Chapter 10. Habituation

Tommy met her outside Neurobiology. She was late and he’d gotten no answer phoning her apartment, so was commencing a search for her. When she explained, “I moved out but I can’t talk about it,” his expression said he understood – perhaps more than she’d like.

“Bianca got home a couple hours ago. Spent the night with Andy Stuart. “’Two can play your game, Tommy’.” His parody of her melodrama was vicious. “I told her I see AIDS tests on her and Andy before she gets near me again.”

Clare had tarantulas climbing her throat and violinists practicing in her head.

As they ascended stairs to the second floor, he shuffled and mumbled, “Last night was great though – by the stairs I mean. You know. I just wanted to say – what I just said.”

“It seems like you’re trying to say something else but I don’t know what it is.”

“Just. I finally got to the place you’ve been all along. With all the other shit going down, you’re right, now’s not the time. For us.”

“Ah.” Now she was right. Now he was putting her off. The only constant in life was irony. No there were others: pain, confusion, lack of comprehension. God did exist; unfortunately, he happened to be a vivisectionist.

“It’s nothing to do with you, damn. Nothing. It’s more I.” He cut himself off.

“I do understand. And I know how hard this is for you to say to me.”

“I mean, do you really know whether you wanted to kiss me or pay Robert back?”

Clare stabbed her key into her office door, which swung open.

Constance looked up from rearranging manila folders in a file cabinet. “There you are. I was beginning to wonder. Some of these files were out of chronological order, I hope you don’t mind. You said I should familiarize myself with these drawers.” She took notice of Clare’s displeasure. “The door was unlocked, I thought you were here already. Otherwise I would never – Honest.”

“Constance is a woman you only have to tell once.” Tommy smiled his most killer smile.

“Somebody knocked for you about a half hour ago, I didn’t answer because – I don’t know, I’m so new here.”

“You mean I could’ve been in here helping you file?” Another smile. Constance responded in kind.

It was a relief to sit down, her back to both of them. Clare unlocked the desk drawer holding the murder tests.

“Did you feel the little earthquake this morning? About seven? It was just a little one except to us out-of-state types.” Constance laughed self-deprecatingly.

Clare heard only part of Tommy’s response. Something about how he’d been imagining seeing Constance today, thought the trembling was internal. Clare wanted to scream, looking into that drawer: the testing paraphernalia had been moved. And it wasn’t a quake that put a different file on top.

She spun around to face Constance. “Did Steve give you his key to this drawer?” Clare usually kept her most current testing data in this drawer. She’d given Steve the only other key, which he’d promptly lost.

“No. I didn’t know he had one. Is something wrong?”

“Not at all. I’ll get you a copy of the key; you can set my notes out for me.”

Constance looked pleased. “I’d like that. As I’ve said, anything I can do here.”

Perfect timing. Clare could now dispatch Constance to return the borrowed watches and her assistant could only accept the chore with a forced smile.

“She should get new watches, too, right?” Tommy prompted.

“I’ve already taken care of that,” Clare snapped. Tommy and Constance exchanged a look Clare could only interpret as united against her. After Constance assured Tommy that she would indeed hurry back, she left Clare alone with him, loathing all three of them. “Let’s get started.”

“Yeah, before Mata Hari gets back. I say she’s spying for her sweetie Steve. She’s good but if we put her off guard she’s gonna slip. And fall. But I’m not telling you anything – you figured it out before I did, huh? As usual.”

Clare went into the lab. “I see. You were only being so friendly to aid our investigation.”

After a time, she heard the couch creak and Tommy appeared in the doorway. “If you think I’d say ‘later’ to you and then ‘yes’ to her, you’re crazier than I’d be if I did that, which I didn’t.”

“I believe you,” Clare said finally to end the stand-off.

Tommy sat as though his plastic chair were electric. “When did you pick up more watches?”

“I didn’t. I think this new test will make them unnecessary.”

The dichotic tape she’d made before dawn asked, “Is this a watch?” while the tachistoscope flashed Tommy’s right brain a picture of a wristwatch. His left foot tapped the question mark card in reply. She repeated variations of the question until she’d confirmed her four A.M. fear: Tommy’s right brain didn’t know the word watch. Trying to identify the road-on-the-moon drawing, his left brain had guessed – wrong. And not knowing the word being discussed, his right brain couldn’t correct the mis-guess.

This is a watch.” Clare taught his right brain the word. Then she displayed the moon road drawing and asked dichotically, “Is this a watch?

NO. NO. NO. She’d never seen his right brain so adamant. Their seeming breakthrough had been only a misunderstanding, which careless testing methods had perpetuated.

When she explained the misunderstanding, Tommy got so upset he couldn’t even swear. “Now what?” he groaned.

“Now we go back to figuring out what this drawing means.”

Before she could stop him, he stomped out of the room. “Tommy, be reasonable. We have to keep trying.” They collided in the doorway. He now held the oversized green parka he’d left on the couch. “I thought you were leaving,” she said lamely.

“I wanted to show you this.” He gripped the parka with his teeth and dragged a Hustler from an inner pocket. “It’s not mine, I hate this trash, I copped it from my doctor this morning when I got my arm checked. Do you know it was a week ago Colton got murdered?”

“I am all too aware of that.” But if they succumbed to brooding, they’d be set back further. Interesting doctor you’ve got. Mine only provides 1970s Newsweeks.”

