The detective raised both hands, palms toward Junior, fingers spread.


After a pause, he showed the backs of his hands-and then the palms once more.


For a moment, Junior was mystified. Vanadium's movements had the quality of ritual, vaguely reminiscent of a priest raising high the Eucharist.


Mystification slowly gave way to understanding. The quarter was gone.


Junior hadn't noticed when the detective stopped turning the coin across his knuckles.


“Perhaps you could pull it from your ear,” Thomas Vanadium suggested.


Junior actually raised his trembling left hand to his ear, expecting to find the quarter tucked in the auditory canal, held between the tragus and the antitragus, waiting to be plucked with a flourish.


His ear was empty.


“Wrong hand,” Vanadium advised.


Strapped to the bracing board, semi-immobilized to prevent the accidental dislodgement of the intravenous feed, Junior's right arm felt half numb, stiff from disuse.


The supplicant hand seemed not to be a part of him. As pale and exotic as a sea anemone, the long fingers curled as tentacles curl artfully around an anemone's mouth, poised to snare, lazily but relentlessly, any passing prize.


Like a disc fish with silvery scales, the coin lay in the cup of Junior's palm. Directly over his life line.


Disbelieving his eyes, Junior reached across his body with his left hand and picked up the quarter. Although it had been lying in his right palm, it was cold. Icy.


Miracles being nonexistent, the materialization of the quarter in his  hand was nevertheless impossible. Vanadium had stood only at the left  side of the bed. He had never leaned over Junior or reached across him.


Yet the coin was as real as dead Naomi broken on the stony ridge at the foot of the fire tower.


In a state of wonderment that was laced with dread rather than delight, he looked up from the quarter, seeking an explanation from Vanadium, expecting to see that anaconda smile.


The door was falling shut. With no more sound than the day makes when it turns to night, the detective had gone.


Chapter 18


SERAPHIM AETHIONEMA WHITE was nothing whatsoever like her name, except that she had as kind a heart and as good a soul as any among the hosts in Heaven. She did not have wings, as did the angels after which she had been named, and she couldn't sing as sweetly as the seraphim, either, for she had been blessed with a throaty voice and far too much humility to be a performer. Aethionema were delicate flowers, either pale-or rose-pink, and while this girl, just sixteen, was beautiful by any standard, she was not a delicate soul but a strong one, not likely to be shaken apart in even the highest wind.


Those who had just met her and those who were overly charmed by eccentricity called her Seraphim, her name complete. Her teachers, neighbors, and casual acquaintances called her Sera. Those who knew her best and loved her the most deeply—like her sister, Celestina called her Phimie.


From the moment the girl was admitted on the evening of January 5, the nurses at St. Mary's Hospital in San Francisco called her Phimie, too, not because they knew her well enough to love her, but because that was the name they heard Celestina use.


Phimie shared Room 724 with an eighty-six-year-old woman Nella Lombardi-who had been deep in a stroke-induced coma for  eight days and who had been recently moved out of the ICU when her  condition stabilized. Her white hair was radiant, but the face that it  framed was as gray as pumice, her skin utterly without luster.


Mrs. Lombardi had no visitors. She was alone in the world, her two children and her husband having passed away long ago.


During the following day, January 6, as Phimie was wheeled around the hospital for tests in various departments, Celestina remained in 724, working on her portfolio for a class in advanced portraiture. She was a Junior at the Academy of Art College.


She had put aside a half-finished pencil portrait of Phimie to develop several of Nella Lombardi.


In spite of the ravages of illness and age, beauty remained in the old woman's face. Her bone structure was superb. In youth, she must have been stunning.


Celestina intended to capture Nella as she was now, head at rest upon the pillow of, perhaps, her deathbed, eyes closed and mouth slack, face ashen but serene. Then she would draw four more portraits, using bone structure and other physiological evidence to imagine how the woman had looked at sixty, forty, twenty, and ten.


Ordinarily, when Celestina was troubled, her art was a perfect sanctuary from all woes. When she was planning, composing, and rendering, time had no meaning for her, and life had no sting.


On this momentous day, however, drawing provided no solace. Frequently, her hands shook, and she could not control the pencil.


During those spells when she was too shaky to draw, she stood at the window, gazing at the storied city.


