A thin dawn was pressing against the bedroom windowpane when she first opened her eyes, outlining the figure on the next pillow. She only had time for a gasping intake of breath before the memory of yesterday rushed warmly back. She exhaled, closed her eyes and stretched back onto her own pillow, mouth curved in a soft smile.
He was still asleep and that was just fine. She wanted to lie still for awhile and revel in all the changes that had taken place in what seemed like such a few short hours.
Some memories were, admittedly, garbled. There were points when her higher brain functions had simply shut down and left her spinal column in complete control. And that had been just fine, too. But parts of the day were still crystal clear in her mind and she wanted to re- live them over and over.
At first there had been very little discussion. There had been words, certainly, but they had been brief and connected to nothing. She was left with an impression of near panic in him and a vague sort of protest she still didn't understand. He seemed to be trying to protect her from something. But she had paid scant attention and, after a time, he had subsided.
When words came again, they were sprawled side-by-side on the couch, arms wrapped around each other at various angles. Her head was cradled in the hollow of his shoulder and she could feel his chest rise and fall with each breath. He was the first to break the silence and he did it with an apology.
"I'm sorry, Laura."
"Everything, I suppose. I wish..."
"What?" She didn't move. She didn't want anything to distract him, now that he was talking.
"I wish I could go back and do it right. Be there for you. God, Laura, I never meant...I would have...I wanted so much..."
"Stop." She raised her head and saw him pause. "I'm not listening to this again. I know you would have been there if you'd known. I knew it then. I've always known it. Whatever else I may have believed, I knew that you would never abandon your own child. You would have been there. And I knew that you'd be back if you ever found out."
He winced. "It's not just the child. I wanted to be there for you. You shouldn't have had to go through all that alone."
"I wasn't alone. I had Mildred and Frances and Mother and Donald and Murphy and Pat and Monroe and..."
"Monroe? My Monroe?"
"Yes, your friend Monroe. He sort of appointed himself my 'guardian angel.' How he found out I never knew. I thought at first that you had asked him to watch out for me. But then, after the baby was born I never heard from you and I finally asked, and Monroe told me he had no idea where you were, that he hadn't heard from you since long before you left."
"What exactly did he tell you?"
"Well, he didn't tell me much. I never found out how he knew about my being pregnant. But shortly after I gave up trying to pay the rent on that huge apartment and moved into a smaller place, I was robbed. I reported it and then went to the police station to fill out the paperwork. They cleaned me out of everything, cash, furniture, even food. Mildred was at her sister's for the weekend and my family hadn't yet descended on me. So I was surprised when I got back from the police station to find new furniture and a load of groceries in the kitchen. Of course, the furniture wasn't really new. It was from the local thrift store, but it was more than I could have afforded at that point. It took me awhile to track down my mysterious benefactor, but one of the neighbors had spotted him and her description was enough. When I confronted Monroe, he just said he felt like he should be looking out for me until 'Mick' came home. Of course I offered to repay him, but he seemed offended, so I let it go."
She watched the tug of war between concern and amusement as she related the facts. Monroe had some kind of strong link to his past. The two had been friends, almost comrades- in-arms, years before and "Mick" had helped Monroe get started in his own business when Monroe decided he was getting too old to follow the old ways anymore. All Laura knew for certain was that Monroe was one of the few real friends he seemed to have and she had always liked Monroe, if only for that alone.
"After that," she continued, "he just seemed to be there whenever things went wrong. If I bugged the landlord for repairs and the landlord didn't show up, I'd come home at night to find the repairs mysteriously finished. Eventually, the landlord just wrote me off and whenever anything broke down, it would be fixed without any input from me. Once in awhile I'd open the freezer or the 'fridge and find things there that I knew I hadn't bought. Little treats I just didn't have the money for, things like that. There was an entire cake sitting on the kitchen table on my birthday that first year. And a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne."
"I was late with the rent once," she said, a small frown puckering her forehead. "A client didn't pay when he was supposed to and I just got too far behind. The landlord started making threats, but there was absolutely nothing I could do. I kept holding my breath, waiting for an eviction notice. Finally I had the money and tried to pay him and he acted like I'd gone crazy. It turns out he'd already been paid."
