The Light Is Better Over Here

by Eric Baysinger

“Hail fellow, well met! I’m betting you’re Andy. Am I right?”

The youth opened one eye and looked up from where he crouched on the sidewalk. The handrail he leaned against was still very cool, and he’d wrapped both his shirt and his arms tightly around his chest. He brushed his hair off his brow. It fell immediately back in place.

“I go by Andrew.”

“Nonsense! You’re far too young for ‘Andrew.’ ‘Andrew’ is Andrew Carnegie or Andrew Mellon. Something stately and exploitative.”

“But it’s Andy Warhol.” He thought the man looked pretty capitalist himself, from his bowler and short gray hair, through his vest and pinstriped pants, all the way down to his three-toned Oxfords.

The man’s smile faltered for just a moment. “Quite so! I’m Hank Abbot. Pleased to meet you.” He stuck out his hand. Andy used it to rise to the full height his latest growth spurt had given him. He bet this was only the first of probably a dozen handshakes Hank Abbot would give today. Maybe already the second.

“Yeah, I got that from your Craigslist ad. You don’t look like a private detective.”

“I look exactly like a private detective, my boy! Behind these glasses are the eyes of a hawk and these Beltones are wedged in the ears of an elephant. The best of nature and technology in one. Have you been here before?” He cocked his thumb at the restaurant beside them. Three walls were bright blue. Another, the one behind the counter, was lime green. All displayed the work of local artists which clashed or harmonized with yellow, pink, and gray Formica tables.

Andy shook his head and read the large orange sign in the middle of the green canopy. “Square Café? No. I live in Monroeville.” He yawned.

“It’s a great place. You’ll like it. I always come here right when it opens. Beat the crowd. They’ll be lined up down the block. It’s very popular.”
 

The event in question took place right then. A tall woman in a black, knee-length apron unlocked both doors and ushered them in.

“Georgina! Good morning!”

“Morning, Hank.”

Andy followed along to the table nearest the entrance. Almost the entire front of the restaurant was glass. Through this pane he could see the buses, trucks, vans, and cars that made up the morning rush. “It’s sooo early.” He rubbed his eyes and took the menu Georgina handed him.

“Coffee?”

Hank nodded. “Two, please.”

“I don’t drink coffee.”

Georgina poured filled both the ceramic mugs she’d brought, then moved off.

“No better time or place to start.” Hank’s voice echoed off a series of clown photos crowding the walls. He waved at a couple passing by arm in arm outside. “That was Norm and Jean. He’s a retired dentist. She’s the Judge of Election for our part of Regent Square. Both very nice. They’ve been here since 1962. They know everyone. Tell me about your case. You’re looking for your father, I deduce.”

“I said that in my email, yeah. He’s gone missing.”

“Ah. Nefarious circumstances, no doubt.”

“Well, pretty furious. At least my mom is. He skipped out on us when I was little and never paid child support. Now we think he’s won a bunch in the lottery.”

“And you want your share. That’s understandable.”

“Yeah. I turn eighteen in a week. I don’t know if that matters, but maybe it makes my case stronger if I’m still a minor?” He sniffed the coffee.

Hank dug his cellphone out of his front right pocket. “Today’s Monday.”

“Uh huh. First day of summer vacation. One more year of high school, then it’s vacation forever, I guess.” He bent over even farther and sipped from the mug. The coffee was bitter. He wished he had a Pepsi.

“Monday’s a good day for a missing person. Auspicious.” Hank began scrolling across his phone’s screen.

“Auspicious?”

“M. Missing. Man as well, come to think of it.”

“M is for murder too.”

“Tut tut. Keep such dark thoughts out of reach and sit up straight.”

Georgina came back. “Have you guys decided?”

Hank opened his menu and pointed. “I’ll have the square breakfast, eggs over easy, with ham, the pancake, and ciabatta toast, plus a tomato juice, please.”

Andy hadn’t chosen. His mom had already gone to work when he bolted awake, so he’d had to take the bus to get here in time. That meant rushing around without breakfast at home. “Can I just get a bowl of cereal?”

Georgina tapped the menu with her pencil. “There’s Muesli Parfait.”

“Okay. I’ll have that.”

“Large or small?” She collected both menus.

“Large, I guess. I’m pretty hungry.”

Hank showed her a photograph on his phone. “Georgina, have you by any chance seen this man?”

