Carl and Maggie. Two old friends having dinner and reminiscing. Sounds harmless, but then you notice the violence disclaimer.*
*This chapter contains strong language, drugs, violence and awkward dinner conversation.
6. The Lucky Ones
“Honey? Does this tie match?”
She poked her head out of the bathroom. “It’s fine, Carl.”
I looked back in the mirror and finished tying it.
You’re nervous. I don’t know why you think you have to keep doing this. “Here.” She brushed my arm aside and straightened my tie. She smoothed her hands over the shoulders of my shirt, making the seams lie flat, fussing.
“Because she’s my friend. You know you could come too.” I didn’t want to go alone. I'd had dinner with Maggie twice since the bank robbery and Lee had popped up each time. I bet she’d like to see both of us, I told Lynn in a lighter tone. I felt bad bringing it up, Lynn had been friends with her too.
“Hmm,” she hummed and adjusted my tie again. I doubt that. You how uncomfortable that whole thing makes me. I’m not going to be able to help it and it’s not like she won’t know.
Like I won’t be uncomfortable? Some of the stuff she sees is horrible. But it’s not her fault.
Lynn looked up at me and then back down, half ashamed of what she was thinking even as she thought it. Then how is this going to help? Do you think she wants to sit there with you so tense about what she might see you can’t think straight?
I looked down at the top of her bowed head and saw that her part was slanted off to one side. I didn’t want to argue about this. She knew I was going to do it. And what’s better? Letting her cut herself off from everyone? Are we supposed to do that? She didn’t ask for this, they didn’t even tell her how dangerous he was before she went in there with him. The injustice of it always got to me. What kind of career, what kind of life would Maggie have if she hadn’t been attacked by Lee?
Lynn put her arms around my back and let me rest my head on her shoulder. “I know she can’t help it. But I can’t do it.” It’s just not in me. But you’ll send my love right? Tell her to call if you think she will. She might not want to talk if she thinks I’m avoiding her.
I think she will. I get the feeling that’s the only way she talks to people now, I offered, holding the hug because I knew Lynn needed it more than I did. “Can you imagine if something like that happened to one of us?”
She sighed against my chest. You think I haven’t thought about it? With the kind of people you deal with? She pulled back and sniffed even though her eyes were dry. “You'd better go, you’ll be late.”
I picked her up to kiss her because I liked to feel the bulge of the baby between us and it always made her laugh. This time I got a smile. Put me down, brute. And bring home something for dessert.
I put her down and got my jacket. Cheesecake, preferably strawberry, preferably from Gloria’s. Got it. “I’ll get it if they’re still open. That kid’s going to be a dessert nut when she gets out.”
At the door I looked back at Lynn who had her hand over her belly that was just starting to show. Neither of us had to say or even think of the other reason Lynn didn’t want to go. We had just started getting little bursts of feeling from our girl and Lynn was very protective. I smiled at her and let the door close. We both knew it was next to impossible for Maggie to affect the baby even if the kid was a path. Still I didn’t feel too bad that Lynn wasn’t coming, she was right; she would have been oppressively uncomfortable.
I had planned to distract myself from my uneasiness by thinking about work, but I couldn’t get my mind off the baby. By the time I pulled up to the restaurant I was worried about how early I would have to sign her up for preschool. The best ones had waiting lists and interviews.
“Childers, party of two,” I said to the hostess before I spotted Maggie at the bar. “Actually, if our table isn’t available yet I’m going to go wait over there with the rest of my party,” I said turning back to the girl who had been about to tell me that our table wasn’t ready.
“Of course sir, I’ll have someone get you, it shouldn’t be long,” she said with her best hostess smile. If the busboy didn’t lose track of time smoking pot in the alley again.
I smiled back and turned to the bar before I laughed. Like most fives, she wasn’t worried about anyone reading her, she just thought whatever she thought and was sure it only lived in her head.
Hey Maggie, you starting without me? I asked, winding my way through the tables, careful not to project into the crowd.
She turned and nodded, one hand pressed absently to her sore ribs. She moved her bag from the seat she’d been saving. I’m only two in, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble catching up. She signaled the bartender.
