Fog Noir 58 Archive
4: Touch Of Evil
While Etta dresses, I decide where to carry the .45. Decide on my high cowboy riding boots.
Inserting the gun into the top of one, I tuck extra bullets into my motorcycle jacket pocket.
Shortly after 3:00, I phone Annabel.
“Everything OK and ready?”
“Yes. A courier delivered the diamonds from New York.” Her pained, mellifluous voice touches me. “I am a hostage too, and it is torture.”
I reassure her and to expect me around 3:45.
Etta presents herself as a grey goddess, wearing windbreaker and slacks—both grey in color—the .32 tucked into her belt, her expression set in a determined, loving look.
“I’m your invisible backup,” she says. “Worried?”
“Less because you’re here. I know you’re a good shot.”
On the deck, the fog greets us with grey indifference. Etta thrusts herself against me, and we hug tightly.
“We are together,” she says, “don’t forget that.”
Parting slowly, we stand transfixed, breathing in unison, our faces close. In her clear dark eyes I see my own eyes—as if I’m seeing myself—and in her exquisite face I see everything I’ve longed for in a partner. Dear God, I do so love her, so thankful she’s here.
“Let’s go,” she says.
“Wait here until I call.”
I descend the stairs, trying out the .45 in my boot, watching Etta leaning on the railing above, a grey apparition evaporating into the grey mist until her form disappears.
Checking the road 30 yards in both directions, I call for Etta.
Slinking into the garage, she tucks her small body onto the floor into deep wheel well of the MGA’s passenger side. I put the roof up, and we head down the hill.
Leaving Fairfax, I take Center Boulevard that runs in a straight line to San Anselmo. The headlamps reflect softly off the haze.
Etta peers up at me, her cheek resting on the passenger seat. The trust in her eyes touches me, and I gaze back, thankful for her presence and feeling more confident.
Cutting through downtown San Anselmo to pick up Sir Francis Drake, there’s surprisingly little traffic, as though motorists have put their cars to bed and joined them in sleep, hoping the fog is a nightmare that will be gone when they awake.
I turn up the Melville-Fielding drive and park in the roundabout.
Etta remains out of sight in the MG. I leave the .45—the butt digging my calf isn’t comfortable—and clack up the steps onto the wide brick veranda.
Annabel opens the door, grips my arm anxiously, her firm expression masking anguish.
I squeeze her hand and we go into the main room. It looks different from yesterday. With neither the chandelier nor the paintings lit, it’s as grey as the grey outdoors, and the tension in the room is thick as the fog.
“Something to drink?”
“No. Where’s Duane?”
“I do not know. He returned late in the night and left again early this morning.” She nods ruefully. “Damn him.” Annabel touches my arm. “Thank you again for how you behaved.” She glances at the huge ornate grandfather clock in the entryway to the right of Fielding’s office, and says, “It is 10 minutes yet,” and goes to the bar, shakily pours herself a seabreeze from the large, nearly empty pitcher.
I take a tumbler and toast her. “To a real lady.”
“I was a drunk and silly lady. I hope I did not embarrass you.” She averts her eyes, gestures to a small, black leather satchel on a coffee table. “The diamonds.”
I unbuckle the strap. Inside are folded pieces of paper atop four velvet bags, identical in size, tied with drawstrings. I open a pouch and see a bunch of whitish pebbles, take out one, hold it up to the muted light glowing through the vaulting, curved window.
“One of the larger stones.” She grips the edge of the heavy window drape and stares out into the grey void. “Close to five carats. Value is about 1,600 dollars. A four-carat stone is worth about a thousand. Value per carat goes up with size. Three-carat raw diamonds are worth less than 600 dollars.”
I open another pouch. “There are hundreds.”
“Exactly 1,127, from four brokers, with certificates and De Beers verification. Total weight is around 4,000 carats—a bit over 28 ounces.” She speaks authoritatively but rapidly, as if straining to hold herself together. “These bastards are clever,” she says. “Money—the serial numbers can be recorded. Rough diamonds are almost impossible to trace. They are just whitish pebbles, graded by carat weight, with some determination as to quality by color, size and shape. A three to five carat size is large enough to bring substantial money individually, but not large enough to draw attention.
There’s no record except for batches, location and quality verification by De Beers, the major mining company, which controls 70 percent of the raw diamonds in the world, and keep the price high. Sold slowly these will generate anywhere from three to five million in cut diamonds.”
I heft one of the pouches—about half a pound. Closing the satchel, I say: “Did you tell the cops?”
Letting go the drape, she faces me in the ashen room. “Duane met Sheriff Bailey secretly. When Lara is safe,” she pauses, her face puckering painfully, “or lost… phone him immediately, then phone me. Here is his direct line.”
She hands me a card, a phone number written on it, as well as hers that’s imprinted.
“Bailey thinks the abductors are professionals, which gives me hope Lara will not be harmed. Abductors, abduction—I feel better using those words, even if it all means the same.”
The telephone rings, and her composure shatters. She puts the call through the intercom with a trembling hand and shaky voice. “Melville-Fielding.”
“You got the goods, we presume.” Again the same distorted, high-pitched voice.
“With brokers’ certificates. Four thousand carats. The cost was $1,002,000 total.”
“Excellent. Is Mr. Chercheur present?”
“Yes,” I say.
“I want to speak to Lara,” Annabel says.
“Here she is.”
“Mother! Is everything OK?” Her voice breaks shrilly.
“Yes, dear. Do not worry.”
“That’s all,” the weird, helium voice returns. “Chercheur, here are your instructions. Drive to Tam Valley Junction in Mill Valley. You know the place?”
“There’s a phone booth outside the carpet shop. We’ll phone at precisely 4:45. You have forty-five minutes—plenty of time, even in this soup. No police. We’ll be watching. If anyone follows you, we’ll know and Lara will be killed. Get it?”
“One of our people is driving a dark red car. You may see it following you. We trust you will not be foolish and try something stupid. If you do, Lara will die immediately. Get it?”
“But here’s something you need to get. You give me Lara when I deliver the diamonds.”
“You don’t make demands!”
“This one… I do. No girl. No rocks. For all we know you could kill her now. When you get the rocks, I get Lara.”
“You forget it. I figure you’re doing this deal in a place you’re pretty secure about. When you get what you want, I get the girl. Otherwise, no deal.”
“We’ll kill her!”
“You do and you’re wanted for murder. You’re obviously close by. Even if you escape, you’ll have everybody looking for you. One million dollars will be the price on your head. You’ll be hunted to the ends of the earth. You’ll never get away.”
Silence on their end. On mine, Annabel looks terrified. I give her a reassuring glance, but it has no effect.
