Part 2--A Message from the Past
I sat quietly in my chair, sipping coffee and wondering. The past slipped into and out of focus. Old feelings, old passions boiled and seethed under the surface. Things could have been very different.
The girl…her…was Karen, and I stared unabashedly. There was anger in her eyes when she saw I was watching but shortly she blushed and looked away. Curvy, trim, redheaded, and green-eyed, she was still as beautiful as I remembered her. Redheads are a weakness of mine, but I found it telling that now I felt no attraction for her at all. There is more to desire than physical appearance…and I suppose I knew what her soul looked like. In truth I felt nothing. Complete indifference. I am a passionate man. Indifference is a rare thing for me when there is a woman in the room.
Besides, I’d had her long ago. I’d thought she was mine, then.
The dead man that had called me here…He…was Jack. Jack had done well, after our history…after our…death…and life together. Seeking solitude to heal his wounds, he had taken up trucking, and had driven for Wall-mart back when they were small and aggressively expanding. Capital had run short and they had drastically cut the pay, making up the difference in leveraged company stock. Most of the drivers had left. Jack, enjoying the isolated life and knowing the basics of compounding mathematics, had not. Several years later he looked at the large number of zeros that had accumulated on the end of his banking balance and promptly retired.
We seldom saw each other. The bonds we shared did not require it, and the experiences we had shared made it painful. Then came the day he needed help and called me. I went, of course. I didn’t even ask why beyond the needed information concerning who…or what…I should bring along.
“I’m on the way,” was my simple reply. Karen had been astonished, then outraged. Not ten words had passed between Jack and I on the phone, and now I was leaving. I couldn’t even tell her why other than that I was going to help an old friend. She had insisted that I not go, and when I was preparing to leave anyway, had offered herself in a way I particularly enjoyed, simply to distract me from my task and get her way.
It is difficult to leave a gorgeous, green-eyed redhead lying naked across the couch in the living room, but it can be done. Her insistence that I ignore my friend’s call for help actually made it easier. A truly beautiful woman would not have asked me for that.
It was the beginning of the end. Hell hath no fury and all that. Life…and death…had conditioned me to not worry about the small things, and I often have trouble understanding others when they do. It mattered to Karen that in my friend I had something. Something she could not understand. Something that was not hers. Something she could not control.
Something she could not take.
The sad truth of the matter is that if Karen could have understood what Jack and I had, she would not have wanted it. She would not have tried to interfere. Jack and I both would have been far happier had we never met each other, but often we don’t get to choose our own path. Sometimes the world can be dark and cruel. Sometimes we must fight, no matter the cost.
Sometimes demons walk the earth, and men look the other way. Some of us don’t, perhaps we can’t, and for us, sometimes the cost is great.
I was only gone two days, but things were different when I got home. Colder. More often than not I was back to sleeping alone, which, knowing how tenuous life can be, I hated with a loathing beyond description. Of course the alternative was not for me either. Sex is a thing to be freely given, not a weapon, never a bribe to get your way. Powerful it is…a basic magic of the human soul…and is a very special thing when wielded properly, but a bribe? A payment? It simply won’t work that way on me. Life might have been much simpler if it could.
Weeks passed, but the day came when she tried to get her way again. Jack was in town and he and some of my other, local friends were visiting me at the house. This was a rare thing. Perhaps some of our trauma was fading and our lives could normalize a bit. Perhaps the memories were stale enough to begin to lose influence. They say time heals all wounds. I wasn’t really sure I believed that, but thought it was worth a try.
The typical bachelor, my cupboard was bare and I had to step out for supplies. My other friends were frequent guests and knew I was a moderate drinker. Correctly figuring I was bound to screw up any decent beer run, they took off on one of their own.
When I returned, only Karen’s car was in the drive. It had not been there when I left. I guessed what my other friends were about and figured Karen and I would have some time. I had not seen her for several days and was looking forward to a visit with her. When everybody got back, it would be fun to introduce her around. That turned out not to be necessary. Pity.
Turned out that Karen had shown up just as the other foraging party was getting organized, so she had shooed them on their way, leaving only her and Jack to get acquainted. When I returned, I had unloaded the groceries into the house, and then wandered to my bedroom, hoping to find her waiting for me.
Jack and Karen were there, together. I’m not even sure I was terribly surprised. When I entered the room, Karen had thrown back the covers and said something rehearsed and dramatic about betrayal, passion, and how I couldn’t trust a friend. Jack’s face had registered only confusion.
