Breeders

continued

by Martha Taylor, soulcake@bellsouth.net

Chapter 30

Arthur woke up suddenly. He groaned and stretched, then rolled over to see what time it was. Three a.m. He adjusted his pillow and pulled the covers up over his shoulder, and then he heard it again.

Someone was in his living room. Soft footsteps padded back and forth. Arthur sat up in bed very slowly so the mattress springs wouldn't creak. It had to be Marc, of course, even though he usually didn't come by so late on weeknights, and even though it certainly wasn't like him to go tiptoeing around in the dark.

The footsteps stopped. Arthur held his breath, waiting. Then they began again, walking resolutely to the bedroom door. He strained to make out the dark shape on the threshold, and when he couldn't stand it anymore, he finally whispered explosively, "Damnit, Marc, is that you?"

"It's me," Marc whispered back, sounding chagrined.

"What do you think you're doing?"

"I'm sorry, baby. I didn't mean to wake you up."

Arthur reached over and switched on a lamp. "What's the matter? Are you all right?"

"I'm all right. It's just been a crazy evening."

"Come here."

Marc came in and sat down on the very end of the bed. Arthur had to crawl over the sheets to get close enough to put his arms around him. "Tell me what happened."

"Oh man, I wouldn't even know where to begin."

Arthur pulled him closer, and after a while Marc finally said, "Do you remember just before we went to Patrick's wake, when I told you I didn't want to go to that apartment building, and I didn't want you to go either?"

"I remember. "

"Well, I was right. We never should have gone."

"Have you been to see Ginny? What happened?"

Marc sat back. "I don't want to talk about it tonight." He pulled his t-shirt over his head, then stood and shucked off his jeans. "Set your alarm for six, would you? I had a ton of work I was supposed to get done tonight. I've got to get an early start tomorrow morning or I'm dead."

"OK," Arthur said softly. He picked up the alarm clock and set it back two hours, then double-checked to be sure he'd done it right. Marc crawled under the covers on the far side of the bed, his back to Arthur, and seemed to fall asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow. Arthur reached out and turned off the light.

***

The hospital gown was blue and made of paper. The cover on the stainless steel examination table was paper too, and threatened to come sliding off every time Ginny moved, so she perched uncomfortably on the very end of the table and listened to the busy footsteps coming and going along the corridor beyond the half-opened door. Her head was nodding with exhaustion, and her arms and legs felt so heavy and numb they might have belonged to someone else.

Footsteps stopped outside her door. "It's me, Ginny. Are you decent? Can I come in?"

She tucked the ends of the paper gown under her thighs. "Come in."

Her brother peeked around the door, then held up her overnight bag. "Are you ready to get out of here yet? I brought you some clothes."

"Thank you, Percy."

He smiled and came into the room. "It's Dan, or you don't get your clothes back. I'm sure your neighbors would enjoy watching you come home in that hospital gown."

"Most of my neighbors wouldn't notice if I walked in stark naked. Well, they might notice, but they probably wouldn't care."

"I gathered as much." Dan shook his head at her. "You look like Br'er Fox after he fell in the briar patch. How are you feeling?"

"Not too bad. Not bad at all, really. Just sleepy. They gave me a shot of something." She took the overnight bag from Dan and unzipped it, pawing through the clothes. "Oh, no."

"What?"

"I haven't worn these jeans in years. They're way too small."

"I found them in your closet. Why do you keep them if you can't wear them?"

"To remind me to go on a diet so that I can get into them again."

"If you can't wear them, I'll go back and pick up another pair."

"No, it's OK. I just won't tuck my shirt in."

"So you're not feeling too bad?"

"You know what hurts right now?" Ginny held out her left hand, palm down. Taped to the back of her hand was a little gauze bandage like the ones on her neck and face. "The guy who came in to get a blood sample couldn't find the vein in my arm and had to take blood out of the back of my hand. It hurt like everything, and it was so ridiculous. I was still all bloody, and this idiot is grinding a needle around in my arm looking for a vein so he can take more blood out. I really hate hospitals."

"I don't blame you."

"So go away. I want to get dressed and get out of here."

Dan touched her shoulder. "There's a police officer waiting to talk to you after you get dressed. Then we'll go straight home."

Ginny swayed, suddenly dizzy.

Dan took her hand and held it tight. "If you're not up to it, I'll see if they can wait until tomorrow. I just thought you might like to get it over with tonight."

"I don't understand. Why do I have to talk to the police?"

"Gin, do you even know what's happened?"

"Of course I do," she insisted nervously. "I heard you and Marc talking to the nurse when you brought me in. I went through the living room window, right? I'm lucky I didn't slice my head off."

"You don't remember?"

"I don't even want to think about it."

"Ginny, you weren't alone when it happened."

She tucked her hands between her knees and sat still, shivering in her paper gown. Finally she asked, "Is this about Kevin?"

"You do remember, then?"

"I thought it was only a dream. I was floating outside my living room window. I saw Kevin in my apartment." Ginny put her hand to her throat, touching the bandage on one side and the fine network of little scratches on the underside of her chin, so fresh they hadn't yet begun to scab over. "So it wasn't all just a dream?"

"I'm afraid not. I'm sorry."

"Oh god," Ginny said softly. "I really wanted to believe I was only dreaming. I remember going for a walk--seeing children riding bicycles. Was that part of the dream too, I wonder?" She fell silent, thinking. Then she remembered flying to a rooftop and perching beside the chimney. She smiled apologetically at Dan. "You'll have to tell me what really happened. Did Kevin stop by my place? I probably got so panicked at the sight of him that I tripped over my own feet and fell through the window. Where is Kevin?" Then she had a sudden, vivid memory of a fern in a green plastic florist's pot, rolling and bouncing down the staircase. "Oh shit," she whispered. "Oh no, it was much worse than that, wasn't it?"

He nodded.

"Kevin came to my apartment and something terrible happened. Where is he now? Is that why I've got to talk to the police?"

Dan hugged her tightly, making the gown crinkle. Still holding her he said, "You don't have to be afraid of him anymore, Ginny. He's dead."

She wanted to cry, but all she could manage was a whimper. She pulled herself out of Dan's embrace and looked at him dry-eyed. "Was it me? Was it something I did?"

"No, sis, I promise. It had nothing to do with you. Your neighbor Mary saw everything. He dashed out into the street right in front of a car and was killed instantly. You were nowhere around."

"Oh, poor Mary!" She burst out. After a moment more she said, "Poor Kevin. What a terrible way to die. He wasn't any older than me." She hung her head. "What will I have to tell the police?"

"I suppose they'll want to know what you remember about Kevin coming to your apartment. Maybe where you've been all this time, and how you got scratched up so badly."

Ginny faltered. "I thought it happened when the living room window broke."

"The window was broken nearly a week ago, Ginny. The same night Kevin died."

"A week ago?"

"Do you even know what day it is?"

Ginny was afraid to answer him."

"Gin, it's Wednesday. It's the twentieth of November."

"I don't understand," Ginny said very softly.

"You've been missing for six days. What do you think I'm doing out here anyway? I came to look for you."

"Then, Marc--"

"He thought you might be hiding in that alley near your apartment. He came over to show me where it was."

"Six days," Ginny said again, trying to comprehend it. It was too overwhelming to take in all at once. "But what about my job?" She started to cry. "Reed's sure to have fired me by now. What am I going to do?"

"Hey, hey, come on now. So you'll find another job." Dan looked around and found a box of tissues on the steel cart of medical supplies that stood in the corner. He handed her the box.

She wiped her eyes and blew her nose and finally said, her voice wavering a little, "Oh well, it was a crappy job anyway."

"That's the spirit." He held up a stainless steel trashcan for her and she threw the crumpled tissues into it.

She took a few deep breaths, still trying to calm down, then said at last, "Thank you for coming all the way out here for me."

"I'd been meaning to visit for a long time now. Personally I would have picked different circumstances, but what are you going to do?" He shrugged, making Ginny laugh.

"Have you talked to Mom and Dad yet?" she asked.

"I called them a couple of hours ago. I said you'd give them a call when you felt up to it."

"Do you think tomorrow would be soon enough?"

"Sure. Mom enjoyed telling me how silly I was to have been worried--everything turned out just fine, just like she always knew it would."

"Good ol' Mom. Her world still ticks away with mathematical predictability."

"It's nice to know some things never change, isn't it? Look, I'm going to go sit in the waiting room. Just come out when you get dressed."

"Wait. What should I tell the policeman about the time I was missing?"

"Do you remember anything about it?"

Ginny looked away. "No," she lied. Then she said more truthfully, "It just seems impossible. And there's something else I don't understand." She cautiously touched her scratched face. "All of this isn't a week old."

Dan looked at her somberly. "No, it isn't."

"Then what happened?"

"You're asking me?"

"If the living room window was broken a week ago, how did I get all cut up this evening?"

Dan's expression grew darker.

"What is it?" Ginny asked nervously. "There's something you're not telling me. What is it?"

"I wish I knew. When Marc and I were in the courtyard this evening, we both heard the sound of breaking glass. We thought it came from your apartment, and that's when we ran upstairs and found you bleeding like you'd just put your head through a plate glass window. But you couldn't have. The manager hasn't replaced the window pane yet."

Ginny closed her eyes.

So when Kevin pushed her head through the window, she really had gone to the mirror world, like a modern-day Alice propelled violently through the looking glass. And then while she idled away an afternoon in a place where everything was late autumn, six days had passed in the real world.

She had a cold suspicion that she knew why Kevin had run out into traffic. What had he seen when she slipped away? What would Dan and Marc have seen if they'd been in her apartment at the moment she returned?

She opened her eyes. "I'm so glad you're here, Percy. I really need you right now."

***

Marc was grumpy and disheveled the next morning. Arthur kept his distance while he stood at the breakfast bar gulping down a cup of coffee that was syrupy with too much cream and sugar. His hair was wet from the shower, and it dripped on the towel around his neck as well as on the floor and counter top. When the two halves of his bagel popped up out of the toaster he snatched at them so quickly that he burned his fingers.

He dropped them on his plate with a snarl. "Fucking poppy seeds. I thought you knew I hated poppy seed bagels. Have you at least got some cream cheese? "

Arthur retrieved a small plastic tub of cream cheese from the refrigerator and laid it down on the counter beside Marc's plate without a word.

"Low calorie?" Marc read critically from the label. "Give me a break. You afraid I'm starting to get fat or something?"

Arthur didn't bother to answer that either. Marc grunted and then defiantly spread most of the carton on his bagel. "I am so far behind at school right now." He took a tremendous bite, then washed it down with coffee. "Ask me how the hell I'm supposed to get caught up. Go on, ask me." He slammed the cup down carelessly on the edge of the counter. Arthur saw it teetering and grabbed for it, but he was too late. The mug hit the floor and shattered. Coffee splashed the length of the kitchen floor.

"Oh, Christ." Marc jumped up and stalked out of the kitchen.

Arthur watched him go, waiting for his own sharp flash of anger to subside. He knew what Marc was like early in the morning. He should have just rolled over and gone back to sleep after Marc got up, but he'd been hoping Marc might feel like explaining his cryptic comments of last night. Evidently not.

He knelt and began picking porcelain shards out of the pool of sticky, hot coffee.

Marc came back a minute later. "Aw, knock it off. I'll clean up."

"It's all right. I've got it."

"It's not all right."

Arthur sat back on his heels, holding the warm, broken pieces in his left hand. He smiled at Marc. "It's six-thirty in the morning, and you're smashing my crockery on the kitchen floor. What's the matter with that?"

Marc shook his head. "I know I'm an asshole." He opened the cabinet under the sink, found a jumbo-sized sponge and soaked it with warm water under the faucet. Then he knelt beside Arthur and began mopping up the spilled coffee. "I'm telling you babe, one of these mornings you're going to come to your senses, and then I'll be out on my butt. I don't have any illusions on that score anyway."

Arthur dropped the pieces of the broken mug into the garbage can. "Funny, that's what I think too. That one day you're finally going to wake up and take a good look at the old man beside you, and be gone like a shot."

"Yeah, right. Like I could really find someone else who'd be so philosophical about me breaking his dishes." Marc stood and wrung out the sponge in the sink. "There. Good as new."

It wasn't, of course. The floor was so sticky from all the sugar Marc put in his coffee that it would have to be mopped, but all Arthur said was, "You want to tell me what you're so upset about?"

Marc took a deep breath. "I'd like to. And you need to know about it, I think, but I just don't have time this morning. I've gotta get going. Jeez, this is my afternoon at the hospital on top of everything else."

"Come over for supper, then. I'll cook us a nice dinner."

"I don't know if I'll have time."

"You still have to eat."

Marc threw his arm heavily around Arthur's neck. "Oh well, all right, but only if you get out the really expensive china for me."

Arthur kissed him. "You can smash the Wedgewood to your heart's content.

Chapter 31

"Finnerman, Banbridge, Erskin and Tate. This is Terrie speaking. How may I direct your call?"

"How many times do you say that in a day?"

There was a moment of silence. Then Terrie squealed, "Ginny? Is that you?"

"It's me."

"Ginny! I can't believe it! Are you all right? Everyone's been so worried! Where have you been?

"I'm all right. It's a long story."

"Ohmigod, you won't believe what it was like here! This lady cop showed up last Friday afternoon and was asking everybody questions--me and Reed and Kate, Celia and Betty Kane, practically everybody. The partners were furious. They were terrified it was going to be bad publicity for the firm."

"Oh, heaven forbid," Ginny said, shifting the phone to her other ear.

"Once I started thinking about it, I remembered the sunflowers, and the day you came in with a black eye, and then how you started getting those prank calls, and I just felt sick. Why didn't you tell us what was going on?"

"Next time."

"Ginny."

"I'm sorry. But seriously, at the time I didn't realize anything was going on."

"So you're all right? Are you at home now? Where have you been all this time?"

Another of Terrie's lines rang. "Oh hold on a sec, Ginny."

"Wait, just put me through to Kate's desk, would you?"

"Sure. Take care now," Terrie said hurriedly as more lines began to ring. "I'm just so glad you're all right."

Ginny sat on her living room sofa and looked out the window while she waited for Kate to pick up the phone. It was a beautiful day outside. Beyond the roof line on the opposite side of the courtyard she could see gray-blue clouds moving in from the west, wispy as smoke against the pale sky. It looked like rain tonight. The management company had promised that someone would be here this afternoon to replace the broken window, but it was already past two o'clock

"Guinevere Malone. Where on earth have you been?"

"Hi Kate," Ginny said, feeling suddenly shy.

"Are you OK?"

"I'm fine."

Kate sighed heavily. "Don't ever do anything like this again, all right?"

"I promise."

"You want to tell me what happened?"

"It's a lot to explain over the phone."

