The only light came from a reading lamp. An adjustable brass shade directed the light down onto a chair.
Agnes was so weary, her eyes so sore and grainy, that even this soft radiance stung. She almost closed her eyes and gave herself to sleep again, that little brother of Death, which was now her only solace. What she saw in the lamplight, however, compelled her attention.
The nurse was in was gone, but Maria remained in attendance. She the vinyl-and-stainless-steel armchair, busy at some task in the amber glow of the lamp.
“You should be with your children,” Agnes worried. Maria looked up. “My babies are sitted with my sister."
“Why are you here?"
” Where else I should be and for why? I watch you over.” As the tears cleared from Agnes's eyes, she saw that Maria was sewing. A shopping bag stood to one side of the chair, and to the other side, open on the floor, a case contained spools of thread, needles, a pincushion, a pair of scissors, and other supplies of a seamstress's trade.
Maria was hand-repairing some of Joey's clothes, which Agnes had meticulously damaged earlier in the day.
“Widon't need to."
'To fix those clothes anymore."
“I fix,” she insisted.
“You know about Joey?” Agnes asked, her voice thickening so much on the name of her husband that the two syllables almost stuck unspoken in her throat.
The needle danced in her nimble fingers. “I not fix for the better English anymore. Now I fix for Mr. Lampion only."
“But he's gone."
Maria said nothing, working busily, but Agnes recognized that special silence in which difficult words were sought and laboriously stitched together.
Finally with emotion so intense that it nearly made speech impossible, Maria said, “It is ... the only thing ... I can do for him now, for you. I be nobody, not able to fix nothing important. But I fix this. I fix this."
Agnes could not bear to watch Maria sewing. The light no longer stung, but her new future, which was beginning to come into view, was as sharp as pins and needles, sheer torture to her eyes.
She slept for a while, waking to a prayer spoken softly but fervently in Spanish.
Maria stood at the bedside, leaning with her forearms against the railing. A silver-and-onyx rosary tightly wrapped her small brown hands, although she was not counting the beads or murmuring Hail Marys. I Her prayer was for Agnes's baby.
Gradually, Agnes realized that this was not a prayer for the soul of a deceased infant but for the survival of one still alive.
Her strength was the strength of stones only in the sense that she felt as immovable as rock, yet she found the resources to raise one arm, to place her left hand over Maria's bead-tangled fingers. “But the baby's dead."
“Senora Lampion, no.” Maria was surprised. “Muy enfermo but not dead."
Very ill. Very ill but not dead.
Agnes remembered the blood, the awful red flood. Excruciating pain and such fearsome crimson torrents. She'd thought her baby had entered the world stillborn on a tide of its own blood and hers.
“Is it a boy?” she asked.
“Yes, Senora. A fine boy."
“Bartholomew,” Agnes said.
Maria frowned. “What is this you say?"
“His name.” She tightened her hand on Maria's. “I want to see him."
“Muy enfermo. They have keeped him like the chicken egg."
Like the chicken egg. As weary as she was, Agnes could not at once puzzle out the meaning of those four words. Then: “Oh. He's in an incubator."
“Such eyes,” Maria said.
Agnes said, “Que?"
“Angels must to have eyes so beautiful."
Letting go of Maria, lowering her hand to her heart, Agnes said, “I want to see him.” After making the sign of the cross, Maria said, “They must to have keeped him in the eggubator until he is not dangerous. When the nurse comes, I will make her to tell me when the baby is to be safe. But I can't be leave you. I watch. I watch over."
Closing her eyes, Agnes whispered, “Bartholomew,” in a reverent voice full of wonder, full of awe.
In spite of Agnes's qualified joy, she could not stay afloat on the river of sleep from which she had so recently risen. This time, however, she sank into its deeper currents with new hope and with this magical name, which scintillated in her mind on both sides of consciousness, Bartholomew, as the hospital room and Maria faded from her awareness, and also Bartholomew in her dreams. The name staved off nightmares.
Bartholomew. The name sustained her.
