Two hours later I got a phone call from an unknown number. I let it ring for a while, hands occupied with holding the local newspaper and pencil stuck between my teeth. The call ended and started again. I let the weird taste of the pen linger a bit in my mouth before picking the phone up and balancing it between my ear and shoulder .
“Are you alone?” The voice on the other hand demanded. I let the newspaper fall in my lap. The unknown caller was my neighbor.
“How nice of you-” I started, but he cut me off.
“Are you alone?” he repeated, insisting for an answer.
“Just me and the baby.” I joked, but the silence that followed was sure sign he didn’t get it. “Yees,” I drawled, “nobody’s here.”
“Good.” He hang up.
“Good.” I mocked. What an odd call – not even time for politeness. I shrugged. Well! If that’s the way he was, then that’s the way it was. I tossed the phone farther away on the couch, plucked a fallen hair from my newspaper and indulged further into how heavily pregnant ballerina had put on high heels instead of flippers for a gala concert.
About five minutes later I heard a car pull up in my front yard. The door slammed and from my window I saw two figures approaching. One of them was Saul, the other attractive young brunette. She was wearing bright red suit, which screamed far about it’s defined tailored lines and not the cheapest ones either. All the details were thought through starting with her black shoes with golden buckles to statement ring on top of her black Pineider napa driving gloves. Those stood out especially, because Saul had come from the driver’s seat. She was quite a site and I watched her with interest. A young lady, close to her 30s and not one wrinkle under her indigo eyes. She was so warm I could feel it with my bare hands.
They were as if from two different worlds – Saul was notably reserved and anxious while the woman sparkled with joy and good mood. They stopped in the middle of the small garden and she cast her hands out, effusively telling Saul how wonderful house it had been and what good times she’d spent here. I don’t know it that was exactly what they talked about, but she was like spot on image of someone arriving back home over long time and I imagined I would say that, so it seemed natural she would too. Saul responded to it with curt smile and then coached her on towards the door.
I rose quickly and got to the door before they did. I arrived there just in time to see him reach out his hand and the house was filled with familiar braying sound. I told myself I would be opening the front door much faster if I didn’t have to plug my ears instead. I unlocked the door and opened it, properly greeting my guests.
“Darling, I warmly suggest changing out that doorbell!” she began heartily. Even Saul was hiding his smile on this account, but moment later he only grunted and pointed her to come in. “It was marvelous when I bought it sixty years ago, but honestly, time flies and it is utmost time….” she reeled off.
“Happens with electronics, you know.” I agreed with a grimace and stepped away, inviting them in. Thankfully he flew past me before my brain filtered through what she said and she missed my huge eyes. Sixty?
My eyes shut immediately on Saul-Erik and I was granted with site of his shoulders slumping, before he quickly gathered his posture and wanted to rush past me, but I blocked his way. I looked right in his eyes, unable to hide my grin. He replied with biting frown and sank forward, pressing me off his way.
I followed them in the house and sent the door close behind me. Oh, this was gonna be very interesting how he swindled himself out of this one. I sat with my back against the window, letting the air blowing out from the cracks cool my blushing neck and looked at the young lady sitting opposite from me.
Brunette started snickering and giggled almost unstop. The awkwardness it created made me think there had to be something more behind her laughing than just her good mood. After a while I had enough of this and I turned my head to Saul and popped an eyebrows. That only added to her good mood and now she was laughing like a little kid. I was convinced I would be showered with confidentiality demands and what not, but instead he simply pointed at the lady.
“Evelyn Helder, I would like you to meet madam Bertwick. Our lost corpse.”
My eyebrows must have transformed into seagulls, because just like them, they didn’t know how to land and fell like rocks back on my nose. I was lost – according to the dates on the coffin I was dealing with 70 plus old lady, not with someone in their early 30s! And definitely not with the one sitting before me.
