Santo Dio, come si fa?
Holy God, what is to be done?
ory loved the way the slanting October sun filled her office.
The woods around her house were mostly eastern cedars and sugar maples, but one venerable oak tree spread its branches just outside her sliding glass door, and the sun reflecting from its red and yellow leaves splashed gold-tinged light across her desk. It shone on Jack's high school portrait in its braided leather frame, and made the faint gold butterfly gleam from the green depths of the Murano glass paperweight.
The easy chair where her clients sat faced the profusion of colorful leaves. The view seemed to soothe them, and to encourage them. With her back to the light, she could watch their faces as she listened to them talk, and give free rein to her intuition.
She relied on her intuitionâher little fey, as her grandmother had called itâmore than anyone knew. It often prompted her to ask the right question, to focus on the right problem, to suggest the perfect exercise. It could be immensely helpful, though it was an erratic companion, sometimes somnolent, occasionally so subtle she almost missed it, often so intense she could hardly bear it. Nonna Angela had warned her about that. On the same day she bestowed the Murano glass paperweight on her little granddaughter, she reminded her that her fey could be a curse as well as a gift.
Nonna Angela had been right. Today, Tory's fey had failed her utterly. The light, pouring so generously through the glass door, seemed to darken as she watched her client's freckled face change and close, her pale eyes grow flat and dangerous. The air in the office grew chilly, and the looming presence of the black revolver, so recently discharged and now locked in the file cabinet, made Tory's stomach crawl. Still her fey had not warned her.
Her client said, “You're my therapist. I'm supposed to be able to tell you everything.”
Tory sat very still. The key to the file cabinet seemed to grow bigger in her jeans pocket, its cut edges sharper, its brass heavier. It felt as if it might surge forth under its own power, tear right through the denim, leap out to set the gun free from the locked drawer. Tory answered in as level a tone as she could manage. “You're a police officer. You must know there are limits to confidentiality.”
“No. I don't know that.” The client's voice was even, too, but Tory felt certain it was more easily achieved. Her tone had always been uninflected, oddly flat. The woman in the easy chair seemed to have become a stranger, unrepentant, unmoved, detached from all they had talked about over the months of their association.
Tory would think this later, when she had timeâtoo much timeâto reflect on what had happened. Her fey had failed her, or perhaps that was simply an excuse. She should have known better than to count on her fey for insight and understanding. She had forgotten the dark side of her gift, the weak side, and so she had failed everyoneâher client, her client's victim, her son, and herself. She had waited too long, and said too little. Her habit of silence, cultivated through a difficult childhood, a sad girlhood, long years of standing alone in her world, had been her undoing.
Ch'ella mi creda libero e lontano
sopra una nuova via di redenzione!
Let her believe I'm far away and free,
ahead to a new life of redemption!
La Fanciulla del West,
anishing, Tory Lake discovered, was not all that difficult a thing to accomplish. When the moment came, when it was the only path left to her, it was simply a question of taking one step at a time, putting one foot in front of the other, and wasting no time in looking back.
The money was a great help. Her fey had prompted her, months before, to begin laying cash aside. She kept an old cracked suitcase in the back of the spare room closet, and she began tucking bills into it, twenties, fifties, an occasional hundred. It never occurred to her that it was an odd thing to do. The growing cache of money soothed the nameless anxiety she had begun to suffer, that clouded her days and woke her during the uneasy nights.
She could see, now, that the anxiety had begun when the client first came to her office, but at the time she hadn't made the connection. She only knew that it comforted her to know the cash was there. It had become automatic for her to add to the pile, and on nights when she couldn't sleep, she counted it.
With Jack away at college, she often woke in the small hours. Her eyes would open in the solitary darkness, and she would lie for a time listening to the whisper of the night wind through the cedars, wondering if sleep would return. When it didn't, when the thread of anxiety wound itself through her chest and quickened her restless pulse, she would get up, pad on her bare feet to the closet, and pull out the suitcase.
The suitcase was the ancient cardboard sort. She had kept it long past its usefulness, but the suitcase, and the Murano glass paperweight, were all she had left of her grandmother. Even after all these yearsâafter the loss of her mother, her father, the humiliating end of her marriageâTory missed her Nonna Angela. She had been, by the time Tory was born, a wizened Italian crone with age spots and frizzy gray hair. She had been the only reliable source of affection in her granddaughter's life. The suitcase she had carried from her Italian home when she came to America as a war bride was nearly in shreds now, decaying and musty, but Tory couldn't bring herself to part with it. The spongy feel of the cardboard brought her visions of an Italian lakeside village, a hopeful young woman, a wedding in a tiny stone church, a meager trousseau to carry to her new country.
