Taken fm Chapter 2 of Sandy Pearl and the Blades

Addie was as beautiful as ever. She waited on the porch, grinning broadly, and held her arms open. I began climbing the porch steps when a tall, blond man came sweeping up behind Addie, stepped past her, and intercepted me with an extended hand. He smiled and I realized it was Mr. Trammel, the same man whom I had assumed was the owner of Count Basie's. I recognized him immediately but I could see he did not (yet) recall my face.

"Thane Trammel," he said, introducing himself while crushing my right hand in a powerful grip. It was not one of the traditional handshaking rituals either; rather, it was unique in that apart from the crushing pressure, there was no other motion -- no pumping up and down or maybe wriggling in a sideways tremor. No, there was none of that. It would have been wasted motion. His grip had me planted to my spot until he let me go and not once did his smile waver.

"Pleased to meet you."

Throwing her arms around my neck, Addie interposed herself. "It's been ages! But you are still so handsome!" She kissed me on the cheek and held me at arm's length as she looked at me.

"You didn't get shot or anything like that, did you? Because that would be terrible. I don't think I could bear it!" Addie used her hands to express herself and she waved them in the air, punctuating her remarks. Looking at me appraisingly, she took me by the arm and led me inside.

Infected by all the hand waving, I suppose, I held up my hands and moved my fingers to prove I had not left any body parts behind when I exited Southeast Asia. "No, no, nothing like that," I assured her.

"Oh, that's good. I am so relieved." Addie rolled her eyes and smiled. Little lines like Mandelbrot designs appeared at the edges of both eyes. We were all getting older all the time and yet Addie was still glorious and, I had to admit, just as glorious as Yoli. Just different, that's all.

We entered a broad hallway with polished wooden floors and high, arched ceilings. A fresco was painted overhead; in fact, it was a decent likeness to Michelangelo's piece in the Sistine Chapel where God stretches out his finger to touch Adam's reaching finger. I stared at it and Addie stared as well until Thane walked through, cowboy boot heels clicking against the floor like small caliber gun retorts.

"Beautiful, isn't it? I had it commissioned from an Italian master. It is a daily reminder that the heavens are near and God favors those who act."

We hovered in the foyer a beat longer before Thane led us through a breezeway on the left and into a large open room with windows all around commanding a view of the valley below as well as lights from homes on the southern side of Dorado. We did not linger but instead Thane hustled us outside through yet another doorway onto a wide porch populated with wicker furniture. The temperature outside was still very warm but the sun had set and so it was tolerable. Electric fans like multi-leaved fronds rotated slowly overhead giving a little dynamic to the air. A woman sat on the wicker couch, stamping out a smoke in an ashtray. The smell of pot lingered.

"Oops," said the lady on the couch, "you caught me."

Addie giggled and introduced me to Morgan Palmer. Morgan held out a slender hand. "How do you do?"

"I'm fine, I'm good."

Addie said Morgan was a lawyer working for the university. "I'm on retainer," she explained.

Thane had disappeared but soon materialized again along with a Mexican woman who held a silver platter full of tall glasses each holding an icy green slush. "Anybody want a margarita?" Thane asked.

And so we did what young, hip, nervous, consenting adults do when confronted with something out of the usual routine of controlled situations: we consumed alcohol in ritualistic doses. In this case, tequila in a limeade ice. Social lubricant. Dinner was served before I finished my drink but Addie and Morgan were already working on their second by then.

We took our repast indoors in what Thane described as "...the smaller dining room..." that he and Addie used for intimate meals with associates. There were candelabras ablaze forcing the room into a haunted pallor with interconnecting shadows perpetually in motion against a backdrop of baby blue wall paper. Vertical columns in varying shades of blue aligned themselves on the paper, summoning a three dimensional visual effect. Morgan fanned herself. "Thank God for air conditioning."

A fireplace with a fake fire tricked up by hidden lights stood at the far end of the room behind the head of the table. "We had dinner with Adin Hughes and his wife at this very table," Thane continued. "We served wild game from a reserve north of here, in Montague County. Not much drilling going on up there but there's plenty of natural gas, if you know what I mean." The women laughed and so did I, but I did not know what he meant, whether his comment was some sort of bovine flatulence reference or maybe he really meant natural gas fumes coming from the ground.

