Vicki was not used to being the center of attention.
She'd grown up in a large family where she'd been the outsider, the unwanted cousin, and she had often been ignored. Plus now, of course, she was very small of stature as well. Actually, she often enjoyed being somewhat invisible, but she was not going to be invisible this morning.
She emerged from the bedroom at around noon, still somewhat bleary-eyed, and shuffled to the stove, wearing a bathrobe that dragged on the floor behind her. She reached up and lifted the coffee pot, then looked around for a mug.
"Here, allow me to get that for you," T.C. said briskly, taking the coffee pot from her and pouring the coffee into a mug. She plopped in two cubes of sugar and then handed the mug to Vicki with a little flourish.
Vicki looked at her in some surprise, but moved over to the table.
"I'll hold that for you," Marshall said, taking the mug from her as she jumped up to her usual seat on the edge of the table. He handed the mug back to her and said, "Good morning, Vicki."
"Good morning," she said cautiously and sipped her coffee. Then she looked around and realized Marshall, T.C. and Finch were all looking at her. She tugged her bathrobe closer around her bare legs. "What?" she asked.
"Well, I think it's only natural–" Finch began.
"We're curious–" Marshall put in.
"Understandably concerned," T.C. continued, "about the events of last night."
"Last night?" Vicki asked.
"Jan is still asleep," T.C. said.
"Passed out," Marshall added.
"And we're concerned about–"
"We want the dirt," T.C. interrupted.
Vicki lowered her eyes and smiled. "Oh," she said.
"Of course, we won't say a word–"
"She'll never know–"
"We always protect our sources," Marshall finished.
Vicki shook her head. "I don't think I should say anything about that. Jan should tell you herself, if she wants to."
T.C. stood up and glared at her for a moment. "Bah," she said. "You're lucky I don't raise your rent. Come on, Finch, let's go shopping. I feel like terrorizing some of the local merchants."
When the door closed behind T.C. and Finch, Marshall said, "I don't suppose you'll tell me any more than you told them."
Vicki shook her head. "No, Jan would never forgive me. But there is one thing I need to tell you. Dr. Lee came into the Quarter last night with Neil and they took that big table in the corner."
"Was Jan there?" Marshall asked.
Vicki laughed. "No, this is before she got there. Now stop poking around and let me tell you this. It's important. Dr. Lee had Neil bring people over to the table in groups."
"Who?" Marshall asked.
"A whole lot of people. Most of them I didn't know. Me and Frances and Donna. Pete and Fifteen and that guy Chet, with the beard. Pete was there with a guy named Tom that I didn't know."
"It sounds like everybody was there."
"It was packed. I think a lot of the people knew something was up. It was like they were waiting."
"What was it about?" he asked.
"They were inviting people to the funeral. For Carl and Jenny Owens. It's going to be tonight. At midnight."
"It's going to be for both Carl and Jenny?" Marshall asked.
She nodded. "I could tell Frances wasn't happy about that, but she didn't say anything."
"Will she give you the night off from work?"
Vicki nodded, drinking more coffee. "No problem. The club will close before midnight. As Frances said, 'With no staff and no customers, there's not much point in staying open.'"
"Sharp businesswoman. You and she getting along okay?"
Vicki shrugged. "Well enough, I guess. She just seems in a generally bad mood. I think it's been a tough week for her."
"How did everybody else feel about it being a combined funeral? I mean, everybody liked Carl, as far as I could tell, and nobody liked Jenny Owens. I'm surprised the Jinx are doing anything for her."
"I asked about that. 'Jennifer Owens died while under the protection of the Jinx,' so it doesn't matter what they thought of her. She gets the full treatment. And I think they're doing them both at once because otherwise nobody would come to hers."
"That's practical, I suppose."
She finished her coffee and put her mug down. "Jan's not invited," she said abruptly. "Dr. Lee was very specific. This is just for people who knew Jenny or Carl."
Marshall shrugged. "I don't think she'll be too upset. Neither one of us is much on funerals, we've been to a couple too many recently. I wonder if they'd get mad if I didn't go either." Vicki looked down at the floor, and suddenly Marshall got the feeling that she really wanted him to go with her.
"Well, I guess I'd better not get Dr. Lee mad at me," he said. "I wonder what's appropriate attire for a Jinx funeral."
Vicki shrugged. "Well, a guy they called the Drone said he's going to come completely naked, so I guess it's pretty flexible."
Marshall finished his coffee and stood up. "I don't know about you," he said, moving to the stove, "but I think it's getting a little chilly for nude funerals at midnight. No matter what this Drone fellow thinks. I'm going to go back to the hotel and get some more appropriate attire." He rinsed his mug and put it in the dish drainer. "Is there anywhere around here I can get a cab?"
Vicki shook her head. "No way. They don't come to this part of town. Somebody told me if you go to the bridge you can call a car service from there."
"The bridge? How far is that?"
She shrugged. "About six or seven blocks, I think. I'll show you."
Marshall slipped on a light jacket. "Oh, that's not necessary. Just point me in the right direction and I'm sure I'll find it."
"No problem," she said. "I could use a walk. Hang on while I get dressed."
Marshall was a little surprised at this, but he didn't say anything. Maybe she thought he needed protection.
The neighborhood around the base of the bridge was the worst Marshall had seen yet. Abandoned and burned-out warehouses, stripped cars and dry, scrubby grass growing up through cracks in the pavement. There was nobody around. The bridge itself was blocked by a makeshift barricade made of auto body parts, a battered and spray-painted dumpster, and several huge wooden pilings that looked like they came from a dock.
There was a pay phone at the base of the bridge, and there were two scruffy-looking teenagers slouching against it. They jumped up quickly when they saw Marshall and Vicki approaching.
"Car service, sir?" one asked briskly. "Just five dollars and the car comes right here." He gestured past the barricade at the base of the bridge. Marshall reached for his wallet but Vicki glanced up at him and shook her head.
"Is that five dollars for the car or five dollars for the phone call?" she asked the boy.
He smiled and addressed his answer to Marshall. "Five dollars for the use of the phone, sir. For that small fee you get the following services." He ticked off the points on his fingers. "One, you get the use of the phone, the only working phone for ten blocks in any direction. Two, we provide you with the telephone number of the only car company still willing to send cars over the bridge. And three, my partner and I guarantee protection for you and your little girl until the car arrives. Plus," he added with an extra burst of enthusiasm and eye contact, "if you like, you can call the car company yourself, or, if your prefer, I will do it for you, but, in either case, I will provide the quarter." He held up a quarter.
Marshall was a little nervous about Vicki's reaction, especially to being called his "little girl," but she just looked up, eyes twinkling, and said, "It's your five dollars. Up to you."
He smiled. "Oh, let's pay. They seem like enterprising young men."
She shrugged. "Okay," she said. She turned back to the boy with the quarter. "Make the call, chief. We'll pay when the car gets here."
After the phone call was made, Marshall and Vicki sat on one of the huge wooden pilings and the two teenage boys slouched down beside their phone booth again. The next fifteen minutes passed in silence except for the occasional call of a passing sea gull, but then they all heard the sound of an approaching engine. Marshall and Vicki stood up and turned, and at the top of the bridge a black sedan appeared. It slowly came down the incline toward them. When it reached the barricade it stopped and then made a u-turn. It waited there, engine running, facing back the way it had come. The driver was obviously not about to get out. Marshall handed over a five dollar bill and the boy nodded as he stuck it into his shirt pocket. He held out his hand to Vicki. "Let me help you over the blockade, young lady."
"No need," she said. She reached down and grabbed the huge piling by one end. She lifted it up and walked about six paces, pivoting it out of their way.
Marshall looked back as the drove across the bridge and he could see the two trying to lift the piling to put it back where it had been. What was on his mind, though, was that none of this was answering the question of why Vicki had come with him in the first place.
Marshall was certain everybody behind the front desk of the hotel was noticing that he was back (after several days absence) without his well-dressed and prosperous-looking employer and in the company of a very small and obviously underage girl. In a black leather jacket, no less.
There was no visible reaction from the staff as he got his room key, messages and mail, but he had the feeling that this would be the subject of a certain amount of gossip and speculation while they were up in the room. Vicki got a few startled looks as they crossed the expanse of lobby to the elevators, and he smiled to himself at how quickly he had got used to her. He thought that this was probably mostly because she herself seemed so comfortable with it. He couldn't even begin to imagine how he would have reacted in her situation, but he was sure he would probably have freaked out, at least at the beginning.
But with Vicki it was obvious from how she carried herself that things were just fine with her. She didn't strut, there was nothing cocky or aggressive about her, but she strode through the lobby of that posh hotel as if she could have owned it if she'd wanted to. It almost seemed as if she had always wanted to be very small and extremely strong, and now that it had finally happened she was completely comfortable in her body for the first time.
As a matter of fact, this was very close to the truth, but Marshall didn't know it.
As they rode the elevator up to the eleventh floor, Marshall wondered if Vicki was ever going to grow to be any bigger than she was right then. He was pretty sure she didn't know, but he also had a strong feeling that she didn't much care.
