Jillian, I’d like you to meet Bettina, Lana, Tim, and RileyX, the rapper. Simon tells her. She’s waiting next to a huge Yukon SUV with its rear hatch open. Hi, Riley tells her and goes over to give her a quick kiss. Her miniature dog yips excitedly at him. Lana and Tim exchange a glance.
The rapper, Riley X??? There’s a story there, she says as she drives, the tiny dog now standing on the center counsel so it can see the road. Riley shrugs. Where we going to eat at Simon? He asks. Tim, do you have a preference? As he turns around in his seat. Nearest Dunkin Donuts, Tim says. You heard the man, Simon tells Jillian, who gives Riley a quick glance. Ten minutes later, they pull up and everyone gets out. The guys all head straight to the bathroom. There’s a line. Rather than wait, Simon goes into the ladies bathroom. Riley snaps a picture of him coming out with his Iphone.
What do you get here? Jillian asks Bettina, who looks to Lana. I’ll try a Vanilla Chai and a bran muffin, and a cup of water, she says. That sounds good, Bettina admits, make it two. Would you like a dozen glazed donuts with that? The elderly cashier asks them. No thank you, they chime. Bettina hands Lana $5 for her share, and Lana pays the cashier with cash and exact change. Your order number is 77; we’ll have that right out for you.
Tim comes out and orders next. I’ll have a coffee, and a veggie egg sandwich. Anything else? He shakes his head. He pulls out six dollars from his wallet. Wait. Bettina says. And she pulls out thirty cents from her purse, and hands the change to him. Thanks, he tells her, and pockets the extra dollar, and then gives the teller the exact amount.
Simon’s buying, Riley tells Jillian. Only if you post the picture on the fan boards, Simon tells him. Riley laughs. I got him coming out of the ladies bathroom. Simon shrugs. Bettina looks at Simon. Was it just a single stall, lockable door? She asks him. He nods. You’re fine, she tells him. I’ve used the guy’s bathroom before at the gas station. He grins at her. What if it was one of the multi stall bathrooms with the swing door? Riley asks. Absolutely not, Bettina says. Jillian nods. What would you do if you caught Simon in there? Riley asks Lana. That would never happen, Lana states and gives Simon a quick side hug. Let me get a picture of you two, Riley says. Simon puts his arm around Lana’s shoulder, and they smile at the camera.
I need to have a word with you, Tim tells Riley. And they walk off a little ways. What are you getting, Jillian? Simon asks her. I’ll try the chamomile tea. This is all on one, she tells the cashier. Riley comes back ten seconds later. Do you do breakfast all day? He asks. Yes. I want a bacon egg sausage cheese wrap. There will be a $1.25 upcharge for adding bacon. That’s fine. Add onions too. Diced or fried. Both. The more the better. I’ll pay extra for extra. And an iced coffee. Same, Simon says, but no onions. Actually, wait, I want a croissant not a wrap. That’ll be a $1.25 upcharge. That’s fine, Simon says. Do you want a lemon poppyseed muffin with that? Yes. Two of them. And a side of hash browns. The cashier smiles. Anything else? I’m good. Order 77. Lana and Bettina grab their order and go find a seat.
I’ve got this, Simon. Riley tells him.
Everyone watches Simon eagerly bite into his croissant. Good call, he tells Tim. Sorry about that earlier, bro. Riley tells him. Don’t worry about it, Simon tells him, as he removes a strip of bacon from his croissant and gives it to Jillian to feed to her little dog. You’re sleeping on the couch tonight, Jillian tells Riley, as she watches him shovel the extra onions into his mouth. What? She looks at the empty wrapper. There’s a reason dogs aren’t allowed to eat onions; they cannot digest them. I’ll just stay at Simon’s then, he tells her. I wanted to hear Lana play her guitar anyway. How is your chai tea? She asks Bettina. Goes good with the muffin, Bettina says. Do you want to try a sip? No thank you, Jillian tells her, as she pets her little dog.
Are you carrying a gun? She asks Lana suddenly. Lana looks at her and doesn’t answer. It’s illegal in Portland, FYI. It’s also illegal to attack me, Lana replies. Right on, Simon says, grinning at Lana. Tim, if you could only have one gun, grid down, end of the world as we know it, what would it be? Here in Portland? Riley nods. Just give me a lightweight stripped down M4 with an Aimpoint Micro and a spare mag to carry in my back pocket. What about you, Bettina? I’ll carry Tim’s mags and my 1911. She replies. Simon? I’d go with a sniper rifle. Probably a 308. Jillian? Same as Simon, but I’d want a silencer and a night vision scope on mine. Riley beams at her. Lana? My 870. What’s that? Jillian asks. A shotgun. Simon tells her. Why? I can skip buckshot off almost any surface. Tim grins at her. I want you on my team, Lana, he tells her. What about you, boyfriend? Jillian asks. A lever action 30-30, he replies. Lana nods her approval.
