Chapter Nineteen: The Red Dot
HOMICIDE, n. The slaying of one human being by another. There are four kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy, but it makes no great difference to the person slain whether he fell by one kind or another -- the classification is for advantage of the lawyers.
Sari looked from the gunman to me as I walked in the kitchen. Nobody said anything, the only sound was my biking shoes on the linoleum and some chirping birds through the screen door that had just slammed shut behind me. I wheeled my bike into the kitchen, instinctively ready to use it as a shield or weapon like cyclists do against mad dogs running from front yards or raging motorists getting out of their cars.
The man moved closer to the door and included me in those he threatened. I recognized him. It was Kyle, Sari’s former coworker that had come into the restaurant days back and extorted a quantity of the mix from Sari under threats of going to the police. In his right hand he held an automatic that looked fairly new and his finger was on the trigger. In his other hand he fumbled with his phone. Last time we met I was struck by his freckles and his Star Wars t-shirt. Now I noticed how dumb he looked. He had a weak chin and two prominent front teeth which, while not especially buck, gave the impression of cluelessness or that cognitive deficiency of those who cannot or will not close their mouths completely. Pushed up in his reddish hair were a pair of those as-seen-on-TV mirrored sunglasses with the orange-red glass.
Sari picked up the conversation my arrival had interrupted, “You’ve been using since the last time I saw you, haven’t you? You gobbled up every ounce I gave you. And now you’re back for more.”
“I’m back for it all, including my lunch box.” He looked at his phone again.
“But you know I’m not willing to give it all back. Fine, you can have the lunch box back and I’ll give you a few more doses, but after that, we’re done.”
“I’m the one with the gun. I mean business. I want the lunchbox and all of the drug, your notes, everything. You do what I say now.”
“Or what, you’ll shoot us? Then you have to find the lunch box and get out before the cops come. Everybody’s going to hear a gunshot. You’re not thinking clearly.”
He mimicked Sari’s haughtiness, “You’re not thinking clearly.” Then his open hole of a mouth bent into a snarl and he stepped toward her, “If I put the gun right up against you it won’t be as loud.”
Sari didn’t flinch and he kept the gun about a foot from her chest. The fact that he kept his finger on the trigger with the safety off had me worried.
I held up a hand palm upward like a teacher does in front of a class to calm teenage hotheads. “Let’s just talk about this…”
That only made him point the gun in my direction and say through his clenched teeth, “Shut up!”
I didn’t like the gun barrel facing me. The man was not in his right mind. Provoking him made things worse.
Sari wasn’t shutting up, “How did you know where to find us? Are you working with Alan and his big galoot?”
“They had no clue where you went. I’m the one who found you.”
“Let’s just say I’m good at keeping track of my things like my favorite lunch box.”
Sari got quiet which I took as her getting the answer she was looking for. I remained as confused as ever.
Kyle continued, “So where is it?”
Sari stepped to the side slightly and held up her arm pointing to my porch area, “It’s right in there Kyle. Go ahead, take it. Knock yourself out.”
Kyle didn’t move, but looked into the room.
Sari started to move toward the room, “Here, I’ll get it for you.”
“No! Stop. I’ll get it.” He gestured to me with the gun like they do in the movies, “Go over in the corner with her where I can see you.”
I leaned my bike on the wall and walked over with Sari. Was this guy going to shoot us after getting what he came for? Should I rush him and hope for the best?
Still facing us, he put his phone in his back pocket and stepped toward the doorway going into the porch. He bent his head to get a better look at the room’s configuration. I was ready to spring at him when I thought he would be most distracted, but he was too cautious, on a literal hair trigger with that gun. He took a step toward the room, then another, not taking his eyes off us. There was a step downward into the room and he inched his foot carefully over it so as not to trip. He looked at Sari and said, “Where is it...”
Then his head snapped forward, hit from behind, and his sunglasses flew across the kitchen and clattered into the cabinet. His body collapsed more or less silently onto the kitchen floor like a huge bag of trash. In the doorway something moved. It was attached to an arm, Rayne’s arm. She was standing on the couch around the corner and she was wielding that steel pipe I had shown her earlier.
The three of us looked at Kyle who lay like a drunk fallen into bed.
