Diane Walton has more scars than most people I know. She has more scars than tattoos and the woman has half her lower body dedicated to Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. Only her wife and business partner know the full extent of her body art and how she got all those scars. In business dress, she looks like Evangeline Lilly during the final season of Lost, down to the cute button nose and the eyes that seem to see everything.
She’s a bad-ass and a good friend. Since our first dungeon crawl together in 1996, she could always make me laugh. Smarter than most of my friends, I always wondered why we remained friends for so many years. She did not like Claire, at least as a wife for me. But she paid for the open bar at our wedding as a silent apology for not attending.
Since then, she and Colleen built their business together. Originally, it was to be called “Bad Bitches Bail Bonds” but there were problems with that so they just went with “C&D’s Bail Bonds and Private Investigations, LLC.” Colleen was 57 when she and Diane married. Diane was 39. I never had a problem with that because they clicked so well it made me jealous. And Colleen could not pass for someone over 40. She made sure that their offices on Carport Circle had a full gymnasium because Diane did not want to stink up their cozy 2-bedroom Cape Cod house in Colonial Park. They work out together every day and open their gym to a tae kwon do class once a week. They are still, as far as I can tell, living their dreams together.
“Oh,” Diane called across the empty office waiting room. “A mystery!”
“Winston Casey visits my office in the middle of the day. His tie is off and his shirt untucked. I ask myself why is he here and why does he look like he just avoided being hit by a bus?“
“Well, I was hit by a bus – a metaphysical one but….”
“Don’t tell me. I am keen to guess!”
Diane crossed the waiting room staring at me, sashaying with her fingers stroking her child in a theatrical move inspired by a performance of Faust. Since marrying Colleen, Diane was what they call “shredded” and “swole” in the fitness lingo, making her a five-nine beast who could also “shoot the tits off a nit from 500 yards,” according to Colleen.
“I’m thinking,” she continued. “You have a problem I can solve.”
“I was actually coming to see Colleen to put an end to our secret affair.”
“Funny.” She froze a moment and her face went a whiter shade of pale. “Oh shit. The Beast isn’t back, is it?”
The Beast was her term for my cancer. “No. I’m good.”
She sighed and put a hand on my shoulder followed by a hug that I didn’t know I needed so badly until that moment.
“Thank God.” She took a step back just before the moment became uncomfortable. “So, then, what’s up?”
“I was fired. Fired from Dipswitches and Douchebags, Incorporated. I needed to see a smiling face.”
She wrinkled her nose and took another step back. “Ohhhh. Before you go home to ‘Clairebear’ and get your balls ripped off. I’m so sorry, man. What happened?”
I told her the short version and she listened intently in case there was something actionable she could deal with, which there obviously wasn’t. She invited me back to her office, which was modeled after Raymond Chandler’s novels with her name stenciled on the frosted glass window on the door “DIANE WALTON-HOROWITZ, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR”, an open transom above, and hard wood with wainscoting unseen in buildings since the Nazis were just a cute idea in the head of a madman. Her huge, antique desk filled half the room and her windows looked out over Carport Circle, which really killed the noir feel of things. But she had Venetian blinds to help block the mood-killing skyline.
She gestured me into a beautiful antique walnut chair opposite her.
“So, what’s your next move, Winnie?”
“Please don’t call me that.”
“What’s your next move? You’ve got six months of severance and medical to the end of the year – pretty generous. You can’t exactly go back and sue them. I mean, you can, but…”
“They feed their lawyers raw meat only once a week to keep them hungry. Nah. I just need to figure it out. What’s next?”
“Open a gaming store. You’ve always wanted to.”
“But I hate people.”
“An awesome quality for an HR professional.”
“You know that I mean.” I took a breath. The downside of being close to Diane was that the trust was close to total. I felt safe enough that the feelings inside me wanted to come out. I wanted to cry in front of her. But I didn’t. I came just close enough that she knew. And I guess that was enough. I’d wait until I was back in my car, a few blocks from home and get out what I needed. UNtil then, it was time for rational thought and logical thinking. “One step at a time. I’ll tell Claire that I suddenly have six months of paid vacation with benefits, listen to her reasonable and rational response… and pack for Ebetha.”
“Oh shit, that’s right. The wedding. That’s a trap waiting to be sprung. But, it gets you away for a while. Tropical island. Open bar…”
“I still can’t drink. Can’t stand the smell of it.”
