He exploded off Renee with the velocity of high-powered rifle fire. Stunned, disgusted, humiliated, he backed away from the chaise lounge, spluttering, wiping at his mouth, cursing.
Incredibly, Renee came after him, slinky and seductive, trying to calm him and lure him back into an embrace.
Junior wanted to kill her. Kill him. Whatever. But he sensed that Renee knew more than a little about dirty fighting and that the outcome of a violent confrontation would not be easy to predict.
When Renee realized that this rejection was complete and final, she-he, whatever-was transformed from well-sugared southern lady to bitter, venomous reptile. Eyes glittering with fury, lips twisted and skinned back from her teeth, she called him all kinds of bastard, stringing epithets together so effortlessly and colorfully that she enhanced his vocabulary more than had all the home-study courses that he'd ever taken, combined. “And face it, pretty-boy, you knew what I was from the moment you offered to buy me a drink. You knew, and you wanted it, wanted me, and then when we got right down to the nasty, you lost your nerve. Lost your nerve, pretty-boy, but not your need."
Backing off, trying to feel his way to the foyer and front door, afraid that if he stumbled over a chair, she'd descend upon him like a screaming hawk upon a mouse, Junior denied her accusation. “You're crazy. How could I know? Look at you! How could 1 possibly know?"
“I've got an obvious Adam's apple, don't I?” she shrieked.
Yes, she did, she had one, but not much of one, and compared to the McIntosh in Google's throat, this was just a bitty crab apple, easy to overlook, not excessive for a woman.
“And what about my hands, pretty-boy, my hands?” she snarled.
Hers were the most feminine hands he'd ever seen. Slender, soft, prettier than Naomi's. He had no idea what she was talking about.
Risking all, he turned his back on her and fled, and in spite of his expectations to the contrary, she allowed him to escape.
Later, at home, he gargled until he had drained half a bottle of mint-flavored mouthwash, took the Iongest shower of his life, and then used the other half of the mouthwash.
He threw away his necktie, because in the elevator, on the way down from Renee's-or Rene's—penthouse, and again on the walk back to his apartment, he had scrubbed his tongue with it. On further consideration, he threw away everything that he had been wearing, including his shoes.
He swore that he would throw away all memory of this incident, as well. In Caesar Zedd's best-selling How to Deny the Power of the Past, the author offers a series of techniques for expunging forever all recollection of those events that cause us psychological damage, pain, or even merely embarrassment. Junior went to bed with his precious copy of this book and a snifter of cognac filled almost to the brim.
There was a valuable lesson to be learned from the encounter with Renee Vivi: Many things in this life are not what they first appear to be. To Junior, however, the lesson was not worth learning if he had to live with the vivid memory of his humiliation.
By the grace of Caesar Zedd and Remy Martin, Junior eventually slipped into undulant currents of sleep, and as he drifted away on those velvet tides, he took some solace from the thought that come what may, December 29 would be a better day than December 28.
He was wrong about this. On the final Friday of every month, in sunshine and in rain, Junior routinely took a walking tour of the six galleries that were his very favorites, browsing leisurely in each and chatting up the galerieurs, with a one-o'clock break for lunch at the St. Francis Hotel. This was a tradition with him, and invariably at the end of each such day, he felt wonderfully cozy.
Friday, December 29, was a grand day: cool but not cold; high scattered clouds ornamenting a Wedgwood-blue sky. The streets were agreeably abustle but not swarming like the corridors of a hive, as sometimes they could be. San Franciscans, reliably a pleasant lot, were still in a holiday mood and, therefore, even quicker to smile and more courteous than usual.
Following a splendid lunch, having just left the fourth gallery on his list and strolling toward the fifth, Junior didn't at once see the source of the quarters. Indeed, when the first three rapid-fire coins hit the side of his face, he didn't even know what they were. Startled, he flinched and looked down as he heard them ring off the sidewalk.
Snap, snap, snap! Three more quarters ricocheted off the left side of his face-temple, cheek, jaw.
As the unwanted change pinged against the concrete at his feet, Junior-snap, snap-saw the source of the next two rounds. They spat out of the vertical pay slot on a newspaper-vending machine; one hit his nose, and the other rang off his teeth.
