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Authors: Thomas Perry

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BOOK: Shadow Woman
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“Old people are so prompt.
I guess it’s because their dance cards aren’t quite as
full as they once were. You didn’t eat dinner on the plane, did
you?”

“I wasn’t on a
plane.”

“The broomstick, then.
Whatever.”

“I haven’t eaten.
But what brings on this sudden manic outpouring? Did a rich
hypochondriac move into town while I was gone?”

“No,” said Carey.
“But I’m hungry, and I keep seeing these ‘Lost Dog’
posters near the hospital cafeteria.”

“Suspicion is a sign of a
devious mind,” she said. “I mean a big sign, not like all
the other signs.”

“I knew I could develop a
quality that would appeal to you. So get ready. I’m on my way.”

“I’ll be listening
for the sirens.”

She dressed in a few minutes and
left her front door open while she walked up on Jake’s porch
and rang the bell.

He opened it and smiled at her.
“Hello, Janie. I’ll bet you came for your mail.” He
stepped backward to let her in and pointed to the pile of mail in the
shoebox on the coffee table.

She lifted the shoebox, shook it
beside her ear, and listened. “Six bills.” She shook it
again. “Only three checks, all small.” She frowned. “And
my subscription is about to run out.”

His sharp old blue eyes focused
on her. “You’re dressed like a girl for once,” he
said. “To what do we owe this honor?”

“You called him, so don’t
pretend you didn’t And it’ll be on your conscience if I’m
sweet-talked into doing anything.”

“None too soon, either,”
said Jake. “If you’re going to have anything to live
down, you’d better get started on it.”

She looked at him slyly. “Tell
me something. When did he ask you to call him?”

“Some time ago. And I
won’t apologize. Judging from that get-up, the attention isn’t
unwelcome.”

“How long ago?”

“I guess it was the day
after you left. He came over here with that look they get when
they’re telling you that whatever they’re going to do to
you might be a little uncomfortable. I was sorely relieved when I
found out it was something that was none of my business, so I jumped
at it with enthusiasm.”

“I thought you weren’t
going to apologize.”

“I’m explaining.”
They both heard Carey’s car pull up in front of her house.

“I accept your
explanation.” She turned toward the open door. “But don’t
let it clear your conscience, because you didn’t apologize.”

He sat down in his chair and
picked up his book. “Tell him he owes me a favor. I know you
won’t admit
you
do. And close that door. There’s a
draft on my hind legs.”

Carey was standing beside the
passenger door when Jane stepped out onto the porch. She held up her
hand, hurried to her own door, tossed the mail on the couch, set the
alarm, and locked the door, all the time thinking about the first
glimpse of him. He was wearing a dark gray suit that must be new, and
it was one she might have picked for him. His long legs and arms
seemed comfortable in it, somehow, and the fabric along the lapels
looked so soft and smooth her fingertips wanted to touch it. The
color made the thin sandy hair that never seemed to stay where he
thought he was supposed to put it look almost golden under the
streetlamp.

As she came down the steps she
gave him a little smile. “You’re not trying to impress
me, are you?”

“Not me.” He opened
the door for her. “The only reason I’m bringing you along
is I’m trying to make the car look good. I’m trying to
sell it, and I notice they always use young women in the
commercials.”

“No flies on you,”
she said. “You’re what Jake calls a ‘go-ahead young
man.’”

He drove slowly and carefully up
the street. She liked that. It was something that only people who had
been raised in places like Deganawida seemed to have the sensitivity
to do. If people had to look up from what they were doing to see if
someone was running over the kids or grandma they didn’t forget
whose car it was, or who was in it. Whoever it was forfeited part of
his claim to being solid and respectable. In Deganawida that
respectability meant that people would strain to put a benevolent
interpretation on anything they saw, and a third party who asked
prying questions would be enveloped in a fog of laudatory
generalities that applied to everyone and no one.

As Carey drove along River Road
to the south he said, “I missed you.”

