Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Die Smiling


Brazilian wandering spider in defensive posture. Picture from Parana State Gov't, Brazil.




The last entry on Dragonfly Dad actually made Compass laugh. If only this weren’t the out-loud diary of her potentially murderous father, she’d actually sort of enjoy the blog. She often spent too many hours surfing blogs, looking for diamonds, panning for gold, resenting writers for their talent when she found them. She’d thought frequently about starting her own but was quickly overwhelmed by her own lack of anything useful or amusing to say. Dragonfly wasn’t bad, and she found herself wanting to drop a comment that said so. Then she’d realize that she couldn’t. But really, why couldn’t she?

She could be anonymous. Even if he figured out it was his daughter commenting, he still wouldn’t be able to find her unless she let him. The temptation was nearly irresistible. She’d never been so sought after, after all, and it was vaguely exciting. But was it a red flag to a bull, fuel to a flame? She didn’t want to stir up some sort of manic fury in Oliver; they were in the same city, and Seattle wasn’t that big. And since Mina was in the phone book, address carved in public stone for all to see, perhaps the low-profile strategy was best.

The trust issue was becoming a real problem. Compass found herself leery of nearly everyone, wondering if every man that glanced her direction was actually her dad. As she was walking in a quiet park on Capitol Hill the other day, a trench-coated man of about the right age saw her, headed in her direction, reached into his pocket. Compass was about to shout or run away, or more likely freeze in helpless terror, when the man pulled out his penis. Compass was so relieved that she laughed. In fact, she was so relieved that she thanked the man and wished him a nice day.

Compass had never trusted strangers, but she now looked back longingly on the days when she was relatively indifferent to them. Granted, as a woman walking alone, she couldn’t afford to be completely oblivious to strangers, particularly men, but now she was downright twitchy and it pissed her off. It was time to put an end to this. It was time to act. Was he dangerous or wasn’t he, and who would know?

She called Ethan. She politely waited until it was a civilized hour in England, then with a pounding heart, she dialed the interminable string of numbers. After a long, quiet pause, there was that delightful double-chirp at the other end, then a woman’s voice.

“Hello?”

Compass was a little taken aback, having expected to get Ethan. “Uh, hello. Hi. May I speak to Ethan, please?”

“No, I’m sorry, you can’t.”

Her answer seemed a bit abrupt, and the silence after it rather odd. Compass would have expected more information, an offer to take a message, even a hang-up rather than this silence.

“Oh. May I leave a message?”

“No. No, that won’t work either.” The sound of someone waiting.

“I see. OK. Um, is there a better time for me to call?”

“I suspect not. You might try during the Rapture, just in case he gets his body back and can come to the phone then.”

And the woman burst into sobs. Great heaving sobs that made Compass breathless just to hear them from several thousands of miles away. A moment or two later, someone came and took the phone. There were noises of comfort and of shooing the sobber away.

“Hello? May I help you?” If the accent were any indication, Compass was now talking to the Queen.

“Hello? I’m sorry, I’m looking for Ethan.”

“Are you? Well, I do hope it’s not urgent. My son-in-law is dead, you see.”

“Oh! Oh, I . . . I’m so sorry.”

“Isn’t that nice. Were you a friend of Ethan’s? A colleague?”

“No, we never met. He was . . . he was, um, helping me with a problem.”

“I see. Are you also a collector of stories about mad people?” The voice was polite but still managed to convey deep and profound distaste for Ethan’s work.

“No. Well, maybe. I’m sorry about your loss.” She had to ask it. Knew she had to, and soon, didn’t want to with a fury.

“That’s very kind. I’ll convey your sympathies to my daughter whom I assume you also haven’t met?”

“No. No, I haven’t.”

“Well, she’ll be very gratified to hear how sorry you are, then.Very well. Good bye.”

“Wait! Wait, please.”

“Was there something more?” Clearly, the matriarch considered this extension of a finished conversation both unconventional and rude.

“May I ask, how did he die?” Please don’t say garbage truck. Or rubbish lorry or whatever. Please please please.

