capitulo 3: al otro lado de la pared

“Dr. Nielsen? Would you like a drink, or a smoke?” Gomez was standing at Nielsen’s side. Nielsen had finally stopped crying, but the man’s pallor worried Gomez. If Nielsen passed out before spilling the big beans, Gomez would never hear the end of it from Peters.

“I’m fine.” Nielsen didn’t move his body at all. Only his lips moved: it gave his voice a gravelly, disembodied quality. Gomez decided to seize the moment here with Nielsen. He sat across from Nielsen, and opened the case file. He placed pictures of Jay and Daisy down on the table. Nielsen’s tears began to flow again.

“Nielsen. What else can you tell me about Daisy and Jay? What else did you see?”

Nielsen grimaced. “Do you want to know about the rumors or about what I saw?”

Gomez leaned in. “That depends. How much of the rumors did you see, and how many did you just pass around the mill?”

Nielsen recoiled.  “I would’ve never soiled Daisy’s reputation. Jay, on the other hand, could gladly fester for all I could care. I wasn’t the only one in the department who voted against Jay for tenure. He needed no help ruining his reputation.”

“What really upset you about Jay? His impropriety, or the fact that his impropriety was with Daisy?”

“Both. He took advantage of a student’s trust in him. It’s even worse that it was with Daisy, and that he didn’t care to hide what was happening. She was all alone here in the States, and he used that to ensnare her”

“If Jay was so public with the relationship, how did everyone peg you for the man trying to sleep with Daisy?”

“Jay started that rumor after I saw he and Daisy in the office.”

Gomez sat up. “The time you told me and Peters about?”

“No.”

“You saw them in the office?”

“I saw enough to know that something was wrong.”

*************************************************************************************

Daisy twirled a chunk of her rose-gold hair, flipping the soft strands over and over in her fingers. She was waiting outside Jay’s office, as always, to speak with him. Their meetings were useless, of course; she was already a well-versed forester, and Jay was only useful insofar as his mammal identification skills helped her determine who was destroying her field equipment. It was largely a pretense for doing  lo que se supone between a young woman and a handsome man.

Daisy could feel herself blushing and she twisted her hair even more in embarrassment, mixing the rose gold pieces near her face with the long orange fringe of her bangs. I have to calm down, or he’ll notice. Both her and Jay were empaths–so when she has stumbled into him as a rambunctious first year student in her PhD program, she had immediately known how he thought of her. He had known what was on her mind as well–namely, that she would gladly drown herself in the riverine blue of his eyes.

At first, it was merely a tantalizing game to Daisy–she knew she was beautiful, and that he was a married man. Sure, she wasn’t the average slim, blonde American woman; but wasn’t that part of the allure? Daisy-who, in her real life as a Mexican national in the USA,was named Xochitl-had played this game with white men before. Usually, Daisy could stop the game before things got too serious; but with Jay, she found that the game of four-dimensional chess was harder. Every time she thought she had him figured out, he dove in a different direction. The only thing that never changed was their meeting time; and every Thursday Daisy would wait obediently on the other side of the wall for Jay.

This time, Jay caught her attention by knocking on the doorframe. Daisy couldn’t help but look up at him as he towered over her in the doorway. Daisy might’ve been the tallest woman in her village in southern Mexico, but in Jay’s shadow she was just another tiny woman. Jay ushered her into his office, closing the door behind them with a soft click. Daisy felt the space between them fill with electricity, vibrant and silver. Daisy centered herself, and felt the gem in her forehead glimmer as it awakened. It dimmed her sense of hearing and balance drastically, but as her gem gleamed in her forehead Daisy could see Jay’s emotions in full color. As he looked at her, his eyes gleamed a fluorescent blue; that same blue began to drip from his canines.

