First light had not yet arrived. A heavy fog rolled over the two-lane blacktop that cut its way through the dense pine forest in Wiscasset, Maine. It was July 18, 1986, and the cool damp carried on a gentle breeze pervaded in absolute darkness. Terry was alert and wide-eyed as he sat in the cab of his pickup on the side of the road. He could see nothing in the distance, but his eyes were fixed in one direction. He knew that the old motel was there and that the car he’d been seeking was parked in front of one of the wooden cabins. He’d discovered it a few hours earlier, before the fog had enveloped everything. His decision to wait until dawn was based on his need to be able to see what he was shooting at. In an instant, the night was transformed into gray slate, and the forms he’d been anticipating appeared like shadows under water. He loaded the eight-round clip in his M1 rifle and stepped out of his vehicle. He walked slowly to the cabin beyond the car he’d identified and stopped by the door. He secured the shoulder strap of his weapon on his left arm for kickback leverage, raised it, and planted the heel of the stock in his right shoulder. It left his right arm free, and he tried the door. It opened. Nothing inside the cabin moved. In the dull light, Terry made out two young men in a double bed. Three more were sleeping on small cots lined up on the near side. One of them was snoring. Terry sighted in and took aim from the threshold. He moved the rifle from left to right, and then he kicked the door hard. One of the men on the double bed rose, and Terry fired. The bullet entered at the back of his skull and exited through his lower jaw. The sound of the shot from the high-powered rifle was thunderous, and the other four men awoke with a start and leapt up. In quick succession, Terry squeezed off direct hits to each of their heads. Three of the bodies remained grotesquely upright, and Terry shot them through the heart and watched them fall.
Terry lowered the rifle, removed the strap from his left arm, and held the weapon in his right hand. He surveyed the scene for only a moment and then turned and walked quickly back to his pickup. He heard the voices of those whom the gunfire had awakened as he drove off in the fog.
Warren Combs was fifty-seven years old, and he had been alone most of his life. There had been an eight-year marriage that had ended in divorce fifteen years earlier. His wife, Marjorie, had been one of the students he’d met in a brief experience with academia. He had taught the fundamentals of editing and publishing at a local university, and she had been in one of his classes. She’d proven too young for him, and she’d gone away in search of a more compatible mate, but she’d never found one. When they parted, she’d said that she was leaving him because his preoccupation with literature had dominated his time and left no room for the maturation of their marriage. It was after her departure that he noticed the doors on his life closing. When he’d graduated from Brooklyn Prep, a Jesuit high school, he was the only honor student who hadn’t gone on to college. The Jesuits were furious with him for spoiling their perfect record, but his parents were working people who could not afford tuition and expenses, so he’d opted for The Marine Corps and been jarred out of adolescence by Parris Island and the Korean carnage. Upon his return to civilian life, knowing nothing else to do, he’d enrolled at Yale on the G.I. Bill, worked in New Haven as a bartender, and gotten an education. He’d majored in English, graduated, and written a book about the war. It was an artistic success and a commercial failure. Survival forced an alteration in his plans to write the great American novel, and he’d taken a job as a fledgling editor at Devon Makepiece, a small and prestigious publishing house in Manhattan’s literary marketplace. Warren’s anonymous apprenticeship was short-lived. He was assigned to read unsolicited manuscripts at the beginning, and within six months he had discovered Norton Poster’s magnificent novel of men in combat, Raiments Of Peril. He thought his own handling of the subject was better, but such, he sighed, were the unhappy exigencies of fate, unhappy for him but not for Poster. The book soared to the top of the bestseller lists as did his other editorial coups over the next five years. Noelle Otis produced, with his help, The Voyage Of Polibolus about the rebirth of the Jews after the Second World War, and she included him in her ensuing celebrity by stating that he was an extraordinary genius, the Maxwell Perkins of his time. While they worked together, Warren and Noelle engaged in spectacular bouts of carnality, but, in the end, exhausted, they laughed and agreed that their affair was impossible. He was twenty-six and she was forty. She was divorced with two children, and he was adrift in the confusion of self-discovery. They remained friends. Harlan Koke came to Warren with a thousand unfocused pages about a Roman Catholic girl coming of age in New York City, and their mutual efforts resulted in the sentimental but truthful recounting of the Marymount graduate who had a fling with show business before settling down to marriage and motherhood. It sold in the millions. Caitlin McCloud walked in one day with her bittersweet portrait of cruelty in a small southern town. Warren found her attractive, but she was a lesbian and would allow no hanky-panky during their preparation of A Song In Ararat. Warren rose to the top of his profession before his thirty-first birthday. The novelists he had helped make famous came to him with further testimonials to their talents, and he found himself at the center of a literary revival about which reams of material were written in the highbrow journals of the time. He understood none of it and relegated all the talk of baby boomers, post-war educational ambitions, and the rise of the intellectual elite to the meandering of critical parasites trying to make a living. He viewed his own success as little more than a fortunate throw of the dice. It gave him no satisfaction to guide his wards to stardom. He was, as he saw it, a better writer than the lot of them. He kept telling himself that his day would come, but he believed it less and less as his attempts to produce his masterpiece failed to provide anything that he considered worthy enough to submit for publication. He was also alone, terribly alone, and his frustrations were multiplied by his inability to perceive the reason or reasons why. On the one hand, fate had provided him money and a reputation; on the other, the human race seemed completely unconcerned with him personally. He tried to make friends, nurture love affairs, give of himself, but nothing worked out. Other than those who were shamelessly transparent in their attempts to make use of his position for their personal gains, nobody was interested in him. He was tall, relatively good-looking, clean, well dressed, moderately muscular, and intelligent. What trait in him, he wondered, spawned the universal cold shoulder? A year after the publication of Norton Poster’s Raiments Of Peril, Warren accepted an invitation to lecture on his profession at New York University. By that time, he had moved into a sensational duplex apartment on the upper floors of a renovated brownstone on King Street in Greenwich Village. His students were impressed with his credentials and informal manner, and he saw no reason to resist the flirtations of the young women in his classes. A feast of one-night-stands occupied his previously solitary bedroom until, worn out by the demand for performance, he settled on Marjorie, the youngest of all his lovers. She came from an Iowa farm, and she was descended from Germans and Oglala Sioux Indians. Her thick and luxuriant dark brown hair was in sharp contrast to her delicate overall appearance. She was utterly petite with the largest, most expressive brown eyes he had ever seen. She said that she had first slept with a man when she was fourteen, liked it, and saw no reason to temper her appetite. She was in New York, she explained, to see what a big city was like, and she wasn’t particularly interested in studying anything. She had wandered into his class by mistake and stayed there. In the beginning, he considered her the least substantial of his young ladies, but later he fell in love with her. Although untutored and impulsive, he found it impossible to resist her beauty, her common sense, her vitality, and her insatiable craving for sensual pleasure. Warren gauged the depth of his need for Marjorie incorrectly. At the start, he felt as though they would just live together until the end of the school year, and then she would disappear forever into the Midwest. As the months passed, however, she became, by degrees, an integral part of his daily life. When he woke in the morning, she was always there, curled up like a beige orchid trimmed in pink, the mass of her dark brown hair thrown every which way over white sheets. Her sleep was completely untroubled. She was also, in many ways, a domestic creature, and she put up curtains, washed windows, bought new towels, and kept their living space immaculate. Warren watched her in the performance of her self-imposed chores, and they appeared effortless. She was loose and free, and she moved through space like her Sioux ancestors through the high grass of the plains. He did his best to educate her to music and literature. She read the books he gave her and listened to his records, and she absorbed the material easily enough. She learned quickly, but he noticed that she was not interested in works of genius. She liked thrillers and pop singers better. He hoped her tastes would change as she grew older. The bonding ritual was played out over several months until they became extensions of one another, but Warren, for all his acute powers of deduction, was not consciously attuned to it. It was, after all, the first substantial love affair of his life, and his rationalizations seemed very sensible to him. Marjorie was fourteen years his junior, they were intellectually incompatible, and she had been raised in an environment alien to him. Finally, the day of her departure arrived. She had gone home for holidays, but she had always come back. This was to be, or so she led him to believe, the end of it. She was going to attend the University of Iowa in the fall. She’d had her fling with the big city. Her plane was scheduled to leave in the early afternoon, and he had volunteered to drive her there. Classes were over, and he was talking the day off from Devon Makepiece. He rose about seven-thirty on a June morning, uncharacteristically early for him, and looked out at the beginning of a warm summer day. As he put on his jeans and a denim shirt, he was aware that his curly black hair had grown longer and he looked less kempt than he had before Marjorie’s arrival on the scene. He walked downstairs and put on a pot of coffee. He made toast and boiled water for their eggs. He was pouring the juice when Marjorie joined him and threw her arms around him. He held her silently for a long moment. She was five feet, six inches tall, but she seemed shorter because she was so thin, and her face appeared tiny because of her enormous brown eyes. Her hair partially covered her cheeks as she nestled into his chest. Her scent was unique to him, a combination of sex, youth, and sweetness. They parted and sat on stools at a small bar in the kitchen. He served her. “I’ve been thinking,” he said. “I’d like you to come back and live with me.” Marjorie smiled. “Forever and ever?” “For as long as it lasts.” She shook her head. “I couldn’t do that. You know I couldn’t do that. It would break my parents and grandparents hearts. They’d disown me. I couldn’t live with that.” “I’m just not ready to let you go,” he mumbled. “Then you’ll just have to marry me, Mr. Combs.” There was something airy in her delivery, and it disturbed him. “Come on, Bonnie, for heaven’s sake, that doesn’t make any sense. If we were married, what would you do with yourself while I spent endless hours reading and working?” “The same as I do now.” “No,” he disagreed. “Everything would change. You’d get bored waiting around for me.” “I wouldn’t wait around for you. I’d join a riding club. I’m a terrific horsewoman, you know, and I’d study acting. This is the best place in the world to study acting.” Warren laughed. “Acting! Jesus Christ, what put that in your head? That’s all you need. It will make you neurotic and anxious and insecure. Do you know any actresses? Most of them are more miserable than you can imagine. Someone I know calls them female impersonators because their obsession with their careers leaves little room for real feelings.” “Don’t you think I’d be a good actress?” “I have no idea,” he replied. “I just want to be with you now.” “We’ll think about it,” she said. “We’ll talk on the phone.” “Yes, I’m sure we will,” he agreed. She rose, took his hands, and pulled him to his feet. He lifted her off the ground, cradled her in his arms, and carried her up the stairs to the bedroom. Two weeks after Marjorie’s departure, despite their phone conversations on alternate days, an aching loneliness overtook Warren, and he relented. He said he would marry her. Much to his surprise, her parents seemed delighted by the idea. They had, after all, never even met him. And so, in early August, Warren set out in his car for a farmhouse in Iowa at the age of thirty-three to take part in a ceremony that would make Marjorie Bonhurtz, nineteen, his wife. The events of the next several days were so removed from anything he had previously experienced that he had difficulty attaching any significance or sense of reality to them. He met Grandma and Grandpa out on the prairie and Mr. And Mrs. Bonhurtz, she a Sioux Indian and he, of all things, a hayseed child psychologist. There were also a younger brother and sister, also teenagers, and he spoke to a Lutheran Minister who asked him what kind of service he wanted. Warren responded that he didn’t care and that the less it had to do with God, the better he would like it. Marjorie laughed. The Minister just nodded in agreement. The big farmhouse was cleared of furniture. Where it went, Warren never knew. An organ materialized, a photographer started taking pictures, and a woman sang a song called Almost There as he stood at a makeshift altar with a Best Man he had just met. It was all a polyester bad joke until Marjorie came down the stairs in her wedding gown. Her beauty overwhelmed him, and he suddenly found himself taking it seriously. When the proceedings were completed, he held her much too long, and the thirty or so guests fell silent. Marjorie whispered, “You’re making everybody nervous,” and he let her go. They spent the night in a local motel on the highway, and the next day, they set out in the car to visit Warren’s parents who had grown old and lived in a small house in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. When they returned to New York, Marjorie wasted no time in beginning some kind of life of her own. Instead of joining a riding club, she went to Belmont Park and got a job working out thoroughbreds in the wee hours of the morning. She really was, as she had said, an excellent horsewoman, and the professionals at the racetrack saw at once that she knew what she was doing. In the evening, she studied acting with Uta Hagen at the HB Studio, a reputable theatre school on Bank Street in the Village. Warren was delighted with her drive and ambition, but he occasionally felt uneasy when he accompanied her to gatherings of backstretch personnel and fledgling thespians. He had become accustomed to being the center of attention at social events, and these people didn’t know him for Adam. Within a year, Marjorie was forced to choose between the two worlds she had entered. At the track, trainers were offering to sponsor her as an apprentice jockey, and at HB, directors wanted her to appear in off-Broadway plays. She opted for the latter. It was 1962, and a cultural revival was under way in the small theatres downtown. She appeared in plays by Albee, Beckett, Brecht, Ionesco, and those of a number of lesser lights in the movement. She was an immediate success. At the time, Warren was riding the crest of his career, so there was no competition between them. They became a newsworthy couple about town, dined in the best restaurants, and discovered their names in the gossip columns. They rode the social whirlwind for two years until Marjorie played the lead in a Broadway hit. After that, she was beckoned by the movies, and Warren sent her off to Hollywood with his blessing, sharing every bit of her excitement. They didn’t know it, but it was the beginning of the end. She made three films in eight months and became a starlet.When she came back from California to be with him after her reputation had been established, which was quite often, he noticed that she became impatient with the hours he required alone to do his work. He suggested that they have a baby because he felt her slipping away from him. She was thrilled with the idea, but she kept putting it off because of this or that upcoming role. He whispered to himself when he was alone in his study that she had become a female impersonator. Late one night, while he was working at his desk on a new book by Caitlin McCloud, Marjorie called him from a movie set somewhere in Arizona. “Warren,” she said, “There’s something I have to tell you.” He could hear that she was smashed, and she was weeping into the receiver. “Bonnie, my love,” he replied. “What’s the matter?” “Never mind my love. You’re driving me crazy with my love.” “Alright, what do you want to tell me?” “I’m not coming back, Warren. I can’t live with you anymore. I want a divorce.” He was deeply hurt, but he remained calm. “I wondered how long it was going to take you to come out with it.” “We have nothing in common anymore,” she replied. “Even when I’m there, you’re working all the time.” “We never had anything in common. I told you that before we got married.” “Are you suggesting that I should have given up the chance to become a movie star?” Warren laughed. “Are you suggesting that I should have given up my work to follow you around Hollywood?” “I’m getting almost a quarter of a million dollars a movie.” “I know,” he replied. There was a pause, and then she called out his name. “Warren!” “I’m still here. I’ll always be here.” He winced at the remark he had just made. “I still love you, but it’s really hopeless.” “I know,” he replied. “What have you been drinking?” “I haven’t been drinking.” “Even worse. What are you on?” He waited for a response but none came other than the sounds of her distress. “Do you want me to come and get you?” he asked. “No,” she screamed. “I never want to see you again.” She hung up. They did see each other again, many times. She came to pick up her things. They had dinner when the divorce was final, and over the years she would show up unexpectedly to talk, to spend the night, to affirm, as he said, that she was still among the living. Their love for one another endured well beyond their ability to make a life together. Soon after the end of his marriage, Devon Makepiece was absorbed by Caprice Tower, one of the world’s largest publishers that was, in turn, a subsidiary of Eastern Bay, an international oil conglomerate. Many of the people with whom he had worked for years were fired and replaced with spanking clean young mercenaries recently graduated from the best universities. Were it not for the fact that Devon Makepiece had contributed considerably to the intellectual well being of the planet, Warren would have found the transition comical. As it was, he was both heartbroken and amused to observe the tactics employed to sell fountain pens and toilet paper applied to what had once seemed to him a sacred trust answerable to concepts of cultural necessity, the maintenance of literary standards, and the preservation of philosophical conflict. As he watched a once distinguished name in the world of letters being transformed into a servant of mindless consumerism, he waited for the axe to fall, but he soon discovered that it was not going to happen. A new managing editor informed him that they wanted to retain his name on the letterhead and that he would head a department that dealt with unsolicited manuscripts. The irony of it did not escape him. He had begun his career in that capacity, and it looked as though that was where he was going to end it.
