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[Ongoing story of two brothers. Here James who’s trying to solve his father’s murder has put it on hold because his brother Merrill has disappeared, probably using again.]

Juan has called me and left a message. What had I found out, why hadn’t I called him, what’s going on with the cartel guys? Am I alive? But everything’s changed. I can’t find Merrill. I’ve been at his apartment for two days. I asked the people who live on either side of his place if they’ve seen him. Talked to the landlord, just casual, then hiding my question saying Merrill must be on vacation and forgot to tell me.

I get in my truck and decide to cruise the neighborhood. I have no idea what to look for. Do junkies hang out together? Why wouldn’t Merrill just come home to do whatever if that’s what he’s up to. Or is he hiding? I turn onto the big street that runs wild across the city with no end in sight. Depressing place, everything half empty and faded. I can’t see why Merrill has ended up here. But I remember. The rehab place accepted him. His options were not like, well, here’s the brochure. Palm Springs? Santa Barbara? Scottsdale? Which spa would you like to attend?

This is the starkness of Merrill. I didn’t see it. Juan’s calling me again, I glance at my phone on the seat next to me. I can’t bring my head around to that. Where’s Merrill. I’m useless out here. I could go to the police, but I can’t do that to him. He’s not bad, he’s just fucked up. I drive some back streets and realize some place more crowded might be more promising. I head to the area near the University. Maybe I can see something there. But probably those pampered kids just smoke pot. Who doesn’t smoke pot, or whatever. Mushroom? I feel so old. I’m not a kid. My brother’s not a kid even though he could be in college. We’re ruined by a couple things in our lives. No longer innocent.

I park the truck near the main street where the kids eat and party. I start to walk, working on letting my senses feel what I should do next. Groups of kids. More vaping than anything else. Music pours to the street, beer in plastic cups bigger than ballpark fun. This is stupid.

I turn around thinking about leaving. The raven, not just any raven, is perched on the low roof over the outdoor bar. I blink. I shake my head. It’s gone. Fuck, it probably was never even there.

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