Thursday, August 17, 2006

Players - 5

It was a straight shot down the I-5, through the Willamette Valley to the beginning of Oregon’s banana belt. It started to rain soon after they set out, but forty miles south of Portland the sun broke through, lighting up a ragged chasm in the clouds, probing farmland on either side of the freeway with slanting fingers of light. Randy Farrell spent the first part of the trip zoned out in the back seat of the Police Bureau Taurus, waking only when Summer turned off the I-5 at Springfield for a pit stop at a Wendy’s. After picking over his plain burger and fries, he disappeared into the men’s room. Ten minutes later, Summer went to look for him and found him out back by a Dumpster, sucking on the last half-inch of a tightly rolled joint.

‘I’m licensed to use it,’ he said, giving her a defiant look. ‘It helps control the nausea I get after I eat. You don’t believe me, I have a registration card my doctor gave me.’

‘I don’t need to see your card, Mr Farrell. I’ll wait by the car until you’ve finished, but don’t be too long.’

After they had set off again, Randy Farrell explained that he’d been diagnosed with liver cancer three years ago, the doctors had cut a tumour as big as a goose egg out of him. He’d gotten better, but four months ago the cancer had come back worse than ever, had spread to his bones and his pancreas. He didn’t have long to live, which was why he wanted to do right by Edie. Also, he said, he loved the girl as if she was one of his own. He’d been a son of a bitch when he was younger, beating up on his girlfriends, even beating his mother once, but marriage and helping to raise his stepdaughter had grounded him. He’d even quit drinking after his last stretch in the joint, but not before the damage had been done.

His confession was well rehearsed and laced with jargon he’d probably learned at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and cancer support groups. But he seemed sincere, telling Summer that Edie had loved to read, English had been her best subject at school and she would have studied it in college if she hadn’t grown wild and gotten into trouble with the police. Telling her that Edie had loved a little black cat she called Edgar Allan Poe, that Edie had sewn her own clothes from patterns, and she had been a pretty good artist, too. Edie and her mother had never gotten along, Randy Farrell said, but he hoped he had been some help to her. When he’d seen her that one time after she ran off, she had been full of plans; he’d given her money to buy something smart so she could try to get back to school, train for an office job. Meanwhile, she’d been waitressing in a short-order place. The manager took a kickback straight from her basic pay because she’d been on probation and he could violate her back to jail any time he wanted, but she had been making that up on tips.

‘Everything was going right for her, except for that no-good boyfriend.’


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