Sari said, “Good job Rayne.”
Rayne was wide-eyed and open-mouthed, still holding the pipe like a bat.
Sari explained, “Rayne used to play softball.”
I remembered the gun. Kyle had fallen on it. I approached him, half expecting him to move, but of course he didn’t. I had to lift his sweaty weight to the side to get my hand under him and take the gun. Growing up in gun country my dad had shown us how to handle and shoot guns like it was a part of Christian liturgy so I knew what I was doing. I verified that he did in fact have a round in the chamber. I left it as it was, but clicked on the safety and put the gun on top of my refrigerator.
Sari went to Kyle and felt his wrist for a pulse. “He’s alive. Cliff, do you have any rope, something to tie him up with?”
“I…um…I could find something.”
Rayne was still standing on the couch. She asked, “What are we going to do with him?”
Sari was going through his pockets. “We’re going to put him in his car and bring him somewhere. Get rid of him. We’ll call an ambulance and tell them there’s an unconscious man in his car.”
“How are we going to get him out of here without every neighbor seeing us?”
“Maybe we’ll have to wait until dark.”
I went into the closet beneath the stairs and got some clothesline I used before getting the washer and dryer set.
Sari had me move Kyle’s dead weight to the radiator in the porch where she tied him, hands behind back and feet together, then a length around him and the radiator. She knew how to tie knots like a sailor.
As she worked she explained, “When it gets dark we’ll drag this clam out of here. I suspect I know how he found us.” She had his phone out and used Kyle’s finger to unlock the phone via its fingerprint sensor. The light from the phone glowed blue on her forehead and nose and it lit her blue eyes bluer as they dodged through its screens. “Here it is. Rayne, go get the lunchbox.”
Rayne didn’t move. She was sitting on the couch now crying. It took a second for Sari to connect the traumatic events that had just unfolded with her sister’s reaction. She went to her and held her like she did when Rayne had her earlier breakdown. Rayne mumbled something to which Sari said, “You did the right thing. He’s nuts and could have killed us all. You don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything. Now take this tissue and take a few deep breaths. Right. Good. Now can you go up and get the lunchbox? You remember where I hid it? Thanks sweetie.”
Rayne went upstairs blowing her nose. I stood there still wearing my biking helmet, passively watching them like a spectator at an accident.
Sari returned to Kyle, “Well he’s still alive. No blood. You’d think she would have busted his fat head open with that pipe.”
Rayne came back with the lunchbox. Sari took it from her and brought it into the kitchen and put it on the counter. She opened the lid, removed the foam that contained the vials of the mix, and ran her finger around the edges. She put the foam and the mix back in and examined the lunchbox, top, sides, then bottom. “Ah, there it is.”
On the bottom were five little sections of the metal that protruded and served as feet. The one in the center was a different shape and color. Sari picked at it and off it came. She looked up at us smiling triumphantly, “This geek put a tracking device on his lunchbox. Can you fucking believe it?” It was the first time I heard Sari use the F word. She went back to his phone but it was locked again so she had to go to him and use his finger again. Then she showed me. The app on the screen showed a map and on my house there was a red dot. She said, “He tracked the lunchbox to the Hairpin and now to your house.”
“How did you figure that out?”
She looked almost taken aback at my stupid question, “Didn’t you hear him? He said something about keeping track of his lunch box. How else could they find us? It had to be something like this.”
Rayne’s lower lip was tight and curled upward ready to cry again, “And he said that Alan and that big guy were working with him. They could be tracking it too.”
I could tell Sari hadn’t thought of that. She stuck the tracker back on bottom of the lunchbox and again removed the foam insert containing the mix and put it on the counter. She went about rubbing down the lunchbox with a paper towel and cleaner, presumably to eliminate fingerprints. “You’re right. We have to get this tracker out of here. Cliff, I want you to take his car and the lunchbox. We’re going to drive it far away.”
I pointed to Kyle in the other room, “What about him? Wasn’t he going into the car too?”
“Okay, right, then bring the lunchbox elsewhere and come back. By then we can lug him out to the car and dump him somewhere. I have to find something else to put the mix in.”
Rayne started crying again. Sari mustered her patience, looked to me, “Bring Rayne with you.”
