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Hatful of Pain
Hatful of Pain   Chapter 22


Four hours later, drenched with icy sweat and trembling, I came bounding awake from a nightmare so terrifying I couldn't remember any part of it. I fell back asleep wondering what seeped through my subconscious and so thoroughly chilled my blood.

By the time the pink-orange parfait of dawn touched the rooftops, I'd woken up in a reasonably good mood, the nightmare nearly forgotten. Even the self-portrait of the dairy cow looked pleasant. Instead of getting up, I lay in a half-doze. Faint images percolated to the surface of my brain. They came faster and stronger, rushing toward me like subway stations seen from the front of a speeding train, melting and flowing into one another as they do in a dream.

One image kept recurring. A twisted bible.

I got dressed, fed Alice and Hoover, and dropped a slice of wheat bread in the toaster. Then I called my sister.

"Have you ever doubted Bill's loyalty to the A.L.F.?"

"What do you mean?"

"Animal-rights philosophy conflicts with his religious beliefs. Maybe he's found allies and turned against us."

"Are you crazy?"

"Let me explain--"

"Can you do it without using the words 'alien abduction'?"

"That hinders me, but I'll try anyway." The toaster billowed smoke. I stretched the phone cord to the toaster and forced the toast out. "How many people can fly the Cobra that attacked Ann and me?"

"Holy cow, do you know what you're saying? He's our brother!"

I began scraping charcoal off the toast. "Our dear brother helped Brett onstage. They use the same religious rhetoric. Just before Richard was shot, Bill sent me outside while he stayed inside. At the hospital, he kept asking me not to go hunt for the gunman--"

"Nobody wanted you to hunt for the gunman. Your newly acquired suspicious nature makes you a good detective, but a deeply troubled person. Can you really imagine Bill purposely hurting anyone?"

I looked at the toast in my hand. Corky was right. It was easier to imagine what it would be like to drink from a gutter, or dig toast out of a trashcan and eat it.

* * *

A distant radio played early Rolling Stones, muffled and distorted, as if Mick Jagger were singing "Ruby Tuesday" with a sock stuffed in his mouth. In a long green skirt, Ann stood with her back to the window, she with her thoughts, me with a bottle of Diet Cola. Despite the glum look on her face, her presence lit up the room. Buried in our silence was the tension from the previous day.

Eventually she said, "Did you say something?"

"Don't think so. Rainy morning."

"Yes. Rainy."

Hoover paced between us, trying to get our attention, insecure in the changed mood. I picked at the label from my Cola bottle, an unpleasant habit which I had, up until that moment, never stooped to.

"You mad at me?"

Casting equal glances between me and through the frosted windowpane, she seemed to make up her mind.

"Just the world."

"Well, all right. That I can understand."

She picked up the phone and dialed.

"Mrs. Terrig please. This is Ann Berlin . . . Hello Mrs. Terrig. Did you get a chance to watch that tape?" She mainly listened for the next few minutes, said good-bye, and hung up.

"The Terrigs watched the tape. They recognized Kristin. They were surprised she was such an ardent leader. For the first time since her death they went into her bedroom where they found A.L.F. literature and Kristin's notes. They came to understand she thought of all animals the way they think of their poodle, Mitzi. The literature reminded them of conversations they'd had with Kristin about animal testing. Conversations they hadn't taken seriously. She said thank you."

Ann headed for the door. Hoover chugged after her and jumped at his leash. She patted him.

"Be back soon."

I almost bounced my theory off her that Bill was involved. But Jim Rockford once said, "Don't let speculation water down proven truths. Leap to conclusions when that is the only way to safety." I needed more information before I was ready to tie the laces on my ballet shoes, slip on my tutu, and leap to any conclusion that tied Bill to a murder.

I settled in front of Barnaby Jones with Hoover and Alice.

What's the first sign of insanity? Had Bill met the requirements when he began collecting bibles? When he started giving them away to people who "need a good talking-to from the Lord?" Or will it be when he starts autographing them?

I enjoy watching detective shows, but I'm not good at figuring them out. What it takes for me to crack a case is for someone to tell me who did it. Not today. When Barnaby ended, I still hadn't closed the case, but something was in the back of my mind. The only way to draw it out was to make my mind go blank.

