/ Language: English / Genre:thriller

The Madman

John Katzenbach

Committed to the now-shuttered Western State Hospital when he was young, fortyish Francis Petrel starts recalling the circumstances of a nurse's grisly murder-just as the killer comes out of hiding.

John Katzenbach

The Madman's Tale

For Ray, who helped to tell this tale more than he will ever know.

Part One. The Unreliable Narrator

Chapter 1

I can no longer hear my voices, so I am a little lost. My suspicion is they would know far better how to tell this story. At least they would have opinions and suggestions and definite ideas as to what should go first and what should go last and what should go in the middle. They would inform me when to add detail, when to omit extraneous information, what was important and what was trivial. After so much time slipping past, I am not particularly good at remembering these things myself and could certainly use their help. A great many events took place, and it is hard for me to know precisely where to put what. And sometimes I'm unsure that incidents I clearly remember actually did happen. A memory that seems one instant to be as solid as stone, the next seems as vaporous as a mist above the river. That's one of the major problems with being crazy: you're just naturally uncertain about things.

For a long time, I thought it all began with a death and ended with a death, a little like a nice set of bookends, but now I'm less positive. Perhaps what truly put all those moments in motion all those years back when I was young and truly mad was something far smaller or more elusive, like a hidden jealousy or an unseen anger, or much larger and louder, like the positions of the stars in the heavens or the forces of the ocean tides and the inexorable spin of the earth. I do know that some people died, and I was a lucky child not to join them, which was one of the last observations my voices made, before they abruptly disappeared from my side.

Instead, what I get now instead of their whispered words are medications to quiet their noises. Once a day I dutifully take a psychotropic, which is an oval-shaped, eggshell blue pill and which makes my mouth so dry that when I speak I sound like a wheezing old man after too many cigarettes or maybe some parched deserter from the Foreign Legion who has crossed the Sahara and is begging for a drink of water. This is followed immediately by a foul-tasting and bitter mood-elevator to combat the occasional black hearted and suicidal depression I am constantly being told by my social worker that I am likely to tumble into at just about any minute regardless of how I actually do feel. In truth, I think I could walk into her office and click up my heels in pure joy and exaltation over the positive course of my life, and she would still ask me whether I had taken my daily dosage. This heartless little pill makes me both constipated and bloated with excess water, sort of like having a blood pressure cuff wrapped around my midsection instead of my left arm, and then pumped up tight. So I need to take a diuretic and then a laxative to alleviate these symptoms. Of course, the diuretic gives me a screaming migraine headache, like someone especially cruel and nasty is taking a hammer to my forehead, so there are codeine-laced painkillers to deal with that little side effect as I race to the toilet to resolve the other. And every two weeks I get a powerful antipsychotic agent in a shot by going to the local health clinic and dropping my pants for the nurse there who always smiles in precisely the same fashion and asks me in exactly the same tone of voice how I am that day, to which I reply "Just fine" whether I am or not, because it is pretty obvious to me, even through the various fogs of madness, a little bit of cynicism and drugs, that she doesn't really give a damn one way or the other, but still considers it part of her job to take note of my reassurance. The problem is the antipsychotic, which prevents me from all sorts of evil or despicable behavior, or so they like to tell me, also gives me a bit of palsy in my hands, making them shake as if I was some nervously dishonest taxpayer confronting an accountant from the IRS. It also makes the corners of my mouth twitch slightly, so I need to take a muscle relaxant to prevent my face from freezing into a permanent scare-the-neighborhood-kids mask. All these concoctions zip around willy-nilly through my veins, assaulting various innocent and probably completely befuddled organs on their way to calming the irresponsible electrical impulses that crackle about in my brain like so many unruly teenagers. Sometimes I feel like my imagination is similar to a wayward domino that has suddenly lost its balance, first teetering back and forth and then tumbling against all the other forces in my body, triggering a great linked chain reaction of pieces haphazardly falling click click click around inside of me.

It was easier, by far, when I was still a young man and all I had to do was listen to the voices. They weren't even all that bad, most of the time. Usually, they were faint, like fading echoes across a valley, or maybe like whispers you would hear between children sharing secrets in the back of a playroom, although when things grew tense, their volume increased rapidly. And generally, my voices weren't all that demanding. They were more, well, suggestions. Advice. Probing questions. A little nagging, sometimes, like a spinster great-aunt who no one knows precisely what to do with at a holiday dinner, but is nevertheless included in the festivities and occasionally blurts out something rude or nonsensical or politically incorrect, but is mostly ignored.

In a way, the voices were company, especially at the many times I had no friends.

I did have two friends, once, and they were a part of the story. Once I thought they were the biggest part, but I am no longer so sure.

Now, some of the other people I met during what I like to think of as my truly mad years had it far worse than I. Their voices shouted out orders like so many unseen Marine drill sergeants, the sort that wear those dark brown green wide-brimmed hats perched just above their eyebrows, so that their shaved skulls are visible from the rear. Step lively! Do this! Do that!

Or worse: Kill yourself.

Or even worse: Kill someone else.

The voices that shrieked at those folks came from God or Jesus or Mohammad or the neighbor's dog or their long-dead great-uncle or extraterrestrials or maybe a chorus of archangels or perhaps a choir of demons. These voices would be insistent and demanding and utterly without compromise and I got so that I could recognize in the tautness that these people would wear in their eyes, the tension that tightened their muscles, that they were hearing something quite loud and insistent, and it rarely promised any good. At moments like those, I would simply walk away, and wait near the entranceway or on the opposite side of the dayroom, because something altogether unfortunate was likely to happen. It was a little like a detail I remembered from grade school, one of those odd facts that stay with you: In the event of an earthquake, the best place to hide is in a doorway, because the arched structure of the opening is architecturally stronger than a wall, and less likely to collapse on your head. So when I saw the turbulence in one of my fellow patients become volcanic, I would find the arch where I thought the best chance of surviving lay. And once there, I could listen to my own voices, which generally seemed to watch out for me, more often than not warning me when to make tracks and hide. They had a curiously self-preservative streak to them, and if I hadn't been so stupidly obvious in replying out loud to them when I was young and they first joined my side, I probably never would have been diagnosed and shipped off in the first place, as I was. But that is part of the story, although not the greatest part by any means, but still, I miss them in an odd way, for now I am mostly lonely.

It is a very hard thing, in this time of ours, to be mad and middle-aged.

Or ex-mad, as long as I keep taking the pills.

My days are now spent in search of motion. I don't like to be sedentary for too long. So I walk, fast-paced, a quick march around the town, from parks to shopping areas, to industrial sections, watching and observing, but keeping myself on the move. Or else I seek out events where there is a waterfall of movement in my view, like a high school football or basketball game, or even a youth soccer game. If there is something busy going on in front of me, then I can take a rest. Otherwise, I keep my feet going five, six, seven or more hours per day. A daily marathon that wears through the soles of my shoes, and keeps me lean and sinewy. In the winter, I beg unwieldy, clunky boots from the Salvation Army. The rest of the year, I wear running shoes that I get from the local sports store. Every few months the owner kindly slides me a pair of some discontinued model, size twelve, to replace the ones that have been side walked into tatters upon my feet.

In the early spring, after the first melt-out of ice, I march my way up to the Falls, where there is a fish ladder, and I daily volunteer to monitor the return of salmon to the Connecticut River watershed. This requires me to watch endless gallons of water flow through the dam, and occasionally spot a fish climbing against the current, driven by great instincts to return to where it was itself spawned where, in that greatest of all mysteries, it will in its own turn, spawn and then die. I admire the salmon, because I can appreciate what it is like to be driven by forces others cannot see or feel or hear and to feel the imperative of a duty that is greater than oneself. Psychotic fish. After years of gallivanting about most pleasantly in the great wide ocean, they hear a mighty fish-voice deep inside them resonating and that insists they head on this impossible journey toward their own death. Perfect. I like to think of the salmon as if they are as mad as I once was. When I see one, I make a pencil notation on a form the state Wildlife Service provides me and sometimes whisper a quiet greeting: Hello, my brother. Welcome to the society of the crazed.

There is a trick to spotting the fish, because they are sleek and silver-sided from their travels in the salt of the ocean so many scores of miles away. It is a shimmering presence in the glistening water, invisible to the uneducated eye, almost as if a ghostly force has entered the small window where I keep watch. I get so I can almost feel the arrival of a salmon before it actually appears at the base of the ladder. It is satisfying to count the fish, even though hours can pass without one arriving and there are never enough of them to please the wildlife folks, who stare at the charts of returnees and shake their heads in frustration.

But the benefits of my ability to spot them translates into other advantages. It was my boss at the Wildlife Service who called the local police and informed them I was completely harmless, although I always wondered how he deduced that and have my sincere doubts as to its overall truthfulness. So I am tolerated at the football games and other events, and now, really, if not precisely welcomed in this little, former mill town, at least I am accepted. My routine isn't questioned, and I am seen less as crazy and more as eccentric, which, I have learned over the years is a safe enough status to maintain.

I live in a small one-bedroom apartment paid for by a state subsidy. My place is furnished in what I call sidewalk-abandoned modern. My clothes come from the Salvation Army or from either of my two younger sisters, who live a couple of towns away, and occasionally, bothered by some odd guilt that I don't really understand, feel the need to try to do something for me by raiding their husbands' closets. They purchased me a secondhand television that I seldom watch and a radio I infrequently listen to. Every few weeks they will visit, bringing slightly congealed home-cooked meals in plastic containers and we spend a little time talking together awkwardly, mostly about my elderly parents, who don't care to see me much anymore, for I am a reminder of lost hopes and the bitterness that life can deliver so unexpectedly. I accept this, and try to keep my distance. My sisters make sure the heat and electric bills are paid. They make certain that I remember to cash the meager checks that arrive from various government aid agencies. They double-check to make absolutely sure that I have taken all my medications. Sometimes they cry, I think, to see how close to despair that I live, but this is their perception, not mine, for, in actuality, I'm pretty comfortable. Being insane gives one an interesting take on life. It certainly makes you more accepting of certain lots that befall you, except for those times when the medications wear a bit thin, and then I can get pretty exercised and angry at the way life has treated me.

But for the most part, I am, if not happy, at least understanding.

And there are some intriguing sidelights to my existence, not the least of which is how much of a student I have become of life in this little town. You would be surprised how much I learn in my daily travels. If I keep my eyes open and ears cocked, I pick up all sorts of little slivers of knowledge. Over the years, since I was released from the hospital, after all the things that were going to happen there did happen, I have used what I learned, which is: to be observant. Pounding out my daily travels, I come to know who's having a tawdry little affair with which neighbor, whose husband is leaving home, who drinks too much, who beats their children. I can tell which businesses are struggling, and who has come into some money from a dead parent or lucky lottery ticket. I discover which teenager hopes for a college football or basketball scholarship, and which teenager will be shipped off for a few months to visit some distant aunt and perhaps deal with a surprise pregnancy. I have come to know which cops will cut you a break, and which are quick with the nightstick or the ticket book, depending on the transgression. And there are all sorts of littler observations, as well, ones that come with who I am and who I've become for example the lady hairdresser who signals me at the end of the day to come in and cuts my hair so that I am more presentable during my daily travels, and then slips me an extra five dollars from her day's tips, or the manager of the local McDonald's who spots me pacing past, and runs after me with a bag filled with burgers and fries and has come to know that I am partial to vanilla shakes, not chocolate. Being mad and walking abroad is the clearest window on human nature; it is a little like watching the town flow along like the water cascading past the fish ladder window.

And it isn't as if I am useless. I once spotted a factory door ajar at a time it was always closed and locked, and found a policeman, who took all the credit for the burglary that he interrupted. But the police did give me a certificate when I got the license plate of a hit-and-run driver who knocked a bicyclist senseless one spring afternoon. And in something awkwardly close to the takes-one-to-know-one category, as I cruised past a park where children were playing one fall weekend, I spotted a man and I knew as soon as I saw him, hanging by the entranceway, that something was completely wrong. Once my voices would have noticed him, and they would have shouted out a warning, but this time I took it upon myself to mention him to the young preschool teacher I knew who was reading a woman's magazine on the bench ten yards from the sandbox and swing set and not quite paying enough attention to her charges. It turned out the man was recently released and had been registered just that morning as a sex offender.

This time, I didn't get a certificate, but the teacher had the children paint me a colorful picture of themselves at play, and they wrote a thank-you across it in that wondrously crazy script that children have before we burden them with reason and opinions. I carried the picture back to my little apartment and placed it on the wall above my bed, where it is now. I have a musty brown life, and it reminds me of the colors I might have experienced if I hadn't stumbled onto the path that had brought me here.

That, then, more or less, is the sum of my existence, as it is now. A man on the fringe of the sane world.

And, I suspect I would have simply passed the remainder of my days this way, and never really bothered to tell what I know about all those events I witnessed had I not received the letter from the state.

It was suspiciously thick and had my name typed on the outside. Amid the usual pile of grocery store flyers and discount coupons, it stood out dramatically. You don't get much personal mail when you live as isolated a life as I do, so when something out of the ordinary arrives, it seems to glow with the need to be examined. I threw the useless papers away and tore this open, curiosity pricked. The first thing I noticed was that they got my name right.

Dear Mr. Francis X. Petrel:

It started well enough. The trouble with having a first name that one shares with the opposite sex, is that it breeds confusion. It is not uncommon for me to get form letters from the Medicare people concerned that they have no record of the results of my latest pap smear, and have I had myself checked for breast cancer? I have given up trying to correct these misguided computers.

The Committee to Preserve the Western State Hospital has identified you as one of the last patients to be released from the institution before its doors were permanently closed some twenty years ago. As you may know, there is a movement under way to turn part of the hospital grounds into a museum, while releasing the remainder for development. As part of that effort, the Committee is sponsoring a daylong "examination" of the hospital, its history, the important role it played in this state, and the current approach to treatment of the mentally ill. We invite you to join in the upcoming day. There are seminars, speeches, and entertainment planned. A tentative event program is enclosed. If you can attend, please contact the person below at your earliest convenience.

I glanced down at the name and number whose title was Planning Board Co-chairperson. Then I flipped to the enclosure, which was a list of activities planned for the day. These included, as the letter said, some speeches by politicians whose names I recognized, right up to the lieutenant governor and the State Senate Minority leader. There would be discussion groups, headed up by doctors and social historians from several of the nearby colleges and universities. One item caught my eye: a session entitled "The Reality of the Hospital Experience A Presentation." This was followed by the name of someone I thought I might remember from my own days in the hospital. The celebration was then to finish off with a musical interlude by a chamber orchestra.

I put the invitation down on a table and stared at it for a moment. My first instinct was to toss it with the rest of the day's trash, but I did not. I picked it up again, read through it a second time, and then went and sat on a rickety chair in a corner of the room, assessing the question that had been posed. I knew people were forever going to reunions. Pearl Harbor or D-Day veterans get together. High school classmates show up after a decade or two to examine expanding waistlines, balding pates, or augmented breasts. Colleges use re unions as a way of extorting funds from misty-eyed graduates, who go stumbling around the old ivy-decked halls recalling only the good moments and forgetting the bad. Reunions are a constant part of the normal world. Folks are always trying to relive times that in their memory were better than they really were, rekindle emotions that in truth far best belong in their past.

Not me. One of the by-products of my state of mind is a devotion to looking ahead. The past is a runaway jumble of dangerous and painful memories. Why would I want to go back?

And yet, I hesitated. I found myself staring at the invitation with a fascination that seemed to flower within me. Although the Western State Hospital was only an hour's ride away, I had never returned there in any of the years after my release. I doubted anyone who'd spent a single minute behind those doors had.

I looked down at my hand and saw that it was shaking slightly. Perhaps my medications were wearing thin. Again, I told myself to toss the letter in the wastebasket and then take off across town. This was dangerous. Unsettling. It threatened the very careful existence that I had stitched together. Walk fast, I told myself. Travel quickly. Pace out your normal routine, because it is your salvation. Put this behind you. I started to do exactly that, then stopped.

Instead, I reached out for the phone and punched in the numbers for the chairperson. I waited through two rings, then heard a voice:

"Hello?"

"Mrs. Robinson- Smythe, please," I said a little too briskly.

"This is her secretary. Who is calling?"

"My name is Francis Xavier Petrel…"

"Oh, Mr. Petrel, you must be calling about the Western State day…"

"That's correct," I said. "I'll be there."

"That's great. Now let me just put you through…"

But I hung up the phone, almost scared of my own impulsiveness. I was out the door and pounding the pavement as fast as I could, before I had a chance to change my mind. I wondered, as the yards of concrete sidewalk and black macadam highway passed beneath my soles and the storefronts and houses of my town went unnoticed by my eyes, if my voices would have told me to go. Or not.

It was an unseasonably hot day, even for late May. I had to transfer buses three times before reaching the city, and each time it seemed that the mingling of hot air and diesel engine fumes had grown worse. The stink greater. The humidity higher. At each stop I told myself that it was completely wrong to go back, but then refused to take my own advice and kept going.

The hospital was on the outskirts of a small typically New England college town which sported equal numbers of book shops pizzerias, Chinese restaurants, and low-cost clothing stores with a military bent. There was a slightly iconoclastic character to some of the businesses, however like the bookstore that specialized in self-help and spiritual growth tomes, where the clerk behind the counter looked like someone who had read every book offered on the shelves and hadn't found any that helped, or the sushi bar that looked a bit bedraggled, and the sort of place where the fellow slicing the raw fish was likely to be named Tex or Paddy and speak with a drawl or a brogue. The heat of the day seemed to emanate from the sidewalk beneath my feet, radiant warmth like a space heater in winter that has only one setting: hot as hell. The small of my back was sticking unpleasantly to the one white dress shirt I owned, and I would have loosened my tie were I not afraid that I wouldn't be able to straighten it again. I wore the only suit I possessed: a blue wool go-to-a-funeral suit that I had purchased secondhand in anticipation of my parents' deaths, but they had, as yet, managed to stubbornly cling to breath, and so this was the first occasion I'd ever worn it. I definitely thought it would be a good suit to be buried in, because it would undoubtedly keep my remains warm in the cold earth. By the time I was midway up the hill toward the hospital grounds, I was already vowing that it would be the last time I ever consciously put it on, no matter how infuriated my sisters would be when I showed up at the wake they had planned for our parents in shorts and an outrageously loud Hawaiian print shirt. But what could they truly say? After all, I'm the crazy one in the family. A built-in excuse for all sorts of behavior.

In a great, curious joke of construction, the Western State Hospital was built on the top of a hill, overlooking the campus of a famous women's college. The hospital buildings mimicked the college, lots of ivy and brick and white framed windows in rectangular three- and four-story dormitories, laid out in quadrangles with benches and stands of small elm trees. I always suspected that the same architects were involved in both projects, and the hospital contractor simply stole materials from the college. From the sky, a passing crow would have assumed that the hospital and the college were more or less the same place. The same bird would have failed to see how different the two campuses were until one stepped inside each building. Then he would have seen the differences.

The physical line of demarcation was a single-lane black macadam road, not even adorned with a sidewalk, that curved up one side of the hill, and a riding corral on the other, where the even better-heeled students among the already well-heeled, exercised their horses. I saw that the stables and the jumps were still where they had been when I'd last seen them twenty years earlier. A solitary horse and rider were going through their paces, circling endlessly around the oval beneath the early summer sun, then accelerating into the jumps. A Mobius strip of action. I could hear the harsh breathing of the animal as it labored in the heat and see a long blond ponytail protruding from beneath the rider's black helmet. Her shirt was black with sweat, and the horse's flanks glistened. Both seemed oblivious to the activity taking place above them, farther up the hill. I walked past, heading to where I saw a bright yellow-striped tent had been erected, just inside the tall brick wall and iron gate to the hospital. A printed sign said registration.

A large, overly well-intentioned lady behind a card table outfitted me with a name tag, pinning it to my suit coat with a flourish. She also equipped me with a folder that contained reprints of numerous newspaper articles detailing the development plans for the old hospital grounds: condos and luxury homes because the land had a view of the valley and the river in the distance. I thought that was odd. In all the time I spent there, I could never remember seeing the blue band of the river in any distant vision. Of course, I might have thought it was an hallucination, anyway. There was also a brief history of the hospital and some grainy, black-and-white photographs of patients being treated or passing the time in the day rooms I scanned the pictures for faces I recalled, including my own, but saw no one I recognized, except that I recognized everyone. We were all the same, once. Shuffling about in various states of dress and medication.

The folder contained a program for the day's activities, and I saw a number of people heading in to what I remembered was the main administration building. The lecture scheduled for that time block was a presentation, by a history professor, entitled "The Cultural Significance of the Western State Hospital." Considering that we inmates were limited to the grounds, and more often than not, locked in the dormitories, I wondered what he would find to talk about. I recognized the lieutenant governor, surrounded by several aides, shaking hands with other politicians as he walked through the door. He was smiling, but I couldn't recall anyone else ever smiling when they were escorted into that building. It was the place you were first taken, and where you were processed. There was also a warning in large block letters at the bottom of the program, stating that many of the hospital's buildings were in significant states of disrepair, and dangerous to enter. The warning requested that visitors limit themselves to the administration building and to the quadrangles for safety purposes.

I took a few steps toward the line of people heading into the lecture, then stopped. I watched the crowd dwindle, as the building devoured them. Then I turned, and walked quickly across the quadrangle.

It was a pretty simple realization that struck me: I wasn't there to hear a speech.

It did not take me long to find my old building. I could have walked the paths with my eyes closed.

The metal grates that covered the windows had rusted, the iron burnished by time and dirt. One hung like a broken wing from a single brace. The brick exterior had faded, too, dulled to a earthy brown color. The shoots of ivy that were springing forth green with the season seemed to cling with little energy to the walls, untended, wild. The shrubbery that used to adorn the entranceway had died, and the large double doors that led into the building hung loosely from cracked and splintered jambs. The name of the building, carved into a gray granite slab on the corner, much like a tombstone, had suffered as well: someone had chipped away at the stone, so that the only letters I could make out were mherst. The a that had begun the title was now a jagged scar.

All the housing units had been named after in some person's cosmic sense of irony famous colleges and universities. There had been Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, Williams and Wesleyan, Smith and Mount Holyoke and Wellesley, and, of course, mine, which was Amherst. The building named for the town and the college, which in turn had been named after a British soldier, Lord Jeffrey Amherst, whose original claim to fame had been heartlessly equipping rebellious Indian tribes with blankets infected with smallpox. His gifts managed to swiftly accomplish what bullets, trinkets, and negotiations could not.

There was a sign nailed to the door, and I walked up to read it. The first word was danger, written in large print. Then there was some blah-blah-blah legalese from the county building inspector, which amounted to an official condemnation of the building. It was followed, in equally large letters: NO UNAUTHORIZED ENTRY.

I thought this was interesting. Once it had seemed to those who occupied the building that we were the ones being condemned. It had never occurred to any of us that the walls, bars, and locks that made up our lives would one day face the same status.

It appeared, as well, that someone else had refused to obey the admonishment. The door locks had been worked over with a crowbar, a device that lacks subtlety, and the doors were ajar. I reached out and pulled hard, and with a creaking noise, the entranceway slid open.

A musty smell filled the first corridor. There was a pile of empty wine and beer bottles in the corner, which, I guessed, explained the nature of the other visitors to the building: high school kids searching for a place to drink away from spying parental eyes. The walls were streaked with dirt and odd graffiti slogans in different hues of spray paint. One said bad boys rules I supposed so. Pipes had ripped through the ceilings, dripping fetid dark water onto the linoleum floors. Debris and trash, dust and dirt filled each corner. Mixed with the flat smell of age and disuse was the distinct odor of human waste. I took a few steps forward, but had to stop. A sheet of wallboard had pulled away and fallen across the corridor blocking the path. I saw the center stairs to my left, which led to the upper floors, but they were littered with even more refuse. I wanted to walk through the dayroom, off to my left, and I wanted to see the treatment rooms, which lined the first floor. I also wanted to see the upper floor cells, where we were locked up when we struggled with our medications or our madness, and the dormitory bunk rooms, where we slept like unhappy campers in rows of steel beds. But the stairway looked unstable, as if it would sway and collapse under my weight if I tried to climb it.

I am not sure how long I remained inside, squatted down, bent over, listening to the echoes of all that I had once seen and heard. Just as when I was a patient, time seemed less urgent, less compelling, as if the second hand on my watch slowed to a crawl, and the minutes passed reluctantly.

Ghosts of memory stalked me. I could see faces, hear sounds. Tastes and smells of madness and neglect came back in a steady tidal rush. I listened to my past, as it swirled about me.

When the heat of recollection finally overcame me, I rose stiffly and slowly exited the building. I walked over to a bench in the quadrangle beneath a tree, and sat down, turning my face back to what had once been home. I felt exhausted and breathed in the fresh air with effort, more tired in that moment than I was after any of my usual sorties around my hometown. I did not turn away, until I heard some footsteps on the pathway behind me.

A short, portly man, a little older than I, with thinned-out, slicked-down black hair streaked with silver, was hurrying toward where I was sitting. He wore a wide smile, but a little anxiousness in his eyes, and when I faced him, he made a furtive wave.

"I thought I would find you here," he said, wheezing with the effort and the heat. "I saw your name on the registration list."

He stopped a few feet away, suddenly tentative.

"Hello, C-Bird," he said.

I stood and held out my hand. "Bonjour Napoleon," I replied. "No one has called me by that name in many, many years."

He grasped my hand. His was a little sweaty with exertion and had a palsied weakness to the grip. That would be the result of his medications. But the smile remained. "Me, neither," he said.

"I saw your real name on the program," I told him. "You're going to give a speech?"

He nodded. "I don't know about getting up in front of all those people," he said. "But my treating physician is one of the movers and shakers in the hospital redevelopment plan and it was all his idea. He said it would be good therapy. A solid demonstration of the golden road to total recovery."

I hesitated, then asked, "What do you think?"

Napoleon sat down on the bench. "I think he's the crazy one," he said, breaking into a slightly manic giggle, a high-pitched sound that joined nervousness and joy at once and that I remembered from our time together. "Of course, it helps that everyone still believes you're completely crazy, because then you can't really embarrass yourself too badly," he added, and I grinned along with him. That was the sort of observation only someone who had spent time in a mental hospital would make. I sat back down next to him and we both stared over at the Amherst Building. After a moment or two, he sighed. "Did you go inside?"

"Yes. It's a mess. Ready for the wrecker's ball."

"I thought the same back when we were there. And everyone thought it was the best place to be. At least that's what they told me when I was processed in. State-of-the-art mental health facility. The best way to treat the mentally ill in a residential setting. What a lie."

He caught his breath, then added, "A damn lie."

Now it was my turn to nod in agreement.

"Is that what you will tell them. In the speech, I mean."

He shook his head. "I don't think that's what they want to hear. I think it makes more sense to tell them nice things. Positive things. I'm planning a series of raging falsehoods."

I thought about this for a moment, then smiled. "That might be a sign of mental health," I said.

Napoleon laughed. "I hope you're right."

We were both silent for a few seconds, then, in a wistful tone, he whispered, "I'm not going to tell them about the killings. And not a word about the Fireman or the lady investigator that came to visit or anything that happened at the end." He looked up at the Amherst Building, then added, "It would really be your story to tell, anyway."

I didn't reply.

Napoleon was quiet for a moment, then he asked me, "Do you think about what happened?"

I shook my head, but we both understood this was a falsehood. "I dream about it, sometimes," I told him. "But it's hard to remember what was real and what wasn't."

"That makes sense," he said. "You know one thing that bothered me," he added slowly, "I never knew where they buried the people. The people who died while they were here. I mean, one minute they were in the dayroom or hanging in the hallways along with everyone else, and the next they might be dead, but what then? Did you ever know?"

"Yes," I said, after a moment or two. "They had a little makeshift graveyard over at the edge of the hospital, back toward the woods behind administration and Harvard. It was behind the little garden. I think now it's part of a youth soccer field."

Napoleon wiped his forehead. "I'm glad to know that," he said. "I always wondered. Now I know."

Again we were quiet for a few seconds, then he said, "You know what I hated learning. Afterward and everything, when we were released and put into outpatient clinics and getting all the treatment and all the newer drugs. You know what I hated?"

"What?"

"That the delusion that I'd clung to so hard for so many years wasn't just a delusion, but it wasn't even a special delusion. That I wasn't the only person to have fantasies that I was the reincarnation of a French emperor. In fact, I bet Paris is chockablock filled with them. I hated that understanding. In my delusional state, I was special. Unique. And now, I'm just an ordinary guy who has to take pills and whose hands shake all the time and who can't really hold anything more than the simplest job and whose family probably wishes would find a way to disappear. I wonder what the French word for poof! is."

I thought about this, then told him, "Well, personally, for whatever it's worth, I always had the impression that you were a damn fine French emperor. Cliche or not. And if it had really been you ordering troops around at Waterloo, why hell, you would have won."

He giggled a sound of release. "C-Bird, all of us always knew that you were better at paying attention to the world around us than anyone else. People liked you, even if we were all deluded and crazy."

"That's nice to hear."

"What about the Fireman. He was your friend. Whatever happened to him? Afterward, I mean."

I paused, then answered: "He got out. He straightened out all his problems, moved to the South, and made a lot of money. Had a family. Big house. Big car. Very successful all around. Last I heard, he was heading up some charitable foundation. Happy and healthy."

Napoleon nodded. "I can believe it. And the woman who came to investigate? Did she go with him?"

"No. She went on to a judgeship. All sorts of honors. She had a wonderful life."

"I knew it. You could just tell."

Of course, this was all a lie.

He looked down at his watch. "I need to get back. Get ready for my great moment. Wish me luck."

"Good luck," I said.

"It's good seeing you again," Napoleon added. "I hope your life goes okay."

"You, too," I said. "You look good."

"Really? I doubt it. I doubt very many of us look good. But that's okay. Thanks for saying it."

He stood and I joined him. We both looked back at the Amherst Building.

"I'll be happy when they tear it down," Napoleon said with a sudden burst of bitterness. "It was a dangerous, evil place and not much good happened there."

Then he turned back to me. "C-Bird, you were there. You saw it all. You tell everyone."

"Who would listen?"

"Someone might. Write the story. You can do it."

"Some stories should be left unwritten," I said.

Napoleon shrugged his rounded shoulders. "If you write it, then it will be real. If all it does is stay in our memories, then it's like it never happened. Like it was some dream. Or hallucination thought up by all of us madmen. No one trusts us when we say something. But if you write it down, well, that gives it some substance. Makes it all true enough."

I shook my head. "The trouble with being mad," I said, "was it was real hard to tell what was true and what wasn't. That doesn't change, just because we can take enough pills to scrape along now in the world with all the others."

Napoleon smiled. "You're right," he said. "But maybe not, too. I don't know. I just know that you could tell it and maybe a few people would believe it, and that's a good enough thing. No one ever believed us, back then. Even when we took the medications, no one ever believed us."

He looked at his watch again, and shifted his feet nervously.

"You should get back," I said.

"I must get back," he repeated.

We stood awkwardly until he finally turned, and walked away. About midway down the path, Napoleon turned, and gave me the same unsure little wave that he had when he'd first spotted me. "Tell it," he called. Then he turned and walked quickly away, a little duck like in his style. I could see that his hands were shaking again.

It was after dark when I finally quick marched up the sidewalk to my apartment, and climbed the stairs and locked myself into the safety of the small space. A nervous fatigue seemed to pulse through my veins, carried along the bloodstream with the red cells and the white cells. Seeing Napoleon and hearing myself called by the nickname that I'd received when I first went to the hospital startled emotions within me. I thought hard about taking some pills. I knew I had some that were designed to calm me, should I get overly excited. But I did not. "Tell the story," he'd said to me. "How?" I said out loud in the quiet of my own home.

The room echoed around me.

"You can't tell it," I said to myself.

Then I asked the question: Why not?

I had some pens and pencils, but no paper.

Then an idea came to me. For a second, I wondered whether it was one of my voices, returning, filling my ear with a quick suggestion and modest command. I stopped, listening carefully, trying to pluck the unmistakable tones of my familiar guides from the street sounds that penetrated past the laboring of my old window air conditioning unit. But they were elusive. I didn't know whether they were there, or not. But uncertainty was something I had grown accustomed to.

I took a slightly worn and scratched table chair and placed it against the side of the wall deep in the corner of the room. I didn't have any paper, I told myself. But what I did have were white-painted walls unadorned by posters or art or anything.

Balancing myself on the seat, I could reach almost to the ceiling. I gripped a pencil in my hand and leaned forward. Then I wrote quickly, in a tiny, pinched, but legible script:

Francis Xavier Petrel arrived in tears at the Western State Hospital in the hack of an ambulance. It was raining hard, darkness was falling rapidly, and his arms and legs were cuffed and restrained. He was twenty-one years old and more scared than he'd ever been in his entire short, and to that point, relatively uneventful life…

Chapter 2

Francis Xavier Petrel arrived in tears at the Western State Hospital in the back of an ambulance. It was raining hard, darkness was falling rapidly, and his arms and legs were cuffed and restrained. He was twenty-one years old and more scared than he'd ever been in his short, and to that point, relatively uneventful life.

The two men who had driven him to the hospital had mostly kept their mouths closed during the ride, except to mutter complaints about the unseasonable weather, or make caustic remarks about the other drivers on the roads, none of whom seemed to meet the standards of excellence that the they jointly held. The ambulance had bumped along the roadway at a moderate speed, flashing lights and urgency both ignored. There was something of dull routine in the way the two men had acted, as if the trip to the hospital was nothing more than a way-stop in the midst of an oppressively normal, decidedly boring day. One man occasionally slurped from a soda can, making a smacking noise with his lips. The other whistled snatches of popular songs. The first sported Elvis sideburns. The second had a bushy lion's mane of hair.

It might have been a trivial journey for the two attendants, but to the young man rigid with tension in the back, his breathing coming in short sprinter's spurts, it was nothing of the sort. Every sound, every sensation seemed to signal something to him, each more terrifying and more threatening than the next. The beat of the windshield wipers was like some deep jungle drum playing a roll of doom. The humming of the tires against the slick road surface was a siren's song of despair. Even the noise of his own labored wind seemed to echo, as if he were encased in a tomb. The restraints dug into his flesh, and he opened his mouth to scream for help, but could not make the right sound. All that emerged was a gargling burst of despair. One thought penetrated the symphony of discord that if he survived the day, he was likely to never have a worse one.

When the ambulance shuddered to a halt in front of the hospital entrance, he heard one of his voices crying out over the stew of fear: They will kill you here, if you are not careful.

The ambulance drivers seemed oblivious to the imminent danger. They opened the doors to the vehicle with a crash, and indelicately pulled Francis out on a gurney. He could feel cold raindrops slapping against his face, mingling with a nervous sweat on his forehead, as the two men wheeled him through a wide set of doors into a world of harshly bright and unforgiving lights. They pushed him down a corridor, gurney wheels squealing against the linoleum, and at first all he could see, as it slid past, was the gray pockmarked ceiling. He was aware that there were other people in the corridor, but he was too scared to turn and face them. Instead, he kept his eyes fixed on the soundproofing above him, counting the number of light fixtures that he rolled beneath. When he reached four, the two men stopped.

He was aware that some other people had stepped to the front of the gurney. In the space just beyond his head, he heard some words spoken: "Okay, guys. We'll take him from here."

Then a massive, round, black face, sporting a wide row of uneven, grinning teeth suddenly appeared above him. The face was above an orderly's white jacket that seemed, at first glance, to be several sizes too small.

"All right, Mister Francis Xavier Petrel, you ain't gonna cause us no trouble now, are you?" The man had a slightly singsong tenor to his words, so that they came out with equal parts of menace and amusement. Francis did not know what to reply.

A second black face abruptly hovered into his sight on the other side of the gurney, also leaning into the air above him, and this other man said, "I don't think this boy here is going to be any sort of hassle. Not in the tiniest little bit. Are you, Mister Petrel?" He, too, spoke with a soft Southern-tinged accent.

A voice shouted in his ear: Tell them no!

He tried to shake his head, but had trouble moving his neck. "I won't be a problem," he choked out. The words seemed as raw as the day, but he was glad to hear he could speak. This reassured him a bit. He'd been afraid, throughout the day, that somehow he was going to lose the ability to communicate at all.

"Okay, then, Mister Petrel. We going to get you up off the gurney. Then we going to sit down, nice and easy in a wheelchair. You got that? Ain't gonna be loosing those cuffs on your hands and feet quite yet, though. That's gonna come after you speak to the doctor. Maybe he gives you a little something to calm you right down. Chill you right out. Nice and easy now. Sit up, swing those legs forward."

Do what you're told!

He did what he was told.

The motion made him dizzy, and he seemed to sway for a second. He felt a huge hand grab his shoulder to steady him. He turned and saw that the first orderly was immense, well over six and a half feet tall and probably close to three hundred pounds. He had massively muscled arms, and legs that were like barrels. His partner, the other black man, was a wiry, thin man, dwarfed by his partner. He had a small goatee, and a bushy Afro haircut that failed to add much stature to his modest height. Together, the two men steered him into a waiting wheelchair.

"Okay," said the little one. "Now we're going to take you in to see the doc. Don't you worry none. Things may seem nasty-wrong and bad and lousy right now, but they gonna get better soon enough. You can take that to the bank."

He didn't believe this. Not a word.

The two orderlies steered him forward, into a small waiting room. There was a secretary behind a gray steel desk, who looked up as the procession came through the doorway. She seemed an imposing, prim woman, on the wrong side of middle age, dressed in a tight blue suit, hair teased a bit too much, eyeliner a little too prominent, lip gloss slightly overdone, giving her a contradictory sort of appearance, a demeanor that seemed to Francis Petrel to be half librarian and half streetwalker. "This must be Mr. Petrel," she said brusquely to the two black orderlies, although it was instantly obvious to Francis that she didn't expect an answer, because she already knew it. "Take him straight in. The doctor is expecting him."

He was pushed through another door, into a different office. This was a slightly nicer space, with two windows on the back wall that overlooked a courtyard. He could see a large oak tree swaying in the wind pushed up by the rainstorm. And, beyond the tree, he could see other buildings, all in brick, with slate black roof lines that seemed to blend with the gloom of the sky above. In front of the windows was an imposing large wooden desk. There was a shelf of books in one corner, and some overstuffed chairs and a deep red oriental carpet resting on top of the institutional gray rug that covered the floor, creating a small sitting area off to Francis's right. There was a photograph of the governor next to a portrait of President Carter on the wall. Francis took it in as rapidly as possible, his head swiveling about. But his eyes quickly came to rest upon a small man, who rose from behind the desk, as he came into the room.

"Hello, Mister Petrel. I am Doctor Gulptilil," he said briskly, voice high-pitched, almost like a child's.

The doctor was overweight and round, especially in the shoulders and the stomach, bulbous like a child's party balloon that had been squeezed into a shape. He was either Indian or Pakistani. He had a bright red silk tie fastened tightly around his neck, and sported a luminous white shirt, but his ill-fitting gray suit was slightly frayed at the cuffs. He appeared to be the sort of man who lost interest in his appearance about midway through the process of dressing in the morning. He wore thick, black-rimmed glasses, and his hair was slicked back and curled over his collar. Francis had difficulty telling whether he was young or old. He noticed that the doctor liked to punctuate every word with a wave of his hand, so that his speech became a conductor's movement with his baton, directing the orchestra in front.

"Hello," Francis said tentatively.

Be careful what you say! One of his voices shouted.

"Do you know why you are here?" the doctor asked. He seemed genuinely curious.

"I'm not at all sure," Francis replied.

Doctor Gulptilil looked down at a file and examined a sheet of paper.

"You've apparently rather scared some people," he said slowly. "And they seem to think you are in need of some help." He had a slight British accent, just a touch of an Anglicism that had probably been eroded by years in the United States. It was warm in the room, and one of the radiators beneath the window hissed.

Francis nodded. "That was a mistake," he said. "I didn't mean it. Things just got a little out of control. An accident, really. Really no more than a mistake in judgment. I'd like to go home, now. I'm sorry. I promise to be better. Much better. It was all just an error. Nothing meant by it. Not really. I apologize."

The doctor nodded, but didn't precisely reply to what Francis had said.

"Are you hearing voices, now?" he asked.

Tell him no!

"No."

"You're not?"

"No."

Tell him you don't know what he's talking about! Tell him you've never heard any voices!

"I don't exactly know what you mean by voices," Francis said.

That's good!

"I mean do you hear things spoken to you by people who are not physically present? Or perhaps, you hear things that others cannot hear."

Francis shook his head rapidly.

"That would be crazy," he said. He was gaining a little confidence.

The doctor examined the sheet in front of him, then once again raised his eyes toward Francis. "So, on these many occasions when your family members have observed you speaking to no one in particular, why was that?"

Francis shifted in his seat, considering the question. "Perhaps they are mistaken?" he said, uncertainty sliding back into his voice.

"I don't think so," answered the doctor.

"I don't have many friends," Francis said cautiously. "Not in school, not in the neighborhood. Other kids tend to leave me alone. So I end up talking to myself a lot. Perhaps that's what they observed."

The doctor nodded. "Just talking to yourself?"

"Yes. That's right," Francis said. He relaxed just a little more.

That's good. That's good. Just be careful

The doctor glanced at his sheets of paper a second time. He wore a small smile on his face. "I talk to myself, sometimes, as well," he said.

"Well. There you have it," Francis replied. He shivered a little and felt a curious flow of warmth and cold, as if the damp and raw weather outside had managed to follow him in, and had overcome the radiator's fervent pumping heat.

"… But when I speak with myself, it is not a conversation, Mister Petrel. It is more a reminder, like "Don't forget to pick up a gallon of milk…" or an admonition, such as, "Ouch!" or "Damn!" or, I must admit, sometimes words even worse. I do not carry on full back and forth, questions and replies with someone who is not present. And this, I fear, is what your family reports you have been doing for some many years now."

Be careful of this one!

"They said that?" Francis replied, slyly. "How unusual."

The doctor shook his head. "Less so than you might think, Mister Petrel."

He walked around the desk so that he closed the distance between the two of them, ending up by perching himself on the edge of the desk, directly across from where Francis stayed confined in the wheelchair, limited certainly by the cuffs on his hands and legs, but equally by the presence of the two attendants, neither of whom had moved or spoken, but who hovered directly behind him.

"Perhaps we will return in a moment to these conversations you have, Mister Petrel," Doctor Gulptilil said. "For I do not fully understand how you can have them without hearing something in return and this genuinely concerns me, Mister Petrel."

He is dangerous, Francis! He's clever and doesn't mean any good. Watch what you say!

Francis nodded his head, then realized that the doctor might have seen this. He stiffened in the wheelchair, and saw Doctor Gulptilil make a notation on the sheet of paper with a ballpoint pen.

"Let us try a different direction, then, for the moment, Mister Petrel," the doctor continued. "Today was a difficult day, was it not?"

"Yes," Francis said. Then he guessed that he'd better expand on that statement, because the doctor remained silent, and fixed him with a penetrating glance. "I had an argument. With my mother and father."

"An argument? Yes. Incidentally, Mister Petrel, can you tell me what the date is?"

"The date?"

"Correct. The date of this argument you had today."

He thought hard for a moment. Then he looked outside again, and saw the tree bending beneath the wind, moving spastically, as if its limbs were being jerked and manipulated by some unseen puppeteer. There were some buds just forming on the ends of the branches, and so he did some calculations in his head. He concentrated hard, hoping that one of the voices might know the answer to the question, but they were, as was their irritating habit, suddenly quite silent. He glanced about the room, hoping to spot a calendar, or perhaps some other sign that might help him, but saw nothing, and returned his eyes to the window, watching the tree move. When he turned back to the doctor, he saw that the round man seemed to be patiently awaiting his response, as if several minutes had passed since he was asked the question. Francis breathed in sharply.

"I'm sorry…" he started.

"You were distracted?" the doctor asked.

"I apologize," Francis said.

"It seemed," the doctor said slowly, "that you were elsewhere for some time. Do these episodes happen frequently?"

Tell him no!

"No. Not at all."

"Really? I'm surprised. Regardless, Mister Petrel, you were to tell me something…"

"You had a question?" Francis asked. He was angry with himself for losing the train of their conversation.

"The date, Mister Petrel?"

"I believe it is the fifteenth of March," Francis said steadily.

"Ah, the ides of March. A time of famous betrayals. Alas, no." The doctor shook his head. "But close, Mister Petrel. And the year?"

He did some more calculations in his head. He knew he was twenty-one and that he'd had his birthday a month earlier, and so he guessed, "Nineteen seventy-nine."

"Good," Doctor Gulptilil replied. "Excellent. And what day is it?"

"What day?"

"What day of the week, Mister Petrel?"

"It is…" Again he paused. "Saturday."

"No. Sorry. Today is Wednesday. Can you remember that for me?"

"Yes. Wednesday. Of course."

The doctor rubbed his chin with his hand. "And now we return to this morning, with your family. It was a little more than an argument, wasn't it, Mister Petrel?"

No! It was the same as always!

"I didn't think it was that unusual…"

The doctor looked up, a slight measure of surprise on his face. "Really? How curious, Mister Petrel. Because the report that I have obtained from the local police claims that you threatened your two sisters, and then announced that you were intending to kill yourself. That life wasn't worth living and that you hated everyone. And then, when confronted by your father, you further threatened him, and your mother, as well, if not with an attack, then with something equally dangerous. You said you wanted the whole world to go away. I believe those were your exact words. Go away. And the report further contends, Mister Petrel, that you went into the kitchen in the house you share with your parents and your two younger sisters, and that you seized a large kitchen knife, which you brandished in their direction in such a fashion that they believed that you intended to attack them with the weapon before you finally threw it so that it stuck into the wall. And, then, additionally, when police officers arrived at the house, that you locked yourself in your room and refused to exit, but could be heard speaking loudly inside, in argument, when there was no one present in the room with you. They had to break the door down, didn't they? And lastly, that you fought against the policemen and the ambulance attendants who arrived to help you, requiring one of them to need treatment himself. Is that a brief summary of today's events, Mister Petrel?"

"Yes," he replied glumly. "I'm sorry about the officer. It was a lucky punch that caught him above the eye. There was a lot of blood."

"Unlucky, perhaps," Doctor Gulptilil said, "both for you and him."

Francis nodded.

"Now, perhaps you could enlighten me as to why these things happened this day, Mister Petrel."

Tell him nothing! Every word you speak will be thrown back at you!

Francis again gazed out the window, searching the horizon. He hated the word why. It had dogged him his entire life. Francis, why can't you make friends? Why can't you get along with your sisters? Why can't you throw a ball straight or stay calm in class. Why can't you pay attention when your teacher speaks to you? Or the scoutmaster. Or the parish priest. Or the neighbors. Why do you always hide away from the others every day? Why are you different, Francis, when all we want is for you to be the same? Why can't you hold a job? Why can't you go to school? Why can't you join the Army? Why can't you behave? Why can't you be loved?

"My parents believe I need to make something of myself. That was what caused the argument."

"You are aware, Mister Petrel, that you score very highly on all tests? Remarkably high, curiously enough. So perhaps their hopes for you are not unfounded?"

"I suppose so."

"Then why did you argue?"

"A conversation like that never seems as reasonable as we're making it sound now," Francis replied. This brought a smile to Doctor Gulptilil's face.

"Ah, Mister Petrel, I suspect you are correct about that. But I fail to see how this discussion escalated so dramatically."

"My father was determined."

"You struck him, did you not?"

Don't admit to anything! He hit you first! Say that!

"He hit me first," Francis dutifully responded.

Doctor Gulptilil made another notation on a sheet of paper. Francis shifted about. The doctor looked up at him.

"What are you writing?" Francis asked.

"Does it matter?"

"Yes. I want to know what you are writing."

Don't let him snow you! Find out what he's writing! It won't be anything good!

"These are just some notes about our conversation," the doctor said.

"I think you should show me what you're writing down," Francis said. "I think I have the right to know what it is you're writing down."

Keep at it!

The doctor said nothing, so Francis continued, "I'm here, I've answered your questions, and now I have one. Why are you writing things about me without showing me? That's not fair."

Francis shifted in his wheelchair and pulled against the bonds that restrained him. He could feel the warmth of the room building, as if the heat had suddenly spiked. He strained hard for a moment, trying to free himself, but was unsuccessful. He took a deep breath and slumped back into his seat.

"You are agitated?" the doctor asked, after a few silent moments had passed. This was a question that didn't really need an answer, because the truth was so obvious.

"It's just not fair," Francis said, trying to instill calm back into his own words.

"Fairness is important to you?"

"Yes. Of course."

"Yes, perhaps Mister Petrel, you are correct about that."

Again the two men were quiet. Francis could hear the radiator hissing again and then thought that perhaps it was the breathing of the two attendants, who had not budged from behind him throughout the interview. Then he wondered whether one of his voices might be trying to get his attention, whispering something to him so low that it was hard for him to hear, and he bent forward slightly, as if trying to hear.

"Are you often impatient when things don't go your way, Mister Petrel?"

"Isn't everyone?"

"Do you think you should hurt people when things don't go the way you would like them?"

"No."

"But you get angry?"

"Everyone gets angry sometimes."

"Ah, Mister Petrel, on that point you are absolutely correct. It is, however, a critical question as to how we react to our anger when it arises, is it not? I think we should speak again." The doctor had leaned forward, trying to inject some familiarity in his demeanor. "Yes, I think some additional conversations will be in order. Would that be acceptable to you, Mister Petrel?"

He didn't reply. It was a little like the doctor's voice had faded, as if someone had turned the volume down on the doctor, or as if his words were being transmitted over a great distance.

"May I call you Francis?" the doctor asked.

Again, he did not respond. He did not trust his voice, for it was beginning to mix together with a swelling of emotions within his chest.

Doctor Gulptilil watched him for an instant, then asked, "Say, Francis do you recall what it was that I asked you to remember, earlier in our talk?"

This question seemed to bring him back to the room. He looked up at the doctor, who wore a slyly inquisitive look on his face.

"What?"

"I asked you to remember something."

"I don't recall." Francis snapped his reply.

The doctor nodded his head slightly. "But perhaps, you could remind me, then what day of the week it is…"

"What day?"

"Yes."

"Is it important?"

"Let us imagine that it is."

"Are you sure you asked me this earlier?" Francis said, stalling for time. But this simple fact suddenly seemed elusive, as if concealed behind a cloud within him.

"Yes," Doctor Gulptilil said. "I'm quite sure. What day is it?"

Francis thought hard, battling against the anxiety that abruptly crowded past all his other thoughts. Again he paused, hoping that one of the voices might come to his aid, but again, they had fallen silent.

"I believe it is Saturday," Francis said cautiously. He said each word slowly, tentatively.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes." But this word fell out of his mouth with little conviction.

"Do you not recall me telling you earlier it was Wednesday?"

"No. That would be a mistake. It is Saturday." Francis could feel his head spinning, as if the doctor's questions were forcing him to run in ever-concentric circles.

"I think not," said the doctor, "But it is of no importance. You will be staying with us for some time, Francis, and we will have another opportunity to speak of these things. I'm certain that in the future you will remember things better."

"I don't want to stay," Francis replied quickly. He could feel a sudden sense of panic, mingling with despair, instantly welling up within him. "I want to go home. Really, I believe they are expecting me, and it is close to dinnertime, and my parents and my sisters, they all want everyone home for dinner. That's the rule in the house, you see. You need to be there by six, hands and face washed clean. No dirty clothes if you've been playing outside. Ready to say grace. We have a blessing before we eat. We always do. It's my job some days to say the blessing. We need to thank God for putting the food on the table. I believe today it's my turn yes, I'm sure of it so I need to be there, and I can't be late."

He could feel tears stinging at his eyes, and he could hear sobs choking some of his words. These things were happening to a mirror image of himself, and not quite him, but himself slightly apart and distant from the real him. He struggled hard to make all these parts of himself come together and focus as one, but it was difficult.

"Perhaps," Doctor Gulptilil said gently, "you might have a question or two for me?"

"Why can't I go home?" Francis coughed the question out between tears.

"Because people are frightened for you, Francis, and because you frighten people."

"What sort of place is this?"

"It's a place where we will help you," the doctor said.

Liar! Liar! Liar!

Doctor Gulptilil looked up at the two attendants and spoke next to them. "Mister Moses, will you and your brother please take Mister Petrel to the Amherst Building. I have written out a scrip for some medication and some additional instructions for the nurses there. He should get at least thirty-six, perhaps more, hours of observation before they consider shifting him into the open ward." He handed the clipboard across to the smaller of the two men flanking Francis, who nodded his response.

"Whatever you say, Doc," the attendant said.

"Sure thing, Doc," his huge partner replied, stepping behind the wheelchair, grasping the handles and rapidly spinning Francis around. The motion made him suddenly dizzy, and he choked back on the sobs that were filling his chest. "Don't you be so scared, Mister Petrel. Things gonna be okay soon enough. We're gonna take good care of you," the large man whispered.

Francis did not believe him.

He was wheeled back through the office, into the waiting room, tears streaming down his cheeks, his hands quivering against the cuffs. He twisted in the chair, trying to get the attention of either the large or the small attendant, his voice cracking with a combination of fear and an unbridled sadness. "Please," he said, piteously, "I want to go home. They're expecting me. That's where I want to be. Please take me home."

The smaller attendant had his face set, as if the pleas coming from Francis were hard for him to hear. He placed his hand on Francis's shoulder and repeated, "You gonna be okay, now, hear me. It's gonna be okay. Shush now…" He spoke as he might to a baby.

Sobs wracked Francis's body, emanating from deep within him. The prim secretary looked up from her seat behind the desk with an impatient and unforgiving look on her face. "Quiet down!" she ordered Francis. He swallowed back another sob, coughing.

As he did so, he looked across the room and saw two uniformed state troopers, wearing gray tunics and blue riding pants above polished knee-high brown boots. They were both strapping, tall, taut pictures of discipline, with close-cropped hair and their curved and cocked officers' hats held stiffly at their sides. Each wore a glistening leather Sam Browne belt, polished to a reflective shine, and a holstered revolver high on their waist. But it was the man that they flanked that quickly attracted Francis's attention.

He was shorter than the troopers, but solidly built. Francis would have guessed his age to be in his late twenties or early thirties. He stood in a languid, relaxed fashion, his hands cuffed in front of him, but the language of his body seemed to diminish the nature of the restraints, rendering them less restrictive and more as if they were merely an inconvenience. He wore a loose-fitting single-piece navy blue jumpsuit with the title mci-boston stitched in yellow above the left hand chest pocket and a pair of old, worn running shoes that were missing their laces. He had longish brown hair, that poked out from beneath the edges of a sweat-stained Boston Red Sox baseball cap, and a two-day shadow of a beard. But what struck Francis first and foremost were the man's eyes, for they darted about, far more alert and observant than the leisurely pose he maintained, taking many things in as rapidly as possible. The eyes carried something deep, which Francis noticed immediately, even through his own anguish. He could not put a word to it instantly, but it was as if the man had seen something immensely, ineffably sad that lurked just beyond the horizon of his vision, so that whatever he saw, or heard or witnessed was colored by this hidden hurt. The eyes came to fix on Francis, and the man managed a small, sympathetic smile, that seemed to speak directly to Francis.

"Are you okay, fella?" he asked. Each word was tinged with a slight Boston-Irish accent. "Are things that rough?"

Francis shook his head. "I want to go home, but they say I have to stay here," he answered. And then piteously, and spontaneously, he asked, "Can you help me, please?"

The man bent down slightly, toward Francis. "I suspect there are more than a few folks here who would wish to go home and cannot. Myself presently included in that category."

Francis looked up at the man. He did not know precisely why, but the calm tones the man used helped to settle him. "Can you help me?" Francis blurted out, repeating himself.

The man smiled, a mingling of insouciance and sadness. "I don't know what I can do," he said, "but I will do what I can."

"Promise?" Francis asked suddenly.

"All right," the man said. "I promise."

Francis leaned back in the chair, closing his own eyes for a second. "Thank you," he whispered.

The secretary interrupted the conversation with a sharply punctuated command directed to the smaller of the two black attendants. "Mister Moses. This gentleman…" she gestured toward the man in the jumpsuit, "is Mister…" then she hesitated slightly, before continuing seemingly purposefully not using his name,"… the gentleman that we spoke about earlier. The troopers will accompany him in to see the doctor, but please return promptly to escort him to his new accommodations…" this word was spoken with a slight edge of sarcasm,"… as soon as you get Mister Petrel settled over at Amherst. They are expecting him."

"Yes, ma'am," the larger brother said, as if it was his turn to speak, although the woman's comments had been directed toward the smaller of the two men. "Whatever you say, that's what we'll be doing."

The man in the jumpsuit looked down at Francis again. "What's your name?" he asked.

"Francis Petrel," he replied.

The man in the jumpsuit smiled. "Petrel is a nice name. It's a small seabird, you know, common to Cape Cod. They are the birds you see flying just above the waves on summer afternoons, dipping in and out of the spray. Beautiful animals. White wings that beat fast one second, then glide and soar effortlessly the next. They must have keen eyes to be able to spot a sand eel or a pogy in the surf. A poet's bird, to be sure. Can you fly like that, Mister Petrel?"

Francis shook his head.

"Ah," the man in the jumpsuit said. "Well, perhaps you should learn. Especially if you're going to be locked up in this delightful place for too long."

"Be quiet!" one of the troopers interjected with a gruffness that made the man smile. He glanced over at the trooper and said, "Or you will do what?"

The trooper didn't reply to this, although his face reddened slightly and the man turned back to Francis, ignoring the command. "Francis Petrel. Francis C-bird. I like that better. You take things easy, Francis C-Bird, and I will see you again before too long. That's a promise."

Francis was unable to respond, but felt a slight sense of encouragement in the man's words. For the first time since that horrible morning had begun with so many loud voices, shouts and recriminations, he felt as if he wasn't completely alone. It was a little like the harsh noise and constant racket that had been filling his ears all day had diminished, like a radio's blaring volume turned down slightly. He could hear some of his voices murmuring approval in the background, which relaxed him a bit more. But he did not have time to dwell on this thought, for he was abruptly wheeled out of the office, into the corridor, and the door shut resoundingly behind him. A cold draft made him shudder and reminded him that as of that moment all that he had once known of life had been changed and all that he was to know was elusive and hidden from him. He had to bite down on his lower lip to keep the tears from returning, swallowing hard to remain quiet and let himself be diligently steered away from the reception area and deep into the core of the Western State Hospital.

Chapter 3

Limp morning light was just sliding over the neighboring rooftops, insinuating its way into my sparse little apartment home. I stood in front of the wall and saw all the words I'd written the previous night crawling down a single long column. My handwriting was pinched tight, as if nervous. The words were arranged in wavering lines, a little like a field of wheat as a breath of warm wind passes over. I asked myself: Was I truly that scared, the day I arrived at the hospital? The answer to that was easy: Yes. And far worse than I had written. Memory often blurs pain. The mother forgets the agony of childbirth when the baby is placed in her arms, the soldier no longer remembers the pain of his wounds when the general pins the medal on his chest and the band strikes up some martial tune. Did I tell the truth about what I saw? Did I get the small details right? Did it happen quite the way I remembered it?

