And I was back.
An hour later we were sitting in a diner on a main road. Gus was watching the parking lot. We were waiting for a guy he’d met in Winnipeg, a guy with a car going to Vancouver.
“You think the cops could follow us here?” I said.
“That was weird how you came along just when ... you know.”
“I saw you at Johnny’s. But I got the feeling you didn’t wanna meet. So I followed you, stayed back a ways, specially when the cops came along. What made you run for it?”
“I was holding a joint.”
“Figured something like that. Never thought you’d make a break for it though.”
“Didn’t think I had the guts, eh? At the hostel there, when you came up behind the guy, I was just gonna jump him and take my bag.”
“Sorry I butted in,” said Gus.
“I didn’t mean that. It was great. What you did. I dunno, I probably wouldn’t have jumped him myself.”
We were quiet a minute. Then, Gus said, “I figured you’d head back to the hostel.”
“What an asshole, that guy.”
“We did a job on him, didn’t we?”
“When he turned around and saw you there — And then you said we weren’t leaving without our stuff —”
“And you made him give us the list. And he’s whining I’m just doing this for the good of the hostel.”
“That true, him pushing dope?”
“I’d heard something. Probably not. I threw that in to scare him.”
“Here I am running for my life, freaking out cause I could be busted for holding a tiny bit of dope. And everyone else is pushing it.”
“Yeah, so?” said Gus.
“Never done hard drugs. Acid or smack or anything. Never sold nothing to no one. All I did is smoke a little weed like everyone else. And I’m like the big criminal here.”
“You don’t find that kind of unfair?”
“Way it works,” he said.
Funny, later Petra said something like that to me too. “You’ve got to have a complicated brain” is how she put it. It wasn’t about drugs she was talking but it was kinda the same thing. But back in Winnipeg there with Gus, back before I met Petra and I got a halfway complicated brain, it all just seemed nuts.
“You hurt your hand,” Gus said.
“Just a bit.” I showed him. “When I went over that first fence. Didn’t feel it then.”
He laughed real quiet.
“What?” I said.
“Like it wasn’t you. Someone else. You even made yourself look different.”
I pulled my hair out from the neck of my shirt and undid the buttons where the shirt stretched too tight over my sweater. “I had to trash the jacket.”
“Wanna wear mine?”
We went into the diner’s washroom and came back wearing each other’s clothes.
The guy behind the counter was watching us. A sign on the wall said “Maximum seating time 30 min” but he didn’t move to throw us out. We’d paid for french fries and pop. When Gus’s contact with the car still hadn’t shown up a half hour later, we bought burgers so we could sit there longer.
Gus filled me in on his experiences since we’d split up. Not a whole lot cause the morning after waking up in that field outside Toronto he’d caught a ride all the way to Winnipeg. Stayed at the hostel, looked for a job. Got as far as an interview for sales clerk at a sporting goods store. Didn’t inspire confidence by showing up in his hitchhiking clothes. Met another guy applying there, started talking to him and the guy decided right then and there to screw the job, he was just taking it to make a few bucks for gas money to get him to Vancouver where he had friends. “I think he thinks I have money,” Gus said.
“Well, you do now,” I said. “A little.”
A rusty orange Volkswagen Beetle pulled up to a parking space in front of the diner. A shaggy balloon of hair wearing shades appeared over the roof of the small car and turned our way. Gus waved. “There’s Wesley.”
We pulled our gear together to leave. I put my hand out above the table to delay us. “Gus, that stuff that happened. Outside Toronto. With us.”
“We’re even now.”
“You’re good for me, you push me into this whole trip, push me into new things. And I just saved your ass.
“That doesn’t sound even.”
“You’re right. You still owe me big time.”
“Kidding. Look, Mark. Folks just gotta get used to each other,” he said. “That’s all.”
We had a long ride ahead of us. Two thousand miles to go before Vancouver. Lotsa time.
Course I didn’t count on this Wesley changing everything.