“Alright! You can have her. Now move!” He hangs up.
I turn to Annabel. “You want Lara back alive, right?”
She nods, precariously relieved, her eyes a tormented blue in the room’s dusky twilight. “Just like Glenn Ford in the Ransom! movie… but what is to stop them from killing you and Lara?”
“I can, I hope.”
“Are you armed?”
“I’m not stupid, like the guy said.”
“You will not let Lara be harmed?”
“I’ll do my best.”
Grimacing, she nods, and outside, the fog lies over the house like a blanket of fear.
I place the satchel of diamonds on the passenger seat of the MG, and drive away with the cool mist beating over us.
Etta peeks into the bag. “Wow! A million dollars.”
“How was Mrs. Fielding?”
“Scared to death.”
“Well, me too, and safe and hidden and ready to help, and I believe we’ll come out OK.”
Ahead, on Sir Francis Drake, a stoplight glows red. Halting, I engage the windshield wipers, check the mirrors. No one seems following.
On 101 south, traffic is light, and Etta scoots up but hangs low in the passenger seat. Dropping down towards Mill Valley, a sheet of darkness sweeps in, a silent shroud drawing closed until only a tiny remnant of the world remains. Passing highway signs are tinted blurs, and exit ramps can’t be seen until it’s too late to take them. Spotting one, I’m aware the next is for Stinson Beach and Tam Valley. I exit, and Etta scrunches down again.
I reach the phone booth a bit after 4:30. A maroon sedan, headlights on, sits less than a hundred feet away on our side of the road—interior obscured—probably the same car I saw yesterday.
“They’re here,” I say. “Stay down.”
The phone rings at exactly 4:45.
“Go to the phone outside the market across the road.” The man’s distorted, squeaky voice.
“Expect the call in 10 seconds.”
Dashing over to the market, I catch the second ring.
“You know the live oak tree on the cover of your book?”
“You meet us there, below the big boulder.”
“Remember—I have to see Lara before you get the diamonds.”
“You’ll see her with a gun to her head.”
“We’re watching you now, and we’ll be following you up the mountain. We’ll know if you stop and call the cops. We’ll also be watching to see if you are followed. Get it?”
“We take no chances. Do anything foolish and Lara dies and you die. Get it?”
Heading into the haze, I give Etta the gist of the instructions.
“Strange they picked a place you know well,” she says. “Better for us.”
At times, visibility is no more than a dozen feet, and I drive slowly on Highway One. The kidnappers’ car stays far behind, showing only diffuse headlights.
“Uncomfortable?” I ask.
“Rather. How are you?”
“There’s something exhilarating in this madness. A wild mountain time,” she smiles.
“Like in the War, 300 percent alert for any danger. It forces you to stay calm.”
“The best way to stay alive.”
“Like when we ride the bike.”
I turn right on Panoramic Highway to ascend the mountain, and she says: “We’ve never talked about it, but did you have a lot of combat experience?”
“You mean where I was having to shoot or get shot?”
“Something like that.”
“No. I kept my head down, took pictures, and everybody else did the shooting. All the shooting I did was on the range. I’d pretend I was in battle and roll around firing my .45 at targets, as if they were shooting back.”
“I practiced a lot. There wasn’t much else to do outdoors, except go walking.” She pauses. “I’ve never shot a person… but I know I can if it will save your life or mine.”
“I’m glad you’re here.”
“I am too.”
Climbing the mountain, I slowly navigate the nearly invisible curves of the narrow winding road, aware that hidden beyond the smoky curtain abutting the shoulder is the abyss.
We ride in silence, and after half an hour, I turn right and pass the small glowing square of the window of the ranger station. A hundred feet on, I go left up West Ridgecrest Road that runs across the mountain’s long plateau to meet Bolinas Road, where one either travels down to the sea, or across the Marin reservoir to Fairfax. The fog is as dense as it was below. The blurry headlights of the kidnappers’ car doggedly tail us.
The peak of Tamalpais rises nearly half a mile high, but only a few hundred feet above the massive, gently rolling plateau we’re traveling, a mile long and half a mile wide—grassy meadows laced by hiking trails and dotted with small woods, the sole survivors of mighty forests logged off a century ago. The origin and meaning of the name Tamalpais are as mysterious as the place itself, though popularly the mountain is known as the “reclining maiden”—how the shape of its three-peaked summit appears from a distance: resembling an immense lady lying on her back, perhaps asleep, suggesting why Marin is San Francisco’s premier bedroom community.
Etta knows how much I’ve caressed the sleeping beauty, exploring her slopes and hidden places, loving her with my camera’s kiss and receiving some of my fondest images in return. Today, she can’t be kissed or even found, resting concealed beneath the gauzy veil—a darkly opaque silver—covering everything with the same somber greyness.
A short way further, I notice a yellow car sitting cockeyed on the road’s shoulder. A shadowy black figure kneels in the grass beside it, holding a large rectangle to his head. A walkie-talkie. The guy in the maroon sedan probably has one too. And the ones guarding Lara would be in walkie-talkie range. I tell Etta.
One following. One beside the road. How many with Lara?
The sense of a closing trap touches me, but I drive on, hoping I’m driving towards a good end to what began by the sea the day before, pray I’m driving towards life, not death on a misty mountain.
Etta stares up with her deep brown eyes—distracting—I love her so.
I focus on the much blacker road, watching it unfold yard by yard, the headlights behind trailing like two tiny, hazy yellow suns.
For an isolated location, Lara’s captors have chosen well. No tourists. Not a single vehicle since leaving Mill Valley.
Because of my photograph, they’ve picked my favorite spot on the mountain for the drop, the seaside of a boulder by a live oak tree atop a ridge overlooking Stinson Beach and the southern tip of Pt. Reyes Peninsula, the Pacific stretching boundlessly beyond. I say:
“One afternoon, long ago, I saw only an endless ocean of sunlit clouds flowing out to touch the clear blue sky. I thought I was standing on the edge of the world. Now we may be standing on the edge of eternity.”
Etta chuckles, “Danger seems to reveal the poet behind your pictures.”
“It’s easier to hide behind words.”
“I hope we’re almost there. My legs are hurting.”
We discuss a plan for handling the drop. She remembers the place from our picnic, and we decide where she’ll position herself on the slope.
“I’ll be close and out of sight,” she says. “We need a code word.”
“Could be ‘fog.’”
She chuckles. “Wonder if they’ll know what it means.”
“Only if they’ve read Norman Mailer.”
“Which I doubt. So, you say, ‘fug,’ I shoot.”
“Which I hope you don’t have to.”
