Chapter Seventeen: Alan
“It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk!
When I got back with the bagels and coffee Rayne was still asleep in our bed. I ate my bagel in the kitchen and looked through a magazine but didn’t read much of it. Sari consumed my mind as well as a barrage of emotions about my situation with Rayne. Not only did I feel like a scumbag for cheating on Rayne—with her own sister!—but at the same time I felt great about what happened with Sari. They never felt to me as sisters, I told myself, they were too opposite. But I loved each and I wanted them both. I couldn’t even imagine what would realistically happen as we moved forward. My only way of dealing with it was to tell myself the Sari thing was a fluke, that it barely happened, was as much a dream as a reality.
I lay on the couch and barely made my way through pages of Moby Dick, slowly recovering my place in the plot. A groggy Rayne appeared just after noon. She sat on the couch and looked at me. I normalized my expression to hide my guilt, shoved the surreal Sari event way to the back of my mind.
“I’m sorry Cliff. You must think I’m a total psycho.”
“I swear it’s the drug. You think it’s over, but it lingers back there and catches you off guard.”
“You mean the Low?”
“The Low, the Twilight Zone. Who knows. Sari’s so sure it’s safe, but I worry sometimes.”
“What do you worry about?”
“That it can mess up your head, make you crazy. I mean, why did I get so freaked out over Josh? I look at it now and it’s so ridiculous. I really couldn’t care, well not that much. Not enough to text him and stalk him. That’s crazy.”
“So you’re okay now?”
“Yeah,” she sighed and looked around sleepily as if to reality check, “I’m fine now.” She relived what had happened earlier, put her hand on her forehead. “When I woke up and you were gone and I remembered our fight in the bookstore I got so worried about you.”
“I’m sorry. I wanted to get out, get some fresh air, exercise.”
“I know, it’s just that I worry what this drug might to do us. I always have had Sari to keep me in line, but I thought: what if it made you do something crazy?”
I didn’t know what she meant by crazy: suicide or screwing somebody—like her sister? “No, I was fine. Just an early morning ride. I do it all the time.”
“Did Sari help when you talked to her?”
I looked off, scratched my cheek, “Yeah, you know, we talked down at the bar, she helped me see what was real, what wasn’t.”
She looked off dreamily, “It’s so hard to tell sometimes.” After a minute of silence she got up and ate her bagel while looking through the same magazine I had. Then she went upstairs.
I was still on the couch reading when she came down freshly showered and changed, “I’m going out with Sari.”
“Don’t know. Girls’ day out. Maybe shopping?”
“Is she picking you up?”
“No, I’m going to walk up to the Hairpin. She’ll drive.”
The door shut behind her, leaving me with a silence I had been craving. I just lay, zoned out, going over everything in my head. I imagined these two sisters having fun shopping, how Rayne went nearly catatonic over Josh. I thought of Sari’s sex moaning, how her mouth went square and the vein bulged in her neck when she orgasmed. The images didn’t relent. Romantic scenarios I’d always imagined with Rayne now blurred with Sari. Memories from the club, the night on the drug, the boat voyages, the dawn at which I thought I was a man remade on the shore of eternal recurrence. I was more confused than ever. What did I want? What girl did I want? What was I going to do? I sat up on the couch and bit a fingernail, looked at it. I wanted a drink. If I was back home and having women trouble I would have called up a guy friend with whom I could hang and talk things over. Yeah, I wanted to sit at a bar and get drunk.
I waited an hour then walked up to the Hairpin and sat at the bar. No sign of Jerry or Sari or Rayne. I recognized only the bartender and the brewer Ian. The latter I had met before and he gave me a friendly wave.
I ordered an IPA and an artisan pizza that came on a wooden board. It was really good. I put down the empty pint, wiped my mouth and ordered another beer and watched the fight on the TV.
I had barely noticed a man sitting next to me until he spoke, “Have you tried their Bock by the Dock?”
I turned to him and he was showing me his pint of reddish-brown beer.
“No, I haven’t. Is it any good?”
“I like it. Trying to give all their beers a taste. Did you you see the little shop they just opened?”
“No, where’s that?”
He pointed, “Other side of the building. More of a stand. You should check it out. They sell bottles of this stuff, bottle openers and t-shirts. Can fill up your growler.”
The man was probably sixty. He was overweight, mostly in the gut. He looked over at me with eyes that were bright and alert but also worn-looking, baggy, showing some red fresh at their bottoms; hooded lids gave him a persistent sincerity. His brow was animated and expressive, up and down like an inchworm. Ventriloquist puppet lines at the corners of his mouth added to his boyish affability. The tiny red capillaries I associate with high blood pressure or an alcoholic went across his cheeks and nose. He smiled a lot and his teeth were in such great shape they must have been mostly fake. I thought he might be a tourist, maybe a guy with a boat. He wore a baseball cap with a fishing emblem on its face.
He continued, “Are you local?”
“Not really, I have a place down here I stay at over the summer.”
“Where you from?”
“Up in PA. You?”
“I’m from New Jersey. I’m here for work.”
“What kind of work?”
I wasn’t even sure what that meant and didn’t care so I didn’t ask.
He held out his hand, “Name’s Alan.”
I shook it, “Cliff.”
Willing to sit alone in silence I said nothing, just sipped at my beer and so did he. We both watched the TV. He drained the rest of his beer with a huge gulp and put the empty glass down on the napkin. Foam ran down its side.
He said, “I will be seeing you around my friend.”
He walked out the front door. I had a third beer then got up to leave. I thought about what Alan had said about the new shop around the side, decided to go check it out, maybe get a growler filled.
