She believed him, and her instincts proved reliable. They sat at the bar together for a couple of hours, chatting about movies and television shows, comedians and singers, weather and food, never touching on politics, plane crashes, or the cares of the world. To her surprise, she drank three beers and felt nothing but a light buzz: "Howie," she said quite seriously when she left him, "I'll be grateful to you for the rest of my life.”
She returned to her room alone, undressed, slid under the sheets, and felt sleep stealing over her even as she put her head on the pillow.
Pulling the covers around her to ward off the chill of the air conditioner, she spoke in a voice slurred more by exhaustion than by beer: "Snuggle down in my cocoon, be a butterfly soon." Wondering where that had come from and what she meant by it, she fell asleep.
Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. . .
Though she was in the stone-walled room again, the dream was different in many ways from what it had been previously. For one thing, she was not blind. A fat yellow candle stood in a blue dish, and its dancing orange flame revealed stone walls, windows as narrow as embrasures, a wooden floor, a turning shaft that came through the ceiling above and disappeared through a hole into the room below, and a heavy door of iron-bound timbers. Somehow she knew that she was in the upper chamber of an old windmill, that the sound-whoosh, whoosh, whoosh-was produced by the mill's giant sails cutting the turbulent night wind, and that beyond the door lay curved limestone steps that led down to the milling room.
Though she was standing when the dream began, circumstances changed with a ripple, and she was suddenly sitting, though not in an ordinary chair.
She was in an airline seat, belted in place, and when she turned her head to the left, she saw Jim Ironheart seated beside her. "This old mill won't make it to Chicago," he said solemnly. And it seemed quite logical that they were flying in that stone structure, lifted by its four giant woodslat sails the way an airliner was kept aloft by its jets or propellers. "We'll survive, though-won't we?" she asked. Before her eyes, Jim faded and was replaced by a ten-year-old boy. She marveled at this magic. Then she decided that the boy's thick brown hair and electric-blue eyes meant he was Jim from another time.
According to the liberal rules of dreams, that made his transformation less magical and, in fact, altogether logical. The boy said, "We'll survive if it doesn't come." And she said, "What is it?" And he said, "The Enemy." Around them the mill seemed to respond to his last two words, flexing and contracting, pulsing like flesh, just as her motel-room wall in Laguna Hills had bulged with malevolent life last night. She thought she glimpsed a monstrous face and form taking its substance from the very limestone. "We'll die here," the boy said, "we'll all die here," and he seemed almost to welcome the creature that was trying to come out of the wall. WHOOSH! Holly came awake with a start, as she had at some point during each of the past three nights. But this time no element of the dream followed her into the real world, and she was not terrified as she had been before.
Afraid, yes. But it was a low-grade fear, more akin to disquiet than to hysteria.
More important, she rose from the dream with a buoyant sense of liberation. Instantly awake, she sat up in bed, leaned back against the headboard, and folded her arms across her bare breasts. She was shivering neither with fear nor because of a chill, but with excitement.
Earlier in the night, tongue lubricated by beer, she had spoken a truth as she had slipped off the precipice of sleep: "Snuggle down in my cocoon, be a butterfly soon." Now she knew what she had meant, and she understood the changes that she had been going through ever since she had stumbled onto Ironheart's secret, changes that she had only begun to realize were under way when she had been in the VIP lounge at the airport after the crash.
She was never going back to the Portland Press She was never going to work on a newspaper again.
She was finished as a reporter.
That was why she had overreacted to Anlock, the CNN reporter at the airport. Loathing him, she was nevertheless eaten by guilt on a subconscious level because he was chasing a major story that she was ignoring even though she was a part of it. If she was a reporter, she should have been interviewing her fellow survivors and rushing to write it up for the Press. No such desire touched her, however, not even for a fleeting moment, so she took the raw cloth of her subconscious self disgust and tailored a suit of rage with enormous shoulders and wide, wide lapels; then she dressed herself in it and strutted and seethed for the CNN camera, all in a frantic attempt to deny that she didn't care about journalism any more and that she was going to walk away from a career and a commitment that she had once thought would last all her life.
Now she got out of bed and paced, too excited to sit still.
She was finished as a reporter.