We reach the spot that I recognize only from having visited there many times. I make a fast U-turn and stop on the opposite shoulder.
Etta slips out, shutting the door quietly.
I kill the engine, the headlights, quickly leave the MG, taking the diamonds, find the faint, downward trail in the shifting mist, find Etta off to the left. We lie flat behind a small knoll and gaze upwards into the silent haze. Listening, we hear only the light breeze faintly rustle the tall damp, dry grass.
A vehicle approaches. Headlights show above. The vague shape of the tailing sedan stops across the road, switching off its lights. The second car pulls up, dousing its headlamps. Doors slam, and a light emerges, flicks around the MG and murmurs of discontented voices filter down.
The light travels jerkily along the path. An instant later two foggy black figures glide silently past our hiding place and disappear a few yards further on.
Etta and I part with a kiss. I stick the .45 in my boot, and carrying the satchel, move away from the trail and descend towards the tree, alert for any movement. Etta scuttles low, keeping pace and moving out of sight to my left.
Abruptly, the live oak tree darkly emerges, a gorgeous giant of a plant, windswept branches thrusting out from its multi-trunk base and arching over the huge boulder like a great filigree fan, a ghostly tree in a ghostly world, as insubstantial as this world might appear if I were in the next. Not where I intend to be, not yet.
I circle farther left, letting the tree and boulder fade into the void, briefly glimpse Etta’s vague form only because she’s in motion, fairly certain no one is behind us. Continuing down, I work back until the boulder becomes barely discernible, then move away until it disappears.
“Hello!” I call, “I’m here,” and go low in the grass.
“Why haven’t you come on your motorcycle?” a gravelly voice calls from somewhere near the boulder.
“I can’t take Lara home on my bike. I have no idea of her condition. So I borrowed a car.” One thing I’m sure of: They weren’t watching before Mill Valley to know I wasn’t riding my bike, which means there are probably only three.
“Alright. Come forward and drop the bag when we tell you.”
“I need to see Lara.”
“No. You deliver now or we kill her.”
“Then you get nothing. I’m outta here, and you’ll never find me in this fog.”
“No. OK—we’ll give you the bitch. You step this way and drop the bag when we tell you. Then split. Lara goes free after we make sure the goods are cool.” The voice sounds different and as Vicki predicted, I recognize Todd Perry’s—Lara’s Beat boyfriend—an amateur. Maybe all of them are amateurs, thus unpredictable. The whole setup smells of death. God help us.
“No,” I say, keeping down, moving across the slope in the direction of the voice, “you show me Lara, and we do an exchange. Or else, you’ll never see the diamonds. Hey, you’ve got me beat to hell on numbers. Do you think I’m crazy enough to take on all of you?”
Silence again, longer this time.
Finally, Todd says, “OK, daddy-o, here’s the bitch.”
Two forms emerge and gain definition—one pushed forward by the other—Lara with Todd behind, probably holding a gun. Standing, I raise my hands, so Todd can see the satchel in one, the other empty.
“Lara?” I call, ready to dive if Todd trains the gun on me.
“Help!” she cries, her voice muffled by what looks like a paper sack over her head.
Lara wears the same brown blouse, pants and boots, but they’re disheveled and soiled. Her arms seem tied behind her.
“OK, man, you’ve eyeballed her! Drop the satch now, or I’ll croak her!”
Todd seems a hazy menace in the mist, still in black turtleneck and pants, his head a nebulous black shape.
“Do it, man, or they’ll kill me!” Lara shouts hysterically. “You too!”
I believe her.
“Shut your yap, slut!” Todd cuffs her shoulder with the gun butt—she yelps.
I say: “Be cool. I’ve got what you want.”
Although smart enough to use Lara as a shield, Todd seems tense and nervous—not ready to do anything. How many am I up against? What’s their plan? To give me Lara and once they have the diamonds, shoot us both?
“Here are the diamonds.” I set the satchel on a large stone. “Now, I’m backing off. You check the goods. I’ll wait, but you keep Lara where I can see her.”
Todd seems frozen in indecision, then retreats, yanking Lara with him.
She screams and stumbles disjointedly like a marionette with strings missing.
They disappear into the fog, and I say:
“Come get the diamonds, and give me Lara.”
“How do I play this game?” Todd’s voice faintly from behind the grey scrim.
“Get the diamonds, stupid!” a low voice growls softly.
Todd and Lara become visible again. She utters a sob. He cuffs her again.
As they advance, I back step and also move downhill, keeping them and the satchel barely visible in the shifting haze. I can’t see Etta, but certain she’s there. Drop to my belly in the tall grass, yank the .45 from my boot, release the safety, inch forward on my elbows.
Todd halts, his black-stockinged head twisting round—looking for me. From behind him, his other boss commands, “Go on! Get it!”
He advances towards the satchel, pauses, perhaps wondering where I’ve gone, stoops beside Lara, scoops up the bag, letting his gun drop from Lara’s head.
Lunging upward, I bring my automatic down hard on Todd’s wrist, causing him to drop his gun, and throwing both him and Lara to the ground.
I smash again at Todd with the .45, grazing his cheek, grab Lara with my other hand, rip the sack from her head and swing her downhill.
She yells in fright.
“Keep rolling and stay down!” I call.
Todd comes at me, kicking my forearm, causing me to drop the .45. I jab my fist into his crotch—he yelps, doubles over and I down him with a punch on top of his head. Todd seems stunned—immobile, at least for the moment.
I search for my gun, glancing rapidly from the grass before me to the grey mass covering the slope above. I hear Lara moving below. “Stay down and stay still!” I call, but the sound of her movements continue, grow fainter, then silent. Damn! I don’t know where she is—hope they don’t either—wishing she’d gone the other way, towards where Etta should be.
Instead of my .45, I find Todd’s gun, a .32 Browning automatic—a pistol with limited range and accuracy, but its mag holds eight rounds. Better than nothing.
Todd lunges for me and I pound his head hard with the Browning’s barrel, hoping he’ll stay down this time.
My attention shifts between Todd and the area above. Silence. A soft breeze rises and fills the air with a soothing sound, moving the mist in translucent sheets.
A minute passes, then several shots come, thudding into the ground, pinging off stones nearby—from two locations above—one from a big gun with a loud report.
I’m in the War again—and shoot back—ducking, rolling, not staying still, firing in the direction of both flashes, my eyes searching madly for the enemy. A diffuse figure to my right moves towards me firing a big gun, louder than a .45. I fire a volley back with the Browning—my aim is crap, as the form keeps coming and fires again, kicking dirt in my face. I continue shooting, rolling away. Abruptly, the Browning is empty, not that it did any good.
