Angel Falling Softly

Chapter 17

And one more for the road

Brigham’s Beer Hound was the name of the bar. Kammy’s idea. Her non-Mormon students had recommended it. The bar was located at the east end of South Temple, where the avenues climbed the bench to the University of Utah campus. They had to buy a four-dollar membership to get in the door—the product of some strange nexus between state liquor laws and the teetotaling Mormon population, Kammy explained.

Down-tempo lounge tunes played in the background. When they sat at the bar, the bartender paused in front of them. “What can I get you?” he asked, stepping to the side so they could see the sign boldly displayed on the wall: We Card Everybody. It’s the Law! Even serving the watered-down brew that passed for beer in the state, he obviously didn’t want to risk them not being over twenty-one.

They handed over their New York driver licenses. He made a show of comparing their license photos to their actual selves. Kammy was wearing her Indiana Jones outfit, as she called it. She tipped back the fedora and pushed down her sunglasses and smiled coquettishly at him over the rims.

“Huh,” he said, handing back the licenses. He added under his breath, “Nice fake IDs.”

“They are,” agreed Kammy, playing along. “The weird thing is that we’re a lot older than it says.”

Based on the name alone, Kammy ordered a microbrew called Polygamy Porter. “Not half bad,” was her opinion. Milada played it safe with a midrange white wine.

Kammy said, “I hear you moved to the suburbs. Living a life of quiet desperation, eh?”

“Garrick telling tales out of school again?” Milada twiddled the stem of the glass, slippery and cool with condensation. “It is tolerable, actually. The welcome wagon all but rolled out the red carpet. I was invited to a barbecue on Monday. It turned out rather—interesting.”

“And when they found out you aren’t Mormon?”

“Only seemed to pique their curiosity. One eager young man, had he been a dog, would have been humping my leg by the time dessert was served. I have a date with him later this evening.”

“No kidding?”

“He asked. I was intrigued. I don’t see that much of a downside.”

“As Garrick likes to say, don’t go hunting in your own back yard.”

“The same Garrick who otherwise treats me like a neurotic anorexic. Anyway, it hardly counts as hunting. More like catch and release.”

“The action around here picks up in a few hours. If your young Mormon proves as well behaved as reputation suggests, you might find something here more to your liking.”

“You should take your own advice.”

“Nah, it’s too complicated.”

“Complications can be dealt with.” Milada lowered her voice. “Besides, you know blood tastes so much better fresh. And that’s not the only thing that tastes better.”

“I mean, complicated for me. I prefer to keep my dietary demands and my social life separate. Like I said, not a problem in a hospital. It goes good with V8. Protein rich. And nobody can tell if our thermoses get mixed up.”

The combination sounded truly revolting. “Get thee to a nunnery, sister.”

“I’m no ascetic. Abstinence is just easier in the short term. I save up my emotional nickels and dimes, settle on a nice guy, and then blow it all on some grand, tragic relationship.”

“Tragic?”

“You know, like, ‘We’ll always have Paris.’” Kammy continued in a husky growl, “Stick by me, kid, and you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow. But soon and for the rest of your life.”

She did a pretty good Bogart, Milada thought. The fedora didn’t hurt. “How romantic.”

“How pragmatic. Zoë’s the romantic, waiting for her Cinderella to come dancing into her life and sweep her off her feet.”

“You mean Prince Charm—” Milada shook her head. “No, you’re right.”

A group of students bustled in the front door. One of them waved in their direction. Another called out, “Hey, Dr. Daranyi.”

Kammy waved back. “My students,” she explained. “I’m subbing for Dr. Dennett. He’s off to Lake Powell somewhere. That’s near the Grand Canyon, isn’t it?”

“What rotation are you doing?”

“Geriatrics.”

“You did your residency in pediatrics. Why not—”

“You know why,” Kammy said in a quiet voice that told Milada to drop the subject. “Besides, as you can see, I’m teaching.”

“So get yourself on a tenure track, then.”

“Like I have any desire to dive into a time suck like that.

“Ah,” said Milada, a bit too smugly. “Then you should have plenty of time to serve on the Wylde board.”

Kammy collapsed with a melodramatic groan. Resting her forehead against the dark, varnished hardwood of the bar, she asked, “Why are you so obsessed with me living your idea of a productive life?”

Milada had to smile to herself. The eternal teenager was still hiding inside her sister, just beneath the skin. “Because you are perfectly capable of living a more productive life.”

“Why aren’t you giving this lecture to Zoë?”

“If she’d sit still for five minutes, I would.”

“You’re just compensating,” Kammy grumbled.

“You’re just sublimating,” Milada snapped back.

Always the same routine. The same questions and the same answers. But she had to ask, she had to nag. “Well, I’ll let you get to your friends.” Milada cringed as soon as the words came out of her mouth. She sounded like somebody’s mother.

“Have fun with your Mormon boy.”

“It should be an adventure.”

Milada paid the tab. She glanced over her shoulder as Kammy joined her friends—or colleagues, or classmates—at a table near the back. Kammy had friends. Friends that came and went without the world ending or beginning, something Milada had never been able to manage. She rationed her friends the same way Kammy rationed lovers.

Returning her billfold to her inside breast pocket, Milada felt the envelope and sighed. She was getting forgetful in her old age—the envelope was the reason she’d arranged this meeting with Kammy in the first place. She wrote a few lines on the back and strode over to the table, ignoring the intrigued looks that turned in her direction. “Here,” she said, handing the envelope to Kammy.

Kammy opened the envelope and took out a Wylde corporate ID card.

“No rush,” Milada said. “But try to get some hands-on experience in the next couple of weeks. Kick the tires, take the databases for a spin. Whatever one does with whatever they do.”

“I’ll think about it.”

Milada patted her on the shoulder. “I wrote my address on the back. Stop by some time and enliven my life of quiet desperation.”

Kammy turned the envelope over and nodded. “Sure. If you say so.”

“I’ll see you, then.”

“Yeah, later, Milly.”

She wasn’t out of earshot when somebody at the table said, “Wow, so it really does run in the family.”

“What, you guys didn’t believe me?”

“Pretty rare, though, isn’t it? A trait like that?”

“Rare doesn’t mean zero.”

They were referring to her hair and skin. Kammy described their observable condition as hypomelanism. In simpler terms, they were albino. It was genetic, and it did run in the family. Except that they got it from the first of their stepfathers, long after their parents had died.

Copyright Eugene Woodbury. All rights reserved.