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Chapter Thirty-Three

In a great hurry, we ride the steely rattle of a freight elevator down. We rush through a rear hallway, slant down a wheelchair ramp that parallels a loading dock with a loiter of delivery trucks in the back of the building, hobos of exhaust gathered around hot tailpipes, warming their gray rags. We cross the street against the light while drivers rubberneck as though the wheelchair were a portable showroom displaying an Asian guy in a wheelchair, and sit at one of three picnic tables in the park. The park is a wan box of city-block prosthetic substituting for nature’s somewhere cityless green, and we sit beneath a single tree overdosed on carbon monoxide, limbs drooped over us like the hoses of hookahs. The table’s surface is egged with bird droppings, white fried sunny side up by sun, with tiny threads of black yolk.

A lone small boy with a Frisbee in the middle of the park jams the saucer down the front of his pants: rehearsal for some form of adult loosey-goosey or sookey-sookey?

“Go on with what you were saying.”

“First floor: Living room, dining room, library, kitchen, pantry, who knows how many bathrooms, this huge sunroom, four master-sized bedrooms, library, a maze of hallways, family room, den, screening room. We ambled through them all while I’m doing this pseudo-interview thing, asking a few questions. Dodge’s entourage, five bouncer types with walkie talkies were in the screening room, eating finger food off china and watching MTV. He told me day after tomorrow there’s going to be a celebration. So I ask him celebrate what?”

The kid with the Frisbee is now playing with a Welsh Terrier. The animal’s tongue is a pink paper bag spilling pants like fluid ounces. It’s the sort of dog that has to be named “Skippy”— the lack of such a name would constitute an oversight that would surely violate the natural order of things, fuzzy 4-legged creatures who must, under any circumstances, be made to bear and suffer the burden of peppy ignominious names.

“Part of it was to celebrate a trip he’s taking. He’s apparently chartered a boat, maybe an entire cruise ship he’s got so much money, hired a navigator to figure out these water routes, a crew, and plans on sailing, or yachting or whatever, for months, until he gets sick of that, then he’ll continue the trip by chartered plane, maybe a month in this country, a month in that one – he wanted a real experience, not Rome or Paris, but remote places, ‘almost mapless, completely off the beaten path,’ was how he put it. It was also a celebration because he’d reunited with, and these are his words, an old flame. They were getting married in the garden, then immediately after the ceremony going on the trip.”

I’m guessing this is what he means by mildly bad news. “He couldn’t have been talking about Sage. Maybe he was talking about someone else. Christ, any jackass knows you can’t marry someone who’s already married.”

The boy in the middle of the park looks at me. Skippy the dog slows in his romp and look at me. The Frisbee that the boy had pulled from his pants and tossed for the dog seems suspended in vermillion mid-flight, looking at me. I’m probably shouting, though I have to say it doesn’t feel like I’m shouting.

“The whole thing’s set up to be a surprise. He would, in his own words, ‘spring it on her.’ I told him, well that’s cool, but is this a ceremony ceremony? Where this woman who doesn’t know she’s getting married is more or less dressed as a bride?”

I try to swallow the shouting but it continues.

Ricky fastens his corsage of concern on my heaving chest, resting his hands on my shoulder blades. “I don’t have a bag or anything for you to breathe into. You have to sort of try to calm down. Dodge tells me, yeah, it’ll be a ceremony ceremony.”

“He thinks Sage is going to put on a wedding gown and not suspect she’s in a ceremony?”

“Well,” Ricky says as carefully as he can, “he said he had that figured out. He said he’d tell her that the wedding was his best friend’s wedding, and ask her to be one of the bridesmaids and wear a bridesmaid’s gown, I guess. So then I asked him, what about the veil? Well, he hadn’t figured that out yet. I asked him, what about the possibility that she might say no at the last minute, finally realizing that with the two of them standing there and the wedding-meister in front of them, it was obviously their wedding, her and Dodge’s?” Ricky shrugs, either as himself or to illustrate Dodge’s response to his question. “He said that was a minor detail.”

“And the trip around the world? Another minor detail?”

“Well, my guess is, that after the minister says, ‘Is there anyone here who objects to this union speak now or forever hold your peace,’ and your wife says, ‘Me, for one, since I’m already married and this is all happening against my will,’ the trip becomes a non-negotiable item on Dodge’s agenda. I mean, with the helicopter only a few feet away, it’ll be easy for him.”

