Chapter 1. Excitation

“I saw a banana,” Tommy said with complete assurance.

“Great,” Dr. Clare Austen replied. “Now with your left hand, draw what you saw.”

A right hander, Tommy fumbled to get the pencil positioned in his left fingers. Clare studied his face as he commenced drawing. The right side of his face definitely looked worried. Did the left look a little smug? Falteringly, his left hand sketched a clock face.

“Well,” Tommy paused, then continued in a rush. “See like I told you before I can’t draw for shit especially with my left hand. Some banana, huh?” After two-point-something seconds of consternation, he tossed the pencil down. “I was confabulating again, wasn’t I? Or anyway the left side of my brain was -”

“Dammit Tommy, if you don’t stop reading the literature you’re going to make yourself absolutely useless to me.” Clare slouched deeper into her chair; the orange plastic creaked and sighed.

“I stopped when you told me to last time, I swear, that was a term I picked up before. Don’t fire me, I love being your victim.”

She resisted the urge to correct him. He was her subject, not her victim; and she couldn’t fire him, his participation in these experiments was voluntary. But if she said more, he would tease more. And he had to stop teasing. Even her current assistant – one of the dimmer bulbs – noticed an unclinical air in the lab when Tommy Dabrowski was the subject of Clare’s experiments.

Victim indeed. She studied his long bony frame that looked tense even in relaxation, the smooth pale skin that was whiter than the lab coat he insisted on donning, the cool gray eyes that were several shades darker than usual.

“What’s wrong?” she inquired.

“Why I read all those brain books. I just. Wanted to understand what was happening to me, for once. I didn’t think about how it might screw your research if I was too aware of what you were testing for.”

“I know. It’s okay, I think. Did reading the books help?”

“The more I read, the less it seems like anybody could explain anything about my brain or anybody else’s.”

“That about sums up the state of the research.”

“Anyway, in some ways it’s better not to know. Bad enough before when dzzz,” he pantomimed a body getting electrocuted. “Then when I start thinking about those guys who went in there and whap.” He motioned, his hand an ax splitting a log. Or a skull. “But hey. At least I got to meet you, right?”

Their eyes met. “Is that what your seizures felt like?” Clare asked softly. Many patients described their epilepsy in short circuit or electrocution terms. Sometimes she wondered if that was only because their doctors had. “They really felt electrical?”

Tommy’s most deadly smile flickered: he’d noticed her refusal to flirt back. But he let it go and replied, “Before I’d pass out, having a seizure felt like I was plugged in, all of a sudden, not just electrically though. I can’t really explain it.”

A door slammed. They looked toward her office adjoining the lab. “Found one, Professor Austen!” Steve the lab assistant appeared, brandishing a lighting element for the tachistoscope, the special rearview projector Clare used in her experiments.

Clare and Tommy withdrew physical inches, emotional light years. “Way to go!” Tommy congratulated Steve, he of the too-beady eyes and too-full mustache.

“They need help upstairs. Hurry.” Steve ran out, then back to deposit the lighting element on the edge of a table. He was halfway out the door again before he realized the element had fallen to the floor. He took a step back.

“Just leave it, Steve.” Whatever was happening upstairs had undone his chronic phlegmatism and was thus worth a look, help needed or no. So she and Tommy followed Steve to the labs on the third floor, an area Clare usually tried to avoid.

In the stairwell, streaks of fresh blood made the tile steps slippery. There were thick red patches on the walls as if someone had ricocheted off them. Clare wondered whose blood was now oozing into the treads of her shoes. From the floor above, she heard yelling, pounding, cursing.

She exited the stairwell into one of her personal visions of hell. She was distantly aware of Steve and Tommy running ahead, Tommy returning to where she stood frozen, fighting the need to flee. Something bumped her foot. A black cat lay against her shoe, legs splayed, panting. Its head was shaved; wires dangled from electrodes implanted in its skull. When Clare lifted the creature, it hissed unconvincingly. Murmuring comfort, stroking fur gently, Clare slept-walked forward into a disaster zone.

All down the long hallway, countless cats, guinea pigs, mice, rats, rabbits – full of implants, incisions, surgical alterations – were crawling, running, crouching in terror. Dozens of humans in lab coats dashed around, corralling the experimentees.

The lab was in ruins: overturned cages, shattered glass, scattered instruments. Pools of chemicals on the floor, blood swirling in interesting chaotic shapes. Apparently every lab on the floor was in similar shape. The stench of formaldehyde was almost as strong as the animals’ fear. In one corner, a rabbit huddled, taut, mouth open in a silent wail; silent because its vocal chords had been cut to curtail excess noise in the labs.

“… His arms were raw up to the elbows but he just kept at it. He smashed a computer screen with his fist …”

“… Thank God we relocated the primates …”

“… I yelled ‘what the hell are you doing’ and he came at me like he wanted to kill me. I had to hit him with a beaker…”

“… We’ll never be ready for the symposium now …”

“… He looked like a surfer, didn’t he? We came out of the staff meeting and he practically knocked me down. I chased him but he had too much of a lead …”

“… These animal rights maniacs should all be -”

“No.” Clare interrupted. “It couldn’t be them. They would have removed the animals before they destroyed the labs.” Were her hands shaking, or was it the cat they held?

A group of white coats stared. She knew them but couldn’t recognize them. One of them took the cat from Clare. “Look how frightened the poor thing is.”

Another regarded Clare. “So we’re dealing with a deranged surfer? I’d prefer the activists.”

Nearby at floor level, something screamed. Everyone jumped. Clare backed away from the group. “I’ve got to get back.”

“Thanks for your help, Dr. Austen.”

“Sure. Anytime.”

Heading back down the stairs, her lab assistant Steve seemed energized by the experience. As he spoke, his hands flapped and swooped like bats at sunset. “I got twelve of them. One of the rats had part of its skull removed and the tiniest implants inside. The precision of the work is really impressive. I hope this doesn’t ruin their data, some important work being done up there, especially by McGregor’s people …”

Tommy murmured, “You okay?” Clare replied with a curt nod. He touched her shoulder in a gesture of support that for once had nothing to do with making time. She felt a rush of affection that petrified her.

As they stepped back into her lab, Steve concluded, “… and they should all get thrown in prison.”

“So there’s proof that animal activists were responsible?” Clare was surprised.

“Well, no, but I heard Dr. McGregor himself say that, after all, it was only a matter of time.” Steve gloried in saying the great doctor’s name. How quick he was to accept the stated, to revere the proven.

