"All that happened is—we both found the same doorway from different sides."
"We give it time, enough time, and see if this is what we need," she said.
"And you're not?"
"I know I'm not," he said.
She kissed him again and went to bed.
And later still, after he had converted the chair into its fullest reclining position, turned off the lamp on the end table, and settled down, she returned in the darkness and sat across from him. He did not hear her coming as much as feel the serenity that she brought with her.
"Ben?" she said.
"Everyone is damaged."
"Not everyone," he said.
"Yes. Everyone. Not just you, not just me."
He knew why she had waited for darkness. Some things were not easily said in the light.
"I don't know if I can ever ... be with a woman again," he said. "The war. What happened. No one knows. I have this guilt ... ."
"Of course you do. Good men wear chains of guilt all their lives. They feel."
"This is ... this is worse than what other men have done."
"We learn, we change, or we die," she said quietly.
He couldn't speak.
From the darkness, she said, "When I was a little girl, I had to give what I never wanted to give, day after day, week after week, year after year, to a father who didn't know the meaning of guilt."
"I'm so sorry."
"You needn't be. That's long ago," she said. "Many doors away from where I am now."
"I should never touch you."
"Hush. You will touch me one day, and I'll be happy for your touch. Maybe next week. Next month. Maybe a year from now or even longer. Whenever you're ready. Everyone is damaged, Ben, but the heart can be repaired."
When she rose from her chair and returned to the bedroom, she left a place of peace behind her, and Ben found a sleep without nightmares.
* * *
Sunday morning, Glenda was still sleeping soundly when Ben went to her bedroom to check on her. He stood in the doorway for a long while, listening to her slow, steady breathing, which seemed to him to have all the subtle power of a gentle tide breaking on a beach.
He left her a note in the kitchen: I've got some business to take care of. Will call soon. Love, Ben.
The morning sun was already fiercely hot. The sky was gas-flame blue, as it had been the previous day, but it no longer seemed like a flat, blind vault. It was a deep sky now, with places beyond.
He returned to his apartment, where he encountered Mrs. Fielding in the front hall.
"Been out all night?" she asked, eyeing the rumpled clothes in which he'd slept. "You didn't have an accident, did you?"
"No," he said, climbing the stairs, "and I wasn't bar hopping the topless joints either."
He was surprised that he had been able to be brusque with her, and she was so startled that she had no reply.
After a shower and a shave, he sat with his notebook of clues, trying to decide what his next step should be.
When the telephone rang, he hoped it was Glenda, but Judge said, "So you've found yourself a bitch in heat, have you?"
Ben knew that he hadn't been followed to Glenda's apartment.
Judge could be aware of nothing more than that he'd been out all night; the bastard was just assuming that he'd been with a woman.
"Killer and fornicator," Judge accused.
"I know what you look like," Ben said. "About my height, blond, with a long thin nose. You walk with your shoulders hunched. You're a neat dresser."
Judge was amused. "With that and the entire U.S. Army to help you search, you might find me in time, Chase."
"You're part of the brotherhood."
The killer was silent. This was a nervous silence and therefore different from his usual judgmental silences.
"The Aryan Alliance," Ben said. "You and Eric Blentz. You and a lot of other moronic as**oles who think you're the master race."
"You don't want to cross certain people, Mr. Chase."
"You don't scare me. I've been dead for years anyway. You've got a dead man looking for you, Judge, and we dead men never stop."
With sudden anger hotter than the July morning, Judge said, "You don't know anything about me, Chase, not anything that matters—and you're not going to get a chance to learn anything more."
"Whoa, easy, easy," Ben said, enjoying being on the delivery end of the needle for a change. "You master-race guys, you come from a lot of inbreeding, cousins lying with cousins, sisters with brothers, makes you a little unstable sometimes."
Judge was silent again, and when he finally spoke, he sounded as if he was shaking with the effort to control his anger. "Do you like your new bitch, Chase? Isn't that the name of the good witch in the land of Oz? Glenda the good witch?"
