Episode 9: The Breaking Point
By Lauren Derrick
The Pensieve Editor's Note: The following is a continuation of the Marvelous Mind of Mariyln Hansen series.
As the passengers dispersed into the airport, Finley turned to her grandmother. “I'm starving.”
Marilyn nodded. “Let's head over to the food court.”
Finley flushed and leaned in to her grandmother, whispering. “Lady really wanted to eat all of those crackers… and I started craving them too. Can I meet you guys there?”
Marilyn's mouth pulled to the side and her eye squinted curiously. “Of course. That is odd.”
“Apparently, cheese crackers are a mood.” Finley grumbled.
Marilyn squeezed Finley's arm affectionately and the younger woman trudged down the walkway. Brigham stared after her, eyebrows pressing together.
She passed various liquor stores and a bookshop before she came to a gas-station inspired convenience shop that sported an entire aisle full of snacks. Finley's eyes fixed on a small red box and she made her way through the crowd.
Ladybug poked her head out of Marilyn's large handbag. Her nose tracked the motion of several people leaving a burger joint with brown paper bags. The little dog's head scanned back and forth, tongue licking at the air. The middles of Marilyn's eyebrows turned upward in sympathy as she looked down at the little pug.
“I know you're hungry. I'll get some kibble for you as soon as we sit down to eat.” Marilyn cooed.
Ladybug stopped her food watching short to fix Marilyn with a flat stare.
Marilyn pushed her lips together and huffed. “Too good for kibble now, are we?”
Byrd sniffed loudly and scratched at his eye. He, Brigham, and Marilyn were in a slow moving line for Chinese food. Marilyn looked up into Byrd's eyes and opened a telepathic link.
There's a woman over by the burger joint who's watching us. Byrd remarked. She's got dyed blonde hair and an expression like she's sucking a lemon.
Ah. Marilyn thought, briefly glancing over. Probably best to get Brigham out of the way so he doesn't suspect we're gathering intel—do you think we should send him to check on Finley?
Too obvious. Byrd grimaced. Best if he thinks it's his idea to leave the area. Maybe let Ladybug loose and get him to chase her down.
Lady is feeling impertinent today. I'm not sure I trust her to be able to focus.
I thought she was impertinent every day—little carjacker. Byrd retorted.
Brigham blended right in with the other customers in line who had their eyes trained on their phones. His expressionless face suddenly changed, and his eyebrow raised. He licked his lips, and his thumb moved deftly across the screen of his phone. He grimaced, then turned to Marilyn.
“B-be-be Ri-r-right-right...b-ba-ba-back.” Brigham muttered as he began striding away.
Byrd turned to Marilyn. “So do we get him fried rice or what?”
Well that was easy. Byrd thought dryly. Do you want to go pry into that woman's mind while I watch for the kids?
Brigham's phone showed a simple map of the airport, a red dot labeled “Fin” blinking in a corner away from the shops and convenience stores. He gritted his teeth as he swiped at his screen. A camera came up, showing a gradient of shadow. Brigham toggled a compass rose icon and the view gradually began to change. Soon he caught the image of movement and adjusted the exposure. He saw a mop propped up against a wall, a case of toilet paper set on a shelf just behind. Brigham adjusted the camera until he could make out the image of Finley. She was huddled up and appeared to be shaking. Brigham quickened his pace through the crowds.
Byrd held the line while Marilyn fit a little blue service dog jacket onto Ladybug. The pug wagged her curly tail as Marilyn clipped a leash onto her harness. The elderly woman and her dog then began heading towards a juice stand just behind the suspicious woman on the other side of the food court.
Byrd kept an eye on the luggage—a little pile saving a small booth table—and casually scanned his surroundings, periodically checking his phone. Soon, Marilyn's thoughts began sounding in his mind.
She's an abandoned spy—one that was never welcomed back after the Soviet Union fell. She keeps tabs on her comrades… nearly a hundred former Soviet spies scattered throughout the coast. She's worried. Apparently Maddie has been to visit a number of her friends and seems to have far more information than she should.
