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Hatful of Pain
Hatful of Pain   Chapter 12


My subconscious fought wakefulness as though it were my enemy--until I felt two small paws on my arm. I stroked Hoover's head and he dug in next to me.

I stretched upward and twisted a knob on the wall. A bare bulb flickered on, revealing a painting of a dairy cow that, judging from its composition and brushwork, was a self-portrait. To my left a ratty chair, a teetering dresser, a black and white television, a steam radiator, and a junkyard coffee table sat covered by a blanket of dust. Straight ahead, an open door led to a dingy bathroom. A sheet metal counter, a small refrigerator, and a door leading to a fire escape composed the east wing.

Rolling off the bed, I thought about Kristin Terrig burning to death and Richard Tipton getting shot. I began feeling sick--physically sick. I removed my shirt, shivered in the icy air, then pulled on a fresh shirt and buttoned it wrong on the first try. When I did it wrong on the second try, I considered sitting down on the floor and giving up. In canine innocence, Hoover believed a wagging tail or an affectionate warm lick could relieve any sadness. He rubbed his flank against my legs and swished his tail. I said, "good dog," but it didn't fool him. He padded away in confusion.

In the kitchenette, dawn's first light shone through a two-foot-square window, finding no color, inside or out. Two pigeons settled on the window ledge, slowly chewing, looking at me looking at them. Adjacent to the door leading to the fire escape was a metal counter with a telephone. I called my sister, knowing she'd be getting ready for school.

"Where are you?" she asked. "Bill said you went berserk."

I must remember to thank him when there are no witnesses around. "In a hotel. What's the status of the Laurel mission?"

"On. But we need to be careful."

"What if Laurel knows we're coming?"

"They'll probably just move their test rabbits; they don't know we're after their test procedures."

"Or they'll set up an ambush."

"We'll proceed carefully. In the meantime, we've got to plug the leak." Her voice trailed off. The leak created uncertainty even her organizational skills couldn't eliminate.

I called Bill. With our futures at a crossroads, I decided that I'd tell him I loved him. Once, shortly after Dad died, my brother worked himself into such a rage over the way I distanced myself that he punched me in the chest over and over, crying all the while how much he loved me.

He still tells me. I still haven't told him, but at least he doesn't hit me anymore. I guess he's decided no amount of pounding can tenderize a tough old heart.

I got the answering machine, left a message for him to call me, and phoned Dudley.

"I'm going to stake out the Terrigs' home," he said, "see if I can catch someone from the A.L.F. coming or going, then ask him about the leaks."

"What will you say?"

"I'll ask why he's visiting Terrig, and wrong answers will lead to the inconvenience of his needing to take nutrients through a tube in the arm."

Knowledge of a crime before it happens makes one an accomplice, and since I had no desire to wake up next to a warm, affectionate body on a prison bunk, I changed the subject.

"It looks like we'll be unemployed for awhile. What are your plans?"

"I hope Corky will let me keep helping her."

"More volunteer work? Have you done the math? If you add the zero dollars the Boston Aquarium pays you to the zero dollars you'd get from the A.L.F., you won't be able to pay for your bad habits. You won't be able to even rent one for an hour."

"Gardening has always seemed a pleasant profession. All you need is a lawn mower, a weed whacker, a few simple tools. There's not much overhead, and you hardly ever get shot at."

"See you." As I hung up laughing, I pictured Ann laughing, brushing her hair behind her ears. I missed her laughter. Now, the fact I'd never called her without a business reason got thrown into sharp relief. If I called her to chat she might guess how I felt about her. And she might reveal her true feelings for me. She might tell me she likes me as a friend.

It was a tiny terror that struck me unexpectedly, like walking face-first through a spider web in the dark. I put the phone down. I'll call her later.

I called every automobile mechanic listed in the Yellow Pages. I gave each my phone number and asked them to watch for a white Toyota Celica with a smashed right rear bumper. There'd be a reward.

After unsticking the shower curtain from itself, I bathed in streams of brackish liquid that seemed to spurt from the rusty showerhead in every direction but mine. Then I put on my last clean pair of boxer shorts. I felt tired, lonely and, remarkably, happy.

It was a dreary morning, but warm, and the snow was melting. I decided to slosh to the hospital while the sloshing was good. Richard might remember more about what had happened in the moments before he was shot.

Hoover followed me into the hospital lobby. Before I could ask the receptionist to keep an eye on him, she squealed with delight.

"What a cutie! Here baby."

Hoover stayed with the receptionist while I ran upstairs. The nurses told me that Richard was asleep; he'd had a rough night.

