Spring, Part Four
A Solstice story
Start at the beginning of the Solstice series
Corbin knelt on the sofa, leaning across its back to open all three windows. The green winds were up today, and the condo still held the musky den-scent of closeted, Midwestern winters. One hand in his dark curls, he looked out over the river, through the slightest yellow-green haze of buds which clambered across the branches.
He turned back to the coffee-table, picking up the gyro in one hand and watching the grease-stains spread across the paper and soak the glass top of the table beneath. Putting both feet on the table, he stretched and ate, letting the cross-breeze ruffle his hair and begin to scour the smell of winter from the room.
There wasn't any good reason for Stephanie to complain about what he'd done, aside from who she was and what he was. He knew that, but it rankled in a way things hadn't for years. He'd taken steps, actual measures, in order to make sure she could trust him as far as possible. Left to his own devices, Soon might have wound up safer than she was, if less happy ... but he'd worked to ensure that Stephanie got what she wanted, a confidant, someone she could actually rely on and do good work for.
"Maybe that's it," he muttered, laying the gyro down and glancing outside once more. She'd had to rely on him in the past. Whether she liked it or not, he and Long had been the only people she was close to.
No, not close to ... associated with. Soon changed all of that; gave her an ally of her own kind, her own sex. He clucked at that despite himself. It was the same for all of them, living as something different than they were meant to be. He couldn't spread his wings any longer, couldn't sail across the sun in these bright warm days. She couldn't, well, piss standing up any longer. All things considered, she had it easy.
He stretched, looking across the room to the desk where his computer screen had gone dark between small piles of paper, a copy of Bullfinch's Mythology and a small pottery sculpture of Thoth, stork-headed god of knowledge. Above the computer hung a framed, outsized photo of Ash Park along the river, taking up the entire wall and overpowering the rest of the room.
"Screw it," he said, reaching for his jacket. Wallet, keys, digital voice recorder, cell phone, camera. The computer and books weren't getting him anywhere these days, now that he could actually get out and about. Winter was over, thanks to Soon and Stephanie. It was time to hunt for the answers in the best way he knew.
"Hey, Katie," Corbin smiled as he entered the Bridgehouse, "how's the little one?"
"Jesus, don't ask. Eight going on eighteen."
Katie's brown eyes rolled back. "She's fine for daddy, of course. Perfect angel from everything he says, but I know better than to listen to him. He's just trying to get under my skin." She pushed the sleeves of her black shirt to the elbows, leaning on the bar. "What's new with you?"
"The usual, this and that. Trying to get by on a freelancer's income, but I've got enough to cover a bottle of Burning River or two. Want one?"
"Sure, why not? It's slower than death today." She opened two bottles, setting one down in front of him. "Thanks. We haven't seen you around for a while."
"Winter keeps me indoors. It's nice to get out and see everyone again. Johnny coming in later?"
"Shit, didn't you hear?"
"What?" Corbin pulled a concerned face.
"He's still in a coma from that accident last year."
"Oh ... oh, I forgot about that." He shook his head. "Still?"
"Yeah. I'm actually starting to miss him, in a weird sort of way. I mean, he was a pain in the ass and a constant mooch, but you could usually count on him for a laugh or two."
"Huh. How's Duncan taking it?"
"I haven't seen him since the accident. Jen at the Northwoods says he's gone completely sober."
"You think he feels responsible?"
"He was driving, wasn't he?" She took a drink. "Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, he had to have been drinking to take a curve that fast. Scared him straight, I bet."
"The blood tests were negative, though. Sheriff MacIntyre said it was just speeding."
"It's Duncan and Johnny. John was tight as ten knots, and did you ever see Duncan not try to keep up with him?"
"Who knows?" Corbin sighed, sipping at his own beer and glancing out toward the road. "Have you thought ... well, I mean, has anyone thought of doing a benefit for him? Teacher's insurance won't cover the hospital bills and he's not exactly the kind to keep a savings account well-stocked."
"Never thought much about it. When my uncle was in hospital they eventually waived the bill based on inability to pay."
"Huh. I thought Cary might step something like that up."