That checks out, Byrd thought grumpily.
Marilyn bought two small smoothies and casually made her way back to Byrd. He raised his eyebrow at her as she passed him a smoothie. “What's this?”
“Orange-mango-peach.” Marilyn said, taking a long pull from her straw.
Byrd took a sip and bobbed his head slightly. “Could use a shot of rum.”
Brigham reached a supply closet near the bathrooms. Gently, he tried the doorknob. It twisted easily. He rolled his shoulders, and widened his stance into a near crouch, took a couple of breaths, and threw open the door.
Finley sat on the floor, hyperventilating between sobs. She sat alone, in the dark, hugging her knees. Brigham slowly straightened. A thorough look around told him that Finley really was the only one in there besides himself. His lips parted slightly, but he closed them again. After a moment, Brigham slowly sat down next to Finley. He put a hand on her shoulder. She jumped a little.
“S-so-so-sor-sorry.” Brigham muttered.
Finley shook as she wiped her eyes with her sleeve. She struggled to regulate her breath for a moment before finally calming down enough to speak.
“I shouldn’t have…but he was just so scared. On the plane. I just thought… but he really needed help...” Finley was barely comprehensible. She hiccuped.
Brigham simply nodded and rubbed her shoulder. “I-i-it-it's o-okay.”
It took several more minutes for Finley to get a hold of herself. Brigham waited patiently, offering a few tissues from his jacket pocket.
Finally, Finley sniffed and shook her head. “I'm sorry… I'm so sorry… I didn't mean to worry anybody… I just...”
Brigham shook his head firmly, lightly touching Finley's arm. He pulled out his phone and began typing a message out in his notes.
You do NOT have to apologize for having a panic attack. I won't judge you for that.
Finley's face crumpled a little, reading the note. She swallowed down hard, however, and simply whispered. “Thanks.”
After a few moments, Finley licked her lips. “I can't hear thoughts or read minds like Grandma does.”
Brigham tilted his head.
“I… I'm sorry if I overstepped the other day. You seemed really anxious. I just… siphoned that a little bit. I've never done that before. Usually I get migraines if I try to sense other peoples' feelings, and it's even worse if I try to change those feelings at all. But if I can just kind of help someone hold their feelings for a while, well, that's a lot easier.”
Brigham held his breath, nodding slowly. He typed away on his phone.
Did you have a panic attack after the park?
Finley shook her head, voice still shaking. “No. No, I didn't. I felt really anxious—like—well, you know. You know what it felt like.”
Brigham winced. “O-oh.”
Finley hugged her knees in tight. “It went away. Mostly. But then on the plane, that little boy was so scared. And then you started to put two and two together. Grandma said it was better if I didn't tell anybody because some people might decide to come after me. But then she asked me to help out with Ladybug right in front of you and that made things worse… and Ladybug's feelings were trippy. I didn't know a Cheez-It craving could BE that intense, and dog feelings are WEIRD!”
Brigham started typing frantically on his phone as Finley continued.
“So there's all this emotional baggage that isn't even mine, then there's the anxiety that I'd normally feel over somebody discovering a secret about me that could be very, very bad for people to know—and on top of all that I'm worried about Grandma because I can feel that she's not okay right now and mad at her at the same time because she promised she'd be open with me but hasn't bothered to tell me what the HELL IS GOING ON!”
Brigham stopped his typing short as Finley finished her outburst. She breathed, and he squeezed her shoulder softly as he finished typing his message. When he was done, he passed the phone to Finley.
Wow. That's a lot. For what it's worth, I'm not going to tell anyone. The only reason I asked about you before was that I was concerned that I might not understand the situation well enough to do my job—does your Aunt Madelyn know about your abilities?
Finley bit her lip, turning her stare towards the floor. “Well… sort of.”
Brigham took a sharp inhale and looked up at the ceiling. He closed his eyes and let his breath out a lot more slowly through his nostrils. He turned to Finley. “F-fi-fin-finley...I-I n-nee-nee-need t-t-to kn-know-know wh-wha-wh-what Mad-Mad-Madel-elyn kn-knows. S-so I c-can kee-kee-keep y-y-you-you all sa-safe.”