"Adin who?" I asked.

We had seated ourselves around the table and two Mexican women served us, bringing steaming plates in from the kitchen. Addie clapped her hands. "Ah, fajitas," she rejoiced.

For a half-moment, Thane stared at me in stunned disbelief. Then he said, "Adin Hughes, the financier, of course."

"Ah... that Adin Hughes."

Addie laughed and informed Thane I had no clue who Adin Hughes was and probably did not care anyway.

In feigned defense, I shook my head. "No, no, I should know more about these things, more about people like Mr. Hughes."

Thane faced Addie. "You see?"

I looked from Addie to Thane. "See what?"

"Addie wondered if you had become wiser in the ways of the world, if you..."

The two women simultaneously finished the sentence for Thane. "...know what I mean!"

I felt my cheeks growing hot and that's how I knew I was blushing. "I'm not sure I understand."

Morgan and Addie clinked their glasses together and Addie announced a toast "to universal understanding and also to finding my long lost cousin again, resurrected and returning home from a losing cause."

I glanced at Addie and she winked at me. She was still very beautiful but I also remembered her as a tee-totaler, buoyant without need of balloons. Morgan had disengaged midway through the toast as she began to delicately build a proper, rolled fajita. Thane too seemed to be drawn to his plate. He saw me looking at him.

"So," Thane started, "Addie tells this story about you when you were younger..." Thane glanced at Addie and Addie shook her head at him but he continued anyway.

"Oh come on," Thane went on, "it's a perfectly charming story."

I was uncertain which embarrassing calamity from the past Addie had witnessed and revealed to her husband, but it must have been a doozy. I braced myself as Thane continued. Since Addie already knew the story and I was the butt of the unfolding tale, Thane directed his exposition to Morgan who listened with a smile as she sampled her fajita.

"Back in high school, senior year for young Conrad Snow, promising candidate for Mr. All-Around or something like that..." "It was Mr. Richland High. There was a Miss Richland High as well."

"I know, Addie told me. Don't ruin the story. Anyway, Conrad had a girlfriend, met her in church, stole his heart, first love sort of deal. Went with her for a year, never had sex..."

"We got pretty close a couple of times."

"Whatever, Addie said you never did the deed. True or not?"

I shrugged. "Well, yeah."

Thane turned back to Morgan. "Is that it?" Morgan asked. "Is that the story? Because if it is, you gotta work on your closing pitch, Thane."

"I'm not done yet."

"I think it's romantic," said Addie.

"But there's more to the story."

"There is always more," replied Addie.

"Is there a punch-line or something?" Morgan looked from Thane to Addie and finally to me.

"Yes," I said, "I suppose there's some kind of punch-line. She went to Austin and got involved in show biz."

Thane considered his own fajita before asking, "Uh, show biz?"

I looked at Addie. We were friends back in those days. I was two years older than her but adding in a couple of negative years for my native immaturity, we were virtually the same age. I told her everything. When I found out Caryn was in Austin making pornographic movies on Super-8, I told Addie. I also requested she keep it to herself. Instead, she had shared the info with Thane and now another person named Morgan knew. And what was it everyone could learn about love and sex from the innocent lesson of my high school years? I fell in love with a sixteen year old church girl and we were going to be married someday but she ended up doing porno instead and don't forget, we never even had sex. Addie avoided my gaze.

Thane chuckled and Morgan turned to look at me. I'm sure I was blushing again because Morgan assured me it was all right. "I think it's sweet," she said.

Addie came alive, agreeing with Morgan. "I think so too." She suddenly took my hand from across the table right in front of everyone and said she was sorry she had revealed my secret and would I ever forgive her?

"It's not necessary. Already forgotten."

She squeezed my hand once and let go.

Thane even apologized but added, "You've got to admit, it's a revealing story."

What, exactly, it revealed about me seemed to be different for everyone at the table.

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