Chapter Eight

Tuesday, The Morning After

Perry found himself thinking how nice it would be to go home. Then he sat bolt upright as a howl of anguish came from Sam's room. He stumbled to his feet and crashed into Sarah as they ran toward the sound.

They opened the door all the way and stopped. Sam stood naked, his back against the wall, looking at the bed. The bedclothes were tangled and ripped, and covered in blood. There was no sign of Terry.

Perry moved to the bed and pulled back the cover, with the irrational idea that Terry might be hiding somewhere. Sam bolted out the door of the room, yelling "Terry!" Perry turned and saw Sarah standing in the doorway.

"What happened?" she asked helplessly, though it was obvious he didn't know any more than she did.

"I don't know."

Sam barged back into the room and said, "Let me get dressed, then we've got to call the police."

Perry and Sarah went into the hall where they ran into Nicky, looking tousled and still half-asleep, wrapped in a sheet.

"Are they fighting this early?" she asked peevishly. "My head hurts."

Sarah steered her into the living room. "Something's happened. Terry's gone, and Sam's sheets are all covered in blood."

"Maybe she got her period," Nicky muttered. "Hell of a reason to leave, though."

"It wasn't that. Too much blood, and the sheets were all cut up." Sarah shuddered. "Whatever happened, how the hell could Sam sleep through it?"

A few minutes later, Sam came into the living room, his pants and a T-shirt on. He was still barefoot. He stood in the doorway, looking around. "Should I call the police?" he asked finally.

"To report what?" Nicky asked.

Nicky sat on the window seat in the living room. She pulled a pack of cigarettes from her pocket and extracted one slowly. She tamped down both ends, three taps each, then put it in her mouth. She paused for a moment, thinking, then took out a pack of matches. It was from one of the bars they'd been in the night before. She watched the sulfur head of the match flare up and then applied it to the cigarette. She drew in the first deep drag, savoring it as she shook out the match and put it carefully on the windowsill beside her.

Sam came in and sat down.

"Where's Sarah?" he asked.

"Out getting the papers." She took a deep drag, letting the smoke out slowly. "Sam, can I say something I've been thinking for a while? It may make you mad."

He shrugged. "Sure."

"Now, I don't know what happened to Terry any more than you do. But, something's been bugging me for some time now. Is she really worth all the fussing and fuming? All the trouble? I mean, are you really happier with her than you'd be without her?"

The bedroom door opened and Perry came in, looking a little refreshed.

Sam half-turned in his chair to face him. "Perry, can I ask you a question?"

He shrugged.

"Why are you here? Not that I mind, but why are you sleeping on our sofa? I'm sure your hotel bed is more comfortable. And how did you get in?"

Perry sat down, looking intent on formulating his answer.

"Terry wanted me to come here after the broadcast, so we could all go out for breakfast together when we recovered from last night. And she gave me her key, since she knew she was coming home with you."

"Well, I guess whatever happened was a surprise to her." Sam said slowly.

"But there's one more thing," Perry said. "I didn't need the key. The door was open when I got here."

Sam looked up sharply. "The door? The apartment door?"

Perry nodded. "I could see it from halfway down the hall." He thought for a minute. "I wonder if she's been in touch with Tammy."

Sam shrugged. "I don't have her number."

"Terry does like to keep people apart," Perry said. He reached for his jacket. "I've got it here."

He took a small notebook from his jacket pocket, picked up the phone and dialed the number. He was silent for a moment, listening, then said, "Hi, Tammy. This is Perry. I'm at Sam's apartment in New York. Give me a call when you can." He recited the number carefully.

"She's probably at her office, right?" Nicky asked.

Perry nodded. "Right. In my line of work I tend to forget what day it is." He referred to his book again and dialed another number.

"Oh, hi, Priscilla. Is Miss Nelson in?" He listened for a moment. "Okay. This is her brother." He gave Sam's number and said goodbye.

"She's meeting with a client," he said, his mind obviously elsewhere. "She'll be in the office around noon."

Nicky put out her cigarette on the windowsill and threw the butt out the window. "I'm going to make some coffee," she said and left in the direction of the kitchen.

Sam and Perry were silent for a few minutes, then Perry said, rather defensively, "I'm sure she's okay, Sam. If it's alright, I'd like to stick around for a day or two and see what happens."

Sam shrugged. "I wish I was that optimistic, but it's fine with me if you stay. I just can't help thinking that something terrible happened and I slept through it."

The phone rang and Sam picked it up. "Yes. Oh, hi, Mary." He made a face. "Sure. I can be there in an hour. How should I dress?" He pulled a pad from his shirt pocket and began to write things down. "Phone number?" he asked. He made some more notes. "Thanks, Mary."

