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The German (excerpt)
Blind Man’s Bluff
Casual and Unobtrusive
Extra Strong
Cross
First time Bloomer
Hostage
Ideal Parties
A little Life
The Bowling Alley
The Other Woman
The Bird
Lost
No excuses
There were Two of them
The Signing
Philosophy of Silence
Precisely
Real Ugly Things
Situations
Small Town Diners
The In The Forest Thing
Underneath
Universe
The Shop Assistant
What it’s like being a man
Alternative Ending
The Incident
The secret Dialogues
Worded stimulation for the little urges inbetween

The German.

Blane passed through a stretch of land that was just flat, dried knee high grass the colour of flaxen hair on either side for as far as he could see. The deep blue sky in stark contrast to the yellow grass, and the heat pulsating in the distance above the street. A giant red truck thundered past, leaving behind a cloud of dust and a smell of animal. He had bought an album by the Dixie Chicks at one of his past stops which was now blaring from the speakers.

He had been driving about fifteen miles since passing the last town and it would be another fifteen if not more before he would reach the next. All the windows had been wound down, but it made no difference, the heat stood still. All that was gotten was a hot breeze.

Not far ahead he made out a car by the side of the road, as he got closer a skinny man jumped into the road, arms raised he started to wave, like you saw in films when you knew that the oncoming traffic would stop, or knew that they wouldn’t, either way you knew what to do because it was in the script. Blane swerved into the oncoming lane and slowed a little to avoid the man as much as to look him over. Skinny, not unlike Blane himself, a shaved head and old style pilot sunglasses, beige shorts and a white shirt, dark patches in the underarm region. As he drove on he turned to throw another glance, saw a disheartened figure walk back to the patch of shade a dried up scrub provided.

A man could easily die out here, he thought. Without water in the heat, how long till you would wilt then break. Maybe a day he thought, maybe less.

He slowed, then turned the car around, wound the window up some to stop hands moving inside. As he got closer a somewhat hesitant figure rose from beside the road, then stood unmoving, staring at the oncoming car that kept slowing, but never quite came to a halt.

‘What’s the matter,’ Blane shouted.

Now the man started to move.

‘Locked myself out of the car,’ he said in a heavy accent and shrugged his shoulders.

‘You could break the window.’

He nodded. ‘But it is a rental car so I will pay for the damage after. So if possible I don’t want to.’

Now Blane nodded. ‘Where are you from?’

‘I am from Germany.’

‘And what are you doing here, middle of nowhere this is.’

The German nodded again. ‘I am on holiday.’

‘But you got lost?’

He shook his head. ‘No I am where I want to be, just that it would be better with the car open.’

Blane pulled up behind the locked car, stopped the motor, took the key from the ignition and got out. As he walked towards the German he noticed the blistered skin on his head.

‘You are burned,’ he said to the man.

‘Yes, it is hot,’ the man said, ‘ but I like it.’

‘I am Blane,’ he offered the man his hand.

‘My name is Wolfgang,’ the man said and took his hand. ‘Maybe you have a clothes hanger, I have seen that you can open a car with it.’

Blane went back to his car, weary about being knocked over the head with a blunt object he went through the trunk and soon returned with a stiff piece of wire, which might have been a coat hanger a long time ago. He handed it to Wolfgang who tried to shape a hook having to use stones for tools to beat the stiffness from the wire. Once satisfied he got up from the ground and approached the car door, inserted the wire between window and rubber and gently lowered it. Blane wondered, the German looked like a born car thief. Some twenty minutes later, sweat streaming from his face the door became unlocked. Blane looked at Wolfgang who looked like he had held his breath and was now about to collapse. The skinny German opened the door and reached for a bottle of water, it occurred to Blane that he may have been thirsty. When Wolfgang offered him a drink, he politely declined, sheepishly motioned at his car containing supplies.

‘I am saved,’ the German said.

His voice was filled with relief and Blane wondered how long he had been out here and how he had managed to lock himself from his car anyhow, but knew he was trying to shake the guilt for not offering a drink.

‘I owe you my friend, I would be pleased to buy you a cold beer. Do you live here?’

Blane shook his head and replied that he had come from the east coast.

Wolfgang nodded in understanding.

‘So you are on a holiday as well.’

‘Well,’ Blane hesitated and felt like nodding while shaking his head, ‘sort of, something like it anyhow.’

‘What is your plan?’

‘My plan? What do you mean?’

‘Where do you go now, because if we go the same direction we can maybe drink beer later if we stop in the same place.’

