Radial Symmetry (7 of 10)
Tentacle 7: The Piper
" . . . whose multi-hued siren song does draw many to the rending . . . "
The police had left but the Giant Squid was still hunkering down beneath his tarp. He hadn't left the back of Ivan's truck since they had returned to the trailer park. He was either thinking or afraid, Rob didn't know which.
"SANG HAS TAKEN TRAEL. HE MAY ALSO BE SEEKING HAZEL. HE WISHES HOSTAGES TO USE AGAINST ME, IT IS CLEAR. MY EYES HAVE OPENED ANEW, ROB. WHERE ONCE WAS MURK AND FILTH THERE IS NOW ONLY CRYSTAL CLARITY AND A RESOLVE FORGED OF STEEL."
Rob sat on the open gate of the truck's bed, his boots swinging slowly over the gravel and cutting two thin lines into the gray dirt below. "Shit man, she's in like, Port Huron or something?" Rob's shoulder still felt stiff and strange from his beating at the hands of the Best Buy thugs, but his bruises had all faded to mellow yellow. "That's not more than an hour's drive from here, depending on traffic and construction and getting lost and everything." Rob spat onto the dry ground. "Fuck it. I'll drive."
"NO." The Giant Squid pronounced slowly. "THIS IS MY JOURNEY, DEAR ROB. PERHAPS WHAT I HAVE BEEN WAITING TO DO FOR SO VERY LONG. OFT TIMES I HAVE QUESTIONED WHY I WAS HERE IN YOUR MERCILESS WORLD OF EXPLOSIVE DECOMPRESSION AND BACTERIAL PLAGUE. WAS THERE THE HAND OF A GOD AT PLAY? WAS I A PLAYTHING OF FATE? NO MORE SHALL I WONDER."
The truck's V-8 engine revved to life and Rob leapt off the gate and ran to look inside. It was empty. As he reached the doors the automatic locks engaged and slammed down.
"What the fuck, Lord A!?!"
"I GRIP THE WHEEL OF DESTINY, ROB. I SHALL STEER MY VESSEL PROUDLY. THEY WILL LEARN THAT I AM SPORT TO NO ONE."
Rob shadowed his eyes and pressed his face against the driver's side window. He saw two steel tentacles emerging from gashes in the seatback. The squid, he realized, had punched through to the cab.
"YOU HAVE YOUR OWN JOURNEY, ROB. AND I KNOW IN MY HEARTS THAT YOU BELIEVE I AM MAD WITH DISEASE OR DESPAIR, BUT I HAVE NEVER BEEN MORE LUCID. I AM A SUN-DAPPLED PARK IN SPRINGTIME, A POND OF STILL WATER WITH A SINGLE KOI LAZILY SWIMMING. NOW TIE DOWN THIS TARP SO THAT MY DISGUISE WILL BE COMPLETE.
"Where the fuck did you get keys?!" Rob shouted.
"TIE DOWN THE TARP," the Squid repeated.Rob lashed the blue tarp tighter. "Dude, Ivan's gonna fucking kill you when he sees you stole his truck. Shit, he's gonna freak when he sees what you did to his upholstery"
The Giant Squid laughed for the first time in many weeks. The sound sent chills up Rob's spine and made him glance around for cover. "IF IVAN SURVIVES THE NEXT FEW DAYS, HE IS WELCOME TO TRY." The truck, heavy with Squid, tore off into the sunset.
Rob sat in Ivan's living room. The floor was littered with bachelor filth: a threadbare cushion from the sofa, Wendy's and McDonald's bags, a half sack of stale potato chips. Shoved off into one corner were the splintered legs and scarred top of the coffee-table smashed table during the rough-housing on the day Rob had been beaten. Rob sipped from a bottled iced tea and scanned the floor, looking at all of the tiny hunks of wood, as though the coffee table had been smashed by Thor's hammer instead of clumsy kids. He scanned the floor so that he wouldn't have to look at everyone gathered in the room.
Everyone. Everyone was here: ex-coworkers, like Molly and Leeks and Devo and Ivan — although Molly was the only one he'd worked with long enough to really know; his time at the lab and Ivan's had only really overlapped for a few weeks — and these weird that Lord A hung out with now, this Donny D&D nerd he palled around with since Rob had left, and Donny's his friend Mohammed, who just kind of showed up and ate all the time. And then there was the little black kids big brother, Jarwaun, who hadn't said a word.
