Pete awoke to hear a low moan from Carl's room, then a woman's cry of ecstasy. He sighed, wondering when Carl managed to sleep . . .
Then he remembered.
starling was lying in her sleeping bag, looking at the bedroom door. She turned and glanced at Pete. "That's spooky," she whispered.
"Apparently Daphne is carrying on Carl's good works," Pete said with a smile as there were a couple more moans and then some low voices. He started to roll over toward the window, feeling himself slide back toward sleep.
Then, suddenly, there was a pounding on the apartment door. "Pete! Pete! For God's sake, let me in! Pete, please!" Pete opened his eyes again. It didn't feel like he had been asleep at all.
Looking around, he wished he had a camera. Chet stood in the middle of the room, frozen in mid-tiptoe. He was coming from the bedroom and obviously heading for the door to the hall. He was carrying his shoes in one hand.
starling was sitting up in her sleeping bag, apparently startled awake, her revolver held in both hands and pointed right at Chet. Chet glanced from her to Pete, still frozen in place, and grinned nervously.
"Hi," he said.
"Hello, Chesterton," Pete replied.
Meanwhile, the banging and yelling was continuing. As Pete looked around he saw Daphne leaning in the bedroom doorway, wearing a pair of Carl's sweatpants and a languid smile. She gave a jaunty little bark. Pete turned back to the hall door, as if looking at it hard enough would let him see who was on the other side. "What the hell is it now?" he muttered, running his fingers through his hair.
"I feel like we were asleep for about twenty minutes," starling said, lowering her revolver. She was hiding her amusement at Chet's situation. Pete listened more closely to the yelling. "That sounds like Donna," he said, "I wonder how long she'll keep doing that if we just ignore her."
"How tall is she?" starling asked.
"Oh, she comes up to here on me," Pete said, indicating the bridge of his nose.
She cocked her revolver and aimed it at the door. Then she hesitated. "Does she ever wear high heeled shoes?" she asked.
Pete laughed. "Oh, what the hell," he said, getting to his feet, "let's see what she wants."
"I was only going to shoot over her head," she said, grinning.
Pete laughed again. "Well, she may be wearing those big ugly platform shoes of hers. Let's not take a chance." Pete found a pair of boxer shorts, pulled them on and went over to the door. Chet's expression made it plain that he didn't think all this was very funny, but Pete had known starling wasn't going to shoot.
Donna came in, glancing at starling, who was at the sink, pouring herself a glass of water. Chet waved a quick goodbye and slipped out the door, still carrying his shoes. Donna went right to the kitchen table and sat down. Pete went and sat opposite her, sensing that this was not going to be brief.
"Pete," she said, "your life is in danger."
Pete was tempted to tell her that this wasn't news, certainly not news important enough to justify waking them up. It would only qualify as news when his life wasn't in danger, but he didn't mention this. Holding up his part of the conversation would only prolong it. He just waited for her to continue.
"Tom told Henshaw," she said.
"He told him what?" Pete asked. He had a feeling that she'd had a script in her mind of how this would go and he wasn't playing his part properly.
"Last night, after you left, Tom told Henshaw," she said. "About you and Jenny."
"What?" Pete demanded. "How did Tom know?"
She rolled her eyes. "Oh, Pete, everybody knows. Anyway, Henshaw passed out right after that, and CJ and Tom took him back to the hospital. But, when he wakes up, you know what he'll do. He'll come right over here and he'll kill you."
starling laughed as she came over to the table. She patted Donna's shoulder. "Sure," she said.
"Listen, you don't know him," Donna said as starling sat down next to Pete. "He's–"
"Let him come," starling said, leaning back in her chair and sipping her water.
Pete shook his head. "Donna," he said, "I agree with starling, although maybe not for the same reasons. So, Philip Henshaw is pissed off and maybe he's going to try to kill me. What do you want me to do, go hide in a box for the rest of my life? Yes, I did fuck Jennifer Owens, quite a few times. Was it a good idea? Hell, no, it was a terrible idea, for everybody. But I did do it. Let him come, if he's going to, and we'll see what happens."
The bedroom door opened and Daphne glided out, waving absently as she made her way to the bathroom, still naked to the waist and smiling dreamily. With her wearing sweatpants and starling wearing the sweatshirt, it looked like they were sharing one pair of pajamas.
"Everything's always fucking sex in this place!" Donna yelled and she got up and stormed out, slamming the door.
"Can we go back to bed now?" starling asked.
He nodded. "Absolutely. But first, let me just say one thing. If Henshaw does come, let him say his piece. Assuming he's in a talking mood. Don't just shoot him."
"Okay," she said, yawning.
"If I know him, there's a good chance he'll burst in here, make a speech, wave a gun around and then get all merciful and noble and spare my miserable life." Pete shrugged. "I think he's probably earned that much. I sort of feel sorry for him, really. He's had a hell of a week. He thought last Friday was going to be his big night, and he ended up getting stabbed, and then before he knows it his girlfriend and the most important member of his band are killed."
"More important than you?" she asked.
He smiled. "Thanks for the vote," he said, "but drummers are more important than bass players. That's one of the universal rules of rock and roll. Probably of a lot of other kinds of music as well, now that I think of it, but definitely of rock and roll. But in this case it was way more than that, since he also wrote all the words to the songs. And songwriting is more important than drumming or singing or anything."
She thought about this for a while. "You could write lyrics, I bet. You're good with words."
He reached over and squeezed her arm through the heavy sweatshirt.
"Maybe," he said, "but I could never be as good as he was. I think too much. But in any case, don't forget that Henshaw now knows about me and Jenny. I don't think it's very likely that his reaction to that piece of information will be to want to write a bunch of songs with me."
"Oh, yeah," she said slowly. "That's too bad." She sighed. "You remember when you first told me about you and Jenny?"
Pete nodded. "I remember telling you, though I have no idea exactly when it was."
"I remember I offered to kill him for you, but you didn't want me to." She shrugged. "Maybe you should have said yes. I'm not sure, but I think that's funny."
Pete found himself smiling. "Two weeks ago, I would have thought it was appalling. Now I admit that I see what you mean. It is kind of funny. And, of course, it's appalling, too. I just hope it doesn't come to that."
She yawned. "Are you going to work today?"
He yawned as well and got to his feet. "What time is it?" he asked, which was such a silly question that they both laughed. "Anyway, no matter what time it is, the answer is no, because I'm going back to bed."
It had been late morning when Jan Sleet's interrogation of Marshall had ended. As that point, it was clear that she had some sort of idea about something, but Marshall had no idea what it was, and he was too tired to worry about it too much. He climbed into bed and fell asleep, but she sat up a while longer, smoking and thinking.
When he had opened his eyes in the late afternoon, however, she was in bed and asleep. She was buried way down under the covers, and when he lifted the sheet, he saw she was looking very pleased with herself.
When Pete next opened his eyes, he yawned and stretched, and suddenly he realized he was smelling coffee.
"Coffee?" he asked, though he hadn't consciously intended to say it out loud.
"You want some?" came starling's voice, closer than he would have expected. He opened his eyes and rolled over. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor beside his bed, a steaming mug of coffee on one side of her and a cigarette in an ashtray on the other. She was wearing the sweatshirt she'd slept in, her usual fatigue pants and her glasses. One of his notebooks was open on the floor in front of her.
"Good morning," he said. By the light coming in the window he could tell it was already the middle of the afternoon. "How long were you going to let me sleep?"
She shrugged. "Until you woke up. Or until something happened."
"Have you been up long?"
"A little while. I don't always sleep very well. After all that stuff before, I kept waking up again." She took off her glasses and stood up. "I'll get you some coffee."
As she went to the stove, taking her mug with her, he located his glasses and put them on. He took a puff from her cigarette.
"You want milk?" she asked.
"Sure," he replied, assuming that she was kidding. Nobody had milk in those days. She brought over the two mugs and put them on the floor, indicating which one was his. And they did have milk in them.
"Thanks," he said as she sat down again. He picked up the mug and sipped. He would have asked where she had found the milk, but he was afraid of the answer.
"I was reading about Carl," she said. He looked again at the notebook in front of her. Now that he had his glasses on, he could see that it was the book where he wrote a page on every person he met in U-town.
Pete didn't know quite what to say, so he said, "I did a page for you, too."
She nodded. "I saw it." He could tell that most of her attention was on something other than their conversation. Then she looked up. "You didn't put in my name."
He shrugged, knowing she meant her real name. "I thought it was probably better not to have that written down anyplace." She nodded absently, obviously still distracted. He sipped his coffee and then he asked, "What is it?"
"Something's eating at you. What is it?"
She took off her glasses again and folded them, then she took a bandanna from the pocket of her sweatshirt, shook it out and laid it down carefully on the edge of his bed. Placing her glasses in the center, she was about to start wrapping them up, but Pete got a hint of an odor and reached out his hand. She lifted up the glasses, looking a bit puzzled, and he took the bandanna. He held it up to his nose and breathed in. He fell back on the bed and spread the bandanna out over his face. "It smells like Jenny," he said.
"It came with the glasses," she replied. He sighed and pulled himself together, sitting up and handing her back the bandanna. She carefully wrapped up the glasses, frowning. Pete knew his question was still going around in her mind.
