Land of Perversion
(posted Sunday, March 25, 2007)
“We should do this more often, Zach,” the other replied. They were both in their mid-thirties. Successful yuppie professionals by any standard.
“So, you been made bank president yet?”
“No,” John said, blushing slightly.
“Because if anyone can get their face plastered on every billboard in town, it's John Murdock. How much did you take in making those sub-prime loans last year.”
“Enough,” John said, suppressing a mischievous grin. “It got Sarah that kitchen remodel she wanted.”
“I heard you're adopting a kid too?”
“Yeah, some Asian girl. Shuma something or other. Sarah wants to do it. Seems it's fashionable. Wants to wear the kid like an accessory.” John grimaced as he spoke.
The waitress finally came around and brought their drinks. John put sugar in his coffee and Zach slipped some whiskey into his cola. “So,” Zach said, looking over his shoulder, “heard from any of the other guys?”
“You don't stay in touch?”
“Haven't had much chance.”
“Vickie and Red opened a B&B in the Hamptons. And Steve is dressing up like a Russian woman and playing in some band, some sort of sonic art project.”
“At least he has the legs for it.” Zach sipped slowly from his cup.
“How are you doing? With things and all?”
“Could be better,” Zach said.
John put his hand on Zach's, reassuringly. “If you need anything, anything at all, just ask, man. Shit, Sarah and I are doing pretty well. You need a loan?”
“No, I've got some money, and definitely not at the rates you offer. You'll take my home.” Zach shot his old friend a wink. “No, I'm doing well at the firm since I made full partner. And our insurance is excellent.”
Zack's voice began to falter as he spoke. He drank the rest of his cola in a giant gulp. The waitress came by and asked if they wanted to order. “No thanks,” John said, “we'll just take another refill.”
“It spread to her lungs,” Zach said, slowly. His lip trembled. “I think the radiation is going to kill her if the cancer doesn't.”
“Bella's a tough girl. She'll pull through.”
“I don't think so.”
“I'm going to ask you again. How are you doing?”
“I'm getting by. Al and Sophie bring her food during the day. Al lost his tenure after his manifesto went public, Sophie's been teaching freshman english at the Paragon Community College to get by. They don't have much, so we let them stay over sometimes. Sophie isn't much of a cook, but Bella enjoys the company.”
“Does Al still make those crazy inventions?”
“Yeah. Bastard ruined my toaster.” Zach put his hand on his forehead, trembling slightly.
“Damn it, John. Why me? Why now?”
“The Zach Marlowe I know wouldn't ask that question.”
“The Zach Marlowe you know is dying with Bella.”
“I'm sorry, man.”
The two friends continued talking, changing the subject from time to time. Re-Bear sat in the adjacent booth, listening through the thin glass wall in rapt attention. He swallowed hard and wiped a tear from his cheek. He left some money on the counter, gathered his trenchcoat and left the diner, not making eye contact with the two men in the booth, or the cute blond waitress in the LSU T-shirt.
Once he was in the safety of the busy street, he turned on his communicator. “This is Re-Bear, over.”
“Greetings Re-Bear. This is Portal Corp, reading you. Status report?”
“Nothing to see here. Mark Delta-Epsilon 72 as closed to future travel.”
He ducked into an alley and made sure he was unseen. “Initiate sequence,” he intoned, and disappeared back to where things made more sense.