Carter insisted on moving the party from the Hog’s Breath to Sloppy Joe’s where, in his expert opinion, action would build more quickly. Now, with a quintet called Fleetwood Macaroni rocking the bandstand, Rudy set his pint of Spearfish Amber Ale heavily on the table.
He wanted to enjoy the music, stop thinking, but he couldn’t. He needed to say it.
“I killed someone.”
Carter gave him his usual his half-smile, the one that said you aren’t serious. Until Rudy didn’t return it.
“You aren’t serious,” Carter said. “Okay. How?”
“I ruined his life.”
“I took away Pepsacola.”
“You lost me.”
“He just wanted to walk on the beach with his wife. Is that too much to ask after forty-six years? He didn’t want to own it. He didn’t even need to live on it. He just wanted to hold his wife’s hand. And walk on it.”
“I’m still confused. How did this guy die?”
Rudy didn’t want to describe it. He’d seen it in his head over and over. “Suicide.”
“He killed himself?”
“He sat in his car—“
“He killed himself. You had me scared for a second. Listen. Amigo. Did you run this guy over?”
“Did you put a gun to his head and pull the trigger?”
Carter blew past this. “Did you stab him in the heart?” he asked. “No. You did your job. It’s a tough world. If someone can’t handle it, fuck ‘em.”
It was as if he’d channeled Augustine and Fitch.
“Just like that,” Rudy said.
“Survival of the fittest, baby.”
“He worked forty-six years without a sick day. Can you believe that? He even tried to show me a photograph of his sons.”
“Sure. To drag you into his shit. The weak always cling to the strong.”
“I don’t feel that strong.”
“Remember what Plato said. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. So stay the fuck away from them. It could rub off. We just have to drink you through this philosophical period.”
“I don’t think Plato—”
“I’ll take drunken philosophers for one thousand.”
“Can we not do that?”
“Drunken philosophers,” Carter insisted.
“I’m not in the mood for gin joint Jeopardy right now.”
“For one thousand.”
“I’m telling you. I can’t feel my lips anymore.”
Carter brightened and slapped the table. “What did Socrates say after he drank hemlock?” He laughed at his joke. “Seriously, the guy probably had mental issues. If it wasn’t one thing pushing him to the edge it’d be another. You just happened to be close when he jumped. It doesn’t mean you pushed him.”
Maybe it didn’t. In point of fact, Max had been in Rudy’s presence no more than ninety minutes in the nine years he’d occupied an office in the executive suite. The time it took to switch out a few fluorescent lamps. How well could you know a person in those few exchanges? Was Carter right? At least partly? Was Max just a flawed and doomed individual that had strayed into his path?
“So what is it between you and Kak?” Carter asked. He’d either become bored with the previous topic or considered it closed.
“We made a deal,” Rudy said.
“To be binary stars.”
The waitress set two more shots of tequila on the table. Bass from the band vibrated gently through the glasses, driving tiny shock waves across the surface of the pale gold liquid.
“Binary,” Carter said, taking one of them. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about anymore.”
Rudy took the other. “That makes two of us.”
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