Authors: Adrienne Wilder
In The Absence
In The Absence Of Light Copyright 2015 by Adrienne Wilder
Art work also by Adrienne Wilder
All places, people and events are a product of the writer’s imagination. Any similarities between persons living or dead are pure coincidence.
This book is dedicated to:
Anyone and everyone who has ever been misunderstood, cast out, or ostracized for simply being who you are.
Forgive the ignorant. They know not what lies within the layers of our reality.
I realize I write something similar to the following in almost every book I create, but I ask you again, please don’t download illegal copies or distribute this book in whole or in part by any means, electronically, audibly, or in print, without the writer’s permission.
When you choose to download or upload and distribute copies of the books I write, you chisel away at my ability to write full-time.
I live a very minimal life, just so I can afford to do this. Writing is my dream, please don’t take that from me.
And while it is a labor of love, it’s also work.
Toolies was located on one of the few paved roads running through Durstrand. Breakfast—hot, deep fried, and homemade—could be ordered all day long. At night when the church-going people were at home reading their Bibles, Toolies broke out the spirits.
I’d driven by the place a dozen times going to and from the hardware store, but I’d never stopped because my idea of a bar doesn’t boast the world’s fluffiest biscuits.
But it was late and I was too tired to drive the thirty miles to Maysville where they had some semblance of civilization. Unlike Durstrand, in Maysville the cell phones had a reliable signal, the water came to you in a pipe rather than a hole in the ground, and the TV received an actual signal without satellite service. It was only three channels, but three was better than none.
The place was packed, which meant maybe a dozen people, including the busboy and the bartender. There were several trucks parked across the road, so half the patrons were probably from out of town.
As long as the beer was cold and fresh, I didn’t care.
A few customers looked up from their drinks and meals just long enough to give me a once-over. I guess I passed inspection because they didn’t kick me out. It was nice to know I hadn’t forgotten all the idiosyncrasies of a small town despite twenty years in Chicago.
The mournful wail of country music followed me to the bar. A woman at the end talked to the bartender over the edge of her shot glass. He excused himself and walked over. “Welcome to Durstrand. What can I get you?”
“Whatever’s on the tap and not watered down.”
He filled a glass. “You’re the fella from up north who bought the old Anderson place, right?”
“Yeah. How’d you know?”
“Patty told me.” He set the beer on the counter.
“She’s the agent that sold you the house, and my second cousin.”
First, second, third, it was just like back home in that dirt bowl I’d grown up in.
“‘Bout time someone bought that house.” He wiped up a dribble of beer from the counter. “It was starting to look rough.”
“I think it passed rough a few years ago.” I sipped the beer. Smooth, medium body, very little carbonation. It was the kind of beer found in a luxury restaurant, not a bar. Most definitely not a bar in some Podunk town in the middle of nowhere.
“You like it.”
I nodded. “Really good.”
“You sound surprised.” He laughed. “Don’t feel bad, most people are.”
I took another drink. It went down better than the first. “I think I’ve found my new favorite bar.”
“Good to hear. So what brings you to Durstrand?”
I shrugged. “Needed a change of scenery, I guess.” It was a part truth. I did need a change but only because, with the death of so many old-school businessmen, the rules had changed in a way I couldn’t. A man’s word was no longer gospel and people only kept their promises to keep from getting shot.
Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t shy about using a gun if I had to, but it wasn’t my first choice or even my second. After all, dead men can’t pay the money they owe.
“What do you do for a living?”
“I’m retired, but I used to own a private shipping company?”
“So you’re the guy responsible for all those ‘Made in China’ tags on the stuff we buy now days.”
I laughed. “No, no. Not by a long shot. My specialty was cars.” Antique, modern, concept—very few that had less than five zeros behind a fat whole number.
“Did you make a good living?”
I bit back the smile. According to the statements from my offshore accounts, I’d made several lifetimes of a good living. “Reasonable.”
“Then why did you by that shit hole farmhouse?” I choked on a swallow of beer and the bartender grinned.
