Rook left the barracks and headed out onto the blacktop where a crowd of twenty or thirty protesters had gathered on this bright sunny day and were lined up along the open field on the opposite side of the street holding their signs aloft and hooting and caterwauling when they saw the motorbike exiting the compound. He steered across the centerline and puttered up to a small cluster of them and their cries grew louder and their faces contorted in a rictus of disgust and he sat there and watched them a moment as they shouted their slogans: Warmonger. Mercenary. Civilian killer. He revved the big twin engine and sneered as a few of the ones standing closest to him blenched at the choppy pop and growl and then he gave the Sportster full throttle and turned their message obscure in a hailstorm of clamor and smoking rubber.
It was still daylight when he pulled into the State Line Bar and Grille at Danville. Gray sky overhead. Dark storm clouds to the west. A steady breeze. The parking lot was empty but for an old blue pickup truck parked along the side. Black plastic bags of trash piled in the back. Rook parked to the right of the door and turned the engine off and climbed off and went inside.
Don’t open till six, called the bartender without looking up from across the bar where he stood in a cowboy shirt wiping down mugs with a dishtowel.
Rook checked his watch. That’s in like ten minutes.
It’s ten minutes.
The bartender looked up. I know you?
Rook strode on over to the bar. What the hell do you think?
Oh. I shoulda figured. Long time no see.
Not long enough.
Back to see the kid are ye?
That’d be none of your business, Wilbur. Now how about a beer. Rook sat down on a stool.
They aint here.
You think I can’t fuckin see that?
The bartender didn’t answer but tossed down his rag and walked over and drew a beer from the tap and walked it over. Just don’t go makin trouble like last time, he said.
Don’t you worry about that.
Rook sat there drinking. A couple of younger men and a middle aged woman came in shortly after he did and sat down at one of the tables. The woman giggled and snorted like she was already half-drunk. When the bartender came back from taking their order Rook set his empty glass on the counter and ordered another round and stood up and went and looked out the door at the parking lot. He stared up into the gloomy sky and let the door swing shut and went back and sat down at the bar.
The woman came walking up. She put her hand on top of the bar and turned to face him. You got a smoke I can borrow?
You wanta borrow a cigarette?
She smiled and said nothing and he looked over her shoulder at the two men she’d come in with, who looked like boys on some college JV football—or more likely lacrosse—team from somewhere, sitting there looking like assholes amused at the hag they’d picked up at some trailer park. What’s wrong? he said to the woman. Neither of them two pricks smoke.
The woman turned her head slowly and her eyes followed and she looked back over her shoulder at them. Don’t know, didn’t ask.
Maybe you should. Rook turned his back to her and she stood there another few seconds longer and then he heard her shuffle away.
The bartender brought him his beer. Can I use your phone? Rook asked.
Aint you got one?
You know as well as I do they don’t work out here in this shithole from civilization.
The bartender pointed his stubbled chin at the phone hanging on the wall near the door to the kitchen.
Rook walked over and dialed the number. After a few seconds he hung the phone up and reached back and took out his wallet and pulled out a folded slip of paper and read off the number and dialed again. When there still was no answer he hung up and went back to the bar.
Must be in a hurry to see you, the bartender said.
How about you fuckin shut up, Wilbur, and fetch me another beer?
The bartender watched him sit down and then he walked over and drew him another draft and set it down in front of him. You know where this usually leads?
Yeah. More of my money in your crooked pocket.
I aint talkin about the beer.
Listen here, I didn’t choose this place on account of needin your advice. Fact is, I didn’t choose this place at all. Gerrie Dean did. If I’d had my druthers we’d be meetin some place a little more private than this rodent-infested fuck sore.
Better luck next time.