THE SEASON FOR MAKING NEW FRIENDS
Theo was doing fifty up Worchester Street when the blond man stepped from behind a tree into the street. The Volvo had just lurched over a patched strip in the asphalt, so the grille was pointed up and caught the blond man about hip-high, tossing him into the air ahead of the car. Theo stood on the brake, but even as the antilocks throbbed, the blond man hit the tarmac and the Volvo rolled over him, making sickening crunching and thumping noises as body parts ricocheted into wheel wells.
Theo checked the rearview as the car stopped and saw the blond man flopping to a stop in the red wash of the brake lights. Theo pulled the radio off his belt as he leaped from the car, and stood ready to call for help when the figure lying in the road started to get up.
Theo let the radio fall to his side. "Hey, buddy, just stay right there. Just stay calm. Help is on the way." He started loping toward the injured man, then pulled up.
The blond guy was on his hands and knees now; Theo could also see that his head was twisted the wrong way and the long blond hair was cascading back to the ground. There was a crackling noise as the guy's head turned around to face the ground. He stood up. He was wearing a long black coat with a rain flap. This was "the suspect."
Theo started backing away. "You just stay right there. Help is on the way." Even as he said it, Theo didn't think this guy was interested in any help.
The foot that faced backward came around to the front with another series of sickening crackles. The blond man looked up at Theo for the first time.
"Ouch," he said.
"I'm guessing that smarted," Theo said. At least his eyes weren't glowing red or anything. Theo backed into the open door of the Volvo. "You might want to lie down and wait for the ambulance." For the second time in as many hours, he wished he had remembered to bring his gun along.
The blond man held an arm out toward Theo, then noticed that the thumb on the outstretched hand was on the wrong side. He grabbed it with his other hand and snapped it back into place. "I'll be okay," the blond man said, monotone.
"You know, if that coat dry-cleans itself while I'm watching, I'll nominate you for governor my own self," Theo said, trying to buy time while he thought of what he was going to say to the dispatcher when he keyed the button on the radio.
The blond man was now coming steadily toward him - the first few steps limping badly, but the limp getting better as he got closer. "Stop right there," Theo said. "You are under arrest for a two-oh-seven-A."
"What's that?" asked the blond man, now only a few feet from the Volvo.
Theo was relatively sure now that a 207A was not a possum with a handgun, but he wasn't sure what it was, so he said, "Freakin' out a little kid in his own home. Now stop right there or I will blow your fucking brains out." Theo pointed the radio, antenna first, at the blond guy.
And the blond guy stopped, only steps away. Theo could see the deep gouges cut in the man's cheeks from contact with the road. There was no blood.
"You're taller than I am," said the blond man.
Theo guessed the blond man to be about six-two, maybe three. "Hands on the roof of the car," he said, training the antenna of the radio between the impossibly blue eyes.
"I don't like that," said the blond man.
Theo crouched quickly, making himself appear shorter than the blond man by a couple of inches.
"Hands on the car."
"Where's the church?"
"I'm not kidding, put your hands on the roof of the car and spread 'em." Theo's voice broke like he was hitting second puberty.
"No." The blond man snatched the radio out of Theo's hand and crushed it into shards. "Where's the church? I need to get to the church."
Theo dove into the car, scooted across the seat, and came out on the other side. When he looked back over the roof of the car the blond man was just standing there, looking at him like a parakeet might look at himself in the mirror.
"What!?" Theo screamed.
"Up the street you'll come to some woods. Go through them about a hundred yards."
"Thank you," said the blond man. He walked off.
Theo jumped back into the Volvo, threw it into drive. If he had to run over the guy again, so be it. But when he looked up from the dash, no one was there. It suddenly occurred to him that Molly might still be at the old chapel.
Her house smelled of eucalyptus and sandalwood and had a woodstove with a glass window that warmed the room with orange light. The bat was locked outside for the night.
"You're a cop?" Lena said, moving away from Tucker Case on the couch. She'd gotten past the bat. He'd explained the bat, sort of. He'd been married to a woman from a Pacific island and had gotten the bat in a custody battle. Things like that happened. She'd gotten the house they were sitting in, in her divorce from Dale, and it still had a black marble Jacuzzi tub with bronze Greek erotic figures inset in a border around the edge. The jetsam of divorce can be embarrassing, so you couldn't fault someone a bathtub or fruit bat rescued out of love's shipwreck, but he might have mentioned he was a cop before he suggested burying her ex and going to dinner.
"No, no, not a real cop. I'm here working for the DEA." Tuck moved closer to her on the couch.
"So you're a drug cop?" He didn't look like a cop. A golf pro, maybe, that blond hair and the lines around the eyes from too much sun, but not a cop. A TV cop, maybe - the vain, bad cop, who has something going on with the female district attorney.
"No, I'm a pilot. They subcontract independent helicopter pilots to fly agents into pot-growing areas like Big Sur so they can spot patches hidden in the forest with infrared. I'm just working for them here for a couple of months."
"And after a couple of months?" Lena couldn't believe she was worried about commitment from this guy.
"I'll try to get another job."
"So you'll go away."
"Not necessarily. I could stay."
Lena moved back toward him on the couch and examined his face for the hint of a smirk. The problem was, since she'd met him, he'd always worn the hint of a smirk. It was his best feature. "Why would you stay?" she said. "You don't even know me."
"Well, it might not be about you." He smiled.
She smiled back. It was about her. "It is about me."
He was leaning over and there was going to be a kiss and that would be okay, she thought, if the night hadn't been so horrible. It would be okay if they hadn't shared so much history in so short a time. It would be okay if, if...
