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After The Gold Rush

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The hotel is less impressive than Joe remembered, but it's well-maintained and fully-staffed. Terry handles the money, of course, and he gives Joe's uncle a good deal for the place. Taking it over is easy, and the old man hangs around to help out.

Joe thinks about tearing it down, starting over, but what's the point? Now that they're here, it's easy to imagine forever looking just like this. The hotel does a decent business, and they've got enough capital to see it through the dry spots.

A nightclub isn't really in the cards, and kids today want something different than what he had imagined, a classy joint out of an old movie, with a singer and a big band, Joe and Terry cruising around in tuxedos. Who would come?

So he decides not to bother, and spends his days making small repairs and chatting up the guests. Terry runs the kitchen and balances the books, Kate's in charge of the staff.

No debt collectors are calling, no cops are banging down the door. He's got financial security, a legitimate business and a satisfying (if unconventional) home life. What more could a guy ask for?

There's just a nagging feeling that won't go away, and it's starting to piss him off. He takes a lot of deep breaths and never talks about it, but everyone notices anyway.

"What's wrong?"

Every time, the same response: blink, smile, "Nothing."

It's the truth. It just doesn't feel like it.

*

One afternoon they venture into town for a bite, just him and Terry.

He picks the table, one with a good view of the bank that happens to be across the street from the restaurant. When Terry turns his head to see what's so interesting over his shoulder, he guesses Joe's thoughts almost instantly, which is one of his more irritating traits.

"Do you know what they do to bank robbers down here, Joe?" He doesn't wait for an answer. "Firing squad."

Joe laughs, but he keeps looking. "I'm pretty sure that's racist, Terry."

"It's a fact." He pauses. "I saw it in a movie, anyway."

"I'm just looking," Joe says, returning his attention to his lunch. "No harm in that."

"Not just looking," Terry corrects. "Thinking. But there's no point in thinking about it. We don't need the money."

"It's not about the money."

"Then save it for someone who does need it. Let them knock it over. We're done," he says firmly, as if he has the final say.

Joe lets it go. Terry's right; he doesn't need the money.

But he needs something.

*

"I don't know how you do it," Harvey says. They're hanging out in the hotel bar, and Joe's making a mental inventory of things that need fixing, so he doesn't get it right away.

"Huh?"

"You know." Harvey takes a swig of his beer.

"No, I don't know." By now, he's got an inkling, but he enjoys the idea of watching Harvey squirm.

"Never mind."

"You can't just say something like that with no explanation."

Harvey sighs. "I know you know what I'm talking about."

"Honest, Harvey. I really don't." Maybe he lays it on a little thick, because Harvey just rolls his eyes.

"I'm just saying, I couldn't do what you do. Not with Terry. That's all I meant. I don't want to talk about it anymore."

"What exactly do you think I do with Terry?"

Harvey peels the label off his beer in lieu of a response.

"Well," he finally says. "I guess it's a good thing no one's asking you to."

"I'll drink to that," Harvey says, and orders another round.

*

The conversation sticks with him the following day as he goes about his usual routine.

"Harvey said something weird last night," he tells Kate that evening as she dresses for dinner.

"That's news?" she asks, brushing her teeth vigorously.

"I think he has the wrong idea about us."

"Which 'us'?"

"All of us," he says. "Me and Terry, specifically."

She emerges from the bathroom to ask, "What's the wrong idea?"

He hesitates. "Oh, never mind."

"You can't just say something like that with no explanation," she protests, and it's only then that he notices she's barely keeping a straight face.

He laughs, and she gives up. "Remind me to teach you how to play poker sometime."

"What makes you think I don't know how to play poker?" This time she looks genuinely curious, which only makes him laugh harder.

When they leave, he notices that he feels lighter, somehow; the nagging feeling is still there, but it seems to be fading, just a little.

He tries not to think about what that could mean.

*

Terry likes to think he always knows what will happen next, but just because he was half-right about Kate doesn't mean he's right about everything. What Joe doesn't point out is that he's pretty good at predicting the future too, based on cause and effect; it doesn't take a genius. That's one of the many reasons he's well-suited for robbing banks.

For example, he knows that if Kate drinks just a little too much, she'll say something to Terry about what he told her.

Terry, on the spot, will react in one of two ways:

One, he will blink very rapidly for a full minute before saying, "That's ridiculous. Isn't it, Joe?"

Two, he will blink very rapidly for two full minutes, and leave. Then he won't speak to either of them for about 24 hours, at which point he'll pretend it never happened.

Now he's kind of curious about which way it'll go, so he encourages Kate to order a fourth drink. As predicted, she tells Terry about his conversation with Harvey. "Don't you think that's funny?" she asks coquettishly, sipping her margarita.

Terry looks straight at Joe and says, "I don't think it's funny at all."

But he doesn't leave.

It's then Joe realizes there was one cause he didn't count on: a conspiracy. He's just not a naturally suspicious person. Some might say that's how he ended up in prison.

Kate collapses into giggles; Terry seems amused by her amusement, but there's something else behind his eyes that Joe can't identify. He decides not to try.

"Hilarious," Joe says.

When Kate recovers, she says, "Not really. I mean, it's not that far-fetched, is it?"

Joe stares at the tablecloth.

"Yeah, it's a little far-fetched," Terry says. The blinking starts.

"Why?" Kate presses.

He can't help smirking. "Yeah, why?" he asks Terry.

