I heard the big bug buzzing again and felt the sun prickling on the side of my neck. John smiled patiently, expectantly. The bug buzzed past and I quit stalling.
“John. It’s John.” If it was good enough for him . . .
“Pretty common name, huh?”
I let the real John finish his spiel, and felt somehow I’d be free faster if I took his magazines. Of course, this was National Curve-Ball Day, so Matt asked if they could come back in a week and see what I thought of the articles they pointed out. I said, sure, why not. I didn’t say, I have no idea where I’ll be in a week, but it won’t be here; come back all you want.
They were pretty organized; had the house number on a list already; looked like the ones that weren’t home. Looked like most of ’em, actually. They jotted a few notes in a different notebook, made ‘thank-you-nice-day’ noises, and then stood there. Waiting for me to move along. Except, I wanted most emphatically not to head off in the same direction as them; not that I had anything against John and Matt, my new friends, but I wanted to think. I still felt wary, despite the lack of reaction from the universe at large regarding my escape from the unlocked basement in the unlocked house. I didn’t want to continue our cheerful chat all the way down the alley which we seemed to be smack in the center of.
“Um, forgot my, um, forgot . . . something. Uh, okay, see you next week. Bye. See ya.” Stop blathering, moron, and step back through the shiny new gate.
“Right, next week. About this time?” “Yeah, yeah, this time’s good.” Whatever time it was; hard to tell in an LA summer whether it’s 9 a.m. or 3 p.m., but I guessed morning, partly because it was the most likely time to find my shiny-shoed friends on the doorstep, and partly because, darn it, it just felt like morning stop asking so many questions quit trying to explain everything back through the gate bang shut heart pounding breath heaving double over with nausea.
Matt and John obviously didn’t hear my raging sweat-soaked panic, and headed down the alley to the right, east, I guess it would have been.
West was mine, all mine. I waited a bit, then quietly (thanks to its shiny newness) opened the gate a wee bit. My bosom buddies were nearly at the far end, lost in friendly banter and didn’t glance back.
I had the sudden urge to run after them, to tell them I didn’t know who I was or why I was in the basement of a lifeless house, to ask them to help me figure it all out. But my natural wariness stopped me, just. I wasn’t ready to bring others into my little mystery until I had a better idea if it was likely to turn out to be one of those unpleasant little things you watch on Sunday evening when nothing else is on, or just one of those boring bits in the back of the B section of tomorrow’s paper: “Man loses memory, then finds it—No one cares.”
I had a nagging feeling it was one of the former, only maybe not with Jessica Fletcher or Dr. Mark Sloan tidying up all the loose ends as the killer is lead away in cuffs. Maybe one of those where the police are ‘continuing to follow up leads’ until the newspapers give up even on the slow news days.
I started west, then stopped abruptly. Frantically, I went through all the pockets in the suit I was wearing; a fairly nice suit, in fact. Trousers, jacket (inside and out, including breast pocket), shirt—nothing.
A wallet with a driver’s license, bad picture and all, would have been nice. Or a dime for a phone call. Make that fifty cents; no wonder everyone has cell phones—who’d pay fifty cents for a phone call?
The panic was fading, and two things took its place: a logical deduction that searching the house more thoroughly might lead to useful information, and a gnawing hungry ache in my stomach that might have contributed somewhat to the nausea every time I panicked.
Back in the house, the ‘nothing’ theme prevailed. An hour or so of searching (it’s hard to tell with no watch, which I seemed to recall not wearing, and no cell phone, which I seem to recall being the reason I no longer bothered with a watch) turned up nothing that indicated who lived there, why I was there, or food.
Once again, I shoved out through the kitchen door, less panicky, more confident. Across the yard, out the gate, left down the alley. Go west, old man.
At the end of the alley, more hesitation: left, around to see the front of the house, or right, away from it as fast as possible.
Why the constant skittishness? No one was in the house. My lifelong friends John and what’s-his-name Matt, yeah, Matt, were walking down that street in broad daylight, almost like they weren’t scared to walk down a street in broad daylight.
“Knock it off” I muttered out loud. I think I was talking to me. I’m not sure I was listening, but I gave it the old college try.
Prudence isn’t quite the same as fear. I strolled (well, strode purposefully) past the front of the house, noting only that the front yard had been the recipient of a bit more tender loving care than the back, but could use some imagination. In other words, it was just like every other front yard up and down the street. Nothing odd or suspicious; no “Kidnapper’s Hideout” signs or bloody trail up to the front door.
The house was nothing. It was all warm and fuzzy and familiar, but it wasn’t gonna tell me who I was, or why.
The street sloped gently down to the east, the direction my most intimate companions John and the other guy had gone. To the west, now behind me, it sloped gently upwards. I would have taken down over up even if I hadn’t seen what looked like a downtowny kind of look to the east.
I headed down. Downtowny. Me and Petula Clark, who ostensibly knows who she is.