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I live inside skin that I do not like.
That I will learn to jump out of.
Behind walls, to the pulse of blue TV light, I hear a sad thought.
And I travel silently, like eyes without a face, to look through the window.
In the flickering blue light is the meat of my vision.
I will be free of my pain because I will give it away.
Please allow me to introduce myself:
Call me Hayward.
6:41 PM TUESDAY JUNE 16, 1992
Animal Rights banquets are hard to accessorize for, Misty thinks. No one, except the ridiculously hard-core, questions the necessity of leather shoes, but a leather belt might not be politically correct. As a substitute, she thinks her gold lame belt might be too overstated for an ecological dinner. Her turquoise-and-silver concho belt is a little too Southwestern for her Chanel skirt, but tonight style will have to compromise with the politics of the evening.
Misty will sit at the dais because she is famous, but she knows that the committee's inability to get a movie star led to their choice of her, a TV actress. She feels both put-upon and flattered.
She wanders past the Empire desk where the pre-nuptial papers are stacked. Glancing at them en masse fills Misty with ennui. Looking up, she sees her face dimly reflected in the floor-to-ceiling windows. Her dark, shoulder-length hair blends with the twilight outside. She is beautiful, but in an indistinct way, her flesh softening her bone structure. Her face is recognizable, but she could be anyone: a TV actress.
The sound of a car horn, one of the barking beasts of Sunset Boulevard, floats into the living room with a rush of dry wind. Misty turns to the sound of the open door and sees a small young man, his eyes glassy with either belief or drugs. He stands just inside the glass door, silhouetted against the carpet of lights.
"Who are you?" she asks. This stranger unnerves her, but instead of surrendering to the fear, she plays a role, she takes charge of the situation and casually makes her way toward the Arm Tech alarm button in her handbag.
"Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm William Ward Hastings." His voice sounds surprisingly big and deep for his compact physique. He stands barely five feet tall, but he looks like a larger man who has been distilled, his essence concentrated.
"Call me Hayward. As in what the hay. You know how people say what the hay when they mean what the hell?"
"You didn't ring the bell," she says.
"I'm Malcolm's nephew."
Hayward does not take his eyes off Misty. She finds herself thinking that he has great camera sense.
"Malcolm who?" she asks in exasperation.
"Malcolm Hastings. You were in the TV movie."
"I've been in a lot of TV movies."
"That's because they changed his name. Why did they do that? What's the difference between Malcolm and Mitch? They could have honored his memory by maintaining some degree of verisimilitude."
"I'm not Malcolm. I told you."
Misty strolls over to her Empire desk, where she trips the silent alarm in her purse. She pulls out a Kool 100 and lights in, hoping that the cigarette conceals her real objective. Arm Tech's response time is four minutes flat. Guaranteed.
"I'm sorry, Hayward. I don't remember any Hastings movie."
"You played the groupie in the movie. You were the first victim."
"Oh." Now she remembers. She keeps from looking at Hayward, even though his compact, intense face fascinates her. Better to keep it impersonal, tune him out except for a voice that the security guard will soon remove. "The Monkey Man", right?"
"Right, Misty. The Monkey Man."
"Hayward, I really appreciate my fans, but if you want to keep yourself from getting in a whole lot of trouble, maybe you should leave. Now."
When Hayward does not answer, Misty takes a beat and looks up. Hayward now stands beside the Empire desk, idly reading her legal papers. She wonders how he got over there so silently and so quickly. It's spooky. The role that Misty has chosen for herself shifts.
"What's this?" he asks, waving the legal papers.
She doesn't want to discuss her re-negotiation of her pre-nuptial agreement with her soon-to-be ex-husband, the producer who no longer produces her TV movies. But she feels the more prudent course is to follow Hayward's train of thought, take the discussion of her legal problems through a few twist and turns. At least three minutes worth.
"I'm getting more money from my ex before I let him be my ex. I earned ninety per cent of the money in this household because his producing credits were pure nepotism. But with common law, or rather community property being what it is in California, he's trying to take me for a ride."
"Do you believe in magic?" he asks.
Hayward tosses the legal papers down, scattering them across the desk. "Do you believe in magic? In a young girl's heart? How the music can free her whenever it starts? You know, the song by The Lovin' Spoonful."
She wants to look at her watch because it seems like they've been talking for quite a while. But she doesn't want the gesture to seem obvious. She smokes her Kool with the elan that had earned her an Emmy nomination two seasons ago.
Misty looks up when she feels the pressure of the couch change, shocked that Hayward is now sitting next to her, closer than arm's length, just a few inches, in fact, from body contact.
"I asked if you believed in magic not because I'm fond of that old hippie song, but as a way of gracefully steering the conversation to another place. But you didn't answer me. In fact you ignored the question, which is rude, but I don't take offense."
"I was thinking about what you said before I-"
"Save it! Malcolm was an idiot. He was theatrical, but in a stupid way. Sure he got attention, but he never inspired terror. Take a moment to think about eternity."
Misty thinks Hayward looks scarier than his famous Uncle Malcolm. But she'd never met Malcolm; James Brolin had played him in the TV movie. She wonders, where the hell is Arm Tech? And what about Tim? He should be here any minute to drive her to the banquet. She thinks about stabbing Hayward in the eye with the hot coal of her Kool.
Misty now sees that Hayward's skin is finely wrinkled. He looks much older, almost ancient, for someone who seemed so youthful from across the room. She can't help thinking that Hayward doesn't play well in close-up. But he has charisma. Yes. He has too much of that.
"I know you pressed the silent alarm button in your purse. Your gesture was very slick - I mean, I didn't see you do it. No, I heard your thoughts. In fact, I heard them in time to stop the radio transmission, because that's what a silent alarm is, a little radio beam. Telepathy is a kind of radio. I know my way around the air waves."
When Misty looks up she sees the huge knife that Hayward is holding. He isn't speaking, but she still hears him.
I told you to think about eternity, and all you thought about was shit.
Tim enters the access code and drives through Misty's security gate, to escort his high-grossing client to this week's cause celebre.
Things feel wrong to Tim when he steps out of his Jaguar, even before he hangs up his cellular phone. Mind Science has put him that much more in touch with his instinctive feelings, and what he feels now he doesn't like. As Tim is reacting, the Fourth Precept rings into his brain: step inside of negativity and turn it around. Which leads to the Fifth Precept-
The bloody hand prints on the floor-to-ceiling windows stop Tim's catechism. Afraid, he steps inside the house.
Tim regrets the joint he smoked before driving over as he numbly follows the trail of blood. It diverted, like two forks of a river, from the headwaters of what must have been the point of attack. The glass door is ajar. Tim follows the left fork outside.
Misty lies in the middle of the green lawn, its grass trimmed to putting-green perfection. Tim feels like he is stoned inside of a 3-D horror flick. The mild narcotic in his bloodstream dulls the edge of his fear. Misty's kelly green dress, her trademark color, is blood soaked. Her arm is bent underneath her at an odd angle. Her mouth, all its perfect teeth still intact, is open in horror. For Tim, her death rattle still hangs in the air.
Tim is chastened into the Eighth Precept, the one that warns against vengeance and yet sanctions socially acceptable aggression, the underlying dynamism of Mind Science that is completely in touch with the best part of capitalism. After all, it is a religion, The Religion, to help one live better in the real world, the material world. His Facilitator had told Tim that the Original Material Girl, Madonna, was a member, though for career reasons she couldn't go public with her belief.
Tim recognizes that he is digressing and fights back to this bad moment that he is standing on the edge of.
Misty is dead. At least she looks very dead. Just to make sure, Tim bends down to feel for her pulse. He knows that Misty has been recently tested, so he isn't too worried about touching her blood, still he can't help but regard all women's blood, even that which pours from cuts or wounds, to be menstrual. That's just his archetype, dig. He makes no bones about being gay. In fact, that's why Misty trusts him. Had trusted him. Tim needs to start thinking about Misty in the past tense.
Straightening up, he accepts the blood on his pink Armani shirt as wildly similar to the blood that Jackie K. wore home from Dallas.
Tim remembers the phone in his hand and dials his attorney. He walks as he talks, away from Misty, no reason to keep standing by her, there is nothing hierarchical left in their relationship, and Tim always paces when he talks on the phone. He follows the river of blood back to the fork in the white carpet as his call connects.
"550-1510," says a new voice at his lawyer's service.
"Tim Fletcher for Jake Traum."
"I can take a message."
"Get me Traum and get him now, I've got a fucking disaster on my hands."
"Please hold, Mr. Fletcher."
Tim follows the second path of blood as it sloppily snakes down the hallway, the dribbles of blood leading in a dramatic, inevitable processional to the gleaming marble and stainless steel surfaces of Misty's one thousand square foot bathroom with it's sweeping view of the city.
The red trail leads to Misty's severed left arm, which rests on the pink granite sink counter. Tim hadn't noticed the amputation in the confusion of blood that soaked Misty's splayed body. Looking up, he sees the bloody words scrawled on the mirror:
"Rise" is one of the key words of Mind Science, a call to the spiritual and material uplift of the creed.
"Helter Skelter" are the two words that guarantee the worst possible publicity, and in infinite doses.
These three words will drag Mind Science down into the mud. Nouveau Helter Skelter would fill supermarket tabloids for six months.
And Tim's career might suffer from guilt by association. Not only was Misty his client, but he had discovered her body.
The monumental words echo in his stoned thoughts. They displace the nausea of seeing Misty's left arm out of its familiar context.
The words are evidence, but everything in the house is evidence. If this wasn't a sloppy murder, then what was? Tim makes the mental decision to clean the three words from the mirror when his telephone rings. Startled, he drops his telephone clattering to the bloody marble floor. He picks his telephone up and depresses the receive button.
"Jake Traum, Tim. This better be good."
"I'm at Misty's house. She's dead."
It is good enough.
"Oh, Jesus." It is a novelty to Tim, hearing any expression of emotion from the unflappable Jake Traum. "Have you called the police?" Traum asks.
"You're the first call, Jake."
"Good, okay, let me phone it in. Don't touch anything. Hang tight."
Tim sets down the phone.
The task at hand: obliterating three words on a mirror, but obliterating them in such a way that their existence or lack thereof will never be questioned. Tim chooses the First and Second Precepts, success and truth, as his mantra. Still feeling mildly stoned, he grabs some toilet paper and sets to work.
8:25 AM THURSDAY JUNE 18
Riding up the escalator Mary always feels like she is ascending into a castle. A separate world. The Magic Kingdom. This feeling gets stronger high up in the office, where none of the windows open. She doesn't miss the feeling of real air, she has enough of that her sixteen hours away from work. The precision and the ritual of Traum, Pittman, and Black comforts Mary.
Her wardrobe embarrasses her. It's hard to dress well on her salary. In the last year Mary has refined a style of mix and match. She can make it through a two week cycle without repeating. But it bothers her that everyone in the office has already seen her wearing today's ensemble.
Mary feels the weave of her crepe jacket as she walks toward the coffee room, past the forgettable corporate art mounted on the burgundy wall fabric. Pools of track light guide her sensible black pumps over the Berber carpet. Warm fabrics surround her in the perfect temperature of their castle above the city. The constantly ringing phones, their bleeps muted but insistent, herald messages from outposts and vassals. But the kingdom is here. People come to the kingdom. Her job is so orderly and breathtakingly separate from the city outside the tower that she still looks forward to coming to work, to the feeling of clarity as she soars upward in the elevator each morning. She likes having a role in the kingdom.
The carpet gives way to the black and white linoleum checkerboard of the coffee room. James stands at the counter and pours himself a cup of coffee, jacket off, his starched white shirt a lattice of expensive, well-laundered wrinkles. His secretary usually gets his coffee but not this morning.
"Good morning, Mary. Long time no see."
James used to flirt with her every day. But he never asked her out and Mary found out that he lived with a girl friend, another lawyer. Mary knows that he is attracted to her, she knows what that looks like on a man's face.
"Good morning, Mr. Monroe," Mary replies.
He smiles, but not without tension. Stirring his coffee, he steps aside, to let Mary pour herself a cup. "Why Mr. Monroe and not James?"
"Because you look more like a mister than a James this morning."
"Is that good or bad, Miss Delany?"
"Neither. I make no interpretation of the facts."
James' smile broadens. "You are cultivating a first rate legal mind."
He adjusts his black horn-rimmed glasses while he waits for her reply, his face eager for more repartee. For the moment he seems bored with everything except her. But does he mean what he doesn't say? Is the space between their words, a place where they will ever be alone? Mary is willing enough, but she'll only say it by facing him squarely, by silently holding his gaze. Yet James acts afraid that she might say yes, and there is no easy way for him to be with her without threatening his rise to partnership. Mary knows that James is not nearly as bold as his red rep tie. But at least here in the tower she does not feel too lonely. There is too much to do. And power is the sex here, it feels good to walk inside of it, feel it like expensive carpet underneath her feet. James enjoys waiting for Mary's reply.
"Good morning, James." With mock courtly bows their repartee ends and Mary leaves first, feeling James' eyes upon her as she walks back toward her work station. She feels nervous knowing he is watching her, but she tries to keep this from translating into the pace and flex of her legs. Let him look; if desire is a power, then I must use it. Mary wonders why she thinks mean thoughts about a man who has always been nice to her. What about him brings that out in me? Mary decides she doesn't like James because he flirts for a purpose that he will not be forthright about.
As she turns into her station, the firm's euphemism for cubicle, she hears James continue past her. If I'm thinking about him, then he must be thinking about me. I think.
But James is a little buzz that goes away as she sits down to work within the padded gray partitions of her work place. She's got a window five hundred feet above Avenue of the Stars. A baby cactus she bought at a Lucky's Supermarket sits on the sill, protected from the brown air outside by the window pane that protects them all. Mary takes off her earrings, turns on her computer screen, and puts on her headset. She adjusts her chair as if preparing for a take-off, starts the micro-cassette, and enters the slipstream of words that are her vocation. Her ears and hands form the link between a voice on tape and the electronic blips inside of the computer. It's all so orderly and mysterious. Mary feels alive in what to others might be a dead end task. She is the link of flesh that connects the symbols. Her work is unsigned, she transcribes but she does not create, and yet she is part of something. All things being equal, she wishes she were a lawyer, nearer to the top of the pyramid. But all things are not equal.
There is violence in the deposition that she transcribes this morning, the paper trail of Misty Broyles' murder. Mary saw it on the evening news, read about it in The Los Angeles Times, and here it is, in her earphones, travelling through her typing fingers, medical words that precisely map Misty's forty seven knife wounds, the geography of her cuts and bruises. Mary feels connected to a big event, working on a celebrity's death. Misty Broyles is dead, but her estate must be settled. Words and paper absorb Misty's spilled blood.
Mary doesn't feel like going past James' office en route to the ladies room, so she takes the longer alternate route through the reception area. Not that she is avoiding James, she just doesn't want to chance upon him again, not twice in one morning.
Going to the bathroom, Mary passes through the lobby. Sylvia, the receptionist, wears a head set that nestles underneath her big hairdo; it looks like she is talking to herself as she answers the phone. Mary catches Sylvia's eye and nods hello, then stares jealously at Sylvia's yellow blouse. The raw silk has that special glow of being worn for the very first time. The brilliant yellow swims in Mary's eyes; she knows she's seen it somewhere - Ann Taylor - it must be on sale if Sylvia bought it. Mary offers some quick and incisive sign language to let Sylvia know how she covets the blouse and Sylvia smiles thanks in the middle of answering another call. Mary decides on an early lunch and hopes Ann Taylor's has the blouse in another color, when she looks up and is surprised by a man watching her.
Tom Reese is startled by Mary's eyes. Despite his police training, he does not register their color. But he memorizes the precise shade of her soft red, shoulder-length hair. Her clothing is understated: a loose-fitting olive jacket and a mid-calf pleated skirt. He can tell that she downplays her singular beauty, and this modesty makes her that much more attractive to him.
Mary thinks he acts shy in a way that she would never expect because he seems strong, not in bulging muscles, but in presence. His dark brown hair curls over the collar of his herringbone jacket. He needs a haircut, but is otherwise careful about his appearance. He looks uncomfortable in a tie, and he looks uncomfortable on the lobby couch. Mary senses kindness in his eyes, but there is that other part, the uncomfortable part, which makes him complicated and hard to summarize.
In that first moment, Mary feels an immediate chemistry, something she connects with. He looks shocked that she has turned so suddenly and so completely to look at him. Mary realizes that he must have been staring at her the whole time she coveted Sylvia' blouse and was unprepared for her quick, total attention. He offers her a little embarrassed smile and drops his eyes back to the magazine in his lap but she knows he is not reading, because his hands grip the pages too rigidly.
Mary is not embarrassed because men want her. She accepts that as a fact and knows how to channel it. Not to use men, but to keep men from using her. Most of the time. Her entire working life has been on the margins of the white collar world where men do not force themselves on quiet women who know how to say no politely. She walks past the man, smiling to herself because he will not look back up to meet her smile. She immediately likes this man much better than James, better than the starched white flirting shirts.
In the pink pastel tiles of the bathroom she wonders about this man while she fluffs her hair back up to its 8 A.M. glory and mounts a smile to greet him with at their second meeting.
But when Mary returns, the waiting room is empty and she continues on to her desk without saying a word to Sylvia, the bounce deflated from her step, unsettled by the brief encounter, her work now a burden to fill until lunch hour.
When Mary steps out of Ann Taylor and into the open-air mall, pleased with her good luck, the green silk blouse a steal at $39, the color nicer than Sylvia's yellow one, she sees Rand, her current boyfriend. He walks toward her, in a clique of dark suits, a power lunch foursome. Seen unexpectedly, Rand seems handsome to Mary, but in a middle-of-the-road, GQ sort of way. Dark, straight hair, but not too straight. Smooth, tan skin, but not too tan.
Rand sees Mary and hesitates in that first flash of eye contact. She can feel him instantaneously deciding whether or not he should acknowledge her or pretend he does not see her. Finally, he waves. The hundred feet that separate them give Rand a safety buffer; he shrugs and is carried by the tide of Italian suits into an expensive French bistro. She feels hurt by Rand's treatment of her, though she has no strong desire to speak to him just now.
Then Mary sees the herringbone pattern of a man's jacket. She knows who he is, even from behind, not just because of the jacket, but from the nice shape of his hair and the hunch of his shoulders as he wolfs down a hot dog.
She wants to say hello to the man, but she doesn't know how. What can be so hard about it?
She goes over to the hot dog cart. The vendor has the winning smile of an aspiring TV actor.
"A...pretzel, please." The man from the waiting room looks up at her, surprised, caught in mid-bite.
"Hello," Mary offers.
He starts to speak, but must first stop to swallow. "Hello."
"I think I saw you in the waiting room today. At Traum, Pittman."
"Yes. Hello," he says again.
Mary exchanges money for an oversized pretzel, and doesn't know what to do with the doughy thing in her hand. She doesn't feel like eating it. The man too, seems embarrassed to resume eating.
"My name is Mary Delany."
"Tom Reese." He offers her his hand, but takes it back to wipe off a line of mustard, and she smiles when he offers his hand again. It breaks the ice. A firm handshake; their hands meet with equal pressure. He sees that her eyes are green. Her fair skin seems to reflect back her immediate world.
"Everyone calls me Reese. Most everyone."
"Then hello, Reese."
"Please, if you please, the other customers," interrupts the blonde but blandly handsome hot dog vendor, antsy to catch the lunch trade, and Mary steps aside.
They stand together.
Reese seems at a loss. Wondering what to say. Awkwardly holding the hot dog.
"I haven't seen you in the office before," Mary says.
"It was my first time there."
"Are you a client?"
"I came in to give a deposition," he says.
She can feel that he would like to try that sentence again. But it's a conversation, sentences aren't deleted and rewritten as in a crime report. "Would you care to join me for lunch?" He waves his hot dog toward an empty bench behind them, waiting like a prop. "Or we could go have a cup of coffee somewhere. I don't know my way around here. This isn't my usual beat."
"I'd love a cup of coffee. Not coffee, but hot chocolate. There's a cappuccino cart in the mall."
"That sounds great."
Mary leads the way. They walk slowly, hesitant, feeling their way into conversation. She holds the pretzel by her side, out of his sight. If she can throw it away without him noticing, then she will.
"You said you were giving a deposition."
"Yes. For a murder case. I'm a homicide detective."
"Misty Broyles?," she asks. He nods yes. "I've been working on those depositions all morning," she tells him.
"You're an attorney?"
She smiles. "No. You know I'm not an attorney. You're just flattering me."
"No. Not that I'm opposed to flattering you," he says, looking down at his loafers. Mary notices his shoes are shined on top, but scuffed at the heels. He tries to look nice, but it's an effort, she thinks.
"Go ahead and finish your hot dog, I didn't mean to interrupt you."
"You're very observant." He takes a big bite, swallows in a hurry, to be ready to speak again.
"It's a safe guess that you'd like to finish eating," she says.
"Not that. You saw me for ten seconds this morning and then you spotted me again in this crowd."
"That doesn't take much. We were two feet away."
"It takes enough. Most people are blind. I see it every day," and he finishes the burdensome hot dog.
"Then you should be flattered I noticed you."
"I am," he replies softly. "I noticed you too."
"I know," she says, the softness in her voice matching his.
"Was I that obvious?"
"I saw you noticing me. But I liked it. I mean, the way you did it."
"You were talking to the receptionist and you caught me staring. That embarrassed me."
"It wasn't a bad stare. It was a nice stare." Mary smiles again.
They reach the cappuccino cart. It's chained to a concrete post. The vendor wears a Fila jogging suit and looks Middle Eastern.
"A hot chocolate, please," Mary orders.
"Nothing for me," Reese answers the man's questioning look, quick with his wallet to make her drink his treat.
A squawk of static and then an urgent dispatcher's voice emits from Reese's hip. He lifts up a walkie-talkie clipped to his faded black belt and depresses a button. She seizes the moment to throw away her unwanted pretzel, discreetly tossing it into the trash can beside the cappuccino cart.
"A code two reported at 1310 Curson."
"I'm rolling, my 10-20 is Century City." He releases his thumb from the transmit switch. "Shit." The swarthy vendor hands Mary her hot chocolate, its steam fragrant in their noses. Reese hands the man two dollars. "Sorry, I've got to run. Maybe I'll call you? We could have a real lunch?"
"I'd like that," she answers, comfortable and slow.
"Great, nice meeting you, Mary Delany."
"Nice meeting you, Tom Reese."
He takes off like a shot.
Mary watches him sprint through the shoppers, his tie flying, getting curious stares. She sips her hot chocolate slowly, walking alone, reviewing the conversation as she strolls through the outdoor mall. So nice, just touching his hand, their handshake, relaxed and perfectly balanced. Reese felt so right, his skin. Not perfect skin, like Rand's. Right now she can't help comparing Reese to Rand. The comparison favors Reese. In fact, there is no comparison.
Reese is shy about looking at her. That makes her feel special. He isn't shy about running. She guesses that his job is the real life and death on the other side of the bloodless words that she transcribes. Reese is out in the world, on the other side of the glass, in the dangerous air of the city.
Mary feels a buzz from the flirting, like back in high school. She remembers when the world was divided into two kinds of boys: shy and bold. The bold ones did what they wanted, until Mary said no.
Reese reminds her of the shy ones, who talked to her about classes and books, but almost never asked to see her at night. That only happened once, with Thomas, and he was careful not to touch her, he seemed afraid to speak when they were alone, and the night was silent in a way that wasn't good. And after that night Thomas was afraid to even talk to Mary at school, going out of his way to avoid her, making sure he was always across the hallway or across the room.
Mary remembers that she liked Thomas a lot but it was hopeless, and so she went out with the bold ones, the ones who kept asking, and their friends, she was popular, and Pop was suspicious when they came at night to get her. And these boys didn't ask her what she liked, they talked about themselves, or about sports, or gossip, things that she wasn't good at. And each time out they seemed to do less and less before they took her to park, and they insisted that she unbutton her blouse, and then they were awkward about unhooking her bra, but she made them stop at that.
Strolling at a dreamy pace, Mary takes a sip of lukewarm hot chocolate, surprised by the vividness of these dormant memories. She hopes Reese will call her soon. She'd love to have a reason to break her date with Rand. Any date. Every date. It shames her that she has accepted someone as a lover whom she does not really like. The more she thinks about it the worse she feels.
Mary sits down on the bench where she almost sat with Reese.
She promises herself not to think about Rand any more just now, but to try and think only about Reese while she drinks the hot chocolate he bought her. At first she can see Reese's face, but not his body. Then she works at remembering him, piece by piece. She could be something important to him. Maybe. She knows she is dreaming, but why not? Why not make a big deal out of something small? It feels nice. They connected. Even the pauses when they walked without talking had not felt awkward.
Mary takes the last sip and decides it is her favorite cup of hot chocolate ever, out here in the June California sun.
THE WRITING ON THE MIRROR
Reese rolls the motor pool Mustang to a stop in front of the gate. He has to unfasten his seat belt to reach the control panel and tap in the six numbers that bring the electric gate to life. He studies the iron gargoyles on the gate posts. The fleurs-de-lis on top the fence bars look razor sharp. If you can have a drawbridge in a desert city, then this is it.
All the physical evidence has been collected but the crime scene has been left intact for the inevitable defense imbroglios that will probably entangle the case if and when a suspect finally gets tagged.
Reese drives through the gate and parks. He walks up the black driveway to the top of the knoll where the house sits. In the absence of any evidence, Reese goes with his hunch that the killer, or killers, had approached on foot. But that had been at night. Unless he, or they, had snuck in during the day and waited.
Reese has left his sunglasses in the car and he squints at the dirty yellow sky. He hears the buzz of the leaf-blower before he reaches the crest of the knoll and sees the Korean gardener. Reese circles wide around the house, getting a feel for the layout of the grounds.
In her absence, Misty Broyles' lawn is being well-tended. A tape silhouette marks the spot where the fallen actress had drawn her last breath.
Reese nods to the gardener, who goes on with his work without questioning Reese's unannounced presence. Looking out past the pool, Reese can barely see the streets of the flatlands below. The haze refracts the sunlight and hides the city beneath an unhealthy glare.
Reese goes into the house. Dried blood and fingerprint powder cling to the glass door and the surrounding windows. The air conditioning evaporates the sweat on his forehead and chest, a pleasing sense of cold that leaves a tang of salt behind. Tinted windows darken the house and Reese smells a dead scent in the air. He sees dried blood slinking down the dark hallway.
Feeling a strong curiosity, Reese obeys his best instinct, and sits down on the long leather sofa, close to the cushion darkened with the dead actress' blood.
Was it a stranger in the house? Or someone Misty knew who had turned strange?
Reese imagines someone who had enough on the ball to slip through Misty's security system, someone who kept her from tripping the alarm button, of which there were several in the house, including the remote/portable unit found in her purse.
When he closes his eyes, he feels the soft white leather against the back of his neck, against his wrists and forearms. He tries to drop inside of Misty's world. But the leaf blower drones in his ear and a helicopter beats its way through the canyon air toward the Strip. He cannot imagine a fan coming up here to requite his love. Not quite in this manner.
Reese opens his eyes and jumps up from the couch. He continues to follow the dried blood that winds down the dark hallway, a ragged but purposeful rust red trail. He hopes to mimic the rhythm and intensity of the killer.
He tries but it feels all wrong.
Irritated by his lack of discipline, he starts over again, walking faster this time. But still the rhythm feels wrong.
Reese is annoyed with himself, that he cannot shake his distracted state of mind. Maybe because there are too many pictures of Misty on the hallway walls, a gallery of publicity stills. Misty as Amelia Earhart, Misty as Commando, Misty as Mayor. Misty as Victim.
Misty as Victim: a subject for further research.
The plethora of Misty images leads Reese into her bathroom, the trail ending at the pink marble counter top. The trail of blood looks too clean for it to have been the path of struggle. Instead, the killer had come in here after Misty had been dispatched to her fatal patch of grass.
Had he come in here to wash his hands?
That did not ring true.
The blood leads to the mirror where Reese sees his own face reflected, greasy with the sheen of dried sweat.
Reese stares hard into the mirror, studying the surface, not what it reflects. He brings his eyes an inch from the mercury silvered surface. Yes, those are wipe marks, and probably not the maid's. If there were latent fingerprints or words, there is no hope of retrieving them now.
The mirror has been wiped too clean.
Mary sits in her Mazda, parked in the driveway behind Laura's red Acura. The car clicks and clacks as it cools from the trip over the Sepulveda Pass to Laura and Albert's house in the valley.
She didn't expect to be here, not tonight.
When Rand had called at four to confirm dinner - he was forever confirming things with her - she told him that she didn't feel well.
Which was the truth. A ringing in her ears. A spot of dizziness. Life after lunch had felt unsettled, but in small ways. She caught herself typing the same paragraph twice because she had been thinking about Tom Reese, playing back their brief, unexpected lunch time contact.
When Laura called a little later, Mary agreed to come to dinner before she thought about the implications, the actuality of being here, the familiar feelings as she stares out from her green Mazda at the pink trim of Laura and Albert's ranch house. Laura and Mary had a long history of pink and green.
Pink lemonade in Laura's pink Pinocchio cup.
Wintergreen gum staining Mary's tongue her favorite color.
Pink plastic purse for Laura's lunch money.
Green striped sheets cool against the green silk pajamas Mary mail ordered with the Christmas money from Grandma.
Pink pendant watch bouncing against Laura's chest when she practised dancing in the mirror.
Green amethyst ring on Mary's left hand that held the green Bic pen that wrote in the green diary, it's brass clasp corroded to a mossy green, all resting on the green ink blotter.
Pink appealed to Laura because it was warm and hopeful but not dark and violent like red. It was the happy cousin of red. It was up. Pink could lift into the air like red could not.
Green snuck up on Mary as something she kept choosing: blouses, notebooks, ankle socks. Her eye was drawn to green as a happy vibrating place. Nature. Grass and trees. Mary didn't choose green because it was healthy. She chose it because she liked it. And then in seventh grade science class Mary was told that green was the complementary color of red. Was its exact opposite on the color wheel. Pink was the tepid cousin of red. Which explained a lot to Mary, though she didn't mention a word of this to Laura.
Mary loves her little sister, not as a soul-mate or a confidante, but loves her as something more than likes her, because after their parents' deaths they are alone in the world. Except that Laura has Albert.
Mary does not feel well. Not at all like smiling across the pink granite table at dinner. Not at all like talking if it gets silent and the burden of words falls to her.
She feels something hovering on the empty street. Maybe it is just the bad air, the valley smog, but she feels like she is being watched, as if the emptiness is staring back at her. Maybe it's just the cloying pink of Laura's house that makes her feel dizzy.
Mary takes off her Ray Bans and picks up her jade leather handbag. Maybe some food, even Laura's food, will make her feel better. Ready or not, it's time for dinner.
8:27 AM WEDNESDAY JUNE 24
The metal doors close.
The car sways from side to side as it climbs.
Something syrupy coats the air, something that Mary does not remember hearing before. But elevator music is like that: you usually don't notice it, but if you do, it irritates you.
Mary feels a hand on her shoulder. Not the accidental contact from crowding, but an intentional touch, a large hand spread flat against her left shoulder blade. The hand touches a neutral zone, a socially accepted area, but she feels violated by the familiarity of the hand and, by extension, the arm and the mind of the man, it must be a man, who is touching her.
She takes a step forward, separating contact. Her shoulder feels cold where the hand was touching her, like the silk of her blouse has dissolved away.
She is afraid that the man might follow her off the elevator, abduct her - but where? Into the men's room? No, rape would be difficult so near to the castle door. Mary decides she's making too much of a very little thing, maybe the man was dizzy and just steadying himself against her shoulder. Maybe.
The hand touches her again.
In the same place. In the exact same way. She feels the cold of ancient marble against her skin. Impossible. She looks around but no one else in the elevator has noticed, their eyes blankly watching the numbers ascend, or scanning the Times or the Wall Street Journal.
Mary steps away.
But the hand stays with her. She swoons against the polished metal door and turns, to startled faces. But no hand in the air, no one noticing anything out of the ordinary, except for her behavior.
"Are you all right, miss?" a silver haired man asks, his hand, warm and solid, gently supporting Mary's elbow.
The elevator music sounds louder now and thumping, no longer syrupy, but hard. The Rolling Stones, not Muzak.
Please allow me to introduce myself.
"Why is the music so loud? They can't play music this loud on an elevator?"
The other passengers exchange glances.
The elevator door slides open, startling her.
Mary gets off.
Her sensible shoes on the familiar gray-green carpet.
One step at a time.
She concentrates on deep breaths, evenly spaced, a yoga of normalcy.
The hand on her shoulder. Softer. The ghost of the hand.
She turns abruptly. A full circle.
Been around for a long long time,
Stole many a man's soul and faith...
But there's never been any music in the hallway, not that she can remember. And even if there were, they wouldn't listen to that song here, would they?
Mary reaches awkwardly with her right hand, trying to feel the afflicted spot. She hurries into the Ladies Room, surprised that she doesn't need her key.
The music follows her inside.
Mary cranes her neck to try and see the hidden left shoulder blade. The one that has been touched.
She gets out her compact, and holding it near her face, manages to see her back reflected in the bathroom mirror. One reflection into another into her green flecked eyes. Nothing looks out of the ordinary.
But the chill on her back.
Mary unbuttons her blouse with trembling fingers. As she lifts the green silk from her torso, her skin catches the pale light. She feels dizzy from the glaring porcelain, the odd shapes hugging the wall opposite the mirrors. What are those long, skinny sinks doing in here?
Mary's neck cramps as she strains to see if the strange hand has left marks on her back. Which still burns. Her eyes ache but she thinks she catches a glimmer of red, a finger mark protruding from under her bra strap.
Mary unfastens the underwire. She hums, like she's undressing for a shower.
Pleased to meet you, hoped you guessed my name.
As her bra comes off, Mary definitely sees a red mark in the creamy field of pale skin. But couldn't it be from pressing with her own finger, like she does now, her elbow cocked with cubistic angularity, feeling what must be the most inaccessible part of her body.
Mary loses track of what she is doing, because she is doing too many things: holding the compact mirror in her right hand, reaching over her shoulder with her left, watching the reflection of a reflection, humming that Stones song, feeling a burn that might really be a chill or might not.
Now the chill travels. Down. Mary feels a beachhead of cold on her butt, like the invisible finger laid a delayed touch upon her rear end. That would make sense if it was a sex thing. She unzips her green linen skirt and steps out of it, careful to fold the garment neatly before she puts it down beside the rumpled silk blouse. She's very pleased that her pantyhose are iridescent green. She is green inside and out this morning, which is a good thing, because if she has to undress it's nice to be color coordinated underneath. And she's glad she does not need the mirror to examine this new little eruption of the strangeness that has traveled down her meridian. Nothing there, her rear end is a pleasing, blushing pink.
But what's troubling you is just the nature of my game.
Mary closes her eyes, forgets the islands of cold that connect her shoulder to her hip, and she dips and turns to the music, in a high school dance darkness; the pain slips away with the forgotten years between then and now.
And dancing across the dark floor she finds herself in front of the strange skinny sinks. No, they aren't sinks, they must be...
A familiar voice, horn-rimmed glasses, a white Oxford cloth shirt that blinds her. "Mary, what are you doing?"
"First, it was my shoulder, but now, do you want to dance? We work in the same office, right?" Mary asks him. His owlish glasses are blank, without answers.
Please allow me to introduce myself.
Mary looks over at Rand. His face is green. It must be the light, Mary thinks, but when she looks up at the light, it is white, cool, fluorescent, with a soft hum, soft enough that she imagines herself inside it, travelling down the corridor of luminescence, getting smaller as the tube narrows, reduced finally to an electron, but an electron with a beautiful body, an electron eager to mate with the world, to ground with the world, and she walks, then swims upstream, like a salmon, against the flow of the current, she spawns through the copper wire, haloed in the metallic light, slides into the roar of Hoover Dam, backwards through the generator turbine until she's alone in the cold water where the electricity is born, she swims in the fetal blue blankness before her own birth.
"Mary." A voice, irritated, but masking the irritation with boredom, as if it takes the strength of Hercules to repeat her name twice. "Mary."
Tonight Rand tries to look concerned, but he is distracted by vengeful memories of a runaway shopping cart that dinged the trim on his Audi today.