He hung up the phone. "Shit," he said. "I've got work this afternoon, proofreading, from noon to seven tonight. I hate to take it under the circumstances, but we really need the money." He stood up. "I had to cancel two days of work over the weekend to go up to Boston for Terry. If I refuse too often, they'll stop calling."

He scribbled something on a piece of paper and gave it to Perry. "This is the number where I'll be. Call me up if anything happens."

Perry folded the paper and put it away in his wallet.

"We'll have dinner when I get home," Sam called from his bedroom.

"Sounds good," Perry replied.

Nicky came out of the kitchen, a cup of coffee in her hand. "What's going on?"

Sam came out of his room, tying his tie. "Work. Twelve to seven. Perry has the number."

The phone rang and Nicky answered it.

"Unique Garage, Harry speaking." She listened, sipping her coffee. "Oh, no, he's here."

She handed it over to Perry, who was looking like he'd rather be somewhere else.

"Perry Nelson speaking."

"Hey, Pete," Tammy Nelson's voice boomed from the receiver. "What's up?"

Perry took a deep breath, getting ready to start to explain what had happened, but Tammy leaped into the breach.

"Saw you on the Today Show this morning. Jesus, what did they do to your face? The–"

"Tammy, something's happened to Terry," he said deliberately. "She's vanished."

"Vanished? You mean she's run away from home? Can you do that at her age? Where are you anyway?"

Perry felt the conversation slipping away from him. "In New York, at Sam's. You called me here."

"Oh, I just had Pris dial the number. I–" There was a buzz and she said, "I've got to put you on hold. I think this is important."

Bouncy, cheerful music came on and Perry looked baffled. Sam waved and went out.

"What's up?" Sarah asked.

"Failure to communicate," he said. "She seems–"

There was a click and Tammy came back on the line. Before things could go further astray, Perry said slowly, "Terry vanished in the middle of the night last night, leaving ripped up sheets and a fair quantity of blood."

There was silence for a moment, then she said, "Tell me what happened."

He told her.

There was another moment of silence, then Tammy said, "Do you want me to come down? I could–"

"I don't think that's necessary. Not right now. You know Terry, she's subject to sudden explosions. And last night she was obviously really tied up in knots. This is her doing. I'm sure of it."

Tammy said, "Well . . . Okay. But call me if anything happens. And have her call me if she shows up." He agreed and they hung up.

"Are you as sure as you sound?" Nicky asked.

He shook his head. "Not at all. But there's no real point in her flying down here until we know more than we do now." He stood up and made a face. "I sometimes get fed up with everybody rearranging their lives whenever Terry sneezes." He shook his head. "It's just helping her to keep being helpless." He looked at the steaming mug in Nicky's hand. "Is there more coffee?"

"You could take a bath in the amount of coffee I made," she said proudly.

He smiled a little. "A cup at a time, internally, will be fine."

A few minutes later, the door opened and Sarah came in, her arms full of newspapers and several small paper bags.

"Bagels!" she announced loudly as she passed the living room. Nicky got up and followed her down the hall to the kitchen, where Perry was pouring himself a cup of coffee.

As Sarah was putting her parcels down on the counter, Nicky embraced her from behind, causing Sarah to go Eeep! and drop two small paper bags on the floor.

"Whaddya got there, Smidge?" Nicky asked, her mouth buried in the nape of Sarah's neck.

"Bagels. On the floor," she replied, and Perry blushed.

Nicky let go of Sarah and bent over to pick up the bags. "Funny place to leave your bagels," she said. "I was wondering what was taking you so long."

"Any sign of Terry?" Sarah asked, pulling her T-shirt back down.

"No. And Sam got some work this afternoon, until seven or eight tonight."

Nicky started pulling bagels and muffins and various small containers of cream cheese from the small bags. "That's good," Sarah said. "I thought they might stiff him since he canceled that work over the weekend at the last minute."

Perry made a face, but he didn't say anything. He sipped his coffee.

Sarah and Nicky clambered up on stools as Perry leaned against the stove.

"I'm going to call my hotel," Perry said suddenly. "Maybe there's some sort of message."

He reached for the wall phone and made the call. He identified himself as Sarah stuck her forefinger in a small container of nut flavored cream cheese and scooped out a small amount. Perry listened for a few moments, then he thanked the clerk and hung up.

"Nothing from Terry. My publisher called again, though. He's really pressuring me to allow them to make a movie out of 'Distance and Time.'"

"And you don't want to?" Sarah asked. "I think it would make a great movie."

"It could. Or it could make a really bad movie. No, the book's there. Let people read that."

"I've been re-reading 'Quartet,'" Nicky said. "Ever since I saw you on TV."

