The energy at The Pot has been weird all day. People seem antsy. Anxious. I don’t know if it’s the non-stop rain, but something just feels wrong.
“I’m heading out with Bryce to look for Kurt.” Kim is pulling her jacket off the coat rack by the door. “You gonna stay much longer?”
I pull the chewed up pencil out of my mouth and look at her. “Um, no. I’ll probably head out soon too.”
“Okay, just be careful driving home. It’s practically a typhoon out there.”
I shiver just thinking about being stuck outside. “Where are you guys looking?”
“We’re going to drive through Kelly Butte Natural Preserve to see if anyone has seen him out there. Then we’ll swing by Waterfront. He stays at both places so hopefully we’ll find him.”
“What are you going to do if you find him?” On particularly wet nights, The Pot fills up quickly. We try not to ever turn anyone away but once the beds are full and the floors are all littered with bodies in sleeping bags, it’s hard to justify going to find someone just to bring them back.
“We just want to make sure he’s fine. He’s usually here every few days so people are getting worried. There’s been some bad black going around. I’ll feel better if I know he’s alive.”
I nod then blurt out my next words without thinking. “I’ll go to Waterfront. It’s on my way home anyway. Call me if you find him before I do.”
“Will do. Have a good night, Joey.”
“Yeah.” I shut down the computer I was using to pay some bills then stand to leave as well. “You too.”
Looking for someone on a dark and stormy night is even harder than it sounds. I can’t see my hand in front of my face without my flashlight blazing. And because I don’t want anyone to think I’m a cop, I keep the light mostly shielded. Only a dim beam illuminates the pathway in front of me.
There are a few corners where junkies are known to party, so that’s where I start. Under a thick copse of trees, four people huddle together under a tarp. Keeping my voice friendly and my light low, I call out toward the group, “Is Kurt with you?”
No response so I take a few steps closer. One guy jumps up while the others fumble around behind him.
“Who the hell are you?”
“Hey, it’s cool, man. I’m not a cop.” I turn the light toward myself so they can see my plain clothes. “Just looking for a friend. Do you know a guy named Kurt?”
A girl turns on a headlight, almost blinding me with the beam before she clicks it into red mode. “I know Kurt. What do you need from him?”
“I don’t need anything.” I slowly turn the light toward her face so I can see her without shining it directly in her eyes. “Just checking to see if he’s okay. I’ve been trying to reach him for a few days.”
She shakes her head then looks at the half-conscious guys next to her. “Nah, it’s been a while but he was fine the last time I saw him.”
That’s helpful. Not.
“Well, if you see him, can you tell him to go see Joey?”
No one even looks up as I turn and head out. There’s a person on a bench near the water so I walk quickly toward them. A street light casts just enough light over the person that I can tell it’s a man, about the size of Kurt.
“Kurt?” I call out when I’m about ten feet from the man. His feet are up against his ass and his head is tucked into his bent knees. If he didn’t startle at my voice, I would have been afraid he was dead.
“What?” The man turns his head and coughs twice into his knees.
The familiar voice makes my blood run cold. Please let this be Kurt.
“Is that you, Kurt?”
“No Kurt here.”
The man buries his face into his bent knees again and coughs violently, causing me to take a few steps closer.
“Adam?” I whisper as I raise my light across his curled up body. “Is that you?”
Adam’s legs hit the ground and he stands at attention like a solider at boot camp. “Joey? Hey, how’s it going?”
He’s trying to sound casual but it’s clearly an act. He’s nervous and jittery.
“What are you doing here, Adam?” I look around to see if he’s with anyone but he’s totally alone. “It’s freezing.”
“I’m fine.” He runs his palm across his face, wiping off the water collecting there. “I like the peace of being alone out here.”
“Can I give you a ride home?” I don’t know where he’s living but he shouldn’t be walking anywhere in this weather.
“Oh, no.” He clears his throat and puts his hands in his pockets. “I’m cool, but thanks.”
I move the beam of light directly over his face until he has to squint to keep from being blinded. “No, you’re not cool. You need to get out of this rain. That cough sounds bad. Where do you live?”
Adam’s head drops and his chin lands on his center of his collar bone. “I’m fine, Joey. Really.”
His words are whispered but the anguish in his voice is unmistakable. I step right up to him and wrap my arms around his shoulders. “What’s going on, Adam? Why are you out here?”
Adam’s shoulders rise and fall until I feel his arms slowly close around my waist. He completely ignores my question while breathing into my neck. “It’s so good to see you.”
My hold on him tightens. “Why don’t you come back to my place so we can talk?”
His head bobs up and down, but Adam doesn’t say a word. After another moment, I release one arm from around his shoulders then start walking back to my car with him pressed tightly to my side.
Rain is falling in sheets as I drive the short distance home. I closed up at eight forty because the mall was dead. I normally would have waited it out but I was anxious to get home to my little duck.
Relief fills me when I see Joey’s white Ford Escape tucked away for the night in the garage. I park next to him and practically jog inside, anxious to get out of my damp clothes from the walk through the mall parking lot.
“Baby, I’m home,” I call out as soon as I step into the kitchen.
“We’re in the family room.”
I pause for just a second. Did he say we?
I inhale deeply then walk into the family room. Joey is sitting in the center of the sofa, his body turned toward the guy beside him.
My stomach churns as I take in the scene. This guy doesn’t look familiar but I trust Joey implicitly. I know whatever reason he has for inviting a stranger into our home, particularly when I’m not around, must be a good one.
I round the sofa and stand on the other side of the coffee table, facing Joey and hopefully the guy he was looking for. But it’s not Kurt. It’s Adam. The guy from the wedding.