Fifty-one

Molly woke up to the sound of coffee brewing, in an old-fashioned percolator.  Gurgle, gurgle, slurrrp!  Molly recognized the sound from countless sleepovers–it was the sound of morning in the Crane household.  Lexi’s father had been a long-time holdout after Mr. Coffee had introduced the world to drip-brewed coffee, and Margaret always ran the percolator when Lexi was visiting, to make her feel at home.

Molly glanced at the clock, out of habit.  She’d slept late, and it was almost eleven.  She had less than two hours before her flight.  Time to visit with Lexi and then go, not much more.  She was already shuffling her finances and preparing excuses for her editor so she could come back as quickly as possible.  Lexi seemed to be out of the worst of her grief, but she wasn’t better yet.  Molly was still furious with herself for not having been there for her in the past six months.  She toyed again with the thought of just quitting the paper and freelancing full-time…but she just couldn’t bring herself to make that leap.

Lexi was home and awake and hunched over a large bowl of Lucky Charms.  “Good morning, my love,” she said, as cheerful as could be.  There wasn’t a trace of the pain Lexi had clearly been feeling the day before.

“You sound like you had fun last night,” she replied.

“Oh, loads,” she said.  “I went out with Nikki.  We got chased by some cops, and I spent the night in jail.  Then I stayed up all night and finished the car.”

If she had been drinking, she’d have done a spit take.  “Lex?  Jail?”

“It’s okay, it was all a huge misunderstanding,” Lexi said, her voice pitched the way she did when she was either telling a huge lie or trying to make an unpleasant truth sound like no big deal. 

Because Lexi was home and there wasn’t a police officer with her, Molly decided to assume for now that it was the former, and let it go.  “How are things going otherwise?  Ren’s car?”

“Needs an alignment, and that’s it,” she said absently.  She was focused only on the car now; it was bigger than any other possible obstacle.   

“My flight’s at twelve-thirty.”

“I know,” Lexi said with a sigh, a slight frown crossing her face.  “I wish you weren’t going.  I’ll come see you soon.”

“Do that,” Molly said.  “Are you okay?”

“Feeling strange, but maybe seventy-four and a half percent.”

“It’ll get better, Lexi.”

“I know.”  Lexi shoveled more cereal into her mouth as if trying to drown whatever statement might have followed.  She didn’t like goodbyes, and Molly knew that.  Even before Ren had died on her, Lexi had disliked saying farewell, insisting that she would only say goodbye if she was never coming back.  It was bothering her more than she wanted it to right now, sending a friend off.  Better to switch off for the moment.  Molly would understand. 

“Where’s Glen?”

“He left a message this morning.  Said he’d be back later this afternoon. We’re going for a drive in Ren’s car.  Did you guys have fun?”

“Could have been better.”

“Oh, I know that tone.”

“Know it well, don’t you?  We went out to dinner, talked a lot, and then he dropped me off back here, in spite of some not-so-subtle hinting that I’d like to go back to his place.”

“That’s weird.  He seemed to like you.”

“No shit.”

“I’ll try to find out what’s up with him, then.  He should be wooing you with singleminded determination by now.”

Molly smiled.  “Don’t bother.”

“Pah!”  Lexi waved her hand.  “I’ll find out what his damage is.”  She had half a smile.

“I’m never going to be able to show my face to him again by the time you’re done.”

“Not if I can help it.  Humiliating you is my one joy in life,” Lexi said.  Both of them knew she was kidding.  The unspoken communication and history they shared was similar to that she’d had with Ren, and it was refreshing.  Lexi closed her eyes and basked in the feeling.  “I’ve missed you,” she said.

“I missed you, too.  If you want to be back, I’ll help any way I can.”

“I’ll just bet you will,” Lexi said, toying with the idea of telling Molly to quit her job and move back to Michigan.  She knew Molly had been more or less unhappy ever since going to Boston.  She was too close to her family there; the Snows needed more distance from one another than they seemed to think they did.  But she didn’t test Molly.  A leap that big really needed to be taken on her own, not with her friend as an excuse.  Oh, well.  Lexi sighed.  She didn’t want Molly to go.

Molly was equally loath to leave.  Her friend had come down from the crumbling brink she’d been at in Arcadia, but she was still a bit too manic, a bit too energetic.  The energy wasn’t at all unusual–actually it was a welcome bit of normal behavior for her–but Molly sensed an edge of desperation in Lexi’s actions, and couldn’t figure out what was coming next.

At least Lexi would be with Glen.  Despite last night, he was a decent guy.  Better him than Ian, or even Eddie.

Molly thought about Glen a lot on the way to the airport.  A lot more than she wanted to, actually.  They had exchanged cards at least, and a little high-schooler’s voice in her was ecstatic even though she had no intention of calling him after last night.  But maybe he’d call her.  While the clerk at the Budget rental counter dozed through getting her car checked back in, Molly indulged in a little romantic daydream.  By the time she got to the airport terminal, she had torn it apart and judged it, quote, Stupid, end quote.  It didn’t do any good, though.  Glen Grant kept creeping back into her thoughts, though, especially his eyes which sparkled in a certain way when he talked about cars.  When she thought about it, she realized it was the same happy-deranged twinkle that Lexi got, albeit somewhat more rational, if a twinkle could be described as rational or not.