He resumed babbling as he installed the new tachistoscope lighting element. Tommy took his lead from Clare and sat silently.

Thanks for your help, Dr. Austen …. Sure. Anytime. What a coward she’d become. Scientists opposed to vivisection were tremendously unpopular. But perhaps if she made her views known she might convince others – an other – to try different research strategies. She knew all the for-the-benefit-of-mankind arguments. In her nine years of higher education and ten years as a researcher, surely she’d heard them all – from the self-righteous to the self-aggrandizing to the thoughtful and noble. She appreciated their persuasiveness, particularly the one that saw vivisection as Darwinism in action. To Clare it was simply a class struggle and her sympathies were fully with the oppressed. But by the time she’d formed this opinion, she’d learned what outspokenness could do to a GPA; a tenure request; a lunch in the faculty dining room.

The look in the eyes of those hallway animals.

Clare made herself stop picturing them. What about this deranged surfer anyway? A rejected graduate applicant run amok? An advocate of –

“Uh?” Steve had replaced the bulb and needed further instructions.

“Let’s continue.” She pushed all else from her mind. Research would now resume into hemispheric organization and lateralization, pre- and post-commissurotomy, on subject Tom Q, as Tommy was known in Clare’s published research.

Tommy was seven when he suffered his first epileptic seizure. An electrical storm raged through his head, knocking him unconscious and hurtling him across the floor. The older he got, the worse the seizures became, despite modern medicine’s best efforts to block the attacks. A year ago, the seizures were deemed life-threatening. A host of specialists recommended the last resort: brain surgery. Since Tommy didn’t want to die at twenty-seven, even though there was a precedent for it among rock musicians, he agreed to have a commissurotomy, with the hope that after it was performed, his epileptical storms could not travel as far, nor wreak as much damage.

For a few patients, the surgery quells the epilepsy entirely. Which leaves these individuals quite lucky, if they haven’t also incurred brain damage during the risky operation. So far Tommy seemed to have become one of the lucky ones.

The human brain, like that of many other animals, in part consists of near identical-looking halves, the left and right cerebral hemispheres. Each has primary domain over half the body. Connecting the hemispheres is a thick bridge of nerve fibers, the corpus callosum, or central commissure. Via this bridge, the two halves of the brain communicate, sharing what its half of the body is sensing about the world, avoiding duplicate or contradictory responses. Without such communication, the experiences and memories of each half of the brain could diverge, creating wholly separate consciousnesses in the same head.

Commissurotomy severs this bridge, terminates those communications. Yet on a day-to-day basis, split brain patients function very well. Their brain hemispheres adapt, finding new ways of learning what the other half is doing.

In labs like Clare’s, however, split brains were temporarily robbed of their adapting abilities and experiments were conducted suggesting how very different each brain hemisphere is. So different, that she was increasingly convinced that every brain has at least two separate consciousnesses, often in conflict. On bad days, Clare was sure the brain was designed to foster indecision, mixed feelings, confusion.

“Clare?” Tommy’s voice was so gentle, he must think she was brooding about the upstairs lab incident she was actually refusing to consider. “I can’t see the dot.”

“Hold on,” Clare replied, “Steve has to dim the lights first. Steve? Steve.” Shame that Steve was graduating this quarter. She’d really hate to lose him.

Eventually the lights dimmed. Tommy stared straight ahead, his solemn concentration in conflict with his deliriously messy jet black hair, so blatantly dyed, it was an in joke. She admired the intensity with which he could focus his attention as he stared at the fixation point.

Even after commissurotomy, the eyes and ears of split brain patients still transmit information to both brain halves, as occurs in “normals.” However, sensory inputs can be isolated so that only one side of the split brain receives them. Today, Tommy would stare at a fixed point in the middle of a screen, where a projector called a tachistoscope would flash an image for about 1/100th of a second, far from the visual midpoint, so that it registered in only half his field of vision, and thus was visible to only one side of his brain. In this way, Clare could test each hemisphere on what it had seen and on how it could articulate that information.

The experiment itself probably wouldn’t tell her anything new about brain organization. But studying Tommy’s brain over time, from the month before his operation until some years after it, would show her what changes, if any, occurred in the way Tommy’s brain processed “reality,” now that the hemispheres were split and his epilepsy calmed. This might tell her something about the brain’s ability to revise and ad lib the way it does business. And that might be quite interesting information to have.

Two pictures flashed on the screen. Tommy’s left hemisphere was shown a cow. Tommy’s right hemisphere saw a winter scene with snow-covered home and trees, kids on a sleigh, a snowman in the yard. “Did you get that, Tommy?”

“Roger.”

“Now I’m going to show you more pictures. These will stay on the screen as long as you need to study them. Steve? Okay Steve. Steve.”

Eventually four drawings appeared, shown to both sides of Tommy’s brain: a carton of milk, a tricycle, a rose bush, a snow plow. Clare placed a pointer in Tommy’s left hand, the hand controlled by his right hemisphere. He held onto her fingers until she cleared her throat in warning.

“Looking at these four drawings,” Clare said, “tell me which of them, if any, are related to the flash images you just saw.”

“The carton of milk is related since I saw a cow.”

“Anything else?”

“Nope,” Tommy said, while his left hand raised the pointer to the snow plow.

“Why did you point to the snow plow?” Clare asked innocently.

Tommy’s right hand snapped fingers nervously, drummed the table, then quieted. “You ever walk through a cow field? It wouldn’t hurt to have a snow plow moving ahead of you.”

“Of course, I didn’t think about that.” She ignored Steve’s chuckling. Tommy’s expression was bland, although his left eyebrow lowered in frown mode.

“Let’s move on. Next one, Steve.”

Amazingly, a flash of images occurred as soon as she requested. This time, a blank screen flashed to Tommy’s left hemisphere and a picture of a gun flashed to Tommy’s right hemisphere. “What did you see?” Clare asked.

Nada.”

“Here are four drawings to peruse at your leisure.” A horse, a banana, a car, a gun. “Do any of these match the picture you saw a moment ago?”

“I didn’t see anything,” Tommy insisted, as his left hand pointed to the gun.

“You’re pointing to the gun. Does that mean you saw a gun?”

“No, I’m pointing at it because I wanna know, who draws these things anyway?” The left side of Tommy’s face, controlled by his right brain, grimaced while he spoke. Clare had seen this effect in split brain patients before: half the face frowning to indicate that half the brain was mistaken. It never ceased to amaze.