She slowly shook her head. She was wearing socks but not her boots, and he reached out and put two fingers on the little strip of flesh between the top of her socks and the bottom of her pants. She looked up and after a moment she smiled a little, though there was still a crease running down the center of her forehead. She put down her mug and took his hand in both of hers. "Pete," she said quietly, "you're–"
The bedroom door flew open, and Daphne burst out, scrambled joyfully across the kitchen floor and leaped onto Pete's bed, landing on her back with her hands and feet in the air, panting happily. She was dressed in her usual black sweatshirt and jeans. starling gave his hand a quick squeeze and released it as she said, "Dogs off the bed!"
"Damn," said Daphne. She slowly rolled over and off the mattress, then she got to her feet. She sniffed at the two mugs on the floor and then padded over to her bowl by the sink. She looked down into it, then turned and barked.
starling got to her feet. "I'll get her some coffee."
Pete stood up and realized for the first time how cold the apartment was. The sun was streaming in the windows, and that made it look warmer than it really was.
starling poured coffee and then some milk into Daphne's bowl as Pete brought their mugs and the ashtray over to the table. Daphne looked down into the bowl and then barked again. He put the things down and went to look over starling's shoulder. "I think she prefers it a little lighter," he said. starling poured in a bit more milk and Daphne licked her hand before starting to drink.
starling put down the coffee pot and turned around, looking disgruntled. "This thing itches," she said, tugging at the neck of her sweatshirt.
"It could probably use a good washing," he said. "Maybe we can do that later." She reached back over her shoulders, tugging at the dusty fabric until she had pulled it off. She draped it over the back of a chair and went to her sleeping bag where she picked up her bra and put it on. Then she shook out her T-shirt and pulled it on over her head. They all heard the worn, washed-out fabric rip even further.
"Oh," she said, looking down, as she obviously realized that it was going to be difficult to arrange what was left of the shirt to cover both of her breasts at the same time. She tugged at the strips of cloth, but it was obviously a losing battle.
Daphne looked up from her bowl of coffee and barked a couple of times.
"That's not going to work unless you stay absolutely motionless for the rest of the day," Pete said. starling looked at him, smiling, and he laughed. "Plus, in this cold you'd probably want something with a little less ventilation. We've got to get you some clothes, but for now let's see what Carl's closet has to offer."
Carl's "closet" was a thick wooden dowel he had nailed up across one end of his tiny room. Like everything else in the room, you had to walk on the mattress to get to it.
starling proved to be surprisingly finicky. Carl had worn some sort of scented oil from time to time, and starling immediately rejected any garment with that smell on it. And he had tended toward unusual colors and designs, and all of those were rejected as well, though not as vehemently as the ones with the scent.
About halfway through the process, Daphne came in, went to the center of the mattress and circled three times before collapsing. Pete went to her and kneeled, rubbing her back as starling asked, "What is this?"
"It's a jumpsuit," he replied.
"Is it supposed to be this color?"
Pete laughed. "That was made especially for him, I'll have you know. He used to date this woman who made clothes. She . . . Oh, God, this is awful. I've forgotten her name. I can see her as clear as anything. Tall, with dark hair, quite a bit older than he was. I liked her a lot. Their relationship had some . . . substance to it, or at least it seemed to. Carl told me later that he knew he was going to have to break up with her when he saw that jumpsuit, though. Both because he knew he couldn't ever bring himself to wear it, and also because it caused him to reassess his entire idea of what kind of a person she was."
starling's final take from Carl's rather extensive wardrobe was two T-shirts, one flannel shirt (which Pete thought had originally been his) and a pair of jeans that they were going to have to hem. As they were going over things, Daphne suddenly opened one eye and started sniffing. One of Carl's sweaters, one of the ones with the strong scent, was lying on the bed about a foot from her, and she squirmed over to it and rested her head on it, closing her eyes again.
starling and Pete went back into the other room, leaving the bedroom door ajar, and starling put on one of the T-shirts and carefully placed the rest of the clothing on the little pile of her possessions in the corner. They sat down at the table again and she frowned. Going through Carl's clothes had distracted her for a while, but now Pete could tell that her thoughts were back to where they had been before. She brought her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them, her heels resting on the edge of the chair.
"Last night was weird," she said.
Pete nodded. "It felt like it lasted at least a week." Pete looked around at the room, quiet and dusty, with the afternoon sun streaming in the windows. "I keep expecting something to happen," Pete said, "some sort of shooting or explosion, or at least some yelling."
She suddenly stood up and went over to the hall door and opened it. Pete thought for a second she was leaving, but she pointed at the words which were painted on the door.
"Pete, tell me about 'Living in Unfortunate Circumstances.' You keep saying you will, but you never do."
She came back to the table, and he knew what she was really saying. Stuff was whirling around faster and faster in her head, and she needed to be distracted before it spun out of her control.
"Okay," he said, "short story first. Then you can have the long version if you want it." He got up and went to the stove. "U-town was founded around four years ago, the idea of three friends." He carried the coffee pot back to the table and topped off both their mugs. starling pulled at the collar of Carl's T-shirt, and Pete could tell that it would be a while before it fit to her satisfaction.
The pot was empty, so he put it down on the table and sat down again. "Due to a combination of circumstances, the people who live in this neighborhood decided to secede from the United States. They no longer wanted to be part of the city, the state or the country. And, due to an even more complex combination of circumstances, the government decided to let them get away with it."
starling lifted her mug and sipped from it. Pete usually had the feeling that if he talked at any length about anything that her attention would start to wander, but she was listening to him with obvious interest.
"The government's tolerant attitude was not their first reaction, however. Their first reaction was a night of bombing, which surprised some people, but not everyone. I'm sure you've noticed how some buildings are fine, some are half-falling down and others are just piles of rubble. And how some streets are fine and others are all torn up. All that happened in one night."
starling's eyes widened, her expression so intense that Pete hesitated for a moment. "Keep going!" she said urgently. "Don't stop. Tell me more."
Thinking that he was apparently succeeding beyond his wildest dreams in distracting her, he continued. "I read about all this in the newspapers, and saw some bad amateur film of it on television. The next day, when asked why the military had bombed its own citizens when they weren't doing anything violent or destructive, the governor said that he couldn't just stand by when so many people were living in unfortunate circumstances."
starling looked puzzled, and Pete grinned. "It's not you," he reassured her. "It really doesn't make sense. A lot of people here took it up as a badge of honor. They were living in unfortunate circumstances and damn proud of it. The governor apparently concluded that the lesson to be learned from the whole thing was that the press is a big hindrance when you're trying to get things done efficiently. He–"
"This is great," starling said breathlessly. "Tell me more."
Pete had the uncomfortable feeling you get when somebody is laughing enthusiastically at all of your jokes, whether or not they're funny. He finished his coffee and put down the mug. "Listen, I have an idea. If you want the long story, let's go out and I can show you the historical sights, then we can–"
starling was already on her feet, moving to the corner where her guns were. "That sounds great," she said over her shoulder. She fastened on her gunbelt and started to slip on her shoulder holster.
Pete found her enthusiasm a little unnerving, like getting a big ovation for tuning up, before you've actually played a song. He got up and went to get his coat, but starling was already at the door, waiting, holding out his coat for him.
It was cold on the street, and they walked quickly, with their hands in their pockets. "I started a comic about U-town," Pete said. "I'll have to show it to you when we get home. I've done a lot of pages, but it's just ballpoint pen on notebook paper. Someday I should go back and do it right, with a real pen on good paper, but I never get around to it."
Ahead of them, a woman was wheeling a baby in a wobbly carriage. She looked at them, started to turn away, then looked back at starling, her eyes wide. Snatching her baby out of the carriage, she ran down the block away from them. As they turned a corner, they passed three men drinking beer on the front stoop of a brownstone. As they went past, the men were deep into an argument about whether this was the real starling or just another wannabe. She didn't seem to notice any of this, but Pete didn't know if it was just because she was so used to it or because her attention was totally wrapped up in what he had been telling her.
When Marshall and Jan Sleet finally got up and dressed, they went out into the kitchen to find Fifteen sitting at the high table with T.C. and Finch. Greetings were exchanged, and Fifteen hopped down from his stool to fetch a cup of coffee and a danish for Jan Sleet.
"You two certainly keep odd hours," T.C. commented, sipping her coffee. She lit cigarettes for Jan Sleet and herself. "I can only hope that this isn't a problem in your line of work. In my experience, most employers look askance at people who sleep until all hours."
"Well, as a reporter, I have to be out and around when the news is happening," Jan Sleet said cheerfully, "and sometimes the most interesting things don't happen during business hours."
"Speaking of which," Fifteen said, "do you have plans for this evening?"
Jan Sleet shook her head. "Nothing so far."
"No more dates for the moment?" Finch asked.
She giggled. "Oh, I got what I wanted from him. Maybe I'll call him again, and maybe I won't." She turned to Fifteen. "Why did you ask me about my plans for this evening? Are you going to ask me out on a date?"
Fifteen managed to avoid choking on his soda. "Oh, well," he said, "that wasn't really what I was thinking of. I wouldn't presume to be so forward, Miss Sleet, but if you and Marshall are free, there is an event that might prove to be of interest . . ."
Pete took starling up to the roof of the Federal Building. Breathing heavily from all the stairs they had climbed, they looked out on the court house (opposite), the state office building (on the right) and police headquarters (on the left). All were deserted and covered with graffiti, with most of their windows broken.
In the center of the square formed by the four buildings was a small park, or it had been a park until one of the bombs dropped on the First Night had turned it into a crater. It was windy up on the roof, but not uncomfortable. It was nice to be able to look out across U-town.
"A lot of it started right down there," he said. "There were several factors–"
"What's that?" she asked, pointing at the crater. "How did that happen?"