"I bet. Are you coming back to work?"

"I don't know. That's really why I called. Do you think I still have a job?"

"Sure you do. Reed will be ecstatic to hear from you. It turns out he's been having the worst luck with the secretaries the agency sent out."

"Oh no. Kate, you didn't."

"I never laid a hand on any of them."

"That's not what I meant."

"I know it isn't." There was a pause. Then Kate said, "Listen Gin, you must know that making sure your job stayed open was the very least I could do."

Ginny looked away from her broken living room window. She had a sudden, vivid recollection of hovering outside. "Kate--"

"I never meant to drive that man crazy." Kate said softly. "But I was furious at what he'd done to you. I was even angrier knowing that he had gotten away with it, and would probably go on and do the same thing to other women. I must have pushed too hard. Ginny, I'm so sorry."

Ginny didn't know what to say. A part of her wanted to pretend that she didn't know what Kate was talking about, but she did, of course, And after all that had happened, the things Kate could do didn't seem impossible, or even that extraordinary anymore. Compared to the place Ginny had been and the things she had seen, a talent so closely connected to the real world seemed almost ordinary.

"I just hope you were more gentle with the agency secretaries."

"I swear it. Annoying mechanical failures and an awful lot of lost files is as far as I went. Ah, Gin, are you really all right?"

"I really am. My brother's out here to take care of me, so I'm feeling very pampered."

"You mean Percival?"

"Uh-huh."

"The round table's gathering, isn't it?"

"I can see I never should have told you my real name."

"So are you well enough for visitors? I'll drop by after work."

"That'd be great."

"Want to talk to Reed now?"

"Are you sure I've still got my job?"

"Trust me. If you still want it, it's yours. He sent the latest agency replacement home at noon today, and he's been answering the phone himself all afternoon.

"All right. Time to bite the bullet, I guess."

"Thatta girl. Just don't let him talk you into coming in right now. I'm sure you need your rest."

***

Marc thought about not going to Arthur's for dinner after all. He'd get more work done if he stayed on campus, but he was swayed by the thought of how nice it would be to sit down to a real dinner for a change. The past few weeks almost every meal he'd eaten had come out a styrofoam cup, off a plastic tray or out of a pizza box. He found himself hoping that Arthur really would get out the good china.

But when he arrived that evening, he found that not only was there no china laid out on the dining room table, there was no evidence of any dinner preparations at all. The oven was cold, the counter tops empty. Marc felt a stab of disappointment, even though way he'd been acting this morning, he had to admit it was probably no wonder Arthur had bailed on him.

The door to Arthur's bedroom was shut. Marc kicked it open, and found him sound asleep on top of the covers in white jockey shorts and an undershirt. Marc crossed his arms over his chest and demanded in his best Monty Python voice, "What's all this then?"

Arthur flung out one arm, mumbling something. Marc sauntered to the foot of the bed. "I see. I have to put out before I get any dinner from you."

Arthur finally opened his eyes. "Marc?"

"So what happened to dinner?"

"Oh, I'm sorry. I lost track of the time." Arthur started to sit up in bed, then winced.

"Hey, what's wrong with you?"

Arthur curled up on his side, hugging a pillow. "Just stomach cramps. I thought if I laid down for a while they would go away."

Marc sat down on the edge of the bed beside him. "I'm sorry, babe. Are you sick?"

"Touch of flu, maybe. I can't seem to shake it."

"Have you been to the doctor?"

"About three weeks ago. He said it was gas."

"And you're still hurting? Jesus, Arthur, then you need to find another doctor. There's some good people at the University hospital I know. How about if I make an appointment for you? When are you free? I'll call and see if you can get in tomorrow."

"Calm down." Arthur reached out and took Marc's hand, holding it tight. "I got a blood test too. I'm still negative."

"Oh man," Marc slumped in relief. Then he protested, "That's not what I was thinking."

Arthur smiled at him. "Liar."

"I can't believe you didn't tell me what was going on."

"Nothing's going on. It's just cramps."

"I hate it when you treat me like a little kid. I'd think by now you'd tell me when--"

Arthur clenched Marc's hand convulsively for a moment and drew his knees up, breathing hard. Marc felt frustrated and helpless, and it made him angry. When the spasm had passed, and Arthur was breathing more normally he said, "Look at you. You're not all right."

"Thanks for the prognosis, Dr. James."

"Damnit, I'm not kidding around. I want you to go see a doctor."

"I told you I've already been."

"And you're not any better."

"Marc, he said I should think about giving up coffee and wine. Up until now it hasn't been bad enough for me to consider such a drastic change in my lifestyle." Arthur smiled again. "Maybe I'll try cutting back a little and see if it helps."

"Well, if you're sure that's all it is," Marc agreed unhappily. "But if this keeps up you're going to the University hospital if I have to drag you there myself."

"Promises, promises."

"Just don't scare me like this anymore."

"You didn't use to scare so easily."

"Well, things have been a little weird lately," Marc snapped.

Arthur sat up slowly in bed. "I'm sorry about dinner. I know you're in a rush with school. Why don't you call and have something delivered? There's a stack of take-out menus on the shelf under the kitchen phone."

"That's OK, I can fend for myself. Can I get anything for you?"

"No thanks."

"You sure? What if I heat up some chicken soup? It might settle your stomach to have something in it."

"That's sweet, but I know you don't have time to play nursemaid right now."

"My schedule is my own business," Marc informed him. "Anyway, I'll just make enough for both of us. Like you said this morning, I still gotta eat."

***

Dan opened the door. Kate stood on the landing with a brown paper bag in her arms. "Hello," she said. "You must be Percival."

"Dan, please."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were Ginny's brother."

"He is." Ginny called from the couch. "He goes by his middle name these days. I can't imagine why."

"Oh, me neither, Guinevere."

"Ah, family," Kate grinned. "Hi Dan, my name's Kate. I work at the office with Ginny."

"I know. Nice to meet you."

Kate surveyed the crowd in Ginny's living room. "This is quite a party for a girl who claims to be out sick from work."

"Let's see," Dan began the introductions. "This is Mary and Carol, and oh gosh, I'm sorry, I've forgotten the baby's name."

Carol lifted Sarah Ann up to her shoulder. "That's all right. She's not much of a conversationalist yet. But it's Sarah Ann for future reference."

"She's beautiful," Kate said. "How old is she?"

"Six weeks," Mary said, reaching over to pat Sarah Ann's back.

"And this is Sean," Dan finished.

"Hi Kate," Sean said. "We decided it would be less exhausting for Ginny if we descended en masse rather than dropping in on her one by one all day long."

Kate looked at Ginny and then shook her head. "You told me you were all right."

Ginny smiled and touched one of the gauze bandages self-consciously. "What are you talking about? A few days away from Reed, and I feel great. More than worth all this."

"I can almost believe you. What did Reed say when you talked to him this afternoon?"

"Just like you predicted, he asked me if I could come into the office right then."

"And you said--?"

"That I could come in Monday."

"He didn't like that, I bet."

"At first he told me that he couldn't hold the job open that long, and I told him that if he hired someone new before Monday he should just let me know. Then he said he'd see me Monday morning."

"Bravo, Ginny," Sean said approvingly.

"Well, here you go, Dan." Kate held the grocery bag out to him. "I stopped by the deli on the way over. I grew up seeing my mother take food to relatives and neighbors after any crisis, and here I am, doing the exact same thing even though I know you've got a huge supermarket two blocks away. I think it's just one of those behaviors that you ingest with your mother's milk--no offense to present company."

Carol laughed. "None taken. I know exactly what you mean. I woke up in the middle of the night a few days after Sarah Ann came home in a cold sweat because we'd forgotten to send out birth announcements. Of course, we'd never had any intention of sending out birth announcements. It's just that blind sense of social obligation. Maybe it's programmed into the genetic code."

"It's very sweet of you, Kate," Ginny said. "Thank you."

"Should I put this stuff straight in the refrigerator?" Dan asked.

"Wait, I want to see what she brought first." Ginny reached for the bag. Dan set it down on the coffee table in her reach, and she started pulling out waxed paper packages and cheerfully piling them up. "This looks fantastic. Look, Dan. Pastrami, smoked turkey, provolone, cheddar. This is enough to feed an army. Even a loaf of pumpernickel. Thank you so much, Kate. Your mother was a very wise woman."

"I'll convey your compliments."

"And I don't know about anybody else, but I'm hungry," Ginny announced. "I'm pretty sure there's a jar of mustard in the refrigerator."

"Sit tight, I'll get it," Dan said. "Knives and plates too?"

"Just napkins instead of plates," Ginny said. "To save wear and tear on my dishwasher.

Dan wrung his hands. "You're not fooling anyone, you know, Gin. You're just putting off the inevitable moment when your dishwasher gets back on the plane for Boston."

Mary leaned over and helped herself to two slices of provolone, one of which she handed to Carol. "This all looks so good. What deli did you go to?"

Kate picked up a slice of pastrami with her fingers and deftly rolled it up. "I'm not even sure what the name of it is. It's in one of those little mini malls just down the street from my office."

Dan returned with a handful of paper towels torn from the roll, a jar of French's mustard and half a dozen knives. "Sorry I couldn't find any paper napkins."

"So Kate, you work in the same office with Ginny?" Sean said. "What does she do there besides bedeviling her boss? Or is that a deep, dark secret like everything else in Ginny's life?"

Kate dipped her roll of pastrami into the open mustard jar. "Can I reveal the astounding truth, Ginny?

"You brought the food. You can reveal anything you like."

"We're both legal secretaries."

"We both work as legal secretaries, anyway."

Kate smiled at her. "Drawing fine distinctions now, are we? Not so sure anymore that you want to make a career of the legal profession?"

"Are you thinking about going back to school?" Dan asked, sounding pleased.

"No I'm not," Ginny said shortly. "Kate, this is delicious. It reminds me of Thanksgiving leftovers."

"Oh, wonderful."

"Seriously, I always liked the leftovers better than the meal itself. Making open-faced turkey sandwiches with the leftover stuffing and herb bread--and remember, Percy, how Dad always used the leftover mashed potatoes to make potato pancakes for breakfast the next morning? They were so good with applesauce and sour cream."

"Calm down, Ginny," Sean said, grinning. "You're starting to salivate."

Ginny smiled back, a little embarrassed, but happy. She'd never had so many people in her apartment before, and it was a wonderful feeling, seeming to wipe away months of loneliness after William had left her.

"You know what?" she suddenly announced. "I want to cook a turkey for Thanksgiving this year."

Dan looked at her skeptically. "That seems like a lot of work just for leftovers. Are you planning on eating the whole thing yourself?"

"You're staying through Thanksgiving, aren't you?" Ginny asked, her good mood suddenly vanishing at the thought of being alone again.

"I was thinking I might go home this weekend, sis," he told her gently. "You seem to have everything under control."

"Oh you should stay," Ginny pleaded. "You said you wanted to take a vacation in Los Angeles. You haven't had a chance to do anything yet."

"And everyone knows November is the premiere vacation month in L.A." Mary said.

"Right," Dan said skeptically.

"We could go around and do all the touristy things this weekend. I'll go back to work on Monday, and you'll have three days of peace and quiet to do your own work, and then on Thursday you can help me bake the turkey."

"Are you and I are going to eat the whole thing?"

"So you'll stay?" Ginny pressed him.

"All right, all right. How can I pass up another week of sleeping on the couch?"

"We can trade off."

"And wouldn't it make more sense just to buy a pre-cooked turkey breast--"

"You sound just like William. He never wanted to cook a whole turkey either."

Dan quickly surrendered. "Fine. A whole turkey it is."

"I'm sure we can find people to help us eat it."

Sarah Ann was growing restless. She pushed against Carol's shoulder with her tiny pink hands, and tilted her head back and sideways as if to see the other people sitting around the coffee table. Her eyes were open so wide the entire circle of the iris was visible. Carol laid her hand on the back of Sarah Ann's fragile, fuzzy skull and lifted her head again. "And just what are you looking at, little friend?"

"You can hardly blame the poor dear for staring at this motley crew, can you?" Sean asked.

"I know this is really short notice," Ginny said timidly. "But are any of you free for Thanksgiving?"

"Count me in," Kate said. "I heard there's going to be a big turkey served. Or can I just come over the next day for leftovers?"

"This'll be great," Ginny said, thrilled by the first acceptance. "Of course you can come back for leftovers. What about you, Sean? I guess you were probably planning on going up to spend Thanksgiving with your folks."

"This is just the excuse I need to get out of it. No, really I'd love to come to Thanksgiving dinner, Ginny, and not even just to avoid another visit with my family. What can I bring? Or are you determined to maintain the purity of the holiday by having nothing but turkey?"

"Bring whatever you like. The menu's still pretty wide open."

"I make a wild rice casserole that Patrick used to like. How would that be?"

"That'd be great. Isn't this exciting?" Ginny beamed. "Do you think Jo would like to come?"

"I think she already has plans with her friends out in San Bernardino, but I'll ask her. I'll let you know."

"Carol? Mary? I guess you two probably don't celebrate bourgeois holidays like Thanksgiving."

"Well, not usually," Mary smiled. "At least that's what we told Carol's sister and brother-in-law when they invited us over."

"Oh, and you're vegetarian," Ginny suddenly remembered. "I don't suppose you'd enjoy a meal that featured a huge bird carcass."

"Actually, we'd invited Zack over to have a little family Thanksgiving," Carol shifted Sarah Ann over to her other arm.

"Here, I'll take her." Mary reached for the baby.

"I guess we're getting sentimental in our dotage," Carol went on. "But it seems like we've got a lot to celebrate this year. It might be fun to make a big party out of it. What do you think, Mary?"

"I think it's a great idea. We'll have to ask Zack, but I'm sure he'd love to come too."

"And you won't mind the turkey?"

"I'm sure there will be plenty of food even if we pass on the bird," Mary said. "Carol makes a killer eggplant parmesan--I guess that's not really very traditional Thanksgiving fare."

"It sounds fantastic." Ginny smiled at everyone. "So does anyone know how to cook a turkey?"

Chapter 32

Marc did the best he could, but he hadn't been able to remember whether forks went on the left side of the plate or the right, and the tablecloth still had creases in it from being folded up in the linen closet. Arthur didn't seem to mind. "Oh, sweetheart," he said. "You didn't have to do all this."

"I know. I just wanted to. Besides, look how cool this is." Marc picked up one of the bone china dessert plates and held it in front of a candle. "The light shines right through it."

"So it does," Arthur agreed, smiling at him.

Marc pulled out a chair for Arthur, then sat down at the table across from him. "Well, I didn't grow up eating off china."

"Lucky you."

