Chapter Ten: Kyle
I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone.
― Rainer Maria Rilke
We hadn’t resumed driving one minute when Sari asked casually, “So Cliff, what’s the next address on the list?”
I was still amped on fear and adrenaline, trembling slightly and feeling my heart pound against my shirt where that guy had grabbed it. I leaned forward, inserting my head between their seats. “Are you not at all concerned that we are being followed by that big Russian dude?”
“It was your plan to confront him.”
“Well, right. I want to know why he’s following us. Don’t you?”
“Sure, but I’m not surprised he didn’t tell you.”
“Well then I’ll call the cops.”
Both of their heads swiveled inward, took in the other’s reaction.
Sari looked forward again and said, “Don’t call the police.”
“Why not? We have this creep following us around.”
“It’s a small town. He’ll just say he’s not following us, that he’s just running into us, and we can’t prove otherwise.”
“Somehow I suspect he would not like being questioned by the police.”
“Maybe he’s got the hots for one of us and doesn’t understand the proper American courting protocols. Don’t worry about him.”
“You don’t really think that, do you?”
Sari said nothing in response to that, instead asking, “What was that second street?”
I sighed, “Abattoir. Turn right where that truck just pulled out.”
I guided Sari to those back streets that border the northernmost edge of Fowl’s Point Proper. Abattoir is one of the oldest streets in the town, most of them labeled with historical markers, some of them fixed up and maintained, others barely standing up. Behind them woods quickly take over, and approaching the Calvary Creek the woods become a swamp of brackish stumps and black water. It’s the kind of thing one sees on the coast where salt water bleeds into the fresh, invading a landscape with vegetation of the wrong pH needs.
We got out of the car and Sari started snooping, first ringing the doorbell of number thirteen. When she got no answer, she tried the neighbor's house. The door opened and she started in on one of her spiels with a wary elderly woman.
Rayne and I lingered around the car, half watching Sari do her thing, half feeling awkward about the whole situation. I would mumble things about Sari being outrageous and Rayne would clam up even more, crossing her arms in defense. She remained quiet about my concerns, however vaguely expressed. Finally I turned to her and held her arms, planted her, “You have to tell me what’s going on. I know you know more than you’re saying.”
This upset her. She avoided my eyes, practically writhed from my hold. We both glanced over at Sari engaged in her interviews with the neighbor.
Finally Rayne teared up and gave in, “Okay, you're right, I can't keep going like this, hiding things from you. I'll talk to Sari about filling you in. She's going to resist. She likes to keep her secrets contained.”
“It's okay to tell me. Clearly there's something serious going on. I can’t imagine what it is, but I can help you out.”
Rayne’s head twitched to the side as if its thoughts were powerful enough to make her reel. She shook her head, “I don’t know…”
At some point Sari had disappeared, either into the woman’s house or around the back. I thought of something to change the subject and lift the gloom into which Rayne had sunk. I was just about to open my mouth with words concerning the name of the street and its likely historical context when Sari came from the side of the house and rejoined us at the car.
“Okay cute couple, let’s go get lunch.”
I couldn’t imagine at that moment we were looking cute. We got in the car and drove silently to the Hairpin.
Jerry wasn’t around when we got there. It was just before lunch so we chose a booth in the front at the big window. Sari went away for a while and moody Rayne stabbed the contents of her iced tea with its straw. I looked out the window which faced east where traffic came and went at the sunny docks. Men in boat shoes threw coils of rope, gulls threw their voices over the lambent water. Then Rayne got up, saying she was going to find Sari. I assumed she’d have a word with her about filling me in.
They came back soon with Rayne looking no happier, even more emotionally worn.
Sari was her usual ebullient self. She put her little purse down on the booth seat next to her and sat across from us. “So Cliff, Rayne tells me you’re feeling left out.”
“Yeah, I want to know why you’re investigating suicides and why some Russian thug is following us.”
She bowed her head, “Fair enough. I understand.”
I watched her eyes as she reached for a packet of artificial sweetener from a plastic caddy of them. She was already scheming how to avoid telling me things while feeding me enough to keep me happy. I knew by now Rayne knew her modus operandi. She sat with hunched shoulders and nervously stirred the sugar at the bottom of her glass.
“You know I’m a chemist, right?”
“I have reason to believe these suicides are connected to a drug, a compound not unlike one we were working on up at the Institute.”
“And why do you think that?”
“Well, as I just told Rayne, I saw some interesting things in that woman’s garage. And heard about that guy’s behavior. They both follow expected behavioral patterns that somebody would have if taking a very high dose.”
“So you’re trying to find the connection between these suicides and some drug.”
“And the Russkie? Why’s he following us?”
She shook her head to show she had no idea but it was unconvincing, “Maybe he’s investigating the same suspicious cluster suicides? Wanted to see what I knew.”
I supposed that did make sense. If he knew Sari was looking into these suicides, it might be a good idea to follow her since she’s clearly a good detective. But did that explain everything? I wasn’t feeling satisfied, but I didn’t know what about.
“Well who would he be?”
“I don’t know, maybe some guy sent from the Institute?”