“He’s a strange guy. Anyway, I was just sort of going through this and I came to this page and I got filled with this idea that it was important.” It was a condom advertisement featuring three barely suited beauties on a beach. “I don’t get it but I thought maybe you would. Look, my hand’s shaking, that’s how important it feels.”

“Sit down.” Clare took the magazine, held it near his left fingers as she studied the picture. Use our brand and you can have women like these, maybe all of them at once. “Point. Who or what is like the killer?”

Tommy’s fingers flailed, indicating various areas, various women. Next they tried pointing with his foot, then with the yardstick in his hand. The answers remained imprecise. “Stop playing games,” Tommy yelled at his right brain. At this, his left foot tapped the question mark, which infuriated him.

His face turned crimson and Clare had to shout over his cursing. “Hold it. Hold it. Perhaps this photo is important because the killer is a woman.”

Mid-curse, Tommy fell quiet. He looked inward. “That doesn’t feel right.” He was suddenly very calm. “It really wasn’t Mrs. Bates. Anyway, what about the deranged surfer?”

“I don’t know how he fits into any of this.” Tommy’s ultra-calm denial of Cynthia Bates was not credible. But she wouldn’t press the issue right now – she’d return to it later, when his left brain wasn’t expecting it. One of the few things she felt increasingly sure about: Tommy could not countenance knowing – liking – the murderer.

“This means something though.” He shook the magazine, an interrogator roughing up a captive.

Tommy’s right brain was capable of wordplay. Perhaps the clue was hidden. Hot, heat … sun, son – gun? Tan – man? Sand – hand? Beach – teach? Reach? Bodies … swimsuits … skin … It could take days, testing the possibilities. Ocean, water, sea – see? Well, here were two they should investigate: hand, see. Once again tonight she’d have hours of prep work. “We’ll figure it out. Let it go for now. This is going to sound silly, but have you ever tried drawing with your foot?”

He hadn’t but he was game for it. They repeated the “What did you touch?” test with his toes gripping pencils, Clare kneeling to hold paper in place.

Each foot’s drawing was very crudely similar to each hand’s original drawing. His left hemisphere no longer parrot-claimed it had touched a watch.

Constance returned. “That was fast,” Clare sighed.

“You promised you’d hurry,” Tommy smiled.

But Clare saw a way to get rid of her again. “Did you bring the credit slips? Don’t get upset, everyone forgets sometimes. I do need them. However, since we’re just about done here, as long as you pick up the slips from the stores today, I can wait until next week to get them from you.”

Constance’s narrowed eyes said she doubted Clare really needed those slips, but the assistant could hardly say so.

“See you next week,” Tommy bid Constance a sad farewell. As soon as she was gone, he snickered. “A dollar says she’s back in two hours.”

“You’re on. My bet would be ninety minutes.”

They shook on it and turned to the adapted chimeric faces tests, which Clare was determined to finish that day, to know precisely what Tommy’s left hand had touched, from the killer’s clothing to body hair. Additionally, today she added dichotically, ‘Is this what you drew?’ while flashing the moon road drawing beside a photo of clothing; she even juxtaposed it with beard stubble. The drawing’s meaning remained elusive.

The chimeric tests were ponderously slow and careful. It was the experimental style that made Clare most comfortable: it had the least error margin. Such precision ordinarily yielded her best results, but her strongest ideas these days came in late night flashes, under the weight of too little sleep and too much conflict. Which made her feel like a musician who played best on heroin.

A knock on the door made her realize how little they’d been interrupted today. It was nearly 8:30. “There’s my dollar,” Tommy said as Clare went to answer.

He was right. Very belatedly, here was Constance, looking stern. “I knew I should have stayed. I could have helped you finish sooner. I don’t want to belabor the point, Dr. Austen, but you are doing important work and I would like to -”

Tommy appeared, shirt off, hair tousled – he and Clare had been very busy indeed. “We’re done,” Clare said weakly. “Just wrapping up.”

“Come on in, discuss results with us,” Tommy said suggestively.

“I’ve got to go. I have – plans.” Constance sounded accusatory.

“Say hi to Steve.”

Constance started to speak, instead pointed at the door. “You need a new sign,” she said curtly and fled down the hall. Clare swung the door wide. TESTING IN PROGRESS had been altered with a heavy black marker. It now read SEXING IN PROGRESS.

There were so damned many cretins on this campus. Clare ripped the sign down, anger abbreviating her movements. “Would you mind putting your clothes back on?”

Tommy was undaunted. “See now she’s not sure. If she is spying, she’s going to step it up.”

“I want her to stop spying, Tommy.” She spoke as to a slow child.

“Not before we find out why she’s doing it.”

“Ah. Of course.” She pretended agreement, while seething: so they would only have a mock affair, suffer all those whispers and arch looks without compensation.

Back at her work station, Clare noticed that by this time last week, they had discovered Colton’s body. No. Think about the data from the chimeric tests instead.

Since beginning the chimerics two days ago, Clare had determined several things. The killer had worn a long-sleeved bulky upper garment of a softish material; it did not have a high collar. There may have been an underlayer, i.e., a shirt beneath a sweater. At the neck, Tommy had touched curly hair – whether growing from scalp or skin was not known. His right brain also indicated straight hair above the neck, seen or touched: eyebrow, beard, sideburn? The killer’s hands wore gloves, under which Tommy had discerned a bulge that suggested a ring – and thin gloves. At the wrist was – something: the top of the glove, the edge of the sleeve, not a watch but possibly a bracelet. On the leg, not denim and not bare skin.