He kissed her.
Okay, she was wrong. It was okay. She put her arms around him and kissed him back.
Ten minutes later she was down to just her sweater and panties, she had driven Tucker Case deeply enough into the corner of the couch that his ears were baffled with cushions, and he couldn't hear her when she pushed back from him and said, "This doesn't mean that we're going to bed together."
"Me, too," said Tuck, pulling her closer.
She pushed back again. "You can't just assume that this is going to happen."
"I think I have one in my wallet," he said, trying to lift her sweater over her head.
"I don't do this sort of thing," she said, wrestling with his belt buckle.
"I had a test for my pilot physical a month ago," he said as he liberated her breasts from their combed cotton yoke of oppression. "Clean as a whistle."
"You're not listening to me!"
"You look beautiful in this light."
"Does doing this so soon after, you know - does doing this make me evil?"
"Sure, you can call it a weasel if you want to."
And so, with that tender honesty, that frank connection, the coconspirators chased away each other's loneliness, the smell of grave-digging sweat rising romantic in the room as they fell in love. A little.
Despite Theo's concern, Molly wasn't at the old chapel, she was getting a visit from an old friend. Not a friend, exactly, but a voice from the past.
"Well, that was just nuts," he said. "You can't feel good about that."
"Shut up," said Molly, "I'm trying to drive."
According to the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, you had to have at least two of a number of symptoms in order to be considered as having a psychotic episode, or, as Molly liked to think of it, an «artistic» moment. But there was an exception, a single symptom that could put you in the batshit column, and that was "a voice or voices commenting on the activities of daily life." Molly called it "the Narrator," and she hadn't heard from him in over five years - not since she'd gone and stayed on her medication as she had promised Theo. That had been the agreement, if she stayed on her meds, Theo would stay off of his - well, more specifically, Theo would not have anything to do with his drug of choice, marijuana. He'd had quite a habit, going back twenty years before they'd met.
Molly had stuck to the agreement with Theo; she'd even gotten decertified by the state and gone off financial aid. A resurgence in royalties from her old movies had helped with the expenses, but lately she'd started falling short.
"It's called an enabler," said the Narrator. "The Drug Fiend and the Warrior Babe Enabler, that's you two."
"Shut up, he's not a drug fiend," she said, "and I'm not the Warrior Babe."
"You did him right there in the graveyard," said the Narrator. "That is not the behavior of a sane woman, that is the behavior of Kendra, Warrior Babe of the Outland."
Molly cringed at the mention of her signature character. On occasion, the Warrior Babe persona had leaked off the big screen and into her own reality. "I was trying to keep him from noticing that I might not be a hundred percent."
"'Might not be a hundred percent'? You were driving a Christmas tree the size of a Winnebago down the street. You 're way off a hundred percent, darlin'. "
"What do you know? I'm fine."
"You're talking to me, aren't you?"
"I think I've made my point."
She'd forgotten how smug he could be.
Okay, maybe she was having a few more artistic moments than usual, but she hadn't had a break with reality. And it was for a good cause. She'd taken the money she'd saved on her meds to pay for a Christmas present for Theo. It was on layaway down at the glass blower's gallery: a handblown dichromatic glass bong in the Tiffany style. Six hundred bucks, but Theo would so love it. He'd destroyed his collection of bongs and water pipes right after they'd met, a symbol of his break with his pot habit, but she knew he missed it.
"Yeah," said the Narrator. "He'll need that bong when he finds out he's coming home to the Warrior Babe."
"Shut up. Theo and I just had an adventurous romantic moment. I am not having a break."
She pulled into Brine's Bait, Tackle, and Fine Wines to pick up a six-pack of the dark bitter beer Theo liked and some milk for the morning. The little store was a miracle of eclectic supply, one of the few places on the planet where you could buy a fine Sonoma Merlot, a wedge of ripened French Brie, a can of 10W-30, and a carton of night crawlers. Robert and Jenny Masterson had owned the little shop since before Molly had come to town. She could see Robert by himself behind the counter, tall with salt-and-pepper hair, looking a little hangdog as he read a science magazine and sipped a diet Pepsi. Molly liked Robert. He'd always been kind to her, even when she was considered the village's resident crazy lady.
"Hey, Robert," she said as she came through the door. The place smelled of egg rolls. They sold them out of the back, where they had a pressure fryer. She breezed past the counter toward the beer cooler.
"Hey, Molly." Robert looked up, a little startled. "Uh, Molly, you okay?"
Crap, she thought. Had she forgotten to brush the pine needles out of her hair? She probably looked a mess. She said, "Yeah, I'm fine. Theo and I were just putting up the Christmas tree at the Santa Rosa Chapel. You and Jenny are coming to Lonesome Christmas, aren't you?"
"Of course," Robert said, his voice still a little strained. He seemed to be making an effort not to look at her. "Uh, Molly, we kind of have a policy here." He tapped the sign by the counter, NO SHIRT, NO SHOES, NO SERVICE.
Molly looked down. "Oh my gosh, I forgot."
"I left my sneakers in the car. I'll just run out and put them on."
"That would be great, Molly. Thanks."
"I know it's not on the sign, Molly, but while you're out there, you might want to put some pants on, too. It's sort of implied."
"Sure thing," she said, breezing by the counter and out the door, feeling now that, yes, it seemed a little cooler out than when she'd left the house. And yes, there were her jeans and panties on the passenger seat next to her sneakers.
"I told you," said the Narrator.