I wrote my hotel address and phone number on a piece of paper and slipped it into the pocket of his hospital gown, then squeezed his hand and said good-bye. On my way out, I thanked the receptionist for watching Hoover. She made me promise to bring him next time.

Heading home, I stopped at a newsstand. The vendor caught me staring at his ragged clothes, his eyes somehow embarrassed in their sadness. I paid him five-dollars for a copy of the Beacon Hill Examiner. He thanked me, but still seemed sad.

At the Jolly Lobster Bakery I bought hot chocolate and a donut, then sat in a booth near the door. Hoover lay at my feet. After reading the paper's food section, and pondering how "brash" and "adventurous" could be adjectives for cheese, I turned to the front page: CAVALRY BAR OWNER ANIMAL RIGHTS VICTIM.

That annoying Slim Twitchle again. "Richard Tipton, owner of the Howling Lobster Nightclub, was shot in yet another example of the violence that surrounds animal-rights activists. Fluke's demise may be a death blow to the local animal-rights movement, which has been spreading like wildfire." Slim concluded by quoting Cavalry's Police Chief, Patti York: "It's possible someone shot Mr. Tipton because he supported activists who were trying to close Terrig Corporation." Richard's picture accompanied the article. A younger Richard, quite a good likeness, except he was usually in better focus.

With a hot drink and a stale donut under my belt, I felt queasier but less annoyed. Hoover and I left. The sky had filled with dark clouds that seemed to return the morning to its predawn state.

"Baker."

I turned and a flashbulb blinded me. I glanced away at two hookers and a pimp hovering within knifing distance. When my eyes stopped blinking, I recognized the man behind the camera. He looked bigger standing upright than when I'd ridden him like a toboggan across an icy parking lot.

I considered once again wrestling him to the ground and questioning him rigorously. But I reconsidered this tactic when I noticed he was smiling. Over his smile, his eyes came through as a kind of radiance. Also radiating from him was the strong scent of cherry after-shave. As for me, my head still hurt. I hadn't shaved in two days and I was beginning to bear a slight family resemblance to Sirhan Sirhan.

"How are you?" Granite said.

A little crazier every day. "Who are you?"

He looked at me suspiciously. "Slim Twitchle."

No wonder he'd looked familiar. He'd frequently been a face in our audience as he caught our act before crucifying us with comments like "This band fills a much-needed gap."

"You're telling me this now? Why not when I tackled you? You could have saved us both some trouble."

"I thought you knew me, and you were getting even."

"For what?"

"Oh, you must not have read my last review of your guitar playing."

"What'd you write?"

"That I've heard more interesting cymbal solos. Okay, it's not true, but the truth is always deathly dull. I have readers to entertain--"

That explains why Slim looked nervous the night Richard was shot; he was worried I would stick my foot so far down his throat we'd be walking home together.

Slim asked, "You mind if I ask you a couple questions?"

"Not if you don't mind that I'm not here." Hoover and I did an about-face.

Slim ran backward alongside us. "Why did you tackle me?"

"My brother overheard someone threaten to kill Richard, then I heard you say Fluke was history."

"You mean you knew of the threat beforehand?"

I walked faster. Slim fired questions at me so rapidly my head started to overheat from the strain of keeping my mouth shut.

Finally I burst. "Yes, I knew in advance. Like you did!"

Slim backpedaled around a fire hydrant.

"But I didn't. A friend of Kristin's was supposed to meet me in the Lobster. He never showed. You must've heard me telling my editor that the story about Fluke was history. Why are you still in Cavalry?"

"Let's make a deal. I'll tell you, if you tell me who leaked information about the A.L.F."

"I can't."

"Well then, if I decide to tell you anything, I'll jot it down, wrap it around a rock, and toss it through your hotel window."

"Fair enough. Toss it into the Holiday Inn by noon, my deadline, or I'll be forced to speculate on Kristin's death."

"Meaning?"

"Oh, something like: how Fluke brainwashes teenage girls to burn down research labs."

I worked to remain civil. "Why write stories about Fluke? You said it yourself, we're history."

"You were history, but people care about violent death. I've seen it before. If Richard dies, Fluke will be a national story."

In my pocket, my left hand curled in to a fist. "Vulture!"

Half a block ahead, directly in Slim's path, was a Beacon Hill Examiner dispenser. If I could keep him preoccupied, he'd crash into his own garbage bin.

"I'll tell you why I'm staying in Cavalry, but off the record. If you print it, when I'm done with you, your newspaper'll have to pick you up with an ink blotter."

"Deal."

"I'm looking for the psycho who shot Richard."