Next question. Where would you want to be, if it all went down? In Maui, Jillian says. By my husband’s side, Bettina says quietly. Lana rubs her back. In my own bed, Simon says. Like Stephen King’s The Stand? Tim asks. Yeah, Riley says. Back home where I grew up, Tim says. Everyone looks at Lana. In my squad car, Lana says. Everyone looks at Riley. In Lana’s squad car. Everyone but Jillian laughs. Think about it, he tells the others. She’s got everything we need in there. Guns, medical, comms, bulletproof vest, spotlight, siren - the ability to get where she needs to go. He’s just brainstorming for another multiplayer game, Jillian tells the others.
So it all goes bad here when we arrive at Simon’s, what then? He asks Lana. Why are you asking me? She tells him. Tim’s the one with the skills to pay the bills. Everyone laughs at her turn of phrase. But you seem like a take charge kind of person. Bettina shakes her head no. Lana would keep her mouth shut and her head down until she figured out a course of action, then she’d go her own way. And I’d go with her. Enough doomsday, Riley; it’s a downer, Jillian tells him. Now we’re going to have to go to the grocery store together, Simon, and stock up on canned goods and bottled water, Bettina says grinning at him. Everyone laughs and gets up to go back out to the car. Wash your hands, Jillian tells Riley.
Where is Jon’s room? Bettina asks Simon. Tim gets that. Follow me. He brings everyone into a small room filled with bookshelves, a writing desk, with a view of the trees on the side of the slope. All my windows are all privacy glazed, so drones cannot look through, Simon says. Where does he sleep? Lana asks. Simon pulls down a Murphy side bed from what looks like a TV cabinet. Bettina’s face lights up. Trade you, she tells Tim. It’s even got a reading light, Simon says proudly. I like it, Tim tells Simon. No trade.
Well, what do you think of my place? I love it, Bettina says, and smiles at Simon. What is it missing? Hmmm, well, I thought you would have a pool, seeing how you like to swim so much, Bettina tells Simon, as they drive to the grocery store in his Honda Ridgeline. I go to the university to swim, Simon tells her. Why not the YMCA? Too many old people. Simon! He grins at her. They keep the water too warm for swimming laps there, Bettina. Oh. That makes a lot of sense. Do you know how to swim? Bettina nods. I don’t like indoor pools though because the chlorine messes with my hair, and like you just said, the water was always too warm.
Tim and Lana walk down the hilly street, in the dusk. So what’s next Lana? Tim asks her. Life goes on, Tim. I’m going to start dating Raul Gutierrez. Tim doesn’t reply to this. Lana sees a police car coming toward them, and beckons it over. The copcar does a Uturn and pulls up alongside the curb. The cop rolls his window down. Lana and Tim take a knee. Thank you for stopping. I’m wondering if you could help us. We’re in town visiting for the weekend, and are looking for a nondenominational church with a really good Sunday morning worship service. Do either of you know of one that you would recommend? The older cop looks at his partner. I’m Catholic. So am I, Lana tells him, but my friends aren’t. He calls dispatch. Pam, what church do you go to? Cedar Mills Bible Church. 10-4. Thank you, Lana says. Where are you from? New Orleans, Tim says. What are you in town for? Hiking the Columbia River gorge, Tim says. You know of any hidden waterfalls off the beaten path? Actually I do, the younger cop tells them. It’s a long scramble to get there, but it’s worth it. Are you free tomorrow? Lana asks. The cop shakes his head no. I’ve got my kids. But I’ll draw you a map if you give me your autograph, he tells Lana. Lana pulls out her card from her phone case. Pen? She asks. The cop hands her one. “Thin blue line. Live it.” –LR. She hands him back his pen with her card. He shows his partner, who studies it and nods his approval. The cop starts drawing a map, while explaining landmarks to Tim. A grey Honda Ridgeline does a Uturn and pulls up behind them. That’s our ride, Lana says. Almost done, the cop replies. Is everything okay? Bettina asks her, approaching on the sidewalk with Simon. Lana nods. Let’s go wait in the truck. What happened? I flagged them down and asked them for a church recommendation. Cedar Mills Bible Church is where their dispatcher goes to.
What’s going on? Simon asks Tim. He’s drawing us a map of how to get to secret waterfall that’s not on the guidebooks. Right on, Simon says.
