Saturday is even more crowded, but Rayne finds me easily enough I figure she has some tracking ability I’m unaware of—like she said, I’m just a junior assistant. At this point, phase one of the project complete, hanging around the gem and mineral show is tedious. Especially since I am doped up on anti-nosebleed tincture. Everything looks the same now, actually looks grey and dull. Even the people.
“You should have met me at the hotel. Don’t you have my room number?” Rayne covers my eyes with her hands from behind. She’s pressing my eyelids closed so hard I can see my blood pulsing through the veins in my entire body.
“I didn’t…You didn’t tell me anything…” She’s making me tingle. The Center floor vibrates with tremors.
She lets go. “Man, how long have you been doing this?”
“A few years,” I say, turning around. She’s wearing jeans and a black t-shirt that reads I’m Gneiss in white cursive.
“Cute, hu?” She swivels her shoulders, displaying more than just the shirt.
I wear western shirts because of the snaps. Since I am always having to draw my own blood, usually in a hurry, the snaps make it easy and somewhat inconspicuous. Maybe by using the silver watch, I won’t have to cut up my chest anymore. I shake my head at the poor notion.
“You don’t’ like it?” Rayne asks, tilting her head.
“No. Yeah, I like it. It’s cute.”
“Do you get it? Did you take Rocks for Jocks in college?”
“No, I get it.” I don’t get it.
“So, we’re here. Let’s go see how Jurassic Cabin is today.” She slaps the small of my back, setting me into motion.
She casually browses a few tables. Each table is as interesting as watching water boil in pitch dark. Without point or direction, I ask her about the shark teeth.
“Ha! I did steal that mastodon tooth. And I’m going to steal those shark teeth, too. That’s going to be my dessert after the amber.”
“You can’t come back after we get the amber. Are you crazy?” A crevasse of anxiety opens in my stomach. I don’t like being nervous. And people make me so very nervous, so much of the time.
Rayne laughs, her top lip rippling like a cuttlefish. “Are you really worried about that sort of thing? After the jobs I’m sure you’ve had to do?”
I stop in the middle of the row, consider what she presumes I have done. I’ve never killed anyone.
“Come on,” she says.
“Wait. What’s the plan? Do you have a plan? We need a plan.”
“Just come on.”
There is never a plan. A plan constitutes too much order and Bergdorf and associates operate in spontaneity and gut-feeling. Until now, I’ve never been concerned about the lack of a plan, but Rayne has me so upside-down and at an angle that I feel stupid, and feeling stupid in this business is dangerous.
The Richard Attenborough of Morrison, Colorado has an assistant with him. The guy is a lanky caricature of his boss. Rayne walks us past the table as if it wasn’t there. “So, who’s watching the fort?” she asks when we turn up the next row.
“We check it out,” I say, my effort to take charge, to direct this operation.
“No. We go fucking get what we want,” she says, poking my chest with two blunt little fingers that will leave a bruise. “Right now.”
We take my car. As we pull onto the highway, she opens the glove box. “You got a gun?”
“What?” I say. She has me so anxious, I look in the glove box, swerving out of the lane I’m in. “No. No,” I say, correcting the car. “I don’t have a gun. What?”
“I’m just kidding,” she says, slamming the tray closed. “Do you know where you’re going?”
“No.” I roll down the window. I want to puke.
“You know how to get to Morrison, right?”
“Yes.” This is too much. I want to talk to Bergdorf. But calling Bergdorf directly has consequences and I can’t tell if those consequences outweigh the action Rayne and I are taking.
“Okay. Get us to Morrison and I’ll take over from there. See?” She lifts up her shirt halfway, more than she needs to. At the center of her downy bellybutton protrudes a glossy green bead. “Amazonite. FYI.” She leaves the shirt up.
“Sure,” I say and try to focus on driving. I don’t like sex. I don’t like being naked. Showers make me fretful. Sexual charms are something I’m immune to; perhaps it is one of my special abilities. But Rayne, whether she is working me or not, has my sensual attention. I’m a virgin. I say I’m a virgin. No, I am a virgin. But I used to think I wasn’t. I feel that Rayne is going to take my virginity, or I am going to give it to her. I really don’t know what I’m feeling besides sick.
