They waited at the base of the bridge. It was around midnight, and they were sitting on one of the huge wooden pilings.
They looked like tourists. As they'd walked around, nobody'd given them a second glance, except the people who were going to try to make some money off them. And Pete was familiar enough with most of the local scams and scam artists to see them coming and let them know that these particular tourists weren't interested.
But they had passed several people who knew them, or at least Pete, and they all obviously took one glance and filed them under "tourists" and didn't look closer. It was almost like being invisible. Pete could tell it was a revelation to starling as well, that she could walk down the street and nobody would react to her at all. But of course most of her attention was being occupied by trying not to laugh at his hair.
"You know," she said, "the weirdest thing about that Frankie woman was that she thinks your band is going to keep playing, even though we're obviously on the run."
"She's so locked into the idea of playing music that she doesn't see anything else as being important. But I have an idea about that. I found something back at the shop that I think will help when I play on stage." She glanced up at him as he slipped on the fake glasses, nose and mustache combination. "How's this?" he asked.
She burst into laughter, nearly falling off the piling they were sitting on. She clutched his arm, leaning against him as he took off the glasses and put them back in his pocket. "Oh, Pete," she said, "you big goof. That makes me feel better."
He had known she was starting to brood about something, that was why he'd stuck the glasses in his pocket when she wasn't looking. He squeezed her and said, "Better? About what?"
She wiped her face and smiled, sitting up straight again. "Oh, I've been feeling kind of bad about all this," she said, wiping her face again and catching her breath.
"About what?" he asked.
"Well, it's like . . ." she began, then she frowned in thought and he waited. "It's like I was visiting your life for a little while there. The clubs and the music and the people who all know you and 'Hello, Petronius' and all that. But then," she snapped her fingers, "suddenly it all changed and now it's like I've dragged you into my life instead. And this may be more than just a visit. I just started wondering if you were sorry this all happened, if you were wishing I'd never have come into the coffee store that day."
He sighed, looking around, but there was no car on the bridge yet.
"Actually," he said, "I hadn't even thought of it that way." He put his arm around her again and squeezed her close to him, feeling the rough tweed of Chet's jacket under his fingers.
"Well, first and most important, whether I'd met you or not, Jenny would still be dead. And the band would still be defunct, because of Henshaw wanting to kill me. So, everything else is just details, really."
He squeezed her again, because he knew what she was feeling. She got frustrated when he talked about Jenny, but she never said anything about it because the only result of that would have been for him to keep those feelings to himself. She didn't want to stop him from saying those things, she wanted to find a way to stop him from feeling them, but that was going to be harder to arrange.
"The hell of it is," he said, "I think it was a damn good band, or at least it could have been. I know I'm not exactly objective, but I think it had real possibilities. And it could still be going, except for that other stuff. Anyway, no, I'm not sorry I met you. Who else would put up with this hair?" he asked, running his fingers through the tight brown curls which now occupied the top of his head like an invading army.
She smiled. "Oh, it's not that bad. At least she made you shave."
It was true. Pete seldom shaved because his beard and mustache grew in so thin, pale and wispy that it didn't seem worth the effort. But Frankie had shaved him in addition to everything else, and he guessed it made a difference. The main difference to him was that, with so much of his hair gone, his head was cold.
Chet was somewhat taller and wider than either of them, so his clothes fit them loosely, but that meant they could easily fit a sweater or two under their jackets, and there was also room for starling's shoulder holster without it making a bulge. She had another gun in an ankle holster under her slacks, and a third one tucked into the back of her waist band. Her revolver and her gunbelt were in the small nylon knapsack that he carried, which also held his notebooks and comics, and her ammunition. His gun was in the pocket of his dark brown corduroy jacket. Their old clothes were in a bag back at the factory. He wondered if they'd ever get them back again. It would be embarrassing to go through the rest of their lives looking like they were on their way to a horse show.
Then starling stiffened, and he turned and looked behind them. A black limo with tinted windows appeared at the top of the bridge and started to drive down slowly toward them. They stood up and climbed over the barricade as the car reached them and did a slow u-turn. Pete opened the rear door and they climbed in.
"We–" he began as he closed the door.
"I know where yer goin'," the driver said as they started up the incline. He was wearing a peaked leather cap and had a toothpick in the corner of his mouth.
As he drove off the bridge he cut across several lanes of traffic, and Pete could see starling tense up as she remembered how different the rest of the urban world was from U-town. Everything was lit by neon, there were cars and pedestrians everywhere, horns honked and people cursed. starling was sitting rigidly, looking straight ahead, gripping the leather strap on the wall next to her seat.
Their driver was very good, he took them through a complicated series of sharp turns, sudden stops and illegal maneuvers before they ended up on the highway next to the river. They drove quickly over the highway bridge and then Pete could see starling suddenly realize where they were. They were back in U-town, on the highway that went past their favorite spot overlooking the river.
"There it is," she said softly as he passed it, then the driver spoke.
"Get ready," he said, "I'm going to slow down up ahead and you can jump out."
"What?" Pete demanded.
Rex of the Jinx turned and grinned. "Joke, kid. I'm stopping up ahead. Get out quick and run across the divider."
He stopped and they got out. He drove away and they ran across the highway and down a small grassy incline. The black van waited, door open, and they piled in. Neil slid the door closed and said, "We've had people watching, and you two seem to be travelling alone." Someone Pete didn't recognize was driving, and they pulled away from the curb and down the dark streets.
"Don't say anything," Pete said as Neil glanced at his hair.
He laughed. "Words fail me anyway."
"Thank God. Listen, one thing occurred to me on the way over here. Fifteen took a pretty bad beating for us last night from Novak. Knowing him, he won't do anything about it. Can you make sure your people look at him?"
Neil nodded. "I heard about it, but I didn't see him. I'll arrange it. He's done some things for us in the past, and I wouldn't mind repaying some of the debt."
"Are we going to see Dr. Lee tonight?" he asked.
Neil nodded. "She wanted to find out what all this was about right away. The message we got from Fifteen was pretty vague."