“The helicopter?”

“The helicopter’s already right there, on the lawn, and once she’s escorted into it, there’s nothing she can do. They fly straight up to the airport on Washington Island, get on his boat, and then it’s bon voyage.”

“Fuck this. I’m not letting him disappear with her for six months. I don’t care, I’m calling the cops.”

Ricky labors to persuade with the shovel of a painful expression. “Wait, now. Let’s think this through. From what you’ve told me, Datcher, that wouldn’t be good. And even without all that, you’d trust Milwaukee’s finest with this? They’d be at the wrought iron gate sawing at bars as thick as elephant’s legs with a pocket knife and Dodge would easily already be in the helicopter … ”

“The helicopter?”

“ … Or even go the FBI, filed a missing person? After all this time has passed? First person they’d investigate would be you. You’d be the prime suspect. Affiliation by way of taking money from Dodge’s partner, Kodiac and Ecstasy and the Federrakt, a group who’s no doubt been on some kind of watch list for months? And while they were busy asking you questions, you busy trying to extricate yourself, Dodge would still be long gone.”

“I should have just reported this the minute it happened.”

“I’m trying to tell you it wouldn’t have mattered. Doesn’t it make sense that Dodge was prepared right from the beginning if you’d have reported it? That he had planned for that, too? Same scenario: he would have disappeared with her, just sooner. This guy’s got millions of dollars, he’s got all the resources at his disposal money can buy. In fact, I’m surprised he hasn’t taken off already. But I’ve got a theory for that too. Don’t look like that. I told you there was good news.”

He means gradations of bad.

“I ask him other than the clubs, what else is he into? How’s the writing? He tells me he’s working on something really great, some project that’s really going to raise eyebrows. He’s shown pieces of it to his father, who for the first time is taking his talent seriously. I ask him what it’s about. He tells me they’re like soliloquies that are loosely connected. That’s your book, right?”

I had told Ricky everything. “Maybe the only reason he hasn’t taken off already is your book. Up until now, maybe he’s been waiting for you to finish it. I don’t know what he’s told his father – whether he’s saying he’s this great Maxwell Perkins-Thomas Wolfe type editor who’s transforming a book that would otherwise be a mess into the next great American novel, or whether he’s saying he wrote it himself, or what. Now he’s smitten with this trip idea and he’s probably thinking, the book’s almost finished – he told me it was – he’ll just have them deliver the last chapters to him in Yemen, or wherever the hell he plans on going.”

Ricky pauses, I wait.

“I think the good news in all this has managed to slip by me, somehow.”

“The good news is, you have the advantage – he thinks there’s nothing you can do, doesn’t know you know what you know right now, he thinks you’re out of the game, a non-factor. These guys he surrounds himself with, they’re not professionals. Not even half-assed professionals. They’re just friends of his, they’re clowns. Listen,” he says, pulling a small beehive of clustered grapes from a plastic bag dangling on the wheelchair, “we concentrate on what’s essential, eliminate what’s not. That wedding crap. Don’t get hung up on that. It’s just something occupying space in his warped mind, but it doesn’t mean anything. You know it wouldn’t be a legal marriage anyway, even though it’s not something you want to think about. In the house, when we were walking around, he only stayed away from his father’s writing den on the second floor. It’s a roped-off wing. Now. Outside, when we were in the garden, I see someone on a mat doing yoga, with a couple of his stooges sitting around in lawn chairs. ‘That the lucky lady?’ I ask. We walk over. It’s Sage. I realize I’ve seen her before, around the campus with Dodge a few years ago. He’d never introduced me, but once, at a poetry reading in the student union, I’d said hi to her and introduced myself. He’d gone to the bathroom or something. I told her I was an acquaintance of Dodge’s, she said she was Sage, we talked a few minutes and I left before he got back. So in the garden, when we walk up, she looks at me. I’m afraid she’ll give it away that we’ve met if she remembers, and I didn’t want that. Dodge? Guy feeds on paranoia, so if he realized I knew her, who knows what he’d do? For a minute, it was dicey. I could see in her eyes she recognized me. I’m sweating it. Sage stands up. Her eyes, surprised, were already saying my name, her lips were a second behind.” He pauses. “There’s this thing I do with my eyes.”