Warren’s considerable reputation did not decline. It did, however, as years went by, become transformed from that of a current force in publishing into a kind of surviving emblem of the glorious past. The unsolicited manuscripts were stacked neatly in a corner of his private office. He had a few eager and bright-eyed young assistants who shared the load with him, and he often felt like a professor when he spoke to them, teaching them the rudiments of the trade that he knew were no longer applicable in a society that had become anesthetized against the passion of literature. As mankind had become less spiritual, less human, overwhelmed by the forces of greed and ignorance on a decaying planet made more terrifying by the unimaginable force of nuclear power, the stories he received had become more inane, more frivolous, less worthy of serious consideration. He was resigned to the fact that he was not going to write the book of which he had always dreamed, and his associates treated him like a holy icon, but somewhere in the back of his mind a flicker of hope lingered. He kept sifting through the mountains of material that came to him, looking for he knew not what, something, anything, that might bring back the joy of discovery. It arrived in a package so unusual that it couldn’t fail to attract his eye. After morning coffee and the cigarette that produced an ache under his ribs, he sat alone behind his desk high above Third Avenue. He stared across the room at the thousands of wrapped pages in bundles on the floor to one side, and he noticed a heavy brown paper bag that had been tightly secured with tape around an object that seemed too substantial to be a cardboard box. He extricated it from the center of the mass and found it surprisingly heavy. The brown paper was postmarked Boothbay, Maine, and the return address was Terence V. Brace, 6, The Hollows, Robinhood, Maine. It was printed in heavy magic marker. The object that Warren removed from the bag startled him. He placed it on the desk and studied it with the shock of recognition. It was a steel ammunition box olive drab in color. The number 3 appeared in yellow paint on one side. On the other side, also in yellow paint, the original contents of the box were described: 250 CARTRIDGES, CAL .30 LINKED, ARMOR PIERCING, M 1909, LOT LC L- 12290. It was the receptacle that machine gunners carried their ammo in. He hadn’t seen one since he’d left Korea. There was a collapsible handle on top and a sturdy clip on one side that secured a top flap. He sprung the clip and swung the flap wide. Contained inside was a typed manuscript, several hundred pages long and somewhat the worse for wear. He searched the bag and thumbed through the pages for an accompanying letter. There was none. The title of the work was Scylla’s Carnival, and the author was the same Terence V. Brace. After he had read the first twenty pages, he noticed that he was trembling. He took a bottle of bourbon out of his desk drawer and poured himself a stiff shot. He rose, walked to the window, and looked west across the river at Brooklyn, the place where he was born. He wanted to cry out, to cheer in some fashion. If this turned out to be the great book he was seeking, what did he actually hope to achieve by nurturing its development and publication? Was it nothing more than to reveal to the world that it was still possible to produce a work of genius and have it succeed in what he perceived as a cultural wasteland? Yes, he said to himself. That was it, and it was enough. It was more than enough. After fifty pages, his enthusiasm had not been dampened at all. If anything, it had been intensified. He put the manuscript in his briefcase and took it home with him. He rarely carried a briefcase anymore, and it signaled to those in the office that he had found something that interested him. One of his assistants, a pretty young woman from Smith College, stopped him on the way out. “Oh,” she said, “Mr. C, you’ve found one that isn’t going to make us throw up.” Warren smiled. “I don’t know yet, Cynthia. I’ve just started it. I’ll tell you more when I’ve finished it.” “I hope it doesn’t let you down,” she replied. It was a Thursday in May, and that night Warren read three hundred more pages, and all doubts were erased from his mind. Someone out there named Terence V. Brace knew how to write prose that was beautifully structured in which one might become immersed in the interior being of another thinking creature. There were minor problems, lapses in consistency, a strange reliance on archaic words and phrases, but that could all be put right. The story was modern but riddled with classical nuances that lifted it out of the realm of the present day. The next morning, Warren called in sick and finished Scylla’s Carnival for the first time. He read it through twice more over the weekend, and he took notes on the bare bones of the narrative during the third go around. On Monday morning, he rose and dressed for work, but he couldn’t bring himself to go to the office. Instead, he walked west in the cool breeze off the river and stood on the dock at the foot of West 10th Street. He didn’t call in to say he wouldn’t be at work that day. He hardly noticed the Village denizens who surrounded him or the babies in carriages attended by their mothers. The dock creaked but was solid. The river moved under his feet. A great liner, probably the English Queen, was being taken to its pier further uptown. Terence V. Brace had written his opus in the first person. The narrator and the main character were one and the same, a fellow named Barry Fields. When Barry was very young, his mother had been paralyzed in an auto accident in which his father had been killed in Iowa City, Iowa. She required constant care, and at age seven, Barry assisted in any way he could. He was asked to read to his mother aloud because she could neither hold a book nor turn a page. He complied gladly, and by the time he was eighteen, he had read and grasped a great deal of the best fiction, history, and drama that the world had produced. When his mother died, soon after his coming of age, he was forced to earn a living and found that he had no practical skills. As he had no formal training or job history, he wound up as a porter at the University Of Iowa library. When the head librarian, a Mrs. Colvers, discovered his wealth of knowledge, she promoted him by degrees over a period of five years, and he became her chief assistant. Then, however, she retired, and her replacement fired him. While he was unemployed, he met Suellen, a crippled girl in a wheelchair who was lonely and unhappy and fascinated by his interest in her. When he asked her to marry him, she revealed that she was wealthy and suggested that they use her money to escape the vacuity of contemporary society. Her family was from Maine, and Barry and Suellen withdrew from the world by moving into a house on several acres of land on a wild stretch of beach there. He read to her aloud as he had done with his mother, and she enjoyed it. Enveloped in pines on the coast with the sounds of the surf and the gulls nearby, she listened to him deliver and expound on the great works of literature. He explained that he would never allow himself to be brought down to the level of ordinary men as Othello had done; nor would he be influenced by the undercurrent for striving in the popular culture as Emma Bovary had done. The people of the local town regarded Suellen and Barry as bizarre hermits, but, by and large, they left them alone. The end of their life together was caused by strangers from outside. One summer evening, they were attacked by five toughs who raped and murdered Suellen while Barry, beaten and tied up, looked on. They then kicked him unconscious and left him for dead, but he wasn’t dead. Barry did not tell the police. He buried his wife on the land, and he went in search of the attackers with an old M1 rifle and some ammunition that he had found in a shed behind the house. There were not many roads out of Robinhood, and he followed them all until he saw their car in front of a motel cabin less than forty miles away. Fewer than forty-eight hours had passed since the monstrous events, and he waited until dawn to enter the room and shoot them dead in their cots. The noise of the rifle was considerable, but Barry had driven well up the road before anyone came to see what had happened. Warren Combs was mystified by the ending of Scylla’s Carnival. Barry simply drove off in a heavy, coastal fog, and his final line was perfectly consistent with the nature of the character, but it was also obscure, oddly imperious. “Find me if you can,” Barry Fields challenged the reader. It was also implicit that Barry Fields (Terence V. Brace?) wanted to know if the reader felt the murders were justified. That evening, Warren tried to call Terence V. Brace to congratulate him on his achievement and make him an offer on the book. Maine information provided him with the number, but when he dialed it, a recorded voice informed him that the telephone had been disconnected at the customer’s request. The next morning, he called the Boothbay post office, and a very cooperative postmistress told him that Mr. Brace had boarded up his house and moved away. He had instructed her to hold any mail that might arrive, but none had, and he had left no forwarding address. On Wednesday, Warren went to the office and announced that he was taking his vacation effective immediately. Cynthia asked him about the book he was reading, and he told her that something personal had come up, and he hadn’t gotten around to finishing it. “Where are you going on vacation?” she asked. “I thought I might drive around New England,” he replied. “I envy you,” she said. “Have a nice time.” As he made his way downtown, he wondered why he had kept the book a secret. He had always kept his dealings with authors very private, but he had never before hidden the fact that he was interested in one. Something ominous began to take root at the back of his mind, but he couldn’t yet express it. Something urged him to keep this entire matter to himself, and he did. He rationalized that it had to do with the asinine and pragmatic place that Devon Makepiece had become, and perhaps he even believed it for a time. He spent the evening packing, and early the next morning, he drove north out of the city in search of Terence V. Brace. Warren perused his road map and judged that he could be in Maine in less than nine hours if he pressed it, but he was in no hurry. Chances were that Terence V. Brace would not be found there. It was merely a starting off point in his manhunt. He drove at a leisurely pace. He reached Boston at noon and called Fred Traylor, a former associate at Devon Makepiece who had been hired by the Atlantic Monthly after being fired during the Caprice Tower bloodletting. They met for lunch at a superb restaurant on Prince Street in the Italian quarter of the city, ate slowly, and lingered over coffee and cognac. Fred and Warren liked each other a great deal. They were about the same age and equally devoted to their work. Fred fulfilled the stereotypical image of an editor. He had a full head of gray hair, a gray moustache, and a worn expression on his open face. He wore a tweed jacket, and there was usually a pipe clenched between his teeth. They talked about the old days when things had been better, and they commiserated with one another over the fall from grace not only of publishing, but of the society at large. Warren was at ease with Fred, and he was willing to discuss anything with him, anything that is except Scylla’s Carnival. Fred sipped his Courvoisier, let out a sigh of contentment. “So what are you doing in this neck of the woods?” “I took a vacation,” Warren replied. “I just had to get away for awhile. You have no idea what it’s like there now. The kids don’t know anything, and the management doesn’t care about anything but the bottom line.” “In a way, you can’t blame them,” Fred said. “Nobody reads anymore, and you’re bound to get cynical with charlatans like Tom Wolfe at the top of the bestseller lists. Caitlin is dead, and Tony Poster is caught up in his wives, TV talk shows, and the celebrity witch-hunt. Koke is writing melodramatic mini series for television, and Noelle, bless her soul, doesn’t write anything herself anymore. She’s surrounded herself with an army of researchers who keep her focused on these damned epics. I was talking to her a few weeks ago, and she said she was keeping history alive in the modern consciousness. I told her that she was distorting history to make enough money to buy the whole of Ireland. She lives there now, and from what I’ve heard, she already owns a substantial part of it.” Warren laughed. “When I met her, she was a lonely divorcee with two kids who wanted justice for the Jews. I think I was in love with her, but she was a lot older than I was, and she had the sense to put an end to our affair.” “She was a hell of a writer,” Fred said. “As far as I can see, the only one worth his salt now is Bill Styron. He produces a literature that touches the right nerves. His stuff is good and people buy it. I’m old fashioned enough to believe that it actually has some effect on them, but it takes so long for him to finish a project that your grandchildren could graduate from college before his next book comes out.” “I don’t have any grandchildren.” “I don’t think you wanted any. If you did, you wouldn’t have married a movie star.” “Marjorie was no movie star when I married her. She was just a kid from Iowa.” A wave of melancholy swept over him for a moment. “What’s the matter?” Fred asked. “I was just thinking,” Warren said. “Where are the new great books going to come from? Is there anything in this artless society worth writing about?” “Sure. The disappearance of goodness, intrinsic morality, manners. The problem is that soon there may be nobody left who knows what those things mean.” “And who’s going to write about those things?” Fred smiled. “Maybe we’ll have to do it ourselves. Maybe we’ll have to get off our asses and take to the hills. The responsibility rests with those who are able to perceive it.” “A little late in the game, isn’t it Fred?” “I know you only too well, Warren. You’re up to something, and you don’t want to tell me what it is.” Warren registered amusement. “I wish. I’m just an old man on vacation.” “I doubt it,” Fred replied, and he looked out the window at a small Italian boy bouncing a pink Spalding ball on the sidewalk. Warren arrived in the town of Bath on the east coast of Maine at about eleven o’clock that night. It was only a few miles from Boothbay Harbor and Robinhood. He checked into an old, rustic motel surrounded by tall pines, took a shower, and crawled into bed. The night was pleasantly cool, and he was taken by the rural silence. It was too soon in the season for the clatter of insects. A cat screeched somewhere, there was a rustle, and then the silence returned. He lay in the darkness with the scent of pine heavy in the air. His enthusiasm had been sufficiently obvious for Fred Traylor to recognize it. He’d have to be more guarded in the future. He was awakened early the next morning by the singing of the birds. He knew that his New York license plates would give him away, but he wanted to be an inconspicuous and unthreatening as possible. So he dressed in jeans, loafers, a light flannel shirt, and a windbreaker. After breakfast in Bath, he drove across a wooden bridge over a waterway and then south on Route 127 to Robinhood. The country was rough, rocky and forested except for a house here and there, and Robinhood was not so much a town as a name on a map, a shoreline dead end with a gas station and a general store. Various kinds of boats were tied up at docks along the water’s edge, and islands were visible offshore. Gulls swooped down out of a clear blue sky, and the morning sun was just above eye level. To the left and right of where the docks ended, there was a narrow ribbon of white beach, but granite crags and gnarled tough trees bore down hard against it. The surf, like the day, was mild, but there was no doubt about it. This was hard, unforgiving country. The gas station was vintage, a prewar construction. It sold Mobil gas, but earmarks of the Pure Oil Company were evident on rusting placards on the side of the repair shop. Warren pulled in and asked a bearded fellow to fill it up. The pump was noisy and slow. Warren got out of his car and smiled at the attendant. “Maybe you could help me out,” he said. “Maybe so,” the man replied. “My name is Warren Combs. I’m a book editor, and I’ve had some correspondence with a Terence V. Brace. Since I happened to be around here, I thought it would be nice to meet him. Do you know where I might find him?” “Books. Yep, that’s Terry alright. He’s got a house up the beach a mile or two, but he ain’t there. Left three, maybe four months ago.” “I received mail from him that was postmarked in Boothbay only last week.” “He might have come back, but I doubt it,” the bearded man said. “Far as I know the house is all locked up, and he and Stell are away. But if you want to take a look, go out on that gravel road north along the beach. His is the only house out there. He owns all the land. It’s a nice, secure place, red brick and poured concrete.” “I take it Stell is his wife.” “Yep, Stella Gorman. She grew up around here, up in Lewiston.” “Did you know her well?” “Everybody knows the Gormans. They’re about the richest folks in these parts. They own the fish processing and canning plant over in Pemaquid. Poor girl got her legs crushed in a boating accident when she was only ten or eleven. She’s been in a wheelchair ever since.” “What’s Terry like?” “He kept pretty much to himself. Was always picking up books at the post office. I never saw much of him unless he wanted something, but he paid well for services rendered. He had a pickup fixed special so Stell could drive it but I never saw her behind the wheel. I used to work on it from time to time. Once he came to me and said he found an old, rusty rifle and wanted to get it in working order. I got the solvents and tools for him. People thought he was stuck up and stand offish, but I got along with him well enough.” “What kind of rifle did he find?” “Didn’t say.” “I spoke on the phone to a Mrs. Pritchard at a post office around here. Would that be the one you mentioned?” “That’s Miss Pritchard,” the bearded man said with a smile. “She never did get married. You’ll have to go up and around to talk to her. She’s