Jeff Vincent stands motionless in the shadows at the far end of the deck, undetected, listening…
Nick Grimmer gazes at a refraction of candle flame through blood-red brandy, brings the glass close, lets the vaporized fruit hit his sense of smell before allowing it to slide over his tongue. “I wanna tell you what happened with Jeff Vincent.”
An early-Autumn breeze stirs the long chimes hanging from the Tinkhams’s deck rafters, mesmerizing in the gathering gloom, lulling in tune with the alcohol and tobacco haze.
Alex Tinkham takes a slow pull on his cigar, inspects the ash, pulls again. “You mean that time he pulled the guy’s head apart, or is this something else?”
“That’s the time I mean, only Vincent didn’t pull the head apart, Lex, he just tried.”
“Fucking slim distinction, bro.”
“You wanna hear it or not?”
“Pour me another shot…thanks. God that is some smooth shit.”
“Agreed. You wanna hear this story or not?”
“You pretty much already told me this one, Grim.”
“You just got the highlights, mostly how it ended. Even that was just bits and pieces.”
“I’m always up for a good story, but why now? This was a couple years ago, right?”
“Yeah. But it’s one of the few times I’ve been involved in something that heavy when you weren’t there.”
“And you wanna share.”
“And you’re drunk.”
“That too. And…I guess I don’t like it that so much doesn’t make sense. I killed a man, Lex, and I still don’t really know why.”
“You did what you had to do, man.”
“See, you can’t really know that because you don’t know all of it. Several people died during that shit and I never…I don’t know, I guess I never got to do what we do, you know?”
Alex took a slow sip of brandy. “That’s because our job is to come in after and sift through the mess and try to make sense of it all. You were in the middle of it. You were too close to the thing for the brass to call you in to investigate after it all went down. Besides, if I understand how it went down, there was nothing to investigate. You knew all the principles, what they did, why they did it. Right?”
“Yes. And no. I just never understood it. Too many loose ends, too much weirdness. And you weren’t there.”
“So, it’s a couple years after the fact and you want to do your job—our job—and see what there is to see. Or was to see.”
“Maybe that’s it.”
“Tell it then. And, Grim, when you get to the parts with Shelley…speak very slowly. There aren’t too many women I would put up against my Lila—”
“Or my Cassie…”
“Or her. But my God.”
“Yeah, I know too,” he says from the darkness at the far end of the deck.
“God, Vincent,” Alex says, “you scared the shit out of me. How long you been standing there?”
“Long enough to know I got here just in time.”
Nick hooks a chair closer with his foot. “Sit.”
Jeff Vincent pulls a glass from the small bar and sits, removing a bottle from a coat pocket, stripping the seal and pulling the cork. “That’s my story you were about to tell, Nick.”
Nick eyes the newly opened bottle. “Yeah. And it can stay untold if you’d rather. It’s not mine to tell, I just—"
“I know what you just. I was listening, and I understand, believe me. Not a bit of it makes sense, including the horribly mean shit I did to set it all in motion.”
Alex leans forward. “What are you drinking?”
“The Macallan. You said it was the best single-malt scotch to be had. Have some?”
There is just enough light remaining for Alex to see the label as he takes the bottle. “Holy shit, I’ve only ever had the twelve-year-old. This is twenty-five-year.”
“So it’s like twice as good, yes?”
“At least. And probably five times as expensive.”
Nick holds out his glass. “Fill ‘er up.”
Jeff Vincent tosses back his scotch, grabs the bottle and pours another, tosses it back, pours a third.
“Damn, Vincent, if you just wanna get drunk quick I’ve got some cheap tequila in the kitchen. You’re not supposed to guzzle the good shit.”
“You boys got a head start on me. If I’m going to tell the story the way it needs to be told…well, I need to catch up with you.”
Nick says, “No one needs to tell the story, man.”
“Maybe someone does.” Jeff tosses back the third glass, pours a fourth. “I’ve never laid it out how it all happened. Maybe it’s time. That shit changes a person—everything about it changed me. You can’t feel your thumbs pop through a man’s eyes and into the sockets and not have it change the way you think, am I right on that score?”
No one says anything, because there is nothing to say.
Jeff sips at his fourth drink, the first three having done their job. “Your ladies due back anytime soon?”
“Gone for the weekend. Took little Bella up the coast to Mendocino. Show her the ocean.”
“Good. We have all night. I don’t know what kind of half-assed story you were going to tell, Nick, but with me you get it all, because I can’t tell it halfway. This disaster is with me daily, even two years later. Although, I guess it actually began three years ago; that’s when I really got the karma wheel turning, or whatever the fuck you wanna call it. Some details of what happened are lost to me, or maybe suppressed, but I remember most of it vividly…too vividly. I suppose that’s my penance, the ability to pull up the nastier scenes at will like my brain was a DVD menu. But once this mess gets rolling in my mind there’s no skipping to the end credits—the devastation just unravels chronologically behind my eyes, and people are dying all over again, and I can’t even fucking pretend anymore that it happened to someone else.”
Jeff takes another sip, stares at the amber liquid for a long moment. “Maybe it will help to tell it. Or maybe it won’t, I don’t know. But I will tell you what I do know. I will tell you what happened.”
Another slow sip. “I’d been dead for a year,” he begins, then he is gone from Now, from the deck, from Nick and Alex and everything that is going right. It is two years before, and he is alone again, remembering…everything.