“Ganja, then. Whatever. Just relax and get your shit together, man. And stay the hell away from the bride when she starts drinking.”
“Lucy’s getting married. I doubt she’ll…”
“Dude. Pal. Brother: the bitch is toxic.
“Lucy is one of our oldest friends. Come on.”
“She’s… She’s a psychopath.”
“Come on, now.”
“Nope. She was certified in-SANE by the Council of Orlok in 2002 when she crashed your bachelor party and tried to dry hump you during our Pathfinders session. I only endorse your participation in her sham of a nuptial because it gets you the fuck away from a relatively hyper-toxic situation.” She moved a few items around on her desk blotter. “And has weed, drinks, and a quiet beach to ponder your life’s choices.”
We sat there quietly for a few moments. I can’t remember what I was processing, but Diane was taking it all in before she finally spoke.
“It took nearly dying for you to realize you haven’t lived. Like, at all. Why don’t you want to ask for more than you have?”
“Because this is the life I was handed. I chose from the menu and got what I ordered. A shitty career, a dead marriage, no kids…though that’s kind of a blessing. The only real friend I had in HR fired me this morning. And… I wonder if all that work to put me back into the world wasn’t just a cosmic fucking joke.”
“You’re still a miserable bastard, you know?”
“It’s in my genes. A truckload of Xeloda can’t kill that part of me. So what?”
“Let’s day you die tomorrow.”
“Not an unreasonable fantasy given my day so far.”
“– you know what they’ll say about you in that two-week social media window where people react to the announcement and not seeing you in their scroll anymore? They’ll say what a tragedy it was for your wife that you died. They’ll say that it’s good that you never had kids because of how they wouldn’t have a daddy…for a few months, anyway. They will say you had ‘potential’ and were ‘a decent person’ in those stupid fucking eulogies people give that end up being about themselves. Then, you’ll be forgotten.”
For the life of me, I couldn’t find anything to argue about that. It hung in the air as Diane let it fall over us like ash.
“Yeah. I need a minute.”
“This is why you came to me, isn’t it? You know I can bust your balls with love.” She pointed to the hand-painted wood sign above her desk that read “Busting Your Balls. With Love.”
“Let me be your Jacob Marley. You hate your job with good reason. You are so much more than what you do to pay your bills. Your marriage sucks. Claire is…”
“Don’t say it.”
“I have to. Or I start charging for this hour.”
“You say it, it makes it real and the consequences of that…”
“Claire isn’t into the marriage anymore. There. Boom. Said. It’s out there. Let’s discuss.”
I fought the urge to get up and walk out. But I stayed. Out of trust. It’s like accepting that the poison they’re going to pump into you will suck beyond the ability to share but you brace yourself and surrender to the currents of pain and exhaustion… let’s just get this shit over with.
“She was done the moment she realized that she would have to wipe your ass and bathe you every day until she woke up one morning, looked into your little home hospice space and found you gnarled up under sheets looking like you died in Satan’s bosom. Those few things about you that she loved…died when you lost them to treatment.
“But she’s redecorating the house. We’ve got lawn guys there ‘scaping the back yard…”
“No woman without a passion for lawn work spends as much time with the landscapers as she does. Seriously. You are gonna come home one night and there will be a truck in your driveway with some asshole’s name on the door – the same guy who has been taking weeks building attractive hedges outside Claire’s office window.”
“So what do I do?”
“You need to get your shit together, my friend. How many people worked to put your literal shit back together? How many people don’t have the second chance you have?”
“I’m a ‘S’ with ‘C’ influences on the DISC spectrum. I love routine and consistency. Don’t get me started on my Briggs-Myers identity. I’m not Grant Parker, for chrissakes.”
“Honey, nobody’s Grant Parker, for chrissakes. But that’s not the point.”
“Look. I’m going on an adventure. Next week.”
“Go to the island and figure out WHO you are. Allow yourself that time to heal the one part of you that doctors can’t medicate. Confront your survivor’s guilt, get drunk, get laid, and maybe wander out into the ocean naked.”
“You sound like a Jimmy Buffett song.”
“Fuck it. Just try ONE of those things and see how it feels. At least then you can tell your buddies in the Old Gamer’s Home that you did something to tell the world you were here.”
“Well, I hope I won’t need your professional services in the future, detective.”