Dan and Emir strode down the long hallway that lead into the kitchen area. The two had spent nearly an hour within Emir’s office, and at least a half bottle of scotch; the scotch was Dan’s doing. The man didn’t so much as stagger.
“So, who do you need us to end?,” Dan asked unceremoniously, and without the slightest amount of sarcasm.
“I don’t know what you mean, Dan,” Emir responded, standing several inches taller than his compatriot, though unmenacingly. Dan cracked a cynical smile.
“Oh, fucking right, you don’t know. Look, I appreciate the sit down and the scotch and all…but come on. Cut the bullshit. There hasn’t been anything I’ve done in the past…,” and Dan had to think for a moment. “…eight years that hasn’t involved pulling a trigger or beating the shit out of someone. Now, all of that, I enjoy. But I’d like you to cut the bullshit, please. And I don’t fucking say ‘please’ to anyone.”
“Is that a ‘thank you’ for the booze?,” Emir asked, sub-joking.
“Usually. Sure. Yes. Well?”
“’Well’, what?” Emir clasped his hands behind his back as they continued down the hallway.
“I should’ve brought the bottle,” Dan said, exhaling.
“There’s no need. There’s an ample liquor cabinet in the Smith Wing.”
“In the what?,” Dan’s voice had such a fierce, surprised up-tone to it, Emir chuckled outright.
“I realize your hearing may have suffered severely due to artillery blasts, but I know you heard me correctly, Dan,” Emir said.
“Look, mystery man, I’m not stupid.”
“I never said nor implied-“
“-and I never said nor implied that you said nor implied, but I’m telling you now, I’m not fucking stupid, and all of us got smoked because of some training exercise I didn’t want to fuck around in, and you can’t stand there and tell me…that there’s suddenly a ‘Smith Wing’-“
“-It was dedicated over two years-“
“-and that you don’t need me to kill anybody, and that we’re all just here to shoot the fucking breeze and-son of a bitch.”
Dan stopped abruptly.
“What is it,” Emir asked in reflex, though he already knew the answer.
“My…fucking lighter. Whatever.”
“Your last affects are filed, Dan. We should be able to recover your lighter shortly for you.”
“Whatever. Like I care, anyway.”
“It was your twenty-first birthday gift from your brother, it took him a summer job to afford it, with the engraving…and you care.” Dan stiffened.
“Don’t talk to me about my little brother. Do not. Alright? I’m dealing with too much shit right now. I’m sure it’s exciting for you to know my entire life story. I’m sure it’s just wonderful for you. But I don’t want to know my fucking life story. Got it? And I don’t want to fucking hear about it from you. You put the fucking exclamation point on that ‘the end’. Christ. Congratu-fucking-lations, ass-hole. Is this the sequel?”
Emir didn’t so much as breathe as if he was offended. That wasn’t what this was about; he wasn’t offended in the least.
“I apologize, Dan. Truly. But whatever was on your person that night at the Union, we have in a secure place for you, when you’re ready. Is that fair enough?”
“Sure. Yes. Whatever. I don’t suppose my cigarettes are intact,” Dan grimaced at the carpet.
“Cigarettes aren’t legal in every state now, but-“
“-since California definitely isn’t among that small number, I can make sure you are well supplied in Pall Malls. Didn’t Kerouac smoke those?”
“Uh,” Dan started, as if sounding out a word in a foreign tongue. He seemed suddenly uncomfortable, as he reflected upon something. “Vonnegut, actually. Lots of ass holes. I don’t know.”
“What is it, Dan?,” Emir asked knowing Dan probably should vent whenever given the chance.
“Nothing,” he replied, mind elsewhere; somewhere decades away. “Cat’s Cradle.”
“What about it? It’s a good book, of course.”
“Sure. Harry…used to help Riley with his book reports. He’d make fun of me for not knowing who Vonnegut was. I mean…really knowing. I recognized the name. I faked some book reports of my own. I faked a lot.”
“You didn’t fake anything when it came to Harry or your brother, Dan. You were there for both of them, in the truest sense possible.”
Dan nodded, not agreeing.
“I wasn’t there when it mattered for either of them.”
A morbidly refreshing breeze of honesty coursed through the men, as they stood in the long hallway; both understood the fact that each could be candid with one another. There was no need for explanation on the matter.
