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Copyright 2011 by A. Sparrow, All Rights Reserved
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Deliverance prayers were excerpted and adapted from the Gene B. Moody Deliverance Manual http://www.lakehamiltonbiblecamp.com/man/d-index.htm
Years ago in Concord, Mass.
Prologue: The Pump House
To all outward appearances, Aaron Levine lived a life of grudging compliance with the judge’s Order for Protection. When he drove through Concord, he kept to the highway. He did all his shopping and banking in neighboring towns. And the room he rented at the Acton Motor Lodge was well beyond the two mile radius specified in the restraining order.
In truth, he violated the order with abandon, prowling the forests and swamps behind his old house. Absurd, the lengths he would go to get there undetected, but what else could a heartsick father do to see his own daughters?
He could understand why the judge would award custody to Sheila. Sure, he had anger issues, aggravated but not excused by Sheila’s constant belittling of his musical ambitions. Until he got his emotions under control, Nina and Marta were better off staying with their mom. But to deny all visitation rights was too much to bear. He hoped the appeal would set things right, but until then, he had no choice but to resort to extremes.
Friday night at home with the girls was always pizza and popcorn and a Disney DVD. An unquellable pang compelled him to come see if the family tradition continued without him.
For the third time that week he slipped through the woods on foot, face obscured by a hooded sweatshirt. When he reached the commuter rail tracks, he turned towards Boston, following the rail bed deep into the barrens lining the banks of the Assabet River. A dead elm marked with an axed ‘x’ showed him where to veer through a swampy patch of pines to a hip-deep ford in the river. He slogged his way across, current tugging at his thighs.
Two hundred yards through red maple and aspen, the land rose through a patch of knotweed, leveling off at the lawn he had mowed a thousand times. He crawled on his elbows and lay there in the weeds, gazing at the little white house he had scraped and painted through several cycles of weathering; the swing set and play house he had constructed for Nina from scrap lumber and recycled hardware; and the vegetable garden with all the broccoli and lettuce gone to seed. Ten years he had lived here, only to be tossed out like an old couch.
He knew that people would find this behavior creepy if he was found out. And he knew that it would probably land him in jail. But knowing how wrong it was to stalk his own family compelled him no less.
The restraining order had less to do with any real threat of violence than with Sheila’s emotional fragility. Yes, he had been loud. He had always been loud. Who wouldn’t be if his wife of twelve years threatened to leave, without giving a chance to make things right? Even now, he refused to accept her divorce filing as permanent, seeing it simply a phase. Sheila would eventually want him back.
But he had never intended any harm. Being outward with emotions was embedded not only in his personality but in his upbringing. Shouting was simply how his branch of the Levines communicated. He couldn’t help that Sheila perceived every outburst as a physical threat. But he had never touched her in anger. Never.
As he lay among the knotweed, letting mosquitoes feast unslapped on his sweaty brow and scratched arms, his intent was not to spy on Sheila’s suitors. Yes, she was seeing other men, but that didn’t matter. That wasn’t why he had come. He wanted to be close to his family, in a place where he might imagine he was simply trimming brush and any moment now the back door would open and Nina would call him into dinner. Just like old times.
As the sun sank into the pines, the house stayed dark. They weren’t even home. There would be no communing. This revelation opened a void in his chest that could have swallowed the known universe. He retreated back to the river in the dark.
For five days he resisted the urge to return. It was three miles there and back. A rational man would have simply stopped and let his lawyer appeal and renegotiate a sensible calendar of visitation. Weekends with Nina and Marta at the site of Sheila’s choosing? Why not? He would even concede to a chaperone.
Instead, he found a place to sleep in the forest. It was a pump house built in the late seventies as part of an EPA Superfund cleanup. An old W.R. Grace waste pond had polluted the groundwater with vinyl chloride and a soup of less pronounceable toxins. The pump had long ceased to operate; in fact, most of it had been removed from the house. But it sat half a mile from his backyard and a quarter mile from the Stop and Shop where he could park his car.
