Chapter Eighteen: The Breakup
A small revenge is more human than no revenge at all.
I saw some blue cars on my ride back but I had no reason to think one was more nefarious than another. Nor did I spot Rudi in his red Malibu. My conversation with Alan left me fearful, not knowing what he meant by his insinuations and vague threats. He implied that without our cooperation the situation would escalate. I didn’t know what form that would take. My concern was that Rudi might be sent to my house, that he might try to scare us or hurt one of us. Was the blue car outside our house that spooked Rayne of any significance or was it just a random driver?
My growler was still on the floor when I came in the door. Rayne got up from the couch and hugged me. “Are you okay? What happened?”
I put the growler in the freezer. “Get Sari down here. We have to talk.”
Sari arrived twenty minutes later with two takeout containers of sandwiches from the Hairpin. She arrived dressed nicely and looking as fresh and beautiful as always. Fresh lipstick on those lips I had smeared mine against, the hair that had been wet and resting on her naked shoulders now brushed and blow-dried and curling at the ends. I allowed myself a moment to absorb the terrifying giddy reality that these two women were half sisters and both my lovers. Sari played it cool though, not even a glance in my direction that she wouldn’t have given me before, no hint of any subliminal sexual tension, not a wink or brushed shin under the table. She had in fact told me to forget it had ever happened so that’s what I was trying to do.
We sat at my small kitchen table and ate. I opened the growler and poured three beers. Then I told Sari about Alan, about what he said and about his boat at the dock.
Rayne asked her, “Do you know him?”
“I might. I heard the Institute hired a security company years back when somebody was trying to blackmail the CEO.”
I asked, “Blackmail him with what?”
Sari shrugged, “Some sex thing. Prostitutes in South America. Photos. Some guys questioned people at work. Said they were part of the company’s legal or security team.”
Rayne was intrigued, “Did they catch them?”
“They did. Turned out to be just some creeps down there, nobody connected to the company.”
Rayne stopped eating and got quiet, “Sari, I’m scared. What are they going to do to us?”
Sari bit her sandwich, chewed, then wiped her mouth with a napkin, “They’re just trying to scare us. If the Institute wasn’t worried about being connected with illicit drugs they would have just called the cops. But I am worried that they’ll try to steal it back. From what you say this Alan guy probably guesses I have a lab in the Hairpin. He’ll probably send his blond factotum to break in. I’m going to have to relocate the drug. I’ll probably leave much of the lab in place as a decoy.”
Rayne still wasn’t eating, her sandwich sitting before her with two half moons bitten out of it. “Is it really worth it? Maybe you should just give it back.”
Sari’s eyes widened and she looked at her sister sharply. “I will do no such thing. That is my work, my ideas, years of my life. Sure, I could start over from scratch, but if I give it to them they’ll use it, they’ll make billions.”
Rayne had heard it all before and clammed up at the lashing. She stared at her sandwich to focus on something and clenched her teeth.
I could see Sari calming herself down, controlling her breathing. Finally she said with her normal deliberation, “We’re going to relocate. I don’t know how they found us here, but we can make sure they don’t find us again.” And then with an emotionless tone of finality, “If you’re afraid of being around me I can go by myself.”
Nobody had anything else to say as we chewed our sandwiches at the table. I found when Rayne felt over-ruled or rebuked by Sari she pouted by going taciturn and avoiding eye contact, putting her nervous energy into something like tidying up. She took our dishes and threw out the take out containers and was soon wiping off my counters.
Sari looked at me and said, “Cliff, could I get your help?” Although Rayne had her back turned to us, Sari still presented herself as the uninterested sister. There wasn’t a glimmer of romance in her eyes, no acknowledgment of our earlier secret passion. I had to assume she was not particularly interested in me, that there were no lingering feelings. It must have just been the Craving.
“Sure. With what?”
“I am going to get some things out of the Hairpin. Need help carrying things.”
