Clare awoke to the sensation that someone was watching her. Jessie sat erect and solemn beside Clare’s pillow, the tip of her tail twitching. The apartment had a silence it only attained when Robert was gone. She looked toward the clock. That was gone too. Jerk. He’d taken the alarm into the living room with him, then hadn’t bothered to wake her. And now, judging by the sun edging the curtains, she was very late.
He hadn’t bothered to feed Jessie, either, of course. Damn. It was nearly eleven A.M. She’d hoped to be at her desk by 10: she had so much to do and wanted to be home before dark. When Clare reached the kitchen, Jessie was waiting silently next to her dish. From all available evidence gathered in the seven years Clare had known Jess, the cat never meowed when she wanted something.
This was not a good day so far. She was out of cat food, except for this bagged sample that had arrived by mail, who knew when. Clare poured the pellets into Jessie’s bowl. Cute: little mice and birds, though the colors were autumnal. She hoped that wasn’t Red No. 5 in there – wasn’t it outlawed? Probably not entirely – and it would figure if the manufacturers were getting their investment returned by using the dye on pets and third worlders.
Clare set the food down and stepped back. Jessie looked at Clare. Sniffed the food. Drew her paw along the floor next to the bowl: out then back, out then back – the same motion she would use to bury shit. She looked at Clare again then left the room. Damn. Hunger strike and Clare didn’t have time to negotiate.
There were those who claimed Clare spoiled her cat. Actually Clare thought Jessie gave her a lot; in return, Clare thought it only fair to be prompt and considerate with the few things for which Jessie depended on her. Jessie never let Clare down. But Clare did occasionally fall into the double-standard behavior of “owner” to “pet.” Clare was running late so the cat would have to eat bad-tasting food or go hungry until dinner. Vowing to make it up to Jessie, Clare rushed through her morning preparations and out the door.
Her office was unlocked and Tommy sat in her chair, his black Converse high tops on her desk. “What are you doing here? How did you get in?”
“Great to see you too. There was a guy sitting at your desk when I got here.”
“What guy? What did he look like?”
“About my height but more meat on his bones, brown hair, glasses, and he was wearing the uniform – in fact he looked a lot like this guy.”
Clare turned. Dr. Sid Stein hovered in her doorway, hands in his lab coat pockets. “Morning, Clare, I asked the guard to let me in here earlier, I -”
“You what? And he did it?!” Clare tried to glare but looked away; the way he squinted one bulging eye, magnified behind his thick glasses, she felt trapped on his microscope stage, looking up the wrong end of the tube as he studied her.
“I needed those printouts I loaned you.”
“You told me I could keep them until next week.”
“I was wrong. But I couldn’t find them and felt bad about searching.”
“Then I came in,” Tommy interjected, “and made him feel really bad about it.”
“Basically he chased me out.” Clare handed over the printouts. “Sid Stein,” he turned to Tommy. “I’m a colleague of Clare’s, as I said. Pharmacology.”
“Tommy Dabrowski. Commissurotomy.”
“How’s it going?” Sid sat on the edge of Clare’s desk.
“Not bad. Learning a lot. I’m going into business for myself. Brain surgery in my garage. You got any customers be sure to send them my way. My rates are definitely competitive and there’ll be a little something in it for you.”
Sid laughed. “I’m sure we can work something out.”
“You’re encouraging him,” Clare warned.
Sid stood. “I’ll get these back to you this afternoon.” He waved the printouts.
“Monday will be fine,” Clare replied. “Good-bye, Sid.”
“Later.” Tommy waved good-bye. Possibly before Sid was out of hearing range Tommy told her, “You ask me, he was snooping. Turning over a lot of stuff too small to be hiding those printouts.”
“He was always nosy.” Clare sighed.
“I hope it wasn’t coming to hear me play,” Tommy said.
“Don’t talk in riddles today. Please?”
“That put you in such a scuzz mood.”
“No. No, I’m glad you invited me. Did you really fire your bass player just like that?”
“It took me a while to decide but once I did that was it, except for the aroma in my change of shirt. So what’s with you today? You and Roberto have a fight?”
“Why are you here? Are you and Bianca having problems?”
“Naw, she was off working out before I got up. Anyway we never have problems; we’ve known each other too long. I came because I wanted to see you. Let’s go sit outside, this fluorescent shit’s getting to me. I’ve got brain damage, you know.”
“No you don’t and I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Tommy stood, shut the door, crouched to meet her eye-to-eye. “Work later. I’m really happy you came last night. My playing’s fucked up, I can’t keep a band together, it’s all disintegrating, but I really enjoyed last night, knowing you were out there.”