over in Boothbay.” Warren paid for the gas and shook hands with the bearded man. “Thank you very much. You’ve been a big help.” “Think nothing of it,” the man replied, and then he returned to the cars in his repair bays. Warren drove up the gravel road with a knot in the pit of his stomach. He was suffering from an acute sense of foreboding that he could not dispel. Writers always used the circumstances of their lives to flesh out their fiction. Terence V. Brace had, in all likelihood, done the same. When he arrived at the house, he found that, like everything else so far, it was exactly as it had been described in the book. It stood on a finger of land that jutted out into a small bay, and it was as isolated as any dwelling he had ever seen. Opposite shores ranged from one to two miles away, and they appeared uninhabited. A circular driveway went around to the front of the two story brick building that faced the beach less than fifty yards from the front door. The lawn and garden, once well tended, were showing signs of recent neglect. The shed where Barry Fields had found the M1 and ammunition stood in high weeds behind the house. The door to the house was locked, and the windows were boarded up. Warren made his way through the weeds. The shed was unlocked, and inside he found a variety of tools. Included among them were a pick and shovel. Warren went to his car, took out Scylla’s Carnival, and walked to a huge boulder in the sand near the gentle waves that lapped the waterline. He found the appropriate passage and read carefully. “I returned to consciousness in the dead of night, the balmy summer night on which my love had suffered and died before my eyes, before the final kick to the temple that mercifully gave respite to my agony. I was tied hand and foot and gagged. My nose was broken and caked with blood. Some ribs were broken as well. I saw that I was downstairs in the front room. They had moved me. Why had they moved me? I managed to sit upright with my back against the couch, and I peered into the gloom. Suellen’s body was not there. Panic seized me. Had they taken it away? Had the beasts that had violated and destroyed her dragged her remains off to some unknown destination to desecrate her further? “The horror was unbearable. My mind took a strange turn toward self-preservation. They had certainly left me for dead because I was the only witness. Why was I not dead? O merciful heaven! Why had I survived? It would have been much kinder to allow me to enter the abyss than live to deal with this madness. The pain was intense. It almost sent me reeling, but I managed to spit out the gag by working my teeth and jaws against it. I crawled to the kitchen, got to my knees, and opened a drawer with my teeth. I then clamped a knife between them by the handle and cut the ropes across my chest. My hands fell free. I untied my legs and got to my feet. I was dizzy, disoriented. I couldn’t breathe deeply. My ribs raged with pain. I followed the walls around the house in search of Suellen but did not find her. Finally, I crawled on my hands and knees up to the second floor and discovered her in our bed, bloody and mutilated. I screamed and fell beside her. Perhaps now I would die. I welcomed the end of it. The void closed in, and I rejoiced. “But it was not to be. I woke with the dawn, turned toward her, and wailed at her lifeless face, the blood matted in her silken hair. There was nothing left to do but find the monsters that had done this and destroy them. I got to my feet and washed. I taped my ribs heavily. The pain was like the heat of a fire. It wove its way through my bones, and how I did what follows next, I shall never know, but I did it. I put water in the tub and carried Suellen to it. I bathed her body. I wept. I collapsed to the floor, but I forced myself up. I dried her, combed her hair, and dressed her in a gown of blue silk. When I had arranged her on the rug, I went down the stairs and outside. “Out of boards in back of the shed, I made a rough coffin. I melted some tar in a bucket and dipped tarpaper in it with which I lined the box. I then went inside, rolled Suellen in the rug, and carried her downstairs and outside. I placed her, rolled in the rug, in the box and nailed it shut. I poured the rest of the tar over it. “Suellen’s favorite tree was a great oak that stood near the house and in which I had carved our names. I dug her grave, perhaps not deep enough, in the shade of the oak beneath our names and buried her. When I had filled in the hole, disguised the fresh earth with natural debris, and bid her a final farewell, I went in search of my revenge.” Warren looked up from his reading. He hadn’t noticed an oak tree. He was hoping it wasn’t there, but it was. He put the manuscript back in the ammo box, closed it, and went to put it in the car. He was delaying the next step. He lit a cigarette and sauntered over to the tree. He found the names cut neatly into a flat surface where a branch had been sawed off, Stella & Terry. Warren considered walking away from it all. Nobody else knew anything about any of it. He could go back to New York and forget the whole thing. Terence V. Brace might be playing some kind of sick joke on him. He might pop out of the woods laughing and say, “I had you going, didn’t I, Mr. Combs. I really had you going.” It was about ten o’clock in the morning, and Warren got as far as the car. He sat behind the wheel and fished in his pocket for the keys. He sat very still for about five minutes, and then he did a very strange thing. He got out of the car and called into the woods as loud as he could. “I have no choice,” he said. “If you’re out there, I want you to know I have no choice. I have to know the truth.” He got the pick and shovel out of the shed and started hacking at the ground where it was written that the body lay. The job took him more than three hours. Warren was not accustomed to physical labor, and he had to keep stopping to catch his breath, to revive his long unused muscles. He wheezed and sighed, but he kept at it, and the pick struck the coffin at a depth of about three feet. He dug around it until it was clear, and then he pried the lid off with the pick. Stella was considerably decomposed but not quite skeletal. Her head and shoulders were outside the rug, and he could see the top of her pale blue dress. He dropped the lid when he was sure and went to the shed for a hammer with which he nailed the coffin shut once more. It was after four o’clock in the afternoon before he had managed to fill in the hole and disguise the fact that any digging had been done. Like a thief escaping the scene of a crime, he ran to his car and hightailed it out of there. He had driven half way back to Robinhood before he got his wits about him. He turned the car around and went back. He put the pick, shovel, and hammer back in the shed and closed the shed door. He checked the grave once more and found the camouflage satisfactory. He then drove directly to the motel in Bath. After checking in for a second time, he showered and stretched across the bed. He was inclined to believe that Terence V. Brace was running away from a murder trial, but he had to dismiss that as a recurring falsehood. If, in fact, he had murdered the five men who had killed his wife, and it certainly looked like he had, no one knew about it. He had not been connected to the crime. He had probably fled Robinhood so that his wife would not be missed. He had just come back there to mail Warren his manuscript so that Warren would have no leads as to where to look for him. No, that didn’t make any sense either. His wife had been murdered in the summertime. That would make it at least a year ago, maybe two or three. More likely, it was the latter because the book had been so carefully wrought that it had probably taken him a long time to write it. In spite of the tension that possessed him, Warren had been debilitated by his enormous expenditure of energy in the clean sea air, and he dropped off to sleep. He awoke early in the evening and went out to dinner. Then he drove over to the local newspaper which was dark and locked up. It would have to wait until morning. He went back to Robinhood where the gas station and general store were also closed, and he stood out on the dock where he saw a few people tending their boats. The lights of others out on the water were bobbing in the tide. There were hardly any lights on the opposite shores. Robinhood only had two streetlights. It was very dark as he drove back to the motel. There was no moon, and a crowd of youngsters sped by him, radio blaring, laughter and squealing coming from their car. He smiled. It was, after all, Friday night.
The newspaper office, a storefront with casement windows on the only commercial street, was open on Saturday morning, and Warren walked in and waited at a counter. He didn’t see anyone. There was a bell. He rang it. A short, muscular fellow in his mid forties materialized. He wore a striped tie and white shirt with the sleeves rolled up. His face was clean-shaven and shining, his hair was cut short, and he wore horn-rimmed glasses. “What can I do for you?” he asked.
“My name is Warren Combs, and I…”
The man smiled broadly and interrupted him. “Well, I’ll be damned! So it is. So it is. Come in.” He swung up the flap on the counter and shook Warren’s hand. “My name is Lou Gauge. I’m honored to meet you.”
“Do we know each other?”
“You don’t know me, but I know a lot about you. I went to Yale some years after you, and when I was there, you were a legend in the English Department. You turned out those wonderful books, and you were married to that gorgeous movie star, Marjorie Combs. I remember it all very well.”
Warren’s ego had been given a considerable boost. “Things change, but you’re very kind.”
They sat opposite one another at a cluttered desk. Lou waved an arm over his head. “I’m chief cook and bottle washer around here, but that isn’t saying much. Everybody else is off on weekends, but I come by to tidy up. What brings you to our fair city?”
“I had some correspondence with someone around here named Terence V. Brace. I was passing through and thought I’d come by and talk to him. I stopped by his house last night, and it was all closed up. I thought you might know something about it.”
“No, I didn’t know he’d gone anywhere,” Lou replied agreeably. “Did you talk to Clyde and Emma?”
“Who are they?”
“Emma runs the market over in Robinhood. Clyde’s got the gas station.”
Warren smiled. He wanted to keep the air light. “I did talk to Clyde, the man with the beard. He said that Terry and Stella had been gone three or four months, but he had no idea where they were.”
“I’m sorry I can’t help you with this. You might try Stella’s parents up in Lewiston. They’ve got the biggest house in town. You can’t miss it.”
“I may do that,” Warren replied. “Did you know Terry and Stella well?”
“Stella and I went to grade school and high school together. We moved in the same circles, but I don’t know if anyone knew her well. She became somewhat reclusive after her terrible accident. I mean, she was the prettiest thing wheeling around all over in her wheelchair, and she was as pleasant and cordial as you’d want, but as far as I know she didn’t have any boyfriends or go out on dates or anything like that. I guess we all felt kind of sorry for her. She went away to school, and when she came back with Terry, I thought it was the best thing. They were birds of a feather, those two, if you know what I mean.”
“That Terry, he’s as smart as a whip, but he’s a character. The place out on the point suited him. To say that he wasn’t inclined to be social would be an understatement. He has to deal with people from time to time to fulfill his needs, but given his druthers, I think he’d be an out and out hermit. If he and Stell did move away, it’s probably to a place even more remote than the one they’ve been living in.”
“You said he’s as smart as a whip. Did you talk to him much?”
Lou Gauge chuckled. “Nobody talked to him much, but I did talk to him some. I was one of the few people who knew what he was talking about. He couched all his language in literature and mythology. Most folks thought he was a raving lunatic.”
“It doesn’t sound so crazy to me.”
“This isn’t New York or New Haven,” Lou replied. “When in Rome and all that.”
“Of course you’re right,” Warren said, and he rose and extended his hand. Lou shook it vigorously. “Thank you for your time.”
“My pleasure,” Lou beamed. “We don’t get many people like you around here. I’ll walk out with you.”
As they approached the door, Warren hesitated. Had she witnessed it, Marjorie would have enjoyed his performance. “There is one more thing if I might impose upon you”.
“Anything at all.”
“I’m a bit of a crime buff, and it seems to me I recall a sensational murder case up here awhile back. A number of men in a motel or something.”
Lou turned Warren around. “Right this way. You’ve come to the right place after all. I covered it myself and took the photographs. July 18, 1986. I’ll never forget it. Nothing like that has happened around here before or since. Have a seat.”
Warren sat back down at the desk, and Lou went up a narrow staircase at the rear of the store. “I’ll only be a minute,” he said. While Warren waited, his mind raced nervously. The time-honored faith and trust that existed between an artist and his patron, a writer and his editor, was taking on a new dimension, one that both delighted and terrified him. Was Terence V. Brace out there somewhere watching him? He grew ever more convinced that such was the case.
Lou returned with several old newspapers and a number of large, glossy photographs. He spread them out in front of Warren. “The police got the call about five-thirty in the morning. I’ve got some friends at the station, and they called me right away. I arrived on the scene about five minutes after they did. It was a dumpy motel with little wooden cabins up in Wiscasset.”
Warren studied the pictures. It was a bloody mess. The room was small. There was one double bed, and there were four cots. Two men were in bed together; a third was on a cot. The other two were on the floor. Some of the photos were close-ups of what seemed like entry wounds. “I’ve seen people shot before,” Warren said. “It seems strange to me that parts of their heads are not blown away.”
“The weapon used was an M1 rifle,” Lou explained. “At such close range, when you use armor piercing ammunition, the bullet goes right through. It doesn’t take anything with it.”
“Of course. I’d forgotten. How did they know it was an M1 rifle? Did they recover the weapon?”
“No weapon was ever recovered, and they never caught the guy that did it. Eight rounds, a complete clip, were fired. All the bullets went clean through and lodged in various places. The murderer was a hell of a shot. Each victim took one to the head. The other three rounds were through the heart. The ballistics guys said that it was easy to tell what kind of gun was used.”
“How do they know only one person was involved?”
“They don’t for sure, but it’s a pretty good guess. All the bullets were fired from the same rifle, and, from the look of it, in short order.”
Warren read the lead article and then the follow-ups as the conversation continued. “It doesn’t say why they all slept in one room.”
“They were working class kids from New Jersey. They didn’t have much money. The motel guy said that only two of them checked in. The others must have hidden in the car. They had their own cots and blankets, so they had probably been doing the same in other places.”
“What were they doing up here?”
“Two of them were on vacation from their jobs. One was a truck driver and the other a clerk in a supermarket. They were all single and in their early twenties, and they were no angels. Four of them had convictions for shoplifting, auto theft, and assault. They had all grown up together in the same neighborhood. Only two of them finished high school, and none of them ever went to college. They were just rampaging around, I guess, looking for trouble.”
“Why do you say looking for trouble?”
“I don’t know. It just isn’t likely that kids like that were here for the fishing or the scenery.”
“Do you have any theories about who did it?”
“Not really. At the time, I figured it was a Jersey thing that carried up here. Somebody might have followed them and waited for his chance.”
“It says here that one of the witnesses was able to spot a man in a pickup truck in spite of the heavy fog that morning.”
Lou nodded. “Yes, but they couldn’t come up with anything on the plates. They don’t even know what color or make the truck was.”
“Amazing case. I can’t get over the M1 rifle and the armor piercing ammo. I was an armorer in Korea.”
“I know. The Nam was my baptism. The M1 was already passé. I came back half nuts, but I’m pretty well over it now. I’ve got a wife and grown kids.”
“Yes,” Warren said. “I know what you mean. These pictures and this story bring back some bad memories.”
“It’s the same kind of pointless slaughter.” The two men sat in silence for a minute, and then Lou smiled. “Would you like some coffee? I’ve got it made right here.”
“That would be nice.” Lou got up and went to the back. He returned with two steaming cups. They drank and talked about war and politics, about Korea and Vietnam, about Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and then they parted company. Lou Gauge waved from an empty sidewalk as Warren drove away.
Warren’s next destination took him north on U.S.1 for about ten miles. High, rolling hills thick with pine and enhanced by outcroppings of granite extended as far as the eye could see when the view was not blocked by trees woven closely together along the shoulders on both sides of the road. The area was laced with waterways as well, and Warren was soon able to envision that he was negotiating what was more a series of coastal islands than the eastern extremity of the mainland. When a sign informed him that had entered Wiscasset, he was taken by surprise. His thoughts were of what lay ahead, and he hadn’t foreseen the inevitability of driving through it. He recognized the motel where the men had been killed from Lou’s pictures of it and pulled over to take a look. The clapboard cabins were run down. They resembled a line of shacks in a forlorn shantytown. A scruffy, young girl in a maid’s uniform with a white towel wrapped around her head pushed a service cart out of one of the cabins. She looked at his New York plates and walked to the side of his car. “Can I help you with somethin?” she asked.