“You must either be calling from the States or from under a rock. Surely you people have access to real newspapers there. Why don't you look it up.”

Even the way she hung up the phone was more curt and cutting than normal people’s hang ups. Compass stood with her phone in her hand for a long moment, her stomach churning with its attempts to digest this new information.

Heart attack, she thought to herself, accidental drowning on a sea-side holiday in Skegness, tragically skewered self through lung while making shish kebabs. There are lots of ways he could have died without help from my dad.

It didn’t help. She was shaking so hard it took three tries to replace the phone. She turned on her laptop, opened Explorer, typed Ethan’s name into Google.

“ ‘Mad’ Doctor to be Put in Coffin Sideways: Is that a scythe under that cloak, or are you just happy to see me?!” read the lead in The Sun. There was a gruesome picture of a spider leaking venom from Photoshopped fangs. Compass quickly skimmed the article – apparently Ethan had been bitten by a deadly spider. A spider that also cured erectile dysfunction. Briefly. Or eternally, depending on whether you planned an open or closed casket funeral. Dear god.

Knowing The Sun’s reputation for being a crap newspaper, Compass did some quick cross checking. Less sensational papers hid the story quietly on back pages, but writers obviously couldn’t withstand the temptation to comment on Ethan’s unusual passing. A note about being able to ring the doorbell at Saint Peter’s gate with “both hands full” in The Guardian made Compass snort, but at least she had the decency to feel badly about it afterward.

The Brazilian wandering spider, also known as Phoneutria nigriventer, caused symptoms easily recognized by Brazilian doctors – pain, increased blood pressure, uncomfortable erection. Properly treated, bites attributed to this spider rarely caused death. Sadly, Ethan’s hospital was a bit shy on Brazilian doctors, and his symptoms were attributed to a bad reaction to Viagra. Ethan tried to tell doctors he didn’t take Viagra, but they’d heard that one before, usually from men too embarrassed to admit the truth. They treated for a drug allergy, a treatment that went disastrously wrong. Ethan’s erection survived, but he didn’t.

Bugs. Compass’s life seemed full of them. She read on. According to this second article, the spider likely rode in on a bunch of bananas. A simple explanation, just like she’d wanted. Relatively rare spider, outside the borders of South America, but certainly not unheard of in other places, that was reassuring. Sort of. Only there was some comment in the article from the mother-in-law that, as one of Ethan’s children was mildly allergic to bananas, they never had them in the house. Still. Nothing to connect the bug to Oliver. There was evidence that the spider had been in the house for some days or weeks – what evidence that could possibly be, they didn’t say, but it did mean the spider could have been there since before Oliver left for the States. No way of telling. The death was being recorded as “accidental,” but the author’s suspicion left ant-trails of doubt between the lines of the article. Clearly, the writer of the article had reservations, but whether they were genuine or intended to sell more papers was less clear.

Compass turned off the computer. The trail had ended here. Compass was so confused now, she wasn't sure whether to feel guilty about Ethan's death or not. Somehow, it bordered on her fault, and she had no idea how or why. But she felt badly for him -- such an ignoble death with all the screaming, gleeful headlines and leering insinuations. He didn't deserve that, she was almost sure.

And now, there was no one left who could tell her whether or not Oliver was dangerous. Mina either believed Oliver was out to kill her or was prepared to stick to that lie to the end. Arthur and Ginny had no reason to believe that Oliver was anything but crooked, wicked and probably lethal. Ethan, who had once been his friend, was now dead. If she wanted to know, she was going to have to find out from the man himself.

Of all the things she’d wanted to be when she grew up, “bait” wasn’t one of them. But how else to lure her father out into the open?

She turned on her laptop again, began to craft her reply.

4 comments:

NuclearToast said...

Oh no, not Ethan! Who's next to bite it (or, more appropriately, get bit)?

Ash said...

What a great chapter! You are on a roll and I love it! Keep it up! (No pun intended.) P.S. This chapter has a lot of penises in it! He he heeeeee!

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