When Rob told Donny that Lord A had nicked Ivan's dually and to get everyone together to meet — he didn't really know what he'd expected. Not this many people. He'd sorta thought that Donny would call Ivan and Devo, and that would be it. This, all these different kinds of folks in the same room — the only thing Rob had ever done that felt at all like this was Narcotics Anonymous, which he'd done three times: twice in high school (which had accomplished exactly shit) and once since his disastrous year following the Lord A's election — a stint with NA that was currently on going, and working one day at a time.
Rob took a deep breath and looked up from the floor. "Um . . . My name's Rob. I'm Rob, and I have a problem. Y'all are probably wondering what the fuck is up—"
"Mostly I'm wondering where my truck is," Ivan muttered.
Rob rubbed his eyes, "I'm sure you'll get your truck back, dude. Shit, listen: We're all in the middle of bad-crazy shit that's going down, with velocitator suits breaking down, and whor—ladies going missing and trucks stolen and kids snatched—Shit, I'm sorry Jarwaun."
Jarwaun nodded, but kept his gaze downcast.
"And some of this shit is related and some is just fucked up coincidence, and I'm all," Rob shook his hands in frustration, then spread his arms out wide, "Like, spread out over hell's half-acre, and I don't even know what I'm supposed to be doing next. Lord A is off to Port Huron—"
Ivan perked, "My truck is heading to Port Huron? Why the fuck didn't you start by saying that? We should go—"
"Shut up!" Rob shouted, "Fuck! There's more here than you're fucking hillbilly wagon, Jeb! Yeah, we should probably just run up after him to Port Huron before he gets into any more craziness, but Lord A thought—thinks—that Sang snagged the kid—"
"Who is Sang" Jarwaun asked, "Where he at?"
"Listen," Rob said, only speaking to Jarwaun, "Sang is the director of Lord A's old lab at the top of the Ren Cen towers—"
As Jarwaun stood, asking "My brother is in the Ren Cen?" Leeks tsked like a disappointed elementary teacher and shook his head, saying, "Come now, Rob; it was never the Squid's lab; it was always Mr. Sang's lab, long in operation before—"
"You're right," Ivan said over all of this, "We should just run up to Port Huron right now and get my truck and your asshole budd—"
"NO!" Rob shouted, spinning and drilling his tea bottle into the screen of Ivan's television set, sending shards of bottle glass clattering against both walls of the living room.
"My fucking TV," Ivan gasped.
"Everyone," Rob shouted, "Has a fucking opinion and a goddamned theory. Jarwaun: I don't know where your bro is or who took him; a shit-crazed, half-poisoned squid monster thinks a sinister Chinese guy took him, and then stole a truck. That doesn't mean your brother is at the Ren Cen eating a shrimp cocktail."
The room was silent.
"My TV," Ivan repeated.
"And I think we should chase that crazy, brain-sick monster down and stop him from hurting himself more, but I'm worried . . . I think we need to think shit through a little . . " Rob deflated. He took of his ball cap, smoothed his hair, and but the cap back on. "We all have questions. Maybe if we, like, brainstorm here a bit before running off half-cocked, we can figure shit out a little so none of us gets, like, our throats slashed by those fucking chimps."
Molly raised her hand, "I'd like to take a pass on throat slitting, please."
"My TV," Ivan repeated.
Donny coughed, "Um, so, uh, what started all this? That's what I'm most unclear on. You all have been gone from this lab for what, like, a year? Why would he do this now?"
Rob sighed, "I don't know. I don't know shit about shit. I only found out Lord A was in trouble with his filters getting all shitty and suit flaking out because some guy named Tra-El e-mailed me about my old boss being in trouble and needing help."
Jarwaun's head shot up, "Trael," he said, "It pronounced Trail — like a path through the woods. That's my brother."
Rob was speechless for a moment, his mouth working as though it couldn't quite grip the words. "What? The little black kid is the guy who e-mailed me?"
"How'd my brother—"
"I think we can agree," Leeks declared to the room, "That the little boy's e-mail habits are not at issue, and likely tell us little about our current situation" he spoke evenly and quietly, clutching his briefcase. "I do know that Sang has some sort of proof-of-concept demonstration happening soon. I saw the payments for rental of property on the Detroit River for the occasion. And I saw another invoice that I found to be most curious."
"Proof of what?" Rob asked.
