Softer. That would have been nice.

THE WOMAN WITH the licorice scar across her throat came waddling down the breezeway toward them, her ankles and wrists enchained, an orderly on each elbow. She looked happy and made duck sounds and tried to flap her elbows.

“What did she do?” Chuck said.

“This one?” the orderly said. “This here Old Maggie. Maggie Moonpie, we call her. She just going to Hydro. Can’t take no chai’ces with her, though.”

Maggie stopped in front of them, and the orderlies made a halfhearted attempt to keep her moving, but she shoved back with her elbows and dug her heels against the stone, and one of the orderlies rolled his eyes and sighed.

“She gone proselytize now, hear?”

Maggie stared up into their faces, her head cocked to the right and moving like a turtle sniffing its way out of its shell.

“I am the way,” she said. “I am the light. And I will not bake your fucking pies. I will not. Do you understand?”

“Sure,” Chuck said.

“You bet,” Teddy said. “No pies.”

“You’ve been here. You’ll stay here.” Maggie sniffed the air. “It’s your future and your past and it cycles like the moon cycles around the earth.”

She leaned in close and sniffed them. First Teddy, then Chuck.

“They keep secrets. That’s what feeds this hell.”

“Well, that and pies,” Chuck said.

She smiled at him, and for a moment it seemed as if someone lucid entered her body and passed behind her pupils.

“Laugh,” she said to Chuck. “It’s good for the soul. Laugh.”

“Okay,” Chuck said. “I will, ma’am.”

She touched his nose with a hooked finger. “I want to remember you that way—laughing.”

And then she turned away and started walking. The orderlies fell into step and they walked down the breezeway and through a side door into the hospital.

Chuck said, “Fun girl.”

“Kind you’d bring home to Morn.”

“And then she’d kill Mom and bury her in an outhouse, but still...” Chuck lit a cigarette. “Laeddis.”

“Killed my wife.”

“You said that. How?”

“He was a firebug.”

“Said that too.”

“He was also the maintenance man in our building. Got in a fight

with the owner. The owner fired him. At the time, all we knew was

that the fire was arson. Someone had set it. Laeddis was on a list of suspects, but it took them a while to find him, and once they did, he’d

shored up an alibi. Hell, I wasn’t even sure it was him.”

“What changed your mind?”

“A year ago, I open the paper and there he is. Burned down a

schoolhouse where he’d been working. Same story—they fired him

and he came back, lit it in the basement, primed the boiler so it would

explode. Exact same M.O. Identical. No kids in the schoolhouse, but the principal was there, working late. She died. Laeddis went to trial, claimed he heard voices, what have you, and they committed him to Shattuck. Something happened there—I don’t know what—but he was transferred here six months ago.”

“But no one’s seen him.” “No one in Ward A or B.”

“Which suggests he’s in C.”

“Yup.” “Or dead.”

“Possibly. One more reason to find the cemetery.”

“Let’s say he isn’t dead, though.”


“If you find him, Teddy, what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t bullshit me, boss.”

A pair of nurses came toward them, heels clicking, bodies pressed close to the wall to avoid the rain.

“You guys are wet,” one of them said.

“All wet?” Chuck said, and the one closest to the wall, a tiny girl with short black hair, laughed.

Once they’d passed, the black-haired nurse looked back over her shoulder at them. “You marshals always so flirty?”

“Depends,” Chuck said.


“Quality of personnel.”

That stopped both of them for a moment, and then they got it, and the black-haired nurse buried her face in the other one’s shoulder, and they burst out laughing and walked to the hospital door.

Christ, how Teddy envied Chuck. His ability to believe in the

words he spoke. In silly flirtations. In his easy-GI’s penchant for quick, meaningless wordplay. But most of all for the weightlessness of his charm.

Charm had never come easily to Teddy. After the war, it had come harder still. After Dolores, not at all.

Charm was the luxury of those who still believed in the essential rightness of things. In purity and picket fences.“You know,” he said to Chuck, “the last morning I was with my wife, she spoke about the Cocoanut Grove fire.”


“That’s where we met. The Grove. She had this rich roommate and I was let in because they gave a serviceman’s discount. It was just before I shipped out. Danced with her all night. Even the foxtrot.” Chuck craned his neck out from the wall, looked into Teddy’s face.

“You doing the foxtrot? I’m trying to picture it, but...” “Hey, hoss,” Teddy said, “if you’d seen my wife that night? You would have hopped around the floor like a bunny if she asked.” “So you met her at the Cocoanut Grove.”

Teddy nodded. “And then it burned down while I was in—Italy?  Yeah, I was in Italy then—and she found that fact, I dunno, meaningful, I guess. She was terrified of fire.”

“But she died in a fire,” Chuck said softly.

“Beats all, don’t it?” Teddy bit back against an image of her from that last morning, lifting her leg against the bathroom wall, naked, her body splattered with dead white foam.


Teddy looked at him.

Chuck spread his hands. “I’ll back you on this. No matter what.

You want to find Laeddis and kill him? That’s jake with me.”

“Jake.” Teddy smiled. “I haven’t heard that since—“

“But, boss? I need to know what to expect. I’m serious. We got to get our shit straight or we’ll end up in some new Kefauver Hearing or something. Everyone’s looking these days, you know? Looking in at all of us. Watching. World gets smaller every minute.” Chuck pushed back at the stand of bushy hair over his forehead. “I think you know about this place. I think you know shit you haven’t told me. I think you came here to do damage.” Copyright 2016 - 2024