Clare didn’t feel sorry for him; she knew he’d persevere. He’d told her about the last few years. With his medical dilemmas, his bands kept breaking up, his shows kept losing momentum. His career – hah! what career. He lost most of his audience and bookings when his epilepsy started canceling gigs at the last minute. And there were those loyal fans who didn’t return when he resumed playing after his commissurotomy. Apparently they’d mostly liked the possibility of his having a seizure on stage. “It’s been really tough for you. I admire how -”
“I don’t want to talk about that shit,” Tommy said. “And neither do you.” He leaned in to kiss her. Their lips grazed. She jerked away. Tommy made a show of losing his balance. She ignored it.
“This can’t happen.” Clare heard the harshness in her voice. “Face it, we’re really only talking about fucking. And that’s hardly reason to break up a marriage or – well, Robert and I might as well be married.” She wished he wouldn’t stand so still. And so close. “We can’t let anything happen between us.”
“It’s already happening, Clare. It’s not going to stop just because you tell it to.”
“Of course it will. I will. You’ll still have every other female in the universe coming on to you, you’ll hardly notice I stopped. Forgive me. That was a low blow.”
“People come on to me.” Tommy shrugged. “Men and women. Sometimes – okay, usually – I reciprocate. Makes them feel better, makes me feel alright too. But it doesn’t mean anything and I think you see that. Whereas – you mean a lot to me.”
“But why? You’ve got the most beautiful wife in -”
“Like that’s what matters. And like you’re the elephant man. Look. You haven’t tested me for ESP but I don’t think I’ve got any. I don’t know if we’re going to screw our marriages then go ‘what a mistake how could I be so blind.’ I see just as much chance we mess this up and say the same thing. You start worrying about all that you end up like Howard Hughes with his germs.”
“I think you’re making a -”
“You want me to back off? All you have to do is say ‘Tommy I’m in love with Robert, please leave me alone.’ Go on, say it. Robert’s a cool guy, you won’t destroy me. Say it.” Tommy leaned in close to her again.
Clare bolted from her chair, putting distance between them. She’d thought she could suggest a pact to view each other strictly as researcher and subject, henceforth. Talk about dream worlds. She was clutching her arms against her abdomen; she willed herself to release the protective posture. “I don’t know what will happen with Robert and me. I do know I want that decision to be separate.”
“I get that, okay.” Tommy flopped in her chair. “You want to know you left Robert because of Robert, not me.”
“If I leave Robert, yes, I want to know that you and he were separate issues.”
“You’re deluding yourself but I can accept that too.”
What she couldn’t bring up lest it make her seem less resolved: what about Bianca? Tommy never mentioned leaving her. Was Clare to become the Other Woman? Was Bianca one of those unfathomable Forgivers who would just wait until Clare gave up? No, Clare didn’t dare factor Tommy into any equation. If she left Robert, it would be because of Robert.
“You have to stop this, Tommy. I’d love to sleep with you but it would be a big mistake. Still, when I’m around you I get persuadable. Don’t give me that look. I don’t want to be persuaded.”
She would have to swap him for some other subject she wasn’t yet studying. It would be a fairly easy trade to make. Few commissurotomy patients had right hemispheres that understood as much language as Tommy’s did – and thus testing them was more frustrating and often less revealing. Clare could trade Tommy for one of the “stupid” right brains. The other researcher would wonder fleetingly, but not really question a fate turned kind. Clare could make do with the new subject and settle her dilemmas without the confusion of Tommy’s provocative presence.
The way Tommy watched her, she knew he knew. This was the last time they’d be seeing each other until it didn’t matter anymore. She made it official: “I’m going to have you assigned to another researcher.”
“What about our experiments?”
“I’m almost done with this phase – I’ll figure something out.” If she lost Cynthia Bates too, she’d really be set back. But so be it.
“Okay, I can take a threat. I’ll be -”
“It’s not a threat. It’s the way things have to be.”
They exchanged stares. “So now what,” Tommy finally said.
“I’ve got quite a lot of work to do.”
“Yeah. You mentioned that.” Tommy walked to his jacket, tossed in a corner on the floor. “You want to see my journal this week?”
“Yes, let me look at it.” Recently, it had occurred to Clare that Tommy’s exceptional knowledge about his condition might prove a help, not a hindrance. Frankly, she was amazed that more of her patients didn’t learn all they could about their neurological status. In any event, with Tommy it seemed hopeless to enforce clinical naiveté, as if he were a jury sequestered during a sensational trial. She still tried to dissuade him from reading about other experiments. But she’d also got him started keeping a journal, observing himself and jotting down any changes of habit/technique/ability/method.