Sari spoke toward Rayne, “Rayne, did you want to walk up with us or stay here?”
“I’ll stay here. I’ll be fine.”
I went to the front door and pointed behind the small shoe rack I kept there. “If it makes you feel better, I keep this here for home defense.” It was a two-foot length of black steel pipe leaning against the door frame.
Stepping outside I saw no suspicious cars or people. Sari said practically nothing as we walked up the street to the Hairpin. Like she had done to Rayne, Sari’s laconic marshaling of events made me shut up and tag along like a well-trained dog. We walked in the side door and went through the kitchen and down the basement stairs. In the chilly, wet-smelling basement we went to the door of her lab which she opened with her key. Nothing was very different from the last time I was in there. With nothing but the sound of her heels on the floor she retrieved the X-Men lunchbox and put it in a plastic bag. She came next to me and put the bagged box on the counter. Then, as if the next in a series of tasks we were there to do, she clasped me by the shoulders and pulled herself up to kiss me. I responded eagerly and in no time at all our embrace became an excited grappling, an impatient dry hump. We ended up doing it there with my pants around my ankles and her seated on the counter with her dress pulled up, knees at my side. Half thoughts were emerging from the fog of passion, trying to wrap my mind around this second encounter. It didn’t seem like the Craving anymore; it seemed like authentic desire. And she wasn’t quiet as we did it, moaning and goading me on. At one point she proclaimed to the echoing room, “Oh I was hoping she wouldn’t come with us. I wanted you so bad.” That kind of stuff—her desire and intensity, her unbridled lust for me, and how she hid it so well when she had to—it turned me on and made me want her more than anything. Then and there with my boxers around my knees I had no doubt: Sari really wanted me and I really wanted her.
When we were done she was very careful about mutually checking out our appearances, making sure there were no smudges or overly rustled clothing or hair.
She looked at herself in a makeup mirror, “I want to clean up a few things here then get my stuff from upstairs.”
“Where are you going?”
“Your place if you don’t mind.”
“No, I don’t mind.” I was trying to grok how awkward it would be living with them both, but any critical faculties were currently in suspension. I could only think of that old TV show Three’s Company where the guy lives with the two pretty girls and all the predicaments they got into.
She was removing various things from the counter and putting them in a trash bag. She picked up a restaurant salad plate. “There’s some residual mix here. Let’s do it and get rid of it. Hate to waste it.”
“What about Rayne?”
“She could use a break from it. Think of it as a drug Turing test. See if you can pass as not dosed, act the normal Cliff instead of the Ubermensch that will emerge.” The idea must have been a turn-on because her eyes went heavy with longing. She came at me forcefully for another kiss, but at the last second geared down and tenderly kissed and tugged at my lips with her own. I was dizzy.
Sari flicked a switch in her pretty head and got back to business, “Let’s get moving. She sniffed a big line off the plate leaving a smaller one for me.” When we were done she licked the plate clean like a sated cat and chucked it back on the counter. It rattled and wobbled with a clean empty ringing sound.
We went out of the lab and Sari locked the door behind us, stowing away the key. I carried the trash bag and she carried the bag with the lunch box. At the top of the stairs she ran into Jerry. His expression was one of relief and happiness until he saw me, then he went cold. He looked again at Sari who stated, “We’re getting my things and leaving.”
Jerry knew what she meant but still asked, “What do you mean you’re leaving?”
“I’m done here. I appreciate the hospitality, but it’s time to move on.”
She was in effect breaking up with him there at the top of the stairs with the racket from the busy kitchen right at their side. I kept my eyes off their awkward moment, pretended to better tie the knot in the trash bag.
“Oh, so that’s it.”
“Yes Jerry,” she said with that patronizing tone she slips into so easily, “That is it. Now if you’ll excuse us.”
Jerry didn’t move when Sari tried to step around him. He was a man of limited words, instead using the physicality of his body to make his point. Sari looked up at him and the corner of her mouth twisted in a smirk. “Really, Jerry?”