“What if I drew that picture, imagine how hurt I’d be, Tommy.”

“Imagine how I’d have to make it up to you.”

She could feel Steve’s attention. “Now with this next one, I want you to follow the instructions on the screen.”

“Could be dangerous,” Tommy grinned.

“Please fixate on the point, Tommy.”

Once again, a blank screen was shown to Tommy’s left hemisphere. Flashed to the right side of Tommy’s brain were the words GET A JOB and an evocative sketch of a young man in a suit and tie being shown to a work cubicle.

Tommy grunted. His left hand covered his eyes.

“What’s wrong, what did you see?”

“Nothing. I just felt sick all of a sudden. I don’t know why. C’mon, this is boring, flash me a pic this time for a change.”

“Next, Steve.” Exactly the same images flashed, this time reversed. The GET A JOB scene went to Tommy’s left hemisphere, the blank screen to Tommy’s right.

Tommy emitted a similar grunt, followed by “Get a job? Forget it, you don’t pay me enough to follow those instructions.”

“So what did you see?”

“Some poor sap in a suit taking a gig so he could grovel for coins.”

Tommy’s aversion to gainful employment might be unique, but otherwise his reactions had been foreshadowed by numerous other split brain experimentees.

Like 95% of all right handers, the left side of Tommy’s brain was dominant for language. That is, it controlled speaking, comprehension of speech, reading, and writing. The right side of Tommy’s brain had other specialties.

Each time Clare asked Tommy what he had seen during the flashes of images, the left hemisphere was the only brain half that could speak. Tommy’s language centers were aware only of what his left hemisphere saw. Those images and no others. And that hemisphere insisted that what it had perceived was all that could be perceived.

However, Tommy’s right brain had also been a participant. And although, since the commissurotomy, it couldn’t communicate directly with the left hemisphere, nor get access to Tommy’s speech centers, it still controlled half his body. So when Tommy’s left hemisphere claimed he had seen only a cow, and chose a carton of milk as the related image, Tommy’s right hemisphere used its hand, his left hand, to point to a snow plow, because the right hemisphere had seen a snow scene.

Like other tested left hemispheres, Tommy’s had trouble admitting it didn’t know all the answers; had a lot of trouble with the possibility that something might be occurring that it didn’t understand; and would always, ardently insist that its world view made sense.

When Tommy’s languaged left hemisphere was uninformed, it bluffed, guessed, and outright lied to give the appearance it was still on top of the situation. Tommy’s left hand pointed to a snow plow – aaah, to shovel the cow shit, the left brain claimed. Its desire for order and understanding is that strong, some neuroscientists posited. Its need for control is that powerful, other speculated.

When Tommy’s left hemisphere saw nothing, Tommy’s right had seen a gun. And although the right hemisphere couldn’t say so, it could certainly indicate this through pointing. Again, the left side used its language and reasoning abilities to manufacture an excuse for Tommy’s pointing at the gun. Who draws these pictures anyway? the left hemisphere claimed it wanted to know.

Then, when Tommy first glimpsed the GET A JOB command, it was with his right hemisphere, which had enough language ability to comprehend the scene – and to react. Certainly, the right side had no delay in its visceral reaction to the heinous order; and through means still mysterious to neuroscience, it transmitted its strong emotional reaction. Thus horror and disgust filled both sides of Tommy’s head, although his left side couldn’t explain its bad feelings until it too saw the horrible picture.

Clare could no longer count the number of times she’d witnessed this process with split brain patients. Yet it still gave her the chills. What affected her most was the utter conviction when the left side told its tales – confabulating, as it was sometimes called.

Why this occurred, no one knew. Neuroscience wasn’t even sure why each brain hemisphere controlled the opposite side of the body. In the process of finding a few meager answers to questions about how the brain works, neuroscientists mostly unearthed even bigger mysteries. They were so far from answers, they were rarely sure which questions they should be asking. The more they found out, the less it turned out they really knew. The bigger their body of knowledge, the smaller it seemed. Neuroscience, the fun house of the western world.

“New test,” she informed Tommy. “I’ve placed a box of objects behind the screen. Reach back here,” she guided his left hand, “and tell me what you’re touching.”

Tommy briefly touched a spoon. “I don’t feel anything. There’s nothing in the box.” In split brain patients, touch sensations went almost solely to one side of the brain.

“Now use your right hand.”

Tommy’s right hand groped behind the screen. “Here’s a hand, here’s something feels like a spoon, did you put it in here, is this your hand?”

“Pinch it and see.”

“Ow. Hey what’s going on!” Tommy yanked both hands back into view, nearly knocking over the screen in the process.

It had been a mean thing to do, in the interest of science or no. With his hands behind the screen, Tommy’s “disconnection” was so strong that he really didn’t know he was touching one hand with the other. It understandably gave him the creeps. He looked scared. She resisted the urge to touch him. “Can you manage another one?” After a moment Tommy nodded. “Left hand behind the screen again and tell me what you find.”

Reluctantly, he put his hand behind the screen. This time, he grabbed a comb. Felt it thoroughly. “There’s nothing in here again,” he said with annoyance. Then his fingers began flexing the comb’s teeth. The noise was unmistakable. “Oh. A comb.”

Clare had done the comb test month after month with Tommy. This was the first time his left hand had attempted to cross-cue.

Cross-cuing: when the nonverbal hemisphere relayed clues about its knowledge. In this instance, the right hemisphere had used the distinctive sound of a comb’s teeth to transmit information; there were a vast number of other ways a brain might cross-cue, using both sensory and emotional cues. Some brains became more adept at it over time. Others never displayed the technique at all. Tommy’s cross-cuing ability had been late to appear, but recently his right hemisphere did seem to be taking more initiative. Cross-cuing was the bane of the valid split brain research result. One went to great lengths to eliminate it from data. Clare had been studying it of itself, however. Cross-cuing was too damned interesting to simply eradicate.

“Is that all?” Tommy demanded.

“Let’s do one more. What else can you find in the box?”

With his left hand he hefted a pair of scissors. With his left hemisphere he responded, “A pencil.”

“Do you know that or are you guessing?”

“It’s a pencil. I’m sure of it.”

“Pull both hands into view again. Look in your left hand. What are you holding?”

“Scissors. I was touching the point, that’s why I thought I had a pencil.”

“Sure you weren’t guessing?”

