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As he watched over Skeet while waiting for Tom Wong to return, the last thing Dusty wanted to think about was the past, yet his mind drifted back to the childhood he’d shared with Skeet, to Skeet’s imperial father—and, worse, to the man who had followed that bastard as head of the household. Husband number four. Dr. Derek Lampton, neo-Freudian psychologist, psychiatrist, lecturer, and author.

Their mother, Claudette, had a fondness for intellectuals—especially for those who were also megalomaniacs.

Skeet's father, the false Holden, had lasted until Skeet was nine years old and Dusty was fourteen. The two of them celebrated his departure by staying up all night, watching scary movies, eating bales of potato chips and buckets of Baskin-Robbins chocolate-peanut-butter ice cream, which had been verboten under the strict low-fat, no-salt, no-sugar, no-additives, no-fun Nazi diet enforced for all kids—though not adults—during his dictatorship. In the morning, half nauseated from their gluttony, grainy-eyed with exhaustion, but giddy with their newfound freedom, they managed to stay awake a few extra hours in order to search the neighborhood until they accumulated two pounds of dog droppings, which they hermetically boxed and posted to the deposed despot’s new digs.

Although the package was sent anonymously, with a false return address, they figured that the professor might deduce the identities of the senders, because after enough double martinis, he sometimes bemoaned his son’s learning disability by claiming that a reeking pile of manure had greater potential for academic accomplishment than did Skeet: You are about as erudite as excrement, boy, no more scholarly than a stool sample, as cultured as crap, less comprehending than cow chips, as perceptive as poop. By sending him the box of dog waste, they were challenging him to put his lofty educational theories to work and transform the dog droppings into a better student than Skeet.

Days after the counterfeit Caulfield’s butt was kicked out into the rye field, Dr. Lampton took up residence. Because all the adults were excruciatingly civilized and eager to facilitate one another’s quests for personal fulfillment, Claudette announced to her children that a quick and uncontested divorce would be followed immediately by a new marriage.

Dusty and Skeet ceased all celebration. Within twenty-four hours, they knew that soon the day would come when they would be nostalgic for the golden age during which they had been marked by the ruling thumb of the humbug Holden, because Dr. Derek Lampton would no doubt brand them with his traditional ID number: 666.

Now Skeet brought Dusty back from the past: “You look like you just ate a worm. What’re you thinking about?”

He was still in the fetal position on the bed, but his rheumy eyes were open.

“Lizard Lampton,” Dusty said.

“Oh, man, you think too much about him, and I’ll be trying to talk you down from a roof.” Skeet swung his legs off the bed and sat up.

Valet went to Skeet and licked his trembling hands.

“How’re you feeling?” Dusty asked.


“Post is good.” Dusty withdrew two lottery tickets from his shirt pocket and offered them to Skeet. “As promised. Picked these up at the convenience store near here, where they sold the big winning ticket last November. That thirty-million-dollar jackpot.”

“Keep them away from me. My touch’ll suck the luck right out of ‘em.”

Dusty went to the nightstand, opened the drawer, and withdrew the Bible. He paged through it, scanning the verses, and then read a line from Jeremiah: “‘Blessed is the man who trusts in God.’ How’s that?”

“Well, I’ve learned not to trust in methamphetamines.”

“That’s progress,” Dusty said. He tucked the pair of tickets into the Bible, at the page from which he’d read, closed the book, and returned it to the drawer.

Skeet got up from the bed and tottered toward the bathroom. “Gotta pee.”

“Gotta watch.”

Turning on the bathroom light, Skeet said, “Don’t worry, bro. Nothing in here I could kill myself with.”

“You might try to flush yourself down the john,” Dusty said, stepping into the open doorway.

“Or make a hangman’s noose out of toilet paper.”

“See, you’re too clever. You require diligent security.”

The toilet had a sealed tank and a button-flush mechanism: no parts that could be easily disassembled to locate a metal edge sharp enough to slash a wrist.

A minute later, as Skeet was washing his hands, Dusty withdrew the folded pages of the notepad from his pocket and read aloud Skeet's handwritten message: “Dr. Yen Lo.”

The bar of soap slipped out of Skeet’s grip, into the sink. He didn’t try to pick it up. He leaned against the sink, his hands under the spout, water sluicing the lather off his fingers.

