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15

RYAN GOT UP to answer the phone Monday morning. It wasnt quite seven.

He had been lying in bed thinking. He should have called Mr. Perez Friday or Saturday. Sunday had been all right to let go by. But he had to tell Mr. Perez something today. Either say it was hopeless and he was quitting, or give Mr. Perez Denises address and stop worrying about her. Those were his options. He had to make a decision and quit thinking.

But when Mr. Perez said, How you this morning? Ryan started thinking again, trying to talk and sound pleasant.

I didnt get back to you last week.

Yes, I know you didnt. Mr. Perez sounded patient, as though he didnt mind.

I wanted to, Ryan said. I was pretty much on the go all day.

There was a silence.

What I think I hear, Mr. Perez said, are words. Whatre you trying to tell me?

Im saying theres only one way to find out if shes around, and thats to keep at it. Ryan managed a good straightforward sound.

There was a silence again. Ryan waited.

I hope, Mr. Perez said, youre not making plans of your own.

I dont know what you mean.

Feel you dont need me, can handle this yourself.

Well, I dont see how I could do that.

I dont either, Mr. Perez said, but you still might be considering it, thinking maybe she knows about the stock, heard the name of it one time.

She hasnt even claimed his body.

I mean, if you were to bring it up, poke at her memory a little bit. If youve got something like that in mind, Mr. Perez said, Id suggest you forget it. After all the work and effort I go to compiling a list, it wouldnt be fair of you to steal one of my names, would it?

No, it wouldnt, Ryan said. He hadnt even thought of the possibility before.

It not only wouldnt be fair, it would be poor judgment on your part. If you understand me.

Im working for you, Ryan said. Im not interested in your business. I dont know anything about stock, I wouldnt know how to go about anything like this.

It is tricky, Mr. Perez said. Youd be much happier in what youre doing.

No, Im not for getting into anything over my head, Ryan said. But why hadnt he at least thought of it? You dont have to worry about that.

Im not going to, Mr. Perez said. Im not going to worry one bit.

You want to give me a few more days, then? See if I can find her?

Yeah, you may as well. Ive dug up the names of a couple more lost souls that might live in the area, so you keep at what youre doing, Mr. Perez said. Ill be here waiting.

And watching. He didnt say it, but thats what Ryan felt. Mr. Perez on one side. Virgil Royal somewhere on the other. While he stood in the middle with Denise Leary, playing games.

Monday evening Ryan drove to Rochester to pick up Denise. She was living in a colonial complex of red-brick apartment buildings. He didnt go in. She came out when he buzzed, and they went to a meeting at Saint Andrews Episcopal in Drayton Plains.

At the table Denise told about a new experience shed discovered and was enjoying. Eating breakfast in the morning. Cereal, eggs, toast, the whole thing. Unbelievable. Instead of throwing up and having a few glasses of wine and trying to remember what had happened the night before. She told them today was her first day on a new job, checkout girl at a supermarket. She was amazed how friendly and willing to talk most people were. She said she had a strange feeling, as though four or five years had been taken out of her life and she was starting over. Each day was new and interesting, whether anything interesting happened or not. She said, God, I sound like Little Mary Sunshine, dont I? But I cant help it, its how I feel. I hope I dont get used to it or find out its a phase you go through. She looked at Ryan across the table from her. I like feeling good. I like being excited again about little things and wondering whats going to happen next, without being afraid.

Outside, after the meeting, Ryan said, Arent you a little tired of Uncle Bens? Its so bright in there.

Im tired of drinking coffee more than anything, Denise said. Is that all right to say?

What we should do, go to a nice dim lounge with a cocktail piano. Order Shirley Temples on the rocks.

Or go back to my house, Denise said. If you like red pop or tea.

Id even drink coffee at your place, Ryan said.

Tunafish wished he knew what the fuck the man was doing. One night he goes to the hospital. Look at this, Virgil. Next two nights he goes to church, different churches. Saturday night, nothing. He doesnt even go out. Then on Sunday he doesnt go to church, he goes to a building says local 614. Monday night he goes to church again.