“Get stuffed.”

Subject as usual displays hostility when left hemisphere is caught confabulating. Interesting note: sometimes Tommy was aware of confabulating, sometimes not.

Bright light poured into the lab, momentarily blinding Clare. The door to her office had been opened. In the doorway loomed a figure in silhouette.

“Who’s there?” Clare’s voice quavered. She was upset at the intrusion and at her inability to identify the hulking shadow of the intruder.

“It’s Cynthia Bates,” the intruder replied.

“Mrs. Bates. I’m happy you’re feeling better.” Cynthia Bates, another of Clare’s split brain subjects, had canceled her last five sessions, with last minute messages that she was ill.

“I must speak with you I’m so sorry to interrupt but. Please.” In her voice was more than the usual faint trace of English accent – which meant she was agitated.

Not much had been accomplished today: Tommy’s session had been a string of interruptions. If only Mrs. Bates had shown up in time to draw Clare away from the incident upstairs. “I’ll be back,” Clare told Tommy and Steve.

“Want me to keep going with the tests?” Steve asked eagerly.

“No thanks, Steve, I think you’ve both earned a break.” And she’d seen what harm Steve could do to an unsuspecting set of data.

“I am so sorry to intrude,” Mrs. Bates called over to them.

Tommy grinned at her. “Stop by anytime.”

Mrs. Bates smiled. Tommy could make any woman within fifty yards feel better.

Outside, Clare and Cynthia walked in silence, through the old section of campus, where aged Spanish buildings exuded taste and stability. Above doorways, scripted letters were carved in stone, proclaiming each building’s intellectual specialty: Geological Sciences, Mathematics, Particle Physics. Clare like the continuity and incongruity here: twenty-first-century science conducted in nineteenth-century elegance.

I will do great work here. The certainty had surged through her when she first walked onto these grounds. Nearly fifteen years later – long after she’d lost the ability to feel certainty – walking here still gave her a serene sense of purpose. But the tonic had no effect on Cynthia Bates.

“What is the matter?” Clare demanded. “You look awful.” And that was tactful. Mrs. Bates’s eyes were shadowed by more than one sleepless night. She had a broad-shouldered, six-foot frame, usually held at full height with complete assurance. Now she hunkered over like a teenager on a date with a jockey. Her clothes, always so neat and correct, were replaced by a crumpled sweatsuit. Her previously lush, silvering hair today looked like worms had crawled through it.

“I look that bad,” Mrs. Bates said tonelessly, then announced, “It hasn’t stopped. In fact it’s getting worse. I can’t control it.” She clutched her left wrist with her right hand.

A month after commissurotomy, Cynthia Bates had first experienced an unsettling side effect. Her left and right hands would behave in contradictory ways.

This relatively rare phenomenon was written up frequently in popularized accounts of split brain research. One commissurotomized woman, it was oft reported, buttoned a blouse with one hand while the other hand unbuttoned it. And there was a man whose left hand reached to strike his wife, while his right hand tried to stop him.

While it was merely uncommon for patients to experience this phenomenon, it was quite rare for the condition to persist. With Mrs. Bates it had continued for over a year now. At first she tried to ignore it, joke about it. All her doctors and scientists assured her there was no cause for alarm. But over the last months she seemed increasingly panicked.

“What exactly has happened?” Clare put as much calm into her voice as possible. “Here, let’s sit.” They were in the Mall, a courtyard filled with precise arrays of roses, scattered magnolias, and occasional students. They settled onto a stone bench.

“This hand’s a troublemaker!” Mrs. Bates declared, shaking the captive wrist. She stopped abruptly. “How absurd this is.” She freed her wrist. She and Clare watched with trepidation, but the liberated left hand simply flexed and stuffed itself in Cynthia’s purse.

Clare couldn’t help it. She laughed. Fortunately, Cynthia joined in, then moaned, then explained. Ironing yesterday, while her “good” hand arranged one of her husband’s shirts, the “bad” hand used the iron to burn a hole clean through the fabric. Then the bad hand spilled coffee on a client at work. Not spilled, tossed was more like it. And her little ones are always terrified: she’ll intend to do one thing, then that hand does another, at which she gets furious and – well, she acts insane and she’s starting to wonder if she is. Insane. Why did she get this operation, when she’d been perfectly happy with her seizures, too?

“You had the operation so you could live a normal life and not be a prisoner of your seizures. I believe I’m quoting you pretty much exactly.”

“But I still have blackouts, little ones anyway. I still can’t drive, we still must drill the children on emergency procedures. I’ve merely lost the good part of the attacks.” Her tone had been angry but now conveyed a sense of enormous loss.

Tests done by electroencephalograph (EEG) had revealed that Mrs. Bates’s epilepsy began in her right parietal lobe, the upper rear section of her right hemisphere. The electrical disturbance swept across the central commissure to the left temporal lobe, above her left ear. Many epileptics with temporal lobe seizures report mystical experiences. Right before Mrs. Bates blacked out, she would experience sensations of profound calm, a cosmic sense of peace and universal well-being.

Mrs. Bates dragged her fingers through her hair; the skin of her temples stretched taut. “I’m sorry. I know you can’t possibly understand. Just more proof I’m bonkers – longing for an epileptic seizure.”

“You’re in good company there. Dostoevski said he’d rather die than lose his.”

“I didn’t know that. It must be especially hard, being an epileptic and a dancer.”

Clare had no response.

“Do you know that man?”

Clare looked in the direction Mrs. Bates indicated, into the recesses of one stone portico. In the late afternoon sun, the arched pillars cast wide shadows, obscuring the view. Clare saw no one.

“He’s gone now. But the way he was watching you. I just wondered if he was someone you knew. What frightening eyes.”

Clare looked again but she saw no one. Then a flash of orange caught her eye and she smiled at the approach of a small dark woman in tangerine silk.

“What a lovely surprise,” Dr. Lalitha Rao greeted Clare in her soft distinguished voice, a mélange of accents chronicling her past: from Bombay to London to Vienna to Los Angeles.

“It’s been too long,” Clare agreed. She introduced Dr. Rao to Mrs. Bates. Lalitha extended her hand. Cynthia’s eyes flicked over her, then away; she ignored the offer of goodwill.

“Forgive my intrusion.” Lalitha met rudeness with warmth, took a step away to indicate she wouldn’t interrupt for long. “We must make time to get together, Clare. If not at Thanksgiving, then surely by Christmas.”