The machine, one in a bank of four, wasn't filled with ordinary newspapers, which cost only a dime, but with a raunchy tabloid aimed at heterosexual swingers.
The slamming of Junior's heart sounded as loud to him as mortar rounds. He stepped back and sideways, out of the vending machine's line of fire.
As though one of the quarters had dropped into his ear and triggered a golden oldie in the jukebox of his mind, Junior heard Vanadium's voice in the hospital room, in Spruce Hills, on the night of the day when Naomi died: “en you cut Naomi's string, you put an end to the effects that her music would have on the lives of others and on the shape of the future....
Another machine beside the first, stocked with copies of a sexually explicit publication for gays, fired a quarter that hit Junior's forehead. The next snapped against the bridge of his nose.
You struck a discord that can he heard, however faintly, all the way to the farthest end of the universe....
Had Junior been chest-deep in wet concrete, he would have been more mobile than he was now. He had no feeling in his legs.
Unable to run, he raised his arms defensively, crossing them in front of his face, though the impact of the coins wasn't painful. Volleys flicked off his fingers, palms, and wrists.
... That discord sets up lots of other vibrations, some of which will return to you in ways you might expect ...
The vending machines were designed to accept quarters, not to eject them. They didn't make change. Mechanically, this barrage wasn't possible.
... and some in ways you could never see coming...
Two teenage boys and one elderly woman scrambled across the sidewalk, grabbing at the ringing rain of quarters. They caught some, but others bounced and twirled through their grasping fingers, rolling-spinning away into the gutter.
... Of the things you couldn't have seen coming, I'm the worst...
In addition to these scavengers, another presence was here, unseen but not unfelt. The chill of this invisible entity pierced Junior to the marrow: the stubborn, vicious, psychotic, prickly-bur spirit of Thomas Vanadium, maniac cop, not satisfied to haunt the house in which he'd died, not ready yet to seek reincarnation, but instead pursuing his beleaguered suspect even after death, capering—to paraphrase Sklent like an invisible, filthy, scabby monkey here on this city street, in bright daylight.
Of the things you couldn't have seen coming, I'm the worst.
One of the coin seekers knocked against Junior, jarring him loose of his paralysis, but when he stumbled out of the line of fire of the second vending machine, a third machine shot quarters at him.
Of the things you couldn't have seen coming, I'm the worst ... I'm the worst ... I'm the worst....
Mocked by the silvery ping-ting-jingle of the maniac detective emptying his ghostly pockets, Junior ran.
KATHLEEN IN THE candlelight, her ginger eyes a glimmer with images of the amber flame. Icy martinis, extra olives in a shallow white dish. Beyond the tableside window, the legendary bay glimmered, too, darker and colder than Kathleen's eyes, and not a fraction as deep.
Nolly, telling the story of his day's work, paused as the waiter delivered two orders of the crab-cake appetizer with mustard sauce. “Nolly, Mrs. Wulfstan—enjoy!"
For the first few bites of crab in a light cornmeal crust, Nolly suspended their conversation. Bliss.
Kathleen watched him with obvious amusement, aware that he was savoring her suspense as much as he was the appetizer.
Piano music drifted into the restaurant from the adjacent bar, so soft and yet sprightly that it made the clink of silverware seem like music, too.
At last he said, “And there he is, hands in front of his face, quarters bouncing off him, these kids and this old lady scrambling around him to snare some change."
Grinning, Kathleen said, “So the gimmick actually worked."
Nolly nodded. “Jimmy Gadget earned his money this time, for sure."
The subcontractor who built the quarter-spitting coin boxes was James Hunnicolt, but everyone called him Jimmy Gadget. He specialized in electronic eavesdropping, building cameras and recorders into the most unlikely objects, but he could do just about anything requiring inventive mechanical design and construction.
“Couple quarters hit him in the teeth,” Nolly said.
“I approve of anything that makes business for dentists."
“Wish I could describe his face. Frosty the Snowman was never that white. The surveillance van is parked right there, two spaces south of the vending machines—"
“A real ringside view."
“So entertaining, I felt I should have paid for those seats. When the third machine starts whizzing coins at him, he bolts like a kid running a graveyard at midnight on a dare.” Nolly laughed, remembering.
“More fun than divorce work, huh?"