Tunafish wrote it down in the notebook hed show to Virgil. Time to move. He gave the man a good lead and followed his taillights east toward Rochester.

There were killer whales in Puget Sound and a sperm chasing a school of salmon in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Ryan could make out the shapes, dark shadows in the misty blue. The specks of silver and yellow must be the salmon.

Theyre both oils, Denise said, from memory. Not very good, either. I mean the technique or the memory. Ive got to loosen up more, Im stiff.

You like whales, huh?

I love whales.

Ryan hadnt thought much about whales, but he said, I can see where theyd be good to paint.

During one summer I trailed a herd of gray whales from Vancouver Island down the coast to Ensenada, in Baja. I mustve made a hundred and fifty sketches.

You still have them?

No. Some are at home, if my mother kept them. The rest were lost, thrown away. She was staring at the two unframed canvases propped against the wall. These are the first things Ive done in about three years.

She moved away now, going into the kitchen that was separated from the living room by a bar-high counter with two stools. She called it part of the hot-setup contemporary decor. The place, shed found out, was full of young swingies who turned their hi-fis up in the evening and invited each other in for cocktails and sangra at their studio bars. She had gone to one party and sipped coffee and the swingies had lost interest. It had been fun watching, though, she said. Like amateur night.

Ryan looked around the room again before going over to the counter. The place was freshly painted white and didnt feel lived in. There wasnt any worn-out furniture, things that had been handed down or bought at garage sales. There was beige carpeting and an Indian-looking rug. There were no curtains: a limp plant hung in the window. What dominated the room was a drawing board tilted up, with a straight chair, and a table littered with tubes of paint and brushes, a few ceramic pots, coffee mugs, and a full ashtray. There was an aluminum floor lamp that looked new, and a pair of directors chairs with bright-yellow canvas. Most of the wall area was bare and stark white except for a number of black-and-white sketches of whales above the drawing board, stuck to the wall with pieces of masking tape. There were the two blue-looking finished canvases and a word, Kujira, painted on the wall in thin, flowing black letters that seemed more a delicate design than a word. Ryan didnt know what to say when they came in and Denise turned on the floor lamp and he stood looking around. He said, Did you do all this? He studied the oils, not knowing what they were until she told him whales. The design on the wall, Kujira, was the Japanese word for whale, and the technique, the flowing, stiff-armed brushstrokes of ink, was called sumi. Denise said she was thinking about doing No More Bullshit in sumi. Ryan said it was a nice place. Clean. Denise said it was funny, she never thought of a place that way, being clean or dirty.

Leaning on the counter, he watched her as she put a kettle on to boil and dropped tea bags into blue ceramic cups.

You mentioned, I think it was at that Saint Joseph meeting, you almost went home. Wheres that, your home? He had to think before he spoke and not refer to anything about her he had learned on his own.

Bad Axe, Denise said. You know where it is?

Everybody knows where Bad Axe is. Why didnt you go there? He was interested. He was also groping, looking for a way to ease into telling her what was going on. Relieve his own mind without disturbing hers. Maybe if they got talking about real feelings and were honest with each other

I almost did, Denise said, I guess, wanting to feel protected. But when Im home, Im not ever really me, Im somebody or whatever my mother expects me to be. You know what I mean? I have to pretend Im still her little girl and, oh gee, is it nice to be home, its so good to see you, Mom, and all that shit. I love her, I really do, but I cant be honest with her and tell her how I feel. She wouldnt understand. Shes full of shoulds and shouldnts and shes not going to change now. So I thought, why get into all that? Ive got enough of a problem getting myself straight without worrying about offending good old Mom. In her own way, shes as unreal and fucked-up as I am. But she doesnt know it and that makes a difference.

Denise looked at him as she turned and placed the mugs of tea on the counter. Thats a habit Im going to have to break.

What is?