As Clare nodded and started to reply, Cynthia blurted, “I’m so sorry!” then told Lalitha pleadingly, “My mother hated the Pakis. I heard so much of it as a girl, my first reactions always seem to be hers, not mine.”

“Hated the what?” Clare demanded.

“The Pakistanis,” Lalitha replied, her dark eyes flashing. “You’re absolutely right, Cynthia, such early prejudices are so hard to escape. My own just flared, as I was raised by a family in which both Pakistanis and English were disdained.”

Clare, still feeling insulted by proxy, marveled at Lalitha’s never-judgmental nature, then worried about Cynthia’s mental state, for now she beamed and said giddily, “Thank you for sympathizing and what a beautiful piece that is. Silver and marcasite? And shaped like a parrot? I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Lalitha touched the antique hair clip through which one length of her thick black hair was swept. “It was a gift from a dear friend. I wear it every day.” She and Clare exchanged a smile: it had been Clare’s birthday gift to Lalitha, last spring. “Now I’ll leave you to this glorious afternoon.”

Lalitha bid them a brisk, warm farewell, then Clare turned to scrutinize Cynthia, who was intent on hunting a pack of Virginia Slims in the depths of her purse. “It is exceptionally pretty today, isn’t it? Pasadena is so lovely, the months when one can see the sky.” With one hand, Mrs. Bates planted a cigarette in her mouth. The other hand plucked it out. Her mood disintegrated. “Somebody put a demon in my head.”

“Let’s not get medieval,” Clare warned, forcing herself to forgive her patient’s treatment of her friend. “You know, it could be that your hand is just trying to help. And we really ought to stop talking like it’s got a will of its own. It may be the operation caused a bit of motor control damage to your right hemisphere. It could even be that your “bad” hand used to do the tasks it’s now trying to do, but once received more instruction than it’s getting now. None of these possibilities is dangerous.”

“But I imagined hurting – my children, my darlings. I’d never done that before. What if -”

“You can’t blame your life on your seizures, Cynthia. Nor on the operation that reduced them.”

“You’re right. Maybe things aren’t entirely happy at home. My medical problems have been such an intrusion, it’s hard to know what’s what.” She waved her hands. “I so wish I had a quorum here. Thank you for being so patient with me. And please thank your friend, also.”

“I will. And I’ll see you tomorrow at nine?”

“No. I won’t be back.” Before Clare could respond, Cynthia continued in a well-rehearsed rush. “I must stop reminding myself that I’m a freak. I’ve got to stop thinking about my head. This seems the only way I can be – normal. I hope I’m not causing your experiments too much trouble.”

It would wreck nineteen months of work. But the woman radiated pain. And fear. “We should both think about this more,” Clare said evenly. She needed time to decide just how much she would push Mrs. Bates to continue. And whether she should also pressure her to get counseling.

They parted company at the entrance to Neurobiology. As soon as Clare stepped inside the building, her eyes stung and teared, her vision blurred; the air reeked of the chemicals spilled on the ravaged third floor. As she ascended the stairs to her floor, she heard a shuffling walk behind her. She paused, the shuffling paused. She continued, the shuffling resumed. Topping the stairs and rounding the stairwell corner, Clare stopped and turned to look behind her. The lights strobed when she blinked. A form loomed in front of her. She stepped back; it kept coming right at her.

Throwing an arm out for protection, she connected with something that rattled. Now, she saw the man, bespectacled and surprised.

“I do apologize,” the man said, stepping around her. “I’m a little absorbed.” He continued on his way, reading a sheaf of papers as he shuffled along.

When Clare reached her office, her heart was still beating hard and she felt like a fool. On her carpet were brown caked footprints. Clare fit her shoe into one of them. Great. She’d tracked blood in from the third floor. She entered her testing room, to find Tommy cracking up and Steve turning red. “What’s so funny?”

“Steve just told me a scientific joke,” Tommy explained between laughs, “about the four F’s of animal behavior. Feeding, fighting, fleeing, and reproduction.”

That old thing. But Clare had to laugh, too. Tommy’s laugh was infectious, the Ho! Ho!s of an hysterical Santa. Steve skulked out to the bathroom down the hall. “I’m ready for more scintillating experimenting,” Tommy declared.

“I detect a note of sarcasm.”

“Sometimes I’d like some material that was a little more demanding. It’s always ‘See Dick run, jump Spot jump’ kind of stuff.”

“I don’t think you appreciate the enormity of what happens when you read ‘See Dick run.’ How do you know those words? What about ‘See Dick run into the sea’? Does that confuse you? Why not? When you were a baby saying ‘Da da’ -”

“No way, I hated my old man.”

“Whatever you were saying,” Clare continued firmly, “the greatest scientific minds on the planet can’t explain exactly how you did it. It takes millions of neurons firing, impulses we can hardly measure, with chemicals we can barely name. You just shifted in your seat. The chair scraped the floor, it was loud, you ignored it. Some time in your past your brain learned that noise, learned not to care about it. You heard it now ‘unconsciously’ – it didn’t register in your attention. But your brain is still on top of the situation in case you decide to care later. How does that habituation occur? Where is the memory that says this scraped chair noise can be ignored? Some people have searched their whole lives for where your memories are stored. Can’t find a single damned one. And did you know that you have areas of your brain deep in here,” she touched the side of his head, “that make plans to react, before this part of your brain,” she touched his temple, “even decides it wants to react? Meanwhile, other parts back here,” she reached around to the nape of his neck, “are taking care of your breathing, heartbeat, minor details like that. Do you realize how incredible all that is?”

“Yeah I realize,” Tommy replied. She was only inches from him. He moved no closer but she felt enveloped, then surrounded. The warmth of his skin, the desire to –

She pulled away fast as in burned. His smile was half mocking, half regretful. “Good reflexes,” he said.

“What time is your wife coming?” she replied.

“Said she’d pick me up about five. What time is it?”

“About that time.”

“Clare -”

“Don’t.” She cut off his sigh with, “I’ll see you out.” For reasons better left unperused, she didn’t like Tommy’s wife coming into her lab. But Clare couldn’t get Tommy to leave unless she lured him away.

She left her alleged assistant a note. Steve, go ahead and wrap up. Then she and Tommy walked down the arched hallway, a bit too close together, so that they bumped randomly into each other as they progressed.

Someone appeared at the far end of the hall and they moved imperceptibly farther apart. The toxic air had mostly cleared; Clare watched the approach of a tall muscular man wearing two-hundred-dollar running shoes. “Hey Andy,” Tommy greeted him.

