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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 Twenty-Two: Asylum

Chapter Twenty-Two: Asylum

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.

Marcus Aurelius


I didn’t tell John I had to take an important call, I just walked out the door and down my sidewalk talking to Alan, “Don’t hurt her.”

“No intention of hurting her at all. She is just collateral until we get our product back. It really is simple. No need to prolong things. You know what we want. As soon as we get it you’ll get her back.”

“I need to talk to her. I need to know he didn’t break her neck.”

The trash truck was coming down the street. I had to plug my one ear to hear Alan out of the other. “I understand. But in order to subdue her, to gain her compliance, she had to be anesthetized. She’s out like a light sleeping comfortably. You…”

“You call me when I can talk to her.” I looked at my phone and hung up. I had walked down the street some distance so I turned around. The trash truck had just taken my trash and the robotic arm set down the empty bin. Gone were those dwindling traces of Kyle.

I came back to my door to find John looking dumb and helpless since he guessed something was very wrong.

I asked him, “Do you have a car?”

He didn’t want to answer, he didn’t want to get involved, didn’t want to have any complications in his life. His coming outside, his venturing into my house, all of it he now saw was a huge mistake.

“John, this is an emergency. I need a ride.”

He was still dumbfounded, looking at me like I was telling him his life was over.

“John, do you have a fucking car?”

“Yeah.”

“Where is it?”

He knew he was defeated and after some hesitation and head-shaking pointed, “It’s right there.”

It was the old Cutlass Ciera I’d seen parked in the street so many times I stopped noticing it. It was a washed-out concrete gray and it looked as baffled and defeated as John.

“Start it up. I’ll be right there.”

He didn’t move. “I have to get the keys.”

I yelled, “Then get the fucking keys.”

John was limp-running down the sidewalk. I was already inside. I found the gun stashed under the couch cushion, and put it in the rear waistband of my pants, hiding it under a windbreaker I put on. I tried to think of anything else I should bring, but there was nothing.

I texted Rayne that I was on my way and got no reply from her.


The Oldsmobile smelled like a mildewed dusty tomb, but it started up on the first try. Some dust blew out of the air conditioning vents and loose material from the ceiling sagged onto my head. I pulled my seatbelt on, noticed the old school American car fake wood and chrome touches, some of it chipping off the door handle and the seat belt. The interior must be baked brittle sitting there day after day.

I told John, “We have to go down to Sanctuary Beach and we have to do it fast.”

John had put on some weird glasses that looked like the subdued eye protection guys wore at a shooting range. He adjusted his mirror and seat, popped the parking brake and turned to make sure nothing was coming before pulling out slowly. He coasted down the street to the stop sign, waited three relaxed heartbeats, then continued to the next stop sign and did the same thing.

I took a deep breath and closed my eyes to quell passenger seat road rage.

He asked over the clicking of his turn signal, “Did something happen with the psychologist?”

“The what?”

“The blond girl.”

“Oh. Yeah. She’s gotten involved in something.”

“Anything to do with those suicides?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

I started texting Rayne again when my phone finally died.

“Do you have a charger in here?”

John just looked at me desperately, not knowing what the fuck I was talking about. I looked down and he had an actual cigarette lighter in his empty, spotless ashtray.

When we got to Route 11 he asked, “Do we want to go…”

“Go to the highway. We have to go fast.”

“I might have to get gas.”

I looked over at his gauge. “You have half a tank.”

“I could fill up on the way back I suppose.”

The ride defined Kafkaesque. John could not bring himself to go over sixty when I wanted him to go eighty. He was constitutionally averse to excessive speed or being pressured. Maybe it was for the better. Maybe the car would have come apart or maybe John would have. I focused on relaxing, breathing and it took forever to get to Sanctuary Beach. I told him I’d make it up to him, fill up his tank some time, but he just wanted to leave me behind and get home.

~~

It was just the Captain and I skidding across the water. The day had started to turn cloudy with big dark puffs like smoke from a burning city threatening us from the north and some gusts that made the water more rough than any other trip I’d taken on that boat. He of course made no conversation and I was left to my own mind, one quickly coming down off the drug and tormented by confused pangs of sex and anxiety. The waves smacked the front of the boat regularly like the seams in a highway or rail line. Each beat was like a rap at consciousness, a pulse of my old self coming through from the other side of the mix. I didn’t like what I was finding, what unsettling doubts were creeping through the earlier assuredness. How were they not going to connect Kyle with us? Who might have seen us and what did they see? What did John know—although his agoraphobic fear of getting involved has probably silenced him. At the time the Kyle situation seemed a waterproof plan, like a chess problem which we had figured out and just had to move the pieces. Now I was seeing it was far from watertight, in fact it was a tattered mess.

