Eastern Standard Tribe – Day 38 of 64

“No tub,” he said.

“Look down, Art,” she said.

He did. An inflatable wading pool sat in the middle of his living room, flanked by an upended coffee table and his sofa, standing on its ear. The pool was full of steaming, cloudy water. “There’s a bunch of eucalyptus oil and Epsom salts in there. You’re gonna love it.”

That night, Art actually tottered into the kitchen and got himself a glass of water, one hand pressed on his lower back. The cool air of the apartment fanned the mentholated liniment on his back and puckered goose pimples all over his body. After days of leaden limbs, he felt light and clean, his senses singing as though he was emerging from a fever. He drank the water, and retrieved his comm from its cradle.

He propped several pillows up on his headboard and fired up his comm. Immediately, it began to buzz and hum and chatter and blink, throwing up alerts about urgent messages, pages and calls pending. The lightness he’d felt fled him, and he began the rotten business of triaging his in-box.

One strong impression emerged almost immediately: Fede wanted him in Boston.

The Jersey clients were interested in the teasers that Fede had forwarded to them. The Jersey clients were obsessed with the teasers that Fede had forwarded to them. The Jersey clients were howling for more after the teasers that Fede had forwarded to them. Fede had negotiated some big bucks on approval if only Art would go and talk to the Jersey clients. The Jersey clients had arranged a meeting with some of the MassPike decision-makers for the following week, and now they were panicking because they didn’t have anything except the teasers Fede had forwarded to them.

You should really try to go to Boston, Art. We need you in Boston, Art. You have to go to Boston, Art. Art, go to Boston. Boston, Art. Boston.

Linda rolled over in bed and peered up at him. “You’re not working again, are you?”

“Shhh,” Art said. “It’s less stressful if I get stuff done than if I let it pile up.”

“Then why is your forehead all wrinkled up?”

“I have to go to Boston,” he said. “Day after tomorrow, I think.”

“Jesus, are you insane? Trying to cripple yourself?”

“I can recover in a hotel room just as well as I can recover here. It’s just rest from here on in, anyway. And a hotel will probably have a tub.”

“I can’t believe I’m hearing this. You’re not going to recover in Boston. You’ll be at meetings and stuff. Christ!”

“I’ve got to do this,” Art said. “I just need to figure out how. I’ll go business class, take along a lumbar pillow, and spend every moment that I’m not in a meeting in a tub or getting a massage. I could use a change of scenery about now, anyway.”

“You’re a goddamned idiot, you know that?”

Art knew it. He also knew that here was an opportunity to get back to EST, to make a good impression on the Jersey clients, to make his name in the Tribe and to make a bundle of cash. His back be damned, he was sick of lying around anyway. “I’ve got to go, Linda.”

“It’s your life,” she said, and tossed aside the covers. “But I don’t have to sit around watching you ruin it.” She disappeared into the hallway, then reemerged, dressed and with her coat on. “I’m out of here.”

“Linda,” Art said.

“No,” she said. “Shut up. Why the fuck should I care if you don’t, huh? I’m going. See you around.”

“Come on, let’s talk about this.”

East-Coast pizza. Flat Boston twangs. The coeds rushing through Harvard Square and oh, maybe a side trip to New York, maybe another up to Toronto and a roti at one of the halal Guyanese places on Queen Street. He levered himself painfully out of bed and hobbled to the living room, where Linda was arguing with a taxi dispatcher over her comm, trying to get them to send out a cab at two in the morning.

“Come on,” Art said. “Hang that up. Let’s talk about this.”

She shot him a dirty look and turned her back, kept on ranting down the comm at the dispatcher.

“Linda, don’t do this. Come on.”

“I am on the phone!” she said to him, covering the mouthpiece. “Shut the fuck up, will you?” She uncovered the mouthpiece. “Hello? Hello?” The dispatcher had hung up. She snapped the comm shut and slammed it into her purse. She whirled to face Art, snorting angry breaths through her nostrils. Her face was such a mask of rage that Art recoiled, and his back twinged. He clasped at it and carefully lowered himself onto the sofa.

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