The faint aroma of toast and cheese drifted by as my hosts herded me up the ramp from plane to airport. Perhaps they sensed my change of heart, or at least spirit, but Dope and Pally changed when we hit Shannon; stiff, business-like, no-nonsense. It was like they were suddenly nervous where I felt confident. Seemed odd, their being on home soil and all that, but it also made it clear I was going where they were going, even if I did change my mind.
Y’know in all the old movies where you’re thinking, hey, why doesn’t he just run, or yell, or whatever? Yeah, me too. Go try it. I reached up to scratch my nose and both arms were in vises before I could breathe.
“Relax, Doc. You ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
“Just scratching my nose. Honest.”
“Well don’t. Don’t do anything. I don’t wanna deliver you all bruised or anything.”
I decided my nose didn’t itch all that badly.
I was also reconsidering my willing spirit, now that it was too late. I guess I could have yelled for help, but something stopped me. It’s disorienting, not knowing who you are, or what happened for the first 40-or-so years of your existence. That, and the Jameson’s, and I wasn’t in the frame of mind for heroic escaping. Sorry; I wish I had a better explanation, but it was a close call in my own head, and it just came down slightly on the side of cooperation with Big Irish Incorporated.
Did I mention that not all my moves are smart ones? Here’s a tip, kids: when they try to take you, don’t go. Much better to get all punched and kicked in the middle of a busy airport than to get out to the car and see the waves of relief on your captors’ faces as they get their guns from under the dash. Big guns. Maybe not; maybe they just looked big. Whatever. It was pretty clear they’d just crossed the line from bullies to criminals, as far as I was concerned.
We took up our usual positions, Dope behind the wheel and Pally in back with me. After the cool breezes full of salt air and new mown grass, the cigar smell in the car made me miss the scent of Dangly Pine even more. I had plenty of time to think as we drove south; the fascination with being on the wrong side of the road wore off in about two minutes, which surprised me a little.
So, I thought.
Dope and Pally had nabbed me before, but somehow I’d escaped. Escaped, and gone straight to my house, a not-very-lived-in house with no living room, where I hid in the basement. A basement full of junk which, I promise you, wasn’t mine; I don’t live like that. When I have a basement, it may still be dank and cold, but it’s tidy.
Why had I gone there? Nothing came to me. Why hadn’t they known where to come? Huh. Oh well.
I had the feeling the events hadn’t happened too long before I ran into them again at the pub; maybe because I was still in clothes I’d slept in, maybe because I’d been hungry and thirsty, but not any more than normal for first thing in the morning. Maybe because their relief at seeing me wasn’t as if it had been a long time. Who knows.
Was I really a doctor? Doc could be a nickname; I remember a keyboard player they called ‘Doc’ but I knew he wasn’t. Well, I didn’t remember him, per se; just that I’d known him. But if I was a doctor, that could mean anyone with a PhD; I could be a doctor of philosophy or yoga or something really useless.
I tried taking a mental inventory of any special knowledge I had, but it’s like looking for something when, not only do you not know where it is, you don’t know what it is. Besides, if I knew something special or unusual, would I know it was special or unusual or would it just seem normal to me, the way we all tend to think others know whatever we know?
I abandoned the proactive method and decided that maybe sleep would trigger something again. But now I was too wound up, the car was too small, the road was too rough. I just sat there with my head leaned back in the corner, consciously willing myself to sleep, and failing miserably.
My head jerked back against the window with a thump. Mighta been the thump; mighta been the sleep; but I remembered. Not everything, not by a long shot, but my subconscious had been hard at work during the moments I was out.
I’d bought that small house in LA as a research haven; research in Celtic history. It had needed quite a bit of renovation; the previous owner had died, leaving only a cousin who didn’t want the house or contents. I bought it all, and had been in the middle of moving the dead guy out and myself in when things must have gone awry.
Or was I remembering a movie I’d seen. Gah! It was maddening. It seemed real, but why were some details so clear, like the cousin’s disdain for the house’s owner, but some totally missing, like how I couldn’t picture the cousin at all; just a vague feeling it was ‘him’ instead of ‘her’, but the cousin bit stuck.
Why doesn’t somebody figure out the three pounds in our heads so we can write an operator’s manual?
Anyway, the house had seemed like a good place to be, because I hadn’t owned it long enough for anyone to associate it with me, which is also probably why Dope and Pally hadn’t found me there. The only person who’d known exactly where it was would have been Rob.
Wham. It was like getting hit inside the head. A whole person springing to life in my brain.
Rob wasn’t just a friend; more like a brother. Not that we’d ever convince anyone we were brothers, what with the difference in skin tone—mine was Wisconsin white and would never really tan, and Rob was, at the risk of being politically incorrect, black. That’s how he referred to himself, and by golly, there was no other word for his skin tone. Let’s just agree not to fuss about it, okay?
Rob and I had gone through his divorce together. I never understood why he’d married her in the first place, but during the year his marriage nose-dived, we went from friendly acquaintances to a friendship so close it was more like being two halves of the same person. For a decidedly heterosexual male, it had been unusual for me to feel so close to another guy, but it came about so naturally that we both just accepted that we were kindred spirits, downed our pints together, laughed at each other’s jokes, and let it be what it was.
I’d been looking out the window waiting for Rob’s car. I don’t know if I hadn’t waited long enough, or if he hadn’t come because he was waiting to hear from me—the cell phone I should have had but didn’t was bugging me.
I didn’t remember Rob’s cell number, so I wasn’t gonna break away and make a quick international distress call. Who remembers phone numbers when they’re programmed into your phone, your Palm Pilot, and your laptop?
One thing was sure, though: Rob would look for me. After his 20-year stint in the military, he was obsessively methodical; not the type to be expecting me and let my disappearance go without checking into it.
What he could do about it was another thing altogether.