“Everybody in your home must have the trots."
“What're the trots?"
“What's ... dia ... like you said?"
“Nonstop, uncontrollable pooping."
“You're gross, Mr. Barty. No one in Georgia has trots.
Previously, Miss Pixie Lee had been from Texas, but Angel had recently heard that Georgia was famous for its peaches, which at once captured her imagination. Now Pixie Lee had a new life in a Georgia mansion carved out of a giant peach.
“I ALWAYS EAT CAV-EE-JAR FOR BREAKFAST,” said Velveeta Cheese in her stuffed-bear voice.
“That's caviar,” Barty corrected.
“DON'T YOU TELL ME HOW TO SAY WORDS, MR. BARTY”
“Okay, then, but you'll be an ignorant cheesehead."
“AND I DRINK CHAMPAGNE ALL DAY,” said Miss Cheese, pronouncing it “cham-pay-non."
“I'd stay drunk, too, if my name was Velveeta Cheese."
“You look very handsome with your new eyes, Mr. Barty, “ Pixie Lee squeaked.
His artificial eyes were almost a month old. He'd been through surgery to have the eye-moving muscles attached to the conjunctiva, and everybody told him that the look and movement were absolutely real. In fact, they had told him this so often, in the first week or two, that he became suspicious and figured that his new eyes were totally out of control and spinning like pinwheels.
“CAN WE LISTEN TO A TALKING BOOK AFTER BREAKFAST?” asked Miss Velveeta Cheese.
“The one I'm about to start is Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which is maybe pretty scary."
“WE DON'T GET SCARED."
“Oh, yeah? What about the spider last week?"
“I wasn't scared of a dumb old spider,” Angel insisted in her own voice.
“Then what was all that screaming about?"
“I just wanted everyone to come see the spider, that's all. It was a really, really icky interesting bug."
“You were so scared you had the trots."
“If I ever have trots, you'll know.” And then in the Cheese voice: “CAN WE LISTEN TO THE BOOK TALK IN YOUR ROOM?"
Angel liked to perch sideways with a drawing tablet in the window seat in Barty's room, look out at the oak tree from the upper floor, and draw pictures inspired by things she heard in whatever book he was currently listening to. Everyone said she was a pretty good artist for a three-year-old, and Barty wished he could see how good she was. He wished he could see Angel, too, just once.
“Really, Angel,” Barty said with genuine concern, “it might be scary. I got another one we could listen to, if you want."
“We want the scary one, 'specially if it has spiders, Pixie Lee said squeakily but defiantly.
“All right, the scary one.” “I SOMETIMES EVEN EAT SPIDERS WITH MY CAVIAR.” “Now who's being gross?” The morning that it happened, Edom woke early from a nightmare about the roses.
In the dream, he is sixteen but racked by thirty years' worth of pain.
The backyard. Summer. A hot day, the air as still and heavy as water in a quiet pool, sweet with the fragrance of jasmine. Under the huge spreading oak. Grass oiled to a glossy green by the buttery sunshine, and emerald-black where the shadows of limbs and leaves overlay it. Fat crows as black as scraps of night that have lingered long after dawn dart agitatedly in and out of the tree, from branch to branch, excited, shrieking. Branch to branch, the flapping of wings is leathery, demonic. The only other sounds are the thud of fists, hard blows, and his father's heavy breathing as he deals out the punishment. Edom himself lies face down in the grass, silent because he is barely conscious, too badly beaten to protest or to plead for mercy, but also because even to cry in pain will invite more vicious discipline than the pummeling he's already endured. His father straddles him, driving big fists into his back, brutally into his sides. With high fences and hedgerows of Indian laurels on both sides of the property, the neighbors can't see, but some know, have always known, and have less interest than the crows. Tumbled on the grass, in fragments: the broken trophy for the prize rose, the symbol of his sinful pride, his one great shining moment but also his sinful pride. Clubbed with the trophy first, fists later. And now, here, after he is rolled onto his back by his father, now, here, roses by the fistful jammed in his face, crushed and ground against his face, thorns gouging his skin, piercing his lips. His father, oblivious of his own puncture wounds, trying to force open Edom's mouth. “Eat your sin, boy, eat your sin!” Edom resists eating his sin, but he's afraid for his eyes, terrified, the thorns pricking so close to his eyes, green points combing his lashes. He's too weak to resist, disabled by the ferocity of the beating and by years of fear and humiliation. So he opens his mouth, just to end it, just to be done with it at last, he opens his mouth, lets the roses be shoved in, the bitter green taste of the juice crushed from the stems, thorns sharp against his tongue. And then Agnes. Agnes in the yard, screaming “Stop it, stop it! “ Agnes, only ten years old, slender and shaking, but wild with righteousness, until now held in thrall by her own fear, by the memory of all the beatings that she herself has