He had said something as he dropped the soap, but his words had not been clear over the sound of the running water.

Dusty cocked his head. “What’d you say?”

Raising his voice slightly, Skeet repeated: “I’m listening.”

Puzzled by that response, Dusty asked, “Who’s Dr. Yen Lo?”

Skeet didn’t reply.

His back was to Dusty. Because his head was bowed, his face couldn’t be seen in the mirror. He seemed to be staring at his hands, which he still held under the running water, although every trace of soap had been rinsed from them.

“Hey, kid?”


Dusty moved into the cramped bathroom, beside his brother.

Skeet stared down at his hands, eyes shining as if with wonder, mouth open in what appeared to be awe, as though the answer to the mystery of existence was in his grasp.

Soap-scented clouds of steam had begun to rise out of the sink. The running water was fiercely hot. Skeet’s hands, usually so pale, were an angry red.

“Good God.” Dusty quickly turned off the water. The metal faucet was almost too hot to touch.

Evidently feeling no pain, Skeet kept his half-scalded hands under the spout.

Dusty turned on the cold water, and his brother submitted to this new torrent without any change of expression. He had exhibited no discomfort whatsoever from the hot water and now appeared to take no relief from the cold.

In the open doorway, Valet whimpered. Head raised, ears pricked, he backed a few steps into the bedroom. He knew that something was profoundly wrong.

Dusty took his brother by one arm. Hands held in front of him, gaze still fixed on them, Skeet allowed himself to be led out of the bathroom. He sat on the edge of the bed, hands in his lap, studying them as if reading his fate in the lines of his palms.

“Don’t move,” Dusty said, and then he hurried out of the room, in search of Tom Wong.


When Martie drove into the garage, she was disappointed to see that Dusty’s van wasn’t there. Because his work would have been rained out, she had hoped to find him at home.

In the kitchen, a ceramic-tomato magnet held a brief note to the refrigerator door: Oh, Beautiful One. I’ll be home by 5:00. We’ll go out for dinner Love you even more than I love tacos. Dusty.

She used the half bath—and not until she was washing her hands did she realize the mirror was missing from the door of the medicine cabinet. All that remained was a tiny splinter of silvered glass wedged in the lower right-hand corner of the metal frame.

Evidently, Dusty had accidentally broken it. Except for the one small sliver stuck in the frame, he’d done a thorough job of cleaning up the debris.

If broken mirrors meant bad luck, this was the worst of all possible days to shatter one.

Although she had no lunch left to lose, she still felt queasy. She filled a glass with ice and ginger ale. Something cold and sweet usually settled her stomach.

Wherever he had gone, Dusty must have taken Valet with him. In reality, their house was small and cozy, but at the moment it seemed big and cold—and lonely.

Martie sat at the breakfast table by the rainwashed window to sip the ginger ale, trying to decide if she preferred to go out this evening or stay home. Over dinner—assuming she could eat—she intended to share the unsettling events of the day with Dusty, and she worried about being overheard by a waitress or by other diners. Besides, she didn’t want to be out in public if she suffered another episode.

On the other hand, if they stayed home, she didn’t trust herself to cook dinner.

She raised her eyes from the ginger ale to the rack of knives on the wall near the sink.

The ice cubes rattled against the drinking glass clutched in her right hand.

The shiny stainless-steel blades of the cutlery appeared to be radiant, as though they were not merely reflecting light but also generating it.

Letting go of the glass, blotting her hand on her jeans, Martie looked away from the knife rack. But at once her eyes were drawn to it again.

She knew that she was not capable of doing violence to others, except to protect herself, those she loved, and the innocent. She doubted that she was capable of harming herself, either.

Nevertheless, the sight of the knives so agitated her that she couldn’t remain seated. She rose, stood in indecision, went into the dining room and then into the living room, moving about restlessly, with no purpose except to put some distance between herself and the knife rack.

After rearranging bibelots that didn’t need to be rearranged, adjusting a lampshade that was not crooked, and smoothing pillows that were not rumpled, Martie went into the foyer and opened the front door. She stepped across the threshold, onto the porch.

