His name is Grinner, but he never smiles. I don’t know what kind of a man he is, or if he has interests outside of his work. I respect him too much to ask. If he needed money, I would lend it to him. If he was in the hospital, I would visit and bring flowers. If somebody killed him, I’d kill them. But I still wouldn’t ask him to talk about himself.
We’re sitting in this hipster kind of diner, where the burgers have blue cheese and the fries are made out of sweet potatoes. The music is summer hits from the 90’s, and the walls are decorated with pictures of Bettie Page. It’s packed and noisy.
A waitress in too much eyeliner brings us our beers and smiles plastic.
“So, this is him.” I flip over to a profile page on my phone, hand it to Grinner.
Hard to imagine Al Capone’s boys passing Samsungs over barnwood tables, but times have changed. Even the Treasury Department has a twitter account.
Grinner looks it over, his face cold and unreadable. The photo at the top of the page shows a shirtless kid in his 20’s standing in front of a sign for Sagara Resort. Cloud 9. Surfing Mecca. He’s sun-bronzed, toned and athletic, with a spray of freckles over his face. He reminds me of an actor, but I can’t figure out which one.
“How do you know him?” Grinner asks.
“He’s dating Aria. Six months now.”
Aria being the very high maintenance trophy wife of our mutual employer.
“Six months? Why didn’t I hear about this sooner?”
“It wasn’t serious until now. This kid’s going down to Encinitas for the weekend. Chances are extremely good that she’s going to meet him there. Something’ll probably come up to stop her. With her schedule, it usually does.”
“What a shame.” He nods, scrolling down the page with his thumb.
“Looking for something?” I ask him while a different waitress puts condiments on the table. We don’t look special to her. Just a couple of people internet stalking the friend of a friend.
“Inspiration.” Grinner tells me, sliding a squeeze bottle of ketchup to the exact place he wants it to be.
He hands me back the phone, the screen showing one of those quotes that people put up because they resonate or make them look deep. I don’t know. I don’t do social media, and even if I did I wouldn’t put up quotes.
We eat lunch. Talk casually about other people’s salaries and promotions, that kind of thing. When we’re done, he puts the bill on his company card, and I don’t think anything more about any of it until Tuesday morning.
I’m in the airport, waiting for a flight to Chicago. The news is on, but at first I’m only half paying attention. A reporter in a button-down shirt and purple tie is standing in front of a bungalow house. Somebody’s been burned to death. The reporter thinks it’s very disturbing from the way he’s talking about it, and the police suspect organized crime. That’s when I start really paying attention
The reporter says that the fire was extremely contained, almost like a spontaneous combustion. The man died on Friday evening, but the long weekend delayed discovery. They flash up a photo of the victim. Freckled handsome face, bronze surfer tan.
It’s Aria’s playmate.
Behind the reporter, a body bag on a gurney is being wheeled out of the house.
“What a thing,” the man sitting next to me shakes his head. “What’s the world coming to?”
“It’s these mob towns,” I shrug. “Shit happens here that shouldn’t happen anywhere.”
I’m already scrolling through the recently deceased’s profile page again. Looking for the quote, trying not to smile. I find it fast, tickled that it’s still there for all the digital world to see.
It’s better to burn out than fade away. Kurt Cobain.
God damn I’m fond of Grinner.