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Read the Excerpt: The Donut Legion by Joe R. Lansdale

Read the Excerpt_The Donut Legion by Joe R. Lansdale(1)

It was late at night and I was on my long wraparound porch sitting at my deck table with a cup of hot tea, a blanket thrown over my shoulders, nursing a light headache. The weather had begun to go cool and the greenery of the woods that sur- rounded my house had died. But the death of summer and the rise of fall had given me another kind of beauty. Brown and gold, red

and orange leaves.

Of course, now, in the dark, I couldn’t see them. I could hear the soft wind and limbs shaking in the deep of night and could imagine the leaves coming loose of them and coasting to the ground on the north wind. In the morning the leaves would be a multicolored tapestry on the grass, a carpet in the woods.

I sipped the last of my tea using both hands, feeling the warmth of the cup on my palms. I set the cup on the table and walked off the porch with the blanket around me.

I strolled into the backyard, where I had set up a high stool and a telescope on a tripod. I sat on the stool, positioned the blanket tighter around me, and looked through the telescope. There was a glowing circle around the moon, so either I had cataracts forming or, more likely, it was the old farmer’s sign of changing weather.

I was starting to reposition the telescope when I heard a motor humming up my long drive. I slid off the stool and stepped around to the side of the house. Soon I could see car lights coasting down the drive. The lights stopped at the gate and were turned off. A door opened and for a moment, in the car’s interior light, I saw a woman framed in the glow. She was mostly a shape from that distance, but I knew her shape immediately. I knew how she moved and how she smelled and how she touched me when she had.

It was my ex-wife, Meg, who I used to call, with affection, Megalodon. She closed the door. The car went dark, and she was a moving shadow. She climbed over the gate like a monkey on a mission and walked up the drive toward the house. Using the side steps, I walked back onto the porch and reseated myself in my chair. The hot tea was gone, but for some reason I held the cup in my hands as if it might still have warmth. It did not. In fact, it seemed the night had brought not only my ex-wife to me but with her a greater chill. It had come along sudden-like and in a mean-spirited mood.

Meg had been to my current home a few times to talk about this or that, mostly about us divesting ourselves of shared property, but this place I owned free and clear of past entanglements. Her clothes had never hung in my closets, nor had her makeup and hair spray sprawled over one of the sinks in the bathroom, nor had her shampoos and conditioners been decked on the rack in my shower. She had never had more than coffee at my indoor table and once out here on the porch.

Fact was, I had been lucky. Even young as I was, I wouldn’t have to get a job to pay the bills for a couple years to come. Still, in the mornings, I rose and worked on my next book. Sometime soon I would finish it and send it off through the magic of e-mail to my beleaguered agent. I wasn’t rich and this book wouldn’t make me rich either, but it kept me from doing a nine-to-five.

It was a better life than before, when Meg and I were married. She scattered a person’s thoughts. Now I had purpose, and I only thought of Meg about a dozen times daily, not moment to moment.

Meg was coming ever nearer to me, and the closer she came, the more I thought of her husband, Ethan. Him touching her where I had touched her, and her touching him where she had touched me, and the whole thing made me feel sick and foolish at the same time, like a schoolboy whose date had ridden away in another boy’s car because it was shiny.

Meg stepped up on the porch. It squeaked as she came along. She sat down across from me at the table. The moon had dipped more to the west and some of its light was sliding under the overhanging roof and onto the porch. The light struck her in a way that for a moment made her seem transparent. Then she shifted slightly, and she looked fine, her long raven-black hair shifting around her shoulders like a cascade of spilled India ink. Her soft skin appeared even softer in the moonlight, at least the one side of her face I could see clearly. She wore a T-shirt, blue-jean shorts, and tennis shoes. She sat and pulled her long legs into the chair and rested her chin on her knees, her arms wrapped around them.

I could see her anklet, a silver chain with a silver heart fastened to it. I recognized that sitting position. She even slept that way on occasion, her hair draped around her face like a hood. I had moved her hair with my fingers on many a night, gently, so that I might see her face and hear her breathe, had touched her as lightly as one might the wings of a butterfly.

“I thought you’d be up,” she said. “You always liked staying up late.”

“If I don’t have to get up early,” I said.

“How have you been?”

“Well enough. But I don’t think you came out here at what must be about three in the morning to ask about my health and general welfare.”

“Came to ask a favor.”

“It couldn’t wait until tomorrow, maybe a request by phone?

