Page 27

As she lowered the glass from her lips, Manic caught sight of herself in the mirror. Her reflection strummed a shiver from her, which the cold water had been unable to induce.

As winter freezes the blueness out of a pond, so fear had frozen much of the color out of Martie. Face as pale as ice. Lips less pink than they were mallow-purple, with dry peels of zinc-gray skin that had been rubbed loose by her scrubbing hands.

“Oh, God, look what I am,” she said, “look what I am.”

Dusty knew that she was not referring to her damp and tangled hair or to her blanched features, but to something hateful that she imagined she saw in the depths of her blue eyes.

Splashing out the last of its contents, the glass arced back in her hand, but Dusty seized it before she could throw it at the mirror, tore it from her clutching fingers as water spattered on the tile floor.

At his touch, she erupted away from him with such alarm that she crashed into the bathroom wall hard enough to rattle the shower door in its frame.

“Don’t get near me! For God’s sake, don’t you realize what I could do, all the things I could do?”

Half nauseated by worry, he said, “Manic, I’m not afraid of you.”

“How far is it from a kiss to a bite?” she asked, her voice hoarse and ragged with dread.

“Not far from a kiss to a bite, your tongue in my mouth.”

“Martie, please—”

“A kiss to a bite. So easy to tear off your lips. How do you know I couldn’t? How do you know I wouldn’t?”

If she hadn’t already reached a full-blown panic attack, she was running downhill toward one, and Dusty didn’t know how to stop her, or even how to slow her.

“Look at my hands,” she demanded. “These fingernails. Acrylic nails. Why do you think I couldn’t blind you with them? You think I couldn’t gouge out your eyes?”

“Martie. This isn’t—”

“There’s something in me I never saw before, something that scares the shit out of me, and it could do something terrible, it really could, it could make me blind you. For your own good, you better see it, too, and you better be afraid of it.”

Tidal emotion swept through Dusty, terrible pity and fierce love, crosscurrents and rips.

He reached for Manic, and she squeezed past him, out of the bathroom. She slammed the door between them.

When he followed her into the bedroom, he found her at his open closet. She was riffling through his shirts, rattling the hangers on the metal pole, searching for something.

The tie rack. Most of the rack pegs were empty. He owned only four neckties.

She pulled a plain black tie and a red-and-blue striped number from the closet and held them out to Dusty. “Tie me.”

“What? No. Good God, Manic.”

“I mean it.”

“So do I. No.”

“Ankles together, wrists together,” she said urgently.


Valet was sitting up in his bed, twitchy eyebrows punctuating a series of worried expressions as his attention bounced from Martie to Dusty to Manic.

She said, “So if I go psycho, total blood nuts, during the night—”

Dusty tried to be firm but calm, hoping that his example would settle her. “Please, stop it.”

“—total blood nuts, then I’ll have to get loose before I can screw up anybody. And when I’m trying to get loose, that’ll wake you if you’ve fallen asleep.”

“I’m not afraid of you.”

His feigned calm didn’t infect her, and in fact words gushed out of her in an ever more feverish stream: “All right, okay, maybe you’re not afraid, even if you should be, maybe you’re not, but I am. I am afraid of me, Dusty, afraid of what the hell I might do to you or to somebody else when I’m having a fit, some crazy seizure, afraid of what I might do to myself I don’t know what’s happening here, to me, it’s weirder than The Exorcist even if I’m not levitating and my head isn’t spinning around. If I managed to get my hands on a knife at the wrong time, or your pistol, when I’m in this crazy mood, then I’d use it on myself, I know I would. I feel this sick desire in here”—she rapped her stomach with a fist—”this evil, this worm of a thing curled inside me, whispering to me about knives and guns and hammers.”

Dusty shook his head.

Martie sat on the bed and began cinching her ankles together with one of the neckties, but after a moment she stopped, frustrated. “Damn it, I don’t know knots the way you do. You’ve got to help me with this.”

“One of those pills usually does the job. You took three. You don’t need to be tied.”

“I’m not going to trust pills, not pills alone, no way. Either you help me with this, or I’ll puke up the pills, stick a finger down my throat and puke ‘em right now.”

Reason wasn’t going to sway her. She was as high on fear as Skeet on his drug cocktail, and hardly more rational than the kid had been on the Sorensons’ roof.

