Chapter 3: Amant Enceinte
I always thought that the lines in the palm of my hand ran thin. I didn't like to think about what it meant. Weaknesses I had. How long the world would keep me around.
I don't know a damn thing about palm reading, but I know that one line runs deeper since the last time I looked.
The walk from the hospital is in complete autopilot mode. My eyes are vacant, and the only thing projected in front of them is Olivia's nearing evolution. Pregnant in a hammock. More pregnant in a clawfoot tub, with me, her curves catching sunlight like an ice sculpture. The way she'd laugh the first time a leg stretched out against me through her flesh.
I hold my swirling head in my hands. There was a time when the sight of a pregnant woman made me want to scrub my eyes with mechanic's soap, and now I can't take in enough air to handle the mere thought of it. I need to be with her, if only in her vicinity. Even if it's in Gregory's frozen corner of Grenadine's right under a vent, my girlfriend's hand on my thigh and Olivia's eyes at the bottom of her water glass.
She believes...if it's not his...that the baby was conceived on Belarus night. (I wish I didn't have to associate it with that Congressman's face, but it's quicker than saying 'The night she shoved me out the window to get me to leave.') February 18th. I wanted to tell her I knew she was right, wholeheartedly. Whole-evrathing-ly. But I didn't. I ran, because I'm running out of time.
I never needed to be Cole St. John to survive. He's damn useless under pressure.
Case in point: my mind runs off yet again, and the warm satin of her master bedroom takes over. Belarus night was about attending to everything, to things we never knew were neglected. Her cold hands, the hair-trigger birthmark on my lower hip. We were old lovers and new lovers in one, enlightened and shaking. She was in my lap and I preyed on her neck, knowing she was close.
It possessed me, for the first time, to look a woman in the eyes as we lost control.
That was when I knew there were things I wasn't experienced in at all. Gravity, for starters. I dropped to my knees. Stay, I told myself, but a little piece of me took that way too literally.
The wind snaps me back into the world. I look down the beach and see Caitlin and her Screaming Kitty bandmates, sitting on a blanket and passing around a bottle with a paper bag over it. She's wearing a black t-shirt torn to the cleavage. Across it, a stark white skull with cat ears and whiskers for crossbones. Microscopic cutoff shorts and knee-high boots. The girls roar with laughter. They blow smoke into the salt air, spout off indistinct curses.
I squint and twist my heel in the sand. We live in the same eleven-by-twelve room. We kissed goodbye this morning. That can't be what she was wearing...but everything before Eddie's pictures seems like another lifetime ago.
"Boy, you've got some bad voodoo in your Midas touch since you came to Sunset Beach!" Del chuckles. "You turn this girl into gold, and you're lookin' more like petrified shit. Now move over, you're spoilin' the view," he grins, gazing at the girls. "Lo-li-ta Black. That is a Cole St. John makeover if I ever seen one."
"Let me clue you in on something, Boss Hogg. It's Gregory's doing. She's busting out of captivity."
"In more ways than one!" he laughs. "I guess the ol' Richards collar will have to be passed on to your son. You just know it's a boy, so Greg can brand it with his own name. Unless of course you DO somethin' about it, but you won't. Yellow-bellied little mongrel."
"Get out of my head," I shiver.
"Now is that any way to talk to the only father who's ever been there for you? Your only confidant about Oliviagate? You're just as crazy as Lainey!"
I clench my hands in my hair, trying to evict him. At this point, I think I'll need a neurosurgeon.
I look back at the twenty-somethings who aren't talking to their dead abductors, or aging by the minute, and I remember I'm one of them. I want to seize Caitlin in my arms, kiss her senseless, and be the best part of her new, reckless freedom...but a deep pang of guilt goes through me to the marrow. Not because of where I've been, what I've created, what I'm about to do.
It hits me that Caitlin has become the affair.
I force my spine to turn away, hunching towards the strand. That's just the icing on it all. I can't even resolve on one detail of a heist that'll save my life.
The desert image Connors taunted me with takes over. Olivia lies in the sand, her skin transparent, choking on her thirst. The nail polish remover could taste just like water if she pretended. The acetone rips through her and she has no voice to cry out in agony.