None of these results would Clare tell Tommy, which irked his left brain. She refused to argue the point, instead consulted her watch. “I need to go check Jessie but we can meet back here later, unless you want to stop for the night.”

“Definitely not. I can come with you, unless you want to get away for a while.”

“It’s not that. But I should go alone. Jess is so scared, being in a foreign environment, I want to keep further input to a minimum.”

“Yeah, I can see that. Well, guess I’ll go to Burger Continental and have a beer.”

Tommy had the borrowed car today. They walked to it, then he drove her to her car; he was getting quite adept at driving with one arm. “Meet you at BC in an hour.”

In Clare’s new living room, Jessie’s food was untouched. Spilled water and cat litter all over the lime shag indicated nervous cat activity. Clare peered under the couch. Jessie inched to the edge of the shadow, then leaped to Clare’s lap.

Webs of fur wafted around them as Clare petted the cat. After some fifteen minutes of serious comforting, Clare felt bolstered enough to move around and Jessie followed, at last interested in inspecting her surroundings – although when Clare got a room ahead of Jessie, the cat galloped to rejoin her. Still, given that Jess had stayed under the bed, period, for a week when Clare last moved, she was adjusting quickly.

Back in the living room, the cat ate voraciously. For some reason, this made Clare want to cry. Another petting session, then Clare reluctantly collected coat and keys. Jessie returned to her lair under the couch, but now she trotted rather than slunk.

After the dense quiet of her apartment, where Jessie’s claws catching in the carpet were unnervingly loud, Friday night at Burger Continental was an assault. As Clare drove by, she saw the al fresco tables were packed – with cheap beer and massive portions of Middle Eastern food, BC was a magnet to academics, slumming yuppies, and artists year-round.

She could find no parking spaces, of course, except at the supermarket around back. A squat bald man watched her park then headed for a pay phone to call a tow truck. There were fifty empty spaces in the lot – but God forbid she disregard the CUSTOMERS ONLY VIOLATORS WILL BE TOWED signs. She had ten minutes before she’d have to fight a tow trucker for her car.

Tommy met her at BC’s back entrance, with a take-out bag nestled in his sling. He swiveled her around and walked her out. “Robert’s here. He didn’t see me.”

“Is he alone? I can’t believe I asked that.” She tried not to sneer at the parking lot monitor’s disappointment when she returned to her vehicle so promptly.

“He’s with two guys who look just like him. You know how the really smart guys have that pasty face and they all wear those glasses.”

Clare pulled onto California Avenue, seeing the oncoming headlights yet not registering them until she heard the angry horn blow. “Robert does not have a pasty face. Do I?”

“No way.” He chortled and rumpled her hair, just as Bianca often did to his hair.

There were no guards visible on campus as they hurried to Clare’s lab. The students they passed were skittish, in a hurry to get indoors. Clare and Tommy took a shortcut up the hillside Japanese garden. This proved a mistake: the stylized greenery at night resembled ghastly limbs. Atop the hill, a figure stepped into their path, brandishing – a sweet roll. Clare smelled coffee. The guard muttered a good evening and kept going. They passed other guards, all carrying coffee and donuts. “Morons all take breaks at the same time,” Tommy hissed.

There was a note balanced on Clare’s doorknob. Robert had come by. No. Please turn off lights when leaving in Bruce the wonder guard’s self-conscious scrawl. Clare crumpled the paper and threw it down the hall. “I was afraid it was from Robert,” she said, then ducked Tommy’s scrutiny by retrieving the note.

“Did you want it to be?” Following her into the lab, he unpacked the take-out bag, arranging stacks of pita bread and containers of hummus and imtabbal at each of their testing sites.

“Beats the hell out of me.” Her thoughts ping-ponged as she shredded pita, dragged it through the eggplant spread. “We’ll be doing headset and dot work now.” He reached for the headset. “I want to hear from Robert to get it over with – I know he’ll have something choice to say and I’d rather hear it now.” Tommy, his mouth stuffed with food, nodded slowly. “You’ll answer yes or no to dichotic questions. You’ll see the answer choices on the screen above the levers. Do you think I’m doing all this as a ploy to get Robert to beg me to come back on my terms?” If she were so plotting, she was despicable.

He considered. “No. Otherwise you would have resisted, even a little, when I dragged you away from BC.”

She felt relieved. And no longer angry that Tommy had reneged on his availability to her, at least for now. Only alone could she regain her stability.

This line of thought frightened her though – for it occurred while she proceeded with a test. Could she no longer rely on her work to shut all else out?

Is Steve the killer?” her dichotic tape asked Tommy’s right brain, as she watched the levels indicating sound transmissions to each ear. Her vanished assistant seemed a plausible suspect but Tommy’s right hemisphere swiftly responded NO.

Is the killer Mrs. Bates?” Damn it to hell. The levels on his left ear fell to zero a moment before those on the right. She hadn’t timed the aural distraction correctly.

NO, his right hemisphere indicated, while his right hand ripped the headset off. “What. Did. You. Ask.” He leaped to his feet, towering over her.

“You answered no.” Hoping to pacify.

False hope. “Know why we don’t know jackshit? Because you won’t believe any answers you disagree with.” He slammed his fist into his parka sleeve, jerked the zipper closed. “From now on we work separately. You keep making up stories and I’ll try to name the killer.”

“The fact that you’re so inordinately upset makes me wonder -”

“Everything makes you wonder. Then jump to conclusions.” He stomped out.

She refused to chase after him. Some time after his footsteps retreated, she went to shut the door – and found him sitting in the hall in an upright fetal position. He raised bleary eyes to hers. “So Cynthia’s the one?”

