"Mike," she said.
"Not your boyfriend."
"The other one."
"I don't know," she said.
"Did you see his face?"
She frowned. "His face?"
"Face." As if the word were meaningless to her.
"Have you been doing anything?" he asked.
"A little grass. Earlier."
Maybe more than a little, he decided.
He tried again: "Did you see his face? Did you recognize him?"
"Face? No. Yes. Not really. A little."
"I thought it might be an old lover, rejected suitor, something like that."
She said nothing.
Her reluctance to talk about it gave Chase time to consider the situation. As he recalled the killer's approach from the top of the ridge, he began to wonder whether the man had known which car he was after or whether any car would have done, whether this was an act of revenge directed against Mike specifically or only the work of a madman. Even before he had been sent overseas, the papers had been filled with stories of meaningless slaughter. He had not read any papers since his discharge, but he suspected that the same brand of senseless murder still flourished.
The possibility of random, unmotivated homicide unnerved him. The similarity to Nam, to Operation Jules Verne and his part in it, stirred bad memories.
Fifteen minutes after they had left the ridge, Chase parked in front of the divisional police headquarters on Kensington Avenue.
"Are you feeling well enough to talk with them?" Chase asked.
She shrugged. "I guess so."
She had recovered remarkably fast. She even had the presence of mind to take Chase's pocket comb and run it through her dark hair. "How do I look?"
Maybe it was better to be without a woman than to die and leave behind one who grieved so briefly as this.
"Let's go," she said. She opened her door and stepped out, her lovely, trim legs flashing in a rustle of brief cloth.
* * *
The door of the small gray room opened, admitting a small gray man. His face was lined, and his eyes were sunken as if he had not slept in a day or two. His light-brown hair was uncombed and in need of a trim. He crossed to the table behind which Chase and the girl sat, and he took the only chair left. He folded into it as if he would never get up again. "I'm Detective Wallace."
"Glad to meet you," Chase said, though he was not glad at all.
The girl was quiet, examining her nails.
"Now, what's this all about?" Wallace asked, folding his hands on the scarred table and regarding them wearily, as if he'd already heard their story countless times.
"I already told the desk sergeant most of it," Chase said.
"He isn't in homicide. I am," Wallace said.
"Someone should be on the way out there. The body—"
"A car's been despatched. Your report's being checked out. That's what we do. Maybe not always well, but we do it. So you say someone was murdered."
"Her boyfriend, stabbed," Chase told him.
Wallace studied the girl as she studied her nails. "Can't she speak?"
"She's in shock maybe."
"These days?" Wallace joked, exhibiting a disregard for the girl's feelings that Chase found disconcerting.
The girl said, "Yeah, I can speak."
"What's your name?" Wallace asked.
"Allenby. Louise Allenby."
Wallace said, "You live in the city?"
Anger flared in her, but then she damped it and turned her gaze back to her nails. "Seventeen."
"In high school?"
"I graduated in June," she said. "I'm going to college in the fall. Penn State."
Wallace said, "Who was the boy?"
"Just Mike? Like Liberace. Like Picasso? One name?"
"Michael Karnes," she said.
"Just a boyfriend, or you engaged?"
"Boyfriend. We'd been going together for about a year, kind of steady."
"What were you doing on Kanackaway Ridge Road?" Wallace asked.
She looked boldly at him. "What do you think?"
Though Wallace's bored tone was disconcerting, Chase found the girl's detachment so unnerving that he wanted to be away from her as quickly as possible. "Look, Detective Wallace," he interjected, "is this really necessary? The girl wasn't involved in it. I think the guy might've gone for her next if I hadn't stopped him."
Wallace said, "How'd you happen to be there in the first place?"
"Just out driving," Chase said.
A light of interest switched on in the detective's eyes. "What's your name?"
"I thought I'd seen you before." His manner softened and his energy level rose. "Your picture was in the papers today."
"That was really something you did over there," Wallace said. "That really took guts."
"It wasn't as much as they make out," Chase said.
"I'll bet it wasn't!" Wallace said, though it was clear that he thought Chase's actions in Vietnam must have been even more heroic than the papers had portrayed them.
The girl had taken a new interest in Chase and was studying him openly.
Wallace's tone toward her changed too. He said, "You want to tell me about it, just how it happened?"
She told him, losing some of her eerie composure in the process. Twice Chase thought that she was going to cry, and he wished that she would. Her cold manner, so soon after all the blood, gave him the creeps. Maybe she was still in denial. She repressed the tears, and by the time she had finished her story, she was calm again.
"You saw his face?" Wallace asked.
"Just a glimpse," she said.
"Can you describe him?"
"He had brown eyes, I think."
"No mustache or beard?"
"I don't think so."
"Long sideburns or short?"
"Short, I think."
"Anything at all memorable about him?"
"The shape of his face—"
"It was just a face, any shape."
"His hair receding or full?"
"I can't remember," she said.
Chase said, "When I got to her, she was in a state of shock. I doubt she was registering anything."
Instead of a grateful agreement, Louise scowled at him.
He realized, too late, that the worst embarrassment for someone Louise's age was to lose her cool, to fail to cope. He had betrayed her momentary lapse to, of all people, a cop. She would have little gratitude for him now, even though he had saved her life.
Wallace got up. "Come on," he said.
"Where?" Chase asked.
"We'll go out there."
"Is that really necessary? For me, anyway?" Chase asked.
"Well, I have to take statements from both of you, in more detail than this. It would help, Mr. Chase, to be on the scene when you're describing it again. It'll only take a short while. We'll need the girl longer than we'll need you."
