Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream
Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered three fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.
This column has
A hole. Can you see
The Queen of the Dead?
The kicking must have been going on for a long time, because it seemed to echo far down the avenues of sleep as he slowly struggled up to wakefulness. It was dark outside, but when he turned to grasp the clock and bring it to his face, he knocked it onto the floor. He felt dis?oriented and frightened.
'Who is it?' he called out.
'It's Eva, Mr Mears. There's a phone call for you.'
He got up, pulled on his pants, and opened the door bare-chested. Eva Miller was in a white terry-cloth robe, and her face was full of the slow vulnerability of a person still two-fifths asleep. They looked at each other nakedly, and he was thinking: Who's sick? Who's died?
'No, it's Matthew Burke.'
The knowledge did not relieve him as it should have done. 'What time is it?'
'Just after four. Mr Burke sounds very-upset.
Ben went downstairs and picked the phone up. 'This is Ben, Matt.'
Matt was breathing rapidly into the phone, the sound of his respiration coming in harsh little blurts. 'Can you come, Ben? Right now?'
'Yes, all right. What's the matter? Are you sick?'
'Not on the phone. Just come.'
'Have you got a crucifix? A St Christopher's medallion? Anything like that?'
'Hell no. I'm - was - a Baptist.'
'All right. Come fast.'
Ben hung up and went back upstairs quickly. Eva was standing with one hand on the newel post, her face filled with worry and indecision - on one hand wanting to know, on the other, not wanting to mix in the tenant's business.
'Is Mr Burke sick, Mr Mears?'
'He says not. He just asked me . . . say, you aren't Catholic?'
'My husband was.'
'Do you have a crucifix or a rosary or a St Christopher's medallion?'
'Well . . . my husband's crucifix is in the bedroom. . . . I could . . . '
'Yes, would you?'
She went up the hall, her furry slippers scuffing at the faded strip of carpet. Ben went into his room, pulled on yesterday's shirt, and slipped his bare feet into a pair of loafers. When he came out again, Eva was standing by his door, holding the crucifix. It caught the light and threw back dim silver.
'Thank you,' he said, taking it.
'Did Mr Burke ask you for this?'
'Yes, he did.'
She was frowning, more awake now. 'He's not Catholic. I don't believe he goes to church.'
'He didn't explain to me.'
'Oh.' She nodded in a charade of understanding and gave him the crucifix. 'Please be careful of it. It has great value for me.'
'I understand that. I will.'
'I hope Mr Burke is all right. He's a fine man.'
He went downstairs and out onto the porch. He could not hold the crucifix and dig for his car keys at the same time, and instead of simply transferring it from his right hand to his left, he slipped it over his neck. The silver slipped comfortably against his shirt, and getting into the car he was hardly aware that he felt comforted.
Every window on the lower floor of Matt's house was lit up, and when Ben's headlights splashed across the front as he turned into the driveway, Matt opened the door and waited for him.
He came up the walk ready for almost anything, but Matt's face was still a shock. It was deadly pale, and the mouth was trembling. His eyes were wide, and they didn't seem to blink.
'Let's go in the kitchen,' he said.
Ben came in, and as he stepped inside, the half light caught the cross lying against his chest.
'You brought one.'
'It belongs to Eva Miller. What's the matter?'
Matt repeated: 'In the kitchen.' As they passed the stairs leading to the second floor, he glanced upward and seemed to flinch away at the same time.
The kitchen table where they had eaten spaghetti was bare now except for three items, two of them peculiar: a cup of coffee, an old-fashioned clasp Bible, and a .38 revolver.
'Now, what's up, Matt? You look awful.'
'And maybe I dreamed the whole thing, but thank God you're here.' He had picked up the revolver and was turning it over restively in his hands.
'Tell me. And stop playing with that thing. Is it loaded?' Matt put the pistol down and ran a hand through his hair. 'Yes, it's loaded. Although I don't think it would do any good . . . unless I used it on myself.' He laughed, a jagged, unhealthy sound like grinding glass.
The harshness in his voice broke the queer, fixed look in his eyes. He shook his head, not like a man propounding a negative, but the way some animals will shake themselves coming out of cold water.
'There's a dead man upstairs,' he said.
'Mike Ryerson. He works for the town. He's a grounds keeper.'
'Are you sure he's dead?'
'I am in my guts, even though I haven't looked in on him. I haven't dared. Because, in another way, he may not be dead at all.'
