Y said, "Okay. That's really... yeah. Bus leaves in about an hour. Soooo, if you're going to follow through on that second favor, we need to hustle."
"Well, come on now. I'm just being friendly. Tell me something about yourself," I said stalling to get another drink. Vague recollections of the clown who hung himself, the skull top being kicked into the sewer, the odds of my gruesome death -- I just needed one more layer of fortification.
She rolled her eyes, "Fine. You want to talk about family?"
"Not necessarily, but go on."
"When I was twelve my father sold my brother to a dog fighting crew. They used to put him in a pit with dogs, and he'd fight with like a screwdriver, or a ballpoint pen, or his bare hands. He did all right for a while, but a ten year old boy is no match for an angry St. Bernard."
Welcome to Beecher's Hollow, I thought. There used to be a time I wouldn't've believed such a story. In a way, I guess the town was expanding my horizons. It opened me up to myriad new realities. Take M. C. Flannigan's, the bar Y directed us to.
Almost no lights save for the black ones shining on velvet portraits of dead celebrities. Candy apple red leather booths. A galaxy of local liquor brands I'd never heard of such as Teeg's Vodka, Vidor's Tequila, and Captain Adam's Retinal Damage Rye. Sipping a glass of Retinal Damage, I eyed the customers for the third time to make sure they were real. Picture a cruise ship depositing tourists in a tavern filled with Appalachian gangsta rappers -- bling, red and black checkered shirts, baggy jeans, gold grillz, and greasy trucker caps -- the image gets clear, though the effect is somehow more unsettling in person; men muttering what sounds like country western lyrics in a distinctly rap vocal pattern while they chew tobacco, overweight middle age people in tropical shirts and floral print moo-moos, the smell of suntan lotion, weed, and stale beer mingling.
I asked Y if she came here often. She shrugged, and checked the clock again.
Y said, "We need to go."
Hair of the dog had done the trick. Like cures like. My skull felt glued back together. Some faint traces of the hang over persisted, but a pleasant boozy numbness made them ignorable. Obliged to honor the remaining favor, I asked what we needed to do.
Y led the way outside. She moved so quickly that by the time I caught up to her she was already in the middle of explaining our task:
"... can identify the bottle rockets you bought. Once I know who's doing the dealing I can put them in their place. I may sell jewelry, but that doesn't mean I'm some push around bitch. That's my fucking corner."
"You sell jewelry?" I asked, fumbling to get a cigarette going.
She turned. Even walking backwards she managed to slip through the pedestrian herd like mercury. Pointing to her t-shirt, Y Creations, she said, "Custom made by my own two hands." She spun around.
We made our way deeper into downtown. Evening was coming on. As the streetlamps flickered to life one of them exploded in a shower of sparks and shards. Except for one or two cheers, no one paid any attention to it. All eyes remained fixed on the next destination.
The drinks had an added benefit. Being in a bar, the taste of whiskey, all triggered some sense memory. Like an amnesiac I pulled together a few more fragments from my blackout. For the first time I remembered the clown's name, Jacob... Jacob Mueller. I met him in a place called Lisa's Lounge. Or I should say we met him. The woman's face came in blurry, but I knew she was beautiful. There are some women who haunt men's bones. She definitely came from that clan. Purple eyes. Cherry red lips tasting of anise. But her name still escaped me. Jacob Mueller, who was already dressed as a clown, was debating the end of a three day meth binge when we met him. From the fog I heard bits of a conversation we'd had.
Me: "If you quit now you'll never know how far you can take it."
Her: "He's right. Plus, you're not really done until you pass out."
Jacob: "You guys are awesome. Awesome! I really like like you two. No one tells me the truth anymore. You know? You know. They just say what they want to hear. Well, I want to hear what I want to hear, ya know? You know. I gotta piss.
Me: "He is going to pop like a frog in a microwave."
Her: "I bet we can get him to kill himself."
Some memories are better left lost. The possibility I'd helped inspire a man to suicide -- I'll joke about it, but actually doing it is another thing entirely. Although, the simple fact I woke up in a hotel room with Jacob hanging from the ceiling seemed to imply otherwise.
Y called to me. I saw her standing in the doorway of a hole in the wall cafe called, interestingly enough, The Rabbit Hole. Hurrying over I did my best to forget again. I didn't like the image the puzzle pieces put together. Yet, I knew it was only a matter of time before enough fragments came together to at least provide some sense of the last few days. For the time being, however, I focused only on the task at hand.
Y said, "What I need you to do is very simple. Go inside and order a cup of coffee. Then say, 'God that clock is annoying. Someone should shut it off.' Say it loud enough everyone inside can hear you."
"And then..." I trailed off to let her fill in the as yet unspoken details.
"What do you mean?"
"What's going to happen when I say that?"
Y said, "Nothing really. It's a code phrase. Like spies. It'll let the man in question know you're here to see him. Then just point him towards me."
