“You want to what?” Tommy was no longer slouching on her office couch.
“Hypnotize you. It’s part of my campaign to turn you into a zombie slave.”
“Honey, all you have to do is ask.”
Today, they were better able to feign lightheartedness. They had discussed the threatening note and concluded that they were in no greater danger than they’d been all along. The note should serve only as a reminder. But ongoing contemplation of the danger could incapacitate them; or cloud their judgment. Therefore, they would strive to strike it from conscious awareness.
Clare avoided brooding about the future of that note: what would transpire, once it became apparent that they were not going to STOP? Thinking about this made her want to run and hide. But she didn’t have the luxury of such reactions. Briefly, she wondered if her resignation counted as bravery. Then she banished all thoughts not germane to the business to hand, and asked, “Have you ever been hypnotized before?”
Tommy shook his head. According to some experts, his ability to concentrate, his imagination, and his level of absorption in novels (back in the premurderous good old days, he was always reading) all argued for hypnotizability. His split brain might argue against; but if data existed on split brain hypnosis she hadn’t been able to find it. Published indications – such as those finding that a preponderance of left LEMs indicated hypnotizability – suggested that a controlling right hemisphere was somehow involved; if that were true, Tommy’s split left hemisphere could be affected only if such control was not wielded through the central commissure.
Another big question mark hovered over her ability to hypnotize. She hadn’t tried it since grad school. If it did work, though, she might be able to question his right brain openly without interference from his left. “Are you willing to try it?”
“Sure. You’re not going to find anything but we can give it a try.” If her analysis yesterday was correct, Tommy’s LEMs indicated he was confabulating: about minding, or her findings? Sometimes she thought one or both of his brains intentionally tried to impede their investigation.
“Terrific. Close your eyes. Sit comfortably.”
She led him through relaxation techniques: lengthening breathing, loosening muscles, until his limbs felt so heavy he was sinking into the couch. She had him imagine strolling woods and corridors, then paused in her monotone stream of instructions. Now to descend Jung’s stairs to the unconscious. “At the end of this corridor you open a door and find a long flight of steps going down, it’s dark but beautiful, a very comforting place, you walk down the stairs slowly, inhale … good … exhale …. you’re very heavy yet your -”
Harsh footsteps and a harsher rap on her door. Tommy’s eyes jerked open. Sunday, with the building secured, no one should have access. Clare heard a key and sprang to her feet. The door was shoved open – by Bruce the guard, flanked by two big blond men in suits, whose eyes cased the hall in both directions. Her terror turned to rage. “Since when do you let yourself in here?”
One of the men briefly unpocketed a thin wallet. A badge flashed. “Sergeant Campbell from Lieutenant Beaudine’s team. There’s an intruder in this building, five five, hundred twenty, brown eyes, blond hair, mustache, Hawaiian shirt. I believe you were attacked by this man a week ago Thursday.”
Her throat constricted. “Where did you see him?”
“How long have you been here?”
“About a half hour.”
The suits exchanged looks. “We lost him forty minutes ago. May we come in?”
“You’d be wasting your time. He’s not here.” There was nowhere for him to hide except one cabinet she’d opened upon arrival – God, if he’d been in there. “You do know about the route through the basement?”
Campbell glanced at Bruce. The guard nodded surreptitiously. “Yes, we have men down there. If you don’t mind, we’ll take a look around for your own protection.”
Something was wrong here. Clare had limited as in zero experience with such procedures but this one seemed phony. “I can assure you he’s not in here.”
“If they have to get a search warrant they will,” Bruce piped up.
“Smith, stay out of this,” Campbell said abruptly, then cocked an ear. “Hear that?” The other suit nodded and the two of them took off. Campbell yelled, “They’ve sighted him down below! You take the south stairs.” Bruce took off too.
Clare hadn’t heard anything. She locked the door and phoned Beaudine, though he had yet to return last night’s calls. The police station’s lines were busy so she tried his home. “Didn’t that seem strange to you?” she asked Tommy as the phone rang and rang.
“Everything’s strange to me right now.” He looked dazed. She’d taken him somewhere and the interruption had brought him back in a state of disorientation. They’d –
“Who’s this?” At last the phone was answered, by Beaudine’s housemate, not in a good mood.
“Is Lieutenant Beaudine there?”
“He’s at work.” Click. She called the station. “He’s off today.” Click.
She called back. “I just called. Have you got a Sergeant Campbell in Homicide?”
“You got a reason for asking?”
“Someone just tried to search my office claiming he was one of you.”
“What’d he look like?” Clare described both suited blonds. “Could be somebody I don’t know but I don’t know ‘em. Stay inside there and I’ll get it checked out.” This cop must be a rookie – he even offered to call her back with the results.
Tommy still looked groggy. “I didn’t know any of that was going on. I mean, I knew but it didn’t sink in. I didn’t feel suspicious. Just. Tired or something.”
“Because they interrupted us, we’re going to have to start over.” Tommy groaned. “But not right now. There’s one further step we need to take now, though. Close your eyes.” After she relaxed him again, “Walk back out the door. Now go up the stairs. Inhale … exhale … walk back the way you came, you’re walking slowly but without effort … exhale … that’s right … you’re moving so easily and the next time we come to this beautiful place you will arrive quickly, your journey will be easy, smooth …”
He no longer seemed disarranged, but she was left unsure if she’d accomplished more than deep relaxation.
On a hunch, she called the guard desk downstairs. Bruce Smith’s shift was over and the current guard, Lou, was not pleased about it. Bruce hadn’t logged out; worse, the station was unmanned when Lou arrived. “I shouldn’t have told you that, Clare. You caught me at a bad time. These new guys, they got no respect for detail.”
