Shortly before nine o’clock, after less than four hours of sleep altogether, Sam Booker woke to the quiet clink and clatter of someone at work in the kitchen. He sat up on the living-room sofa, wiped at his matted eyes, put on his shoes and shoulder holster, and went down the hall.
Tessa Lockland was humming softly as she lined up pans, bowls, and food on the wheelchair-low counter near the stove, preparing to make breakfast.
“Good morning,” she said brightly when Sam came into the kitchen.
“What’s good about it?” he asked.
“Just listen to that rain,” she said. “Rain always makes me feel clean and fresh.”
“Always depresses me.”
“And it’s nice to be in a warm, dry kitchen, listening to the storm but cozy.”
He scratched at the stubble of beard on his unshaven cheeks. “Seems a little stuffy in here to me.”
“Well, anyway, we’re still alive, and
“I guess so.”
“God in heaven!” She banged an empty frying pan down on the stove and scowled at him. “Are all FBI agents like you”
“In what way?”
“Are they all sourpusses?”
“I’m not a sourpuss.”
“You’re a classic Gloomy Gus.”
“Well, life isn’t a carnival.”
“Life is hard and mean.”
“Maybe. But isn’t it a carnival too?”
“Are all documentary filmmakers like you?”
“In what way?”
“That’s ridiculous. I’m no Pollyanna.”
“Here we are trapped in a town where reality seems to have been temporarily suspended, where people are being torn apart by species unknown, where Boogeymen roam the streets at night, where some mad computer genius seems to have turned human biology inside out, where we’re all likely to be killed or ‘converted’ before midnight tonight, and when I come in here you’re grinning and sprightly and humming a Beatles tune.”
“It wasn’t the Beatles.”
“And that makes a difference?”
She sighed. “Listen, if you’re going to help eat this breakfast, you’re going to help make it, so don’t just stand there glowering.”
“All right, okay, what can I do?”
“First, get on the intercom there and call Harry, make sure he’s awake. Tell him breakfast in … ummmm … forty minutes. Pancakes and eggs and shaved, fried ham.”
Sam pressed the intercom button and said, “Hello, Harry,” and Harry answered at once, already awake. He said he’d be down in about half an hour.
“Now what?” Sam asked Tessa.
“Get the eggs and milk from the refrigerator — but for God’s sake don’t look in the cartons.”
She grinned. “You’ll spoil the eggs and curdle the milk.”
“I thought so.”
While making pancake mix from scratch, cracking six eggs into glass dishes and preparing them so they could be quickly slipped into the frying pans when she needed them, directing Sam to set the table and help her with other small chores, chopping onions, and shaving ham, Tessa alternately hummed and sang songs by Patti La Belle and the Pointer Sisters. Sam knew whose music it was because she told him, announcing each song as if she were a disc jockey or as if she hoped to educate him and loosen him up. While she worked and sang, she danced in place, shaking her bottom, swiveling her hips, rolling her shoulders, sometimes snapping her fingers, really getting into it.
She was genuinely enjoying herself, but he knew that she was also needling him a little and getting a kick out of that too. He tried to hold fast to his gloom, and when she smiled at him, he did not return her smile, but
Sometimes she paused in her soft singing and humming to ask him questions, but she continued to sing and dance in place even while he answered her. “You figured what we’re going to do yet to get out of this corner we’re in?”
“I have an idea.”
“Patti La Belle, ‘New Attitude,’ ” she said, identifying the song she was singing. “Is this idea of yours a deep, dark secret?”
“No. But I have to go over it with Harry, get some information from him, so I’ll tell you both at breakfast.”
At her direction he was hunched over the low counter, cutting thin slices of cheese from a block of Cheddar when she broke into her song long enough to ask, “Why did you say life is hard and mean?”
“Because it is.”
“But it’s also full of fun—”
“— and beauty—”
“— and hope—”
“Yes, it is.”