She peered at the screen, smiled at three customers entering, then examined the photo again. “No. Sorry.” As she conducted the newcomers to a table, a very large old car passed by outside.

“Is that my dad’s photo I sent you?” Andy had the same brown hair and eyes as the man in the picture. “Why’d you show it to the waitress?”

Hank put his phone away with satisfaction. “I’ve decided to take your case.”

“But last we knew, my dad lived in Erie. I wrote you that.”

“A man who’s recently come into money isn’t going to stay in Erie, my lad. Pittsburgh has a lot more to offer and, as I said, this place is very popular. Georgina sees dozens of people every day.”

Andy looked at the other customers. “Well, why don’t you show it to everybody here?”

Hank scoffed. “Georgina I know. Them I don’t know. Drink your coffee. I have a doctor’s appointment at 8:30.” 

The exam room was small. Andy had squashed himself into the space between the gray cushioned table and the only window. Outside and down four floors were the last dregs of rush hour which this end of South Braddock Avenue was leading onto the Parkway East. As much as possible, Andy stayed focused on the traffic. He liked the new Ford 150s, but was also drawn to Fiats and Smart Cars. He thought it might be fun to fill up an entire vehicle with just his body. Something old and dark blue drove toward the café they’d had breakfast in. Its trunk alone looked big enough for a family of three.

Hank had dispensed with most of his classy clothing and now sat on the end of the exam table in just his pants and t-shirt. His feet rested on the pull out step just in front of the computer station. There was a scale which had registered Hank as 187 lbs. spread over 72 inches. The chubby blonde nurse looked at both of them with caution and confusion, but continued preparing to draw Hank’s blood.

Andy’s arms were back around his chest. He barely kept his balance while pressing the outer edge of his right foot against the outer edge of his left. It was even chillier in here than it had been outside the Square Café, as if the doctor’s office lagged behind a couple months, weather-wise. Beige shorts were not what Andy would’ve worn in early April. “I really don’t think I should be in here.”

“Don’t be squeamish.”

“Can’t you go look for my dad on your own?”

“I am looking for him. Dr. Jameson is one of the top cardiologists in Allegheny County. It’s not easy to get an appointment with him. I couldn’t cancel on such short notice.” He held his phone up to the nurse. “Bonnie, you haven’t seen this man, have you?”

She shook her head and threw plastic wrapping into the garbage bin, then tied a blue tourniquet around Hank’s upper arm.

“I don’t think my dad even has heart trouble.”

“It’s a quantifiable fact that you haven’t seen him in ten years. Plus, a man who’s hiding from his wife, son, and the law is under a terrific amount of stress. It’s bound to have affected his heart. Isn’t that right, Bonnie?”

The nurse shrugged inside her blue scrubs and leaned in with her needle. “Little pinch here.”

Hank turned away, grabbed Andy’s hand piteously, and flinched. “Ouch!”

 Inside the white stucco walls of C C Mellor Memorial Library, Hank and Andy sat at one of the tables on the second floor. Behind them were several rotating displays of books on compact disk, but neither perused the offerings.

“The reception here is crap.” Andy scowled at his cellphone. 

Hank translated for the Latino man that sat on the other side of the table. “Dice que la recepción aquí es muy mala.

The man smiled and nodded, then showed them both his iPhone. He said something that Hank apparently didn’t catch, for no translation was forthcoming.

“My dad’s probably never been to Mexico. My mom says he was afraid of flying.”

Hank was a bit cross and let it show. “Manuel depends on my volunteering to teach him English two days a week and he’s from the most populous city in the western hemisphere. 21.2 million people, sitting right here at our table. If your father is looking to abscond with his lottery winnings, he will head south of the border. Trust me.”

“When are we having lunch?”

“You just had breakfast.”

Andy rolled his eyes. “Just granola and yogurt and that was four hours ago.”

“We have to pick up a t-shirt from a friend of mine first. We’ll get something in Oakland.”

“I’m going outside to call my mom.” He stood up and walked past the librarian’s station to the staircase.

Hank picked up his own cellphone and showed the photo to Manuel again. “¿Usted es seguro que no lo ha visto?” Manuel shook his head.

“Okay. Now that’s try it in English. ‘I’m sure.’”

“I’m sure.”

“‘I’m sure I’ve never’. Make a ‘v’ sound.”

“‘I’m sure I’ve never.” Manuel focused on his lips and teeth.

Vvvery vvvaluable, Señor VVVasquez!”

