blue flannel shirt that fit his wide frame nicely and gave him a wholesome look that stood out in this joint. Light spilled in from the window next to him, showcasing the dust that floated around his head.
Dex cleared his throat (nervously?) and walked towards him. I followed, wondering if this was going to awkward somehow.
Max looked up as Dex approached and immediately grinned. He threw his earphones on the table with a clatter and leaped up. Standing in front of us I could see how tall he really was, a big, barrel-chested thing of a man.
“Well looky what the cat dragged in!” Max exclaimed and embraced Dex in a bear hug that nearly picked him off the ground. I couldn’t see Dex’s face but he had to be uncomfortable. He didn’t seem like a public affection kind of guy.
They parted, the dust swirling around them.
“Good to see you Max,” he said. “It’s been a while.”
Dex sounded a bit melancholic. Max continued to smile but his eyes fell a bit. I felt like I was intruding on something from out of the past. A lot of baggage hung in the air between them.
“It’s been too long,” Max said carefully, still with a grin. He had a creamy Southern drawl.
“Just long enough.”
They both smiled at each other with a tinge of shame. Maybe I was imagining that though. Either way, I was starting to feel shy and out of place. I looked behind me at the bartender. She was watching us all intensely. She caught my eye, moved over to a radio and flicked a switch. “Radar Love” came blaring on the speakers. It took me a second to realize the bar must have been dead quiet before.
“Max, this is Perry,” I heard Dex say.
I turned and gave the tall redhead a smile. “Nice to meet you, Max.”
I offered him my hand which he took and shook between his two, large hands. I couldn’t help but stare at them. Nice hands, nice forearms. No wedding ring. Then I remembered I had one on my own damn hand.
“You can call me Maximus, please,” he implored. I looked up at him. I was right, he had very nice, bright green eyes.
Dex snorted. “Maximus? You hated that name.”
Maximus let go of my hand and answered Dex while looking at me, “I hated a lot of things when I was young and stupid.”
“Anyway,” Dex injected, “shall we get down to it?”
“You’re in quite the rush, aren’t you?” Max pondered, more of statement than a question. He was right. Dex was looking agitated, the toothpick was back in his mouth again. I felt a rush of sympathy remembering his medication problems, so I touched Dex’s shoulder and gently pushed him to the booth.
“Why don’t you boys sit down while I get us all beers, OK? My treat,” I smiled broadly at them, trying to dissipate the tension that seemed to be emanating from Dex.
“Why, thank you Perry,” Maximus drawled. “That’s mighty kind of you. Shit.”
I giggled internally at the sound of his drawl and made my way over to the bar. I didn’t really have the extra cash, nor did I want to deal with the bartender but I had to do something. Besides I wanted a beer from the moment we pulled into this desolate town.
Luckily, the bartender was pleasant enough to serve me my three beers. She didn’t make any small talk but neither did I.
When I got back to the table I was relieved to see that they weren’t involved in any intimate conversation. I plunked the beers down in front of them and Dex visibly relaxed. I motioned for him to scoot over so I could sit down and he did.
“Cheers,” Maximus said, holding up his beer. We all clinked.
“To new beginnings,” Dex said.
“Ain't that the truth,” I muttered. I didn’t want to be reminded of how new everything was for me at this moment. Not just the here and now but what waited back for me at home…uncertainty. It had being pawing at my subconscious all day long.
And at that I took the longest swig of my beer. Nothing has ever tasted so good in my life. I put the bottle down, surprised to see it half gone already. Everyone else’s was as well.
“We’re going to need more beer soon, I reckon,” Maximus laughed. “This time I’m buying.”
“I’m counting on it,” Dex said. “In the meantime, why not fill Perry in a little on what’s going. I haven’t told her too much.”
Maximus nodded, his face growing more serious but his eyes still frothy in the harsh afternoon light.
“Well then Perry. As you may or may not know, I’m a ghost mediator-”
I felt Dex kick me lightly under the table at that.
“-who helps people connect with their loved ones. Most of the time they just want to know if they are OK, want to know if they are still remembered. I don’t do anything special, I can’t really pass on messages like people seem to think. All I can do is go to a place that someone has died and get a sort of life energy from that spot. I don’t know how to explain it scientifically, hell it would all be considered hooey to most people, but I feel like when people die, the act of death itself leaves a magnetic mark. Somehow I am able to see and feel this mark. I can know how they died, how they felt at the time and right before.”
I was trying to keep an open look on my face while listening to this, in case he thought I was being judgmental. But it was hard not to be, even though in the context of what I’ve been through it was actually perfectly logical.
“So you can’t really communicate with them…the dead?” I said.
“No. It’s a one-way street at best. But most people still ask me to tell the dead things…I don’t argue. It’s money.” He shrugged then continued, “And it’s because of that belief, I get most of my business. I helped a widower with her late husband a while back. Nothing unusual, the man just had a heart attack. But she wanted to know if he felt loved. Seems they had an argument earlier that day about something stupid like the dishes or something. The man didn’t die happy, I can tell you that much but I didn’t tell her that. No one dies happy.”
I felt Dex tense up beside me. I stole a quick glance at him. He was peeling the label off his perspiring bottle. I had an abstract thought about sexual frustration then turned my attention back to Maximus.
“But from what I felt, he had lived a pretty fulfilled life and he loved his wife, I guess, so that’s what I told her. She told a lot of people she knew, including one of her cousins. Will Lancaster. Will lives here in Red Fox. Called me about a week ago about a disturbance at his ranch. Sort of your stereotypical haunting stuff if you ask me…rocks being thrown at the window and roof, doors slamming shut, the feeling of being watched, sheep carcasses turning up all bloodied and disfigured, crows flying through the house.”
I shuddered at the mention of crows. I looked out the window to the house across the street and sure enough they were still there, that black blot on the dead tree. Maximus followed my gaze and nodded.
“So I went there and tried to do a reading to figure out what was going on. Wasn’t much help. Will was scared, clearly, but ashamed of it. He’s a big Navajo man, he didn’t like to admit to his ranch hands that he brought me there. Let alone his wife. Sarah, she’s blind and…well, kind of a bitch.”
Dex laughed. I wanted to but felt like I should admonish him. Maximus caught my eye sheepishly. “Well, it’s true. Lordy, she did not want me there. And she’s not going to want you there, so I’m warning you now.”
“Fabulous,” I sighed. “So, what did you find?”
“Nothing.” He held up his earphones, which were connected to an mp3 device. “I’ve been going back and listening to my notes, our conversations…nothing died there, that’s the problem. I couldn’t pick up on anything at all.”
He leaned across the table and lowered his voice. “But I’ll tell you this…there is something strange going on. I don’t know what but that’s why you’re here now.”
Dex finished the rest of his beer. I looked at him for his opinion but he wasn’t very forthcoming. He just tapped his foot on the floor to the beat of an unknown song.
“So…how do we begin?” I asked.