He started staying there entire weekends, showering Sunday nights and returning to his public routine. On the very first Saturday he was rewarded with a front row view of Sheila pushing Marta on a swing while Nina played badminton with the neighbor girls. Several times he had the urge to rise up and stride out into the yard with a big smile. Well, look who’s here! Dear old Dad. But he restrained himself. He might be mentally ill, but he was sane enough to keep it bottled up.
He had a system now. He kept hip waders at the ford. He flicked on his flashlight only when he had crossed to the other side.
The shack was shaping up into something even Henry David Thoreau might envy. He had dismantled the rest of the fittings and pumps and stacked them outside, covered the holes with scraps of plywood and lined the floor with a mosaic of carpet remnants retrieved from a dumpster.
He had an air mattress and a sleeping bag. His favorite pillow. Cans of chili and beer stacked on a shelf.
Nights after his surveillance missions he would sit on the stoop, a candle holding the night at bay, and play his fiddle to the pines. He hoped some strains of his music would seep across the river and color his daughter’s dreams.
He played free, unbound by chord signatures or scales. He tuned by ear and never the same way twice. He sought and cultivated wolf tones, vibrations that sang out from the body of his instrument when the wood resonated in sympathy with a string. Playing alone freed him to pursue his inner muse down avenues well-removed from western or even human music. He harmonized with owls, katydids and bull frogs.
It was weeks into the summer, in the midst of a dry spell, when he noticed how the dust danced when he stroked his bow a certain way. He watched, entranced by as the little puffs rose and spun like dervishes, ever on the verge of dissipating, vacillating between structure and nothingness. They persisted far longer than any puff of dust had a right. Some, he swore he saw spin off into the night.
And there was something in their core that he couldn’t quite make out; something veiled that bent the light. He adjusted his playing by trial and error, like an eager bandleader striving to keep the patrons dancing so he could study them. He found he could shape these motes with his tone alone, his fiddle a sonic lathe, carving out divots, squeezing bulges flat.
He told himself that the peculiar resonance of the boathouse caused this phenomenon. The place was under-built, braced just enough to support the walls and roof. Its timbers plinked like tone wood when tapped, just like the spruce that gave his violin its unique voice. Altogether, it made for a structure that thrummed in sympathy with his fiddle.
Another week, another Friday, he returned with his fiddle, and so did the dervishes. He played and they spun and he kept them spinning. As he wound himself into a fever of improvisation, a sparkly grit collected on the rafters.
Something grumbled in the woods outside, like a muffled foghorn. Trees rustled. He barely noticed, rapt as he was in the little spinners in the rafters.
When he put down his bow to sip his beer, the little whirlwinds persisted. How soft and delicate they looked! He couldn’t resist reaching up to touch one.
It shrieked and stung him. He yanked back his hand, rubbing a perfectly circular patch of skin that had been transformed into something like wood, grain-free but hard as maple. Blood soaked into the pores, beading into regularly spaced droplets.
The drone rumbled closer. Something big brushed and scratched against the side of the pump house, like a blast of desert wind. The dust billowed and the spinners chirped, evacuating the shack like a flock of sparrows flushed from their roost.
Why should the devil have all the good tunes?
Chapter 1: Shinjuku
April in Tokyo.
Aerie drowsed in bed, her brain a ball of fuzz. Sharp pains shot through her neck when she tried to roll over. She must have slept wrong. Really wrong.
Some of the most awful music she had ever heard sifted into the room—mindless, boring post-industrial techno. Where was it coming from, so loud?
The mix combined giggling Japanese voices, footsteps clapping on hard linoleum, clanking steel, creaking hinges. These more organic sounds were underpinned by electronic rhythms—a bright and widely spaced ‘bing! … bing! … bing!’ overlain with a quicker cycling but duller ‘wup-wup, wup-wup, wup-wup,’ while beneath it all chugged a steady ‘wirra-wirra-wirra-wirra-wirra.’ All together, the staggered timing of their overlapping grooves produced a sort of syncopation. Only her geekiest friends at Berklee would have liked it.
