05 NOV 17:30
“Will you guys pipe down?”
No one noticed. The background buzz and rattle in the squad room, loud for a Sunday, didn’t even falter. Bad enough that his desk was out in the middle of the room, with other guys always walking behind him, spooking the hell out of him on bad days. Did it also have to be butted up against Dumbshit’s desk? He lifted his eyes from the smudged keys of the Smith-Coronamatic and the multilayered sheaf of paper that he’d just crammed in its maw and found himself looking at Durand’s butt. Dumbshit was sitting on his own desk, his back to Stepovich, his feet on his chair, for all the world like a high school punk bullshitting his way through study hall. The kid had about twenty extra pounds of gear packed into all the shiny leather pouches on his Sam Browne belt. Including the nonregulation and probably illegal sap Stepovich had to take away from him earlier,when he’d wanted to use it on the gypsy. Dumbshit Durand hadn’t been content with throwing him up against the fence, he’d wanted to sap him, too. Asshole.
Stepovich spoke to Durand’s butt. “What’s the name of the street that goes past the cemetery?”
Durand interrupted his monologue to say, “Quince.”And resumed it again, saying to Colette, who was hanging on his every word, “so I just catch a glimpse of him going into the St. Thomas, and I say to Step,here, ‘There’s the bastard now, and I hit the brakes and I’m out of the car and after him before Step’s even got his seatbelt unbuckled, and…”
Stepovich let Durand’s words dwindle in his mind. Step. Where’d that dumbshit rookie get off anyway,shortening his name? Mike, that’s what he could call him if he wanted to be informal. Mike. That’s what Ed had always called him before he retired eight months ago. But Dumbshit had to take his last name and cut the end off it. Yesterday one of the office temps had called him Step. Pissed him off. The kid had been his partner for three months now, and Stepovich still couldn’t get used to him. If anything, he just grated on his nerves more each day.
He glued his attention to the form, used the release lever to recenter it in the machine, and tapped in”South on Quince.” He paused, his fingers on the keys, thinking how to recount the arrest. He’d already left out losing the gypsy inside the bar, simply because he couldn’t think of any way to explain it,Nor any way to explain how he had picked up the man’s trail again, “Instinct,” he’d growled at Durand when he’d had the brass to ask him. Stepovich typed in a couple more bland but informative sentences, in which the gypsy became “the suspect” and he and Durand “the arresting officers.” Like that traditional Japanese theater, where the actors held up the masks and struck the poses, the expected faces that hid the real faces behind them. Get the arrest report about two steps away from reality. No one wanted to hear how the chain-link had sproinged when Durand threw the gypsy up against it. There hadn’t been a struggle, not really. So leave out the sudden chill that had run over him when he’d touched the gypsy, don’t mention how Durand had bared his teeth and swore and pulled out his sap in a response that was totally out of proportion to the gypsy’s preoccupied glance and passive resistance-He typed a few more sentences and read them over swiftly. He’d leave out that Durand had wanted to give the gypsy a “screen test” in the car. “You know,Step, build up some speed and hit the brakes? He’s got nothing holding him down back there. So when he hits the screen between the seats, we can see if it holds like it’s supposed to. Screen test, get it?” And Durand had giggled, like a kid. Stepovich wondered if there were any cop jokes he hadn’t already heard.
He realized he’d forgotten the knife. An unexpected tightness coiled briefly around Stepovich’s spine, a clenching of almost guilt- How had Durand not noticed the knife clattering to the sidewalk at the scene of the arrest? He’d certainly said nothing when Stepovich had failed to turn it over when they were booking the gypsy. And that was wrong. If Stepovich leaned back right now and pressed against the support of the creaking chair, he’d be able to feel the knife in its sheath against his spine inside the lining of his jacket. The knife had slithered quickly through the hole in his pocket and into the lining of his jacket like a small animal seeking shelter.
Stepovich’s fingers went on typing. He glanced briefly at a scribbled note and filled in the name as”Chuck?-John Doe.” But he wasn’t thinking of the paper before him, nor the other work to be completed before his shift was over; he was feeling the weight of the sheath knife pulling at his jacket like someone touching his shoulder; he was thinking of the unusual hilt, bone or antler, not plastic; and the sensible leather sheath. He should put the knife in the report,should have turned it in when they booked the guy. Hell, it was another offense, carrying a concealed weapon, and maybe it tied into the killing they’d collared the gypsy on. If anyone found out, they’d nail Stepovich for concealing evidence or some such shit,and for what?