‘Yes,’ he wiped sweat from his upper lip, ‘I have no plans, I stop when I feel like it, everything is new to me.’

The German nodded then told of a place where he had stayed before. Good for beer, he said. Old mining town full of the sixties, hippies and artists all crazy, maybe three hours drive.

It sounded like a plan and Blane thought it a good idea to hang with someone who wasn’t all hillbillied out. Even though the guy just took a cowboy hat from the car to place on his blistered skull.

They drove, for more than an hour, the flatness of land continued. Then hills started to appear. It was hard to tell whether they were driving up or down into the hills, they just started to grow all around, more and more till the endless view was solidly broken and turning another corner they were inside an isolated settlement. Drove further till reaching a square that meant centre of town, and there the German stopped his car and got out.

The “Copper Palace Hotel” and the “Copper Hill Inn” stood either side of the square. One a carefully restored building oozing late nineteenth century, the other oozing the nineteen-seventy’s, prize tags somehow reflecting the times. It was a matter of practicality rather than choice which eased decision.

‘Copper Hill Inn is very cheap to stay and the view from the windows is nice too. Then just five minutes from there is the bar called St.Elmo’s it’s really a crazy place and I had the most strangest night there when I was last here.’

Another two hours later, with the last of the sun casting a deep glow through the hills Blane and the German walked through the swing doors of St.Elmo’s. It is a crazy place Wolfgang proclaimed once again before ordering a couple of Electric Lagers. They settled on tall stools at the bar, able to observe the deep room through the mirror behind.

‘Cheers.’

Glasses clinked together before the satisfying taste of cold beer was savoured.

‘What made you come out here on a holiday?’

‘A postcard.’

‘From the desert?’

Wolfgang nodded.

‘No, not from the desert, from London, a friend moved there and send me a postcard with her new address. It had a cactus and the desert on the picture.’

‘And you decided to come out here?’

Wolfgang nodded again.

‘No, I had the card stuck on my door and when my girlfriend left me and I was lovesick and heart broken just the way Hank Williams would describe it, I looked at the desert on the door and that was when I thought it to be a good place to heal.’

‘Did it work?’

‘No. But I liked it anyway.’

‘Good enough to come back.’

‘This is my fourth trip. I like the quiet, it is very busy where I come from. How about you?’

‘Much the same.’

‘Your girlfriend left you?’

‘No, but something went wrong and I had to get away.’

‘The quick getaway, hm, like John Dillinger or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’ Wolfgang laughed at the idea of Blane being a fugitive.

Blane nodded. ‘Something like that.’

‘Then let’s drink to running away from consequences,’ and he raised his glass, a broad grin filling his face.

Blane cringed but followed the motion, a sour taste filling his mouth.

‘I always like the wild west movies, cowboy and Indian movies you know. John Wayne, Shane, Clint Eastwood you know, the wild west. Now I am here and kind of part of it, that’s what I feel when I walk through the desert. It’s the feeling of being free from everything, but in a playful way like a game when you are a child.’

‘That why you wearing the hat?’

‘I have no hair as you saw, so I need protection from the sun and I found this one and thought it was good with me and cheap too, so it does the job for me.’

‘It’s a nice hat, I should probably get one myself before my head turns to leather.’

Wolfgang nodded and the bar started to fill, made Blane wonder where the people came from. The pre twenty-one something hillbilly with his fake ID, the ageing gay hippy who tried to lure anyone, add a few bikers, a couple of Mexicans and some soldiers and you are still short some of the ingredients, but you get closer to the flavour.

 

After the second beer Wolfgang’s voice started to develop a lazy slur. He pointed and shared opinion, his voice rising above the level of sound. He forgot people understood. Blane wondered how much the German could take before he would require to be carried. Perhaps this was the moment to confess, who better to talk to than somebody who’s understanding of the language was faint and who after a brief carefree stay would leave and never look back.

‘What’s the worst thing you ever done … Wolfgang?

He had added the name to create a more familiar scenario, luring himself now, into a false sense of security.

‘The worst thing ever, it is a rather strange question now. Maybe it is to do with the consequences we try to elude, just that, although no one is judging anymore, we still carry the dark secret.’

His face carried a grin now, seemed pleased with opening Pandora’s box.

‘It’s drunken talk of course, but there always is a hint of truth.’

Blane nodded.

‘The worst thing,’ he repeated, ‘sometimes it’s hard to know whether it’s a real thing, or something imagined so many times that it would be hard to tell the difference.’

