I really do not want to be here, in fact I can think of hundred places I would rather be. I had planned for a relaxed evening at home, a beer and television, maybe a chat on the internet before I go to bed early. Instead I sit behind the wheel of my shit car, crawling along a street in the dark, while I try to decipher the house numbers in the rain. Shit weather now on top of everything.
I know the symptoms of withdrawal when I see them. When Rachel stormed into the office today I figured out pretty fast what was wrong. Something must have happened, one or two days before, and out of some reason she has waited with seeking help until she could not stand it any longer. It stings that she does not seem to trust me. Not after that night. Not after all those weeks during which I thought we had built a relationship. I had thought she had grown comfortable with me, at least it seemed like that in the brief moments that we had in the office together. But I must have been mistaken.
As I went to repair the damage she had done before leaving it seemed very appealing to just forget about her visit. The pieces of the chair were distributed all over the floor, and the floor and I are old acquaintances but not really on good terms. By the time I was finished and the room looked at least presentable again, my knees and my back hurt like hell and the corridor was still full of increasingly impatient people, waiting for their dose. So yes... It has not been my favorite day at work. But I could not get rid of Karl’s voice in my head: To call him anytime when there is a problem with one of the clients.
A client… Rachel is more than that, I guess.
Not for the first time I catch myself pondering about that night. When I met Rachel I did not see the dirty blond hair that fell like a curtain around her, swinging to the rhythm of the drums, or her naked feet, dancing patterns into the floor. Nor the long legs in her tight yellow dress or her firm small breasts, clearly visible under the wet fabric that was sticking to her skin.
When I first met her all I saw were her eyes, boring into me like they were clinging to a lighthouse in a storm.
I still know the taste of her lips, sweet and demanding, against mine, and every second of the rest of that night.
And still, when I see her now all I see is that look in her eyes, from when we first met.
What I am doing here is definitely not in my job description. I am supposed to hand out medication according to the regulations, collect samples and take care of documentation. Only… well, I have a heart, right? I could definitely not sleep tonight not knowing that she is safe.
Karl is a good man. I have known that since the second I walked through the door of his office and his calm expression never changed. God knows he has more important things to do but when I called later today he answered in an instant and listened without trying to interrupt. I know I am shit with phone calls. I am terrible at any spoken conversation, but I am a literal disaster on the phone. As a result I only do it when I am forced to.
Seems like I am forced to do a lot of things I do not like to do, lately. Working at the drug center would be one. Granted, it is the best internship position I could have wished for, sitting all day, only a minimum of conversation required and it is not as if anyone cares what I have to say. Most of it is paper work. But honestly, handing over documents and taking swabs is usually not the most entertaining thing to do. And dangerous at times as it turned out, on top of it.
When I called, Karl told me he would take care of it all. But a few hours later he called again. If I had a car? If I could go out and check on her? Because apparently there had been a problem and now Rachel was missing.
Karl gave me a list. An accumulation of places as mysterious as that damn girl. The bridge over the river, right after the large roundabout out of the city. An old warehouse across from the main station, with a huge ‘no-entry’ sign at the broken down gate. The top deck of a car park at a shopping center out of town, overlooking the coastline. I have been to each of those, driven by several times, parked and stepped out of the car if possible, and looked for her slim silhouette and blond long hair. But no sign of her. A rat scuttled away as I tried opening a rusty side door to the warehouse. After the near heart-attack following that and a very close call involving slippery concrete and crutches I had contented myself with yelling her name into the dim interior.
Yelling, another thing I do not do unless forced to. It reduces my stutter but I still detest the sound of my voice.
Either way, I have not been successful. Rachel has not been in the warehouse, or she has not been in a state to answer. I try not to think about that last possibility. Climbing over rubble and into a dark, uninhabited building that looks close to collapsing is out of my league, unfortunately. I will have to call the police if I do not find her in one of the other places.
There are only two left on Karl’s list.