“I missed you too,”
said Jane. She looked out across the half mile of moving river at
Grand Island. When she and Jake’s girls were children there
were still lots of places over there where they could walk across a
swampy field and fight their way through impenetrable thickets to
streams full of perch and sunfish. The lights of the Holiday Inn
across the water were in the spot where there used to be pilings from
the old ferryboat landing and a vast empty field of dry weeds like
hay. Sometimes they would search the pebbly shore with sticks and
find big, heavy pieces of rust-encrusted iron that did not suggest
any known use but had probably come from old-time lumber boats.

Carey drove east out of Buffalo
on Main Street into the open suburbs, until they came to a sprawling
restaurant built around a coach stop from the early 1800s, along the
road that was laid over the Seneca trail. There were big stone
fireplaces where resin-soaked pine logs flared and crackled, fed a
steady stream of fresh oxygen by the air-conditioning. The walls were
lined with buggy whips and harnesses and Currier & Ives prints,
and when the food came, the roast beef was served with Yorkshire
pudding.

They sat at a table beside the
front window. Jane smiled as she surveyed the dining room. “I
forgot this place existed.”

“Me too,” he said.
“I picked it because it’s a good place to talk.”

“You picked it because it
reminds you of your house.” Jane had seen an old Holland Land
Company map that Ellicott, the company agent, had used for the sale
of Seneca land in 1801. Clearly marked in its place was “McKinnon
house.”

“What do you want to talk
about – horses?”

Carey was quiet and serious.
“Last time, you told me about your trip. Are you going to tell
me this time?”

“I think I did what I
wanted to do.” Her eyes scanned the empty tables around her to
be sure none of the waiters had drifted too near. “But it
wasn’t smooth.”

“You mean somebody’s
looking for you?”

“Maybe, but not hard, and
not for long. It had nothing to do with me.” She scanned the
restaurant again, and when her eyes returned to him, she smiled.
“Sounds brave, doesn’t it?”

“I’m awed, as
usual,” he said.

“Don’t be.
Twenty-four hours ago I was as scared as anybody alive. I could
almost taste the strawberries.”

He cocked his head. “What
strawberries?”

She looked down and shook her
head. “It’s just an old expression.” She paused.
“Really old. It means you came so close that you could already
taste the wild strawberries that grow by the path to the other
world.”

He looked down too, and then up
again to fix his eyes on hers. “Want to tell me what brought
that on?”

“I made a mistake –
took a chance to buy some extra time for my rabbit. I ended up in a
high place, looking down, the way you do in a bad dream.” She
patted his hand. “Since I didn’t fall, I guess you could
say nothing actually happened. What did you do while I was gone?”

“Surgery every morning at
seven except Friday. Office visits from one to five. Hospital rounds
five to seven.”

“And then?”

“I thought about how to
talk to you. You’re not that easy. You have a long history of
standing up and walking around whenever anybody says anything, so I
decided to take you to a restaurant.”

“Big talk, huh? Serious
stuff?”

“Yes. You told me what
happened on your trip in December. You said that I should think about
what I’d heard. If I asked you again after I’d thought
about it, you would say yes.”

Jane said, “No, I told you
I loved you. I told you that if you asked me again after one year, I
would say yes. And if you do, I will.”

Carey’s long, strong
fingers moved up his forehead and pushed back the shock of hair that
had begun to creep down. “I’m a very quick thinker. I’ve
been thinking about it for six months. No. Let me start again,”
he said. “You and I have known each other for almost fourteen
years. We were sophomores that night at Uris Library when Sally
introduced us.”

“Right,” she said.
“You were doing sickening drawings of invertebrates. Compound
eyes and mandibles.”

“So whatever fundamental
judgments we needed to make about each other have been made. That was
what this was about, wasn’t it? You told me something that I
hadn’t known about you. You wanted to be sure I didn’t
assume I could ignore it and then start mulling it over after it was
too late.”

“That’s part of it,”
she said. “We have to be friends, because we are. We don’t
have to get married. That brings on a whole new set of rules and
agreements that are very rigid and binding, and nobody should do it
who has any doubts.”

“Are we still talking
about the same thing?”

