Black House Chapter Twenty Nine

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’’YOU GUYS READY?’’ Dale asks.

’’Aw, man, I don't know,’’ Doc says. This isn't the fifth time he's said it, maybe not even the fifteenth. He's pale, almost hyperventilating. The four of them are in a Winnebago ¡ªkind of a rolling green room ¡ªthat has been set up on the edge of La Follette Park. Nearby is the podium on which they'll stand (always assuming Doc can keep his legs under him) and deliver their carefully crafted answers. On the slope running down to the broad river are gathered nearly four hundred newspeople, plus camera crews from six American networks and God knows how many foreign stations. The gentlemen of the press aren't in the world's best mood, because the prime space in front of the podium has been reserved for a representative sampling (drawn by lottery) of French Landing's residents. This was Dale's one ironclad demand for the press conference.

The idea for the press conference itself came from Jack Sawyer.

’’Mellow out, Doc,’’ Beezer says. He looks bigger than ever in his gray linen slacks and open-collared white shirt ¡ªalmost like a bear in a tuxedo. He has even made an effort to comb his acres of hair. ’’And if you really think you're going to do one of the Three P's ¡ªpiss, puke, or pass out ¡ªstay here.’’

’’Nah,’’ Doc says miserably. ’’In for a penny, in for a f*kin'pound. If we're gonna give it a try, let's give it a try.’’

Dale, resplendent in his dress uniform, looks at Jack. The latter is if anything more resplendent in his gray summerweight suit and dark blue silk tie. A matching blue handkerchief pokes from the breast pocket of his coat. ’’You sure this is the right thing?’’

Jack is completely sure. It's not a matter of refusing to allow Sarah Gilbertson's Color Posse to steal the limelight;it's a matter of making certain that his old friend is in an unassailable position. He can do this by telling a very simple story, which the three other men will back up. Ty will do the same, Jack is confident. The story is this: Jack's other old friend, the late Henry Leyden, figured out the Fisherman's identity from the 911 tape. This tape was supplied by Dale, his nephew. The Fisherman killed Henry, but not before the heroic Mr. Leyden had mortally wounded him and passed his name to the police. ( Jack's other interest in this press conference, understood perfectly and supported completely by Dale, is to make sure Henry gets the credit he deserves.) An examination of French Landing property records and plats uncovered the fact that Charles Burnside owned a house on Highway 35, not far out of town. Dale deputized Jack and two widebodies who just happened to be in the vicinity (that would be Messrs. Amberson and St. Pierre), and they went on out there.

’’From that point on,’’ Jack told his friends repeatedly in the days leading up to the press conference, ’’it's vital that you remember the three little words that lead to most acquittals in criminal trials. And what are those words?’’

’’ ¡®I can't remember,'’’ Dale said.

Jack nodded. ’’Right. If you don't have a story to remember, the bastards can never trip you up. There was something in the air inside that place ¡ª’’

’’No lie,’’ Beezer rumbled, and grimaced.

’’ ¡ªand it messed us up. What we do remember is this:Ty Marshall was in the backyard, handcuffed to the clothesline whirligig.’’ Before Beezer St. Pierre and Jack Sawyer slipped through the police barricades and vaporized Black House with plastic explosive, one reporter got out there and took numerous pictures. We know which reporter it was, of course;Wendell Green has finally realized his dreams of fame and fortune.

’’And Burnside was dead at his feet,’’ Beezer said.

’’Right. With the key to the handcuffs in his pocket. Dale, you found that and released the boy. There were a few other kids in the backyard, but as to how many ¡ª’’

’’We don't remember,’’ Doc said.

’’As to their se*es ¡ª’’

’’A few boys, a few girls,’’ Dale said. ’’We don't remember exactly how many of each.’’

’’And as for Ty, how he was taken, what happened to him ¡ª’’

’’He said he didn't remember,’’ Dale said, smiling.

’’We left. We think we called to the other kids ¡ª’’

’’But don't exactly remember ¡ª’’ the Beez chips in.