"The bombing. Actually–"
"When was that? How long ago?"
"Around four years, more or less," he said patiently. "It was–"
She put a hand on his arm, smiling sheepishly. "Pete, I'm sorry. Tell me everything. I'm . . . you can't know how important this all is to me."
"Well, it was a series of crises, one right after the other. The whole city was in a mess. For one thing, the city's finances had basically collapsed right after the mayor had been sworn in for his third term. Some claimed it was mismanagement, some claimed graft, some claimed divine intervention, but the important fact was that there was no money.
"Then the welfare checks were delayed. The federal government stepped in and guaranteed they'd be sent by the fifteenth of the month, but people who live that way don't have two weeks' food money just lying around. So, things were starting to get very tense. Then a bank, run by a big-time supporter of the mayor, closed its doors and all the unemployment checks for that week bounced."
starling's attention was obviously starting to wander, but she was looking out over the city with an expression he'd never seen before. He didn't know what she was thinking about, but he got the idea she was looking forward to it. "I get the feeling that you're not in the mood for more explanation of the economic underpinnings of social change," he said.
"Hmmm?" she said, turning. "Well, no, I'm not. Two things." She ticked them off on her fingers in a pretty good Pete imitation. "First, you've already told me what I needed to know, and that stuff is so exciting that I'm having trouble concentrating on the rest. And second, I'm really hungry."
He laughed. "Okay, I can understand both of those. And I'm pretty hungry, too. Let's go to Feb Isle before somebody blows it up."
He turned toward the door to the stairs, but she caught his wrist in her fingers and tugged him back. Then, much to his surprise, she put her arms around him and rested her head on his shoulder.
Pete was a beat slow, but finally he put his arms around her. "I know I'm all impatient and I'm not listening," she said, "but it's only because I'm so excited. You've given me something really great, and I can't thank you enough. I could save your life ten more times and we'd still be even up." She squeezed him. "Thanks, Pete."
"I have no idea what you're thanking me for," he said.
She pulled her head back and he was amazed to see tears on her cheeks, running down on either side of her smile.
"That's a long story," she said, wiping her face with her sleeve. "Maybe longer than yours. Let's go eat."
He nodded and they walked toward the door to the stairs. As they stepped down into the unlighted stairwell, she said, "When you do tell me the whole story, you will explain why the police building is all wrapped up in pink cloth, won't you?"
"Of course," he said. "That's one of the best parts of the story."
"I'm hoping we'll run into Chet tonight," Pete said as they strolled toward the February Island Coffee Shop.
"Why?" starling asked.
He grinned. "Because I think he deserves some teasing about this morning."
"You mean about sleeping with Daphne?"
Pete shook his head. "I don't care about that. They're both grown-ups. No, I intend to tease him about how weird and furtive he was about it. Trying to sneak out so we wouldn't know he'd been there." He took a few steps in imitation of Chet's tip-toed exit, holding his hand out as though he was carrying his shoes. "Why try to keep it a secret, like it's something to be ashamed of? Why didn't he stick around and have breakfast with us? Lord knows I had breakfast with Carl and his various playmates enough times. Sometimes we didn't have chairs enough for them all." He laughed. "Most of the time I never even learned their names, and I'm not sure he did either."
"Maybe I make Chet nervous. Maybe that's why he snuck out like that."
"I don't think that's it. Of course, he was plenty nervous this morning, but I think he was sneaking out to avoid me, not you. He's never acted nervous around you before. You've met Randi, haven't you? If you'd actually tried to shoot him, you'd be gone now. No, he didn't want me to know he'd slept with Daphne. Like we were still fifteen years old and he didn't want me to know he'd kissed my sister."
"Do you have any recordings of your band?" she asked as they turned the final corner.
"What?" he asked, startled by the non sequitur. "Tapes?"
She nodded. "I was thinking about it this morning when I was reading in the book about Carl, Henshaw and Tom. I–" She interrupted herself. "Do you think Henshaw is really going to try to kill you?"
He shrugged as they entered the restaurant through the broken glass door. "I wonder," he said, looking around. It was still a little early and most of the booths were empty. They went down to his favorite one, near the back.
"I'm not as sure about Henshaw as Donna is, that's for sure," Pete said as they sat down. "I mean, I know why she thinks that, but Henshaw's gone through a lot. The gig, the stabbing, Jenny dead, Carl dead, the Q blown up with all our equipment in it. I'm not sure anybody could go through all that in a week without being changed, not even somebody as rigid and stubborn as he is." He caught her expression and nodded. "Yes," he added, "and in addition to all that he killed a man on Friday."
She nodded, then Pete sighed and he could feel his shoulders sag. "It's all so stupid," he said, lighting a cigarette. "Two guys fighting over the affections of a girl who can't love either of them because she's fucking dead. I'm half-tempted to go visit Henshaw and see if there's some way we can talk this out."
starling shook her head. "I don't think that's a good idea."
"Because I'm not going to let you go alone. And if I'm there and he starts something, I'll have to kill him."
Pete found this statement both very touching and very depressing. starling looked out the window at the darkening street for a minute, then turned back. "Do you have any tapes of your band? I'd like to hear them. I liked the practice, but it probably wasn't the same thing."
He had to stop himself from smiling. It was strange to see her change moods and subject matter so quickly. Whatever had got her so excited earlier was still having an effect.
"I have a couple of tapes," he said as Roy the waiter dropped two menus on the table and then moved away too quickly for them to order anything. "They're just live tapes from gigs we played, and the sound's not that great," he continued, "but the problem is that I don't have a tape player. I'm trying to think who does have one, one that actually works. Henshaw does, I think, but this probably isn't a good time to ask him to use it." She smiled. "Charley would have let us use the one at the Q, of course, but that's out now, too." He thought for a moment, drawing smoke deep into his lungs and trying unsuccessfully to blow a smoke ring.
"Ah," he said, "Barry has a bunch of equipment, and I think he has a tape or two that I don't have, too. Maybe we should try to find him tonight."
"Barry? Have I met him?"
That caught Pete up short. It was funny to be reminded that there were actually people he knew who starling hadn't met yet. "No, I guess you haven't," he said.
"Was he at the funeral?"
He shrugged. "I didn't see him, but that doesn't mean much. In a mob like that, I'm sure all kinds of people were there who I didn't see. I should introduce you to Barry anyway. If you're interested in the Founding and all that, he's the one to see. He runs a pirate radio station from time to time, and he knows more about that stuff than almost anybody." He grinned, putting out his cigarette. "If we do manage to play some tapes, you'll have to be sure to tell me when you've had enough. Once I start playing tapes, I can go on all night." He glanced around, suddenly feeling hungry, but Roy was nowhere in sight.
starling took out her glasses and looked at the menu. As usual when she was reading, her thin lips pressed together and her jaw shifted a little to one side. Pete found himself looking at her more than at the menu (which he knew by heart anyway). It was incredible, as he thought about it, how quickly she had gone from somebody he saw on magazine covers and posters to somebody whose face he knew as well as he knew anybody's.
Pete had left his cigarettes on the table, and starling reached out absently and flicked her finger against the bottom of the pack until one cigarette stuck out the top a little. She put it in her mouth and he lit a match. She leaned forward, still reading the menu, and he lit it for her.
After a while, Roy came over and sighed, as if he might be willing to take their order.
"I want a cheeseburger," starling said. "Very rare, with fried onions and home fries."
"There is no cheese," he began, "and the home fries–"
He stopped because starling was standing up, grinning, her revolver worming its way up into his nostril. "Pete," she said calmly, "take his little pad there and write down my order, and whatever you want."
Pete complied as the people in the next booth seemed to realize all of a sudden that there was something under their table which required their immediate attention. When he was done, starling took the pad from him, her eyes still on Roy, and stuck it into his shirt pocket. "Now, don't take all day, either," she said. "We're very hungry."
Roy paused for a moment, regarding the ceiling as starling holstered her gun and sat down. He looked at Pete and asked, "And will you and the young lady be wanting some coffee?"
Pete nodded. "That would be fine, thank you." Roy moved off and Pete started to wonder what would be an appropriate tip under the circumstances. He had known starling wasn't about to shoot, but he was sure this had been an usually rough waiter/customer interaction, even for Roy.
"God, I feel great," starling blurted out, then she smiled sheepishly. "I'm sorry, were you about to say something?"
"Just that you may become a local legend at this rate. First re-opening Duffy's and now intimidating Roy. So, are you going to tell me why you're so happy?"
She glanced around. The couple in the next booth had finished their business under the table and were sitting stiffly. starling leaned forward and said quietly, "Yes, of course I'm going to tell you, but not here. It has to be someplace where nobody can hear us."
She smiled and he knew what she had in mind. He didn't say anything, though, since he could tell she wanted it to be a surprise. She looked at the list on the table for a moment, drawing deeply on her cigarette. "So," she said, "how are we going to find Deirdre Hammersmith now?"
Pete had known for a while that this was coming, but he hadn't dreamed he'd get to bring it up with her in such a good mood. "Well," he said, folding the list and putting it back in his pocket, "I've been thinking about that. There are four people who know a lot about what goes on around here. George, Dr. Lee, Frances and me. I know I don't know anything more, so let's look at the others. We've asked all three of them and come up with nothing. But any one or more of them could easily be holding something back. So," he asked her, "what's next?"
She was surprised at his throwing it back to her. She frowned in thought, then looked up.
"Frances," she said.
"Exactly," he agreed. "Why?"