“Lou, it goes no further.” She’d known Lou for years. Retired, he worked security to keep out of the wife’s hair. He loved to reminisce about his bush pilot days in New Zealand, Alaska, Brazil; and Clare loved to listen. She could trust Lou. She confided her ongoing problems with Bruce. Lou vowed to call his supervisor at home.
“Hates calls on his day off, but he hired this donkey – pardon my French, Clare.”
“Damn straight,” Clare said as she hung up, smiling at Lou’s little chuckle.
Tommy wanted Clare to describe the suits – he’d been too dazed to lean around the door jamb to see them. She was interrupted by a call from the rookie policeman. He was sending someone out: her visitors were not detectives, homicide or otherwise.
“Were either of those guys big enough?” Tommy asked.
“The one who called himself Campbell was only about five nine and his partner was shorter. And they both had stocky builds like farm boys. They looked alike actually; I’d almost say brothers.”
Tommy punched a throw pillow. “Just once I wish something would happen that made us know more instead of less.” He headed for the door.
“We’re supposed to stay here until the real cops come.”
“By that time those guys’ll be long gone.” She followed him down the hall, tugged at the back of his arm sling. “Will you let me the fuck go? If they were going to hurt us they could have done it before.”
She kept her fingers lightly on the sling. “They weren’t cornered before. Anyway, I’m sure they’re gone. They’ve had quite a head start.”
“I’m fucking sick of not knowing what’s going on!”
“Gee that’s funny – I really enjoy it.”
Tommy whipped around to face her, glaring. After a moment, he fought a smile, shook his head, and offered his in-sling arm to her. With her hand lightly touching his elbow, he walked her back to her office.
Against all campus regulations, Clare phoned a locksmith and put a rush order on locks for both her office and lab. This time, only she would have the key. The locksmith would be arriving within the hour; thus she decided to delay further hypnotism attempts. Which was just fine with Tommy.
They adjourned to the lab, to the dichotic listening tapes she’d made that morning, stalking the library, while frowning students prepared for finals. Despite her reservations about unilateral – single hemisphere – vocal identification, she’d imposed upon thirty-two students, three librarians, and two custodians for an excellent cross section of vocal types and timbres, each reciting strings of one syllable words ending in “-it,” in volumes ranging from whisper to shout.
“Is the killer’s voice more like this, or this?” It took four hours to find the two most similar voices: one male, one female; lowish tenors notable for heavy aspiration and several other common phonological similarities, with no twangs nor quirks so obvious as to be noticed in one exclamatory syllable. In other words, they had narrowed the field to a general majority of the population. Clare liked to think this put them ahead.
Meanwhile, the locksmith came and went; a pair of uniformed police – one male, one female – stopped by, as cordial as the rookie on the phone. Perhaps Clare and Tommy were no longer under suspicion?
Then again. At last Beaudine arrived, a vision in spandex shorts and a cycling helmet with a little rearview mirror.
“That’s some case you’re on.” Tommy set the tone for the encounter.
Beaudine took last night’s note for analysis, after avowing that nothing would be gleaned. He seemed inclined to believe Clare and Tommy had written the note themselves, as they had nailed Clare’s tire. Or, given the SEXING IN PROGRESS sign they showed him, he seemed equally comfortable believing that the threat was from Bianca and/or Robert, and had no relation to the murders. He left them stunned, and belatedly outraged.
Some twenty minutes later, Clare grew tired of raving about his stupidity.
But not Tommy. “What a prick! And, he thinks you made up Campbell! Just because I couldn’t describe him? No wonder this case is still unsolved.”
“As we’ve discussed some fifteen times now, Beaudine’s logic there seems to be that I’m attempting to distract his people from their real work.”
“He’s so lame.” Tommy smacked his open palm against her door. The glass rattled and Clare flinched.
“Okay. When Bushmills crosses my vocal cords I change subjects. Until then,” Tommy teased, “how about that Beaudine -”
Clare lunged to get the whiskey and they settled onto the couch. She didn’t think it would hinder the work they’d yet to do today. Not any more than preoccupation with Beaudine’s attitude would, anyway.
“We don’t get offed, we’re going to end up in detox.” Tommy toasted her with the bottle.
“No shit. As you would say.” He grinned and passed her the whiskey. When she took her first swig, she was only distantly aware of that initial burst of flame. His grin hit her harder than liquor, any day.
They swigged in companionable silence, curled up in couch corners, wolfing the chips and dip Tommy had thought to bring with him today. Eventually, he requested, “Tell me more brain stories. You know. People with weirder brains than me.”
“Your brain’s not weird. Overactive at times, yes; weird, no. Of course that’s a problem all epileptics face: name-calling. Was it difficult for you, growing up?”
“Naw. I just told everybody I was faking to get out of P.E. I like how you’re so protective of me. Good thing, too. A brain is kind of like a mother. I can put mine down but nobody else better. What was that other condition you mentioned yesterday? Motor something.”
She thought back. “Motor apraxia. I’m always sure I’m developing it but I’m not and neither will you. One variety has to do with an inability to get sets of movements right. I might try to light a cigarette by putting the match in my mouth and drawing the cigarette along the matchbook flint. Or I might put socks on after my shoes, that kind of thing.”
“Funny. Unless it’s happening to you.” He turned envious. “Cynthia says she used to have visions.”
“Some epilepsies cause visions, yes. Or an addictive excitement. I had one patient who self-induced seizures.” When Tommy shuddered, Clare said quickly, “That reminds me of a really interesting syndrome, the FPP, fantasy-prone personality. For example, there are people who can have orgasms by imagining sex.”
