(Last week: After hiking up a mountain trail, Chartan and Brazil smoke hashish and discuss the meaning of life.)
The two men came down from the mountain, stumbling like broken wind-up toys until they reached the end of the trial. Chartan squinted in the morning light. Brazil head down, mumbled expletives. Their inertia stopped at the edge of the roadside turn-out for parking.
“What now?” asked Brazil.
Chartan raised his arms over his head . “The plan.”
“We have one?”
“Don’t you remember?”
“I did earlier. But now, I need coffee and lots of it. I don’t spend most nights on a boulder.”
Chartan took the keys from Brazil and a few minutes later the old Chevy was hurtling down the road towards Truckee. As the car sped by the endless blur of pine trees, Chartan’s thoughts centered on the past ten hours as well as curves in the road: This plan keeps fading in and out for me. It was so clear last night. The focus is saving Elisa. If we do that, we save ourselves. But I sense Skyler’s negative energy and his thirst for caffeine. In fact, I need some strong java. I’ve never wanted coffee so bad as I do now. The plan depends on 72-bean java.
With about one mile to go before the exit, Brazil delivered a monologue: “The stuff we had reminds me of how it helped me focus on one fact to the detriment of everything else, especially common sense. I was someplace bad where the only good outcome was not to be there. I was always walking down a wet road at night with the moans of a woman somewhere up head in the darkness. You understand me, Chartan? That was my plan 40 years ago. And then I pressed the trigger ever so slightly. That’s why I need fucking coffee now.” Brazil punched the dashboard. The car’s tires squealed as Chartan turned off.
“There is Valhalla, right up ahead,” yelled Chartan. “Fresh brewed coffee and homemade donuts.”
The waitress had a Mona Lisa smile, thought Chartan, suggesting she enjoyed mind games. He prepared a response while Brazil nodded.
“Coffee may not be enough.”
“Bloody Mary at 7 a.m.?”
“I was thinking of something more metaphysical.”
She laughed. “Do I know you?”
“That would be nice, but I don’t think so.”
“I’ll be back with the coffee.”
Brazil rubbed his chin. “She’s cute and I think she likes you, as a customer, that is.”
“Right–we look like fugitives.”
“I feel like one,” said Brazil. “And here she comes.”
“Where are you boys headed?” she asked as she filled each cup.
Chartan responded quickly: “That requires a long answer. Coffee, then breakfast, then a plan.”
“How do you want your eggs?”
“Mary, I’d like them over easy, sourdough toast and…”
The waitress interrupted Chartan. “That’s not my name.”
“It’s the name on your blouse.”
“I was somewhere else when I got the uniform. My real name is Gina. Sausages?”
“No. I’ll go with strawberries, Gina.”
“Don’t eat meat—I should have guessed.”
Brazil, with a mug to his lips, said, “Three eggs up, sausages and rye toast.”
She gave them another of those half-smiles and left.
“You’re a regular ladies’ man,” said Brazil.
“Anything but. “
“She told you her real name, so that’s a good sign for you.”
Chartan replied, “This coffee is great, close to 72 beans.” He closed his eyes: I have to maintain my focus.
“Oh, to be your age again” said Brazil. “Only when I was young, there was war and the waitresses were missing teeth.”
Chartan did not hear his friend—the struggle was back.
(Continued next Sunday)