“You should've seen this, Kathleen. He's dodging people on the sidewalk, shoving them out of his way when he can't dodge them. Three long blocks, Jimmy and I watched the creep, till he turned the corner, three long blocks all uphill, and it's a hill that would kill an Olympic athlete, but he doesn't slow down once."
“Man had a ghost on his butt."
“I think he believed it."
“This is a crazy damn wonderful case,” she said, shaking her head.
“Soon as Cain is out of sight, we yank up our tricky vending machines, then haul the real ones out of the van and bolt 'em down again. Slick, fast. People are still picking up quarters when we finish. And get this-they want to know where the camera is."
“Yeah, they think we're with Candid Camera. So Jimmy points to this United Parcel truck parked across the street and says the cameras are in there."
She clapped her hands in delight.
“When we pull away, people are waving across the street at the UPS truck, and the driver, he sees them, and he stands there, kind of confused, and then he waves back."
Nolly adored her laugh, so musical and girlish. He would have made all sorts of a fool out of himself, anytime, just to hear it.
The busboy swept the empty appetizer plates away as the waiter arrived simultaneously with small salads. Fresh martinis followed.
“Why do you think he's spending his money for all this tricky stuff?” Kathleen wondered, not for the first time.
“He says he has a moral responsibility."
“Yeah, but I've been thinking about that. If he feels some kind of responsibility ... then why did he ever represent Cain in the first place?"
“He's an attorney, and this grieving husband comes to him with a big liability case. There's money to be made."
“Even if he thinks maybe the wife was pushed?"
Nolly shrugged. “He can't know for sure. And anyway, he didn't get the pushed idea until he'd already taken the case."
“Cain got millions. What was Simon's fee?"
“Twenty percent. Eight hundred fifty thousand bucks."
“Deduct what he paid you, he's still close to eight big ones ahead."
“Simon's a good man. Now that he pretty much knows Cain pushed the wife, he doesn't feel better about representing him just because the payoff was big. And in the current case, he's not Cain's lawyer, so there's no conflict of interest, no ethics problem, so he's got a chance to set things right a little."
In January 1965, Magusson had sent Cain to Nolly as a client, not sure why the creep needed a private detective. That had turned out to be the business about Seraphim White's baby. Simon's warning to be careful of Enoch Cain had helped to shape Nolly's decision to withhold the information about the child's placement.
Ten months later, Simon called again, also regarding Cain, but this time the attorney was the client, and Cain was the target. What Simon wanted Nolly to do was strange, to say the least, and it could be construed as harassment, but none of it was exactly illegal. And for two years, beginning with the quarter in the cheeseburger, ending with the coin-spitting machines, all of it had been great fun.
“Well,” Kathleen said, “even if the money wasn't so nice, I'd be sorry to see this case end."
“Me too. But it's really not over till we meet the man."
“Two weeks to go. I'm not going to miss that. I've cleared all appointments off my calendar."
Nolly raised his martini glass in a toast. “To Kathleen Klerkle Wulfstan, dentist and associate detective."
She returned the toast: “To my Nolly, husband and best-ever boyfriend."
God, he loved her.
“Veal fit for kings,” said their waiter, delivering the entrees, and one taste confirmed his promise.
The glimmering bay and the shimmering amber candlelight provided the perfect atmosphere for the song that arose now from the piano in the bar.
Although the piano was at some distance and the restaurant was a little noisy, Kathleen recognized the tune at once. She looked up from her veal, her eyes full of merriment.
“By request,” he admitted. “I was hoping you'd sing."
Even in this soft light, Nolly could see that she was blushing like a young girl. She glanced around at the nearby tables.
“Considering that I'm your best-ever boyfriend and this is our song. . ."
She raised her eyebrows at our song.
Nolly said, “We've never really had a song of our own, in spite of all the dancing we do. I think this is a good one. But so far, you've only sung it to another man."
She put down her fork, glanced around the restaurant once more, and leaned across the table. Blushing brighter, she softly sang the opening lines of “Someone to Watch over Me."
An older woman at the next table said, “You've got a very lovely voice, dear."
Embarrassed, Kathleen stopped singing, but to the other woman, Nolly said, “It is a lovely voice, isn't it? Haunting, I think."
NORTHBOUND ON THE coastal highway, headed for Newport Beach, Agnes saw bad omens, mile after mile.
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