“This is my kind of syndrome.” He stuffed the last few chips in his mouth.
“If I were an FPP, I might vividly experience a trek up the Amazon – the smell of moss, branches touching my body, monkeys shrieking – while we’re here talking. Based on studies of brain stimulation levels, it seems that for some people, those imaginary friends are just as real as anything in the ‘real’ world. Anyway, our notion of reality is spurious; it is an individual experience. That old bit about whether Chuang-tzu was a man dreaming of a butterfly or vice versa may not be just some philosopher’s tract after all. For that matter …” Tommy was staring so intently.
“I wish you could watch yourself when you talk about this stuff. Your eyes get this glow, you start talking so fast but it all makes sense. It’s how I feel sometimes when I’m playing, like I’m plugged into my amp. Bianca doesn’t -” He stopped talking and smiled; conspiratorial, sad, admiring, loving.
The break was clearly over. Clare re-filed the whiskey bottle, Tommy tossed the food remains, and they sat down to attempt hypnosis a second time.
She got him down Jung’s stairs, through the door. “Let your arm float in the air, there’s a slight breeze.” His good arm lifted and remained poised, undulating a bit. With previous subjects, this had indicated that consciousness had indeed shifted. “I’m going to ask questions to be answered yes or no. If the answer is yes, lift your left foot.”
“I’ll … fall … over.” Tommy’s speech was very slow.
“You’re right. Find a chair, a comfortable chair. Let me know when you find it.”
“I’m sitting now. You should have a chair like this at your lab.”
“I’ll try to get one. When you answer a question, use only your left foot. Do not speak. You will not notice what your left foot is doing. This will not upset you in any way. Now, from your comfortable chair, you can see the hallway the night of Dr. Colton’s murder, you can see everything that happened, but watching cannot hurt you and does not affect you. The killer who attacked you with a knife: is the killer a man?”
“Told you that before,” he said, as his left foot lifted.
Hmm. Was his left brain aware of his left foot’s movements? She tried an issue in hemispheric dispute. “Did you touch the killer’s right hand?”
His left foot lifted. “No that’s wrong,” he said, slowly, with a trace of ire.
Clare tried a few more unimportant questions. His left brain remained aware of his right brain’s answers.
“Stand up, Tommy, we’re walking back the way we came now. When you get to the top of the stairs, you will be back in this room. Now or later, you might remember my questions or your answers. If you do, you will feel relaxed and pleased. You are climbing the stairs, it’s an easy climb, you have four more stairs, three … two … one … Open your eyes when you feel like it, there’s no hurry.”
By the time he met her gaze, she’d stifled her disappointment. “How do you feel?”
“Decent. Good. That was weird though.” It took him a few moments to talk up to speed. “I didn’t feel any different, but now that my eyes are open I realize I did feel different and your voice sounded different. So what’d we find out?”
“At this point I’m primarily perfecting technique.”
“We don’t have a lot of time, Clare.” But he remained calm.
“I know.” If only there were someone she could trust who knew hypnosis.
“What’s the matter? All of a sudden you looked really nervous.”
All of a sudden she’d realized there was someone. If she could face Norelle right now. “I just remembered I have to prep for two classes tomorrow.”
“That means we’re splitting up.”
“It will be easier for me to concentrate.” He grinned: he liked being a distraction. She smiled back. He was her favorite distraction, there was no question about it.
His grin faded. “Bianca and I agreed we’d get straightened out tonight. No broken dishes, no rude names. Just, where do we go from here and how do we get there.” He sneered – at himself. “Maybe once I know what she’s thinking I won’t feel like such a scumbag. Like those guys who let wifie put ‘em through med school then say bye-bye. She took care of me during all those bad years, now I don’t almost die from a seizure once a month and I want to tell her, hey, yeah, thanks for stopping by.”
“That isn’t how it happened. You’re not just walking out.” He clucked like a chicken. “No, I don’t believe it’s because you’re scared. I think you want this talk to truly help. And it might.”
She couldn’t decide which she hated more about herself – hoping the talk would fail, or hiding that hope to give him marriage counseling.
“You really think it will help?”
“On the other hand, Robert and I had one of those talks. On the same day as – Dinner.”
“Dinner the infamous. Talk to Robert yet?”
She called for a security guard escort before she replied. “No, I haven’t spoken with Robert. And it bothers me that I keep thinking about it, when I don’t even know if I want to hear from him. I’ve got terminal indecision about him.”
Tommy helped her shut off lights. “Just because you’ve decided doesn’t mean you won’t fight the decision for a while.”
“Are you talking to me or to yourself?”
“Whoever’s listening, I guess.” Just then, someone knocked and announced himself as “security”. “Hope he wasn’t listening,” Tommy whispered.
Clare’s smile dwindled as she unlocked her door and mustered her strength. She needed all her reserves to cross the threshhold. She felt weighted down by all she didn’t understand. Her work with Tommy was giving her such a strong sense of failure, she almost preferred the vague paranoia that preoccupied her on the drive home.
It was a relief to be away from the lab. Yet before she knew it, her night’s respite was over and they were back in her office for a new day of tests, sitting on couch and edge of desk, while Tommy attempted to describe his Big Talk with Bianca.
“She can’t go from point A to point B, logically, without taking a trip to the ozone in between. Am I making any sense? My head feels like it’s stuffed with Twinkies.” He buried it between two couch cushions.
“Now there’s a hideous prospect.” She almost got him to smile. “Overall, I’ve got the gist: whatever you said, she twisted it to prove the opposite, meanwhile contradicting what she’d complained about a minute before.”