’’Right, and in any case they seemed safe enough where they were for the time being. It was when we were putting Ty into the cruiser that we saw them all streaming out.’’

’’And called the Wisconsin State Police for backup,’’ Dale said. ’’I do remember that.’’

’’Of course you do,’’ Jack said benevolently.

’’But we have no idea how that darn place got blasted all to hell, and we don't know who did it.’’

’’Some people,’’ Jack said, ’’are all too eager to take justice into their own hands.’’

’’Lucky they didn't blow their heads clean off,’’ said Dale.

’’All right,’’ Jack tells them now. They're standing at the door. Doc has produced half a joint, and four quick, deep tokes have calmed him visibly. ’’Just remember why we're doing this. The message is that we were there first, we found Ty, we saw only a few other children, we deemed their situation secure due to the death of Charles Burnside, also known as Carl Bierstone, the South Side Monster, and the Fisherman. The message is that Dale behaved properly ¡ªthat we all did ¡ªand he then handed the investigation off to the FBI and WSP, who are now holding the baby. Babies, I guess in this case. The message is that French Landing is okay again. Last but far from least, the message is that Henry Leyden's the real star. The heroic blind man who I.D.'d Charles Burnside and broke the Fisherman case, mortally wounding the monster and losing his own life in the process.’’

’’Amen,’’ Dale says. ’’Sweet old Uncle Henry.’’

Beyond the door of the Winnebago, he can hear the surflike rumble of hundreds of people. Maybe even a thousand. He thinks, This is what rock acts hear before they hit the stage. A lump suddenly rises in his throat and he does his best to gulp it back down. He reckons that if he keeps thinking of Uncle Henry he will be okay.

’’Anything else,’’ Jack says, ’’questions that get too specific ¡ª’’

’’We can't remember,’’ Beezer says.

’’Because the air was bad,’’ Doc agrees. ’’Smelled like ether or chloro or something like that.’’

Jack surveys them, nods, smiles. This will be a happy occasion, on the whole, he thinks. A love feast. Certainly the idea that he might be dying in a few minutes has not occurred to him.

’’Okay,’’ he says, ’’let's go out there and do it. We're politicians this afternoon, politicians at a press conference, and it's the politicians who stay on message who get elected.’’

He opens the RV's door. The rumble of the crowd deepens in anticipation.

They cross to the jury-rigged platform this way: Beezer, Dale, Jack, and the good Doctor. They move in a warm white nova glare of exploding flashbulbs and 10-k TV lights. Jack has no idea why they need such things ¡ªthe day is bright and warm, a Coulee Country charmer ¡ªbut it seems they do. That they always do. Voices cry, ’’Over here!’’ repeatedly. There are also thrown questions, which they ignore. When it comes time to answer questions they will ¡ªas best they can ¡ªbut for now they are simply stunned by the crowd.