Stepovich didn’t have any answer to that. And when you start doing things that you don’t have reasons for, and they’re things that could get your ass chewed off, it’s time to back off from the job and take a break. But get yourself clear. He should do something like lean back and then jerk forward, saying,”Oh, shit, I forgot the knife, it musta fell through the hole in my pocket.” Then fish it out and hand it to Durand, and have him go explain to booking while Stepovich used the whiteout to fix the arrest report.Then everything would be all square. Easy.
His desk phone rang, and without even looking,Durand reached back and snagged the receiver off the cradle. “Hello,” he answered it, irking Stepovich even more. Damn kid couldn’t even answer a phone properly, didn’t identify himself, didn’t even say the caller had reached Stepovich’s line. “Just a sec,” he said, and handed the receiver to Stepovich.
“Who is it?” he asked as he took it.
Durand shrugged. “Dunno. They wanted to talk to you.”
Stepovich swallowed an irritated response, took the phone- “Officer Stepovich here, can I help you?”
“Laurie! How’s my girl?”
“Fine, Daddy, except that I’m in the school square-dance program this Friday, and I have a skirt that’s okay for it, but I need a blouse, a white frilly blouse.”
There had been a time when Laurie would have beaten around the bush, would have told him all about the program and who her dance partner was and if he was yucky or nice, and then hinted, ever so slyly, that she’d be able to dance better in a frilly white blouse. Not anymore. And Stepovich didn’t know if it was because she was getting older and more direct,or because now she only called him when she really wanted something, and didn’t want to bother with him any more than was necessary.
“Daddy?” came her voice, and he realized he hadn’t answered her yet. “I know you sent the support check, and Mom got it and all, but this is the month she has to pay property taxes she says, so she says we can’t afford it. But I thought, since you’re in an apartment and don’t have property taxes, maybe you…”
“Sure thing, pussycat. You want me to come by this evening and take you out to one of the malls to get it?”
“Um, well, actually, I know the one I want, it’s twenty-two dollars at Carson’s, and uh, if you said okay. Mom said I could go get it on her card right now, with Chrissy and Sue. They’re like, you know, waiting right now.”
“I see,” Stepovich tried to think of some other words to say, something that would reach down the phone and touch her, pull her closer to him. He leaned back in his chair, shifting his weight, and the chair squeaked as the gypsy’s knife pressed up against his spine. He straightened quickly. “Well,honey, you tell your mom I’ll put an extra check in the mail, and you go get your shirt. When is this dance thing, anyway?”
“Friday at seven. We’re doing it for the PTA meeting. Uh, Daddy, don’t forget tax. I mean, it will probably cost more with tax and everything.”
“Right. I won’t forget.” Stepovich scratched $30 on the corner of his blotter, drew a lazy circle around it-
“So, what else is new around there? Got a boyfriend yet?”
“No.” The irritation in her voice was not feigned.He guessed that the old tease really wasn’t funny anymore. Which meant that maybe, yes, she did have a boyfriend. She was what, almost fifteen? Already fifteen? He sampled foot in mouth, swallowed it.
“Just teasing, sweetheart. So, what is going on with you lately?”
“Nothing, really. Dad, just this dance thing. Look,Chrissy’s waiting, and Sue has to phone home to make sure it’s okay if she goes with us, so I’ve got to hang up now, okay? Oh, and if you make the check to me, I can cash it while Mom’s at work, and she doesn’t have to stop at the bank. Less hassle, you know. Thanks a bunch. I’ll tell Jeffrey you said ‘hi.’ “
“Yeah, okay, Laurie. Listen, I’ll try to make it Friday, okay, but if…”
“Okay, Daddy, that’s great, I’ll see you then. Bye.”
And she was gone and he was holding the phone too tightly, listening to its emptiness. He wanted to reach out and punch her number in again, call her back, say something to her to make her understand how much he missed her, how afraid he was that she was growing up and leaving him behind like a wornout stuffed toy.
Instead he rolled the report pages out of the machine, scanned them quickly and inked in a couple of corrections and signed it. Then shoved it at Durand’s butt.