"Two reasons. When you asked her, you thought she was your friend, but she's not. And she's the one we can frighten."
He nodded. "True. But there's one thing about that. We can lean on Frances and maybe scare something out of her, if she knows anything, but I'm not crazy about threatening my friends with guns."
starling looked at him thoughtfully. "She's still your friend?"
"I'd say so. I think Vicki was right. Frances made a mistake, a big mistake, but she was really doing what she thought was best for everyone. It's not like she did it for money, or even to save her own hide. I'm sure Novak would have given her money, if she'd have asked for it, but she would never have taken money to do what she did."
"I thought last night she might leave town."
"She won't," he said. "That would be admitting that she did something so bad that she couldn't ever face people around here again. Well, she doesn't think she did anything that bad. When she first told us, last night, I condemned her because she'd done something wrong, something I never would have done.
"That's the way Henshaw thinks. He sees something and knows it's something he would never have done, so he condemns it absolutely. He never thinks to compare it to things he has done, things which might be just as bad, even if they're different. I'll give you an example. He found out I slept with Jenny and is probably now planning to kill me. Why? Because he knows he would never have slept with his best friend's girlfriend, and he's right. I don't think he would have done that. But he did abandon his wife and children to come here, so he's not exactly Mr. Fidelity. But his infidelity isn't the same as mine, so he doesn't draw any parallel."
"What does this have to do with Frances?" she asked.
"That's a good question," Pete said, trying to remember where he'd been going. "Oh, yes," he said. "I condemned Frances because I wouldn't have done what she did. I know a lot of things Novak would love to know, but he's never offered me a deal." He shrugged. "I have own weaknesses, of course, don't get me wrong. That's the whole point. I've done some bad stuff, and so have you. Are we beyond hope?" He shrugged. "If we're not, then she's not."
"Which one of you gets the cheeseburger?" Roy asked, his eyes fixed on something outside the window.
"That would be the young lady," Pete said pleasantly. Roy placed the platter in front of her and she lifted the corner of the bun. "Rare enough, dear?" Pete asked.
She nodded. "Just fine, thank you," she said, not meeting his eyes.
"They'll be so relieved back in the kitchen," Roy said, placing his burger in front of Pete and moving slowly away. starling took a bite and started to chew.
"So," Pete said, reaching for the mustard, "here it is in a nutshell. Frances is still my friend, more or less, and I'm not going to go heavying up on her unless I know what's really going on here." starling paused for a split-second, then resumed chewing more slowly. "Before you say anything," he continued, "I want to be clear about this." He wiped off his fingers and ticked off the points as he made them.
"Point number one: you don't need to say anything.
"Point number two: I know that the story of Deirdre Hammersmith wanting to hire you to kill somebody isn't true." She started to speak, but he kept on going.
"Point number three: it's not a problem that you didn't tell me before, you told me that story when you'd known me for all of ten minutes.
"So, my final point: if we're going to go on with this search, you have to tell me the truth. Or we can drop it. Either way is okay with me, and you certainly don't have to decide right this minute. But you do have to decide."
He took a bite of his burger and he could tell she was trying to figure out what to say first.
"How did you know the story wasn't true?" she asked.
"That was pretty easy, actually," he said. "I believed it at first because I didn't think about it. But then, as I did start to think about it, I started to wonder.
The more I thought about the story, the less sense it made. For one thing, you're a hunted fugitive, with no fixed abode, as the saying goes. How would anybody find you to hire you? Also, the public perception of you is that you're crazy, an out-of-control lunatic. If I wanted a particular person killed, would I hire somebody who might be just as likely to kill me, or three other people? That didn't make sense either. So, I knew the story wasn't true. Maybe you're here looking for Deirdre Hammersmith and maybe not, but if you are it isn't for that reason."
Pete felt like he'd been talking for an hour. He took another bite of his burger as she sighed. "Usually when I tell people that, they believe it," she said. "That someone is hiring me to kill somebody."
Pete chuckled. "That's what it's like to have a bad reputation. People believe anything bad about you without thinking about it very carefully. If I told people you were a lesbian voodoo priestess who sacrificed young virgins on the vernal equinox to celebrate the return of the goddess Kali at the end of the universe, they'd probably say, 'Oh, yes, I think I read that somewhere.'"
He thought it would take her a while to decide, but she just smiled and swallowed. "I already decided to tell you the whole thing," she said, salting her home fries. "It's all the same story. Just," she glanced around nervously again, "not here."
Pete remembered what Chet always said when you asked him a question he didn't want to answer. "Well, I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you." He looked out the window at the sky, dark by now, and suddenly a shudder ran though him.
"What is it?" starling asked, reaching out, obviously alarmed. He took her hand across the table and held it.
"I'm okay," he said. "I just thought about that black thing which flies over every night. If we keep killing each other down here, they won't have to do anything more than just watch and wait."
He looked up and saw a familiar chubby figure walking past the window. "Hey," he said, "there's Barry now. Hang on."
Pete ran for the exit, jumping over Roy's foot, which just happened to be sticking out into the aisle as he passed. Pete was starting to reconsider how big a tip he should leave him as he hit the sidewalk and yelled, "Barry!"
He yelled a couple more times as he trotted after the portly figure. Barry was oblivious, though, and moving fairly quickly. Finally, Pete yelled, "Hey, Fuzz-Ball!"
That got his attention. He stopped and looked around, finally turning as Pete ran up.
"Petronius," he said. "I've been looking for you. I went by your place, but you weren't there. I was going to go in and leave a note, but then your dog started barking and I didn't want to open the door. Is he dangerous?"
"Yes and no," Pete said, leading him back down the street to the restaurant, "and it's a she. Come on, I'm eating in Feb Isle."
"Ah," Barry said, as though this was an odd place for Pete to be, a place he never would have thought of looking.
"I was hoping I'd run into you," Pete said as they entered the restaurant. "I was wondering if you–"
"Big news," Barry said impatiently. "Excuse me," he said, sitting down next to starling and nearly pushing her into the wall. "Pete," he said, "the Jolly Roger is finally back on the air!"
"You got the transmitter fixed?" Pete asked as starling, looking somewhat put out, pulled her food toward her, glancing at Barry as though she was afraid he'd start to eat it otherwise.
Pete had to smile. It was good news that Barry had the radio station operational again, but it was also funny to see how oblivious he was to starling. He'd barely glanced at her, and he clearly had no idea who she was.
"Charley and I had to go into the city to buy parts," he explained. He made a face, and Pete knew why. Barry hated to leave U-town. Something awful always happened when he did. The last time he'd gone he'd been mugged, all his money stolen, and somehow he'd broken his foot. He nodded happily as though someone had asked a question. "Once we got the parts it went pretty quick. We're going to fire it up in an hour or two, and we wanted you to come by and say a few words about Carl and the band. On the air. Would that be okay?"
"Great," he said. "Donna's going to come down and talk about what happened at the Quarter." He looked at Pete searchingly. "She doesn't seem to blame Frances," he said. "I can't understand it. She sold us all out–"
"Save it for the show," Pete said. "Why don't we hash it out on the air?"
Barry always liked that argument. He would have lived his whole life on the air if he could have.
"Great," he said, getting to his feet. "Gotta run. See you later."
He lumbered toward the door and out, and starling moved back to the middle of her seat, sliding her plate and silverware along. "I thought about shooting him," she said tartly, "but I didn't think he'd notice."
Pete laughed. "Probably not. So, that was Barry. And, typically, I didn't get to ask him about the tapes, and he told me everything I need to know about the broadcast except where they're doing it from. So, how he expects–"
"Pete!" called Fifteen as he hurried down the aisle, "the Jolly Roger–"
"I know," Pete said. "Barry was just here. He didn't tell me where, though."
Fifteen paused to tip his cap and say, "Hello, Miss Starling," before turning back to Pete. "The Cave," he said. "That's where they're doing it."
Pete nodded. "Okay. Better pull up a chair," he added, since Fifteen seemed to be intent on joining them. Pete didn't think it would be a good idea for him to try to squeeze in next to starling right then.
He grabbed a wobbly chair and pulled it over to the table as starling looked around. "That other guy isn't with you?" she asked. "The one who's always biting people?"
He laughed a rather casual laugh, as though he wanted it known that he chatted with nationally-famous lunatics every day. "The Drone? Oh, no, I haven't see him today. So, what did you think of the funeral? Pretty impressive, I thought."
starling pondered the question as Pete rotated his platter so the fries were on Fifteen's side and motioned for him to take some. Pete was tempted to ask him how his project of playing hard-to-get was going with Christy, but he didn't want to cut off starling's reply.
"I don't go to a lot of funerals," she said slowly, which might have been funny in another context. "It was . . ." she frowned. "I didn't like the speeches. I mean, we didn't hear that many of them. I liked the burning part."
This was obviously a more carefully considered response than Fifteen had really been expecting, but as has been mentioned, starling wasn't very good at small talk.
Fifteen nodded, wiping ketchup from his chin. "I liked it," he said. "It was difficult to have to think about both Carl and Jenny at the same time."
Pete nodded, wondering in the back of his mind if Fifteen had known about him and Jenny. "True," he said. "I think it was especially hard for people like Frances who liked Carl and hated Jenny."
He nodded. "Very true. So, have you two been having a nice day?"
