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End Of Watch / Ęîíĺö äîçîđŕ (by Stephen King, 2016) - ŕóäčîęíčăŕ íŕ ŕíăëčéńęîě

End Of Watch / Ęîíĺö äîçîđŕ (by Stephen King, 2016) - ŕóäčîęíčăŕ íŕ ŕíăëčéńęîě

End Of Watch / Ęîíĺö äîçîđŕ (by Stephen King, 2016) - ŕóäčîęíčăŕ íŕ ŕíăëčéńęîě

Áčëë Őîäćĺń č Őîëëč Ăčáíč áĺđóňń˙ çŕ ńëîćíîĺ äĺëî, â ęîňîđîě îňěĺ÷ŕţň áîëüřîĺ ęîëč÷ĺńňâî ëţäĺé, đĺřčâřčőń˙ ďîęîí÷čňü ń ńîáîé. Ęŕćäűé óěĺđřčé áűë ńâ˙çŕí ń ăîńďîäčíîě Áđĺéäč Őŕđňńôčëäîě. Ĺăî ĺůĺ íŕçűâŕţň ěčńňĺđîě Ěĺđńĺäĺńîě, čçâĺńňíűě â ăîđîäĺ ÷ĺëîâĺęîě, đŕíĺĺ íŕěĺđĺâŕâřčěń˙ îđăŕíčçîâŕňü âçđűâ, č ëčřčňü ćčçíč ďîäđîńňęîâ ďđčřĺäřčő íŕ ęîíöĺđň. Ňîăäŕ, 6 ëĺň íŕçŕä, ďëŕí Áđĺéäč áűë ńîđâŕí ńűůčęŕěč, ńŕě îí îęŕçŕëń˙ â áîëüíčöĺ â óäđó÷ŕţůĺě ńîńňî˙íčč, ďđîâîä˙ ăîäű ćčçíč ďîäîáíî đŕńňĺíčţ. Íî ňĺďĺđü áîëüíîé čäĺň íŕ ďîďđŕâęó, ďđč÷ĺě îí îňěĺ÷ŕĺň ďî˙âëĺíčĺ â ńĺáĺ ńâĺđőúĺńňĺńňâĺííűő ńďîńîáíîńňĺé ďî ďĺđĺěĺůĺíčţ ěĺëęčő ďđĺäěĺňîâ č âîçěîćíîńňč ďđîíčęŕňü â ňĺëî ëţáîăî ÷ĺëîâĺęŕ, âîńďđččě÷čâîăî ę óěńňâĺííîěó ăîńďîäńňâó ďđĺńňóďíčęŕ. Áđĺéäč ńčëîé ăčďíîňč÷ĺńęîăî âîçäĺéńňâč˙ óäŕëîńü ďîä÷číčňü ńĺáĺ đŕáîňíčęîâ áîëüíčöű č ńîçäŕňü čăđó, ďîëüçîâŕňĺëč ęîňîđîé – ýňî čçáĺćŕâřčĺ ńěĺđňč ďîäđîńňęč, ńňŕíîâčëčńü ďîäâëŕńňíűěč ĺăî âîëĺ. Îíč ďîńëĺ ďđîńěîňđŕ âčäĺî áĺńńîçíŕňĺëüíî ńîâĺđřŕëč ńŕěîóáčéńňâî. Îńňŕëîńü çŕěŕíčňü â ëîâóřęó Őîäćĺńŕ.


Bill Hodges Trilogy 1
Bill Hodges Trilogy 2
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End Of Watch / Ęîíĺö äîçîđŕ (by Stephen King, 2016) - ŕóäčîęíčăŕ íŕ ŕíăëčéńęîě
Ăîä âűďóńęŕ ŕóäčîęíčăč:
2016
Ŕâňîđ:
Stephen King
Čńďîëíčňĺëü:
Will Paton
ßçűę:
ŕíăëčéńęčé
Ćŕíđ:
đîěŕí, óćŕńű, ěčńňčęŕ
Óđîâĺíü ńëîćíîńňč:
upper-intermediate
Äëčňĺëüíîńňü ŕóäčî:
12:51:43
Áčňđĺéň ŕóäčî:
64 kbps
Ôîđěŕň:
mp3, pdf, doc

Ńëóřŕňü îíëŕéí End Of Watch / Ęîíĺö äîçîđŕ ŕóäčîęíčăó íŕ ŕíăëčéńęîě ˙çűęĺ:

Ńęŕ÷ŕňü ňĺęńň ęíčăč â ôîđěŕňĺ .doc (Word) ďî ďđ˙ěîé ńńűëęĺ king_stephen_-_end_of_watch.doc [1,39 Mb] (cęŕ÷čâŕíčé: 10) .
Ńęŕ÷ŕňü ňĺęńň ęíčăč â ôîđěŕňĺ .pdf ďî ďđ˙ěîé ńńűëęĺ  king_stephen_-_end_of_watch.pdf [21,59 Mb] (cęŕ÷čâŕíčé: 22) .
Ńęŕ÷ŕňü audiobook (MP3) áĺńďëŕňíî ń ôŕéëîîáěĺííčęŕ.


×čňŕňü ęíčăó íŕ ŕíăëčéńęîě îíëŕéí:

(×ňîáű ďĺđĺâîäčňü ńëîâŕ íŕ đóńńęčé ˙çűę č äîáŕâë˙ňü â ńëîâŕđü äë˙ čçó÷ĺíč˙, ůĺëęŕĺě ěűřęîé íŕ íóćíîĺ ńëîâî).


Stephen King END OF WATCH A NOVEL For Thomas Harris Get me a gun Go back into my room I’m gonna get me a gun One with a barrel or two You know I’m better off dead than Singing these suicide blues. Cross Canadian Ragweed APRIL 10, 2009 MARTINE STOVER It’s always darkest before the dawn. This elderly chestnut occurred to Rob Martin as the ambulance he drove rolled slowly along Upper Marlborough Street toward home base, which was Firehouse 3. It seemed to him that whoever thought that one up really got hold of something, because it was darker than a woodchuck’s asshole this morning, and dawn wasn’t far away. Not that this daybreak would be up to much even when it finally got rolling; call it dawn with a hangover. The fog was heavy and smelled of the nearby not-so-great Great Lake. A fine cold drizzle had begun to fall through it, just to add to the fun. Rob clicked the wiper control from intermittent to slow. Not far up ahead, two unmistakable yellow arches rose from the murk. ‘The Golden Tits of America!’ Jason Rapsis cried from the shotgun seat. Rob had worked with any number of paramedics over his fifteen years as an EMT, and Jace Rapsis was the best: easygoing when nothing was happening, unflappable and sharply focused when everything was happening at once. ‘We shall be fed! God bless capitalism! Pull in, pull in!’ ‘Are you sure?’ Rob asked. ‘After the object lesson we just had in what that shit can do?’ The run from which they were now returning had been to one of the McMansions in Sugar Heights, where a man named Harvey Galen had called 911 complaining of terrible chest pains. They had found him lying on the sofa in what rich folks no doubt called ‘the great room,’ a beached whale of a man in blue silk pajamas. His wife was hovering over him, convinced he was going to punch out at any second. ‘Mickey D’s, Mickey D’s!’ Jason chanted. He was bouncing up and down in his seat. The gravely competent professional who had taken Mr Galen’s vitals (Rob right beside him, holding the First In Bag with its airway management gear and cardiac meds) had disappeared. With his blond hair flopping in his eyes, Jason looked like an overgrown kid of fourteen. ‘Pull in, I say!’ Rob pulled in. He could get behind a sausage biscuit himself, and maybe one of those hash brown thingies that looked like a baked buffalo tongue. There was a short line of cars at the drive-thru. Rob snuggled up at the end of it. ‘Besides, it’s not like the guy had a for-real heart attack,’ Jason said. ‘Just OD’d on Mexican. Refused a lift to the hospital, didn’t he?’ He had. After a few hearty belches and one trombone blast from his nether regions that had his social X-ray of a wife booking for the kitchen, Mr Galen sat up, said he was feeling much better, and told them that no, he didn’t think he needed to be transported to Kiner Memorial. Rob and Jason didn’t think so, either, after listening to a recitation of what Galen had put away at Tijuana Rose the night before. His pulse was strong, and although his blood pressure was on the iffy side, it probably had been for years, and was currently stable. The automatic external defibrillator never came out of its canvas sack. ‘I want two Egg McMuffins and two hash browns,’ Jason announced. ‘Black coffee. On second thought, make that three hash browns.’ Rob was still thinking about Galen. ‘It was indigestion this time, but it’ll be the real thing soon enough. Thunderclap infarction. What do you think he went? Three hundred? Three-fifty?’ ‘Three twenty-five at least,’ Jason said, ‘and stop trying to spoil my breakfast.’ Rob waved his arm at the Golden Arches rising through the lake-effect fog. ‘This place and all the other greasepits like it are half of what’s wrong with America. As a medical person, I’m sure you know that. What you just ordered? That’s nine hundred calories on the hoof, bro. Add sausage to the Egg McMuffdivers and you’re riding right around thirteen hundred.’ ‘What are you having, Doctor Health?’ ‘Sausage biscuit. Maybe two.’ Jason clapped him on the shoulder. ‘My man!’ The line moved forward. They were two cars from the window when the radio beneath the in-dash computer blared. Dispatchers were usually cool, calm, and collected, but this one sounded like a radio shock jock after too many Red Bulls. ‘All ambulances and fire apparatus, we have an MCI! I repeat, MCI! This is a high-priority call for all ambulances and fire apparatus!’ MCI, short for mass casualty incident. Rob and Jason stared at each other. Plane crash, train crash, explosion, or act of terrorism. It almost had to be one of the four. ‘Location is City Center on Marlborough Street, repeat City Center on Marlborough. Once again, this is an MCI with multiple deaths likely. Use caution.’ Rob Martin’s stomach tightened. No one told you to use caution when heading to a crash site or gas explosion. That left an act of terrorism, and it might still be in progress. Dispatch was going into her spiel again. Jason hit the lights and siren while Rob cranked the wheel and pulled the Freightliner ambo into the lane that skirted the restaurant, clipping the bumper of the car ahead of him. They were just nine blocks from City Center, but if Al-Qaeda was shooting the place up with Kalashnikovs, the only thing they had to fire back with was their trusty external defibrillator. Jason grabbed the mike. ‘Copy, Dispatch, this is 23 out of Firehouse 3, ETA just about six minutes.’ Other sirens were rising from other parts of the city, but judging from the sound, Rob guessed their ambo was closest to the scene. A cast iron light had begun creeping into the air, and as they wheeled out of McDonald’s and onto Upper Marlborough, a gray car knitted itself out of the gray fog, a big sedan with a dented hood and badly rusted grille. For a moment the HD headlights, on high beam, were pointed straight at them. Rob hit the dual air-horns and swerved. The car – it looked like a Mercedes, although he couldn’t be sure – slewed back into its own lane and was then nothing but taillights dwindling into the fog. ‘Jesus Christ, that was close,’ Jason said. ‘Don’t suppose you got the license plate?’ ‘No.’ Rob’s heart was beating so hard he could feel it pulsing on both sides of his throat. ‘I was busy saving our lives. Listen, how can there be multiple casualties at City Center? God isn’t even up yet. It’s gotta be closed.’ ‘Could’ve been a bus crash.’ ‘Try again. They don’t start running until six.’ Sirens. Sirens everywhere, beginning to converge like blips on a radar screen. A police car went bolting past them, but so far as Rob could tell, they were still ahead of the other ambos and fire trucks. Which gives us a chance to be the first to get shot or blown up by a mad Arab shouting allahu akbar, he thought. How nice for us. But the job was the job, so he swung onto the steep drive leading up to the main city administration buildings and the butt-ugly auditorium where he’d voted until moving out to the suburbs. ‘Brake! ’ Jason screamed. ‘Jesus-fuck, Robbie, BRAKE! ’ Scores of people were coming at them from the fog, a few sprinting nearly out of control because of the incline. Some were screaming. One guy fell down, rolled, picked himself up, and ran on with his torn shirttail flapping beneath his jacket. Rob saw a woman with shredded hose, bloody shins, and only one shoe. He came to a panic stop, the nose of the ambo dipping, unsecured shit flying. Meds, IV bottles, and needle packs from a cabinet left unsecured – a violation of protocol – became projectiles. The stretcher they hadn’t had to use for Mr Galen bounced off one wall. A stethoscope found the pass-through, smacked the windshield, and fell onto the center console. ‘Creep along,’ Jason said. ‘Just creep, okay? Let’s not make it worse.’ Rob feathered the gas and continued up the slope, now at walking pace. Still they came, hundreds, it seemed, some bleeding, most not visibly hurt, all of them terrified. Jason unrolled the passenger window and leaned out. ‘What’s going on? Somebody tell me what’s going on!’ A man pulled up, red-faced and gasping. ‘It was a car. Tore through the crowd like a mowing machine. Fucking maniac just missed me. I don’t know how many he hit. We were penned in like hogs because of the posts they set up to keep people in line. He did it on purpose and they’re laying around up there like… like… oh man, dolls filled with blood. I saw at least four dead. There’s gotta be more.’ The guy started to move on, plodding now instead of running as the adrenaline faded. Jason unhooked his seatbelt and leaned out to call after him. ‘Did you see what color it was? The car that did it?’ The man turned back, pale and haggard. ‘Gray. Great big gray car.’ Jason sat back down and looked at Rob. Neither of them had to say it out loud: it was the one they had swerved to avoid as they came out of McDonald’s. And that hadn’t been rust on its snout, after all. ‘Go, Robbie. We’ll worry about the mess in back later. Just get us to the prom and don’t hit anyone, yeah?’ ‘Okay.’ By the time Rob arrived in the parking lot, the panic was abating. Some people were leaving at a walk; others were trying to help those who had been struck by the gray car; a few, the assholes present in every crowd, were snapping photos or making movies with their phones. Hoping to go viral on YouTube, Rob assumed. Chrome posts with yellow DO NOT CROSS tape trailing from them lay on the pavement. The police car that had passed them was parked close to the building, near a sleeping bag with a slim white hand protruding. A man lay sprawled crossways on top of the bag, which was in the center of a spreading bloodpuddle. The cop motioned the ambo forward, his beckoning arm seeming to stutter in the swinging blue glare of the lightbar atop his cruiser. Rob grabbed the mobile data terminal and got out while Jason ran around to the rear of the ambo. He emerged with his First In Bag and the external defibrillator. The day continued to brighten, and Rob could read the sign flapping over the main doors of the auditorium: 1000 JOBS GUARANTEED! We Stand With the People of Our City! – MAYOR RALPH KINSLER. Okay, that explained why there had been such a crowd, and so early in the morning. A job fair. Times were tough everywhere, had been since the economy had its own thunderclap infarction the year before, but they had been especially tough in this little lakefront city, where the jobs had started bleeding away even before the turn of the century. Rob and Jason started toward the sleeping bag, but the cop shook his head. His face was ashen. ‘This guy and the two in the bag are dead. His wife and baby, I guess. He must have been trying to protect them.’ He made a brief sound deep in his throat, something between a burp and a retch, clapped a hand over his mouth, then took it away and pointed. ‘That lady there might still be with us.’ The lady in question was sprawled on her back, her legs twisted away from her upper body at an angle that suggested serious trauma. The crotch of her dressy beige slacks was dark with urine. Her face – what remained of it – was smeared with grease. Part of her nose and most of her upper lip had been torn away. Her beautifully capped teeth were bared in an unconscious snarl. Her coat and half of her roll-neck sweater had also been torn away. Great dark bruises were flowering on her neck and shoulder. Fucking car ran right over her, Rob thought. Squashed her like a chipmunk. He and Jason knelt beside her, snapping on blue gloves. Her purse lay nearby, marked by a partial tire-track. Rob picked it up and heaved it into the back of the ambo, thinking the tire print might turn out to be evidence, or something. And of course the woman would want it. If she lived, that was. ‘She’s stopped breathing, but I got a pulse,’ Jason said. ‘Weak and thready. Tear down that sweater.’ Rob did it, and half the bra, straps shredded, came with it. He pushed the rest down to get it out of the way, then began chest compressions while Jason started an airway. ‘She going to make it?’ the cop asked. ‘I don’t know,’ Rob said. ‘We got this. You’ve got other problems. If more rescue vehicles come steaming up the drive like we almost did, someone’s gonna get killed.’ ‘Ah, man, there are people laying hurt everywhere. It’s like a battlefield.’ ‘Help the ones you can.’ ‘She’s breathing again,’ Jason said. ‘Get with me, Robbie, let’s save a life here. Hop on the MDT and tell Kiner we’re bringing in a possible neck fracture, spinal trauma, internal injuries, facial injuries, God knows what else. Condition critical. I’ll feed you her vitals.’ Rob made the call from the mobile data terminal while Jason continued squeezing the Ambu bag. Kiner ER answered immediately, the voice on the other end crisp and calm. Kiner was a Level I trauma center, what was sometimes called Presidential Class, and ready for something like this. They trained for it five times a year. With the call-in made, he got an O2 level (predictably lousy) and then grabbed both the rigid cervical collar and the orange backboard from the ambo. Other rescue vehicles were arriving now, and the fog had begun to lift, making the magnitude of the disaster clear. All with one car, Rob thought. Who would believe it? ‘Okay,’ Jason said. ‘If she ain’t stable, it’s the best we can do. Let’s get her onboard.’ Careful to keep the backboard perfectly horizontal, they lifted her into the ambo, placed her on the stretcher, and secured her. With her pallid, disfigured face framed by the cervical collar, she looked like one of the ritual female victims in a horror movie… except those were always young and nubile, and this woman looked to be in her forties or early fifties. Too old to be job-hunting, you would have said, and Rob only had to look at her to know she would never go job-hunting again. Or walk, from the look of her. With fantastic luck, she might avoid quadriplegia – assuming she got through this – but Rob guessed that her life from the waist down was over. Jason knelt, slipped a clear plastic mask over her mouth and nose, and started the oxygen from the tank at the head of the stretcher. The mask fogged up, a good sign. ‘Next thing?’ Rob asked, meaning What else can I do? ‘Find some epi in that junk that flew around, or get it out of my bag. I had a good pulse for awhile there, but it’s gone thready again. Then fire this monkey up. With the injuries she’s sustained, it’s a miracle she’s alive at all.’ Rob found an ampoule of epinephrine under a tumbled box of bandages and handed it over. Then he slammed the back doors, dropped into the driver’s seat, and got cranking. First to the scene at an MCI meant first to the hospital. That would improve this lady’s slim chances just a little bit. Still, it was a fifteen-minute run even in light morning traffic, and he expected her to be dead by the time they got to Ralph M. Kiner Memorial Hospital. Given the extent of her injuries, that might be the best outcome. But she wasn’t. At three o’clock that afternoon, long after their shift was over but too wired to even think about going home, Rob and Jason sat in the ready-room of Firehouse 3, watching ESPN on mute. They had made eight runs in all, but the woman had been the worst. ‘Martine Stover, that was her name,’ Jason said at last. ‘She’s still in surgery. I called while you were in the can.’ ‘Any idea what her chances are?’ ‘No, but they didn’t just let her crater, and that means something. Pretty sure she was there looking for an executive secretary’s position. I went in her purse for ID – got a blood type from her driver’s license – and found a whole sheaf of references. Looks like she was good at her job. Last position was at the Bank of America. Got downsized.’ ‘And if she lives? What do you think? Just the legs?’ Jason stared at the TV, where basketball players were running fleetly up the court, and said nothing for a long while. Then: ‘If she lives, she’s gonna be a quad.’ ‘For sure?’ ‘Ninety-five percent.’ A beer ad came on. Young people dancing up a storm in a bar. Everyone having fun. For Martine Stover, the fun was over. Rob tried to imagine what she would be facing if she pulled through. Life in a motorized wheelchair that she moved by puffing into a tube. Being fed either pureed gluck or through IV tubes. Respirator-assisted breathing. Shitting into a bag. Life in a medical twilight zone. ‘Christopher Reeve didn’t do so bad,’ Jason said, as if reading his thoughts. ‘Good attitude. Good role model. Kept his chin up. Even directed a movie, I think.’ ‘Sure he kept his chin up,’ Rob said. ‘Thanks to a cervical collar that never came off. And he’s dead.’ ‘She was wearing her best clothes,’ Jason said. ‘Good slacks, expensive sweater, nice coat. Trying to get back on her feet. And some bastard comes along and takes it all.’ ‘Did they get him yet?’ ‘Not the last I heard. When they do, I hope they string him up by the nutsack.’ The following night, while delivering a stroke victim to Kiner Memorial, the partners checked on Martine Stover. She was in the ICU, and showing those signs of increasing brain function that signal the imminent recovery of consciousness. When she did come back, someone would have to give her the bad news: she was paralyzed from the chest down. Rob Martin was just glad it wouldn’t have to be him. And the man the press was calling the Mercedes Killer still hadn’t been caught. Z JANUARY 2016 1 A pane of glass breaks in Bill Hodges’s pants pocket. This is followed by a jubilant chorus of boys, shouting ‘That’s a HOME RUN! ’ Hodges winces and jumps in his seat. Dr Stamos is part of a four-doctor cabal, and the waiting room is full this Monday morning. Everyone turns to look at him. Hodges feels his face grow warm. ‘Sorry,’ he says to the room at large. ‘Text message.’ ‘And a very loud one,’ remarks an old lady with thinning white hair and beagle dewlaps. She makes Hodges feel like a kid, and he’s pushing seventy. She’s hip to cell phone etiquette, though. ‘You should lower the volume in public places like this, or mute your phone entirely.’ ‘Absolutely, absolutely.’ The old lady goes back to her paperback (it’s Fifty Shades of Grey , and not her first trip through it, from the battered look of the thing). Hodges drags his iPhone out of his pocket. The text is from Pete Huntley, his old partner when Hodges was on the cops. Pete is now on the verge of pulling the pin himself, hard to believe but true. End of watch is what they call it, but Hodges himself has found it impossible to give up watching. He now runs a little two-person firm called Finders Keepers. He calls himself an independent skip-tracer, because he got into a little trouble a few years back and can’t qualify for a private investigator’s license. In this city you have to be bonded. But a PI is what he is, at least some of the time. Call me, Kermit. ASAP. Important. Kermit is Hodges’s actual first name, but he goes by the middle one with most people; it keeps the frog jokes to a minimum. Pete makes a practice of using it, though. Finds it hilarious. Hodges considers just pocketing the phone again (after muting it, if he can find his way to the DO NOT DISTURB control). He’ll be called into Dr Stamos’s office at any minute, and he wants to get their conference over with. Like most elderly guys he knows, he doesn’t like doctors’ offices. He’s always afraid they’re going to find not just something wrong but something really wrong. Besides, it’s not like he doesn’t know what his ex-partner wants to talk ŕbout: Pete’s big retirement bash next month. It’s going to be at the Raintree Inn, out by the airport. Same place where Hodges’s party took place, but this time he intends to drink a lot less. Maybe not at all. He had trouble with booze when he was active police, it was part of the reason his marriage crashed, but these days he seems to have lost his taste for alcohol. That’s a relief. He once read a science fiction novel called The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress . He doesn’t know about the moon, but would testify in court that whiskey is a harsh mistress, and that’s made right here on earth. He thinks it over, considers texting, then rejects the idea and gets up. Old habits are too strong. The woman behind the reception desk is Marlee, according to her nametag. She looks about seventeen, and gives him a brilliant cheerleader’s smile. ‘He’ll be with you soon, Mr Hodges, I promise. We’re just running a teensy bit behind. That’s Monday for you.’ ‘Monday, Monday, can’t trust that day,’ Hodges says. She looks blank. ‘I’m going to step out for a minute, okay? Have to make a call.’ ‘That’s fine,’ Marlee says. ‘Just stand in front of the door. I’ll give you a big wave if you’re still out there when he’s ready.’ ‘That works.’ Hodges stops by the old lady on his way to the door. ‘Good book?’ She looks up at him. ‘No, but it’s very energetic.’ ‘So I’ve been told. Have you seen the movie?’ She stares up at him, surprised and interested. ‘There’s a movie? ’ ‘Yes. You should check it out.’ Not that Hodges has seen it himself, although Holly Gibney – once his assistant, now his partner, a rabid film fan since her troubled childhood – tried to drag him to it. Twice. It was Holly who put the breaking pane of glass/home run text alert on his phone. She found it amusing. Hodges did, too… at first. Now he finds it a pain in the ass. He’ll look up how to change it on the Internet. You can find anything on the Internet, he has discovered. Some of it is helpful. Some of it is interesting. Some of it is funny. And some of it is fucking awful. 2 Pete’s cell rings twice, and then his old partner is in his ear. ‘Huntley.’ Hodges says, ‘Listen to me carefully, because you may be tested on this material later. Yes, I’ll be at the party. Yes, I’ll make a few remarks after the meal, amusing but not raunchy, and I’ll propose the first toast. Yes, I understand both your ex and your current squeeze will be there, but to my knowledge no one has hired a stripper. If anyone has, it would be Hal Corley, who is an idiot, and you’d have to ask hi—’ ‘Bill, stop. It’s not about the party.’ Hodges stops at once. It’s not just the intertwined babble of voices in the background – police voices, he knows that even though he can’t tell what they’re saying. What stops him dead is that Pete has called him Bill, and that means it’s serious shit. Hodges’s thoughts fly first to Corinne, his own ex-wife, next to his daughter Alison, who lives in San Francisco, and then to Holly. Christ, if something has happened to Holly… ‘What is it about, Pete?’ ‘I’m at the scene of what appears to be a murder-suicide. I’d like you to come out and take a look. Bring your sidekick with you, if she’s available and agreeable. I hate to say this, but I think she might actually be a little smarter than you are.’ Not any of his people. Hodges’s stomach muscles, tightened as if to absorb a blow, loosen. Although the steady ache that’s brought him to Stamos is still there. ‘Of course she is. Because she’s younger. You start to lose brain cells by the millions after you turn sixty, a phenomenon you’ll be able to experience for yourself in another couple of years. Why would you want an old carthorse like me at a murder scene?’ ‘Because this is probably my last case, because it’s going to blow up big in the papers, and because – don’t swoon – I actually value your input. Gibney’s, too. And in a weird way, you’re both connected. That’s probably a coincidence, but I’m not entirely sure.’ ‘Connected how?’ ‘Does the name Martine Stover ring a bell?’ For a moment it doesn’t, then it clicks in. On a foggy morning in 2009, a maniac named Brady Hartsfield drove a stolen Mercedes-Benz into a crowd of job-seekers at City Center, downtown. He killed eight and seriously injured fifteen. In the course of their investigation, Detectives K. William Hodges and Peter Huntley interviewed a great many of those who had been present on that foggy morning, including all the wounded survivors. Martine Stover had been the toughest to talk to, and not only because her disfigured mouth made her all but impossible to understand for anyone except her mother. Stover was paralyzed from the chest down. Later, Hartsfield had written Hodges an anonymous letter. In it he referred to her as ‘your basic head on a stick.’ What made that especially cruel was the radioactive nugget of truth inside the ugly joke. ‘I can’t see a quadriplegic as a murderer, Pete… outside an episode of Criminal Minds , that is. So I assume—?’ ‘Yeah, the mother was the doer. First she offed Stover, then herself. Coming?’ Hodges doesn’t hesitate. ‘I am. I’ll pick up Holly on the way. What’s the address?’ ‘1601 Hilltop Court. In Ridgedale.’ Ridgedale is a commuter suburb north of the city, not as pricey as Sugar Heights, but still pretty nice. ‘I can be there in forty minutes, assuming Holly’s at the office.’ And she will be. She’s almost always at her desk by eight, sometimes as early as seven, and apt to be there until Hodges yells at her to go home, fix herself some supper, and watch a movie on her computer. Holly Gibney is the main reason Finders Keepers is in the black. She’s an organizational genius, she’s a computer wizard, and the job is her life. Well, along with Hodges and the Robinson family, especially Jerome and Barbara. Once, when Jerome and Barbie’s mom called Holly an honorary Robinson, she lit up like the sun on a summer afternoon. It’s a thing Holly does more often than she used to, but still not enough to suit Hodges. ‘That’s great, Kerm. Thanks.’ ‘Have the bodies been transported?’ ‘Off to the morgue as we speak, but Izzy’s got all the pictures on her iPad.’ He’s talking about Isabelle Jaynes, who has been Pete’s partner since Hodges retired. ‘Okay. I’ll bring you an ?clair.’ ‘There’s a whole bakery here already. Where are you, by the way?’ ‘Nowhere important. I’ll get with you as soon as I can.’ Hodges ends the call and hurries down the hall to the elevator. 3 Dr Stamos’s eight-forty-five patient finally reappears from the exam area at the back. Mr Hodges’s appointment was for nine, and it’s now nine thirty. The poor guy is probably impatient to do his business here and get rolling with the rest of his day. She looks out in the hall and sees Hodges talking on his cell. Marlee rises and peeks into Stamos’s office. He’s sitting behind his desk with a folder open in front of him. KERMIT WILLIAM HODGES is computer-printed on the tab. The doctor is studying something in the folder and rubbing his temple, as though he has a headache. ‘Dr Stamos? Shall I call Mr Hodges in?’ He looks up at her, startled, then at his desk clock. ‘Oh God, yes. Mondays suck, huh?’ ‘Can’t trust that day,’ she says, and turns to go. ‘I love my job, but I hate this part of it,’ Stamos says. It’s Marlee’s turn to be startled. She turns to look at him. ‘Never mind. Talking to myself. Send him in. Let’s get this over with.’ Marlee looks out into the hall just in time to see the elevator door closing at the far end. 4 Hodges calls Holly from the parking garage next to the medical center, and when he gets to the Turner Building on Lower Marlborough, where their office is located, she’s standing out front with her briefcase planted between her sensible shoes. Holly Gibney: late forties now, tallish and slim, brown hair usually scrooped back in a tight bun, this morning wearing a bulky North Face parka with the hood up and framing her small face. You’d call that face plain, Hodges thinks, until you saw the eyes, which are beautiful and full of intelligence. And you might not really see them for a long time, because as a rule, Holly Gibney doesn’t do eye contact. Hodges slides his Prius to the curb and she jumps in, taking off her gloves and holding her hands up to the passenger-side heating vent. ‘It took you a very long time to get here.’ ‘Fifteen minutes. I was on the other side of town. I caught all the red lights.’ ‘It was eighteen minutes,’ Holly informs him as Hodges pulls into traffic. ‘Because you were speeding, which is counterproductive. If you keep your speed to exactly twenty miles an hour, you can catch almost all the lights. They’re timed. I’ve told you that several times. Now tell me what the doctor said. Did you get an A on your tests?’ Hodges considers his options, which are only two: tell the truth or prevaricate. Holly nagged him into going to the doctor because he’s been having stomach issues. Just pressure at first, now some pain. Holly may have personality problems, but she’s a very efficient nagger. Like a dog with a bone, Hodges sometimes thinks. ‘The results weren’t back yet.’ This is not quite a lie, he tells himself, because they weren’t back to me yet. She looks at him doubtfully as he merges onto the Crosstown Expressway. Hodges hates it when she looks at him that way. ‘I’ll keep after this,’ he says. ‘Trust me.’ ‘I do,’ she says. ‘I do, Bill.’ That makes him feel even worse. She bends, opens her briefcase, and takes out her iPad. ‘I looked up some stuff while I was waiting for you. Want to hear it?’ ‘Hit me.’ ‘Martine Stover was fifty at the time Brady Hartsfield crippled her, which would make her fifty-six as of today. I suppose she could be fifty-seven, but since this is only January, I think that’s very unlikely, don’t you?’ ‘Odds are against, all right.’ ‘At the time of the City Center event, she was living with her mother in a house on Sycamore Street. Not far from Brady Hartsfield and his mother, which is sort of ironic when you think of it.’ Also close to Tom Saubers and his family, Hodges muses. He and Holly had a case involving the Saubers family not long ago, and that one also had a connection to what the local newspaper had taken to calling the Mercedes Massacre. There were all sorts of connections, when you thought about it, perhaps the strangest being that the car Hartsfield had used as a murder weapon belonged to Holly Gibney’s cousin. ‘How does an elderly woman and her severely crippled daughter make the jump from the Tree Streets to Ridgedale?’ ‘Insurance. Martine Stover had not one or two whopping big policies, but three. She was sort of a freak about insurance.’ Hodges reflects that only Holly could say that approvingly. ‘There were several articles about her afterward, because she was the most badly hurt of those who survived. She said she knew that if she didn’t get a job at City Center, she’d have to start cashing her policies in, one by one. After all, she was a single woman with a widowed, unemployed mother to support.’ ‘Who ended up taking care of her.’ Holly nods. ‘Very strange, very sad. But at least there was a financial safety net, which is the purpose of insurance. They even moved up in the world.’ ‘Yes,’ Hodges says, ‘but now they’re out of it.’ To this Holly makes no reply. Up ahead is the Ridgedale exit. Hodges takes it. 5 Pete Huntley has put on weight, his belly hanging over his belt buckle, but Isabelle Jaynes is as smashing as ever in her tight faded jeans and blue blazer. Her misty gray eyes go from Hodges to Holly and then back to Hodges again. ‘You’ve gotten thin,’ she says. This could be either a compliment or an accusation. ‘He’s having stomach problems, so he had some tests,’ Holly says. ‘The results were supposed to be in today, but—’ ‘Let’s not go there, Hols,’ Hodges says. ‘This isn’t a medical consultation.’ ‘You two are more like an old married couple every day,’ Izzy says. Holly replies in a matter-of-fact voice. ‘Marriage to Bill would spoil our working relationship.’ Pete laughs and Holly shoots him a puzzled glance as they step inside the house. It’s a handsome Cape Cod, and although it’s on top of a hill and the day is cold, the house is toasty-warm. In the foyer, all four of them put on thin rubber gloves and bootees. How it all comes back, Hodges thinks. As if I was never away. In the living room there’s a painting of big-eyed waifs hung on one wall, a big-screen TV hung on another. There’s an easy chair in front of the tube with a coffee table beside it. On the table is a careful fan of celebrity mags like OK! and scandal rags like Inside View . In the middle of the room there are two deep grooves in the rug. Hodges thinks, This is where they sat in the evenings to watch TV. Or maybe all day long. Mom in her easy chair, Martine in her wheelchair. Which must have weighed a ton, judging by those marks. ‘What was her mother’s name?’ he asks. ‘Janice Ellerton. Husband James died twenty years ago, according to…’ Old-school like Hodges, Pete carries a notebook instead of an iPad. Now he consults it. ‘According to Yvonne Carstairs. She and the other aide, Georgina Ross, found the bodies when they arrived this morning shortly before six. They got paid extra for turning up early. The Ross woman wasn’t much help—’ ‘She was gibbering,’ Izzy says. ‘Carstairs was okay, though. Kept her head throughout. Called the police right away, and we were on-scene by six forty.’ ‘How old was Mom?’ Hodges asks. ‘Don’t know exactly yet,’ Pete says, ‘but no spring chicken.’ ‘She was seventy-nine,’ Holly says. ‘One of the news stories I searched while I was waiting for Bill to pick me up said she was seventy-three when the City Center Massacre happened.’ ‘Awfully long in the tooth to be taking care of a quadriplegic daughter,’ Hodges says. ‘She was in good shape, though,’ Isabelle says. ‘At least according to Carstairs. Strong. And she had plenty of help. There was money for it because—’ ‘—of the insurance,’ Hodges finishes. ‘Holly filled me in on the ride over.’ Izzy gives Holly a glance. Holly doesn’t notice. She’s measuring the room. Taking inventory. Sniffing the air. Running a palm across the back of Mom’s easy chair. Holly has emotional problems, she’s breathtakingly literal, but she’s also open to stimuli in a way few people are. Pete says, ‘There were two aides in the morning, two in the afternoon, two in the evening. Seven days a week. Private company called’ – back to the notebook – ‘Home Helpers. They did all the heavy lifting. There’s also a housekeeper, Nancy Alderson, but apparently she’s off. Note on the kitchen calendar says Nancy in Chagrin Falls . There’s a line drawn through today, Tuesday, and Wednesday.’ Two men, also wearing gloves and bootees, come down the hall. From the late Martine Stover’s part of the house, Hodges assumes. Both are carrying evidence cases. ‘All done in the bedroom and bathroom,’ one of them says. ‘Anything?’ Izzy asks. ‘About what you’d expect,’ the other says. ‘We got quite a few white hairs from the tub, not unusual considering that’s where the old lady highsided it. There was also excrement in the tub, but just a trace. Also as you would expect.’ Off Hodges’s questioning look, the tech adds, ‘She was wearing continence pants. The lady did her homework.’ ‘Oough,’ Holly says. The first tech says, ‘There’s a shower chair, but it’s in the corner with extra towels stacked on the seat. Looks like it’s never been used.’ ‘They would have given her sponge baths,’ Holly says. She still looks grossed out, either by the thought of continence pants or shit in the bathtub, but her eyes continue to flick everywhere. She may ask a question or two, or drop a comment, but mostly she’ll remain silent, because people intimidate her, especially in close quarters. But Hodges knows her well – as well as anyone can, at least – and he can tell she’s on high alert. Later she will talk, and Hodges will listen closely. During the Saubers case the year before, he learned that listening to Holly pays dividends. She thinks outside the box, sometimes way outside it, and her intuitions can be uncanny. And although fearful by nature – God knows she has her reasons – she can be brave. Holly is the reason Brady Hartsfield, aka Mr Mercedes, is now in the Lakes Region Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic at Kiner Memorial. Holly used a sock loaded with ball bearings to crush in his skull before Hartsfield could touch off a disaster much greater than the one at City Center. Now he’s in a twilight world the head neuro guy at the Brain Injury Clinic refers to as ‘a persistent vegetative state.’ ‘Quadriplegics can shower,’ Holly amplifies, ‘but it’s difficult for them because of all the life-support equipment they’re hooked up to. So mostly it’s sponge baths.’ ‘Let’s go in the kitchen, where it’s sunny,’ Pete says, and to the kitchen they go. The first thing Hodges notices is the dish drainer, where the single plate that held Mrs Ellerton’s last meal has been left to dry. The countertops are sparkling, and the floor looks clean enough to eat on. Hodges has an idea that her bed upstairs will have been neatly made. She may even have vacuumed the carpets. And then there’s the continence pants. She took care of the things she could take care of. As a man who once seriously considered suicide himself, Hodges can relate. 6 Pete, Izzy, and Hodges sit at the kitchen table. Holly merely hovers, sometimes standing behind Isabelle to look at the collection of photos on Izzy’s iPad labeled ELLERTON/STOVER, sometimes poking into the various cupboards, her gloved fingers as light as moths. Izzy takes them through it, swiping at the screen as she talks. The first photo shows two middle-aged women. Both are beefy and broad-shouldered in their red nylon Home Helpers uniforms, but one of them – Georgina Ross, Hodges presumes – is crying and gripping her shoulders so that her forearms press against her breasts. The other one, Yvonne Carstairs, is apparently made of sterner stuff. ‘They got here at five forty-five,’ Izzy says. ‘They have a key to let themselves in, so they don’t have to knock or ring. Sometimes Martine slept until six thirty, Carstairs says. Mrs Ellerton is always up, gets up around five, she told them, had to have her coffee first thing, only this morning she’s not up and there’s no smell of coffee. So they think the old lady overslept for once, good for her. They tiptoe into Stover’s bedroom, right down the hall, to see if she’s awake yet. This is what they find.’ Izzy swipes to the next picture. Hodges waits for another oough from Holly, but she is silent and studying the photo closely. Stover is in bed with the covers pulled down to her knees. The damage to her face was never repaired, but what remains looks peaceful enough. Her eyes are closed and her twisted hands are clasped together. A feeding tube juts from her scrawny abdomen. Her wheelchair – which to Hodges looks more like an astronaut’s space capsule – stands nearby. ‘In Stover’s bedroom there was a smell. Not coffee, though. Booze.’ Izzy swipes. Here is a close-up of Stover’s bedside table. There are neat rows of pills. There’s a grinder to turn them to powder, so that Stover could ingest them. Standing among them and looking wildly out of place is a fifth of Smirnoff Triple Distilled vodka and a plastic syringe. The vodka bottle is empty. ‘The lady was taking zero chances,’ Pete says. ‘Smirnoff Triple Distilled is a hundred and fifty proof.’ ‘I imagine she wanted it to be as quick for her daughter as possible,’ Holly says. ‘Good call,’ Izzy says, but with a notable lack of warmth. She doesn’t care for Holly, and Holly doesn’t care for her. Hodges is aware of this but has no idea why. And since they rarely see Isabelle, he’s never bothered to ask Holly about it. Have you got a close-up of the grinder?’ Holly asks. ‘Of course.’ Izzy swipes, and in the next photo, the pill grinder looks as big as a flying saucer. A dusting of white powder remains in the cup. ‘We won’t be sure until later this week, but we think it’s oxycodone. Her scrip was refilled just three weeks ago, according to the label, but that bottle is as empty as the vodka bottle.’ She goes back to Martine Stover, eyes closed, scrawny hands clasped as if in prayer. ‘Her mother ground up the pills, funneled them into the bottle, and poured the vodka down Martine’s feeding tube. Probably more efficient than lethal injection.’ Izzy swipes again. This time Holly does say ‘Oough,’ but she doesn’t look away. The first photo of Martine’s handicap-equipped bathroom is a wide shot, showing the extra-low counter with its basin, the extra-low towel racks and cabinets, the jumbo shower-tub combination. The slider in front of the shower is closed, the tub in full view. Janice Ellerton reclines in water up to her shoulders, wearing a pink nightgown. Hodges guesses it would have ballooned around her as she lowered herself in, but in this crime scene photo it clings to her thin body. There is a plastic bag over her head, secured by the kind of terrycloth belt that goes with a bathrobe. A length of tubing snakes from beneath it, attached to a small canister lying on the tile floor. On the side of the canister is a decal that shows laughing children. ‘Suicide kit,’ Pete says. ‘She probably learned how to make it on the Internet. There are plenty of sites that explain how to do it, complete with pix. The water in the tub was cool when we got here, but probably warm when she climbed in.’ ‘Supposed to be soothing,’ Izzy puts in, and although she doesn’t say oough , her face tightens in a momentary expression of distaste as she swipes to the next picture: a close-up of Janice Ellerton. The bag had fogged with the condensation of her final breaths, but Hodges can see that her eyes were closed. She also went out looking peaceful. ‘The canister contained helium,’ Pete says. ‘You can buy it at any of the big discount stores. You’re supposed to use it to blow up the balloons at little Buster’s birthday party, but it works just as well to kill yourself with, once you have a bag over your head. Dizziness is followed by disorientation, at which point you probably couldn’t get the bag off even if you changed your mind. Next comes unconsciousness, followed by death.’ ‘Go back to the last one,’ Holly says. ‘The one that shows the whole bathroom.’ ‘Ah,’ Pete says. ‘Dr Watson may have seen something.’ Izzy goes back. Hodges leans closer, squinting – his near vision isn’t what it once was. Then he sees what Holly saw. Next to a thin gray power cord plugged into one of the outlets, there’s a Magic Marker. Someone – Ellerton, he presumes, because her daughter’s writing days were long over – drew a single large letter on the counter: Z . ‘What do you make of it?’ Pete asks. Hodges considers. ‘It’s her suicide note,’ he says at last. ‘Z is the final letter of the alphabet. If she’d known Greek, it might have been omega.’ ‘That’s what I think, too,’ Izzy says. ‘Kind of elegant, when you think of it.’ ‘Z is also the mark of Zorro,’ Holly informs them. ‘He was a masked Mexican cavalier. There have been a great many Zorro movies, one starring Anthony Hopkins as Don Diego, but it wasn’t very good.’ ‘Do you find that relevant?’ Izzy asks. Her face expresses polite interest, but there’s a barb in her tone. ‘There was also a television series,’ Holly goes on. She’s looking at the photo as though hypnotized by it. ‘It was produced by Walt Disney, back in the black-and-white days. Mrs Ellerton might have watched it when she was a girl.’ ‘Are you saying she maybe took refuge in childhood memories while she was getting ready to off herself?’ Pete sounds dubious, which is how Hodges feels. ‘I guess it’s possible.’ ‘Bullshit, more likely,’ Izzy says, rolling her eyes. Holly takes no notice. ‘Can I look in the bathroom? I won’t touch anything, even with these.’ She holds up her small gloved hands. ‘Be our guest,’ Izzy says at once. In other words, Hodges thinks, buzz off and let the adults talk. He doesn’t care for Izzy’s ’tude when it comes to Holly, but since it seems to bounce right off her, he sees no reason to make an issue of it. Besides, Holly really is a bit skitzy this morning, going off in all directions. Hodges supposes it was the pictures. Dead people never look more dead than in police photos. She wanders off to check out the bathroom. Hodges sits back, hands laced at the nape of his neck, elbows winged out. His troublesome gut hasn’t been quite so troublesome this morning, maybe because he switched from coffee to tea. If so, he’ll have to stock up on PG Tips. Hell, buy stock. He’s really tired of the constant stomachache. ‘Want to tell me what we’re doing here, Pete?’ Pete raises his eyebrows and tries to look innocent. ‘Whatever can you mean, Kermit?’ ‘You were right when you said this would make the paper. It’s the kind of sad soap-opera shit people love, it makes their own lives look better to them—’ ‘Cynical but probably true,’ Izzy says with a sigh. ‘—but any connection to the Mercedes Massacre is casual rather than causal.’ Hodges isn’t entirely sure that means what he thinks it means, but it sounds good. ‘What you’ve got here is your basic mercy killing committed by an old lady who just couldn’t stand to see her daughter suffer anymore. Probably Ellerton’s last thought when she turned on the helium was I’ll be with you soon, honey, and when I walk the streets of heaven, you’ll be walking right beside me.’ Izzy snorts at that, but Pete looks pale and thoughtful. Hodges suddenly remembers that a long time ago, maybe thirty years, Pete and his wife lost their first child, a baby daughter, to SIDS. ‘It’s sad, and the papers lap it up for a day or two, but it happens somewhere in the world every day. Every hour, for all I know. So tell me what the deal is.’ ‘Probably nothing. Izzy says it is nothing.’ ‘Izzy does,’ she confirms. ‘Izzy probably thinks I’m going soft in the head as I approach the finish line.’ ‘Izzy doesn’t. Izzy just thinks that it’s time you stop letting the bee known as Brady Hartsfield buzz around in your bonnet.’ She switches those misty gray eyes to Hodges. ‘Ms Gibney there may be a bundle of nervous tics and strange associations, but she stopped Hartsfield’s clock most righteously, and I give her full credit for it. He’s zonked out in that brain trauma clinic at Kiner, where he’ll probably stay until he catches pneumonia and dies, thereby saving the state a whole potful of money. He’s never going to stand trial for what he did, we all know that. You didn’t catch him for the City Center thing, but Gibney stopped him from blowing up two thousand kids at Mingo Auditorium a year later. You guys need to accept that. Call it a win and move on.’ ‘Whew,’ Pete says. ‘How long have you been holding that in?’ Izzy tries not to smile, but can’t help it. Pete smiles in return, and Hodges thinks, They work as well together as Pete and I did. Shame to break up that combination. It really is. ‘Quite awhile,’ Izzy says. ‘Now go on and tell him.’ She turns to Hodges. ‘At least it’s not little gray men from The X-Files .’ ‘So?’ Hodges asks. ‘Keith Frias and Krista Countryman,’ Pete says. ‘Both were also at City Center on the morning of April tenth, when Hartsfield did his thing. Frias, age nineteen, lost most of his arm, plus suffered four broken ribs and internal injuries. He also lost seventy percent of the vision in his right eye. Countryman, age twenty-one, suffered broken ribs, a broken arm, and spinal injuries that resolved after all sorts of painful therapy I don’t even want to think about.’ Hodges doesn’t, either, but he’s brooded over Brady Hartsfield’s victims many times. Mostly on how the work of seventy wicked seconds could change the lives of so many for years… or, in the case of Martine Stover, forever. ‘They met in weekly therapy sessions at a place called Recovery Is You, and fell in love. They were getting better… slowly… and planned to get married. Then, in February of last year, they committed suicide together. In the words of some old punk song or other, they took a lot of pills and they died.’ This makes Hodges think of the grinder on the table beside Stover’s hospital bed. The grinder with its residue of oxycodone. Mom dissolved all of the oxy in the vodka, but there must have been plenty of other narcotic medications on that table. Why had she gone to all the trouble of the plastic bag and the helium when she could have swallowed a bunch of Vicodin, chased it with a bunch of Valium, and called it good? ‘Frias and Countryman were the sort of youngster suicides that also happen every day,’ Izzy says. ‘The parents were doubtful about the marriage. Wanted them to wait. And they could hardly run off together, could they? Frias could barely walk, and neither of them had jobs. There was enough insurance to pay for the weekly therapy sessions and to kick in for groceries at their respective homes, but nothing like the kind of Cadillac coverage Martine Stover had. Bottom line, shit happens. You can’t even call it a coincidence. Badly hurt people get depressed, and sometimes depressed people kill themselves.’ ‘Where did they do it?’ ‘The Frias boy’s bedroom,’ Pete says. ‘While his parents were on a day trip to Six Flags with his little brother. They took the pills, crawled into the sack, and died in each other’s arms, just like Romeo and Juliet.’ ‘Romeo and Juliet died in a tomb,’ Holly says, coming back into the kitchen. ‘In the Franco Zeffirelli film, which is really the best—’ ‘Yes, okay, point taken,’ Pete says. ‘Tomb, bedroom, at least they rhyme.’ Holly is holding the Inside View that was on the coffee table, folded to show a picture of Johnny Depp that makes him look either drunk, stoned, or dead. Has she been in the living room, reading a scandal sheet all this time? If so, she really is having an off day. Pete says, ‘Have you still got the Mercedes, Holly? The one Hartsfield stole from your cousin Olivia?’ ‘No.’ Holly sits down with the folded newspaper in her lap and her knees primly together. ‘I traded it last November for a Prius like Bill’s. It used a great deal of gas and was not eco-friendly. Also, my therapist recommended it. She said that after a year and a half, I had surely exorcised its hold over me, and its therapeutic value was gone. Why are you interested in that?’ Pete sits forward in his chair and clasps his hands together between his spread knees. ‘Hartsfield got into that Mercedes by using an electronic gizmo to unlock the doors. Her spare key was in the glove compartment. Maybe he knew it was there, or maybe the slaughter at City Center was a crime of opportunity. We’ll never know for sure.’ And Olivia Trelawney, Hodges thinks, was a lot like her cousin Holly: nervy, defensive, most definitely not a social animal. Far from stupid, but hard to like. We were sure she left her Mercedes unlocked with the key in the ignition, because that was the simplest explanation. And because, on some primitive level where logical thinking has no power, we wanted that to be the explanation. She was a pain in the ass. We saw her repeated denials as a haughty refusal to take responsibility for her own carelessness. The key in her purse, the one she showed us? We assumed that was just her spare. We hounded her, and when the press got her name, they hounded her. Eventually, she started to believe she’d done what we believed she’d done: enabled a monster with mass murder on his mind. None of us considered the idea that a computer geek might have cobbled together that unlocking gizmo. Including Olivia Trelawney herself. ‘But we weren’t the only ones who hounded her.’ Hodges is unaware that he’s spoken aloud until they all turn to look at him. Holly gives him a small nod, as if they have been following the exact same train of thought. Which wouldn’t be all that surprising. Hodges goes on. ‘It’s true that we never believed her, no matter how many times she told us she took her key and locked her car, so we bear part of the responsibility for what she did, but Hartsfield went after her with malice aforethought. That’s what you’re driving at, isn’t it?’ ‘Yes,’ Pete says. ‘He wasn’t content with stealing her Mercedes and using it as a murder weapon. He got inside her head, even bugged her computer with an audio program full of screams and accusations. And then there’s you, Kermit.’ Yes. There was him. Hodges had received an anonymous poison pen letter from Hartsfield when he was at an absolute low point, living in an empty house, sleeping badly, seeing almost no one except Jerome Robinson, the kid who cut his grass and did general repairs around the place. Suffering from a common malady in career cops: end-of-watch depression. Retired police have an extremely high suicide rate , Brady Hartsfield had written. This was before they began communicating by the twenty-first century’s preferred method, the Internet. I wouldn’t want you to start thinking about your gun. But you are thinking about it, aren’t you? It was as if Hartsfield had sniffed out Hodges’s thoughts of suicide and tried to push him over the edge. It had worked with Olivia Trelawney, after all, and he’d gotten a taste for it. ‘When I first started working with you,’ Pete says, ‘you told me repeat criminals were sort of like Turkish rugs. Do you remember that?’ ‘Yes.’ It was a theory Hodges had expounded to a great many cops. Few listened, and judging by her bored expression, he guessed Isabelle Jaynes would have been one of those who did not. Pete had. ‘They create the same pattern, over and over. Ignore the slight variations, you said, and look for the underlying sameness. Because even the smartest doers – like Turnpike Joe, who killed all those women at rest stops – seem to have a switch inside their brains that’s stuck on Repeat. Brady Hartsfield was a connoisseur of suicide—’ ‘He was an architect of suicide,’ Holly says. She’s looking down at the newspaper, her brow furrowed, her face paler than ever. It’s hard for Hodges to relive the Hartsfield business (at least he’s finally managed to quit going to see the son of a bitch in his room in the Brain Injury Clinic), but it’s even harder for Holly. He hopes she won’t backslide and start smoking again, but it wouldn’t surprise him if she did. ‘Call it what you want, but the pattern was there. He goaded his own mother into suicide, for Christ’s sake.’ Hodges says nothing to this, although he has always doubted Pete’s belief that Deborah Hartsfield killed herself when she discovered – perhaps by accident – that her son was the Mercedes Killer. For one thing, they have no proof that Mrs Hartsfield ever did find out. For another, it was gopher poison the woman ingested, and that had to be a nasty way to go. It’s possible that Brady murdered his mother, but Hodges has never really believed that, either. If he loved anyone, it was her. Hodges thinks the gopher poison might have been intended for someone else… and perhaps not for a person at all. According to the autopsy, it had been mixed in with hamburger, and if there was anything dogs liked, it was a ball of raw ground meat. The Robinsons have a dog, a loveable floppy-eared mutt. Brady would have seen him many times, because he was watching Hodges’s house and because Jerome usually brought the dog along when he cut Hodges’s lawn. The gopher poison could have been meant for Odell. This is an idea Hodges has never mentioned to any of the Robinsons. Or to Holly, for that matter. And hey, it’s probably bullshit, but in Hodges’s opinion, it’s as likely as Pete’s idea that Brady’s mom offed herself. Izzy opens her mouth, then shuts it when Pete holds up a hand to forestall her – he is, after all, still the senior member of their partnership, and by quite a few years. ‘Izzy’s getting ready to say Martine Stover was murder, not suicide, but I think there’s a very good chance that the idea came from Martine herself, or that she and her mother talked it over and came to a mutual agreement. Which makes them both suicides in my book, even though it won’t get written up that way in the official report.’ ‘I assume you’ve checked on the other City Center survivors?’ Hodges asks. ‘All alive except for Gerald Stansbury, who died just after Thanksgiving last year,’ Pete says. ‘Had a heart attack. His wife told me coronary disease runs in his family, and that he lived longer than both his father and brother. Izzy’s right, this is probably nothing, but I thought you and Holly should know.’ He looks at each of them in turn. ‘You haven’t had any bad thoughts about pulling the pin, have you?’ ‘No,’ Hodges says. ‘Not lately.’ Holly merely shakes her head, still looking down at the newspaper. Hodges asks, ‘I don’t suppose anyone found a mysterious letter Z in young Mr Frias’s bedroom after he and Ms Countryman committed suicide?’ ‘Of course not,’ Izzy says. ‘That you know of,’ Hodges corrects. ‘Isn’t that what you mean? Considering you just found this one today?’ ‘Jesus please us,’ Izzy says. ‘This is silly.’ She looks pointedly at her watch and stands. Pete gets up, too. Holly remains seated, looking down at her filched copy of Inside View . Hodges also stays put, at least for the moment. ‘You’ll go back to the Frias-Countryman photos, right, Pete? Check it out, just to be sure?’ ‘Yes,’ Pete says. ‘And Izzy’s probably right, I was silly to get you two out here.’ ‘I’m glad you did.’ ‘And… I still feel bad about the way we handled Mrs Trelawney, okay?’ Pete is looking at Hodges, but Hodges has an idea he’s really speaking to the thin, pale woman with the junk newspaper in her lap. ‘I never once doubted that she left her key in the ignition. I closed my mind to any other possibility. I promised myself I’d never do that again.’ ‘I understand,’ Hodges says. ‘One thing I believe we all can agree on,’ Izzy says, ‘is that Hartsfield’s days of running people down, blowing people up, and architecting suicides are behind him. So unless we’ve all stumbled into a movie called Son of Brady , I suggest we exit the late Ms Ellerton’s house and get on with our lives. Any objections to that idea?’ There are none. 7 Hodges and Holly stand in the driveway for a moment before getting into the car, letting the cold January wind rush past them. It’s out of the north, blowing straight down from Canada, so the usually present smell of the large, polluted lake to the east is refreshingly absent. There are only a few houses at this end of Hilltop Court, and the closest has a FOR SALE sign on it. Hodges notices that Tom Saubers is the agent, and he smiles. Tom was also badly hurt in the Massacre, but has come almost all the way back. Hodges is always amazed by the resilience of which some men and women are capable. It doesn’t exactly give him hope for the human race, but… Actually, it does. In the car, Holly puts the folded Inside View on the floor long enough to fasten her seatbelt, then picks it up again. Neither Pete nor Isabelle objected to her taking it. Hodges isn’t sure they even noticed. Why would they? To them, the Ellerton house isn’t really a crime scene, although the letter of the law may call it that. Pete was uneasy, true, but Hodges thinks that had little to do with cop intuition and was a quasi-superstitious response instead. Hartsfield should have died when Holly hit him with my Happy Slapper, Hodges thinks. That would have been better for all of us. ‘Pete will go back and look at the pictures from the Frias-Countryman suicides,’ he tells Holly. ‘Due diligence, and all that. But if he finds a Z scratched somewhere – on a baseboard, on a mirror – I will be one surprised human being.’ She doesn’t reply. Her eyes are far away. ‘Holly? Are you there?’ She starts a little. ‘Yes. Just planning how I’ll locate Nancy Alderson in Chagrin Falls. It shouldn’t take too long with all the search programs I’ve got, but you’ll have to talk to her. I can do cold calls now if I absolutely have to, you know that—’ ‘Yes. You’ve gotten good at it.’ Which is true, although she always makes such calls with her trusty box of Nicorette close at hand. Not to mention a stash of Twinkies in her desk for backup. ‘But I can’t be the one to tell her that her employers – her friends , for all we know – are dead. You’ll have to do it. You’re good at things like that.’ Hodges feels that nobody is very good at things like that, but doesn’t bother saying so. ‘Why? The Alderson woman wouldn’t have been there since last Friday.’ ‘She deserves to know,’ Holly says. ‘The police will get in touch with any relatives, that’s their job, but they’re not going to call the housekeeper. At least I don’t think so.’ Hodges doesn’t, either, and Holly’s right – the Alderson woman deserves to know, if only so she doesn’t turn up to find an X of police tape on the door. But somehow he doesn’t think that’s Holly’s only interest in Nancy Alderson. ‘Your friend Pete and Miss Pretty Gray Eyes hardly did anything ,’ Holly says. ‘There was fingerprint powder in Martine Stover’s bedroom, sure, and on her wheelchair, and in the bathroom where Mrs Ellerton killed herself, but none upstairs where she slept. They probably went up long enough to make sure there wasn’t a body stashed under the bed or in the closet, and called it good.’ ‘Hold on a second. You went upstairs?’ ‘Of course. Somebody needed to investigate thoroughly, and those two sure weren’t doing it. As far as they’re concerned, they know exactly what happened. Pete only called you because he was spooked.’ Spooked . Yes, that was it. Exactly the word he was looking for and hadn’t been able to find. ‘I was spooked, too,’ Holly says matter-of-factly, ‘but that doesn’t mean I lost my wits. The whole thing was wrong. Wrong wrong wrong, and you need to talk to the housekeeper. I’ll tell you what to ask her, if you can’t figure it out for yourself.’ ‘Is this about the Z on the bathroom counter? If you know something I don’t, I wish you’d fill me in.’ ‘It’s not what I know, it’s what I saw. Didn’t you notice what was beside that Z?’ ‘A Magic Marker.’ She gives him a look that says you can do better . Hodges calls on an old cop technique that comes in especially handy when giving trial testimony: he looks at the picture again, this time in his mind. ‘There was a power cord plugged into the wall beside the basin.’ ‘Yes! At first I thought it must be for an e-reader and Mrs Ellerton left it plugged in there because she spent most of her time in that part of the house. It would be a convenient charging point, because all the plugs in Martine’s bedroom were probably in use for her life-support gear. Don’t you think so?’ ‘Yeah, that could be.’ ‘Only I have both a Nook and a Kindle—’ Of course you do, he thinks. ‘—and neither of them has cords like that. Those cords are black. This one was gray.’ ‘Maybe she lost the original charging cord and bought a replacement at Tech Village.’ Pretty much the only game in town for electronic supplies, now that Discount Electronix, Brady Hartsfield’s old employer, has declared bankruptcy. ‘No. E-readers have prong-type plug-ins. This one was wider, like for an electronic tablet. Only my iPad also has that kind, and the one in the bathroom was much smaller. That cord was for some kind of handheld device. So I went upstairs to look for it.’ ‘Where you found…?’ ‘Just an old PC on a desk by the window in Mrs Ellerton’s bedroom. And I mean old . It was hooked up to a modem.’ ‘Oh my God, no!’ Hodges exclaims. ‘Not a modem!’ ‘This is not funny, Bill. Those women are dead .’ Hodges takes a hand from the wheel and holds it up in a peace gesture. ‘Sorry. Go on. This is the part where you tell me you powered up her computer.’ Holly looks slightly discomfited. ‘Well, yes. But only in the service of an investigation the police are clearly not going to make. I wasn’t snooping .’ Hodges could argue the point, but doesn’t. ‘It wasn’t password protected, so I looked at Mrs Ellerton’s search history. She visited quite a few retail sites, and lots of medical sites having to do with paralysis. She seemed very interested in stem cells, which makes sense, considering her daughter’s condi—’ ‘You did all this in ten minutes?’ ‘I’m a fast reader. But you know what I didn’t find?’ ‘I’m guessing anything to do with suicide.’ ‘Yes. So how did she know about the helium thing? For that matter, how did she know to dissolve those pills in vodka and put them in her daughter’s feeding tube?’ ‘Well,’ Hodges says, ‘there’s this ancient arcane ritual called reading books. You may have heard of it.’ ‘Did you see any books in that living room?’ He replays the living room just as he did the photo of Martine Stover’s bathroom, and Holly is right. There were shelves of knickknacks, and that picture of big-eyed waifs, and the flatscreen TV. There were magazines on the coffee table, but spread in a way that spoke more to decoration than to voracious reading. Plus, none of them was exactly The Atlantic Monthly . ‘No,’ he says, ‘no books in the living room, although I saw a couple in the photo of Stover’s bedroom. One of them looked like a Bible.’ He glances at the folded Inside View in her lap. ‘What have you got in there, Holly? What are you hiding?’ When Holly flushes, she goes totally Defcon 1, the blood crashing to her face in a way that’s alarming. It happens now. ‘It wasn’t stealing,’ she says. ‘It was borrowing . I never steal, Bill. Never!’ ‘Cool your jets. What is it?’ ‘The thing that goes with the power cord in the bathroom.’ She unfolds the newspaper to reveal a bright pink gadget with a dark gray screen. It’s bigger than an e-reader, smaller than an electronic tablet. ‘When I came downstairs, I sat in Mrs Ellerton’s chair to think a minute. I ran my hands between the arms and the cushion. I wasn’t even hunting for something, I was just doing it.’ One of Holly’s many self-comforting techniques, Hodges assumes. He’s seen many in the years since he first met her in the company of her overprotective mother and aggressively gregarious uncle. In their company? No, not exactly. That phrase suggested equality. Charlotte Gibney and Henry Sirois had treated her more like a mentally defective child out on a day pass. Holly is a different woman now, but traces of the old Holly still remain. And that’s okay with Hodges. After all, everyone casts a shadow. ‘That’s where it was, down on the right side. It’s a Zappit.’ The name chimes a faint chord far back in his memory, although when it comes to computer chip-driven gadgetry, Hodges is far behind the curve. He’s always screwing up with his own home computer, and now that Jerome Robinson is away, Holly is the one who usually comes over to his house on Harper Road to straighten him out. ‘A whatsit?’ ‘A Zappit Commander. I’ve seen advertisements online, although not lately. They come pre-loaded with over a hundred simple electronic games like Tetris, Simon, and SpellTower. Nothing complicated like Grand Theft Auto. So tell me what it was doing there, Bill. Tell me what it was doing in a house where one of the women was almost eighty and the other one couldn’t turn a light switch, let alone play video games.’ ‘It seems odd, all right. Not downright bizarre, but on the odd side, for sure.’ ‘And the cord was plugged in right next to that letter Z,’ she says. ‘Not Z for the end, like a suicide note, but Z for Zappit. At least that’s what I think.’ Hodges considers the idea. ‘Maybe.’ He wonders again if he has encountered that name before, or if it’s only what the French call faux souvenir – a false memory. He could swear it has some connection to Brady Hartsfield, but he can’t trust that idea, because Brady is very much on his mind today. How long has it been since I’ve gone to visit him? Six months? Eight? No, longer than that. Quite a bit longer. The last time was not long after the business having to do with Pete Saubers and the cache of stolen money and notebooks Pete discovered, practically buried in his backyard. On that occasion, Hodges found Brady much the same as ever – a gorked-out young man dressed in a plaid shirt and jeans that never got dirty. He was sitting in the same chair he was always sitting in when Hodges visited Room 217 in the Brain Injury Clinic, just staring out at the parking garage across the way. The only real difference that day had been outside Room 217. Becky Helmington, the head nurse, had moved on to the surgical wing of Kiner Memorial, thereby closing Hodges’s conduit to rumors about Brady. The new head nurse was a woman with stony scruples and a face like a closed fist. Ruth Scapelli refused Hodges’s offer of fifty dollars for any little tidbits about Brady and threatened to report him if he ever offered her money for patient information again. ‘You’re not even on his visitors list,’ she said. ‘I don’t want information about him,’ Hodges had said. ‘I’ve got all the information about Brady Hartsfield I’m ever going to need. I just want to know what the staff is saying about him. Because there have been rumors, you know. Some of them pretty wild.’ Scapelli favored him with a disdainful look. ‘There’s loose talk in every hospital, Mr Hodges, and always about patients who are famous. Or infamous, as is the case with Mr Hartsfield. I held a staff meeting shortly after Nurse Helmington moved from Brain Injury to her current situation, and informed my people that the talk about Mr Hartsfield was to stop immediately, and if I caught wind of more rumors, I would trace them to their source and see that the person or persons spreading them was dismissed. As for you…’ Looking down her nose at him, the fist of her face tightening even more. ‘I can’t believe that a former police officer, and a decorated one at that, would resort to bribery.’ Not long after that rather humiliating encounter, Holly and Jerome Robinson cornered him and staged a mini-intervention, telling Hodges that his visits to Brady had to end. Jerome had been especially serious that day, his usual cheerful patter nowhere to be found. ‘There’s nothing you can do in that room but hurt yourself,’ Jerome had said. ‘We always know when you’ve been to see him, because you go around with a little gray cloud over your head for the next two days.’ ‘More like a week,’ Holly added. She wouldn’t look at him, and she was twisting her fingers in a way that made Hodges want to grab them and make her stop before she broke something. Her voice, however, was firm and sure. ‘There’s nothing left inside him, Bill. You need to accept that. And if there was, he’d be happy every time you showed up. He’d see what he’s doing to you and be happy.’ That was the convincer, because Hodges knew it was the truth. So he stays away. It was kind of like quitting smoking: hard at first, easier as time went by. Now whole weeks sometimes pass without thoughts of Brady and Brady’s terrible crimes. There’s nothing left inside him . Hodges reminds himself of that as he drives back into the heart of the city, where Holly will kick her computer into high gear and start hunting down Nancy Alderson. Whatever happened in that house at the end of Hilltop Court – the chain of thoughts and conversations, of tears and promises, all ending in the dissolved pills injected into the feeding tube and the tank of helium with the laughing children decaled on the side – it can have nothing to do with Brady Hartsfield, because Holly literally bashed his brains out. If Hodges sometimes doubts, it’s because he can’t stand the idea that Brady has somehow escaped punishment. That in the end, the monster eluded him. Hodges didn’t even get to swing the ball bearing-loaded sock he calls his Happy Slapper, because he was busy suffering a heart attack at the time. Still, a ghost of memory: Zappit. He knows he has heard that before. His stomach gives a warning twinge, and he remembers the doctor’s appointment he blew off. He’ll have to take care of that, but tomorrow should be soon enough. He has an idea that Dr Stamos is going to tell him he has an ulcer, and for that news he can wait. 8 Holly has a fresh box of Nicorette by her telephone, but doesn’t need to use a single chew. The first Alderson she calls turns out to be the housekeeper’s sister-in-law, who of course wants to know why someone from a company called Finders Keepers wants to get in touch with Nan. ‘Is it a bequest, or something?’ she asks hopefully. ‘One moment,’ Holly says. ‘I have to put you on hold while I get my boss.’ Hodges is not her boss, he made her a full partner after the Pete Saubers business last year, but it’s a fiction she often falls back on when she’s stressed. Hodges, who has been using his own computer to read up on Zappit Game Systems, picks up the phone while Holly lingers by his desk, gnawing at the neck of her sweater. Hodges hovers his finger over the hold button on his phone long enough to tell Holly that eating wool probably isn’t good for her, and certainly not for the Fair Isle she’s wearing. Then he connects with the sister-in-law. ‘I’m afraid I have some bad news for Nancy,’ he says, and fills her in quickly. ‘Oh my God,’ Linda Alderson says (Holly has jotted the name on his pad). ‘She’s going to be devastated to hear that, and not just because it means the end of the job. She’s been working for those ladies since 2012, and she really likes them. She had Thanksgiving dinner with them just last November. Are you with the police?’ ‘Retired,’ he says, ‘but working with the team assigned to the case. I was asked to get in touch with Ms Alderson.’ He doesn’t think this lie will come back to haunt him, since Pete opened the door by inviting him to the scene. ‘Can you tell me how to get in touch with her?’ ‘I’ll give you her cell number. She went to Chagrin Falls for her brother’s birthday party on Saturday. It was the big four-oh, so Harry’s wife made a fuss about it. She’s staying until Wednesday or Thursday, I think – at least that was the plan. I’m sure this news will bring her back. Nan lives alone since Bill died – Bill was my husband’s brother – with only her cat for company. Mrs Ellerton and Ms Stover were sort of a surrogate family. This will just make her so sad.’ Hodges takes the number down and calls immediately. Nancy Alderson picks up on the first ring. He identifies himself, then gives her the news. After a moment of shocked silence, she says, ‘Oh, no, that can’t be. You’ve made a mistake, Detective Hodges.’ He doesn’t bother to correct her, because this is interesting. ‘Why do you say that?’ ‘Because they’re happy . They get along so well, watching TV together – they love movies on the DVD player, and those shows about cooking, or where women sit around talking about fun things and having celebrity guests. You wouldn’t believe it, but there’s a lot of laughter in that house.’ Nancy Alderson hesitates, then says, ‘Are you sure you’re talking about the right people? About Jan Ellerton and Marty Stover?’ ‘Sorry to say I am.’ ‘But… she had accepted her condition! Marty, I’m talking about. Martine. She used to say that getting used to being paralyzed was actually easier than getting used to being a spinster. She and I used to talk about that all the time – being on our own. Because I lost my husband, you know.’ ‘So there was never a Mr Stover.’ ‘Yes there was, Janice had an earlier marriage. Very short, I believe, but she said she never regretted it because she got Martine. Marty did have a boyfriend not long before her accident, but he had a heart attack. Carried him right off. Marty said he was very fit, used to exercise three days a week at a health club downtown. She said it was being so fit that killed him. Because his heart was strong, and when it backfired, it just blew apart.’ Hodges, a coronary survivor, thinks, Reminder to self: no fitness club. ‘Marty used to say that being alone after someone you love passes on was the worst kind of paralysis. I didn’t feel exactly the same way about my Bill, but I knew what she meant. Reverend Henreid came in to see her often – Marty calls him her spiritual adviser – and even when he didn’t, she and Jan did daily devotions and prayers. Every day at noon. And Marty was thinking about taking an accounting course online – they have special courses for people with her kind of disability, did you know that?’ ‘I didn’t,’ Hodges says. On his pad he prints STOVER PLANNING TO TAKE ACCOUNTING COURSE BY COMPUTER and turns it so Holly can read it. She raises her eyebrows. ‘There were tears and sadness from time to time, of course there was, but for the most part they were happy . At least… I don’t know…’ ‘What are you thinking about, Nancy?’ He makes the switch to her first name – another old cop trick – without thinking about it. ‘Oh, it’s probably nothing. Marty seemed as happy as ever – she’s a real love-bug, that one, you wouldn’t believe how spiritual she is, always sees the good side of everything – but Jan did seem a little withdrawn lately, as if she had something weighing on her mind. I thought it might be money worries, or maybe just the after-Christmas blues. I never dreamed …’ She sniffles. ‘Excuse me, I have to blow.’ ‘Sure.’ Holly grabs his pad. Her printing is small – constipated, he often thinks – and he has to hold the pad almost touching his nose to read ASK HER ABOUT ZAPPIT! There’s a honking sound in his ear as Alderson blows her nose. ‘Sorry.’ ‘That’s all right. Nancy, would you know if Mrs Ellerton happened to have a small handheld game console? It would have been pink.’ ‘Goodness sakes, how did you know that?’ ‘I really don’t know anything,’ Hodges says truthfully. ‘I’m just a retired detective with a list of questions I’m supposed to ask.’ ‘She said a man gave it to her. He told her the game gadget was free as long as she promised to fill out a questionnaire and send it back to the company. The thing was a little bit bigger than a paperback book. It just sat around the house awhile—’ ‘When was this?’ ‘I can’t remember exactly, but before Christmas, for sure. The first time I saw it, it was on the coffee table in the living room. It just stayed there with the questionnaire folded up beside it until after Christmas – I know because their little tree was gone – and then I spied it one day on the kitchen table. Jan said she turned it on just to see what it would do, and found out there were solitaire games on it, maybe as many as a dozen different kinds, like Klondike and Picture and Pyramid. So, since she was using it, she filled out the questionnaire and sent it in.’ ‘Did she charge it in Marty’s bathroom?’ ‘Yes, because that was the most convenient place. She was in that part of the house so much, you know.’ ‘Uh-huh. You said that Mrs Ellerton became withdrawn—’ ‘A little withdrawn,’ Alderson corrects at once. ‘Mostly she was the same as always. A love-bug, just like Marty.’ ‘But something was on her mind.’ ‘Yes, I think so.’ ‘Weighing on her mind.’ ‘Well…’ ‘Was this around the same time she got the handheld game machine?’ ‘I guess it was, now that I think about it, but why in the world would playing solitaire on a little pink tablet depress her?’ ‘I don’t know,’ Hodges says, and prints DEPRESSED on his pad. He thinks there’s a significant jump between being withdrawn and being depressed. ‘Have their relations been told?’ Alderson asks. ‘There aren’t any in the city, but there are cousins in Ohio, I know that, and I think some in Kansas, too. Or maybe it was Indiana. The names would be in her address book.’ ‘The police will be doing that as we speak,’ Hodges says, although he will call Pete later on to make sure. It will probably annoy his old partner, but Hodges doesn’t care. Nancy Alderson’s distress is in every word she utters, and he wants to offer what comfort he can. ‘May I ask one more question?’ ‘Of course.’ ‘Did you happen to notice anyone hanging around the house? Anyone without an obvious reason to be there?’ Holly is nodding vigorously. ‘Why would you ask that?’ Alderson sounds astonished. ‘Surely you don’t think some outsider —’ ‘I don’t think anything,’ Hodges says smoothly. ‘I’m just helping the police because there’s been such a staff reduction in the last few years. Citywide budget cuts.’ ‘I know, it’s awful.’ ‘So they gave me this list of questions, and that’s the last one.’ ‘Well, there was nobody. I’d have noticed, because of the breezeway between the house and the garage. The garage is heated, so that’s where the pantry and the washer-dryer are. I’m back and forth in that breezeway all the time, and I can see the street from there. Hardly anyone comes all the way up Hilltop Court, because Jan and Marty’s is the last house. It’s just the turnaround after that. Of course there’s the postman, and UPS, and sometimes FedEx, but otherwise, unless someone gets lost, we’ve got that end of the street to ourselves.’ ‘So there was no one at all.’ ‘No, sir, there sure wasn’t.’ ‘Not the man who gave Mrs Ellerton the game console?’ ‘No, he approached her in Ridgeline Foods. That’s the grocery store at the foot of the hill, down where City Avenue crosses Hilltop Court. There’s a Kroger about a mile further on, in the City Avenue Plaza, but Janice won’t go there even though things are a little cheaper, because she says you should always buy locally if you… you…’ She gives a sudden loud sob. ‘But she’s done shopping anywhere , isn’t she? Oh, I can’t believe this! Jan would never hurt Marty, not for the world.’ ‘It’s a sad thing,’ Hodges says. ‘I’ll have to come back today.’ Alderson now talking to herself rather than to Hodges. ‘It may take awhile for her relatives to come, and someone will have to make the proper arrangements.’ A final housekeeping duty, Hodges thinks, and finds the thought both touching and obscurely horrible. ‘I want to thank you for your time, Nancy. I’ll let you go n—’ ‘Of course there was that elderly fellow,’ Alderson says. ‘What elderly fellow was that?’ ‘I saw him several times outside 1588. He’d park at the curb and just stand on the sidewalk, looking at it. That’s the house across the street and down the hill a little way. You might not have noticed it, but it was for sale.’ Hodges did notice, but doesn’t say so. He doesn’t want to interrupt. ‘Once he walked right up the lawn to look in the bay window – this was before the last big snowstorm. I think he was window shopping.’ She gives a watery laugh. ‘Although my mother would have called it window wishing , because he surely didn’t look like the sort who could afford a house like that.’ ‘No?’ ‘Uh-uh. He was dressed in workman’s clothes – you know, green pants, like Dickies – and his parka was mended with a piece of masking tape. Also, his car looked very old and had spots of primer on it. My late husband used to call that poor man’s polish.’ ‘You don’t happen to know what kind of car it was, do you?’ He flips his pad to a fresh sheet and writes, FIND DATE OF LAST BIG SNOWSTORM. Holly reads it and nods. ‘No, I’m sorry. I don’t know cars. I don’t even remember the color, just those spots of primer paint. Mr Hodges, are you sure there hasn’t been some mistake?’ She’s almost begging. ‘I wish I could tell you that, Nancy, but I can’t. You’ve been very helpful.’ Doubtfully: ‘Have I?’ Hodges gives her his number, Holly’s, and the office number. He tells her to call if anything occurs to her that they haven’t covered. He reminds her that there may be press interest because Martine was paralyzed at City Center in 2009, and tells her she isn’t obliged to talk to reporters or TV news people if she doesn’t want to. Nancy Alderson is crying again when he breaks the connection. 9 He takes Holly to lunch at Panda Garden a block down the street. It’s early and they have the dining room almost to themselves. Holly is off meat and orders vegetable chow mein. Hodges loves the spicy shredded beef, but his stomach won’t put up with it these days, so he settles for Ma La Lamb. They both use chopsticks, Holly because she’s good with them and Hodges because they slow him down and make a post-lunch bonfire in his guts less likely. She says, ‘The last big storm was December nineteenth. The weather service reported eleven inches in Government Square, thirteen in Branson Park. Not exactly huge, but the only other one so far this winter dropped just four inches.’ ‘Six days before Christmas. Around the same time Janice Ellerton was given the Zappit, according to Alderson’s recollection.’ ‘Do you think the man who gave it to her was the same one looking at that house?’ Hodges snares a piece of broccoli. It’s supposed to be good for you, like all veggies that taste bad. ‘I don’t think Ellerton would have accepted anything from a guy wearing a parka mended with masking tape. I’m not counting the possibility out, but it seems unlikely.’ ‘Eat your lunch, Bill. If I get any further ahead of you, I’ll look like a pig.’ Hodges eats, although he has very little appetite these days even when his stomach isn’t giving him the devil. When a bite sticks in his throat, he washes it down with tea. Maybe a good idea, since tea seems to help. He thinks about those test results he is yet to see. It occurs to him that his problem could be worse than an ulcer, that an ulcer might actually be the best-case scenario. There’s medicine for ulcers. Other things, not so much. When he can see the middle of his plate (but Jesus, so much food left around the edges), he sets his chopsticks aside and says, ‘I found something out while you were hunting down Nancy Alderson.’ ‘Tell me.’ ‘I was reading about those Zappits. Amazing how these computer-based companies pop up, then disappear. They’re like dandelions in June. The Commander didn’t exactly corner the market. Too simple, too expensive, too much sophisticated competition. Zappit Inc. stock went down and they got bought out by a company called Sunrise Solutions. Two years ago that company declared bankruptcy and went dark. Which means Zappit is long gone and the guy giving out Commander consoles had to be running some kind of scam.’ Holly is quick to see where that leads. ‘So the questionnaire was bullpoop just to add a little whatdoyoucallit, verisimilitude. But the guy didn’t try to get money out of her, did he?’ ‘No. At least not that we know of.’ ‘Something weird is going on here, Bill. Are you going to tell Detective Huntley and Miss Pretty Gray Eyes?’ Hodges has picked up the smallest piece of lamb left on his plate, and here is an excuse to drop it. ‘Why don’t you like her, Holly?’ ‘Well, she thinks I’m crazy,’ Holly says matter-of-factly. ‘There’s that.’ ‘I’m sure she doesn’t—’ ‘Yes. She does. She probably thinks I’m dangerous, too, because of the way I whopped Brady Hartsfield at the ’Round Here concert. But I don’t care. I’d do it again. A thousand times!’ He puts a hand over hers. The chopsticks she’s holding in her fist vibrate like a tuning fork. ‘I know you would, and you’d be right every time. You saved a thousand lives, and that’s a conservative estimate.’ She slides her hand from beneath his and starts picking up grains of rice. ‘Oh, I can deal with her thinking I’m crazy. I’ve been dealing with people thinking that all my life, starting with my parents. But there’s something else. Isabelle only sees what she sees, and she doesn’t like people who see more, or at least look for more. She feels the same way about you, Bill. She’s jealous of you. Over Pete.’ Hodges says nothing. He’s never considered such a possibility. She puts down her chopsticks. ‘You didn’t answer my question. Are you going to tell them what we’ve learned so far?’ ‘Not quite yet. There’s something I want to do first, if you’ll hold down the office this afternoon.’ Holly smiles down at the remainder of her chow mein. ‘I always do.’ 10 Bill Hodges isn’t the only one who took an instant dislike to Becky Helmington’s replacement. The nurses and orderlies who work in the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic call it the Bucket, as in Brain Bucket, and before long Ruth Scapelli has become known as Nurse Ratched. By the end of her third month, she has gotten three nurses transferred for various small infractions, and one orderly fired for smoking in a supply closet. She has banned certain colorful uniforms as ‘too distracting’ or ‘too suggestive.’ The doctors like her, though. They find her swift and competent. With the patients she is also swift and competent, but she’s cold, and there’s an undertone of contempt there, as well. She will not allow even the most cataclysmically injured of them to be called a gork or a burn or a wipeout, at least not in her hearing, but she has a certain attitude . ‘She knows her stuff,’ one nurse said to another in the break room not long after Scapelli took up her duties. ‘No argument about that, but there’s something missing.’ The other nurse was a thirty-year veteran who had seen it all. She considered, then said one word… but it was le mot juste . ‘Mercy.’ Scapelli never exhibits coldness or contempt when she accompanies Felix Babineau, the head of Neuro, on his rounds, and he probably wouldn’t notice if she did. Some of the other doctors have noticed, but few pay any mind; the doings of such lesser beings as nurses – even head nurses – are far below their lordly gaze. It is as if Scapelli feels that, no matter what is wrong with them, the patients of the Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic must bear part of the responsibility for their current condition, and if they only tried harder, they would surely regain at least some of their faculties. She does her job, though, and for the most part she does it well, perhaps better than Becky Helmington, who was far better liked. If told this, Scapelli would have said she was not here to be liked. She was here to care for her patients, end of story, full stop. There is, however, one long-term patient in the Bucket whom she hates. That patient is Brady Hartsfield. It isn’t because she had a friend or relative who was hurt or killed at City Center; it’s because she thinks he’s shamming. Avoiding the punishment he so richly deserves. Mostly she stays away and lets other staff members deal with him, because just seeing him often infuses her with a daylong rage that the system should be so easily gamed by this vile creature. She stays away for another reason, too: she doesn’t entirely trust herself when she’s in his room. On two occasions she has done something. The kind of thing that, were it discovered, might result in her being the one fired. But on this early January afternoon, just as Hodges and Holly are finishing their lunch, she is drawn down to Room 217 as if by an invisible cable. Only this morning she was forced to go in there, because Dr Babineau insists she accompany him on rounds, and Brady is his star patient. He marvels at how far Brady has come. ‘He should never have emerged from his coma at all,’ Babineau told her shortly after she came on staff at the Bucket. He’s a cold fish, but when he speaks of Brady he becomes almost jolly. ‘And look at him now! He’s able to walk short distances – with help, I grant you – he can feed himself, and he can respond either verbally or with signs to simple questions.’ He’s also prone to poking himself in the eye with his fork, Ruth Scapelli could have added (but doesn’t), and his verbal responses all sound like wah-wah and gub-gub to me. Then there’s the matter of waste. Put a Depends on him and he holds it. Take it off, and he urinates in his bed, regular as clockwork. Defecates in it, if he can. It’s as if he knows. She believes he does know. Something else he knows – of this there can be no doubt – is that Scapelli doesn’t like him. This very morning, after the exam was finished and Dr Babineau was washing his hands in the en suite bathroom, Brady raised his head to look at her and lifted one hand to his chest. He curled it into a loose, trembling fist. From it his middle finger slowly extended. At first Scapelli could barely comprehend what she was seeing: Brady Hartsfield, giving her the finger. Then, as she heard the water go off in the bathroom, two buttons popped from the front of her uniform, exposing the center of her sturdy Playtex 18-Hour Comfort Strap Bra. She doesn’t believe the rumors she’s heard about this waste of humanity, refuses to believe them, but then… He smiled at her. Grinned at her. Now she walks down to Room 217 while soothing music wafts from the speakers overhead. She’s wearing her spare uniform, the pink one she keeps in her locker and doesn’t like much. She looks both ways to make sure no one is paying any attention to her, pretends to study Brady’s chart just in case there’s a set of prying eyes she’s missed, and slips inside. Brady sits in his chair by the window, where he always sits. He’s dressed in one of his four plaid shirts and a pair of jeans. His hair has been combed and his cheeks are baby-smooth. A button on his breast pocket proclaims I WAS SHAVED BY NURSE BARBARA! He’s living like Donald Trump, Ruth Scapelli thinks. He killed eight people and wounded God knows how many more, he tried to kill thousands of teenage girls at a rock-and-roll concert, and here he sits with his meals brought to him by his own personal staff, his clothes laundered, his face shaved. He gets a massage three times a week. He visits the spa four times a week, and spends time in the hot tub . Living like Donald Trump? Huh. More like a desert chieftain in one of those oil-rich Mideast countries. And if she told Babineau that he gave her the finger? Oh no, he’d say. Oh no, Nurse Scapelli. What you saw was nothing but an involuntary muscle twitch. He’s still incapable of the thought processes that would lead to such a gesture. Even if that were not the case, why would he make such a gesture to you? ‘Because you don’t like me,’ she says, bending forward with her hands on her pink-skirted knees. ‘Do you, Mr Hartsfield? And that makes us even, because I don’t like you.’ He doesn’t look at her, or give any sign that he’s heard her. He only looks out the window at the parking garage across the way. But he does hear her, she’s sure he does, and his failure to acknowledge her in any way infuriates her more. When she talks, people are supposed to listen . ‘Am I to believe you popped the buttons on my uniform this morning by some kind of mind control?’ Nothing. ‘I know better. I’d been meaning to replace that one. The bodice was a bit too tight. You may fool some of the more credulous staff members, but you don’t fool me, Mr Hartsfield. All you can do is sit there. And make a mess in your bed every time you get the chance.’ Nothing. She glances around at the door to make sure it’s shut, then removes her left hand from her knee and reaches out with it. ‘All those people you hurt, some of them still suffering. Does that make you happy? It does, doesn’t it? How would you like it? Shall we find out?’ She first touches the soft ridge of a nipple beneath his shirt, then grasps it between her thumb and index finger. Her nails are short, but she digs in with what she has. She twists first one way, then the other. ‘That’s pain, Mr Hartsfield. Do you like it?’ His face remains as bland as ever, which makes her angrier still. She bends closer, until their noses are almost touching. Her face more like a fist than ever. Her blue eyes bulge behind her glasses. There are tiny spit-buds at the corners of her lips. ‘I could do this to your testicles,’ she whispers. ‘Perhaps I will.’ Yes. She just might. It’s not as if he can tell Babineau, after all. He has four dozen words at most, and few people can understand what he does manage to say. I want more corn comes out Uh-wan-mo-ko , which sounds like fake Indian talk in an old Western movie. The only thing he says that’s perfectly clear is I want my mother , and on several occasions Scapelli has taken great pleasure in reinforming him that his mother is dead. She twists his nipple back and forth. Clockwise, then counterclockwise. Pinching as hard as she can, and her hands are nurse’s hands, which means they are strong. ‘You think Dr Babineau is your pet, but you’ve got that backwards. You’re his pet. His pet guinea pig. He thinks I don’t know about the experimental drugs he’s been giving you, but I do. Vitamins, he says. Vitamins, my fanny. I know everything that goes on around here. He thinks he’s going to bring you all the way back, but that will never happen. You’re too far gone. And what if it did? You’d stand trial and go to jail for the rest of your life. And they don’t have hot tubs in Waynesville State Prison.’ She’s pinching his nipple so hard the tendons on her wrist stand out, and he still shows no sign that he feels anything – just looks out at the parking garage, his face a blank. If she keeps on, one of the nurses is apt to see bruising, swelling, and it will go on his chart. She lets go and steps back, breathing hard, and the venetian blind at the top of his window gives an abrupt, bonelike rattle. The sound makes her jump and look around. When she turns back to him, Hartsfield is no longer looking at the parking garage. He’s looking at her . His eyes are clear and aware. Scapelli feels a bright spark of fear and takes a step back. ‘I could report Babineau,’ she says, ‘but doctors have a way of wiggling out of things, especially when it’s their word against a nurse’s, even a head nurse’s. And why would I? Let him experiment on you all he wants. Even Waynesville is too good for you, Mr Hartsfield. Maybe he’ll give you something that will kill you. That’s what you deserve.’ A food trolley rumbles by in the corridor; someone is getting a late lunch. Ruth Scapelli jerks like a woman awaking from a dream and backs toward the door, looking from Hartsfield to the now silent venetian blind and then back to Hartsfield again. ‘I’ll leave you to your thoughts, but I want to tell you one more thing before I go. If you ever show me your middle finger again, it will be your testicles.’ Brady’s hand rises from his lap to his chest. It trembles, but that’s a motor control issue; thanks to ten sessions a week downstairs in Physical Therapy, he’s gotten at least some muscle tone back. Scapelli stares, unbelieving, as the middle finger rises and tilts toward her. With it comes that obscene grin. ‘You’re a freak,’ she says in a low voice. ‘An aberration.’ But she doesn’t approach him again. She’s suddenly, irrationally afraid of what might happen if she did. 11 Tom Saubers is more than willing to do the favor Hodges has asked of him, even though it means rescheduling a couple of afternoon appointments. He owes Bill Hodges a lot more than a tour through an empty house up in Ridgedale; after all, the ex-cop – with the help of his friends Holly and Jerome – saved the lives of his son and daughter. Possibly his wife’s, as well. He punches off the alarm in the foyer, reading the numbers from a slip of paper clipped to the folder he carries. As he leads Hodges through the downstairs rooms, their footfalls echoing, Tom can’t help going into his spiel. Yes, it’s quite a long way out from the city center, can’t argue the point, but what that means is you get all the city services – water, plowing, garbage removal, school buses, municipal buses – without all the city noise. ‘The place is cable-ready, and way above code,’ he says. ‘Great, but I don’t want to buy it.’ Tom looks at him curiously. ‘What do you want?’ Hodges sees no reason not to tell him. ‘To know if anyone has been using it to keep an eye on that house across the street. There was a murder-suicide there this past weekend.’ ‘In 1601? Jesus, Bill, that’s awful .’ It is, Hodges thinks, and I believe you’re already wondering who you should talk to about becoming the selling agent on that one. Not that he holds that against the man, who went through his own hell as a result of the City Center Massacre. ‘See you’ve left the cane behind,’ Hodges comments as they climb to the second floor. ‘I sometimes use it at night, especially if the weather is rainy,’ Tom says. ‘The scientists claim that stuff about your joints hurting more in wet weather is bullshit, but I’m here to tell you that’s one old wives’ tale you can take to the bank. Now, this is the master bedroom, and you can see how it’s set up to catch the morning light. The bathroom is nice and big – the shower has pulsing jets – and just down the hall here…’ Yes, it’s a fine house, Hodges would expect nothing else here in Ridgedale, but there’s no sign anyone has been in it lately. ‘Seen enough?’ Tom asks. ‘I think so, yes. Did you notice anything out of place?’ ‘Not a thing. And the alarm is a good one. If someone had broken in—’ ‘Yeah,’ Hodges says. ‘Sorry to get you out on such a cold day.’ ‘Nonsense. I had to be out and about anyway. And it’s good to see you.’ They step out the kitchen door, which Tom relocks. ‘Although you’re looking awfully thin.’ ‘Well, you know what they say – you can’t be too thin or too rich.’ Tom, who in the wake of his City Center injuries was too thin and too poor, gives this oldie an obligatory smile and starts around to the front of the house. Hodges follows a few steps, then stops. ‘Could we look in the garage?’ ‘Sure, but there’s nothing in there.’ ‘Just a peek.’ ‘Cross every t and dot every i , huh? Roger that, just let me get the right key.’ Only he doesn’t need the key, because the garage door is standing two inches ajar. The two men look at the splinters around the lock silently. At last Tom says, ‘Well. How about that.’ ‘The alarm system doesn’t cover the garage, I take it.’ ‘You take it right. There’s nothing to protect.’ Hodges steps into a rectangle with bare wood walls and a poured concrete floor. There are boot prints visible on the concrete. Hodges can see his breath, and he can see something else, as well. In front of the left overhead door is a chair. Someone sat here, looking out. Hodges has been feeling a growing discomfort on the left side of his midsection, one that’s putting out tentacles that curl around to his lower back, but this sort of pain is almost an old friend by now, and it’s temporarily overshadowed by excitement. Someone sat here looking out at 1601, he thinks. I’d bet the farm on it, if I had a farm. He walks to the front of the garage and sits where the watcher sat. There are three windows running horizontally across the middle of the door, and the one on the far right has been wiped clean of dust. The view is a straight shot to the big living room window of 1601. ‘Hey, Bill,’ Tom says. ‘Something under the chair.’ Hodges bends to look, although doing so turns up the heat in his gut. What he sees is a black disc, maybe three inches across. He picks it up by the edges. Embossed on it in gold is a single word: STEINER. ‘Is it from a camera?’ Tom asks. ‘From a pair of binoculars. Police departments with fat budgets use Steiner binocs.’ With a good pair of Steiners – and as far as Hodges knows, there’s no such thing as a bad pair – the watcher could have put himself right into the Ellerton-Stover living room, assuming the blinds were up… and they had been when he and Holly were in that room this morning. Hell, if the women had been watching CNN, the watcher could have read the news crawl at the bottom of the screen. Hodges doesn’t have an evidence Baggie, but there’s a travel-sized pack of Kleenex in his coat pocket. He takes out two, carefully wraps the lens cap, and slips it into the inside pocket of his coat. He rises from the chair (provoking another twinge; the pain is bad this afternoon), then spies something else. Someone has carved a single letter into the wood upright between the two overhead doors, perhaps using a pocketknife. It’s the letter Z. 12 They are almost back to the driveway when Hodges is visited by something new: a searing bolt of agony behind his left knee. It feels as if he’s been stabbed. He cries out as much in surprise as from the pain and bends over, kneading at the throbbing knot, trying to make it let go. To loosen up a little, at least. Tom bends down next to him, and thus neither of them sees the elderly Chevrolet cruising slowly along Hilltop Court. Its fading blue paint is dappled with spots of red primer. The old gent behind the wheel slows down even more, so he can stare at the two men. Then the Chevrolet speeds up, sending a puff of blue exhaust from its tailpipe, and passes the Ellerton-Stover house, headed for the buttonhook turnaround at the end of the street. ‘What is it?’ Tom asks. ‘What happened?’ ‘Cramp,’ Hodges says through gritted teeth. ‘Rub it.’ Hodges gives him a look of pained humor through his tumbled hair. ‘What do you think I’m doing?’ ‘Let me.’ Tom Saubers, a physical therapy veteran thanks to his attendance at a certain job fair six years ago, pushes Hodges’s hand aside. He removes one of his gloves and digs in with his fingers. Hard. ‘Ow! Jesus! That fucking hurts!’ ‘I know,’ Tom says. ‘Can’t be helped. Move as much of your weight to your good leg as you can.’ Hodges does so. The Malibu with its patches of dull red primer paint cruises slowly by once more, this time headed back down the hill. The driver helps himself to another long look, then speeds up again. ‘It’s letting go,’ Hodges says. ‘Thank God for small favors.’ It is, but his stomach is on fire and his lower back feels like he wrenched it. Tom is looking at him with concern. ‘You sure you’re all right?’ ‘Yeah. Just a charley horse.’ ‘Or maybe a deep vein thrombosis. You’re no kid anymore, Bill. You ought to get that checked out. If anything happened to you while you were with me, Pete would never forgive me. His sister, either. We owe you a lot.’ ‘All taken care of, got a doctor’s appointment tomorrow,’ Hodges says. ‘Come on, let’s get out of here. It’s freezing.’ He limps the first two or three steps, but then the pain behind his knee lets go entirely and he’s able to walk normally. More normally than Tom. Thanks to his encounter with Brady Hartsfield in April of 2009, Tom Saubers will limp for the rest of his life. 13 When Hodges gets home, his stomach is better but he’s dog tired. He tires easily these days and tells himself it’s because his appetite has gotten so lousy, but he wonders if that’s really it. He’s heard the pane of breaking glass and the boys giving their home run cheer twice on his way back from Ridgedale, but he never looks at his phone while driving, partly because it’s dangerous (not to mention illegal in this state), mostly because he refuses to become a slave to it. Besides, he doesn’t need to be a mind reader to know from whom at least one of those texts came. He waits until he’s hung his coat in the front hall closet, briefly touching the inside pocket to make sure the lens cap is still safe and sound. The first text is from Holly. We should talk to Pete and Isabelle, but call me first. I have a Q. The other isn’t hers. It reads: Dr Stamos needs to talk to you urgently. You are scheduled tomorrow at 9 AM. Please keep this appointment! Hodges checks his watch and sees that, although this day seems to have lasted at least a month already, it’s only quarter past four. He calls Stamos’s office and gets Marlee. He can tell it’s her by the chirpy cheerleader’s voice, which turns grave when he introduces himself. He doesn’t know what those tests showed, but it can’t be good. As Bob Dylan once said, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. He bargains for nine thirty instead of nine, because he wants a sit-down with Holly, Pete, and Isabelle first. He won’t allow himself to believe that his visit to Dr Stamos’s office may be followed by a hospital admission, but he is a realist, and that sudden bolt of pain in his leg scared the shit out of him. Marlee puts him on hold. Hodges listens to the Young Rascals for awhile (They must be mighty old Rascals by now, he thinks), and then she comes back. ‘We can get you in at nine thirty, Mr Hodges, but Dr Stamos wants me to emphasize that it’s imperative that you keep this appointment.’ ‘How bad is it?’ He asks before he can stop himself. ‘I don’t have any information on your case,’ Marlee tells him, ‘but I’d say that you should get going on what’s wrong as soon as possible. Don’t you think so?’ ‘I do,’ Hodges says heavily. ‘I’ll keep the appointment for sure. And thank you.’ He breaks the connection and stares at his phone. On the screen is a picture of his daughter at seven, bright and smiling, riding high on the backyard swing he put up when they lived on Freeborn Avenue. When they were still a family. Now Allie’s thirty-six, divorced, in therapy, and getting over a painful relationship with a man who told her a story as old as Genesis: I’m going to leave her soon, but this is a bad time . Hodges puts the phone down and lifts his shirt. The pain on the left side of his abdomen has subsided to a low mutter again, and that’s good, but he doesn’t like the swelling he sees below his sternum. It’s as if he just put away a huge meal, when in fact he could only eat half of his lunch and breakfast was a bagel. ‘What’s going on with you?’ he asks his swollen stomach. ‘I wouldn’t mind a clue before I keep that appointment tomorrow.’ He supposes he could get all the clues he wants by firing up his computer and going to Web MD, but he’s come to believe that Internet-assisted self-diagnosis is a game for idiots. He calls Holly, instead. She wants to know if he found anything interesting at 1588. ‘Very interesting, as that guy on Laugh-In used to say, but before I go into that, ask your question.’ ‘Do you think Pete can find out if Martine Stover was buying a computer? Check her credit cards, or something? Because her mother’s was ancient . If so, it means she was serious about taking an online course. And if she was serious, then—’ ‘Then the chances she was working up to a suicide pact with her mother drop drastically.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘But it wouldn’t rule out the mother deciding to do it on her own. She could have dumped the pills and vodka down Stover’s feeding tube while she was asleep, then got into the tub to finish the job.’ ‘But Nancy Alderson said—’ ‘They were happy, yeah, I know. I’m only pointing it out. I don’t really believe it.’ ‘You sound tired.’ ‘Just my usual end-of-the-day slump. I’ll perk up after I get some chow.’ Never in his life has he felt less like eating. ‘Eat a lot. You’re too thin. But first tell me what you found in that empty house.’ ‘Not in the house. In the garage.’ He tells her. She doesn’t interrupt. Nor does she say anything when he’s done. Holly sometimes forgets she’s on the phone, so he gives her a prompt. ‘What do you think?’ ‘I don’t know. I mean, I really don’t. It’s just… weird all over. Don’t you think so? Or not? Because I could be overreacting. Sometimes I do that.’ Tell me about it, Hodges thinks, but this time he doesn’t think she is, and says so. Holly says, ‘You told me you didn’t think Janice Ellerton would take anything from a man in a mended parka and workman’s clothes.’ ‘Indeed I did.’ ‘So that means…’ Now he’s the one who stays silent, letting her work it out. ‘It means two men were up to something. Two . One gave Janice Ellerton the Zappit and the bogus questionnaire while she was shopping, and the other watched her house from across the street. And with binoculars! Expensive binoculars! I guess those two men might not have been working together, but…’ He waits. Smiling a little. When Holly turns her thinking processes up to ten, he can almost hear the cogs spinning behind her forehead. ‘Bill, are you still there?’ ‘Yeah. Just waiting for you to spit it out.’ ‘Well, it seems like they must have been. To me, anyway. And like they might have had something to do with those two women being dead. There, are you happy?’ ‘Yes, Holly. I am. I’ve got a doctor’s appointment tomorrow at nine thirty—’ ‘Your test results came back?’ ‘Yeah. I want to set up a meeting beforehand with Pete and Isabelle. Does eight thirty work for you?’ ‘Of course.’ ‘We’ll lay out everything, tell them about Alderson and the game console you found and the house at 1588. See what they think. Sound okay?’ ‘Yes, but she won’t think anything.’ ‘You could be wrong.’ ‘Yes. And the sky could turn green with red polka dots tomorrow. Now go make yourself something to eat.’ Hodges assures her he will, and heats up a can of chicken noodle soup while watching the early news. He eats most of it, spacing out each spoonful, cheering himself on: You can do it, you can do it. While he’s rinsing the bowl, the pain on the left side of his abdomen returns, along with those tentacles curling around to his lower back. It seems to plunge up and down with every heartbeat. His stomach clenches. He thinks of running to the bathroom, but it’s too late. He leans over the sink instead, vomiting with his eyes closed. He keeps them that way as he fumbles for the faucet and turns it on full to rinse away the mess. He doesn’t want to see what just came out of him, because he can taste a slime of blood in his mouth and throat. Oy, he thinks, I am in trouble here. I am in such trouble. 14 Eight P.M. When her doorbell rings, Ruth Scapelli is watching some stupid reality program which is just an excuse to show young men and women running around in their small clothes. Instead of going directly to the door, she slipper-scuffs into the kitchen and turns on the monitor for the security cam mounted on the porch. She lives in a safe neighborhood, but it doesn’t pay to take chances; one of her late mother’s favorite sayings was scum travels . She is surprised and uneasy when she recognizes the man at her door. He’s wearing a tweed overcoat, obviously expensive, and a trilby with a feather in the band. Beneath the hat, his perfectly barbered silver hair flows dramatically along his temples. In one hand is a slim briefcase. It’s Dr Felix Babineau, chief of the Neurology Department and head honcho at the Lakes Region Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic. The doorbell chimes again and she hurries to let him in, thinking He can’t know about what I did this afternoon because the door was shut and no one saw me go in. Relax. It’s something else. Perhaps a union matter. But he has never discussed union matters with her before, although she’s been an officer of Nurses United for the last five years. Dr Babineau might not even know her if he passed her on the street unless she was wearing her nurse’s uniform. That makes her remember what she’s wearing now, an old housecoat and even older slippers (with bunny faces on them!), but it’s too late to do anything about that. At least her hair isn’t up in rollers. He should have called, she thinks, but the thought that follows is disquieting: Maybe he wanted to catch me by surprise. ‘Good evening, Dr Babineau. Come in out of the cold. I’m sorry to be greeting you in my housecoat, but I wasn’t expecting company.’ He comes in and just stands there in the hall. She has to step around him to close the door. Seen up close instead of on the monitor, she thinks that perhaps they’re even in the department of sartorial disarray. She’s in her housecoat and slippers, true, but his cheeks are speckled with gray stubble. Dr Babineau (no one would dream of calling him Dr Felix) may be quite the fashion plate – witness the cashmere scarf fluffed up around his throat – but tonight he needs a shave, and quite badly. Also, there are purple pouches under his eyes. ‘Let me take your coat,’ she says. He puts his briefcase between his shoes, unbuttons the overcoat, and hands it to her, along with the luxy scarf. He still hasn’t said a single word. The lasagna she ate for supper, quite delicious at the time, seems to be sinking, and pulling the pit of her stomach down with it. ‘Would you like—’ ‘Come into the living room,’ he says, and walks past her as if he owns the place. Ruth Scapelli scurries after. Babineau takes the remote control from the arm of her easy chair, points it at the television, and hits mute. The young men and women continue to run around, but they do so unaccompanied by the mindless patter of the announcer. Scapelli is no longer just uneasy; now she’s afraid. For her job, yes, the position she has worked so hard to attain, but also for herself. There’s a look in his eyes that is really no look at all, only a kind of vacancy. ‘Could I get you something? A soft drink or a cup of—’ ‘Listen to me, Nurse Scapelli. And very closely, if you want to keep your position.’ ‘I… I…’ ‘Nor would it end with losing your job.’ Babineau puts his briefcase on the seat of her easy chair and undoes the cunning gold clasps. They make little thudding sounds as they fly up. ‘You committed an act of assault on a mentally deficient patient today, what might be construed a sexual assault, and followed it with what the law calls criminal threatening.’ ‘I… I never…’ She can barely hear herself. She thinks she might faint if she doesn’t sit down, but his briefcase is in her favorite chair. She makes her way across the living room to the sofa, barking her shin on the coffee table en route, almost hard enough to tip it over. She feels a thin trickle of blood sliding down to her ankle, but doesn’t look at it. If she does that, she will faint. ‘You twisted Mr Hartsfield’s nipple. Then you threatened to do the same to his testes.’ ‘He made an obscene gesture to me!’ Scapelli bursts out. ‘Showed me his middle finger!’ ‘I will see that you never work in the nursing profession again,’ he says, looking into the depths of his briefcase as she half-swoons onto the sofa. His initials are monogrammed on the side of the case. In gold, of course. He drives a new BMW, and that haircut probably cost fifty dollars. Maybe more. He’s an overbearing, domineering boss, and now he’s threatening to ruin her life over one small mistake. One small error in judgment. She wouldn’t mind if the floor opened up and swallowed her, but her vision is perversely clear. She seems to see every filament on the feather poking out of his hatband, every scarlet thread in his bloodshot eyes, every ugly gray speck of stubble on his cheeks and chin. His hair would be that same rat fur color, she thinks, if he didn’t dye it. ‘I…’ Tears begin to come – hot tears running down her cold cheeks. ‘I… please, Dr Babineau.’ She doesn’t know how he knows, and it doesn’t matter. The fact is, he does. ‘I’ll never do it again. Please. Please .’ Dr Babineau doesn’t bother to answer. 15 Selma Valdez, one of four nurses who work the three-to-eleven shift in the Bucket, gives a perfunctory rap on the door of 217 – perfunctory because the resident never answers – and steps in. Brady is sitting in his chair by the window, looking out into the dark. His bedside lamp is on, showing the golden highlights in his hair. He is still wearing his button reading I WAS SHAVED BY NURSE BARBARA! She starts to ask if he’s ready for a little help in getting ready for bed (he can’t unbutton his shirt or pants, but he is capable of shuffling out of them once that’s accomplished), but then rethinks the idea. Dr Babineau has added a note to Hartsfield’s chart, one written in imperative red ink: ‘Patient is not to be disturbed when in a semiconscious state. During these periods, his brain may actually be “rebooting” itself in small but appreciable increments. Come back and check at half-hour intervals. Do not ignore this directive.’ Selma doesn’t think Hartsfield is rebooting jack shit, he’s just off in gorkland, but like all the nurses who work in the Bucket, she’s a bit afraid of Babineau, and knows he has a habit of showing up at any time, even in the small hours of the morning, and right now it’s just gone eight P.M. At some point since she last checked him, Hartsfield has managed to get up and take the three steps to his bedside table where his game gadget is kept. He doesn’t have the manual dexterity needed to play any of the pre-loaded games, but he can turn it on. He enjoys holding it in his lap and looking at the demo screens. Sometimes he’ll do it for an hour or more, bent over like a man studying for an important exam. His favorite is the Fishin’ Hole demo, and he’s looking at it now. A little tune that she remembers from her childhood is playing: By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea… She approaches, thinks of saying You really like that one, don’t you, but remembers Do not ignore this directive , underlined, and looks down at the small five-inches-by-three screen instead. She gets why he likes it; there’s something beautiful and fascinating in the way the exotic fish appear, pause, and then zip away with a single flip of their tails. Some are red… some are blue… some are yellow… oh, and there’s a pretty pink one— ‘Stop looking.’ Brady’s voice grates like the hinges on a seldom-opened door, and while there is an appreciable space between the words, they are perfectly clear. Nothing at all like his usual mushy mumble. Selma jumps as if he goosed her instead of just speaking to her. On the Zappit screen there’s a momentary flash of blue light that obliterates the fish, but then they’re back. Selma glances down at the watch pinned upside-down to her smock and sees it’s now eight twenty. Jesus, has she really been standing here for almost twenty minutes? ‘Go.’ Brady is still looking down at the screen where the fish swim back and forth, back and forth. Selma drags her eyes away, but it’s an effort. ‘Come back later.’ Pause. ‘When I’m done.’ Pause. ‘Looking.’ Selma does as she’s told, and once she’s back in the hall, she feels like herself again. He spoke to her, big whoop. And if he enjoys watching the Fishin’ Hole demo the way some guys enjoy watching girls in bikinis play volleyball? Again, big whoop. The real question is why they let kids have those consoles. They can’t be good for their immature brains, can they? On the other hand, kids play computer games all the time, so maybe they’re immune. In the meantime, she has plenty to do. Let Hartsfield sit in his chair and look at his gizmo. After all, he’s not hurting anybody. 16 Felix Babineau bends stiffly forward from the waist, like an android in an old sci-fi movie. He reaches into his briefcase and brings out a flat pink gadget that looks like an e-reader. The screen is gray and blank. ‘There’s a number in here I want you to find,’ he says. ‘A nine-digit number. If you can find that number, Nurse Scapelli, today’s incident will remain between us.’ The first thing that comes to mind is You must be crazy, but she can’t say that, not when he holds her whole life in his hands. ‘How can I? I don’t know anything about those electronic gadgets! I can barely work my phone!’ ‘Nonsense. As a surgical nurse, you were in great demand. Because of your dexterity.’ True enough, but it’s been ten years since she worked in the Kiner surgical suites, handing out scissors and retractors and sponges. She was offered a six-week course in microsurgery – the hospital would have paid seventy percent – but she had no interest. Or so she claimed; in truth, she was afraid of failing the course. He’s right, though, in her prime she had been fast. Babineau pushes a button on top of the gadget. She cranes her neck to see. It lights up, and the words WELCOME TO ZAPPIT! appear. This is followed by a screen showing all sorts of icons. Games, she supposes. He swipes the screen once, twice, then tells her to stand next to him. When she hesitates, he smiles. Perhaps it’s meant to be pleasant and inviting, but it terrifies her, instead. Because there’s nothing in his eyes, no human expression at all. ‘Come, Nurse. I won’t bite you.’ Of course not. Only what if he does? Nevertheless, she steps closer so she can see the screen, where exotic fish are swimming back and forth. When they flick their tails, bubbles stream up. A vaguely familiar little tune plays. ‘Do you see this one? It’s called Fishin’ Hole.’ ‘Y-Yes.’ Thinking, He really is crazy. He’s had some sort of mental breakdown from overwork. ‘If you were to tap the bottom of the screen, the game would come up and the music would change, but I don’t want you to do that. The demo is all you need. Look for the pink fish. They don’t come often, and they’re fast, so you have to watch carefully. You can’t take your eyes off the screen.’ ‘Dr Babineau, are you all right?’ It’s her voice, but it seems to be coming from far away. He makes no reply, just keeps looking at the screen. Scapelli is looking, too. Those fish are interesting. And the little tune, that’s sort of hypnotic. There’s a flash of blue light from the screen. She blinks, and then the fish are back. Swimming to and fro. Flicking their flippy tails and sending up burbles of bubbles. ‘Each time you see a pink fish, tap it and a number will come up. Nine pink fish, nine numbers. Then you will be done and all this will be behind us. Do you understand?’ She thinks of asking him if she’s supposed to write the numbers down or just remember them, but that seems too hard, so she just says yes. ‘Good.’ He hands her the gadget. ‘Nine fish, nine numbers. But just the pink ones, mind.’ Scapelli stares at the screen where the fish swim: red and green, green and blue, blue and yellow. They swim off the left side of the little rectangular screen, then back on at the right. They swim off the right side of the screen, then back on at the left. Left, right. Right, left. Some high, some low. But where are the pink ones? She needs to tap the pink ones and when she’s tapped nine of them, all of this will be behind her. From the corner of one eye she sees Babineau refastening the clasps on his briefcase. He picks it up and leaves the room. He’s going. It doesn’t matter. She has to tap the pink fish, and then all of this will be behind her. A flash of blue light from the screen, and then the fish are back. They swim left to right and right to left. The tune plays: By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea, you and me, you and me, oh how happy we’ll be. A pink one! She taps it! The number 11 appears! Eight more to go! She taps a second pink fish as the front door quietly closes, and a third as Dr Babineau’s car starts outside. She stands in the middle of her living room, lips parted as if for a kiss, staring down at the screen. Colors shift and move on her cheeks and forehead. Her eyes are wide and unblinking. A fourth pink fish swims into view, this one moving slowly, as if inviting the tap of her finger, but she only stands there. ‘Hello, Nurse Scapelli.’ She looks up to see Brady Hartsfield sitting in her easy chair. He’s shimmering a bit at the edges, ghostly, but it’s him, all right. He’s wearing what he was wearing when she visited him in his room that afternoon: jeans and a checked shirt. On the shirt is that button reading I WAS SHAVED BY NURSE BARBARA! But the vacant gaze everyone in the Bucket has grown used to is gone. He’s looking at her with lively interest. She remembers her brother looking at his ant farm that way when they were children back in Hershey, Pennsylvania. He must be a ghost, because fish are swimming in his eyes. ‘He’ll tell,’ Hartsfield says. ‘And it won’t just be his word against yours, don’t get that idea. He had a nanny-cam planted in my room so he can watch me. Study me. It’s got a wide-angle lens so he can see the whole room. That kind of lens is called a fish-eye.’ He smiles to show he’s made a pun. A red fish swims across his right eye, disappears, and then appears in his left one. Scapelli thinks, His brain is full of fish. I’m seeing his thoughts. ‘The camera is hooked up to a recorder. He’ll show the board of directors the footage of you torturing me. It didn’t actually hurt that much, I don’t feel pain the way I used to, but torture is what he’ll call it. It won’t end there, either. He’ll put it on YouTube. And Facebook. And Bad Medicine dot-com. It will go viral. You’ll be famous. The Torturing Nurse. And who will come to your defense? Who will stand up for you? No one. Because nobody likes you. They think you’re awful. And what do you think? Do you think you’re awful?’ Now that the idea has been brought fully to her attention, she supposes she is. Anyone who would threaten to twist the testicles of a brain-damaged man must be awful. What was she thinking? ‘Say it.’ He leans forward, smiling. The fish swim. The blue light flashes. The tune plays. ‘Say it, you worthless bitch.’ ‘I’m awful,’ Ruth Scapelli says in her living room, which is empty except for her. She stares down at the screen of the Zappit Commander. ‘Now say it like you mean it.’ ‘I’m awful. I’m an awful worthless bitch.’ ‘And what is Dr Babineau going to do?’ ‘Put it on YouTube. Put it on Facebook. Put it on Bad Medicine dot-com. Tell everyone.’ ‘You’ll be arrested.’ ‘I’ll be arrested.’ ‘They’ll put your picture in the paper.’ ‘Of course they will.’ ‘You’ll go to jail.’ ‘I’ll go to jail.’ ‘Who will stand up for you?’ ‘No one.’ 17 Sitting in Room 217 of the Bucket, Brady stares down at the Fishin’ Hole demo. His face is fully awake and aware. It’s the face he hides from everyone except Felix Babineau, and Dr Babineau no longer matters. Dr Babineau hardly exists. These days he’s mostly Dr Z. ‘Nurse Scapelli,’ Brady says. ‘Let’s go into the kitchen.’ She resists, but not for long. 18 Hodges tries to swim below the pain and stay asleep, but it pulls him up steadily until he breaks the surface and opens his eyes. He fumbles for the bedside clock and sees it’s two A.M. A bad time to be awake, maybe the worst time. When he suffered insomnia after his retirement, he thought of two A.M. as the suicide hour and now he thinks, That’s probably when Mrs Ellerton did it. Two in the morning. The hour when it seems daylight will never come. He gets out of bed, walks slowly to the bathroom, and takes the giant economy size bottle of Gelusil out of the medicine cabinet, careful not to look at himself in the mirror. He chugalugs four big swallows, then leans over, waiting to see if his stomach will accept it or hit the ejector button, as it did with the chicken soup. It stays down and the pain actually begins to recede. Sometimes Gelusil does that. Not always. He thinks about going back to bed, but he’s afraid that dull throb will return as soon as he’s horizontal. He shuffles into his office instead and turns on his computer. He knows this is the very worst time to start checking out the possible causes for his symptoms, but he can no longer resist. His desktop wallpaper comes up (another picture of Allie as a kid). He mouses down to the bottom of the screen, meaning to open Firefox, then freezes. There’s something new in the dock. Between the balloon icon for text messaging and the camera icon for FaceTime, there’s a blue umbrella with a red 1 sitting above it. ‘A message on Debbie’s Blue Umbrella,’ he says. ‘I’ll be damned.’ A much younger Jerome Robinson downloaded the Blue Umbrella app to his computer almost six years ago. Brady Hartsfield, aka Mr Mercedes, wanted to converse with the cop who had failed to catch him, and, although retired, Hodges was very willing to talk. Because once you got dirtbags like Mr Mercedes talking (there weren’t very many like him, and thank God for that), they were only a step or two from being caught. This was especially true of the arrogant ones, and Hartsfield had been arrogance personified. They both had their reasons for communicating on a secure, supposedly untraceable chat site with servers located someplace in deepest, darkest Eastern Europe. Hodges wanted to goad the perpetrator of the City Center Massacre into making a mistake that would help identify him. Mr Mercedes wanted to goad Hodges into killing himself. He had succeeded with Olivia Trelawney, after all. What kind of life do you have? he had written in his first communication to Hodges – the one that had arrived by snail-mail. What kind, now that the ‘thrill of the hunt’ is behind you? And then: Want to get in touch with me? Try Under Debbie’s Blue Umbrella. I even got you a username: ‘kermitfrog19.’ With plenty of help from Jerome Robinson and Holly Gibney, Hodges tracked Brady down, and Holly clobbered him. Jerome and Holly got free city services for ten years; Hodges got a pacemaker. There were sorrows and loss Hodges doesn’t want to think about – not even now, all these years later – but you’d have to say that for the city, and especially for those who had been attending the concert at the Mingo that night, all ended well. At some point between 2010 and now, the blue umbrella icon disappeared from the dock at the bottom of his screen. If Hodges ever wondered what happened to it (he can’t remember that he ever did), he probably assumed either Jerome or Holly dumped it in the trash on one of their visits to fix whatever current outrage he had perpetrated on his defenseless Macintosh. Instead, one of them must have tucked it into the apps folder, where the blue umbrella has remained, just out of sight, all these years. Hell, maybe he even did the dragging himself and has forgotten. Memory has a way of slipping a few gears after sixty-five, when people round the third turn start down the home stretch. He mouses to the blue umbrella, hesitates, then clicks. His desktop screen is replaced by a young couple on a magic carpet floating over an endless sea. Silver rain is falling, but the couple is safe and dry beneath a protective blue umbrella. Ah, such memories this brings back. He enters kermitfrog19 as both his username and his password – isn’t that how he did it before, as per Hartsfield’s instructions? He can’t remember for sure, but there’s one way to find out. He bangs the return key. The machine thinks for a second or two (it seems longer), and then, presto, he’s in. He frowns at what he sees. Brady Hartsfield used merckill as his handle, short for Mercedes Killer – Hodges has no trouble remembering that – but this is someone else. Which shouldn’t surprise him, since Holly turned Hartsfield’s fucked-up brain to oatmeal, but somehow it still does. Z-Boy wants to chat with you! Do you want to chat with Z-Boy? Y N Hodges hits Y , and a moment later a message appears. Just a single sentence, half a dozen words, but Hodges reads them over and over again, feeling not fear but excitement. He is onto something here. He doesn’t know what it is, but it feels big. Z-Boy: He’s not done with you yet. Hodges stares at it, frowning. At last he sits forward in his chair and types: kermitfrogl9: Who’s not done with me? Who is this? There’s no answer. 19 Hodges and Holly get together with Pete and Isabelle at Dave’s Diner, a greasy spoon a block down from the morning madhouse known as Starbucks. With the early breakfast rush over, they have their pick of tables and settle at one in the back. In the kitchen a Badfinger song is playing on the radio and waitresses are laughing. ‘All I’ve got is half an hour,’ Hodges says. ‘Then I have to run to the doctor’s.’ Pete leans forward, looking concerned. ‘Nothing serious, I hope.’ ‘Nope. I feel fine.’ This morning he actually does – like forty-five again. That message on his computer, cryptic and sinister though it was, seems to have been better medicine than the Gelusil. ‘Let’s get to what we’ve found. Holly, they’ll want Exhibit A and Exhibit B. Hand em over.’ Holly has brought her small tartan briefcase to the meeting. From it (and not without reluctance) she brings the Zappit Commander and the lens cap from the garage at 1588. Both are in plastic bags, although the lens cap is still wrapped in tissues. ‘What have you two been up to?’ Pete asks. He’s striving for humorous, but Hodges can hear a touch of accusation there, as well. ‘Investigating,’ Holly says, and although she isn’t ordinarily one for eye contact, she shoots a brief look at Izzy Jaynes, as if to say Get the point? ‘Explain,’ Izzy says. Hodges does so while Holly sits beside him with her eyes cast down, her decaf – all she drinks – untouched. Her jaws are moving, though, and Hodges knows she’s back on the Nicorette. ‘Unbelievable,’ Izzy says when Hodges has finished. She pokes at the bag with the Zappit inside. ‘You just took this. Wrapped it up in newspaper like a piece of salmon from the fish market and carried it out of the house.’ Holly appears to shrink in her chair. Her hands are so tightly clasped in her lap that the knuckles are white. Hodges usually likes Isabelle well enough, even though she once nearly tripped him up in an interrogation room (this during the Mr Mercedes thing, when he had been hip-deep in an unauthorized investigation), but he doesn’t like her much now. He can’t like anyone who makes Holly shrink like that. ‘Be reasonable, Iz. Think it through. If Holly hadn’t found that thing – and purely by accident – it would still be there. You guys weren’t going to search the house.’ ‘You probably weren’t going to call the housekeeper, either,’ Holly says, and although she still won’t look up, there’s metal in her voice. Hodges is glad to hear it. ‘We would have gotten to the Alderson woman in time,’ Izzy says, but those misty gray eyes of hers flick up and to the left as she says it. It’s a classic liar’s tell, and Hodges knows when he sees it that she and Pete haven’t even discussed the housekeeper yet, although they probably would have gotten around to her eventually. Pete Huntley may be a bit of a plodder, but plodders are usually thorough, you had to give them that. ‘If there were any fingerprints on that gadget,’ Izzy says, ‘they’re gone now. Kiss them goodbye.’ Holly mutters something under her breath, making Hodges remember that when he first met her (and completely underestimated her), he thought of her as Holly the Mumbler. Izzy leans forward, her gray eyes suddenly not misty at all. ‘What did you say?’ ‘She said that’s silly,’ Hodges says, knowing perfectly well that the word was actually stupid. ‘She’s right. It was shoved down between the arm of Ellerton’s chair and the cushion. Any fingerprints on it would be blurred, and you know it. Also, were you going to search the whole house?’ ‘We might have,’ Isabelle says, sounding sulky. ‘Depending on what we get back from forensics.’ Other than in Martine Stover’s bedroom and bathroom, there were no forensics. They all know this, Izzy included, and there’s no need for Hodges to belabor the point. ‘Take it easy,’ Pete says to Isabelle. ‘I invited Kermit and Holly out there, and you agreed.’ ‘That was before I knew they were going to walk out with…’ She trails off. Hodges waits with interest to see how she will finish. Is she going to say with a piece of the evidence ? Evidence of what? An addiction to computer solitaire, Angry Birds, and Frogger? ‘With a piece of Mrs Ellerton’s property,’ she finishes lamely. ‘Well, you’ve got it now,’ Hodges says. ‘Can we move on? Perhaps discuss the man who gave it to her in the supermarket, claiming the company was eager for user input on a gadget that’s no longer made?’ ‘And the man who was watching them,’ Holly says, still without looking up. ‘The man who was watching them from across the street with binoculars.’ Hodges’s old partner pokes the bag with the wrapped lens cap inside. ‘I’ll have this dusted for fingerprints, but I’m not real hopeful, Kerm. You know how people take these caps on and off.’ ‘Yeah,’ Hodges says. ‘By the rim. And it was cold in that garage. Cold enough so I could see my breath. The guy was probably wearing gloves, anyway.’ ‘The guy in the supermarket was most likely working some kind of short con,’ Izzy says. ‘It’s got that smell. Maybe he called a week later, trying to convince her that by taking the obsolete games gadget, she was obligated to buy a more expensive current one, and she told him to go peddle his papers. Or he might have used the info from the questionnaire to hack into her computer.’ ‘Not that computer,’ Holly says. ‘It was older than dirt.’ ‘Had a good look around, didn’t you?’ Izzy says. ‘Did you check the medicine cabinets while you were investigating?’ This is too much for Hodges. ‘She was doing what you should have done, Isabelle. And you know it.’ Color is rising in Izzy’s cheeks. ‘We called you in as a courtesy, that’s all, and I wish we’d never done it. You two are always trouble.’ ‘Stop it,’ Pete says. But Izzy is leaning forward, her eyes flicking between Hodges’s face and the top of Holly’s lowered head. ‘These two mystery men – if they existed at all – have nothing to do with what happened in that house. One was probably running a con, the other was a simple peeper.’ Hodges knows he should stay friendly here – increase the peace, and all that – but he just can’t do it. ‘Some pervo salivating at the thought of watching an eighty-year-old woman undress, or seeing a quadriplegic get a sponge bath? Yeah, that makes sense.’ ‘Read my lips,’ Izzy says. ‘Mom killed daughter, then self. Even left a suicide note of sorts – Z, the end. Couldn’t be any clearer.’ Z-Boy, Hodges thinks. Whoever’s under Debbie’s Blue Umbrella this time signs himself Z-Boy. Holly lifts her head. ‘There was also a Z in the garage. Carved into the wood between the doors. Bill saw it. Zappit also begins with Z, you know.’ ‘Yes,’ Izzy says. ‘And Kennedy and Lincoln have the same number of letters, proving they were both killed by the same man.’ Hodges sneaks a peek at his watch and sees he’ll have to leave soon, and that’s okay. Other than upsetting Holly and pissing off Izzy, this meeting has accomplished nothing. Nor can it, because he has no intention of telling Pete and Isabelle what he discovered on his own computer early this morning. That information might shift the investigation into a higher gear, but he’s going to keep it on the down-low until he does a little more investigation himself. He doesn’t want to think that Pete would fumble it, but— But he might. Because being thorough is a poor substitute for being thoughtful. And Izzy? She doesn’t want to open a can of worms filled with a lot of pulp-novel stuff about cryptic letters and mystery men. Not when the deaths at the Ellerton house are already on the front page of today’s paper, along with a complete recap of how Martine Stover came to be paralyzed. Not when Izzy’s expecting to take the next step up the police department ladder just as soon as her current partner retires. ‘Bottom line,’ Pete says, ‘this is going down as a murder-suicide, and we’re gonna move on. We have to move on, Kermit. I’m retiring. Iz will be left with a huge caseload and no new partner for awhile, thanks to the damn budget cuts. This stuff’ – He indicates the two plastic bags – ‘is sort of interesting, but it doesn’t change the clarity of what happened. Unless you think some master criminal set it up? One who drives an old car and mends his coat with masking tape?’ ‘No, I don’t think that.’ Hodges is remembering something Holly said about Brady Hartsfield yesterday. She used the word architect . ‘I think you’ve got it right. Murder-suicide.’ Holly gives him a brief look of wounded surprise before lowering her eyes again. ‘But will you do something for me?’ ‘If I can,’ Pete says. ‘I tried the game console, but the screen stayed blank. Probably a dead battery. I didn’t want to open the battery compartment, because that little slide panel would be a place to check for fingerprints.’ ‘I’ll see that it’s dusted, but I doubt—’ ‘Yeah, I do, too. What I really want is for one of your cyber-wonks to boot it up and check the various game applications. See if there’s anything out of the ordinary.’ ‘Okay,’ Pete says, and shifts slightly in his seat when Izzy rolls her eyes. Hodges can’t be sure, but he thinks Pete just kicked her ankle under the table. ‘I have to go,’ Hodges says, and grabs for his wallet. ‘Missed my appointment yesterday. Can’t miss another one.’ ‘We’ll pick up the check,’ Izzy says. ‘After you brought us all this valuable evidence, it’s the least we can do.’ Holly mutters something else under her breath. This time Hodges can’t be sure, even with his trained Holly-ear, but he thinks it might have been bitch . 20 On the sidewalk, Holly jams an unfashionable but somehow charming plaid hunting cap down to her ears and then thrusts her hands into her coat pockets. She won’t look at him, only starts walking toward the office a block away. Hodges’s car is parked outside Dave’s, but he hurries after her. ‘Holly.’ ‘You see how she is.’ Walking faster. Still not looking at him. The pain in his gut is creeping back, and he’s losing his breath. ‘Holly, wait. I can’t keep up.’ She turns to him, and he’s alarmed to see her eyes are swimming with tears. ‘There’s more to it! More more more! But they’re just going to sweep it under the rug and they didn’t even say the real reason which is so Pete can have a nice retirement party without this hanging over his head the way you had to retire with the Mercedes Killer hanging over yours and so the papers don’t make a big deal of it and you know there’s more to it I know you do and I know you have to get your test results I want you to get them because I’m so worried , but those poor women… I just don’t think… they don’t deserve to… to just be shoveled under !’ She halts at last, trembling. The tears are already freezing on her cheeks. He tilts her face to look at him, knowing she would shrink away if anyone else tried to touch her that way – yes, even Jerome Robinson, and she loves Jerome, probably has since the day the two of them discovered the ghost-program Brady left in Olivia Trelawney’s computer, the one that finally pushed her over the edge and caused her to take her own overdose. ‘Holly, we’re not done with this. In fact I think we might just be getting started.’ She looks him squarely in the face, another thing she will do with no one else. ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Something new has come up, something I didn’t want to tell Pete and Izzy. I don’t know what the hell to make of it. There’s no time to tell you now, but when I get back from the doctor’s, I’ll tell you everything.’ ‘All right, that’s fine. Go on, now. And although I don’t believe in God, I’ll say a prayer for your test results. Because a little prayer can’t hurt, can it?’ ‘No.’ He gives her a quick hug – long hugs don’t work with Holly – and starts back to his car, once more thinking of that thing she said yesterday, about Brady Hartsfield being an architect of suicide. A pretty turn of phrase from a woman who writes poetry in her spare time (not that Hodges has ever seen any, or is likely to), but Brady would probably sneer at it, consider it a mile short of the mark. Brady would consider himself a prince of suicide. Hodges climbs into the Prius Holly nagged him into buying and heads for Dr Stamos’s office. He’s doing a little praying himself: Let it be an ulcer. Even the bleeding kind that needs surgery to sew it up. Just an ulcer. Please nothing worse than that. 21 He doesn’t have to spend time cooling his heels in the waiting room today. Although he’s five minutes early and the room is as full as it was on Monday, Marlee the cheerleader receptionist sends him in before he even has a chance to sit down. Belinda Jensen, Stamos’s nurse, usually greets him at his yearly physicals with smiling good cheer, but she’s not smiling this morning, and as Hodges steps on the scale, he remembers his yearly physical is a bit overdue. By four months. Actually closer to five. The armature on the old-fashioned scale balances at 165. When he retired from the cops in ’09, he weighed 230 at the mandatory exit physical. Belinda takes his blood pressure, pokes something in his ear to get his current temperature, then leads him past the exam rooms and directly to Dr Stamos’s office at the end of the corridor. She knocks a knuckle on the door, and when Stamos says ‘Please come in,’ she leaves Hodges at once. Usually voluble, full of tales about her fractious children and bumptious husband, she has today spoken hardly a word. Can’t be good, Hodges thinks, but maybe it’s not too bad. Please God, not too bad. Another ten years wouldn’t be a lot to ask for, would it? Or if You can’t do that, how about five? Wendell Stamos is a fiftysomething with a fast-receding hairline and the broad-shouldered, trim-waisted build of a pro jock who’s stayed in shape after retirement. He looks at Hodges gravely and invites him to sit down. Hodges does so. ‘How bad?’ ‘Bad,’ Dr Stamos says, then hastens to add, ‘but not hopeless.’ ‘Don’t skate around it, just tell me.’ ‘It’s pancreatic cancer, and I’m afraid we caught it… well… rather late in the game. Your liver is involved.’ Hodges finds himself fighting a strong and dismaying urge to laugh. No, more than laugh, to just throw back his head and yodel like Heidi’s fucking grandfather. He thinks it was Stamos saying bad but not hopeless. It makes him remember an old joke. Doctor tells his patient there’s good news and bad news; which does the patient want first? Hit me with the bad news, says the patient. Well, says the doctor, you have an inoperable brain tumor. The patient starts to blubber and asks what the good news can possibly be after learning a thing like that. The doctor leans forward, smiling confidentially, and says, I’m fucking my receptionist, and she’s gorgeous . ‘I’ll want you to see a gastroenterologist immediately. I’m talking today. The best one in this part of the country is Henry Yip, at Kiner. He’ll refer you to a good oncologist. I’m thinking that guy will want to start you on chemo and radiation. These can be difficult for the patient, debilitating, but are far less arduous than even five years ago—’ ‘Stop,’ Hodges says. The urge to laugh has thankfully passed. Stamos stops, looking at him in a brilliant shaft of January sun. Hodges thinks, Barring a miracle, this is the last January I’m ever going to see. Wow. ‘What are the chances? Don’t sugarcoat it. There’s something hanging fire in my life right now, might be something big, so I need to know.’ Stamos sighs. ‘Very slim, I’m afraid. Pancreatic cancer is just so goddamned stealthy .’ ‘How long?’ ‘With treatment? Possibly a year. Even two. And a remission is not entirely out of the ques—’ ‘I need to think about this,’ Hodges says. ‘I’ve heard that many times after I’ve had the unpleasant task of giving this kind of diagnosis, and I always tell my patients what I’m now going to tell you, Bill. If you were standing on top of a burning building and a helicopter appeared and dropped a rope ladder, would you say you needed to think about it before climbing up?’ Hodges mulls that over, and the urge to laugh returns. He’s able to restrain it, but not a smile. It’s broad and charming. ‘I might,’ he says, ‘if the helicopter in question only had two gallons of gas left in the tank.’ 22 When Ruth Scapelli was twenty-three, before she began to grow the hard shell that encased her in later years, she had a short and bumpy affair with a not-exactly-honest man who owned a bowling alley. She became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter she named Cynthia. This was in Davenport, Iowa, her hometown, where she was working toward her RN at Kaplan University. She was amazed to find herself a mother, more amazed still to realize that Cynthia’s father was a slack-bellied forty-year-old with a tattoo reading LOVE TO LIVE AND LIVE TO LOVE on one hairy arm. If he had offered to marry her (he didn’t), she would have declined with an inward shudder. Her aunt Wanda helped her raise the child. Cynthia Scapelli Robinson now lives in San Francisco, where she has a fine husband (no tattoos) and two children, the older of whom is an honor roll student in high school. Her household is a warm one. Cynthia works hard to keep it that way, because the atmosphere in her aunt’s home, where she did most of her growing up (and where her mother began to develop that formidable shell) was always chilly, full of recriminations and scoldings that usually began You forgot to . The emotional atmosphere was mostly above freezing, but rarely went higher than forty-five degrees. By the time Cynthia was in high school, she was calling her mother by her first name. Ruth Scapelli never objected to this; in fact, she found it a bit of a relief. She missed her daughter’s nuptials due to work commitments, but sent a wedding present. It was a clock-radio. These days Cynthia and her mother talk on the phone once or twice a month, and occasionally exchange emails. Josh doing fine in school, made the soccer team is followed by a terse reply: Good for him . Cynthia has never actually missed her mother, because there was never all that much to miss. This morning she rises at seven, fixes breakfast for her husband and the two boys, sees Hank off to work, sees the boys off to school, then rinses the dishes and gets the dishwasher going. That is followed by a trip to the laundry room, where she loads the washer and gets that going. She does these morning chores without once thinking You must not forget to, except someplace down deep she is thinking it, and always will. The seeds sown in childhood put down deep roots. At nine thirty she makes herself a second cup of coffee, turns on the TV (she rarely looks at it, but it’s company), and powers up her laptop to see if she has any emails other than the usual come-ons from Amazon and Urban Outfitters. This morning there’s one from her mother, sent last night at 10:44 P.M. which translates to 8:44, West Coast time. She frowns at the subject line, which is a single word: Sorry. She opens it. Her heartbeat speeds up as she reads. I’m awful. I’m an awful worthless bitch. No one will stand up for me. This is what I have to do. I love you. I love you. When is the last time her mother said that to her? Cynthia – who says it to her boys at least four times a day – honestly can’t remember. She grabs her phone off the counter where it’s been charging, and calls first her mother’s cell, then the landline. She gets Ruth Scapelli’s short, no-nonsense message on both: ‘Leave a message. I’ll call you back if that seems appropriate.’ Cynthia tells her mother to call her right away, but she’s terribly afraid her mother may not be able to do that. Not now, perhaps not later, perhaps not at all. She paces the circumference of her sunny kitchen twice, chewing at her lips, then picks up her cell again and gets the number for Kiner Memorial Hospital. She resumes pacing as she waits to be transferred to the Brain Injury Clinic. She’s finally connected to a nurse who identifies himself as Steve Halpern. No, Halpern tells her, Nurse Scapelli hasn’t come in, which is surprising. Her shift starts at eight, and in the Midwest it’s now twenty to one. ‘Try her at home,’ he advises. ‘She’s probably taking a sick day, although it’s unlike her not to call in.’ You don’t know the half of it, Cynthia thinks. Unless, that is, Halpern grew up in a house where the mantra was You forgot to . She thanks him (can’t forget that, no matter how worried she may be) and gets the number of a police department two thousand miles away. She identifies herself and states the problem as calmly as possible. ‘My mother lives at 298 Tannenbaum Street. Her name is Ruth Scapelli. She’s the head nurse at the Kiner Hospital Brain Injury Clinic. I got an email from her this morning that makes me think…’ That she’s badly depressed? No. It might not be enough to get the cops out there. Besides, it’s not what she really thinks. She takes a deep breath. ‘That makes me think she might be considering suicide.’ 23 CPC 54 pulls into the driveway at 298 Tannenbaum Street. Officers Amarilis Rosario and Jason Laverty – known as Toody and Muldoon because their car number was featured in an old cop sitcom – get out and approach the door. Rosario rings the doorbell. There’s no answer, so Laverty knocks, good and hard. There’s still no answer. He tries the door on the off chance, and it opens. They look at each other. This is a good neighborhood, but it’s still the city, and in the city most people lock their doors. Rosario pokes her head in. ‘Mrs Scapelli? This is Police Officer Rosario. Want to give us a shout?’ There is no shout. Her partner chimes in. ‘Officer Laverty, ma’am. Your daughter is worried about you. Are you okay?’ Nothing. Laverty shrugs and gestures to the open door. ‘Ladies first.’ Rosario steps in, unsnapping the strap on her service weapon without even thinking about it. Laverty follows. The living room is empty but the TV is on, the sound muted. ‘Toody, Toody, I don’t like this,’ Rosario says. ‘Can you smell it?’ Laverty can. It’s the smell of blood. They find the source in the kitchen, where Ruth Scapelli lies on the floor next to an overturned chair. Her arms are splayed out as if she tried to break her fall. They can see the deep cuts she’s made, long ones up the forearms almost to the elbows, short ones across the wrists. Blood is splattered on the easy-clean tiles, and a great deal more is on the table, where she sat to do the deed. A butcher knife from the wooden block beside the toaster lies on the lazy Susan, placed with grotesque neatness between the salt and pepper shakers and the ceramic napkin holder. The blood is dark, coagulating. Laverty guesses she’s been dead for twelve hours, at least. ‘Maybe there was nothing good on TV,’ he says. Rosario gives him a dark look and takes a knee close to the body, but not close enough to get blood on her uni, which just came back from the cleaners the day before. ‘She drew something before she lost consciousness,’ she says. ‘See it there on the tile by her right hand? Drew it in her own blood. What do you make it? Is it a 2?’ Laverty leans down for a close look, hands on his knees. ‘Hard to tell,’ he says. ‘Either a 2 or a Z.’ BRADY ‘My boy is a genius,’ Deborah Hartsfield used to tell her friends. To which she would add, with a winning smile: ‘It’s not bragging if it’s the truth.’ This was before she started drinking heavily, when she still had friends. Once she’d had another son, Frankie, but Frankie was no genius. Frankie was brain-damaged. One evening when he was four years old, he fell down the cellar stairs and died of a broken neck. That was the story Deborah and Brady told, anyway. The truth was a little different. A little more complex. Brady loved to invent things, and one day he’d invent something that would make the two of them rich, would put them on that famous street called Easy. Deborah was sure of it, and told him so often. Brady believed it. He managed just Bs and Cs in most of his courses, but in Computer Science I and II he was a straight-A star. By the time he graduated from North Side High, the Hartsfield house was equipped with all sorts of gadgets, some of them – like the blue boxes by which Brady stole cable TV from Midwest Vision – highly illegal. He had a workroom in the basement where Deborah rarely ventured, and it was there that he did his inventing. Little by little, doubt crept in. And resentment, doubt’s fraternal twin. No matter how inspired his creations were, none were moneymakers. There were guys in California – Steve Jobs, for instance – who made incredible fortunes and changed the world just tinkering in their garages, but the things Brady came up with never quite made the grade. His design for the Rolla, for instance. It was to be a computer-powered vacuum cleaner that would run by itself, turning on gimbals and starting in a new direction each time it met an obstacle. That looked like a sure winner until Brady spotted a Roomba vacuum cleaner in a fancy-shmancy appliance store on Lacemaker Lane. Someone had beaten him to the punch. The phrase a day late and a dollar short occurred to him. He pushed it away, but sometimes at night when he couldn’t sleep, or when he was coming down with one of his migraines, it recurred. Yet two of his inventions – and minor ones at that – made the slaughter at City Center possible. They were modified TV remotes he called Thing One and Thing Two. Thing One could change traffic signals from red to green, or vice-versa. Thing Two was more sophisticated. It could capture and store signals sent from automobile key fobs, allowing Brady to unlock those vehicles after their clueless owners had departed. At first he used Thing Two as a burglary tool, opening cars and tossing them for cash or other valuables. Then, as the idea of driving a big car into a crowd of people took vague shape in his mind (along with fantasies of assassinating the President or maybe a hot shit movie star), he used Thing Two on Mrs Olivia Trelawney’s Mercedes, and discovered she kept a spare key in her glove compartment. That car he left alone, filing the existence of the spare key away for later use. Not long after, like a message from the dark powers that ran the universe, he read in the newspaper that a job fair was to be held at City Center on the tenth of April. Thousands were expected to show up. After he started working the Cyber Patrol at Discount Electronix and could buy crunchers on the cheap, Brady wired together seven off-brand laptops in his basement workroom. He rarely used more than one of them, but he liked the way they made the room look: like something out of a science fiction movie or a Star Trek episode. He wired in a voice-activated system, too, and this was years before Apple made a voice-ac program named Siri a star. Once again, a day late and a dollar short . Or, in this case, a few billion. Being in a situation like that, who wouldn’t want to kill a bunch of people? He only got eight at City Center (not counting the wounded, some of them maimed really good), but could have gotten thousands at that rock concert. He’d have been remembered forever. But before he could push the button that would have sent ball bearings flying in a jet-propelled, ever-widening deathfan, mutilating and decapitating hundreds of screaming prepubescent girls (not to mention their overweight and overindulgent mommies), someone had turned out all his lights. That part of his memory was blacked out permanently, it seemed, but he didn’t have to remember. There was only one person it could have been: Kermit William Hodges. Hodges was supposed to commit suicide like Mrs Trelawney, that was the plan, but he’d somehow avoided both that and the explosives Brady had stashed in Hodges’s car. The old retired detective showed up at the concert and thwarted him mere seconds before Brady could achieve his immortality. Boom, boom, out go the lights. Angel, angel, down we go. Coincidence is a tricksy bitch, and it so happened that Brady was transported to Kiner Memorial by Unit 23 out of Firehouse 3. Rob Martin wasn’t on the scene – he was at that time touring Afghanistan, all expenses paid by the United States government – but Jason Rapsis was the paramedic onboard, trying to keep Brady alive as 23 raced toward the hospital. If offered a bet on his chances, Rapsis would have bet against. The young man was seizing violently. His heart rate was 175, his blood pressure alternately spiking and falling. Yet he was still in the land of the living when 23 reached Kiner. There he was examined by Dr Emory Winston, an old hand in the patch-em-up, fix-em-up wing of the hospital some vets called the Saturday Night Knife and Gun Club. Winston collared a med student who happened to be hanging around the ER and chatting up nurses. Winston invited him to do a quick-and-dirty evaluation of the new patient. The student reported depressed reflexes, a dilated and fixed left pupil, and a positive right Babinski. ‘Meaning?’ Winston asked. ‘Meaning this guy is suffering an irreparable brain injury,’ said the student. ‘He’s a gork.’ ‘Very good, we may make a doctor of you yet. Prognosis?’ ‘Dead by morning,’ said the student. ‘You’re probably right,’ Winston said. ‘I hope so, because he’s never coming back from this. We’ll give him a CAT scan, though.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because it’s protocol, son. And because I’m curious to see how much damage there actually is while he’s still alive.’ He was still alive seven hours later, when Dr Annu Singh, ably assisted by Dr Felix Babineau, performed a craniotomy to evacuate the massive blood clot that was pressing on Brady’s brain and increasing the damage minute by minute, strangling divinely specialized cells in their millions. When the operation was finished, Babineau turned to Singh and offered him a hand that was still encased in a blood-stippled glove. ‘That,’ he said, ‘was amazing.’ Singh shook Babineau’s hand, but he did so with a deprecating smile. ‘That was routine,’ he said. ‘Done a thousand of them. Well… a couple of hundred. What’s amazing is this patient’s constitution. I can’t believe he lived through the operation. The damage to his poor old chump…’ Singh shook his head. ‘Iy-yi-yi.’ ‘You know what he was trying to do, I take it?’ ‘Yes, I was informed. Terrorism on a grand scale. He may live for awhile, but he will never be tried for his crime, and he will be no great loss to the world when he goes.’ It was with this thought in mind that Dr Babineau began slipping Brady – not quite brain-dead, but almost – an experimental drug which he called Cerebellin (although only in his mind; technically, it was just a six-digit number), this in addition to the established protocols of increased oxygenation, diuretics, antiseizure dugs, and steroids. Experimental drug 649558 had shown promising results when tested on animals, but thanks to a tangle of regulatory bureaucracies, human trials were years away. It had been developed in a Bolivian neuro lab, which added to the hassle. By the time human testing commenced (if it ever did), Babineau would be living in a Florida gated community, if his wife had her way. And bored to tears. This was an opportunity to see results while he was still actively involved in neurological research. If he got some, it was not impossible to imagine a Nobel Prize for Medicine somewhere down the line. And there was no downside as long as he kept the results to himself until human trials were okayed. The man was a murderous degenerate who was never going to wake up, anyway. If by some miracle he did, his consciousness would at best be of the shadowy sort experienced by patients with advanced Alzheimer’s disease. Yet even that would be an amazing result. You may be helping someone farther down the line, Mr Hartsfield, he told his comatose patient. Doing a spoonful of good instead of a shovelful of evil. And if you should suffer an adverse reaction? Perhaps go entirely flatline (not that you have far to go), or even die, rather than showing a bit of increased brain function? No great loss. Not to you, and certainly not to your family, because you have none. Nor to the world; the world would be delighted to see you go. He opened a file on his computer titled HARTSFIELD CEREBELLIN TRIALS. There were nine of these trials in all, spread over a fourteen-month period in 2010 and 2011. Babineau saw no change. He might as well have been giving his human guinea pig distilled water. He gave up. The human guinea pig in question spent fifteen months in the dark, an inchoate spirit who at some point in the sixteenth month remembered his name. He was Brady Wilson Hartsfield. There was nothing else at first. No past, no present, no him beyond the six syllables of his name. Then, not long before he would have given up and just floated away, another word came. The word was control . It had once meant something important, but he could not think what. In his hospital room, lying in bed, his glycerin-moistened lips moved and he spoke the word aloud. He was alone; this was still three weeks before a nurse would observe Brady open his eyes and ask for his mother. ‘Con… trol.’ And the lights came on. Just as they did in his Star Trek -style computer workroom when he voice-activated them from the top of the stairs leading down from the kitchen. That’s where he was: in his Elm Street basement, looking just as it had on the day he’d left it for the last time. There was another word that woke up another function, and now that he was here, he remembered that, as well. Because it was a good word. ‘Chaos!’ In his mind, he boomed it out like Moses on Mount Sinai. In his hospital bed, it was a whispered croak. But it did the job, because his row of laptop computers came to life. On each screen was the number 20… then 19… then 18… What is this? What, in the name of God? For a panicky moment he couldn’t remember. All he knew was that if the countdown he saw marching across the seven screens reached zero, the computers would freeze. He would lose them, this room, and the little sliver of consciousness he had somehow managed. He would be buried alive in the darkness of his own hea— And that was the word! The very one! ‘Darkness!’ He screamed it at the top of his lungs – at least inside. Outside it was that same whispered croak from long unused vocal cords. His pulse, respiration, and blood pressure had all begun to rise. Soon Head Nurse Becky Helmington would notice and come to check him, hurrying but not quite running. In Brady’s basement workroom, the countdown on the computers stopped at 14, and on each screen a picture appeared. Once upon a time, those computers (now stored in a cavernous police evidence room and labeled exhibits A through G) had booted up showing stills from a movie called The Wild Bunch . Now, however, they showed photographs from Brady’s life. On screen 1 was his brother Frankie, who choked on an apple, suffered his own brain damage, and later fell down the cellar stairs (helped along by his big brother’s foot). On screen 2 was Deborah herself. She was dressed in a clingy white robe that Brady remembered instantly. She called me her honeyboy, he thought, and when she kissed me her lips were always a little damp and I got a hard-on. When I was little, she called that a stiffy. Sometimes when I was in the tub she’d rub it with a warm wet washcloth and ask me if it felt good. On screen 3 were Thing One and Thing Two, inventions that had actually worked. On screen 4 was Mrs Trelawney’s gray Mercedes sedan, the hood dented and the grille dripping with blood. On screen 5 was a wheelchair. For a moment the relevance wouldn’t come, but then it clicked in. It was how he had gotten into the Mingo Auditorium on the night of the ’Round Here concert. Nobody worried about a poor old cripple in a wheelchair. On screen 6 was a handsome, smiling young man. Brady couldn’t recall his name, at least not yet, but he knew who the young man was: the old Det-Ret’s nigger lawnboy. And on screen 7 was Hodges himself, wearing a fedora cocked rakishly over one eye and smiling. Gotcha, Brady, that smile said. Whapped you with my whapper and there you lie, in a hospital bed, and when will you rise from it and walk? I’m betting never. Fucking Hodges, who spoiled everything. Those seven images were the armature around which Brady began to rebuild his identity. As he did so, the walls of his basement room – always his hideaway, his redoubt against a stupid and uncaring world – began to thin. He heard other voices coming through the walls and realized that some were nurses, some were doctors, and some – perhaps – were law enforcement types, checking up on him to make sure he wasn’t faking. He both was and wasn’t. The truth, like that concerning Frankie’s death, was complex. At first he opened his eyes only when he was sure he was alone, and didn’t open them often. There wasn’t a lot in his room to look at. Sooner or later he would have to come awake all the way, but even when he did they must not know that he could think much, when in fact he was thinking more clearly every day. If they knew that, they would put him on trial. Brady didn’t want to be put on trial. Not when he still might have things to do. A week before Brady spoke to Nurse Norma Wilmer, he opened his eyes in the middle of the night and looked at the bottle of saline suspended from the IV stand beside his bed. Bored, he lifted his hand to push it, perhaps even knock it to the floor. He did not succeed in doing that, but it was swinging back and forth from its hook before he realized both of his hands were still lying on the counterpane, the fingers turned in slightly due to the muscle atrophy physical therapy could slow but not stop – not, at least, when the patient was sleeping the long sleep of low brainwaves. Did I do that? He reached out again, and his hands still did not move much (although the left, his dominant hand, trembled a bit), but he felt his palm touch the saline bottle and put it back in motion. He thought, That’s interesting, and fell asleep. It was the first honest sleep he’d had since Hodges (or perhaps it had been his nigger lawnboy) put him in this goddam hospital bed. On the following nights – late nights, when he could be sure no one might come in and see – Brady experimented with his phantom hand. Often as he did so he thought of a high school classmate named Henry ‘Hook’ Crosby, who had lost his right hand in a car accident. He had a prosthetic – obviously fake, so he wore it with a glove – but sometimes he wore a stainless steel hook to school, instead. Henry claimed it was easier to pick things up with the hook, and as a bonus, it grossed out girls when he snuck up behind them and caressed a calf or bare arm with it. He once told Brady that, although he’d lost the hand seven years ago, he sometimes felt it itching, or prickling, as if it had gone numb and was just waking up. He showed Brady his stump, smooth and pink. ‘When it gets prickly like that, I’d swear I could scratch my head with it,’ he said. Brady now knew exactly how Hook Crosby felt… except he, Brady, could scratch his head with his phantom hand. He had tried it. He had also discovered that he could rattle the slats in the venetian blinds the nurses dropped over his window at night. That window was much too far away from his bed to reach, but with the phantom hand he could reach it, anyway. Someone had put a vase of fake flowers on the table next to his bed (he later discovered it was Head Nurse Becky Helmington, the only one on staff to treat him with a degree of kindness), and he could slide it back and forth, easy as pie. After a struggle – his memory was full of holes – he recalled the name for this sort of phenomenon: telekinesis. The ability to move objects by concentrating on them. Only any real concentration made his head ache fiercely, and his mind didn’t seem to have much to do with it. It was his hand , his dominant left hand, even though the one lying splay-fingered on the bedspread never moved. Pretty amazing. He was sure that Babineau, the doctor who came to see him most frequently (or had; lately he seemed to be losing interest), would be over the moon with excitement, but this was one talent Brady intended to keep to himself. It might come in handy at some point, but he doubted it. Wiggling one’s ears was also a talent, but not one that had any useful value. Yes, he could move the bottles on the IV stand, and rattle the blinds, and knock over a picture; he could send ripples through his blankets, as though a big fish were swimming beneath. Sometimes he did one of those things when a nurse was in the room, because their startled reactions were amusing. That, however, seemed to be the extent of this new ability. He had tried and failed to turn on the television suspended over his bed, had tried and failed to close the door to the en suite bathroom. He could grasp the chrome handle – he felt its cold hardness as his fingers closed around it – but the door was too heavy and his phantom hand was too weak. At least, so far. He had an idea that if he continued to exercise it, the hand might grow stronger. I need to wake up, he thought, if only so I can get some aspirin for this endless fucking headache and actually eat some real food. Even a dish of hospital custard would be a treat. I’ll do it soon. Maybe even tomorrow. But he didn’t. Because on the following day, he discovered that telekinesis wasn’t the only new ability he’d brought back from wherever he’d been. The nurse who came in most afternoons to check his vitals and most evenings to get him ready for the night (you couldn’t say ready for bed when he was always in bed) was a young woman named Sadie MacDonald. She was dark-haired and pretty in a washed-out, no-makeup sort of way. Brady had observed her through half-closed eyes, as he observed all visitors to his room in the days since he had come through the wall from his basement workroom where he had first regained consciousness. She seemed frightened of him, but he came to realize that didn’t exactly make him special, because Nurse MacDonald was frightened of everyone. She was the kind of woman who scuttles rather than walks. If someone came into 217 while she was about her duties – Head Nurse Becky Helmington, for instance – Sadie had a tendency to shrink into the background. And she was terrified of Dr Babineau. When she had to be in the room with him, Brady could almost taste her fear. He came to realize that might not have been an exaggeration. On the day after Brady fell asleep thinking of custard, Sadie MacDonald came into Room 217 at quarter past three, checked the monitor above the head of his bed, and wrote some numbers on the clipboard that hung at the foot. Next she’d check the bottles on the IV stand and go to the closet for fresh pillows. She would lift him with one hand – she was small, but her arms were strong – and replace his old pillows with the new ones. That might actually have been an orderly’s job, but Brady had an idea that MacDonald was at the bottom of the hospital pecking order. Low nurse on the totem pole, so to speak. He had decided he would open his eyes and speak to her just as she finished changing the pillows, when their faces were closest. It would scare her, and Brady liked to scare people. Much in his life had changed, but not that. Maybe she would even scream, as one nurse had when he made his coverlet do its rippling thing. Only MacDonald diverted to the window on her way to the closet. There was nothing out there to see but the parking garage, yet she stood there for a minute… then two… then three. Why? What was so fascinating about a brick fucking wall? Only it wasn’t all brick, Brady realized as he looked out with her. There were long open spaces on each level, and as the cars went up the ramp, the sun flashed briefly on their windshields. Flash. And flash. And flash. Jesus Christ, Brady thought. I’m the one who’s supposed to be in a coma, aren’t I? It’s like she’s having some kind of seiz— But wait. Wait just a goddam minute. Looking out with her? How can I be looking out with her when I’m lying here in bed? There went a rusty pickup truck. Behind it came a Jaguar sedan, probably some rich doctor’s car, and Brady realized he wasn’t looking out with her, he was looking out from her. It was like watching the scenery from the passenger side while someone else drove the car. And yes, Sadie MacDonald was having a seizure, one so mild she probably didn’t even know it was happening. The lights had caused it. The lights on the windshields of the passing cars. As soon as there was a lull in the traffic on that ramp, or as soon as the angle of the sunlight changed a bit, she would come out of it and go about her duties. She would come out of it without even knowing she’d been in it. Brady knew this. He knew because he was inside her. He went a little deeper and realized he could see her thoughts. It was amazing. He could actually watch them flashing back and forth, hither and thither, high and low, sometimes crossing paths in a dark green medium that was – perhaps, he’d have to think about this, and very carefully to be sure – her core consciousness. Her basic Sadie-ness. He tried to go deeper, to identify some of the thoughtfish, although Christ, they went by so fast! Still… Something about the muffins she had at home in her apartment. Something about a cat she had seen in a pet shop window: black with a cunning white bib. Something about… rocks? Was it rocks? Something about her father, and that fish was red, the color of anger. Or shame. Or both. As she turned from the window and headed for the closet, Brady felt a moment of tumbling vertigo. It passed, and he was back inside himself, looking out through his own eyes. She had ejected him without even knowing he was there. When she lifted him to put two foam pillows with freshly laundered cases behind his head, Brady let his eyes remain in their fixed and half-lidded stare. He did not speak, after all. He really did need to think about this. During the next four days, Brady tried several times to get inside the heads of those who visited his room. He had a degree of success only once, with a young orderly who came in to mop the floor. The kid wasn’t a Mongolian idiot (his mother’s term for those with Down syndrome), but he wasn’t a Mensa candidate, either. He was looking down at the wet stripes his mop left on the linoleum, watching the brightness of each one fade, and that opened him up just enough. Brady’s visit was brief and uninteresting. The kid was wondering if they would have tacos in the caff that evening – big deal. Then the vertigo, the sense of tumbling. The kid had spit him out like a watermelon seed, never once slowing the pendulum swings of his mop. With the others who poked into his room from time to time, he had no success at all, and this failure was a lot more frustrating than being unable to scratch his face when it itched. Brady had taken an inventory of himself, and what he had found was dismaying. His constantly aching head sat on top of a skeletal body. He could move, he wasn’t paralyzed, but his muscles had atrophied and even sliding a leg two or three inches one way or another took a herculean effort. Being inside Nurse MacDonald, on the other hand, had been like riding on a magic carpet. But he’d only gotten in because MacDonald had some form of epilepsy. Not much, just enough to briefly open a door. Others seemed to have natural defenses. He hadn’t even managed to stay inside the orderly for more than a few seconds, and if that ass-munch had been a dwarf, he would have been named Dopey. Which made him remember a joke. Stranger in New York City asks a beatnik, ‘How do you get to Carnegie Hall?’ Beatnik replies, ‘Practice, man, practice.’ That’s what I need to do, Brady thought. Practice and get stronger. Because Kermit William Hodges is out there someplace, and the old Det-Ret thinks he won. I can’t allow that. I won’t allow that. And so on that rain-soaked evening in mid-November of 2011, Brady opened his eyes, said his head hurt, and asked for his mother. There was no scream. It was Sadie MacDonald’s night off, and Norma Wilmer, the nurse on duty, was made of tougher stuff. Nevertheless, she gave a little cry of surprise, and ran to see if Dr Babineau was still in the doctors’ lounge. Brady thought, Now the rest of my life begins. Brady thought, Practice, man, practice. BLACKISH 1 Although Hodges has officially made Holly a full partner in Finders Keepers, and there’s a spare office (small, but with a street view), she has elected to remain based in the reception area. She’s seated there, peering at the screen of her computer, when Hodges comes in at quarter to eleven. And although she’s quick to sweep something into the wide drawer above the kneehole of her desk, Hodges’s olfactories are still in good working order (unlike some of his malfunctioning equipment further south), and he catches an unmistakable whiff of half-eaten Twinkie. ‘What’s the story, Hollyberry?’ ‘You picked that up from Jerome, and you know I hate it. Call me Hollyberry again and I’ll go see my mother for a week. She keeps asking me to visit.’ As if, Hodges thinks. You can’t stand her, and besides, you’re on the scent, my dear. As hooked as a heroin addict. ‘Sorry, sorry.’ He looks over her shoulder and sees an article from Bloomberg Business dated April of 2014. The headline reads ZAPPIT ZAPPED. ‘Yeah, the company screwed the pooch and stepped out the door. Thought I told you that yesterday.’ ‘You did. What’s interesting, to me at least, is the inventory.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘Thousands of unsold Zappits, maybe tens of thousands. I wanted to know what happened to them.’ ‘And did you find out?’ ‘Not yet.’ ‘Maybe they got shipped to the poor children in China, along with all the vegetables I refused to eat as a child.’ ‘Starving children are not funny,’ she says, looking severe. ‘No, of course not.’ Hodges straightens up. He filled a prescription for painkillers on his way back from Stamos’s office – heavy-duty, but not as heavy as the stuff he may be taking soon – and he feels almost okay. There’s even a faint stirring of hunger in his belly, which is a welcome change. ‘They were probably destroyed. That’s what they do with unsold paperback books, I think.’ ‘That’s a lot of inventory to destroy,’ she says, ‘considering the gadgets are loaded with games and still work. The top of the line, the Commanders, even came equipped with WiFi. Now tell me about your tests.’ Hodges manufactures a smile he hopes will look both modest and happy. ‘Good news, actually. It’s an ulcer, but just a little one. I’ll have to take a bunch of pills and be careful about my diet. Dr Stamos says if I do that, it should heal on its own.’ She gives him a radiant smile that makes Hodges feel good about this outrageous lie. Of course, it also makes him feel like dogshit on an old shoe. ‘Thank God! You’ll do what he says, won’t you?’ ‘You bet.’ More dogshit; all the bland food in the world won’t cure what ails him. Hodges is not a giver-upper, and under other circumstances he would be in the office of gastroenterologist Henry Yip right now, no matter how bad the odds of beating pancreatic cancer. The message he received on the Blue Umbrella site has changed things, however. ‘Well, that’s fine. Because I don’t know what I’d do without you, Bill. I just don’t.’ ‘Holly—’ ‘Actually, I do. I’d go back home. And that would be bad for me.’ No shit, Hodges thinks. The first time I met you, in town for your aunt Elizabeth’s funeral, your mom was practically leading you around like a mutt on a leash. Do this, Holly, do that, Holly, and for Christ’s sake don’t do anything embarrassing. ‘Now tell me,’ she says. ‘Tell me the something new. Tell me tell me tell me!’ ‘Give me fifteen minutes, then I’ll spill everything. In the meantime, see if you can find out what happened to all those Commander consoles. It’s probably not important, but it might be.’ ‘Okay. Wonderful news about your tests, Bill.’ ‘Yeah.’ He goes into his office. Holly swivels her chair to look after him for a moment, because he rarely closes the door when he’s in there. Still, it’s not unheard of. She returns to her computer. 2 ‘He’s not done with you yet.’ Holly repeats it in a soft voice. She puts her half-eaten veggie burger down on its paper plate. Hodges has already demolished his, talking between bites. He doesn’t mention waking with pain; in this version he discovered the message because he got up to net-surf when he couldn’t sleep. ‘That’s what it said, all right.’ ‘From Z-Boy.’ ‘Yeah. Sounds like some superhero’s sidekick, doesn’t it? “Follow the adventures of Z-Man and Z-Boy, as they keep the streets of Gotham City safe from crime!”’ ‘That’s Batman and Robin. They’re the ones who patrol Gotham City.’ ‘I know that, I was reading Batman comics before you were born. I was just saying.’ She picks up her veggie burger, extracts a shred of lettuce, puts it down again. ‘When is the last time you visited Brady Hartsfield?’ Right to the heart of the matter, Hodges thinks admiringly. That’s my Holly. ‘I went to see him just after the business with the Saubers family, and once more later on. Midsummer, that would have been. Then you and Jerome cornered me and said I had to stop. So I did.’ ‘We did it for your own good.’ ‘I know that, Holly. Now eat your sandwich.’ She takes a bite, dabs mayo from the corner of her mouth, and asks him how Hartsfield seemed on his last visit. ‘The same… mostly. Just sitting there, looking out at the parking garage. I talk, I ask him questions, he says nothing. He gives Academy Award brain damage, no doubt about that. But there have been stories about him. That he has some kind of mind-power. That he can turn the water on and off in his bathroom, and does it sometimes to scare the staff. I’d call it bullshit, but when Becky Helmington was the head nurse, she said she’d actually seen stuff on a couple of occasions – rattling blinds, the TV going on by itself, the bottles on his IV stand swinging back and forth. And she’s what I’d call a credible witness. I know it’s hard to believe—’ ‘Not so hard. Telekinesis, sometimes called psychokinesis, is a documented phenomenon. You never saw anything like that yourself during any of your visits?’ ‘Well…’ He pauses, remembering. ‘Something did happen on my second-to-last visit. There was a picture on the table beside his bed – him and his mother with their arms around each other and their cheeks pressed together. On vacation somewhere. There was a bigger version in the house on Elm Street. You probably remember it.’ ‘Of course I do. I remember everything we saw in that house, including some of the cheesecake photos of her he had on his computer.’ She crosses her arms over her small bosom and makes a moue of distaste. ‘That was a very unnatural relationship.’ ‘Tell me about it. I don’t know if he ever actually had sex with her—’ ‘Oough!’ ‘—but I think he probably wanted to, and at the very least she enabled his fantasies. Anyway, I grabbed the picture and talked some smack about her, trying to get a rise out of him, trying to get him to respond. Because he’s in there, Holly, and I mean all present and accounted for. I was sure of it then and I’m sure of it now. He just sits there, but inside he’s the same human wasp that killed those people at City Center and tried to kill a whole lot more at Mingo Auditorium.’ ‘And he used Debbie’s Blue Umbrella to talk with you, don’t forget that.’ ‘After last night I’m not likely to.’ ‘Tell me the rest of what happened that time.’ ‘For just a second he stopped looking out his window at the parking garage across the way. His eyes… they rolled in their sockets, and he looked at me. Every hair on the nape of my neck stood up at attention, and the air felt… I don’t know… electric .’ He forces himself to say the rest. It’s like pushing a big rock up a steep hill. ‘I arrested some bad doers when I was on the cops, some very bad doers – one was a mother who killed her three-year-old for insurance that didn’t amount to a hill of beans – but I never felt the presence of evil in any of them once they were caught. It’s like evil’s some kind of vulture that flies away once these mokes are locked up. But I felt it that day, Holly. I really did. I felt it in Brady Hartsfield.’ ‘I believe you,’ she says in a voice so small it’s barely a whisper. ‘And he had a Zappit. That’s the connection I was trying to make. If it is a connection, and not just a coincidence. There was a guy, I don’t know his last name, everyone just called him Library Al, who used to hand Zappits out along with Kindles and paperbacks when he made his rounds. I don’t know if Al was an orderly or a volunteer. Hell, he might even have been one of the janitors, doing a little good deed on the side. I think the only reason I didn’t pick up on that right away was the Zappit you found at the Ellerton house was pink. The one in Brady’s room was blue.’ ‘How could what happened to Janice Ellerton and her daughter have anything to do with Brady Hartsfield? Unless… has anyone reported any telekinetic activity outside of his room? Have there been rumors of that?’ ‘Nope, but right around the time the Saubers business finished up, a nurse committed suicide in the Brain Injury Clinic. Sliced her wrists in a bathroom right down the hall from Hartsfield’s room. Her name was Sadie MacDonald.’ ‘Are you thinking…’ She’s picking at her sandwich again, shredding the lettuce and dropping it into her plate. Waiting for him. ‘Go on, Holly. I’m not going to say it for you.’ ‘You’re thinking Brady talked her into it somehow? I don’t see how that could be possible.’ ‘I don’t, either, but we know Brady has a fascination with suicide.’ ‘This Sadie MacDonald… did she happen to have one of those Zappit things?’ ‘God knows.’ ‘How… how did…’ This time he does help. ‘With a scalpel she filched from one of the surgical suites. I got that from the ME’s assistant. Slipped her a gift card to DeMasio’s, the Italian joint.’ Holly shreds more lettuce. Her plate is starting to look like confetti at a leprechaun birthday party. It’s driving Hodges a little nuts, but he doesn’t stop her. She’s working her way up to saying it. And finally does. ‘You’re going to see Hartsfield.’ ‘Yeah, I am.’ ‘Do you really think you’ll get anything out of him? You never have before.’ ‘I know a little more now.’ But what, really, does he know? He’s not even sure what he suspects. But maybe Hartsfield isn’t a human wasp, after all. Maybe he’s a spider, and Room 217 at the Bucket is the center of his web, where he sits spinning. Or maybe it’s all coincidence. Maybe the cancer is already eating into my brain, sparking a lot of paranoid ideas. That’s what Pete would think, and his partner – hard to stop thinking of her as Miss Pretty Gray Eyes, now that it’s in his head – would say it right out loud. He stands up. ‘No time like the present.’ She drops her sandwich onto the pile of mangled lettuce so she can grasp his arm. ‘Be careful.’ ‘I will.’ ‘Guard your thoughts. I know how crazy that sounds, but I am crazy, at least some of the time, so I can say it. If you should have any ideas about… well, harming yourself… call me. Call me right away .’ ‘Okay.’ She crosses her arms and grasps her shoulders – that old fretful gesture he sees less often now. ‘I wish Jerome was here.’ Jerome Robinson is in Arizona, taking a semester off from college, building houses as part of a Habitat for Humanity crew. Once, when Hodges used the phrase garnishing his r?sum? in relation to this activity, Holly scolded him, telling him Jerome was doing it because he was a good person. With that, Hodges has to agree – Jerome really is a good person. ‘I’m going to be fine. And this is probably nothing. We’re like kids worrying that the empty house on the corner is haunted. If we said anything about it to Pete, he’d have us both committed.’ Holly, who actually has been committed (twice), believes some empty houses really might be haunted. She removes one small and ringless hand from one shoulder long enough to grasp his arm again, this time by the sleeve of his overcoat. ‘Call me when you get there, and call me again when you leave. Don’t forget, because I’ll be worrying and I can’t call you because—’ ‘No cell phones allowed in the Bucket, yeah, I know. I’ll do it, Holly. In the meantime, I’ve got a couple of things for you.’ He sees her hand dart toward a notepad and shakes his head. ‘No, you don’t need to write this down. It’s simple. First, go on eBay or wherever you go to buy stuff that’s no longer available retail and order one of those Zappit Commanders. Can you do that?’ ‘Easy. What’s the other thing?’ ‘Sunrise Solutions bought out Zappit, then went bankrupt. Someone will be serving as the trustee in bankruptcy. The trustee hires lawyers, accountants, and liquidators to help squeeze every cent out of the company. Get a name and I’ll make a call later today or tomorrow. I want to know what happened to all those unsold Zappit consoles, because somebody gave one to Janice Ellerton a long time after both companies were out of business.’ She lights up. ‘That’s fracking brilliant!’ Not brilliant, just police work, he thinks. I may have terminal cancer, but I still remember how the job is done, and that’s something. That’s something good. 3 As he exits the Turner Building and heads for the bus stop (the Number 5 is a quicker and easier way to get across town than retrieving his Prius and driving himself), Hodges is a deeply preoccupied man. He is thinking about how he should approach Brady – how he can open him up. He was an ace in the interrogation room when he was on the job, so there has to be a way. Previously he has only gone to Brady to goad him and confirm his gut belief that Brady is faking his semi-catatonic state. Now he has some real questions, and there must be some way he can get Brady to answer them. I have to poke the spider, he thinks. Interfering with his efforts to plan the forthcoming confrontation are thoughts of the diagnosis he’s just received, and the inevitable fears that go with it. For his life, yes. But there are also questions of how much he may suffer a bit further down the line, and how he will inform those who need to know. Corinne and Allie will be shaken up by the news but basically okay. The same goes for the Robinson family, although he knows Jerome and Barbara, his kid sister (not such a kid now; she’ll turn sixteen in a few months) will take it hard. Mostly, though, it’s Holly he worries about. She isn’t crazy, despite what she said in the office, but she’s fragile. Very. She’s had two breakdowns in her past, one in high school and one in her early twenties. She’s stronger now, but her main sources of support over these last few years have been him and the little company they run together. If they go, she’ll be at risk. He can’t afford to kid himself about that. I won’t let her break, Hodges thinks. He walks with his head down and his hands stuffed in his pockets, blowing out white vapor. I can’t let that happen. Deep in these thoughts, he misses the primer-spotted Chevy Malibu for the third time in two days. It’s parked up the street, opposite the building where Holly is now hunting down the Sunrise Solutions bankruptcy trustee. Standing on the sidewalk next to it is an elderly man in an old Army surplus parka that has been mended with masking tape. He watches Hodges get on the bus, then takes a cell phone from his coat pocket and makes a call. 4 Holly watches her boss – who happens to be the person she loves most in the world – walk to the bus stop on the corner. He looks so slight now, almost a shadow of the burly man she first met six years ago. And he has his hand pressed to his side as he walks. He does that a lot lately, and she doesn’t think he’s even aware of it. Nothing but a small ulcer, he said. She’d like to believe that – would like to believe him – but she’s not sure she does. The bus comes and Bill gets on. Holly stands by the window watching it go, gnawing at her fingernails, wishing for a cigarette. She has Nicorette gum, plenty of it, but sometimes only a cigarette will do. Quit wasting time, she tells herself. If you really mean to be a rotten dirty sneak, there’s no time like the present. So she goes into his office. His computer is dark, but he never turns it off until he goes home at night; all she has to do is refresh the screen. Before she can, her eye is caught by the yellow legal pad beside the keyboard. He always has one handy, usually covered with notes and doodles. It’s how he thinks. Written at the top of this one is a line she knows well, one that has resonated with her ever since she first heard the song on the radio: All the lonely people. He has underlined it. Beneath are names she knows. Olivia Trelawney (Widowed) Martine Stover (Unmarried, housekeeper called her ‘spinster’) Janice Ellerton (Widowed) Nancy Alderson (Widowed) And others. Her own, of course; she is also a spinster. Pete Huntley, who’s divorced. And Hodges himself, also divorced. Single people are twice as likely to commit suicide. Divorced people, four times as likely. ‘Brady Hartsfield enjoyed suicide,’ she murmurs. ‘It was his hobby.’ Below the names, circled, is a jotted note she doesn’t understand: Visitors list? What visitors? She hits a random key and Bill’s computer lights up, showing his desktop screen with all his files scattered helter-skelter across it. She has scolded him about this time and again, has told him it’s like leaving the door of your house unlocked and your valuables all laid out on the dining room table with a sign on them saying PLEASE STEAL ME, and he always says he will do better, and he never does. Not that it would have changed things in Holly’s case, because she also has his password. He gave it to her himself. In case something ever happened to him, he said. Now she’s afraid something has. One look at the screen is enough to tell her the something is no ulcer. There’s a new file folder there, one with a scary title. Holly clicks on it. The terrible gothic letters at the top are enough to confirm that the document is indeed the last will and testament of one Kermit William Hodges. She closes it at once. She has absolutely no desire to paw through his bequests. Knowing that such a document exists and that he has been reviewing it this very day is enough. Too much, actually. She stands there clutching at her shoulders and nibbling her lips. The next step would be worse than snooping. It would be prying. It would be burglary. You’ve come this far, so go ahead. ‘Yes, I have to,’ Holly whispers, and clicks on the postage stamp icon that opens his email, telling herself there will probably be nothing. Only there is. The most recent message likely came in while they were talking about what he found early this morning under Debbie’s Blue Umbrella. It’s from the doctor he went to see. Stamos, his name is. She opens the email and reads: Here is a copy of your most recent test results, for your files . Holly uses the password in the email to open the attachment, sits in Bill’s chair, and leans forward, her hands clenched tightly in her lap. By the time she scrolls down to the second of the eight pages, she is crying. 5 Hodges has no more than settled in his seat at the back of the Number 5 when glass breaks in his coat pocket and the boys cheer the home run that just broke Mrs O’Leary’s living room window. A man in a business suit lowers his Wall Street Journal and looks disapprovingly at Hodges over the top of it. ‘Sorry, sorry,’ Hodges says. ‘Keep meaning to change it.’ ‘You should make it a priority,’ the businessman says, and raises his paper again. The text is from his old partner. Again. Feeling a strong sense of d?j? vu , Hodges calls him. ‘Pete,’ he says, ‘what’s with all the texts? It isn’t as if you don’t have my number on speed dial.’ ‘Figured Holly probably programmed your phone for you and put on some crazy ringtone,’ Pete says. ‘That’d be her idea of a real knee-slapper. Also figured you’d have it turned up to max volume, you deaf sonofabitch.’ ‘The text alert’s the one on max,’ Hodges says. ‘When I get a call, the phone just has a mini-orgasm against my leg.’ ‘Change the alert, then.’ Hours ago he found out he has only months to live. Now he’s discussing the volume of his cell phone. ‘I’ll absolutely do that. Now tell me why you called.’ ‘Got a guy in computer forensics who landed on that game gadget like a fly on shit. He loved it, called it retro. Can you believe that? Gadget was probably manufactured all of five years ago and now it’s retro.’ ‘The world is speeding up.’ ‘It’s sure doing something. Anyway, the Zappit is zapped. When our guy plugged in fresh batteries, it popped half a dozen bright blue flashes, then died.’ ‘What’s wrong with it?’ ‘Some kind of virus is technically possible, the thing supposedly has WiFi and that’s mostly how those bugs get downloaded, but he says it’s more likely a bad chip or a fried circuit. The point is, it means nothing. Ellerton couldn’t have used it.’ ‘Then why did she keep the charger cord for it plugged in right there in her daughter’s bathroom?’ That silences Pete for a moment. Then he says, ‘Okay, so maybe it worked for awhile and then the chip died. Or whatever they do.’ It worked, all right, Hodges thinks. She played solitaire on it at the kitchen table. Lots of different kinds, like Klondike and Pyramid and Picture. Which you would know, Peter my dear, if you’d talked to Nancy Alderson. That must still be on your bucket list. ‘All right,’ Hodges says. ‘Thanks for the update.’ ‘It’s your final update, Kermit. I have a partner I’ve worked with quite successfully since you pulled the pin, and I’d like her to be at my retirement party instead of sitting at her desk and sulking over how I preferred you to her right to the bitter end.’ Hodges could pursue this, but the hospital is only two stops away now. Also, he discovers, he wants to separate himself from Pete and Izzy and go his own way on this thing. Pete plods, and Izzy actually drags her feet. Hodges wants to run with it, bad pancreas and all. ‘I hear you,’ he says. ‘Again, thanks.’ ‘Case closed?’ ‘Finito.’ His eyes flick up and to the left. 6 Nineteen blocks from where Hodges is returning his iPhone to his overcoat pocket, there is another world. Not a very nice one. Jerome Robinson’s sister is there, and she is in trouble. Pretty and demure in her Chapel Ridge school uniform (gray wool coat, gray skirt, white kneesocks, red scarf wrapped around her neck), Barbara walks down Martin Luther King Avenue with a yellow Zappit Commander in her gloved hands. On it the Fishin’ Hole fish dart and swim, although they are almost invisible in the cold bright light of midday. MLK is one of two main thoroughfares in the part of the city known as Lowtown, and although the population is predominantly black and Barbara is herself black (make that caf? au lait), she has never been here before, and that single fact makes her feel stupid and worthless. These are her people, their collective ancestors might have toted barges and lifted bales on the same plantation back in the day, for all she knows, and yet she has never been here one single time . She has been warned away not only by her parents but by her brother. ‘Lowtown’s where they drink the beer and then eat the bottle it came in,’ he told her once. ‘No place for a girl like you.’ A girl like me, she thinks. A nice upper-middle-class girl like me, who goes to a nice private school and has nice white girlfriends and plenty of nice preppy clothes and an allowance. Why, I even have a bank card! I can withdraw sixty dollars from an ATM any time I want! Amazeballs! She walks like a girl in a dream, and it’s a little like a dream because it’s all so strange and it’s less than two miles from home, which happens to be a cozy Cape Cod with an attached two-car garage, mortgage all paid off. She walks past check cashing joints and pawnshops filled with guitars and radios and gleaming pearl-handled straight razors. She walks past bars that smell of beer even with the doors closed against the January cold. She walks past hole-in-the-wall restaurants that smell of grease. Some sell pizza by the slice, some sell Chinese. In the window of one is a propped sign reading HUSH PUPPYS AND COLLARD GREENS LIKE YOUR MOMMA USED TO MAKE. Not my momma, Barbara thinks. I don’t even know what a collard green is. Spinach? Cabbage? On the corners – every corner, it seems – boys in long shorts and loose jeans are hanging out, sometimes standing close to rusty firebarrels to keep warm, sometimes playing hacky sack, sometimes just jiving in their gigantic sneakers, their jackets hung open in spite of the cold. They shout Yo to their homies and hail passing cars and when one stops they hand small glassine envelopes through the open window. She walks block after block of MLK (nine, ten, maybe a dozen, she’s lost count) and each corner is like a drive-thru for drugs instead of for hamburgers or tacos. She passes shivering women dressed in hotpants, short fake fur jackets, and shiny boots; on their heads they wear amazing wigs of many colors. She passes empty buildings with boarded-up windows. She passes a car that has been stripped to the axles and covered with gang tags. She passes a woman with a dirty bandage over one eye. The woman is dragging a screeching toddler by the arm. She passes a man sitting on a blanket who drinks from a bottle of wine and wiggles his gray tongue at her. It’s poor and it’s desperate and it’s been right here all along and she never did anything about it. Never did anything? Never even thought about it. What she did was her homework. What she did was talk on the phone and text with her BFFs at night. What she did was update her Facebook status and worry about her complexion. She is your basic teen parasite, dining in nice restaurants with her mother and father while her brothers and sisters, right here all along, less than two miles from her nice suburban home , drink wine and take drugs to blot out their terrible lives. She is ashamed of her hair, hanging smoothly to her shoulders. She is ashamed of her clean white kneesocks. She is ashamed of her skin color because it’s the same as theirs. ‘Hey, blackish!’ It’s a yell from the other side of the street. ‘What you doin down here? You got no bi’ness down here!’ Blackish. It’s the name of a TV show, they watch it at home and laugh, but it’s also what she is. Not black but blackish. Living a white life in a white neighborhood. She can do that because her parents make lots of money and own a home on a block where people are so screamingly non-prejudiced that they cringe if they hear one of their kids call another one dumbhead. She can live that wonderful white life because she is a threat to no one, she no rock-a da boat. She just goes her way, chattering with her friends about boys and music and boys and clothes and boys and the TV programs they all like and which girl they saw walking with which boy at the Birch Hill Mall. She is blackish, a word that means the same as useless, and she doesn’t deserve to live. ‘Maybe you should just end it. Let that be your statement.’ The idea is a voice, and it comes to her with a kind of revelatory logic. Emily Dickinson said her poem was her letter to the world that never wrote to her, they read that in school, but Barbara herself has never written a letter at all. Plenty of stupid essays and book reports and emails, but nothing that really matters. ‘Maybe it’s time that you did.’ Not her voice, but the voice of a friend. She stops outside a shop where fortunes are read and the Tarot is told. In its dirty window she thinks she sees the reflection of someone standing beside her, a white man with a smiling, boyish face and a tumble of blond hair on his forehead. She glances around, but there’s no one there. It was just her imagination. She looks back down at the screen of the game console. In the shade of the fortune-telling shop’s awning, the swimming fish are bright and clear again. Back and forth they go, every now and then obliterated by a bright blue flash. Barbara looks back the way she came and sees a gleaming black truck rolling toward her along the boulevard, moving fast and weaving from lane to lane. It’s the kind with oversized tires, the kind the boys at school call a Bigfoot or a Gangsta Large. ‘If you’re going to do it, you better get to it.’ It’s as if someone really is standing beside her. Someone who understands. And the voice is right. Barbara has never considered suicide before, but at this moment the idea seems perfectly rational. ‘You don’t even need to leave a note,’ her friend says. She can see his reflection in the window again. Ghostly. ‘The fact that you did it down here will be your letter to the world.’ True. ‘You know too much about yourself now to go on living,’ her friend points out as she returns her gaze to the swimming fish. ‘You know too much, and all of it is bad.’ Then it hastens to add, ‘Which isn’t to say you’re a horrible person.’ She thinks, No, not horrible, just useless. Blackish. The truck is coming. The Gangsta Large. As Jerome Robinson’s sister steps toward the curb, ready to meet it, her face lights in an eager smile. 7 Dr Felix Babineau is wearing a thousand-dollar suit beneath the white coat that goes flying out behind him as he strides down the hallway of the Bucket, but he now needs a shave worse than ever and his usually elegant white hair is in disarray. He ignores a cluster of nurses who are standing by the duty desk and talking in low, agitated tones. Nurse Wilmer approaches him. ‘Dr Babineau, have you heard—’ He doesn’t even look at her, and Norma has to sidestep quickly to keep from being bowled over. She looks after him in surprise. Babineau takes the red DO NOT DISTURB card he always keeps in the pocket of his exam coat, hangs it on the doorknob of Room 217, and goes in. Brady Hartsfield does not look up. All of his attention is fixed on the game console in his lap, where the fish swim back and forth. There is no music; he has muted the sound. Often when he enters this room, Felix Babineau disappears and Dr Z takes his place. Not today. Dr Z is just another version of Brady, after all – a projection – and today Brady is too busy to project. His memories of trying to blow up the Mingo Auditorium during the ’Round Here concert are still jumbled, but one thing has been clear since he woke up: the face of the last person he saw before the lights went out. It was Barbara Robinson, the sister of Hodges’s nigger lawnboy. She was sitting almost directly across the aisle from Brady. Now she’s here, swimming with the fish they share on their two screens. Brady got Scapelli, the sadistic cunt who twisted his nipple. Now he will take care of the Robinson bitch. Her death will hurt her big brother, but that’s not the most important thing. It will put a dagger in the old detective’s heart. That’s the most important thing. The most delicious thing. He comforts her, tells her she’s not a horrible person. It helps to get her moving. Something is coming down MLK, he can’t be sure what it is because a down-deep part of her is still fighting him, but it’s big. Big enough to do the job. ‘Brady, listen to me. Z-Boy called.’ Z-Boy’s actual name is Brooks, but Brady refuses to call him that anymore. ‘He’s been watching, as you instructed. That cop… ex-cop, whatever he is—’ ‘Shut up.’ Not raising his head, his hair tumbled across his brow. In the strong sunlight he looks closer to twenty than thirty. Babineau, who is used to being heard and who still has not entirely grasped his new subordinate status, pays no attention. ‘Hodges was on Hilltop Court yesterday, first at the Ellerton house and then snooping around the one across the street where—’ ‘I said shut up!’ ‘Brooks saw him get on a Number 5 bus, which means he’s probably coming here! And if he’s coming here, he knows !’ Brady looks at him for just a moment, his eyes blazing, then returns his attention to the screen. If he slips now, allows this educated idiot to divert his concentration— But he won’t allow it. He wants to hurt Hodges, he wants to hurt the nigger lawnboy, he owes them, and this is the way to do it. Nor is it just a matter of revenge. She’s the first test subject who was at the concert, and she’s not like the others, who were easier to control. But he is controlling her, all he needs is ten more seconds, and now he sees what’s coming for her. It’s a truck. A big black one. Hey, honey, Brady Hartsfield thinks. Your ride is here. 8 Barbara stands on the curb, watching the truck approach, timing it, but just as she flexes her knees, hands grab her from behind. ‘Hey, girl, what’s up?’ She struggles, but the grip on her shoulders is strong and the truck passes by in a blare of Ghostface Killah. She whirls around, pulling free, and faces a skinny boy about her own age, wearing a Todhunter High letter jacket. He’s tall, maybe six and a half feet, so she has to look up. He has a tight cap of brown curls and a goatee. Around his neck is a thin gold chain. He’s smiling. His eyes are green and full of fun. ‘You good-lookin, that’s a fact as well as a compliment, but not from around here, correct? Not dressed like that, and hey, didn’t your mom ever tell you not to jaywalk the block?’ ‘Leave me alone!’ She’s not scared; she’s furious. He laughs. ‘And tough! I like a tough girl. Want a slice and a Coke?’ ‘I don’t want anything from you!’ Her friend has left, probably disgusted with her. It’s not my fault, she thinks. It’s this boy’s fault. This lout . Lout! A blackish word if ever there was one. She feels her face heat up and drops her gaze to the fish on the Zappit screen. They will comfort her, they always do. To think she almost threw the game console away after that man gave it to her! Before she found the fish! The fish always take her away, and sometimes they bring her friend. But she only gets a momentary look before the console vanishes. Poof! Gone! The lout has got it in his long-fingered hands and is staring down at the screen, fascinated. ‘Whoa, this is old-school!’ ‘It’s mine!’ Barbara shouts. ‘Give it back!’ Across the street a woman laughs and yells in a whiskey voice, ‘Tell im, sister! Bring down that high neck!’ Barbara grabs for the Zappit. Tall Boy holds it over his head, smiling at her. ‘Give it back, I said! Stop being a prick!’ More people are watching now, and Tall Boy plays to the audience. He jinks left, then stutter-steps to the right, probably a move he uses all the time on the basketball court, never losing that indulgent smile. His green eyes sparkle and dance. Every girl at Todhunter is probably in love with those eyes, and Barbara is no longer thinking about suicide, or being blackish, or what a socially unconscious bag of waste she is. Right now she’s only mad, and him being cute makes her madder. She plays varsity soccer at Chapel Ridge and now she hoicks her best penalty kick into Tall Boy’s shin. He yells in pain (but it’s somehow amused pain, which infuriates her even more, because that was a really hard kick), and bends over to grab his ouchy. It brings him down to her level, and Barbara snatches the precious rectangle of yellow plastic. She wheels, skirt flaring, and runs into the street. ‘Honey look out! ’ the whiskey-voiced woman screams. Barbara hears a shriek of brakes and smells hot rubber. She looks to her left and sees a panel truck bearing down on her, the front end heeling to the left as the driver stamps on the brake. Behind the dirty windshield, his face is all dismayed eyes and open mouth. She throws up her hands, dropping the Zappit. All at once the last thing in the world Barbara Robinson wants is to die, but here she is, in the street after all, and it’s too late. She thinks, My ride is here. 9 Brady shuts down the Zappit and looks up at Babineau with a wide smile. ‘Got her,’ he says. His words are clear, not the slightest bit mushy. ‘Let’s see how Hodges and the Harvard jungle bunny like that.’ Babineau has a good idea who she is, and he supposes he should care, but he doesn’t. What he cares about is his own skin. How did he ever allow Brady to pull him into this? When did he stop having a choice? ‘It’s Hodges I’m here about. I’m quite sure he’s on his way right now. To see you.’ ‘Hodges has been here many times,’ Brady says, although it’s true the old Det-Ret hasn’t been around for awhile. ‘He never gets past the catatonic act.’ ‘He’s started putting things together. He’s not stupid, you said as much yourself. Did he know Z-Boy when he was just Brooks? He must have seen him around here when he came to visit you.’ ‘No idea.’ Brady is wrung out, sated. What he really wants now is to savor the death of the Robinson girl, then take a nap. There is a lot to be done, great things are afoot, but at the moment he needs rest. ‘He can’t see you like this,’ Babineau says. ‘Your skin is flushed and you’re covered with sweat. You look like someone who just ran the City Marathon.’ ‘Then keep him out. You can do that. You’re the doctor and he’s just another half-bald buzzard on Social Security. These days he doesn’t even have the legal authority to ticket a car at an expired parking meter.’ Brady’s wondering how the nigger lawnboy will take the news. Jerome . Will he cry? Will he sink to his knees? Will he rend his garments and beat his breast? Will he blame Hodges? Unlikely, but that would be best. That would be wonderful. ‘All right,’ Babineau says. ‘Yes, you’re right, I can do that.’ He’s talking to himself as much as to the man who was supposed to be his guinea pig. That turned out to be quite the joke, didn’t it? ‘For now, at least. But he must still have friends on the police, you know. Probably lots of them.’ ‘I’m not afraid of them, and I’m not afraid of him. I just don’t want to see him. At least, not now.’ Brady smiles. ‘After he finds out about the girl. Then I’ll want to see him. Now get out of here.’ Babineau, who is at last beginning to understand who is the boss, leaves Brady’s room. As always, it’s a relief to do that as himself. Because every time he comes back to Babineau after being Dr Z, there’s a little less Babineau to come back to. 10 Tanya Robinson calls her daughter’s cell for the fourth time in the last twenty minutes and for the fourth time gets nothing but Barbara’s chirpy voicemail. ‘Disregard my other messages,’ Tanya says after the beep. ‘I’m still mad, but mostly what I am right now is worried sick. Call me. I need to know you’re okay.’ She drops her phone on her desk and begins pacing the small confines of her office. She debates calling her husband and decides not to. Not yet. He’s apt to go nuclear at the thought of Barbara skipping school, and he’ll assume that’s what she’s doing. Tanya at first made that assumption herself when Mrs Rossi, the Chapel Ridge attendance officer, called to ask if Barbara was home sick. Barbara h