"Beck ninned it, and you know what?"
"Let me guess. It was wiped down.
"Right," Randy said. "But Beck found a single ridgeprint on the edge of the book. It was intact, but it wasn't big enough to tag to the killer. So Beck "
"Let me guess again," Jack knew Jan Beck well. "She fumed the friction ridge, 'scoped it, and determined it was the killer's by comparing the pore schemes."
Randy looked disgruntled. "Yeah, exactly."
"Which means the killer removed the book and opened it. And you think he was looking for his own name."
"Well, wasn't he?"
"No. He was either looking at it out of curiosity or to see if it contained anyone he knew. Shanna Barrington and the killer did not know each other. She was picked for precisely that reason. The killer's name isn't in that book."
These were the mechanics of their professional relationship: Randy making speculations, and Jack picking them apart. Randy was perceptive; however, Jack was more perceptive. In the long run it made for an effective method of teamwork.
In the short run, though, it pissed Randy off. "Then why the fuck did he pick the book up, look at it, and put it back!"
"Simple," Jack said. "He wants you to think that his name is in it."
"To run your ass off for nothing. To waste your time."
The sharp seam of Randy's lips made no secret of his mood. "So you're telling me not to check the names in the book?"
"That's not what I'm saying at all. I could be wrong, I just don't think I am. You're the protocol man; follow protocol. Check out every conceivable lead you've got. That's your job."
"Oh, I see. I pound every sidewalk in town getting a line on over a hundred guys, and you sit in your office and drink coffee. You're really trying to piss me off, aren't you?"
"Sure," Jack said, and sipped his coffee. "You work better when you're pissed off. What else did Beck say?"
"Said she found some pubes that were â€˜funny.' And she's sure the girl got it repeatedly the killer left a lot of wax. There's also some problem with the wounds but she didn't say what."
"I'll talk to her," Jack said. "Meantime, you shag ass out of my office and go earn your pay."
"What are you, privileged? Why can't you help out with some of the shit work?"
Jack shook his head. "The shit work's all yours, partner. Wear your galoshes." In his mind he saw the triangle. He saw the red. "I'll be busy checking out some other angles."
"Don't worry about your bags," Khoronos said. "Gilles and Marzen will bring them up later. Let me show you around."
Veronica and Ginny followed their host in. Further contrast dismayed them: the interior couldn't have been more opposite of what one would expect. Khoronos was obviously a man who saw some principal purpose in contrast. The inside looked more colonial than anything else, or antiquarian. Lots of heavy paneling and stained, ornate trim. Lots of antiques. In the living room was the largest fireplace Veronica had ever seen.
Khoronos' white suit seemed to project luminescence into the dark room. "The locals, I'm afraid, think that I'm quite eccentric," he regarded.
"We're all eccentric," Ginny said.
Khoronos half smiled. "Perhaps, but maybe we're dismissed as eccentrics only because others lack the courage to follow their hearts. We are not understood; therefore we are condemned. In truth, we're not eccentrics at all."
"What are we, then?" Veronica inquired.
This rather pompous conclusion hung like static before them, as did Khoronos' wraithlike smile.
"The will to create is what made the world, not logic, not reason," he said. "Without the will and the challenge to create, free of the structure of what we call conformity, there would be nothing.
Don't you agree?"
"Yes," Ginny said.
"I don't know," Veronica said.
An equally large colonial kitchen came next on the tour, a pantry, and a palatial dining room. All these things compelled Veronica to continue to wonder. This huge place, all this room what's it for? They stepped through French doors onto a deck which overlooked the backyard. Trimmed topiary and hanging plants surrounded a large swimming pool. A tall fence and outer trees filled the entire yard with shade and quiet. Ginny was stunned, but Veronica remained more curious than impressed.
"Are you married?" she asked.
Khoronos laughed. "Heavens, no."
"I only meant that "
"What does a single man need all this space for?" Khoronos finished. "I don't need it, but I can afford it. â€˜Faith bestows treasure upon the faithful.'"