"Monroe. And that time I was going to insist on paying him back. I cornered him and finally made him take a check. Of course, I got it back in the mail the next day, torn neatly into six separate pieces. Your friend Monroe is really something, you know that?"
"Yes, he is, isn't he? I suppose I'll have to call him soon."
"I'd be careful, if I were you."
"Because he's mad as hell at you."
"When did he tell you this?" he said, scowling slightly.
"Shortly after the baby was born. He stopped by with a gift, a little layette set. I gave him coffee and let him hold the baby and finally got him to talk. He seems to feel you ran out on us. He wasn't sure about that, of course. I told him you hadn't known about the baby and, unlike a few others I've told that to, he seemed to accept it, but he still seemed...angry. I can't explain it, but I'd approach him gently, all the same."
"Point taken. I'll be careful." He smiled at her again and took her hand while she snuggled back down onto his shoulder again. She was just settling into the rhythm of his breath again when he spoke.
"What others were you talking about?"
"You said Monroe believed you, 'unlike others'. What others?"
She sighed. "Oh, my mother, for one. That's another person you'll have to watch out for. She didn't believe me at all. She's convinced, as are Donald and Francis, that you found out about the baby and ran like hell. And nothing I've said so far is helping. They just won't believe me. I think Murphy sort of believes me, but he's not certain. You know what Murphy can be like."
"Yes, I know what Murphy can be like. Is he still living in Denver?"
"Yes. He and Pat and Shannon."
"How old is Shannon now? Five?"
"Um, six, I think, or she will be soon. Pat's got a position with a large hospital there, now, though."
"Oh? I thought she wanted to stay in private practice."
"Guess there wasn't enough work for an independent psychologist. So she joined a firm that was connected to the medical center out there. Can't remember the name, though."
"Murphy's still private?"
"Yes, he still has his own agency. Doing o.k., I guess. He says he is, anyway."
"I supposed I'll have to fight with him long distance about this. At least I don't have to worry about fisticuffs."
"Oh, be serious. You and Murphy never exchanged blows."
"Only because he never knew I could beat him to a pulp if he tried. He always held back for fear of hurting me, I think."
"Jeeze, put the testosterone back in the bag will you?"
"Are you sure you want me to do that?"
This was one of those points where the mind shut down and the nervous system took over. And that memory was pretty good, also.
Now, with the light shining in on him, she took her time and studied his face carefully. The "lost" years were written all over it. There was a strained set to the corners of his mouth, what she could see of them around the beard he'd grown, and dark shadows around his eyes. The skin was pulled tight over his cheekbones and his face looked gaunt. His hand lay across his chest and she noted that the fingernails were all bitten to the quick, a habit that only came out in times of extreme stress.
Sound asleep, some of the ravages of the past four years were only too evident. But, wide awake, the only strong evidence of suffering had been the pain in his eyes.
She wondered, briefly, if she had aged badly, and then dismissed it. He hadn't seemed unhappy with her at all. Only with himself. She smiled, remembering how gentle he'd been while trying to pull her hair loose from the band she had tied it back with. Buttons, zippers and straps he could manage with ease, but hair bands had always defeated him. It had provoked another fit of giggles in her, to his consternation.
"Listen you," he had said with mock severity, "if you don't stop that nonsense, I'll leave your hair right where it is and you can deal with what happens when I end up leaning on it at a bad moment." Of course, this had only caused her to collapse in a fit of laughter.
Laughter had always been one of their strong points. Whenever they had managed to laugh together about anything, it had broken open so many locked doors between them.
But there had been no real laughter for him, only small, slightly sad smiles. He just wasn't ready to relax yet, it seemed. Still, he had stayed, and that was a good thing. A very good thing, she reflected, watching his chest rise and fall with each breath.
She should get up, she thought. She should make coffee and
maybe rolls for breakfast. Breakfast in bed. But that might mean
missing his eyes when he awoke, and she just couldn't bring herself
to risk that. So she stayed, propped on one elbow, rememorizing
all of him. It seemed important. It was important.