She was free. As a working-class kid from a powerless family, she had been obsessed by a lifelong need to feel important, included, a real insider.
As a bright child who grew into a brighter woman, she had been puzzled by the apparent disorderliness of life, and she had been compelled to explain it as best she could with the inadequate tools of journalism.
Ironically, the dual quest for acceptance and explanations-which had driven her to work and study seventy- and eighty-hour weeks for as long as she could remember-had left her rootless, with no significant lover, no children, no real friends, and no more answers to the difficult questions of life than those with which she had started. Now she was suddenly free of those needs and obsessions, no longer concerned about belonging to any elite club or explaining human behavior.
She had thought she hated journalism. She didn't.
What she hated was her failure at it; and she had failed because journalism had never been the right thing for her.
To understand herself and break the bonds of habit, all she had needed was to meet a man who could work miracles, and survive a devastating airline tragedy.
"Such a flexible woman, Thorne," she said aloud, mocking herself.
Why, good heavens, if meeting Jim Ironheart and walking away from a plane crash hadn't made her see the light, then surely she'd have figured it out just as soon as Jiminy Cricket rang her doorbell and sang a cleverly rhymed lesson-teaching song about the differences between wise and stupid choices in life.
She laughed. She pulled a blanket off the bed, wound it around her nude body, sat in one of the two armchairs, drew her legs up under her, and laughed as she had not laughed since she had been a giddy teenager.
No, that was where the problem began: she had never been giddy.
She had been a serious-minded teenager, already hooked on current events, worried about World War III because they told her she was likely to die in a nuclear holocaust before she graduated from high school; worried about overpopulation because they told her that famine would claim one and a half billion lives by 1990, cutting the world population in half, decimating even the United States; worried because man-made pollution was causing the planet to cool down drastically, insuring another ice age that would destroy civilization within her own lifetime which was front-page news in the late seventies, before the Greenhouse Effect and worries about planetary warming. She had spent her adolescence and early adulthood worrying too much and enjoying too little. Without joy, she had lost perspective and had allowed every news sensation-some based on genuine problems, some entirely fraudulent-to consume her.
Now she laughed like a kid. Until they hit puberty and a tide of hormones washed them into a new existence, kids knew that life was scary, yeah, dark and strange, but they also knew that it was silly, that it was meant to be fun, that it was an adventurous journey down a long road of time to an unknown destination in a far and wondrous place.
Holly Thorne, who suddenly liked her name, knew where she was going and why.
She knew what she hoped to get from Jim Ironheart-and it was not a good story, journalistic accolades, a Pulitzer. What she wanted from him was better than that, more rewarding and enduring, and she was eager to confront him with her request.
The funny thing was, if he agreed and gave her what she wanted, she might be buying into more than excitement, joy, and a meaningful existence. She knew there was danger in it, as well. If she got what she asked from him, she might be dead a year from now, a month from now or next week. But for the moment, at least, she focused on the prospect of joy and was not deterred by the possibility of early death and endless darkness.
Part TWo Nowhere can a secret keep always secret dark and deep, half so well as in the past buried deep to last, to last.
Keep it in your own dark heart otherwise the rumors start.
After many years have buried secrets over which you worried no confidant can then betray all the words you didn't he say.
Only you can then exhume secrets safe within the tomb of memory, of memory, within the tomb of memory.
-THE ROOK OF COUNTED SORROWS In the real world as in dreams, nothing is quite what it seems.-THE BOOK OF COUNTED SORROWS II 'I
AUGUST 27 THROUGH AUGUST 29
Holly changed planes in Denver, gained two time zones traveling west, and arrived at at Los Angeles International at eleven o'clock Monday morning. Unencumbered by luggage, she retrieved her rental car from the parking garage, drove south along the coast to Laguna Niguel, and reached Jim Ironheart's house by twelve-thirty.
She parked in front of his garage, followed the tile-trimmed walkway directly to his front door, and rang the bell. He did not answer. She rang it again. He still did not answer. She rang it repeatedly, until a reddish impression of the button marked the pad of her right thumb.
Stepping back, she studied the first- and second-floor windows.
Plantation shutters were closed over all of them. She could see the wide slats through the glass.
"I know you're in there," she said quietly.