I seized the pencil, dropped to my knees on the floor to the spot where I'd ended my first night at the wall. I hesitated, then wrote:

It was at least forty-eight hours later that Francis Petrel awakened in a dingy gray padded cell, tightly encased in a straitjacket, his heart racing, his tongue thick, thirsting for a drink of something cold and some companionship… It was at least forty-eight hours later that Francis Petrel awakened in a dingy gray padded cell, tightly encased in a straitjacket, his heart racing, his tongue thick, thirsting for a drink of something cold and some companionship. He lay rigidly on the steel cot and thin dark-stained mattress of the isolation room, staring up past the burlap-colored padded walls, to the ceiling, doing a modest inventory of his person and his surroundings. He wiggled his toes, ran his tongue over parched lips, and counted each beat of his pulse until he could detect a slowing. The drugs he'd been injected with made him feel entombed, or at least blanketed with some thick, syrupy substance. There was a single glowing white lightbulb encased in a wire screen high above him, far beyond his reach, and the glare hurt his eyes. He knew he should be hungry, but wasn't. He pulled against the restraints, and knew instantly that was futile. He decided he should call out for help, but first he whispered to himself: Are you still here?

For a moment, there was silence.

Then he heard several voices, all speaking at once, all faint, as if muffled by a pillow: We're here. We're all still here.

This reassured him.

You need to keep us hidden, Francis.

He nodded to himself. This appeared obvious. He felt a contradictory set of criteria within himself, almost like a mathematician who sees a complicated equation on a chalkboard that could have several possible answers. The voices that guided him had also landed him in the current fix and there was little doubt in his mind that he needed to keep them concealed at all times, if he ever hoped to get out of the Western State Hospital. As he assessed this dilemma, he could hear the familiar sounds of all the people who traveled in his imagination agreeing with him. These voices all had personalities: a voice of demand, a voice of discipline, a voice of concession, a voice of concern, a voice that warned, a voice that soothed, a voice of doubt, and a voice of decision. They all owned tones and topics; he had grown to know when to expect one or the other, depending upon the situation around him. Since the angry confrontation with his folks, and the police and ambulance had been summoned, the voices had all clamored for attention. But now he had to continue to strain to hear them, which made him furrow his brow with concentration.

It was, in a way, he thought, part of getting himself organized.

Francis remained on the bed uncomfortably for another hour, feeling the closeness of the narrow room, until a small porthole in the only door opened with a scraping noise. From where he lay, he was able to see by lifting himself up like an athlete doing a stomach crunch, a difficult position to hold for more than a few seconds, because of the straitjacket. He did see first one eye, then another, peering in at him, and he managed a weak: "Hello?"

No one responded and the porthole slammed shut.

It was another thirty minutes by his reckoning before the porthole opened again. He tried another hello and this one seemed to work, because seconds later he heard the sound of a key being worked in the lock. The door scraped open and he saw the larger of the two black attendants, pushing his way into the cell. The man was smiling, as if caught in the midst of a joke, and he nodded at Francis not unpleasantly. "How you doing this morning Mr. Petrel?" he asked brightly. "You get some sleep? You hungry?"

"I need something to drink," Francis croaked.

The attendant nodded. "That's the medications they gave you. Make your tongue all thick, kinda like it be all swollen, huh?"

Francis nodded. The attendant retreated to the corridor, then returned with a plastic cup of water. He sat on the side of the cot and held Francis up like a sickly child, letting him gulp at the liquid. It was lukewarm, almost brackish, with a slight metallic taste, but at that moment, just the mere sense of it pouring down his throat, and the pressure of the man's arm holding him, reassured Francis more than he had ever expected. The attendant must have realized this, because he quietly said, "It gonna be all right, Mr. Petrel. Mr. C-Bird. That what that other new man called you, and I'm thinking that's a fine name to go by. This place a little rough at first, take some getting used to, but you gonna be just fine. I can tell."

He lowered Francis back to the bed, and added, "The doctor gonna come in to see you now."

A few seconds later, Francis saw Doctor Gulptilil's round form hovering in the doorway. The doctor smiled, and asked, in his slight singsong-accented voice, "Mr. Petrel. How are you this morning?"

"I'm all right," Francis said. He didn't know really what else he could say. And, at the same time, he could hear the echoing of his voices, telling him to be extremely careful. Again, they were not nearly as loud as they could be, almost as if they were shouting commands to him from across some wide chasm.

"Do you remember where you are?" the doctor asked.

Francis nodded. "I'm in a hospital."

"Yes," the doctor said with a smile. "That is not difficult to surmise. But do you recall which one? And how it was that you arrived here?"

Francis did. The mere act of answering questions lifted some of the fog he felt was obscuring his vision. "It is the Western State Hospital," he said. "And I arrived in an ambulance after having some argument with my parents."

"Very good. And do you recall what month it is? And the year?"

"It is still March, I believe. And 1979."

"Excellent." The doctor seemed genuinely pleased. "A little more oriented,

I would suspect. I think today we will be able to remove you from isolation and restraint, and begin to integrate you into the general population. This is as I'd hoped."

"I would like to go home now," Francis said.

"I am sorry, Mister Petrel. That isn't yet possible."

"I don't think I want to stay here," Francis said. Some of the quavering which had marked his voice the day he'd arrived threatened to reemerge.

"It is for your own good," the doctor replied. Francis doubted that. He knew he wasn't so crazy to be unable to see that it was clearly for other people's good, not his. He didn't say this out loud.

"Why can't I go home?" he asked. "I haven't done anything wrong."

"Do you recall the kitchen knife? And your threatening words?"

Francis shook his head. "It was a misunderstanding," he said.

Doctor Gulptilil smiled. "Of course it was. But you're going to be with us until we come to the realization that we cannot go around threatening people."

"I promise I won't."

"Thank you, Mister Petrel. But a promise isn't quite adequate under the current circumstances. I must be persuaded. Utterly persuaded, alas. The medications you have been given will help you. As you continue to take them, the cumulative effect they have will increase your command of your situation and help you to readjust. Then, perhaps, we can discuss returning to society and some more constructive role."

He spoke this last sentence slowly, then added, "And what do your voices think of your presence here?"

Francis knew enough to shake his head. "I don't hear any voices," he insisted. Deep within him he heard a chorus of assent.

The doctor smiled again, showing slightly uneven rows of white teeth. "Ah, Mister Petrel, again, I'm not completely sure that I believe you. Still" the doctor hesitated "I think that you can succeed in the general population. Mister Moses here will show you around and fill you in on the rules. The rules are important, Mister Petrel. There are not many, but they are critical. Obeying the rules, becoming a constructive member of our little world here, these are signs of mental health. The more you can do to show me that you can function successfully here, the closer you will step each passing day toward returning home. Do you understand that equation, Mister Petrel?"

Francis nodded vigorously.

"There are activities. There are group sessions. From time to time, there will be some private sessions with myself. Then there are the rules. All these things, taken together, create possibilities. If you cannot adjust, then, I fear, your stay here will be long, and often unpleasant…"

He gestured at the isolation cell. "This room, for example" and he pointed at the straitjacket "these devices, and others, remain options. They always remain options. But avoiding them is critical, Mister Petrel. Critical to your return to mental health. Am I being quite clear about this?"

"Yes," Francis said. "Fit in. Obey the rules." He repeated this inwardly to himself, like a mantra or a prayer.

"Precisely. Excellent. Do you not see, already we have made progress? Be encouraged, Mister Petrel. And take advantage of what the hospital has to offer." The doctor rose up. He nodded at the attendant. "All right, Mister Moses. You can release Mister Petrel. And then, please, escort him through the dormitory, get him some clothing, and show him the activities room."

"Yes sir," the attendant snapped off with a military crispness.

Doctor Gulptilil waddled off through the door to the isolation room, and the attendant went about the task of unsnapping the bonds of the straitjacket, then unwrapping the sleeves from around Francis, until he finally came free. Francis stretched awkwardly, and rubbed his arms, as if to restore some energy and life to the limbs that had been locked so tightly. He placed his feet on the floor and stood unsteadily, feeling a sensation of dizziness overcome him. The attendant must have noticed, for a huge hand grasped his shoulder, preventing Francis from stumbling forward. Francis felt a little like a baby taking his first step, only without the same sense of joy and accomplishment, equipped only with doubt and fear.

He followed Mister Moses down the corridor on the fourth floor of the Amherst Building. There were a half-dozen six-by-nine padded cells arranged in a row, each with a double-locking system and portholes for observation. He could not tell whether they were occupied or not, except in one case, when they must have made some sound passing by, and from behind a locked door he heard a cascade of muted obscenities that dissolved into a long, painful shriek. A mixture of agony and hatred. He hurried to keep pace with the immense attendant, who didn't seem fazed in the slightest by the otherworldly noise, and who kept up an impressive banter about the layout of the building, the hospital, and its history, as he passed through a set of double doors, leading down a wide, central stairway. Francis only vaguely remembered ascending those steps two days earlier, in what seemed to him to be a distant, and increasingly elusive past, when everything in what he had thought of his life was totally different.

The building's design seemed to Francis to be every bit as crazy as its occupants. The upper floors held offices that abutted storage rooms and isolation cells. The first and second floors held wide-open dormitory-style rooms, crowded with simple steel framed beds, with an occasional footlocker for possessions. Inside the dormitory rooms there were cramped bathrooms and showers, with multiple stalls that he immediately saw delivered little in the way of privacy. There were other bathrooms off the corridors, spaced up and down the floor with men or women marked on the doors. In a concession to modesty, the women were housed on the north end of the corridor, the men on the south. A large nursing station divided the two areas. It was confined by wire mesh screens and a locked steel door. Francis saw that all the doors had two, sometimes three double deadbolt locks on them, all operated from the exterior. Once locked, he noticed, there was no way for anyone inside to unlock the door, unless they had a key.

The ground floor was shared by a large, open area, which Francis was told was the primary dayroom, and a cafeteria and kitchen large enough to fix meals and feed the Amherst Building's residents three times each day. There were also several smaller rooms, which he gathered were devoted to group therapy sessions. These dotted the ground floor. There were windows everywhere, which filled the Amherst Building with light, but every window had a locked wire mesh screen on the outside, so that the daylight that filtered into the building penetrated past bars tossing odd grid like shadows on the slick, polished floors or the glowing white painted walls. There were doors seemingly placed willy-nilly throughout the building that sometimes were locked, requiring Mr. Moses to pull out a massive key chain from his belt, but other times were left open, so that they simply pushed through unimpeded. Francis could not immediately detect what the governing principles were for locking the doors.

It was, he thought, a most curious jail.

They were confined, but not imprisoned. Restrained but not handcuffed.

Like Mr. Moses and his smaller brother, whom they passed in the hallway, the nurses and the attendants wore white outfits. An occasional physician, or doctor's aide, social worker or psychologist passed them by. These civilians wore either sports coats and slacks, or jeans. They almost all, Francis noted, carried manila envelopes, clipboards, and brown folders under their arms, and they all seemed to walk the corridors with a sense of direction and purpose, as if by having a specific task in hand, they were able to separate themselves from the general population of the Amherst Building.

Francis's fellow patients crowded the halls. There were knots of people, pressed together, while others stood aggressively alone. Many eyed him warily, as he passed. Some ignored him. No one smiled at him. He barely had time to observe his surroundings as he kept pace with the quick march that Mr. Moses adopted. And, what he saw of the other patients was a sort of motley, haphazard collection of folks of all ages and sizes. Hair that seemed to explode from scalps, beards that hung wildly down like the people in old, faded photographs from a century earlier. It seemed a place of contradictions. There were wild eyes everywhere that fastened upon him and measured him as he passed by, and then in contrast, muted looks, and faces that turned to the wall and avoided connection. Words and snatches of conversation surrounded him, sometimes spoken to others, sometimes spoken to inner selves. Clothing seemed to be an afterthought; some people wore loose-fitting hospital gowns and pajamas, others dressed in more regular street garb. Some wore long bathrobes or housecoats, others jeans and paisley shirts. It was all a little disjointed, a little out of whack, as if the colors were unsure what matched what, or the sizes were just off, shirts too loose, pants too tight or too short. Mismatched socks. Stripes conjoined with checks. There was a pungent smell of cigarette smoke virtually everywhere.

"Too many folks," Mr. Moses said, as they approached a nursing station. "Got beds for two hundred maybe. But got nearly three hundred peoples crowded in. You'd think they'd figured that part out, but no, not yet."

Francis didn't reply.

"Got a bed for you, though," Mr. Moses added. At the nursing station, Mr. Moses stopped. "You gonna be A-OK. Hello, ladies," he said. Two white-clad nurses behind the wire mesh, turned toward him. "You looking ever so sweet and beautiful this fine morning."

One was old, with graying hair and a well-lined, pinched face, but who still managed a smile. The other was a stocky black woman, far younger than her companion, who snorted her reply like a woman who had heard nice words that amounted to false promises more than once. "You always talking so sweet, but what it be you need this time around?" This was said in a mock-gruff tone, that caused both women to crack smiles.

"Why, ladies, I'm always looking only to bring a little joy and happiness into your lives," he said. "What more?"

The nurses laughed out loud. "Ain't no man ever not looking for something," the black nurse said. The white nurse quickly added, "Sweetheart, that's the God's truth."

Mr. Moses also laughed, while Francis suddenly stood awkwardly, unsure what he was to do. "Ladies, may I be presenting you with Mister Francis Petrel, who be staying with us. Mister C-Bird, this fine young lady be Miss Wright, and her lovely companion, there, be Miss Winchell." He handed over a clipboard. "The doctor listed out some meds for this boy. Look to be pretty much the usual."

He turned to Francis and said, "What you think, Mister C-Bird? You think the doc maybe prescribed a cup of hot coffee in the morning and a nice cold beer and a plate filled with fried chicken and cornbread at the end of the day? You think that's what the doctor ordered?"

Francis must have looked surprised, because the attendant quickly added, "I'm just having some fun with you. Don't mean nothing."

The nurses looked over the chart, then placed it along with a stack of others on a corner of their desk. The older one, Miss Winchell, reached below a counter and brought forth a small, cheap plaid cloth suitcase. "Mister Petrel, this was left for you by your family."

She passed it through an opening in the wire mesh, turning to the attendant, saying, "I've already searched it."

Francis took the suitcase and fought back the urge to burst into tears. He had recognized it instantly. It was a bag he'd been given as a gift one Christmas morning, when he was young, and because he'd never actually traveled anywhere, he'd always used for storage whenever he wanted to keep something special, or something unusual. A sort of portable secret place for the items collected during childhood, because each small item was, in its own way, a sort of journey in itself. A pine cone collected one fall; a set of toy soldiers, a book of children's verse never returned to the local library. His hands quivered slightly as they ran across the fake leather edging on the satchel, and he touched the handle. The zipper on the bag was open, and he saw that everything that the bag had once held had been removed, replaced with some clothes from his drawers at home. He knew instantly that everything that he'd accumulated in that bag had been emptied out and discarded. It was as if his parents had packed what little they thought of his life into the small luggage, and sent it to him to send him on his way. He could feel his lower lip trembling, and he felt completely and utterly alone.

The nurses passed a second gathering of items through the wire. These included some rough sheets and a pillowcase, a threadbare army surplus olive drab wool blanket, a bathrobe much like the ones he'd already seen on some patients, and some pajamas, again like those he'd already seen. He placed these on top of the suitcase and lifted both in front of him.

Mr. Moses nodded. "All right, I'll show you your bed. Get your stuff squared away. Then what have we got for Mister C-Bird, ladies?"

Again, one of the nurses checked the chart. "Lunch at noon. Then he's free until a group session in Room 101 at three with Mister Evans. He comes back here at four thirty for free time. Dinner at six o'clock. Medications at seven. That's it."

"You get all that, Mister C-Bird?"

Francis nodded. He didn't trust his own voice. He could hear, echoing deep within him, orders to comply, keep quiet, and stay alert. He followed Mr. Moses through a door into a large room with some thirty to forty beds lined up in rows. All the beds were made up, except one, not far from the door. There were a half dozen men lying on beds, either asleep, or staring up into the ceiling, who barely looked in his direction as he entered the room.

Mr. Moses helped him to make the bed and stow his few clothes in a foot locker. There was room for the tiny suitcase, as well, and it disappeared into the empty space. It took less than five minutes to square him away.

"Well, that's it," Mr. Moses said.

"What happens to me now?" Francis asked.

The attendant smiled a little wistfully. "Now, C-Bird, what you got to do is get yourself better."

Francis nodded. "How?"

"That the big question, C-Bird. You gone have to figure that out for yourself."

"What should I do?" Francis asked.

The attendant leaned down toward him. "Just keep to yourself. This place can get a bit rough, sometimes. You got to figure out everybody else, and give 'em what space they need. Don't be trying to make friends too fast, C-Bird. Just keep your mouth shut and follow the rules. You need help, you talk to me or my brother, or one of the nurses, and we'll try to see you straight."

"But what are the rules?" Francis said.

The large attendant turned and pointed at a sign posted high on the wall.

NO SMOKING IN SLEEPING ROOM

NO LOUD NOISES

NO TALKING AFTER 9 PM

RESPECT OTHERS

RESPECT OTHER PEOPLE'S PROPERTY

When he finished reading through twice, Francis turned. He wasn't sure where to go or what to do. He sat down on the edge of his bed.

Across the room, one of the men who had been lying down staring at the ceiling, feigning sleep, abruptly stood up. He was very tall, well over six and one half feet, with a sunken chest, and thin, bony arms that protruded from beneath a tattered sweatshirt with the logo of the New England Patriots on it, and stovepipe legs that jutted from lime green surgical scrubs that were six inches too short. The sweatshirt sleeves had been sliced off just below the shoulders. He was far older than Francis, and wore stringy gray-tinged hair in a matted clump that fell to his shoulders. His eyes were suddenly wide, as if half-frightened and half-furious. The man instantly lifted one cadaverous hand and pointed directly at Francis.

"Stop it!" he shouted out. "Stop it, now!"

Francis shrank back slightly. "Stop what?"

"Just stop! I can tell! You cannot fool me! I knew it as soon as you came in! Stop it!"

"I don't know what I'm doing," Francis replied meekly.

By now the tall man was waving both arms in the air as if trying to clear cobwebs from his path. His voice was rising with each step he took across the room, "Stop it! Stop it! I can see through you! You can't do it to me!"

Francis looked around for somewhere to run, or to hide, but he was hemmed in by the man lurching toward him and the back wall of the room. The few other men in the dormitory were still asleep, or ignoring what was happening.

The man seemed to have stretched in size, growing in ferocity with every stride. "I know! I could tell! From the moment you walked in! Stop now!"

Francis felt frozen with confusion. Inwardly, his voices were all screaming in a cascade of conflicted advice: Run! Run! He's going to hurt us! Hide! His head pivoted around, trying to see how he could escape the tall man's onslaught. He tried to will his muscles to work, at least rise up from the bed, but, instead, he shrank backward, almost cowering.

"If you will not stop, then it's up to me to stop you!" the man shouted. He seemed to be preparing himself for an assault.

Francis lifted his arms to fend off the attack.

The tall man gargled out some sort of gathered war cry, lifted himself up, puffing out his sunken chest and waving his arms above his head. Seemed ready to leap on Francis, when another voice sliced across the room.

"Lanky! Stop there!"

The tall man hesitated, then turned in the direction of the voice.

"Just stop right there!"

Francis was still huddled back against the wall, and he couldn't see who was speaking until the tall man turned around.

"What are you doing?"

"But it's him," the man said to whomever had come into the dormitory. He seemed, in that moment, to have shrunk in size.

"No, it's not!" came the reply.

And then Francis saw that the man fast approaching was the same man he'd met in his first minutes in the hospital.

"Leave him alone!"

"But it's him! I could tell as soon as I saw him!"

"That's what you said to me when I first showed up. That's what you say to every new person who comes into the hospital."

This made the tall man hesitate.

"I do?" he asked.

"Yes."

"I still think it's him," said the tall man, but oddly, most of the passion had fled from his voice, replaced by questions and some doubt. "I'm pretty sure," he added. "He absolutely could be, I'll say that." Despite the conviction contained in the words, the tenor of the voice was filled with uncertainty.

"But why?" said the man. "Why are you so sure?"

"It was just, when he came in, it seemed so obvious, I was watching, and then…" The tall man's voice tailed off, fading. "Maybe I'm wrong."

"I think you're genuinely mistaken."

"You do?"

"I do."

The other man came forward. He was grinning now. He stepped past the tall man.

"Well, C-Bird, I see you're all settled in."

Francis nodded.

The man turned to the tall man. "Lanky, this is C-Bird. I met him the other day in the administration building. He's not the person you think he is any more than I was the other day when you first spotted me. I can assure you of that."

"How can you be so certain?" the tall man asked.

"Well, I saw him come in, and I saw his chart, and I promise you, if he was the son of Satan sent here to do evil inside the hospital, there would have been a notation on it, because it had all the other particulars. Hometown. Family. Address. Age. You name it, it was there. Nothing about being the Antichrist."

"Satan is the great deceiver. His son would be equally clever. Probably be able to hide himself. Even from Gulp-a-pill."

"Ah, possibly. But there were policemen with me, and they would have been trained to spot the son of Satan. They would have had flyers and handouts, and those pictures like they have on the walls at the post office, you know what I'm saying? I doubt even the son of Satan could have hidden from a pair of state troopers."

The tall man listened intently to this explanation. Then he turned to Francis.

"I'm sorry. I was apparently mistaken. I can see now that you are not the person I have been on the lookout for. Please accept my sincerest apologies. Vigilance is really our only defense against evil. You have to be so careful, you know, day in, day out, hour after hour. It's exhausting, but utterly necessary…"

Francis finally managed to crawl off the bed and stand up. "Yes. Of course," he said. "It's perfectly okay."

The tall man reached out and shook Francis's hand, pumping it enthusiastically.

"I'm delighted to make your acquaintance, C-Bird. You are generous. And clearly well mannered. I'm sincerely sorry if I scared you."

To Francis the tall man suddenly seemed far less frightening. He simply seemed old, tattered, a little like an out-of-date magazine that has been left on a table for far too long.

The tall man shrugged. "They call me Lanky," he said. "I'm here most of the time."

Francis nodded. "I'm…"

The other man interrupted. "C-Bird. No one seems to use their real name in here."

Lanky moved his head up and down rapidly. "The Fireman's right, C-Bird. Nicknames and abbreviations and the such."

Then he pivoted, and quickly marched back across the room, and tossed himself down on his bed, staring back up at the ceiling.

"He doesn't seem to be a bad fellow, and I think in reality, which is a poor word to use in this fine place, I believe he's actually pretty harmless," the Fireman said. "He did exactly the same to me the other day, shouting and pointing and acting like he was going to take me on single-handedly, thus protecting society from the arrival of the Antichrist, or the Son of Satan or whomever. Any odd demon that might accidentally land here. He does that to everyone who enters whom he doesn't recognize. And it's not altogether crazy, too, if you think about it. There seems to be a significant amount of evil around in this world, and it has to be coming from somewhere, I'm guessing. Might as well stay vigilant, like he says, even here."

"Thank you, anyway," Francis said. He was calming down, a little like a child who thought he was lost, but somehow spots a landmark, that gives him a sense of location. "But I don't know your name…"

"I don't have a name any longer," the man said. This was spoken with just the slightest touch of sadness around the edge, replaced swiftly by a wry half smile that was tinged with some sort of regret.

"How can you not have a name?" Francis asked.

"I've had to give it up. It's what landed me here."

This made little sense to Francis. The man shook his head, amused. "I'm sorry. People have started calling me the Fireman, because that is what I was before I arrived at the hospital. Put out fires."

"But…"

"Well, once my friends called me Peter. So, Peter the Fireman, that will have to do for you Francis C-Bird."

"All right," Francis replied.

"I think you'll discover that the naming system here, makes it a little easier. Now you've met Lanky, which is as obvious a nickname for someone who looks like he does as one could possibly have. And you've been introduced to the Moses brothers, except everyone calls them Big Black and Little Black, which, again, seems like appropriate casting. And Gulp-a-pill, which is easier to say and far more accurate given his approach to treatment than the doctor's real name. And who else have you run into?"

"The nurses outside behind the bars, Miss…"

"Ah, Miss Wrong and Miss Watchful?"

"Wright and Winchell."

"Correct. And there are other nurses as well, like Nurse Mitchell, who is Nurse Bitch-All and Nurse Smith, who is Nurse Bones because she looks a little like Lanky, there, and. Short Blond, who seems quite beautiful. There's a social worker named Evans called Mister Evil whom you're going to meet soon enough, because he's more or less in charge of this dormitory. And Gulp-a-pill's nasty secretary's name is Miss Lewis, but someone dubbed her Miss Luscious, which she apparently hates, but can't do anything about, because it has stuck to her as tightly as those sweaters she likes to wear. She seems to be a real piece of work. It might all seem very confusing, but you'll get it all straight in a couple of days."

Francis took a quick look around, then he whispered, "Are all the people in here crazy?"

The Fireman shook his head. "It's a hospital for crazy folks, C-Bird, but not everyone is. Some are just old, and senile, which makes them seem a little odd. Some are retarded, so they're slow on the uptake, but precisely what got them landed here is a mystery to me. Some folks seem merely depressed. Others are hearing voices. Do you hear voices, C-Bird?"

Francis was unsure how to answer. It seemed as if deep within him there was a debate going on; he could hear arguments suddenly swinging back and forth, like so many electric currents between poles.

"I don't want to say," Francis replied hesitantly.

The Fireman nodded. "Some things it's best to keep to oneself."

He put his arm around Francis for a moment, steering him toward the exit door.

"Come on," he said. "I'll show you what there is of our home."

"Do you hear voices, Peter?" Francis asked.

The Fireman shook his head. "Nope."

"You don't?"

"No. But it might be a good thing if I did," he replied. He was smiling as he spoke, just the slightest touch at the corners of his mouth, in a way that Francis would come to recognize soon enough, that seemed to mirror much about the Fireman, for he was the sort of person who seemed to see both sadness and humor in things that others would see as merely moments.

"Are you crazy?" Francis asked.

Again the Fireman smiled, this time letting out a little laugh. "Are you crazy, C-Bird?"

Francis took a deep breath. "I might be," he said. "I don't know."

The Fireman shook his head. "I don't think so, C-Bird. Didn't think so when I first saw you, either. At least, not too crazy. Maybe a little crazy, but what's wrong with that?"

Francis nodded. This reassured him. "But what about you?" he continued.

The Fireman hesitated, before replying.

"I'm something far worse," he said slowly. "That's why I'm here. They're supposed to find out what's wrong with me."

"What's worse than being crazy?" Francis asked.

The Fireman coughed once. "Well," he said, "I guess there's no harm. You'll find out sooner or later. I kill people."

And with those words, he led Francis out into the corridor of the hospital.

Chapter 4

And that was it, I suppose.

Big Black told me not to make friends, to be cautious, to keep to myself, and obey the rules, and I did my very best to follow everything he advised except that first admonition, and, when I look back, I wonder if he wasn't right about that, as well. But madness is also truly about the worst sorts of loneliness, and I was both mad and alone, and so when Peter the Fireman took me aside, I welcomed his friendship along the descending road into the world of the Western State Hospital, and I did not ask him what he meant when he said those words, although I guessed that I would find out soon enough because the hospital was a place where everyone had secrets but few of them were kept close.

My younger sister questioned me once, long after I was released, what was the worst aspect of the hospital, and after much consideration, I told her: the routine. The hospital existed as a system of small disjointed moments that amounted to nothing, that were established merely to get Monday to Tuesday, and Tuesday to Wednesday and so on, week after week, month after month. Everyone at the hospital had been committed by allegedly well-meaning relatives, or the cold and inefficient social services system, after a perfunctory judicial hearing where we often weren't present, under thirty- or sixty-day orders. But we learned quick enough that these phony deadlines were as much delusions as were the voices we heard, for seemingly was always the determination. So, a thirty-day commitment order could easily become a twenty-year stay. A simple downhill path, marching steadily from psychosis to senility. Shortly after our arrival we all learned that we were a little bit like aging munitions, being stored out of sight, deteriorating with every passing moment, rusting and becoming increasingly less stable.

The first thing one recognized at the Western State Hospital was the biggest lie of them all that no one was truly trying to help you get better, no one was actually trying to help you go home. A lot was said, and a lot was done, ostensibly to help you readjust to society, but these were mostly shows and fictions, like the release hearings that were held from time to time. The hospital was like tar on the road. It stuck you in place. A famous poet once quite elegantly and naively wrote that home was the place where they always took you in. Maybe for poets, but not for madmen. The hospital was about keeping you out of the sane world's eyes. We were all bound by medications that dulled the senses, stymied the voices, but never did completely away with anything hallucinatory, so that vibrant delusions still echoed and resounded throughout the corridors. But what was truly evil about our lives was how quickly we all came to accept those delusions. After a few days in the hospital, it didn't bother me when little Napoleon would stand next to my bed and start talking energetically of troop movements at Waterloo, and how if only the British squares had cracked under the assault of his cavalry, or Blucher had been delayed upon the road, or had The Old Guard not withered under the hail of grapeshot and musketry, how all of Europe would have been changed forever. I was never exactly sure that Napoleon actually thought he was the emperor of France, though at moments he behaved that way, or whether he simply obsessed with all these things because he was a small man, shunted away in a loony bin with the rest of us, and he more than anything wanted to signify something in life.

All of us mad folks did; it was our greatest hope and dream, we wanted to be something. What afflicted us was the elusiveness in achieving that goal, and so, instead we substituted delusion. On my floor alone, there were a half-dozen Jesuses, or at least folks who insisted they could communicate with Him directly, one Mohammad who fell to his knees three times a day, praying to Mecca, although he was often pointed in the wrong direction, a couple of George Washingtons or assorted other presidents, from Lincoln and Jefferson right up to LBJ and Tricky Dick, and more than a few folks, like the truly harmless but occasionally terrifying Lanky, who were on the lookout for signs of Satan or any of his minions. There were folks obsessed with germs, people terrified of unseen bacteria floating in the air, others who believed that every bolt of lightning during a thunderstorm was aimed directly at them, and so they cowered in the corners. There were patients who said nothing, spending days on end in total silence, and others who blasted and despairs. One of the men that I came to like was called Newsman. He wandered the hallways like some present day town crier, spouting headlines, an encyclopedia of current events. At least, in his own mad way, he kept us connected to the outside world, and reminded us that events were taking place beyond the walls of the hospital. And there was even one famously overweight woman, who occupied hours playing a mean game of Ping-Pong in the dayroom, but who spent most of her time considering the issues connected with being the direct reincarnation of Cleopatra. Sometimes, however, Cleo only thought she was Elizabeth Taylor in the movie. One way or the other, she could quote virtually every line from the film, even Richard Burton's, or the entirety of Shakespeare's play, as she slammed another winner past whoever dared play the game against her.

When I think back, it all seems so ridiculous, I think I should laugh out loud.

But it wasn't. It was a place of unspeakable pain.

That is what the people who have never been mad cannot understand. How much every delusion hurts. How reality just seems beyond one's grasp. A world of desperation and frustration. Sisyphus and his boulder would have fit in well at the Western State Hospital.

I went to my daily group sessions with Mister Evans, whom we called Mister Evil. A wiry psychiatric social worker with a sunken chest and an imperious attitude that seemed to suggest that he was somehow superior because he went home at the end of the day, and we did not, which we resented, but which was unfortunately the truest kind of superiority. In these sessions, we were encouraged to speak openly about why we were in the hospital, and what we would do when we were released.

Everyone lied. Wonderful, unbridled, optimistic, runaway, enthusiastic lies.

Except Peter the Fireman, who rarely contributed. He sat beside me politely listening to whatever fantastic fiction either I or one of the others came up with, about getting a regular job, or returning to school, or maybe joining an uplifting program that might serve to help others afflicted as we were. All these conversations were lies with one singular and hopeless desire at their core: to appear to be normal. Or, at least normal enough to be allowed to go home.

At the start I sometimes wondered if there hadn't been some private but very tenuous agreement between the two men, because Mister Evil never called on Peter the Fireman to add something to the discussion, even when it turned away from ourselves and our troubles into something interesting, like current events such as the hostage crisis, unrest in the inner cities, or the Red Sox aspirations for the upcoming year all subjects that the Fireman knew a great deal about. There was some malevolence the two men shared, but one was patient, the other administrator, and at the beginning it was hidden away.

In an odd way, I very shortly came to think as if I was on some desperate expedition to the farthest, most desolate regions of the earth, cut off from civilization, traveling deeper and farther away from all that was familiar into uncharted lands. Harsh lands.

And soon to be harsher, still.

The wall beckoned me, even as the phone in the corner of the kitchen started to ring. I knew it would be one of my sisters, calling to find out how I was, which was, of course, the way I always am, and, I presume, the way I always will be. So, I ignored it.

Within a few weeks, what remained of the winter seemed to have retreated in sullen defeat, and Francis moved down a corridor at the hospital, searching for something to do. A woman to his right was mumbling something plaintive about lost babies, and rocking herself back and forth, holding her arms in front of her as if they contained something precious, when they did not. Ahead of him, an old man in pajamas, with wrinkled skin and a shock of unruly silver hair, stared forlornly at a stark white wall, until Little Black came along and gently turned him by the shoulders, so that he was now staring out a barred window. The repositioning with its new vista brought a smile to the old man's face and Little Black patted the man on the arm, reassuring him, then ambled over toward Francis.

"C-Bird, how you doing today?"

"I'm okay, Mister Moses. Just slightly bored."

"They are watching soap operas in the dayroom."

"Those shows don't do much for me."

"You don't get behind that C-Bird? Start in to wondering just what's gonna happen to all those folks with all those strange lives. Lots of twists and turns and mystery that keeps folks tuning in. That don't interest you?"

"I suppose it should, Mister Moses, but I don't know. It just doesn't seem real to me."

"Well, there's also some people playing some cards. Some board games, too."

Francis shook his head.

"Play a game of Ping-Pong with Cleo, maybe?"

Francis smiled and continued to shake his head. "What, Mister Moses, you think I'm so crazy I'd take her on?"

This comment made Little Black laugh out loud. "No, C-Bird. Not even you that crazy," he replied.

"Can I get an outdoor slip?" Francis asked abruptly.

Little Black looked at his wristwatch. "I got some folks going outside this afternoon. Maybe plant some flowers on this fine day. Take a little walk. Get some of that fresh air. You go see Mister Evans, he fix you up, maybe. It's okay with me."

Francis found Mister Evil outside his office, standing in the corridor deep in conversation with Doctor Gulp-a-pill. The two men seemed animated, gesturing back and forth, arguing vehemently, but it was a curious sort of argument, for the more intense it seemed to get, the lower and softer their voices became, so that eventually, as Francis hovered nearby, the two men were hissing back and forth like a pair of snakes confronting each other. The two men seemed oblivious to everyone in the hallway, for more than a few other inmates joined Francis, shuffling about, moving right and left, waiting for an opening. Francis finally heard Gulp-a-pill say angrily, "Well, we simply cannot have this sort of lapse, not for a moment. I hope for your sakes they show up soon," only to have Mister Evil respond, "Well, they've obviously been misplaced, or maybe stolen, and I'm not to blame for that. We will keep searching, that's the best I can do." Gulp-a-pill nodded, but his face was set in a curious anger. "You do that," he said. "And I hope they're discovered sooner rather than later. Make sure you inform Security, and have them provide you with a new set. But this is a serious breach of the rules." And then the small Indian abruptly turned and walked away without acknowledging the presence of any of the others, except for one man, who sidled up to the doctor, but was dismissed with a wave before he could speak. Mister Evans turned toward the others, and was equally irritated: "What? What do you want?"

His very tone caused one woman to instantly snatch a sob from her chest, and another old man to shake his head negatively, and stumble off down the corridor, speaking to himself, more comfortable with whatever conversation he could have with no one, than the one he could have with the angry social worker.

Francis, however, hesitated. The voices of caution inside his head shouted: Leave! Leave now! but Francis paused, and after a moment, mustered up enough courage to say, "I would like an outdoor pass. Mister Moses is taking some people out to the grounds this afternoon, and I'd like to go with them. He said it would be okay."

"You want to go out?"

"Yes. Please."

"Why do you want to go out, Petrel? What is it about the great out-of-doors that seems to be attractive to you?" Francis could not tell whether he was mocking him directly, or merely making fun of the idea of stepping beyond the front door of the Amherst Building.

"It's a nice day. Like the first nice day in a long time. The sun is shining and it's warm. Fresh air."

"And you think that is better than what is offered here, inside?"

"I didn't say that, Mister Evans. It's just springtime, and I wanted to go out."

Mister Evil shook his head. "I think you mean to try to run away, Francis. Escape. I think you believe that you can duck away from Little Black when his back is turned, climb the ivy and vault the wall, then run down the hill past the college before someone spots your flight and catch a bus that will take you away from here. Any bus, you don't care, because any place is better than here; that's what I think you mean to do," he said. His tone had an edgy, aggressive note.

Francis instantly replied, "No, no, no, I just want to go to the garden."

"You say that," Mister Evil continued, "but how do I know that you are telling me the truth? How can I trust you, C-Bird? What will you do that makes me believe that you are telling me the truth?"

Francis had no idea how to reply. He did not know how anyone could prove that a promise made was truthful, other than by behaving that way. "I just want to go outside," Francis said. "I haven't been outside since I got here."

"Do you think you deserve the privilege of going outside? What have you done to earn that, Francis?"

"I don't know," Francis said. "I didn't know I had to earn it. I just want to go outside."

"What do your voices tell you, C-Bird?"

Francis took a small step back, for his voices were all shouting, distant, yet clear, instructions to get away from the psychologist as fast as he could, but Francis persisted, in rare defiance of the internal racket. "I don't hear any voices, Mister Evans. I just wanted to go outside. That's all. I don't want to escape. I don't want to take a bus somewhere. I just want some fresh air."

Evans nodded, but locked his lips into a sneer at the same time. "I don't believe you," he said, but he pulled a small pad from his shirt pocket and wrote a few words on it. "Give this to Mister Moses," he said. "Permission to go outside granted. But don't be late for our afternoon group session."

Francis found Little Black smoking a cigarette by the nursing station, where he was flirting with the pair on duty. Nurse Wrong was there, and a younger woman, a new nurse-trainee called Short Blond because she wore her hair cropped close to her head in a pixie like style that contradicted the bouffant do's of the other staff nurses, who were all a little older, and a little more committed to the sags and wrinkles of middle age. Short Blond was young and thin and wiry, with a boy like physique hidden behind the white nursing outfit. Her skin was pale, almost translucent, and seemed to glow softly beneath the over head lights of the hospital. She had a slight, hard-to-hear voice that seemed to slide into whispers when she was nervous, which, as best as the patients could tell, was often. Large noisy groups made her anxious, and she struggled when the nursing station was swarmed at the hours medications were dispensed. These were always tense times, with folks jostling back and forth, trying to get up to the wire-enclosed window, where the pills were arranged in small paper cups with patients' names written on them. She had trouble getting the patients into lines, getting them to be quiet, and she especially had trouble when some pushing and shoving took place, which was often enough. Short Blond did much better when she was alone with a patient, and her reedy, small voice didn't have to battle with many. Francis liked her, because, at least in part, she wasn't that much older than he was, but mainly because he thought her voice was soothing, and reminded him of his own mother's years earlier, when she would read to him at night. For a moment, he tried to remember when she had stopped doing that, because the memory seemed suddenly far distant, almost as if it were history, rather than recollection.

"You get the permission slip, C-Bird?" Little Black asked.

"Right here." He handed it over and looked up and saw Peter the Fireman walking down the corridor. "Peter!" Francis called, "I got permission to go outside. Why don't you go see Mister Evil, and see if you can come, too."

Peter the Fireman walked up quickly. He smiled but shook his head. "No can do, C-Bird," he said. "Against the rules." He glanced over at Little Black, who was nodding in agreement.

"Sorry," the attendant said. "The Fireman's right. Not him."

"Why not?" Francis asked.

"Because," the Fireman said quietly, slowly, "that's my arrangement here. Not beyond any of the locked doors."

"I don't understand," Francis said.

"It's part of the court order putting me here," the Fireman continued. His voice seemed tinged with regret. "Ninety days of observation. Assessment. Psychological determination. Tests where they hold up an inkblot and I'm supposed to say it looks like two people having sex. Gulp-a-pill and Mister Evil ask, and I answer, and they write it down and one of these days it goes back to the court. But I'm not allowed past any locked doors. Everybody's in prison, sort of, C-Bird. Mine is just a little more restricted than yours."

Little Black added, "It ain't a big thing, C-Bird. There's plenty of folks here who never get to go out. Depends on what you did that got you here. Of course, there's plenty, too, who don't want to go out, either, but could, if they only asked. They just never do ask."

Francis understood, but didn't understand, both at the same time. He looked over at the Fireman. "It doesn't seem fair," he said.

"I don't think the concept of fair was truly one that anyone really had in mind, C-Bird. But I agreed, and so, that's the way it is. I stay put. Meet with Doctor Gulp-a-pill twice a week. Attend sessions with Mister Evil. Let them watch me. See, even now, while we're talking, Little Black here and Short Blond and Miss Wrong are all watching me and listening to what I say, and just about anything they observe might end up in the report that Gulp-a-pill is going to write up for the court. So, I pretty much need to mind my p's and q's and watch what I say, because no telling what might become the key consideration. Isn't that right, Mister Moses?"

Little Black nodded. Francis found it all to be oddly detached, as if they were speaking about someone else, not the person standing in front of him. "When you speak like that," he said, "it doesn't sound like you're crazy."

This comment made Peter the Fireman smile wryly, one side of his mouth lifting up, giving him a slightly lopsided, but genuinely bemused look. "Oh my gosh," he said. "That's terrible. Terrible." He made a slight choking sound deep in his throat. "I should be even more careful then," he said. "Because crazy is what I need to be."

This made no sense to Francis. For a man who was being watched, Peter seemed relatively unconcerned, which was in opposition to many of the paranoids in the hospital, who believed they were constantly being observed, when they weren't, but took evasive steps nevertheless. Of course, they believed it was the FBI or the CIA or perhaps the KGB or extraterrestrials who were doing the watching, which made their circumstances significantly different. Francis watched the Fireman turn and head off through the dayroom doors, and thought that even when he whistled, or perhaps added some obvious jauntiness to his step, it only served to make whatever saddened him all that much more obvious.

The warm sun hit Francis's face. Big Black had joined his brother to lead the expedition, one at the front and one at the rear, keeping the dozen patients making the journey through the hospital grounds in single file. Lanky had come along, muttering about being on the lookout, as vigilant as always, and Cleo, who spent some time staring at the ground, and peering at the dirt beneath every bush and shrub, hoping, as she said to anyone who noticed her behavior, to spot an adder. Francis guessed that an ordinary garter snake would nicely serve the serpent part of the bill, but not the suicide part. There were several older women who walked very slowly and a couple of older men, and three middle-aged male patients, all of whom fit into the bedraggled, nondescript category that marked folks who had been assimilated into the hospital routine for years. They wore flip-flop sandals or work boots and pajama tops beneath frayed and threadbare woolen sweaters or sweatshirts, none of which seemed to quite fit or match, which was the norm for the hospital. A couple of the men had sullen, angry expressions on their faces, as if the sunlight that seemed to caress their faces with warmth infuriated them in some internal way that defied understanding. It was, Francis thought, what made the hospital such an unsettling place. A day that should have brought relaxed laughter instead inspired quiet rage.

The two attendants kept to a leisurely pace as they moved through the hospital grounds toward the rear of the complex, where there was a small garden. A picnic table that had been through a rough winter, its surface warped and scarred by the weather, held some boxes of seeds and a red child's play bucket with a few trowels and hand shovels arranged within. There was an aluminum watering pail and a hose attached to a single faucet that rose up on a lone pipe directly from the ground. Within a few seconds, Big Black and Little Black had the outdoor group on their hands and knees in the swatch of dirt, raking and tilling with the small hand tools, preparing the earth for planting. Francis kept at this for a few moments, then he looked up.

Beyond the garden was another piece of ground, a long rectangle enclosed by an old wooden picket fence that had once been painted white, but had faded over time to a dull gray. Weeds and unkempt grasses pushed up in tufts through the hard scrabble earth. He guessed that it was a cemetery of sorts, because there were two faded granite headstones, each slightly out of kilter, so that they looked like uneven teeth in a child's mouth. Then behind the back picket fence was a line of trees, planted closely together to form a natural barrier and obscure a metal link fence.

Then he glanced around, back toward the hospital itself. To his left, partially obscured by a dormitory, was the power plant, with a smokestack that released a thin plume of white smoke into the blue sky. Hidden under the ground, leading to all the buildings, were tunnels with heating ducts. He could see some sheds, with equipment stored to their sides. The remaining buildings looked much the same, brick and ivy, with slate gray roof lines Most were designed to hold patients, but one had been converted to a dormitory for nurse-trainees, and several others redesigned into duplex apartments where some of the younger psychiatric residents and their families stayed. These were discernible because they had telltale children's toys scattered about in front, and one had a sandbox. Near the administration building there was also a security building, where the hospital's guard staff checked in and out. He took note that the administration building had a wing with an auditorium, where, he guessed staff meetings and lectures were given. But all in all, there was a depressing similarity to the complex. It was hard to discern precisely what the designer's layout had meant to suggest, for the buildings had a haphazard arrangement that defied rational planning. Two would be right next to each other, but a third would be angled away. It was almost as if they had been slapped down into space without any sense of order.

The front of the hospital complex was enclosed by a tall redbrick wall, with an ornate black wrought-iron entranceway. He couldn't see a sign out front, but he doubted there would be one, anyway. If one approached the hospital, he guessed, one already knew what it was, and what it was for, so a sign would have been redundant.

He stared at the wall and tried to measure it with his eyes. He thought the wall at least ten to twelve feet high. The wall was replaced on the sides, and on the back end of the hospital by chain-link fencing, which was rusted in many spots and topped with strands of rusted barbed wire. In addition to the garden, there was an exercise area, a swatch of black macadam, which had a basketball hoop at one end and a volleyball net in the center, but both these items were bent and broken, blackened by disuse and lack of care. He couldn't imagine anyone using either.

"What you looking at C-Bird?" Little Black asked.

"The hospital," Francis replied. "I just didn't know how big it was."

"Many, too many, here now," Little Black said quietly. "Every dormitory filled to bursting. Beds jammed up close together. People with nothing to do, just hanging in the hallways. Not enough games. Not enough therapy. Just everybody in here getting real close together. That ain't good."

Francis looked over at the huge gate that he'd passed through on his first day at the hospital. It was wide open.

"They lock it at night," Little Black said, anticipating his question.

"Mister Evans thought I was going to try to run away," Francis said.

Little Black shook his head and smiled. "People always think that's what the folks here will do, but it don't happen," he said. "Even Mister Evil, he's been here a couple of years, but he should know better."

"Why not?" Francis asked. "Why don't people try to run away?"

Little Black sighed. "You know the answer to that C-Bird. It ain't about fences, and it ain't about locked doors, although we got plenty of those. There's lotsa ways to keep a person locked up. You think about it. But the best way of all doesn't have anything to do with drugs or deadbolt locks, C-Bird. It's that hardly anybody in here has some place to run to. With no place to go, nobody goes. It's that simple."

With that, he turned away and tried to help Cleo with her seeds. She hadn't dug the furrows deep enough or wide enough. She showed some frustration on her face, until Little Black reminded her that servants spread flower petals in her path, when her namesake entered Rome. This made her pause, and then redouble her efforts, until Cleo was digging and scraping through the moldy, gravelly ground with a determination that seemed genuinely profound. Cleo was a large woman, who wore brightly colored smocks that billowed around her, concealing her extensive bulk. She wheezed often, smoked too much, and wore her dark hair in scraggly streams down around her shoulders. When she walked, she seemed to lurch back and forth, like a rudderless ship blown off course by high winds and choppy waves. But Francis knew she was transformed, when she took up a Ping-Pong paddle, shedding her unwieldy size almost magically, and becoming svelte, catlike, and quick.

He looked back over at the gate, and then to his fellow patients and slowly began to grasp what Little Black had been saying. One of the older men was having trouble with his trowel; it was shaking hard in a palsied hand. Another had become distracted, and was staring up at a raucous crow perched in a nearby tree.

Deep inside him, he heard one of his voices speak sullenly, repeating what Little Black had told him, as if to underscore each word: No one runs, because no one has any place to run to. And neither do you, Francis.

Then a chorus of assent.

For a moment, Francis spun about, his head pivoting wildly. For in that second, beneath the sunlight and the mild spring breezes, his hands already caked with dirt from the garden, he saw what could be his future. And it terrified him more than anything that had happened so far. He could see that his life was a slippery thin rope, and he needed to grasp hold of it. It was the worst feeling he had ever had. He knew he was mad, and knew, just as surely, that he couldn't be. And, in that second, he realized, he had to find something that would keep him sane. Or make him appear to be sane.

Francis breathed in hard. He did not think this would be easy.

And, as if to underline the problem, within him his voices argued loudly, making a racket. He tried to quiet them, but this was difficult. It took a few moments for them all to reduce their volume so that he could make some sense out of what they were saying. Francis glanced over at the other patients, and saw that a couple of them were eyeing him closely. He must have been mumbling something out loud, as he'd tried to impose order on the assembly within him. But neither Big Black nor his brother seemed to have noticed the sudden struggle that had engaged him.

Lanky had, however. He had been working on some dirt a few feet away, and he lurched over to Francis's side.

"You'll be okay, C-Bird," he said, his voice cracking a little with some emotion that abruptly seemed to be spinning a bit out of control. "We all will. As long as we keep up our guard, and keep a weather eye out. Got to keep close watch," he continued. "And don't turn your back for a minute. It's all around us, and it could happen any time. We have to be prepared. Like Boy Scouts. Ready for it when it comes." The tall man seemed more agitated and desperate than usual.

Francis thought he knew what Lanky was speaking about, but then understood that it could be almost anything, but most likely concerned a satanic presence on earth. Lanky had a curious manner, where he could slide from manic to almost gentle in the course of seconds. One instant, he would be all arms and angles, moving like a marionette, strings being pulled by unseen forces, and the next diminished, where his height made him seem no more threatening than a lamppost. Francis nodded, took a few seeds from a package and pushed them into the dirt.

Big Black rose up and shook his white attendant's outfit clean of dirt. "Okay, folks," he said cheerily, "gonna spray this place with some water and head on in." He looked over at Francis, and asked, "C-Bird, what did you plant?"

Francis looked down at the seed package and said, "Roses. Red ones. Pretty to look at, but hard to handle. They've got thorns." Then he got up, got into line with the others, and marched back toward the dormitory. He tried to drink in and store up as much fresh air as he could, for he feared it might be some time before he got out again.

Whatever had caused Lanky to loosen his already weak grip on the day, persisted at the group session that afternoon. They gathered, as usual, in one of the odd rooms inside Amherst, a little like a small classroom, with twenty or so gray metal folding chairs arranged in a rough circle. Francis liked to position himself where he could stare out past the bars on the window if the conversation got boring. Mister Evil had brought in that morning's paper to spur a discussion on current events, but it only seemed to agitate the tall man even more. He sat across from where Francis perched next to Peter the Fireman, shifting about constantly in his chair, as Mister Evil turned to Newsman to recite the day's headlines. This the patient did extravagantly, his voice rising and falling with each reading. There was little good news. The hostage crisis in Iran continued relentlessly. A protest in San Francisco had turned violent, with a number of arrests and tear gas deployed by helmeted police officers. In both Paris and Rome, anti-American demonstrators had burned flags and effigies of Uncle Sam before running wild in the streets. In London, authorities had used water cannon against similar protestors. The Dow Jones Industrial Average had taken a beating and there had been a riot in a prison in Arizona that hadn't been quelled without grisly injury to both inmates and guards. In Boston, police were still puzzled by several homicides that had taken place during the prior year, and reported no new leads in the cases which involved young women being abducted and molested, before being killed. A three-car accident on Route 91 outside Greenfield had claimed a pair of lives, and a lawsuit had been filed by an environmental group accusing a large local employer of dumping untreated waste into the Connecticut River.

Every time Newsman paused in his reading, and Mister Evil launched into an effort to discuss any of these stories, or others, all discouragingly similar, Lanky nodded his head vigorously and started mumbling, "There! See. That's what I mean!" It was a little like being in some bizarre revivalist church. Evans ignored these statements, trying to engage the other members of the group in some sort of give-and-take conversation.

Peter the Fireman, however, took notice. He abruptly turned to Lanky and asked him directly, "Big Guy, what's wrong?"

Lanky's voice quavered, as he spoke: "Don't you see, Peter? The signs are everywhere! Unrest, hatred, war, killing…" He abruptly turned to Evans and asked, "Isn't there some story in the paper about famine, as well?"

Mister Evil hesitated, and Newsman gleefully said, "Sudanese Struggle with Crop Failure. Drought and Starvation Cause Refugee Crisis. The New York Times."

"Hundreds dead?" Lanky asked.

"Yes. In all likelihood," Mister Evans replied. "Perhaps even more."

Lanky nodded vigorously, his head bobbing up and down. "I've seen the pictures before. Little babies with their bellies swollen and spindly little legs and eyes sunken back all hollow and hopeless. And disease, that's always with us, right alongside famine. Don't even need to read Revelations all that carefully to recognize what's happening. All the signs." He leaned back abruptly in his steel folding chair, took a single long glance outside the barred window that opened on the hospital grounds, as if assessing the final light of the day, and said, "There is no doubt that Satan's presence is here. Close by. Look at all that is happening in the world. Bad news everywhere you look. Who else could be responsible?"

With that, he folded his arms in front of him. He was suddenly breathing hard, and small droplets of sweat had formed on his forehead, as if each thought that reverberated within him took a great effort to control. The rest of the dozen members of the group were fixed in their chairs, no one moving, their eyes locked on the tall man, as he struggled with the fears that buffeted around within him.

Mister Evil noticed this, and abruptly steered the topic away from Lanky's obsession. "Let's turn to the sports section," he said. The cheeriness in his voice was transparent, almost insulting.

But Peter the Fireman persisted. "No," he spoke with an edge of anger in his words. "No. I don't want to talk about baseball or basketball or the local high school teams. I think we ought to talk about the world around us. And I think Lanky's truly onto something. All there is outside these doors is awful. Hatred and murder and killing. Where does it come from? Who's doing it? Who's good anymore? Maybe it isn't because Satan is here, like Lanky believes. Maybe it's because we've all turned for the worse, and he doesn't even need to be here, because we're doing all his work for him."

Mr. Evans stared hard at Peter the Fireman. His gaze had narrowed. "I think you have an interesting opinion," he said slowly, measuring his words in an understated cold fashion, "but you exaggerate things. Regardless, I don't think it has much to do with the purposes of this group. We're here to explore ways to rejoin society. Not reasons to hide from it, even if things out in the world aren't quite the way we might like them to be. Nor do I think it serves a purpose when we indulge our delusions, or lend any credence to them." These last words were directed both at Peter and Lanky equally.

Peter the Fireman's face was set. He started to speak, then stopped.

But into that sudden void, Lanky stepped. His voice was quivering, on the verge of tears. "If we are to blame for all that is happening, then there's no hope for any of us. None."

This was said with such unbridled despair that several of the other people in the session, who had been quiet until then, immediately muffled cries. One old man started to tear up, and a woman wearing a pink ruffled housecoat, far too much mascara on her eyes, and tufted white bunny rabbit slippers cut loose with a sob. "Oh, that's sad," she said. "That's so sad."

Francis watched the social worker, as he tried to regain control over the session. "The world is the way the world has always been," he said. "It's our own part in it that concerns us here."

It was the wrong thing to say, because Lanky jumped to his feet. He was waving his arms suddenly above his head, much the way he had when Francis had first encountered him. "But that's it!" he cried, startling some of the more timid members of the group. "Evil is everywhere! We must find a way to keep it out! We must band together. Form committees. Have watchdog groups. We must organize! Coordinate! Make a plan. Raise defenses. Guard the walls. We've got to work hard to keep it out of the hospital!" He took a deep breath, and pivoted, searching out all the members of the group session with his eyes.

Several heads nodded in unison. This made sense.

"We can keep evil out," Lanky said. "But only if we're vigilant."

Then, his body still shaking with the effort speaking out had taken, he sat back down, and once again folded his arms across his chest retreating into silence.

Mr. Evans glared at Peter the Fireman, as if he was to blame for Lanky's outburst. "So," he said slowly, "Peter. Tell us. Do you think if we're to keep Satan outside these walls, perhaps then we should all be going to church on a regular basis?"

Peter the Fireman stiffened in his seat.

"No," he said slowly, "I don't think "

"Shouldn't we be praying? Going to services. Saying our Hail Mary's and Our Father's and Perfect Acts of Contrition. Taking communion on every Sunday? Shouldn't we be confessing our sins on a near constant basis?"

Peter the Fireman's voice grew low and very quiet. "Those things might make you feel better. But I don't believe "

But Mr. Evans interrupted him a second time. "Oh, I'm sorry," he said, an edgy cynicism in each word. "Going to church and all sorts of organized religious activities would be highly inappropriate for the Fireman, wouldn't they? Because the Fireman, well, you have a problem with churches, right?"

Peter shifted in his seat. Francis could see a slippery fury behind his eyes, which he had never seen before.

"Not churches. A church. And I had a problem. But I solved it, didn't I, Mister Evans?"

The two men stared at each other for a second, then Evans said, "Yes. I suppose you did. And see where it has landed you."

At dinner, things seemed to grow worse for Lanky.

The meal that night was creamed chicken, which was mostly a thick, grayish cream and not much chicken, with peas that had been boiled into a state where whatever claim they might once have had on being a vegetable had evaporated in the heat of the stove, and hard baked potatoes that had the same consistency as frozen, except that they were as hot as coals taken from the bottom of a fire. The tall man sat alone, at a corner table, while the other residents of the building jammed into seats at the other tables, trying to give him space. One or two residents had tried to join him at the start of the dinner, but Lanky had waved them away furiously, growling a bit like an old dog disturbed from its sleep.

The usual buzz of conversation seemed muted, the ordinary clatter of dishes and trays seemed softer. There were several tables set aside for the elderly, senile patients, who needed assistance, but even the hovering, attentive busywork of feeding them, or aiding the catatonics who stared blankly ahead, barely aware that they were being fed, seemed quieter, more subdued. From where he was seated, chewing unhappily on the tasteless meal, Francis could see that all the attendants in the dining room kept tossing glances at Lanky, trying to keep an eye on him, as they went about the business of taking care of the others. At one point Gulp-a-pill put in an appearance, spent a few moments intently observing Lanky before speaking rapidly with Evans. Before he left, Gulp-a-pill wrote out a scrip, which he handed to another nurse.

Lanky seemed oblivious to the attention he was drawing.

