CHAPTER 31

I had Corky pull up the shades before they left. He did it with quick, jerky motions. There were now what seemed like hundreds of cruisers out there, thousands of people. It was three minutes of one.

The sunlight hurt my eyes.

“Good-bye,” I said.

“God-bye,” Sandra said.

They all said good-bye, I think, before they went out. Their footfalls made a tunny, echoy noise going down the hall. I closed my eyes and imagined a giant centipede wearing Georgia Giants on each of its one hundred feet. When I opened them again, they were walking across the bright green of the lawn. I wished they had used the sidewalk; even after all that had happened, it was still a hell of a lawn.

The last thing I remember seeing of them was that their hands were streaked with black ink.

People enveloped them.

One of the reporters, throwing caution to the winds, eluded three policemen and raced down to where they were, pell-mell.

The last one to be swallowed up was Carol Granger. I thought she looked back, but I couldn’t tell for sure. Philbrick started to walk stolidly toward the school. Flashbulbs were popping all over the place.

Time was short. I went over to where Ted was leaning against the green cinderblock wall. He was sitting with his legs splayed out below the bulletin board, which was full of notices from the Mathematical Society of America, which nobody ever read, Peanuts comic strips (the acme of humor, in the late Mrs. Underwood’s estimation), and a poster showing Bertrand Russell and a quote: “Gravity alone proves the existence of God.” But any undergraduate in creation could have told Bertrand that it has been conclusively proved that there is no gravity; the earth just sucks.

I squatted beside Ted. I pulled the crumpled wad of math paper out of his mouth and laid it aside. Ted began to drool.

“Ted.”

He looked past me, over my shoulder.

“Ted,” I said, and patted his cheek gently.

He shrank away. His eyes rolled wildly.

“You’re going to get better,” I said. “You’re going to forget this day ever happened.”

Ted made mewling sounds.

“Or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll go on from here, Ted. Build from this. Is that such an impossible idea?”

It was, for both of us. And being so close to Ted had begun to make me very nervous.

The intercom chinked open. It was Philbrick. He was puffing and blowing again.

“Decker?”

“Right here.”

“Come out with your hands up.”

I sighed. “You come down and get me, Philbrick, old sport. I’m pretty goddamn tired. This psycho business is a hell of a drain on the glands.”

“All right,” he said, tough. “They’ll be shooting in the gas canisters in just about one minute.”

“Better not,” I said. I looked at Ted. Ted didn’t look back; he just kept on looking into emptiness. Whatever he saw there must have been mighty tasty, because he was still drooling down his chin. “You forgot to count noses. There’s still one of them down here. He’s hurt.” That was something of an understatement.

His voice was instantly wary. “Who?”

“Ted Jones.”

“How is he hurt?”

“Stubbed his toe.”

“He’s not there. You’re lying.”

“I wouldn’t lie to you, Philbrick, and jeopardize our beautiful relationship.”

No answer. Puff, snort, blow.

“Come on down,” I invited. “The gun is unloaded. It’s in a desk drawer. We can play a couple of cribbage hands, then you can take me out and tell all the papers how you did it single-handed. You might even make the cover of Time if we work it right.”

Chink. He was off the com.

I closed my eyes and put my face in my hands. All I saw was gray. Nothing but gray. Not even a flash of white light. For no reason at all, I thought of New Year’s Eve, when all those people crowd into Times Square and scream like jackals as the lighted ball slides down the pole, ready to shed its thin party glare on three hundred and sixty-five new days in this best of all possible worlds. I have always wondered what it would be like to be caught in one of those crowds, screaming and not able to hear your own voice, your individuality momentarily wiped out and replaced with the blind empathic overslop of the crowd’s lurching, angry anticipation, hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder with no one in particular.

I began to cry.

When Philbrick stepped through the door, he glanced down at the drooling Tedthing and then up at me. “What in the name of God did you…?” he began.

I made as if to grab something behind Mrs. Underwood’s desktop row of books and plants. “Here it comes, you shit cop!” I screamed.

He shot me three times.

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