Into You (Part 6)
I survey the cab of his Jeep. There are a handful of receipts and two pens scattered across the dashboard, lying in the crevice between the air vents and the windshield. A thin coat of dust shows striations and fingerprints, mostly on his side of the dash. I glance into the rear seat and notice a large umbrella, collapsed, wrapped tight, and bound with its Velcro strap. Other than that, there's no clutter, only a bit of gravel and dirt on the floorboards. I hear the garage door motor start up; the white segmented roll-up door slides up and above us, leaving a glaringly bright rectangle of light and cement driveway in view.
Gerald clicks over the ignition, drops the gearshift into reverse, and backs out onto the street, cutting left into the near lane. I watch him pull the t-handle to D, and feel the slight pressure of acceleration against my back. The houses of our neighborhood slide past in a fluid blur, until we hit the main interchange at the end of the block.
Most of the trip is like a collage of separate images and half-remembered snippets of conversation. I laugh at one of his jokes, about if I was driving, we would be doing Jeepers-creepers, or something like that. I ask him if he was ever married, and he gives me a Cliff Notes version of a love that seemed good, then failed. I divulge how my husband, Mason, was killed in a construction accident, something I don't normally share. The mood in the vehicle grows somber and I lean against the window, letting the streets slip by as the whiskey slips out of my head.
I realize how quiet I've been for several miles, so I sit up and look at Gerald. He's concentrating very hard on his driving, yet he senses I've come out of my stupor. He glances left, notes my dour expression, and says, 'Welcome back.'
'I do better with wine,' I explain. 'Much better with wine.'
'Yeah, sure…' He snorts when he laughs. It kind of grates on my nerves. 'Are you okay to speak in polite company? Impairment subsiding?'
'I'm fine. I can speak to Mister Arlo Guthrie all d—'
'Cuthbert. Arlo Cuthbert,' he corrects me, grinning.
'…all day! Arlo Cumberbatch and I will hold and all-day conversation.'
Gerald snort-laughs again. He flips the turn signal, merges into the center dual lane, and waits for the traffic to clear. During a short break, he scoots through the open gap, and negotiates the parking lot to find a spot.
'Well, you'll have ample opportunity. We're here.' He sets the brake and shuts off the engine, then points through the windshield at the sign on the building front.
GORDIAN PATHOLOGY LABORATORYGerald unbuckles and climbs out. He comes to my side and pops open the door, offering me his hand to step out. I look at him, look back at the console, then back at him.
A GenCom Corporation Subsidiary
'Oh,' Gerald says.
'Yeah… um… yeah.'
I lean back across the passenger seat, open the console, and take out the mason jar, complete with its blobby black contents. Clutching the container in my right hand, I slide down out of the Jeep and take Gerald's hand in my left. He pushes the door closed and locks the vehicle with his key fob.
We take a few steps, when Gerald looks down at my hand. He puts his hand on my arm and pulls me to a stop. I give him a quizzical look. His gaze drops to the clear mason jar I'm carrying.
'We can't just walk in there… like ~that~…' He turns and points the fob at the Jeep. The beep-beep of the unlock sounds out. Gerald walks to the rear tailgate, trips the latch, and raises it so it's suspended overhead. After rummaging in the back compartment, he steps back and closes the tailgate.
When he catches back up to me, he's carrying a reusable shopping bag. He opens it and tells me, 'Drop it in here. No one else needs to see it, only Arlo.' He pulls it open and I do so. He offers it to me. 'Still want to carry it?'
'Um… Sure. Yes. Less conspicuous if I'm holding the bag, right?'
He nods and we proceed into the laboratory building. The glass-front door leads into a tiled and wood-paneled entryway, with a wrap-around information desk, staffed by a nice young lady who smiles as we approach. She's wearing an almost unobtrusive headset, gesticulating in the air to make her point, then typing a staccato rhythm on her keyboard. We overhear her conversation, but she doesn't acknowledge us with eye contact.
'No, he won't be available until Thursday, earliest. Yes. I can set an appointment for you… say… 8am or 10am. Those are the times— Good. I've put you down for the earlier meeting, at 8am. You'll receive an email confirmation in just a moment.' A final tap on her keyboard. 'Give it just a second… You got it? Well, then, I'll see you early on Thursday, and I'll explain how to get to his office. Be sure to bring your data and any cultures related to the project. Anything else?' She looks up and waves us closer. 'Good day, and thank you for trusting Gordian Pathology…' She taps a button on her computer console and pulls the boom mic away from her mouth.
'May I help you?' Her gaze sweeps between me and Gerald, sizing us up. Gerald takes the lead in the conversation.
'We're here to see Arlo Cuthbert. We have a—'
'Do you have a scheduled appointment?' Her tone is matter-of-fact, expectant. She glances down at her monitor and it looks like she's scrolling back-and-forth. 'I don't see any appointments for him at all today. He's supposed to be doing lab analysis and spectrometry readings… all week long.' She's no longer smiling. She has a placid defiance firmly in place on her face, daring us to tell her the information is incorrect.
'No. Um…' Gerald leans against the counter and gazes at her, at her desk, at the items along its surface. He frowns. 'Miss, would you tell me your name? I'm Gerald Hines, and this is Lynne…'
'Bishop,' I tell him… and her.
'Ah,' he says in an aside to me, 'never saw it on your mailbox. Just the house number. And we never exchan—'
'I'm sorry, but I don't have any record of either of you for an appointment with Mister Cuthbert.' Both Gerald and I see we're about to hit an impasse. 'And you can simply refer to me as the receptionist. I don't give out personal information.' She sits back, more upright in her chair, and seems about to dismiss us.