Chapter 13. Fight or Flight

If Clare got murdered, the deed would not be done by Dr. Colton and Lalitha’s killer, but by her students; and no jury would convict them. She had no recollection of the lecture she gave either class that next morning; and from her students’ reactions, she’d said nothing worth remembering despite the obligation she felt to get them ready for finals.

Her lectures, such as they were, completed, Clare hurried to her office, hoping to find Tommy. Instead, there were the grant givers, Matt Woods and Kristen Hankoff, chatting with Constance in the hall. When they saw Clare, they abruptly stopped talking. Constance looked particularly evasive.

Clare spoke carefully. “Hello Constance, I forgot you’d be helping out today. Mr. Woods, Ms. Hankoff, I’m glad we could accommodate your schedule, I believe you’ll find Cynthia Bates an interesting subject. Can Constance get coffee or tea for either of you?” When they declined, she led them into the lab. They seemed nervous. Kristen continually arched her long neck and smoothed her bobbed golden hair; Matt repeatedly removed his crooked horn-rims to massage the bridge of his crooked nose.

“Series four B, Constance, please.” Clare set up chairs for the observers while giving them an overview of her work with Cynthia and today’s tests. “If you have any questions, please ask them now or much later, there are very few experiments I’ll discuss while the subject is present.”

“Of course,” one of them replied. As they had during their initial visit, they took turns speaking.

“Over what period of time do you examine each subject?” the other inquired.

“The record so far has been six years. There are so few commissurotomy patients, I try to hold on to them as long as they let me.”

Polite laughter and brief note-taking. “Two of our grant recipients on the East Coast work closely with the surgeons performing the commissurotomy, and requested that those doctors be included in grant allocations. Would that be the case with you?”

“No. Dave – Dr. Rosenthal – is semi-retired these days. And Dr. Stanford Colton is – was – the other neurosurgeon who operated on my subjects.”

“Ah. Yes. We were shocked to learn of his … death. You worked quite closely with him at one time, we understand. We hope his work will be carried on, he was truly a great contributor to the field.”

“I also hope his work will continue.”

“Do you have any plans to step in?”

“No, I’m very busy here. And ultimately more interested in the current work I’m doing.” Something in their professionally cordial questioning style had altered after Dr. Colton’s name was introduced. If she steered to a new topic, would they steer it back? Damn Tommy for being late, she needed a second opinion here. “By the way, let me give you a copy of my latest paper, due to be published in April. It contains a preliminary study of Cynthia Bates.”

“Please do, we’d like to see that.” They seemed cautious now.

She imagined them exchanging glances as she turned her back to extract copies of her paper from a cupboard.

They skimmed through it. “Your work seems rather similar to Dr. Colton’s in some basic ways.”

“Does it? I haven’t kept up – he rarely publishes. The last I knew, he was creating memory deficits in feline and primate brains, which is not at all related.” She struggled to remain casual. “If you’re interested in Stanford Colton’s research -”

They abandoned their customary politeness to interrupt and quickly deny any such interest.

“I misunderstood. Most people are interested, around here, anyway. Dr. Colton was always so damn secretive, it inspired undue curiosity.” When they relaxed, so did she. “As I was going to say, Cynthia Bates was commissurotomized by him.” Did they seem disappointed that this was her tidbit about Dr. Colton’s research?

Belatedly, she realized that Constance had completed the series 4B setup long ago and was scrutinizing every word exchanged. Spies spying on spies. In a way, it was funny. Clare didn’t feel like laughing.

“Look who I ran into outside! He’s early with nowhere to go so I invited him to watch me.” Mrs. Bates bustled into the lab, so cheery that Clare could only expect to see Tommy accompanying her.

“Hey everybody.” Tommy greeted each with a nod, saving Clare for last. Their eyes locked, briefly; they smiled, for an instant, and Clare needed several moments to recover. Meanwhile, Mrs. Bates introduced herself and Tommy to the grant givers.

Surprisingly, Cynthia had jumped at the opportunity to test for these observers. Clare suspected it was because she’d promised the experiments would be gentle easy ones. Still, she was grateful that Mrs. Bates had agreed; it was certainly a better use of time than manufacturing fake tests for Tommy to take.

