Thursday, December 30, 2010

ch. 3: brownstreet appears

Cards were losing, and I drifted into an inevitable boredom as the day wore on, though I was quite unsettled by the earlier events. An odd smell drifted into the open window, somewhat like marijuana but not exactly, but I wasn't curious enough to get up off the couch and investigate; I was tired, and I had to mull over events, life-threatening calls coming in on that cell-phone, for example, a cell phone that's not even mine, and I've basically stuffed it away in the bottom drawer, ignoring them.

Now I'm not without resources; as I've said, I'm a small-town sports reporter, but my newspaper can find out information, as fast as you can say "get me". In particular this one assistant, Sophie, is quite good at it, but I didn't want her to get involved in the business of finding my car, for example, because I wouldn't want her to know exactly why I needed what was in it. I wouldn't hesitate to ask her to find out about the lawyers though, so I did. What was their case, why they were being run off the road, who might have had it in for them, who were their enemies? In fact I did this without even leaving the couch, sometime around the seventh-inning stretch; I just called her and asked her to find out what she could. She was nice to me as usual, competent, friendly, all a guy could ask for. Even on a Sunday afternoon at, what, 5 or 6 in the afternoon. She was like that; she always liked hearing my voice, and, even if she couldn't or wouldn't get the information right away, she'd get it soon enough, and without complaint. She lived for this stuff.

But now the sense that someone was around, around my small house on its dead end street, became powerful, along with the aroma, and in fact I spotted an old Volvo out on the street parked not a thousand feet from my door, and I instantly got the sense of the presence of Brownstreet, an old buddy of mine from college. Now I have to say I had completely mixed emotions related to having Brownstreet park his old Volvo in front of my house; on the one hand, he was a great guy to have around, to be wild with, to run up to the city, to hang around, even, and just watch a Cards game. But on the other hand, he was trouble. This was not the time for this kind of trouble. Memories of the time we were stranded in Charlotte or the time we borrowed some guy's boat and almost drowned in the Enterprise Reservoir of eastern Nevada came muscling into my consciousness as a warning: don't even get started. You like your job, your stability, your little house here, your good relationship with Sophie and the boss and stability and a bank account, don't blow it now. But within minutes I was out there, and his window was down.

"Brownstreet, what are you doing in this town? I didn't think I'd see you for a few years, after what you pulled down in Kentucky."

"Oh that, hey, man, sorry, I couldn't help it. I was just passing through this way, thought you wouldn't mind if I popped in for a day or two. Going to St. Louis in the next day or so? I could use some company; I've got to meet someone and I really don't know my way around. I get lost when I go down there, where I'm going, kind of south of the park there, you know?

Brownstreet was a musician who, it seemed, had a woman in virtually every town, including St. Louis and this one little town, Paris, Kentucky, where I'd taken him once to meet my cousin. Only the problem was that it seemed he would freely dump one for the other; travel miles, or hundreds of miles, be totally in love at any given time, and then change his mind entirely and start all over again. You'd think one of these jilted women would come after him with a cudgel one of these days, but in fact, whenever he played music, he would attract another half-dozen, and the ones with cudgels would just melt away into the background as if they'd known all along that they didn't have a chance. And the ironic thing was, although he was kind of a rake, and a hopeless romantic, he didn't really have bad intentions. He just kind of drifted from one to the other, trying to find what he really wanted. And money didn't seem to be a huge problem; perhaps he was independently wealthy? I had no idea. We were friends; we did things together; we paid our own ways; yet it was becoming increasingly expensive for me to get dragged into this stuff, whereas he had a never-ending supply of energy to start up again.

The Sunday afternoon sun was setting in the west, and here's this guy in a Volvo in the street by my house, smoking God knows what and kind of sprawled in a compost heap that filled a messy car; eventually I invited him in and we had a barbeque of old sausages that were filling up my fridge anyway waiting for a bachelor's cleansing. I told him the story of the car accident; in fact I was still reliving it, in my mind. Should I let go of the whole thing? Turn the phone over to the police? In the end I went back to the dresser, pulled it out, turned it on, and showed it to Brownstreet, and he turned it over in his hand, looking at it.

But just then it rang again, and this time he answered it; his eyes grew wide at the shrill string of cusses that burned his ears. Someone, on the other end, was promising to tear him limb from limb for even living; it was apparent that he'd never heard language like this. I was a sports writer; I'd been in some pretty crusty locker rooms, but I also could hear a little of what was said from across the kitchen table, and it was quite sharp. She lit into him and he, silent as I was, gave no indication of who he was; his jaw dropped about a foot though. Later, he told me: she said she'd get him; she'd tear him from limb to limb; and above all, he was to lay off Ben Salem.

I questioned him about the name Ben Salem, but he maintained it was all he had heard, and he might have heard it wrong. Ben Salem, whatever it was, get away from it. We talked it over for a while, especially the possibility that, while we were answering a call, somebody could be tracking it, to this house or to wherever it was. I still wasn't sure how these cell-phones worked, but, if they could, it was too late. I turned it off again.

Late at night our small town becomes very quiet, and even with the windows open we could here a few wild animals stirring way out in the woods at the end of the lane, and we talked for a while, drinking a few beers and watching, at least nominally, the other ball game that had replaced the Cards. I told him about the man with the phone, the survivor. The trip into the hospital with the huge mounds looming overhead in the darkness, apparently the remnant of a thousand-year-old society in which they worshiped the sun, grew corn, and kept building city after city on a big flat dirt table. Brownstreet questioned me about it; he'd been through East St. Louis a dozen times and never even seen it, much less heard about it. The more I said, the more he was hooked; he wanted to see this place, and he'd come into town with me, the following day, if I didn't mind, and would even drive his Volvo, which was in pretty good shape, in spite of just having rolled in from the coast. This was good, because there was no telling when I'd have anything to drive around, and, as I said, Brownstreet was dangerous, a little unpredictable, but at least he wasn't boring. Maybe we could go to Cahokia, or the hospital, or, at the very least, to the junkyard where the cars are impounded.