AS GREASY WITH FEAR sweat as a pig on a slaughterhouse ramp, Junior woke from a nightmare that he could not remember. Something *is reaching for him-that's all he could recall, hands clutching at him out of the dark-and then he was awake, wheezing. Night still pressed at the glass beyond the venetian blind. The pharmacy lamp in the comer was aglow, but the chair that had been beside it was no longer there. It had been moved closer to Junior's bed.
Vanadium sat in the chair, watching. With the perfect control of a sleight-of-hand artist, he turned a quarter end-over-end across the knuckles of his right hand, palmed it with his thumb, caused it to reappear at his little finger, and rolled it across his knuckles again, ceaselessly.
The bedside clock read 4:37 A.M.
The detective seemed never to sleep.
“There's a fine George and Ira Gershwin song called 'Someone to Watch Over Me.'
You ever hear it, Enoch? I'm that someone for you, of course, in a romantic sense."
“Who...who're you?” Junior rasped, still badly rattled by the nightmare and by Vanadium's presence, but quick-witted enough to stay within the clueless character that he had been playing.
Instead of answering the question, meaning to imply that he believed Junior already knew the facts, Thomas Vanadium said, “I was able to get a warrant to search your house.” Junior thought this must be a trick. No hard evidence existed to indicate that Naomi had died at the hands of another rather than by accident.
Vanadium's hunch-more accurately, his sick obsession-was not sufficient reason for any court to issue a search warrant.
Unfortunately, some judges were pushovers in such matters, if not to say corrupt. And Vanadium, fancying himself an avenging angel, was surely capable of lying to the court to finesse a warrant where none was justified.
“I don't ... don't understand.” Blinking sleepily, pretending to be still thickheaded from tranquilizers and whatever other drugs they were dripping into his veins, Junior was pleased by the note of perplexity in his hoarse voice, although he knew that even an Oscar-caliber performance would not win over this critic.
Knuckle over knuckle, snared in the web of thumb and forefinger, vanishing into the purse of the palm, secretly traversing the hand, reappearing, knuckle over knuckle, the coin glimmered as it turned.
“Do you have insurance?” asked Vanadium.
“Sure. Blue Shield,” Junior answered at once.
A dry laugh escaped the detective, but it had none of the warmth of most people's laughter. “You're not bad, Enoch. You're just not as good as you think you are."
“I meant life insurance, as you well know."
“Well ... I have a small policy. It's a benefit that comes with my job at the rehab hospital. Why? What on earth is this about?"
“One of the things I was searching for in your house was a life insurance policy on your wife. I didn't find one. Didn't find any canceled checks for the premium, either."
Hoping to play at befuddlement awhile longer, Junior wiped his face with one hand, as if pulling off cobwebs. “Did you say you were in my house?"
“Did you know your wife kept a diary?"
“Yeah, sure. A new one every year. Since she was just ten years old."
“Did you ever read it?"
“Of course not.” This was absolutely true, which allowed Junior to meet Vanadium's eyes forthrightly and to swell with righteousness as he answered the question.
“That would be wrong. A diary's private.” He supposed that to a detective nothing was sacred, but he was nonetheless a little shocked that Vanadium needed to ask that question.
Rising from the chair and approaching the bed, the detective kept turning the quarter without hesitation. “She was a very sweet girl. Very romantic. Her diary's full of rhapsodies about married life, about you. She thought you were the finest man she'd ever known and the perfect husband."
Junior Cain felt as if his heart had been lanced by a needle so thin that the muscle still contracted rhythmically but painfully around it. She did? She. . . she wrote that?"
“Sometimes she wrote little paragraphs to God, very touching and humble notes of gratitude, thanking Him for bringing you into her life."
Although Junior was free of the superstitions that Naomi, in her innocence and sentimentality, had embraced, he wept without pretense.
He was filled with bitter remorse for having suspected Naomi of poisoning his cheese sandwich or his apricots. She-had in fact adored him, as he had always believed. She would never have lifted a hand against him, never. Dear Naomi would have died for him. In fact, she had.
The coin stopped turning, pinched flat between the knuckles of the cops middle and ring fingers. He retrieved a box of Kleenex from the nightstand and offered it to his suspect. “Here."
Because Junior's right arm was encumbered by the bracing board and the intravenous needle, he tugged a mass of tissues from the box with his left hand.
After the detective returned the box to the nightstand, the coin began to turn again.
