15

Scotty attacked the large steak with both hands. “I know he’s dirty, now, I just don’t know how.”

“What’s changed?” Howell tried to get interested; he needed to think about something else besides Elizabeth and Winston.

“He’s bought this great huge filing cabinet with a steel bar and transferred a lot of his files to it. Sally or I have a key to everything else, but not to this. I mean, I do, but I’m not supposed to.” She told him, with some relish, how she had palmed the third key.

Howell laughed aloud at her audacity; with that sort of brass, she might well make a good investigative reporter. “Pretty swift, Scotty, so what’s the problem? Pillage his fucking filing cabinet, and get the goods on him.”

“I’ve already pillaged it, and there’s nothing in it but regular stuff- ordinary office records. I went through all four drawers, file by file.”

Howell chewed his steak thoughtfully. “Is there anything else in the office – another filing cabinet, a safe – that only Bo has access to?”

Scotty dumped sour cream onto a baked potato. “Nope. Just that one filing cabinet.”

“Then that’s where it is.”

“What is?”

“The goods, if there are any.”

“It ain’t. Trust me.”

“It is. Let me tell you a story. A few years back, I got a tip from a secretary at the Capitol that her boss, the guy who handled the physical plant, all the repairs and maintenance, was on the take from contractors. She and I went into his office late of an evening, you might say, and we went through every filing cabinet in the place. Nothing. So, over breakfast, after a night of fruitless endeavor, I asked her to tell me all about the guy, what he was like. He was a maniac for records, a regular pedant about office procedures. That told me that he had to have some records somewhere; he couldn’t have lived with himself unless he had records. We went back to the office the next night, and this time we really took the place apart. Nothing. Three nights later, we found it. It was a tiny notebook, and it was hidden in a cut-out book, just sitting there on a bookshelf in plain view.”

“Bo’s that way about keeping records.”

“Damn right. He told me so himself only yesterday. Stopped by for a cup of coffee that turned into a drink.”

“I noticed he was drinking at the office.”

“So, I’m telling you that if Bo is as hipped on record keeping as he himself says he is, and if he’s dirty, he’s got a record of it. And I’ll give you odds it’s in that filing cabinet.”

“But I’ve already been through the goddamned thing, I told you.”

“Yeah, but you’re forgetting something. A guy, a public servant, an accountant who’s an embezzler, anybody with a game on the side who keeps a record, doesn’t do it in one of those big old ledgers out of Dickens. He does it small, compact. A notebook, like my guy at the capital, maybe a few sheets of paper. He doesn’t bury it in the backyard – he’s got to make entries in it from time to time; he doesn’t stick it in the safe – that’s the first place a prosecutor would look if things went sour – and anyway, you and Sally know the combination.”

“So?”

“So he gets himself this lockup filing cabinet, very conspicuous, and he puts a lot of old crap in it and…?”

“Oh, come on, Johnny, I’ve already told you…”

“And he hides his records in plain sight; he picks himself out a nice, dull file – say, unpaid parking tickets or something, and he sticks his notebook in there. Did you think you’d find a file labeled DIRTY MONEY?”

Scotty had stopped chewing. “Jesus, why didn’t I think of that?”

“Grand jury wants to go after him, they’re going to do what you did. Who wants to waste his time going through old parking tickets? Now, the FBI, they’d lock themselves in and read everything, if it took ‘em a year. But all Bo needs is two minutes’ notice, and he whips out the incriminating stuff, and then he buries it in the backyard, or burns it. Except a true-blue keeper of records would never burn it. Never happen.”

“So I’ve gotta go back in there and go through every file. And Christ knows when I’ll be able to do it. There’s always somebody else in the office.”

“Middle of the night?”

“A radio operator, minimum. Always.”

“Then you’re going to have to get clever, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, I’m going to have to get clever.” Scotty chewed her steak and narrowed her eyes.

“But not cute. You get cute and slip up, and Bo will hang you out to dry, kiddo, I mean it. I’ve tried to tell you before how territorial these country sheriffs are. The Mafia couldn’t make you go away any faster or better. Bo’s in control up here, and don’t you ever forget it.”

There was a rap on the door that made them both jump. “Jesus, he’s come to get you,” Howell laughed. He got up and went to answer it. A small, gray-haired black man in a white jacket stood on the porch. He looked like a butler.