Detective Jarvis pulled his collar up against the wind that whistled down the alley. It was cold and damp and smelly and he would almost rather be back at the precinct filling out paperwork. But this was where the action was, unfortunately.
Ten body parts this time, in five different dumpsters scattered all over town. It was getting to be a bad habit, standing in cold alleys next to steaming dumpsters, one he would gladly break himself of. The whole situation was beginning to get out of hand. Even the head of the sanitation department was beginning to complain. It was too much to expect, he'd insisted, that his crew be subjected to these gruesome little surprises every so often without also being under a gag order not to talk about them.
Jarvis realized that the lid was going to stay on this thing only so much longer and then it would break wide open. Front page coverage. Television crews. Radio. The circus would be in town full-time. And he still didn't have clue one. This was the fifth woman found dead in the past three months. Same MO each time. Choked, dismembered and discarded. No souvenirs taken that anyone could tell except, possibly, a lock of hair. And that was iffy.
There seemed to be no connection between any of the victims except age, gender and general body-type. And the fact that each was single.
He had absolutely nothing to go on. And once the media got involved, it would become totally impossible to sort out fantasy from reality. He needed something and he needed it fast. A miracle would be nice.
Not very likely, but nice.
He motioned the team from the coroner's office to remove the latest body parts and tried to plan his next move. Getting some kind of profile on the whacko responsible for all this would be nice, but the closest he was likely to come to that, given departmental budget-cuts, was Madame Lila, "Seer to the Stars."
Somehow, he didn't think he could get that one reimbursed through
his expense account.
The hardest part came when it came time to move on. It would be nice to find a place and stay put and not worry about this phase of things for awhile. And he had tried to work it that way in the beginning, but there were just too many complications involved. It was easier to take care of things in his own apartment, even though it always meant moving afterward.
Of course, moving presented it's own set of complications to deal with, but it was a big city and there were many apartments that could be had on a month-to-month lease. It made the inevitable move that much easier. By the time the landlord realized he was gone, he had found a new place to live and carefully covered any trail he might have left.
Picking out a new name each time was the most difficult part of the business. He'd never been creative that way. For awhile, he'd struggled with it, then he'd chosen names out of the phone book. But there had been a close call once and he'd finally resorted to picking names at random out of either works of fiction or the obituaries from several years back. Fortunately, the library kept old newspapers on microfilm.
Now, as he packed shirts and ties into neatly labeled cardboard boxes, he mentally went over his list of names. He didn't like Jerry. He'd been Jerry Rothmueller three months ago and the building maintenance worker's cheery, "Hi, Jer!" each morning was like listening to someone running a fingernail file against a blackboard. Maybe he should find something harder to shorten this time, like Paul.
He longed for an end to all this, so he could go back to using his own name. He longed for many things that putting an end to his quest would provide. But it seemed that it would be a long time before he could indulge in any of those longings. A very long time, the way things were going.
But he'd manage. He always had and he would continue to do so.
He was strong that way.
She had finally crept quietly out of bed and gone down to the kitchen to make two cups of tea, leaving him gently snoring upstairs. He seemed extremely tired and she didn't have the heart to wake him. Still, she would have to soon. There were things to be discussed and one very important introduction that had to be made today.
While she waited for the water to boil, she considered his reactions to any mention of his son the day before. She'd brought the subject up several times and had sensed only a certain wary amusement coming from the man who would be known from now on as "Daddy." He'd almost laughed outright when she'd told him how much his son resembled him.
"Oh, I don't know about that," he'd contradicted gently. "I'd say he was much more like you." But he'd refused to elaborate and the conversation had taken other turns, somehow never getting back to that point again. She decided she was just going to have to discipline her wayward nerve endings better in the future if she wanted any answers.
He seemed far more interested in the child's name.
"I wanted something of you for him," she'd explained, "and this was the only way I could think of to do that. Of course, there's no question of his last name. It's Chalmers and nothing else."
"Not Steele?" he'd asked with a wry smile.
