I felt more anxious when I left Trubull’s office; I realized that I wanted to stay in his presence. Competence is comforting, especially when it’s carrying a gun.
But I had a date, and while Trubull had his competence, Gwen had her own, and as glad I was, for better or not, I had heard Trubull’s words, the human animal has a sometimes despicable preference for the comfort of the body.
I pulled out the notebook upon which I had once intended for use as a repository of ideas about my thesis, life, and whatever other ideas struck me as noteworthy, but it had spent years doing nothing but getting tattered from being carried from one unused place to the next. It contained the occasional reminder, phone number, or set of directions. I had written down the way to Gwen’s place. Above my own handwriting was her own. I had asked her to just write down the way there from the hotel, and when I looked at it, it said something to the effect of "Go 4 miles on County 26; it’s right there." There are fewer statements more apt to be lies than "You can’t miss it." Nomadic life teaches you that people view their geography as a kind of universal given, a network of paths that everyone carries within their medulla. I’ve more than once been the subject of no small amount of ridicule simply because, at a five-way intersection, I didn’t know the difference between turning right and bearing right.
So my parchment-like Moleskin page contained her cryptic directions, crossed out, and my own more thorough instructions directly following which I had pulled from her, although I recognized that they may not be accurate. If you haven’t done coke for a while, the afterfall the next time you do is not minimized by your intervening abstinence. If anything, it had galloped forward, leaving you to wonder why you bothered trying to clean up in the first place. Gwen’s eyes told a tale of severe mental fatigue, and it’s possible that she had missed a turn or two.
I was thinking this was likely when I found myself far to the southwest of Eugene. What some people call "just out of town" is what others call "Deliverance country." I even broke for a squad of raccoons, so far out into exurbia they felt no need to move under cover of night.
My desire to stay in motion was largely predicated by my anxiety, which seemed to ebb only when I was moving. I hated stopping at traffic lights and had taken to running them at night after doing a cop-check. But my love of animals, especially the tenacious raccoon, was too much for me, and so I took deep breaths followed by a belt of Jim Beam Black from a pint-sized glass bottle.
Or the bait. Trubull’s words played on a fast loop like it was triggered by an annoying DJ. I had spent much of the trip thus far thinking that my old man had sent me all that cash as some kind of fatherly penance, and my thinking around what was happening had been more in the Freud camp than anywhere else. Was my father trying to draw me to him? Was he just trying to placate his absenteeism? The most sinister I had thought was that he was trying to launder some money. But when they stole the note, I had been flabbergasted. Until Trubull, I had never thought that someone else might have a vested interest in my finding my father.
"But who?" I asked out loud, but the last raccoon in line only scooted off into the ditch, leaving my problems behind, moving on to the more pressing issues of where to scavenge next. I decided to follow suit and set my sights on Gwen.
There would be sex; I was bold enough to presume that from the timbre of the conversation which occasioned the invitation out to her place. But I also had information I needed to get. I wanted to know everything about Kay that I could, especially now that Trubull had made me realize that she was either working for my father or working for people who knew my father. What if I was leading people to him?
Except I had no idea where he was. I was chasing Kay because that was the only information I had to go on. If she was chasing me then we were potentially on a collision course or a permanent circular track, going round and round without end. I just hoped she was smarter than me and was heading somewhere useful; at present, I had no other choice.
Gwen had a boyfriend. In this area of the country, it seemed that there were more liberal interpretations of commitment than I had been familiar with. She had apparently called him the night before and said she was going to my hotel room, that she had met this "cool guy" that her boyfriend (Steve? Stan?) would "really like." It was hard for me to fathom liking anyone that I knew at that moment was banging my girlfriend, but I cop to being old-fashioned in both virtue and vice.
So I had no idea what to expect when I pulled into the driveway, but I believe in doing as the Romans do, and Gwen had insisted that this polyamorous lifestyle was becoming increasingly prevalent among the young and alternative, neither of which I am, or ever was.
Their place was probably a half-mile from any other driveway that I could see. The road, County 26, was paved, but probably some thirty years ago and haltingly cared for since. The driveway, which dipped precariously from the road, descended into a grove of trees which could be considered cozy or claustrophobic, depending upon your personality. In the middle of the towering pines a small cabin—I might call it a shack but I wanted to be generous—crouched in the shadows.
The sun was descending, and as the ring of trees was sparsest in the west I could see most of the house clearly, but the driveway curled in on the east side, and it took a while for my eyes to adjust to the shadows. In front of me, a small carport held the little Honda that Gwen had been driving. Next to it, uncovered, was one of those squat jacked-up four-by-four trucks, complete with roll bar and dried mud across the rear wheel wells. Spotted with mud on the rear bumper were a Darwin fish and a Bob Marley sticker. The atmosphere of Eugene is breathed even by its rednecks, creating a unique breed. Greennecks, I suppose.
As my eyes continued to pick up the chiaroscurist details of this side of the house, I saw that Gwen’s passenger door was open a few inches. Her purse and a plastic bag filled with a couple of things I couldn’t make out were on the ground just outside, as if she’d set them down but didn’t come back for them. The front door, just a few steps away, was also open, which in and of itself was not any big deal on a warm evening, but little things made me uneasy: they had a screen door which was propped open on its little metal tab, and the porch light was not turned on.
I’ve learned to stop apologizing to myself for my paranoia, so when I took out my .25 from the glove compartment I didn’t reprimand myself. I also didn’t get very nervous, just wary. I felt my actions speed up while my perceptions slowed down. I forced my eyes into overdrive, sucking up what I could from the scene.
I opened the car door quietly, although I debated making a lot of noise. I wasn’t sure which was worse, giving away my presence or surprising someone in the process of doing who knows what. I knew that my car was not exactly whisper quiet and so it was probably foolish to even try to disguise my presence but perhaps I didn’t want to make noise so I didn’t scare myself. I gripped the .25 in my right hand, forced myself to loosen my grip on it, and then got out of the car.
Nothing was moving. If there was a wind, it seemed to be blocked by the trees, and a stillness that was undoubtedly relaxing under normal circumstances was now eerie. Nothing induces more fear and wonder than items without context, things with origins we are not privy to. The next time you come home to your locked apartment to which only you have the key and find a simple object placed on the table which you have never seen before, you will know what I mean. Gwen’s purse, the open door, the bag from… Walgreen’s… all these things, without the hum of human activity, become divorced from everyday experience and therefore threatening. I told myself to stop the theorizing and get to work.
First to the car: she had apparently bought some emery boards, fingernail polish remover, and one of those packages of double-A batteries that are intended to see you through a siege. The receipt was still in the bag, and I glanced at it briefly. She had bought over a dozen items. I looked in the car and saw only a reasonable mess of water bottles and fast food bags, meaning she must have taken the other items inside but then not come back for them. If my gun had a safety, I would have taken it off.