Devo smiled. "Proof-of-concept, mi amigo. It's when you show off some sweet tech to investors to convince them to reinvest and capitalize your ass."
"See," Rob said, "This is a fucking lead, right."
"That's not the lead," Leeks said witheringly, "If you'll let me finish, I believe you'll see that the curious invoice is the clue you want."
Molly rolled her eyes, "Christ, please, get on with it."
Leeks sniffed disdainfully, and Rob was alarmed to realize that the man was preparing to sulk like a little girl whose kitten just will not participate in the tea party. He scrambled to salvage their progress, "Molly is being a rude fuck," he blurted, "But I want to hear all about this crazy invoice."
Leeks nodded his satisfaction, "It was curious because it indicated that we were making final payment and closing out a storage locker in Toledo, Ohio."
"Why would Sang want a storage locker an hour-and-a-half away?" Molly asked.
"He would not," Leeks said, "He did not. This locker was rented before the Giant Squid's lab merged with Mr. Sang's Detroit operations, before the Squid left Cincinnati."
"It's 5 hours between Cincinnati and Toledo," Devo said, "Why would the Squid store something there?"
Leeks shrugged, "More curious yet, why would he have no key to the locker? I checked both our current key-binder, and the box that was transported from the old Cincinnati operation: every key in the Cincinnati box — there were only 30 or so — was accounted for in other records. Keys to filing cabinets, servers, safes and lockers. There was no key that could be for some other locker in some other locale."
"So," Rob said, puzzling through the whole matter, "Your saying that Sang is clearing out some secret locker from back in the day, from back when Lord A's lab was really 100% Lord A's lab? A locker with some of Lord A's stuff in it?"
"In case it did not go without saying," Leeks added, "The Toledo locker is scheduled to be cleared one day before the Detroit proof-of-concept demonstration."
Donny stood and walked next to Rob. "This sounds like an adventure."
Rob rolled his eyes, "Yeah," he said, "Adventure," then sighed and thought Fuck. Fucking Toledo. Shit. I guess Lord A will have to watch his own back in Port Huron until tomorrow. Probably he'll be back by the time I swing past his place.
Seven hours after the Squid had driven out of the Shady Pines mobile home park, he arrived in Port Huron at the driveway of a cottage on the lake. The moon soared high in the sky, casting silvered shadows. The house was small, built for a modest family within the last two decades. Red bricks stood proud, clean hemmed in by white-painted wood. The cottage had been built on a slight hill and the driveway approached the house, then shied away and looped around and down hill towards the water. It was this way the Squid drove. "EVER TO THE WATER I AM BECKONED," he chirped.
There were two cars parked on the drive behind the house, beside a garage. The garage door was open and a bare bulb inside burnt against the darkness, revealing a wood shop and workshop laden with peg-boards and tools.
No lights were on in the house, the Giant Squid noticed. There were no lights save the lone bulb in the garage and perhaps a lantern distantly hanging at the end of a dock. There was no sound save the water lapping jealously at the shore.
The Giant Squid could not figure out how to shut off the ignition. He had started the car using Ivan's remote starter frequency and found it odd that there was no corresponding automatic shutdown frequency. Paying it no more attention he cast off the tarpaulin and rolled on his ersatz treads off the back of the truck. He feared briefly as he approached the lip of the truck bed—would he tip and fall, turtle-like, to be stranded so close from his goal? But his weight slowly tipped the truck backwards and he rolled easily onto the frozen soil of Port Huron, of his dearest Hazel's sister's house.
The sound of boots running on wood filled the night and the squid turned to see a short pink man running down the dock. He recognized him from Rob's descriptions: this was clearly Mr. Zywicki, Hazel's father. The squid felt some shame that the last time they had met—the only time, really—he had been fevered and crazed and remembered nothing of what was said. That was sure to have a poor impression on this man that he now thought of as his father-in-law.
"MR. ZYWICKI, IT IS GOOD TO SEE YOU. ARE YOU HERE VISITING YOUR DAUGHTER?" The squid waved one of his two remaining steel tentacles lazily about, trying to convey a casual air.
Zywicki smiled a Santa smile, wide of mouth and round of cheek. He laughed aloud. "Oh Mr. Squid. It is so good to see you." He stood on his toe-tips and glanced at the truck. "Did you come here all by yourself?"
"YES. I HAVE TAUGHT MYSELF HOW TO DRIVE AND HAVE PUT MY IDEAS INTO MOTION: THEORY TURNED INTO EXPERIENCE BY THE CRUCIBLE OF TIME."
