bio pic pml.jpg

Welcome 

Here you can read my serial novel mix ix and learn about other writings. Presently introducing my young adult espionage novel Shibboleth.

Chapter Twenty: The Plan

Chapter Twenty: The Plan

Everybody has plans until they get hit.

Mike Tyson

In her haste to consume the mix, the corpse formerly known as Catherine M. Preston had thrown her purse and car keys on the motel bed when she got back to the room. They sat there as if waiting for their owner to swipe them up on the way out the door for her latest nefarious outing. But that wasn’t going to happen. The owner remained squeezed between the wall and the bed, having met a quick and brutal death. I looked at her feet, the one sneaker pointed up, the other tilted in, and thought that not long ago her life was probably very ordinary, then she got caught up in this and ended up dead in this dive.

Sari picked up the keys but she didn’t touch the purse. At the door she raised herself on her toes and peeked out the peephole first, then opened it a crack and stuck her head out.

She said to me, “Okay, let’s go.”

Before we left she kissed me quickly but softly and not without feeling. It reaffirmed my love for her and her feelings toward me. At that point she didn’t have to do that. She was wishing me good luck. I walked out behind her, unlocked the Honda and got in with an affected absentmindedness as if it were my own. Sari walked briskly down the length of the motel toward her car. I pulled out onto Goddard Drive and sped back toward Fowl’s Point. I had gone a mile and realized the radio was playing some contemporary pop dreck so I switched it off.

My plan was as follows. We knew Rudi was taking Route 11 back to town—going directly to Alan’s boat was my guess. I was to follow in their Honda, try to catch up to the Russian. Meanwhile Sari was racing out to the Route 1 expressway to get to Fowl’s Point that way. There, she would stop all traffic by blocking the bridge over the canal. Hopefully she would get there before Rudi. I’d once seen a car accident ensnarl traffic there for an hour. That bridge is the only way over the canal. With Rudi dead in the water I would then be able to catch up and get the mix back. This time I had a gun.  

I was waiting at the same traffic light Rudi was at when we spotted him less that ten minutes earlier. In front of me the road led to the bay where the darkened sky held its last vague brush strokes of white clouds. I had my window down, was enjoying the evening air, the sounds of traffic, of the world moving on with all its absurd everyday things. I felt so alive—beyond merely alive, more like one trailblazing a unique destiny around which the rest of the world simply reacted. It was a great day to be alive. My mind was filled with Wagnerian visions of heroic quests, exquisite, confident visions of victory, of my women, that creamy crescent of skin behind their ears, a space identical on both Rayne and Sari but for the blond or brown hair that framed them. I had no concern for the dead body back at my house with Rayne who was alone and afraid, or that I was again following with the intention of confronting this dangerous killer who had just broke that girl’s neck like a pencil most likely out of mere expedience. No, all thoughts were of larger pictures of life, grand historical perspectives, or visualization of the Sari-like byzantine plans and analyses that had hatched this crazy scheme to recover the mix.

Of course these thoughts were guided by that mix we had just done. It was hitting me fast and hard, welling up from that compartment where it was supposed to be backgrounded and drawn from. What kind of dose was this? Wasn’t the mix in the different tubes each more highly concentrated? Which one had been spilled on that table and consumed without hesitation by Sari and me? Did Sari know? Could she taste the difference?

The green left traffic arrow appeared and I screeched the tires a little accelerating into the turn and down Route 11 after Rudi. I drove fast but not as fast as Sari had driven. It took less than ten minutes before reaching Fowl’s Point. I knew our plan was successful when I saw the red brake lights of traffic backed up. I pulled the car to the side of a street not far from my house, grabbed Sari’s bag which had the gun from the passenger seat and jogged alongside the jammed traffic. It struck me that nobody was honking. I suppose the mentality was that if something had stopped traffic to this degree it wasn’t worth honking at, that it must be serious. Lower Slower Delaware was in no great hurry.

Up ahead I saw Rudi’s Malibu. His muscly arm was out the window, tapping the door out of impatience but otherwise waiting quietly like everybody else. I tried to spot Sari ahead in the knot she had made but the view was blocked by a large van. I reached in the bag and grasped the gun, came up to Rudi’s door like I was his best friend saying hello. He didn’t seem so surprised by my ambush.

“I have a big gun pointed at you right now so watch what you do. I’m pissed enough to shoot you where you sit, you dumb Russian.”

“I’m not Russian, I’m Ukrainian.”

“Same thing.”

“It’s not same thing, asshole.”

“Hand it over.”