I took off my bike helmet, kicked off my cleats and put my sneakers on. “Where are his car keys?”
“They weren’t in his pockets. He must have left them in the car.”
I turned to Rayne and smiled, “Ready to get some fresh air?”
Rayne’s eyes were wet and devoid of hope. She nodded.
We turned to go out and Sari said behind us, “Bring that damn lunchbox a good fifteen, twenty miles away. Put it on a ship to China for god’s sake.”
Rayne and I went out the back door. The sun was setting behind the trees up the hill, some of it bursting through, blinding us, lighting us up orange for all the neighbors to see. We got to the blue car parked in the alley. It was an older Honda Civic. The door was unlocked so I opened it and felt for the keys in the ignition. They weren’t there. Rayne stood looking wounded and scared with her arms crossed. She watched as I checked the sun visor, under the seat, in the center console. The keys weren’t there. I put the lunchbox on the passenger seat.
I turned to Rayne and said, “The keys aren’t here.”
Rayne had turned back to the house because she heard what I heard: the sound of the screen door banging shut. I figured Sari must be coming out to see what the problem was, but Sari didn’t appear. We walked back in the house and went in the back door. Sari came down the stairs with a stylish backpack over one shoulder and looked at us.
I explained, “The keys aren’t out there.”
We had a moment of staring at each other, trying to figure out what we were all confused about. Then Sari turned her head and looked at the counter next to the sink. The mix was gone.
A car started up in the back alley then pulled away.
Then it all made sense to me. I said to myself, “Oh shit.” I stepped over to the back door, looked down my yard to the empty space where the blue Honda had been. Kyle had somebody waiting in the car. They snuck in while we were out looking for the keys, took the mix, then got back in the car and sped off.
Sari figured it out too. Her widened eyes turned to me, “Where’s the lunchbox?”
“I left it in the car.”
“Awesome.” She ran to get her purse and slipped on her sneakers and as she did she told us what to do, “Rayne you stay here with your phone ready. Cliff and I are going after that blue car.”
Rayne complained, “I don’t want to stay here, Sari.”
“You have to.”
“What if those guys come?”
“Nobody’s going to come here as long as the tracker is somewhere else. Besides, you’re great with that pipe.”
Sari was opening the front door, “Rayne, I want you to lock this behind us. Cliff, get that gun.”
I got the gun off of the refrigerator. Sari took it and slid it into her capacious bag.
Sari could sprint. I barely kept up getting to her BMW. We got in and she pealed out around the hairpin before I could get my seatbelt on.
“Which way Cliff?”
“Go up to Route 11. If we don’t see them, chances are they went south.”
“Get Rayne on the phone. Tell her to find the tracker app on Kyle’s phone and tell us where it went.”
I did like she said, but Rayne had a hard time picking up Kyle’s finger and pressing it to the phone. She whimpered and moaned about it but finally said, “I got it up.”
We were waiting at the stop sign to see which way to turn on Route 11. I made the call and pointed for Sari to turn left.
I said to Rayne “Just use it like you’d use any map. Pinch it to zoom in, things like that. Do you see the red dot?”
“Yes, it’s moving.”
“What road is it on?”
“Good. Is it going South? Is the water to the right?”
“Good. Do you see any cross streets. Anything that will tell us where it’s at?”
“Looks like it’s going through Turkey Pond Wildlife Refuge.”
“Okay, we’re going in the right direction. Just keep watching for any turns or stops it makes.”
Sari was going ninety on stretches, passing cars like they were standing still.
“It turned left on Goddard Drive.”
“Is that east or west?”
“Shit. Hold on.”
“Rayne? Is that their left or left on the screen? Rayne?”
“It was like up.”
“His finger isn’t unlocking it.”
“Keep trying.” I had my phone out and saw Goddard Drive coming. The town was Augusta which I didn’t recall being a significant beach town. There probably wasn’t much toward the water. It was my guess we should turn west. I saw the red light of the intersection ahead and told Sari to turn right.
“Cliff, his finger still isn’t working. I think there’s something wrong.”
“I think he’s dead.”
“Can you feel a pulse.”