"Did he have many enemies?"

"Not that I know of. I'm thinking that the target must have been Fluke."

"Nice detective work, young man. You've narrowed down your suspects to all people with good taste in music."

"Your alibi is accepted."

Slim winced. "How are you planning to catch the guy?"

I paused, trying to sound like I knew the answer and was thinking of the clearest way to phrase it.

"Clues."

"Any idea where you'll find 'clues'?"

"Not exactly."

"Then forget it. You'll be searching high and low."

"Just low. That's why I'm here."

Slim skipped sideways and I ran smack into the newspaper dispenser, almost somersaulting over it. In the clear December air, I heard the receding slap, slap of his rubber boots.

Hoover sat at the base of the dispenser as patiently as a stuffed animal. Two women in leather miniskirts and mesh stockings converged on me, offering to engage in acts of leisure.

Not wishing to spend the rest of my life soaking in vats of penicillin, I interrupted them with a dismissing gesture. "No thanks. I'm trying to quit."

* * *

After buying some groceries, Hoover and I went back to our room. I flicked on the light, half expecting battalions of cockroaches to skitter for cover. When I turned on the television, the light dimmed, and someone in the next suite pounded on the wall. I sat in front of the TV, ate Cracker Jacks, and tried to forget I'd known that someone had planned to kill Richard. It was like trying to forget that my head was stuck up my butt.

Should I have warned him? He would have laughed it off. Should I have stuck closer to him? Bill was supposed to do that. Why had he left him alone?

I was annoyed my thoughts were dwelling so exclusively on what I might have done differently. I had more immediate problems that demanded some attention, namely what I was going to do about earning a living, where I was going to look for Richard's gunman, and what I would do if I actually found him.

A car race was running on the tube. The leader didn't have a rearview mirror. Maybe that was the secret of his success. A commercial came on.

"Listen to that, Hoover. I hope that's great acting. It'd be a shame if that man were really so passionate about motor oil."

Hoover's ears pricked up.

"What's wrong?" He waddled toward the door.

"Want out?"

A sharp knock.

Who knows I'm here? Did somebody find my address in Richard's pocket? Was Richard's gunman stalking A.L.F. members?

Another knock, more persistent.

I heaved my metal suitcase above my head like a caveman's club, and stood to the side of the door. Balancing the suitcase with one hand, I put my other hand on the doorknob, yanked it open, and was amazed.

"It's you!"

"Absolutely correct. Me, herself." Ann sailed through the door, green eyes as large as a night creature's. She was carrying Smuffkins.

"Anyone else?" I leaned into the hallway and looked both ways.

"Just me. Going somewhere?"

"Huh? Oh, no." I set down the suitcase.

Ann placed Smuffkins' blender on the counter.

"May I take your coat?"

"Thank you." Underneath she was wearing a loose black sweater shot through with tiny strands of silver.

I hung her coat on the bent nail next to the door over Hoover's leash.

"I'm glad you're here. I've had just about all I can take of myself."

Ann sat on the couch, her purse nesting in both arms.

"Corky said to bring you Smuffy."

"Thanks. Can I get you anything? There's Coke, and an unopened fifth of Canadian Club left by the previous tenant. Coke, I think, is the better bet, since I don't actually know how to serve Canadian Club."

"No . . . yes, if you're having one."

I poured some into two paper cups and handed her one, then dumped a bag of potato chips into a bowl, took one, and passed the rest to her. Hoover sniffed the air with interest.

"Did you drive here?"

Most of Ann's answer I missed because I was concentrating on the silver strands in her sweater that reflected slightly if hit by light at a certain angle.

". . . a cab and visited Richard," she was saying. "He was groggy, practically asleep, but he says hi."

My eyes traversed the fire escape slashing down the side of the building across the alley.

"Are you headed back to Celtic City?"

She pulled her legs up underneath her and didn't answer until I looked at her.

"I'm not finished here. I came back to cut a deal with Beezil Terrig."

"What deal?"

"We can't have it hanging over our heads that he'll turn our names over to the police. We'll promise to leave his lab alone if he'll tell us everything he knows, including the source of the leak, and promise he won't reveal any names."

"You can't trust Terrig."

"After burning down his lab, he might not be quick to cross us."

"You want to come with me Thursday when I talk with the Terrig's about Kristin?"

"That might be too late. I think I can reach him today through Lester Gillis."

"You're going to walk right up to Lester and say, 'If you'll play nice, I'll play nice'? Lester may decide it'd be grand entertainment to hurt you."

Ann winked. "I can handle myself around men."