They both smiled.

Hank emerged from “Underground Printing” into the pedestrian and vehicular traffic that was midday Oakland. He showed Andy the t-shirt he held. On its front was the photo of Andy’s dad and the words “Have you seen this man?” He lifted it up to Andy’s torso and indicated he should put it on.

“No way. You put it on.”

“Impossible! I’m already wearing Monday’s outfit. Either the t-shirt would covvver my vvvest or my vvvest would covvver the t-shirt.”

“Why are you talking that way?”

“Never mind that. It’s your father we’re looking for. You should wear his photograph. The resemblance alone may jog someone’s memory.”

Andy gave in and let Hank hold his shirt while he pulled the new t-shirt on over his old one. Once he had his shirt back on, he was glad for the extra layer. Early June in Pittsburgh could be cold for skinny people. They headed downhill toward Forbes Avenue while a dark-blue sedan drove uphill toward Fifth.

In a few minutes they’d reached Lulu’s Noodles on South Craig Street and now stood, along with several other hungry patrons, just outside the restaurant’s door. The staircase they occupied had exceptionally sharp edges. At its bottom sat Wilmer, begging change from all within earshot. Hank had called him by name, asked about the man on Andy’s torso, and given him a quarter. Wilmer claimed to have seen the man driving a dark-blue 1964 Pontiac Catalina, but, sotto voce, Hank had dismissed that claim as simply not wanting to disappoint a frequent contributor to Wilmer’s income.

Andy tugged the two sides of his shirt together tightly. “I feel like a stupid milk carton and I’m tired of following you around. This isn’t getting us anywhere. My mom says I shouldn’t have looked for a detective on Craigslist to start with and we definitely shouldn’t give you any money. She wants me to go home.”

Hank turned his better ear toward the boy. “I’m sure your mother is a fine, wise woman. Tell her I have detected a great many things and that I haven’t even asked for a retainer fee. Come on. You’ll feel better after some Pad Thai,” he guided Andy through the door, “and maybe a nap.”

In the reflection of the door the Pontiac was to be seen driving by. Wilmer pointed at it and looked for Hank, but somebody dropped a dollar bill into his cup right then, so he thought it best to go get his ham and Swiss sub immediately.

 

Hank admired the Cathedral of Learning. It was the tallest educational building in the Western hemisphere, the second tallest university building in the world, and also the second tallest gothic-style building Man could boast of. It was commissioned in 1921 and held its first class in 1931. Formal dedication came in June of 1937, despite the financial constraints of the Great Depression. Hank wondered, as he often had since boyhood, why it wasn’t called the Terrible Depression. He hadn’t experienced the Depression, but he’d had more than his fair share of depression, ninety percent of which had come after his wife’s death.

Andy, perhaps touched by occasional depression himself, dozed on Hank’s shoulder, post-prandium, so Hank focused on the cars and students passing by this bench on Schenley Plaza. They were fueled by gasoline and tabbouleh, respectively. Hank’s “salad days” had been full of pizza and protest marches, but his further reminisces were interrupted by Andy’s return to consciousness.

He sat up and looked around. “I might go to school here in a couple years, after some time at CCAC ‘cause my English is so bad.”

“It’s good to have a plan. What will you major in?”

Andy shrugged. “Maybe criminal justice so I can be a detective and actually find people.”

“Well,” Hank gestured at him, “I found you just by placing an ad in Craigslist. Save yourself the tuition. You can be my apprentice for free.”

“It won’t matter if we don’t find my dad. I won’t have the money for college.”

“Pessimism is unattractive in the young, Andy. Has nothing unexpected ever happened to you?”

Andy pondered for a while. “A trampoline I was jumping on broke once. I didn’t see that coming.”

“Lesson learned then.”

“Couldn’t we at least interview some old friends of my dad’s? He grew up in Bloomfield.”

Hank crossed his legs. “What possible good could that do? I don’t know anyone in Bloomfield and your father is certain to be avoiding anyone who knows him, lest they rat him out. He’s avoiding his own wife and child. Why would he contact some random schoolmate or former neighbor? No. Our best bet is the vast army of movers and shakers with whom your father is unacquainted. They are ferreting him out as we speak.”

Andy scowled. “You’re really weird.”

“All the better. I am the Brownian motion which will jar your father out into the open. Now let’s go buy some comics.”

