Chapter Twenty-Nine: Mystery Solved
What one man can invent another can discover.
The Hairpin wasn’t as busy as I expected since it was mid afternoon, at a lull between lunch and dinner rushes. I entered and before the hostess girl could speak Jerry had stepped up. He gave me a look like he had a hard time coming up with a reason to not just punch me in the face.
I stepped toward him, “Hey, Jerry. We have to talk.”
He looked down his nose at me, “What about, you gonna tattle on me again?”
I was still sniffling from my running nose, “I might. It’s about the drug.”
A movement, a tremor of conscience fluttered behind his tough guy facade. “Have a seat.”
We sat in the first booth. I reached for some paper napkins and blew my nose again.
“Last time we sat here you had that runny nose. You said it was from certain beer hops.”
From behind the napkin I said, “Right, I know. I think it’s the same thing.”
He enjoyed a small laugh at my expense, at the runny-nosed nerdy book man.
I said, “Sari’s gone. You’ll never see her again. Funny thing happened though.”
He waited for me to explain with a put-on smile.
“Ever see the drug?”
He shrugged in a way that meant he wasn’t denying seeing it. Yes he saw it.
I lowered my voice a notch, “Did you ever do it?”
He paused, got shifty-eyed, then nodded, “One time she gave me a little.”
“So you know how she kept it in those test tubes?”
Now he wasn’t as forthcoming. He knew exactly where I was going with this.
I leaned in, “Yeah, you know. You’ve seen it. You knew where she kept it. Bet you even had keys to her lab. Right?”
He got more nervous, stroked the stubble around his mouth.
“Of course you had a key. It’s your property. You gave Sari a spare. You had access to the lab, the drug, knew it was in that lunchbox.”
He got defensive, tried to cover it with anger, “Yeah, so what.”
“You took the drug out of the last tube, the most potent one.”
He was getting red.
“Did you think you were going to sell it? Use it?”
He guiltily eyed some customers walking past on their way out.
“Is there any left?”
He fidgeted in his seat then stuck out a finger toward me, “Listen Chip, you ain’t getting me in trouble for this. Sari’s the fuckin’ mad scientist making this shit. She’s the one oughta get in trouble.”
Now I showed my fangs, stuck my face forward across the table, “How’d it get in the beer, Jerry? How did it show up in bottles that people are drinking around town?”
He put up his hands to shush me. I had gotten too loud. “Okay, listen, I’ll explain what happened, but if I go down, Sari and you and her sister go down. We all do.”
I sat back, a Buddha of calmness and open ears.
He kept his voice low, got redder in the face, “The night she gives me some I’m all fuckin’ crazy. Got all these crazy ideas. I knew you could put it in water cause Sari did that all the time. I figured I’d put it in beer, have my own special psychedelic labels, have fun with it. Thought of calling it LSD. The label would have those white oval bumper stickers everybody has. People would think I meant Lower Slower Delaware, but it wasn’t. So I do it, I make a six pack of them--for personal consumption only understand. I leave them there and go to design the labels. I get distracted, I go off doing some other crazy shit and forget about them. Next day I remember, but by the time I come back for them my brewer Ian already took them and labeled them. He thought they were something else. They could have gone anywhere: in six packs for stores, restaurants, maybe even in the mix of six packs.”
“How many were there?”
“Six, just a six pack. I swear.”
“Did you understand they were causing the suicides?”
He was a paradigm of innocence with his puppy eyes, curled down lips, “I didn’t know it made people kill themselves. I figured worse that would happen they get a little trippy like I did. Then I hear Sari talking about suicides. I’m like what the fuck?”
“But the dose was huge and it was the highest concentrate.”
“What the fuck do I know?”
I watched him and he felt guilty again. “It was an accident. I didn’t know which ones they were or I wouldn’t have let them go out.”
I blew my nose again, “So what was the powder you replaced the mix with in the test tube?”
“Some beer powder. We got tons of that stuff. Put it in everything.”
“Beer powder? Does it have hops?”
“Yeah, same as the beer, just powder form with no alcohol.”
What I suspected was right: it was the hops in the powder that made my nose a faucet.
We sat there for a minute mulling these dosed beers.
I looked at him like the pathetic little man he was. “Well Jerry, that’s pretty fucked up. Made hallucinogenic beer and who the hell knows where it went.”
“Yeah, sorry,” he said with regret, “Seemed like a good idea at the time.”
I got up and left. Walking down my street toward my house I counted the known suicides. There was that first guy who sunk his boat, then the lady who drove her Mini Cooper in the water. There was some kid that jumped off a cell tower. And then there was Alan to whom Fate gave that bottle in his six pack. That was only four. Two more were still out there.
Rayne’s funeral was in two days. I spent the rest of the day cleaning up the house and shutting it down for the summer. It was still June. Normally I wouldn’t be doing this until end of August, but this was no normal summer.