taken. She screams at their father and strikes him with a book she's brought from the house. The Bible. She strikes their father with the Bible, from which he's read to them every night of their lives. He drops the roses, tears the holy book out of Agnes's hands, and pitches it across the yard. He rakes up a handful of the scattered roses, intending to make his son resume this dinner of sin, but here comes Agnes once more, the Bible recovered, brandishing it at him, and now she says what all of them know to be true but what none of them has ever dared say, what even Agnes herself will never again dare to say after this day, not while the old man lives, but she dares to say it now, holding the Bible toward him, so he can see the gold-embossed cross upon the imitation-leather cover. “Murderer,” Agnes says. “Murderer “ And Edom knows that they're all as good as dead now, that their father will slaughter them right here, right this minute, in his rage. “Murderer,” she says accusingly, behind the shield of the Bible, and she doesn't mean that he is killing Edom, but that he killed their mother, that they heard him in the night, three years before, heard the short but awful struggle, and know that what happened was no accident. Roses fall from his skinned and pierced hands, a flurry of petals yellow and petals red. He rises and takes a step toward Agnes, his dripping fists crimson with his blood and with Edom's. Agnes doesn't back away, but thrusts the book toward him, and scintillant sunlight caresses the cross. Instead of tearing the book out of her hands again, their father stalks away, into the house, surely to return with club or cleaver ... yet they will see no more of him this day. Then Agnes-with tweezers for the thorns, with a basin full of warm water and a washcloth, with iodine and Neosporin and bandages-kneels beside him in the yard. Jacob, too, comes forth from the dark crawlspace under the porch, having watched in terror from behind the latticework skirt. He is shaking, crying, flushed with embarrassment because he didn't intervene, although he was wise to hide, for the disciplinary beating of one twin usually leads to the pointless beating of the other. Agnes gradually settles Jacob by involving him in the treatment of his brother's wounds, and to Edom she says, often thereafter, “I love your roses, Edom. I love your roses. God loves your roses, Edom.” Overhead, agitated wings quiet to a soft flutter, and the shrieking crows grow silent. The air pools as still and heavy as the water in a hidden lagoon within a secret glade, in the perfect garden of the unfallen....
At nearly forty years of age, Edom still dreamed of that grim summer afternoon, although not as often as in the past. When it troubled his sleep these days, it was a nightmare that gradually metamorphosed into a dream of tenderness and hope. Until the last few years, he'd always awakened when the roses were being jammed into his mouth or when the thorns flicked through his eyelashes, or when Agnes began to strike their father with the Bible, thus seeming to assure worse punishment. This additional act, this transition from horror to hope before he woke, had been added when Agnes was pregnant with Barty. Edom didn't know why this should be so, and he didn't try to analyze it. He was simply grateful for the change, because he woke now in a state of peace, never with worse than a shudder, no longer with a hoarse cry of anguish.
On this morning in March, minutes after the pie caravan had departed, Edom got his Ford Country Squire out of the garage and drove to the nursery, which opened early. Spring was drawing near, and much work needed to be done to make the most of the rosarium that Joey Lampion had encouraged him to restore. He happily contemplated hours of browsing through plant stock, tools, and gardening supplies.
The morning that it happened, Tom Vanadium rose later than usual, shaved, showered, and then used the telephone in Paul's downstairs study to call Max Bellini in San Francisco and to speak, as well, with authorities in both the Oregon State Police and the Spruce Hills Police Department.
He was uncharacteristically restive. His stoic nature, his long learned Jesuit philosophy regarding the acceptance of events as they unfold, and the acquired patience of a homicide detective were insufficient to prevent frustration from taking root in him. In the more than two months since Enoch Cain vanished, following the murder of Reverend White, no trace of the killer had been found. Week by week, the slender sapling of frustration had grown into a tree and then into a forest, until Tom began every morning by looking out through the tightly woven branches of impatience.
Because of the events regarding Barty and Angel back in January, Celestina, Grace, and Wally were no longer displaced persons waiting to return to San Francisco. They had begun anew here in Bright Beach; and judging by all indications, they were going to be as happy and as occupied with useful work as it was possible to be on this troubled side of the grave.