"That came from a football team in a moment of desperation. I couldn't stick him with that. And, even though I was never absolutely certain that 'Daniel Chalmers' was your father's real name, it was all I'd ever known him by and I felt you would approve. Besides, if I hadn't, I think your father would have come back to haunt me."
"But his whole name...I wouldn't have thought..."
"Look," she'd told him severely, "I'm getting tired of arguing about names with you. Let's get this one straight. When I met you, you were impersonating a representative of the South African government and he was murdered. That was hardly a fitting name to hand a helpless baby. Then there were your five passport names. He'd have been slaughtered in the schoolyard if he'd had to admit he'd been named after a character Humphrey Bogart played in the movies. And what if he grows up to hate Humphrey Bogart?"
He frowned. "It could never happen, Laura. It's genetically impossible. I was born loving Humphrey Bogart movies. It's in the blood. I'm sure of it."
"Perhaps, but there was still the schoolyard bully to be faced and I wanted him to have more of you than a fake passport I.D. Since we'll probably never know what name was on your missing birth certificate, I went by the name your own father gave you. Even though he admitted he only did it in self defense, since you had so many names and switched them around so often. You started that routine young, did you?"
"Oh, Daniel," he muttered, ruefully shaking his head.
"What? Don't tell me you hate the name?"
"No, it's not that, but..."
"I take it Daniel never told you exactly how he settled on calling me 'Harry'?" He took her puzzled look for assent and continued. "When I first joined up with Daniel, I was about 11 or 12. Think back. Do you remember those years? What it was like? What the world was like?"
She frowned, thinking of her youth, hanging out with her friends until the year her father left, when she began spurning all human contact. The world she recalled had been an upsetting, often alarming place. But what did that have to do with his name?
"It was the late '60's and early '70's then, Laura. We were, for the most part, living in England. The Beatles had abandoned us for Ed Sullivan. The Rolling Stones spent more time in New York than in Yorkshire. But that era belonged to the English, at least as far as fashions were concerned. And, no matter what else I may have been, I was a child of my generation."
She tried to picture him at a love-in, but somehow couldn't do it.
"Daniel on the other hand...do you remember his telling your mother he'd been a member of the Tenth Royal Hussars? Well, his name obviously wasn't Reginald Frobush, but the rest of it was true. It was an admittedly brief career and he never rose above Staff Sergeant, of course. Kept missing promotions due to insubordination, but he served honorably enough and retained a certain stiff-upper-lip attitude and an oddly conservative streak in a number of areas."
"I, on the other hand, was pure back-alley in those days. I'd never learned proper etiquette, grooming...hell, when Daniel latched on to me I was barely literate. But he'd decided to make a proper gentleman out of me. I must say he had his work cut out for him. I was pure hellion at that stage and I resented any and all efforts made to tame me. He had to work carefully."
"I only had a few driving forces back then. He fed me, which took care of one of those and served to keep me close to him. Eating regularly got to be a habit after awhile, one I liked. And I loved a good con. The idea of taking down some great toff or other who always felt they were morally superior to this snotty little street kid appealed to me like nothing else could. So Daniel would go to elaborate lengths to stage games where I could take the high and mighty down a peg or two. But to do it, I had to enter their world, if only by degrees. I had to dress better, speak better and act according to Hoyle in order to make the thing work. And so he drummed some of the basic nicities of decorum into me. Taught me how to walk, to talk, to comport myself. And, so long as I could see some overstuffed fool get his comeuppance by it, I was willing enough to go along. But there was only so far Daniel could push me, even for big game like that."
"Well, Laura, it was the '60's, and I wasn't the only person my age with hair a tad longer than they wore it in the Hussars. I'd have felt a proper freak if I'd worn it the way Daniel wanted me to. It was one of the few things I absolutely refused to budge on. And Daniel knew enough not to push me too far about it. He'd gotten a lot of things by wheedling and cajoling and pushing, but not this. So he resorted to mild insults. He'd go out somewhere and leave me a note that said, 'Dear Hairy,' spelled H-A-I-R-Y, 'back in an hour,' or 'Dear Hairy, meet me at so- and-so's at noon.' After awhile, he started calling me Hairy in public, knowing I didn't dare say anything."