Rudi didn’t move, just looked forward with a little smile that said he wasn’t scared of me and wasn’t going to cooperate. It was the same smug look he gave me last time I was at his car window.

Somehow there was a shift in the traffic jam and a Harley was now close to us, its engine being revved periodically, snap-crackle-popping as they are wont. It was loud enough that I knew a gunshot would be masked and I was fully ready to do it. I pushed the barrel of the gun, still in Sari’s bag, into Rudi’s crotch. His eyes lost their amusement and his mouth flattened into a line, which given his limited expressions, passed for a grimace. Maybe he guessed what I was thinking about the Harley noise or maybe he had thought I was bluffing about the gun, but now felt its reality pressing on his balls.

He said, “You’re fucking nuts on that drug, you know?” He reached down to the floor and picked up one of those soft plastic cases made for a six-pack on the beach.

I told him, “Open it.”

He opened it without taking his eyes off mine. Inside were the vials still in the foam packing. I took it with my other hand and shoved it into Sari’s bag where my fist still clasped the gun.

Rudi said, “Next time it will be your balls.”

I was already walking away, texting Sari, giving her the go-ahead to relieve the town of its traffic jam.

~~

The plan was to get Rayne out of the house and then return for Kyle’s body. Sari and I were to rendezvous at my house. Now that Rudi and his neck-snapping muscles had been outmaneuvered with a firearm would he respond in kind? That had to be expected. The traffic still hadn’t started flowing so I backed up along the shoulder and turned down a side street to get to my house. I parked in the alleyway and called Rayne’s phone so she could let me in. She didn’t answer it, but I knew that could mean it just hadn’t recharged. I used a spare key I kept hidden outside and entered quietly holding Sari’s bag with the gun ready. I didn’t know who else Alan had under his employment or what other mix-hungry nerds were after it. The house felt empty as I crept through it.

In the living room lay Kyle’s rotund body, now untied and positioned on his back with his hands folded over his chest like a proper corpse. Rayne must have done that. The possibility that she called the police or an ambulance flared in my mind. Where was she? Upstairs I checked all the rooms, but couldn’t find her. Had she left? Had some thug come and taken her? I wasn’t a hundred percent sure no thug was there, but I called Rayne’s name loud enough that she’d be sure to hear.

“I’m in here.”

The bathroom. I opened the door but she wasn’t there. Some kind of trick? Then I saw her dark figure move in the shower. She slid open the door and stepped out dressed and dry. She looked absolutely devastated.

I hugged her for a while and she said nothing. What was there to say? She had to use that man’s finger to work his phone, then he died, mostly likely while she held his hand. Now she had guilt on steroids, was probably hating herself for killing him. Rayne was a sensitive social studies teacher that had as far as I know never encountered any violence, certainly hadn’t been the cause of a violent death. Now she felt she was a murderer, a criminal, everything was ruined, her life was over.

I knew nothing I could say would help her at that moment. You can’t supply somebody with courage and confidence they don’t already have, certainly not with a higher will power to stay strong and to embrace the conviction that they are in the right when they feel the opposite. Zarathustra could scream at the villagers all day but it wasn’t something they were ready to hear. They thought he was a madman.

Sari scared us both, appearing in the doorway like an apparition. She had snuck through the house like I did. She entered into our hug, but not for long. “We really have to get out of here.”

Rayne finally spoke, “Where are we going to go?”

Sari put on a carefree face, “Francesco’s, where else?”

“What are you going to do about…” She meant Kyle.

“Don’t worry about that. You’ll be safe there and Cliff and I will come back later.”

Rayne didn’t say what she thought about the plan. She mechanically went about collecting some things from the bathroom and our room and put them in her bag. Downstairs we found Sari had thrown a blanket over Kyle. Rayne didn’t even react to that, just maintained the same deadened expression and went out the door toward Sari’s car.

Before driving away Sari asked to see the mix. She took it out of the six-pack case, inspected it, then handed me the empty case. “Throw that out.”

It was trash night, but clearly mine wasn’t going out this week. Neighbor John’s container was out though, so I got out of the car and slipped the bag in under its lid. Sari was probably as paranoid about another tracking device as I. Having the case en route to the dump was the best place for it. When I got back in the car Sari held up one of the test tubes and it was half empty. On it was a VI. I’ve always hated Roman numerals and had to put forth that extra second of thought to remember it was 6. The amount that spilled and Sari and I consumed must have been from that vial as well. Before putting it back with the others, Sari did a little eye roll over the quantity that girl had wolfed down before Rudi broke down her door. I tried to imagine what her last moments must have been like seeing that guy breaking into the room. I wondered if the drug had started taking effect and how that would have colored her final terrifying moments.