Tonight Rand tries to feel the part of the concerned lover who never expects to make love to Mary again. Not that she isn't still beautiful. Rand had in fact been making love to Mary as late as last night, weeks after signs of a dreadful illness were manifest in what his friend Arnie called "lack of adaptive behavior." Mary wouldn't make love like something they did in the natural order of things after dinner, but she would do whatever he liked in the middle of the night, after she'd gone to bed, in the darkness where he didn't need to speak. And the last three nights he'd had to change her clothes, get her dressed for bed, and there was some unadmitted kinkiness, in that she was like a fully developed, libidinous child. Rand gets excited just remembering it, here under the green lights, sitting next to her and across the bench from Laura, Mary's younger sister, and Albert, Laura's second husband. Rand had been unprepared when Mary had wet her pants. All her systems were breaking down and he couldn't cope. It wasn't like buying take-out food to make up for not cooking dinner. This was collapse, and they couldn't fault him for not dealing with that, it wasn't part of the contract. Mary had always kept her own apartment, they'd carefully avoided talking about commitment, except in the most general, noncommittal ways, so it isn't like he is her husband, but he does feel obligated, at least of making a good show of what will probably be the last of Mary.
And Mary herself, dislodging from the currents that course through the fluorescent lights, ponders the finite resolutions of the three bodies sitting near her. She knows things are slipping away, but she cannot enumerate what is gone, and that inability to say what is missing sends a spasm of terror, like a gas pain, shooting up her thorax. She knows that sometimes she is Mary and sometimes she is not. The terror lay in going in and out of the role, crossing the boundary into either being or not being herself. That is when the blackness spreads. Mary wants to fight it, but she doesn't know what it is.
It seems like they have been sitting in this waiting room forever and yet Mary is content, why shouldn't she sit here, what's the benefit of driving somewhere, you only have to drive back, what's the benefit of watching a TV show, you only forget what you just saw, it empties out of your head like Mary feels that she is emptying out of herself, what's the point of even moving, when you just take another movement to counteract the first? These thoughts settle like snowdrifts around the cold center of Mary's catatonia, light enough to stir at the second or third or fourth calling of her name.
"Mary? Mary? Mary!" It is a new voice, a voice in a white uniform, a voice to ask her questions and make a place for her to sleep.
Nobody seems to care where you go when you sleep, but they get very upset if you travel through the light and down the wire, no, they don't like Mary travelling with her eyes open, there is something wrong with that, that's what Laura says they will explain here, that's how they will make her well Albert says, that's when Rand nods yes and kisses her like he is sad but Mary feels relief in his breath, sour underneath his Tic Tacs, sour with a sickness that only she seems to see.
Yes, this is the place for Mary, they all tell her that, but right now she can't remember exactly who Mary is, apart from someone sitting in a plastic chair and dreaming up at a light she wants to travel through again.
She lies alone now in a room with two other women who breathe noisy bubbles of thoughts and smell like rough soap and she sees that she is Mary in this lonely place and she starts to cry before the sedatives drag her down to a slow red place, down to a world that tastes like cough syrup, and her eyes close and there is nowhere else for her to visit this night, not even in her sleep.
"Let's go over it one more time."
"Again?" groans Tim Fletcher, the single word revving into a whine.
"Again," Reese repeats.
"I've got some important calls to make before the lunch whistle blows."
"And my time is valueless," Reese says. McGee looks up, peeved that Reese didn't say we. After all, they were partners.
"I'm sorry, Sergeant-" Tim's phone chirps and he picks it up. "Yes?" His expression and tone brighten in response to the status of the unseen caller. "Yes, I read the trades, congratulations..."
Reese finds Tim's office, with it's white-on-white decor and glass-and-steel desk, to be too obvious. Tim Fletcher, in his Coogi sweater, is intended to be the only color in this neutral world. Tim stares at Reese, evaluating his clothes, while he talks on the phone. Reese detects a sag to the corner of Tim's mouth, as if he judges Reese's lack of a recent haircut to be a form of spiritual failure. On the glass cadenza is a stack of scripts and a dozen copies of The Complete Book of Mind Science. Reese wonders if Tim is making a deal for "Mind Science - the Movie" or if he is a believer.
"Sorry," Tim says as he hangs up, smiling at Reese with undivided but temporary attention. "Where were we?"
"Right here," McGee says. "We were right here, waiting for your answer."
Tim glances at McGee but speaks to Reese.
"After I found Misty, I called 911 and her attorney, Jake Traum."
"You called Traum first according to the phone records," Reese says.
"I was confused. I'm not used to that sort of thing."
"And then what?"
Tim looks exasperated, but then Reese sees a weird smile erupt, covering the exasperation like a pimple cream. "And then I walked back inside of the house - I was afraid to stay out there with her body. And then the police came."
"Anything unusual in the house?"
"The blood. We already talked about that, all the blood. And her arm in the bathrooom - that was horrible."
McGee shifts in his seat, but he knows better than to interrupt Reese's line of questioning.
Reese stares at Tim. Who stares back. The man seems to have the courage of his convictions - the gleam of Mind Science, Reese surmises. "And then what?"
"That was quite enough. A severed arm, for god sakes."
McGee lights a cigarette.
"I'd prefer you not smoking."
McGee shrugs and puts the blackened match down on Tim's pristine glass desk and says, "My time's too valuable to step out for a smoke." Reese is annoyed with McGee, but instantly decides to discipline him later.
"Tell me Mr. Fletcher, what were the words on the mirror?"
Tim jolts back, like Reese has kicked his white leather swivel chair. "What are you talking about?"
From the corner of his eye, Reese can see McGee is wondering too."
"Was my English unclear? What were the words on the mirror?"
Tim quickly and silently chastises himself for not heeding the Third Precept: be wary of the world of appearances. He has underestimated the Sergeant because of the man's atrocious herringbone jacket and month-old haircut. Tim runs through The Eleven Precepts like an internal Rolodex and intuitively selects the Fourth Precept as the key to this meeting: step inside of negativity and turn it around. Yes, absolutely a Fourth Precept situation:
"There were no words on the mirror - not that I saw anyway. But like you say, there was a lot of blood. And I was very upset at the time. Did you find some new clue?"
Reese admires Tim's quick recovery. "You've answered my question."
Tim shifts in his chair, his body language trying to conclude this non-remunerative meeting.
"We won't take any more of your valuable time, Mr. Fletcher." Reese stands, McGee rising in tandem.
"Always glad to help L.A.'s finest."
"You're familiar with the concept of obstruction of justice?" Reese asks. "It can be very time consuming."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"That maybe there's something you haven't told us. After all, you were very upset."
"If I think of anything, I'll call you."
As they shake hands good-bye, with tight-lipped smiles, Reese is pleased with the new worry that glazes Tim's eyes.
In the outer hallway, also white-on-white, lined with posters for movies, some famous, some forgotten, McGee adjusts his pace to stay in step with Reese.
"I didn't know there were any words on the mirror. What was that all about back there?"
Reese shrugs. "You had a front row seat - partner. You tell me."
11:00 AM FRIDAY JUNE 26
Mary wants to know where she is. More than anything. At least at this moment. But even in this room, which is boxy and almost certainly small, it's so hard to see everything, much less what might be essential.
A man sits across the desk, reading a file. She guesses he's a doctor, getting acquainted with her statistics. But not just a doctor, a shrink. Mary feels proud that she can draw up that word, like an old friend, that she has a satisfying way of describing the pale man here in this room with her.
The office seems temporary, just as Mary's stay here is supposed to be temporary. She tries to think of it as a passing storm, but she already feels like less of herself than when she entered here a few days ago. Not this room, but the hospital. Here. The bigger here. Just a few days ago. Is that why every office seems temporary? No, that isn't right, Mary thinks, it's just that he hasn't moved in. That's why his books are in boxes. Unless he's moving out. Mary feels as if webs of invisible cotton candy insulate her from the world; a pink spider crawls up the sweet web, spinning it tighter.
Mary hopes her strange feelings come from the pills the nurse gives her. She works at separating herself from whatever the drug is, like dividing two piles of laundry into clean and dirty, or cotton and wool, or darks and delicates, but it all stays tangled. At least today. The web presses too softly everywhere on her head, and fighting against the web she can't think clearly about anything except that it always seems like Sunday twilight, the hour she always feels saddest living alone in a place that is not home.
In the clear cotton webbing an echo dies. Mary senses that a question hangs unanswered in the fibrous air but she doesn't know what the question is. It's like playing seventh grade softball, in February: she knew that a ball had been hit toward her because everyone looked her way, but all she could see was the sun, the huge red sun, and beneath it all the other faces watching the arc of the ball that she couldn't see, until by some miracle the unseen ball hit her glove and bounced to the ground and life continued on the other side of that suspended moment. She feels enormously comforted that she still has this memory, the ability to call it up, to feel that suspended moment of long ago softball. It means, she thinks, that her history survives in a way that is accessible to...access...axis...
"I'm waiting for your answer," the doctor says. He looks androgynous to Mary, but unappealing as either sex. He is trying to grow a moustache and the wispy blonde lip hair looks nasty to Mary. His skin, while smooth, has an unhealthy patina, like dried grease. The doctor is tape-worm thin, but he looks like a man who has eaten french fries every day of his life.
"I'm waiting," he repeats in a patient voice that skirts the blankness of sociopathic violence.
"I don't know. Could you repeat the question?" Mary asks, hoping that is a safe response.
"I asked, how are you feeling? Has anything unusual happened since our last visit?"
"I don't remember our last visit. I don't remember your name."
"How many times have I seen you, Dr. Glass?"
"That's a relief. Kind of."
"Why is that a relief?"
"Because I was worried that the hole in my memory might be bigger. My recent memory. Of here."
"And how do you feel about that?"
"I just told you I felt relieved."
"We have a few more minutes. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about?"
"The pills they give me. The drugs. Make me cloudy. How can that make me better...when I'm not anything...that I'm familiar with?"
"I'll look into it. As you probably know, the chemical imbalances of schizophrenia can be profoundly affected by minute shifts in medication. We're trying to stabilize your brain chemistry, to help bring back you into balance."
"I'd just like to be able to think a thought and see it through to the end and not think that....not think that..." Mary trails off, caught in the webs that only she can feel.
said I'd look into it." Dr. Glass strokes his phantom moustache and closes
a manilla folder. Mary cranes her neck but she can't read the name written
along the spine.
11:42 AM THURSDAY JULY 2
Tom Reese has the office to himself, which is a rare occasion. His partner, McGee, has a dental appointment, his first in years. So there is no smoke in the room and no talk.
The unusual quiet makes Reese aware of how otherwise noisy the police station is: phones ringing, workmen hammering, the police radio, an AM talk show, the metal clank of the soft drink machine.
Every day since meeting Mary, Reese has thought of inviting her out to eat. But he can never get away for lunch; there really is no such thing as lunch, he just grabs some fast food and eats it behind the wheel, washes it down with coffee, keeps moving, too many places to be. No shortage of crime.
Reese has no reason to return to Traum, Pittman, and Black. He tries to think up a reason. But to say he was just in the neighborhood and thought he'd stop by really wouldn't work for an office on the seventeenth floor, with parking down in a tomb that rivaled the Pharaohs'.
Reese's desk time is chaotic and usually not private enough to make the call to Mary Delany. And he is afraid of making a real date, because his days and nights are unpredictable, often cramped with overwork. He doesn't want to make a date and then cancel it because that might blow it for good with the nicest smile he's seen in he doesn't know how long.
Reese isn't used to idea of a woman thinking about him. She must've liked him enough to say hello. She seemed to enjoy talking to him. He couldn't expect she'd gotten the same thrill as he had. She was so beautiful and she was around those rich, slick lawyers all day long. And where would he take her? What kind of restaurant? He worries he'll either seem like a cheapskate or over-reaching. No, it isn't just a matter of calling her up. It involves a plan, and it carries the risk of alienating her. It's really too much. And it's ridiculous. In this world of life and death and blood and deception, of violence that still gnaws at him after sixteen years on the job, he is still as romantically awkward and doomed as a gangly freshman. Thank God she hasn't seen that side of him.
It's been two weeks and he has thought of Mary every day. At random moments. No set pattern. Not triggered by any specific stimulus. Often it happens while driving, caught between the aggravation of traffic and the trance of the monotonous streets and the flat Los Angeles sunlight that bakes the world to a soft pastel.
He thinks of Mary even more often at night. When there is a break from work, a surprise pocket of emptiness. Then it is too late to call her. He only has her office number. And what day should he call her? Monday to go out on Friday night? Tuesday to go out on Saturday? Or is Saturday night pushing it? He'd only bought her a cup of hot chocolate, for chrissake.
He is disgusted by his timidity. By the absurdity of his shyness. But destiny is character and he feels true to a destiny he does not want. He knows he should call her. It's been two weeks. Already too long; he's pushing the envelope. And McGee is gone for the first time in ages. This is the window of opportunity.
He starts to dial the number, gets to the seventh digit.
Goes to the bathroom. Empties his bladder. No possible distraction.
Other than all the station noise. How can he live with all this racket and not hear it? Why does it matter so much now?
He starts to dial again. Only makes it to the sixth digit, then hangs up.
He gets a cup of stale coffee, something to drink in case his throat gets dry on the phone.
He leans back in his creaky metal swivel chair.
He dials all seven digits. Committed.
"Traum, Pittman, Black."
"Please hold." Elevator music comes on the line, a Muzak version of Suspicious Minds. Reese waits, revving up on the coffee. The voice returns. "Yes, how can I help you?"
"Mary Delany, please."
sorry, Miss Delany is no longer with the firm."
"Would you like to speak with her supervisor?"
"No, if you could just give me her new number."
"I'm sorry, sir. That's confidential. Would you like to speak with Mrs. Morgan?"
"Who may I say is calling?"
"Serg - er, Tom Reese."
"Mrs. Morgan's office." Another voice.
"Hi, this is Tom Reese. I was calling about Mary Delany. I understand she's no longer with your firm?"
"That's confidential information."
He debates. What the hell, go for it. But what if McGee takes the return call? Conspiring to get a girl friend. That's the worst McGee can say.
"This is Detective Sergeant Tom Reese, LAPD."
"Oh. Yes, Sergeant. Just a second, please." Reese doesn't mind standing behind his badge to find out about Mary.
He is put back on hold. The Muzak has gone from Suspicious Minds to The Look of Love (Is In Your Eyes). The coffee is gone. His stomach percolates now. Too much acid.
"This is June Morgan. How can I help you, Sergeant Reese?"
"I was calling for Mary Delany..." His tone of authority dies like an offshore breeze.
"Miss Delany has quit, due to illness."
He slumps, light-headed with disappointment. Disaster is routine in homicide, but not here. Not when he calls to make a date.
"Is it serious?"
Reese feels like he is trapped on a runaway elevator, his stomach weightless in descent.
"What happened to Miss Delany?" he asks, out of breath.
"She had a breakdown. Her sister's had her committed to the State Mental Hospital in Camarillo."
"Is Miss Delany involved in some malfeasance?" the soft voice of authority asks.
"No. Nothing like that. I'm just a friend. An acquaintance, really."
The good-byes are a blur.
Reese sits in a daze. He is a connoisseur of craziness. He can smell it, feel its prickles in a crowd. But not Mary. If he'd actually gotten Mary on the phone and she'd said fuck off, or even worse, if she hadn't remembered him at all, that he could handle. But not this. It is sad and it is shocking. No wonder she liked me. That explained it. Beautiful girl like her. Because she was crazy. And here I am already calling her crazy. What a bastard I am.
He knows some of the staff at Camarillo. He's been out there on business. He can make inquiries. The doctor he asks will wonder, but he wants to know the story. As a reflex he picks up the phone, starts to dial, when McGee lumbers into the office, his left cheek swollen like a chipmunk's. He has dark eyes with dark circles, thick black hair, and a thick body. Everything about him seems thick and slow. McGee isn't fat, but his tan double-knit suit doesn't quite fit. His wide brown tie looks as unfashionable now as it did ten years ago.
Reese re-cradles the phone. He can find out about Mary Delany later. No rush. Their date has already been postponed.
"Your dog Rover die?" McGee asks.
"I'm the one
who's six hundred dollars sad, not you."
Reese lifts his expression back on guard. He re-assigns Mary Delany to the case load of the unsolved, the impossible. McGee is in his face now. He'll think about her tonight, even if he doesn't want to. Sure. It was too good to be true.
10:26 PM MONDAY JULY 6
THE HILLS AT NIGHT
The ward is dark, except for the lights that never go off, the night lights that reflect off the green waxed floors. In the air is a metal hum that never sleeps. The night nurse sits at her station, doing the crossword puzzle. The orderlies have snuck off to smoke dope on the roof top. The night hours drag the stars slowly across the sky.
Mary wishes that the drugs they give her could narrow her eyes to slits and turn time to molasses, so the moon would streak white, like those commercials where the cars flow like liquid light. If she has to take drugs at least they could make the world a cartoon, make her life a zippy Loony Tune.
When she looks up, there are others in the room, dark visitors crowding around her bed.
You've got special qualities. I know that, we know that, from the way that you think. From what you broadcast to us. That's how we decide who can join us. We don't decide. You decide, by talking to us. When we heard you speak, we came. Because we're always looking for new members.
They say this to Mary in several voices, the visitors acting like dinner guests, gathering around her bed like it's the best table in the house. Mary guesses that there are six visitors, but it is impossible to count them in the viscous shadows. They speak without moving their lips, like ventriloquists, but lacking a puppet, touching Mary's thoughts instead.
It's important to remember when to speak. When to let them hear your words so they don't get too suspicious. Otherwise, this hospital is a perfect place to be. It's safe, it's sheltered, it doesn't cost us a cent to stay here forever, letting society pay us for being crazy. And we can go out into the night and do whatever we like. Crawl right through the hole in the fence. That's the real advantage of being here, no one suspects us of doing bad things. And bad things are what we love to do.
In Mary's mind their terrible words mix together in a music of several voices that blend into one.
Words that scale up the walls.
Words that Mary sees as cartoon bubbles leaving their mouths.
Words that fill the air like ghostly sheets of newspaper.
Most of the words drape around Hayward, his name throbbing in black letters on his epic forehead, pulsing, then leaving his skin as blank and smooth as virginal marble, his eyes bloodless and contracting and smiling in a way that hurts, that enjoys the hurt, as he speaks to Mary with motionless lips.
In silence, Mary asks them, afraid, what's going on? A woman with round cheeks separates from the pack of shadows and lies down beside Mary. She strokes Mary's hair, but doesn't say a thing, the woman's mind opaque even while she caresses Mary. The silence is like aluminum foil around radar, a burst of hot white signals turning inward, white noise rising like a symphony toward the middle of Mary's head. Hayward leans over Mary; she's scared that only thoughts will reach her now.
I can neutralize the drugs they give you. The pills will even look the same, but don't worry about taking them. Your life will be better now that you're with us. And sooner than you think, sleep will be obsolete. It'll all be one long dream, unrolling like the highway, no traffic, no stop lights, but you'll be awake, and we'll soar wherever we want to go. But you sleep now. Don't be scared. Not another dark thought. Because we're your new family. Now sleep.
And with his words a complete blankness covers Mary, the words bleeding black, and she melts into herself, into the night, to the deepest place she has ever gone.
Mary sits inside of her body like it is a car. She relaxes in the front seat of herself, hands on the steering wheel, listening to the radio, a catchy pop tune that is really a tricky ad for a theme park. The theme is a secret. She thinks they are saying "Dark Land" or "Dizzy Land", but she's not sure, like a song you hear a million times but never know the words, like her ears are afflicted with peripheral hearing, that what she wants to understand is forever slipping away. She sits inside her car at the car wash and the water cascades down the windshield like a Rocky Mountain stream, the water pure enough for baptism or beer, and she hums the theme park theme as the water cheerily spills down the windshield, leaving her car clean and new as the eighth day of creation, and as she pulls out of the car wash her car dissolves into tight skin and the windshield melts into the convex arc of her eyes and she draws six inches closer to the world, her body becomes the boundary of the world, and that boundary leaks, she's being violated, it's the world raping her as she moves through it, but she also sees herself walking across the hot asphalt, she is both the world and herself and her mind itches at the shriek of her senses that builds like a tea kettle whistling forever, shrieking as she stands frozen in mid-step and again it is night, it is always night, and it is bliss to be inside of her head and nowhere else, and it thrills her not to have to see herself walking across the asphalt without the car that is gone, but to be standing beside this dark road with Hayward, whose face is once again as clear as the marble that Michelangelo caressed with his chisel.
As Mary stares at Hayward's face it seems to disappear. His skull's oblong playing field is dark and unreadable. Electric worms, the creatures that awake to fill her migraine eyes, dart inside of his skull. Mary is punished with peripheral vision: she can only see things by not looking at them. Wherever she glances, there the blindness goes.
Hayward's three disciples walk in the shadows that trail him like black wings. Their several voices are soothing, dark water. They walk down a dark canyon road. The night pours down from the sky, but a glow bleeds up from the hills, a hiss of orange light where the night evaporates. The woman with round cheeks, Michelle, takes Mary's hand, and they walk together like sisters after dinner. But Mary doesn't remember dinner, doesn't remember anything that led to these steps down the dark dirt lane. Michelle squeezes Mary's hand hard enough for Mary to question her companion.
Just so you know this isn't a dream. You can't squeeze hands in a dream. Michelle loosens her grip. That's a good thing to know if you're ever on the wrong side of the mirror and you need to remember what's what. But, really, this is all as natural as breathing. Try explaining breathing to someone who doesn't breathe, Michelle giggles, or try explaining sex to a virgin.
Now Hayward leers in, and another ghostly face crowds toward Mary, a short man with hateful, freckled skin. Their faces are impossibly close to be walking beside Mary down the road, and she checks the stride of their feet, then looks at her own feet, relieved by the view down her chest, reassured that she is walking inside her body down the dirt lane.
With each footstep forward Mary sees the hill behind Hayward's head flattening out, revealing a horizon of lights stretching into the orange fog that holds the night back from the land. The lights of the city.
They stand at the edge of a manicured yard, brilliant green Bermuda grass, a black Porsche parked under a Joshua tree. They stand in front of a cliff side house that faces the orange sea of light. Mary feels the beating of an unseen helicopter, not the sound, rather the percussion against her ears. But it's Hayward breathing close and then kissing Mary, his eyes filling hers, his lips funnelling a hot green breath that fills her like a balloon, and Hayward is the air that she floats up through, the balloon growing enormous and red in the thinning air. Mary tries to resist when she explodes into another darkness.
THE WHITE ALBUM
Tim Fletcher smokes a joint and watches MTV, his sideburns still wet from the hot tub. He looks much older without his toupee, and his body looks surprisingly flabby for someone who has a personal trainer.
Tim savors a deal he closed this afternoon that gave him some net points and a co-producing credit. He'd parlayed one of his actors up from a second lead in a soap to a starring role in a cable movie. Misty hovers in the back of his mind, as she often is these days, but he prefers to leave her there, and with Mind Science, he can.
Tim notices that the singer's lips don't match the soundtrack. The video song is an oldie, something he's heard a thousand times, but the name of the song eludes him. He sneers at the poor lip sync, but then worries it might actually be hip and intentional. He finally decides that he is just stoned, very stoned, and that he has gotten good value for the $400 that the ounce of killer weed has cost him.
So stoned that he doesn't hear Karen bring the guest into the den. But the woman isn't Karen. She just looks strikingly similar to his wife. Or is it Karen? No, it can't be, it's the grass. Mind Science frowns on intoxicants, and now he can see their point.
Tim mutes the music with the remote control.
"I've got a story line for you, Tim, baby. I know you won't steal it. That's guaranteed," Hayward tells him smoothly, but with a sinister edge.
"How did you get in here?" Tim asks.
"Don't dwell on the trivial, Tim. Not now."
"Look, I don't take pitch meetings at night. Not uninvited pitches. It's not professional, it's intrusive. I don't even know who you are."
"My stage name is Hayward. That's Ward, my middle name, and Hay, the first part of my last name, put together backwards. I got that idea from The White Album, you know the song Revolution Number Nine, where, if you play the record backwards it says "Turn me on dead man"? You know that one, Tim?"
Mary hears a strange incantation, a soup of words about Precept One, Precept Two, facilitate, actuate, science mind, mind science. She hears a laundry list of these words, like verbal worry beads. Hearing this she knows that Tim is scared, which he hides well except for the beads of sweat that dot the shiny top of his head, and the soft pulse of color that surrounds him, like ink from a squid, the same dark purple, except this color is in the air and it clings to Tim, shrouds him, in a way that she has never seen before.
Tim puts the dead cigarette down in the white ashtray he stole from the Plaza Athenee. He sits forward, shoulders hunched. His index finger lightly taps the white Aalto coffee table. In the body language of casual control, this meeting is coming to an end. "I like your chutzpah Hayward. Come by my office tomorrow, we could do business."
"It's a disease movie, but maybe you could stretch it into an apocalyptic mini-series. The concept is mental AIDS. You get infected with insanity. Simply from thinking the wrong idea. Or just from getting touched. Or you fuck a crazy person and then you go crazy."
Tim drifts in a stoned, lazy current of panic, sifting through the Mind Science precepts. He alights on Precept Five, discipline as the antidote of fear, when he feels Hayward's hand on his arm, startled by the man's sudden presence. Hayward looks small enough that Tim considers tackling him, or at least making a run for the alarm button near the front door. But why isn't the system on, how did this lunatic get in here? And his groupie, Tim can't keep his eyes off her either, almost a double for Karen. But why is she frowning at me and why is his hand so cold and stuck to me like Crazy Glue? Tim feels himself starting to reach for the roach, to take another toke and sort out what, after all, might be a workable high-concept. And didn't he say that a hand can infect you, or an idea - clever of Hayward to touch me then, to add a tactile element to the pitch.
"...imagine the possibilities, because there is no mental prophylactic. Condoms can't protect you from mental AIDS."
Tim tries to stand up, but Hayward pushes him back down. His panic swells bigger than the Ten Precepts. Tim knows beyond a doubt that this small man with crows feet at his eyes, with his young mouth and ancient skin, is a menace. Tim needs to fill time, buy time, stall, hope that Arm Tech is on the way.
"Mental discipline, mental strength might protect you," Tim interjects with flagging belief.
"Relax, Tim" Hayward tells him. "Relax and enjoy our conversation. Don't talk just to fill up more time. That's not going to work. I can hear what you're thinking, so don't bother with a con job. Don't distract me from this story idea. Imagine the possibilities, Tim. There's no such thing as a mental prophylactic."
"What about will power?" Tim asks.
"Like Nietsche? He had syphilis."
"Like Mind Science," Tim counters.
"That's Hollywood Nietsche. Mindless slogans. Mind Science won't save you from shit, Tim."
Mary feels adrift from the conversation. She's never heard of Nietsche.
Come over here and sit down, join us.
The words come to her directly, undistorted by vocal chords or air.
"Did you say something?" she asks, a normal question, an anchor thrown into the dark water.
You heard me. Don't make me repeat it. On the couch, next to the meat.
Mary decides to resist on general principle, out of stubbornness, when she feels her left leg jerked forward, then her right, tugged like a rag doll. Ugly and futile. And when the tug lets go, she stumbles to the floor, feels the white wool carpet lacing over her fingers.
It's not all sweetness and light, but listen to me, and a good time is guaranteed, Hayward tells her.
Mary sits on the couch. She wants to know if she put herself there, or if it was Hayward. But Hayward ignores her. For the moment.
"It's a great idea. Great," Tim gamely tries, but he's an experienced pitchman, and he feels his own words hang dead in the air. "But I didn't invite you in here. We - could do business together, if you..." Tim trails off. He stares at his own hands, a familiar and welcome sight, but Hayward's hand rests on his forearm, unwanted and unmovable. Tim, the master of eye contact, is afraid to look up, afraid of the man's face.
Take a moment to think about eternity, Tim.
Two hands, cold and implacable, wrench Tim's head to abrupt attention.
Why did you erase the words on the mirror?
Tim struggles with the thought; he can't make the connection.
The dope's made you stupid, Tim. Helter Skelter. Misty's mirror.
Tim panics, a big scream that Hayward catches and throws back. Panic that fuels the engine.
Other hands, unseen, turn Mary's head. She sees Tim's aura bright as a firecracker, the fast glint of metal in Hayward's left hand, and then new blood sparkle as it greets the air. But how can blood be like a Roman Candle?
Mary hears such big questions now, and between the questions is the huge darkness between heart beats. That's the darkness where she sleeps, between blinks. But why can't I leave, she hears herself whining.
Because I say so.
The air bleeds black, and Mary with it. The dark carpet home.
10:08 AM TUESDAY JULY 7
DEAD PEOPLE IN THE PAPER
When Mary returns bikini-clad from her swim in the hospital pool, she finds a Los Angeles Times on her bed, folded open to the Metro Section. On the pillow next to the newspaper are two Hershey's Kisses, waiting for her to peel back the silver foil. As the shape of a kiss dissolves into a sweet puddle on her tongue, she is drawn to a certain pattern in the printer's ink, a story that catches her eye. She sits down on the bed, toweling her hair as she reads, her hands freezing as the crime blooms into color from the newsprint.
Tim and Karen Fletcher have been murdered in their house in the Hollywood Hills. Mr. Fletcher was a talent agent; Misty Broyles had been his client. He was also a prominent member of Mind Science. There are insinuations of a cult killing, that it might be connected with the actress' death last month. There are inferences but no conclusions in the morning paper.
Mary remembers the Joshua tree, she remembers the blue moon in the orange sky, and a hallway as white as snow.
And nothing more.
Suddenly the newspaper scares her. She feels afraid to move. She needs something to hang her superstitions on. Mary hears the clatter of the pill tray rolling down the hall, the slow laugh of the black orderly, and the furious hiss of a faraway voice - the noises that are always there but not always heard.
She walks to the waste basket and crumples the crime page, her hands filthy from the newsprint, but she doesn't drop the paper, afraid of polluting the room, afraid of letting the dead print stay so near her bed.
She sneaks down the hall, in the soft green light that everyone else says is white, taking stealthy steps toward the TV room.
deposits the burdensome news in the big brown trash can, frowning at the print
stains on her hands as her feet lead her back to her room, and when she gets
there the last Hershey's Kiss looks so lonely on her pillow. She pushes it
aside and crawls under the sheets, still wearing her damp purple bikini, curls
up and stares at the Hershey's Kiss, only inches from her eyes, huge and
silver, a talisman of her childhood. Mary cries quiet tears, feeling how she
has betrayed herself, feeling the phantom pain of a phantom life that isn't
there, of the children that don't exist, of the husband that she doesn't have,
of the night she doesn't want. The sun burns hot outside the room's locked
windows and Mary shuts her eyes so hard that black spots dart like dead
fireflies in the corners of her eyes. She wants to sleep while there is still
daylight to shelter her, a deep sleep that is free of dreams.
THE CRIME SCENE
Reese concentrates on avoiding the ruts; he likes a smooth ride. But the winter rains have left some nasty potholes in the dusty road that climbs up this steep face of the Hollywood Hills.
"Can you believe it? Fuckin' dirt road up to million dollar homes?" McGee rants. Not that he cares, but it's the most immediate thing to complain about.
"Some people like it rustic. Inaccessible," Reese soothes. His role in the partnership is The Voice of Reason.
"And see what happened."
"And what did happen?"
"Who the fuck knows?"
The usual official vehicles crowd into the limited parking space outside the cliff side estate.
No flashing lights. No rubberneckers.
"No Eyewitness News," McGee redundantly announces.
The dust hasn't settled when McGee bounds out of the car. Reese knows that McGee doesn't like him any more. McGee would much rather shoot the shit with his drinking buddies from County. Reese and McGee are not drinking buddies anymore.
Reese is grateful for the silence as he uncoils from the car, his sweaty back unpeeling from the damp vinyl.
The Joshua tree in front of the white stucco house catches Reese's eye, its spiny limbs thrown up in biblical judgement at the July sky. A dusty black Porsche is parked underneath. A locust chirps from the brown grass nearby. An electric guitar twangs in the canyon below. Reese walks toward the house, an angular collection of geometrically tilted boxes, cantilevered over a precipice.
He stops outside the front door and turns around, letting the space surround him, his eyes drawn back to the Joshua tree, which seems more real than the house or the cars. Anthropomorphic. The Witness.
Reese steps inside. Pastel Southwestern colors. Contemporary art purchased by the yard. Cop voices. A coffee clatch. Fresh dirt on the white carpet. He sees a Sergeant he knows from County, nods hello from across the room, but stays far enough away to avoid a conversation.
Chief of Detectives Tommy Connolly comes over, a Styrofoam coffee cup in one hand. "What brings you here, Reese? The scent of blood?"
"The Lieu said to stop by, give you the benefit of my intuitive intellect."
"I will. What's up?"
"Tim and Karen Fletcher had dinner at Angeli, rented Cape Fear at Blockbuster, and failed to show up for work - or anything else - the next morning. We've impounded the videotape as evidence."
"So the estate will have to pay the late fee. Any sign of forced entry?" Reese asks.
"No. But someone did a slick job of cutting the alarm wires. We've only been able to I.D. two sets of fingerprints, so far - the pool man's, and the Guatemalan maid's, who is an illegal alien but not quite a murder suspect. We've found some Nike shoe prints - Tim wore Reeboks."
Connolly sips his coffee as he leads Reese through the house. There's a hair and fiber team down in the TV room. The air outside the glass window is a pustulant white.
A fingerprint man works the hallway, the blood team works the den. The blood has faded as it dried, but it stands out brilliantly against the white leather, the white carpet, the off-white walls. In fact, the dried blood is the only color in the room other than white. And black.
"Is this where they were killed?" Reese asks.
"Just Tim Fletcher. Karen Fletcher died in bed. They slept in separate rooms, by the way. She must've been a beard. Here, it's back this way," Connolly says and leads Reese down a hallway. The layout of the house is excessively modern and spatially confusing. It reminds Reese of a bad de Chirico painting.
"Tim Fletcher was Misty Broyles' agent. Have you checked out his other clients?" Reese asks.
"It's being done."
"I'd like to see Fletcher's client list."
"It'll be on your desk by the end of the day."
Reese sees McGee standing out on one of the many mini-sundecks, smoking a Marlboro and gesturing expansively to someone unseen, who then laughs at the unheard joke. Reese and McGee accidentally catch each other's eye. But McGee doesn't like Connolly, who intimidates him, and steps out of the doorway, leaving a blank patch of sick white sky, framed with thick, bonded male laughter.
Reese looks down at the carpet, crisscrossed with shoe prints and rust colored traces of blood.
"Any luck?" Reese asks.
"Pair of rookies caught the call. House was trampled by them and Eye-fucking-Witness News. If we could have learned anything, we can't after Tawny and her camera crew bullied their way in and contaminated the evidence."
Connolly leads Reese into the master bedroom.
The Laura Ashley bed linen is stained slaughterhouse red. The Complete Book Of Mind Science lies on the bedside table.
"Have they matched blood types-"
There in the silver frame: Mary.
Mary Delany as he remembers her. The same eyes. The same smile. Reaching to him.
"No, but Tim Fletcher held a celebrity fund-raiser for Councilman Zbignew, so it's shit-on-the-fan time."
Reese isn't listening. The words hang like dark pulses against his ear drums; he is aware that the words are impinging upon his ears, but he doesn't know what those words are. Because time is different than what is ticking on his watch. If this picture isn't Mary, then it triggers something inside of him that is.
Tommy Connolly eases gently down into a sinister looking Phillippe Starcke chair. "There's not a comfortable place to sit in this whole fucking house. Reese? Reese?"
Reese pulls out of the free fall, the call that never connected, the kiss that never happened, the good night smile that Mary never gave him. No, he'd never been with Mary. Just as he had not been with a dozen other women. She was only the most recent regret.
Don't fuck up here, Reese tells himself.
"Sorry, Connolly. Her picture reminds me of someone."
"Someone you fucked? Or someone you never got to fuck?"
"She reminds me of my sister."
"Sorry, Reese. I've got a wise mouth."
Reese leaves the room. Better that than feel the heat of the photograph against the back of his head. If he stayed in the room, he'd have to look at it again. Maybe get lost again. No, it was too hot in that bedroom.
He walks without direction and finds himself in the cul-de-sac of another white-on-white hallway, bloody spots on the wall, a trail of dots that lead past a Japanese woodcut of a snow storm, followed by a photo-realist painting of a slice of Wonder Bread. A gallery of chic white art. He strains to remember the right word for it. Minimalist. The crimson trail ends in a circle of blood drawn around the Beatles' The White Album, which is framed in blonde wood. He feels the presence of the painter, the author of the message. The same presence he'd felt standing in front of Misty's blank mirror. Reese has a good idea now of what the words on Misty's mirror had been. There's nothing worse than a witty psychopath, he thinks.
Reese looks around the oddly angular hallway. He lacks context and is, within the confining geometry of this house, lost.
And how did I get here, he wonders. My thoughts carried me here, I was zoned out, like on the freeway. I was daydreaming in a professional situation. Shit: Connolly, I was snitty with Connolly.
Whose gnarled fingers gently wrap around Reese's shoulder.
"Reese," Connolly says, and Reese stops.
Young cop, old cop, in the chorus of white textures. "I'm sorry Reese. I know you lost your sister a while back and I didn't mean to mouth off."