Ricky demonstrates, a method actor’s barely noticeable squint conveying monumental shifts of tectonic emotional activity below the surface, a barely visible but nonetheless grinding squint, a pinch of eyes Marlon Brando might have applauded. “And, sharp as a razor, she slices into it. I mean, she gets it. Dodge is none the wiser and Sage and I let the intros take place. ‘Pleased to meet you,’ she says, and that’s all. Before we went to the garden, Dodge had already apologized and told me that something had come up – urgent business, he’d said – and we wouldn’t be able to really get into the interview today. ‘I’m spending the night at my parents,’ I tell him, ‘so if you want to do it tomorrow?’ It’s set – tomorrow. Before I go I ask Sage, but making sure to include the Dodge for his permission, ‘When I come back tomorrow, if you’re here, do you think you might be able to show me a yogic position that might help with the legs?’ – I myself have noticed that I always refer to them as the legs rather than my legs, more than likely an attempt to detach myself from the reality of the/my legs – ‘I have exercises therapists have shown me, but they don’t help so much with the flexibility.’ – same use of the with flexibility, I’m beginning to see, here. Dodge says, ‘You wouldn’t mind, would you, Sage?’ and she goes, ‘Of course not. Same bat time, same bat channel.’ I take it she’s a Batman fan?”

“Loves the reruns of the old TV series. Said she’d always loved the sight of a bat in a uniform.”

“Who doesn’t? So what have we found out? That Sage’ll be there tomorrow. Meaning that probably she’s kept there in the house at night. And she’s probably in the roped-off wing section where the writing den is. Tomorrow when I go, I’m going to try to slip her this.”

Chewing grapes the way he’d eaten the sandwich, his mouth meshed with purple pulp, lips discharging seeds, shell casings from firearms of fruit, Ricky reaches in his pocket and places something technologically black on the table, smaller than a business card. Demonstrating, he conceals it easily in his hand, a sleek tidy tile inlaid into palm with room to spare. “Sort of like an old-fashioned two-way pager. Kitjo AccessLink II. All it does is receives text messages, sends text messages. Set to vibrate, not beep.”

The device is so small you would use a toothpick to type on the keyboard.

“Tomorrow when she shows me the yoga, she’ll have to get close to me. I won’t understand something she says, ask her to help me with a position.”

Beginning to believe, I suggest, “You’ll tip her off, maybe do the eye thing again.”

“Do the eye thing again, exactly, she’ll move in to adjust the legs, the guys on the lawn chair are still the highly trained crack security force they’ve always been, playing their Game Boys – ”

“ – But Dodge is right there.”

“Sure, but I’m dense, uncoordinated, don’t understand, draw the process out so Dodge gets sick of standing there with his eyes glued on us, watching this remedially challenged Yoga student.”

“All he has to do is turn his head for less than a second.”

“Dodge blinks, I slip her the pager, tiny slip of paper taped to the back. She already knows something’s up from our today, she knew that this morning – ”

“The eye thing.”

   

“Right, exactly, from the eye thing she’ll already be prepped, expecting something more, she’ll slip it in the band of her underwear beneath the sweats.”

“The note?”

“Tells her: keep the pager hidden, wait for vibrations, disappear to the bathroom – or anywhere she’s alone. She’s being held against her will, but she hasn’t been hurt. I mean, she was edgy, but if she’d have been forced to … I mean, she wasn’t acting like a woman who’s gone through some horrible traumatic event, so while Dodge probably has guys posted outside her bedroom door at night, I’m assuming she’s alone in the room when she sleeps.”

Ricky is thinking about everything, nodding solemnly.

   

Nothing has happened – but for how much longer? Day after tomorrow, the ceremonial pomp and symbolic trappings of a wedding ritual will set blazing in Dodge’s dark hovel of thought a chandelier of luminous delusions, illuminating his shadowy sense that a transaction of real substance and significance had been supplied, convincing him that the cement of a bond between them was drying.

Day after tomorrow, speeding toward travels that take him across the globe, no longer circumscribed by the threat of facing or incurring consequences for his actions, no circumstances outside himself will tempt his ears with arguments chorusing necessities of restraint.