It had been a plan. Karen’s plan. And it had failed…at least to a point. She had counted on my anger and passion overwhelming my…less animal…senses. They didn’t. She thought I would see clearly that this was Jack’s fault. Jack’s betrayal. It might have worked if she had seduced one of my other friends. She didn’t want some other friend. She wanted Jack. She thought by seducing him she could drive something between Jack and I.
She didn’t understand the history…had no clue what we had suffered together…what we had defeated…and at what cost. She did not know that the word “friend” didn’t really describe Jack and I. She had missed the concept that we were not really friends at all, but rather brothers in all but blood…that our lives had been held in each other’s hands. We were friends only because we survived. We were friends only because there was no other word for it.
The scene was clear. She had known about Jack. Jack had not known about her. My mistake I guess. Looking at her lying there naked and proud, smelling the sex in the room, seeing her so obviously and freshly used by another, knowing she had orchestrated this…even then my physical desire gave a sharp response. Just a little too late, I finally understood.
I realized that this was the type of woman that wars had been fought for. She was physically gorgeous, erotic, and simply dripped sexuality. She possessed, in spades, all the magic of a woman. What’s more she understood that magic at a purely mechanical level. She had the will to use that gift to coerce men into doing her bidding. She didn’t love. She bought. I hadn’t been responding correctly, my heart hadn't been for sale, so she was on to another, and with a bonus—hurting me as well. It's too bad she didn't understand that she couldn't buy my heart only because I'd already given it to her.
I hadn’t expected this and Jack had no clue who she was. Had he known, he would not have let her seduce him, and being who he was, would have told me of the attempt later. Not knowing, he’d had no reason to resist her, and with no reason, very few would say no to her attentions. I wouldn’t. I hadn’t.
I had paused in the doorway long enough to take all this in, then smiled, winked at Jack, and said, “Hey! Good going buddy! Man, she IS hot!” At this, Karen, who had willingly and enthusiastically given herself to me in far more exposed positions, had actually pulled the covers back over herself and blushed.
I whistled at her, nodded appreciatively, and said cheerfully, “Oh, don’t mind me. You two have fun, and look me up when you’re done. I’ll feed you.”
I gave Jack a “thumbs up” and pulled the door closed.
A simple but very tasty stew was in the crock. Hot, crisp French bread topped with butter, garlic, and bubbling cheddar cheese was just out of the oven. Dips and chips were on the table. Cold beer and other beverages were making the rounds, with plenty of surplus in the fridge. Music was playing at one end of the house, and sci-fi movies were showing at the other. Without a word to me Karen had left shortly after my interruption, but the rest of my friends had arrived immediately afterwards. The party was in full swing.
Jack and I talked. He’s not stupid and had realized there was more going on than met the eye, but life is often complicated that way. I wasn’t angry at all. Actually, I was relieved. Karen and I had been done for some time. I just hadn't known it. Jack wanted to see her again. I found I didn't care. I just hoped he knew what he was getting into. Maybe she could at least quell his nightmares as she had mine. She was good at that at least. Female magic works wonders on troubled souls.
They were married a few months later. Her plan had backfired in a way. She had fallen for him and still failed to drive our bond apart, even though Jack and I rarely spoke. She didn’t understand this, and whatever emotion she had ever harbored for me, she simply turned into hate. I didn’t sweat it. Life goes on, and I was well into “on” with mine. Complicated. Yeah. That’s it.
They had been happy. So had I. So was I. But now he was dead. I glanced at the lawyer and wondered just what Jack had asked of me. Ashamed of myself, I wondered how dearly it would cost me this time.
I sat in my chair, sipped my coffee, and stared at Karen. She stared fixedly at the wall. Her face made it clear. Even in her grief, she couldn’t lose her hate. Pity. She’d be so much prettier without hate.
Finally the lawyer broke the uneasy silence as he handed me an envelope, “This is for you, and is the certified accounting of the estate.” This was simplified of course. There were still probate issues to deal with and current appraisals on the real property, but this was the starting point.
Still watching Karen, I slipped a finger under the flap, slit it open, and only when I had the letter unfolded in my hand, dropped my eyes and examined the figure on the paper. I then did a double take. Jack had done VERY well. Better than I had expected by several sets of zeros. Better than I had. Better than I dreamed.