The bartender looked at me expectantly. “Can I get a jack and coke?” Don’t get too far ahead, I’m not carrying you home again, I warned Maggie with mock seriousness, trying to lighten the mood of instant oppression around her.
She knew what I was trying and exerted herself. She even smiled. Right, that only happened once. How many times was I part of the two man team carrying you home? And who was the one that found you new pants when yours magically disappeared?
Hey now, we promised not to bring that one up anymore. I took a sip of my drink, I’d have to stop at one more or I wouldn’t be ok to drive.
“Wuss,” she said and smirked at the look I was imagining from Lynn if I showed up in a cab instead of the Cadillac. “How is Lynn doing? Is she planning on teaching the rest of the semester?” Or did she get tired of dealing with them? If they were half as bad as we were, heaven help her.
I had a fleeting flash of Lynn standing in front of the mirror, checking how much her stomach stuck out. “She’s teaching until maybe the eighth month.” She doesn’t want the baby exposed to a lot of projectors while she’s in the last month. There were a few studies saying it can affect mental development.
Maggie nodded, her brown eyes sympathetic. She knew that when I said projectors, I meant me too. Must be hard for you at home. Don’t you always project a little?
I shrugged and took another sip from my drink. It’s not so bad. I think she’s more worried about the kids. And you. I tried to bury the last thought but it was too late.
Maggie’s face fell but her thin smile was back a moment later.
I apologized anyway. “I’m sorry, I don’t think it would be a problem but she’s being really protective.” The whole thing makes her uncomfortable.
It’s fine. You should see how my cousins try to cover for not bringing their kids over to mom and dad’s when I visit. Everyone worries about their kids Carl. She shifted around for a new topic. “Tell me about this police crap Gates has you doing. Riding around with that negotiator’s vest. Doesn’t exactly sound like something the cops want any more than you do,” she said with forced interest.
I nodded, more than willing to change the subject. “You’re right thinking no one but Gates wants it. He figures if he can bring federal help to the local level it’s going to get him more votes in the fall. You wouldn’t believe-“
“Excuse me, sir? Your table is ready.”
Neither of us had seen the little blonde until she touched my shoulder. We both looked around and even though she spoke to me, she was looking at Maggie.
I didn’t comment because she was clearly giving Maggie a once over and liking what she saw. I paid the bartender. “All set,” I said once I’d left the tip.
Both of them looked over at me like they’d forgotten I was there, and then the blonde blushed and led us out of the bar.
Maggie was checking her out from behind as we dodged between tables.
I think the hostess has a thing for you, I teased, nudging her shoulder.
“Don’t be a jerk, Carl,” she said out loud, getting a weird look from the blonde as she pointed out our table.
I grinned at her and took my menu.
“Your server will be with you in a minute, can I start you with something to drink?” she asked, still looking at Maggie, thinking, Are her eyes green or light brown?
See, I told you. I winked at Maggie and held up my drink. “I think we’re fine for now, but some water would be great.”
You’re an ass, you know that? Maggie shook her head at me and gave the blonde a smile. “Yes, water would be good.”
Idiot, they already have drinks. “I’ll make sure you get some. Enjoy your dinner,” the hostess said, embarrassed but stealing a look back at Maggie before she went up to the entrance.
I was smirking. “I think she’s cute. I bet she’d even pretend to like campy kung fu movies to go out with you.” Three people like that crap, the rest of them are pretending to get laid.
“You are such a jerk, Robin liked them.” And I don’t date fives. They get so uptight about it when they find out you’re a path, she added quickly to cover the image of Robin that formed in her mind.
Water glasses were on the table almost before we realized the guy was there. He smiled awkwardly and put down a basket of bread and butter before he scurried away. Why do they always look at me like I’m an alien? It’s not bad enough that I spend all night filling water glasses and cutting bread?
I looked back at Maggie. That was weird.
Maggie nodded. She was looking at me but her mind was on Robin. She never told me why they had split, but I’d gotten most of it from Lynn, she and Robin still talked once a week.