Ben's heart felt as if it had turned over. He tried to fake bafflement: "Who? What're you talking about?"
"Glenda, tall and golden."
There was no way that he had been followed to her apartment.
"Works in a morgue," said Judge.
He couldn't know.
"Dead newspapers. I think I'll send the fornicating bitch to another kind of morgue, Chase, a morgue where the dead have some real meat on them."
Judge hung up.
He couldn't know.
But he did.
Suddenly Chase felt pursued by a supernatural avenger. Justice had come for him at last. Out of those faraway, long-ago tunnels.
GLENDA ANSWERED BEN'S KNOCK, READ THE ANXIETY IN HIS EYES, AND said, "What's wrong?"
Once inside, he closed the front door and engaged both the latch and the deadbolt.
"Ben?" She was wearing a pink T-shirt, white shorts, and tennis shoes. Her golden hair was pulled back in a pair of ponytails, one behind each ear, and even as tall as she was, she still seemed like a little girl. In spite of what she'd told him in the darkness last night, she was the personification of innocence.
"Do you own a gun?" he asked.
"Neither do I. Didn't want to see a gun after the war. Now nothing would make me happier than to have one in my hand."
In the dining area off the kitchen, at the table where they'd had dinner the previous night, he told her about Judge, everything since the murder of Michael Karnes. "Now ... because of me ... you're part of it."
She reached across the small table and took his hand. "No. That's the wrong way to look at it. Now, because we met, we're in it together—and you're no longer alone."
"I want to call Detective Wallace, ask him to provide you with protection."
"Why should he believe you any more now than he did before?" she asked.
"The damage to my car, when the guy sideswiped it out at the mall, trying to run me down."
"He won't believe that's how it happened. You don't have any witnesses. He'll say you were drinking."
Ben knew that she was right. "We need to get help somewhere."
"You were handling it on your own, tracking him down on your own. So why not the two of us now?"
He shook his head. "That was all right when it was only my life on the line. But now—"
"People in books," she said.
"We can trust people in books. But here, right now—we can't trust anyone but ourselves."
He was scared as he had not been in a long time. Not scared only for her. Scared for himself. Because at last he had something to lose.
"But how do we find the creep?" he wondered.
"We do whatever you were going to do on your own. First, call Louise Allenby. Find out if she got the name of the guy who dated her mother, the guy with the Aryan Alliance ring."
"He won't be Judge. Louise would have recognized him."
"But he might be a link to Judge."
"That would be too neat."
"Sometimes life is neat."
Ben called the Allenby house, and Louise answered. When she heard who it was, her voice dropped into a seductive purr. She had the name he wanted, but she wouldn't give it to him on the telephone.
"You'll have to come around and see me," she said coquettishly. "My mom's away for the weekend with this guy. Got the place all to myself."
* * *
When Louise answered the bell, she was wearing a yellow bikini, and she smelled of coconut tanning lotion. Opening the door, she said, "I knew you'd be back to get the reward—"
When she saw Glenda, she fell silent.
"May we come in?" Ben asked.
Louise stepped back, confused, and closed the door behind them.
Ben introduced Glenda as a close friend, and Louise's face soured into a pout.
Heading to the living room, rolling her h*ps to show off her tight butt, the girl said, "Will you have a drink this time?"
"Early, isn't it?"
"No, thanks," Ben said. "We've only got a couple of questions, and we'll be going."
At the wet bar, Louise stood with her right hip cocked, mixing her drink.
Ben and Glenda sat on the sofa, and Louise carried her drink to an armchair opposite them. The girl slouched in the chair, with her legs spread. The crotch of her skimpy swimsuit conformed to the folds of flesh that it was supposed to conceal, leaving nothing to the imagination.
Chase felt uncomfortable, but Glenda seemed as serene as ever.