“No. You said she wasn’t.”

He looked lighter, then bleak. “I don’t want to put you through shit but I keep doing it.”

“You haven’t. You truly haven’t.” She joined him on the tile floor. “Can I give you a ride to your car?” He’d left it at Burger Continental.

“That’s all you had for us to do tonight?” Temper flared again.

“Everything else was based on a yes answer,” she admitted.

After a long silence, “Yeah, give me a ride,” he said reluctantly.

On the walk to her car, the November air was cold and dark; Tommy’s mood, icier and blacker still. Without having discussed it, they now had a new route to the lot, which avoided the bushes where Larry’s remains had been found. It took a bit longer, the new way, but also took less out of Clare.

Trekking across the deserted parking lot, she thought her car looked – tilted? As they grew closer, she saw that one tire was flat. Closer, and even in the dim parking lot light, the heavy black markered words were visible on the tire’s whitewall. STOP OR YO, followed by a squiggle, as though the message writer had been interrupted.

“What the fuck.” Tommy knelt sideways, awkwardly, so that his good hand could inspect the tire. He patted, pushed, and pulled, while Clare’s gaze darted everywhere at once, searching the darkness, fervently hoping to see – nothing. No one.

“Let’s not stand out here,” she murmured; if she spoke louder she might scream.

Tommy’s hand opened to reveal a fistful of nails. “This isn’t half of ‘em. That tire’s a goner.” Before Clare could reply, he yelled, “Hey. Over here!”

She looked up just as a flashlight beamed their way, blinding her. By the time she could see again, Tommy had explained their predicament to a security guard, who used his walkie-talkie to radio others. Soon they were surrounded by guards, flashlight beams and tinny voice transmissions – the latter confirming that no one had seen any suspicious activity in faculty lot H.

“Looks like somebody wanted you to get the message,” said the guard who was exchanging the wrecked tire for Clare’s spare.

Clare nodded, then said quietly to Tommy, “It looks like the same printing as that sign on my door. Do you think Constance could have done this?”

“You’re asking me? I’m the last one to know jack about anything.”

She said nothing further, except to thank the guards when they’d finished, and agree that it was an excellent idea for Security to keep the vandalized tire and turn it over to Lieutenant Beaudine.

Tommy brooded silently, until she pulled alongside his car, up Lake Street from Burger Continental. He exhibited a much deeper than physical exhaustion. “Sorry I’ve been such a shitheel. You be okay getting home?”

“Sure.” She wished he would look at her. She wished she didn’t feel so responsible for their lack of results.

He called over her shoulder as he walked away. “Call me if you – need to.”

She didn’t have a phone yet, but never mind.

No one followed her to her new abode, which made her feel marginally better, until she discovered that her new street was unlit and parking was scarce within a block of her new home. No wonder Mrs. Manning kept the outside lights blazing all night. Extremely aware of how alone and cut off she was, only Jessie’s presence on the other side of the door enabled Clare to reach it. That brief sharp meow enabled her to open it.

There was even more cat litter underfoot. Jessie was very brave now, though, prancing all around to demonstrate. Woodenly, Clare made the bed. Jessie helped, providing a lump under the sheet, a blaze of motion across the blanket. Clare almost laughed.

After a moment’s reflection, she unmade the bed and made up the couch: the living room felt less alien and it was nearer the door. Then she unpacked her briefcase and stared at the Hustler bikini beauties. But she kept thinking about that message on her tire. When would it be completed? What would it say? And what would the consequences be?

Jessie hissed and ran for the couch as a shadow fell over the picture. The killer had materialized, a dark silhouette against the overhead lights. A knife plunged into Clare’s arms, her cheek, she –

She woke up screaming into the carpet. Jessie stood atop a far stack of boxes, legs splayed, fur full, watching Clare intently. Clare flicked litter pellets from her face and arms and looked at the curtains, bright with sun. She’d slept through the night.

For the moment, she was more rested. Long range, she’d wasted valuable time.

Yet she woke up with many new thoughts and ideas. Back in her school days, she’d often gone to bed if she was stuck, assuming the problem would be solved while she slept, by parts of her brain (probably right hemisphere) not accessible during consciousness except within certain altered states. Frequently – though not always the first morning – she did awaken with a solution. During her breakdown, this ability had been lost. How wonderful to have regained it.

Mmm. Sleeping on the floor had not made her feel sprightly and youthful, but a hot shower revived her. Jessie soon appeared outside the shower curtain, batting at water drops hitting the clear plastic. Alas, she batted a curtain edge and a few drops hit her. She was out of the bathroom in one leap. Clare failed to turn away from the shower stream before she started laughing. She choked on water, yet felt invigorated – and calmer than in recent memory, due to the experiencing of normal life.

Loading her briefcase returned her to the abnormal present. Perhaps Tommy did know the killer’s identity, but it was someone met since his commissurotomy and he couldn’t link name to face. Or perhaps his right brain knew a lot of information that added up to nothing. Maybe they knew all they’d ever learn.

Somehow the prospect didn’t dishearten her. It was simply a reminder to keep her mind open, her conclusions undrawn.

Walking out to her car, she didn’t see her police house watcher. Of course not: Lieutenant Beaudine didn’t know she’d moved. Should she tell him? She was curious to see how long it would take him to find out on his own. In her new abode she felt safer – cut off from her life. But she wouldn’t mind having a cop or three out here after dark.

