“I don’t know what else I expected,” Buzz said, looking at the old chair floating in the middle of the horrendous green pond.
There was the sound of running water which Buzz tried to work out the location of. The pond was still and stagnant, having lost any connection to the swamp or anything else. Then he realised it was Claude Far peeing against a tree a few feet away. He zipped up and without looking up said, “Furniture don’t grow on trees, Buzz.”
Claude was finally done. He wiped his hands on his trousers and walked up to Buzz, one hand out to shake. Buzz didn’t take it. In this swamp, Buzz didn’t know where to step or what was safe to touch. He did know one thing, “That chair’s made of wood.”
Buzz sighed. “Nothing, nothing. It’s just… This is how you announce you’re back on the island?”
“I told Helen.”
Claude looked like he’d aged at twice the speed of the other A-Words in the decade since he left Fate Cove. The death of his wife had hit the whole family hard and after abandoning Shades at Parker Mansion the Far clan were gone from their lives. There were occasional reports, but they were always rare and awful. Claude’s gut was stretching at a faded brown t-shirt, a greying straggled beard dripped down over it and he’d kept his hair long despite how desperately thin it had become. His hands were worn and calloused with scars Buzz didn’t remember seeing the last time they’d met.
“You cut your hair,” Claude said.
Buzz nodded. He’d been experimenting with an afro when Claude was last on the island. He’d also made a stab at having a moustache, but after copious mockery from Helen, he cut it. Unlike Claude, he knew the way his hair was going and decided to lean into it with shorter, neater cuts. He ‘d also become a habitual wearer of suits including the dark blue one he had on now and would have to burn later.
Claude could tell Buzz was annoyed. His powers gave him an uncanny perception of everything in his immediate surroundings. He’d not honed it down to a forensic level, but he could feel the tension in Buzz’s body. It was at least 40% higher than how tense and uptight he normally was.
“Look man, I’ve been back a day. I was going to get round to you, then I saw this chair and bumped you up the list.”
“I’m honoured. I feel like I should thank the chair.”
“It’s just a chair.”
“Which brings us back to your phone message.”
Claude looked at the chair; his white whale. “I got back and thought I’d carry on in the shack.”
“The shack like the swamp shack? You know everyone’s moved away from here, right? Most families left the island, leaving us, the Mortons, Stanfords and a couple of others here. We’ve all got big boy houses now, like real humans.”
Claude waved his comments away, “Means I’ve got the run of the place. I didn’t really care for other folks anyway. Let them have the city.”
“So why come back at all?”
There wasn’t an answer, instead Claude was inspecting the large plastic box by Buzz’s feet and the rods lent up against a tree. Buzz recalled the sensation of Claude using his powers to scrutinise things in people’s pockets, in boxes. His face led with his nose like he was sniffing what was there, but his perception was something beyond any of theirs. “You want to unpack that thing?”
Buzz quietly opened the box, taking more joy in the neat compartments and the tidy packaging than he ever had in fishing. “This was Helen’s. I think she was schmoozing some politician, she’s in politics now.”
“Figures, now be quiet.”
“Are you going to ambush the chair?”
Claude stared at Buzz and said, “I need to concentrate. You’ve got weird ideas about chairs.”
Buzz tried to keep quiet, watching his friend focus on the pond. It didn’t last. “Our place is full of this stuff. Fishing, golfing, tennis. They get used once and then I’ve got to find a home for them.”
“Oh. I thought you’d be the kind of person who liked fishing. People find it calming. I fished a couple times, quite liked it.”
“You’ve got the cheat codes for finding them with your powers, I guess.”
Claude grabbed one of the poles and examined it with the eye of someone who knew far less than he wanted to let on. Buzz could see the slight tremor in his hands. “Finding them was never the challenge for me.”
“You drinking again?”
Claude shoved aside the tackle boxes, “Why’d you pack tackle?”
“I assumed I’d misheard the word ‘chair’. Can’t you buy a chair?”
“Like I have money. I spent the last of it on the ferry over here.”
“I have money, I can buy you a chair.”
“I don’t want handouts. I’m not a charity case.”
“Fine, I’ll steal a chair from the dining room. No one goes there anyway, so it’s not like anyone would notice. If they do I’ll just say one of the kids broke it.”
Claude sat on the side of the small lake, looking at the chair and trying to judge the best angle of attack. “You heard about Luke?”
“That he ran away? Yeah, I’m sorry. I would have called but I didn’t have your number.” The A-Word forums were briefly ablaze with the news when it first happened. Eventually he joined the ranks of the rest of the missing members of their kind.
“A few weeks ago I found him,” Claude flicked his wrist gently and the line fell short.
“Doesn’t matter. He’s back is the main thing. I’ve been used to living with just Vanessa and when I got home I realised we don’t have anywhere for Luke to sit. Last time I lived in the shack, Vanessa was in a cot. There’s a little kid chair Luke used to have but it’s rotted and he’s older now. Fifteen or sixteen or so.”
