A Real Boy 2/2
THAT EVENING: A BAR CLOSE TO NEAL'S APARTMENT
"You're kidding, right? That's what all this has been about? Books?"
"Snickering is beneath you, Agent Jones. It's a lot more serious than you might think."
Realizing Neal was being honest, the other man sobered and probed further.
"When you hit him… that was over a book."
"One about a man who couldn't get past the sudden death of his wife." Neal responded softly, staring into his glass of brandy. "He didn't get the distinction between 'abhors violence' and 'won't throw a punch even if provoked'.
"Not surprising. Most of the time you look like butter wouldn't melt in your mouth. Now that I know the circumstances, I , uh… I guess I owe you an apology for pushing you like that."
"Not necessary, but to avoid an argument I accept." Neal told him, smiling faintly.
"Thanks. So is it better with the two of you now?"
"It is. I'm not really mad anymore. His heart was in the right place. He wanted to be sure I could see that I wasn't alone. He said the pain and the fury could consume me and he wasn't about to let it happen. If I needed someone to be there when I finally blow up or break down…"
"Yeah, that's Peter alright." Jones concurred, sipping his beer. "Not that you *will* ever break down. Least I can't see it happening. You don't wallow, you take action."
"That's what he's afraid of."
"So are the rest of us."
Neal tensed up and he forced himself to release his now fierce grip on the snifter in front of him.
"I'd have a right."
"No argument there. You'd be trashin' all the good you've done, though."
Neal chuckled quietly.
"That's a damn short list compared to what's on the other side of the ledger."
"Gettin' longer every day, though. You've got a really good heart Neal. I've seen it over and over. The more you listen to it and trust what it tells you instead of defaulting to lies and fear, the way you've always done… the better everything'll be."
Neal straightened abruptly and threw Jones a deeply surprised look.
"Fear? You think I survived all these years because I was *afraid*?"
"No, but I think you started because of it. Fear of what was behind you. Fear of going hungry and not having somewhere safe and dry to sleep. Fear of never being able to stop running so you could, just for once, take a deep breath."
Neal slowly turned his gaze back to the bottom of his glass.
"I breathe just fine."
"Now you do."
Silence reigned between the two men for a long time. Eventually, however, an idea drifted to the surface of Jones' thoughts. He studied it silently, pondered it with caution and intent then drew his phone out of his pocket, flipped it open and dialed.
"Boss. Yeah, hi. Nothing work related. Not really. Caffrey told me about the thing you and he are doing with the books… yes, I apologized. Look, I'm really intrigued with the idea and I wondered if you'd let me… you don't mind? He won't be handing in any report for about a month, probably. Nah, it's not difficult, it's just really long. The King book, the one he re-released in an uncut version a few years back… yeah, that's it. Well… it's not that, I'd just rather… Okay. Thanks. I'll tell him. Okay. Give my love to Elizabeth. Night, boss."
When Jones looked up from stowing his phone again, he found Neal staring at him with robustly sparking eyes and a curious grin.
"He said I could do your next book, but it'll take a long while to finish so you'll be getting one or two shorter ones in the meantime. Okay?"
"I can handle that."
"I don't doubt it for a minute."
"Is the book at your place?"
"Nope. I got permission to take you a little ways off grid and get you your own copy at the bookstore." Jones revealed, rising and leaving money for both drinks on the bar. Neal followed him through the crowds and out to the street.
"Is it a surprise or do I get more than the cryptic description I heard over the phone?"
"Don't suppose you ever read much Steven King."
"Only his newer work. I really admire his insight into human frailty, the motivation for doing what we do, the nature of courage and the different shapes it can take. His more recent work is mature and deep… not many authors could grow and be willing to open up about their personal struggles the way he has."
"I have to agree with that. You must've heard of 'The Stand' though."
Neal halted in the process of sliding into the passenger seat of Jones' car, staring blankly at the other man.
"Of course I've heard of it. You're not serious."
"As a heart attack, my man, as a heart attack. Close the door, yeah? I wanna get this done kinda quick. I stay up much longer I'll be a wreck at the office tomorrow."