Byrd ordered Chinese food at the counter and then he and Marilyn stood to wait for his order along with several other patrons. I'm starting to worry about your granddaughter. She should have been back by now—and Brigham too.
I'll send her a text. Marilyn thought. Lady should be able to sniff her out if we need to resort to that.
With that nose? Byrd thought skeptically. Lady's great, Mar, but she's no hound dog.
Pugs have a surprisingly good sense of smell. Better than German Shepherds, actually. What they lack is stamina.
And manners. Byrd added. Is our Russian friend thinking about anything useful yet?
Marilyn absently scratched Ladybug's ear. Yes, she's thinking about who she wants to send to watch us over the next few days. She's hoping we'll lead her to Madelyn. She thinks we may be working together.
Well that sucks. Means she doesn't know where Maddie is either.
Marilyn ignored the complaint, sending a text to Finley as they waited for their food.
“...so Grandma is really eager to get that flash drive from Aunt Madelyn before anyone else does.” Finley said, using the side of her hand to wipe her eye. She sniffed. “I don't know how big of a deal it really is… should I be scared?”
Brigham shook his head. “N-n-no. I d-do-don't thi-think s-s-so.”
Finley struggled with a smile. “Thanks. I feel like an idiot for telling you all this, but I'm a really crummy liar, and you're smart. And...I'm scared. I don't think even Grandma knows why Aunt Madelyn took the audio recording of the visit to begin with.”
Brigham's thumbs pecked at his phone. He passed it to Finley.
I can't imagine that the audio quality on that recording is very good. It would probably take a lot of work to decipher what everyone was saying. It's likely just a bargaining chip. Do you know if Marilyn has anything she wants?
Finley shook her head. “I can't think of anything. She was blocking me from really seeing what she was feeling, but I could still get a few things. A little bit of exasperation and a little bit of sympathy for Grandma. She had a lot of excitement. And there was...a feeling of determination? Resolve? Confidence? Like I said, she was tough to read.”
Brigham nodded slowly, and tapped at his phone screen.
This is all critical information for me. Just knowing that you have special abilities gives an entirely new spectrum of possibilities for Madelyn's motives. It clears your grandmother's name and explains her motives neatly, which means I can collaborate with her and Byrd. Thanks for trusting me. You can talk to me if you're having a hard time. I know what it's like to feel like you can't talk to anyone.
Finley reddened, “Uh...thanks...”
Noticing her red face, Brigham snatched his phone away. His eyes scanned back and forth across the screen in a frantic pattern. Finley stared at him dumbly, her hand still held up as if the phone were still in it.
“You didn't say anything wrong. I'm just embarrassed.” She admitted.
“O-oh.” Brigham pressed the phone down onto his leg.
“It's really nice of you to offer to let me talk to you. While we're trying to find Madelyn, if you need help with your anxiety...”
Brigham shook his head.
“I promise I won't do it without permission again.” Finley muttered. “That… yeah, that probably wasn't the most ethical thing… I just really wanted to help. I'm sorry.”
Brigham met her eyes and nodded.
Finley's phone buzzed and she pulled it out of her pocket. “Shoot, Grandma's probably worried.”
“F-fee-feel b-b-be-bett-better?” Brigham asked.
Finley tilted her chin slightly towards him. “Yeah, a little. Thanks.”
Byrd and Marilyn took a plastic bag back to the table where their luggage sat. Marilyn's phone buzzed.
“Finley says they're on their way back.” Marilyn said, reading the message.
“That's good.” Byrd said, but thought, Did she say what's going on?
No. Marilyn replied. She stiffened.
What is it? Byrd thought eagerly. Something useful?
Marilyn didn't reply, she simply sat still as another woman's memory flashed in her mind.