"I know you didn't, Connolly." Stiff upper lip. "No harm done."
Connolly pats Reese on the back, propels him out of the white corridor and into the smoggy sunlight.
The Joshua tree looks more sinister now, its green spike leaves splayed in angry pain.
Reese is glad about his lie, it was brilliant and intuitive, as his lies rarely are. Mary looked nothing like his sister.
"Did the news crew see the finger painting?" Reese asks.
"That they missed. Don't have your instincts," Connolly replies.
"Keep it quiet," Reese advises. "Consider posting a man. The more people who see that little artwork, the greater the chance of a leak."
"What gives?" Connolly quietly asks.
"You've never heard of The White Album?" Reese asks.
"No. White Christmas, yes."
"It's the Beatles."
"Sorry, I'm a Sinatra man."
"There's a song on that album that's very famous. Infamous. Helter Skelter."
looks more disturbed by Reese's last two words than the bloodshed inside the
angular white house. "Great, here's some jerk who's copying Manson. What a
world of shit," Connolly softly croaks.
4:31 PM FRIDAY JULY 10
Laura smoothes the car wrinkles from her pink Issey Miyake frock. She is grateful that loose-fitting clothes are fashionable. It cuts her the slack she needs to make up for the diet she can't stick to. And what's the big deal about ten pounds, now that she's married? Laura still wears her ruby engagement ring, which overshadows her gold wedding band. Her auburn hair is cut Peter Pan short and hennaed, framed by pink crescent earrings.
She had wondered about dressing up or down for the visit, and finally decided to dress up. If she wants to boost Mary's morale, dressing down doesn't seem the way to do it. Better to set an example. Mary has always loved good clothes and no doubt wants to see her sister wearing something nice.
Even though Laura is two years younger, she feels that she has been setting an example for years, three to be exact, since their parents had died in the freak accident in the Century City parking garage. An entertainment lawyer had been freebasing in his car. His cellular phone bill showed that he had been on the line with a 976 sex number when his freebase torch had exploded. Laura and Mary's parents had the bad luck of having good seats for Phantom of the Opera that night. Their one night at the theater since My Fair Lady and they had been ignominiously immolated when the lawyer, his car phone, and his Porsche had exploded in the gray concrete catacomb. The only reason Mom and Pop Delany were in L.A. was to be near their errant daughters. They had never had many friends in Kansas City and they had liked their apartment in Sherman Oaks just fine. If Laura had heard the story cold on the evening news, names changed, she would have laughed her head off.
A nurse trainee, freshly scrubbed and still free of clinical cynicism, leads Laura down the green corridor. They walk through pockets of bad smells, past blank faces like sun-bleached road signs in the hallway.
Laura sees Mary up ahead, at the far end of the corridor, sitting in a pink plastic chair like a well-behaved child. Mary waits, legs together, her summer dress a soft green pastel print, her black pumps held together, like Dorothy about to click her heels and zone into her "There's no place like home..." mantra.
Mary looks up and smiles. Laura smiles back, pleased by what she sees in Mary's eyes, because Mary looks all there, not the shell that Laura and Albert and Rand deposited here on that bad night two and a half weeks ago.
"Hi, Mary. You look very pretty."
Mary pats the green fabric covering her thigh. "Thank you for sending me the dress," she says.
"It fits you nicely. Do you want to go for a ride?"
"Do I have to come back here?"
"Yes," the nurse trainee says too quickly.
"I was just asking."
"You should have her back by six, Mrs. Vogel. You two have a nice time." The nurse trainee exits down the hallway, in perfectly measured, self-conscious steps.
Mary stands and does a a twirl, the green cotton dress stirring the dead air. Laura follows Mary down the hall, pink trailing green, toward the armed and barred front desk. Laura wonders what happened to the upper hand she expected to have today.
Mary signs out and through the doors they go, into the big air.
The wind feels larger to Mary on the other side of the hospital fence. Mary's ears fill with the dense layers of sound that cover the big world outside the hospital. "I really am glad to see you. I didn't think I would be, but I am," Mary says.
Laura fumbles the key as she unlocks her red Acura. Mary doesn't seem crazy like she did three weeks ago. It's more like a distillation of essence. A perfume. Too much perfume dabbed on the neck, the odor sweet, but cloying when over-applied.
Mary sits smiling in the shotgun seat, looking glamorous behind the sunglasses she has picked up from the dash. Laura fusses with the car mirror, and looks pointedly annoyed.
"What is it, Laura? Oh, these are your sunglasses, I'm sorry," Mary takes them off and Laura petulantly puts them on.
"I'd be glad to buy you a pair, there must be a mall somewhere near here. But I need them to drive."
"I said I was sorry, Laura, I saw them and I wasn't thinking, it just felt good to put them on. Pardon moi."
Laura flashes Mary the sympathetic smile that she has worked on all morning.
Orange and brown.
They didn't decide on the restaurant so much as the restaurant decided upon them.
What was too much to say has boiled down to nothing. The waitress keeps coming around with more coffee long after Laura's teeth are on the edge, but she drinks more.
Laura stares at Mary.
Mary stares at the counter. She sees angel glows around the people sitting there, penumbras around their heads and backs, around their arms in clattering motion. And it isn't just the late afternoon light, yellow with petrochemicals, that slants in from the freeway side of the restaurant. No. Everyone seems to have a different color. Mary has seen color blurs before, when her eyes ached with chlorine after swimming too long, but this is different. These colors are like signatures.
Her self-absorption irritates Laura. It is sad. And boring. Laura wants to take out an envelope and plan her shopping list or plan next week or do something with pen and paper to keep from wasting the whole afternoon sitting here with her sister who will not speak.
And Mary feels the throb of Laura's annoyed thoughts, feels them in a way that she can respond directly to, if she so chooses. Better to talk about something else.
"Laura, you used to do meditation and stuff, didn't you? Back in college?"
"Just my sophomore and junior years. Then I belatedly discovered sex. Or rather, I dumped the guy - no, he dumped me - who got me interested in meditation in the first place. I don't know, I lost interest in it. It's funny, I paid $100 to get a mantra, and now I can't remember what the magic word was. Why do you ask?"
"Do you know what auras are?"
"Why?" Laura looks toward where Mary looks, toward the counter. The sunlight cuts through Denny's in brilliant bars as the western sun drops into the unseen Pacific. Laura has to put on her sunglasses, and even then she has to squint at what Mary enjoys with undilated eyes. Mary's new sunglasses, Laura's gift, sit ignored on the table next to Mary's untouched English muffin. "It's just the sun, Mary," Laura says with relief.
"Of course it's just the sun."
Then the sunlight is gone; but the colors surrounding the diners and their waitresses become more intense. It's a peculiar rainbow that suddenly scares Mary in a way that takes her breath away, and so she reaches for her glass of water and tries to take a few calming sips, and Laura speaks but it's impossible to hear because now her words are colors, there are too many colors, and Mary decides the best thing to do is nod politely, and when the colors from Laura's mouth fade to gray she says, "I'm feeling really tired. I haven't been out in the world like this in a long time and I'm getting a headache and shouldn't we be getting back?"
Laura agrees, but in colors, tapping her black Movado watch like it's past curfew.
Mary enjoys the march of new colors as they walk out of Denny's and back into Laura's red car.
Mary doesn't know how or why she can see this new other world. And while she puzzles this out, her eyes slide shut, cracking open to look through the tinted gray car window at the sad colors of a dented station wagon family caught next to them in traffic at a broken signal light. She closes her eyes again, better to sleep than to try and lift out of this strange place, that's the safest thing, she'll try to sort it out in the morning, she's a patient, she's not responsible, she'll just be careful not to say anything that will add to her jail time, it'll all be fine.
hum of the car is like the beating of her mother's heart for those nine
wonderful dark months and Mary smiles as all her muscles relax in the momentary
bliss of a nap in Laura's humming car.
2:40 PM SATURDAY JULY 11
Mary swims underwater, wearing the Speedo goggles and green lycra bikini that Laura mailed to her. She reaches up her hands and they are reflected in the thin liquid mirror of the water's surface above her, until her hands join their reflection, her fingers breaking through the water and into the air, her watery trance dissolving in the gray light of this overcast summer day.
Finally, suddenly, the inland fog dissipates.
She lounges in her white hospital robe, the hot air drawing the moisture off her skin. Other patients, permanently pale, sit around the pool. No one else swims; the pool's surface refractions lapse back to stillness. Gaunt eyes, blank eyes, pink eyes, all seem to stare at the empty pool as if it's a watery altar, not out of religious conviction, but for want of another target to fill the blankness.
Mary feels a shadow crossing over her closed eyelids, eclipsing the sun. She cracks open her eyes as Hayward sits down beside her.
He acts casual with her, a black shape against the bright sky. Because of the extreme contrast between shadow and sunlight, Mary can see no details in his face. Or body. Just the solidity of Hayward sitting in the air next to her.
"You're looking quite well today. I admire people who swim. Do you count the laps?"
She ignores his question and squints at him. "Do I know you?"
"If you don't remember me, then you don't really know me. But I know you. Or rather, I know that part of you that doesn't remember me. Do you remember anything about last night?"
words confuse her. They might make sense, but she can't separate them as such.
"No. I slept."
"And you had
dreams, didn't you? Dreams that disturb you, but dreams that you can't
remember. Dreams that you tried to brush away when you brushed your teeth, but
there's a bad taste left, and I'm reminding you of that bad taste. But that's
not the worst part, the worst part is that you actually like the bad taste. I'm
Hayward. Don't you remember?"
"Did I sleep with you?" she asks.
Hayward laughs. His laugh terminates in a hiccup that releases mutated pain that she can see as a dark smudge in the air in front of his face.
Behind the dark smudge, he speaks softly. "Hardly. Nothing so mundane. But you dreamed with me. You lost your oneiric virginity."
"I don't understand."
"You do. You just don't understand it in your waking hours. When what you do leaks over into the daylight, then your genius will be obvious. Until then you're lost, you're swimming laps, laps that you probably don't count. I know about you, I know how you get lost in the water, not so lost that you don't remember to turn around and bang into the concrete, but lost where you're drifting inside of your body, where you forget who you are, and then this panic jumps out of your chest. But this is boring. The days are boring. Let's save it for the night."
A sudden fog from the sea turns the day milky and dark and she sits alone underneath an umbrella that does not protect her from anything. Hayward had been there, and now he is gone; the two moments splice together and the intervening time is totally lost to her, like those dreams Hayward said she could not remember. Like part of her day has been stolen in sleep, but she has not slept.
chair is empty; Mary doesn't remember how. She starts to cry.
Reese looks out through his dented blinds at the courtyard pool. A lone sunbather, the architect, lies on her stomach, her top unhooked, baking her back to a golden brown without tan lines. He hangs back in the shadows, sipping a Bass Ale in his sweat suit. It's Saturday and he doesn't have to go out, so he won't.
He sees too many people during the week, talks to too many people. He's always with someone, shackled to McGee the live long day, worn out by the man's constant chatter, fatigued by the occasional need to respond. Even just grunting in agreement is exhausting. He tries keeping silent, hoping that his lack of verbal validation will eventually lead McGee to shut up, but even that doesn't work. McGee takes the silence as encouragement, not that he needs much.
The silence in his apartment has already gone past being restful. Rest he doesn't need. Reese feels restless in a room he doesn't feel like leaving.
He would like to meet the architect by the pool. He would like to be drinking his beer beside her, rubbing tanning butter on the warm expanse of her back. And later they would go out to eat, then see a movie, he would open the car door for her and they would chat about what they needed to pick up at the grocery store, maybe do the laundry after they made love. He is attracted to the idea of being in his room with the architect. Jennie is her name. He knows that from the mail. He also knows that she drives a Volvo Sedan, eats cottage cheese, broke up with her boyfriend, an Iranian, 3 months ago, tends to stay up late, rents videos from Blockbuster, subscribes to Vogue and Metropolitan Home, prefers flats to heels, wears earrings but not bracelets, keeps her louvered blinds pulled most of the time, smokes marijuana occasionally, Salems even more occasionally, has an overweight girlfriend named Trudi - Reese can fill a couple of pages with the accumulated observations of the last eighteen months, the term of Jennie's tenancy at the Bali Hai.
Not that he is obsessed with her, or more than casually interested. His informal fact list about Jennie is from professional habit, a busman's holiday. She isn't really his type, if he even has a type.
But he does. Mary is his type, Mary still as clear as yesterday three weeks down the line.
Reese finishes his ale, opens another one, then strolls outside, circling the pool with carefully calibrated nonchalance.
"Hi, Jennie. It's, Jennie, isn't it?"
"Yes, hello. I'm sorry, I forget your name."
"Like Reese's Pieces?"
Their names exchanged, an oddity after seeing each other's face for eighteen months, they settle into an uncomfortable silence.
"Funny how you can live somewhere for so long and see someone, like we see each other, and still not know each other's name."
"Welcome to the big city," Jennie jokes. She re-fastens her bikini top and turns over.
"Would you like a beer?" he asks.
"No thanks," she says and lifts up her Evian for a no- calorie swallow.
Reese thinks about sitting down, but then it would be awkward getting up. He could act like he came out for a little sun, though a jogging suit is odd garb for baking one's flesh. But it's awkward standing by the pool. Nothing to lean against. Nothing to give him a casual posture. And what was his reason for coming over here anyway, other than to say hello? But he's got to pretend that it was something else, that she was just an afterthought, or else it will seem too deliberate. Damn it, why didn't I bring something to read, Reese thinks, as he sits down, not quite next to Jennie.
"So how do you like the Bali Hai?"
He realizes that she is three or four years younger than he thought. And she isn't interested. She probably thinks that he is a loser, living here in an apartment at his age. He'd like to tell her what he knows about life and death. What it's like to keep his head straight when the blood is everywhere, the toxic blood these days. What it's like to look at death and then go home and drink a beer and stand in the dead air of his apartment. There is no one he can share things with, tell things to; it's all bottled up and going nowhere.
"Quite the life, huh, Jennie?" he asks rhetorically with a tight smile.
"I work hard enough during the week. I deserve it."
"Ain't that the truth." Started with cliche, and there it will end.
As Reese ambles away, Jennie turns back over and unhooks her bikini top again. She feels more comfortable exposing the prurient wedge of skin without Reese in such close proximity, even though it's a socially acceptable form of partial undress.
But a situation that I'm no part of, he thinks, as he goes back into his apartment, and armed with a new beer takes up his station deep in the shadows of his cramped but overly tidy apartment. He takes so little pleasure from watching Jennie. There's really nothing for him. No way out, but the phone, the wires stretching out of the city and through the dwindling lemon groves to the State Hospital in Camarillo.
What can it hurt.
His day is half gone.
He calls Dr. Allen.
To ask about Mary. As a friend.
Numbers. Lines. Switches. The doctor is in. Reese is connected.
"Dr. Allen? This is Sergeant Reese, we met when-"
"Of course. What's up?"
"I'm calling about a patient. Mary Delany."
"Delany? I know her. I had a session with her. She's Dr. Glass' patient. What's she done?"
He feels himself start to sweat. His palms. The receiver feels slippery in his hand. He wipes his free right hand on his sweat pants and switches the receiver from left to right.
"Nothing that I'm at liberty to discuss. My interest in her is peripheral to another investigation."
Dr. Allen perks up. "Really? The lady's a puzzle. She's been variously diagnosed as catatonic, paranoid schizophrenic, delusional, and manic-depressive. She can seem relatively healthy, with moral judgement. Adaptable. And the next day, completely withdrawn. It might have been an emotional disturbance that triggered her breakdown, and this precipitating cause was possibly aggravated by the psychotropic drugs that were initially administered. Why, what are you looking for?"
"Always looking for a handle."
"Always." Reese finds that single words work well in tough spots like this.
"Are you going to come out here to question her? Because that might be hit or miss."
"The direction of the investigation is...indefinite." Reese worries about arousing the doctor's suspicions.
"Hmmm," Dr. Allen says. "I'll check around, if you like, see if I can find out a little more."
"I'd appreciate that."
Reese stares at the phone back in its cradle. They must have said good-bye, but he can't remember. He feels oddly distracted.
blinds glow orange from the smoggy sunset outside. Reese finishes his last beer.
In the courtyard, the sunlight is gone; Jennie has disappeared along with it.
4:42 PM SUNDAY JULY 12
Mary walks to the far side of the grounds, as far away from the other patients as she can, the closest thing to being alone here.
She stares through the fence at the tangled chaparral, generic California hillside, dusty in the dry heat. Maybe no one else has ever admired this ragged piece of hillside, but the current pulses through it all the same, a white hum that fuses the different auras and blossoms into the colors of life, the way light bends through a prism before breaking apart. She enjoys the slow pulse, like watching a Polaroid develop, the picture emerging with infinite slowness, it might take a day, it might take a year, she might never see the final razor-sharp image.
And then the emerging picture freezes; Mary feels outside of herself, she sees herself as someone lonely and frail sitting on the ground by a shiny metal fence, no friends, on a Sunday in a week where the difference in days means nothing.
There is contempt in the pity she feels walking toward herself, the pity gets smaller as she walks closer to herself, and with a chill that stops just short of a spasm, Mary realizes that she is seeing herself through Rand's eyes, that she is reading Rand, inside his head as he walks toward her, his eyes on her back, and the pity means nothing, it no longer disturbs her because now she knows where it comes from, it's just a matter of waiting, of seeing how long it takes him to say hello.
That feels good, she can feel Rand jolt, as he wonders how she knows it is him without even turning around. And then he strokes his fat, purring, fluffy-furred ego, deciding that Mary is so taken with him that she knows the rhythm of his footsteps. But why doesn't she turn around now, he wonders.
Mary feels sad for Rand, but she is sadder for herself for having been with him, and she feels the stirring of bad thoughts that feel delicious, contemplating how she can puncture him, how she can collapse his safe version of life with a sentence or two, reaching under his perfect skin and pulling him apart.
She feels Rand's hand on her shoulder. He wonders what is expected of him. Mary senses gaps in his buoyant selfhood.
Rand is here, he has come, he is trying to make the best of it, and so she turns toward him with a smile.
Rand doesn't know whether or not to hug her. He isn't sure where things stand. He doesn't know if she remembers their last bedroom encounter, and in the context of those strange final days, what were their parting terms?
"You're looking good, Mary."
"I've always looked good." She feels the measure of her words about herself. "Is that a stuck-up thing to say?"
"No, you've always looked good."
"And so have you."
"Well, that's nice, we've both decided that we're beautiful," Rand summarizes.
"Not that I don't have other problems. Hence the new surroundings, the change of venue."
The words stop rolling. For the first time Mary hears crickets; their chirps fill the gap between the words. She feels herself withdrawing, caught again in the world of surfaces, the skin deep universe where she cannot read thoughts or see the colors that tell her what things are. And as spooky as her new powers are, their sudden withdrawal leaves Mary afraid of the prison of normalcy, as if Rand is the leading edge of a conspiracy to take her back to ordinary life and in that moment when a hot breeze seems to fan out of the earth and the crickets swell in fricative chorus Mary knows again that she does not want to return to where Rand can take her.
"Don't leave me again," Rand says, in a voice that sounds to Mary like he had rehearsed in front of his bedroom mirror. Rand practised like that, not with Mary in the room, that embarrassed him, but when she was in the kitchen or the den. He didn't mind her overhearing him at a remove but he didn't want a direct audience, embarrassment to Rand being a relative thing. The mirror served Rand well, or so he thought, because he used it to prepare for important meetings with clients, running through alternate scenarios, gauging his tone, perfecting his offhand manner, raising the art of casual persuasion to highs heretofore unscaled in upwardly mobile Playa Vista.
"Would you like to go for a ride?"
"It doesn't matter," Mary says, and to her it really doesn't. "Whatever you want to do."
"Let's go for a ride. It'll do you good to get outside."
"We are outside. More outside than being in your car."
"I've got a sun roof, remember? Come on."
Rand hits the toggle on his key chain and his car alarm yelps like an electronic dog. He gallantly unlocks the de-fanged black passenger door for her. She looks dismayed, her game expression wilting in the heat waves that shimmer off the asphalt.
"You're car was white, wasn't it?"
"Yes," he says, smiling, "You're not imagining things, it was white. It got dinged the day you - almost three weeks ago - and I got the insurance to pay for a new paint job."
Mary gets in without commenting, but Rand adds, "You look good in black."
Rand is the mirror that Mary tries to see herself reflected in. Rand is blank and smooth and silver coated. Rand is the mirror that doesn't see her looking.
"It feels good riding with you. It feels like old times," the mirror says, and puts its hand on Mary's knee, casual contact that she can't help but stare at, the hand lifting to downshift and curse a VW Van puttering on the road ahead. Mary notices that the mirror is wearing mirror shades.
"Oh, the sunglasses? Pretty goofy. I got them at Venice Beach. You can see yourself in them."
They stop at a red light and Rand leans close to tantalize Mary with her own reflection, but she only sees the mirror. Not its reflection. And like the snap of static of a radio turning on, Mary feels Rand hoping she will kiss him. He won't disturb her recovery with an overture of lips, but she's certainly welcome to seize the moment, to revive their intimacy; he's invading the bubble of her private space to let her know that he's available.
A horn behind honks at the green light that Rand has neglected. "All right, all right, cool your jets."
Mary's sense of Rand's desire ripples away, leaving her peaceful, and as the newly blackened car climbs up the foothills she realizes that she is enjoying the ride, the rhythm of the road, and the music, the trumpet and the voice, corny but true, Suspicious Minds.
We're caught in a trap,
I can't walk out,
because I love you too much, baby.
"Isn't that Elvis? Turn it up."
"Turn what up?"
Though you say you really love me,
do you say that to others when I'm not there?
"Never mind." The song is still there, and like all the good old songs, charged with memories, other streets, other men, other rooms where she has lived with Suspicious Minds.
Suspicion.....breaking my heart...suspicion....
And like a backbeat, Mary can hear Rand's suspicion that she is hearing things, his worry throbbing like bass notes beneath Elvis' voice. The new world doesn't scare her, at least not today. But she worries that Rand's doubts are contagious.
"I was daydreaming out the window... daydreaming about Elvis...isn't that funny? Maybe he's alive and living in the nut house."
The mirror is nervous.
"I'm joking, Rand."
The mirror relaxes, its worries soothed, and Mary enjoys the next verse, wondering if there will be another song, and what the song will be.
Maybe I'm suspicious because true love is so hard to find.
Mary is alone with these musings when Rand clicks in his new Barbra Streisand tape and she can hear that too, it's the battle of the bands, too many notes and words, all of them mixed, and Barbra just won't go away.
"Do you mind turning off the music, Rand?"
"But you love Streisand."
"No, I don't."
"Yes, you do."
"I lied. But I'm not lying now. She's got a beautiful voice, I suppose, but I hate her."
Rand turns off the tape, defeated.
Suspicion...breaking my heart...suspicion...
Mary gets to enjoy the end of her song. Alone. Followed by dead air time, inside and out.
"I've learned to tell the truth this last couple of weeks. Therapy, you know? You might look into it yourself."
"If it ain't broke don't fix it," Rand tries to laugh at his own joke, but stumbles, and in the awkward gap he has created he reaches by rote for the car radio, catches himself, his hand retreating to stroke his smooth cheek, the plush silence of his car an unwanted luxury now.
Back in the parking lot, Mary enjoys the quiet. Back in B.C., before Camarillo, she often thought that Rand was a blank, but today she knows better. She wills herself not to hear him thinking, and it seems to work. She hopes maybe now she has intuitive control, untutored mastery over the switch that turns the special hearing on and off.
She kisses Rand good night. A steamy, crawling kiss that he deserves, her hands hooking inside his shirt, to the soft skin on his chest, touching him like an experienced dowser, raising a groan like water from the parched earth, leaving Rand with a memory of her lips and skin that he will take home to the city and his bed, stroking himself as he thinks of her. Mary kisses him because she wants to seize the portal of his dreams, to mirror his selfishness, to be his last thought as he drifts to sleep, because then she will own him for that long stretch of dark hours.
Mary breaks off the kiss and skips out of the car, feels Rand breathless with desire watching her glide back into the hospital. He doesn't have a clue.
Mary doesn't look back as she goes through the automatic doors. The air goes dead as they shut behind her. On the other side of her signature, signed back into the ward, Mary feels Rand driving away. She watches her feet travel across the green linoleum, but superimposed are Rand's thoughts, the words blooming into the color of dying grass on the hills he drives past, his confusion and relief, She feels connected to Rand, like he is a movie unreeling. Until the static of distance fades the movie into white noise.
Rand glances over at the seat, remembering Mary. He still smells her, not her perfume, but a plant-like smell, and Rand doesn't know the name of any plants, other than tulip-rose-carnation basics. Her kiss had tasted plant-like and Rand wants to taste it again. All the times that he was with Mary rushed back to him in that kiss, and there is more: the excitement of kissing a woman for the first time, there was both familiarity and strangeness in that parting kiss.
Rand is so lost in his recent sensation of Mary that the freeway rolls past him unclocked, he drives behind a slow Toyota for he doesn't know how many miles, that isn't like him at all. He crisply changes lanes and accelerates up to a precise 64 miles per hour. But the little spurt of freeway aggression leaves him as faint as an out of shape sprinter, and he keeps drifting back to the kiss. Rand feels a stirring of nerve ganglia in his groin that he presses against with his palm. He dreams about what to do with his excitement. Sheila Berk. He had cultivated her as a professional buddy for months, teased and flirted with her, had lunch twice, and then maneuvered it into seduction soon after Mary was gone.
Rand hadn't called Sheila about tonight because he wanted to leave things open - Mary was an imponderable, he had no idea when he would be back from Camarillo or what his mood would be. He knows now that seeing Sheila would be useful, to exorcize his need.
But going over to Sheila's condo, hungry to instantly fulfill the arousal from Mary's kiss, that won't work. Rand doesn't have the patience to go through the game of picking out a restaurant, acting appropriately convivial during dinner, then waiting while she deals with her cat.
Even when he finally gets her in bed, he will still need to splice Mary on to Sheila, he'll close his eyes and dream about being with Mary. And even with the warm expanse of nice skin that is Sheila's well-protected dowry, it still might not be gratifying. He might completely lose his concentration, get the two images mixed up, and feel unsatisfied, even after the time invested in getting Sheila to bed.
Rand's hand remains pressed to his groin as he hurtles along, his mind a reliable automatic pilot of the freeway grid. No, he feels much too impatient for Sheila tonight, especially since what he really wants is Mary.
Rand's unconscious guides him safely through the transition lanes and on to the Marina Freeway. Although his hand is well out of view Rand begins to feel self-conscious and silly. He releases the comforting pressure and fiddles with his car stereo, popping in a cassette for some distraction.
My Name Is Barbra.
Now he hates Streisand too, the beautiful voice grates him in a way that it never has been before. In a reflex motion of uncharacteristic whimsy he takes the tape out of the deck, whirrs his tinted window down an inch, and tosses out the tape. Belatedly, Rand checks his rear view mirror for police, worried about the littering fine. He has never littered in his life. He ranks littering as a subhuman activity. He rifles through the well-organized cassette boxes, finds the plastic case that held the Barbra tape, and tosses that away too. The gesture feels pure to Rand, a bold stroke, a sacrifice, propitiating the spirit of Mary.
He touches the passenger seat thinking, that's where Mary sat, he caresses the dark leather thinking, if Mary was still here I would feel her skin now, I could be feeling the contour of her vagina through the thin fabric of her panties, I would be getting her - us - excited for the triumphal return home, like that wonderful long ago day driving back up from Laguna Beach. Rand feels excited and ridiculous, stroking the air above the empty seat, but what's crazy about that? Everybody does crazy things, he's just horny, and that's a natural thing, he can even think about something else if he likes, a legal problem, he'll solve a problem with the Wilkes probate, puzzle it out right now, if he likes, but what for, it's Sunday, horny thoughts are normal, he'll be home soon, and out of his clothes and he'll find that last video he made with Mary, the video he should be very careful with because it involves the question of legal consent. Arguably Mary was not a consenting adult when he made that last tape. Not that the camera was hidden, but she wasn't exactly self-aware, though she was undeniably alive, had been very, very alive that night. But Rand had mistakenly left the date/time feature turned on. Their exceptional lust was demarcated minute by minute, the date/time of the taping uncomfortably near to the date/time of Mary's commitment to the hospital. In the wrong circumstance, that wouldn't look good.
Rand kneels down on his bedroom carpet and roots through his videotapes, looking for the magic box, The Mary Tape, the supplement to an already potent memory. He doesn't remember how he got there, has no sense of having parked his Audi. And why are the tapes suddenly so jumbled? Rand decides the day has been too long, the drive too tiring, that must be why he keeps remembering the dead grass in the hills, the landscape blurring past again. A sudden headache dizzies Rand with a sliver of double-vision, multiplying the confusion of videotapes, and what does he need the tape for anyway? He rolls on to his back, his hands find their home, he remembers the plant-like taste of Mary as he touches himself. He needs to feel release now, he can find the tape later and use it for his bedtime treat.
The cafeteria reminds Mary of high school except, she thinks, people are mentally crippled here. But weren't we mentally crippled in high school too?
She has enough social awareness for awkwardness to pang at her during the long walk from the food line to the tables. Thankfully, the droolers are spoon fed upstairs. But there are semi-droolers scattered about the big room. They lack the social coherence to form a clique.
Mary debates about taking a table by herself. It would be her and five empty chairs, and then who would sit down beside her, and what if no one did? And why should someone sit down next to her, there is no one who knows her here, except her shrink, who is long gone. Her two room-mates are too catatonic to make it down to dinner. There is the man who talked to her at the pool, he attracts and frightens her, she doesn't know quite what to make of that man.
And there is Michelle, who Mary remembers from somewhere - maybe the TV room - sitting with two other patients, smiling and waving to Mary, and she smiles back because when was the last time that someone was glad to see her?
Mary glides over the dirty green linoleum toward her new friend.
"Hi, Mary. It looks like you got some sun today. These are my friends, Danny and Olivia."
Mary is careful to leave an empty chair between herself and the others.
"Hello, Mary," Danny says and offers her his hand. Mary hates the texture of his pasty freckled skin, but she shakes his hand anyway.
Olivia offers a fluttering little wave and a hello that squeaks out between gashes of cherry lipstick.
Mary acts busy with her food, but she can't really say what the colors on her plate are supposed to be because the food is a blur, she's staring down at her plate to keep from staring at her new table mates. She's unprepared for a social situation, and here she is sitting in the middle of a threesome, a foursome - if she counts herself.
"I hope I'm not interrupting," Mary says.
"Interrupting what? This is a prison. We thrive on the new. And you're new. Tell us stories. Tell us about yourself. Tell us about the world. Surprise us with things we don't know," Danny says.
Mary lifts her fork, she doesn't know why, she's anything except hungry. The gray morsel hangs naked on the tines. She doesn't know quite what to say. It's not like she has something to say and can't. There is nothing, and this absence of anything, is the opening note of a panic sonata.
Michelle touches Mary's arm and the panic halts in mid-note. "Danny, don't ask so many damned questions."
"I'm sorry, Mary," Danny apologizes, "Sometimes I go too fast. I never used to be peppy like this, I was pretty mellow, well within the speed limit, but after the drugs, when Hay - when, well, I got off of them, the downers, the slow stuff, well, after that I didn't go back to normal, I mean, I didn't go back to what I was, I went back to being something faster. So I guess that's what I am now, and I don't mind talking fast, faster, because it means I can get more words in per minute, so don't mind me asking a lot of questions, Michelle says you're real nice and Michelle's always right about stuff like that."
"That's okay, Danny, you don't have to apologize. I'm glad to have someone to talk to," Mary tells him, and she really means it, the sentence pops out before she thinks about it. More than ever before, Mary feels that her words come out on the crest of what she is thinking, that there is no gap to consider or to calculate. She cannot lie. Except to the shrinks. The shrinks are so false that they send a hormone of cunning coursing through her. With the doctors she is guarded, playing a role, measuring her sentences against the dark funk of their expectations.
Mary pushes the food around on her plate with her fork. She knows it looks silly, but she doesn't know what else to do.
"This is a particularly awful evening, food-wise," Olivia squeaks. She has curly hair and to Mary's eye a curly smile, in fact everything seems curly about her.
"We can go to Denny's later. My treat. I've still got some money left from my last SDI check," Danny offers.
Mary looks up. She doesn't have to ask "what?" Her face says it.
Michelle touches Mary's arm. "Yes, we can go to The Sizzler, or wherever we like. Wherever you like," Michelle corrects herself. "We traveled the other night. Just because you don't remember doesn't mean that we didn't do it. Don't get scared. It's not all scary stuff. I mean, it's as simple as climbing through the fence to go for a milk shake, or a sundae, or whatever you like. You're not really crazy. You were just lost. But now we'll help show you who you are, and where you are. And if you're not lost, then that's a pretty stupid time to go crazy."
Michelle crunches into a raw carrot and smiles serenely. She speaks to Mary but her lips don't move. We'll have some fun tonight. It is like high school. Better because we're old enough to appreciate it now and there aren't any parents. Oh, the doctors and the orderlies think that they're running things, but that's convenient, that actually makes it much easier to sneak out. You'll be very happy together with us.
Has Michelle been speaking silently like this all along? Because Mary hasn't been paying attention, it's not something you look for in an ordinary conversation. And why should she expect anything ordinary in this place? Is Michelle a ventriloquist? In answer to the unspoken question, Michelle shakes her head no, no, she is not a ventriloquist, and her smile widens by another tooth or two.
Mary feels music throbbing, then she hears it, not the panic sonata but an oldie, Happy Together, reverberating in the echoey cafeteria, the treble notes distorted by the public address system.
Imagine me and you, I do,
I dream about it every night,
It's only right,
So happy together.
So happy together.
Michelle adds, in the purring thoughts that slide into Mary's head, I can hear you fine. Just like you hear me. And your voice is sweeter than you'll ever know. And that music, that music you hear, that's the song you've picked, not for everyone but for us. That's why Hayward calls you "Radio Mary."
But, Mary thinks, as the song moves across the bridge and into the second verse, I don't know the words, I can't read music, how can this song be coming from me, not to mention how can you be hearing it?
I can't help loving nobody but you for all my life.
I can hear it too, Danny chimes in. Olivia shakes her tight curls in agreement.
You know more than you think, you remember more than you think, you remember more than you remember, if you know what I mean. Just enjoy the song, enjoy what you are, take pleasure in it, and before you know it, it will all make sense. I mean, does sex make sense? But you enjoy it. This is the same thing. It's just who you are, it's what you were always meant to do. It's destiny that you came here. That's why I promise you you'll never be lost again.
So happy together.
3:51 AM MONDAY JULY 13
When Reese opens his eyes, the gray streak that he sees means nothing, like a mobile in front of infant eyes.
The void of a dark undefined hour.
He feels the pull of a vague dream. It hangs somewhere in his brain, inaccessible, but dilating his frozen mood.
He turns his head, his captive eyes travel across the window blinds that mercury streetlight pours through, finally coming to rest on the dresser he inherited when he rented this apartment.
Reese remembers that he is lying in his bed.
And where else would he be? Where has he ever been? What exists outside of these walls, these minutes?
The faded blue wall paint looks gray in the darkness.
The white sheet feels too heavy against his skin. He throws it off.
Something in his dream disturbed him. Words shouted into his face, running to his desk, arguing with a perp, the blue light of a patrol car circling, a screaming lulu: a work dream.
He looks over at the luminous green hands of his alarm clock: 4:15. Too early to get up, too wired to sleep, too tired to move. And what sheep to count?
Now the pattern of bars, the faint refraction of light through the louvered blinds, is visible on the ceiling. What other ceilings have I slept under? Can I count my way back to the crib, catalog the ceilings I've looked up at in the night?
The dormitory at the Academy: acoustic tiles, poked with holes. Loud breathing in the dark, irritating, until Reese learned the complaint of solitude, when there was no other breathing to hear.
Before that? The apartment in Seal Beach. His own room. A dirty yellow ceiling that never got dark, the lights from the Pacific Coast Highway never shutting off, but quiet in the dead hours, like now.
College, the dorms. The ceiling must have been painted something, but what?
And childhood. The bedroom at home. Brown?
The bedspread was brown, with cowboys and lassos. Reese had seen the same one on Melrose Avenue recently, selling for nine hundred dollars. And guns, happier ones, plastic. His buddy, Ted, down the street, with the Winchester rifle, the deluxe edition. Reese remembered the day he picked the rifle up, hardly touched it, and it broke, the stock severed from the barrel, plastic sheared away from metal. Reese had felt his world crack apart, he didn't know what to do, the special RIFLEMAN model impossible to fix, and so he had laid it carefully back down on Ted's bed, yes, on an identical cowboy bedspread, they had been close, partners on the range, up and down the block, every afternoon. Partners in all things. Until the crack. Reese had left the house quietly, hoping that Ted would blame himself when he picked up the gun and it fell apart. Nothing further said. But the moment hung like dread. Nothing was ever said. Had that been when the silence had started, and the shame? Was it something that he had perpetrated on himself in the darkness of that early bedroom and lived with forever after, yes, maybe it had been there, the same shame that he later felt with the girls. How hard it was to call them up on the phone, how he would have to count down from ten to force himself to dial the last digit and ask for a date, counting down everything, but never quite arriving at the blast off.