* * *
Chase was sitting in the rear of Wallace's squad car, thirty feet from the scene of the murder, answering questions, when the staff car from the Press-Dispatch arrived. Two photographers and a reporter got out.
For the first time, Chase realized that there would be local newspaper and television coverage. They would make a reluctant hero of him. Again.
"Please," he said to Wallace, "can we keep the reporters from learning who helped the girl?"
"I'm tired of reporters," Chase said.
Wallace said, "But you did save her life. You ought to be proud of that."
"I don't want to talk to them," Chase said.
"That's up to you. But they'll have to know who interrupted the killer. It'll be in the report."
Later, when Wallace was finished and Chase was getting out of the car to join another officer who would take him back to town, he felt the girl put a hand on his shoulder. He turned, and she said, "Thank you."
Maybe he was imagining it, but he thought that her touch had the quality of a caress and that her hand lingered. Even the possibility sickened him.
He met her eyes. Looked away at once.
At the same instant, a photographer snapped a picture. The flashbulb sprayed light. The light was brief—but the photograph would haunt him forever.
In the car, on the way back to town, the uniformed officer behind the wheel said that his name was Don Jones, that he had read about Chase, and that he would like to have Chase's autograph for his kids. Chase signed his name on the back of a blank homicide report, and at Jones's urging, he prefaced it with "To Rick and Judy Jones." The officer asked a lot of questions about Nam, which Chase answered as curtly as courtesy would allow.
In his prize Mustang, he drove more sedately than he had before. There was no anger in him now, only infinite weariness.
At a quarter past one in the morning, he parked in front of Mrs. Fielding's house, relieved to see that no lights were on. He unlocked the front door as quietly as the ancient deadbolt would permit, stepped knowingly around most of the loose boards in the staircase, and made his way to his attic apartment: one large room that served as a kitchen, bedroom, and living room, plus one walk-in closet and a private bath.
He locked his door.
He felt safe now.
Of course, he knew that he would never be safe again. No one ever was. Safety was an illusion.
This night at least, he hadn't been required to make polite conversation with Mrs. Fielding as she posed coyly in one of her half-unbuttoned housedresses, revealing the fish-belly-white curves of her breasts. He never understood why she chose to be so casually immodest at her age.
He undressed. He washed his face and hands. In fact, he washed his hands three times. He washed his hands a lot lately.
He studied the shallow knife wound in his thigh. It was already clotted and beginning to scab. He washed it, flushed it with alcohol, swabbed it with Merthiolate, and bandaged it.
In the main room, he completed the medication by pouring a glass of Jack Daniel's over two ice cubes. He sank onto the bed with the whiskey. He usually consumed half a bottle a day, minimum. This day, because of the damn banquet, he'd tried to stay sober. No longer.
Drinking, he felt clean again. Alone with a bottle of good liquor—that was the only time he felt clean.
He was pouring his second glassful when the telephone rang.
When he had first moved into the apartment, he hadn't wanted a telephone. No one would ever call. And he had no desire to make contact with anyone.
Mrs. Fielding had not believed that he could live without a phone. Envisioning herself becoming a messenger service for him, she had insisted that he have a telephone hooked up as a condition of occupancy.
That had been long before she knew that he was a war hero. It was even before he knew it.
For months the phone went unused except when she called from downstairs to tell him that mail had been delivered or to invite him to dinner.
Since the announcement by the White House, however, since all the excitement about the medal, he received calls every day, most of them from perfect strangers who offered congratulations that he did not deserve or sought interviews for publications that he had never read. He cut most of them short. Thus far, no one had ever had gall enough to ring him up this late at night, but he supposed he could never regain the solitude to which he had grown accustomed in those first months after his discharge.
He considered ignoring the phone and concentrating on his Jack Daniel's. But when it had rung for the sixteenth time, he realized that the caller was too persistent to be ignored, and he answered it. "Hello?"
"Do you know me?"
"No," he said, unable to place the voice. The man sounded tired—but aside from that one clue, he might have been anywhere between twenty and sixty years old, fat or thin, tall or short.
"How's your leg, Chase?" His voice contained a hint of humor, though the reason for it escaped Chase.
"Good enough," Chase said. "Fine."
"You're very good with your hands."
Chase said nothing, could not bring himself to speak, for now he understood what the call was about.
"Very good with your hands," the bird-dogger repeated. "I guess you learned that in the army."
"Yes," Chase said.
"I guess you learned a lot of things in the army, and I guess you think you can take care of yourself pretty well."
Chase said, "Is this you?"
The man laughed, momentarily shaking off his dispirited tone. "Yes, it's me. I am me. Exactly right. I've got a badly bruised throat, Chase, and I know my voice will be just awful by morning. Otherwise, I got away about as lightly as you did."
With a clarity reserved for moments of danger, Chase recalled the struggle with the killer on the grass by the Chevrolet. He tried to get a clear picture of the man's face but could do no better for his own sake than he had for the police. "How did you know I was the one who stopped you?"
"I saw your picture in the paper. You're a war hero. Your picture was everywhere. When you were lying on your back, beside the knife, I recognized you and got out of there fast."
"Who are you?"
"Do you really expect me to say?"
Chase had forgotten his drink altogether. The alarms, the goddamn alarms in his head, were ringing at peak volume. "What do you want?"
The stranger was silent for so long that Chase almost asked the question again. Suddenly, the amusement gone from his voice, the killer said, "You messed in where you had no right messing. You don't know the trouble I went to, picking the proper targets out of all those young fornicators, the ones who most deserved to die. I planned it for weeks, Chase, and I had given that young sinner his just punishment. The slut was left, and you saved her before I could perform my duty, saved a whore like that who had no right to be spared. This is not a good thing."