The suitcase had a new use now, securing Tory's stash of money behind lining so threadbare it was nearly transparent. She felt as if Nonna Angela were guarding it for her, and in the sleepless pre-dawn hours she would open it on the unused bed in the spare room and count the bills.
It had reached, by the time she needed it, an amount just over ten thousand dollars. The night she realized that, counting and sorting and banding the bills together, she went back to bed and slept soundly, sensing that some goal had been achieved. Her fey was satisfied. She was readyâfor whatever it was.
When it came, it wasn't what she had expected, but then, she hadn't known what to expect. There was no time to think about it, nor was there time for regrets, or for arguments with herself over what she should have done or not done. She understood too late what the anxiety had been about, but that was gone, its last remnants washed away by the clear water of the Winooski River, where her Escalade now lodged among the boulders, doors open, leather seats soaking in the current.
It was not only her anxiety that had disappeared. She felt oddly still. Her body moved, but her emotions were frozen, like the surface of a pond in winter. It seemed better to be encased in ice, a carapace of protection that froze solid the moment she made her decision. Currents of feeling might roil somewhere beneath itâguilt, regret, anger, sadnessâbut she couldn't sense them. She didn't want to. She dreaded what she might feel if the ice cracked and broke.
She had tumbled out of the Escalade into the icy water, and hidden herself beneath the jut of the riverbank. When she heard the engine of Ellice's car roaring down the hill, she emerged, wet to the waist, her feet shockingly cold in her sodden sneakers. She worked her way back to the house to retrieve her money and, in haste, to bandage her arm. The cut was deep, and it hurt, but she was pretty sure it hadn't reached the muscle. She smeared some antibiotic ointment under the bandage, but she wasn't really concerned about infection. She kept her kitchen knives, like everything else in her house, immaculately clean. Obsessively clean, Jack would have said. In any case, she had more pressing concerns. She took an extra bandage, and set about preparing her departure.
She changed her sneakers, jeans, and underwear for dry ones, and put the wet things in the washer. She threw in some detergent and started the machine. She hurried to her office, but briefly, then ran upstairs, breathless with the need to hurry. She pulled the suitcase out of the spare room closet and wriggled the cash out from beneath the lining. She slit the lining of her warmest jacket, a black down L.L.Bean she'd had for years, and stuffed the fat rubber-banded packets of money inside. She slid the file in after the money, and secured the lining with small gold safety pins. Inadvertently, she caught sight of herself in the mirror, and saw that the jacket puffed around her, making her look like a cooked sausage. She patted the lumpy parts, trying to smooth them down, then gave it up as a waste of effort.
She replaced the suitcase, making sure the old coats and sweaters hung in the closet just as they had before, although she couldn't think who would notice. Not Jack, certainly. Perhaps her friend Kate, if she thought of it.
Kate. Kate would suffer, too. Tory hated having to cause her pain, but she couldn't see how to prevent it. She went down the hall to the kitchen, where the teakettle still rested on the stove-top, her cup and infuser ready on the counter. She left them where they were, testaments to her interrupted day. She hesitated in front of the refrigerator, but decided against taking anything from it, even though there was no one to inventory its contents. In her frozen state, she was sure she couldn't eat anything, anyway.
She pressed her hands against her forehead, thinking hard about how to do this. There should be no hints of anything missing, no evidence to indicate she had ever returned. The washer would run through its cycle and stop. There were CDs in her treasured Bose system, but she would leave them behind. She stood for a moment in the doorway leading to the garage, taking a last look at her beloved kitchen with its warm red accents, Le Creuset cookware hanging from the rack, her mother's wedding china showing through the glass-fronted cabinets. It was surreal, gazing at all this as if with a stranger's eyes. The next people to see it would indeed be strangers, she imagined. They wouldn't care about the thin Lenox teacups, the cut-crystal wine decanter, the polished granite of the kitchen island. At the moment, she didn't care, either. One day she might. She might miss her home, and her life. She would certainly long for her son, but that was the whole point. This was all about him.
She closed the door that connected the kitchen with her office, and went out into the garage. She took a single bottle of water from an open case, and walked away through the woods, leaving her house unlocked, the lights on, phone jack unplugged, and the sliding glass door to her office open to the wind.
She stuffed the bottle of water into one deep pocket to free her hands to push aside low-hanging branches. As she worked her way through the brush, she tried not to leave broken twigs and crushed leaves behind her, evidence of her passage.
The down jacket felt surprisingly heavy, the cash and the file folder dragging against her back, the water bottle bumping her left hip. There was something hard and heavy against her right hip, too. She put her hand in that pocket, and caught a breath of surprise.