And where was that bedspread now? Worn to shreds? Or thrown away in embarrassment during the gangly horrors of his teen years? What had his next bedspread been, he wonders.
Reese tries to remember the fabric, but instead he remembers losing his room, his ancestral room, when his sister had twins and the room was made over into the children's room for family visits, because Reese was far away from Lawrence, Kansas, but not Melissa, she was close to home, and with progeny. And then after the car wreck, Mom and Dad dead, the house sold, its objects dispersed to Melissa's house or into the wilderness of Kansas. And who else but he remembers that bedspread now, the cowboys and their lassoes that are woven into his childhood? Reese lies alone in the drowsy darkness, hoping to sleep through the last two hours before his alarm buzzes.
THE SHRINK AGAIN
Dr. Glass is waiting, dressed in designer knock-offs. Mary thinks the pattern of the jacket and blouse look nice, probably last year's Anne Klein, but the linen fabric looks cheap. It lacks that special sheen. Although the doctor is seated, she looks unpleasantly plump. Mary is suspicious of the doctor's unseen hips. And she can't help staring at the dark tracings of a moustache that peeks through the doctor's thick pancake make-up. The make-up is poor camouflage for the skirmishes of acne that memorialize the doctor's unhappy adolescence.
Mary thought that Dr. Glass was a man, but now Mary is disturbed that she has remembered wrong.
Dr. Glass sits behind the scratched metal desk, waiting. Dr. Glass has all day. Dr. Glass gets paid by the State of California. She is content reading Mary's files, more interested in the paperwork that Mary generates than in Mary herself.
"You're a very special case," the doctor concludes.
Hayward had said the same thing. This disturbs Mary. Darkening emotions move across her face like clouds over water. If Dr. Glass notices this, she doesn't comment.
"Mary, I'm here to help you," Dr. Glass says.
But Mary hears Dr. Glass, her lips closed, thinking: Fifteen more minutes with this loser - why does she have such nice hair? How can it look so good with the shit shampoo here? Not fair - the orderlies must load her with Thorazine and fuck her brains out all night. And her mind's so blank, looking at me like I'm the wall, fourteen more minutes and then I've got to try and beat the traffic and get the laundry - I won't have time to eat but I'll get a frozen yogurt before I get on the freeway. Dinner with Bob - I hope it goes well - tonight's only supposed to be a business dinner, but we both know that it's more than that - if I want it to be - but how come he's thirty-six and he's never been married? There must be something wrong with him - stop thinking like that - you can't count your marriage, can you, and do you want a twenty-five year old, someone with a clean slate? And a flat stomach - that wouldn't be so bad, especially if the kid was educated, I could handle that, how much social censuring can go on in California - a fuck of a lot - Julie and Paula, all those wives - cunt bitches - and I've got to get along with all of them if I want to advance here so forget the twenty-five year old, they'd be too jealous - and settle for Maury with the paunch and the double doctorate and hope I can get laid on business trips or hire the young stud to help in the office and hope he's aggressive enough to seduce me, back on the leather couch, all my clothes still on, that zipless fuck, yes, oh God, the zipless fuck that no one gets anymore...
"Yes, Dr. Glass."
The doctor is rattled from her reverie by a voice that seems to come from a glass jar.
"Yes, what, Mary?"
"You spend too much time thinking about sex. Most people do, especially in relationship to how often it actually happens. It's so sad. It's the sadness more than anything that's probably gotten me here."
Dr. Glass stares at Mary, startled. In the gap between words. the fluorescent light splutters like cool, green grease.
Mary immediately regrets her lapse. But it feels like an angelic band of searing sunlight has broken through the cloud cover of the drugs she is gorged with and it feels so good to have the words move out in lucid sequence, to reel out a complex sentence and not have to worry about how that sentence will end, because her mind will tie up the long thought with an appropriate flourish and she can just float along inside of the rational sequence, as easy as riding a bicycle. In that spotlight of lucidity Mary feels at home in her mind, for a few moments she isn't a stranger, isn't homeless, isn't wandering among the naked and dead wraiths that seem to be everywhere in this hospital.
She's sorry about giving away the secret, hipping Dr. Glass to the telepathy, to the broadcast stuff, tantalizing her with the unnamed Hayward. And with these fears the light fades, the clouds blow together in the dark sky, the gathering darkness is pregnant with tornados, the closing sky threatens epic violence, things are spinning again - the room, the world - and Dr. Glass, doesn't Dr. Glass see that she is sitting under the whorl?
Glass closes the file, blind to the storm. "Your time's up for today,
Mary. I hope you have more to say to me next time."
IN THE GLASS TOWER
Rand stares at the aquarium, at the infinite procession of bubbles pouring from the toy diver's head. At the diver's feet is a ceramic sign that says The Rand Corporation, a gag present from a securities lawyer Rand does occasional business with. There are no fish in the tank. The last of Rand's Siamese fighting fish, the one he called Mohammed, died the week Rand was away in Maui. His secretary, Jan, was also vacationing that week, but in Santa Barbara, and she'd neglected to provide for Mohammed's care in her absence. Rand harbors a grudge because while he is responsible for feeding his fish, Jan is responsible during vacations, and hierarchically, Rand's vacation preceded hers. Rand's strict reading of this implied, oral contract rendered Jan guilty of the fighting fish's wrongful death.
But the death of Mohammed is low on Rand's current agenda, even though he stares at the little sea where Mohammed once swam. Rand is mostly thinking about yesterday, about Mary, about waking up naked on the floor and feeling hung over even though he drank no wine.
Thoughts of Mary lead Rand back to himself; he discovers that he is holding himself. He stares at the deposition on his desk, as long as a Dickens novel, but lacking characters and plot. Just thousands of dead facts that keep the cash register ringing. His thoughts drift to cash registers, how they don't ring anymore, they beep, like his phone beeps, which reminds him, and freeing one hand from the rote pursuit of onanistic pleasure, he deftly hits a sequence of numbers that tells Jan to hold all his calls. No, there are no rings, just electronic blips that tote up the numbers in his bank accounts, numbers that he never feels, except for the dull pleasant weave of knowing that all that money is there, that he has a lot of money out there, wherever there is. The money is abstract until the numbers are converted into cars or clothes or carpets, and what fun are numbers unless you can feel something, like he feels this ache for Mary.
For Rand it had been a perfect office romance, because it was outside of the office. Mary had worked for the law firm that shared the same floor, and in a pinch she had subbed one day in Rand's office. He flirted, every day, not just as a habit, but as a form of work-out, like going to the gym. Often, he flirted at the gym which combined two forms of exercise and was thus a shrewd use of his time. Flirting was like putting money in the bank, as Rand explained it to his friend Arnie, though he never took the conversation as far as male bonding. Male bonding was not a concept that Rand cared to bank on. But flirting was. Each little conversation was money is the bank, money that would eventually pay off. That was Rand's theory and it had worked for him better than card counting at black jack.
Mary was susceptible to flattery and ultimately to Rand. He felt lucky to live in an era where most other men were bounded by an unsigned non-aggression pact. He felt opportunities abounded, especially in the high-end market of the upwardly mobile women who rode the escalators and elevators of Century City.
It was perfect. He had met Mary in a context that nonverbally established his socio-economic worth. Her one day in his office wasn't long enough for her to suck up any rumors or see his hard side.
It had all worked out. She was pretty, and flattered by his interest. But elusive, and that had been most attractive, like the conquest of territories that seethed with revolt, where the right to rule was hardly divine, but was a mix of benevolence and cleverly structured despotism. Rand reveled in the politics of encounter. And surrender.
But it was only by accidental circumstance and cajolery that he had "had" Mary in this office. That and a $70 bottle of Alsatian wine. Rand had been elevated to the corner office the week before, after the hasty and unpleasant exit of Barnes, a partner who had failed to produce. Rand had moved in even before he could re-decorate. He wanted to consecrate the office, break a bottle of champagne on its metaphoric prow, which meant that he wanted to spill his seed into Mary's mouth. Although it was 10:20 PM and the office was empty except for an over-worked, eager-beaver junior associate, Mary had insisted that he lock the door. In return for which Rand had coaxed Mary out of all her clothes. He stroked her head as she knelt between his legs and closed his eyes, only to greedily open them again. He was drunk with the view his new windows commanded, but it was nothing compared with the curve of Mary's back, her beautiful shoulder blades centered between his legs, her head moving rhythmically. Sitting in his new chair, Rand felt that he was fucking her head, that her consciousness was disembodied in the lips that gave him such pleasure, that he was penetrating the deepest part of her soul. Her posture of submission and the dominance he felt moving in response to her lips, this power excited him more than the sensation of her skin against his, and it was only her voice and the empty vacuum of her stopping that pulled him back from the glory of his life at that moment.
"You don't have to press my head, you don't have to push me like that," Mary said with slow anger.
"I'm sorry, it's just...I got excited...."
"I don't like to be pushed like that."
"I'm sorry, Mary, please, I'm sorry."
She stared at him. She waited.
"It was just passion," he tried, the intermission painful.
Mary tucked back the corner of a smile.
"It's your fault. It's what you did to me."
"Then maybe I should stop."
"Please, Mary," Rand pleaded, surprised by his suddenly childish tone.
"Maybe it's the wine. That's making you whine," Mary smiled with a little cruelty.
"Maybe it's..." Rand was lost. It was Mary on the floor, but he had lost track of what words could get her to continue. She was naked, but the bliss was suddenly unattainable.
"Maybe it's the wine," Mary repeated.
"Yes, it's the wine," he quickly agreed. "Forgive me, love, don't stop." Rand bent down to kiss her, as if he was sanctifying her lips, no sanctifying sounded too grandiose, even as he described the events to himself. Rand knew he was trapped that way, narrating to himself what happened in his life, like he was a sports commentator with a privileged seat and a motor mouth. Not sanctifying - he was validating her mouth. And he was tasting himself on her lips, that delicate edge of salt, bouquet of Rand, and if he didn't like the smell of himself, how could he like anything, it was human nature, and he was certainly in touch with his animal side to be semi-naked with his new girl in his new office late on a Thursday night. Yes, he had passion, and the vividness of this moment was undeniable proof of that. But what about Mary, was his kiss feeling enough? His immediate need was to persuade Mary to resume her fellatio. And even as Rand was strategizing his dilemma, the world, or rather the immediate world, conspired to do for Rand what it had done so many times before. The world made Rand happy, rewarded him for blatantly being himself. Mary's mouth took him back in, he was back inside her head, he was fucking her head again, his hand went reflexively toward his crotch, surprised again by how soft her hair was, and then his hands retreated, fearful of invading and breaking the moment by pressing her head again, but how could he not, he felt the building explosion of his pleasure. He grabbed the arms of the chair, digging his manicured nails into the black leather, feeling the arch of tight dorsal muscles in his back. It was so perfect that he wanted the moment to extend and expand forever, it was too good to let it end, he must keep Mary kneeling between his legs forever, he was greedy, greedy both for orgasm and greedy to postpone it forever, and the greed compromised and distracted his ecstasy, but he was happy all the same, he was white hot and perfect, and then he found himself abandoned again, and Mary furious now, pushing at his legs, madder than before because he was crushing her with his Nautilus legs, but that was fine, he could and did drop down out of his chair to be apologetic and concerned and she didn't even cry about it. There were dark bruises on her rib cage for the next two weeks, but Rand took Mary to Sante Fe for a surprise weekend and bought her a red cashmere sweater and
here he sits, pecker in hand, coming back, post-coital? Rand wonders, cannot think of the precise word for afterwards, it's crazy, as he realizes that his office door is unlocked, but Jan has the fear of God about coming into his office without knocking. He is surprised but not surprised to find that his pants are down and with some distaste he sacrifices a linen handkerchief to clean up the spent part of his morning's passion.
With a brief knock, Frank Askins barges in, as Rand in a panic rolls his chair close against his desk.
"The Marsh depositions, have you seen what that asshole did in the discovery? It's ludicrous!"
Rand busily shuffles papers, but careful not to overdo it. He feels himself blushing but he knows that his tan cuts him some slack. Fucking senior partners, they'd storm into the stall while you were taking a shit, if they could. "Frank, I'm putting out a fire on the Wilkes case, a brush fire that's threatening to engulf a couple of multi-million dollar houses, if you know what I mean. Give me ten minutes and I'll be down to talk about it."
"I want his nuts on my trophy wall, Rand. See you in ten."
Alone, Rand catches himself hyper-ventilating. Scared. He has never done this, not in the office, not in peak morning hours, not with the door unlocked.
8:14 AM THURSDAY JULY 16
There's been a lot of death this week.
Everyone looks bone tired. The coffee has so little effect it might as well be de-caf.
The Lieu runs his hand along the thick salt-and-pepper bristle of his hair.
Reese wonders if the time is stretching slowly or if he's just stretched too thin this morning.
Connolly frowns as he sips his lukewarm coffee. "The wound patterns in the two cases don't match. Misty Broyles' assailant was left-handed. Tim and Karen Fletcher were cut up by a right-handed attacker, and with a much smaller blade, hardly more than a paring knife."
Reese speculates about an ambidextrous killer, or a lefty-righty team of killers, but so far he keeps these thoughts to himself.
"What's your gut feeling?" the Lieu barks out, shocking Reese from his reverie.
"Tim Fletcher was Misty's agent. He discovered her body. The alarm wires were cut in both houses, in the same way. The two cases feel connected," Connolly replies.
"Connected," Reese concurs, keeping silent, for the moment, about his theory of writing on Misty's mirror - writing on the mirror that is no longer there.
Reese becomes aware of the silence in the room. Looking up, he sees the Lieu's gaze fixed on the far wall, a faded map of Los Angeles darkened by cigarette smoke. The Lieu has visions of unwanted press conferences, calls from the mayor, sleazy news specials. "We'll officially keep the investigations separate to avoid publicity. But you're to investigate both murders, Reese. Anything you turn up goes through Connolly. He'll give you access to all the files. Don't leave a paper trail."
When Reese gets back from court, having wasted two hours without being called to testify in a date-rape trial, a fat inter-office folder waits on his dark green ink blotter. McGee talks on the phone, picking his teeth as he listens, removing his toothpick to speak. He doesn't even nod hello to Reese, but he watches closely as Reese opens the folder.
The file on Misty Broyles has a few twists. Not every corpse has a list of screen credits. Rather, TV credits. A title leaps off the list: The Monkey Man.
Reese had come home late the night that it aired. He hadn't seen Misty Broyles in the twenty minutes that he had watched. It had taken that long for him to figure out that the five principal investigators in the case had been reduced to two, a classic buddy cop synthesis, and in this amalgamated form he was being portrayed by William Devane. Reese thought the resulting TV movie was weirdly funny, but he didn't know who to share the joke with.
it is time to catch up with Misty's performance as the first victim. Reese will
procure a videotape. Without leaving a paper trail, of course.
1:25 AM FRIDAY JULY 17
PSYCHE & CUPID
In the dark, the motion of the sea.
The motion in the dark is the motion of herself.
The motion of herself and someone else.
Her dream is a cotton dress blown by the wind against her body, wrapping her skin, like the cotton cloth is her skin and she is naked.
Walking through rooms with couches, purple twilight rooms, up to a man she wants to kiss, the man in the corner, she's waiting for that man to kiss her.
Walking past a black couch, sitting on the couch with the man she wants to kiss her, the cotton cloth scratching against her, her tongue aching in her mouth as she waits forever for the man who seems afraid to kiss her.
The motion of herself and someone else.
Opening her eyes and nothing is different, it is the same darkness, only now Mary wonders if she is still asleep, too sleepy to exactly locate herself.
Then Mary feels the hands over her eyes, curving strong around her head. But the marble white hands are absolutely still and she only feels them by twisting her head, and then the hands slide away to reveal the shape of the man on top of her. She accepts his kiss because now she feels him inside of her, feels the motion as she slides his hands away.
Mary moves with him, and instead of awakening from an erotic dream into blankness she has awakened from blankness into eros. The red exit light over the door halos his head.
Shouldn't he have asked permission to come inside of her?
Mary climbs into a green darkness that swallows her, she lifts and soars like a Condor lumbering into flight, flying into the darkness of his eyes. Her lips eat his smile, she is weightless and shivering and all she can feel is Hayward inside her. Her lips, her fingers, her toes, the web of all her senses race toward Hayward, he is inside of her but she is pouring into him, the spring winds tighter, dark and white strobing to epileptic ecstasy, his fingers curling over hers and once more he covers her eyes with his marble hands.
You think you know who I am, but you don't know.
His hands are gone.
Mary is afraid to look. She feels radiant, a million miles from sleep but as soon as she wonders about the time, the world jumps to morning without skipping a beat.
She hears the groans of hospital dawn, the rattle of trays and tired, minimum wage footsteps. One of her roommates snores. Mary feels indented, that a man has been inside of her. She lifts up her nightdress and feels her vagina, feels her bed, but there is no trace of semen, and her smile turns from month-in-the-country-clear to morning-storm-cloudy. JBF, she remembers, that's what they used to call it at work. JBF, Just Been Fucked, the smile that now fades to something else on Mary's lips. He would have been her eleventh man. Was he?
Mary feels the absurdity of the question in the pink dawn glow in her barred window. She was never good at puzzles, and the puzzle of Hayward lacks even crossword boundaries. She is distracted by the need to pee, further distracted by the cold green linoleum against her bare feet as she climbs out of bed.
The clarity with which she opened her eyes clouds with a bigger question, the intersection of reality and pleasure. Did sex have to be real or could she just dream it?
She feels anxious to settle at least this one question before the day pulls apart the fine pulsing of these quiet morning thoughts. And she decides that she wants the man to visit her again, that it must have been real, in some sense, or why would she be thinking about it like this?
happened in the darkness just had to be number eleven.
THE MONKEY MAN
Reese settles into his frayed brown leather armchair. The batteries are dead in his remote control, so he scoots his chair close to the videodeck to be within striking distance of the buttons. He sips his Bass Ale and leans forward to start the videotape.
The Monkey Man opens with a helicopter shot of the Los Angeles Zoo, followed by a shaky point-of-view shot that usually means a psycho-killer is lurking about.
Reese sips his ale and enjoys watching a chapter of his working life recycled as entertainment. He is distracted from his beery musings by a close-up of Misty Broyles, her hair died platinum blonde, strolling past the monkey cages, into the bird house. He thinks her make-up and wardrobe are schizophrenic, a melange of Earth Mother and Vamp, both dippy and sensual. But Misty manages to gracefully synthesize this awkward character concept.
Reese rarely watches TV, though prior to her murder he had known Misty's name from general celebrity awareness. But now, watching the TV movie, he sees that she had been a gifted actress. Even in these dialogue-less opening scenes, everything she does is interesting: walking, starting her car, lighting a cigarette. He is impressed with how she manages to elaborate ordinary events into little dramas of loneliness and desire.
Reese watches Misty drive a green Gremlin up Los Feliz Boulevard, smoking the long cigarette that she has so intriguingly lit. The Last Train To Clarksville plays on her tinny car radio. He smiles at the humor of putting The Monkees on the soundtrack, particularly that song; someone involved with the movie had a sly sense of humor.
A vintage Ford Mercury, two-toned green and white, follows ominously behind, ignored by Misty as she taps her red fingernails on the steering wheel in time to the Monkees' music.
Reese totes up only two true facts so far: Malcolm Hastings had tailed his first victim, Louise Martin, from the zoo. And he drove the same model car used in the production. But Misty Broyles looked nothing like Louise Martin. And the murder had taken place at mid-day, not in the purple twilight of the TV movie. But somehow this violation of the facts is irrelevant to the polished piece of entertainment Reese is now enjoying.
When Misty parks outside her bungalow apartment, the film reverts back to a cheesy point-of-view shot. Misty dreamily brews a cup of spearmint tea, her expression so singular that Reese feels he can almost read her thoughts, when monkey shrieks erupt on the soundtrack, and the camera looms into the darkness of Misty's mouth, which opens wide in horror.
Then the tape goes black. Reese realizes this is the first commercial break, but since he got the tape from the production company, there are no ads. Reese thinks that a mouth wash or a toothpaste ad would be appropriate, given the context of Misty's wide mouth with it's beautiful teeth.
Reese sips his dark ale during the minute or so of blackness. He feels no need to hurry the tape along. The show resumes with a crowd of police cars and a dozen tanned and good looking cops mulling over a crime scene that has been sanitized of blood to maximize ratings. The platoon of phoney cops go through the usual TV cop patter.
There are newspaper headlines and a quickie funeral for the first victim, and then the green and white Mercury tracks down a stewardess in Manhattan Beach. But the actress playing the stewardess is still an unknown, five years after this TV movie first aired. And Reese can see why. Where Misty had suggested desire and grace and an inner life, the actress playing the second victim is sleepwalking through the role.
Reese stops the tape and turns off his television. He has learned nothing new about the case. But he has learned that Misty was a good actress.
The salient fact is Misty Broyles presence in the movie. It connects her, however abstractly, to Malcolm Hastings, a famous but dead serial killer.
Like the bloody circle around The White Album connects Tim Fletcher, abstractly, to Charlie Manson, a famous but imprisoned psychopath.
Reese remembers his long hours on the Hastings case. Back then he had read through almost all of the Manson files and had found no cross reference, no usable lead. In pursuit of this new killer, Reese plans to dredge up all the old leads from The Monkey Man case, but they will take months to sift through.
The current case has only two crime scenes, not enough to triangulate a pattern. And what if the next murder is a homage to The Hillside Strangler? Or The Night Stalker? In the dead white and dried red of Tim Fletcher's house Reese had felt the smirk of diabolical wit.
He takes a last sip of Bass Ale. Sleepy from the hops, Reese burps and closes his eyes.
10:00 PM SUNDAY JULY 19
HOLE IN THE SKY
The first gray minutes after lights out are purgatory. The mercury vapor light throws spidery shadows down from the sleeping tree branches outside. Mary closes her eyes and jumps through her window down to the gravel, she falls between the huge gaps in a pebble, crawls between the spacious molecules, sees how the inside of the rock is mostly empty space.
Like the tunnel of sleep.
Mary's radio friends lead her to a hole in the hospital fence, a gap in the chain link she squeezes through to step into the big night outside the loony bin.
Outside, under the shadow of a live oak, Hayward waits for them. His green Mercury will carry them across the night sky.
Mary can see from deep inside the sockets of her eyes, two tunnels that connect in the stereo of space that the car drives through. She looks out across the car hood that sings with desert cold. Stars streak past like billboards. Mary wants to turn her head and see who is driving. But she cannot move. The twin tunnels will not budge.
The car hood retracts from her sight. Mary feels the metal merge with her skin. The stars slow down to a lumbering crawl.
Mary walks across gravel.
Remember your instructions. Scare me up some Helter Skelter.
Mary hears Hayward, but can't see him. He must be one of the four dark shapes she walks with.
The moonlight brightens. Mary can see Michelle, Danny, and Olivia. Olivia's curls are dark and snakey tonight, her cherry lipstick darkened to plum red. Danny's freckles look like pale scabs in the moonlight. But Hayward is a featureless silhouette.
At the end of the trail is a gate that clogs the gap between two craggy hills. Danny scrambles up the crumbling rocks and offers his hand to Mary. She does not want to feel the touch of his pasty freckled skin.
You cunt bitch, just give me your hand. You shouldn't even be here. You're not good enough for this.
Mary hears Hayward laugh, jolly echoes that boom off of granite boulders.
And why is my skin so fucking distasteful to you? No one asked you to kiss my fucking skin.
Mary offers her hand to Danny. "I'm sorry, Danny."
You're not sorry. You're not shit.
But he shuts up before Mary can answer and turns paler than the yellow moon that hangs over the broken horizon of rough red rock.
She sees they are in some kind of cactus garden. But every plant looks strange, their points and spines tempting Mary to touch them.
Olivia rubs up against Michelle. Mary feels the muscles of her own mouth contract to spit out the word "what" when Hayward steps in front of her face. His billowing shirt ripples in the lifeless air. The black fabric glows like dead skin.
I'm the gaucho of dread, he tells her, a faint smile etched for the moment in the permeable marble of his strange flesh.
Mary looks up. So many stars. She stumbles.
Don't look at your feet, Hayward warns Mary, at the precise instant when she starts to think about doing just that.
"You can tell what I'm about to think, before I even think it?" Mary asks.
Hayward presses a cold finger to Mary's lips.
I can hear your thoughts before you hear them. I'm tuned that much closer to the point of origin. Think of it like there's an ear in your brain, where you hear yourself think. Well, a voice has to emit the thoughts first and I can hear that voice. So, yes, I can hear your own thoughts before you hear them.
You can hear me all the time, Mary thinks toward Hayward, but I can only hear you when you talk to me, if you call this talking.
That's because you're a baby. And tonight you take baby steps and become a toddler.
"But where are we?" Mary wants to know, out loud.
The desert, Hayward tells her, Charlie's country.
"Charlie like Charlie Can't Surf, like Vietnam Charlie?" she asks.
Hayward's smile glows green with laughter. Charlie like Helter Skelter, he tells her. I grew up out here, this is my playground.
Mary hears birthday music in the air, bouncing off the dark rocks. Not the sing-song happy birthday, but the Beatles' song. Someone has just put on The White Album inside the house.
At the apex of the canyon, sheltered by scrub oak and rocks, is a pleasant house with a white picket fence and a tidy yard that glows green in the moonlight. One side of the house shimmers in the blue ripples from a swimming pool. Through a crotch of rocks Mary can see lights on the desert plain down below. If this house were in Kansas then she might like it, but here it looks doomed.
Mary sees no movement but everyone seems closer to her, everything in the world. She feels Michelle's arm around her waist.
"Isn't it funny how after you listen to a record a whole lot, you're always waiting for the next song to play, like, you know Yer Blues comes after Birthday, so you can hear Yer Blues in the little silence before it even starts up," Michelle tells her. Sometimes Michelle's lips seem to be moving, sometimes not. Mary can't keep track, and what's the point of determining which words are said and which are just heard, they are all getting in to her, there doesn't seem to be any point to keeping track.
A-fucking-men, Hayward tells Mary. My sentiments exactly. Let's rock and roll.
With a tip of his black hat, which Mary didn't see before, Hayward gracefully strides toward the jangling electric guitar.
Yes, I'm lonely,
Yes, I'm lonely,
If I ain't dead already.
Girl, you know the reason why.
Danny and Olivia, looking like sidekicks in a sixties biker flick, skip behind Hayward.
Michelle nudges Mary forward, her arm still around Mary's waist. Mary sees that Michelle wears a flowery dress, the neon petals blossoming in the moonbeams.
Dark shadows trail Mary's companions like diseased wings.
When Mary looks up she is alone. In the solitude of the darkness she panics and hurries through the open front door.
An epileptic strobe light divides events into uneven categories.
Mary's hand twitches with the hope there is a remote control to change channels.
A dark haired man in tennis clothes and a dirty blonde in a bikini sit on the couch. They don't look surprised by Hayward and his night class. Mary thinks they must be stoned, but she's too far away to see if the whites of their eyes are red.
Go round up the others, Hayward says in his silent way.
The White Album turns dark:
Your inside is out, when your outside is in.
Your outside is in, when your inside is out.
So come on.
Everybody's got something to hide
Except for me and my monkey.
"Hey," says the man in a thick Lebanese accent, his hair dark, his chest powerful. But his voice drawls with the purple haze of hashish.
Mary sees that wrinkles of dissipation anchor the eyes and the lips of the blonde in the bikini.
"Did your car break down? Do you need to use the phone?" the man asks, exhaling smoke up to the wood beams that rusticate the ceiling.
"Break down? We want to get down! We're coyotes! We heard the party tunes and came running!" Danny giggles, his freckles throwing sparks that could start a brush fire on the dry hillside.
I said round up the others. Don't make me say it again.
Olivia slinks out of the room.
Looks are exchanged among the mortals. Mary gulps a breath of sour metallic air, worrying, why did I call them mortals?
Most natural thing in the world, like sucking on your mother's tit. Yes, Mary, you burped the word, I didn't put it there, Hayward tells her.
Danny and Michelle follow after Olivia.
"Hey, where are you guys going?" the man from Beirut asks.
"Mingling, man, mingling," Michelle offers with a wan smile as she exits.
Mary stands alone with Hayward and the strange couple.
The dirty blonde stares at Hayward. She's alert now, and unhappy. "What do you want? Money? Credit cards?"
Do I look like a thief? Do I look like someone who came here to steal? Hayward's words thunder into the dirty blonde's brain; she stands up.
Mary knows that the man's name is Jerry and the woman's name is Cindy. He is thirty one. She is twenty nine. He has a little boy. She's had an abortion.
Their biographies pour into her. Facts that Mary does not ask to know.
I'm pleased that you are listening so well, Mary. Just listen and these mortals will tell you everything.
A crash and a scream echo from another part of the house. Orange light trickles out of the hallway like smoke.
Jerry hides his fear better than Cindy, who retreats behind the green leather couch. She fumbles with a black silk robe, its dragon trembling upon her back.
"I said you could have our money," Jerry repeats.
And who said that I wanted your money? Did I say that I wanted your money?
"Then get the fuck out of here," Jerry tells Hayward.
Don't worry, Jerry, we'll be leaving shortly.
Olivia and Michelle push another woman into the den. She wears flowered underwear. Mary knows her name is Pamela, she is an actress, the second lead in something called Sentimental Education.
"What's going on?" Pamela cries. "Take our money, take our cars, take everything. Just leave. Or let us leave. Let us go!"
Mary doesn't understand why Pamela is bleeding. Then she sees the hunting knife in Olivia's petite hand.
Danny pushes a man into the room. He has perfect gray hair that Mary knows is a toupee, just as she knows that he owns the house, and his friends call him Wind, short for Winston.
Danny's teeth look big and feral now.
Don't forget, bitch, Miss Baby-Step-Bitch, that I can hear it all, every little throb in your cunt, that's why we don't have to fuck, because we've already fucked, because I can get inside of your head and come, come, come!
Danny! Stick to business. Tie up the meat.
Mary stands perfectly still as lamps crash to the floor. Danny rips out the electrical cords and tosses them over the rafters.
"You can have whatever you want. It's cool. Just don't hurt the ladies," Wind tells Hayward, speaking to who he knows is the boss. Danny hits Wind, breaking his nose, because Danny is pissed that Wind has so quickly guessed who is really in charge.
Michelle takes one of the electrical cords and binds Cindy's hands, while Olivia ties up Pamela's hands.
"You don't have to hurt anyone," Jerry tells no one in particular.
Cindy and Pamela start to cry.
"They're going to kill us. They're going to kill us all," Cindy moans.
"Don't say that," Jerry hisses, angry, but trying to stop her panic.
"And who says dying is such a bad deal? Why is everyone so wigged about dying? I mean, have you died? Who gives you the right to say if it's good or bad!?" Olivia raises her knife and takes a leisurely swing at Pamela, gashing her arm.
Olivia, you know better than that! You know to wait until everyone's tied up!
Hayward scolds Olivia, but he's also laughing, amused by her impatience, her petulant blood lust. It's mock discipline and everyone in the gang of four knows it. Olivia takes another sultry swing at Pamela, snagging her bikini top, springing a leak in the screaming woman's chest.
And then everyone runs.
Mary sees Danny also has a knife.
Colors ooze from mouths and wounds.
Mary is caught in Hayward's magnet and moves in tandem with her powerful mentor. She looks toward Hayward, wants to find his eyes to plead with him that they should go back outside and walk under the pulsing stars, and just enjoy the big air without killing anybody. She wants to steer Hayward toward this milder version of fun.
You're so naive, Mary. You don't know yet what real fun is all about.
The dirty blonde in the damp bikini and the older man with the gray toupee and the dark Lebanese all scatter, into the yard, into distant rooms, beacons of colors.
The light breaks apart and a cartoon of nauseous colors erupts for Mary.
Screams race through the air.
When I get to the bottom
I go back to the top
Of the slide
Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride
'Till I get to the bottom and I see you again.
Mary hears the guitar, ringing clear in the smokey air.
That's right Mary, crank it up.
But Mary is afraid.
Hayward answers her fear with a big YES!
Mary realizes in a sickening rush that she is broadcasting the song, Helter Skelter, that she has been playing The White Album this whole time. How can the song play so perfectly when Mary doesn't even want it to come out of her head? And what about the victims? Can they hear the music too?
Victims is such a poor choice of words, Hayward muses. How about calling them inductees? Because they can hear the music when they get inducted, when they fly up to the hole in the sky. Here, come with me, this is what you have to see. They're not just colors. They're something you can feel when you set them free.
Hayward's hand on Mary's back pushes her along, and she feels aroused, but also disturbed, because isn't that a hand print of blood on the wall? Isn't that a trail of red on the terrazzo tile, aren't those moans coming loud in bubbly gasps from the bedroom that Hayward steers her past?
Dark colors collect like toxic smoke near the ceiling. Wind frantically opens his night stand and grabs for a gun but Olivia climbs on his back and kisses him. Wind moves so slowly that his awkwardness is balletic. Olivia easily bites his arm and the gun drops with a thump on to the thick carpet, an oriental weave that Mary remembers from another floor, the pattern as alive as the snakes in Olivia's hair. Wind's aura is blue but it pulses yellow as Olivia squeezes him with a rhythmic pressure like sex, Olivia's cheek against Wind's rayon shirt. Mary hears a snapping sound that is muffled, syrupy and soft. She wonders if it is the sound of Wind's spine just as colors burst from Wind like the dirty rainbow of oil on water. The colors float up through the ceiling. The blue penumbra is gone, leaving Wind as gray as a dead Marlin, but Olivia clings to his inert body, still squeezing, too ecstatic and greedy to stop, her rhythm sexual, punctuated with the muffled sound of more cracking bones. Finally, Olivia tumbles on to the bed, releasing Wind's corpse, looking spent and JBF dreamy.
You may be a lover but you ain't no dancer.
New desires fascinate and disturb Mary. She feels like an incurable virgin who is watching someone else have sex; Mary is jealous of the pleasure that she wants to experience for herself. She can't remember why the sex is forbidden to her. Why is it wrong? And Mary hates Olivia for being more alive than she is. Witnessing the passion quickens Mary's pulse, and with Helter Skelter blasting so loud she forgets the horror of the dead man. Wind's blank eyes stare up at the ceiling his colors just floated through.
Mary feels Hayward crawling through her thoughts, then she feels his icy marble hand against shoulder blade.
Hayward propels Mary toward another bedroom, and the red on the walls might be bad, but it has grown familiar. Mary has seen blood every month since she was twelve, but she's never seen these colors, the toxic cloud thickening along the ceiling, staining the surfaces. Like walking through a house on fire, Hayward pushes her into another room, messy with women's clothes, to a locked door knob, that Hayward easily turns, snapping the lock to reveal Cindy, in her wet bikini, cowering in the shower, holding the clear vinyl shower curtain and screaming terror that means nothing to Mary, because the only sound is a wicked guitar that pours everywhere.
Well will you, won't you want me to make you?
I'm coming down fast but don't let me break you.
There's a reason for the song, it's a good song for this. People don't point that out much anymore, but there's truth to it, don't you see, Hayward says, but from behind Mary, his chest nestled against her back, his arms guiding hers, like teaching her a golf swing, leading Mary to Cindy, the shower stall dry except for the wet bikini and the tears, and Cindy's glow is purple flecked with red, queasy colors, and Mary knows without knowing how that she is seeing fear, and as Hayward guides her arms around Cindy, Mary feels Cindy's fear, but inside her fear beats the pulse of twenty nine years, felt directly by Mary, like transferring data from one computer to another, Mary feels everything about Cindy, a wash of sensation seeping into her from every inch of Cindy's skin. Hayward forces Mary to envelop Cindy with her arms, just as Hayward envelops Mary with his own arms, and Mary enfolds the woman even as the man enfolds her, and the colors pulse in a fierce glow that burns her skin with heat, the heat of the sun as the purple and red explode slowly into white, a blinding glow that rages inside of Mary's head, even with her eyes closed. She is now inside of Cindy's head, she knows the minute that Cindy was born and the exact hour that she dropped out of high school, Mary knows everything about Cindy before Cindy leaves; the ball of light floats up through the ceiling, up to what Hayward tells Mary is the hole in the sky. Then Mary feels Cindy limp and broken in her arms.