Pete shrugged. "I feel like I'm in a movie where one character says, 'It's quiet, too quiet,'" and then all hell breaks loose. I keep expecting something to happen."
starling shrugged, finishing her burger. Anticipating trouble was obviously not a big concern to her. Pete wiped his hands on his T-shirt and said, "I guess we might as well head along to the Cave." starling stood up and stretched as Pete picked up the check. They moved toward the cashier and he chuckled. "Roy never did bring our coffee, did he?"
starling shook her head. "Maybe we should get that special coffee, like the other night."
"No, not two nights in a row," he said as he paid the bill. "It's too special to have that often. We'll get some regular coffee down the block."
"The coffee lady?" Fifteen asked. "On V. Ave.? She still won't sell it to me. Says I'm too young. You think it's true what they say about the breast milk?"
They strolled in no particular hurry, Fifteen wheeling his bicycle next to starling and Pete. starling and Pete were sipping coffee from containers he'd bought.
"What's this radio station?" starling asked.
"It's a pirate station that Barry runs from time to time. It's his passion and obsession for some reason. He really doesn't seem to care much about anything else, and he's a bit oblivious to the fact that nobody else is quite as crazy about it as he is. He usually gets it going for a few days or weeks, and then something goes wrong and by then he's usually run out of things to say anyway. He's obsessed with U-town and its history, but often he sees the details, the names and events, but he sort of forgets about why things happened." Pete shook his head. "Barry annoys a lot of people, but I'll tell you this. If they ever do decide to shut off our electricity completely, I think he could probably power the whole place himself, just on sheer enthusiasm. I–"
"Work!" Fifteen blurted out, jumping onto his bike. Then Pete saw the bright green bandanna tied around the light pole at the end of the block. There was a rolled-up piece of paper sticking up out of it. This was one way people hired runners, the piece of paper told what the job was, who wanted it done, and for how much.
Another runner had spotted this one at the same moment, though, and was bearing down on it from the opposite direction. The paper was on the right side of the pole, and if they both tried to pass on that side there would be a collision, so Fifteen jumped his bike up onto the sidewalk to pass the pole on the left. At the last moment, as he passed the pole, he snaked his hand around and snatched the paper a second before the other runner could grab it.
The other runner wasn't going to let it go, however. He looked a few years older than Fifteen and quite a bit bigger as he skidded to a stop, yelling curses after Fifteen who was sailing down the street, the piece of paper held triumphantly over his head.
"That's my order, you little fucker!" the older runner yelled after him, getting his bike turned around. "I'm gonna–"
starling put her revolver a couple of inches from his ear and fired into the air. Then she pulled a large hunting knife from inside her coat and plunged it into his rear tire, which was so over-inflated that it seemed to explode, blowing him to the sidewalk. starling holstered her revolver and squatted down beside him. She pointed after Fifteen with the blade of her knife. "He calls me 'Miss Starling,'" she explained as the guy started to shake. "I like that. Leave him alone."
The Cave was a basement club. Pete went down the wobbly stairs and knocked on the door with an elaborate syncopation. The door swung open and starling came down carefully behind him, looking dubious about the whole thing. He could tell she was reluctant to get involved with any project Barry was running.
Somebody Pete didn't know opened the door and motioned them inside. He had expected the place to be closed, but the small basement room was packed. The small stage had a table on it with two microphones. Pete almost laughed as they were led between the close-packed little tables. Barry had finally achieved his dream situation, a radio broadcast with a live audience. Pete looked around the tiny, smoky room as they moved carefully through and saw many one-time Quarter patrons. He guessed that the other bars and clubs in the area would all be doing good business tonight, since the Quarter was gone.
Two tables had been pushed together next to the tiny stage and this was obviously for the people who were going to be part of the broadcast. Pete saw Emma, Chet, Donna and several other familiar faces. Chet had an empty chair on either side of him, and he slid over as they approached so starling and Pete could sit together. Pete could tell that Randi was there also, though she didn't speak right away.
Pete greeted everybody and leaned over to Chet. "Chesterton," I said, "I was hoping I'd run into you tonight. What was with all that sneaky stuff this morning?"
Chet shrugged, looking sheepish. "I wasn't sure how you'd feel about it," he murmured.
Pete was surprised. "How I'd feel about it? What's it got to do with me?"
Chet chuckled, shaking his head. Somebody put beers in front of them and Pete drank some of his. "Petronius," Chet said, "you don't stop and think how your living situation must look to others. You're living with two women, one of them a real babe who you lead around on a leash, and the other is . . ." He shrugged, obviously hesitant to categorize starling when she was within earshot. "And you're with her 24/7. I've already heard several entertaining theories about who does what and to whom."
Pete was surprised, both at hearing Daphne referred to as a "babe" (though she was attractive), and at Chet's report of the rumors flying around. Pete knew rumors were as common as broken glass, but he wasn't used to being the subject of them. Both starling and Daphne seemed so normal to him that he had lost track of how others might see them.
"If your lady friend doesn't mind you sleeping with my dog, I certainly don't," Pete said. "Stick around for breakfast next time."
Chet laughed as Randi said, "Oh, I certainly don't mind." starling jumped a little as the warm, playful voice joined their conversation. "When Chet does something like that, I just climb inside his head and enjoy it right along with him. Sometimes I have more fun than he does."
Pete didn't know what to say to that, so he looked around the room. His eyes were starting to adjust to the gloom. The walls were made of brick, laid in slightly uneven rows, and usually they were bare. Tonight, however, in honor of the occasion, they were covered in posters and flags and banners and he wasn't sure what else. All were from Barry's private collection, and it looked like he had wanted to hang as many as he possibly could and hadn't known when to stop. The only decoration that wasn't hemmed in by half a dozen others was on the back wall of the stage. It was easily the most godawful thing in the room, but Pete knew Barry loved it. It was big, square and glossy. The background was the upstart symbol, the circle with the arrows pointing up and forward. In the foreground were Doc, Jack and Ray, or at least ridiculously idealized representations of them.
Jackson Longstreet stood between and behind his two friends, impossibly tall and broadshouldered. With his gleaming grin, granite jaw and curly hair he looked like the hero of some old-time movie serial for especially gullible kids. He looked like he was about to leap off the wall and untie some poor girl from the railroad tracks a second before the train came through.
On his right was Doc Morse. Dorothea Morse had never completed medical school, but the nickname had stuck. The artist had tried to doll her up as much as possible, but her black bowl-cut hair, low bangs and large round, black-rimmed glasses had obviously made this difficult. He had given her a tight T-shirt, however, and a pair of breasts which surely would have startled the real Doc Morse if she'd woken up one morning with them attached to her chest.
On the other side was Ray Stone. He was thin, unshaven and long-haired, but quite handsome and healthy-looking, and Pete didn't think the real Ray Stone had been either of those things. Doc Morse herself had said that this poster made the three of them look like bad wax dummies of themselves, but that didn't diminish Barry's enthusiasm for it.
starling followed Pete's gaze. "Who are they?" she asked. "Have I met them?"
"You haven't and you won't," Chet said quietly. "They're dead, or at least two of them are." He named them, pointing at each in turn. "They founded this place, they concocted the whole idea of U-town."
"When did they die?" starling asked.
"Doc Morse and Ray Stone died within a few weeks of the Founding," Chet said. "Doc was killed during a robbery. Ray jumped, or was pushed, from the top of the hospital. Jack Longstreet vanished not too long after that and hasn't been seen since."
"There are different theories about the robbery," Pete said. "Some people think it was staged, both to get rid of Doc and to emphasize that this whole thing wouldn't work because there were no police. People who think that tend to have similar ideas about Ray Stone's death, and Jack Longstreet's disappearance."
The kitchen door opened and Barry came out. "Pete," he said, clapping him on the back, "So glad you could make it. We're going on the air in– Hey," he blurted, catching sight of starling, "this makes my day! I've been dying to meet–"
Pete stood up and grabbed Barry's arm as his hand clamped onto starling's shoulder. Pete pulled him into the kitchen and slammed the door shut behind them with the side of his foot. This should have been difficult, Barry was six inches taller than Pete and outweighed him by at least fifty pounds, but Pete moved him as easily as if he'd had wheels.
"Listen," Pete said, as urgently as he could without raising his voice, "do not act that way around her." Barry started to speak. "Shut up! Stop thinking how cool it is that she's here and how much you want to get her on the radio. Think for just a minute about who and what she is. Those guns aren't for show, and if you get her upset, you and I and everybody else out there packed into that tiny little room may be dead meat. Shut up! That's starling out there, not some cool character you saw in a movie once!" Pete heard a nervous noise and realized someone else was in the room with them, but he didn't stop. "You have to be cool around her, don't jump all over her like some fucking puppy."
Pete was surprised at how upset he was. Pete hadn't been looking at starling when Barry had lunged for her arm, and they hadn't been touching, but he'd felt her sudden jolt of tension as if he'd been punched in the stomach.
"You brought the starling here?" asked a shaky voice, and Pete realized the other person in the room was Bernice, Barry's girlfriend. Her question made him chuckle and stopped his tirade. "It's not 'the starling,'" he told her, "it's just 'starling.' It's a name, not a title. And yes, I did bring her here. Look," he continued to Barry, "she's no more dangerous than anyone else, so long as you don't do anything stupid. But she tends to be a little jumpy, so cool out when you're around her, okay?" He nodded. "And she's not going to be on your radio program, so you can forget that right now."
Pete was sure that everybody who would have cared already knew that starling was in U-town and staying in his apartment, but he didn't see any reason to put it on the radio. He went back to the main room and saw two empty chairs. He was about to ask a question, but Chet, Donna and several others just pointed at the door.
starling was on the sidewalk, leaning against the railing, smoking. She looked up as Pete climbed the shaky steps. He leaned beside her, hoping the railing wouldn't give way, and she reached out to place her fingertips lightly on his forearm.