“Dan,” Emir reasoned. “You were there for Harry when it did matter most.”
“Oh yeah? Well, you weren’t there at all, and you don’t know. I don’t care if you think you know, with this killer intuition of yours that you stab at people like an edge weapon. Besides, it doesn’t matter now, does it?”
“That’s scarcely true. It matters now, most of all.”
Dan finally relented, rubbing his face tumultuously with an open palm. He was preoccupied, but still spoke candidly.
“So, thanks for all that, but…cigarettes?”
“You’ll need to take your time building your tolerance up again.”
“What do you mean? Are ‘future cigarettes’ that fucking amazing?”
“Actually,” Emir started calmly as the two began walking again, randomly. “It’s your lungs that are back to their original, un-smoke-fettered state.”
“What?” The impatience resonating in Dan’s voice was beginning to take it over, like waves slapping an otherwise uneventful shore. “Please tell me you’re joking.”
“You said ‘please’.”
“Tell me you’re joking,” Dan then demanded, without true force. There was nearly desperation audible in his tone now.
“I don’t make a habit out of lying for pleasure, Dan. I’m not about to start.”
“Please just shoot me. Just shoot me. Just shoot me,” Dan repeated himself, but wasn’t really rambling. It wasn’t a pleading statement, either. He was simply…acclimating. The process wasn’t always a smooth one. But Dan brightened suddenly.
“Is ‘Indiana’ going to have the same reaction? He smokes like a frigging steam engine.”
“Dating yourself. And probably,” Emir reasoned. Dan smirked.
“Then all this nonsense might be worth it. I can’t wait to see him go nuclear about this bullshit. But…if that’s the case – pristine lungs and…whatever…why aren’t I reacting like my liver’s never been tanked before?,” Dan rationalized.
“’Because’? Is…is that even a real answer?”
“Do you want it to be?,” Emir reasoned with the sometimes hothead, and the Sunday morning masochist.
“I’ll take that as a ‘no’.”
“You’ll take that any way I-,” Dan stopped again. He heaved a sigh of relief. Then another.
“What was that for?,” Emir asked, smiling suddenly.
“That,” Dan started, a lighter tone to his voice. “Was the realization that I’m free of that fucking, fucking old man. It just hit the cerebral cortex. And the liver. And the lungs. And…I don’t think I fucking know what to do with myself.”
Dan was being refreshingly honest with Emir; Emir knew the man wasn’t usually this forthcoming without specific, isolated circumstances such as grievous injury or severe alcohol poisoning…but he appreciated the confidence none the less.
“You’ll do what it is you want to, Dan,” Emir replied honestly. Dan looked at the man with the kind of open confusion one would usually pair with a gaping hole in the chest. Dan would have to do a decent amount of soul searching to be able to fill that void up. Hopefully, Emir would be able to provide the kind of ample sustenance that would appeal to the limited masses. And that would aid Dan in any way possible.
“I don’t fucking…know what that is. Alright? I just…need a minute. Alright?”
Dan had a hand on a hip, and the other on the back of his neck; he looked down, obviously agitated. Frustrated.
“Dan?” Emir waited until Dan looked him directly in the eyes. It didn’t take long for the goal to be attained. “You will have all of the time you need. Shortly, I’m going to show you – and the other Smiths – everything we have to offer here at the Fields. There is no crush, no pressure for you to stay where there is no opportunity for you. You’re not being held against your will, but for your own safety and learning benefit. We can take as much time as all of you need to digest the possibilities. Days, weeks, so forth. I believe there are immense leagues of purpose and fulfillment available to all of you here, if you’re willing to give us a chance to open up those options, and extend them.”
Dan looked at Emir as if his head had just burst into flames. He didn’t respond outright, but thought, eyes shifting back and forth. He nodded. Then again. And the two proceeded down the hallway.
“I’m sorry I spoke out of turn about your brother,” Emir said in a low tone. “That was unfair of me.”
“Hey,” Dan returned, sounding genuinely unconcerned, and being genuinely, internally inflamed about the subject. “It’s just…been a long night.”
“That it has,” Emir responded. “For us all.”
The two were silent then, and soon, the circular area of the kitchen entranceway was in sight.