The cop hands Tim the map. It’ll be a full day hike, the cop says. Start early if you want to make it back before dusk. Thanks.
Last album was the best yet. The cop tells Simon. Thanks. When are you going on tour? No Jax, no tour. How is he doing? The other cop asks Simon. He’s on the mend. Did she ever go see him at the hospital? Simon nods. Did she apologize? No. He did. So you and her? The cop asks Tim. We work together. The cops nod. Hey Simon, put out some music videos. I am so tired of rap music on TV.
Well, we waited around so you would play for us, Riley tells Lana when they get back in. You’re staying here until you poop out what you ate, Jillian tells him. Let’s make a kale smoothie, Bettina tells Simon. Riley, you are going to be our taster. You tell us when to stop adding ingredients. Lana finishes carrying in the last bag of groceries. Checkers? She asks Tim. You’re on, he tells her. I get the winner, Simon says. Half an hour later, Jillian comes back from watching a home remodeling show on the widescreen TV, and sees Bettina and Tim playing checkers, and the others drinking kale smoothies and watching the game. Tim wins again.
You want to take him down, Jillian? Riley asks. She shakes her head no, and takes her little dog back from Simon.
Would you play for us Lana? Simon asks her. Just one, then I’m going to bed, she replies. Which should we do? She asks Bettina. Let’s do “All the Poor and Powerless” for them, Bettina tells Lana eagerly. Lana nods and gets her guitar, and clamps on a capo.
I’ve never heard anything so beautiful, Tim says, breaking the silence when they’ve finished. Riley nods his agreement as he stares at Lana. Thank you, Bettina says, as she grips Lana’s hand as they sit on Simon’s couch together. I’ve never heard anything like that before. Did you write that? Riley asks. It was written for piano, by a band called All Sons & Daughters; Lana took it and made it her own. Bettina says proudly. I loved when the harmony broke away, Simon tells Bettina. Thank you, Bettina says, grinning at him. Bettina refuses to solo, Simon tells the others. We’re going to do a Christmas album together. I’ll be the first in line to buy it, Tim remarks. Thanks, bro, Simon says, beaming.
Do you think she’s bipolar? Jillian asks Riley as they drive back to their place. I mean, how can someone like her sing about the poor and powerless. She shot and killed an unarmed man, and then she put Jax in a coma, knowing that he’d never fight back and hit a woman. Where is this coming from? Riley asks her. She doesn’t say anything for a little while. You humiliated me, she blurts out. What? “I want to be with Lana at the end of the world”, she says in a deep voice. They drive the rest of their way to their downtown condo in silence and park in the underground garage. I’m going to do some work, Riley tells her. And heads into his office and closes the door.
A few days later…
Well, it got Riley out of his office. He’d been camped out in there with his headphones on since we got back. Jillian tells their friends at a midweek dinner party, until Simon texted him for help bailing them out of jail. You got to meet her. What is she like? She’s pretty in a 60s glam girl kind of way. You know, long shoulder length hair. Riley likes her. He nods and doesn’t say anything. I could tell that she and Simon were tight. Do you have that picture of them on your phone? Riley pulls out his phone, and finds the picture and hands it to Jillian. That’s a really good picture, one of their friends announces, as it’s passed around. Jillian scrolls through his other pictures. Where’s the one of Simon coming out of the ladies bathroom? What? Her friends shriek. Deleted. Is that what Simon’s bodyguard told you to do? No. What did he tell you? Jillian asks him. Something I needed to hear, Riley admits. When he said Dunkin Donuts, I about died, Jillian tells their friends. I mean, who eats there? What did everyone order? Lana and Bettina paid for their own. They got a vanilla chai, a bran muffin, and a water. It looked like a really good snack. What was funny is that Bettina paid for her share. She dug into her purse and handed Lana five dollars. It must be how they do things down south. What did Simon’s bodyguard get? A veggie omelet sandwich and a coffee. That looked really good too. What did you end up getting? I tried their chamomile tea. Simon ordered half the menu, but at least he shared his bacon with Mr. Boogles. Riley got this greasy wrap just smothered in fried onions. Jillian shakes her head in disgust.
What do you think of Bettina? I love her. Sweetest person I’ve ever met. I don’t know why she’s slumming with Simon. Hey, that’s really not cool, Riley protests. I’m sorry, but if I had to force rank the guys from SH5, Simon would rank dead last. Who would be first? Their friends ask her. Jax. Her girlfriend shakes her head no, Rolf. Their other friend says Jon. He’s so adorable.
