51. Distance

I meet Tellerhorn’s confused look and offer him my hand. His grip is dirty and tired, but still firm.

“I didn’t expect you to be so good with a sword,” I tell him. “Thanks for having my back.”

“A gentleman’s duty,” he replies, quietly. “I’m master at the university fencing club going on a decade, but it’s been almost twenty years since I had to swing a blade to bloody purpose. I’d rather not have to again. But war is coming, Mark. We’re not the only ones who know about this. If there are more of those diamonds, then this isn’t over.”

“Hey Drydus,” I call, “are there more dreaming diamonds?”

The German rumbles for a moment. “Ve don’t know. Once yes. Now? Maybe.”

I show Tellerhorn a shrug, but I lean close to say quietly: “If you find trouble and need me to watch your back, I’ll do what I can. But, Doctor, if anybody decides we need to be studied in a lab, they’ll live a lot longer if they never find us.”

His grip tightens for a moment and the candlelight makes his glasses opaque. Then he lets go and I turn to where the sisters wait in the shadows.

We limp down winding alleys, smelling that earth and wind scent of a storm that’s passed.

The clouds part in fits and the stars burn bright and clear in the gaps. The birds and bugs are silent, but here and there monkeys crawl along wall-tops, or something rustles in the reeds.

Nai died. Lots of people died. But Nai did too. He knew he would if he tried to help – he said as much. In the end he went anyway. I suppose sitting still in Bangkok on a night like tonight, with nothing to do but wait and hope, wasn’t in his nature. He had to do something and there was only one thing to do. I know the feeling, and I wish I’d been there to see it. The ground presses wet and real beneath my bare feet, though it should be shaking and falling apart with all the death this night’s seen. A faint pain edges its way into my muscles, past whatever barrier Sylvia erected, but that barrier doesn’t hold back the dizzy weirdness of walking past a tiny house decked with garlands – presumably a home to the recently married. Some of the flowers have been blown from their nails and float in the mud puddles that line the alley bottom.

This thing I feel is written on Sylvia’s face like weathering on a mountain, but when Jenny reaches for her arm, she pulls away. So we walk in silence, savoring the smells and the stars, our weary muscles, and the warm breeze that whispers in shadowed streets.

The police are out in force. Army men stand at every corner, but they never seem to be looking our way when Sylvia leads us across a street.

She takes us down the hill of the city, through winding alleys that drift with smoke, mist, and the sulfurous caramel smell of kingfruit. We glide on tired legs past homes of stone and painted signs made purple by the dark. Then the smell of fish and algae tells me we’re near the river. We round a corner on a dirt track lined with wooden huts and the Cho Phraya makes a black wall before us.

A dock reaches out into that murky face like a bridge over a deep gulf. At its side, a little boathouse crouches, dilapidated and empty. Sylvia doesn’t pause but starts out the wooden dock, even though no boats wait there.

A sense of creeping familiarly steals over me as her feet make the wooden planks moan. Jenny follows one pace ahead of me, watching her sister’s back, but her shoulders are knotted with confusion.

Sylvia’s bent hands worm over the water and I feel more than see power building in the air. The world shifts, like it did in Ayutthaya, a teeming landscape of memory flows in the river’s face, and the sky begins to spin.

As I walk, the waters of the Cho Phraya tilt up around us, rippling and endless.

I smell garbage and gasoline.

A cold wind hits my face, and ahead of Jenny, Sylvia reaches the wharf’s end and turns back. Jenny follows her, and when she looks past my shoulder, her breath catches.

When I turn back, the dock is ten times as long, five times as wide, and the boathouse shed has become the dilapidated shape of Warehouse 43.

 Where there was a dark city of rolling hills, crouching beneath its cloak of shadow, green leaves and the light of the stars, now spread the distant lights of industrial Chicago, gleaming against an overcast sky. The rumble of that industry is endless, alien, and welcoming.

Chill Chicago wind cuts through my coat, goosbumping my dirty skin. I hug the wet cloth closer, grateful to the British Army for having good taste in coats. Something heavy in one pocket bumps my chest. Jenny clutches her elbows and shivers. As I step up to her she purposefully pushes her back against me.

“Your jaw hit your knees,” I tell her.

“So’d yours.”

“No,” I say. “Nothing surprises me now. Not where your sister’s concerned. We knew they weren’t on the barge David caught, we just didn’t know how they were getting across the pond so fast.”

“David was never going to figure it out,” she says. “Not ever.”

Sylvia pauses, silhouetted by the faint yellow light from the single bulb at the warehouse’s front. She turns back to us, a thin shadow in her dark coat, her eyes blue and luminous against the towering Chicago night.

“Goodbye Maya,” she whispers. “Thank you.”

In answer the wind lilts, and the whistle over the city almost seems to laugh.

There’s still a blood stain in the street – an ink blot shaped like an ocean wave rolling back. I was holding something then. Jenny’s gun. The bullet shells are gone from where I left them.