Clare pretended to busy herself at her testing station, letting the conversation go where the grant givers wanted to lead it. Either they weren’t fishing for Colton information after all, or Clare had made them craftier about extracting same, but the topics now were more general: commissurotomies and operations, epilepsy and its treatments.

Gradually, she became aware of Cynthia’s contributions to the discussion, and found them disturbing. Greatly. Clare wandered over to the counter where Mrs. Bates had deposited her purse; when she was sure no one was looking, she pocketed Cynthia’s wallet, turned – and met Constance’s eyes. The girl shook her head once, discreetly, as though to indicate she would say nothing – yet. Clare kept turning and found Tommy watching this exchange. Damn. Had they all seen? No, she hadn’t been that obvious.

“We’d better get started,” Clare said, voice clipped. The alleged grant givers and Cynthia Bates stopped talking mid-word and looked at her puzzled by something she’d failed to keep out of her voice.

Tommy dragged a chair in from the office, sat down with visible satisfaction, and said, “Yeah, let’s go, it’s great not being the victim for a change.” This lightened the mood and Mrs. Bates took her place at the tachistoscope screen.

First, Clare flashed phrases on the tachistoscope; she gave Woods and Hankoff a typed list of the phrases being flashed. Afterward, Clare paused to explain, “Cynthia has just been tested on her ability to recognize palindromes – strings of letters that read the same left to right, right to left. She was to press a button when she recognized a palindrome – such as items one, three, four, and seven on your list, ‘Otto,’ ‘nurses run,’ ‘Anna,’ and ‘bombard a drab mob.’” Woods and Hankoff tittered. “Yes, they are funny. Some of my favorites are too long to be used in this test: ‘May a moody baby doom a yam.’ Or: ‘Sit on a potato pan, Otis.’” As intended, the palindromes loosed up her guests; but not enough to slip and reveal anything substantive about the purpose of their visit.

Over the next ninety minutes, Mrs. Bates kept her hands behind the screen, performing tasks that caused little conflict between her hemispheres. First, her left hand retrieved marbles from a box of objects, while her right hand retrieved dice. Then Clare put a simple geometric drawing in free vision and Cynthia’s hands took turns: one drew the object, the other found the 3-D equivalent in a box of carved wooden forms.

As always, it was troubling and marvelous to watch her hands accomplish such separate functions with such ease. But only Woods and Hankoff displayed suitable alarm and awe. Tommy kept glancing at Clare as though he had something to ask or tell her. Constance studied them all. Clare registered these behaviors through an anxious fog: all she wanted was to end the session and get Mrs. Bates alone for interrogation.

At last the tests were over. In case the observers really were grant givers, Clare gave them copies of a brief statistical analysis of the brain functions they’d observed, of the variance in performance levels between Cynthia’s and other subjects’ hemispheres. Woods and Hankoff seemed satisfied and impressed. They moved into Clare’s office, chatting with Tommy, Constance, and Cynthia, while Clare pretended to log Cynthia’s test results but actually stayed in the lab to give the guests a chance to reveal themselves to Tommy. Clare joined them after hearing Hankoff remind Woods of their next appointment. Not long after, Mrs. Bates and Clare small-talked the two guests down the hall; Cynthia continued outside with them.

Back in her office, Clare studied her watch, estimating how long it would take the trio to exit the building. Then she unpocketed Cynthia’s wallet while Tommy and Constance stared. “Constance, Mrs. Bates forgot her wallet. Can you run out and catch her? Ask her to come back to pick it up.”

Constance replied, “The problem is, I could just bring the wallet to her. Except you want her back so you can talk to her alone, without her knowing that’s what you want. I suggest that I say I’m late for my tutorial and didn’t think of bringing it to her until I was already outside.”

“Thank you. That will work perfectly.” Clare was pleasantly surprised.

“I am on your side, Dr. Austen. And – I’d better go catch Mrs. Bates.” She grabbed her things. “Did you want me to come back later?”

“Best not. I don’t know how long I’ll need with Mrs. Bates.”

“See you tomorrow then. ‘Bye Tommy.”

“I’m counting the minutes.” He winked at her and she was gone. Tommy shut the door and took Clare into one of his lopsided, one arm embraces. “What’s with the wallet bit?”