‘No, the worst thing you will remember for being real. Heroic things you confuse sometime, because they are to good to be true. You know, how you say that the reality of it is sometimes stranger than in the books.’

‘… stranger than fiction.’

‘Yes, reality is stranger than fiction, sometimes. You wouldn’t believe it in a book, but it happens for real. You bring this up now because you want to talk about something that is on your mind now, or you want to find me out?’

‘I am working on a column for a newspaper, the “Cross Country Column” its research, I talk to many people.’

‘You ask them all what is the worst thing they have done?’

‘Of course not.’

‘So why you ask me? Because I am German? And then you will tell me about the second world war like I did not know about it. It’s the same with the foreigners all the time, when they know you are German they judge you about the war.’

His face had gotten red, caused by heat and anger becoming visible.

‘No, I don’t care about the war.’

‘Yah, yah.’

‘I didn’t even think about it or the column, I don’t even know if they want me to write it. I thought of something that happened to me and I can’t forget, and maybe it’s the worst thing I ever done. So by asking you I was hoping we could share something then tell each other it’s not so bad.’

‘What is the worst you ever did,’ Wolfgang repeated Blane’s question.

The music suddenly switched from rock to jazz, Blane looked up, glanced at Wolfgang, glanced at the guy behind the bar and motioned for another couple. His hands turned nervous as he was rubbing them together, fingers intertwining, teeth bit lips, shoulders sagged.

The barman put the fresh beers on the counter and cleared away any empties.

‘I watched, while a woman was being attacked.’

Wolfgang thought this over for a moment, needed more facts to comment.

‘Could you have stopped it?’

‘I don’t know, there was four of them.’

‘You called the police to identify the culprits?’

Blane shook his head.

‘What did you do?’

‘Nothing. I just stood and watched.’

‘And then, after,’ the sentence hung there.

Blane shook his head.

Wolfgang nodded.

The conversation died, like the woman had.

 

A hellish headache coupled with regret for having talked was what greeted Blane when he woke. When he left the Inn there was a note stuck under the wipers of his car.

 

At the Palace for breakfast.

Wolfgang

 

He read it again, then crossed the square entering the air-conditioned diner at the Palace Hotel. Out back Wolfgang was sat below an umbrella surrounded by a thick cloud of smoke. Looked happy enough, Blane thought as he halted pulling a chair to sit on, mumbling a good morning. Wolfgang nodded, didn’t look so good close up, shadow from last night clouding his eyes, coughed and stubbed out the smoke.

‘I feel very bad today, he said, ‘like I suffer for everyone who drank beer last night.’

‘You don’t suffer for me, I suffer for myself.’

He ordered coffee and juice and a tall glass of water with ice and lemon, got a couple of aspirin from his pocket and swallowed.

‘That bad? I thought I was bad.’

‘I told you, I do my own suffering.’

‘Well after breakfast, we go to the forest it can be a nice walk with many bottles of water we sweat out all the drink from last night and when we get back a cold beer will taste good again. If you want, or else I will go alone. It does not matter much, either way.’

Blane had been getting ready to protest about being drafted without consent, now he put it down to the way the German spoke and nodded.

They sweated uphill in the forest.

It’s the wild west the German with the cowboy hat kept muttering and jumped from rock to rock excess amounts of energy without a hint of hangover. In time he grew smaller, Blane lagging behind thinking over the night before, worried about consequences he had thought to lose. The worry scared him. Fear of consequence had made him run and now distance had caught up.

Wolfgang had never responded, nor had he answered the question himself.

Blane stopped, brought the bottle to his mouth and took a long swig, then a deep breath, wiped the sweat from his face and looked uphill to where the cowboy had disappeared. They hadn’t been walking long, but he was developing an urge to vomit. Stood, bent forward, hands placed above the knee, breathing went shallow.

He had been to London once, the thing he remembered most was the smell of dirt it smelled incredibly dirty, now he remembered a postcard he never saw that was somehow responsible for him having to climb mountains.

 

Panting and exhausted he stumbled upon Wolfgang, who was sat against a tree-stump, eyes closed, enjoying what sun managed to pass through the trees. He felt resentment, partially based on the fact that he had broken his silence, partially because he felt sick and tired whereas the German, the Germ ahead appeared unfazed. He walked across the clearing then slumped down against a rock after having made sure he was not about to sit on a snake. He sat for a while before Wolfgang broke the silence.