“This is the place where those boys from New Jersey got killed, isn’t it?”
“Yep, this is the place,” she replied. “You’re the first one’s asked about it in a long time. They useta come in packs. We’re tryin to forget about it.”
“Were you here when it happened?”
“Leave it alone, will ya mister!” The girl glared at him with hatred in her eyes.
“Sorry,” Warren said, and he drove off.
He crossed a bridge and went south on route 27. He arrived in Boothbay just before noon. It was a bit more substantial than Robinhood but not much. Several roads from nearby inlets converged on a main street where clusters of shops sold bait and tackle, boating supplies, clothing, antiques and curios, food, and the like. As it was Saturday, the post office was closed. Warren peered through the window of the tiny, official building over which the flag flew in a soft sea breeze. A young fisherman walked by in a blue sweatshirt, jeans, and yellow rubber boots. “Excuse me,” Warren said, and the fellow stopped.
“I’d like to talk to Miss. Pritchard about something. Do you know where I can find her?”
“She ain’t here on weekends,” the fisherman replied. “You got business with her?”
“Yes. It is a business matter.”
The fisherman stared at Warren for a moment and then came to a decision. He pointed down an unpaved street. “Over there in the yellow house.”
“Thank you,” Warren replied, but the man had turned and walked away.
The yellow house was a small and immaculate cottage surrounded by a white picket fence. Flowers abounded in the front garden, and a concrete path inlaid with seashells led to a vined and white trellised veranda. Warren stepped up on the wooden porch and rang the bell. A sturdy old woman came to the door. Her face was weathered and wrinkled but tan and healthy. She had long, white hair tied in a bun in the back, and she wore a blouse of white lace and a floor-length navy skirt. “Miss Pritchard?”
“My name is Warren Combs. I called you from New York on Tuesday morning, and you were kind enough to give me some information about Mr. Brace. Do you recall our conversation?”
She smiled. “Of course I remember, Mr. Combs. I don’t get many calls from New York. Have you found Terry yet?”
“No, I haven’t. I thought you might be able to help me further.”
“Of course, anything I can do. I was about to make lunch. Would you like to come in and join me?”
“I thought I might take you out to lunch. You’ve been so helpful that I’d be delighted to repay you in some way.”
Miss Pritchard was thrilled. “I’ll get my hat.”
She withdrew, and when she returned, there was a snappy straw boater perched on her head. A green woolen sweater covered her blouse, and she was carrying a patent leather purse. “What do you feel like eating?” she asked as she locked the door.
“A lobster might be nice. We’re in the right place for it.”
“I wouldn’t care if I never saw another lobster for the rest of my life. My father spent his life catching them, and my brothers are still at it.”
Warren was amused. “It was only a suggestion.”
“Never mind,” she said. “I’ll take you to a place where you can get your lobster, and I’ll have a steak. Where’s your car?”
“In front of the post office.”
Miss Pritchard gave directions and Warren followed them to a pier at Ocean Point. The restaurant stood at the end of it, and the approach was lined with parking spaces. It was early in the season, and there weren’t many cars making use of them. When they were settled at a table by a window overlooking the Atlantic, they ordered martinis, Lancer’s Rose, and their meal. When the drinks arrived, Miss Pritchard offered a toast. They clinked glasses. “Here’s to the success of your mission,” she said.
“Thank you, but I don’t know if I’d call it a mission.”
“What do you want with Terry Brace anyway?”
“I’m an editor, Miss Pritchard,” Warren explained. “A lot of my decisions are made on instinct. Terry and I exchanged several letters in which he expressed a desire to talk to me about writing a book. He writes well, and I decided to pursue the matter further. Nobody seems to have any idea where he and his wife went, and the more mysterious this thing gets, the more whetted my appetite becomes.”
“I don’t see as there’s any mystery. They have plenty of money and probably just went on an extended trip.” She hesitated, considered something, and then scratched her chin. “On second thought, I saw Terry less than two weeks ago. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. He came in and mailed a heavy package to somebody in New York. I think it was you he sent it to.”
Warren laughed out loud and continued to lie through his teeth. “How silly of me. In one of our letters, I mentioned that a collection of books on my desk kept falling over, and I couldn’t find anything I liked to prop them up. That package was for me. It was a gift of a hand painted iron loon to use as a bookend. He picked it up at L.L.Bean.”
“I’ve seen them at the store over in Freeport. They’re very attractive. That was nice of him.”
“Yes,” Warren agreed. “It was very thoughtful.”
Warren could see that the old woman was not a fool. She knew that something was amiss, and although she didn’t know what it was, she pressed on. “It doesn’t sound like anything Terry would do. He must have wanted very badly to make an impression on you. Didn’t you find it odd that someone you’ve never met should make such a gesture?”
“Yes I did. Very odd, but from what I’ve heard, there are many strange quirks to his personality.” Warren sensed that their meeting was about to become awkward. He had to lighten the atmosphere. Perhaps if he got her talking. “How well do you know him?”
“I knew him well enough. We had an arrangement of sorts. He got books in the mail sometimes as often as three or four times a week. He asked me to hold them until he came to get them. I mean, Daniel, the postman, would gladly have delivered them, but Terry wanted it his way.”
“What did you think of him?”
“He was a fine young man. He was quiet and shy, and there were those who thought he was eccentric, but he was very nice to me.”
The waiter brought their meal and poured the wine, and Warren noticed that the tension between them dissipated. From the shine in Miss Pritchard’s eyes, Warren decided that it was because of the alcohol she had consumed. The old woman dug into her sirloin, and he cracked a claw of his lobster. Their vantage point provided an unobstructed view of the open sea where a few sails rose high off the water and commercial lobster and fishing boats motored by on the rippling, sometimes white-capped surface on which the sun glittered and gulls dove for their sustenance. “A man could get used to this,” Warren said. “It’s light years from the urban sprawl.”
Miss Pritchard laughed. “Don’t get carried away, Mr. Combs. That’s a treacherous mistress out there. Spend a January and February up here before you jump to any conclusions.”
“Are you trying to destroy my romantic notions?” Warren asked with flirtatious humor.
She sipped her wine and batted her eyelashes. “Call me Sarah, and I’ll call you Warren if you like.”
“Of course, Sarah, but I don’t want you to get the wrong idea.”
“Very little chance of that at my age, young man. I’m seventy-four years old; a lot of water under the bridge.”
“And over it, I would imagine,” Warren said.
Sarah liked to laugh, and she did so once more. “Warren, my dear young man, we don’t know each other well enough to get that personal. Are you married?”
“I was. She left me a long time ago.”
Sarah’s jaw hung a little slack. She was obviously not used to drinking. “My fella was killed out there, Warren. He went down to free some nets, and he got himself tied up in knots. By the time they got him up, it was too late. It’ll be fifty years this September.”
“You must have loved him very much.”
Her smile became forlorn. “I never met anyone else who was half the man. My Jack was going places. He’d have owned this whole damned coast if he’d lived. Sam Gorman was a minnow by comparison, and he bamboozled the lot of them. We were in clover up here in the old days, Warren. Let me tell you. There was more money around than we knew what to do with. It was a gold rush that came right out of the ocean. Now Sam’s got it all. Well, I guess you’ve got to give him credit. He had the vision to build the cannery, and then, with the money he made, he financed the boats. My Jack would have fought him tooth and nail, and there is no doubt about who would have won.”
“Sam Gorman, Stella Brace’s father.”
“One and the same.”
“Did you have any dealings with him?”
Miss Pritchard collected herself. She sat more erect, if that was possible, and she appeared to become feisty. “Dealings with him! That’s quite a choice of words, Warren. Yes, I had dealings with him alright. We were all kids together on this coast when it might as well have been the North Pole. Some people like my father were making a living, but nobody had any idea that it was going to become Fort Knox on the Continental Shelf. There was Sam and Eloise and Jack and I, and a handful of others most of whom have been put in the ground. We had a fairyland childhood, hunting and fishing a cruel paradise. As we got older, Jack and Sam had the capacity to see what was coming and to prepare for it. The rest were just sheep.” Sarah sipped from her glass and touched her ear. “I don’t know why I’m telling you all this.”
“I’m thankful that you are. You’re giving me an insight into the area that I didn’t get anywhere else.”
“There aren’t many of us left who know about it.”
“Did anybody write Terry regularly?”
“Yes. There was a woman named Caroline Sheehy. Her letters came from Iowa, City, Iowa. At first, I thought she was a girlfriend he kept on the side, but then he told me that she was an elderly woman, a retired librarian he had once worked for. Terry was very perceptive. He knew I suspected foul play, so he showed me some of what she had written. She was like a mother to him. She loved him dearly and took the position that he had found his ideal niche in life.”
Sarah and Warren finished their coffee, and he drove her back to the yellow cottage. She kissed him on the cheek before leaving the car. “Thank you very much for the lunch and for listening to my babble,” she said.
“You’re very welcome, Sarah. It has been a real privilege.”
“You’re a handsome man, Mr. Combs. You should find yourself a sensible woman and let her take care of you.”
“I’m beginning to wonder if such a woman exists.”
“Never mind. You just keep looking. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye,” Warren said. She slammed the car door and started up the seashell path. As he drove away, the thought came to him that they just didn’t make them like that anymore.
Warren returned to his motel room where he called Lewiston information and got the number of Sam and Eloise Gorman. He dialed, and a maid answered. She said that Mr. Gorman was not at home and Mrs. Gorman could not come to the phone.
“I’ve driven up from New York, and I’d like to talk to them about Mr. And Mrs. Brace. It’s rather important,” Warren said.
“One moment please,” the maid replied, and there was a brief silence. When she returned, she told Warren that the Gormans would see him at tea at four-thirty that afternoon. He thanked her and hung up.
As the time drew near, he changed into a business suit, packed his belongings, and loaded them into his car. It took him about forty minutes to get to Lewiston on a winding, narrow highway that followed the bank of a river. The small city was quaint, clean, and very old. The residential streets were lined with formidable oaks that over-canopied the roadway in many places and behind them were green lawns and secure brick and wooden houses of modest dimensions. He stopped and asked directions and followed them until, on the outskirts of town, on an otherwise uninhabited bluff on high ground overlooking a pond, a concrete wall surrounded a white wooden manor house of at least thirty rooms. It was an ornate and sprawling structure that had recently been painted, and gables, porches, and terraces gave evidence of its age and character. High iron gates at a breach in the wall were open, and Warren drove up a pebbled driveway to a spacious garage. To his left were stables and a fenced in corral where two horses grazed quietly. To his right, the pine forest seemed splendidly untouched. The steep drop to the pond lay ahead of him at the back of the house. He crossed the lawn, making his way to the front of the house, mounted the fieldstone steps to the main porch, and rang the bell. When the maid answered, he gave her his card. “My name is Warren Combs. I have an appointment.”
“Right this way,” the maid replied, and she led him through a green-carpeted foyer on the mahogany walls of which were paintings of ships at sea. A broad staircase at the rear of the foyer led upstairs. The maid deposited Warren in a spacious living room, the outer boundaries of which were an enclosed veranda. A tea service was set up in front of glass paneled French doors. A few of them were open and led out to an open terrace. The view of the pond, the forest, and the city was impressive. Eloise Gorman strutted into the room fingering Warren’s card. She appeared considerably younger than Sarah Pritchard, and she was tall and stately in a beige cocktail dress. Her bobbed hair was dyed jet black, and the vestiges of great beauty were still discernible in her exquisite features. “Mr. Combs,” she said gaily, “I’m afraid you have us at a disadvantage. We’re not great readers in this family. I can’t imagine what help we can be to you.”
“A pleasure to meet you. I know it must seem strange, Mrs. Gorman, but I don’t want to leave any stone unturned. Sarah Pritchard suggested that I talk to you.”
“Dear Sarah. How is she?”
“Undaunted. I took her to lunch today and she seemed very healthy indeed.”
“I must drop in on her one of these days. We were very close once, and I haven’t seen her in years. Is she still at the post office?”
“Yes, she is.”
“Mysterious woman,” Eloise said. “She could go anywhere, do anything she wants. Her father left her and her brothers very comfortable, and the brothers have invested wisely.”
“Is your husband going to join us?”
“Sam will be right along. He was out at Pemaquid all day, and he’s washing up. Have you spoken to my daughter and son-in-law?”
“No, Mrs. Gorman. Actually, that’s why I’m here. I thought you might be able to help me locate them.”
“Let’s wait for Sam. Have a seat, Mr. Combs.”
Eloise directed Warren to the table set for three, and when they were settled, she poured the tea. “This is a beautiful place,” Warren said. “The house is magnificent, and the view is breathtaking.”
Sam Gorman joined them. He wore a brown sport jacket and a white shirt open at the throat. He was well groomed and expensively dressed, but he showed his age. The wind was still in his face, and he was every inch a fisherman. He sat with his legs spread wide and his shoulders four square. He seemed enveloped in an air of no-nonsense. “This is Warren Combs, dear,” Eloise said.
Sam shook Warren’s hand. “Sam Gorman,” he said, and then he drank from his cup and chose from the confections before them. “What can I do for you, Mr. Combs?”
“I’ve been looking for your daughter and son-in-law, and I don’t seem to be able to find them. Their house is locked up, and Clyde at the gas station told me that they’ve been gone three or four months.”
“It’s news to me,” Sam replied.
“How long is it since you’ve seen them?”
“Somehow we haven’t kept in touch,” Eloise said, and Sam touched her arm.
“Why are you looking for them?” he asked.
“Mr. Brace and I have been corresponding. I thought he had a rather good idea for a book, and I wanted to talk to him about it.”
“What was the book supposed to be about?” Sam asked.
“His life,” Warren replied. “It seems to have been a rather interesting one.”
Sam laughed. “That’s one way of putting it. For one, I thought the son of a bitch was an opportunist. He bullshitted Stella with his high ideas, and she fell for it.”
“Excuse me,” Eloise said. Tears came to her eyes, and she left the room.
“My wife doesn’t want to hear it again. It’s not that she disagrees with me. She’s just had enough of it, but if you want to hear about Terry Brace, I’ll tell you. Our only child was crippled as a youngster on one of my boats. I’ve never been able to forgive myself for it. When she decided to go away to college, we had no reason to refuse her. When she came back two years later married to this guy, we were happy for her. I’d been renting the house out on the point to a friend with whom I’d fought in the Second World War. He’d recently died, and we gave the house to them. I want you to take note of the fact that he married her in Iowa. He didn’t take the chance that we might have tried to change her mind about it.”
“When was that?”
“Oh, let’s see,” Sam said. “It must have been Seventy or Seventy-one. Anyway, I wanted to take him into the business, make him a rich man. I’ve got nobody else to leave it to. He gave me a lot of doubletalk about having enough money, about the corrosive effects of capitalist greed and other such nonsense. Imagine that! He didn’t have a pot to piss in until he met Stella, and then suddenly he’s a man of leisure. He wants to do nothing but read and study for the rest of his life. Lazy bastard! He just doesn’t want to work.”
“Did you cut off her income?”
“Arrangements had been made years before,” Sam replied. “Stella had money of her own. The only reason I’m telling you this is that if he does write his book, I don’t want it published unless the truth is told.”
“That’s a reasonable request. What happened next?”
“He turned her against us,” Sam replied, “not only us but everybody she’d known since she was a kid. They isolated themselves out there on the point, and she almost never left the place. I tried to show her that he was making her completely dependent upon him, but she wouldn’t have any of it. She loved him, did what he wanted, and that was that. Over a period of time, we saw less and less of her. Finally, we didn’t see her at all. It must be close to ten years since I’ve laid eyes on her.”
