"These Aryan Alliance guys, they hate fags every bit as much as they hate all the coloreds. No way they're ever going to let some pansy-ass wear the ring."
"One more thing," Ben said. "I'd really like a list of Mike's friends, five or six guys his own age that he was close to. Someone he might have told about this guy in the red Volkswagen."
"Five or six—you're wasting your time. Mike wasn't close to very many people. Fact is, Marty Cable was his one best friend."
"Then we'll need to talk to Cable."
"He's probably at Hanover Park. Summers, he works as a lifeguard at the municipal pool." She looked more directly at Glenda than she had since they'd entered the house. "You think Ben here is ever going to screw me?"
"Probably not," Glenda said, evincing no surprise whatsoever at the question.
"Am I a package or not?" Louise asked.
Glenda said, "You are a package, all right."
"Then he must be nuts."
"Oh, he's okay," Glenda said.
"You think so?" the girl asked.
"Yeah," Glenda said. "He's a good guy."
"If you say so, then he must be."
The two women smiled at each other.
Then Louise took her hand from her crotch, looked at Ben, and sighed. "Too bad."
In the car, driving away from the house, Ben said, "Is the world going to hell or what?"
"You mean Louise?"
"Are girls like that now?"
"Some. But there have always been some like her. She's nothing new. She's just a child."
"She's almost eighteen, going to college in the fall, old enough to have some sense."
"No, that's not what I mean. She's just a child, and she always will be. Perpetually immature, always needing to be the center of attention. Don't waste your time disliking her, Ben. What she needs is sympathy, and lots of it, because she's going to have a bad life, a load of pain. When her looks eventually start to go, she won't know what to be."
"She liked you, even if she didn't want to," he said.
"A little, yeah."
"You liked her?"
"No. But we're all God's children, right? None of us deserve what life's going to dish out to her."
They drove along a street lined with enormous trees. Sunlight and shadow flickered across the windshield. Light and shadow. Hope and despair. Yesterday and tomorrow. Flickering.
After a while, he said, "She's a perpetual child, but you've been grown up forever."
"In spite of everything," she said, "I'm the lucky one."
* * *
Under the trees in Hanover Park, every patch of shade had been claimed by families with picnic hampers. Sunbathers lounged on big beach towels on the lawns, and games of volleyball were under way.
The Olympic-size municipal pool was full of screaming, splashing children. A lifeguard was posted at each end, on a raised chair, and half a dozen admiring teenage girls were gathered at each station, hoping to be noticed.
Ben led Glenda through the flesh market and introduced himself to Martin Cable.
The lifeguard was lean and muscular. He had a lot of long dark hair, but his face was as beardless as that of a much younger boy.
"Sure, me and Mike were buddies," he said when Ben asked him about Karnes. "What's it to you?"
"I don't think the cops are doing enough to nail the killer, and I don't like the idea of some lunatic running around with a grudge against me."
"Why should I care?"
"Your friend was killed."
"Everybody dies. Don't you watch the evening news?"
Because Cable was wearing mirror sunglasses, Ben couldn't see the teenager's eyes. He found it unnerving to watch his twin reflections in those silvered lenses and be unable to tell for sure whether Cable's attention was focused on him, on the parade of girls, or on the swimmers in the pool.
"I wasn't there when it happened," Cable said, "so how could I know anything that would help?"
Glenda said, "Don't you want Mike's killer to be caught?"
Because Cable didn't move a fraction of an inch or even tilt his head one degree to answer her, it was obvious that behind his mirror glasses, his attention was already on Glenda. "Whatever happens," he said cryptically.
"We talked to Louise Allenby," Chase said.
"You know her?"
"She said maybe Mike had some trouble with a guy a while ago."
Cable didn't reply.
Ben said, "She thinks this guy made a pass at him."
Cable frowned. "Mike, he was your fundamental pu**y hound."
"I don't doubt that."
"Man, he didn't even get laid till he was halfway through his junior year, and then once it happened, he just went nuts for it. Couldn't keep his mind on anything else."