And what about Sari? Was she really safe? Am I going to give the drug back just like that after everything we’ve been through? And how long can this sit-com two-sister ménage à trois be maintained? For the first time in a long time I didn’t know what to do, what to think. There was orphaned Cliff adrift without Sari or Rayne or the comforts of my bike, my couch, my Melville—just the Captain’s peripheral gaze at my back, his keen yet subdued curiosity at our back and forth visits, our hurriedness and distress each time.

The unlikeliness of all the events, the surreality of it all, spawned a new and troubling anxiety: paranoia. Were parts of this orchestrated beyond my awareness? Were people in on plots that I didn’t know about? Were Sari and Alan and Rayne and even the Captain laughing right now as I ran around doing their dirty work? Was it only a matter of time before one of them would be dumping my body in a marsh? These notions assailed me like the buzz of the boat motor but with an added undercurrent of hopelessness and dread that was exhausting me. I had to shake my head to break the devilish spell of these thoughts. I knew enough to know that confusion about what was real was part of coming down from the drug, but at the same time it felt real and real shit was happening. The idea crossed my mind for the first time that we were all truly out of our minds from this drug.

Before the anxiety could further take hold and blossom beyond control, Baydacious’ familiar shape rose from the water ahead, growing taller and larger until figures could be discerned at its dock. I put all my attention on its details, its concreteness, to combat the bad vibes I was getting. I mentally reviewed the facts as I knew them: my name, the date, my location. This is a club where Rayne is waiting. These are people that work there. One figure throwing a rope turned out to be Gavin the bouncer, who met me as I got off the boat with a strange joviality, an exuberance he never had before. He gave me a half man hug, slapped my back and proclaimed it was an “excellent day” and that the “omens seemed auspicious”. Had this meathead gone to college since I last saw him? What was going on here?

We went inside and he asked me if I wanted tea or coffee and how I took it.

“How’s Rayne? I need to see her.”

“Follow me good sir.”

Gavin led me into the back and sprang up the two flights of stairs in like an antelope, unhindered by his Timberlands. I hustled up behind him and said breathlessly, “And I need a phone charger.”

There were no patrons upstairs. I was brought into another backroom near the dance floor we had danced at that night last week. The lighting was sparse, more decorative than illuminating. I guessed it was some sort of VIP lounge or a place for private parties, strippers, club stuff. There was a small bar at one end but aside from that the annex was velvety couches with drink tables in front of them. There were only two people in the room. Rayne was sitting at one end of the couch and not far from her sat Francesco. On the table in front of them were bottles of water and a tray with white powder on it. They were doing the mix. I looked at Francesco but he just stared back.

Gavin was standing behind me and I got that bad vibe again, the pure paranoia. The hairs on my neck actually went stiff and I thought for a second Gavin was going to attack me, bash my head in, or blow my brains out like the mafiosi do in movies. It would be the culmination of their entire plot.

I looked back at Gavin and he lifted his eyebrows and smiled thinly like he was awaiting my next request. Then he remembered and said, “Right then, phone charger.” And off he went. Did he have a British accent?

I turned back to the silent and unmoving recliners, “Rayne, we need to talk.”

She looked lit. Her eyes had that arch, ravenous look, that drinking-in of visions stare that she had when on the mix. She didn’t move, but after a slight delay said, “Then talk.”

“I think we should do it in private.”

“No, it’s okay Cliff. Francesco knows everything. About my old Russian boyfriend. Alan the pimp. I let him have some of our coke since he’s been letting me stay here.”

I didn’t know what to say for half a minute. I tried to read any messages in Rayne’s eyes, but there was nothing. “They took Sari.”

That got a reaction. Her eyes widened a bit and she stood up. Francesco got up a second later, more following Rayne’s lead than from his own concern.

Rayne said, “Okay. What should we do?”

I wanted to talk about the mix and the exchange we’d have to make, but that wasn’t part of the current lie with Francesco. I had to get her alone without saying that’s what I wanted to do. “Where’s your phone charger?”

Francesco still said nothing, just stood watching me. Maybe the drug had muted him like it had me the first time.

Rayne walked past me and I followed. She went behind the closed bar, behind a dark curtain and through a backroom stocked with bar and restaurant supplies. She opened a heavy metal door and we turned into an office. The was a desk with a computer, a filing cabinet, monitors for security cameras. The door closed behind us.

I could see Rayne was staying in there. There was a couch that had a sheet and a pillow on it as her bed. Her bag lay on it. I gave her my phone and she plugged it in next to the couch.

Finally she turned and hugged me for a minute, kissed me in that remote, less intimate Platonic way the mix makes you feel when you’re in its depths. I was on my way out of its hold and was more touchy feely and horny. I would have thrown her on her makeshift bed if I thought she would have gone for it. Instead I enjoyed her eyes and she mine.

She spoke matter-of-factly: “Tell me what happened.”

I told her about Sari going out and how I got the phone call, what he said about calling when she woke up.