He didn’t look at me, but gestured minutely with his head, “What. Is he your new guy?”
She lowered her voice to a calm insistence, “Move out of our way Jerry.”
And like the dumb obstacle he was, he swung open on the hinge of his heel and let us pass. I remained expressionless and unconcerned as I passed. He had to say something to me and he did so with the hollow toughness of a ten-year-old school bully, “I won’t forget this, book man.”
I followed Sari up the stairs and into her neat little room. She locked the door behind us and said, “What a jerk.”
I said nothing. Did Sari expect him to act differently? It wasn’t surprised by his juvenile reaction. She got a suitcase out of the closet and piled clothes in it from a series of dresser drawers. I asked her what I could do and she told me to get her laptop and things from the desk. I shut and unplugged her laptop and gathered some miscellanea. Among those items was a framed picture of Sari, Rayne and presumably their parents. The girls looked to be in their young teens. Rayne smiled nicely, but Sari didn’t. Behind them was their father smiling slightly, had sunglasses on, graying temples. Next to him was the second wife, Sari’s blond mother. She too had sunglasses on covering her eyes, but I could discern the same delicate jawline as Sari’s. Behind them was a boat and water. The idea struck me that the photo was by some weird coincidence taken in Fowl’s Point and that their presence here now was not just coincidence, but the machinations of fate and irony and a subconscious reliving of the past.
From above her suitcase Sari asked, “What are you looking at?”
I had been staring at it for longer than I thought. The drug was creeping up behind my awareness. “This picture of you.”
“Oh, right. That was taken at the Baltimore Inner Harbor on vacation. I was thirteen I think. Put all that stuff in the bag there on the floor please.”
We finished packing her things in a few minutes. Sari got things out of the bathroom and after a final check she was wheeling the bulging suitcase out the door.
Jerry was leaning against the wall with his arms folded looking at us. But this time he was going to try a different tack—the nice guy approach.
He smiled widely and tilted his head to the side, “Come on Sari, why don’t you come down and we’ll talk about this over lunch.”
Sari walked by him without a glance, blowing him off with, “Goodbye Jerry, it’s been real.”
She was going down the stairs and now I had to pass him. The indignity of rejection scrunched his mouth up and narrowed his eyes. He eyed me as the cause of his woe as I approached him. I eyed him briefly, tried to communicate that he might as well just give it up and move on. His reaction was to check me violently with his shoulder. The impact corkscrewed my upper body and there would be a bruise where his shoulder smacked mine, but I stayed steady on my feet and continued toward the stairs.
In the fractional seconds between his shove and my recovery, before I had even straightened my torso I had decided against physical reprisal. I had in fact decided on exactly what I would do.
Sari had reached the bottom of the steps, but I was still going down them within earshot of Jerry. From behind me the last of his childish parting shots, “Pussy.”
Not Pussy, Jerry, but rather Ubermensch. My revenge was going to be sweeter and more effective than a shoving match in the hallway. There would be consequences to his actions.
Rayne didn’t look thrilled when Sari showed up lugging a leaden suitcase and announced she was moving in just as Rayne had the week before. I carried the suitcase upstairs and put it in the spare bedroom. Rayne brought her to her new room and they stood appraising the mess and deciding how they would best make it habitable. I slipped away and went downstairs and into my study.
I had a burner phone I had gotten for emergencies when riding. Initially I didn’t want to take my main smartphone because I wanted to leave the world behind when riding. But when I started using an app that replaced my old speedometer and could map courses using GPS, I went with the smart phone and set it to Do Not Disturb. The old burner phone sat charging forever in my study, not used once.
I turned on the computer. It didn’t take more than two minutes of googling to get the information I wanted. I changed into my biking clothes and slid the burner into a pocket next to my other gear. The girls were still unpacking and cleaning up the room for Sari. I told them I was going for a ride and they barely heard me. At least Rayne seemed happier, warmed up to the fact that Sari would be staying with us.
