I was up early, which was usual for me even after a bender, and Kristin's sinuses rumbling, bear-like, next to me contributed to my early waking. I got up on one elbow and looked at her, surveying the crime scene, as it were. She was not an angelic sleeper, but the loosely bunched sheets exposed enough of her skin to allow me a good look at what I had spent too little time touching the night before. The deed had been expedient but successful for us both, or so she had said several dozen times at its apotheosis.
After dressing quietly and attending to a jealous and hungry Gracie, I crept out with the idea of taking a jog around Green Lake, a verdant expanse surprisingly close to the urban decay of Aurora Avenue. I wanted to see if I could push my way through the hangover that weighted down my head without resorting to the hair of the dog. The world outside was bright and cheery, a rude rebuke to the still-drunk man hoping for a little solipsistic cloudiness. The calendar of the alcoholic does not accord with nature, which is why you see the darkest bars filled to capacity on the loveliest summer afternoons, the occupants telling themselves that they're simply taking in a few beers before heading off to a picnic or a hike or some such. But of course they're really just burning up daylight along with brain cells, waiting until the outside world has become more like the vision of it in their heads.
But I tried to roll with it, stopping at Beth's Cafe for a cup of coffee and all the water refills I could get. You could find the hangover crowd at Beth's any day of the week, and getting a look out some of the sour faces there renewed my determination to make last night's effort a one-time affair. Despite the hangover, it was a new and beautiful day, and I knew more than I did before, didn't I? I'd learned some things last night, and now I just had to extract the information from deep within the mental bucket where it lay stored. The gate to that part of my brain was guarded by a film of nausea and low-grade anxiety, but I hoped I could burn it off through judicious but strenuous exercise.
After making it once around the lake in intervals of walking and running--mostly walking, true--I felt like I could make it through the day. Jose's story from the night before drifted back to me, and by the time I'd sweated out drinks five and six, approximately, I had pieced much of it together. There are legitimate reasons for using undocumented workers to transport cargo at three in the morning, but the illegitimate reasons seem more compelling on the face of it. I should be relieved; all of this was an indication that I was aiming in the right direction. I didn't want to take it lightly, and my legs broke into an energetic trot as I thought about it: this was the first time since this whole odyssey had begun that I had stopped being the pursued and started pursuing. I was letting myself assume that I had actually lost my tail and that Jesse's wasn't a dead end, but for once I felt like I had some shred of control. Sure, I had absolutely no idea what to do next, but thus far in my life, I had never let that stop me.
I headed back to the Thunderbird, waving to Henry and Loretta as they pulled out of the parking lot in her faded blue Ranchero but I don't know if they even saw me, so deep were they into their perpetual squabbling. I thought maybe I'd find that Kristin had up and gone during my absence, but her car was still there. In fact, she appeared not to have moved a hair since I had left. Her snoring was the only thing that indicated she was still alive. I thought about letting her sleep, but I remembered her saying something about working at one, so around 11:30 I nudged her a bit. She didn't sleep angelically and she awoke even less so. After snorting, kicking and cursing, she finally blinked her eyes open and looked at me.
"Remember me?" I said.
She laughed thickly. "I wasn't the drunk one."
"Oh, yeah," I said. "What a pleasant surprise."
She squinted her eyes against the light that snuck in past the heavy drapes. She grinned at some inner thought and then took hold of my crotch with her left hand while she shoved me back down onto the bed with her right. What followed was one of the most refreshingly industrious bouts of sex I'd had in my life. Kristin didn't belabor the act. She approached sex like an Amish barn--well planned and coordinated, sturdy, but without superfluous aesthetic touches.
She wanted to take a shower and suggested I join her. I didn't think I was physically capable of any more sex, especially any that involved standing and balancing on one leg or some such, but her focus was entirely on getting us clean, and it was probably the first time my back had been soaped for several years. My sole contribution to the affair was the soaping of and rinsing off of her breasts. I wondered if the only reason women ever chose to shower with men was to take advantage of the assiduous breast-cleaning that would ensue.
I tore open a packet of coffee and configured the machine while she toweled off. While the coffee brewed, my mind drifted back to Jesse's, and I told her Jose's story from the night before as if it were just one of those interesting anecdotes someone shares that you feel is interesting enough on its merits to pass around: "So what's up with that place anyway?" I wondered aloud. It's not that I was trying to keep anything from her per se; I just didn't feel like getting into it. The story of how I'd gotten here, obsessed with a storage facility that was my only viable clue in a puzzle I didn't understand, was more than I could fit in my head at one time, much less share with someone else.
She wiped a trace of steam from the mirror and looked at me. "What's your deal with them? You asked about that place last night." She put my toothpaste on her finger and went after her teeth with it.
"Oh? Sorry, I don't remember much about the ride home."
She pulled her foamy finger out of her mouth. "How about the ride here?"
"I remember enough. I'm sure more will come back to me in my dreams."
"Let's hope," she said, and shut the bathroom door on me. After a minute or so I heard the toilet flush, and soon she came out wearing yesterday's clothes. I handed her half the tiny carafe's coffee output. "I forgot to tell you something, though. Not that you would've remembered, but I actually waited on a table of guys I think were the owners or managers of that place."
I thought of my notebook inside my backpack a few steps away and resisted the urge to pull it out and take notes. "Yeah?"
"They were nice enough, I guess, not great tippers but not bad, you know. This was more than a year ago, maybe. They came over to watch some game on TV, drink, regular stuff. I remember they were waiting on some fish to arrive. Not from the kitchen, I mean to their storage facility. One of them was seemed angry they had to hang out there so long because the fish hadn't arrived yet."
"Fish? But it's not a cold storage facility, or at least they don't advertise it."
She shrugged as she pulled her shoes on. "Well, I just remembered it because I had this vision of all these crates and crates of fish and I thought, gross, all these dead eyeballs staring back up at you. I mean, I know that's how you tell if fish is fresh or not, but I don't cook, so what do I care? It's gross."
"Have you seen those guys since?" I asked, downing the rest of my coffee. I realized unless I wanted to take another five-mile walk, I'd have to catch a ride with her back to the restaurant to get my car.
"Never waited on them. I guess I saw them once or twice, there was this one skinny tall guy with a goatee, like he's still stuck in 1994 or something, I see him in at the bar every now and again. But I don't pay too much attention to people unless they do something interesting like knock down some fratboy in the middle of the afternoon." She stepped over to me and kissed me briefly on the lips. "Am I going to see you again?"
"Outside the bar?" She arched an eyebrow. I hesitated and she lunged ahead with a suggestion, something I'd heard her do with dilly-dallying customers who couldn't decide between the cheeseburger and the fish and chips. "Let's just play it by ear, huh? You seem like you might be a little weird, and I can tell you that I am bitchy, crazy and needy, but I make up for it in honesty."
"I'm up for playing it by ear," I said.
It was getting late, but we found time for one last, largely clothes-on session. At the end of it, she pulled her pants up and bounded out the door, seemingly energized for the day. Conversely, when I dragged myself out after her, I had already decided I would pick up my car, come back to the room and curl up with Gracie for a long nap. First, though, I would take a little drive. Somewhere in the middle of the last session with Kristin I had been inspired by a scheme to get into Jesse's. It wasn't novel or clever, but unless something more ingenious cropped up in the next hour I was going with it.