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The weakest spot in a vessel will be its ruin, every time. A bottle, a levee, a heart.

Hart might well be the ruin of this case. It's as if he wants to talk about anything but, and he's distracted by the most irrelevant things in the world. Like providing detailed opinions on the coffee he's drinking now and hypothesizing where he'll get the next one. Tits and the various shapes God makes 'em in. The tiresome focus on Rust coming for dinner.

“Maggie's real accommodating. If there's stuff you don't like the taste of, an' all.”

Rust gets out a cigarette and feigns a lighter malfunction so he won't have to respond. There are at least three reasons why he's not going to dinner at the Hart house.

*

The first is that he knows what they look like. Their pictures are on Marty's desk, and he knows that Maggie's dark and their oldest girl isn't, which parallels how his supposedly recessive genes mowed right over his own wife's and Sophia looked like him.

Somewhere in the Cohle mutt ancestry was cold northern European water, and he was the only person under the age of fifty who ate surströmming when Nana dragged it out the Christmas he'd gone home to play like he was part of a functional family, a charade made easier for everyone with his father absent. It smelled so bad they ate it outside on rye crackers, and his uncle joked about it being a powerful genetic excuse for the bright blonde kid everybody wanted to hold.

While they were there, they had her baptized at Nana's innocuous Methodist church. It was Rust's idea, and Claire was amenable but curious why since their lone Sunday morning tradition was “us time” in bed, between the hours of seven and eight.

He said it was because of Dante's Inferno. Insurance. Just in case.

He remembers the odd twinge of offense he felt when one of the aunts predicted that Sophia's hair would darken with time.

* *

The second reason is that the synesthetic bonus often isn't, and the sensory barrage of an active household will be too much.

Cooking, crayons, fabric softener...there's a reason he stays away from those things now. He already knows he'll be confronted with fine yellow hair. If he gets a taste of overcooked green beans or gets any whiff of Johnson & Johnson lavender products he'll have to excuse himself and leave.

The kind of people who invite others to dinner are the exactly the kind of people who find stuff like that confusing. They'll obsess and wonder what they did wrong; the brave will ask questions they'll later wish they hadn't. The whole dance is just so hollow and unnecessary.

* * *

The third reason is walking pneumonia.

It had been a few years ago, in Shreveport. He had an apartment with carpet that looked like cigarettes taste and a partner that liked him even less than Marty does now. Careless treatment shackled him with walking pneumonia – given recent behavior he was lucky he wasn't shackled with worse, but his partner made him go in for it when he'd had enough of the snorting and runny eyes and what he called, in uncanny Martin Hart fashion, “your contagious fuckin' misery.”

He sat alone in the exam room and thought about the extra prescriptions he might wring out of this transaction when the doctor came in and shook his hand. She was pleasant enough and didn't look like anybody Rust knew, but the suffocating distress started the second the cold disc of the stethoscope touched his back and she instructed him to breathe.

Breathe.

He did.

Deep breath again, please.

He did, and the disc moved.

Again.

He obliged, even though his nose was starting to tickle and burn. She looked in his ears and said one eardrum looked “unhappy,” then moved around to his front and pulled his lower eyelids down with a careful fingertip. Then she stuck that awful flat stick his mouth, looked in with her flashlight, then took both away. “You've had this a while, haven't you, Rust?”

“Yes, ma'am,” he said, and flinched when her warm, dry hands touched his neck.

She apologized for startling him, and when her thumbs gently pressed into the sides of his throat, he broke down right there in front of her, because he hadn't been touched with any kind of kindness in so long.

He doesn't remember what she looked like, but he's kept the empty amoxicillin bottle, like some dumb good luck charm to hold loose pills.

*

Marty will never know any of this, of course, or why his dinner invitations will be shirked till the end of time. The backstory would strain this patience and he probably wouldn't understand it even if he made it to the end without making the mental drift over to coffee or tits. He will continue to take the refusals as a mild insult, and they will continue to do this: try, bicker, then back away from each other, frustrated anew.

“Anyway,” Marty says. “One-a these days I'm gonna stop taking no for an answer.”

Rust is tempted to say that most of the western world eats three times a day, 365 days a year, compounded by a new lifespan longer than biology ever intended; it all ends up as shit so it's irrelevant what it starts as or who you ate it with.

“One-a these days maybe I'll say yes,” he lies. His actual dinner plans don't involve food at all; he's going to immerse himself in work, in other people's problems.

“My girls'll draw you a picture to stick up on your fridge. It needs it.”

The Zippo miraculously works again, and Rust lights up and sucks down a long, brown drag.

He won't allow the hands of this family anywhere near his throat.