Talking dirty. I always said fuck a lot when I was drinking.

Its okay as long as you smile.

The past year, I dont remember having much to smile about. She looked at him again. Does that sound like poor me?

Maybe a little, Ryan said, even if its true. He wanted to lead her along, get her to talk about herself. How come you didnt paint?

I was too busy drinking.

I asked you one time, Ryan said and stopped. No, I guess I didnt.

What?

When you started drinking.

At State, I guess. I went to East Lansing, did the wine and pot thing. I guess I drank quite a bit, but I didnt worry about it then. Everybody got high or stoned, one way or another.

Then you went to-what, art school?

Detroit Arts and Crafts. Did I tell you that?

Yeah, I guess. Or else I just assumed you studied somewhere.

It has a different name now, Denise said, like the Creative Center or something, and a new building. I went there three years, got very involved in fine art, mostly oils and acrylics. Then, well, I was living in the art center area, you know? around Wayne and the art museum, the main library-

Ryan nodded. About ten blocks from where he had found her in the Cass Avenue bar, the Good Times.

-and I felt I was into real life, there was so much going on around there. Sort of a Left Bank atmosphere with the art and the freaky students at Wayne and the inner-city stuff, the hookers and pimps in their wild outfits, all sort of mixed together. At the time I thought, wow, beautiful. Or bizarro, if it was a little kinky. That was one of the words. Or something would berserk you out, like a wine and pot party in a sauna. You see, I was very arty and open-minded, I mean as a life-style, not just on weekends playing dress-up. I was going around with a couple of black guys most of the time She paused.

Ryan waited.

Yeah? You trying to find out if Im prejudiced?

No, I was thinking, if Id ever told my mother, God. Maybe thats what I should do sometime, say, okay, heres your little girl, and unload everything Ive done. If she survives, fine. If she doesnt

What?

Well, it would be her problem, wouldnt it?

I dont think youd be unloading, Ryan said. I think youd be dumping on her, paying her back. You dont have to do that.

No, I guess not. I keep looking for reasons, how I got here.

We can save guilt and resentment, Ryan said, if you want to keep it light.

And my Higher Power, God Honey, Denise said. Im having a little trouble with that, too. Ive got a long way to go, but already I feel good. I say it at a meeting and try to describe it, the feeling, but I dont tell everything I feel. I dont want to name names and put anybody on the spot. She was looking directly at him now. Her eyes were brown. She was in there feeling good things about him, letting him know.

I dont think anybody tells everything, Ryan said, at a meeting.

Can I tell you?

If you want to.

Maybe Id better wait, she said. Everythings working out, then I begin to worry maybe its a false high. I get up there and find out it isnt real but an induced feeling, or else something happens.

Were you on drugs, Ryan asked her, when you were doing the arty thing?

No, downers once in a while when my nerves were bad, but that was part of the drinking. I smoked, there was always grass, but I never cared much for the smell. What I liked to do best was drink.

The two, you mentioned a couple of black guys, did they get you going?

No, I didnt need help, I sort of went that way naturally. They didnt care. Then-well, I started drinking more and more until I was at it most of the day. It was what I did in life.

Was there a reason? I mean at first, were you depressed or just out for a good time?

Both, I suppose. I used it either way. She hesitated and looked thoughtful as she fooled with her tea bag. I got into a bad situation. I was married

Ryan waited. He wasnt sure if he wanted her to go on.

in fact, I still am. Were separated now, we havent been together in-I havent seen him in months. I dont even know where he is. She paused, holding her tea bag, and looked at Ryan. Bobby was black, too.

Ryan hesitated because she was waiting for him and he didnt know what to say. He said, Yeah? And then he said, Leary. It doesnt sound like a name, you know, a colored guy would have. Ryan froze, realizing his mistake. She had told him her name was Denise Watson. Not Leary.

But she was looking at the tea bag again, lifting it and letting it settle. We werent together much. He was in and out of mental hospitals most of the time. Thats not why I drank, I was drinking before that, but I guess it was a good poor-me excuse. Right?