“Here. You take care of the rest.”
And before Durand could turn around and say anything, Stepovich got up and stalked out of the room.He had to move, had to be doing something, not sitting still.
He got a drink at the water fountain, then walked past the elevator, down the hall between walls the color of old sour cream to the door marked EXIT-STAIRWELL. He went up two flights, listening to his footsteps echo, not using the handrail, forcing his body to do this extra little bit just to prove it still could. The knife rubbed against him as he walked.The gypsy was up here, locked into one of the holding cells.
Stepovich slowed his progress up the stairs. The man’s had shown no understanding of why he was being arrested. It hadn’t felt good to Stepovich, not like a righteous collar. This wasn’t the guy. He already knew it when they stopped him, and he hadn’t really wanted to haul him in. But that damn Durand was like a pit bull, all jaw and no brain. The gypsy matched the description of the killer who had shot the liquor store clerk, right down to the clothes, and Durand was always dreaming those hot glory dreams,about commendations and the five o’clock news and grateful feminine hands groping his crotch. It had been an ugly killing, one of those things where the thief already had the money in his hands when he shot the guy. There’d been no reason to shoot the clerk at all. Ugly. The press would play with this one, and everyone would want blood.
Maybe that was why he’d held back on the knife. He was sure the gypsy was going to be shaken loose,eventually. But they would let him go reluctantly, and it was going to be damn tough on him until then. And maybe he felt the guy didn’t deserve a concealed weapons charge that would stick, simply because he looked like someone else, someone who’d blown away a liquor store clerk for a hundred and seventynine dollars plus loose change.
They waved him through the checkthrough, not casual, but respectful. He was the guy who’d made the big collar for the day. No one was going to stop him from inspecting his catch. He replied to their congratulatory words without thinking, a few nods, a couple of sure, sure’s. Holding cell three.
He walked down the hallway, and remembered for an instant the first time he’d walked through here. It had reminded him of visiting the zoo, of looking at animals made unreal by their unnatural enclosures.Now it seemed normal. Now when he went to the zoo, it reminded him of this place, and he’d stare at the animals and imagine what they’d been booked for and which ones would be found guilty. The zoo. Hell,it had been two years since he’d taken Jeffrey to the zoo. It only seemed more recent than that because of all the empty spaces between then and now. All the afternoon matinees of movies neither he nor Jeffrey really wanted to see. That was the trouble with this kind of fathering. Too much of doing stuff with the kids, and not enough of just being around. Too many organized outings and carefully planned days. Not enough watching the tube and knowing they were in their rooms doing homework or messing around with their friends. Too much acting like a father, and not enough being one.
And here was holding cell three, and someone had screwed up, because the gypsy wasn’t in it. He checked two and four, and then one, quickly and professionally. The gypsy wasn’t in any of them, either. Funny. If this were the zoo and those had been animals, the gypsy wouldn’t have been so out of place. He’d seemed feral to Stepovich, naturally dangerous the way some men pretended to be. The gypsy would have been right at home caged between the tigers and the wolves. But he didn’t belong here. And that he wasn’t here seemed to prove that.
Stepovich leaned against the door, staring into the tank. He wasn’t there. And he should be hurrying to report that to someone, to ask if he’d been kicked loose by mistake, if he’d been taken somewhere for questioning. But instead all he could feel was the hanging weight of the knife in the back of his jacket lining.
“THE FAIR LADY”
The Fair Lady is hard at work, knitting a scarf. It must be pretty, or no one will wish to pick it up, and it must be strong, to snare a soul. When it is done, she might cook a broth in which to boil the purity of a maiden, or craft bellows with which to create a storm to wreck ships. She has done these things for a thousand thousand years, and she takes no less care then she ever has. At her side sits a bald-headed nora. In front of her stands a mother who has killed her own child in order to become a midwife. The Fair Lady rocks before her hearth, in which burn the bones of those she has caused to die before their time, and she is content.
“Well?” she says.
The midwife, all a-tremble, says, “Here it is, mistress. ” The midwife hands the Fair Lady a lock of grey hair.
The Lady inspects it carefully, and grants the midwife an approving smile. “It will do,” she says. “Did the old woman suspect?”
“No, mistress. She never saw me.”