“I’m not talking
about one thing,” she said. “I’m talking about
everything at once, because that’s what marriage is. You take
all of the complexity of your life – Who is this person? Do I
approve? Where do I want to live? Who are my relatives? What time do
I get up? What do I wear? What work do I do? – and compress all
of it into just one question: Do I get married or not? That was why I
picked a year.”

“You made your decision in
a day.”

“I’m very
introspective, and I spend a lot of time alone.”

He shook his head and chuckled
sadly. “I want it on the record that I haven’t seen any
other women since we talked about this.”

“Come on, Carey,”
she said. “You’re so dour and businesslike. It’s
not like you. This is about being alive and happy. We’re old
buddies. We know way too much about each other to start making
speeches. I’m glad to hear you’re not molesting the
nurses… anymore. But that’s just my possessiveness. I’m
not checking compliance with an agreement.”

“You started it. In
December.”

“I had no choice,”
she said. “That was disclosure.”

“It seems to be what’s
standing in the way now.”

She sighed. “You are a
person who spends his life taking patients who are probably going to
die and fixing them up. It’s an obsession. It’s what you
have instead of a religion. I told you because not telling you would
have made everything else a lie. I had just come home from a trip
where I had killed some people. I am, technically and legally, a
murderer. That’s not a small thing. It puts you in danger too –
again, technically and legally. But also philosophically.
Emotionally. I did something that is against everything you believe
and everything you know.”

“How do you feel about it
now?” He lowered his voice. “Are you sorry? Afraid?
Proud?”

Her eyes turned on him in a
glare, then turned away again. “It’s something to be
avoided.”

“Do better than that.”

“It was the most horrible
experience of my life. If the same circumstances came up tomorrow –
no, right now, tonight – I know I would do it again. It would
be much harder because I would know what it was going to look like.
It also taught me some other things I had avoided knowing.”

“Like what?”

“All these years I was
telling myself that what I was doing was unambiguous. I was taking
people who were in the worst kind of trouble and making them
disappear. That made sense. Whoever was in danger of dying didn’t,
so nobody did. But I should have admitted to myself that one day I
wasn’t going to run fast enough, or I would take a wrong turn.
Until it happened I didn’t realize that what I was doing wasn’t
just saving people. I was choosing a side. There aren’t any
good guys in a fight to the death. So now I know, and you know.”

“Yes,” said Carey.
“I know. I’ve thought about it every day for six months.
My reaction is another surprise. I find it doesn’t matter to
me. It’s another life, another time – like a war. What
does matter is this: Is it over? Do you plan to stop making people
disappear?”

“Done,” said Jane.

“What?”

“I mean, Okay. I’ll
stop doing what I’ve been doing.”

“It’s that easy?”

“Answering quickly doesn’t
mean it’s easy. It just means I didn’t wait until now to
decide. When I said I would marry you, that was part of the bargain.”
Jane shrugged. “I was a guide because it was the right thing
for me to do in that time and place. If you’re waiting for me
to apologize for it, you’ll wait forever. It’s just not
something you do if you’re somebody’s wife.”

The waiter brought the check on
its little silver tray and Carey set a credit card on top of it, then
went through the ceremony of adding the tip and signing it. The
waiters and busboys were all very solicitous and friendly, because
Carey and Jane were the only patrons who had not left, and they meant
to sweep away all obstacles to their swift departure so the shift
would end.

The car was waiting at the door.
As soon as they were inside and the car was in motion, Carey said, “I
love you. I’ve done all the thinking I need to do. I want you
to marry me now, not six months from now.” He stopped at the
edge of the highway and looked at her, but there was no answer.

“Drive for a while,”
she said. He turned left and went east, out into the country. She sat
in silence and looked out the window at the dark landscape. There
were woods now, and farmhouses.

“Are you thinking about
it?” he asked.

“I’m thinking,”
she said. “I’m thinking about how to tell you everything
that’s in my mind.” She drew in a breath and seemed to
try to begin, then let the breath out. “There!” she said.
“Pull over up there by that orchard.”

BOOK: Shadow Woman
9.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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