'Matt, you're not talking good sense.'
'Don't you think I know that? I'm talking nonsense and I'm thinking madness. But there was no one to call but you. In all of 'salem's Lot, you're the only person that might . . . might . . .' He shook his head and began again. 'We talked about Danny Glick.'
'And how he might have died of pernicious anemia . . . what our grandfathers would have called "just wasting away."'
'Mike buried him. And Mike found Win Purinton's dog impaled on the Harmony Hill Cemetery gates. I met Mike Ryerson in Dell's last night, and - '
' - and I couldn't go in,' he finished. Couldn't. I sat on my bed for nearly four hours. Then I crept downstairs like a thief and called you. What do you think?'
Ben had taken the crucifix off; now he poked at the glimmering heap of fine-link chain with a reflective finger. It was almost five o'clock and the eastern sky was rose with dawn. The fluorescent bar overhead had gone pallid.
'I think we'd better go up to your guest room and look. That's all, I think, right now.'
'The whole thing seems like a madman's nightmare now, with the light coming in the window.' He laughed shakily. 'I hope it is. I hope Mike is sleeping like a baby.'
'Well, let's go see.'
Matt firmed his lips with an effort. 'Okay.' He dropped his eyes to the table and then looked at Ben question?ingly.
'Sure,' Ben said, and slipped the crucifix over Matt's neck.
'It actually does make me feel better.' He laughed self?-consciously. 'Do you suppose they'll let me wear it when they cart me off to Augusta?'
Ben said, 'Do you want the gun?'
'No, I guess not. I'd stick it in the top of my pants and blow my balls off.'
They went upstairs, Ben in the lead. There was a short hall at the top, running both ways. At one end, the door to Matt's bedroom stood open, a pale sheaf of lamplight spilling out onto the orange runner.
'Down at the other end,' Matt said
Ben walked down the hall and stood in front of the guest room door. He did not believe the monstrosity Matt had implied, but nonetheless he found himself engulfed by a wave of the blackest fright he had ever known.
You open the door and he's hanging from the beam, the face swelled and puffed and black, and then the eyes open and they're bulging in the sockets but they're SEEING you and they're glad you came -
The memory rose up in -almost total sensory reference, and for the moment of its totality he was paralyzed. He could even smell the plaster and the wild odor of nesting animals. It seemed to him that the plain varnished wood door of Matt Burke's guest room stood between him and all the secrets of hell.
Then he twisted the knob and pushed the door inward. Matt was at his shoulder, and he was holding Eva's crucifix tightly.
The guest room window faced directly east, and the top arc of the sun had just cleared the horizon. The first pellucid rays shone directly through the window, isolating a few golden motes as it fell in a shaft to the white linen sheet that was pulled up to Mike Ryerson's chest.
Ben looked at Matt and nodded. 'He's all right,' he whispered. 'Sleeping.'
Matt said tonelessly, 'The window's open. It was closed and locked. I made sure of it.'
Ben's eyes centered on the upper hem of the flawlessly laundered sheet that covered Mike. There was a single small drop of blood on it, dried to maroon.
'I don't think he's breathing,' Matt said.
Ben took two steps forward and then stopped. 'Mike? Mike Ryerson. Wake up, Mike!'
No response. Mike's lashes lay cleanly against his cheeks. His hair was tousled loosely across his brow, and Ben thought that in the first delicate light he was more than handsome; he was as beautiful as the profile, of a Greek statue. Light color bloomed in his cheeks, and his body held none of the deathly pallor Matt had mentioned - only healthy skin tones.
'Of course he's breathing,' he said a trifle impatiently. 'Just fast asleep. Mike - ' He stretched out a hand and shook Ryerson slightly. Mike's left arm, which had been crossed loosely on his chest, fell limply over the side of the bed and the knuckles rapped on the floor, like a request for entry.
Matt stepped forward and picked up the limp arm. He pressed his index finger over the wrist. 'No pulse.'
He started to drop it, remembered the grisly knocking noise the knuckles had made, and put the arm across Ryerson's chest. It started to fall anyway, and he put it back more firmly with a grimace.
Ben couldn't believe it. He was sleeping, had to be. The good color, the obvious suppleness of the muscles, the lips half parted as if to draw breath . . . unreality washed over him. He placed his wrist against Ryerson's shoulder and found the skin cool.
He moistened his finger and held it in front of those half-open lips. Nothing. Not a feather of breath.