The rubbish hand controls rattle as I push against the lever to slow down the car even more. I must be close now. At the very bottom of the list was the address to a house in an average housing area on the other side of town. Karl told me to check there at last because he reckons she would not be there if she is not herself. Since the only other remaining address is in a region that is well known for its high criminal rates and not to be recommended for anyone like me to sneak around after dark, I chose to ignore his advice.
As I stare into the rain I start to regret everything. Maybe my father is right when he says I am weak. I am definitely too nice.
I find the house with the number from my list and frown. It looks better than I would have expected for most of our clients, small but neat, with beams of soft light shining through white curtains in the windows, a small short-trimmed lawn and a low wooden fence. It could be her parent’s house but I know it is not. There is no family contact in her file and the agency is very accurate with this kind of data.
I stay seated for a minute with the rain pounding on the car’s roof and watch the house lying in the dark but there is no help. I need to go outside. I zip up my jacket and collect my forearm crutches from the backseats, placing them across my lap. When I open the driver’s door the wind nearly rips it out of my hand and the gushing rain drenches my left side within seconds. Well, this is going to be great fun.
It takes me some time to get out of my car. Any car, actually. My legs are pretty fucked up, stiff and uncooperative at best. They usually remain bent, with my feet turned in and knees nearly touching. Every attempt at moving much out of that position causes stabs of pain to shoot through them. Any attempt at taking my weight and walk a few steps increases the dull pain in my knees and hip to a roar. Needless to say, I am not a great fan of walking. But getting around with the bulky manual wheelchair I own is another nuisance itself. That is why for shorter distances I prefer crutches.
It takes effort just to turn and place my feet on the asphalt outside. By the time I have managed to shuffle around and face the street I am fully soaked. The handles of the crutches are slippery and I find it difficult to get a good grip to haul myself up. My hands are usually the smallest of my problems. Well, I admit I am absolutely no use in a laboratory, I suffered through enough lab classes to know that by now. But compared to the rest they are golden.
When I feel ready I push myself into standing. I need to take the momentum with me because my legs do not do much of the work and sometimes it just ends with me plopping down on my ass again. Not this time, though. I sway but I manage to stay on my feet. I shoulder the driver’s door closed, not bothering with taking out the key that I put in my jacket’s pocket to lock the car, and start walking down the paved walkway towards the entrance door.
I try to be fast although it makes my gait worse and I am prone to stumbling and falling but I want to escape the rain. Nevertheless, when I reach the sheltered door and shift my weight to free a hand and ring the bell next to a small brass placate reading “V.J. Airgood”, I feel water running down my back in icy fingers. Over the steady drum of the rain on the porch I hear the melody of the bell echo within the house. For a few long minutes nothing happens and I have already taken my hand back to the crutch’s handle and turned to go when the door opens and casts my own shadow on the walkway in front of me.
I turn elaborately on the spot, trying not to get my stubborn legs entangled in each other. An old woman is standing in the open door, with white curly hair and watery blue eyes set deep in their sockets. Her smile is genuine and warm, sharpening the crinkles around her mouth even more.
“What can I do for you, my dear?” Her voice is small and clear.
I bow my head a little and water drips on the stone floor in front of me. “My n-name is N…Noel. I am looking for Ra-, Ra-, Ra-…” God, her name of all things.
Reagan? “Um… no, I-“
“Would you like to come in, my dear?”
Without waiting for an answer, the woman turns and walks back inside the house, her slow and careful movements indicating painful joints and frail bones. I can very much relate to the first one. After a second of hesitation I follow her inside and into the warm hallway, past dried flowers in brass vases on a small dark cupboard and a few jackets hanging from a hat rack. Could this woman be Rachel’s mother? I try to recall the date of birth in Rachel’s file and dismiss the thought. Very unlikely. Rachel looks older than she is, due to drug abuse over a longer period of time. This woman could rather be her grandmother. Did the agency miss the family connection?
“What an awful weather to be outside.” The old woman has stopped and turned to me again, shaking her head at me. “I wonder when Reagan might come home.”