“Fug!” I yell.
Immediately, three shots flash from the fog bank to my right—Etta.
With a sharp cry, the advancing figure withdraws out of sight. Silence again.
“Sean, you OK?” Etta calls.
“Yes! Move so they don’t spot you.”
Searching for my .45, I worry for Lara—they’ll kill her if they find her. I wish I knew where she is, hoping she stays still. I hear a rustle. Todd is stirring.
I slide down and find Todd grappling on the ground. He’s got a gun—my .45. I stomp his wrist, give him a body kick, then bash his head harder with the Browning.
Hear movement above. A shot comes, further to the right, the big gun.
Using my .45, I fire three fast rounds at the flash above and drag Todd to his feet, gripping his black turtleneck collar, jamming my gun into his neck. “Come on, you son of a bitch, move your ass or I’ll blow your head off!” I thrust Todd upward, in front of myself.
“Help!” Todd cries. “Daddy-o’s got me! Don’t shoot!”
But they do: a human shape gains substance to my left and several shots flash before I can fire. Todd lurches. I fire the .45 twice and the shadowy figure withdraws into the grey curtain, then Todd’s dead weight sags and carries me down. I wriggle free as we fall and roll to one side.
“Sean!” Etta screams.
“I’m OK. Move!”
Reloading, I wait a moment. Another. Silence. I hurl Todd’s empty .32 upward. The whang of metal striking stone. Wait for sound or movement. Nothing. Another minute passes. I check Todd. Blood spills from his chest in two places. The pulse in his neck ceases. Pull the stocking off Todd’s head. Dusky vapor like damp dust clings to Todd’s tormented face. He died hard and I’m sorry.
I call, “Lara, are you alright? If there’s anyone around you, don’t move or answer me. Stay still.”
“Sean, please help me,” she answers faintly from far to the left.
“Shut up and change position! Etta, you OK?”
“Yes,” comes from somewhere to my right.
I crawl upward, the tree assumes form. The boulder solidifies beside it. For three full minutes I lie waiting, looking for movement in the mist, listening—then a low whimpering voice:
“Sean? Where are you? I’m scared.”
“Lara—move again, and be quiet.”
I crawl closer to the source of her voice. Are Todd’s partners still here? Not sure.
“Please!” Lara screams.
“I’m coming.” Keeping low, I dash towards her voice and drop again to my belly.
“Please untie me.”
“Just wait, OK?”
“OK,” a little sob.
A minute passes in the silent mist. Then the sound of scuffling, far to the right, wonder if it’s Etta. A shot—recognize her .32, then another shot, the big gun—then another from Etta, and a yelp. Stumbling footsteps pound up the slope.
“Etta!” I scream, and she responds:
“Everything’s cool! I think he’s leaving.”
I call: “Lara, where are you?”
I find her huddled deep in the grass below the great live oak, hands tied behind her back, blouse ripped open and pants filthy. I thank God she’s alive.
“Todd,” she says, “ce foutu baiseur de porc… I hope he rots in hell!”
“He’s dead.” I untie the crudely tied ropes. “Who were his partners?”
“I only recognized him.”
“How many others are here?”
“Two—three!” Lara grabs me. “They were going to kill me—they were going to kill me!” I hug her soothingly: “You’re safe now,” and catch a full whiff of her foul smell—a mixture of stale urine, sweat and excrement.
“Where are we?”
“Where on Tam?”
“You know the cover picture on my book? That’s where we are.”
“Wow! Please take me out of here, take me home. Please?”
“Who’s helping you?”
“Please, can we go?”
“We need to get your mother’s diamonds.”
“To hell with the diamonds,” she mutters.
“I’ve got the diamonds.” A hazy Etta emerges.
“Lara, meet Etta,” I say.
Etta smiles. “Hi Lara—you OK?”
“I think I’m in shock.”
Etta twitches her nose, evidently catching Lara’s odor. “I’d be surprised if you weren’t.”
We help Lara up. She stands unsteadily.
From above, a car door slams, then an engine revs. I ask Etta:
“How many kidnappers did you count?”
“Two shooting at us.”
“Lara said maybe three.”
“Was she counting the body I found near the diamonds?”
“That was Todd Perry. Lara’s ex-boyfriend.”
“Totally exed now,” Etta quips grimly.
“Good riddance,” Lara mumbles.
Half carrying and half dragging Lara, we move up the hill towards our car, guns drawn, watching for movement. Etta says:
“I winged the guy trying to get the bag. Maybe I hit him earlier, too—or the other one.”
“You did good. I missed completely.”
“At least one has driven away.”
“One may still be here,” I say.
Lara falls. “It’s like I can’t walk.”
“Did they give you drugs?” Etta asks, lifting Lara out of the tall damp grass.
“I don’t know—I don’t think so. I wish they had.” She drops again, stands up. “Merde!”
The fog lightens, if one can call something ‘lighter’ which has gone from near darkness at noon to a softer, dusk-like grey. The mist swirls, parts briefly, and the MG, then the yellow sedan appears, seemingly abandoned across the road.
“If that’s the car they brought me in,” Lara says, lurching ahead, “I want my bag.”
Etta reaches to stop her, but Lara stumbles on and opens the rear door, emerging triumphantly hugging her big brown Hermès shoulder bag, like a child hugging her favorite doll.
Etta and I remain kneeling in the grass at the edge of the road, nervously searching the fog on the slope behind us. She says:
“Did they all leave in the other car?”
We crowd into the MG, Etta and Lara scrunching together on the passenger seat, and head quickly down to the ranger station. I say:
“Lara, please tell no one about Etta being here. This is extremely important: I was alone. Etta was not here. Nobody helped me.”
“Well, you both saved my butt for sure. I can’t thank you enough. Ever. Ever and ever. Sincerely, I mean that.” Turning away, she gives a muffled sob.
Etta hugs her. “Just remember—Sean saved your butt alone—OK?” She grins at me: “And in case you wonder, I have all my brass safe in my pocket.”
“I’m a good goirl, I yam.”
At the ranger station, Lara and I leave Etta hunkered down in the car. The ranger isn’t there, but a phone is on his desk.
Reaching a Deputy Underwood at the County Sheriff’s Department, I report on the escaping kidnappers and how to find Todd Perry’s body and possibly one of his killers wounded and in hiding. Then I call Annabel. Crying with relief and delight, she speaks to her daughter.
Driving again, I drop through the fog, taking the twisting turns with care and stop in a pullout. “There should be a roadblock ahead. Etta, you need to disappear.”