“That’s it. Mindfuck style 27A. First she says you’ve convinced me she’s stupid, that’s why I won’t confide in her anymore. I say all I’m doing is testing, which I’ve never talked about much. These days, there’s especially nothing to say. So then she uses that to prove we’re not trying to figure out the murderer, we’re fucking our big smart brains out. Now I could almost give her that one, you-’n’-me, touchy subject, right? But then she gets into her sister, I’m a dirtbag because I’m not nice to her sister. P.S., she hates her sister. Got to a point, I started talking about moving out – my drummer’s got a second bedroom out in Highland Park. Then all of a sudden she’s reasonable. We work some stuff through, sort of, and THEN she says I only threatened to move to manipulate her into giving in. At that point I – wish somebody had done that.” He referred to the knock on the door.
Enervated, Clare stood. Whoever it was, she wasn’t ready for them.
It was Constance, with two strangers. Their overly direct gazes and studiedly folksy manners implied Jehovah’s Witnesses, but the woman’s dress-for-success suit was too pricey, the man’s jacket too natty. “This is Dr. Austen,” Constance informed the couple, then slipped past Clare into the office, where she squeezed fingers and crinkled eyes to greet Tommy, who winked at her. Fleetingly, Clare considered asking Constance if she owned a thick black marker.
The strangers took turns talking. “I’m Matt Woods and this is Kristen Hankoff.”
“What a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Austen, I’ve long admired your work.”
“We represent the International Foundation for the Study of Neuropsychological Trauma.” A notepad was consulted. “Are you still conducting investigations into the effects of commissurotomy on patients Tom Q, C.B., Wm. H., and N.S.?”
“I no longer work with Wm. H. He moved to Montreal.”
A note was jotted. “May we come in?” But they were already past her. “You’re a candidate for one of our one hundred twenty-five thousand dollar grants.”
“I don’t recall applying for one.”
“We prefer to approach worthy aspirants – unexpectedly.”
“As we have done today. We get a truer reading of the work being done.”
“And how do you happen to know my assistant?”
Constance looked up quickly from her whispers into Tommy’s ear. “I ran into them downstairs, they were looking for your office.”
That was plausible. Nothing else was. Clare regretted to admit it, but her work these days was not distinguished enough to warrant attention from a foundation she’d by the way never known existed. “Naturally, I’m flattered and can always use funding. If you’d send me information about your foundation I’d be interested in applying.”
“Of course. Before that happens, we’d like to tour your facilities, discuss your current objectives, and observe your work. We’ll be in Los Angeles through Thursday.”
“If today is inconvenient, Dr. Austen, we can set up another time.”
“Wednesday might be possible. May I have a number where you can be reached?”
“We’re at the Bonaventure downtown. Here’s the phone and room number. In fact, that reminds me. May I use you telephone?”
Clare overheard a request for the reception desk and inquiry about messages for room 717, while the other one asked, “Is this one of your subjects?”
Tommy offered his hand. “Tom Q. Split brain number 27A.” The message inquirer got off the phone in time to share in the polite laughter.
Cordial leave-takings got rid of the duo and their guide. Clare returned to her desk perch. “What did Constance have to say?”
“She wants my body. But the way she put it was could I work on you to let her help more. So what was that about? If those two are for real, I’m Richard Nixon.”
“I’m going to do some checking.” She called the Bonaventure. Yes, her would-be patrons were current guests. She called the Biology office for listings of grant sources. Yes, the Foundation did exist, headquartered in Maryland. No one answered its phone – it was after East Coast business hours – but the phone machine both solicited messages and revealed Mr. Woods and Ms. Hankoff would be back Friday.
“I still don’t buy it,” Tommy said. “You giving them a demonstration?”
“Perhaps. If only to see what they might reveal. I hate to waste the time, though.”
They went into the lab, where within an hour they were interrupted four times: by Mrs. Bates – might she come at twelve instead of eleven on Thursday?; by the chief of Security – they were the last to see Bruce, who hadn’t completed his shift yesterday and whose phone was now disconnected; by Constance – her afternoon class got canceled, she had free time if Clare needed her; and by Robert’s T.A., delivering a note.
Clare, I hope this doesn’t intrude on your request for breathing room and time. I’ve debated long and hard but finally couldn’t just not respond to your exit. I respect your wishes and understand the need for them. I want to see you but will make no effort to do so. I love you. Robert.
She wasn’t sure how long she sat at her desk, staring at Robert’s impossibly legible printing. Knowing him, this was a first draft, besides.
The way Tommy studied her when she returned to the lab, she’d been gone for some time. “How you feeling?”
“You want some time to yourself?”
“Not you too. I’m sick of being treated like an invalid. I’m sick of everybody being so damned understanding.”
“Are you on the rag or what you stupid bitch?” When Clare blinked: “I’m trying to not be understanding,” Tommy smiled; his eyes encouraged her to do likewise.
She tried to oblige. “I’m exhausted. I need to go home. Do you mind?”
“Not if you let me walk you to your door.”
“Gladly,” Clare admitted. She dreaded climbing her stairs; they took a turn at the top to a perfect place for someone to be waiting, out of range of Mrs. Manning’s floodlights. “Maybe we can do some work there. Let me think a minute.” Her notes swam with Robert’s printing. “Yes, we could do a few tests, anyway, though -”
“The tests can wait until tomorrow. Far as I can see, you could use some rest. I’ve been watching you today.” His concern made her queasy. He was right: sleeping on the couch with the light on was hardly a restorative experience.
