“I been following you since lunch, and I know you got three of them on a String in Acapulco-”
“Four,” Haines said, and in spite of his terror a visible pride surfaced. “That Mercedes I'm driving belongs to Giselle, the sweetest little-”
“You're using one woman's car to cheat on her with three others?”
Haines nodded and tried to smile, but he winced as the smile sent new waves of pain through his ruined nose. “I've always . . . had this way with the ladies.”
“For God's sake!” Vince was appalled. “Don't you realize these aren't the sixties or seventies any more? Free love's dead. It's got a price now. Steep price. Haven't you heard about herpes, AIDS, all that stuff?” Administering the pentothal, he said, “You must be a carrier for every venereal disease known to man.”
Blinking stupidly at him, Haines at first looked baffled and then was deep in a pentothal sleep. Under the drug, he confirmed all that he had already told Vince about Banodyne and the Francis Project.
When the drug wore off, Vince used the Taser on Haines, just for the fun of it, until the batteries wore out. The scientist twitched and kicked like a half-crushed water bug, back bowed, digging at the moss with his heels and head and hands.
When the Taser was of no further use, Vince beat him unconscious with the leather sap and killed him by applying the corkscrew to the space between two ribs, angling it up into the beating heart.
Throughout, a sepulchral silence hung over the rain forest, but Vince sensed a thousand eyes watching, the eyes of wild things. He believed that the hidden watchers approved of what he had done to Haines because the scientist's lifestyle made him an affront to the natural order of things, the natural order that all the creatures of the jungle obeyed.
He said, “Thank you,” to Haines, but he did not kiss the man. Not on the mouth. Not even on the forehead. Haines's life energy was as invigorating and welcome as anyone's, but his body and spirit were unclean.
Nora went straight home from the park. The mood of adventure and the spirit of freedom that had colored the morning and the early afternoon could not be recaptured. Streck had sullied the day.
Closing the front door behind her, she engaged the regular lock, the dead-bolt lock, and the brass safety chain. She went through the downstairs rooms, drawing the drapes tightly shut at all the windows to prevent Arthur Streck from seeing inside if he should come prowling around. But she could not tolerate the resultant darkness, so she turned on every lamp in every room. In the kitchen, she closed the shutters and checked the lock on the back door.
Her contact with Streck had not only terrified her but had left her feeling dirty. More than anything, she wanted a long, hot shower.
But her legs were suddenly shaky and weak, and she was seized by a spell of dizziness. She had to grab hold of the kitchen table to steady herself. She knew she would fall if she tried to climb the stairs just then, so she sat down, folded her arms on the table, put her head in her arms, and waited until she felt better.
When the worst of the dizziness passed, she remembered the bottle of brandy in the cupboard by the refrigerator, and she decided a drink might help steady her. She had bought the brandy-Remy Martin-after Violet had died because Violet had not approved of any stronger drink than partially fermented apple cider. As an act of rebellion, Nora had poured a glass of brandy for herself when she had come home from her aunt's funeral. She had not enjoyed it and had emptied most of the contents of the glass down the drain. But now it seemed that a shot of brandy would stop her shivering.
First she went to the sink and washed her hands repeatedly under the hottest water she could tolerate, using both soap and then a lot of Ivory dishwashing liquid, scrubbing away every trace of Streck. When she was done, her hands were red and looked raw.
She brought the brandy bottle and a glass to the table. She had read books in which characters had sat down with a fifth of booze and a heavy load of despair, determined to use the former to wash away the latter. Sometimes it worked for them, so maybe it would work for her. If brandy could improve her state of mind even marginally, she was prepared to drink the whole damn bottle.
But she did not have it in her to be a lush. She spent the next two hours sipping at a single glass of Remy Martin.
When she tried to turn her mind away from thoughts of Streck, she was relentlessly tormented by memories of Aunt Violet, and when she tried not to think of Violet, she was right back to Streck again, and when she forced herself to put both of them out of her mind, she thought of Travis Cornell, the man in the park, and dwelling on him gave her no comfort either. He had seemed nice-gentle, polite, concerned-and he had gotten rid of Streck. But he was probably just as bad as Streck. If she gave him half a chance, Cornell would probably take advantage of her the same way Streck was trying to do. Aunt Violet had been a tyrant, twisted and sick, but increasingly it seemed that she had been right about the dangers of interacting with other people.
