Authors: Suzanne Francis
Tessa did not look amused. "Not Pollywogs. It was Polys... I think." She closed her eyes, trying to remember exactly what he had said. But instead, she saw his face, his lazy grin. The clean line of his jaw, his cheekbones. That silly pirate shirt...
"Hello, Tessa?" Jane shouted her name above the buzz of conversation in the hospital dining room. "Are you there?"
"Yes. Sorry..." Tessa frowned. "If he hadn't seemed so absolutely rational I wouldn't be worried."
"But that is classic psychotic behavior. I did a psychiatric rotation in med school. We learned all about this stuff. People with delusions of persecution believe that they are one hundred percent sane. They have to, in order to make their world view the correct one. And it is perfectly possible for them to infect others with that same fear, even though it is all in their head."
"It just didn't feel that way to me. He didn't seem afraid of the Polys, not really. I got the impression he would know just what to do if he met one."
Jane raised an eyebrow at this.
"Well, he is kind of... That is... I don't think I have ever met anyone so..." Tessa colored and didn't finish the thought.
But Jane would not let it go. "Anyone so...?" she echoed, with a grin.
Tessa poured herself some more tea, and sugared it before she remembered that she hadn't liked sweet tea since she was a little girl.
You like milk and no sugar, right?
How had he known that?
"Tessa!" Jane banged the table with her teaspoon.
"He just struck me as someone who is very physically... powerful. Like a big cat."
"I think you are attracted to this man."
"What? I most certainly am not." Tessa drank a big gulp of tea, rather enjoying the fierce sweetness. "For one thing, I am sure he is nuts, and for another, I am already engaged to Ted."
"Engaged to Ted? You know I am."
Her friend snorted. "You know what I meant. Are you so sure he is nuts? You came rushing over to the hospital just now to tell me about your new neighbor Jakob, and how scary he was -- but ever since you got here, you have been hotly defending him. Not to mention going on about his shirt.
"It was like something from a museum." Tessa's voice was filled with wonder. "But on him it fitted perfectly."
"See what I mean? I think you have found your ghost, Tessa Kivelson."
Tessa groaned. "Don't start that again. I would almost rather hear some disgusting work story instead."
Jane's eyes brightened. "You're on! I have a beauty. Something so awful it will take your mind off your crazy buddy, Thor."
my buddy, and his name is Jakob."
"Mmm hmm... Well anyhow, you won't have heard that two bodies were found at the dockyards behind Provedore's the day before yesterday."
Tessa nodded, frowning. "Too right. Go on."
They work in pairs...
"It seems these two kids were trespassing in one of the back blocks of the dockyards and had an accident. Somehow, they ended up under a shipping container, crushed to death. One of them was Police Chief Carter's son, and he is asking a lot of questions. I did the autopsies yesterday."
If they had found you there they would have killed you...
"What did you find?"
"Fatal injuries consistent with massive blunt trauma," Jane said, with cheerful clinical detachment. "As expected. Except..." She dropped her voice low. "You can't repeat this, OK? It is part of an ongoing investigation."
Tessa gave a baffled nod.
"One of the boys had a broken jaw." Tessa opened her mouth and Jane continued, "I know, so what? Practically all his bones were smashed. Having a thirty ton piece of metal dropped on you can do that." Her companion shuddered. "Exactly. They found the kid on his side, half buried in gravel. The impact of the container had twisted his body. All nicely symmetrical breaks, except for the jaw. That was ripped cleanly, practically detached -- in the other direction. And..."
"The distal portion of the tongue was missing. Completely gone."
* * * *
Tessa had taken Suvi's ancient Volvo out and driven to meet Jane for tea, rather than walk through the wharves. Now, as she tried to turn the car over in the bitterly cold winter air, the engine responded with a series of dull thumps. That sound reminded her of something else. A second later, she was on her mobile, using speed dial.
"Dr. Piper speaking."
"Jane?" Tessa was almost breathless. "How long had those boys been there?"
"Under the container, before they were found, you mean?"