He was talking rapidly to himself, arguing back and forth, as he pushed the food on his plate about into a rapidly congealing mess. He gulped at a glass of water, gestured once or twice wildly, pointing at the air in front of him, his bony index finger jabbing the space, as if punching the chest of no one in front of him as he made a dramatic point to no one who was there. Then, just as rapidly, he would lower his face, and stare at his food, and return to mumbling to himself.

It was near dessert, squares of lime green Jell-O, when Lanky finally looked up, as if suddenly aware of where he was. He spun about in his seat, a look of surprise and astonishment on his face. His wiry gray hair, which usually fell in slimy rings to his shoulders, now seemed electrically charged, like a Saturday morning cartoon character whose finger is pushed into a light socket, except this was not a joke and no one was laughing. His eyes were wide and wild with fear, much like they had been when Francis first encountered the older man, but multiplied, as if accelerated by passion. Francis saw them search rapidly around the room, and then fasten on Short Blond, who was only a little ways away from where Lanky was seated, trying to help an elderly woman through her dinner, cutting each slimy morsel of chicken into small bites, then lifting them to her mouth as if she were a baby in a highchair.

Lanky pushed back sharply from his seat, sending the chair clattering to the floor. In the same motion, he lifted his cadaverous finger and began pointing it at the young nurse-trainee.

"You!" he cried out furiously.

Short Blond looked up, confused. For a second she pointed at herself, and Francis could see her mouth the word, "Me?" She didn't move from where she was seated. Francis thought that this was probably her limited training. Any veteran of the hospital would have reacted much more swiftly.

"You!" he cried again. "It must be you!"

From the far side of the dining room, both Little Black and his brother started moving rapidly across the space. But the rows of tables and chairs and the crowd of patients, made their course filled with obstacles, and slowed their pace. Short Blond rose to her feet, staring at Lanky, who was now striding toward her quickly, finger outstretched, pointing directly at her. She recoiled slightly, backing up toward the wall.

"It's you, I know it!" he cried. "You're the new one! You're the one that hasn't been checked! It's you, it must be! Evil! Evil! We've let her through the door! Get away! Get away! Everyone be careful! No telling what she might do!"

His frantic warnings seemed to imply to the other patients that Short Blond was diseased or explosive. Throughout the dining room, people shrank back in sudden fear.

Short Blond retreated to the nearest wall and held up her hand. Francis could see the edge of panic in her eyes as the old man steadily descended upon her, arms flapping like bird wings.

He started to wave the other patients away, his voice rising in pitch and fury, "Don't worry! I'll protect us!"

Big Black was now pushing tables and chairs aside, and Little Black vaulted one patient, who had fallen to his knees in some indistinct terror of his own. Francis could see Mister Evil sweeping in their direction, and Nurse Wrong and another nurse also moving through the tangle of patients, all of whom were knotting together, unsure whether to flee or to watch.

"It's you!" Lanky shouted as he reached the nurse-trainee, and towered menacingly above her.

"It's not!" Short Blond screamed in her high-pitched, reedy voice.

"It is!" Lanky yelled back.

"Lanky! Stop there!" Little Black shouted. Big Black was closing fast, his own face set in an obsidian mask of determination.

"It isn't, it isn't!" Short Blond said, cowering, sliding down the wall.

And then, with Big Black and Mister Evil still yards away, there was a momentary silence. Lanky rose up, stretching toward the ceiling, as if he was going to throw himself down upon Short Blond. Francis heard Peter the Fireman cry out from nearby, but he wasn't sure where, "Lanky don't! Stop right now!"

And, to Francis's surprise, the big man did.

He looked down at Short Blond and a quizzical look came over his face, almost as if he was inspecting test results from an experiment that didn't precisely show what the scientist thought they should. His face took on a skewed, curious expression. Much more quietly, he gazed at Short Blond, and asked, almost politely, "Are you sure?"

"Yes, yes, yes," she choked, "I'm sure!"

He stared at her closely. "I'm confused," he said sadly. It was a deflation of immediate and immense proportions. One second, he'd been this avenging force, gathered as if for assault, then in a microsecond, he was childlike and small, diminished by a storm of doubts.

In that moment, Big Black finally reached Lanky's side, and roughly grabbed the tall man by the arms, pinning them back. "What the hell are you doing!" he demanded angrily. Little Black was only a stride behind, and he stepped into the space between the patient and the nurse-trainee. "Step back!" he insisted, a command that was obeyed instantly, because his immense brother jerked Lanky rearward.

"I could be wrong," Lanky said, shaking his head. "It seemed so clear, at first. Then it changed. Just all of a sudden, it changed. I'm just not sure."

The tall man turned his head to Big Black, craning his ostrich like neck. Doubt and sadness filled his voice. "I thought it had to be her, you see. It had to be. She's the newest. She hasn't been here at all long. A newcomer, to be sure. And we have to be so careful not to let evil inside the walls. We have to be vigilant at all times. I'm sorry," he said, turning as Short Blond rose to her feet, trying to regain her own composure. "I was so sure." He looked at her hard again, and his eyes narrowed.

"I'm just still not sure," he said stiffly. "It could be. She could be lying to me. Satan's assistants are expert liars. They are deceivers, each and every one of them. It's easy for them to make someone seem innocent, when they're really not."

Now his voice lacked rage and doubt.

Short Blond stepped away from the group, keeping her eyes warily on where Lanky was being held by Big Black. Evans had finally managed to cross the room and join the tangle of people, and he was speaking directly to Little Black. "See that he gets a sedative tonight. Fifty milligrams of Nembutal, IV, at medication time. Maybe we should put him in isolation for the night, as well."

Lanky was still eyeing Short Blond, when he heard the word isolation. He spun toward Mister Evil and shook his head vehemently. "No, no, I'm okay, really, I am, I was just doing my job, really. I won't be a problem, I promise…" His voice trailed off.

"We'll see," said Evans. "See how he responds to the sedative."

"I'll be fine," Lanky insisted. "Really. I won't be a problem. Not at all. Please don't put me into isolation."

Evans turned to Short Blond. "You can take a break," he said. But the slender nurse-trainee shook her head.

"I'm okay," she replied, mustering some bravery in her words, and went back to feeding the elderly woman in the wheelchair. Francis noted that Lanky was still staring in Short Blond's direction, his unwavering gaze marked with what he took for uncertainty, but, later, realized could be many different emotions.

The usual evening crowd pushed and complained at medication time that night. Short Blond was behind the wire mesh of the nurses' station, helping to distribute the pills, but the other, older and more experienced nurses took the lead in handing out the evening concoctions. A few voices were raised in complaint, and one man started crying when another pushed him aside, but it seemed to Francis that the outburst at dinner had rendered most of the Amherst residents if not exactly speechless, at least subdued. He thought to himself that the hospital was all about balances. Medications balanced out the madness; age and confinement balanced out energy and ideas. Everyone in the hospital accepted a certain routine, he thought, where space and action were limited and defined and regimented. Even the occasional jostling and arguing, like nightly at medication time, was all part of an elaborate insane minuet, as codified as a Renaissance dance step.

He saw Lanky enter the area in front of the nurses' station, accompanied by Big Black. The tall man was shaking his head, and Francis heard him complain, "I'm okay, I'm okay. I don't need anything extra to calm me down…"

But Big Black's face had lost the easygoing edge it usually wore, and Francis overheard him say calmly, "Lanky, you gotta do this nice and easy-like, because otherwise we're gonna have to put you in a jacket and lock you up in isolation for the night, and I know you don't want that. So take yourself a deep breath and roll up your sleeve and don't fight something that shouldn't be fought."

Lanky nodded, complacent in that moment, although Francis saw that he eyed Short Blond, working at the rear of the station, warily. Whatever doubts Lanky had about Short Blond's capacity to be a child of Satan, it was clear to Francis that they had not been resolved by medication or persuasion. The tall man seemed to quiver from head to toe with anxiety. But he did not fight Nurse Bones, who approached him with a hypodermic dripping with medication, and who swiped his arm with alcohol and stiffly plunged the needle into Lanky's skin. Francis thought it must have hurt, but Lanky showed no signs of discomfort. He stole a final long look at Short Blond, before allowing Big Black to lead him away, back to the dormitory room.

Chapter 5

Outside my apartment the evening traffic had increased. I could hear diesel sounds from heavy trucks, the occasional blare of a car's horn and the constant hum of wheels against pavement. Night comes slowly in the summertime, insinuating itself like a mean thought on a happy occasion. Streaky shadows find the alleys first, then start creeping through yards and across sidewalks, up the sides of buildings, and slithering snakelike through windows, or taking purchase in the branches of shade trees until finally darkness seizes hold. Madness, I often thought, was a little like the night, because of the different ways in different years it spread itself over my heart and my imagination, sometimes harshly and quickly, other times slowly, subtly, so that I barely knew it was taking over.

I tried to think: Had I ever known a darker night, than that one at the Western State Hospital? Or a night filled with more madness?

I went to the sink, filled a glass with water, took a gulp, and thought: I've left out the stench. It was a combination of human waste battling against undiluted cleansers. The stink of urine versus the smell of disinfectant. Like babies, so many old and senile patients had no control over their bowels, so the hospital reeked of accidents. To combat this, every corridor had at least two storage rooms equipped with rags, mops, and buckets filled with the harshest of chemical cleaning agents. It sometimes seemed as if there was someone constantly swabbing down a floor somewhere or another. The lye-based cleaners were fiercely powerful, they burned your eyes when they hit the linoleum floor, and made breathing hard, as if something was clawing at your lungs.

It was hard to anticipate when these accidents would happen. In a normal world, I suppose, one could more or less regularly identify the stresses or fears that might prompt a loss of control by some ancient person, and take steps to reduce those occurrences. It would take a little logic, a little sensitivity, and some planning and foresight. Not a big deal. But in the hospital, where all the stresses and fears that ricocheted around the hallways were so unplanned, and stemmed from so many haphazard thoughts, the idea of anticipation and avoidance was pretty much impossible.

So, instead, we had buckets and powerful cleaners.

And, because of the frequency that nurses and attendants were called upon to use these items, the storage rooms were rarely locked up. They were supposed to be, of course, but like so many things at the Western State Hospital, the reality of the rules gave way to a madness-defined practicality.

What else did I remember about that night? Did it rain? Did the wind blow?

What I recalled, instead, were the sounds.

In the Amherst Building there were nearly three hundred patients crowded into a facility originally designed for about one third that number. On any given night a few people might have been moved into one of the isolation cells up on the fourth floor that Lanky had been threatened with. The beds were jammed up next to each other, so that there was only a few inches of space between each sleeping patient. Along one side of the dorm room, there were some grimy windows. These were barred, and provided a little ventilation, although the men in the bunks beneath them frequently closed them up tight, because they were scared of what might be on the other side.

The nighttime was a symphony of distress.

Snoring, coughing, gurgling noises mingled with nightmares. People spoke in their dreams, to family and friends who weren't there, to Gods who ignored their prayers, to demons that tormented them. People cried constantly, weeping endlessly through the darkest hours. Everyone slept, no one rested.

We were locked in with all the loneliness that night brings.

Perhaps it was the moonlight streaming through the barred windows that kept me flittering between sleep and wakefulness that night. Perhaps I was still unsettled over what had taken place during the day. Perhaps my voices were restless. I have thought about it often, for I am still not sure what kept me in that awkward stage between alertness and unconsciousness throughout the dark hours. Peter the Fireman was groaning in his sleep, tossing about fitfully in the bunk next to mine. The night was hard for him; during the daytime, he was able to maintain a reasonableness that seemed out of place in the hospital. But at night something gnawed steadily away within him. And, as I faded back and forth between these states of anxiety, I remember seeing Lanky, several bunks distant, sitting up, legs folded like a red Indian at some tribal council, staring out across the room. I recall thinking that the tranquilizer that they gave him hadn't done the job, for by all rights he should have been pitched into a dark, dreamless, drug-induced sleep. But whatever the impulses that had so electrified him earlier, they were easily battling the tranquilizer, and instead, he sat, mumbling to himself, gesturing with his hands like a conductor who couldn't quite get the symphony to play at the right tempo.

That was how I remembered him, that night, as I slipped in and out of consciousness myself, right to the moment I had felt a hand on my shoulder, shaking me awake. That was the moment, I thought. Start right there.

And so, I took the pencil and wrote:

Francis slept in fits and starts until he was awakened by an insistent shaking that seemed to drag him abruptly from some other unsettled place and instantly reminded him where he was. He blinked open his eyes, but before they adjusted to the dark, he could hear hanky's voice, whispering softly, but energetically, filled with a childish excitement and pleasure, saying, "We're safe, C-Bird. We're safe!"

Francis slept in fits and starts until he was awakened by an insistent shaking that seemed to drag him abruptly from some other unsettled place and instantly reminded him where he was. He blinked open his eyes, but before they adjusted to the dark, he could hear Lanky's voice, whispering softly, but energetically, filled with a childish excitement and pleasure, saying, "We're safe, C-Bird. We're safe!"

The tall man was perched like some winged dinosaur, on the edge of the bed. In the moonlight that filtered past the window bars, Francis could see a wild look of joy and relief on the man's face.

"Safe from what, Lanky?" Francis asked, although as soon as he asked the question, he realized he knew the answer.

"From evil," Lanky replied. He wrapped his arms around himself, hugging his own body. Then, in a second motion, he lifted his left hand and put it to his face, placing his forehead in his hand, as if the pressure of his palm and fingers could hold back some of the thoughts and ideas that were springing forth so zealously.

When Lanky took his hand away from his forehead, it seemed to Francis that it left behind a mark, almost like soot. It was hard to see in the wan light that sliced the dormitory room. Lanky must have felt something, as well, because he suddenly looked down at his fingers quizzically.

Francis sat upright in the bed. "Lanky!" he whispered. "What has happened?"

Before the tall man could respond, Francis heard a hissing sound. It was Peter the Fireman, who had awakened, and had swung his legs over the edge of the bunk, and was craning toward them. "Lanky, tell us now! What has happened?" Peter insisted, also keeping his voice as low as possible. "But be quiet. Don't wake up any of the others."

The tall man bent his head slightly, agreeing. But his words came out in an excited, almost joyous rush. Relief and release flooded his words. "It was a vision, Peter. It must have been an angel, sent right directly to me. C-Bird, this vision came straight to my side, right here to tell me…"

"Tell you what?" Francis asked quietly.

"Tell me I was right. Right all along. Evil had tried to follow us here, C-Bird. Evil was right here in the hospital alongside of all of us. But that evil has been destroyed, and now we're safe."

He breathed out slowly, then added, "Thank goodness."

Francis didn't know what to make of what Lanky had said, but Peter the Fireman moved over and sat at the tall man's side. "This vision it came here? In this room?" he asked.

"Right to my bedside. We embraced like brothers."

"The vision touched you?"

"Yes. It was as real as you or me, Peter. I could feel its life right next my own. Like our hearts were beating in unison. Except it was magical, too, C-Bird."

Peter the Fireman nodded. Then he reached out slowly and touched Lanky's forehead, where the soot marks remained. For a second, Peter rubbed his fingers together.

"Did you see the vision come in through the door, or did it drop down from someplace above?" he asked slowly, first motioning toward the dormitory entranceway, then up to the ceiling.

Lanky shook his head. "No. It just arrived, just one second, right by my bed. It seemed as if it was all bathed in light as if directly from heaven. But I couldn't exactly see its face. Almost like it was cloaked. It must have been an angel," he said. "C-Bird, think of it. An angel right here. Right here in this room. In our hospital. Helping to protect us."

Francis said nothing, but Peter the Fireman nodded, his own head bent slightly. He lifted his fingers to his nostrils and whiffed strongly. He seemed to be startled by what he smelled, and he took in a sharp breath of air. For a moment, the Fireman paused, looking around the room. Then he spoke in low, direct words, his voice carrying all the authority that it could, giving orders like a military commander with the enemy close by and danger in every shadow.

"Lanky. Go back to your bed, and wait there until C-Bird and I come back. Don't say anything to anybody. Absolute silence, got that?"

Lanky started to speak, then hesitated. "Okay," he said slowly. "But we're safe. We're all safe. Don't you think the others will want to know?" f "Let's make absolutely sure, before we get their hopes up," Peter said. This seemed to make sense, because Lanky nodded again. He rose and maneuvered back to his bunk. He turned and held up his index finger, the universal signal for silence, when he got there. Peter seemed to smile at him, then whispered, "C-Bird, come with me, right now. And be quiet!" Each word he spoke seemed taut with some undefined tension that Francis couldn't quite fathom.

Without looking back, Peter the Fireman began to creep gingerly between the bunks, moving stealthily in the meager spaces that separated the sleeping men. He slid past the toilet, where a little bit of harsh light sliced under the doorway, heading toward the sole door to the dormitory. A few of the men stirred, one man seemed to half rise as they crept past his bunk, but Peter merely shushed him smoothly as they went by, and the man shifted about with a low groan, changing sides and then descending back into sleep.

When he reached the door, he looked back and saw Lanky, once again, sitting cross-legged on the bunk. The tall man saw them and waved before he lay back down.

As Peter the Fireman reached for the door, Francis joined his side. "The door's locked," Francis said. "They lock it every night."

"Tonight," Peter said slowly, "it isn't locked." And then, by way of proof, he reached out, grasped the handle and turned it. The door pushed open with a small swooshing noise. "Come on, C-Bird," he said.

The corridor was darkened for the night, with only an occasional weak light shedding small glowing arcs across the floor. Francis was taken aback momentarily by the silence. Usually the hallways of the Amherst Building were jammed with people, sitting, standing, walking, smoking, talking to themselves, talking to people not there, maybe even talking to one another. The hallways were like the veins of the hospital, constantly pumping blood and energy to each central organ. He'd never seen them empty. The sensation of being alone on the corridor was unsettling. The Fireman, however, didn't seem concerned. He was staring down toward the middle of the hallway, where the nurses' station was marked by a single, faded desktop light, a small glow of yellow. From where they stood, the station seemed empty.

Peter took a single step forward, then stared down at the floor. He dropped down to a knee and gingerly touched a splotch of dark color, much as he had the soot on Lanky's face. Again, he lifted his finger to his nose. Then, without saying a word, he pointed, gesturing for Francis to take note.

Francis wasn't precisely sure what he was supposed to see, but he was paying close attention to everything Peter the Fireman did. The two of them continued to creep down the hallway toward the nursing station, but stopped midway, opposite one of the storage closets.

Francis peered through the weak light, and saw that the nursing station was indeed empty. This confused him, because he had always assumed there was at least one person on duty there round-the-clock. The Fireman, however, was staring down at the floor by the door to the closet. He pointed at a large splotch that marred the linoleum.

"What is it?" Francis asked.

Peter the Fireman sighed. "More trouble than you've ever known," he said. "Francis, whatever is behind this door, don't shout. Especially don't scream. Just bite your tongue and don't say a word. And don't touch a thing. Can you do that for me, C-Bird? Can I count on you?"

Francis grunted a yes, which was difficult. He could feel the blood pumping in his chest, echoing in his ears, all adrenaline and anxiety. In that second, he realized that he hadn't heard a word from any of his voices, not since Lanky had first shaken him awake.

Peter moved cautiously to the storage room door. He pulled his T-shirt out of his pajama pants and covered his hand with the loose end as he reached for the handle. Then he opened the door slowly.

The room gaped in front of them, pitch-black. Peter stepped forward very slowly and reached inside where there was a light switch on the side of the wall.

The sudden glare of light was like a sword stroke.

For a second, perhaps even less, Francis was blinded. He heard Peter the Fireman choke out a single, harsh obscenity.

Francis craned forward, looking into the storage room past Peter the Fireman. And then he gasped, abrupt fear and shock slamming him like a gust of hurricane wind. He recoiled from what he saw, taking a step backward and feeling like every breath he inhaled was steam-hot. He tried to say something, but even an "Oh, my God…" came out like a deep, disconnected groan.

On the floor in the center of the storage room, lay Short Blond.

Or the person who had been Short Blond.

She was nearly naked, her nurse's uniform seemingly sliced from her body and discarded in a corner. Her undergarments were still on her body, but pushed out of the way, so that her breasts and sex were exposed. She lay crumpled on her side, almost curled up in a fetal position except that one leg was drawn up, the other extended, a great lake of deep maroon blood beneath her head and chest. Streaks of red had dripped down across her pasty white skin. One arm had been stuffed sharply under the body, the other was extended, like a person waving to someone distant, and rested in a pool of blood. Her hair was matted, almost wet, and much of her skin glistened oddly, reflecting the harsh glare from the storage room light. A nearby bucket of cleaning materials had been knocked over and the stench of cleaning fluid and disinfectant stormed their nostrils. Peter the Firemen bent down toward the body, but then stopped short of feeling for a pulse when both he and Francis saw that Short Blond's throat had been sliced, a huge, gaping red and black wound that must have drained her life in seconds.

Peter the Fireman stepped back into the hallway, next to Francis. He took in a long, slow breath, then exhaled slowly, whistling slightly as the wind passed his clenched teeth.

"Look carefully, C-Bird," he said cautiously. "Look at everything carefully. Try to remember everything we see here tonight. Can you do that for me, C-Bird? Be the second pair of eyes that records and registers everything here?"

Francis nodded slowly. His eyes tracked Peter the Fireman, as the man stepped back into the storage room and wordlessly started to point at things. First the gash that cruelly marred her throat, then the overturned bucket and the clothing sliced and tossed aside. He pointed at a visor of blood on Short Blond's forehead, parallel lines that dripped toward her eyes. Francis could not imagine how they had gotten there. Peter the Fireman, lingered momentarily, as he pointed at the marks, then he started to maneuver carefully in the small space, his index finger pointing out each quadrant of the room, each element of the scene, like a teacher with a pointer rapping it impatiently on a blackboard to gain the attention of his dull-witted class. Francis followed it all, printing it like a photographer's assistant on his memory.

Peter lingered longest pointing at Short Blond's hand, extended out from the body. Francis saw suddenly that it appeared that the tips of four of her fingers were missing, as if they'd been sliced off and removed. He stared at the mutilation and realized his breath was coming in short spasms.

"What do you see, C-Bird?" Peter the Fireman finally asked.

Francis stared at the dead woman. "I see Short Blond," he said. "Poor Lanky. Poor, poor Lanky. He must have thought truly he was killing evil."

"You think Lanky did this?" he asked, shaking his head. "Look closer," Peter the Fireman repeated. "Then tell me what you see."

Francis gazed almost hypnotically at the body on the floor. He locked on the young woman's face, and was almost overcome with a mingling of fear, excitement, and a distant emptiness. He realized that he had never seen a dead person before, not close up. He did remember going to a great-aunt's funeral, when he was young, and being gripped tightly by the hand by his mother, who had steered him past an open coffin, muttering to him all the time to say nothing and do nothing and behave, for she was afraid somehow that Francis would draw attention to them all by some inappropriate act. But he hadn't, nor had he really been able to see the great-aunt in the coffin. All he could remember was this white porcelain profile, seen only momentarily, like something spotted through the window of a speeding car, as he was shunted past. He didn't think that was the same. What he saw of Short Blond was far different. It was dying at its absolute worst, he realized. "I see death," Francis whispered.

Peter the Fireman nodded. "Yes, indeed," he said. "Death. And a nasty one, at that. But you know what else I see?" He spoke slowly, as if measuring each word on some internal scale.

"What?" Francis asked cautiously.

"I see a message," the Fireman replied.

Then, with an almost crushing sense of sadness, he added, "And Francis, evil hasn't been killed. It is right here among us and is as alive as you or I." Then he stepped back into the corridor and quietly added, "Now we need to call for help."

Chapter 6

Sometimes I dream about what I saw.

Sometimes I realize that I am no longer dreaming, but I am wide-awake and it is a memory imprinted like the raised outline of a fossil in my past, which is far worse. I can still see Short Blond in my mind's eye, perfectly framed, like in one of the pictures that the police came and took later that night. But I suspect the police photographs weren't nearly as artistic as my memory's vision. I recollect her form a little like some lesser Renaissance painter's vivid but journalistically inaccurate imagination of a martyred saint's death.

What I remember is this-Her skin was porcelain white and perfectly clear, her face was set in a beatified repose. All it lacked was a glowing halo around her head. Death as a little more than an inconvenience, a mere momentary bit of distasteful and uncomfortable pain on the inevitable, delicious, and glorious road to heaven. Of course, in reality {which is a word I have learned to use as infrequently as possible) it was nothing of the sort. Her skin was streaked with vibrant dark blood, her clothes were ripped and torn, the slice in her throat gaped like a mocking smile and her face was wide-eyed and twisted in shock and disbelief. A gargoyle of death. Murder at its most hideous. I stepped back from the doorway to the storage closet that night filled with any number of vibrating, unsettling fears. To be that close to violence is the same as having one's heart suddenly scraped raw by sandpaper.

I didn't know her much in life. I would come to know her much better in death.

When Peter the Fireman turned away from the body and the blood and all the big and little signs of murder, I had no idea what was about to happen. He must have had a much more precise notion, because he immediately admonished me once again not to touch anything, to keep my hands in my pockets, and to keep my opinions to myself.

"C-Bird," he'd said, "in a short amount of time people are going to start asking questions. Really nasty questions. And they may ask these questions in a most unpleasant fashion. They may say they just want information, but trust me, they're not about helping anyone but themselves. Keep your answers short and to the point and don't volunteer anything beyond what you have seen and heard this night. Do you understand that?"

"Yes," I'd said, but I really had little idea what I was agreeing to. "Poor Lanky," I repeated once again.

Peter the Fireman had nodded. "Poor Lanky is right. But not for the reasons you think. He's about to get a real up close and personal look at evil, after all. Maybe we all are."

He and I walked down the corridor to the empty nurses' station. Our bare feet made little slapping sounds against the floor. The wire gate entranceway that should have been locked was swinging open. There were a few papers scattered around the floor but these could have tumbled off the desk when someone simply moved too quickly. Or they might have been swept to the floor in the midst of a brief struggle. It was hard to tell. There were two other signs that something had happened there: The locked cabinet that contained medications was wide open, and a few plastic pill containers littered the floor and the sturdy black telephone on the nurses' station desk was off its hook. Peter pointed at both these observations, just as he had earlier as we had surveyed the storage closet. Then he reached down and replaced the receiver, then immediately picked it back up to get a dial tone. He pushed zero, to connect himself with hospital security.

"Security? There has been an incident in Amherst," he said briskly. "Better come quickly." Then he abruptly disconnected the line and waited for another dial tone. This time he punched in 911. A second later, he calmly said, "Good evening. I want to inform you that there has been a homicide in the Amherst Building at the Western State Hospital in the area adjacent to the first-floor nursing station." He paused, and then added, "No, I'm not giving my name. I've just told you all you need to know at this point: the nature of the incident and the location. The rest should be pretty damn apparent when you get here. You will need crime scene specialists, detectives, and the county coroner's office. I would also suspect you should hurry up." Then he hung up. He turned to me and said, with just a slight if wry touch and perhaps a little more than interest, "Things are about to get truly if exciting." f That is what I remember. On my wall, I wrote:

' Francis had no idea the extent of the chaos about to break above his head like a thunder burst at the end of a hot summer afternoon… Francis had no idea the extent of the chaos about to break above his head like a thunder burst at the end of a hot summer afternoon. The closest he'd ever been to a crime up to that point was what he had unfortunately created all by himself when all his voices had shrieked at him and his world had turned upside down, and he had blown up and threatened his parents and his sisters and ultimately himself with the kitchen knife, the act which landed him in the hospital. He tried to think about what he'd seen and what it meant, but it seemed as if it was just beyond the reach of contemplation and more in the realm of shock. He became aware of his voices speaking in muted, but nervous fashion, deep within his head. All words of fear. For a moment he looked about wildly, and wondered whether he should just sneak back to his bed and wait, but then he couldn't move. Muscles seemed to fail him, and he felt a little like someone caught in a strong current, being tugged inexorably along. He and Peter waited by the nurses' station, and within a few seconds he heard the distinctive noise of hurrying footsteps and a fumbling of keys in the locked front door. After a moment, the door flew open and two hospital security personnel burst through. They each carried flashlights and long, black nightsticks. They were dressed in matching gray work outfits that seemed more the color of fog. Outlined for just an instant in the doorway, the two men seemed to blend with the wan light of the hospital corridor. They moved swiftly toward the two patients.

"Why are you out of the dormitory?" the first guard asked, brandishing his club. "You're not supposed to be out," he added unnecessarily. Then he demanded, "Where's the nurse on duty?"

The other security guard had moved into a supporting position, braced to assault if Francis and Peter the Fireman proved to be a threat. "Did you call Security?" he asked sharply. And then he repeated the same question as his partner. "Where's the nurse on duty?"

Peter simply jerked his thumb back toward the closet. "Down there," he said.

The first guard, a heavyset man with Marine Corps shorn hair and a neck that hung in fatty folds over his far-too-tight collar, pointed at Francis and Peter with his nightstick. "Neither of you two move, got that?" He turned to his partner, and said, "Either of these two guys moves a muscle, you let them have it." The partner, a wiry, bantam-sized man with a lopsided grin, removed a canister of spray Mace from his utility belt. And then the thickset guard moved quickly down the hallway, wheezing slightly with the press of exertion. He had a wide-beamed flashlight in his left hand, and his baton in the right. The arc of light carved moving slices from the gray hallway as he moved forward. Francis saw that the security guard jerked open the storage door without using the same precautions that Peter had.

For a moment, he stood, frozen, his jaw dropping. Then he grunted and said, "Jesus Christ!" as he reeled backward seconds after the flashlight's beam illuminated the nurse's body. Then, almost as quickly, he jumped forward. From where they were standing, they saw the guard put his hand on Short Blond's shoulder and turn the body so that he could try to feel for a pulse.

"Don't do that," Peter said quietly. "You're disturbing the crime scene."

The smaller guard had paled, although he hadn't yet fully seen the extent of hard death that lay inside the storage room. His voice was high-pitched with anxiety, and he shouted, "Just shut up, you fucking loonies! Shut up!"

The large guard lurched back again, and turned, wild-eyed with shock, toward Francis and Peter the Fireman. He was muttering obscenities. "Don't either of you move! Don't fucking move!" he said furiously. He stepped toward them, slipping in one of the pools of blood that Peter had been so cautious to avoid. Then he raced back and grasped Francis by the arm and spun him around, slamming him against the wire of the nursing station, frantically pushing his face into the mesh. In virtually the same motion, he savagely crashed the back of Francis's legs with the nightstick, bringing him tumbling forward and falling to his knees. Pain like an explosion of white phosphorous burst behind Francis's eyes, and he gasped sharply, seizing air that seemed filled with needles. For a moment, his vision spun about dizzily, and he thought he might pass out. Then, as he regained his wind, the force of the blow receded, leaving only a dull, throbbing bruise on his memory. The smaller guard rapidly followed suit, spinning Peter the Fireman about and smashing the small of his back with the nightstick, which had the same effect, dropping him to his knees with a rasping breath. Both men were immediately handcuffed, and then knocked flat to the floor. Francis could smell the unpleasant odor of the disinfectant that was constantly used to swab the corridor. "Fucking loonies," the security guard repeated. Then he pushed into the nursing station and dialed a number. He waited a second for someone on the other end to pick up, then said, "Doctor, this is Maxwell in Security. We have big trouble over in Amherst. You'd better get over here right away." He hesitated, then said, obviously in answer to a question, "A pair of inmates have killed a nurse."

"Hey!" Francis said, "we haven't " but his denial was cut off by a sharp kick into his thigh from the smaller man. He bit back his tongue and chewed on his lip. He had been spun around, and couldn't see Peter the Fireman. He wanted to twist in that direction, but also didn't want to get kicked again, so he held his position, as he heard the sound of a siren cutting through the outside darkness, growing stronger with each passing second. It was blaring as it pulled to a halt in front of Amherst, then faded like an evil thought.

"Who called the cops?" the smaller guard asked.

"We did," said Peter.

"Jesus Christ," the guard said. He kicked at Francis a second time.

He aimed his foot and drew it back for a third blow, and Francis braced for the pain, but the guard didn't follow through. Instead he suddenly blurted out, "Hey! What're you think you're doing!"

He said the question as if it were an order, no inquiry behind the sentiment, only a demand. Francis managed to turn his head slightly, and saw that Napoleon and a couple of others from the dormitory had pushed the door open, and were standing hesitantly in the entranceway to the corridor, unsure whether they could come out. The noise from the sirens must have awakened everyone, Francis realized. In the same moment, the main light switch was thrown, and the hallway burst into light. From the south side of the building, Francis suddenly could hear high-pitched, wailing cries, and someone began to slam on the locked door to the women's dormitory. The steel plates and deadbolt locks held the door fast, but the noise was like a bass drum, echoing down the hallway.

"Goddamn it!" the guard with the Marine haircut shouted. "You!" He was pointing his nightstick at Napoleon and the other timid, but curious men who'd stepped out of the sleeping area. "Back inside! Now!" He ran toward them holding his arm out like a traffic cop giving directions, brandishing his nightstick at the same time. Francis could see the men retreat in fear, and the guard slammed himself into the door, pushing it closed and then locking it tightly. He turned, and then skidded, as his foot slipped in one of the dark splotches of blood that marred the corridor. The door drumming from the women's side picked up in intensity, and Francis heard two other voices coming from behind his head.

"What the hell's going on here?"

"What're you doing?"

He turned again, and could just catch sight beyond where Peter the Fireman was stretched out on the floor, of two uniformed police officers. One of the men was reaching for his weapon, not drawing it, but nervously unsnap-ping the flap that held it in place.

"We got a report of a homicide?" one of the uniformed officers asked. Then, without waiting for a response, he must have seen some of the blood in the corridor, for he stepped forward, past the nursing station, over to the door to the storage room. Francis tracked the policeman with his eyes, and saw the man stop short outside the door. Unlike the hospital guards, however, the policeman said nothing. He simply stared in, almost, in that second, like so many of the hospital patients who stared off into space, seeing whatever it was they wanted to see, or needed to see, but which wasn't what was in front of them.

From that moment it seemed that things happened quickly and slowly, both at the same time. It was, to Francis, as if time somehow had lost its grip on the progress of the night, and that its orderly processing of the dark hours past midnight was disrupted and thrown into disarray. Before too long, he was shunted off to a treatment room down the corridor from where crime scene technicians were setting up shop and photographers were clicking off frames of pictures. Each time their flash went off it was like a lightning strike on some distant horizon and it caused the cries and turmoil in the locked dormitories among the patients to redouble in tension. At first he was unceremoniously slammed into a seat by the smaller of the two security guards and left alone. Then two detectives in plain clothes and Doctor Gulptilil came in to see him after a few minutes. He was still in his nightclothes and handcuffed, and uncomfortably seated in a stiff wooden desk chair. Francis presumed that Peter the Fireman was in similar circumstances in an adjacent room, but he couldn't be sure. He wished he didn't have to face the policemen by himself.

The two detectives wore suits that seemed slightly rumpled and ill fitting. They had close-cropped haircuts and hard jaw lines and neither man wore any sense of softness in his eyes, or the manner in which he spoke. They were of similar heights and builds and Francis thought he would probably mix them up if he were to ever meet them again. He didn't really hear their names, when they introduced themselves, because he was looking over toward Doctor Gulptilil for reassurance. The doctor, however, perched himself against one wall, and saying nothing after admonishing Francis to tell the detectives the truth. One of the two policemen sidled up next to the doctor, and leaned beside him against the wall, while the other half sat on a desk in front of Francis. One leg swung in the air almost jauntily, but the policeman sat so that his black holster and steel blue pistol, worn on his belt, were obvious. The man had a slightly lopsided smile, which made almost everything he said appear dishonest.

"So, Mister Petrel," the detective asked, "why were you out in the corridor after lights-out?"

Francis hesitated, remembered what Peter the Fireman had told him, and then launched into a brief recounting of being awakened by Lanky, and then following Peter out into the hallway, and subsequently discovering Short Blond's body. The detective nodded, then shook his head.

"That dormitory door is locked, Mister Petrel. It's locked every night." The detective stole a quick glance at Doctor Gulptilil, who nodded vigorously in assent.

"It wasn't locked tonight."

"I'm not sure I believe you."

Francis did not know how to respond.

The policeman paused, letting some silence creep around the room and making Francis nervous. "Tell me, Mister Petrel. Okay if I call you Francis?"

Francis nodded.

"… Okay then, Franny, you're a young guy. You ever have sex with a woman before tonight?"

Francis reeled back in the chair. "Tonight?" he asked.

"Yeah," the detective continued. "I mean, before tonight when you had sex with the nurse. Did you ever have relations with any girl?"

Francis was genuinely confused. Voices thundered in his ears, shouting all sorts of contradictory messages. He looked over toward Doctor Gulptilil trying to see if he could see the tumult that was taking place within him. But the doctor had moved into a shadow, and it was hard for Francis to see his face.

"No," Francis said, hesitancy marred the word.

"No, what? Never? A good-looking guy like you? That must have been pretty frustrating. Especially when you got turned down, I'll bet. And that nurse, she wasn't all that much older than you, was she? Must have made you pretty angry when she turned you down."

"No," Francis said again. "That's not right."

"She didn't turn you down?"

"No, no, no," Francis said.

"You mean you're telling me she agreed to have sex, and then killed herself?"

"No," he repeated. "You have it all wrong."

"Right. Sure." The detective looked over at his partner. "So, she didn't agree to have sex, and then you killed her? Is that the way it went?"

"No, you're wrong again."

"Franny, you've got me all confused. You say you're out in a corridor past a locked door when you shouldn't be, and there's a raped and dead nurse-trainee, and you just happen to be there? Why it doesn't make any sense. Don't you think you could be a little more helpful here?"

"I don't know," Francis responded.

"What don't you know? How to help out? Why just tell me what happened when the nurse turned you down. How hard is that? Then it will all make sense to everyone, and we can wrap this up tonight."

"Yes. Or no," Francis said.

"I'll tell you another way it makes sense: If you and your buddy got together and decided to sneak out and pay the nurse a little nighttime visit, and then things didn't exactly go the way you planned. Look, Franny, just level with me, okay? Let's just agree on one thing, all right?"

"What's that?" Francis asked tentatively. He could hear the cracks in his voice.

"You just tell me the truth, okay?"

Francis nodded.

"Good," said the detective. He continued in a low, soft, seductive voice, almost as if each word spoken could only be heard by Francis, that they were speaking some language only they knew. The other policeman and Doctor Gulp-a-pill seemed to evaporate from the small room, as the detective continued speaking, siren like enticing, making it seem as if the only possible interpretation was his. "Now the only way I can see this happening is maybe a little bit of an accident, huh? Maybe she kinda led you and the other guy on. Maybe you thought she was going to be a little friendlier than she turned out to be. A little misunderstanding. That's all. You thought she meant one thing, and she thought, well, she meant another. And then things got out of hand, right? So, really, it was all an accident, right? And look, Franny, no one is going to blame you all that much. I mean, after all, you're here. And you've already been diagnosed as being a little crazy, so this is pretty much in the same ballpark, right? Have I got it down now, Franny?"

Francis took a deep breath. "Not in the slightest," he said sharply. For a moment he wondered if denying the detective's persuasive tones wasn't the bravest thing he'd ever done.

The detective stood up quickly, shook his head once, and glanced at his partner. This other policeman seemed to vault the room in a single stride, slamming his fist against the table violently, abruptly lowering his face to Francis's so that the spittle and spray from his screamed words fell all over him.

"Goddamn it! You fucking Looney Tune! You killed her and we know it! Stop fucking around and tell us the truth or I will beat the shit out of you!"

Francis recoiled, pushing the chair back, trying to gain some space, but the detective grabbed him by the shirt and slammed him forward. In the same motion, he jammed Francis's head down, smashing it against the tabletop, dazing him. When he lurched upright, Francis could taste blood on his lips, and could feel it dripping from his nose. He shook his head, trying to regain his senses, only to be sent spinning by a vicious openhanded slap across his cheek. Pain seared his face and soared behind his eyes, and then, almost simultaneously, he felt himself losing his balance, and he fell to the floor. He was dizzy and disoriented, and he wanted something or someone to come help him.

The detective grabbed him, lifted him up as if he were almost weightless, and slammed him back down into the chair.

"Now, damn it to hell, tell us the truth!" He pulled back his hand, readying it to punch Francis again, but held up, as if waiting for a reply.

The blows seemed to have scattered all his voices within him. They were shouting warnings from locations deep within him, hard to hear and hard to make out. It was a little like being in the back of a room filled with strange and unfamiliar people speaking in different languages.

"Tell me!" the detective repeated.

Francis did not reply. Instead, he grasped hold of the chair frame and readied himself for another blow. The detective lifted his hand, then stopped. He made a grunting noise of resignation and stepped back. The first detective stepped forward.

"Franny, Franny," he said soothingly, "why are you making my friend here so angry? Can't you just straighten this out tonight, so we can all go home and get to bed. Get things back to normal? Or," he continued, smiling as he spoke, "whatever passes for normal around here."

He leaned forward and lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Do you know what is happening next door, right now?"

Francis shook his head.

"Your buddy, the other guy who was in on the little party tonight, he's giving you up. That's what's happening."

"Giving me up?" Francis asked.

"He's blaming you for everything that happened. He's telling the other detectives that it was your idea, and that you were the one who did the rape, and the murder, and that he just watched. He's telling them that he tried to stop you, but that you wouldn't listen to him. He's blaming you for the whole sorry mess."

Francis considered this for a moment, then shook his head. The detective's suggestion seemed as crazy and impossible as anything else that had happened that night, and he didn't believe it. He ran his tongue over his lip and felt some swelling to go with the salty taste of the blood. "I told you," he said weakly. "I told you what I know."

The first detective grimaced, as if this response wasn't acceptable, not in the slightest, and made a small hand gesture toward his angry partner. The second detective stepped forward, lowering his face so that he was looking directly into Francis's eyes. Francis shrank back, awaiting another blow, unable to move to defend himself. His vulnerability was total. He squeezed his eyes shut.

But before the blow arrived, he heard the door scrape open.

The interruption seemed to put everything in the room into an odd, slow motion. Francis could see a uniformed officer in the doorway, and both detectives leaning toward him, in muffled conversation. After a moment, it seemed to gain in animation, though the tones stayed low and impossible for Francis to make out. After a moment or two, the first detective shook his head and sighed, making a small sound of disgust, then turned back toward Francis. "Hey, Franny-boy, tell me this: The guy you said woke you up, the guy you told us about at the start of our little conversation, before you said you headed out into the corridor, that the same guy that attacked the nurse earlier tonight, during dinner? Went after her in front of just about every damn person in this building?"

Francis nodded.

The detective seemed to roll his eyes, and toss his head back in resignation. "Shit," he said. "We're wasting our time here." He turned toward Doctor Gulptilil, still lurking in the shadows, and angrily asked, "Why the hell didn't you tell us about that earlier? Is everybody in here flat-out nuts?"

Gulp-a-pill didn't answer.

"Anything else that's fucking of critical importance that you left out, Doc?"

Gulp-a-pill shook his head negatively.

"Sure," said the detective sarcastically. He gestured at Francis. "Bring him along."

Francis was pushed out into the corridor by a uniformed officer. He glanced to his right and saw that another set of policemen had emerged from an adjacent office with Peter the Fireman, who sported a vibrant red and raw contusion near his right eye, but a defiant, angry look that seemed to hold all the policemen in a similar state of contempt. Francis wished he could appear as confident. The first detective suddenly grasped Francis by the arm and spun him slightly, positioning him so that he could see Lanky, handcuffed, flanked by two other policemen. Behind him, far down the hallway, a half-dozen hospital security guards had cornered all the first-floor Amherst Building male patients into a tight knot, away from the spot where some crime scene technicians were photographing and measuring the storage closet. Two paramedics emerged from the pack of policemen with a black body bag placed on top of a white-sheeted gurney, much like the type that Francis had ridden when he'd arrived at the Western State Hospital.

There was a collective groan from the gathering of inmates when they saw the body bag. A few men started crying, and others turned away, as if by averting their gaze they could avoid understanding what happened. Others went rigid at the sight, and a few simply continued doing whatever they were doing, which was mostly weaving and waving, dancing about or staring at the walls.

Francis could hear some muttering sounds as they spoke to one another. The women's wing had been quieted, but when the body came out, although they were locked away, they must have sensed something, because the deep pounding on the door resumed momentarily, like a drumroll at a military funeral. Francis looked back at Lanky, whose eyes seemed frozen on the apparition of the nurse's body as it creaked past him on the gurney. In the bright corridor lights, Francis could see deep swaths of maroon blood on the tall man's billowing nightshirt. "That the guy that woke you up, Franny?" the first detective demanded, his question carrying with it all the authority of a man accustomed to being in charge of things.

Francis nodded.

"… And after he woke you up, you went out to the corridor where you found the nurse already dead, right? Then you called Security, right?"

Again Francis nodded. The detective looked over at the policemen standing next to Peter the Fireman, who also bent their heads in agreement. One replied, as if to an unspoken question, "That's what this guy said, too."

Lanky seemed to be quivering. His face was pale, and his lower lip shook with fear. He looked down at the handcuffs restraining him, then put his hands together, as if in prayer. He stared across the hallway to Francis and Peter. "C-Bird," he said, his voice quavering with every word, his hands pushed forward like a supplicant at a church service, "Tell them about the Angel. Tell them about the Angel who came in the middle of the night and told me that the evil had been taken care of. We're safe now, tell them, please C-Bird." His voice gathered a plaintive, lost tone, as if each word he spoke seemed to plummet him further into despair.

The detective instead, suddenly half shouted at Lanky, who shrank back at the force of the questions shot at him like so many sharpened spears or arrows. "How'd you get that blood on your shirt, old man? How'd you get that nurse's blood on your hands?"

Lanky looked down at his fingers and shook his head. "I don't know," he replied. "Maybe the Angel brought it to me?"

As he was replying, a uniformed officer came walking down the corridor, holding a small plastic bag. At first Francis could not see what it contained, but as the policeman approached, he recognized it as the small, white, three-peaked cap that hospital nurses often wore. Only this one seemed crumpled and the rim was stained in the same color as the streaks on Lanky's nightshirt. The uniformed officer said, "Looks like he tried to keep a souvenir. Found this underneath his mattress."

"Did you find the knife?" the detective asked the officer.

The policeman shook his head.

"What about the fingertips?"

Again a negative from the uniformed officer.

The detective seemed to think for a moment, assessing things, then he spun abruptly to face Lanky, who continued to cower against the wall, encircled by officers, all of whom were shorter than he was, but all of whom seemed, in that second, to be larger.

"How'd you get that hat?" the detective demanded of Lanky.

The tall man shook his head. "I don't know, I don't know," he cried. "I didn't get it."

"It was underneath your mattress. Why did you put it there?"

"I didn't. I didn't."

"Doesn't make much difference," the detective replied with a shrug. "We've got a lot more than we need. Someone read him his rights. We're out of this loony bin right now."

The policemen started to push and prod Lanky down the hallway. Francis could see panic striking like lightning bolts right throughout the tall man's body. He twitched as if electric current was flooding him, as if each step he was forced to take was on hot coals. "No, please, I didn't do anything. Please. Oh, evil, evil, it's all around us, please don't take me away, this is my home, please!" As Lanky cried pitifully, despair echoing throughout the corridor, Francis felt his own handcuffs being removed. He looked up, and Lanky caught his eye. "C-Bird, Peter, please help me," he called out. Francis could not imagine ever hearing so much pain in so few words. "Tell them it was an Angel. An Angel came to me in the middle of the night. Tell them. Help me, please."

And then, with a final shove and push from the collected police officers, Lanky was rushed out the front door of the Amherst Building and swallowed up by what remained of the night.

Chapter 7

I suppose I slept some that night, but I cannot recall actually closing my eyes.

I can't even remember breathing.

My swollen lip stung, and even after washing up a little, I could still taste blood where the policeman had struck me. My legs were sore from the blow from the security guard's nightstick and my head spun from all that I'd seen. It makes no difference how many years have passed since that night, the number of days that stretch into decades, I can still feel the pain of my encounter with the authorities who thought even if briefly that I was the killer. When I lay stiffly on my bunk, it was hard for me to connect Short Blond, who had been alive earlier that day, with the gory figure that was taken away zipped up in a body bag, then probably dumped on some cold steel table, to await a pathologist's scalpel. It remains just as difficult to reconcile today. It was almost as if they were two separate entities, worlds apart, having little, if any, relationship to each other.

My memory is clear: I remained motionless in the darkness, feeling the restless pressure of each passing second, aware that the entire dormitory was unsettled; the usual night noises of unquiet sleep were exaggerated, underscored by a busy nervousness and nasty tension that seemed to layer the tight air in the room like a new coat of paint. Around me, people shifted and twitched, despite the extra course of medications that had been handed out before we were all shuffled back into the room. Chemical quiet. At least, that was what Gulp-a-pill and Mr. Evil and the rest of the staff wanted, but all the fears and anxieties created that night were far beyond even the medications' capabilities. We twisted and turned uneasily, groaning and grunting, crying and sobbing, our feelings taut and raw. We were all afraid of the night that remained, and just as afraid of whatever the morning would bring.

Absent one, of course. Having Lanky so abruptly severed from our little madhouse community seemed to leave a shadow behind. In the days since I'd arrived in the Amherst Building, one or two of the truly old and infirm had died of what were called natural causes, but which could be better summed up in the word neglect or the word abandonment. Occasionally and miraculously someone with a little bit of life left would actually be released. More often, Security had moved someone frantic and unruly or out of control screaming into one of the upstairs isolation cells. But they were likely to return in a couple of days, their medications increased, their shuffling movements a little more pronounced and the twitching in the corners of their faces exaggerated. So disappearances weren't uncommon. But the manner that Lanky had been taken from our side was, and that was what caused our ricocheting emotions as we watched for the first streaks of daylight to slide through the bars on the windows.

I made two grilled cheese sandwiches, filled an only slightly dirty glass with cold tap water, and leaned back against the kitchen counter, munching away. A forgotten cigarette burned in a jammed ashtray a few feet away, and I watched as its slender plume of smoke rose through the stale air of my home.

Peter the Fireman smoked.

I took another bite of the sandwich, then a gulp from the glass of water. When I looked back across the room, he was standing there. He reached down for the stub of my cigarette and lifted it to his lips. "Ah, back in the hospital one could smoke without guilt," he said, a little slyly. "I mean, which was worse: risking cancer or being crazy?"

"Peter," I said, smiling. "I haven't seen you in years."

"Have you missed me, C-Bird?"

I nodded my reply. He shrugged, as if to apologize.

"You're looking good, C-Bird. A little thin, maybe, but you've hardly aged at all." Then he blew a pair of insouciant smoke rings as he began to look around the room. "So, this is your place? It's not bad. Things working out, I see."

"I don't know I'd say they were working out exactly. As best as could be expected, maybe."

"That's right. That was the unusual thing about being mad, wasn't it, C-Bird? Our expectations got all skewed and changed about. Ordinary things, like holding a job and having a family and getting to go to Little League games on nice summer afternoons, those things got real hard to accomplish. So we revamped, right? Revised and retrenched and reconsidered."

I grinned. "Yes, that's right. Like just owning a sofa, that's a big achievement."

Peter tossed his head back, laughing. "Sofa ownership and the road to mental health. Sounds like one of the papers that Mister Evil was always working on for his doctorate that never got published."

Peter continued to look around. "Got any friends?"

I shook my head. "Not really."

"Still hearing voices?"

"A little bit, sometimes. Just echoes, really. Echoes or whispers. The meds they have me on all the damn time pretty much squelch the racket they used to make."

"The medication can't be all that bad," Peter said, winking, "because I'm here."

This was true.

Peter moved to the kitchen entranceway and looked over at the wall of writing. He moved with the same athletic grace, a kind of highly defined control over his motions that I recalled from hours spent walking through the ward corridors of the Amherst Building. No shuffling or staggering for Peter the Fireman. He looked exactly as he had twenty years earlier, except that the Red Sox baseball cap that he often jauntily wore back then was stuffed into the back pocket of his jeans. But his hair was still full and long, and his smile was just as I remembered it, worn on his face in the same way it would be, if someone had told a joke a few moments earlier, and the humor had lingered. "How's the story going?" he asked.

"It's coming back."

He started to say something, then stopped, and stared at the columns of words scribbled on the wall. "What have you told them about me?" he asked.

"Not enough," I said. "But they've probably already figured out that you were never crazy. No voices. No delusions. No bizarre beliefs and lurid thoughts. At least, not crazy like Lanky or Napoleon or Cleo or any of the others. Or even me, for that matter."

Peter made a little, wry smile.

"Good Catholic lad, big Irish Dorchester second-generation family. A dad who drank too much on Saturday night and a mother who believed in Democrats and the power of prayer. Civil servants, elementary school teachers, cops and soldiers. Regular attendance at Mass on Sunday, followed by Catechism class. A bunch of altar boys. The girls learned step dancing and sang in the choir. The boys went to Latin High and played football. When it came time for the draft, we signed right up. No student deferments for us. And we didn't get to be mentally ill. At least not exactly. Not in that diagnosable, defined way that Gulp-a-pill liked, where he could look up your disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and read precisely what sort of treatment plan to come up with. No, in my family, we got to be peculiar. Or eccentric. Or perhaps a little weird, or slightly off base, out of whack or off-kilter."

"You weren't even all that peculiar, Peter," I said.

He laughed, a short, amused burst. "A fireman who deliberately sets afire? In the church where he was baptized? What would you call that? At least a little strange, huh? A little more than just odd, don't you think?"

I didn't answer. Instead I watched him move through my small apartment. Even if he wasn't really there, it was still good to have company.

"You know what bothered me, sometimes, C-Bird?"

"What?"

"There were so many moments in my life that should have driven me insane. I mean, clear-cut, no-holds-barred, genuinely terrible moments that should have added up to a nice, fine frothing at the mouth madness. Growing up moments. War moments. Death moments. Anger moments. And yet the one that seemed to make the most sense, that had the most clarity to it, was what put me in the hospital."

He paused, continuing to survey my wall. Then he added, in a low voice, "When I was barely nine my brother died. He was the one closest to me in age, just a year older, Irish twins was the family joke. But his hair was much lighter than mine, and his skin seemed always pale, like it had been stretched thinner than my own. And I could run, jump, play sports, stay out all day, but he could barely breathe. Asthma and heart troubles and kidneys that barely worked. God wanted him to be special that way, or so I was told. Why God decided that was considered beyond me. So there we were, nine and ten, and we both knew he was dying, and it didn't make any difference to us, we still laughed and joked, and made all the little secrets brothers do. On the day they took him for the last time to the hospital, he told me that I would have to be the boy for the both of us. I wanted so badly to help him. I told my mother that Billy could have my right lung and my heart, that the doctors could give me his, and we'd just trade off for a while. But of course, they didn't do that."

I listened, and didn't interrupt Peter, because as he spoke, he walked closer to the wall where I'd begun to write our story, but he wasn't reading the words scrawled there, he was telling his own. He took a drag from the cigarette and then continued speaking slowly.

"In Vietnam, C-Bird, did I tell you about the point man who got shot?"

"Yes, Peter. You did."

"You should put that in what you write. About the point man and my brother who died young. I think they're part of the same story."

"I'll have to tell them about your nephew and the fire, as well."

He nodded. "I knew you would. But not yet. Just tell them about the point man. You know what I remember the most about that day? That it was so damn hot. Not hot like you or I or anyone growing up in New England knew hot. We knew hot like in August, when it was a scorcher, and we went down and swam in the harbor. This was an awful, sickly hot that felt poisonous. We were snaking through the bush single file and the sun was high overhead. The pack on my back felt like it had every item I needed and every care I had in the world packed inside. The bad guys had a simple policy for their snipers, you know. Shoot the guy in front on the point and drop him. Wound him, if you could. Aim for the legs, not the head. At the sound of the shot, everyone else would take cover, except for the medic you see, and that was me. The medic would go for the wounded man. Every time. You know, in training, they told us not to foolishly risk our own lives, but we always went. And then the sniper would try to drop the medic, because he was the one guy in the platoon that everyone owed, and this would bring everyone else out into the open, trying to get to the medic. A remarkably elemental process. How a single shot gives you an opportunity to kill many. So, that was what happened this day, they shot the point man, and I could hear him calling for me. But the platoon leader and two other guys were holding me back. I was short. Less than two weeks in my tour left. So instead, we listened while he bled to death. And that's the way it was reported back at headquarters later, making it seem inevitable. Except it wasn't true. They held me back, and I struggled and complained and pleaded, but all the time I knew that if I wanted, I could break free. That I could go for him, all it would take was a little more effort. And that was what I wouldn't spend. That little extra push. So, instead, we had this little charade in the jungle while a man died. It was the type of situation where what is right is what will be fatal. I didn't go, and no one blamed me, and I lived and went home to Dorchester and the point man died. I didn't even know him all that well. He'd been in the platoon for less than a month. I mean, it wasn't like I was listening to my friend die, C-Bird. He was just someone who was there, and then he cried for help, and kept crying until he couldn't cry any longer because he was dead."

"He might not have lived, even if you'd reached him." Peter nodded, smiling. "Sure. Right. I told myself that, too." He sighed. "All my life, I had nightmares about people calling for help. And I didn't go."

"But you became a fireman…"

"Easiest way to do penance, C-Bird. Everyone loves the fireman." Peter slowly faded from my side. It was midmorning, I remembered, before we got a chance to speak. The Amherst Building was filled with sunlight that sent creases through the thick leftover smell of violent death. The white walls seemed to glow with intensity. The patients were walking around, doing their regular shuffle and lurch, but a little more gingerly. Moving cautiously, because all of us, even in our mad states, knew that something had happened and sensed that something was still to happen. I looked around and found my pencil.

It was midmorning before Francis had a chance to speak with Peter the Fireman. A deceptive, glaring spring sunshine burst past the windows and steel bars, sending explosions of light through the corridors, reflecting off the floor that had been cleaned of all the outward signs of murder. But a residue of death lurked in the stale air of the hospital; patients moved singly or in small groups, silently avoiding the places where murder had left its signs. No one stepped in the spots where the nurse's blood had pooled up. Everyone gave the storage closet a wide berth, as -if getting too close to the scene of the crime might somehow rub some of its evil off on them. Voices were muted, conversation was dulled. Patients shuffled a little more slowly, as if the hospital ward had been transformed into a church. Even the delusions that afflicted so many of the inmates seemed quieted, as if for once taking a backseat to a much more real and frightening madness.

Peter, however, had taken up a position in the corridor where he was leaning against the wall, staring directly at the storage room. Every so often his eyes would measure the distance between the spot where the nurse's body was discovered and where she had been first assaulted, in the wire mesh enclosed station in the center of the hallway.

Francis moved toward him slowly. "What is it?" he asked quietly.

Peter the Fireman pursed his lips together, as if concentrating hard. "Tell me, C-Bird, does any of this make any sense to you?"

Francis started to respond, then hesitated. He leaned up against the wall next to the Fireman and began to look in the same direction. After a moment, he said, "It's like reading the last chapter of a book first."

