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New Kid in Town
The Avarris car rental agency in Salt Lake City is just a little metal building in a parking lot next to the airport lot. The clerk was a not-quite-handsome young man, about six feet and two inches tall, with blond hair and blue eyes. His jaw was too big, and as much as the eye tried to deny it, he had hips. He wore a gold company blazer that needed dry cleaning and his name tag said Eldon Twigg. Joe Service reckoned Mr. Twigg was about twenty years old. Joe himself was a relatively short man, about thirty, with new black hair that had lately grown back in after being shaved for surgery and had acquired an alarming number of silvery strands. He also had a beard, which he had never worn before, and it, too, had silver in it. Normally Joe's energetic, vivacious nature more than compensated for stature, but Joe had been shot in the head not too long ago and he had just ridden all night through a winter storm in Montana and Idaho, so he wasn't in top form. Nonetheless, he was a determined man, so he put on his best face and said he'd like to rent a car, the best car Avarris had, a Cadillac or a Continental, something like that.
Avarris had a Cadillac, a practically brand-new Coupe de Ville. "Expensive, though," young Mr. Twigg said. Joe waved his hand contemptuously. Price was no object. Twigg eyed Joe's drawn, bearded, not very clean face and rumpled clothes — jeans, a sweater, a not-recently-cleaned ski jacket. Twigg wasn't sure that this client was really a Cadillac client. But you never knew these days. Multimillionaire actors and sports stars flew around the country unshaven and wearing jeans busted out at the knee. This client had something of that look, the arrogance, the slightly dangerous don't-fuck-with-me look. Twigg asked for the credit card.
"I don't use credit cards," Joe said.
"You have to have a credit card," Twigg said, his jaw wagging ponderously. He decided that the client didn't have the scruffy actor look.
"I have a deal with Avarris," Joe said. "You can check on your computer. It'll be under Joseph Humann, Tinstar, Montana."
Tinstar, Montana, Twigg thought. Joe Humann? Not a movie star, not even a famous director. "Uh, how are we spelling that, Mr. Humann? Two 'ens'?" Stifling a smirk, Twigg punched the information into the computer and stood looking at the screen, skeptically. After a moment he frowned slightly and said, "Well, you have a listing under our cash/credit program, Mr. Humann, but you haven't used the program in more than six months. That means your credit has to be reviewed."
"Reviewed," Joe said. He smiled, but it wasn't a pleasant smile. "I give these"— he hesitated, then spat out the word "people," clearly choosing this innocuous word over a more rude usage, a choice as effective in its way as a violent curse —"cash so they'll let me give them cash instead of a piece of plastic! I'm paying them to allow me to pay them in cash!" His voice was rising in anger, but he suddenly reined it in. "How long does this review take?" he asked quietly.
Eldon Twigg was scared. Something in Mr. Humann's voice and manner had sent a thrill of terror deep into his scrotum. His voice was a little shaky as he replied, in a near whisper, "Not long, sir. A half hour maybe. I'll request the review, shall I?"
Joe nodded. "I have to go out to my, ah, friend's car," he said. "I'll be right back."
"I'll start getting the papers ready," Twigg said. He watched as Joe turned away and shuffled out the door, stumbling over the threshold. Twigg could see a young-looking blond woman sitting behind the wheel of a road-splattered Ford. Humann opened the back door of the car and got in.
The driver was a very pretty young woman, but neither was she looking her best. She'd driven all night after a harrowing time in a remote cabin in Montana, a half hour of terror followed by confusion, flight, and not nearly enough in the way of clarification and explanation from Joe. She was a nurse named Cathleen Yoder. Everybody called her Cateyo, as if it were "Katie-o." She was twenty-six years old and unmarried, an improbable virgin in these promiscuous times.
She watched quietly while Joe opened a cardboard box that he'd thrown in the back last night, before they'd fled the cabin. She had no idea what was in the box but she became alarmed when Joe began to mutter and fling handfuls of old letters and bills all over the back seat of the car. He looked up at last, his face more drawn than ever, and staring right at her said, "Stupid!" Cateyo recoiled. Never had Joe used a word of abuse toward her, never, nor even a mild reproach. He smiled then and said, "Not you, babe. Me. I'm a dummy. A goddamn dummy." Then he slumped back on the seat. He looked so tired, so defeated, that her heart ached, literally ached for him.
"What's wrong, Joe?" she said softly.
He sighed and tried to pull himself up, but it seemed too much effort for him. He sank back. "I'm stupid," he said. "I'm also flat broke."
This was a new experience for Joe Service. He couldn't recall ever being broke. But then, his memory wasn't what it should be. A bullet in the head can erase memory, in theory. There are other theories, however, that claim that memory is not simply stored in a single location in the brain, as in a filing cabinet, but is parceled out all over the brain and anyway is not so much a quantity as a process. Joe wasn't conversant with these theories. But he knew he wasn't remembering everything he should. He wasn't thinking about that now, though. He was grasping at another shadowy memory that suggested, vaguely hinted anyway, that he really had a lot of money in many different places, if he could just remember where and how to get at it.