Ben looked around uneasily at the teenage girls vying for the lifeguard's attention. Some were as young as fourteen or fifteen. He wanted to tell Cable to watch his language—but that would mean the end of their conversation.
"You know his parents," Cable said, "you can see why Mike would go off the deep end over something—pussy, drugs, booze, something just to prove he was alive."
"I've never met his folks," Ben said.
"Ma and Pa Tightass. He just sort of broke loose, all at once. After that, his grades dropped. He wanted to get into State, but he wasn't going to make it if he didn't pull up his grade-point average. No college deferral. Hello, Vietnam."
Screams rose from the pool. They could have been the shrieks of a hyperkinetic child at play or the frantic cries of a drowner. Marty Cable didn't turn to see which. He still seemed to be focused on Glenda.
"Physics was his worst subject. He had to get a tutor Saturdays. The guy was a sleaze."
"This was who made the pass at him?" Glenda asked. "The tutor?"
"Tried to convince Mike there was nothing wrong with swinging both ways. Mike got another tutor, but this guy kept calling him."
"You remember the name?"
"Not even the first name?"
"No. Mike, he got another tutor, passed physics. But you stop and think about it, what was all the trouble for? He's never going to go to State after all, is he? He might've been better off just forgetting about physics and screwing his brains out. Better use of what time he had left."
"With that attitude, then what's the point of doing anything?" Glenda asked.
"Is no point," Cable said, as if he thought she was agreeing with him. "We're all meat." To Chase, he said, "You know how things really are—you were in Nam," as if he himself understood the horrors of the war thanks to his monthly subscription to Rolling Stone. "Hey, you know how many nuclear bombs the Russians have aimed at us?"
"A lot," Chase said, impatient with the boy's cynicism.
"Twenty thousand," Cable said. "Enough to kill every one of us five times over."
"I'm not too worried until it's six times."
"Cool," Cable said with a small laugh, impervious to sarcasm. "Me neither. Not worried about a damn thing. Take what you can get and hope you wake up in the morning—that's the smart way to look at it.'
As a pair of squabbling crows flew low overhead, the lifeguard tilted his face toward the sky. The sun was a ferocious white fire on his mirror glasses.
* * *
Lora Karnes apparently didn't believe in makeup. Her hair was cut short and carelessly combed. Even in the July heat, she wore loose khaki slacks and a long-sleeve blouse. Although she must have been in her early forties, she seemed at least fifteen years older. She perched on the edge of her chair with her knees together, her hands folded in her lap, hunched forward like a gargoyle that was queerly disturbing yet insufficiently grotesque to be used on a cathedral parapet.
The house was as drab and quiet as the woman. The living-room furniture was heavy and dark. The drapes were shut against the July glare, and two lamps shed a peculiar gray light. On the television, an evangelist was gesticulating furiously, but the sound was muted, so he seemed like a crazed and poorly trained mime.
Framed and hung on the walls were needlepoint samplers with quotations from the Bible. Mrs. Karnes evidently had made them herself. Curiously, the quotations were obscure and enigmatic, perhaps taken out of context. Ben couldn't make much sense of them or quite grasp what spiritual guidance they were supposed to offer:
I WILL LAY MINE HAND
UPON MY MOUTH
—Job, xl, 4
PUT THEM IN MIND ...
TO OBEY MAGISTRATES
—Titus, iii, 1
BLESSED IS HE,
WHOSOEVER SHALL NOT
BE OFFENDED IN ME
—Luke, vii, 23
AND JACOB SOD POTTAGE
—Genesis, xxv, 29
The walls also featured framed portraits of religious leaders, but the gallery was an eclectic mix: the pope, Oral Roberts, Billy Graham, a couple of faces that Chase recognized as those of tackier television evangelists with more interest in contributions than in salvation. There seemed to be a wealth of religious feeling in the Karnes house—but no clear-cut faith.
Harry Karnes was as drab as his wife and the room: short, only perhaps ten years older than Lora but so thin and prematurely aged as to be on the verge of frailty. His hands shook when they were not resting on the arms of his Barcalounger. He could not look directly at Ben but gazed over his head when speaking to him.