E-mail works.”

“We’re not together anymore, but I wanted to see you.” “All right. You see me.”

“Don’t be nasty, Charlie.”

“Still feel kind of screwed over by you running off with Ethan. I thought you went to the store.”

“Then you’ll love this. I need your help. It has to do with Ethan and what I think might be murder.”

“Murder? Whose murder?” “Ethan’s.”

“Ethan’s dead?”

“I think so. I think there’s a lot going on and not much of it makes much sense, but what I can figure is what is going on isn’t over. I feel dislocated.”

“That’s damn confusing, Meg.”

“Don’t mean it to be. I know just enough to know I don’t know quite enough.”

“Why would you come to me?” “You were a cop.”

“For two years. I hated it.”

“And a private investigator.”

“About a year or so. I hated it.”

“But you were good at it.”

“The police. Talk to them.”

“That won’t work, Charlie.”

“I’m still confused. Ethan was murdered? I haven’t heard a thing about this.”

“I have a feeling you pretty well isolate out here.”

“Fair enough. But I read the news on the computer, watch TV now and then. Nothing about a dead Ethan Phillips.”

“You still look at the stars and the moon, dream about Mars?”

This seemed like a strange response. “I was doing that when I heard your car.”

“Always investigating, in a way. Looking into what people do, trying to figure the face of the moon, the mysteries of Mars. I made a mistake when I left you.”

“Maybe I’m okay with you going.” “A person can be a fool.”

“Which of us are you talking about?” “Me, I guess.”

“Hell, Meg. We were both silly. Young.”

“I think I’m more in love with the idea of being in love than in staying in love. I’m looking for that hit of emotion that comes with the next new thing. In my case, the next new romance. New ideas. New beliefs. All of it is like candy to me. Until I chew it.”

“Yeah. I was the monkey in the middle. Cassidy, me, and now Ethan. You go through us like shit through a goose. You use marriage like a placeholder.”

“I guess I deserve that. My mother was like that. I guess you learn the best from the best and the worst from the worst, and she was kind of both at the same time. Your mother—now, there was a mother. She was my ideal.”

“Mine too,” I said. “But as for us, it’s done and over. We don’t matter as a ‘we’ anymore.”

“Not completely true.” “Because you need my help?”

“That’s part of it. I need you to look into something for me as private investigator.”

“I don’t have a license. Haven’t in years. You know that. I’m a full-time writer now.”

“But license or not, you know how. Right?”

“I do.”

Meg shivered slightly. I got up and draped my blanket over her shoulders. As I did, her hand reached up and touched mine. It felt icy and damp, and it was almost as if an electric spark popped in my eyes, and then the spark was gone.

She said, “Watch out for omelets. And beware the great mound within the circle.”

“What?” I said, and the blanket collapsed in the chair. There was no one there.

It was my turn to shiver.

I looked a long time at the empty chair. I walked down to the gate. There was no car there. I took my phone out of my coat pocket and turned on the flashlight. The earth was still damp from a rain the day before. A heavy rain that washed in the ruts and turned sand to mud. It was perfect ground for impressions, but there wasn’t a mark on that moist ground from either tires or footsteps.

(2)

I called Meg, but her cell number was no longer working. I wanted to drive over to her apartment but decided I wouldn’t.

I didn’t believe in ghosts, but I certainly believed something was wrong.

Were there signals I had picked up on about Meg and Ethan that would make me imagine such a thing?

I couldn’t quite convince myself of that. Meg had seemed so real.

And the car? What about the car?

I went to bed, but I didn’t sleep right away. I got up twice and went outside on the porch wearing only my underwear. A wonderful reason to live where I did. No neighbors looking out their windows, calling the cops on me for indecent exposure. I wanted, I could take a pee off the steps of my porch, and had.

On the chair where Meg had sat there was only the blanket. I picked it up. I could smell a sweet smell that made me think of her favorite perfume. Lilacs. That bothered me even more. Had she really been there, come and gone, and I had no memory of her departure?

Thinking about it turned my mild headache into a slightly more intense one. I had been having quite a few headaches of late.

Finally, I climbed back in bed, having brought the blanket inside with me. I curled up around it like a child with his security blanket. I went to sleep with the aroma of lilacs in my nose.

I didn’t have my usual omelet next morning, due to Meg’s strange warning. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, but it worried me. I had toast and a cup of coffee, showered, and dressed. I was convinced I needed to talk to my brother. I wrapped up a package for him.