Tom himself had decided to build a new life here, as well, assisting Agnes with her ever-expanding work. He was not yet sure whether this would include the rededication to his vows and a return to the Roman collar, or whether he would spend the rest of his days in civvies. He was delaying that decision until the Cain case was resolved.
He couldn't much longer take advantage of Paul Damascus's hospitality. Since bringing Wally to town, Tom had been staying in Paul's guest bedroom. He knew that he was welcome indefinitely, and the sense of family that he'd found with these people had only grown since January, but he nevertheless felt that he was imposing.
The calls to Bellini in San Francisco and to others in Oregon were made with a prayer for news, but the prayer went unanswered. Cain had not been seen, heard from, smelled, intuited, or located by the pestering clairvoyants who had attached themselves to the sensational case.
Adding new growth to his forest of frustration, Tom got up from the study desk, fetched the newspaper from the front doorstep, and went to the kitchen to make his morning coffee. He boiled up a pot of strong brew and sat down at the knotty-pine table with a steaming mug full of black and sugarless solace.
He almost opened the paper atop the quarter before seeing it. Shiny. Liberty curved across the top of the coin, above the head of the patriot, and under the patriot's chin were stamped the words In God We Trust.
Tom Vanadium was no alarmist, and the most logical explanation came to him first. Paul had wanted to learn how to roll a quarter across his knuckles, and in spite of being dexterously challenged, he practiced hopefully from time to time. No doubt, he had sat at the table this morning—or even last evening, before bed-dropping the coin repeatedly, until he exhausted his patience.
Wally had disposed of his properties in San Francisco under Tom's careful supervision. Any attempt to trace him from the city to Bright Beach would fail. His vehicles were purchased through a corporation, and his new house had been bought through a trust named after his late wife.
Celestina, Grace, even Tom himself, had taken extraordinary measures to leave no slightest trail. Those very few authorities who knew how to reach Tom and, through him, the others, were acutely aware that his whereabouts and phone number must be tightly guarded.
The quarter, silvery. Under the patriot's neck, the date: 1965. Coincidentally, the year that Naomi had been killed. The year that Tom had first met Cain. The year that all this had begun.
When Paul practiced the quarter trick, he usually did so on the sofa or in an armchair, and always in a room with carpeting, because when dropped on a hard surface, the coin rolled and required too much chasing.
From a cutlery drawer, Tom withdrew a knife. The largest and sharpest blade in the small collection.
He had left his revolver upstairs in a nightstand.
Certain that he was overreacting, Tom nevertheless left the kitchen as a cop, not a priest, would leave it: staying low, knife thrust in front of him, clearing the doorframe fast.
Kitchen to dining room, dining room to hallway, keeping his back to the wall, easing quickly along, then into the foyer. Wait here, listening.
Tom was alone. The place should be silent. Hanna Rey, the housekeeper, wasn't scheduled to arrive until ten o'clock.
A deep storm of silence, anti-thunder, the house fully drenched in a muffling rain of soundlessness.
The search for Cain was secondary. Getting to the revolver took Priority. Regain the gun and then proceed room by haunted room to hunt him down. Hunt him down, if he was here. And if Cain didn't do the hunting first.
Tom climbed the stairs.
Uncle Jacob, cook and baby-sitter and connoisseur of watery death, cleaned off the table and washed the dishes while Barty patiently endured a rambling postbreakfast conversation with Pixie Lee and with Miss Velveeta Cheese, whose name wasn't an honorary tide earned by winning a beauty contest sponsored by Kraft Foods, as he had first thought, but who, according to Angel, was the “good” sister to the rotten lying cheese man in the television commercials.
Dishes dried and put away, Jacob retired to the living room and settled contentedly into an armchair, where he would probably become so enthralled with his new book of dam disasters that he would forget to make luncheon sandwiches until Barty and Angel rescued him from the flooded streets of some dismally unfortunate town.
Done with dolls for now, Barty and Angel went upstairs to his room, where the book that talked waited patiently in silence. With her colored pencils and a large pad of drawing paper, she clambered onto the cushioned window seat. Barty sat up in bed and switched on the tape player that stood on the nightstand.
The words of Robert Louis Stevenson, well read, poured another time and place into the room as smoothly as lemonade pouring from pitcher into glass.
An hour later, when Barty decided he wanted a soda, he switched off the book and asked Angel if she would like something to drink.