Usually she and Tommy sat side by side on her couch to go over the journal. But now: “Thanks. Can I send it back to you?”
“Ho-kay. See ya.” And he was gone, shutting the door too quietly behind him.
When she stopped staring at her desk, she leafed through the new journal pages. If I’m talking I can’t pour milk with left hand. Clare read further. He’d written a song this week, the first since his operation! Before when I felt a song coming on, I would find paper and the pen I bought at Graceland, the one where you can make Elvis slide across the lawn. I would write lyrics until I heard some music in my head. This would usually happen during first verse. If music didn’t come by end of second verse it wouldn’t come at all that day.
Since my operation I’d write words but their rhythm was off and I never heard any music. More and more I got scared about this and I stopped writing because it made me feel kind of sick. But I had this gig coming up so I practiced some older tunes. There was this one tune I kept $#@%ing up.
Clare laughed: Tommy was aware this was for posterity. She couldn’t read more: she already missed him and he probably wasn’t even out of the building. Still she felt relieved, which suggested that she’d made the right choice. Still… You’re $#@%ed up, Austen, she told herself.
Fortunately, she did have a lot of work to do. You could be in the forefront but you consistently backwater yourself! The words rang so clearly, Clare jumped. But Dr. Colton was not in her office, not reprising their long-ago argument. She grimaced, imagining Colton’s reaction to her trading Tommy and possibly allowing Mrs. Bates to quit testing. She admired Colton’s ability to believe he ruled the world. Yes, her work was crucial – to her: she could not survive without it. But not if. But not when.
She’d met only one person who really fathomed her position. And now she was thinking of leaving him. Was life really possible without Robert’s stalwart presence? She considered walking over to watch him teach; he was one of those rare profs who consistently inspired curiosity and enthusiasm. Observing him in the classroom once led to her seducing him in his office, to his bafflement and delight. She smiled but felt very sad. Could such good times ever be retrieved?
She opened her briefcase and found a note scrawled to herself last night at home. LT. BEAUDINE – HAFFNER. This time, she reached the lieutenant at the Pasadena police station.
She knew certain linguists who should study Beaudine. His ability to transmit meaning through inflection was astonishing. Not to mention irritating. After she explained that Dr. Colton was perhaps the last one to see Dr. Haffner alive – except for the killer – and perhaps had seen something that could turn into evidence, but felt himself too busy to deal with the police, Beaudine responded, “So this Dr. Colton asked you to call?” With those few words Clare learned that he thought she was a meddler and an ambulance chaser. After she reiterated Colton’s concern about wasting time, he inquired, “What do you personally know about Haffner’s murder?” Now she was a crackpot and a suspect.
She suggested that perhaps it wasn’t a burglary, perhaps Haffner had been killed by the same man who destroyed the labs and attacked her yesterday. “You were attacked yesterday?” That she was calling about other matters clearly made her mentally questionable, at best.
The lieutenant asked every possible question about her conversation with Colton and about her attacker. Curtly he then explained the reasons burglary was currently presumed in Haffner’s death: missing items, a neighbor who saw three strangers in the vicinity just before the murder, and evidence that at this point had to remain confidential. With complete lack of inflection, Beaudine thanked her for her concern and advised her to talk to someone about her parking lot attack. Clare hung up feeling humiliated and alone.
She spent the next several hours in desk-clearing operations, with no recollection of what she’d tossed in her OUT pile by the time she’d grabbed the next IN stack. Now it was nearly five and almost dark. She began packing up. There was a knot in her stomach, because she’d skipped breakfast and forgotten lunch. No, she’d heard a noise. She realized what it was when it came again: a shuffle of shoes outside her door. “Who’s there?” she called but she may have whispered.
The doorknob turned, the door slowly opened. As the shoes took a shuffling step inside, all the lights went out. Clare groped for her tape dispenser, the heaviest item on her desk, while keeping ears cocked for advancing feet. The lights came back on with searing intensity.
“Always did like a dramatic entrance,” Tommy said. She dropped the tape dispenser. It dented the desk with a thud that barely penetrated through the pounding in her head.
“You don’t look so hot. Are you mad I came back?”
“No – well, it depends.”
“On what happens next, right?” Tommy laughed briefly, tugged at his hair. He seemed almost as nervous as Clare felt. “Can we go somewhere and talk?”
“You can walk me to my car.” She collected her things, if not her thoughts.
They headed out, their steps echoing. Early Friday evening, even the building’s most workaholicked residents were absent. They walked a corridor, turned a corner, walked a corridor, turned a corner, all without speaking. They completed a circuit and were passing Clare’s office door again when Tommy spoke.
“I’ll go without a fight. On one condition. If you change your mind, you tell me – however long from now that may be. I know, you figure I’ll find some new game right away. I won’t. That I can prove to you.”
“All you’ll prove is that you love a good chase.”
She was walking by herself. She turned to find him standing with his face screwed into a squint, as if she were miles away and he couldn’t quite make her out. “You don’t think much of me, do you?”
She walked back to him, touched his cheek. “I suppose I want to make sure you feel as rotten as I do.”
“Forget it, I’ve never felt better.” They almost smiled and resumed walking. Corridor, turn a corner, corridor, corner.
They were on their third circuit when the lights went out again. “Which way’s fastest to your office?” He linked his arm through hers.
“I’m not sure anymore.” As he hurried her down the hall, “It’s just a power outage.”
“It feels wrong.”
Before Clare could reply a darker presence loomed out of the dark in front of her. A great force hit her in the chest, knocking her breath out. She staggered sideways, hit a wall and skidded painfully to her knees.
“Hey asshole!” she faintly heard Tommy yell. She was going to pass out from the pain in her lungs. Fighting to stay conscious, she dimly perceived Tommy’s shadow lunging to grab the dark form that had thrown her aside.
In a flash of light, metal glinted. The attacker’s arm drew up, then plunged forward. “Knife,” she tried to yell. Tommy’s shadow raised a protective arm, his voice cried out, his shadow collapsed against the opposite wall. She crawled frantically toward him. Meanwhile feet ran out onto the fire escape, tripped down the stairs, jumped to the ground, stumbled away.
Why was she crawling? She stood, but could not straighten. Each step came with a piercing but diminishing chest pain. Soon she intersected with Tommy, who was likewise groping toward her. They held each other a moment, needing touch to confirm the other was safe. Tommy groaned. His left side was wet, sticky, and he used his right arm to cradle his left.
“He got me,” Tommy said unnecessarily. “You alright?”
“Reasonably. Can you walk?”
“Yeah yeah I’m not mortally wounded or anything. But I think I have to cancel my gig next week.”
Tommy stumbled. Clare put her arm around his waist to support him. “He went that way so I vote we go this way.” In the too-quiet building they could hear running feet downstairs, authoritative voices yelling about getting the lights back on.
Meantime, it was slow going in the dark. Although reason should tell them there was nothing to bump into, they stepped hesitantly, progressed microscopically. “I think I’ve got matches in my pocket.” Tommy fumbled for them, twisted, groaned, cursed. Clare would have to get them from his left front jeans pocket, his injured side.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” she said as her fingers got stuck. “Couldn’t you get these pants any tighter?”
“Mmmm, that feels good,” Tommy replied.
“You’d better not be lying about the matches.” Tommy giggled; Clare found the matches. Half the pack was soggy but the rest was usable. She lit a match, held it aloft. Briefly they regarded each other. Then she led the way down the hall.
Tommy stumbled, bounced against a wall. Clare caught him on the rebound, dropping the match. “Man I got to sit down soon,” he said. She got Tommy straight again, paused to light another match. In the flare of ignition, Tommy discovered, “Here this door’s open. Hello anybody?”
Clare helped him inside the room, flicked the light switch. There was no electricity in here either. She leaned Tommy against the door frame in order to light another match.
That threadbare Kashmir carpet in the entry room. She knew this office. “Dr. Colton?” Her voice was too weak to reach the inner office door, which gaped open, greater darkness within. Clare struck another match. She had trouble moving slowly enough to keep the damn things from blowing out.
The new light flared. Tommy said, “I think I see a couch in there.” Columbus sighting land.
“There used to be one past the desk.”
Sheaves of paper and stacks of printout overhung files and bookshelves, casting long jagged shadows by match light. Clare kept her eyes on Tommy, who was teetering. As she neared the desk, the give was different beneath her feet. The carpet felt – odd. Another step – it felt downright soggy.
“Aw fuck,” Tommy breathed. And just before she dropped the match in horror, she saw it too. A man’s body, collapsed beside the desk, one hand still gripping the desk top, as if he were about to pull himself erect. But the way his arm twisted at the shoulder: he wouldn’t be standing again of his own accord.
The sound of shoes running along the corridor outside; authoritative voices close at hand. A flashlight beam hit the glass of the office door. But the sounds passed without stopping. The feet and voices faded into the distance before Tommy or Clare recovered enough to call for help.
Clare lit another match, took a step closer. Had Dr. Colton had a heart attack? Her foot sank in the rug with a liquid squelch. From this angle, she could see Colton in profile. His eyes were open, his face frozen in outrage.
A mechanical hum vibrated deep within the building. The lights went on.
One hand clutched his abdomen. A red stain encircled the area. Blood seeped between his fingers. The closer the carpet got to him, the redder it became. There were red blots on papers on the desk. The desk lamp had fallen to the floor and its beam spotlit the blood as it left his fingers and hit the carpet.
“Oh man,” Tommy moaned, and fainted.
The floor rushed up to meet her as she knelt beside Tommy, loosened his collar, brushed hair from his forehead. In making sure his breathing was regular, she touched her cheek to his face; discovered he’d regained consciousness when he kissed her ear.
By the time the Pasadena police arrived, the paramedics had checked Tommy over, bandaged his arm, and were preparing to trundle him off to Huntington Hospital to confirm their diagnosis: muscle injury, just missed an artery, no broken bones.
Clare’s sternum was already bruising but otherwise she felt fine. As much as she could feel. She was inside a balloon, wafting atop a long string, her body at the other end, the world down there too. No, she was fine, she insisted to the paramedics, uncertain how to explain about the balloon. Tommy kept staring at her. She knew she should stop folding her fingers against her palms, studying the way the skin would stick for a moment, with his drying blood as an adhesive. She looked up when she heard a cop being dispatched to accompany Tommy to the emergency room, get his story, and return him when the hospital was through with him.
Clare was not allowed to go with him. “You his wife? Significant other? Stick around, he’ll be back.” Chairs now lined the corridor. Clare took a seat, as instructed, and the balloon slowly floated down toward her shoulders.
The men from homicide were not pleased to hear that the blood trail in the hall was Tommy’s; nor that the browning patches on their clothes and skin were also Tommy’s blood; nor that the shoe prints in the bloody carpet were solely Clare and Tommy’s, so far.
The man in charge: Clare’s new friend Lieutenant Beaudine. He orchestrated the murder evaluation meticulously, while questioning Clare down the hall, in a secretary’s office. “And now we meet,” was Beaudine’s reaction upon learning her name. He didn’t suit his jaded telephone manner, though. He looked like an overgrown kid: tall, freckled, stocky, with clear blue eyes and ragged red hair. He reeked honesty and disappointment the way some men wear too much aftershave.
He wanted a word-for-word recreation of the conversation she’d had with Colton the day before; and a detailed description of the man who had attacked her in the parking lot. “That wasn’t him in the hall tonight,” Clare told him.
“You sound certain,” Beaudine spoke without inflection tonight, which made Clare hear subtext in every syllable he uttered.
“This one was much taller, around six feet. The deranged surfer couldn’t have been more than five-four.”
“You keep calling him that. Makes him sound like a comic strip.”
This startled her. Beaudine watched her eyes as she thought it through. She studied her hands and explained. “Calling him that – defuses him. His eyes. They were more terrifying than anything I’ve seen tonight.”
“Is that right.” He’d lost interest. He now had her describe the evening’s events ad nauseam, asking incessant questions. Her answers were recurringly delayed, as one underling or another brought him information on slips of paper. But she eventually told him about her walk with Tommy, though not how many times they traversed the corridors, nor what they discussed. Beaudine grunted when she told of Tommy’s “just sensing” something was wrong when the lights went out. He grunted again when she explained why they had entered Colton’s office. He scrutinized her while she described finding Colton’s body.
Then she backtracked. She told Beaudine about the nondescript sedan Car X, maybe tailing Colton, maybe tailing her; and described what little she could of the driver and the car. She also recollected the presence last night on the fire escape; Colton’s finding no one outside; the shattered hallway lights. As for the state of yesterday’s third-floor labs, that she could recall vividly; and she could repeat the overheard bits of conversation verbatim, but was not sure who had said what; she could only recite the names of the scientists she knew to work up there.
Then she answered seemingly random questions. No, Colton didn’t use the secretarial pool. No, he’d stopped employing assistants supplied by the school, oh, five years ago now at least. Enemies? He wasn’t Mr. Congeniality but everyone at least respected him.
She suddenly recalled Colton’s saying Cynthia Bates had wanted to see him. She wondered, belatedly, why Mrs. Bates hadn’t mentioned this when Clare saw her yesterday.
“You remembered something,” Beaudine intruded on her thoughts.
“Ah – no. I was just trying to imagine how someone could do this.” She would tell him about Mrs. Bates; but first she would warn Mrs. Bates. In the woman’s current fragile state she needed all the buffering she could get.
That flexing of Beaudine’s jaw said he didn’t believe Clare’s last answer, but he went on to other subjects. No, she wasn’t knowledgeable about what sort of research Colton had been doing. As far as she’d heard, Colton no longer used the lab adjoining his office. Rumor claimed he used several labs, all off campus. Could he have been doing defense department work? She doubted it but wasn’t the one to ask.
