The Sweat of the Brow (xxvii)

 I retrace my steps, or I’d never have found her in the dark. She’s waiting where I left her. I knew she would be.

She looks old. We had that in common at least.

What we have in common, at the end of it, is Sam.

“She didn’t like your work?” I ask.

She straightens up, like the guy against the wall when the winners raise their guns. “That wasn’t it. The work… mostly I just sit behind a desk. Contractors do the, the real work.”

I can’t help but think: the dirty work.

I can’t help but think: contractors like me.

“She didn’t like the not-knowing,” Katie says, looking down the beach. “She didn’t like the, like me not asking questions. Sam wanted… she thought I was going to go to jail. That I was going to spend my life in jail. She thought I was throwing away my life.”

“She thought you were hurting yourself,” I say. Because I knew Sam. I knew her perfectly. “She tried to hurt you, to keep you from hurting yourself.”

Katie shrugged. Her eyes glistened like broken glass in the moonlight.

“So why didn’t you stop?” I ask, because I have to.

She looks at me with eyes like blued steel.

“I like what I do,” she says.

And she adds, when her eyes turn back to flesh: “And here I am. Rich and old. Because Sam, Sam was fucking wrong.”

Katie shoots her drink and throws the glass into the sand. I wish she’d brought one for me.

She pulls herself together. She doesn’t look old anymore. Just tired. Like she wants to get the rest over with, and go home.

“I’m offering you a job,” she says. “Nothing more. You’ll do the work you’re assigned. You’ll do a good job or I’ll let you go. That’s all.”

That’s not all, I know. But I keep quiet, because this is happening, this is what I wanted and here it is.

“I’m not going to protect you,” she says. “I’m not going to treat you any differently from anyone else. Any of my other contractors. You’ll just be, just another employee. You’ll work for me, you’ll do what I tell you to do.

“I don’t care how long we’ve know each other,” she says. “I don’t care what or who we have in common. I don’t care we’re old friends. And I don’t care that you’re old. I’m going to treat you like anyone else. You’ll do the work. You’ll-”

“Katie,” I start, but she holds up her hand.

“I take a risk with all my contractors,” she says. “It’s bringing someone in. Trusting them. It’s a risk. I think I can trust you because I know you, and I know…”

I wait. I realize I’m straining to hear.

“I’m willing to trust,” she says, closing her eyes on me or on herself, “that you’ve got enough to lose, but not enough.”

Enough to lose that I won’t fuck it up. But enough to lose that I’ll do…

…anything?

I am considering it. And not lightly. And I say so.

She nods. Now she looks very old indeed.

“For Sam’s sake,” she says in a dull monotone, “I am going to tell you, in full honesty, that this is dangerous work. You might not be as lucky as me. Or you might not be as good. You might go to jail. You might lose everything. And if you do…”

She swallows.

“You go to jail,” she says, “I don’t know you.”

Up and down the coast, the waves crash upon the sand.

“So that’s it then?” I ask.

“Why me?”

She thinks for a minute.

“Because I think you’ll be good at it.”

And that, I know, is the answer that I need.

“Wait fifteen minutes,” she says, “then go home and wait.” Then she turns. Then she walks away.

I sit down on the sand, and watch the sea.

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~ by davekov on 1 December 2011.

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