I had something else to do before we spoke. Maybe then things would change, and we wouldn’t need to talk at all. At least not about a ghost and murder.

I climbed in my car and tooled down to the gate, used the device in the car to open it. I got out and looked more closely at the ground, thinking in the morning light I would find evidence.

Still no tire or footprints. Seeing that unmarked mud gave me another shiver. Like Father Death had traced a cold finger up my spine.

I drove through the open gate on into May Town, where Meg lived with her husband, Ethan. Or had lived. I didn’t know what to think after last night. Was Ethan alive or dead? And if it had been a ghost on my porch last night, did that mean Meg was dead?

The entrance to the apartment complex where she lived bore a worn sign with magnetic letters missing so that it read oom o et instead of rooms to let. Otherwise, the place was nice, well cared for. I had only been to Meg’s apartment once before. It was on the ground floor near a pool and tennis courts.

A long stretch of flower bed had recently been prepared in front of and to the side of the fence around the pool and Meg’s apartment. The bed did not yet contain plants. The dirt was brown and rich and smelled musty. There were bits of gravel in the bed, and one of those bits was shiny as glass. A few weeds had started up in patches. If flowers were planted there, bulbs, they had yet to announce themselves. Spring, I figured, they would pop.

A guy on a little garden mower was zooming about on the grassy median that separated rows of apartments. He was a chap with a cap pulled down tight, wearing work clothes and a face that could have passed for a clenched asshole. As he bounced by on the median, flinging damp grass, he looked at me and nodded slowly.

I nodded back, and he bounced on. I slapped the damp grass off my pants.

I knocked on Meg’s door after trying the doorbell and discovering it didn’t work. At least, I couldn’t hear that it worked.

The knock didn’t work either. I tried the door for the hell of it, but it was locked up tight as a bank vault. I walked to the window and attempted to look in through parted curtains.

Dark in there.

“They’re gone,” a voice said.

I turned. It was a woman, perhaps five years older than me, but there was something about her face that made you think that she had lived her life in a dirty room full of cigarette smoke. She was a willowy lady with shoulder-length auburn hair. She was wearing a loose T-shirt and shorts, grimy white tennis shoes. Had a cigarette hanging off her lip like some sort of appendage. She had an unconcerned attractiveness about her in spite of that dingy life impression.

“Gone?” I asked.

“Yep. Left not too long ago. I’m Evelyn, by the way. Evelyn Woods.”

“Charlie Garner. Did they pack up and leave? Do you know?” “Everything they owned is still in there. Well, they may have

taken something with them, but given all the stuff inside, it must have been in a shoebox. I’ve looked. I have a key, of course, I’m the manager here. Who are you?”

“I’m Meg’s ex-husband.”

“The writer?”

“Sometimes.”

“She mentioned you.” “Are you and her friends?”

“Friendly. I don’t know about friends. We talked at the pool now and then. She liked to tan. I liked to sit under an umbrella at a table with a tall glass of ice tea.”

“Always told her she was going to get skin cancer,” I said.

“She might. But she has dark skin, and that helps. She told me once it wasn’t about the tan, because she didn’t really tan; it was the heat. She liked the heat.”

“Sounds like her. What about Ethan?”

“He was kind of a shadow. A worm with a makeover. Had nice hair. Didn’t seem to fit with her, not even a little bit. Really jealous kind of guy. Maybe he had reason. Know I resented the way my husband looked at her. You can tell when a man is thinking he’d like to gobble some woman up like a pork chop. She knew it too. Her and those short-ass shorts. That’s him on the mower. Cletus the Penis, they used to call him, maybe still do. He’d poke anything that had a crack in it.”

We both looked for Cletus. The mower was way down the length of median grass, and Cletus the Penis was bouncing along on the narrow seat.

“Way he looked at her, that made me pissed at her sometimes.” “You were pissed at her instead of Cletus?”

“I was pissed at both of them, but Cletus I got to live with unless I want to go it alone. I don’t. We pay the bills better together. Both of us have good jobs here, a place to stay.”

“Do you remember when you saw Meg and Ethan last?”

“Not sure when I quit seeing Ethan about, and I saw her only now and then. Last time was at night, late, out by the pool. I remember because me and the old man had a fight. He wanted a little loving, and I didn’t have any to give. We argued. I couldn’t sleep on account of it. We live in the upper apartment across the way there.”