“Do you ever see him?”
“I’d better not. I’ll knock him right on his ass, and he knows it. You don’t know what my wife has been through. She used to sneak out there to see Stella. She thought I didn’t know about it. Three or four years ago, she stopped. I never talked to her about it. I thought it was better to leave well enough alone.”
“So, that’s that,” Sam said. “I don’t know where the hell they are, but you could do me a favor, Mr. Combs.”
“If and when you dig them up, drop me a line and let me know she’s alright.”
“Certainly,” Warren replied. The usually mild euphemism became a powerful metaphor and sent waves of panic through Warren’s abdomen. He coughed and took a deep breath.
“Would you like a drink?” Sam asked.
“No thank you. I should be on my way.” Sam Gorman rose and led Warren to the door. “You’ve been very kind and forthright, and I’m grateful to you,” Warren said.
“It comes with the territory,” Sam replied and smiled.
“Say goodbye to Mrs. Gorman for me.”
“I will,” Sam promised.
They said goodbye to one another, and Warren drove west out of Lewiston. He stopped at a gas station to study his roadmaps and determine the shortest route to Iowa City.
He drove, and he thought about Marjorie. The last time he had headed in this direction by car, he had been on his way to marry her. He considered it peculiar that a New York editor from Brooklyn should find it necessary to visit Iowa twice in one lifetime, and that coincidental circumstances should bring him a wife and a writer from that black soil of the heartland. He drove, and he weighed the implications of what Terence V. Brace had thrust upon him. Things were rarely what they seemed to be. Scylla’s Carnival was not a novel at all. It was thinly disguised, selective fact. If and when he found Terence V. Brace, they would have to work together to hide the truth. If the book were published as written, Brace would be arrested, tried, and convicted of murder. Extenuating factors would, in all likelihood, prevent the imposition of a maximum sentence, whatever that might be in Maine, but it was definitely not permitted to blow away five men who had murdered your wife. It was also true that Brace did not seem like the kind of man who would take to the hoopla that would accompany such a sensational public revelation. He wouldn’t fare well under the scrutiny of cops and reporters. Things were not what they seemed to be. Sarah Pritchard wasn’t poor and didn’t have to work in the post office. Brace, though effusively candid about most things, had written nothing about his father-in-law’s hatred of him. If he had eliminated the information because he thought it was extraneous, there was a justification for it, but it might have been interesting if he had analyzed Sam Gorman’s point of view. Warren drove, and he apologized to Lou Gauge and Sarah Pritchard for deceiving them. He apologized to Sam and Eloise Gorman for not informing them that their daughter was dead, and he kept an eye on the rear view mirror to see if Terence V. Brave was following him. As far as he could determine, he wasn’t. Around midnight, Warren checked into a motel and went to sleep.
He dreamt that he was carried high into the heavens with a golden apple that had been presented to him by an invisible deity. Once aloft in the billowing clouds, Venus came to him in the person of a young Eloise Gorman. He was taken with her beauty, and he gave her the apple as a gift. She promised him eternal happiness and delivered him back to Earth with a white rose that blazed with light. The light illuminated a calm, endless sea where leaping dolphins beckoned him. When he resisted their invitation, the rose bled and was transformed into the decaying corpse of Stella Brace. He awoke with a start, sat up, and looked around. He was in a room in Mayville, New York, and he lit a cigarette and waited for the terror to pass. When it did, he smiled. This was not the dream of an old man. It was a dream of adventure and revelation, the dream of a young man in search of his destiny. It was neither literal nor actual, and except for the very end, it was a flight of subconscious imagination. When he closed his eyes again, he rested peacefully until morning.
Spring rain followed him along the coast of Lake Erie through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. “Dear Walt Whitman,” he said aloud, “I do not hear America singing unless that song is the hum of tires on the monotonous highway. I’m sure that these countless farms are sweet-smelling, sonorous places, but Henry Ford and his friends have made it possible to whiz by them with nary a backward glance.” As he circumvented Chicago, he addressed another poet. “Beware your city of Big Shoulders, Mr. Sandburg. The faces of women and children on which you saw the marks of wanton hunger have been further ravaged by drugs, and they carry the tools of violence in their hands.” And yet again, at Moline, on the banks of the Mississippi, “Dear Sam Clemens, your river no longer flows wildly over the countryside. It has been reduced to a great funnel that will one day push New Orleans out into the Gulf of Mexico.”
Iowa City, a legitimate historical site as the original capital of the state, had been swallowed up over decades by the growth of the University of Iowa into a colossus of higher learning. When Warren arrived on Monday afternoon, summer vacation had begun, and the educational oasis in the middle of millions of acres of grain was virtually deserted. He checked into the Iowa House, a motel on campus, and his room on the second floor overlooked the Iowa River and fields of grass on which institutional buildings were interspersed. After lunch, he sat at a desk by a window and looked up Caroline Sheehy in the phone book. A child answered when he’d dialed the number, and there was a racket in the background, loud talk, hammering, and some kind of grating drone. “Hello,” the child said at fever pitch.
“Hello. I’d like to speak with Caroline Sheehy.”
“Just a minute,” the child said, and then in muffled tones, “Grandma, it’s for you.”
There was a shuffling, and then Grandma’s voice getting closer to the receiver. “Lizzie! Don’t ride that thing in the house! John! If you’re finished, I want you to take your sister outside. Hello!”
“Mrs. Sheehy, but yes, it’s me.”
“My name is Warren Combs, and I’d like to talk to you about Terence V. Brace.”
“Warren Combs?” she asked, and then there was a thoughtful pause.
“Warren Combs,” she repeated. “Are you the editor from Devon Makepiece? Have you written articles for the Library Journal?”
“Yes. I’m in town, and I’d like to see you.”
“By all means. I’m retired, you know.”
“That’s not important,” Warren said, and then she gave him directions to her home and hung up.
Caroline Sheehy lived on a block bounded at one end by a cornfield and at the other by railroad tracks. The houses in between were in various states of disrepair. There were broken fences, and behind them, in wildly overgrown front yards, old cars and tractors and the kind of debris collected over many years, stacks of wood, doors, wheels, and old tires. Warren pulled up at the address he had been given and saw that Caroline’s house was the largest of them all. It was a square wooden box painted maroon and three stories high. The front yard was an obstacle course of children’s toys. He picked his way through tricycles, soldiers, dolls, guns, and tanks, and he stepped up on the porch to be greeted by a balding, portly fellow about sixty in khaki pants and a green polo shirt. He extended his hand, and Warren took it. ‘I’m Frank Sheehy,” he said, “Cal’s husband. You must be Warren Combs. Have a seat. She’ll be right out.”
There was a glider and two rocking chairs on the porch. Warren sat in a rocking chair and Frank took his place on the glider. There was a cooler on the floor next to him, and he removed and opened two bottles of beer. He handed one to Warren, and Warren nodded. “Thanks,” he said.
“Cal’s out back organizing the Indians. When she gets here, I’ll go back and play watchdog over them.”
“Yes, our grandchildren. There are seven of them from six to thirteen. Our son and two daughters drop them off here every morning on their way to work. This is the Sheehy nursery.”
“I see. I was surprised that your wife knew who I was.”
“That was her field. She knows all about books and writers. I taught chemistry in my day. I don’t know a thing about literature. That’s probably why we got along so well all these years.”
“You’ve got something there.” Warren said.
Caroline Sheehy stormed through a screen door. She was a stocky woman in overalls and a denim shirt with the sleeves rolled to the elbows. Her gray hair was covered with a black canvas sun hat. Her face was round and smooth, and her green eyes were striking. “You’re on watch,” she said to her husband, and he rose from the glider. She took his place and opened a beer for herself.
“I may or may not see you later,” Frank said. “It’s been nice meeting you.”
“Nice meeting you,” Warren replied, and Frank left them by way of the screen door.
“So, Mr. Combs, I’m sorry about all this. The kids would ordinarily still be in school, but they closed it down for a few days because of some asbestos thing. Not that it matters. It just gets me in shape for the summer when they’ll be here all the time. I thought my mothering days were over, but I had another thought coming, didn’t I? I retired young you know. I got fed up with the computers and the computer generation. It was as if I trained for one thing and wound up doing another. The subtle nuance is dead, if you know what I mean.”
“I do indeed, Mrs. Sheehy,”
“Call me Cal. Everybody else does. How do you come to know Terry Brace?”
“We exchanged a few letters. He had an idea for a book, and I liked the way he handled language. I was up in Maine on vacation and thought I’d talk to him about it. He wasn’t there, and neither was his wife. Nobody seems to know where he went. I thought you might be able to help me find him.”
There was a loud crash from the backyard. Warren jumped and Caroline laughed. “Nothing to worry about. It’s only the kids. Frank can handle it.” Then she became pensive. “I’ve been worried about Terry lately. About six months ago, he called and said that he and his wife were going off in a trailer. He told me not to write him because he wouldn’t be there to pick up his mail. I assumed he’d be in touch, but I haven’t heard a word. I miss those letters. They were my last direct connection to the world of ideas. We discussed everything in them from Agamemnon to Godot.”
Warren smiled. “That covers a lot of ground.”
“You have no idea of the range of Terry’s scholarship. It sometimes took my breath away.”
An eight-year-old girl ran out on the porch crying and jumped up into her grandmother’s lap. She muttered something about somebody hitting her. Caroline rose with the child in her arms. “Take another beer, Mr. Combs. I’ll be right back, and we’ll take a walk.” She left the porch, and Warren did take another beer. When she returned, they strolled to the end of the street and out into the cornfield where the stalks were about four feet high. “Do you know anything about corn?” she asked.
“Nothing except that it tastes good.”
“Well, this is mine. It’s only a few acres, but I like to keep my hand in. I grew up on a farm in Burt. It’s about as far as you can get from here without leaving Iowa.”
They walked between the rows. It was quiet and hot. Warren took off his windbreaker. “How did you choose to become a librarian?”
“I loved books, as I imagine you do. They gave me access to lives I couldn’t have conjured up in my wildest dreams.”
“How did you meet Terry?”
“After his mother died, he applied for a caretaker’s job at the University. It was just dumb luck that got him assigned to the library. In the beginning, I just presented him with his chores and let him go on his way. I didn’t think of him at all until he asked me for a book of essays about the advance of Europe from the Middle Ages to Waterloo. It was called The Making Of Modern Europe. As he read the book, I did so myself. I was curious about my porter’s interest, and my eyes were opened when I discussed it with him. He thought Sir Richard Lodge had been too lenient with Machiavelli. He liked Harold Grimm’s objective view of Luther, and he said that Wilhelm Pauck had failed to identify the tyranny of Calvin correctly. In the months that followed, we talked about everything under the sun, and I was convinced that I had to do something for him. I wanted him to attend classes. I said I was certain I could get him a scholarship, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He said that he didn’t want to be associated in any way with the drones his own age. That was his word, drones. I think it was more that he was just impossibly shy. He had no social graces.”
“You took the time to befriend him, and you respected him for what he was.”
“That seems accurate. I set up an interview with my immediate superior for him with the recommendation that he be made a member of my staff. It was like pulling teeth to get him to go to the interview, but he went. Afterwards, his appointment was approved, and we had five happy years together. He sometimes came over and read aloud to my kids, and they loved him. He was very good at dramatizing Dickens and things like that. I was greatly entertained by it myself. I sometimes feel guilty about retiring early. The silly man that replaced me fired him. I think he was intimidated by Terry’s knowledge. It was utterly absurd. Stella came along at exactly the right time. I was worried about what was going to happen to him, and then he introduced me to this gorgeous girl in a wheelchair. She was really something. She moved into his mother’s house on Willow and fixed the place up. They lived there for six months before she whisked him off to Maine. Thank heaven she’s rich. She probably saved his life. He’d have wound up dead or in jail if he had continued to wander around town by himself.”
“Why do you say that?”
“After he was fired, he went on unemployment. He could barely live on it, and he didn’t know what to do with himself. After the respectable job he’d held, he grew morose at the prospect of working construction or becoming a delivery boy. He could have gone back to being a porter, but that was equally demeaning to him. I saw less and less of him until he met Stella. Heaven knows what he was doing.”
“Is there anyone who would know?”
“I doubt it. I’ve already told you how insulated he was. I can’t imagine that he hung out with anyone.”
“Didn’t he have any friends at all?”
“Come to think of it, he did have one, and that may be the biggest mystery of all. A farm boy his age named Dick Jarvis. Dick was not very bright. He never even finished high school, but they had known each other since they were babies, and they stayed friends. Dick’s got his own place about four miles north on the interstate on the road to Cedar Rapids. I’m sure you’ll be able to find him easily enough.”
Caroline guided Warren out of the cornfield and back toward the house. “I’m happy that you’ve taken an interest in him. It amazes me that he contacted you in the first place, but then he has never failed to amaze me. I always had the feeling he was preparing to do something, but I could never put my finger on what it was. I guess it makes perfect sense that it would be writing. He’s very disciplined when there’s something he wants to do. A word of advice, Mr. Combs; when you find him, be very careful what you say and do. He catches every nuance of a conversation. He remembers every word, and he analyzes and puts into context everything that transpires in his relationships. If he suspects that you’re exploiting or deceiving him, he’ll alienate himself from you just as he has done the rest of the world.”
Warren smiled. “He may be a more extreme example, but you’d be surprised how many writers fulfill what you’ve just described.”
“I think Terry has made a good choice. I think he’s going to like you.”
At the broken gate in the collapsing fence in front of the maroon house where the lawn was strewn with toys, Warren thanked Caroline Sheehy and drove off with the sounds of children’s voices from the backyard in his ears.
At about three o’clock on that hot, sunny afternoon, Warren made his way north on the road to Cedar Rapids. The fields of corn beside the asphalt were continuous and unending, and the crop was uniformly about four feet tall, the same as it had been on Caroline’s property. At the point where she said it would be, he saw a mailbox labeled Jarvis at a break in the green stalks. He turned into a dirt road that cut through the cornfields and ran in a straight line for almost a mile. It ended at a farmhouse in a two or three acre clearing. As he stepped out of the car, he was greeted by a friendly brown dog that had some German Shepherd in its distant genealogy. Warren scratched the dog’s ear. “Where’s your master?” he asked. The dog barked in appreciation of the attention. Warren looked about and saw no one. He was reluctant to walk about, conscious of an uncertain feeling of invading privacy. To the right of the modest, single-level house, there were square pens where sows nursed their piglets. Beyond it, there was an aluminum barn with a fenced in quarter acre beside it. Full-grown swine wandered about the enclosure. Behind him, a wire fence went around a chicken coop, and the silly creatures were pecking at the ground. “Hello!” he called out and waited.
A beautiful blond boy of eleven or twelve came out of the house. His thick, yellow hair shone in the sunlight, and he wore a Chicago Cubs tee shirt and jeans. “You looking for my dad?”
“Dick Jarvis,” Warren said. “Is that your dad?”
“Yeah. He’s over behind the barn. Come on, I’ll take you.”
Warren followed the boy. “I’m Warren Combs. What’s your name?”
“Dick, same as my dad.”
“I see. Are you a Cubs fan?”
“Not no more. They never win. I’m a Mets fan.”
When they turned the corner of the barn, they saw Dick Jarvis on top of a wagon loading corn into a pig feeder. “Hey dad,” the boy called out, “there’s a fella here name of Warren Combs wants to talk to you.”