The piece went on way too long. It was completely amorphous, without climax, dynamics or resolution. It reminded her of the worst of the student compositions she had been sometimes forced to accompany simply because she was one of the few who played bass.
That’s what this tune needed—a bass part—to weave together its dissolute elements and provide a rhythmic center. To Aerie, basses were hammers and every musical problem was a nail.
She searched for the perfect bass line in her head, notes that would provide the piece a frame with some rebar and i-beam. Something reggae-ish and syncopated, with flurries of notes followed by windows of space wide enough to expose the other parts. Something like: Ba-dum Badumba Dum. Space. Ba-dum Badumba. Space. Repeat. That might turn all this mushy ambience into something more compelling.
Aerie’s eyes flickered open to find a stainless steel post dangling clear tubing. A bag of physiologic saline dripped into the catheter feeding her wrist. Bandages crinkled when she moved her neck.
She remembered getting hurt. She couldn’t remember how. Her thoughts had the half-life of soap bubbles. As soon as one would form, it would pop.
The sliver of window visible between the curtains brought a familiar view—the Hilton hotel in Ochanomizu and the green bridge traversing the Kanda River. She knew the surrounding streets for the guitar shops where she bought strings for her bass. The streets beyond harbored gaudy pachinko parlors and pay-by-the-hour love hotels. This was Tokyo. How she knew all of this, she had no clue.
She looked around the room as far her neck would allow. Shojo fairies pranced on pink wallpaper. A purple teddy bear grinned from a bookshelf.
“I’m twenty-five, for Chrissakes,” she grumbled to herself. “Why’d they stick me in a pediatric ward?”
She wracked her weedy mind for a clue for how she ended up in this hospital. Other than a stomach bug, she had been healthy since arriving in Tokyo. It couldn’t be a car accident. She always walked or took the train to gigs. Had she been hit crossing the street? Her limbs seemed intact and other than a foggy brain and a slight headache, her head was fine. She slipped her fingers under her johnnie, finding nothing but intact, goose-pimpled skin.
Most of the pain centered around her neck, confined under a rigid plastic collar with bandages beneath. This discovery triggered a vague unease but no nuggets of tangible memory could yet congeal. The full truth hovered just beyond reach at the edge of consciousness, like some neglected but forgotten chore.
A bento box sealed with plastic film lay unopened on a bedside tray. A world sports show on FNN news blared from a monitor.
An aged female voice murmured on the other side of the curtain splitting her room. A man chatted with her. They were making fun of American football. It puzzled Aerie how she knew what they were saying. Though, she remembered coming to Japan, she couldn’t recall ever learning Nihongo. How long had she lived here?
It had to have something to do with jazz. Why else would she come to Tokyo? She didn’t even like sushi.
She wriggled up higher on her pillows, triggering stabs of pain beneath the clammy plastic collar. She winced and cried out.
The man who had been ridiculing the NFL pulled aside the curtain and hustled to her bedside. He pocketed a cigarette he must have been itching to light, and pulled out a notebook and pen. He plopped down in a pink and green vinyl chair and leaned forward, eyes bulging, studying her with a wry smile.
“Konichiwa. Are you feeling better today?” His English was lightly accented and highly Americanized.
“Do I know you?”
He was thirtyish, with bleached highlights tipping a spiky haircut. He wore a sports coat with narrow lapels and a wide tie that made his slender chest appear even skinnier. He wore a smirk that seemed permanently creased on his muzzle. He seemed more huckster than doctor.
“My name is Toguchi. I came by yesterday, but you were kind of out of it. The staff wouldn’t let me talk to you.”
“What happened to me? Was I in an accident?” Her voice splintered, sounding creakier than the old lady across the curtain.
He frowned. “I was hoping you could tell me.”