Ah, but the dog. That was a different story. She had not been afraid of the dog, not even when he had dashed toward the park bench, barking ferociously. Somehow, she knew that the retriever-Einstein, his master had called him-was not barking at her, that his anger was focused on Streck. Clinging to Einstein, she'd felt safe, protected, even with Streck still looming over her.
Maybe she should get a dog of her own. Violet had abhorred the very idea of house pets. But Violet was dead, forever dead, and there was nothing to prevent Nora from having a dog of her own.
Except . .
Well, she had the peculiar notion that no other dog would give her the profound feeling of security she had gotten from Einstein. She and the retriever had enjoyed instant rapport.
Of course, because the dog rescued her from Streck, she might be attributing qualities to him that he did not possess. Naturally, she would view him as a savior, her valiant guardian. But no matter how vigorously she tried to disabuse herself of the notion that Einstein was only a dog like any other, she still felt he was special, and she was convinced no other dog would give her the degree of protection and companionship that Einstein could provide.
A single glass of Remy Martin, consumed over two hours, plus thoughts of Einstein, did in fact lift her spirits. More important, the brandy and memories of the dog also gave her the courage to go to the kitchen telephone with the determination to call Travis Cornell and offer to buy his retriever. After all, he had told her he'd owned the dog only one day, so he couldn't be deeply attached to it. For the right price, he might sell. She paged through the directory, found Cornell's number, and dialed it.
He answered on the second ring. “Hello?”
On hearing his voice, she realized that any attempt to buy the dog from him would give him a lever with which he could attempt to pry his way into her life. She had forgotten that he might be just as dangerous as Streck.
“Hello?” he repeated.
“Hello? Is anyone there?”
She hung up without saying a word.
Before she spoke with Cornell about the dog, she needed to devise an approach that would somehow discourage him from thinking he could make a move on her if, in fact, he was like Streck.
When the telephone rang at a few minutes before five o'clock, Travis was emptying a can of Alpo into Einstein's bowl. The retriever was watching with interest, licking his chops but waiting until the last scraps had been scraped from the can, exhibiting restraint.
Travis went for the phone, and Einstein went for the food. When no one answered Travis's first greeting, he said hello again, and the dog glanced away from his bowl. When Travis still got no answer, he asked if anyone was on the line, which seemed to intrigue Einstein because the dog padded across the kitchen to look up at the receiver in Travis's hand.
Travis hung up and turned away, but Einstein stood there, gazing at the wall phone.
“Probably a wrong number.”
Einstein glanced at him, then at the phone again.
“Or kids thinking they're being clever.”
Einstein whined unhappily.
“What's eating you?”
Einstein just stood there, riveted by the phone.
With a sigh, Travis said, “Well, I've had all the bewilderment I can handle for one day. If you're going to wax mysterious, you'll have to do it without me.”
He wanted to watch the early news before preparing dinner for himself, so he got a Diet Pepsi from the fridge and went into the living room, leaving the dog in peculiar communion with the telephone. He switched on the TV, sat in the big armchair, popped the tab on his Pepsi-and heard Einstein getting into some kind of trouble in the kitchen.
“What're you doing out there?”
A clank. A clatter. The sound of claws scrabbling against a hard surface. A thump, and another.
“Whatever damage you do,” Travis warned, “you're going to have to pay for. And how're you going to earn the bucks? Might have to go up to Alaska and work as a sled dog.”
The kitchen got quiet. But only for a moment. Then there were a couple of clunks, a rattle, a rustle, more scrabbling of claws.
Travis was intrigued in spite of himself. He used the remote-control unit to mute the TV.
Something hit the kitchen floor with a bang.
Travis was about to go see what had happened, but before he rose from the chair, Einstein appeared. The industrious dog was carrying the telephone directory in his jaws. He must have leaped repeatedly at the kitchen counter where the book lay, pawing it, until he pulled it onto the floor. He crossed the living room and deposited the book in front of the armchair.
“What do you want?” Travis asked.
