Old Man Down the Road

I went into the bar to find Remo and the bartender watching the news on the overhead TV. I pulled up a stool and leaned on the polished counter. “What a disaster tonight was,” I said. At first, I hoped I sounded dejected, but buoyed by Matthew’s attention it was hard to. I used to do that with Claire sometimes. If I started first and sounded bad enough, sometimes she’d skip the morality speech. But now the words had a falser ring. Somehow putting on an act for my mother seemed right, but for Remo it was wrong.

Remo turned and put an arm on my shoulder. “I hear the police picked you up.”

“Yeah, for having less than twenty dollars.”

He shook his head.

“I’m sorry, Remo, I’ll be more careful next time.”

“The next time you do what?” He sounded too tired to accuse me.

“Get separated from the group. It was stupid of me and I’m sorry.” I looked at my feet wrapped around the rungs of the stool.

Remo finished the last flat swig of his beer. “You don’t have to apologize to me. I don’t own you, I never said don’t go wandering off by yourself. But what were you doing, anyway?”

“Nothing.” I looked around the empty bar, filled with the sudden fear I had felt in Providence, fear of something like his disapproval. My tongue tasted sour and I didn’t want to answer any more questions.

Remo signed his tab. “Come on upstairs for a bit.”

“Sure.” I swayed off the stool.

“Are you alright?” He reached out a hand to steady me.

“I never got any dinner, what with being locked out of the damn hall by security.”

“I could use something, too.” He turned to the bartender. “Can we still get room service?”

The bartender switched off the TV. “Til midnight. Just dial four-seven.”

So we went up to Remo’s room and ordered some sandwiches. I could picture Matthew at that moment, reading a mystery, his stocking feet stretched out on the bed. But I couldn’t rush away from Remo without it seeming weird. We sat on the beds waiting for the food while Remo told me how the set went without me.

“I kept looking over at Matt by the monitors to see if you had shown up yet. He kept giving me the thumbs down.”

I didn’t want to say any more about it, I wanted to forget that whole stupid incident. I flexed my fingers. I was probably going crazy on the doors or in the squad car around that time. “I suck.”

He was being too sympathetic, I thought. Maybe I just didn’t understand him. After the hard time he gave me over the Tygerz gig I didn’t expect such quick forgiveness for what felt to me like a mortal sin, missing a gig.

He was looking at me the way he had back at The Cage, like he was trying to read what my shirt said but couldn’t make out the letters. His face turned serious. “Just, just watch yourself, will you?” he said. His hair was almost the same color as Matthew’s, a little sandier and shot through with some gray.

“I will.”

“I mean it. You’ve got that thing about you. Well, you know.”

“No. What the hell are you talking about?”

He knitted his eyebrows. “I mean, that’s just the sort of thing that would have happened to your Dad.”

I said nothing.

“Something about him just attracted cops like flies.”

“Yeah, the smell of bullshit.” I laughed in spite of myself. I’d never said anything like that about Digger before, well, not to Remo anyway.

Remo laughed too. “He was a wild one.” He looked at me close again. “I don’t know if you inherited that, though. The wild streak.”

I waited to hear what else he was going to say about me.

“Daron,” he went on, “you seem to see things a little deeper than your dad ever did.” He leaned back against the headboard. “Then again, maybe you did get the wild streak. You bottle up that wildness and let it go when you get the guitar in your hands.” He seemed pleased with this conclusion.

I wasn’t any happier with this pop psychology than I had been back in Providence. But I kept a smile on my face so he wouldn’t think I was angry. “You’re full of shit.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.” He laughed again and I wondered how many he’d had down in that bar. “Where the hell’s that food?”

I wondered the same thing, wondered how much longer I could keep up talking to him without mentioning Carynne, my father, or any other subject I wanted to avoid. I wondered what Matthew was doing now.

“So how’d Matthew become a guitar techie?” I asked.

The phone rang. Remo picked it up. “Yeah? This is me. Who do you have on the line?” He looked at me, then.

I stood up, motioning toward the door. “Business?” I mouthed.

He shook his head and I stayed there, but his eyes never left me.

