Neems didn’t bother to count the deposit. He dropped it in the cart and returned to Liddon another envelope that contained numerous photographs of his house in California, the floor plan, and detailed information about the security system.
“Plus expenses,” Neems reminded him.
“Yes, of course. Forty thousand more plus expenses. When are you flying there?”
“As I told you, I’m only in Seattle on business until Wednesday noon. When will you do the job?”
“Good. Excellent. I’ll be having drinks and dinner with a client from six o’clock till eleven or later.”
“Your wife looks nice,” Neems said.
“Yes, she does, she’s a beautiful woman, but I should never have married. I’m not the marrying kind.”
“I want her.”
“You want her? No. Not a good idea, Rudy. You were acquitted, but your DNA is still on file from the court-ordered blood sample, it’s still in the system, you don’t dare leave se**n behind.”
Four years earlier, in California, Rudy stood trial for the murder of a fourteen-year-old girl. Liddon was his defense attorney.
“It’s too risky,” Liddon reasoned, “because I got you off in the Hardy case. They find your DNA, they’ll know I hired this done.”
He had not merely won a not-guilty verdict for Neems, but he had also made two straight-arrow police detectives appear so corrupt that they were ultimately fired from the force.
A network-TV news magazine did a two-hour feature on the case that brought Liddon millions in business. The camera loved him. He was a natural. Now and then he watched a DVD of the program just to remind himself of how good he looked.
“Judy didn’t have any.”
Judy was Judith Hardy, the fourteen-year-old who was kidnapped and raped.
Liddon said, “Didn’t have any what?”
“Any of my DNA.”
“She was largely dissolved by acid in a pit on the beach. The best forensic team wasn’t going to get anything from that body.”
“So I burn Kirsten.”
Kirsten was Liddon’s wife.
“Fill the bathtub with gasoline,” said Neems.
Looking past Rudy Neems, Liddon surveyed the foggy fairway. No one was in sight. The course didn’t open for at least another hour. Nevertheless, this was taking too long. To minimize the chance of their being seen together, they needed to meet in places as discreet as this and keep the meetings brief.
“Bathtub of gasoline?” Liddon said, boggled by the flamboyance.
“Sink her, burn her,” said Neems.
“I’ve got a lot of expensive art, antiques.”
“And a fire-sprinkler system.”
“Still. A bathtub of gasoline.”
“Studied it,” Neems said.
Liddon looked at the manila envelope full of photos and details about the house, which Neems had returned to him.
“You’ll lose the bathroom,” Neems said.
“Master bedroom. Some attic.”
“What about water damage?”
“Sprinklers only go off in rooms with heat.”
“Ah. So there’s no widespread water damage. Smoke?”
“I’ll close the bathroom and bedroom doors behind me.”
Neems was as dependable as he was soft-spoken. He thought things through, cared about details.
“I guess the alarm system will get the fire department there in a hurry,” Liddon said.
“Probably under four minutes. They’re nearby.”
Because the apron of the putting green sloped up slightly to the surrounding fairway, the contours of the land pulled faint currents of morning air into the depressed green, where they circled, circled, drawing in a thicker knee-high scrim of fog that moved around Liddon and Neems, a slow-motion whirlpool, around and around.
“You really want Kirsten that much?” Liddon asked.
Neems nodded. “I gotta have her.”
“How long will you … take with her?”
“Two hours. Three.”
“You’re confident about this?”
“It’s kind of wild,” Liddon said.
“So wild, it’s not the way hired killings are done.”
“Good point. Well … okay, then.”
Neems’s smile was so sweet, he would still be good for Christmas pageants. “Two things. First—you sure about Benny?”
Benny was Benjamin Wallace, Liddon’s three-year-old son.
“I’m no better at parenting than marriage,” Liddon said.
“I’d either end up with some harridan who ruins the mood of the house or some young thing who files a phony civil suit against me for sexual harassment. Is Benny a problem for you?”
“Why would he be a problem? He’s three years old.”
“I didn’t mean a physical problem.”
“I’m fine with it,” Neems said.
“All right. Then it’s set.”
“I just wanted to be sure you were okay with it.”
“It is what it is,” Liddon said. “What’s the second thing?”
“Just my curiosity.”
“I’ve got to get going.”
“You come to me for this—you had to know I did Judy Hardy.”
“When did you figure it out?”
“Before I took your case,” Liddon said.
“You did my case pro bono.”
“You didn’t have any money.”
“Thought you defended me because you believed.”
“In your innocence? No. Never.”
“So you did it pro bono because …?”
“What do you think, Rudy?”
“In case one day you needed someone like me.”
“There you go.”
“Were you married when you took my case?”
“Only a few months.”
“Did you know then that maybe …”
“No, no. I loved her then.”
Liddon shrugged. “Life.”
“You do a lot of pro bono work.”
“I try to give what time I can.”
“So you have others like me?”
“A couple. If I need them.”
“Well, I want you to know I’m grateful.”
“Thank you, Rudy.”
“Not just for back then, but for this opportunity, too.”
“I know you’re meticulous. Now I better be going.” He took two steps across the green, toward the woods, then turned to look once more at the groundskeeper. “I’m a little curious, too.”
“Since Judy Hardy, have you …”
“Often?” Liddon asked.
“I make myself wait between.”
“Is it difficult—waiting?”
“Yes. But then it’s sweeter when I do one.”
“How long is the wait?”
“Six months. Eight.”
“Have you ever come under suspicion again?”
“No. And I never will.”
“You’re a smart and careful man. That’s why I took your case.”
“Besides, people like me,” said Neems.
“Yes. They do. That’s always a plus.”
Liddon continued across the green, across the rough, to the footpath through the woods. He was two hundred yards from the most terrifying encounter of his life.
