“So, I’ll pretend I’m telling it to, Mossie, is it? Good. That way, I won’t keep assuming Web knows what I’m talking about when he really doesn’t.”
“Since my divorce, I’ve started making these trips over here with Web. For him, it’s mostly about the research, but he always makes time for the scenery and a pint, which is what I’m here for. Vacations are nice; a vacation with someone who really knows where they are with the kind of passion this guy feels is something else entirely.”
“He’s been working on collecting photos of the etchings on those standing stones . . . ” “Ogham” I volunteered. “Right; ogham stones, and seeing how many words he can find in modern languages that he can trace back to ’em. Am I getting it right?” I nodded.
“Anyway, we had a trip scheduled for this week. I run a private security company, but with my military pension, I don’t need much to live on so I hire the best and pretty much let them run the company. That way I can take off whenever I want; gives me the same kind of freedom Web’s got, only without publisher’s deadlines.”
“Publishers? What publishers?”
Rob rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Your publishers. Who publish, you know, your books. Four, so far. I don’t get it all, but what with your sense of humor and the trick you have of explaining complicated stuff so that even a dunce like me can get it, they’ve been pretty popular in certain circles. No million sellers or New York Times lists, but you’ll never actually have to work again.”
I had a try at the dopey leer usually reserved for Siobhan. It came quite easily, if I do say so myself.
“So, I don’t worry about money much?”
Rob threw his head back and laughed like only he can. “Not!”
“You’re not rich, but, man, you know how to live simple, and you don’t blink at spending money if you’re getting ‘bang for your buck’ as you always put it. D’you know” to Mossie “this guy spends $100 for a tin of tea, just because it’s from some tiny place I’ve never heard of, picked in the early morning before the dew is off the leaves so they’re still moist? And then, he bakes his own bread because it’s cheaper than buying the artisan loaves of whole wheat he likes with his homemade chili. One thing I’ll tell you, Mossie; don’t make any assumptions about Web. One minute you think you’ve got him sorted out, and then he does something that makes no sense whatsoever, until he explains it, and then you wonder how you missed it to begin with.”
“I’ve been aware since I met him that Dr. Martin was, well, complex and layered.”
“And that’s another thing: ‘Dr. Martin’—hah! Even when he lectures on book tours, he’s ‘Web’ to everyone, students, colleagues, total strangers. I’m surprised he’s let you get away with that ‘Dr. Martin’ stuff.”
“I haven’t, actually. Kinda irked me, but I was in the process of asking Mossie for an enormous favor based entirely on a leap of faith, so I didn’t wanna cheese him off.”
“Well, the favor is already in the bag, and next time I irk you, Web, you say so. Much easier to anticipate your whims that way.” His mischievous grin wasn’t as wide as Rob’s, but it was just as annoying.
“So, Rob, you were saying?”
“Right; yeah. Anyway, I was supposed to pick Web up at this house he bought on a whim over in Pacoima. Not a great neighborhood, but quiet. He was gonna fit it out like a private library and do all his research there. Add a controlled environment underground for rare documents, class A network of computers, maybe even a place for guests who could contribute to his dictionary.”
Rob tried not to look frustrated. “Is this stuff gonna come back? What if it’s all lost?”
“Don’t think so; every time I need this info, it’s there. It’s just events, and sometimes people. But the cerebral stuff, the language, the history; it all seems like it’s there.”
“But you don’t know for sure.”
“Well, how ’bout this: tell me three things you don’t know. The question doesn’t even make sense. How do I know what’s in my head? How do I think about something just to see if I know it or not?”
Rob stared blankly, then threw his head back laughing again. “I would have never thought of it that way. So, your dictionary’s probably still a go, then?”
“Well, first, let’s get me home without being hung in Ireland for murder, eh?”
“You don’t seem surprised.”
“I’m not; I mean, I was, when I heard about it, and I know you had nothing to do with it, but, sure, I know what the papers here said.”
“Fine, then. You were going to pick me up at my house.”
“Right; the little one in Pacoima, not the museum on Topanga Canyon. No; I’m not going into it right now. Stop interrupting. I’ll tell you all about your life and the half-acre home you inherited when we’ve got more time.”
“We always take my car to the airport because I’ve, well, modified the security system on it so we don’t worry much about leaving it.” Rob smiled at his own ingenuity. I had a memory of something about the exploding money packs banks use, and a bright orange car thief. That was a story worth asking about, I’m sure of it.
“When I went by, he wasn’t there. I was surprised he’d wanted to spend the night there, with the remodel already started.”
“Ah, the vacant living room!”
“Right; gonna be a library with computer desks and ultra fancy computer phone system and projector and who knows what all. You’re a class A geek, did I mention that?”
I smiled. Call me a geek all you want, as long as I’m class A.
“Dunno why I stayed there, sorry.”
“Okay, so anyway, I went around the back and the kitchen door was unlocked, as usual.” My eyebrows must have raised like Mossie’s did. “Yeah, he worries someone will be passing by and need a glass of water and they’ll die of thirst before they get to the neighbor’s. Weird stuff like that, from growing up out in the woods in Wisconsin, where, back then it might have made sense to leave your doors unlocked so folks didn’t freeze to death, but in LA, I just don’t get it.”
I maintained a firm ‘no comment’ stance. Rob and I were kindred spirits, not clones.
“Nothing looked odd; bed was made, like Mr. Tidy here always does; his laptop was gone from the office, so I figured he’d gone down to Riley’s to get his late-morning Jameson’s and check his email one last time before we left. But when I got there I heard a totally different story.”