Peter smiled and nodded. "How so?"

"Well," Francis said slowly, "it's all in reverse. Not reverse, like a mirror, but as if we are told the conclusion but not how we got there."

"Go on, C-Bird."

Francis felt a kind of energy as his imagination churned with what he'd seen the night before. Within him, he could hear a chorus of assent and encouragement. "Some things really bother me," he said. "Some things I just don't understand."

"Tell me some of the things," Peter asked.

"Well, Lanky, for starters. Why would he want to kill Short Blond?"

"He thought she was evil. He tried to assault her in the dining hall earlier."

"Yes, and then they gave him a shot, which should have calmed him down."

"But it didn't."

Francis shook his head. "I think it did. Not completely, but it did. When I got a shot like that it was like having all the muscles in my body sliced, so that I barely had the energy to lift my eyelids and look out at the world around me.

Even if they didn't give Lanky enough, some would have done the job, I think. Because killing Short Blond would take strength. And energy. And more, too, I suppose."

"More?"

"It would take purpose," Francis said.

"Go on," Peter said, nodding his head.

"Well, how does Lanky get out of the dormitory? It was always locked. And if he did manage to unlock the door to the dormitory, where are the keys? And why, if he did get out, why would he take Short Blond to the storage room. I mean, how does he do that? And then why would he" Francis hesitated, before selecting the word "assault her? And leave her like he did?"

"He had her blood on his clothes. Her hat was underneath his mattress," Peter said with a policeman's stolid conclusiveness.

Francis shook his head. "I don't understand that. That hat. But not the knife that he used to kill her?"

Peter lowered his voice. "What did Lanky tell us about, when he awakened us?"

"He said an angel came to his side and embraced him."

Both men were silent. Francis tried to imagine the sensation of the angel stirring Lanky from his nervous sleep. "I thought he made it up. I thought it was something he just imagined."

"So did I," Peter said. "Now, I don't know."

He began to stare at the storage closet again. Francis joined in. The longer he stared, the closer he got to the moment. It was, he thought, as if he could almost see Short Blond's last seconds. Peter must have noticed, for he, too, seemed to pale. "I don't want to think Lanky could do that," he said. "It doesn't seem like him at all. Even at his worst, and he certainly was at his scariest yesterday, it still doesn't seem like him. Lanky was about pointing and shouting and being loud. I don't think he was about killing. Certainly not killing in a sneaky, quiet, assassin's type of way."

"He said evil had to be destroyed. He said it real loud, in front of everyone."

Peter nodded, but his voice carried disbelief. "Do you think he could kill someone, C-Bird?"

"I don't know. In a way, I think, under the right circumstances, anyone could be a killer. But I'm just guessing. I've never known a killer before."

This reply made Peter smile. "Well, you know me," he said. "But I think we should get to know another."

"Another killer?"

"An Angel," Peter said.

Shortly before the afternoon group session the following day, Francis was approached by Napoleon. The small man had a hesitancy about him, that seemed to speak of indecision, and doubt. He stuttered slightly, words seeming to hang up on the tip of his tongue, reluctant to burst forth for fear of how they would be received. He had the most curious sort of speech impediment, for when he launched himself into history, as it connected to his namesake, then he would be far more clear and precise. The problem was, for anyone listening, to separate the two disparate elements, the thoughts of that day from the speculations about events that had taken place more than 150 years earlier.

"C-Bird?" Napoleon asked, with his customary nervousness.

"What is it, Nappy?" Francis replied. They were hanging on the edge of the dayroom, not actually doing anything but patiently assessing their thoughts, as the folks of the Amherst Building often did.

"Something has really been bothering me," Napoleon said.

"There's been a lot that's bothered everyone," Francis responded. Napoleon ran his hands over his chubby cheeks.

"Did you know that no general is considered more brilliant than Bonaparte?" Napoleon said. "Like Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar or George Washington. I mean, he was someone who shaped the world with his brilliance."

"Yes. I know that," Francis said.

"But what I don't understand is why, when he was so roundly considered such a man of genius, does everyone only remembers his defeats?"

"I'm sorry," Francis said.

"The defeats. Moscow. Trafalgar. Waterloo."

"I don't know if I can answer that question, Nappy…," Francis started.

"It's truly bothering me," he said quickly, "I mean, why are we remembered for our failures? Why do defeats and retreats mean more than victories? Do you think Gulp-a-pill and Mister Evil ever talk about the progress we make, in group, or with medications? I don't think so. I think they only talk about setbacks and mistakes and all the little signs that we still belong here, instead of the indications that we're getting better and just maybe we ought to be going home."

Francis nodded. This made some sense.

But the short man continued, his stuttering hesitancy dropping aside. "I mean, Napoleon remade the map of Europe with his victories. They should be remembered. It really makes me so angry…"

"I don't know that there's much you can do about it," Francis started, only to be cut off as the small man leaned forward and lowered his voice.

"It makes me so angry the way Gulp-a-pill and Mister Evil treat me and treat all these historical things that are so important, that I could hardly sleep last night…"

This statement got Francis's attention.

"You were awake?"

"I was awake when I heard someone working a key through the door lock."

"Did you see…"

Napoleon shook his head. "I heard the door swing open, you know, my bunk isn't far away, and I closed my eyes tight, because we are supposed to be asleep, and I didn't want someone to think that I wasn't sleeping when I was supposed to and get my meds increased. So I pretended."

"Go on," Francis urged.

Napoleon put his head back, trying to reconstruct what he remembered. "I was aware that someone went by my bunk. And then, a few minutes later, passed by again, only this time to exit. And I listened for the lock turning, but it never happened. Then, after a little bit, I peeked just a tiny little peek, and I saw you and the Fireman heading out. We're not supposed to go out at night. We're supposed to be in our bunks and fast asleep, so it scared me when you went past, and I tried to go to sleep, but now, I could hear Lanky talking to himself, and that kept me up until the police came and the lights came on and we could see all the terrible things that had happened."

"So, you didn't see the other person?"

"No. I don't think so. It was dark. I might have looked a little, though."

"And what did you see?"

"A man in white. That's all."

"Could you tell how big? Did you see his face?"

Napoleon shook his head again. "Everyone looks big to me, C-Bird. Even you. And I didn't see his face. When he walked past my bunk, I squeezed my eyes shut and hid my head. I do remember one thing, though. He seemed to be floating. All white and floating."

The small man took a deep breath. "Some of the bodies, during the retreat from Moscow, froze so solid that the skin took on the color of ice on a pond. Like gray and white and translucent, all at the same time. Like fog. That was what I remember."

Francis absorbed what he'd heard, and saw that Mister Evil was walking through the dayroom, signaling the start of their afternoon group session. He also saw Big Black and Little Black maneuvering through the throng of patients. Francis started suddenly, when he noticed that both men wore their white pants and white orderly jackets.

Angels, he thought.

Francis had one other, brief conversation, while heading into the group session. Cleo stepped in front of him, blocking his passage down that corridor to one of the smaller treatment rooms. She swayed back and forth before speaking, a little like a ferryboat nestling into its berth at a dock.

"C-Bird," she said. "Do you think Lanky did that to Short Blond?"

Francis shook his head slightly, as if in doubt. "It doesn't seem to be the sort of thing that Lanky would do," he said. "It seems so much worse than he could ever manage."

Cleo breathed out deeply. Her entire bulk shuddered. "I thought he was a good man. A little wacky, like the rest of us, confused about things, sometimes, but a good man. I cannot believe that he would do such a bad thing."

"He had blood on his shirt. And he seemed to have picked out Short Blond and for some reason, he thought she was evil, and this scared him, Cleo. When we get scared, we do things that are unexpected. All of us do. In fact, I'd bet that just about everyone here did something when they got scared, and that's why they're here."

Cleo nodded in agreement. "But Lanky seemed different." Then she shook her head. "No. That's not right. He seemed the same. And we're all different, and that's what I mean. He was different outside, but in here, he was the same, and what happened, that seemed like an outside thing that seemed to happen inside."

"Outside?"

"You know, stupid. Outside. Like beyond." Cleo made a wide, sweeping gesture with her arm, as if to indicate the world beyond the hospital walls.

This made some sense to Francis and he managed a small smile. "I think I see what you're getting at," he said.

Cleo leaned forward. "Something happened last night, in the girls' dormitory. I didn't tell anyone."

"What?"

"I was awake. Couldn't sleep. Tried going over all the lines of the play, but it didn't work, although usually it does. I mean, go figure. Usually, when I get to Anthony's speech in act two, well, my eyes roll back and I'm snoring like a little baby, except, I don't know if little babies snore, because nobody's ever let me get anywhere near theirs, the nasty bitches but that's another story."

"So you couldn't sleep, either."

"Everyone else was."

"And?"

"I saw the door open, and a figure come in. I hadn't heard the door key in the lock, my bunk, it's way on the far side, right by the windows, and there was moonlight last night that was hitting my head. Did you know that in the old days, people thought if you went to sleep with the moonlight on your forehead you would wake up crazy? That's where the word lunatic comes from. Maybe it's true, C-Bird. I sleep in the moonlight all the time, and I keep getting crazier and crazier, and no one wants me anymore. I haven't got anybody anywhere to talk to me, and so they put me in here. All by myself. No one to come visit. That doesn't seem fair, does it? I mean some people somewhere should come visit me. I mean, how hard would that be? The bastards. The goddamn bastards."

"But someone came in to the bunk room?"

"Strange. Yes." Cleo shook a little bit, quivering. "No one ever comes in at night. But this night, someone did. And they stayed a few seconds, and then the door went shut again, and this time, because I was listening hard, I heard the key in the lock."

"Do you think anybody asleep by the door saw the person?" Francis asked.

Cleo made a face and shook her head. "I already asked around. Discreetly, you know. No. Lots of people sleeping. It's the meds, you know. Everyone gets knocked right out."

Then her face flushed and Francis saw the sudden arrival of some tears. "I liked Short Blond," she said. "She was always so kind to me. Sometimes she would share lines with me, speak Marc Anthony's part, or maybe the chorus. And I liked Lanky, too. He was a gentleman. Opened the door and let the ladies pass through first at dinnertime. Said grace for the whole table. Always called me Miss Cleo, so polite and nice. And he really had all of our interests at heart. Keep evil away. Makes sense."

She dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief and then blew her nose. "Poor Lanky. He was right all along, and no one listened and now look. We need to find some way to help him, because, after all, he was just trying to help all of us. The bastards. The goddamn bastards."

Then she grabbed Francis by the arm, and made him escort her into the group session.

Mister Evil was arranging steel folding chairs in a circle inside the treatment room. He gestured at Francis to take a couple from where they were stacked beneath a window, and Francis dropped Cleo's arm and crossed the room, as she gingerly lowered herself into one of the seats. He reached down and seized a pair, and was about to turn and bring these back to the center where the group was gathering, when some movement outdoors grabbed his attention. From where he was standing, he could see the main entranceway, the great iron gate that was open, and the drive that went up to the administration building. A large black car was pulling to the front. This, in itself, wasn't all that unusual; cars and ambulances arrived off and on throughout the day. But there was something about this particular one that he could not precisely say, but which grabbed his attention. It was as if it carried urgency.

Francis watched as the car shuddered to a halt. After a second, a tall, dark-skinned woman emerged wearing a long tan raincoat and carrying a black briefcase that matched the long hair that fell about her shoulders. The woman stood, and seemed to survey the entirety of the hospital complex, before burrowing forward, and striding -up the stairs with a singleness of purpose that seemed to him to be like an arrow, shot at a target.

Chapter 8

Organization came slowly and unnaturally to them all. It wasn't, as Francis noted inwardly, as if they were suddenly rowdy or even disruptive, like schoolchildren being called to pay attention to some boring classwork. It was more that the members were restless and nervous simultaneously. They'd all had too little sleep, too many drugs, and far too much excitement, mixed with a significant amount of uncertainty. One older woman who wore her long, stringy gray hair in a tangled cascading explosion on her head kept bursting into tears, which she would rapidly dab away with her sleeve, shake her head, smile, say she was okay, only to burst forth in sobs again after a few seconds. One of the middle-aged men, a hard-eyed former commercial fishing boat sailor with a tattoo of a naked woman on his forearm, wore a furtive, uneasy look, and kept twisting in his seat, checking the door behind him, as if he expected someone to silently slip into the room. People who stuttered, stuttered more. People likely to snap angrily perched on their chairs. Those likely to cry seemed quicker to their teary-eyed destination. Those who were mute descended deeper into silence.

Even Peter the Fireman, whose calmness usually dominated the sessions, had difficulty sitting still, and more than once lit a cigarette and paced the perimeter of the group. He reminded Francis of a boxer in the moments before the bout was scheduled to begin, loosening up in the ring, throwing rights and lefts at imaginary jaws, while his real opponent waited in a distant corner.

Had Francis been a veteran of the mental hospital, he would have recognized a significant tick upwards in the paranoia levels of many of his fellow patients. It was still unarticulated, and like a kettle steadily heating toward a boil, had yet to truly start singing. But it was noticeable, nonetheless, like a bad smell on a hot afternoon. His own voices clamored for attention within him, and it took the usual significant force of will to quiet them. He could feel the muscles in his arms and stomach tightening, as if they could lend assistance to the mental tendons that he was employing to keep his imagination in check.

"I think we should address the events of the other night," Mr. Evans said slowly. He was wearing reading glasses, which he let slip down on his nose, so that he peered over them, his eyes darting back and forth from patient to patient. Evans was one of those people, Francis thought, who would make a statement that seemed straightforward like the need to address precisely what was dominating everyone's thoughts but look as if he meant something utterly different. "It seems to be on everyone's minds."

One of the men in the group instantly pulled his shirt up over his head and clamped his hands over his ears. There was some squirming in the seats from the others. No one spoke immediately, and the silence that crept over the group seemed to Francis to be tight, like the wind that filled a sailboat's sails invisible. After a second, he shattered the quiet by asking, "Where's Lanky? Where have they taken him? What have they done with him?"

Mr. Evans looked relieved that the first questions were so easily answered. He leaned back on his steel chair and replied, "Lanky was taken to the county lockup. He's being held in an isolation cell there under twenty-four-hour observation. Doctor Gulptilil went over to see him this morning and to make certain that he's receiving his proper medications in the proper dosages. He's okay. He's a little calmer than he was before the" he paused "incident."

This statement took the assembly a moment or two to absorb.

It was Cleo who burst forth with the next question. "Why don't they bring him back here? This is where he belongs. Not in some jail with bars and no sunshine and probably a bunch of criminals. Bastards. Rapists and thieves, I'll bet. And poor Lanky. In the hands of the police. The fascist bastards."

"Because he's being charged with a crime," the psychologist said quickly. Francis thought him oddly reluctant to use the word murder.

"But I don't understand something," Peter the Fireman said in a voice low enough to make everyone in the room turn toward him. "Lanky is clearly crazy. We all saw how he was struggling, what's the word you like to use…"

"Decompensating," Mister Evil said stiffly.

"A real dumb-ass word," Cleo said angrily. "Just a real stupid, dumb-ass, goddamn completely useless bastard of a word."

"Right," Peter continued, picking up some speed. "He was really in the midst of some big moment. I mean, we could all see it, all day, growing worse and nobody did anything to help him. And so he exploded. And he was already here in the hospital for all of his problems, why would they charge him? I mean isn't that pretty much the definition of someone who didn't really know what he was doing?"

Evans nodded, but also bit his lip slightly before answering. "That's a determination the county prosecutor will have to make. Until then, Lanky stays where he is…"

"Well, I think they should bring him back here where his friends are," Cleo said angrily. "We're all he knows now. He doesn't have any family except us."

There was a general murmur of assent.

"Isn't there something we can do?" the woman with the stringy hair asked.

This comment also inspired a round of mumbled agreement.

"Well," Mister Evil said in a less-than-convincing tone, "I think we should all continue to address the problems that put us here. By working at getting better, perhaps we can find a way of helping out Lanky."

Cleo snorted in obvious disgust. "Goddamn wishy-washy stupid," she said. "Idiotic, dumb bastards." It was a little unclear to Francis precisely whom Cleo was referring to, but he didn't find himself disagreeing with her choice of words. Cleo had an empress's ability to cut to the crux of the matter, in a most condescending and imperious manner. Obscenities began to sprout throughout the group. The room seemed to fill with an unruly noise.

Mister Evil held up his hand, clearly exasperated. "This sort of angry talk doesn't do Lanky or any of us any good," he said. "So let's shut it off now."

He made a dismissive, slicing gesture with his hand. It was the sort of motion that Francis had grown accustomed to seeing from the psychologist, one that underscored once again who was sane and thus, who was alleged to be in control. And, as usual, it had the properly intimidating effect; the group slowly settled back, grumbling, into the steel seats, the small moment heading toward rebelliousness dissipating in the stale air around them. Francis could see that Peter the Fireman was still deep within the moment, however, his forearms crossed in front of him and his brow knitted.

"I think there's not enough angry talk," he said, finally, not loudly, but with a sense of purpose behind each word. "And I fail to see how it doesn't do Lanky any good. Who knows what might or might not help him at this point? I think we should be even more vocal in protest."

Mister Evil spun in his seat. "You probably would," he said.

The two men glared at each other for a moment, and Francis saw they were both on the verge of something a little bigger and more physical. Then, almost as swiftly the moment disappeared, because Mister Evil turned away, saying, "You should keep your opinions to yourself. Where they best belong."

It was a dismissive statement, and it froze the group.

Francis saw Peter the Fireman considering a response, but in that second's delay, there was a sound at the therapy room door.

All the heads turned as the door swung open. Big Black languidly moved his immense bulk into the room. For a second, he filled the doorway, blocking everyone's vision. Then he was followed by the woman that Francis had seen through the window at the start of the session. She, in turn, was followed by Gulp-a-pill and finally, by Little Black. The two attendants took up sentry like positions by the door.

"Mister Evans," Dr. Gulptilil said swiftly, "I am so sorry to interrupt the session…"

"That's okay," Mister Evil responded. "We were close to finishing anyway."

Francis had the radical thought that they were more at the start of something than the finish. However, he didn't really listen to the exchange between the two therapists. His eyes were locked, instead, on the woman standing just between the Moses brothers.

Francis saw many things, it seemed to him, all at once: She was slender and exceptionally tall, perhaps only an inch or so beneath six feet, and he would have put her age at just around thirty. Her skin was a light, cocoa brown, close in shade, he thought, to the oak leaves that were the first to change in the fall and her eyes had a slightly oriental appearance. Her hair dropped in a vibrant black sheen past her shoulders. She wore a simple tan trench coat, open to reveal a blue business suit. A leather briefcase was clutched in long, delicate fingers, and she stared across the room with a singularity of purpose that would have quieted even the most distraught patient. It was, he thought, almost as if her presence silenced the delusions and fears that occupied each seat.

At first, Francis thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, and then she turned just slightly, and he saw that the left side of her face was marred by a long, white scar, that creased her eyebrow, jumped over the eye, then raced in a zigzag fashion down her cheek, where it ended at her jaw. The scar had the same effect as a hypnotist's watch; he couldn't pull his eyes away from the jagged line that bisected her face. He wondered for a moment whether it wasn't like looking at some mad artist's work, where overwhelmed by an unexpected perfection, the deranged painter had seized a palette knife and decided to treat his own art with utter cruelty.

The woman stepped forward. "Which are the two men who found the nurse's body?" she asked. Her voice had a huskiness to it that Francis thought penetrated right through him.

"Peter. Francis," Doctor Gulptilil said briskly. "This young woman has driven all the way out here from Boston to ask some questions from you.

Would you please accompany us to the office, so that she might question you properly?"

Francis rose, and in that second became aware that Peter the Fireman was staring equally hard at the young woman. "I know you," he said, but beneath his voice. As he heard the words, Francis saw the young woman focus on Peter the Fireman's face, and for just an instant, her forehead creased in a sudden touch of recognition. Then, almost as swiftly, it returned to its impassive scarred beauty.

The two men stepped forward, out of the circle of chairs.

"Watch out," Cleo said abruptly. And then she quoted from her favorite play: "The bright day is done, and we are for the dark…" There was a momentary silence in the room, and she added, in a hoarse smoky voice, "Watch out for the bastards. They never mean you any good."

I stepped back from the living room wall and all the words gathered there and thought to myself: There. That's it. We were all in place. Death, I think, sometimes is like an algebraic equation, a long series of x factors and y values, multiplied and divided and added and subtracted until a simple, but awful, answer is arrived upon. Zero. And, at that moment, the formula was in position.

When I first went to the hospital, I was twenty-one, and had never been in love. I had never kissed a girl, not felt the softness of her skin beneath my fingertips. They were a mystery to me, mountaintops as unattainable and unreachable as sanity. Yet they filled my imagination. There were so many secrets: the curve of a breast, the lift of a smile, the small of the back as it arced in sensual motion. I knew nothing, envisioned everything.

So much in my mad life has been beyond my grasp. I suppose I should have somehow expected to fall for the most exotic woman I would ever know. And, I suppose, too, I should have understood that in the single moment, the flashing glance between Peter the Fireman and Lucy Kyoto Jones, that there was much more to be said, and a connection much deeper that would emerge. But I was young, and all I saw was the presence, suddenly, in my little life of the most extraordinary person I had ever set eyes upon. She seemed to glow a little like the lava lamps that were so popular with hippies and students, a constantly melding, twisting form that flowed from one shape to another.

Lucy Kyoto Jones was the product of a union between a black American serviceman and a Japanese-American mother. Her middle name was the city where her mother had been born. Hence the almond-shaped eyes and the cocoa skin. The undergraduate degree from Stanford and Harvard Law part I would come to learn later.

I would come to learn about the scar on her face, later, as well, for the person who put that scar there, and the other one that she wore less obviously deep within her, set her on the course that brought her to the Western State Hospital with questions that were soon to become very unpopular.

One of the things I learned in my maddest years was that one could be in a room, with walls and barred windows and locks on the doors, surrounded by other crazy people, or even stuffed into an isolation cell all alone, but that really wasn't the room one was in at all. The real room that one occupied was constructed by memory, by relationships, by events, by all sorts of unseen forces. Sometimes delusions. Sometimes hallucinations. Sometimes desires. Sometimes dreams and hopes, or ambition. Sometimes anger. That was what was important: to always recognize where the real walls were.

And that was the case then, as we sat in Gulp-a-pill's office.

I looked out the apartment window and saw that it was late. The daylight had fled, replaced by the thickness of the small-town night. I have several clocks in my apartment, all provided by my sisters, who, for some reason I have yet to be able to ascertain, seem to think that I have a near constant and deeply pressing need to always know what time it is. I thought to myself, the words are the only time I need now, so I took a break, smoking a cigarette, and collecting all the clocks from the apartment and unplugging them from the walls, or removing the batteries that ran them, so that they were all stopped. I noticed that they were all paused at more or less the same moment ten after ten, eleven after ten, thirteen after ten. I picked each clock up and changed both the hour and the minute hands on each, so that there was no longer even a semblance of consistency. Each was stopped at a different moment. This accomplished, I laughed out loud. It was as if I had seized time and freed myself from its constraints.

I remembered how Lucy had sat forward, fixing first Peter, then me, then Peter again with a withering, humorless gaze. I suppose, at first, she meant to impress us with her singleness of purpose. Perhaps she had thought that was how one dealt with crazy folks in a decisive manner, more or less like one would with a wayward puppy. She demanded, "I want to know everything about what you saw the other night."

Peter the Fireman hesitated before replying.

"Perhaps you might first tell us, Miss Jones, precisely why you are interested in our recollections? After all, we both made statements to the local police."

"Why am I interested in the case?" she said briskly. "There are some details that were brought to my attention shortly after the body was discovered, and after a phone call or two to the local authorities, I felt it of some importance to personally check them out."

"But that says nothing," Peter replied, with a small, dismissive gesture of his own. He sat forward on his seat, bending toward the young woman. "You want to know what we saw, but both C-Bird and I are already nursing bruises from our first encounter with hospital security and the local homicide cops. I suspect we are both fortunate not to be stuffed in some isolation cell at the county jail, having been erroneously accused of a serious crime. So before we agree to help you, why don't you tell us once again why you are so interested in a bit more detail, please."

Dr. Gulptilil had a slightly shocked look on his face, as if the notion that a patient might question someone sane was somehow against the rules. "Peter," he said stiffly, "Miss Jones is a prosecuting attorney in Suffolk County. And I think she should be the one asking the questions."

The Fireman nodded. "I knew I'd seen you before," he said quietly to the young woman. "In a courtroom, probably."

She looked at him for a moment or two before she answered. "Sitting across from you, once, for a couple of court sessions. I saw you testify, in the Anderson fire case, maybe two years ago. I was still an assistant handling misdemeanors and DUI's. They wanted some of us to see you get cross-examined."

Peter smiled. "I recall that I held up pretty well," he said. "I was the one who found where the torch had set the fire. It was pretty clever, you know. Fixing an electrical outlet next to where the flammable material was stored in the warehouse, so that their own product pushed the fire. It took some planning. But then, that's what a good arsonist is all about: planning. It's part of the thrill for them, the construction of the fire. It's how the good one's really get off."

"That's why they had us come watch," Lucy said. "Because they thought you were on your way to becoming the best arson investigator on the Boston force. But things didn't work out, did they?"

"Oh," Peter said, smiling a little more widely, as if there was some joke in what Lucy Jones had said, but Francis hadn't heard. "One could argue that they have, indeed. It really just depends on how you see things. Like justice and what's right and all that. But, really, now my story isn't why you're here, is it Miss Jones?"

"No. The nurse-trainee's murder is."

Peter stared at Lucy Jones. He glanced over toward Francis, then to Big Black and Little Black, who hung in the back of the room, then finally at Gulp-a-pill, who was sitting a bit uneasily in his seat behind his desk. "Now why," Peter said slowly, turning back to Francis, "why, C-Bird, would a prosecuting attorney from Boston drop everything she was doing and drive all the way out to the Western State Hospital, to ask questions of a couple of crazy folks about a death that happened well outside her jurisdiction, where a man has already been arrested and charged? Something about that death must have piqued her interest, C-Bird. But what? What could have caused Miss Jones to rush out here so urgently and ask to speak with a couple of Looney Tunes?

Francis looked over at Lucy Jones, whose eyes had centered on Peter the Fireman with a mingled look of intrigue and a recognition that Francis couldn't quite name. After a long moment, she turned to Francis and with a small grin that was skewed slightly in the direction of the scar on her face, asked, "Well, Mister Petrel… can you answer that question?"

Francis thought for a moment. In his imagination, he pictured Short Blond just as they found her. Then he said, "The body."

Lucy smiled. "Yes indeed. Mister Petrel… may I call you Francis?"

Francis nodded.

"Then what about the body?"

"Something about it was special."

"Something about it might have been special," Lucy Jones continued. She looked over at Peter the Fireman. "Do you want to jump in here, now?"

"No," Peter said, crossing his arms in front of him. "C-Bird is doing just fine. Let him continue."

She looked back over at Francis. "And so…?"

Leaning back for an instant, then, just as swiftly pushing himself back forward, Francis thought about what she might be driving at. Images flooded him, of Short Blond, over and over, the way her body was twisted in death, and the manner in which her clothes were arranged. He realized that it was all a puzzle, and a part of it was the beautiful woman sitting across from him. "The missing joints on her hand," Francis said abruptly.

Lucy nodded and leaned forward. "Tell me about that hand," she said. "What did it look like to you."

Doctor Gulptilil stepped in suddenly. "The police took photographs, Miss Jones. Surely you can inspect those. I fail to see what it is…" But his complaint dissipated, as the woman made a gesture for Francis to continue.

"They looked like someone, the killer, ha i removed them," Francis said.

Lucy nodded. "Now, can you tell me why the man accused, what's his name…"

"Lanky," Peter the Fireman said. His own voice had gained a deeper, more solid tone.

"Yes… why this man Lanky, whom you both knew, might have done that?"

"No. No reason."

"You can think of no reason why he might have marked the young woman in that fashion? Nothing he might have said beforehand? Or the way he'd been behaving. I understand he'd been quite agitated…"

"No," Francis said. "Nothing about the way Short Blond died fits with what I know of Lanky."

"I see," Lucy said, nodding. "Would you concur with that statement, Doctor?" She turned to Doctor Gulptilil.

"Absolutely not!" he said forcefully. "The man's behavior leading up to the killing was exaggerated, very much on edge. And he'd tried to attack her earlier that day. He has had a distinct propensity to threaten violence on numerous occasions in the past, and in his agitated state, he slipped over the edge of restraint, just as the staff feared he might."

"So, you don't agree with the assessment of these men?"

"No. And the police subsequently found evidence in the area of his bed. And the bloodstains on his nightshirt positively matched those of the murdered nurse."

"I'm aware of those details," she said coldly. Lucy Jones turned back to Francis. "Could you return to the missing tips of the fingers, please, Francis?" she asked, significantly more gently. "Would you describe precisely what you saw, please?"

"Four joints probably sliced off. Her hand was in a pool of blood."

Francis lifted his own hand and held it up in front of his face, as if he could see what it would be like to have the tips of his fingers severed.

"If Lanky, your friend, had performed this "

Peter interrupted. "He might have done some things. But not that. And certainly not the sexual assault, either."

"You don't know that!" Doctor Gulptilil said angrily. "That's pure supposition. And I have seen the same types of mutilations, and I can assure you that they could have been caused by any number of methods. Accident, even. The notion that Lanky was somehow incapable of cutting her hand, or that it happened through some other suspicious means is pure conjecture! I can see where you are heading with this, Miss Jones, and I think the implication is both erroneous and potentially disruptive for the entire hospital!"

"Really?" Lucy said, turning once again toward the psychiatrist. The single word didn't demand an expansion. She paused, then looked over at the two patients. She opened her mouth to ask another question, but Peter interrupted her before the next word came out.

"You know, C-Bird," he said, speaking to Francis, but staring at Lucy Jones, "right now I'm guessing that this young woman prosecutor has seen other bodies very much like Short Blond's. And that each one of those other bodies was missing one or more joints from the hand, much like Short Blond was. That would be my guess for the moment."

Lucy Jones smiled, but it wasn't a smile that contained even the slightest hint of humor. It was, Francis thought, one of those smiles one used to cover up all sorts of feelings. "That is a good guess, Peter," she said.

Peter's eyes narrowed further and he sat back, as if thinking hard, before he continued speaking slowly. He directed his words at Francis, but they were truly intended for the woman who sat across from him. "C-Bird, I'm also thinking that our visitor here is charged, somehow, with finding the man who removed those finger joints from those other women. And that is why she hurried out here and is so eager to speak with us. And you know what else, C-Bird?"

"What, Peter?" Francis asked, although he could sense the answer already.

"I'll wager that at night, deep after midnight, in the complete dark of her room back there in Boston, lying alone in her bed, the sheets all tangled and sweaty, Miss Jones has nightmares about each one of those mutilations and what they might mean."

Francis said nothing, but looked over at Lucy Jones, who slowly nodded her head.

Chapter 9

I stepped away from the wall, dropping my pencil to the floor.

My stomach churned with the stress of memory. My throat was dry and I could feel my heart racing. I turned away from the words floating on the dingy white paint in front of me and walked into the small apartment bathroom. I turned on the hot water tap, and then the shower as well, filling the room with a sticky, humid warmth. The heat slid over me, and the world around me began to turn to fog. It was how I remembered those moments in Gulp-a-pill's office, when the real nature of our situation began to take form. The room steamed up, and I could feel an asthmatic shortness of breath, just as I did that day. I looked at my reflection in the mirror. The heat made everything foggy, as if indistinct, lacking edges. It was getting harder to tell whether I was as I was now, getting old, hair thinning, wrinkles forming, or how I was then, when I had my youth and my problems, all wrapped together, my skin and muscles as tight as my imagination. Behind that mirror image of myself were the shelves where all my medications were arrayed. I could feel a palsy in my hands, but worse, a rumbling, earth moving shaking within me, as if some great seismic shift was taking place on the terrain of my heart. I knew I should take some drugs. Calm myself down. Regain control over my emotions. Quiet all the forces that lurked underneath my skin. I could feel madness trying to grasp my thinking. Like fingernails clawing for purchase on a slope, a little like a climber, who suddenly feels his equilibrium slip, and who teeters for a moment, knowing that a slide will turn into a fall, and if he cannot grab hold of something, a plummet into oblivion.

I breathed out superheated air. My mind was scorched.

I could hear Lucy Jones's voice, as she had bent toward Peter and me.

"… A nightmare is something you awaken from, Peter," she had said. "But thoughts and ideas that remain after its terrors have disappeared are something considerably worse."

Peter nodded in agreement. "I am completely familiar with those sorts of waking moments," he said very quietly, with a stiff formality that curiously seemed to bridge something between them.

It was Doctor Gulptilil who broke into the thoughts that were gathering in that room. "Look, see here," he said, with a brisk officiousness, "I am not at all pleased with the direction that this conversation is heading, Miss Jones. You are suggesting something that is quite difficult to contemplate."

Lucy Jones turned to the doctor. "What is it that you believe I'm suggesting?" she asked.

Francis thought to himself: That's the prosecutor within her. Instead of denying or objecting or some other slithering response, she turned the question back on the doctor. Gulp-a-pill, who was no fool even though he often sounded like one, must have recognized the same, the technique not an unfamiliar one for psychiatrists; he squirmed uncomfortably before replying. He was cautious, a good deal of the high-pitched tension had been removed from his voice, so that the unctuous, slightly Anglicized tones of the hospital psychiatric director had returned in force. "What I believe, Miss Jones, is that you are unwilling to see circumstances that suggest something opposite to what you are wishing. An unfortunate death has taken place. Proper authorities were immediately summoned. The crime scene was professionally inspected. Witnesses interviewed in depth. Evidence was obtained. An arrest made. All this was done according to procedure and according to form. It would seem that it is time, now, to let the judicial process take over and see what is to be determined."

Lucy nodded, considering her response.

"Doctor, are you familiar with the names of Frederick Abberline and Sir Robert Anderson?"

Gulp-a-pill hesitated, as he mentally examined the two names. Francis could see him flipping through the index of his memory, only to draw a blank. This was the sort of failure that Doctor Gulptilil seemed to hate. He was a man who refused to display any disadvantage, no matter how slight or insignificant. He scowled briefly, pursed his lips, shifted about in his seat, cleared his throat once or twice, then replied by shaking his head. "No, I am sorry. These two names mean nothing to me. What, pray, is their relevance to this discussion?"

Lucy didn't directly answer this, instead she said, "Perhaps, Doctor, you would be more familiar with their contemporary. A gentleman known in history as Jack the Ripper?"

Gulptilil's eyes narrowed. "Of course. He occupies some footnotes in a number of medical and psychiatric texts, primarily due to the undeniable savagery and notoriety of his crimes. The other two names…"

"Abberline was the detective assigned to investigate the Whitechapel murders in 1888. Anderson was his supervisor. Are you at all familiar with the events of that time?"

The doctor shrugged. "Even schoolchildren are familiar in a fashion with the Ripper. There are rhymes and songs, which have given way, I believe to novels and films."

Lucy continued. "The crimes dominated the news. Filled the populace with fear. Became something of the standard against which many similar crimes are vetted even today, although, in reality, they were confined to a well-defined area and a highly specific class of victims. The fear they caused was truly out of proportion to their actual impact, as was their impact on history. In London today, you know, you can take a guided bus tour of the murder sites. And there are discussion groups that continue to investigate the crimes. Ripperologists, they are called. Nearly a hundred years later, and people remain morbidly fascinated. Still want to know who Jack truly was…"

"This history lesson is designed to do what, Miss Jones? You are making a point, but I believe we are all uncertain what it is."

Lucy didn't seem concerned by the negative response.

"You know what has always intrigued criminologists about the Ripper crimes, Doctor?"

"No."

"As suddenly as they started, they stopped."

"Yes?"

"Like a spigot of terror turned on, then shut off. Click! Just like that."

"Interesting, but…"

"Tell me, Doctor, in your experience, do people who are dominated by sexual compulsion especially to commit crimes, horrific, ever-increasingly savage crimes of dramatic proportions do they find ample satisfaction in their acts, and then spontaneously stop?"

"I am not a forensic psychiatrist, Miss Jones," he said briskly.

"Doctor, in your experience…"

Gulptilil shook his head. "I suspect, Miss Jones," he said with an arch tone in his voice, "that you, as well as I, know the answer to that question to be no.

They are crimes without ends. A homicidal psychopath doesn't reach an eventual conclusion. At least not internally, although in the literature of such persons there are some who are driven by excessive guilt to take their own lives. These, unfortunately, seem to be in the minority. No, generally speaking, repetitive killers are stopped by some external means."

"Yes. True enough. Anderson, and we suspect, by proxy, Abberline, privately theorized that there were three possibilities for the cessation of the Ripper crimes in London. Perhaps the killer had emigrated to America unlikely, but possible although there are no subsequent records of Ripper-type murders in the States. A second theory: he had died, either at his own hand, or that of another's which was also not terribly likely. Even in the Victorian era, suicide was not particularly common, and we would have to speculate that the Ripper was tortured by his own fiendishness, and there is no evidence of that. Third, a far more realistic possibility."

"Which was?"

"That the man known as the Ripper had in fact been incarcerated in a mental hospital. And, unable to talk his way out of bedlam, he was swallowed up and lost forever inside thick walls."

Lucy paused, then asked, "How thick are the walls here, Doctor?"

Gulp-a-pill reacted swiftly, pushing himself to his feet. His face was contorted in anger. "What you are suggesting, Miss Jones, is horrific! Impossible! That some latter-day Ripper is here now, in this hospital!"

"Where better to hide?" she asked quietly.

Gulp-a-pill struggled for composure. "The notion that a murderer, even a clever one, would be able to conceal his true feelings from the entire staff of professionals here is ludicrous! Perhaps one could in the 1800s, when psychology was in its infancy. But not today! It would take a near constant force of will, and a sophistication and knowledge of human nature far more profound than any patient here is capable of. Your suggestion is simply impossible." He said these last words with a forcefulness that masked his own fears.

Lucy started to reply, then stopped. Instead, she reached down and grasped her leather briefcase. She rummaged around inside for a moment, then turned to Francis. "What was it you called the nurse-trainee who was murdered?" she asked quietly.

"Short Blond," Francis said. Lucy Jones nodded.

"Yes. That would seem right. Her hair was cropped short…"

As she spoke, almost musing to herself, she withdrew a manila envelope from her satchel. From this, she removed a series of what Francis instantly saw to be large, eight-by-ten color photographs. She glanced at these, flipping through them on her lap, then she picked one out and tossed it on the desk in front of Gulp-a-pill.

"Eighteen months ago," she said, as the picture skidded on the wood surface.

Another photograph emerged from the pile. "Fourteen months ago."

Then a third fluttered down. "Ten months ago."

Francis craned forward, and he saw that each picture was of a young woman. He could see glossy red streaks of blood gathered around the throat of each. He could see clothes stripped and rearranged. He could see eyes open to nothing except horror. They were all Short Blond, and Short Blond was each of them. They were different, yet the same. Francis looked closer, as three more photographs skidded across the desktop. These were close-up pictures of each victim's right hand. And then he saw: One finger joint missing on the hand of the first; two on the second; three on the third.

He tore his eyes away and glanced over at Lucy Jones. Her own eyes had narrowed and her face had set. For a second, Francis thought, she glowed with an intensity that was both red-hot and ice-cold all at once.

She breathed in slowly, and spoke in a quiet, hard voice: "I will find this man, Doctor."

Gulp-a-pill was staring down helplessly at the photographs. Francis could see that he was assessing the depth of the situation. After a moment, he reached out and took all the pictures and placed them together, like a card sharp gathering a deck together after it has been shuffled, but knowing full well where the ace of spades was located. He fit them into a single pile and tapped it on the desk to even each edge. Then he handed the photographs back to Lucy. "Yes," he said slowly, "I believe you will. Or, at the very least, make a rigorous attempt."

Francis did not think that Gulp-a-pill meant one word of what he said. And then he reconsidered; perhaps there were some words that Gulptilil spoke that he did mean, and others that he did not. Determining which was which was a very tricky process.

The doctor returned to his seat and to his composure. For a moment or two he drummed his fingers against the desktop. He looked over at the young prosecutor and raised his bushy black eyebrows, as if anticipating another question.

"I will need your assistance," Lucy finally said.

Doctor Gulptilil shrugged. "Of course. That is most obvious. My help, and the help of others, surely. But I think, despite the dramatic similarities between the death we have had here, and the ones you have so theatrically displayed, that you are, in truth, mistaken. I believe our nurse-trainee was unfortunately assaulted by the patient currently in custody and charged with the crime. However, in the interest of justice, of course, I will assist you in whatever method at my disposal, if only to put your mind at rest, Miss Jones."

Again, Francis thought each word spoken said one thing, but meant another.

"I'm going to stay here until I have some answers," Lucy said.

Doctor Gulptilil nodded slowly. He smiled humorlessly. "Answers are perhaps not something we are particularly good at providing here," he said slowly. "Questions, we have in abundance. But resolutions are much harder to come by. And certainly not with the sort of legal precision that I think you will be seeking, Miss Jones. Nevertheless," he continued, "we shall make ourselves available, to the best of our ability."

"To conduct a proper investigation," Lucy said briskly, "as you accurately pointed out, I'll need some assistance. And I need access."

"Let me remind you once again: This is a mental hospital, Miss Jones," the doctor said quickly. "Our tasks here are quite distinct from your own. And I imagine, might seem in conflict. Or at least, that potential exists, surely, as you can see. Your presence cannot disrupt the orderly process of the facility. Nor can you be so intrusive as to upset the fragile states of many of the people we treat."

The doctor paused, then continued with a singsong certainty. "We will make records available to you, as you wish. But as for the wards and questioning potential witnesses or suspects well, we are not equipped to help you in that fashion. After all, we are in the daily business of assisting folks stricken with serious and often crippling disease. Our approach is therapeutic, not investigative. We have no one here with the sorts of expertise that I believe you will require…"

"That's not true," Peter the Fireman said under his breath. His words stopped everyone in the room, filling the space around with a dangerous and unsettled quiet. Then he added in a steady, firm voice: "I do."

Part Two. World of Stories

Chapter 10

My hand was cramped and sore, as was my existence. I gripped the stub of pencil tightly, as if it were some sort of lifeline tethering me to sanity. Or, perhaps, insanity. It was getting harder for me to tell the one from the other. The words I'd written on the walls surrounding me wavered, like heat plumes above a black strip of highway at noon on a cloudless summer day. Sometimes I thought of the hospital as a special universe, all unto itself, where we were all little planets held in place by great gravitational forces none of us could quite see, orbiting through space on our own paths, yet interdependent, each of us connected, yet separate. It seemed to me that if you gather souls together for almost any reason, in a prison, in an Army or at a professional basketball game, or a Lions' Club meeting, or a Hollywood opening or a union meeting or a school board session, there is a commonality of purpose, a shared link. But that was far less true for all of us, because the only real bond we held in common was a singular desire to be different from what we were, and for many of us, that was a dream that seemed forever unreachable. And, I suppose, for the ones that had been swallowed up by the hospital for years, it was no longer even a preference. There were many of us scared of the outside world and the mysteries that it held, so much so, that we were willing to risk whatever danger breathed inside the walls. We were all islands, with our own stories, thrown together in a location that was quickly becoming less and less safe.

Big Black told me once, when we were standing idly in a corridor in one of those many moments where there was simply nothing to do except wait for something to happen although it rarely did, that the teenage children of the people who worked at the Western State Hospital, who lived on the grounds had a ritual, whenever they had a Saturday night date; they would walk down to the campus of the nearby college to get picked up or dropped off. And, when asked, they would say that their folks were on the staff but that they would wave toward the school, not up the hill to where we all passed our days and nights. Our madness was their stigma. It was as if they feared catching the diseases we carried. This seemed reasonable to me. Who would want to be like us? Who would want to be associated with our world?

The answer to that was chilling: One person.

The Angel.

I took a deep breath, inhaling, exhaling, letting the hot air whistle between my teeth. It had been many years since I actually permitted myself to think about him. I looked at what I had written and understood that I could not tell all those stories without telling his, as well, and that was deeply unsettling. An old nervousness and an ancient fear crept into my imagination.

And, with that, he entered the room.

Not entering, like a neighbor or a friend, or even like an uninvited guest, with perhaps a knock on the door and a pleasant, if forced, greeting, but like a ghost. The door didn't creak open, a chair wasn't drawn up, introductions weren't made. But he was there, nevertheless. I spun about, first one way, then the other, trying to pick him out of the still air around me, but I could not. He was the color of wind. Voices that I had not heard in many months, voices that had been quieted within me, suddenly began to shout warnings, echoing in my ears, racing through my head. But it was almost as if the message they had for me was being spoken in a foreign language; I no longer knew how to listen. I had a horrible feeling that something elusive but immensely important was suddenly out of order, and danger very close. So close, that I could feel it breathing against my neck.

There was a momentary silence in the office. A sudden burst of rapid-fire typing penetrated the closed door. Somewhere, deep within the administration building, a distraught patient let out a long, plaintive howl, unforgiving in its intensity; but it faded away, like the cry of a faraway dog. Peter the Fireman slipped forward in his seat, in the same way that an eager child who knows the answer to a teacher's question does.

"That's correct," Lucy Jones said quietly.

These words only seemed to energize the haphazard quiet.

For a man trained in psychiatry, Doctor Gulptilil prized a certain political shrewdness, perhaps even beyond medical decisions.

Like many physicians of the mind, he had the uncanny ability to step back and survey the moment from a spot emotionally distant, almost as if he were in a guard tower staring down into a yard. To his side, he saw a young woman with some fiercely held belief, and an agenda that was far different from any he might have. She wore scars that seemed to glisten with heat. Across from him, he eyed the patient who was far less insane than any of the others in the hospital and yet, far more lost, with the possible exception of the man the young woman was hunting so diligently if he truly existed, which was a question Doctor Gulptilil had serious doubts about. He thought the two of them might have a combustibility that could prove troublesome. He also glanced at Francis, and thought suddenly that he was likely to be swept along by the force of the other two, which, he suspected, would not necessarily be a positive thing.

Doctor Gulptilil cleared his throat several times, and shifted about in his seat. He could see the potential for trouble at virtually every turn. Trouble had an explosive quality that he spent much of his time and energy defeating. It was not as if he particularly enjoyed his job as psychiatric director of the hospital, but he came from a tradition of duty, coupled with a near religious commitment to steady work, and working for the state combined many virtues that he considered paramount, not the least of which was a steady weekly paycheck and the benefits that went with it, and none of the significant risk of opening his own office and hanging up a shingle and hoping for a sufficient stream of local neurotics to start making appointments.

He was about to interrupt, when his eyes fell upon a photograph on the corner of his desk. It was a studio-setting portrait of his wife and their two children, a son in elementary school, and a daughter who had just turned fourteen. The picture, taken less than a year earlier, showed his daughter's hair falling in a great black wave over her shoulders and reaching halfway to her waist. This was a traditional sign of beauty for his people, no matter how far removed they were from his native country. When she was little, he would often simply sit and watch, as her mother passed a comb through the cascade of shiny black hair. Those moments had disappeared. In a fit of rebellion a week earlier, the daughter had sneaked off to a local hairdresser and had her hair cropped to a pageboy length, defying both the family tradition and the predominant style of that year. His wife had cried steadily for two days, and he had been forced to deliver a stern lecture which was mostly ignored and a significant punishment which consisted of banning her from any non school activities for two months, and limiting her telephone privileges to homework, which prompted an angry outburst of tears and an obscenity or two that surprised him that she even knew. With a start, he realized that all the victims wore short haircuts. Boyish cuts. And they were all noticeably slender, almost as if they wore their femininity reluctantly. His daughter was much the same, still all angles and bony lines, with curves only hinted at. His hand quivered a little, as he considered that detail. He also knew that she resisted his every attempt to limit her travels around the hospital grounds. This knowledge made him bite down momentarily on his lower lip. Fear, he thought abruptly, doesn't belong to psychiatrists; it belongs to the patients. Fear is irrational, and it settles parasitic ally on the unknown. His profession was about knowledge and the study and steady application of it to all sorts of situations. He tried to dismiss the connective thought, but it left only reluctantly.

"Miss Jones," he said stiffly, "precisely what is it you propose?"

Lucy took a deep breath before answering, giving herself a moment to array her thoughts with machine-gun-like precision. "What I propose is to uncover the man who I believe committed these crimes. These are the murders in three different jurisdictions in the eastern part of the state followed by the murder that took place here. I believe that the killer remains free, despite the arrest that has been made. What I will need, to prove this, is access to your patient files and the ability to conduct interviews on the wards. In addition" and it was here that the first hesitation crept into her voice "I will need someone who will work at uncovering this individual from the inside." she glanced over at Francis "Because I think this individual will have anticipated my arrival. And I think his behavior, when he knows I am investigating his presence, is likely to change. I'll need someone able to spot that."

"Exactly what do you mean by anticipate?" Gulp-a-pill asked.

"I think the person who killed the young nurse-trainee did so in such a manner because he knew two things that he could easily blame it on another person, the unfortunate fellow you call Lanky; and that someone very much like me would still come searching for him."

"I beg your pardon…"

"He had to know that if investigators of the other crimes were hunting for him, then they would be drawn here, too."

This revelation created another small silence in the room.

Lucy fixed her eyes on Francis and Peter the Fireman, examining both with a distant, detached gaze. She thought to herself that she could have found far worse candidates for what she had in mind, although she was concerned about the volatility of the one, and the fragility of the other. She also glanced over at the two Moses brothers. Big Black and Little Black were poised in the rear of the room. She guessed that she could enlist them in her plan, as well, although she was unsure if she would be able to control them as efficiently as she could control the two patients.

Doctor Gulptilil shook his head. "I think you ascribe a criminal sophistication to this fellow whom I am still uncertain actually exists that is be yond what we can or should reasonably expect. If you want to get away with a crime, why do you invite someone to look for you? You only raise the potential for being captured and prosecuted."

"Because killing for him is only a small part of the adventure. At least, that's what I suspect."

Lucy did not add to this statement, because she did not want to be asked what she feared were the other elements of what she called "the adventure."

Francis was aware that a moment of some depth had arrived. He could feel strong currents at work in the room, and for an instant had the sensation that he was being pulled into water beyond his touch. His toes stretched forward inadvertently, like a swimmer in the surf, searching in the foam beneath for the bottom.

He knew that Gulp-a-pill no more wanted the prosecutor there than he did the person she believed she was cornering. The hospital was, no matter how mad they all were, still a bureaucracy, and subject to pencil pushers and second-guessers throughout state government. No one, who owes their livelihood to the creaky machinations of the state legislature, wants anything that in any way, shape, or form, rocks the proverbial boat. Francis could see the physician shifting about in his seat, trying to steer his path through what he guessed was a potentially thorny political thicket. If Lucy Jones was correct about who was hiding in the hospital, and Gulptilil refused her access to the hospital records, then Gulp-a-pill opened himself up to all sorts of disasters if the killer chose to kill again and the press got wind of it.

Francis smiled. He was glad that he wasn't in the medical director's position. As Doctor Gulptilil considered the rather difficult canyon he was in, Francis glanced over at Peter the Fireman. He seemed on edge. Electric. As if he'd been plugged into something and the switch had been turned on. When he did speak, it was low, even, with a singular ferocity.

"Doctor Gulptilil," Peter said slowly, "if you do what Miss Jones suggests, and subsequently she is successful at finding this man, then you will get to claim virtually all the credit. If she, and we who help her, fail, then you are unlikely to get any of the blame, for the failure will be of her own making. That will land on her shoulders, and those of the crazy folks who tried to help her."

After assessing this, the doctor finally nodded.

"What you say, Peter" he coughed once or twice as he spoke "is probably true. It perhaps is not completely fair, but it is true, nevertheless."

He looked at the gathering. "This is what I will permit," he said slowly, but with each word gaining confidence. "Miss Jones, certainly you can have access to whatever records you need, as long as complete patient confidentiality is maintained. You may also select from whatever group you isolate as suspicious, people to interview. Either myself, or perhaps Mister Evans, will need to be present during any interviews you conduct. That is only fair. The patients even those who might be suspected of crimes have some rights. And should any object to being questioned by you, then I will not force them. Or, conversely, will recommend that they be accompanied by a legal advocate. Any medical decisions that might arise from any of those conversations must come from the staff. This is fair?"

"Of course, Doctor," Lucy replied, perhaps a little rapidly.

"And," the doctor continued, "I would urge you to move with dispatch. While many of our patients, indeed, the majority, are chronic, with little chance at release without years of attention, a significant portion of the others do become stabilized, medicated, and then do successfully apply to return to home and families. There is no way that I can immediately discern which of these categories your suspect is in, although I might have suspicions."

Again, Lucy nodded affirmatively.

"In other words," the doctor said, "there is no way to determine if he will remain here even for an instant, now that you have arrived. Nor will I stop out-processing patients who are qualified for release, just because you are searching through the hospital. Do you understand? The day-to-day operations of the facility cannot be compromised."

Again, Lucy looked as if she wanted to say something, but kept her mouth closed.

"Now, as far as enlisting the aid of other patients in your" he took a long look at Peter the Fireman, and then at Francis "inquiries… well, I cannot in any official manner condone such a process, even if I were to see its value. But you may do what you wish, informally, of course. I will not stand in your way. Or their way, for that matter. But I cannot allow these patients any special status or extra authority, you understand? Nor can they disrupt their own course of treatment in any manner."

He looked over at the Fireman, and then paused as he stared at Francis. "These two gentlemen," he said, "you understand that they each have a different status here in the hospital. Nor are the circumstances bringing them here, or the parameters of their stays here, the same. This could cause you some trouble, if you hope to enlist them."

Lucy waved a hand in the air, as if some precursor to a comment, but then stopped. When she did respond, it was with a stiff formality that seemed to underscore the agreement. "Of course. I understand completely."

There was another brief silence, and then Lucy Jones continued: "It goes without saying, that my reason for being here, and what I hope to accomplish, and how I might achieve that, should remain confidential."

"Of course. Do you think I would announce that a vicious murderer might remain loose in our hospital?" Gulptilil spoke briskly. "This would undoubtedly create a panic, and, in some cases, likely set back years of treatment. You must do your investigation as privately as possible, although, I fear, there are likely to be rumors and speculation almost instantaneously. Your mere presence on the wards will create that. Asking questions will engender uncertainty. This is inevitable. And certainly, some of the staff shall have to be informed, to a greater or lesser degree. Alas, that, too, is unavoidable, and how it might affect your inquiries, I am unable to imagine. Still, I wish you luck. And I will also make one of the treatment offices in the Amherst Building, close to the crime scene, available for you to conduct whatever interviews you consider necessary. You need to merely page me or Mister Evans from the nurses' station nearby prior to interrogating any subjects. That will be acceptable?"

Lucy nodded. "That makes sense." Then she added, "Thank you, Doctor. I understand your concerns completely and I will work hard to maintain some secrecy." She paused, because she realized that it would not be long before the entire hospital at least those connected enough to reality to care would understand why she was there. And, she recognized as well, that made her job more urgent. "I also think, if only for convenience, it might be necessary for me to stay here at the hospital for this period of time."

The doctor considered this for an instant. For a moment, a quite nasty smile crept in at the corners of his mouth, but was dismissed rapidly. Francis suspected that he was the only one who had seen it. "Certainly," he said. "There is a bedroom available in the nurse-trainees' dormitory."

Francis realized the doctor did not have to actually identify who its previous occupant had been.

Newsman was in the corridor of the Amherst Building when they returned. He smiled as they approached. "Holyoke Teachers Mull New Union Pact," he said briskly, "Springfield Union-News, page B-1. Hello, C-Bird, what are you doing? Sox Face Weekend Series Against Yankees With Pitching Questions, Boston Globe, page D-1. Are you going to meet with Mister Evil, because he has been looking for you and he doesn't seem very happy. Who's your friend, because she's very pretty and I'd like to meet her."

Newsman gave a little wave, a little shy grin toward Lucy Jones, then opened up the broadsheet he had stuffed under his arm, walking down the corridor a little like a drunken man, his eyes locked onto the words of the newspaper, his attitude intent on memorizing each word. He passed a pair of men, one old, one middle-aged, dressed in loose-fitting hospital pajamas, neither of whom seemed to have ever brushed or combed his hair in the current decade. Both were standing in the center of the passageway, a few feet away from each other, speaking softly. It was as if the two were conversing, until one took a closer look at their eyes, and realized that each was having a conversation with no one, and certainly not the other, and that each was oblivious to the other's presence. Francis thought for a moment that people like them were part of the architecture of the hospital, as much a presence as furniture, walls, or doors. Cleo liked to call the catatonics Catos which, he thought, was probably as good a word as any. He saw a woman walking briskly down the corridor suddenly stop. Then start. Then stop. Then start. Then she giggled and went on her way, trailing a long, pink seersucker housecoat behind her.

"It's not precisely the world you might expect," he heard Peter the Fireman say.

Lucy was a little wide-eyed.

"Do you know much about madness?" Peter asked.

She shook her head.

"No crazy Aunt Martha or Uncle Fred in your family? No weird Cousin Timmy, who likes to torture small animals? Neighbors, perhaps, that talk to themselves, or who believe that the president is actually a space alien?"

Peter's questions seemed to relax Lucy. She shook her head. "I must be lucky," she said.

"Well, C-Bird can teach you all you'll need to know about being crazy," Peter answered with a small laugh. "He's an expert, now, aren't you C-Bird?"

Francis didn't know what to say, so he simply nodded. He watched some unchecked emotions race across the prosecutor's face, and he thought that it is one thing to burst into a place like the Western State Hospital with ideas and suppositions and suspicions, but an altogether different thing to then act upon them. She had the look of someone considering a tall peak before them, a mixture of doubt and confidence.

"So," Peter continued. "Where do we start, Miss Jones?"

"Right here," she said briskly. "At the crime scene. I need to get a feel for the place where the murder happened. Then I need to get a sense of the hospital, as a whole."

"A tour?" Francis asked.

"Two tours," Peter answered. "One that inspects all this," and with that, he gestured at the building, "and a second one that starts to examine this," and with that, he tapped on the side of his forehead.

Little Black and his brother had accompanied them back to Amherst from the administration building, but had left the three of them while he and Big Black conferred at the nursing station. Big Black then had disappeared into one of the adjacent treatment rooms. Little Black was smiling as he approached the group.

I "This," he said not unpleasantly, "is a pretty damn unusual set of situations we've got here." Lucy did not reply and Francis tried to read in the wiry black man's face what it was that he really thought of what was happening. This was, at least initially, impossible. "My brother went in to get your new office straight, Miss Jones. And I filled in the nurses on duty that you're gonna be here for a couple of days, at the very least. One of them will show you over to the trainees' dormitory later. And I'm guessing that right about now, Mister Evans is having himself a long and unhappy conversation with the head doc, and that he's going to want to speak with you, too, real soon."

"Mister Evans is the psychologist in charge?"

"Of this unit. That's right, ma'am."