“How are you feeling? How’s the bloody nose?” She says the bloody nose in an awful British accent.
“Yeah. Okay, so far. I think I’ll be good.” I hope I’ll be good, as there’s maybe half a snort left.
“Listen, man, you have to calm down. Dupree’s going to be there. He’ll do all the dirty work, okay? So just hang in there, buddy.” She squeezes my thigh so it tickles and stings. My leg jumps, flooring the accelerator, which makes Rayne crack up.
She rolls down the window, asks, “Do you mind if I smoke? I kind of have to. The cramps will kill me if I don’t. And I mean literally kill me.” She rolls her eyes when she says literally.
“No. Of course, please do what you need to do.”
“My mom bled out right before my eyes from her cootch. I can tell you, that is a terrible way to die.”
“I bet,” I say. Then I think about it. “Was uh…was your mom working for the company?”
“She was. I inherited her position.”
For the first time, I wonder if I’ve inherited my position from my dad. Since I was contracted on my own accord, the idea never occurred to me. I add it to the list of questions I have assembled in my mind, questions I want to ask my dad, if I ever have a chance to ask him. If he ever has a chance to answer. Everybody has a list of questions for their parents that they never ask. They never want the answers to until it’s too late. They never knew that they had to ask until it’s too late.
I’m trying to compare our situations. I ask, “Did you know? About the position?”
“Of course I did. I’m the one that caused the rupture. Gosh Abe, are you autistic or something?”
I tell her, “I think you’re one of the meanest people I’ve ever met.”
“Come on, man. I’m kidding.”
She is, in fact, the second most wicked person I have ever met.
Just before the highway begins its incline into the mountains, we exit, looping around the off-ramp and down a back road some ways, stopping at a red light where Morrison turns into Bear Creek. “Who is Dupree?” I finally realize I should ask.
“Oh, he’s my guy. You know, like your guy.” My guy being Bergdorf, I presume.
“Your guy is going to help us?”
I can’t wait to see Dupree. Actually, I can.
“Alright,” Rayne says, “we got to get through town.”
We get through town and she says, “Okay, turn left.” We pass the town’s Natural History Museum, which looks like a lodge, like a bed and breakfast. She gives it the finger. “Turn right.” The road zigzags a couple of times and stops at a dirt parking lot and trail head. “Come on, dude,” she expels.
A welcome sign tells us that Jurassic Cabin is along the trail. Rayne groans, fixes her shirt and gets out. “Nothing is easy, huh, Abe?”
“Nothing,” I agree.
We are the only car at the trailhead, which seems strange for a Saturday. Maybe it’s not strange—I try to stay away from the mountains and the foothills.
“Doesn’t say how far,” I point out.
“Of course not. The journey and the destination and all that bullshit, you know?”
It’s an easy trail, a family trail, obviously. There are bike tracks in the dry dirt, too. The edges of the aspen leaves are just taking on the corrosive color of fall. The shade is cool and dust hangs in the stillness. Waves of cicada song get so loud it must be an alarm or defense mechanism. I ask Rayne, “What about Dupree?”
“Oh, he’s coming along.” She motions behind us. I can sense it now, but I can’t see it. I sense gigantism, a thing encompassing more space than it should.
A sneeze begins deep in my sinuses, wells up in the shafts of my face, and erupts with forceful violence. The sneeze bends me over, almost flips me. It’s draining. Blood splatters a trail stone, looks like something had its head beat across it. Another sneeze lies in wait.
“Here,” Rayne says.
“Hang on,” I tell her. Bent over so most of the blood misses my shirt, I fumble at the front pocket for the powder. I have no tissue or toilet paper.
“No, Abe. Here. Smoke this now.” She nearly burns my eye with a cigarette.
I take a drag and choke, cough. I try to remember how to do it, how to relax my lungs. I take another drag and the ground rushes to my face.
“Shit, man. Sit down.” Rayne holds me up, eases me backward onto my ass. “You’re a mess, dude.” She takes the cigarette, takes a drag, exhales into my face.
“I don’t smoke,” I say.
