Word Count: 1016
Prompt: Nine words chosen from random pages in a book
A/N: Written for musemuggers. The book I chose my words from was St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell. This is a linked story to one that I wrote two years ago and can be read here. Thisis an old story, so I apologize for the spam; I realize I hadn't posted it in my LJ!
Ganson wasn’t from the South. Beau didn’t know much more about him other than that, and he could only speculate about his point of origin from his lack of regional dialect. Even after all these years Beau didn’t know if he went by his first name or last or if it was his real name at all. Those kinds of details didn’t matter.
They’d met in a bar just outside of Tupelo. Beau couldn’t remember how many years it had been. It wasn’t worth counting. He just remembered the feel of the bar under his fingers, sticky from too many spilled drinks. He hadn’t chosen the place for cleanliness, but for its relative obscurity. He downed another shot. And for the cheap whiskey.
What Beau remembered most clearly was his voice. It wasn’t softened by the twang of a southern drawl like everyone else’s in Mississippi. He spoke in a low undertone, but there was an edge to his words sharp enough to slice the unwary. “Sorry for your loss.”
“Huh?” Beau jerked, startling at the sound. He might have nodded off for a moment in the low lighting of the lounge. The man on the stool next to him was staring at him from under the brim of a rather conspicuous cowboy hat. “What?”
The man gestured at the half-completed pencil sketch in front of Beau. “My condolences.”
Beau slammed the cover shut. “Now why in the hell would you say that?”
The man shrugged. “Only one reason a man comes into a bar and makes a drawing like that while he’s drunk. It don’t take a genius to connect those dots, Son.”
Beau clenched his jaw. “Just who the hell are you?”
“Ganson.” The man turned away and took a long swig of his beer.
“You aren’t from around here,” Beau said.
Beau waited, but Ganson didn’t offer more. “What do you want?” he asked.
“Nothing,” Ganson said. “Nothing at all.”
“That’s a lie,” Beau said. “Everybody wants something. Why did you come here? Did Greg send you?”
Ganson faced him again. “You don’t want to start something with me, Son. That wouldn’t be wise.”
The implied menace—or perhaps too much whiskey—played tricks with Beau’s imagination, making it seem as if Ganson’s eyes glowed yellow in the dim lighting of the bar. He let his head fall into his hands. “If you don’t want anything then leave me alone.”
Ganson took another pull on his beer. “Can’t do that.”
“What?” Beau stared at him. “What’s your problem? Get the hell away from me! Are you some kind of freak? ”
“Yes,” Ganson said. “And so are you. I know what you are, Son. I knew it as soon as I saw you.”
Beau signaled for another shot. “Oh, I get it. You’re hitting on me. I’m not interested. There’s a gay bar on South Gloster. Fuck off.”
“Jesus God, no.” Ganson said. “I’m glad you got that out of your system. Now we never need to talk about your private life again. I’m here because I know about your phantoms.”
Beau froze, his shot halfway to his lips.
“That’s right.” Ganson reached over and tapped the closed sketch book. “I know about the kid. It’s why I said I was sorry.”
Ganson’s words cut through the drunken fog like a scythe through wheat. How could he know? Beau turned towards him and looked him in the eye for the first time. “Who are you? Who are you, really?”
The man shrugged. “Ganson.”
“How did you find out about me?” Beau asked. “Was it Greg?” Fucking Greg.
Ganson pushed the bowl of peanuts towards him. “You need to eat something, Son. You’re getting paranoid, now. I don’t know any Greg.”
Beau batted the bowl away. “Then how?”
Ganson leaned in. “I just know what I see.”
“Bullshit.” Beau narrowed his eyes. “You expect me to believe that?”
“I don’t give a shit what you believe.” Ganson popped a few nuts in his mouth and chewed. “But I would think that you, of all people, would know sometimes ordinary folks don’t understand things.”
“I’m not ordinary,” Beau said.
“Bingo.” Ganson tilted his head back and drained the bottle. “That’s what I’m saying, Son.”
“But ...” Beau ran his hands through his hair. “How did you know? That’s what I want to know.”
Ganson stood and threw a few crumpled bills on the bar. “I see things,” he said. “Not the same way you do, but I see them just the same. I’m not going to try and explain it to you. You know there’s no use in all of that. It just is. I thought you’d like to know you aren’t the only one. And for the kid, I’m sorry. Sometimes one grabs you and won’t let go. I’ve been there. That’s all I have to say. Like I said, I don’t want anything from you.”
Beau watched him walk out the door. He cracked the sketchbook and flipped through the drawings of men with their faces blown wide open by bullets, of women who had been left to rot in alleys like garbage, the mascara fresh enough to run in the rain, of children and mothers and babies and fathers, the pages and pages of people he had been paid to find. Of those he had and those he hadn’t. Of those he never would. The next shot of whiskey was already clutched in his hand when he came to the last page, the half-finished one, the one he could never bring himself to complete.
Instead of taking another sip, he paid his bill. The door to the outside was heavy, but he pushed past it and filled his lungs with clear air. The light from the setting sun stung his eyes, but he blinked through the tears to see Ganson in the parking lot standing tall against the rising shadows. Ganson didn’t wait any longer but took one step and then another, and Beau followed him westward, down the road towards the elusive answers that he hoped he just might find this time.