Zywicki smiled even broader and laughed even louder. "You are very clever, Mr. Squid. Very clever indeed. You taught yourself how to drive just to come meet my Melissa here. Such persistence." Zywicki walked into the garage and selected a laden tool belt. He strapped in around his waste. "I'm working on a project down by the dock, would you care to join me?"
This was one of the seminal human moments the squid had been waiting for. And he was overjoyed. The father of the woman he loved had asked him to engage in ritualistic mammalian bonding through shared endeavor. He was being accepted as one of the tribe. "I WOULD BE HONORED, MR. ZYWICKI."
Zywicki waved his arm out in a sweeping gesture, indicating the squid should go first. The squid bowed his headsac within the dome of his mechano-suit and rolled forward on his treaded wheels. He slid slightly on the damp and frozen ground, but managed to reach the dock without incident. Zywicki walked behind him and slightly to the left the entire way.
"Yes sir, I have been dying to meet you. To meet you properly that is, not like when we met at that trailer park surrounded by those sandniggers and hillbillies. I've wanted to meet you alone ever since I first saw you on tv."
The squid stopped rolling forward. He saw something many meters away, floating alongside the dock. Human eyes wouldn't have been able to make anything out in this light, at this distance. But his eyes were perfection, the most perfect eyes in nature. The giant squid saw a white raft floating just at the water line with Hazel lying unconscious on it. His eyes saw the bloody footprints down the dock, the crate of medical supplies, the blood. He saw the blood.
"HAZEL! QUICK, MR. ZYWICKI, PHONE AN AMBU-LANCE, SHE IS INJURED! WE MUST—"
A sharp crack rang through the air like the earth splitting open. The Giant Squid glanced back to see what had made such a noise but found his chassis immobile. Out of the corner of his perfect eye the Giant Squid could see Zywicki holding a steaming rivet gun in his hand.
"Now that I have your attention," Zywicki said grinning, "we should talk. We should talk, because Hazel wouldn't."
After locating the address in Leeks' files, they headed for Toledo, to the Iron Mountain storage facility.
Ivan's truck had been stolen and Devo's wasn't large enough to fit everyone, so Mohammed stepped up with his 1986 Ford Aerostar mini-van which easily held them all. There was a Death Star airbrushed on the side of the primer-gray van, and the words "Praise Allah, Praise Peace" stencilled on the front hood. "I share the van with my brother, yo." Mohammed explained. "And he's all religious and put the Allah stuff on the front. Whereas I got to fly my flag on the side, know what I'm saying? Motherfucking Jedi an' shit." Mohammed gripped the wheel with his left hand, and held a Big Gulp in his right. He slurped as he spoke. "I bet it confuses the fuck out of the rednecks, eh? Like they see this big evil van barrelling down on them with 'Allah' written on the front and they're all about to freak but then as I pass them they see this Death Star and some X-Wings and the Falcon and they know it's all gonna be okay, cause the Force is strong with this one." He tapped his chest with the Big Gulp and spilled Mountain Dew down his shirt.
Rob, in the passenger seat, wasn't listening, but agreed nonetheless.
The drive to Toledo went fast, but the driving in Toledo was a nightmarish tangle of unmarked one-way streets. Mohammed insisted on drive one-handed, holding and rotating the Mapquest print-outs with the other hand, "just like running down those trenches on the surface of the Death Star" he muttered. His navigation was flawless. The Iron Mountain facility was situated between a K-Mart and a strip mall with a tanning salon, pizza restaurant and what looked like a rent-a-clown service. It lived up to it's name. The first thing Rob noticed about Iron Mountain was that it was tall. Really tall. Most buildings on the far edge of Toledo seemed to cap out at two stories, and were either strip malls or anonymous little office blocks. But this place was maybe forty or fifty stories tall. It was narrow, gray and windowless. Something like the Washington Monument and something like the Monolith from 2001: a Space Odyssey. Rob shivered.
Mohammed slurped the last of his 64oz. Mountain Dew. "I got a bad feelin' about this, yo."
Rob had expected a storage unit that they could break into. One of those U-Store-It type facilities where serial killers hide their memorabilia, one of those places that pop-up next to airports or stadiums. He had imagined smashing a padlock with a hammer or using an auto-jack to lift the door — he had, specifically, imagined something from around the 20-minute mark in Silence of the Lambs. It was supposed to be easy, he thought, but this doesn't look easy.
