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Here you can read my serial novel mix ix and learn about other writings. Presently introducing my young adult espionage novel Shibboleth.

Chapter Eight: The Sister

Chapter Eight: The Sister

My Zarathustra has come to an end in its three acts. ... There is a sort of abyss of the future, something uncanny, particularly in his supreme happiness. Everything in it is my own, independent of all example, parallel, or predecessor. He who has once lived in its atmosphere returns to this world with another face.

Nietzsche to Erwin Rohde, February, 1884

     Part of my morning ritual when down Fowl’s Point is to get out of bed in the morning and look out my dormer window at the great view of the bay. I live on First Avenue which parallels the water with not much situated between our houses and the shoreline. A few of the cross streets run out another block, dead-ending at the water; some of them have boat-launches, some don’t. These are popular spots for fishermen or for people looking to park and go to the water’s edge.

     When I bought the property I did so because it had this view of the bay, but in the back of my mind I knew it was also prime real estate and that it was likely me and my neighbors would some day get an offer from developers. They’ll tear down our houses and install some pricey townhouses. For every two houses they’ll make one huge beach house. Bayview Properties they’ll call it, or maybe Panorama Homes at South Fowl’s Point. The buyout would be lucrative. Best case scenario I’ll get one of the new places, have the same great location but be rid of my nineteen-eighties kitchen.

     Normally there’s not much going on, but on that Sunday morning I finally saw something crazy. There were police lights flashing, fire trucks, a whole clog of emergency vehicles at the main boat launch over at Fowl’s Point Proper. Rayne was sleeping off her drinks from the night before, but I woke her with my excitement. I had dug out my binoculars and was zoomed in on the action.

     Rayne didn’t move, but said, “What are you doing?”

     “There’s something going on across the canal. Looks like a car went into the water.”

     She got up, wearing only a long t-shirt she slept in, and looked over my shoulder. I gave her the binoculars, helped her aim them.

     She gasped, “Oh my God.”

     My turn to look. There was a flatbed tow truck and on it was a small yellow car, a Mini Cooper I guessed. It was dented up and was still pouring water.

     “What do you think happened?”

     “I don’t see any boats and it’s not the kind of car to pull a boat. I’d guess it ended up in there by accident.”

     “I hope everybody’s okay.”

     “Yeah.”

     She went back to bed and I went downstairs and turned the TV on to local news, but there was nothing on about the accident. I upped the volume a bit and began making eggs and bacon for breakfast—my traditional Sunday indulgence, another leftover from the Salzmans.

     Rayne came down and we ate breakfast, then she went up to shower. I decided to walk up to the pier for a better look, maybe run into somebody who heard more about what happened. I didn’t get far. I wasn’t five steps out of my house when my neighbor John opened his front door.

     We greeted each other, then he asked, “Going over to check out the car in the water?” His strong Philly accent made ‘water’ sound like ‘wooder’.

     “Yeah, I was wondering what happened.”

     “Heard on the police scanner that they fished a lady out of it. Didn’t sound like an accident either.” He watched me for a reaction.

     “She went in on purpose?”

     He stepped down from his doorway and came over to the fence. I smelled the beer he just had for breakfast. He lowered his voice conspiratorially, “Got an old friend that’s an EMT. Works for the town. I gave him a call. Says the lady went nuts, killed herself. Drove right the fuck in.”

     “Wow.”

     “Yeah. Second one in a week. Everybody’s going nuts in this town.”

     I was already trying to figure out how to end the conversation and get back inside. John must have detected my imminent retreat so he changed the topic.

     He gestured toward my door with a swing of his head and a big, wet smile, “Saw you have a friend visiting.” He could have seen Rayne arriving with the suitcase. Nothing this guy doesn’t know or see.

     “Yeah.”

     He was still smiling, a greedy glint in his eye, waiting to hear something juicy. I was not forthcoming. Instead I used my guest as an excuse to go back inside after curt but somewhat friendly words of thanks to John for the gossip.