He struggled with this one, gazing blankly at Cateyo's concerned face. "What?" he said, finally, realizing that she had spoken.
"I said, I have some money," Cateyo replied.
Joe dismissed this with an abrupt movement of his head. No, no, he couldn't take her money. He couldn't be dependent on this ... this, well not dumb broad, but at least a naive, trusting, simple, and, mmmm, very attractive young woman.
"Why not?" she demanded. "We're in this together, aren't we, Joe?"
"In what together? We're not in anything," he said irritably. "You're just with me." He regretted saying that as soon as it was uttered. Her face fell, but she was not a marshmallow. Her expression hardened.
"I've done a lot for you, Joe. I've taken care of you, I came with you. I've given up my life for you. You can't just throw it back at me."
"Given up what?" he sneered. "Your life? What the hell are you talking about? You haven't given up anything. Go back. Go back, now. What, you forgot to call in, or something? The hospital won't make a big deal of it. You're a good nurse. The hospital might be annoyed, but that's all. Go on. Get out of here."
He started to open the door, but she grabbed his hand on the back of the front seat. "Don't, Joe," she warned him and he stopped. "You can't do this to me. Without me you'd still be back there in that cabin and who knows what that means? God knows, I don't. I came with you because you needed me. Without me you wouldn't be here."
Joe started to retort to this, but then he realized that she was right. She had helped him, he did need her. "I'm sorry, babe," he said, "I wasn't thinking. I ... I'm not all here ... yet." He patted her hand and let her take his hand in hers. She gripped it tightly, lovingly.
When she was convinced that he meant it, she smiled and took a chance on humor. She said, "Besides, back there on the pass you said we'd get married."
"What pass? Monida Pass? I didn't say we'd get married," Joe said, but he didn't withdraw his hand. He grimaced, half smiling at her, a look of mock reproach. "I said ... I think I said it was an idea. A good idea, a bad idea ... it's something to think about. Hey, c'mon, lighten up. Umm, how much money have you got?"
"Well, I've got about two hundred dollars in cash, and I've got a Visa and a MasterCard —"
At this moment they were interrupted by a rap on the rear window. Young Mr. Twigg was leaning down, smiling, showing a lot of teeth. When Joe turned to look at him, he said, "Mr. Humann? It's all right."
Joe lowered the window. "What's all right?"
"Your credit," Twigg said. "The head office called right back. Your credit is fine. You won't even need to make a deposit. They'll just bill your bank, as before. Anything you want, they said." He brandished some papers. "I've got it all made out. Just sign here, by the X." He thrust the papers through the window.
Joe took the papers and gestured for a pen. Twigg handed him a ballpoint. Joe read the form. It said that Avarris would bill his Salt Lake City bank, Zion National Bank. He signed and gave the papers back. "I'll bring the car right up," Twigg said, and vanished into the little office.
Joe turned back to Cateyo. He shrugged and lifted his hands and his eybrows comically. "No prob," he said. He got out of the car and closed the door.
"Joe!" Cateyo called after him in panic.
He leaned down and looked in the open back window. "What?"
"You're not ...," she faltered.
"Hey, relax. I'm not taking off." He limped around the car to where she sat and when she rolled down the window he leaned in and kissed her lightly on the lips. His tongue flickered across her lips and she shivered. "Let's go to a hotel," he said. "Follow me."
The kid brought the Cadillac up, a very shiny metallic maroon Coupe de Ville. He hopped out and handed the keys to Joe. "Here you are, Mr. Humann. Have a good day."
"Thank you, Mr. Twigg. I appreciate your patience and ... and your kindness. Do I return the car here?"
"Oh, no. You can return it anywhere we have an office. There's a list in the glove compartment. We're not as widespread as some, but where we don't have an office you can return it at any Nationwide or Mountainwest agency ... we have agreements with them. There'll just be a slight additional fee."
Joe thanked him and got in. It took him a moment or two to orient himself. The car felt good and rich. It was softly comfortable but radiated an aura of power. It had many indicators buried in the leather-bound dash. He took a good long time to stare at them, but they were largely incomprehensible. He had to adjust the seat, ponder the mechanical arrangements, but finally, though somewhat mystified, he decided to just go ahead and turn the key. The idea that the key could be turned had just occurred to him. He was confidentthat it would all come back to him, although he hadn't driven a car in over three months. And he was right. He did everything automatically. He drove out of the parking lot, with Cateyo following. But before he got very far he pulled over and got out to talk to her.
"I might be a little confused here," he said. "Why don't you just lead the way back into town and I'll follow you."