He and Matt looked at each other.
'The marks on the neck?' Matt asked.
Ben took Ryerson's jaw in: his hands and turned it gently until the exposed cheek lay against the pillow. The movement dislodged the left arm, and the knuckles rapped the floor again.
There were no marks on Mike Ryerson's neck.
They were at the kitchen table again. It was 5:35 A.M. They could hear the lowing of the Griffen cows as they were let into their east pasturage down the hill and beyond the belt of shrubbery and underbrush that screened Taggart Stream from view.
'According to folklore, the marks disappear,' Matt said suddenly. 'When the victim dies, the marks disappear.'
'I know that,' Ben said. He remembered it both from Stoker's Dracula and from the Hammer films starring Christopher Lee.
'We have to put an ash stake through his heart.'
'You better think again,' Ben said, and sipped his coffee. That would be damned hard to explain to a coroner's jury. You'd go to jail for desecrating a corpse at the very least. More likely to the funny farm.'
'Do you think I'm crazy?' Matt asked quietly.
With no discernible hesitation, Ben said, 'No.'
'Do you believe me about the marks?'
'I don't know. I guess I have to. Why would you lie to me? I can't see any gain for you in a lie. I suppose you'd lie if you had killed him.'
'Perhaps I did, then,' Matt said, watching him.
'There are three things going against it. First, what's your motive? Pardon me, Matt, but you're just too old for the classic ones like jealousy and money to fit very well. Second, what was your method? If it was poison, he must have gone very easily. He certainly looks peaceful enough. And that eliminates most of the common poisons right there.'
'What's your third reason?'
'No murderer in his right mind would invent a story like yours to cover up murder. It would be insane.'
'We keep coming back to my mental health,' Matt said. He sighed. 'I knew we would.'
'I don't think you're crazy,' Ben said, accenting the first word slightly. 'You seem rational enough.'
'But you're not a doctor, are you?' Matt asked. 'And crazy people are sometimes able to counterfeit sanity re?markably well.'
Ben agreed. 'So where does that put us?'
'Back to square one.'
'No. Neither one of us can afford that, because there's a dead man upstairs and pretty soon he's going to have to be explained. The constable is going to want to know what happened, and so is the medical examiner, and so is the county sheriff. Matt, could it be that Mike Ryerson was just sick with some virus all week and happened to drop dead in your house?'
For the first time since they had come back down, Matt showed signs of agitation. 'Ben, I told you what he said! I saw the marks on his neck! And I heard him invite someone into my house! Then I heard . . . God, I heard that laugh!' His eyes had taken on that peculiar blank look again.
'All right,' Ben said. He got up and went to the window,' trying to set his thoughts in order. They didn't go well. As he had told Susan, things seemed to have a way of getting out of hand.
He was looking toward the Marsten House.
'Matt, do you know what's going to happen to you if you even let out a whisper of what you've told me?' Matt didn't answer.
'People are going to start tapping their foreheads behind your back when you go by in the street. Little kids are going to get out their Halloween wax teeth when they see you coming and jump out and yell Boo! when you walk by their hedge. Somebody will invent a rhyme like One, two, three, four, I'm gonna suck your blood some more. The high school kids will pick it up and you'll hear it in the halls when you pass. Your colleagues will begin looking at you strangely. There's apt to be anonymous phone calls from people purporting to be Danny Glick or Mike Ryerson. They'll turn your life into a nightmare. They'll hound you out of town in six months.'
'They wouldn't. They know me.'
Ben turned from the window. 'Who do they know? A funny old duck who lives alone out on Taggart Stream Road. Just the fact that you're not married is apt to make them believe you've got a screw loose anyway. And what backup can I give you? I saw the body but nothing else. Even if I had, they would just say I was an outsider. They would even get around to telling each other we were a couple of queers and, this was the way we got our kicks.'
Matt was looking at him with slowly dawning horror.
'One word, Matt. That's all it will take to finish you in salem's Lot.'
'So there's nothing to be done.'
'Yes, there is. You have a certain theory about who - or what - killed Mike Ryerson. The theory is relatively simple to prove or disprove, I think. I'm in a hell of a fix. I can't believe you're crazy, but I can't believe that Danny Glick came back from the dead and sucked Mike Ryerson's blood for a whole week before killing him, either. But I'm going to put the idea to the test. And you've got to help.'