They perused new issues inside Phantom of the Attic Comics, the entrance to which was marked by a concrete pencil two floors in height.

“The only thing I remember my dad reading was true crime. Sardonic, huh?”

Hank mulled over Marvel’s latest offerings. “No. That means grimly mocking or cynical. The word you need is ‘ironic’.”

Andy picked up Ironman #789. “Ironic Man!”

Hank smiled and took his purchases to the cash register, next to which stood a couple of employees. Far down the shelves of graphic novels lurked a brown-haired man in sunglasses, a bright-red moustache, and a raincoat.

“That’s it for this week. How are you, Shawn?”

“Still named John, but otherwise I’m fine, thanks.” He began separating Hank’s issues by cover price while the other employee picked up a pen and Hank’s pull sheet.

“Anything to add or drop?”

“Nothing this week, Mickey.”

Shawn/John put everything back into one pile. “That comes to $21.97.” His numerous face, nose, and ear rings moved aside for his smile. Shop lights bounced off his bare scalp like polish. Mickey, whose name was actually Nicky, always kept his pate covered by a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap. 

Hank handed over his debit card and pulled Andy closer. “Show them the t-shirt.” Andy rolled his eyes and flashed the two employees. They both stared.

“No. Sorry.”

“Haven’t seen him.”

Hank signed his receipt, gathered his bag of comics, and guided Andy by the elbow back to the staircase, which they descended quickly.

“What’s the rush?”

“We have to hurry home. The recycling crew will be coming by soon.”

On the sidewalk in front of his three-story Colonial Revival, Hank entreated the recyclers to wait. Andy came running across the patio and leapt over the hedge of Japanese barberry with the Swissvale recycling bin in his hands. A crushed bottle of Giant Eagle raspberry Fruition tumbled to the ground. Hank retrieved it, but the man in the jumpsuit only scowled at him, threw the other contents into the truck’s rear end, and dropped the bin hard onto the uneven brick street. The truck peeled away down Milton Avenue. At Hank’s direction, Andy picked the bin up. Both of them cast wary glances at the truck and retreated into the house.

 Not too long after that, Hank brought glasses of lemonade out to where Andy kept the patio swing in constant motion. He matched Andy’s rhythm and sat down.

“Ah, this is very nice. The sun is shining. The birds are chirping.”

“Your central air machine is roaring.”

“Indeed. Life is beautiful.”

Andy peered around the swing’s canopy and up the home’s red brick walls to its roof. “How long have you lived here?”

“Since nineteen hundred and fifty-two. I was born here. My parents bought this house just before that.”

“That’s cool. My mom and me have lived all over. We got evicted a lot after my dad left. He’s a shit.”

My father,” Hank sipped from his bedaisied glass, “was a model.”

“Good dad, huh? Lucky you.”

“No, I mean he was a model. Arrow shirts mostly, but also neckties, belts, and jackets. He had exceptional wrists and was featured in a nationwide campaign for Swank cufflinks and then another for Sarah Coventry.”

“What are cufflinks?”

Hank ignored his question. “Mother was a doyenne of Regent Square society when you knew exactly what station a person occupied in life by the size of his house. Ours, as you can see, is a corner house. That meant something back in the day.”

Andy straightened out his legs, then looked at his knobby knees and the scuffs on his tennis shoes. “It means you have a lot more sidewalk to shovel.” 

“For decades,” Hank used his glass to point eastward, “my grandfather ran the premier Irish bar on South Braddock. He knew absolutely everyone. No matter where we went, people called out to him. ‘As I live and breathe,’ they’d say, ‘there’s Frank Abbot.’ Church. City hall. Jail. Everywhere.”

“I wish he was here to help us.”

“Don’t despair. Very shortly we will be taking advantage of the powers of Pittsburgh’s preeminent psychic, Madame Marjorie!”

Andy looked at him askance. “What’s an old-fashioned way of saying ‘What the fuck?’”

Hank thought it over. “‘Zounds!’ Now drink your lemonade.”

Madame Marjorie’s Laclair Avenue home had been added onto at some point, but Andy didn’t know whether her social status had been improved along with it. A wall connecting the dining room to the kitchen had been blown out so that an airy space with a vaulted ceiling could be built. The floor was large white tiles and some previously free-roaming white-filigree patio furniture had been caught unawares during construction. Potted plants, ivy-design cushions, and a glass top dining table took up a lot of space, but one and a half stories of clear panes made the whole back yard part of the voluminous illusion.