Mary screams and tries to run away from what she has done and fights Hayward who does not move but keeps her in his vice-like grip. Mary screams at Hayward in her real voice, real words against the dead flesh and white tiles dirty with tears, screaming, "You made me kill her! You made me!"
"I never wanted to," Mary cries.
You wanted it, I heard you want it, Hayward says, still holding Mary tight against Cindy's dead body.
"But I wouldn't have done it. You held me and crushed her against me."
You crushed her too and you danced in the joy of her light. You wanted it.
"I would never kill anyone."
You just did.
"Not if I wake up in the morning and don't remember this. Not if this is just dream you've infected me with."
Don't count on it. When you saw Olivia doing it, you wanted to do it too. You just didn't have the courage to do it all by yourself. But now that I've helped you, now that you've had a taste, you'll want it again. You'll feel the hunger again. And you'll feed it. All by yourself.
The last guitar note reverberates and the music goes dead.
7:49 PM THURSDAY JULY 23
A FORGOTTEN DATE
Rand stops the videotape and gets busy selecting tonight's wine.
He feels like drinking a young Cabernet, but not too big. He selects a Ravenswood, uncorks it, and while he waits for the wine to breathe, he thinks about watching The Mary Tape again. He needs to re-live the memory again, and meditating upon his need, he catches himself drinking the wine, the unbreathed wine. Suffocated, he thinks.
He wants to get drunk quickly and swim in warm thoughts. He feels like regressing back to the early Eighties, his days of 'ludes and roses, when all his skin glowed with warmth. Most of all he wants Mary back.
But she waits in his bedroom, in a black box, stretched out on the brown magnetic tape. On the videotape he mates with Mary forever, or at least until the magnetic oxide flakes off of the mylar.
There on his TV screen is Mary, her legs and arms entwining him. Is he bisexual for loving both Mary and himself? Is narcissism bisexual? His Italian trousers get tangled around his ankles and he drinks right from the expensive bottle, gauche and absurd, his hand sticky with himself, the designer wine label sullied, a nervous tic sends shudders through his left eye, his lip twitches to the rhythm of his blood. Is he dying now, here on the floor, has he finally spasmed himself out of existence?
Rand weaves drunkenly into the bathroom, like a sailor on a listing deck. He washes his hands, straightens up his clothes, and frowns at his crooked smile in the mirror. He doesn't feel any better from the wine or from what he has done to himself. And he hates the walls, feels small and confined in the 4200 square feet of his house, roaming from room to room, bored out of his mind, wanting Mary and hating her and very surprised to hear his front doorbell ring.
In a panic, he checks his watch, remembers that he forgot their date, but can't remember what they were supposed to do. And what is the wine bottle doing in his hand? He quickly hides it behind the leg of his Mission oak side table and opens the door for her.
Tonight, he thinks Sheila looks more intimidating than attractive. Her blue suit is tailored to display the benefits of her regimen of fitness. She has the aggressive self-assurance of an athlete, but she lacks grace, except as an acquired trait. Unlike Mary, Sheila isn't innately sexy; her attractiveness is also an acquired trait, and tenuous, dependent on the fickle nature of her smile.
Sheila's eyes travel down to the flap of Oxford cloth shirt that dangles in front of his rumpled trousers. Her smile withers. Like seeing a dear uncle suddenly gone senile, Sheila is shocked by this lapse in the heretofore sartorially impeccable Rand. His kiss smells heavy with notes of black cherry and a hint of peppercorn, long in the finish, a bit acidic.
"Is something wrong?"
Rand is blank, then calculating. He sees Sheila's nose crinkle at the taste of wine on his lips. Her petulance bores him. But he is also afraid to be alone tonight, the house and his skin are both unbearable. And she is a professional acquaintance, there is that to consider, though the outcome of their liaison, certain to fall short of marriage, will no doubt be awkward.
"Would you like a drink?" he asks.
"I'd like to eat," she quickly answers.
Rand is lost. He has no idea what they've planned for the evening. He wants to get back to his videotape, he can't get enough of that, and his desire feels so delicious it distracts him from his forgetfulness. Was he supposed to make dinner? Or did he make reservations? And if so, where?
"You're drunk," Sheila observes.
Let her lead, Rand thinks. "I've had a setback on a case. A major fuck around, and yes, I am drunk. But I'm a nice drunk." He puts his arms around Sheila and likes the reassurance of her solidity. He feels the resistance in her muscles, then she relaxes against him, the fabric of her linen dress thick and stiff. Sheila's arm rests absently on his shoulder and he feels her deciding what's up, and how this night might fit into the pattern of their relationship, the rise and fall of the last five weeks. They are still a little new to each other, but maybe not new enough.
"Did you make the reservations?" Sheila asks.
Rand stiffens in his shoulders and Sheila feels it. "I think Jan did. I've just been overwhelmed. And then I got so depressed - it's the first time I've been depressed in three years so I opened a bottle of wine. I'm sorry if that was rude but I'm just not myself tonight. Forgive me?"
"You are acting strangely, Rand."
"I'm just a little drunk and worn out from the week. But it's Friday, we've got the whole weekend..."
"I told you I was drunk," he says.
"No, I told you that you were drunk. But you're not that drunk," she says.
"You've got me distracted." Rand intensifies their embrace, but the gesture feels false, even to himself. Rand doesn't want Sheila, but he also doesn't want to be alone.
She steps back from his limp arms and sees that his shirt is buttoned wrong. His clothes look wrinkled and thrown on. She wonders if she will find another woman upstairs, and if not, will another woman's scent be lingering on his bed sheets?
"I think I might be getting that flu that's been going around," Rand says with the conviction of a summer stock Camille.
She touches his skin; it feels clammy, but the same temperature as her own. "Why don't you take a shower and then fix yourself an espresso? Sober up and then we'll go eat."
"Great idea. I'm off to the shower." He is grateful to get away from her, and thankful that she doesn't require a last, lingering kiss. Sheila's very direct in her affection. Hello kiss, end of the night sex, morning kiss good-bye. She finds intermediate affection undesirable.
Rand hears the drone of his thoughts as he undresses and gets into the marble shower stall. He stokes the words into a litany to block his seething panic: I own this floor, I own this door I am closing, I own this steam. And this water, until it passes down the drain, and through the pipes that I own.
Rand's thoughts tightly focus, like a reduced strike zone, on his possessions. He worries that he can't think outside of this little window. Like his brain is opaque with steam, his mental power diminished by the cascade of scalding water spraying down from the German stainless steel shower head that he owns.
Sheila stands on the other side of the bathroom door, suspicious of the perfectly made bed, pulling back the cover to sniff at the freshly laundered sheets. Disappointed that her suspicions of infidelity aren't confirmed, she speculates that he has already changed the sheets, and looks for the laundry hamper.
Then Sheila sees the wine stain in the weave of the pale blonde Berber carpet. She bends down and feels the fabric: the wine stain is still wet. Alone and unconcerned about looking foolish she sniffs at the carpet, like a truffle pig, hunting for the scent of a woman, and instead she smells expensive food and lifting weights every other night, the aroma of Rand leavened by success and sex and confidence. And with her face near the floor Sheila sees the remote control, almost hidden in the labyrinthine pattern of the Persian rug that lies on top of the Berber carpet. Sheila grasps the control and presses the button marked play, which sends a little radio signal to the Japanese video deck, and brings to life Rand's favorite stretch of brown, magnetic tape.
Sheila watches the images that transpired in this same bed room on June 24th at 12:42 AM. Sheila realizes it must be Mary, enthusiastic but certifiable. Rand had cried the story on her shoulder, not really cried, but told it in emotionally clogged narrative, brilliantly stirring her sympathy. Sheila watches the videotape, engrossed, but still aware of the muffled hiss of the shower.
The electronic ghosts are doing things Sheila has never done, but things Rand had tried to get her to enact with him. In a flash of insight that makes her feel degraded, she remembers how they had last made love. He had been manipulating her into a semblance of the sexual postures that she now watches on this vile videotape. She sees herself now as an uncooperative puppet. She had slept with Rand in this same bed that she now sits on as she watches. She abruptly stands up, repulsed. Watching this tape, she now knows that Rand has been transported more by the memory of this Mary than by her. She feels shamed; she has been a whore in his arms, an empty vessel, just warm blood for Rand to wrap himself around. He has raped her.
Sheila's heart beats faster than her Stairmaster workout, faster than her Step Reebok Class.
The wine stain looks nasty to her now, like dried blood. Sheila realizes that Rand must have been drunk and jerking off when she arrived tonight. Then she panics and scans the room, worried that a hidden camera is videotaping her too. She doesn't stop the videotape because she wants to keep feeling the pain of it, to be seared and cleansed by the enormity of the wound that keeps throbbing in her sight, the ridiculous thrusting and grunting of Rand and the crazy girl. Sheila deduces the probable location of the camera based on the camera angle she sees on the TV screen, but when she throws open the most likely cabinet doors she finds no camera.
Sheila rifles through shelves of videotapes, but only finds a lot of musicals and what looks like the collected video works of Barbra Streisand - isn't that kind of gay, she wonders, suspicious of Rand's sexual veracity even as the orgy of two continues on the TV screen.
Then the quiet feels wrong. Sheila realizes that the shower has stopped. She starts to run out of the room, leaving the tape playing, an eloquent exit speech.
But she turns around mid-step, frantically hits all of the remote control buttons until the videotape spits out of the machine, harsh static replacing the hurtful moans of Rand's sick love tape.
imagines the haughty farewell she could slap Rand with. But she is too upset
for cutting words, too humiliated to even see him. Best to get away with the
evidence. Undoubtedly this videotape will be useful in forcing a painful
reckoning. Her revenge will require some thought. She needs a hot shower. That
will make her feel a little cleaner. Then a plan. Rand can shower all night,
he'll always be putrid inside of his refined, smug smell.
11:11 AM FRIDAY JULY 24
CONNING DR. GLASS
Dr. Glass wears a lavender Hermes scarf. Her finger probes the inside of the silk, a cloaked nervous gesture, as she reviews Mary's file. Dr. Glass has implied to the staff that the scarf is a gift from a man friend, but in fact she bought it for herself.
Mary feels good that her mental hearing is working today, that Dr. Glass is broadcasting clearly. Mary feels at the top of her game. Her hands lie in her lap with upturned palms. She is pleased that Dr. Glass favorably notes this receptive body language.
Mary intentionally did not shampoo her hair today. She changed clothes twice to achieve just the right look, finally deciding on her pastel green tee-shirt and jeans. Carefully groomed, but underdressed. On her chest is a Smiley-Face button she took off of her catatonic room-mate. Mary is sociable in appearance, but no threat to the temperamental doctor.
"I'm getting bored, Dr. Glass. I hope that's not a horrible thing to say, because I really like the people here. It's just...I feel guilty...like I've been on vacation too long or something. Maybe if I could do some work, like secretarial work. I miss typing. Work helps me feel organized. That's a natural feeling, don't you think?"
Dr. Glass smiles, her unspoken thoughts suspicious, still jealous of Mary's hair, even though it is unwashed and tightened back to a pony-tail. And Dr. Glass is disappointed the case has become so mundane.
Dr. Glass thinks: I'm the prisoner, they come and go, they get to leave, but I stay, no one's forcing me, but I stay...I can't dress on this salary and there aren't any men here...at least none that I want...it's not getting any better, and I'm just getting older...I might as well start smoking again...
Listening to Dr. Glass think makes it hard for Mary to talk, as if trying to simultaneously watch a good TV program and carry on a life and death conversation, because Dr. Glass is like the Parole Board now that the hospital is Hayward's personal death row.
Mary hears two people thinking at once, herself and the doctor. Mary knows that she is not Dr. Glass, but Dr. Glass is in her head. Maybe the telepathy is the first stage of schizophrenia, the sickness they have falsely accused her of. Mary struggles to maintain. She can't lay it on too thick. That will make this fragile, authoritative woman jealous. "I like to work. I always...liked to work...and I miss..."
Dr. Glass snaps back to Mary as a target, someone she stands above. Pity that requires a scalpel. "You sound hesitant, Mary. What are you unsure of?"
Mary feels hot under the spotlight of Dr. Glass' thoughts. Dr. Glass, the pro, who's heard it all and knows a con. Dr. Glass who does not feel needed or appreciated.
"I can't sort it all out. I feel improved from being at the hospital, but that's not enough. I like doing more things for myself. Too much is done for me here."
"Do you feel that you're ready to live on your own again?" Dr. Glass asks.
Mary listens. Gauges. The doctor hates pride, over-confidence, over-reaching. The doctor resents her own lack of ambition and transfers negative emotions, attacks patients who seem overly confident. Mary feels nervous, wants to itch her arm, but doesn't. The doctor is aware of the delay in Mary's answer. But the hesitation also indicates lack of confidence, plays to the doctor's hand. Mary knows the way now. She knows she's not much of an actor, but this is perfect, her lack of artifice is a plus in this situation.
"I don't want to overdo it. Independence is my goal. But if I take too big a step I know I might fall down, and I don't want to do that. I don't know what happened to me, because I was sick then, and maybe I'm still not one hundred percent, but I'm close enough to know what my limitations are. I was unrealistic before. My goals are more...modest now"
Dr. Glass smiles wanly, and Mary hears a bigger, gloating smile in the doctor's unedited thoughts. Dr. Glass absently strokes her Hermes scarf, pleased with a victory, another successful rehab, something that will look good in the yearly review.
Mary hears Dr. Glass think: I don't like this woman, she's playing too dumb, something feels wrong, but where have my feelings gotten me? What's to be gained by keeping her here? I don't care if I never see her again. Send her to a halfway house. Push her on to Dr. Allen, force a second opinion, cover my ass, and get on with some fresh meat. Why is she smiling? Oh, because I am. There's something very creepy here. She's watching me...oh, my fingers in the scarf...is she always this observant? The smart crazy ones are, they're the ones to be careful with....
Mary drops her eyes.
Dr. Glass gets more suspicious.
Mary realizes she is reacting too closely in sync with Dr. Glass' thoughts.
She would like to nail the doctor for all the evil things she is. But instead, Mary reaches down to retie her shoelace, careful to avoid looking at the doctor. How did the hate flare up so fast, it must have been there all the time, like dry grass, ready to catch fire.
The room is very dry and Mary's throat aches and she breathes the pain that fills the air. She can't feel what her face is saying and how long has she been tying her shoelace? And why is she losing it now, she's blowing the whole deal, no, take a deep breath, look up, shy and doubtful, the mouse, the cute mouse, oh please, doctor, please, oh mighty doctor...
Mary is careful to keep her back straight, shoulders erect, palms upward and receptive, eyes demurely meeting Dr. Glass'. But instead of a perfect con, she sees an orgy of battered colors, like paint that has been badly mixed, the sickly red and orange of burning, blistering chroma. And worse, the colors emitting from the doctor's mouth don't resolve into sound. There are no words, not the real ones that leave lips in search of ears.
The silence of colors burns like a fire, the heat consuming what words might still linger in the air. What now? Please don't let it collapse, keep me from falling back into Hayward, pay attention, Mary, pay attention...
Dr. Glass stands. Mary understands that she is also supposed to stand. The pause where contact hangs as a possibility. With a man in the right darkness it might be a kiss. But here that can't be it, unless maybe in another darkness the doctor wants Mary in that way too.
Mary reaches forward to shake Dr. Glass' hand, winces at the feel of her pink hand, the bones like gray x-rays underneath. She doesn't hear what Dr. Glass is thinking about her because it's all lost in the flash fire, the inferno that washes away the poise Mary entered the doctor's office with.
Mary turns to leave, that feels right. She hopes that she says the right word-things in the green bubbles that float out from her mouth.
The world has fallen apart again. It must be Hayward, another of his lessons showing her how fragile she is. What a fool she was to think that she could do an easy snow job on the doctor and simply breeze back to a nice life back out in the world.
Alone in the hallway Mary has no sense whether the end of the interview was a disaster. The fluorescent lights radiate scales of iridescent green that look like diseased lizard skin. This green clangs against the hard sunlight pouring in from the windows, dissonant colors that screech like cruel violins.
9:53 PM MONDAY JULY 27
Reese arrives early and parks in the red zone in front of Canter's. He stretches in the lazy summer heat and goes through the glass door, back into the nostalgic promise of space age architecture. He smiles his way past the hostess, her pancake make-up frosting the network of wrinkles that fissure around her painful smile.
He walks the perimeter of the restaurant. Faces. Exits. Tendencies. No sign of Ellroy. Leave it to me, he thinks, a freebie and I show up early, at a run-down delicatessen no less.
Reese takes a booth, his back against the wall, clean lines of sight. The safest seat in the house. Isolated in a sea of brown formica tables.
He feels bone tired from a long night of surveillance. Tailing a mistress, the apparent motive in another death triangle. Even these simple murders retain a fundamental mystery. Why does the system rupture here and not there?
And lately the question of a mistress is more mysterious than the question of murder. How do these men arrange to have more than one woman, when he can manage no women at all? That is the mystery: dispelling loneliness with money, if such a thing can be done. Or, if not money, then it might be a conspiracy. A lexicon of glances and gestures invisible to him. The language of women, a mode of discourse that he has never mastered. Mr. Life And Death tongue-tied in the most simple situations. And men who will fall apart in a brittle moment, men who are men only with women, not in the world of concrete and blood, how can they succeed where he cannot? That galls and embarrasses him; it makes him feel deficient. And the moral is that there is no moral, that a sleazy Italian wife-killer is capable of organizing two lovers and he can organize none. Why are his nights lonelier than this lady-killer's?
A face from the past interrupts these reflections.
One of the unrequited loves of his lost years. Reese had kissed her once and been afraid to speak with her again. He wonders if she remembers their lone night.
When he was embarrassed about what he did not know about women.
When she asked him how far he wanted to go, his voice froze and he couldn't even say "all the way" and so they had not made love that night, had not gone all the way, even though Maureen was willing, indeed, had a reputation for being easy. And why had he stopped? And why had the matter of his virginity been such a painful and drawn out affair?
Until, finally, he promised himself that he would not, must not, be a virgin when he graduated from the Police Academy, that was his absolute cut-off date, and so he had relentlessly but smilingly pursued Cathy, the sister of one of his fellow cadets. She had just recovered from an alcoholic breakdown, delirium that she narrated to Reese, or whomever would listen, like a movie that she had starred in and lived through. Reese felt abrupt when he kissed her, like there was nothing in their words that led him to touch her lips with his own. Rather it was something he promised himself he would do at the end of a date, an internal countdown to physical contact, and over a course of four nights they had finally gotten in bed together, or rather the downstairs couch in the apartment that Reese rented with her brother. And there in the darkness he felt excited and strange to be holding someone warm, someone other than himself, another person. But there was the deep ennui of not really knowing her. He was not healed that first night with Cathy, he was not made whole by having coupled for a few moments with the female side.
And having joined the great hoards of the unvirginal he continued to regret that which he had not done, the lost school years, the girls, and then the women, who he precisely remembered but who he had never touched.
And if his life is less than perfect it will only become less so the more he dwells upon those ghostly women. Like Maureen, reanimated from the morgue of his near perfect memory.
He sees her staring back at him. Not a look of recognition, rather, her reaction to his staring at her.
Reese feels embarrassed. Defeated. He drops his eyes, and feigns fascination with the universe of his table, afraid to look up again. No, he does not want to meet her eyes.
There is a cup of coffee in front of Reese that he does not remember ordering, and a bagel that he does not remember buttering. When Reese glances up, Maureen looks worried by the attention he is giving her.
Reese pretends to be absorbed in the great mysteries of his coffee cup; the dark sea of caffeine mirrors his troubling obsessions. He had shot a man three weeks ago. In self-defense. A well-placed shot that left the perpetrator alive but maimed. And here a woman who only marginally qualified as an old flame has him rattled. At least, he thinks, there is continuity to my personality. I'll always be the same. Even if I understand myself completely, I'll still be hopelessly shy, so how can I blame myself or regret anything because how could it have been any different?
At least I'm aware of myself.
And where has that gotten me?
Alone on a Friday night. At a cheap restaurant, surrounded by people who don't know me, who don't care. Waiting.
"Reese, sorry I'm late."
Ellroy's beefy hand in his face. They shake.
Behind him, Maureen watches, curious. Reese thinks she caught a glimpse of Ellroy's waist holster.
Reese notes the Mojave's effect on his Irish-Italian colleague. Ellroy's dark hair looks sun-bleached and his freckles now hide in his desert tan.
"How's life in the Springs?"
"The shits, the absolute shits." Ellroy slumps down. He looks three days shy of sleep, propped up with evidence-locker amphetamines. The zombie look of a major case, exhausted and wired.
"You see enough dead people, they all look the same. But some of the dead they make a bigger fuss about than others."
The waitress, who Reese does not remember, re-appears. "Are you ready to order or you need a minute to look at the menu?"
"Just a cup of coffee. Not that it'll make any difference." The waitress frowns and leaves. "So how are you?" Ellroy quietly asks him.
"Professionally or existentially?"
Ellroy laughs, "Still the same Reese."
"That's my curse."
"You always make me laugh."
"I'd rather make a lady laugh."
"You shouldn't have much trouble."
"No, I shouldn't," Reese says this while looking at Maureen, who seems interested in Ellroy. "But I do. But that isn't what you came here to talk about, is it?"
"No. I've got a multiple homicide. Four dead. Ugly. No clues except ones they wanted to leave. They wrote Helter Skelter in blood on the refrigerator. We've kept it out of the paper," Ellroy lowers his voice, "so far."
Reese feels the chill of recognition. That he must keep to himself. He wants to help Ellroy, but if these desert murders publicly connect with Misty Broyles and Tim and Karen Fletcher, then the media will advertise for more blood.
"Fuckin' Helter Skelter," Ellroy sighs.
"It's actually a pretty good song."
"Yeah, but why pick that one?"
"You're right. Why not Sympathy For The Devil? Or Stop In The Name Of Love?"
"Because Charlie Manson lies heavy on the shit-brain that did this." Ellroy slides a dirty manilla envelope across the formica table. Reese knows what lies inside - black and white images of red blood. The crime scene. Just the facts, ma'am.
"I'll be honest with you, Reese," Ellroy says leaning closer, blocking Reese's view of Maureen. "I haven't got much. The fingerprints are all victims or friends or dead-ends so far."
Reese spreads some strawberry jam on his bagel, adjusts his seat to recapture a view of Maureen. A man sits with her now. He looks more like a rich boyfriend than a husband. Raw silk jacket, Italian shoes. He acts too attentive to be a husband.
Ellroy turns around to see what Reese is looking at. "What, do you want to replace greaseball in her heart?" Ellroy asks, nodding at the couple.
"I want to replace greaseball in every girl's heart. But especially hers," Reese answers. He tries to be himself, as much as he can be, in the company of one of the hardened, a brother of the homicide beat. "So," changing the subject, "why do you think I can help?" Reese asks.
"You broke the Hastings case. You didn't have much of a handle there. I wanted you to tell me how you caught the Monkey Man."
"That's not germane. It's too specific. I'll give you the benefit of my experience, if there is such a thing, but talking about Hastings isn't the way to do it."
"Is it because of what he did? Or how he did it? Cutting up those girls?"
"No!" Reese blurts out too quickly. Greaseball and his ill-appreciated Madonna look over. "No," he repeats, softer. "Anyway, let's see what you've got."
The first picture: a desert house, high on a mesa, overlooking Palm Desert. Splendid isolation.
The second picture: the isolation backfires. A butterfly of blood enshrouds a body floating in the pool.
The third picture: bloodstains on the hallway.
"Any pattern to the blood?"
"Lateral knife wounds. All the footprints match up with the deceased."
The fourth picture: Winston Layton, the unlucky home owner, dead in his bed.
"What's the deal with Layton? Anything I haven't heard?"
"Died from a broken neck. Owned part interest in a golf course. About nine holes worth. The Mirage. No one liked him much, but no real enemies. The guy didn't inspire much passion. Other than some coke, some pot, some informal pimping, the guy was clean."
The fifth picture: Cindy Maxwell, slumped in the shower, strangled.
"The blood smears on the wall are O-positive, a match with Jerry Lavosh, who was stabbed in the kitchen.
The sixth picture: Healter Skelter scrawled on the refrigerator door.
"We've checked this with L.A.P.D. against the Helter Skelter written at the LaBianca house. It's a very close match. The Manson Family's still in jail, so we can't hang it on them."
Reese continues through the photos. "This photographer's got a nice eye for composition."
Reese lets it drop. "There were no strangulations in either Tate or LaBianca, right?"
"The mix of m.o.s is weird. I figure that there were at least two perpetrators, probably more," Ellroy says.
Reese flips through the rest of the photos. The photographer really does have an interesting eye, a cross between Diane Arbus and Gary Winograd, but something fresh, that gives a feel for the desert, even in these tightly cropped interiors. He smiles to himself, at the irony of being able to enjoy the aesthetics of these grim images - but if Andy Warhol could silk-screen car crashes and electric chairs, why not this? And the irony of Ellroy thinking that he is scouring the photographs for clues, when he is just enjoying the wonderful play of light and the balance of masses in this set of pictures.
"Why are you smiling?" Ellroy asks, his sour amphetamine breath drifting into Reese's face.
Reese looks up to answer but sees that Maureen is gone. He stops short. For a moment his lungs refuse to pull in their measure of air. The symbol of his regret has vanished.
"What? Do you see something?"
"You know, death doesn't mean a thing. It's just what happens to people. To everybody. I know, we've got to stop whoever did this from killing again, but what does it matter? Who are we saving?" Reese muses.
"You need a vacation, Reese."
"I'm sorry, Ellroy, I just feel kind of fucked up tonight, and I've got no right to. You must be desperate if you came all the way in to see me. With Hastings, I didn't make him, he made me. I fell on to him by accident. You know how these things happen. You're out there and it just circles around."
"Yeah, but this one's so weird."
"There's always an explanation."
"I know. But we don't have one yet." Ellroy finishes his coffee and slumps down. Reese thinks that Ellroy might fall asleep on the chipped formica table.
"I'll take the file, see what I can come up with," Reese says.
"Can you get me the Hastings file? All your notes?" Ellroy asks.
"That's why you came isn't it? Not to pick my brilliant mind. But to pick my pocket."
"Am I that transparent? I waited till last to ask. Reese, I value your fucking opinion. No shit. That's why I'd like to see your notes."
"Come on, I've got a set at the house. Bathroom reading." Reese puts the black and white glossies back into the dirty manilla envelope, and slides it across the sticky formica to Ellroy, who pushes it back. "I said it was for you and I meant it."
Reese stands. He almost offers his hand to help Ellroy to his feet, but worries that the gesture might fray the man's last nerve ending. Ellroy struggles to his feet, throwing a suspicious look at the Space Age lamps, as if the saucers are starting to fly away. Ellroy grabs the check, but forgets to leave a tip. Reese tosses down a couple of greasy dollar bills and follows after his exhausted colleague.
Dirty dishes still litter Maureen's table. He sees the imprint of her cherry red lipstick on her abandoned coffee cup. The mark left by her gone lips. Reese stops to touch the cup, like he will never touch her lips again. When he looks up, Ellroy is staring at him. As is the middle-aged bus boy. How long was Reese lost in the shadow land of the life he didn't live, the life he still doesn't have? One second? Ten? A hundred? Eyes straight ahead, refusing comment, Reese brushes past Ellroy, and stalks out of Canter's, to breathe the familiar stale air of the night street.
10:36 AM TUESDAY JULY 28
Driving her red Acura, Laura is pained underneath the smile she wears for Mary. The sunlight glares through the gray windshield. Outside, the brown hills sag with dead grass. Inside, cold air pumps with tireless monotony.
Laura is nervous about taking Mary to her house, even for a few days. She has doubts that Mary can maintain. Mary might collapse again into strangeness, have to be re-committed; she might not want to go back.
And Laura likes being alone with Albert. She is two months pregnant but she is afraid to tell Mary because this might upset her sister, make her feel jealous and diminished.
And Albert. He would love to get in Mary's pants, Laura has known that for years, everyone wants to get in Mary's pants, she's always been blessed with great looks, but she didn't use her beauty, did she? But I took what I had and made it work for me, the right make-up and clothes, using what God gave me, I've got a house and a husband and a baby on the way, and I drive a nice enough car for now. And look at Mary.
Laura glances over as she thinks this and sees that Mary is watching her. Mary averts her eyes, like she is embarrassed. But what does Mary have to be embarrassed about, Laura wonders, what is she hiding from me? Look at her, she has nothing, and she's much prettier, her beauty is actually a curse, people have been too nice to her, men especially, it's allowed her to coast, it's made her think that she's better somehow, she's been lazy, and promiscuous too, I'm sure, so she's worse all around and the beauty will fade faster too because she doesn't know how to take care of herself, sure she's got beautiful skin, but it won't stay that way, not with how she sits in the sun, doesn't she know that the sun is bad? I've got to try and straighten her out, she's not a threat, she's my sister, I'm far enough ahead that I don't have to worry, it's time to help her, and I am, that's why she's in my car, that's why I'm trying to get her healthy and back out on her own...good, she's not staring at me...and the music, oldies are okay I guess, what is that song, don't I remember that from junior high school?
Laura looks over at the car radio but it is turned off; the song is gone. That's odd, she thinks, to remember a snatch of song, that's one thing, but this sounded so vivid...
Mary hears Laura's thoughts, a fugue fading in and out, and with her hands clenched white but hidden underneath her thighs so Laura can't see, Mary rides it out, feeling guilty, like she is eavesdropping undetected. But that's okay, Laura is just being Laura, vain about her charity, but inside of the vanity Mary can hear that her sister loves her.
But I'm the big sister, the one that Laura should be looking up to, I should be doing things for Laura.
And how do I respond? Not immediately to what Laura is thinking, then she'll find out that I'm listening. I do feel guilty, but I'll be out on my own again very soon, by the end of the week. It's so much easier to scope things out hearing people like this, I'll be brilliant on my job interviews, maybe now I'll waltz through the world. There must be some way I can make a lot of money with this new hearing, and I don't mean by being a disc jockey for telepathic parties.
Mary smiles to herself at this little joke. She listens to the radial tires grind a violent lullaby. They drive past hills blackened by brush fires.
Laura notices Mary smiling and is pained that her big sister is still lost in some strange dream world - and so Mary steps out of her little smile and stares directly at Laura's concerned face and boldly says, "I know that you worry about me, Laura, and considering what I've done and been through, you should worry about me. I worry about me. But I'm paying attention, I can see that you're pained. But don't worry because I'm paying attention to you, I know how you feel, know better than I ever have before, isn't that what empathy is all about? I was never empathetic before. I was selfish. I know that now. You'll see that I'm actually a better person. I'm sure you're nervous, what with picking me up from the funny farm and taking me home and not knowing what to expect, but things are going to be fine, Laura. Whew. Pardon me for talking so much. I'm telling you this because I love you, really love you in the deepest part of what I am."
Laura is speechless and scared by the outburst and Mary lowers her eyes because with the best intentions and seeing inside of Laura she has still failed to connect with her sister as she wants to, and this dissonance between intention and execution frightens Mary and depresses her, because it means that her new powers do not automatically make her more powerful and effective. Mary knows she must quit being cocky and quit jumping in too soon. She can't get lost in the thinking and the listening, like now, because then she will fail and she must not fail, she must not get sent back to the hospital with the hole in the fence, the hole where Hayward comes and goes.
4:27 PM FRIDAY JULY 31
IN THE VALLEY
Albert is home early. Laura is not.
Mary packs her only suitcase, dawdling over what little she has with her. She looks forward to leaving the treacly clutter of pink bedspreads, pink drapes, pink Princess phone.
Albert pads down the hallway in his burgundy Speedo swim suit. His soft belly bulges over the lip of restraining nylon. "Care for a dip?" he asks. "You should take advantage of the pool while you have it."
"There's a pool where I'm moving."
"Not as private."
"I've already packed."
"It's only one suitcase. You're not leaving until tomorrow."
"My bathing suit is at the bottom."
"Borrow one of Laura's."
"Although her suit might be little big for you."
Albert comes in and lounges on the twin bed opposite Mary. "You're looking great. Back to one hundred percent."
"Like nothing happened," she sarcastically volunteers.
"Like nothing happened," he echoes, missing her dig. "I don't know why you're hurrying off to a bachelor apartment in Hollywood."
"It's the Fairfax district."
"Same difference. A little one room place. You'll be claustrophobic."
"This is a one room place." Mary waves around the pink room. The pink is closing in. It's everywhere, the color of Laura's life in this house that is the palette of her suburban dreams.
"What do you mean?" he protests. You've got the whole house, you've got the yard and the pool. No one said you have to stay in here. Hell, I'm trying to get you out to the pool right now."
"I don't want to feel like I'm imposing."
"Imposing? I love having you here."
Of course you do. You're eyes are too greedy, Albert. Looking down at her feet, her new tennis shoes still perfectly white, she can hear all of Albert as he studies her curves with impunity; he likes it when she averts her eyes. Albert's lip curls with unsubtle desire at the narrow curve of her hip. He compares it favorably to the swollen arc of his wife's anatomy.
Albert regards Mary as the idealized, unattainable version of Laura. The perfect body, the full lips. Mary is what Albert thinks he needs to be happy.
Mary is what Albert thinks about when he kisses Laura.
He pauses outside of Mary's door at night. It drives him crazy to know that she is cuddling warm in the pink Marimeko sheets that he bought, in a bed in his house. That Mary sleeps in his house and he can't have her. If she were in the pool, then they could frolic, a friendly arm around her shoulders, a chance for more than a brotherly pat in passing. He wants to press it as far as he can, but Mary's got to help. Or at least cooperate. At the very least sit still. He can't make a dangerous, blatant pass and have it go south on him because Laura is his life, Laura is a safe bet. But safety bores him. That's why he left the office early, even if it meant postponing the Maxwell account, because this might be his last chance to be alone with Mary. He hasn't taken enough advantage of these golden days. And if he doesn't try, then how will he ever know? What are his chances then? There are no chances if he doesn't try. He works in the insurance business, no stranger to actuarial tables, but selling is his thing, not numbers. But he doesn't seem to be doing much selling now.
And Mary is a little crazy. More than a little. Fresh out of Camarillo, right? He can try making a pass, just an arm around her shoulder, push it a little further, see where it goes, and if she freaks, then he can say that she's just over-reacting. Who is she to say what's real and what isn't?
But if Mary tells Laura, then Laura will probably side with Mary. Odds are Laura will believe crazy Mary's version of something innocent misinterpreted.
Still, there is maybe an hour or two before Laura gets home. Who knows what can happen, right? If he could just get her in the pool. Maybe he'll get lucky, like that film, the sleazy lawyer who got to fuck the wife and the wife's sister. Anyone could be sleazy. Everyone was, given the right opportunity. And this was Albert's opportunity, if there ever was one. And Mary has to be jealous of Laura, not of her looks, but of her life. This might be a chance for her to get even. Mary could take it out on him. Turnabout is fair play, right?
Albert sees, belatedly, that Mary is looking at him. He lifts his eyes. But she saw him staring at her crotch.
"Albert, I'd like to be alone. I don't want to go swimming with you. I know that you've got ideas about me. But they're wrong."
He is wrenched breathless. She enjoys the effect of shocking him by speaking so directly to what he thinks are his private thoughts.
So there is something to be gained from suffering through his babble, Mary concludes.
"I don't know what you mean," Albert mutters, nervously tugging at the seam of his skimpy bathing suit.
"You know exactly what I mean." Her eyes are direct, boring into him. Albert's brain is like a cabbage, one leaf wrapped around another, each layer like a radio station, different signals: pre-conscious, conscious, unconscious, semi-conscious. Mary wishes she knew more. Book facts. She resolves to read more, now that she is out of the hospital.
She sees that Albert is afraid now. He still wants to get between my legs. But why does he think that getting between my legs will make him free? I'm between my legs and I'm not free. Mary feels sad about the little thoughts that Albert has about her, but there is also something elegant about the purring of even Albert's brain, about any brain, the magnificent music that Albert makes but Albert can't hear. It's too much to listen to. Too much to explain. And below the magnificent is the threat of skin too close, his heartbeat too near, unwanted. Mary tells him, her tone flat and final, "If you don't leave this room, then I will."
Albert gets up without a word, pads off to the pool, trying to rationalize that nothing happened in the silence. He didn't lay a finger on her, right?
Mary hears a distant splash and closes her eyes, blotting out the layers of pink that embalm this guest bedroom. Not to nap, but to listen to herself, in the darkness behind her eyes, unpeeling her own head of cabbage, sinking so deep that she sees her mother, the primal face felt only as a heartbeat as she swam in the womb, darkness surrounding the inaugural spark of Mary, the first light flickering at the dead center of her head.
1:44 PM SATURDAY AUGUST 1
THE CRIME SCENE
Reese feels fatigued from the ugliness of the drive out Interstate Ten, the interminable sprawl, the one hundred miles of bad air that glue together the formless Inland Empire.