"Pete," she said, "I know. I know, but I'm okay. I got a little . . ." She started tapping his arm ever so lightly, almost like little pats. "But I'm okay. You don't need to–"
"I know," he said, putting his hand softly over hers to quiet it. "But I really felt–"
"I know. I sort of caught myself when I saw you jump. But I'm okay. He's your friend, so I know he's probably alright." She curved her thumb up so it was pressing down on the back of his hand. They stood like that until she'd finished her cigarette, then she said, "We should go back in."
"Are you sure you want to?"
She nodded. "Yes," she said, "it should be interesting."
As they pushed the door open the lights went down, they heard a single, piercing note from an electric guitar. Pete muttered "Oh, shit" and stopped in his tracks because the juxtaposition of the suddenly dark room and the single, piercing guitar note was very familiar. The note was sustained until it started to feed back, then abruptly played in a hard, fast rhythm, still on that one high note.
Henshaw, standing center stage, his coat and his long hair blowing, his eyes on the horizon.
starling's hand was in Pete's, their upper arms pressed together, and he was glad of the contact. There were no lights on, and it felt as though she was the only thing holding him in the here and now.
He could see Carl, leaning way back on his drum stool, drinking deeply from a big plastic pitcher of water, finally dumping the last bit over his face. He whipped his head from side to side, droplets of water flying off in all directions, and then he grabbed his sticks and started to play a loose, loping beat under the urgency of Henshaw's guitar.
Pete could feel his heart thump as he automatically started counting measures until his own entrance. He realized he was squeezing starling's hand pretty hard, and she was squeezing right back.
As the bass thundered in and Tom Drenkenson hit a big, echoey chord, the lights came up a little and Pete was reassured to find that he was in the Cave and not in stage with Kingdom Come. starling released his hand as soon as the lights started to come up, but that was okay because the familiar sight of the Cave was an even better link to current reality.
Without looking, he knew starling's gaze was fixed on his face as he collected himself, wiping his sweaty hands on his jeans. He was sure, not for the first time and not for the last, that she was reading his mind.
They squeezed carefully between the tables as the taped music accelerated, and they sat down in the same two chairs between Chet and Donna.
Chet leaned over and whispered, "Everything all smoothed over with Sweetie?"
Pete rolled his eyes. "Oh, yes, Carl," he said, "thanks so much for asking."
He laughed. "Daphne told me to say that."
"Daphne's going to have a close encounter with a rolled-up newspaper later this evening."
Pete looked around as Henshaw started to sing the first verse of "Scared." The Cave was a single, rectangular room, about twelve feet wide and maybe thirty feet long, with a poured concrete floor, brick walls and low ceiling. It was a good room for poetry or acoustic music, very intimate. They'd tried to get Kingdom Come to play there once, but Henshaw had said no. In that tiny room, all hard surfaces and low ceiling, they'd have deafened people, including themselves.
The door opened again and Jan Sleet and Marshall came in. She looked over at Chet's table, but she could tell that there was no room. They found two tables which each had an empty chair and managed to find a place to sit near the door.
As usual, Jan Sleet was impeccably dressed in a fawn-colored suit, but Pete noticed that people weren't reacting that much. She was already getting to be a fairly well-known part of the scene. Just like starling.
The tables were all tiny and round, crammed in so close together that Pete didn't think even one more would have fit. The night outside was cool and breezy, but in there with all those bodies it was quite warm. He took off his coat and hung it over the back of his chair. starling followed his example, and he saw a few people react to her shoulder holster.
Jan Sleet noticed this as well, he saw, and she leaned forward with interest, and Pete realized that he didn't think the two women had ever met. He hoped the reporter wouldn't come over and try to get an interview.
He turned his attention to the stage, which was actually a little raised platform only about four inches off the floor. There was a big table on it, with three chairs facing the audience.
Bernice sat in the farthest seat, next to the wall, a small mixing console in front of her and a stack of tape decks next to that. The meters on one deck were jumping, obviously the one playing the live Kingdom Come tape.
Bernice was plump, with long reddish hair, a freckled face and a pair of half glasses perched on the tip of her nose. She had a pair of big headphones on, and looked as though she had no idea there was anyone else in the place. The other two chairs at that table had microphones in front of them.
As Drenkenson's taped guitar wound up a lead break, Bernice faded the music a little and hit the play button on a second tape deck.
"A stone wall can be an inch thick, or a mile, and you'll never know until you try to knock it down!"
As usual, Jackson Longstreet's huge voice boomed out of the speakers and directly into Pete's gonads. Doc Morse was obviously the visionary of the three friends who had concocted U-town, and Ray Stone was the detail man, the balance wheel, the voice of reason, but Jack Longstreet was the voice and the face. He'd made every major speech for the three of them except one, and no matter what you thought of his ideas an hour before or after the speech, it was difficult not to be thrilled when you were hearing them.
"I've heard that some things never change, but my experience has been that they change all the time."
Pete felt a hand on his shoulder and he looked up, practically putting his face into the cloud of Barry's hair as he leaned over to murmur, "Jack, from the No Wall speech."
Pete nodded, rather irritated at Barry, both for footnoting a speech that Pete knew as well as he did, and for his familiarly referring to a man he'd never met as "Jack." But that amounted to being mad at Barry for being Barry, so Pete put it aside.
"In fact, they may have changed already and we just haven't seen it."
The stage lights came up and Barry strode to his chair in the middle of the table and sat down. Pete smiled, seeing that Barry had given himself a big entrance. Pete leaned over to whisper to starling, "I guess if you're going to turn a radio broadcast into a public performance with an audience, you might as well make it dramatic."
As Barry sat down he picked up a pair of headphones and put them on. They made his bushy hair fan out behind his head like a halo. Pete was just as glad when he cued Bernice to fade out the speech, and then the music. Listening to Kingdom Come at that moment filled him with mixed emotions (to say the least).
And most of the speeches didn't excite him that much either, except for one. Doc Morse's speech from the barricade at the bridge. It was short, precise and fairly downbeat, focusing mostly on how many things needed doing. Pete had liked that one, though he'd never heard Barry play a tape of it on the air.
No, the speeches didn't excite him. What had excited him, enough to come to U-town and enough to stay, was what they had done, not what they had said. They had broken off a little corner of the USA and run away with it. That was more thrilling than any speech.
Barry waited for a moment, then he leaned toward the mike and said, "Radio U-town, on the air. The first topic for tonight is the situation at the Rose Clinic on Ely Street. As you may have heard, the stand-off between the Witness protesters and the rest of the world was broken by gunfire in the early hours of Sunday morning. We have a guest tonight who will fill us in on the current situation at the clinic."
The kitchen door opened again and Denise of the Jinx stepped out and up to the table, taking the third chair. Pete leaned over and whispered to Chet, "To listen to Barry's intro, you'd think his last broadcast was yesterday, not six months ago."
He snorted as Barry introduced Denise, who was putting on her headphones and adjusting her microphone with the ease of long practice. She was usually the one to make these sorts of public announcements for the Jinx.
"They don't know anything," Pete whispered to starling.
"How can you tell?" she whispered back as Barry went into overdrive with his thanks for Denise's appearance on the show.
"If they had anything big to announce, Dr. Lee would be here, or at least Neil."
starling smiled and nodded. "You're right," she said.
Denise's statement on the clinic and the death of Jenny Owens was so formal and uninformative that Pete almost expected her to say that they had been rounding up the usual suspects. In fact, the only thing he learned was that the situation at the clinic had eased up. There were always Jinx on the scene since Sunday morning, and the Witnesses were mostly content to watch and burn candles and sing. There had been no further sniper activity.
Pete was starting to think about the implications of that information when Barry said, "The second topic for tonight is the death of Carl Neighbour and the future of Kingdom Come," and suddenly Pete realized this was an introduction for him. Denise gave a quick statement on Carl's death, containing as little information as the other, and then got up to leave.
"As you may have heard," Barry was saying, "Philip Henshaw is in the hospital, but we have one of the two other members of the band with us tonight. Pete, come on over."
Pete was momentarily stunned by the fact that Barry didn't seem to know that Tom was no longer in the band, and then he felt starling's hand slip into his under the table and squeeze it quickly.
Well, what the hell, he thought. Compared to everything else he'd been going through, appearing on the radio would be a piece of cake, even when he knew that there was no way he'd be able to get through it without lying.
Pete had no idea what he said on the air about Carl's death and the funeral. He asked starling afterwards and she said all she remembered was that he had sounded very sincere. He did wish a few times that he'd prepared something, especially because Barry usually took any hesitation as a cue to start talking again.
When Barry asked about the future of Kingdom Come, Pete replied (feeling like a fraud or a fool), "Well, our first priority is to get Henshaw healthy again. After that, we've got some decisions to make, but there's no hurry. You know him, though, he'd start auditions tomorrow if I let him." There was a murmur of laughter from the crowd and Barry gave him a grin. Pete guessed that, at least for that moment, he had delivered good radio. Barry thanked him and cued Bernice.
"Good evening, we're Kingdom Come and these days we're all 'Facing the Wall,'" came Henshaw's recorded voice again. As Pete sat down he tried to remember which concert this was from, then he heard his own voice make a wise crack a second before Henshaw started the song, and he knew this was from Friday night at the Quarter, the night Jenny Owens had stabbed Henshaw, the night starling had killed Carl.
Because he was sitting at the front table, in clear view of the whole audience, he was able to keep himself from bursting into tears. Chet said something, but Pete couldn't hear him over the music and he really didn't care anyway. He finished his beer and signaled for another one. "Facing the Wall" wasn't a long song, but it seemed to go on for half an hour. When it finally ended, Pete leaned over and whispered to starling, "How awful was I?"
She shrugged and gave him a wry smile. "Under the circumstances, I think you did very well."
He nodded and offered her a cigarette. "Next to the word 'diplomatic' in the dictionary there's a little picture of me."
"That was Kingdom Come," Barry announced, "recorded last Friday evening at the Quarter. And the Quarter itself is topic three tonight, because of that happened there just last night." Barry started to tell the story, and Donna started to get ready for her interview. She quickly checked her makeup in a small mirror, and then tried to engage starling in a discussion about how far down she should unbutton the shirt she was wearing.
Barry told the story fairly well. He started by telling about the raids on all the clubs and bars Tuesday night, including a couple Pete hadn't heard about, and then he moved on to the events of Wednesday. He explained about the club being closed because of the funeral, and then started to explain how it had been being used for gathering information about the local criminal element.
Two thoughts hit Pete at the same moment. One was that maybe the cops hadn't blown up the Quarter. Maybe some of the big-time criminals had done it, to send a message that they knew what had been going on there and weren't going to stand for it. That idea had some possibilities.
Pete's other thought was that it was becoming apparent that Barry's monologue wasn't an elaborate introduction for Donna. He was obviously going to tell the whole story himself. He didn't mention Frances by name, but when he talked about friends and enemies, about honor and about colluding with the enemy, it was obvious who he was talking about. And, of course, one of his main points was how great things had been in the early days, when people had known who their friends and enemies were because they could still remember the sound of the bombs falling.
Barry spoke with great emotion about the first night, and while he never actually said he had been there, he certainly made it easy for people to make that assumption. Barry hadn't been in U-town that early, any more than Pete had. Pete glanced over and yes, he was still wearing his upstart pin.
Pete felt a movement next to him and turned to see starling and Donna heading for the door. This left him in somewhat of a quandary. On one hand, there was certainly no reason starling and Donna couldn't go outside if they wanted to. For that matter, they could go back to Donna's apartment and have wild, acrobatic sex if they wanted to. And Pete knew what everybody in the place would think if he got up and rushed for the door twice in one night just because starling had gone outside. He could feel Chet waiting to make another crack about "Sweetie" if he so much as started to stand up.
On the other hand, there were several very valid reasons for him to go outside:
Outside, Donna was sitting on the front stoop of the building and starling was leaning against the banister next to her. The minute Pete stepped through the door into the cold night air he felt like a fool for chasing them outside, but starling looked down when she heard the door open and immediately motioned him up.
"I was just pouring out my tale of woe," Donna said with evident disgust. "Barry's obviously going to just slam Frances all night. He wouldn't ask her to be on his damn show, and now that he's found out what I think he's not going to talk to me either."
"So, you think Frances isn't guilty in all this?" Pete asked.
She shrugged. "Not really. She didn't get anything out of it. And I knew what was going on, and I didn't say anything."
Pete almost said, "You knew?" but he caught himself in time. He hadn't thought about it, but Donna would have had to be pretty dense not to have known.
She shook her head, her hair falling down around her face. "I don't know," she said, "maybe I've got it all wrong, like that business about Henshaw."
"You're not wrong about that," starling said. "I think you're exactly right about Henshaw. He will try to kill Pete. The only thing you're wrong about is that he won't succeed."
Donna snorted. "What are you, Wonder Woman?"
starling shook her head calmly. "No, but a few days ago he held a gun, one of my own guns, pointed right here." She thumped herself in the center of her chest. "I was unarmed, and I made him give me the gun." She shook her head. "There's all kinds of people who could kill Pete or me, or both of us. Whoever killed Jenny could do it, or whoever blew up the Quarter. But not Henshaw."
Donna stood up. "Would you guys mind walking me home? I've had enough for one night." Pete stood up, and he and Donna walked right into each other.
"You live that way, don't you?" Pete asked, pointing over her shoulder.
"Yes, but I've been staying at Fran's," she said, pointing the other way.
Jan Sleet came up to Chet's table and indicated the two chairs which starling and Pete had just vacated. "May we sit down?" she asked.
Chet nodded, smiling. "Please do," he said, reaching out to shake Marshall's hand. Marshall pulled out his employer's chair and she sat down carefully. "It's good to see you both again," Chet continued as Marshall took the other chair. "I hope it isn't a trend, but when I've seen you two separately, something bad has always happened. I hope this won't make a pattern."
"I certainly hope not," Jan Sleet said as she lit a cigarette. "If starling comes in and wants her chair back, I'll give it to her immediately." She smiled at Marshall. "And don't worry, I don't want to write a book about starling. Maybe an article someday, but that's it." She looked around. "Is–"
Barry stood up and announced in a loud voice that they were having technical dfifficulties, and hoped to continue the broadcast in a few minutes. In the silence that followed this announcement, Randi spoke.
"I'm here," she said, her warm voice filling the air. "I've been looking forward to meeting you, Jan. Are you in town to write something?"
Marshall glanced around, and nobody at the tightly packed tables around them was reacting to the ghostly voice which had just joined their conversation. Apparently, nobody could hear Randi but them.
"Originally I came here on a personal matter," Jan Sleet said, which was news to Marshall. "And to distract myself from the fact that the book I just finished will never be published. I was very focused on this personal matter, but then I started to wonder about all this," she said, waving her hand around at the posters and photographs which Barry had posted all over the walls.
Marshall was amazed at how easily his employer had adjusted to Randi. Jan Sleet had immediately started to speak with Chet's lover as most of her friends did, by looking at a piece of blank wall.
"Are you going to write about U-town?" Chet asked.
She shook her head slowly, as Marshall wondered if there was any way to find out what the "personal matter" had been. "I'd like to," she said, "I'd like to know enough to write about it. But I can't really write about things I haven't seen and touched and heard. I wish I'd been here at the beginning, and all the way along, instead of just here at the end."
"You think this is the end?" Chet asked.
She nodded. "You know about the black airship which flies over every night?"
Chet nodded. "Of course."
"It's marking the tunnels, and any possible defenses. In another night, or maybe two, the bombing will start."
Marshall felt nauseous as he remembered the black airship floating over Bellona at night, and the bombing which had followed. He had had no idea this had been happening here as well (more of the information his employer had obtained from the mysterious Dennis, he guessed).
"They really are treating it as though this is a foreign country," he said.
Jan Sleet nodded. "Exactly true. And they're about to invade. I imagine they'll be successful."
She stubbed out her half-smoked cigarette, something she almost never did, and almost immediately lit another one. "At that point, writing a book would be pretty irrelevant anyway. I wrote the Bellona book, and I can't get it published. I probably could get a book published about U-town, at least when it's over, but I can't write it, and by the time it came out, it really wouldn't matter."
Marshall was starting to wonder if there was any limit to the things she hadn't shared with him. But it wasn't to show off, or to get his goat (though she was certainly capable of both). She was unloading, and being unusually emotional about it, for a reason, and it was something specifically to do with Chet and Randi.
"They may be waiting for a particular weather condition as well," she went on. "In Bellona, they waited for the rain storms, knowing there would be flooding and mud slides and electrical problems. That only adds to people's negative mood."
"But that didn't work," Marshall pointed out. "People didn't give up, not the peasants or the PRM."
Jan Sleet nodded. "But they have a lot of spirit that I don't see here. People there expected an attack and were prepared for it. People here seem to be just living their lives, acting like this can all just continue without any effort on their part."
"If you were writing a book," Chet said, "what would you ascribe that to?"
She shrugged. "I can't really tell, since I wasn't there. If I had to guess, I'd say the loss of Doc Morse, Ray Stone and Jack Longstreet so early, but that's only a guess."
"That seems rather romantic," Chet said slowly. "That three individual people would make such a difference."
Jan Sleet shook her head. "Not at all. They apparently had a plan, and an idea how to make it happen."
At that moment, Bernice managed to get things working, and Jack Longstreet's voice boomed out again.
Jan Sleet smiled sadly, signaling for a drink. "He had a damn sexy voice, too," she observed.
"Are your parents alive?" starling asked, looking out across the water.
"Oh, yes," Pete replied, warming his hands around the big container of coffee. There was a cold breeze coming off the river.
"Do you ever talk to them?" she asked, lifting the top of her coffee and breathing in. She had convinced him to get the special coffee after all.
"No," he replied. A big truck whizzed past behind them and he steadied himself with one hand on the fence between them and the river. They were on the same little concrete walkway between the highway and the river where they'd gone once before, the night she'd told him her real name.
One corner of her mouth twitched into a smile. "If you don't ever talk to your folks, how do you know they're okay?"
He nodded. "Good point, but they have the number at the store. They'd call that if something terrible happened." He hesitated, then he asked, "What about your parents?"
"Dead." She gave him a glance. "Natural causes, in case you were wondering." She sipped her coffee thoughtfully. "What if something was wrong at home? Would you go back?"
He shrugged. "You mean if one of my parents was really sick or something? Oh, sure. It's not like they kicked me out. I'd go back if they needed me."
"Bringing me?" she asked, glancing at him.
"Sure," he said, smiling.
She smiled back. "And what would they think about that?"
He laughed. "Oh, it would only convince them that I'm ruining my life, but they think that anyway."