“Son of a bitch,” he said to himself in surprise. “Yeah, yeah put the call through.”

I moved toward the door. If it was an old flame or some such, I wanted to leave him alone.

He opened his mouth to say something to me but then someone came onto the line. “Yeah, hey! Where the hell are you?” He motioned for me to come back, but put a finger to his lips. I moved as silently as I could.

“Las Vegas! How the hell did you find me in cheese country?”

I sat down across from him, trying to hear what the voice on the other end was saying, but I could only make out a garbled male buzz. Until I heard my name.

Remo twitched a little, too, as if a shock had come from the receiver. “No, I haven’t. I don’t have it. But what about you?”

Remo nodded as the voice went on for a while. There was a knock at the door.

I answered it. The damn sandwiches. I took the tray and sat back down on the bed. Remo was saying “Yeah, will do. Let me know when you get settled. You know the LA office number. Take care.” And then he hung up the phone.

I knew what he was going to say before he said it, but I still didn’t want to hear it. I’d begun to have this fantasy that Digger had, oh, made some con man deal with the wrong mobster and had skipped the country, or, living it up with no wife or kids to weigh him down he’d cracked up his car in a drunken accident and was in a coma somewhere. But it was neither.

“That was Digger,” Remo confirmed. He was staring at the carpet and shaking his head like he wasn’t sure the phone call had really happened. I handed him a plate and he set the cover aside and ate a potato chip. “He’s in Las Vegas.”

“I heard.” I wasn’t hungry anymore.

“He wanted to know where you were and if I had your address. He said the school doesn’t have it and that you’ve got no phone.”

I nodded. “The school won’t show me until I pay the bill. And the phone is in my roommate’s name.” I ate a potato chip, too. “But you have my address.”

“I know.” He looked at me. “But something told me maybe if he hadn’t gotten your address before he dropped out of sight, maybe you didn’t want it known.” I couldn’t meet his eyes. He went on. “I hate to say it, I mean, I’ve known Digger for years, but…”

“But what?”

“He’s been a good friend. But I never know if I can trust him.”

I said the second thing that night I’d never dared to admit about Digger out loud. “Me either. Thanks, Remo, you did the right thing.”

He grimaced. “I had this feeling about it. I guess it’s a good thing we’re not playing Vegas.”

I nodded, setting the cover of my own plate aside and then examining the underside of my sandwich bread.

He started eating. “But you can’t hide from him forever.”

“Why not?” I felt dizzy. “Why should I ever see him again? You know what I thought that night you told me he’d gone? I thought ‘good riddance.'” I put the cover back on the plate. “If he wants to go his own way, then I’m pretty fucking well going to go mine.”

“Don’t be too hard on him, Daron. He’s proud of you.”

I couldn’t stop myself. “Like fucking hell he is. The only thing he liked about me going into music was that he didn’t have to pay for it. He never lifted a goddamn finger, not even when Claire refused to take me to lessons, even to the fucking audition…! Fuck him.” Shit, I was crying. “Fuck him.”

“Jeezus, Daron, it wasn’t that…” He reversed quickly when he realized what he was saying. “Was it that bad?”

“I don’t know. I don’t fucking know. It’s not like I have anything to compare it to.”

“It’s not like he beat you or something.”

I laughed, but not because I was happy. “You should have seen the shiner he gave me on my fourteenth birthday.”

“What do you mean? I was there for your fourteenth birthday.”

“Not all of it,” I said. Not when we got home and found Claire waiting up for us. But then I’d gone out of my way to hide the bruise from everybody, so what did I expect from Remo now? The only person who’d seen me was Martin, because I’d ended up at his house that night, and I’d sworn him to silence. “I don’t want to dig up all that old shit, Reem.” More tears were threatening to spill and I felt like a, well, like a fucking sissy about it.

“That was the night he took you to the club, wasn’t it.”

“Uh huh.” I pressed my lips into a line like I wasn’t going to say anything more.

Neither was Remo. He put his sandwich down and looked at it while I composed myself. I got up to leave and he said, “Take your sandwich for later.”

I did.

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