“This is where you died?” Jenny says and her fingers pinch my coat-sleeve.

I nod and clear my throat.

The steel mill on the horizon groans and rumbles. A black cat perches on the hood of a rusted out Model-T across the street, watching through eyes that catch the yellow light.

My Model-T. That’s my Wandering T, right where I left it. It wasn’t stolen? It wasn’t stolen!

I can feel the exhaustion behind my sluggish thoughts. Holy hell, I’m going to sleep in my own bed.

“The note.” Sylvia’s voice carries a pinch of satisfaction, like those words scratched a long-standing itch. She waits a couple of yards from us, watching. The light behind makes her glow, but leaves her eyes in shadow. “You found Boonrit’s note. He had no tongue. He wrote a note. It sent you here.”

“I told you about the note,” I say, frowning. “Right here. I said that. The tongueless guy had a note, that’s why I came here. That’s what I said.”

She frowns, stares, and then takes a steadying breath.

“I’m sorry,” she says.

“I’m not sure which part was your fault, but I appreciate the apology.”

Jenny’s eyes dart back and forth between us. “What are we talking about?”

“My death,” I say. “She could have stopped Hilda before he shot me.”

“No,” says Sylvia. “I shot you.”

“I thought that was Hilda.”

Sylvia shakes her head. Her blue eyes burn.

I shrug. “It doesn’t matter.”

She takes a step toward Jenny and I but stops at the edge of the bloodstain. Her words come slowly as if each one needs to be first measured and cut: “I have been trying to understand. Why did you follow that note?”

Jenny’s eyebrows twitch at the question. She turns to me, close enough her body heat penetrates the coat fabric. The blizzard in her eyes sends a shiver down my spine.

I say: “You don’t either of you know?”

“I followed you,” Jenny replies. “I thought you knew Sylvia and I figured something had gone wrong. I thought if I could follow you I might find her. But you didn’t know her. I never got a not-screwy answer out of you about it. I guess I gave up questioning it.”

She takes a step back, leaving me to stare at the ocean stain for a moment longer.

I clear my throat. “I needed a walk.”

“No,” says Jenny, looking back and forth between Sylvia and I with eyes as wide as full moons. “I want an actual answer from you now. Now is when you give me an actual answer. Why did you chase Sylvia into trouble?”

Sylvia watches with her eyes in shadow and her hands hanging at her sides. She tilts her head when I look at her, but makes no other move.

The factory drops something that sends a boom rumbling across the landscape. There’s no party in the Hooverville alleys. There’s usually a party. The freezing wind makes my bare legs goosbump.

“I was looking for a way to die,” I say. “Stepping in front of the EL seemed too mundane. Getting knifed in a back alley seemed too meaningless. Drinking myself out, too risky.”

“Risky?” says Jenny, “How could… I mean. How could a way of killing yourself be too risky?”

Sylvia says: “You found one.”

“Yeah,” I reply, and watch Jenny’s eyes narrow. “But I got a two for one deal; I also found a reason to live. What I don’t understand, is why you gave me that drug. Why’d you shoot me up with heros?”

Sylvia’s eyes turn down. “Agafya was coming. I did not want him to have it. It had to go somewhere. You or Hilda? I did not know what it would do: I thought madness or a curse. Hilda was my friend.”

Jenny grins: “Mark was your rubbish bin? Sounds about right.”

“Yeah yeah,” I say, scratching my neck. “I appreciate the honesty.” I poke Jenny. “So what about you? You shot Nash right over there. You might have guessed either of us was a friend or a foe of Sylvia’s, but you chose to save me.”

“I don’t know,” Jenny answers. “I’ve gone over it a hundred times in my head but I don’t know why. It was the first time I ever shot somebody, and I did it because… because I was just convinced that you were going to lead me to Sylvia and I needed in that moment to protect you. I mean, I guess I was right but… I’m really glad I was right.”

“Just think, if you’d shot the other guy you could have had this whole adventure with Nash by your side. He seemed like a born sidekick. More of a resume too.”

Jenny sighs. The steelworks grumbles. A crow passes overhead to land on the eve of the warehouse. Jenny steps across the bloodstain to wrap her arms around me. The touch is like land underfoot after a night adrift at sea. I’m afraid to break her, but all I want to do is hold on.

Sylvia watches us through glowing blue eyes, her head tilted slightly to one side.

This time the grumble comes from Jenny. She wrinkles her nose “You really stink.”

“Yeah you too.”

One Reply to “51. Distance”

  1. Laura Moos says:

    Sorry for being late! I thought this chapter was really cute. These events have forged them into this hyperdysfunctional family unit. And they’ve all saved each other in different ways and for complicated reasons, intentionally or not. It will be interesting to go back over the first few chapters of this with the knowledge of Mark’s intentions as described here.

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