Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Silent Killer, Part II

It took some money, but they found him. It had not taken long to convince Gennie of the need to find Scott, Gennie's old boyfriend that had been, and still was, a private investigator.

Neither of them had the patience to be content with a simple Google or Facebook search.

Omar was living about a thousand miles away. He had served in a tour in Iraq, one in Afganistan. He had a blog that he had set up, mainly for his family, but Scott couldn't determine if he was doing any other writing worth mentioning.

Reading the blog, let alone finding it, would have been out of the question since it was locked with a password. Getting a hold of that would have cost too much extra to be worth it.

Dust kicked up and clouded behind their car down the long drive to the place they were told was Omar's home. He lived on a peach orchard in the cheerfully hot Sacramento valley.

Michael felt a little tickle of nervousness in his chest the closer they got, tightening his grip on the Jeep's steering wheel. Gennie looked over at him from the passenger seat.

"You going to be okay?"

"I'm not thinking about me."

She looked out the window a long time, watching the trees pass in neatly regimented rows. "I'm going to be okay," she said.

"Omar may be the only person who knows that for sure."

They continued slowly down the drive. Michael would accelerate impatiently only to hear gravel ping the steel plates protecting the undercarriage. Michael slowed down in response, bringing the car down to an agonizing crawl as the farmhouse in the distance grew larger behind the brown fog of dirt and dust.

"Maybe he isn't home," Gennie said.

"He's home. See the car in the driveway?"

"Whatever he knows or doesn't know, honey, it's going to be okay. I'm going to be okay."

No, Michael thought, it wouldn't be. The thought of Gennie's death was like cup of briney olive oil, impossible to swallow and keep down.

"There's a difference between knowledge and power," she muttered, almost to herself. Michael figured he must be giving off a "let's end the conversation" vibe.

A man came out of the house holding a cell phone to his ear. Michael thrilled at the idea that this might be Omar. It was strange, he had learned, to see people he had known after a very long time, even if he had known them well. Somehow there was always something about them foreign, strange, and off-putting at first. After all, he mused, you don't really know the new person they've become. You have to start all over again.

He took a good look at the man. He looked to be about the right age. If it was Omar, his stocky frame had grown a little, mostly in horizontal directions. The man hung up his cell phone and put it in the pocket of his dusty jeans.

Michael parked and made to get out of the car. This close there was no mistaking his old friend. The thrill of seeing him bubbled up in his chest and he felt an overpowering desire to shout and run to him and give him a big hug. He resisted, but still wore a big smile on his face, suddenly forgetting why they were there.

He got out of the car, smiling big, and holding out a hand in eager greeting. But Omar's look slowed him down. Whatever enthusiasm Omar might have shared at seeing an old friend was hidden behind a look of meloncholly that threatened to set panic loose in Michael's chest. His eyes were fixed solidly on Gennie, his mouth slightly agape.

The moustache was a little off-putting too.

It took Michael only a moment to piece together the reason for the look. What he couldn't place was the feeling behind it, staring at her as he was as though he were looking into the face of death itself.

Omar, it's Michael. Do you remember me?"

Omar said nothing, only looked at Gennie, winced, and then rubbed his face. Michael thought he heard the man mutter something to himself, though he couldn't make it out. When his brown face peered out from behind his hands he looked them both over. He smiled politely.

"Michael!" he said. The two men clasped hands and then embraced. They laughed together.

"This is my wife Gennie."

"Of course," said Omar. He shook her hand. At this, Michael's stomach dropped into a bottomless pit in his heart. Everything went quiet.

"You remember," Michael said.

"How could I forget. That was the first time. Come in, both of you. It's hot out. I have some limeade inside. It's too bad Lori isn't here. I'd introduce you."

They followed him into the farm house. It was built small and tight, for a time when smaller mortgages had more value than a few extra square feet.

"What have you been up to these past few years?" Omar asked over his shoulder as he stuck his nose in the fridge.

"Things have been, well, difficult."

"Yes," he said, pulling out a pitcher of lemonade. "Yes. Life kicks you in the ass."

Just then Michael noticed something strange about Omar's arm. It didn't exactly seem to be his, though he used it well enough that he carried the illusion off rather well.

"What happened there?" Michael had to stop himself from mentioning the war or anything they had learned about Omar before coming to visit him.

"Iraq. IED. You know the story." Omar talked about amputation like it was just another item he had seen in the news; something that didn't impact him in any direct way.

Omar sat down accross from Michael at the table, looking him square in the eye for the first time since there arrival. There was something both cool and sad in the man's look that made him seem older. Strange, Michael thought, that I had ever gone to school with this man, old before his time.

"You came here to ask me something," said Omar.

Michael looked at Gennie, nodded, and took a deep breath.

"Gennie has cancer. I hoped . . . We had hoped, you could tell me something about . . ." Was he really going to bring it out, admit the insane theory this entire visit was premised on? Michael reached into his back pocket, pulling out the folded pages of the story Omar had written all those years ago.

He put it out on the table in front of Omar, spreading it out and smoothing the corners. Omar picked it up and furrowed his brow, looking it over it while his guests allowed their limeade to sweat in the summer heat.

"I came, Omar, because I wanted to know how this ends. I have to know why you refused to finish the story. Could you finish it?"

Omar passed the story back accross the table, taking a long drink from his own glass. He nodded. "I could finish it. I don't suppose it would do any good to tell you that you don't really want to know how it ends, that knowing won't help you change the result."

Michael exhaled, realizing that his friend wasn't about to accuse him of being mad, but was nevertheless resistant.

"I won't argue with you Michael. I've spent enough time fighting my enemies. Life's too short to fight my friends. I know how it ends, Michael." He gave Gennie a long, sad, look.

A cold, tight feeling took hold of Michael's chest, taking his breath.

"You will miss him," he said ot her. "You will ache for him. But you should know that he loved you before he had any reason to believe you existed. You will move on after he is gone, and be happy."

Michael tried to stand, but could not. His arm burned with pain. He could hear the sound of sirens moving towards the house, and realized that Omar had been on the phone with 9-1-1 when they arrived.

Omar turned to look him in the eye, and grabbed him affectionately by the neck."This is how it ends, old friend."

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