Our Great Summer Novel — Chapter 9: The brother is revealed
“You have a brother.”
Davis read that line again, and then one more time. Was there a right way to react to a sentence like that? Gasp? Clutch at his heart? Weep a few manly tears? He settled for feeling like his head was full of pudding and yet not entirely attached to his neck.
He remained where he sat, staring unseeing at Grand Mesa, for who knows how long. Tater padded noiselessly out to the pergola and leaped lightly beside Davis, placing a comforting paw on his knee. Finally, Davis said, “I have a brother.” Tater nodded silently.
“I guess I didn’t know my dad at all,” Davis added.
Davis’ phone buzzed in his pocket for probably the 10th time. Sooner or later, he knew, he’d have to answer, and he’d have to go talk with the fire chief, and face the embers of Cooper Hardware, and all the questions that were bound to be uncomfortable. And what to say? “Well, you see, my evil ex-girlfriend and her nutso Chinese boyfriend blew it up. Because ... they did. So, yep.”
Plus, there was the issue of the brother. And the trunk. And the talking animals. Nothing was making any sense.
Boots sidled out to the pergola and sat silently on Davis’ other side.
“You know?” Davis asked.
“Tater told me.”
“Everything else aside, is a long-lost brother relevant to what’s happened today?” Davis mused. “I mean, Lina took off with the trunk, so do we need to be involved in any of this anymore?”
“Yes,” Tater confirmed.
“Lina must be stopped,” he intoned, glaring into the middle distance, pondering her nefariousness. “Palisade is toast otherwise, and it’ll be dominoes from there.”
“OK,” Davis sighed. “OK. Then let’s get organized. What do we know? We’re here at Chuy’s house,” and from inside the glass French doors, Chuy flashed a wan thumbs up, “and Chuy is Boots’ friend in the turquoise business.”
“I was thinking about getting into jade,” Chuy called. “That’s why I was in Xinjiang.”
“Chuy is friends with Kuai, the Phony Monk who pulled a knife on me this morning, and who wants to take over China and maybe the world with an animal army.”
“And he’s a scientist, and you knocked him out,” Boots added. “And he’s Lina’s boyfriend.”
“Right,” Davis confirmed, scowling. “He concocted some sort of animal army serum and all it did was make them talk, and it was in a glass vial in a trunk that Lina sent from Laos to my dad here in Palisade. My dad who had a secret son. And access to that trunk, apparently.”
“Why did Lina still want the trunk?” Boots wondered. “She had to have known those kids opened it and let whatever loose. I mean, Tater talked to her.”
“Unfortunately,” the cat added darkly.
“Anyway,” Davis said, “I guess we should go after her. It’s not like I’ve never been Tased before, and I’m thinking we can get a leg up and make them talk.”
“Whoa, man, you mean going all Guantanamo on them?” Boots asked.
“No,” Davis answered, resisting the urge to yell. “I mean reason and perhaps tying them to a chair.”
Trudging back out to the truck, after saying good-bye to Chuy and making sure he was feeling better, the trio piled in and Davis got it headed back down the hill into Palisade. He was driving slowly enough that a white cockatiel had no trouble flying into the open passenger window.
“What the heck!” Boots shouted as the bird landed on his knee.
“Bisbee,” Tater said stiffly.
“Snotface,” the bird answered in a cockney accent.
“Um?” Davis inquired.
“Listen, Davey luv,” the bird said, addressing Davis, “you got problems. That brother o’ yours ‘as gone off the deep end.”
“Brother of mine?”
“That Kuai,” Bisbee clarified. “Chinese fella?”
Davis’ knuckles whitened around the steering wheel and his lips compressed into invisibility. He stared unblinkingly through the windshield while Boots coughed at the gum he’d gasped down his throat.
“Uh-huh,” Davis finally said.
“Anyway, luv, ‘e an’ that Lina made a change o’ plans. Seems the animal army plan is off an’ ‘as been for a while now. ‘e tweaked ‘is virus from turnin’ animals into soldiers, to somethin’ that affects people. Us talkin’ is just a side effect.”
“But why?” Davis asked. “Chuy said he’s a really nice guy.” He paused. “And he’s my brother.”
Tater chimed in: “He can be nice, but he’s got some kind of warped Madame Butterfly thing going on and feels like your dad abandoned him and his mom. Though, to be fair, your dad didn’t know about him until a little bit before he died.”
Davis just nodded. What else didn’t he know about his dad?
“Anyway,” Tater continued, “it was a while before you were born, when your dad was based in Uzbekistan” — this was news, Davis thought — “and ol’ Kuai grew up really resentful. So, he figured he’d design a virus that made people act… strange. Not Bedlam strange, but just strange enough, drive ‘em crazy the slow way. He didn’t know your dad had died.”
“Right,” Bisbee jumped in. “Kuai ‘n Lina’s waitin’ to jump you at your house, but you need to go to your store. Or what’s left of it.”
By this point, Davis was done questioning and simply turned the truck toward a now-feeble column of smoke rising above the cottonwood trees. Driving down the block, nearing what once was his dad’s, and then his, hardware store, he saw what could only be described as a carnival.
The salon owner had wrested the fire hose from the hands of a firefighter and was using the water to keep the emergency workers at bay while shouting the St. Crispin’s Day speech from “Henry V.” The bakery manager was juggling muffins and the gallery owner was doing Rockette-style high kicks.
And a man who looked startlingly like Davis was standing on top of the fire truck proclaiming himself king of the world.