She returned to her car, put the windows down, and sat behind the steering wheel, waiting for him to come out. Sooner or later he would need food, or laundry detergent, or medical attention, or toilet paper, something, and then she would have him.
Unfortunately, the weather was not conducive to a long stakeout.
The past few days had been warm but mild. Now the August heat had returned like a bad dragon in a storybook: scorching the land with its fiery breath.
The palm trees drooped and the flowers began to wilt in the blistering sun.
Behind all of the elaborate watering systems that maintained the lush landscaping, the dispossessed desert waited to reassert itself Baking as swiftly and evenly as a muffin in a convection oven, Holly finally put up the windows, started the car, and switched on the air conditioner.
The cold draft was heavenly, but before long the car began to overheat; the needle rose swiftly toward the red section of the arc on the temperature gauge.
At one-fifteen, just three-quarters of an hour after she had arrived, Holly threw the car in reverse, backed out of the driveway, and returned to the Laguna Hills Motor Inn. She changed into tan shorts and a canary-yellow calypso blouse that left her belly bare. She put on her new running shoes, but without socks this time. At a nearby Sav-On drugstore, she bought a vinyl-strap folding lounge chair, beach towel, tube of tanning cream, picnic cooler, bag of ice, six-pack of diet soda, and a Travis McGee paperback by John D. MacDonald. She already had sunglasses.
She was back at Ironheart's house on Bougainvillea Way before twoù thirty. She tried the doorbell again. He refused to answer.
Somehow she knew he was in there. Maybe she was a little psychic.
She carried the ice chest, folding lounger, and other items around the side of the house to the lawn in back. She set up the chair on the grass, just beyond the redwood-covered patio. In a few minutes, she was comfy.
In the MacDonald novel, Travis McGee was sweltering down there in Fort Lauderdale, where they were having a heatwave so intense it even took the bounce out of the beach bunnies. Holly had read the book before she chose to reread it now because she had remembered that the plot unfolded against a background of tropical heat and humidity.
Steamy Florida, rendered in MacDonald's vivid prose, made the dry air of Laguna Niguel seem less torrid by comparison, even though it had to be well over ninety degrees.
After about half an hour, she glanced at the house and saw Jim Ironheart standing at the big kitchen window. He was watching her.
He did not wave back at her.
He walked away from the window but did not come outside.
Opening a diet soda, returning to the novel, she relished the feel of the sun on her bare legs. She was not worried about a burn. She already had a little tan. Besides, though blond and fair-skinned, she had a tanning geno that insured against a burn as long as she didn't indulge in marathon sunbathing.
After a while, when she got up to readjust the lounger so she could lie on her stomach, she saw Jim Ironheart standing on the patio, just outside the sliding glass door of his family room. He was in rumpled slacks and a wrinkled T-shirt, unshaven. His hair was lank and oily. He didn't look well.
He was about fifteen feet away, so his voice carried easily to her.
"What do you think you're doing?" "Bronzing up a little.”
"Please leave, Miss Thorne.”
"I need to talk to you.”
"We have nothing to talk about.”
"Hah!" He went back inside and slid the door shut. She heard the latch click.
After lying on her stomach for almost an hour, dozing instead of reading, she decided she'd had enough sun. Besides, at three-thirty in the afternoon, the best tanning rays were past.
She moved the lounger, cooler, and the rest of her paraphernalia onto the shaded patio. She opened a second diet soda and picked up the MacDonald novel again.
At four o'clock she heard the family-room door sliding open again.
His footsteps approached and stopped behind her. He stood there for a while, evidently looking down at her. Neither of them spoke, and she pretended to keep reading.
His continued silence was eerie. She began to think about his dark side -the eight shotgun rounds he had pumped into Norman Rink in Atlanta, for one thing-and she grew increasingly nervous until she decided that he was trying to spook her.
When Holly picked up her can of soda from the top of the cooler, took a sip, sighed with pleasure at the taste, and put the can down again all without letting her hand tremble even once, Ironheart at last came around the lounge chair and stood where she could see him. He was still slovenly and unshaven. Dark circles ringed his eyes. He had an unhealthy pallor.
"What do you want from me?" he asked.
"That'll take a while to explain.”
"I don't have a while.”
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