As he drives up the San Gorgonio Pass, he sees bits of landscape that have escaped the carpet of development. Just over the next rise, he hopes, is the desert that he remembers.
The air conditioning is broken in the Chevy Sedan he signed out from the motor pool. Reese was already on the freeway when he found this out, and he was reluctant to turn back. This impatience has cost him a long afternoon of breathing hot, foul air, the nasty winds of Fontana and Rialto. Now, finally, he expects the rewarding scent of sagebrush in the hot air.
Cresting the ridge, Reese groans at the vista: fields of windmills, their blades dead in the hot and heavy air.
He exits the freeway at Bob Hope Drive and follows Ellroy's directions toward the mountains that loom over Palm Desert. The country club fairways he drives past are a brilliant, sinister green. Dying date groves sit between housing tracts. His skin feels loose from the heat, and while not typically prone to fantasy, he can imagine a fire storm washing the desert clean of the ephemeral buildings that look so tacky in the hard desert light.
These thoughts drop away as the Chevy climbs up the foothills. Now he can smell the desert sage. Noon light sharply etches the chocolate brown rocks and spindly Joshua trees. The houses in the higher elevations seem less intrusive; they hug closer to the land, and are sited for privacy.
The sun's glare gives Reese a headache. He fumbles for his sunglasses, only to remember that he is already wearing them. It is that bright.
Even with Ellroy's directions, he misses the cutoff to the spur road that leads up to the house. Doubling back, squinting for the turnoff, forced to chose between three forking paths, Reese decides that the killers must have had been familiar with the area. Especially if they made their trek at night.
The road narrows down to an arroyo, a groove through the rocks. Ahead of him, bridging the crotch of rocks, is a security fence, its gate wide open. Driving through, the emerald green yard and prosperous looking ranch house startle Reese.
He parks his car in a cul-de-sac empty except for a gray Plymouth with seven antennas.
Reese stretches, then walks up the flagstone walkway. The air, though not exactly cool, feels more pleasant than hot. The house has been freshly painted a rusty red with white trim. It makes Reese think of an English farmhouse, though he has never been to England. The house is, at best, out of place, a strange anomaly in the harsh landscape that surrounds the thirsty green lawn. Beyond the lawn is a pale blue pool, and beyond the pool is a precipice which offers a dizzying view of the desert below. Reese guesses that what looks washed out and grubby in the dusty heat will be sparkling pearls of distant lights at night.
He turns around and sees Ellroy coming out of the front door to greet him.
"Thanks for making the drive out here."
He shakes Ellroy's hand. The last week has not been kind to Ellroy. The wrinkles at the corners of his eyes are fissuring. Sunburn only glazes the pallor of prolonged sleep deprivation.
"I'm not that altruistic, Ellroy. This might be relevant to one of my own investigations."
"That's the best news I've had all week."
"That you might be trying to solve this case? Sure."
The rusty red house distracts Reese. He has quickly come to hate the place for its noxious incongruity, to hate it apart from the murders that happened here two weeks ago.
Ellroy does not mind Reese's eyes straying from his own. In fact, he welcomes the look of distraction that implies the whirring of inner gears. Ellroy steps back to stand shoulder to shoulder with his friend from the city. Ellroy tries to match the intensity of Reese's meditative stare, but it is counterfeit concentration.
"What does it feel like to you?" Reese asks.
"I've spent too much time here. It's stale. It feels like a place that I want to drive away from and never see again."
"It's a weird house for the desert. Who would build a clapboard house out here?"
"I've seen weirder. There's a Cape Cod house less than a mile from here - whitewashed, a widow's walk, the works."
Reese nods but says nothing.
Ellroy leads the way back to the porch and steps into the shade. Reese follows after him, but after feeling the cool darkness, he steps back out into the light. Ellroy looks back, his hand on the door. "Don't you want to go inside?"
"Not yet, if you don't mind."
"Fine by me."
Reese now sees the yellow Crime Scene warnings plastered on the door and windows. Suddenly he's had enough of the sun and sits down on the Adirondack bench nestled in the porch's shade. Ellroy sits down beside him and lights a cigarette.
"I read all your Monkey Man files. I didn't know that Hastings was born and raised in Palm Springs."
Reese suddenly recalls that old fact. He nods, wondering if somehow it is germane to this nouveau Helter Skelter.
"So how do you explain Malcolm Hastings?" Ellroy asks.
"I've thought about the Monkey Man a lot. You can describe how someone is crazy. Describe it in great detail, give it a clinical name. But that doesn't explain it."
"I understand that. I meant, how did you break the case? Was it a hunch? Was it luck?"
"Both. You know what's it's like. You get out there and stir things up. We knew about the monkey bites. The only reliable forensic evidence from Louise Martin's murder were fibers from one of the most common brands of industrial gray carpet. Fifty million square feet of the stuff. Seven murders later, with little variation in the monkey bites, we still had only minimal evidence. A hair sample we later traced to a sheriff on the scene. A thread from some Fruit-Of-The-Loom underwear. But no more gray carpet fibers. And except for the monkey bites on all the victims, no geographic pattern, no reliable victim profile. Men and women, different ages, different races. If anything, it seemed like a calculated attempt at randomness. Okay, monkeys and the zoo are an obvious correlation. The same gray carpet that is used throughout city office buildings is used at the zoo and by several zoo-related vendors. We'd checked everyone out, and everyone came up clean. We'd even had an undercover man camping in the monkey house, taking surveillance shots, following likely candidates - those above the age of eight, of course.
"I start hanging around. I even get credentials as a herpetologist, I've just got a hunch about the zoo. I'm practically living there. I am living there. You can tell a lot about a city from it's zoo, and let me tell you, L.A. has got a crazy zoo.
"One day the coffee pot cracks in the Animal Records Department. Ruins the carpet. The gray carpet. The city maintenance man comes out to stitch in a new piece. A fluke. A tangential lead, at best. But I follow him when he leaves the zoo job and the sonofabitch cruises past Louise Martin's apartment - the first victim. He might just be a morbid murder groupie. But I don't think so. I had to follow him for three weeks and we almost lost that lady in Echo Park before I could close in and make the collar, not to mention all the grief we got about search and seizure. But it was air-fucking-tight and that's why the Monkey Man went down.
"Now I could have been camping in the wrong place all that time, and let me tell you, there was no end to the grief I got from the Lieu when I went out of circulation like that. But I was a junior officer and I begged him to keep me at the zoo and he did, because the heat was terrific on that one and we were getting nowhere. You don't always get that freedom. That was luck too. What if the coffee pot hadn't broken? What if I'd been out in the monkey house or in court on one of my two dozen other cases that day? Because Malcolm Hastings was only there repairing the carpet for less than an hour. There wasn't much of a window of opportunity."
"But you were there, and you made the collar," Ellroy quietly says, impressed despite Reese's self-deprecations and qualifiers.
"And here I am."
"And Malcolm Hastings, isn't he in San Quentin?"
"He got knifed. A lover's quarrel, his second year there. Sophomore jinx. Malcolm's dead."
Stepping inside the house, Reese feels as if he has walked into one of the black and white crime photos Ellroy gave him. After looking at the pictures for two weeks, the colors of the house look phoney.
Ellroy stands back by the door, drawing deep on his Camel.
"I don't care about passive smoke, but the smell of your cigarette is distracting me," Reese says.
Ellroy nods and tosses the butt outside, sticking his head out the door to exhale the last lung full. "You can see that-"
Reese holds up his hand and Ellroy stops talking.
Reese studies the bloodstains on the parquet floor. He wants to sit down on the couch, get into the spirit of the evening, but he feels self-conscious with Ellroy watching him. Reese knows that the best thing to do would be to come back at night, to enter the house quietly in the dark and take his time feeling the texture of this death house. But this isn't his case, not specifically.
Reese follows the drips of dried blood down the hallway. The bloodstains lead into a bathroom with a shower stall out of Psycho. On the mirror is a single word, written in blood, familiar to Reese from the Manson case, a favorite word of Charlie's:
Reese hears Ellroy's footsteps behind him, as quiet as possible, but there nonetheless, distracting him from the empathetic trance he hopes to achieve.
Reese avoids eye contact with Ellroy as he re-traces his steps, following the bloodstains that have dried to rusty red, the same color as the new house paint outside.
In the kitchen is a white outline. The body had been sprawled in front of the refrigerator. "Healter Skelter" is painted in blood on the Hotpoint refrigerator door.
Reese is impressed that they've kept the famous slogan out of the newspapers. It's a miracle, really. Looking around, he sees the unwashed dishes of someone's last supper. In the bottom of a Waring blender, a final batch of margaritas has congealed into green goo. A dark trail of ants snakes across the counter and into the blender, feasting on the untouched evidence of the crime scene.
On the floor Reese sees a fine powder and little circles which hadn't registered on the photographs that he studied. He bends down for a closer look. "What are these?"
Ellroy joins Reese, an unlit cigarette in his left hand. "Cheerios. They were sprinkled over the body. It doesn't make any sense."
Reese looks up and sees the box of cereal on top of the refrigerator, just above the bloody words. The house is too grim to sustain laughter, but he cannot restrain a black smile.
"It makes perfect sense," Reese tells Ellroy. "Don't you get it?"
Ellroy shakes his head no.
"Cereal killer," Reese says.
Ellroy shakes his head no again.
"Breakfast cereal," Reese explains.
"Cereal killer," Ellroy repeats, embarrassed that he hadn't recognized what is now obvious.
"I've seen enough, Ellroy. Let's go."
11:17 AM WEDNESDAY AUGUST 5
FACE IN THE CLOUDS
"Hello, Mary," Rand says.
Blank. With possibilities.
"Hello." Mary is thrown out of her game. What can he do to her? Most likely nothing.
"I thought you would have called me before now," Rand tries.
"I'm a little hurt."
"No, you're not. How did you get my number anyway?" Mary asks.
"Don't worry, Laura didn't give it to me. But I have ways of finding out."
"I'm sure that you do."
"This isn't going like I expected," he backpedals. "I'd like to see you. For lunch. Just as a friend. We can at least be friendly to each other can't we?"
"No. We were never friends. Look, I'm pretty busy now."
"And I'm not?" Rand whines back at her.
"I'm sure you're very busy, so I won't keep you," Mary says and hangs up the phone.
Returning from her solitary lunch, Mary walks past a bench where a woman in a gray power suit, her eyes closed, tilts her face toward the sun, to get some color during her lunch hour.
Two men walk past Mary in a hurry, talking furiously, their silk ties blowing over their shoulders.
Mary hurries toward the revolving glass doors that admit her back into the kingdom of paper and words. She doesn't mind the lunch hour ending. She has something to go back to. A desk. A computer. A tape to transcribe. A deposition to depose.
Mary feels Rand nearby. Sulking. Admiring her butt. He lurks somewhere behind her in the crowd of suits and ties, with a long face. She feels Rand wanting to do her a favor, to get back in her good graces. She hears Rand wondering how far he can follow her. She listens to him contriving an "accidental" meeting with her. He seems vulnerable now, as he never did before.
Mary isn't the same either. For the first time, she likes Rand a little. She likes his vulnerability. She is stronger than Rand now and she enjoys the feeling of power as he follows behind her, as if sucked into her vacuum. She feels the brush of his thoughts like a breeze at her back.
But Mary doesn't want to talk to him. Not again today. It would only be a repetition, and who knows what reserves of manipulation he has, even in his fragile, reduced state? It's a risk, and she needs to get back to work. She likes getting lost in the words that she transcribes, the forgetfulness of concentration, the special pleasure of looking at a clock and being surprised that time has passed unnoticed. She is grateful to forget herself, doubly grateful to get paid for her sedentary vacation from the broadcasts of her brain.
But where is the revolving glass door back into the glass tower?
And why have the colors gotten dark?
And why are the rainbows that trail the lawyers obscured by shadows?
And what are those wings beating in the sky, dark wings that cover the sun?
Laughter. Echoing out of sight, behind the building, the concrete as flimsy as cardboard, a stage set that the next breath could blow away.
There is no traffic on the street.
Only laughter breathing into her ear.
Where is the glass door that she goes through?
Mary is lost; panic makes the blood burn hot inside of her skin.
You thought you could get away.
You thought that if you kept to safe places, public places, then even if you saw me you could handle the situation. I'm insulted that you thought of me as a situation. That you thought of me as a man. Do I look like a man now?
No, Mary answers. She knows she should agree with everything he says, but Hayward hears all of her second-guessing, and she feels a second stage of panic, like a booster rocket, because none of her thoughts are private now. He curls through her brain. Exploring. Pulsing with her heartbeat.
That's right, Hayward laughs. You cannot control your thoughts. And just because you cannot control them does not excuse you from the ugly things that you are thinking. Just the fact that you don't like me, somewhere deep in your brain, anywhere in your brain, that bothers me.
Mary tilts her head up to look at Hayward. Because she feels that he wants her to look, that if she does not look, then he will get even madder. His face is in the dark clouds that skirt the tops of the metal and glass buildings, he is hovering in the sky above her.
It scares you that I am this big.
Yes. What do you want me to say, Mary asks.
It doesn't matter what you say. I'm not really here for conversation. I want you to love me.
I do lov- you'll know that I'm lying. You can make love to me. I liked that when it didn't scare me.
Don't assume that I am just a man. I told you that insults me.
How did you get to be up in the clouds? Mary wonders.
You won't know that unless I teach you. And I won't teach you unless you love me.
Her neck hurts from looking up. She feels dizzy, a vertigo of strangeness, this sudden darkness of Hayward above her.
Mary sits down on a concrete bench, but she does not remember moving a single muscle. She does not have to look up to know that Hayward is still there.
You think you can never love me. That you will always fear me. Fear and love can be the same thing. But it makes me angry that you think you can just walk away. That insults me. You're still special, Mary, even when you make me mad, that's why I visit you.
An orchestra is tuning up on the plaza. The string section. Violins back and forth. A melody in the darkness under the cloud that is Hayward.
A symphony. Beethoven, she thinks. Violent music, a storm of notes. The Ninth?
Hayward laughs in the clouds. The Ninth, Mary. Your taste is improving. I was getting tired of all those golden oldies.
I've never listened to Beethoven.
You must have sometime. Some part of you remembers.
She stares at the sea of crushed shell concrete, the plaza that stretches out from her black pumps. The gray surface brightens with renewed sunshine. A wind from the Pacific sends the clouds scuttling toward the desert. Is Hayward the wind too?
He does not answer.
He's gone, Mary thinks. Or is he hiding? Listening?
She looks up from her feet. The revolving glass door is back in its usual place. Mary can use the door to get back to the elevator, and return to her chair and her desk. But there is nothing peaceful in the building now that Hayward has visited. Is he really gone, or silently hovering?
The big music still fills the air. It sounds too real to just be in her head. But no one seems to be listening. Next to Mary sits the blonde with the upturned face, her skin a sun-flushed contrast to her charcoal gray blouse. Mary once more feels the tug of Rand's second guessing from somewhere behind her.
No one else has felt the moment come and go.
Mary turns her face up
to the sun and closes her eyes, glad to be furloughed from Hayward's darkness.
The absence of one kind of pain. At least that's something.
NEW THIEF IN THE TWILIGHT
Although the twilight is settling into night, Rand wears sunglasses as he cruises the Sports Connection parking lot. Maybe Sheila won't recognize his car if she does not recognize him. He slouches behind his steering wheel and pulls a Spago baseball cap low on his forehead. Rand almost hits a hefty blonde in leotards as she darts recklessly out of her car, hurrying into the health club to burn her calories.
Then Rand spots Sheila's vanity license plate: LITAG8R. Her BMW's tail lights are an angry red from a foot on the brake, Sheila's foot. He parks next to a fire hydrant and slumps down. Craning his neck into a new kind of pain, he sees Sheila crossing the parking lot.
Buoyed by the clarity of his scheme and the reassuring sense of a sequence, an order of events that has otherwise been desperately lacking this week, Rand lets out the clutch but his engine whines in mighty impotence. Did the valets at lunch mess it up? He fusses with the clutch and the transmission grinds into first gear. The moment calls for music, something to calm him, maybe Barbra, but where are his tapes? Where is anything? Like the exit?
Rand parks around the corner from Sheila's condo.
He feels the key in his hand, the duplicate he made before he messengered the original back to Sheila in return for his own key. But she violated his trust by stealing his property. All bets were off. And now he plans to redress his grievance. An eye for an eye, so to speak. These thoughts calm him during the interminable and untenable walk down the landscaped sidewalk to the door he wished he had never entered. Never have sex with a lawyer, Rand concludes, unless that lawyer is yourself.
The key is moist from his sweaty palm when he tries to insert it in the lock.
Inside the darkness, he is thankful that Sheila doesn't have an alarm system.
His head throbs so painfully that he worries about dying, but remembers the drudgery of years of fitness. All the hours at the health club. The hours billed to his body. Or billed against his body. Billed somewhere.
The darkness. Why am I thinking about fitness in the darkness? I must think about the task at hand.
Rand fumbles, finds the Maglite in his pocket and turns on the little alloyed flashlight he bought at Sharper Image today just for this caper.
Re-entering the forbidden zone of Sheila's bedroom.
Only then does he remember that her videodeck is downstairs. Sheila did not want a television in her bedroom.
Where would Sheila hide something that she hated? He waves his narrow flashlight beam around the bedroom feeling helpless, devastated by the unknowable.
I don't really know a thing about her.
I can't think like her.
I don't want to.
He feels weary. Pumped-up but weary. He lets his flashlight play across Sheila's bed, immaculate, not a single wrinkle on the Esprit bedspread. He wants to curl up, feel his heart beat, wait for Sheila, and pray that she is lonely and in her loneliness will forgive him for his bold gesture at communion.
That was last week.
Rand follows his flashlight downstairs, dizzy from watching the intense circle of luminance, seeing pink spots and streaks when he tries to look around the gloomy rooms downstairs. He swings his flashlight beam across the bookcases, the black leather couch, the coffee table with its coffee table books at right angles, all the right angles that Sheila likes to live within, everything tidy as a legal brief that has been honed and proofed to perfection. The flashlight sends streaks across his retina, like ghostly comets.
He gets down on all fours, and holding the Maglite between his teeth, tasting the aluminum, he roots through Sheila's collection of videotapes: Jane Fonda's Work-Out, The Sound of Music, Ghost. The tapes stack up on the floor as Rand searches through them, desperate now that he feels the burden of passing minutes. And how many passing minutes? Rand looks at his wrist and his stomach turns over when he sees that his wrist is naked. When was the last time he forgot his watch? And what now, how do these tapes go back on the shelf? He tries to put them back but they won't fit. Not in any order. It just doesn't make sense. He shuffles the tapes around, but now Ghost is upside down. It's hopeless.
And where are the gloves that I planned to wear?
But if I don't steal anything of value then how can she get the police to dust for fingerprints?
And even if she does?
The main thing is: where is the videotape? Find that and nothing else matters. My fingerprints could be anywhere - everywhere - from my tenure as itinerant lover - or whatever I was.
He leaves the sloppy redress of videotapes and looks around the room, spinning, scanning the bookcase with his head sideways, fearing that the tilt of gravity on the blood in his head will send him crashing on to the carpet.
Under the sink.
With the garbage.
A voice of reason that must be his own voice.
And in a trance of absolute knowledge, leavened with dizziness and the creepy-crawly fear of this dark room that reeks of the anal retention of Sheila, Rand falls to his knees again, this time on the clean scoured linoleum of Sheila's kitchen. And there, tucked behind the Comet and the Four-0-Nine, is The Mary Tape.
Unlabeled, but unmistakably The Mary Tape.
Rand picks it up. He can feel the images through the box. He sees himself back in his room watching them again. Safe with what he wants.
Once he gets out of here.
He feels grateful and wonders who to offer a prayer to. But the knowledge must have come from somewhere within himself. The inner resources that he almost forgot, that helped him through this crisis. And this particular crisis is on the downward slope. Just get out of the door and back home without a fuck-up and he is home free.
And gratefully he feels less dizzy as he uses his little light to carve a path for his Reeboks back across the black-and-white checkerboard linoleum.
But what if he has the wrong tape, he thinks, just as Sheila's TV appears in his tunnel of vision. Easier to take a second to check it out than get home with the wrong tape and have to endure the stress of another break-in.
Rand can't find the remote controls. He hits the buttons on the deck and it finally accepts the tape into its metal slot. The static from the TV feels hard on his eyes and his ears, and then: there is Mary, entwined with him. Reliable, the images he can play back a million times if he so desires.
By rote, he reaches for his groin.
A key rattles.
The front door opens.
Lights go on.
Panic. Adrenaline heats his blood. He fumbles with the video deck, but the tape won't come out.
Cut off from escape.
His heart beats loud in his ears. And where is his breath, why can't he pull it out of the air? And what is that blindness, the darkness at the center of the flashlight beam?
Sheila stands in the doorway, flushed from exercise and anger.
"You son of a bitch! I'm calling the police!"
"You gave me the key."
"You gave it back. This is breaking and entering!"
With a sickly whir, the machine spits out The Mary Tape. Sheila sees this. Rand sees the damnation in Sheila's eyes. As he pulls the tape free of the metal jaw, she pounces upon him, trying like a linebacker to strip him of the tape.
He breaks free and limps toward the door, feeling her screams, swatting at her hands, her fingernails frightful talons now.
Let her prove I was here. If I've got the tape, then the factor of embarrassment swings her way.
Rand staggers out of her condo that he always hated and thankfully will never see again. Or her ugly puffy face. That exercise will never help.
"Where are you going, you bastard?!"
She jumps on his back again, her fingernails deep in his neck.
"Give it back! You can't just barge in here!"
"You stole this tape from me! I could've forgiven you! We could've gotten on, but no, you had to be the righteous princess!"
"You give that back to me! You give it back to me!"
A light comes on somewhere up above.
Rand feels alone in the world as he battles Sheila, the beast on his back. He finally heaves free of her, and she goes flying into a bed of pink zinnias.
He hears her yowling and a garbled mantra of "sue you sue you sue you..." He feels a hot flush on his cheek, wet with what must be his own blood.
Rand is confused. He feels badly about hurting Sheila, even if she hurt him first. There is something about seeing her in pain. If their pain could be the same. If they could share that. He's trying to offer her a smile when she lunges at him again, her manicured nails trying to carve more of his flesh.
Her fingernails claw at the hand that holds the tape that will give him safety again. The hurt she inflicts heals him of any doubt.
A face appears on the sidewalk. And another. Neighbors, afraid to come closer, but taking tentative steps. "Sheila, are you all right?"
"No, this bastard hurt me!"
Rand jerks free and runs. He no longer feels Sheila on his arm, just the heat of blood on his cheek, and The Mary Tape clutched tight, the plastic hard against his grasping fingers.
A wail behind him, his name in the dark wind.
And where is his car? Nearby, parked to the left? It's all coming back.
But left doesn't work.
He wanders to the end of the block, and then turns around.
His Audi waits for him like a loyal friend.
In the mirror, his face looks damaged and disorganized.
Will Sheila press charges? And what will those charges be?
He drives slowly away, comforted by the deliberate, rolling motion of the car. He thinks about throwing the tape into the ocean. Or the marina. Or cutting it into little pieces, impossible to splice back together. But why? How could she obtain a search warrant? How could she fulfil the burden of proof? And he had an excellent alarm system at home. Why destroy the only thing that could give him comfort tonight? The legal arguments pour back in; the stress is finally abating. The perimeter of his tunnel vision expands.
He has the videotape, he has the rest of the night to dress his wounds and decide how to explain the bandage at the office. An accident on the squash court. It was all falling into place. Now that he has re-acquired The Mary Tape.
THE GANG VISITS
Mary's apartment has a cottage cheese ceiling that sparkles in the wash of lights from passing cars. There are groans through the walls, the whistle of lights, TV voices. None of it is as bad as the dismal shrieks of Camarillo.
The star field in Mary's ceiling sparkles like a neighboring galaxy. Outside the window Mary sees a searchlight hovering in the sky, hears the helicopter's wings beating in the air. She closes her eyes and hears breathing in her ears. And the beating of a heart, her own or her neighbor's.
Guess again, says a voice with a giggle.
When she opens her eyes, her room is crowded with the gang: Michelle, Olivia, Danny.
Mary closes her eyes. She hopes it's a dream.
They are still there.
Give us more credit than being a bad dream. Be a gracious host. We've gone to a lot of trouble for you. We've pursued your friendship.
"Nobody told you to. I didn't invite you in."
You mean you don't want us here?
"Yes, I don't want you here."
Then you're not our friend?
Then you're our enemy.
"I'm not your anything."
Olivia snoops through Mary's dresser, holding a green blouse up to her chest to see how it looks. Michelle strokes Mary's leg. Hayward stands at the foot of the bed, arms folded. Mary knows that she is not getting through.
Go ahead. Get it off your chest. Speak your peace. We're all ears.
"I just want to live my life. I didn't ask you for anything. I just want to be left alone. You're so powerful, why do you need me?"
You know too much.
"I don't know anything."
You've got a taste for the kill.
"I don't want to hurt anyone."
The gang orbits Hayward, like an anarchic chorus. Danny and Olivia drift out of sight; Mary cannot even hear their thoughts. Michelle keeps stroking Mary, her fingers climbing up Mary's leg. But this is all secondary to the burn of Hayward's words in her head as she lies frozen in her bed, supine and vulnerable.
Hayward smiles and continues his discourse, but now Mary feels that Michelle's hand is Hayward's hand, her fingers are his fingers on the outer lips of her womb, the fingers and the words poised to violate her.
You enjoy the meat. You can't feel sorry for something dumber than you. There's nothing wrong with your feeling the joy of their death. That's what you are now. And they enjoy it too, once they get past the threshold of panic. They feel the joy of being released as a color, of squirming out of their weak bodies. You're liberating them. That's what they realize in the moment of death. So that it's not death, but rebirth. And they are not victims. They are food. Food is the most important word on this planet, because that is what everyone and everything is. You've just become a superior form of food. Nothing can eat you now. Except me. You fear me, but you'll love me. Or you'll die denying it.
Mary gets caught up in
the flow of his words. And when they stop she feels Michelle's fingers inside
of her. Mary struggles not to moan. She feels Hayward kissing her, even though
he stands motionless with a superior smile at the foot of the bed. She feels
his lips upon her, he is in two places at once. Not an imaginary kiss, but the
indent of pressure, a dry kiss, the kiss of marble. She wants desperately to
remain still but Michelle's fingers are accurate in their work, forcing her to
convulse with the itch of pleasure she does not want to feel. Danny's lips
fasten on her breast, his teeth biting into her. Olivia licks her other breast.
Hayward runs through her like a cat, his fur whisking through the inside of her
skull. A cyclone whirls in her head, darkness streaked with sparkles, the cat
chasing its tail. Her back arches, as if she's receiving electro-shock. There
is no part of herself that Mary can separate from him or his surrogate lips and
fingers. The sex he forces on her is a permanent bonding, as if new
fingerprints are being etched into her flesh, fingerprints everywhere, stains,
colonies of foreign colors like a virus on her aura. There is blindness in the
sparkling colors and the feel of a hundred fingers, blackness rushing at Mary
at the peak of the worst pleasure she has ever felt.
RIDING WITH THE KING
The shadow behind the stars on her ceiling.
The shadow of a plane crossing the sky.
The shadow of a cloud in her eye.
Mary's next sensation is motion. Scenery rolls past. She feels the pull of blood against the back of her brain. The stoplights are all green.
Mary sits as far away from Hayward as she can, up against the passenger door. An ancient car. She sees the word "Mercury" written in flowing chrome script on the dash.
Hayward looks small to Mary; he has trouble reaching the gas pedal, even with the front seat scooted up close to the dash. Mary doesn't feel up to calculating size but she thinks she might be taller. Is that possible?
Hayward interrupts her with the blast of his thoughts, his eyes never leaving the road: If you don't think that people aren't elastic, then think again.
The double negative confuses Mary. She repeats it to herself and reverses the meaning, as if multiplying two negative numbers to arrive at a positive sum. And the metaphor of multiplication takes Mary away from the something about being elastic that Hayward just said - or thought - told her somehow. What's the meaning of that? Mary fights hard to understand, and she feels an ache in her head. She presses her lips and promises herself to follow through on the thought, to take the deep breaths that Dr. Glass told her were calming, to stay inside of herself and not succumb to this small man.
As Mary thinks the word small, she feels a jolt of pain that pulses from the inside of her ears and down through her sinuses, a hot pain that she cannot scratch or squeeze or scream away.
Hayward turns to look at her. His eyes are dark and fierce; a labyrinth of wrinkles frames his pupils.
There is no traffic. The car creaks and sways with uninterrupted motion. Mary does not recognize a single street. She wonders about the blankness between the sex that she did not want in her apartment and where she might be now. The word small drifts away like a street sign she cannot read, but she is afraid of more pain from thinking the wrong word about Hayward.
Mary feels the crumbly green upholstery of the ancient Ford against her skin and decides that this ride isn't a dream.
Which is not a relief. Better a nightmare she can wake up from and instead be in her bed. What city am I in now, she wonders.
The city of night, the city of dead, the city of dreams, Hayward chants at her. You worry too much.
Hayward laughs silently, a sick cackle that does not disturb the air waves.
Mary takes no relief from staring at the strange streets, and with the courage that she knows Hayward must hear her muster, she turns to look at him.
And is startled again by the fine lattice of wrinkles that cover his unhealthy skin. It reminds her of Egypt, maybe because his skin seems so ancient and severe, like a desert, wrinkled like wind-rippled sand dunes. Mary thrills that she is looking at an actual man, preferring that to music or a face in the clouds. But then she wonders if it really is better to see Hayward like this - and why - specific and solid he seems even more dangerous to her. Why does he torment me, why did he pick my life?
You flatter yourself. And why shouldn't you? I suppose that I have paid you an inordinate amount of attention. That would pump up anyone's ego. And if it's convenient, then blame me for your troubles.
That's what I mean. That kind of ignorant answer. You just don't know what's best for yourself.
She can't follow the logic of the conversation. Or is there no logic at all and Hayward is inducing yet another kind of hurt by making her think that she is missing something that was never there at all? Mary fights between the idea of logic versus no logic, not knowing which one to chose, and the ideas take on the shape of the metal and neon signs that slowly streak past. And as she gets close to recognizing and nailing her idea down, it is gone, like the billboards she just read, but now doubts: Is there really a park called Dizzy Land? Is there really a church called Mind Science? And what is her relationship to this streaking world of strange signs that Hayward drives her through?
Mary feels the interlacings of her worried fingers on her lap, nestled in the comforting green cotton fabric of her dress. She looks up and sees Hayward staring at her, his left hand on the steering wheel, his right hand reaching forward to caress her left cheek with a cold index finger.
Shut up, Mary, shut up worrying, it's boring, and if you do it anymore I'll just drive us into a fucking tree and be done with you. Because I can walk out of my body and go wherever I want, but you'll just be a heap of bones and blood. You understand?
Mary is afraid. She thinks about jumping out of the car, but she doesn't feel confident of her neuro-motor skills. She's just not sure how her body will respond to an impulse to move. And she is shadowed by the fearful certainty that Hayward hears everything she thinks to herself.
Hayward doesn't respond in any way; he leaves her dangling. He doesn't even smile, even though she knows that he is enjoying this frozen moment of recklessly hurtling through space in his ancient green Mercury.
The stoplights are all green.
THE CRIME SCENE
The stoplights are all red.
McGee drives, which always makes Reese nervous. McGee is one moving violation away from suspension, but the blue lights are flashing, a rolling code blue, so he can torpedo through the red lights.
"This is great. Let's hope it's Charlie Junior - we'll be famous."
"If you don't get us killed. There's no hurry," Reese warns him.
"The fuck there's not. This is all over the radio. It's not ours till we own the crime scene. And we don't own shit until we get there."
McGee fishtails around a low-rider Toyota, its rap bass audible even with their siren wailing.
"Fuckers! Did you get their plate? We'll cite 'em later."
"It's a not our beef if we die getting there, McGee."
"If we die, then we'll interview the victim. That'll be a first for us."
"Don't count on us being together in the hereafter."
"That'd be hell, huh?" McGee laughs.
The man's so stupid he's fearless, Reese thinks. Not necessarily an asset.
The crime scene is almost virginal.
A lone black-and-white from the Marina Division blocks the driveway. Beach cops, their tans looking faded this midnight. The patrol car's revolving blue lights caress the affluent houses. A crowd starts to gather, in jogging suits and Versace robes. Further up the driveway sits a white Pontiac with "Arm Tech" painted on the door.
McGee bolts out of the car ahead of Reese, but waits in the doorway, like a Golden Retriever, trying to act independent but waiting for his master. McGee had been called on the carpet by the Lieutenant for contaminating evidence at the Cummings suicide/multiple homicide in Westwood last year. Thereafter Reese always went in first. The Lieu had spelled that out, and while neither McGee nor Reese mentioned the directive, McGee obeyed it, though he chafed at the restraint.
Reese gets out of the car and breathes in the salt air, stretching out his muscles, tense from the unnecessary high-speed car ride over. This is his pay back. Make a point with McGee that the hurrying was moot.
Patrolman Augur, a second year man, nervously greets Reese. "I just got here, sir. I haven't gone inside yet. The silent alarm was tripped at 11:10. Mr. Hodges, the guard from Arm Tech, responded," Augur nods at the unlucky employee, who slumps in the Arm Tech car, looking February pale. "No sign of violent entry. He used his key to go inside."
Hodges stares at his shoes, which dangle out the car door.
"I'm Detective Reese. What happened, Hodges?"
He looks up, about to cry, Reese thinks.
"I went inside. Called out for Mr. Foley. Nothing, except for a hiss coming from upstairs. I went up there. They're both lying there, dead in a pool of blood. I freak, because the alarm was tripped for, what, five minutes? Whoever did it might still be there."
Hodges pauses, breathless. "I've had this job for five months and never seen anyone hurt...before this..."
"Officer Augur will take a report from you. Anything else you can think of, any details at all, you tell him, okay?"
Hodges stares back down at his shoes. He nods but doesn't answer Reese.
"Take his statement, Augur, and do not, I repeat, do not release this man or let him speak to anyone, I mean anyone, until I've come back out and talked to him again. You haven't been inside yet?"
"No, sir. I've been here for about two minutes. I just took his preliminary statement."
"If the lab boys get here you make sure they get Hodges' fingerprints, footprints and a hair sample. I'm expecting Sergeant Matthews from Forensics. I spoke with him en route. No one and I mean no one else is allowed inside."
McGee drifts back but he knows better to bluster into the conversation. McGee has learned to get more mileage from looking aloof.
McGee walks a half-step ahead as they go up to the front porch. "That rent-a-cop looked like Caspar the ghost..."
The front door.
The cool breath of death.
McGee talks but Reese cannot hear the words, just a babble of syllables. "Shut up McGee, and listen."
"What's there to listen to?"
"The killer might still be in the house."
McGee sees that Reese has his gun out. He unholsters his own .38. His sheepishness dilutes his specious machismo.
Across the threshold Reese smells no salt in the air.
The dead calm of central air.
Using his gun to pivot through doorways, textbook style, Reese moves through the downstairs. The living room is a box, showroom perfect, not a particle of dust, even the coffee table magazines arranged at perfect right angles. A bachelor's house, a workaholic's house, with daily maid service.
The kitchen feels too lifeless. The fruit on the table might as well be wax. It reminds Reese of the late Tim Fletcher's house, up in the hills.
Only static in the air. Raw television static. White noise.
Reese leads the way up the stairs, drawn toward the sickly sweet smell.
Through the doorway.
Two bodies on the floor.
When a body no longer contains its blood it becomes a very different thing indeed.
A man's body floats on a bloodstain as big as the Red Sea.
"Holy fucking shit."
A woman's body lies parallel to the man's. They look like a bride and groom toppled from a crimson wedding cake.
Bloody footprints lead out of the room, to where Reese and McGee are standing.
"You think it's Charlie Junior?" McGee asks.
The woman opens her eyes.
Mis-reported as dead.
THE LAST OF RAND
Mary sees the two men, bands of color, their faces encased in glowing plasma, their colors fickle.
She looks over at the black, pure silhouette lying beside her. The nose, the fingers, the flat plane of the stomach are all Rand's. But if there is no aura left, when does the husk stop being Rand?
For Reese the obsessively remembered Mary Delany has sprung back to life. "Mary?"
McGee looks confused.
"I met this woman once - over at Traum, Pittman," Reese explains.
Are you all right?" Reese asks.
The voice doesn't bother Mary. The voice punches through the noise. She wakes up. The words are almost distinct to her. She counts her breaths and feels how the dried blood sticks to her hand.
"Can you understand what I'm saying?"
