The harsh city lights lit up the immediate sky. Overlying stars winked above the pollution emitted by the small cities constant drain on the water resources of Lake Tahoe. Not for the first time, I welcomed a look at the stars, looking back through eons of time to what? The beginning of the universe? Creation? The first or latest ripple of energy that rippled through our known solar system, no doubt accompanied by a noise devoid of context to human ears. With nobody there to witness it with any understanding that could be made understandable to the finite abilities of the human brain, it joins the riddle of the tree in the forest. I made my way across the pedestrian bridge spanning the interstate, which provided a indelible boundary of sorts between the garish tourism and crime of downtown and the Institution of higher learning, where I spent strange hours pondering the imponderable, getting paid to essentially think deep thoughts on shallow subjects and transmit those ponderings to the blinking question mark of a computer screen.
The constant stream of automobile headlights sparkled darkly in the constant multi-colored twilight. Although nearly daylight, the screams and laughs of late night party goers in search of something they dared not pursue in within their natural environment of suburbs and McMansions around the world. Those who survived the onslaught of petty criminals, con artists, casinos and prostitutes of all kinds would sleep the restless sleep of the guilty, subconsciously worrying about the ultimate digital trail of their escapades as the fell upon their credit cards like starving dogs, draining bank accounts and ruining credit in their pursuit of something else, something different.
My day had begun nearly 24 hours earlier, as I rose from a few hours of fitful sleep to let myself in the kitchen door of a tiny café across from campus. The owner, a striking blonde with more than a passing resemblance to Keri Russell, a fact that I was made aware of at a Christmas Party she escorted me to.
Surrounded by nerds, technicians, PhD candidates and their mentors, we made an unusual pairing. I refused to be drawn in to any discussions on micro-fracture tip deformation mechanics on mars and she would not respond to any of the enthusiastic advances of my colleagues, who, well into their second drink of the year, were terribly wasted and embarrassing to be around. My own mentor was a nearly deaf middle aged white guy with the most striking case of OCD that I’d ever seen, a house in a gated community, a shy, skinny wife dressed in new outdoor gear and a pet rabbit they’d taught to use their toilet. Not for the first time, I wondered what the hell I was doing there, with that group of people.
I preferred the kitchen. When I rumbled through the steel door with multiple padlocks, kicking opossum filled trash cans out of the way and bonking an occasional coyote on the head, I felt at home. My home fries were wildly popular and I cut fifty pounds of them every single morning, using only my chef’s knife, blanched them in boiling water until tender, drained them well and baked the excess moisture away in a 500 degree oven. I would empty the fryers, refill with rendered duck fat and lard that I screened the night before and kept hidden under the pastry counter and fry each batch to order.
I would also prep waffle mix, pancakes, beat enough eggs for 75 omelets, check my pickles, rescue my hand-cured pork belly and sausage from their respective hiding places, and crank out breakfasts until 10:00 a.m. I was paid in cash, every day, and I packed and cleaned as though I might not be back. With outstanding warrants in Virginia, West Virginia, Georgia and Maryland, there was always a chance.
All this made me a bit more wary as I approached my apartment that night, with the neon night at my back and the faint glow of a light fading out from under my door. Rocky woofed reassuringly and I relaxed a bit. Whoever was in there had to be someone he knew, well, or he would never have let them through the entrance. I dropped the latch on the gate back in place, noting the electronic click of the security locks, checked my mail and made my way down the steps. The sun was just rising to my right, and the lights of Sacramento were on the horizon to my left. Lake Tahoe was no doubt gleaming like the world’s largest and most precious diamond just over the horizon, behind the snow covered peaks of the Western Rockies.
I eased open the door, and the scent of hair product, perfume and vodka became my guide to the interior. There was a small tiled bathroom, a kitchenette and a single king sized air mattress, occupied. Her blond hair spilled over the very expensive blanket she carried everywhere with her and Rocky proudly stood guard by her on the mattress. I locked the door, put water out for Rocky, which he scorned, as usual. It was habit for me, but he’d long since learned the value of a toilet.
It seems I’d left this girl everywhere, and still she followed. She was too fragile, too open, too open-hearted to follow my ornery ass around. I picked through the prescription pill bottles on the floor by the bed, noting the half empty handle of Absolute turned on its side, still dribbling it’s poison onto the stone floor.
I shook out one of the pills, and sat down on her yoga mat. Rocky padded over to join me. I checked his breath and eyes, relieved that he showed no signs of intoxication. That was all I needed. A drunk 110 lb. lab mix and a 110 lb. enraged and inebriated model with a rich girl entitlement attitude wrapped in about a thousand dollars of grooming.
I glanced at my mail, and hastily ripped open an envelope from my lawyer back home in Virginia. I picked up the bottle of vodka, palmed the pill and chased it with a feta stuffed Kalamata olive and a chug of devils juice. My hands shook a bit. Case dismissed. No credible witnesses. Come home.
I relaxed into the air mattress and turned on the TV, barely watching the Dragonball Z episode. Goku was blowing up some world somewhere and his hair was glowing. As the sun broke through the high altitude fog, the girl’s hair, spilled all over her pillow and blanket, glowed as well. I decided to finish of the bottle and sleep for about a week.
Rocky sighed, turned in a quick circle and quietly put his head between his paws. In the mornings early sunshine, the burn of neon lights vanished into the outer realm of human perception. The dog’s paws twitched and I gagged slightly at the familiar burn of the alcohol. I’d be sick tonight.
But I’d be on my way home. Sort of.