Charlie saw the smile on Rick’s angular face disappear at the sound of his greeting. Rick murmured a reply, and walked briskly over to the other end of the room.
Gonna have to ask him what the hell’s going on, Charlie thought. He’d called a couple times earlier that week, after hearing Rick was going to help with the holiday rush, but Rick neither answered nor returned the messages he left. Maybe he had the same first reaction Charlie had when his father told him that his friend Otis Rainey, who’d been Bark Bay postmaster for near two decades now, was willing to give him a job at the post office. Sounded boring to him, tedious, but Charlie knew he didn’t have many options for work, not after the way he’d lost his job with Johnson. And yes the work was tedious, but it was honest, and Charlie saw almost immediately how important daily mail service still was for many people in town. Three months into the job, and Charlie found himself actually looking forward to coming in to work in the morning. Mr. Rainey — Otis — said he had a good future. His government exam was next month.
Charlie had hoped to tell Rick all that before today, but it had become clear over the past several months that Rick wanted no business with him. If Charlie were to send him a letter, it would have been returned, unopened.
“Ain’t seen you around much lately, Rick.”
Rick shrugged. “Nothing.”
Charlie stared at him across the mailroom. Rick glared at the floor.
“Let’s get the local stuff out of the way first,” Charlie said.
Rick nodded, walked over to the wall and grabbed a sack. He began to carry it over to Charlie, waiting for him at the sorting station, when he tripped over a power cord. The sack, which Rick had forgotten to close, fell onto the floor and spilled its contents.
Charlie laughed. “Nice job, smoothie–”
Rick cursed, loudly, repeatedly.
“Hey, take it easy . . . ”
Rick kicked the sack, sending letters all over the mailroom floor.
Charlie stared at him, silently. After a moment, Rick looked up at him. His face was filled with the fear of a man silently confronting a horrible truth.
He walked over, extending a cautionary arm. “Rick, — ”
” — there’s something I gotta tell you. It’s about Mike.”
A few minutes later, Charlie walked into Mr. Rainey’s office, and said he needed to take an early lunch.