It was hard to talk with his lips pressing against her throat. “Cynthia knows too much – far more than she used to know. I don’t think I have time to explain, though. We shouldn’t be talking about her when she gets here. Jesus, I feel like Cynthia’s hands during tests – trying to think when you’re making me do nothing but feel.”

“Want me to stop? Didn’t think so. Do I stay while you talk to Cynthia?”

“Please. Yes. I’d like you to observe her.”

Tommy kissed her one last time, then fell back onto the couch. “I better cool out for a minute. So what about your visitors? Think they’re for real? They seemed kinda too interested in Colton but not so much that I was sure of it.”

“I had the same impression.” Clare sat at her desk, rearranged clutter so that her phone held center stage. “I wish we -”

A knock sounded on her door. Clare closed her eyes briefly, then called, “Come in.” Tommy blew her a good luck kiss then greeted Cynthia with maximum charm.

“That dear Constance ran after me, my wallet somehow escaped from my purse. Clare, I don’t wish to meddle but please don’t be so rough on the girl. She said she would have brought it to me, but you didn’t trust her with it.”

And thank you, Constance. The girl obviously had an excellent future in this academic community. Only Clare, it seemed, had never learned to play by the rules. “Actually, I wanted you to come back here. We need to talk. Please sit down.”

Cynthia’s gay mood swiftly dissipated. She joined Tommy on the couch, got no comfort from his steady evaluation. “Let’s have it,” she said with a steeliness Clare had not before seen in her.

“When you were talking with Mr. Woods and Ms. Hankoff -”

“Oh. I do hope I said nothing to hurt your chances of winning the grant. You should have signaled to me, kicked me, I’m such a blabbermouth.”

“Cynthia. Overhearing your conversation, I noticed that you’ve recently acquired considerable knowledge about the condition of your brain. You even mentioned the corpus callosum, a term I’ve never given you.”

“What the hell is that?” Tommy demanded.

“It’s the more precise term for the central commissure. I thought you might have come across it in your reading.”

“Tommy didn’t, but I did.” Cynthia’s tone was defensive. “I recently decided I should learn more about my … situation. I believe I told you that.”

“I don’t believe you learned that much that quickly. Furthermore, you made comparative references to two other split brain patients. Yes, you’ve met them, but I doubt you all exchanged medical file information. I think you read their medical files instead. I think you’re the one who stole Dr. Colton’s files, and I want to know when and how, and I want to know right now, or I’m calling Lieutenant Beaudine.” She gripped her phone. “Start talking, Cynthia.”

“You believe I killed him, don’t you?”

“I know you’re stalling.” Clare picked up the receiver. At Cynthia’s strangled “Wait!” she slowly replaced it.

Mrs. Bates spoke in a rush, as though fearful that a pause would lead to Beaudine’s involvement. “Yes, I took them. I’d tried to speak with Stanford, but he shunned me. My hands were in such a state, I craved information. I thought it would help me comprehend what was happening to me. The day he was murdered, I went to beg him for his time. As I reached his hall I saw him enter the bathroom down the way. I ran to his door, it was open, I’d seen him consult my file once long ago, so I knew where it was. I opened his desk drawer, found my name, grabbed my file but the drawer was so full, I had to pull the ones on either side, too. I stuffed them into my coat and shut the drawer, jumped away from his desk just as he came back. He was furious I’d invaded his sanctuary.”

For a moment, she was too angry to continue. “Again, he refused to speak with me, after all that we’d been through together. Well, I don’t suppose he saw it that way.” She fought tears. “I stopped begging him and left. As I returned outdoors, the lights went out. Which I’ve heard preceded his murder. I just missed the killer, it seems, and being killed myself. Or – if I’d been there Stanford would still be alive.” She began sobbing. “I didn’t kill him. That you must believe. I swear I didn’t, I couldn’t.”

Tommy moved over to her other side so that he could put his good arm around her, pulling her back from a plunge into hysterics.

Clare had to keep attacking while Cynthia was vulnerable to further confessions. “Why did you feel you and Colton had been through so much together?” Again, she rested her hand on the phone, the conduit to Beaudine. “What was your relationship with Stanford? As you so intimately call him.” Tommy looked at Clare with sympathy; he understood why she was attacking.