The noise begins with the two hundred or so French Landing residents sitting on folding chairs in a roped-off area directly in front of the podium. They rise to their feet, some clapping, others waving clenched fists in the air like winning boxers. The press picks it up from them, and as our four friends mount the steps to the podium, the roar becomes a thunder. We are with them, up on the platform with them, and God, we see so many faces we know looking up at us. There's Morris Rosen, who slipped Henry the Dirtysperm CD on our first day in town. Behind him is a contingent from the now defunct Maxton Elder Care: the lovely Alice Weathers is surrounded by Elmer Jesperson, Ada Meyerhoff (in a wheelchair), Flora Flostad, and the Boettcher brothers, Hermie and Tom Tom. Tansy Freneau, looking a bit spaced out but no longer outright insane, is standing next to Lester Moon, who has his arm around her. Arnold ’’Flashlight’’ Hrabowski, Tom Lund, Bobby Dulac, and the other members of Dale's department are up on their feet, dancing around and cheering crazily. Look, over there ¡ªthat's Enid Purvis, the neighbor who called Fred at work on the day Judy finally high-sided it. There's Rebecca Vilas, looking almost nunnish in a high-collared dress (but cry no tears for her, Argentina;Becky has stashed away quite a nice bundle, thank you very much). Butch Yerxa is with her. At the back of the crowd, lurking shamefully but unable to stay away from the triumph of their friends, are William Strassner and Hubert Cantinaro, better known to us as Kaiser Bill and Sonny. Look there! Herb Roeper, who cuts Jack's hair, standing beside Buck Evitz, who delivers his mail. So many others we know, and to whom we must say good-bye under less than happy circumstances. In the front row, Wendell Green is hopping around like a hen on a hot griddle (God knows how he got into the roped-off area, being from La Riviere instead of French Landing, but he's there), taking pictures. Twice he bumps into Elvena Morton, Henry's housekeeper. The third time he does it, she bats him a damned good one on top of the head. Wendell hardly seems to notice. His head has taken worse shots during the course of the Fisherman investigation. And off to one side, we see someone else we may or may not recognize. An elderly, dark-skinned gentleman wearing shades. He looks a little bit like an old blues singer. He also looks a little bit like a movie actor named Woody Strode.

The applause thunders and thunders. Folks cheer. Hats are thrown in the air and sail on the summer breeze. Their welcome becomes a kind of miracle in itself, an affirmation, perhaps even an acceptance of the children, who are widely supposed to have been held in some bizarre se*ual bondage linked to the Internet. (Isn't all that weird stuff somehow linked to the Internet?) And of course they applaud because the nightmare is over. The boogeyman died in his own backyard, died at the foot of a prosaic, now vaporized aluminum clothes whirligig, and they are safe again.

Oh how the cheers ring in these few last moments of Jack Sawyer's life on planet Earth! Birds are startled up from the bank of the river and go squawking and veering into the sky, seeking quieter environs. On the river itself, a freighter responds to the cheers ¡ªor perhaps joins in ¡ªby blasting its air horn over and over. Other boats get the idea and add to the cacophony.

Without thinking about what he's doing, Jack takes Doc's right hand in his left, Dale's left hand in his right. Dale takes Beezer's hand, and the Sawyer Gang raises their arms together, facing the crowd.

Which, of course, goes nuts. If not for what is going to happen next, it would be the picture of the decade, perhaps of the century. They stand there in triumph, living symbols of victory with their linked hands in the sky, the crowd cheering, the videocams rolling, the Nikons flashing, and that is when the woman in the third row begins to make her move. This is someone else we know, but it takes us a second or two to recognize her, because she has had nothing at all to do with the case we have been following. She's just been . . . sort of lurking around. The two hundred seats up front have been awarded by random drawing from the French Landing voter rolls, the lucky lottery winners notified by Debbi Anderson, Pam Stevens, and Dit Jesperson. This woman was No. 199. Several people shrink from her as she passes them, although in their happy frenzy they are hardly aware of doing it;this pale woman with clumps of straw-colored hair sticking to her cheeks smells of sweat and sleeplessness and vodka. She's got a little purse. The little purse is open. She's reaching into it. And we who have lived through the second half of the twentieth century and have through the miracle of TV witnessed a dozen assassinations and near assassinations know exactly what she is reaching for. We want to scream a warning to the four men standing with their linked hands raised to the sky, but all we can do is watch.

Only the black man with the sunglasses sees what's happening. He turns and starts to move, aware that she has probably beaten him, that he is probably going to be too late.

No, Speedy Parker thinks. It can't end like this, it can't.

’’Jack, get down!’’ he shouts, but no one hears him over the clapping, the cheering, the wild hurrahs. The crowd seems to block him on purpose, surging back and forth in front of him no matter which way he moves. For a moment Wendell Green, still bobbing around like a man in the throes of an epileptic seizure, is in the assassin's path. Then she heaves him aside with the strength of a madwoman. Why not? She is a madwoman.