"She's stoned or something, Reese. Or maybe she's cut." McGee takes a step into the room, positioning himself ahead of Reese, his gun still drawn, like a basketball player jockeying for better position in the lane.
But Reese cuts him off. "Have you got your gloves?" Reese asks.
"No, they're down in the car."
Reese holsters his gun and flexes on a pair of surgical gloves. "Lot of blood here, partner."
Reese checks Mary for wounds, but finds none.
She feels the warm purr of his hands. The words are not quite there yet. They are arcs of blue against fields of red. Not that Mary names the colors. But the blue starts to dissolve into something that she can hear.
Reese checks the man: dead, his chest tattooed with knife wounds.
"McGee, go down and get your gloves and see what's up with the ambulance. And see if there's any blood on that guard's shoes. It should match with these footprints, but let's nail it down now, not later."
"And leave you alone here?"
"I'm not worried about this one."
The weaker man leaves. Mary feels the room changing as her breathing slows down. She begins to sense a fear bigger than her own. The other man is breathing harder than she is.
"Mary, is that you?"
"Do you remember me?"
"I can't see your face."
"Can you see at all?"
"Just colors." His voice is there now, his tone clearer than any specific words, like the emotions that envelop the voice modulate the sound waves. "I don't remember your name, not just this second, but I remember you. We met just before I went to the hospital. You bought me a cup of hot chocolate."
He would like to smile, but the omniscient blood forbids it. "That's right. I'm Tom Reese. Are you injured?"
"No. I just can't see you very well yet. But I can hear you fine. The words have come back into sounds. But there's too much color to see your face."
Reese doesn't know what to say. He wants to tell her that he still likes her. But the moment is poised - Mary, the room, the eventual return of McGee - to make him a buffoon. How can he hold the shell of a romance that almost but never quite happened against the hard fact of her presence at this murder scene, a material witness, perhaps the perpetrator? He doesn't want to seem officious, but he has to read Mary her rights.
"You don't have to read me my rights. I've heard them enough times on television. I know what they are."
Maybe she's just guessing, he thinks, it's a logical thing to guess, given the situation.
"I can hear what you're thinking. Not everything, but enough. This is strictly off the record, I hope. Oh, what do I care. I've already been to Camarillo, who knows what will happen to me after this?"
"I've got to say the words out loud because I could be asked in a court of law if I read you your rights and I've got to be able to say the truth. So let me say it. Anything you say may be used against you in a court of law..."
Mary doesn't listen. She wonders what really happened in the vast desert plain that Hayward covered with convenient amnesia. Never, on her own volition, would she come over to Rand's house, or undertake the transmigration of souls as an act of pleasure. Hayward must be very angry with her to leave her dangling like this.
"I've read you your rights. Did you hear me read you your rights?" Reese asks.
Mary nods absently, her eyes closed.
Finished with his Miranda words, he waits for her to talk.
Mary knows this is her chance to speak directly to him. Not with the pretense and weakness of ordinary conversation. No need for ordinary words because this is not an ordinary place to talk, not with the black blood that was once Rand's lying between them.
Mary sits up, her hands sticky, her left cheek flush from the blue static light, as if the television burns her cheek. She senses visions in the air, stories and feelings that pulse through the air waves. And now she will send a shock wave up from the diaphragm in her throat, that will resolve into words in Reese's ears. From her breath into his ears, words that will change the way he thinks about her in this flickering blue light. No, this is no time to seem ordinary, because she never will, not after this.
"I can see auras. And you have a good aura. You can read about these things, they're in books about the human spirit." Mary pauses; she can hear Reese waiting. She doesn't have to explain what an aura is. She can hear that he knows. He is not afraid of her per se, but he is afraid of the feelings that he has for her. She has to talk. Now. How many minutes do they have alone, will they ever have alone again?
"I know more about you than you think. I've seen every color aura - more than I ever wanted to see. Sometimes, if you're like me, then you're awake, even when you dream, and it's one long flow of seeing through everything, hour after hour, whether you want to or not. It's not just something you can shut off, like a coffee machine. Even if you won't admit it to me I can see that you've had thoughts like this. You've thought these kind of things, things that no one will say, unless they're someone like me, someone that people call crazy. But the thing that's crazy about me is that I see too much, too many things. That and..." She stops.
"That and what?" he coaxes her.
Mary is breathing hard. Why is it coming out as a lecture? If this is their only time alone, why is she using it like this? She looks down and sees the bloodstains on her skirt and blouse. The blood embarrasses her because it could be misconstrued as menstrual. Mary starts to smile at this petty vanity here in this room. And what of her grief for Rand? He had been sentient. He had aspirations and vulnerability and he might have changed into something shining, given time and the right mix of air and incident. Mary feels the sense of loss like a wind blowing through the bedroom. She sees Rand staring at her from the floor, blood congealing around his faraway smile. She sees details now in what before had only been blackness.
"Oh, God, no, why did he..."
"Why did who?" Reese asks.
A harsh white light glows to life outside the window. Reese knows it is the news vultures.
Heavy clomps up the stairs announce the return of McGee. "An ambulance is on the way. The meat wagon too. The news goons are already here."
"I know, I saw the lights. Do you feel well enough to stand up, Mary? Are you sure you're not injured?"
She nods yes.
"Mary, I'd like to check again to make sure that you're not wounded, okay?" Reese asks softly.
McGee looks surprised when Reese moves so close to a suspect without proper precautions. Reese seems both reckless and timid. But McGee isn't sure because he is disoriented by the flickering light from the TV, and all the blood, and this beautiful woman who acts like she's underwater, like a statue, unconcerned.
Mary feels Reese's hands on her. The softest touch imaginable, his hands warm through the thin membrane of latex surgical gloves that protect him from the potential plague of bad blood.
"Should we take
her downstairs?" McGee asks.
"Not yet. Not until we get the news crews out of our face. I want to keep some control over this circus."
McGee does not want to stay in this ghastly room. "I'll go down and scope it out, Reese."
Reese calculating: how to best use the silence. Loud voices in the yard, radio squawks, more cars. Outside the night must be different. Crowded. Soon they will swarm into the room.
"You don't have to be ashamed of what you are feeling. I know that you have to act different when we aren't alone. You can't worry about that. I know who you are. You don't have to prove your kindness, you don't have to jeopardize yourself with these other people."
A sick chill creeps up
his forearms. Mary seems to know what he's thinking - but that's happened
before, with talented con men.
"And I can't read your mind, not like you think, not like a map or something. I can just hear things. But that's not the important thing now. The important thing is to tell you about Hayward.
"Hayward did this. I didn't see him do it, but I'm sure he did. He's the smartest person I've ever met. And the sickest. There's this group of psychopaths. Hayward's gang. They sneak out of the hospital, through the hole in the fence. They're killers. Vampires - in a manner of speaking, because there aren't any real vampires - not like auras are real. You see, I can make a distinction. Hayward keeps trying to pull me in. Hayward must have brought me here. He did this. I don't remember because he won't let me remember."
Sweat trickles down Reese's brow but he endures the salty tickle, declines, out of discipline, to touch his face. "What," his voice cracks, then arrives at it's proper timbre, "does this Hayward look like?"
"You'll know him when you see him."
"Dark hair? Light hair? What color eyes? Anything you can tell me?"
She smiles. "Not on the first date."
He feels dizzy with the blurry beginning of a migraine. And even if he wants her to like him, is desperate for her acceptance, how can he help but think that it looks bad for her, that this Hayward is a perfect paranoiac projection, a transference mechanism for a murder that she might have committed. It isn't like they are lovers. They haven't even kissed. A cup of hot chocolate, that was the extent of their aborted romance.
"I'm not prying into your mind. Not intentionally. It just happens. But let me say this, while we're still alone. You can't possibly think something that would keep me from liking you. I mean, you could think bad things, but that's not in your heart. Just relax and be who you are. I like who you are. A lot. The specific thoughts are incidental to that."
She is beautiful to him, in a vital way, more than the sum of her flesh. Balancing this intuitive attraction is his trained suspicion, his acquired immunity to the ploys of murder suspects, his natural suspicion of her kooky ideas. But what's happening in this room is too complicated, it draws too many things together.
Reese frowns when he hears McGee's plodding footsteps back up the stairs, and other shoes behind, a gang of feet about to invade the room.
Mary stops talking, her sudden quiet in seeming empathy with his anxieties.
The curtain comes back down, hiding their intimacy, as McGee comes back in.
Mary sees the color fall off McGee's body, like a fire dying, leaving only the dark, glowing orange coals of his discolored skin. His ugliness disturbs Mary.
She wakes up to the room again, to the forgotten fact of Rand. He is smiling dead. Hayward's joke. And there is Reese. Mary is determined to sneak him a last secret. "Your friend's already convicted me," she says under her breath, for only Reese to hear.
"He's no friend," Reese whispers back, a dangerous truth to share with a suspect.
"I'm going to handcuff you now, Mary. I'm sor-" The beginning of an apology alerts McGee, but Reese blows past the mistake as if it is a hiccup. "I'd like you to put your hands behind your back and spread your legs."
Mary does as she is told. Reese disappears from her sight, but she feels his hand encircling her wrist, followed by the snap of metal. He holds her other hand, and they interlace their fingers, squeezing tight, the rendezvous of digits hidden from McGee, their secret touch a homecoming, a graceful communion over the spilled host.
And on that brief touch the room fills with cops: scrawny, beefy, black, white, with radios, cameras, bad breath. The whole homicide circus swirls around the Red Sea like a demented cocktail party, the hostess in handcuffs, the crowd's body heat a feverish white.
Standing near Mary, Reese feels awkward and useless. He turns his attention to the collection of evidence, trying to distance himself from the confusion that she causes.
Without feeling the footsteps that take him there, he finds himself standing in the master bathroom. On the mirror, drawn in blood, are five letters, all vowels:
2:08 PM THURSDAY AUGUST 6
THE LAST OF SHEILA
Reese rings Sheila Berk's door bell but there is no answer. A circular for a Thai restaurant hangs on the door knob. This morning's Los Angeles Times lies on the door mat.
Sheila had left on angry message on Rand Foley's answering machine last night, threatening a lawsuit. And she had filed a breaking and entering charge with the Marina Division.
Reese wants to speak with her. Badly. But Sheila failed to come into work today. Calls to her house got her answering machine. Peering through a crack in the condominium's garage door, Reese saw her black BMW parked inside.
There are reasons to be concerned. Reese's dark musings are interrupted by McGee, who escorts a sun-beaten man in his sixties.
"Mr. Kuffel, this is Detective Reese."
"I hope there's no more trouble, last night Miss Berk was carrying on and yelling, and now the police, I don't know, I just don't..." Mr. Kuffel rambles.
"Not to worry," McGee assures him, "Better safe than sorry."
McGee gives Reese a guarded look. But he no longer banters. Their chemistry has shifted. Ordinarily, Reese would welcome the silence, but in the absence of McGee's words the tension and suspicion increase.
Mr. Kuffel opens the door and they go inside the condo, a muted palette of white and gray.
In the soft white silence, Reese sees a red line that starts at the foot of the stairs and leads up to the second floor. The line is thin and precise, as if a thread leading into a labyrinth. Reese silently points this out to McGee.
"I'd like you to stay in the foyer, Mr. Kuffel, and not touch a thing," Reese says.
"What?" the irritable manager asks, resentful of being told what to do.
Now Mr. Kuffel sees the line of blood. He looks curious, but no longer minds being told to stay put. He does not trust his stomach.
They draw their guns.
McGee uses his walkie-talkie to call for back-up as they make their way carefully up the stairs. The line is unwavering, as if squeezed from a tube by a steady hand. They follow the runner of blood along the upstairs hallway and into the white of Sheila's bedroom, where the red blossoms into an evil flower, a nude woman at it's center, lying on her back, as artfully arranged as an oversized plate of nouvelle cuisine.
No visible knife wounds but Reese is sure they will find lacerations on her back.
"How does he kill them so cleanly?" McGee asks, awed and sickened at the same time. "I don't get it. Blood is messy stuff."
Reese nods mechanically. He almost feels kinship with McGee as he puts on his surgical gloves. McGee and I are more alike than I ever thought: we are both alive. Reese wants to tell his partner this, but compassion is so hard to express. "You better put on your gloves, McGee, this is more bad shit."
McGee nods weakly. "Strangest, sickest stiff I've ever seen."
"Aaah!" Mr. Kuffel shouts from the doorway and faints across the threshold, disturbing the perfect line of red that leads like a fatal ribbon to the bedroom prize.
"You happy?" McGee snarls at the unconscious snoop.
Reese knows where to find the next blood clue. An inner voice tells him. He can see it in his mind before he turns on the bathroom lights.
There, in the mirror, is the message in consonants:
H LT R
SK LT R
2:57 AM FRIDAY AUGUST 7
In Rand's bedroom, Mary had felt Reese step away, the touch of his fingers still tingling on the surface of her skin, like a lifeline to her aura that had fissured. She stood separate from him, but felt Reese's thoughts awkwardly behind her, felt his pain at their silent good-bye. Didn't he know that the secret way they touched was the kindest good-bye possible? Then the room filled with faces encased in pure color, with the shriek of noise in her eyes and the cry of panic at blood that didn't mean anything now that it was outside of Rand's body. His former body. The many thoughts shrieked at the freshness of death, at the delicate blood so recently gone bad. The noise became white and hot and the hands were polite as they led Mary down the stairs that she had climbed up and down with Rand but had no memory of ascending that night.
Then she stood in the big darkness of the coastal night. In the air was a beating beast of light, a helicopter. She was shunted into the small hum of a car, travelling, but blind. Questions poked at her.
Mary sees herself sleeping in a wedge of shade in the dry desert heat, by the road where she walked once at night, and even as she aches with the insomnia of impossible sleep she realizes that she must be dreaming, a little piece of herself recognizes that.
Heat shimmers off the hills, the ground wrinkles like the skin of an ancient elephant.
The hill wakes up and turns to her with eyes that burn like angry binary stars.
Hayward is the mountain, his skin is the carpet of the desert. When he stands he yanks her up, pulling the tablecloth of dried skin out from underneath her.
The soft rill of the elephant's skin is her own skin. Her toes splay into the parched ground; there is no boundary; she is an eruption in the surface of this desert.
Mary stands in the terrible heat.
Hayward is a mountain in the sky that she can never climb, and he tells her, without using words, that he is the earth she walks on.
Hayward laughs and dares her to doubt. Mary tosses her head and is herself tossed into the void. Is nothing really nothing? How can he speak without words? How can she listen to that?
The bad light intensifies the ugliness of the shabby green corridor. Reese has been to County General many times, but never to this ward. The patients and the guards are the lowest common denominator. The patients are one step away jail or the street. The cops who guard the wing are the dregs, unfit for street work, usually pulling the string to retirement, or sitting out a review board censure.
Reese is supposed to meet McGee at the hospital at eight A.M.
So he arrives at seven and walks down the long green corridor, through pockets of Lysol, to Mary's room.
A pudgy photographer from the Los Angeles Times, his safari vest laden with Canons, hurries toward the elevator. Mary is news, and news needs a photograph. Reese is grateful that Mary's status as a murder suspect doesn't rate mini-cam coverage.
She is curled up in her bed, a white gowned phantom with sleep-twisted hair. Reese sits down in the only chair. He wants a moment just to look at her.
"Mary," Reese says softly, just to hear her name in the air.
"Mary," he repeats, as an endearment.
"Mary," as he might whisper to her in the morning, with her head tucked against his shoulder.
Mary's eyes shine to life and she smiles at Reese.
He smiles back, pained to see her this way. "Hi, Mary. It's Detective Reese. Remember me?"
"Of course. You're the only one I can talk to. You make me feel...lucid. That must sound stupid."
"No. I'm supposed to meet my partner here at eight. I got here early to talk to you alone. You're a suspect in Rand Foley's murder. You're were at the scene of the crime. But...there are a lot of buts. No weapon was found. And there was another murder with an identical m.o. but the time of death was after you were taken into custody."
Mary is afraid to say Hayward's name, as if it is an incantation that will bring him out of the air. Hospitals are his favorite habitat.
"Do you remember anything more about last night?"
"What else can you tell me about Hayward?"
"If he wants me dead, then I'm dead. If he wants you dead, then you're dead. He's taken a lot of interest in me. I haven't been able to dissuade him. I think he's killing these people to show me something. I feel horrible. Maybe I should die, just to stop him."
Reese lays his hand on top of Mary's. "You can't blame yourself for what somebody else does. I've seen that happen before, and it's always wrong. The best thing you can do is help us catch him."
"He'll kill me."
"I thought you said he'd kill you anyway."
"I guess I did. But if I didn't..."
Mary moves her hand so she can hold Reese's. He gratefully squeezes her fingers.
"You know I tried calling you up, after that time," he tells her, his voice as fragile as new winter ice.
"When you bought me hot chocolate."
"But you were already..."
"In the nut house."
"Yes. Just so you
know that I did try to ask you out."
"Can I take a rain check? Or have you lost interest?"
"No. I mean, yes, you can take a rain check. And no, I haven't lost interest. I got hold of your sister. She was in Hawaii with her husband. They're flying back."
This saddens Mary. "So I ruined their vacation."
"Do you want me to try and get you back into Camarillo?" he asks.
"No!" She squeezes his hand hard. "Hayward can get me there!"
"Okay, don't worry. You're not going anywhere that's not safe."
"Didn't you hear me? No place is safe. But Camarillo's the worst place of all."
"Mary, I've called Camarillo. There's been no patient by the name of Hayward in five years. And the last two Haywards were both women."
"Hayward isn't his real name. I don't think he's a patient there. He comes and goes. Maybe through the fence."
Reese waits for more.
"McGee is here," Mary says, softly, though her back is to the door. Reese looks up, and sees his combative partner looking irritably through the mesh glass window in the door. She must have super-sensitive ears, Reese speculates, as he tries to delicately remove his hand from hers. But she resists.
"Get here early, Reese?" McGee asks.
"A few minutes ago. Traffic was light."
Reese uses his left hand to gain his right hand's freedom, not that he wants to stop touching her.
"I see you brought your bedside manners."
"Whatever works," Reese says, his tone not as blank as he would like.
"Good morning, Miss Delany," McGee offers.
Mary is there for the duration.
"Wait outside, McGee."
McGee frowns and leaves. They are not quite alone anymore, but at least McGee isn't standing inside with them.
Reese studies his shoes. Mary waits with him, breathing softly. Their contact is silent. Waiting in the thin blue light. For the moment, they both have all the time in the world.
Mary helpfully chimes back, "So ask me."
"What else can you tell me?"
"Hayward can do anything. He gets very angry..and... I've got a headache from these shit drugs they feed me. I'm sorry. I don't want you to see me like this. I'd like you to see me on a good day, in a good place. Maybe in the sun. Somewhere smiling."
Reese sees that she is too fatigued to continue. He wants to touch her forehead, or her hand, extend himself in a gesture, but with McGee outside there is no privacy for their intimacy. Or is McGee just the most immediate in a long line of excuses, Reese wonders.
"I'm tired, but I'm afraid to sleep," Mary says.
"Don't be afraid. I'm here. This is a detention ward. There's always a cop on duty."
"I'm afraid to sleep because I'm afraid of my dreams."
Reese looks at Mary. He doesn't know what to say. That he likes her, really likes her, maybe loves her? That he hopes, really hopes, that she didn't murder Rand Foley?
She smiles at him, and he smiles back in relief. Maybe he is finally with a woman he doesn't have to say everything to, or anything. The woman of his dreams. The last face in a long procession.
Mary conks out.
Reese stands up. He watches her sleep, wanting to touch her hair, to brush it back in place. But he just stands very still, until his heels hurt. Reese doesn't know how long he stands there, doesn't want to look at his watch to put brackets on the minutes. Mary sighs in her sleep and Reese finally leaves. To face McGee and the hallway and the world of murders, wherever they lead, outward from Mary's bed.
1:33 AM SATURDAY AUGUST 8
Mary opens her eyes to blackness. The dark edge of the dream she cannot remember. Without a clock in her hospital room she has no map of the night, no clue to how long she must wait for the companionship of noises and nurses, daily doses and hospital breakfasts. The standard-issue nightgown clings unpleasantly to her skin. The bed sheets smell like bleach.
Her head feels clear, as if the fever has broken. She wishes she had a radio. Listening is easier than reading a book. Because words can hurt her eyes when she feels this frail. TV is worse, the ache of blue flickers. Music would be nice.
Someone hums a song in the dark. Not a lullaby.
The blackness devolves to gray.
"Sweet dreams?" Hayward asks, his voice in the air.
Mary is afraid.
If Hayward is inevitable, then what does it hurt to be defiant and true? "Why do you ask?"
"In the interest of conversation."
"Conversation is redundant if you hear everything that I think."
"No. It's interesting to hear what you choose to say."
The hospital room brightens with milky, curdled light. Mary looks around; Hayward's voice comes from the center of the room.
"Why can't I see you?"
"Do you want to see me?"
"No. I mean, I don't want to see you as in "visit with you", but if I've got to talk with you, then yes, I like to see who I'm talking to."
"If I am a who."
Hayward congeals in the milky light, marmoreal, like a battered Pieta. Laughing.
"Even if you hate me, you should thank me for creating your alibi. The police will be releasing you tomorrow. Don't thank your shy detective for that."
"Leave him out of this." For the first time Mary fears for Reese. The light of Hayward is blinding. She wishes she had sunglasses. And the ache of trying to stay a step ahead of Hayward's puzzle makes her brain tighten into a fist. The brighter the light that he punishes her with, the less that she sees, and the more that it hurts.
"It's too late. I'm already jealous. Not of Reese. But of your feelings for him. Perhaps, in time, you will transfer them to me. Police work is dangerous. What if Reese dies? Maybe grief will draw us closer," Hayward tells her by the unusual, for him, method of words in the air.
"Go to hell."
"We're already there. I would appreciate a simple thanks for delivering you safely from the brink of disaster. You never met Sheila Berk, but she's the instrument of your freedom. There is no evidence against you."
"I didn't do anything," she pleads.
"Nothing that you can remember."
Mary sags against the off-white wall, limp with guilt for what she does not remember. She covers her eyes, but through her fingers she sees the x-ray of Hayward. Eyes open, eyes closed: the only difference is the texture. There is no escape, darkness just alters the form in which she sees him. Deep inside, she feels the low rumble of a terrible cry, the craziness of having nothing happen when she closes her eyes. Hayward's invasion is complete.
"You really enjoyed what you don't remember. Rand always thought that you were a good squeeze, isn't that what he used to tell you? Well, look what happened to him," Hayward jokes.
"You made me do it? You!"
"I only lead you into temptation. I only exploit tendencies that already exist. I am a perverter, not a creator."
"No!" Mary shouts.
She presses her fingers into her pupils, an explosion of red light, but the skeleton of Hayward is still there.
Mary closes her eyes. The darkness looks the same underneath her eyelids. Her skin chafes against the starched bed sheets. She hopes for the release of forgotten dreams, a black river to carry her to morning with no memory of this passing night.
IN WITH THE LIEU
Fluorescent light that is unflattering to wrinkles, pores, sallow skin, stubble.
Four exhausted faces: The Lieutenant, Connolly, McGee. And Reese.
Three tongues burned from smoking hot smoke. Reese has the only pair of hands not holding a cigarette. He stares at his right hand, remembers it holding Mary's hand. He imagines the ghost of her fingers inside the empty curve of his palm.
The Lieu unhappily strokes his salt and pepper crew cut, as if he's petting a pit bull. "It's only a matter of time before this Helter Skelter bullshit gets leaked. It's sunny now, but I'm watching a shit storm roll in from the east."
Chief Detective Connolly flips through the 8 X 10 glossies from Rand Foley's bedroom and idly scratches his crotch. "You put the vowels and the consonants together and you get Healter Skelter, not Helter Skelter."
Coming down fast, don't let in break you.
Staring at the lattice of wrinkles and scars that his hand has collected in thirty-six years, Reese can hear the song, on replay, in his inner ear.
"What do you make of it?" the Lieu asks. "Reese? Are you with us today?"
Reese looks up, embarrassed by his lapse of attention. "Helter Skelter was misspelled H-E-A-L-T-E-R Skelter when it was written in blood on the refrigerator door at the LaBianca house. The murderer or murderers are connoisseurs of the Manson crime, that's what it says to me."
Connolly sips his coffee and frowns at the cigarette ashes on his curvaceous stomach. He tries to wipe the ashes off but only succeeds in smearing them into gray smudges. Connolly gives Reese a knowing look and clears his throat.
"You remember the Fletcher double homicide - the agent and his wife?" Connolly asks the Lieu.
"What about it?"
"The killers drew a circle of blood around a framed copy of The White Album. That's the record that the Beatles sing Helter Skelter on."
"Shit," the Lieu sighs.
"Tim Fletcher was Misty Broyles' agent. He discovered her body. Maybe she was supposed to be the new Sharon Tate."
"Why didn't you tell me this before?"
"I didn't think you wanted to hear it."
"You're right. I don't. You'll run the investigations separately, Connolly. No official links. We need to run a check on all known members of the Manson Family who are on the outside. And all loonies obsessed with Manson. But this shit is a news director's dream. Once they get hold of it, it's going to be a circus. What about the Delany girl? Can we make a case against her and put the whole thing to bed?" the Lieu asks.
McGee has read the autopsy reports and eagerly exploits his small quotient of knowledge. "The coroner says that the knife wounds on Rand Foley and Sheila Berk were both from a right-handed person. Mary Delany is left-handed. Both murders are virtually identical. No hard evidence. Not a single Delany fingerprint in the Foley house. Plus, Delany was in our custody when Berk was killed. Potentially she was an accomplice to the Foley killing, but it's going to be tough to hang it on her."
"What does she say?" the Lieu asks Reese.
"She doesn't," Reese says, but feels a catch in his throat, turns it into a cough, then continues in a deeper voice. "She'd been institutionalized in Camarillo until two weeks ago. She had a prior relationship with the deceased, but no history of violence. She told me the killer was someone who hassled her at Camarillo. A man named Hayward. But the hospital has no records of any such patient. The hospital's sending me pictures of all patients and staff today. We'll see if Hayward is an alias."
"Is this Delany on the level with us?"
"She's as tilted as a pyramid," McGee snorts.
Reese wants more than ever to hit his partner in the face. But he squeezes his fist into a tight white ball that he hides in his pocket and carefully measures his voice. "She's been diagnosed as schizophrenic. For what it's worth, I think she's leveling with us. She's the best lead we've got."
"Anything else?" the Lieu asks.
Reese clears his throat. "You remember Ellroy, sir, from South-Central homicide? He works out in Palm Springs now."
"What about him?"
"He came in to talk with me about two weeks ago. He's got a multiple slaying out in the desert. You might have read about it."
"Vaguely," Connolly says. "They don't usually get multiple homicides out in the Springs. But I thought that was drug related. A couple of dealers and their party girls."
Three faces look toward Reese, each with their own case load, not especially interested in crimes out of their jurisdiction. They all suck on smoke and wait for him to continue. His throat sticks, as if the words need to be forcibly expelled. But the words, which he ordinarily does not need to think about, will not flow in orderly sequence. Why is this routine run-down so excruciating? Subject and verb and object, why can't I take them for granted, like always? Is it their smoke or the bad coffee - or my empty hand, holding her ghostly fingers? Am I violating my loyalty to Mary even in speaking about basic, distant facts?
"What is it, Reese?" They are looking at him oddly. It's now or never.
Reese takes a deep breath and takes a running start at telling them. "Ellroy wanted to pick my brain. Because of my work solving the Monkey Man case. He showed me the jacket and the photos. Last Saturday I took a drive out to the desert. The killers wrote Healter Skelter, misspelled with the extra "a", in blood, on the refrigerator. Palm Springs P.D.'ve kept a lid on it. Like you said, they've laid it off as a drug deal gone bad. But the case is unsolved. And it relates. Just so you know."
The Lieu's shoulders sag. His problem has just gotten much bigger. "Now I really have heard it all. Nostalgia for Charlie-fucking-Manson. Suggestions?"
"Charlie Junior," McGee sighs.
The Lieu stares at him blankly.
"Can it, McGee! No fucking nicknames!" the Lieu shouts.
"Let the boys," Connolly waves his cigarette to indicate Reese and McGee, dropping more ashes on his ruined white shirt, "run surveillance on Mary Delany. Question her one more time, then set her free and see what she does. See who she visits. See who visits her. It's slim, but it's our only bird in the hand."
Reese nods, reluctant to use more words unless called upon.
"Sounds like a plan," McGee says weakly.
"Anything else?" the Lieu asks, already reading the other morning reports on his desk, the meeting over except for the triviality of three warm bodies still in his office.
McGee watches Reese a little too closely, suspicious of his attachment to Mary Delany. McGee has been looking for a knife to twist into Reese since he was badly embarrassed on the Cummings' inquiry. Reese knows that, all things considered, he has been gracious about McGee's large shortcomings, but such graciousness doesn't count for much in the nuance-less world view of McGee.
Reese sees feet on the floor and looks up belatedly at Connolly and McGee heading for the door. The Lieu is frowning at Reese. "I said get on with it, son."
"What's with you?" The Lieu asks, his antennae up.
"Just a little tired, sir," Reese says as he stands, inching toward the door.
"Tired is a word, not an excuse."
Reese ducks into the bathroom. He needs a moment alone in a stall before kibbutzing the game plan with Connolly and McGee. Tired is a word, but what are words if you see things and can't name them, if your mouth opens but your tongue doesn't obey the impulse to describe? Why am I thinking about this now? Reese wonders as he sits down on the toilet, his pants still on, confused by the mental block he feels as he sits in a posture of evacuation.
8:44 AM SUNDAY AUGUST 9
Darkness gathers on the edge of angry walls where Hayward might be hiding in the unseen world of dust and molecules.
The walls that live and breathe, buckling and bowing with the same rhythm as Mary's breath, mocking.
This morning Mary is patient enough to watch her cup of Lipton's tea cool, degree by degree.
She feels tired but has no trouble with words, a long string of no's, as McGee shows her photographs, Camarillo faces, trying to match Hayward to a photograph. Each time she says no he flips to the next photograph, each face a landscape of pain, but never Hayward's face.
Reese leans against the wall, arms folded. Watching, listening. Mary hears the doubts behind his eyes: is she Rand's killer? Is there really a Hayward? If she acted, did she act alone?
As Mary cooperates in the futile search, she hears McGee think about Reese, angry thoughts. McGee imagines Mary kissing Reese. He thinks about his own hand on Mary's leg, wondering if she will notice or say no as his hand slides up her leg and inside her, exciting himself by exciting her. But the photographs. Even though his mind wanders, McGee sticks to business. He gets irritated because Mary takes too long looking at each face, absorbed in the universe of eyes and wrinkles, the ghosts on display, the mild sense of aura even here on the glossy black and white surfaces, in the latent silver. Reese has more patience, studying Mary, her reactions, cataloging her beauty in correspondence to his doubts.
Mary recognizes a face. "Wait. That's Danny."
"We're looking for Hayward," McGee says.
"He's part of the gang."
Reese uncrosses his arms and takes the photograph from McGee.
"Danny Spears," he reads from the label pasted on the back. "Is he an accomplice?"
"Yes. He and Michelle and Olivia. They all sneak out through the hole in the fence." Mary feels herself doubting what she says, even as she works at making every word that she speaks to Reese true, because she fears that Hayward has warped all her words, like iron filings skewed by a magnet.
Reese can see that she is trying. That she is pained. It improves his opinion of her, but is irrelevant to the question of guilt, or the more complicated question, in this case, of criminal intent.
Mary finds Michelle and Olivia also living in the stack of photographs. "They scare me."
McGee rolls his eyes and lights a cigarette.
"I'll make sure they're questioned and placed under restraint. If there's a hole in the fence, we'll get it fixed," Reese promises.
After they leave with the photographs, a gray void hangs in the air where Reese stood, and the bed sheet throbs where the photographs were stacked. Mary's tea has cooled to the temperature of her throat; she feels balanced pouring liquid into herself.
The big air outside.
Stepping out from the green corridor light.
Mary walks down the cracked sidewalk with Laura on her right, Albert on her left.
Big gulps of air. The clouds ordinary but glorious. What was miserable is now mysterious.
Mary feels the balance of gravity in her ears, in her feet. Walking again. On the planet, across the parking lot.
Hayward behind her, hidden in the walls, buckling and sighing.
And if he finds her again?
When he finds her again.
But for now Mary enjoys a ringing clarity, like a faint dial tone, a hum through everything.
Living comfortably in my head again.
My name is Mary.
I am Mary because of my name.
In spite of my name.
Laura and Albert don't know what to say to her about what happened to Rand. Would it be awful to tell them it didn't matter, not the blood and the body, because that wasn't Rand, that was what was left behind, and there was no putting Humpty Dumpty together again?
"I really wish you'd reconsider and come home with us. For a few days at least," Laura says and touches Mary's arm. Mary feels the pink silk of Laura's jacket on her arm. The color feels as distinct as her sister's breath. Pink has finally become the smell of her sister. After all these years of obsessing, Laura is now married to pink. And why did she pick pink? What if pink picked her?
"That's sweet of you, sis, but I'm okay. I didn't have a relapse," Mary tells Laura.
"You look pale."
"I'm afraid of getting skin cancer from too much sun."
"That's not what I mean. You look tired. Overly tired."
"Maybe Mary needs a vacation in Hawaii," Albert says in his brightest voice, intending the dig only for his attuned wife.
"If sorry I ruined your trip," Mary says.
"Albert's behavior was absolutely alcoholic. Which wouldn't have been so bad, except for his hugging the toilet bowl."
Mary feels Albert searching for a rejoinder but coming up short.
"I'm sorry about your vacation, and I'm sorry if Rand got murdered at an inconvenient time, but I didn't do it. You didn't have to come back on my account. I wish you hadn't," Mary says as casually as telling them about how good this parking lot feels. She won't say that it pleases her to still be walking the earth, while Rand, who ran miles and thought cellulite a moral failure, walked no more, except maybe with the king up there, if there was a king in the scudding castle of clouds.
"I'm sorry, Mary. I'm hung over. You really should come and stay with us," Albert says, his voice as dry as the Maui beach where he didn't fondle Laura.
Three separate chains.
Chains of thoughts.
Mary can listen, but music is better. Easier.
The silence of the car ride fills with radio music. Bagpipes. Mary's appreciative of the ride home, and she likes the piercing sound of the bagpipes, angular but melodic. She is glad there is a hidden side to Albert, secrets beyond what she has heard him thinking. She would never have guessed that he listened to public radio.
Mary sees a Hassidic family on the sidewalk. Home is somewhere around the corner, though she hasn't been paying attention to the streets rolling past, just enjoying the clouds.
And listening to music isn't enough, Mary thinks. I should comment on it. I won't be with them much longer.
"I love bagpipes. It must be the Irish Delany blood."
Albert and Laura look at each other. Strangely. Or maybe as two warring countries, deciding how to respond to a neutral city-state they both have diplomatic relations with. Mary is thankful to see only the surface, the outside of, their expressions - the guessing game of normal life. It's better not to hear too much.
"It's nice that they're playing bagpipes on Sunday morning."
"Yes," Laura says tersely, her lips pressed tight and pink as she turns away from the vanity mirror in the sun visor and tries to smile back at her sister. "You're not wearing your safety belt," she scolds, her smile retreating.
"No need. We're here," Albert announces as he smartly stops his Lexus outside of the green stucco apartment building.
Mary steps out of the car and stretches, glad to be standing on the brown grass of her adopted front yard. The clouds look more pleasing, dramatic, as a storm front blows in from the east.
Albert and Laura wearily unbuckle but stay seated and talk in low voices sitting in their Lexus. Mary doesn't want, or need, to hear their words.
The bagpipes fill the air, the counterpoint of minor keys resolving into harmony, a shield of music, from radios somewhere. Not to question the source.
Because Mary has made it back home.
On her feet.
Albert slowly accelerates away from the curb.
Laura looks for the reflection of Mary in her rear view mirror, but the mirror tilts at the wrong angle, and so she twists her head around and looks back at the receding figure of Mary, her big sister's face upturned and smiling at the cloudy sky.
Laura turns back around and feels the moisture on her cheek before she realizes she is crying.
Albert touches her left hand, lying palm up and fragile against her pale pink slacks.
"I don't think anything is going to bring her back," Laura says.
"If she can take care of herself and hold down a job, that's more than a lot of people, supposedly normal people, are capable of."
"You know she's crazy," Laura tells him, in a way that Albert knows is a question he must answer, and correctly.
"So? We know lots of crazy people. In fact, if you think about it, most of the people we know are crazy. Like the Carlyles. The Devries. And what about Meg and Dave?"
The image of her wayward sister's face turned up to the heavens saddens Laura and her tears continue their roll.
The car ride is a soft whisper, the pistons' explosions a distant hum hidden under the hood.