Daisy knew what was next: the gem in her forehead had been telling her what would be next since it manifested on Daisy’s seventh birthday. She barely managed to free her backpack from her shoulders before Jay had buried his teeth in her left shoulder. His lower canines-outlandishly large in proportion to the rest of his teeth-sank into her flesh, drawing blood. Daisy responded by digging her nails into his shoulders as Jay picked her up, driving the tips of her fingers into the underneath of his shoulder blades. Daisy could hear Jay growling as she did so, could feel it reverberate from his mouth into her flesh. Daisy and Jay hadn’t consummated their feelings yet–Jay had a wife and children at home, and Daisy had been reluctant to physically trespass on their marriage. Jay also vacillated between the violent blue of his feelings, and cold carmine of his guilt. Daisy could see the change with her gem; Jay’s teeth and eyes would stop fluorescing, and instead the carmine would begin to drip from his forehead. He would apologize, and then Daisy would sit calmly in the chair on the other side of the desk and speak science with him. It always ended this way.

Daisy waited for this change as Jay kissed his way up her neck. As he sank his teeth into her lower lip, Daisy let herself stare into his eyes. She loved the fluffy, cumulus cloud-like nature of his irises; she almost wanted to scoop it up into her hands and drink it like water. Daisy turned her gaze to Jay’s forehead, waiting for the red to begin to drip. Daisy let her hands get lost in Jay’s hair as his fingers crawled along her thighs. Jay had pushed Daisy against the desk–as she sat down, he parted her legs like water.

Daisy felt something like panic blossom within the gem in her forehead–for a moment, her vision was tinged burgundy. This time it will really happen. Daisy wondered if she should be the one to stop it now, if she should trigger his guilt by thumbing the ring on his finger or by pushing him away. She probed at his feelings with her gem, willing his psyche to render a way out of the game. Instead, Daisy found herself at a precipice, staring down into an inky blue. In the ink, she could see Jay’s body outlined in the same blue fluorescence that dripped from his lips. Now, she could also see his gem–it was a dagger-like sliver of diamond between his lungs. Daisy felt her fear turn to exhilaration as the gem began to fluoresce blue. This is it.

Suddenly, Daisy sensed a new energy coloring its way down the hallway. Struggling to bring herself from the precipice’s edge, she pushed Jay away both with her hands and with her gem. The sensation of falling away from him, of tumbling uncontrollably in space, severed Daisy’s connection to her gem. For a second, Daisy’s entire world flashed the deep burgundy of her own feeling of fear; the next second Daisy was on the floor of Jay’s office, the cold linoleum on her cheek the only thing keeping her conscious.

Jay immediately swept down and enveloped her in his arms. Daisy could hear him, but the world was still strangely muted in sound. A deep ringing in her ears, like the flapping of leathery wings on glass, was the only real sound she could perceive. Weakly, Daisy peeked her gem open once more; she could feel her heartstrings groan in protest. She finally recognized the deep green energy emanating from outside the door. It was Dr. Nielsen, and for whatever reason he was about to burst in to Jay’s office. Daisy tried to push this thought to Jay’s gem; but she could no longer sense it.

 

It was too late to save face. Nielsen opened the door, and the only thing wider than the open door were his eyes. Daisy could see the scene reflected in Nielsen’s glasses–of herself limp in Jay’s grip, of Jay’s arms wrapped around her like a snake. As Nielsen’s voice rang out into the room, Daisy’s normal sense of hearing returned and her gem went dark. Daisy heard Nielsen ask “What is going on here?” before her world was enveloped in static again–this time, Daisy felt her consciousness slip away into the prosaic hum of neurons firing in the dark.

 

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capitulo 1:al principio

“I am going to ask you again. When–”

“Please. I can’t tell you anything. I can’t help you.”