’’Folks ¡ª’’ Dale's got his mouth practically on the microphone, and the P.A. horns mounted to the nearby trees whine with feedback. He's still holding up Jack's hand on his left and Beezer's on his right. There's a small, dazed smile on his face. ’’Thank you, folks, we sure do appreciate the support, but if you could just quiet down . . .’’

That's when Jack sees her.

It's been a long time, years, but he recognizes her at once. He should;she spat in his face one day as he left the Los Angeles courthouse. Spat at him and called him a railroading bastard. She's lost fifty pounds since then, Jack thinks. Maybe more. Then he sees the hand in the purse, and even before it comes back out, he knows what's happening here.

The worst is that he can do nothing about it. Doc and Dale have his hands in a death grip. He drags in a deep breath and shouts as he has been taught to do in just such a situation as this ¡ª’’Gun!’’ ¡ªand Dale Gilbertson nods as if to say, Yes it is, it is fun. Behind her, pushing through the clapping, cheering crowd, he sees Speedy Parker, but unless Speedy's got a particularly good magic trick up his sleeve ¡ªHe doesn't. Speedy Parker, known in the Territories as Parkus, is just fighting his way into the aisle when the woman standing below the platform brings out her gun. It's an ugly little thing, a bulldog .32 with its handle wrapped in black kitchen tape, and Jack has just half a second to think that maybe it will blow up in her hand.

’’Gun!’’ Jack shouts again, and it's Doc Amberson who hears him and sees the snarling woman crouched just below them.

’’Ohf*k,’’ Doc says.

’’Wanda, no!’’ Jack cries. Doc has let go of his left hand (Dale has still got his right one hoisted high in the summer air) and Jack holds it out to her like a traffic cop. Wanda Kinderling's first bullet goes right through the palm, mushrooms slightly, begins to tumble, and punches into the hollow of Jack's left shoulder.

Wanda speaks to him. There's too much noise for Jack to hear her, but he knows what she's saying, just the same: Here you go, you railroading son of a bitch ¡ªThorny says hello.

She empties the remaining five bullets into Jack Sawyer's chest and throat.

No one hears the insignificant popping sounds made by Wanda's bulldog .32, not over all that clapping and cheering, but Wendell Green has got his camera tilted up, and when the detective jerks backward, our favorite reporter's finger punches the Nikon's shutter-release button in simple reflex. It snaps off eight shots. The third is the picture, the one that will eventually become as well known as the photo of the Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima and that of Lee Harvey Oswald clutching his belly in the parking garage of the Dallas police station. In Wendell's photo, Jack Sawyer looks calmly down toward the shooter (who is just a blur at the very bottom of the frame). The expression on his face might be one of forgiveness. Daylight is clearly visible through the hole in the palm of his outstretched hand. Droplets of blood, as red as rubies, hang frozen in the air beside his throat, which has been torn open.

The cheering and the applause stop as if amputated. There is a moment of awful, uncomprehending silence. Jack Sawyer, shot twice in the lungs and once in the heart, as well as in the hand and the throat, stands where he is, gazing at the hole below his spread fingers and above his wrist. Wanda Kinderling peers up at him with her dingy teeth bared. Speedy Parker is looking at Jack with an expression of naked horror that his wraparound sunglasses cannot conceal. To his left, up on one of four media towers surrounding the platform, a young cameraman faints and falls to the ground.

Then, suddenly, the freeze-frame that Wendell has captured without even knowing it bursts open and everything is in motion.

Wanda Kinderling screams ’’See you in hell, Hollywood’’ ¡ªseveral people will later verify this ¡ªand then puts the muzzle of her .32 to her temple. Her look of vicious satisfaction gives way to a more typical one of dazed incomprehension when the twitch of her finger produces nothing but a dry click. The bulldog .32 is empty.

