"Dying, Dan. I need a favor."
[Click.] The line goes dead.
* * *
The phone rings again 20 seconds later. I scramble to adjust my bike so I can keep one hand free, and there it is again, the lugubrious voice, like that of a funeral director with a slight speech impediment. "Huwwo."
"Larry, sorry about that. Hold on a second, I've got to take these earplugs out. Okay, I can hear you better."
"What's with the earplugs? Is it cold?"
"No, nothing. My kids are nine and 12, is all. It gets kinda noisy. Guys," I say, securing a couple of fast-moving collars within my fist so they stop ramming their handlebars into each other, "if you don't stop fooling around, someone's going to fall right under the — "
"Larry, I'm still here. So what do you mean, dying? Literally or metaphorically?"
"Literally, Dan. Kiddie disease."
"Kiddie — "
"Kidney, kidney. Consequently, I'm depressed beyond all measure. More than depressed: I'm depressionistic. But first I have to ask: are you still mad at me?"
"Mad? You mean for ratting me out to the FBI that time, telling them I'd inflated my income on a condo mortgage application, which you specifically advised me to do because you needed the commission?"
"I was upset, Dan. I'm not proud of it."
“And why were you upset? Because I had the gall to ask for the thousand dollars back that I’d loaned you to spot your latest invention.”
“You’re right, Dan, I regret it.”
“Which as I recall was for wooden neckties.”
“Which you could sponge the gravy stains off of. I still maintain that would have been huge if I’d had the proper financing.”
The chairlift stalls above a grove of majestic pine trees, allowing the boys a momentary calm to see how far they can dangle one of the front wheels off the side. I nearly lose the phone grabbing a tire.
“No, I’m not mad at you anymore, especially since the FBI laughed it off. Besides, who the hell cares about that, if you’re literally dying?”