It seemed an incredible waste of manpower for Beaudine’s man to apparently remain parked in place when she wasn’t home, but she’d be the last to complain about seeing him there. Her street offered no parking within a hundred yards of her apartment building; and Mrs. Manning’s floods made Clare’s walk that much blinder, as she negotiated the unlit street.
“The fuck you move to such a dark street for?” Tommy huffed, jogging behind her.
“It was daylight when I rented.” Their jogs became sprints. With some shame, Clare realized she felt much safer when she wasn’t with Tommy.
They reached the courtyard without incident. As they passed the laundry room near Clare’s stairs, Mrs. Manning pounced on them, her housecoat flapping like wings. “Your fiancé came by.” Her tone was accusing.
“I’m not engaged.”
“Just as I suspected. He insisted – demanded – I let him into your home, said he was missing important papers and you had them. I told him no way, Mister José, unless I got a call from you first.”
“I appreciate you protecting me. What did he look like?”
“He was a tall young fellow, dark hair, stubble. Why don’t men these days shave? Mr. Manning always had a cheek smooth as – never mind that.”
“Did he wear glasses?”
“Yes, trifocals towards the end.”
Tommy rescued them from confusion. “No, she means the guy today.”
“Oh. I don’t recall.” An air raid siren blared from her abode. “Gracious. Already time to call my niece.”
“Thanks again,” Clare called above Mrs. Manning’s slamming door.
“Robert tried to push in here,” Tommy stated speculatively. Out in the air, the possibility sounded weak. “Nope.” They ascended her stairs, slowing as they neared the turn, behind which could lurk. Anything. Tommy stopped. “She-it. I thought you said this place was safe. C’mon. Back to my car.”
He dragged her out again, insisting she’d be glad he did. From his trunk he grabbed a bulging grocery bag. He wouldn’t let her see what was inside. Back on the stairs, he unbagged a flashlight, dropped to a crouch and snuck up the steps, his head at knee level. He shone the flashlight into the alcove. “All clear.” He handed her the flashlight, then unbagged a hammer and nails. “Shine the light up here in this corner,” he instructed, as from the bag he pulled the pièce de surprise: four rearview car mirrors. “I was gonna put these outside my place, but you need them more.”
After some consideration, and with Clare serving as his left hand, he nailed three mirrors above her door, angled toward the alcove. The fourth he nailed beside her door bell. Descending a few steps, he directed her as she beamed the flashlight into each mirror. After some adjustment of angles, Clare could see into the alcove while still at fleeing distance. “If you come home and find somebody messed with the mirrors, then you jam. Natch. Shine the light. I want to check for blind spots.” He jumped into the alcove, hunkered down, flattened against walls. After more adjustments, she could see everywhere in the alcove.
Feeling safe and warm inside, Clare led the way indoors.
“Uh. Nice place.” Tommy took in the gold plaid couch, the cottage cheese ceiling, the debris covering the lime shag carpet.
“Dammit Jessie!” The room was even more of a shambles than it had been this morning. No wonder the cat was hiding.
Tommy gave a low whistle. “Time for the kitty shrink?”
No. Jessie hadn’t overturned that crate of iron cookware – Clare herself could barely lift it. “Oh God. Jessie? Jessie?” Trying not to panic, Clare ran from room to room. In the bedroom, curtains flapped. Open window. Correction. Broken window. Clare fought visions of Jessie running on pure terror, anywhere to get away; running two blocks to Colorado Boulevard, where high speeds and heavy traffic –
“She’s in here.” Tommy sounded like an echo. He was in the bathroom, smiling into the black plastic wastebasket. Huddled inside: a mass of dark fur, pink tongue. And white teeth, as the cat hissed at Tommy. Two glowing eyes ascended when Jessie saw Clare. Clare scooped her up. Jessie purred briefly – she was still scared.
“Did the same person do this who pretended to be Robert to Mrs. Manning?”
“It could really be Robert, people get crazy during breakups,” Tommy warned.
“It wasn’t Robert.” Her insistence was muffled; her face buried in fur.
They debated asking the cop outside if he’d seen anything, but didn’t much feel like exposing themselves to do so. Instead, they nailed closet shelves over the broken window, after Krazy-Gluing broken glass to the outside shelf surfaces. Next, they barricaded the bedroom door with the dresser, then added iron pots to the drawers. it would do until tomorrow, when Clare would convince Mrs. Manning to let her new tenant put bars on this too-easy entry.
Every unstocked closet and cupboard was open, every drawer overturned, every box dumped and rifled; but as far as she could tell, much was broken, all else was scattered – yet nothing was missing. Including the easily robbed set of silver that had been her great-grandmother’s.
Clare sat with Jessie on the couch while Tommy began straightening. He wasn’t really helping but he needed an outlet. “Nine days trying and we still don’t know jackshit!” he yelled. A water glass broke in his hand.
Clare silenced apologies: they were cheap glasses and she broke one a month. His hand was bleeding a little but she was incapable of releasing Jessie. She directed him to soap and towels. He returned with a finger bundled in Kleenex.
“We know a lot,” she disagreed. “Approximate height and weight, voice, and a good amount of clothing. If someone else saw the killer on campus, Beaudine could use our information to do a matchup. I sent him a list of our results this morning.”
While Tommy raved about her contacting the cops without his approval, she brooded: she suspected that they could know quite a bit more, but weren’t looking at the data correctly; that his right brain had given them many clues, if only she could piece them into a less fragmented picture.
Tommy flopped on the other end of the sofa. “Maybe you could trank half my head, like they did before my operation, and ask the other half questions.”
He was talking about the Wada test, during which sodium amobarbital, a barbiturate, was injected through an artery into each brain half in turn, putting it to sleep for a few minutes, while tests determined which side of the brain controlled language.
