The barman hands me a tankard. What is this? 1834? I smile politely and pay him. He returns with my change, just sans the overly chatty conversation that he started with. I’m soon to be working. I don’t know what the guy I’m supposed to be meeting looks like, but I stick out like a sore prick sat here in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt while everyone else seems to be in suits. I don’t know how they do it. Yeah, if I had to describe this bar, I’d call it dark and dingy, but the heat is unbearable today, really oppressive. It’s the kind of heat that kicks you down and slaps you around leaving you broken and brain dead. Yeah, it’s cooler in here but not much better than off the street. There’s no air-con in here just a couple of fans moving the stale air around.There’s a small group of Japanese, maybe Chinese guys in a booth just off from me looking calm and cool as can be, all wearing expensive suits. The matchstick in the middle looks so cool, calm and inexpressive in a three piece white suit. Not a bead of sweat on him. He catches me looking, so I raise my tankard in a toast and smile like a moron, wondering why I’m here. The white suit nods back and I start thinking about Brian again, but find my thoughts interrupted.‘Mr. Sanders San?’Yeah, they’re Japanese. Always go with first impressions. I’m not too sure what san means but I think it’s sir. But, hell, it wouldn’t be the first client to insult me to my face before he got to know me.I told him I was who he was looking for, and he introduced himself and started with small talk and some background information and I found myself drifting off, smiling and nodding politely. I got wondering about why I’d thought about Brian after so long. Was this some sort of premonition for how this was gonna turn out? God, I hope not. I snapped back into the room a little too obviously after he said ‘Mr. Barry White’. Turns out the little jumping bean was playing me, saw I wasn’t paying attention, and started raving on about me insulting him or something. He was pissed off, but when he finally kicked back in he was short and to the point. Just the way I need my information on days as hot as these. Maybe he could’ve just written it all out, in bullet points too.Anyway, he needed something looking into. Well, don’t they all? You don’t hire a P.I. to do your laundry. I mean, they’re too expensive, plus we make more stains than we get rid of. The job came with a catch. They wanted one of their guys in. I tried to explain I don’t work well with others. Truth be told, four partners in two years, it gets hard. You stop even trying to learn their names. But, hell. I wasn’t gonna tell this guy that. Plus I needed the work. Bad. You have a few cases turn sour, and word moves fast. Quicker n’ wildfire and you’re lucky to get a missing dog or a courier case. So I said yes.My new partner’s called Junichi. Some second cousin’s nephew or something. Anyway he’s like a son to the guy I’m working for. He was short and serious with the coldest eyes I’ve ever seen. He reminded me of Buckshot, the Rottweiler that sat outside the junkyard where I grew up. We never saw it bark or go for someone, but no one ever tried robbing that place. One look in that dogs eyes and you could tell it’d already outwitted you. ‘Are you Polish?’Those were the first word this matchstick says to me. I tell him no, yet he reiterates it. That’s the third time this year. I’ve grown up in this state my whole life. I guess it must be the default response for an accent you don’t recognize in this city. Either way it annoyed me. But I guess that’s what happens to a guy who’s raised by TV rather than your elders, an unconventional vocal tone.The job isn’t here. It’s in a small city a couple of states over, a real middle of nowhere Mom and Pop bullshit Hick kind of town. Junichi pulls a bag seemingly from nowhere and we walk out to my car. It’s covered in bugs, serves me right having a yellow Chevy. I keep thinking I’ll get it painted, but the money always finds something else to be spent on. We pull out into the open road and head off down the highway. It’s too hot for small talk, so I wind down the window, letting the blast of the roar in my ears and shake the old girl, rattling her chassis. I pull out a cigarette and light up. Junichi doesn’t look displeased, but I can tell he is. Fuck him. It’s my car, if he doesn’t like it he could always walk.
* * *
We stopped at a motel just outside of Nowheresville and I headed straight to the bar. Served by a waitress that could’ve been pretty fifteen years ago, with breasts bulging out of a white shirt two sizes too small and eyes so sad they’d melt a penguin. I settled into my seat and begun thinking where this was heading, while washing the day away with whiskey. Junichi came in nearly an hour later. He’d showered and changed, though still wearing shirt and tie he joined me and ordered a glass of water. I couldn’t help chuckle to myself; we were one hell of an odd couple. I was humming that theme tune to myself when the waitress retuned with his water. Junichi put on a big smile and started up some bullshit with her, the place was dead and she seemed like she needed the banter else she’d have gone crazy. Junichi was a real charmer, much better than I ever was. Maybe that’s why I interrupted with ‘Are you gonna hit that?’ The waitress gave some pleasantries and went back to the bar. Junichi stared at me for a bit then burst out laughing. ‘You’re really something Mr. Sanders’ I told him to call me Pete, and that to be something was better than being a nothing. And for the first time in my presence he relaxed. Yeah, we were gonna get on just fine. Junichi had gotten us a room each at the far end of the motel, it gave a great view of the main road and the garbage collection, plus we’d have to walk along the whole complex getting to and from the bar to our rooms. Maybe that was his idea from keeping me from going back, instantly recognizing my inherent laziness. My room was small and unimpressive; it had obviously decorated sometime in the seventies and looked shit then. A nasty pale blue tarred with Nicotine stains and what looked like blood on the now grey carpet. But I’d been in a lot worse; at least it wasn’t crawling with roaches. The next morning I awoke still in my clothes. Had a shower, then I set about having a shave. The cheep razors put a nasty nick on my neck, took forever to stop the bleeding. I still had toilet paper stuck to my face as walked out to the car. Junichi was already there holding a couple of breakfast bagels. Ham, eggs and some salad-y crap, tasted good though. I chomped down mine while Junichi paid the bill then we headed off, once again behind the wheel. The day was cooler, or maybe it was just the fact it was before noon. But we were driving towards some dark evil looking clouds, a symbolic sight of the impending storm.We hit the storm around two thirty. What started pretty heavy soon turned worse, with the wipers on full I had to slow to thirty and even then I found it hard seeing more than ten feet ahead. Junichi was nervous. He didn’t look it, but he kept twisting a ring on his forefinger, an odd fellow. Though I suppose thinking on it, not too odd. I once dated this one broad, Melinda, or was it Belinda? Whatever. She had her pet dog stuffed after it’d died and then had it in stood around in its favourite haunt the dining room. Talk about weird. There’s nothing like having the lifeless cold eyes of a rotted stuffed corpse of some ugly bitch staring at you when you’re trying to eat roast beef. My ramblings were interrupted as the car hit the edge of the road. The old girl crawled back onto the road and I gave Junichi a weak smile as the road lit up brilliantly just before my chest reverberated with the first drone of thunder.Welcome to Oklahoma.