"Schilling. You know, John's friend. Too tall by half, glasses by John Lennon, hair by Queer Eye."
"Cary from Del Norte?" She laughed, pulling at her beer. "Are you serious? I don't think he's ever given a thought to anyone but himself."
"You sure? He always seemed pretty tight with John."
"It doesn’t matter how tight he is with anyone, believe me. Cary doesn't give a rat's ass about anyone but himself."
Corbin widened his smile with a teasing light in his eyes. "So you did go out with him."
Katie cocked her head and crossed her arms. "God damn it. How do you do that?"
"Majored in journalism with a minor in psych." He lifted the bottle. "Don't worry, I won't tell anyone else."
"That doesn't sound like a reporter. Hell. Yeah, we went out for about two months when I was working down at Bailey's. Little bastard still owes me fifty dollars I loaned him to cover his rent."
"On that place above the deli?"
"No, he was living in the Foxview then." She shook her head and took another drink. "I'm pretty sure he skipped out the next month. What in God's name made you think he'd set up a benefit?"
"What made you think he'd be a good date? He's good at making people trust him, I guess." He drained his own beer, feeling uncomfortably self-conscious for a moment. Hadn't Stephanie said he reminded her of Corbin - and wasn't that exactly why Long kept Corbin around?
"I guess. Well, what can you do, right? I was going to microwave a pizza, you want some?"
"No, thanks. I'm actually taking a quick break from work but I have to get back on the job after this."
"I hear you. Thanks for the beer, Corbin. Don't be such a stranger now it's nicer out."
Out in the parking lot, he donned a pair of oversize sunglasses, still blinking against the glare. He'd figured something of the sort, having been unable to trace Cary's movements well anywhere on the internet. Plenty of drifters turned into Independents in Solstice, finding their way here the same way he had, pulled by the power of the ash tree and the strange force laying beneath it.
Stephanie's instinctive distrust suddenly made more sense. She had him pegged not only for a beast, but for a trickster, the kind she'd seen more than enough of. If he was looking after Soon to boot, she had good reason to worry - and setting Corbin on his tail made a certain twisted sense.
"Set a thief, I guess." He looked into the sky, wishing once again to take flight. Instead he climbed back into the car and set the hood toward River Road.
"They're all down here." The Foxview manager thrust a thick finger toward the back of the basement, thick with cobwebs and the molding scent of subterranean flooding. "I've got 'em marked with his name."
"Thank you, sir." Corbin took off the sunglasses and shook his hand. "You've been a big help."
"Sure, officer. Hope you nail the little faggot when you find him." He spat over his shoulder. "If you need anything else just ring the buzzer, but I got to get to work on the air."
"I'll be fine." Corbin waited for the man to leave, then wiped his hand on his jeans with a frown before moving into the basement to cut open the tape on the boxes of Cary Schilling's belongings.
The frown deepened as he sorted the first box - nothing but shirts and pants, stylish enough but hardly informative. The second box was filled with a thrown-together jumble of toiletries, knickknacks and other ephemera, but the third box held pay dirt.
Corbin smiled at the sight. Letters, books and magazines, beautiful words that would help put together a clearer picture of the man he was looking into. He pulled the box to a table near the washing machines and began to methodically sort through them.
The magazines were a mixed bag of fashion and fiction, including three with redirect labels that showed Cary had moved to Solstice from an address in Choestoe, Georgia. Many of the books had stamps from the library in Choestoe, all of them biographies or autobiographies of old movie stars - Errol Flynn, Joan Crawford, the Marx Brothers.
The letters were a disappointment at first, mostly bills which had never been opened. Halfway through the stack, however, he found a number of envelopes with return addresses from up and down the Atlantic coast, New Hampshire to Florida. Inside each was a copy of a chain letter, a signature and a promise to send more money soon.
Laughing to himself, Corbin thrust those into his jacket pocket and set about re-packing the books and magazines. Even if he didn't know exactly who and what Cary was, he had enough now to satisfy Stephanie ... and maybe keep a bit of information for himself.
Whistling, he walked back to the car, unrolled the windows and headed for the park. After a good day's work, a walk along the riverbank sounded like the best thing possible.
Story and image by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2010