She curls tightly on the floor beneath Lara’s legs. I cover her with my motorcycle jacket, and a light throw blanket from the MG’s boot. She explains to Lara:
“My father is well-known. If the newspapers learn who I am it might hurt him. That’s why you can’t say I helped—OK?”
Three squad cars and six cops form the roadblock at the intersection with Panoramic, leading down into Mill Valley. After Lara and I identify ourselves, we’re waved through, and Etta resurfaces.
The trip becomes uncomfortable for everyone: Lara feels squeezed, unable to breathe, forcing Etta to half sit on the gap between the seats, pressing the shift lever, pressing me against the driver’s door. Taking the freeway, I drive to Ross as fast as possible, while asking Lara about the kidnappers.
“I have no idea who the others are,” she says softly. “But I’m glad, really glad you killed Todd.”
“I didn’t. They did.”
“Probably they were afraid I would identify him.”
I ask Lara what she remembers to help identify the kidnappers.
“One baiseur de porc had a gruff voice—I hate him the most—but his partner only mumbled. I hardly understood anything he said. They ran the show. Todd was their flunky. Gruff Voice was always telling him what to do, and Todd went along—le baiseur de porc.” My knowledge of French is slight, and an amused Etta translates: “Lara is saying her kidnappers mate with swine—using various determiners, singular and plural.”
Leaving Etta guarded by the gatepost lions at the foot of the Melville estate, I drive Lara up to the house.
Annabel rushes down from the front veranda and hugs her madly. Not parting from Lara, she tearfully takes the satchel of diamonds, saying, “Thank you,” drops it, and returns to embracing her most prized possession.
Departing quickly, I retrieve Etta. She says:
“It’s over, thank God.”
I give her a kiss. “Yes… thank God. And you saved us.”
“I feel like getting blind drunk tonight.”
“The cops will have questions. We did leave a dead man behind.”
“I didn’t shoot him, and I just want to stay invisible. But right now I’m starved.”
Stopping at the new Guasco’s Market across from the theatre in San Anselmo, we buy the ingredients for making chili without beans, and Etta chooses two cases of what looks like a good Cabernet Sauvignon.
Driving narrow, fog-impacted Center Boulevard to our home, she says:
“I haven’t had a good walk in days, but visibility’s so bad, I’m scared.” She giggles. “We survive being shot by killer-kidnappers, and now I’m afraid of being hit by a car—so ordinary, so normal. But not this fog. It reminds me of the final plague in DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. The black mist God sent to take all the first born of Egypt. Scary. But it’s also comforting. Protective. There’s something peaceful about it. I felt good for a while when I was alone on the mountain, before the shooting started. The fog helped us save Lara and ourselves.”
In Fairfax, I drive through the downtown to get gasoline, and we pass the Fairfax Theatre.
“Wow! Do you see that? Touch of Evil is playing! It looks like it ends tonight.” She glances at her watch. “We’re just in time to catch the only show.”
“Sure! How to release the stress of almost being killed—watch it done for fun.” We buy popcorn to assuage our hunger, and let the black and white convolutions of Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil sweep us into a mesmerizing world of grey ambiguity. At the end, we kiss in agreement—a marvelous movie. Etta says:
“Welles took a mediocre novel about a corrupt cop and created a tragedy about a cop who’s so clever he’s deceived himself, as though Welles is commenting on his career. The movie is endlessly intriguing. You’re never certain what’s coming next. Like all great noirs, it’s open to different interpretations—there are many shapes to see in its mysterious darkness.” She grins and whispers. “How did you like Marlene Dietrich?”
“I knew you’d ask… impressive.”
“I love it when she says to Orson, ‘you should lay off those candy bars.’ Now we need to lay into dinner.”
5: The Shrinking Man
At home, Etta opens the wine, and we toast each other. She builds the chili, me the fire. I say:
“I’m gonna wash. If the phone rings, don’t answer. It’ll probably be the police.”
I scrub myself clean of the day, as much as I can. Nothing ever feels quite clean when someone is killed, and you’re part of it. Again, I thank God we survived—and say a prayer for Todd.
Etta loves making food. She puts the chili together and sets it simmering, aided by two additional glasses of wine. I appear shirtless in khaki jungle shorts, and she pokes my tummy on her way into the bath.
Wearing her large, fluffy white robe, Etta returns, opens another bottle and joins me on the sofa.
Pouring her wine, she says, “I can’t get over how good our reception is.”
“It helps to live high and have a tall antenna.”
“You’ve got two. Mind if I tune in the other?”
While she’s tuning, she talks: “You know, sex organs are not the most attractive part of the human anatomy. The beauty of sex lies in the sensation, the physical touch and connection of the male and female in the action of coupling. That’s why it’s better in the dark. Visual representations only provoke thinking of the activity and imagining through memory the pleasure of the sensation. Touch is the sense. You don’t see, hear, smell, taste sex. Those senses only inspire memory of touch. Aldous Huxley has it right about the “Feelies”—he movies of the future that are connected with the sense of touch, where in Brave New World one character says, ‘I could feel every hair on that bear skin rug.’ That will be the ultimate porno cinema.”
The phone rings. I answer, and Etta scurries into the studio to listen silently on the extension. It’s Annabel.
“Thank God, I reached you,” Annabel says, “we have tried for hours. I cannot stop Sheriff Bailey from seeing you tonight—you will have to deal with him. But I must thank you for what you and Miss Maler did today.”
“Lara told you.”
“Privately—and I told Xavier Rodgers. He is chief of Capital Security, who investigated you. Miss Maler’s father is named in her UCLA records, so Xavier knows his identity. Please tell Miss Maler not to worry. No one else will know—absolutely no one—we promise. I am doing my utmost to keep all our names private. I am aware the newspapers will love another celebrity murder sensation, such as two months ago when the daughter of Lana Turner killed Johnny Stompanato. Todd Perry’s death is different, but the scandal sheets will not care. I swear Etta and her father will be protected.”
“Etta is a brave girl. You saved Lara. I will always be grateful, and you retained the diamonds, too. Capital Security has checked our phone lines. They were not tapped. The abductors were lying.”
“Were they captured?”
“Not one—and I have engaged Capital Security to protect Lara until they are. Oh!” She pauses. “Sheriff Bailey will come on the line now.”
“You mean we’re not private anymore?”
“Correct. Xavier will use an extension. Here is the Sheriff. I will come back after you finish.”
“Sean Chercheur?” A man’s gravelly voice. He mispronounces my surname ‘chair-chair.’
“Oscar Bailey, Marin County Sheriff. My congratulations on rescuing Miss Melville, but a man was killed. We have to talk.” His tone is demanding.