I gazed through the rain at rusty fire escapes. My mind wandered. I tried to remember how to reset my digital watch. A blank.

Bingo. My mood was suddenly buoyant.

Nobody had broken into Laurel to kill Lester--all the entrances had been locked. Lester must have opened the door for his killer. And Bill wouldn't have knocked politely and asked to be let in.

It might help the police solve the murder if I told them what I knew--but they would ask how I knew, and the answer would tie me to the murder site.

A jolt of fear shot through me. I didn't want to go to jail and leave Ann and Hoover. I looked at Hoover. "You don't worry about tomorrow, do you?"

As if in answer, he chuffed and gave me a look that said he doubted that I knew what dogs worried about.

"If I'm arrested, Corky will care for you as well as I have."

He cleared his throat as if he really hated to point out that the canned food I gave him wasn't likely to be a featured item on the dessert cart in canine heaven.

I put a bowl of food down. Alice hopped right over. Then she looked back at Hoover, waited, then thumped her hind foot. Hoover came over. Alice didn't start eating until Hoover did.

I spent the next five minutes with my fingers hovering over the telephone, almost deciding to call the police. Finally I dialed.

"Chief Patti York speaking."

"I'm calling with some information about the shooting of Richard Tipton."

She drew in a dramatic deep breath as if mine were the tenth call today giving her leads.

"You sound like a concerned citizen. Thank you. Don't worry, we're doing everything we can."

"I was attacked from a roof, perhaps by the same guy. I can give you a dart he may have left fingerprints on."

"Okay," she said as thrilled as if I had promised to brush my teeth after every meal. "You need to come to the station and file a report."

"I see. Where's the station?"

"1775 Ironside Avenue. Near the Vinyl Fetish."

"Be right there." After I hung up, it occurred to me the Chief had insinuated something about my character when she used the Vinyl Fetish as a landmark.

I took a paper bag, poked two eye holes in it, folded it, and slipped it into my jacket pocket with the belief I had a constitutional right to hide my face, at least until the police obtained a search warrant. Then I decided to leave the bag home. It's the simple type mistake that can lead to years of unsettling conversations with prison psychologists.

Departing, I told Hoover that he was in charge of everything. This didn't appease him. He flattened his ears against his head and put one paw in my hand. "See you soon," I said, turning off the light. As I began closing the door, he stuck his snout in the narrowing crack. He sniffed at me and tried to lick my hand. I was afraid I was going to pinch his nose, but he stepped back at the last moment.

I hailed a taxi. The yellow cab swerved to the curb, hit the brakes, and was moving again as I pulled the door closed. Staying low in my seat, I told the cabby to rush to the Vinyl Fetish and keep an eye out for anyone following us. He nodded okay in the rearview mirror, but his expression changed. He seemed generally wary of me and leaned forward in his seat a little, as though I might suddenly bite him or something.

He dropped me off without pulling over to the curb. I paid him, although not until I got the pleasure of seeing his face when I said, "Pay? I was hitchhiking."

Standing two doors from the police station, I canvassed its entrance out of the corner of my eye and whistled like you do in a graveyard at night to chase away the willies.

As I shuffled sideways in front of the Vinyl Fetish, I looked up at the glossy face of a plastic mannequin. She wore tight vinyl clothes and held her arms and hands in a position that looked as if somebody had just snatched her guitar away and she hadn't had time to react.

I sidled past her and stood in front of the drugstore between the Fetish and the police station. Before I could work up nerve enough to go inside, its door opened and out stepped the same huge, boneless officer who had questioned me in the hospital. He was talking with someone, who, from the thickness of his glasses and the drone of his speech, I guessed had more than a nodding acquaintance with computers.

I can't loiter here. I'll pretend I'm window-shopping. Browse in this drugstore window for a moment and--oh, my, the only window at hand and it has to be devoted entirely to feminine napkins!

Heat stealing into my face, I crept behind the officers and into the station.

The receptionist at the front desk ignored me. Dressed in a crushed velvet suit, she reminded me of an Oriental doll. She was filing her fingernails on an emery board with such intense concentration that a casual onlooker might suspect it was the most important thing she had to do for the rest of her entire day.

I drifted past her into an office labeled "Police Chief Patti York." It was empty. I rapped my knuckles firmly on the desk. From an adjacent room a female voice with authority said, "Just a second."