I hadn’t seen that side of the building for days and they had in fact turned an area previously covered by a wooden fence into a small shop. It had Hairpin merchandise and beer paraphernalia. They sold stickers, hats, t-shirt, mugs. You could even buy single bottles and like Alan said, get a growler filled from a range of taps. That’s what I did.
“What are you getting?” It was Alan from the bar again, now wearing sunglasses and coming up behind me.
“I love these brew places. Anybody can set up a brewery, make their own beer.” He spoke now to the guy working there, “Let me get one of those Mix of Six packs.”
Alan handed the man money and got back a small cardboard six pack of bottles he had selected randomly from a shelf of them, each labeled with a stylized Hairpin logo, but varying in color and design according to the type of beer.
I had turned to walk away when he said, “So does Sari have her own little brewery going here too?”
I stopped. Did I just hear him correctly? “I’m sorry?”
Alan stepped closer to me, away from the beer booth, lowered his voice, “I’m guessing Sari’s set up shop here? You know, to try to synthesize the drug?”
Holy shit. Who was this guy? I didn’t say anything.
He looked out into the street at passersby as if talking to me about the weather. “I’m sure she’s trying to create the fish compound synthetically. Must have a little lab set up around here.”
We looked at each other. I was poker-facing him. He examined my eyes, “You’re not on it now, but I bet you were. I’m good at telling people using. There’s an unnatural calmness, an autism. They’re off in their world, their fantastic thoughts. In the days that follow they long for that state, they mourn its departure, a look in their eyes like they’ve come from a funeral. It’s addictive in its way. You realize that, right? Dangerous. From what I've seen in this town it's out there. Sari knows it too. Visiting the homes of suicides?”
“Who the hell are you?”
“I told you. My name is Alan and I’m from a security firm. Sari stole valuable property from our clients and they want it back.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Come on Cliff, I know everything. If she just hands over everything she took that will be the end of it. We’re going to get it one way or another. No question about that. I always come through for my clients.”
“Stop harassing me, leave us alone.”
“No can do. My assistant Rudi has been doing a great job keeping tabs on goings-on.” Alan gestured. Across the street leaning on the red Malibu with his arms crossed was that Slav. “We know where you live, where the two of you teach. I know that you order everything bagels with cream cheese from Graham’s.” He paused to allow me to react. When I said nothing he went on in the same calm and friendly tone, “I figured you might be the reasonable one. Sari’s certainly not, her sister your girlfriend probably not. Have a talk with them before it’s too late.” He started walking off, looked back and said, “That IPA leaves a really metallic aftertaste,” he laughed a little. “Like a mouthful of pennies.”
With my forefinger in the growler handle I walked around the corner—the hairpin itself. Out of sight of Alan I went into a sprint as fast as my sandals would carry me. I was home in less than a minute, put the growler on the floor just inside the door and grabbed my bike and helmet. I jumped on and rode up the block and turned on White Oak Street. It was uphill but I geared down and whipped up it. I turned the corner and when I got to Chandler I saw the Malibu turning right and heading over the bridge. I followed knowing I’d catch up easily when the town congestion and traffic lights slowed them down. My intention was to hunt the hunter just like we did days before when I confronted the big guy.
Up ahead I saw the car turn down Cradle Road, the main street going toward the water. It was all downhill so I had to slow my pace to keep a safe distance although I figured they wouldn’t recognize me. I had no reason to think they even knew I rode a bike.
When they turned left on Bay Road I knew where they were going. Something about this Alan guy had struck me as a boater. They were headed toward the north marina, the larger and more tourist friendly one as opposed to the south pier out front of the Hairpin which, until the Hairpin opened, had little to attract the boating set.
Rudi stopped outside Lavar’s Crab House which is as close a car can get to the marina without parking in its lot. Alan pulled his weight up out of the car, turned to say something to Rudi. Rudi then drove off and Alan walked across the bricked area toward the boats. I continued behind Alan who turned onto the path that led to the walkway of wooden planks. I would be too conspicuous following him on there so I rode loops out near the road.
Alan turned into a thicket of boats and I lost sight of him. I wasn’t too worried. His boat was narrowed down to half a dozen parked there. Then I saw his head pop up in one of the yachts. I parked my bike in a convenient and mostly empty bike rack and walked closer keeping my bike helmet on to obscure my identity. I wanted to get some substantial info on this guy and his boat. I leaned on the wooden railing, kept my head down and pretended to enjoy the sights. I took out my phone and took pictures of the water and the boats and especially Alan’s boat, zooming in as much as possible. When I reviewed the pictures I could make out the number on the side and also its name: Phaedra.
I waited for a while but Alan disappeared and Rudi didn’t reappear. Does Rudi have his own place or does he stay on the boat with Alan? And what kind of rent-a-cop has a huge yacht? I considered that Rudi might be off looking for one of us to surveil. That thought turned into a worry and I called Rayne. She answered immediately.
I asked, “Where are you guys?”
“Sari just dropped me off. Is this your beer jug? Where are you?”
“Met up with some interesting types I’ll have to tell you and Sari about. Where is Sari?”
“She went back up to the Hairpin.”
“I’d feel better if you locked the door until I get back. I’ll be home in a few minutes.”
I heard what I guessed was the deadbolt clicking on the front door. She was quiet.
“That bully that followed us before. He had a red car right?”
“Yeah, why?” I was heading back to my bike.
“Well now there’s a blue car parked out front. Some guy in it.”
“Lock the door. I’ll be there in a minute.” I was riding across the bricks.
“He just pulled away.”
“What kind of car does he have.”
“I don’t know. He’s gone.”
“Anything you can tell me about the car?”
“Just a small normal car. It was gone before I knew it.”
“Okay, I’m going to hang up now so I can ride.”
“I love you Cliff.”
“I love you.”