“Why are you so negative?”
“Because I want to be.”
“But why do you want to be?”
“Jesus, you’re relentless.”
“Pointer Sisters, ‘Neutron Dance.'” She sang a bit, dancing in place as she put eggshells and other scraps down the garbage disposal. Then she interrupted her tune to say, “What could’ve happened to you to make you feel that life’s only mean and hard?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Yes, I do.”
He finished with the cheese and put down the slicer. “You really want to know?”
“I really do.”
“My mother was killed in a traffic accident when I was just seven. I was in the car with her, nearly died, was actually trapped in the wreckage with her for more than an hour, face to face, staring into her eyeless socket, one whole side of her head bashed in. After that I had to go live with my dad, whom she’d divorced, and he was a mean-tempered son of a bitch, an alcoholic, and I can’t tell you how many times he beat me or threatened to beat me or tied me to a chair in the kitchen and left me there for hours at a time, until I couldn’t hold myself any more and peed in my pants, and then he’d finally come to untie me and he’d see what I’d done and he’d beat me for
He was surprised by how it all spilled from him, as if the floodgates of his subconscious had been opened, pouring forth all the sludge that had been pent up through long years of stoic self-control.
“So as soon as I graduated from high school, I got out of that house, worked my way through junior college, living in cheap rented rooms, shared my bed with armies of cockroaches every night, then applied to the Bureau as soon as I could, because I wanted to see justice in the world, be a part of
He was talking so fast that he was almost breathless.
She had stopped singing.
He continued with an uncharacteristic lack of emotional control, speaking so fast that his sentences sometimes ran together, “And my wife died, Karen, she was wonderful, you’d have liked her, everybody liked her, but she got cancer and she died, painfully, horribly, with a lot of suffering, not easy like Ali McGraw in the movies, not with just a sigh and a smile and a quiet goodbye, but in agony. And then I lost my son too. Oh, he’s alive, sixteen, nine when his mother died and sixteen now, physically alive and mentally alive, but he’s emotionally dead, burnt out in his heart, cold inside, so damned cold inside. He likes computers and computer games and television, and he listens to black metal. You know what black metal is? It’s heavy-metal music with a twist of satanism, which he likes because it tells him there are no moral values, that everything is relative, that his alienation is right, that his coldness inside is
She shook her head.
“He said to me, ‘People aren’t important. People don’t count. Only
“That’s bullshit,” Tessa said with conviction.
“But that’s what he tells me, and I know it’s crap, and I try to reason with him, but he’s got all the answers — or thinks he has. And sometimes I wonder … if I wasn’t so soured on life myself, so sick of so many people, would I be able to argue with them more persuasively? If I wasn’t who I am, would I be more able to save my son?”
He realized he was trembling.
They were both silent for a moment.
Then he said, “
“I’m sorry, Sam.”
“Not your fault.”
“Not yours either.”
He sealed the Cheddar in a piece of Saran Wrap and returned it to the refrigerator while she returned to the pancake mix she was making.
“But you had Karen,” she said. “There’s been love and beauty in your life.”
“But it doesn’t last.”
“Nothing lasts forever.”
“Exactly my point,” he said.
“But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a blessing while we have it. If you’re always looking ahead, wondering when this moment of joy is going to end, you can never know any real pleasure in life.”
“Exactly my point,” he repeated.
She left the wooden mixing spoon in the big metal bowl and turned to face him. “But that’s
He stared at her, admiring her beauty and vitality. But then he began to think about how she would age, grow infirm, and die just as everything died, and he could no longer bear to look at her. Instead he turned his gaze to the rain-washed window above the sink. “Well, I’m sorry if I’ve upset you, but you’ll have to admit you asked for it. You insisted on knowing how I could be such a Gloomy Gus.”
“Oh, you’re no Gloomy Gus,” she said. “You go way beyond that. You’re a regular Dr. Doom.”
They returned to their culinary labors.