Authors: Mark Lukens
He got out of his car and his thoughts returned to his forgotten past. He knew he needed to be here in Edrington; Carol’s address scrawled on the scrap of paper in his wallet was proof of that. But since he’d been here in town, he hadn’t gotten any closer to his lost memories and his past.
Except for the red-haired man in my dreams, his mind whispered. And the straight razor that wasn’t on the floor anymore. And the strange things Carol said this morning.
Ryan walked from the dirt parking area towards a block building in the distance that would be a shopping plaza in a few months. There were groups of men huddled together, talking with each other, some of them already had their tool belts on, some had electrical cords slung over their shoulders, and some had their hard hats on. Ryan nodded at the men, but he kept on walking, searching for someone who looked like the boss.
And there he was. He was tall and Ryan could tell he was muscular even though he wore a long-sleeved shirt and jeans. He barked orders out to several groups of men. Some of the men were already working, pushing wheelbarrows or carrying materials from one place to another.
Ryan walked right up to the man and greeted him with a smile and an offered handshake. “Excuse me, sir. Are you Buddy McRae?”
The man gave Ryan a hard look. “I’m John. What do you need Buddy for?”
“I’m looking for some work.”
John seemed to measure Ryan with his eyes in an instant, a quick up and down look, perhaps already dismissing him as an applicant. He shook his head no and gave Ryan a fake smile. “Sorry, man. Not much work available right now.”
John was about to walk away, he was about to call out some orders to a man shoveling dirt, but Ryan stopped him. “Carol sent me. She said Buddy McRae would have some work for me.”
John turned and glared at Ryan. “Look, man, I just told you -”
Both Ryan and John turned towards the sound of the booming voice. Ryan saw a tall, overweight man in his early fifties walking towards him with a beaming smile. He thrust his big hand out at Ryan.
Ryan hesitated for a split second, and then he smiled back at the man and shook his hand. “Yes,” he answered.
“I’m Buddy McRae. Carol called me about you.”
“Yes,” Ryan answered.
“So, you’re looking for some work?”
“You have any construction experience?”
Construction experience, Ryan thought. I don’t have any experience at anything that I can remember. But he couldn’t tell him that. “No, sir; not much.”
But you’ll know what to do once you get there, Carol’s words echoed in his mind.
Buddy’s smile slipped.
“But I’m a fast learner and I’ll do whatever job you need me to,” Ryan added quickly. “I’ll buy my own tools if you need me to.”
Buddy erupted in a fit of laughter. He nudged John who didn’t look very happy with this conversation. “You ever hear a guy offering to buy tools?”
John didn’t answer.
Buddy’s laughter faded away. “Well, without any experience, all I can offer you is a laborer position. It doesn’t pay that much to start out.”
Ryan smiled at Buddy. “That’s fine with me. When can I start?”
“Eager to work,” Buddy said and nodded. “I like that. You can start today if you want to. You got I.D. with you and reliable transportation?”
“Alright. Just follow John to that trailer over there. You can fill out some paperwork and we’ll get you started. We’ll see how you do for a week, and then see if we want to keep you on full time. That sound fair?”
“Yes, sir. Sounds fair to me.”
Ryan followed John to the trailer. Inside the trailer, John thrust some papers at him and pointed to a small table and chair. Ryan sat down and filled out a standard application and some tax paperwork. He jotted down a fake social security number and fake prior work experience. A few fake references. He was sure he’d be caught after a week, but he didn’t care, this was going to be a temporary gig for him anyway.
An hour later, John had Ryan working. Ryan unloaded a truck full of wood. He stacked the wood in neat piles on the concrete floor just inside one of the bays that was going to be office space in the future.
John watched Ryan from a distance. Buddy walked up behind him. “That fella’s a hard worker,” Buddy said. “He seems to really like this kind of work.”
John kept his eyes on Ryan as he spoke. “Buddy, you know I’ve always been honest with you.”
Buddy nodded. “Sure, John, I know that.”
“You know about my past,” John continued. “You know I’ve done some time in prison.”
