107 THE CLASH

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THE CLASH

Digger met me for lunch at the Imperial Tea House, a big two-story Chinese restaurant around the corner from the loft. I shuffled my feet a little faster down the street when I saw him, standing under their bright red awning in the wintry drizzle, the lapels of his collar hunched up around his neck.

“Hey, kiddo.”

“What are you doing out here? You could wait inside.”

“Wanted to be sure I had the right place. Figured I’d see ya if you went walking by.”

A surly waiter in a tuxedo showed us to a table under a wall sculpture of a phoenix that looked like it had seen better days. The paint on its light bulb eyes was scratched and the wings were chipped like an old plate. I remembered there was a carton of uneaten lo mein in the fridge at the loft waiting for me and ordered General Gao’s chicken.

“So, the kids like me, huh?” he said as he poured tea into two cups.

“Yeah, they think you’re alright.” I dumped sugar from paper packets into mine. “But you know, we’ve been doing okay thus far.”

“I didn’t say you weren’t.” He slurped his tea and made a face, too hot.

“You’re right. There are things we need. I need somebody to do our taxes, and I need somebody to set up health insurance and that kind of stuff. I admit I can’t do it myself.” I turned my tea cup in my fingers, around and around, getting ready to lie. I wasn’t going to tell him I’d left Watt a message this morning. “But I’m not ready to give anyone else the power to make decisions. I… I gotta be the one driving the train.”

“But someone else lays the track?”

“Maybe that wasn’t the best analogy.” I felt my heart start to beat faster. “What I’m trying to say is…” I was supposed to tell him what we’d decided last night, to ask him to be our accountant, essentially, on a trial basis. But I couldn’t seem to get the words out.

Food arrived and I sat staring at it, watching it steam, not making a move to scoop any onto my own plate while my throat got tighter and tighter. Digger started putting rice onto his plate and put some onto mine as well.

“What I’m trying to say is…” You kicked me around when I was a kid and I want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

He started to eat and I followed suit. Digger ate by mixing his rice and food with a fork and then shoveling it onto a spoon. When I had a chunk of chicken in my mouth he said “I’m not asking you to give up any control. Why don’t we do this. You tell me what you need, and I’ll do it. That’s all.”

“Fixed—-” I choked on a piece of rice and had to start again. “Fixed price, no percentages.”

“What, are you going to pay me by the hour?” He put his utensils down when he saw that yes, I was. He cleared his throat. “Okay, that’s fine. I can see that. Why are you looking at me like that? You’ve got that suspicious look on your face.”

I put my utensils down, too. “And why shouldn’t I? You show up on the doorstep, unannounced, after disappearing with no word…”

“Wait, hang on.” His eyes went dark and I noticed how deep the wrinkles around his eyes were. “You ain’t exactly been the most communicative. And I’ve been trying to call you for weeks, months even.”

“Did you leave a message?”

“Hell no. I hate those damn things.” Answering machines, I assumed he meant. “And didn’t I talk to you that one time…?”

“Yeah.” During the last tour, tracked me down in a hotel. “And you wonder why I’m suspicious? You’re like, fucking stalking me, Digger.”

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