“This is getting too easy.” I start the car as she straps herself in. It’s two days later, and we’re already done with a case that was supposed to take weeks. “Or we’re too good.”
“Why did they think this was going to be so hard to break?” She flips open her phone and starts the process of checking her messages.
“I guess there was a team that went last year, they couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary.”
“Were they dirty or blind?” she asks, pushing the buttons on her cell phone.
“I’m gonna have to say both.” I whip out my own phone and start pushing in buttons. Whereas Jessica is checking messages about her personal life, my phone is almost exclusively for work—I don’t give out my cell number to the women that I date. I know that she’s over there sorting through messages from Harold, wading through a ton of emotional bullshit before she can find out if we have another assignment waiting.
I have two messages. One is from my investor, bragging about how his latest prediction paid off even more than we thought, and see what happened when I just trusted him. Nice enough guy, and a good investor, but it bugs me when he tries to pretend that we’re good buddies. He finally cuts through the buddy-buddy crap and gets down to business. He lists off a few stocks, some ideas he has, I’m barely listening. I’m driving and I’m watching Jessica out of the corner of my eye. She’s looking pretty distressed about something over there.
“You okay?” I ask.
“Watch the road,” she says
I check my second message, and this one is actually job-related. Apparently, there’s another company in the neighborhood that we’re supposed to swing by. Of course, “in the neighborhood” means anywhere from ten miles to a six-hour road trip. Jessica doesn’t like to fly, so if it’s possible, we drive. We’re not exactly indispensable, but we’re good enough that the big boys back at corporate give us a little slack.
“We’ve got to roll to Hederton. You know where that is?”
“I think you heard it wrong.”
“He spelled it out. Hederton. I’m assuming you don’t know where it is, then?”
She shakes her head, snaps her phone closed and tosses it down onto the seat with a little more force than necessary.
“Problems on the home front?”
“Mind your business.” She pulls the atlas out from behind my seat and starts flipping through the pages. “Am I to understand that this is in the same state?”
“I guess they would have mentioned it if it was in a different one.”
“Don’t be so sure.” I watch as she runs her finger down the column of words, as she scans down looking for the location of our next destination. “I got the map covered, buddy—watch the road.”
“I’m so cool I don’t even have to watch the road. Besides, life insurance pays off double if we get killed on the job.”
“That makes me so much more willing to die in a horrible car accident, knowing that Harold will get more money.”
“It sounds like there’s a bit of hostility towards ole Harold at the moment.” We haven’t talked about her husband anymore, not really. Once in a while his name pops up, but she hasn’t been talking about her marriage. I’m not complaining, of course—that kind of thing generally bores the shit out of me anyway. I just find it odd, that’s all. And I wasn’t going to bring it up, just in case it gets her off and running again. But now I have. Shit.
“He’s been calling me the last couple of days, leaving messages about why am I not picking up, stuff like that.”
“He does realize that this is your job, doesn’t he?”
“That’s what I told him last night when I called him back. I don’t know—he’s just acting weird.”
“If I was crazy enough to get married, and my wife was running around with someone as amazing looking as I am, I would be worried, too.”
“Oh, please. No, he’s just been acting…I don’t know—strange.”
“Weird and strange? This sounds like a job for Scoob and the gang.”
“You’re such an asshole.”
“I know, right? Look, things have obviously been a little awkward between the two of you—he’s probably just trying to reestablish his foothold in the relationship. Stepped a little too close to the cybersex edge, scared himself, and is just running back to safety.”
“Thank you for that, Dr. Phil.”
“Look, do you want to give me shit or do you want to shut up and let me help you and your downward-spiraling marriage.”
“Please teach me, oh wise master.”
“Actually, that’s all I got.”
“I have plenty of uses, you just don’t get to indulge in any of them.”
“Here it is—Hederton. Shit, it’s like a four hour drive.”
“Or a twenty minute flight.”
“Eat it, Chris.”
“Harold is going to flip out.”
“Don’t worry—just gives him more time for his cyber-slut.”
“That’s not funny, don’t joke about shit like that.”
“You used to be cool, man, what happened to you?” She glares at me and picks her phone up. She starts to dial, snaps the phone shut, and throws it back down.
“Do you think there’s any way we can get out of this?”
I think it over for a second. “Yeah. I mean, there’s always away to get out of it. The question is, how bad do you want to?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I think you know.”
She stares at me and I stare at her back, until she finally tells me to watch the fuckin’ road before I get us killed.
She grabs the phone off the seat, dials a number, and waits for someone or something to pick up on the other end. Apparently, it’s a something: “Hey, Harold, it’s me. Listen, sweetheart, they’ve got another assignment for us, so we’ve got to go to Hedenburg. “
“Hederton,” I say.
“Hederton,” She tells the answering machine, glaring at me. “I don’t have any details yet, so I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but I’ll call you tonight to let you know. We’re just driving right now, so call me when you get this, if you want. I love you. Bye.” She hits the disconnect button, gently closes the phone, and stares at it for a couple minutes. I don’t say anything—it’s a decision she’s going to have to make for herself.
Finally she opens the phone back up, and asks me, “What should I tell ‘em? Food poisoning? That one only works if we both claim it.”
“I got your back,” I tell her, “But is this really what you want to do?”
“I want to go home and spend some time with my husband. Why is that so wrong?”
