Previous: Episode 6
What is it, the first forty-eight hours after a crime are the most critical to resolving it? I don’t know if that’s what they say or not, but I’m approaching fifty hours since the events at Jurassic Cabin. Rayne stealing the amber from me is just one of many crimes.
I’m watching the afternoon news as I prepare dinner. The top story is about an anonymous tip that led police to a dismembered body found in the trunk of an unregistered black sedan abandoned on Colfax. The unidentified victim is a white male in his sixties; his head is missing. They don’t say anything about what the body is wearing, but I have a strong notion it is dressed as if it had been on safari. When they find the head—if they find it—separated from its body will not look a thing like Richard Attenborough. The follow up story is about a burglary gone wrong at a small fossil museum in the foothills, resulting in another dead body. A few eyewitnesses recall a white hatchback hastily leaving the area on Saturday afternoon. The reporters leave out many details—the basement chapel and its human skulls, for example. So far, they don’t make any connection between the two incidents. I’m not so sure the police have done the same.
There is no reason to suspect Rayne is still in town, then again, it might be that she has no reason to flee; whatever she is doing with the blue amber might be done anywhere. Even though she boasted about all the other things she was going to steal, the risk of returning to the gem and mineral show is too great. For both of us. It’s possible that the hotel across from the Commerce Center where she was supposedly staying, typically a seedy place in general, is a likely spot to begin.
It’s been a long time since the four of us ate dinner together at the kitchen table. Holly and Ivy take turns describing their school day, as they are in different classrooms. Holly talks about Australia, which she plans to research intensely over the year, especially the evolution of its marsupials. Ivy lists and describes the six types of simple machines, asserting a fondness for Leonardo da Vinci that sounds like a crush. After the twins and I clean up, I ask Penny, very delicately, to borrow her car. “Are you drinking?” she asks. I tell her no, even though it is always a possibility, and she allows me without further concern or trepidation. I impulsively kiss her head and to my relief, it doesn’t alarm her. The twins advise me to be careful, rekindling my anxiety.
I check on the pneuma akatharton twice before I leave. Cruz told me the thing was mine. It made me think I should probably keep it. I keep the bottle in a cowboy boot in the closet because it won’t fit in the voodoo box. It’s the only pair of my father’s boots I kept, as none of them fit me. His WWII bayonet, however, I strap to my ankle under my pants. I hope it’s at least sharp. It flops around when I walk, and I wish those cowboy boots weren’t so small. I put the knife back—what am I really going to do with it anyway? The only relic I carry is my poker chip. I don’t want to give myself away if I can help it.
I cruise the parking lot around the hotel looking for what I think might be a custom motorcycle. Rayne said “bike,” so maybe I should be looking for a bicycle. I certainly don’t expect to find my car—but I do. I avoid it like a hot zone. Who knows what Rayne may have in that trunk.
Just because my car is here doesn’t mean anything. I continue to circle the grounds, looking. Nothing stands out, not from the roof or windows or service areas. The back lot is full of trailers and moving trucks. Gemologists, after hours, sit in folding chairs drinking and smoking, perhaps telling tales of Jurassic Cabin or the shrewd, scrappy geologist with the missing eye-teeth. They are probably talking about things I will never comprehend.
I park in a spot facing the hotel tavern and monitor the smokers on either side of the awning. I watch for nearly twenty minutes. She could be at another designated smoking area, or she could only smoke as a means of cloaking herself, but it occurs to me that Rayne doesn’t follow many rules, so why would smoking regulations be one she honors?
I leave Penny’s car and walk back around to the front lobby, trying to get a feeling, a sign, an intuition. It hits me with an overwhelming urgency in my bladder, not panic, but a biting pressure. In the lobby men’s room, I’m pissing at the urinal in stinging spurts when I sense the massive presence of Dupree pour from the handicap stall. A fecund greasiness permeates the room, darkening the clean light, making the tile floor slippery. I stuff myself away, unfinished, and hobble to the door, but Dupree’s great simian hand above me is already pressing the upper corner shut. I turn around to face my killer, to look up in the hollow eyes of the little ceramic head crowning the middle of the brute’s shoulders. Dupree’s red, little mouth is slightly agape and in the corners, its teeth: two of them, human, full size. They would fit perfectly in the spaces I recall from Rayne’s mouth. I expect it to be the last thought I ever have.
The door opens and the whole greasy mess evaporates, including Dupree. “What’s up, player?” the guy coming in asks, snapping and shooting his index finger at me. I ignore him and rush out.