Then he noticed that the boy who was running the elevator was taking every opportunity to glance at Vicki's breasts. Marshall could tell Vicki was aware of this, but she obviously didn't think it was worth making a fuss over. As they got off the elevator she looked up at Marshall and winked.
The elevator door closed and they walked down the hall to the room. He leaned over and said, "If it had been me, I would have been staring at the ears."
She laughed. "With guys like that, my ears could have been on fire and he still would have been looking at my boobs."
Marshall smiled as he took out his key and opened the door to the room.
Vicki sat on one of the beds and swung her feet slowly back and forth. Marshall pulled out one of the empty suitcases, put it on the other bed and started to take things from the closets. Vicki looked around. "This is nice," she said.
He nodded. "And it's going to get expensive. I'd love to check out of here if we're going to stay at T.C.'s for a while, but Jan doesn't seem to be in a mood to give me a definite answer. About anything." He packed in silence for a few minutes.
"Marshall?" Vicki asked when he was nearly finished. Her voice was different, and he knew he was finally going to learn why she'd come along with him.
She looked down at the carpet. "I'm in kind of a fix," she said quietly, "and I need some advice."
"Sure," he said, sitting on the other bed.
"I wanted to talk somewhere else, because there's always somebody around at the apartment." Her head was tilted forward, her long hair throwing her face into shadow. "I couldn't talk to Jan about this. Sometimes she says things without thinking, and I really think this should stay a secret. I probably shouldn't tell anybody, but can't figure it out on my own." She looked up. "I tried to talk to Pete, but he's got so many problems that I couldn't find a way to bring it up. He's in a pretty bad way."
Marshall nodded. "Well, I remember when we saw him on Saturday night he was trying to figure out about Carl's funeral, and now Jenny's dead, too. Did he say anything about that?"
"About the funeral or Jenny?"
"Oh, Jenny. I don't care about the funeral, except that I guess we should go. Since we were there."
Vicki shrugged. "He doesn't talk much about Jenny, but I think he feels bad that he didn't try to help her on Saturday."
"It wouldn't have changed anything."
"Oh, I know. I told him that, too. But he still feels bad about it."
Marshall nodded. "You know, I'll bet that does bother him. Look at who did help her. A bunch of people who hate her, and two complete strangers."
"And he's got other problems, too. You've heard of starling?" she asked.
"You've heard of starling?" Vicki asked.
Marshall laughed. "I sure have. Jan was all hot to write about her until she got this new idea."
"Was that what the contract was for? In the briefcase?"
He held up his hand. "Wait, one thing at a time. Why did you ask me about starling?"
"She's living in Pete's apartment."
"What?" he demanded, standing up. "Is she–"
"She's his friend. So he says." She made a small motion with her hand and Marshall sat down again.
"I was right," he said. "Jan Sleet misses her subway stop and suddenly we're both on the other side of the looking glass."
"I'd better not introduce you to Randi," Vicki said absently.
"What? Who's that?"
"Never mind. Pete's worried–"
"Look," Marshall said quickly, "don't tell Jan about starling being at Pete's apartment. I don't know what she'd do, probably get us all killed. starling shoots people just for putting too much cream in her coffee. I don't think she'd be too happy about some nerd with a notebook asking her a lot of weird questions. Besides, I don't want Jan to get back on that starling kick. That was a terrible idea for a book."
Vicki smiled. "And who's working for who?"
Marshall had the good grace to look sheepish. "Well, she just needs a little guidance from time to time, and the whole process works better if she doesn't realize she's getting it."
"What was all that with the contract?"
"If I tell you about that, will you tell me why you wanted to come along today? What did you want to talk about?"
"I do keep changing the subject, don't I?"
"Have you met Paris?" Vicki asked.
Marshall shook his head. "You've told me about him, but I've never met him."
"Well, he came by the Quarter Monday night. I hadn't seen him since my first night here, Friday, when he took me and Jan to the dance. Anyway, it was pretty quiet at the Quarter . . ." and so she told Marshall about the raid of the Quarter, and her impulsive decision to follow Paris when he heard the strange whistle and bolted out of the bar. She told him about the rescue of the young boy who called himself Loretta. Her tone was matter-of-fact, even when she was describing how she'd leaped clear over a man's head, and then snapped a baseball bat in half. Finally, she told him about the Wild Fruits, and Paris' invitation to her to join.
"That's the first thing I feel weird about," she said. "It's a club for gay people, but suddenly I'm asked to join without him even asking me about my . . . you know. And, besides that, I don't know how I feel about the whole idea. Those two guys with the baseball bats thought they could beat up Loretta because he was small and weak. We stopped them by being stronger than they were." She shook her head. "Where does that end? What about right and wrong? I don't know, I guess this sounds all . . ." She rolled her eyes.
"I don't think it's silly at all," Marshall said.
"I just wonder," she said, "is that the only thing I can do with this, just go around beating people up?"
"My mother used to tell me that any kid who beat up smaller kids eventually gets beat up by a bigger kid."
She frowned. "That's not what I'm worried about. I've been beat up before. It sucks, but you can't go around worrying about every little thing you do, because mostly when you get beat up it's for no good reason anyway." She hesitated. "I'll tell you what I'm really worried about. I'm scared I'm going to kill somebody. That's why I handled those two guys the way I did, scaring them off. I could have beat them up, but what if I hit one of them too hard and killed him? I can't just decide 'this one lives, this one dies,' and then Pow." She made a fist and swung a punch.
Then she smiled wryly. "Unfortunately, it's kind of hard to put the fear of God into anybody when you're a very little girl, so I had to show off a little. But the whole time I was just hoping I could get out of it without hitting anybody."
Marshall laughed. "You mean you don't like your present situation?"
She had to smile. "Oh, I'm not complaining about that. Being strong gives you some new things to think about, but I'll tell you this. It sure beats the hell out of being weak." She shrugged. "Well, that's the whole story."
Marshall thought for a moment. "Well, I don't have any magic answers–"
"Oh, I know that. I'm just – Oh, I'm sorry for interrupting. What were you going to say?"
He drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, looking at a point high up on the wall as he organized his thoughts.
"I don't know the answers," he said. Then he smiled. "You probably suspected that already. But I do know what you mean. I think it's a good thing Paris and his friends are doing what they're doing, and I think it's great that you helped them. But I also know what you mean about joining them. It does seem a little . . . negative, I guess, if that's all you're going to do. Eat, sleep, go to work, hang around T.C.'s kitchen, then go out and get into fistfights. That's not the worst lifestyle I've ever heard of, but I could see you wanting more." He looked her in the eye.
"To be honest, I think you're a pretty extraordinary person. I was thinking that on our way here. And I think you could probably do something pretty extraordinary, more extraordinary than what Paris and his friends are doing."
She looked down, her cheeks pink. "I'm nothing special, Marshall. Weird things just seem to happen to me, but I'm pretty ordinary."
He waved a hand. "Well, put that aside, but I think . . ." He pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Wait a minute," he said slowly. "You know, as my employer sometimes says, I just got a fraction of a shadow of a ghost of an idea. I'll have to get back to you about it, though, after I find out a few things."
He sat up straighter. "For what it's worth, here's my advice. I can't tell you what to do about the Wild Fruits, but if you do join up, remember to keep your eyes open for something better, something really special. And I'll get back to you about my idea if it seems to make sense. Does that help?"
She nodded and stood up. "I think so. It gives me a lot to think about, anyway. Thanks."
He smiled. "That's what friends are for."
They rode back in silence. Marshall had bought a newspaper in the hotel lobby, and he sat reading it in the back seat. Vicki sat on the other end of the seat, her head propped on her hand. If she stretched her neck up slightly she could see out the car window as they rode along, but mostly she didn't bother.
After a few minutes she turned, about to speak to Marshall, but nothing came out. He didn't notice, or at least he didn't react, and she slumped back into her corner. She'd tried to tell him in the hotel room as well, but she'd chickened out then, too. She just didn't know how Marshall would react to the news that her fears weren't just theoretical, that she had already killed a man with a single blow of her fist.
It had been during the shoot-out at Duffy's, on Friday night, and she hadn't intended to kill him. She had just lashed out in anger when he had knocked Jan Sleet down, but that didn't really make a lot of difference to the way she felt about it.
When they got back to the apartment, Vicki asked, "Where do you want this?" holding up the suitcase.
Marshall shrugged. "Might as well put it in the bedroom. I–" he looked at the closed door to the bedroom. He turned to T.C., who was grinning.
"Hasn't she put in an appearance?" he asked.
She shook her head. "Not a peep out of her."
"Our theory," Finch put in, "is that she didn't want to waste her big entrance until you two got back."
Marshall nodded. "My theory is that you're probably right." A few minutes later Jan Sleet emerged, wearing a nightgown and a long robe.
"Good morning, all," she said airily as she limped to the stove. "Did everyone sleep well?"
"It was so long ago, I can't remember," T.C. said.
"It's almost six o'clock in the evening," Marshall said.
"Oh, is it?" she asked, pouring herself a cup of coffee. "I had no idea. I was having a wonderful sleep."
"Did your big investigatory date produce any results?" Marshall asked.
She smiled. "Oh, you could say that. Come on, and I'll tell you all about it." Marshall had the idea that she had planned on dragging out the suspense a bit longer, but wasn't able to contain her excitement.
As he and Vicki trooped into the bedroom after her, Marshall rolled his eyes at T.C.
Marshall and Jan Sleet sat on the edge of the bed and Vicki stood leaning against the wall. Jan Sleet leaned forward conspiratorially. "I unbuttoned my shirt to there!" she said, thumping herself in the center of her chest.
"Ooooh," Marshall said.
"That was for the benefit of a very nice young man named Daniel–"
"Dennis," Vicki amended.
"Dennis," Jan Sleet continued. "He took me out to dinner, and then we went to the Quarter."
"I assume that was so you could keep an eye on her," Marshall said to Vicki. "You know, in case young Dennis decided to get fresh."
"Oh, come on," Jan Sleet said. "Nothing happened. He was a real gentleman. Anyway, he used to work for the last mayor, and he gave me some very interesting official records."
"He gave you official government records?" Marshall asked.
"Well," she said modestly, "he wanted to, but I convinced him that it would be fine if he just copied them and gave me the copies."
"How did you get him to do that?"
"She vamped him," Vicki reported.
"She what?" Marshall demanded, sounding a little testy.
In demonstration, Vicki planted her tiny hands on her tiny hips, screwed up her face in concentration, and executed a tiny wiggle. "Like that," she said.
"Good God," Marshall said, leaning back on the bed, "the poor bastard didn't stand a chance."
Jan Sleet smiled, her eyes half-closed behind her glasses.
"You can scoff, mister man," she said, "but I found out some very interesting information. I think there's a story in all this." She turned to Vicki. "As soon as I get dressed, let's get going. There are a couple of things–."
Vicki looked at the clock on the wall and shook her head. "That's going to make me late for work. the Quarter is going to be open as usual until right before the funeral. We'll have to do it in the morning."
Jan Sleet looked shocked. "But this is it! We're going to Solve the Mystery! Crack the Case!"
"Lose my Job!" Vicki continued. "Marshall can tell you that I've been getting in trouble with Frances anyway. I can't afford to piss her off any more. And how long do you think T.C. would let me live here if I couldn't pay the rent?"
"Not one blessed second!" yelled T.C. from the next room.
"We can go first thing in the morning," Vicki said. "Get to bed early tonight, and we'll get an early start tomorrow."
Jan Sleet sighed. "Nancy Drew never had these problems." Then she looked up. "What funeral?"
It was around 11:30pm and the front door of the Quarter was closed. Marshall pushed it open and peered in.
"We're closed!" Frances yelled from a stool by the bar.
"Uh, I'm here to meet Vicki," he said hesitantly. Frances looked at him again. "We're going to the funeral," he explained.
"Oh, come on in, Marshall," Donna called, stepping out from behind the bar. She was brushing her hair.
Frances scowled and turned back to the bar, but not before Marshall noticed that there was a single red tear drawn on her pale cheek.
"So," said Donna, "are you Vicki's date?" Her dress was so short that when she raised her arms to brush her hair Marshall started peering around the darkened room for something else to look at. "Well–" he began.
"Marshall's my escort," Vicki said, appearing from the gloom in the rear of the club. She was also brushing her hair. "Are we all ready to go?" she asked.
Frances looked up. "I–"
"Oh, of course you're going, you old grump-pot," Donna said. "Come on."
As Frances locked the double doors of the Quarter, Marshall looked up at the night sky. "A couple of hours ago I thought it was going to rain," he said, "but now it's cleared up."
"Oh, don't worry about that," Frances said, pulling on a huge padlock to make sure it was secure. "It's been taken care of. There won't be any rain tonight. Come on."
She set off down the street and they hurried to follow her. After a block, Vicki tugged at Marshall's sleeve and he leaned over. "Aren't you going to ask?" she whispered, smiling.
He shook his head firmly. "No."
Frances and Donna walked a little in front, holding a conversation that seemed to consist mostly of Donna talking and Frances nodding from time to time. Vicki and Marshall walked a little behind, mostly in silence. Vicki walked with her arm through Marshall's (or, actually, because of the difference in their heights, she ended up walking with her arm crooked around Marshall's wrist).
Marshall saw more and more people on the street as they walked along. Some were just standing around on corners, or sitting on stoops, but many were walking in the same direction Frances was going. A lot of the people knew Frances and Donna, saying hello or waving.
Marshall leaned over again. "I guess traditional funeral attire really isn't required," he said to Vicki.
She looked up grinning. "Well, I wore black."
Marshall looked around. "You always wear black. And I suspect that's true of a lot of these other people as well."
"I wore black," Donna called back, flipping up the back of her dress for a second.
Frances shook her head, though she smiled a little. "That's appropriate for Carl, I guess," she admitted.
Donna nudged Frances and pointed at a small, dark-haired woman walking on the other side of the street. She was leading a small boy with long red hair tied into a pony tail.
"I wonder how many of them are coming," she said.
Frances shrugged. "If they all come there won't be enough room for the rest of us."
They smelled the torches before they turned the final corner.
It was a pier, dark and wide, stretching out into the river, with burning torches around the perimeter. The torches were over six feet tall, placed about twelve feet apart.
At first, Marshall thought the whole pier looked like a parking lot for motorcycles. The gleaming Jinx cycles all stood in even rows, facing the street. But then, as they got closer, he saw that there was a narrow path down the center of the pier between the rows of motorcycles. People were going down it in single file, so Marshall and the others joined the queue.
A large bearded Jinx stood at the end of the aisle, his arms folded, greeting each person in turn as they reached him. "Were you invited?" he asked Frances.
"Frances Chan," she said. "From the Quarter." He nodded and she passed.
Donna came next and she said, "Donna, from the Quarter." She smiled. "The Prima Donna," she added, but the bearded man didn't react except to motion her along.
Vicki and Marshall also identified themselves and were admitted. The motorcycle parking area only took up the first quarter of the dock, the rest of it was clear. There was a makeshift bar along the right side, and on the left there were some tables and chairs, though almost everybody was standing. At the far end was a small stage with a crude podium on it. The ancient-looking planks under their feet were worn and patched in places, but seemed sturdy enough.
The night air was cool and still. Marshall was glad he'd worn a jacket, but for a fall night on the water it was very comfortable. He drew in a deep breath.
Dr. Lee and Neil came forward as they looked around. Frances greeted the Jinx leader briefly and then made for the bar. "So glad you all could make it," Dr. Lee said. "You never knew Carl, and you certainly didn't see Jenny at her best, but we're going to try to do justice to both of them."
"Thank you for inviting us," Marshall said.
Of all the people who came to the funeral that night (and Marshall was later to estimate that there were well over two hundred), only three made a real stir when they arrived.
The first was Philip Henshaw.
Dr. Lee and Neil had moved a little distance away and were greeting some new arrivals. Marshall was about to go to the bar when Vicki looked around and said, "I wonder where Pete is."
"I'm sure he'll be here," Marshall said. Then there was a noticeable increase in whispering and pointing from the area near the entrance. Marshall turned.
"Who is it?" Vicki asked.
"I have no idea. A tall guy, with long, curly hair, wearing a long leather coat and walking with a cane. I thought for a second Jan had decided to come after all, except for the curly hair."
Vicki craned her neck but couldn't see, so he lifted her up. "Oh," she said as he put her down. "That's the famous Philip Henshaw. He was Jennifer Owens' boyfriend, and he ran the band Pete and Carl were in. Donna showed me some photographs. I thought he was in the hospital."
Henshaw, his face grim, limped over to Dr. Lee.
"I didn't know if you'd be able to come," she said.
He shrugged. "They weren't about to release me, so I just walked out. I'll probably go back in the morning."
Philip Henshaw looked around.
"I gather you're running all this," he said to Dr. Lee. She nodded. "Well, I really want to thank you. Not just from me but from everybody who cared about them. They were both pretty special people."
Dr. Lee indicated Marshall and Vicki. "This is Marshall, Jan Sleet's assistant, and Vicki, the new bouncer at the Quarter. They went with us on Saturday night, and tried to help"
Henshaw seemed to see them for the first time. They came forward and he extended his hand to Marshall. "Glad to meet you," he said. The evident pain he was in certainly didn't interfere with a strong grip. "I appreciate everything everybody tried to do for Jenny. If I hadn't been in that fucking hospital . . ." He shuddered as if he'd got a sudden chill. "Oh, well, I'll see you all later. I think I need some medicine." He limped off toward the bar.
Dr. Lee watched him for a moment, then turned to Neil. "Have somebody keep an eye on him for me. He doesn't look too good." Neil nodded and Dr. Lee turned to Marshall again. "I hope Jan Sleet wasn't too upset about not being invited."
"Not at all," Marshall lied.
Marshall went to the bar and got beers for himself and Vicki. When he got back Vicki was standing by herself, her hands in the pockets of her leather jacket.
"I have never liked parties," Vicki said, taking the bottle of beer from him. She drank some and looked around. "Paris is here," she said, pointing at a group of people further out on the pier. "He's the one in the cap." Marshall was surprised, he hadn't realized Paris was so young.
Paris was talking to a tall, attractive woman. She was lanky and cat-like, with shoulder length brown hair, wearing a blue jumpsuit and boots. The jumpsuit was sleeveless with yellow trim, and had a circular cut-out over each hip.
Vicki laughed at Marshall's expression. "You like what you see?" she asked.
Marshall coughed and nodded. "Yes, I must admit that I do."
"His name is Simon. But if you meet him, call him Emma."
The second person to cause a stir was Randi.
There was a little murmur near the motorcycles, and Marshall and Vicki turned to look.
"That's Chet," Vicki said, "and . . . Randi?"
Chet stroked his goatee as he looked around the crowd with a half-smile. He was dressed in a black sweater and jeans, and was accompanied by a woman.
She was dressed in black: pumps, stockings, knee-length skirt, jacket and a small, round hat with a veil. She looked very old-fashioned, especially in contrast with everyone else there. She walked with one hand resting lightly on Chet's arm.
Marshall thought for a second that she might have been somebody's mother, she looked so respectable, but then he noticed one thing that changed his mind. She would occasionally flicker, becoming partially transparent. In the town where he had grown up, none of the truly respectable people had flickered.
"Is that the Randi you didn't want to tell me about?" he whispered to Vicki. Before she could respond, the woman turned toward them, lifting her veil. She was about twenty feet away, and Marshall could see an impish smile on a face much younger than he'd expected.
"I guess that's her," Vicki said dubiously. "I've never seen her before."
"I have a weird feeling she heard me," he said.
"Oh, I'm sure she did," Vicki said. "I think she hears everything." She smiled, looking at the woman, and said quietly, "Hello, Randi."
Hello, dear," came the warm, friendly (and disembodied) reply. "I'll be over in a second, once I say Hi to Dr. Lee. Do you like my outfit? I so seldom get a chance to dress up."
"I need another drink," Marshall declared, and a cold beer appeared in his hand, accompanied by a ghostly giggle. It took a minute for him to get up the nerve to drink it.
The third person to cause a stir was starling.
"Oh, there's Pete," Vicki said, pointing at the entrance area. Pete was arguing heatedly with the bearded Jinx who was admitting people. Marshall watched this for a moment, then he saw the heavily-armed woman standing nearby.
"Oh, my God," he blurted, "is that–"
"I told you they were friends," Vicki reminded him. starling turned her head slowly, looking at everything through her dark glasses, her thin lips pressed together. She was not paying any attention to the argument going on a few feet away from her. "Yes, but it's one thing to hear it," Marshall replied, "it's another thing to see her in the flesh."
The argument was escalating, and from the man's gestures it was obvious that starling was not going to be admitted. Whatever unwritten list he was consulting obviously didn't include her. Finally, starling's mouth thinned and she stepped forward, pulling her revolver. The bearded man stood his ground, but the other people in the vicinity started to move away quickly. A few (the smart ones, Marshall thought) ran to the edge of the pier and dove into the water. Vicki took a step forward, but Marshall grabbed her upper arm.
"You're not bulletproof," he said. She stopped, but he could tell she was still poised to move, and he knew that if she did decide to get into the middle of this, there was no way he could stop her.
Then Dr. Lee appeared, slipping through the crowd so quickly that Neil could barely keep up with her. She stepped in front of the bearded man, and Pete got in front of starling, gesturing and talking quickly. starling's expression was blank, but she lowered her gun.
Dr. Lee turned and pointed at starling, obviously indicating to the man that the guest list was getting a last-minute addition. starling reholstered her revolver. Marshall glanced at Neil and saw him relax as the tension in the situation drained away. It occurred to Marshall that Dr. Lee probably wasn't the easiest person in the world to be a bodyguard for.
starling stood motionless for a moment as Pete said something and pointed at the bar. Then she shook her head and turned abruptly toward the street. Pete reached out and caught her elbow, leaning toward her, whispering.
"If he's trying to get her to stay, it's okay with me if he doesn't try too hard," Marshall said. Vicki shrugged and sipped her beer.
After Pete had made his point starling shook her head and leaned forward to say something to him. He listened intently, nodding, lighting a cigarette. He finally shook his head and said something to her, gesturing with the hand which held the cigarette. starling took the cigarette (or he handed it to her, Marshall couldn't tell which) and stuck it in the corner of her mouth while Pete made a further point. He lit another cigarette for himself as she considered what he had said.
This quiet conversation went on for a couple of minutes, then they moved toward the bar together, still talking.
Marshall took a long pull on his beer.
"Pete seems like a nice enough guy," he said to Vicki, "and I understand that she's his friend, but I question the idea of bringing her here. It seems like asking for trouble. It looked to me–"
"Heads up," Vicki said cheerfully, "here they come."
Pete waved as he and starling approached.
"Hi, Marshall," he said. "Hi, Vicki."
"Hello, Pete," Marshall said.
"Where's Jan?" Pete asked, looking around.
Marshall smiled. "She, I am afraid, was not invited."
Pete nodded. "Marshall, I'd like you to meet starling," he said.
Marshall said, "Hello," and almost held out his hand, but starling's expression was forbidding. "Pleasure to meet you," he added. She had opaque sunglasses on and he couldn't even tell if she was looking at him or not. He almost found himself adding "I've heard so much about you," but he stopped himself in time.
"You've met Vicki," Pete said, as if he wasn't sure she'd remember.
starling looked at Vicki. "You're very short," she said after a moment's thought.
"True," Vicki said, holding out her hand, "but I have a winning personality." She managed to catch starling's hand and shake it.
"Hey, there's Randi and Chet," Pete said. "Come on," he said to starling.
"Catch you later," Vicki said.
As they walked away starling flopped the hand Vicki had shaken from side to side, wincing.
Vicki giggled. "I couldn't resist," she said.
As Pete made his way toward Chet and Randi he suddenly realized that starling was no longer with him. He looked around but couldn't see her. The pier was pretty crowded by then, and the light from the torches made it hard to see very far away even if there was a break in the crowd.
His first instinct was to run and find her, but he knew this was a bad idea. He'd made his big pitch, trying to convince her to stay, and the rest was going to have to be up to her. And he knew that, as tense as she was, she wouldn't react well to a lot of pressure.
"Hey, Petes," a voice said from behind him.
He turned and Donna leaned forward to give him a kiss on the cheek. This was one of the many things she did which drove him crazy (and the way she kicked one foot up behind her when leaning forward to administer the peck was another).
"Hi," he said.
"I just heard a great rumor," she said, squeezing his arm (which was irritating thing #3). "I thought you'd be just the one to tell me if it's true or not."
"Okay, I'm all ears," he said.
"The scuttlebutt is that sometime in the wee hours this shindig will move over to the Quarter, and you guys will maybe play a few tunes."
Pete chuckled and shook his head, wondering how long Donna was going to continue to rest her hand on his arm. Maybe starling would come along and shoot her. "I haven't heard that," he said, "and I think I'd know. Listen, I just saw Henshaw at the bar a few minutes ago and he looked like he was about to fall over. Plus, as I'm sure you've probably heard, we don't have a drummer."
"Well, I did notice the H-man talking with T.D. a few minutes ago. They were thick as thieves. We haven't seen that in a while."
"True, but don't get your hopes up. I don't know what's going to happen tonight, but I doubt if it'll be music."
Pete wandered around for a while, saying hello to a lot of friends. He heard a few different variations on the "Kingdom Come Reunion Rumor" (as he called it), but the idea seemed more and more ridiculous.
Then he saw starling. She was sitting on the edge of the pier, her feet dangling, a beer between her thighs, looking out at the water. He went over to her.
"Mind if I join you?" Pete asked.
She looked up. "Okay," she said.
"You were very rude to Marshall," he scolded as he sat down. She looked up, startled, and saw his grin.
"I was very polite to Marshall," she corrected him. "He's still alive, isn't he?"
He sat down beside her and sipped his beer. They were silent for a few minutes, then he said, "I think I must be crazy."
She looked up. "Really? Why?"
"Well, I was thinking how weird it is to be sitting next to the person who killed my friend. It's like being disloyal. But then I thought about Henshaw. He's my friend, too, and I had an affair with his girlfriend behind his back. Even now he'd probably kill me if he found out.
"And Tom's my friend, too, and I stood by and allowed Henshaw to steal his girlfriend and kick him out of his own band."
starling started to speak a couple of times, but no words came out. "That was a good dinner," she said finally. "I feel a little sick."
Pete nodded. "Me, too." He sighed. "And what about Jenny? She was my friend. If she ever had a friend while she was here it was me, and I let her down when she needed help. Henshaw would have done something for her, if he hadn't been in the hospital. He wouldn't have turned his back on her."
starling thought for a minute. "But you said if he'd known about you and her, he might have killed you. So, he might have killed her, too." She flipped her hand palm-up. "You wouldn't have done that."
He nodded. "Well, I guess that's something, but it's not much. Henshaw sees everything in absolutes. Right is right. I don't see things like that, but I'm starting to think there's such a thing as too much gray, too."
starling finished her beer and dropped the bottle into the water. She looked off at the night sky for a few minutes.
"I'm going to get another beer," she said, getting to her feet. She thought for a moment, then she added, "I'll get one for you, too." She hesitated. "Do you want one?"
He nodded. "Yes, thanks. I'll be done with this one by the time you get back."
Tom Drenkenson thought there was at least a fifty-fifty chance that Philip Henshaw would collapse before the night was over. His skin was pale and he was sweating quite a bit, and he was obviously doing his best to control a grimace of pain every time he took a step.
They'd run into each other at the bar and started talking. Henshaw had looked like he was sitting down to keep from falling down, but after a few minutes he struggled to his feet and said, "Well, time to circulate."
Tom had remained seated, but then Henshaw had grabbed the edge of the bar, his face going pasty and his eyes closing. He shook his head slowly and said, "Wooo, got up too fast." Seeing that, Tom thought he'd better go along.
They walked around a little, Henshaw leaning heavily on his cane, then Drenkenson pointed out at the edge of the pier where Pete and starling were sitting side by side.
"Now there's a touching little scene," he said sarcastically. "They make such a cute couple."
"Hey, Pete hasn't had a girlfriend in a long time," Henshaw said. "Not since that hippie girl in the park, and she was a real loser."
"But she's . . . she's starling, for God's sake!"
"Oh, I think she's okay. Listen, if it wasn't for her, this party would be for me and Pete as well as Jenny and Carl. That makes her all right in my book." He looked at Tom. "You ever get to talk to her?"
He nodded. "Yes, eventually. I couldn't find her anywhere, so I tried Pete's apartment one day when he was at work. She was there." He shrugged. "I asked her to come see you. She said she didn't want to, so I made it clear that you were interested in hiring her. She said no."
"Did you press the point?"
Tom shook his head. "I thought she was getting angry, so I just left."
Henshaw clapped him on the shoulder. "Well, I'm not surprised. Don't worry, I'll carry the ball from here."
Tom Drenkenson thought there was at least a fifty-fifty chance that Henshaw would collapse before the night was over. And, if it happened, he certainly didn't want to miss it.
Marshall and Vicki were sitting at the bar.
"Have you ever been to a funeral before?" he asked her.
She shook her head. "Nope." She looked around. "I guess they're not all like this, huh?"
"No, I should say not, at least not in my experience, and I've been to a lot of funerals. I do like the idea of having it outdoors at midnight, though. Maybe all funerals should be at midnight."
She drank some beer. "Why so many funerals?" she asked.
"Well, it started with my family. Catholicism, Cutty Sark and cancer, our three signal characteristics. It made for a lot of funerals. Some of my earliest memories are of big, fancy Catholic funerals, mostly for relatives I'd never heard of.
"And then, of course, Jan and I just spent the last six months in Bellona. There's a lot of people dying over there, and a few of them even get a proper burial."
She nodded. "I heard about the war over there. My grandfather used to talk about it."
Marshall looked around. "Technically, of course, this is a memorial, not a funeral. For a funeral, you have to have a body. Oh, speaking of which, you have to see this." Shifting on his stool, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet. He flipped through until he found a photograph, which he showed to her.
She peered at it in the flickering light from the torches. "It looks like Jan," she said.
"It is," he said. "It's from her funeral."
Vicki gave him a skeptical look.
"Well, it was a fake one we staged one time. Somebody had tried to kill her, and we wanted to fool them into thinking they'd succeeded."
"And you carry this around in your wallet?"
"I have two more, too," he said. "Look, here's one from the wake. Doesn't she look lifelike?"
There were a lot of people crowded around the bar, pressing up against Marshall and Vicki, but suddenly they all started picking up their drinks and moving quickly away. Marshall turned around, thinking that maybe the ceremony was about to start, and he found himself face to face with the most dangerous woman in America. She ordered two beers and then turned to look at him.
"Hello," he said.
starling, who had met him less than an hour before, frowned.
"Marshall," he reminded her.
She nodded slowly. "You were with that little girl."
Vicki leaned around from behind Marshall and waved. "Hi," she said.
"Friends of Pete's," starling said.
"Yes," Vicki said. "Friends of Pete's."
starling nodded, picked up the two beers and walked away.
"Now I ask you," Marshall said, "is there really enough in there for a whole book?"
When starling got back to Pete he had indeed finished his beer, but he was standing with his arms around a woman in a very short skirt who was crying on his shoulder.
starling glided over silently and placed the beer on the ground near Pete. He looked up and mouthed, "Thank you."
Pete turned his attention back to Donna, who was still sobbing and clutching his flannel shirt so tightly he was afraid the worn fabric would rip down his back.
Vicki had gone to say hello to Paris, and Marshall was beginning to realize that except for her he didn't really know anybody here very well. He looked around, wondering how long he had to stay before he could go home without seeming rude.
Then he had a thought. Taking his beer, he walked to the edge of the motorcycle parking area, looking toward the street. He squinted, looking from one side to the other until he saw what he'd expected. It glowed faintly red in the night.
He went quickly back to the bar and got another beer. Then he walked down the long aisle to the street. It was a little hard to get through since there was still a steady stream of people coming in.
Christy of the Jinx was sitting on a rather wobbly folding chair, obviously watching the motorcycles. She half-stood and waved when she saw him coming.
"Your hair looks like it's glowing," he said as he reached her. "I could see it from way over there."
She smiled sheepishly, smoothing her skirt as she sat down. "I put that stuff in it, that makes it glow. It looks really stupid, right?" She put her hands in the pockets of her leather jacket.
He laughed. "That's not what I was thinking."
He was interrupted by a bark from behind him. He turned and saw a woman padding by on all fours. She had short blond hair and was wearing a black sweatshirt, jeans and a dog collar.
Christy waved. "Hi, Daph," she said. Daphne barked again as she joined the people waiting to get in. Marshall shook his head and turned back to Christy.
He said, "I thought you might be getting thirsty doing all this hard physical labor down here."
"That was very nice," she said, taking the bottle and then putting it down beside her, "but I don't drink. Sorry."
He smiled. "I should have known. On duty, huh? Watching the motorcycles."
She hesitated for a second then shook her head. "No, I just can't drink."
She didn't say the "anymore" but he heard it all the same.
Marshall stood awkwardly for another minute, wondering what to say next. "I wanted to thank you again for bring the briefcase by."
She smiled. "I saw you leave it at the table, at the Quarter, and I took it and hid it behind the bar. That way I had an excuse for visiting."
A young man Marshall remembered from movie night cruised up on a gaudily-painted bicycle and jumped off. (What was his name? 15? 16? Marshall couldn't remember.) He called "Hiya, toots," as he wheeled the bicycle past them.
Christy looked after him in surprise. "'Hiya, toots'?" she demanded as he swung the bicycle around and slipped it into the line of Jinx motorcycles. He gave the handlebars a little wipe and strolled back toward them.
"Got any plans for after the party, babe?" he asked.
"This is your new approach, is it?" she asked. "Just what the world needs, another Carl."
He grinned. "Well, I will admit that he gave me a few pointers a while back, but–"
"In answer to your question about later tonight, I was thinking of going someplace quiet and hanging myself, rather than have to risk hearing you call me 'toots' again."
"That's cool. Catch you later, sweetie," he said, walking toward the entrance after glancing at Marshall.
"I liked it better when you were calling me 'Miss Christy,'" she called.
He scooted back. "You did? You liked that?"
She groaned. "Go," she said, pointing. "Go mourn."
He looked glum. "Well, okay, but I won't enjoy it." He gave Marshall a rather disapproving look and then slouched toward the entrance.
"I hope I haven't–" Marshall began.
"Oh, don't worry about him," she said. "He's a nice kid, but I'm old enough . . ." She laughed. "Let's just say there's an age gap. He never gives up, though."
"It might be that the only way to scare him off is to say yes."
She shook her head. "You're probably right, but there is the chance that he'd go along with it. Then I'd be stuck." She smothered a laugh and turned pink. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that the way it sounded."
There was a moment of awkward silence, and then she smiled a little sadly. "Well, thanks for the thought anyway." She picked up the beer bottle and he took it from her. She gestured down at the end of the pier. "You should probably get back," she said. "The statements are probably about to start."
"Statements?" he asked.
After a few minutes Donna lifted her face and looked at Pete. Her cheeks were blotched red and white, and her flood of tears had streaked her eyeliner all down her face.
"Fucking Frances!" she said angrily, then she started to cry again.
"Why?" Pete asked. "What did she do?"
He fumbled through his pockets for something to wipe her face with, but he couldn't find anything, so he raised his arm and used his sleeve.
"I was teasing her," Donna said, her voice still rough. "You know, for being such a grump. I mean, what does she think this is, a funeral?" She sighed a deep sigh and sniffed, wiping her nose with her own sleeve. "I guess I pushed it too hard."
"Why, what did she do?"
She took a deep breath. "She said if I'd taken Carl home and fucked him on Friday night like I'd wanted to, instead of playing Little Miss Cock-Tease, he'd still be alive today."
Pete's shoulders sagged as she rested her head on his shoulder again. "That's just stupid," he said. "She got sick of you riding her and she lashed out at you." He leaned over and snagged the beer bottle. "Here, have some beer," he said.
She shook her head and said, "No, thanks," then took the bottle and drank.
"Listen," he said, "I know how you feel. I feel like a heel for not helping Jenny on Saturday night. But it wouldn't have made any difference." He shook his head. "They're dead and it's a damn shame, but we didn't kill them."
Suddenly Donna jumped, flailed her arms around and yelled something. Then she stormed off toward the bar.
Daphne looked up at Pete and barked.
She stood with her arm around his waist, and where it pressed against his back his skin tingled slightly.
"Looks like everybody's here," Chet said.
Randi nodded. "I hope the speeches don't go on too long." She sipped her drink, a tall, frosty cocktail with an umbrella in it.
He chuckled, giving her a squeeze (the tingling increasing). "They're statements, not speeches," he chided. "I'm sure Dr. Lee will move them right along."
Vicki came up and they all said hello. "I seem to have lost Marshall," she said, looking around. "I hope he didn't leave."
"He'll be back," Randi said. "He's down at the street flirting nervously with Miss Christy."
Vicki giggled as Chet tried to look stern. "I'm sure Marshall would prefer–" he began, but Vicki and Randi shushed him.
"There's nothing wrong with a little gossip," Randi said.
"Gossip?" Vicki said, looking around wide-eyed. "I didn't hear anything."
Dr. Lee and Neil came over then, and more greetings were exchanged.
"I think it's about time to start," Dr. Lee said. "You're sure you don't want to say a few words, Randi?"
She shook her head. "Thanks, but no."
Dr. Lee shrugged and said, "Okay, up to you," and she and Neil moved away.
"I hate to speak in public," Randi explained to Vicki. "Every time I do somebody writes it all down and puts it out as a pamphlet. Usually they don't even quote me right."
"Speaking of which, Ryerson's here," Chet said, pointing at a tall man with wild brown hair. He was standing some distance away and staring at them, a small pad and a pen in his hands.
"Oh, I know," she said. "I'm not allowing him within a hundred feet of me, but he keeps trying. A couple of more drinks and I may push him into the water." She looked at Vicki. "He's one of my 'admirers.' A real creep. He just wants–"
"I need to ask you–" the man yelled, then a second later he shot off the edge of the pier as if he'd been launched from an aircraft carrier.
Randi shrugged. "I had a moment of weakness. Sue me."
Daphne looked up at Pete and barked as Donna stormed off.
"What the hell did you do to her?" he demanded, laughing in spite of himself. "Bite her on the butt?"
In answer, Daphne just came over beside him and leaned her head against his hip, looking up at him.
He rubbed her head. "I guess she was just startled. Anyway, thanks for scaring her off. All that crying wasn't for Carl or Jenny, she was just feeling sorry for herself." He squatted down and looked her in the eyes. "How are you doing?" he asked. She leaned forward and licked his cheek, then she pressed her forehead against his, closing her eyes. "I miss him, Pete," she whispered after a minute.
He put his hand behind her head and ruffled her short, spiky hair. "I know," he said. "So do I." He shifted his position so he was sitting cross-legged on the worn planks of the pier. They were surrounded by people, but it was as if they were alone in a forest of legs.
"I am glad you're staying with us," he said after a minute.
She pulled back a little and grinned. "And you were the one who told Carl he couldn't have a dog."
He laughed. She leaned her head forward again.
They stayed motionless for a minute. Then she looked up, her eyes dry and her chin set. "Dogs don't cry, right?" she said.
He shook his head firmly. "No, not that I've ever seen. And I'll tell you this, Carl wouldn't have cried for us. If this funeral was for you and me, he'd be under this dock right now with a six-pack and a couple of girls."
She smiled. "Or a girl and a boy, and maybe even a dog."
"Have you seen starling?" Pete asked.
"No, I just got here. Did she come with you? She doesn't seem like the funeral type."
"Well, I persuaded her to come. I thought it might do her some good."
"How is she?" Daphne asked. "Has she stopped that business of sitting and staring into space all the time?"
He nodded. "Yes, last night. I got her to eat something, too."
"Do you know what that was all about?"
He shook his head. "No idea. I was talking with her a little while ago, and then she went off to get us some beers. When she got back Donna was crying on my shoulder, so she split."
"I'm surprised she didn't shoot her."
He smiled. "I thought of that."
She nudged him with her forehead. "Come on. We'd better go find Gun Girl before somebody serves her a warm beer and she decides to shoot up the joint."
Pete and Daphne made their way through the crowd, Daphne barking when people didn't get out of their way. A couple of times she had to butt somebody with her head to get them to move. Pete thought that the pier seemed like it couldn't hold many more people.
They found starling sitting in a chair, sipping a beer and smoking a cigarette. Nobody was within ten feet of her, as if she was surrounded by an invisible wall. All the people who stood around drinking and talking were making every effort not to look at her either.
Pete and Daphne walked over to her and she smiled, leaning over to scratch Daphne's head. "Hi, girl," she said, and Daphne licked her hand.
starling turned to Pete as he sat down. He was rather enjoying the way people were staying away from them. It was like being on stage. "Who was that crying?" starling asked.
"Donna, the bartender from the Quarter." He shook his head. "Somebody laid a real guilt trip on her, that if she'd done something differently Carl would still be alive. I told her . . ." His voice trailed off as he realized that starling was obviously not listening to what he was saying. She was looking at her right hand, flexing it open and closed. "What is it?" he asked.
"It still hurts a little," she said. "That little girl with the pointy ears is very strong."
Marshall was looking around for a familiar face when Vicki zipped out of the crowd and grabbed his arm in a grip of iron. "There you are!" she said playfully. "You've got a lot to learn about being a girl's escort, kiddo. When you're my escort, you're supposed to be with me, not off somewhere trying to pick up cute red-headed biker babes."
"I really–" Marshall protested.
"Oh, never mind," she said, grinning. "Come on, it's time for you to meet Paris."
She pulled him a little distance toward the end of the pier and then looked around. "He was here just a minute ago," she said. She climbed up on a chair and looked around again. "Oh, there's Emma," she said, pointing. "Maybe she knows where he went. Come on."
She jumped off the chair and pulled Marshall through the crowd until they reached Emma, who was chatting with a couple of Jinx. She turned as they approached.
"I see you found your wandering male," she said.
Vicki laughed. "For now, at least. Marshall, this is Emma. Emma, this is Marshall, Jan Sleet's assistant."
Up close, it was easier to believe that there was a Simon behind the Emma, but Marshall was still glad he'd been forewarned.
Emma leaned toward Marshall. "I'm so glad to meet you," she said. "Is your employer here?"
He shook his head. "No, I'm afraid not."
She lifted a finger, making sure she had his attention. The two Jinx waved and moved away. "I have been hoping I'd meet you tonight," she said quietly. "I need to warn you to be on your toes."
"Because I'm about to ask you several searching and somewhat nosy questions, and it will only lead to bad feelings between us if I succeed in tricking any secrets out of you."
He laughed. "I consider myself warned. Fire away."
Emma paused to take out a cigarette, and Marshall found himself reaching into his pocket for his lighter. He cupped his hand around her cigarette as he lit it, and she smiled and murmured, "Thank you."
"And now for the inquisition," Emma said. "It is a fairly well-known rumor that Jan Sleet is here on business, not just seeing the sights. And she was seen behaving in a fairly unladylike manner with a member of the former administration at the Quarter last night. But I'm sure you'd never reveal anything about that, would you?"
He shook his head. "I think somewhere in my job description it mentions probity."
"Don't be vulgar. Another story which I've heard from a few different sources is that the Bellona book will never be published, at least in this country."
"Well, you know what they say. If you hear the same rumor from two different people who don't know each other, it's probably true, but if four people all tell you the same thing, it's bound to be false."
Emma laughed. "That's a new one on me. Where did you hear that?"
He smiled. "Nowhere, I just made it up."
She smiled back. "Well, I guess if I hear this theory of yours from someone else tonight, that will prove it's true. The third rumor is that the food served at T.C.'s can start to get a little tedious after a while."
Both he and Vicki laughed. "Now that is quite possible," he said.
"In that case, I would love to have you come to dinner some night. You and Miss Sleet, and Vicki of course. That way, I can continue my prying in relative comfort, and you can pump me for whatever information you think I might have. I'll serve a fabulous dinner and we can all pretend I cooked it myself. How does that sound?"
Marshall smiled. "That sounds wonderful. The bill of fare where we're staying is hearty, but it can indeed be somewhat limited. I will have to check with my employer, however. I may be her assistant, but I am seldom privy to her plans or our schedule. We could be departing for London at dawn for all I know."
"Oooh, maybe I can get you to take me along." She tossed her hair in a casual shrug. "Well, let me know."
"It would have to be Sunday night, if I'm going to come," Vicki said hopefully.
"Fine," Emma said. "Call me. Here's my card." She plucked it from a tiny pocket in her jumpsuit and handed it to Marshall. "The phone only works if the moon is full, but you can use a runner. I'll look forward to hearing from you."
Vicki was about to ask about Paris when a short man who she recognized as The Drone came over to them, a beer bottle in each hand, yelling something inarticulate. He was naked, flushed and sweaty, and obviously very drunk.
"Oh, my," said Emma, and quickly reached down to cover Vicki's eyes.
"I appreciate the thought," Vicki said, her voice muffled since Emma's hand was covering most of her face, "but I've seen naked drunken men before."
"Oh, lucky you," Marshall said, laughing. "So, do you want to see another one?"
"Well," she said, "now that you put it that way . . ." They all laughed.
The Drone roared off through the crowd and Marshall said, "I wish somebody had covered my eyes."
There was a stir from the direction of the stage and they looked over.
"The statements are probably starting," Marshall said knowledgeably.
starling looked toward the stage.
"I can't see a thing," she said, craning her neck.
Pete was in the same boat, but he knew that if they moved toward the stage into the thick of the crowd it might set off a panic. He looked around.
"Hey, come on," he said, "we can sit up on the bar."
Almost everybody had moved away from the bar and toward the stage, and the few who remained scattered quickly when they saw starling coming.
Pete sat on her left side so he wouldn't be bumping into her revolver. Sitting on the bar, they could see the stage easily. There was nobody on it, but Pete saw that there was now a small microphone on the podium.
After a minute, Pete took a piece of paper from his pocket, unfolded it and spread it out on his thigh. He took out a pencil and started to draw. starling watched for a moment, then she leaned over, her shoulder pressing against his.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm making a little map of the dock here," he said. She watched intently as he sketched in the dock and the street, the motorcycles, the bar, the stage and the torches.
The first person on the stage was a young woman with short blond hair, wearing a black sweatshirt and a dog collar. She looked off into the distance for a moment, her hands gripping the sides of the podium, then she threw back her head and howled in anguish.
"What the hell?" Marshall blurted out, startled.
Vicki shrugged. "Oh, that's Daphne. She was Carl's dog."
Marshall nodded. "Oh."
Pete watched starling's face as Daphne got down from the stage. She was very hard to read, but he thought Daphne's howl of sorrow had affected her. Her expression was . . . sad? upset? tense? Her emotions didn't always seem to correspond to the ones he was familiar with.
He put his hand down between them and tapped the side of her leg. She looked down and he cupped his hand slightly, indicating that she should put her hand there.
She glanced around quickly, as if to make sure that nobody was watching, then she casually put her hand down between them and took his.
This was, he thought, pretty silly. He'd brought her here with a vague idea of Making Her See the Error of Her Ways. He wanted to make her feel that shooting people for trivial reasons was Wrong. Thou Shalt Not Kill and so on.
But then, when she seemed to be getting moved, he immediately did his best to cheer her up.
Of course, he knew, one possibility was that his disapproval of wanton bloodshed wasn't really all that heartfelt after all. He minded that she'd shot Carl, of course, but that was because he'd liked Carl. That wasn't really the same thing as a strong moral conviction.
He sighed. He squeezed her hand. She squeezed back.
Dr. Lee got up on the stage.
"Human beings," she said, "taken as a whole, would seem to be pretty resilient. But individually, we're as fragile as a bunch of soap bubbles. One pinprick and that's that." She snapped her fingers, the sound echoing off across the water.
"Therefore, it's vitally important that we function in groups." She smiled. "This isn't news. Most of you have heard me go on about this subject before. But the point here is that I feel all of us, as a group, let Jennifer Owens down.
"Several people have asked if the Jinx are going to exact vengeance for what happened to Jennifer Owens while she was under our protection. And the answer is no, we will not. Anything we do now would just be to relieve our feelings about letting her down. Nothing, obviously, will do anything to change the fact that we did let her down.
"So, the Jinx will not take our vengeance. We don't deserve to feel better about what happened last Saturday night."
Pete flipped over the piece of paper he was holding and wrote something quickly on the back.
"You know," starling said thoughtfully as Dr. Lee got down from the stage. "I noticed something weird. She didn't mention whether or not they know who did it."
Pete nodded. "That's why I'm writing this note to myself. She certainly left that up in the air." He tapped the pencil against the paper. "The Jinx usually don't make announcements about what they are and are not going to do. They just do it. I wonder what's on her mind." He started tapping his forehead with the pencil. "I would love to have the answer to that question, but I can't figure out how to get it."
Tom Drenkenson and Frances stood on either side of Philip Henshaw and helped him up onto the stage. After he made it he waved them away and stood motionless for a moment.
"I just thought," starling said. "How come you're not up there saying something?"
He shrugged. "Oh, I'm no good at that kind of thing. Henshaw will say it better than I ever could."
She thought for a moment, then nudged him with her elbow. He looked over and she raised her eyebrows in a question.
He shook his head, smiling. "Okay," he said, squeezing her hand as Henshaw, his face grim, limped to the podium. "I'll tell you later."
Philip Henshaw looked out over the crowd for a moment before speaking. With his long coat, his grim, hawk-like face and his long, curly black hair he looked like a backwoods preacher.
"I hate it," he began slowly, "when people recite song lyrics as if they were poetry. So, I'm not going to do that, but I am going to tell you this. Carl Neighbour may have seemed like a mindless sybarite, but there was a lot more to him than that. He wrote some lyrics that I was proud to be allowed to put to music." He took a few pieces of paper from his pocket and held them out. "The night he died he handed me these final lyrics and told me to 'slap some tunes on 'em.'
"When I woke up in the hospital after my . . . accident," he smiled slightly, putting the papers back in the inside pocket of his coat, "my first thought was to make sure that I still had these pieces of paper safe. And that was before I knew he was dead. But I knew that there were no other copies of these words anywhere, he just wrote them out and handed them to me.
"And I'll tell you this, as soon as I'm back on my feet I will slap some tunes on these lyrics, and I'll put my band back together, and we'll continue to play all the songs that I was privileged to write with my friend, Carl. Thank you."
His leg crumpled as he turned from the podium, and Frances ran to catch him and help him off the stage.
"Do you want to take a walk?" Pete asked as Frances helped Henshaw down from the stage.
starling looked surprised. "What about the rest of the speeches?" she asked.
He pointed at the cluster of people by the side of the stage. "It looks like they'll be at this for hours. Look at all those people. Most of them I don't even know." He shook his head. "We heard Dr. Lee and Henshaw. I can't think of anybody else who would have a whole hell of a lot to say to me on the subject of Carl Neighbour and Jennifer Owens."
"Don't forget Daphne."
"True. I can't imagine anybody else's statement is going to be better than hers." He tilted his head toward the exit and tugged her hand slightly. "Okay?" he asked.
"Okay," she said. They jumped off the bar as someone else stepped to the mike.
When they reached the street they saw Christy sitting on her folding chair. "You guys are leaving?" she asked, surprised.
"Oh, no," Pete said, "just going for a walk." He smiled. "We decided to step out and get some air. By the way, this is my friend starling."
starling held out her hand and Christy shook it.
They walked a little way in silence. The streets were nearly deserted. It was much colder away from the dock and they walked with their hands in their coat pockets.
A couple of times they passed groups of people squatting huddled around small fires. Pete lit a cigarette, and then lit one for starling.
"How late do you think it's going to go?" she asked.
"The funeral? Oh, a while yet, unless there are too many statements. Why?"
She shrugged. "I'm kind of tired."
"You want to go home?"
"Oh, no, I feel more awake out here, now that I'm moving around. And the cold . . ." She looked around. "Why is it so cold all of a sudden?"
"We're off the dock," he said. "The dock is being kept warm for the funeral."
She shook her head. "I'm not buying that, Pete," she said with a sidelong glance. "You're making it up."
He laughed. "No, really. Around here, you know, the weirder something seems, the more likely it is to be true."
"Pete, why didn't you say anything before? From the stage."
"Well, I couldn't say anything about Jenny, not without lying. And I'd feel like shit if I just stood up there and said how much I miss Carl and didn't talk about Jenny at all. So, I told them I didn't want to. They asked me, Dr. Lee and them, but I said no."
"I thought maybe it was because of . . . you know."
He shook his head. "Nothing to do with that. I'm sort of suspending thinking a lot about that until you tell me the whole story." He held up a hand. "Sometime later. I can't deal with it right now. This week has been . . . every day it's something else. I'll tell you this, when you were sitting in the kitchen, sitting and staring, there was a couple of times when I thought I'd just sit down with you and wait for a day or two for things to quiet down."
"When did Jenny die?" starling asked suddenly.
"Saturday night. Very early Sunday morning, really."
"Where was I? I liked Jenny."
"You were sitting and staring in the apartment," he said gently.
"Oh." She looked vexed, but he thought she didn't look anywhere near as tense as she had when they'd arrived at the funeral. She wasn't relaxed, but then he didn't think she was ever completely relaxed.
"Did you see her that night?" she asked. "When she was alive, I mean."
He nodded, and told her briefly about the scene at the Quarter. He finished by saying, "I feel bad about it now, but I just didn't think there was anything I could do."