"Yes. Could you tell the time of death?"
"Not the exact time, no. Both bodies had decomposed food matter in their stomachs -- hamburgers to be exact, so probably some time after dinner. I estimated they had been there a week to ten days. That was consistent with the time they were last seen. Coach Bell had reported them missing after they didn't show for Monday's practice. A week later, one of the security guards at the yard noticed a foul odor emanating from under a container and that's when they found them." Jane could hear Tessa's breathing on the other end of the phone. "Is that what you wanted to know?"
"Yes, kind of. But do
think it was an accident?"
"Dunno. Listen, I have to go. Got another call coming in. Want to meet tomorrow night at Mama Rosa's? We can talk about it then."
Tessa agreed and closed her mobile with a thoughtful snap. If the boys had died a week ago, after dinner, then they would have been in her vicinity when she walked back to Seadrift with Jane. And that meant the thump, the one that had startled them, now seemed much more sinister,
like a thirty-ton weight hitting the ground.
Should she go to the police?
After a moment, she rejected this. She had nothing but a vague sound and the mutterings of some pathetically paranoid delusional. Maybe the boys were messing around somewhere they shouldn't have been when a tragic accident took their lives.
Or maybe Jakob Faircrow killed them, and made up the story about the Polys to cover his tracks.
"Get a grip, Tessa," she said out loud.
The Volvo finally started with a protesting cough. Tessa decided to go to Beckwith House -- the historical library associated with Tech, and do some research on Suvi Markku Kivelson. Anything to take her mind off Jakob -- and Polys.
The interior of the Beckwith was warm and quiet. Tessa flashed her staff badge to the security guard and walked on to the archive room. Battered metal filing cabinets lined the walls, each organized alphabetically. She stood in the middle of the room, wondering where she should start.
Her grandmother had come to
in 1935, and married a local teacher, Jim Kivelson, a few years later.
Tessa crossed to a cabinet marked "W" and pulled the envelope for Weddings: 1940-1950. She walked back to one of the worktables that took up the center of the room and sat.
After she unwound the sealing string, many grainy black and white photos spilled forth, along with yellowed newspaper clippings. Photos of men in morning dress, accompanied by shy brides wearing the cloche-style hats that were popular in the day. Tessa sorted through them, checking the backs for identification. Nothing. Apparently, her grandmother's wedding wasn't of sufficient interest for someone to have archived the newspaper column.
She checked Births next.
Then, when that turned up empty, on a whim, she went to the "M" drawer.
"M" for Murder.
This file was surprisingly bulky. It needed four envelopes, held together with a thick rubber band, to hold all the photos and newspaper clippings. They were arranged in no particular order, so Tessa dumped the contents of the first envelope onto the table.
Something caught her eye right away. "Local Fisherman and Wife Disappear: Foul Play Suspected."
The dateline on the piece was May 21, 1988.
She scanned it, with her hand over her mouth.
Benjamin Kivelson and his wife, Kristin have been reported missing after radio contact with his vessel, Seawitch, was lost in good weather. The boat had put out from
harbor three days previously, after Kivelson reported to friends that he and Mrs. Kivelson had been threatened by what he described as "out of town gangsters".
No trace of the boat has been found, but passing vessels reported seeing an oil slick just offshore of
, two days ago. Police inquiries are continuing. Chief Detective Jarrett is especially interested in speaking to any individuals who might have seen strangers loitering at the dock the day Seawitch left
Tessa's eyes filled with angry tears. When she came to live with Suvi Markku Kivelson, her grandmother insisted that her parents had drowned when a storm swamped her father's boat. But that had been a lie.
Someone had murdered Ben and Kristin Kivelson.
All at once, Jakob's words returned to her, along with the disquieting memory of his hand on hers.
You had already come to live with her, after your parents were killed, but you were away at school, so we never met.
Tessa abruptly sat back in her chair. He had known the truth about her parent's deaths. Did that make everything else he said true as well? For the first time, fear took a claw hold in her abdomen and she could not persuade it to let go.