A moment later she is pretty much obliterated ¡ªbroken neck, broken left shoulder, four broken ribs ¡ªas Doc stage-dives onto her and drives her to the ground. His left shoe strikes the side of Wendell Green's head, but this time Wendell sustains no more than a bloody ear. Well, he was due to catch a break, wasn't he?

On the platform, Jack Sawyer looks unbelievingly at Dale, tries to speak, and cannot. He staggers, remains upright a moment longer, then collapses.

Dale's face has gone from bemused delight to utter shock and dismay in a heartbeat. He seizes the microphone and screams, ’’HE'S SHOT! WE NEED A DOCTOR!’’ The P.A. horns shriek with more feedback. No doctor comes forward. Many in the crowd panic and begin to run. The panic spreads.

Beezer is down on one knee, turning Jack over. Jack looks up at him, still trying to speak. Blood pours from the corners of his mouth.

’’Ah f*k, it's bad, Dale, it's really bad,’’ Beezer cries, and then he is knocked sprawling. One wouldn't expect that the scrawny old black man who's vaulted up onto the stage could knock around a bruiser like Beezer, but this is no ordinary old man. As we well know. There is a thin but perfectly visible envelope of white light surrounding him. Beezer sees it. His eyes widen.

The crowd, meanwhile, flees to the four points of the compass. Panic infects some of the ladies and gentlemen of the press, as well. Not Wen-dell Green;he holds his ground like a hero, snapping pictures until his Nikon is as empty as Wanda Kinderling's gun. He snaps the black man as he stands with Jack Sawyer in his arms;snaps Dale Gilbertson putting a hand on the black man's shoulder;snaps the black man turning and speaking to Dale. When Wendell later asks French Landing's chief of police what the old fellow said, Dale tells him he doesn't remember ¡ªbesides, in all that pandemonium, he could hardly make it out, anyway. All bullshit, of course, but we may be sure that if Jack Sawyer had heard Dale's response, he would have been proud. When in doubt, tell 'em you can't remember.

Wendell's last picture shows Dale and Beezer watching with identical dazed expressions as the old fellow mounts the steps to the Winnebago with Jack Sawyer still in his arms. Wendell has no idea how such an old party can carry such a big man ¡ªSawyer is six-two and must go a hundred and ninety at least ¡ªbut he supposes it's the same sort of deal that allows a distraught mother to lift up the car or truck beneath which her kid is pinned. And it doesn't matter. It's small beans compared to what happens next. Because when a group of men led by Dale, Beez, and Doc burst into the Winnebago (Wendell is at the rear of this group), they find nothing but a single overturned chair and several splashes of Jack Sawyer's blood in the kitchenette where Jack gave his little gang their final instructions. The trail of blood leads toward the rear, where there's a foldout bed and a toilet cubicle. And there the drops and splashes simply stop.

Jack and the old man who carried him in here have vanished.

Doc and Beezer are babbling, almost in hysterics. They bounce between questions of where Jack might have gone to distraught recollections of the final few moments on the platform before the shooting started. They can't seem to let that go, and Dale has an idea it will be quite a while before he can let go of it himself. He realizes now that Jack saw the woman coming, that he was trying to get his hand free of Dale's so he could respond.

Dale thinks it may be time to quite the chief's job after all, find some other line of work. Not right now, though. Right now he wants to get Beezer and Doc away from the Color Posse, get them calmed down. He has something to tell them that may help with that.

Tom Lund and Bobby Dulac join him, and the three of them escort Beez and Doc away from the Winnebago, where Special Agent Redding and WSP Detective Black are already establishing a CIP (crime investigation perimeter). Once they're behind the platform, Dale looks into the stunned faces of the two burly bikers.

’’Listen to me,’’ Dale says.

’’I should have stepped in front of him,’’ Doc says. ’’I saw her coming, why didn't I step in front ¡ª’’

’’Shut up and listen!’’

Doc shuts up. Tom and Bobby are also listening, their eyes wide.

’’That black man said something to me.’’

’’What?’’ Beezer asks.

’’He said, ¡®Let me take him ¡ªthere may still be a chance.'’’