“Great to see you two again,” Andy Stuart replied; and somehow made the line sound sincere.

“Hello, Andy, it’s good to see you too.” Clare mostly meant this. After all, she’d heard he had a new job. But previously, Andy had worked for the extremely solvent Tekassist, the company that provided the campus labs with research animals, transported them, and could also be hired to feed and water them.

Yet somehow, Andy had always been likable. She could even tolerate his fitness fetish, since he’d confided that okay he’d gone overboard but he’d been such a lumpy weak kid. Clare had met other Tekassist people. They were not likable. But Andy even showed concern for the critters he delivered. Perhaps that was why he’d quit.

“How do you know him?” she asked Tommy, once Andy was past them.

“He’s a supervisor at Bianca’s gym. I think they might be fooling around.”

Clare had no valid reason for being so happy to hear this, so refused to acknowledge it. “You mean Betsi with an i, don’t you?”

“Give her a break.” Tommy’s reply was sharp.

“I just never met anyone who changed her name every six months, that’s all,” Clare backpedaled.

“Me neither.” Tommy displayed amusement and appreciation.

Clare began counting the terra cotta tile stairs to the first floor. Someone had cleaned up the blood in the stairwell.

“When Bianca goes through changes, if her name doesn’t fit anymore, she changes it too.”

“Whatever works.” Clare looked up. An undergrad passed them on a landing. Even in Tommy’s quick glance was enough content to make the girl look away, then lean over the iron banister to appraise him as he continued downstairs.

“Sorry I got on your case,” he told Clare. “What happens is, it jazzes me to make you jealous of Bianca, which makes me pissed at myself so I get pissed at you and all of a sudden I’m protecting my wife because around you I want to forget I’ve got one.”

Around me or any other female. “You seem to be doing a pretty good job of forgetting. I’m the one having problems with it.”

“I love a woman who goes for the jugular.” Tommy clutched his and stumbled down the remaining stairs. Two astrophysicists, exiting a lounge on the ground floor, looked alarmed, then stared at Clare.

“You imbecile,” Clare hissed. How she could possibly be attracted to someone so idiotic. So juvenile. The really annoying thing: he was funny too. “I’m going back. See you next time,” she called down.

“Clare. Wait.” He loped back up the stairs.

“Hi Tommy, am I late?” Betsi – er Bianca – appeared on the floor below. “Hi, um,” she greeted Clare. For someone who had to learn so many new names, she sure had problems recalling Clare’s.

Clare was drawn to stay, to study the couple’s greeting: finding signs of imminent separation in that brisk peck of cheek; losing all hope when Bianca tousled Tommy’s hair in that intimate way. Was Bianca having an affair, or did Tommy just want Clare to think so? Tommy insisted he and Bianca were more like siblings than lovers. But wasn’t Clare more the sibling type than Bianca?

In some magazine makeover, Clare would be the before to Bianca’s after. Clare’s hair straddled brown and blond, and was cut blunt and practical to minimize upkeep. Bianca’s roots were the same color but the rest was bleached white, unkempt yet ultra chic and probably requiring hours of daily maintenance. Clare’s eyes were sometimes brown, sometimes green. Bianca’s were an unforgettable jade that could only be contacts and were a real argument for artifice. Clare swam the absolute minimum laps to remain healthy and mobile as she aged. Bianca taught aerobics and was the model in print ads for a swank new fitness center, Le Gym.

Bianca had announced her current job by saying, ‘I’m so glad Tommy had that brain operation. Otherwise he wouldn’t’ve been here getting tested at the school and I wouldn’t have seen the ad on that bulletin board downstairs for Fitness Instructors Wanted.’ She now said, “How’d the experimenting go today I think I’m getting a shin splint I hope I don’t have to miss work.”

Tommy had once told Clare that Bianca, then known as Betsi, was in awe of Clare’s intelligence. Bianca would quiz Tommy for hours about their lab work; she’d go on and on about how cool Clare was. Bianca was purportedly tongue-tied in person, because she felt so stupid by comparison. Clare wasn’t sure she believed this. But, awfully enough, Bianca did seem to like Clare.

“Are you coming to Tommy’s gig tonight, he really wanted you to come.” Which made Clare feel like Tommy’s favorite third-grade teacher. “He talks about you all the time, the work you do here, he really admires you.”

Fleetingly, Bianca’s eyes said she knew something was happening between her husband and his scientist and it scared her. Then the moment was gone. Clare shrugged it off. Tommy didn’t really treat Clare any differently than he did other women; and Bianca wasn’t the type to see Clare as competition.

“I forgot he – ah, you,” Clare risked a glance at Tommy, her first since Bianca had joined them, “were playing tonight. I’m not sure I’ll be able to make it.”

“There’ll always be another night,” Tommy put an arm around his wife and as he led her away, looked back to Clare. “You’ll still be on the list. Plus one, right?”

“Oh wow I almost forgot,” Bianca cut off Clare’s reply. “I’m real sorry about your friend that got offed.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I heard some people discussing it outside. God I thought you knew. I didn’t want to be the one.”

“Bianca,” Tommy said, “you’ll get your Oscar okay? Cut the crap and tell her what’s going on.”

“It was a Dr. … Haffer? …”

“There’s a Dr. Haffner, but I barely know him.”

“Oh – I figured, since you’re in the same department.”

All us scientists look alike. “He died?”

“He was mur-r-r-dered, in his house. His wife got home from work and found him. They say his head was split open like somebody ran over a watermelon, his brains were all over the place and the fireplace poker was still -”

“Thanks for sharing those details with us.” Tommy stopped her.

“But why would anyone kill him?” Clare remembered Haffner as a mild shy man who got embarrassed when nodding hello in passing.

“It was a daytime burglary. He came home while it was happening and they got him.”

“They? There are suspects in custody?”

“No. Nobody. I dunno why they think there was more than one.”

“Maybe it was the same guy as upstairs,” Tommy said.

“There was a murder upstairs? Here?”

“No it was -” Tommy looked at Clare. “It’s a long story, I’ll tell you later.”

“It was definitely a burglary?” Clare demanded.

“Yeah the TV was gone and some stereo stuff but not all of it, that’s why they think he interrupted a crime in progress.”

Clare was holding her breath. She exhaled. After a long moment’s silence, Tommy gestured good-bye and once again led Bianca away.

