Buckle Up

We left the ferry with the rest of the foot passengers, but hung a left at the bottom of the stairs in order to wait by the water. The pickup and ticketing area was situated in the middle of a dull grey swath of pavement, so the views from the waiting area out over the harbour were a vast improvement.

My hand began to bother me again but Alex remained glued to my side and, for a reason I couldn’t explain, I was reluctant to take more pills in front of him. So I forced my thoughts in the direction of the next day and how I wanted things to go.

“I was thinking we could have breakfast tomorrow morning at a little cafe I know and then, if you’re interested, I can show you around Victoria a little bit before we meet Doc at the hotel for lunch.”

“That sounds fine,” Alex replied as he watched a seagull being chased by two crows out over the water. “I have been told there is a very nice castle there and I would like to see it if we have time.”

“Craigdarroch Castle? Sure, we can do that. It’s only a short walk from the cafe but we might have to catch a bus to get back in time. That will be nice, actually; I haven’t been there in years. Anywhere else you’d like to visit?”

“No... do you have any plans for tonight?”

“I think Gregor wants to take us out to dinner,” I replied, thinking it was probably time to go see if he had arrived yet. “After that a walk around downtown would be good. We should get going – knowing Gregor, if the roads haven’t cleared by now he’ll just take the sidewalk.”

“Lead the way.”

I gave him a strained smile before turning away with my right hand cradled to my stomach. As I walked through the now empty hallway that lead to the passenger pickup area I clenched and unclenched my fist, trying to make the pain go away through force of will alone. Unsurprisingly, my efforts met with little success.

Gregor wasn’t there when we reached the small, bland room where travellers met their rides home but we didn’t have to wait much longer. He pulled his recently waxed silver BMW to a slanting stop in the middle of the crosswalk and had jumped out next to it before the four-door had stopped rocking back and forth.

He’d let his shaggy black hair grow out since I’d last seen him - it was now brushing the tops of his slim shoulders. But he was still dressed as sharply as ever in a black two piece suit and a white shirt with the collar left open. He had put on a few pounds in the middle but he still needed to add at least another twenty before I would no longer consider him skinny. When his brown eyes landed on Alex and me they were immediately filled with excitement.

“Nate, you mangy old dog! It’s good to see you again,” he called out as he strode to meet us with his hand outstretched. It was an effort to keep my injured hand down and stick out my left instead with an apologetic grin. We shook awkwardly with Gregor’s eyes on my bandaged mitt before he turned to face Alex. “And you must be the saviour of my card! Gregor Severn.”

“Alex Denis.” They shook hands and I had to shake my head when I saw Gregor’s forearm muscles bulge as he tested Alex’s grip. Then I smiled when Alex cocked his head to the side with a slight smile and squeezed until Gregor’s eyes bulged. Having proven his point, he released his prey and looked over Gregor’s shoulder as he smoothly hid his crushed hand in his pant pocket. “You have a very nice car.”

“That’s my baby, alright. Throw your stuff in the trunk and I’ll show you what she can do.”

“It’s okay, I’ll keep mine up front,” I said quickly but before I could protest any further Alex had slipped it off my shoulder and was moving around to the back of the car. “That’s not necessary, Alex. I’m not so feeble that I can’t carry my own damn bag.”

“I just want to help,” he said with a shrug and our bags, my painkillers and all, disappeared into the trunk. When I remained where I was both men turned to look at me, with Gregor raising both eyebrows in confusion and Alex adding, “Surely his driving is not so terrible that you want to walk instead?”

“What have you been telling him about my driving?” Gregor demanded, genuine hurt appearing on his face.

“Nothing but the truth,” I replied with another strained smile as I moved around to sit in the front passenger seat. I met Alex’s gaze briefly, finding a confusing mix of emotions swimming in his eyes, before we pulled our doors open and slipped into the leather clad interior. I was surprised to find Johnny Cash crooning out of the very expensive looking stereo system. “What, no Metallica?”

“I’m mellowing in my old age,” Gregor replied as he buckled in and shifted the car into drive. “Hold on tight and I’ll get you to Vic before you can count to ten.”

I considered pointing out that was because our brains were about to be bashed against the inside of our skulls for the next hour, thereby limiting our ability to speak, much less count. But then he slammed the gas pedal to the floor and our stomach-turning adventure was underway. I managed a few garbled curses before he cranked up the volume on the stereo and drowned me out.

I briefly closed my eyes before my entire body rejected this option and I was forced to watch as we tore out of the parking lot, around the corner, and hung a hard, screeching left at the lights.

“Are there no police on the island?” Alex shouted from the back.

“None that can catch me!” Gregor told him and laughed like a maniac. “Nah, I’m just kidding. I pay my speeding tickets, just like everybody else.”

Well, a lot more frequently than everybody else, but there was no need to be picky. Besides, I was too busy just trying not to throw up all over the sterile interior of Gregor’s compensation-mobile to add any accuracy to the discussion.

Much too late, I realized that I should have stuck the painkillers in my jacket pocket – that way I could have taken enough to make everything numb again and then I might have actually enjoyed the ride. As it was, sweet relief would have to wait until we reached the hotel.

Or so I thought.

The End

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