I rode my normal route and rehearsed and relished my Machiavellian schemes, my princely revenge against the primate Jerry. I thought of his pathetic jabs at me, his childish attempts at winning Sari back and how easily Sari dropped him for me. “We Ubermenschen” was how Sari put it as she seduced me, two beings existing on a higher plane above conventional morality that take what they want.
Dropping the dime they used to call it—even when it cost more than a dime. Today we have to do things differently. As I crested the hill near the water tanks I took out the burner phone and sat back riding hands-free. I dialed one number and when nobody answered, I tried next the Air Force Base and managed after an operator and another intermediary to talk to Jerry’s wife who I learned from the internet was named Arlene Bariletti. I disguised my voice only slightly and told her about her husband’s infidelities, even made up up some others; how he gives them free rent up in the B&B for sexual favors. I hung up and pocketed the phone, continued into town.
The phone buzzed against my lower back, a pleasant tickle I knew would go unanswered. When I came to the bridge over the canal I reached back, took it out, opened it for one final glance at the number calling before flipping it into the water. It tumbled through the air like a shot-down plane and plopped into the black water with a little splash. I didn’t feel bad for the ecological damage I had inflicted on the fetid canal with it stagnant stench, its torpid amphibians and flesh-eating bacteria. The Ubermensch ethic justified it.
That dose I had while helping Sari clean out her lab was small, but was it was enough to have set my mind into the lofty and sublime, into that superior state of being inaccessible without the drug. As Sari told me, that state was real, not some epiphenomenal illusion from the mix. Sari was living proof: a woman clearly living according to her own personal higher ethic which was beyond the petty ovine behavior, the slave ethic (as Nietzsche formulated it) which we encounter in the denizens around us: that which is weak, childish, debased. She and I were destined to be together and everything that had happened that summer happened so we would find each other. I had made short work of Jerry with one phone call, and now returned on my chariot to those two goddesses with whom I was alternately sharing pillows.
That’s when I had a life-changing epiphany. I was a block away from my house, passing those working class homes where scores of people live their lives at a low simmer. You can’t tell by looking at most of the houses if there is anybody living in them. They sit with shades drawn, giving up no signs of life. Recluses and agoraphobics I imagine. Hoarders. Outside of one a father and son worked on an old car. In the moment I glanced at them I saw the son’s dress and posture and gestures mirrored the father’s. Their relation was undeniable. The way they both jutted their heads forward squinting, positioned their feet, went about their work with a curious confidence. It struck me more than ever before that this is how our species works: the offspring reenact behaviors of the parent to such a degree that it becomes their personality, their well-oiled prepackaged mode of living. It is the most natural way of being. That son automatically knows what he will do waking in the morning, knows what he believes about things and has a solid sense of self.
I never felt like that. This parent as role model is what I always felt missing from my own life, as if I were flawed or incomplete because I was an orphan. How does the kid that grows up without that solid role model form a confident, strong personality? He can’t. That is the tragedy of the orphan. This fact about myself I held as unassailable—the thing that defined the irreparable hole I felt I had at my core.
But there and then, coasting away from the father son duo it struck me: why did I assume being a clone of your parent is such an asset? Isn’t the point of being human to rise above the natural, the primal and the instinctual? Isn’t acceptance of what was given at birth simply mindless conformity to circumstance and accident?
The truth is that the orphan is fortunate, free to recreate himself as he sees fit without all the burden of inheritance from above. I had been living under an illusion until that moment, thinking that the missing father was an impediment when it was an advantage. That idea had held me back all my life and I let go of it, allowing it to flutter away in my draft like a discarded candy wrapper. I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Sari and Rayne about my breakthrough, but when I got back there was a blue car in the back alley and a man standing in our kitchen. He was holding a gun.