His alcohol-soured breath washed over Agnes as he asked, “How's Bartholomew doing, is he okay, is the little guy in good health?"


Jacks of spades, in quartet, rose in her mind.


Remembering the ringleted yellow hair of the fateful figure on the playing cards, Agnes fixated on Deed's blond bangs, which curled across his broad brow.


“There's nothing here for you,” she said, stepping back from the door in order to close it.


“Please. Mrs. Lampion?"


Strong emotion carved Deed's face. Anguish, perhaps. Or anger.


Agnes wasn't able to interpret his expression, not because he was in the least difficult to read, but because her perceptions were skewed by sudden fear and a flood of adrenaline. Her heart seemed to spin like a flywheel in her breast.


“Wait,” said Deed, holding out one hand either beseechingly or to block the door.


She slammed it shut before he could stop her, whether he had intended to stop her or not, and she engaged the deadbolt lock.


Beveled, crackled, distorted, divided into petals and leaves, Deed's face beyond the lead-ad glass, as he leaned closer to try to peer inside, was the countenance of a dream demon swimming up out of a nightmare lake.


Agnes ran to the kitchen, where she had been working when the doorbell rang, packing boxes of groceries to be delivered with the honey-raisin pear pies that she and Jacob had baked this morning.


Barty's bassinet was beside the table.


She expected him to be gone, snatched by an accomplice who had come in the back way while Deed had distracted her at the front door.


The baby was where she had left him, sleeping serenely.


To the windows, then, drawing all the blinds securely down. And still, irrationally, she felt watched.


Trembling, she sat beside the bassinet and gazed at her baby with such love that the force of it ought to have rocked him awake.


She expected Deed to ring the doorbell again. He did not.


“Imagine me thinking you'd be gone,” she said to Barty. “Your old mum is losing it. I never made a deal with Rumpelstiltskin, so there's nothing for him to collect."


She couldn't kid herself out of her fear.


Nicholas Deed was not the knave. He had already brought all the ruin into their lives that he was going to bring.


But a knave there was, somewhere, and his day would come.


To avoid making Maria feel responsible for the dire turn of mood when red aces weft followed by disturbing jacks, Agnes had pretended to take her son's card-told fortune lightly, especially the frightful part of it. In fact, a coldness had twisted through her heart.


Never before had she put faith in any form of prognostication. In the whispery falling of those twelve cards, however, she heard the faint voice of truth, not quite a coherent truth, not as clear a message as she might have wished, but a murmur that she couldn't ignore.


Tiny Bartholomew wrinkled his face in his sleep.


His mother said a prayer for him.


She also sought forgiveness for the hardness with which she had treated Nicholas Deed.


And she asked to be spared the visitation of the knave.


Chapter 39


THE DEAD DETECTIVE, grinning in the moonlight, a pair of silvery quarters gleaming in the sockets once occupied by his eyes.


This was the image that plied the turbulent waters of Junior Cain's imagination when he sailed out of the driver's door and came around to face the Studebaker, his heart dropping like an anchor.


His dry tongue, his parched mouth, his desiccated throat felt packed fall of sand, and his voice lay buried alive down there.


Even when he saw no cop cadaver, no ghoulish grin, no two-bit eyes, Junior was not immediately relieved. Warily, he circled the car, expecting to find the detective crouching and poised to spring.


Nothing.


The dome light was on in the car, because the driver's door was standing open.


He didn't want to lean inside and peer over the front seat. He had no weapon. He would be unbalanced, vulnerable.


Still cautious, Junior approached the back door, the window. Vanadium's body lay on the car floor, wrapped in the tumbled blanket.


He had not heard the lawman rising up with malevolent intent, as he had imagined. The body had simply rolled off the backseat onto the floor during the too-sharp 180-degree turn.


Briefly, Junior felt humiliated. He wanted to drag the detective out of the car and stomp on his smug, dead face.


That would not be a productive use of his time. Satisfying, but not prudent. Zedd tells us that time is the most precious thing we have, because we're born with so little of it.


Junior got in the car once more, slammed the door, and said, “Panfaced, double-chinned, half-bald, puke-collecting creep."


FROM THE CORNER OF HIS EYE 213


Surprisingly, he received a lot of gratification from voicing this insult, even though Vanadium was too dead to hear it.