“I’ve thought about that. It’s very risky, as you know.”
“So’s not knowing what I know.”
“Beyond that, there’s no one I could convince to administer it, or trust to do so discreetly.”
“So let’s try acupuncture. Hypnosis again. Something.”
“I’m just not good enough with hypnosis. But we have an appointment tomorrow with someone who is.” Telephoning Norelle after all this time had been rough; seeing her tomorrow would be more so. “What we can do tonight is clear up some important loose ends. I’m going to ask you questions. I want you to sing the answers.”
In unsplit brains, certain speech disorders were circumvented when patients sang rather than talked: singing was controlled by other brain regions, often in the right hemisphere. This might be true for Tommy, too, although many musicians processed music differently than nonmusicians – musicians used their left hemispheres more. At the least, however, his right brain might cross-cue more easily while he sang.
This hypothesis Clare had made after reviewing his journal entries that morning. Since his operation, it was more difficult for him to learn lyrics – and to sing with emotion. He had to devise a technique he called automatic tune pilot: he sang the words by rote, paying no attention to them, and the emotional content somehow surfaced. To the listener, he sounded the same as he always had, but the inner process was far different. What Clare thought this meant: his left brain was relinquishing control to the right.
What Clare hoped: Tommy’s left hemisphere would more readily relay his right hemisphere’s reactions when singing, as it was already used to yielding control.
Clare reminded Tommy of those journal entries. “Answer on automatic tune pilot. If you can’t answer, at least sing what you’re feeling at that moment.”
“Next we’ll be using tarot cards. Or a Ouija board.”
Clare started to defend her experiment then stopped. Ouija board. Hmm. “Thanks for the suggestion.” She made a note. Tommy muttered like Donald Duck. From her briefcase, she pulled the girlie mag, opened to the semibikinied beach beauties. “What is important about this picture; what does this picture tell us?”
“I can’t find the words,” Tommy’s voice was a singsong.
Clare pointed to one of the women. “Is it her?”
“’No no no no no-oh,’” Tommy sang. It sounded vaguely familiar. “‘Not a Second Time.’ That Beatles song? We did a thrash cover of it.” At her blank response: “Thrash. Makes punk sound philharmonic.” She cringed and he chortled.
“Why don’t you sing all the lyrics – not in thrash, if you can help it. It could be that the other words are important.”
He sang them rapidly, shook his head. “I don’t feel anything.”
Clare returned to the photo. ‘Is this important?’ She inquired about every item on that glossy page. Each time Tommy sang his no-no-no refrain. Was this because it was the only lyrical negation his right brain knew? She hadn’t expected actual lyrics to comprise his answers. Jessie bit Clare’s hand gently and Clare realized she’d been petting the cat increasingly rapidly.
“’Everything I ever wanted,’” Tommy sang, then looked puzzled. “Does that mean it’s the whole picture?”
Clare made him sing the whole song. She interrupted the repeating chorus. “Let me guess, this one’s called ‘Unsatisfied’.”
“Watch it. Don’t say anything sounds like you’re poking fun at that song. Paul Westerberg’s the greatest fucking songwriter you’ll ever hope to criticize.”
She convinced him to accept her apology and continue. But no other lyrics resonated in him. Yet how could the whole picture be relevant? She pointed to the sky. No-no-no. He clamped his mouth shut before the final no-oh. He was getting tired of that one. Then he crooned, “‘Mooooon river …’”
No moon, no river. Swell. “The sun!” Clare cried. “Sunny. Somebody’s son?” She asked every question she could think of about the sun, the light. She had him sing the words to “Moon River.” He didn’t know many of them.
“This isn’t working.” Tommy was morose and furious simultaneously.
She put away the ad. “The other day you kept thinking about Lawrence Welk. That ‘an a one an a two an a.’ Sing that and see what happens.”
Today he sang onetwothreefour at supersonic speed. “The Ramones. They were like the first punk band.”
“Which song was that from?”
“I saw ‘em once when I was a kid. All their songs started that way.”
They didn’t get far with the “one an a two” either. And monitoring his LEMs wasn’t helping today. But again she knew she’d gotten useful raw material for later analysis. If only she could determine its import. “Some of the tests we’ve done suggest you saw the killer. Did you see the killer? Did you see any part of the killer?”
“‘Eyes like diamonds, heart like coal,’” Tommy sang, mortified. “First song I ever wrote. I was twelve. Really a turkey. Don’t make me sing the rest of it.”
But she did. As before, only the initially sung line had impact on him. “I liked parts of that; rhyming coal with soul was good,” Clare said.
“Let’s just be amazed at how much I’ve improved.”
Did his right brain mean it had seen the killer, or had specifically seen the killer’s eyes? Diamonds might also be significant, although she thought they’d ruled out jewelry. Of coal and heart she could make nothing but perhaps they were homonyms. Or synonyms. That posed more work for her later, that was clear.
“I can’t do any more right now.” Tommy rubbed his head, eyes, ears.
“I’d offer you dinner but I still haven’t gone shopping.”
“Call for a pizza – oh. No phone until tomorrow.”
They found snacks: the fortune cookies from the Chinese take-out; and a big tin of gift crackers she’d been mailed, an early Christmas gift from a former patient. As they sat down to eat, she said, “After this you might as well go home, I’ve got a lot to figure out. For tomorrow.”
“No way am I leaving you alone here tonight. What if that guy comes back? I’m going to call Bianca and – you don’t have a phone. Well, she’ll figure it out. Well. How about if you go to a hotel?”