"Old Testament?" Ginny guessed.
"You're saying faith made you rich?" Veronica couldn't resist.
"Faith in my broker, Ms. Polk." He laughed again. "I was being facetious, I don't feel guilty about being rich."
More pomposity. At least he was being honest.
Up the heavily banistered staircase, a single long hall seemed to be all that composed the upstairs. Poshly framed paintings lined the walls, but Veronica didn't recognize any of them, nor their styles. Had Khoronos painted them? Maybe he pursued an interest in artists out of an artistic failure on his own part. That would explain a lot.
"Your bedrooms are sparse, but you'll find them comfortable."
Hers and Ginny's were identical and side by side. A small bed, a nightstand, and a tiny dresser.
Bare white walls and drab green curtains. Each contained a bayed morning room and balcony. In Ginny's was a desk and a Smith Corona typewriter. In Veronica's was a painting table, some blank canvases, and a box of supplies.
Veronica and Ginny only looked at each other.
"My only requirement is that, during your stay, you create something," Khoronos informed them,
"on a day-to-day basis."
So that was it. Khoronos was just a proverbial patron of the arts. At once Veronica felt like a unique prostitute.
"But I don't mean that you must create something for me," the man countered. "Quite the opposite. I want you to create something solely for yourself."
"That'll be easy," Ginny said. "I'll write a porn story."
"As you wish. Create whatever your heart compels. Passion is born of the heart, correct? That's what thrills me. Particularly what is born of a woman's heart."
Is this guy for real? Veronica thought.
"But there's one thing else, it's very important. Whatever you create, I must ask that you show it to no one until it is finished." Khoronos extended his hand. "And now I'd like to reveal a bit of my own heart."
He took them into the last room.
Jesus, Veronica thought.
The room was windowless. Its walls, ceiling, and floor were heavy plate mirrors, projecting their images infinitely into a bright silver demesne. A wire chair faced a TV and VCR. Several tapes sat atop: The Lamia, The Seeker, The Woman in Black all films by Amy Vandersteen. A wire stand contained all of Ginny's novels. Veronica gasped when she looked up. Hanging on the front mirrored wall was Vertiginous Red.
"This is where I pursue my compulsions," Khoronos said.
Veronica felt a sudden heat rush to her head, like mild shock. Khoronos stood in the center of the silver room, vivid in his white suit. His long grayish hair seemed to sift, and the gleam in his eyes revealed him now as something more than a rich man with misguided interests. He was a preceptor, a guide. He looked messiahlike in his thousand reflections.
Veronica and Ginny could only stare.
"I'm certain we will have an enlightening time together," the man bid. His hands splayed before him. "We all have our quests, am I right? We're looking for something that is greater than what we actually are. That is the reason I've asked you here. To help me find what I'm looking for and, hence, what I am. In return, I will do the same for you. I will help you discover what you really are what you were really meant to be."
After the rain, the sun drew steam up Main Street's bricks. Past the City Dock, boats rocked idly in their slips as the bay reflected clean light like slivers of shaved metal. Jack parked up by Church Circle, electing to walk.
He hoped the walk might clear his head. The after-storm air and salt breezes often revitalized him; that's why he lived here. Every place he saw, though, and every place he passed reminded him of Veronica. He should've known. He should've driven.
There was the second-floor crab house he'd taken her to. That had been their first date, hadn't it?
Up ahead, he eyed Fran's, which had been their last. He stared into the window of Pendragon's, remembering the silver locket he'd bought for her there, then across the street to the art supply store where he'd bought her a bunch of pastels and things for her birthday. Two stores down was the record exchange where he'd found some obscure tape she'd mentioned Cocteau Twins, a group he'd never heard of. Later they'd made love for hours to the layers of sedate, shifting music.
He felt disgusted with himself, a little boy pining over a first crush. Everywhere he looked, he saw Veronica.
He wondered about his guy Khoronos, and this retreat thing. He wondered when he'd see her again, and what seeing her again would be like. Strained smiles. False greetings...