Unfortunately, it seemed Mrs. Bates also recognized the bluff. “An aging schoolgirl’s fantasy, that’s all. I. Did. Not. Kill. Him.” Her eyes pleaded with Clare to let her be, and warned that she could not be pressed further.

“Where are the files now?” Clare asked gently.

“At home. I considered burning them, or at least burning the others. I know they could damn me. But I couldn’t destroy any of them, I couldn’t do that to – any of us.” She turned to Tommy for understanding; received it and turned back to Clare. “Reading the files did help. It was a comfort to see myself in scientific terms, as a medical case, no worse than at least a few others. But now – what should I do with the files, Clare? I’ve thought of giving them to Lieutenant Beaudine, but I’m terrified he won’t believe I’m merely a thief, not a killer.”

“For now, give them to me.” Clare ignored Tommy’s double take, to worry: did Mrs. Bates exhibit gratitude or relief? “Is your husband picking you up today?”

“No, I took the bus.” Now Cynthia was puzzled.

“Perfect. We’ll drive you home and get the files. Immediately.”

“Cynthia,” Tommy said coolly. “Would you wait in the lab a minute? I need to talk to Clare.”

“Of – course.” She looked at the telephone as though Beaudine were sitting on it. “But Tommy, please -”

He shushed her and, murmuring assurances that he wouldn’t let her be hurt, he led her, shaking, into the lab.

After pulling Clare out into the hall and slamming the office door behind them, he seemed briefly at a loss for words. Then, “Clare, do not take those files. Call Beaudine or let her burn them. We’re going to get screwed here, I can feel it.”

“She will destroy them, if we let her go home alone. They’re evidence, Tommy, they could be important. But if we call Beaudine – we can’t trust him not to overreact, or misreact. All I can say for certain right now is that we’ve got to save those files. I’m terrified about getting involved but I don’t know what else to do.”

“Oh, maaaaannn.” They stared at each other a long time. “The real pisser is, we both know they won’t let us share the same prison cell. But you’re right. Beaudine’ll lock up Cynthia and close the case if we tell him now. And if she goes home alone, they’re gone. Shit. Shit. Shit. Let’s go get ‘em.”

Just as Tommy was letting Cynthia out, the phone rang. All three froze. Expecting to hear Beaudine’s sarcastic, “Dr. Austen?” Clare answered hesitantly. But the caller was Matt Woods, thanking her for a fascinating demonstration; they’d let her know about her grant within six months. She hung up, the three exchanged looks, and they set out.

Cynthia lived in San Marino, haven of the stolidly wealthy, a few blocks from the John Birch Society Book Store, on a tree-shrouded cul-de-sac in a modest mock Tudor home sure to have a resale value close to a million dollars. The Entrance hallway was a clutter of expensively framed photos of her children and other relatives; none were photos of Cynthia or her husband save their professionally painted wedding day pose.

Cynthia led them upstairs to her bedroom, pointed to the middle drawer in the reproduction Louis Quinze dresser. “In there, under my – brassieres.”

Clare found three bulging files. She picked them up with her scarf, wrapped them in it. She would not, at least, get her fingerprints on them. “Where are the others?”

“That’s all. I took mine and two others, those are all I have.” Cynthia’s voice rose with each word, until it was shrill to the limit of human hearing.

“I believe you,” Clare said hastily. Mrs. Bates stood still and mortified, until Clare added softly, “Thank you for trusting me with these.”

“You can trust me as well. I know what sort of limb you’ve climbed onto for me now, and I know it’s not the first.” Leading them back downstairs, she added steadily, “If you do find that you must tell Lieutenant Beaudine about the files, could you warn me? If at all possible?”

“If I do, and if I can, yes. Certainly.”

Cynthia nodded and shut them outside.

Once in the car, Clare leafed through the files using the scarf like a glove. Tommy watched eagerly. Finally, she reported glumly, “They’re typical medical files – treatments, dates, symptoms. And they seem to be complete. This far, at least, Cynthia has been telling us the truth.”

“Hey, we didn’t expect to find clues in them. We just wanted to save them, remember?”

“I know. I just hoped that – I just hoped.” She put her car in gear. As they pulled away from the Bates home, a curtain swayed at an upstairs window, as though someone had been watching them.

“Do you think Cynthia was lying when she said these were the only files?”