“Why can’t you help us, Dr. Nielsen?” A short, slab muscled man stood up from the table. He seemed unimpressed with Dr. Nielsen’s pleading, casually ripping off the cuticle from his own nail and flicking it to the stained concrete floor.  Gomez wasn’t fond of how Peters talked to suspects, but he appreciated having another body in room. Nielsen might be one of those loose-gut science chumps, but the man was still seven feet tall. “Is it because you’re the one who murdered Daisy? Where’d you hide the body? Did you ship it back to the backwater commie country you came from, like some sort of sick hunting trophy?”

“No! Please–Daisy was my student. I could never-”

Gomez slammed a hand down onto the cheap plastic table, making its metal legs wail in shock. “You could never what? Hurt her? That’s pretty funny, buddy, considering the whole department says you were trying to sleep with her.”

Nielsen’s gasp echoed in the ensuing quiet. His eyes, blue and blank, widened as he looked from Gomez to Peters. His broad shoulders slumped–for such a large man, Nielsen had all the body language of a man half his size. Tears began to flow, landing on the plastic table with an aubible tap.

 

“I never slept with her. It’s true that I loved her, was in love with her, pulled as many strings as I could to keep her safe. But that is my only transgression. I didn’t hurt her.” Nielsen took off his wire-rimmed glasses and wiped his eyes with one gnarled hand. Gomez noticed that Nielsen’s wrists were cris-crossed with tight white scars: some still had the pink inflamation of new healing.

“If you didn’t beef with Daisy, then why did she kick you off her committee? Doesn’t seem normal for a final-year PhD student to shaft one of her core committee members.” Peters stood next to Nielsen: even sitting down, Nielsen was almost as tall as Peters. Gomez stifled a laugh.

Nielsen shivered, and the flow of tears became a steady stream. He took his left thumb and buried it in the opposite wrist. Gomez watched with something like horror as the porcelain skin dimpled, swelled, then began to bleed. “I tried to confront her about her relationship with Jay. I thought that, as her committee member, as her friend, that I could help her or at least talk sense into her. I didn’t know that things between them had gotten so far. I thought their relationship was still something that could still be buried, that what I had seen in the cabin was just a mistake, or a hallucination from heat sickness.” Nielsen twisted his thumb, cutting a bright red welt across his wrist.

Gomez felt his mind begin to race as Nielsen once again scored a deep red welt into his wrist. “Dr. Nielsen, I’m going to have to ask you to put your hands on the table. You have to tell us everything you know.”

Nielsen caught Gomez’s gaze, and for a moment Gomez felt his stomach drop, like peering over the edge of a tall cliff. This man didn’t kill Daisy, but he is in hell, Gomez thought.

Peters sat back down, and Nielsen looked at each man as desperately as a child lost in the supermarket looks at the adults who surround them. Always shrewd, Peters addressed the elephant in the room.

“Dr. Nielsen, if you help us out, we can help you out. We can make sure this little stint in the county jail doesn’t affect your visa renewal. In fact, with a few phone calls, we can enure that you get a green card for life.” Peters ripped off yet another cuticle, letting it drop to the table where it was magnified to grotesque size by Nielsen’s tears.

Gomez reached out and placed a hand on Nielsen’s shoulder, in awe of how he was dwarfed by this man but also filled with a deep sense of pity for him. Gomez didn’t know what it was like to be an scientist, but he knew enough to know that between Daisy’s disappearance and rumours surrounding Nielsen’s feelings for her, the giant man had no real choice but to collaborate.

Nielsen reached into his shirt. A locket, designed as an ornate but miniature bird’s cage, appeared in his hand. Nielsen tipped over the bird cage, its door swinging open in a glint of gold fire. A white paper flower, tiny and intricately petaled, tumbled forth. It was so small that Nielsen could barely grip it between the nails of his thumb and forefinger. Nielsen gazed at the diminuative flower, turning it over and over again in his grasp. In that moment, Gomez knew that whatever Daisy had been to Dr. Nielsen, his feelings for her had been real. Whoever had kidnapped Daisy, it wasn’t this giant seated across from him.

