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“He won’t contact her,” Sally says.

She cannot keep her mouth shut. It’s simply impossible. What is wrong with her? That’s what Gillian’s glare is asking, and that’s what Sally is asking herself. It’s just that this investigator gets such a worried look when he focuses on something. He’s a man of concern, she sees that. He’s the kind of man you’d never want to lose once you’d finally found him.

“Jimmy knows we’re through,” Gillian announces. She goes to pour herself a cup of coffee, and while she’s at it she sticks an elbow into Sally’s ribs. “What’s wrong with you?” she whispers. “Will you just shut up?” She turns back to Gary. “I made it perfectly clear to Jimmy that our relationship was finito. That’s why he won’t contact me. We’re history.”

“I’m going to have to have the car impounded,” Gary says.

“Naturally,” Gillian says graciously. If they’re lucky, this guy will be gone in under two minutes. “Go right ahead.”

Gary stands and runs his hands through his dark hair. He’s supposed to leave now. He knows that. But he’s dragging his feet. He wants to go on looking into Sally’s eyes, and drown a thousand times a day. Instead, he takes his coffee cup to the sink.

“You don’t have to bother with that,” Gillian tells him warmly, desperate to be rid of him.

Sally smiles when she sees the way he places the cup and the spoon down so carefully.

“If anything does happen to come up, I’ll be in town until tomorrow morning.”

“Nothing will happen,” Gillian assures him. “Trust me.”

Gary reaches for the notebook he keeps to remind himself of details and flips it open. “I’ll be at the Hide-A-Way Motel.” He looks up and sees nothing but Sally’s gray eyes. “Someone at the rental car desk recommended it.”

Sally knows the place, a dump on the other side of the Turnpike, near a vegetable stand and a fried-chicken franchise known for its excellent onion rings. She could not care less if he’s staying in a lousy motel like that. She doesn’t give a damn that he’s leaving tomorrow. As a matter of fact, she’ll be leaving, too. She and her girls will be out of here in no time. If they wake early, and don’t stop for coffee, they can make it to Massachusetts by noon. They can be opening the curtains in the aunts’ dark rooms to let in some sunlight just after lunch.

“Thanks for the coffee,” Gary says. He spies the half-dead cactus on the window ledge. “This is definitely not representative of the species. It’s in sad shape, I’ll tell you that.”

Last winter, Ed Borelli gave each of the secretaries at the high school a cactus for Christmas. “Plop it on your windowsill and forget about it,” Sally had advised when complaints were raised about who on earth would want such a thing, and other than slosh some water onto its saucer now and then, that’s exactly what she herself has done. But Gary is paying the cactus a good deal of attention. He’s got that worried look, and he’s fumbling with something stuck between the saucer the cactus rests on and its pot. When he turns back to face Sally and Gillian, he seems so pained that Sally’s first thought is that he’s pricked his finger.

“Damn it,” Gillian whispers.

It’s Jimmy’s silver ring Gary is holding on to, and that’s what’s causing him such pain. They’re going to lie to him and he knows it. They’re going to tell him they’ve never seen this ring before, or that they bought it in an antique store, or that it must have dropped from the heavens above.

“Nice ring,” Gary says. “Real unusual.”

Neither Sally nor Gillian can figure how this can be possible; they know for a fact that ring was on Jimmy’s finger, it’s buried out back, and yet here it is in the investigator’s hand. And he’s looking at Sally now; he’s waiting for an explanation. Why shouldn’t he be; he’s read a description of this ring in three depositions: A rattler on one side of it, he remembers that. A coiled snake, which is exactly what he’s got now.

Sally feels that heart-attack thing again; it’s something wrong in the center of her chest, like a red-hot poker, like a piece of glass, and there’s nothing she can do about it. She couldn’t lie to this man if her life depended on it—and it does—and that’s the reason she doesn’t say a word.

“Well, look at that.” Gillian is all wonder and sugar. It’s so easy for her to do this, she doesn’t have to think twice. “That old thing’s probably been there for a million years.”