Dick Jarvis climbed down from his perch in loose, faded overalls and a sleeveless orange sweatshirt. His close-cropped fair hair was thinning, and his lean, sunburned face seemed preoccupied. He took off his work gloves and handed them to the boy. “Get up there and finish that off, will you Richie,” he said, and then he smiled at Warren. “What can I do for you Mr. Combs?”
The boy hoisted himself aloft and applied himself to the job. The dog looked up at him with devoted interest. “I’d like to discuss Terry Brace,” Warren said.
Dick gestured toward the house, and they walked to it together. “I aint seen him in more’n fifteen years.”
“Caroline Sheehy suggested that I visit you.”
“Yeah, Cal would do that, but I don’t know what I can tell you. He used to call me from Maine once in awhile, but he stopped sometime back. I figured he just got busy out there.” They entered the house through a side door that provided access to a spacious kitchen. Dick pointed to a table and chairs. “Sit down, Mr. Combs. I’ll get us some lemonade.”
Dick produced two glasses and a full pitcher. He poured and sat opposite Warren. “I know you aint interested in him because he robbed a bank. Stella has more money than all of us could spend in a lifetime.”
“No. I talked to him about a book he was thinking of writing. I thought it was a good idea, but when I went looking for him, he had disappeared. He’s not in Maine and he’s obviously not here.”
“You’re in the book business.”
A short, attractive woman joined them wearing a tight-fitting waitress’ uniform. Her long brown hair was braided behind, and she was aware of her soft, voluptuous appearance.
“This is Warren Combs,” Dick said. “Mr. Combs, my wife, Laura.” She nodded. “Mr. Combs is asking about Terry Brace.”
She smiled. “There’s a lot of asking to be done there. What’s he done now?”
“He told Mr. Combs here that he wants to write a book. It seems that once he got Mr. Combs interested, he took off for parts unknown.”
“Just like him,” Laura said. “He’s been running away from one thing or another all his life.”
“You knew him then.”
“I don’t know as anybody knew him except maybe Cal Sheehy,” she replied. “We went to school with him until Dick had to come here to work the farm. Actually, I graduated with him. He was a handsome devil, but he was a little off. He didn’t want anything to do with anybody. Kept to himself.”
“My mother died about the same time his folks had the accident,” Dick said. “I lived in town with my grandparents right next to the Brace house on Willow after that. When my father took sick, I was about sixteen, and I had to drop out of school and come out here to help him.”
“You were good friends as boys then,” Warren said.
“More than that,” Laura said. “They were always together. We thought there was something funny going on.”
Dick laughed. “No, we were just boys. Terry had to spend a lot of time with his mother, but when we could get away, we’d go out on the road and shoot pheasants and rabbits, things like that. He didn’t have his own rifle, so we’d take turns with mine. His mother didn’t like us killing things, so I got to keep all the game. As we got older, we talked about girls, but I never saw him with one until Stella came along.”
“You talked about me,” Laura said. “I could see the way he looked at me after we’d been together.”
“There’s some truth in that,” Dick replied.
“All he had to do was ask me,” Laura said, “but he never did.”
Dick was amused by his wife’s comments. “You see, Mr. Combs. I got lucky. My wife only chose me because Terry never talked to her.”
“It wasn’t luck,” she replied. “You were the best of the lot of them.”
“You should come here more often, Mr. Combs,” Dick said. “My wife doesn’t throw out compliments every day.”
Laura rose. “Where’s Richie?”
“He’s out filling the feeder,” Dick said.
“I want to see him,” Laura said, “and then I’ve got to go over and set up the dining room for dinner. Not that there’s any big hurry. Now that the university is out for the summer, the place is like a morgue. Nice meeting you, Mr. Combs.”
“My pleasure,” Warren replied, and she left the room.
“She works over at the Holiday Inn on the interstate. Sometimes the amount of money she makes in tips really knocks me over.”
“She’s an attractive woman.”
Dick smiled. “Yeah, I’m sure that has something to do with it.”
They sipped from their glasses. “So you didn’t see much of Terry after you quit school,” Warren said.
“Not so. He used to come out here on his bicycle every chance he got. He worked right beside me in the fields and around the animals. He was as strong as an ox, and let me tell you, he could do the work of three men. He did it for nothing for a while, and I never gave it a thought. My father was the one who suggested that we pay him. At first, he didn’t want to take the money, but we talked him into it. I think he just enjoyed being away from town. As Laura said, he didn’t like being around people much.”
“He liked being around you.”
“Yeah, but I was like family, and we didn’t talk much. Funny when I think of it now. I was the only friend he had, and I didn’t get to see many other people our age, but we never had much to say to one another. I just liked him, and I guess the feeling was mutual. It was like that until he got the job with Cal in the library. Then he stopped coming around.”
“Did he talk to you about the books he read?”
“No, right from the beginning, he never talked to me about that. I mean, I knew he was smart and that he was reading a lot. He always had a fat book under his arm, but he kept it to himself. Maybe he thought I was too dumb to understand what it was all about.”
“You don’t seem dumb to me.”
“Well, maybe he thought I wasn’t interested. In the early days, we were hunting and taking canoe trips up the river, and then later on, I had the farm to think about. I got married about the time he met Stella, and they came over for dinner two or three times. We even went out and had a few beers with them now and then, but Laura didn’t like Stella, so that was the end of that.”
“I don’t know as anything happened. They were just so different. Stella was at the university, and there’s a wide road around here between the locals and the people on campus. Sometimes it’s okay, like with Cal, but most of the time, they just don’t associate with each other.”
‘That’s too bad.”
“Yeah, but that’s the way it is. Has been as long as I can remember. When we were kids, it was even worse. There were fights in the bars and in the streets. Me and Terry threw our share of punches in those days. Now they just seem to ignore each other.”
“Mrs. Sheehy told me that she wanted Terry to attend the university, and he refused. Part of the reason could have been that early hostility.”
“It was. I remember we talked about it. Terry laughed when he asked me how Cal could ever expect him to become one of those snotty bastards.”
“Is there anything else you can think of to tell me about him?”
Dick hesitated before responding. “As far as I can see, you’re looking to do him some good. Is that right?”
“I can tell you what a good friend he’s been. I had some financial problems with the farm about ten years ago. I don’t know how he found out about it, but he did. One day I got a call from the bank telling me that all my debts had been paid, and I had operating capital. Terry and Stella had come to my rescue. Otherwise I might have lost the place. When things got better, I tried to pay him back but he wouldn’t take the money.”
“Very commendable. Dick, I’m at a loss. I don’t know anyplace else to look for him.”
“I don’t know anything about it, but it seems to me he’s testing you in some way. When the time comes, he’ll find you.”
“If I pass the test.”
“No reason you shouldn’t as far as I can see. Terry was never one to go off half-cocked. He always made careful plans and followed them through. It looks to me like this is part of a plan.”
“Why do I get the idea there’s something you’re not telling me?”
Dick laughed. “I don’t know, Mr. Combs. Maybe it’s just that I know him and you don’t. He’s got you going, and he’s not making it easy for you. You’re bound to suspect the worst every chance you get.”
“You’re a wise man, Mr. Jarvis.”
“Nobody ever called me that before. No, Mr. Combs, I’m not holding out on you. Terry is, and it’s just like him. He never was much for trusting strangers.”
Warren rose. “”I’ve taken up enough of your time.”
“I’ve always got time for Terry,” Dick said, “no matter what kind of scheme he’s cooking up.”
Dick Jarvis walked with Warren out to his car, and the men shook hands before Warren drove away. On his way back to the Iowa House, he felt his heart sinking. The cryptic last line of Scylla’s Carnival came to his mind. Find me if you can. Warren was becoming more and more convinced that the author never meant to be found. He had followed every clue in the manuscript and come up empty. It stood to reason that if Brace wanted to be found, he would have provided the necessary information. Dick Jarvis’s words rang in his ears. “He always made careful plans and followed them through.” Such a man would not have left Warren high and dry unless it had been his explicit intention.
Anger welled up inside him for the first time. It was unexpected and therefore unbridled. It grew quickly and overwhelmed him. He was at once conscious of being manipulated in the most insidious fashion. Caroline Sheehy had known him through the essays he had written. In those essays, he had expressed his love for the word, the sacred trust he felt toward authors who had faith in him. Either Caroline had brought those essays to Brace’s attention or vice-versa. As a result, Brace had known exactly with whom he was dealing when he’d sent off the book. He was toying with Warren’s honorable approach to his work. How dare this character produce a major work of fiction, thrust it in his lap, and then vanish like a magician? No, it was worse than that, much worse. It wasn’t fiction at all. It was a revelation of actual events that had accumulated to bring about the murder of six human beings. The situation was impossible, unthinkable. It cast Warren into a no-man’s-land from which there was no deliverance in the commerce of morality and justice. If he turned Brace in, he would be violating the ideological position in which a lifetime of effort had placed him, and the book, despite its marvelous execution, would be reduced to the exploitation of sensation mongers.
No, he couldn’t be responsible for that. He knew he was going to keep Brace’s secret to himself. But then what of the book? How could it be published? What method could he devise to make it available to the public? He’d have to think about it. He’d have to act in the author’s absence as he thought the author would act. He’d have to make “careful plans and follow them through.”
He dreamt the dream of the golden apple that night, but when the dolphins beckoned him, he went to them and discovered that they weren’t there. He wasn’t sure whether they had fled or been an illusion. The next morning, he started on the long drive home.
Marjorie’s career had thus far been a model of consistency. By the mid Seventies, she was firmly established as a major star, and it was well known in the industry that she possessed the elusive quality that was most important of all. She was good box office. Her stature in that regard had never diminished, and by the mid Eighties, at the age of forty-four, she was beginning to get the roles that were reserved for potential Oscar winners. She remained slim and graceful, and there was a youthful sheen to her skin that baffled those who knew her because her behavior was anything but regenerative. She vacillated between alcoholism and cocaine addiction, and the Hollywood vultures anticipated her decline with a relish, but it never came. She had kept the name Combs, and, more than that, she had kept a place in her heart for the man who had been her husband. She continued to love him in a distant, idyllic way, and this, as far as she was able to project it in an odd fantasy, was her secret weapon. It was a magic potion that acted on her behalf.
While Warren was engaged in his unsuccessful search, Marjorie arrived in New York to begin work on a movie that would most certainly get her an Academy Award nomination. It was Hollywood tripe of the worst sort, but it was well written to push all the right buttons. The lead role to be played by Marjorie was a mythical Dutch woman who lived in Paris at the end of the Nineteenth Century. She was a brilliant painter in the style of Bonnard and Dufy, and she associated and had love affairs with her legendary peers. They recognized the quality of her work, but she failed to achieve the fame she deserved. It was implied that this was because she was a woman. At the end, she died of drug addiction and alcoholism, the irony of which did not escape Marjorie. The movie, unblushingly entitled The Forgotten Silhouette, was scheduled to rehearse in New York for two weeks before moving on to Paris for the actual shooting.
It had been some time since she’d seen Warren. The last time they’d been together he’d chastised her for her indulgent excesses and told her to stay away from him as long as she insisted on torturing herself. She had, but in the last six or eight months she had missed him, and she’d made an effort to clean up her act. She was off drugs completely, and she was drinking only in moderation. It was, therefore, a disappointment when she called his office and found out that he was away on vacation. She left a message on his service that she would be at the Pierre Hotel for two weeks if he should happen to return. He arrived back from Iowa three days later and called her. They agreed to meet for dinner at the King Street apartment after her rehearsal was over that night.
She arrived about six-thirty and let herself in. She had always kept a key. She discovered him behind the counter in the kitchen preparing steaks for the oven. She was somewhat apprehensive about seeing him, but the feeling left her because of his relaxed demeanor. It was as if they’d only been apart a matter of hours. He leaned across the counter and kissed her. “Bonny, my love.”
Marjorie laughed. “First of all, hello Warren. You are really unbelievable.” He continued to fuss with spices and a salad bowl. “You told me you didn’t want to deal with me when I was stoned. Well, I’m not stoned anymore.”
“We can rectify that,” he replied, and he poured her a glass of wine.
“No, I’m serious. I’ve started to straighten myself out.” She sipped from the glass. “I just have a few drinks now and then.”
“You have my stamp of approval, if that’s what you want.”
She went around the counter and embraced him. “Yes, that’s what I want.”
He held her away and looked into her eyes. “I don’t know how you do it. Except that your hair is shorter, you look exactly the same as you did when I first met you.”
“I’m pickled in chemicals,” she replied and ran her fingers through his hair. “You’ve gotten so gray. It’s very distinguished.”
He put the steaks in the oven. “So tell me,” he said, “what are you doing here?”
“I’m working on a movie we’re going to shoot in Paris. I’m playing the female Vincent Van Gogh. You won’t like it. It’s formula heartstring tugging, but I think the public will eat it up, and then I’ll be in clover.”
“You’re already in clover. How much money can you make, and how much adulation is enough?” He took the salad to the table and then sat at the counter. They clinked glasses.
“As much as I can get, and it’s never enough.”
Warren smiled. “That’s my Bonny.”
“I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. I’ve been thinking that times have changed, and they’re passing you by. In the old days, you were making fifty or sixty grand, and you were happy with it because you liked what you were doing.”
“I’m making more now.”
“So you’re making seventy or eighty. That’s nothing anymore, but that’s not my point. You no longer like what you’re doing. You’ve told me so yourself. What’s the sense of staying here in this dump if you get no satisfaction out of your work?”
“Considering where I came from, this is no dump. I’ve always felt that I made a pretty decent place for myself in the world.”
“I know,” she said. “Your ambition stopped when you got a few pats on the back.”
Anger flashed in his eyes. “What’s this, get Warren week? Is that why you came to see me, to tell me I’m a has been?”
“I came to see you because I love you. I just have a few ideas that I think make some sense.”
“I’m all ears.”
“If there’s nothing happening for you here, and I know there isn’t, you could be just as dissatisfied in California and get rich for you trouble. With your reputation and my influence, you could make a fortune writing screenplays.”
Warren laughed. “I never thought the devil would come to me in the form of my ex-wife.”
“Don’t patronize me. I know as well as you do that you’re beating a dead horse. You’re living in a time capsule that has been buried for a long time. Nobody cares about literature anymore.”
Warren smiled. “I do. Shall we eat?” He busied himself, taking the steaks out of the oven and serving them.
The meal began, and Marjorie looked at him and registered amusement. He was dressed in jeans and one of the denim shirts he perennially wore around the house. “I think that’s the same shirt you used to wear when we were married,” she said. “Honest to God, Warren.”
“I was already me when we met. I was not in the process of growing up. You looked just as good in bobby socks as you do in Gucci.”
“I never wore bobby socks, and this isn’t Gucci. It’s Bergdorf Goodman.” She wore loose-fitting black slacks and a white silk blouse.
He drank from his glass and studied her face. “You know, sometimes I feel as though we never really knew each other. It makes me very sad.”
“Save the violins. We know each other. We know each other only too well. What do you think of what I’ve been saying?”
“Let me think about it.”
“Where did you go on vacation?”
“I wandered around New England in the car. I stopped off in New Haven to look at the old Alma Mater, and I visited Fred Traylor in Boston. I wound up on the coast of
Maine. It’s really lovely up there.”
“All by yourself?”
“We don’t all have to be surrounded by mob scenes. Some of us are a peace with ourselves, and we can spend time alone.”
“Are you talking about my lovers? Do I hear a note of jealousy?”
“They get to hold you in their arms.”
“That’s the most romantic thing I’ve head in years. How could I not love you? You know you’re free to do with me as you will.” She batted her eyelashes. Warren laughed.