I wiped my mouth. “I like to work with my hands. I figured a fixer-upper would give me something to do.”
“You must be really bored.”
I had two, maybe three years to burn before I could risk moving any funds and finding a nice beach house on some remote island way out of US jurisdiction. Until then, I had to mind my Ps and Qs, thanks to a certain son-of-a-bitch FBI agent.
“Yo, you serving drinks or what?” One of the men on the other end of the bar held up his glass.
“I better get that.” The bartender held his hand out. “By the way, I’m Jessie Church.”
“Grant Kessler.” We shook, and he left to take care of the half-drunk patron.
I nursed my beer while scrutinizing the quaint atmosphere. What a joke. Roosters mixed with beer signs, nature scenes on china plates mounted to the wall. A vintage poster of Betty Davis’s good side next to a severed deer head.
In other words, the place had all the appearance of a redneck, alcoholic grandma.
A busboy wearing worn-out jeans and flip-flops went to one of the back tables. It was hard to tell how old he was, seventeen, eighteen. Not too tall, but almost too thin. His baggy shirt hung to one side flashing a scattering of freckles on his shoulder.
He cleared the dishes with exaggerated care. Every so often, his left arm would jerk and he’d raise his hand to his temple and flick his fingers like he was tossing out thoughts.
The man sitting two seats down spit out “Faggot” loud enough there was no way half the bar didn’t hear him, let alone the kid.
He continued clearing the table. A fork. A spoon. Napkins.
My neighbor elbowed his buddy. “Bet Morgan there will suck your dick for twenty bucks.”
“You’re kidding me. He’d probably pay twenty bucks for me to let him.” They laughed.
My neighbor leaned back on the stool. “You hear that, Morgan? Jim says he’ll let you suck his dick for twenty dollars.”
The busboy—Morgan—lifted a dirty glass and held it up to the light hanging over the table. His wayward hand opened and closed several times near his shoulder before returning close to his temple to toss more thoughts.
He repeated the behavior while turning the glass back and forth.
“Hey, Morgan.” Jessie whistled loud enough to make my ears ring. Morgan didn’t respond until he did it again.
“The dishes, Morgan. They’re not going to jump into the sink on their own.”
Morgan put the glass in the tub and finished clearing the table. He moved to another booth occupied by a guy in a rumpled business suit.
The man caught Morgan by the wrist and leaned close. Morgan kept his head low and his shoulders hunched. The guy spoke, and Morgan shook his head.
My neighbor yelled for Jessie. “Empty glass here. You might want to fill it.”
“Hold your horses, Mike.” Jessie went back to the conversation he was engaged in with a guy in overalls.
“Slow service and queer help. What kind of place you running here?”
“Hey,” I said. “Do you mind?”
Mike snorted. “Should I?”
In Chicago, very few men would have talked to me like that. They knew who I was and who my associates were. But I was in Durstrand now, and nothing more than another corn-fed white boy among a town full of the same. No one owed me favors here. Hell, they didn’t even owe me respect.
“That’s what I thought.” Mike sneered at me and banged his mug on the counter. Jessie stormed over and replaced it with a fresh glass. “‘Bout time.” Mike drank half in a few swallows.
As Morgan passed me on his way to the back, Mike grabbed him by his shirt. I caught my neighbor by his wrist. “Back off.”
“Who the fuck do you think you are?”
“Just someone who thinks you’re making a mistake you’ll regret.”
“Yeah. Really.” I tightened my grip, and for a moment, Mike’s eyes widened. “Now let go.”
“I think he has a thing for you, Morgan,” Mike said.
Morgan dropped his head and waves of blond hair hid his face.
“I’m not going to ask you again.” I lowered my voice in the way I knew could grab a man’s attention and shake his survival instincts into action.
Mike held my gaze, and I wondered if I was going to have to make good on my threat. I didn’t want to cause trouble with the local PD, but I’d learned long ago never say what you aren’t willing to act on.
The bravado in Mike’s expression crumpled to embarrassment, then anger. I let him shake out of my hold.