“Then how did you get this?”
“I bribed the bellboy to let me into the room, and I too kit while she slept.”
“Very well. You are resourceful, my dear. Go back to your knitting, now.”
“What must I knit, mistress?”
“A veil to confuse the sight of an old woman. With this lock of her hair, it should not be difficult.”
“Very well, mistress. It will be done-” she pauses, confused. She cannot say when it will be done, because she no longer understands the passing of time. The Fair Lady grants her another smile, however, and she is content.
NOVEMBER ELEVENTH, AFTERNOON
She woke with her hands in her hair as if she’d lost a comb, not realizing what had wakened her. A glance at the old wind-up alarm clock told her that it was too early to be leaving to see her sister, and what could it be?
The Sight was a rare gift, and one that could come or go at its own whim, so she should not have been surprised that at first she didn’t recognize it. There had been so many years, so many roads, so much living. Yet, after all of that, here it was. Hardly surprising that she didn’t know, at first, what had caused her to wake from her afternoon nap, or why she felt that vague, undefined, yet familiar disquiet that was located somewhere below her heart.
She sat up in the narrow motel bed and looked once more at the clock. Sitting up was often the most difficult thing she did all day. Once she had been frightened by the way her heart sped up, but now she accepted it, as she had accepted each day since-
Ah, there it was.
She knew it for a Seeing because it brought to her the memory of those dark, haunted, condemning eyes. Shirt open to the middle, baggy pants tied around the ankles, dark curly hair, strong hands, yes,she remembered that one, and it was something about him that had awakened her. The Sight then. She accepted it without amazement, and with only a little pleasure, for she had lived enough to know that knowledge is a burden exactly as often as it is a blessing.
She got out of bed, stepped over her pile of knitting, and put on her torn quilted blue robe. The suitcase, small, brown, handle missing and one snap broken, was under the bed. Inside it was a cedar box,inlaid with knotwork similar to Celtic, though perhaps not as finely detailed and with a bit more baroque filigree work. Inside the box, folded in red satin,was a two-inch length of quartz crystal. It was about half an inch thick, with a small chip out of one side,and felt very slightly cool as she held it between thumb and forefinger. The quartz had been given her at a fair somewhere in New England, by a customer who had liked the reading she’d given him. Tarot,she thought, or perhaps the leaves. But he’d been a nice young man, with eyes that were unusually innocent for this time and place, and the crystal always carried a certain part of the nice young man, which was why she used it. If she had realized then that she’d come to like it so much, she’d have asked him of its history, but most likely he’d bought it at a museum or something, so it was just as well she didn’t.
My mind is wandering again. Must stop that.
She worked herself into the stuffed chair the hotel provided, and stared idly at the crystal. She turned it with her fingers, and wondered about the man in baggy pants with a scarf around his head, the man who had stumbled into her life and out again, so quickly, so long ago. Who had he been, she wondered once more. There had been that mark on him,even then, that said he would become part of her life in some way. If anything, she was surprised it had taken so long. What sort of difficulty was he in? The police? Did it have anything to do with an old policeman with grey eyes and a wide jaw, holding a knife?The knife was probably important, although not in any obvious way, perhaps only in that the policeman thought it was. Who was the policeman, and why was he so confused about which side he was on?Should she look for him, or for him? And how should she begin to look, if she chose to do so? Perhaps she ought to begin with Little Philly, and check hotels there, especially one facing the sunrise, with a narrow street where the curbs were broken and there was a motorcycle shop with a long crack in its window, and several young men sitting protectively in front. And perhaps she should do so soon-before the brothers failed to come together, or coming together, found themselves paralyzed by ignorance.
She rolled the crystal between her palms. It was rather like a bullet, in shape. Interesting that this should occur to her. Her mouth became dry, and there was a moment of fear, of a palpitating heart. She had become more and more aware of her heart over the last few years, more conscious of its strength and weakness. She would probably know before it gave out, which might be good or bad. It wasn’t about to give out now.
She got dressed slowly, her mind racing, her thoughts unfocused. In her left earlobe she put two thin silver hoops, in her right she put three smaller ones. A skull ring went over her little finger because she had worn it the first time she’d seen him. About her neck she fastened a lapis lazuli on a gold chain. Her dress was conservative and pale yellow, with alight blue shawl. She studied herself in the mirror,looking for traces of the future and finding none. At last she called for a cab.