Strewn over the Chief's desk were printed forms and mugshots. An African violet bloomed next to a CB radio and a photograph of what probably was her husband and teenage daughter. A few seconds later she came out and sat behind the desk. A big, muscular woman, she wore eye makeup, tomato-red lipstick, and probably more subtle stuff I didn't know about.

My fear of going to jail returned.

She beckoned me to sit down with a slow wave, then motioned me to pass her a ceramic cigarette case containing a pack of Virginia Slims just out of her reach. I handed her the ceramic case which she took gingerly, with just her thumb and index finger, as though she misunderstood the warning on the cigarette's package.

Leaning back, she looked at me with all the detachment of a child of the '90s watching a teacher. She knew I was there, but didn't know exactly why.

"Who are you?"

"I'm, uh, Barney Rubble."

"Look, Barn . . . Ah, you damn wise guy." Her face reddened. "You're not Barney. That was Fred's neighbor."

"Caught me."

"Why are you here?"

"Well . . . er . . . a friend told me to tell you about the person who shot Richard." A friend, yeah, that's it. "The gunman has . . . um . . . broken into my friend's hotel room and shot at him from a rooftop. I'm here to give you information that might help you catch the gunman before anyone else in your town gets shot."

She pressed her hands together, brought them to her mouth, and blew some air between them.

"What's the capital of Massachusetts?"

"Massachusetts?"

"Right."

Is this a trick question? "It's Boston."

"Correct. Did you know your face changes when you tell the truth?"

I cast my two faces downward.

"Now--who are you?"

"The guy who just called."

I handed her one of the darts. She took it by the steel feathers, looked it over, then placed it on the ceramic cigarette case.

"I'll check it for prints." She leaned her elbow on the desk and pointed her lit cigarette at me. "Maybe you should tell me what you know."

She listened with a worried frown as I told her about the night Richard was shot and about somebody ransacking my room. I could see her figuring out more than just what I was telling her.

When I finished, she said, "Are you one of those animal-rights activists?" much as another person might have said, "There's vomit on this seat."

I began to nod, but twisted the nod into a neck stretch.

"I'm familiar with their cause. . . ."

"Well, are you familiar with anyone who recently burned down the Terrig Laboratory? It's just us here. You can talk freely."

I kept freely silent. She had already figured out too much.

She asked me what I knew about Lester's murder. She discussed it with me quite thoroughly and, I thought, with some suspicion. The difference between our discussion and an interrogation was not bigger than a bread box. She concluded by telling me not to leave town. That was a switch. A cop telling me not to leave town.

I became annoyed.

"Are you going to help me?"

She gave a big sigh, like I was asking for an organ donation.

"Let's suppose, for the sake of your argument, this gunman has an unreasonable motive to target you. What can I do? Teach you karate?"

I leaned forward, rudely putting my elbows on her desk. I meant to be rude.

"Are you planning to just sit around and wait for the gunman to come waltzing in and confess?"

"Not a bad idea, actually." She leaned over her desk, shoving junk from one side to the other. Probably considers that a good day's work. "When someone shoots an animal-rights activist, you'd think they'd step forward and take credit for it, wouldn't you?"

I sat back. "What do you think animal-rights activists are? Lunatics?"

"I have no proof if that's what you mean." She smashed both fists on her desk where my elbows had been. Pencils in a plastic cylinder jumped. "Due to activists like you, Mr. Terrig demands extra police protection. It places an additional burden on my already overburdened staff."

"Mr. Terrig can afford to hire his own security."

"He doesn't have to. As the major employer here, he has political clout. I'm an elected official. Thanks to you, when Terrig rebuilds his plant, he'll probably make me guard it myself. Do you know what I'd like better than anything else in this world?"

My head on a stick? "No."

"I'd like to watch subversives like you die. Slowly. For a month maybe. Maybe longer. If I ever catch one, I'll personally see to it he shares a jail cell with an eyeball collector."

An eyeball collector? Ha. Chief York. Some kidder.

Kidding aside, I felt lousy. My opinion of myself at any given moment is heavily dependent upon the last thing I've heard said about me, whether said by a dear friend or a sworn enemy.

I hurried to the Suite Night and gobbled down a six-pack of Eskimo Cheese Whips in a very respectable time.

Hatful of Pain 23

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