The journey back up to the house and laptop was a lot harder than the roll down and I found myself fighting for breath and I typed out my answer, so proud I would have it right.
The next question came right after I hit ENTER.
What is Charlie’s favorite flavor of ice cream?
I knew where to start with this and I wanted to, but also didn’t want to start on the road this crossword appeared to be leading me on at the same time.
There was an old school drive-in burger place in town called Max’s I knew Charlie used to frequent all the time like some kind of Archie comic/small town cliché. Back in the pre-cell phone days, it was the place to track him down whenever you were looking for him. He would usually be there sipping on a milkshake or eating like four cheeseburgers even though he was an all-league, three-sport athlete.
I had no idea what flavor that milkshake would be, but I figured my only shot would be to head down there and do some investigating.
Back in the “good ol” days the waitresses would be rotating parade of the best-looking high school girls in town who had shots at making it down the highway and out of town, but since the recession the Beckys and Stephanies had been replaced by the Deborahs and Carlas who were the divorced, former housewives of town men who had either split town when the work dried up or joined the roving gangs of tweakers. You could almost smell the desperation on your fries when they handed them to you through the window.
I couldn’t have been more sure the woman with the tragic makeup whose name tag literally read “Deborah” would be happy not to help me when I rolled up and started my line of questioning.
“Did you say Charlie Barnes?” Deborah beamed down at me from underneath an orange visor stained with dead sweat. “Like the baseball player for the Orioles?”
“Uh, yeah. He didn’t actually play for the Orioles though, just their minor league team. But yeah, that’s who I am talking about.”
“I actually went to high school with him.”
Deborah revealed she looked a lot older than she actually was with that statement. I figured she would have been at least 10 years old than Charlie.
“It’s funny you should ask though. He has come by a few times lately to get dinner.”
“What?” I interrupted Deborah before she could get another word out.
“Yeah, I swear. He has been by a few times the past few months or so. I actually got his autograph on a baseball hat for my son. Pretty cool.”
“I could get you his autograph on a shirt or something the next time he comes by if you like.”
“That’s okay. I just have one question. What kind of milkshake does he get?”
Deborah gave me a deer in the headlights look before she answered.
“Cherry, I believe.”
Onto the next question.
What is in storage unit #9 at the Quick N’ Eazy Storage on Highway 20?
I figured I had just about enough time to make it to the storage place on the edge of town before the low winter sun completely set and I would have to do it in complete darkness. I would give it a shot.
Maybe Quick N’ Eazy Storage would have stayed in business if it didn’t have a name which sounded like an 80s hair metal band. Well…or if the economy hadn’t retreated from the western edge of the state of Virginia and never come back around 2008. Oh well, I was there, it was creepy, but when the thought of suicide crosses your mind every week or so, you tend to not be as afraid of stuff as other people.
The faded beige eyesore of the structure of the storage facility was just a one-story, U-shaped building with a collapsing roof on the side of a wet highway littered with fast food wrappers and clumps of chew spit recently ejected from the mouths of pick-up truck drivers. The place looked like an abandoned roadside motel and, come to think of it, may have been precisely that before someone failed to transition it into a storage business.
The good news about the level of decay of the place was that it was likely it would be easy to get into the storage unit. The bad news was the roving bands of tweakers which haunted my hometown like heavy metal-loving gypsies had probably already thoroughly picked through each and every unit.
Unit 9 was at the back of the facility, behind a couple of broken down trucks which sat collecting moss and orange graffiti. I checked the mace in my sweatshirt pocket when I wheeled past the trucks and finally came face-to-face with unit 9 just as I felt the frigid touch of the coming night wash over me.