Beaudine now consulted slips of paper and his palm-sized notebook. Yes, she did know about the burglaries in this building four months ago. No, she couldn’t name anything of value in Colton’s office, although that rug was worth something if they could get the blood out. How did she know Colton? She explained how he’d been her mentor, over twelve years ago. She didn’t tell everything. It really wasn’t relevant.
Ultimately, reluctantly, she found herself liking Beaudine. He was cautious and thorough.
“Why are you smiling?” he demanded.
“I was thinking what a good scientist you’d make.”
A puff of laughter escaped him. “You’ve told me a number of things you see as significant and you may be right. Your recollections are careful and that’s always helpful. You think I might need to know anything else? Anything at all?”
He was giving her a chance to spill the beans on Cynthia Bates. “Not right now.” He did not look pleased. “Is there any way we can phone the hospital to find out -”
“My man would call if there were a problem.” He studied a slip of paper. “So this Dabrowski. His wife wasn’t walking the halls with you two tonight?”
“She doesn’t participate in our – my research. I’d just finished for the day and was walking out with Tommy, as I told you.”
He led her to the murder room. Colton’s body had been removed. Her eyes shunned the fresh chalk outline that indicated his last position. “From what we figure so far,” Beaudine said, “Colton was stabbed by somebody standing at his desk. Colton ran over there, ran right into the knife.” Clare avoided considering what details gave him this knowledge. “I know you say you haven’t been here for some time; I know it could be hard to tell anyway – but does it look like anything’s missing?”
They shared a sigh. Colton’s office was highly organized but extremely cluttered. Bookcases shelved books in front of books. File trays were stuffed with stacks of papers, neatly laid at cross angles to differentiate the groups within each tray. Most available surfaces – including the floor and the nonstuffed chairs – held similar crossed sheaves of papers. The desk was a study in paper pyramids. Clare looked around, reliving her past. “That empty hook by the door. He kept his keys on it because when he sat down they poked his leg. Have you found any keys?”
“We’ll look into it.” Beaudine was noncommittal.
Clare looked around some more. Remembered some more. And started to cry. Once she started she couldn’t stop. She supposed this was some sort of delayed reaction. Her specialty. She couldn’t keep her eyes open – but when she closed them, all she saw was Colton. He’d transformed her from a promising student to a working scientist; from a clever guesser to a relentless investigator. They shared almost nothing but a desire to understand; there were times she’d felt closer to him than she ever would to another human being. She was overwhelmed by an aching regret.
She saw his blood splatter on the carpet, spotlit by his overturned desk lamp. She saw the frozen outrage on his face. She saw his blood splatter, his blood soaked the carpet, the walls. The room turned red, the carpet swam with his blood, the desk the chair her feet sank deep.
She was shaking. She imagined Colton discovering her dead body and she stopped shaking. She forced her breathing into regularity. Tears still swamped her cheeks. She looked to Beaudine. He was studying her, impassively. He handed her a Kleenex.
Someone brought him another slip of paper. Apparently nobody was allowed to talk in front of the witness. While he read the note, she looked around the room. Recalled helping Colton with his files: drawers crammed so full, it took two sets of hands to add or extract a folder. Although why he bothered with files when he still had all that floor space under the couch.
His files. Clare looked at his desk. Each side had a file drawer. Both were open. One was as packed as she recalled all his files to be. The other was full but not packed. It looked like a typical, heavily used file drawer. She pointed. Beaudine instantly paid heed. She explained about Colton’s files. “Something’s missing from that one.”
Beaudine looked unconvinced. Nevertheless. “Get forensics back. Everything in there dusted then catalogued,” he ordered the nearest homicide squad member. He nodded at Clare, then smiled. “You wouldn’t be too bad as a cop.”
“Ah. Thanks.” Clare glanced at the bloody carpet. Beaudine ushered her out to the folding chairs in the hall, where one uniformed policeman stood guard. Wait here.
One by one, potential witnesses were filed into Beaudine’s makeshift office: researchers, professors, students, security guards – a couple dozen, all told, who’d been in the building or on the grounds at the time of the murder. They’d been questioned by underlings, now the boss wanted to meet them. Clare wished the police luck, pinpointing motives and suspects in this bunch. Jealous of success, contemptuous of failure, much quicker to rivalry than friendship, Clare’s peers, she imagined, would be delighted to sow a bit of distrust and thus entangle their associates in a murder investigation.