She turned and pointed, then turned back.

“Place looks down on the pool. I like to watch out the window late at night. Not just for young men in tight bathing suits, but to see the night, when the pool’s closed and everything is quiet. Rarely is anyone even near the pool after ten thirty. Cletus locks the fence and cuts all but one light inside of it. I looked out, and there she was at the fence, staring at the water.”

“When was this?” “Maybe a week ago.”

“Has anyone called the cops? I mean, one day Meg and Ethan are here, and next day they aren’t. And all their stuff is still here.”

“I did. They came out, looked around, asked if their rent was paid up, wondering if they took a burner so as not to pay. But it is paid up. They got a few more days before it’s due again, then I don’t know. They don’t come back, guess I can auction off their stuff. I’m thinking they may have jumped because of other bills they owed. Meg said they were struggling a bit. The marriage and the finances. Ethan quit his job at the university, then Meg quit hers at the yoga studio. Conflict with the boss, she said. Went to work at one of the donut shops in town. Said she wasn’t making that much at the studio anyway, and without Ethan’s salary, it was tough sledding. She was all into flying-saucer shit. You know, the peckerwood cult somewhere out there in the woods. Don’t know why they can’t just be Christians and go on with things.”

“Cops had nothing?”

“Not that they told me. They move like glaciers. Meg and Ethan leaving their furniture and goods behind is odd, but in the end, if they’re running from bill collectors, it might not mean anything sinister.”

I thanked her and drove over to my brother’s office. He didn’t live in May Town. He lived in Nacogdoches, which was within a few miles of my wooded property. Nacogdoches was larger than May Town. Not that there were skyscrapers poking at the clouds. Down- town it was brick streets, long-standing brick buildings. Elsewhere, some cool old houses from the town’s past, as well as aluminum rectangles with all the beauty of a blackened lung.

Once the city had been lined with trees, but people who I supposed really wanted to live in bleak West Texas had cut down a lot of them, burned the trees that couldn’t be sold for pulp or lumber, and poured in concrete for parking lots. It was labeled “progress.” I called it “sad.” When I passed McDonald’s on North Street, I always remembered the big tree that had been there where now concrete shimmered in the sunlight. I heard they cut it down because of insurance problems. That the tree might fall on a car or someone, drop a limb like the Sword of Damocles.

The university in Nacogdoches was where Ethan taught folklore and history before he quit, or at least according to Evelyn he’d quit. I guess it wasn’t truly my business, since Meg and I were divorced, but I was curious. And worried. Hadn’t her ghost asked me for help? Actually, I was uncertain it had. I was pretty uncertain about everything this late, cool morning.

My older brother, Felix Garner, is a former psychiatrist who quit his practice—that’s one way to put it—to take over the detective agency I once owned. I had been good at that business, but when I sold my first book, I was ready to give it up. I wrote it on a whim. I had always wanted to do it, and suddenly I wrote it and it did all right. Not a bestseller, but enough to make me think I could make a living of a sort at it. Film sale helped, though the film never got made.

Before I quit the detective business, Felix had come back to Nacogdoches from Houston, worked for me for a while before he took it over. He was the first person I talked to in times of stress. He didn’t always have good advice, but he had advice. And sometimes just hearing him talk like he knew something was a comfort.

Felix was a good detective, though, even if what he mostly detected was who was in whose underwear during divorce settle- ments. He said he felt the job was similar to psychiatry: looking under humanity’s hood to see what made it tick, what made the cylinders whirl, what kept the engine oiled, and what caused it to seize up. He’d made more money as a psychiatrist but felt he had a better life as a detective. Most of the time.

I knew this about him: He was the kind of guy that might throw himself a surprise party and be ecstatic if he were the only one that showed up.

He had upstairs digs across from the Boss Light Bookstore. I parked at the curb, put my package under my arm, went up to the top floor.

There was a hall at the top of the stairs, and Felix owned what was on both sides of it. There was a long window at the far end of the hall, without curtains. It looked down on an alley and across the way to a law office.

On the left side, the business side, the closed office door had a buzzer next to it on the wall. It said push me.

I pushed.

A moment later a door behind me on the other side of the hall opened and Felix came out.

He was a lot bigger than me, tended toward a little fat. But that could fool you. He used to bench-press three hundred and could deadlift a hell of a lot more. His arms looked like old but healthy trees. He still worked out but nowhere near as hard as when he was younger. He was thirty-seven and six foot five. He had our family’s red hair and a red, tightly trimmed beard. I never took to beards and I didn’t like his. Today he was wearing a T-shirt that made him look like three hundred pounds of meat squeezed into a small condom. The shirt said nacogdoches film festival on it.