"Did it work?"
"You mean did I break down and cut my hair? Not really. In fact, by the time my 'dreadlocks,' as Daniel sometimes called them, were shorn to a length he could approve of, we hadn't even seen each other for several years. And by that time it was the early '80s and everyone was wearing their hair that length or shorter."
"But he noticed?"
"Noticed, hell. He gloated. But he still called me Harry. Force of habit. Of course, he spelled it with two R's in any written communication, but to Daniel and the few friends I still had from those years, I was always Harry. And only Daniel and I ever knew that there were two alternate spellings of it to go by."
"So I named your son after a bad joke?"
"Basically," he told her gravely, a small twinkle in his blue eyes.
"Then I take back his middle name altogether," she sputtered.
"Oh, don't do that. I rather like his middle name. Though, I'll admit, I was surprised by it. I thought you didn't even like Daniel."
"Oh, I liked Daniel all right," she said. "It was just that I felt we were in some kind of weird competition for you, winner take all. It kept me from warming up to him for a long time."
"But you finally did?"
"In a manner of speaking," she admitted, thinking of her last few conversations with Daniel Chalmers. "It's hard to stay mad at a sick old man who's only trying to die with a little dignity while he works up the nerve to tell his only son who he really is. We actually talked during those last few days in Ireland. I got to know him, at least a little bit. The veneer was gone, his defenses were down and I found out that, in his own way, he was just a sweet, gentle man who, at the heart of it, loved his son very much and only wanted the best for him."
"So you gave his grandson a small piece of him."
"Yes. Do you mind?"
"Not at all. I'm delighted. But, Laura, tell me, his whole name, it isn't really Harold Daniel Chalmers?"
"Harold? I should hope not. He doesn't look anything like a Harold. And, while I could see you as a 'Harry,' I could never see you as a 'Harold,' either. Where did you get that idea?"
"What then? Not just Harry?"
"Well, no, I wanted to give him your name but his own as well, so, since he was Harry's son, I named him Harrison. It seemed fitting."
"Perhaps more than you know.
"Yes, it's the name I'm using these days. Harrison. At least when I use the full name. Just something I'd decided on. I have people shorten it to Harry in conversation, of course."
"So I really did name him after you," she said, smiling. "Maybe I should have put a 'junior' after his name."
"Good lord, no. That would make me 'senior' and I don't know how I feel about that right now. I still can't get over the idea of being a father. I'm not ready to be a 'senior' too."
The kettle trilled insistently, breaking her train of thought and bringing her abruptly back to the present. She filled two cups and carried them up the short flight of stairs and down the hallway to the bedroom.
He was still asleep when she set the tea cups down on the nightstand and climbed back into bed, but it wasn't a deep sleep, because the slight movement of the bed awakened him.
She watched his face intently. His features twitched and then froze into a look of intense anguish. His shoulders hunched and he shuddered once, convulsively before twisting his head away from her and opening his eyes.
With a jerk his eyelids flew wide open and his head whipped around on the pillow, those two great pools of blue suddenly focused on her in astonishment.
He reached for her and she let herself be gathered in, wrapping her arms tightly around his shoulders. Whatever nightmare he'd awakened from, she wanted to soothe it if she could.
"I'm here." He clutched her to him for a moment, then leaned his head back and looked down at her.
"So you are," he murmured.
"Where were you?"
"Just now, before you woke, you looked as if you were someplace you'd rather not be. Where were you?"
"Oh," he said and pulled her close again, "somewhere too far away from you, I think. But I'm here now, and I'm happy I am."
She snuggled into the warmth of his arms.
"Ah, Laura, about last night..."
"Mm?" When he didn't answer she lifted her head again and looked at him.
"Well, I almost hate to bring this up," he said, one hand gently brushing a strand of hair out of her eyes, "but you did it again, you know."
"Did what again?"
"You cried," he said softly, one finger tracing the now-dried path of her tears across her cheek. She could feel herself flush. "Do you remember, after that first night in Ireland? You cried then, too. When I asked, you wouldn't tell me why. Is it safe to ask now?"