Her courage was enviable, based though it was on a failure to appreciate the difference between a drunken date and a pure evil thug.

"If you were a bookie, Ann, you'd know this. But since you aren't, let me tell you. There is a zero percent chance it'll work. If you ask Lester not to reveal A.L.F. names, he'll sense vulnerability and blackmail us to do more than just stay away from Terrig's lab."

Ann smiled without humor.

"What do we have to lose? If Kristin's friend keeps leaking secrets, the A.L.F.'s finished. I'll bluff Lester, tell him we're planning our next raid on Terrig Corporation unless they deal with us. If he already knows Laurel is our next target, he'll call my bluff, and I'll know what they know. And we won't walk into a trap."

"You can't be sure. If you want to gamble, why not buy a lottery ticket or eat at a deli?"

"I'll halt the mission the instant anything looks or feels suspicious." Ann took several chips. Hoover sniffed at her tragically. Ann pointed one at me, "Want to work together?"

My answer surprised me. "We have different goals. You want to find out what Lester knows about the A.L.F. and then get ready for the Laurel mission. I want to find Richard's gunman. And I can't ask you to help me, because I don't know what I'm doing."

"Well," she shifted on the couch. "I don't need much help. I'm only going to ask Lester some questions. I'll be fine by myself." Unfortunately, her icy tone implied: "As Mary once said to Joseph: 'Who needs you?'"

"I'll be fine too," I said. "I know a little about detective work from years of television. By the age of twelve I knew how to pick a lock, commit a fairly elaborate bank holdup, and kill people with a variety of sophisticated armaments."

Ann began fiddling with a potato chip, tapping it against her lower lip. Tap-tap-tap. Sigh. Tap-tap-tap. Sigh.

"Any suspects?"

I rearranged loose chips on the coffee table as if preparing to march them off the edge.

"Purple Hair, possibly a good A.L.F. supporter gone bad. Lester Gillis, who suddenly believes his bar is threatened by the Lobster. The guy in the Celica, identity and motive unknown, who also may have been in the neighborhood of the Terrig Lab when it was set on fire. Beezil Terrig, and Kristin's unknown friend. Chas Blat, an ex-con who was right there when Richard was shot."

"How about the guy you tackled in the parking lot?" She patted her thigh and Hoover climbed up, snuggled in, and rested his chin in her lap.

I told her about my encounter with Slim, then I stepped into the kitchenette and poured another Diet Coke.

"Slim chases sensational stories," she said. "Do you think he prods them along?"

"Maybe, but facts bore him. He said 'the truth is dull'. I think what he likes best are the parts he makes up."

Ann stroked Hoover's shoulders. Hoover sniffed and pointed toward the chip bowl.

"I think Hoover is hungry, Clark. He keeps looking at these chips." Hoover tilted his head and furrowed his brow, trying his best to understand English.

"That's probably because you're eating out of his favorite bowl."

Ann grimaced, then laughed and offered Hoover a chip before handing me the bowl. I carried it back to the kitchenette. Hoover cocked his head accusingly.

I poured Ann more Coke. We sipped in silence, relaxed, and talked about food, music, politics, books, and a bad attempt at movies and television. We laughed at ourselves. We'd both lost touch with pop culture since getting involved with the A.L.F. To share memories we had to reach back to The Right Stuff, A Chorus Line, and the last episode of M*A*S*H. We discussed memorable events in Fluke. Some of her perspectives were inspirational, others funny, and all of them fascinating because they were hers.

We avoided our past romances and talked about friends instead. While it was unfortunate that most of our friends were recovering from broken marriages or relationships gone sour, we laughed over the statistical oddity that they were all the wronged parties.

I told her, in detail, of how I'd crushed some of my wrestling opponents. I was aware that I was showing off, and that such macho bragging was silly. Perhaps I might entertain Ann at a later time by swinging from tree to tree in my leopard skin. I pondered the notion and found it not wholly without merit.

Several hours had melted away when Ann got up. "This has been great. Sometimes the world goes out of focus when there is no one to share feelings with."

I stood and pushed my hands deep into my pockets.

Ann said, "I'll go with you to hunt for clues, if you'll go with me to talk with Lester."

"Deal." She could have suggested we drive together through hell in a gasoline truck and I'd have agreed.

She opened the door. "Meet you here in one hour. I'm in room 304." She walked out.

I called after her, "I'm falling in love with you, Ann." Although not loud enough for her to hear me. After my divorce, I had given up on love. But here it was, springing up again, a living reminder that love, if not the most powerful force in the world, is at least the most persistent.

Hatful of Pain 13

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