I'm on a hot streak. Would you believe it? I finished Simon's story. In case you don't recall, here was the first half:
The Ambiguity of Truth: Delusions of Grandeur (part 1)
...and now, for the dramatic conclusion.
The hotel they ended up staying in (and paying for in cash from the Roy Rogers) was next to a divey bar. This was the sort of bar that had a banquet facility much like the ones where Simon’s freelance DJ company (Alyce’s Deal Jays) would send him to DJ for white trash weddings. He didn’t like those gigs because they always requested The Thong Song, but he went anyway because he liked helping to support his wife’s shopping habit. Even though she wasn’t into danger, she was into a good time in the bedroom. And if she bought clothes and lingerie that made her look hot, she felt hot, and the hotter she felt, the more she felt like sharing. Simon liked that about her, and he unwillingly found himself wishing she were here.
It was about the time that his wife would usually arrive at home, and he anxiously anticipated the phone call that was inevitably coming. He took his daughter to the bar and asked the bartender to make up a clean hot chocolate for her. As this was the kind of place that pretended to be cosmopolitan (even though it wasn’t), they had a number of coffee drinks on the menu and the equipment to make it happen. Simon had never seen such a spotless espresso machine in his entire life: it was like it had never been used. The barman looked like Bluto from the old Popeye cartoons, and making a hot chocolate (“With whipped cream, please,” Simon added) would have been humiliating for him if there had been anyone else around to see him do it. When the frilly little hot chocolate arrived, Simon ordered a nervous bellini for himself and set to chatting up the barkeep.
“Where is everybody?” Simon asked.
“It’s seven o’clock,” the barman grunted. “Dinner, maybe? Not from around here, are ye?”
“No,” Simon said. Three bellinis and a few hours later, Simon had still not gotten a call from his wife. He checked the phone, making sure that he had enough service to receive a call, which he did. Traffic in the bar had picked up, but there were still only a few patrons scattered around the space. There was a woman at the end of the bar who looked like a lonely librarian, sipping a G&T and staring at a full pack of cigarettes like she was imagining herself chainsmoking her way through the entire thing. Nobody else in the bar was smoking, and Simon deduced that there was a smoking ban in this county. Maybe she was trying to quit. There was a May/December couple at a secluded table in the corner, sharing a bottle of wine. They each seemed completely incapable of disentangling their limbs and lips from those of the other, and their full glasses of wine remained untouched. The motley crew was rounded out by a man in a trench coat who sat alone at a table near the bar, drinking an O’Doul’s. Out of the four customers in the bar, only this man had given Simon a dirty look after spotting his pint-sized drinking companion. Simon did not like the look of him, and was more than a little shocked that a divey place like this even carried non-alcoholic beer. Then again, the bar also had an espresso machine. The looks of this place had been deceiving.
“I’m getting tired, Daddy,” his daughter said, her head drooping a little, her white-blonde curls tumbling angelically over her arm.
“Let’s go, then,” Simon said. “You want me to carry you?”
“No, I can walk,” she smiled wanly. They both knew that he would be carrying her for the last leg of the journey. But only he knew that they were going to the car, and not to the hotel room. He settled up the tab with the barkeep and left him a generous tip. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the trench coat man take a cell phone out of one of his many pockets, and quickly dial a number into it. He spoke furtively into the phone, covering his mouth with a cupped hand while the barman thanked Simon profusely and loudly, hoping that the other customers would be encouraged to improve their own tipping habits.
Simon hurried his daughter out of the bar, to the hotel. There, he settled up with the concierge and specified that the room should be occupied by vagrants, if any were out and about on that chilly night. He scooped his daughter up and dashed out the door, leaving the concierge shaking his head.
To his great relief, he did not see the trench coat man leaving the bar while he loaded his nearly-sleeping daughter into the car. He wore a blank face while he buckled her into the car seat, and only let fear seep onto his face when he was safely strapped in behind the wheel. There was a reason why she didn’t call. Either the trench coat man was doing an exceedingly poor job of following him for her, or something was wrong. Either way, he figured that he needed to get home as soon as possible, or the consequences might be dire.
As he pounded the highway in the unfamiliar car, he wondered what he could have done to keep himself from falling in love. If only he hadn’t taken that sorority girl home from the pan-Greek party that night; if only he hadn’t been impressed by her sexual skills; if only she hadn’t gotten up the next morning and usurped his fraternity house’s kitchen to make him his favorite omelette, the contents of which he had no recollection of telling her. If only she wasn’t so wonderful, he thought. He remembered the feel of her body in his lap as he flew under overpasses, through exits and toll plazas, less driving than driven, like a magnet toward his own personal north. If only he hadn’t fallen in love, he’d be free to do what he wanted. If only there were a way to keep the one he loved most from ever succumbing to the same fate. As she glowed in the back seat, he finally realized that it was almost certainly too late.
She was fast asleep by the time he pulled the car up a few blocks away from the day care, just where he’d found it. The thought vaguely crossed his mind that a car full of quality weed probably shouldn’t have been parked so close to a day care, but he shoved that aside. All he had left to do was grab her out of the back of the car and run home with her, sneak her into her bed like nothing was wrong, and bring the sacks of money and weed as peace offerings, or in the worst case, medicine.
Then he would be home, and while he’d had another of the adventures that he so desperately craved, the luster was already wearing off of it. Whereas, even after eight years of marriage, his wife and daughter still shone in his mind’s eye like the most beautiful treasures. He was steps away from home when he saw an unfamiliar car in his driveway. It wasn’t a police car, not even an undercover one: they almost never drove frivolous cars like the Mazda Miata parked next to his Audi. The paint was so black, it sucked all the light out of the air around it. He marveled at the car for a moment before slipping silently into the house, going directly to his daughter’s room and tucking her into bed before deciding what he wanted to do about the owner of the Miata.
He kept a Louisville Slugger in the front closet, waiting for the time when his daughter would be old enough to play softball with him in the park. It was also there to combat intruders, because his wife was dead set against having a gun in the house. Simon opened the closet silently and pulled out the bat, tossing the bags of money and weed in to take its place. He tiptoed toward the bedroom. What if she was cheating on him? What if she hadn’t called because she’d been preoccupied by a lover? The very thought made him want to shove the bat down his own throat—if he hadn’t left her alone like that…
He opened the door and poked his head into the opening, the wooden baseball bat still hidden behind the door. His wife was sleeping. The bed appeared to be otherwise empty, but the covers were rumpled such that he couldn’t be sure. He crept in and poked at his side of the bed with the end of the bat.
“Are you holding a baseball bat, Simon?” she asked. She was awake.
“Yes,” he said.
“I thought there was—somebody—here.”
“I thought you took our daughter on one of your crime sprees,” she said. “But you don’t see me coming to beat you to death with a bat.”
“The bat is not for you. And I didn’t—”
“I know you did.”
“Did you have me followed?” Simon suddenly remembered the trench coat man who was suspicious enough to make him leave the hotel bar.
“No,” she said.
“Oh,” Simon said. The man must have been following him on a lead from the police. He was still glad he left when he did.
“Then how did you know?”
“I called you right after the daycare called me to say that she didn’t show up.”
“Why didn’t you call the police?”
“Because I understand you, now.”
“Because of the car?”
“Yes, because of the car,” her voice revealed her smile, even in the darkness.
“Is it yours?”
“It is now.”
“Did you buy it?” he asked.
“No,” she said.
“Interesting.” He wondered whether she would get out of bed to smoke a joint with him, like the good old days. He wondered what had precipitated this particular change in his beloved wife. But most of all, he felt something that he hadn’t felt for quite some time: the complete absence of fear.