It was a painfully slow day at the Gas n’ Grub. Of course, in Marrakech, Wednesdays were never known as particularly exciting. It was worse in the winter. Tourists rarely stopped in, even to use the bathrooms of whichever of the few businesses of town until the weekends. Locals made their plans for recreation during the week, when out-of-towners didn’t clog the trails and waterways. Business happened on the weekends. But Wednesdays in Marrakech were a day of rest.
Tarot normally worked the swing shift, but Orin had some sort of business all the way down in Denver, which required him to be occupied until much later in the day. It worked out, after his shift, he was going to go with Whisper over to Petra to look at a potential place, and then they were going to head back to Melbourne, to a mutual friend’s, to get a little stoned and play some video games.
After staying the one night with Lankin, Tarot had been crashing at Ira’s house. She went as far as to offer him a permanent place to stay once he and Whisper got hand-fasted. It was a sweet offer, but Tarot wanted his own space, not just a rented room in someone’s house. Ira smiled sweetly at this, saying perhaps he was a little more grown up than the almost nineteen he actually was.
With it being a Wednesday in Marrakech, and an hour before the end of shift, Tarot was a little shocked when he looked up from the magazine he probably shouldn’t have been reading to see Bill, Orin’s partner with Gas n’ Grub, standing over him. The older man was dressed for work, and didn’t seem offended at the fact Tarot was looking at a magazine when he could have been cleaning or stocking. The confusion he felt must have been obvious on his face.
“You got a visitor outside, James,” Bill said. “In fact, you’ve got the rest of your day off, with pay.”
“Th…thanks, Bill. I owe you.”
“No, you don’t. Trust me on that, kid.”
Tarot walked out to the lot to see Lankin waiting pensively for him. Next to him was Whisper, her big dark eyes were walls of liquid as she tried restrain tears. Despite his curiosity, Tarot could feel the bottom of his stomach dissolving.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“They found your dad, Jimmy,” Lankin said gravely. A few tears ran down Whisper’s cheeks.
“Found my dad doing what?”
Lankin’s gaze hardened. There was something even more predatory about it than normal. It was as if Tarot’s ignorance was somehow brutally offensive.
“Your dad was found behind Magpie Jack’s, slathered in vomit and not breathing,” Lankin hissed. Then, his features softened into something disturbingly human as he reached out. “Jimmy, I’m sorry, your dad is dead.”
Tarot pulled away. He took a deep breath, his fist clenching and unclenching. Without even thinking, he began to draw back. He noticed how Lankin merely stiffened, preparing to receive the blow.
“Go ahead,” he said so softly it could barely be heard. “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
That’s when Whisper wrapped her arms around Tarot. She was weeping softly. He found his own tears coming free. Within her embrace, he collapsed like dried pine needles against flame. He gripped onto her tightly and began to sob.
“Take your time,” Lankin said gently, walking toward the end of the lot. “I’ll be here once you’re ready.”
Tarot really had no idea how long he had been there, sobbing like a five year old with a skinned knee, in the lot of the Gas n’ Grub on a Wednesday Afternoon in Marrakech. He supposed he should’ve been grateful it was a Wednesday. Any other day of the week, there may have been far more witnesses. Not that anything else really mattered at the time; not the potential place over in Petra or getting a little stoned with friends in Melbourne. Good to his word, Lankin was standing at the end of the lot, waiting impassively.
They went to go see the body. There was no doubt about it; that was Donavan Tabor. Although, there was something cartoonish and grotesque about the corpse. Tarot found it odd how uneasy Lankin seemed. The official in the room seemed to notice it too.
“I know this must be difficult.”
“I help find and bring down a body from up high at least once a year,” Lankin said. “This isn’t my first rodeo.”
“This time’s a little different, Lazarus,” the official said. “And I think you know that.”
A few weeks later, Tarot found himself visiting the last house on Lovecraft Lane. Lankin had just opened a bottle of tempranillo to let it breathe. His dad was cremated and Tarot wanted to find out a few places that might be good to scatter the ashes.
“Anywhere. There was a time your parents were the only ones around here who’d been over these mountains more than me,” Lankin said. “That was before your mom died and your dad started drinking so much.”
”I ran into Grizz the other day,” Tarot mused. “He told me my dad was a good man.”
“Well, I didn’t know that!” Tarot snapped. “He was drowning in the bottle as long as I can remember!”
Lankin cast Tarot a look, but didn’t say anything. The boy had lost his father, and getting after him for lashing out so soon after the fact would’ve been incorrect. Instead, he sniffed the open wine bottle, trying to decide if it was ready to pour.
“Did you ever hear why your dad started drinking?”
“It has to do with my mom, I know that much,” Tarot said.
“Do you know how your mother died?” Lankin asked.
“I only know it happened up around the Death’s Head and Hell’s Watchtower,” Tarot replied. He looked Lankin dead in the eye and his gaze hardened. “Didn’t you find her body?”
“What was left of it.”
Lankin reached over his wine rack and pulled out another bottle. Courtesy dictated he showed Tarot the vintage. Silently, he opened the bottle and set it on the counter. In the same fluid motion, he retrieved another glass from the cabinet and filled them both.
“Better get that other bottle breathing away,” Lankin said as handed Tarot a glass, his gaze predatory in its intensity. “It would seem I have a lot to tell you.”