This is Part 14 of a Serial Story. The story began here.
I’m sick and tired of supernatural things destroying my rides. Zombies totaled my truck in law school and now some freakish plant bound to the zombie form of my undead biology teacher has engulfed my truck.
“Are you okay?” Matt asked me.
“No, I’m not. How long until we reach Roger’s farm?”
I’m sure your car is fine, Maryanne. R.J. said that when they cut the vines away from the restaurant they’ll uncover your car too.”
“With my luck that bindweed has a taste for used Saturns and there’ll be nothing left to uncover by the time R.J. gets there.” I pulled up the number for the law firm and prepared to dial. “I’m calling the office,” I warned Matt. He nodded.
“Law firm. How can we serve you,” a woman said disingenuisly. It was Ms. Ibsen, Mr. Drake’s new assistant. I was surprised they were letting that Rottweiler of a woman handle the main line. After hearing her voice a new client would hang up and flee.
“Hi, it’s Maryanne. I’m calling in sick today.”
“I don’t think so.”
“You don’t sound ill to me, Maryanne. You sound like an associate who’s late for work and fishing for excuses.”
“It’s not a physical ailment. I saw a dead body last night and it shook me up. I spent the night at my parent’s house and right now a friend is driving me back to my apartment. I don’t have a car and I’m still feeling mentally disturbed, so I’m going to spend the rest of the day in bed.” I was quite proud of myself after that little speech. Nearly everything I’d said had been completely truthful until the last part.
“Why don’t you have a car,” Ms. Ibsen said suspiciously.
“It’s…still at the restaurant where I had dinner last night. And saw a dead body.”
“Why didn’t your friend take you back to the restaurant to retrieve your car,” Ms. Ibsen demanded triumphantly.
Dang it. “Because…I’m too upset to drive. My friend doesn’t think I’m well enough to drive.” I turned to Matt and said, “Do you think I’m well enough to drive?”
“I think you should have your head examined,” he said sincerely.
“It’s agreed then – I am not a well woman,” I said to Ms. Ibsen. “Now if you would be so kind as to transfer me to Belinda, I would like to discuss some cases with her.”
“Belinda is not available.”
“Then put me through to her voicemail.”
There was a pause while I waited for the transfer. Were there cases to discuss with Belinda? Maybe. I could think of some if I had to. But I actually wanted to check on her, see if she had calmed down a little since yesterday. I liked her. If we’d met under other circumstances we would probably have been friends. As it was we were co-workers, fellow sufferers under the dominion of the partners at the firm. We needed to look out for each other.
“This is Mr. Deitrick.”
Huh? “I’m sorry, I was trying to reach Belinda.”
“Belinda is no longer with this firm. Who is this? Maryanne?’
“What do you mean? You fired her?”
“Are you aware of the hour, Maryanne? You’re late,” Mr. Deitrick said.
“I saw a dead body last night; I called in sick. Ms. Ibsen knows about it. What happened to Belinda?”
“As I said, she is no longer with this firm. I will be hiring a new associate to replace her. Am I to understand that you called in sick over a dead body?”
I began to wonder how I could end the conversation. It was uncomfortable and pointless. “Yes, sir. I’m too upset to work,” I said woodenly.
“I did not know death disturbed you so much. Did you know this person?”
“Not personally, no. She was the hostess at Shank’s restaurant. I had a…necklace accidently ended up in the trash, and I was in the alley looking for it in the dumpster and found Andrea’s body.”
Silence. Mr. Dietrick said slowly, “You discovered the corpse of Andrea in the alley behind Shank’s. How…interesting.”
“What happened to Belinda?” I asked again.
“The details are none of your concern.”
Pompous twit. “Fine. Then would you please transfer me to Mr. Drake?”
“I will deal with Drake. And I will explain to him that you are indisposed,” Mr. Dietrick said. His voice sounded strange, like the muffled clank of a knife hitting the stem of a wine glass – definitive, but impure.
Whatever, I thought. “Thank you,” I said and hung up.
“Everything okay?” asked Matt.
I sighed. “No. There’s something weird going on at the firm.” Rubbing my temples seemed like a poor way to ward off a burgeoning headache, but at least it was taking action. “One of my co-workers has been fired. She’s a good lawyer…it doesn’t make any sense. I have to figure out what’s going on,” I said.
“But they’re okay with you taking a sick day?”
“I guess so. Maybe they’ll think I’ve got PTSD or something.”
Matt went very still. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is not something to joke about, Maryanne,” he said.
“Who’s joking? I’m just throwing out a term.”
“Don’t,” Matt said sharply.
I turned my head and stared at him, seeing the stiff set of his jaw. “Why did you leave the Army?” I asked slowly.
“IED. Took out two vehicles in the convoy. I was injured.”
“Yes, I read about that in the local paper. Mom sent me the clippings. You got a medal for saving some of the other soldiers. But you had the option of going back, right? The physical injuries weren’t so severe that you were medically discharged.” I knew what he was going to say. But he needed to say it…or I needed to hear it.
“I can’t remember parts of the accident. No matter how hard I try, there are gaps. How can I trust myself in battle if I can’t piece together the shards of my own mind?”
Matt Hawthorne, star quarterback of our high school football team. Local cutting team champion. The guy who graduated as salutorian of our class despite the time he spent on other activities…this man was doubting himself? “I don’t understand it,” I said. “You’re the most confident person I’ve ever known.”
“Not anymore,” Matt said.
I didn’t know what to say, so I looked out the car window to check the weather.
Weather on the plains can change in a heartbeat. Sometimes the change is violent; frequently the weather that comes is extreme. The only certainty we have about the weather is that it will change. You put all of that together and you have the safest and surest topic of conversation known to mankind. Long silence on the phone with a tech person? Talk about the weather. Stuck in an elevator with a stranger? Talk about the weather. Awkward silence during a car ride with a man who teased you incessantly as a kid, but who you secretly looked up to? Weather.
“Clouding up,” I observed.
“There’s a tropical storm off the coast. Guess we’re seeing some of the system drift up here,” Matt replied.
“Doesn’t look like it’s building. Just sitting there.”
“Yeah. Probably won’t get any real rain out of it.”
The silence is companionable now. I think we’ll make it to Roger’s farm without a storm.
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