“I hurt my neck.”
“Yes, you did. You were found hanging from a transom, silk scarf around your throat, zip-tie around your wrists. You’re lucky. Another minute and you might have gone without oxygen long enough to harm your brain. As it was, your trachea was injured. The paramedics had to intubate you.”
“Hanging?” The image both repelled and intrigued her. His description triggered flashes of remembrance. She knew exactly what scarf he was talking about—the one with the forest green and royal blue paisleys. “Are you … my doctor?”
His smirk deepened. “I’m a Keibu-ho. Assistant Inspector. I investigate violent crimes for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police.”
He pressed a button on an oblong device that looked like a bulky iPod. “I should tell you, I’ll be recording this conversation. I’m here because your incident is not yet officially classified as a suicide attempt, mainly because you left no note. This is very unusual for such a careful and premeditated … procedure. Not to mention, you are a foreigner on a work permit.”
A pressure built in her core, as if the air in the room had turned to liquid lead. She remembered now; this was how she had felt that day. This feeling was why she did what she had done.
“You have not been able to tell me anything regarding your motivations. None of your acquaintances had any inkling that you were despondent. Why did you do it?”
Aerie could only shrug.
“Were you with any other people on that day?”
She remembered being in her room for days on end. Her only meals had been instant soba.
“No. I was alone.”
“Your hands were restrained in front of your body. This would be odd for a homicide.” He pulled a photo from his portfolio—a baggie with a severed yellow zip tie. “The restraint had teeth marks on it—your own. Were you biting to get free or to make it tighter? Do you remember that much?”
“That … looks familiar. That’s all I can say.”
He studied her eyes. His smirk softened. “Do you know where you are now?”
“Obviously. Do you know which one? You’ve been here before.”
Aerie shook her head.
“Tokyo Medical University Hospital. How about your address? Do you remember where you live?”
“The hotel?” Aerie jerked her chin toward the window, grunting at the pain it evoked. “That one, in fact. The Hilton.”
“Not quite. You used to stay there, that is true, but you moved out about a month ago when you lost your job performing in their nightclub.”
“Kabukicho! That’s right. I moved to Kabukicho.”
“Very good! You’re obviously improving. Yesterday, you couldn’t even tell me your name. You must remember your name by now, don’t you?”
“Aerie. Aerie Walker.” Things were starting to click. From the dread beginning to creep into her being, she wasn’t sure that was such a good thing. Her gut seemed to recall whatever her brain had forgotten.
“What brought you to Tokyo, Aerie?”
“Hollis. I play upright bass in the Hollis Brooks Quartet. We play jazz at the Hilton.”
“Used to. Not anymore. Not … since Mr. Brooks went to Amsterdam.”
“Hollis went to Amsterdam?”
“Two months ago. It’s been almost a month since you last played any music in public.”
“Holy shit. That’s right!” Aerie sat upright on the mattress, twinging her neck yet again.
“How does this make you feel? Mr. Hollis Brooks going to Amsterdam without you. Are you sad? What do you feel?”
“I don’t feel anything.” That wasn’t true at all and she knew it. She felt plenty. She just didn’t know how to describe it, and even if she did, she wasn’t going to share it with this twerp.
“Did you have a relationship with him? Sexual?”
She sputtered. “With who, Hollis? No way. I mean, I love Hollis, as a friend, as my mentor. He’d make passes at me when he was drunk. But he’d go after anything with breasts and a vagina. He’d get frisky, but it was never anything I couldn’t handle. Christ, he’s almost as old as my father.”
“We were just wondering if there might be cause for extradition. Any abuse or assault, you know, rape that might have led you—”
“No way. Hollis never touched me. Nobody did this to me. This was all my doing.”
“Do you remember why?”
She sank back against her pillows, careful not to jar her neck. “No. My brain is mush.”
“This Tokyo gig was supposed to be practice for New York, isn’t that right? Didn’t Mr. Brooks promise he had connections in Manhattan? That he could book you all a stand at some clubs in Chelsea?”