On the sofa beside Glenda, Ben figured that visitors to the Karnes house were rare indeed. One day, someone would realize they hadn't heard from Lora or Harry in a while and, upon investigation, would find the couple sitting as they were now, but shriveled and shrunken and long mummified, dead a decade before anyone noticed.
"He was a good boy," said Harry Karnes.
"Let's not lie to Mr. Chase," Lora admonished.
"He did well in school, and he was going to college too," Harry said.
"Now, Dad, we know that isn't truthful," Lora said. "He went wild."
"Later, yes. But before that, Mother, he was a good boy," said Harry."`
"He went wild, and you'd not have thought he was the same boy from one year to the next. Running around. Always out later than he should be. How could it end any way but what it did?"
The longer that Chase remained in the warm, stuffy house, the chillier he became. "I'm primarily interested in this physics tutor he had back in the beginning of the year."
Lora Karnes frowned. "Like I said, the second teacher's name was Bandoff, but I don't remember the first. Do you, Dad?"
"It's in the back of my mind, Mother, but I can't quite see it," said Harry Karnes, and he turned his attention to the silently ranting preacher on the television.
"Didn't you have to pay the man?" Glenda asked.
"Well, but it was in cash. Never wrote out a check," said Lora Karnes. She glanced disapprovingly at Glenda's bare legs, then looked quickly away, as though embarrassed. "Besides, he only tutored for a couple of weeks. Michael couldn't learn from him, and we had to get Mr. Bandoff."
"How did you find the first tutor?"
"Michael found him through the school. Both were through the school."
"The high school where Mike attended classes?"
"Yes, but this teacher didn't work there. He taught at George Washington High, on the other side of town, but he was on the list of recommended tutors."
"Michael was a smart boy," Harry said.
"Smart is never smart enough," his wife said.
"He could have been something someday."
"Not with just being smart," his wife corrected.
The Karneses made Ben nervous. He couldn't figure them out. They were fanatics of some sort, but they seemed to have gone down their own strange little trail in the wilderness of disorganized—as opposed to organized—religion.
"If he hadn't gone wild like he did," Lora said, "he might've made something of himself. But he couldn't control himself. And then how could it end any way but how it did?"
Glenda said, "Do you remember anything at all about the first tutor—where he lived? Didn't Mike go there for the lessons?"
"Yes," said Lora Karnes. "I think it was in that nice little neighborhood over on the west side, with all the bungalows."
"Crescent Heights?" Glenda suggested.
Turning away from the television, looking over his wife's head, Harry said, "Mother, wasn't the fella's name Lupinski, Lepenski—something like that?"
"Dad, you're right. Linski. That was his name. Linski."
"Richard?" Harry suggested.
"Exactly, Dad. Richard Linski."
"But he wasn't any good," Harry told the wall past Ben's left shoulder. "So we got the second tutor, and then Michael's grades improved. He was a good boy."
"Once, he was, Dad. And you know, I don't blame him for it all. Plenty of blame for us to share in it."
Ben felt their weird gloom sucking him down as surely as if he'd been caught in a whirlpool in a dark sea.
Glenda said, "Can you spell that last name for me."
"L-i-n-s-k-i," said Lora.
"Michael didn't like him," Lora said.
"Michael was a good boy, Mother." Harry had tears in his eyes.
Seeing her husband's condition, Lora Karnes said, "Let's not blame the boy too much, Dad. I agree. He wasn't wicked."
"Can't blame a child for all its faults, Mother."
"You have to go back to the parents, Dad. If Michael wasn't so perfect, then it's because we weren't perfect ourselves."
As if speaking to the muted evangelist on the television, Harry Karnes said, "You can't raise a godly child when you've done wicked things yourself."
Afraid that the couple was about to descend into a series of teary confessions that would make no more sense than the words on the needlepoint samplers, Ben abruptly got to his feet and took Glenda's hand as she rose beside him. "Sorry to have brought this all back into your minds again."
"Not at all," Lora Karnes said. "Memory chastens."