“Fat-necked, splay-nosed, jug-eared, ape—browed, birth marked freak."


This was better than taking slow deep breaths. Periodically, on the way to Vanadium's house, Junior spat out a string of insults, punctuated by obscenities.


He had time to think of quite a few, because he drove five miles per hour below the posted speed limit. He couldn't risk being stopped for a traffic violation when Thomas Vanadium, the human stump, was dead and bundled in the back.


During the past week, Junior had undertaken quiet background research on the prestidigitator with a badge. The cop was unmarried. He lived alone, so this bold visit entailed no risk.


Junior parked in the two-car garage. No vehicle occupied second space.


On one wall hung an impressive array of gardening tools. In the comer was a potting bench.


In a cabinet above the bench, Junior found a pair of clean, cotton gardening gloves. He tried them on, and they fit well enough.


He had difficulty picturing the detective puttering in the garden on weekends. Unless there were bodies buried under the roses.


With the detective's key, he let himself into the house.


While Junior had been hospitalized , Vanadium had searched his lace, with or without a warrant. Turnabout was satisfying.


Vanadium clearly spent a lot of time in the kitchen; it was the only room in the house that felt comfortable and lived-in. Lots of culinary gadgets, appliances. Pots and pans hanging from a ceiling rack. A basket of onions, another of potatoes. A grouping of bottles with colorful labels proved to be a collection of olive oils.


The detective fancied himself a cook.


Other rooms were furnished as sparely as those in a monastery. Indeed, the dining room contained nothing whatsoever.


A sofa and one armchair provided the seating in the living room. No coffee table. A small table beside the chair. A wall unit held a fine stereo system and a few hundred record albums.


Junior examined the music collection. The policeman's taste ran to big band music and vocalists from the swing era.


Evidently, either Frank Sinatra was an enthusiasm that Victoria and the detective shared, or the nurse purchased some of the crooner's records expressly for their dinner engagement.


This was not the time to ponder the nature of the relationship between the treacherous Miss Bressler and Vanadium. Junior had a bloody trail to cover, and precious time was ticking away.


Besides, the possibilities repulsed him. The very thought of a splendid-looking woman like Victoria submitting to a grotesque like Vanadium would have withered his soul if he had possessed a soul.


The study was the size of a bathroom. The cramped space barely allowed for a battered pine desk, a chair, and one filing cabinet.


The unmatched suite of bedroom furniture, cheap and scarred, might have been purchased at a thrift shop. A double bed and one nightstand. A small dresser.


As was true of the entire house, the bedroom was immaculate. The wood floor gleamed as though polished by hand. A simple white chenille spread conformed to the bed as smoothly and tautly as the top blanket tucked around a soldier's barracks bunk.


Knickknacks and mementos were not to be found anywhere in the house. And until now Junior had seen nothing hanging on the barren walls except a calendar in the kitchen.


A cast-bronze figure, fixed to lacquered walnut in want of raw dogwood, suffered above the bed. This crucifix, contrasting starkly with the white walls, reinforced the impression of monastic economy.


In Junior's estimation, this was not the way that a normal person lived. This was the home of a deranged loner, a dangerously obsessive man.


Having been an object of Thomas Vanadium's fixation, Junior felt fortunate to have survived. He shuddered.


In the closet, a limited wardrobe did not fully occupy available rod space. On the floor, shoes were neatly arranged toe-to-heel.


The upper shelf of the closet held boxes and two inexpensive suitcases: pressboard laminated with green vinyl. He took down the suitcases and put them on the bed.


Vanadium owned so few clothes that the two bags had sufficient capacity to accommodate half the contents of the closet and dresser.


Junior tossed garments on the floor and across the bed to create the impression that the detective had packed with haste. After being imprudent enough to blast Victoria Bressler five times with his service revolver-perhaps in a jealous rage, or perhaps because he had gone nuts-Vanadium would have been frantic to flee justice.


From the bathroom, Junior gathered an electric razor and toiletries. He added these to the suitcases.


After carrying the two pieces of luggage to the car in the garage, he returned to the study. He sat at the desk and examined the contents of the drawers, then turned to the file cabinet.


He wasn't entirely sure what all he hoped to find. Perhaps an envelope or a cash box with folding money, which a fleeing murderer would surely pause to take with him. Suspicions might be raised if he left it behind. Perhaps a savings-account passbook.


