Mercer seemed calmer and more self-composed after telling me about his mother and Sergio. “How about your father?” I asked. “Have you ever called the number he left?”
Mercer shook his head. “No, but I checked the area code. It’s in Charlottesville, Virginia.”
“Where the university is,” I ventured.
“That’s right. When he said he was called away on business, it was probably academic.” Mercer grinned at me. “I have a vivid imagination, thinking my dad’s a spy.”
I had to laugh at that one, too. When I thought of Joe, it was a geeky guy with a smile on his face and dirty nails from gardening.
But in the past – in 2007 – I had been in Charlottesville myself to visit the Monroe Institute, a kind of retreat center that studied consciousness and used sound frequencies to induce out-of-body experiences. The people who went there tended to be pretty woo woo. Joe would fit right in, and, come to think of it, the retreats lasted a week and one wasn’t allowed to communicate with the outside world. Perhaps that’s where Joe was, tranced out on frequencies, traveling through space and visiting alternate realities while his physical body lay on a soft bed in Charlottesville, Virginia.
He returned to Austin twenty-four hours later and immediately came to my house for Mercer. I took him out to the studio so we could talk privately for a few minutes, leaving his driver, Lloyd, in the kitchen with Ramona. (That would lead to an interesting situation: a sly gossip and a sour, silent, inscrutable chauffeur and IT guy.) “I want to thank you for your kindness with my son,” Joe said as we walked through the studio yard. “It was bad timing that I got called away just as he was returning from Bolivia.”
“Yeah, that might have been a little hard on him. Where’d you go, anyway?” I decided not to mention the mushrooms.
“Just on a business trip to Virginia.”
It was about five in the afternoon and the trees cast long shadows across the yard. I unlocked the studio door and touched Joe’s arm to indicate he should go in ahead of me. “Why couldn’t Mercer call you directly?”
Joe hesitated a moment. “I can be hard to reach.”
That didn’t make sense because we are all always reachable on cell phones.
“Have you ever heard of the Monroe Institute?” I asked.
Joe didn’t have his sunglasses on so I could see his eyes when he looked in my direction. They wore a strange, hooded expression, not quite the blank stare of a blind man. “No, can’t say I have,” he said in a neutral voice. And then his eyes went back to blank.
To be continued…
Cover photo ~ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIgtliwpElY