Varner said, “Thought about doing just that. But I keep it to remind me how far off the right path I once went and how easy it was to take that first wrong step.”
“That’s so fascinating and so admirable,” she said, leaning closer to the window as if to get a better look at this paragon of virtue. “Lots of people rewrite their past rather than face up to it. I’m glad to know we’ve got men like you looking out for us.”
She poured this verbal syrup so smoothly that it sounded sincere.
While Officer Varner was basking in her flattery as happily as a waf­fle in whipped butter, she turned to me and said, “Odd, I’ve got to get home. I have an early morning.”
I wished Officer Varner good luck, and he made no attempt to con­tinue grilling me. He seemed to have forgotten his suspicions.
In the car, I said to her, “I never realized you had such a talent for deceit.”
“Oh, that’s too serious a word for it. I just manipulated him a little.”
“After we’re married, I’m going to be on the lookout for that,” I warned her as I started the car.
“What do you mean?”
“In case you ever try to manipulate me a little.”
“Good heavens, odd one, I manipulate you every day. And fold and spindle you, as well.”
I couldn’t tell if she was serious. “You do?”
“Gently, of course. Gently and with great affection. And you always like it.”
“You have numerous little tricks to get me to do it.”
I put the car in gear but kept my foot on the brake. “You’re saying I invite manipulation?”
“Some days I think you thrive on it.”
“I can’t tell if you’re serious.”
“I know. You’re adorable.”
“Puppies are adorable. I’m not a puppy”
“You and puppies. Totally adorable.”
“You are serious.”
I studied her. “No. No, you’re not.”
I sighed. “I can see the dead, but I can’t see through you.”
When we drove out of the parking lot, Officer Varner was parked near the front entrance to Green Moon Lanes.
Instead of running a quiet surveillance of the place with the hope of nabbing Robertson before violence could be committed, he was making himself highly visible, as a deterrent. This interpretation of his assignment was most likely not one the chief would have ap­proved.
As we passed him, Officer Varner waved at us. He appeared to be eating a doughnut.
Granny Sugars always railed against negative thinking because she superstitiously believed that when we worry about being afflicted by one evil or another, we are in fact inviting in the very devil that we fear and are assuring the occurrence of the event we dread. Nevertheless, I could not help but think how easily Bob Robertson might approach the cruiser from behind and shoot Simon Varner in the head while he noshed on his Krispy Kremes.
VIOLA PEABODY, THE WAITRESS WHO HAD SERVED LUNCH to me and Terri at the Grille just eight eventful hours ago, lived only two blocks from Camp’s End, but because of her tireless gardening and painting and carpentry, her home seemed to be a world away from those dreary streets.
Although small and simple, the house resembled a fairy-tale cottage in one of those romantic paintings by Thomas Kinkade. Under the gib­bous moon, its walls glowed as softly as backlit alabaster, and a carriage lamp revealed the crimson petals of the flowers on the trumpet vine festooning the trellis that flanked and overhung the front door.
Without any apparent surprise that we arrived unannounced at this hour, Viola greeted Stormy and me graciously, with a smile and with an offer of coffee or iced tea, which we declined.
We sat in the small living room where Viola herself had stripped and refinished the wood floor. She had woven the rag rug. She had sewn the chintz curtains and the slipcovers that made old upholstered furniture look new.
Perched on the edge of an armchair, Viola was as slim as a girl. The
travails and burdens of her life had left no mark on her. She did not look old enough or harried enough to be the single mother of the five-and six-year-old daughters who were asleep in a back room.
Her husband, Rafael, who’d left her and who’d contributed not one penny to his children’s welfare, was a fool of such dimensions that he should have been required to dress like a jester, complete with silly hat and curled-toe shoes.
The house lacked air conditioning. The windows were open, and an electric fan sat on the floor, the oscillating blades imparting an illu­sion of coolness to the air.
Leaning forward with her hands braced on her knees, Viola traded her smile for a look of solemn expectation, for she knew why I must have come. “It’s my dream, isn’t it?” she said softly.
I spoke quietly, too, in respect of the sleeping children. “Tell me again.”
“I saw myself, a hole in my forehead, my face… broken.”
“You think you were shot.”
“Shot dead,” she confirmed, folding her hands together between her knees, as if in prayer. “My right eye bloodshot and swollen all ugly, half out of the socket.”
“Anxiety dreams,” Stormy said, meaning to reassure. “They don’t have anything to do with the future.”
“We’ve been over this territory,” Viola told her. “Odd…he was of that same opinion this afternoon.” She looked at me. “You must have changed your mind, or you wouldn’t be here.”
“Where were you in the dream?”
“No place. You know, a dream place…all fuzzy, fluid.”
“Do you ever go bowling?”
“That takes money. I have two colleges to save for. My girls are go­ing to be somebody.”
“Have you ever been inside Green Moon Lanes?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Did anything in the dream suggest the place might have been a bowling alley?”
“No. Like I said, it wasn’t any real place. Why do you say the bowl­ing alley? You have a dream, too?”
“I did, yes.
“People dead?” Viola asked.
“You ever have dreams come true?”
“Sometimes,” I admitted.
“I knew you’d understand. That’s why I asked you to read me.”
“Tell me more about your dream, Viola.”
She closed her eyes, striving to remember. “I’m running from something. There are these shadows, some flashes of light, but none of it is anything.”
My sixth sense is unique in its nature and its clarity. But I believe that many people have less dramatic and undiscovered supernatural perceptions that manifest from time to time throughout their lives: presentiments that come sometimes in the form of dreams, as well as other moments of uncanny awareness and insight.
They fail to explore these experiences in part because they believe that acknowledging the supernatural would be irrational. They are also frightened, often unconsciously, by the prospect of opening their minds and hearts to the truth of a universe far more complex and meaningful than the material world that their education tells them is the sum of all things.
I was not surprised, therefore, that Viola’s nightmare, which earlier in the day had seemed likely to be of no consequence, had proved to be a matter of importance, after all. “Do your dreams have voices, sounds?” I asked her. “Some people’s don’t.”
“Mine do. In the dream, I can hear myself breathing. And this crowd.”
“A roaring crowd, like the sound in a stadium.”
Baffled, I said, “Where would such a place be in Pico Mundo?”
“I don’t know. Maybe a Little League game.”
“Not such a big crowd at one of those,” Stormy noted.
“Wasn’t necessarily thousands of voices. Could’ve been a couple hundred,” Viola said. “Just a crowd, all roaring.”
I said, ‘And then, how is it that you see yourself shot?”
“Don’t see it happen. The shadows, the flashes of light, I’m run­ning, and I stumble, fall on my hands and knees…”
Viola’s eyes twitched behind their lids as though she were asleep and experiencing the nightmare for the first time.
“…on my hands and knees,” she repeated, “hands in something slippery. It’s blood. Then shadows whirl away and light whirls in, and I’m looking down at my own dead face.”
She shuddered and opened her eyes.
Tiny beads of sweat stippled her forehead and her upper lip.
In spite of the electric fan, the room was warm. But she hadn’t been sweating before she began to recall the dream.
“Is there anything else, any other details?” I asked. “Even the small­est thing might help me. What were you… I mean your dead body… what was it lying on? A floor of some kind? Grass? Blacktop?”
She thought for a moment, shook her head. “Can’t say. The only other thing was the man, the dead man.”
I sat up straighter on the sofa. “You mean another… corpse?”
“Next to me…next to my body. He was sort of tumbled on his side, one arm twisted behind his back.”
“Were there other victims?” Stormy asked.
“Maybe. I didn’t see any but him.”
“Did you recognize him?”
“Didn’t get a look at his face. It was turned away from me.”
I said, “Viola, if you could try hard to remember - “
“Anyway, I wasn’t interested in him. I was too scared to wonder who he was. I looked in my own dead face, and I tried to scream, but I couldn’t, and I tried harder, and then I was sitting up in bed, the scream squeezing out of me but, you know, only just the wheeze of a scream.”
The memory agitated Viola. She started to get up from the chair. Maybe her legs were weak. She sat down again.
As though she were reading my mind, Stormy asked, “What was he wearing?”
“What - him in the dream? One foot bent back, the shoe half off. A loafer.”
We waited while Viola searched her memory. Dreams that are as rich as cream while they unfold are skim milk when we wake, and in time they wash out of our minds, leaving as little residue as water fil­tered through cheesecloth.
“His pants were splattered with blood,” Viola said. “Khakis, I think. Tan pants, anyway.”
The slowly swiveling fan stirred the leaves of a potted palm in one corner of the room, raising from its fronds a dry rustling that made me think of cockroaches scurrying, and rats, and nothing good.
Reading the last details of her dream that yet remained in the cheesecloth of memory, Viola said, “A polo shirt…”
I got up from the sofa. I needed to move. I realized that the room was too small for pacing, but I remained on my feet.
“Green,” Viola said. “A green polo shirt.”
I thought of the guy behind the shoe-rental counter at Green Moon
Lanes, the blonde drawing beer behind the bar - both in their new work uniforms.
Her voice growing even quieter, Viola said, “Tell me the truth, Odd. Look at my face. Do you see death in me?”
I said, “Yes.”
ALTHOUGH I’M UNABLE TO READ FACES TO DISCOVER either a person’s future or the secrets of her heart, I could not look a moment longer at Viola Peabody’s face, for I imagined what I couldn’t truly read, and in my mind’s eye saw her motherless daughters stand­ing at her grave.
I went to one of the open windows. Beyond lay a side yard over­hung by pepper trees. Out of the warm darkness came the sweet fra­grance of jasmine that had been planted and tended by Viola’s caring hands.
Ordinarily I have no fear of the night. I feared this one, however, because the change from August 14 to August 15 was coming express-train fast, as if the rotation of the earth had drastically gained speed by the flicking of a godly finger.
I turned to Viola, who still sat on the edge of her armchair. Her eyes, always large, were owlish now, and her brown face seemed to have a gray undertone. I said, “Isn’t tomorrow your day off?”
Because she had a sister who could baby-sit her daughters, Viola worked at the Grille six days a week.
Stormy said, “Do you have plans? What are you doing tomorrow?”
“I figured I’d work around the house in the morning. Always things to do here. In the afternoon… that’s for the girls.”
“You mean Nicolina and Levanna?” I asked, naming her daughters.
“Saturday - that’s Levanna’s birthday. She’ll be seven. But the Grille is busy Saturdays, good tips. I can’t miss work. So we were going to celebrate early.”
“That new movie, it’s a big hit with all the kids, the one with the dog. We were going to the four-o’clock show.”
Before Stormy spoke, I knew the essence of what she would say. “Might be more of a crowd in a cool theater on a summer afternoon than at a Little League game.”
I asked Viola, “What did you plan after the movie?”
“Terri said bring them to the Grille, dinner on her.”
The Grille could be noisy when all the tables were filled, but I didn’t think that the enthusiastic conversation of the patrons in our little restaurant could be mistaken for the roar of a crowd. In dreams, of course, everything can be distorted, including sounds.
With the open window at my back, I suddenly felt vulnerable to an extent that made the skin pucker on the nape of my neck.
I looked out into the side yard again. All appeared to be as it had been a minute ago.
The graceful branches of the peppers hung in the breathless, jasmine-scented night air. Shadows and shrubs plaited their different darknesses, but as far as I could tell, they didn’t give cover to Bob Robertson or anyone else.
Nevertheless, I stepped away from the window, to the side of it,
when I turned once more to Viola. “I think you ought to change your plans for tomorrow.”
By saving Viola from this destiny, I might be sentencing someone else to die horribly in her place, just as might have been the case if I had warned off the blond bartender at the bowling alley. The only dif­ference was that I didn’t know the blonde… and Viola was a friend.
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