They finished their meal, and she rose and cleared the table. That accomplished, she put up a pot of coffee and started washing the dishes.
“You don’t have to do that,” he said and started to get up.
She pushed him back down in his chair. “Let me be domestic. I don’t get much of a chance anymore.”
The first extended silence took place between them. He watched her roll up her sleeves and plunge her arms into the soapy water. She had always enjoyed housekeeping, he thought. She hummed to herself and scrubbed. She was quick and thorough. When the dishes were stacked, she served the coffee. “What’s for dessert?” she asked.
“Cannoli from Ferrara. I know how much you like them.”
“Cannoli! My God, it’s been centuries,” she said, and she got the box out of the refrigerator and arranged the confections on a plate. “The way to a woman’s heart is through Italian pastry.” He got up and brought the Cognac to the table. “None for me,” she said. “I’m trying to be a good girl.”
“I’ll be damned. You are serious about turning over a new leaf.”
“A whole basket of new leaves.”
They moved into the living room where Warren put a record on the phonograph before taking a seat at one corner of the couch. Marjorie stretched out beside him and put her head in his lap. “Mozart,” she said.
“You’ve been doing your homework.”
“I cannot tell a lie. I only recognized it because I saw the movie Amadeus five times.”
He ran a finger across her famous mouth. “If I did move to Tinseltown, would you come and live with me?”
“I must admit it has crossed my mind. Stud-of-the-week is getting a bit old, and there’s nothing like staying sober to make us aware that we’re behaving like damned fools.”
“It would be better to use the impersonal singular there since you are referring to yourself. To make one aware that he or she is behaving like a damned fool.”
She laughed. “I will definitely not come and live with you if you’re going to correct my grammar.” She sat up and kissed him. He grew tense. “What’s the matter?” she asked.
“This isn’t going to be easy for me. It’s been a long time. I’ve slowed down a lot in the last few years.”
Marjorie stood up, took his hands, and pulled him to his feet. “My darling,” she said. “Come along. We’ll find the way together.” Each placed an arm around the other’s waist, and they went upstairs slowly. Warren looked down at the steps. Marjorie hummed to the Mozart ever so sweetly.
In the ten days that Marjorie remained in New York to rehearse, Warren saw her only three times. Her frantic schedule of interviews, photo sessions, and various professional obligations did not bode well for his proposed reconciliation if and when he moved to California. She was accustomed to the precise allocation of time, and he was not. They did not discuss the matter again, but it preyed on his mind. He considered the fact that she was right. After he had resolved the matter of Scylla’s Carnival, there would be no reason for him to linger in an atmosphere in which he had languished for almost twenty years. New surroundings would be good for him no matter how vacuous they turned out to be, but he did see it as a final capitulation, a throwing up of hands in the face of the ethical disaster that attacked him on all sides. He might very well decide to abandon ship, to cut and run, but the decision would not come to him easily.
He made a series of notes on the extensive revisions that would be required to publish Scylla’s Carnival, and he waited five weeks for Terence V. Brace to show himself, but, as he suspected, the man remained in hiding. Finally, he set up an appointment with the new managing editor at Devon Makepiece, a fellow named Philip Jefferson, who was a black Harvard man about forty to whom he had only spoken once or twice. Warren didn’t know the fellow at all, but his preliminary opinion was that he was full of himself. Mr. Jefferson had been a star halfback at Harvard, and he was dark, handsome, and muscular. He dressed expensively, and he spoke more like Cary Grant than anyone Warren had ever met. When Warren entered his office, Mr. Jefferson shook is hand. “Mr. Combs,” he said, “I’m so glad for this chance to talk to you. I’ve been meaning to spend some time with you, but trying to get this place is order has kept me pretty busy. Have a seat.”
Warren sat on the leather couch. Mr. Jefferson offered Warren a drink and poured bourbon on the rocks for both of them. Then he sat behind his desk and continued. “When I was a young student, we heard a lot about you. In fact, if I recall correctly, we read a number of your essays in class. Of course, you did go to the other school, so the tendency was to underplay your importance, but you weren’t ignored.”
“You mean as I am now?”
“Nothing of the sort,” Mr. Jefferson said. “I said I’ve been meaning to talk to you, and I meant it. I’ve been thinking about you quite a lot, and I’ve been trying to figure out how we can best use your experience, your expertise, to better advantage.”
“Considering the current list, I don’t see as there’s much chance of that.”
“It is a disgrace, isn’t it, and that’s one of the things I thought we should discuss. I intend to make some drastic changes, to get us back on the right track. You could be invaluable in that regard.”
“That is encouraging, and perhaps in the future I’ll be able to assist you. It would be delightful to see some life return to this place, but the reason I came to see you precludes all that. I’m involved in a project that’s going to require all my time.”
“What kind of project?”
“I’m not at liberty to discuss it right now. What I need is an open-ended leave of absence. I was going to add to that, with an eye toward retirement, but if you’re sincere about reversing the trend here, I’d like to keep the option to return open.”
“You’ve more than earned your leave of absence, and as a token of good faith, we’ll keep you on half salary.”
“Well, thank you very much. I didn’t expect to be paid anything, nor did I expect you’d be anything like you are. Do you really think there’s still a market out there for good writing?”
“Yes, I do. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t, but it’s a whole new ballgame. The traditional American fiction of quality was based on a society that no longer exists. We have to look in subtler, less obvious places for our themes.”
“Where would that be?”
“I thought you’d be able to tell me,” Mr. Jefferson replied.
“Sorry, but I have no ready answer to that.”
Mr. Jefferson laughed. “Are you sure you don’t want to tell me anything about this project of yours?”
“I’d like to, but I really can’t.”
Mr. Jefferson rose and Warren followed his lead. “Good luck with it whatever it is,” Mr. Jefferson said. “You can leave whenever you like. I’ll take care of the details. You’ll be getting your check on the first of every month, and keep in touch. I’ll look forward to your return if you decide to come back.”
“Thanks again,” Warren replied. He went directly to his office and put his belongings in his briefcase. There were surprisingly few items considering how long he’d been there. As the elevator dove toward street level, he felt greatly relieved. He hadn’t burned his bridges behind him, but he knew he would only return if it were absolutely necessary.
The crime that Warren Combs was about to commit was a violation of everything he believed to be right. It came to him slowly, and many seemingly unrelated factors contributed to it. No doubt it had taken root early on when he first discovered that Terence V. Brace was among the missing, but he had regarded it as a passing fancy, something unworthy of serious consideration, something so foreign to him that it was easily dismissed. It continued to resurface however with each disappointment. The idea came back when he concluded that Brace never meant to be found, when he realized that he was being manipulated, when he saw that there was no honorable way to proceed.
Many wild and irrational schemes passed through Warren’s mind in an attempt to uncover a method of getting the book before the public, but none of them were possible. It could not be published anonymously. It was a modern work, and the author was still alive. It could not be published under a pseudonym without the author’s permission, and the author was nowhere to be found. He considered submitting it in Brace’s name with the understanding that he was really Brace, but that was a masochistic kind of larceny that begged apprehension on criminal charges. He also researched every avenue of producing the book under Brace’s name with the idea that the author was a shy and retiring character who did not want to show himself to anyone. That way, of course, Warren would have to forge his signature. Ridiculous! Nobody would go for it. In the final analysis, no publisher would take on the book unless there was someone with whom to sign a contract, and that someone was simply not available.
Warren knew that the sensible thing to do would be to put the manuscript away and forget about it, to bide his time and hope that Brace would become sufficiently frustrated to show himself, but every time he considered that option, he had to shake his head. He was convinced that Brace was never going to come forward. The murders, the lengths to which he’d gone to conceal his wife’s death, his disappearance, and the dare at the end of the book were conclusive evidence in Warren’s eyes that Brace had declared his intentions. Because of his nature, Warren continued to question his grasp of the situation. He decided that there must be some flaw in Brace’s understanding of the way the wheels turned in the book business. A man with Brace’s faculties would not have acted as he had without a definite plan. What was that plan? Brace had left too many questions unanswered. Warren rationalized that Brace had very likely done everything on purpose, and that the only avenue open to Warren might well be the one Brace had foreseen.
Warren was acutely aware that his own desires were acting as a strong influence on him. He needed this book, and in order to rejuvenate his life, he became entrenched in a paradox. He would violate the moral standards that had established his reputation in the first place in the attempt to get it back again. He would say that he had written Scylla’s Carnival and join the modern world. This betrayal caused him immense agony. He knew that he would bear it for the rest of his life, but there was no other way to get what he wanted, and he wanted it more than anything else.
The next morning, Warren sat down at his typewriter and started to retype the entire manuscript from beginning to end. He didn’t change the names that Brace had invented, and he altered the language and structure of the book only minimally. His main concerns were recognizable locations, personalities, and objects. Brace’s childhood was placed in Madison, Wisconsin, in the shadow of the university there. He made his father a lawyer rather than a history professor and his mother a mathematician rather than an archeologist. The cause of his father’s death and his mother’s paralysis became a house fire and gas explosion rather than an auto accident. He and Dick Jarvis went fishing on Lake Mendota instead of hunting on country roads. He changed blondes to brunettes, rivers to lakes, and pigs to cows. It was a tedious process, but he derived some pleasure out of creating different textures for the new surroundings.
When it came time for Terry to go to work, he could think of nothing to replace the library, but he made the librarian a man, and he relegated Caroline Sheehy’s maternal instincts to the librarian’s wife. Stellla Gorman made her entrance, wheelchair intact, but the cause of her infirmity became a climbing accident on the side of Mount Olympus in the state of Washington. Her father, a mogul in the lumber business, had taken her along on an excursion, and he had never been able to forgive himself. After their marriage, Stella and Terry (Suellen and Barry) moved to the northwest instead of the northeast and retired to an isolated haven near Bellingham, a coastal wilderness north of Seattle and the Strait of Juan De Fuca. Their place had once been a mink farm, and Terry found his gun, a 45 caliber pistol, wrapped in oily rags with spare ammunition, in one of the low sheds where the minks had once been bred. The rapists and murderers became three instead of five, and they had originated in Oakland, California rather than New Jersey. Terry buried his wife in an abandoned mine shaft on his property, and he killed his assailants in a trailer park rather than a motel.
During the three weeks that it took him to complete the task, he kept to himself, and he entered a state of mild delirium. He had often cooked his own meals, but he stopped doing that. Sometimes he didn’t eat for days at a time, and he wouldn’t think of it until he had to go out for cigarettes. He worked relentlessly, and whenever he reached a section that needed careful thought, he put on his sneakers and walked all over the city. He was lost in the story, and he’d often look around and find himself on Wall Street in the middle of the night or upper Riverside Drive at dawn. He half expected Terence V. Brace to turn a corner and confront him at any moment, and he was given to irrational fits of laughter at the prospect. Such an eventuality would negate all his plans, but it would also rid him of the constant, jarring assault on his conscience.
The thickening fog of his delirium caused fluctuations in his opinion of Terence V. Brace. Warren saw him as a potential savior who was capable of rescuing him from himself. And then, suddenly, Brace became a force of evil. He had written his book and deserted it. He had inflicted this torture on Warren without any regard for the permanent scars that would come from it. The heat shimmered off the July sidewalks; the horns of traffic blew; the occasional pedestrian he unwittingly jostled told him to watch where he was going. He typed, and he walked, and he ate and smoked, and his revulsion at himself was lost in the confluence of waves of confusion.
He slept irregularly for short periods of time, and occasionally he dreamed. He landed with his white rose that blazed with light on the banks of the calm, endless sea where the dolphins beckoned him, and when he went to them, they did not go away. He swam with them, and he rode their backs, and they carried him through the gloom with his rose acting as a beacon, and they traveled a great distance and sang like angels. Eventually, they came to a high cliff that sparkled with diamonds in the light of his rose, and the dolphins passed him from one to the other until he was high on the cliff where he came face to face with the greatest of all dolphins whom he recognized at once as Terence V. Brace. He began to fall through space, and he tried to fly to avoid crashing into the rocks, but he could not fly. He woke up.
By the time he finished his work on the book, he was near collapse, but he forced himself to accomplish a few more tasks. He took the new manuscript to a copy shop and had two copies made. The young girl who waited on him kept glancing warily in his direction, and he sympathized with her anxiety. He had neither bathed nor shaved in a week, his eyes were red and sore, and his clothes looked like trash bags. He had also developed a tic in his cheek that pulled his mouth to one side. Once he was back in his apartment, he put the ammo box in a desk drawer, and he went to the roof of his building with Brace’s original manuscript, lighter fluid, and an aluminum garbage can. He bunched up several sheets of the paper, dropped them in the can, and set them ablaze. It was close to noon, and he sat on a covered chimney top for more than an hour and fed the flames a page or two at a time until they were gone. He fed the flames, and he talked to himself. “I’ve done it,” he said over and over again. “I can’t believe I’ve actually done it.” When he was finished, he stretched out on the roof in the sun and fell asleep. A light rain woke him in the early evening, and he struggled to his feet and looked in the can. It was black and wet.
Cynthia called him the next day from Devon Makepiece to let him know that Sarah Pritchard was trying to reach him. Warren’s home phone was unlisted, and the young woman had promised to relay the message. His first reaction to the news was a premonition that Brace had come back, and it filled him with dread. The burning of the original manuscript had temporarily rid him of guilt and strengthened his resolve to proceed with the theft. He called the wealthy postmistress with considerable anxiety. “Sarah,” he said when she answered, “this is Warren Combs. You called the office.”
“Ah Warren. How are you?”
“I’m just fine.”
“Have you found Terry yet?”
“No. In fact, I’ve given up on him. There isn’t any place left to look for him.”
“I have some information,” Sarah said. “I don’t suppose it will do you much good, but it is very interesting. I have a close friend at the bank that confides in me. I was there the other day, and Terry’s name came up in the conversation. I asked if he knew where they had gone, and he said that he didn’t, but he added that they had transferred a great deal of money into an account at a Swiss bank.”
“The Swiss Bank Corporation.”
“Why do you think they’d do a thing like that?”
“I don’t know,” Sarah replied, “but it would seem to corroborate our suspicion that they’re not coming back here. I don’t know anything about secret numbered accounts, but one of the reasons people get them is so that they have access to their money without leaving a record of their whereabouts.”
Warren laughed. “The plot thickens.”
“Not really. You know how intent they were about being left alone. I see this as just an extension of that. They’re probably off on a mountaintop somewhere, and they don’t want anyone to know how to find them.”
“It sounds right,” Warren said. “The Swiss Bank has branches in most of our major cities and, of course, all over Europe. They could be anywhere.”
“The girl at your office said you’re on a leave of absence. What are you doing with yourself?”
“I’m writing a novel.”
“What’s it about?”
“You’ll just have to wait and see.”
“I think I have a pretty good idea.”
“Perhaps you do at that,” he replied.
“Well, good luck with it,” she said. “I can’t wait to read it.”
“Thank you, and thanks for calling to tell me about the bank.”
“You’re welcome,” Sarah replied. “Goodbye.”
“Goodbye.” As he put down the receiver, Warren felt a surge of relief coursing through his veins. Terence V. Brace had merely seen to his solvency and covered his footsteps. Nothing had changed.