Her eyes flared wide. “Who told you that?”
“Your ex-drummer. Koichi.”
Aerie inhaled long and slow. “Well, maybe I did have reason to kill myself.”
“Nonsense.” Toguchi rose from his chair and went to the window, pulling the curtain open wider. “This is just life. Everyone has setbacks. It made no sense to react the way you did.”
“Don’t tell me how I’m supposed to behave.”
“It’s abnormal. That’s why I’m here, investigating. To see if there was any possibility of hanky-panky. It’s clear to me now, that this is just … if you’ll pardon me … mental illness. But don’t worry, they have pills that can fix you.”
Toguchi closed his notebook. “Well, I suppose my business is done. I should let you know. Your work visa has been revoked. We’ve made arrangements with your mother to fly you home.”
Panic shot through Aerie. “My mother knows about this?”
Toguchi nodded. He came over and patted her arm gently. “Take care. I wish you the best.”
“You wish me pills.”
He smirked and left the room. She watched his head bob down the corridor, loose fitting trousers swaying against skinny legs. She looked out the window. A dust devil spun up atop a tall building, consuming leaves and poly film shopping bags. It whirled and whirled, refusing to die, engulfing more and more un-tethered bits of the city.
She uncurled her right hand. Sharp pains shot through her knuckles. “Jeez, what’s wrong with my hand?” She tugged at the device supporting her neck.
She remembered now, how it was being on stage with Hollis on sax, Frank on piano, Koichi on drums. When things got humming their combo became a unified organism, much more than the sum of its parts. At its core, Aerie’s fingers drove the pulse; her bass strings pumping the very heart of the beast.
Such synergies had arisen with other groups she had played with, but it was always a fragile and fleeting thing. Never did it come as often and or as consistently as with this very special quartet. Its chemistry and alchemy were simply irreplaceable.
The crushing heaviness seeped back, carrying a sense of implacable doom. A full-blown panic attack broke out with cold sweat seeping from her pores, heart galloping as if it were trying to wrench free of her chest.
“No! I shouldn’t have to deal with this. I had ended it! It was done with.”
An elderly woman visiting the lady across the curtain ducked her head into Aerie’s half of the room.
“Seppuku. You know? Except no swords, just a scarf.” She swung her legs off the bed, disconnected the IV and pulled off the wires monitoring her heart rate, setting off the alarm.
She went and opened the window. She was three stories up. Plenty of height, except the window only tilted out a few inches.
The little speaker on the wall crackled to life with words of Japanese, aborted, and then: “Is everything okay?”
“Fine. Just fine.” She bolted out of the room and down the corridor, past elevator doors just closing on Toguchi. Startled to see her, he reached forward as the doors sealed.
A nurse came running down the hall after her. Aerie flung open the fire door to the stairwell and pounded down the steps. She kept going down past the main floor and its waiting rooms, to the basement. She burst out into a hallway of unfinished concrete, passing a laundry room and then a morgue, emerging onto a loading dock crowded with orange biohazard bags of medical waste destined for the incinerator.
“Yameru!” bellowed a blue-uniformed guard in a white helmet. He lashed out, grabbing a fistful of her johnnie, tearing its straps. Aerie spun free, running naked up the ramp. She saw daylight, heard trucks careening down a busy road. She saw a chance rectify her mistake, to restore her wish, finish what she had botched. She would close her eyes, and dash in front of a couple of tons of hurtling steel.
Atop the ramp, a suited man ran in front of the opening and crouched, blocking her way. Toguchi! Aerie tried to dodge him. He sidestepped and caught her, tackling her to the sidewalk, pinning her down like a fox claiming a rabbit. He pulled off his jacket and draped it over her nakedness.
“Don’t worry. I’ll make sure they take care of you. No one should have to feel the way you do. They can help you. I’ll make certain of that.”
Aerie just panted and glared, her senses consumed by searing pain.
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