I tried to keep things light. “So she was one of the three people who like martial arts movies with no production values. You, her and that professor that got you onto it.” Was it really the whole thing with Lee that made her leave? I took another gulp of my drink, looking down at the table. It was always the thoughts I should’ve kept to myself that leaked out.
Everything about Maggie went tight for a second. Her face, her hands, her mind. Of course it was, Carl. The depression, the medication, I didn’t leave the apartment for a month. I just sat there with Lee spinning in my head.
The memory bobbed to the surface of her mind like a cork. Robin, strapped to some kind of medical chair, arms taped down, straps of tape around her chest and neck, holding her in place. Even tape around the top of her head, making her blue-black hair stick up in strange loops. Gloved hands, my hands, but not, Maggie’s hands, cutting v chunks out of Robin’s smooth cheek with medical precision. With a scalpel. A tight spiral pattern. One of Lee’s patterns. One of Lee’s thoughts swimming in Maggie’s brain. And then the room and the chair are gone and we were looking into Robin’s face again only now we were in their living room, where Robin and Maggie threw their famous movie parties. And Robin’s face was as smooth as ever, no cuts, no marks, except the look of terror was still there. In her face, making the lines of it tight and older, in her mind, shrinking back and away, too horrified to try and block it.
I shook my own head, backing away too, focusing on anything but Maggie. At the next table I caught a snatch of thought.
How can she eat like that? I mean her mouth is half open and she just keeps shoveling it in. Who the hell eats like that on a date?
“It’s ok Carl,” Maggie said.
I drained my glass before I looked up. She didn’t look upset or exactly apologetic, but maybe cautious. I cleared my throat. “Sorry, I wasn’t expecting that.” That was really fucked up.
She shrugged and almost smiled. “No kidding.” He didn’t like her. It was a problem.
I blinked at her light tone. Some problem.
She nodded. So, how is the interrogation biz? Her thoughts fell into the hint of playful condescension that she always had when it came to my job.
“Just because I don’t have a medical degree doesn’t mean I’m not helping anyone,” I reminded her, scratching my temple with my middle finger.
You’re so mature. She stuck her tongue out at me.
The waiter had to clear his throat to get our attention. “Can I get you another drink, or are you ready to order?”
Maggie glanced at me. You paying, Carl?
Yeah, you vulture. “I think we’re ready. I’m going to have the filet mignon. Medium. The roasted potatoes and the Caesar salad.”
Hey, you make more than I do now. “I’ll have the lamb with grilled asparagus and the house salad with blue cheese dressing,” she said, handing him our menus.
Cute couple, he thought as he walked away.
Maggie and I looked at each other and laughed.
You have to tell Lynn that one. “Tell me about all the helping at work. You catch anyone interesting?” she asked sharply. There was a fleeting picture of herself in her old office with a patient. I’d hit too close to home with that comment about her degree.
You know I didn’t mean it like that. You always get under my skin with all the ‘path squad’ jokes. “Do you really want to know?” I asked, willing to talk about it. Maggie, the old Maggie, had always been interested. She had contracted once upon a time, profiled for the cops and the feds, and even consulted on a few cases in my department.
She shrugged, plucking a piece of bread out of the basket and buttering it. “What else are we going to talk about? My job?” I’m a house sitter at best, a dog walker at worst. At least you get to use your brain at work.
I’m sure you could go back-
“Just tell me about some juicy case, all right?” she said. The thought of her old office and her old patients made her shoulders lift around her ears. She wasn’t even immediately aware that she was shredding her piece of bread and getting butter all over her thin fingers.
“We had this guy last month who was smuggling drugs from Canada with his dog.” So you would think it would work, you use the dog just like a human mule but the dog doesn’t act all twitchy around the customs guys, I told her, getting myself a piece of bread.
She wiped her fingers on her napkin and drank more water. If this ends up with a dead dog story I’ll kick you under the table. “So what happened?”
Like I’d tell you about dead dogs? This is funny, I assured her. “Ok, so usually this guy sends the dogs with a courier right? Tells them they’re taking the dog to a special vet, some crap in case there’s a path at the customs desk. Well one of their people didn’t show up on the other side with the dog so he’s stuck doing an extra delivery himself.” I paused for the waiter. I felt him sidling up to us with his tray.