A tall blonde man stood with a heart-shaped box just outside an apartment on the next floor up. A note was taped to the top of the box. The man ran his fingers through his hair, quietly shifting his weight from side to side. He reached for the door knob, but then let his hand fall to his side. He set the box on the doormat and quietly walked away.
The woman who had been watching him waited a good five minutes after he had gone before she crept up the metal stairway to the apartment door. She took the box of chocolates and began fingering the under edges. She removed a false bottom to the box, to which a silver key had been taped. The woman quickly pocketed the key and carefully removed the note with a gloved hand. She replaced it on the box, set the box back on the mat, and silently hurried back down the stairs.
“That… that was supposed to be for me...” Marilyn whispered.
Byrd looked down at a chicken and noodle dish sprinkled with small chili pepper pieces. His eyebrows furrowed. “You don't like spicy things—you got the walnut shrimp.”
“No… not that...” Her eyes grew wide as her breath began to evaporate.
“Mar?” Byrd said, trying to catch her eye. “Mar—what is it?”
Mar, you're scaring me. What's going on?
“She… she stole it.” The words were barely audible. “My key.”
Ladybug looked up from her kibble on the floor, pawing gently at Marilyn's leg. The old woman shook a little for a moment, then pushed her chair away from the little table.
“Mar, you have to talk to me. What are you doing?” Byrd asked, reaching for her arm.
Marilyn ignored him and marched straight towards the sour-faced blonde woman, leaving behind a whimpering pug and a worried old man.
The expression on the blonde woman's face turned from a sour pinched mouth to parted lips and wide eyes. Marilyn stood in front of her, arms folded.
“I want my key.” Marilyn hissed.
The woman paled, her wrinkled eyes growing wide. She took a step back. “E-excuse me?”
“You took it out of my box of chocolates forty some years ago.” Marilyn stared lasers straight into the other woman's eyes. “Frank left it for me. I want it back.”
Several feet away, Robert Byrd sat with a stack of luggage at a small table in the airport food court. He stared down into his chicken and cursed silently to himself as he ran all his fingers through a mess of white and gray hair.
The woman licked her lips and shook her head. “I'm sorry, you must have me confused with...”
“DON'T.” Marilyn's eyes darkened as she tilted her head forward. “I know who you are. I know you're looking for my sister. So am I. But you're going to give me that key, Taisiya.”
The blonde woman's hands shook. “A-actually it's Julie...”
Marilyn rolled her eyes. “Julie then, if you fancy yourself a full-blown American. I still want my key. Where is it?”
Taisiya, or Julie, glanced around. “Miss Hansen—perhaps we ought to have a discussion. But this is hardly the place for it.”
Marilyn folded her arms. “It's as good a place as any.”
She sighed. “Miss Hansen, please. I see you are determined, but I have my own questions. Perhaps we can help each other?”
Marilyn's eyes narrowed as they bore down into the other woman's. She followed the blonde woman and they began walking away from the food court. Byrd caught her eye.
I don't like this, Marilyn. Our security guard isn't going to like it.
There was no reply.
Byrd stared at his chicken and noodles. He stabbed at the chicken pieces without eating any. After a few minutes, Finley and Brigham came to the table, looking somber. Finley's eyes were puffy. Byrd's expression softened when he saw her.
“What happened, kid?” He asked softly.
Finley bit her lip. “Just… just feeling overwhelmed.”
“Me too.” Byrd muttered.
Brigham gently touched the side of her arm, and she smiled a little. Finley cleared her throat. “Where's Grandma?”
Byrd resumed stabbing his chicken. “Marilyn decided to go have a discussion with a former Soviet spy that showed up out of the blue. Something about a key.”
His voice was terse and punctuated with every stab he made at his chicken. Brigham whipped his phone from his pocket and began scrolling through cameras.
“You let her go off by herself?” Finley asked, voice shaking.
A prong on Byrd's plastic fork snapped. “She didn't ask me. She wouldn't even listen to me. I'm not sure what’s going on, but she's not okay. She broke cover, went off the plan without so much as a word. She's never done this before.”