No one was following her today, if that had ever occurred. Robert hadn’t responded to her leaving, if they had ever been together.

 

Tommy was waiting outside her lab building. He didn’t look well. “Bianca stayed out all night. This morning I found a note on the door and after the messages we got last night, I just about lost it. But this note was just from Bianca, saying she’s really been staying with Trish, not Andy, to make me feel bad. But I should put the note back on the door if I wanted her to stay away.”

Clare busied herself unlocking the glass entry door. “How did you respond?”

“Threw it away. Doesn’t change anything either way.” Their favorite guard walked their way. “Hey Bruce, caught any scale felons lately?” Tommy sneered.

Bruce stood so straight he arched backward. “Night crew said to inform you, Dr. Austen. They’ve alerted the lieutenant and they’ll keep you posted.”

“Thanks, Bruce.” She suppressed the urge to salute him. She was grateful she didn’t have to contact Beaudine. Perhaps he’d take the security staff more seriously.

Clare assumed she was relieved to still find no message from Robert, in or around her office. “I have a terrible confession to make,” she informed Tommy.

“Oh yeah? Spill, I could use some good dirt today. Forget about my own.”

“My parents’ anniversary is coming up and Monday’s the last day I can mail their gifts. I need to go shopping. I was hoping you’d come with me. I’d like to – have a break. Talk things out. Get an overview.” Observe Tommy’s behavior when he didn’t know he was being studied.

“That is one lousy confession.”

It was difficult keeping his eyes in view, this would take some practice. “Frankly, I more or less passed out last night and didn’t work up any tests for today.”

“In that case.” He shrugged – he was at her mercy. “I’ve been thinking about yesterday.” His gaze shifted to the right as he spoke.

According to those who researched lateral eye movements, or LEMs, looking to the right indicated primary activity in the left hemisphere. LEMs were a fascinating field of study. Personally, Clare wasn’t convinced the data proved the existence of such telling eye movements. But she hoped she was wrong because then, once she got to know Tommy’s LEM patterns, she might use them to determine when his left brain was confabulating. “What exactly were you thinking about yesterday?”

“Maybe I do know the murderer. Maybe it is Cynthia – or Steve.”

“Think back to the killer in the hallway.” His eyes shifted to the left. A sign that his right hemisphere was envisioning the scene? “Was it Steve?”

His eyes shifted to look at Clare. “It could be.”

“New question. Feel certain of your answer before you speak. Is Steve the killer?”

His eyes looked left while he waited for the question, then looked directly at Clare when he replied, “He could be. That’s all I can say.”

Not having expected any better result, she cheerfully returned to the plan for the day: to study Tommy’s LEMs while steering his talk through sites of known confabulation; and while eliciting reactions both emotional and factual. Then she would remember everything that happened and make brilliant deductions about what she had observed. All without Tommy’s knowing they were doing other than shopping.

Neither she nor her mother had heard from her father in a decade but never mind. Clare wanted Tommy near men’s clothing as well as women’s.

As they headed for Clare’s car she said, “We’ve discussed the chance that you heard the killer speak. From now on, when you hear the same word, give me a sign.”

“If I hear, you mean. That’s really stretching.”

“I agree – but it won’t hurt to try.”

First they went to the big fabric store in Glendale which was always changing owners so Clare never knew its name. “Mom likes to sew,” Clare lied as she led him through acres of cloth, some of which must be like the killer’s garments. She babbled about her parents as they went. Bored, Tommy fingered occasional bolts. They passed a soft leather and Clare recalled the murderer’s gloves. “Can you find a price on that?” Both injured and uninjured hands got involved, as Tommy pulled fabric from the bolt to find the price tag. If his right brain noticed a similarity in texture, however, it gave no indication.

“How long is my office couch, would you say? I’ve been wanting to slip cover it.” His eyes moved to the left, as existing LEM research predicted: such size appraisals were orchestrated by the right hemisphere.

Eyes shifted right, he waited, then replied, “About six and a half feet.”

“You thought about that a while.”

“I kept running answers through my head – four feet, four and a half, five – until one felt right.”

Tommy was known to cross-cue in that way. That could mean his LEMs –

He wasn’t beside her anymore. She turned, saw his left hand clenching a thick soft flannel. “Nice material.” His right hand reached to pry his left fingers free, but they released the cloth on their own. Clare made note of the bolt’s location.

By the time they had walked through the fabric mart, she just wasn’t sure she’d seen any fabric her mother would like. However, she would take some samples – including all fabrics in which Tommy’s right brain had shown interest.

Meanwhile, she’d inspired three incidences of cross-cuing and two confabulations. During cross-cuing, his LEMs were left, then right; during confabulation his eyes moved left, then looked her square on center. It was too small a sampling to really tell her anything. But it was most definitely a start.

Driving back to Pasadena, Tommy brought up the murders and she quickly interrupted, for she couldn’t see LEMs while she drove. “Have you had any time to work on your music?” Surely this topic would cover the ten minutes on the road.

“Naw, it’s been zerosville. I feeling like singing but all that comes out is Lawrence Welk. You know, two A.M. on channel 56?”

“How does one sing Lawrence Welk?”

“An’ a one an’ a two an’ a. He never said it that fast – put him on seventy-eight he’s still slow – but that’s what it reminds me of. I’ll count down that beat but then I forget what I meant to sing. I guess it’s because I’m wondering all the time, if my arm’ll heal right.”

Clare exited the freeway, heading for the sleek modern ship building that housed Bullock’s Pasadena. “However your arm heals, you’ll find a way to keep playing.”