The acetone glides through the umbilical cord.
I stagger into the alley between the Java Web and the Jade Palace, a corkscrew for a windpipe. Everything that should be spurring me on is paralyzing me. What the hell am I gonna do?
What else would happen right now but my phone ringing?
I fling it open and feel a vein bulge in my neck. "What now, Connors!"
The soft words I hear instead send a backdraft through my ear. "Oh, God, I knew it. What have you gotten yourself into?"
"Olivia," I swallow. A few senseless utterances later, "Are those cars I'm hearing in the background?"
"Did you really think I was going to stay in that triage broom closet? They did all the bloody monitoring I needed, so I checked myself out. I won't let you slink back into the shadows alone!"
"Are you out of your mi-"
"Belt up, Cole! The baby is fine- you're not! I knew it from the moment I walked into your room. You were trembling, and it certainly wasn't because of my ill-fitting pants!"
"And when you found out about the baby, it only got worse," she goes on, knowing I'll never find an 'edgewise' to slip into. "You kissed me like you were going to war, bounded out of the hospital, and what was I supposed to think? Oh well? There have been so many moments just like this, when I stood by and did nothing. I won't stand still for you. Not after the things you said. Or did you forget, in typical Deschanel fashion?"
I rest my head against the brick wall, mortar crumbling on my shoulders as I sink to the ground. "I'm not gonna drag you down with me, okay?"
"You drag me down? I've pulled you into the depths of hell, Cole, and you're still able to smile. A quite infectious one at that."
I shake my head, my sigh burning my cheeks. "Olivia...all I want is for you to be happy. That's all I've ever wanted, from the first time I saw you crying in that grotto. I wanted that when I didn't even know you...nevermind now. And I know it would make you happy to...tell Gregory you're pregnant. Just do it. Send him over the moon. You won't regret it."
"I wish it were that simple. The look on his face when I've told him that news...is imprinted on my heart. But now, so is the torment on yours."
"I'll be okay."
"Well, thank you for that prediction, Madame Torres the bloody psychic, but that's all it is. Please just tell me what you're tangled up in, and why you thought that lowlife was calling? I'll know if you lied to me when I see you. Your sweat smells a bit tangy to a pregnant woman, keep in mind."
I guess Nurse Stacey has a special announcement to make. Kneading my brow, it takes a lie about .2242 seconds to infiltrate my brain. "Look...I owe Eddie a little money and he keeps hassling me."
"How much is a little?" Something that's rightfully yours, Olivia, I shiver. An insurance policy, the one briefcase you could leave Gregory with, that he can't shut off or transfer to the Caymans. Only that little. "That man has probably ordered broken kneecaps in the name of Andrew Jackson," she goes on.
"Well...mine have been wearing down slowly since February, anyway."
"Cole..." The way it balances on her tongue as she exhales it, that one syllable is heavy with a million things, as if it isn't a broken piece of who I am. "If anathing ever happened to you..."
"That's not even my name," I finally blurt out to someone in Sunset Beach.
"Wha...it's not? You made up St. John and Cole too?"
"No. Cole is just the only part that's salvageable."
"I had no idea. Does Caitlin-"
"No," I sigh.
"It can't be all that bad."
I hate it now more than ever, knowing the circumstances of my birth, and...for other reasons. "It's...Bertrand Coleman Grégoire Deschanel."
I fully expect a silky laugh, and I get just that. "Oh, Cole. That is preposterous. One of your middle names is Gregory?"
"No, it's Grégoire," I over-pronounce.
"Well, in spite of your reservations, I think the whole lot is very arresting...albeit in a 19th century sort of way. I guess this means that my revenge for 'Ollie' will be calling you 'Bertie.'"
My heart reaches into my throat as my eyes trace the cracks in the pavement. "As horrifying as that is, it...means a lot. I never had a nickname. They weren't Grandmother's thing. She didn't even want a nickname for 'grandmother'...obviously."
Her sigh pops my ear through the receiver. "That woman- and I use the term feather lightly- is...oh my God!"
"What?" I gasp. All that flashes through my head is Gregory before her on the sidewalk, a laundromat photo in his bony fingers. "What's wrong?"
