The Sweat of the Brow (xxv)

 It’s late. It’s dark. We’re tired. We’re old. But we wait for everyone to leave, until the bartender, until even Ben says goodnight.

Whatever Katie does, she doesn’t want other people to know. Not Gulf Coast barflies in particular. Anyone. And when most people have a cort, when any given person can just as easily record as they can see or hear, privacy is something you can only have when you’re alone.

She picks up her drink and walks down the beach. I follow, but I leave my drink behind. We walk in silence for maybe two minutes. It’s enough.

I look up and down the beach. It’s a highway for the moon, and it is empty.

The walk gives me time to think. She wants her work kept quiet, one. Sam disapproved, two. Sam didn’t disapprove of much. She ran the contemporary art department at Blaine’s, scruples and paint-smears are ill bedfellows indeed.

Was there any work in the world that I could do?

Was there any work, any at all, that I’d turn down?

Katie turns to me. She opens her mouth, but hasn’t quite come to words.

“Who do you work for?” I ask.

She sighs. “Let’s focus on what I do, rather than who I do it for.”

“You want me to work for someone, someone I don’t even know-”

“No, I want you to work for me.”

“But I’ll still be-”

“Yes,” she said. “And you’ll have to live with it. To live, to work without knowing.”

I just look at her, across a few feet of sea-colored sand.

“Rule number one,” she says, “don’t ask questions.”

“Is there a rule number two?”

“No.”

“I didn’t think so.”

“You don’t ask questions,” she says. “I don’t ask questions. You wouldn’t like the answers. It keeps everyone happy.”

“Katie,” I say, “what do you do?”

“I’m a consultant,” she says. “I do odd jobs.”

I wait for more.

Katie looks at me.

I put together two and two, and come up with ten to life.

“Your work isn’t legal,” I say.

She stares at me.

“I’m just going to stop talking,” I say.

She nods, up and down.

“Katie-”

“I’m a consultant,” she says. “I do odd jobs.”

“What kind of jobs?”

“Whatever kind. Whatever someone wants done.”

“Whatever-”

“Whatever,” she says, the word solid as a cornerstone. “Someone – a client – comes to me, and tells me they want something done. I figure out how to do it, according to their specific needs. The specifics of the situation.”

“Like staying out of jail,” I say.

She doesn’t bat an eye. “It is a priority for most business ventures that jail-time be avoided.”

I realize she’s joking.

I don’t laugh.

“Katie-”

“I’m eighty three years old,” she says. “I’ve never been so much as fingerprinted. I’ve never seen the inside of a jail except to bail out an ex-husband. I’ve never done anything that’s kept me up at night.”

“Sounds like-” I say, and bite my tongue.

“What?”

“No. Don’t.”

“Martin-”

“It’s not-”

“Martin, spit it out now, if I think you’re holding back I’ll just walk away.”

I look at her. She’s serious. I don’t think I’d ever seen her look serious.

She’s working, and I’ve never seen her at work.

“It sounds like,” I say, “like, like you sleep well at night, because you keep yourself too ignorant to be kept awake.”

She looks me in the eye. She looks away, and nods out to the sea.

“I’ll be back,” I say, and walk off into the night.

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~ by davekov on 1 December 2011.

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