“Glad you didn’t really know him,” Bianca called back cheerily.

“Right.” Clare took the long way back to her office. The building’s hallway was a rectangular loop connecting offices along four corridors. On the exterior side of the hall were windowed offices occupied by secretaries and assistants. On the interior were the windowless research offices with adjoining labs. Clare’s office was in the southwest sector of the building, but now she walked northeast.

When Clare was faced with events too big or awful to immediately confront, walking gave her time to prepare. The third-floor hell, what to do about Mrs. Bates, what to do with Tommy, the must-have-been-dreadful demise and discovery of Dr. Haffner: Clare would have to walk to Mexico to put all this in perspective, but strolling the halls was a start.

Usually, Clare renewed inspiration with this particular walk. She never ceased to enjoy the beauty of the building; the patterned tile alcoves, the vaulted ceilings, the wrought iron fixtures. Plus, the sense of intellectual activity all around would invigorate her. But tonight she was aware only that the building was silent, seemingly deserted, its occupants having left for the day or taken a dinner break. Briefly, Clare felt spooked to be alone.

No, there were undoubtedly researchers behind some of these oak doors, immersed in their findings, sitting in rooms black save for a pool of desk light and the weak underdoor light from the corridor – a seepage always brighter with daylight. Clare remembered many times, fighting some inexplicable set of data, she’d look up to rub her eyes and know it was dawn because she could see beyond her desk.

Somewhere nearby there was a faint scraping of metal against metal, then a thunk like a bat hitting a metal ball. Clare stopped. Had the sounds been ahead or behind her? They were noises she’d never heard in this building. She resumed walking.

She rounded a corner. The new corridor was just as empty but less bright. A light was burned out down the hall, past Dr. Colton’s office. Colton. Though his name conjured very mixed emotions, with a slight smile she recalled sitting on his ancient green couch, watching him scowl and grunt as he read her papers and proposals. He’d insisted on reading while she waited, the more freshly to attack her, she supposed. But the rare, brusque “good work” from Dr. Colton was worth more than the wall full of plaques/certificates/awards she’d earned elsewhere in her academic career. It still hurt to recall the long period when he’d stopped speaking to her. They’d achieved détente in the years since, but sometimes his strained politeness felt worst of all.

An unexpected chill hit her right side. KEEP DOOR SHUT DOOR LOCKS AUTOMATICALLY WHEN CLOSED. Inside a shallow alcove, an emergency exit door was propped open with a metal strut. Didn’t that door just lead to a fire escape? Why would anyone be out there at night?

By the time she might reach a phone to call campus security, whoever was out there might have escaped. Or caught up with her. If it wasn’t just somebody admiring the view of the night sky. Did she want to find out for sure? She could open the door, see who answered when she called.

That was how certain players in horror movies acted. The ones with the bit parts.

What she could do. Tiptoe over there. Push the door open just enough to kick the strut out. Slam the door shut and thus locked. If Whoever was out there legitimately or innocently, she’d hear a “Hey! Let me in.” If not, the intruder would be stuck and would have to jump to the ground. No doubt thinking very dark thoughts of Clare. But Whoever wouldn’t know she had done the locking out. Right?

She heard a scuffling of shoe against metal outside. Heading inside.

Quickly, Clare crossed the corridor, kicked the strut, slammed the door. She felt pressure from the other side, briefly, as if someone tried to hold the door open, then let go. She waited a moment, hoping for a pounding on the door. She heard a creak, as if the someone outside had shifted weight. The someone was waiting. She waited too, some ninety seconds that felt like all night. Her heart thumped in her ears, so loudly she wasn’t sure she could hear another creak. Eventually, she felt the emptiness of the corridor at her back, stepped soundlessly away from the fire door, and retreated at a healthy pace. She’d call the campus police from her office.

Ten steps down the corridor, a latch turned and a door opened. Still in fight-or-flight mode, she jumped measurably. “Dr. Colton. You startled me.”

“Oh hello Clare. Going home? I’ll walk out with you.”

“I should use your phone. There’s someone out on the fire escape.”

Dr. Colton paused in his efforts to deadbolt his door. He moved in a permanent stoop, attacking the world from the same position in which he vanquished his experiments. “On the fire escape? For what purpose?” He sounded impatient.

“Well – lurking, I think.”

Colton studied her a moment, then strode to the door and shoved it open, threw his head outside and looked left right up down. “Nobody there,” he said. “Are you alright?” His head tilted sideways to free the boyish shock of white hair from his eye, the better to regard her suspiciously, just as he had during the bad times post-mentorship, pre-détente.

Reduced to adolescence by his patronization, Clare rolled her eyes. She wanted to tell him about the man on the third floor, but the lab animals in the hall weren’t a scene she wished to describe to Colton. She ghoulishly considered hitting him with Haffner’s murder – but it had no relevance. Anyway, any attempt to justify herself would only make her appear more of an hysteric to Colton. And so she said nothing.

They backtracked down the corridor and had just passed his office door when they found themselves walking on glass. Clare looked up. The darkened light was not burned out as she’d previously thought. The opalescent fixture and the bulb were shattered into minute pieces that scraped like pinheads underfoot. Likewise the next fixture, forty feet down the corridor.

“Perhaps your lurker is a vandal too,” Colton said. This could be his apology for thinking she’d imagined the presence on the fire escape; or it could be sarcasm.

Clare switched to an easier subject. “I hear the Nobel committee has turned serious attention to you. I’d say it was about time. Long overdue, in fact.”

Colton exhaled sharply. “Prize is hardly worth much any more, not since they gave it to Smith, Härdel and that bunch.” Competition had always cramped Clare’s style; Colton thrived on it. He was driven to do more for neuroscience than Einstein had done for physics. And appreciation by his peers – colleagues, rather, he didn’t see many equals – meant almost as much to him as making landmark discoveries.

“What are you working on?” She’d read the annual Biology report, where researchers sketched the parameters of their next year’s work; but everyone knew how secretive Colton was and expected his sketch to be inaccurate and evasive. She didn’t expect a real answer now. Still, it was standard procedure to inquire.

“New direction. Most important yet. Perhaps you’d like to see the new setup.”

“I’d – like that. Very much.” Clare was stunned. Even his archest rivals, Smith in Chicago and Härdel in Paris, would have coveted such an invitation.

“… down to see the setup and he was speechless,” Colton was saying with great pride. “Everything I’ve done has been merely preliminary compared -”

“Wait a minute. Did you say you were with Dr. Haffner today?”