When had she picked it up? She couldn't recall. She had dashed into the office for the file, then up the stairs for the moneyâbut somehow, in her office for the last time, she had seized up the Murano glass paperweight. Jack might know that was missing. Kate might notice, tooâshe had always admired itâbut Tory could hardly go back now to replace it. There would be no point in dropping it here, on the forest floor. She would have to carry it with her. It had been a strange thing to do. An impulsive thing. The only thing she had done that didn't make sense.
Underneath the paperweight she found her red felt beret, crushed but unharmed. She wriggled that out of her pocket, and pulled it on.
She wondered how long it would be before someone came looking for her. Her next client wasn't due until Monday. Jack was at school, and as they so rarely spoke, she wouldn't expect to hear from him before Thanksgiving. Kate and Chet had their grandchildren for the weekend. It could be three days before anyone discovered she was missing.
When they figured it outâKate, or her next clientâthey wouldn't find anything in her house to help them. There would be no clues, except perhaps for the missing paperweight. They wouldn't find much, in fact, until they found her car.
Her folder of opera CDs was still in the console of the Escalade. It would be a convincing detail. It was one thing everyone knew about her, even her clients. They often smiled as they walked around the side of the house to her office door, hearing Verdi or Mozart or Puccini pouring out into the clear mountain air.
In a quarter of an hour, Tory broke free of the heaviest woods, thick with old trees she had kept to give her house privacy. She turned north, off her own property, and began walking faster. She wasn't precisely sure where she might come out of the forest, but she meant to stay well away from the river and the crashed car. The woods were quiet except for the faint susurration of evergreens stirring in the wind. Two tiny kinglets, birds she loved for the elusive flash of their golden crowns, sang from the trees. Their rhythmic tweet-and-warble rang like crystal through the cold air, but she didn't look up to find them. In this surreal hour, they stirred no appreciation in her.
She moved like an automaton, a creature programmed to take one step, another, doing her best to hide her trail. She skirted heavy patches of underbrush, followed deer paths when she could find them. She drank the water, but she kept the plastic bottle tucked into her jacket instead of burying it, worried it might be found. She pressed on even when she grew tired and her knees and hips began to ache. Blood from the wound on her arm soaked through the bandage she had taped over it, and stained her sweater. She stopped to change the bandage, pressing the new one as tightly over the cut as she could, and it seemed to stop. She rolled up the bloody bandage, and put that in her pocket, too. Her feet began to ache in her second-best sneakers, but she observed that from a distance, as if it were happening to someone else, not the woman encased in ice.
The weight of cash inside her jacket steadied her. She would buy food, eventually. She wasn't cold. She could spend the night in the woods if she had to. It all depended on where she came out.
Ice Woman was impressively calm. She knew, from years of counseling clients, that she couldn't avoid acknowledging the shock and guilt forever, but for right nowâoddlyâall she felt was a sort of triumph. Clinically, she could judge it to be a bizarre reaction, but crisis responses were idiosyncratic.
She scrabbled down one side of a dry ravine and climbed up the other, stopping at the top to catch her breath. As she leaned against a cedar, looking down on the wooded valley she still had to cross, she remembered that she had felt a single stab of premonition during Ellice Gordon's first appointment. It was familiar to her, a dull, abstract pain piercing her chest from front to back. It always presaged some significant event. Why had she ignored it?
It was a pointless question. She had ignored it because there was nothing else she could do. She hadn't known then what it meant, and it hadn't come again. It was no use wishing things had been different. Her ordered life had become profoundly disordered. Tragedy had struck, and she could neither deny her failure nor change the outcome of events.
Only one thing mattered, and that was to keep Jack safe. Ice Woman was determined to succeed at that.
She started down the slope into the valley, skidding on the mat of leaves and moss and needles that softened the forest floor. For now, she told herself, she would be grateful for the impulse that had moved her across the car seat, made her shove open the passenger side door, given her the impetus to throw herself out into the water. She could have been crushed as the Escalade tipped over the rocky bank and fell the thirty feet to the river. Had she had time to think it through, she might have decided she was safer in the car, behind the airbag, but there had been no time. And she had known, when she saw Ellice climb out of her patrol car and stride to the top of the bank to stare coldly down at the wreck, that she had done the right thing at last. The only thing she could have done.
She kept moving, pressing north and a little bit east. After several periods of walking, resting, and walking again, she broke out of the woods to find herself on the two-lane road that led to the town of Randolph. She walked up it for a time, grateful for the gravel shoulder, which was so much easier to navigate than underbrush and carpets of leaves and dropped branches. Dusk began to obscure the hills, but the darkness was helpful. When headlights flashed ahead or behind her, she stepped down into the drainage ditch, huddling with her head down until the vehicle passed.