Doc, who has treated his share of gunshot wounds, gives a forlorn little chuckle. ’’And you believed him?’’

’’Not then, not exactly,’’ Dale says. ’’But when we went in there and the place was empty ¡ª’’

’’No back door, either,’’ Beezer adds.

Doc's skepticism has faded a little. ’’You really think . . . ?’’

’’I do,’’ Dale Gilbertson says, and wipes his eyes. ’’I have to hope. And you guys have to help me.’’

’’All right,’’ Beezer says. ’’Then we will.’’

And we think that here we must leave them for good, standing under a blue summer sky close to the Father of Waters, standing beside a platform with blood on the boards. Soon life will catch them up again and pull them back into its furious current, but for a few moments they are together, joined in hope for our mutual friend.

Let us leave them so, shall we?

Let us leave them hoping.



ONCE UPON A TIME

IN THE TERRITORIES . . .

ONCE UPON A TIME (as all the best old stories used to begin when we all lived in the forest and nobody lived anywhere else), a scarred Captain of the Outer Guards named Farren led a frightened little boy named Jack Sawyer through the Queen's Pavilion. That small boy did not see the Queen's court, however;no, he was taken through a maze of corridors behind the scenes, secret and seldom-visited places where spiders spun in the high corners and the warm drafts were heavy with the smells of cooking from the kitchen.

Finally, Farren placed his hands in the boy's armpits and lifted him up. There's a panel in front of you now, he whispered ¡ªdo you remember? I think you were there. I think we both were, although we were younger then, weren't we? Slide it to the left.

Jack did as he was bidden, and found himself peeking into the Queen's chamber;the room in which almost everyone expected her to die . . . just as Jack expected his mother to die in her room at the Alhambra Inn and Gardens in New Hampshire. It was a bright, airy room filled with bustling nurses who had assumed a busy and purposeful manner because they had no real idea of how to help their patient. The boy looked through the peephole into this room, at a woman he at first thought was his own mother somehow magically transported to this place, and we looked with him, none of us guessing that years later, grown to a man, Jack Sawyer would be lying in the same bed where he first saw his mother's Twinner.

Parkus, who has brought him from French Landing to the Inner Baronies, now stands at the panel through which Jack, hoisted by Captain Farren, once looked. Beside him is Sophie of Canna, now known in the Territories as both the Young Queen and Sophie the Good. There are no nurses in the sleeping chamber today;Jack lies silent beneath a slowly turning fan. Where he is not wrapped in bandages, his skin is pale. His closed eyelids are hazed with a delicate purple bruise-blush. The rise and fall of the fine linen sheet drawn up to his chin can hardly be seen . . . but it's there. He breathes.

For now, at least, he lives.

Speaking quietly, Sophie says, ’’If he'd never touched the Talisman ¡ª’’

’’If he'd never touched the Talisman, actually held it in his arms, he would have been dead there on that platform before I could even get close to him,’’ Parkus says. ’’But of course, if not for the Talisman, he never would have been there in the first place.’’

’’What chance has he?’’ She looks at him. Somewhere, in another world, Judy Marshall has already begun to subside back into her ordinary suburban life. There will be no such life for her Twinner, however ¡ªhard times have come again in this part of the universe ¡ªand her eyes gleam with an imperious, regal light. ’’Tell me the truth, sir;I would not have a lie.’’

’’Nor would I give you one, my lady,’’ he tells her. ’’I believe that, thanks to the residual protection of the Talisman, he will recover. You'll be sitting next to him one morning or evening and his eyes will open. Not today, and probably not this week, but soon.’’

’’And as for returning to his world? The world of his friends?’’

Parkus has brought her to this place because the spirit of the boy Jack was still lingers, ghostly and child-sweet. He was here before the road of trials opened ahead of him, and in some ways hardened him. He was here with his innocence still intact. What has surprised him about Jack as a grown man ¡ªand touched him in a way Parkus never expected to be touched again ¡ªis how much of that innocence still remained in the man the boy has become.