We used to fight when we were young. Fistfight as a pastime. He won until I learned a little bit more about defending myself. Well, he still won. Boxing a bear was still boxing a bear.

Felix grinned his perfect teeth at me, the result of expensive dental work and his constant obsession with products that kept them white.

“Charlie, so good to see you. No loans.”

“Funny.”

After we embraced, he said, “Come in, I was just cooking breakfast. Got up late. What’s with the package?”

“Later.”

I followed him through the door he had come out of into another short hallway, then through an opening that led into the kitchen. It was compact but well arranged, with cooking pots and pans hung on hooks on the wall. A frying pan on the electric stove was full of bacon and was popping grease. Felix turned down the heat.

“Can I fix you anything?” “No. I had some toast.”

“Toast? What kind of breakfast is that? Have some fried eggs.

An omelet?”

“I’m off omelets.” “What?”

“Partly that’s why I’m here.” “Omelets?”

“You got time to give me some psychiatric advice?” “You’re fucked up and crazy. Done.”

“Really, Felix. I’m serious.” “Sure. Let me finish cooking.”

I went into the dining room and sat, put my package on the table.

Felix called out, “Coffee. You’re not off coffee, are you?”

“I can do coffee, but if it’s your usual, I’ll need some milk to thin it.”

He finished cooking, brought me a cup of coffee, went back, brought milk, went back again, and brought out his breakfast, four fried eggs and eight pieces of slab bacon, a rack of toast on a plate the size of a hubcap.

“You should write a cookbook,” I said. “Heart Attacks Are Us.”

“Healthy as a horse,” he said. “I could lose a few pounds, though.

Okay, what is the mysterious business about omelets?”

I told him what had happened last night, about Meg and her warnings, her saying her husband, Ethan, was dead. I told him about going to their apartment, how they had abandoned it and left their goods. The cops had been told but didn’t seem too worried about it.

He ate his breakfast while I told him my story. When I finished, my coffee had cooled. I carried it into the kitchen, microwaved it, and came back to the table. I knew him well enough to know he would be thinking about what I had told him for a while.

I sat and sipped the coffee. Even with the milk, it bordered on deadly. “You need a Keurig, man. This pot-and-filter business is like stuff the Flintstones did.”

He ignored that. “That’s quite a story there. As a brother, I’d say you’re full of it, just a dream, but looking at you as a patient, trying to give you psychiatric advice, I’d pretty much say the same thing. Why I’m not a psychiatrist anymore. I lacked bedside manner. Guy comes in, tells me he can’t get his life straight because Daddy didn’t play ball with him enough. Mama ignored him because she worked two jobs. I think that’s your problem. It’s not abuse, it’s personal obsession with minutiae and yourself. Hubris. Things like that aren’t the sort of things that ought to dictate your life, unless you want them to. Anybody over twelve should know that. Our father didn’t exactly play ball with us twenty-four/seven, and I think we turned out well enough. As for ghosts, I always dismissed them unless my client was schizophrenic. I recommended drugs.”

“So you got nothing?”

“I didn’t say that. Just telling you where I stand on ghosts and a lot of silly parent issues. I don’t think they matter much in real life.”

“I didn’t ask you about the parent part.”

“One thing leads to another with me. Maybe I have more parent issues than I thought. You know, bringing it up without being asked.”

“Ever known me to believe in ghosts before?”

“No, but you were slow in getting over Santa Claus, and I know you were looking for Easter Bunny tracks a little late in life.”

“I hated to let go of the fantasy,” I said.

“You’ve always had an overactive imagination. Have you been thinking about Meg?”

“Always.”

“Hard girl to get over. Woman, I should say.”

“She is.”

“Had a kind of thing for her myself. A crush on my sister-in-law. Until she left you. I was mad at her for that. Inability to commit to day-to-day situations and still be in love. She liked drama. Also, come on, bro, you must admit, she had strange moments and strange ideas. There were times when that girl could hear birds singing down in a well. Read astrology and numerology, occult books, and psychic makeovers, no-touch healing. If she divined the future in chicken guts, it wouldn’t surprise me. You’re imaginative, but you question things. She didn’t.”

“I do think about her a lot, and at the same time, I’m glad she’s gone. That make sense?”