"And you don't think he will be pleased by my presence?" She said this with a small, wry smile.

"Not exactly, ma'am," Little Black responded. "Something you got to understand about how things are here."

"What's that?"

"Well, Peter and C-Bird can fill you in as well as I, but, to be short and sweet about it, the hospital is all about getting things to just sail along nice and smooth. Things that are different, things that are out of the ordinary well, they makes folks upset."

"The patients?"

"Yes, the patients. And if the patients are upset, then the staff is upset. Staff gets upset, then the administrators get upset. You get the picture? People like things smooth. All people. Crazy folks. Old folks. Young folks. Sane folks. And I'm not thinking you're about making things be smooth at all, Miss Jones. No, I'm guessing that you are all about the exact opposite."

Little Black said this with a wide grin, as if he found it all amusing. Lucy Jones noted this, lifted her shoulders lightly, and asked, "And you? And your rather large brother? What do the two of you think?"

At first, Little Black let out a short burst of laughter. "Just because he's big and I'm small, don't mean we both don't have the same large ideas. No, ma'am. How you think ain't about how you look." He gestured at the knots of patients moving through the corridor, and Lucy Jones saw the truth in those words. Then the attendant took a short breath and stared at the prosecutor. When he replied, it was in a voice lowered so that only the small group could hear. "Maybe we both think that something wrong did happen here, and we don't like that, because, if it did, then in a little way, we are to blame, and we are not liking that one little bit, not at all, Miss Jones. So, if a few feathers get ruffled, then we're thinking that ain't such a bad thing."

"Thank you," Lucy said.

"Don't thank me quite yet," Little Black replied. "You got to remember, when all is said and over and done, me, my brother, the nurses and the doctors and most of the patients, but not all, well, we're gonna still be here, and you're not. And so don't be thanking anyone quite yet. And a whole lot depends on whose feathers are the ones that get the ruffling, if you know what I mean."

Lucy nodded. "Point well taken," she said. She looked up and spoke under her breath, "And I'm guessing this must be Mister Evans?"

Francis pivoted and saw-Mister Evil striding swiftly in their direction. He had a welcoming appearance in his body language, a smile, his arms held wide. Francis did not trust this for an instant.

"Miss Jones," Evans said quickly, "let me introduce myself." There were perfunctory handshakes.

"Did Doctor Gulptilil inform you of the reason for my presence here?" Lucy asked.

"He explained that you have suspicions that perhaps the wrong person was arrested here in the young nurse's murder, a suspicion that I find somewhat laughable. Nevertheless, you are here. This, he told me, was something of a follow-up investigation."

Lucy eyed the psychologist carefully, aware that his response fell somewhat short of the complete truth, but in a broadly painted sort of way, was accurate. "So I can count on your help?" she asked.

"Most certainly."

"Thank you," she said.

"In fact, perhaps you would like to begin an assessment of the Amherst Building's patient files? We could begin that now. There's still some time before dinner and evening activities."

"First, I'd like a tour," she said.

"I can do that now," he replied.

"I was hoping that the two patients might take me around."

Mister Evil shook his head. "I don't think that's such a good idea."

She did not respond.

"Well," he continued, puncturing the momentary silence, "Peter and Francis are, unfortunately, currently restricted to this floor. And outside access for all patients, regardless of their status, is being limited until the anxiety created by the murder and the arrest of Lanky has dissipated. To make things more complicated, your very presence on the unit well, I hate to say this, but it really prolongs the mini crisis we are experiencing. So for the foreseeable future, we'll be in a heightened security mode. Not precisely unlike a prison lock-down, Miss Jones, but our own version of the same. Movement around the hospital is being curtailed. Until we get the affected patients fully stabilized again."

Lucy started to respond, but then stopped. Finally, she asked, "Well, certainly they can show me the crime scene, and this floor, and fill me in on what they saw and what they did, just as they have for the police. That's not too challenging to the rules, is it? And then perhaps you, or one of the Moses brothers can accompany me through the remainder of the building and to the companion units?"

"Of course," Mister Evil replied. "A short tour followed by a longer tour. I will make the arrangements."

Lucy turned back to Peter and Francis. "Let's just go over that night once more," she said.

"C-Bird," Peter said, stepping in front of Mister Evil, "lead the way."

The crime scene in the closet had been dutifully swabbed down and cleaned up, and when Lucy opened the door, it stank of recently applied disinfectant, and no longer seemed to Francis to contain any of the evil that he recalled. It was as if a place of utter hellishness had been returned to normalcy, suddenly completely benign. Cleaning fluids, mops, buckets, spare lightbulbs, brooms, stacked sheets, and a coiled hose were all arranged in an orderly fashion on the shelves. The overhead light made the floor glisten, but not with any sign of Short Blond's blood. Francis was slightly taken aback by how clean and routine it all appeared, and he thought for a moment that turning the closet back into a closet was almost as obscene as the act that had taken place there.

Lucy bent down and ran her finger over the place where the body had come to rest, as if, Francis thought, by feeling the cool linoleum floor she could somehow connect with the life that had flowed out in that spot.

"So, she died here?" Lucy said, turning toward Peter. He bent down beside her, and when he did answer, it was in a low, confidential voice.

"Yes. But I think she was already unconscious."

"Why?"

"Because the stuff that surrounded the body didn't resemble a setting where a fight took place. I think that the cleaning fluids were thrown about to disrupt the crime scene, and to make people think something different about what took place."

"Why would he douse her body in cleaning fluid?"

"To compromise any forensic evidence he might have left behind."

Lucy nodded. "That would make sense."

Peter looked across at Lucy, saw that she wasn't saying something, rubbed his hand against his chin, then rose up, shaking his head slightly. "The other cases you're looking at. How was the crime scene in those?"

Lucy Jones smiled, but it was humorless. "Good question," she said. "Hard rain," she said quietly. "Thunderstorms. Each killing took place out-of-doors during a rainy period. As best as anyone can figure, the murders happened in one spot, then the corpse was moved to a hidden, but exposed location. Probably preselected. Very difficult for the crime scene analysts. The weather compromised virtually all the physical evidence. Or so I have been told."

Peter looked around the closet, then stepped back.

"He made his own rain, here."

Lucy stepped out of the closet as well. She looked down toward the nursing station. "So, if there was a fight…"

"It took place down there."

For a moment, Lucy's head pivoted about. "But what about noise?" she asked.

Francis had been quiet up to that point. But with that question, Peter turned to him. "You tell her, C-Bird."

Francis flushed, abruptly put on the spot, and his first thought was that he had absolutely no idea, and he opened his mouth to say that, but stopped. Instead, he considered the question for an instant, saw an answer and then replied, "Two things, Miss Jones. First, all the walls are thickly insulated and all the doors are steel, so it is difficult for sound to penetrate any of them. There's lots of noise here in the hospital, but it is usually muffled. But more important, what good would it do to call for help?"

Deep within him, he heard a rumbling of his own voices. Tell her! they shouted. Tell her what it's like!

He continued. "People cry out all the time. They have nightmares. They have fears. They see things or they hear things, or maybe just feel things. Everyone here is accustomed to the noises made by tension, I guess. So, if someone yelled out, "Help me!" " He paused, then finished: "It would be no different from any other time someone cried out with more or less the same request. If they yelled out "Murder!" or simply screamed, it wouldn't be all that much out of the ordinary. And no one ever comes, Miss Jones. No matter how scared you are and how hard it is. In here, your nightmares are your own to handle."

She looked at him, and in that second she saw that he spoke from experience on that point. She smiled at the young man, and saw that he was rubbing his hands together slightly nervously, but with an eagerness to contribute and she thought suddenly that inside the Western State Hospital there must be all sorts of different types of fears, beyond the one she had come hunting for. She wondered if she would have to come to know all of them. "Francis," she said, "you seem to have a poetic streak. Still, it must be difficult."

The voices that had been so muted in recent days had raised their own sound to a near shout that seemed to echo through the space behind Francis's eyes. To quiet them, he said, "It would probably help, Miss Jones, if you understand that while we are all thrown in here together, we are all really alone. More alone than anywhere else, I guess."

What he truly wanted to say was more alone that anywhere else in the entire world.

Lucy looked at him closely. She understood one thing: In the outside world, when someone calls for help, there is a duty for the person who overhears that plea to act. A basic civility, she thought. But in the Western State Hospital, everyone called out, all the time. Everyone needed help, all the time. Ignoring those summons, no matter how desperate and heartfelt, was really just a part of the hospital's daily routine.

She shrugged off a bit of the claustrophobia that descended upon her in that second. She turned to look at Peter, and saw him standing with his arms crossed, but a grin on his face. "I think," he said, "you should see the dormitory where we were asleep when all this happened."

And, with that, he led her down the corridor, pausing only to point at spots where blood had pooled up. But these, too, had been erased.

"The police," he said quietly, "thought all these blood spots were like the trail Lanky left behind. And, they were a mess, because the idiot security guard stepped all over them. He even slipped on one and fell and spread it all over the place."

"What did you think?" Lucy asked.

"I thought they were a trail, all right. But one that led to him. Not one that he made."

"He had her blood on his nightclothes."

"The Angel embraced him."

"The Angel?"

"That's what he called him. The Angel that came down to his bedside and told him that evil was destroyed."

"You think…"

"What I think, Miss Jones, is pretty obvious."

He opened the door to the dormitory, and they went inside. Francis pointed out where his bunk was, as did Peter the Fireman. They also showed her Lanky's bed, which had been stripped, and the mattress removed, so that only the steel frame and metal coils remained. The small foot locker that he'd had to hold his few clothes and personal items had also been taken, so that Lanky's modest space in the dormitory now seemed nothing more than a skeleton. Francis saw Lucy note the distances, measuring with her eyes the space between the bunks, the path to the door, the door to the adjacent bathroom. For a moment, he was a little embarrassed showing her where they lived. He was acutely aware, in that moment, how little privacy they had, and, in that crowded room, how much humanity had been stripped away from them. It made him angry, and more than a little self-conscious, as he watched the prosecutor survey the room.

As always, a couple of men lay on their beds, staring up at the ceiling. One man was mumbling to himself, carrying on a discussion of some intensity. Another saw her, then rolled over to watch. Others simply ignored her, lost in whatever series of thoughts occupied them at that moment. But Francis saw Napoleon rise up, and with a grunt, move his portly body across the room as rapidly as possible.

He approached Lucy, and then, with something of a misshapen flourish, bowed. "We have so few visitors from the world," he said. "Especially such beautiful ones. Welcome."

"Thank you," she replied.

"Are these two gentlemen filling you in adequately?" he asked.

Lucy smiled. "Yes. So far, they have been quite accommodating."

Napoleon looked slightly downcast. "Ah, well," he replied, "that is good. But please, should you require anything, please do not hesitate to ask." He fumbled about for a moment, patting his hospital garb. "I seem to have forgotten my business cards," he said. "Are you, perhaps, a student of history?"

Lucy shrugged. "Not particularly. Although I took some European history courses as an undergraduate."

Napoleon's eyebrows rose. "And where might that have been?"

"At Stanford," Lucy Jones replied.

"Then you should comprehend," Napoleon said, waving a single arm wide, as the other suddenly pressed in on his side. "Great forces are in play. The world hangs in balance. Moments become frozen in time, as immense seismic convulsions shake humanity. History holds its breath; gods strive on the field. We live in times of huge change. I shudder at the significance of it all."

"We each do what we can," Lucy replied.

"Of course," Napoleon answered, bowing at the waist. "We all do what is asked of us. We all play a part on history's great stage. The little man can become great. The minor moment looms large. The tiny decision can affect great currents of time."

Then he leaned forward, whispering, "Will night fall? Or will the Prussians arrive in time to rescue the Iron Duke?"

"I think," Lucy said confidently, "that Blucher arrives in time."

"Yes," Napoleon said, almost winking. "At Waterloo, this was true. But what about today?"

He smiled mysteriously, gave a little wave to Peter and Francis, then turned and walked away. it; Peter lifted his shoulders, in a motion of release, with a familiar wry smile;." t on his face. Then he whispered to Francis, "I'll bet Mister Evil heard every word; of that, and that Nappy gets his medications increased tonight." He spoke quietly, but loud enough so that Lucy Jones could hear, and, Francis suspected, that

Mister Evans, who had trailed them into the dormitory, could hear, as well.

"He seems quite friendly," Lucy said. "And harmless."

Mister Evil stepped forward. "Your assessment is accurate, Miss Jones," he said briskly. "That is the case for most everyone here. They mostly do harm to themselves. The problem for us staff is: which have the potential for violence. Who has that capacity reverberating about inside. Sometimes, that is what we look for."

"That would be what I am here for, as well," she replied.

"Of course," Mister Evans said, shifting his eyes over to Peter the Fireman, "with some, we already have those answers."

The two men glared at each other, just as they always did. Then Mister Evil reached out and gently took Lucy Jones by the arm, a gesture of old world gallantry that, given their circumstances, seemed to mean something much different. "Please, Miss Jones," he said briskly, "allow me to take you through the remainder of the hospital, although much of it is the same as what you see here. There are afternoon group sessions and activities scheduled, and dinner, as well, and much to do."

For a second, Lucy seemed about to withdraw from the psychologist. Then she nodded, and replied, "That would be fine." But before exiting, she turned to Francis and Peter the Fireman and said, "I will have some other questions for you later. Or perhaps tomorrow morning. If that is acceptable?"

Both Peter and Francis nodded in acknowledgment.

"I'm not certain that these two can assist you all that well," Mister Evans said, shaking his head.

"Perhaps they can, perhaps they cannot," Lucy Jones said. "That remains to be seen. But one thing is certain, Mister Evans."

"And what is that?" he asked.

"At the moment, they are the only two people I don't suspect."

Francis had difficulty falling asleep that night. The usual sounds of snoring and whimpering, which were the night chords of the dormitory, made him restless. Or, at least, that is what he thought, until he lay back in his bunk with his eyes open to the ceiling, and he realized that it wasn't the ordinariness of the night that was disruptive, it was all that had taken place during the day. His own voices were calm, but filled with questions, and he wondered whether he would be able to do what it was that was ahead of him. He had never thought of himself as the sort of person who noted detail, who saw meaning in words and actions, the way he thought Peter did, and the way that he knew Lucy Jones did. They seemed to him to be in control of their ideas, which was something he only aspired to. His own thoughts were haphazard, squirrel-like, constantly changing direction, always flitting off one direction or the next, shunted first one way, then the next, driven by forces within him he didn't really understand.

Francis sighed, and half turned in his bunk. It was then that he saw that he wasn't the only one awake. A few feet distant, Peter the Fireman was sitting up on his bed, his back pressed against the wall, knees drawn up in front, so that he could encircle them with his arms, staring out across the room. Francis saw that Peter's eyes were fixed on the far bank of windows, staring past the cross-hatched grid of iron bars and milky glass to the dusky shafts of moonlight and ink black night beyond. Francis wanted to say something, but then he stopped himself, imagining that whatever was driving Peter from sleep that night was some crackling current far too powerful to be interrupted.

Chapter 11

I could sense the Angel reading every word, but the quiet remained intact. When you are crazy, sometimes, quiet is like a fog, obscuring ordinary, everyday things, familiar sights and sounds, making everything a bit misshapen, mysterious. Like a road often traveled, that because of the odd way fog refracts headlights at night, seems suddenly to bend to the right, when one's brain screams out that in truth, it tracks straight ahead. Madness is like that moment of doubt, when I wouldn't know whether to trust my eyes or my memory, because each seemed to be capable of the same insidious errors. I could feel some sweat on my forehead, and I shook my entire body, a little like a wet dog, trying to free myself of the clammy, desperate sensation that the Angel had brought along with him into my rooms.

"Leave me alone," I said, any strength or confidence that I had sliding abruptly away. "Leave me alone! I fought you once!" I shouted. "I shouldn't have to fight you again!"

My hands were shaking and I wanted to call out for Peter the Fireman. But I knew he was too far away, and I was alone, and so I balled my hands into fists, to prevent the quivering from being too obvious.

As I seized a deep breath, there was a sudden pounding at my front door. The pistol-like blows seemed to burst into the reverie, and I rose up, my head spinning for an instant, until I regained some equilibrium. I crossed the room in a few, quick steps, and approached the door to my apartment.

There was another burst of knocks.

I heard a voice: "Mister Petrel! Mister Petrel? Are you okay in there?"

I leaned my forehead up against the wooden door. It felt cool to the touch, as if I were fevered, and it was made of ice. I slowly sorted through the catalogue of voices I knew. One of my sisters, I would have recognized instantly. I knew it wasn't my parents because they had never come to visit me at my home.

"Mister Petrel! Please answer! Are you okay?"

I smiled. I heard a small H sound preceding the last word.

My neighbor across the hallway is Ramon Santiago, who works for the city sanitation department. He has a wife, Rosalita, and a beautiful baby girl called Esperanza, who seems a most studious child, because she stares out from her perch in her mother's arms with a college-professor's look of attentiveness for the world around her.

"Mister Petrel?"

"I'm okay, Mister Santiago, thank you."

"Are you sure?" We were speaking through the closed door, and I could sense he was inches distant, right on the other side. "Please, you should open up. I just want to make sure everything is okay."

Mister Santiago knocked again, and this time, I reached out and turned the handle of the deadbolt lock, opening the door just a sliver. Our eyes met, and he looked closely at me.

"We heard shouting," he said. "It was like somebody was getting ready for a fight"

"No," I replied, "I'm alone."

"I could hear you talking. Like you was having an argument with somebody. You sure you're okay?"

Ramon Santiago was a slight man, but a couple of years lifting heavy trash containers in the predawn city hours had built up his arms and shoulders. He would be a formidable opponent for anyone, and, I suspected, rarely had to resort to confrontation in order to get his opinions heard.

"No. Thank you, but I'm fine."

"You don't look so good, Mister Petrel. You feeling sick?"

"I've just been a little stressed out lately. Missed a few meals."

"You want I should call someone? Maybe one of your sisters?"

I shook my head. "Please, Mister Santiago, they'd be the last folks I'd want to see."

He smiled back at me. "I know. Relatives. Sometimes they can just drive you crazy." As soon as that word fell from his lips, he looked stricken, as if he'd just insulted me.

I laughed. "No, you're right. They can. And in my case, they most certainly have. And, I'm guessing, they probably will again, some day. But I'm all right for now."

He continued to eye me cautiously.

"Still, man, you got me a little worried. You taking your pills okay?"

I shrugged. "Yes," I lied. I could tell he didn't believe me. He continued to look closely at me, his eyes fixed on my face, as if he was searching every wrinkle, every line, for something that he would recognize, as if the illness I carried could be identified like some rash on my skin, or jaundice. Without taking his eyes off me, he threw a couple of words back over his shoulder in Spanish, and I saw his wife and their little child, hanging in the entranceway to their apartment. Rosalita looked a little frightened, and she lifted her hand and gave me a little wave. The baby, too, returned my own smile. Then Mister Santiago switched back into English.

"Rosie," he said, demanding, yet not angrily, "go fix up Mister Petrel a paper plate with some of that rice and chicken we're having for dinner. He looks like he could use a good solid meal."

I saw her nod, give me a shy little smile of her own, and disappear inside their apartment. "Really, Mister Santiago, that's kind of you, but not necessary…"

"It's not a problem. Arroz con polio. Where I come from, Mister Petrel, it fixes just about everything. You sick, you get rice and chicken. You get fired from your job? You get rice and chicken. You got a broken heart?"

"… Rice and chicken," I said, finishing the sentence for him.

"That's one hundred percent right." We grinned together.

Rosie returned a few seconds later with a paper plate piled high with steaming chicken and fluffy yellow rice. She brought it across the corridor to me and I took it from her, just grazing her hand slightly, and thinking that it had been some time since I'd actually felt another human's touch. "You don't have to…" I started again, but both the Santiagos were shaking their heads.

"You sure you don't want me to call somebody? If not your family, how 'bout social services? Or a friend, maybe?"

"Don't have too many friends anymore, Mister Santiago."

"Ah, Mister Petrel, you got more folks care about you than you think," he said.

I shook my head again. "Someone else then?"

"No. Really."

"You sure you weren't being bothered by somebody? I heard voices raised.

Sounds to me like a fight about to be starting…"

I smiled, because the truth was that I was being bothered by someone. They just weren't there. I cracked open my door and let him peer inside. "All alone, I promise," I said. But I saw his eyes leap across the room and catch a glimpse of the words I was placing on the walls. In that instant, I thought he would say something, but then he stopped. He reached out, and put a hand on my shoulder.

"You need some help, Mister Petrel, you just knock on my door. Anytime. Day or night. You got that?"

"Thank you, Mister Santiago," I said, nodding my head. "And thank you for the dinner."

I closed the door, and took a deep breath, filling my nostrils with the aroma of the food. It seemed suddenly as if it had been days since I'd eaten. Perhaps it had been, although I remembered grilled cheese. But when was that? I found a fork in a drawer and tore into Rosalita's specialty. I wondered whether arroz con polio, which was good for so many ailments of the spirit, might help my own. To my surprise, each bite seemed to energize me, and as I chewed away, I saw the progress I had made on the wall. Columns of history.

And I realized I was alone again.

He would be back. I had no doubt about that. He was lurking, vaporous, in some space just beyond my reach, and eluding my consciousness. Avoiding me. Avoiding the Santiago family. Avoiding the arroz con polio. Hiding from my memory. But for the moment, to my great relief, all I had was chicken, rice, and words. I thought to myself: All that talk in Gulp-a-pill's office about keeping things confidential had been nothing but showy emptiness.

It did not take long for all the patients and staff to become aware of Lucy Jones's presence in the Amherst Building. It was not merely the way she dressed, in loose dark slacks and sweater, carrying her leather briefcase with an orderliness that defied the more slovenly character of the hospital. Nor was it her height and bearing, or the distinctive scar on her face, that separated her from the regulars. It was more in the way she passed through the corridors, heels clicking on the linoleum floor, with an alertness in her eyes that made it seem as if she was inspecting everything and everyone, and searching for some telltale sign that might lead her in the direction she needed. It was an awareness that wasn't defined by paranoia, visions, or voices. Even the Catos standing in the corners, or leaning up against the walls, or the senile elderly locked into their wheelchairs, all seemingly lost inside their own reveries, or the mentally retarded, who stared dully at almost all that happened around them, seemed to take some strange note that Lucy was driven by forces every bit as powerful as those they all struggled with, but that hers were somehow more appropriate. More connected to the world. So when she paced past them, the patients would follow her with their eyes, not interrupting their murmuring and mumbling, or the shakiness in their hands, but still watching her with an attentiveness that seemed to defy their own illnesses. Even at mealtimes, which she took in the cafeteria with the patients and staff, waiting in line like everyone else for the plates of nondescript, institutionalized food, she was someone apart. She took to sitting at a corner table, where she could look out at the other people in the room, her back to a painted lime green cinder block wall.

Occasionally, someone would join her at the table, either Mister Evil, who seemed most interested in everything she was doing, or Big Black or Little Black, who immediately turned any conversation over to sports. Sometimes some of the nursing staff would sit with her, but their stark white uniforms and peaked caps set her even more apart from the regular hospital routine. And when she conversed with one of her companions, she seemed to constantly slip-slide her glance around the room, giving Francis the impression that she was a little like a field hawk soaring on wind currents above them all, looking down, trying to spot some movement in the withered brown stalks of the early New England spring and isolating her prey.

None of the patients sat with her, including, at the start, Francis or Peter the Fireman. This had been Peter's suggestion. He had told her that there was no sense in letting too many folks know that they were working with her, although people would figure it out for themselves before too much time had passed. So, at least for the first days, Francis and Peter ignored her in the dining hall.

Cleo, however, did not.

As Lucy was carrying her tray to the refuse station, the portly patient accosted her.

"I know why you're here!" Cleo said. She was loud, and forcefully accusatory, and had it not been for the usual dinnertime clatter of dishes, trays, and plates, her tone of voice might have grabbed everyone's attention.

"Do you now?" Lucy calmly replied. She stepped past Cleo and began to scrape leftovers from a sturdy white plate into a trash canister.

"Indeed, yes," Cleo continued with a matter-of-fact tone. "It is obvious."

"Really?"

"Yes," Cleo went on, filled with bluster and the peculiar bravado that madness sometimes has, where it releases all the ordinary brakes on behavior.

"Then perhaps you should tell me what you think."

"Aha! Of course. You mean to take over Egypt!"

"Egypt?"

"Egypt," Cleo said, waving her hand to indicate the entire room, motioning in a slightly exasperated fashion at the clarity of it all, which had initially eluded Lucy Jones. "My Egypt. Followed pretty damn fast by seducing Marc Anthony and Caesar, as well, I wouldn't doubt."

Cleo harumphed loudly, crossed her arms for a moment, block like in Lucy's path, and then added, as was her usual response to just about everything, "The bastards. The damn bastards."

Lucy Jones looked quizzically at her, then shook her head. "No, in that, you are decidedly mistaken. Egypt is safe in your hands. I would never presume to rival anyone for such a crown, nor for the loves of their life."

Cleo lowered her hands to her hips and stared at Lucy. "Why should I believe you?" she demanded.

"You will need to take my word on this."

The large woman hesitated, then scratched at the twisted mangle of hair she wore on top of her head. "Are you a person of honesty and integrity?" she asked abruptly.

"I am told that I am," Lucy replied.

"Gulp-a-pill and Mister Evil would say the same, but I do not trust them."

"Nor do I," Lucy said quietly, leaning forward slightly. "On that count, we can certainly agree."

"Then, if you do not mean to conquer Egypt, why are you here?" Cleo asked, putting her hands back on her hips, and resuming an aggressively intuitive tone.

"I think there is a traitor in your kingdom," Lucy said slowly.

"What sort of traitor?"

"The worst sort."

Cleo nodded. "This has to do with Lanky's arrest and Short Blond's murder, doesn't it?"

"Yes," Lucy replied.

"I saw him," Cleo said. "Not well, but I saw him. That night."

"Who? Who did you see?" Lucy asked, suddenly alert, leaning forward.

Cleo smiled catlike, knowingly, then she shrugged. "If you need my help," she said, a sudden portrait of haughtiness, her voice dripping with entitlement, "then you should apply for it in an appropriate fashion, at the correct time, at a proper place."

With that, Cleo stepped back, and after taking a moment to light a cigarette with a flourish, she spun away, a look of satisfaction on her face. Lucy appeared a little confused, and took a step after her, only to be intercepted by Peter the Fireman, who had carried his tray up to the refuse counter at that moment, although Francis could see that he had barely touched any of his food. He began to scrape his plate, and thrust the utensils through an opening into the cleaning station. As he did this, Francis heard him say to Lucy, "It's true. She saw the Angel that night. She told us that he entered the women's dormitory, stood there for a moment, then exited, locking the door behind him."

Lucy Jones nodded. "Curious behavior," she said, although even she realized that this particular observation was somewhat useless inside a mental hospital where all the behavior was, at best, curious, and at worse, something truly awful. She looked over at Francis, who had risen and now stood next to them. "C-Bird, tell me why would someone who has just committed a violent crime, taken the extraordinary trouble to cover up his tracks and worked hard to see that someone else is blamed for the crime and should by all rights want to disappear and hide, enter into a room filled with women who, if any one of them happened to awaken, might remember him?"

Francis shook his head. He wondered to himself: Could they remember him? He could hear several of his voices vying within him to answer that question, but he ignored them and instead fixed on Lucy's eyes. She shrugged.

"A riddle," Lucy said. "But an answer I'll need sooner or later. Do you think you could get me that answer, Francis?"

He nodded.

She laughed a bit. "C-Bird has confidence. Good thing," she said.

And then she led them out into the corridor.

She started to say another thing, but Peter held up his hand. "C-Bird, don't let anyone else know what Cleo saw." Then he turned to Lucy Jones. "When Francis first spoke with her, and she first mentioned that the man we're seeking entered the women's dormitory, she was unable to really provide any sort of coherent description of the Angel. Everyone was pretty upset. Perhaps, now that she has had a little more time to reflect on that night, she might have noticed something important. She likes Francis. I think it might be wise if he went and spoke with her again about the events that night. This would have the added advantage of not drawing any attention to her, because as soon as you start questioning her, people will understand she might have some connection to all this."

Lucy considered what Peter said, and then nodded. "That makes some sense. Francis, can you handle that by yourself, and then get back to me?"

Francis said, "Yes," but he was unsure of himself, despite what Lucy had said about his confidence. He couldn't remember actually ever questioning someone to try to elicit information.

Newsman wandered past them at that moment, stopping a few feet distant, doing a little ballet like pirouette on the polished floor, his shoes squeaking as he spun, then saying, " Union-News: Market plunges in bad economic news." Then, with a flourish, he spun about again, and tacked down the hallway, a newspaper held out in front of him like a sail.

"If I go talk to Cleo again," Francis asked, "what will you do, Peter?"

"What will I do? It's a little more like "What would I like?" What I would like, C-Bird, is for Miss Jones to be more forthcoming with the files she has brought with her."

Lucy didn't reply at first, and Peter turned to face her.

"It would help us to have a little better idea of the details that brought you here, if we are to help you while you stay."

Again, she seemed to hesitate. "Why do you think," she started, only to have Peter interrupt her. He was smiling, in that offhand way he had, which meant, at least to Francis, that he had found something amusing and slightly unusual, all at once.

"You brought the files with you, for the same reasons that I would have. Or anyone else who was investigating a case that is barely better than a supposition would have. Because you will need to reassure yourself of similarities, at virtually every stage. And, because somewhere, Miss Jones, you have a boss, as well, who is going to want to see some progress quickly. Probably a boss, like all bosses, with a short fuse on his temper, and a highly exaggerated political sense of how his young assistants should be spending their time profitably. So, our first real order of business is to determine common threads, between what went before, in those other killings, and what happened here. So, I think I should see those files."

Lucy took a deep breath. "Interestingly enough, Mister Evans asked me for the same thing, this morning, using more or less the same rationale."

"Great minds must think alike," Peter said. This was spoken with unconcealed sarcasm.

"I refused his request."

Peter hesitated, then said, "That's because you are as yet uncertain whether he is trustworthy." This, too, was amusing, and he seemed to laugh on the tail end of the sentence.

Lucy smiled. "More or less precisely what I just told the lady you call Cleo."

"But C-Bird and I, well, we are in a different category, are we not?"

"Yes. A pair of innocents. But if I show you these…"

"You will anger Mister Evans. Tough."

Again, Lucy paused, before replying, this time with a hesitancy born of curiosity in her voice. "Peter," she said slowly, "do you care so little about who it is that you piss off? Especially someone whose opinion as to your current mental state could be so critical for your own future…"

Peter seemed about to laugh out loud, and ran a hand through his hair, shrugging and then shaking his head with the same off-balance smile. "The short answer to your questions is Yes. I care very little who I piss off. Evans hates me. And whatever I do or say, he's still going to hate me, and it is not because of who I am as much as because of what I did. So I don't really hold out any hope for him to change. Probably not fair for me to ask him to change, either. And, he's probably not alone in the We Hate Peter Club around here, he's just the most obvious, and, I might add, the most obnoxious. Nothing I do is ever going to change that. So, why should I concern myself with him?"

Lucy, too, smiled slightly. It made the scar on her face curve, and Francis thought suddenly that the most curious thing about a blemish as profound as hers was that it made the rest of her beauty all that more substantial.

"I protest too much?" Peter asked, still grinning.

"What is it they say about the Irish?"

"They say a lot. But mainly that we like to hear ourselves speak. This is the most dramatically trite cliche. But, alas, one based on centuries of truth."

"All right," Lucy said. "Francis, why don't you go and see Miss Cleo, while Peter accompanies me to my little office."

Francis hesitated, and Lucy asked again, "If that's all right with you?"

He bent his head in agreement. It was a strange sensation, he thought. He indeed wanted to help her, because every time he looked at her, he thought she was more beautiful than before. But he was a little jealous of Peter getting to accompany her, while he had to launch himself after Cleo. His voices, still muted, rumbled within him. But he ignored the noise and after a momentary hesitation, hurried down the corridor toward the dayroom, where he suspected Cleo would be behind the Ping-Pong table, in her customary spot, trying to enlist victims in a game.

Francis was correct. Cleo was roosted in the back of the dayroom, by the Ping-Pong table. She had arranged three other patients on the side opposite her, equipping each with a paddle, and showing them a designated area, where they were to respond if her shot landed there. She also demonstrated to each patient how they should crouch down, and grip the paddle, and shift their weight to the balls of their feet in anticipation of action. It was, Francis saw, a mini clinic in how to play the game. And, he guessed, destined for failure. They were all older men, with stringy gray hair and flaccid skin marked by brown age spots. He could see each of them unhappily trying to focus on what they were being told, and struggling with their responsibilities. These simple tasks were magnified in the moment before the game was to begin, and he could also see that the more urgent the need to reply to Cleo's opening Ping-Pong salvo was, the less capable they were of meeting it, no matter how well she had instructed them.

Cleo said "Ready?" three times, looking each in the eyes, as she prepared to serve the ball.

Each of the opponents reluctantly nodded.

With a flick of the wrist, Cleo launched the ball vertically. Then her paddle came forward with snakelike speed, and knocked it across the table, where it landed once on her side of the table, clicking loudly, then jumping the net, striking the other side, spinning and passing directly between two of the opponents, neither of whom budged in the slightest.

Francis thought Cleo would explode. She reddened, and her upper lip seemed to curl back in anger. But then, just as swiftly the whirlwind of fury dissipated. One of the opponents retrieved the little white ball and tossed it across the table to her. She set it down on the green surface, beneath her own paddle.

"Thanks for the game." She sighed, replacing all the anger on her face with resignation. "We'll work on our footwork a little more later."

The three opponents all looked significantly relieved, and wandered off to distant corners of the room.

The dayroom was crowded as usual, with a bizarre mixture of activities. It was an open, well-lit room, with a bank of steel barred windows on one wall that let in the sunshine, and an occasional mild breeze. The glistening white painted walls seemed to reflect the light and energy in the space. Patients in various forms of dress, ranging from the ubiquitous loose-fitting robes and slippers to jeans and overcoats, milled about the room. There were cheap red and green leather couches and well-worn armchairs spread about the space, and these were occupied by men or women who sat quietly reading, despite the hum of noise that filled the room. At least, they appeared to be reading, but pages turned only infrequently. There were out-of-date magazines and tattered paperback novels on sturdy wooden coffee tables. In two of the corners there were television sets, which each had a passel of regulars gathered around, absorbing the soap operas. The pair of television sets were in dialogue conflict, tuned to different stations, as if the characters on each show were squaring off against the other network. This was a concession to the near daily fights that had sprung up between devotees of one show, versus those favoring a competing show.

Francis continued to look around and saw there were some patients playing board games, like Monopoly or Risk, a couple of chess and checkers games and some patients that played cards. Hearts was the dayroom favorite. Poker had been banned by Gulp-a-pill when cigarettes were used as chips a little too often, and some patients began hoarding them. These were the less crazy ones, or, Francis thought, the people who hadn't checked all connections to the outside world at the door, when they were shipped off to the hospital. He would have put himself in the same category, a distinction all the voices he heard within him agreed with. And then, of course, there were the Catos, just wandering about the space, speaking to no one and everyone, all at once. Some danced. Some shuffled. Some walked briskly back and forth. But all had their own pace, driven by visions so distant that Francis could only guess what they contained. They made him sad, and they frightened him a little, because he feared becoming like them. Sometimes, he thought, on the balance beam of his own life he was closer to them than he was to normal. He considered them doomed.

A thin haze of blue cigarette smoke hovered over everyone. Francis hated the room, and tried as much as possible to avoid it.

It was a place where everyone's out of control thoughts had free rein.

Cleo, of course, ruled the Ping-Pong table and its immediate surroundings.

Her blustery manner and fearsome appearance cowed most of the other patients, including, to some degree, Francis. But, at the same time, he believed she had a liveliness that most of the others lacked, which he enjoyed, and he knew she could be funny, and frequently managed to make others laugh, a valuable and rare quality in the hospital. She spotted him hovering on the edge of the area, and grinned wildly.

"C-Bird! Come to give me some competition?" she asked.

"Only if forced," Francis said.

"Then I insist. Forcing you. Please…"

He walked over and picked up a paddle. "I need to speak with you about what you saw the other night."

"The night of the murder? Did the woman prosecutor send you to ask me?"

He nodded.

"It has something to do with the traitor she is searching for?"

"Correct."

Cleo seemed to think for a moment, then she held up the small white Ping-Pong ball, eyeing it closely. "Tell you what," she said. "You can ask your questions while we play. As long as you keep returning the ball, I'll keep answering your questions. We'll make it into a game within a game."

"I don't know…" Francis started, but Cleo dismissed his protest with a nonchalant wave.

"It will be a challenge," she said.

With that, she flipped the ball into the air and served it toward him. Francis reached across the green table, and punched the ball back. Cleo returned it to him easily, and suddenly a rhythmic clicking filled the space, as the ball went back and forth.

"Have you thought about what you saw that night?" Francis asked, as he stretched forward for his shot.

"Of course," Cleo replied, easily flicking the ball back toward him. "And the more I think about it, the more intrigued I get. There is much afoot here in Egypt. Rome, too, has its interests, no?"

"How so?" Francis said, grunting this time, but keeping the ball in play.

"What I saw only took a few seconds," Cleo said, "but I think it said a lot."

"Go on," Francis said.

Cleo returned the next shot with a little more pace and a little more angle, so that he had to reach to his backhand to get it back, which he did, surprising himself. He saw Cleo grin as she gathered his return and parried it easily.

"Entering the room, and surveying it, after he'd done all that he'd done," Cleo said, "indicated to me that he's not really afraid of very much, is he?"

"I don't follow," Francis said.

"Sure you do," Cleo replied, this time giving him an easy slow shot down the middle of the table. "We're all afraid of something, here, aren't we C-Bird? Either afraid of what's inside us, or afraid of what's inside each other, or afraid of what's outside. We're afraid of change. We're afraid of staying the same. We're petrified by anything out of the ordinary, terrified of a change in the routine. Everyone wants to be different, but that's the biggest threat of all. And so, what are we? We live in a world so dangerous that it defies us. Do you follow?"

Everything Cleo said, Francis thought was true. "What you're saying is we're all captives?"

"Prisoners. Absolutely," Cleo said. "Confined by everything. Walls. Medications. Our own thoughts." This time she hit the ball a little harder, but she kept it within his reach. "But the man I saw, well, he wasn't was he? Or, if he was, then what he's thinking isn't at all like everyone else, is it?"

Francis knocked the ball into the net. It dribbled back toward him.

"My point," Cleo said. "Serve it up."

Francis plunked the ball across the table, and once again the clicking noise of the ball traveling back and forth filled the room. "He wasn't afraid," Francis said, "when he opened that door to your dormitory…"

Cleo caught the ball in midair, stopping the rally. She leaned across the table. "He has keys," she said quietly. "He has keys that can unlock what? The doors in the Amherst Building? Or beyond? Keys that can unlock the other dormitories. Storage areas? How about the offices in the administration building? How about the staff housing, will his keys work on those doors? Can he unlock the front gate, Francis? Can he unlock the front gate and simply walk out of here whenever he wants?"

She put the ball back in play.

He thought for a moment, then said, "The keys are power, aren't they?"

Click, click went the ball against the table surface. "Access is always power," Cleo said, with a sense of finality in her voice. "The keys say much," she added. "I wonder how he obtained them."

"Why did he come into your room, risking being seen?"

Cleo did not answer for several passes of the ball back and forth above the net, before she said, "Perhaps because he could."

Again, Francis considered this, then he asked, "Are you sure you couldn't recognize him if you saw him again? Have you thought about how tall he was, what his build was like. Anything that might distinguish him. Something to look for…"

Cleo shook her head, but then stopped. She took a deep breath, and seemed to concentrate on the game, picking up velocity with each stroke, making the ball fly back and forth across the table. Francis was a bit surprised that he was able to keep pace with her, returning her shots, moving right and left, forehand and backhand, meeting the ball solidly each time. Cleo was smiling, dancing from side to side, her own body moving with ballet like grace that contradicted her bulk. "But Francis, you and I, we don't have to know his face, to recognize him," she said after a moment. "We need only to see that attitude. It would be unique in here. In this place. In our home. No one else will have that look, will they, C-Bird? Because, once we spot that," she said, "we'll know precisely what it is we are looking at. True?"

Francis reached out and struck the ball just a little hard. It flew across the table, missing the back line by two inches. With a darting, quick motion, Cleo snatched the ball from the air, before it bounced across the room. "Just long," she said. "But an ambitious shot to try, C-Bird."

Francis thought: In a place filled with fears, they were looking for the man who had none. In a corner of the dayroom, several voices suddenly started shouting. He could hear rage, and he pivoted around. A loud sob, followed by an angry shriek, creased the room. He put the paddle down, and stepped back from the table.

"You're improving, C-Bird," Cleo cackled, her laugh superimposed on the sounds of the burgeoning fight. "We should play again."

When Francis reached Lucy's office, he'd had a little time to think about what he'd learned. He found her leaning up against a wall, behind a simple gray steel desk. Her arms were folded in front of her, and she was watching Peter. He was seated, and he had three large manila case files opened on the desktop surface in front of him. Spread about were eight-by-ten glossy color photographs, crime scene maps in stark black-and-white, with arrows and circles and notations, and written forms that were filled out with details. There were coroner's office reports and aerial pictures of the locations. As Francis entered the room, Peter looked up with a look of exasperation.

"Hi, Francis," he said. "Any success?"

"Maybe a little," Francis replied. "I spoke with Cleo."

"Could she provide any better description?"

Francis shook his head. He gestured at the piles of documents and pictures. "That seems like a lot," he said. He'd never seen the volumes of paperwork customarily associated with a homicide investigation before, and it impressed him.

"Lots that says little," Peter replied. Lucy nodded her head in agreement.

"But then again, says a lot, too," Peter added. Lucy made a wry look with her face, as if this particular observation was painful or unsettling.

"I don't understand," Francis said.

"Well," Peter began slowly, but picking up momentum, as he spoke, "what we have are three crimes, all committed in different police jurisdictions, probably, because bodies were moved postmortem, which means that no one precisely has charge of any case, which is always a bureaucratic mess, even when the State Police get involved. And we have victims discovered in various states of decomposition, whose bodies have been exposed to the elements, which makes forensics at best difficult and really well-nigh impossible. And we have crimes, which, as best as one can tell from the detectives' reports, were randomly selected, at least the victims were, because there are few, if any similarities in the women who were killed, other than body type, hair type, and age. Short hair and slender physique. One was a waitress, one was a college student, and one was a secretary. They didn't know each other. They didn't live anywhere near each other. They didn't have anything in particular that linked them together, other than the unfortunate fact that each traveled home alone on various forms of public transportation you know, subways or buses and that each had to walk several blocks through darkened streets to get to their apartments. Making them eminently vulnerable."

"Easy," Lucy said, "for a patient man to pick out and stalk."

Peter hesitated, in that second, as if something Lucy said raised some question within him. Francis could see that some notion was churning about within him, and he was unsure whether to put it to words and speak it out loud. Finally after a few moments had passed, Peter leaned back, and said, "Different jurisdictions. Different locales. Different agencies. All here together…"

"That's right," Lucy said carefully, as if she was suddenly watching her words.

"Interesting," Peter replied. Then he leaned forward, back toward the materials on the desktop, surveying the entirety slowly. After a second, he stopped and picked up the three photographs of the victims' right hands. He stared at the mutilated fingers for a moment. "Souvenirs," he said briskly. "That's pretty damn classic."

"What do you mean?" Francis asked.

"In the studies done on repetitive killers," Lucy said quietly, "one common characteristic is the need for the killer to remove something from the victim, so that he can relive the experience later."

"Remove?"

"A lock of hair. A piece of clothing. A part of the body."

Francis shuddered. He felt young, in that moment, as young as he'd ever been, and wondered how it was that he knew so little of the world, and Peter and Lucy, who weren't more than eight, maybe ten years older than he was, knew so much. "But you said it told you a lot, too," Francis said. "Like what?"

Peter looked over at Lucy, their eyes linking for a second. Francis eyed the young prosecutor carefully, and thought that his question had somehow crossed some sort of divide. There are moments, he knew, when words assembled and uttered suddenly created bridges and connections, and he suspected this was one of those moments.

"What all this says, Francis," Peter said, speaking to his friend, but his eyes on the young woman, "is that Lanky's Angel knows how to commit crimes in a manner that creates immeasurable problems for the folks who would want to stop him. That means that he has some intelligence. And a significant amount of education, at least, in the ways of killing. When you think about it, there are only two ways that crimes get solved, C-Bird. The first, and best way, is when the great mass of evidence gathered at the scene of the crime points inexorably in one direction. Fingerprints, clothing fibers, blood work, and murder weapons that can be traced and maybe even eyewitness testimony. Then these things can be coupled with clear-cut motives, like insurance money, or robbery, or an angry dispute between estranged couples."

"What's the other way?" Francis asked.

"That's when you uncover a suspect, and then you find ways of linking him to the events."

"That sounds like it's backward."

"It is indeed," Lucy said.

"Is it more difficult?"

Peter sighed. "Difficult? Yes. That it is. Impossible? No."

"That's good," Francis said. He looked at Lucy. "I would be worried if what we had to do were impossible."

Peter burst out with a laugh. "Actually, C-Bird, it's really simply a matter of us using some other means to figure out who the Angel is. We create a list of potential suspects, and then narrow that down until we are more or less certain we know who it is. Or, at the least, have a few names of potential killers. Then we apply what we know about each crime to these suspects. One, I trust, will stand out. And once we see that, it won't be all that hard to put him in proximity to these victims. Things will fall together, we just don't know yet how or what it will be. But there will be something in this mess of papers and reports and evidence that will trap him."

Francis took in a deep breath. "What sort of other means are you talking about?" he asked.

Peter grinned. "Well, my young friend, there's the rub. That's what we need to figure out. There's someone in this place who isn't what everyone thinks he is. He's got a whole different sort of crazy lurking about inside him, C-Bird. And he's got it hidden pretty damn carefully. We just have to figure out who's acting a lie."

Francis looked at Lucy, who was moving her head up and down.

"That, of course," she added slowly, "is more easily said than done."

Chapter 12

Sometimes the lines of demarcation between dreams and reality become blurred. Hard for me to tell precisely which is which. I suppose that's why I am supposed to take so much medication, as if reality can be encouraged chemically. Ingest enough milligrams of this or that pill, and the world comes back into focus. This is sadly true, and, for the most part, all those drugs do pretty much what they are supposed to do, in addition to all the other things not so pleasant. And, I guess, it is all in all positive. It just depends on how much value one places on focus.

Currently, I wasn't placing much value on it all.

I slept, I don't know for how many hours, on the floor of my living room. I had taken a pillow and blanket from my bed, and then stretched out beside all my words, reluctant to leave them, almost like an attentive parent, afraid to leave a sickly child at night. The floor was board hard, and my joints complained in protest when I awakened. There was some dawn light slipping into the apartment, like a herald trumpeting in something new, and I rose to my task not precisely refreshed, but at least a little less groggy.

For a moment, or two, I looked about, reassuring myself that I was alone.

The Angel was not far, I knew. He had not fled. That wasn't his style. Nor had he concealed himself behind my shoulder again. My senses were all on edge, despite the few hours' sleep. He was close. He was watching. He was waiting. Somewhere nearby. But the room was empty, at least for the time being, and I felt some relief. The only echoes were my own.

I tried to tell myself to be very careful. In the Western State Hospital, there had been the three of us arrayed against him. And still it had been an equal contest. Now, here alone in my apartment, I feared that I wasn't capable of the same fight.

I turned to the wall. I remembered asking Peter a question and his response, spoken in an upbeat tone: "Detective work is about a steady, careful examination of facts. Creative thinking is always welcome, but only within the boundaries of known details."

I laughed out loud. This time irony overcame me, and I replied, "But that's not what worked, was it?" Maybe in the real world, especially today, with DNA testing and electronic microscopes and forensic techniques honed by science and technology and screaming modern capabilities, finding the Angel wouldn't have been so tricky. Probably not at all. Put the right substances into a test tube, a little bit of this and a little bit of that, run them through a gas chronometer, apply some space-age technology, get a computer readout and find our man. But back then, in the Western State Hospital, we didn't have any of those things. Not a one.

All we had was ourselves.

Inside the Amherst Building alone, there were nearly three hundred male patients. That figure was duplicated in the other housing units, bringing the hospital total to close to 2,100. The female population was slightly less, measuring one hundred and twenty-five in Amherst, and a little over nine hundred in the hospital itself. Nurses, nurse-trainees, attendants, security personnel, psychologists, and psychiatrists brought the number of people at the hospital to well above three thousand. It wasn't the widest world, Francis thought, but it was still a substantial one.

In the days after Lucy Jones's arrival, Francis had taken to examining the other men walking the corridors with a different sort of interest. The idea that one among them was a killer unsettled him, and he found himself pivoting and turning whenever someone closed in on him from behind. He knew this was unreasonable, and knew also that his fears were misplaced. But it was hard for him to erase a sense of constant dread.

He spent a lot of time trying to make eye contact in a place that discouraged it. He was surrounded by all sorts of mental illness, in varying degrees of intensity, and he had no idea how to change the way he looked at all that sickness to spot an entirely different disease. The clamor he felt within himself, from all his voices, added to the nervousness racing about inside his body. He felt a little like he was charged with electrical impulses, all darting about haphazardly, trying to find some location where they might settle. His efforts to rest were frustrated, and Francis felt exhausted.

Peter the Fireman didn't seem quite as hamstrung. In fact, Francis noted, the worse he felt, the better Peter seemed to be. There was more urgency in his voice, and quickness to his step, as he traversed the corridors. Some of the elusive sadness that he'd worn when first he'd arrived at the Western State Hospital had been shunted aside. Peter had energy, which Francis envied, because he had only fear.

But the time spent with Lucy and Peter, in their small office, managed to control even that for him. In the small space, even his voices quieted, and he was able to listen to what they said with relative peace.

The first order of business, as Lucy explained to him, was to create a means of narrowing the number of potential suspects. It was easy enough for her, she said, to go through the hospital records for each patient and determine who was available to kill the other victims that she believed were linked to the murder of Short Blond. She had three other dates, in addition to Short Blond. Each killing had taken place within a few days, or weeks, of the time the bodies were discovered. Clearly, the greatest percentage of hospital inmates were not out on the street during the time frame that all three of the other killings were performed. The long-term patients, especially the elderly, were easy to remove from their process of inspection.

She did not share this initial inquiry with either Doctor Gulptilil or Mister Evans, although Peter and Francis knew what she was doing. This created some tension, when she asked Mister Evil for the Amherst Building records.

"Of course," he said. "I keep the primary dossiers in my office in some file cabinets. You can come there and inspect them whenever you like."

Lucy was standing outside her own office. It was early in the afternoon, and Mister Evil had already come by twice that morning, knocking loudly at her door and asking if he could be of assistance, and to remind Francis and Peter that their regularly scheduled group session was going to take place as usual and that they would be required to be there.

"Now would be good," she said. She took a step down the hallway, only to be interrupted by Mister Evil.

"Only you," he said stiffly. "Not the other two."

"They're helping me," she said. "You know that."

Mister Evil nodded, in response, but then changed the nod into a vigorous back and forth negative. "Yes, they might be," he said slowly. "That remains to be seen, and, as you well know, I have my doubts. Still doesn't give them the right to examine the confidential files of other patients. There is sensitive, personal information in those dossiers, gleaned from therapeutic sessions, and I cannot permit that information to be examined by other clients of our little hospital, here. That would be unethical on my part and a violation of state laws concerning privacy of records. You should be aware of that, Miss Jones."

Lucy paused, considering what he'd said. "I'm sorry," she replied slowly. "You are, of course, correct. I simply assumed that the exigencies of the situation might create some leeway on your part."

He smiled. "Of course. And I wish to provide you with the widest possible latitude on your wild-goose chase. But I cannot break the law, nor is it fair for you to ask me, or any of the other dormitory supervisors to do so." Mister Evil wore long brown hair, and wire-rim glasses, giving him a close to scruffy look. To offset this impression, he often wore a tie and a white shirt, although his shoes were always scuffed and worn. It was, Francis thought, a little as if he did not want to be associated either with a world of rebellion or the land of the status quo. Not really wanting to be a part of either put Mister Evil into a difficult spot, he thought.

"Right," she said. "I wouldn't want to do that."

"Especially, because I have yet to see from you any real indication that the mythical person you are pursuing is actually here."

She did not reply to this at first, only smiling.

"And," she said, after a short silence had surrounded them unhappily, "precisely what sort of evidence is it that you'd like me to show you?"

Evans, too, smiled, as if he enjoyed the fencing back and forth. Thrust. Parry. Strike.

"Something other than supposition," he said. "Perhaps a witness that was credible, although where you might find one inside a mental hospital presently eludes me…" He said this with a small laugh, as if it was a joke."… Or perhaps the murder weapon that has, as of now, not been uncovered. Something concrete. Something solid…" Again, he seemed about to act as if this was all a great amusement, just for him. "Of course, as you've probably figured out, Miss Jones, concrete and solid are not concepts particularly suited to our little world, here. You know as well as I, that statistically, the mentally ill are far, far more likely to do harm to themselves than they are to hurt someone else."

"Perhaps the person I'm seeking isn't exactly what you would call mentally ill," Lucy said. "A different category completely."

"Well," Evans answered briskly, "that may be the case. In fact, it is likely. But what we have here, in abundance, are the latter, not the former."

With that, he gestured, bowing slightly and sweeping his arm in the direction of his own office. "You would still like to examine the files?" he said.

Lucy turned to Peter and Francis. "I need to go do this. Get started, at least. I will meet with you later."

Peter looked angrily at Mister Evans, who did not look back in his direction, but instead, led Lucy Jones down the corridor, dismissing patients who approached him with short, chopping hand motions. It was, Francis thought, a little like a man cutting his way with a machete through the jungle.

"It would be nice," Peter said, under his breath, "if it turned out that that son of a bitch was the man we were hunting for. That would really be special, and would make all this time in here incredibly worthwhile." Then he burst | out in a short laugh. "Ah, well, C-Bird. The world is never that convenient. And '" you know what they say: "Beware of getting what you wish for." " But even as he spoke, he continued to watch Mister Evans as he maneuvered down the hall-|. way. He waited a few moments, and then added, "I'm going to go speak with

Napoleon." Peter sighed. "At least, he will have the eighteenth-century perspective on all this."

Francis would have joined him, but he hesitated, as Peter wheeled and walked swiftly toward the dayroom. In that moment, he saw Big Black leaning up against the wall of the corridor, smoking a cigarette, his white uniform bathed in light that streamed through the windows, so that he glistened. For some reason, the light made Big Black's skin seem even darker, and Francis saw that the attendant had been watching them. He walked over, and the huge man separated himself from the wall, and dropped his smoke to the floor.

"A bad habit," Big Black said. "One that is just as likely to kill you as anything else in here. Maybe. Can't be altogether too sure about that, what with all that's been happening. But don't you go and take it up like everybody else in this place, C-Bird. Lots of bad habits in here. And not much to do about them. You try to keep yourself out of bad habits, C-Bird, and you'll find yourself out of here, sooner or later."

Francis didn't reply. Instead, he watched the attendant stare down the corridor, his eyes fixing on first one patient, then another, but clearly, his real attention somewhere else.

After a moment, Francis asked, "Why do they hate each other, Mister Moses?"

Big Black did not answer this question directly, other than to say, "You know, sometimes, down South where I was born, there were these old women who could sense the weather changing. They were the ones who knew when storms were gonna blow in off the water, and especially, during hurricane season, they were forever walking about, sniffing the air, sometimes saying little chants and spells, sometimes throwing bones and seashells on a piece of cloth. A little like witchcraft, I guess, and now that I am an educated man, living in a modern world, C-Bird, I know better than to believe all those spells and incantations. But, trouble was, they were always right. Storm coming, they knew it long before anyone else did. They were the ones got the folks to bring in the livestock, fix the roof of the house, maybe bottle some water, just for the emergency that no one else could see was coming. But which came, all the same. Makes no sense, when you think about it; makes perfectly good sense, if you don't."

He smiled, and put his hand on Francis's shoulder. "What you think, C-Bird? You look at those two and the way they act and feel that storm coming on, too?"

"I still don't understand, Mister Moses."

The large man shook his head. "Let me say this: Evans, he's got a brother. And maybe what it was that Peter did, maybe that did something to that brother. And so, when Peter came here, Evans made right certain that he was the one in charge of his evaluation. He made sure that Peter knew that whatever it was that Peter wanted, he was going to make damn certain that Peter didn't get it."

"But that can't be fair," Francis said.

"Didn't say something was fair, C-Bird. Didn't say nothing about things being fair, the one way or the other. Only said that's maybe some part of that little bit of trouble that's heading bad, isn't it?"

Big Black removed his hand and stuck it in his pocket. As he did so, the chain of keys on his belt jangled.

"Mister Moses, those keys can you go anywhere in here with them?"

He nodded. "In here. And in all the other dormitories, too. Unlock doors to Security. Unlock dormitory doors. Even get into the isolation cells, too. Want to go out the front gate, Francis? These will help show you the way."

"Who has keys like that?"

"Nursing supervisors. Security. Attendants like me and my brother. Main staff."

"Do they know where all the sets are, at all times?"

"Supposed to. But like everything around here, what they are supposed to do and what really happens might be different things."

He laughed. "Now, C-Bird, you starting to ask questions like Miss Jones and Peter, too. He knows how to ask questions. You're learning."

Francis smiled in reply to the compliment. "I wonder," he said, "if all those sets of keys are accounted for at all times."

Big Black shook his head. "Ain't quite asking that question right, C-Bird. Try again."

"Are any keys missing?"

"Yes. That's the question, isn't it? Yes. Some keys are missing."

"Has anyone searched for them?"

"Yes. But maybe search ain't the right word. People looked in all the real likely places, and then gave up when they didn't find them."

"Who lost them?"

"Why," Big Black said with a grin, "that person would be our very good friend, Mister Evans."

The huge attendant burst out with another laugh, and as he threw his head back, he spotted his smaller brother heading toward them. "Hey," he called out, "C-Bird is starting to figure things out."

Francis saw the nurses stationed behind the wire mesh of the station in the middle of the corridor look up, and smile, as if this was something of a joke. Little Black also grinned, as he sauntered up to the two of them. "You know what, Francis?" he said.

"What's that, Mister Moses?"

"You get the handle on the way this world works," he spoke, gesturing wildly with his arm to indicate the hospital ward. "You get a good solid grip on all this, and I'll tell you the truth, figuring out the world outdoors there, right out there past the walls well, that won't be so hard for you. If you get the chance."

"How do I get that chance, Mister Moses?"

"Now, ain't that the great question, little brother? That's the great big question gets asked every minute of every day in here. How does a gentleman get that chance. There's ways, C-Bird. There's more than one way, at least. But ain't no simple yes and no rules. Do this. Do that. Get a chance. Nope, don't work precisely that way. You've got to find your own path. You'll get there, C-Bird. Just got to see it when it shows itself. That's the problem, ain't it?"

