Roger supposed his first clue should have been when Apple Pay didn’t work to prepay for a Ferry. Thankfully, cabs always took cash and cash took him to the airport.
He was stymied there, too, when it turned out his plane tickets were cancelled. For some reason, his cards were frozen for suspicion of fraud and they’d need to destroy his cards, sir, and now his plane back to New York was booked solid, so cash wouldn’t even help him.
That’s when it hit him. He’d been too half-asleep before to get it, honestly, but it made sense now: he’d lost everything. By defeating and banishing the entities, he’d negated his great-great grandfather’s deal.
He’d half expected that outcome, but he hadn’t expected it would happen so quickly. Roger had pictured his investments no longer panning out, his properties depreciating in value, being hit with costs that drained his reserves. Everything crashing around his head suddenly? That was a surprise.
Pulling out his cell phone, he tried to call his housekeeper to make sure things were okay there, but he had no service. Using the airport Wi-Fi, he was able to log on and see that his cards had declined there too, leaving him without service for nonpayment. He hadn’t noticed that at the hotel because he was on Wi-Fi there as well.
Okay then. Pretty much everything was going to hell. Where did he go from here?
He hadn’t lied last night: there was only one person in town that he knew. And she’d taken him to her place and he had a pretty good sense of direction. Roger could easily direct a cab to her neighborhood and then find her apartment from there.
Wait. Was he really going to crash in on Emerson’s life and ask for more help? What was he even going to ask? It wasn’t like he needed a place to stay here in Tupelo.
She could drive him home, though. It would take a couple days, but he had enough cash to pay her for that, right? She liked driving. That was reasonable.
Shouldering his pack once more, Roger hailed another taxi, directing it towards the college neighborhood until he saw a familiar street – and on that street, a familiar apartment building.
Which apartment was hers? Shit. He didn’t know that. Maybe there’d be a list on the outside like some of the buildings back home, or an electronic gatekeeper where he could look her and page her.
No such luck. He’d have to go door to door.
There were only four apartments in the building and of course, Emerson’s was the fourth door he knocked on, not the first. And actually it was – if he remembered her name correctly – Grace that opened the door, looking a little worse for the wear from the night before. Behind her, a dog barked.
She peered at him, obviously nursing a bit of a hangover. “Hey. You’re the guy from last night.”
“I am,” he confirmed, steeling himself to not awkwardly blurt out everything to Grace. “Is Emerson here?”
Grace looked back over her shoulder and called, “Em! Your not-date from last night is here!”
“What?” Emerson’s sleepy and confused voice came from deeper within the apartment. She shushed the dog that he still couldn’t see and appeared behind Grace. “Roger? What the hell?”
“The, uh, thing broke quicker than I thought it would,” he said, shrugging.
Grace gave him a weird look and it took Emerson a moment to catch his meaning, but she did. Pushing Grace out of the way, she opened the door and dragged Roger in. “For the last time, it wasn’t a date, Grace,” she said as she did so.
Her roommate didn’t look like she believed it in the least. “Whatever, Em. You do you. I’m going back to bed.”
While they waited for Grace to head back to the bedroom, Roger eyed a small black and brown dog – a mutt of some sort – that was in a crate in a corner. The dog eyed him back and ‘oof’ed quietly in his direction.
Emerson hushed it again. “Quiet, Taz.” Pointing Roger to the couch with that same authority, she plopped in a chair opposite him. “So what? You’re broke now?”
“Basically.” He explained everything that had happened to him so far that morning. “I should still own my penthouse outright, but I haven’t been able to call and check because my phone isn’t working. Can I use yours?”
“Uh, sure.” She dug in her back pocket and pulled out her cell, tossing it to him lightly.
Dialing one of the few numbers he knew from memory, Roger called his house, hoping someone – the housekeeper or butler, most likely – would answer the phone.
No such luck. Did they quit on him, too?
He hung up and shrugged at Emerson. “Still don’t know. But no one answered and told me I’ve lost the house, so there’s that,” he said, with a little bit of cheerfulness.
She shook her head at him and he dropped the smile. “Shouldn’t you check with your… financial advisor or something? You have someone like that, don’t you? That’s a rich person thing.”
The sides of Roger’s mouth twitched, his smile threatening to return. “Yeah. I’ve got someone like that. I emailed him when I was on the airport Wi-Fi.” He held up his own useless phone. “Next time I’m at a public hotspot, I’ll check for a response.”
“Oh, for crying out–” Emerson leaned over and grabbed both phones from him. She held his up to his face to unlock it and then tapped in something. “There. You’re on our internet now. Check your email.”
He did. There was one email, short and curt.
“He says my portfolio crashed and that my last check to him bounced. Which is weird, that was two weeks ago and should have already gone through.” Roger frowned and Emerson gestured for him to go on. “But the penthouse is still mine since I didn’t have a mortgage on it.”
“Penthouse?” Emerson’s eyebrows raised. “Fancy. So where is this penthouse?”
“Where I guessed,” she said, muttering a little.
“Why would you guess that?”
“How many other places can you live without ever learning to drive?”
“Yeah. Speaking of that…”
She eyed him warily. “What?”
He sighed. “Look, Emerson, I still need to get home. I’ve got cash. I’ll pay you to drive me home.”
“Why not just use cash to buy plane tickets?”
“Do you know how much last minute first class tickets cost?”
A couch pillow hit him in the face. “Try flying coach,” she said and he wasn’t sure if she was making fun of him or mad.