Maggie looked over and moved her bread plate out of the way.
“The filet mignon?” he asked, looking at my hands instead of my face.
“Yeah, right here,” I confirmed, watching him curiously.
He put the plate down. Ring, I told Cheryl they were married. “Lamb?” he said, looking expectantly at Maggie even though she was the only other one at the table.
What is with this guy? “That’s me,” she said, giving me a puzzled look.
But he watched her hands too when he put the plate down. No ring, maybe she was right. “You folks let me know if there’s anything else I can get you.” I don’t know how that girl plans to get her number even if she isn’t married.
As he backed away from the table I could see the blonde hostess seating someone behind Maggie. She looked our way a couple of times but I couldn’t read her well with all the people in the room. I think that waiter is checking you out for the blonde.
Maggie rolled her eyes at me. “Yes Sherlock, I got that,” she said, turning to look at the blonde as she walked back to her podium. There was something else there, a second harsher lurch of interest and Maggie looked away. She picked up her drink and drained it, not looking at me. I hate that, she thought defensively.
I shook my head, catching on. I guess Lee approves of her too.
Her eyes narrowed and then she sighed. “I don’t think I like it when we agree on anything.” I don’t see how she was going to get my number. What’s she going to do? Tackle me on the way out? She pictured it in detail to clear the air, the little blonde tackling her around the ankles on the way out the door.
I could tell her you’re interested. Give her a mental nudge. “If you want,” I offered.
She kicked me under the table, hard enough to make my leg jerk. I can get my own dates without your little hypnotic suggestions. “Finish telling me about the dog guy.”
I bit my lip and moved my leg out of range. Like that time you made me ‘slip’ to Marissa Cleary that you wanted to go out with her?
Her fingers twitched against her fork as she pictured flipping me off. That was what? Twelve, thirteen years ago? Do we need to talk about all of the legwork I had to do to get you and Lynn together? “Tell me the story.”
I smirked and relented. “So the guy has this little corgi in one of those soft dog cases.” Looked like a floppy purse with a dog in it. I showed her, cutting my steak.
“They are pretty stupid looking. We had a client last month who came in to set up her walking schedule, and make sure her dog got to meet all the walkers. She had one of those only it was leopard print. And the dog had a matching jacket.” Had to be the most nervous dog I’ve ever seen.
“This was just a blue one. But there’s a problem right? He’s in line at customs. He got on the plane, got off again, got all the way to the last checkpoint and then the dog just let one go right in the bag.” I took a bite of my steak ignoring her disgusted look. He’s trying to be all cool about it but the smell is so bad that people are moving back to get away from him. So he’s either got to break line and go back to some bathroom and clean it up, or he’s got to try and push through. Well he looks in the bag and you can see the condoms the dog crapped. I swallowed and took a sip of water. “Even if he went to the bathroom, what was he going to do? Swallow them himself?”
She shook her head, chewing her lamb. You’re disgusting. Why didn’t he just flush them?
“And then what? Tell his boss they missed another shipment with his brilliant dog idea? No way.” No, so he decides he’s just going to go straight through. They won’t look inside because the case is full of crap. They’ll just wave him on.
I would’ve. That’s gross. “I didn’t even know you could take dogs across the border.”
You would not let him go. But you would’ve known what he had in the case. They didn’t have a staff path on, but this customs guy, he had balls, or really strong dedication. He decides he’s going to look through all the bags no matter what they smell like. “And here’s this idiot trying to tell them he has no idea what his dog’s been getting into and maybe he ate the condoms off the ground in the park.”
Maggie laughed at my picture of the guy standing at the customs desk with his hands spread. No officer, I have no idea how all these condoms full of white powder got in the dog, she added, covering her mouth with her napkin so she didn’t spray the table with food.
I grinned. Right? Then they paged the path officer on duty and got it cleared up but it was pretty funny. I questioned him later. I want to know how it took thirty of these drops before one of the dogs ended up crapping the shipment.
She laughed again even as she explained it. He probably fed them to the dog too soon. It takes maybe ten hours for something like that to pass in a dog. Or the dog was sick.