Sitting in an ineffective tangle of ties, sweating, shaking, she began to cry. “Please, baby, please. Please help me. I’ve got to sleep, I’m so tired, I need some rest, or I’m going to go bugshit. I need some peace, and I’m not going to have any peace if you don’t help me. Help me. Please.”

Tears moved him as fury couldn’t.

When he went to her, she lay back on the bed and covered her face with her hands, as though ashamed of the helplessness to which fear had reduced her.

Dusty trembled as he bound her ankles together.

“Tighter,” she said through her mask of hands.

Although he obliged, he didn’t draw the knots as tight as she would have preferred. The thought of hurting her, even inadvertently, was more than he could bear.

She held her clasped hands toward him.

Using the black necktie, Dusty hitched wrist to wrist tightly enough to secure her until morning, but he was careful not to cut off her circulation.

As he bound her, she lay with her eyes shut, head turned to one side and away from him, perhaps because she was mortified by the disabling intensity of her fear, perhaps because she was embarrassed by her disheveled appearance. Perhaps. But Dusty suspected that she was trying to hide her face largely because she equated tears with weakness.

The daughter of Smilin’ Bob Woodhouse—who had been a genuine war hero, as well as a hero of another kind more than once in the years following the war—was determined to live up to the legacy of honor and courage she had inherited. Of course, life as a young wife and a video-game designer in a balmy California coastal town didn’t provide her with frequent opportunities for heroics. This was a good thing, not a reason to move to a perpetual cauldron of violence like the Balkans or Rwanda, or the set of the Jerry Springer Show. But living in peace and plenty, she could honor her father’s memory only through the small heroics of daily life: by doing her job well and paying her way in the world, by commitment to her marriage in good times and in bad, by giving all possible support to her friends, by having true compassion for life’s walking wounded, like Skeet, while living with honesty and truthfulness and enough self-respect to avoid becoming one of them. These small heroics, never acknowledged with awards and stirring marches, are the fuel and the lubrication that keep the machine of civilization humming, and in a world rife with temptations to be self-indulgent, self-centered, and self-satisfied, there are surprisingly more small heroes than might be expected. When you stood in the shadow of great heroics, however, as Manic did, then merely living a decent life—lifting others by your example and by your acts of kindness—might make you feel inadequate; and maybe tears, even in moments of extreme tribulation, might seem to be a betrayal of your father’s legacy.

All this Dusty understood, but he could say none of it to Manic now, or perhaps ever, because to speak of it would be to say that he recognized her deepest vulnerabilities, which would imply a pity that robbed her of some measure of dignity, as pity always does. She knew what he knew, and she knew that he knew it; but love grows deeper and stronger when we have both the wisdom to say what must be said and the wisdom to know what never needs to be put into words.

So Dusty knotted the black tie with formal, solemn silence.

When Martie was securely tied, she turned onto her side, closed eyes still damming a lake of tears, and as she turned, Valet padded to the bed, craned his neck, and licked her face.

The sob that she had been repressing broke from her now, but it was only half a sob, because it was also half a laugh, and then another followed that was more laugh than sob. “My furry-faced baby boy. You knew your poor mama needed a kiss, didn’t you, sweet thing?”

“Or is it the lingering aroma of my truly fine lasagna on your breath?” Dusty wondered, hoping to provide a little oxygen to make this welcome, bright moment burn a little longer.

“Lasagna or pure doggy love,” Manic said, “doesn’t matter to me. I know my baby boy loves me.”

“So does your big boy,” Dusty said.

At last she turned her head to look at him. “That’s what kept mc sane today. I need what we’ve got.”

He sat on the edge of the bed and held her bound hands.

After a while her eyes fell shut under a weight of weariness and patent medicine.

Dusty glanced at the nightstand clock, which reminded him about the issue of missing time. “Dr. Yen Lo.”

Without opening her eyes, Manic said thickly, “Who?”

“Dr. Yen Lo. You’ve never heard of him?”


“Clear cascades.”


“Into the waves scatter.”

Manic opened her eyes. They were dreamy, gradually darkening with clouds of sleep. “Either you’re making no sense, or this stuff is kicking in.”

“Blue pine needles,” he finished, although he no longer thought that any of this might resonate with her as it had with Skeet.

“Pretty,” she mumbled, and she closed her eyes again.

