The one thing Jack needs to hear

Posted: 2011 in Post 8.2
Tags: , , , ,

Friday, March 30, 6:13 p.m.

The rainfall grows steady as I sit with Jack in his car, both of us staring through the water-streaked windshield at the gaudy neon lights in the windows of the Irish pub. We don’t talk for several minutes. This must have been what the Sunday car picnics with his wife were like, back when they were having problems.

“Yesterday,” he says at last. “After the autopsy, I went back to work. I put my notes in my desk drawer and went to the bar. I got pretty drunk. I left my car in the lot and took the bus home.”

“That was smart,” I say. “Taking the bus, I mean. You shouldn’t keep getting drunk after work.”

I know about his two DUIs. From the way his pale blue eyes slip over mine with the speed of a snake’s flicking tongue, I know that he knows I know.

“I called you when I got home,” he says.

“And told me you hadn’t been drinking,” I say.

“I don’t remember,” he says. “I had some vodka while we talked. A couple shots. It felt so good to talk to you. That’s all I remember. Then suddenly I wasn’t on the phone anymore and the bottle was empty. It was pretty late, I think. I remember I took out my cell phone to call you again, but then it was morning and I lying on the couch. I was still holding my cell phone.”

“Nice,” I say. “Did your daughter see you passed out on the couch like that?”

Jack shrugs, his shoulders lifting asymmetrically exactly like Lucy’s.

“I got Lucy onto her school bus. I took a shower, shaved, caught the bus to work. I sat in one of the handicapped seats. You know, the ones that’re turned sideways instead of facing front?”

“You’re not supposed to do that,” I say.

“I sent you a text,” he says. “When I looked up, there was this nurse sitting across from me. Old style. White dress, white tights.”

Nurse

“White hat?” I say.

“You’ve seen her,” Jack says. His eyes burn into mine. “You have, haven’t you?”

“Maybe,” I say. “I’m not sure.”

“On the bus?”

“Yes. I think. But maybe not,” I say.

“She stared at me like she knew me,” he says. “I sent you another text.”

“Telling me to stay home,” I say. “Why?”

“Because I knew,” he says.

“You knew what?”

“That she was looking for you,” he says.

“Oh Jack, that’s…”

I want to say “crazy.” Or “ridiculous.” Or “stupid.” Instead, I say the thing that he most needs to hear.

“Thank you for trying to protect me.”

He lets out a shaky sigh and closes his eyes. His right hand reaches for my shoulder and it’s my turn to instinctively shy away before he can touch me. He opens his eyes and puts his hand back on the steering wheel.

“Her eyes are dead. There’s something about her…can we get a drink? Please? Just a beer?” he pleads.

I shake my head vigorously.

“That pub is nasty,” I say. “I won’t set foot in there after what I found in the fries last time. Just talk to me, Jack. What happened after you sent me the second text?”

“The nurse stared at me. She never blinked. Not once. Then she smiled at me. And this name came into my head: Spine.”

The drafty Saab feels much colder all of a sudden. Leo wrote something in his blog today about a nurse, a man named Spine and a murder.

“When we got to my stop, I jumped off the bus and ran flat out until I got inside the Washingtonian lobby,” Jack says. “I sent you another text. Then I went up to my office, grabbed my notebook, wrote a note to The Chief, and left the obit folder on his desk.”

“Yeah, with your obituary in it. And mine,” I say. “What the hell, Jack?”

He looks at me. Like the nurse, he doesn’t blink. Not once.

 

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