Brigham shoved his phone in front of Byrd's face. A blinking red dot labeled “Mar” traveled through a miniature airport blueprint.
Byrd raised an eyebrow and looked up at the younger man. “You've got us all bugged?! But how? My interference clip should have taken care of that.”
Brigham smirked. “B-br-brand n-new ca-ca-cam-cameras.”
He ran his finger across the screen and fiddled with it before showing Byrd a video feed of the back of a blonde woman strutting through the airport. Byrd snorted.
“Damn. They've gotta be tiny little things if we didn't even notice them. I still check my clothes and bags every night—can I see?”
Brigham pulled a tiny, six-legged device from Finley's backpack. It sat like an ant on his finger. Byrd whistled.
“I never would have thought to look for one that small. Now that's something. I want a set. Can you send me the specs?”
Brigham nodded enthusiastically and began sending a text message on his phone.
Finley cleared her throat. “You guys! My grandma is walking off into danger and you're geeking out over cameras?!”
Brigham blushed a little, but Byrd just shook his head. “Sorry kid. I'm worried as hell about your grandma right now, but a lot less so now that we have tabs on her. And I don't know of any tech made to counter this, since both Marilyn and I always wear clips that cancel out bugging.”
Finley just stared at Byrd. The elderly man cleared his throat. “Marilyn is the most capable person I know. We just need to be ready to move in case she needs us. There's nothing else for us to do right now.”
Ladybug lay down in her blue vest with a low whine, setting her head down directly between her front paws.
Finley growled softly and sat. “What is wrong with her? Why would she go off by herself?”
There was silence around the small table, a sharp contrast to the bustling crowds waiting in line for various foods. Byrd glanced at the two young people before him and finally sighed.
“With those cameras, the jig was probably up before we even left. Look, I need to square with you two. Brigham, you here to bust us?”
The younger man shook his head. “H-h-here t-to he-hel-hel-help.”
“Good.” Byrd said curtly. “They always say in training to never take cases that are too personal or that you are too invested in.”
Finley and Brigham exchanged a glance gilded with raised eyebrows.
Byrd licked his lips and drummed on the table. “Yeah, so, that ship has sailed. Marilyn's not herself right now. She's emotional and angry and isn't following protocol. We need to run an intervention to get her some help, but first, you two gotta understand what's going on.”
Marilyn and “Julie” sat in an airport security office overlooking several airplanes in the terminals outside.
“So, you know about the key.” Julie began. “I suppose you've worked out that your husband was… not all he claimed to be?”
Marilyn's eyes narrowed. “As in a Soviet spy? Yes, I've worked that out.”
Julie took a flask from her inside jacket pocket and took a small swig. She sniffed, smiling ruefully and shaking her head. “If you know about us, then your agency knows. Is Uncle Sam finally going to come chase the Soviet rats from his basement?”
“No. There's no sense in chasing away a bunch of has-been spies from a dead country. You're no threat.”
Julie gently rubbed her flask with her thumb, staring sadly into the weak reflection it provided. “Ah, well. That's true enough.”
There was a moment of silence, and Julie tucked her flask away again. She leaned in with her elbows on her knees and looked Marilyn in the eye. “So. If there is no sense in exterminating the harmless rats, what does your sister want with us?”
“I wish I knew.” Marilyn said frankly. “I think we can both agree that it would be better for everyone if she were stopped, however.”
Julie's eyebrows furrowed, and she frowned. “You are working against her? Your own sister?”
“It shouldn't come as a surprise.” Marilyn leaned back in her chair. “I was the one who captured her and had her locked up in the first place. She's a genius, but she's reckless and dangerous. She lacks restraint.”
Marilyn let that last word hang in the air for a moment, a silent threat. “I need your cooperation. We both have a lot at stake.”
“Oh? What has she got on you?” Julie asked casually.
“Enough to motivate me to come after her in my old age.” Came the response.
“It must be a good secret.” the ex-Soviet muttered to herself.
“I want to collaborate.” Marilyn said after a short pause. “But I also want that key you took. I want to know what it goes to.”