     Rayne came down the stairs lost in thought, putting in earrings. I didn’t tell her what I had learned about the lady in the water.

     She looked at me and said, “My sister wants to meet us for dinner.”

     “Oh. Okay, great. I’m curious to meet her. Where are we going?”

     “Where else? The Hairpin.”

~~

 

     Rayne and I had lunch at RJ’s Sandwiches then went for a walk along Canal Trail, a paved trail that runs along the canal and now connects up with other trails and rail trails. Usually I like to bike on it but it’s nice for walking as well. Afterwards we went back to my place to get ready for dinner.

     I knew she was stressed out about it because her face went long and she got quiet. I half-read Moby Dick on the couch while she put on makeup in front of the bathroom mirror and ironed an outfit from her suitcase.

     When she came out I asked, “Are you okay?”

     “Yeah, I’m fine.”

     “You seem nervous. All this stuff going on with your sister.”

     “Just a little. You know she’s actually my half sister.”

     “Really?”

     “Yeah. We have the same dad, different moms.”

     “Who’d you live with growing up?” Orphan boy always thinking about living arrangements.

     “We lived with my dad and her mom since I was eight.”

     I wondered what happened to Rayne’s mom, but didn’t ask. Rayne had gone quiet again and I went back to the book.

     When we were walking up the street Rayne said, “My sister can be a little too much sometimes. Overbearing. So get ready for an interrogation and for her to get very personal.”

     “Fine with me. How much is she like you?”

     She smiled grimly, “Not much. I tend to think we’re opposites.”

     “Really. Don’t worry about it. We’ll just hang out and we can leave whenever you want.”

     “Okay.” She held my hand tighter.

     The owner I’d met before stood at the door. He came at us saying, “Hey, there she is,” and put out his arms toward Rayne for a hug.

     Rayne smiled and hugged him, “Hi Jerry.”

     I was surprised at how friendly Rayne was with the owner. He turned to the side and there stood his blond girlfriend that talked to me about Moby Dick. She was looking at me and smiled when she recognized me.

     “How’s Moby Dick coming along?”

     “Slowly.”

     Rayne turned to me, “You’ve met?”

     I finally got it. The blond was her sister. I was temporarily speechless.

     Her sister said, “He stopped in a few nights ago. Cliff, right?”

     “Yes…” I couldn’t recall her name. Never thought I’d talk to them again.

     “I’m Sari. I’m Rayne’s sister. I’m sure she’s told you about me. This is Jerry.”

     Jerry shook my hand with too much force like he did last time we met, “How ya doing pal.”

     Sari said, “Come on, we got a table in the back.”

     As we walked Rayne smiled at me, “I can’t believe you guys already met.”

     “Yep.” I was still processing the paradigm shift, replacing the vague figures Rayne had been mentioning for the last couple days with these realities. So Jerry’s the owner, Sari’s his girlfriend and has been staying here, but Jerry already has a wife…

     The four of us walked back to a large round table set back in an alcove. I guessed it was a booth for parties or VIPs. Rayne sat next to me and Sari was directly across from me.

     They already had drinks so Rayne and I ordered beers.

     “So you’re the boyfriend,” Sari said with a friendly smile, “Also a teacher. Social Studies?”

     I nodded.

     “Worked with each other how long?”

     I looked to Rayne to help me with the math, but she wasn’t playing along, staring instead at her menu with a blank expression.

     I said, “Close to ten years.”

     “How romantic.”

     She was teasing us about the boyfriend girlfriend thing because she knew it made Rayne uncomfortable.

     Without looking up from the menu Rayne said in calm, low voice, “Stop it Sari, move on.”

     That made Sari laugh. “No, seriously. You guys are a cute couple. I can totally see it.”

     Jerry just sat there as if invisible, staring at and thumbing the edge of the closed menu he didn’t need to look at.