Their elderly hostess wore an elegant gold lamé caftan and matching house slippers in which she shuffled from the kitchen to Hank and Andy’s chairs. On the coffee table between them she laid a platter of pigs in a blanket.

À votre goȗt.”

She settled into her own chair and arranged the folds of her gown decorously, then primped her Jackie Kennedy bouffant. It was whiter than her furniture.

She lifted a glass of Zinfandel and saluted the two men. “To old friends and new acquaintances!”

Andy squinted at his glass of Mountain Dew, drank from it, then held it up to peer at the evening sun through the neon green liquid.

“You know, Andrew, I’ve met many of Hank’s clients and I daresay I have been able to help several. That’s not bragging. It is revealed truth.” Hank nodded in agreement.

“Madame Marjorie is connected not only on the physical plane, but also on the ethereal. She knows all the best of the dearly departed.” He clasped her hand tenderly.

Marjorie smiled back at him, then closed her eyes and seemed to be listening to otherworldly voices.

“Why yes, Mr. Mayor! It’s a pleasure to see you as well.” She snapped her fingers at Andy and, eyes still closed, indicated that he should display his t-shirt. “Would you be so kind, Mr. Mayor? This is the cur we seek.”

Andy sat up straight and held his shirt open. He looked vaguely at the ceiling and caught the day’s last beam of sunlight in his eyes. The disguised man from the comic book shop peeked in through the French doors, pushing forsythia aside to do so.

Marjorie continued listening to voices, then collapsed like a silent film star against the back of her chair. She brought her wineglass to her mouth, drank to recover from her astral journey, and only then opened her eyes.

“Calls have been made, Andrew. Resolution of your case is at hand.”

The disguised man ducked out of second sight.

“Marvelous!” Hank clapped his hands together. “Our heartiest thanks, dear lady.”

C’est rien. Now, do help yourselves to hors d’oeuvres.”

Andy looked at both of them. He wasn’t sure what had happened while he was sun gazing, but he knew in his gut what was about to happen. He grabbed one of the bread-wrapped hot dogs and stuffed it into his mouth. It was as tight a fit as he would be inside a Fiat.

“CanIuseyourbathroom?”

 In what Marjorie had called the “powder room,”’ Andy sprayed a lot of air freshener and strained not to knock into any of the many dainty figurines, decorative soaps, or artwork by somebody named Buckley Moss. The toilet lid cover was fuzzy and pink. Andy’s cellphone cover was hard and black.

“Hey, Mom. No, I’m still here. It’s been pretty much a waste of a day. I think he mostly just wants someone to hang out with him. Seems kinda lonely. No, don’t call the cops! I’m okay. We’re at one of his neighbors’ houses. He hasn’t charged me anything, Mom! He bought me breakfast and lunch and a t-shirt even. And we went around Pitt and got comics. Okay. Okay. Pick me up in an hour. What? No! Of course he hasn’t. What the zounds, Mom!”

 It was full-on sundown by the time Hank and Andy made their goodbyes. There’d been an awkward moment in which he’d been taught how to kiss a lady’s hand, but both Hank and Marjorie agreed that he’d acquitted himself quite well and would help preserve a tenth century custom for the twenty-first. They ambled down Laclair and turned left on West Hutchinson. A slow pace was best for enjoying a quiet evening and for not tripping over the many upheavals in the sidewalk.

Andy clasped his hands behind his back, as Hank did.

“Think she’s right? We’re gonna find my dad?”

“Most assuredly. I’ve never known Marjorie to be wrong about the future, going all the way back to John F. Kennedy.”

“She predicted his assassination?”

“No, his creation of the National Seashore Parks. She was spot on about that. She also foresaw earth shoes.”

They paused at Gamma Way, the alley which bisected this block. Andy looked around. Regent Square was so different from Monroeville. “This isn’t how I imagined detective work. I thought there’d be a lot more stakeouts and digging through evidence or records at the courthouse.”

Hank waved that idea away. “Sounds exhausting.” They resumed their stroll.

“On TV they’re always bringing in suspects and interrogating them, following the clues. Then it always turns out to be somebody they interviewed earlier and didn’t know was guilty.”

“Never talk to the police. They’re only looking for confessions.” Hank inspected a cherry tree whose branches reached over the sidewalk.

“But don’t you think we’re all connected? Six trees of separation?”