Tommy grew circumspect. ‘No, I believed her then. Why?”

“The gap in Colton’s file drawer – these folders aren’t thick enough to fill it.”

When Tommy finished swearing, he demanded, “Are you sure? How can you be sure? Fuck. You’re sure. Then where are the other files?”

Clare parked at a stop sign. “Should we go to Beaudine?” Behind them, a honk.

Tommy waved for the honker to go around. And waved anew when another car pulled up, several minutes later. Finally he whimpered. “Oh, man. No, not yet.”

Clare put the car into gear, clumsily. The engine died. She tried again. “We could go back to Cynthia and demand the other files.”

“She’ll point to the fireplace. If she ever had them. You know what bugs me? Even if she did kill Colton – she’s not in this alone. Who would be crazy enough to have her as an accomplice? Sure, the killer’s psycho but that’s different. And how come Hugo and Mrs. Bates both have English accents?”

“To cover the simplest of the points you just raised: their accents may be significant but they’re from different regions of England and there are so many expatriate Brits in L.A. I hear those accents all the time. Beyond that – whenever we talk about motives and accomplices, I feel lost, and I’d like to avoid those discussions, though I admit the issues dovetail: if we knew why it would be easier to figure who.”

“Yeah, you’re right again. We get nowhere talking it through. It’s my fucking right brain that’s got to do the talking. Fast.”

Clare pulled into the faculty parking lot that wasn’t near Larry’s bushes. There were enough people around that Clare felt safe walking the extra distance to Neurobiology. Another daylight advantage: the campus snack bar was open; they stopped to collect food that could pass for dinner, then continued to the lab. “Once again, I saw no indication that we were being followed.”

“I know. It gives me the willies.” When they reached her office, he pulled her in for a kiss. “First time we’ve had to ourselves and the day’s almost over,” he groused.

Clare broke away and led him into the lab. “How was it at home last night?”

“Total waste. Bianca wasn’t there, I had to do some calling around to make sure she was okay. Finally woke her up at Trish’s. She expected me to not come home; said she’d rather have us working around the clock to solve this thing, even if she has to spend the night alone. Or at Trish’s, which is where she stayed. I saw her for like five minutes this morning when she came home to change. It’s so weird. Now that it really happened – you and me, I mean – she’s blocking that it’s even a possibility.”

“Which makes you feel like a heel.”

“The heel of a bum wearing the wrong size shoe. Hey. We’re back,” Tommy greeted his lab table. “Like we never left, huh?”

They kissed once for luck and set to work. Clare dragged out a toy store bag; a purchase made that morning.

“Tell me you didn’t. Tell me we’re not.” Irritation flared when he saw the Ouija box. “Scrabble letters I could handle but consulting the oracle?”

“With Scrabble letters, I suspect I demanded too much: spelling words is more difficult than recognizing them. Today, I’ll put words at different points around the board. You’ll have more choices than I can give you with the tachistoscope and your right brain will only need to recognize words and guide the pointer.”

Tommy reflected for a nanosecond, then vexation turned to admiration. “You’re right, for the gazillionth time. See, I told you you’d come up with some new angles.”

If he only knew how close to stalemated they were. All their new angles were scant degrees separate from those previously tried. If she didn’t soon get an answer that launched her on a completely new path, she wouldn’t know what to try further. But she could hardly tell him that.

“Before we get started, did you have any dreams last night?”

“Nope. But you said it could take a while.”

“That’s right. You just have to keep at it.” She spoke to reassure herself as well. And yet, despite her growing hopelessness, she felt excited, today – by the unorthodoxy of using a Ouija board in a clinical setting. Studying LEMs during a shopping trip, or asking Tommy to sing his responses, had been similarly inappropriate. Clare was only breaking the “rules” out of desperation; those rules existed to ensure that researchers obtained results worth having. Nevertheless, the act uplifted her. She’d once had a reputation for eccentricity; how she had reveled in her detractors’ sniffs and huffs when one of her “wild” hunches paid off. Of course, when her hunches failed her, then the result was simply poor science, and the sniffers had their revenge. She no longer advocated taking such chances; thus she was surprised to discover how satisfying she still found the surge of adrenaline accompanying such recklessness.

She didn’t dare tell Tommy any of this, either. He was counting on her to know what she was doing; not to dabble in neurological alchemy.