Buddy nodded even though John’s eyes were still on Ryan. Buddy didn’t feel the need to answer – he knew about John’s stint in prison. He spit out a wad of chewing tobacco down into the dirt, waiting for John to continue.
John was motionless as he stared at Ryan like a lion staring at prey. “Well, I know that guy’s done some time, too. Hard time, I’d guess. He’s fresh out and happy to be free, too happy to be doing this kind of work, but happy to be doing anything besides sitting in a cell.”
Buddy watched Ryan unload the wood for a moment, he watched him stack the piles up neatly, adjusting each pile so the stacks were perfect. Buddy turned to John and laid his big hand down on John’s shoulder. “I gave you a chance once, John.”
John turned and locked eyes with Buddy.
“Maybe this fella deserves a chance, too,” Buddy continued.
John stared at Buddy who turned and walked away without another word. John got the message loud and clear – get off this kid’s back. But John wasn’t going to do that. There was something wrong with this new guy, John didn’t know what it was, but he could feel it, and he trusted his instincts.
He looked back at Ryan.
Ryan had stopped working and he stood in front of the piles of wood he’d just stacked up. He was staring at John. Just staring at him.
John would never admit it, not even to himself later on, but a chill ran up his spine for just a second.
“It aint break time, Ryan!” he shouted. “Get back to work!”
Carol nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard the three loud knocks at her front door. She stood at the counter in her kitchen getting a chicken ready in the roasting pan. She turned and stared at the archway that led into the dining room. Her hands were covered in chicken fat, oil, and seasonings; and she held them in front of her like a surgeon prepping for surgery.
“Tom?” she called out to the living room. “You out there?”
No answer from the living room.
“Victor? Can you see who’s at the door?”
Still no answer from the living room.
They must be upstairs, she thought. Maybe they didn’t hear the knocks at the door. But the knocking had been so loud, they should’ve heard it.
She walked over to the sink and washed her hands with some dish soap, then dried them off with a towel. She marched through the dining room and into the living room.
Carol hesitated for a moment as she stared at the front door; it was made of solid wood with three small windows at the top and tall, thin frosted glass panels on each side. If a man was tall, she could usually see the top of his head or hat in the little windows, but she didn’t see anyone in the windows now nor did she see the blurry shape of a person through the frosted glass.
But she could see
through the frosted glass – there was some kind of object on the porch.
She walked towards the door as a wave of dread washed over her. What was she afraid of?
You know what you’re afraid of, her mind whispered.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Carol pushed these thoughts from her mind and walked purposefully towards the door. It was probably just some salesman out there. Or a Jehovah’s Witness. Or maybe it was Ryan, he hadn’t gotten the job with Buddy and he came back, but forgot his key to the front door.
Carol opened the front door. There was no one in the doorway.
“Hello?” she said as she stepped out onto her front porch. She looked up and down the long and wide porch, but there was no one there. No one on her front lawn or in the driveway. No car in the driveway. She looked up and down the street and she didn’t see anyone walking away down the sidewalk.
She looked back at the doorway and saw the object she’d seen through the frosted glass – it was a suitcase. A brown suitcase.
She inspected the suitcase more closely. It seemed to be made of some kind of hard material, like a shell. It was bigger than a briefcase, but smaller than a full-size suitcase. There were two decorative leather straps that folded over the suitcase keeping it shut, and on each strap was a gold padlock looped through the gold latches.
A locked suitcase on her porch.
She stared down at the suitcase and saw the other thing that struck her as odd about this case (besides the slight musty odor it exuded), it was the small white tag that had been attached to the wooden handle with a piece of wire. She reached down and turned the tag over so she could read it. Her hand was trembling and she was suddenly afraid again, but she needed to see what was written there.
Scrawled on the white tag were two words: For Ryan.
It was quitting time at the job site. Workers rolled up electrical cords and put tools away into tool boxes. Ryan stowed a wheelbarrow inside one of the half-completed offices. He brushed the dust off of his hands and walked through the dirt and debris towards the parking area where his (stolen) car waited for him.