The singular beauty of San Francisco and the exquisite patina of its colorful history spoke to her heart and kindled in her such an unreasonable passion that she sometimes wondered, at least half seriously, if she had spent other lives here. Often, streets were wondrously familiar to her the first time that she set foot on them. Certain great houses, dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s, inspired her to imagine elegant parties thrown there in more genteel and gilded ages, and her flights of imagination sometimes acquired such vivid detail that they were eerily like memories.


This time, even San Francisco, under a Chinese-blue sky stippled with a cloisonne of silver-and-gold clouds, couldn't provide solace or calm Celestina's nerves. Her sister's dilemma wasn't as easily put out of mind as any problem of her own might have been-and she herself had never been in such an awful situation as Phimie was now.


Nine months ago, Phimie had been raped.


Ashamed and scared, she told no one. Although a victim, she blamed herself, and the prospect of being exposed to ridicule so horrified her that despair got the better of good judgment.


When she discovered she was pregnant, Phimie dealt with this new trauma as other naive fifteen-year-olds had done before her: She sought to avoid the scorn and the reproach that she imagined would be heaped upon her for having failed to reveal the rape at the time it occurred. With no serious thought to long-term consequences, focused solely on the looming moment, in a state of denial, she made plans to conceal her condition as long as possible.


In her campaign to keep her weight gain to a minimum, anorexia was her ally. She learned to find pleasure in hunger pangs.


When she did eat, she touched only nutritious food, a more well balanced diet than at any time in her life. Even as she desperately  avoided contemplation of the childbirth that inevitably approached, she  was trying her best to ensure the health of the baby while still remaining slim enough to avoid suspicion.


Through nine months of quiet panic, however, Phimie grew less rational week by week, resorting to reckless measures that endangered  her own health and the baby's even as she avoided junk food and took a  daily multivitamin. To conceal the changes in her physique, she wore  loose clothes and wrapped her abdomen with Ace bandages. Later she  used girdles to achieve more dramatic compression.


Because she had suffered a leg injury six weeks before being raped, and had undergone subsequent tendon surgery, Phimie was able to  claim lingering symptoms, avoiding gym class-and the discovery of  her condition-since the start of school in September.


By the last week of pregnancy, the average woman has gained  twenty-eight pounds. Typically, seven to eight pounds of this is the fetus. The placenta and the amniotic fluid weigh three pounds. The remaining eighteen are due to water retention and fat stores.


Phimie gained less than twelve pounds. Her pregnancy might have  gone undetected even without the girdle.


The day previous to her admission to St. Mary's, she awakened with  an unremitting headache, nausea, and dizziness. Fierce abdominal pain  afflicted her, too, like nothing she had known before, though not the  telltale contractions of labor.


Worse, she was plagued with frightening eye problems. At first, mere blurring. Followed by phantom fireflies flickering at the periphery  of her vision. Then a sudden, half-minute blindness that left her in  state of terror even though it passed quickly.


In spite of this crisis, and though she was aware that she was within a week or ten days of delivery, Phimie still could not find the courage to tell her father and mother.


Reverend Harrison White, their dad, was a good Baptist and a good man, neither judgmental nor hard of heart. Their mother, Grace, was in every way suited to her name.


Phimie was loath to reveal her pregnancy not because she feared her parents' wrath, but because she dreaded seeing disappointment in their eyes, and because she would rather have died than bring shame upon them.


When a second and longer spell of blindness struck her that same day, she was home alone. She crawled from her bedroom, along the hall, and felt her way to the phone in her parents' bedroom.


Celestina was in her tiny studio apartment, working happily on a cubistic self-portrait, when her sister called. Judging by Phimie's hyste ria and initial incoherence, Celestina thought that Mom or Dad—-or both-had died.


Her heart was broken almost as completely by the actual facts as it would have been if she had, indeed, lost a parent. The thought Of her precious sister being violated made her half sick with sorrow and rage.


Horrified by the girl's nine months of self-imposed emotional isola tion and by her physical suffering, Celestina was eager to reach her mother and father. When the Whites stood together as a family, their shine could hold back the darkest night.


Although Phimie regained her sight while talking to her big sister, she didn't recover her reason. She begged Celestina not to track down Mom or Dad long-distance, not to call the doctor, but to come home and be with her when she divulged her terrible secret.