“Tell us about what you saw in the cabin, Dr. Nielsen.” Gomez locked eyes again with Nielsen–this time, the blue eyes were elsewhere, dilating in response to a memory Gomez couldn’t see.

“The cabin is not the first time I had my suspicion. It was only the first confirmation of what was happening between Daisy and Jay.” Nielsen tucked the flower delicately back into the locket. The locket burned a sharp yellow in the bright fluorescent lighting.

Nielsen open his mouth, and what began to tumble forth made Gomez shudder. He locked eyes with Peters as the story spiled forth.

*************************************************************************************

The sharp sounds of raucous laughter echoed in the hallway, destroying Nielsen’s concentration the way a bull obliterates all the porcelain in the chinashop. Nielsen looked out his door, frustrated again for the thousandth time this week, by the giggling voices down the hall. One voice was light, crisp, the reverbation of a silver bell in a silent recital hall; the other was deep bass, the sound of a huge tree slamming itself into the forest floor. The voices went from giggles to chittering words in a babbled language that Nielsen couldn’t understand: a sea of vowels and soft consonance to drown in. Nielsen didn’t know what was more maddening: their incessant giggles and chitters, or the fact that this happened every Thursday, for hours.

 

Another explosion of laughter, the intense cacklings of two hyenas. Nielsen stood up from his desk and decided enough was enough. He had dealt with Jay and Daisy’s absurdly acoustic meetings for almost the entire semester. Final grades were due in two weeks, and Nielsen just wanted enough quiet to finish grading the finals before the end of the day. He loped down the hall to Jay’s office, swinging open the half-closed door unannounced. Impolite people don’t deserve polite entrances, Nielsen thought.

 

His breath caught in his chest. Daisy was looking up at Jay, practically standing on her tiptoes to place her brown hands on his broad shoulders. Jay still towered over Daisy: while her wide body mirrored his in the breadth of her shoulders and wide spring of her hips, nothing changed the fact that Jay was nearly a foot taller than her. Jay’s thick fingers were wrapped around Daisy’s upper arms: they stood out like thick white stripes against the deep gold tan of her skin. Nielsen felt a deep well of anger blossom within him as he saw Jay pull his lips away from Daisy’s cheek, Jay’s sky blue eyes locked intently on her face.

“What the hell do you think you are doing?” Nielsen stepped towards them and grabbed Daisy by the wrist. He pulled her behind him, blocking her from Jay’s view. Jay was tall, but Nielsen was taller by a full head’s worth: the smaller man took a step back.

“Who do you think you are, Roland? You can’t barge into my meeting with a student like that.” Jay snarled. He reached towards Daisy, but Nielsen pushed his hand away.

“Who am I? I think I’m the professor who is about to report you for misconduct. I just saw you with my own eyes kissing a student.” Nielsen felt Daisy trying to worm from his grip, but with how he towered over her, it felt more like the slightest tug against him: the feeling of walking through a spiderweb and feeling its silken tendrils brush past skin.

“Dr. Nielsen, please, this is a cultural misunderstanding. Please don’t yell at Jay. I’m not upset.” Her voice was small and sweet, and it trembled like a leaf in the wind. Nielsen let go of her wrist and turned to look at Daisy. He was met by her upturned round face, her skin as golden as her face was round. Tears glinted on her high cheekbones and thick black eyelashes as she began to cry. “Please don’t report Jay–he didn’t do anything wrong.”

Gazing into the deep umber of her eyes, Nielsen felt his resolve disappear. He kept his back to Jay, but knelt at Daisy’s feet. Now that he was looking up at her, he could feel a familiar warmth bloom in the space between them. Daisy had been his student long before she had come to this PhD program, and their current position-him kneeling before her as she cried-filed him with nostalgia.

“Daisy, you don’t have to lie to me. You can tell me the truth. I can help you.” These words, too, were familiar. Nielsen hoped they rung as true to Daisy now as they had when he had first said them to her during her undergraduate career. Back then, her lies had been around her delicate health. Now, it seemed they were about something much darker.