“Hello, Mr. Chercheur. I’m Xavier Rodgers. Pleased to meet you.” He speaks in a low, husky tone, tinged with an odd accent, somewhat Southern but spoken as though English might be a second language, and says my name correctly.
Sheriff Bailey injects: “I need to know how you came to kill Todd Perry.”
“I didn’t,” and tell him what happened. “The others have to be guys Todd Perry knew well,” I ask about the second car.
“Dumped up there on Ridgecrest Road. Anyway, I need your statement tonight. My deputy will be picking you up in a few minutes. Bring your gun.” Bailey clicks off.
Xavier Rodgers confirms we’re alone. After our ‘let’s-use-first-names’ routine, he compliments us on our rescue and assures Etta’s privacy. She speaks, identifying herself and thanking him.
Xavier says, “Look, we only have a few minutes. Lara’s filled us in as much as she can. Perry didn’t know you or about the photographs until yesterday morning. They must have planned her abduction for weeks. Lara’s given us names of Perry’s friends. You have anything else that may be helpful?”
“The ransom drop. The kidnappers had seen my book In Search of the Light. They knew where I took the photo that’s on the cover.”
“Lara showed us the book—”
Etta interrupts, “It was only published last month. I doubt if many shops stock it.”
“Lara is sure Perry never saw her copy, and most likely they saw a copy today or yesterday. We’ll get the list of dealers from your publisher.”
Etta says: “The kidnappers may have scouted the location too—earlier today. Maybe a ranger saw them?”
“Good thinking, Etta,” he says. “One of the names Lara gave us is Ziggy Ziegler. Your printmaker, Sean—and Etta, your employer.”
“Not anymore,” she says, and tells him why.
Xavier chuckles, and I say, “Ziggy’s seen my book. I gave him a copy.”
“What do you all know about Ziegler?”
Etta says, “Ziggy is Ziggy. Smokes grass a lot. Full of himself, obnoxious at times, but generally harmless. He couldn’t do something like this.”
“Lara didn’t think Todd Perry could do what he did, either,” Xavier says. “We’ll check where Ziegler was yesterday and today. Etta, did you ever see or hear him talk with anyone who seemed unusual?”
“Besides some of our strange customers?”
“What do you mean?”
She smiles. “Oh, like the guy who wanted to know if we could develop his film and make prints without seeing what was in the pictures.” She continues, “Once I think I heard Ziggy on the phone with Perry—anyway he called him ‘Todd.’ Then Ziggy left for hours, and came back stoned silly—you could smell marijuana all the way in the rear where the chemicals are. That’s pretty good if you know how smelly photo chemicals are.”
“Well, we assume Perry was Ziegler’s marijuana supplier. Anyway Sean, he’s the only one of Perry’s group who we’re sure has seen your book. Maybe you can sound him out? You might learn something he’ll never tell my guys.”
Xavier gives us numbers for his office and his personal phone, and asks if we saw Kiss Me Deadly? We did, and Xavier says he’s got a phone message recorder like Mike Hammer’s.
“Every private dick needs one,” he chuckles. “Please give me a call after you see Ziegler. Also, if you talk to Lara, you might ask what she recalls about him?”
“Why don’t you?” Etta says.
“Oh, I will, but Lara likes you all. She thinks I’m an officious prick.”
“Whereas Sean is just a common prick?” she says.
Annabel’s voice comes on: “I am pleased you and Xavier are getting on,” and ominously, “Duane is complicating things with his suspicions. If Sheriff Bailey gives you difficulty, please phone me immediately.”
A heavy knock at the door ends our conversation.
Deputy Underwood—the guy I spoke with from Mount Tam. He’s hunky and dour, shoulders and narrow eyes hunched down. He doesn’t offer his hand, but asks for my .45 and ushers me down to his squad car.
“Have you caught the kidnappers?” I ask.
“I think we got one of them,” he winks.
“Great. One of Perry’s friends? Where did you capture him?”
Giving me a peculiar smile, Underwood ignores my questions, and we ride in total silence to the Sheriff’s Department in the old County Courthouse in downtown San Rafael. ‘Old’ because plans are underway to construct a new civic center to the north, designed by the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright—a long, futuristic-looking building to fit between the hills, east of 101.
Besides Muir Woods below Mt. Tam, in 1958, the major landmark that gives Marin County world recognition sits on the edge of San Francisco Bay at the foot of Sir Francis Drake—the sandstone-colored fortress called San Quentin Prison—a vast storehouse of secrets and misdeeds hidden behind a tiny hill, not unlike the secrets most everyone tries to keep hidden away.
Two years ago, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge opened, making the prison visible to anyone approaching Marin. The County fathers are hoping the new civic center will offset the prison’s presence in the broader public mind. I think they’re depending a lot on the future reputation of an architect whose career may be more legend than fact. However, from the published sketches, it looks to be an interesting structure.
Inside, Underwood hands my .45 to another deputy to run a ballistics check, and leads me down a long hallway into a small, drab windowless room they’ve tried to brighten by painting yellow, but the large fluorescent overhead colors the walls a sickly green. The only furnishings are a dark, scarred Formica table and several tacky chairs.
Sheriff Bailey enters looking like a B-movie, small-town stereotype lawman, with a pale bulbous face and vague sandy eyes that protrude slightly and seem to stare in two slightly different directions. I think of the Orson Welles character in the movie we just saw, for Bailey’s nearly as fat, his belly bulging over his wide gun belt from which a holstered .38 dangles intimidatingly.
He’s followed by a comely young woman dressed gaily, who looks around the room as though wishing she were somewhere else, like home in bed at this hour—a stenographer evidently—for she takes a chair at the end of the table, lays down a shorthand pad and poises for transcription.
The Sheriff beckons Underwood outside the room. I give the stenographer a smile, saying:
“Nice place for a birthday party.”
She’s amused, and I continue:
“Imagine bright balloons hanging there,” I gesture to the ugly asbestos ceiling panels, “and colorful streamers,” indicating the grim walls surrounding us.
She laughs and says, “I’ll suggest we use it for the Sheriff’s party next month.”
Our repartee is interrupted by the return of Bailey and his deputy. The Sheriff sits in the old wood swivel chair opposite me and gives the stenographer a frown that destroys her smile and drops her eyes to the writing pad. Deputy Underwood takes a position near the door and leans against the wall, folding his arms as if waiting for something.
“I understand you’ve captured one of the kidnappers,” I say. “Who is he?”
“All in good time.” Bailey tilts back in the chair, causing it to creak loudly, and studies me with a dull gaze. “I need to pick your brain first.”
“How much time would you say elapsed from when you heard the kidnappers drive away from the drop place to when you phoned us?”