At last a figure in black loped up the hall, tailed by yet another policeman. Tommy didn’t look too much the worse for his evening, although his arm was heavily bandaged and suspended in a sling at an unnatural angle. “What did the hospital say?” Clare was acutely aware of his escort’s attention.
“A few muscles, a few tendons, another six months I can hold a guitar again.”
“Six months. I suppose we should think you’re lucky.”
“At least I can wave my arm around.” A reference to the weeks immediately following his commissurotomy when, as was common, his left side was paralyzed.
“No kibitzing.” The cop following Tommy caught up to them. A chair across the hall was indicated. Tommy sat, looked relieved for the rest. A moment later, he was called in to see Beaudine.
When he reemerged, Dr. Sid Stein was swept in. Hmmm. She’d forgotten about the borrowed printout incident. She couldn’t picture Sid stabbing anyone, or even arguing with Colton – Stein had always been terrified of the man. Still, she supposed she’d better tell Beaudine, although it seemed ignoble to bring it up, for perhaps Stein had gone snooping in Colton’s office, too.
She looked at Tommy, caught him staring. He pantomimed his interrogation, while being tortured; his drugging; his brainwashing. All without letting their nearby guard see the routine. Finally Clare covered her face; laughing would clearly be inappropriate.
At just this moment, Beaudine walked into the hallway with Sid, telling him cordially, “Doctor, I appreciate your sticking around. And your candor.”
After Stein departed, Beaudine regarded Tommy and Clare. Something in his manner suddenly infuriated her. She got to her feet. “Unless you’re planning to arrest me, I’d like to go home.”
Tommy looked surprised at her tone. Beaudine extended his hand, gesturing inside the office he’d commandeered. “Just a few more questions.” Clare stomped inside. She refused to be intimidated.
“A few things you perhaps forgot to mention about your relationship with Dr. Colton -”
“I didn’t see it was any of your business.” Clare wanted to yell. Who told you? Was it that scum Stein?
“The man has been murdered.”
“And anything I don’t say will be held against me?”
“If it should be.”
“Then I’d better tell you about Dr. Stein.” Crisply, she detailed Sid’s snooping, but of course now the information simply seemed like petty retaliation.
“Back to you and the murder victim,” was Beaudine’s only response.
“It’s true Dr. Colton and I had a falling out. Ten years ago. More. I haven’t seen him much since but there were no remaining bad feelings. Are you saying that I killed him?”
“What was the falling out about?”
“I had … what in the old days was called a nervous breakdown. Afterwards, well, Dr. Colton still saw me as his perfect little disciple. For a time. I was allowed to collapse, you see, but only on his terms. He thought I’d fallen apart from overwork; he was mostly proud of me for it. But work wasn’t the reason, and he -”
“What was the cause of this breakdown?”
“Why is this relevant?”
“It’s easier for both of us if you tell me now.” Clare closed her eyes. “I’m still here,” he acknowledged sympathetically, when she reopened them. “Did you and Stanford Colton ever have relations?”
“Go to hell. And if you want to ask me more questions you’re going to have to arrest me or subpoena me or whatever it is you people do.”
“That can be arranged, Dr. Austen.”
“Then do it. Until then I’m going home.” He let her go. She swept past Tommy, past the uniformed sentry, down the hall.
“Clare,” Tommy called after her.
“Hold it, guy,” their sentry warned.
“It’s alright Joe,” Beaudine said.
A moment later, Clare heard Tommy lope into place beside her. She couldn’t look at him just then. She stared straight ahead and walked as briskly as she could without running. When she and Tommy had turned the corner and were out of Beaudine’s sight, she could feel him staring after her still.
Their footsteps reverberated in the courtyard. Tommy couldn’t drive so she would take him home, then Bianca could drive Clare back to her car.
Tommy was parked out by the tennis courts, all the way across campus. Tonight, the jacarandas looked like swamp growth. The blue-tiled pool surrounding the sixties monolith library was an abyss. Ordinarily Clare liked strolling the campus at night, enjoying the stillness and the way the occasional weak sconce light transformed Spanish porticos into gothic chasms. Tonight she neither strolled nor enjoyed.
They cut southeast, zigzagging through narrow alleyways between high windowless walls. One of the infrequent dim lights was burned out. Clare felt a crunch underfoot. Was that glass? Oh God it was happening again. No, this was just gravel. Tommy put his good arm around her. “You’re trembling.” She was aware of the warmth and reassurance in his touch, the darkness and emptiness around them.
“I’m spooked,” she agreed softly. And stepped away. “What did the police ask you?”
“What I saw, what I know – what you’d expect them to ask. Although Beaudine seemed pretty interested in how we happened to be walking in the hall on a day we weren’t supposed to be doing research. I didn’t tell him about … you know.”