She almost jumped off the chair. "Ted! You scared me half to death."
"I must have, you look as white as a sheet, babe." He pulled up a chair beside her and sat, smoothing his expertly creased blue jeans. "What are you doing here? I thought you were supposed to be sorting through the latest Anenoa finds."
She stared at him stupidly, trying to reconcile such mundane concerns with the information that lay on the table in front of her. Ted blinked owlishly at her from behind his round glasses. His dark hair was slicked back in a skinny little ponytail, despite his receding hairline. "I... I was looking at some files, trying to find out about my grandmother." Her throat constricted. "I came across this." She couldn't say any more, so Tessa pushed the clipping in front of Ted.
He read it, while tapping his tasseled loafer on the floor. "So what? I don't get it."
"My parents were murdered. I never knew, Ted."
Ted patted her arm patronizingly. Though his nails were beautifully manicured, and his skin soft, his hand felt unpleasantly cool and damp -- sort of like a fish, Tessa thought abruptly, and nothing like...
As usual, he spoke with ruthless expedience. "They are still dead, either way. So what difference does it make? Cheer up, Tessie. It all happened long ago." Ted gave her an encouraging smile. His teeth were very straight, and very white. "Unlike your performance evaluation, I might add, young lady. That is coming in a matter of weeks, and we need to get more work at Anenoa done before then, don't we?"
He gathered the article and the rest of the pictures and stuffed them back in the envelope, winding the string round in a precise figure eight. "Why did you pick that subject anyway? If you didn't know about the murder, I mean?"
She shrugged. "Something Jane said at lunch got me thinking about it."
His eyes narrowed. "I am going to see to it that you spend less time with her in the future. She really isn't good for your state of mind." Ted looked around the room, to make sure they were unobserved, and then asked in a low voice, "Why not come over to my place tonight? We could open that Margaux I have been saving and throw some ahi steaks on the barbecue."
Tessa spoke a little louder than was strictly necessary in the quiet of the archive room. "Why are you whispering, Ted? You aren't my adviser any more. Who would possibly care about our engagement? Besides your ex-wife, I mean."
Ted looked peeved, and continued to whisper. "There are people in the department who would use it against me, Tessie. You know -- the difference in our ages and all that. Can't let anything get in the way of me getting H.O.D. And of course, once I get there I will be in a position to help you get tenure."
Tessa just shook her head at this. Why wouldn't he let her manage her own academic career?
"A session in the hot tub would do you good -- and me too." Ted winked lasciviously. "I think it has been a week or two since I saw that gorgeous body of yours."
But tonight she couldn't face Ted's squishy gropings. She sighed in mock regret. "No... I had better get to the computer suite and do some write-ups." In truth, she planned to go home and curl up with Suvi's journal. To try and make some sense of her grandmother's life -- and Jakob Faircrow's part in it.
"All right, babe." He gave a disappointed sigh. "You know best. But call me sometime this weekend, OK?"
Tessa nodded vaguely.
He gave her a very chaste peck on the cheek before taking the "Murder" envelope away with him. She noted that he did not place it back in the refiling bin.
* * * *
Twilight had purpled the parking lot with shadow by the time she left the Beckwith. Tessa peered nervously between the parked cars, looking for anything even vaguely menacing. She saw Ted's black Porsche 911, and wondered, without much interest, why he hadn't left yet.
The Volvo, as if to make up for its earlier intransigence, roared to life. Tessa floored it, hurrying along the empty streets, only wanting to be home. Somehow she believed that in Suvi's house, Seadrift, she would be safe both from terrifying apparitions in dark suits, and the unsettling blueness of Jakob Faircrow's eyes.
Seadrift stood dark and lonely at one end of Little Sardinia and for the first time Tessa regretted the lack of grid-based power. How reassuring it would be to go in and throw on every light in the place -- to banish gloominess from the house and from her mind as well. She sat in the car for a long while, gathering the courage to walk the pebbled path and down the steps to the front door.