'Call your doctor, Cody is his name? Then call Parkins Gillespie. Let the machinery take over. Tell your story just as though you I d never heard a thing in the night. You went into Dell's and sat down with Mike. He said he'd been feeling sick since last Sunday. You invited him home with you. You went in to check him around three-thirty this morning, couldn't wake him, and called me.'
'That's it. When you speak to Cody, don't even say he's dead.'
'Not dead - '
'Christ, how do we know he is?' Ben exploded. 'You took his pulse and couldn't find it; I tried to find his breath and couldn't do it. If I thought someone was going to shove me into my grave on that basis, I'd damn well pack a lunch. Especially if I looked as lifelike as he does.'
'That bothers you as much as it does me, doesn't it?'
'Yes, it bothers me,' Ben admitted. 'He looks like a goddamn waxwork.'
'All right,' Matt said. 'You're talking sense . . . as much as anyone can in a business like this. I guess I sounded nuts, at that.'
Ben started to deprecate, but Matt waved it off. 'But suppose . . . just hypothetically . . . that my first suspicion is right? Would you want even the remotest possibility in the back of your mind? The possibility that Mike might . . . come back?'
'As I said, that theory is easy enough to prove or dis?prove. And it isn't what bothers me about all this.'
'Just a minute. First things first. Proving or disproving it ought to be no more than an exercise in logic - ruling out possibilities. First possibility: Mike died of some disease ?a virus or something. How do you confirm that or rule it out?'
Matt shrugged. 'Medical examination, I suppose.'
'Exactly. And the same method to confirm or rule out foul play. If somebody poisoned him or shot him or got him to eat a piece of fudge with a bundle of wires in it - '
'Murder has gone undetected before.'
'Sure it has. But I'll bet on the medical examiner.'
'And if the medical examiner's verdict is "unknown cause"?'
'Then,' Ben said deliberately, 'we can visit the grave after the funeral and see if he rises. If he does - which I can't conceive of - we'll know. If he doesn't, we're faced with the thing that bothers me.'
'The fact of my insanity,' Matt said slowly. 'Ben, I swear on my mother's name that those marks were there, that I heard the window go up, that - '
'I believe you,' Ben said quietly.
Matt stopped. His expression was that of a man who has braced himself for a crash that never came.
'You do?' he said uncertainly.
'To put it another way, I refuse to believe that you're crazy or had a hallucination. I had an experience once . . . an experience that had to do with that damned house on the hill . . . that makes me extremely sympathetic to people whose stories seem utterly insane in light of rational knowl?edge. I'll tell you about that, one day.'
'Why not now?'
'There's no time. You have those calls to make. And I have one more question. Think about it carefully. Do you have any enemies?'
'No one who qualifies for something like this.'
'An ex-student, maybe? One with a grudge?'
Matt, who knew exactly to what extent he influenced the lives of his students, laughed politely.
'Okay,' Ben said. 'I'll take your word for it.' He shook his head. 'I don't like it. First that dog shows up on the cemetery gates. Then Ralphie Glick disappears, his brother dies, and Mike Ryerson. Maybe they all tie in somehow. But this . . . I can't believe it.'
'I better call Cody's home,' Matt said, getting up. 'Par?kins will be at home.'
'Call in sick at school, too.'
'Right.' Matt laughed without force. 'It will be my first sick day in three years. A real occasion.'
He went into the living room and began to make his calls, waiting at the end of each number sequence for the bell to prod sleepers awake. Cody's wife apparently referred him to Cumberland Receiving, for he dialed another number, asked for Cody, and went into his story after a short wait.
He hung up and called into the kitchen: 'Jimmy will be here in an hour.'
'Good,' Ben said. 'I'm going upstairs.'
'Don't touch anything.'
By the time he reached the second-floor landing he could hear Matt on the phone to Parkins Gillespie, answering questions. The words melted into a background murmur as he went down the hall.
That feeling of half-remembered, half-imagined terror washed over him again as he contemplated the door to the guest room. In his mind's eye he could see himself stepping forward, pushing it open. The room looks larger, seen from a child's eye view. The body lies as they left it, left arm dangling to the floor, left cheek pressed against the pillow which still shows the fold lines from the linen closet. The eyes suddenly open, and they are filled with blank, animalistic triumph. The door slams shut. The left arm comes up, the hand hooked into a claw, and the lips twist into a vulpine smile that shows incisors grown wondrously long and sharp -
He stepped forward and pushed the door with tented fingers. The lower hinges squeaked slightly.
