the abduction of Bethany Rafael
Trudy Parr sat at her desk with her .45 calibre M1911 pistol field stripped and laid out before her. She held the slide in her hand and studied it closely. Then she wiped it clean with a soft cloth dipped in a mild solvent. Her mind was at peace. She counted her breaths. It was a meditation on semi-automatic firearm maintenance.
The intercom buzzed.
“What is it, Gladys?” Trudy Parr said.
“Some gal named Bethany Rafael,” said Gladys. “Says she knows you.”
“Put her through,” said Trudy Parr, picking up the recoil spring. The phone rang.
Trudy Parr put down the recoil spring and picked up the gun’s barrel. She looked threw it as if it were a telescope and panned the room. She put it down gently on the fifth ring, perfectly aligning it with the other dismantled parts. On the sixth ring she picked up the phone. “Hello, Beth. What’s rattling?”
“It’s that Bittle character again,” Bethany Rafael said. “He just sits there. Sometimes I catch him staring at me. He’s giving me the creeps.”
“Want me to come down, shake the guy up?” As she said this, Trudy Parr weighed a .45 calibre cartridge in her hand. Its heft was comforting.
“No, I don’t wanna squawk. It’s just that we’ve had some eerie personalities in here before but this guy wins the prize.”
“Call the cops.”
“Can’t. The manager says it’s bad for business.”
“I’ll drive you home.”
“No, Trudy. You can’t drive me home every night. I guess I just needed to tell someone. I’ll be fine.”
“Yeah. I guess I can take care of myself.”
“Okay. Call if you need to.”
Woolworth’s lunch counter
Among the many things she knew, the ephemera of which waitress wisdom consists, was that the troublesome customer was never a permanent customer. He or she could not be listed among the regulars. They always grew bored of pestering the same girl, day in and day out. The troublesome customer, man or woman, might became infatuated with her, fall in love with her and bring her unwanted gifts. When she responded to them with indifference, they would wheedle and cajole. And ultimately, they would rage against her and curse her name. But even the worst of them would eventually disappear into an abyss of their own erroneous affections.
Despite her confidence in this theory, though, Bethany Rafael would always worry when a new problem customer entered her ordinary life. What if this was the one, she’d ask herself, the one who is completely uncontrollable. The one that disproves what she had comfortably come to know. The one that doesn’t disappear. The one so besotted and obsessed that he takes her along for the fatal, unknowable ride.
She looked down the lunch counter at the man who’d introduced himself a week ago as Dr Alasdair Bittle. He sat on his lunch counter stool and chain smoked. It was 5:55 pm. Five minutes to closing. His cup was full of cold coffee. There was a half eaten doughnut on a side plate at his elbow. He didn’t read a newspaper or a magazine. He only stared at himself in the mirror across the counter, in a haze of blue smoke.
“We’re closing soon, Dr Bittle,” she said.
Dr Alasdair Bittle looked up at her. His eyes were bloodshot and watery. Beth could smell the booze. He had the appearance of a thoroughly defeated man. “I’m waiting for a colleague but it seems unlikely he’ll arrive before closing time.”
“Well maybe you should pay your bill, Doc.”
“Yes,” Bittle said placing a two dollar bill on the counter. “Please keep the change. My associate may still make an appearance. He’s a tall Russian fellow named Alexei. Tell him, if he does come in, that I’ve returned to the laboratory.”
“Yeah sure, Dr Bittle,” Bethany Rafael said.
Bittle left the Woolworth’s store and Bethany Rafael closed the lunch counter. By 6:30 she was walking east on Hastings Street toward the BC Electric Interurban Line. It was dark and fellow pedestrians were few along the block in front of Woodward’s Department Store. She was aware of the heavy footsteps trailing her and she gripped her umbrella tightly. At Abbott Street, as she stopped for a red light, the heavy footsteps stopped behind her.
“Hello again,” Dr Alasdair Bittle said as he stepped out from a shadowy doorway.
“Doctor,” Bethany Rafael said, startled. She looked over her shoulder at a large man behind her, the source of the heavy footsteps. When he smiled at her crookedly, it all began to make wicked sense. She looked back at Bittle. “What’s this all about?”
A dark Chrysler drove up to the curb, its passenger door open.
“We have need of you in our laboratory,” Bittle said. “Please accompany Alexei and me in our car.”
Alexei put a hand on her shoulder and leaned over her from behind. He had beer and onions on his breath. She felt the umbrella in her hand and thought about hitting him with it. It seemed too weak a response. Instead, she turned on Alexei and shoved the blunt point of the umbrella into him like a shiv. She saw a dark patch of blood emerge and pulled the umbrella out.
Alexei looked stunned and held his hands to the wound. “Fuck,” he said and bent over.
Bittle got into the Chrysler as she turned to run down Abbott Street. The car did a u-turn in the middle of Hastings, stopping traffic, and followed after her. But by then, however, she was gone from sight.
“That bitch,” Bittle slammed the dashboard. “Turn down that alley.” Bittle pointed to the right and the driver turned.
The car stopped at the alley entrance. “You drive,” the driver said to Bittle. He was a stocky Russian with tattoos on his fists and neck. “I get out and hunt.” Bittle shimmied over when the Russian got out.
The Chrysler’s headlights illuminated the alley as the Russian looked behind trashcans and in doorways. Bethany Rafael knew then that she should have kept running. Now she knelt absolutely still in a shadow cast by a stack of empty boxes, listening as the car came closer and the Russian’s breathing got nearer.
“Come out little girly,” the Russian sang as he looked everywhere. “Come out, come out, come out. I am not Alexei. You cannot stop me. I chew the bones of little girlies like you. I am the devil. Don’t make me work so hard to find you.”
Suddenly the Russian was in front of her, scanning the other side of the alley but seeing nothing. He violently scattered trashcans and refuse. Then he turned around and looked in her direction. His fists were clenched with blue and red star tattoos. She stood and ran again and he ran after her. A car winged her as she ran through traffic where the alley crossed Carrall Street. She spun and fell. The Russian caught up and looked down at her lying in the street. Another car blew its horn but manoeuvred round them when the tattooed Russian gave the driver a stern look.
The Chrysler came to idle in the middle of Carrall and Bittle got out. He opened the rear passenger door and the Russian heaved Bethany Rafael inside.
“She’s useless to us now,” Bittle said, gritting his teeth. “She was a perfect specimen but now she’s injured.”
“It’s nothing,” said the Russian. “A bruise. If it’s worse, we’ll dump her in the ocean. But we can’t leave her here. She can identify us. Get in and drive. We must see to Alexei.”
Bittle turned onto Hastings and headed back to where Alexei had been stabbed with the umbrella. When they arrived, Alexei sat against Woodward’s below a display window where a happy family of mannequins frolicked in the latest fashions. The tattooed Russian stepped out of the car and looked down at the wounded man.
“This is very inconvenient, Alexei.”
“Please, Vlad,” said Alexei. “It’s not so bad. Dr Bittle can fix me.”
“You fool. He’s a Doctor of Theoretical Physics, not medicine.”
“Then leave me at a hospital,” Alexei said. “We were once soldiers together, Vlad. We were brothers. You owe it to me.”
The tattooed Russian looked up and down Hastings. There were still a few people on the street but no one paying attention to what must be a drunk on the sidewalk. He pulled out a TT-33 pistol.
“No,” Alexei shouted, holding up his hands.
The tattooed Russian fired two rounds in his head.