I tap the brake so that the cruise control turns off, and I pull off to the side of the road. We’re pretty much in the country at this point, so there isn’t any traffic to speak of. I put the car in park, but leave it running—I hate to sit in a car that doesn’t have a little background noise going, always have.
“You’re shit for finding parking places,” she says, and laughs a nervous laugh. She’s looking out the window, uncomfortable.
“Jessica, come on.”
“Come on what? Chris, are you trying to make out with me?”
“You know I’m not. I’m being serious here, so you can knock of the lame jokes. Did you know that the more flustered you get, the worse your jokes get?”
“I didn’t know that.”
“Yeah, so spare me, okay?”
“What, Chris, what do you want? What are we doing here?”
“We’re making a decision, Jessica. We can call in sick, have a few days of unscheduled vacation, I don’t mind, okay? I’ll back your story, you can go home and spend some time with your husband, mending whatever is wrong with your marriage, all that.”
“Great, then let’s get going.”
“But, if you’re going home in order to catch your husband having an affair, you better be ready for that.”
“What? What the hell are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about the fact that if you just wanted some time with your husband, you wouldn’t have told him that you have to go out on another job. I’m talking about you better be ready for the worst if you’re planning on finding something bad.”
“I thought you said he wasn’t cheating on me.”
“I really doubt he is, but I don’t want you showing up half-ass prepared, catching him in bed with some broad, and freaking out. People do violent things in the heat of passion.”
“You’re, what, worried about me killing him?”
“I’m just worried, Jessica. This kind of behavior isn’t like you at all, which is disturbing enough as it is. Adding to that that there’s a chance you might find your husband of almost a decade in a very…compromising…position, and it gets even more disturbing.”
“Who the hell are you, huh?”
“I’m your friend, babe. If this is what you want to do, I’m all for it. We can talk about it next week, have a good laugh about how you walked in and found Harold passed out on the couch, surrounded by pizza boxes and beer cans, in a pair of dirty underpants. But if you think there’s a chance that you’re going to find something else—and from the way you’re acting, I think it’s pretty much a given that you do—I just want you to be okay.”
And then she starts bawling. Fucking chicks and their crying. Three years I been working with this girl, and she has never cried in front of me. I guess it’s partly because she didn’t have a reason to cry in front of me, but I like to think that it’s also because she knows that I’m not one of those guys that you cry in front of. But here she is, bawling her eyeballs out, and what the hell am I supposed to do now? Usually when chicks cry, I just leave. Usually, though, it’s because it pisses me off.
Jessica has a good reason to cry, I guess, and I’m not so much pissed as I am just really uncomfortable, but that doesn’t change the fact that I have no idea how to deal with this situation. I suppose I could get out of the car and start walking, but given how emotional she is at the moment, she’d probably run me over as soon as she got her wits about her enough to get the car into gear.
I lean over and wrap my arms around her. She tries to pull away, and I almost let her. But then I remember that she isn’t just some chick—she’s my friend—and I pull her closer. “Don’t make this any more difficult than it already is, babe,” I tell her. She does that weird laugh/cry thing that they do, and then she hugs me back. We sit like that for a long time, her body shaking against mine as she sobs. I wonder briefly if she’s getting snot all over my shirt.
Maybe I am a complete asshole. But if I’m gonna be on the road for another six hours, I don’t want to do it all covered in mucus, right? She keeps crying, and I keep holding her, and at some point, I realize that I’m kind of rocking her back and forth. I must have seen that on a movie or something. I’m feeling very self-conscious, I don’t know if I’m doing this right, or whatever. Comforting people isn’t really my thing—I’m usually the one causing the discomfort.
Finally she stops bawling, and as she leans back, I see that she has a tissue pressed against her nose. She turns her face away quickly, and mumbles, “Didn’t want to get snot all over your shirt.”
“Dude, you’re so awesome.”
She laughs, “I thought you would appreciate that.”
She stays turned around, fooling around with her face, I don’t know what she’s doing. When she turns back to me, she’s as beautiful as ever. Her eyes are a little red, but it doesn’t really detract from her look.
“You look like one of those annoying bitches on soap operas,” I tell her.
“I guess I’m supposed to take that as a compliment?”
“How else could you possibly take it?”
She laughs again. “Drive, okay?”
I don’t need to be asked twice. I throw the car into gear and pull back out onto the road. She laughs again, probably at my rush to get moving.
“Drive as fast as you want, you still won’t get away—I’m in the car with you.”
“Oh, shit—I forgot to ask you to get out and check to make sure we have enough air in the tires.”
“And now you’re stuck with me.”
“Just my luck.”
She stops talking and stares out the windshield for a few minutes. “Sorry about that, Chris.”
“Hey, no sweat.”
“Oh, bullshit—I know how uncomfortable emotional displays make you. I’m surprised you didn’t just puke all over us.”
“I peed my pants a little bit, does that count?”
“You are such a freak.”
“You’d be surprised how many people find that to be one of my most redeeming qualities.”
“As long as those people were locked up somewhere, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.”
“Mental institutions are great for picking up chicks, I’ll tell ya that.”
We drive along like that for a while, joking around, laughing, ignoring the pressing issue. But because I’m driving, and because I have no idea where I’m driving to, I have to ask. “Hey Jessica? Where are we going?”
“This is I-71.”
“I know that. But what’s the plan here? Where are we going?”
She looks out her window for a few seconds, and without turning back to me says, “We’re going to Hederton.”