Searching for Swimmers–Chapter 27
For a split second after Jason woke up, he had that panic moment that happens often to travelers, that moment when they think they’re at home in their beds and their memory hasn’t quite caught them up on their travel plans. After remembering that he was in a hotel near the San Francisco International Airport, he glanced at the clock: 11:06 a.m. He had slept later than he had intended, but hadn’t bothered to set an alarm. He figured he needed the sleep. After his mid-afternoon drunk and the few he’d had on the plane, Jason decided to skip the evening cocktail hour after he’d checked into the most affordable hotel he could find near the airport.
With the two-hour time change, he had arrived with plenty of time to begin the West Coast search for his semen. Partially from exhaustion, but mostly out of fear, he decided to postpone the sperm hunt until the following day.
More than a shower, what Jason wanted most was a cup of coffee. He’d missed the presumably free shitty continental breakfast, so he got out his in-room coffee maker and set it up. It was one of those one-cup models. Jason didn’t mind it, but normally preferred the model that made a mini pot because, generally, he got more coffee out of it and didn’t have to set up the whole brew process each time he wanted a cup. Oh well, he figured, it’s not like I’m staying in a four or five star hotel. He started the coffee then proceeded to take care of his other morning duties in the restroom.
When Jason walked back into the room from the bathroom, he found an empty cup of coffee. He checked to make sure the machine was plugged into the wall. “Check.” He made sure there was water in the reservoir. “Check.” He pushed the brew button once, twice, three times, three times in a row—nothing. He called the front desk.
“Econolodge front desk, how may I help you?” a deep male, monotone voice answered.
“Yeah, my coffee maker’s not working.”
“Did you plug it in, sir?”
“Are you sure?”
“Did you put water in the reservoir?”
“The reservoir is the portion of the machine you pour water in.”
“I know what a reservoir is.”
“Did you pour water into the reservoir?”
“An engineer will be up to look at the machine as soon as possible.”
“About how long will that be?”
“As soon as possible,” the voice droned on.
“Maybe an estimate?” Jason asked.
“As possible,” Jason finished. “Got it.”
“Have fun.” The cabbie grinned.
Jason craved caffeine and was as desperate to find the coffee house as he was in locating Shelia. After taking a shower, watching the news and locating Joe’s on his phone, he gave up on the engineer ever arriving to fix his coffee maker.
“Thanks.” Jason got out of the cab near the corner of Market and Castro. According to his magic phone, Joe’s Coffee House was close by. While Jason knew that this was the “gay” part of San Francisco, he wasn’t quite prepared for the jolt of pride he witnessed all around him. He had always considered himself a progressive person, supported gay, women and minority rights, but this was one of the first times he, a white heterosexual male, ever felt like a minority. It wasn’t that he was worried the gay would rub off on him, nothing as ridiculous as that. It was just an adjustment, getting used to seeing same-sex couples holding hands, kissing and otherwise being affectionate on the street, all the while passing advertisements directed at the local demographic. If sex sells in hetero markets, the rules still applied in homo markets. Jason was less uncomfortable and more embarrassed for not being part of the clique.
Jason easily found Joe’s just a few blocks off the beaten path. The outside only had a few metal tables and chairs. The façade was a pale green, obviously in need of a power wash and a new coat of paint. There was a simple sign and a few weathered planters along the windowsill with hit and miss blossoms here and there. The lackluster décor continued once he entered, but unlike the outside, the drab furnishings made Jason feel comfortable, like home. The broken down tables, the mix-matched sofas and chairs, combined with the odd, different styles of art on the walls, made the place feel less like a business and more like the inside of a confused mind.
Jason approached the counter. A young kid wearing a t-shirt that read, “No, I Don’t Have Tourettes,” said hello to Jason. Jason ordered a double Americano to go and paid the four bucks. The kid turned to the espresso maker, and Jason read the back of his shirt, “You’re just a cunt!” Jason laughed.
“Like your shirt,” Jason said.
“Thanks, made it myself.”
“Should get some printed up. Bet you could sell a lot of them.”
“Yeah, hear that all of the time, but I don’t want everyone walking around calling me a cunt. This way I’m the only one and that is priceless.”
Jason received his Americano.
“Haven’t seen you in here before,” said the kid.
“Yeah. Don’t look the type?”
“Naw, don’t care much about type. We get all types, but we also get mostly regulars, and I just don’t recognize your face is all.”
“Actually aside from the caffeine fix, I’m looking for someone.” Jason pulled out the smaller snapshot of Sheila and showed it to the kid. “Does she work here? Sheila Hendenmeier.”
“Nope. Think I may have seen her in here once or twice though.”
“Yeah? Sure she doesn’t work here?”
“Positive, but I’ve only been here a few months. Let me grab, Bess. She’s the owner.”
The kid walked into the back. Jason quickly put the photo back into his wallet. The kid came back to the front with a middle-aged woman with a short do, box color orange, and a free flowing tent dress with a bold print of red and white flowers.
“Hi, I’m Bess. How can I help you?”
“Yeah, I’m looking for Sheila, Sheila Hendenmeier. Would you know where I can find her?”
“Maybe, but why are you asking, and more importantly why should I tell you?”
In most situations, Jason considered honesty to be a virtue and tried to follow the homily, but as he eyed Bess, he became unsure if honesty would get him what he needed in this situation. “Actually, I’m an old friend. Moved away a while back, and Sheila and I lost touch. Decided to drop in and found out she doesn’t work here anymore.”
“I don’t recall seeing you in here before.”
“Well, it’s been a while.”
Bess skeptically eyed him. “Regardless, I suppose Sheila can take care of herself. Besides, I don’t know exactly where she lives.”
“An approximation would be great.”
“Fuck it. Last I heard she lives in the Mission.”
“Great. Thanks, Bess.” Jason turned to leave.
“Wait. What’s your name?”
Bess stared at Jason. “Let me see your ID.”
“Come on. I don’t exactly believe your story, Mr. Purdue. At least this way if something bad happens, I’ll know who you are. And if you’re planning on doing something bad, maybe me knowing that will deter you. You don’t seem like a bad person. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have given you the info I have, but I still don’t trust your story.”
“Fine, no problem.” Jason handed over his driver’s license.
Bess looked over the ID, front and back, and rubbed it between her fingers then handed it back to Jason. “You are who you say you are. Good enough for me and good luck to you, Jason.” She walked into the back.
The kid walked back over to the counter. “You’re not really an old friend are you?”
“So what is it? Drugs?”
“Is Sheila a prostitute now?”
“No, at least I don’t think so. Don’t really know her.”
“Well, come on. Tell me.”
Jason didn’t see the harm in telling him now. “I think she’s impregnated by my sperm that was stolen from a sperm clinic in Austin.” Jason stuck around long enough to see the kid’s eyebrows rise in surprise. Then he said, “Have a nice day,” and walked out of the shop.