‘That was a crazy night again it was maybe even better than when I was here the last time. Do you remember the big Mexican man was punched and was then flat on the ground.’

Blane didn’t, couldn’t help but think whether the Germ made it up. Why not, big guy flat on the ground, people watching and then his own story about the woman.

‘I don’t remember much, remember asking some questions, but don’t remember any answers. Remember beer then whiskey then whiskey and beer, then nothing.’

 

‘Like life and death?’ backfired Wolfgang, gave an intense look.

Blane’s discomfort grew, when the mental and the physical combined, the result could be devastating.

‘A little less dramatic.’

‘I just mean to say in life there are all the worries and suffering and things, then in death there is nothing, just quiet. Like it is over then, no more struggle or worry, peace at last.’

Blane starred. ‘I don’t know.’

‘When I was younger with maybe 23 or around then, I thought that you will get to one point when everything gets easy, like you have reached this imaginary point or like the top of the hill on your bicycle so you can just roll down on the other side. I am almost 40 now and I realise it will never get easier. The top of the mountain is at the end of the journey, but you never get to roll down.’

‘You are cheerful today.’

‘It is what we call hangover talk in Germany.’

‘You mean you get drunk then kill yourself the next day.’

‘No, no. not like that serious at all. We are talking philosophy, hypothetical thought. Like what you talked about last night, and then running from the consequence but the consequence is in your head always. I have thought about the worst thing I ever did, but I can’t think of it, I don’t know. It’s the guilt and shame I have to live with not so much the amount of pain I have caused.’

‘You have?’

‘Not so much physical pain, more in the head.’

Blane nodded, that was the difference he thought. Out of them two he was the bad one.

‘Where next? Where are you going next? What’s worth seeing.’

He was deliberate about changing the subject. Had come to regret ever touching morbidity in the first place. Felt a sudden craving for the city he had left, the city that provided anonymity so well, whereas out here everything was open, people saw you coming from fifty miles away. The better place to hide was to be the city. He had left a trail so easy to follow, it made him wonder whether he meant to be found.

‘I will go to Tucson I think, it is a very cool place and I have made friends there over the years because I always manage to go there and stay for longer than anywhere else I go. So it will be nice to see them again, but I do not have so much time before I fly home.’

‘Ah,’ Blane nodded, was in fact glad to hear that there was an inevitable end to their companionship when the Germ was drafted back across the ocean, with any words spoken soon to be forgotten and the whole trip to become part of alien memory. Worry on his side would dissipate and he would not talk of it again. For the moment he would endure and get the most from his company, which after all differed some from his usual road side acquaintances.

‘What do you do in Germany?’

‘I work as a computer in an office.’

‘A computer?’

‘No a computer consultant, sorry, my mind is still to recover fully from the last night.’

‘Ok,’ Blane felt a little disappointed, ‘having come out with your views on philosophy and all I would have had you down as a teacher or something more … creative.’

‘They do not cancel each other out, I subsidize creative thought by consulting about computers. When I studied literature and philosophy, I subsidised myself working in the computer lab, when my studies were done I still had to subsidise myself. Now I subsidise my trips to the desert and with that time and space for thought. Sitting here with the silence being so silent and being all around it can be like sitting at the edge of the universe looking in deep and getting the right perspective. It is like meditation. You know how hard it is to find quiet in a city.’

‘Impossible where I come from,’ said Blane. ‘Sometimes the silence here freaks me out, makes me zoom out till I am this tiny speck in space, surrounded by, as you put it universe and that’s scary.’

‘Maybe it would be better if we would not understand about universe, because we do not anyhow understand what endless is, how can we when everything we know has an end someplace. That is why it is good to think, but in moderation like everything and then on the other hand we have to party to compensate because to take it all too serious must be damaging to the soul, I think.’

The German could talk Blane thought, liked the angle he was coming from and going to, more though perhaps of their location. Back east he would be sitting in a bar over drinks and the conversation would spin onto topics far fetched, hypothetical, when they couldn’t understand absolute silence.

‘Where in Germany do you live?’

‘In a city yes,’ the German nodded, ‘it is not like New York and it is not like the place where we stay at the moment, but it is a city. When I look from the window I see houses and one tree. ONE tree and only the top of it, in the summer it stands between me and the sun and in the winter it looks like a skeleton. It would be good to have a garden, but that is not so easy to get in a city.’ He shook his head.

Blane nodded, Wolfgang was good at not answering questions.

‘Yah, so it goes. I could stay here of course, but without no doubt I would go crazy after some time.’