I consider. “Less than 10 minutes.”
“We deployed within a minute of your call, Mr. Chercheur. Roadblocks covered all exits from Mt. Tamalpais Park within four minutes. That’s 15 minutes at the outside from the time they fled. They picked a good place for being isolated, but the nearest escape route takes 20 minutes or more as near as we can guess. And that’s without changing to another vehicle, which evidently they did.
Unless they levitated out of the park or something else, the question is—how did our culprits get away?”
“You’ve got one of them. What’s he telling you?”
“Nothing yet. How do you think they got away?”
“Maybe they walked down the back slope to Kentfield, and picked up another car.”
“We thought of that, and sent patrols to all the roads and neighborhoods bordering the park. They were in place before anyone could possibly have come down, unless he was an Olympic runner. And if he tried running in this soup, he’d have fallen and broken his neck.”
“They might have slipped past in the fog—on foot and quietly.”
Bailey winks, “Possibly, but not likely.”
“Did you learn anything from the cars they abandoned?”
“Both rented by Todd Perry from different agencies,” Bailey scowls. “The yellow one the day of your ransom delivery, the maroon Dodge you saw so much of, the morning of Miss Melville’s kidnapping. No fingerprints on either except Miss Melville’s and Perry’s. We found three walkie-talkies and a half-empty helium tank in the trunk of the Dodge—all wiped clean.” The Sheriff fingers his fat face and continues:
“We’re spending hundreds of man-hours on this case. Checking rentals and recent house buys in the immediate area—every motel, every boat mooring—anywhere the thugs could squirrel themselves away. The Coast Guard is patrolling the whole area.”
“Are you checking out Perry’s associates?”
“Mr. Perry was a dope dealer, marijuana mainly. Sold to a lot of people. We’ve been over his house with a fine-tooth comb. The place is littered with fingerprints—take weeks to trace.”
“Lara gave you a few names, maybe they’ll put you onto the guys you’re looking for.”
“Lots of leg work,” Bailey sighs. “It’s like they planned to have us chasing dead ends.”
“You can contact the stores selling my book.”
“We’ll let Rodgers and his people handle that angle—since he seems to think it’s a good lead.”
“Not as good as others we have.” Bailey stares at me. “Let’s look at what we know for sure. Miss Melville and you both agree there were three kidnappers including Perry. We all know Todd Perry didn’t have the brains to plan a kidnapping. Doubt if he could have organized a snipe hunt. So he had to be in with some pretty smart fellows. Miss Melville got the impression the other two guys were running Perry, but also were his pals.”
I chuckle, “Some pals. One of them killed him.”
“You mean, one of his partners wanted him dead?”
“I don’t think he was shot by accident.”
“We’re together there.” Bailey pauses. “Sure you never saw Perry before Wednesday night?”
“The slugs we removed from Mr. Perry were 9mm. He was shot in the heart and right lung, also the right shoulder. We found one casing from your .45 and two from his .32 Browning. Does it surprise you to hear the casings from Perry’s gun show he was using blanks?”
“Yes… but it explains why I didn’t hit anything with it.”
“Miss Melville is sure someone besides Perry was pulling the strings. We’re thinking maybe it was neither of the other two, but someone else—a fourth man.” Bailey leans forward. “What do you think of that?”
“It’s possible. But, if so, he wasn’t on Mount Tam.”
“But maybe he was,” Bailey smirks and leans back in his chair again. “Let’s talk about where Miss Melville was kidnapped. Mr. Chercheur, it seems you have a fair eye as a photographer. Frankly, I’m curious how you let a beautiful young lady like Miss Melville get grabbed on a deserted beach and not see it happen. When you gave her parents your story, Dr. Fielding couldn’t understand it either.”
“You have to see the place.”
“We have maps and know the terrain. The whole beach is a mile long. You’re photographing all the way down at the south end. Besides that, you’re hidden away in a little cove behind the rocks. Miss Melville comes out, and gets grabbed a minute later. The question is: How did our kidnappers find her so fast?”
“They were there when we arrived. Hiding, I guess—probably watching from behind the rocks at the south end, so they were close.”
“Hell, in this soup you can’t see more than 10 yards in front of you, and we have the kidnappers on top of her at once. There’s no way that’s possible unless they knew exactly where you were doing your photography on that beach.”
“I wonder too. The cove was Lara’s idea. Maybe Perry knew about it. Did you ask her?”
“Miss Melville didn’t mention it. But she does corroborate your story, as much as she can remember. The whole thing was a helluva shock for her, and she’s not too clear about some details. Now, you mentioned your book a bit ago. I gave it a glance at the Fieldings. Interesting… of all the isolated places they could have picked to get the ransom delivered, they chose a spot you’re as familiar with as the back of your hand. Right there on the front cover.”
“I guess they chose it because it was a safe location for them, and a place they knew I could find despite the fog. But the important thing is: not many people have seen my book. Unless one of the kidnappers loves photo books, they probably only bought a copy yesterday or today. I think it’s an excellent lead. I don’t understand why you don’t think so?”
“Oh, we do,” the Sheriff smiles, “we do. It’s where you slipped up.”
“What do you mean?”
He laughs. “Choosing that location for your rescue.”
“I didn’t—they did.”
“So you say. You know, Miss Melville never saw who killed Todd Perry. She believes what you told her and what you want her to believe—about everything—us too.”
Underwood interjects: “We found .44 Magnum casings behind the big boulder by the tree. A smear of blood too, on the stone.”
“The kidnapper I hit.”
Bailey says, “I’m sure you did, Mr. Chercheur. Or your partner did. After you or your partner killed Perry using a different gun from the one you gave us.”
“No, it isn’t. You planned this whole thing to collect a substantial reward.”
“The standard recovery fee. Ten percent of one million dollars is $100,000.”
“I don’t know anything about that.”
“Don’t lie to me, Mr. Chercheur.”
“If I was after the money, why didn’t I keep the million dollars in diamonds?”
“That’s where you think you’re so clever. You save Miss Melville, you return the ransom. You’re a hero. You get a substantial reward and you’re above suspicion.”
Bailey leans over me threateningly. “Who’s your other partner? The one who helped you kill Perry and tried to kill the others?”
“What partner? You’re out of your mind.”
“You have a girlfriend?”
“My personal life has nothing to do with this.”
“I’ll determine that. We know you had a partner at your so-called ‘rescue.’ Who is he?”
“I was alone.”
