This is the sixth installment of the thriller LiveCell, written by Belfast author Eric Green. You can find the previous installments on villagesoup.com (Soup Select subscribers only) or CadentPublishing.com. LiveCell is also available in local stores or from any online bookstore. To learn more about the LiveCell contest, go to cadentpublishing.com.

 

 

The day finally over, the lounge empty, Mary was settled on one of the tattered sofas when she opened her briefcase and glanced at the new phone. Toward the end of the afternoon, Jay had given one to each of the remaining executives. Hers rested against the red lining, dull gray now, inert. It seemed to luminesce only when touched. She ignored it for the moment and picked up a folded letter. Though she’d read it four times since she received it last week, she read it again:

Cage Dairy Farm, Monkton, Vermont

Aug. 7, 200_

Dear Mary,

Your letter upset me deeply because I hate to hear you’re not happy and that you’re lonely. Not that we can be fulfilled all the time, but having someone to share things with helps. Life doesn’t work out that great for most people, and it’s wicked hard to accept this. We have all these dreams when we’re young, and few of them ever make it. Of course some of us barely even have the dreams. As you requested, I’ve kept everything in your letter confidential from your parents.

When I moved into the old trailer, before you were born, Patty had just died and I was desperately alone. Boy do I know about loneliness! What you don’t know is that the reason your father brought me back to Vermont with him is he was worried I wouldn’t make it. He was right. When I told you I had been a pool hustler in New York, I told you that because I didn’t want to be a bad example. The truth is that I was a junkie. I shot pool to make money for dope. Patty helped me get straight — not that anyone can ever really do that — and we went to Wisconsin together after she got sick. Now you realize why your mother never liked me so much, and worried about our friendship. I don’t blame her. She can’t understand someone who would throw his life away like that. Of course, she’s never done junk. (Just kidding.) I know I should have told you sooner, I just couldn’t. I pray that you will be able to accept this part of my past.

You say you don’t have a life except work, and I know how you long ago decided to save yourself for that one perfect guy. You wanted to share yourself with only one man, one love, forever. It’s a noble idea but a rougher reality. But then I wonder, if you gave up your dreams, if you would be pleased with that. I remember you learning pool and how if you missed a shot, you would keep practicing the same shot over and over until you had it cold. Your determination never to be weak in the same way twice always impressed me. If only life were as fair as a level pool table. If only gravity and time were what decided winners—

She stopped reading for a moment and skipped to the end.

The dogs are fine, but I’m sure Pilgrim misses you terribly. Will you visit soon? We all miss you. I want to see that massé in action.

My love to you,

Kelly

P. S. I had a visit a few months ago from someone I knew in New York. A secretive fellow, but brilliant.

 

She read the postscript twice, refolded the letter, placed it back in her briefcase. Then she thought of Jay, his face, his voice, his hands.

After running to the bathroom and sitting in a stall until she calmed down, she’d patted her face with cold water, touched up her mascara. She’d never been so affected by anyone in her life, and it made her uncertain and nervous. She didn’t like the feeling. On reentering the boardroom, she’d apologized to Jay for leaving, explaining she’d not felt well. With a concerned look, he said it was a trying day for everyone. Glancing around at the table of faces, she figured no one had noticed. Then they had all gotten down to work.

Some of the executives questioned Jay about the new phone: How did it work? What comprised its unusual structure? Who had previously manufactured it? He said, “I don’t think the phones’ secrets are decipherable.” He remained deadpan, not giving the group anything further. She decided he wasn’t very forthcoming, but why should he be? Then he said, “All I can tell you is I discovered the cell aggregate while working in the forgotten laboratory for DuPont. Now, there is more pressing business to address first.

“We’re to become manufacturer, marketer, and retailer of the phone. We need an ad campaign and press releases, phone-marketing and public-relations strategies, packaging and shipping. The pronged black boxes need to be farmed out. They send radio waves, carry the battery and charging system, allowing our phones compatibility with all conventional systems. Our phone must be licensed and agreements must be established for the use of existing telecommunication pathways. Your job descriptions and salaries must be settled, and a new board of directors chosen. One of my stipulations for purchase was that I could appoint a new board. With my 60-percent ownership, the stockholders’ approval should be a formality.”

He may not have had any experience in running a company, but he seemed to know exactly what he wanted and how to achieve it. He asked her to design a new website, which he wanted compelling and informative in a completely fresh way. My God, she thought, he only wants the future.

Mary looked at her watch: If she was going to this tournament she’d better get moving. For a moment she considered skipping it, but her $50 greens fee was mailed in, and she was too wound up to be stuck at home. Nine-ball might provide a good distraction. Besides, she hated to ask Jay for an advance and reveal her finances. The $1,000 first prize, if she won, would be heaven-sent.