Against her better judgment, Celestina made the promise Phimie wanted. She trusted the instincts of the heart as much as logic, and the tearful entreaty of a beloved sister was a powerful restraint on common sense. She didn't take time to pack; miraculously, an hour later she was on a plane to Spruce Hills, Oregon, by way of Eugene.


Three hours after receiving the call, she was at her sister's side. In the living room of the parsonage, under the gaze of Jesus and John F.


Kennedy, whose portraits hung side by side, the girl revealed to their mom and dad what had been done to her and also what, in her despair  and confusion, she had done to herself  Phimie received the all-enfolding, unconditional love that she had  needed for nine months, that pure love of which she had foolishly be  lieved herself undeserving.


Although the embrace of family and the relief of revelation had a  bracing effect, bringing her more to her proper senses than she'd been  in a long time, Phimie refused to reveal the identity of the man who  raped her. He'd threatened to kill her and her folks if she bore witness  against him, and she believed his threat was sincere.


“Child,” the reverend said, “he will never touch you again. Both the  Lord and I will make sure of that, and though neither the Lord nor I  will resort to a gun, we have the police for guns."


The rap**t had so terrorized the girl, so indelibly imprinted his  threat in her mind, that she would not be reasoned into making this one  last disclosure.


With gentle persistence, her mother appealed to her sense of moral  responsibility. If this man was not arrested, tried, and convicted, he  would sooner or later assault another innocent girl.


Phimie wouldn't budge. “He's crazy. Sick. He's evil.” She shuddered.


“He'll do it, he'll kill us all, and he won't care if he dies in a  shootout with the police or if he gets sent to the electric chair. None of  you will be safe if I tell."


The consensus, among Celestina and her parents, was that Phimie  would be convinced in this matter after the child had been born. She  was too fragile and too ridden by anxiety to do the right thing just yet, and there was no point in pressing her at this time.


Abortion was illegal, and their folks would have been reluctant, as a  matter of faith, to consider it even under worse circumstances. Besides, with Phimie so close to term, and considering the injury she might have  sustained from prolonged hunger and from the diligent application of  the girdle, abortion might be a dangerous option.


She would have to get medical attention immediately. The child  would be put up for adoption with people who would be able to love it  and who would not forever see in it the image of its hateful father.


“I won't have the baby here,” Phimie insisted. “If he realizes he  made a baby with me, it'll make him crazier. I know it will."


She wanted to go to San Francisco with Celestina, to have the baby in the city, where the father-and not incidentally her friends and Reverend White's parishioners-would never know she'd given birth. The more her parents and sister argued against this plan, the more agitated Phimie became, until they worried that they would jeopardize her health and mental stability if they didn't do as she wished.


The symptoms that terrified Phimie-the headache, crippling abdominal pain, dizziness, vision problems-had entirely relented. Possibly they had been more psychological than physical in nature.


A delay of a few hours, before getting her under a physician's care, might still be risky. But so was forcing her into a local hospital to endure the mortification she desperately wanted to avoid.


By invoking the word emergency, Celestina was able quickly to reach her own physician in San Francisco. He agreed to treat Phimie and to have her admitted to St. Mary's upon her arrival from Oregon.


The reverend couldn't easily escape church obligations on such short notice, but Grace wanted to be with her daughters. Phimie, however, pleaded that only Celestina accompany her.


Although the girl was unable to articulate why she preferred not to have her mother at her side, they all understood the tumult in. her heart. She couldn't bear to subject her gentle and proper mother to the shame and embarrassment that she herself felt so keenly and that she imagined would grow intolerably worse in the hours or days ahead, until and even after the birth.


Grace, of course, was a strong woman for whom faith was an armor against far worse than embarrassment. Celestina knew that Mom would suffer immeasurably more heartache by remaining in Oregon than what pain she might experience at her daughter's side, but Phimie was too young, too naive, and too frightened to grasp that in this matter, as in all others, her mother was a pillar, not a reed.


The tenderness with which Grace acceded to Phimie's desire, at the expense of her own peace of mind, filled Celestina with emotion. She'd always admired and loved her mother to an extent that no words-or work of art-could adequately describe, but never more than now.

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