“Um… yes, Ms.-“
“Oh, dear, you are all wet. Let me take your coat and I will bring you a towel to get yourself dry again. Is that a good idea?”
“Y-yes, thank you.”
My teeth are clattering against each other. Luckily, there is a small bench at the end of the hallway where a few doors are leading into the rooms of the house and I lean one of the crutches against its side and reach for the seating before I sink down on it slowly. I shed the other crutch and peel out of my soaked jacket. I cannot prevent the water from dripping on the tiled floor.
The old woman takes the jacket from my hands and smiles at me unwavering. “Would you like a cup of tea?”
I nod and flex my frozen fingers that are even stiffer than usual while she disappears behind one of the doors. Who the fuck is Reagan? Rachel does not seem to be here, if this is even the right address, and I start having doubts that the old lady can help me in any way.
The old woman returns with a steaming cup in her hand but no towels. I take the small piece of china she offers to me, concentrating on not spilling the hot liquid or letting the frail thing fall. She takes place on the bench beside me, smiling happily as if it were the most normal thing on earth to have a cup of tea next to the coat rag inside a hallway.
“Excuse me, my dear, I am getting old. Who are you?”
“Oh… I am…” I do not know how much this woman knows about Rachel. I am not even sure yet if we know the same person. “A… c-c-colleague.”
The woman nods. “How nice. She is a good girl.” She folds her hands in her lap. “Do you like the tea?”
“Oh…” I take a sip of the scalding liquid, nearly burning my tongue. It is only water, there are no herbs in it at all. “Uh… yes. It’s… great. Thank you.”
We sit a few minutes in silence and I sip the hot water while the woman looks at the illustration of an angel at the wall across from us.
“Where did Ra-, Ra-“
“Reagan, my dear.”
I nod, helplessly. “Where did she go?”
The woman knits her eyebrows and hesitates, confusion washing over her face. “I think… I guess… she must have gone to the… the…” She falls silent, kneading her hands in her lap. “I forgot.”
She looks crestfallen and sad and I feel suddenly awful without any real reason. “I am s-sorry. It’s okay.”
As she turns back to me the woman’s eyes suddenly have an intensity that has not been there before and she grips my underarm with astonishing strength. “Why do you want to know all that?”
My fingers spasm around the tea cup and in the last moment I can prevent myself from letting it fall. “I-I think Ra- Ra-... she m…might be in danger. I want to h-help her.”
The woman’s back relaxes into the bench again and her hand drops in her lap. “You are searching for Rachel,” she says after some time, her voice low.
I sit up, alarmed. “Yes!” My heart beats through my chest. “Do you know w-w-where she is?”
The woman tilts her head and seems to think. Before she can answer, though, her eyes drift back to the wall.
“Oh…” The old woman smiles at me. “Remind me again, who are you?”
I sigh and finish my hot water. It warms me from the inside just as tea would have. I decide I will try one last question. “Do you remember a-anything else, Ms. Airgood? Anything that c-c.... could h-help me?”
The old woman shakes her head, sadly.
I nod and hand her the tea cup. “Thank you f… for the tea, Ms. Airgood.”
The woman distractedly takes it, gets up and vanishes behind one of the doors. I reach over and manage to retrieve my still dripping jacket from the rack. I am ready and propped up on my crutches, debating to just leave like that, when Ms. Airgood emerges again.
She offers a hand and I shift my weight to free one of mine, thinking she wants to shake hands for goodbye. When her crinkled, quivering ones close around mine however, I can feel a smooth and cold round thing touching my skin. When I open my hand, a black stone with a white streak across its surface is sitting in my palm.
The old lady simply smiles at me warmly. “Be careful on your way home, my dear.”
“Um… yes. Thank you.” I let the stone slip into my pocket and grab the crutch that is leaning against the other one. “Good-….Goodbye.”
It has stopped raining, at least for the minute. The light from the open door illuminates the wet pathway the whole time I slowly make my way back to the car.
--> Part III
--> Part III