Finally she reached for the new phone. So much was riding on it that she’d been nervous to examine it before now. As she picked it up, the surface started to pulse with that eerie phosphorescence. The texture surprised her — something like skin, though cool to the touch, more firm and almost but not molding itself to her hand, so sensual and appealing that she wanted to keep holding it. She told it the numbers of Manuel’s desk phone, feeling slightly foolish. Said OK. Within a moment, Manuel’s voice spoke inside her mind, just as Cliff had described it, saying he still had her instrument case, and for some reason she knew he’d looked at her cue. She asked him to get her a cab and ended the call, giggling with excitement. And Jay had been so modest about it: “I’ve never owned a company, I’m only an inventor.” My God, they were going to make a fortune, an absolute fortune. Nokia, Motorola, and Samsung, look out. Gathering her things, she headed for the elevator. From the cab she’d reserve a rental at the airport for later on. Right now she was headed directly to Jake’s poolroom. She needed a sandwich and a cold beer.

When she collected her cue from Manuel, he said with a conspiratorial wink, “Have a lovely concert, dear.”

Outside, the sun gilded the tops of the tallest buildings, the sky a vibrating cerulean, the air with that faint brininess of the sea. She walked toward the cab, noticing a police cruiser across the street. Oh, it couldn’t be. She recognized the truck — the worst-looking one in San Francisco. She was tempted to hop quickly into the cab, but with a sigh she asked the cabby to please wait and headed across the street.

“Garland, what’s going on?”

His smile spread as he sat calmly on the bench seat.

“Do you know this man?” said the officer standing by Garland. The other cop was still in the cruiser, talking on the radio.

“Yes,” she said, reluctantly. “What’s he done?”

“He refuses to move, and he’s about to get a citation. Or we may haul him in.”

“Officer, could I speak to you for a minute? In private, please.” She used her eyes. A curt nod. They walked to the tailgate. He scowled down at her. She introduced herself. “And you are?”

“Sergeant Boronski.”

“Thanks, Sergeant, for talking with me. Garland’s cousin is—”

“Who’s Garland?”

She pointed.

“He said his name is Hank.”

“Hank’s his nickname. He’s from Likely—”

“Believe me, we know. Likely, near Alturas. Moduck County. He told us about six times.”

She smiled, hoping to lighten him up, wondering why she was doing this. “Garland’s cousin is dying of cancer. He’s been with her in the hospital for days. He might not be himself.”

“That’s no excuse for ignoring a police officer.”

“No. No, of course not. But I’m sure I can get him to move.”

“Believe me, we can get him to move.”

They were interrupted by a blast from the cabby’s horn, the driver signaling impatiently. The cop frowned and went back to the front of the pickup. She followed.

“Hank, are you going to move now?” he said.

“Yep. Sure will.”

“You might get away with this kind of behavior up there in Likely, but not here, Hank. OK?” Garland nodded. “You behave yourself while you’re in San Francisco.”

“Yes, sir, sure will.”

Now the sergeant turned to her. “Good luck,” he said, smiling.

She suddenly realized the cop had been toying with her, had been amused by Garland all along, had probably heard about that morning and expected her to get into his truck. Oh, what the hell, after all this, Garland could at least provide another ride. She waved off the taxi, the cabby muttering and shaking his head, tires squawking.

When she circled around the hood, Garland leapt across the bench seat to open the door for her. She settled onto the tan vinyl, quite a bit cleaner than that morning. Garland was sporting a new shirt, his boots shined, and a shave.

“Garland—”

“Wish you’d call me Hank.”

“I like Garland.”

“You do?”

She nodded.

“Well, all right then.” The grin. Getting the truck rolling. Waving to the cops. Was he always this cheerful?

“What are you doing here, anyway?” she said.

“Waiting.”

“Waiting?”

“Thought ya might need a lift.”

“How long have you been waiting?”

“Since three.”

“Three? That’s two and a half hours.”

“Didn’t wanna miss ya. Thought I mighta though. Guy inside your building kept getting up and peering out at me. He musta called the cops.”

“That was probably Manuel.”

“The guy with the big hair.”

Mary turned to stare at him, decided to let it go. “Garland, you shouldn’t be waiting for people you don’t know.”

“Can’t help it.”

His cheeks went red through the tan. Oh, great. She told him to turn right on 16th Street and head over to Dolores.

“How’s your cousin?”

“Maybe just some better. She et something.” A silence. “You going that pool tourney?”

“Jake’s Billiards, on Van Ness. If you wouldn’t mind dropping me off?”

“Anything. Just ask.” A pause, and he blurted out, “I know a lot about ranching. If you wanna know something.”

“So you know a lot about ranching?” she said.

“Yes, ma’am. Been ranching since I had memory. Pa too. Mean, Pa ranched from when he was a kid. My family’s always ranched, came up from Texas.” He swallowed nervously. “We run three hundred head of Black Angus.”

“The Cage farm milks 50 head of Jersey and Holstein.”

He slowed the truck for a red light, stopped, people walking in front of the hood.

“You? That your last name?”

“I grew up on a dairy farm. Monkton, Vermont. That’s near Lake Champlain. Addison County.”

The loud hoot made her jump, along with a few pedestrians. “Goddang! Just knew it. I just knew it.” He pounded the steering wheel, the horn going off.

“Garland, calm down.”

“Sorry. Can’t help it.”