The dream was a montage of action close-ups: long bare limbs thrashing, blond hair tossing, red-nailed hands clutching with desire and striking out defensively, ripe mouth open in rapture but then shaping a silent scream of sublime terror.
As he woke, Henry Rouvroy thought he heard someone whispering his name.
In sleep, he had slid onto his side. Now he sat up, his back against the closet wall.
The shotgun. He had let go of it. He fumbled in the dark, found the 20-gauge.
More likely than not, he dreamed the voice. He listened but heard nothing.
Beyond the open door, the bedroom was brighter than when he had taken up his post in the closet, but it wasn’t as bright as it would have been with a lamp on.
Dawn had come. Morning sun seeped around the edges of the closed draperies.
Wincing, flexing his left foot to defeat a cramp, Henry rose and moved cautiously to the doorway.
Again he listened. After a silence, he heard the thinnest of whistles—and his heart clenched for a moment, until he realized that the sound was his own flatulence.
Sausage, cheese, and a plebeian bread for dinner had been a mistake, a shock to the system.
Less than a day on the farm, and already his standards and conduct had begun to deteriorate. One could not overestimate the dangerous effects that a rustic way of life could have on a man’s personality and intellect, even after he had been prepared in the finest private schools and polished to a high finish at Harvard. Without the daily stimulation of life in a big city, without continuous wit-sharpening interaction with other well-educated and sophisticated people, he might become countrified, coarse, uncouth. The Times probably wasn’t distributed in this benighted region’s one-horse hamlets and jerkwaters, and the illiterate inbred clerk at the newsstand no doubt sold Vanity Fair in a plain brown wrapper.
While Henry listened to his oscillating butt whistle as it diminished to a final peep, he realized that when he stocked the potato cellar and the converted horse stalls with women, he should attempt to find at least one who had gone away to the right schools and returned to this intellectual wasteland for whatever misguided reasons. If he couldn’t find one who was witty and sexy, he might be wise to imprison a plain woman who was a good conversationalist with refined tastes, strictly for the purpose of honing his intellect and maintaining his clarified and supreme aesthetics.
The unfortunate consequences of his rectal recital prevented Henry from remaining in the closet. In need of fresh air, he decided that if his name had been spoken, the whisperer had been a figure in his dream, and he moved into the bedroom.
When he switched on the ceiling light, he focused at once on the bed. The covers seemed to drape exactly as he had arranged them, and the shape of the fake sleeper was as he designed it.
If someone had taken the place of the dummy, Henry would have been murdered while he slept. His fear had been irrational.
Nevertheless, he rounded the foot of the bed to stand over the blanketed form. Holding the shotgun in both hands, with a finger on the trigger, he used the barrel to hook the bedclothes and flip them back from whatever they concealed.
Having been hostage to his absurd expectations, his breath blew free of him in a gust of relief.
He pulled the draperies back from the windows and let the early light into the room. He would no longer cower in closets. With the new day, he would follow a fresh strategy. Instead of reacting, he would act, and take the fight to his tormentor.
The hallway light was on, as it should have been, and one lamp in the living room, but the kitchen was not dark, as he had left it.
On the dinette table were the leather work gloves. When he found them on the bedspread the previous night, he had put them in a trash bag and set the bag on the bedroom armchair, intending to dispose of them come morning.
Now morning found them here. They appeared to be more saturated with blood than they had been before, much of it crusted and dry, but some still wet, gluey.
Beside the gloves were a pencil and the notepad that earlier had been by the kitchen phone. The yellow paint on the pencil was mottled with dried blood.
A few smears of blood also stained the top sheet of the notepad, but they did not obscure the message. The three handwritten lines were centered to one another.
So suddenly did Henry’s dread return and with such force that at first he could make no more sense of the words than he would have if they had been from the lost language of an ancient civilization. Fear rendered him momentarily illiterate.
When he could read, he saw that before him were three lines of verse. They didn’t rhyme because they comprised a brief poem in that seventeen-syllable Japanese form called haiku.
Of course, Henry knew about haiku because he had graduated from Harvard, but also because his brother, Jim, had written fifty-two of them that were published in a slender hardcover.
calligraphy on the sky,
talons, then the beak.
Henry remembered the pair of harriers gliding in intersecting gyres as he had walked to the barn with his brother.
Calligraphy. Beautiful Japanese writing done with a brush.
Henry was neither a poet nor much of a reader of poetry, but he supposed that to describe a swooping bird, a brush painting graceful strokes might be an acceptable metaphor.
The last line disturbed him more than the others. The final four words made this a poem about death, a poem less about the harrier than about the unmentioned mouse that would be pierced by the talons and torn by the beak.
If Henry was the harrier, then his twin brother must be the mouse, and this poem was about Jim’s murder in the barn.
On the other hand, if Jim was the harrier, then his brother was the mouse, and the poem must be about the impending murder of Henry.
He remembered Jim’s words spoken just before they entered the barn: “Predators and prey. The necessity of death, if life is to have meaning and proportion. Death as a part of life. I’m working on a series of poems with those themes.”
Infuriated more by the mockery than the threat, by being played for a fool, Henry Rouvroy wanted to rip the top page off the notepad, tear it in pieces and flush it down the toilet, but the thought of touching it repulsed him.
… talons, then the beak.
Those cold words seemed to promise a cruel death by stabbing, slashing.
… talons, then the beak.
Jim had not been stabbed. He had been shot. The poem was not likely to be about Jim’s death.
Henry remembered the five knives that had been on the table when he first came into the kitchen with Jim and Nora.
Five knives with four- and five-inch blades, nonreflective finishes. Assisted-opening mechanisms for quick blade release.
Before the three of them had coffee and sweetrolls, Jim moved the knives to the counter by the refrigerator.
Henry turned away from the haiku and went to the counter.
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