Valet had settled on the floor near the bed instead of returning to his sheepskin pillow. He wasn’t dozing. From time to time he raised his head to look up at his sleeping mistress or to survey the shadows in farther corners of the room. He lifted his pendant ears as much as they would lift, as if listening to faint but suspicious sounds. His damp black nostrils flared and quivered as he tried to identify the plaited odors on the air, and he growled softly. Gentle Valet seemed to be trying to remake himself into a guard dog, though he remained puzzled as to what, exactly, he was guarding against.

Watching Mat-tie sleep, her skin still ashen and her lips as unnaturally dark as a fresh purple bruise, Dusty became strangely convinced that his wife’s descent into long-term mental instability wasn’t the greatest threat, as he had thought. Instinctively, he sensed that death stalked her, not madness, and that she was already half in the grave.

He was, in fact, overcome by a preternatural sense that the instrument of her death was here in the bedroom this very minute, and with prickles of superstition stippling the nape of his neck, he rose slowly from the edge of the bed and looked up with dread, half expecting to see an apparition floating near the ceiling: something like a swirl of black robes, a hooded form, a grinning skeletal face.

Although nothing but smoothly troweled plaster hung overhead, Valet let out another low, protracted growl. He had gotten to his feet beside the bed.

Manic slept undisturbed, but Dusty lowered his attention from the ceiling to the retriever.

Valet’s nostrils flared as he drew a deep questing breath, and as if thus inflated, his golden hackles rose, bristled. Black lips skinned back, baring formidable teeth. The retriever seemed to see the deadly presence that Dusty could only sense.

The dog’s guardian stare was fixed sharply on Dusty himself.


Even in spite of the dog’s thick winter coat, Dusty could see the muscles tighten in his shoulders and thighs. Valet assumed an aggressive stance totally out of character for him.

“What’s wrong, fella? It’s only me. Just me.”

The low growl faded. The dog was silent but tense, alert.

Dusty took a step toward him.

The growl again.

“Just me,” Dusty repeated.

The dog seemed unconvinced.


When at last the doctor was finished with her, Susan Jagger lay on her back, thighs pressed together demurely, as if in denial of how widely they had been spread. Her arms were crossed modestly over her breasts.

She was still crying, but not silently as before. For his own pleasure, Ahriman had allowed her some vocalization of her anguish and shame.

Buttoning his shirt, he closed his eyes to hear broken bird sounds. Her feather-soft sobs: lonely pigeons in rafters, misery of windblown gulls.

When he first moved her to the bed, he had used the techniques of hypnotic-regression therapy to return her to the age of twelve, to a time when she was untouched, innocent, a rosebud without thorns. Her voice acquired a tender tone, higher pitched; her phrasing was that of a precocious child. Her brow had actually become smoother, her mouth softer, as if time had indeed run backward. Her eyes did not become a brighter green, but they grew clearer, as though sixteen years of hard experience had been filtered from them.

Then, behind the mask of her father, he had deflowered her. She was at first allowed to resist feebly, then more actively, initially frightened and confused in her rediscovered sexual innocence. Bitter resistance was soon sweetened with tremulous hunger. At the doctor's suggestion, Susan was seized by quickening animal need; she rocked her h*ps and rose to him.

Throughout what followed, Ahriman shaped her psychological state with murmured suggestions, and always, always, her thrilling girlish cries of pleasure were tempered by fear, shame, sorrow. To him, her tears were a more essential lubricant than the erotic oils that her body secreted to facilitate his entry. Even in ecstasy, tears.

Now, as he finished dressing, Ahriman studied her flawless face.

Moonlight on water, eyes brimming ponds of spring rain—dark fish in the mind.

No. No good. He wasn’t able to compose a haiku to describe her bleak expression as she stared at the ceiling. His talent for writing poetry was but a fraction as great as his ability to appreciate it.

The doctor had no illusions about his gifts. Although by all measures of intelligence, he was a high-range genius, he nevertheless was a player, not a creator. He had a talent for games, for using toys in new and imaginative ways, but he was no artist.

Likewise, although he had been interested in the sciences since childhood, he didn’t possess the temperament to be a scientist: the patience, the acceptance of repeated failures in a quest for ultimate success, the preference for knowledge over sensation. The respect given to most scientists was a prize the young Ahriman coveted, and the authority and quiet superiority with which they often conducted themselves—high priests in this culture that worshiped change and progress—were attitudes that came naturally to Ahriman. The gray, joyless atmosphere of laboratories had no appeal for him, however, nor did the tedium of serious research.