“Madame Clare predicts.” His joking tone failed to hide how much her prediction mattered.

“Most people give up much sooner than you have.” He snorted dismissively. “I’m talking about other epileptics, and about patients I see at the clinic. I’ve told you before, how much I admire you. It’s not just because you have such unique hair.”

Turning into the Bullock’s lot, a quick glance caught the gratitude in his eyes.

“Unique. Shit. That’s worse than -” When he said “shit,” his left knee snapped up toward his face. “Now what?” he asked with trepidation.

“Shit, I don’t know.” When she repeated the word, his left arm flapped in its sling. She felt the heat and chill of discovery.

“I get it! That’s what the killer said in my ear. Makes sense. Probably what I was saying too. Yeah. I can feel it all through me. That’s what he said.”

Damn. His left brain was too fast for her. She swerved into a parking space. “Try not to think about it anymore,” Clare said noncommittally.

“Sure. Of course,” he said in a rare moment of left brain equanimity as they walked toward the store. Reaching the entrance, Tommy held the door for three Pasadena society matrons who blew by without crediting his graciousness. Clare gagged on the three powerful competing perfumes. “Human pollutants,” Tommy commented.

Clare led him toward Men’s Sportswear. “My parents like to play golf together. I’m hoping I can find matching sweaters.”

“They’d really wear them? Jeez.” As they traversed Perfume and Makeup, every counter worker but one exchanged smiles with Tommy. He stopped beside that one, a surly middle-ager in a suit, overseeing a maintenance man removing stickers from display case glass. BUYING THESE PRODUCTS PROMOTES CRUELTY. REMEMBER ALL ANIMALS FEEL PAIN.

“Bad for business, isn’t it?” Tommy said sympathetically. “Like you don’t have enough to do without cleaning up after crazies.”

The manager belatedly acknowledged Tommy’s existence. He didn’t much like this fellow’s wild hair, but at least he understood about those animal rights crazies. “Last week they smashed a window at the mall, threw red paint on two fur coats. Thirty thousand dollars damage.”

“Send them to Iraq if they don’t like it here.” A buxom teenager wearing most of the products she was selling leaned over the counter to get into the conversation.

“Is that what they teach you in school these days?” The manager looked disgusted.

Tommy somehow gave conflicting conspiratorial looks to the girl and the manager. “Hope they leave you alone after this,” he bid the manager farewell.

Clare led the way to Men’s Sweaters. Tommy got in front of her, walking backward. “Don’t be pissed. Just because I talked to that guy doesn’t mean I agreed with him. I’m on your side about that research stuff.”

“You seem to be on everyone’s side.” She yanked his arm to turn him around; he was about to collide with a mannequin.

“It’s a game I play. Pitiful, huh? I used to do it a lot more though.” As he examined a rack of pullovers, “I like shopping for your folks. What anniversary’s this?”

“Thirty-ninth.”

“Woah. That’s so great. Bianca and me, we made it to our ninth.” His eyes looked right. “See, it’s not whether she slept with Andy; I’d take that as a good sign – that she agreed we were history. But she thinks she can fuck him and then come back to me.”

“Haven’t you done that? During your separations?”

His eyes stayed dead center. “Where’d you get that? Did she tell you that?” His voice was loud enough to attract attention from the scattered menswear shoppers.

“No I … just assumed. From things you’ve said.” From conclusions I’ve jumped to. “What do you think of this one? Is this wool too scratchy?” The fabric was similar to the one he’d clutched at the yardage store.

“This one’s better colors.” She thought she saw his eyes move left, then right, before his head tilted down to examine his choice: a nubby cotton knit. He pulled the sleeve through his left hand, which latched onto the even nubbier cuff. As his right fingers moved to pry the sweater free, his left fingers flicked and released the garment. “I’ll sure be glad when I get this thing off my arm,” he said.

Which launched him on a murder discussion. It was all rehash, but she questioned and listened as though it were all new. As often as she dared, she jotted in a notebook – notes about gift choices, she claimed. Tommy found this behavior excessive unto anal, but that wasn’t what mattered. His LEMs did appear to have patterns; and his left hand seemed preoccupied with cuffs. Had the murderer worn not a watch, but a sweater cuff? Perhaps the –

“For somebody who can’t decide what to buy, you sure get excited about shopping.” Tommy had been watching her.

“I’m just happy to not be working.” As hoped, this got him back to talking about Dr. Colton’s murder.

After a time, he paused, then spoke anxiously, looking everywhere but at her. “Remember when we were talking about motives. And teams of killers? Clare – you know. It could be animal rights guys we’re after.”

He looked surprised when she replied mildly, “I’ve thought about that. It is remotely possible that some activists could go that far over the edge, try to stop murder with murder. But I don’t believe they’d kill randomly – and only Dr. Colton was a valid target. Lalitha was a physicist. Haffner studied human childhood memory deficits.”

“And Larry only wore a lab coat to keep warm.” Tommy exhaled with relief. “So are you going to buy a sweater, or what?”

No, she hadn’t seen any they’d be wild about. Maybe her parents would like matching gloves instead. She led him to Accessories.

A bit defiantly, Tommy befriended the glove clerk, who was going to night school in business administration and disliked all his teachers. While chatting, Tommy also idly examined gloves. At an adjoining counter, Clare studied gloves and LEMs, until Tommy, voice sharp, interrupted the clerk’s patter. “S’cuse me, can I see some other colors in these?” Both hands clutched one lightweight beige cloth glove.

