I woke up to the sound of dishes being unloaded from the world’s smallest dishwasher. Ruby wasn’t beside me, so I was fairly certain I didn’t need to be alarmed that one of Ramos’s goons had broken in and, before killing me, had decided to clean up the place a bit. Her kitchen could more accurately be described as a kitchenette, which was a shame as she was a great cook. I thought she should be over the grill at the diner, not serving coffee to the plebs. Ruby said the money was in the plebs.
“Besides,” she had once told me, “how would I meet film producers and movie stars working over a hot grill where no one could notice her?”
So far her strategy had netted her a single paid commercial and an agent who absconded with all the money from that single gig. I had offered to go after the guy, but she said to leave it be. I couldn’t figure her out most of the time, probably why this relationship worked as well as it did.
Getting up I heard her call out, “Billy? I’m making coffee. Then eggs and pancakes, we’ll do breakfast for dinner. How does that sound?”
“Divine!” I yelled as I moved into the bathroom. Force of habit made me start the shower, even though the most strenuous activity I’d done all day was stand in front of a crowd and say the words the governor wanted me to say. It did have the effect of waking me up fully, to actually think for a moment without a schedule more intense than coffee and pancakes in ten minutes’ time.
After drying off I wiped the mirror and decided I could skip shaving, a little five o’clock shadow was fine when it was seven in the evening. I use an old-style razor that actually uses straight blades that I buy by the dozen. I left the razor in the cabinet but took out a single blade, which I rested on the sink. Finally, I looked at myself in the mirror and then focused on my eyes.
“You’re in there, aren’t you?” It was a theory I’d been worrying over before I fell asleep. I picked up the straight razor and held it up to my face between my right eye and the mirror.
“I’m talking to you, sister. I know you’re in there. Oh, sure you do a good job hiding and staying beneath the surface, but you’ve made some mistakes. Don’t feel too bad, this is my job, finding secrets. So the only question I have is, can you talk to me or are we going to have to keep doing this messed up game where your thoughts bleed over into mine?”
Nothing. Fine. Hardball she wanted, hardball she was going to get. I took the razor and pinched it between my finger and thumb in my right hand. Raising my left hand, I pressed the blade against the skin on the back of it. Slowly I pressed down until I could feel the bite of the blade part my flesh. Taking a deep breath and sliced my hand open.
It burned like a line of fire and sizzled a little for good measure, but not a drop of blood fell out of the gash; it sealed up like magic not even leaving a scar behind. Son of a bitch. I had only been guessing. A two-inch cut was worth the price of being wrong. But I wasn’t wrong. Sure I can take a punch, that much is well known in the shiner world. Break my arm and I’ll be using it full steam in two weeks, not six. Bruises fade away in hours, cuts in days. Nothing like this. Not before.
“You talking to someone honey?” Ruby said thrusting a cup of coffee at me through the bathroom door. “I thought I heard voices?”
I shook my head, “Nah, I ain’t talking to no one. Just singing a bit to myself as I figured out if I’m gonna shave or not. Not I guess.”
“A little stubble looks good on you,” She brushed her hand against my cheek. “Feels good too, rough and manly.”
I slid the razor back into the pack, put the pack back into the cabinet and took the coffee mug from her. “You wanna go on a trip, darling?”
“Yeah, Billy, I do. Don’t tell me where just surprise me. All I need to know is how long we’ll be gone and if I should pack a swimsuit.”
“Pack for a week and definitely.”
“A week? Sounds delightful!”
“We’ll see when we get to the end of it, won’t we love?”
She laughed at me and said, “Well I’m glad to see you’re rested and ready, big boy!” She grabbed at my crotch, and after a dance where I threatened to spill my coffee on her she backed off and said, “All right! All right! We’ll save it for later. We leaving in the morning?”
“Better if we go right now. You mind riding all night? I promise you we can rest all day tomorrow.”
“All night? A regular road trip,” She sighed, “It’s been so long since I went further than out to the beach, I don’t know what I’ll do if I’m in a car longer than 4 hours. It still sounds great to me, Billy. We’ll eat first right?”
“Right. I’m starving.”
“Okay, pancakes in 4 minutes.”
She left, and I stared in the mirror again, not expecting to see anything. It was a bit of a surprise to see a mousy haired lady staring back at me, face superimposed over my own in the mirror. I nodded under the face, then hers tilted slightly in response. One finger of her incorporeal hand raised up to press against her lips in the age-old symbol of staying quiet. I grunted, “Yeah, probably for the best, if I think about it.” I got dressed and went out to the best pancakes in the world.