Francis did not know how to respond, but he thought the older brother undoubtedly wrong. And he didn't think he had any ability to understand any world whatsoever. A few of his voices rumbled deep within him, and he tried to listen to what they were saying, because he suspected they had an opinion or two. But as he concentrated, he saw that both attendants were watching him, taking note of the way his own face wore whatever was inside of him and for a moment, he felt naked, as if his clothing had been ripped from him. So, instead, he smiled as pleasantly as he could, and walked off down the corridor, his footsteps keeping quick pace with all the doubts drumming about within him.

Lucy sat behind the desk in Mister Evans's office as he rummaged through one of four file cabinets lined up against one wall. Her eyes were drawn to a photograph on the corner, which was a wedding picture. She saw Evans, his hair a little more closely cropped and combed, wearing a blue pin-striped business suit that still seemed to merely underscore his skinny physique, standing next to a young woman wearing a white gown which only barely concealed a significant pregnancy, and who was wearing a garland of flowers in frizzy brown hair. They were in the middle of a group that ranged in age from very old to very young, and all wore similar smiles, that, on balance, Lucy thought she could accurately describe as forced. In the midst of the wedding party, was a man wearing a priest's flowing robes, which caught the photographer's light in their golden brocade. He had his hand on Evans's shoulder, and, after a slight double take, Lucy recognized a nearly complete resemblance to the psychologist.

"You have a twin?" she asked.

Evans looked up, saw where her eyes were fixed on the photograph, and turned toward her, his arms filled with yellow file folders. "Runs in the family," he said. "My daughters are twins as well."

Lucy looked around, but failed to see a photograph. He saw the inquisitive survey and added, "They live with their mother. Suffice it to say we're going through a bit of a rough spot."

"Sorry to hear that," she said, although she didn't say that that was no explanation for not having their photo on the wall.

He shrugged. He dumped the files on the desk in front of her. They made a thudding sound.

"When you grow up as a twin, you get accustomed to all the jokes. They are always the same, you know. Two peas in a pod. How do ya tell 'em apart? You guys share the same thoughts and ideas? When one spends all their years knowing that there is a mirror image of oneself asleep in the bunk bed above, it changes one's understanding of the world. Both for the better, and for the worse, as well, Miss Jones."

"You were identical twins?" she asked, mostly just for conversation, though a single glance at the picture told her the answer to her question.

Mister Evans hesitated before replying, his gaze narrowing, and a distinct ice slipping into his words. "We were once. No longer."

She looked at him quizzically.

Evans coughed once, then added: "Why don't you ask your new friend and detective partner to explain that statement? Because he has that answer a whole lot better than I do. Ask Peter the Fireman, the sort of guy who starts out extinguishing fires, but ends up setting them."

She did not know how to respond, so instead, she drew the files toward her. Mister Evans took up a seat across from her, leaning back, crossing his legs in a relaxed fashion and watching what she was doing. Lucy did not like the way his glance penetrated the air around her, bullet like and she felt uncomfortable with the intensity of his scrutiny. "Would you like to help?" she asked abruptly. "What I have in mind is not all that difficult. Initially, I'd simply like to eliminate those men who were here in the hospital when one or another of these three additional killings took place. In other words, if they were here… "

He interrupted her. "Then they couldn't be out there. That should be an easy matter of comparing dates."

"Right," she said.

"Except there are some elements that make it a little harder."

She paused, then asked, "What sort of elements?"

Evans rubbed his chin, before answering. "There are a percentage of patients who have been voluntarily committed to the hospital. They can be signed in and out, on a weekend, for example, by responsible family members. In fact, it is encouraged. So, it is conceivable that someone whose records seem to show that they are a full-time resident here, actually has spent some time outside the walls. Under supervision, of course. Or, at least, allegedly under supervision. Now, that would not be the case for people ordered here by a court. Nor would it be the case for patients that after they arrived, the staff has deemed to be a danger to themselves, or perhaps someone else. If an act of violence got you here, then you wouldn't be released, even for a visit home. Unless, of course, a staff member felt it was an acceptable part of one's therapeutic approach. But this would also depend upon what medications the patient was currently prescribed. Someone can be sent home for overnight with a pill. But not needing an injection. See?"

"I think so."

"And," Evans continued, picking up some steam as he spoke, "we have hearings. We are required to periodically present cases in a quasi judicial proceeding, in effect to justify why someone should be kept here, or, in some cases, released. A public defender comes up from Springfield, and we have a patient advocate, who sits on a panel with Doctor Gulptilil and a guy from the state division of Mental Health Services. A little like a parole board type hearing. Those happen from time to time, as well, and they have an erratic track record."

"How do you mean erratic?"

"People get released because they've been stabilized, and then they're back here in a couple of months after they decompensate. There is an element to treating mental illness which makes it seem very much like a revolving door. Or a treadmill."

"But the patients you have here in the Amherst Building…"

"I don't know whether we have any current patients who have the capacity both social and mental to be granted a furlough. Maybe a couple, at best. I don't know that we have any scheduled for hearings. I'd have to check. Furthermore, I don't have a clue about the other buildings. You will have to find my counterparts in each one and check with them."

"I think we can eliminate the other buildings," Lucy said briskly. "After all, the killing of Short Blond took place here, and I suspect the killer is likely here."

Mister Evans smiled unpleasantly, as if he saw a joke in what she said that wasn't obvious to her. "Why would you assume that?"

She started to respond, but stopped. "I merely thought," she started, but he cut her off.

"If this mythical fellow is as clever as you think, then I shouldn't imagine that traveling between buildings late at night was a problem he couldn't overcome."

"But there is Security patrolling the grounds. Wouldn't they spot anyone moving between buildings?"

"We are, alas, like so many state agencies, understaffed. And Security travels set patterns at regular times, which wouldn't be all that difficult to elude, if one had that inclination. And there are other ways of traveling about unseen."

Lucy hesitated again, realizing there was a question there that she should ask, and into the momentary pause, Mr. Evans added his opinion: "Lanky," he said, with a small, almost nonchalant wave. "Lanky had motive and opportunity and desire and ended up with the nurse's blood all over him. I fail to see why it is that you want to look so much harder for someone else. I agree that Lanky is, in many regards, a likable fellow. But he was also a paranoid schizophrenic and had a history of violent acts. Especially toward women, whom he often saw as minions of Satan. And, in the days leading up to the crime, his medications had been shown to be inadequate. If you were to review his medical records, which the police took with him, you would see an entry from me suggesting that he might have found a way to conceal that he wasn't getting the proper dosages at the daily distribution. In fact, I had ordered that he be started on intravenous injections in upcoming days, because I felt that oral dosages weren't doing the job."

Again, Lucy did not reply. She wanted to tell Mr. Evans that the mutilation of the nurse's hand alone, in her mind at least, cleared Lanky. But she did not share that observation.

Evans pushed the files toward her. "Still," he said, "if you examine these and the thousand others in the other buildings you can eliminate some people. I think I would deemphasize times and dates and concentrate more time on diagnosis. I'd rule out the mentally retarded. And the catatonics who don't respond to either medication or electric shock treatments, because they just don't seem to have the physical capacity to do what you think they did. And the other personality disorders that contraindicate what you're looking for. I'm happy to help by answering any questions you might have. But the hard part well, that's for you."

Then he leaned back and watched her, as she drew forward the first dossier, flipped open the jacket, and began to inspect it.

Francis leaned up against the wall outside Mister Evil's office, unsure what else f to do. It wasn't long before he saw Peter the Fireman sauntering down the corridor, heading to join him. Peter slumped himself up against the wall, and stared toward the door blocking them from where Lucy was poring over patient records. He exhaled slowly, making a whistling sound.

"Did you speak with Napoleon?"

"He wanted to play chess. So I did play a game and he kicked my butt. Still, it's a good game for an investigator to learn."

"Why is that?"

"Because there are infinite variations on a winning strategy, yet one is still restricted in the moves one can make by the highly specific limitations of each piece on the board. A knight can do this…" He made a forward and sideways gesture with his hand. "While a bishop can go like so…" He changed to a diagonal slashing motion. "Do you play, C-Bird?"

Francis shook his head.

"You should learn."

As they spoke, a heavyset, thickly built man who lived in the third floor dormitory lurched to a halt across from them. He wore a look that Francis had come to recognize among many of the retarded people in the hospital. It combined a blankness and an inquisitiveness at the same time, as if the man wanted an answer to something, but knew he could not understand it, which created a state of near constant frustration. There were a number of men in Amherst, and throughout Western State Hospital, like this man, and day in, day out, they frightened Francis as much as anyone, because they were on balance, so benign, and yet, capable of sudden, inexplicable aggressiveness. Francis had learned quickly to steer clear of the retarded men. When Francis looked over at him, he opened his eyes wide, and seemed to snarl, as if angry that so much in the world was so far beyond his reach. He made a small gurgling sound, and continued to stare at Peter and Francis intently.

Peter returned the gaze, with an equal ferocity. "What are you looking at?" he asked.

The man simply gurgled a little louder.

"What do you want?" Peter demanded. He peeled himself from the wall, tensing.

The retarded man emitted a long, grunting sound, like a wild animal squaring off against a rival. He took a step forward, hunching his shoulders. His face contorted, and it seemed to Francis that the limits of the man's imagination made him more terrifying, because all that he possessed, within his meager resources, was rage. And there was no way of determining where it came from. It just erupted, at that moment, in that spot. The retarded man flexed his hands into fists and then swung wildly in the air between them, as if he was punching a vision.

Peter took another step forward, then stopped. "Don't do it, buddy," he said.

The man seemed to gather himself for a charge.

Peter repeated, "It's not worth it." But as he spoke, he braced himself.

The retarded man took a single additional step toward them, then halted. Still grunting with an internal fury that seemed massive, he suddenly took his fist and slammed it against the side of his own head. The punch resounded down the corridor. Then he followed this, with a second blow, and a third, each one echoing loudly. A small trickle of blood appeared by his ear.

Neither Peter nor Francis moved.

The man let out a cry. It had some of the pitch of victory, some of the tone of anguish. It was hard for Francis to tell whether it was a challenge or a signal.

And, as it resounded down the hall, the man seemed to stop. He let out a sigh, and straightened up. He looked over at Francis and Peter and shook his head, as if clearing something from his vision. His eyebrows knit together abruptly, quizzically, as if some great question had penetrated within him, and in the same revelation, he'd seen the answer. Then he half snarled, half smiled, and abruptly lurched off down the hallway, mumbling to himself.

Francis and Peter watched him move unsteadily away.

"What was that about?" Francis asked, a little shakily.

Peter shook his head. "That's just it," he replied softly. "In here, you just don't know, do you? You just can't tell what has made someone burst like that. Or not. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, C-Bird. This is the strangest damn place I hope either of us ever has the misfortune to land."

The two men leaned back up against the wall. Peter seemed stricken by the attack that hadn't happened, as if it had said something to him. "You know, C-Bird, when I was in Vietnam, I thought that was pretty weird. Strange things were likely to happen all the damn time. Strange and deadly things. But, at least, they had some rhyme and reason to them. I mean, after all, we were there to kill them, and they were there to kill us. Made some perverse logic. And after I came home, and joined the department, sometimes, in a fire, you know things can get pretty dicey. Walls tumbling. Floors giving way. Heat and smoke everywhere. But still, there's some cosmic sense of order to it all. Fire burns in defined patterns, accelerated by certain stuffs, and, when you know what you're doing, you can usually take the right precautions. But this place is something else. It's like everything is on fire all the time. It's like everything is hidden. And booby-trapped."

"Would you have fought him?"

"Would I have had a choice?"

He looked around at the flow of patients moving throughout the building.

"How does anyone survive in here?" he asked.

Francis didn't have an answer. "I don't know that we're really supposed to," he whispered.

Peter nodded, his wry smile suddenly back in place. "That, my young and crazy friend, might be the most dead-on accurate thing you've ever said."

Chapter 13

When Lucy emerged from Mister Evans's office, she carried a legal-size yellow pad of paper in her right hand and a look of significant displeasure on her face. A long, quickly scrawled list of names ran down one side of the top page on the pad. She moved rapidly, as if driven to increase her pace by a sense of dismay. She looked up when she spotted Francis and Peter the Fireman waiting for her, and she gave a little, rueful shake of her head, as she approached them.

"I'd thought, rather foolishly it turns out, that this would simply be a matter of checking dates against hospital records. It's not that simple, primarily because the hospital records are something of a mess, and not centralized. A lot of busywork involved. Damn."

"Mister Evil wasn't as helpful as he said he might be?" Peter observed archly, asking a question that already had its answer contained within it.

"No. I think that would be a safe assessment," Lucy replied.

"Well," Peter said, affecting a mock, slightly British accent that almost managed to sound like Gulp-a-pill, "I am shocked. Simply shocked…"

Lucy continued down the corridor, her pace as rapid as her thoughts.

"So," Peter asked, "what were you able to find out?"

"What I learned was that I'm going to have to check every other housing unit, in addition to Amherst. And, beyond that, I'm going to have to find records for every patient that might have had a weekend furlough during the relevant time period. And, further complicating matters, I'm not at all sure that there's any sort of master list, which would make that easier. What I do have is a list of names from this building that more, or less, fit into the range of possibilities. Forty-three names."

"Did you eliminate some by age?" Peter asked, the jocularity now removed from his voice.

She nodded. "Yes. That was my first thought, as well. The old-timers, well, no need to question them."

"I think," Peter said slowly, as he started to rub his right hand across his cheek, as if by friction, he could loosen some ideas stuck within, "that we might consider one other important element."

Lucy looked at him.

"Physicality," Peter said.

"What do you mean?" Francis asked.

"What I mean is that it requires some strength to commit the crime that we're concerned with. He had to overpower Short Blond, then drag her to the storage room. There were signs of a struggle in the nursing station, so we know that he didn't manage to sneak up behind her and knock her out with some lucky punch. In fact, if I were to guess, he probably looked forward to the struggle."

Lucy sighed. "True. The more he beat her, the more he got excited. That would fit what we know of this type of personality."

Francis shuddered, hoping the others didn't see him. He had a little trouble discussing so coldly and casually some moments that were, he thought, far beyond horror.

"So," Peter continued, "we know we're looking for someone with some muscle. That rules out a bunch of people inside here right away, because, although Gulptilil would probably deny it, this place doesn't exactly seem to attract the physically fit. Aren't too many marathon runners and body builders inside here. And we should also reduce the pool of candidates to a range of ages. And then, it seems to me, there is one other area that might help further narrow the list. Diagnosis. Who is here with some significant violence in their past. Who suffers from the type of mental illness that might be expanded to include murder."

Lucy said, "My thinking exactly. We come up with a portrait of the man we're seeking, and things will come into focus." Then she turned to Francis. "C-Bird, I'm going to need your help in that area."

Francis bent toward her, eager. "What do you need?"

"I don't think I understand madness," she said.

Francis must have looked confused, because she smiled. "Oh, don't get me wrong. I understand the psychiatric language and the diagnosis criteria and the treatment plans and all the textbook stuff. But what I don't understand is how it all seems from the inside, looking out. I think you can help me in that regard. I need to know who could have done these crimes, and hard evidence is going to be tricky to come by."

Francis was uncertain, but he said, "Whatever you need…"

Peter, though, was nodding his head, as if he could see something that was obvious to himself and should have been obvious to Lucy, but which still eluded Francis. "He can do that, I'm sure. He's a natural. A teacher-in-training. Can't you C-Bird?"

"I'll try." Deep within him, he heard a rumbling, as if there was an argument going on within his inner population, and then, finally, he heard one of his voices insist: Tell them. It's okay. Tell them what you know. He hesitated one second, then spoke, feeling as if his words were being directed from sources within. "There's one thing you should realize," he said slowly, cautiously. Both Lucy and Peter looked at him, as if they were a little surprised he was joining the conversation.

"What's that?" Lucy asked.

Francis nodded to Peter. "Peter's right, I guess, about being strong, and right, too, that there aren't a lot of people inside here who would appear to have the physical strength necessary to outfight someone like Short Blond. I mean, that makes sense, I guess. But not completely. If the Angel were hearing voices commanding him to attack Short Blond, and these other women well, it's not true that he would have to be as strong as Peter suggests. When you hear these things, and the voices are telling you to do something I mean, really screaming and insistent and without compromise well, pain, difficulty, strength, all these things become secondary. You simply do what they demand. You overcome. If a voice told you to pick up a car, or a boulder, well, you would do it, or kill yourself trying. So it is not necessarily true when Peter suggests that the Angel is a strong man. He could still be almost anyone, because he could find the necessary strength. The voices would tell him where to find it."

He paused, and he heard a deep echo within saying That's right. Good job, Francis.

Peter looked deeply at Francis, then broke out into a smile. He punched Francis on the arm.

Lucy smiled, too, followed by a long sigh. "I will keep all that in mind, Francis. Thank you. I think you might be right. It just goes to show that this isn't your ordinary type of investigation. Rules are a bit different inside here, aren't they?"

Francis felt a sense of relief, and was pleased to have contributed something. He pointed at his forehead. "Rules are different inside here, too," he said.

Lucy reached out and touched him on the arm. "I'll keep that in mind." Then she shook her head. "Now there's something else I need you guys to find out for me."

"Anything," Peter said.

"Evans suggested that there are ways to travel between buildings at night where one can avoid being seen by Security. I'm capable of asking him precisely what he means by this, but I'd like to limit his involvement as much as possible…"

"Makes sense to me," Peter said rapidly. Perhaps a bit too much so, for he gained a sharp look from Lucy.

"Still, I wonder if you can't pursue this from the patients' point of view. Who knows how to get from here to there? How do you do it? What are the risks? And who would want to do it?"

"Do you think the Angel came from another building?"

"I want to find out if he could."

Peter nodded again. "I see," he said. He started to say something, but then stopped. "We'll find out what we can," he said after a moment.

"Good," Lucy said with brisk confidence. "I'm going off to see Doctor Gulptilil, and pursue the dates and times a little more carefully. I'll get him to escort me to the other units, so that I can come up with a rough list of names from each."

"You can probably eliminate the men with a diagnosis of mental retardation, as well," Peter said. "That will narrow the field. But only severe mental retardation."

Again she nodded. "Makes sense. Why don't you two plan on meeting me in my office prior to dinner and we'll compare notes."

She turned and walked rapidly down the corridor. Francis noticed that the patients who were moving through the same space all stepped aside as she sailed past, shrinking back from her. He thought, at first, that people must be scared of Lucy, which he didn't understand, but then, he realized it was unfamiliarity that scared them. She was sane, and they were not. More, it was what she represented, which was something alien, a person with an existence that stretched beyond the walls. And last, he thought, what was ultimately the most unsettling thing about seeing someone like her within the hospital was that it drove home a sense of uncertainty about the world they all lived in.

Francis looked closely at the faces of some of the patients and realized that there were very few people in that building who really wanted the disruption to their world that Lucy represented. In the Western State Hospital, patients and staff clung to routine, because it was the only way of keeping all the forces that warred within each patient at bay. It was why so many people were stuck there for so many years, because, very swiftly one came to understand what was dangerous. He shook his head. It was all upside down, he thought. The hospital was a place filled with risk, a constantly bubbling cauldron of conflict, anger, and madness; yet, it somehow measured out to be less frightening than the world outside. Lucy was the outside. Francis turned, and saw Peter the Fireman also watching her departure. He could see a sense of frustration in Peter's face. It was a frustration caused by being imprisoned. They were the same, Francis thought, because they both belonged somewhere else.

He was unsure if he also fit into that category.

After a moment, Peter turned and shook his head slightly. "This is going to be tricky, C-Bird," he said.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, Lucy thinks this is a no-big-deal question. Something to keep us occupied and focused. But it's a bit more than that."

Francis looked at Peter, asking him to continue with his eyes.

"As soon as we start asking Lucy's question, someone is going to hear that we're inquisitive. The word will get out, and sooner or later get around to someone who actually does know how to get from building to building after dark, when everyone is supposed to be locked up, drugged out, and asleep. That's the someone we're looking for. That's inevitable. And it will make us vulnerable."

Peter took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. "Think about it for a second," he said, a little bit under his breath. "We all live in these independent housing units spread about over the hospital grounds. We eat here. We go to sessions here. We have recreation here. We sleep here. And every unit is the same. One after the other, all the same. Little contained worlds, within a bigger, contained world. With very little contact between each unit. I mean, hell, your brother could be right next door, and you wouldn't know it. So, why would anyone want access to another place that was exactly the same as the one he just left, anyway? It's not like we're all a bunch of low-rent South Boston mobsters stuck in Walpole Prison doing life without parole, trying to figure out how to escape. No one here thinks about breaking out, at least, not that I can tell, as yet. So the only reason someone might have for wanting to get from this building to the next is the reason we're investigating. And every time we start to ask a question that will make the Angel think we're onto some element that might reduce the field of suspects, well…"

Peter hesitated. "I don't know that he's ever killed a man. Probably pretty strictly the women we know about." He let his voice trail off.

Big Black and Nurse Wrong set up a painting exercise in the dayroom that afternoon for Mister Evil's regular group session. There was no explanation as to where Evans had disappeared to, and Lucy was out of the Amherst Building as well. The dozen members of the group were all issued large white sheets of thick cotton paper that felt rough to the touch. They were then placed in a loose circle, and given a choice between watercolors and crayons.

Peter looked askance at the whole endeavor, but Francis thought it was a welcome change from sitting in a meeting designed to underscore their madness and contrast it with Mister Evans's sanity, which he had come to think was the sole agenda of the group gatherings. Cleo had an eager look in her face, as if she'd already anticipated what she intended to sketch and Napoleon hummed a little martial music to himself, as he contemplated the blank sheet on his lap, rubbing his fingers along the edge.

Nurse Wrong stepped into the center of the group. She treated all the patients as if they were children, which Francis hated. "Mister Evans would like all of you to use this time to do a self-portrait," she said briskly. "Something that says something, anything, about how you see yourself."

"I can't do a picture of a tree?" Cleo questioned. She gestured toward the bank of dayroom windows that were filled with refracted light, glistening with the afternoon. Beyond the glass and wire mesh, Francis could see one of the quadrangle trees on the grounds swaying in a light breeze, the springtime weather just ruffling the new green leaves.

"Unless you think of yourself as a tree," Nurse Wrong replied, stating something so obvious that it was nearly overwhelming.

"A Cleo tree?" Cleo asked. She raised her chunky arm and flexed it like a bodybuilder. "A very strong tree."

Francis chose a small tray of watercolors. Blue. Red. Black. Green. Orange. Brown. He had a small paper cup of water that he placed on the floor next to his feet. After a final glance toward Peter, who had suddenly bent over his sheet of paper, and was busily at work, Francis turned to his own blank canvas. He dipped his small brush into the liquid to wet the tip, then into the black paint. He made a long, oval shape on the page and then turned to the task of filling in the features.

In the back of the dayroom, a man faced up against the wall, mumbling steadily, like a person at prayer, interrupting himself only every few minutes to steal a glance in the group's direction, before returning to his conversation. Francis noticed the same retarded man who'd threatened them earlier; he lurched through the room, grunting, occasionally staring in their direction, slapping his fist into his palm repeatedly. Francis turned back to his drawing, and continued to slide the paintbrush gently over the sheet of paper, watching with some satisfaction as a figure grew in the center of the page.

Francis worked intently. He tried to give himself a smile, but it came out crookedly, so that it seemed that half his face was enjoying something, while the other half filled with regret. The eyes stared out at him intently, and he thought he could see beyond them. Francis thought the painted Francis had shoulders perhaps a little too slumped, and a posture that was perhaps too resigned. But this was less important than trying to show that the Francis on the sheet of paper had feelings, had dreams, had desires, had all the emotions that he associated with the outside world.

He did not look up until Nurse Wrong announced there were only a few minutes left in the session. He glanced to his side and saw that Peter was intently putting the finishing touches on his own picture. It was a pair of hands, gripping bars that stretched from the top of the sheet to the bottom. There was no face, no body, no sense of person whatsoever. Just the fingers wrapped around thick shafts of black that dominated the page.

Nurse Wrong took Francis's painting from his hands and paused to examine it.

Big Black came over and stared over her shoulder at the painting. He broke into a smile. "Damn, C-Bird," he said. "This is some fine work. Boy's got some talent he didn't tell no one about."

The nurse and the huge attendant moved off, collecting the other patients' work, and Francis found himself standing next to Napoleon. "Nappy," he said, quietly, "how long have you been here?"

"In the hospital?"

"Yes. And in here, in Amherst." He gestured at the dayroom. Napoleon seemed to think for a moment before responding.

"Two years now, C-Bird, except it could be three, I'm not sure. A long time," he added sadly. "A real long time. You lose track. Or maybe it's that they want you to lose track. I'm not sure."

"You're pretty experienced in how things work around here, aren't you?"

Napoleon bowed slightly, almost gracefully. "An expertise, alas C-Bird, that I would prefer not to own. But true enough."

"If I wanted to get from here to one of the other buildings, how would I do it?"

Napoleon looked slightly frightened by the question, he took a single step back, and shook his head. His mouth opened, flustered, and he stammered his reply: "You don't like it here with us?"

Now it was Francis's turn to shake his head negatively. "No. I mean late at night. After medication, after lights-out. Suppose I wanted to get to one of the other buildings without being seen, could I do it?"

Napoleon considered the question. "I don't think so," he said slowly. "We're always locked in."

"But suppose I wasn't locked in…"

"We're always locked in."

"But suppose…," Francis said again, slightly exasperated by the round man's response.

"This has something to do with Short Blond, doesn't it? And Lanky, too. But Lanky couldn't get out of the dormitory. Except the night Short Blond died, when it was unlocked. I've never heard of the door being left unlocked before. No, you can't get out. No one can. I don't know that I've ever heard someone wanting to."

"Somebody could. Somebody did. And somebody wanted to. Somebody's got a set of keys."

Napoleon looked terrified. "A patient has a set of keys," he whispered. "I've never heard of that."

"I think so," Francis said.

"That would be wrong, C-Bird. We're not supposed to have keys." Napoleon shifted his weight from foot to foot, as if the ground beneath the soles of his tattered slippers had grown hot to the touch. "I think, if you got outside, I mean out of the building, avoiding the security patrol would be pretty easy. I mean, they don't seem like the brightest guys on the planet, do they? And I think they have to clock in at the same locations, at the same time every night, so avoiding them well, even somebody as crazy as one of us probably could manage it with a little bit of planning…" He giggled slightly, almost losing control, grinning at the radical opinion that the security guards were incompetent. But then his brow knit together closely. "But that wouldn't be the problem, would it, C-Bird?"

"What do you think the problem would be?" Francis asked.

"Getting back in. The main door, even if you had a key, is right across from the nurses' station. It's the same in every building, isn't it? And even if the nurse or the attendant on duty were asleep at the time, the sound of the door opening would likely awaken them."

"What about the emergency exits on the side of the building?"

"I think those are barred and nailed shut."

He shook his head. "Probably a fire code violation," he added. "We ought to ask Peter. I'll bet he knows."

"Probably. But still, even if you wanted to, you don't think it could be done?"

"There might be some other way. I've just never heard of one in all the time I've been here. And I've never heard of anyone who wanted to get from one place to another, C-Bird. Never. Not once. Why would anyone, when all we want and all we need and all that we could possibly use is right here in this building?"

That was a depressing question, Francis thought. And also untrue, for there was someone who had needs that departed from those that Napoleon was talking about. Francis thought to himself, probably for the first time: What is it the Angel needed?

It was Peter who spotted the maintenance man as we walked out of the dayroom. I wondered later if things might have been different if we'd been able to see exactly what he was doing, but we were on our way to talk to Lucy, and that always seemed to be the top priority. Afterward, I spent hours, maybe days, simply contemplating all the congruity of things as if this or that outcome might have been changed if any of the three of us had been able to see the connectivity that was so important. Sometimes madness is about fixation, dwelling on a single notion, hanky's obsession with evil. Peter's need for absolution. Lucy's need for justice. They, or course, weren't mad, at least not in the way I knew it, or Gulp-a-pill knew it, or even how Mister Evil knew it. But, in a curious sort of way, needs that are powerful can become a kind of madness unto themselves. The difference is, they're not so easily diagnosable as the madness I had. Still, seeing the maintenance man, a middle-aged fellow, with circles under his eyes, wearing his matching gray shirt and slacks, thick brown work boots, his dark hair streaked with sandy dust, and his clothing marred by black oil residue, should have spoken to us in some odd, subterranean way. He carried his wooden toolbox in a grimy hand, and a dingy rag drooped from his belt. He jingled a little, with his keys striking against the yellow plastic encased flashlight that bounced from a bracket around his waist. He had a satisfied look, the appearance that a man who can suddenly see the end of a long and dirty task might wear, and Peter and I heard him turn to Big Black and Little Black and as he lit a cigarette, say, "Won't be long now. Almost finished. Damn, what a bitch," before heading into a storage room at the opposite end of the hallway from where Short Blond's body was taken.

When I think back, I can see so many little things that should have meant something. Little moments that really should have been big moments. A maintenance man. A retarded man. A missing administrator. A man talking to himself. Another man seemingly asleep in a chair. A woman who thought she was the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian princess. I was young, and I didn't understand that crime is like all the mechanical parts of a transmission. Bolts and nuts, screws and pins, all meshing together to create a self-contained momentum that travels forward, controlled by forces that are a little like the wind; invisible, yet leaving signs in a piece of scrap paper that suddenly takes flight and dashes down the sidewalk, or a tree branch being tugged first one way, then the next, or merely the distant dark storm clouds scudding across an ominous sky. It took me a long time to see that.

Peter knew it, as did Lucy. Perhaps that was what connected them, at least at first. They were alert and constantly watching for all the gears that would tell them where to look for the Angel. But, later, afterward, I thought that what linked them was something more complex. It was that they had arrived at the Western State Hospital at that same moment unaware of what it was that they needed. Both had a great gap within themselves, and the Angel was there to provide the necessary filler.

I sat cross-legged in the center of my living room.

The world around seemed hushed and quiet. Not even a stray sound of a baby crying from the Santiagos' apartment. Beyond the living room window, it was pitch-black. Night thick as a stage curtain. I listened for the noise of traffic, but even that was muted. None of the diesel interruptions of trucks passing by. I looked down at my hands and thought it must be a couple of hours before dawn. Peter once told me that the last darkness of the night before morning was the time when most people died.

It was the Angel's time.

I rose, took my pencil, and began to sketch. Within a few minutes I had Peter as I remembered him. Then I set to drawing Lucy by his side. I wanted to make her beauty pure, so I cheated a little, when it came to lining in the scar on her face. I made it a little smaller than it should have been. In a few more moments I had them with me, and just as I recalled them from those first days. Not how any of us was changed.

Lucy Jones could see no shortcut that might bring her closer to the man she hunted. At least nothing simple and obvious, like a list of patients dramatically and conveniently available to have committed all four murders. So, instead, what she did was allow Doctor Gulptilil to escort her from building to building, and in each she went over the roster of male inmates. She eliminated everyone suffering from dementia bought on by senility, and she was judicious in examining the list of men designated as profoundly retarded. She also struck from her growing list anyone with more than five years in the hospital. This, she conceded inwardly, was only a guess on her part. But she thought that anyone having spent that much time in the hospital was probably so filled with antipsychotic medications, and so constrained by madness, that functioning outside the hospital in even a modestly effective way was probably unlikely. And, she thought, the person who was the Angel had some capabilities in both settings. The more she thought about this, the more persuaded she was that she needed to find someone who could function in both worlds.

To her dismay, she realized she couldn't eliminate staff members. The problem in that arena, would be persuading the medical director to turn over employee files, which she doubted he would do without some evidence suggesting that a doctor, a nurse, or an attendant was somehow connected to the crime. As she walked alongside the small Indian physician, she didn't really listen to him, as he droned on about the values of residential treatment centers for the mentally ill and instead wondered how she could proceed.

In New England, in the late spring, there is an evening murkiness, as if the world is unsure about the state of change from the dark winter months into summer. Warm southern breezes pushed up by upper currents of air, mingle freely with shafts of cold that tumble down from Canada. Both sensations were like unwelcome immigrants, searching for a new home. Around her, she became aware of the shadows that crept forward across the hospital grounds, moving inexorably toward each of the housing units. She felt both hot and cold, a little like being caught up in a fever, sweating hard, but pulling a blanket tight to the chin.

She had more than 250 possible suspects on the succession of lists she had made in each building, and she worried that there were a hundred names that she'd rejected perhaps too quickly. She guessed that there would be another twenty-five or thirty possible suspects among the staff, as well, but she wasn't prepared to head in that direction yet, because she knew it would alienate the medical director, whose help she still needed.

As the two of them approached the Amherst Building, she realized with a start that she hadn't heard any catcalls, or shouts, from the housing buildings they had walked past. Or, perhaps, she had heard them, but failed to react. She took note of this inwardly, and thought how quickly the world of the hospital made the odd become routine.

"I have done a little reading about the sort of man you are pursuing," Dr. Gulptilil said, as they crossed the quadrangle. Their footsteps clicked against the black macadam of the walkway, and Lucy looked up and saw that the iron gates of the hospital were being rolled shut for the night by a security guard. "It is interesting how little medical literature is devoted to this murderous phenomena. Very few true studies, alas. There are some profiling efforts under way by police authorities, but in general, the psychological ramifications, diagnosis and treatment plans for the sort of person you are seeking have been generally ignored. In the psychiatric community, you must understand, Miss Jones, we do not like to waste our time with psychopaths."

"Why is that, Doctor?"

"Because they cannot be treated."

"At all?"

"No. Not at all. At least, not the classic psychopath. He does not respond to antipsychotic medication, the way a schizophrenic does. Nor, for that matter, a bipolar personality, an obsessive-compulsive, a clinical depressive or any number of diagnoses that we have developed medications for. Ah, now, that is not to say that the psychopath doesn't have identifiable medically recognizable illnesses. Far from it. But their lack of humanity, I suppose that's the best way to put it, places them in a different category, and one that is not well understood. They defy treatment plans, Miss Jones. They are dishonest, manipulative, often dramatically grandiose, and extremely seductive. Their impulses are their own and unchecked by the ordinary conventions of life and morality. Frightening, I must add. Very unsettling individuals when one comes into clinical contact with them. The astute psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley has an interesting book of case studies, which I would be more than happy to lend to you. It is perhaps the definitive work on these sorts of people. But it will make for most distressing reading, Miss Jones, because the conclusions drawn suggest there is little we can do. Clinically speaking, that is."

Lucy stopped outside the Amherst Building, and the small doctor turned eagerly toward her, bending his head slightly, as if to improve his hearing. A single high-pitched shout creased the air, emanating from one of the adjacent buildings, but they both ignored it.

"How many patients here have been diagnosed as psychopaths?" she asked abruptly.

He shook his head. "Ah, a question I have anticipated," he said.

"And the answer is?"

"Someone diagnosed as a psychopath would not be suitable for the treatment plans we have here. They are also not aided by long-term residential care, lengthy courses of psychotropic medication, even some of the more radical programs which we, upon occasion, administer, such as electrical convulsive therapy. Nor are they capable of other traditional forms of treatment, such as psychotherapy or even" and with this, he giggled slightly in the self-assured manner that he had, which Lucy had already determined to be irritating "a course of traditional psychoanalysis. No, Miss Jones, a psychopath does not belong in the Western State Hospital. They do, perhaps, belong in prison, which is generally where you will find them."

She hesitated, then asked, "But you're not saying there are none here, are you?"

Doctor Gulptilil smiled, Cheshire catlike, before responding. "There is no one here with that diagnosis written clearly and unequivocally on their admitting jacket, Miss Jones. There are some where some possible psychopathological tendencies are noted, but these are secondary to a more profound mental illness."

Lucy grimaced, more than a little angry at the doctor's evasiveness.

Doctor Gulptilil coughed. "But, of course, Miss Jones, if what you suspect is true, and your visit here is not rooted in error, as so many seem to think, then clearly there is one patient who has been significantly misdiagnosed."

He reached up, unlocked the front door to Amherst with a key, and then held the door open for her with a small bow and slightly forced gallantry.

Chapter 14

Lucy headed to her small room on the second floor of the nurse-trainees' dormitory late that evening, darkness surrounding her every step. It was one of the more obscure buildings on the hospital grounds, isolated in a shadowy corner, not far from the power plant with its constant hum and smoke plume, and overlooking the small hospital graveyard. It was as if the dead, haphazardly buried nearby, helped hush the sounds around the building. It was a stiff and square, three-storied, ivy-covered, federal-styled brick house with some imposing white Doric columns outside the front portico, that had been converted fifty years earlier and then reconfigured again in the late Forties and early Sixties, so that whatever remained of its first incarnation as someone's fine and grand hillside home was now merely memory. In two hands, she carried a brown cardboard box jammed with perhaps three dozen patient files, a group with a loosely defined potential, that she had selected from the list of names she was steadily compiling. Included in her selection were the files belonging to both Peter the Fireman and Francis, which she had taken when Mister Evans wasn't paying as much attention as perhaps he should have been. These were to satisfy, she hoped, some lingering curiosity about what had landed her two partners in the mental hospital.

Her overall idea was to start in familiarizing herself with what generally went into the dossiers, and then she would begin to interview patients once she had a firm grasp of what sort of information was already available. She couldn't really immediately see any other approach. There was no physical evidence in her possession that could be pursued although she was well aware that there was significant physical evidence somewhere. A knife, or some other highly sharpened weapon, like a prison shank or a set of razor-sharp box cutters, she thought. That was carefully hidden. There had to be some other bloody clothes, and perhaps a shoe with its sole still rimmed with the nurse's blood. And somewhere there were the four missing fingertips.

She had telephoned the detectives who had taken Lanky into custody and asked about these. They had been singularly unhelpful. One believed that he had sliced them off, then flushed them down a toilet. A lot of effort to no discernible reason, she thought. The other, without stating it clearly, danced around the suggestion that Lanky had perhaps ingested them. "After all," the detective said, "the guy's crazy as a loon."

They were not, Lucy thought, particularly interested in considering any alternatives. "Come on, Miss Jones," the first detective had said, "we've got the guy. And a prosecutable case, except for the fact that he's nuts."

The box of files was heavy and she balanced it on her knee as she pulled open the side door to the dormitory. So far, she thought, she had yet to see some telltale indicators of a kind of behavior that might be examined more closely. Inside the hospital, everyone was strange. It was a world that suspended the ordinary laws of reason. Outside the hospital, there would be some neighbor who noticed some odd behavior. Or a coworker in an office who felt uncomfortable. Perhaps a relative who held unsettled doubts.

That wasn't the case here, she told herself. She had to discover new routes. It was a matter of outwitting the killer she believed hid in the hospital. At that particular game, she was confident of success. It shouldn't, she thought, be all that difficult to outmaneuver a crazy man. Or a man posing as crazy. The problem that existed, she realized with a sense of discouragement, was how she could define the parameters of the game.

Once the rules were in place, she thought, as she dragged herself up the steep stairwell one slow step at a time, feeling the same sort of exhaustion one feels after a long and debilitating illness, she would win. She had been taught to believe that all investigations were ultimately the same, a predictable set piece played out on a well-defined stage. This was true examining the books of some tax-dodging corporation, or finding a bank robber, child pornographer, or scam artist. One item would link to another, and then lead her to a third, until all, or at least enough, of the puzzle was visible. Failed investigations of which she had yet to be a part were the accidental result of one of those links being hidden, or obscured, and that absence exploited. She blew out and shrugged. It was critical, she told herself, for her to create the external pressure necessary for the man they had taken to calling the Angel to make some mistakes.

He would do this, she thought coldly.

The first thing was to search the files for small acts of violence. She didn't think that a man capable of the killings she was investigating would be able to completely hide a propensity for anger, even in the hospital confines. There will be some sign, she told herself. An outburst. A threat. An explosion. She just needed to make sure that she recognized it when it raised itself up. In the off-center world of the mental hospital, someone had to have seen something that didn't fit any of the acceptable patterns of behavior.

She was completely confident, as well, that once she began to ask questions, she would see answers. Lucy had great trust in her ability to cross-examine her way to the truth. She did not consider, at that moment, the distinctions between asking a sane person a question and asking a certifiably crazy person the same inquiry.

The stairwell reminded her a little of some of the dormitories at Harvard. Her footsteps echoed against the concrete risers, and she was abruptly aware that she was alone, in a solitary, confined space. A shaft of awful memory creased through her, and she caught her breath sharply. She exhaled slowly, as if blowing hot air out of her lungs would carry with it the ripples of remembrance that iced over her heart. She looked around wildly, for a moment, thinking I have been here before and then, instantly dismissing this fear. There were no windows, and no sound penetrated from the outside. It was the second time that day, she thought, that noise had surprised her. The first time was when she had realized that there was a constant cacophony about the hospital. Groans, shrieks, catcalls, and mutterings. In short order, she had grown accustomed to the constancy of racket. She stopped in her tracks.

Quiet, she said to herself, is as unsettling as a scream.

The echoes faded around her, and she listened to the raspy sound of her own breath. She waited until a complete silence had enveloped her. She leaned over the black iron banister, searching up and down, to make certain she was alone. She could see no one. The stairwell was well lit, and there were no shadows to hide in. She waited another moment or two, trying to shake off a sense of narrowing that overcame her. It was as if the walls had closed in ever so slightly. There was a chill in the stairwell, which made her think that the heating system in the dormitory didn't penetrate to that space, and she shivered, and then thought that was completely wrong, because she could suddenly feel sweat dripping beneath her arms.

Lucy shook her head, as if by force of vigorous motion she could clear the sensation from within her. She attributed the clammy feeling that she could feel in her palms with the hospital and her role in it. She reassured herself that being one of the few completely reasonable persons around was undoubtedly likely to make her feel nervous, and that it was only the accumulation of all that she had seen and felt in her first days in the hospital that had come back to visit her.

Again, exhaling slowly, she scraped her foot against the floor, making a scratching sound, as if to impose a sense of something ordinary and routine in the stairwell.

But the noise she made chilled her.

Memory scorched her, like acid.

Lucy swallowed hard, reminding herself that it was a rule in her heart to not dwell on what had happened to her so many years earlier. There was no profit in revisiting pain, recollecting fear, or reliving a hurt so profound. She reminded herself of the mantra she had adopted after being assaulted: You only remain a victim, if you allow it. Inadvertently, she started to lift her hand to her scarred cheek, but was stopped by the bulk of the file box she carried. She could feel where she had been damaged, as if the scar glowed, and she remembered the tightening sensation of the emergency room surgeon's stitches, as he'd pulled the separated flaps of skin back together. A nurse had quietly reassured her, while two detectives, a man and a woman, had waited on the other side of a white floor-to-ceiling curtain, while the physicians tended first to the obvious wounds that bled, and then to the harder wounds, that were internal. It had been the first time she'd heard the words rape kit, but not the last, and within a few years, she would have both a professional and personal knowledge of the words. She breathed out again, slowly. The worst night of her life had started in a stairwell much like that one, and then, as quickly as that awful thought arrived, she dismissed it harshly.

I am alone she reminded herself. I am all alone.

Gritting her teeth, her ears still edgily sorting through every ancillary sound and noise, she pushed to the doorway, and shouldered her way into the second floor of the dormitory. Her room Short Blond's former room was adjacent to the stairwell. Doctor Gulptilil had given her a key, and she set the box down, while she retrieved it from her pocket.

She slipped it into the lock, and then stopped.

Her door was open. It slid forward an inch or two, revealing a strip of darkness around the edges.

She stepped back sharply into the corridor, as if the doorway was electrified.

Her head pivoted right and left, and she bent forward slightly, trying to spot someone else, or hear some telltale sign that told her someone was close by. But her eyes seemed suddenly blind and her hearing deafened. She took a quick measurement of all her senses, and they all answered warnings.

Lucy hesitated, unsure of what to do.

Three years prosecuting cases in the sex crimes unit of the Suffolk County prosecutor's office had taught her much. As she had swiftly risen through the ranks to become the assistant chief of the unit, she had immersed herself in case after case, relentlessly pursuing all the minutia of assault after assault. The constancy of crime had created within her a sort of daily testing mechanism, where each and every little act of her existence was held up against an invisible internal standard: Is this going to be the small mistake that gives someone an opportunity? In the larger scheme of things, this meant she was aware that she shouldn't walk alone through a darkened parking lot at night or answer an unexpected knock at her door by opening it. It meant keeping windows locked, being alert and aware and constantly on guard and sometimes it meant carrying the handgun that she was authorized by the prosecutor's office to keep, in her hand. It also meant not repeating the innocent mistakes she herself had made one terrible night when she was a law student.

She bit down on her lip. That weapon was locked in a case inside her bag within the room.

Again she listened, telling herself nothing was amiss, when everything irrational and terrified within her insisted the opposite. She set down the box of patient files, nudging it to the side. The side of caution within her screamed implacably, a din of warning.

She ignored it, and instead, she reached forward for the door handle.

Then, hand on the brass fitting, she stopped.

Had the metal been hot to the touch, she would have failed to notice it.

Breathing out slowly, she stepped back.

She spoke to herself, as if by slowing the speed of consideration, she would give it more weight: The door was locked and now it is open. What are you about to do?

Lucy stepped back a second time. Then she abruptly turned, and started walking quickly down the corridor. Her eyes searched right and left, her ears sharpened, listening. She picked up her pace, so that she was nearly running, a fast jog through the carpeted floors, her feet making a muffled sound beneath her. All the other dormitory rooms on that floor were closed, and silent. She reached the end of the hallway, starting to breathe hard, then tossed herself down the stairwell at that end, her shoes beating a drummer's tattoo against the risers. The stairwell was identical to the one at the other end, that she had climbed up a few minutes earlier, empty and echoing. She pushed through a heavy door, and then, for the first time, heard some voices. She moved toward the sound, taking the steps two at a time, and came upon three young women, standing by the first floor front entrance. All wore white nursing outfits beneath cardigan sweaters of different hues, and they looked up, surprised, as Lucy launched herself in their direction.

Gesturing a little wildly, Lucy grabbed some breath and said, "Excuse me…"

The three nurse-trainees stared at her.

"… I'm sorry to interrupt your conversation," she said, "but I'm Lucy Jones, the prosecutor sent here to…"

"We know who you are, Miss Jones, and why you're here," one of the nurses said. She was a tall black woman, with athletic, broad shoulders and dark hair and matching complexion. "Is something wrong?"

Lucy nodded, and inhaled before replying, trying to regain some composure. "I'm not sure," she said. "I returned here and found my dormitory door unlocked. I'm sure I left it locked this morning when I went over to the Amherst Building…"

"That's not right," one of the other nurses said. "Even if building maintenance or the cleaning service went in there, they're supposed to lock up afterward. That's the rule."

"I'm sorry," Lucy said, "but I was alone up there and…"

The tall black nurse nodded, in understanding. "We're all a little jumpy, Miss Jones, even with Lanky's arrest. These sorts of things just don't happen in the hospital. Why don't we three accompany you back to the room and check it out."

No one had to expand on the phrase these things to understand it.

Lucy sighed. "Thank you," she said. "That is kind of you. I would really appreciate it."

The four women then turned and walked up the stairwell, marching together, a little like a squad of water birds paddling across a lake in the early morning. The nurses continued talking, gossiping really, about a couple of the doctors working in the hospital, and making jokes about the weaselly appearance of the latest group of legal advocates who had arrived at the hospital that week for a round of quasi judicial commitment hearings. Lucy led the way, moving rapidly right up to the door.

"I really appreciate this," she repeated, and then she reached out and grabbed the door handle, twisted it, and pushed.

The door lock stopped her in her tracks. The door ratcheted back and forth, but did not open.

She pushed again.

The nurses looked at her a little oddly.

"It was open," Lucy said. "It was definitely open."

"It seems locked now," the black nurse said.

"I'm sure it was open. I put my hand on the handle and put in the key and before I turned it the door opened just a little," Lucy said. Her voice, however, lacked conviction. She was suddenly filled with doubts.

There was a momentary, awkward pause, and then Lucy removed her room key from her pocket, slid it into the lock and opened the door. The three nurses hovered behind her. "Why don't we go in and make a quick check?" one said.

Lucy pushed the door open, and stepped inside the room. It was dark inside and she flicked the switch for the overhead light. Abruptly the small space lit up. It was a sparse, narrow area, a monk like room with nothing on the walls, a sturdy chest of drawers, a single bed, and a small brown wooden desk and hard backed chair. Her suitcase remained open in the center of the bed, on top of a red corduroy bedspread, which was the only splash of vibrant color in the room. Everything else was either oaken brown, or white, like the walls. As the three nurses watched, Lucy opened the small closet on one wall, and peered inside at its emptiness. Then she walked over to the small bathroom, and checked the shower stall. She even dropped to one knee and checked under the bed, although they could all see that there was no one concealed under there. Lucy rose up, dusted herself off, and turned to the three nurses. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm quite certain the door was open, and I had the sensation that there was someone in the room waiting for me. I've put you out and…"

But all three nurses shook their heads. "Nothing to apologize for," the black nurse said.

"I'm not apologizing," Lucy said sturdily. "The door was open. Now it's locked."

But inwardly, Lucy was unsure whether this was true.

The nurses were silent, until the black nurse shrugged and spoke slowly, "Like I said before, we're all a little jumpy, and it makes more sense to be safe than sorry."

The others murmured in agreement.

"You okay now?" the nurse asked.

"Yes. Fine. I appreciate your concern," Lucy said, a little stiffly.

"Well, you need help again, you just find anyone. Don't hesitate. Best to trust your feelings in times like these."

The nurse didn't elaborate on what she meant by times like these.

Lucy locked the door behind the nurses, as they walked back down the hallway. She was a little embarrassed, as she turned and leaned up against the door, pushing it with her back. She looked around and thought to herself: You weren't wrong. Someone was here. Someone was waiting.

She glanced over at her bag. Or someone was just having a look. She stepped to the modest collection of clothes and toiletries that she had brought with her and realized, in that second, that something was missing. She didn't know what, but she knew something had been taken from her room.

It was you, wasn't it?

Right there, right at that moment, you tried to tell Lucy something important about yourself, and she missed it. It was something critical, and something frightening, far more frightening than anything she felt as she closed that door behind her with a satisfying thud. She was still thinking like a normal person, and that was to her great disadvantage.

Peter the Fireman looked across the dormitory room, trying hard to separate the pain of distant memory from the immediate task at hand. Uncertainty marred his thoughts, and he felt the bitterness that indecision can nurture. He thought of himself at the very least as a man of determination and a man of decisiveness, and he was uncomfortable with doubts. He knew it had been impulse which prompted him to volunteer his and C-Bird's services to Lucy Jones, and he was still certain that it had been the correct choice. But his enthusiasm hadn't contemplated failure, and he strained to see a manner in which they could succeed. Everywhere he considered, he saw restraints and prohibitions, and he did not see how they could overcome all those limitations.

In the world of the mental hospital, he considered himself to be the sole pragmatist.

He sighed. It was deep into the night and he was leaning up against the wall, his feet stretched out on the bed, listening to the racket of sleep surrounding him. Even the nighttime knew no respite from pain, he thought. The people in the hospital were unable to flee their troubles, no matter how many narcotics Gulp-a-pill had prescribed. He thought this was what was so insidious about mental illness; that it took so much force of will and depth of treatment to simply get to a position where one could consider trying to get better, that the task seemed almost Herculean for most, and well-nigh impossible for some. He heard one long moan, and almost turned in that direction, but then stopped, because he recognized the author. It saddened him, sometimes, when Francis tossed in his sleep, because he knew the young man didn't really deserve the hurts that emerged unwelcome in the darkness.

He didn't think he fit the same category.

Peter tried to relax, but could not. For a moment, he wondered whether when he closed his eyes, if the same turmoil erupted from his sleep sounds.

The difference, he told himself, between him and all the others, including his young friend, was that he was guilty, and they probably were not.

In his nostrils, inexplicably, he could suddenly smell the thick, sweet odor of some indistinct accelerant. The first whiff screamed gasoline, the second, a benzine -based lighter fluid.

He almost shot up in surprise, launching himself out of bed, the sensation was so powerful. His first instinct was to somehow raise the alarm, organize the men, get them out, before the inevitable fire burst forth. In his mind's eye, he suddenly saw streaks of red and yellow flame searching the bedding, the walls, the floor beneath their feet, for fuel. He could sense the deep desperate choking that would inevitably follow, as thick curtains of smoke fell across the stage of the room. The door was locked, as it was every night, and he could hear the panicked men, screaming, calling for help, pounding on the walls. Every muscle in his body tensed, and then, just as rapidly, relaxed, as he breathed in, and he realized the smell flitting through his nose was as much a hallucination as any of those that plagued Francis or Nappy or even the particularly dire ones that had afflicted Lanky.

He sometimes thought that his entire life had been defined by odors. Beer and whiskey smells that followed his father, mingling freely with the odors of dried sweat and dirt from hard work at some construction site or another. Sometimes, too, his father wore thick diesel smells from fixing the heavy equipment. And burying his head into the large man's chest was to come away with a nose filled with the stale scent of too many of the cigarettes that eventually would kill him. His mother, in contrast, always had a chamomile scent to her, because she battled hard against the harshness of the detergents that she used in the laundry she took in. Sometimes, beneath the heavy smell of the soaps she liked, he could just catch a whiff of the sharp odor of bleach. She wore a far better scent on Sundays, when she was scrubbed, but had spent some time in the kitchen early, baking, so that in her churchgoing finery she combined an earthy, bread-smell, with an insistent cleanliness, as if that was what God would want. Church was stiff clothes beneath the white and gold robes of the altar boy and incense that sometimes made him sneeze. He remembered all those scents, as if they were in the hospital alongside him.

The war had given him a whole new world of odors to remember. Thick jungle smells of vegetation and heat, cordite and white phosphorous from fire-fights. Clammy smells of smoke and napalm in the distance, that mingled with the claustrophobic smells of the bush that entwined him. He grew accustomed to the smells of blood, vomit, and fecal matter that mixed so often with death. There were exotic cooking smells, in the villages they passed through, and dangerous smells of swamps and flooded fields that they maneuvered past.

There was the acrid, familiar smell of marijuana back in the base camps, as well, and the harsh, eye-stinging smell of cleaning fluids used on weapons. It was a place of unfamiliar and unsettling scents.

He had learned, when he returned, that fire had dozens of different smells at all its different stages and in all its different incarnations. Wood fires were distinct from chemical fires, which had little similarity to fires that gutted concrete. The first licking, tentative burst was different from the moment where it rose up and took flower, and. different again from the crackling smell of a fire in control of its own voracious future. And it was all distinct from the heavy odors of charred timbers and twisted metals that followed, when it had been beaten back and defeated. He had known, then, too, the unique odor of exhaustion, as if bone-weary fatigue had a scent all its own. When he had signed up for arson investigator's school, one of the first things they taught him was how to use his nose, because gasoline that was used to start a fire smelled different from kerosene and that smelled different from all the other ways that people created destruction. Some were subtle, with distant, elusive bouquets. Others were obvious and amateurish, demanding attention from the first moment he stepped onto the rubble of whatever remained.

When it had come time to set his own fire, he'd used regular gasoline purchased at a filling station barely a mile away from the church. Purchased with a credit card in his own name. He didn't want anyone to have any doubts as to who authored that particular blaze.

In the semidarkness of the madhouse dormitory, Peter the Fireman shook his head, although in denial of precisely what, he was uncertain. That night he'd controlled his murderous rage, and simply taken everything he'd learned about how to conceal the origin of a fire, everything that was about caution and subtlety, and ignored it. He'd left a trail so obvious that even the most callow investigator would have had no trouble finding him. He had set the fire, then walked through the nave to the vestry, voice raised in warning, but believing that he was alone. He had stopped, as he heard the fire start to move eagerly behind him, and stared up at a stained glass window, that suddenly seemed to glow with life, as it caught the reflection of the fire. He'd crossed himself, just as he'd done a thousand times, then stepped outside, to the front lawn, where he'd waited to see it explode in full flower, and then he'd walked home to wait in the darkness on the front steps of his mother's house for the police to arrive. He knew he had done a good job, and he'd known that even the most dedicated ladder company wouldn't succeed at extinguishing the blaze until it was too late.

What he hadn't known was that the priest whom he had come to hate was inside. On a fold-out cot in the main office, and not, at home in his bed, where he, by all rights and usual behavior, should have been. Sleeping in the arms of a heavy narcotic, no doubt prescribed to him by a physician-parishioner, concerned that the good father looked pale and drawn and that his sermons seemed marred by anxiety. As well they should have been, for he well knew that Peter the Fireman knew what he had done to his little nephew, and knew, as well, that of all the members of the parish, Peter, alone, was likely to do something about it. This had always bothered Peter: There were so many others that the priest could have easily preyed upon, who weren't related to someone who might rise up. Peter wondered, too, if the same drug that had left the priest asleep in his bed while death crackled all around him, was what Gulp-a-pill liked to give the patients in the hospital. He guessed that they were, a symmetry that he thought pleasantly and almost laughably ironic.

Peter whispered out loud, "What's done is done."

Then he glanced around, to see if the noise of his words had awakened anyone.

He tried to close his eyes. He knew he needed to sleep, and yet, held no hope that it would bring him any rest.

He blew out in frustration, and swung his feet over the side of the bunk. Peter told himself to head into the bathroom, get a drink of water. He rubbed his hands across his face, as if he could wipe away some of his memories.

And, as he did this, he had the sudden sensation that he was being watched.

He straightened up abruptly, instantly alert, his eyes immediately darting about the bunk room.

Most of the men were shrouded in shadow. A little light crept into one corner from the bank of windows. He searched back and forth across the rows of unsettled men, but he could see no one awake, and certainly no one staring in his direction. He tried to dismiss the sensation, but could not. It filled his stomach with a nervous energy, as if all the senses he had of sight, and hearing and smell and taste and touch were suddenly screaming warnings to him. He tried to tell himself to calm down, because he was beginning to think that he might just be turning as paranoid as all the men who surrounded him, but as he reassured himself, he just caught a bit of motion out of the corner of his eye.

He pivoted in that direction and for a single second, he saw a face staring in through the small observation window in the entranceway door. Their eyes met, and then, just as abruptly, the face disappeared, dropping from view.

Peter jumped up, and moving fast through the wan darkness, he dodged his way between the sleeping men to the doorway. He thrust his own face up to the thick glass, and peered out into the corridor. He could only see a few feet in either direction, and all he saw was dark emptiness.

He placed his hand on the doorknob and pulled. It was locked.

A great surge of anger and frustration swept over him. He gritted his teeth and believed somewhere deep within himself that he was always destined to find that which he wanted was unreachable, beyond a locked door.

The weak light, the shadowy darkness, the thick glass, all had conspired to prevent Peter from noting even the smallest of details in the face. All he could take away was the ferocity in the eyes that had settled on him. The look had been uncompromising and evil, and, perhaps for the first time, he thought that maybe Lanky was strangely correct in all his protests and entreaties. Something evil had crept unbidden into the hospital, and Peter knew that this evil knew all about him. He tried to tell himself that his understanding this indicated strength. But he suspected that this was perhaps a lie.