The body lay as they had left it, left arm fallen, left cheek pressed against the pillowcase -
'Parkins is coming,' Matt said from the hallway behind him, and Ben nearly screamed.
Ben thought how apt his phrase had been: Let the machin?ery take over. It was very much like a machine - one of those elaborate German contraptions constructed of clockwork and cogs; figures moving in an elaborate dance.
Parkins Gillespie arrived first, wearing a green tie set off by a VFW tie tack. There were still sleepy seeds in his eyes. He told them he had notified the county ME.
'He won't be out himself, the son of a bitch,' Parkins said, tucking a Pall Mall into the corner of his seamed mouth, 'but he'll send out a deputy and a fella to take pitchers. You touch the cawpse?'
'His arm fell out of bed,' Ben said. 'I tried to put it back, but it wouldn't stay.'
Parkins looked him up and down and said nothing. Ben thought of the grisly sound the knuckles had made on the hardwood floor of Matt's guest room and felt a queasy laughter in his belly. He swallowed to keep it there.
Matt led the way upstairs, and Parkins walked around the body several times. 'Say, you sure he's dead?' he asked finally. 'You tried to wake him up?'
James Cody, MD, arrived next, fresh from a delivery in Cumberland. After the amenities had passed among them ('Good t'seeya,' Parkins Gillespie said, and lit a fresh cigarette), Matt led them all upstairs again. Now, if we all only played instruments, Ben thought, we could give the guy a real send-off. He felt the laughter trying to come up his throat again.
Cody turned back the sheet and frowned down at the body for a moment. With a calmness that astounded Ben, Matt Burke said, 'It reminded me of what you said about the Glick boy, Jimmy.'
'That was a privileged communication, Mr Burke,' Jimmy Cody said mildly. 'If Danny Glick's folks found out you'd said that, they could sue me.'
'Would they win?'
'No, probably not,' Jimmy said, and sighed.
'What's this about the Glick boy?' Parkins asked, frowning.
'Nothing,' Jimmy said. 'No connection.' He used his stethoscope, muttered, rolled back an eyelid, and shone a light into the glassy orb beneath.
Ben saw the pupil contract and said quite audibly, 'Christ!'
'Interesting reflex, isn't it?' Jimmy said. He let the eyelid go and it rolled shut with grotesque slowness, as if the corpse had winked at them. 'David Prine at Johns Hopkins reports pupillary contraction in some cadavers up to nine hours.'
'Now he's a scholar,' Matt said gruffly. 'Used to pull C's in Expository Writing.'
'You just didn't like to read about dissections, you old grump,' Jimmy said absently, and produced a small hammer. Nice, Ben thought. He retains his bedside manner even when the patient is, as Parkins would say, a cawpse. The dark laughter welled inside him again.
'He dead?' Parkins asked, and tapped the ash of his cigarette into an empty flower vase. Matt winced '
'Oh, he's dead,' Jimmy told him. He got up, turned the sheet back to Ryerson's feet, and tapped the right knee. The toes were moveless. Ben noticed that Mike Ryerson had yellow rings of callus on the bottoms of his feet, at the ball of the heel and at the instep. It made him think of that Wallace Stevens poem about the dead woman. 'Let it be the finale of seem,' he misquoted. 'The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.'
Matt looked at him sharply, and for a moment his control seemed to waver.
'What's that?' Parkins asked.
'A poem,' Matt said. 'It's from a poem about death.'
'Sounds more like the Good Humor man to me,' Parkins said, and tapped his ash into the vase again.
'Have we been introduced?' Jimmy asked, looking up at Ben.
'You were, but only in passing,' Matt said. 'Jimmy Cody, local quack, meet Ben Mears, local hack. And vice versa.'
'He's always been clever that way,' Jimmy said. 'That's how he made all his money.'
They shook hands over the body.
'Help me turn him over, Mr Mears.
A little squeamishly, Ben helped him turn the body on its belly. The flesh was cool, not yet cold, still pliant. Jimmy stared closely at the back, then pulled the jockey shorts down from the buttocks.
'What's that for?' Parkins asked.
'I'm trying to place the time of death by skin lividity,' Jimmy said. 'Blood tends to seek its lowest level when pumping action ceases, like any other fluid.'
'Yeah, sort of like that Drano commercial, That's the examiner's job, ain't it?'