Her voice started rising in a panic, “I’m feeling his wrist and there’s nothing. He’s dead Cliff. I killed him.”
I didn’t know what to say. “He might still be alive.”
Rayne was taking in a huge breath of a silent cry. Then she let out a high-pitched sound like air escaping a balloon.
“Rayne? Are you okay?”
“He’s dead Cliff. We killed him. This is crazy.”
Then my phone beeped and the line went dead. I turned to Sari and said, “I think Kyle died.”
We were in the right turning lane, stuck behind another car waiting for their chance to pull out.
“Did you hear me? He’s fucking dead.”
“I heard you Cliff. There’s nothing I can do about that right now.”
She was watching the flow of traffic. I looked around for the blue Honda. I didn’t see it but I saw a red car, a red Malibu and it was in the turning lane having come from the west where we were trying to go. Rudi was looking up at the light waiting for the turning arrow, his elbow leaning out the open window.
I pointed at him and said, “There’s that Russian.”
“That can’t be a coincidence.”
I tried calling Rayne again but it went to her voice mail. I didn’t leave a message.
We were moving again, headed down Goddard Drive. Sari said, “Keep an eye out for that blue car. I bet you they’re around here. Why else drive this way?”
There wasn’t much to see. A few houses set back from the road, then an old strip mall with moribund storefronts. I eyed each car, but didn’t see the Honda. Then we came to a decrepit motel called The Seafarer. It had probably been there for over half a century and had what looked like the original sign out front with the classic no/vacancy neon light. It clearly tried to maintain a nostalgic charm without looking like the dump it had become. The cosmetic cheats of new siding and some paint didn’t compensate for the lunar parking lot and the stained old roof. Its squat line of a dozen tiny rooms looked like slave quarters. Parked right out front was the blue Honda. I pointed it out to Sari, but she didn’t stop.
“Let’s park up ahead and walk back so nobody IDs the car.”
Not far away was a Sunoco gas station next to which we parked anonymously. Automatic street lights were flickering on because the swift descent into night had started. Around a large security light orbited the first bugs of what would be a blizzard of them in an hour. We went through the Sunoco lot, then in back of the real estate building next to it until we came to the side of the motel. We walked down the space between the rooms and the cars parked in front of them until we got to where the blue Honda was parked. Each room was identical with a curtained window and a numbered door next to it. How were we to know which room was theirs?
Sari stopped at the one most directly in front of the car. She opened her bag and handed it to me. “You handle the gun if we need to.”
Handle the gun? Was I really supposed to wave this automatic at Kyle’s friend? Before I could think of suggesting another course of action she was knocking on the door saying something in Spanish which I guessed meant housekeeping. When she tried the door it opened. I saw her look down: the door jamb was splintered wood. The door had been forced open. I thought of Rudi. Sari looked in the opening and announced herself again. Then she opened the door and we stepped inside. I shut the door behind us.
The lights and the TV were on. There was one unmade bed and a round table next to it. On it was the lunch box—open and empty—and white powder was spilled on the tabletop. Sari was going toward the bed because a pair of legs were sticking out from the space between the bed and the bathroom wall. Could there be somebody else here? What if it wasn’t Rudi who broke in? I got my hand around the gun in the bag and checked out the bathroom. The light was on and there were towels on the floor but it was otherwise empty.
When I came out, Sari was rising from the person on the floor. “She’s dead. Looks like her neck was broken.” I looked down and wedged in the space was a woman, twenty-something, long brown hair mostly fallen over her face. I could see her eyes enough to know they were open and her tongue was bulging out of her mouth. She was wearing a Star Wars t-shirt.
I said, “Rudi did this.”
Sari said nothing. She went to the table and was examining the lunchbox. I went over and stood next to her. Enough mix had spilled that she was able to make two big lines out of it using the credit card the girl had been using. The name on it was Catherine M. Preston. Sari had a twenty dollar bill in her bag rolled around a pen. She slid it off and snorted the line then gave it to me and I did so too.
Sari crinkled her nose and sniffled, stared at the empty lunchbox. When she finally spoke she did so in a slower, slightly demoralized way, “The tracker is still on there so we don’t know where Rudi went.”
I swallowed and felt the powdery lump in my throat. “I think I know where he went.”