"Oh, God, not–"

She laughed. "No, not the Today Show. The night before, when you were on . . . No, two nights before. Sunday night, on Channel Thirteen."

"Oh, yes. That was taped a couple of months ago. I was pretty happy with that one."

Sarah got up and left the room.

"It . . ." Nicky said hesitantly. "It made me think. I mean . . . are you gay?"

He shook his head. "No, I'm not. And I've taken a fair amount of criticism–"

"Well, it made me think about how things are. How I used to think being gay or straight was just like preferring chocolate or vanilla. But it isn't really, is it?"

"Well, in an ideal–"

"It can't ever be, as long as things are the way they are. I've been reading your books, and I'd like to talk to you about them when we have a minute."

He shrugged. It was obvious that she wanted to talk to him about it right then, except that she wasn't quite sure what she wanted to say.

Tammy Nelson's walk was one thing she was proud of, one of many. She liked to move quickly, but she had a fairly severe limp, so she had decided very early on that it was worth almost any effort to avoid being clumsy and awkward. She didn't care if she fit in, but she was willing to work very hard to make sure she wasn't pitied.

Her walk was not like other people's, but it had its own grace and it got her where she was going. She was so used to attracting attention on the street that she didn't even notice it anymore. Six feet tall, broad-shouldered and narrow-hipped, propelling herself along with her cane, she made quite an impression.

She looked quite a bit like her sister Terry, but the effect was very different. Terry was all pastels and earth tones, seemingly smaller than she really was. Tammy was vibrant primary colors, larger than life, and hair was much redder (though that was artificial).

She always told the story about her days in law school, when everybody had assumed that she'd be going into something other than trial work. She was somewhat off-putting, the conventional wisdom ran, a little harsh and unsympathetic. One professor was heard to say simply, "she'd scare a jury to death." But trial work was her specialty, and she was very successful at it.

She took no pleasure in her walk today, however, as she grabbed her cane and levered herself erect. She strode out of her office, telling Priscilla that she'd be right back. She limped quickly to the Ladies Room and went inside. Going into an empty stall, she closed the door, sat down, and burst into tears.

Sam ran into Perry in the lobby of the building that evening. Perry had shaved and showered, changed his clothes and was wearing glasses.

"Disguise?" Sam asked.

"Oh, no. My contacts were in way too long so I thought I'd give my eyes a rest. How was work?"

"By the time I got there it was mostly done, so I just sat around most of the afternoon."

"Sounds like a good gig."

"Well, it's not always like that." They got on the elevator. "Sometimes it's wall to wall work. You can never predict."

"Do you work through an agency?" Perry asked, and Sam suddenly felt like a research subject.

"You almost have to. It's the only way to get in the door at any of these places. They take a pretty good cut, though, let me tell you. Almost fifty percent." They walked down the hall to the apartment. "And I miss paid sick days and–"

As Sam reached for his keys the door opened and Sarah, wearing a white shirt, black cutaway jacket and black tuxedo pants, bowed and motioned them into the apartment.

Sam looked nonplussed, then turned to Perry. "I hope you made a reservation."

Nicky, attired in a bright red kimono, had made them a delicious dinner of stir-fried vegetables and tofu over rice. Perry ducked out to buy a bottle of wine, and they all managed to have a pretty good time.

Sam found himself distracted a couple of times by Nicky, whirling around the table somehow serving, clearing and eating all at once. He was aware that she wore very little under her kimono, though it was not provocative or revealing at all. He was mad at himself for still being so aware of her in that way.

After dinner, Sam said, "I could use a little more alcohol–"

"I think we should go out and get some sinfully rich deserts and heavy duty caffeine," Sarah said.

Perry said, "I agree with that. I can't drink again like we did last night. Even one night was too much."

Sam shrugged. "Okay. Where should we go?"

"How about that place we went last weekend?" Sarah asked Nicky. "What was the name of it?"

Nicky looked dubious. "Something French, I think. But," she poked a thumb at Sam and Perry, "I don't think they . . ."

"Oh, I saw a couple of men there." Sarah said carelessly. "I wouldn't worry about that."

Perry had grown more and more quiet as the evening had worn on, and as they left the cafe he looked lost in deep thought.

"I think she's okay," Sam said with confidence he didn't feel. Sarah and Nicky had dropped a little behind, holding hands and giggling about something.

Perry looked up. "Hmmm?"

"Terry. I think she's okay." He threw his arm across Perry's narrow shoulders. "She usually manages to land on her feet."

"Ohh-hhh, Giiiirrrrls!" came a taunting sing-song from behind them, and as they turned a rock hit Perry on the cheek.

chapter nine