Chapter 15

By the arrival of midday, I was exhausted. Too little sleep. Too many electric thoughts running rip pity-zip through my imagination. I sat alone, taking a modest break, cross-legged on the floor, smoking a cigarette. I believed that the shafts of sunlight streaming through the windows, carrying with it the daytime's ration of thickly oppressive valley heat, had chased away the Angel. Like some Gothic novelist's creature, he was a charter member of the night. All the noon sounds of commerce, of people moving about the city, the diesel rumble of a truck or bus, a distant siren from a patrolman's car, the thump of the newspaper deliveryman tossing his bundle to the sidewalk, school children talking loudly as they made their way down the pavement, all conspired to drive him away. He and I both knew that I was far more vulnerable in the silent midnight hours. Night brings doubt. Darkness sows fears. I expected him to return as soon as the sun fled. There's no pill as yet invented that can alleviate the symptoms of loneliness and isolation that the end of the day brings. But in the meantime, I was safe, or, at least as safe as I could reasonably expect. No matter how many locks and bolts I had on my door, they wouldn't keep out my worst fears. This observation made me laugh out loud.

I reviewed the text that had flown from my pencil and thought: I've taken far too many liberties. Peter the Fireman had taken me aside the following morning shortly after breakfast and whispered to me: "I saw someone. In the main entranceway observation window. Staring in, just like he was looking for one of us.

I couldn't sleep, and as I lay there in my bunk I got the sensation that someone was watching me. When I looked up, I saw him."

"Did you recognize him?" I asked.

"Not a chance." Peter had shaken his head slowly. "Just one second, he was there, then, when I swung out of bed, he was gone. I went to the window and looked out, but couldn't see anyone."

"What about the nurse on duty?"

"I couldn't see her, either."

"Where was she?"

"I don't know. In the bathroom? Taking a walk? Maybe upstairs, talking with the upstairs nurse on duty? Asleep in her chair?"

"What do you think?" I'd asked, nervousness starting to creep into my voice.

"I'd like to think it was a hallucination. We have lots of those in here."

"Was it?"

Peter had smiled, and shook his head. "No such luck."

"Who do you think it was?"

He laughed, but without much humor and not because there was some pending joke. "C-Bird, you already know who I think it was."

I stopped and took a deep breath and bit down on all the echoes within me.

"Why do you think he came to the doorway?"

"He wanted to see us."

That was what I remembered with complete clarity. I remembered where we were, how we were dressed. Peter had on his Red Sox cap, slightly pushed back from his forehead. I recalled what we ate that morning: Pancakes that tasted like cardboard inundated in thick, sweet syrup that had more to do with some food scientist's chemical concoction than a New England maple tree. I stubbed out my cigarette on the bare apartment floor and chewed over my recollections instead of the food I undoubtedly needed. That was what he had told me. I guessed about all the other stuff. I wasn't swear-on-the-Bible sure that the night before he was trapped in the web of sleeplessness by what he'd done so many months earlier. He didn't directly tell me that was what kept him lying awake in his bunk, so that when the sensation of being watched came over him, he was alert to it. I don't know if I even thought about it back then. But now, years later, I just figured that that was what it had to be. It made sense, of course, because Peter was ensnared in the briar patch of memory. And, before too long, all these things became conf lated and so, to tell his story, and Lucy's and my own, too, as well, I realize that I have to take some liberties. Truth is a slippery thing, and I'm not all that comfortable with it. Nobody mad is. So, if I get it down right, maybe it's wrong. Maybe it's exaggerated. Maybe it didn't happen quite the way I remember it, or else, maybe my memory is so stretched and tortured by so many years of drugs that the truth will forever elude me.

I think it is only poets who romanticize that insanity is somehow liberating, when the opposite is true. Every voice I heard, every fear I felt, every delusion, every compulsion, every little thing that pulled together to create the sad me who was banished from the house where I had grown up and sent off in restraints to the Western State Hospital, none of it had anything in common with freedom or liberation or even being unique in some positive way. The Western State Hospital was just the place where we were kept while we engaged in the construction of our own internal sort of detention.

Not so true for Peter, because he was never as crazy as the rest of us were.

Not true either, for the Angel.

And, in a curious way, Lucy was the bridge between the two of them.

We were still standing outside the dining room, waiting for Lucy to appear. Peter seemed to be thinking hard, replaying in his mind what he'd seen and what had happened the prior night. I watched him as he seemed to pick up every piece of those few moments, lift them into the light and slowly turn them, like an archaeologist might, as he came across some relic, gently blowing the dust of time away. Peter was much the same with observations; it was as if he thought that if he just twisted whatever it was mentally into the right angle, holding it up to the right shaft of light, he would see it for what it truly was.

As I watched him, he turned to me, and said, "We know this, now: The Angel doesn't live in the dormitory with us. He might be upstairs in the other dormitory room. He might come from another building, although I haven't figured out how, yet. But at least we can exclude our roommates. And we know another thing. He has learned that we are somehow involved in all this, but he doesn't know us, not well enough, and so he is watching."

I spun about in the corridor.

Cato was leaning up against a wall, eyes fixed on the ceiling beyond us. He might have been listening to Peter. He might have been listening to some hidden voice deep within himself. Impossible to tell. A senile old man, his hospital pajama pants having come loose, wandered past us, drooling slightly around an unshaven jaw, mumbling and staggering, as if he couldn't understand that the reason he was having trouble walking stemmed from the pants dropped around his ankles. And the hulking retarded man, who'd been threatening the other day, lurched past, in the old man's wake, but when he briefly turned toward us, his eyes were filled with fear and gone was all the anger and aggression from the other day. His medications must have been altered, I thought.

"How can we tell who is watching?" I asked. My head pivoted to the right and left, and I felt a cold shaft slide through me, when I thought that any one of the hundreds of men staring ahead in reverie could actually be assessing and measuring, taking stock of me.

Peter shrugged. "Well, that's the trick, isn't it. We're the ones doing the searching, but the Angel's the one doing the watching. Just stay alert. Something will come up."

I looked up and saw Lucy Jones coming through the front entrance to Amherst. She paused to speak with one of the nurses and! saw Big Black amble over to join her. I saw her hand him a couple of manila case files from the top of the overflowing file box that she had carried in and then set down on the glistening floor. Peter and I took a step toward her. But we were interrupted by Newsman, who saw us and skipped up into our path. His eyeglasses were slightly askew on his face, and a shock of hair jumped off his scalp like a rocket ship. His grin was as lopsided as his attitude.

"Bad news, Peter," he said, although he was smiling, as if that could somehow deflate the information. "It's always bad news."

Peter did not reply and Newsman looked a little disappointed bending his head slightly to the side, "Okay," he said, slowly. Then he looked down toward Lucy Jones, and he seemed to begin to concentrate hard. It was almost as if the act of remembering took a physical effort. After a few moments straining, he broke into a grin. "Boston Globe. September 20th, 1977. Local News Section, page 2B: Refusing to Be A Victim; Harvard Law Grad Named Sex Crimes Unit Head."

Peter stopped. He turned quietly to Newsman. "How much of the rest do you remember?"

Newsman hesitated again, doing the heavy lifting of searching his memory, and then he recited: "Lucy K. Jones, twenty-eight, a three-year veteran of the traffic and felony divisions, has been named to head up the newly formed Sex Crimes Unit of the Suffolk County Prosecutor's Office, a spokesman announced today. Miss Jones, a 1974 graduate of Harvard Law School will be in charge of handling sexual assaults and coordinate with the homicide division on killings that stem from rapes, the spokesman said."

Newsman took a breath, then rushed on. "In an interview, Miss Jones said that she was uniquely qualified for the position, because she had been the victim of an assault during her first year at Harvard. She was driven to join the prosecutor's office, she said, despite numerous offers from corporate law firms, because the man who'd assaulted her had never been arrested. Her perspective on sex crimes, she said, came from an intimate knowledge of the emotional damage an assault can create and the frustration with a criminal justice system ill equipped to deal with these sorts of violent acts. She said she hoped to establish a model unit that other district attorneys around the state and nation can copy…"

Newsman hesitated, and then said, "There was a picture, too. And a little more. I'm trying to remember."

Peter nodded. "No follow-up feature in the Lifestyle Section in the next day or so?" he asked quietly.;' Again, Newsman scoured his memory. "No…," he said slowly. The smaller man grinned, and then, as he always did, immediately wandered off, looking for a copy of that day's newspaper. Peter watched him walk off, then turned back to me. "Well, that explains one thing and starts to explain others, doesn't it, C-Bird?" I thought so, but instead of answering the question, responded, "What?"

"Well, for one thing, the scar on her cheek," Peter said.

The scar, of course.

I should have paid more attention to the scar.

As I sat in my apartment picturing the white line that straggled down Lucy Jones's face, I repeated the same mistake I'd made so many years earlier. I saw the flaw in her perfect skin and wondered how it had changed her life. I thought to myself that I would have liked to have touched it once.

I lit another cigarette. Acrid smoke spiraled in the still air. I might have sat there, lost in memory, had there not been a series of sharp knocks at my door.

I struggled to my feet in alarm. My train of thought fled, replaced by a sense of nervousness. I stepped toward the entranceway, and then I heard my name called out sharply. "Francis!" This was followed by another series of blows against the thick wood of the door. "Francis! Open up! Are you there?"

I stopped, and for a moment considered the curious juxtaposition of the demand: Open up! followed by the query: Are you there? At best backward.

Of course, I recognized the voice. I waited a moment, because I suspected that within a second or two, I would hear another familiar tone.

"Francis, please. Open the door so we can see you…"

Sister One and Sister Two. Megan, who was slender and demanding as a child, but grew into the size of a professional linebacker and developed the same temperament, and Colleen, half her bulk and the shy sort who combines a sense of timidity with a dizzy can-you-do-it-for-me-because-I-wouldn't-know-where-to-start incompetence about the simplest things in life. I had no patience for either of them.

"Francis, we know you're in there, and I want you to open this door immediately!"

This was followed by another bang bang bang against the door.

I leaned my forehead up against the hard wood, then pivoted, so that my back was against it, as if I could help block their entrance. After a moment or two, I turned around again, and spoke out loud: "What do you want?"

Sister One: "We want you to open up!"

Sister Two: "We want to make sure you're okay."

Predictable.

"I'm fine," I said, lying easily. "I'm busy right now. Come back some other time."

"Francis, are you taking your medications? Open up right now!" Megan's voice had all the authority and about the same amount of patience as a Marine Corps drill sergeant on an exceptionally hot day at Parris Island.

"Francis, we're worried about you!" Colleen probably worried about everyone. She worried constantly about me, about her own family, about the folks and her sister, about people she read about in the morning paper, or saw on the news at night, about the mayor and the governor and probably the president as well, and the neighbors or the family down the street from her who seemed to have fallen on hard times. Worrying was her style. She was the sister closest to my elderly and inattentive parents, had been since we were children, always seeking their approval for everything she did and probably everything she even thought.

"I told you," I said carefully, not raising my voice, but also not opening the door, "I'm fine. I'm just busy."

"Busy with what?" Megan asked.

"Just busy with my own project," I said. I bit down on my lip. That wouldn't work, I thought to myself. Not for an instant. She would just become more insistent because I no doubt pricked her curiosity.

"Project? What sort of project? Did your social worker tell you you could do a project? Francis, open up right now! We drove all the way over here because we're worried about you, and if you don't open up…"

She didn't need to finish her threat. I wasn't sure what she would do, but I suspected that whatever it was, it would be worse than opening up. I cracked the door open approximately six inches, and positioned myself in the opening to block them from entering, keeping my hand on the door, ready to slam it shut.

"See? Here I am, in the flesh. None the worse for wear. Just exactly like I was yesterday, the same as I'll be tomorrow."

The two ladies inspected me carefully. I wished that I had cleaned myself up, made myself a little more presentable before heading to the door. My unshaved cheeks, scraggly, unwashed hair and nicotine-stained fingernails probably gave off the wrong impression. I tried to tuck in my shirt a little, but realized I was only bringing attention to how slovenly I must have appeared. Colleen gasped a bit when she saw me. A bad sign, that. Meanwhile, Megan tried to peer past me, and I guessed that she saw the writing on the living room walls. She started to open her mouth, then stopped, considered what she intended to say, then started again.

"Are you taking your medications?"

"Of course."

"Are you taking all your medications?" She emphasized each word carefully, as if she was speaking with a particularly slow child.

"Yes." She was the sort of woman that it was easy to lie to. I didn't even feel all that guilty.

"I'm not sure I believe you, Francis."

"Believe what you like."

Bad answer. I kicked myself inwardly.

"Are you hearing voices again?"

"No. Not in the slightest. Whatever gave you that crazy idea?"

"Are you getting anything to eat? Are you sleeping?" This was Colleen speaking. A little less intense, but, on the other hand, a little more probing.

"Three squares per day and a good eight hours per night. In fact, Mrs. Santiago fixed me a nice plate of chicken and rice the other day." I spoke briskly.

"What are you doing in there?" Megan demanded to know.

"Just taking inventory of my life. Nothing special."

She shook her head. She didn't believe this, and kept craning her head forward.

"Why won't you let us in?" Colleen asked.

"I have a need for my privacy."

"You're hearing voices again," Megan said decisively. "I can just tell."

I hesitated, then asked, "How? Can you hear them, as well?"

This, of course, angered her even more.

"You need to let us in immediately!"

I shook my head. "I want to be left alone," I replied. Colleen looked on the verge of tears. "I just want you to leave me alone. Why are you here, anyway?"

"We told you. We're worried about you," Colleen said.

"Why? Did someone tell you to worry about me?"

The two sisters stole a look between them and then came back to me. "No," Megan said, trying to modulate the insistence of her tone. "We just haven't heard from you in so long…"

I smiled at them. It was nice that now we were all lying.

"I've been busy. If you'd like to make an appointment, well, have your people call my secretary, and I'll try to work you in before Labor Day."

They didn't even laugh at my joke. I started to close the door, but Megan stepped forward and placed her hand on it, halting its progress. "What are those words I see?" she demanded, pointing. "What are you writing?"

"That would be my business, not yours," I said.

"Are you writing about mother and father? About us? That wouldn't be fair!"

I was a little astonished. My instant diagnosis was that she was more paranoid than I am. "What is it," I said slowly, "that makes you think you are interesting enough to write about?"

And then I closed the door, probably a little too hard, because the slamming sound resonated through the little apartment building like a gunshot.

They knocked again, but I ignored it. When I stepped away, I could hear a widespread murmuring of familiar voices within me congratulating me on what I'd done. They always liked my small displays of defiance and independence. But they were swiftly followed by a distant, echoing sound of mocking laughter, that rose in pitch and erased the familiar sounds. It was a little like a crow's cry, carried on a strong wind, passing invisibly over my head. I shuddered, and shrank down a little, almost as if I could duck beneath a sound.

I knew who it was. "You can laugh!" I shouted out at the Angel. "But who else knows what happened?"

Francis took a seat across from Lucy's desk, while Peter paced around in the back of the small office. "So," the Fireman said with a small amount of impatience, "Miss Prosecutor, what's the drill?"

Lucy gestured toward some case files. "I think it is time to start bringing in some patients to talk. Those who have some record of violence."

Peter nodded, but seemed a little dismayed. "Surely when you started reading case files you realized that covers just about everybody in here, except the senile and the retarded, and they just might have some violent entries, as well. We need to find some disqualifying characteristics, I think, Miss Jones…," he started, but she held up her hand.

"Peter, from now on just call me Lucy," she said. "And that way I won't have to call you by your last name because I know from your file that your identity is supposed to be if not exactly hidden, at least, well, de-emphasized, correct? Because of your notoriety in some rather significant parts of the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts. And, I know, as well, that upon arrival here, you made a point of telling Gulptilil that you no longer had a name, an act of disassociation which he interpreted as having some wish to no longer bring some sort of unspecified shame on your large family."

Peter stopped pacing, and for an instant Francis thought he was going to get angry. One of his voices shouted out Pay attention1, and he kept his own mouth shut and watched the two of them carefully. Lucy wore a grin, as if she knew she had discomfited Peter, and he had the look of someone trying to come up with the right riposte. After a moment or two, he leaned back against the wall, and smiled, a look that wasn't wholly dissimilar to that worn by Lucy.

"Okay, Lucy," he said slowly. "First names are fine. But tell me this, if you will. Don't you think interviewing any patient with a violent past, or even a violent act or two since he arrived here, will ultimately be fruitless? More critically, just how much time do you have, Lucy? How long do you think you can take, coming up with an answer here?"

Lucy's grin fled abruptly. "Why would you ask that?"

"Because I wonder if your boss back in Boston is fully aware of what you're up to out here."

Silence filled the small room. Francis was alert to every movement from his companions: the look in the eyes, and behind them, the positioning of arms and shoulders that might indicate subtle differences from the words spoken.

"Why wouldn't you think that I have the full cooperation of my office?"

Peter simply asked, "Do you?"

Francis saw that Lucy was about to answer one way, then another, and finally a third, before she replied.

"I do and I don't," she finally said slowly.

"That sounds to me like two different explanations."

She nodded.

"My presence here is not yet part of an official case file. I believe one should be opened. Others are undecided. Or more accurately, unsure of our jurisdiction. So when I wanted to head out here, just as soon as I heard about Short Blond's killing, there was some contentious debate in my office. The upshot was that I was permitted to go, but not on an official basis, exactly."

"I'm guessing that those circumstances weren't precisely outlined to Gulptilil."

"You'd be right about that, Peter."

He moved about the back of the room again, as if by motion he could add momentum to his thoughts. "How much time do you need before the hospital administration gets fed up or your office wants you back?"

"Not long."

Again, Peter seemed to hesitate, sorting through his observations. Francis thought that Peter saw facts and details in much the same way that a mountain guide did: seeing obstacles as opportunities, measuring achievement sometimes in single steps. "So," Peter said, as if he was suddenly speaking to himself, "Lucy is here, persuaded that a criminal is here, as well, and determined to find him. Because she has a… special interest. Right?"

Lucy nodded. "Right." Any amusement had fled her face. "Your days at Western State certainly haven't affected your investigative abilities."

He shook his head. "Oh, I think they have," he said. He didn't say whether this was for the better or for the worse. "And what might that special interest be?"

After a long pause, Lucy bent her head lower. "Peter, I don't think we know each other quite well enough. But let me say this: The individual who committed the other three killings managed to get my personal attention by taunting my office."

"Taunting?"

"Yes. In the you-can't-catch-me vein."

"You don't want to be more specific?"

"Not right now. These are details that we would hope to use in an eventual prosecution. So "

Peter interrupted her. "You don't want to share specifics with a couple of crazy guys."

She took a deep breath. "Not any more than you would like to be specific if I asked about how you spread gasoline through that church. And why."

Both were silent for a moment, again. Then Peter turned to Francis, and said, "C-Bird, what links all these crimes together? Why these killings?"

Francis realized he was being given a test, and he answered quickly. "The victims' appearance, for one thing. Age and isolation; they all were in the habit of traveling in a regular fashion by themselves. They were young and they had short hair and slender physiques. They were found in some location, exposed to elements, that was other than where they were killed, which complicates matters for the police. You told me that. And in different jurisdictions, as well, which is another problem. You told me that, too. And they were all mutilated in the same way, progressively. The missing fingers, just like Short Blond."

Francis took a deep breath. "Am I right?"

Lucy Jones nodded, and Peter the Fireman smiled. "Dead-on," he said. "We need to be alert, Lucy, because young C-Bird here has a far better memory for detail and observation than anyone gives him credit for." Then he stopped, seeming to think for a moment. Once again, he started to say one thing, then appeared to change direction at the last moment. "All right, Lucy. You should keep some information that might help us to yourself. For the time being. What's the drill, then?"

"We have to find a way to find this man," she said stiffly, but slightly relieved, as if she understood, in that second that Peter meant to ask another question or two that would have turned the conversation in a different direction. Francis couldn't tell if there was gratitude in what she said, but he saw that his two companions were staring tightly at each other, speaking without saying words, as if they both understood something that had slid past Francis in that moment. Francis thought that might be true, but he did observe something else: Peter and Lucy had established some credentials that seemed to him to place both of them on the same plane of existence. Peter was a little less the mental patient, and Lucy a little less the prosecutor, and what they both suddenly were was something more akin to partners.

"The problem is," Peter said carefully, "I believe he has already found us."

Chapter 16

If Lucy was surprised by what Peter said, she didn't immediately display it.

"What do you mean, exactly?" she asked.

"I'm guessing that the Angel already knows that you are here and, presumably, the why of your presence, as well. I think there aren't quite as many secrets around here as one might like. More accurately, there's a different definition of what constitutes a secret. So I suspect he's fully aware that you're here hunting him, despite Gulptilil and Evans's promises of confidentiality. How long do you suppose those promises lasted? A day? Maybe two? I would wager that just about everyone here who can know, does know. And I would suspect our friend the Angel is alert to the idea that somehow C-Bird and I are helping you."

"You reach these conclusions precisely how?" Lucy asked slowly. There was a dry and cautious suspiciousness in her voice that Francis noted, but that Peter seemed to ignore.

"Well, it's mostly supposition, of course," Peter said. "But one thing leads to another…"

"Well," Lucy said, "What's the first one thing?"

Peter rapidly filled her in on the vision that he'd observed through the window the previous night. As he described what he'd seen, and how quickly he'd moved to the doorway in an effort to catch a better look, he seemed to watch Lucy equally closely, as if to assess her response with some precision. He finished by saying, "And so, if he knows about us, enough to want to see us, then he knows about you. Hard to tell, but…well, there you have it." He shrugged slightly, but his eyes wore conviction that contradicted his body language.

"What time last night did this happen?" Lucy asked.

"Late. Well after midnight."

Peter observed her hesitation. "There's some detail you would like to share?"

Again, Lucy hesitated. Then she said, "I believe I, too, was visited last night."

Peter seemed to rock back, slightly alarmed. "How so?"

Lucy took a breath, then described going back to the nurse-trainees' dormitory and finding her door unlocked, then locked upon her return. Although she was unable to say who, or why, and while she remained convinced that something had been taken, she was unable to say what. Everything seemed to be in place and intact. She had taken the time to inventory her small collection of possessions and could not find anything missing.

"So," Lucy said briskly, "as far as I can tell it's all there. Still, I can't shake the sensation that something is gone."

Peter nodded. "Perhaps you should double-check. Something obvious would be an article of clothing. Something a little more subtle would be" he seemed to think hard for a moment "some hair from your brush. Or perhaps he took a swipe of your lipstick and ran it down his chest. Or sprayed some perfume on the back of his hand. Something like that."

Lucy seemed slightly taken aback by that suggestion, and she shifted about in her seat as if it was a little hot, but before she replied, Francis shook his head back and forth vigorously. Peter turned to him, and asked, "What is it, C-Bird?"

Francis stuttered slightly, as he spoke. "I don't think you're quite right, Peter," he said, speaking quietly. "He doesn't need to take anything. Not clothes or a toothbrush or hair or underwear or perfume or anything that Lucy brought with her, because he's already taken something far bigger, and much more important. She just hasn't seen it quite yet. Maybe because she doesn't want to see it."

Peter smiled. "And what would that be, Francis?" he asked slowly, his voice a little low, but filled with an odd pleasure.

Francis's voice quavered slightly as he responded. "He took her privacy."

The three of them were quiet for a moment, as Francis's words filled each of them. "And then something else," he added cautiously.

"What's that?" Lucy demanded. Her face had reddened slightly, and she'd started to tap the end of a pencil against the surface of the desk.

"Maybe your safety, too," Francis said.

The weight of silence grew in the small room. Francis felt as if he'd overstepped some boundary with what he had said. Peter and Lucy were both professionals at the process of investigation, and he wasn't, and he was surprised that he'd even had the bravery to say anything, especially something quite as provocative as what he'd suggested. One of his more insistent voices shouted from deep within him Be quiet! Keep your mouth shut! Don't volunteer! Stay hidden! Stay safe! He was unsure whether to listen to this voice or not. After a moment, Francis shook his head and said, "Maybe I'm wrong about this. It just came into my head all of a sudden, and I didn't really think it through…"

Lucy held up her hand. "I think it's a most pertinent observation, C-Bird," Lucy said, in the slightly academic way that she sometimes adopted. "And one that I should keep in mind. But what about the second visit of the night, over to the window looking in on you and Peter? What do you make of that moment?"

Francis stole a quick sideways glance at Peter, who nodded and made a small encouraging gesture. "He could see us anytime, Francis. In the dayroom or at a meal, or even coming and going to a group session. Hell, we're always hanging out in the corridors. He could get a good look at us then. In fact, he probably has. We're just not aware of it. Why risk moving about at night?"

"He probably has watched us during the daytime, Peter, you're right about that," Francis said slowly. "But it doesn't mean the same thing to him."

"How so?"

"Because during the day, he's just another patient."

"Yes? Sure. But…"

"But at night, he can become himself."

Peter spoke first, his voice filled with a kind of admiration. "So," he said with a little laugh, "it turns out that just as I suspected, C-Bird sees."

Francis shrugged a little and smiled, thinking that he was getting a compliment and recognizing in some deep and unfamiliar recess that he had very rarely ever been paid any sort of compliment during any of his twenty-one years on the planet. Criticism, complaints, and underscoring his obvious and persistent inadequacy had been what he had known on a pretty steady basis up to that point. Peter leaned across and gave him a little punch on the arm. "You're going to make a terrific cop yet, Francis," he said. "A little odd-looking, perhaps, but a dandy one, nevertheless. We'll need to get you a bit more of an Irish brogue, and a much bigger stomach and puffy red cheeks and a nightstick to swing around and a penchant for doughnuts. No, an addiction to doughnuts. But we'll get you there, sooner or later."

Then he turned to Lucy, and said, "This gives me an idea."

She, too, was smiling, because, Francis thought, it wasn't hard to find the absurd portrait of the irrepressibly skinny Francis as the burly beat cop fairly amusing. "An idea would be good, Peter," she said in reply. "An idea would be excellent."

Peter remained quiet, but for a moment he moved his hand in front of him, like a conductor in front of a symphony, or perhaps a mathematician trying out a formula in the air in front of him, lacking a blackboard on which to scribble numbers and equations. Then he pulled up a chair, reversing it, so that he was sitting backward on it, which, Francis thought, gave his posture and his ideas some urgency, as he spoke.

"We have no physical evidence, right? So that's not a road we can take. And we have no help, especially from the local cops who processed the crime scene, investigated the murder, and arrested Lanky, right?"

"Right," Lucy said. "Right. And right again."

"And we don't really believe, despite what Gulp-a-pill and Mister Evil have said, that they're gonna help much, right?"

"Right again. I think it's clear that they're probably trying to decide what approach creates the least problem."

"True. Not hard to picture the two of them sitting in Gulp-a-pill's office, with Miss Luscious taking notes, doping out the least amount they can do to cover their butts in every conceivable direction. So, in fact, we don't have much going for us right now. In particular, an obvious and fruitful starting point."

Peter was alive with ideas. Francis could see him electric.

"What is any investigation?" he said rhetorically, looking squarely at Lucy. "I've done them, you've done them. We take this solid, stolid, sturdy, determined approach. Collect this bit of evidence and add it to that. Build a picture of the crime brick by brick. Every detail of a crime, from inception to conclusion, gets fit into a rational framework to provide an answer. Isn't that what they taught you in the prosecutor's office? So that the steady accumulation of provable items eliminates everyone except the suspect? Those are the rules, right?"

"I know that. You know that. But your point, exactly, is what?"

"What makes you think the Angel doesn't know that, too?"

"Okay. Yes. Probably. And?"

"So, what we need to do is turn everything upside down."

Lucy looked a little askance. But Francis saw what Peter was driving at.

"What he's saying," Francis said carefully, "is we shouldn't play by any rules."

Peter nodded. "Here we are, in this mad place, and you know what will be impossible, Lucy?"

She didn't reply.

"What will be impossible is if we try to impose the reasonableness and the organization of the outside world in here. This place is mad, so what we need is an investigation that reflects the world here. One that fits. Tailor what we do to the place we're in. When in Rome, so to speak."

"And what would be the first step?" Lucy asked. It was clear that she was willing to listen, but not sign on immediately.

"Exactly what you imagined," Peter said. "We interrogate people. You question them in here. Start out all nice and official and by the book. And then turn up the pressure. Accuse people unreasonably. Misrepresent what they say. Turn their paranoia back on top of them. Do as much wrong and irresponsible and outrageous as you can. Unsettle everyone. It will make this place stand on its ear. And the more that we disrupt the ordinary process of this hospital, the less likely the Angel will feel safe."

Lucy nodded. "It's a plan. Maybe not much of one, but it's a plan. Although I can't see Gulptilil going along with it."

"Screw him," Peter said. "Of course he won't. And neither will Mister Evil. But don't let that stand in your way."

She seemed to think hard for a moment, then laughed. "Why not?" And then she turned to Francis. "They won't let Peter in on any questioning I do. Too much baggage comes with him. But you're different, Francis. I think you should be the one to sit in. It'll be you and Evans or the big round doctor, himself, because he's demanding someone be there, and those are the ground rules that Gulptilil set. We create enough smoke, and maybe we'll see some fire."

No one, of course, saw what Francis saw, which were the dangers in this approach. But he kept quiet, shushed all the voices within him who were nervous and filled with doubts, and simply bent his shoulders to the course that was created.

Sometimes in the spring, after I'd been released from the Western State Hospital and after I'd settled into my little town, when I went up to the fish ladder to my job helping out the wildlife agency counting returning salmon, I would spot the silvery, shimmering shadows of fish and wonder whether they understood that the act of returning to the place where they were spawned, in order to renew the cycle of existence, was going to cost them their lives. With my notebook in hand, I counted fish, often fighting off the urge to warn them somehow. I wondered whether they had some deep, genetic impulse that informed them that returning home would kill them, or whether it was all a deception that they willingly went along with, the desire to mate being so strong that it covered up the inevitability of death. Or were they like soldiers, given an impossible and obviously fatal command, who decide that sacrifice is more important than life?

My hand would shake, sometimes, as I made marks on my counting sheet. So much death passing by in front of me. We get it all wrong, sometimes. That which seems filled with danger, like the great wide ocean, is actually safe. That which is familiar and recognized, like home, is in truth far more threatening.

Light seemed to fade around me, and I stepped back from the wall, over to the living room window. I could feel the room behind me crowding with memories. There was an evening breeze, just a small breath of warmth. We are all defined by the dark, I thought. Anyone can portray anything in the daylight. But it is only at night, after the world has closed in, that our true selves come out.

I could no longer tell whether I was exhausted or not. Lifting my eyes, I surveyed the room. It was interesting to me to see myself alone and knowing that it wouldn't last. They would all crowd in on me, sooner or later. And the Angel would be back. I shook my head.

Lucy, I remembered abruptly, had drawn up a list of nearly seventy-five names. Those were the men she wanted to see.

Lucy drew up a list of some seventy-five inmates from throughout the Western State Hospital that seemed to have the potential for killing within them. They were all men who had shown overt hostility toward women, whether it was blows thrown in a domestic-type dispute, threatening language, or obsessive behavior, where they had focused on a female neighbor or family member, and blamed them for their madness. She still secretly clung to the notion that the murders were, at their core, sex crimes. The current thinking in the criminal justice world was that all sex crimes were crimes of violence first, and sexual release a distant second. It didn't make sense to her to discard everything that she had learned from the moment she had been victimized herself, to the dozens of courtrooms where she had stared across the bar at one man or another, every one of them mirroring in some big or small way, the man who had assaulted her. Her record of convictions was exemplary, and she expected that, despite the obstacles that the mental hospital created, she would succeed once again. Confidence was her calling card.

As she walked across the hospital grounds toward the administration building, she started to draw in her head a portrait of the man she was hunting. Details, such as the physical strength to overwhelm Short Blond, enough youth to be filled with homicidal fervor, enough age so that he was less likely to make rash mistakes. She was persuaded that the man had both a practical knowledge and the sort of innate intelligence that makes certain criminals hard to corner. Her mind churned with all the elements of the crimes that haunted her, and she insisted to herself that when she actually came face-to-face with the right man, she would know him immediately.

The reason for this optimism was the belief she held that the Angel somehow wanted to be known. He would be conceited, she thought, and arrogant, and be sting her in this intellectual exercise inside the mental hospital was what he wanted.

She knew this in a way far more profound than Peter or Francis, or for that matter, anyone else at Western State was aware. Several weeks after the second homicide had taken place, the two severed finger joints had been acquired by her office in the most mundane fashion in the daily mail delivery. The perpetrator had placed them inside a common plastic baggie, sealed up in a tan padded mailer, of the sort available at virtually every office supply store throughout New England. The address on the mailer had been typed on a label, and read simply enough: chief of sex crimes unit.

There had been a single sheet of paper enclosed with the grisly remains. On it had been typed the question: Looking For These? and nothing else.

Lucy had been initially confident when the bloody souvenirs had been turned over to forensics. It did not take long to confirm that they belonged to the second victim and that they had been removed postmortem. The typing on the note and the address label were identified as belonging to a 1975 Sears model 1132 electric typewriter. The postmark on the package gave her more hope, because it was narrowed down to the main mail facility in South Boston. In a doggedly efficient style more or less precisely as Peter the Fireman had described, Lucy and two investigators from her office had traced every Sears model 1132 typewriter sold in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont for a six-month period prior to the killing. They had also questioned every postal worker at the mail facility, to see if any could remember handling that particular package. Neither line of inquiry had produced anything resembling a viable lead.

The postal workers had been unhelpful. If a typewriter had been purchased with a check or with a credit card, then Sears had a record. But it was an inexpensive model, and more than a quarter of the machines moved during the time frame had been bought with cash. In addition, the investigators learned that virtually every one of the more than fifty retail outlets in New England had a new model 1132 on display, where it could be tried out. It would have been a relatively simple matter to walk up to a typewriter on a busy Saturday afternoon, stick a piece of paper in the platen, and write whatever one wanted, without drawing the slightest bit of attention to oneself, even from a salesperson.

Lucy had hoped that the man who sent the fingertips would do so again, either with the first victim or the third, but he had not.

It was, she thought, the worst sort of taunting; the message wasn't in the words, or even the body parts, it was in the delivery that could not be traced.

It had also had the unsettling by-product of sending her to the literature of Jack the Ripper, who had carved out a piece of kidney from a prostitute-victim named Catharine Eddowes aka Kate Kelly and sent it to the Metropolitan Police in 1888 with a mocking note, signed with a flourish. That her quarry was familiar with this most celebrated case made her nervous. It told her much, but it took its toll on her imagination, as well. She did not like the notion that she was hunting a person with a sense of history, because this implied some intelligence. Most of the criminals that she had coldly seen off to prison had been noteworthy for their flat-out stupidity. In the Sex Crimes Unit, it was a bit of a given that the forces that drove a man to the particular act would also cause him to be sloppy and forgetful. The ones that struck randomly and with some planning and foresight were significantly harder to find.

These homicides, she thought, in an odd way, defied characterization. Francis had been accurate, when Peter had asked him what linked them together. But she could not help feeling the sensation that there was something other than hair and body type and savagery that prompted the killings, although she knew that fear defied the conventional wisdom.

She was trudging along outside, on one of the pathways between the hospital buildings, her mind lost in thoughts about the man that Peter and Francis had taken to calling the Angel. She ignored the fine day that had arisen around her, shafts of bright sunshine finding new growth on tree branches, warming the world with its promise of better weather. Lucy Jones had the sort of mind that liked to sort and compartmentalize, that enjoyed the rigorous pursuit of detail, and at that moment, it was excluding the temperature, sunlight, and new growth around her, replacing these simple observations with a continual mental gnawing away at the hurdles she faced. Logic and an orderly application of rules and regulations and laws had sustained her throughout her adult life. What Peter had suggested frightened her, although she had been careful not to show that. And, she acknowledged inwardly, it made some sense, because she was a little at a loss as to how else to proceed. It was a plan, she believed, that reflected his own passion, and not one designed in any rational way.

But Lucy thought of herself as a chess player, and this was as good an opening gambit as she could imagine. She reminded herself to remain independent, which was how she imagined she could control events.

As she walked, head down, deep in thought, she suddenly thought she heard her name.

A single, long, drawn out, whistled " Luuuuuuccccyyyy…" that was carried on a mild spring breeze, lingering in the trees that dotted the hospital grounds.

She stopped abruptly, and pivoted about. There was no one on the path behind her. She looked right, then left, and craned her head forward, listening, but the sound had disappeared.

She told herself that she was mistaken. The noise could have been any of a half dozen other sounds, and that the tension in what she was doing had put her on edge and she had misheard what was really just an ordinary cry of some great internal pain or anguish, no different from any of the hundreds that the wind carried through the world of the hospital every day.

Then she told herself that this was a lie.

It had been her name.

She turned toward the nearest building, and stared up at the windows. She could see some faces of patients looking idly back in her direction. She slowly turned toward other dormitories. Amherst was in the distance. Williams, Princeton, and Yale were closer. She spun about, searching the impassive brick buildings for some telltale indication. But each building remained silent, as if her attention had turned off the spigot of anxiety and hallucination that so often defined the sounds that emanated from each.

Lucy remained rooted to her spot. After a moment, she heard a cascade of obscenities from one building. This was followed by some angry voices and then a high-pitched scream or two. This was what she expected to hear, and with each sound, she told herself that she had heard something that wasn't there, which, she noted ironically to herself, probably put her in the mainstream of the hospital population. With that thought, she stepped forward, turning her back on every window and every pair of eyes that might have been darkly watching her every step, or might have been staring blankly off into the inviting azure blue sky above. It was impossible to tell which.

Chapter 17

Peter the Fireman stood in the center of the dining room, holding a tray and surveying the bubbling volcanic activity that surrounded him. Mealtimes in the hospital were an unending series of small skirmishes that were a reflection of the great interior wars that each patient fought. No breakfast, lunch or dinner went by without erupting into some minor incident. Distress was served as regularly as runny scrambled eggs or bland tuna salad.

To his right, he saw an elderly, senile man, grinning maniacally, letting milk dribble down his chin and chest, despite the near constant efforts of a nurse-trainee to prevent him from drowning himself; to his left, two woman were arguing over a bowl of lime green Jell-O. Why there was only one bowl, and two claimants, was the dilemma that Little Black was patiently trying to sort out, although each of the women, who seemed to look almost identical, with scraggly twists of gray hair and pale pink and blue housecoats, appeared eager to come to blows. Neither, it seemed, was in the slightest bit willing to simply walk the ten or twenty paces back to the kitchen entrance and obtain a second bowl of Jell-O. Their high-pitched, shrieking voices melded with the clatter of plates and silverware, and the steamy sheen of heat that came from the kitchen, where the meal was being prepared. After a second, one of the women reached out suddenly, and dashed the bowl of Jell-O across the floor, where the dish shattered like a gunshot.

He moved to his customary table in the corner, where his back would be against the wall. Napoleon was already there, and Peter suspected Francis would be along shortly, although he wasn't sure where the young man was at that moment. He took his seat and suspiciously eyed the plate of noodle casserole in front of him. He had doubts about its provenance.

"So," Peter asked as he poked at the meal, "Nappy, tell me this: What would a soldier in the Great Army of the Republic have eaten on a fine day such as this?"

Napoleon had been eagerly attacking the casserole, shoveling forkfuls of the glop into his mouth like a piston-driven machine. Peter's question slowed him, and he paused to consider the issue.

"Bully beef," he said after a moment, "which given the sanitary conditions of the times, was pretty dangerous stuff. Or salted pork. Bread, surely. That was a staple, as was hard cheese that one could carry in a rucksack. Red wine, I believe, or water from whatever well or stream was close. If they were foraging, which the soldiers did often, then perhaps they would seize a chicken or a goose from some nearby farm, and cook it on a spit, or boil it."

"And if they intended to go into battle? A special meal, perhaps?"

"No. Not likely. They were usually hungry, and often, like in Russia, starving. Supplying the army was always a problem."

Peter held an unrecognizable morsel of what he'd been told was chicken up in front of his face and wondered whether he could go into battle with this particular casserole as his inspiration.

"Tell me, Nappy, do you think you're mad?" he asked abruptly.

The round man paused, a significant portion of oozing noodles stopped in its path about six inches from his mouth, where it hovered, as he considered the question. After a moment, he set the fork down and sighed a response. "I suppose so, Peter," he said a little sadly. "Some days more than others."

"Tell me a little bit about it," Peter asked.

Napoleon shook his head, and the remainder of his usual enthusiasm slipped away. "The medications control the delusion, pretty much. Like today, for example. I know I'm not the emperor. I merely know a lot about the man who was the emperor. And how to run an army. And what happened in 1812. Today, I'm just an ordinary bush-league historian. But tomorrow, I don't know. Maybe I'll fake it when they hand me my medication tonight. You know, tuck it under my tongue and spit it out later. There are some pretty effective sleight of hand tricks that just about everyone learns in here. Or maybe the dosage will be off just a little bit. That happens, too, because the nurses have so many pills to hand out, sometimes they don't pay as much attention as to who gets what as maybe they should. And there you would have it: A really powerful delusion doesn't need much ground to take root and flower."

Peter thought for a moment, then asked, "Do you miss it?"

"Miss what?"

"The delusions. When they're gone. Do they make you feel special when you have them, and ordinary when they're erased?"

He smiled. "Yes. Sometimes. But they sometimes hurt, too, and not merely because you can see how terrifying they are for everyone around you. The fixation becomes so great, that it overwhelms you. It's a little like a rubber band being pulled tighter and tighter within you. You know that eventually it has to break, but every moment that you think it will snap and everything inside you will come loose, it stretches out just a little farther. You should ask C-Bird about that, because I think he understands it better."

"I will." Again, Peter hesitated. As he did, he saw Francis moving gingerly across the room to join them. The young man moved in much the same manner that Peter remembered from days on patrol in Vietnam, unsure whether the very ground he walked upon might be booby-trapped. Francis tacked between arguments and angers, blown a little to the right, and then the left by rage and hallucination, avoiding the shoals of senility or retardation, to finally arrive at the table, where he threw himself into a seat with a small grunt of satisfaction. The dining room was a dangerous passage of troubles, Peter thought.

Francis poked at the fast-congealing mess on his plate.

"They must not want us to get fat," he said.

"Someone told me that they sprinkle the food with Thorazine," Napoleon said, leaning forward, whispering conspiratorially. "That way they know they can keep us all calm and under control."

Francis glanced over at the two Jell-O-deprived women still screeching at each other. "Well," he said, "I wouldn't believe it, because it doesn't seem to be working all that fantastically."

"C-Bird," Peter asked, gesturing modestly toward the two women, "Why do you think they're arguing?"

Francis looked up, hesitated, lifted his shoulders, then replied: "Jell-O?"

Peter smiled, because this was slightly funny. Then he shook his head. "No, I can see that. A bowl of lime green Jell-O. I didn't realize it was something worth trading blows over. But why Jell-O? Why now?"

In that second, Francis saw what Peter was really asking. Peter had a way of framing bigger questions within small ones, which was a quality Francis admired, because it displayed, if nothing else, the capacity to think beyond the walls of the Amherst Building. "It's about having something, Peter," he said slowly. "It's about something tangible here where there is so little that we can actually possess. It's not the Jell-O. It's about having the Jell-O. A bowl of Jell-O isn't worth having a fight over. But something that reminds you of who you are, and what you could be, and the world that awaits us, if only we can seize hold of enough little things that will turn us back into humans, well, that's worth fighting for, isn't it?"

Peter paused, considering what Francis had said, and all three of them saw the two women abruptly burst into tears.

Peter's eyes lingered on the pair, and Francis thought that every incident like that must hurt the Fireman deep within his core, because he didn't belong. Francis stole a look over at Napoleon, who shrugged and smiled and happily returned to his mound of food. He belongs, Francis thought. I belong. We all belong, except for Peter, and he must be very afraid, deep inside, that the longer he stays here, the closer he will get to becoming like us. Francis could hear a murmuring of assent deep within him.

Gulptilil looked askance at the list of names Lucy had thrust across the desk at him. "This seems like a substantial cross section of the population here, Miss Jones. Might I ask what your determining criteria were in selecting these patients from the overall clientele?" He sounded stiff and unhelpful with his question, and, when uttered in his warbling, singsong voice, made all the pretentiousness sound a little ridiculous.

"Of course," Lucy replied. "Because I couldn't think of a determining factor that was psychological in nature, like a defining disease, I used instead prior incidents of violence toward women. All seventy-five names here have done something which can be construed as hostile to the opposite sex. Some more than others, surely, but they all have that one factor in common." Lucy spoke just as pompously as the medical director did, an acting quality that she had honed in the prosecutor's office, which often helped her in official situations. There are very few bureaucrats who are not cowed by someone capable of speaking their own language, only better.

Gulptilil looked back at the list, surveying the rows of names, and Lucy wondered whether the doctor was able to assign a face and a file to each. He behaved that way, but she doubted he had that much interest in the actual intimacies of the hospital population. After a moment of two, he sighed.

"Of course, your statement can equally be applied to the gentleman already in custody for the murder," he said. "Nevertheless, Miss Jones, I shall do as you request," he said. "But I must suggest that this appears to be something of a wild-goose chase."

"It's a place to start, Doctor."

"It is also a place to stop," he replied. "Which, I fear, is what will happen to your inquiries when you seek information from these men. I imagine that you will find these interviews to be frustrating."

He smiled, not in a particularly friendly fashion, and added, "Ah, well, Miss

Jones. You would like, I imagine, to get these interviews under way promptly? I will speak with Mister Evans, and perhaps the Moses brothers, who can begin transporting the patients to your office. That way, at least, you can begin to fully encounter the obstacles that you are up against here."

She knew that Doctor Gulptilil was speaking about the vagaries of mental illness, but what he said could be construed in different ways. She smiled at the medical director and nodded in agreement.

By the time she returned to Amherst, Big Black and Little Black were waiting for her in the corridor by the first-floor nursing station. Peter and Francis were with them, leaning against the wall like a pair of bored teenagers hanging out on a street corner waiting for trouble, although the manner in which Peter's eyes swept back and forth down the corridor, watching every movement and assessing each patient that rambled past, contradicted his languid appearance. She did not immediately see Mister Evans, which, she thought, might be a good thing, given what she was about to ask of them. But that was her first question for the two attendants.

"Where is Evans?"

Big Black grunted. "He's on his way over from one of the other buildings. Support staff meeting. Should be here any second. The big doc called over and tells us that we're supposed to start escorting people in to see you. You got a list."

"That's right."

"Suppose," Little Black said, "they aren't quite as eager to come see you. What're we supposed to do then?"

"Don't give them that option. But if they get frantic, or start to lose control well, I can come to them."

"And if they still don't want to talk?"

"Let's not anticipate a problem before we know we have one, okay?"

Big Black rolled his eyes a little, but didn't say anything, although it was clear to Francis that much of Big Black's existence at the hospital was about precisely that: anticipating a problem before it arose. His brother let out a slow sigh, and said, "We'll give it a try. Can't promise exactly how people will react. Never done anything like this in here before. Maybe there won't be any trouble."

"If they refuse, then they refuse, and we'll figure something else out," she said. Then she bent forward slightly and lowered her voice a little. "I have an idea. I wonder if you guys can help me out, and keep it confidential." She waited as the two brothers immediately eyed each other. Little Black spoke for the two of them.

"Sounds to me like you're about to ask a favor that might get us into trouble."

Again, Lucy nodded her head. "Not all that much trouble, I hope."

Little Black grinned widely, as if he saw a joke in what she said. "It's always the person doing the asking that thinks whatever it is ain't that big a deal. But, Miss Jones, we're still listening. Not saying yes. Not saying no. Still listening."

"Instead of you two going to each person and transporting them, I want just one of you to go."

"Generally, Security thinks should be two guys with any transfer like this. One walking on either side. Those are the hospital rules."

"Well, let me tell you what I'm getting at," she said, taking a step closer to the men, so that only that small group might hear her, which was probably unnecessary in the hospital, but more a natural response to the meager conspiracy that Lucy had in mind. "I'm only modestly optimistic that these interviews will turn up something, and I'm really about to rely on Francis probably far more than he's aware," she said slowly. The others looked over at the young man quickly, who blushed, as if singled out in class by a teacher he had a crush upon. "But as Peter pointed out the other day, what we really have here is a lack of hard evidence. I'd like to try to do something about that."

Both Big Black and Little Black were now listening intently. Peter, as well, took a step forward, narrowing the small group further.

"What I would like," Lucy continued, "is while I'm talking with these patients, that their living areas get thoroughly searched. Have either of you ever shaken down a bunk and storage area?"

Little Black nodded. "Of course, Miss Jones. On occasion, that's a part of this fine job."

Lucy stole a quick glance over at Peter, who seemed to be controlling his desire to speak with some difficulty. "And," she added slowly, "what I'd really like is for Peter to be a part of those searches. Like, in charge."

The two attendants looked at each other, before Little Black spoke up. "Peter's got a No Exit ticket on his jacket, Miss Jones. What that means is he ain't allowed out of the Amherst Building except on special circumstances. And it would be Doctor Gulptilil or Evans who says what those special circumstances would be. And Evans hasn't let him outside these doors even once."

"Is he supposed to be a flight risk?" she asked, a little like she would at a bail hearing before a judge.

Little Black shook his head. "Evans put it on the case file. More like a punishment, really, 'cause he's facing some serious charges back in your part of our fine state. Peter here under a court order to get evaluated, and that No Exit on the jacket, it's a part of that evaluation, I'm guessing."

"Is there a way around it?"

"A way around everything, Miss Jones, if it's important enough."

Peter had dropped into quiet. Francis saw again that he was anxious to speak, but had the sense to keep his mouth shut. Francis noted that neither Big Black nor his brother had as yet said no to Lucy's request.

"Why you think you need Peter to do this, Miss Jones? Why not just my brother or me?" Little Black asked quietly.

"A couple of reasons," Lucy said, perhaps a little too rapidly. "One, as you know, Peter was a fine investigator, and knows how and where to look and what to look for and how to treat any evidence, if we can come up with some. And, because he's been trained in forensic evidence collection, I'm hoping that he will spot something that maybe you or your brother might miss…"

Little Black pursed his lips together, a small movement that seemed to acknowledge the truth in what Lucy was saying. She took this as encouragement, and continued."… And another reason I'm not sure I want to compromise either you or your brother in all this. Say you come up with something in a search. You're obligated to tell Gulptilil, who will, in turn, then control the evidence. Very likely, it will get lost, or screwed up. Peter finds something, quote and unquote, well, he's just another crazy guy in this hospital. He can leave it, tell me about it, then we can obtain a legitimate search warrant. Keep in mind, I'm hoping that there's going to come a time when we're going to need a policeman to come in and make an arrest. I need to preserve some sort of investigative integrity, whatever that is. You see what I'm driving at, here, gentlemen?"

Big Black laughed out loud, although there was no joke pending, except for the concept of investigative integrity inside the mental hospital. His brother put his hand to his head. "Man, Miss Jones, I think you're gonna get us into some heavy duty trouble before all this is finished up."

Lucy merely smiled at the two men. A wide smile, that showed her teeth and was accompanied by a glistening, welcoming look in her eyes, that spoke of a conspiracy of both need and elegance. Francis noted this, and thought for the first time in his life how hard it is in life to turn down a request from a beautiful woman, which probably wasn't fair, but true nevertheless.

The two attendants were looking at each other. After a second, Little Black shrugged and turned back to Lucy Jones. "Tell you what, Miss Jones. My brother and I, we'll do what we can. Don't you let Evans or Gulp-a-pill know 'bout this." He paused, letting a small silence hover over all of them. "Peter, you come talk to us in private, maybe we work something out. I got an idea…"

Peter the Fireman nodded his head.

"What we supposed to be looking for, anyway?" Big Black asked.

Peter stepped in, to answer this question. "Bloodstained clothes or shoes. That would be the most obvious thing. Then somewhere there's a knife or some other sort of handmade weapon. Whatever it is, it will have to be sharp as hell because it was used to cut both flesh and bone. And the missing set of keys, because our Angel has a means of getting into locked areas pretty much whenever he seems to have the need, and doors don't seem to mean all that much to him. Anything else that points to a greater knowledge about the crime poor Lanky is in prison for. Or anything that points at the other crimes that have gotten Lucy's attention, from the other part of the state. Like newspaper clippings. Or maybe an item of woman's clothing. I don't know. But I do know there's one thing out there that's still missing and it would be helpful to find," he said. "Things, actually."

"What's that?" Big Black asked.

"Four severed fingertips," Peter said coldly.

Francis shifted about uncomfortably in Lucy's small office, trying to avoid the glare that came his direction from Mister Evans. There was a heavy silence in the room, as if the heater had been left on at the same time that the outdoor temperature soared, creating a sticky, sickly kind of heat. Francis looked over toward Lucy and saw that she was busy with one of the patient files, flipping through pages with scrawled notations, occasionally taking a note or two of her own on a yellow legal pad at her right hand.

"He shouldn't be here, Miss Jones. Despite what assistance you think he will bring, and despite the permission from Doctor Gulptilil, I still think it remains highly inappropriate to involve a patient in this process in any capacity. Certainly any insight that he might have is significantly less educated than any that I or any of the other support staff here in the hospital might incorporate into these proceedings." Evans managed to sound undeniably pompous, which, Francis thought, wasn't his usual tenor. Generally, Mister Evil had a sarcastic, irritating tone, that underscored the differences between them. Francis suspected that his pretentious large-word and clinical vocabulary was a tone Evans generally adopted in hospital staff meetings. Making oneself sound important, Francis realized, wasn't exactly the same thing as being important. The usual chorus of agreement stirred within him.

Lucy looked up and simply said, "Let's see how it works. If it creates a problem, we can always change things around, later." Then she dipped her head back to the file.

Evans, however, persisted. "And, while he's in here with us, where is the other one?"

"Peter?" Francis asked.

Again, Lucy lifted her head. "I've got him doing some of the more menial tasks associated with this inquiry," she said. "Even though we remain somewhat informal, there's always some really dull but necessary stuff to do. Given his background, I thought he was extremely suitable."

This seemed to placate Evans, and Francis thought it was a pretty clever response. Francis realized that maybe when he was a little older he would learn how to say something that wasn't exactly true, without exactly lying at the same time.

There were another few seconds of uncomfortable silence, and then a knock on the door, and it swung open. Big Black was standing there, dwarfing a man Francis recognized from the upstairs dormitory. "This is Mister Griggs," Big Black said with a grin. "On the list. Top of the list." With his massive hand, he gave the man a small push into the room, then stepped back to the wall, taking up a position where he could watch and listen, arms folded in front of him.

Griggs took a stride into the center of the room, then hesitated. Lucy pointed toward a chair, putting him in a position where Francis and Mister Evil could both watch the man's responses to her questions. He was a wiry, muscled man, middle-aged and balding, with long fingers and a sunken chest, and an asthmatic wheeze that accompanied much of what he said. His eyes darted about the room furtively, giving him the appearance of a squirrel lifting its head to some distant danger. A squirrel with yellowed, uneven teeth and an unsettled disposition. He eyed Lucy with a single, penetrating glance, then relaxed, sticking his legs out with a look of irritation.

"Why am I here?" he asked.

Lucy responded rapidly. "As you may be aware, there have been some questions raised about the killing of the nurse-trainee in this building in the past weeks. I was hoping that you might shed some light on that incident." Her voice seemed routine, matter-of-fact, but Francis could see in her posture, and in the way her eyes locked onto the patient, that there was a reason this man had been selected first. Something in his file had given her an edgy kind of hope.

"I don't know anything," he answered. He shifted about, and waved his hand in the air. "Can I leave now?"

On the file placed in front of her, Lucy could see words like bipolar and depression coupled with antisocial tendencies and anger management issues. Griggs was a potpourri of problems, she thought. He also had slashed a woman with a razor blade in a bar after buying her a series of drinks and getting turned down when he propositioned her. Then he fought hard against the police that had arrested him, and within days of his arrival at the hospital, had threatened Short Blond and several other female nurses at the hospital with uncertain and unspecified, but undeniably dire punishments whenever they attempted to force him to take medication at night, change the television channel in the dayroom, or stop harassing other patients, which he did on a near daily basis. Each of these incidents had been dutifully documented on his case file. There was also a notation that he had insisted to his public defender that unspecified voices had demanded that he cut the woman in question, a claim that had delivered him to Western State instead of the local jail. An additional entry, in Gulptilil's handwriting, questioned the veracity of the claim. He was, in short, a man filled with rage and lies, which, in Lucy's mind, made him into a prime candidate.

Lucy smiled. "Of course," she said. "So on the night of the homicide "

Griggs cut her off. "I was asleep upstairs. Tucked in for the night. Zonked out on whatever the shit they give us."

Pausing, Lucy glanced at the yellow pad in front of her, before raising her eyes and fixing them on the patient. "You refused medication that night. There's a note in your file."

He opened his mouth, started to say one thing, then stopped. "You ought ' ta know," he said, "just because you say you won't take it, it don't mean you get a pass. All it means is that some goon like this one" he waved at Big Black, and Francis had the distinct impression that Griggs would have used some other epithet, if he hadn't been scared of the massive black man "forces you to take it. So I did. Few minutes later, I was off in dreamland."

"You didn't like the nurse-trainee, did you?"

Griggs grinned. "Don't like any of 'em. No secret in that."

"Why is that?"

"They like to lord it over us. Make us do stuff. Like we don't mean anything."

Griggs used us and we but Francis didn't think he had any plurality in mind, other than himself.

"Fighting women is easier, isn't it?" Lucy asked.

The patient shrugged. "You think I could fight him?" he replied, again indicating Big Black.

Lucy didn't answer the man's question, instead, she bent forward slightly. "You don't like women, do you?"

Griggs snarled, slightly, and spoke in a low-pitched, fierce voice. "Don't like you much."

"You like to hurt women, don't you?" Lucy asked.

He burst out in a wheezing laugh, but didn't answer.

Keeping her own voice steady and cold, Lucy then suddenly shifted direction. "Where were you in November," she asked abruptly. "About sixteen months ago."

"Huh?"

"You heard me."

"I'm supposed to remember back that far?"

"Is that a problem for you? Because I sure as hell can find out fast enough."

Griggs shifted about in his seat, gaining a little time. Francis could see the man's mind working hard, as if trying to see some danger through a fog. "I was working on a construction site in Springfield," he said. "Road crew. Bridge repair. Nasty job."

"Ever been in Concord?" she asked.

"Concord?"

"You heard me."

"No, I never been in Concord. That's in the whole other part of the state."

"Your boss on that construction crew, when I call him up, he's not going to tell me that you had access to a company truck, is he? And he's not going to tell me that he sent you on trips to the Boston area?"

Griggs looked a little scared and confused, a momentary flight of doubt. "No," he said. "Other guys got those easy jobs. I worked in the pits."