“Driving would still be cheaper!” he protested.
Emerson rolled her eyes. “Okay, but you’re paying me what I’d make each day doing Ferry. Plus tips.”
That was going to be a lot, but if it got him home… “Deal.”
“And you’re still buying gas and snacks. And hotels.”
“Okay.” He was in no position to argue and that was all reasonable for his sudden request.
Nodding approval, Emerson disappeared into her room.
While waiting, Roger held out his hand for the dog to sniff and got licked in return. He guessed that meant he was accepted. He wasn’t really a dog or cat person. Having pets hadn’t fit in with his lifestyle of traveling the world, trying to kill the demons, for lack of a better term.
Huh. All that was over now. What was he going to do now that his entire purpose in life had been fulfilled? What was going to challenge him?
He was so deep in thought about that that Roger almost missed Emerson emerging from her room with a duffel bag.
“Okay, if I agree, you have to do something for me first,” she said, dead serious.
“Anything,” Roger replied, equally serious.
Roger tried to get into the passenger seat of Emerson’s car after throwing their bags in the trunk, but she stopped him. “Before we leave town, I’m teaching you to drive,” she said. “Seeing as you won’t have a driver anymore.”
He hadn’t thought of that. You could take the trains most anywhere, though sometimes he needed a driver to go where the subway lines wouldn’t. But learning to drive right now…? “Aren’t you afraid I’ll wreck the car?”
She gave him a look and pointed to the rear bumper. “Already dented by one of your demons – for the lack of a better term – last night, remember? And based on your slow speed getaway, I’m not too worried about you being reckless.”
Oh yeah. That had happened. “But–”
Emerson was brooking no arguments. “In the driver’s seat,” she instructed.
Roger sat where he was told.
Once she was in the passenger seat and buckled in, Emerson started rapidly pointing out the controls.
Roger wasn’t dumb, but he wasn’t that quick of a study. “Wait, wait. Go back to the lights.”
Sighing, she pointed at the stick coming out of the left side of the steering column. “Twist the end of that to turn them on.”
Roger tried it but saw no difference.
“It’s daytime,” Emerson said, slightly irritably. “You won’t be able to see the lights until it gets dark.”
He definitely heard the unspoken ‘you idiot’ in there.
“So, driving itself. You’re going to use just your right foot. Don’t want to hit the gas and the brakes at the same time. And you’re going to push them both harder than you did last night.” She made him practice with the pedals before they turned on the car.
Somehow, Emerson managed to turn something so silly as teaching a grown man to drive a car into something not entirely patronizing. Sure, she laughed at him when he messed up or refused to go faster than twenty miles per hour, but it was just Emerson laughing. Not Emerson laughing at him.
Or so he liked to think.
“Food,” she announced. “You’re taking us through a drive-through to get food. Your treat, Mr. Family Curse.”
Navigating the McDonald’s drive-through lane was a little bit harrowing, but Roger thought he managed to hide his abject fear of scraping the car along the walls of the building or knocking down a sign. At least here, going slowly was encouraged.
Emerson ate her McGriddle while directing him around town. He soon caught on that she was taking him down the streets they’d been to last night: Maplewood, Elmwood, Cedar, Oak, and Pine.
“Is there some reason we’re retracing our steps?” he asked. “Taking me to the cemetery next?”
“Why? Do you want to go?” she asked as if she was oblivious to their route.
Roger thought back to getting jumped by the entities – both places. “Not particularly, no.” He could do without reliving that part of the night.
About an hour into learning to drive, he finally felt confident enough to look down the road, past the front bumper of the car. Almost immediately, he quit drifting from side to side in his lane so much.
“See? Told you that would happen,” said Emerson when he commented on it.
Roger wanted to shoot her an annoyed glare, but taking his eyes off the road at all wasn’t a proposition he was comfortable with just yet. “How long are you planning on having me do this?” he asked.
“Until you’re not white-knuckling it anymore,” she said.
He didn’t even have to look down to realize she was right; his hands were clenched as tightly around the steering wheel as he could get them. Forcing himself to relax at the next stop sign, he dared a glance at Emerson. “Isn’t it time to get going?”
“Fine,” she sighed. “It is a sixteen hour drive – but we are definitely doing it in two days, not one marathon. And I guess you know the basics now. Just have to get you a car next and then you won’t need Ferry all the time. Or a driver.”
Instructing him to pull in at a small ice cream stand, they swapped places and set off – much more quickly – towards the interstate.
“So what are you going to do now that you’re just a regular rube?” she asked after a bit.
“I have no clue,” Roger admitted. “First order of business is burning that book.”
“I thought you were going to do that last night.”
“And get kicked out of the hotel because I set off the smoke alarm?”
Emerson shrugged in a ‘good point’ sort of way. “You’re going to have to get a job, you know.”
“I know.” He didn’t want to be reminded. “Unfortunately, hunting dark entities doesn’t exactly go well on a resume.”
“Start driving well enough and you can be a Ferry driver, like me,” she suggested, shooting him a grin. “Then you can deal with regular human assholes like yourself.”
“I told you I would erase that review and I did edit it so it was positive!” he protested.
“Good. And I’m still looking for that big tip you promised in cash, since your cards are no good.”
“Jeez, you’re just using me to re-plumb your whole building, aren’t you?”
Emerson shrugged. “If it works.”
Roger shook his head and watched the road go by. There wasn’t much to see, just the occasional exit and river.
This was going to be a long drive.