“Who does, right?” She takes another drag and crushes it out in the dirt. I stop bleeding and the sneeze is gone. “Hold still.” I don’t know what she thinks I’m going to do. She licks her thumb, makes it glisten, and starts cleaning my face of blood. Her wet thumb brutishly rubs my lips. When her thumb goes up my nose, scraps my nostrils, I don’t stop her. When she’s done she says like a toddler, “All clean.” She sits next to me and says, “Let’s take a minute. Dupree, go on ahead and see if anyone’s there.”
I look away from Rayne, across the trail and see Dupree crowding the aspens. Not as massive as I imagined, but still huge, his body is vaguely ape-like, covered in matted black fur. In contrast, his head is tiny, a baby doll’s head—a porcelain baby doll’s head exactly. Dupree lumbers through the foliage, up the hill.
I’m more unnerved by Rayne’s use of Dupree’s name than Dupree himself.
“You know, it’s just going to get more intense after this. Every promotion comes with more responsibility.” Bergdorf never talked to me about a promotion. I don’t want one.
I snort the remaining bit of powder.
“Good idea,” Rayne says.
I’m fatigued and Rayne knows it. “You want to be jacked,” she says, pumping both her fists.
The dose surges through my wires. “I’m ready,” I say, jumping up.
“Yeah, boy.” Rayne extends her hand for me to help her up.
We bound up the trail to a concrete stegosaurus and a forking path. A hand carved sign hanging around the dinosaur’s short neck reads Closed and I hope that also means empty.
“Did you know the stegosaurus is the state dinosaur?” She strokes the thing’s plates. I don’t care; I want to get in and get out.
Jurassic Cabin is what I expect: a smaller version of the museum down the road, a hobbyist’s public collection. Looking in the windows on one side, I see two wooden display shelves and a couple of school desks. There are empty spaces on the shelves that must house the relics Richard Attenborough has in town. I think out loud, “Do you think it’s here?”
“Oh, it’s here.” Rayne pats her belly.
The other side of windows are covered by curtains patterned with fossils; the living side of the cabin, I surmise.
“Hey, Dupree.” The thing peers around from the corner. “Anybody home?” It answers but I can’t hear it. “Cool. Get us in?”
Dupree has to duck to stand on the cabin porch. I get ready for the sound of smashing wood and tearing metal, but instead I hear locks snap open, and very daintily, with its black gorilla hand, Dupree turns the knob and opens the door.
The three of us fill the room—mostly Dupree. “The cellar,” Rayne says, “must be in there.” The door to the living quarters has two more deadbolts that Dupree unlocks, and sure enough, at the center of the modest apartment on the other side is a trapdoor secured with a chain.
“What do you want to bet the dirty old man has something else down there besides the amber? You ever been on a St. Andrew’s Cross?” She makes an X with her body and wiggles her eyebrows. Without hesitation, Dupree snaps the chain like a rope of licorice. “Okay, Abe. Your turn.”
I’m so juiced, I’m glad it’s finally my turn. I scramble down the steps into a naturally hewn earthen room. I think Rayne would be impressed, from a geologic standpoint. But then I think she probably already knew. What I see immediately at the far end is the blue amber, suspended over a light and encased in glass. As my eyes adjust, the amber’s casing sharpens into what is clearly a carved wooden altar. Then the entire room comes into view: it is a chapel. Lined up before the altar are red sandstone benches, five to each side, and in the shelves cut into the tops of the walls are skulls, all human.
Maybe it’s Rayne, maybe it’s the powder, maybe it’s the job itself, but I just now comprehend I’m completely unprepared for this. I’ve brought no tools besides my father’s silver watch. I have no skills, no talents. All I have is a willingness to complete unsavory tasks.
Stepping to the altar, I squat to get a good look at the primeval object. Its blue luminance presents an illusion of swirling, and the thing inside, the peculiar little flora, eddies back and forth.
Feeling the edge of the glass, looking for a seam, testing its thickness, the warmth of the glass sticks to my skin, pulls it. The harder I try to pull my hands away, the more they sink into the surface, until they are under the glass. I dry heave, but my hands are free. I grasp the rock and pull. It all pulls back out as easy as a hardened egg yolk from a bowel of raw whites. Blood droplets well from thousands of microscopic nicks on my hands and wrist. I stand up dizzy, and just before I black out, I feel two hard little arms around my chest helping me down to my knees, then to my side. I don’t see her, but I hear Rayne say, “Thank you.” Then I’m gone.
Next: Episode 4