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Copyright © 2014 Nick Pirog
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“Rise and shine.”
Lassie opens one eye. He has some gunk in the corner near his nose and I wipe it away
with my thumb. He shakes his head, then rests it down on my chest.
“Come on buddy, we have stuff to do.”
“Ten more minutes? We’ve been asleep for twenty-three hours.” Well, I had. I couldn’t
speak for Lassie; though, I was nearly certain he was curled up on my chest the entire
I brush the cat off and stand up. The clock on the dresser screams that one minute of
my day has already elapsed.
I pick up my phone off the bedside table and read Ingrid’s text. She won’t be able to
stop by. She just wrapped up a homicide-suicide investigation and needs to catch up on
some sleep. But she will see me tomorrow for sure. Smiley face.
Tomorrow is October 7th; Ingrid and my sixth-month anniversary.
Though I saw her two days earlier, it feels like I haven’t seen her in weeks. I am toying
with the idea of asking her to move in with me. I made her a key a couple months back
— which is one of the few things accomplishable at three in the morning — and she used
it when she stopped over once or twice a week.
But two hours a week wasn’t enough. I wanted her for all seven.
I pad to the kitchen and pull out the bowl of cereal Isabel prepared for me. I peel off
the Saran Wrap and pour in the measured glass of milk. Not only does Isabel cook and
clean, she also finds small ways to save me time. My toothbrush laid out with toothpaste
on it, the microwave preset for three minutes and thirty seconds (the exact time needed
to heat her famous enchiladas), Lassie’s food bowl filled and covered in the refrigerator,
headphones and running shoes laid out next to the door, the NASDAQ and DOW closing
numbers written on a sticky note next to the computer. The seconds she buys me would
mean nothing to the average person, but to me, each second is the Mona Lisa.
I eat the cereal, a banana, and a peanut butter protein shake and watch four minutes
of Game of Thrones. My dad turned me onto the series eight months earlier and I was up
to episode four of Season Two.
At 3:07 a.m., I check my stocks on E-Trade. I dump a couple thousand shares of a
floundering pharmaceutical company and pick up an equal amount of corn futures —
which is a huge gamble, but has big upside potential.
There is a soft chime and I answer my father’s call on Skype.
My father is as frumpy as ever. Big glasses sliding down his nose. Receding gray hair
running as fast as possible away from a big shiny forehead. A white mock turtleneck,
possibly the last in existence, holding up a sagging Adam’s apple.
“Hey, Sonny boy,” he mutters.
“Hey, Pops. How’s your back?”
“Sore as shit. In fact, I think I’m gonna have to sit out of our game tonight.”
My dad’s back had been acting up for the past couple weeks and we’d been forced to
play our weekly poker game online. He cleaned me out the previous Wednesday and I
was looking forward to some payback.
“Just pop a couple Advil, old man.”
“That’s just it. The over-the-counter stuff doesn’t help and if I take the pills the doctor
prescribed, I’m out in five minutes.”
I can tell from my father’s grimace that he is truly in pain. I can’t help but feel partly
responsible. My dad’s back was fine until a few years ago, when he tried to carry me from
his car to my third story condo. Long story short, he slipped two disks and my neighbor
called the cops thinking my dad was lugging around a dead body.
“Go pop those pills, then we’ll chat for another minute or two.”
He nods and disappears from the screen.
A large brown head takes my father’s place. The head belongs to my dad’s one-hundred
and sixty-pound English Mastiff.
Lassie is on my lap before I finish the second syllable. It’s been three weeks since the
two have seen each other and big, stupid Murdock doesn’t understand that Lassie isn’t
actually on the table in my dad’s house. Murdock smashes the computer with his giant
paw and the feed disappears. My dad calls my phone a moment later and tells me that
Murdock shattered his laptop and that he’s going to bed.
It is 3:09 a.m.
I’d allocated the rest of my day to playing cards and contemplate what I want to do
with my remaining fifty-one minutes. Wednesdays are the only day I don’t exercise and I
ponder going for a quick run. I lift the curtain and stare out on the glistening asphalt. It’d
been a wet October thus far in Alexandria and the asphalt shimmers under the
streetlight. I gaze at the house across the street. It’d been over six months since I heard
Jessie Kallomatix’s scream, the impetus that set in motion one man being framed for
murder and another taking a bullet between the eyes.
The latter, Jessie’s father, like most people who get shot in the face, died. The former,
well, he returned to his day job, aka, the leader of the free world.
Nearly two months after Conner Sullivan was exonerated from Jessie’s murder, my
phone rang. It was 3:33 a.m. It was President Sullivan. He couldn’t sleep and needed
someone to talk to. I was the only person he knew for certain was awake. For ten
minutes we made small talk about the weather, his beloved Redskins, and how long I let
myself sit on the pot. A month later, he called again. And two weeks after that, he
showed up on my doorstep with a six-pack of beer. He knew I played poker with my dad
each Wednesday and wanted to know if he could crash our game.
So my dad, me, the President, and Red (the head of the President’s Secret Service
detail) played poker for forty-nine minutes.
But I hadn’t heard from him in three months.
I decide to watch fifteen more minutes of Game of Thrones, then go for a short walk
I am set to hit the play button, when an alert comes in that I have a new email.
It is 3:10 a.m.
IhaveHenryBins@gmail.com doesn’t get much action, mostly from Amazon or the
online-trading podcast I subscribe to, and I’ve only received a handful of emails while I
The email is from AST. Advanced Surveillance and Tracking.
The email is only three words.
We found her.
I take a deep breath.
They found my mother.
The last memory I have of my mother is on my sixth birthday. I remember
being excited because she missed the previous two. The moment I woke up, I searched
the room for her, but it was only my dad standing over me.
“She’s . . .”
This sentence always ended the same.
. . . working.
My mom had the most boring job in the world. Or at least, when I was little, I
remember thinking a geologist was the most boring job in the world. But that was
because I viewed her job — rocks — as competition. Why was sandstone more important
than me? What did quartzite have that I didn’t? It wasn’t until I grew up, learned that my
mother wasn’t spending those three-week to three-month long stretches looking for
rocks, that I understood. She was looking for oil. Companies paid her a lot of money to do
this, which allowed my dad to stay home, earn a modest living as a technical writer and
care after me.
“. . . right there,” he’d finished.
My mother came into the room holding a birthday cake. The cake was of Snoopy and it
had a big blue number six candle on it.
I can still see the look on my mother’s face. Her sharp and angular features — nearly
the opposite of my father’s — were a billboard of her Czech heritage. She had piercing