"I felt it," she laughs. "The quickening! The baby's first little flutter. This is the earliest I've ever felt it!"
"Can I try?" I ask, then curse myself for sounding about eight. "I mean, do you think it'll do it again...sometime?"
"You wouldn't be able to feel it unless you were Aquaman, you goof," she chuckles. "It's so deep inside, almost undetectable, and still...quite a confirmation of life."
Letting out my breath does nothing for the pressure in my chest, the ridiculous amount of warmth washing over me. "...You're beautiful, Olivia. I've never even told you so. That should be a felony."
"Maybe you haven't said it aloud...but you've told me. Cole...there are things you need to know. Just in case."
"In case what?"
"Dr. Robinson isn't sure this pregnancy will be kind to me."
The alley starts to compress me, brick by brick. "Olivia, no."
"Sh-sh. Please listen, darling. There was a time, very recently...that the memory of your lips made me cringe. That filled me with so much relief, until I realized...that I cringed because it was only a memory."
"...you're killing me. Why are you saying all this on the phone?"
"Because it's easier," she sniffs. "Because in person, we can't keep our mouths apart long enough to say anathing. I didn't even know your name."
"...tell me where you are."
"Not until I say this." The pause between us is rich with little sounds. Crackles. Hesitant breathing. "I was destined to meet you. If we hadn't met in that cave, we would've met on the street, or the pier, or been introduced by my own daughter. It would've happened despite who we are and because of it. I had to learn to love someone selflessly, without one thought of what I could gain from it. That's what saved me. I...Ijustadoreyou," she whispers, "and not in that starry-eyed way of someone you've charmed. It's the way of someone who knows Bertrand. A beautiful fool who thinks much less of himself than he puts on...and has a massive heart. That man is no thief. You're only Bertrand with me."
I open my mouth and nothing comes out for a moment. My jaw rattles. Her words still riding on my breath as I try to find my body, carve out my voice box. Nothing.
"Bertie?...Are you there?..."
"...Do you know those few seconds, at the grotto...when you first walk through the cleft in the rocks, and you can't see anything at all? And then you come to the spot where the moonlight breaks in...and everything takes shape, and you know you're not lost." I close my eyes, grateful she can't see me. I feel about a hundred years old in body, compared to this clumsy young soul. "That was when I first saw you, Ollie. That was my legend. That was 'God, I love this girl.'"
She makes a tiny sound. Maybe she feels the quickening again, that little extension of me than can always reach her. "...what have we done, dear heart...what are we doing?"
"This is crazy."
"Where are you?"
"I'll come to you." Gravity. There were no tides in the Pacific until she came to California.
"Side Street, darling."
"I love you," I sigh, kissing the pinholes on the phone like an idiot. "I'll be there in two seconds."
I don't get to one. My phone is pitched from my ear as something black and musty goes over my head, a needle jabs my arm that makes the world start to slur until I can't comprehend it any longer.
My eyes slump open, one heavy struggle that leads to another. I try to find my arms and legs, but they're bound tightly to my chair. "...side street," I feel marbling in my mouth through the haze. I finally make out the dinginess of a warehouse, and a man with black hair flopping in his blue eye.
"Afternoon, sunshine," Eddie smiles. "Or should I say ey up! 'Cause apparently you understand British, but not English. When I said 'steal the Deschanel jewels', that didn't mean take your lover to the fucking gynecologist."
My eyes widen, an instant pain tunneling through my head. "How do you-"
"Fehh, how do you know about thehh?" he mimics in a wretched voice. "For the last time: private, investigator, bitch. I saw you leaving South Bay and thought, 'Well, that doesn't seem conducive to anything I need.' Since I can hack into a hospital database faster than you can get kidnapped, I found an Olivia Cole on the roster. Piece of advice: an alias shouldn't be the combined first names of the two backstabbers. Not very discreet."
I close my eyes in relief. He's not putting two and two together about the baby.
"Now, for the life of me, I can't figure out such a glaring detour from the task at hand. Especially when the woman's been getting more breast exams lately than she'd ever need."