Every time I walked in the bathroom or across the floor at the top of the stairs I felt the ghost of Rayne, had incursive thoughts and images of her. I would never be able to wipe her presence from the house. I would probably have to sell it.
And so the next morning I geared up and carried my bike outside. I saw my neighbor John peeking through the curtains so I waved goodbye. He vanished and didn’t reappear. Up Chandler I went and turned north. I pedaled over the canal bridge, past Fowl’s Point Proper, heard Rayne mocking that term, saw the bookstore where I thought we fell in love. Up the hill and past the water towers. Out to where I sometimes turned and where I tried to kill myself. Out across the expressway and down a one lane farm road that ran parallel to it.
The ride was grueling both physically and mentally and that was good. I was exorcising the town and Rayne and everything that had happened. I sweat out the beer, the mix, the foolish notions I’d had. I mashed the pedals and my balls hurt and my chest and my neck where Rudi had crushed it with his titanic hand. My eyes stung with sweat and I cursed the hills and dieselly trucks and Sari, she who gave and took away everything from me and whom I missed but didn’t allow myself to miss. I skipped stopping for lunch and cursed and cried and screamed through the pedalling and made it home in a record six hours flat.
I lay on my couch and acted like none of it ever happened. Back in the regular world, the events of Fowl’s Point retreated, became comfortably unconnected, almost a fiction. My house was no different from when I left. I microwaved a frozen dinner, checked my email, emptied the dishwasher. Finally I showered and got into my bed and slept for twelve hours.
I woke relieved that no dreams haunted me--none that I could remember. I went grocery shopping, mowed the lawn, took another shower and put on my black suit. It took an hour to get to the funeral home in the town where Rayne had grown up. As soon as I pulled in the parking lot I spotted a dozen teachers, even a couple of students.
The funeral was secular, closed-casket and arranged by an aunt on her mother’s side. Somebody had gathered pictures of Rayne from across the years and made a collage, put it on an easel. I approached it but couldn’t bear it so I went away and chatted with a random teacher about what she was doing that summer. Me? I wasn’t doing anything. Stuff around the house.
For the remaining hours I put myself on auto-pilot, went through the motions, bowed my head, shook hands. In my mind I was building walls, trying not to think of Rayne and Fowl’s Point. It was so comforting to do so, to play the fiction that I was just another coworker relatively uninvolved. Worked with her, sometimes ate lunch with her. She was nice. Nobody knew the truth except Sari, who was kept busy receiving the condolences of endless relatives and friends. She wore a black outfit, was red-nosed from some previous crying, but otherwise gorgeous. I couldn’t stop looking over at her. When it came my time to offer my sympathy, she played the fiction too, shook my hand limply and thanked me for coming. We barely made eye contact and then she was on to the math teacher who was garrulous and made it about himself, how Rayne existed with respect to him. It made me hate him even more than I already had.
After the funeral I drove home and went back to bed and stayed there all day, all night. That’s when the nightmares started. They weren't cooperating with the walls I had raised. Reality was going to have the time it deserved. Of all people it was Alan who came up the most. The variations are slight, but generally he made it ashore, is still after me, especially after my taking advantage of his state. But in one dream he is either still on the drug or had been permanently altered by it, had become an arch villain, a Moriarty to my Watson. I his quarry run through labyrinth beach towns, encounter deadend alleys, wriggle through claustrophobic passages, tear through empty homes, across rooftops. It never fucking ends. I wake up mentally exhausted, feeling like the whole night I was in constant flight and accomplished nothing.
When I finally stopped spending most of the day in bed and faced the rest of the summer I took on the role of the lazy teacher. I found my list of home projects and went about them in earnest. Rayne and Sari lingered behind the walls I had built, the one a sinkhole of sorrow and remorse, the other a longing, sometimes an enraging jealousy that Sari should be mine but she’s out there for others. I hoped these two ghosts would fade like a bad odor.
Truly what rankled back there was that old idea, the cynicism that love as we think we know it didn’t exist, that it was just a form of self-flattery, a codependence. A self-indulgence. Like that math teacher talking about himself at the funeral. What made it worse was the drug, those induced feelings of love and lust. The odd way Rayne had acted when we first met in Fowl’s Point when I didn’t know she was under the influence. With time and distance I was seeing more and more how deep the drug’s effects ran, how they had guided my behavior, changed my personality--even when I wasn’t recently dosed. Was my love for Rayne real? What about Sari? Was anything about Sari real off the drug? Did I love her? Did she ever really love me?
I love you. I remembered when we actually said those words, said them naturally and with meaning. It was when I had followed Alan back to the Marina. I had called Rayne and she was afraid because she had seen the blue car outside my place. I told her not to worry, I’d be right home. She said the words to me and I said them back.
Work in the garden, Cliff. Install that light you always wanted in the toolshed. Shop around for a water filtration system. Get estimates for a new roof, get the driveway recoated. In your life there is no room for love and its inherent doubts, its illusions. Cliff the Orphan can’t handle any of that.