“Yeah. You know, she had the looks, but the thing that was so appealing about her was under all that was a kindness. You know how she treated our mother when she got . . . sick.”

“Yeah. She spent more time with her than we did.”

“She did,” Felix said. “It’s like she knew how much we could take, how much we couldn’t, and she took up the slack. I walked into that room, Mama in bed not knowing if sounds were farts or bugles, I just fell apart. Never saw Meg do that. You could see pain in her eyes, but she had more strength about something like that than we did.”

“She always was kind of a caretaker. I think she might have left me sooner, but she left when Mama no longer knew who I was, who anyone was. She knew that she wasn’t going to hurt Mama by leaving. Which, had Mama had her mind right, would have hurt her a lot. She loved Meg like a daughter.”

“Humans are full of contradictions. Meg was full of more than most. Here’s something to consider: You said you think about Meg, meaning you miss her, at least some of the time, and the time of night you say she came around, you don’t do your best critical thinking then. If you were even awake.”

“You’re saying I imagined her because I wanted to see her? That’s all you got?”

“Doesn’t mean you didn’t see her. Didn’t have a conversation with her. Lot of recent clinical research indicates that the eye is always sending messages to the brain but sometimes the brain sends messages to the eye. It can do the same to the ears, creating sounds that aren’t there. It can fill your nostrils with smells that don’t exist, your taste buds with sensations of things you haven’t eaten. That could explain the lilac smell on your blanket. Some people are more subject to that sort of thing. Often, so-called mediums are convinced they are experiencing something supernatural when they are actually experiencing their own desires. If the desires are strong enough, the brain accommodates. Most of those folks are frauds from the get-go, but some truly believe they have powers. Call them abilities. But what they have are intense urges to believe, and something about their makeup makes it more likely they can create images in their minds that are realistic enough to be convincing to them. You may have been worried about Meg. May have picked up body-language signals from her from some time back, signals that all was not well. A hint from this, a hint from that. But you may not have realized it. Your brain took all that in and scrutinized it and came up with results well after the fact. Some people call it intuition, but it’s a learned behavior.”

“Like a cop’s gut instinct.”

“Yeah. But again, lot of cops see things about someone that aren’t there because they’re convinced the person they’re dealing with is guilty. Might be. But it may have nothing to do with their intuition, which is just experience multiplied by common sense. It may be simple things like the husband probably killed his wife because there was a lot of life insurance and it’s the sort of thing that happens regularly. A common crime, so common sense indicates that’s the situation again. But sometimes it’s not. You know all that.”

“Okay.” I picked up the package I had brought in with me. I unwrapped it, handed it to Felix. “The blanket with her smell.”

Felix stuck it to his face and sniffed. “Lilacs,” he said.

“Let me ask. Are we both having olfactory hallucinations?”

(3)

 Meg wore a perfume like that,” I said. “It was her favorite.”

“Did you have this blanket when you two were married?” “I did.”

“Smells can hang around a long time.”

“I never noticed the smell before. I had it over my shoulders when she showed up. I draped it over her for only an instant. That smell wasn’t there before.”

“After your hallucination, because that’s what I’m going to call it, you became more aware. You were looking for reasons to believe she was there because it seemed so real. Your nose finally took serious note of the blanket smell, which had been there all along.”

“Maybe.”

“Look here, baby brother. You go home and forget this business, and I will check with Cherry, see what she can tell me. She’s got connections in May Town. Hell, everywhere.”

Cherry was Felix’s girlfriend. She was also a crack lawyer and knew just about everyone.

“Leave it to me,” he said. “I’ll get back to you.”

We shifted our talk to other things. Felix was obsessed with sports, had played football in high school, a bit of college ball. I didn’t have much interest in any sport other than boxing. I didn’t mind watching people run track either, if I had nothing good to read and it was a rainy day.

I let him carry on about football for a while. When I could find a hole in his sports talk, I bade him farewell, went to the car, dropped off the blanket, then went around the corner to the Dixie Café for a cup of coffee that I could stomach. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts for a few moments. Felix can be overwhelming.

After that, I drove home. By then I had begun to lose some of the urgency about things. Felix made sense. But still, Meg and Ethan going off and leaving everything? It bothered me a little longer than the ghost business, but finally I decided the apartment manager had been right. They might have skipped out on bills. That sounded like the both of them. The word “flighty” could easily have been their middle names.


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