Lethe

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Chapter 31

Chapter 31: Mr. Corduroy

“Yoo-hoo, Mr. Delgado? Mr. Hector? Are you there?” The man’s English is inflected with a slight German accent.

“Sorry .. uh … Hector’s not here.”

The man steps around the willow tree and onto the head of a pumice carving. He is wearing corduroy pants, a khaki vest and a floppy-brimmed hat, one side chewed away. He has a blocky head with a scruffy beard. Maybe it’s just the clothes, but he looks to me like a war correspondent.

“Do you expect him back soon?” says the man.

“Listen. I’m not with Delgado?”

“Then you must be with Marco?”

I bite my lip. I shouldn’t say anything. This guy might be one of those mercenaries he warned me about. “Does he know you?”

“I know of him,” says the man. “Everybody here knows of him, the famous Marco, the Unfettered One. Ach, this must be his boat? The famous kitty cat?”

“No, this is an outrigger, not a catamaran,” I say with authority, as if I’m the afterlife’s expert in Polynesian seafaring.

“You are correct,” says the man, hopping off the ledge. “This is not a very good boat at all. Es ist Scheisse.”

“Delgado stole his good one, or so I’m told.”

“Not surprising,” says the man. “Delgado seems to have the run of this place. It makes one wonder what allies he has in high places.”

Lucrezia dashes away from the willow tree, prompting a disinterested glance from the man.

“We did see him earlier,” I say. “Sabonis wanted to … uh … talk to him.”

“Yes. Me too,” says the man, picking bits of wood off the outrigger with his fingernails. “And who are you?”

“Dan,” I say. “Daniel Tompkins.” I almost hold out my hand for him to shake, but decide I’d rather not be touched.

“Daniel? Did you mean Danielle?”

“No,” I say, without explaining further.

“I see. Well … they call me Mr. Corduroy, although that’s not my true name, it’s only … the trousers I wear. But since I know you as Daniel, you may call me Kenneth.”

“Nice … to meet you,” I say. My eyes follow Lucrezia lurking behind another tree, trying to motion for me to run away or something.

“You are travelers too, are you?” says Mr. Corduroy. “I know Mr. Marco had aspirations. Has he succeeded?”

I’m not really listening. Lucrezia seems desperate. Her antics distract me. “Um, yeah.”

“How interesting,” says Mr. Corduroy, checking out the bottle of Havana Club. “That makes three of us then … or is it four?”

“Four?”

“Those who have gone back,” says Mr. Corduroy. “And returned.”

“Oh … right.”

“Don’t you think, then, it would make sense for us to start some sort of consortium,” says Mr. Corduroy. “We have mutual interests, similar risks. If only Mr. Delgado wasn’t so elusive, he could join us. Do you suppose you and Mr. Marco would be interested in such an arrangement?”

“I don’t speak for … Mr. Marco,” I say. “You’d have to ask him.”

“Then I shall,” says Mr. Corduroy. “You expect him soon?”

Mr. Corduroy doesn’t feel like a threat at all. I’m thinking, no way he can be one of these mercenaries. Yet, there is Lucrezia, dancing in the shadows, pantomiming danger, as if I’m chatting with an axe murderer.

“Where’s your boat?” I say.

“What boat?” says Mr. Corduroy. “I need no boat. I go by land.”

“Back to the living world? By land?”

“Yes,” he says. “So you see how a consortium would be mutually beneficial. We can share trade secrets … opportunities … protection.”

“By … land?” I say.

“Yes, that is what I said. It seems that you might not believe me.” He pulls something from a jacket pocket. “Do you like chocolat … mit marzipan?” He breaks off a tiny square square and tosses it to me.

It bounces off my fingertips and drops in the sand. I pounce on it like the chocoholic I’ve always been. Its surface is frosted with re-congealed cocoa butter. But it retains the aroma of fine chocolate.

I pop the square into my mouth and let the sweet almond essence of the marzipan diffuse through my mouth. Flavors suffuse my palate that I thought I would never taste again.

It has the same effect on me as the rum. It makes me feel alive.

“Ritter Sport. Good, yes?”

“Mm-hmm! I’m almost afraid to swallow.

“It is good to be skeptical,” says Mr. Corduroy. “Healthier that way.”

He pulls a wad of paper from his back pocket, unfolds it and holds it up in front of me. It’s warped from being waterlogged, but it’s a German newspaper—Die Zeit.

“Wow.”

“Ach, it’s just old news now. It is the nature of our travel, yes? Another reason for us to make a consortium. We can complement each other’s time frames. But I have to tell you … by land is the way to go. It is much more efficient.”

“Would you show us?” I say. “If … we showed you our way?”

“If we have a consortium agreement, then of course. Though, I’m not interested in the sea route. Your willingness to travel and your time frames are more valuable to me, as mine may be for you, maybe.”

“Time frames?”

“Of course you must know … each of us returns to the time we left … the living world. As if everyone has their own clock that stops and waits and only resumes ticking when we return.”