He smiled as he walked. It had been a pleasant day of working. For a few blissful hours he had forgotten about his missing past, his lost memory, the urgent need to find out why he was supposed to be in this town. For a few hours he had just worked and concentrated on his tasks. His body felt good, his muscles were a little sore, but he felt good.
As Ryan walked towards his car, Buddy approached him.
“Hey, Ryan. A few of us are going over to Charlie’s Pub and grab a few beers. You wanna come along?”
Ryan smiled at Buddy as he stood in front of him. He nodded. “Yeah, sure.”
“I’m in that white pickup truck over there. Just follow me.”
Ryan followed Buddy’s truck into the parking lot of Charlie’s Pub. The sun hung low in the west and the sky was already getting dark in the east. There was a slight chill in the wind that twisted its way through the parking lot.
He parked his car and got out. The parking lot was about half-full, not too crowded. He met up with Buddy and followed him to the small building. It was a brick building with a row of dark windows along the front with neon signs advertising different brands of beer.
Ryan and Buddy entered the pub. To Ryan’s right was a small hall that led to some restrooms. A few feet down was a bar that took up the whole side of that room. The other side of the pub had a few tables and chairs, three booths tucked away against the far corner in shadows, and one pool table. The paneled walls were covered with signs and framed photos and other memorabilia. There didn’t really seem to be a theme to the pub. A bull skull hung on one wall right next to an Oregon State football jersey. Fishing gear hung on another wall right next to a poster for a Clint Eastwood movie. An old-fashioned juke box blared out a country song that Ryan had never heard before (or if he had, he didn’t remember).
There were two men playing pool, and Buddy went right over to them and greeted them. One of the men was John – Ryan didn’t know the other man, but he’d seen him at the jobsite. Buddy introduced the man as Scooter. Scooter shook Ryan’s hand.
After a few laughs and slaps on the back with Scooter, Buddy looked at Ryan and gestured at the bar. “You ready for a beer, Ryan?”
John chalked up his pool stick as he watched Ryan and Buddy sit down at the bar. Scooter leaned against the pool table and watched John with a smirk. “You gonna shoot some time tonight, or what, man?”
John turned back around and eyed the table; he aimed his stick at the cue ball.
“Buddy sure seems to like that kid,” Scooter said with the smirk on his face as he tried to get in John’s mind and disrupt his game of pool. “I mean it’s only his first day, and he’s just a laborer, and they’re already hanging out at the bar.”
“There’s something weird about that guy,” John said as he slid the stick back in his hand and struck the cue ball. The cue ball smacked into the number three ball and smashed it into the corner pocket, and then the cue ball rolled all the way back down the table and sunk in another corner pocket. A scratch. “I’m going to find out what his story is.”
Buddy and Ryan sat side by side at the bar.
“So how was your first day?” Buddy asked Ryan.
Ryan smiled. “I loved it. I know I don’t have a lot of experience, but I want to help out.”
“You did a fine job, today.”
Ryan was about to respond but his words were caught in his throat as he saw Amber push through the swinging doors from the kitchen with a rack of glasses in her hands. She took the rack of glasses to the middle of the bar and squatted down to put them away on a shelf underneath the bar.
Ryan couldn’t take his eyes off of Amber. She was beautiful, but there was something more about her. Something almost familiar. Did he know her?
“Hey, Amber,” Buddy called down to Amber as she put the last of the glasses away. “Two beers please. Whatever you got on draft.”
Amber stood up and smiled. “Hey, Buddy.”
Buddy looked at Ryan. “Draft beer okay with you?”
Ryan’s eyes were on Amber the whole time. “Huh?” he finally asked. He looked at Buddy and smiled at him. “Uh…yeah. That will be fine.”
Amber poured two draft beers. She set the mugs down in front of Buddy and Ryan.
“This is Ryan,” Buddy said as he nodded at Ryan.
Amber held out a dainty hand to Ryan. “I’m Amber.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Ryan said in soft voice as he shook her hand. He felt the slightest sensation of electricity running through his skin from her touch. He couldn’t stop smiling at her.
“I better get back to work before Charlie yells at me,” Amber told Buddy.