Pete nodded. "That was deliberate. I figured the less specific I was, the more likely she'd at least see us."
"I'm glad to see that frothy stuff on your head hasn't affected your brain," he said. "At least so far."
They pulled into a dark loading dock and the big metal gate started to descend behind them as the driver swung the van around so that it was facing out. He cut the motor and Neil opened the door.
Neil jumped down to the cement floor, grabbing a battery-powered lantern from a small shelf. He turned it on and said, "Come on." He led them up a ramp and through a pair of swinging doors.
Pete had assumed it was a factory building, similar to the one they'd been hiding in the previous night, but as soon as they went through the doors it was obvious that it was an abandoned school of some sort. The long hall in front of them was lit by a couple of dim bulbs, showing the row of broken lockers on either side of them, and further down the hall he could see big glass trophy cases, also broken. The walls were painted two unpleasant shades of green, darker below and lighter above. Neil gestured at the lockers and looked at starling.
"Nobody goes armed inside here except me," he said. "You can leave your guns in one of these lockers." starling looked dubious. "It's absolute trust within these walls," he told her. "You know that, Kat. If you can't play by those rules, you can't stay."
She slipped off her jacket and Pete held it for her as she took off her shoulder holster. She laid it carefully in an empty locker and then reached behind her to unclip the small holster from the back of her waistband. Then she put her jacket back on, unzipped the knapsack he carried and pulled out her revolver and gunbelt, placing them with the other guns.
Pete knew this left one gun, but he didn't say anything. His first thought was "so much for absolute trust," but then he realized that absolute trust was exactly what was in operation here, just not between starling and the Jinx.
He couldn't resist waiting for Neil to start to turn away before he brought out his gun and laid it in a locker. Neil turned back at the sound of metal on metal, and Pete smiled blandly, but they both knew he'd scored a point. Neil had made the assumption that of course good old Pete wasn't armed, and Pete had gently reminded him that he should never take things like that for granted. It was no big deal, but Pete felt it made up a little for Neil's big laugh about his hair.
Neil led them through a door marked "Down Staircase" and up three flights of stairs to what had once been the school library. Pete had never seen Dr. Lee "at home" before, and for a second he wasn't even sure it was her. She sat at a table, some papers and a mug of coffee in front of her, wearing a ratty black and gray sweater and a pair of half glasses. She took off the glasses as they came in and let them hang from the string around her neck.
The room was lit only by candles, and Pete suddenly felt like some strange ritual might be about to happen.
"Please sit down," she said, and they went and took two chairs across from her.
"Dr. Lee," he began, "I'm going to ask you for a favor, something which will mean a whole lot to us, but may not benefit you in any way."
She smiled. "Well, at least you admit it. What is it?"
"I woke up this morning with Novak and his squad in my apartment. He gave me a big song and dance about harboring a fugitive, and wanted me to turn starling over to him."
"Where was starling during all this?" Dr. Lee asked.
"I was up on the roof," starling said. "Daphne and I were playing. I'd throw a stick and she'd run and bring it back."
"Daphne's our dog," Pete explained.
Dr. Lee nodded. "I think I've met her."
"We heard the police cars," continued starling. "So, we watched them go in. I climbed down the fire escape and listened while Daphne went down the stairs to make a noise in the hall to distract them." She smiled. "That was her idea. She's a very smart dog."
"So, what happened next?" Dr. Lee asked.
"Total carnage," Pete reported.
"I didn't shoot Pete," starling said happily.
"Novak got out," Pete added, "but he was the only one."
"So," Neil said, "I guess you two are on the big shit-list these days."
"I'd say so," Pete said. "We were thinking of splitting, but we discovered we both want to stay."
"I assume you have a plan," Dr. Lee said, leaning back and folding her arms.
He nodded. "Have you ever noticed how people get different members of the Jinx confused, as if you all look alike?"
She smiled slightly. "Are you applying for membership, or asking to hide out?"
"The latter." He didn't attempt to sell her on any possible advantages of having starling and himself around, she would make that calculation on her own no matter what he said.
She pointed at both of them, obviously indicating their appearance. "I assume nobody recognized you when you walked around looking like that."
He nodded. "Nobody."
"However, the assumption that nobody would recognize you if you dressed like a Jinx and went places with us is flawed. People didn't recognize you the way you are now because it's so different from your usual appearance. However, a leather jacket and jeans would be pretty close to how you usually dress, for both of you, so it wouldn't have the same effect. Therefore, my answer has to be no. However, I can offer you the hospitality of our home here until you decide what you want to do next. You can stay here as long as you like, on the condition that you don't leave the building, and I ask only one thing in return."
"What's that?" Pete asked.
"I assume you saved at least some of your notebooks. I would like to read them. Nobody else will see them, and you can take them when you leave."
"Agreed," he said. He placed the knapsack on the table and took out the notebooks and comics. He placed them on the table and zipped up the bag again.
She smiled. "Welcome aboard, then. Neil will show you around. Good night."
Out in the hall, Neil said, "Somebody will give you the complete tour tomorrow, but I'll tell you what you need to know tonight." He took them two flights down and to the end of a long hall, where there was a door on either side, one labeled, "Boys Gym," the other, "Girls Gym." Like all the halls they'd been in, it was lit by a couple of bulbs that looked like they were about to give out. The rooms were all lit only by candles. Pete guessed that the halls were on a separate circuit, and either that was the only one they had been able to jury-rig, or else they liked the effect of the candles in the rooms.
"That's where we sleep," Neil said. He smiled. "Girls and boys generally separate, as it says on the doors, but it's not strictly enforced so long as you behave. No smoking in either sleeping room, or in the nursery."
Pete had to stop himself from saying, "Nursery?" Instead, he said, hopefully, "Coffee? Might there be a pot of hot coffee somewhere?"
Neil smiled and led them down another flight of stairs and into a large cafeteria. It was mostly deserted, except for a few small groups of Jinx sitting around talking and drinking coffee or beer. In one corner about a dozen sat at one of the long tables, playing cards.
Neil waved and left. They went over to the kitchen area and poured themselves two cups of coffee. Of course, the Jinx had milk. Then they took their coffees to a table and sat down.
Pete looked around as he blew on his coffee. Two walls of the large room were all windows, and he could tell that they were all sealed, covered with big sheets of black plastic. This was obviously to hold in the light. He'd figured out where they were by then, and he knew he'd been past this school a few times and had never guessed that the Jinx were living here. But he was betting it was more than just a single sheet of plastic over the windows, because the interior of the building was quite a bit warmer than the cold night outside.
A few of the Jinx seated around glanced at them, and the way they were dressed obviously branded them as outsiders, but they'd been brought in by Neil so they were obviously okay. Then Pete looked at starling and realized she was watching him, waiting for something.
Eyes don't actually convey information, of course. Eyes are about as expressive as marbles. But faces can tell you a lot, and starling's was wearing an expression that he knew pretty well. Her thin lips were pressed together, a tiny crease at each corner, and her eyes were squinting slightly, the skin crinkling a bit at the sides. She was watching him, waiting for him to get something. "What?" he demanded, smiling, but he knew she'd wait for him to figure it out.
Then he did. Crushingly obvious, of course. "Let me deduce," he said. "You grew up," he made a quick calculation, "about six blocks from here. This was, I know, the only high school in the district." He looked around. "Has it changed much?"
She shrugged, smiling. "It didn't used to be so dark, but of course I was here during the daytime. And there used to be a lot more people, most of them not wearing leather jackets." She leaned forward. "Tomorrow I'll show you where DeeDee and I used to smoke pot together."
They sipped their coffee, and then he asked, "Is this okay with you? This whole thing?" He knew that the question had already been asked, and answered, earlier that day, after Frankie and Fifteen had left and before Fifteen had returned with their instructions for hooking up with the Jinx. But he thought the answer might be different now, now that they were actually there. After all, hiding out in the Jinx headquarters was one thing for him, but starling had once been a member of the Jinx, and he gathered that her departure hadn't been smooth and easy.
She nodded slowly. "It's okay. It's not like we're going to spend the rest of our lives here." She shrugged, and then smiled wryly. "There's a couple of people here who are probably going to be even more unhappy to see me than I am to see them. I was pretty unpopular by the time they kicked me out."
She sipped her coffee, looking very serious. "Well, I did learn something tonight. When we were driving on the other side of the river." She hesitated. "Have you ever wondered why I haven't gone crazy since I met you? Like in all those articles? Shooting total strangers over parking spaces and overcooked hamburgers?"
"Yes," he said, "to be honest, I have wondered about that. I thought maybe it was my wonderful calming influence, or maybe it was just dumb luck and tomorrow would be the day."
"Well, I think you have helped, as you well know, but a lot of it has been this place. I didn't realize how much until we went over there. Suddenly it was like I couldn't breathe. I almost grabbed you, but I couldn't move. Then we went over the other bridge, and I saw our place by the river, and I started to feel better." She looked at him. He felt strange discussing somebody's insanity with her like it was a skin condition. "What do you want to do now, Pete? Do you want to have another band?" She was obviously working around to something, but he couldn't tell what.
He shrugged. "No, I don't think so. I really need to think about it, but I can't see the point. I could never find another band as good as that one was. I mean, one that would actually let me play with them. So, for now, say the answer is no. Then what?"
"Then what do you want to do?"
"I have no idea. Why don't you tell me what you're leading up to?"
"Okay, but this is only an idea. I think we need to go to some small town somewhere. Someplace where it's quiet." She looked at him searchingly, as if she was sure he'd hate this idea, but was equally sure he'd try to hide his negative reaction.
"It sounds fine to me," he said, "but it's going to take some figuring. Anyway, there's time enough to think about that tomorrow."
They said goodnight in the hall between the two gymnasiums. "Just inside the door, there'll be a pile of sleeping bags," she explained. "Take one and pick a place to spread it out." She smiled. "I'll come over and wake you up in the morning."
He smiled back. "I'm sure you will."
Pete opened one eye, suddenly aware that starling was squatting by his sleeping bag, looking so excited she seemed to be bouncing on the balls of her feet. She poked his shoulder. "Come on," she said, "there's something you have to see." He closed his eyes and she poked him again.
"You could wake me by just saying my name," he said.
"I tried that. For about fifteen minutes."
"And what happened?"
"You said, 'I'm sorry, we're all out of Earl Grey, please come back next week.' Now, come on." She poked him again.
Pete reached around on the floor until he realized he was already wearing his glasses.
"Where are your pants?" she asked, looking around.
"I've got them on," he said, unzipping the sleeping bag and getting unsteadily to his feet.
"Here's your shirt," she said. "Come on."
She led him quickly down two flights of stairs to the basement and down a corridor. He couldn't tell what time it was, but he was pretty rested, so he thought it must have been mid-afternoon at least.
He heard the sounds of children before she opened the door. It was clearly the nursery he'd heard mentioned the night before, the only well-lit room he'd seen so far. Three adult Jinx were supervising about a dozen children, ranging in age from infant through high school.
He didn't have much attention for all that, however, because the entertainment for the hour was that the kids, one by one, were taking rides on Daphne. She barked excitedly when she saw him, and one of the Jinx quickly removed the little girl from her back so she could scamper over to him. He could tell she and starling had already had their reunion, but she nearly bowled him over with the enthusiasm of her greeting. Before he knew what was happening, he was roughly rubbing her head and back as she leaned against him, hands on his shoulders, licking his face in between happy barks.
He squatted down and she rested her chin on his thigh, closing her eyes as he rubbed her head. Pete was full of questions, but he could tell she was in full dog mode and wouldn't have answered them, so he just stroked her short hair and told her what a good and brave dog she was.
As he did this, he looked around the room more carefully. It was full of toys and games, but also a lot of books, and the blackboards held evidence that serious education went on here in addition to the fun. Then Pete saw the two people at the small table in the corner, their heads bent over a large book, and he wondered how he could have missed two people with such bright red hair. One was obviously Christy, and Pete thought that he hadn't known she had a brother until the boy looked up at the sound of the door opening again, and it was obvious the boy was Christy's son.
Pete was thinking that the boy must be nearly as old as Fifteen when he realized it was Fifteen himself who had just entered the room. His head was bandaged in a couple of spots and he had one arm in a sling, and he limped right for Christy, not even seeing anybody else.
"Miss Christy," he said as she got up and stepped to the side, so he could see her son, whose name Pete later learned was Jason. Jason stood uncertainly, too, and it was obvious he was already a couple of inches taller than Fifteen.
Fifteen faltered for a moment as he got the full meaning of this tableau, and Pete saw Christy's sad smile. She nodded slightly, as if confirming to herself that it was for the best that Fifteen see once and for all how hopeless his passion for her really was. Pete could tell, however, that she knew she was going to miss such ardent admiration, even if it was from a suitor literally young enough to be her son.
But Pete's young friend was made of sterner stuff than that. Fifteen paused for only a second, then bustled forward, hand outstretched. "I've been hoping to meet you," he said, shaking Jason's hand. "I'm a great friend of your mother's, and she speaks about you very often."
Jason was, understandably, nonplused by all this, but Christy looked positively stunned. Fifteen bounced up on his toes and kissed her on the cheek, somehow circling her limp hand through his arm as he continued to Jason, "You don't mind if I borrow your mother for a few minutes? I can take only a short break before I have to get back to work, and I thought perhaps she would join me for a cup of coffee." As he steered Christy out of the room, Pete heard him say, "Don't mind the bandages, it's really nothing." At the last minute he threw a wave to Pete and starling, as if he'd known all along that they were there.
starling gave Pete a very gentle cuff on the side of the head, saying, "Don't even think about it," because he was considering how Fifteen would react if Christy needed something as simple as assistance in getting a minor medical procedure performed.
The Jinx dinner turned out to be a fun meal. It seemed to be the one time all the Jinx were together, from the little children to some adults who were quite a bit older than Pete would have expected. It was also the only time that Dr. Lee seemed to really relax. The atmosphere was very boisterous, jokes and loud opinions flew around the room, and sometimes food as well.
Daphne's food and water bowls were in a corner by the kitchen, but mostly she roamed around the room, begging scraps, or simply taking them.
Pete wondered if, unlike them, she was permitted to come and go as she pleased, but he wasn't sure. A couple of times he tried to talk to her about getting a message to Chet, but she just barked and licked his face. One time he told her that Lassie would have known what to do, but she lifted her leg and pantomimed peeing on his foot.
The moonlight shone in Jenny's blond hair, making it look almost silver. Her pale blue eyes seemed to glow in her wide, smooth face. Pete huddled in his blanket, sitting on the ledge that ran around the edge of the roof of the Jinx headquarters. She was wearing jeans and a denim jacket over a white T-shirt, but of course she wasn't cold because she wasn't really there.
"It's all turned out so stupid," he said. "What a waste."
She nodded, looking out over U-town, one booted foot resting on the ledge. "Do you regret it?" she asked, then turned to face him. "Us, I mean."
"The idea of it? No. God, no. But, once I decided to go along with it, I–"
"Go along with it?" she snapped, suddenly looking so much like herself that he almost cried. "Are you trying to say it was all my idea? That you weren't sending me all kinds of signals–"
"Well, I guess I was, but it didn't occur to me that you'd actually take me up on it."
She looked at him bitterly. "Oh, so you assumed that I was suddenly Little Miss Love and Devotion. Oh, no, I would never have betrayed Philip Henshaw, just because I did it to Tom."
"Well, I shouldn't have done it, because it was only going to end up making you unhappy. You'd never have left Henshaw for me."
She came over and sat down closer to him, almost close enough to reach out and touch. "Do you know why I wasn't about to leave Henshaw for you? Because you weren't about to fucking ask me, were you?"
"Well, I assumed–"
"Bullshit," she said quietly. "It would have broken up your precious band, and then you would have had me, in your life and in your apartment and in your bed, and no escape. Not just for a few hours when it suited you. Look how fast you faded out on me when Henshaw got hurt. I know what you were thinking. 'Oh, my God, what if he dies? I'm going to be stuck with her.' Tell me that isn't true."
He nodded. "You're right." He felt embarrassed and wanted to look away, but he couldn't take his eyes off her face. "But it was all happening so quickly–"
"Oh, it's a little late to worry about it now. And stop feeling bad about Henshaw. He got what he deserved. Fuck him. No, you feel bad about things? You know what to do."
Pete stood at the edge and looked out across U-town. He couldn't see much, just a few lighted windows here and there, but he knew where everything was whether he could see it or not. He sat on the ledge and lit a cigarette, looking toward the park and remembering the Founder's Day concert.
It had been, he realized, making some quick calculations, just over four and a half months ago. It seemed like ages, as if it had happened when he was a teenager. It had been their last gig with Tom, their last full gig ever. And it had gone very well, they'd gone over great.
He suddenly realized starling was standing next to him. She'd come up silently, close but not touching. And he suddenly remembered the first time he'd seen her in the store and he suddenly realized that she'd come in and he hadn't woken up. Had the little bell gone off and he hadn't heard it? Or had she somehow come in without setting it off?
"Hi," he said.
"Hi. I was downstairs, and then I thought I should come up." She looked around. "So I did." He motioned at the little ledge and they sat down. She had brought a blanket and a six-pack of cold beer. They wrapped the blanket around them and opened two of the beers.
Pete wrapped the blanket tightly around them and they watched the night sky. He drank deeply, thinking that there's something stingingly delicious about a cold beer on a cold night.
"I'm going to talk about Carl," he said after a while. starling shifted a little, as if settling in for something important, then she nodded.
"I've been thinking about this," he said, "especially since last night when we came here, about how Carl made a mistake about you." He stopped and started again. "I've been thinking about how much Carl lived by his wits, how much we all do. They don't," he said, gesturing down, so she'd know that he meant the Jinx, "not on the same scale anyway. But Carl survived by being quick and funny, and by being fairly canny about always seeing things from the other person's point of view. He was talented, too, of course, but that doesn't help you survive. That's just a bonus.
"Now, he miscalculated with you. First I thought it was because he overestimated how you felt about me, that you wouldn't hurt him because he was my friend, but now I think it's just because he didn't understand you. He knew all kinds of ways of manipulating people, but sex was always his biggest weapon and humor was usually part of the equation, too. He didn't really know how to deal if those elements weren't in place.
"But he didn't understand you in a more important way, too. I think he sized you up as being something like Dr. Lee. He was always incredibly rude to her, always very playful, almost like a court jester, because she would understand that he wasn't any real threat, and he'd never take it beyond a certain point. And I think she liked the novelty of someone being irreverent around her. I don't imagine she gets a lot of that.
"But you're nothing like her. She's got this place and all these people and a lot of respect from everybody around. I don't think she'd like the comparison, but she's like the godfather around here. Nothing important happens that she doesn't have a hand in, and people come to her for help when they can't get it anywhere else. Well, you're nothing like that. All you have is a couple of guns and a reputation, and your reputation depends on keeping people at enough of a distance that they can't be sure how much of it is real and how much isn't. You live by your wits as much as any of the rest of us.
"You remember when Henshaw told us that the government was sending troops into Mobile, Alabama. What if they were right, what if you were there? You'd probably be dead. But you're not there, you're here. And, by accident or not, this is a place where people like you can live without a lot of fuss. But, anyway, that's where Carl made his mistake, I think."
She didn't say anything. As he knew, she wasn't going to give any excuses for Carl's death. He pulled her close, and he felt her arm go around him under the blanket.
"Let's talk about this more tomorrow," he said, "but be thinking about this: Is it okay if we put off looking for our small, quiet town until we at least make a try at finding Jenny's killer?"
"You're going to do this anyway, aren't you?" she asked.
He nodded. "I think so."
She smiled slightly. "You helped me look for DeeDee, and that didn't mean a thing to you. And this does mean something to me, I liked Jenny, too. Let's just be sure to figure out how we're going to do this before we start."
Pete knocked on the library door and Dr. Lee called, "Come," as Daphne barked.
They took the same two seats at the table and Pete said, "I need to ask one question. Do you know who killed Jenny Owens?"
Dr. Lee shook her head. "No, I don't."
"I need to find out. Do you have any ideas, any information which could help me?"
She leaned back in her chair. "No, I don't think so. Neil may know something, though. He filters a lot of information before it reaches me. He's down the hall now, so I don't want to disturb him. I'll ask him tomorrow. Are you going to investigate this?"
He nodded. "I intend to."
"Well, then, my advice is to consider your plan very carefully before you start out, since once you leave this building you can't come back. Also, as a favor, I would ask that you remain here at least until tomorrow night, since there will be something happening which I would like you to be a part of."
As starling and Pete left the library, he looked around the long, dark hall. "What did she mean that Neil was 'down the hall?' I gather that was supposed to have some significance, but–"
starling was looking away awkwardly, and she nudged him and indicated he should follow her. They went a little way down the hall and she pointed at the series of doors ahead of them. They were very close together, and he guessed the rooms must have been very small, perhaps once used as offices. Some doors were open, others were closed. She leaned over and whispered, "For sex."
As they walked back toward the staircase, they heard one of the doors open behind them. With one impulse, they ran as quietly as they could into the stairwell and then peeked back through the little windows in the swinging doors. Pete was somewhat curious about who Neil was 'down the hall' with, but it wasn't Neil who came into view. It was two figures, wrapped in one big colorful sheet, and they walked slowly along the hall. One was taller, with full hair which showed reddish in the light from a bulb as they passed it. The other was shorter, his shaved head with its bandages in disarray.
Not wanting to embarrass them, Pete and starling quickly ran down the stairs to the sleeping rooms. They said good night in the hall there, between the two rooms.
Inside the room, he took a sleeping bag from the pile and spread it out. A while later, he woke up to feel something heavy on his feet and lower legs. He sat up and reached down, his hand finding fabric. He pressed his fingers into something soft, and got a quiet but definite bark and a firm hand moving his to a different location.
"Sorry," he whispered.
He felt the bulk on his calves shake with some silent but decidedly non-canine laughter.
They rose late, getting to the cafeteria long after the Jinx were done with breakfast. They fixed their own food, and it looked like they would have the place to themselves. Occasionally somebody would come in, usually in search of coffee, but they seldom stayed.
Pete smiled and said, "Well, I will admit I was surprised that Christy finally gave in, but frankly she could do a lot worse. Our young friend . . ."
That face he knew so well was wearing a very strange expression, one which indicated that its owner might be about to explode. "Okay," he said, "what?" There was a sudden smile then, complete with dimples, but still no response from between her tightly compressed lips. "You knew about it?" he asked.
Silence. If you can look enormously self-satisfied and enormously guilty at the same time, then she did. He leaned forward, lowering his voice. "Did you have a hand in this?"
"I'm afraid so," she whispered. She paused, sipping her coffee. "Christy couldn't figure out how to get rid of Fifteen without really hurting his feelings. She wanted to talk to somebody about it. I think she wanted it to be a woman, not a Jinx, and it would be better if it was somebody who knew Fifteen." She shrugged. "That makes it me. I let her know I was willing to give advice."
"And what did you tell her?"
"I didn't tell her anything, except I told her everything he's done for us. I asked her to name one single bad thing about him besides his age. And I asked her how she feels when he calls her 'Miss Christy.'" She smiled and he smiled back.
After a few moments of silence, starling looked around to make sure they were alone in the huge room, then she leaned over and whispered, "Christy thinks we should have sex." She said it quickly, as if wanting to get it out before she lost her nerve.
Pete felt like hours passed as he considered various responses to this.
"Ah," he said finally, which sounded pretty silly after that long deliberation.
"We were talking about things," she went on, "about her and Fifteen, and the next thing I know we were talking about me and you. She joked that she kept expecting to run into us 'down the hall.' I guess I blushed. She's been assuming we're lovers. They've all been assuming that. She couldn't believe that we're not."
"Oh, well, from her point of view, what obstacle could there be?" he said. "After all, unlike her situation, you and I are the same age and the same height, and we even had the same hair color until fairly recently. Listen, are you sure you want to–"
"No, of course not," she said. "I'm not sure about anything. But let me ask you this. Have you ever thought about it?"
That was a difficult question to answer, since the honest response would have been that he thought about it at least once with every woman he met. All he said, though, was, "Yes, I have."
She nodded, as if she'd expected this answer but had hoped for a different one.
"Look," he said, "the whole idea terrifies me, because I'm still all balled up about Jenny, and because I don't want . . . I can't allow this to get screwed up, and–"
"And because I'm crazy, and because you know about Doug."
"I only know what was in the papers. Oh," he said, "that's what this is about, isn't it?"
She nodded. "I thought you should know the whole story."
"Yes, I do have to, Pete. Because I've thought about it, too."
He knew what she meant. He nodded, leaning back. He lit a cigarette and pushed the pack across to her.
"It was when I was on the run, from the prison," she said. "I was on a train, and they were shooting at me, and I jumped off. He found me and took care of me. I was really banged up, but he brought me back to where he lived." Pete knew from the newspaper reports that it had been a school dorm, nearly deserted except for a few summer school students like him. "He took care of me, brought me food and things, helped me get better. Then, I started to . . . I could tell he wanted me to sleep with him." She looked up. "He was a good guy, he wasn't going to force me, but he really wanted me to."
"Did you want to?" he asked. She had a cigarette in her hand, but seemed to have forgotten about it.
"Not really," she said, hesitating. "I was still in pain, and he wasn't really . . . I just didn't feel like it. But he'd done so much for me, and he wanted it so much, I decided to do it." She put the cigarette in her mouth and he lit a match and held it for her. "So, I let him know it would be okay . . ."
"I read the reports in the newspapers," he said. "He was–"
"He was on top of me," she said, looking at the covered window. "Then the door opened at the foot of the bed, and I saw a uniform. I grabbed my gun from the table . . ." Pete knew she had shot both Doug Gold and the maintenance man who had come into the room. "I don't know if he was trying to get out of the way, or trying to stop me, or if he just panicked or what, but . . ."
They sat in silence for a while, then he said, "I don't know what's going to happen, but I can tell you this. I thank you for telling me this story, I can't imagine how difficult it must have been, but it's not going to change my mind about anything."
After dinner, Pete borrowed his notebooks back from Dr. Lee, and found a small classroom nobody seemed to be using, but he just sat and looked at them.
The door was open, but he heard a knock and looked up as Neil stood in the doorway. "Dr. Lee asked me to come by and tell you what I know about Jenny's death," he said.
"I'm desperate for information," Pete replied. "I was just hoping somebody would come by and give me some." He tapped the notebooks. "I was pretending the answer was hidden in here, but I know it's not."
Neil came in. "Well, then, I'm sure I'm going to disappoint you." He sat down on the opposite side of the little table where Pete was working. "I've been over and over what I know about it, and I can't see how it all fits together." He leaned forward and ran his fingers through his short blond hair. "I've thought about this a lot," he went on. "I've even been . . . chided for letting it occupy too much of my attention."
"Do you have any idea who killed her?" Pete asked.
Neil shook his head. "No, I have no idea. There's no real organized anti-abortion force in U-town, but of course, like the gay-bashing, people do enjoy coming here to vent their anger, because there's nobody to stop them."
"Do you think the Witnesses are involved?"
"As a group, no. They're non-violent, in their passive-aggressive way. But, of course, any one or more of them could have decided to get more direct. Their rhetoric is severe enough to have pushed them in that direction. But it could just as easily have no connection with them at all."
"And there haven't been any more shootings?"
He shook his head. "No, but the we've been patrolling the area ever since Jenny was killed."
Neil stood up and went to the door, pulling it closed. He came back and sat down again. "Pete," he said, "I want to make you a deal here. I'll be completely honest with you if you'll do the same for me. Deal?"
"Okay, " he said.
"I made a mistake, the night Jenny Owens died, in something I said to you. I remember I made a fairly graphic threat about what I was going to do to the killer if we found him." He looked up at the ceiling for a moment. "I have been reminded," he continued," that the Jinx are not killers, except in extreme cases of self-defense. However, even so, just between you and me, I wouldn't mind seeing that person dead.
"I should add, since we're being honest, that this is not because I had any great fondness for Jennifer Owens. I don't mean any harm, since I know you were in love with her, but I thought she was pretty much of a waste of space. But, even with that, this whole thing has got under my skin. So, let me ask you one question, how does starling feel about all this?"
"I'm not sure what you're getting at."
"I'll make it clearer. On one hand, we've got an unidentified person who I wouldn't mind seeing dead. On the other hand, we have someone with a lot of experience at killing people. To be blunt, I want to get them together, so starling can do what I can't. However, I'm not sure how starling felt about Jenny. Under the circumstances, it could appear that she might be just as glad Jenny is gone."
Pete sighed and shook his head. "I would love to pretend that I have no idea what you could possibly be talking about, but I seem to remember that we're being honest. You mean starling might have wanted Jenny to be out of the way, so starling would have a clear field as far as I'm concerned. Well, I can tell you that her mind doesn't work that way. As I'm sure you remember, I had my chance to accompany Jenny and I bailed. But when I explained the situation to starling, she said we should have been there. She liked Jenny, and she's not jealous."
He nodded. "Okay, then. What can I tell you?"
"Tell me everything you know about that night," Pete said simply. "Even if it doesn't seem to be anything that would help find her killer."
Neil told Pete a lot, especially after he realized that Pete enjoyed and understood his strategic and tactical explanations for things. At the end of two hours, Pete was incredibly well informed about the events of that night. But he couldn't see how any of it put him any closer to figuring out who had killed Jenny.
Pete looked up to see Neil watching him, and he shook his head. "You were right. There's no solution with the facts we have now. I'll have to get more, if I can figure out where."
Neil nodded, leaning back in his chair. "I thought that would be the case. Actually, I wanted to talk about something else as well." He tilted his head toward the closed door. "Same rules still apply?" he asked.
Pete nodded. "The truth and nothing but? Okay."
"I may be way out of line here," he said, "and if you want me to shut up and go away, I will. But here it is. A while ago, I said you were in love with Jenny Owens and you didn't deny it."
"The truth, you said. That was the agreement."
"Did you every tell her that?"
"No, but with the situation–"
"Are you in love with Katherine?"
"Well, I think love isn't a really useful model for understanding what's going on with us. I remember the day of the gig at the Quarter, Jenny and I were together that afternoon, and she said she thought starling would kill her if she knew about us, the same thought you had. I said that I didn't think so, that she seemed to be missing some parts, like sex and jealousy. She said I'd find out different one dark night, but I haven't yet."
He held up a hand. "Pete, I like you, and I care about Kat, the same way I care about everyone who ever wore this." He patted the little metal "J" on the lapel of his leather jacket. "So, let me ask you this. Have you ever made a pass at her?"
"Me? Hell, no. She'd probably . . ." his voice trailed off.
Neil grinned. "She'd probably what?" Then he laughed. "Forgot about the honesty deal for a second there, huh? So, you haven't made any move on her. Are you minus the sex part?"
Pete laughed. "I don't seem to be, no."
"But you haven't made a move. On the other hand, you assume–"
"I get the point," he said.
"She guards herself very well, maybe even better than you do, if that's possible. But she's a human being, blood and skin and everything, just like you and me. And I can tell you from personal experience that if she's missing the sex part now, she must have mislaid it during the last couple of years, because she definitely had it before that."
"Well, I haven't been holding back because of that, not really. I'm just . . . I've screwed up a lot of things recently. I'm determined not to add this to the list."
"Well, if you're thinking of Jenny, then ask yourself this: Was it screwed up because you went too far, threw yourself into it too much, or because you held back, one foot in and one foot out?"
Pete made a face. "You know, people who are right all the time are a big pain in the ass." Neil looked up sharply and Pete threw his hands wide. "Hey, we agreed to be honest."
They both laughed at that, and then Pete said, "At the funeral, Emma said the three rumors going around were that I was going to reform her, write a book about her, or fall in love with her."
Neil smiled as he stood up. "I'd give odds you end up doing all three." He looked around. "Where is she, by the way?"
"I think she's up on the roof–" Pete started, but Neil cut him off.
"On the roof?" he demanded. He moved quickly for the door, and Pete ran clumsily behind him.
"What's the problem?" Pete demanded breathlessly. "Nobody said–"
Neil glared over his shoulder as he rounded a corner and ran into a stairwell. "Don't you know about the black airship that flies over every night?" he demanded as they ran upstairs. Two Jinx were standing on the next landing and he barked, "Come with me!" at them. They fell in step behind him as he continued, "that airship is taking photographs, in addition to whatever else it's doing, and you have the most wanted criminal in this country on the roof of our home! Where our children live!"
They crashed through the door to the roof, and they saw starling standing at the edge, looking away from them. "Kat!" Neil shouted as he ran to her, and, when she didn't respond immediately, he made the mistake of grabbing her arm to get her attention.
Pete thought at the time that she had broken Neil's jaw when she knocked him to the tarred surface of the roof, but it turned out later that she'd only loosened a couple of his teeth. One of Neil's hands went to his mouth and the other went under his leather jacket, but she fell across his torso, elbowing him in the groin and pulling his gun from under his jacket.
She yelled something incoherent as one of the other Jinx grabbed her, but she punched him in the stomach with the gun, swinging him around by his jacket with her other hand. Pete was terrified that she was going to swing him around and throw him off the roof. She nearly did, but the other Jinx tackled her around the waist and she fell down, seeing Pete for the first time.
She bellowed with rage, her eyes wide and her face desperately angry and anguished at the same time. She turned from Pete, but in that moment's distraction the second Jinx had grabbed the gun from her. He didn't bother to point it at her, she wouldn't have been stopped by that, so he brought the gun back and smashed it across her face as the other Jinx knocked her down again.
They threw Pete and starling into a small room and locked the door. starling looked like she wanted to die. Pete went and sat by her and wiped the blood from her nose. As far as he could tell, it wasn't broken.
After a few minutes, Dr. Lee came in. She was even more stone-faced than usual. "Listen," she said, "I can't stay long, but I've got to say one thing. You two have got to stop treating this as a moral question, or a lack of will power. Katherine, you have a problem, a medical problem, and you can't will it away. You have to do something about it. Pete, you can't keep Katherine from being crazy by how hard you love her, any more than you could cure her of cancer or a hangnail. If you just hope and hope that it won't happen again, more people will die sooner or later. You're both very lucky that nobody died today. But you're intelligent people. Start to take some responsibility for this, treat it as a medical problem, and I'm sure you'll be able to solve it."
starling seemed to crumple. "Not the drugs. In prison–"
"I can just imagine what they gave you there," Dr. Lee said a little more quietly. "It doesn't have to be like that. There will probably be drugs, and other things as well, but then you won't have to go through what just happened on the roof, and you won't have to be so terrified that you'll freak out and kill Pete someday." She looked at her watch. "I've got to go."
"Can we leave?" Pete asked. "I feel like we're sort of prisoners here."
Dr. Lee shook her head. "No, it's okay. Neil's just mad at himself for making such a stupid mistake, and the others are fine. You can leave whenever you want, but please stay here tonight. There's something coming at midnight that you really won't want to miss. And don't go up on the roof again."
After she left, they sat in silence for a while. They were in a small classroom, the chairs all had writing boards attached on the right hand arm, and Pete moved his so it was right next to starling's.
"You okay?" he asked.
She shrugged, not looking at him. "I guess."
"What do you think about what she said?" he asked.
She shook her head. "I don't know about the drugs. They really make me feel . . . I can't describe it. It's just awful."
"She said it won't be like that," he said.
"Pete, you saw that up there, on the roof," she said. "Why don't you just get out now? Nobody would blame you."
"Look at me," he said. She did, and he asked, "Can people change? Because that's the question here. Am I going to turn my back on you someday, like I did with Jenny, and with Tom? Will I betray you and lie to you, like I did with Henshaw?" He turned her head again so her brown eyes were looking right into his. "Will I?"
"I don't know."
"So, there's a possibility that I won't? There's a chance that I'll do a little better this time around? Because, if there is, then people can change." Looking right into her eyes, holding her chin in his hand, he suddenly had a very strong urge to kiss her, but he knew that was just an evasion.
"Nobody says it's easy," he said. "It's either difficult or it's impossible, but there's a huge difference between difficult and impossible. And, if it's possible for one person, it's possible for another." He let go of her head and took her hand. "I know you shot Carl, and I know you shot Doug Gold, and I know the circumstances. And I saw you on the roof, and I know how close you came to killing at least one of those men. Is there anything further that I don't know about?" She shook her head. "Then I've seen and heard the worst, and I'm still here. And, if we work on this together, I'll bet we solve it."
That night at dinner, nobody sat with them and nobody talked to them. When they were nearly done, Pete felt something nudging him in the small of the back. He turned and saw Daphne, with a piece of paper sticking out of her collar. He reached for it, but she stepped back.
"Here, girl," starling said, holding out a piece of fried chicken. She used it to coax Daphne close enough for Pete to grab the paper, then let her have it so she could run off and devour it.
Pete opened the paper. It said, "follow the dog – private."
"This must be what all the fuss is about," he said, showing it to starling. "The thing Dr. Lee asked us to stay for."
Once she had finished the chicken, Daphne led them to a basement room, where they took part in the solemn ceremony to invest Fifteen as an associate member of the Jinx. Pete and starling have never revealed any details about the ceremony itself, and Pete never did find out exactly what an "associate member" was, but after it was over there was a lot of hugging. starling and Pete both hugged Fifteen, Fifteen and Pete hugged Christy, and Daphne even hugged Fifteen, licking him enthusiastically all over his face. Fifteen gave Jason a firm handshake. Jason looked like he wished he could find a way to undo the events of the past few days. Pete felt like telling him that he understood the feeling, but he doubted if Jason would ever find the trick, any more than he ever had.
By the end of the ceremony, starling had relaxed somewhat, and as they were walking slowly toward the sleeping rooms, Pete said, "We've got a lot to talk about, but I think tomorrow is soon enough. I've had enough excitement for one day."
She gave him a strange look. "You mean hugging Christy? I thought we were going to have to pry you off her with a crowbar."
There was only one answer to that, so in the hallway between the two sleeping rooms, he took her in his arms and gave her a kiss that lasted a lot longer than his hug with Christy.
The next morning, Pete woke up first. He lay on his back and stretched in the sleeping bag, his arms extended over his head. He had felt a jolt of panic as he fell asleep, suddenly convinced that kissing starling had been a major blunder. He had tossed and turned for nearly a minute, but he'd reassured himself with the same argument he had used with her. He had seen and heard the worst, and she knew the extent of his failures as well.
He got dressed and went across the hall. The women's sleeping room was deserted except for starling. He kneeled down next to her sleeping bag and put his hand on her shoulder. Her eyes popped open, she saw him and she smiled. But then her smile faded and she seemed to be about to ask him a question, but nothing came out.
He smiled. "No," he said, "it wasn't a dream. Here." He leaned over and kissed her, his hands cupping her head, feeling the shape of her skull under her hair and skin. Somehow she wormed one arm out of the sleeping bag and held him close as he lay down beside her.
"Hey, you two, cut that out," called Fifteen from the doorway. "This is the sleeping room, you know."
He gave them a big grin as Pete got to his feet, and Pete suddenly realized that he might not see him again. He held out his hand. "Fif, my man," he said, "we may be leaving pretty soon. I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am for everything, and how proud I felt last night."
Fifteen shook his hand, but leaned back a little. "No kissing," he said. "I'm spoken for."
"No kissing," he agreed. "I'm spoken for, too. But, come to think of it, there is one more thing you could do for us. I hate to ask–"
"No sweat," he said, waving Pete's objections aside. He grinned. "Just so it's the last thing, you understand."
"I can pretty much guarantee it will be. You got a pad?"
He reached into the back pocket of his cut-offs and held out a crumpled notepad. Pete wrote a quick note and asked, "Can you get this to Chet sometime today?"
"From you, this is an easy one," Fifteen said, sticking the pad back into his pocket.
Pete held out his hand again. Well," he said, "good luck, and I hope we run into you again."
He shrugged, smiling. "Stranger things have happened," he said.
starling and Pete went downstairs. They got their guns from the locker where they had left them, and starling checked each one to make sure it was still loaded. She showed him how to check his, too. Then, in the little space between the inner and outer doors of the school, hearing the wind blowing outside, they stopped and lit cigarettes. He shook his head. "I'm not even sure where to start now."
starling shrugged. "When we were looking for DeeDee, we said there were four people we had to talk to. You, George, Dr. Lee and Frances. A few days ago, you were saying that Frances was the one we needed to talk to again."
He nodded. "You're right. I guess we need to talk to Frances. I have a feeling that it won't accomplish much, but I can't think what else to do." He loosened one corner of the plastic covering one of the windows to the street and peeked out. "It's weird to be so close to leaving," he said. "I mean leaving U-town, not leaving this place. I'm more than ready for that."
She nodded. "Me, too," she said.