My entire urinary tract feels as though it’s made of solid iron. I can endure—I’ve had wicked UTIs before. What I think I need, what I’m sure I need, is a drink. The public space will keep Dupree at bay and possibly draw out Rayne. At best, the clouding of my mind should give me the inspiration to solve my quandary. And ignore the ache in my crotch.
Evident by the group of smokers rotating in and out, the hotel tavern is busy for a Monday night. Football is on half of the televisions, soccer on the other half, and urban pop music plays over all. Most of the patrons are Chicano and Latino. Three women younger than they look—not in a good way—occupy one of two pool tables. I stand at the bar, the weight in my abdomen too great to sit, and order a Long Island Ice Tea, extra long, with a Jameson chaser.
Shooting the whisky, I unravel my encounter with Dupree. Concluding that Dupree’s teeth are Rayne’s missing teeth, I wonder if Dupree is controlling Rayne. But, considering Bergdorf’s cryptic information, it must be that Rayne is actually controlling Dupree. The thought is so inconceivable, I suck my cocktail down in a single draw to make the reality of the notion digestible.
“Goddamn,” the bartender says.
“Give me a minute,” I tell him, breathing heavily.
What Bergdorf and associates are, I can’t even say because the word has lost definition. What they are collectively—Tayaliq—what they really are, there is little written. An obscure historian and anti-Semite, St. John Philby, hinted at them in his book The Empty Quarter, but the best known accounts are fairy tales from Richard Burton and before him, Antoine Galland, stories with happy endings, stories further diluted by Barbara Eden and Disney.
That Rayne masters Dupree, it means much more than simply her having freed it from a bottle or an oil lamp. She’s acquired the Seal. Sulaiman’s Key. Or solved it, stolen it, or however it works and whatever it is. She is exceptionally more than me. And yet, she needed me to secure the amber. It is one mystery enveloped by another.
“You ready, bro? You look like you need it,” the bartender asks me.
“Yeah.” Turning around, I see that the pool players are taking turns looking at me, as though I were a celebrity. They look similar, like cousins in uniforms: all long, black hair, jeans and black tank-tops, faded black Converse. My bladder and urethra are worse for the attention.
“Keep it open this time?”
I turn back to the bartender, “Nah, close it.” In more ways than one, I can’t afford to lose my debit card. The drink tastes more like Coke than anything. I swirl it with the straw to kick up the booze.
“Did you ever notice that if the “b” in your name was sad, it would be a “p” and you’d be Ape. But you’re already a sad ape, aren’t you?” One of the pool playing women has sidled up to me. Her hair smells like cucumbers and cigarette smoke. The body is taller, both more muscular and feminine, and the face, despite being worn, is more attractive than the young woman I met just days ago, but I know it’s Rayne. Behind her, the other two women stand guard at the table holding their cues like the halberds of the Swiss Guard.
“Are you going to kill me in front of all these people?”
“All these people? All these drunk people? I could and they wouldn’t even notice. I could make them not notice, if I wanted them to. Or I could make them join in for the fun of it. But I’m not going to kill you.”
“What about Dupree?”
“Yeah. I said, I’m not going to kill you.”
“Why didn’t you in Morrison? I mean Dupree.”
“You don’t need to die, Abe. I don’t think. If you die, it might cause problems for me.”
“What about the paleontologist?”
“Oh, that might be a problem for you. See, I haven’t decided yet if your sad life or sad death is a benefit or a necessity.”
“I get it. You might still need me.”
“No, I don’t think so. No. I don’t need you for anything. But maybe I want you.” I can almost see her tongue fork and flick in her new mouth, which is still missing the eye teeth. “Do you like this look? Do you like it better?”
I try to redirect, or misdirect, looking to the pool table, “Who are they?” Both women simultaneously wave at me.
“Shit, Abe, that’s me.” She taps my shoulder with her cue. “I’m the Triple Goddess. My youth, grace and wisdom are of equal measure. We’re hot, huh?”
Rayne’s others approach the bar and all three enclose me, their heady perfumes are like sarin gas, each set of their protruding breasts threaten to smother me. It looks like some guy’s ultimate fantasy is about to happen or the beat down of a lifetime. All I can do is turn back to my drink and the shot that accompanies it.
“That’s very rude, Abe,” the woman on my right says. The woman on my left drinks the shot and asks for another. The one behind me rubs my shoulders, too hard. The bartender looks like he’s jealous, like he’s about to eighty-six us all because of it. If I could see myself as myself from another set of eyes, I’d leave, I’d run. If I were watching this as a dream, I know I’d be dreaming of Hell.
