Wayne pulled into his reserved parking spot. The Raven’s Nest, as usual, was packed for a Wednesday night. Wayne and Harlan breezed past the long line. Loud music resounded in the parking lot every time the door opened. They walked into the bar amid the complaints of the people waiting on line.
Inside the place was wall-to-wall coeds. Wayne looked around a little confused. Harlan smiled and said, "Frozen T-shirt night. Five hundred dollars in cash to the winner."
"Uh-huh," Wayne answered and went to their normal table. Harlan walked over to the bar.
"G’Day Harlan," Stitch slid a bottle of Jack, a pot of coffee, and a cup across to him. "Got your usual here."
"Thanks," Harlan answered. "You got a minute? Wayne and I need to ask you a few questions."
Stitch’s expression changed to worry. "It wasn’t me, I didn’t do it, and if she’s not old enough, I don’t even know ‘er."
"Not that." Harlan sighed, "Just come over to the table when you get a chance."
"Uh, okay," he answered.
A few moments later, Stitch showed up with a bottle of Australian beer in one hand. Real Australian beer. Not the sludge that was shipped to America. He checked his cell phone, then sat down.
"All right, hit me," he smiled then hurriedly added, "Not literally."
Harlan shook his head. "What do you know about Gravesville, VA."
Stitch furrowed his brow for a minute, clearly trying to recall some distant detail. He was the most brilliant person Harlan ever met, but he suffered from horrible amnesia. He could remember his name and his home country of Australia and little else. Harlan had a feeling that even those two facts were in doubt.
"Sounds familiar," Stitch finally answered somewhat dubiously. "I think I was there, few years ago. Could be where Raven found me. No, wait that was somewhere in Louisiana. I think. Let’s see . . ."
Harlan and Wayne exchanged a disgusted look. It was their own fault. To rely on someone’s memory when the memory itself was unreliable. Nevertheless, they decided to show some uncharacteristic patience and let Stitch sift through his mind for the appropriate information.
"I seem to remember something about a place called the Briar Patch," he dredged up. He smiled dazedly. "Cute girl behind the counter. Raven came in and pulled me away though."
"Raven did?" Harlan asked suddenly. "You mean Sarah wasn’t with you?"
"Nah," he answered, "Raven and me ran to Albany to pick up some antique for Seana. I think it was when you guys went on that run to L.A. to pick up that guy that owed Sarah money."
"I remember that one," Wayne muttered as he broke the seal on the bottle.
"Let’s see," stitch scratched his temple, deep in thought. "We pulled into this store’s parking lot ‘cause we was lost. Raven woke up as I pulled to a stop . . ."
"Wait, Raven was asleep?" Wayne interrupted.
"Yeah," Stitch answered.
"So you was lost," Harlan corrected.
"Well, yeah," Stitch blinked at Harlan, a slightly bewildered look on his face.
Picking up the slack for an absent Sarah, Harlan added, "Raven let you drive?"
"Yeah," Stitch answered with a miffed tone in his voice. "Can I continue with my story?"
Both Wayne and Harlan motioned for him to continue, Harlan a little more elaborately than Wayne. After a full minute of various gestures, Wayne gave his companion the death stare. Harlan rolled his eyes and let Stitch spin his yarn.
"So we get out and go into the store to ask directions," Stitch said and took a big swig of beer. "Actually we needed to find out where we were in order to figure out how to get where we were going. Since I got us lost, Raven made me ask for directions. I was glad to since there was this really fine piece of tail standing behind the counter. Man, she was hot. Blonde hair, tight dress, long legs, and great big ole . . ."
Stitch cupped his hands in front of his chest. Harlan nodded approvingly but Wayne just growled, "Get on with it."
"Any way," Stitch cleared his throat, "I walked up to her and used some of my Australian charm to, you know, get to her to give up the goods and Raven says, ‘Dammit, just ask her how to get back to the interstate.’
"Then she says, ‘Wah would you want to leave here?’ And she leans over the counter showin’ off all mother nature had to offer, if you catch my meaning. And I’m telling you, right then I had no idea why anyone would want to leave. I had no intention of leavin’ anytime soon at all. She had the sexiest Southern accent to go with that perfect body. Almost as sexy as Sarah’s. ‘Course I wouldn’t go after Sarah, her bein’ family and all. By the way, where is Sarah?"
"Seana’s," the two men answered in unison.
"Oh," Stitch answered, not in the least bit curious, "So where was I? Oh yeah. Then Raven looks right at her and says, ‘Miss, where are we?’
"She smiled the sweetest, cutest smile I’ve ever seen and said, ‘Why you’re at the Briar Patch sugar. Gravesville’s five miles that way.’
"All of a sudden Raven went ash pale and freaked. He grabbed me by the arm, threw a fifty on the counter, and dragged me out the door. I tried to tell him we hadn’t got anything, but he just shoved me in the truck and got behind the wheel himself and drove. I was trying to tell him which way to go but he plowed down the highway and went the wrong way down a ramp to get us back on the interstate."
"Did he tell you what got him so worked up?" Harlan asked.
"Yeah," Stitch said as a strange look came over his face. "He said he saw Sarah’s truck."
Wayne and Harlan sat patiently waiting to speak with Raven. Stitch had said he was working on the books, but would be out soon. Harlan was entertained by the contest unfolding on the stage. While several of the girls may have futures ahead of them as models, none of them would get very far on their dancing abilities. Still, the visual distraction was enough to pass the time until Wayne, who had been focusing on the office door the entire time, punched his shoulder. Harlan waved him off, "Yeah, I see him. Stitch will let him know we need to talk to him."
