When he returned, Lee Matherly had regained some of his cheerfulness. He sat on the edge of his desk, directly before Elaine and said, Well, Elaine, father admits having told you that story about nearly being murdered last night. But he says, when he buzzed for you, he was so terrified that he wasn't able to think clearly. He says, now, in retrospect, he knows he was dreaming. But when he woke, having an attack, he was confused about what was real and what wasn't.
Elaine shook her head negatively. The bulb had been taken out of his nightlight.
I'm sure there's a logical explanation for that, Lee said. It's just coincidentally pertinent to his nightmare. And father is certain it was only a dream.
Was I dreaming too? she asked. She was beginning to get angry. None of these people wanted to face up to reality, to truth. They were so eager to accept the theory of the hitchhiker that they would bend over backwards to misinterpret any clue that pointed to their own number.
It's possible, he said. You had gotten little sleep in the past days. And you had the frightening experience of listening to father recount his nightmare as if it were truth. You can see how-
What about the cat? she asked, figuring she had already lost that point.
What about it?
Who stabbed it and put it in the garbage bag?
I can't tell you who murdered the poor animal, Lee said, But it was Denny who put it in the bag.
Dennis? she asked. She felt her stomach rise, felt her hands begin to tremble as she remembered his paintings and the odd mood he had been in the previous afternoon.
Yes, Lee said. He found the cat this morning when he went for a walk before beginning his work. It was very early-he gets up quite early many days- and he knew Bess wouldn't be in the kitchen yet. He couldn't think of what to do with Bobo, but he knew that Bess mustn't find the animal. He knew how hurt she would be. Unfortunately, he made a bad choice. And Bess found the body.
But who killed it? she persisted.
Apparently, one of the neighbors, he said uneasily. Bobo had a tendency to roam about that wasn't appreciated.
But they would have poisoned him. Or shot him. They wouldn't have stabbed him like that!
It's difficult to know just what people will do, Lee said. Many of our neighbors are unfriendly towards us. I believe you met the Bradshaws. Well, they aren't the only people in the neighborhood who would do us a bad turn if they had the chance.
Now, Lee said, if you'll excuse me, I really must get back to the ledgers. Rest easy, Elaine. Tomorrow or the next day, Dr. Carter will make a breakthrough with Celia, and all this will be finished with. I'm sorry you arrived in the middle of such a mess. He went behind his desk, sat down, and began to leaf through a sheaf of papers.
An hour later, as they sat on the sofa in the main drawing room, Gordon excused himself for the remainder of the evening, pleading work to be done with restaurant invoices. Evidently, he had sensed the mixture of anger, fear and confusion which filled her, for as he took his leave, he bent to her and brushed her cheek with his lips. And he said, I wish that you would lock your door again tonight and that you would, perhaps, brace it with a chair under the knob.
She was so shocked by the kiss, the tender kiss that still lingered on her smooth cheek, that she took some long seconds to find words. She said, at last, You believed me, then?
I see no reason to disbelieve you.
And your father-?
He is doing what he thinks is right.
Can't you persuade him-
He waved his hand, negating what she was about to say. Elaine, this is all strange business. I do not know really what to believe. I just hope you will lock your door tonight. I shall lock mine, I know!
Then he excused himself and left the room, pausing only by the arch to look back at her. There was concern mirrored in his face, a concern that touched her and made her feel quite rich, richer than a queen. Then he was gone. She attempted to will him to stay, to keep the archway filled with him so that she would not be alone. But that was impossible and silly.
And, in another way, she was just as glad that he was gone-for she did not know whether he would approve of what she intended to do now. When she had seen that Lee Matherly was not going to accept the hard reality of what she was placing before him, she knew that she would have to call Rand whenever she got the chance, even though she did not have Lee's support. Now, as bedtime drew near and she would have to soon look in on Jacob, she realized that the time had come.
She crossed the room and sat down in the heavy, maroon lounge chair in the corner by the archway. It engulfed her as if it were a living organism, soft and pliable.
The adding machine clicked and ratcheted in the den.
The classical music still played upstairs.
She picked up the telephone from the end table beside the chair and dialed information to obtain the number of the precinct house out of which Captain Rand worked. A moment later, she dialed the police.
Desk Sergeant Wilson, a voice said. Can I help you?
I'd like to speak to Captain Rand, she said, with no little amount of effort, her tongue cleaving to the roof of her mouth as if she had just eaten peanut butter.
I'm sorry, the Captain is off duty now. Is there anyone else who can help you?
Could I have his home number?
I'm sorry, we don't give out home numbers of our officers. Did you want to make a report or something? If you'd tell me what-
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw someone move into the archway from the hall. She turned just far enough to see Dennis Matherly looking down at her.
I'm terribly sorry to have bothered you, Elaine told the police sergeant.
If someone else could help-
Sorry, she repeated.
And she hung up.
She turned around and, with a supreme effort she would never have guessed herself capable of, managed to smile at Dennis. She said, I hear that you've finished the portrait of Celia that you were working on. I'd like to see it some time.
It isn't quite finished, he said. Almost.
How much do you have to-
He interrupted her, his voice lowered so that no one else could hear the exchange. Was that the police?
She hesitated, fished for an answer, found that she simply could not find any reply.
He frowned. The lines in his face gave it a curiously rubber look, cleft so deeply that one could never believe they were etched in flesh. He licked his lips and stared away from her, at the sofa, as if he were seeing something that her own eyes would not register, something more than a piece of furniture.
He said, Do you still think it was one of the family?
No, she said.
You do, though.
She did not answer this time.
Who do you suspect, Elaine?
I don't know.
He looked away from the sofa, engaged her eyes again. His own gaze was so intense that she could not look away from him, and she thought this must be what it was like to let Dr. Carter hypnotize you.
Elaine, you must have some idea. There must be someone who has made you suspicious.
No, she said.
Tell me, he insisted, taking a step towards her.
I just don't know! The vehement tone she had adopted was a surprise even to her.
Dennis blinked, as if her tense, clipped reply had snapped him out of fantasy into reality, broken some daydream that had him bound in a spell. He backed away from her again, and he said, You'll have to come up and see the painting tomorrow.
She could not reply. She was certain he could hear the heavy thumping of her heart and that he would understand-from that biological betrayal-who she most suspected. Him.
It'll be finished by then, he said.
She nodded her head.
Tomorrow, then, he said. And he went away, quietly.
For several minutes, she could not move. Her feet had fallen asleep and stung as if a thousand needles had been driven into them. The calves of her legs might have been molded from jelly, so weak were they and so regularly did they tremble. Her stomach was a knot which wouldn't come untied, and her chest was filled with lumps of dark, unmelting fear. She had to direct her thoughts to pleasant subjects, like the beautiful day which had just passed and the good meal she had just eaten and the kiss Gordon had bestowed upon her cheek. Then she could get up.
She mounted the stairs, wary of the shadows that always lay on them, night and day. She intended to look in on Jacob, see him to bed if necessary, and then lock herself in her room and brace the door with a chair just as Gordon had recommended.
It was going to be a long night.
Longer than any that had come before it.
And, something told her, it was going to be a bad night as well, a really terrible night.