For what seemed to him the first time in his life, he had no obligations. He didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything. He wasn’t even on a vacation from which he would have to return. He felt free, light, and completely disengaged, no doubt a reaction to counter his ordeal with the manuscript. He wasn’t quite ready to submit Scylla’s Carnival for publication, and he decided to act on a whim. He flew off to Paris to visit Marjorie on the set of The Forgotten Silhouette. It was a brash and expensive indulgence that only heightened his feeling of being at liberty to do anything. When he arrived at Orly, he called the George Cinq, the hotel at which Marjorie stayed, and there were no rooms available. It was three o’clock on a hot Tuesday afternoon, so he knew she’d be working somewhere. He asked the clerk if anyone from the production was there, and he was connected to a fellow with a voice that sounded like it belonged on Times Square on New Year’s Eve. “Cholly O’Brien.”
“Mr. O’Brien. My name is Warren Combs. I’m Marjorie’s husband, and I’ve just arrived in town. Can you tell me where I can find my wife?”
“O yeah, Mr. Combs. They finished all the exterior shooting yesterday. They’re woiking on the inside stuff over at a studio in Aulnay just off the Roo da Paris. They’re gonna be there til late tanight.”
“Would you be good enough to give me the address?”
“My pleasure, Mr. Combs,” Warren wrote down the names and numbers. When he finished, he thanked Cholly O’Brien, exchanged his dollars for francs, and hailed a cab.
The studio was an incongruous structure, huge and very old. It looked like an aviation hangar that had been transported from an airport and placed down in a leafy, elegant neighborhood where vines climbed the walls of seemingly ancient villas interspersed on a wooded countryside. The studio stood in a green field and was surrounded by a high chain link fence that was patrolled by policemen with dogs and rifles. The taxi pulled up at the gate, and Warren practiced his French. “Je suis Warren Combs,” he said to an armed gendarme. “Ma femme est Marjorie Combs.”
“Ah oui,” said the guard, and he went to a phone to announce Warren’s arrival.
When he came back, Warren asked him a question. “Pourquoi est qu’il faux d’avoir les gendarmes et les chiens?”
“Oh, Monsieur!” the gendarme replied. “Les chef d’oeuvres!”
“Ah oui,” Warren said. He understood that the police were necessary because real paintings were being used in the film.
“La porte la,” the gendarme said, pointing to a door in the building, and the driver drove him to it. As he was paying the man, Marjorie rushed out and almost knocked him over.
“Warren!” she screamed. “I had to see if it was really you. What the hell are you doing here?”
He smiled and embraced her. “I just finished a project. I thought it would be a good idea.”
“It’s a marvelous idea,” she replied. He held her away and looked at her. She was in costume, and she looked ravishing as a turn-of-the-century coquette in splendid tatters. Her high-necked lace blouse was open at the throat and torn at one shoulder. Her floor-length brocade skirt was red and soiled, and her dark hair was frizzed in a disorderly fashion. She wore a red bandana across her forehead, and there were paint splotches on her face.
“It’s devastating. Whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?”
Marjorie transformed herself and spoke to him in an earthy Dutch accent. “I am Magdalena Barnevelt. I am the best of the lot of them, but the world will never know it. They are greedy and stupid, these Frenchmen. They will take me to their beds, but they will not allow my pictures to hang in their galleries.”
“Absolutely brilliant,” Warren said, shaking his head.
“I’ve been doing it for more than a month. Come on.” She led him into the vast, open cavern that had been compartmentalized like a maze. As they passed through a mock up of a painter’s studio, she whispered to him. “I am not your wife, Mr. Combs.”
“I know that, Bonny. I just thought it would get through all the red tape.”
“I figured,” she said. They continued to move through sets that were streets, cafés, bedrooms, and even a brothel where half-naked actresses were rehearsing with an assistant director. “This is my ex husband,” she announced over and over again to no one in particular. “I want you to know that I still love him, so hands off, boys and girls.” A smattering of laughter trailed behind them.
When they reached the director, he was working with a number of actors that Warren recognized as facsimiles of famous Impressionists. Everything stopped as they walked by. “Marjorie, if you don’t mind,” the director said. “We’re going to shoot Mallarme’s death in about a half hour. In the meantime, I’d like to get some work done.”
“The master has spoken,” Marjorie replied. She pulled Warren into an enclosure with two guards at the entrance. Inside, two officious looking men in perfect suits were seated at a table eating and drinking wine.
“Holy shit!” Warren said in astonishment. The walls were lined with some of the most famous paintings in the history of mankind.
“I thought you’d like this. I’ve got to get ready for my scene. I’ll see you in a couple of hours.” She kissed him lightly and was gone. He dropped his bag and spun in a circle a few times. The men at the table smiled.
The room was bathed in very soft light, and he moved to the nearest wall and started his journey. Seurat’s nude model standing enveloped him in its tiny frame. She could not have been more than sixteen, and her hands were clasped across her vagina in a sign of modesty. Her little breasts spoke of her innocence, but her round thighs and stomach said she was ripe, prepared, and willing. What were those pink/orange dots in her hair? Were they petals, ribbons? She was expectant and embarrassed, what any of us become when we reveal ourselves. Vuillard’s girl sleeping in bed was next, covered in all those billowing white sheets. Those feline eyes were closed, but they reflected two dreams, the one the girl was having and that of the picture itself. And then came Picasso’s woman in a flowered hat, so severe and stunning she was, so cunning and intelligent and immaculate. She suggested an infinite variety of stories of Nineteenth Century Paris.
They are all of young women, Warren thought, and then he came upon Cezanne’s woman with a coffee pot, the hard working peasant in a functional blue dress. She was seated with her strong hands in her lap in a flat and pragmatic universe. Bonnard’s portrait of his wife with her dog seemed to indicate that some questions are never answered. There were more pictures, many of them, and in the midst of Van Gogh’s exploding sunflowers, Lautrec’s raucous dancers, and Degas’ corps de ballet, Warren grew sad. He grew sad because the paintings had been reduced to props for Hollywood drivel, because the blinding light so evident to the artists of less than a hundred years ago had gone out.
That evening, after a bistro dinner, Warren and Marjorie retired to her flowered, marble suite at the luxury hotel. He was astonished by the opulence. Once again, he dropped his bag and looked around. “Who lives here when you’re not around, the Queen of England?”
“She never had it so good.” She was already in the glittering bathroom running water in the tub and stripping off her clothes. There was also a shower stall, and he undressed and entered it.
“There’s nothing like roughing it,” he said as the hot water poured over him. He suddenly felt very tired. Jet lag was catching up with him, but he wanted to be with Marjorie, so he fought it off. When he stepped out onto a mat and was drying himself, Marjorie laughed. “What is it?” he asked.
“There’s a naked man in my bathroom.” The tub was overflowing with bubble bath, and only her head was visible.
“An old man.”
“Not so old. You still look pretty good.”
She had made him self-conscious, and he wrapped a towel around his waist. He brushed his teeth and started shaving.
“Do you want to run lines with me?” she asked.
“You mean like we did twenty years ago?”
“Ha! It was a lot more than twenty years ago.”
“Not that much more. What have you got?”
“I’ve got to do a scene with Gauguin tomorrow. I already know the stuff. I just want to go over it.”
“God,” he replied. “Gauguin.”
She laughed. “Yes. He’s going back to the South Pacific, and he’s saying goodbye to me. We’ve been sleeping together pretty steady.”
“Are you in love with him?”
“I’m in love with all of them, and at the same time I hate their guts because they and their gallery owners refuse to give me a show.”
“Maybe if you stop fucking them, they’ll take you seriously.”
“I didn’t write the script, but there you go. If you’d been there to work on the text, maybe you could have done something about it.”
“Maybe,” he admitted.
Warren put on his shorts and went into the bedroom. The air conditioner was on, but it was still warm. He removed the coverlet and blanket from the bed and sat on the sheets. The overhead lights were on a rheostat, and he turned them down low and switched on a bed lamp. He opened a bottle of champagne and poured himself a glass. He smoked and drank and waited for Marjorie.
She joined him a few minutes later. She was naked expect for silk panties, and she helped herself to the champagne. “You’re a bad influence. I’d never touch the stuff if you weren’t here.”
“I could leave.”
“Never mind the bullshit. We’ve got work to do.” She gulped down the wine, got up, and shuffled through her bag for the script. When she found it, she threw it to him. “Alright. Page 84.”
He found his place and looked up. Marjorie was pacing in the spacious gloom. She came to a wall, leaned her forehead on it, and did an about face. She stepped off in another direction. Her breasts bounced. Warren laughed. “So?” she asked.
“I was just thinking. Millions of men who have adored you from afar for decades would give anything to be in my place now.”
“Give me a fucking break, Warren. Do you know how much money is involved here? I’ve got to be sure of this shit.”
“Okay, okay,” he said, and he read the stage directions. “It is morning. Magdalena is working at her easel. Gauguin is stretched out on her couch with an arm over his eyes.”
“Paul.” Marjorie said. “Are you sleeping?”
Marjorie acted and Warren read his lines from the bed. They discussed Van Gogh’s madness and death as being tragic and a waste. The painting she was working on was of Van Gogh. They talked about it. He asked her to go to Tahiti with him. She refused because she wanted to pursue her own work. He praised her talent. They drank wine. He offered her money. She refused it. He stormed out of her apartment. Marjorie’s pacing became a dance of concentration. She stopped, posed, gestured, nodded, clenched her fists, bent her knees, and ran her fingers through her hair. After all the plays and films, she had become very proficient at what she did.
When they were finished, Warren closed the script and threw it on the floor. He turned out the reading lamp and slid down flat on his back. His muscles were numb with fatigue. Marjorie removed her silk panties and threw them in the air. She fell across the bed on her stomach, spread her legs wide, and laid her cheek on his stomach. He tapped her bare behind lightly and stared at the ceiling. “It’s really awful, isn’t it?” she asked
“Yes,” he replied.
She rose above him in the soft light and kissed him. He brought her down to his side and held her in his arms. Their lovemaking was gentle and serene. Afterwards, he turned the rheostat all the way down, and they crawled under the sheets. They spoke not a word. He turned on his stomach, looked away from her, and wrapped his arms around the pillow. She lay on her side next to him, threw a leg over his hips, and, in the darkness, they fell asleep almost at once.
When he awoke about ten o’clock the next morning, Marjorie was long gone, and she had pinned a note to her pillow wishing him a lovely Paris day. He washed, dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a polo shirt, and took the elevator down to the lobby. He exited into the street and was engulfed in a bright and steamy summer day. After breakfast at an outdoor café on the Champs-Elysees, he wandered aimlessly down the thoroughfare and across the river. Eventually, he found himself at a market behind the church of St. Germain de Pres, and he bought a roast chicken, endives, bread, and wine that he carried to the left bank of the Seine where he spread his feast out on paper and started eating. Boats passed lazily. He could see the Louvre across the river and Notre Dame upstream. He was surprised that there were so few people about until he realized that in July and August, Parisians who were able fled the city.
A tall and broad-shouldered man approached the riverbank only a few feet from Warren. The fellow had shoulder length sandy brown hair that looked dirty, and he was wearing thick sunglasses. He brown trousers were shapeless, and he wore beat up work shoes. He was also wearing a worn and torn heavy blue overcoat, an incongruous item on such a hot summer day. He looked to be about forty, and when he produced a fishing pole and threw a line with no bait into the water, Warren laughed. The man looked at him from behind his black lenses. “I take it that something strikes you funny,” he said.
“Well, I think you’re out of luck. As far as I know, there haven’t been fish in this part of the river for more than fifty years. It’s one of the most polluted rivers in the world.”
“Hope springs eternal.”
“You’re American,” Warren said.
“And so are you,” the man replied.
“Yes. Don’t you find that coat a bit heavy for this time of year?”
“If I thought about it, I suppose I would, but I don’t think about it.”
“Would you like a glass of wine and something to eat?”
“I have no glass.”
“I have several. They gave me these plastic glasses at the market.”
“How kind of them, and how kind of you,” the man replied. “I’m not fishing because I’m hungry. I wouldn’t want to establish that kind of misunderstanding.”
“Strange choice of words. I didn’t know people established misunderstandings.” He poured the fellow a glass of wine and arranged part of his meal on a piece of wax paper and passed it on to his guest who had moved closer.
“Think about it, and you will see that they do,” the man said, and he sampled the wine and tasted his food with obvious enjoyment. “The wine is Algerian, and the chicken is local.”
“I wouldn’t think they’d have to import chicken into France.”
“No, one would never think that, but they do import a lot of us, a lot of Americans.”
“That’s true, but this is a country that exports more than it imports.”
“They sold the world a bill of goods. They’ve convinced everybody that they make better wine, cheese, clothes, and damn near everything else. It’s a scam, but we’ve all fallen for it, and they’re getting top dollar for everything they produce.”
“Top franc,” Warren said.
“A matter of interpretation. I have always considered the dollar the proper currency to introduce in international matters. It simplifies the arithmetic.”
“I assume from what you say that you haven’t been taken in by this scam.”
“Of course I have. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here, would I?”
“I don’t know,” Warren said. “I don’t know anything about you.”
“Quite so. Let’s just say that I’m here for the waters.” He shook his fishing pole. “Why are you here?”
“I’m just an ugly tourist on holiday.”
“It’s the popular French view of Americans, isn’t it?”
“The popular Parisian view. Out in the provinces, they like us well enough.”
“Do you spend much time in the provinces?”
“Not the French provinces, but I am a provincial being, if you know what I mean. I find cities, for the most part, to be too confining. If it were otherwise, I would be urban as opposed to provincial.”
“Not necessarily.” The banter into which they had fallen so easily amused him. “There are many provincial men in the cities and many urban sophisticates in the provinces.”
“Your tendency is to distort true perspective with language. Your comments are inappropriate to my meaning.”
“I’m sorry. You’re absolutely right. I was elaborating unnecessarily on the theme.”
“Unnecessarily is the key word,” the man said. “It can be very helpful to elaborate if one understands the limits of its usefulness.”
“That’s sometimes hard to determine. The limits of the usefulness of anything are often incalculable.”
“So modern technology would seem to indicate, but I disagree with the indication. The expansion of the limits of usefulness doesn’t seem to have done much for the progress of humanity. It has, in fact, been quite dehumanizing to the spirit of mankind.”
“You’ve said a mouthful.”
“With my mouth full,” the man replied, chewing lustily on a piece of bread. “I would find this conversation stimulating if I didn’t suspect that you were regarding me as if I were a lunatic.”
“No, not a lunatic. Perhaps just a bit eccentric.”
“I’ve been seen in that light before.”
“I would imagine you have. The coat and the fishing pole are a dead giveaway.”
“A live giveaway.”
“Clothing and pieces of wood with string on them are not alive.”
“No, but I am.” The man appeared to be getting angry. “Are you suggesting that I am not alive?”
“Nothing of the sort.” He had finished his lunch, and he didn’t want to deal with what he perceived to be a coming tantrum, so he rose to leave. “Well, it’s been very nice talking to you. You can have the rest of the wine if you like. I must be on my way.”
“Thank you,” the man said. Warren turned away and started along the quay toward the bridge that would take him across the river. He became perplexed as he reviewed a section of the conversation he’d just had. I said, you’ve had a mouthful, and then he said, with my mouth full. It meant something. What did it mean? He was about to dismiss it when Sarah Pritchard’s voice rang in his ears. He used to say, I’ve come to pick up everything in my pickup. It was his little joke…Terence V. Brace! He ran back to the spot where they’d met, but the man was no longer there. Warren ran up the stairs to the boulevard and looked in both directions, but he didn’t know which way to go.
Causes Kenneth Brown Supports
Adherence to the Constitution of the United States as written and the prosecution of those who violate Constitutional Law.