Claude lashed out at the chair, missing it by a long way and losing balance. Buzz stood at the edge of the water, “Can’t we just go in and get it?”
“Ha! No. There’s some chemicals or something which got dumped in there. Nothing lives in the lake any more. I’m not a scienceman, but even I know it’s unsafe there.”
“Fishing it is, then thoroughly disinfecting the chair. You always pick the best activities. Good to hear about your kid though,” Buzz cast his line out, missing the chair. “Rope would have been a better shout.”
“You got a grappling hook?”
“No, but Lena was in scouts for a bit. I could have got her to fashion us one.”
“She thrown out for fighting?” Claude didn’t wait for a response before answering, “She’s like her parents, then.”
“More than Joe. He seems like he’ll turn out smart if he can pay attention to anything long enough. How’s Vanessa?”
Claude sat for a moment and looked at the trees, at the chair which remained untouched in the centre of the lake. Eventually he said, “Good. Smart. Smarter than me.”
“Not difficult,” Buzz said, paused for non-existent criticism and carried on, “Will she be enrolling at Fate Cove High?”
“Yeah. She’ll run the place in no time.”
“She runs his life, too.”
“Will be he going to school? Joe and Lena could do with a friend.”
“No, man. I want… I want to keep him close after the last three years.”
Buzz’s hook bounced off the chair leg. “I see.”
“I’m his only parent, I get to make these decisions.”
“Sure,” Buzz pulled a pen out of his pocket and started drawing on the back of a receipt.
“What are you doing?” Claude said. He concentrated and Buzz wondered if his super-perception could pick up words and drawings or if it was some kind of sonar. It felt impolite to ask.
“I’m working out a solution better than what we’re doing. If we can thread the line through the legs and out the other side…”
“You propelling that with something I don’t see? Something under the bait?”
“I’m an ideas man, Claude. Maybe…” he wound the line of his fishing rod around a long, thin stick. “If this gets through the bar and I pull, it’ll catch and make for an easy drag back to shore.”
Claude applauded the idea, “Finally. I knew I had the right person for the job.”
“The only idiot willing to come out here and talk to you.”
“Same thing. Get going, brain boy.”
The stick wasn’t playing along with them, weighing the line down so it wouldn’t reach the chair. Buzz lifted it up and cast off the line with it. The stick unravelled and floated in the water, mocking the pair.
They fished in silence for a little while. Claude managed to catch an old can and Buzz snagged some kind of plastic wrapper which he spent ages trying to get off the hook without having to touch it.
“We are so good at this,” Buzz said. Handling the wrapper with one of his socks as an impromptu glove. “You wouldn’t believe we were soldiers once.”
Claude looked at his gut, “We got old. The scars are still there if anyone wants to check we’re legit.” He pulled up the brown t-shirt to show the long scar across his mid-section which had taken so long to recover, cutting through the ladder of dark hair crawling up from his trousers. He scratched the scar and put it away again.
“Even you’ve got some, despite being an intel fairy.”
He didn’t like to talk about them and avoided the subject on the rare times that a partner got to see them. Kirsty was the most inquisitive of them, but he never answered and then she went away.
“This is stupid,” Buzz said. “You summoned me for a stupid mission.”
“You accepted it.”
“I wanted to see one of my best friends.”
“You have friends.”
“Bill’s dead. Aaron’s always on the move. Scott and the Mayburns are pretty cold to us these days. We spend every other Christmas there and that’s it.”
“No human friends?”
“Yes, but it’s not the same. Like the kids, they’ve not been through what we have.”
The pair looked at the chair which had evaded them for the good part of an hour. Buzz said, “I just mean that it’s good that you’re back. Don’t be a stranger to Helen and I. We’ll look after you.”
“I don’t need any–”
“Lookin’ after,” Buzz said at the same time as him. “I know, but we’re here anyway. Help me put all this away, the chair doesn’t want catching.”
Claude scowled at the chair, an enemy who he wouldn’t be able to defeat. “Fine, but what’ll we do about my son needing something to sit on?”
Buzz sat in the dining room, accounts spread out over the table. It was one of the places he could get peace. He’d spaced the chairs out far enough on one side that no one would be able to notice he’d stolen one of them.
Helen walked in with coffee in one hand and a tablet under her arm, “What’re you up to?”
“Ugh. That’s why I have a guy to do that for me.”
Buzz raised his hand, “Me.”
“Did I ever say that you’re the best? The kids are in the lounge so I’m going to watch this documentary on survivalists’ homes. Is it okay if I take a space? I’ll have my headphones in.”
“Sure and you don’t have to do that, I can process all of this while your show’s on.”
Helen nodded, sat down and immediately looked at the dining room’s chairs. “Is a chair missing?”