"Where are we going?"
"To a hotel."
"Any hotel. Any good hotel," he corrected. "The one with the fanciest-dressed doorman. You've got your cards, right? Let's go to the biggest, most expensive hotel. I'll make it up to you."
Cateyo looked mystified, but she made an expression that seemed to say, Okay, whatever you say. She maneuvered out onto the freeway and headed back in to Salt Lake City. After cruising around downtown for a few minutes, she pulled into the sweeping entry of a very large hotel, with Joe Service right behind her. A doorman in a long coat and a fancy hat hurried to open her door. Another opened Joe's door.
Joe told the desk that their bags would catch up to them. A few minutes later they were ushered into the best suite, at the top of the hotel. The bellboy opened the long traversing drapes, revealing a splendid view of the Wasatch Front, the mountains looking craggy and etched with newly fallen snow like a steel engraving in the midmorning sun. "Give the man a five, honey," Joe said to Cateyo.
When the bellboy had gone he turned to her. She stood there, a little rumpled looking, tired, but young and pretty. He could see she was scared. It occurred to him that she may never have been alone in a hotel room with a man. He took her by the arm and drew her over to the window and they gazed out over the snow-dusted city at the mountains. He hugged her with one arm and gave her a little kiss on the cheek. She responded with a shy squeeze around his waist.
Joe broke away from her, peeling off his ski jacket. "I'm starving," he said, "but I'm also beat. And I feel grungy. I'm going to take a shower."
"You'd better take your medications, first," Cateyo said. While Joe unabashedly shucked off his clothes she laid out various pills. He gulped them down with water, then walked into the huge, luxurious shower. It was beautifully tiled and had a built-in seat. He turned the water on full blast and hot.
As he had hoped, Cateyo joined him a few minutes later. His body was something she was quite familiar with. She had washed him countless times in the hospital in Butte. It was a great body, somewhat softened by a prolonged hospital stay, but still well muscled. Joe had actually seen Cateyo naked only the night before, but this was his first opportunity to lay hands on those tender breasts, to hold the resilient flesh of those buttocks. Weariness vanished in the steam and lather of aromatic soap. These two young, finely constructed people responded to each other's caresses in a timeless way: halfway through the soaping, they lost patience and rinsed themselves as quickly as they could before partially toweling off and rushing to the enormous bed. They threw themselves on top of the satiny spread and Joe crouched before those eagerly opened thighs, gazing down at her pink vaginal lips, peeping through the damp blond fur.
Perhaps no creature on the planet is as sexually volatile as a female human about twenty-six years old, especially a virgin. Joe was frankly priapic. Cateyo lay with her knees up and wide apart. When Joe reached out and cupped her vulva she jumped galvanically. She was hot and ready.
Cateyo trembled with anticipation as Joe lowered himself toward her. She lay partially supported on her elbows, not sure what to do. She was not a prudish young woman. She was a practiced nurse and had often thought about this moment. Here in this splendid room, with the mountain light flooding in the tall window, she felt rather exposed, a little fearful, but definitely ready for what she expected would be a great, great watershed moment in her life.
Joe leaned forward to slide his hands up along her flanks, reveling in the subtle weight of her breasts against the haft of his thumbs. The large, helmetlike head of his cock prodded the curtains of her vagina, found a partable aperture, and nosed into her slightly before meeting an unexpected resistance. Her vagina was very dry. He reached down with his hand and maneuvered his cock, prying open the lips slightly. He thrust, then again, and was gratified by a little flush of moisture. But now he met another resistance, not just dryness. He looked into her blue eyes with his own in surprise. It had not occurred to him that she was a virgin.
"Do it," she urged him, huskily. She braced her heels on the bedspread instinctively and gave a little gasp as he thrust into her, harder. Then he stopped. He looked down in amazement. For the first time in his life he was stymied at sex. His cock had softened.
"What the hell," he said, annoyed. Then he sat back on his calves, shocked. His penis had completely wilted. His fingers fumbled at the limp organ, shaking it impatiently, as if to waken it.
"Here," Cateyo said, eagerly reaching down to take hold of him. Many times, in the night stretches of her care for him at the hospital, she had manipulated him into great involuntary erections and finally eruptions, sometimes when he was not conscious. She had even taken him in her mouth before, an act of such daring and incredible depravity in her mind that she still could hardly believe she had done it. Her hand aroused him slightly, now, and quickly she swooped down again to suck at him. She was frenzied, dying to have him in her at last, and she was pleased to find him quickly stiffened and ready again. She lay back and once again she waited for the great moment.
Just as eagerly, Joe leaned into her. His now moistened cock entered her more readily, but once again, when it met resistance, it crumpled and went dead on him.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Dead Folks"
Copyright © 1996 Jon A. Jackson.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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