First, she tested the right brain’s ability to guide the Ouija pointer; a slow, awkward task with his arm sling, despite the stick extension she devised. “Is your name Tommy?” Bit by bit, the pointer crept toward YES. “Is my name Robert?” The pointer hobbled across the board to NO. “Do you remember the night in the hall, the killer with the knife?” YES. “These are tests to learn where you touched the killer, which parts of the body, what clothes. Do you understand?” Even more hesitantly, the marker moved to YES.

She printed words on scraps of paper above certain letters on the board – ARM above A, FACE above F, SWEATER CUFF above C – until each bit of their acquired knowledge was represented. Then she put EVERYTHING above E, ? above Q; and went around the board reading each scrap in turn. After several such circuits, she tested his right brain’s comprehension. “Point to arm …point to neck …” until she was sure it understood each word. Now, I’ll ask one question several ways. Please be patient and don’t move the pointer until I’m done.

“How do you know the killer? What did you touch that tells you who the killer is? Which touch is important?” She continued to ad-lib variations; Tommy’s expression indicated intense concentration. She paused. “Now. Show your answer.”

She engaged his left brain in idle conversation, hoping to distract it, to prevent any effort to ipsilaterally control the muscles in Tommy’s left hand. Meanwhile, the pointer jumped and quivered around the board to EVERYTHING, then to ?. Either his right hemisphere was confused, or it could not explain how it knew the killer’s identity. She ad-libbed another string of questions, all of which had succeeded in dichotic listening tests. The pointer responses were identical.

Did his right brain want to be asked additional questions, did it know more? YES, it replied. But it was unable to use the pointer to give her a clue as to what else she should ask, or what sort of information it had yet to divulge.

Wordlessly, Tommy watched her remove the slips of paper, although not speaking critically and uncooperatively was obviously a strain. Clare set new scraps around the Ouija board. This test had so many choices, it would take several rounds to lay them all out. She unfolded the Hustler condom ad. “Man, am I sick of those three babes,” Tommy said at sight of the bikinied beauties.

“I know what you – wait a minute, wait a minute,” Clare was suddenly excited, looking at the trio. “Yesterday with the Scrabble letters. Were all those eeee’s because there are threeee women, threeee people in the photo?”

Tommy got excited too, until the pointer limped toward NO. Clare’s shoulders and spirits sagged. Tommy said, “Ever want to kill half of yourself?” The pointer headed for YES and they laughed, with some discomfort.

Subdued, Tommy made no complaints during the next two hours of futile efforts to determine the bikini picture’s relevance. Finally, she ran out of ideas and stared at the Ouija board. Would it be worth the fleeting satisfaction to hurl it across the room? It had turned out to be a new route to the same dead ends. Studying his LEMs during the Ouija testing had likewise been unenlightening.

His left hand was having spasms. She massaged his shoulder, arm, and fingers. “Is that all we can do today?” he asked between consolation kisses.

“With the Ouija board, yes. I couldn’t figure out a way to use it for this next test,” she lied. Her next questions were sure to infuriate his left brain. “You’ll need to put on the headset and fixate on the dot.” He complied, eagerly, thrilled that there was more they could try, while Clare moved to her testing station.

She’d made this tape before yesterday’s testing session but hadn’t used it, hoping to first acquire more information by other means. But this tape was all she had left, so that was that. As might be called the theme of today’s testing, the next experiment used methods of questionable value or effectiveness to attempt to circumvent a dead end. On the tachistoscope screen flashed names – CLARE, THE BEATLES, HUGO, and others – while the same names were heard dichotically. As soon as his right brain learned to recognize the names, she used them to teach the concepts friend, stranger, not a friend, not a stranger. Then she posed a variety of questions, once again striving to determine if the killer was someone Tommy had met before the encounter in that dark hall.

She was so tired and discouraged, it took some time for the import of the final, tested and retested result to hit her. The killer was not a stranger, not a friend. Either she and his right brain were miscommunicating, or he really was acquainted with the murderer. What she could do with this information, she needed a break before she could decide. She and Tommy were both worn out, and had been fumbling their efforts for the last hour. When she should tell Tommy the results of this test, she would also decide later.