“Hey, girl.” It’s the dude from the bathroom.
“Hey,” says Rayne on my right.
Rayne on my left walks around and bookends the guy. She thumbs to me and says, “That dick won’t buy me a drink.”
“I’ll buy you a drink. I’ll buy all you ladies a drink,” he says.
“Right on,” exclaims Rayne behind me. Then, with her hands on my hips she says in my ear, “You come by and play with us any time you want, Abe. We’ve got a little time.” Stepping away, she glances my ass with her pelvis.
“You better get out of here, man,” the bartender tells me. I don’t know if it’s a threat or advice.
The guy, it looks like Rayne is going to devour him on the spot. They’re all laughing and kissing. I feel bad for him. He saved me twice. No one will ever see him again.
By this time, I sense I’m being poisoned by my own piss. I can feel my eyes turn yellow, if that’s a thing that can actually happen from urine retention. Naturally, after I exit the hotel, the feeling is gone.
Standing on the sidewalk, I try to comprehend the power of the blue amber. Moreover, I try to understand why Bergdorf and his associates assigned the task to me. My astonishment fluctuates between both conundrums and the only clear solution is to not think about either, only focus on retrieving the object. But holy shit, this is beyond me.
I study the hotel windows again for traps or markers. Rayne hasn’t helped me exploit the cracks in her fortress at all, but the cracks are there, somewhere. My agreement with Bergdorf clearly states no impossible tasks will be assigned. This is a complex algebra problem, at best. I’ve always been bad at math.
Surely in my voodoo box there are aids—I bet my old snake rattle would work. Cruz pointed out that magic is what you make it. That magic is faith. In that regard, if I really believed that Bergdorf and Dupree were not real, could my life go back to the way it was? Would I then have to believe that my life was worth saving? Could I believe that nothing bad ever happened to me when I was a boy? I don’t think I can easily believe those things. What I do believe is that somewhere among the denizens of the mineralogist camp, there is something I can use: a tool, a key, a weapon.
It’s possible I’m venturing into another trap, either the hands of the police or a secondary line of Rayne’s defenses. The police, I hope, are concentrating on the skulls back in Morrison. And it doesn’t feel like Rayne has any influence with this crowd—I don’t see how she would, based on her aggressive strategies and unreasonable negotiations.
Most of the revelers have shut down in the short time I was in the hotel. Of the specimens remaining in the personal collections of the vehicles, the subtle insect buzzing of the fossils in my ears competes with a dull abdominal ache from the gemstones. I am inclined to find a fossil and concentrate on its message.
“Friend or foe,” I hear called from beneath a dimly lit canopy. I’ve tried to be nonchalant, but I’m an outsider here and they know it.
“Friend,” I answer.
“Oh, he is a young buck,” another voice responds. I’m neither young nor a buck, as far as standards go.
“Come introduce yourself, friend. And we’ll get things started.”
Under the canopy sits a couple, holding hands. The man, heavily bearded and overweight, sits in a wheelchair. He wears sunglasses, although it is night. The woman wears a skintight white track suit and has a platinum blonde crop top that looks like a candle flame above the dark brown skin of her face. Around her neck is a dazzling brooch in smears of red, green, silver and gold. It sings in my ears like a bow across a handsaw.
“I’m Dupree,” I say.
“Sexy,” the woman proclaims.
“Do I have to pat you down, Dupree, or can I trust that you are a professional?”
I’m afraid there is no right answer.
“I’m sorry, folks. I’m just out for a walk, trying to clear my head.”
“You’re not here to please my lady?” His lady makes a seductive frown.
“I’m not the guy you called. I’m sorry.” Veins on the guy’s forehead look like they are going to burst and flood the parking lot. I force my best imitation of a smile and say to his lady, “But you are a lovely woman.” She looks like she is about to spring from her chair at me. “And your piece,” I motion to my neck, “is—fine.” I almost melt with embarrassment.
“This old trinket?” she says. “It’s ammolite. It is an aphrodisiac.” She winks. “Too bad you’re not the guy.”
“Maybe we can work something out, anyway,” the man says, pulling a roll of money from his lap.
The proposition has my head swirling. Or maybe it’s the ammolite. I feel dirty and scared. And before I can make myself believe in a different outcome, force myself to magic a way back home, I blackout, again.
Next Episode: May 6