"...you gave me a deadline." Behind my eyes is a looping image of Olivia waiting on the sidewalk, rubbing the back of her neck, glancing at her watch. Ijustadoreyou, I justadoreyou.
"Didn't you ever have a teacher that told you deadlines aren't an invitation for procrastination? Oh, that's right. You just fucked your teachers and got straight A's. By the way...I can also turn back the deadline."
There's a trench-coated man in the corner of the warehouse with long brown hair, the smoke from a cigarette twisting from his mouth. The muscle of the operation, I decide, considering Connors' narrow frame.
"I think it's time I introduced you to Mastiff," Eddie says.
"Mastiff?" I snicker, a little uninhibited in my grogginess. "What kind of...80's wrestler name is that?"
He just keeps smoking his cigarette.
Connors grins. "It's sort of a waste of time to make colorful jabs at a sociopath," he whispers.
I swallow hard, Adam's apple pared by heart. "I'm curious. How is holding me hostage gonna get you the jewels any faster? What are you gonna do, beat me up? Break the hand that feeds you?"
"Now, would I do a thing like that to someone who's lead such a traumatic existence? God, I can't imagine what you went through when your dressage horse had a bad mane day. It just gives me the chills."
My weighted eyes don't need much help narrowing, staring him down. "What is your deal?...This isn't just about the jewels. There's no way. This is personal...but I don't have a damn clue why you hate me so much."
"Hate is such an ugly word. There are things I like about you, Cole. Your imagination, for instance. The fantastic little tale you tell yourself that AJ Deschanel was a fearless explorer...and you were his only bastard son."
My mouth falls slowly open.
He chuckles under his breath. "I might not be a ringer for Armando the First...but there are definite similarities between me and the Second...don't you think?"
The flash in his blue eyes drills into my stomach. "...no...no, you're full of it."
"Oh, I'm full of it, alright...of Deschanel blood. You see, once upon a slut, Junior had a grand old time with a woman named Misty Connors...but I never knew that until she was on her death bed a month ago. She finally hacked up that little gem of information. Lung cancer. Oxygen in her nose and a cigarette still dangling from her lips. Still. I don't know how she didn't blow up. She lived poor and died poor in Long Beach, and he wanted nothing to do with her. You can guess how that influenced her opinion of Edward."
"Don't," he hisses. "You have no idea what it was like. Maybe if Mom had opened her ulcered little mouth sooner...I could've been the one Del delivered to the palace. Once I knew who I was, I had to have those jewels. I'm the first born, after all...and then I found out about you. What were the chances that the lesser chip off the block was a professional cat burglar? I was the one who convinced Gregory to let me keep tabs on you. For his daughter's sake, of course."
I swallow a knife turned sideways, contemplating this livid half of me. Brothers are supposed to catch frogs together. "Listen...the evidence locker plan isn't gonna work. In three weeks, the jewels will be out of probate. Just three weeks. I could steal them from Gregory's safe in five seconds."
"No. Deal. I'm not gonna wait any longer for my birthright...and you...are gonna work like you never have in your life. It's not like I didn't give you enough motivation."
The flash in his eyes suddenly makes Grandmother's most treasured photo of my father hammer at my skull. The hair, the chin, the mouth. He looks more like him than I do. "We're brothers, Eddie."
"Shut up!" he growls. "Don't try that Kevin Costner Robin Hood shit on me." He turns around. "Mastiff...you know how I feel about ashes. You better be using an ashtray."
"Don't have one," he says in unbroken monotone.
"Then we'll just have to use this cute little Pillsbury poke-hole in Cole's face."
I should've kept my mouth shut. "No."
Mastiff pinches the cigarette tight with his thumb and index finger, laughing low as he crosses the room. "Sweet."
"No, no, no, please! You don't have t-"
"Don't worry, Cole," Eddie says, "it's only cosmetic. I'm sure you'll make up for it with all your substance. I even brought some appropriate music to drown out any...discomfort," he says, crouching down to a boom box. "Gentlemen, the incomparable Simon and Garfunkel."
"No!" I struggle violently against the duct tape on my wrists and legs, my chair slamming down on its back to the sound of blaring acoustic guitars. My whole body retches at the thought of having to explain the wound to Olivia, more than anything. They stand over me in delight, the blasting music devouring my cry of "I'll get you the jewels tonight!" All they see is my mouth moving.