“That one comes in sixteen colors. What did you have in mind?” Tommy wanted to see them all? A suppressed groan. “I’ll have to go in back.”

At Tommy’s eager nod, the clerk departed and Tommy hurried to Clare’s side. “These gloves. Put them on. Let me feel them. Move your arm. No, like this.” He stood as if listening, while his left hand gripped hers. His eyes looked left, right, then straight on Clare’s. “This is what he was wearing. Or something real close to it.”

Tommy jogged over to the returned clerk, who was laying out gloves. “Okay, I’ll take the black ones.” The clerk frowned. The black ones had already been on display. “And these hot pink ones. Oooh la la.” The clerk liked Tommy again.

Until Tommy dropped his wallet and muttered “Shit.” At this, his left arm and leg flailed. He stumbled backward, regained balance while shouting, “We know it’s ‘shit,’ stop doing that.” The clerk bagged the gloves rapidly and rang the sale from a remote register. Tommy was too thrilled about their find to care.

Leaving the store, he interrupted his at-last-we’re-getting-somewhere exultations to hold the door for what seemed to be the same three matrons, now entering. Only the perfume gusts were different. He winked at Clare and they resumed walking. “Gifts for your parents huh? Sh-damn, are you sneaky.”

“I don’t know what you mean.” But when he started laughing, she joined in.

Once in the car, he used his teeth to unbag the black gloves, pull one onto his good hand and admire it. “Now all we gotta do is track down all the people who own these things and we’ll have our killer. So what’d you find out about sweaters?”

“Nothing really.”

“Oh yeah. I believe you.” But he didn’t push.

It was nearly five o’clock, stores would close soon. She ignored speed limits getting to pricey Les Hommes, and then on to low-budget Target. Tommy cheerfully wandered the stores while, in the interests of science, she borrowed bagfuls of sweaters from each. Then, as they returned to her car, Tommy stopped abruptly and stared at her windshield.

Gingerly, from under a wiper, his fingernails plucked a scrap of white paper, dotted with black ink which had seeped through from the message on the other side.

A message in heavy black printing. STOP OR YOU DIE.

They slammed the car doors and took off, Tommy swearing. Now she was doing so much looking into mirrors and over shoulders that she was having problems driving.

Tommy glared at the note. “Coming to get you, fucker. We’re on to you now.”

They flew to her office, where Clare prepped experiments using the sweaters and gloves, while Tommy phoned Beaudine. The lieutenant wasn’t in. “Tell him we got another threat, same as the tire, and to call us right way at Dr. Austen’s lab. Thanks.” Tommy also left word that Clare had moved. Then, as soon as Clare was ready, they commenced touch comparison tests similar to those done with the watches.

For three hours they sorted sweaters. The results merely confirmed Clare’s shopping observations. Tommy’s left hand had touched a nubby cuff the night of Dr. Colton’s murder. Nubby, or perhaps ribbed. However, Tommy’s right brain couldn’t pinpoint a specific cuff; and it alternated answers of NO and ? when asked if the moon road drawing represented a cuff.

Tommy grew contentious. “So now we know that the killer and fifty gazillion other people own sweaters.”

She stopped bagging sweaters. “The fact is, these tests have been quite fruitful.”

“Bullshit.” He paused, looked relieved when his right brain didn’t react to The Word, then turned snide. “So who’s the killer, then, professor?”

Unperturbed, she set aside the last bag of sweaters: he wasn’t really angry with her. “We’re closer to knowing that answer. I’m sure of it.” She spoke as though she meant it.

“So now we go collect the next note. Or hey, we might even get to meet the.” He clamped his lips shut.

Clare envisioned meeting the killer in the parking lot. “I suggest we wait here until Beaudine calls back.”

Tommy relaxed somewhat. “Man, could I use a drink. Know any bars that deliver?”

“That’s the best idea I’ve heard in ages.” She led him out to her office, grandly gestured for him to sit on the couch, swept open a file drawer, extracted a nearly full bottle of Bushmills.

Tommy hooted. “You’ve been holding out on me, Clare.”

By unspoken agreement, they pretended they were holed up by choice. By the third slug of whiskey, they no longer snuck glances at the silent phone, the locked door.

Questioningly, Tommy tapped the wall above her couch, indicating a framed note scrawled in red crayon: Thank you Doctor Clare Austen love Janey. “That’s from the daughter of one of my patients at the clinic,” Clare explained. Her neurological pro bono work. “Ex-patient. He really made great progress.”

“Did you mean what you said about how I don’t give up like a lot of people do?”

“Absolutely. Although I’m definitely not criticizing them. You all have so much to contend with. What’s impressive is how well you’ve contended.”

“So tell me some brain horror stories. Make me glad I’ve only got epilepsy.”

Following his example, Clare curled into a corner of the couch. “Well. I know of a man poisoned by carbon monoxide who was incapable of speaking or moving – he’d lie in one position, overwhelmed by his thoughts. He’d think about acting, talking, but these thoughts became new obsessions. The oddest thing is, if someone talked to him – got his attention – for a time he could function normally.”

“Hell, my drummer’s like that. Tell me something scarier.” He swigged more Bushmills.

“How about neglect? That’s fairly common. Neglect sufferers simply ignore half of space, usually the left half. They’ll wash half their face. Or draw a clock with all twelve numbers on one side. I’ve seen patients complain they haven’t been fed enough, when half their plate is still full. Rotate the plate and suddenly they notice the food. One man I treated insisted his left arm was somebody else’s, was always begging me to get that arm away from him.” Tommy was very still, head cocked to watch the left half of space, lest it disappear. “Now don’t become a brain hypochondriac. Although during my first year in grad school, I was sure I manifested symptoms of everything from motor apraxia to temporal lobe syndrome.”

