âSo where were you?' Margot demanded.
âOut, that's all. I went to the beach.'
âOh, you went to the beach. How nice for you. The hospital called and asked which funeral home we wanted Danny taken to.'
âYes, Frank. He's dead, remember?'
Frank covered his mouth with his hand. This was going to be harder than he had ever imagined. At last he took his hand away. âWhichÂ .Â .Â . umÂ .Â .Â . what did you say?'
âI said Kennedy and Lester's, on Olive. They handled my grandfather's funeral.'
âGood, yes. That's fine.'
âI called Kennedy and Lester's and John Lester said they're going to arrange it all. We can go see Danny tomorrow afternoon.'
âOK. OK, good.'
He didn't know what else to say. It was no use asking Margot how she was feeling because it was obvious how she was feeling. Looking around, he saw that she had taken down the painting that he had scrawled on, and replaced it with another
Impression In White
. He had no idea how many
Impressions In White
she had painted, because he could never tell one from the other. All he knew is that every time he came home she was standing in front of her easel, surrounded by dozens of squeezed-out tubes of titanium white. It looked like the massacre of the maggots.
âAre you staying for a while, Ruth?' he asked.
âSo long as Margot needs me,' Ruth challenged him.
âWell, that's good. I'd say she needs you a whole lot just at the moment, considering the circumstances. I'm just going toÂ .Â .Â .' He hesitated, because he didn't know what he was going to do or where he was going to go. âMake a few phone calls,' he added lamely.
He couldn't sleep that night. He tried watching television in his study but on the first channel he flicked on to they were showing
and on the next one
, which had been one of Danny's favorites.
He went into the kitchen and opened the icebox. There were two pork chops on a plate, covered with Saran Wrap. He took them out and looked at them but then he put them back again. They were left over from the last meal that they had eaten together, on Tuesday evening.
Back in his study, he picked up the book he was reading, whenever he had the time, which wasn't very often. It was called
by Brion Gysin, about a black Fulbright student who goes to Morocco to discover the Sahara Desert and smoke copious pipes of
âThe silky surreptitious silence of the Sahara starts in Ghardaia, where every soft footfall is shod in sand. Men speak softly, knowing that they will be heard. Everything crackles with static electricity as if one were shuffling over a great rug. Everyone in the Sahara is very aware, tuned into the great humming silence through which drones the sound of an approaching diesel from hours away.'
But after ten minutes he found that he couldn't focus any more, so he placed an
stick in the book to mark his place, and closed it. Dawn found him in the conservatory, his forehead pressed against the cold patio window, staring at nothing.
He made two mugs of strong coffee and took one in to Margot. She was lying in an Indian rope-trick of sheets, either sleeping or pretending to sleep.
He stood over her and at last she opened her eyes, blinking against the seven o'clock sunlight.
âI brought you some coffee.'
âI don't want any. I don't want anything from you.'
âMargot, we ought to talk about this.'
âI don't want to talk about it. I don't have anything to say. You let Danny die and that's all there is to it.'
He stayed there for a few moments more. Then he said, âI'm going to see Gerald Marquette. I should be back around three. Then we can go visit Danny.'
âDon't worry about it, I'll go on my own.'
He went back into the kitchen and poured the coffee down the sink.
He was an hour too early for his meeting with Astrid so he drove to Franklin Avenue. Outside The Cedars, the street was still cordoned off by fluttering police tapes, and at least seven squad cars were parked on the sidewalk, as well as two station wagons from the Coroner's Department and a dark green armored van. FBI, probably.
Frank left his car on the corner of Sierra Bonita Avenue and walked the rest of the way. As he approached the school, he saw scores of investigators in Tyvek suits and respirators, crawling all over the wreckage like white ants. Three backhoe diggers had been brought in, and two of them were nudging down the front wall of the Memorial Library, while the third was demolishing the portico. There was a pall of fine gray dust over everything, and Frank's shoes crunched on the concrete as he came nearer.
Lieutenant Chessman was standing just behind the police lines with his hands thrust into the pockets of a sagging green linen coat. Detective Booker was there, too, in his shirtsleeves, talking to a tall young man with black wavy hair, a black polo neck and an expensive gray sport coat. The young man glanced over at Frank as he approached, and gave the briefest of frowns, as if he recognized him. Frank thought he looked rather saturnine, like the Devil on his weekend off.
âMr Bell,' said Lieutenant Chessman, lifting one hand in acknowledgement. âWhat brings you here?'
âI don't know exactly. I guess I had to take another look at it, just to convince myself that it really happened.'
âWell, be my guest.' He lifted the tape and Frank ducked underneath. âWe've recovered all the bodies so far, and everybody's been identified and accounted for. Now we're looking for shrapnel. Pieces of van, and any other junk that those bastards were carrying.'
âYou still don't know who they are â this terrorist group?'
Lieutenant Chessman took out a Rolaid and popped it into his mouth. âSo far, we don't have any leads at all. The FBI tell us that they've never heard of them before, and neither have the CIA. Apparently there was a broadcast yesterday evening on the Al Jazeera network, and they specifically denied that Dar Tariki Tariqat has any connection with Al Qaeda.'
Frank bit his lip and wondered if he ought to tell Lieutenant Chessman that he had met Astrid. After all, if she could help the police to find out who had killed Danny and all those other childrenÂ .Â .Â .
But Astrid had sworn to him that she hadn't seen anything, and told him in confidence that she wasn't supposed to be here on Franklin Avenue at all. He didn't want to betray her trust before he had even had a chance to get to know her.
Lieutenant Chessman said, âUsually, you know, you get a buzz of information when something like this happens. We have some pretty good contacts in the Muslim community, Algerians and Iranians and all those guys. But this time, stony silence.'