'He'll send out Norbert, you know that,' Jimmy said. 'And Brent Norbert was never averse to a little help from his friends.'
'Norbert couldn't find his own ass with both hands and a flashlight,' Parkins said, and flipped his cigarette butt out the open window. 'You lost your screen offa this window, Matt. I seen it down on the lawn when I drove in.'
'That so?' Matt asked, his voice carefully controlled.
Cody had taken a thermometer from his bag and now he slid it into Ryerson's anus and laid his watch on the crisp sheet, where it glittered in the strong sunlight. It was quarter of seven.
'I'm going downstairs,' Matt said in a slightly strangled voice.
'You might as well all go,' Jimmy said. 'I'll be a little while longer. Would you put on coffee, Mr Burke?'
They all went out and Ben closed the door on the scene. His last glance back would remain with him: the bright, sun-washed room, the clean sheet turned back, the gold wristwatch heliographing bright arrows of light onto the wallpaper, and Cody himself, with his swatch of flaming red hair, sitting beside the body like a steel engraving.
Matt was making coffee when Brenton Norbert, the assistant medical examiner, arrived in an elderly gray Dodge. He came in with another man who was carrying a large camera.
'Where is it?' Norbert asked.
Gillespie gestured with his thumb toward the stairs. 'Jim Cody's up there.'
'Good deal,' Norbert said. 'The guy's probably jitterbugging by now.' He and the photographer went upstairs.
Parkins Gillespie poured cream into his coffee until it slopped into his saucer, tested it with his thumb, wiped his thumb on his pants, ]it another Pall Mall, and said, 'How did you get into this, Mr Mears?'
And so Ben and Matt started their little song and dance and none of what they said was precisely a lie, but enough was left unsaid to link them together in a tenuous bond of conspiracy, and enough to make Ben wonder uneasily if be wasn't in the process of abetting either a harmless bit of kookery or something more serious, something dark. He thought of Matt saying that he had called Ben because he was the only person in 'salem's Lot who might listen to such a story. Whatever Matt Burke's mental failings might be, Ben thought, inability to read character was not one of them. And that also made him nervous.
By nine-thirty it was over.
Carl Foreman's funeral wagon had come and taken Mike Ryerson's body away, and the fact of his passing left the house with him and belonged to the town. Jimmy Cody had gone back to his office; Norbert and the photographer had gone to Portland to talk with the county ME.
Parkins Gillespie stood on the stoop for a moment and watched the hearse trundle slowly up the road, a cigarette dangling between his lips. 'All the times Mike drove that, I bet he never guessed how soon he'd be ridin' in the back.' He turned to Ben. 'You ain't leavin' the Lot just yet, are you? Like you to testify for the coroner's jury, if that's okay by you.'
'No, I'm not leaving.
The constable's faded blue eyes measured him. 'I checked you through with the feds and the Maine State Police R&I in Augusta,' he said. 'You've got a clean rep.'
'That's good to know,' Ben said evenly.
'I hear it around that you're sparkin' Bill Norton's girl.'
'Guilty,' Ben said.
'She's a fine lass,' Parkins said without smiling. The hearse was out of sight now; even the hum of its engine had dwindled to a drone that faded altogether. 'Guess she don't see much of Floyd Tibbits these days.'
'Haven't you some paper work to do, Park?' Matt prodded gently.
He sighed and cast the butt of his cigarette away. 'Sure do. Duplicate, triplicate, don't-punch-spindle-or-mutilate. This job's been more trouble than a she-bitch with crabs the last couple of weeks. Maybe that old Marsten House has got a curse on it.'
Ben and Matt kept poker faces.
'Well, s'long.' He hitched his pants and walked down to his car. He opened the driver's side door and then turned back to them. 'You two ain't holdin' nothin' back on me, are you?'
'Parkins,' Matt said, 'there's nothing to hold back. He's dead.'
He looked at them a moment longer, the faded eyes sharp and glittering under his hooked brows, and then he sighed. 'I suppose,' he said. 'But it's awful goddamn funny. The dog, the Glick boy, then t'other Glick boy, now Mike. That's a year's run for a pissant little burg like this one. My old grammy used to say things ran in threes, not fours.' He got in, started the engine, and backed out of the driveway. A moment later he was gone over the hill, trailing one farewell honk.
Matt let out a gusty sigh. 'That's over.'
'Yes,' Ben said. 'I'm beat. Are you?'