"Mom's into hand-thrown pottery, so all our plates came in shades of muddy brown and weighed about ten pounds each. This stuff is beautiful." Marc ran his finger along the silver-white rim of his soup bowl. "Why don't you get it out once in a while?"

"It's a nuisance to clean. You can't put it in the dishwasher."

Marc looked a little worried. "Oh. You can't?"

"And it breaks easily."

"I'll be careful."

Arthur took a sip of chicken broth from a silver soup spoon. "Don't worry about cleaning up. I'll do it tomorrow."

"That doesn't seem very fair."

"It's the least I can do after luring you here under false pretenses."

"That's true." Marc grinned. "You look like you're feeling better now."

"I am."

"I only made one sandwich. I'll make another if you want one too."

"The soup is plenty for me."

Marc gently tapped his spoon on the edge of his soup bowl, making the china ring. The vibration of the bowl formed ripples in the surface of the broth. "I've never seen Campbell's chicken noodle look so good." He glanced across the table at Arthur. "I'm sorry I was such an asshole this morning. I didn't know you were sick."

"I wasn't sick. I'm not sick now. Just my glass stomach. You know me."

"Yeah, I do. That's what worries me. You said this has been going on for three weeks?"

"Something like that."

"So these cramps or whatever they are started right about the time of Patrick's wake?"

"I suppose so," Arthur agreed warily.

"What happened to you that night?"

"The night of the wake?"

"Of course that night. When you turned up on Ginny's doorstep with your guts twisted inside out."

"Please Marc, I'm eating."

"Have you tried to remember what happened? You must have left the party to come look for me, right? And you knew I was up in Ginny's apartment, so you were probably just crossing the courtyard when you got blindsided."

"Marc, did something happen when you went to Ginny's last night?"

Marc took a tremendous bite of his grilled cheese sandwich. "What I don't understand," he said at length, after washing it down with a swallow of cherry coke from a cut glass goblet, "is where you could have been during that hour or so that Ginny and I were out looking for you."

"I don't know where I was." Arthur said levelly.

"I mean, we looked all around that courtyard, behind the building, everywhere. We even walked around the neighborhood. So where were you? Hiding under a bush somewhere?"

Arthur laid his spoon down and folded his hands on the table. "Something's happened, hasn't it? Why don't you just tell me what's going on?"

"Well, what's happened is Ginny pulled a disappearing act too. But she wasn't gone for just an hour like you. She was missing for six days."

Marc waited for Arthur's reaction, but there wasn't one. Angry without quite knowing why, Marc finally said, "Last night I went over to help her brother look for her, and we walked around the neighborhood and down this little alleyway, just like I did when I was looking for you." Marc hesitated again, thinking of autumn leaves. "We found her when we came back to the apartment. She hadn't puked her guts out, but it was even worse. It was--Christ, I don't know. She looked like Sissy Spacek at the end of Carrie."

"I don't understand."

"What's to understand? I mean she looked like someone had emptied a bucket of pig's blood on her head."

That got a reaction. Arthur stood up and walked away. Marc felt a brief, ugly gleam of satisfaction. Then he wondered what the hell was the matter with him.

He found Arthur standing on the balcony outside the living room, watching the rush hour traffic on Wilshire Boulevard fourteen floors below. Marc put his arm around Arthur's waist and watched the cars too. Multiple strings of white headlights fled east, towards the safety of Beverly Hills. Westbound traffic was slower, and brake lights glowed red for miles. Marc could hear the blaring of car horns even from this height. It seemed pointless to apologize again, so he didn't say anything.

Arthur spoke first, asking quietly, "How did she die?"

It wasn't what Marc had expected to hear. "What?"

Arthur's control almost deserted him. He looked as though he wanted to shake Marc, and Marc couldn't really blame him. But he honestly didn't know what Arthur was talking about.

Arthur finally looked away. "Ginny. Do you know how it happened?"

"What are you talking about? Ginny's not dead. They didn't even keep her in the hospital overnight. They just slapped some band-aids on her and sent her home. Did you think I meant--oh shit, Arthur. I'm sorry. Ginny's going to be fine. That isn't what I meant at all."

Arthur leaned heavily on the railing. "I thought that's what this was all about."

"All what was about?"

Arthur took a deep breath, then turned and smiled at him. "I couldn't help noticing that ever since you got in last night, you've seemed a little moody."

"Moody?" Marc laid his hand across his chest and tried to look like a wounded innocent. "A royal pain in the butt is what I've been, but you can call it moody if you want. Here, come back and finish your dinner."

"I'm not hungry. Tell me what happened to Ginny."

"That's what's so creepy. I don't know. I don't think she knows. She was all cut up like the thing with Bender had just happened, but the window was broken a week ago."

Arthur took Marc's arm and pulled him into the living room, closing the sliding glass door behind them to shut out the traffic noise. "I have no idea what you're talking about. Would you please start at the beginning?"


Later on Marc helped Arthur stack the lovely, fragile dinner dishes on the counter by the sink. It was seven-thirty, and he did have to get back to the library, otherwise he would have overridden Arthur's protests and washed them anyway. "I'm gonna hit the road now," he told Arthur, tossing a handful of silverware into the sink. Arthur winced a little at the racket. "Want me to call Ginny before I go?"

"If you don't mind."

"No problem. What do you want me to do? Set up a time to go over there and talk to her?"

"Well, ask if it's all right with her first."

Marc rolled his eyes at him. "After all that's happened, it damn well better be all right with her."

"Never mind, Marc. I'll call myself."

"I'm kidding. I'll be polite. But really, it was one thing when I thought it was just a matter of a spooky apartment building. As soon as Ginny told me about having a blackout, I should have thought of you disappearing the night of the party. I just didn't make the connection until last night."

"We still don't know that there is a connection."

"Trust me, baby, it all ties in. Something happens to people around that place. They slip away. I don't know if it's something physical, or if it just happens in your head, but it nearly got me too. If Dan hadn't been right there to yank me back, I'm convinced I'd be another missing person."

"It was dark in the alley. Are you certain what you saw wasn't just a trick of the light?"

Marc gave a snort of laughter. "If it was just something I saw, don't you think I'd remember what it was? Besides, it wasn't so much seeing things, it was the way I felt. Everything was changed. I don't think I was frightened, exactly--none of the stuff I can remember seems very scary, anyway. There was a little gray rabbit, I think, and I think I must have seen you, because the next thing I knew, I was telling Dan about you. And I remembered something you said the night of Patrick's wake, while we were getting ready to go. You know how you told me you never knew what to wear?"

"I remember."

"That's what it was like. It was like being at a funeral--or, I don't know. I wish I could explain it to you. I'm sure you'd remember what happened to you if I could just explain it right."

"We don't know that the same thing happened to me."

"And we don't know that it didn't happen to you either," Marc pointed out doggedly. "I'll tell you what it was like. You know how it feels when you suddenly get really, really bad news? When I was twelve years old, my best friend Pete Eddinger was killed in a car crash. Mom told me about it that evening when I got home from soccer practice. She just sat me down on the living room sofa and told me that Peter was gone forever. It was so overwhelming and so horrible that I didn't even feel sad. I just went to my room and started on my homework. It seemed like total proof of what I'd suspected for a long time. In spite of what my parents and teachers and everybody else tried to tell me, the world was really a scary, totally unfair place. Did I ever tell you how I figured out I was gay?"

Arthur looked a little bewildered by the sudden change in subject.

"I mean, as far back as I can remember I had a sense that I had fallen between the cracks somehow, but I didn't quite realize that I was a little faggot until the time my folks threw this dinner party. I was only seven or eight, so this must have been, what, '81 or '82? One of the dinner guests was a doctor at UCLA, and he started talking about this strange cluster of patients he was seeing. Weird, rare cancers turning up in gay men. I'm sure they must have thought I was too young to know what they were talking about, but man, I knew. Believe me, I knew. The whole world started to come into focus during that dinner party. Can you imagine what that was like? Finding out all at once that there was a word for people like me, and that it was practically synonymous with a disease so horrible and out of control that this doctor at a big research hospital didn't even know what it was all about."

"Sorry," Marc said after a long silence. "I don't know why that all came out."

Arthur drew him close and kissed his forehead. "I'll just call Ginny myself later on," he told Marc at length. "I know you need to get back to campus."

"No, it's all right. I'll call. I was just trying to explain what the place at the end of the alley felt like, because, honest to god, I think that's where Ginny's been for the last week." Marc picked up the phone. "Do you have her phone number around here somewhere?"

"It's in her file on my desk. I'll get it for you."

Marc followed Arthur back to his office. "So you're keeping a file on her now? If I was Ginny I don't know how I'd feel about a total stranger keeping tabs on me."

"It's only on the phenomena, not on her."

"Uh huh. No wonder Ginny didn't return your call."

Arthur was beginning to look a little tired. He handed Marc the file without comment, opening it up to the page with Ginny's address and phone number carefully printed in his own precise handwriting. Marc kissed him in a quick apology and dialed Ginny's number.

"Ginny? It's Marc. How are you feeling?"

Marc could hear a hubbub of voices in the background, and Ginny sounded happy and a little giddy. "Marc! Thanks for calling. I feel just fine. Hey, guess what? I've still got my job, and I don't have go back to work until Monday."

"That's great. I'm glad you're all right. It was pretty scary when Dan and I found you last night."

"I know. I'm sorry about the trouble I've caused everybody."

"It wasn't like it was some inconvenience or something. I'm just glad I was there."

"I am too."

"Listen, I'm at Arthur's now, and we were both thinking that after all that's happened you might like to get together and talk to him some time."

"I don't know." All the animation was suddenly gone from Ginny's voice. "I don't really want to think about it right now."

"I understand, but Gin, you gotta admit, things are getting pretty strange around there. I think it might really help if you and Arthur got together and talked things through."

Arthur was shaking his head "no" at Marc's persistence. Marc looked away from him and kept talking. "And really, Arthur's a pretty nice guy. I won't let him pick on you."

Ginny laughed. "I know what," she said, sounding happy again, "I'm having a big Thanksgiving dinner. Sean's coming, and Mary and Carol from across the way--did you meet them when you were here?--and my friend Kate from the office, and Percy's staying for it--why don't you and Arthur come too?"

"Thanksgiving?" The invitation caught Marc off guard. "I don't know."

"Oh," Ginny said, disappointed. "I guess you already have plans."

"No, I don't actually. I was just going to study, but I could take a couple of hours off, I guess. Hold on a minute. Lemme ask Arthur."

Marc put his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and looked at Arthur, smiling. "So how about it? You think you can manage Thanksgiving dinner at Ginny's without barfing up cranberry sauce on front steps?"

Chapter 33

Friday morning was overcast and cold, and in spite of all the sidewalk vendors, joggers, bikers and rollerbladers, Venice Beach had the desolate feel of a resort town at the end of the season. Dan didn't say much, only shaking his head at the colonnaded buildings that housed fruit juice bars and falafel stands. Ginny pointed out the mural of Botticelli's Venus emerging from the waves wearing blue jeans and roller skates, stopped to look at every tray of silver jewelry, and tried in vain to interest Dan in the bargains to be had on multi-packs of tube socks and Hanes t-shirts. "Anyway, this is the place I told you about where the coffee is so good," she said at length, stopping in front of a sidewalk cafe. "And there's a bookstore with a nice mystery section a little way further. After breakfast maybe we could go down there and make sure your books are prominently displayed in the front window."

Dan looked at the row of palmists and tarot-card readers sitting at card tables lined up in front of the dunes. Beyond them the sea was as gray as the sky. "Know something, Toto? I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."

"I know," Ginny said. "I love Venice. It always cheers me up. It's been too long since I was here last. Here, let's grab the table on the corner before someone else gets it."

They sat down, pushing aside the clutter left by previous diners. "William and I used to come down here on Sunday mornings. This place is a madhouse on weekends. You can wait an hour for a table."

Nearby a vendor selling African jewelry and sticks of incense wrapped in aluminum foil had begun lighting the incense and sticking it in the sand to advertise his wares. Dan coughed as a fragrant cloud drifted past their table. "I can certainly see why a spot like this would be worth waiting for."

Ginny frowned at him. "We don't have to stay if you don't want to. I just thought you'd like to see some of the more picturesque corners of L.A. while you're here."

"This certainly is picturesque."

A busboy leaned over them and gathered the dirty dishes onto a tray, flicked a damp towel over their table and disappeared.

Dan went on, "I was just thinking that we probably need to do the grocery shopping for your Thanksgiving dinner today. If we wait till Saturday or Sunday, the stores will be packed, and I'm certainly not going to do it alone while you're at work next week."

"Don't worry, we'll get it done," Ginny assured him. "Besides, I was thinking it would be fun to go to the City Market downtown and buy a turkey fresh from one of the poultry stands."

"Oh, that does sound fun."

"Oh come on, Percy, have you always been such a wet blanket?"

"I think you just bring out the best in me. Now what were you telling me about the City Market?"

"It really is an amazing place. We can probably get everything else we need there too." Ginny counted off the ingredients on her fingers. "Chestnuts for the dressing, cranberries, squash, sweet potatoes, onions, everything we need. I've been wanting a garlic braid to hang in the kitchen, and I'm sure I can find one there for a good price."

Dan smiled at her. "This from a woman who has nothing in her refrigerator but yogurt, frozen dinners and half a jar of mustard."

"All the more room to store leftovers." A waiter surfaced at last, and Dan ordered a cup of tea and a bran muffin.

Ginny rolled her eyes at her brother. "Please."

"I'm saving up for Thanksgiving."

"That's the wrong approach. You need to start stretching your stomach now." Ginny ran her finger down the menu. "I'd like a double cappuccino, and the three egg omelette with bacon, avocado and jack cheese. And a blueberry muffin."

"I'll have to roll you home if you eat all that," Dan said.

Ginny smiled serenely. "I think I'm showing a lot of self-restraint. I had been thinking about ordering the stack o' pancakes. It's great here. They come swimming in maple syrup, with giant globs of butter floating around on top of the pancakes--"

"Please," Dan clutched at his stomach, looking nauseated. "How could you eat that for breakfast?"

Their waiter laughed and told Dan, "She's right. The pancakes are to die for. Sure you don't want to reconsider?"

"I'm certain," Dan said. "I've got some respect for my arteries, even if no one else around here does. I thought Californians were into eating healthy."

"That was the eighties," the waiter said. "Now it's eat, drink, and be merry. We all know what happens tomorrow."

Ginny shivered. "Yes, too well."

"I'll be back with your coffee in a minute. You both look like you need it."

"What was that supposed to mean?" Dan asked after the waiter had gone.

"I haven't the faintest idea," Ginny smiled innocently. "This is really great, isn't it? I haven't been off on a weekday in longer than I can remember. It makes me feel like a kid on summer vacation."