She lowered her head onto his chest and took a deep, steadying breath. "I'd rather you didn't," she told him finally.
"I see," he said with a small sigh of his own. "Well, then, consider the matter closed."
"Thank you," she murmured and felt him kiss the top of her head.
"Someday," she told him, wondering if she'd just
told a lie, half-hoping she hadn't.
The tea had been drunk and they were snuggled among the covers. The sun was a bit higher in the sky, and it was time to bring up the delicate subject. "You know, we'll have to get up soon."
"Mm," he said, nuzzling the spot below her right ear, "do we have to?"
"Well, yes. There are some things that have to be done today."
"Well, retrieving Harry, for one. And introducing him to his father."
That individual suddenly sat bolt upright, an alarmed look on his face
"Today? This afternoon, you're talking about?"
"Certainly. Why not? It's the perfect time. You'll both have time to get to know one another, no pressing engagements, nothing to do but spend time with each other. It's perfect." She smiled encouragingly and patted his shoulder. "You're not worried about it are you?"
"Me? No, of course not. I just thought it was a bit sudden, that's all. Maybe we should work up to it a bit. You could, you know, tell him about me, get him used to the idea and then, maybe later in the week, I could stop by for an hour or so."
"Don't be ridiculous. There's nothing to work up to. And I've already told him all about you."
"In a two-minute phone call in the middle of the night? Laura, I was lying right here. You never mentioned me."
She frowned with the memory of that middle-of-the-night phone call. She'd talked to Mildred, and Harry, the evening before, setting up his surprise sleep-over with his Auntie Mildred, and he'd seemed fine, even excited by the prospect. But at 1:30 a.m. the phone had rung. When she'd answered, it had been Mildred, apologetic, but nearly frantic. She could hear her son sobbing in the background.
It had been a brief conversation and had seemed to soothe the child. Although Laura offered to come and get him right then, the assurance that she was at home was all he seemed to want. He had been alarmed that the treat of sleeping at Mildred's apartment was going to be taken away and had insisted on staying. Laura had reluctantly agreed, mainly because bringing him home at that point would have been awkward for her as well, interrupting a specific conversation she didn't want to interrupt at all if she could help it.
"You're right," she told his father now, "you never came up at all last night, but that's not what I was referring to. Did you think your son had no curiosity as to who his father was?"
"Well, Laura, I mean, he's only two. How curious can he be? I'd imagine he'd be more interested in the habits of large purple dinosaurs than absent fathers at this stage of his life."
"Oh, he asks. Nothing too intense. He just brings it up in passing from time to time."
"What do you tell him?
"The basic stuff. He's seen your picture, he knows you're his father, he knows you've been away and that you don't know about him. I told him he was going to be the best surprise you ever got. He seemed to like that idea."
"So, you see, there's really no reason to put it off. What I thought was that you and I could have breakfast and get dressed and then you'd take my car and go over to Mildred's and pick him up."
"It has a car-seat in the back."
She smiled and patted him reassuringly again while he swallowed heavily, trying to get used to the idea as best he could. "But you're coming with, of course."
"Not at all. I think you two need some private time to kind of scope each other out. No mothers allowed."
"Don't worry," she said with a wicked grin. "You'll do fine. He's only two. He can't hit very hard at this stage."
She couldn't resist.
"He excells at biting, though."
The new apartment would be fine and there was a thriving business district nearby. There were bookstores and theaters and restaurants. It was perfect. He could set up shop again, establish himself and start looking. This was exactly the sort of place she was likely to be. Not terribly artistic, but full of life and energy. He'd find her here for sure.
And then he could find closure.
For now, he was busily unpacking boxes, arranging his things the way he liked them, putting up his few pictures, culled from newspapers and magazines. She was always beautiful in the pictures. Not always in life, of course, but then who was? That's why he kept the pictures. To remind himself that things weren't always what they seemed. It was painful sometimes, but necessary.
It gave him the strength he needed to keep going when things looked darkest.
And having her face before him kept reminding him that, no
matter what else happened, he wasn't finished yet.