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to tell him to meet us and we’ll give him the mix. Get Sari back.”

She had the iciness of Sari, that drug-induced clinical detachment, “Are you sure that’s what we want to do?”

“What the fuck? Your sister has been kidnapped by these guys. Do you have a better idea what to do?”

She stared at me like I was a lab animal in a cage and she was observing the nuances of my crude behavior, looking for any sign of higher intelligence. “After all we’ve been through you’re going to capitulate just like that?”

I took a deep breath and pointed rhetorically in the direction I felt our enemies lay, “That Russian guy killed a girl. They’re not giving up. Now they have Sari. Our options are running out.” I had raised my voice and didn’t care who heard.

“You’re getting emotional about this Cliff. I think you should take some mix to better strategize about the situation.”

I stepped back and grasped my head, “What…this is…”

She just stared at me without any reaction. I knew enough to know her mind must be all over the place and that because I was not on the drug I could more objectively see her behavior as odd. And it didn’t help I was being bombarded by bad vibes and paranoia.

“Fuck this Invasion of the Body Snatchers shit. Is my phone charged yet?” I went over to it.

“Cliff,” she said, “I think you really have to take a second and think before doing anything rash. You’re in a disorderly state of mind.”

I looked up from my barely charged phone at the pod formerly known as Rayne. Over her shoulder the door opened and the pod Francesco stood there zonked out and mute. Rayne went to him and said something I couldn’t hear and he went away. Damn this paranoia, these plots! I could feel the irrationality, the borderline state I was bumping up against, one of psychosis, of losing a basic grasp of reality. I could see the paranoia taking over, becoming enveloped in its reality until I’d run for my life from this asylum and its malevolent keepers. I felt increasingly like a mental patient that would prefer checking himself in somewhere and let others take care of his fracturing mind.

That’s when the door opened and Francesco came in with Gavin right behind him. On whatever dose of the drug they had taken Francesco had become more shady and underworld than ever before, now the wordless mob enforcer with Rayne as his new boss. Gavin had apparently gone in a different direction, believed he was a character out of something he must have binge-watched, maybe a British show and he was the charming Edwardian butler—albeit one with tattooed muscles and the gym-hammered Mr. Clean looks. There he was raised up on his Timberland-bound toes so I’d see him back there, attentive with his mouth open, his eyebrows up and waving a small charging cord he held in his fingers.

How much mix did they do? She told them it was coke? It could have been a lot. The situation was bad, it was crazy. Why would Rayne give this drug to people without Sari there to manage them? Who knew how they might react.  

For her part, Rayne was looking grim. I wasn’t getting any romantic feelings from her now, only this queenly boss attitude. She was in fact like a caricature of Sari. Maybe that was it. Had she taken on the role of Sari as a coping mechanism to deal with the Kyle situation? Now she’s in charge and can handle others on the drug, enable these guys in their new roles of knee-breaking lackey and Jeeves à la New Jersey.

I saw what she told Francesco to fetch. He came forward with the tray of mix they had been doing. There was still a lot on the tray.

I asked Rayne, “How much of this have you guys done?”

She didn’t answer, instead picking up a drinking straw and handing it to me. I looked at it and the powder and felt the lure pull at my core, the assurance of confidence and focus in place of confusion and mental disarray.

Their message was clear: drink the Kool-Aid, get with the program, be a pod person.

Rayne had a point. I was getting more unstable with the paranoia and agitation. The mix might calm the storm and set my mind to the challenge at hand. The three of them watched me take the straw and vacuum up the fat proffered line.

I wiped my nose on the back of my hand and looked at them. The drug seemed to be working already. What concentration was this mix? I think I smiled because Rayne and Gavin were smiling back at me. Even Francesco seemed relieved if not animated by my compliance.

Rayne spoke with us huddled around her like a mad cabal of conspirators, holding forth in a low and deep oracular voice about this fictitious plot of the Russians, how they were part of a vast global sex trafficking ring. How they charm you with their big boats, fine clothes and a cosmopolitan lifestyle and then one day you find yourself locked in a room on the other side of the world to be raped by a dozen men a day--no two dozen. She described Rudi as her so-called boyfriend who had brought her into this world and how one night she had overheard them talking about her, her price, the terms of her sale. She escaped so now they took her sister, but they say they don’t want her because she’s blond so they’re holding her until Rayne surrenders to them. Her tale was riveting and I listened in shock myself until I forgot it wasn’t real. The other guys were truly converts, ready to do whatever it took to stop these scoundrels (as Gavin called them).

We must have stood a while because from over at the sheet-draped couch came the freshly charged vibrating and ringing of my phone. That would be Alan.

Next Chapter: The Exchange



Chapter Twenty-Three: The Exchange

Chapter Twenty-Three: The Exchange

Chapter Twenty-One: The Missing Items

Chapter Twenty-One: The Missing Items