A car horn blared, and a voice. "Is that pig I smell?"
Jack turned. Who the f
It was Craig, grinning behind the wheel of a white Alfa Romeo Spider, a convertible. Vanity plates ALLINYT, and Sinatra crooning "Summer Wind" from the in-dash CD. Flawless white lacquer made the car look made of ice.
The door clicked shut like a well-oiled lock. "I see barkeeps in this town do pretty well. That or you're a gigolo on the side."
"Me? A kept man?" Craig shifted up to the light. "Haven't met a woman yet who can afford to even look at the price tag."
Jack shook his head, bemused. But oddly Craig went on, "You look like something's bugging you."
"What makes you think "
"Yeah, something's bugging you. Veronica, right?"
Now Jack frowned. "Since when do barkeeps read minds?"
"It's part of the job, man."
Veronica, Jack thought. It shows that much?
"Tell me if my keep's wisdom is on the mark. You've been busted up with her for a couple weeks now, right? You're depressed because she got over it quick, and you haven't gotten over it at all.
Jack showed him a lackadaisical middle finger.
"You think she's forgotten all about you. Right? And that makes it worse because you still love her. Right?"
Shut up, Jack wanted to say. "Yes," he said. "How can you tell all that just by looking at me?"
"I'm a bartender. When you see things from the other side of the counter long enough, you know them at a glance. Trust me."
"Fine. I'm impressed. What do I do?"
"Put yourself above it. If you don't, you're putting yourself down, and that's a waste. You have to look at it this way: â€˜I'm better than that. I'm better than her, and I'm better than whoever she's balling now.' You don't have to have faith in other people, Jack. You only have to have faith in yourself."
Faith in yourself. This sounded like good advice, but right now Jack didn't feel better than anybody. "That's kind of selfish, isn't it?"
"Sure," Craig said. The light changed, and the Spider jumped past the light. "But isn't it more selfish to feel that your whole life's falling apart because of a girl?"
Jack tried to assess the question. "I don't get you."
"We think we've got it tough? Shit, we don't know what tough is. Ask people in Siberia about tough, ask people in India, in Africa. Ask all the poor fuckers who're starving, or blind, or quadriplegic. They'll tell you what tough is. What I'm saying is we shouldn't take things for granted. My tuition just got hiked, and I'm pissed. You think your whole life's shit because Veronica dumped you for some other guy. Poor us, huh? In Cuba, you've got to save three months to buy a pair of shoes that'll fall apart in three weeks. In Chile, they torture people with power tools. Kids in Africa have to eat tree bark and dirt. And we think we've got it bad? Shit."
Jack felt slimed in guilt. "I get you now."
"When we take life for granted, we're assholes. Every day we wake up and the world's still turning that's a great day."
Craig was right. Jack was taking things for granted. He was forgetting how lucky he was simply to be living in a free state. Usually simple things were the answers to the most complex questions.
The Spider's engine hummed. Now Main Street came alive in the after-storm glitter. "So where you headed?" Craig asked.
"The Emerald Room. I'm meeting someone."
"That's the spirit. The best way to get over one girl is to go out with another."
"Drop me off here is fine," Jack said, indicating the corner of Calvert Street. "This isn't what I'd call a hot date."
"Who are you meeting?"
Jack began to get out. "Thanks for the pep talk, Craig. I'll see you later tonight at the 'Croft."
Craig's sunglasses reflected duplicates of Jack's face. "Don't bullshit me, man. Who are you meeting?"
"A forensic psychiatrist whose specialty is criminal insanity."
Of the city's many outstanding restaurants, the Emerald Room was the best, and it had class without being stuck up, unlike certain other restaurants down on the Square. Immediately a stunning hostess smiled despite Jack's attire, then noticed the shield clipped to his belt. He wore faded ink-stained jeans and a ratty dark raincoat through which his Smith .38 could easily be seen. "I'm here to meet a Ms. Panzram."