"The excitement begins to wear off after seven or eight years," Dan told her. "Sometimes I think it might be nice to have an ordinary job. Get up and go to work at nine every morning, come home at five, prop my feet up, watch the tube--"

"Believe me, the excitement of that kind of life wears off in seven or eight days. Let's trade places. I'll sit around all day in my pajamas dreaming up locked room mysteries and you can go work for a grumpy attorney." Ginny abruptly changed the subject. "Do you think I was too pushy yesterday when I invited everyone to Thanksgiving dinner?"

"No, not at all," Dan said. "Of course, it would have taken a heart of stone to turn you down, all bruised and bandaged like you were, sitting there smiling a brave little smile like Tiny Tim on Christmas day, but no, I don't think you were being pushy."

"Oh." Ginny's face fell. "Then you think everyone's coming just because they feel sorry for me?"

"Knock it off. That's not what I think. They're coming because they're your friends, and they're glad that you're home safe and sound."

"You really think so?"

"No, Gin, you're right to be so suspicious. The truth is nobody really likes you. They're just being nice to you in the hopes that you'll leave them the family fortune."

Ginny laughed. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm still getting over that particular streak of self-loathing. When William first left I really thought it must mean that I was completely unlovable. It didn't help when most of our mutual friends disappeared from my life at the same time he did."

"Is that why you ran away? Because you think no one loves you?"

Ginny looked bewildered. "When did I run away? God knows I've been tempted to, but I was pretty proud of myself for sticking it out as long as I have."

Dan laughed without humor. "Oh? So where were you this whole last week?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Dan crossed his arms over his chest. "I don't know. Why don't you tell me?"

"You think I just--ran away? Percy, how can you think I would do something so childish and irresponsible?"

"It seemed a little out of the character for the Guinevere Malone I always knew, but I've been telling myself that you were hurt, you were scared, in shock maybe, I don't know. But it's over now, and you can't just disappear off the face of the earth for six days and then not explain it. That seems irresponsible to me, and maybe even as dangerous as running off in the first place."

Ginny shook her head and looked away.

"Ginny, please, you've been through something horrible. I didn't mean what I said about running away. I can hardly imagine what it was like for you, and I'm proud of you for getting through it in one piece, whatever you had to do. Now that it's all over, I can't help worrying about your state of mind. If you won't talk to me about it, please promise you'll talk to someone."

The waiter returned with a metal pitcher of hot water and a tea bag propped in a white ceramic mug that he set in front of Dan. Ginny's cup of cappuccino was the size of a small soup bowl. Steamed milk frothed over the rim, and was darkened in places by powdered cocoa melting together, and looking, Ginny thought, like sunspots darkening the white face of the sun. She complained to Dan, "Why is everybody trying to get me into therapy?"

"Oooh, I'm out of here," the waiter assured them.

"The last time I talked to William, he wanted me to start seeing a counselor too. He even offered to pay for it with his own health insurance."

"Maybe you should take him up on it."

Ginny stared at him, shocked and hurt. "How can you say that?"

"Marc told me that you'd been having blackouts. Have you seen a doctor about them?"

"That's none of your business. Marc had no right to tell you about that, and anyway, I don't think I ever blacked out."

"I'm sorry, Gin, but you're wrong if you think I'm going to just let you drop off the deep end without doing everything I can to help."

"Is that how you think I'm acting? Like I've gone off the deep end?"

"No, not now. That's what worries me. You've been through a traumatic experience--for god's sake, Ginny, a man tried to kill you--and now you're acting like nothing happened. Look at you, taking me sightseeing, planning Thanksgiving dinner. Forgive me for putting this bluntly, but I don't know if that's totally sane or not."

Ginny was surprised into laughter. "Well, maybe it's not. Really, I'm sorry I snapped at you, Percy, but I feel fine. I wish I could convince you of that. I feel better than I have in months."

Dan smiled and relaxed a little. "I'm sorry too. I know I get cranky when I'm worried."

"Well, there's nothing to worry about, so cheer up and enjoy the sea breezes."

"Just answer one question for me, and I'll stop worrying that you have epilepsy or a brain tumor."

"You can make that kind of diagnosis after just one question?"

"You don't have to tell me where you were, but I just want to know that you know where you were during those six days."

Ginny sipped at her cappuccino, then wiped the steamed milk mustache off her upper lip. "And that'll make you feel better? Well, all right, I know where I was. Remember the story of Persephone in hell?"

"I know the story. What does that have to do with--"

"The first time I visited the underworld, I was tricked into eating a handful of pomegranate seeds too, just like Persephone. You'd think I would have been more careful--I knew the story and I even had a suspicion of where I was. After all, I'd just seen an old man take Charon's coin out of his mouth and use it to pay for a plate of soft boiled eggs and toast. But the seeds were sprinkled on a fruit salad, the waiter was nice, and I was hungry, so I ate them up without even thinking about what I was doing."

"Ginny, if this is supposed to be making me feel better -"

"And once I'd had something to eat in the underworld, I was a part of it. I belong there now, just like poor Persephone, doomed to spend a month of the year in hell for every pomegranate seed she ate. Of course, it turned out to be a good thing for me. I don't remember the details now, but when Kevin showed up, I must have thought he was going to kill me, so I skipped straight back to hell to escape." Dan's face had gone white. Ginny was sorry to frighten him, but once she started telling the story, she found she couldn't stop until she reached the end. "And it turns out I made the right decision, didn't I? I even saw Kevin while I was there, poor ghost. He frightened me, but he won't be coming back. I did."

Dan's voice sank to a dry whisper. "Have you lost your mind?"

"You started all this by complaining that I was acting too sane. You're just never satisfied, are you?"

Dan stared at her for a moment more, then sat back in his chair, still looking shaken, but no longer frightened. "All right, if that's your way of telling me to mind my own business, fine. Just don't be mad at me for worrying because you won't answer all my questions. I'm enough like Mom to want to believe that everything has an explanation."

Ginny smiled. "You're not a good enough mathematician. Mom can always juggle her figures until both sides of the equation balance out."

"Ninth grade algebra gave me fits. Tell you what, I won't ask you any more questions about the time you were away, but you understand that it leaves me free to imagine all sorts of scandalous scenarios."

"Be my guest. I'd prefer a Secret Love Nest to an alien abduction myself."

"Uh huh. I'll let you know which I decide on. What's with you and Marc, anyway?"

Ginny smiled wistfully. "He's beautiful, isn't he? But he's at least ten years younger than me, not to mention gay."

"I know. That's why I was wondering how you two got to be such good friends."

"Are we such good friends? I hardly know anything about him, really. It's more that we keep having intersecting crises. I met him the night of my first and last date with Kevin. Marc helped throw him out of my apartment. Then about a month later we were both at Patrick's wake when Marc's date--boyfriend--whatever--got sick or drunk and wandered off. I helped Marc look for him."

"Arthur?"

"That's right. Have you already met him? He'll be coming to the Thanksgiving dinner with Marc."

"No, Marc mentioned him while we were looking for you. I'm curious. Did you find Arthur in that alley the night of the party?"

"The alley? No, huh-uh. He ended up on my own doorstep. Why?"

"Well it was a funny thing. Marc kept telling me that you had some kind of fixation about that alleyway, but when we got there, he was the one that spaced out."

"What do you mean? I didn't know anything about this. What happened?"

"Nothing really happened. He said something about seeing a rabbit."

"I've seen it too. A little lop-eared gray one. The first time I saw it I thought it was a cat with a broken back until it went hopping away. It must be a pet that escaped or that someone let go."

"That's what Marc said. I didn't see it, though." Dan shrugged. "It was dark. It would have been easy for me to miss it. Marc took a couple of steps, and then just stopped dead and stood there glassy-eyed for maybe a minute. I was asking him what had happened, what the matter was, and he didn't respond at all. I was afraid he was having a seizure or something. Then I touched his shoulder and he seemed to snap out of it. He didn't know what had happened. He was talking about Arthur, and he didn't believe that he'd just been standing there."

Ginny looked away, feeling a trembling, fluttering excitement. So it wasn't just her after all.

And then she saw a wearily familiar figure in the near distance. "Oh my god."

"What?"

"Look over your shoulder. I just remembered why I stopped coming to Venice."

Dan managed a very wan smile. "Sure you're not planning to slip a few pomegranate seeds in my tea while my back is turned?"

"It's William."

"You're kidding."

Dan turned around. William was jogging up the sidewalk, wearing nylon running shorts and a mustard yellow t-shirt from a Long Beach sportsbar. His jaw dropped when he recognized Ginny and Dan.

Dan turned back. "Sorry, Gin," he said softly. "Can you handle this?"

"Are you kidding? I can handle anything these days."

William stopped at their table, panting a little from the run. Ginny noticed how knobby and white his knees looked, gleaming with a sheen of sweat.

"My god, Ginny, I was so worried about you." He bent over and kissed her forehead. "Dan, it's good to see you." He clasped Dan's hand in his own sweaty palm. "So what happened? I was scared out of my wits when Dan called me looking for you."

Ginny smiled. "I had an adventure."

"So I heard. Jesus, Ginny, look at your face. Now are you going to get out of that death trap of an apartment?"

"Why would I leave now? I've survived everything the place could throw at me."

"Listen, I've talked to Chuck and Maddie. It turns out their new tenant isn't working out as well as they thought. All you have to do is say the word and they'd be glad to get rid of him for you."

Ginny looked into her cappuccino cup. She'd already drunk most of the coffee. All that was left now was a film of steamed milk on the sides. "I wouldn't move into their place if it was the last apartment in L.A."

William fell back a step. "Hey, sorry. Look, Ginny, you take care of yourself, OK?"

"I will."

"Nice to see you Dan." William jogged away down the sidewalk. Ginny thought she was about to cry, but when he was out of earshot, she started to giggle, and she was still giggling when the waiter finally set her order down in front of her. She wiped her eyes and looked at Dan, "I'm really not hungry anymore. You want my omelet?"

Chapter 34

Ginny felt shy about returning to work Monday morning. She peeled off the gauze bandages, but hesitated to use makeup on the scabbed-over cuts. Instead, she brushed on more mascara than usual, then shaded her eyelids with blush. "What do you think?" she asked Dan, who was sitting in the kitchen in one of her housecoats, drinking a cup of tea and reading the morning paper.

"About what?"

She batted her eyelashes. "Do you find your gaze drawn irresistibly to the windows of my soul?"

"You mean you hope people will look at the makeup glopped on your eyelids, and won't notice that you seem to have spent your missing week crawling through barbed wire?"

"Do I really look that bad?"

"Not at all. I think you look like the heroine of some World War II flick about the French resistance starring James Mason or Gregory Peck."

"Oh, wonderful. I'll see if I can find a silk scarf and a little black beret to complete my ensemble." Ginny sat down at the breakfast table and poured herself a cup of coffee.

"Who was that out in the courtyard last night?" Dan asked.

"I don't know. I didn't hear anything, and I'm usually a pretty light sleeper. Are you sure you weren't dreaming?"

Dan smiled wryly. "I've suspected that maybe I was only dreaming ever since I got out here.

"Sorry. No, I really didn't hear anything."

"I woke up when the wind started blowing, and I couldn't get back to sleep, so I turned on the light and read for a while."

"I have nights like that sometimes."

"Then when I finally turned off the light again, I thought I heard someone walking around out in the courtyard."

"That's probably what it was, then. Someone getting in late. Most people around here aren't nine-to-five proles like me."

"Maybe, but I never heard a door open or close. It was like they were just pacing back and forth."

"Did you look out and see what it was?"

Dan laughed a little. "No, I think you've told me too many ghost stories. With the wind blowing and all the lights out, I really had no desire to get up and see who was out there."

"When you put it like that, I can hardly blame you. I probably wouldn't have looked either." She washed her coffee cup out and propped it in the dishrack. "Sure you don't mind being marooned here all day with whatever nameless horrors may choose to stalk the courtyard? You could drop me off at work and have the car."

"No, that's all right."

"Are you positive? We never did get up to see the Chinese Theater. You could drive yourself there today. It's easy. Just take Doheny up to Sunset Boulevard and then--"

"Thanks Gin, but I'm planning on getting some work done today while I have the apartment to myself."

"OK, whatever. I'll be home about five-thirty or six. You know if you have an uncontrollable urge to start peeling chestnuts while I'm at work, you can certainly go right ahead."

"Forget it. You wanted fresh chestnuts for the dressing, you can peel them yourself."

***

After Ginny had left for work Dan showered and shaved, then re-filled the kettle on the stove to make a fresh pot of tea. After rummaging around a bit, he found a folding table in the hall closet and set it up in front of the living room window. He liked being able to see the sky while he wrote. He unpacked his laptop for the first time since he'd arrived in Los Angeles and set it on top of the table. By this time the kettle was whistling on the stove, so he went back to the kitchen, dropped three bags of Earl Gray tea into the white ceramic teapot, and poured boiling water over them. The steam that rolled up out of the teapot was sweet with oil of bermagot, and Dan realized that he was glad Ginny had talked him into staying an extra week. Maybe he'd even surprise her by tackling the chestnuts while she was gone.

The late November sunlight that came slanting through the kitchen windows threw the far sides of the toaster and microwave into deep shadow, and revealed how badly the floor needed to be mopped and the countertops dusted. Maybe instead of peeling chestnuts he would do some house cleaning today. He'd see how the writing went, and then if he needed a break he could look around and see if Ginny owned a mop or a can of lemon Pledge.

He carried the teapot into the living room, turned on the computer and sat down. But he found his attention immediately and irresistibly drawn to the irregular patch of adhesive on the upper left hand corner of the newly-replaced window pane. He got up and tried to scrape it off with his thumbnail. A few thin peels of adhesive curled off, but the glass underneath was filthy. He left it and went looking for a bottle of Windex. He couldn't possibly get any work done sitting and staring at that streaky window pane.

But under Ginny's sink he found only two plastic bottles of Tide and Clorox, and a canister of Ajax with nothing left inside but a few clotted granules that rattled around at the bottom when he shook it. He checked the hall closet and the cabinet under the bathroom sink as well, with no luck. When he went back to the living room, he discovered that Caesar had claimed his chair and lay curled up in a tight ball, his eyes decisively closed and the end of his tail lying over his nose.

"You're not fooling anyone, cat," Dan said sternly. The tips of Caesar's ears twitched. Dan sighed and looked out the window, wishing now that he'd gotten up last night to see who was stalking back and forth at three in the morning. Perhaps William was right, and Gin ought to get out of here. He wondered if she would get upset if he offered to go apartment hunting with her.

Downstairs he saw Mary on her front porch reading the morning paper, the baby beside her in a bassinet. Glancing up, she saw him looking down at her and waved. Dan waved back, then left Caesar in possession of the chair and went downstairs to say hello.