"Okay," Molly said. "Who goes in? We're going to need to sweet talk or bluff our way past the front desk, so we need to send someone presentable. And I think I'm a little too, shall we say, 'visible' for this."
Devo pointed at his rubber pants and mesh shirt. "I didn't wear my 'passing' clothes."
Rob looked at Donny, at Mohammed. Both of them dressed like children. Ivan had refused to come because Rob had smashed his TV. That left him, and Leeks. "Okay, I got this. Leeks, you're with me m'man."
The front doors of Iron Mountain were tinted slate gray. They wooshed open as Rob approached and opened onto a foyer split in half by a wall of security glass. On the other side of the wall was a dim lobby and a lone desk. Rob could see no doors in the security glass, but he did see a darkened hallway leading off behind the glass.
At the desk a serious, obese black man sat. He was wearing a security uniform that reminded Rob of a SWAT team cop on TV. It gave the impression that the real receptionist had taken a lunch break and he had called in Black Ops to watch the phones while he ate. Rob knocked on the glass, but it made no sound. Leeks also tapped gently on it, surprised. There were no chairs, tables magazines or anything on their side of the glass. Also no air holes or speakers mounted in it.
Leeks paced along the inside perimeter of the foyer and stopped at the wall to their right. "Rob," he called, "I found something."
Rob walked over and was momentarily distressed to realize his boots made no noise on the lobby floor. He saw that Leeks was pointing at a flat black square mounted in the wall. A hand-written sign above it said: "Swipe your Secure Entrance card here to enter facility. If you don't have a card don't bother talking to anyone. No card = No entrance." And taped next to this was a polaroid of a woman's hand holding a Secure Entrance card. It was slightly larger than a postage stamp and reminded Rob of his Kroger Savings grocery card on his key ring. Rob felt like he'd seen one before, but didn't know where.
Rob tapped on the glass. The obese man looked up at him, then back down at his computer screen. Rob kept tapping.
"I doubt that will accomplish anything," Leeks said.
Rob kept tapping. And tapping. And tapping. Finally the fat man stood and came to the door.
"Uh, hey!" Rob said, "Sorry to be a pain, but my, um, grandad lost his security card thingy, and we just need to jog up to his locker to grab his tax shit from last year — he's got this, like, crazy IRS fine, and they're sayin' that he didn't file his taxes in April, even though they fuckin' cashed the check on May 1, and we really just need to pop up for a second and grab his folder, and I know it's totally almost your quitting time and I hate—"
The obese guard held up one hand.
"It's OK," he said, "This happen all the time. Those cards are too little; everyone losin' 'em all the time. Lemme go check you out before I can buzz you in. Which locker are you?"
Rob looked to Leeks, who was flabbergasted, "Oh, uh . . . 227."
"An' the name?" the guard asked.
"A. Dux," Rob said confidently, "It'll be under A. Dux, spelled D-U-X." The guard raised an eyebrow, but said nothing, securely closing the door as he returned to his station. While the waited, Rob rocked between his heels and the balls of his feet, grinning triumphantly.
The guard returned shortly, "I'm sorry, sir." he said, "But you gotta be confused; that locker is rented to a Tom Olafsdottir, not no Dux."
Rob blanched, "Shit. Yeah. Sorry, dude, I'm totally wrong. This is totally the wrong place."
Leeks and Rob exited the building and sighed when the cold Ohio air hit them and the sounds of traffic filled their ears. "Leeks, you figure there is more than one key to that locker?"
"If there is, Rob," Leeks coughed and pulled his jacket tighter, "Then it is in Mr. Sang's pocket." They crossed the parking lot quickly and climbed into the Aerostar.
"I know where there's a key," Rob said with preternatural certainty, and the memory clicked: he knew where he'd seen the Secure Entrance card, "There's a key in Tom fucking Olafsdottir's pocket." He sighed again.
"You knew Tom?" Leeks asked.
"Tom?" Devo asked, "Tom died on that crazy road trip, back in the Cincinnati days. Shit, that was years ago . . . "
"Uum," Donny said, "Are we going to dig up a corpse? 'Cause I'm not into that."
"Nope," Rob said, "We're going back to Detroit to see the goddamned midget at Shamrock Towing, so I can go see about getting in touch with Tom fucking Olafsdottir. Fuck."
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson