Chapter Sixteen – The Howling Storm
If in the wide world Bruce was nowhere to be seen, he could not hide in dreams. Persey sought him out, consulting the Bird Lady, her dream mentor; where would they hide him? The Bird Lady covered her eyes with her hands and spoke: people are just animals disguised. And the pack is only as strong as its weakest member.
The Bird Lady knew everything because she had suffered. So now I’m a wolf, thought Persey, fleeing the Ambien, recklessly digging in Babe’s birthday flowerbed with broad white paws. Why fight the trend? Why bother with humanity when beast was all the rage? She was finished cleaning up, she was going to make some messes now.
Who would curse a wolf for digging in a flowerbed? As she went deeper she bit herself in excitement and abandon; bloody slobber dribbled from her lips and stained her silver hide. She was not the weakest member, not she. Truly she feared no one. But as she dug deeper the world grew darker; she needed the Bird Lady’s reflection to see by, but she was a moon that withheld its rays. Was it something I have done or something left undone? Howled Persey. But the moon pursed its nursery-rhyme lips as if to castigate her for selfishness; she had been a willful girl. There was something she had forgotten, but how could she remember if she was just a wolf? She would make up for everything by finding Bruce and dragging him to the surface.
Uncovering a tunnel, she felt a gush of adrenalin like an electric jolt. This was it, Bruce’s hideout, the secret world. She slid down easy, all unwary, not expecting the splash. Disused well? The Greeks had claimed the underworld was a watery place. This wasn’t water, though, but blood, clogging mouth, ears, strangling her with the strands of own hair. She was drowning in it. The shock was too terrible. She had lost her protective wolfskin and now was only Persey, naked, struggling and alone. If left to itself does every dream become too terrible? She fought to wake up.
“Wake up,” said the rescuing voice. But it wasn’t the Bird Lady, it was Roy, sitting on the edge of the bed, handing her a mug of strong coffee in one of Babe’s heart-red mugs; coffee taken white, without sugar, just the way she liked it. Of course Roy knew what his wife liked. He was already dressed, face glowing; silvery curls gelled behind his ears. Where had he been all night? Refreshing himself in the darkness that had defeated her? Groggily she took the cup with sleep-stained, sticky fingers.
“What time is it?”
He ignored the question. “The cops caught the guy that did Stormee,” said Roy. “Jarod and I have got to go.”
She drank. Hot coffee stuck to the roof of her mouth, her fingers stuck to the coffee cup. Had they glued it? Was this one of those pranks where somebody hands you something you can never get rid of? Was she “punk’d” for good? She looked around for the hidden camera and there it was; Jarod, recording, recording, looming in the doorway.
“They got somebody?” She was the weak link after all. Unable to keep up. They were way ahead of her.
“It’s your fudge packer friend,” said Roy. “I knew there was something about that guy. Apparently he couldn’t handle Stormee’s little games.”
“No one could handle them,” Jarod spoke roughly, but from the doorway, like a vampire who lacked permission to get in. “Pity the fool. She really got to him. Poor guy offed himself. You know what happened, Persey? I bet he killed her because she wasn’t you.”
What kind of a mean joke was this? It wasn’t funny at all. Had she fallen out of one nightmare into another? Persey tried to sit up, to shake the sleep from her ears. “What are you two talking about?”
“He left a suicide note, confessing the whole thing. That’s right, hon, killed himself. Man enough to do that at least.”
“Plus they have the DNA,” said Jarod.
“Plus they have the DNA,” echoed his sidekick. “Slam dunk.”
“Slam dunk,” said Jarod.
Persey tried to put the coffee cup down, but couldn’t. She considered
throwing it at him, but since it felt so tethered, feared it would only boomerang. “That’s just impossible.” It must be the Ambien that was making her so
stupid. She never could take drugs like other people.
“Believe me, the world is better off without him. Those guys are carriers.
Keep your cell turned on. We’ll all know more in just a few hours.”
Roy rose up fast, so tall she feared him. His head must literally bump the
ceiling. She stared up at him. He was dressed once again for a pirate’s funeral; black turtleneck, black jeans; one diamond earring.
“Jarod and I are going in his truck. We left the keys in mine. Or you can stay with Babe as long as you want.”
“Lots to do to close up a case,” said Jarod.
Roy swooped down from his height like a vulture – she flinched – but he only kissed her lightly, and then the pair of them were gone.
First order of business was to pry this coffee cup out of her sticky hands. It hadn’t been a dream at all; her hands were stained with blood. She lifted the sheet and looked down at her legs. Blood everywhere. Where had Roy been sleeping? In the arms of his new sweetie, the man-tiger? Had her womb cut itself wandering out in search of him? No baby for Jarod; her body had decisively rejected him. No human sacrifice for Babe, alas. There never would be a substitute for Savage Bruce.
She jumped out of bed and began stripping the sheets. It went clear through to the mattress. She wasn’t strong enough to flip the mattress by herself. She wondered if she dared ask Mickey. There was probably no way to conceal this from Babe. But of what use was concealment? Babe made it her business to find everything out in the end. Not that the truth ever did her any good.
Time for Persey to summon up a fresh disguise just like the rest of them, make up this bed with sparkling sheets and take the polluted ones away. In the bathroom she ran a tub and threw in the pomegranate bath salts Babe provided. Six-thirty on her watch. Night was over and it was full daylight out.
In the hot pink water her brain finally cleared. A chill thought struck her: if this sick punishment of a joke was directed at her, the self-anointed she-wolf, recoverer of lost corpses, it was a good get-even for hiding behind Bish as an alibi. But what if it wasn’t a joke? She ruled out everything they said: death and suicide were equally impossible, but still felt fatally unsettled.
In the dream she dug for Bruce; but the blood she found was her own. If Bish was really gone, she would feel his absence in the universe. Nothing would ever be the same without him; food would lose its taste and alcohol its buzz. Language and ideas would lose their magic.
She assembled daylight reason while she scrubbed. She couldn’t call Bish’s house at six-thirty in the morning and ask, “Are you dead?”
But she knew someone she could call. She stepped out of the bath and set the raspberry-colored water swirling down the drain, plugged in a tampon from her cosmetic case, wrapped herself in an oversized terry robe, and dialed Ned on Babe’s landline. No cell reception at the lagoon, thanks to Babe’s buyers and their militant battle against the ugliness of cell towers. Fortunately she’d memorized the number.
His voice wasn’t tired at all. Clearly he had been up for hours. Bad sign, right there.
“Oh, Perse,” he said. ”Hoping it was you. Sorry about all the messages I left, but I feel bad about the other night. I wasn’t much of a Romeo. Usually I take better precautions.”
Time to mentally re-orient. She had forgotten he, too, had seeded her, because it felt so much like she had seeded him. Maybe she had, from the emotion in his voice.
“You were fine. Sorry to call so early, but Jarod says they caught the guy who killed Stormee.”
“Well, hardly caught,” said Ned. “I wish. His wife found him last night in their garage. Apparently he left a confession and then shot himself. It’s totally unconnected to our serial case.”
“That’s him. You know him?”
“He’s my best friend. This isn’t a suicide, Ned. Believe me, it’s impossible. And
he couldn’t kill anyone or anything. You have to take it from me: he absolutely isn’t the type.”
“That’s what friends and families always say. If I could only tell you. “The unlikeliest guy.””
Why couldn’t he ever take her word for anything? She cursed his detective, policeman self. She wished he was right in front of her so she could smack him.
“He doesn’t even own a gun.”
“He stole one of Gunver’s.”
“And wasn’t that convenient! I tell you, you’re being messed with.
Everybody’s lying to you.”
He delivered the final curse: “DNA doesn’t lie.”
In her frustration she beat the bedside table with her fist. “Well in this case, your God has failed. For one thing, didn’t you tell me the DNA was tailless? Bish has two kids.”
“Well, maybe some of them had tails. Maybe they used to have tails. How would I know? Maybe the kids are adopted. A match is a match. It’s him among forty billion; nothing you can do about it. Trust me, friends can surprise you. You really can’t be objective about your friends. He was at the party, right?”
“He was,” she admitted. “He begged me to get him an invitation.”
That was the trouble with unplanned, messy truth; what chance did it have
against a cleverly organized lie? Lies could be designed to meet every contingency; truth was just the truth. What could she say to convince him? Truth was too big, it overwhelmed paperwork, boxes checked off so people could go home. Why couldn’t she open his inner eye of wisdom the way he had opened hers?
Maybe, like anything else, you have to want it. Persey was beginning to develop a taste. The Bird Lady always said, when the student is ready, the teacher appears.
“This situation is a complete fake,” she assured him. She summoned up his jargon, a word that he could understand. “Staged. It’s staging, that’s what it is.”
His voice became more distant; she could hear him float away. “Then an investigation will show that to be the case,” he told her patiently. “I’ll keep you apprised. OK?”
No, she didn’t want to be “apprised.” Sounded like a livestock judging at the county fair. She wouldn’t be sent home with a pretty colored ribbon. She didn’t want to be “apprised”, she wanted him to change things.
“How about the storage locker?” she asked aggressively. “Have you been out there?”
“Not yet.” He sighed. She read that sigh. He was thinking her hormonal, just like Roy had; Jarod, Babe, everyone.
“Well, what’s the holdup?”
“You didn’t tell me Jarod Gunver’s name is on the rental application. I can’t investigate a fellow cop. That has to go through Internal Affairs. Delay, delay.”
She froze. Goddamnit! Checkmate.
“Then it’s too late,” she said. Evidence was too fragile. It would be destroyed. IA would tell Jarod he was being investigated. Her voice was biting. “It’s over.”
“Justice crawls, Persey. That’s the way it works. Nothing moves as fast as in the movies.”
How she hated his superiority!
“I’ll tell you what happened. Jarod got to the medical examiner, or whoever guards the DNA. He switched the samples, don’t you see? Or he made them do it.” Poor trusting, thrill-seeking Bish. Too painful even to imagine how his sample was acquired.
The distant voice acquired an edge. Maybe Ned was a useless genie.
“Can you hear yourself? You sound like a conspiracy nut.”
Damn him! “You’re the one who told me crime scenes have been altered – you
said it happens all the time.”
She had finally managed to make him angry; it was a poor substitute for
contact but it was all she had going now.
“You have a lot of nerve saying that! I did it for you!”
“And I found those bodies for you! I’m the one who got your stupid case off the ground. You’re the one who altered the scene to disguise who really found those bodies! That’s the point!”
“It ain’t switching lab samples. Ever heard of Occam’s razor? Your scenario is just too unlikely!”
She challenged him. “Unlikely or impossible?”
He had the grace to hesitate and consider the question on its merits. “Well, nothing is impossible. But no justice system can idiot-proof the outer
fringe of probability.”
Was he insulting her? Sounded like his anger had subsided. He was back in
command, wielding the tools of rationality he said had saved his life, sanity and job. But not his relationships, of course. Too bad, she thought. Tools construct fences. Fences protect ideas from becoming free-range.
“Think horses, not zebras,” he quoted patronizingly. “Now what exactly is your complaint against Jarod Gunver? What’s he ever done to you? Why don’t you tell me about it? I’m listening. “
He was hopeless. He wanted to fight fire with textbooks. Just like the blood in her dream her anger bubbled up, threatening to engulf the universe. Thanks to the Bird Lady, she could match him.
“Well, I have a quote for you,” she said. “Reality astonishes theory.” And she hung up on him.
It was something the Bird Lady quoted about the humble bumblebee. Science doesn’t know everything.
Her exultation crashed. It only hurt worse because she’d allowed herself to climb. She’d lost Bish; the universe had lost him, and it was her fault. Obsessed as she was with her own problems she’d brought him in. He’d been a friend to her; to him she was nothing but destruction and danger.
But she couldn’t collapse now. Hadn’t Ned promised she would recognize justice if she saw it? He had been there, he sworn he had seen justice close up so it must exist. She’d have to take him at his word.
“Woman up,” she said out loud with a bitter laugh. She should have quoted the truest saying; if you want something done properly, you have to do it yourself.