“I just want to know how they’re planning on getting the drug dogs to sniff for drugs on the other dogs now.” The drug dog goes nuts sniffing another dog’s butt, is it drugs or foreplay?
She gave me the weirdest look and then grinned. “You are so disgusting. Think about the poor dogs.” They probably don’t know if it’s drugs or foreplay either.
Is that crap or cocaine you rolled in this morning? It’s enchanting. I pictured Pepe LePew for some reason and it only made both of us laugh harder.
“You are going to be such a horrible influence on that kid,” she said after a minute, sipping her water. Have you thought about names yet?
“Lynn wants to wait until she’s born.” She says it’s because she wants to us to get to know her better first but you know how her family is. They still think it’s bad luck to name a baby before it’s born.
“But I bet you already know what you want to call her.” Something classic, like Maggie, right?
“Oh yeah, Maggie or Octavia. Those are on the top of my list.” I was actually thinking Elizabeth after my grandmother. “Do you think Elizabeth’s too old fashioned?” Lynn’s annoyed that I keep calling her Lizzy when I think about her. But how am I supposed to stop thinking it?
Maggie shook her head. “I like Elizabeth. Knowing Lynn she’s just worried about becoming a parent and projecting it on the name issue.” Of course I think she really believes that religious crap about bad luck. And I’m sure her mom is backing her up.
Please, let’s not even talk about her mother. She’s been over more in the last few months than in the first six years we were married. Anyway, Lynn thinks I’ll be projecting expectations on the baby before she’s even born. “But you’re probably right about the parenting thing. She’s nervous about getting it all right. She works with kids every day and sees all the ways it can go wrong.” I knew it was clear that I was worried about it too.
“You two are going to be great parents,” she assured me, meaning it.
“Maybe, I hope so.” But what if she’s a five and she’s cut off from her family? I mean there’s only one five on my side and none on Lynn’s. What if she resents us? What if she hates us?
Maggie patted my hand across the table, absorbing some of my worry. “First, it’s very unlikely.” There's a ridiculously small chance that she’d be born a five with two path parents. And you know your cousin Jimmy got a raw deal with his parents. They didn’t treat him like they should’ve. You’re not going to do that. You’re going to love her no matter what.
“I know, it’s just hard not to worry about.” We won’t be able to share with her like we can share with each other.
She shook her head. Carl, you can. You can project for her. It’s not like she’d ever be cut off from you. “Besides there are some things about our parents that we never need shared.”
My whole face twisted. She just had to bring it up. Didn’t every path kid try to block out the first time they read their parents having sex? “Oh, I’m the gross one?” God, maybe I’d better hope she is a five. Can you imagine her catching some of those thoughts one night when she comes to our room because she had a nightmare?
Maggie tried not to laugh while she was chewing. Hell I was on my way to the bathroom one night the first time it happened to me. I thought they were fighting. “It happens to everyone. Just don’t, you know, project anything really dirty while the kid’s home.” Save the whips and chains for when she’s sleeping over at a friend’s.
I shot her a dirty look. “You’re a sick woman.” You want to try this again next week?
She looked surprised and then gratified. “Yeah. That would be nice.”
The hostess didn’t tackle Maggie on the way out but she did watch her wistfully from her podium as she was surrounded by incoming customers. I waited with Maggie for her cab and drove the caddy home just over the speed limit. I was hoping Lynn would be awake, but the nightstand light was out when I looked down the hall. I took my shoes off in the living room and carried them into the bedroom with me. I shut the door, felt my way over to the bathroom and turned on the light. It cast a warm glow over Lynn who was on her side, facing the bathroom, her arms curled up by her head. I could make out her face as I brushed my teeth, the frown line between her eyes smoothed away by sleep.
I crawled into bed doing my best not to disturb the mattress. I shifted until I could get my arm around Lynn’s waist and my face against her hair. We got lucky. I thought of Robin and Maggie who had always felt like one of those forever couples and then Maggie got echoed and Robin left for Colorado. We went to her wedding last year, a child psychologist, nice, but not Maggie. But what had they really had to hold them together? No baby to save them.