Blane laughed.

‘No really, to be so small would be good for some time, but then maybe it would be good to be normal size again.’

 

‘I don’t understand.’

‘To live out here like a hermit in such big a place, I would not be able to do it for long because it will make me feel very small and after time I would be happy to have the company of people around me again, I think you call it cabin fever.’

‘OK,’ Blane nodded.

They sat in silence for a while, then Blane started to shift. His initial anger had died and although he regretted, he respected as well, knew that before long he would miss the challenging conversations they were having.

 

They soon turned to track down the hill they had climbed some hours earlier, the way down being harder on the knees as they fought their way through thickets, thorns ripping open skin and tearing tiny threads from shirts and trousers.  The heat sitting, hot and uncompromising. The cold beer mentioned earlier suddenly sounded like a mirage looked to a dying man. They came upon ground that sounded hollow beneath their steps then stopped abruptly, made them move sideways and climb down through rocks, they looked back at what Blane had down to be a man made structure. From where he was stood, the only thing to be seen was the steep climb of mountain they had come down from, at  its bottom the likes of ivy and other greens that had climbed the rock face so densely that you could not make out the shape of what was behind.

Suddenly a man appeared, stepped right out of the greens, haggard figure, reminded Blane of the way some of the homeless inner city alcoholics looked after years of abuse. Hollow fallen in cheeks, day old stubble. Reminded him of someone used to live down the end of his road, crazy, with haunted expression, the real thing. One day he was gone, could be he was out here now, living under the brush.

The man not only looked dirty but carried an odour to proof it. Both Blane and Wolfgang had shrank back when he appeared from nowhere. Must have been that when it had sounded hollow underneath, they stood up on a roof and caused a noise that made the man come out. Now they all stood and stared for an instance.

‘How’s it going,’ said Blane.

But the man kept on staring at them from deep set eyes, eventually managed a nod but didn’t move.

‘We’ll be on our way, apologies for the intrusion.’

They backed off some then cautiously turned, one eye left to gaze at the shape of man. Slowly walked on in panicked silence, picking up pace as they went further downhill.

‘That was freaky,’ Blane cleared his voice when they paused to take some water.

‘Yah,’ nodded Wolfgang, ‘I did not meet him before.’

‘I hope I don’t meet him again either, he looked like he would bite off your head and eat you.’

There was agreement and new found urgency to get off the mountain and back to civilization.

 Like a bad omen the first thing they stumbled on as they stepped from forest onto road was a giant jackrabbit, its skull squashed into the ground by car tyres, maggots twisting from the decaying carcass.

Blane shuddered.

‘The smell of death,’ said the German who was living his western novel.

They followed the road that gently curved into town and without further need to talk stepped into St. Elmo’s to tackle the stools they had slid off late the night before.

Two beers, they signalled to the man behind the bar. Sighed with the relief of having the cold substance refresh their spirits.

‘We met the mountain man,’ Blane said to the barman, ‘stepped right out of the rocks, looked scary the way he stared and never said a word.’

‘Must a been old Lyle, arrived here a few years back convinced he had grown up round here although there is no one who can remember him, but then he is incoherent at his best, lives in the forest, old log cabin more of a stables than a homestead.’

‘Strange character he was.’

The barman laughed.

‘There is a few of those around here,’ he said. ‘Take Tad Loon for example, Tad is the self proclaimed conservationist around here, so he went out bought himself the biggest most gas guzzling car he could find, parked it out front of his house and said it was his part of saving the planet.’

Both Blane and Wolfgang nodded, awaiting further explanation to shed light on the complete statement.

‘How does it work,’ he finally asked.

‘Well, he’s got a way with logic, figured that by never driving the car he took it out of circulation and stopped anyone else from driving it, said if he had the money he would buy all cars ever made and turn the planet green. It would force other folk to go back to horse and carriage. His being just a small step in the right direction, sees himself as a sort of pioneer or prophet.’

They laughed.

‘Don’t laugh about it when he is around, he’ll talk you into the ground till he has you agree or else you never get away. You must have noticed him last night, small serious looking man with pale, blue watery eyes, sits alone by the bar most of the night and mutters to himself.’

Blane remembered a toothless grin from the end off the bar.

The barman went back to polishing and stacking glasses, then went to the room adjacent to the bar and through the music filtering from the jukebox they could hear him rummaging. After what felt like a long time he returned blowing dust from a framed picture, before wiping it over with a moist cloths.