We drove in silence and at a reasonable speed to Sanctuary Beach and met up with the ferry captain. He was as untalkative as before and remained that way the entire ride through the darkness. The girls had brought hoodies and they huddled together in them. I enjoyed the spray, the cold air blasting the side of my face, the rise and fall of the boat cutting its course across the bay. It seemed to me Melvillean. I watched the lights on the other side grow larger and soon we pulled up to the dock at Baydacious. Sari might have texted that we were coming because Francesco the owner and his Mr. Clean doorman were waiting for us to lend us a hand getting out of the boat. Francesco seemed genuinely happy to see us again and his sidekick seemed calm and nonconfrontational. I felt we had somehow been accepted into a brotherhood.

Sari was having a conversation with the Captain, then joined us on the dock. She looked at Rayne and said, “Let’s get you inside.”

Francesco brought us in and sat us at the bar. He got me a beer to keep me busy then left with the girls up some stairs. The bouncer got a beer too and sat with me. In the spirit of our new camaraderie he held out his hand, “By the way, I’m Gavin.”

“Cliff.”

I hadn’t realized how thirsty I had been and was soon finished the beer. Gavin got me another without a word. Then Sari came back from where she had gone. “Still drinking that? Come on, finish it. We have to get out of here.”

I gulped at it, then paused and said, “Where’s Rayne?”

“Francesco has her safe upstairs.” She tugged my arm pulling me away from my beer. I waved to Gavin and we headed out. On the way she explained, “Don’t worry, these guys are on a chivalry trip so she’ll be safe. I told them an old boyfriend found her and tried to take her back to Russia. Told them he was this big abusive guy and that he likes to beat her.”

“What about the mix?”

“I left it up there with her. Safer here than with us.”

The Captain was waiting for us outside and soon we were recrossing the bay, watching Baydacious’ lights shrinking in the night.

~~

We walked in my front door acting like everything was normal for the benefit of the nosy neighbors. Nobody but dead Kyle awaited us. Then we stood, Sari arms akimbo, looking down at the blanketed body, its mummy-like topography of head, gut, feet.    

“So how are we going to get him out of here?”

Earlier I had thought of the wheeled trash bin but knew that wouldn’t work. It would be too loud and draw too much attention. And why would we be wheeling it out back to the blue car? I didn’t mention it. “We’ll lug him out like he’s drunk.”

“Think we can do that?”

“Sure, we’ll each get under an arm.”

Without pause she reached down and yanked the blanket off him. I wasn’t ready for the sight of him. His eyes were open and his mouth had—not a smile—but more a wince with his teeth clenched. He was like a vampire we had surprised with daylight. Why did she have to compose him in this arms-crossed coffin position? Sari and I took in the sight for another few seconds, then I wanted to get it over with.  

“Okay, well, upsy-daisy we go.” I bent over to lift him by the arm, but when I pulled he resisted. I shot back up, freaked out, thinking he was still alive, maybe messing with us.

Sari bent and tugged his arm, “Rigor mortis.” She tugged harder and his whole body shifted with the arm. “This might actually help us. Let’s take advantage of it. You get the other arm.”

I stepped over him and we each took an elbow in our one hand and lifted his back with the other. His stiffened legs stayed locked and we were able to heave his dead weight to his feet. Not even his head sagged. I took most of the weight and we dragged him on his heals through the kitchen to the back door. We leaned him against the wall as I hit the indoor and outdoor lights off. With my forearm against his collar I held him up, turning my attention in the opposite direction to avoid the stare of his grotesque Halloween mask face I knew was there. I panted slightly in the dark from the exertion, “Let’s give it a minute so our eyes adjust to the dark.”

Sari asked, “Where are we going to bring him?”

“Somewhere in that nature preserve we went through earlier. There are always places you can roll a car.”

We stood there a bit longer. As I watched the darkness outside for increased visibility Sari brainstormed. She spoke in a whisper there in the dark, talked about our dead friend. She came up with the idea that in the end we might be able to make it look like Kyle had killed the girl, then himself in despair. When...if they found his body, they would connect it with the motel and the dead girl. A relationship gone bad, violence, an accident, and then driven by guilt, kills himself by driving into the water. Certainly wouldn’t be the first suicide in the general area. It just might wrap itself up nicely.

I said, “Are you ready?”

“Let’s do it.”

I pushed open the screen door and we dragged my drunk friend Kyle outside toward his car.



Chapter Nineteen: The Red Dot

Chapter Nineteen: The Red Dot