“Oh, I see,” I mumbled in shock, secretly searching similarities she might have with Mykola and his blue face and wondered, what part did she have, if any, in their little experiment. Mykola had managed to stay alive until now, but duo his tuberculoses his entire body had reacted to the methylene blue they used. Martha here, on the other hand, looked just as perky and clear skinned as ever. Women were notorious with their makeup, but still – to hide that bluish tint she’d had to be master of it! Just in case I glanced down on the hands, or as much I could see behind the gloves, but she still didn’t look even slightly blue.
Saul took a deep breath in, pushed his shoulders back and raised his head.
“Madam Bertwick was my first client,” he began calmly. He didn’t expect any answer from me, just that I’d listen him out and accept what he was about to say. “My specialty is to help relocate her kind.”
“Her kind?” I sounded harsh. I knew well what her kind meant, but I wanted to know what exactly that meant for him.
“Her kind!” he threw back.
I pressed my lips into thin line and crossed hands over my chest. Such attitude was well known to me through August and his pouting. Just try be nice and not interrogate someone directly and they turn into rebuffing tongue-tied bastards, whose trust in opposite sex is suddenly nonexistent. He came here to poke me into trusting them, not the other way around!
“Saul, please!” Madam Bertwick intervened coolly and turned me in jealous buffoon for the change she brought up in him. “Evelyn – may I call you Evelyn?”
“Yes, of course.” I let my hands back down and straightened up on my seat.
“Are you familiar of anti-aging studies?”
Red light! I screamed in my head and knew instinctively I should keep my mouth shut and shake my head. But I didn’t. The uncomfortable feeling grew deeper and I began simultaneously. “There was a man in Sandlewoods, with ice blue eyes, he worked on a corner shop, there, at Ravel and Patricia. He used to meddle with the scientists, or at least that’s what he told me. He got in light of Social Movement. They couldn’t prove anything, but that didn’t stop them from killing him. Shoot in back in tacky robbery…” my voice cracked. It sounded hoarse.
I turned my face away sharply and tried to even my breathing. I was sure I had left it all behind in Sandlewoods. Instead I still couldn’t bare even a thought of it without whirling down the black hole.
“Yes, he researched the past.” Martha nodded. “Only, what people thought to be a crazy idea happened to carry more weight than they expected.”
It was strange to listen her go on about the experiments as if she was explaining it to someone, who didn’t already know about the deluding of their precious formula. I frowned. Wasn’t she aware, who I was? I glanced at Saul – did he know? Should she be talking about this so openly with him? Wasn’t she contacted, when Ida died and left the formula making to me?
“We studied aging and discovered a substance that could stop it.”
I already knew! So what? Mykola was dead, so were Fredrick, Patric, Kolesnik, Ida – that list was pages long, all dead so Henry could protect his precious testing! God this was making me teary!
“It’s all very nice, but I don’t understand,” I stopped her, but she kept explaining me the situation, reducing my first affection to her. I could hear ocean in my ears and it roared so strong it shadowed her words. Nothing seemed comfortable any more. The chair, the sweater, the way I held my legs. Suddenly it was so cold I pulled the sleeves lower, covering my fingers that felt like freezing off. If she didn’t stop soon, I swore I could start seeing ghosts, because my butt was seriously freezing off.
Saul looked straight at me squealing on my chair and bent forward, gently nudging her hand for her to finish.
I decided to ignore everything she had exposed and keep to the actual problem here. “You are Oliver’s grandmother?”
Her joyfulness crumbled and her features contracted the agony Mykola carried in his tired face – longing for ordinary life they so thoughtlessly had sacrificed in the name of science.
“Does Oliver know?” I asked.
Saul shook his head. “No, the only ones, who know about her are you, Madam Bertwick, Rasmus and me.”
“What exactly is it that you do?” I asked, rhythmically pressing my fingers inside my fist.
“Real-estate. I organize trans-location of people with similar faith to Madam Bertwick taking in consideration of their needs and preferences.”