She removed the headset and kissed his ear. “Dinnertime. We’re in the middle of a test but we’re going so slowly right now I think we need a break.” He agreed and they kissed on it, with so little energy it made them chuckle, weakly.

Out in her office they collapsed on the couch, fortunately indifferent to the taste, freshness, and texture of their foil-packed burritos.

Clare sank against Tommy’s shoulder. He put his arm around her and a few minutes later, she jerked upright, yanked back from semiconsciousness by his voice, inquiring, “Are we on to anything with this test? That we couldn’t leave for tomorrow? ‘Cuz I’m past the point of no return, and if my right brain’s as tired as the rest of me, it’s gonna start making mistakes soon.”

“In that case, we’re stopping for the night.” Clare felt relieved, until Tommy pulled her closer with a last-chance determination. “You’re planning on going home now, I take it.”

“Pretty soon. Bianca wasn’t sure whether Trish could stay with her, or what. Maybe she just said that to get me to show up. I told her I would. I guess I could just call her.”

“No, you should go home. Everything will be much more difficult for us if Bianca stops accepting your absences.” Feeling ill, perhaps only from dinner, Clare studied his profile. Her yearning to kiss him became an impulse to scream and throw him out, not to return until he’d left Bianca! Calm down now: as soon as the murder was solved, she could kick him out. Yes, and didn’t she have a lot to look forward to; including a numbing suspicion that once the confusion of the murder was settled, he’d patch up his marital problems as well.

His profile turned to face her. “I know what you’re thinking. Or what I’d be thinking. But I give you my word, Clare, I’m not going to jerk you around.” He kissed her lightly. “If you want to not – do this anymore, until Beaudine’s got the killer locked up and I’ve cleaned up my act, I understand.”

She turned away too hastily. The room strobed with bursting white lights and swimming black dots. Fighting her dizziness, she replied, “I can’t decide that right now.” They curled up together until the gloom of separation had dispersed.

Clare reviewed their conversation. “I’m having a delayed reaction to the way you said, ‘once Beaudine’s got the killer.’ Do you really believe he’s going to solve this before we do?”

“Don’t you?”

“I’d like to think otherwise. And I’ve got a good feeling about the experiment we’re doing now.” She couldn’t tell him why, unfortunately. There were enough opened cans of worms in the room tonight.

“What was that noise? It sounded like you were gargling with yogurt.”

“I was imagining the room full of worms. It’s a long story.”

“And I don’t want to hear it.” Tommy’s chuckle became a yawn.

And the next thing she knew, metal clattered outside and she recognized the cleaning crew’s wash bucket hitting the tile. They were awfully early tonight, or –

“Tommy! Wake up.” When he opened his eyes, he beamed, sleepy and loving, until she said, “It’s morning. We fell asleep.”

“Aw shit.” He bolted to his feet, his sling catching on Clare’s elbow with a rip. He was out of her office instantly and stumbling into the hall, tripping over a large brown envelope, an interdepartmental mailer. Odd time for a mail delivery. She turned back to toss the piece on her desk, then joined Tommy in a dash to her car.

His car was parked back at her place; he’d left it prior to their appointment with Norelle. He did nothing but swear on the trip.

“There’s a good chance Bianca will still be understanding,” Clare interjected as she turned onto her street.

“Yeah. Maybe. Man, if anything happened to her last night -”

Clare loosened her stranglehold on the steering wheel. “Your apartment is fortified and she’s had Trish and Andy looking out for her.” Tommy snorted in reply.

Heading up Clare’s street, they passed Beaudine’s watcher, who observed their approach in his outside mirror. Tommy unsnapped his seat belt. Clare braked, a bit too forcefully, alongside Tommy’s loaner car. He jerked forward, bumping his crown against the windshield. “Sorry,” she said coolly.

“Told you I was an asshole.” He opened the door.

“As if your saying that makes a difference.”

“I wouldn’t feel so bad if it wasn’t that I’d rather be with you. You can see that, can’t you?”

“I can’t even see that as a sentence in English,” she said, to suggest she was no longer angry with him.

He took the suggestion at face value, smiled, and ran to his car, calling back to her, “I can be in the lab by ten.”

“I’ll be there.” Waiting. Looking forward to solving the murders, so that she would no longer be forced to wait for him.

Go to next chapter.

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