Mike came to, little by little - as usual. First, the deeply indrawn breath that always came with the realization he was awake. Groggy, but awake. The eyes remained closed. It had become a kind of game with him. On waking from an attack, Mike had no recollection of the hours leading up to it, and he'd found it useful to feign sleep for a little longer while he got his head together.
He was in bed naked. No; he still had on his shorts. He was in bed alone - no client getting his dollar's worth. Mike moved his hands slowly outwards until they found the mattress sides. Single bed; crisp, clean sheets. His nostrils flared to the smell of their freshness and then for an instant, his heart raced. Maybe he was at Scotty's. Scott would have a well-laundered bed like this.
Mike had never been inside Scott's house, let alone his bedroom, but as the grogginess left him he tried to shape reality with the strength of his desire. Let me be at Scott's - God let me be at Scott's.
Idaho - came an echo from pre-sleep events. A shitty old stone-strewn, black-tar road in Nowheresville, Idaho.
Mike exhaled disappointment in another volumous breath. Scotty was gone, living in another world. Mike would probably never see him again, or if he did, maybe Scott would cut him dead - look right through him - deny ever having met him.
He let his eyes open - shut them again; bright sunshine on white sheets - too much of a shock for misty eyes. He sat up drawing his palms from temple to chin, then shook his head before trying out his eyes again.
Mike Waters was a connoisseur of roads. He'd been tasting roads all his life and he always knew where he was by the way a road looked. His attacks didn't always start on a road, but they sure as hell had a way of finishing on one. Like a piece of trash, he'd wake up in the gutter amongst the lipstick stained cigarette butts and Hershey wrappers. Like a human condom, filled up and thrown away, a few bucks tucked in his shorts if he was lucky.
Occasionally he'd come round in a room - a sleazy eight by twelve or a twenty dollar a night flea pit. More rarely still, to the urgent shaking of a bell-boy in an entirely more salubrious joint, eager to clean up the room for the next guest.
This though! This was very different; it was someone's home. Again, thoughts of Scott Favor surged up, but this time they were more ephemeral dying quickly in the light of full consciousness.
Mike was surrounded by ancient wood; the polished floorboards, the carved bedposts, a sturdy looking bedside table. A ceramic washbowl and jug, white with a blue motif of dragons and odd looking dogs graced the table. And there were pictures on the walls, mostly mountain scenes but in one corner a cardinal bird painted on a polished slice of tree trunk, bark intact and serving as a frame.
The floor felt icy on the soles of his feet as Mike slipped out of bed triggering a chill shiver up his back. A window mounted air conditioning unit was the only visible evidence that he hadn't slipped through a time warp back to the Civil War or earlier, and the chill it produced reminded him of the need to dress.
Where were his clothes? Not on the carved trunk at the foot of the bed or hanging on the door's single coat-hook. Not on the delicate-looking yet strong oak chair. Perhaps in the wardrobe. Look at that thing! A dozen men couldn't lift it. As he drew near he got a strong whiff of bee's wax polish. Mike grasped the gun-metal catch and turned, half expecting to find a minuteman's uniform in pristine condition complete with tricorn hat, but before he had finished turning, a knock on the door slapped his hand down as surely as a swipe from a grizzly. He felt like a burglar sticking his nose in where it didn't belong.
'Hello?' The voice female, gentle. A mature woman.
'Eh. Hi!' from Mike, uncertain, a phlegmy catch in the throat.
'Are you decent, Michael?'
'No, Mam. I... I don't see my clothes anywhere.'
'No. You'll find a robe in the wardrobe. I hope you don't mind; I took the liberty of washing your clothes. It seems you'd been lying in the road a while.'
'Eh. Yes Mam. Thanks. But if I could just have my bag. I've got clean stuff an' all.'
'I'm afraid there was no bag. Just you.'
Mike tried to dredge up the missing information. Where was his bag? Stolen? What had happened to him during his last spell of downtime? The grapple came up empty.
'It seems you may have been robbed, Michael. And whoever took your things stole your shoes too.'
Mike darted a glance at his bare feet, curled up his toes and started to laugh.
He had fallen asleep in some bad company and woken to any amount of horrors. Once he was face down in a Seattle alley amongst shattered beer bottles and broken hypodermics with his pants around his ankles. Once, for God's sake, he'd woken to feel a pill bug crawling up his nose. He'd had his pockets picked, his lunch stolen and fat old Walt, a regular customer, had on one occasion, finished off what he'd paid for despite Mike's attack. But he had never, ever, had his shoes stolen.