What’s going on with Jax? The guys ask Riley. I haven’t heard a word, he admits. How could she do that to him? She’s like the female version of Dexter. Jillian says. That is soo good, her friends tell her. Riley shakes his head no. I tried hiring her. For what, Riley? Jillian scoffs. He shrugs. I told her that I wanted it going around the corporate grapevine that I hired her to look for Judases. And she turned it around on me. I’m still processing what she told me. What you’re all missing is how intelligent she is. Bettina is her best friend; Rolf is a partner in her PI firm, and Jax would probably make the top ten list of heiresses and actresses, and yet she kicked him to the curb. What did she tell you? Jillian asks. It’s not so much what she said, but what she didn’t say. Bettina got me to sing a rap song with them on the plane. And it was magic. I nailed the lyrics. The look on their faces. Even Simon was stunned. Lana stroked my arm a little, and then got up and went back to her seat to study. She stroked your arm? Jillian intones. Riley demonstrates on Jillian. She patted your arm, Jillian tells him. Go on, she tells him. Then she gets up and heads back to her seat and goes back to studying. You said that already, she tells him.
So I listen to another song with Bettina and Simon on our headphones, then decide to go visit with Lana, who up till then was really quiet and reserved. Well, she sighs and closes her eyes after I tell her why I want to hire her, and tells me to take a sword to the enemy within. Their friends look at each other. And I’m like, yeah, I would if I know who they were. And she looks at me, and tells me that if she had to guess, it’d be one of three: drifting, overcaution, or worry. And I’m like, all three, you got me. How do I take a sword to them? And she tells me that her undergraduate degree was in psychology and she believes in free will. You get to chose. Now please let me study. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
That’s pretty good, the other guys nod in agreement. So she’s smart, Jillian says. Most psychopaths are. Riley looks at her, and then continues.
So I watch her copy notes for a minute, and tell her that she has nice penmanship. Thank you, she tells me, not looking up. I tell her that I like to talk things out. She wanted you to leave her alone, Riley, one of Jillian’s friends tells him. Then she tells me that writing puts a space between me and my problems. Then she closes her notebook and looks at me. What do you want to talk about Riley?
Of course, I wanted to talk about her. So I ask her all about her PI firm. How much does she charge. How busy is she. And she tells me that it’s mostly consults now. That people just want to tell her their problems and meet her so they can tell their friends that they’ve hired her. And I ask her if she goes to them. And she says that she will if they’re elderly, but otherwise they’ll meet at a Denny’s for coffee. She tells them that she’s expecting a call from her partner, and so they go over her work agreement while they’re waiting. It’s five pages long, and if they won’t sign, she walks. Rolf calls her fifteen minutes in, and it she doesn’t want to take the case, that’s her out. I ask her if there are any cases that she won’t handle. And she tells me that she steers clear of matters of the heart.
Then I tell her, what about someone like me. I’m getting serious about my girlfriend, maybe that’s why I was able to relate to that song so much. And I tell her that I’d like an FBI quality background check done on you. Jillian mouth opens slightly. And their friends raise their eyebrows and look at each other. Riley grins. Don’t worry, Jill. She just took a deep breath and closed her eyes, and then when she opened them again, she told me to just ask you the questions that I wanted answered. That’s really good advice, Riley, Jillian’s closest friend tells him. He nods. But I told Lana that I’d lost my objectivity. She thought about that, and then told me to ask you for a credit report. And if you said no, that it would be a red flag. That is brilliant, one of the guys remarks.
Oh, I’m sure Lana Radley has perfect credit, Jillian says snidely. I followed up. What would I find if I had a credit check done on you? And she told me not much. That she was a renter, so no mortgage. That she has no debt. And just her American Express charge card that she pays every month. No school debt? One of their friends asks. Her dad paid for her college, and NOPD reimbursed her for police academy, and she’s paying for night school out of pocket. What about her car lease? Purple is paid for, she told me, and she just put a new clutch in it. What about savings? And she tells me that she’s always lived on 70% of what she makes. What does she do with the rest? She gives 10% to her church, and the rest goes in her rainy day fund. Which just took a major hit, she confided to me. This last go around, my attorney cost $700/hour, and she was worth every penny, Riley. Which impressed me, because here I was thinking that she was a cheapskate. I like her, one of the guys says.
Well, let’s go break some windows so we can hang with her in jail. Where’s the Republican party headquarters in town? Everyone laughs. Did you talk to her? They ask Riley. She’s not accepting any visitors. Hair is a mess is why. Jillian says. Stop negging her, Riley says, she’s done nothing to you to deserve it. Oh really??? It’s obvious that she’s trying to steal my boyfriend.
Riley looks at her. Get me a credit report. Go to hell, she tells him.