It sounds as good as any, Ryan said.

Why we got married-I dont know, maybe as you said before, to pay back my mother, if you want to get into all that, look for a subconscious reason. I dont know, maybe I was punishing myself or I saw it as a challenge and thought I could save him from the way he was, the kind of person. Or, shit, I was attracted to him physically, the cool, hard dude-I mean, talk about cool, Christ-he scared me to death. I wanted to paint him, too. She paused, thoughtful again. But I never did. Now-I hope I never see him, but I suppose Ill have to. I want to get a divorce started and out of the way and I think that, getting it off my mind, will help a lot. She looked up at Ryan. Maybe youll serve the papers. Wouldnt that be something?

If you file in Oakland County

He didnt know what he was starting to say. She hadnt asked a question that required an answer; he could duck around it. But he was sitting three feet away from her across the counter, looking at her face, her eyes

I do some work out here, Ryan said, and in Detroit, Wayne County. I like to move around.

Do you ever get into any weird situations, she asked him, where the people dont want to be served?

You bet he did, like serving a rock and roll band in front of thousands of screaming fans, walking right out on the stage

There, they were off of it.

They talked about Ryan for a while, about serving papers and how he got into it, and about working in the cucumber fields north of Bad Axe. They talked about Denises new job at the A&P and almost got into it again.

She told him she was using her maiden name, Denise Watson, because it was on her social security card. Trying to steer away, Ryan said, You like it, huh, the job? She said it was a new experience. It was funny to hear people calling her by her first name again, Denise. She hadnt been called that in years. Ryan said he thought it was a nice name. And hoped that would end it.

She told him, then, she had done something dumb: applied for a drivers license in Pontiac and put down the Pancake House as her address. She hadnt found the apartment yet, she was staying at a motel, didnt have a permanent address; and going to the Pancake House after meetings she had felt good there, comfortable.

Have you gotten the license yet?

Im afraid to ask if it came.

Why?

Well, why did I use their address? Id have to explain all that. They might think Im doing something, you know, illegal.

You are.

Not intentionally. I think the best thing, Ill apply for another one and do it right.

Lets see what I can do first, Ryan said, now protective, wanting to help her, wanting to tell her, right now, who he was, but still holding back.

What was he doing? Playing with her, drawing out information, then ducking when his poor sensitive guilty awareness felt she might tell him too much. Then playing safe with a little hows-work chitchat. Then feeling sorry for her-no, not sorry-feeling close to her and wanting to touch her because she was a winner, a good-looking winner with nice clean-looking hair and eyes that held his while he sat there hiding everything, afraid to tell her. A soft, smiling expression in her eyes

Afraid of what? Well, afraid she might not understand, get the wrong idea and start drinking again. Trusting somebody and seeing it blow up. Afraid of what shed think of him, sneaking around, playing games. Shed ask why, and the wrong answer would be there before he could explain it.

For the money.

Thats what shed naturally think, that hed slipped in snug and close so hed be here when the money came in.

Picture it, when she found out he knew all the time. Her eyes holding his

Try convincing her eyes the money didnt have anything to do with it. Hed been looking for her, yes, hed admit that. But he hadnt gone to the meeting to find her. That was an accident. She could be someone else, hed still be here

But why go into all that if he didnt have to? At least not yet. Hed tell her sooner or later, naturally, but not just yet, okay?

The manager of the Pancake House didnt remember Ryan. He said, Yeah, it came yesterday as a matter of fact. I called the Pontiac Police, and they said call the Sheriffs Department. I called them and they said theyd send somebody over.

Oh, here, Ryan said. He took out his wallet and showed the manager his official Oakland County Constable star.

I thought youd be here yesterday, the manager said. He lifted the change drawer in the cash register and handed Ryan the Department of State window envelope addressed to Denise Watson.

Thanks a lot, Ryan said.


| Unknown Man #89 | c