Daisy smiled, her teeth a string of nearly translucent pearls behind the red lacquer of her lips. “Dr. Nielsen, this is how Latinos say goodbye when we are friends. I promise. Jay was just doing right by me. He knows I miss my people.” She sidestepped around him, and went to stand with Jay. He didn’t move, not even when Daisy wrapped her arm around his. Jay’s heart-shaped lips were trembling, and Nielsen grew worried: perhaps he had let his protective instincts run amok and destroyed what little professional relationship he’d had with Jay.

“Daisy, promise.” Although he had turned to face them equally, he kept his eyes on Daisy. Her gaze never left his, and he noticed that her irises had flecks of a bright red-brown around her pupils.

“Dr. Nielsen, I promise. Roland, please. Everything is okay.” Daisy finally broke their shared gaze and turned to look at Jay. Nielsen finally stood up to meet Jay’s gaze, and felt rage spring up in his chest. Had this been another time or a different place, Nielsen would’ve brought Jay to task for such a disrespectful look.

Daisy sensed the electric shock between the three of them, and now she placed her broad body between the two men. Her comparative short stature made this an almost comical move, but it swayed something in inside Jay. His gaze softened and his mouth widened into a smile. He playfully swatted Nielsen’s shoulder.

“Hey, Roland, no harm no foul, right? We all get a little culture clashed sometimes. Spending a decade in Ecuador has me thinking this whole kiss thing is super normal! I’m sorry if I made you think something was amiss.” While Jay’s voice was jovial, Nielsen understood the subtely of his body language–the stiff legs and rigid spine. While there may not be something unprofessional afoot, Nielsen was certain that he had seen something that Jay would’ve rather kept hidden from the world.

“I’m sorry for barging in like that. I came in to ask you both to keep the noise down, and I overreacted to what I saw. I guess that is why we knock on doors, eh?” Nielsen struggled to smile; lying had never been his strong suit.

“No worries. But if you don’t mind, I do have to finish my meeting with Daisy–this interlude reminded me of something I had to say.” Jay put his hands on his hips as Daisy turned back to sit on the chair in the middle of the office.

“Right. Sorry again.” Nielsen tried one last time to catch Daisy’s gaze, to gauge if this had been one huge performance on her part or not, but her face was firmly fixated on the strand of hair she was braiding.

Nielsen left the office, but let himself linger outside the view of the door for a few moments. He heard Jay and Daisy begin to chitter in their shared language again. It sounded almost like birdsong, soft and ululating. He wanted to peer in again, to see if the desk was really between them, if Jay was really keeping his hands to himself, if the way Nielsen looked at Daisy was the same way Jay looked at her. He almost couldn’t stand the thought of Jay’s thick fingers around her arms, or in Daisy’s thick waves of brown hair.

Nielsen’s phone rang, and it blew his cover. The chittering stopped as surely as the wave of noise stops when closing the door of a nightclub, and the sound of Jay’s chair scraping against the floor told Nielsen it was time to go. He ran into his office, and sat down just in time to hear Jay’s office door slam shut.

Nielsen bit his lip in frustration as he let the phone ring. Daisy had seemed so sure of her explanation, so like she was telling the truth. But if that were true, why did Jay act as if he knew he had been caught doing something wrong?

As the phone began to chime again, Nielsen finally answered it. It was his wife, calling to remind him that tonight was in fact the night of dinner with her parents and that he was, in fact, supposed to be there. Nielsen checked his watch. He was already late.

 

As Nielsen scrambled out the door and down the hallway, he noticed Jay and Daisy walking arm-in-arm into the elevator. As he walked by, just as the door began to close, he saw Jay kiss Daisy’s forehead. Nielsen tried to double back, but the door clattered shut before he could make it. As he debated meeting them on the ground floor, his phone began to chime again.

*************************a continuacion el proximo Domingo************************