And here's to you, Mrs. Robinson.
Mastiff takes a long drag. Eddie vises my face in his hands as the dimple swallows the head of the Marlboro, all twelve hundred degrees of it. My howl is lost in my own pounding eardrums, as if underwater, curdling no one's blood but mine.
"That was just a little conditioning," a muddled Connors says as the music dies down. "Disobeying, bad. Compliance, good." All I can do is twitch beneath tears, knife-sweat and jerks of breathing, hopelessly Bertrand in every way. They must be able to see my teeth through this hole, the pain begging my eyes to roll back and take me anywhere else. He stoops down, a blur of icy eyes and flying spittle. "How about we forget Gregory, and talk about what I'M gonna do to Olivia? You get that collection in my hands tonight, or I swear to God...there'll be a lot more separating you two than time. I'm talking Lady Richards underneath my car with her hundred-proof blood eating a nice pothole in the road. You understand?"
Olivia Death Image number four, if you're counting. My head makes a thrashing movement that might be a nod. Every way you look at this, you lose.
I don't register much of how I end up under the pier. A vague awareness of boxcutters slicing away the duct tape, the sack going back over my head. I can't touch my blistering face without aftershocks of nausea and boiled tears. I bury my head in my knees and cry in a way that's completely foreign to me. A primal, guttural, groaning for air, choking on snot sort of cry. A cry that a boy with no parents socks away for a lifetime. One that Grandmother never allowed and Elaine would have, with a waffle iron grasp and hushed words.
In my head I make it to Side Street, over and over again. Kiss Olivia's eyes, let her steal all my breath until I'm flat on the concrete.
She was right. I'm not a thief.
I can't pinpoint the exact moment of Cole St. John's death. Maybe it was under her heavy bed frame, or in the stifling heat of the Wash n' Go laundromat. Maybe the hospital, when we stopped protecting what our hearts did in each other's presence. This desire...this ferocious desire has turned Olivia into the only thing I'm capable of stealing.
I bury my head in my knees again, with no scalding water left to cry. There's no way I'll get the jewels by tonight. I'd have to hold a knife to my sister's throat and force her to open the evidence locker.
Do I have any other choice?
A cancer swells in me again. Paula. The one true sibling I have. I feel the recognition of my own face in hers, the unquestioning love in her eyes. I think of what it would do to our mother if her risen angel boy threatened to harm anyone.
Then again, my mother fired into someone's chest for me.
Like mother, like son.
I think of my child fluttering in liquid weightlessness. Tadcole, my inner third grader names him. He makes me feel so much like a child myself, and yet the most vicious bear standing ten feet on two legs.
Forgive me, sister.
I knock at the door of her one-room loft, a band-aid over the cigarette burn. I almost passed out in my bathroom when I cleaned it with motel soap. Gagged to the bones as the soft, harmless gauze pad made contact with the raw flesh.
I can do this.
Paula's face lights up as the mini-blind on the door flips open, but her eyes widen when she opens it. "Oh my gosh, what happened to your face?"
It's not exactly a small band-aid. I can't meet her eyes. "Believe it or not, I'm...a master butcher when it comes to shaving."
"Oh, kiddo," she sighs. "Jeez, it's not your fault. You never had someone to teach you. We could compare lots of notes on deadbeat dads. How about over coffee?"
"I'd like that," I shudder as she pulls me in. I have to do this.
"Are you sure you're okay? You look really run down."
"It's just been one of those days." As if anybody gets blackmailed, finds out they're related to the blackmailer, gets disfigured by a guy named Mastiff and professes their love for their expecting married lover all in the same one.
"At least you have plenty of nagging women in your life now, to get you to take care of yourself," she says, yanking the coffee pot out of a crowded corner of the counter. "I'm so glad you felt comfortable enough to just drop by. I've been driving everybody crazy -especially Ricardo- like, agonizing and overanalyzing if I should give you space, or tackle you with hugs...there are no how-to manuals on dead brothers coming back, you know?"
"Did Ricardo warn you not to trust me?" I barely hear myself ask...reaching for my pocket.