“Oh, of course,” I say, but this is news to me. Stunning news. If I understand correctly, this means that if and when I return, it will not be weeks and weeks after my death. Only seconds or minutes may have elapsed.

I could reach Gina even before she find out I’d been killed. I could be there to comfort and console her, if that would even be necessary?

Other questions arise, like what happens to my living body—the one that’s already there? Would there be one dead Dan and one returned from the dead? Would I be a girl? A ghost? A ghost girl?

I don’t dare ask Mr. Corduroy. To ask would reveal my white lie, show that I had never been back and neither had Sabonis. Then, what reason would there be for him to have us in his consortium?

“Still no Mr. Marco,” says Mr. Corduroy. “You said you expected him soon?”

“I … did. I do.”

“Did he go into Sixwing?”

“Yes.”

Mr. Corduroy huffs and pushes away from the boat. “If you don’t mind … I’m going back to my hut. Come fetch me when he returns and we will talk. It was good fortune to find you two. Catching up with Mr. Delgado I’m afraid may be a bit more difficult. It was a pleasure to meet you.” He extends his hand.

“Likewise,” I say. I shake his hand. His grip is cold and firm.

He tips his tattered hat and turns back to the dwellings.

Lucrezia comes skulking back.

“That man … you must be careful.”

“He doesn’t seem so bad.”

She looks at me gravely. “I see him … with angels.”

“Angels?”

“Facilitators.” She hisses the word like an angry cat.

888

Lucrezia sits with me in the boat. With the orb clenched and darkness all encompassing, it feels more secure in the outrigger than out in the open.

Lucrezia proves as chatty and inquisitive as a teeny bopper. She grills me on what my life was like, on every girlfriend I’ve ever had, particularly Gina. Yet, oddly, no matter what I say, she thinks I’m a lesbian. Nothing I can say convinces her I’m a male. It seems like it should be obvious from the way I carry myself—my attitudes, perspectives and personality. But in Lucrezia’s mind, flesh trumps all.

Her presence calms me, so much so, that despite my intended vigilance, I doze off. The tap of a foot to my head wakens me from the blank sleep of the dead.

It’s Sabonis, staring down his mangy beard at me.

“We gotta scram,” he says. “This place is crawling with Facilitators.”

Lucrezia is gone.

“Hell of a watchman you are. Queen Mary could have steamed by and you wouldn’t a seen her.”

“Sorry. I—”

“Man, those blood sparrows did a job on you. Looks like Sunday morning at the diner.”

I scramble to check my limbs, scanning my skin for beak marks and blood.

Sabonis sniggers. “Hah! Just shitting ya. Though they are starting to roust out of their burrows.”

Sabonis unfolds the sail, now fully mended, edges and seams reinforced with strips of cloth. He lashes it to the mast and boom.

“There was a man came to see you last night,” I say. “Mr. Corduroy. He’s staying in one of those huts. I promised we’d fetch him when you got back. He wants to … chat.”

“Chat?” says Sabonis. “What’d I tell you about talking to strangers?”

“He seemed sincere enough.”

“Are you out of your mind? I’m marked for Collection.”

“But he says he knows you … of you.”

“Every fool knows of me in this place. How can they not?”

“But this guy … he says he goes back … but by land, not by sea.”

“Go back? You mean—?

“Yeah.”

“Not possible,” says Sabonis. “That’s … bullshit.” He pauses and looks at me. “This guy, what did he look like?”

“I don’t know … just a guy. He was wearing corduroys, hence the name.”

“Corduroys? You mean the pants? Where’d he get him?”

“Same place Delgado got the rum, I assume. Life. He gave me chocolate, too.”

Sabonis gives me a look. “Whoop de doo.” He clambers onto the outrigger and starts attaching the sail.

“So … you wanna meet him?”

“No time for that. We gotta scram.”

“But … if we can go back by land, we don’t need these boats.”

“I don’t believe it. Makes no sense at all.”

“Marco. I think he was telling the truth. He wants to join up with you and Delgado. Compare notes and stuff.”

“I bet he does. By land. Pfft! You were conned. This guy was probably a Facilitator … or worse. Come on, help me push off. We better get our asses outa here quick.”

With reluctance, I help him shove the outrigger back into the water. I keep glancing over to the fishing huts, hoping for Mr. Corduroy to come and straighten things out. But the orb is barely open and the village lies dead as a ghost town.

I honestly believe in Mr. Corduroy’s bona fides. Sabonis’s dismissiveness miffs me.

But we slide into the bay, and the sail balloons, displaying the fine repair work Sabonis commissioned in Sixwing. The wind is changeable and keeps Sabonis busy with the oars and boom. The bucket splits in two and complicates my bailing.

“This fisherman I talked to confirms that Delgado went to Zion,” says Sabonis. “Ain’t far to go. Just around that point.”

I glance up at yet another headwall of jagged rocks and crashing surf and the attraction of Mr. Corduroy’s land route seems ever clear. The taste of chocolate lingers on my palate.
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