“Yes, but only to give him a taste of the unattainable.” Colton chuckled. “He’s not completely stupid, Clare. It’s wrong to snub him simply because his work is derivative.”

“I’m not accusing you of slumming, sir.”

He blinked. Then she told him about the burglary/murder, and he sniffed, as though this proved Haffner was incompetent. “Must have happened when I dropped him off. Hmmph.”

“You’d better call the police. Perhaps you saw something that -”

He waved her off dismissively. “I saw nothing. Haven’t got the time for pointless police questions.”

Could anyone ever convince Stanford Colton he might be mistaken? They reached Clare’s office. Steve was gone, after straightening, darkening, and locking the lab – but leaving the tachistoscope on, flashing 100-millisecond bursts of light. Another light element would meet an early death. Only 23 working days to Steve’s winter quarter graduation.

Clare collected papers for work at home, if she didn’t go to see Tommy perform. Dr. Colton used her phone to call Security about the smashed light fixtures outside his office that needed repair right away; and oh, yes, the fire escape door may have been left open.

As they headed to their cars, Clare tried again. “Because there was a burglary in progress, you may have seen a car that didn’t belong in the neighborhood, or -”

“Neighbors would know that better than I. What are you working on?”

Compared to Colton, mules were eager to please. To avoid a pointless battle, she sketched her current experiments.

When she mentioned Cynthia Bates, Colton interrupted. “Bates, she’s that striking woman with the sad eyes?” Clare was surprised he remembered Cynthia Bates. As a neurosurgeon, Colton had performed the commissurotomy; but as an elitist, he rarely recalled his patients. “Bilateral for language, isn’t she?”

They’d reached Clare’s six-year-old Corolla. She tossed her briefcase on the seat, leaned on the open door frame. Yes, tests showed that for Cynthia Bates, language production and comprehension centers were not solely in the left hemisphere. (Hmm, perhaps this relatively rare patterning was related to her “troublemaker” hand.) With another subject, Dabrowski, left-lateralized for language, there was interesting evidence of reorganization. If only he would stop analyzing process. His expectations about the purpose of each experiment stood in danger of –

“Bates came looking for me today,” Colton interrupted musingly. “And yesterday. Know what that could be about?”

Clare got in her car, rolled down the window, meanwhile giving a rundown of Cynthia’s acute disconnection syndrome and the woman’s reaction to it.

“Suppose I’ll have to take some time to talk to her.” Colton’s tone said: waste some time to talk. But she’d caught him grimacing with sympathy during her description of Cynthia Bates’s fear. Still, he’d never admit to a good deed. “So Dabrowski wants to conduct his own research? Get rid of him. Get some cats. Work like yours, human subjects aren’t worth the variations.”

What an impossible man. “Good night, Dr. Colton.”

“Yes.” And he was gone, intersecting with three exiting scientists as they all headed for their cars. The others greeted Colton respectfully; warily.

Clare’s keys were in her pocket. Which meant she had to undo her shoulder harness, fish out her keys, redo the seat belt, hunt the ignition key. By the time she was ready to start the car, Colton was driving out of the lot.

In the acerbic November night air, she heard another engine start. Across the street, a car without headlights pulled away from the curb and made a U-turn across a cement divider, turning on its lights once the maneuver was completed. It now headed in the same direction Colton had taken. The car was noticeable only for being so nondescript. Few cars in LA had so few distinguishing features. Colton drove through a yellow light. Car X accelerated to do the same. Then both cars were lost to view.

It would be of no use to try to warn Colton that someone might be following him. Following Colton. What the hell was going on? Could –

Suddenly Clare was thrown sideways, so violently her shoulder harness snapped tight, yanking her upright. From outside labored breathing filled her ears. Fingers groped for her throat. Futilely, she pulled at the hands, feeling thick calluses on the fingers. She grabbed her briefcase, slammed it out the window, connecting with her attacker’s face. His grip slackened; he took a stumbling step away.

Straw blond hair and mustache, both in need of trimming. Blood poured from his gaping mouth; it looked like she’d knocked out a couple teeth, too.

After reeling back, he took a step toward her. For an instant she looked into eyes like black holes. Time expanded and it was hours before she got her car started and gunned into gear. She released her parking brake and lurched out of the lot and onto the street.

Most terrifying of all was his utter silence, even when her briefcase smashed his face.

Clare was relieved when she started shaking; it released some of the pressure inside her. Thank God she had her car today; although she certainly wasn’t going grocery shopping now. Why was she thinking about this she must be in shock.

It was all she could do to drive: observing the street and traffic patterns required more concentration than she could muster. She should pull over but the prospect of stopping made it hard to breathe.

Her route home took her in the same direction Colton had gone. Two blocks away, she spotted Car X parked, the tip of the driver’s nose illuminated while studying paper in map light. Tourist X, lost by moonlight. If only she’d melodramatized her attack, too.

Surely her attacker had also been the one to destroy the animal labs. What had they called him? The deranged surfer. She recalled those deep dead eyes and had trouble finding the road once again. Fortunately, she only had a few blocks to drive.

Car X had pulled back into traffic, behind her. She made a sharp right turn. Car X continued along the boulevard. Clare did not feel relieved. Once before she had been sure everyone was out to get her. It had heralded the most terrible time in her life.

Left at the next block and she was home. She parked questionably and ran across San Pasqual Avenue, some part of her calming at the first view of her apartment complex, the Villa San Pasqual. She sprinted past peach stucco apartments, mint green scrolled metal railings edging the exterior stairs and balconies.

Striding briskly up the stairs to her apartment, Clare heard a familiar faint jingling. She turned to greet Jessie, a tortoiseshell cat with collar ID jingling. Clare, who had lived with Jessie for seven years, knew the cat didn’t like to be held while outside; but tonight would have to be an exception. Clare plucked her up and continued toward the apartment. Jessie purred but held herself stiffly.

Clare darted a glance out to the street. Car X cruised slowly down San Pasqual. Clare stepped from floodlight into shadow, fumbling for her house key, straining to make out Car X’s license number. She was too far away, but thought she discerned an odd bright background color – an out of state plate? A Pasadena squad car came up the street. Driver X flagged the police officer, conversed a moment, then turned around and drove off. False alarm, then. No villain would make special effort to attract police attention. Clare was convinced of this by the time she and Jessie were inside with the lock turned behind them.

Go to next chapter.

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