‘Adam’s out eating pizza with the soccer team. He sends his love.’
‘How’s your day been?’
He’d considered telling her about William. About that fetid bar, about the anger in William’s face, the way booze and adulthood had not quite rubbed out all the traces of the little boy he had used to be. But Emily wanted to be cheered up. She’d been rejected by all that was left of her family and said goodbye to her mother forever.
‘I went down to Camden,’ he said. ‘I’ll tell you about it later. But right now, tell me where you are. What are you looking at?’
‘I’m looking out the window.’
‘Do you have a sea view from your room?’
‘Yes, but it’s dark. I can see some lights on the water.’
He picked up the phone and carried it across the room to the window. The water was slate-grey, the rocks black. ‘I’m looking out the window at the sea, too. Can you see me?’
‘Robbie, I’m on the east coast. I’m facing the wrong way for Maine, even if I could see three thousand miles.’
‘Look anyway. Can you see me?’
She paused. He knew she was looking, even though it was impossible. Even though he was being silly.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Yes, I can see you.’
‘I can see you, too,’ he said. ‘Come home soon.’
After Adam went to bed, the house was very quiet. The absence of Emily was a tangible thing, as if the house had a hole in it that Robbie would fall through when he entered one of the rooms that had been familiar, but now seemed strange.
A second night without her, and tomorrow would be a third. Emily hadn’t been able to get a flight home till Monday. He didn’t go to bed, though he was tired and it was nearly eleven. He wanted to call her, but it was too late where she was. He ached to be with her. He wanted to be with her now. He wanted her home, safe, where she belonged, in this place they’d made theirs even though maybe they weren’t supposed to.
When Robbie stepped out with Bella for a last time about eleven thirty, he smelled snow on the air. After thirteen years here he might still be considered from ‘away’, but he could read the weather as well as anyone who’d been fishing the Maine coast all their life.
‘Going to be a storm soon, Bella,’ he said to the dog, who waved her tail, did her business and trotted back to be let in the house. For a dog born in Maine and supposedly bred for hunting, she hated the cold as much as a delicate Southern belle. In the summer, though, they could barely get her inside. He thought about the conversation he’d had with Emily last week about breeding her and maybe keeping one of the puppies. ‘At least let’s choose a father dog who isn’t such a wimp,’ he’d said, and she’d hit him with a rolled-up copy of the Portland Press Herald.
Smiling, he pushed open the kitchen door and was just unlacing his boots when the phone rang. He loped to the phone, one boot on, and snatched it up. ‘Emily?’
‘Yeah, no, this ain’t Emily,’ said the male voice on the other end, who sounded distinctly annoyed. ‘Listen, you know Bill?’
‘Only we found this number in his pocket and we didn’t know who else to call. He’s pissed off everyone around here and I’m not prepared to have him sleep on one of my tables overnight.’
‘William, you mean? William Brandon?’
‘Yeah, that’s right. Listen, will you come and get him or should I call the cops?’
‘I’ll come and get him.’ Robbie was already reaching for his car keys. ‘Where is he?’
‘Rusty Scupper. I figure you know where it is because your number was on one of our napkins.’
‘I know where it is.’
He hated leaving Adam alone in the house, especially with a storm coming, but he was fourteen and sensible and when Robbie woke him up to tell him he had to go out, he just nodded and said he’d go back to sleep anyway. It hadn’t started snowing when he set out, though by the time he reached Camden there were flurries in his headlights. The outside lights on the bar were turned off and he had to knock on the door to be let in.
The guy who opened the door was different from the barman he’d seen earlier in the day. ‘We’re closed.’
‘I’m here for William,’ Robbie said. ‘Bill.’
‘Oh yeah.’ The man held open the door for him. All the overhead lights were on, exposing exactly how grimy the walls were, how the chairs all had rips and stains on their vinyl upholstery. William was in a booth in the back, slumped over the table, asleep.
‘Hey, buddy,’ said the man. ‘Hey, buddy, wake up. Your friend is here.’
William didn’t move. Robbie, veteran of many drunken evenings and, if he were honest, afternoons – hell, sometimes even mornings – slid into the booth beside him.
‘Come on,’ he said loudly, right into William’s ear. ‘I’m going to take you home.’ He picked up William’s arm and put it round his shoulders, putting his own arm around William’s waist. The smell of alcohol was overwhelming: beer, whiskey, and sweat. William stirred slightly as Robbie pulled him out of the booth, and made an incoherent sound when Robbie heaved him up on to his feet. He was heavy, but with the movement he woke up a little bit and took some of his own weight.
‘We’re not his babysitters, you know?’ said the man, conversationally, not offering to help Robbie. ‘And this ain’t a hotel.’
‘Doesn’t he have any friends?’
‘Not around here, not any more.’
‘Does he have a coat? It’s cold outside.’
‘His stuff’s in that bag, I guess.’ The bag was on the floor next to the booth, the same duffel bag Robbie had seen him with earlier.
‘Do you know where he lives?’ He’d had the address from George, but it was in his other jacket, the lighter one he’d worn this afternoon before the storm.
‘That apartment building on Penobscot Street? I’ve seen him coming out of there before. Listen, I gotta close up.’
‘OK. Lean on me, Will.’ He was not quite a dead weight as Robbie hauled him across the bar, but nearly. The cold air and the snowflakes, falling faster now, on his face, roused him a little bit and he went into Robbie’s truck with a few mumbled words. By the time Robbie got back with his bag, he was fast asleep again.
Robbie knew Camden, but not all that well, and he had to drive around a little while before he found Penobscot Street. The snow was settling and his tyres made tracks on the road. None of the houses were obviously apartments but he drove slowly, looking at front porches, until he found a house with several mailboxes.
Robbie shook William’s shoulder. ‘Which apartment do you live in?’
No answer. He snored. Robbie sighed and searched through his pockets for a key. The two front pockets yielded a wallet, very little loose change, half a pack of Marlboro reds and a lighter, a Leatherman knife which Robbie was heartily glad William hadn’t seen fit to use in his fight with the Harker salesman. He had to push William forward to get to his back pocket and his keychain. It was attached to a promotional bottle opener shaped like a crab. Robbie saw a car key to a vehicle that was presumably still parked outside the Rusty Scupper, and a small key that could be to something like a locker. But no house keys.