The splint was already itching by the time we left the hospital. I paid cash and they gave me the paperwork for a local HMO to fill out. The managerial part of my brain was saying we ought to get a group plan, for all of us, but it was drowned out by the jumble of thoughts I was having about Digger. What did he want? Why was he here now? What was I going to say to him?
Bart’s car was in the driveway behind what must have been Digger’s rental, a just-washed-looking Ford Taurus. Inside we found Bart, Michelle, and Ziggy sitting with Digger in the living room, laughing. Knowing Digger, he might have been telling dirty jokes, or embarrassing tales of my childhood. I didn’t want to know.
And there was no hiding the splint. Bart saw it immediately and said “Oh my god.”
“Jeez, rough breakfast, huh guys?” Digger said, in a tone that was meant only for me. It was his ‘I gotcha’ voice.
Bart either missed it or ignored it in his shock. “What is it, what happened?” He came over to me, his hands fluttering like he wanted to grab the splint and look at it for himself, but he knew better.
“What’s sprained? Which?”
He indicated his vacated chair. “Do you want to sit down?”
“Jeezus, Bart, it’s my finger, not my legs.” The rest of them were all staring at me. “I see you’ve met Digger.”
Digger waved and smiled a shit-eating grin. “Yeah, hey, so I’ve been waiting for you to get here.”
I walked into the kitchen. I opened the fridge and took out a root beer, then thought better of it, and got out a real beer instead. “Anyone want a beer?” I looked up to see who did and they were all staring at me again. “What, did I sprout another head?” The shiner wasn’t that bad. And it was officially afternoon.
Some enterprising musician or frat boy resident of the house in the past had attached a bottle opener to the door frame, the kind they have in hotel bathrooms. For all I know, that’s where this one came from. One-handed, I popped open the bottle and the cap clinked as it hit the floor.
“I’ll have one,” Bart said. He sat back down in the chair I’d declined. I brought him a Rolling Rock and we clinked bottles in some kind of show of camaraderie. Yeah, there was tension in the room and I was creating it.
“So how long you in town for?” Christian said to Digger, picking up the ball more or less where we’d dropped it hours ago.
“Coupla days.” Digger sat back and shrugged. “Thought I’d drop in while I was in town.”
There were nods around the room, like everyone was trying hard not to let on that they knew full well I’d never give him my phone number or address. We faked normal well.
He went on. “I was thinking it might be nice to take all of you out to dinner. Get to know you.”
We exchanged glances around the room and everyone waited for me to cue them. “You said you had some business you wanted to talk to us about?”
“Ah, it can wait a bit.”
“I’d rather hear it now.” I wasn’t playing by the rules, I knew. When he wanted to tell me, I tried to ignore him, and when he played hard to get, I dogged him. “Come on, Digger, fill me in.”
He spread his hands like “what do you want to hear?” and sat forward. “Hey, would you get me one of those?”
Michelle stood up. “I’ll get it.” She walked between us, breaking the line of sight from him to me. As she passed I saw he was watching her ass.
I sat back all casual, and tried “So what you been up to lately? New York, right?”
“Yup. Didn’t think I’d end up back there, but, hey, gotta go where the money is, right?”
I nodded and pulled on my beer. If he was going to be evasive, I could do the same. “You seen Remo much?”
“Nah. We almost got together for drinks about six months ago in LA, but we missed each other. On the road all the time. And I don’t get out to the West Coast office much.”
I had a sudden stomach-drop of fear as I pictured Digger working for BNC now. I decided to shut up and see what he’d say.
“So, what are you guys working on? The kids here said you were going off to practice in a while.”
“You know,” I said. “Writing some new songs, getting ready for a show next month.”
“That thumb gonna be a bitch then, huh.” His voice was soft, like maybe he really cared.
“You said it.” I put my beer down on the armrest of Bart’s chair, but with the splint couldn’t cross my arms comfortably.
Chris chimed in then. “Think we should call off rehearsing?”
“Doctor says if I rest it, it’ll heal fine. If I have to I can always… play piano or something.”
“I can drag the D-50 up to the loft.” Chris stood up like he was going to get the thing right now. “If you think it’d help.”
“Why not? Give me til tomorrow.”
Ziggy cleared his throat but didn’t say anything.
Michelle handed Digger a bottle and sat back down. He waved it, saying “So where’s good to eat in this town? Dinner’s on me.”
I sat back, defeated, and let the others banter about Italian, Chinese, Thai, pubs, etc… Digger could shoot the shit like anybody, of course, and it went on for a while. Meanwhile, I was thinking what I should have done was demand to know what he wanted and then send him packing. It just wasn’t that easy to do. I supposed if I waited he’d eventually do something assholish enough that I could justifiably give him the boot. Maybe at dinner, I thought, as it appeared the plan was he would go to his hotel now, and come back around six to pick us up. Everyone stood up but me.
He stepped up to me as he picked up his briefcase. “You got insurance?”
“Health insurance. If you need to go back for more X-rays or what have you, let me take care of it. I’m sure we can get you in on my Blue Cross number.”
“I can afford it,” I said, my voice low and steady.
He made a face. “Insurance is a racket,” he said, like that made a difference. “See you at six.”
He gladhanded some of the others, took his coat off a peg in the entryway, picked up his suitcase in the other hand, and went out. The little panes of glass at the top of the front door rattled as he shut it behind him.
Everyone came back into the living room and sat around me.
“He’s a piece of work, all right,” is what I said, and finished my beer, and went upstairs for a nap or a shower or anything to change my outlook on life.
(Primo content update: You did it. Donations have passed the threshold, so the SPIN article will post Friday for all to read, and Daron will read it in the plot sometime after!)