“Good evening, sir, my name is Alfred,” the man said. “Mr. Eric Sutherland asked me to bring you this.” He was a butler; he held out a white envelope.

Howell took it. “Thank you, Alfred.”

“Mr. Sutherland asked me to wait for a reply, sir.”

Howell opened the envelope. A heavy, engraved card came out. Eric Sutherland was requesting the pleasure of his company for cocktails on Saturday afternoon. “Thank Mr. Sutherland for me, Alfred, and tell him I’d be pleased to come.” He had a thought. “And I’d like to bring a young lady, if that would be all right.”

Alfred bowed slightly. “I’m sure that will be just fine, Mr. Howell. I’ll convey your acceptance to Mr. Sutherland.” And he was gone.

Howell closed the door and tossed the card to Scotty. “Alfred is conveying my acceptance to Mr. Sutherland. Want to come?”

“Well,” she said, “it would be nice to see what the crumbs of the upper crust are like around here. All I’ve seen so far are the drunks and speeders.”

“You own a dress?”

“You betcha. How much of a shock shall I give old Mr. Sutherland?”

“None at all, please. I’ve still got a few weeks to go around here. This must be Sutherland’s annual bash. I heard something about it.”

“It is. Bo got his invitation this afternoon.”

“By hand?”

“Yep. Apparently, old man Sutherland doesn’t trust the post office.”

“Sort of courtly, that, hand-delivered invitations.”

“From what I hear, once a year is the most Eric Sutherland can manage courtly. He probably didn’t want to spend the money on the stamps.”

“Well, we’d better take advantage, hadn’t we?

Very late that night, he wasn’t sure quite how late, Howell came gently, fully awake. Scotty slept beside him, quietly, almost like a child. He had a curious sensation of unease; something seemed out of kilter. Then the silence came to him. There were no crickets.

He stopped himself from getting up immediately. He asked himself questions: was he really awake? Yes. Was he sober? Yes. He looked about the room, which seemed perfectly normal; he felt the sheet over him, rubbed it through his fingers; all senses working, performing normally. Finally, sure that he was in complete charge of himself, he got up and walked through the silence to the living room windows. Once again, the lake was not there, but another place; the house, tranquil in the moonlight, lay below him, and he heard the tune drifting toward him.

“Scotty!” he called out, afraid to take his eyes from the scene. “Scotty, come here quickly!”

“What?” her sleepy voice answered from the bedroom.

“Get out of bed and come here right now, goddamnit!” He heard the bed move and her bare feet on the living room floor. She came on the deck beside him.

“What? What is it?” She sounded fully awake and alarmed.

He reached out behind him for her hand, then stood her in front of him. “Look,” he said, taking her head in his hands and pointing her at what he could still see. “Tell me exactly what you see before you.”

He felt her go rigid.

“What’s happening?” she asked, her voice trembling. “What’s going on, Johnny?”

“What do you see?” he asked urgently. “Tell me exactly what you see.”

“A road, a house. It’s misty.”

“How many windows in the house?”

“Uh, two… three… four that I can see.”

“How many chimneys?”

“Two.”

“Do you hear anything?”

“Your hands are over my ears.”

He moved them. “Now?”

“A piano.”

“What’s it playing?”

“I… I don’t know. It sounds familiar, but…” She turned and buried her face in his chest. “I’m scared, Johnny.”

“It’s all right, nothing’s going to happen to us.” He lowered his head and kissed her hair, and, as he did, he heard the crickets. He looked up, and the lake looked back at him.

He showed her the lake, then put his arm about her and walked her into the living room. He sat her down on the piano bench and inserted a roll into the piano.

“What are you doing?”

“Listen.” He switched on the instrument; it began to play.

“That’s the song, the song I heard out there on the deck,” she said after a moment. Her voice was small and frightened. “Johnny, do you know what is happening here? Please tell me if you do.”

“No,” he said, “I don’t. But I know now that I’m not crazy.”

“Why?” she demanded. “What makes you so damned confident about that? You may be crazy, and I may be, too.”

“No, we’re not crazy, either of us.”

“Why not?”

“Because two people, even two crazy people, can’t have the same hallucination. What we saw was real.”

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