"I saw Ginny leaving for work this morning," Mary said. "I guess she's probably glad to be getting back into her old routine."

"I know she likes the security of still being employed."

"I can understand holding on to a steady job once you have it. Carol and I are still riding on the residuals from a series she worked on nearly a year ago. What do you do for a living? It's nice that you were able to take a vacation for a couple of weeks to come stay with Ginny."

"Well I'm a writer, and I brought my computer with me, so in theory I'm not really on vacation. But the truth is, I haven't done any work since I first heard about this thing with Ginny."

"I'm not surprised," Mary smiled in understanding. "I write too, but I've hardly done a damn thing since Sarah Ann was born." She looked down at the baby. Sarah Ann was lying on her back, blinking contentedly up at the bright blue sky. Mary reached into the bassinet and adjusted her t-shirt, pulling it back down over her round stomach. "Not that there's anything disruptive about you, baby girl. You bring peace and tranquility wherever you go, don't you?"

Sarah Ann said, "Ah," and kicked a bootie-clad foot.

"What do you write?" Dan asked.

"Promise not to laugh?"

"Of course I won't laugh."

"Well I've had a couple of plays put on by Sarsavate, a women's theater company in North Hollywood."

"Congratulations. I know how hard it is to get plays produced these days. Why would I laugh?"

"Because I put bread on the table and money in the bank writing Firestorm romances."

"I'm not laughing," Dan assured her with a smile. "But I don't know that house. Is it a publishing company, or a series title?"

"That's the publishing imprint. They're basically Harlequin knock-offs, with a little more bodice-ripping. And you are laughing, you liar."

"I'm not, I'm not. I'm just smiling to think of housewives buying your books and never imagining who's writing them."

"Never imagining they're written by a dyke, you mean? Well I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of romance writers are. I don't suppose you read them, but if you ever did, you'd notice that it's the women in those books who have personalities and individual characteristics. It's OK to spend ten pages describing the way the heroine wears her hair and fits into her blue jeans, but her love interest is invariably kept vague. Just a brooding figure in the background with dark eyes and rippling muscles. If you squint right it could well be a gorgeous, butch woman."

Dan laughed. "I never knew."

"So what do you write?" Mary asked. "Now that I've revealed the literary sewers I swim through, I fully expect you to tell me you're an essayist for the New Yorker."

"Hardly. We can swim proudly in the sewers of literary sub-genres together. I write detective fiction."

"No kidding?" Mary's face lit up. "I love mystery novels. Are you in the hard-boiled or soft-boiled school, or are you insulted by me immediately trying to pigeon-hole your work? You'll probably tell me that your novels transcend such facile classification."

"No they don't, I assure you. I'm softboiled to the core. I read Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers growing up, and I'd always rather have my detective end up facing a row of suspects in the drawing room than chasing a murderer through the wharfs."

"Percival Dan Malone," Mary said, musingly. "Wait a minute. Wait a minute. You're P.D. Malone?"

"One and the same."

Mary threw back her head and laughed out loud. "Oh lord, talk about gender fuck. I had no idea. I love your detective. The math professor who solves crimes on the side. I had no idea those stories were written by a man. I never would have guessed, not in a million years."

"Thank you. I'll take that as a compliment."

"You should, oh you should, believe me," Mary laughed again. "What a shock. Ginny had mentioned that her mom was a math professor, and I knew your first name was Percival, but even with all that I didn't put it together. Wait till I tell Carol."

"My publishers deliberately keep the question of my gender vague. It doesn't look like I'll ever get a back cover photo."

Mary shook her head. "I have to apologize to you. Carol and I had decided you were probably a lawyer or maybe an accountant."

"It's always educational to find out what other people's first impressions really are."

"I guess it's just that you look so--um, East Coast."

"I'm sure that's not a compliment."

"Well, since you didn't show up in Ray-Bans and surfwear I immediately wrote you off as hopelessly square." Mary smiled. "And would you think I was being hopelessly square if I asked you to sign one of your books for me? I've got the most recent one, I think--that one with the funny title. Planck's Inconstant."

"It is a silly title. I could be cowardly and blame it on my publisher, but I actually thought of it all by myself. I'll have to find one of your books so you can autograph it for me as well. Do you publish under your own name?"

"No. And I'm not telling you my pen name, so don't even ask. You really wouldn't mind signing your book for me?"

"No, of course not. I'm always ridiculously flattered to meet someone who actually went out and bought a book of mine."

"Now I feel embarrassed having to confess that I didn't buy it until it came out in paperback."

"Oh, well, I'm deeply offended, of course."

Mary smiled again. "You sound just like Ginny when you say that."

"Poor Ginny. She runs all the way to California, but she still can't get away from her family."

Mary's smile became a little brittle. "I know one way to escape family. Tell them you're a dyke. I haven't heard from Mom or Dad or either of my brothers in six years."

Dan didn't know what to say. "I'm sorry."

"No, I'm sorry. I don't know why that suddenly came out. I just seem to get the blues easier since Sarah Ann was born."

"I'm sure you make up for it by being a wonderful mother."

"And what would you know about it?" she demanded with mock severity.

"Nothing at all," Dan said hurriedly. "For all I know you're raising Sarah Ann to sacrifice at the monthly meeting of your local Satanic cult. Listen, Mary, I actually just came down to ask if you had any Windex. I wanted to clean the glue off the living room window."

"Sure." Mary stood up. "You sit here with Sarah Ann for a minute and I'll get it for you."

"Did you hear that person walking around in the courtyard last night?"

Mary looked back sharply. "Was there someone in the courtyard?"

"I thought so. Ginny didn't hear it, but I could swear there was somebody just pacing back and forth."

"This is a pretty old building," Mary said unconvincingly. "It creaks at night."

Dan shook his head. "I've never felt so much like my namesake before."

"What do you mean?"

"Percival is the eternal naf, you know, the simple-minded knight who wanders around with a glassy-eyed expression on his good-natured but stupid face, completely oblivious to the Machiavellian plotting going on all around him."

"Come on, Dan."

"I know I sound paranoid. But Ginny alternates between refusing to talk about anything that's happened to her and making up wild stories when I press her on it, and all of her friends just shake their heads and drop dark hints--"

"Have I been dropping dark hints?" Mary asked in amusement.

"'The building creaks at night'? Please."

"I'm sorry. It does, you know. But I don't suppose you would mistake it for someone walking around in the courtyard. OK, you want to know what I really think about this place? I love the neighborhood and most of my neighbors are great. But the truth is, I don't know if it's a good place to be when you're feeling down. I can't explain it, but there is something about this building that seems to amplify a bad mood. The last months of my pregnancy were pretty rough, and being in this apartment didn't make it any easier. I heard things that Carol couldn't hear, and the night I went into labor, I even thought I saw something."

"What?"

Mary shook her head. "I think it's better not to talk about it. I haven't even told Carol. I have this feeling that putting it into words makes it stronger. Anyway, after Sarah Ann was born it finally began to taper off. Then after that man got run over in front of the building, everything seemed to start up all over again." Mary sighed. "Last night I thought I heard something too, but not out in the courtyard. I always think it's down in the crawlspace under our apartment. Carol has me half convinced that it's mice. We'll probably be moving once Sarah Ann gets a little older, but for right now, I've gotten to expect that things will seem a little weird around here when I'm depressed or upset. And that's honestly all I know about this building. If there's a conspiracy to keep you in the dark, no one let me in on it."

Dan smiled a little. "So what do you think it is about this place?"

"You know, sometimes I think it's the courtyard."

"What about the courtyard?"

"It's because of the way the building is oriented. I'm sure you've noticed we only get direct light in our apartments in the early morning and late afternoon. Otherwise this courtyard soaks up all the sunshine. Maybe it's something about the disparity between the brightness out here and the shadows in our apartments. There's a famous painting--I can't think of the name of it--but it's just a picture of an empty street, like in Mexico or Southern Italy. The sun is beating down, and you can see the shadow of a little girl, and there's something about it that's so frightening and sad--"

"De Chirico's 'Mystery and Melancholy of a Street,'" Dan said. "It is an astonishing painting, isn't it? It's hard to say what it is about his imagery that's so disturbing, but I think it must be the contrast between those dark shadows and the bright yellow sunlight."

"Exactly." Mary gestured around herself. "Look at this place. It must be the mystery and melancholy of the apartment building that's getting to us. Hold on just a minute, I'll go find that bottle of Windex for you."

Chapter 35

On the day before Thanksgiving the little wine shop off Melrose was packed with last minute shoppers. Although the two men behind the counter were working as quickly as courtesy and the fragile, weighty nature of their wares would allow, Arthur saw it was going to be a while before the modest case of Bordeaux he was buying for Ginny's Thanksgiving dinner would be ready.

He was in no hurry. While he waited for his order, he wandered back between the bins and shelves of the crowded little shop, enjoying the faintly sour smell of wine-soaked corkwood, trying to read labels printed in French, German, Italian and Spanish and even, towards the back of the shop where several shelves of liquors were stocked, Russian and Swedish. The lighting in the shop was kept low in deference to the wine, and the floor underfoot was dark-stained oak, warped and buckling with age. It seemed more than worth the extra time and expense of shopping here to avoid the florescent lights and linoleum tile of most liquor stores these days.

He turned up another aisle, attracted by the ornate bottles of Madeira, Amontillado and muscatel, and further down, port and Tokay. At the very end of the aisle was a modest rack of inexpensive Chianti, some of the bottles nestled in ersatz straw baskets. Arthur frowned. Looking at the bottles reminded him of something, but he wasn't quite sure what. Tension knotted in his gut, and for a moment he was tempted to go outside and wait in the car for his order, anything to get out of this shop.

But that was absurd. Just a moment ago he had been enjoying the cool dimness. What had changed? He reached out tentatively and picked up one of the Chianti bottles. The plastic straw woven around its base was slick to the touch. Two strands were tied into a careless knot just underneath the cork. He turned the bottle in his hands, trying to concentrate, and all at once, he remembered.

He'd been feeling badly for having badgered Marc into coming with him to Patrick's wake, and he couldn't really blame him for escaping with Ginny to go see the newspaper clipping. Patrick's friends were nice enough, he supposed, but they were all strangers, and Arthur felt a vague sense of guilt to think that he and Patrick had drifted so far apart. Marc had been right earlier when he accused Arthur of not even knowing whether Patrick was still alive before they had happened to meet at the restaurant. The brutal truth of it was that any old friend he hadn't seen recently could well be dead. He thought of the ecstatic, agonizing few months that he and Patrick had spent together more than a decade ago, and the horror of it swept over him like a wave, as fresh and bitter as if he hadn't been living with the reality of the plague for all these years.

He looked around at Patrick's friends, drinking beer from plastic cups and telling morbid jokes just like they had surely done on god knew how many similar occasions, gossiping about who had managed to get into what clinical trials, telling hopeful stories about the latest drug smuggled in from Mexico, and suddenly Arthur couldn't stand it any more. He plunged out of the apartment without even telling Sean goodbye, and when the front door closed behind him, he wasn't in the courtyard anymore.

A cold, bright winter sun was shining down on him. Bare branches cast shadows on the sidewalk and across the striped awning over the front entrance of the Italian restaurant. A cold wind was blowing, but the air was rich with garlic and oregano.

"Arthur!" Patrick sat at one of the outside tables, smiling and waving him over, and it was so good to see him that Arthur didn't allow himself to think about anything else.

"Isn't it a little cold to be eating outside?" he asked Patrick.

Patrick grinned and shrugged. "They're predicting snow later on. All the more reason to enjoy the fresh air while you can, right?" He stood up. "Don't I even get a hug for old times sake?"

Arthur put his arms around him and held him tight. Patrick's long red hair was soft against his face, and the body Patrick had sculpted with so much care felt so good against his that Arthur never wanted to let him go. It was only when he felt the stirring in his groin that he remembered Marc and pulled away guiltily.

But Patrick caught his arms and wouldn't let him go. He smiled. "Still got the old rocket in your pocket?"

"Patrick--"

"It's all right, baby. What are you so scared of?"

Arthur looked across the table. Marc and Sean were there, weren't they? But something was clouding his vision, and he couldn't be sure.

"Oh, all right," Patrick said, a little exasperated but still smiling at him. He grabbed the half-empty bottle of Chianti off the table. "Let's go this way." He took Arthur's hand and led him back through the restaurant, past swinging doors into the kitchen. Great vats of water stood boiling over gas jets, and clouds of steam rolled towards the ceiling. "This way," Patrick insisted, laughing with mischief. Men and women dressed in white coats like lab technicians chopped garlic and threw handfuls of pasta into boiling water, but they paid no attention to Patrick and Arthur, and as Patrick pulled him down to the white-tiled floor, Arthur realized the cooks were no more substantial than the steam.

"Open wide," Patrick ordered him, laughing. "Tilt your head back."

Arthur obeyed him, and Patrick poured wine into his open mouth. Arthur choked and sputtered, but managed to swallow some of the wine, and it was the sweetest thing he had ever tasted in his life, warm and slick on the back of his throat. He reached up, trying to pull Patrick down to him, but Patrick laughed again, and splashed the wine all over him. Then before Arthur could complain, Patrick bent down low over him, and began to suck the wine out of his soaked shirt. Arthur could feel the warmth of Patrick's mouth through the wine-drenched cloth, and he was willing to forgive him everything, when the noise began all around them.

Patrick sat up suddenly, his face ashen. "Arthur, I'm sorry. I was just so glad to see you."

"What is it?"

The noise was growing louder, a whispering and chittering in the air that reminded Arthur of katydids during the summer nights back home, and that didn't make any sense because it was winter, wasn't it? Patrick had said so.

Patrick tried to pull Arthur up. "Please, you've got to get out of here."

Arthur tried to do as Patrick asked, but the cramps hit then, and he knew he shouldn't have drunk the wine. His gut seemed to fold over, his body desperately trying to purge itself, and he was dragging himself up a flight of wooden steps that led all the way back to the world

The Chianti bottle dropped from Arthur's hand and bounced once on the dark oak floor. The straw basket kept it from breaking. He picked it up quickly and put it back, hoping that no one had seen him, and went to the front counter to see if his order was ready yet.

***

"Found the gizzard yet?"

Ginny had her arm thrust almost to the elbow inside the turkey, feeling around with a grimace on her face while Sean read instructions from a battered edition of The Joy of Cooking. Caesar circled Ginny's feet, crying hopefully. "Well, I've got hold of something," she said.

"Does it feel 'firm and round'?"

"I guess so."

"OK then, what you want to do is pull it out gently but firmly, and most of the entrails will come out too."

"Oh god," Ginny groaned. "Here it is, all right." She produced a handful of viscera from the inside of the bird and dropped it immediately into the garbage can at her feet. "This is as bad as tenth grade biology."