“Neither did I. Apparently the only choices in responding to him are no privacy or no credibility.”
“All I could really say is that the killer’s as tall as me. Maybe taller. Maybe as tall as six three. I tried to tell them about my head. Didn’t go over too hot.”
“Why did you want them to know?”
“I touched the guy. The one who stabbed me. And if I touched him again I might be able to identify him.”
“But you can’t make an identification now?”
“No, it was this arm.” Tommy indicated his heavily bandaged left arm. “The arm that can’t talk.” The arm that sent touch sensations to the nonverbal side of his brain.
“Do you really think you could recognize the murderer?”
“I’m not sure. I feel like I could but I don’t know why.”
“It may be that your right hemisphere knows something and is using its access to emotions to alert your left hemisphere. Or not.”
“That’s what I like about science. It’s so exact.”
They were out of the alleyways now, descending stone stairs to another courtyard, trellised. “How did the police react?”
“How do you think? They took a lot of notes and watched me like I was a homemade bomb.”
“Tommy. The murderer doesn’t know that you might recognize him under the proper circumstances. But you touched him, you fought with him. It was light enough for me to see the knife. He might already believe that you saw him, that you can identify him.”
“But I can’t. It’s like I could if only but I can’t.”
“The killer could be thinking the same thing about me.”
They had reached the steps leading off campus, to California Boulevard. Across its four lanes was a parking lot where Tommy’s ’64 Dart GT sat alone under bright arc lights. It was further away than the moon. Tommy yelled, “Hey bad guys. We don’t know anything. Leave us alone.” The sound fell flat on the mottled asphalt.
Clare was having trouble putting coherent thoughts together, but was already planning experiments to help Tommy determine what his right brain knew. He might not identify the killer, but any clues could help the police. Once Tommy told Beaudine what he knew, he would be less vulnerable. Wouldn’t he?
They crossed the street against the light. Suddenly Tommy was dragging her across the asphalt, shoving her onto the sidewalk. “Stay down,” Tommy yelled and dived alongside her. A car without headlights swerved behind them, speeding over the ground they’d just left. Clare whipped around to stare at the driver. She couldn’t see him: he was kissing his girl. He’d never noticed they were there.
“Aw man.” Gingerly, Tommy flexed his good wrist. “I landed on the only hand I’ve got left.”
“At least they weren’t after us.” They helped each other up. Clare wiped dirt and fresh blood from her scraped forearms. “Someday this will all seem funny, I suppose.”
The incandescent parking lot lights hummed just above hearing level, setting their teeth on edge. It was like walking through searchlights to reach his car.
Inside the Dart, Tommy explained the push button transmission. When at last she pulled out of the lot, she turned west on California, then south on El Molino, toward South Pasadena where Tommy lived. No lights lit the winding turns of El Molino; few illuminated the hulking estates lining the road. Pasadena rich folks went to sleep early.
Headlights behind them approached rapidly, then hovered. The brights flashed on and moved to the left in the mirror, as though to pass. But the new car slowed as it pulled alongside. Clare did not believe these were necking teens. “Hold on,” she yelled and braked. The other car matched her maneuver. She pushed the Reverse transmission button. Metal screamed.
“My car!” Tommy shrieked to match. The Dart bucked backwards and stopped. The other car made a noise like a backfire as it passed them. “They’re shooting at us. Get off this road! Up here. Come on!” Tommy waved frantically toward a stately driveway climbing a steep hill. Clare pushed the Drive button and floored the gas pedal. The motor raced, the car did not move. “The transmission must be fucked. Leave it.” Tommy yelled.
Twenty yards ahead, the other car’s brake lights ignited, its gears ground, the brake lights raced toward them. Clare clawed at her door, found the latch, threw herself out of the Dart and up the slope to the ten-foot door of a darkened mansion. Tommy pounded on the door while Clare strained to see down to the other car. Flood lights clicked on, blinding her. From the road below, she heard an engine idling. They must make great targets. She constricted in anticipation of another shot.
A suspicious voice boomed behind the mansion door. “My wife has already called the police. What do you want?”
“Tell them to hurry,” Tommy yelled back. “And let us in now or you’re gonna be mopping us off your porch.”
A latch turned and the door opened as if the man inside was too startled not to obey. They pushed inside. A yuppie in a satin bathrobe appraised them. Clare threw her back against the door, slamming it shut.
As she did so, they heard a car pulling away at high speed. “Who the fuck was that?” Tommy whispered at the door. “What is going on?”
“We’ve got to find out.”
Go to next chapter.