Searching for Swimmers–Chapter 23
Jason slowly opened his eyes then quickly squinted once the bright light coming through the window introduced him to the new day. Again, he slowly opened his eyes and allowed them to adjust to the light. A moment of panic hit him and, if it were possible, his brain went cross-eyed. He jumped out of bed. Where the fuck am I? he said.
His hangover quickly caught up with his brain, then his brain with his body. Jason sat on the edge of the bed with his forehead in his hands and he groaned. Images of the previous night flashed through his mind until he received enough puzzle pieces to understand two things—he’d managed to find a hotel room and what little serotonin he’d had was sufficiently depleted. He groaned again.
Jason surveyed the room, viewing its simple yet clean accommodations. Then he remembered that the cabbie had brought him to the motel. Well it should be cheap, he concluded. His head throbbed as he stumbled toward the bathroom. Clutching the sink with one hand, he felt around the cool Formica until he found one of the complimentary, wrapped plastic cups. He wrestled the plastic off the cup and drank three cups of lukewarm water in quick succession, and then returned to the bed.
As he pulled the covers over his head, his brain began plotting his next move, One down and two to go. I need to find Mystery Woman Number Two. He removed the covers and groaned, then grabbed his phone. He Googled Christina Applebaum. There were more Christina Applebaums than Jason would have figured, but before long he was able to narrow the possibilities to one contender. She lived in San Jose. Through a snoop website he obtained her phone number. After last night’s drunken and embarrassing encounter, Jason figured it best to call ahead first and deal with her in person if, and only if, it became necessary. Pleased that he had so handily located her, he also found it disturbing how easy it was to do with nothing but a name and age. True privacy no longer exists in the Information Age. “Sacrifices are always paid in return for blessings,” his mother always said. Today, the sacrifice might not be as on the nose as plunging a dagger into a bleating goat, but sacrifices had been made nonetheless, he concluded.
Jason walked back to the sink and gulped down three more cups of water in order to steady himself for the phone call. He mapped out what to say inside his head, developing a slightly less impromptu speech than he’d delivered last night. His phone rested in his hand, but he could not make himself dial the phone number as he paced the small motel room. No matter how he scripted it, Jason knew the conversation would not go well. His thoughts jumbled and bumped against one another adding fury to the fogginess already residing in his head.
Finally, he hit the talk button. Jason’s trepidation grew with each ring and finally collapsed when he got Christina’s voicemail. He stuttered then paused, eventually hanging up. This conversation cannot be starting with a voice message, he determined. At first, Jason felt relieved but quickly realized this was only a delay to the inevitable, and a squirmy, unsettling feeling returned to his stomach. All the same, he decided he’d done enough for now and deserved a break. He flipped on the television and flopped onto the bed in search of an escape from the memory of what he had done, and the knowledge of what was still left to be done.
A bad 1980s movie and about ten cups of water later, the growl in Jason’s stomach became too pronounced to ignore. So ignoring every warning signal from his hurt mind and body, he left the safety of his motel room and managed to make it across the street for a couple slices of pepperoni pizza and a cold Coca-Cola with lots of ice from a hole in the wall place between a convenience store and a dry cleaners. While the pizza satiated his hunger, it did little to combat the dehydration in his body and the haze in his mind. As Jason sat there full of cheese and carbonated beverage, he decided to look up Mystery Woman Number Three, Sheila Hendenmeier, age twenty-six.
Again, Jason was shocked how easy it was to track Sheila down. He’d found three women with the same name, two from the States and one in Germany. From the two remaining in the U.S., he was able to cross out the sixty-three year old woman from Wisconsin, which only left Sheila Hendenmeier from Houston, TX. When he’d first begun this ridiculous search, he figured he’d spend a lot of time trying to track down the identities of the women and most likely be forced to give up in failure. Instead, all he needed was about twenty minutes, twenty dollars and a smart phone.
Jason decided to put off making the phone call until he got back to his room, so he refilled his Coke and left the pizza joint.
Jason’s pacing accelerated with each successive ring, but stopped abruptly when a man with a gruff voice answered the phone.
“Hello?” the man said.
It took a moment for Jason to find his voice. It oddly felt like the time he’d called Jessica Pendergrass when he was thirteen—sweaty, nervous and hungover. Okay, maybe not hungover, but the symptoms afflicted on him as he was about to tell a complete stranger that their loved one might be having his baby were remarkably similar to asking a thirteen-year-old girl on a date to the roller rink. Jason hoped this situation turned out better than it had with Jessica. When he finally found his voice, it cracked just as it had twenty-four years ago. “Yes, may I speak to Sheila Hendenmeier?”
“No one by that name lives here,” the man angrily said.
“Oh. Is this the Hendenmeier residence?”
“What business is that of yours?”
Jason was taken off guard. “Um, well, uh, I’m afraid that’s a long story.”
“Well, I haven’t got the time to listen to your bullshit, son, so say goodbye.”
“Uh, goodbye?” And with that the line went dead.
Susan Hendenmeier walked into the bedroom she shared with her ill husband, a neatly folded towel in her hand. “Jerry, who was that on the phone?”
“Nobody,” he grumbled without looking up from his newspaper.
“It wasn’t Sheila, was it?” Susan knew her daughter hadn’t called, but she still always held out hope that each time the phone rang it would be her little girl.
“Sheila, who’s that?” Jerry rustled his paper.
“Now, don’t start doing that again.” Susan walked over to the nightstand and picked up Jerry’s coffee cup, but what she was really doing was checking the caller ID readout to see if the phone call had been from a Bay Area area code. When she didn’t recognize the number she said, “Your coffee’s gone cold. Would you like some green tea?”
“How many times do I have to tell you, Susan, I don’t want any of that hippie shit. I’ll take another cup of coffee.”
Susan had given up arguing with Jerry decades ago. She had more subtle means of getting her way. After walking down the stairs, she sat at the breakfast nook in the kitchen where she kept her laptop computer, which she used primarily for recipe and cooking related tasks. She really wanted to get rid of the clunky thing and buy one of those fancy new touch screen pad things, but Jerry wouldn’t have it. He called them hippie computers. Jerry didn’t like computers much at all and didn’t have to, thanks to his years of being spoiled by assistants and paralegals at his law firm. He had managed the new cell phone technology but mainly out of necessity.
Susan didn’t know much about computers beyond some simple word processing software and how to do basic Internet searches, and the like. Oh and bookmarks, she loved bookmarks. Unlike many older people, when Susan put her fingers to the keyboard she didn’t hen peck the words she typed. She had been a master typist and was grateful that at least one of her skills had translated well into this increasingly technological world. She typed the words “area code lists” into the search engine and was surprised the area code had been from a Denver number.
“Susan,” Jerry hollered from upstairs. “Where’s my coffee?”
“Had to brew a fresh pot,” Susan said as she dumped Jerry’s old coffee into the sink, rinsed the cup and poured the remainder of the decaf she’d brewed this morning into his cup. If he’s not going to switch to tea, she thought, then he’s switching to decaf.