“THE FAIR LADY”
“So what? So at least I did it, didn’t I?” Laurie tossed the check her dad had sent her on the dresser. Thirty dollars! More money than she’d ever asked for at once in her whole life. And her dad had sent it, right away,but now they said it wasn’t enough. She walked past that stuck-up Sue girl and flopped down on her pink bedspread. Strawberry Shortcake. She’d had it since she was nine, but now she hated it, especially because of the way Chrissy’s older friend was looking at it. She was beginning to wish this Sue would just leave. Where did Chrissy get off, anyway, just bringing some stranger over to her house? Anymore, all Chrissy talked about were her “older” friends, and how mass cool they were. She made Laurie feel like a baby. And her mom would be home soon. She wouldn’t be cool about Laurie having a guest that she hadn’t met yet. Especially someone like Sue. She must have been at least sixteen, maybe eighteen. And she acted so rad,it was like she was even older. Like now, lighting a cigarette, like it was no big deal.
Sue exhaled smoke at Laurie. “So, really, you blew it. Getting twenty or thirty bucks, that’s easy. I told you, we need fifty. And you coulda got it if you’d done it like I told you.”
“But I don’t really need shoes.” Laurie protested.
“Shit!” Sue blew smoke out her nose in long thin streams. “I know that. You don’t need a blouse either. All you had to say was, like, ‘My old shoes pinch my feet a little when I dance, but Mom says they’ll do until the next paycheck.’ He’d a been in such a hurry to show up your mom, he’d probably express the money to you.”
“No, he’d probably have called my mom and asked about it,” Laurie said. She was getting tired of this older girl pushing on her, acting like she knew everything. Look at her now, blowing smoke out her mouth and inhaling it up her nose. Gross. Laurie was beginning to think she didn’t like Chrissy’s new friend at all.
“I betcha he wouldn’t have called your mom. Hell,your dad hardly ever calls you, let alone your mom.”Chrissy jumped in.
Great! Now her best friend was siding against her.Laurie wished they’d both leave. The cigarette was stinking up her whole room. Sue saw her looking at it. She flicked it, sending ashes all over the rug.
“Hey!” Laurie objected, but Chrissy just giggled,”Use this for an ashtray, okay?” Laurie added, taking the saucer out from under one of her African violets.Sue took it from her like it was a big favor. No one said anything for a while. Sue just sat there smoking and looking around her room and smirking.
“Look!” Laurie began fiercely. “You might think you know it all, but you don’t know my folks. They might be divorced, but when it comes to us kids,they’re still together. He’d phone her. Besides, a cop doesn’t make that much. My dad probably couldn’t send me fifty bucks if he wanted to.”
“Shit!” Sue said again, and Chrissy giggled. “Cops make all the money they want. Half of them are on the take. I oughta know, I seen enough of them.There’s this one old fart, down in juvie, said if I’d come across, he wouldn’t write up my probation violation. Don’t talk to me about cops.”
“They’re not all like that!” Laurie’s heart was beating really fast. She knew her face was getting red,like it always did when she was mad.
“Bullshit!” Sue drawled, and looked sideways at Chrissy, cracking her up. It suddenly dawned on Laurie that she was being baited, that Sue was getting her worked up and sharing the joke with Chrissy.Her eyes hurt like she was going to cry, but she didn’t let the tears out. Her old bear was still on the bed,and she picked him up and squeezed him tight.Chrissy seemed to see how upset she really was, because she sat up suddenly and changed the subject.
“So. What now?” she asked brightly, sending Laurie a brief look that said sorry. But she didn’t say it out loud, Laurie thought bitterly. Not in front of her new friend.
“What now?” Sue echoed. She leaned over and deliberately stubbed her cigarette out against the soft furry leaves of the violet instead of on the saucer.Laurie gritted her teeth, trying not to show her anger,but the little smile on Sue’s mouth showed she knew she had scored. “Now nothing, Chrissy. Your little friend blew it. If I take you to meet the Lady and Her friends with less than fifty bucks, they’ll laugh in my face. The Lady expects presents from Her friends. You wanta be Her friend and be in with Her, you gotta bring Her presents. Money and jewelry and stuff.”