“I – I’m probably more protected here. And I can’t move Jessie again.” Perhaps she could invite a friend over – except then she’d have to explain where Robert was. “I – don’t really know what to do. But I do know that Bianca won’t forgive or forget if you don’t come home.”
“I won’t exactly forgive myself if this is your last night alive.”
She was silent a moment. “I think whoever broke in here wants information, not me. The fact is, if he’d come here to kill either of us, we’d be dead by now.” Tommy nodded, reluctantly. “Anyway, my cop is outside. Let’s ask him to get someone else out here, to watch the back of my building. I should be fine then.”
They went out armed with the flashlight, an iron skillet, and a knife, heading for Beaudine’s watcher and then Tommy’s car. They hadn’t been outside a minute when Tommy stopped again, shone the flashlight into the mirrors. There was no one in the alcove, yet he blocked Clare from continuing. “Listen? How quiet it is? There were birds chirping when we went out. Even a couple crickets. Now there’s -”
“Now there’s only me,” whispered a deep, accented voice behind them. Before the man knocked the flashlight from Tommy’s hand, it revealed he had a gun. “Be perfectly still and do just as I say. I’ll shoot you both if I must. It would be for such a good cause. You know about killing for a good cause, don’t you? This gun has a silencer, isn’t that clever? No, don’t speak: ‘who are you, what do you want,’ don’t bother. Is that a knife hilt, Mr. Dabrowski? Please drop the knife, very carefully, thank you. And that – is that an iron pan? How quaint. Put it down.”
English accent, Clare decided. But far more pronounced than Mrs. Bates’s.
“We’re all going inside. Now. Please unlock the door, there we go.”
He sat them on the carpet, back to back; then he took the couch. Clare’s neck crinked as she took him in: short, flabby, balding; once sharp features now softened by wrinkles. His eyes drooped in permanent sorrow, the pupils too dilated for Clare to determine their color. He regarded her with purest hatred.
Worst of all, Jessie chose this time to emerge from safety under the couch. She hopped up beside the man, whose gaze mellowed until he looked back to Clare. “Please don’t hurt her,” Clare begged.
The man sneered. “What a ridiculous thing for you to say.”
“Jessie! Go!” Clare screeched, startling all four of them. Jessie fled the room. Back to the bathroom trash basket, Clare prayed.
“Whatever you’re here for, assface, let’s get it over with,” Tommy said. Clare was horrified: he was trying to draw the hatred away from her.
“Please. Call me Hugo. All my dearest enemies do. And you’re so right. Let’s do move on. I want to know who you’re working for.” He raised the gun.
“I don’t know what you mean.” Clare was amazed at how calm her voice sounded.
“Your research, it’s expensive, surely you realize that. Who funds it?”
Clare rattled off her grants. “But my research is bare bones, less than -”
“I know why you killed Haffner but Colton? Was it arrogance or orders?”
The room filled with swimming dots. Clare was going to pass out. “I swear I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I know about the rivalries, the jealousies, the ambitions. Who planned the betrayal?” If possible, he became more hate-filled. Clare was certain he would shoot her.
From Tommy’s voice, he thought so too. He croaked, “You have to listen to us. We didn’t kill anyone. We’ve been trying to find out who did.”
“Now there’s a brilliant ruse. And aren’t we making progress. Your little list of killer’s attributes. What? Clare? You thought the police were on your side? How very naive.”
“I don’t know what you’re – none of this is making any sense.”
Hugo sighed and stood. “Must I give your memory a nudge?” He headed toward her. She felt Tommy’s weight shift.
He sprang at Hugo, who smashed him across the chest with the gun. Tommy fell sideways, Hugo hefted the gun and advanced. Tommy had fallen on his injured arm and was having trouble righting himself. Clare leaped to her feet, grabbed books and threw them. One grazed Hugo’s back. He fumbled but recovered before she could jump him.
He cocked the gun at Tommy. “Do nothing further, Dr. Austen. Now. Over here where I can see you. Behind him. Quickly.”
Gasping, she tried to talk reasonably. “Listen – to me. We don’t know – what you want. And we can’t – answer your questions.”
Without looking away from Tommy, Hugo said musingly, “I almost believe you. What’s the matter with him?”
Tommy was quivering, eyes rolled back, lips fluttering. Clare reached for him; Hugo waved the gun to keep her away. “He’s having a seizure, a small one, which could grow much larger if you continue this. You might not even need to shoot him. Think of the bullets you’ll save.”
Their eyes met. “If you are telling the truth about these matters.”
“If you do not know, at the risk of sounding like a refugee from a B-movie, you must cease and desist. You could not be in deeper, further over your heads, and so forth. Is he going to be alright?”
Clare took this as an okay to kneel to check Tommy. His vital signs were returning to normal. She heard the front door click shut. Hugo was gone.
By the time Tommy had revived and been reminded of what had occurred – he remembered Hugo, alright, but not details of the encounter – many minutes had elapsed. Neither had any desire to chase Hugo anyway; but they should call Beaudine. “Maybe Hugo will call him, he has better connections with the cops that we do.”
Moving in strange small circles so that no one could surprise them from behind, they ran outside. The unmarked police car was gone.
Cursing Beaudine, his underlings, and his ancestors, Clare and Tommy ran back to pound on Mrs. Manning’s door. She wouldn’t let them in, but did call 911 for them. Afraid that if they went inside the police might not know where to stop, they paced the courtyard until two patrol cars, complete with revolving lights, cruised by. They darted into the street to flag the cars to a stop. Only now did Beaudine’s watcher appear; just as Mrs. Manning came out, to mutter repeatedly, “Not acceptable. Not acceptable.” It was all sorts of fun introducing the landlady to the boarded window and the plan for bars. Clare’s insistence on paying for everything did not quell the muttering.
