Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was just one day away from being chased by a massive supernatural being with horns and wings, carrying a smouldering sheet of parchment that he wanted me to sign.
And it would all happen because my van was in the shop.
The CAA tow truck driver who responded to my call the night before had taken both me and my van to the parking lot of my regular mechanics near Dufferin and Queen. I’d dealt with them before and liked the work they did — by which I mean they worked cheap. I left an explanatory note on the wind shield with my name and a request to call me the next day when they knew what the problem was. When I finished, the CAA guy was nice enough to drive me back to my apartment on Grange Street at Beverly.
With absolutely nothing to do on Thursday I slept until 11:00, then strolled down to The Queen Mother Cafe for some sticky rice and peanut sauce. A quick browse through the Type Bookstore, then home again. I called Jimmy, an old high school friend, to see if he was available.
“Hey, Rob, whatcha up to?”
“I’m kind of at loose ends,” I told him. “You free for a Lost Day?”
“Ah man, I’m sorry. I’ve actually got to work.” Jimmy runs a graphics company out of his home and is talented enough that he can pick and choose his jobs. This means he often has spare time — but when he’s got to work, he really has to work.
“Damn,” I said. “Well, another time.”
“I’m glad you called though. I was going to get in touch to tell you that Chuck is back in town for the weekend, and we’re planning a marathon this weekend.”
Chuck is another old friend. He’s a short guy with long, black hair that can never decide if it wants to be curly or just frizz out all over the place. He wears thick glasses and spends most of his time reading about esoteric subjects. He has a great interest in religion, but not generally from a religious point of view.
“Which marathon?” I asked.
“Oh, Firefly, for sure. Complete — TV episodes and the movie, Serenity.”
“Send me the time and details. I’ll be there,” I said.
“And hey, maybe you could bring that blonde chick you hang out with.”
Now there was a great idea. Whenever Chuck gets around a beautiful woman he launches into a treatise on some obscure religious text, such as the Bardo Thodol (the Tibetan Book of the Dead). Jimmy, on the other hand, believes in the direct approach, which he apparently learned from the inner circles of of a college fraternity. The first time he saw Paula he said, “Are you Swedish? Because you’re the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen.”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” I said a little too quickly. “I’m pretty sure she’s got plans for the weekend.”
“Yeah, I bet she has,” he said. “Go ahead, keep her to yourself. Some day you’ll finally score with her — when she’s 70.”
That hit a little too close to home, so I said my goodbyes and hung up.
I thought about heading to the office and doing paper work, but I didn’t actually have any paper work to do. I wondered briefly if that was something I should worry about and made a resolution to make more paper work. Somehow.
About six o’clock I got a call from the mechanics, who told me I could pick up my van the next day between 7:00 and 8:00. After the phone call I settled in to watch some TV. After Elementary ended at 11:00 I actually went to bed, read for a while and then slept.
Friday I woke up feeling better than I had in ages. There’s nothing like a free day and a long, refreshing sleep to recharge the batteries. Best of all, I had another free day ahead of me, aside from picking up my van later.
When 6:30 rolled by I wandered down to Queen and hopped on a west-bound street car. The rush hour was basically over, and while the front seats were all taken, the back of the car was half empty. Most of the passengers, were engaged in electronic media of one sort or another — texting or watching things on tablets and smart phones. Although I have nothing against the technology, it warmed my heart a little to see one person reading a book and another reading a newspaper. Unfortunately, however, both also seemed to suffer from the modern inability to handle the older media properly: the man reading the book had bent it almost completely in half, the man reading the newspaper had it fully opened rather than folded in the manner dictated by proper transit etiquette.
There was an empty seat in front of newspaper man so I grabbed it. As we approached Augusta Avenue I realised this was where I’d lost Mrs. Robinson the week before, probably at this very time.
And then the street car stopped and she got on.
I had a moment of panic in which I contemplated ducking down so she wouldn’t see my face before realising that she didn’t know me from Adam — although I suppose if Adam and I had been in a line-up, his fig leaf apparel may have helped her distinguish between us.
The relief was short lived, however, when a sudden rustling of paper and a thump beside me announced the presence of a new seat mate.
I didn’t even have to look over to know who it was.
“This isn’t what it looks like,” I said. “My van broke down last night — no, the night before — and I’m on my way to pick it up.”
My gangster friend was dressed far more naturally today, wearing a regular sports coat, shirt and slacks. Oddly enough, however, he still had that bulge near his one shoulder.
“You just happen to be picking up your van by riding the exact same street car Mrs. Robinson is taking. The very Mrs. Robinson I told you to stay away from.”
“Believe it or not, yes. And you can drop the tough guy act because I don’t buy it.”
“You don’t?” he said, raising an eyebrow.
“No, I don’t. If you’re a gangster then I’m Avril Lavigne.” I had no idea why her name popped into mind, other than the fact that I had a mild crush on her. “And I’m willing to bet that the bulge under your jacket is a pocket book. Probably the complete collection of Dashiell Hammett.”
He looked at me for a moment, and then, still holding the paper in front of his face with one hand, reached into his pocket and brought out a small but thick paperback version of The Book of the Tales of Caunterbury. In the original Middle English, no less.
I blinked. And then, because that didn’t seem to be an adequate response, I blinked again.
“Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote,” he said, smiling for the first time since I met him, “the droghte of march hath perced to the roote, and bathed every veyne in swich licour of which vertu engendred is the flour…”
He broke off, peering past his newspaper.
“She’s getting up!” he hissed. “Follow her!”
“She’s up!” he repeated, this time with some desperation. “She’s going to get off at the next stop, I think. Get up. Follow her, for God’s sake!”
“Wait — so first you come to my office doing a whole William Bendix act telling me not to follow Mrs. Robinson, and now you’re telling me to get up and follow her?”
This time he blinked. Only once, though, so he must have figured it was sufficient. “You recognised the Bendix bit?”
“Yes, I recognised the Bendix bit! Who else talks about bouncing someone around like a rubber ball?”
He looked embarrassed, and then glanced around the newspaper again.
“Please,” he said. “Just follow her.”
“Why? Why don’t you follow her?”
“I can’t! She knows me!”
Right. The newspaper.
“Well, still,” I protested. “I don’t work for you.”
“I’ll hire you. Now! I’ll give you a retainer tomorrow. But follow her!”
“I’m not doing anything unless you tell me why you want her followed.”
“Because,” he said, suddenly sounding both weary and sad, “she’s my sister and I think she’s involved in a dangerous cult!”
There are notes to this chapter, which can be found by hovering over the “Story Notes: No spoilers” tab at the top of the page.
Warning — Read the chapter first, otherwise the notes may be an inadvertent spoiler.
This is my eighth entry in the February writing challenge, “30 Minus 2 Days of Writing: III” (or 30M2DoW) issued by We Work for Cheese, the rules for which, such as they are, I am completely ignoring — except the attempt to post each day during the month.