"Why do they think that?" she asked.
"Oh, I can hear my old man now, 'Masters Degree in English Literature and what are you doing? Playing in a damn rock band in the hell-hole of the universe.'"
"You have a Masters Degree in English Literature?"
He grinned. "Sure can't you tell?" he asked, gesturing at how he was dressed.
She looked out across the river again. Pete didn't say anything. If she was going to tell him everything, it was going to be because she wanted to, not because she thought he required it.
They'd made two stops after dropping Donna off at Frances' house. The second had been for the coffee, but the first had been at an old abandoned brownstone. starling had led them there rather uncertainly, by a very indirect route, and several times it had seemed as though she was lost, taking them in circles. As they'd walked, she'd glanced at Pete a couple of times, checking if he was losing patience with her evident confusion, but he didn't say anything, not even when she turned several corners with her eyes closed.
Eventually, she found it. They turned a corner and she suddenly grabbed his upper arm and pulled him back a few feet. She went to the corner and peeked around, then motioned for him to join her. He expected some sort of danger, but the block was deserted and he noticed that her hands hadn't gone to her guns.
"That's it," she whispered, pointing at a worn-out tenement building. She stood looking at it for a few minutes. He tried to read her expression, but the block was dark, all of the street lights long broken.
The building was five stories tall, with the door hanging off its hinges and most of the windows broken or boarded up. It looked pretty much the same as the rest of the buildings on the block, but it was obviously very special to her.
Finally, she turned, put her finger to her lips and said, "Sssshhh." Then he followed her as she walked slowly forward. The front steps were covered with pieces of glass and the broken door half blocked the entrance, but they got inside. The dark hall beyond the vestibule held several unpleasant smells, but starling wasn't interested in going any farther inside than they were already.
There was a big rectangular hole in the wall where the mailboxes had been, and the metal frame which containing the list of tenants and apartment numbers was lying in a corner, folded nearly in half. starling knelt by it and picked it up carefully. Pete lit a match as she pressed it against the floor to straighten it out.
She sucked in air and leaned forward, reaching inside her coat for her glasses. She put them on and he held the match up so she could read the names. She pointed at the list and he saw "Hammersmith" next to apartment 3F and "diGregorio" next to apartment 3R, then he had to shake out the match before it burned his fingers.
After the light of the match he was blinded for a moment in the dark hallway. "I couldn't find it," she said, standing up. She poked him in the arm. "Pete," she said, "we have to get that coffee tonight. This is a very special night."
He couldn't argue with that.
"I thought about killing you," she said suddenly, still looking out at the river.
"What?" he demanded, startled.
"I thought you should know that before we went any further," she said. "It's sort of been bothering me that I didn't tell you before." She paused for a moment before continuing. "It was after I killed Carl, before you found out he was dead. I thought that everything was so good, and sooner or later you'd find out and then it would all get ruined. A couple of nights I had trouble sleeping and I'd lie there and try to think how to get out of it. I thought if I killed you, at least things wouldn't have to change."
"Why didn't you do it?"
"I couldn't. I'd go and sit by your bed when you were asleep, and I'd hold the gun in my hand, but I couldn't do it. I'd just think that maybe we could have one more day, one more day and you wouldn't find out."
She was still not looking at him, but he could tell she was nervous waiting for his response.
"You didn't do it," he said. "That all that really matters. If thinking about killing people was a crime, well, I think it's actions that count. Otherwise I'd say we should go right over to the hospital and shoot Henshaw now, so we wouldn't have to worry about him. But that would be wrong, because it just makes the assumption that he's going to try to kill me, it doesn't give him the chance to make the choice himself." She'd relaxed and she finished her coffee while he thought for a minute.
"I do know what you mean," he said, "about not wanting to throw away good days. If you'd killed me, you'd have always wondered if there could have been more good time and you'd thrown it away. That's how I felt listening to Barry play the Kingdom Come tapes back at the club. All I could think of was that even with the stabbing, even with Carl being dead, even if the business with Tom couldn't be fixed up, Henshaw and I could still be looking at putting a new band together if I'd just kept my Goddamn dick in my pants and hadn't screwed his girlfriend. Nine fucking times. All that bullshit I said on the air tonight could actually have been true." He squeezed his eyes closed and clenched his fingers through the chain link fence in front of them. "A million things have gone wrong, but that's the one that can't be fixed."
starling put her hand on his forearm and he sighed. "I'm sorry," he said. "We're supposed to be talking about you and here I am talking about myself. So, what about those names on the mailbox? diGregorio and Hammersmith?"
She nodded. "That's where I grew up, that building. Deirdre Hammersmith was my best friend. Trina and DeeDee." She frowned, crumpling her empty coffee cup between her hands. "I'm not sure how to start this. If I try to tell you everything that's happened to me since I was a little girl . . ." She shrugged.
"Okay," Pete said, "how's this. Answer these two questions: Why did you really come back here? and Why is tonight such a special night?"
She nodded. "Okay, that makes it easier. I came back here because I was afraid I was going crazy. I know that sounds kind of funny coming from me, but I . . . until now I always knew who I was and what was happening. But then I was in a diner, eating some breakfast, and somebody had left a newspaper on the seat. I started to read it, and I saw an article about me." She had crumpled her coffee cup into a thin tube and she pushed it through the fence so it fell into the water. "It was about that thing with the Vice President. It wasn't the same article Carl had, but it said the same stuff.
"I read the story again and again, and it scared the hell out of me because I couldn't remember any of it. The hotel, the Ladies Room, the elevator, none of it. I remember I sat there and thought and thought. It really made me . . ." She stopped, obviously trying to figure out how to put something into words.
"I haven't had any plan for where I'd go or what I'd do. Mostly I just tried not to get killed. But reading that story, and not being able to remember it, I felt like I needed to have some sort of plan, somewhere to go. And the only thing I could think of was to go home."
Her shoulders slumped a little and Pete offered her a cigarette. Getting their cigarettes lit in the breeze coming off the river was tricky, but they managed it and she said, "It took me a while to get here."
He chuckled. "I guess flying is difficult without a credit card, huh?"
She nodded, smiling. "There's a few problems with flying. Anyway, I got here and . . ."
Her mood had seemed to lighten for a moment, but now she suddenly tensed up and he knew she'd reached something she could hardly bring herself to say.
"It was all different," Pete said suddenly. "Some buildings were there, where you remembered them, but others were gone. Some blocks were fine, others were rubble. The street signs were all gone, or they were switched around so they were all on the wrong corners." It was all falling into place for him as he said it, the pieces coming so quickly that he felt like he was starting sentences before he had any idea how they were going to end. "And you couldn't find the house where you grew up, because everything was so different, and then you were sure you were losing it. You didn't want to reveal your real name, or what you were looking for, so you told everybody DeeDee's name, since her family had lived right across the hall and if you found one you'd find the other. But then that didn't work, and you were really scared," she was facing him by then, her hands gripping his, "and then Jenny's lead didn't pan out on Friday and you really freaked.
"That was it until this morning, when I started to tell you about the Founding, the First Night and the bombing, and then you started to see why things were so different, and that's why tonight is so special, and plus which, Katherine diGregorio, my dear, dear friend, I think I can even explain about the Vice President."
He paused for breath, grinning, and she was grinning back, holding his hands in a grip of iron. He had left out only one thing, which was that all of this, especially Jenny's made-up story about the West End commune, had a lot to do with starling's ragged state of mind the night she'd killed Carl. He had left it out, even though it was true, because she would have left it out. It would have sounded like an attempt to justify Carl's death, and she wasn't going to do that. Carl's death had been, as far as she was concerned, unforgivable, and the deal between them was that he had to (and did) forgive it on that basis, with no qualifications, justifications or mitigating circumstances.
She nodded slowly. "I was so scared," she said. "I'd go down one block and it would look like I thought it should, and then I'd turn a corner and everything would be all wrong. You know what it was like? It was like a dream. You know, when you have a dream where you're in your bedroom and everything looks normal, but then you go through a door and you're in school, or at the beach, or in church."
"You have some pretty bad dreams, don't you?" Pete asked. "Like when we dozed off in the store, and at home yesterday morning."
She nodded slowly. "I guess so. But I don't remember anything about them except how worked up I get." She looked up, obviously eager to change the subject. "What about the Vice President? How do you know anything about that?"
"Well, it's only a theory, but it's a theory I thought about even before I heard your side of the story.
"Okay, say you wanted to kill somebody important, like the Vice President, but you'd rather not get caught. In fact, you'd rather not even have anybody search for the killer. Well, you could set it up so that everybody would think they already knew who did it. Now, there's a crazy woman who's going all over the country killing people, apparently at random. She's extremely distinctive looking, always wears the same clothes. In fact, she's so famous-looking that you can buy posters of her, and people dress up like her at costume parties and parades.
"Now, you need a source of information about the Vice President, where he goes and when, especially when he's doing secret, shady things where he may be more vulnerable. And you have to track the crazy woman, at least enough that she won't be spotted in Duluth or Dubuque when you're trying to place her in Des Moines.
"So, when all the factors are in place, you get your hired killer all made up and dressed like the crazy woman. She goes into the hotel, knowing which room the Vice President is canoodling in, and that's that. The whole thing is too big a coincidence otherwise."
His eye was caught by a movement in the sky over starling's shoulder. It was the black airship coming across from the other side of the river. starling followed his gaze, saw it and grinned. As it flowed slowly over them, she whooped in excitement, pulled her revolver and fired at it.