"I mean, you were in prison," she points out.

"Well, there are a lot of misconceptions about--" Joe starts to tell her.

"Excuse me," Terry says abruptly, and leaves.

So it's door number two, then.

"Do you think I should go after him?" she asks.

"Nah," he says, and helps her to her feet. "Give it a day or two, it'll be like it never happened."

"Pity," she says, and kisses him.

She might be taking this outlaw thing too far, he thinks, but he doesn't say another word.

*

Something else he doesn't tell Kate that night: it's not the first time the subject has come up.

*

"You know, it's not a switch. You can't just turn it on and off," Terry says, out of nowhere.

Kate is making breakfast in the restaurant kitchen with Terry, while Joe uses a Spanish-English dictionary to read the morning paper.

"What?" Kate's distracted and a little hung over. Joe looks up from the paper.

"No one's suggesting that," he says. "No one's suggesting anything. We were just talking."

"Oh," she says.

"Well," Terry says, flustered as usual. "If you were, it's just not going to happen."

"I know," Joe says. "Don't worry, I'm not offended."

"You're not offended," Terry repeats. "It's real cute that you can joke about this."

"Cute, huh?" He shakes his head and goes back to the paper. "Talk about mixed signals."

Kate laughs, and pokes Terry, who is still staring at Joe. "Come on, it was kind of funny."

"It's not, and he knows it."

She lets him finish the cooking. When everything is served and they're all seated, she says, "Why don't you tell me what really happened?"

"When?" Joe asks, starting to eat. "Good job on the eggs, by the way."

"Whenever," she says.

"That doesn't really narrow it down," he points out.

She narrows her eyes. "I just feel like maybe I don't have all the facts."

He takes a deep breath. "Well, let's just say that the subject might have been discussed a long time ago, and I was not, perhaps, entirely receptive."

"Oh," she says.

"Excuse me," Terry says, and leaves.

"Do you think I should--" she starts to ask.

"No," he says, setting down his fork. "I will."

He takes off after Terry and finds him standing outside, blinking. "Look, you can't just storm off whenever you're mad at me about something," he says. "Frankly, it's rude, and it's not fair to her."

"I already apologized for last night," Terry admits. "And I'm not angry, I just don't appreciate that you're so goddamn cavalier about something that was not easy for me at the time, you have no idea what it took for me, even with Kate, and back then--"

"I'm not being cavalier." He lets that sink in for a minute. "It just took me a while to figure things out," he says, a little quieter. "Maybe you could cut me a little slack."

Terry shrugs and looks away, but the blinking's stopped. He's not sure whether that's a good sign or a bad one.

"You boys work it out?" Kate calls.

"For now," Terry says. "Maybe."

"Good. Now, is there anything else you haven't told me?"

"Let's talk about it later," Joe says.

She doesn't argue.

*

Yeah, okay, the first time they try it is weird, and it's not the kind of thing Joe would ever talk about, even with a gun to his head (admittedly, an unlikely scenario).

But it's not bad, just a little clumsy. It's not so weird that he wouldn't give it another shot, just to get it right, figure out the cause and effect. If X, then Y.

That might just be the kind of challenge he's been missing, not that he'd say it out loud.

*

Afterward, you could hear a pin drop, so he says, "I went to prison for trusting the wrong guy."

"I was in a sort of prison too," Kate says thoughtfully. "And my husband was definitely the wrong guy."

Joe rolls his eyes; it's not the first time they've had this conversation. "A bad marriage is really not the same thing."

"It's not," Terry agrees. He's lying across the end of the bed, fully dressed again. Joe's pretty sure they'll have to try this a few times before he loosens up.

"I didn't say it was the same thing, I said it was sort of like that. Don't gang up on me, it's mean," she says, nudging Terry's shoulder with her foot.

"Okay," Joe says. "So what were you in for?"

"Making the wrong choices," she says. "The same reason everyone ends up in prison."

"I didn't make any wrong choices," Terry says. "I just got caught."

"The real reason everyone ends up in prison," Joe points out.

"Well, then you're right, it wasn't the same thing. I'm very good at not getting caught."

"Yeah, you and your poker face," he teases. "Have you noticed that she can't bluff at all?"

"No," Terry says.

"I don't know where you got this idea that I can't play poker," she says. "I'm really very good at it."

He's about to ask her how many housewives she's bilked out of matchsticks when it hits him.

"You're right," he marvels. "You're a criminal mastermind."

"I don't have the slightest idea what you mean," she says airily.

"I'm lost," Terry says.

"She set this whole thing up!"

"Oh, don't be so dramatic," she says. "I just felt like something was missing, and I was bored. Didn't you feel that way too, moping around here for weeks? You just needed a little push. And anyway, it all worked out, didn't it?"

"Yeah, it worked out okay," Terry agrees.

"Why aren't you more upset?" Joe asks him.

"Terry might, possibly, have told me about the incident in the infirmary a long time ago," she confesses.

"When, I might add, I was high as a kite and thought I was dying," Terry says, then clarifies: "In the infirmary, not when I told Kate."

"A conspiracy! You know, I never see it coming."

"Are you mad?" she asks.

He thinks about it. "No. I just didn't expect to be taken in by a couple of grifters. In my own home!"

"Maybe you're the one who can't play poker," Terry suggests.

Joe kicks him. "Them's fighting words."

"Let's talk about it later," Kate says.

He doesn't argue.