“Well, maybe I don’t wanna be Her friend!” Laurie broke in.
“Fine with me. Miss Piggy,” Sue said, and Chrissy cracked up. It took a few seconds for Laurie to catch the joke. Then, “Get the hell out of my house!” she cried out.
“Fine with me,” Sue said slowly. She got up lazily,looked around the room in disdain. “I’m a little tired of sitting around in the nursery, anyway. You coming, Chrissy, or you want to stay here and play Barbies?”
Chrissy looked trapped. “I’ll be along, I guess,”she said lamely. “In a little while. I gotta get my stuff.”
“Yeah. Sure. Well, better hurry, kid, cause I ain’t waiting. I got other things to do. See ya around. Miss Piggy.” Sue drifted out of the room, and a few seconds later Laurie heard the front door slam,
“Great, Laurie, you really blew it for us!” Chrissy huffed as she grabbed up her bookbag and coat.
“I blew it? What do you want to go around with someone like that for? She’s awful!”
“Not usually. She was just pissed because you didn’t get the money- Usually she’s really cool, and you should see her boyfriend’s car! Talk about rad!On the freeway, night before last, he got it up to a hundred and twenty! And then he turned off the headlights! It was like flying in the dark. Oh, Laurie,you got to get that money, so you can come with us.You should see the stuff that Lady gives her. Jewelry like you wouldn’t believe, and this scarf, it looks black, but when you shake it, it’s silver! And…Look! I gotta go, because she won’t wait for me. But I’ll tell her you were sorry, that you were feeling sick or something. And I’ll try to get the rest of the money,’cause we’ve just got to meet this Lady. Usually, you got to be at least a senior to be invited, so we’re really lucky.”
Motormouth Chrissy was still talking as she wrapped her scarf around her neck and left the bedroom. Laurie didn’t bother walking her to the door;
Chrissy didn’t notice. Some best friend. Ever since she met that Sue, she’d been acting like a jerk. As soon as Laurie heard the door shut, she got up and took the cigarette butt out of her plant. It was the new one, too, the one that was supposed to have double blossoms. A burnt hole gaped angrily in the soft green leaf. Laurie carefully pinched it off, and carried both cigarette butt and leaf into the bathroom, where she flushed them down the toilet.
NOVEMBER ELEVENTH, LATE AFTERNOON
The cab driver was a fat man who reminded her of Jackie Gleason, which made his deep, gravelly voice quite startling. When she told him where she wanted to be taken he didn’t say anything, but gave her a quick, speculative look in the rearview mirror as he pulled away from the curb. During the ride, which,because of the Veterans’ Day traffic, took half an hour,she paid little attention to the area they were passing through. She let her mind drift, free associating, finding melodies in the whine of passing cars and patterns in the cracks along the streets.
He let her off at a comer where an old black mans old newspapers and shoeshines in front of a grocer whose green and yellow produce lay in bushel baskets below the barred storefront. The thought of trying to connive her way out of paying the fare popped up unbidden from her childhood, and she tipped the driver lavishly by way of putting the thought back where it belonged. She wondered at it, though- Was it a sign of age, or was there significance to this unexpected recurrence of the old ways?
The cab roared off; she sniffed, as if hoping to catch a scent, and began walking east down the block, because it seemed to be slightly downhill. She knew that what she sought was around here somewhere,and she would find it more quickly and easily on her feet, slow as they were. They hadn’t always been slow. Once she had danced. Once she had danced well enough to earn-
Stop now, she told herself firmly. Fools live in the past, as saints live in the future. It was her lot to feel the waves from one-she couldn’t afford to let her mind remain in the other.
Children played in the street, and didn’t see her,because she had nothing to do with their world. She passed men and women her own age, all of whom were so wrapped up in their dreams that they never looked outside themselves. She came to the place she had Seen, and the excitement of a true Seeing was far back in her mind. The scene before her held a promise and a threat, and she could almost taste them both on her tongue, sour and juicy as lemon, fear and pleasure.
She identified the hotel by its neon sign, which was mostly burned out, then looked around briefly. It was on a hill, and the side she could see was done in peeling red paint. It had a single door, also red, that was no bigger than the door to a house and had no window. She felt almost young again as she pushed it open and entered the lobby.