She thought about this as they walked, then turned and pressed a knuckle into his rather stringy bicep. "You know what I think?" she said. "I think we need to toughen you up a bit."
"Well, I guess I should thank you for assuming that I'm a wimp rather than a rat."
She thought about this. "It's . . ." she began, then she lapsed into silence again. They stopped under a street light and he threw away the end of his cigarette. He waited patiently, his hands in his pockets.
"I've got it," she said finally. "We won't know if you're a rat or not until we toughen you up. Then we'll find out." He smiled, and she looked at him expectantly for a moment. "Aren't you going to write that down?" she asked.
He shook his head. "Some things are so true that I don't need to write them down."
They walked in silence for a few minutes, then Pete looked around and glanced up at the street sign. "Hey, I just thought of something," he said excitedly, grabbing her upper arm. "Do you want a cup of coffee?"
She drew back a little at his unexpected enthusiasm. "Yes, I guess so," she said cautiously.
He laughed. "No, I just realized where we are. Get ready for the best cup of coffee you've ever had in your life. Come on." He led her quickly down the block and around a corner, and stopped in front of a dilapidated brownstone. One of the front windows had a small hand-lettered card in the corner which read "COFFEE - $4 (and Worth It)"
Pete climbed up on the lid of one of the trash cans and tapped on the window. After a moment, the window slid up a couple of inches. There was faint light from inside and it was obvious that the window was painted black.
"What do you want?" a voice demanded.
"We would like to purchase two cups of your excellent coffee, ma'am," Pete replied.
"I don't sell coffee," the voice snapped back. "Go away."
"But the sign indicates that you do sell coffee," he pointed out.
"Well, maybe sometimes, but there's no coffee tonight."
"But I can smell it, ma'am," he replied reasonably. "And it smells really good, too."
There was a pause. "You got any money? You're dressed like a bum. Don't waste my time."
"My friend has money," he said, motioning for starling to come over. He reached down and unzipped the side pocket of her pants. Reaching in, he pulled out a ten dollar bill.
"See?" he said, holding it up. "Eight dollars for two cups of coffee."
There was a somewhat longer pause. "Well, I'll see what I can do," the voice said. "Don't go away. Or do, see if I care." There followed a variety of sounds, including running water, grinding, liquids gurgling, steam hissing and some banging of metal against metal.
Then the voice demanded. "Give me the money."
Pete flattened the bill and slipped it between the window and the sill.
"I take sugar," starling said as the window slid up a little further.
"You'll take it the way I make it, you young hussy." Two containers of coffee were pushed out onto the sill and the window slammed shut. Pete lifted one and handed it to starling. They were large, wide containers, the kind usually used for soup. Pete took the second one and held it carefully as he jumped down to the pavement.
starling smiled. "I've been called a lot of things, but I don't think I've ever been called a young hussy before."
He grinned. "You should hear what she called Jenny once."
They sat together on the front stoop of an abandoned brownstone. Pete heard a noise and looked down the block. "Uh oh," he said. "Tourists. Look dissolute."
"What?" she asked, looking up.
Pete chuckled. "That's Chet's gag. People like to come and see how we live, and he always likes to give them a show." The three short-haired guys came toward them, all dressed in bright colors, stripes, patterns and corporate logos. They looked so clean it was as if they glowed as they walked down the dark street. They glanced furtively at Pete and starling as they passed and Pete half expected them to produce cameras and start taking pictures. Then one of them looked more closely at starling and he jerked his head at the other two, urging them to walk away more quickly.
starling sniffed at the coffee container. "It even smells good closed," she said.
"Better open it up for a minute before you drink," Pete said. "She serves it very hot." He took the top from his container and breathed in.
starling followed his example. "Oooh," she said. "What's in it?"
"No one knows. Carl, Fifteen and I conducted some experiments once, but they were inconclusive. Cinnamon, obviously. Fifteen and I thought nutmeg, but Carl said no. Some kind of liqueur, but we don't know what. Even Henshaw couldn't figure it out, and he knows a lot about that kind of stuff. There's some steamed milk and maybe some cream. Carl said breast milk, but, well, I wouldn't know. It was Fifteen who figured out that it was brewed coffee, freshly ground, with a shot of espresso added. Beyond that, I have no idea.
"Carl tried to ask her a question once, but she squirted scalding milk at him through the window."
starling sipped and thought for a moment. "How did you meet them all?" she asked. "Carl and Henshaw and the others. Did you know them a long time?"
"No, not long at all, just about a year and a half. I met them all in one night," he said. "Carl, Henshaw and Tom anyway. Jenny came later. No, we all met in jail, of all places."
He felt her tense up without looking. He turned to her and she was shivering, her face turned away from him. It almost looked as if she was laughing. He put his hand on her back. "I'm sorry," he said, "I didn't . . ."
She turned toward him, her face averted, and without thinking he put his arms around her. She was stiff, pulling away from him for a moment, then she embraced him and rested her head on his shoulder. He cupped the back of her head with one hand, smoothing the soft, fine hair. "I'll tell you that story some other time," he whispered.
She wasn't crying. He reached around to feel her cheek and it was dry, but she was shivering as if she was about to explode. She'd reacted to the mention of jail before, he remembered, but this was obviously more than that. She suddenly tensed up and pounded his back a few times with her fists. Then she embraced him again, but she was still shivering.
He just held her and stroked her head, and she slowly calmed down.
After a while, she looked up.
"Do you know what I think?" he asked her. "You're worried about what will happen when you tell me about Carl. I think you should tell me now. Then, one way or another, it will be over."
She drew in a deep breath, and then she nodded. "Okay," she said. She pulled away from Pete, turning on the step so she was facing him, leaning back against the railing. She brought her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. He turned also so he was facing her.
"I couldn't find the place Jenny sent me to," she said.
"I know about that," he said. "We can talk about that part later."
She nodded. "So, I found the apartment again, but you weren't there. Then I remembered that the band was playing at that club, and I went there." She shrugged. "I got lost, so it was really late. I didn't see you, and the woman with the clown face started to tell me this long story all about somebody getting stabbed and she got really upset and I couldn't figure it out. She was telling me everything except where you were. I started to get mad, but I didn't want to shoot her so I went outside. She'd said something about a hospital and I was thinking I should go there when Carl came up and said I had to go with him. He said you were hurt and you needed my help. I thought maybe it was you that had been stabbed. I went with him to an alley and he showed me somebody lying by a building. I kneeled down and then he jumped on me."
"Jumped on you how?" Pete asked. "Can you show me?"
She put her coffee on the top step and stepped down to the sidewalk. She knelt on the pavement, then she stood up and said, "You kneel down, and I'll show you." Pete got down on his hands and knees and she moved him around a little until he was where she wanted him to be. Then she jumped on his back, reaching around with both hands to demonstrate how Carl had felt up her breasts.
They didn't get any further, because Pete collapsed onto the pavement, with her landing on top of him. "There was more," she continued, still lying on his back. "He made some sort of noises." She gave a tentative imitation of Carl's mating cry, "and then I got all mad and angry." Pete could feel her fold her arms on his shoulder blades and rest her head on them. "And then I shot him," she said. "I sort of wish I hadn't." Her voice was very quiet, but her mouth was right near his ear.
"He was just playing with you," Pete said, twisting his head around a little.
"It made me mad," she said.
"He was always playing with people, seeing how they'd react."
"Wait," she said. She thumped his back with her fingers. "Wait, I have to explain this." She sat up and slid off him, ending up sitting on the pavement. He rolled over so he was facing her. "It wasn't the grabbing and like that." She put one hand on her breast and squeezed it, moving it around. "I don't care about that. It was the other thing, that was what made me angry."
"What other thing?"
"That wasn't you, lying there. In the alley. It was some drunk guy. He got up and ran when I shot the gun. That's what made me mad. Carl told me you were hurt or something, maybe even dying, but he just made it up. I didn't like that." She hesitated. "Would you have liked it, if it had been me?"
He knew what she meant. "No," he said, "I wouldn't have. But I wouldn't have shot him."
She nodded. "I know." She got to her feet, dusted off the seat of her pants and started to walk away, but she didn't get far because he was holding onto her hand. She tugged a couple of times, still facing away, then she turned back. He kept tugging until she sat down again.
"This isn't going like I thought it would," she said. "I thought you'd be real mad and you'd yell and I'd feel bad and then you'd kick me out."
"I don't seem to be doing that, do I?"
"People are very confusing," she said glumly.
"I agree," Pete replied, but he knew she needed more of an answer than that. "Listen," he said, "we should probably be getting back to the pier, and someday when we have a lot of time I can give you the long answer, the full answer, but do you want a short answer now?" She nodded. "Okay, this is it. You killed my friend. Therefore, because of you, I'm now short one friend. If you want to do something about that, to balance it out, there's only one thing you can do that will really mean anything. Be my friend. Be as good a friend to me as he was. Anything else is just apologies, forgiveness, bullshit, just words."
She nodded slowly. This was simple and mathematical, and she obviously understood it. "Okay," she said, "I'll do that."