So maybe he’d call her, if she hadn’t scared him off for good.

Stop it, Molly told herself, which got Glen out of her mind for almost five minutes.

The plane reached cruising altitude before Molly discovered that Lexi had gotten to her crossword.  She had filled in words that clearly weren’t correct, alternating them across and down to form a stairway-shaped declaration:  “LiStEn HERe cOcKsUcKeRS MoThErFuCkErS!  pAy ReSpEcT 2 My bUiLdInG!”  Molly frowned and smiled at the same time.  At least it was in pencil; she could still do the puzzle.  But what did it mean?

Knowing Lexi, it was a song lyric, or a movie quote.  And there was still that nagging sense that something wasn’t right with Lex.  Molly wished the air-phones provided by the airlines weren’t so goddamned expensive.  Oh, well.  She checked her watch, pulled the phone off the seat in front of her, swiped her credit card–she could almost hear it scream in agony–and dialed a Michigan exchange, calling another close friend of Lexi’s.  The few things Lex didn’t tell her, she usually told to Cygnet Allen, and that might have been where she was all night.

The phone rang once, twice.  Be home, Molly thought, and then it was picked up.  “Y’ello.”  Whether she was working or not, Cygnet always managed to sound like a DJ on the phone.  Sometimes she would answer the phone at home with a cheerful, Thank you caller, you’re on the air! just to scare the shit out of whoever she was talking to.

“Hi, Cygnet, it’s Molly.”

“No shit.  You don’t need to introduce yourself, you know.  You’re the only friend I have who sounds like a cat being squeezed when she talks.”

“Ha, ha, very funny.  It’s a habit; you’re lucky I don’t say my last name, too.  Listen, I’m calling from a plane, so I can’t chat.  Have you talked to Lexi lately?”

“Yesterday evening, actually.”  I knew it! Molly thought.  “She called while Vim and I were on the air.  She said she was calling me from jail?”

So it hadn’t been a joke?  Molly bit her lip.  “It was a mistake,” she said.  “She’s out now, no charges or anything.  I got sketchy details.  I sort of thought it was hyperbole, to be honest.”

“Well, I still wanna hear the story.”

Molly drummed her toes on the floor impatiently.  Cygnet had been born in Texas, and it seemed that even after eleven years out of the state she hadn’t learned how to get the heck to the point in a conversation.  “I can’t tell you right now, Sigue.  What did she call for?”

“She wanted a mix tape.”  Molly could hear Cygnet lighting a cigarette.  “She built a car for Ren, or something, and she wanted a tape to go with it.  She came by and picked it up about half an hour ago.”

“Did she seem okay?”

“A little jittery, in a happy way.  Like she gets before a road trip.”  Cygnet, Lexi, and Molly had taken several road trips together.  They were always Lexi’s idea.

“She finished the car, she’s probably going to drive it.  I’m worried about her,” Molly said.  “She left me a funny quote, on my crossword, but I can’t figure out what it means.  Can you help?”

“Shoot.”  Molly read Lexi’s message to her.  Cygnet thought for a moment.  “That’s Pop Will Eat Itself.  ‘Not Now James, We’re Busy,’ is the name of the song.  I know she likes to dance to it.  Shit, I should have put it on her tape.”

“It’s got to be here for more than just being in her head.  Figures she would have picked a song I don’t know.”

“Probably so you wouldn’t stop her from doing what she’s tryin’ to do,” Cygnet said.  “She wanted you to know, but not to do anything.”

Molly’s stomach sank.  “I don’t want to ask, but what’s the song about?”

“It’s a silly one.  About James Brown getting dusted up on PCP, freaking out, and getting chased by the cops, basically.  Uhmm, ‘this man’s possessed, he’s restless, armed and dangerous, drugged and reckless, Mrs. Brown, you’ve got a lovely son, but he’s on the run, on a shotgun mission,…faster soul master, they’re coming at you from all directions, speed’s your protection, don’t look behind ya till South Carolina,'” she recited.  “Goes something like that.”

Resting her head against the back of the seat in front of her, eyes closed so she didn’t have to look at what might be Lexi’s arcane suicide note, Molly asked, “How does the song end?”

“James gets caught and arrested.”  Cygnet had heard the concern in Molly’s voice deepen.  “You don’t think she’s going to try and take that car to Ren personally, do you?”  Molly didn’t answer.  She was wishing she’d eaten more than a bagel before leaving Margaret’s house.  She was wishing a bit that she’d never even left there, in fact.  “Okay, what can I do to help?”

Molly’s brain shot off in two directions at once; first, to the note that Lexi have given her, the page from the auction flyer and its highlighted name.  Second, she needed to know where Lexi was going.  “The woman always leaves clues,” she said.  “Whether she means to or not.  Can you go to Margaret’s, look in the garage, see if she left anything there?  I don’t know what.”

“Will do,” Cygnet said.

Molly took a deep breath.  “I’ve never picked a worse time to be stuck on an airplane,” she said. 

“What are you going to do?”

“Find out who David R. Frederick is.”