“What’re those?” he asked hesitantly.

“I shouldn’t be telling you these.” The whiskey made her blunt.

“Come on, just one more story. I can use them at parties.”

“Do you go to a lot of parties?”

“No, because I don’t have anything to talk about with strangers.”

“Now there’s one I can’t argue with.” They exchanged grins. The room’s tone had shifted from trapped to cozy. “Temporal lobe syndrome. The three major characteristics are hypergraphia – a compulsion to write; an extremely strong adherence to religious belief – any religious belief, and the beliefs can change minute to minute; and a proclivity for certain – sexual acts.”

“I’m warming up to this one. Which acts?”

“Let’s just call them – unusual ones.”

“How about a demonstration if you can’t talk about them?”

“I can only assume you’re not expecting an answer to that.”

“An answer to what? Look, I have conversation neglect.” Tommy sprawled, pondering the acoustic ceiling tile. “This used to be a dentist’s office?”

“No, that’s just a classy design feature.”

Tommy chuckled. “What I really hate is how I start counting the holes.”

She chuckled too. Yet, despite their best efforts, Clare could feel their mood mutating.

“Guess I’ll try the Bow-dine again. Should I leave him your home phone number this time?”

“You can’t. My phone won’t get installed until Tuesday.”

By now, Tommy was at her desk. He stopped punching numbers. “I don’t like you there without a phone.”

His concern made her stomach knot. “Neither do I.”

Someone answered at the police station. Tommy quickly ascertained that, yes, the men assigned to watch Dr. Austen’s home had been informed of her move. Reaching Beaudine, however, was not so easy. Clare listened for a time, then went into her lab to look for some new line of attack on tomorrow’s tests.

“I underSTAND he’s out on a case,” Tommy yelled. “This is his case too and a goddamn dangerous one.”

Clare didn’t want to think about their leaving these rooms. She set to work instead. Did Tommy’s LEMs show a pattern? Would it be the same in the lab? Some studies suggested LEMs altered under stress such as testing in a lab … Now if Tommy’s right brain heard the killer say “shit,” was that enough vocal input for identification? She might at least be able to determine the timbre of the murder’s voice … She felt skeptical that her scream could have drowned out the killer’s voice in Tommy’s left brain – it took painstaking lab work to create that condition; the chances of it occurring in the real world were remote. Yet only his right brain had recalled hearing “shit.” Well, there could be other explanations for that …

Tommy appeared in the lab doorway. “No Beaudine. I phoned Security, we’re getting an escort to our cars.”

“You what? I thought we’d agreed not to call attention to our working all these extra hours.”

“Uh, Clare? I, like, um, think the murderer knows about us already. You know?”

Her skin grew hot. What an idiot she could be. They shared a laugh that began as a macabre chuckle and quickly exploded. Clare was still breathing convulsively when five security guards materialized in the corridor.

As she and Tommy were walked to their cars, they exchanged promises to neither stop nor leave their vehicles when they arrived home, unless certain of safe arrival to their doors. They pretended such certainty was possible and said good night.

If only Clare had known how dark her new street was at night. And there was no sign of plainclothes cops. The key was barely out of her ignition when she bolted from her car, through the blackness toward her floodlit building. She heard her shoes scuff against asphalt, then clatter on concrete as she ran. STOP OR YOU DIE. Gasping, she dashed up her stairs, fumbled her key into her lock, fell against the door to hasten its opening.

A black and orange streak darted through her legs. Jessie had escaped. Clare ran downstairs after, calling for Jessie as calmly as she could. The cat rocketed into the street as a car careened toward them. A V-12 engine snarled. Jessie froze on the asphalt, eyes glowing in the headlights. The car swerved and its screeching tires sent Jessie bolting back toward Clare, who grabbed a leg and held on despite Jessie’s howls. She clutched the cat to her. Jessie’s heart thudded as wildly as Clare’s. The car sped on.

It took hours for them to regain composure. Jessie kept growling in the direction of the bedroom – but when Clare mustered courage to check, she found the window still locked, the room unchanged. Yet Clare dragged the dresser outside the room, tied the doorknob to it, and spent an uneasy night on the couch, with Jessie beneath it.

Come morning, Jessie was fine, Clare still jittery. With too much ease, she was able to unhinge the bedroom window screen and stick her head outside. She’d intended to rent an upstairs apartment; she hadn’t noticed the slope that put her bedroom at ground level. She looked around. The window showed no signs of tampering. The weeds beneath it had been flattened – but when? Surely they’d look less brown and brittle, if trampled last night.

Feeling better, she replaced the screen, locked the window, and went out to her living room. Jessie had pulled tissue wrappings from a box of glassware. Now the paper was everywhere, shredded to molecules.

“Nice work, Jess, you could not have made a bigger mess.” Jessie trotted over to bump her head against Clare’s shins. Along the way, she paused to bat at a paper shred as though she’d never seen one before. Cats had such convenient memories. Clare stuffed the shreds into a kitchen wastebasket, then glanced outside the window, to a parked car across the street. Inside was a man she recognized as one of Beaudine’s.

Later, as Clare headed for her car, she blew a kiss to the cop, who looked at her like she was a drug dealer from Mars.

Go to next chapter.

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