“You’re a liar, Mr. Chercheur. You masterminded this kidnapping and brought in Perry and his friends to front for you. You staged a fake rescue. All your partners were supposed to get a cut of the $100,000 recovery reward, with Miss Melville restored to her family and us not looking for anyone very hard. But you wanted it all for yourself, and tried to get rid of Perry and his friends, but you only managed to kill Perry.”
Bailey laughs. “We’ve caught one of Perry’s friends, Chercheur. He’s talking to save his ass. He claims you set up this deal, and you murdered Perry with the help of your other partner.”
“Confess! Tell us your partner’s name. He’s the one who murdered Perry. Or do you want to take the rap yourself? It’s the difference between a nice cell and the gas chamber.”
“I want to make a call.”
“In due time.” He nods to Deputy Underwood—they move quickly, grab my arms and handcuff my wrists behind the chair.
“Mr. Chercheur,” the Sheriff says, “you are under arrest for the murder of Todd Perry and the kidnapping of Lara Melville.” He paces away, then turns back. “Last chance, Chercheur. Confess now—save us all a lot of trouble.”
“I want to make a call.”
“Deputy Underwood, continue to question him. Tell me when he’s ready to confess.”
Gazing at me with disdain, the Sheriff leaves, motioning the stenographer out too.
She hesitates, tries to speak, but can’t, and leaves me a worried frown in departing.
Immediately Underwood slugs me hard. “I hate know-it-all pricks,” he says, “especially ones who make me listen to bullshit.”
“I want to make a call.”
“You’ll get your call, asshole, after you confess.” He slaps me.
“I hope you’re not the good cop,” I mutter, and get hit again.
“Shut up! When I ask a question, you give the right answer.”
I guess I’m getting the proverbial third degree, immobilized on a chair, the main difference being there’s no bright light in my face, merely the obnoxious, occasionally flickering fluorescent overhead.
“Who’s your partner?”
“I don’t have one.”
Underwood strikes me in the stomach. “Right, Chercheur, you’re all alone. Who is he?”
I go silent and get another slap. “Where is he hiding?” No reply. Another punch, a similar question, a punch, another question, another punch. I’m pounded for answers.
Deciding to laugh, I further infuriate Underwood, who punches and pounds and slaps and spits in my face—I spit back—and Underwood slugs me, demanding:
“Who are your partners?” Deputy Underwood clearly repeats himself.
“I was alone.”
Another punch in the tummy. “I have all day to hear your confession, Chercheur.”
“I am.” Slap. “What’s the name of your girlfriend?”
“None of your business.” Deputy Underwood slugs me.
“Eff you!” I say, and am slugged again. “On second thought, as Oscar Wilde said, you’re much too ugly to eff.” I get hit again. Oh, well.
“Is this why you like hitting people—because no one wants to eff you?”
Of course, I’m hit again… and again… and I lose track—not sure whether I’m saying anything new or just repeating myself. Mainly, I’m determined to protect Etta.
From my peripheral vision I catch the door opening until the Deputy blacks my view with another punch, wheeling my head back. My vision returns seeing a middle-aged, white-haired shorter man in an expensive dark suit and a shocked expression, carrying a briefcase, the Sheriff behind him.
Rolling his bulbous eyes upward, Bailey signals Underwood with a throat cut, but the Deputy ignores his boss and whacks me again.
“Get out,” Bailey orders him with a glare, “and go to my office.”
Underwood scuttles past the dark-suited man, who reminds me of Spencer Tracy in Bad Day at Black Rock—astute and assured.
The grey eyes in his calm expression show a combination of revulsion and compassion. “Mr. Chercheur,” he says, “I’m Nathan Girrard, attorney for Mrs. Melville-Fielding. She’s sent me to help you.”
“God bless, Annabel,” I mutter.
“Sheriff, release him—now!” Girrard orders. “I have a writ of habeas corpus signed by Judge Quinlan. Phone him, but I suggest you comply immediately if you value your position.”
“Hang on, I got to get the keys.” He exits the room quickly, chasing after Underwood who has the keys I presume, as much as I’m still able to presume anything.
“Mr. Chercheur,” Girrard says, “I can’t believe they did this. It’s… monstrous.”
I tongue my split, bleeding lip. “Not exactly Marinite.”
Girrard eyes me intently. “Someone phoned the police this evening. He claimed to be your ex-partner and accused you of killing Perry and trying to kill him.”
“Is this the guy they have in custody?”
“They are holding no one.”
“They said they’d captured one of the kidnappers and he was talking.”
“As far as I know, they only received a phone call accusing you. An anonymous call.”
Bailey returns with the keys, and unlocks the cuffs. Released, I nearly hit the floor, grab the
table and stabilize myself.
“Sheriff, call an ambulance,” Girrard orders.
“No…” I mumble, then loudly and strongly, “No ambulance. No hospital. I’ll be OK.”
“Are you able to walk?” Girrard asks.
“Sure.” I force myself to stand.
We head out and down the hallway, Girrard trailing, me under reserve staggering power, feeling a bit like Terry Malloy going back to work, tracking unsteadily ahead towards the light reflections on the dark glass front door.
Deputy Underwood has the unfortunate experience of poking his face out of Bailey’s office at the moment I pass. Spontaneously, I bring up my right hand in a fast fist and smash under the fellow’s chin so hard his head crashes into the opposing door pillar, while I walk on by his collapsing body as if nothing has happened. Two cops, watching from down the hall ahead, move to draw their guns, pause and do nothing. One smirks.
“It’s all OK,” I mutter to Girrard, who is now abreast.
Outside, the fog continues to lay over everything—a great, opaque specter come to haunt the county. Going down the steps, I stumble, but grasp the railing and regain my feet.
Girrard pours me into the back seat of his black Lincoln sedan.
“Pardon me,” I say, sprawling down across the seat, “need to rest,” and let everything go, essentially passing out, I guess.
I feel the car moving. It stops. Through half-open eyes, I notice several people, Etta among them, and my body is partly helped and partly lifted and carried, and I’m lying on a couch.
Voices seem remote, and I try moving my shoulders, feeling like I’ve got the worst hangover ever, or am at the end of a drinking spree that is becoming my worst hangover. I’m not drunk but think I might as well be—not quite sure of anything except I’m having a hard time focusing. However, Etta sure looks nice wavering over me.
“I’m OK,” I mumble, reaching a feeble hand towards her face, sort of feeling like old Mose Harper in The Searchers, neither here nor there, maybe not even somewhere in between. ‘Alls ah wants is a rockin chair.’
Etta’s face becomes a blur.
“Love you,” I mutter, letting myself drift into oblivion, feeling infinitely smaller and smaller, like The Incredible Shrinking Man, but as Matheson and Arnold wrote, “To God, there is no zero. I still exist.”