I thought the waiter had come to our table, but Sari looked up too quickly at a freckly guy wearing a Star Wars t-shirt. Rayne stiffened.
“Hi Sari,” the guy said.
Sari looked sincerely shocked, “Kyle? What are you doing here?”
He laughed with no humor, “You know why I’m here.”
Kyle had a nerdy wiseguy grin going, the expression of somebody who has the upper hand and is enjoying watching his prey squirm. He barely glanced at me, maybe sized me up in his peripheral. As another possible threat I didn’t know what to make of him, this twenty-something uber-nerd with his t-shirt tucked in his dad jeans and secured with a belt his mom bought him when he was a kid. Slight of build, small bony hands, the midsection flab of the sedentary. He was one of those guys whose freckles were so pervasive that they made up his complexion--not the usual constellations of individual dots, but massive continents which trailed off into archipelagos at his hairline. Looked like he was in need of a haircut, and I suspected he always looked that way. Glasses a decade out of fashion and thicker than they needed to be if he bothered to get new ones. Gone is the age of the coke bottles, but he wasn't interested in fashion, he was interested in Sari.
Sari didn’t introduce me or say anything. She revealed a bit of annoyance when she snatched up her purse, got up and pulled Kyle by his arm like she was his mom. They walked toward the back.
I turned to Rayne, “What the fuck is going on now?”
She was looking in the direction they had gone with the scared curiosity a kid has when they see another kid led off to punishment.
“Who that hell is that guy? Rayne, why are…”
She held up two tense hands like claws on either side of her head. All she could say was, “Just...just…” A way of telling me to shut up and let her focus on her own shit.
Neither Kyle nor Sari reappeared for a while. Rayne spent the time looking for them, but also turned to look at people entering the restaurant or passing outside. She was jumpy. Paranoid.
Finally Kyle walked from the back alone with a contented spring in his step. When he passed us on the way to the door he gave us a challenging stare. Rayne didn’t take her eye off him as if knowing she couldn’t, or shouldn’t, let down her guard.
A minute later Sari came back and dropped into the booth. Her jaw was cocked to the side, a tell of hers that meant she was really annoyed. She looked at Rayne and ignored me, “Well it’s clear they found us.”
“I have no idea.”
Rayne shut her eyes and put her hand over her face limply. She asked, even though she clearly already knew the answer, “What did he want?”
Sari said, “What else?”
“What did you do?”
That lower-jaw off-center again. She stared off to the side as if not able to believe what she was going to say, “I gave him some.”
Rayne sat up erect, “You what?”
“I just gave him some to get rid of him. Promised he’d leave us alone.” Sari saw Rayne’s disappointment at her, then added after leaning in a bit, “He threatened to call the cops.”
That just deepened Rayne’s despair over the whole thing. She wiped her face with her hands and looked blankly out the window at the world going about its business. Sari crossed her arms and looked at the floor.
With them pouting it seemed like a good time for me to say in a calm voice, “You’re going to have to tell me everything. And I mean everything.”
They wanted to pretend they hadn’t heard me but they knew I wasn’t going away. I had already learned too much. I sat watching them, patiently waiting.
They thawed by degrees, Sari making herself less rigid, regaining her relaxed self-command. Rayne at least brought her attention back to the table. Finally the eyes of the half sisters half met, decided on some things with their subliminal grokking. It was to be Sari’s job to explain things--no surprise there. She gathered her thoughts and leaned forward.
“So at the Institute we were working on a compound from fish that had pharmacological potential.”
“This was my project, basically, and when my superiors saw its value they wanted to appropriate it, take my creation, all my hard work and make it their own.”
“So you stole it.”
If we were living half a century ago Sari would have put a cigarette in her mouth, fidgeted with matches, then lit it with her head tilted. After blowing smoke up to the ceiling she would continue.
Instead she picked up her phone and flipped through it with her thumb.
“You stole from your company and are hiding out here, but they found you.”
She continued with the phone, her silence being her confirmation.
“So who was King of the Nerds?”
“He was sent to retrieve the stolen property?”
“No. He was here to blackmail me.”
“By threatening to tell the police.”
“How did he find you?”
“I wish I knew.”
“And the Russian? Is he an employee of the Institute as well.”
She somewhat rolled her eyes dismissively, “To be perfectly honest I have no idea who that was. Certainly wasn’t a cop.”
Rayne spoke up, “Isn’t Jerry here?”
“No, I think his wife is back,” Sari looked at me and explained, “His wife works up at the Air Force Base. She’s gone for long stretches.”
Rayne was trying out a tough girl voice, but didn’t succeed. “If Jerry was here Kyle wouldn’t have pulled that shit.”
“He would have gotten to me one way or another. He was determined.”
I asked half teasing, “So is Jerry your bodyguard or your boyfriend?”
She thought that was funny, “Both, I suppose.”
We all lapsed into a thoughtful silence.
I reviewed everything she told me. Then, as if I had waited for the suspense to build, I asked, “What exactly is this drug?”
A knowing glance between the sisters. Sari smiled, “Okay Cliff, I’ll tell you everything, but I think we all should get ourselves a real drink.”