by Mark Finn
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Chapter Twenty-Two: Should Have Known Better

Chris Threadgill sat in the Gamesmen warehouse parking lot in Hillary's old canary yellow Camero and tried his level best to open the breakfast burrito quietly. It didn't work. Everything made his head hurt.

"Um, Chris, do you want help with that?" asked Hillary in a quavering voice.

Especially that.

"No, I've got it. We actually have tinfoil in Washington, so this little number is pretty easy for me."

When Threadgill woke up that morning, he was in the arms of Hillary-formerly-in-accounting. She was snoring to beat the bishop and had him in a sleeper hold. There was no way he could get up without dragging her with him, so he threw up in the bed all over both of them.

That took half an hour to sort out. According to Hillary, who screamed at him over the roar of the shower in her tiny apartment, he had ruined everything by vomiting all over them both. "We made a connection, goddammit, and like every other man in my life, you had to shit all over it. Or puke! They're both hard to clean up!"

"Please stop shouting," he had whispered, sitting naked on her couch. Truthfully, puking was the best thing in the world for him. He was instantly sober. It was the hangover that was making him shiver. He kept drinking sips of water, but judging from the amount of alcohol he remembered consuming (before his little blackout, which was apparently also when he and Hillary had made their connection), he would need at least a gallon of water before he would start to feel better.

After she had taken her shower, he was allowed to take his. However, Hillary had spent so much time screaming at him, all Threadgill got was about a minute's worth of hot water. The icy water further cleared his senses, but didn't help his hangover, or his disposition.

His shower over with, he dressed in the bathroom and walked out to an empty apartment. Hillary came back in a few minutes later, much calmer.

"Um, sorry about all that," she said, her head down.

"Don't, uh, don't worry about it," Threadgill said slowly, not trusting her new attitude. "You got thrown up on. It tends to piss people off." He changed the subject. "Where'd you go just then?"

"I'm washing the sheets," she said quietly. This was more like the old Hillary; quiet, meek, and off-kilter in a strange yet attractive way. He had a flash of the hellcat she'd turned into last night, and then it was gone, replaced by a shooting pain behind his eyes.

"Hillary, um, listen, about last night," he said.

"I'll get my car keys." She quickly turned and walked to the kitchen, leaving Threadgill alone in the small living room.

Now, an hour later, her attitude had changed for the fourth time since they had woken up that morning. The Hillary who sat beside him with a large orange juice between her legs was helpful, apologetic, and even slightly concerned. How many faces did she own, he wondered. He liked her better when she was screaming bloody murder, hangover or no, he decided. At least he knew where he stood with her.

"Well, okay," Hillary said. "How about some more aspirin?"

Threadgill nodded. She gave him three. He washed them down with his coffee and attempted to eat his breakfast burrito. His offer to buy them breakfast hadn't been turned down, he reflected, so maybe it wasn't all bad.

"I think I love you."

No, he thought to himself, it was much, much worse.

"You know what, Hillary?" Threadgill turned slightly in the bucket seats to address her directly. "I really think we need to postpone this, uh, this conversation--"

"Oh god," said Hillary, tears welling up in her eyes.

"Hillary. Don't cry. Please. It's just that, you're not catching me at my best, here."

"Chris, don't try to..."

"I mean, not only am I completely hung over, but I've got a couple of missing employees, here," said Chris. He pointed to the two trucks, parked several yards away. "Those things, right there, should be on the road."

"And you're going to follow those trucks," she sniffed.

"Yes, and you knew that when you decided to sleep with me."

Her eyes were accusing when she looked at him. "You could've backed off! You knew I had feelings for you! Why did you press your advantage?"

Motherfucker, Threadgill thought. It never rains, but it pours. "Hillary, you know, I was completely pickled last night. I'm positive you could have said no, and I would have happily passed out on your couch."

"That's not the point!"

Oh ho, he thought, there's the chink in the armor. "Why? Why isn't it the point? Because you don't have self-control? Is that it? I'm not responsible for your behavior, Hillary, or your actions. You did what you wanted to do, and I suspect it was because you need some drama in your life to make yourself feel better..."

He stopped, then, because she was laughing at him. "You have no idea what we did last night, do you, asshole?" she said.

That made him think. "Well, I've got some holes in my memory right now, see..."

She made a face. "Oh great, you don't even remember." Then she narrowed her eyes. "Or are you just saying that so you won't be held accountable?"

Oh, shit, he thought, searching his memories in a panic. What did we do? Where was that piece of information hiding? While his brain turned on two cylinders, he stalled for time.