When he turned the frame to show, they looked at a faded black and white photograph. A log cabin crowned by towering rocks, with a man and child standing out front, smiling for the camera the focus on faces blurred by long exposure.

‘That’s the cabin in forest, you can no longer see through the overgrowth. Picture was taken in late 18th century, 1897 it says on the back where it tells the name of the photographer. Couldn’t tell you who’s the people on it though, but it isn’t Lyle unless he is a hundred and something years old now.’

Wolfgang took the picture from the man, his fingers ran down the horizontal length of the logs, the thoughts on his mind became almost visible from the expression in his face. He looked at the two people who would be long dead, their contrast rich black and white clothes that had faded to a grey flatness known to be rich in detail. Their bleached worn faces, still carried expression of pride as they stood, father and son no doubt. The sons arm wrapped around the mans leg, his hand on the child’s shoulder.

‘The way they are standing, is like the man we saw,’ Wolfgang said.

Blane couldn’t see, but pointed at the rocks on the right through which they had reached the opening where the photographer must have stood.

A shadow fell on the picture and Blane turned, looked into pale watery eyes that held his gaze. There was a twinkle of madness he thought, imagined or otherwise. The man smelled of sweat and heat.

‘A beer Ernie,’ the man moved closer to the bar. ‘What are you showing them people old pictures for.’

Ernie shrugged shoulders.

‘They ran into Lyle up the mountain, said he stepped right from it because you can’t see too much of cabin anymore with all that weed and moss.’

The man who Blane presumed to be Tad the conservationist, saviour of planets, took the beer Ernie had put on the bar and shuffled towards the other end, stood where Blane had seen him the night before. Quiet now, he could see the shake in the mans hands as he lifted the glass to his lips. Could be either nerves or an urge to have that first drink to steady them, till he would sway out later. Blane thought it nerves, had met men like that one, intimidated by an air of world him and the German would carry without knowing. The man, thought to be Tad put the glass down and pulled a stool, coolly lifting himself on it then started fidgeting with his fingers.

Nerves Blane thought again, took a step towards the man.

‘You know the people in the picture.’

Tad shook his head.

‘I’m Blane, good to meet you.’

‘I know, you told everyone last night. Was hard to shut you up, had to keep you drinking. Thought of yourself to be something better was my feeling, but maybe you was just drunk. Don’t seem to be all that bad in daylight.’

There was the toothless grin again.

‘Believe it or not I used to have the whitest teeth around here,’ as if reading Blane’s mind, ‘kept them clean real good, brushed them hard to keep the smile that kept the ladies coming. Got rid of my gums that way said the dentist, one day I drove through the forest and the potholes in the road just shook my teeth from the gums. It’s obvious from that, that we wasn’t meant to drive, we’ll shake the life off the planet driving is what I think, so after that I never drove again. Keeping the balance you know.’

Blane nodded, didn’t know what to reply to that. The man was nuts. Blane took an inoffensive step back, trying to put distance that had been there to start, back where it belonged.

Wolfgang still marvelled over the faded past, started to barter with Ernie wanted to take history back and make it his own.

‘Some things got to stay,’ Tad said from the other end, ‘else you take the soul out of things, tilt the balance and turn somewhere into nowhere. Becomes a “this is where once” kind a place without bearing the marks to prove it.’

Nuts occasionally made sense, and Wolfgang let it go handed it to Ernie who after looking at it put it up on the shelf behind the bar, next to the Budweiser Clock and the calendar with the Mexican dancer on. They all seemed to stand back then to look the new arrangement over. Wolfgang took it further by pulling a camera and making them pose for it. The way they stood, smiles chiselled, arms awkward dangling from their sides or holding on to a prop like a glass or a towel made it bare a strange resemblance to the picture on the shelf.

Wolfgang took a step sideways to take another, but they had lost their focus and the pose was compromised with attention being elsewhere. He put the camera back where he had pulled it from and returned to his stool, lifting his hat to place on the bar, a big flake of skin lifted from the burned skull and floated to the ground. Eyes followed as it gracefully drifted through air.

‘Got burned,’ Tad noted not without sympathy.

‘Yah, it was like an accident.’

 

Next morning Blane’s headache was back and the German gone. He had talked of leaving early the night before, but judging by the amount of drink he was putting away, Blane had paid little attention. Now he retrieved a couple of aspirin from the car before admiring bloodshot eyes in the mirror. Over breakfast at the Palace he pondered whether to stay another day, but feeling abandoned, he thought it better to drive on.

© Marcus Bastel