     Sari asked me how I ended up in Fowl’s Point. I gave her the whole history but left out the bike-riding part for some other time. She listened with complete attention. When not entertained by teasing her sister, Sari was very serious. She radiated a steely assuredness and controlled what she was thinking and feeling. And she was a very good-looking woman: smaller than Rayne, icy blue eyes, mid-length real blond hair on which designer sunglasses always sat securing it like a headband.

     “Which of you is older?

     I knew the answer before she said it because of Sari’s triumphant expression. She knew that would get asked eventually and she’d have the pleasure of being the little sister while also the dominant one. I guessed Rayne’s anxiety over this meeting was part of lifelong sibling rivalry.

     “Rayne is a year and a half older than I. The big sister.”

     Trying to downplay the older/younger sister thing, I said, “That’s close in age.”

     “Yes,” said Sari with a hint of a smirk, “Father didn’t waste any time impregnating wife number two.”

     I had the urge to laugh, but nobody else even smiled. I saw in Sari the potential of having the driest irony: a trait I like in people. She had other quirks. When she said ‘father’ it was with a drawn out ‘a’ like she was a leftover from a moribund Yankee aristocracy that wanted to sound British. I was trying to figure out if it was an affected tone, the kind Rayne was making fun of when she said ‘Fowl’s Point Proper’. But it wasn’t, she really talked that way. Slowly, clearly, tending toward the sonorous. The kind of accent you’d have trouble placing because it came from a place outside the usual stations of society. Not only did she sound overweening, but she had the face for it: not resting bitch face, but rather resting imperious face. I guessed most people saw in her an attitude of superiority, but I suspected it was earned superiority.

     There was a period of no conversation as we ordered with the waiter. I sat comparing the two sisters, trying to find any familial resemblances. There was definitely something in the noses and they had the same ears so I had no doubt that they were actually sisters. But you’d never know it otherwise. Rayne had brown hair, green eyes a wide mouth. Her personality was pleasant, mollifying. She was soft-spoken. Half of the time when she spoke I had to lean closer to hear her. Sari: blond, blue eyes, a tiny doll-like mouth, and she could apparently be a real bitch. They were truly opposites. I wanted to know more about the mothers and the father that created them but I suspected it was treacherous territory.

     Sari had to slide out of the booth so Jerry could take a phone call elsewhere. She got back in, “Rayne mentioned your scholarly interests lie in nineteenth century German philosophers.”

     I looked at Rayne, who already had a naughty smile, caught having supplied Sari with juicy interview fodder beforehand.

     “True.”

     She spoke to me like a professor to whom I was defending my All But Dissertation. “And one person in particular?”

     “Karl Leuschner.”

     “And he is?”

     “An obscure Swiss poet and speculative philosopher. Corresponded with Nietzsche a few times—at least that’s my theory.”

     “And he’s interesting enough to warrant unique scholarship?”

     “Well, it’s not so much what he wrote so much as I think Nietzsche borrowed some of his major themes from him.”

     “Okay, but it can’t be that strange for one philosopher to be influenced by another.”

     “Well that’s the thing. This goes beyond influence, it’s more like appropriation. And what’s most interesting is that nobody seems to know about him or the Nietzsche connection.”

     A saw the light go on in Sari’s head and her mouth open another degree in revelation. “So you have an exclusive.”

     “Right. I think it’s pretty significant.”

     “How did you find this?”

     “A letter in which he quotes his correspondent and that line shows it is clearly Nietzsche. If you read enough Nietzsche, especially his letters you learn certain peculiarities of his. ”

     “And you’ve read a lot of Nietzsche.”

     “Tons.”

     Sari was thinking that over. She didn’t acknowledge or seem to notice Jerry return and squeeze in beside her.

     I sat forward, feeling sparks of exhilaration over Leuschner I hadn’t felt in years, “But there’s more. The letter is dated from August of 1881. Not only does that pre-date Nietzsche’s publication of these ideas, but it corresponds exactly to when Nietzsche claims to have had this revelation.”