"Look, I don't want to talk about this now, I want to find Otto and Stacy."

Hillary smiled, bit her lip, and looked away. "Try calling them again."

Threadgill hit redial on his cell phone. Their hotel phone rang and rang. Nothing. They weren't there. He knew that because they drove by the hotel first. His car wasn't there. He used the spare key to their door, and found the room empty, save for their meager luggage. Otto and Stacy were officially A.W.O.L.

None of this helped Threadgill's headache, and now he realized who's fault it was. It was Otto and Stacy's fault. If they hadn't run off with his rented car, he wouldn't have gone home with Hillary, and subsequently gotten trapped in the car with her in front of the former Gamesmen warehouse at nine in the morning.

He turned back to Hillary. "No answer."

"Gosh, I'm shocked," she said. "What a pain in the ass for you to have to talk to me about your mistake."

Oh joy, Threadgill thought, the pissed off Hillary was back. "You've got me all wrong," he said, trying to play defense. "I'm just trying to get back on an even keel."

"Oh, fuck your even keel!" Hillary shouted. She flung her door open and flung herself out of the car.

That did it. No one questioned Chris Threadgill's bullshit if they knew what was good for them. He followed her outside, into the dry heat. "Hey, Sybil, you seriously need to calm your happy ass down!"

"Oh, yeah?" she said, a dangerous light in her eyes. "And what if I don't? What'cha gonna do, tough guy? Mister 'let's try something different'? Huh? You gonna work me over?"

"What?" Threadgill was so completely taken aback by the nonsense coming out of Hillary's mouth, he didn't even notice the battered, black van as it drove slowly, haltingly by.

Next Chapter

Chapter One: The Navel Adventures of Larry Croft
Chapter Two: 1123 Miles to Tempe
Chapter Three: Enter the String
Chapter Four: The Waiting is the Hardest Part
Chapter Five: Rutlege's Story
Chapter Six: The Plot Thickens
Chapter Seven: The Fifth Man is Revealed
Chapter Eight: It's a DRY Heat
Chapter Nine: Preparing to Lam
Chapter Ten: The Mislaid Plans of Mouse and Man
Chapter Eleven: The Danger of Talking to God
Chapter Twelve: Anchors Aweigh, Let's Go Men
Chapter Thirteen: The End is Near
Chapter Fourteen: Roll to Hit
Chapter Fifteen: Six Feet of Beef Stick for the Soul
Chapter Sixteen: Hello, My Name is Indio, California
Chapter Seventeen: Threadgill Takes Charge
Chapter Eighteen: The Players on the Other Side
Chapter Nineteen: On the Road to Perdition
Chapter Twenty: Welcome to Tempe
Chapter Twenty-One: The Game is Afoot
Chapter Twenty-Two: Should Have Known Better
Chapter Twenty-Three: Test-Run at the Waffle House
Chapter Twenty-Four: The Supply Run
Chapter Twenty-Five: The Backhoe
Chapter Twenty-Six: A Frank Discussion
Chapter Twenty-Seven: A Brief History of Larry's Van
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Go Speed Racer, Go
Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Owner of the Thumbscrews
Chapter Thirty: Brain Teasers
Chapter Thirty-One: Frick and Frack Check In
Chapter Thirty-Two: Scouting
Chapter Thirty-Three: The Stakeout
Chapter Thirty-Four: The Food Fight
Chapter Thirty-Five: Time to Dig
Chapter Thirty-Six: Deep in the Night
Chapter Thirty-Seven: Paydirt
Chapter Thirty-Eight: The Phallus of Ebon Keep
Chapter Thirty-Nine: Otto and Stacy Make Good
Chapter Forty: Thieves in the Night
Chapter Forty-One: Critical Failure
Chapter Forty-Two: Downtown
Chapter Forty-Three: The Hoosegow
Chapter Forty-Four: An Emergency Breakfast
Chapter Forty-Five: Two Early Phone Calls
Chapter Forty-Six: Threadgill Meets the Gang
Chapter Forty-Seven: Back to the Van
Chapter Forty-Eight: Five Days Later
Table of Contents

About the Author

Mark Finn is the author of Blood & Thunder: the Life and Art of Robert E. Howard, which was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. He also writes excellent short stories, essays, articles, and reviews. In addition to his regular gig at the Vernon Plaza Theater, he can be found intermittently on The Clockwork Storybook blog and RevolutionSF, holding court or damning with faint praise.