Dan was sitting at the breakfast table making himself useful by chopping onions. He couldn't resist telling Sean, "You should have seen her at the City Market picking out the bird. I practically had to drag her away from one poultry stand where they were selling turkeys so fresh they hadn't even been plucked yet."

"OK, so you were right," Ginny admitted. She pulled out another handful of red and gray guts. "Maybe I am glad I didn't have to sit up all night pulling feathers off a turkey. Taking care of the stuff inside is bad enough."

"No way, this is great," Sean insisted. "Until this morning I had always half-believed that chickens were born with their guts encased in wax paper packages."

"Well, chickens may be, but at least we know for certain now that turkeys aren't." Ginny threw the last handful of entrails into the garbage. "That seems to be about all of it. What's next?"

"Hmm . . . found the lungs yet?"

"Ugh, yes." Ginny pulled out a spongy gray mass.

"Oh wait, you didn't save the giblets. Want to get the liver and heart out of the trash?"

"I don't think so."

"Sure? I've got step by step instructions here for cutting the bile sack off of the liver. And according to this, the giblets are an 'extraordinarily valuable' addition to all sorts of dishes."

"Now that I've gotten the innards out of this bird I don't ever want to see them again."

"Suit yourself," Sean said. "But don't blame me if this afternoon everyone is asking where the giblets gravy is."

"I'll risk it."

Sean was still flipping through the book. "And hey, here's a recipe for head cheese."

"There's a lady present," Dan said warningly.

"No, I'm serious. The book reliably informs us that it's a very popular jellied meat dish."

"Oh gross," Ginny complained.

"It's easy too. You quarter a calf's head, clean the teeth, scrape out the brains and the eyeballs--"

"Listen, Sean, I appreciate your help, but if we don't get the turkey in the oven pretty soon it won't be done in time for dinner."

"Well the important thing is the leftovers, right?" Sean said. "You can just invite everybody back tomorrow."

"Sean."

"All right, all right," Sean turned back to the instructions. "Actually it looks like you're almost done. The next step is stuffing it."

"Great. Percy, is the stuffing ready yet?"

Dan laughed. "Are you kidding? The chestnuts are still boiling."

"Oh damn. I forgot all about them." Ginny went to the sink and turned on the faucet with her elbow so she could wash her hands. Sean peered into the pot of chestnuts bubbling on the stove.

"They look good to me. Now we have to peel them, right?"

"I think so." Ginny wiped her hands on a dish towel. "You're the man with the cookbook, though."

"I can read a cookbook too," Dan said. He picked it up and turned to the index in the back. "Cheesecake, chervil, chess tarts, chestnuts. Bingo." He paged back through the book while Sean carefully poured off the boiling water into the sink. "Hmm," Dan said, reading. "Did you know there's a poisonous variety of ornamental chestnuts? Are you sure you didn't buy that kind, Gin?"

"Of course I'm sure. Trying to cook with you two is like sharing the kitchen with Burke and Hare."

"If you don't want our help, we'll just go into the living room and watch the Twilight Zone marathon, and you can rice the chestnuts all by yourself." Dan said.

"Rice the chestnuts? What's that supposed to mean?"

"I have no idea. But it's the first step in the chestnut dressing recipe."

"Let me see that." Ginny took the book away from him. "Rice two and a half pounds of boiled chestnuts? Since when is 'rice' a verb?"

"Maybe it means 'to render rice-like.'" Sean suggested with a grin.

"And how do I do that?"

"With a ricer?" Dan said, and he and Sean collapsed into laughter.

"Yeah, yeah, very funny. What am I supposed to do about the dressing?"

"Don't worry, we'll figure it out." Sean took the cookbook back. "And what do you know, a ricer indeed. Look." He held the open page out to Ginny.

She looked at the illustration of the contraption labeled "ricer," then back up at Sean. "Thanks. That really helps a lot. I'll just get my ricer out of the cabinet and we'll be all set. Percy, I thought you said you were going to read through the recipes to make sure we had everything."

"Me?" Dan protested, aggrieved. "You're the one who ran out and bought chestnuts without having a clue about how to prepare them. Besides, I did check the ingredients. How was I supposed to know you didn't have a ricer?"

"Oh, of course. Doesn't everyone?"

Sean interrupted, "Now look, obviously the purpose of a ricer is to chop the chestnuts into pieces small enough to mix with butter and onions and stuff into a turkey, right? I'm sure a food processor would work just as well. I'd be glad to bring mine up if you don't have one, Ginny."

Ginny smiled at him. "That would be really sweet of you. Thank you."

"I'll be right back. Don't you two kill each other while I'm gone."

By the time Sean came back lugging an avocado-green Cuisinart in his arms, Ginny and Dan had finished peeling most of the chestnuts. "Sorry I took so long," Sean said, a little breathless. "This thing's a dinosaur, but it ought to work, don't you think?"

"I'm sure it will if you say so," Ginny said. "You'll have to grind the chestnuts yourself, though," she went on, eyeing the circular blades. "I have no idea how to work a food processor. I'd probably chop off my finger."

Dan cleared a space on the cluttered counter, and Sean deposited the Cuisinart and its attachments in an untidy heap and began assembling them. Ginny brought the bowl of peeled chestnuts over to him, and only then did she notice that Sean's face was dead white, and that the reason he was fumbling with the plastic lid was because his hands were shaking.

She pushed his hands away and fit the lid onto the plastic holding container with a single twist. "I'm not sure you can be trusted to work this thing either. Are you all right?"

Sean's eyes filled with tears, but he wiped them with the back of his hand and assured her, "I'm OK. It's just that I still forget sometimes."

"Forget what?" Ginny blurted out. Then she realized what he must mean. "Oh. Sean, I'm sorry."

"Down in my apartment just now, while I was digging the food processor out of the cabinet, I was convinced that Patrick was standing behind me. It wasn't until I turned around and started to say something to him that I--remembered." Sean smiled sadly. "I don't know if I've told you how much I appreciate your inviting me to Thanksgiving like this, Ginny. It really means a lot."

"Oh Sean, it's my--it's our--pleasure. You know that. Besides," she went on, deliberately cheerful, "you've saved Thanksgiving for everyone. Imagine if we hadn't solved the mystery of the riced chestnuts?"

Dan remarked from the breakfast table. "You know, Gin, now that I think about it, doesn't Dad just buy Pepperidge Farm stuffing every year?"

She threw a hot chestnut at him.

Chapter 36

Marc and Arthur were the first to arrive at Ginny's, much to Marc's annoyance.

"You see?" he complained to Arthur. "I told you we were going to be way too early."

"Not at all," Sean assured him. "In fact, you're right on time."

"The kiss of death," Marc groaned.

Arthur looked faintly mortified, but Sean only laughed and asked Marc, "Can I take that for you?"

Marc shifted the wine case in his arms. "Nah, just show me where to put it down."

"Come on back to the kitchen. Ginny and Dan are trying to decide if the turkey's done yet. If either of you have any expertise in that area, I'm sure it would be appreciated."

"Oh, Arthur's great at all that domestic shit," Marc said blithely, following Sean back. "He grew up in a family where they actually had Thanksgiving dinner every year, instead of all the speeches denouncing the whole Pilgrims-and-Indians business as imperialist propaganda."

"Ginny, Dan, look who's here."

Ginny turned. Her face was beet red from the heat of the stove. "Marc! I'm so glad you could make it. " She wiped her bangs off her damp forehead with the back of her hand. "Arthur, it's good to see you again. Thank you for coming."

"Nice to see you too, Ginny," Arthur said. "Thank you for inviting us."

"This is my brother Dan."

Arthur reached over to shake his hand, and Dan said, "I'm glad to finally meet you. I've heard a lot about you."

Arthur raised one eyebrow. "I wonder why that scares me?"

"Must be your guilty conscience," Marc said. "I'm just going to put this down here on the floor, OK?" he went on, kneeling to deposit the box of wine on the floor in the corner. "Your counters seem pretty full."

"Oh, of course," Ginny said. "Just put it anywhere. What is it--wine?" She crouched beside the wooden crate and felt gingerly through the straw until she found a bottle. "I didn't know it came like this anymore. This was so generous of you, Marc. I don't know what to say."

Marc jerked his thumb over his shoulder at Arthur. "Thank Moneybags there, not me."

Arthur shook his head. "It's my pleasure. I'm just sorry I couldn't cook anything."

"Arthur's been getting tummy aches lately," Marc confided to everyone. "He hasn't felt like doing any cooking in days."

"Oh." Ginny looked a little worried. "Are you all right? If you want to go sit down in the living room--"

"I'm fine," Arthur assured her, glancing at Marc. "Sean mentioned that you weren't sure how to tell if the turkey was done. If I can be any help--"

"Did you catch that expression?" Marc asked Ginny. "That's Arthur's dreaded, 'Marc means well, but he's an idiot' look. He thinks I don't notice."

"Oh, thank god," Dan said feelingly to Arthur. "Someone who knows what he's doing. I think it ought to be ready by now, but I'd appreciate your advice. It's been cooking fifteen minutes for every pound, plus another five minutes per pound for the dressing, just like the book says, but I don't want to take a chance on its not being done."

"Let's take it out and see," Arthur said.

But with everyone standing in the kitchen, there was barely enough room to open the oven door. "If all non-essential personnel would please clear the bridge?" Dan suggested.

"Fine, I can tell when I'm not wanted." Marc picked up a bottle of wine and grabbed two of the wine glasses sitting freshly washed and draining in the rack beside the sink. "Come on Sean, let's see if there's a good episode of Twilight Zone on. Got a corkscrew, Ginny?"

"Somewhere around here." Ginny fumbled in the back of the utensil drawer. "Here you go."

Dan said, "Ginny, why don't you go sit down too? You've been on your feet since seven."

"But there's so much to do still."

"What's to do? Everything's ready to go except the turkey, and Arthur's here to help me with that."

"Are you sure?"

"Go," Arthur told her, smiling. He handed Ginny a wine glass. "We'll call you if we need you."

On the television screen in the living room, a young William Shatner kept darting nervous glances out the airplane window. "Great," Marc pronounced, sitting down on the sofa. He peeled the foil from the neck of the wine bottle and twisted in the corkscrew. Then he put the wine bottle on the floor, and holding it in place between his feet, gently drew out the cork. Only then did he look up to see that Ginny and Sean were both watching him amusedly.

"What?" he demanded. "You don't think I have an illustrious career before me as a head waiter?"

"That's not what I was thinking at all," Ginny said, sitting down beside him and holding out her glass. "In fact, I've never seen a cork removed with such grace and dexterity."

"Thank you," Marc said seriously. "It's nice to have one's talents appreciated once in a while."

"You implying that Arthur doesn't appreciate your talents?" Sean asked as Marc filled his wine glass.

Marc grinned. "Well, not in public."

"This conversation is starting to make me feel like I should go back to the kitchen," Ginny complained.

"Sorry. Don't do that. The last thing you want to do is get stuck discussing the done-ness of the turkey with your brother and Arthur, no offense to your brother."

"Well, you're right, actually." Ginny settled back into the sofa.

"Nice to hear that for a change too. So, Gin, how are you doing after your adventures? You're looking good."

Ginny smiled a little nervously and touched the long, scabbed-over cut on the underside of her chin. "It's almost like it never happened."

"Almost," Marc said, his own smile fading a little.

"Here comes the party," Sean announced, standing by the window. A moment later heavy footsteps came pounding up the staircase. Sean threw open the door. "Hello Sarah Ann. Nice of you to bring your mommies up for Thanksgiving."

"Hello Sean." Carol came in with Sarah Ann in her arms. "You've been here all day, haven't you?"

Sean kissed Sarah Ann's broad, white forehead, and Carol's freckled cheek. "Well, it turned out Dan and Ginny needed a referee."

"Dan and Ginny squabbling? That's something I'd like to have seen."

Ginny stood up. "Oh we were not. Sean's here because he was the one with the cookbook."

Mary came in carrying a covered casserole dish with a pair of hot pads. "Out of the way. Eggplant parmesan coming through."

"You can take it straight back to the kitchen." Ginny said.

"Hi everybody. Happy Thanksgiving." Zack's arms were full of grocery bags.

"Zack, I'm so glad you could make it," Ginny said.

"Carol and Mary told me you were having a traditional Thanksgiving, so I did the best I could. Hummus, taboule and pita bread. And falafel on little hors d'oeuvre toothpicks with American flags."

"It sounds absolutely wonderful." Ginny took one of his bags. "Does everybody know everybody?"

Zack smiled at Sean and Marc. "You I've seen around the apartment," he said to Sean. "I'm Zack."

"Sean. It's nice to finally meet you."

Sarah Ann, peering over Carol's shoulder at the assembled crowd in the living room, realized that she wasn't the center of attention anymore, and began to wail.

"Hey Ginny," Dan put his head around the door. He had to shout a little to be heard over Sarah Ann's lusty screams. "We need an editorial decision in the kitchen."

"Coming. Just let me finish the introductions."

Carol was rocking Sarah Ann in her arms and patting her on the back, trying in vain to hush her. "It's all right Ginny, we'll introduce ourselves. No one can hear a thing over Wonder Lungs right now anyway."

The front door was still standing open, and Kate came in just then, carrying two pumpkin pies in an upside-down box lid. She paused on the threshold, wincing a little at the racket. "Yikes. I guess it's too late for me to go have Thanksgiving dinner at Denny's."

"Nothing doing," Ginny called to her. "Not unless you leave the pies here, anyway."

In the kitchen, the turkey was sitting on top of the oven in all its roasted glory. "Oh, it's beautiful," Ginny said.

"It is," Arthur agreed. "You two do good work."

"Sean gets credit too." Dan was grinning proudly. "What we need to decide, Gin, is whether we should have a ceremonial carving of the turkey when we eat, or just cut it up now."

"It seems a shame to hack it up before everyone can admire it," Ginny said. "But since we're going to be eating buffet style, I guess it would make more sense to have it already carved. My dining room table is in storage," she explained to Arthur.

"Along with her dining room," Dan put in.

"Where can I put these down?" Kate had come into the kitchen behind Ginny, carrying the two pies.

"I'll take them." Ginny took the box top from her, and then looked around a little helplessly for a place to put it down.

"Here we go." Arthur took the box in turn from Ginny, and set it up on top of the refrigerator.

"Thank you. Kate, I don't suppose you've met Arthur before. Kate Adams, this is Arthur Drake."

Kate grinned. "Dr. Montague, I presume."

Arthur shook his head. "Ginny's told you about my profession."

"She may have mentioned it."

"Who's Dr. Montague?" Ginny asked, baffled.