“Asshole.” He turned back around and glared at me from the corner of his eye.
To Morgan, I said, “You okay?”
He held the bin against his hip with one hand and the other hovered close to his temple. Dark brown eyes met my gaze before disappearing under his bangs.
Morgan tapped his fingers against his palm before flicking his hand and snapping his fingers.
“Do you need me to get Jessie?” Before Jessie could walk over, the kid fled into the back.
“He’ll be fine.” Jessie propped his elbow on the counter.
Mike and his buddy laughed at the TV and ate peanuts.
I glanced back at the way Morgan went. “What’s wrong with him?”
The question was meant for Jessie, but Mike answered. “Boy’s
Jessie took the glass of beer out of Mike’s hand. “Get the fuck out of here before I throw you out.”
“Just calling it like I see it.”
“Out, Mike. Or I’ll phone Louise and tell her I saw you making eyes at one of my waitresses.”
The smirk on Mike’s face shriveled up and he jerked himself off the stool. A few choice words followed him to the door. He pulled instead of pushing. Twice. His buddy helped him figure out how to get it open, and they left.
“You know he’s actually a halfway decent guy when he’s not drunk.” Jessie leaned over the bar. “I’m just glad Morgan didn’t hear Mike say that.”
“I think the whole bar heard Mike call him a faggot.” The word left a bitter taste on my tongue. I washed it down with a mouthful of beer.
“Morgan doesn’t care about people calling him queer, faggot, or any of the other colorful labels they come up with. I just don’t want him hearing Mike call him retarded.”
“I think the PC term is mentally disabled.”
Jessie shrugged. “Whatever they call it, Morgan isn’t. He’s autistic, and it pisses him off when people insinuate that he’s retar—I mean, mentally disabled.”
“That doesn’t even make sense.”
“Sure it does. Morgan is gay, he’s not disabled.”
“Who decided that?”
Was he kidding? Someone like Morgan wouldn’t even know what sex was let alone sexuality. I bit back my argument and attempted to hide my disbelief behind another swig of beer, but my glass was empty.
“Still doesn’t give anyone the right to call him names.”
“No, it doesn’t. But trust me. If it bothers him, he’ll deal with it.”
“How can you say he’ll deal with it? He’s helpless.”
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t just hear those words come out of your mouth.” Why not? Morgan had obviously been scared to death. Why else would he run to the back?
The guy in the business suit stopped at the bar and laid a twenty on the counter in front of Jessie, and said, “Food was decent and the beer good. Thanks again.”
Jessie slid the money into his pocket. “See you in three months?”
“There abouts.” Business suit headed in the direction of the bathroom.
“Now, what was I saying?”
“That Morgan will deal with the name-calling.”
“Yeah. That. He will, so don’t worry.” Jessie held up my glass. “You want another?”
“No thanks.” I slid off the stool. “I’ve got to get up early.” I did have to get up early, but I didn’t want another drink because I didn’t trust myself not to shoot off at the mouth.
Because how could any half-decent human being think someone like Morgan could defend themselves. I don’t know why I expected anything less. Small town, small minds. I had firsthand experience.
I mean, all the good church-going people back home didn’t see a damn thing wrong with a father putting his son out on the street for kissing a boy. It wasn’t like Chicago didn’t have bigots; everyone there hated someone for some reason, so it evened out.
I laid a five on the counter and hit the john. For a men’s room in a bar, it was clean. The scent of plywood and fresh paint overrode any trace of beer piss. There were gaps between the tiles around the urinal close to the door and supplies to install a new one on the floor.
Nice to know I wasn’t the only one with unfinished projects. I’d just zipped up when a low murmur came from the direction of the stalls. A whimper followed.
Wouldn’t be the first time I’d walked into a bathroom with two guys exchanging a quick hand job. Either way, it was none of my business.
I washed up and plucked a paper towel from the dispenser. The stall reflected in the mirror, along with two sets of feet toe to toe. One wore shiny dress shoes, the other flip-flops.