“None of that matters, Andy. I know you. You know your dad. That’s just three people and we still haven’t caught him. It’s the strangers between us that lead us where we’re going.”

They stopped again at the corner of Hank’s property. A gigantic spirea blocked their view of the house and garnered Hank’s attention.

Andy looked at a Lost Dog sign which somebody had stapled to the telephone pole. There were dozens of other staples, rusted or bent. He pulled idly at a few.

“I suppose that’s true, but my mom isn’t gonna let me spend tomorrow with you. She has the day off and wants my help in the yard.”

Hank picked up a stray bit of garbage and put it in his pocket.

“There are still a few hours to the day. We may yet prevail.”

“What did you do before you turned into a detective?”

“Oh, many things! I traveled, I interacted, I learned and taught. The full panoply of life was mine, just as I hope it will be yours.”

“I just hope my new locker mate will be cool.”

“A worthy aspiration.”

“What if we don’t find him, Hank? Why didn’t he love my mom enough to stay? What coulda been wrong with me as a seven-year-old kid?”

Hank clapped him on the shoulder.

“I’m sure it was quite inconsequential, my boy. Freckles or a persistent cough or something. Perhaps you weren’t his biological son. Nothing you should dwell on.”

“Whaaat?”

“Buck up and come inside. It’s almost time for Rachel Maddow.”

They approached the house. Across the street, parked passenger side to the curb, was the 1964 dark-blue Pontiac Catalina, the classic car Andy’s father had always wanted to own. The man himself sat behind the wheel, watching.

The porch was illuminated by two sconces. On the large wicker chair to one side of the front door was a vintage bowling ball bag. Hank was already digging his keys out of his pocket when they saw it.

“What’s that?” Andy asked.

“I absolutely do not know. Open it.”

“There’s a note.” He pulled it away and read it. “‘Andy, Sorry I didn’t do this sooner. Dad.’”

Andy forced the old zipper along its track and pulled the sides of the bag apart. Bundles of cash lay inside. He showed them to Hank.

“We found him!”

The Pontiac pulled away as quietly as a brick street and a rebuilt transmission allowed.

Hank poked at the money. “It appears we did indeed. Bit odd really.” He turned toward the street just as a gray Toyota Corolla with one white door pulled up. “And here, fortuitously, is your mother.”

Andy ran down the stairs. “Mom! We found him! Look!”

She pulled the bag into her lap and gasped. Hank sat down in the wicker chair. After a minute or so, Andy came bounding back to the porch.

“You never told me your price. I hope this is enough.”

Hank took the two bills Andy offered him. “Quite sufficient, my boy. Thank you and congratulations.”

Andy paused. “Today was fun. Maybe I could help you on your next case. If you want.”

“Crime is rampant in Regent Square, albeit low profile,” Hank responded with a smile.

Andy extended his hand. “I hope you haven’t missed Rachel Madnow.”

“Never fear,” Hank shook it warmly, “I always use the DVR.”

Andy smiled, then ran to the car and got in. Hank sat on the porch long after they had driven away, then went inside and turned the front lights off. 

A few days later Hank strode down South Braddock and stopped where Andy leaned against a handrail.

“Morning.” Andy yawned. “Like my fedora? I got it at Goodwill.”

“It’s striking. Shall we go in?”

“Still locked. You know they serve lunch, right? We didn’t have to meet for breakfast again.”

“It’s the most important meal of the day, my boy, and the only one that features tomato juice.”

“What’s on tap for today?”

“Thursdays are for thefts and that,” he brought out his cellphone, “is Mrs. Fernanda Rivera’s 19th century Navajo Ute First Phase Blanket. It was stolen right from her front room not two days ago. Seen it?”

Andy looked at the photo as closely as the sleep in his eyes permitted. “No, but show it to me again when we get inside. The light’s better in there and I want some coffee.”

Georgina came then to the Square Café’s front door and unlocked it. She let the men seat themselves while she went off to fetch two mugs and the pot of freshly brewed.

“Any better?” Hank showed him the blanket again.

“No. Sorry. Can I get a side of hash browns with my cereal? I love those.”

“As do I, but eat quickly. I have a Thai massage at eight o’clock and Master Mongkut is too sought-after to reschedule.”

———

Eric Baysinger is an Iowan transplanted to Pittsburgh. His previous works include the novels Nine Attempts; Brother-out-law; Beck and Caul, Spring 1919; Your Middle Finger's Sense of I.