"The ghosthunter in The Haunting of Hill House," Arthur explained ruefully. "A careless idiot who ends up getting one of his own investigators killed."

"Sorry," Kate apologized. "It was a just a joke. I didn't mean to impugn your professional competence."

"Insofar as anyone in a profession like mine can be assumed to be competent?"

"I didn't say that," Kate protested. She stuck her hand out. "Let's start over again. Arthur, it's nice to meet you. My name's Kate."

Arthur shook her hand gravely. "The pleasure's mine."

"So, Arthur," Dan said suddenly, turning with a tremendous carving knife in one hand and a whetstone in the other, "Will you do the honors?"

Later on, when they were ready to eat, Ginny screwed up her courage and gave her little speech.

"OK," she began, inauspiciously enough, standing in the kitchen door with her laden dinner plate in her hand. Everyone immediately fell silent and turned expectant eyes towards her. Ginny realized that, save for Dan, six months ago they had all been strangers. In those first, stupefyingly dreadful days after William left her, it had been difficult enough to imagine how she would go on living at all, much less make new friends and create a new life for herself. But now here she was.

"OK," she said again more softly, but no one laughed, and Dan smiled at her so reassuringly that she had to look away, afraid that he would make her cry if she caught his eye again.

"I just wanted to thank you all for coming, and for bringing so much great stuff--"

"We just wanted to be sure you had plenty of leftovers, Gin," Mary said.

"You'll have to come back tomorrow to help me eat all this. As good as it is today, it'll be even better heated up tomorrow."

"I'll be here," Marc announced.

"Anyway, I'm not going to say grace, or anything like that. I guess I wouldn't know how even if I wanted to," Ginny realized. "The only prayer I know is the one about laying me down to sleep."

"Please spare us," Dan said.

"So anyway, I just want to remember Patrick, and to wish Sarah Ann all the happiness in the world, and thank you all for being such good friends." To Ginny's annoyance, tears came to her eyes. She wiped them away with the back of her hand, narrowly avoiding spilling her glass of wine, and said quickly, "Let's eat."

***

"I'm going back for seconds," Marc said to Arthur. "Want me to bring you anything? Need a wine refill?"

"No, thank you."

Marc noticed for the first time that Arthur didn't even have a wine glass. "Not drinking?"

"No."

Marc kissed his cheek. "I'm proud of you baby. Sure you don't want an extra helping of turkey? You've hardly had a thing to eat."

"I'm fine."

"And it's all great, too. Have you even tried the eggplant? Fantastic."

"You didn't eat your dressing," Arthur noticed.

"Oh, is that what this was?" Marc used his fork to poke at the tiny portion of the yellowish-white mass that he'd left untasted at the edge of the plate. "I thought it looked kind of weird."

Sean overheard him. "It is not 'weird.' That's authentic chestnut dressing, and for god's sake, don't let Ginny hear you saying anything bad about it. You have no idea the anguish that dressing caused us."

"Sorry. Geez. Didn't mean anything personal."

Caesar jumped up onto the sofa in the spot Marc had just vacated, and peered meaningfully at the slice of turkey still on Arthur's plate.

"Don't turn your back on that beast," Marc cautioned Arthur. "He'll rip your lungs out."

Caesar gave an almost soundless little meow, turned around once as though preparing to settle down, and then resumed staring at Arthur's plate.

"Terrifying," Arthur said solemnly.

Someone knocked loudly at the front door.

"A little late," Marc commented.

"Come in," Ginny bellowed from the kitchen.

Sean was closest to the door. He set his plate aside and opened it. "Jo! You made it after all."

She gave her brother an awkward, one-armed hug, having to balance the tremendous box she was carrying with her other hand. "Happy Thanksgiving, Sean. I already had dinner at Lana's, but I wanted to stop by and say hello to everyone."

Ginny came out of the kitchen. "Jo, it's so good to see you."

"This is for you." Jo held out the box to her.

"For me?" Ginny beamed. "You didn't need to bring anything."

"Go ahead, open it."

Ginny set the box down on the arm of the sofa and pried open the lid.

"Jo, it's beautiful! Thank you so much. I've always wanted one."

"One of my friends out in San Bernardino has an herb garden out behind her house. She makes them every year."

"What is it?" Dan asked, crowding closer and trying to see.

Ginny took out the crumpled newspapers, and then carefully lifted out the dense green and gray wreath, at the base of which were three small, red gourds. "It's an herb wreath. Oh, it smells wonderful. You'll have to tell me what it all is."

"I'm not sure of everything, but the long gray leaves here are tarragon, I know, and this is mint, you can tell by the smell, and this is basil. Everything was grown organically, and you can eat everything except these." She tapped one of the gourds. "They've been varnished."

"You've probably saved me from breaking a tooth. What are they?"

"Pomegranates, aren't they?" Sean said innocently.

Chapter 37

Personally, Ginny would have thought nothing could be easier than hammering a nail into a door, but her dinner guests were not disposed to treat the matter so casually.

Mary lifted the wreath experimentally. "I think it probably weighs at least three or four pounds."

Sean rapped on the panels on Ginny's front door. "I'm almost certain this door is hollow. What do you think, Kate?"

Kate put her ear close to the door and rapped in turn. "These central panels are for sure. Up here at the top though--" she rapped again, "Up here it feels solid. So I guess it depends on you, Ginny."

Ginny looked up from her third helping of turkey and dressing and said, "I'm sorry--what depends on me?"

Marc was sitting on the floor leaning back against Arthur's legs, looking very full and just a little drunk. His empty plate sat on the floor between his feet, and he was holding a wine glass with both hands. "Everything depends on you, Gin. Haven't you figured that out by now?"

Kate said, "What I meant is, where do you want to hang the wreath? Up here?" She indicated the top door panel. Mary handed her the wreath so she could hold it in place to illustrate. "Or a little lower here?" She moved the wreath about a third of the way down the door.

"I think I like it lower, like that," Ginny said.

"OK, then we'll need a toggle bolt," Sean said with authority. "Have you got any, Ginny?"

"I don't even know what that is. You know, if it would be easier to hang the wreath higher up, then by all means--"

"No, no," Mary said. "Let's do this right. I think we may have some toggle bolts in the tool chest downstairs, don't we hon?" she asked Carol.

"I think so. When we hung that mirror on the bathroom door, we bought a package of six, didn't we? And only used four. We've probably still got the other two."

"I'll run down and look. Be right back."

"This really is beautiful," Zack commented, picking up the wreath and turning it around in his hands. "Very appropriate for the season, too."

Dan was standing in the kitchen door eating one of Zack's falafel hors d'oeuvres. He asked, too casually, "Why do you say that?"

"What? Oh, because of the pomegranates. Demeter and Persephone, the mysteries of Eleusis, all of that."

"Oh, right," Marc said lazily. "The mysteries of Eleusis. What are you babbling about, Zack?"

"Marc," Arthur remonstrated mildly.

"I know about Persephone and the pomegranate seeds," Dan said. "And Demeter was Persephone's mother, wasn't she?"

"That's right," Zack said rather sheepishly. He looked as though he was sorry he'd said anything. "After Persephone was spirited away to the underworld, Demeter wandered the earth looking for her, and neglecting her duties as the goddess of grain and the harvest."

"And winter came," Ginny said softly.

"Something like that," Zack said. "There were sacred rites in honor of Demeter and Persephone held in the fall every year in Eleusis, just outside of Athens."

"Really?" Dan said. "What kind of rites?"

"Well, that's the interesting thing. Nobody really knows. That's why it's called a mystery religion, I guess. Supposedly they involved some kind of transcendent experience. A glimpse of the underworld where Persephone reigns as pale queen six months of the year, and an assurance that she'd go easy on you when you got there yourself. Given the few testimonies of initiates we have, nineteenth century scholars assumed that the rites at Eleusis must have involved a lot of complicated magic tricks, trap doors, underground passages and so on. How else would you show people what the underworld looks like? But when the temple was finally excavated in the 20th century, no evidence of anything like that was found."

"How do you know all this stuff?" Mary asked.

Zack laughed. "Well, we studied a few things besides the Virgin Birth in seminary. And actually, looking at other religions around at the time when Christianity was first on the rise helps put it in perspective. A little symbolic cannibalism in the breaking of bread doesn't seems so strange compared to some of the things that are known about the Eleusian rites. For instance, before entering the temple, initiates would carry a suckling pig in their arms down to the sea for a ceremonial bathing. Presumably the pig was sacrificed later, but no one really knows for sure."

"That's right," Ginny said quietly. "I remember reading about that in school."

"It reminds me of Alice in Wonderland," Arthur said. "Remember the Duchess's baby? My parents had a print of the Tenniel illustration hanging in the nursery when I was a boy."

"Let's have a show of hands, people," Marc said. "Who else here grew up in a nursery?"

"I always hated that picture too," Arthur went on, acknowledging the outburst only by running his hand absently through Marc's hair. "Alice is holding the baby in her arms, except it's a pig now, and it's wearing a baby bonnet with its four hooves sticking straight up in the air. Grotesque, really."

Marc turned around and looked up at Arthur. "I never read Alice in Wonderland," he said. The joking tone was gone from his voice, and he sounded quite serious. "What happens? A baby turns into a pig?"

"Let's see," Arthur said, trying to remember how the story went, "Alice is talking to the Duchess and her cook in the kitchen, and the whole time they're tossing the baby up in the air, or something like that."

Dan smiled. "And then when they finally toss the kid to Alice she takes it away with her, since she's understandably worried about its welfare. But when she gets outside she realizes that it has turned into a pig, so she puts it down, and it runs away into the woods."

Arthur said, "And she thinks to herself that it's just as well, since it was a very ugly baby, but a rather attractive pig."

Carol laughed, and Sarah Ann raised a querulous little cry of protest. "Hey, hush sweetheart. We weren't talking about you."

Zack said, "Well, well, Alice in Wonderland. Beloved children's classic, or sinister tome of the occult?"

"I'm sure Lewis Carrol would have known about the Eleusian mysteries," Dan said, "And Alice is filled with puzzles and secrets that critics are still trying to untangle. Maybe that pig in arms is the key to a radical re-reading of the whole book."

"That's right," Zack said, playing along. "The book begins with Alice tumbling down a rabbit hole to the underworld, doesn't it? She even leaves behind a chain of daisies, just like Persephone dropping the flowers she'd been gathering when Hades kidnaps her."

Ginny remembered the Boston fern tumbling down the stairs, and suddenly she was sick to death of the entire conversation.

So was Marc, evidently. "Jesus Christ," he said, much too loudly. "It's starting to sound like one of my roommate's study groups around here."

"Sorry," Zack said, spreading his hands in apology.

Marc stood up. " I need to get going, anyway. I've got a lot of studying myself to do before Monday."

Arthur stood up too, looking a little startled by the abruptness of Marc's announcement. "Thank you for inviting us, Ginny. Everything was delicious."

"Oh, well, thanks for coming," Ginny said. "And thank you for the wine. It was wonderful."

Mary came back up the stairs just then, holding the toggle bolt triumphantly between her thumb and forefinger. "Found it. We'll have your wreath hung in no time, Ginny. Oh no, don't tell me people are leaving already."

Marc and Arthur walked to the car in silence. Marc was carrying the package of foil-wrapped leftovers that Ginny had fixed for him. He suspected Arthur was angry, but as long as he didn't say anything, then Marc didn't plan to either.

Arthur unlocked the door on the passenger side for him. Marc crawled in and set the leftovers carefully between his feet. Arthur would give him hell if he spilled gravy or marinara sauce on the carpet of his car. No, worse than that, he'd get that long-suffering look on his face, and tell Marc not to worry about it, he'd clean it up later.

Arthur slid in behind the wheel and put the key in the ignition, but didn't turn it. Marc braced himself. Here it comes, he thought.

Arthur looked over at him. "I assume you're upset about something, and weren't being rude just for the fun of it."

"What was all that back there?" Marc shot back. "Am I the only person in the universe who hasn't memorized Alice in Wonderland?"

"Marc--" Arthur broke off and made a visible effort to rein in his irritation. Marc hated that. He wished Arthur would just explode like a normal human being. "Marc," Arthur said again, very gently, "Why don't you just tell me what's bothering you?

"No, I've got a better idea. You tell me what's wrong. You know, you think because you're cool and collected and never lose your temper and always know the right thing to say that nobody can tell when something's wrong with you, but you can't fool me, sweetheart. I walked in on you a week ago and found you so sick that you could hardly get out of bed--did you think I would just forget about that? Look at you. You're still not eating right, and you hardly had two bites of dinner today. I can tell you're losing weight, and I bet you can't even remember the last time you went to the gym or went running. What's happening to you, baby? Why won't you tell me the truth?"

Arthur looked a little shocked. "I told you my last antibody test came back negative. Do you honestly believe I would lie about something like that?"

"I don't know. Maybe. Why not? I remember telling you once when we were talking about Sean and Patrick that I didn't think I could stay with somebody who was dying. So why wouldn't you lie, if it would keep me with you a little while longer?"

Arthur looked away. He seemed to be having trouble catching his breath.

Marc went on, "I know I'd do it, if our situations were reversed. I'd do anything to keep you. Lie, cheat, steal. I'm pretty sure I could commit murder, if that's what it took."

Arthur finally looked back. His eyes had filled with tears, but he was smiling. "This from a guy who's never once said 'I love you'?"

"Hey, I've told you before, I don't know what that means, and if you're waiting to hear it from me, you'll probably be an old, old man before you do. Aw shit. Please just tell me the truth. You are going to live to be an old man, aren't you?"

"According to you, I already am one."

"Baby, I'm warning you."

"The truth." Arthur took both Marc's hands in his own. "According to the lab, I'm still negative. I would never lie to you about that, no matter what."

Marc took a deep breath, and hugged Arthur tight. Then he sat back and looked again at the deep shadows under Arthur's eyes, and the way his cheekbones seemed so sharp under the thin flesh of his cheeks. "Then what the hell's wrong with you?"

"I don't know. But I think you were right all along. I think it's something to do with this building. Yesterday, I remembered some of what happened the night of Patrick's wake."

"You're kidding. Oh man, Arthur, why didn't you tell me?"

"I needed a little time to think about it. I wanted to know how I felt about it after being here again."

"And how do you feel about it now?"

"Still confused. But you're right about something else. It's time to talk seriously to Ginny about what's going on around this place."

"Geez, about time," Marc grumbled "So what do you remember?"

"I can remember leaving Sean's apartment to come look for you, but when I stepped out into the courtyard, I was somewhere else. It looked like the restaurant where we ran into Sean and Patrick, but it was winter. No leaves on the trees. And it was cold. Patrick was there."

"Oh man, " Marc said softly.

"I was happy to see him," Arthur confessed. "He looked good. He took me by the hand and led me back to the kitchen, and we--well, I'm not really sure what we did. He had a bottle of wine."

