29. Stranger Things

He stood before the mirror, shaving off his beard.

He understood now. His mind was clear again.

He realized now that he'd had a psychotic break. He had gone briefly crazy.

He had believed that cab drivers were following him, that he was in love with Billie, that people's faces were masks made of meat. Only now that these thoughts were behind him did he realize how bizarre they had been. Now that he had come out the other side of it, he knew, ipso facto, that he was thinking straight again. His having been crazy was proof that now he was sane.

When he'd realized that his apartment really had been ransacked, all the doors in his mind had flown open at once. A cool luminous breeze, like waterfall spray, had blown through him and carried the cobwebs away.

Everything had fallen into place. Everything fit.

He washed the foam and the grit from his cheeks, then held his new face up to the mirror for investigation.

He was a different person.

His skin was both speckled and smooth. He could see on his chin the same elaborate patterns that he'd noticed earlier on his hands. He could take in more detail at a glance. He was now seeing instantaneously what formerly his mind could only cobble together piecemeal. He could now see in space what before he had only seen over time. It was as if, he thought with a laugh, his retinas had more receptors.

Laughing made him think of that stupid pamphlet in Bruce's waiting room.

Inappropriate emotional reactions. Like crying at a funny movie, or laughing at a funeral.

Which only made him laugh harder.

You're not hurting my feelings, Miranda said.

"Wait," said Mike's voice. "You got your PDR on you? Leave it in the car. Just to be safe. Just humor me."

He was halfway back to his car before he discovered that his PDR was missing.

"Mike? I must have left it at the pub."

A pause. Then, "You sure you left it?"

"What else?"

"Never mind. Come up."

"You think maybe someone took it?"

The doorphone cut out.

Drew pulled on the door. "It's still locked."

"Drew, is there a ... car parked across the street?"

He did not have to turn around. Suddenly he knew that someone was watching him.

"There's lots of cars parked across the street," he said casually. "Maybe I should want to thank you for the pleasure of how—"

The doorphone beeped, the door opened. He went up.

"Sssshhhh. Sally's sleeping."

"You fixed the security box?"

"No, it's still on the fritz."

"But you updated my voiceprint."


"But now it works."

"That's what I mean. Fritz."

Mike led him into his study—which was actually just the main living room, which he'd soundproofed. Mike liked to write at night while blasting music.

"Do you want a drink?"

"I think I've had enough."

Mike sat, then stood, went to the door, returned, fiddled with the stereo system, then sat again.

"Okay!" he said heartily. "What's up?"

Drew started to tell him.

"You can speak up! The music will drown us out."

Sally appeared in the doorway, looking rumpled and sleep-logged.

"Oh! I didn't hear you arrive!"

"Did we wake you, bunny?"

"Drew, what happened to your face?"

"Oh yeah! I noticed that," said Mike. "You got rid of the beard, right?"

"Felt like a change."

Sally came into the room. "Hey, Michael, can you turn it down a little!"

Mike went to the stereo. "Better?"

Drew looked from one to the other of them, waiting for the punchline. Then he remembered. He pointed at the stereo. "You like this song?"

"It's brilliant. Why?"

"I had my earbugs removed today."


"So I can't hear anything. To me, the apartment is silent."

"Oh! Shit. I'm an idiot." Mike flipped a switch, and music filled the room.

Drew sat back in his chair. "It's not like your fucking place is bugged."

"Who knows," Mike said. "Stranger things have happened."

"Bugs?" said Sally.

"Shouldn't we call the police?" asked Ennis.

Stranger things have happened.

"No," he said. "It's just a joke."

Strange things were still happening.

"If you ask me, it's not a very funny one," she said.

"Anyway, what are the police going to do? They've got their hands full. It's not like they ever find the perp in cases like this. This shit happens. It's just bad luck."

He couldn't go to the police. He could not report this without reporting everything. As long as they believed he knew nothing, he had the advantage. Besides, the police were as much responsible for what had happened to her as anyone. And who was hurt if, for the time being, he told no one? Besides, he might so easily still know nothing. He might so easily not have looked.

"I don't know," said Ennis. "Aren't you obligated ...?"

"Come on, I'll drive you home. I mean, take you home. We'll split a cab. I gotta go pick up my car."

"You don't want me to stay anymore?"

It was strange. He knew that this had already happened, because he knew what happened next. But he wasn't just remembering this, either; he was living through it. So he found he could be patient, wait for it to play itself out. He felt a wave of tenderness for this woman, who didn't even realize she wasn't here. He took her in his arms. She remained poised to resist.

When he opened his mouth, he knew that the words he chose would be the right ones to make her go away. He felt as if he were watching and acting in a film at the same time; he had not read the script, yet could not deviate from it.

"I got some things I gotta do."

The Hotel Seven looked deserted, but the sign was on, convulsively flashing, like neon dyspepsia, OPEN, OPEN, OPEN. He lit a cigarette and rolled down the window.

On the highway, a truck shifted gears, and groaned in relief to be leaving the city.

Directly in front of him, a streetlight went out.

It was like the first word of a message, the formal salutation of a letter.

Okay, he said. Alright. If _____, then turn it back on ... now.

The streetlight came back on.

And retroactively he filled the blank with what he'd implied: If I am right; If I should carry on; If I am getting closer; If I am a not a bad person; If you'll help me ...

Alright. Then I can handle this. Then I'll hold up my end of the bargain. Let's go.

"Hi," he said to the boy at the desk. "Do you have the new schedule handy?" He threw his arms onto the counter-top like they belonged there.

"What schedule. You mean the shift schedule?"

"I tried calling earlier," Drew said, with strained patience. "No answer. So. I dropped by."

"I guess I must've been in the office. Sorry."

"You usually work this shift?"

"So far."

"Ever work days?"

"Not really. I've only been here a little while."

"Carol works days," he said. He looked around the lobby wearily. A television flickered silently in one corner. The furniture was worn to a dull shine.

"Some people quit." The boy rummaged around behind the desk. "This what you looking for?"

Drew peered at the clipboard as if reluctantly. "That the housekeeping schedule?"

The boy shrugged. "It's all the same."

Drew took it from him. "Carol works days. Supposed to get a few days off. Not feeling too well. Wants to know when she's supposed to be back."

They found her Monday afternoon. October 11. He ran his finger down the column for that day. Only three people working from 11:00 to 19:00.

The boy mumbled, "She the one ...?"

"Shit, no. You mean found the body? Shit, no. That was what's her name."

All three had been scheduled to work the same shift the following days. But for one of them, those days had been crossed out.

"Rosario, wasn't it?"

"Dunno. Nobody tells me much round here."

"Shit, no. They never do. Sure, Rosario ... Rosario something." There were no last names on the schedule. He handed it back to the boy. "Hey, you got phone numbers for people? Like if she decides she wants to trade a shift or something?"

"They probably gave her one when she got hired," the boy said. "They did for me. Mine's all for front-desk, though."

"Shit. You wouldn't have one back there for housekeeping, would you? I doubt she's still got hers. Besides, the turnover in this fucking place ..."

"I could check in the office."

"You mind?"

"Shit, no." The boy was already on his way. "You want a coffee or something? You work nights too?"

"Nah," said Drew. "I don't sleep anymore."