Her heart knocked so hard she shook from its blows. Each pulse pushed such a tide through her arteries that her vision throbbed with the heavy surge of blood.

She went to the head of the porch steps. Her legs were weak and shaky. She put one hand against a porch post.

To get farther from the knife rack, she’d have to walk out into the storm, which had diminished from a downpour to a heavy drizzle. Wherever she went, however, in any corner of the world, in good and bad weather, in sunshine and in darkness, she would encounter pointed things, sharp things, jagged things, instruments and utensils and tools that could be used for wicked purposes.

She had to steady her nerves, slow her racing mind, push out these strange thoughts. Calm down.

God help me.

She tried taking slow, deep breaths. Instead, her breathing became more rapid, ragged.

When she closed her eyes, seeking inner peace, she found only turmoil, a vertiginous darkness.

She wasn’t going to be able to regain control of herself until she found the courage to return to the kitchen and confront the thing that had triggered this anxiety attack. The knives. She had to deal with the knives, and quickly, before this steadily growing anxiety swelled into outright panic.

The knives.

Reluctantly, she turned away from the porch steps. She went to the open front door.

Beyond the threshold, the foyer was a forbidding space. This was her much-loved little home, a place where she’d been happier than ever before in her life, yet now it was almost as unfamiliar to her as a stranger’s house.

The knives.

She went inside, hesitated, and closed the door behind her.


Although Skeet’s hands were badly irritated, they were not as raw-looking as they had been a few minutes ago, and they were not scalded. Tom Wong treated them with a cortisone cream.

Because of Skeet’s eerie detachment and his continued failure to respond to questions, Tom drew a blood sample for drug testing. Upon checking into New Life, Skeet had submitted to a strip search for controlled substances, and none had been found either in his clothing or secreted in any body cavities.

“It could be a delayed secondary reaction to whatever he pumped into himself this morning,” Tom suggested as he left with the blood sample.

During the past few years, through the worst of his periodic phases of addiction, Skeet had exhibited more peculiar behavior than Donald Duck on PCP, but Dusty had never before seen anything like this semi-catatonic glaze.

Valet enjoyed no furniture privileges at home, but he seemed to be so troubled by Skeet’s condition that he forgot the rules and curled up on the armchair.

Fully understanding the retriever’s distress, Dusty left Valet undisturbed. He sat on the edge of the bed, beside his brother.

Skeet lay flat on his back now, head propped on a stack of three pillows. He stared at the ceiling. In the light of the nightstand lamp, his face was as placid as that of a meditating yogi.

Remembering the apparent urgency and emotion with which the name had been scrawled on the notepad, Dusty murmured, “Dr. Yen Lo.”

Although still in a state of disengagement from the world around him, Skeet spoke for the first time since Dusty had initially mentioned that name when they had been in the adjacent bathroom. “I’m listening,” he said, which was precisely what he had said before.

“Listening to what?” “Listening to what?”

“What’re you doing?”

“What am I doing?” Skeet asked.

“I asked what you were listening to.” “You.”

“Yeah. Okay, so tell me who’s Dr. Yen Lo.” “You.”

“Me? I’m your brother. Remember?” “Is that what you want me to say?”

Frowning, Dusty said, “Well, it’s the truth, isn’t it?”

Although his face remained slack, expressionless, Skeet said, “Is it the truth? I’m confused.”

“Join the club.”

“What club do you want me to join?” Skeet asked with apparent seriousness.



Dusty hesitated, wondering just how detached from reality the kid might be. “Do you know where you are?”

“Where am I?”

“So you don’t know?”

“Do I?”

“Can’t you look around?”

“Can I?”

“Is this an Abbott and Costello routine?”

“Is it?”

Frustrated, Dusty said, “Look around.”

Immediately, Skeet raised his head off the pillows and surveyed the room.

“I’m sure you know where you are,” Dusty said.

“New Life Clinic.”

Skeet lowered his head onto the pillows once more. His eyes were again directed at the ceiling, and after a moment, they did something odd.

Not quite certain what he had seen, Dusty leaned closer to his brother, to look more directly at his face.

In the slant of the lamplight, Skeet’s right eye was golden, and his left was a darker honey-brown, which gave him an unsettling aspect, as if two personalities were staring Out of the same skull.