I narrowed my eyes, "Why don't you go inside?"
She muttered something I didn't catch. I asked her to repeat herself, and she snapped, "Because I'm not allowed inside. There was a thing a while back, a guy got stabbed, it was a whole thing you don't need to worry."
"I think I need to worry about going into places where people get
She shook her head, "No, you don't. I'm the one who stabbed him."
Somehow that really did make me feel better. In fact, going inside would mean getting away from someone who stabs people, making my task all the more desirable. Plus, a cup of coffee sounded like a good idea anyway -- the final curative element.
Taking a deep breath, I stepped inside The Rabbit Hole.
It reminded me more of a curio shop than a coffee house. Abstract sculptures made out of various bones. A doll composed entirely of teeth. Jars full of dubious looking liquids with unnatural creatures floating inside them. One, a kind of fish-rabbit, even winked at me. An alligator skin couch. An adolescent giant squid, wired to shine light bulbs, hung from the ceiling like a chandelier. Stain glass images of Saints in poses taken from the Karma Sutra. I got the feeling they sold more than just coffee in this place.
There weren't many customers, though the ones I saw eyed me surreptitiously. Peering over leather bound books, or using the reflection off cabinets, the patrons kept track of me. They all wore three piece suits, even the women. It seemed a particular subset of Beecher's Hollow frequented this establishment.
At a counter I had good reason to suspect may have been a bar from the Titanic, I ordered a cup of black coffee. The barista gave me a once over before going to fill my order. For all the oddities in The Rabbit Hole I saw no clocks. This gelled with Y's assertion the phrase was meant as a code. So feeling a bit more comfortable, when my drink arrived I remarked, "God that clock is annoying."
The barista said, "Excuse me."
I said, "That clock. The ticking. It's annoying. You know?" I then repeated the phrase with emphasis, "God. That clock. Is annoying. Some should shut it off. You follow?"
I heard a rustle of movement. Turning around I found all the patrons lined up in a phalanx blocking any chance of exit. It dawned me that this might not be a good thing. I, perhaps, shouldn't have been surprised, but I was. And I was about to explain myself when the door to a side office opened.
A man in pinstripe pants, a matching waistcoat, and spats emerged. One side of his face was missing, but instead of exposed bone and muscle there were brass and gears. He'd somehow reconstructed the missing portion of his face with brass in place of bone and teeth, and clockwork gears to assist the remaining facial muscles.
He walked up to me. He seemed about to say something then thought differently about it. When he moved his mouth a faint, faint ticking sound came from him. Leaning the gear side of his face in close he said, "Judging from the look on your face, you don't know me."
Staring into the empty brass socket that once upon a time held an eye, I said, "I do not."
He grunted, "Hm. Then you're a tourist."
Though I'd come to realize that wasn't exactly a term of endearment from the locals, I agreed with him.
He said, "That's slightly more forgivable." He reached over and picked up my coffee, "But still..." He grabbed me by the wrist. I've encountered weaker vices.
He said, "'Withhold not correction from the child: for if though beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.'" And with that he proceeded to pour the hot coffee onto my hand. In a way, I seemed to have lucked out. It hurt, a lot -- I won't lie, and say I didn't holler -- but the coffee was only hot enough to turn the skin red not burn it horribly. Then the man with the clockwork face noticed this as well.
Turning to the barista he said, "Heat the coffee. Then pour another cup."
I called out, "Y."
He said, "Because you were rude."
"I don't need another reason."
The front door opened, and Y stuck her head in to shout, "I told you not to call me that."
The man with the clockwork face paused. He looked from me to her. Nodding his head he said, "I take it you need something."
"Yeah," she said.
Still crushing my wrist, he asked, "This man is a problem?"
I held up my free hand, and shook my head. Thankfully, Y said, "No, I just had him say that to fuck with you."
"Indeed." The clockwork ticked as he inquired, "Any reason?"
"Because you're a fucking asshole for banning me."
"You stabbed a man..."
She cut him off, "He tried to rape me in the bathroom."
He sighed "And I told you I believe you. I would've handled it. I can't have your street justice in my shop."
"There was an immediacy to the situation. Maybe if it hadn't been the mayor's son things would be different."
The gears in his face shuddered. Speaking through gritted teeth he said, "Which is why I banned you. So there wouldn't be a place they know you frequent."
"I'm not hard to find Edward. Everybody knows me."
"Then it's a good thing someone is keeping you a secret."
The two glared at one another. I suspected this was not the first, nor would it be the last time these two fought. However, it made me curious about the history between the two. That said, my immediate concern revolved around getting Edward to let me go. Particularly because their staring contest caused him to grip me tighter. My bones felt on the verge of breaking.
"Excuse me, I was wondering if I could have my boiled hand back."
"Hm? Oh, of course." He let go. Shaking his head, he said, "She will be the death of me."
I nodded, "You and me both."