     Sari nodded, she got it. “Where’d you find this?”

     “Stumbled upon it in a rare hundred-year-old book of poems. It was really a footnote concerning a Leuschner poem. I recognized the choice of words was just like Nietzsche’s. I tracked down everything I could find on Leuschner and…”

     One of the waiters came over and interrupted, “I’m really sorry Jerry, but the computer’s acting up again.”

     Jerry jumped at the chance to escape the high brow atmosphere that had formed around him. He whispered something to Sari and went off without another word.

     “So he’s your cash cow. I love it.”

     I laughed, “I don’t think there’s much cash in it.”

     “You never know. So what is it you think Nietzsche took from Leuschner?”

     “His big concept: the Eternal Recurrence, especially how it relates to Amor Fati.

     “What’s that?” Rayne asked.

     Sari answered, “Love of Fate. Learning to love your life as Fate has handed it to you.”

     I turned to Rayne, “Nietzsche has his Zarathustra ask people to imagine having to live the same life in exactly the same way over and over again for eternity. That’s the Eternal Recurrence.”

     Sari asked, “Aren’t we supposed to take that as more of a metaphor, a life hack to put things into perspective?”

     A life hack. That’s something I never heard before.

     “Right, you would think, and you can take it that way, but Nietzsche took it very literally, in fact I think to understand him correctly you have to realize that. A lot of thinkers like Heidegger understood it as hypothetical.”

     Sari was decisive. She nodded, “That’s much more reasonable.”

     “That is one of my questions: did Leuschner take the idea literally? His poems are certainly weird. Like a German Blake on acid.”

     Sari smiled a little.

     “But yeah, It does have the flavor of something you want to take metaphorically. Could that be Nietzsche’s only innovation? That he had it in mind to take literally?”

     Our food came and we busied ourselves with it. Jerry also returned. Conversation leveled out to chitchat about where we all grew up, went to school, worked. Rayne and I each got another beer that came in a special glass because it had a high alcohol content.

     I was eager to get back to talking about Leuschner with Sari, but I sensed it would have killed Jerry to have to listen to such talk. I supposed we should accommodate our host conversationally since the meal and all the good beer was on him. I even found it in me to talk to Jerry about the current status of Philadelphia sports teams of which I knew just enough to bullshit with him for a while. He informed me that the Phils had just lost to the Cardinals as we ate.

     In my one ear I heard Rayne talking about the car in the water this morning. The topic was too good to not include myself in their conversation so I ended things with Jerry somewhat abruptly and turned to them.

     Sari was saying, “Yeah, we saw that too. Didn’t look good. Did you hear anything?”

     I said, “I heard it was a suicide. She drove it in.”

     Rayne turned to me, “Where’d you hear that?”

     “I have this nosy neighbor that supposedly knows the ambulance driver.”

     Rayne put her hand up to her mouth, “Oh my God, that’s horrible.”

     Sari didn’t budge, just watched us stoically.

     I had the alacrity of a gossip, the thrill of dishing out the dirt that others didn’t know. “And did you hear about that guy in the sunken boat last week?”

     Jerry leaned in, face creased with concern, “Yeah, what was that all about?”

     “Another suicide. But this guy was supposedly running around crazy in the days before. Dug a pit in his yard or something.” I shook my head about it. “At least this is what my neighbor said he heard. He’s usually right about local gossip.”

     “No shit,” Jerry said in a whisper, “I heard a guy went down with his boat but I had no idea…”

     When I turned back to the girls they were noticeably silent. Sari had unlocked her normal stony expression, her mouth now open as if about to say something, her stare at Rayne intense as if communicating telepathically. I looked at Rayne and she was watching Sari with a similar expression, but revealing more concern with her widened eyes.

     I asked them, “Did you know them?”

     Rayne didn’t answer.

     Sari said, “No, we hadn’t heard about any of this.”

     Nobody said anything. We sipped our beers and watched the waiter take our plates. She asked Jerry if we wanted anything else, but we agreed that we were done.