“For people, who don’t fit in the general public.” I supplemented.
“And that’s your big secret?”
He nodded. “Our enterprise is bigger than you can imagine and I don’t like how I’m forced to explain you this, but it seems better than you going around prying so you can whip up a ill informed article about us.”
“I don’t…” I let out cross swearing word. Now would have been good time to turn this all into a big joke and explain by what I felt like millionth time that I wasn’t a reporter, but instead I tossed my head back and rolled my eyes. Saul kept staring at me as if expecting something more, but I wasn’t gonna give him any more ammo to his guns.
“Rasmus doesn’t know I came here today and I’d prefer he doesn’t find out.” He said after we sat there for few minutes in silence, sulking in our own hurt feelings.
“If he asks, I guess I’ll protect my sources!” I hissed sarcastically. He darted me with cold glare, but instead of saying anything he stood up and waited. Madam Bertwick followed his example. She seemed relieved and I suddenly felt horrible. She was just another victim in the experiment. In the end, what did it got them all?
“Your secret died with Kolesnik.” I assured her and rose to show them to the door.
That was enough to make her turn and take a second look at me. “Joosef is dead?”
Damn, was all I could think of on that moment, fried with shocked expressions from both. I wasn’t planning to tell them I had any connections with them, it simply slipped out.
No point of hiding it now, I guessed and nodded. “Yes, he died three years ago. You didn’t know?”
“No. Henri never told me.”
Maybe he kept me as a secret too?
Suddenly she reached out her arms and pulled me against her delicate chest. She smelled like sweet spring rain while she asked, whispering in my ear. “Saul doesn’t know what happened?”
“Then it shall be our secret!” I felt her smile against my hair. “Mykola was so happy when he told me this!”
My chest grew tight and my eyes filled with tears as I realized I was holding the last thing that really connected me with him. I hugged her, responding to her warmth and let myself cry for the small second. I loved that bastard. I loved the way he liked his coffee, the way he held the candle holder while he taught me to use it. My rock for two years. Crashed into dirt.
Her fingers dug deeper in my soft flesh and I felt them lock me in her arms before she whispered intensely. “Don’t make the new patch!” I wanted to turn my head, but her cheek pressed against mine stopped me from moving and she deepened the hug. “All will be alright, trust me!” She set me loose and pushed away a bit and quickly pulled my eyes dry. “Trust me!”
She kissed me on the cheek like my grandmother did and I nodded against her neck.
“We gotta go now, Saul promised to take me to the station before Rasmus sniffs out my perfume! Take care of the house, OK?”
And then she was gone, taking with her all the warmth and replacing it with cold breeze.
“Are you ready?” Saul asked of her and they disappeared behind the wall. Before he closed the front door, he came back. “Can I count on you?”
I looked up and nodded slowly. Yes, he could count on me. I had no plans feeding them to Social Movement. He hesitated, but then walked over the kitchen, pulled out a folded sheet of paper and placed it on the table before he offered me his handkerchief.
I took it, rolling the soft linen between my fingers as if I had been handed something very old. Indeed, I reacted with surprise, it had been years since I last saw man carry a real, fabric handkerchief, even longer since I saw one hand it to a woman. I gazed at the wrinkled paper beneath my hands and looked up to thank him, but only saw his back disappearing behind the wall and by the time I reached to the door, he was already sitting in his car, starting the motor.
I went back and unwrapped the paper. I fell on the seat next to the table and stared at it. It was a contract for a small apartment on Larrimore Park Road. On my father’s name. It was in the house the whole time? No, it couldn’t have been – I cleaned it all up! Then when had he put it there?
I couldn’t decide if I should feel joy or disappointment. He clearly was sending a message to me – get your snooping over with and then be off. I had no doubt Martha would keep my secret, but the crawling sensation in my stomach told me Saul already knew and that gave my stomach reason to rally.
But whose ash was in the urn then?