As Junior blew his nose and blotted his eyes, Vanadium said, “I believe YOU actually loved her in some strange way."
“Loved her? Of course I loved her. Naomi was beautiful and so kind ... and funny. She was the best ... the best thing that ever happened to me."
Vanadium flipped the quarter into the air, caught it in his left hand, and proceeded to turn it across his knuckles as swiftly and smoothly as be bad with his right hand.
This ambidextrous display sent a chill through Junior for reasons that he could not entirely analyze. Any amateur magician-indeed, anyone willing to practice enough hours, magician or not-could master this trick. It was mere skill, not sorcery. “What was your motive, Enoch?"
“You appear not to have had one. But there's always a motive, some self-interest being served. If there's an insurance policy, we'll track it down, and you'll fry like bacon on a hot skillet.” As usual, the cops voice was flat, a drone; he had delivered not an emotional threat, but a quiet promise.
Widening his eyes in calculated surprise, Junior said, “Are you a police officer?"
The detective smiled. This was an anaconda smile, inspired by the contemplation of merciless strangulation. “Before you woke, you were dreaming. Weren't you? A nightmare, apparently.
This sudden turn in the interrogation unnerved Junior. Vanadium had a talent for keeping a suspect off balance. A conversation with him was like a scene out of a movie about Robin Hood: a battle with cudgels on a slippery log bridge over a river. “Yes. I ... I'm still soaked with sweat."
“What were you dreaming about, Enoch?"
No one could put him in prison because of his dreams. “I can't remember. Those are the worst, when you're not able to remember them-don't you think? They're always so silly when you can recall the details. When you draw a blank ... they seem more threatening."
“You spoke a name in your sleep."
More likely than not, this was a lie, and the detective was, setting him up. Suddenly Junior wished that he had denied dreaming.
Vanadium said, “Bartholomew."
Junior blinked and dared not speak, because he didn't know any Bartholomew, and now he was certain the cop was weaving an elaborate web of deceit, setting a trap. Why would he have spoken a name that meant nothing to him?
“Who is Bartholomew?” Vanadium asked.
Junior shook his head.
“You spoke that name twice."
“I don't know anyone named Bartholomew.” He decided that the truth, in this instance, could not harm him.
“You sounded as though you were in a lot of distress. You were frightened of this Bartholomew."
The ball of sodden Kleenex was gripped so tightly in Junior's left hand that had its carbon content been higher, it would have been compacted into a diamond. He saw Vanadium staring at his clenched fist and sharp white knuckles. He tried to ease up on the wad of Kleenex, but he wasn't able to relent.
Inexplicably, each repetition of Bartholomew heightened Junior's anxiety. The name resonated not just in his ear, but in his blood and bones, in body and mind, as if he were a great bronze bell and Bartholomew the clapper.
“Maybe he's a character I saw in a movie or read in a novel. I'm a member of the Book-of-the-Month Club. I'm always reading one thing or another. I don't remember a character named B-Bartholomew, but maybe I read the book years ago."
Junior realized he was on the verge of babbling, and with an effort, he silenced himself.
Rising slowly like the blade in the hands of an ax murderer as deliberate as an accountant, Thomas Vanadium's gaze arced from Junior's clenched fist to his face.
The port-wine birthmark appeared to be darker than before and differently mottled than he remembered it.
If the policeman's gray eyes had earlier been as hard as nailheads, they were now points, and behind them was willpower strong enough to drive spikes through stone.
“My God,” Junior said, pretending that his befuddlement had faded and that his mind had just now clarified, “you think Naomi was murdered, don't you?"
Instead of engaging in the confrontation for which he had been pressing ever since his first visit, Vanadium surprised Junior by breaking eye contact, turning from the bed, and crossing the room to the door.
“It's even worse,” Junior rasped, convinced that he was losing some indefinable advantage if the cop left without playing out this moment as it would usually unfold in an intellectual television crime drama like Perry Mason or Peter Gunn.
Stopping at the door without opening it, Vanadium turned to stare at Junior, but said nothing.
Leavening his tortured voice as best he could with shock and hurt, as though deeply wounded by the need to speak these words, Junior Cain said, “You ... you think I killed her, don't you? That's crazy."