âYou haven't found out who was driving the van?'
Lieutenant Chessman shook his head. âThey were atomized, both of them. The only way we could tell that they were a man and a woman was because we found one of the guy's Nikes about a hundred and fifty feet away, and because there was an intra-uterine device melted into the door of the glovebox.'
At that moment, the saturnine young man in the gray coat made his excuses to Detective Booker and came over to join them. Frank could tell by the way he walked that he was very fit. His shoulders were broad and his pecs bulged under his sweater. He had a long straight nose like a Greek statue, and dark, deeply buried eyes. Frank disliked him even before he opened his mouth. Too damn handsome, too damn self-possessed.
He held out his hand. âI think we may have met before,' he said in a distinctly British accent.
âI don't think so.'
âNevile Strange. Maybe you've heard of me.'
Lieutenant Chessman said, âNevile is what you might call a psychic detective. We call him in from time to time when we're not making much headway with good old-fashioned procedure. You remember last January, when the Dikstrom girl was kidnapped?'
âSure, I remember.'
âNevile told us that her little bead bracelet had fallen down the crack in the rear seat of the suspect's station wagon. Sure enough, when we searched the vehicle again, there it was.'
âYou don't sound terribly impressed,' Nevile said and smiled at him.
âWell, no. I'm afraid I don't believe in the world beyond.'
âI can't say that I do, either,' Lieutenant Chessman put in. âBut Nevile has a terrific record of helping us with some very intractable cases. Whether you believe in it or not, seven times out of ten, he gets it right.'
âLet me show you what I'm doing here,' Nevile suggested. âFrank, is it? Detective Booker was telling me you lost your little boy.'
Frank looked at Lieutenant Chessman and Lieutenant Chessman pulled a face as if to say,
Nevile walked off between the distorted school gates. When he reached the shattered security booth he turned and waited, like a parent waiting for a laggardly child. Frank hesitated and then reluctantly followed him.
As they crossed the parking lot, Nevile said, âEverybody has the potential to be psychic, you know. It's a skill, not a gift. But some people have it more than others.'
âMe, I've been blessed with psychic perception all my life, ever since I was a snotty-nosed kid in South London. My parents just accepted it â for instance, if ever my mother lost her purse, she'd come to ask me where it was and I'd say, “under the couch” or “you left it at Mrs So-and-so's house.” I never thought that there was anything amazing about it.
âThen one day, when I was about ten, my best friend, Robert, was knocked down by a hit-and-run driver, right outside his house, and killed. There were no witnesses and nobody came forward to admit it. I went to the spot where he had died, and while I was standing there, Robert appeared, just the way he was before the car hit him.
âI couldn't see him directly, not face-on, but I could see him out of the corner of my eye, as if he was standing just behind me, and a little way off to one side. It was then that I heard the car coming, and I stepped back on to the pavement. The car drove past me,
, maybe forty or fifty miles an hour. It almost hit me, but I didn't feel any slipstream, nothing at all. The only thing was, I saw Robert rolling over and over on the road, arms and legs flapping like a scarecrow, and I knew that I had seen him being killed.
âThe car was a gray Hillman Minx, and the last three numbers on its license plate were seven-six-six. I went back home and told my father what I'd seen, and my father took me to the police station. Of course the police were highly skeptical, but they checked it out all the same. They found the car in Brighton, about a week later. It still had a clump of Robert's scalp sticking to the front grille.'
They had reached the area in front of the school where the bomb had exploded. The bodies and the pieces of bodies had been removed, but all of the rest of the debris had been left where it was, so that the forensic team could catalog every scrap of it, from shredded T-shirts to charred sports bags. Most of them were on their hands and knees, carefully picking up the fragments of twenty-three lost lives and dropping them into polythene evidence bags.
Frank breathed in the stench of detonated explosive and scorched metal and brick-dust. The clatter from the diggers was so loud that Nevile had to shout.
âWhen somebody is violently killed, they leave what I like to call a
on their physical surroundings. When my friend Robert was killed, the trauma of those moments was imprinted on the highway, almost like a series of high-speed photographs. What I can do â because I have very developed mental awareness â is I can develop those photographs in my mind's eye, so that I can see the event happening all over again.'
âSoÂ .Â .Â . what can you see here?'
Nevile looked down at a chalk outline on the blistered tarmac. âA little girl with blonde curls died here. Her first name was Amy and her second name had something to do with ships. She was laughing when the blast hit her. She had her head thrown back and her eyes closed. And then â bang. NowÂ .Â .Â . now she's thinkingÂ .Â .Â .'
âShe's dead, Frank, in the physical sense. But now she's worried about her pet hamster, who's going to take care of it.'
?' Frank didn't know whether to laugh or to walk away.
âWhat?' said Nevile. âYou think I'm being cynical? What do
think a little girl would be worrying about, if she knew that she could never go back home?'
One of the forensic investigators came waddling toward them in her white Tyvek suit, her short red hair sticking up like rooster feathers. She took off her face mask and wiped the perspiration from her freckled forehead with the back of her hand. âSo they brought
in, Nevile,' she said. âThey must be desperate.'
Nevile turned to Frank and grinned. âLorraine's a non-believer, like you. If you can't touch it, feel it, eat it, or see it under a microscope, Lorraine won't admit it exists. How about dinner, Lorraine? I could put you in touch with your dead grandmother and find out what she did with that cultured-pearl necklace you always wanted so badly.'
do you know about that?'
âBecause I can read your mind. And because I met your sister about three days ago at the Roeg Gallery and she asked me if there was any chance of my tracing it for you.'