The detective outside had not noticed Hugo; nor signs of trouble, before answering a burglary call a few minutes before. All the cops took notes and exchanged insults: dueling departments.
At long last Tommy and Clare were left alone in her apartment. Still in shock, pretending they weren’t shaking, they coaxed Jessie out of the wastebasket and retired to the couch, side by side. Jessie sniffed around then perched on Hugo’s spot, observing them with the benign enlightenment of a cat falling asleep.
“I feel an eviction coming on.”
“This is a dive anyway. Nothing pers – what was that?” Tommy jumped.
“The refrigerator shutting off.”
He knocked his head against the wall. “I’m perfectly calm, why do you ask?”
The jump had moved him closer. Of all the stupid timing, Clare felt electrified by his nearness; when he shifted his leg, the air between was so charged, she felt the changes in pressure on her own skin. They used to sit like this in her office, going over his journal entries. Having only one copy had been a great excuse.
“Remember back when we used to read my journal and the most we had to worry about was if Steve would put the right slides in?”
“I was just thinking about that.” And Tommy would tease her and she would resist her attraction to him because. “These lights are giving me a headache.” Which was true, but after she doused the overheads and set her desk lamp nearby on the floor, she returned to sit some distance further from him. Terminal ambivalence, she noted with self-disgust. Or perhaps simply fear.
“Tell me some more stories,” he said, curling to face her, head resting on arm stretched along couch back. Occasionally he stroked her shoulder while she spoke.
“That seizure you had tonight. It’s a particular type named after an early brain scientist, a fellow named John Hughlings Jackson. He was born in the nineteenth century, well before neuroscience was anywhere, and he didn’t have much formal schooling. A farmer, I believe he was. But he was also a fantastic observer and his theories still get quoted, his findings still hold up. He was an incredible man.”
“So he went around staring at all the epileptics in his neighborhood?”
“No. It was his wife. She had epilepsy.”
“His personal human guinea pig.”
“That’s not how I see it. Oh sure, he found it fascinating, he studied her in detail, he definitely had the research mentality. But Jackson watched her, loving her, feeling helpless, wanting to learn everything because then perhaps he might cure her.” She turned, mirroring Tommy’s position. His fingers stroked her cheek.
“Should have just let her writhe around. Maybe he felt helpless but she was useless.” He sat up, pulling his hand away. “Shit. Guy comes after you with a gun and Tommy to the rescue, falls on the floor and loses it. I could never protect you no matter how much I wanted to. No matter how much you take care of me.”
“As it turns out I can take care of myself. Just as you can.”
“I’m not talking about equal rights. Sure you can take care of yourself. I don’t want you always to have to do it by yourself.”
“I’d say your seizure was a pretty effective way of clearing the room.”
Tommy chuckled. “Scared him, huh? Yeah, even Bianca’s still scared of me.”
She touched his knee to get him to look at her. “I’m not.”
Their kiss lasted a very long time; of this Clare was dimly aware when she pulled away for an instant’s air. He continued kissing her cheeks her chin her throat. A faint growth of beard scratched her, smoothed by the softness of his lips his tongue pressing so hard she felt her pulse pound against his mouth, her breath stick in her lungs. She didn’t care, she couldn’t be close enough to him. Her lips found his once more and she lost all awareness of everything but that kiss.
Eventually they tried stretching out on the couch, but slapstick ensued. Jessie refused to relinquish her spot, despite or because of the indignity of being tapped by a foot, bumped by a leg. Tommy’s sling caught on a cushion. They relocated to the floor, first clearing an area amidst the debris of her ravaged belongings.
By the time they were next to each other on the carpet, they were laughing, giddily. Looking into each other’s eyes, the laughs softened to smiles. Clare closed her eyes for their kiss, realized that Tommy’s remained open. She opened hers and was swept inside him, seeing herself through his eyes, feeling so much love, so much warmth, she squeezed her eyes shut before she passed out.
The instant her eyes were closed, she could see Robert, asleep on his side of their bed, as though at any moment she might return. Her eyes snapped open.
“What’s the matter?” Tommy asked, brushing hair from her face; a commonplace gesture that now made her shiver.
“Absolutely nothing.” She banished all knowledge more than an hour old, and smiled. His fingers clutched her hair and pulled her back to meet him, making the banishing easier.
They took turns undressing each other, which led to more comedy. They had to sit up – Tommy couldn’t remove garments while balancing on his injured arm. His expression got studious as he concentrated on dismantling her outfit. She watched him, smiling, reveling in the feel of his fingers on the cloth, on her skin. “Whoever invents these things is a celibate asshole,” Tommy muttered, grappling unsuccessfully with her bra clasp. “Ingenious,” he sneered when Clare showed him how it worked. His jeans, determined to stay buttoned, had been contrived by the same individual.
The closer they got to being naked, the slower the process became, what with times out to kiss and caress, to savor every moment of these first-time events. At last, with their clothes in heaps around them, they regarded each other, embarrassed yet thrilled. They embraced, skin to skin, touching at every possible point.
In Clare’s dreams she relived the moment he first entered her, legs entwined, eyes locked, his weight slowly building against her, until she was engulfed, surrounded, the universe filled with him.
The next morning, when they awoke still intertwined, the air chilling skin that wasn’t touching, muscles stiff and bones aching from the barely padded floor, Tommy smiled and kissed her cheek. Clare decided she could not possibly feel better. “Good morning,” she smiled back.
“No kidding,” he replied.
Go to next chapter.