That too is the Talisman's doing, of course.

’’Parkus? Your mind wanders.’’

’’Not far, my lady;not far. You ask if he may return to his world after being mortally wounded three, perhaps even four times ¡ªafter being heart-pierced, in fact. I brought him here because all the magic that has touched and changed his life is stronger here;for good or ill, the Territories have been Jack Sawyer's wellspring since he was a child. And it worked. He lives. But he will wake different. He'll be like . . .’’

Parkus pauses, thinking hard. Sophie waits quietly beside him. Distantly, from the kitchen, comes the bellow of a cook lacing into one of the 'prentices.

’’There are animals that live in the sea, breathing with gills,’’ Parkus says at last. ’’And over time's long course, some of them develop lungs. Such creatures can live both under the water and on the land. Yes?’’

’’So I was taught as a girl,’’ Sophie agrees patiently.

’’But some of these latter creatures lose their gills and can live only on the land. Jack Sawyer is that sort of creature now, I think. You or I could dive into the water and swim beneath the surface for a little while, and he may be able to go back and visit his own world for short periods . . . in time, of course. But if either you or I were to try living beneath the water ¡ª’’

’’We'd drown.’’

’’Indeed we would. And if Jack were to try living in his own world again, returning to his little house in Norway Valley, for instance, his wounds would return in a space of days or weeks. Perhaps in different forms ¡ªhis death certificate might specify heart failure, for instance ¡ªbut it would be Wanda Kinderling's bullet that killed him, all the same. Wanda Kinderling's heart shot.’’ Parkus bares his teeth. ’’Hateful woman! I believe the abbalah was aware of her no more than I was, but look at the damage she's caused!’’

Sophie ignores this. She is looking at the silent, sleeping man in the other room.

’’Condemned to live in such a pleasant land as this . . .’’ She turns to him. ’’It is a pleasant land, isn't it, sirrah? Still a pleasant land, in spite of all?’’

Parkus smiles and bows. Around his neck, a shark's tooth swings at the end of a fine gold necklace. ’’Indeed it is.’’

She nods briskly. ’’So living here might not be so terrible.’’

He says nothing. After a moment or two, her assumed briskness departs, and her shoulders sag.

’’I'd hate it,’’ she says in a small voice. ’’To be barred from my own world except for occasional brief visits . . . paroles . . . to have to leave at the first cough or twinge in my chest . . . I'd hate it.’’

Parkus shrugs. ’’He'll have to accept what is. Like it or not, his gills are gone. He's a creature of the Territories now. And God the Carpenter knows there's work for him over here. The business of the Tower is moving toward its climax. I believe Jack Sawyer may have a part to play in that, although I can't say for sure. In any case, when he heals, he won't want for work. He's a coppiceman, and there's always work for such.’’

She looks through the slit in the wall, her lovely face troubled.

’’You must help him, dear,’’ Parkus says.

’’I love him,’’ she says, speaking very low.

’’And he loves you. But what's coming will be difficult.’’

’’Why must that be, Parkus? Why must life always demand so much and give so little?’’

He draws her into his arms and she goes willingly, her face pressed against his chest.

In the dark behind the chamber in which Jack Sawyer sleeps, Parkus answers her question with a single word:

Ka.

Epilogue

SHE SITS BY his bed on the first night of Full-Earth Moon, ten days after her conversation with Parkus in the secret passageway. Outside the pavilion, she can hear children singing ’’The Green Corn A-Dayo.’’ On her lap is a scrap of embroidery. It is summer, still summer, and the air is sweet with summer's mystery.

And in this billowing room where his mother's Twinner once lay, Jack Sawyer opens his eyes.

Sophie lays aside her embroidery, leans forward, and puts her lips soft against the shell of his ear.

’’Welcome back,’’ she says. ’’My heart, my life, and my love: welcome back.’’

April 14, 2001


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