The tires sing softly through the closed windows.
Albert doesn't recognize the block they drive down.
Laura feels the pleasing warmth of the sun through the gray tinted windows, and the silence of the car ride lets her hear the music, the soft jangles of some unseen woodwinds. Is it a parade on the next street? She doesn't know this neighborhood, but maybe it's Scottish. Because aren't those bagpipes she hears?
"Do you hear that, honey?" she asks.
Albert cocks his head and listens: the mechanics of the drive train sound perfect. "What Laura? Is it something with the car?"
"No, the music."
And now, the music comes to him, slower than to Laura, but there all the same.
"Bagpipes?" he wonders out loud, which after being married so long is like wondering to himself and having the private thought answered. That's what it can be like in the good moments together, when all their cylinders are firing.
"Bagpipes, yes," Laura smiles, "Just like Mary said. She's not crazy, if anything, her hearing is better than ours. Is it a concert? Or a parade?"
Albert's shrug says: who knows, who cares. And why on this street, he wonders, with these old buildings that he's never seen before. Vaguely, he thinks, they should be on the freeway by now, unless he made a wrong turn, but where?
Laura presses a button and her window whirs open.
But the music doesn't change. It doesn't get louder, nor is it diminished by the wind hissing though the open passenger window.
"I don't understand," Laura says, even as Albert thinks the same thing.
"Could it be the radio?" he asks, as they both look and see the dark LEDs of the dormant car stereo.
Albert takes his eyes off the road, and in that terse second catches the mirror of his own fear in his wife's eyes.
"Your sister was talking about...." He doesn't want to say it, afraid that the word might make the thing real. More real than the bagpipes that come from nowhere. "...a virus."
"She never talked to me about a virus," Laura replies in a brittle voice. "Do you still hear that music?" she whispers.
"Yes. She talked to me about that once. In passing, while she was making tea. She thought her schizophrenia might be a virus, like the flu. Infectious. That's right, she wanted to know if we had any Camomile tea, one night after you'd gone to sleep. She wondered if it was...."
"Contagious." Laura finishes his thought. No, that was too crazy of an idea to entertain, not that she can think much about anything, not with this ugly music filling her head. "Are we infected?"
"With what, Laura?"
"With whatever. Like Mary."
"No. I mean, I hope not." Albert searches for street signs, and not seeing any, suspects vandals.
Laura, unaware of her husband's confusion, feels her own private uneasiness at the foreign streets. She looks toward the hills, for a familiar landmark, but sees only strange buildings, dwarfed by huge clouds pushed across the darkening sky by the desert wind.
"What street is this?" she asks.
"I don't know," he answers, "I was hoping you could tell me. Which way is home?"
"You must have made a wrong turn somewhere."
"I don't remember making any turn. Do you?"
"No," she says, her voice shrinking, getting lost under the loud monotony of the music that will not let them be.
9:56 AM MONDAY AUGUST 10
Reese sits in a motor pool Mustang, parked on Curson. The sun starts to crawl over the trunk. He sips coffee from his thermos top, watching Mary's door. Either the photographer assigned to Mary is late or the editors of the Los Angeles Times' "Metro Section" don't need any more photographs of Mary.
Shards of memory, like slivers of mirror in a broken thermos, fill the dead minutes waiting for Mary's face. But isn't he haunted by every woman that he had wanted to kiss and hadn't? Doesn't he see each one now as a door that he might have entered, and through that door there was a house and two kids, a home to return to, the confusion and joy of a shared life.
Free will and destiny.
Sunlight and the street.
Coffee and waiting.
It's too late to stop being who I am. She is not crazy for saying what she thinks. What if I said what I think?
The surveillance job.
And the ache of who she is apart from him.
Reese is the shadow, equipped with handcuffs.
He tails Mary's Mazda up Santa Monica Boulevard. An easy slog through traffic, Reese stays two cars back, towed in Mary's wake, turns left on Avenue of the Stars, and tails her down into the shopping mall parking garage.
Reese takes off his sunglasses; his eyes adjust to the dark underground. He parks in a red zone an aisle over from the green Mazda, and follows Mary up the escalator, her back a tantalizing mobile of emerald fabric.
"Good morning, Reese." She is waiting for him at the top.
He is surprised, embarrassed, thrilled. "You saw me following you?"
Mary smiles, an ambiguous answer.
Each time she looks brighter to him: bedroom with blood, hospital, here. Healthier, drawn further into the light. Her fair skin always seems to reflect her immediate world.
"Can I buy you a cup of Joe?" Mary asks. "I mean, can I do that, while you're on the job?"
"You are my job - following you."
"Secretly, more or less. But you already know me in an official capacity, so it's not strictly undercover. Sure, let's have coffee. Remember when we..." He leaves the sentence dangling and Mary smiles a silent yes. Reese feels a rush of romantic paranoia, that she came here just for him, that she shares his nostalgia for their seminal moment of lunchtime flirting.
Their steps are slow and mutual, trying to find a sympathetic pace. They want to be right for each other, they both want to seem natural in this unnatural situation.
The open-air mall is like a dream they re-enter, returning to the first landscape they shared together. Their implicit relationship is unsanctioned now, forbidden.
"This is the fourth time we've been together," Mary says. Reese is elated that she is as careful a historian as he is. He reviews their history at night, on the boundary of sleep, when he imagines Mary living with him. And why is she smiling now? He feels embarrassed, but if she smiles at the thought of being with me...if she shares my feelings, if the inside of me is something that she likes, then my shyness is conquered. There might be - is - a life where words are not the only bond.
"Rand told me he always made love to a woman on the third date. That was one of his maxims. I don't know why I mention him. You're not interested in him."
"Professionally I am. In solving his murder."
"Yes. I'm sorry I brought it up. I feel a little bold this morning. Picking you up."
"Just for coffee."
"Or hot chocolate."
"That doesn't sound too illicit."
"Not for a second date." Mary smiles and stops.
They stand in a cul-de-sac of unrented storefronts. Reese sees pedestrians in the distance, but here they are alone.
The world beyond the glow of Mary's face becomes a blur.
He feels prickly and weak from this lapse from professional behavior; his eyes ordinarily take everything in. But his eyes are not ordinarily blinded by a face. Her face.
"Maybe you don't believe that I can hear things. But it's important to me to try and explain it to you. It's like intuition. But noisier. With words. It's neither here nor there as far as liking you goes. And anyway, if I really like you, shouldn't I like what you are inside? I'm not trying to pry. If I listen, I don't do it willingly. You've got to believe that."
"I like you Mary. But I can't believe in telepathy as an act of faith."
"Think of the powers you do have. The grounding. Think how much you see that I don't. All the dangers that you are alive to. Think of it as balance. We each have things that the other doesn't. And we're attracted to each other. Forgive me the presumption of saying that."
Mary stands close and still and her eyes never leave his. If ever there was moment to kiss a woman, this is it.
Reese, his adrenaline pumping as if in dire life-and-death pursuit, takes a long slow step forward and meets her lips, surprised by how warm they are. Surprised that, like him, she does not close her eyes. And as they look at each other there is an intimacy more profound than the eyelid darkness one shares with a lover. Does a first kiss make them lovers? Of course.
Mary's hands rest on his shoulder blades. Reese feels the warmth of her palms pressing in. His shoulder blades will never feel the same, he thinks, trying to memorize her touch.
Mary's arms are no longer around him. Reese feels awkward holding her. He lets go. They stand so very close. Their words feel as intimate as kisses, in the gray shadows of display windows empty of merchandise.
"I was selfish, coming out to see you like this."
"If Hayward saw us, I don't know what he'd do. No, I do. He'd kill you. He'd kill me."
"We'll protect you. I'll protect you."
"You can't protect me. There is no true protection, not from a psychopath. Not from Hayward."
"We're going to catch him."
"I don't think he can be caught."
"Anyone can be caught."
"I can't tell you how different he is."
Reese puts his hands on her arms. Her body heat excites him. He wants to press hard into her lips, to fall inside of her. But he stands perfectly still, thrilled she lets him hold her. Reese feels the subtle pressure of her desire as she warns him away.
"I've been unfair to you. I should have waited, but I was weak. Maybe because I was afraid I would have to wait forever, and then you'd be gone," she whispers.
Mary touches his lips with her finger. Reese tries to kiss her finger, but she steps away.
He sees her tears now, but she turns and hurries ahead of him.
Reese tries to catch up, but it's clear that Mary doesn't want him to. He wants to think nobly but he can't. Up ahead Mary's footsteps look unbalanced. Her shoulders tilt to one side, with tears. A hand rises up to her unseen face and wipes them away.
Reese follows her, past the cappuccino cart of their first date. Please, he hopes, let my good thoughts reach her, and send her back to me.
He stands alone in the ache of the sun and watches her descend the escalator. She never looks back. Reese follows, reduced to surveillance, a voyeur to his own romantic isolation, the mechanical stairs carrying him back down into darkness.
Reese's eyes sting, his lids so tight it hurts to blink. Dizziness trails behind him like a vapor.
He runs a red light, the body of his car like the boundary of a dream that he neglects.
Part of himself is back at the bathroom mirror, still worried about color-coordinating his jacket, tie, and pants. In dressing he tried to find a balance between looking his best and not arousing McGee's suspicions.
Part of himself is about to kiss Mary.
Part of himself remembers the kiss. The afterwards.
He wants to see her.
He dreads seeing her.
If love ever happens. The conversations, and courtship, and confidence of someone reliably answering the telephone and remembering who he is, or even more spectacularly, waiting for him to call, placing him in the pattern of her life.
The boundary of forever is the edge of his days; death is the commodity of his job. If it wasn't a job, he wouldn't be driving to it.
The night street is not the usual map of familiar signs and signals but a dark tunnel that leads him to McGee's car, the shape of McGee slumped inside. Across the lawn of brown grass is Mary's apartment, somewhere behind the crumbling green stucco facade, a room that he can only imagine.
Part of himself is the future tense of imagination, in from the darkness of where he has arrived to work his shift.
How appropriate that her street is named Curson.
Curse on Mary.
Curse on Reese.
The changing of the guard.
McGee doesn't have anything important to report. Subject walked to the corner market, purchased a lemonade. Subject stared into a storefront window, appeared to be talking to herself. Subject has been inside since 9:09, her movements observed against the curtain.
"I know you've got the hots for her," McGee insinuates.
"You don't know shit," Reese replies.
"I heard you talking to her, you know. In her dead boyfriend's bedroom."
"Ex is right. The big X."
"You're full of shit, McGee."
"I've been thinking, maybe we should call her Mary One and Mary Two. You know, draw a distinction between who we are talking about."
"What are you saying?"
"She's schizo, so I'll give her two names. Maybe three. A different name for each of the different Mary's. The Lieu likes that kind of intellectual shit."
Reese is too steamed for immediate rejoinder. He hopes that silence will be McGee's cue to go home. Or wherever he goes at midnight.
"Maybe she's crazy and fucked-up homicidal, but look on the bright side. You're getting a minimum of two girl friends, with no disloyalty. You can be faithful and unfaithful, simultaneously. That's not bad. But the way her ex got cut, it's not exactly what I would call safe sex."
Reese frowns and doesn't tell McGee good night. Behind him he hears the angry grind of gears and the squeal of tires. When Reese looks up, McGee is gone, red tail lights dwindling to pinpoints and turning off of Curson.
Watching her shadow on the curtains, Reese imagines himself sitting in her armchair, reading a novel. He imagines everything but their conversation. The negative space of his imaginings drain his awareness of the street.
Spacing-out on stake-out. Until:
Green silk fills his window, and descending, Mary's face looms large against the background of orange streetlight.
Reese feels sixteen and frozen. But he meets her gaze, and does not lower his eyes. That is the measure of where he has traveled in the solitude of his nights.
Mary doesn't wait to be invited into his car.
He does not need to explain the danger of indiscretion.
She does not have to ask where they are going.
There is no choice to be made. They must go to the loneliest room he knows, and by having her in the place of his accumulated imaginings, he can cast the bright green of her blouse upon the gloom of the gone years between his cowardice with Maureen and this bravery he feels in their silent drive across the night city.
He knows if he explains his mood then he will break it.
She feels the same way.
She sits inside of a migraine tunnel, her eyes blurred into blindness by the exertion of her walk down from the sparkling apartment roof that she lives underneath, into his car. Her pain is a smear of colors, the bright worm of the migraine at its center, but the dull ache pleasurable with his ecstatic thoughts that she has come to him and will journey trustingly to their unspoken destination.
Or maybe they do speak. If so her mouth is not her own. Certainly she remembers no words to give shape to the memory. Small talk is unnecessary.
Every song speaks to them. They are connected by the notes throbbing in the car, the volume so loud that the dashboard rattles with it.
The Beach Boys.
The perfect way to travel to the beach. Because the music is the journey. And there is longing for the love they have not yet consummated, except for the dangerous touch of her hand to his shoulder. Wasn't that how the angels lost their wings? Wasn't that the hand she felt, dimly, through the gauzy layers of memory, through the trauma of her virus, the music in the elevator, the first day of this strange new world?
And wouldn't it be nice to live together in the kind of world where we belong?
Wouldn't it be nice?
You know it seems the more we talk about it,
It only makes it worse to live without it,
But let's talk about it.
Wouldn't it be nice?
12:20 AM TUESDAY AUGUST 11
VIOLATING THE CODE
Reese does not feel the boundary of the song ending.
They are walking from his car, past the swimming pool. This is something he discovers between blinks. The Bali Hai is charged, redeemed, transcended. It is different because Mary walks beside him.
She waits while he fumbles with the key he has used a thousand times.
She stands beside him in the gray darkness. When will she say no?
"I couldn't stand it if you thought I was crazy. That's what Rand thought. I mean, I actually was, to the extent that I couldn't remember what we did. He used me like that. I found out later that he videotaped me. Doing things. But so far I remember every moment with you."
"I'm on duty now, you know."
"I know. You're protecting me."
"I'm also watching you. Hoping that Hayward, or whoever he is, or whomever they are, will come to you."
"Well, you can watch and protect me here."
They stand close. They ache to touch, to end the torture of those last few untraveled inches. He still cannot believe that she will let him. She has never been privy to such reticence in the face of clear availability. She has never had to make the first move. Which he has always had trouble with. The specific misery is so soluble.
But she will not invite him that last step. Not by reaching. Instead, with her smile. And her thoughts.
He feels the burden to step toward her. They have just driven eleven miles, walked a hundred feet, up a flight of stairs, through his front door. Not to close the distance now, to drive her home in the silence of his own accusations, that would be the final failure. Professionalism was not the issue here in this room, not between them. It was his courage. And still, as always, there was no moment that seemed perfect for him to heroically initiate intimacy. And what of her words about Rand? What kind of warning was that? A veiled confession? Causing doubts that even now were loud in her strange mind? Oh, Mary, forgive me my thoughts, but they are my thoughts.
A countdown is the only solution. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, when I get to zero I must move to encircle her or lose the moment forever five, four, three, two, one.
He moves - the catalyst - but she leaps in response to his brazen micro-gesture.
They are together.
His eyes ache.
The darkness is healing.
He has always seemed kind and complicated and deeply grateful that she even remembers him from one day to the next. He is so specific about the world, in his acute memory of surfaces and textures.
If only I had met him before Hayward.
But I did meet him before Hayward, didn't I?
Unless it was Hayward in the elevator. But why me? What made Hayward seek me out?
And what if Hayward brought Reese and me back together by killing Rand, evoking my love only to snatch it away? Because Reese is my true love, Mary thinks, the love who does not have to speak and yet is not simple-minded.
If only I had met her before all this. Say, two months earlier. Two empty months. Then maybe the history of our two lives would have a different manifest destiny, Reese thinks. But it's not too late now, we're both alive and breathing.
His silent worries counterpart hers, sine waves that combine and cancel each other out.
Finally, there is the rhythm of her body against his, the long reach of their skin, the motions urgent but unnecessary, the boundary unclear between them. Because he feels every one of her doubts. He wants these minutes to stretch forever in the darkness of this bed he has never before shared.
And in the transport of consciousness down into genitals poised to explode, they both become aware that they are lost in each other, and this awareness of being lost distracts them both, makes them aware of the small room, the close air, the shabby textures that hide in the thick gray light, the powerful separation of their two forms, male and female, forever alien. The moment is lost, lost on them both, but lost in a perfect simultaneity, and instead of scattering they turn back into their ferocious need for each other, and the blackness implodes into starbursts of feeling.
They both know that the sex is an anti-climax to their greater need. Their sense of love is greater than the sex that they secretly knew would not save them.
"I'm sorry it wasn't better," he says.
"How can you say that?" she whispers back, her breath soft and warm in his ear.
"I'm not much of a lover."
"No, that's not true. You're the only person who ever really loved me."
He does not argue.
He holds on to her for dear life and drops into a deep, dreamless sleep, anchored by her warmth.
She wonders if she will ever sleep again.
Because sleep has become a maze of dreams, vivid and detailed. Dreams that hold no prophecy or meaning. Dreams that are like a movie she cannot walk out on.
She senses Hayward waiting in the wings, though she feels cloudy and cannot say for sure who or what Hayward is.
Mary carefully detaches herself from Reese and stands up. Her body aches from the hours that he has been hugging her.
He lies on top of the tangle of her clothes. She feels his dreams shift to something dark and unfriendly now that his arms encircle the empty gray sheets, still warm with her body heat. She has never seen someone else's dreams, never heard them as thoughts, and she is afraid to listen.
She walks into the other room. The orange streetlight comes in shafts through the blinds. The apartment looks clean but sad. Everything is too tidy, in a way that feels lonely and lifeless.
She is drawn to the desk, as small as a child's, to a file that glows with the need for her to open it. She does not feel like she is prying. She has no choice in the matter.
Inside the folder there are pictures she has seen. These black and white photographs align with the color images that Mary dimly recollects.
The house in the desert.
Healter Skelter on the refrigerator door.
Cindy crushed in the shower.
The bodies that she hoped were a dream.
The details are horrific and specific.
She puts down the folder, and it sits glowing on the desk in the faint orange light.
She knows that she has been there, in that desert house. She is less sure about what she has done. She no longer trusts her memories. Hayward is able to intervene, re-arrange things. He took her there, after all. She never would have gone on her own. He not only hears her thoughts, he can re-shape her memories like sculpture, distort the shape of time gone by.
She walks back into the bedroom. She wants to tell this to him. Tell him that she has looked in the file. That she has seen.
A flicker of movement startles Mary.
Herself. Reflected in the mirror above his dresser.
Surprised that she is naked, because she had no sense of lacking clothes when she explored the other room and sat in the desk chair, worn to the shape of his body, to read the file that screamed of a night that had slumbered inside of her as a forgotten dream.
Alone on his couch, staring at the flickering void of his TV, Reese thinks about the ways in and out of his apartment. There are his windows, shuttered against the night. The door. His telephone, where rings and voices come and go, making their sonic dent. The television, that dynamo of colored and white noise, tonight's marginal relief from silence. And there is death, the way out of this or any room.
A Santa Ana wind starts to blow; through the blinds he sees clouds scudding in from the desert and out to sea.
Except for a curt hello to the cashier at Lucky, no words have escaped his throat since going off duty, other than a mild fuck when he bruised a finger popping the cap off the Anchor Steam.
He wants to re-read the case file. But the dull ache that pulls in from his eyes forbids that kind of concentration. At stake is the survival of his love, but he cannot function. He drinks an Anchor Steam as a prelude to work, something to try and loosen the ache of tight skin around his eyes.
Instead, he watches a 976 commercial, staring through the sleazy video flesh, two blondes with stiff hair and caked make-up. There is death in their faces - death in the red sea - death everywhere.
Reese is desperate to step outside of his body. Until this morning his romantic life had been exhausted fantasies that he stroked himself to sleep with. Nine years of mild, accumulated, preparatory grief.
He walks into the bedroom. His skin hurts from the weight of his clothes. He peels them off and climbs naked on to the sheets, still tangled where he and Mary had left them this morning. Lying down, he feels like he is destroying the landscape of their love, tampering with the archeology of what he and she had been this morning, damaging the memory by contaminating the physical evidence.
He worries about his recent tangled inability of his to think in evidentiary, circumstantial terms. The case is slipping away from something that he can solve. He is biased toward Mary's innocence as a matter of his own emotional survival. The world is upside down, like the way an image reverses in a camera lens, or the human eye, for that matter. Eyes are imperfect, he thinks, but they are the only way we can see the world.
And he worries that Mary already regrets last night. That she was crazy to come home with him. Crazy, no. That is the most unfair word to use for her. He feels guilty of violating Mary by even thinking that word. He is desperate for pure thoughts about Mary; he wants to discipline his mind into a pattern of perfect love. His tribute to her in his loneliness is to pretend that she is with him now, that they are united in their mutual isolation. But still it gnaws at him that last night would pass into a vague realm of a hundred or a thousand other similar nights in her life, that to be in a man's arms, even a caring man's arms, was something she took for granted.
But self-pity annoys Reese. Self-pity is a cousin to masturbation. Unworthy of Mary.
He pulls the sheets up over his head, and hugs a pillow, a poor substitute, but better than the bulk of stale air trapped with him under the sheets. The cool cloth, crisp and refreshing to the ache of his eyelids, quickly warms and becomes claustrophobic. He presses his nose to the sheets and smells a trace of some unnamed shampoo. A lingering chemical from Mary's life.
He thinks about desperate action.
Proof of love.
Proof of her innocence.
And if she is guilty, what then?
He lies in bed, naked and queasy, dizzy with plans. The day is reflected to him in the shifting colors on the blinds as the sun arcs across the sky. He can find no motive to move, other than to bring the case files into bed. His only hope is in sorting out the facts, but nothing overlooked leaps out at him. His emotions swim in what he hopes are twins of Mary's feelings.
Pink light on the blinds transposes the unseen sunset outside.
For Mary to be across the city, in a specific place that he knows, and to be inaccessible to him, is intolerable.
Reese aches when he finally stands, his muscles as tight as an invalid's. But he has no patience for stretching. His clothes are an ordeal - sorting them out, putting them on, feeling the unpleasant fabric against his skin.
Outside, the streetlights pop to life, obscuring the night with their sickly orange light.
With no lamps to turn off because none were turned on, Reese steps out into the Bali Hai's concrete courtyard.
The night shift, that will be the final test.
LET IT BLEED
When Reese steps out of his car he feels the hot Santa Ana wind against his skin like a million pin pricks. He approaches Mary's apartment building on foot, to reconnoiter unseen by McGee. He feels dizzy, his inner ear imbalanced from lying in bed all day, lazily reading through the case file.
Walking down Curson, he hears palm fronds swaying and scraping in the dry wind. He sees a light in Mary's apartment window and the hears the thump of loud rock music inside. The smell of night-blooming jasmine suffuses the image of her window.
Reese stops. He could stand here all night, to try in decide in the cloying darkness how love is different from desire. But he stands in the purview of McGee's rearview mirror, a dangerous place to be. Reese slips into the gray, unmarked police car, surprising McGee.
"I didn't hear your car."
"I parked up the street." Reese slumps against the car door and rubs his eyelids with his fingers, massaging his exhaustion.
McGee looks grouchy. "You fucked her didn't you?"
Reese's jaw muscle tightens, betraying the guilt and anger he needs to conceal. He rubs his cheek, coaxing the muscle to relax. "McGee, I think you spend too much time beating your bishop."
"You did fuck here," McGee concludes. He lights a cigarette. "Mary's rocking out with her new boyfriends."
Reese looks past McGee, toward Mary's apartment window, imagining her inside. The music distorts into sound without words. "What boyfriends?"
Hayward sits in the only chair that Mary owns. He studies the funky birthday cake on the album cover of LET IT BLEED. With him is a pockmarked boy, wearing a starched white shirt, who sits where he is told, on the edge of Mary's green striped bedspread.
Hayward looks small again. And specific. His feet barely touch the floor. The wrinkles that blanket his face give an ominous sense of a big creature who has shrunk down to an indigestible, gristly essence. Mary can't tell if his dark gray are clean or dirty. She expects Hayward to smell bad, but she cannot smell a thing, and this absence of expected sensation adds to the aura of fear. The wrinkles and the darkness of his body, everything about Hayward points Mary toward and into his eyes.
Hayward gives no indication of hearing Mary's thoughts. He ignores her, except a glower to forbid her any movement. Which is why Mary stands so still in the center of the room, listening to the old music.
I was bitten by a boar,
I was gouged and I was gorged,
I hope we're not too messianic,
Or a trifle too satanic.
She tries to tell herself reassuring things. She wants to hear her own words to escape this terrible silence that Hayward inflicts.
And what about speaking out loud? If she could shout to Reese or McGee or whoever is watching her then they could save her, they could capture Hayward.
Who just smiles.
Go ahead and speak, Mary.
"Help," she tries to whisper.
Hayward smiles at the silence from her lips.
"Help," she tries again. The word will not travel out of her mouth.
The boy looks toward Hayward, waiting.
She doesn't know if the boy with the bad skin and the stiff white shirt is going to fuck her. Or if Hayward is going to make her kill him. It could go either way. On balance, the fucking would be easier to take. No one would die.
I am just a monkey man,
I'm glad you are a monkey woman too.
McGee takes a drag and exhales a lung full of smoke, a nimbus of nonchalance. "She went up there with two men. At 11:19. Two male Caucasians. One was maybe eighteen, five feet ten, the other looked thirtyish and short, say, five-two."
Reese's squeezes his fist into the car seat, coiling and releasing a fragment of his tension out of McGee's sight.
"I think she's pulling the train," McGee leers. "She looked friendly, very loosey-goosey, taking those dudes up to her crib. It must be very cozy up there. Maybe she's a moaner. That's why she's playing the music. It's fuck music."
Reese wants to leap out of the car, up the stairs, the short steps back to Mary. But Reese still needs a reason to contact the suspect, something more than the muffled music in the hot night air.
McGee smiles sarcastically, pleased by the new pain he sees in Reese's face. "Enjoy your shift."
Time to saddle up.
That gray cloud around Hayward - is that his aura?
Well, there's hope for you yet.
The gray scares her like no other color, like a cloud emanating from inside Hayward, stretching out beyond what she can see.
Get some knives. Time to carve some meat.
Soon the colors will bleed and another body will be left behind. More red writing on the wall. Her wall this time. There will be questions and blood and she will be blamed.
That's right, Mary.
Mary walks into the tiny kitchenette. Feels oddly free. Balanced, a knife in each hand.
The boy looks at Hayward with adolescent longing, as if an unrequited lover, afraid that he will finally get what he wants and then not know what to do with it.
Hayward takes one of Mary's knives. His left hand arcs in a painterly stroke. With the blood comes the usual flood of colors. Tempting Mary, her memory of the taste. But:
You disappoint me - all the free meals. You know there's no free lunch. Tonight you pay.
Another slash. An X of blood. The boy smiles strangely, but does nothing to protect himself. An artery is struck. Blood geysers. A new galaxy of red glows in the star field of Mary's sparkling ceiling.
I am just a monkey man,
I'm glad you are a monkey woman too.
The young man's colors leak like gas, a rainbow of death, the irresistibly erotic horror at the moment the soul gets set free.
Mary wants to put the genie back in the bottle, the blood back in the body, she wants to coax the aura back down from the hole in the sky, to spin the record backwards and hear some hidden healing words, to reverse the last few minutes of this room's chronology and to put this evening back to what it was before Hayward invaded her once again.
Blood on the ceiling, his color fleeing.
Like an airplane descending, her ears clog with pressure, and then release.
Hayward delicately carves his willing victim and writes two freehand blood words on her wall. Healter Skelter, once again.
Mary looks down at the knife she still holds. Now she feels Reese outside. But he is also inside - her memory of them - together -
Pure shit! Fuck Reese!
Mary jumps at his words - weightless inside the pain - a new Mary, the next Mary - she stabs Hayward, a glancing blow off his left arm, but drawing blood, or its dark surrogate. Because here in this room the names of colors are no longer obvious. Hayward's gray aura leaks, spreads like a stain, getting bigger, displacing the air. He laughs.
That's the spirit. But the wrong target. Slash something you can hurt.
She stabs Hayward again, at what seems to stand here in the gray flesh.
Oh, you're a pip. Last chance. Kill the boy.
Mary feels white pain - maybe from Hayward's knife - but worse - everywhere - burning -
Mary fights to push a name out of her throat and into the air, she struggles to pronounce what might be the last real word that leaves her lips:
12:11 AM WEDNESDAY AUGUST 12
RED ON GREEN
Her voice fills him: a plea, a regret, love, and fear. All in the single syllable of his name.
Reese hops out of the car, calls for back-up on his walkie-talkie, takes the rusty metal steps three at a time.
The door hangs wide open, fresh blood splattered on the sparkling cottage cheese ceiling. Blood soaks the avocado carpet dark, like rotting fruit. Breathless, he looks around the bachelor apartment; it instantly registers as tidy, shabby, eternally sad. Different from what he had imagined. But what had he imagined? A different kind of disaster? A safer pattern to the blood?
Mary feels pain outside in the night. In the ache of jagged, unspoken syllables. In the darkness of dead purple flowers. She cannot speak between gasps of air.
Reese follows the red trail of blood down the backstairs, through the alley, into a neighboring backyard.
He sees a body on the ground, a boy, under a molting Jacaranda tree, the glint of blood pumping from a severed artery, his white Oxford cloth shirt soaked crimson, floating in a sea of fallen purple petals.
From reflex, Reese finds his .38 in his hand.
Mary stands nearby, bloodstains on her emerald cotton sweater, red on green. He sees a bloody knife in her hand. His worst fear.
"Are you okay?" he asks.
Mary nods yes.
"Put down the knife, Mary."
She nods no and looks to her left.
Reese turns and sees another man, who stands hidden in the night shadows of the Jacaranda tree. A glint of dark eyes.
"Is that him?" he asks her, his gun pointed at the stranger, but mindful of Mary's knife. With a quick glance he sees her face distorted in pain. Reese feels underwater, choking. Death from the bends waits for him at the surface of this terrible moment, as he collapses upwards, helpless, even with the gun held on an unarmed man and a woman. The only woman. Mary. With a bloody knife.
That's right, you've finally got her dead to rights.
Reese hears the voice in his head. A voice that sounds like his conscience.
"He's playing his games again," Mary barely manages to whisper.
Reese sees that the man's gray shirt is bloodstained.
No games here. Just a dead man, a crazy lady, and a homeless man.
The conscience speaks to Reese, and he feels the horrible ache of not being able to separate his own thoughts. And what are his own thoughts? Whatever is in his head, whatever he hears himself say, to himself, isn't that his, isn't that him?
Reese stands alone in the night. By his own authority. But he radioed for help, back there, somewhere, didn't he? The bobbing gun barrel betrays his shaking hand.
The man in the shadows seems to disappear as Reese watches. Becomes less solid. Or is he stepping closer? Reese wants to say freeze, but the word won't follow his command to leave his lips. Finally:
"Both of you - don't move! Get your hands behind your head!"
Reese wants to call the man by a name that he knows, a name that Mary once told him, the name that right now, somehow, he has forgotten.
"Kill him. If he can be killed." Mary's voice or her thoughts, somehow her words reach Reese, he can't testify how.
Take a moment to think about the consequences, Reese.
No, it can't be his conscience. Reese knows he would never call himself Reese. He suspects that the silent man in the shadows is capable of an impossible ventriloquism. The man in the shadows who somehow keeps his name hidden.
Reese glances over and sees Mary convulse in pain. The nameless man glides closer to him, with invisible footsteps, exploiting the moment of distraction.
"You, don't move! Mary, put down the knife!"
Mary feels pain that burns green into white, a screeching hurt that travels out from her eyes to coat every inch of her skin. She cannot see Reese in the blindness of this hurtful white, but she tries to remember him as someone she loves in softer, sweeter colors.
Reese's ears ring with painful, burning white noise.
Except for a thundering voice that intrudes like his inner self thinking: Save yourself, Reese, save everyone, save the world from Mary. She's the killer and she's conned you.
Mary hears Hayward's lie. But his words fade into the white pain. She tries to hang on to a thought of Reese.
Reese looks at Mary, still worried about her knife, which is pointed at the man. He hears her say, without speaking: You are my only way of hanging on.
Those words. Inside of his head. That Mary spoke to him...without lips or voice.
The man stands nearer to him.
"I said don't move! Or I'll shoot!"
Reese is crazy with the voices, hers and his, Mary's and the man's, fighting in the white noise, raging back and forth. He moves his finger off the trigger, afraid that his muscle will spasm and fire an accidental shot.
Of course. The man's name is Hayward. "You're Hayward?" Reese asks.
Among other things. Malcolm sends his greetings.
Uncle Malcolm. The Monkey Man.
So...Hayward is related to Malcolm Hastings. "Malcolm's dead," Reese says, his feelings pulled by the silent voice that probes him, that violates his past.
Hayward shrugs. A minor detail. Even though a body grows corrupt, the spirit lives on. I expected you to have special powers, Reese. But you don't.
I never claimed to have special powers, Reese thinks, but I've got a gun.
Another minor detail.
"Fuck you," Reese says, grateful to hear his own voice, but disturbed by how distorted it sounds in the thick summer air.
Conventional notions of cannibalism are, well, so terribly conventional. I don't blame you for killing Uncle Malcolm.
I'm not arguing with this madman, Reese thinks, I'm not getting sucked in. I didn't kill his uncle.
No, but you caught him. Same difference. I guess what it all comes down to is meat. And nothing tastes quite like a good soul. You'll make a tasty meal, now that Mary's fattened your aura for me.
Reese understands part of what Hayward says, but in a way that he can't explain. No, Mary didn't betray him. Not his - their - love.
Of course she did, Reese. And she's killed again. That's why we're out here.
Reese worries about Mary. Her silence. But it's too risky looking at her again. He doesn't fear her knife hurting him. Not now.
Hayward suddenly seems too close; Reese is blinded by the bulbous tears that well up in his exhausted eyes. He thinks he sees a blurry glint of the knife in the hand that is too close to be standing so far away.
Blame the bitch!
Reese fires, a silent gun blast, the recoil percussing in the night air. Hayward smiles in the elastic moment that sends him flying backwards from the bullet's impact, backwards through the air and crashing to the ground, where he lies in the red-stained purple petals next to the lifeless boy.
Mary sees Hayward's gray aura shatter - smoky splinters - the shards glitter - gone -
The voice retreats like a wave that has crashed on the beach, leaving dirty foam behind in the sand.
And the voice of conscience that is unmistakably his own slowly returns, fades in, as the gunshot echoes in inner replay, the death that he caused.
A killing in the line of duty. Unnecessary, perhaps.
Premised on the blindness of love. Perhaps.
Like a zombie Reese walks toward his fallen suspect. And is relieved to see a kitchen knife in Hayward's hand, its serrations contaminated with blood that he hopes will match up with the boy's blood type.
Reese pinions Hayward's small wrist with his shoe and bends down to check for a pulse on his neck, repulsed by the wrinkled texture of the alabaster skin. Dead. He checks the boy for vital signs. Also dead.
Mary uncramps from her fetal coil of pain and drops her knife. At first she doesn't seem to recognize him. He hears a siren and belatedly realizes that sound has faded back into the world.
Reese's hands play over Mary. He sees that the blood staining her emerald sweater is not her own. "Are you cut?"
"No. I stabbed him."
"I stabbed Hayward," she says.
"And the boy?"
Mary looks shocked. And hurt. "No. Just Hayward."
"Did Hayward attack you?"
"No. Not exactly."
"It wasn't self-defense?"
"Of course it was. Hayward would have killed the boy."
"He did. The boy is dead," he tells her.
"Oh. Hayward would have killed you too."
"But you stabbed him before I got here."
"But he did try to kill you - just now.
"Yes. But I'm a cop. I know how the cop mind works. And this whole thing is hard to explain. So keep quiet and we'll get you a good lawyer."
"But you believe me?"
The leap of faith. Nowhere else to go.
"Yes." As much as I can believe.
He hugs Mary.
And she hugs him.
He holds her in his arms, stroking the purple petals from her soft red hair.
Interrupted after they don't know how long by the play of flashlights.
Black shoes trample over the fallen purple petals. The air vibrates with voices and the beating of blades. A spotlight circles in the sky, descending, a dark angel disguised as a machine.
Reese must release Mary so she can answer questions, and he can answer questions, with the faith that the right words will spring them back into each others arms on the other side of this night, outside of this darkness, into a night they can share, with the voices that they speak only to each other with, voices that don't need the ordinary percussion of air.
They are escorted through a helicopter's scalding searchlight to the back seat of an unmarked police car.
And driven away, just as the mini-cam lights swarm, like blood tics, toward the gory jacaranda petals.
In the vacuum of their departure, a transparent presence, little more than the accumulated orange glow of streetlights, puffs up, unseen, to blow a foul wind through the city.
Please allow me to introduce myself.