     Then Sari perked up and said, “Cliff, I’m stealing Rayne for a trip to the little girl’s room. Jerry, why don’t you get us a spot at the bar?”

     The girls went off and Jerry asked me about my beer preferences as we settled at the end of the bar. He had a special wine beer they only made small batches of, wondered if I wanted to try it. He went into the back and came back with a man in rubber boots. He was a muscly hipster guy with a big beard. I couldn’t see his mouth smile but saw it in his eyes.

     “Cliff, this is my brewer, Ian.”

     “This is Sari’s sister's friend, Cliff.”

     We greeted one another and watched him open and pour the beer.

     “Sip it,” said Ian, “It’s 10.5 percent.”

     I sipped it and sipped it again. It was good.

     I thanked Ian as he retreated back to his vats and hoses.

     Jerry played the sommelier, swishing it in his mouth. “There’s a plum taste. Bit of toffee.” He said toffee like ‘coffee’. He was right though, I noticed those subtleties after he pointed them out.

     He looked at me and laughed, “Gotta watch this stuff though. Get you shit-faced.”

     I knew what he meant. I was feeling light-headed as it went down.

     Rayne and Sari finally came back. I watched them approach and noticed Rayne was a few inches taller than Sari. I also saw some guys at the bar checking them out.

     Rayne came up to me and put her arm around me. “What’s that?”

     “One of Jerry’s special brews.”

     She kissed my cheek and whispered, “Something’s come up and I’m going to…”

     Sari interrupted, “I’m going to borrow your beloved for a couple of hours. Girl talk. We’ll make sure she gets home safe.”

     “Okay.” I had the urge to mention the blond guy, how they should watch out for Red Malibus. But I said nothing. Rayne said goodbye and kissed me and walked off toward the back with Sari.

     Jerry and I finished the bottle and were shooting the shit like best friends. He seemed to hold his liquor well, but I was drunk. I was also having an allergic reaction to the beer. Some beers do that, others don’t. Must be a certain hop, but I haven’t figured out which one. I sneezed a couple of times, got congested, had to blow my nose into some paper napkins. I was a mess: drunk, running nose, sneezing. I had to get out of there so I made some excuse and rushed out to get some fresh air before possibly getting sick. I wanted to walk off some of the liquor so I took a circuitous long way home. I went down the numbered streets, a different route than I had with Rayne. I kept an eye out for the Malibu.

     I chose to walk down a street I had hardly ever gone down. On the one side were a row of houses of the same proportions and just as evenly spaced as those little green Monopoly houses. And each with the other's triangle of roof shadow glued to its side. Their backyards backed up to the town's elementary school. It was a sports field with field goals and soccer goals on either end. The grass was striated with white lines and glistened in the low sunlight. But it wasn't dew that shimmered; a trash barrel had been overturned and plastic water bottles has been blown across the expanse, probably shredded by the mowers.

     It struck me it was the first time in days I didn’t have Rayne at my side. The last time she was gone I thought she was gone for good. Now I missed her. That and something about the run-down homes of that part of town, the trashed field, gave me pangs of depression.

     I went directly home, crashed on the sofa and looked out the window at the fleeting glow of daylight. A nighttime silence filled the air making more distinct those particular sounds of Fowl’s Point. Up at the end of the street--over which the Hairpin Brewery now looms--is the memorial park, one of those obligatory and banal civil installations. There the steel cable on the flagpole tapped out its metallic beat, driven by gusts of wind from the bay. And then the chimes hanging on porches and back decks nearby joined in the chorus.  Bikers or pimped rides out on Route 11 added background noise. But persistent was the flag pole, unstoppable, like a madman beating upon it with a tireless autism.

     I waited an hour for Rayne to come home, then finally turned on the TV to keep me company.

Next Chapter: The Trap



 

Chapter Nine: The Trap

Chapter Nine: The Trap

Chapter Seven: Enemy Action

Chapter Seven: Enemy Action