Lucy suddenly had one of the crime scene photographs in her hand. Francis saw that it was the body of the second victim. She rose up and leaned across the table and thrust it under Griggs's nose. "You remember this?" she demanded. "You remember doing this?"

"No," he said, his voice losing some more of its bravado. "Who's that?"

"You tell me."

"Never seen her before."

"I think you have."

"No."

"You know that road crew you worked on, there's records that show where everyone was each and every day. So proving that you were in Concord's gonna be easy for me. Just like that notation that you didn't get any medication the night the nurse was killed right here. It's just a matter of paperwork, filling in the blanks. Now, try again: Did you do this?"

Griggs shook his head.

"If you could, you would, wouldn't you?"

He shook his head again.

"You're lying to me."

Griggs seemed to breath in slowly, wheezing, getting a deep, lungful of air. When he did speak, it was with a high-pitched, barely restrained anger. "I didn't do that to no girl I never seen, and you're lying to me if you think I did."

"What do you do to women you don't like?"

He smiled sickly. "I cut 'em."

Lucy sat back and nodded. "Like the nurse-trainee?"

Griggs again shook his head. Then he looked across the room, eyeing first Evans, then over at Francis. "Not going to answer no more questions," he said. "You want to charge me with something, then you go ahead and do it."

"Okay," Lucy said. "Then you're finished for now. But maybe we'll talk again."

Griggs didn't say anything else. He simply rose. He worked some saliva around his mouth, and for a moment Francis thought he was going to spit on Lucy Jones. Big Black must have thought the same, because Griggs took a step forward, only to have the huge attendant's hand descend like a vise grip on his shoulder.

"You finished here, now," Big Black said calmly. "Don't do nothing that makes me any angrier than I might already be."

Griggs shrugged out of the attendant's grasp, and turned. Francis thought he clearly wanted to say something else, but instead, exited after pushing the chair a little, so that it scraped a small ways across the floor. A minor display of defiance.

Lucy ignored this, and started to write some notes down on the yellow legal pad. Mister Evans, too, was writing something down on a small notebook page. Lucy spotted this and said, "Well, he didn't precisely rule himself out, did he? What are you writing?"

Francis kept quiet, as Evans looked up. He wore a slightly self-satisfied look on his face. "What am I writing?" he asked. "Well, for starters, a note to myself to adjust Griggs's medications over the next few days. He seemed significantly agitated by your questions, and I would say is likely to act out aggressively, probably toward one of the more vulnerable patients around here. One of the old women, for example. Or perhaps one of the staff. That's equally possible. I can increase some doses over the short term, preventing that anger from manifesting itself."

Lucy stopped. "You're going to what?"

"Chill him out for a week or so. Maybe longer."

Mister Evil hesitated, then added, still keeping the smug tone in his words, "You know, I could have provided a bit of a shortcut here. You are correct that Griggs refused his medication on the night of the homicide. But that refusal meant that he was given an intravenous injection later that night. See the second notation on the chart? I was there for that, and I supervised the procedure. So, when he says he was asleep when the murder took place, I can assure you he's telling the truth. He was sedated."

Again, Evans paused, then continued. "Perhaps there are others you want to question, where I can help in advance?"

Lucy looked up frustrated. Francis could see that she not only hated wasting her time, but hated dealing with the situation in the hospital. He thought, it must be difficult for her, because she had never been in a place like this. Then he realized that very few people with any claim on normalcy had ever been in a place like the hospital.

He bit down on his lip, holding back from saying anything. His mind was churning, fierce images from the interview just completed. Even his voices were remaining quiet within him, because, as he'd listened to the other patient speak, Francis had begun to see things. Not hallucinations. Not delusions. But things about the man speaking. He had seen ridges of fury and hatred, he had seen a sneering delight in the man's eyes as he saw the picture of death. He had seen a man capable of much depravity. But, at the same time, he'd seen a man with a great and terrible weakness inside. A man who would always want but would rarely do. Not the man they were looking for, because all of Griggs's anger had been so obvious. And Francis knew, right in that second, sitting in that small room, that there would be little obvious about the Angel.

At the very moment that Francis was sitting stricken because he had seen things that went beyond the small office where Lucy, Mister Evil, and he had conducted the interview, Peter the Fireman and Little Black were completing their search of the modest living area claimed by the patient Griggs. Peter had discarded his usual outfit, and set aside his beaten Boston Red Sox cap, and was wearing the ubiquitous snow-white slacks and coat of a hospital attendant. The uniform had been Little Black's idea. It was, in some ways, a perfect camouflage inside the hospital; one would have to look twice to see that the person wearing it wasn't really an attendant, but was actually Peter. In a world filled with hallucination and delusion, it would create some doubt. It gave him, he hoped, just enough cover so that he could do the job that Lucy had defined for him, although he knew that if he were to get spotted by Gulp-a-pill or Mister Evil or any of the others who knew him well enough, he would be immediately slammed into an isolation cell, and Little Black would be severely reprimanded. The wiry attendant hadn't been terribly concerned about this, saying "Unusual circumstances require unusual solutions," a comment that seemed more sophisticated than Peter would have earlier given him credit for making. Little Black also pointed out that he was the local union's shop steward, and his large brother was the union secretary, which gave them some armor in case they were caught.

The search itself had been utterly fruitless.

It had not taken him long to rifle through the patient's personal items, stored in an unlocked suitcase beneath the bed. Nor had it been particularly difficult for Peter to run his hands through the bedding, checking the sheets and mattress for anything that might connect the man to the crime. He had moved swiftly through the adjacent area, as well, hunting for any other location where something like a knife could be concealed. It was easy to be efficient; there weren't really all that many spots in the living area that might hide something.

He stood up and shook his head. Little Black wordlessly gestured for the two of them to get back to the place where he'd arranged to meet with his brother.

Peter nodded and took a single step forward, then suddenly pivoted, and looked about the room. As always, there were a couple of men lying on their beds, eyes fixed on the ceiling, lost in some reverie that he could only guess at. One old man was rocking back and forth, crying to himself. A second seemed to have been told some joke, because he had wrapped his arms around himself, and was giggling uncontrollably. Another man, the hulking retarded man that he'd seen before in the corridors, was in the distant corner of the dormitory room, bent over, sitting on the edge of his bed, eyes cast down, staring steadily at the floor. For a moment, the retarded man looked up, across the space, blankly absorbing something, then turning away. Peter could not tell, in that second, whether the man understood that they were searching an area of the room, or not. There was no way to determine what the retarded man comprehended. It was possible, of course, that their actions were simply being ignored, lost in the near total impassivity that enclosed the man. But, Peter realized, it was equally possible that the man had somehow deep in his head dulled by circumstance and daily psychotropic medications, made the connection between the patient taken off to the interview room, and the subsequent search of the area. He didn't know whether this connection would leave the room, or not. But he feared that if the man they were hunting for came to that understanding, his task would be much more difficult. If people in the hospital knew that various areas were being searched, it would have some impact. How much, he was unsure. Peter did not make another critical leap of observation, which would have been that the Angel might want to do something about it, if he learned what Peter was doing.

He looked back at the motley collection of men in the room and wondered whether word would travel quickly across the hospital, or not at all.

To his side, Little Black muttered, "Come on, Peter. Let's move."

He nodded, and joined the attendant, pushing rapidly through the dormitory door.

Chapter 18

Sometime later that day, or maybe after the next, but certainly at some point during the steady procession of mad folks being escorted into Lucy Jones's office, it occurred to me that I had never really been a part of something before.

When I thought about it, I believed it was a curious thing, growing up and understanding in an odd, peripheral, or maybe subterranean way that all sorts of connections were going on all around me and yet I was destined forever to be excluded. As a child, not being able to join in is a terrible thing. Maybe the worst.

Once I lived on a typical suburban street, lots of one- and two-story, white-painted middle-class homes, with well-trimmed, green front yards with perhaps a row or two of vibrantly colored perennials planted under the windows and an aboveground pool in the back. The school bus stopped twice in our block, to accommodate all the kids. In the afternoons, there was a constant ebb and flow up and down the street, a noisy tidal surge of youth. Boys and girls in jeans frayed at the knees, except on Sundays, when the boys emerged from their homes in blue blazers and stiffly starched white shirts and polyester ties and the girls wore dresses that sported ruffles and frills, but not too many of either. Then we were all collected, along with parents, in the pews of one or another nearby church. It was a typical mix for Western Massachusetts, mostly Catholic, who took the time to discuss whether eating meat on Friday was a sin, with some Episcopalians and Baptists mixed in. There were even a few Jewish families on the block, but they had to drive across town to the synagogue.

It was all so incredibly, overwhelmingly, cosmically typical. Typical block of a typical street, populated by typical families who voted the Democratic ticket and swooned a little over the Kennedys and went to Little League games on warm spring evenings not so much to watch as to talk. Typical dreams. Typical aspirations. Typical in every regard, from the first hours in the morning, to the last hours of the night. Typical fears, typical concerns. Conversations that seemed riveted to normalcy. Even typical secrets hidden behind the typical exteriors. An alcoholic. A wife beater. A closet homosexual. All typical, all the time.

Except, of course, for me.

I was discussed in quiet tones, the same under the voice whispers that were ordinarily reserved for the simply shocking news that a black family had moved in two streets over, or that the mayor had been seen exiting a motel with a woman who was decidedly not his wife.

In all those years, I was never once invited to a birthday party. Never asked to a sleepover. Not once shoved into the back of a station wagon for an off-the-cuff trip to Friendly's for an ice-cream sundae. I never got a phone call at night to gossip about school or sports or who had kissed whom after the seventh grade dance. I never played on a team, sang in a choir, or marched in a band. I never cheered at a Friday night football game in the fall, and I never self-consciously put on an ill-fitting tux and went to a prom. My life was unique because of the absence of all those little things that make up everyone else's normalcy.

I could never tell which I hated more the elusive world I came from and never could join or the lonely world I was required to live in: Population one, except for the voices.

For so many years, I could hear them calling my name: Francis! Francis! Francis! Come out! It was a little like what I would have suspected the children in my block to cry on some warm July evening, when the light faded slowly and the day's heat lingered well past the dinner hour, had they ever done so, which they never did. I suppose, in a way, it's hard to blame them. I don't know if I'd have wanted me to come out and play. And, as I grew older, so did the voices, so that their tones changed, as if they were keeping stride with every year that passed in my life.

All these thoughts must have been coming somewhere from the filmy world between sleep and wakefulness, because I suddenly opened my eyes in my apartment. I must have dozed for a bit, my back thrust up against a blank piece of wall. They were all thoughts that my medications used to stifle. There was a crick in my neck, and I rose unsteadily. Once again, the day had faded around me, and I was alone again, except for memories, ghosts, and the familiar murmurings of those long-suppressed voices. They all seemed quite enthused to have rediscovered a grip on my imagination. In a way, it seemed as if they were awakening alongside me, the way I imagined a real lover would, had I ever had a real lover. In my mind's ear, they clamored for attention, a little bit like a happy crew at a busy auction, making bids on any number of different items.

I stretched nervously and walked over to the window. I looked out at the creeping night strands moving across the city, just as I had done dozens of times before, only this time, I fixated on one shadow, behind a stodgy brick auto parts store down the block. I watched the edge of the shadow spread, and thought it was an eerie thing, that each shadow bore only the most tangential resemblance to the building or tree or fast-walking person that birthed it. It takes a form of its own, evoking its ancestry, but remaining independent. The same, but different. Shadows, I thought, can tell me much about my world. Maybe I was closer to being one of them, than I was to being alive. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a patrol car moving slowly down my block.

I was suddenly fired with the thought that it was there to check on me. I could feel the two sets of eyes inside the darkened vehicle turned up, moving across the front of the apartment building like sets of spotlights, until they rested directly on my window. I tossed myself to the side, so that I couldn't be seen.

I shrank back, huddled against the wall.

They were here to get me. I knew this, just as surely as I knew that day follows night and that the night follows day. My eyes searched the apartment, trying to find a place to hide. I held my breath. I had the sensation that every heartbeat in my chest echoed like a foghorn. I tried to push myself deeper against the wall, as if it could camouflage me. I could sense the officers outside the door.

But then nothing.

There was no insistent pounding at the door.

No raised voices with that single word Police! that says everything all at once.

Silence surrounded me, and after a second, I leaned forward slightly, craning my head around the window and seeing the street empty in front of me.

No car. No policemen. Just more shadows.

I stopped for a moment. Had it even been there?

I breathed out slowly. When I turned back to the wall, I insisted to myself that nothing was wrong, and that there was nothing to worry about, which reminded me that that was precisely what I'd tried to tell myself all those years earlier in the hospital.

The faces remained in my memory, if sometimes not the names. Slowly, over the course of that day, and the next, Lucy had brought in, one after the other, men that she believed had some of the elements of the profile she was building deep in her own head. Men of anger. It was, in a way, a crash course in one slice of the humanity that made up the hospital clientele, a cut from the fringe. All sorts of mental illnesses were herded into that room, and seated in the chair in front of her, sometimes with a little nudge from Big Black, sometimes, with no more than a gesture from Lucy and a nod from Mister Evans.

As for myself, I kept quiet and listened.

It was a parade of impossibility. Some of the men were furtive, eyes darting back and forth, evasive in every response to each question. Some seemed terrified, shrinking back in their chairs, sweat leaping onto their foreheads, quaver in their voices, as they seemed pummeled by every question that Lucy posed, no matter how routine, benign, or insignificant. Others were aggressive, instantly raising their voices, shouting in newly encouraged rage, and, on more than one instance slamming their fists on her desktop, filled with righteous indignation and denial. A few were mute, staring blankly across the room, as if each statement that fell from Lucy's mouth, each question that hovered in the air was something rendered on some totally different plane of existence, something that meant nothing in any language that they knew, and so to answer was impossible. Some men responded with gibberish, some with fantasy, some with anger, some with fear. A couple of men stared at the ceiling, and a couple made strangling motions with their hands. Some looked at the crime scene photographs with fear, some with an unsettling fascination. One man instantly confessed, blubbering "I did it, I did it" over and over again, not allowing Lucy to ask any of the questions that might have indicated that he actually had done it. One man said nothing, but grinned, and dropped his hand into his pants to excite himself until the uniquely discouraging pressure of Big Black's massive grip on his shoulder forced him to stop. Throughout the process, Mister Evil sat at her side, always quick, when the patient had been escorted out by Big Black, to explain why this man or that man was disqualified for this reason or that reason. There was a certain irritating clarity to his approach; it was supposed to be helpful and informative, while, in reality it was obstructive and obfuscating. Mister Evil, I thought, wasn't nearly as clever as he thought, nor as stupid as some of us believed, which was, when I think back upon it, a most dangerous combination.

And throughout the interview process, the most curious thing came over me: I started to see. It was as if I could envision where every pain came from. And how all those accumulated pains had over the years evolved into madness.

I felt a darkness coming over my heart.

My every fiber screamed at me to rise up and run, to get out of that room, that everything I saw and heard and learned was terrible, was information and knowledge I had no right to possess, no need to have, no desire to collect. But I remained frozen, unable to move, as frightened in those moments of myself, as I was of the hard men that came through the door who had all done something terrible.

I wasn't like them. And yet, I was.

The first time Peter the Fireman stepped outside the Amherst Building he was almost overcome, and he had to grip the banister to keep from stumbling.

Bright sunlight seemed to flood over him, a warm, late spring breeze ruffled his hair, the scent of hibiscus blooming along the pathways filled his nostrils. He hesitated unsteadily on the top step of the stairs leading to the side door, a little drunkenly, or dizzy, as if he'd been spun around for weeks on end inside the building, and this was the first moment when his head wasn't turning. He could hear traffic from the roadway beyond the hospital walls, and off to the side some children playing in the front yard of one of the staff housing units. He listened carefully, and from beyond the happy voices, he picked out the strands of a radio playing. Motown, he thought. Something with a seductively catchy big beat and siren like harmonies on the refrain.

Peter was flanked by Little Black and his large brother, but it was the smaller of the two attendants who whispered urgently, "Peter, you got to keep you head down. Don't let anyone get a good look at you."

The Fireman was dressed in white duck slacks and short lab coat, like the two attendants, although they wore regulation thick black shoes, and he was shod in high-topped canvas basketball sneakers, and anyone alert to charades would have picked up on that distinction. He nodded, and hunched himself over a little, but it was difficult for him to keep his eyes on the ground for long. It had been too many weeks since he'd actually been outside, and longer still since he'd walked anywhere without the restraints of handcuffs and his past hobbling his steps.

To his right, he could see a small motley group of patients working in the garden, and over on the decrepit black macadam onetime basketball court a half-dozen other patients were simply wandering back and forth around the remains of the volleyball net, while two other attendants smoked cigarettes and kept a vague eye on the shuffling crowd, almost all of whom had their faces lifted to the warm afternoon sunshine. One wiry, middle-aged woman was dancing, just a little, moving her arms in wide gyrations, and striding first to her right, then back to her left, a waltz without rhythm or purpose, but as genteel as some Renaissance court.

They had worked out the system of the search in advance. Little Black had called ahead to the other housing facilities on the inter hospital intercom system, and they would enter through the side door, and as Big Black went to get the subject from Lucy's list to take them back to Amherst, Peter and Little Black would process the man's living area. What this had devolved into was Little Black's keeping an eye out for any of the other nurses or attendants, who might be curious, while Peter moved swiftly through whatever pathetically small collection of possessions the man in question had managed to keep. He was very good at this, able to finger his way through clothes and papers and bedding without disrupting much, if anything, moving very rapidly. It was, he'd learned during the first searches in his own building, impossible to keep what he was doing secret from everyone there was always some patient or another lurking in the corner, perched on his bed, or merely glued to the far wall, where they could safely see out the window and across the room, preventing anyone from sneaking up on them. No limit, Peter thought, more than once, to paranoia in the hospital. The problem was, a man behaving suspiciously in the context of the mental hospital didn't mean the same thing as it did out in the real world. Inside the Western State Hospital, paranoia was the norm, and accepted as a part of the daily routine of the hospital, as regular and expected as meals, fights, and tears.

Big Black saw Peter lifting his eyes up to the sunshine, and he smiled. "Makes you kinda forget, don't it," he said quietly. "Nice day like this."

Peter nodded.

"Day like this," the big man continued, "it don't seem fair to be sick."

Little Black joined in, unexpectedly. "You know, Peter, day like this actually makes things worse around here. Makes everyone get this little taste of what they missing. You can smell the world happening, like it's just out there beyond the walls. Cold day. Rainy day. Windy and snowy. Those are the days that everyone just gets up and goes along. Never take any notice. But a beautiful day like this one, right hard on just about everybody."

Peter didn't reply, until Big Black added, "Really hard on your little friend. C-Bird still got hopes and dreams. This is the sort of day that is real hard on those, because it makes you see just how far away all those things are."

"He'll get out," Peter said. "And soon, too. There can't be all that much holding him in here."

Big Black sighed. "I wish that were true. C-Bird, he's got a world of trouble."

"Francis?" Peter asked incredulously. "But he's harmless. Any damn fool can see that. I mean, he probably shouldn't be here at all…"

Little Black shook his head, as if indicating that neither what Peter said was true, nor could the Fireman see what they saw, but didn't say anything. Peter stole a glance toward the main entrance to the hospital, with its huge wrought-iron gate and solid brick wall. In prison, he thought, confinement was always an issue of time. The act denned the time. It could be one or two years, or twenty or thirty, but it was always a finite amount, even for those condemned to life, because it was still measured in days, weeks, and months, and eventually, inevitably, there was either a parole board hearing scheduled or death awaiting. That wasn't true for the mental hospital, he realized, because one's stay there was defined by something far more elusive and far more difficult to obtain.

Big Black seemed to be able to guess what Peter was thinking, because he chimed in again, sadness still lurking in his voice. "Even if he gets his self a release hearing, he's got a long way to go before they let him out of here."

"That doesn't make any sense," Peter said. "Francis is smart and wouldn't hurt a flea…"

"Yeah," Little Black jumped in,"… and he's still hearing voices even with the medications and the big doc can't get him to understand why he's here, and Mister Evil don't like him none, though can't see why not. What all that adds up to, Peter, is your friend is gonna be here, and there ain't no hearing gonna be scheduled for him. Not like some of the others here. And sure as hell not like you."

Peter started to reply, then clamped his mouth shut. They walked on for a moment in silence, as he let the day's warmth try to erase the cold thoughts that the two attendants had chilled him with. Finally, he said, "You're wrong. You're both wrong. He's going to get out. Go home. I know it."

"Ain't nobody at his home wants him," Big Black said.

"Not like you," Little Black said. "Everybody wants a piece of the Fireman. You gonna end up somewhere, but it ain't gonna be here."

"Yeah," Peter said, bitterly. "Back in prison. Where I belong. Doing twenty to life."

Little Black shrugged, as if to say that once again Peter had managed to get something if not precisely wrong, at least skewed slightly. They took a few more strides toward the Williams dormitory.

"Keep your head down," Little Black said, as they approached the side entrance to Williams.

Peter lowered his head again, and dropped his eyes so that he was staring at the dusty black path they walked. It was difficult, he thought, because every shaft of sunlight that hit his back reminded him of being someplace else, and every breath of warm wind suggested happier times. He stepped forward, insisting to himself that it served no purpose to remember what he had once been, and what he now was, and that he should only look to what he would become. This was hard, he realized, because every time he looked at Lucy he saw a life that might have been his, but which had eluded him, and he thought, not for the first time, that every step he took only brought him a bit closer to some fearsome precipice, where he teetered unsteadily, maintaining his balance only with the most tenuous grip on icy rocks, held in place by thin ropes that were fraying quickly.

The man directly across from her smiled blankly but said nothing.

For the second time, Lucy asked, "Do you remember the nurse-trainee that went by the nickname Short Blond?"

The man rocked forward in the seat and moaned slightly. It was neither a yes moan, nor a no moan, simply a sound of acknowledgment. At least, Francis would have described the sound as a moan, but that was for lack of any better word, because the man didn't seem discomfited in the slightest, either by the question, the stiff-backed chair or the woman prosecutor sitting across from him. He was a hulking, broad-shouldered man, with hair cropped short and a wide-eyed expression. A small line of spittle was collected at the corner of his mouth, and he rocked to a rhythm that played only in his own ears.

"Will you answer any questions?" Lucy Jones asked, frustration creeping into her voice.

Again, the man remained silent, except for the small creaking noise of the chair he sat upon, as he rocked back and forth. Francis looked down at the man's hands, which were large and gnarled, almost as weathered as an old man's hands, which wasn't at all right, because he thought the silent man was probably not much older than he was. Sometimes Francis thought that inside the mental hospital, the ordinary rules of aging were somehow altered. Young people looked old. Old people looked ancient. Men and women who should have had vitality in every heartbeat, dragged as if the weight of years marred every step, while some who were nearly finished with life had childlike simplicity and needs. For a second, he glanced down at his own hands, as if to check that they were still more or less age appropriate. Then he looked back to the big man's. His hands were connected to massive forearms, and knotted, muscled arms. Every vein that stood out spoke of barely restrained power.

"Is there something wrong?" Lucy asked.

The man gave out another growling, low-pitched grunt, that had little to do with any language Francis had ever heard before he'd arrived at the hospital, but one which he'd grown accustomed to hearing in the dayroom. It was an animal noise, expressing something simple, like hunger or thirst, lacking the edge that it might have, if anger was the basis of the sound.

Evans reached over and took the file away from Lucy Jones, quickly running his eyes over the pages collected inside the folder. "I don't think interviewing this subject will be profitable," he said with a smugness that he couldn't hide.

Lucy, a little angry, pivoted toward Mister Evil. "And why?"

He pointed at a corner of the file. "There's a diagnosis of profound retardation. You didn't see that?"

"What I saw," Lucy said coldly, "was a history of violent acts toward women. Including an incident where he was interrupted in the midst of a sexual assault on a much younger child, and a second instance where he struck someone, landing her in the hospital."

Evans looked back down at the folder. He nodded. "Yes, yes," he said rapidly. "I see those. But what gets written on a folder is often not a precise recounting of what took place. In this man's case, the young girl was the neighbor's daughter who had frequently played with him in a teasing fashion and who undoubtedly has issues of her own, and whose family opted to not press any charges, and the other case was his own mother, who was pushed during a fight that stemmed from the man's refusal to do some mundane household chore, and hit her head on a table corner, necessitating the trip to the hospital. More a moment where he was unaware how strong he was. I think, as well, that he lacks the sort of keen criminal intelligence that you are searching for, because, and correct me if I'm mistaken, your theory of the murder suggests that the killer is a man of some considerable sophistication."

Lucy took the folder back out of Evans's hands and looked up at Big Black. "I think you can take him back to his dormitory now," she said. "Mister Evans is correct."

Big Black stepped forward and took the man by the elbow, lifting him up. The man smiled, and Lucy said, "Thank you for your time," not a word of which the man seemed to understand, although the tone and sentiment must have been apparent, because he grinned and made a little wave with one of his hands, before dutifully following Big Black out the door. The pleasant smile he wore never wavered.

Lucy leaned back in her seat and sighed. "Slow going," she said.

"I have had my doubts all along," Mister Evans replied.

Francis could see that Lucy was about to say something, and in that second, he heard two, maybe three of his voices all shouting at once Tell her! Go ahead and tell her! and so he leaned forward in his own chair and opened his mouth for the first time in hours.

"It's okay, Lucy," he said slowly, then picking up some speed. "That's not the point."

Mister Evans instantly looked angry that Francis had said anything, as if he'd been interrupted, when he hadn't. Lucy turned toward Francis. "What do you mean?"

"It's not about what they say," Francis said. "I mean, it doesn't make sense, really, whatever questions you might ask, about the night of the killing, or where they were, or if they knew Short Blond, or have they ever been violent in the past. No matter what questions you ask about that night, or even about who they are, it's not really important. Whatever they say, whatever they hear, whatever response they make, not one word will be what you should be listening for."

As Francis might have guessed, Mister Evans waved his hand dismissively. "You don't think that anything they say might be important, C-Bird? Because, if not, then what is the purpose of this little exercise?"

Francis shrank back in his chair, a little afraid to contradict Mister Evil. There are some men, he knew, that stored up slights and affronts, and then paid one back at some later time, and Evans was one of them.

"Words," Francis said slowly, a little quietly. "Words aren't going to mean anything. We're going to need to speak a different language to find the Angel. A wholly different means of communicating, and one of these people, coming through that door, will be speaking it. We just need to recognize it, when it arrives. We can find it in here," he continued, speaking cautiously, "but it won't exactly be what we expect."

Evans snorted slightly, and then pulled out his notebook, and wrote a small notation down on a lined sheet. Lucy Jones was about to respond to Francis, but she saw this action on the psychologist's part, and instead she turned to him. "What was that?" she asked, pointing to the notebook.

"Nothing much," he said.

"Well," she persisted. "It had to be something. A reminder to pick up a quart of milk on the way home. A decision to apply for a new job. A maxim, a play on words, a bit of doggerel or poetry. But it was something. What?"

"An observation about our young friend, here," Evans replied blankly. "A note to myself that Francis's delusions are still current. As evidenced by what he said, about creating some sort of new language."

Lucy, instantly angered, was about to reply that she had understood everything Francis had said, but then she stopped herself. She stole a quick glance in Francis's direction and she could see that every word that Mister Evans spoke had scorched itself into his world of fears. Say nothing, she told herself abruptly. You will only make it worse.

Although precisely how things could be worse for Francis, she was a little at a loss to imagine.

"So, who do we have next?" Lucy said instead.

"Hey, Fireman!" Little Black said in a slightly lowered voice, but with some added urgency. "You got to hurry up." He stared down at his watch, then looked up and tapped the face on his wrist with his index finger. "We got to get a move on," he said.

Peter was running his hands through the bedding of one of Lucy's potential suspects, and he looked up a little surprised. "What's the rush?" he asked.

"Gulp-a-pill," Little Black said quickly. "He usually makes his midday rounds pretty damn soon, and I need to get you back over to Amherst and out of those clothes before he starts wandering around the hospital and spots you somewhere you ain't supposed to be, dressed like you ain't supposed to be dressed."

Peter nodded. He slid his hands under the edges of the bed, palpitating the mattress beneath. One of Peter's fears was that the Angel had managed to slice a section out of a mattress, and then concealed his weapon and his souvenirs inside. It was, Peter thought, what he himself would have done if he'd had any items that he'd wished to hide from attendants or nurses or any other patient with prying eyes.

He felt nothing and shook his head.

"You just about finished?" Little Black asked.

Peter continued working the mattress, probing every shape and lump to make certain that it was what it should be. He saw that the usual sorts of patients were still eyeing him from across the room. Some were intimidated by Little Black, because they cowered in the corner, pressed up against the wall. A few others were sitting vacantly on the edge of their bunks, looking off into a void, as if the world they inhabited was somewhere else.

"Yeah, just about," Peter mumbled to the attendant, who tapped his watch face again.

The bed was clean, Peter thought. Nothing immediately suspect. There was now only the matter of a quick search of the man's belongings, which were gathered in a foot locker beneath the steel frame of the bed. Peter pulled the locker out. He rifled through, finding nothing more suspect than some socks that were in dire need of laundering. He was about to step back when something caught his eye.

It was a flat white T-shirt, folded up and placed near the bottom of the locker. It was no different from the cheap type sold at discount stores throughout New England and worn by many of the men in the hospital beneath a heavier winter shirt during the colder months. But that wasn't what caught his attention.

The shirt was stained with a huge dark red brown splotch across the chest.

He had seen stains like that before. In his training as an arson investigator. In his time in the jungle in Vietnam.

Peter held the shirt in his hands for a second, rubbing the fabric beneath his fingers as if he could tell something more by touching it. Little Black was a few feet away and finally insistence crept into his voice. "Peter, we got to leave now. I don't want to have to do any explaining that I don't have to, and I sure as hell don't want to have to explain nothing to the big doc, if I don't need to."

"Mister Moses," Peter said slowly. "Look at this."

Little Black stepped forward, so that he could lean over Peter's shoulder. Peter said nothing, but he heard the attendant whistle softly.

"That could be blood there, Peter," he said after a moment. "Sure looks like it."

"That's what I thought," Peter replied.

"Ain't that one of the things we're supposed to be looking for?" Little Black asked.

"It is, indeed," Peter replied quietly.

Then he carefully folded the shirt back precisely as it was when he'd discovered it, and slipped it into the same position that it had occupied before he had drawn it forth. He returned the foot locker to its customary spot beneath the bed, hoping that it was positioned as it had been. Then he stood up. "Let's go," he said. He glanced over at the small gathering of men across the room from him, but whether they had noticed anything or not was impossible for Peter to tell from the vacant eyes that stared back at him.

Chapter 19

Peter slid out of the white attendant's uniform in the area just inside the door to the Amherst Building. Little Black took the baggy pants and loose-fitting jacket from him, folded them up and stuffed them beneath his arm, while Peter pulled on a pair of wrinkled jeans. "I'll stash these," he said, "until we're sure Gulptilil has finished his rounds and we can get back to business." The wiry attendant then looked narrowly at Peter and added, "You gonna tell Miss Jones about what we saw and where we saw it?"

Peter nodded. "As soon as Mister Evil steps away from her side."

Little Black grimaced. "He'll find out. One way or another. Always does. Sooner or later, man seems to know everything going on around here."

Peter thought that was an intriguing bit of information but he didn't comment on it.

For an instant, Little Black seemed indecisive. "So, what we gonna do about a man got a shirt hidden away all stained with blood we don't think is his own?"

"I think we need to keep quiet and keep what we found to ourselves for the time being," he said. "At least until Miss Jones decides how she wants to proceed. I think we need to be very careful. After all, the man whose bunk that was is in there talking with her right now."

"You think she's gonna pick up on something, talking to him?"

"I don't know. We just need to be cautious."

Little Black nodded in agreement. Peter could see that the attendant was alert to the volatility of the knowledge they had acquired. A single bloodstained T-shirt, that could cause all sorts of difficulties. Peter ran his hand through his hair, as he considered the situation, recognizing that he needed to be both wary and aggressive. His first thought was technical: How to isolate and proceed against the man who slept in the bunk where he'd made his discovery. There was much to do, he realized, now that he had a genuine suspect. But all his training suggested caution in his approach, even if that contradicted his own nature. He smiled, because he recognized the familiar dilemma that he'd faced throughout his life, the balance between small steps and headlong plunges. He was aware that he was where he was, at least in part, because of a failure to hesitate.

In the corridor outside the office where Lucy was conducting interviews, the larger of the Moses brothers was standing, keeping watch on a patient that rivaled him in size, and perhaps in strength as well, though if this detail concerned Big Black, he didn't show it. The man was rocking back and forth, a little like a truck with its wheels stuck in mud, running through the gears until he found one that would help him to get going. When Big Black spotted Peter and his brother approaching, he nudged the man forward.

"We need to be escorting this gentleman back to Williams," he said, as they closed distance. Big Black made eye contact with his brother, and added, "Gulp-a-pill's upstairs, doing rounds on the third floor."

Peter didn't wait for the attendants to tell him what to do. "I'll just wait here for Miss Jones," he said. He pushed himself up against the wall, trying, as he did so, to get a really good assessment of the man Big Black was accompanying. He attempted to look into the man's eyes, to measure his posture, his appearance, as if he could see into his heart. A man that might be a killer.

As Peter slouched nonchalantly, and the trio of patient and attendants stepped past him, he could not resist speaking out loud, but under his breath, a whispered impulse designed for the ears of the man being escorted past: "Hello Angel," he said. "I know who you are."

Neither of the Moses brothers seemed to overhear his greeting.

Nor did the patient hesitate in the slightest. He merely shuffled along, plodding just behind the Moses brothers, seemingly unaware that he'd been spoken to. He moved a little bit like a man wearing hand and leg restraints, in short choppy steps, although there was nothing actually restricting his motion.

Peter watched the man's broad back disappear through the front door before he lifted himself off the wall and stepped toward the office where Lucy Jones waited. He didn't exactly know what to make of what had just happened.

Before he reached the office, however, Lucy Jones emerged, closely followed by Francis, who was hanging back, as if to distance himself from the psychologist. Peter could see that C-Bird had a troubled look, as if some thought or some idea had diminished him slightly. He looked lighter. But the young man lifted his head up abruptly, saw Peter approaching, and seemed to recover in that second, immediately moving away from Mister Evil toward Peter. At the same time, Peter saw Gulptilil enter the hallway from the far stairwell, leading a small coterie of staff members. Lots of notepads and pencils, scribbling observations, taking notations. Peter saw Cleo, cigarette dangling from her lower lip, launch herself out of an old and uncomfortable chair, and directly into the medical director's path. She held her ground like some ancient warrior defending the gates of her city.

"Ah, Doctor!" Her voice was just a little shy of being a shout. "What do you intend to do about the inadequate food portions being served at mealtimes? I don't believe that the state legislature envisioned starving us all to death when they established this place. I have friends who have friends who know people in high places, and they just might have the governor's ear on issues of mental health…"

Gulp-a-pill hesitated and turned toward Cleo. The group of interns and resident physicians accompanying him paused, and like a chorus line at a Broadway show, turned in unison. "Ah, Cleo," the doctor replied unctuously, mimicking her choice of words. "I was unaware that there was a problem, and equally unaware that you had complained. But I do not think it necessary to involve the entirety of state government in this matter. I will speak with the kitchen staff and make certain that everyone gets all they need at mealtimes."

Cleo, however, was just getting started.

"The Ping-Pong paddles are worn," she continued, picking up some momentum with each word. "They need replacing. The balls are frequently cracked, thereby rendering them useless and the nets are frayed and held together with string. The table is warped and unsteady. Tell me, Doctor, how is one supposed to improve their game with inferior equipment that doesn't meet even the minimum United States Table Tennis Association standards?"

"Again, I was unaware that this had arisen as a problem. I will examine the recreation budget to see if there are funds for a purchase."

While this might have placated some, Cleo was far from finished. "There's far too much noise in the dormitories at night to get a good sleep. Far, far too much. Sleep is critical to one's sense of well-being and overall progress toward health. The Surgeon General recommends at least eight hours per day of uninterrupted sleep. And furthermore, we need more space. Much more space. There are death row prisoners with more living space than we have. The overcrowding is out of control. And we need more toilet paper in the bathrooms.

A lot more toilet paper, and…" By now her voice was a cascade of complaints, "… why aren't there more attendants to help people out at night, when we have nightmares? Every night, someone screams for help. Nightmares, nightmares, nightmares. You call and call and cry and no one ever comes. That's wrong, just plain, flat-out goddamn son of a bitch wrong."

"We, like many state institutions, currently have staffing problems, Cleo," the doctor responded with a condescending tone. "I will, of course, register your complaints and your suggestions and see if there's anything we can do. But if the skeleton staff that works the overnight shift were to respond to every cry they overheard, they would be worked to a frazzle within a night or two, Cleo. I'm afraid nightmares are something that we will all have to learn to live with from time to time."

"That is hardly fair. With all the medications you bastards pump us full of, you ought to be able to find something so folks can sleep without being excessively troubled." Cleo seemed to inflate herself as she spoke, rising up with a regal haughtiness, a Marie Antoinette of the Amherst Building.

"I will examine the physician's guide for some additional medication," the doctor lied. "Are there any more issues that you need addressed?"

Cleo looked a little flustered, a little frustrated, but, then almost as swiftly, this look dissolved into something considerably more sly. "Yes," she said briskly. "I want to know what is happening to poor Lanky." And then she lifted her arm and pointed at Lucy, who was standing patiently waiting by the side of the corridor. "And I want to know if she's been able to find the real killer!"

The words echoed in the hallway.

Gulptilil smiled wanly, and answered quietly, "Lanky continues to remain in solitary confinement, accused of first degree murder. I believe I have explained this to you before. He had a bail hearing, but, as one would expect, none was granted. He has been assigned a public defender, and he continues to get his medications from the hospital. He's still being held in the county jail, pending additional court hearings. I am told his spirits are fine…"

"That's a lie," Cleo said angrily. "Lanky's probably miserable away from here. This is his home, such as it is, and we are his friends, such as we are. He should be returned here forthwith!" She took a deep breath, and then, sarcastically, mimicked the doctor's words. "I have told you this before. Why don't you listen to me?"

"… And as to your other question," Gulptilil continued, ignoring Cleo's accusation, "well, that is better directed to Miss Jones. But she is under no obligation to inform anyone as to what progress she feels she has made. Or not made." The last words were underscored by Gulptilil's acid voice.

Cleo stepped back, muttering something to herself. Gulptilil separated himself from her, and like a scout leader on a hike in the woods, waved the accompanying group of residents to follow him down the corridor. He had only taken a few steps, however, before Cleo burst out, loud, insistent and ringing with accusation, "I'm watching you, Gulptilil! I can see what's going on! You may fool some of the people around here, but not me!" Then, slightly under her breath, but not enough so that the physicians couldn't hear her, she added, "You're all bastards."

The medical director paused, half started to turn back, then obviously thought better of it. Francis could see that his face was set, unsuccessfully trying to hide the discomfort of the moment.

"We're all in danger and you sons of bitches aren't doing anything about it!" Cleo bellowed.

Then she gave a little giggle, took a long drag on her cigarette, cackled to herself and slumped back down into her seat, where she continued to watch the director move down the corridor, grinning with a self-satisfied look on her face. Holding her cigarette in her hand like a baton, she waved it in the air. A conductor satisfied with the final notes of the orchestral arrangement.

Francis was oddly encouraged by Cleo's bombast. It seemed to him that her outburst had gained the attention of every patient wandering the ward. Whether it meant anything to any of them, Francis could not tell, but he smiled to himself at her meager display of rebelliousness and wished that he had the same confidence to be as demanding. Cleo, for her part, must have sensed Francis's thoughts, because she blew a large elaborate smoke ring into the still corridor air, watched it dissipate, then gave Francis a wink.

Peter sidled into the space next to Francis, must have thought the same, and whispered, "When the revolution comes, she'll be on the barricades. Hell, she'll probably be leading the rebellion and she's big enough to be a barricade all by herself."

"What revolution?" Francis asked.

"Don't be so literal, C-bird," Peter said with a small laugh. "Think symbolically."

"That may come easy for the Queen of Egypt," Francis replied. "But I don't know about me." The two of them grinned.

Gulptilil, however, still apparently unamused, approached them. "Ah, Peter and Francis," he said, the lilting tones returning to his voice, but with none of the pleasantry ordinarily associated with the lighthearted sound. "My pair of investigators. And how is your progress?" he asked.

"Slow and steady," Peter replied. "That is how I would describe it. But it is really for Miss Jones to determine."

"Of course. She determines one sort of progress. I, and the others in charge here, are more concerned with a totally different sort of progress, are we not?"

Peter hesitated, then nodded.

"Of course, we are," Gulptilil said. "And to that end, this is a fortuitous meeting. Both of you need to come to my office this afternoon. Francis, it is time you and I had a chat about your continuing adjustment. And Peter, you will have a visitor of some significance this afternoon. The Moses brothers will be informed when they arrive, and they will escort you to administration."

The pear-shaped medical director arched one eyebrow upward, as if curious as to the reactions of each man. He watched both their faces for an unsettling half minute or so, then continued on a few paces, turning to Lucy. "Miss Jones, good day to you. And have you managed to make inroads in your dilemma?"

"I have managed to eliminate a number of potential suspects."

"That, I presume, is something you consider valuable?"

She did not reply.

"Well," Gulptilil continued, "please keep at it. The sooner we have some conclusions, the better for all involved, I believe. Mister Evans has proven to be of assistance in your inquiries?"

"Of course," Lucy said rapidly.

Gulptilil then pivoted toward Mister Evil. "You will keep me posted, as well, as matters develop and the circumstances warrant?" he said.

"Of course," Evans said. This, Francis thought, was all a bit of bureaucratic playacting. He was certain that Evans was keeping Gulp-a-pill assessed of everything at every point. He assumed that Lucy Jones knew this, as well.

The medical director sighed, and then continued down the corridor, and exited by the main door. After a moment, Evans turned to Lucy Jones, and said, "Well, I gather we're taking a break now, and I have some paperwork to do." He, too, exited quickly.

Francis heard someone from the dayroom laugh out loud. High-pitched and mocking, it swirled around the Amherst Building. But when he turned to see where the laughter was coming from, it stopped, fading away invisibly in the shafts of midday sunlight that filtered through the barred windows.

Peter peeled himself from the wall, whispered to Francis, "Come on," and approached Lucy. In that moment the Fireman changed abruptly, immediately focused on something other than Cleo and her demands or his pleasure at seeing Gulptilil discomfited. Francis saw that Peter's face was set. He took Lucy Jones by the elbow, turned her around and said, "I found something I need to tell you about."

Wordlessly, she nodded, after, Francis thought, measuring the look on Peter's face. The three of them returned to her small office.

"That last man," Peter said, as they took chairs around the desk, "What sort of impression did you get speaking to him?"

Lucy arched an eyebrow up. "The short answer is none," she said, and then she turned to Francis. "Isn't that right, Francis?"

He nodded, and she continued: "The man, while possessing the physical strength and the youth to do some of the things we are considering, is severely retarded. He wasn't able to communicate anything of any importance, mostly just sat there about as dense to what I was asking as imaginable, and Evans thought he should be ruled out. The guy we're looking for has some brains. At least enough to plan his crimes and avoid detection."

Peter looked a little surprised, then said, "Evans thought that man should be eliminated as a suspect?"

"He made that point," Lucy replied.

"Well, that's curious, because I discovered a bloodstained white T-shirt hidden near the bottom of his belongings."

Lucy rocked back in her seat, initially not saying anything. Francis watched her absorb this information and noted how guarded she became. His own imagination was energized, and after a second, he leaned forward and asked, "Peter, can you describe what you found? How can you be sure it was what you say?"

It only took Peter a moment or two to fill in a picture for the two of them.

"You are absolutely sure that it was blood?" Lucy finally asked.

"As sure as I can be without lab tests."

"There was spaghetti for dinner the other night. I'm wondering whether this guy has trouble manipulating utensils. He might have spilled sauce on his chest…"

"It wasn't that sort of stain. It was thick, a maroonish brown in color, and was smeared about. Not as if it had been dabbed at, by someone with a damp rag who wanted to clean it up. No, this was something that someone wanted to keep, intact."

Lucy spoke slowly, "Like a souvenir? We're looking for someone who wants to keep souvenirs."

"I suspect," Peter said, in reply, "that this had more or less the same effect as a snapshot. For the killer that is. You know, a family goes on vacation and later, they have their pictures developed, and they sit around watching slides of the trip and reliving the memories. My guess is that for our Angel, this shirt would provide much the same thrill and satisfaction. He could hold it up, touch it, and remember. I would imagine that remembering the moment is probably nearly as powerful as the moment itself," Peter concluded.

Francis could feel a din of voices within him. Conflicting opinions, advice, fear, and unsettled feelings. After a second, he nodded, in agreement with what Peter was saying. But he asked Lucy, "Was there any indication, in any of the other killings, that anything was taken from the victims, other than the finger joints?"

Lucy, on the verge of responding to what Peter had said, shifted gears, and pivoted toward Francis. She shook her head. "Not that we could tell. No articles of clothing were missing. At least, not from any inventory of items that we came up with. But that doesn't completely rule it out."

Francis was troubled by something, but he was unable to say what, and none of his voices were clear and decisive. They echoed contradictory opinions within him, and he did his best to shut them out so that he could concentrate.

Lucy was nervously tapping a pencil on the tabletop. She turned to Peter, and asked, "Did you find anything else that was incriminating?"

"No."

"The fingertips?"

"No. And no knife, either. Or the building keys."

She leaned back, but it was Francis who spoke.

"I think," he said slowly, "that what I said earlier is true." He was a little surprised that he was as forceful as he was. "Before you came back, Peter. When Evans was here." It was a little, he thought, as if he was hearing his own voice, but that it was coming from some other Francis, not the Francis that he knew he was, but a different Francis, a Francis that he hoped he someday might be. "When I said we need to uncover the Angel's language."

Peter looked at Francis with an intrigued eye, and Lucy bent to his words. Francis hesitated for an instant, ignored a surge of doubt and then said, "I wonder if this isn't the first lesson in communication." The others remained quiet, and then he added, "We just need to find out what he's saying, and why."

For a moment or two, Lucy wondered whether her pursuit of a killer in the hospital might render her mad, as well. But she saw madness as a by-product of frustration, not some organic illness. This was dangerous thinking, she realized, and with a bit of mental weight lifting, dismissed the notion from her head. She had sent Peter and Francis off to eat lunch, while she tried to map out a course of action. Alone, in her small office, she spread the hospital folder of the man she had tried to interview that morning out on her desk. Some things should make sense, she thought. Some connections should be obvious. Some steps should be clear.

She shook her head, as if that might remove the sense of contradiction that overcame her. Now she had a name. A piece of evidence. She had begun successful prosecutions with far less. And, still, she was uneasy. The dossier in front of her should have indicated something persuasive, and yet, it did the opposite. A profoundly retarded man, incapable of answering even the simplest of questions, who had stared across at her seemingly unable to understand anything she asked, had an item in his possession that only the killer would have. This did not add up.

Her first inclination was to send Peter back to take the shirt from the box beneath the man's bed. Any competent crime lab would be able to match the bloodstains against Short Blond's. It was also possible that hair, or fiber evidence was on the shirt, and a microscopic examination might turn up further links between the victim and the assailant. The trouble with simply taking the shirt was that it would be an illegal seizure and probably tossed out by a judge in any subsequent hearing. And there was the curious matter of the lack of the other items that they were searching for. That, too, did not make sense to her.

Lucy had considerable capabilities of concentration. In her short, but meteoric career in the prosecutor's office, she had distinguished herself by being able to see the crimes she investigated in more or less the same way that one watched a movie. In the screen of her imagination, she was able to put details together, so that sooner or later she could envision the entire act. It was what made her so successful. When Lucy came into court, she understood, probably even better than the man she was prosecuting, why and how he'd done what he'd done. It was this quality that made her so formidable. But inside the hospital, she felt adrift. It simply wasn't the same as the criminal world she was accustomed to.

Lucy groaned, frustrated. She stared down at the dossier for the hundredth time, and was about to slam it shut, when there was a tentative knock on the door. She looked up, and it swung open.

Francis was leaning in, poking his head around the corner.

"Hello, Lucy," he said. "Can I disturb you?"

"C-Bird, come in," she said. "I thought you'd gone to lunch."

"I did. Or I am. But something occurred to me on the way there, and Peter told me to right away come and tell you."

"What is that?" Lucy asked, gesturing for the young man to come into the office and seat himself. This Francis did with a clumsy series of motions that seemed to indicate that he was both eager and reluctant.

"The retarded man," Francis said slowly, "he didn't seem at all like the sort of person that we're looking for. I mean, some of the other guys that have been in here, who have been ruled out, they seemed, outwardly at least, like much better candidates. Or at least, what we think a candidate should look and sound like."

Lucy nodded. "That's what I thought, too. But this one guy how does he have the shirt?"

Francis seemed to shudder, before replying. "Because someone wanted us to find it. And someone wanted us to find this man. Someone knew that we were interviewing and searching, and he made the connection between the two events, and so he anticipated what we were going to do, and he planted the shirt."

Lucy inhaled sharply. This made some sense to her. "Why would someone drag us to this person?"

"I don't know yet," Francis said. "I don't know."

"I mean," Lucy continued, "if you wanted to frame someone for a crime that you'd committed, it would make more sense to plant things on someone whose behavior would be truly suspicious. How can this man's behavior get our interest?"

"I know that, too," Francis said. "But this man is different. He's the least likely candidate I think. A brick wall. So there needs to be another reason why he was selected."

He stood up suddenly, looking skittish, as if a disturbing noise had exploded close by. "Lucy," he said slowly, "there is something about this man that should tell us something. We just need to figure out what it is."

Lucy grasped the man's hospital folder and held it up. "Do you think there's something in here that might help us?" she asked.

Francis nodded. "Maybe. Maybe. I don't know what goes into a folder."

She thrust it across the desk. "See what you can see, because I'm drawing a blank."

Francis reached out and took the folder. He had never actually looked at a hospital file record before, and for a moment he felt as if he were doing something illegal, staring into another patient's life. The existence that all the patients knew about one another was so much denned by the hospital and the day-to-day routine that after a short time confined there, one more or less forgot that the other patients had lives outside the walls. All those elements, of past, of family, of future, were stripped away inside the mental hospital. Francis realized that somewhere there was a file about him, and one about Peter, as well, and that they contained all sorts of information that seemed in that moment terribly distant, as if it had all happened in another existence, at a different time, to a different Francis.

He pored over the retarded man's file.

It was written in clipped and nondescript hospitalese and divided into four sections. The first was background about his home and family; the second contained clinical history, which included height, weight, blood pressure, and the like; the third was course of treatment, outlining various drugs assigned; and the fourth was prognosis. This final section consisted of only five words: Guarded. Long term care likely.

There was also a chart that showed that the retarded man had, on more than one occasion, been checked out of the hospital for weekend furloughs to his family.

Francis read about a man who had grown up in a small town not far from Boston and who had only relocated to Western Massachusetts in the year before his hospitalization. He was in his early thirties, and had a sister and two brothers, all of whom tested normal and lived seemingly humdrum lives of exquisite routine. He had first been diagnosed as retarded in grade school and had been in and out of various-developmental programs all of his life. No plan had ever stuck.

Francis rocked back in his seat, and quickly saw a simple, deadly situation that resembled a box. A mother and father growing older. A childlike son, larger and less able to be controlled with every passing year. A son who was unable to understand or control impulses or rage. Of sexual interest. Of strength. Siblings who wanted to get away, far away, as fast as possible, unwilling to help.

He could see a little bit of himself in every word. Different, but the same, still.

Francis read through the file once, then again, all the time aware that Lucy was watching his face closely, measuring every reaction that he had to the words on the page.

After a moment, he bit down on his lip. He could feel a little quiver in his hands. He could sense things swirling around him, as if the words on the pages combined with the thoughts in his head to make him dizzy. He felt a surge of danger, and he breathed in sharply, then pushed himself away from the file, sliding it across the desktop to Lucy.

"Do you have any ideas, Francis?" she asked.

"Nothing, really," he said.

"Nothing jumps out at you?"

He shook his head. But she could see that this was a lie. Francis did have ideas, she realized. He just didn't want to say what they were.

I tried to remember: What scared me the most?

That was one of the moments, that time in Lucy's office. I was beginning to see things. Not hallucinations, like those that rang in my ears and echoed in my head. Those, I was familiar with, and while they might have been irksome and difficult and helped define my madness, I was accustomed to them and their demands and fears and the things they might or might not ask of me at any given moment. After all, they had been with me since I was a child. But what scared me right then was seeing things about the Angel. Who he might be. How he might think. For Peter and Lucy, it wasn't the same. They understood that the Angel was an adversary. A criminal. A target. Someone hiding from them, whom they were empowered to uncover. They had hunted people before, stalked them and brought them to justice, so there was a different context to their pursuit than what I had suddenly surrounding me. In those moments, I had begun to see the Angel as someone like me. Only far worse. He had taken footsteps, and, for the first time, I believed that I was able to retrace them. Placing my own shoe in his well-trod path was something that everything inside me screamed was wrong. But possible.

I wanted to flee. A chorus within me sang loudly that nothing right was happening. My voices were an opera of self-preservation, warning me to get out, get away, to run and hide and save myself.

But how could I? The hospital was locked. The walls were high. The gates were strong. And my own illness barred me from flight.

How could I turn my back on the only two people who had ever thought that I was worth anything?

"That's right, Francis. You couldn't do that."

I had crept down and huddled in a corner of the living room, staring over at my words, when I heard Peter speak. Relief flooded me, and I pivoted about, searching the room for his presence.

"Peter?" I replied. "You're back?"

"I didn't really leave. I've been here all along."

"The Angel was here. I could feel him."

"He will be back. He's close, Francis. He will get closer still."

"He's doing what he did before."

"I know, C-Bird. But you're ready for him this time. I know you are."

"Help me, Peter," I whispered. I could feel tears flowering in my throat.

"Oh C-Bird, this time it's your fight."

"I'm scared, Peter."

"Of course you are," he said, with the matter-of-fact tones that he sometimes used, but always had the quality of being nonjudgmental. "But that doesn't mean it's hopeless. It only means you need to be careful. Just like before. That hasn't changed. It was your caution, the first time that was critical, wasn't it?"

I stayed in my corner, my eyes darting around the room. He must have seen me, because when I spied him, leaning up against the wall opposite me, he gave a little wave of his hand, and broke into a familiar grin. I could see that he was wearing a bright orange jumpsuit, but it had faded through use and was ripped and torn and smeared with dirt. He held a shiny silver helmet in his hands, and his face was streaked with soot and ash and lines of sweat. He must have seen me staring, because he gave a little laugh, a wave of the hand, and shook his head. "Sorry about the rough appearance, C-Bird."

I thought he looked a little older than I remembered, and behind his grin I could see some of the harsh inroads of hurt and trouble. "Are you okay, Peter?" I asked.

"Of course, Francis. It s just I've been through a lot. So have you. We always wear the clothes that the fates dress us in, don't we, C-Bird? Nothing new about that."

He turned over to the wall and his eyes ran up and down the columns of words. He nodded in agreement. "You're making progress," he said.

"I don't know," I answered. "Every word I write seems to make the room get darker."

Peter sighed, as if to say that he'd anticipated this. "We've been through a lot of darkness, haven't we, Francis. And some of it together. That's what you're writing about. Just remember, we were there with you, and we're here with you now. Can you keep that in mind, C-Bird?"

"I'll try"

"Things got a little complicated that day, didn't they?"

"Yes. For both of us. And Lucy, too, because of it."

"Tell it all, Francis," he said.

I looked over at the wall, and saw where I had left off. When I turned back to Peter, he had disappeared.

Chapter 20

It was Peter who suggested that Lucy proceed in two distinct directions. The first path, he emphasized, was to not stop interviewing patients. It was critical, Peter said, that no one, either patients or staff, know that they had uncovered a piece of evidence, because precisely what it meant, and where it pointed, was as yet unclear to any of them. But if the news got out, they would lose control over the situation. It was a by-product of the unstable world of the mental hospital, he told her. There was no way of anticipating what unrest, even panic, it might cause among all the fragile personalities that made up the population. This meant, among other things, that the bloody shirt had to be left where it was, and that no outside agencies should be involved, especially the local cops who'd taken Lanky into custody, even if they risked losing it as a piece of evidence down the road. And, he added, people in the Amherst Building were beginning to get accustomed to the steady stream of patients entering from other buildings at the elbow of Big Black in order to be questioned by Lucy, and there might be a way of working that routine into an advantage. The second suggestion Peter had was slightly harder to bring about.

"What we need to do," he said to Lucy quietly, "is get that big guy and his things transferred over to Amherst. And we need to do this in a way that doesn't draw much attention to the change."

Lucy agreed. They were standing in the corridor, static amid the early afternoon ebb and flow of patients through the building, as therapy groups and crafts classes were getting under way. The usual haze of cigarette smoke hung in the still air, and the clattering of feet mingled with the hum of voices. Peter, with Lucy and Francis, seemed to be the only people not moving. Like rocks in a fast-running river, activity bubbled around them. "Okay," Lucy said. "I think that makes sense. He bears watching. But beyond that?"

"I don't know. Not precisely," Peter replied. "He's the only suspect we have, and C-Bird here doesn't think he's the real suspect anyway, an observation that I think I subscribe to. But exactly how he fits into the greater scheme of things we're going to need to find out. And the only way to do that…"

"… is to keep him close enough to watch. Yes. This makes as much sense as anything," she said. Then she lifted an eyebrow, as if an idea had occurred to her. "I think I know what to do. Let me make some arrangements."

"But quietly," Peter said. "Don't let anyone know…"

She smiled. "Peter, I can manage this. Being a prosecutor is all about making things happen in precisely the way you want them to happen." Then she added, as if to underscore a bit of a joke: "More or less." Lucy looked up and saw the Moses brothers making their way down the corridor. She nodded to them. "Gentlemen, I think we need to get back on track. I wonder if I could have a word with you quietly, before Mister Evans returns from wherever he is."

"He's over talking with the big doc," Little Black said cautiously. He turned to Peter and made a little waving gesture with his hand, which was, in effect, a question. Peter nodded.

"I told her," he said. "Does anyone else…"

"I told my brother," Little Black said. "But that's it."

Big Black edged forward. "I'm not seeing that dude as the guy we're looking for," he said stolidly. "I mean the man can barely feed his self Likes to sit around and play with dolls. Maybe watch the television. I don't see him as a murderer, unless you get him so riled up he takes a swing at somebody. Boy is strong. Stronger than he knows."

"Francis said more or less the same thing," Peter said.

"C-Bird's got instincts." Big Black laughed.

"So for the time being, nobody else gets told anything, okay?" Lucy interjected. "Let's try to keep it that way."

Little Black shrugged, but rolled his eyes, as if to say that in a place where everyone seemed to be filled with the secrets of their past, keeping a sec