Days after tomorrow’s day after, in the middle of a nothingness of place, points of compass unraveling their lines across a gridless reach of waves to insinuated shores so far away they’d scintillate with phantom presence, he could take whatever inclination overcame him and stuff it like a scarecrow, hang it from the mast of his boat, the patience and gentlemanly pretense he now feels obligated to flaunt a sudden flight of frightened crows.

And how would I find her? And would she want to be found by someone who hadn’t been hero enough to find a way to stop it before all the damage was done? “I knew I didn’t marry a Navy Seal, but I never thought I’d end up drifting for three months, no hope of rescue, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I mean, the water was pretty cold and I’ve been swimming with eels for weeks to get back home.” Maybe I could numb the damage done with poetry’s analgesic when I finally saw her, everlastingly her jejune writer, my imagination set in impotent contrast against the hard edges of her experience: Unlid your eyes, lady/ let lakes lengthen into tears/ forgive the hours I lost, I pray thee/rejoice, for though I’m late, I’m finally here —

“When I send her the text message, I’ll tell her what Dodge is planning, the wedding ceremony, but to go along with it. Fake it, or at least don’t start this scene that’ll prompt him to just hop in the chopper to put an end to any chaos she might cause by going berserk when she finds out it’s supposed to be their wedding. We want them to linger afterward as long as possible for the celebration, whatever, delay the whole helicopter elopement. The ceremony, with all the people he plans on inviting – I asked, he told me he’d invited about 50 people, ‘close friends and her family’ – all the activity, the people milling around, everybody’s guard down because of champagne or maybe E or who knows what, and he said nine, so we’ll have the nighttime – it’s perfect. That’ll be the time, Datcher. That’s when we’ll make our move.”

“What is the move, exactly?”

“How hard can it be? Some kind of classic distraction maneuver. And she can text us back, if she can, tell us anything that will help. I’m going with you, of course. After I go tomorrow, I’ll have a better feel for what we’ll do.”

“When should I expect your call?”

“Right, we stay synchronized. Tomorrow I’ll got a lot on the agenda. How’s eight? That’s after I’m through with the Dodge but before I interview Existentia.”

“You set up an interview with Existentia already?”

“Thanks to you setting it up for me, yeah, I did, can you believe it? I’ve been trying to talk to her for months.” After a pause he asks, “What should I wear?”

Something casual and informal, a toga of toilet paper? “Wear what you usually wear, I guess.”

“No, man – this is special.”

“Be yourself. Rely on the Chang magnetism. Remember Mercedes?” I say, to help instill confidence. “What was it – ‘Chrome cowboy’?”

“I like that,” he says wistfully. “’Chrome cowboy’ …”

“Listen, Ricky,” I begin, and he senses what’s coming and doesn’t want to hear it, waves away the thanks I don’t know how to give, thrusts his arm out chrome cowboyishly, grips my hand with a compressed-lip mano-a-mano solemnity, and I shake his with the same no-nonsense deal-sealing gravity, but decide that one of those reel-him-in from the handshake for a solid back-slapping embrace might not be egregious, and he returns it. Then Ricky’s eyes enlarge.

“Say now, out in public, suddenly it’s just a friendly hug?”

Turning, I see Hollingdale standing under the tree, not swinging on the branches as I’d expect from any advocate of crude apish humor.

“Out in the open, I’ve found, boys will not so freely be boys.”

“Don’t be an asshole,” Ricky says.

Hollingdale’s standing under the tree in a self-concealing position, sideways. “That wasn’t very nice, fleeing the scene. I forget, eventually, but I never forgive. So fuck you both. But I want you guys to see another miraculously life-like cosmetic accomplishment I’m working on.”

He’s wearing the tweed jacket. When he turns to face us fully, Ricky and I look at his chest.

“Not here,” he says in exasperation, flippering his hands at his chest in a vigorous, beating-out-a-fire-on-a-rug kind of way. “Here.”

He lowers his hands, drops his zipper, yanks down the pants: Voila!

We stare, then Ricky mutters, “By everything Zeus holds dear and holy.”

Hollingdale retorts, “By Thor’s mighty hammer,” rotates his waist in a hula of obscenity, swinging two feet of prosthetic.

Next Chapter


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