Julie winced. “Ah. You, um, don't...know?”
Marilyn leaned forward, uncomfortably close to her counterpart. “Don't know what?”
“Marilyn has, apparently, been telling herself for years that her husband left her and jumped off a bridge because she told him about her… unique abilities.” Byrd said, gesturing to his own head. Finley and Brigham leaned in close over the limp Chinese food on the table in the airport food court. “That narrative has been influencing everything she does. She had permission to tell her family things, but she never did.” Byrd gestured to Finley. “She has created a persona for herself to make people believe that she's harmless. So they won't abandon her.”
“That's...sad.” Finley said quietly.
“Yeah, well, it gets sadder.” Byrd grumbled. “She blamed herself for Frank's suicide, at least at first, and the only way she could find to cope was by...um...self-medicating.”
Again, Byrd gestured to his head. Brigham and Finley nodded slowly.
“You mean...she was...basically doing to her mind what an antidepressant would do?” Finley asked.
Byrd shook his head. “Antidepressants take a lot of guesswork—Marilyn could target exactly how much Dopamine or Serotonin to release in her own mind to make herself function. So, despite being a licensed therapist, she never actually talked to anyone about what had happened until a little over a week ago when she—very vaguely, mind you—told me.”
“Geez.” Finley ran her fingers along the top of her head and sighed.
“Yeah, so I don't know what Madelyn's game is, but you remember that email that was mentioned?”
Brigham closed his eyes and pinched the top of his nose.
“Well Madelyn apparently found out that ol' Frank was a Soviet spy. So did he actually jump off a bridge or did he just plant witnesses? Did he rush home to tell everyone about his extremely gifted wife in the States? Does someone in Russia know about Marilyn now? Was everything he ever told her a lie? Is the bastard somehow still alive? We just don't know.” A touch of emotion laced those last words as Byrd leaned back in his seat, shaking his head.
Finley also leaned back and folded her arms. She inhaled deeply, then exhaled. “That explains a lot. Thanks, Mr. Byrd. I—I was starting to get kind of mad at Grandma...but now...”
“I keep telling her to talk to you, kid.” Byrd sighed. “She might hate me for telling you kids all this, but damn it, I just don't know what else to do. I could choke Maddie right now for doing this to her. She needs help.”
Byrd looked at Finley carefully, nodding to himself. She glanced around a little, shrinking under Byrd's gaze. “You can help her, kid. I think you can help her in a way no one else can.”
“...I...your sister...” Julie shook her head, flustered. “When Madelyn comes, she seems to know everything. Everybody I've talked to gushes over how strange it is, how precise her knowledge is, how it feels as though she's reading their mind. I didn't think we had any secrets left that you wouldn't know.”
Marilyn flushed. “I may be a few steps behind my sister. But please, by all means, enlighten me. What don't I know?”
Julie frowned deeply, all the wrinkles in her face becoming more pronounced and the bags under her eyes sagging. “You must have really loved him. He must have really had you. That key, it's nothing to us now. Your agency already has enough information to condemn us all. It's just a safe box, here in New York. It had Freidrick—Frank's personal effects in it. I went through all of them years ago. It all would have given him away. Funny, isn't it? He must have cared for you, too. Wanted you to know what he really was, at least.”
Julie's voice cracked. Her eyes began darting from side to side, and she shifted uncomfortably. “Once we knew that he had tried to reveal himself....there was nothing else to be done. I—I wasn't sorry for it then. What he did was a betrayal of his country. Traitors die. If I had known how things would go for our country back then...I wonder if I might have felt sorry.”
There was a long pause, and Marilyn simply sat, red-faced and unable to speak. She sniffed quietly.
Julie finally spoke, voice quavering. “If it makes any difference, I do feel sorry for you both now. You can have the key and the safe box, if it means something to you. But I want assurance for myself and my people that we won't be harassed. I need a document promising our safety.”
Marilyn stood, voice trembling. “I'm not here to negotiate. You're going to get me that key—and then you're going to lead me to every person who was involved with my husband's death.”