The lawyer spoke to me again. “The will is pretty simple. You get all the cash and real property.” At this Karen sobbed, but did not appear surprised. I suppose she couldn’t have been. In my home state at least, if the spouse is not the primary beneficiary, he/she must have been shown and signed the will. I turned my attention back to the lawyer as he spoke again, “Karen gets her personal property and lifetime occupancy of the house, which as part of the estate you now own.”
I blinked. I hadn’t expected anything remotely like this. It didn’t make sense. There had to be more to it. I was still digesting the implications when the lawyer asked Karen to step out of the room. Somehow she had realized…or been convinced that her fate was in other’s hands. She left without complaint.
He handed me another envelope. “Jack had several personal requests for you.”
I opened it and sat back in my chair to read. Ah, so that was it. Item one was a delivery I needed to make, and a bit of a surprise, but the rest of the list was more what I had expected. Shortly I raised one eyebrow and looked at the lawyer. “You’ve seen this?”
“Yes.” He looked at me expectantly.
“Then arrange it.”
“You do realize it’s not in any way legally binding.”
He smiled. “It’s already done. I just need your signature and to arrange for the delivery items.”
That was a hint. The delivery was still a mystery, but I began to comprehend just what it was that Jack was up to…just what it was he was trying to say.
The lawyer handed me a clipboard. A line was clearly highlighted for my signature. Jack’s was on the line right above it. I scanned the text and then signed without hesitation and handed it back.
He took the clipboard and shook my hand as he said, “You sir, are an honorable man.”
I thought of the passion of youth, the dollar figure on the piece of paper, and the pain and darkness of parts of my past. I thought of my wife, friend, and lover in my present, and recalled the past vision of a naked redhead lying across my couch. The same redhead I could still smell in this room. The one that had been mine.
My thoughts darkly male, I found myself wondering if he was right.
The big cruiser idling beneath me, I looked into the evening sky and pondered the weather. This was not the ideal time of year for long, cross-country motorcycle journeys. I’m not at all fond of the cold, and it certainly was that, but any kind of freezing precipitation can spell disaster or delay for a motorcyclist. I was almost certain to run into sleet or snow in some of the mountain passes.
There had been three requests on that piece of paper, two of which required travel.
One was a delivery to a specific person. I didn’t really have to use the motorcycle for that. But the other errand required it. That was an understanding, unspoken and from long ago, but no less strong…no less binding. The first was on the way to the other. Both were a very long way away. 1500 miles at a guess, and there were mountains between the targets and me.
The smart thing to do would be to go home and grab the truck. The big Dodge could handle anything thrown at it and was the more suitable vehicle for the possible weather to be found along my route this time of year. On a whim I rapidly refigured the journey, mentally adding nearly 300 miles to let me stick to the southern route. Even at that, there were still mountains in the way.
The smart thing. The legal thing. The right thing. They are not always the same. Sometimes they are not even close.
I took a deep breath and held it a moment, hoping for inspiration. It didn’t come. My instincts were screaming to take the bike. That made no sense, but sometimes instinct is all I’ve got.
“Screw it.” The honorable thing was to take the bike. There just wasn’t any getting around that. For some reason the instinct strongly agreed. I twisted the throttle and roared into the late afternoon.
Many hours later, I found myself shivering and alone, on foot and limping along the frozen, slushy road. I was just a couple miles from my first target. I had a heavy duffle bag slung across my back. One glove was torn, and the right leg of my jeans was ripped from the ankle to the knee. The bleeding on the leg had been minor and already stopped, but the deep gouges on the boot gave an additional and ominous hint of recent events.
I kicked at the icy road and winced at the stinging sensation in my very cold feet. The frozen landscape was isolated and beautiful, but I grimly reflected that surprise weather systems and snowplow scheduling would rate higher in my consideration should I embark on any future spur-of-the-moment, winter, cross-country motorcycle journeys.
The dawn light was beginning to illuminate the landscape and I paused to admire the astounding view. My breathing was heavy, trying to pull enough oxygen from the high altitude air. I watched the cloud of fog billow each time I exhaled. My overwhelming thought was only that I really, really, really should have taken the truck...or maybe the redhead...
I had done the honorable thing, and I wasn’t finished. I was still doing the honorable thing. Yeah.
I kicked again at the frozen road and resumed walking, mumbling with a grin, “Sometimes honor sucks.”
Yeah. Sometimes it does at that...
Index Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6