The dog nudged the directory with his nose, then gazed at Travis expectantly.
“You want me to call someone?”
Einstein nosed the phone book again.
Travis said, “Now who would you want me to call? Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Old Yeller?”
The retriever stared at him with those dark, undoglike eyes, which were more expressive than ever but insufficient to communicate what the animal Wanted.
“Listen, maybe you can read my mind,” Travis said, “but I can't read yours.”
Whining in frustration, the retriever padded out of the room, disappearing around the corner into the short hallway that served the bath and two bedrooms.
Travis considered following, but he decided to wait and see what happened next.
In less than a minute, Einstein returned, carrying a gold-framed eight-by-ten photograph in his mouth. He dropped it beside the phone directory. It was the picture of Paula that Travis kept on the bedroom dresser. It had been taken on their wedding day, ten months before she died. She looked beautiful-and deceptively healthy.
“No good, boy. I can't call the dead.”
Einstein huffed as if to say Travis was thickheaded. He went to a magazine rack in the corner, knocked it over, spilling its contents, and came back with an issue of Time, which he dropped beside the gold-framed photograph. With his forepaws, he scraped at the magazine, pulling it open and leafing through its pages, tearing a few in the process.
Moving to the edge of the armchair, leaning forward, Travis watched with interest.
Einstein paused a couple of times to study the open pages of the magazine, then continued to paw through it. Finally, he came to an automobile advertisement that prominently featured a striking brunette model. He looked up at Travis, down at the ad, up at Travis again, and woofed.
“I don't get you.”
Pawing the pages again, Einstein found an ad in which a smiling blonde was holding a cigarette. He snorted at Travis.
“Cars and cigarettes? You want me to buy you a car and a pack of Virginia Slims?”
After another trip to the overturned magazine rack, Einstein returned with a copy of a real-estate magazine that still showed up in the mail every month even though Travis had been out of the racket for two years. The dog pawed through that one as well until he found an ad that featured a pretty brunette real-estate saleswoman in a Century 21 jacket.
Travis looked at Paula's photograph, at the blonde smoking the cigarette, at the perky Century 21 agent, and he remembered the other ad with the brunette and the automobile, and he said, “A woman? You want me to call . . . some woman?”
With his jaws, Einstein gently took hold of Travis's wrist and tried to pull him out of the chair.
“Okay, okay, let go. I'll follow you.”
But Einstein was taking no chances. He would not let go of Travis's wrist, forcing his master to walk in a half-stoop all the way across the living room and dining room, into the kitchen, to the wall phone. There, he finally released Travis.
“Who?” Travis asked again, but suddenly he understood. There was only one woman whose acquaintance both he and the dog had made. “Not the lady we met in the park today?”
Einstein began to wag his tail.
“And you think that's who just called us?”
The tail wagged faster.
“How could you know who was on the line? She didn't say a word. And what are you up to here, anyway? Matchmaking?”
The dog woofed twice.
“Well, she was certainly pretty, but she wasn't my type, fella. A little strange, didn't you think?”
Einstein barked at him, ran to the kitchen door and jumped at it twice, turned to Travis and barked again, ran around the table, barking all the way, dashed to the door and jumped at it once more, and gradually it became apparent that he was deeply disturbed about something.
About the woman.
She had been in some kind of trouble this afternoon in the park. Travis remembered the bastard in the running shorts. He had offered to help the woman, and she had refused. But had she reconsidered and phoned him a few minutes ago, only to discover that she did not have the courage to explain her plight?
“You really think that's who called?”
The tail started wagging again.
“Well . . . even if it was her, it's not wise to get involved.”
The retriever rushed at him, seized the right leg of his jeans, and shook the denim furiously, nearly tugging Travis off balance.
“All right, already! I'll do it. Get me the damn directory.”
Einstein let go of him and raced out of the room, slipping on the slick linoleum. He returned with the directory in his jaws.
Only as Travis took the phone book did he realize that he had expected the dog to understand his request. The animal's extraordinary intelligence and abilities were now things that Travis took for granted.
With a jolt, he also realized that the dog would not have brought the directory to him in the living room if it had not understood the purpose of such a book.
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