Marc tried to laugh. "So you got it on in the kitchen with a ghost? Oh shit."

"I drank some of the wine. That's what made me so sick, I think. I think that's why I'm sick now." Arthur shrugged. "So what am I supposed to tell my doctor? That I had a sip of wine in a dream, and it's disagreed with me ever since?"

"I don't know. I don't know. Geez."

"What about you?" Arthur prompted.

"OK, you want to know why I freaked when everyone started talking about Alice in Wonderland? Because it made me remember what I saw in the alley. I saw you, and you were holding a pig in your arms, just like Alice, I bet, cuddling up to it like it was a baby." Marc shuddered. "It was sick, disgusting. I can't believe your parents had a picture like that up in a kid's room. No wonder you ended up so weird." He flashed a smile at Arthur, then turned serious again. "So what the hell does it all mean?"

Arthur shrugged. "How far behind are you really in your schoolwork right now?"

"I could spare another couple of hours, I guess."

"Want to go back and see if Ginny needs any help doing dishes?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I think maybe we better."

Chapter 38

Tonight was Dan's turn to have the bed, so Ginny took the sofa. She was exhausted from everything that had happened today, but she couldn't seem to fall asleep. The minutes and then the hours ticked away, and she was still lying wide awake, her head propped up on a pillow so she could look out the living room window. The blinds were open just enough for her to see the night sky, orange from the lights of the city reflecting off the low-hanging clouds. She heard Dan snoring, but he eventually trailed off into silence. Ginny thought about getting up and turning on the television or reading, but she didn't have the energy. Too tired to sleep, she thought, but that wasn't really it. Too frightened to sleep was more like it, and the really miserable thing was, she was too frightened not to sleep either. She didn't want to be awake when the walking began out in the courtyard.

She wouldn't let herself think about it now.

Maybe she should go out and buy some sleeping pills. Surely one of the twenty-four hour drug stores in the neighborhood would be open on Thanksgiving day. Then it occurred to her that she'd been drinking wine, and wasn't it dangerous to take sleeping pills after drinking? She didn't know for sure, since she'd never bought sleeping pills in her life. She'd always been a little afraid of them, having watched too many episodes of Emergency at an impressionable age. Hard to forget Randolph Mantooth's despair when he couldn't save the foolish young woman who downed a handful of sleeping pills with a bottle of beer.

And while Ginny was still thinking in a drowsy, disconnected way about sleeping pills and old television shows, she finally dropped off to sleep, and began to dream.

She found herself back in the apartment in married student housing where she had lived with William. Blocks and blocks of postwar red brick buildings, all identical, stretching for miles through the broad, tree-lined streets of West L.A. Children played loud games on the maze of sidewalks that ran between the buildings, their Big Wheels rumbling over cement and making almost as much noise as the cars on the 405 Freeway, which looped overhead a quarter mile to the east. In her dream she and William were sitting at their old dining room table, the one that had been in storage since their separation. William was grading student papers. She was editing proofs for an exhibit catalog, but after a while she laid the proofs aside and simply watched William. His lean face was drawn into a slight frown as he struggled to make sense of some undergraduate's explication. Then he looked up suddenly, and caught her watching him.

"What?"

"Nothing."

He laughed. "Then stop looking at me."

"Well, sorry. Is it my fault if I can't keep my eyes off you?"

He shook his finger at her. "Keep your eyes to yourself. I mean it. I've got to get through these papers tonight."

"The night is young."

"And I've got thirty papers to grade still." He began reading again. Ginny pushed her chair back, got up, and walked around behind him. He pretended not to know she was there, so she bent over him and bit his earlobe.

"Hey!" He grabbed her arm and pulled her around. "Cut it out. I mean it." His tone was so sharp that she was afraid he was seriously angry. She felt the old, dreadful fear twisting in the pit of her stomach and thought oh, please, please don't fall out of love with me. But then a baby began to cry in the back bedroom, and William's face relaxed into a grin. He pulled her forward and kissed her eyelids, then her lower lip, and finally pressed his mouth firmly to hers.

And then she was awake again.

Ginny stared blankly around the dark living room, trying to figure out where she was.

Then the months came flooding back, all that had happened in the intervening time, everything that had happened that very afternoon, and she felt chilled and feverish at the same time, her stomach tied in a knot, her face flushed and prickling with heat. It was the same way she had felt this afternoon when Marc and Arthur came back. Her front door had been standing open while Mary drilled a neat hole with a power drill for the toggle bolt, and the two of them breezed in quietly as ghosts, the sound of their footsteps camouflaged by the noise of the drill. Even though Arthur smiled and explained, "We had to come back. We just remembered we hadn't had any pumpkin pie," Ginny knew very well why they were really there.

Kate glanced over and saw the look on her face. "My god, Gin, what's the matter with you?"

"Less pie for me," she laughed, and all the while she was thinking, it's all going to come out now, and everyone will know. She felt like going to the bathroom and throwing up.


After the wreath was successfully hung on the door and duly admired, Kate ceremoniously carved the two pies. Ginny cut her slice up into minute pieces but couldn't eat a bite. It was little comfort to her to notice than Arthur didn't even pretend to eat his. Mary carried Sarah Ann downstairs to change her dirty diaper, and when she came back, she was carrying a hard cover copy of Planck's Inconstant under one arm.

"I bet you thought I'd forgotten," she announced to Dan. She bent down to hand Sarah Ann to Carol.

"Sweet as a rose," Carol said to Sarah Ann, who blinked and then looked around, wide-eyed, as though she'd done something clever.

Dan said, "You went out and bought a brand new copy. You didn't need to do that."

"Well, when I dug up the copy Carol and I already had, I found it had a broken spine, and '95 from the Paperback Bin' stamped all over the front cover."

"I wouldn't have minded signing it." Dan looked embarrassed.

"I wanted a nice edition. Besides, I picked this one up discounted at Crown Books."

"Oh, well, that's all right then."

Marc, who had dispatched his slice of pie in two bites, and then finished Arthur's as well, took the book out of Mary's hands and said, "So what is this?" He indicated the author's name. "P.D. Malone? Is this you, Dan?"

"Yes."

"Cool." Marc flipped through the book. "Does that make you famous or something?"

"Tickertape parades wherever I go."

"You make a lot of money?"

"Scads."

"Can I see it?" Jo asked. Marc handed the book to her, and she glanced at the inside flap. "So it's a mystery book?"

Dan nodded, and Mary said, "He has a whole series of them about the same detective. How many have you written now--four or five?"

"Five."

"I've read some of them," Mary went on, "And I had no idea they were written by a man. When I found out Dan was P.D. Malone it blew me away."

Zack smiled. "Then I'll definitely have to read one. Could I borrow one of yours, Mary?"

"Zack," Carol admonished him, "You're taking the bread out of Dan's mouth. Go buy your own copy."

Dan was looking increasingly pained by the whole conversation. "Does anyone mind if we switch over to see how the Bears are doing?"

Ginny sat curled up on the sofa, not saying a word, and waiting for the inevitable moment when Arthur announced what he had really come back for. Her throat felt as though it were slowly closing up. The living room was stuffy and hot even though all the windows were open. She wished she hadn't eaten so much turkey.

While Dan searched for the remote control, Arthur finally turned to look at her. Smiling pleasantly, he said, "Ginny, I don't suppose you happen to remember the street repair that was going on outside the apartment here in early October, do you?"

She couldn't answer him. She just sat there, staring back at him as though she'd been struck dumb.

Kate plopped down on the sofa beside Ginny and answered for her. "That was a nightmare. How long did it go on--three nights?"

Ginny managed to nod.

Kate said to Arthur, "She was coming into work every morning looking like death warmed-over, poor thing. But it wasn't really street repair, was it? They were going down into the sewers. You never did find out what they were doing, did you Gin?"

"No," Ginny said almost soundlessly.

Sean said, "Patrick heard it too. We even talked about it at dinner that night, remember, Arthur?"

"I remember," he said. "And later on I was curious about it, so I wrote to the Department of Transportation trying to find out what was going on."

Kate said, "You made some phone calls one day, didn't you Gin? Nobody seemed to know anything about it."

Sean had a curious expression on his face. "What's up? I thought it was all a joke--ghost workmen setting up imaginary traffic cones in the middle of the night."

"That hard hat wasn't a joke," Kate said, her smile becoming a little brittle. "Look, the burns never did heal up all the way." She held out her right hand. The end of her thumb and first two fingers were marked with small patches of white, dead-looking skin.

"What happened?" Sean asked.

"One of the workmen broke out Ginny's car window with his hard hat."

"We don't know that's how it got broken," Ginny protested.

"Ginny." Kate glanced at her. "Well, at any rate, her window had been broken out at the same time the work was going on, and this white hard hat was left on the floor of her car. When I picked it up, it burned me."

"I don't think it was the hat," Ginny said. "I picked it up too, and it didn't burn me."

Arthur looked at her seriously, and all at once she knew that she had said too much. It was all going to come out now, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

Arthur said at length, "It's a strange thing. You know, according to the Department of Transportation, there wasn't any work at all on San Ysidro in early October."

"You're kidding." Sean forced a laugh.

Kate shook her head slightly. "Somehow, I'm not surprised."

Dan looked baffled and just a little angry. "What's this all about, Gin? Is this what you meant last Sunday, when you started running on about the underworld, and eating a fruit salad with pomegranate seeds like Persephone at the Diner of the Damned--"

He broke off suddenly. No one else spoke. Even Sarah Ann was quiet, and Ginny felt as though the silence was choking her. A breeze blew in through the open window, rustling the dried herbs on the newly-hung wreath on the door, and Ginny whispered miserably, "I'm sorry."

Kate put her arm around Ginny's shoulders. "Guinevere Malone, when are you going to get over this complex of yours? Would you mind telling us what you could possibly, possibly have to apologize for?"

Ginny groped for the words, but she knew, even as she spoke them, that they weren't coming out quite right. It was like telling a dream, knowing that the telling of it was forever distorting the memory of the dream itself. "My fault," she was saying, "because I've been there and back. That's not right, is it? It can't be right."

"No." Mary said unexpectedly. "It can't have anything to do with you, Ginny. I've been hearing them under the floor. One of them was standing at the foot of my bed the night I went into labor."

Carol turned to stare at her, unconsciously clutching Sarah Ann closer. She started to say something, but couldn't get the words out, and it was Sean who looked around at them all, a wild, sad smile on his face, and said conversationally, "Well, this is a relief, actually, finding out I'm not the only one. I lied to you earlier, Ginny. When I went down to get the Cuisinart, I didn't have some sentimental lapse and forget that Patrick was dead for a moment." He took a long, shuddering breath. "I saw Patrick standing in the kitchen, clear as day, and believe me, I knew he was dead."

No one else spoke. After a moment Sean insisted angrily, as though he had to convince them, "It isn't right. He should be allowed to rest. So should I."

Jo reached out and took Sean's hand. He didn't look at her. He said, "So how about it, Arthur? If Patrick's sending a hell of a haunting our way just for your benefit, you think you could convince him to knock it off now?"

Ginny saw the way Marc's face twisted, whether in anger or fierce sympathy, she didn't quite know. He didn't say a word, though, and let Arthur answer Sean with great gentleness. "I don't think it's Patrick's doing, Sean. But I want to help, if I can."

***

Ginny lay wide awake in the dark living room, where just a few hours before her Thanksgiving dinner guests had been, and thought that this was not at all the way she had pictured the day turning out. The dream of William was still so fresh in her mind that she imagined everything would be all right if she could just talk to him. They could try again. Maybe she could get pregnant. It didn't matter that William's girlfriend was carrying his baby, or that Ginny had been so rude when she'd seen him in Venice last weekend. He was still her husband for god's sake, and that meant something. Surely it obligated him to give her another chance.

"Ginny?" Dan's voice.

Only then did she realize that she was sobbing out loud. She put her hands over her mouth, trying to hold it all in.

"Ginny, are you all right?"

She nodded, as though he could see her in the dark.

Dan made his way carefully down the hallway to the living room. "What's the matter?"

She shook her head again, still sobbing behind her hands. Dan sat down beside her on the sofa and put his arms around her. "It's going to be all right, I swear it is. We'll figure out what's happening." He broke off, evidently realizing how unlikely that was, then went on, "Or we'll get you the heck out of here. It's a big city. I'm sure you could move far enough to get away from whatever it is that's going wrong around this place. Either way, I promise I'll stay till we get you settled. You could even come back to Boston with me. I bet with Mom and Dad's connections we could find you a good job in no time."

She shook herself free of his arms. "No. That's not it."

"What is it?"

"I miss William," she confessed miserably.

"Aw, Ginny," he said, exasperated but sympathetic. "You don't really, you know. You just miss feeling safe."

"That's not true," she insisted, even though it probably was. "I love him. I want him back." And she began to bawl all over again.

Dan sighed and put his arms around her again and let her cry until she ran out of sobs and began to feel a little ridiculous.

"Need a kleenex?" he asked.

"I don't think I have any," she sniffled.

"I'll bring you a roll of toilet paper, then."

"It's OK. I can get it." Ginny stood up and started for the bathroom.

Suddenly Dan said, "Do you hear that?"

Ginny stopped. "Is it starting again?"

Dan didn't answer, and Ginny held her breath, listening. For a while she didn't hear anything but late night traffic up on the boulevard, and she was on the verge of accusing Dan of trying to scare her so she would stop thinking about William. Then she heard it too.

"Footsteps," Dan whispered.

Ginny listened to the faint little sounds drifting up from the courtyard. They did almost sound like footsteps, but they were too small and swift and light. It was the sound of her John Does swarming, and oh god, they were close, so close that only the thinnest membrane separated them from this world, so close that if she looked too quickly over her shoulder, or stared too intently into the recesses of the dark room, she might very well see them. They would be soft and shapeless and white, some with papery wings beating the air, all of them with gray, smeared faces like those of infants just dragged from the womb.

Dan switched on a table lamp, and the noise stopped. Ginny heard herself gasp a little. "That's what Arthur said to do for now, right?" Dan said apologetically. "Just turn on a light."

Ginny nodded. After another moment, she went to the window. Downstairs, Carol and Mary's light was already on. Sean's light came on a moment later.

Carol opened her front door and looked towards Ginny's window. She was barefoot, wearing white cotton pajamas. "You guys all right up there?"

"Yes," Ginny called back.

Sean's door opened and he looked out into the courtyard. "You heard it too?"

"We all did, I think," Carol said.

The light went on in the upstairs apartment across from Ginny, and the man whose name Ginny didn't know bellowed furiously, his voice hoarse from sleep, "It's three o'clock in the morning. Would you please shut the fuck up?"

continued

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