'I am, but I feel . . . weird. You know that word, the way the kids use it?'
'They've got another one: spaced out. Like coming down from an acid trip or speed, when even being normal is crazy.' He scrubbed a hand across his face. 'God, you must think I'm a lunatic. It all sounds like a madman's raving in the daylight, doesn't it?'
'Yes and no,' Ben said. He put a diffident hand on Matt's shoulder. 'Gillespie is right, you know. There is something going on. And I'm thinking more and more that it has to do with the Marsten House. Other than myself, the people up there are the only new people in town. And I know I haven't done anything. Is our trip up there tonight still on? The rustic welcome wagon?'
'If you like.'
'I do. You go in and get some sleep. I'll get in touch with Susan and we'll drop by this evening.'
'All right.' He paused. 'There's one other thing. It's been bothering me ever since you mentioned autopsies.'
'The laugh I heard - or thought I heard - was a child' s laugh. Horrible and soulless, but still a child's laugh. Con?nected to Mike's story, does that make you think of Danny Glick?'
'Yes, of course it does.'
'Do you know what the embalming procedure is?'
'Not specifically. The blood is drained from the cadaver and replaced with some fluid. They used to use formal?dehyde, but I'm sure they've got more sophisticated methods now. And the corpse is eviscerated.'
'I wonder if all that was done to Danny?' Matt said, looking at him.
'Do you know Carl Foreman well enough to ask him in confidence?'
'Yes, I think I could find a way to do that.'
'Do it, by all means.'
They looked at each other a moment longer, and the glance that passed between them was friendly but indefin?able; on Matt's part the uneasy defiance of the rational man who has been forced to speak irrationalities, on Ben's a kind of ill-defined fright of forces he could not understand enough to define.
Eva was ironing and watching 'Dialing for Dollars' when he came in. The jackpot was currently up to forty-five dollars, and the emcee was picking telephone numbers out of a large glass drum.
'I heard,' she said as he opened the refrigerator and got a Coke. 'Awful. Poor Mike.'
'It's too bad.' He reached into his breast pocket and fished out the crucifix on its fine-link chain.
'Do they know what - '
'Not yet,' Ben said. 'I'm very tired, Mrs Miller. I think I'll sleep for a while.'
'Of course you should. That upstairs room is hot at midday, even this late in the year. Take the one in the downstairs hall if you like. The sheets are fresh.'
'No, that's all right. I know all the squeaks in the one upstairs.'
'Yes, a person does get used to their own,' she said matter-of-factly. 'Why in the world did Mr Burke want Ralph's crucifix?'
Ben paused on his way to the stairs, momentarily at a loss. 'I think he must have thought Mike Ryerson was a Catholic.'
Eva slipped a new shirt on the end of her ironing board. 'He should have known better than that. After all, he had Mike in school. All his people were Lutherans.'
Ben had no answer for that. He went upstairs, pulled his clothes off, and got into bed. Sleep came rapidly and heavily. He did not dream.
When he woke up, it was quarter past four. His body was beaded with sweat, and he had kicked the upper sheet away. Still, he felt clear-headed again. The events of that early morning seemed to be far away and dim, and Matt Burke's fancies had lost their urgency. His job for tonight was only to humor him out of them if he could.
He decided that he would call Susan from Spencer's and have her meet him there. They could go to the park and he would tell her the whole thing from beginning to end.
He could get her opinion on their way out to see Matt, and at Matt's house she could listen to his 'version and complete her judgment. Then, on to the Marsten House. The thought caused a ripple of fear in his midsection.
He was so involved in his own thoughts that he never noticed that someone was sitting in his car until the door opened and the tall form accordioned out. For a moment his mind was too stunned to command his body; it was busy boggling at what it first took to be an animated scarecrow. The slanting sun picked the figure out in detail that was sharp and cruel: the old fedora hat pulled low around the ears; the wrap-around sunglasses; the ragged overcoat with the collar turned up; the heavy industrial green rubber gloves on the hands.
'Who - ' was all Ben had time to get out The figure moved closer. The fists bunched. There was an old yellow smell that Ben recognized as that of mothballs. He could hear breath slobbering in and out.
'You're the son of a bitch that stole my girl,' Floyd Tibbits said in a grating, toneless voice. 'I'm going to kill you.'
And while Ben was still trying to clear all this through his central switchboard, Floyd Tibbits waded in.