At that moment Stitch whistled to Raven. The tall man walked over to his even taller comrade. Stitch leaned down, whispered something to Raven, and pointed to Wayne and Harlan. Raven looked up at them. They could barely see his eyes from under his full head of black hair and the constant shadow he seemed to carry with him, but they could sense sudden apprehension from him. Raven quickly turned, vaulted back over the bar, and headed for the door that led upstairs to the private apartments, one of which he lived in. Harlan looked at Wayne and saw his own puzzlement reflected in his friend’s usually impassive face.
"What was that all about?" he asked as they both walked toward Stitch.
"Let’s find out," Wayne replied. By the time they reached Stitch, he was already trying to explain the situation… and was failing miserably.
"I ‘ave no idea what just ‘appened," Stitch stammered while he shrugged his massive shoulders. "I just told him that you guys wanted to talk to ‘im ‘bout our visit to the Briar Patch and Sarah’s truck and what happened and why he freaked and he just… freaked… again."
"I think we’ll go ask him what the deal is," Wayne lifted the gate to the bar and headed for the stairs. Harlan followed close behind.
After they had disappeared, Stitch mused, "Maybe he thought he left the kettle on, or something."
"Come on you bastard," Harlan rattled the locked door. "Open up. Hell, I’m the one who owes you twenty bucks."
"You can keep your money if you just leave and don’t ever ask me about that place," Raven smooth voice echoed into the hall.
"Come on Raven," Harlan implored, "this is about Sarah. We need to talk to you about this."
"Go away," Raven’s voice was more stern this time. "I can’t talk about this with you."
Wayne pushed Harlan aside, took a step back, and kicked the door open. He then added, as an afterthought, "We’re coming in."
Raven looked at them, apprehension giving way to feigned fury. "Do you realize how much trouble you’re in? Forcing your way into a elder’s home is a whipping offense."
Harlan and Wayne exchanged an unconcerned shrug. Harlan added, "So file a BDEDC."
"BDEDC?" Raven asked confused.
"Breaking Down Elder’s Door Complaint," Wayne explained as he tried to straighten the door. He’d knocked it slightly off its hinges. It protested loudly as he finally managed to get it closed. "Damian calls them Form 42s for short."
"I thought they were Form 37s," Harlan asked while he admired Wayne’s impromptu handyman skills.
"Nope, that’s a DEWPA," Wayne clarified.
"Oh, yeah," Harlan smiled. "Detonating Explosives Without Prior Authorization. You’d think I’d remember that one."
Raven shook his head and walked around the counter to his little kitchen. The apartment was completely open. No walls divided the separated areas of the space. The living room and kitchen were toward the front and the out of service freight elevator while the bedroom and bathroom set near the back of the thousand square foot room. Only a couple of Japanese screens ensured the privacy of anyone using the necessary room.
Raven took out a bottle of chilled white wined and opened it. He looked at the two men. "I don’t suppose you care for any?"
"Not really, no," Harlan said as he made for the cabinet over the sink. To his dismay, the only kind of coffee he found was Kenyan which was very tasty but a bitch to cook. He sighed and looked at Raven.
"Make it yourself if you want any," he answered, "you know how."
"We don’t plan staying that long," Wayne answered as he pulled out a cigarette and eased into a chair. Raven motioned to him with a glass of wine. Wayne shook his head and set a bottle on the glass coffee table. "Got my own."
He lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply. Raven picked up the bottle and walked over to the couch where he flopped down. He looked at Wayne and stated flatly, "No."
"Why not?" Harlan asked as he rummage through the cabinets looking for anything caffeine or chocolate filled.
"Are either of you Catholic?" He asked. Both of the men gave him an are-you-kidding look. "Well it’s kind of like the confessional. I can’t reveal what I know. It’s confidential."
"You’re not a priest," Harlan stated observantly.
"Well, the answer’s still no," he said resolutely.
"It has to do with Sarah," Harlan continued.
"I figured as much when Stitch mentioned her truck," Raven answered. "Not a good idea to go after. No matter how fondly she spoke of it."
Harlan and Wayne exchanged a confused look. Harlan decided to come clean. "No. We were driving through Virginia and wound up at the Briar Patch. Sarah was with us and she flipped . . ."
"Sarah was with you?" He suddenly became very interested. Quickly his feigned rage turned real. "What the Hell were you doing taking her there?"
"Calm down," Wayne interceded. He did not want to get into it with Raven. Not when they were on the same side. "We didn’t go there on purpose. We were . . . drawn there. Much like Stitch was."
Raven backed off a bit. He slumped back onto the couch like a man who had suffered a great defeat. After several minutes of uncomfortable silence, he sighed and steepled his hands in front of his face. "What I am about to tell you goes no further than this room. Understand?"
"Of course," Wayne replied. Harlan nodded in agreement.
"To understand what I have to tell you, you will first need some details about soul sharing and some history about that area. You must promise not to interrupt until the end." Raven stared at them solemnly. "If I am stopped I don’t think I could continue.
"To begin with, I know you know about soul-sharing. You’ve seen Seana do it. Well, that’s not true soul-sharing. That is more like ripping information out of someone because they’re taking to long to ‘fess up. True soul sharing is given freely. And I soul-shared with Sarah many years ago after her first encounter at the Briar Patch. I will get into that in a little while. Now I need to give you some history of the area, for you to understand precisely why she is so upset."
Neither man questioned how Raven knew she was upset since this was the first inclination he had of their brief stop. They knew he had ways of knowing these types of things. They sat and absorbed his knowledge. It was well into the next day when he finished.
(Copyright 2002 Gina M. Wood - Random Quote Productions)
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