"The name you wanted," Louise said, "is Tom Deekin. The guy who dated my mom, the guy with the ring. He sells insurance. Has an office over on Canby Street by the firehouse. But he isn't the guy who knifed Mike."
"I know. Still ... he might be able to give us the names of other people in the brotherhood."
"Fat chance." She was holding her drink in one hand and lightly caressing one well-tanned thigh with the other, trying to make her self-appreciation seem unconscious but being too blatant by half. "These guys are committed to something, you know, they have ideals—and you're an outsider. Why're they going to tell you anything?"
She smiled and shook her head. "You think maybe you can squeeze a few names out of Tom Deekin? Listen, these guys have steel balls. They have to be tough, getting ready to defend against the nappy-heads and the kikes and the rest of them."
Ben supposed that some members of the Aryan Alliance might be dangerous—but most of them were probably playing at this master-race stuff, drinking beer and gassing about racial Armageddon instead of watching football games on the tube.
Glenda said, "Louise, as I understand it, you'd gone with Mike for a year before ..."
"Before that fruitcake gutted him?" Louise said, as if to prove that she was as tough as anyone. Or maybe the coldness in her was as real as it seemed. "A year—yeah, that's about right. Why?"
"Did you ever notice anyone following you—as if they were keeping a watch on you?"
Ben knew what Glenda was after. Judge researched his potential victims to discover their sins, to attempt to justify his murderous urges as righteous judgments. He had followed Mike and Louise; he'd told Ben as much; therefore, they might have noticed him.
"You answered too fast, without thinking," Ben said. "Glenda doesn't mean was someone following you recently. Maybe it was even weeks ago, even months ago."
Louise hesitated, sipping her drink. Her free hand slid from her thigh to the crotch of her bikini. Her fingertips moved in slow circles over the yellow fabric.
Though she stared mostly at Ben, the girl occasionally glanced assessingly at Glenda. She clearly felt that they were engaged in a competition.
Glenda, in her serenity, had won all the necessary races years ago—and had never run against anyone but herself.
Louise said, "The beginning of the year, about February and March, there was something like that. Some creep hanging around—but it never amounted to anything. It turned out not to be any mysterious stranger."
"Not a stranger? Then who?"
"Well, when Mike first said he was following us, I just laughed, you know? Mike was like that, always off on one fantasy or another. He was going to be an artist, did you know? First he was going to work in a garret and become world famous. Jesus. Then he was going to be a paperback-book illustrator. Then a film director, paint with the camera. He never could decide—but he knew whatever it was he would be famous and rich. A dreamer."
"And he thought someone was watching you together?" Ben asked.
"It was this guy in a Volkswagen. A red Volkswagen. After a week or so I saw it wasn't another fantasy. There really was this guy in the VW."
"What did he look like?" Ben asked.
"I never saw him. He stayed far enough away. But he wasn't dangerous. Mike knew him."
Ben felt as if the top of his head were coming off, and he wanted to shake the rest of the story out of her without having to go through this question-and-answer routine. Calmly he said, "Who was the guy?"
"I don't know," she said. "Mike wouldn't tell me."
"And you weren't curious?" he asked.
"Sure I was. But when Mike made up his mind about something, he wouldn't change it. One night, when we went to the Diamond Dell—that's a drive-in hamburger joint on Galasio—he got out of the car and went back and talked to the guy in the VW. When he came back, he said he knew him and that we wouldn't have any more trouble with him. And he was right. The guy drove away, and he didn't follow us any more. I never knew what it was about, and I forgot about it till you asked."
"But you must have had some idea," Ben insisted. "You can't have let it drop without having found out something more concrete."
She put down her drink. "Mike didn't want to talk about it, and I thought I knew why. He never said directly, but I think maybe the weasel in the VW made a pass at him once."
"A pass?" Ben said.
"I only think so," she said. "Couldn't prove it. Anyway, it couldn't be the same guy that killed him, the guy with the ring."
"Why not?" Glenda asked.