"C'mon, give him a little more credit than that," she scoffs, her back to me. My opportunity. "Everybody told me to just go with my gut. So I went overboard." She opens a kitchen cupboard and pulls out a wrapped present. "Ta-da!" She pushes it to me on the table. "Happy belated birthday, you unpredictable little Aquarius."
I sink back into the chair and try to pretend we're not related, to erase everything from my head but Olivia's two heartbeats. One look at Paula's trusting face and I tremble with recognition. The jawline, the hair, the arch of the brow. I am in there, with the exception of this scar. The cigarette burn reaches inside me as my hands tentatively pick at the shiny paper.
It's a framed photo of two children, a girl and a boy, her arm around his shoulder. "Oh my God...? It's us. How can that be?"
"My friend Mark is unbelievable at graphic design. See," she points, "He took that Easter '79 picture you gave Mom, and I gave him one of me in my funky Sunday best. He superimposed them, did all the effects and the shading. Genius, huh? Ricardo thinks it's kinda uncanny...it made Mom start bawling, and...I'm sorry if it makes you sad, too. That's not my intention at all. I just couldn't resist being able to rewrite history the way it should have been."
I want the knife in my pocket to cut my femoral artery, to lie on the loft floor dying while I tell her what I've done. "If only, Paula," I whisper. "It wouldn't be like this."
"Like what? What's wro..." I can tell by the gasp in her throat and the cold air stabbing against my cheek that the band-aid is hanging off. "Cole! Shaving nick, my ass!" She holds my face in both hands. "That's a cigarette burn!"
I can't stomach telling her where it came from, let alone coercing her into getting me the jewels. "Paula, don't-"
"Do you know who you're talking to? I go on a million domestic calls, Cole, I know a damn cigarette burn when I see one! You need a doctor, a skin graft, not a ten cent band-aid! Who did this? The way you're trying to sweep it under the rug, I'm almost convinced it was Caitlin! Is this all part of her new rock star image- abusing her boyfriend?"
I let out a wilted laugh that sounds absolutely pitiful and shaken. "Do you know what I'd give for an After School Special kind of problem like that?"
Tears well up in her eyes. "Tell me. I was supposed to protect you...your whole life. Now I'm a cop and I still can't protect you? Do you have any idea how that feels? There's nothing you could say that would change anything!"
"I wouldn't even know where to start."
Her cell phone chirps loudly. "You've got exactly one minute to figure it out." She throws the phone to her ear, her hair flying in disarray. "What!...Oh, I'll give you 'some greeting.'...I'll tell you what my problem is. My brother is sitting at the kitchen table with a horrible burn he tried to fix with a little Elaine Stevens ingenuity, that's what!...Don't be an asshole, Ricardo!...I'm not on call, what could possibly be...what? When?...Oh God...I don't believe it. I'll be right down..." She covers her eyes. "I don't believe it. How many murders in just two months...?"
The growing blur around me stems from the intense throbbing in my cheek, a branding iron wrapped in frostbite. The pain radiates up to my eye, making just the soft light in the apartment unbearable. Behind the sawing in my brain, I see O.D.I. # 5.
I feel my head hit the table. "Cole!" She raises me back up, her hands at my temples. "Oh God, little brother. Just like Mom. Just like her. Hiding pain like an animal." She holds me in her arms, shaking her head against my shoulder.
"Don't say another word until you take a damn Vicodin," she says, running for the bathroom. "Or three!"
"...who was killed?" a gurgling sound that might be my voice calls after her. "Who was killed, paula..."
"It's no one you would know," she says, the pill bottle shaking in her hands. "It's my old partner, Eddie Connors...someone shot him."
I just about swallow my tonsils. The palm of my hand is blank. The sensation in my chest isn't surprise, or relief, or the emptiness of everything never to be realized. It's the sickening, breathless realization that there's an apartment to search, a photo of two lovers to be placed in a plastic bag. A beautiful picture of motive that will make Torres turn to us, rigid as a Pointer.
A/N: Thanks to all of you who are hanging in with this story. I don't post chapters in a very timely manner, but each one is made with love. Maybe too much. ;) Thanks for your support