In the first drawer, he discovered an address book. Logically, Vanadium would have taken this with him, even if on the lam from a murder rap, so Junior tucked it in his jacket pocket.


When his search of the desk drawers was only half completed, the telephone rang-not the usual strident bell, but a modulated electronic brrrrr. He had no intention of answering it.


The second ring was followed by a click, and then a familiar droning voice said, “Hello. I'm Thomas Vanadium-"


Like a spring-loaded novelty snake erupting from a can, Junior exploded up from the chair, nearly knocking it over.


"—-but I am not here right now. “


Swinging toward the open door, he saw that the dead detective was true to his word: He wasn't here.


The voice continued, issuing from a device that stood on the desk beside the phone. “Please don't bang up. This is a telephone answering machine Leave a message after you bear the tone, and I will return your call later “


The word Ansaphone was imprinted on the black plastic casing of the machine.


Junior had heard of this invention, but until now he'd never seen one. He supposed that an obsessive like Vanadium might go to any lengths, including this exotic technology, to avoid missing an important call.


The tone sounded, as promised, and a man's voice spoke from the box: “It's Max. You're psychic. I found the hospital here. Poor kid bad a cerebral hemorrhage, arising from a hyperensive crisis caused by ... eclampsia, I think it is. Baby survived. Call me, huh?"


Max hung up. The Ansaphone made a series of small robot-mouse noises and then fell silent.


Amazing.


Junior was tempted to experiment with the controls. Maybe other messages were recorded on the machine. Listening to them would be delicious-even if every one of them turned out to be as meaningless to him as Max's—a little like browsing through a stranger's diary.


Finding nothing more of interest in the study, he considered searching the rest of the house.


The night was in flight, however, and he had a lot to do before it swooped straight into morning.


Leave the lamps burning, the door unlocked. A murderer, frantic to vanish while the victim remained undiscovered, wouldn't be worried about the cost of electricity or about protecting against burglary.


Junior drove boldly away. Zedd counseled boldness.


Because he kept imagining the stealthy sounds of a dead cop rising in vengeance behind him, Junior switched on the radio. He tuned in a station featuring a Top 40 countdown.


The deejay announced song number four for the week: the Beatles' “She's a Woman.” The Fab Four filled the Studebaker with music.


Everyone thought the moptops were the coolest thing ever—ever but to Junior, their music was just all right. He wasn't stirred to sing along, and he didn't find their stuff particularly danceable.


He was a patriotic guy, and he preferred American rock to the British brand. He had nothing against the English, no prejudices against people of any nationality. Nevertheless, he believed that the American Top 40 ought to feature American music exclusively.


Crossing Spruce Hills with John, Paul, George, Ringo, and dead Thomas, Junior headed back toward Victoria's place, where Sinatra was no longer singing.


Number three on the charts was “Mr. Lonely,” by Bobby Vinton, an American talent from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Junior sang along.


He cruised past the Bressler residence without slowing.


By this time, Vinton had finished, commercials had run, and the number-two song had started: “Come See About Me,” by the Supremes.


More good American music. The Supremes were Negroes, sure, but Junior was not a bigot. Indeed, he had once made passionate love to a Negro girl.


Harmonizing with Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard, he drove to the granite quarry three miles beyond the town limits.


A new quarry, operated by the same company, lay a mile farther north. This was the old one, abandoned after decades of cutting.


Years earlier, a stream had been diverted to fill the vast excavation. Stock fish were added, mostly trout and bass.


As a recreational site, Quarry Lake could be judged only a partial success. During the mining operation, trees were cleared well back from the edge of the dig, so that much of the shore would be unshaded on a hot summer day. And along half the strand, signs were posted warning Ungraded Shore: Immediate Deep Water. In places, where lake met land, the bottom lay over a hundred feet below.


The Beatles began singing the number-one song, “I Feel Fine,” as Junior turned off the county highway and followed the lake road northeast around the oil-black water. They had two titles in the American top five. In disgust, he switched off the radio.


The previous April, the lads from Liverpool had claimed all five of the top five. Real Americans, like the Beach Boys and the Four Seasons, were forced to settle for lower numbers. It made you wonder who had really won the Revolutionary War.


No one in Junior's circles seemed to care about the crisis in American music. He supposed he had a greater awareness of injustice than did most people.

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