I was walking away from the noise, walking from the steam, from the steady drumming of the rain, processing the day my head. The neon flickered like some passing affair, the traffic had thinned and I had lost track of time. A bar doorway opened up on my right and I wheeled in without a thought, automatic transmission. I ordered a bottle and sat in a deep pool of artificial light. I drank for some time, there seemed to be no effect, nothing to reach until I arrived at tired level of numb self parody and unawareness. I felt safe here but my fingers were rubbing on the but of the gun it was an unconscious action, it was a part of who I had become.
I watched the other customers, all quietly unfamiliar and bland, all in hiding, all in plain sight. I took in the faces one by one, at least the features I could make out. An older man sat across the bar, he reading something from a dull screen, his lips were moving, forming unspoken words. His mouth curled at the corner as if every other word carried some amusing message. I looked at his eyes, they were on me already. I touched my nose, he nodded, picked up his drink and his screen and walked over to join me.
“I'm Banner. There are many things in this life I find difficult to understand, I've lived sixty five years, been loved and spurned, been hunted, found and set free. Now I'm here, sitting across from you, a fugitive and a conundrum. You know that they'll put a bounty on your head, you know that they wont let you go. You know all this?” I just grinned and took a sharp slug of the whisky. The old man continued, “I think we can help each other out, I think we both have something the other needs, I think we can make an arrangement...the police are about ten minutes from barging through that door, they have a new charge sheet, new evidence, same old story. They're dealing with some minority activity in Teasel, then they'll come over...for you.” I was again aware of the gun butt and safety against my finger, the cold metal was warm.
There are moments when time stands still, you wish something would happen, a lightning strike to clear the air, a line to cross, rivets popping in the steel core of your brain. I was tense and counting and it was now nine minutes, he was looking at me. “We need to go very soon.” We both stood up, he nodded to the barman, my eyes were on the door and the traffic flashes. “I do have transport,” he said. He clicked the fob and the gull wing opened, I lowered myself in, he was surprisingly nimble and behind the wheel in seconds. I turned and saw the blue and red of police lights. We were gone as they pulled up. We were gone.
I thought how small a part of my life this moment was, riding in this car, stilted conversation, headed out into some other part of the night. Escaping from shadows and flashing lights, while all the other events, the deaths, lives, warnings and crimes all orbited around in my head in a scattered and disorderly jumble. The car sped on, the rain lashed and daylight and sunshine seemed foreign concepts now impossible to believe in. That was where she lived, in some warm sunny place where colour was natural and the edges of reality were clear beyond any traffic buzz and blur. That was where she was. In harbour, I was still at sea.
An hour's driving without conversation took us past the city limits and into the Quarry Area. I may have slept. We moved between great chunks of rock, broken landscapes and scattered boulder fields. Raw materials had been gathered from here when the first cities were put together, the concrete and plastic mix that now stood in a rain lashed pattern, stolen rocks that were clad with the shards of millions of years of geological action and modern shame. The time of development had been relatively brief, now we were running down the clock and large parts of this landscape were desolate and in places returning to some wilder past. He turned up a dirt road and pulled up at a battered prefabricated site office building. As grey as the rock, weather beaten and forlorn. Signs warned and vehicles rusted, materials stood unsold, uncollected in piles. I imagined the scattered papers, worn clothing, dusty dirty cups and plates and other skeletons that must be inside.
Banner fumbled with a key and key-code and the door moved but there was a resistance, he pushed on it with his shoulder, I imagined a body stooped behind. My eyes were playing and scanning everywhere, dry blood was pumping, the wide open spaces were hemming me in, I was uneasy. The door gave way and opened. Inside wasn't as bad as I'd expected, someone had been here recently and it was clearer and a bit more clean than I'd expected, well clean apart from a fine layer of dust that seemed to cover everything. “We're safe here, you're safe here,” that was all he said.
In life it can take quite an effort to make a thing happen. You have to start, you have to move yourself, you have to break through that stubborn barrier that says “I'm staying here, I'm not moving.” Of course that can happen quite quickly and with little warning but it's when you stop, lose the momentum gained in the chase, it's hard to make up that speed again, hard to restart and get running. Now here I was, melting away into the conspiracy and game set against me and hiding, doing what they'd expect. I knew deep down none of this was going to work and I had to know what it was Banner wanted from me. There were still overdue and outstanding conversations.