Yoharie: Plumbing (part three)
He arrived at Zodiaque.
Yes! We take walk-ins! one of its signs read.
UV Regenerative Toning. Vesuvian Clay Exfoliating Rub.
He was tempted to think a New Agey day spa, not…what the woman had implied. He felt conspired against, for that, and that Kate had put “day spa” into his vocabulary.
Ahead on the porch of 160 was a man, gripping scissors. He frowned over the geraniums, and as Hibbler drew near, bent to snip one leaf. Confronted with a human presence, Hibbler felt unresolved on the move…
He was wearing an uncomfortably hot jacket to make this possible: the slipping of a hand into a pants pocket, allowing the sidepiece under his arm to show. The man peered at him, with the pursed lips of emergent speech.
“Excuse me,” Hibbler said. “Is this…?”
Yet is this 160 seemed inane, the number before his eyes tacked to the porch-post.
“Something to do with the motel? Is that where you come from? Sasha is not at his job?” The man cast a distant look, as though this mystery bore a weight-of-the-world portent.
He had an accent, and Hibbler was prepared to guess it Russian.
“Be clear,” the man added. “Sasha’s father has no money to pay Sasha’s debts.”
“Actually… Maybe I’m wrong. Have you ever heard the name Yoharie?”
At this Sasha’s father, if he was, gave a visible start. Silence followed, while his eyes resolved into a squint and his chin lifted. “No.”
“I have reason to believe…”
The householder vanished, or turned and wrestled a sticking latch, then receded indoors, leaving Hibbler mounting the steps, feeling inside his jacket for his phone. But his quarry popped (back into view) and flashed; and Hibbler stood blinking away a patch of red.
“Now you may identify yourself, and we’ll see.”
“No, I’m a neighbor…”
Here, he fell stymied, too precipitate launching a lie. “Some of Val’s friends…” The phrase suggested itself piecemeal, and Hibbler spoke in a labored cadence. “Were concerned about him.”
“Why? Why? Him? Who is Val? Not someone I know.” The man stepped from sight; behind the screen, the front door closed.
Unable to digest at this pace, Hibbler lingered and looked at the welcome mat, the geraniums, the strange deep burgundy the boards under his feet were painted. He heard a metallic ank, ank…that most irritating of noises, the creasing of aluminum blind slats.
A face was in the window, glowering.
Hibbler stepped to the siderail and feigned a study. He collected his dignity, descended to the walk…telling himself to sort it, get this data into the record.
Russians. How many oddities might that alone explain?
Well, obviously, it was no coincidence they were positioning themselves near Washington. And if they were making use of this neighborhood…on the bus line, carrying to the train station…
It seemed to Hibbler, as he walked to the garage, that his feeling of being watched, of every person who’d spoken to him speaking a coded message, also could be no coincidence.
They wanted him gone; they wanted to discourage him in his mission. He questioned again, as often, what sort of name was Yoharie? The sound of it (by design) could belong to almost any nationality. What did Yoharie do all day but sit in his house? Maybe sat there with a zoom lens. One of Todwillow’s microphones, recording everyone’s conversations.
If I knew how big this was, I wouldn’t have let him suspect me off the bat. So remarking to himself, Hibbler could see that Sasha’s father had waited for him and had arranged for Hibbler to encounter only his confederates.
That Yoharie had warned his fellow operative…
Part of Hibbler’s mind began to trial anagrams and rough homophones for “Sasha’s father”; part of his mind quibbled on the logistical problem of Yoharie knowing his plans, which he had not discussed, or typed into anything—
If he were being followed, though, it made sense.
But the meaning would be in Russian.
He climbed the garage stairs, touched the cold handrail and felt his fingers damp. Could you poison someone that way? It was too late to find a bathroom and wash, since instinctively he had wiped his hand on his shirt. But, if they were going to lengths to monitor and curtail his activities, so whatever they gained from kidnapping people’s daughters…
Went on, undiscovered…then why take the risk of killing how-would-they-know-how-many, right here, a couple of streets from their base of operations? Besides, he could have taken the elevator.
In his car, Hibbler reviewed the magnitude of the Yoharie plot. He found himself reluctant to pass the booth and pay. The garage guy was one of the Russians…he was planted, he would say something meant to elicit a response, and by that the Russians would fine-tune gauging their victim.
They would set him up to be killed. He would knock at Yoharie’s door, like he’d been doing, like before the plot had unwound itself, he would have thought Yoharie, left by his family alone all day, kind of looked forward to…their little chats…
Beatty. Outfit Beatty’s collar with a camera. Yoharie pulls a gun, wants to claim he was startled, thought Hibbler was a burglar…
That this scenario was in the cards, seemed almost too apparent.
But Beatty would take swinging shots of walls and carpeting, his own drool. Hibbler would have to get inside the house without Yoharie’s knowledge.
(2021, Stephanie Foster)