Shakespeare's Dark Lady
As You Like It, Act IV, Scene 1
A fuzzy sound . . .
The voice of a man, a pause, the voice, a silence, the voice again. Half his belly had been torn out. His head was floating in a tub of acid. And underneath it all was a dull longing to be cradled that would not go away.
The voice again. He made out "goodbye" and the click of a phone. Then a woman's voice . . . Amelia's voice. He lay still for some time trying to force his eyes to open.
"Daniel. It's me, lover. Wake up."
Nothing focused when he got his lids halfway apart, but the glare was blinding. There was a white fuzziness that focused into a man's white hair. He winced as the man bent forward.
"You're going to be all right, Dr. Bosworth."
"Daniel, this is David Bendix. My uncle, your doctor."
Despite an excruciating pain in his neck he twisted his head and Amelia's face swam into focus.
"You're going to be just fine," she said. "David says so."
He noticed the doctor's bag in the corner, the oxygen bottle and a mask. On the bedside table--Amelia's bed in Hungerford House--lay an empty syringe on a pad. He raised one arm stiffly and touched his face to make sure he was real.
"You've taken quite a shock to your system," the doctor said, "partly from exposure and partly from the drugs they pumped into you. Couldn't find any wounds, though. Just bruises and plenty of dirt. You were thrashing around again last night, so I gave you a shot."
He tried to speak, but a coughing fit seized him.
"You must have been unconscious for quite a while," Bendix said. "Certainly for the last two days. If you like I can arrange for the medical center to check you ." He put his stethoscope into his bag. "Pleased to have met you, Dr. Bosworth. Can't say I understand the first thing about genetics, but I hear you're doing extraordinary work on AIDS."
Daniel feebly shook Bendix's hand and the old man left. His head felt ready to split, but somewhere in it the pieces were beginning to come together, at least in patches. He was trying to climb the hillside at Big Sur. Going on ahead and reaching the ridge, exhausted. Then nothing. His memory was blank from that point on, though something was tugging at the fringes like the after-image of a dream.
"You look sexy with stubble," Amelia said. She dabbed at his forehead with a wet towel, then bent and pressed her nose to his.
He felt his face with the palm of one hand. "What happened to Polly Ann?"
Her face flushed "I don't know."
He tried to sit up, ignoring the pounding in his head and the scream of a muscle in the small of his back.
Without opening his eyes he asked her how long he'd been at her place.
There had been dreams--a long sequence of shadows--but he couldn't get hold of them. There had been a struggle . . .
"How did I get here? You lost me on the hill."
"You mean you lost me." She sat on the side of the bed and took his hand. "You just vanished. When I couldn't find you I drove back to Marcus's and apologized for everything. What else could I do? Marcus promised to find you. I waited for news at Marcus's for a few days, then caught a plane back here."
"Three days ago Marcus's security people found you staggering around in the Ventana Wilderness in some kind of trance, about two miles from where I saw you last. You were filthy and had dry blood down the front of your shirt."
"What happened then?" Concentration was almost impossible.
"He said you went berserk when they tried to bring you back," she said. "They gave you something pretty powerful to knock you out, then he had you flown from Oakland to Boston yesterday on a stretcher. An ambulance picked you up and drove you here, and you've been in some kind of coma ever since. Uncle David's been by twice. He gave you a shot of Valium or something, listened to your heart and said you'd be fine, just needed some time in bed."
"Did you miss me?"
"Worried sick. I've hardly left your side since you got here."
"You cared that much?"
She leaned over and kissed him gently on the mouth. "The sky seemed to be falling on top of me when I couldn't find you myself. Then Marcus couldn't find you either, and I was. . .there isn't a word bad enough to describe how I felt. I thought you were dead."
"That's pretty much how I feel right now," he said
"You should see your face--you look like an escaped convict."
"He's been in Palm Beach. World Cup polo."
"How long is it since we were in California?"
Over a week of his life lost. "Then it's. . . April twenty-third?"
"Shakespeare's supposed birthday."
He turned his head to the window. Dust motes drifted in the sunlight's shafts. On the table, behind the syringe, was a vase of anemones and jonquils.
"Gone home to Guatemala for a vacation. I think the house was starting to get to her. Falstaff's gone too. He goes to our summer cottage when the weather warms up." She drew a sharp breath and sneezed. "Hay fever. I get it around this time of year, but I'm not allergic-I've been tested. Katie says it's psychosomatic."
"How are things going with her?"
"Not a lot happening there. But it's you we've got to worry about. I got a friend to cover my classes yesterday and this morning. I have a class this afternoon but I'll blow it off unless you think you'll be okay. I see Katie at four."
"I'll survive. I just wish I didn't feel so weird. All my things are at that bloody place. And all my data. . ."
He struggled to sit but kept falling back on the pillow.
"Right here in the cellar," she said. "Everything important at the temple came with you on the flight. All your clothes and stuff, too."
Was he supposed to feel grateful? "What about Roderick and Alistair and the others?"
"Everyone's gone home. The search for Shakespeare's kids is canceled-- unilaterally. Marcus figured the search was running out of steam and the effect would start to get negative if it went too long without finding someone. Basically you've blown it."
"Is he calling it quits because of everything that's happened?"
"He said he was going to anyway. The AIDS Campaign will keep going. It's still got loads of life. I'm the one who should be disappointed about no green lamplighter. Disappointment across the board."
He finally managed to make it to a sitting position. Amelia stacked pillows behind him.
"I wouldn't have thought Marcus could do without me quite so easily," he said.
"You don't know Marcus. . .Do you want anything?"
"How about something to drink?"
"Sorry, lover. Uncle David says nothing before tonight except water." She nodded in the direction of a china pitcher beside the bed. "What's it going to be? Do I nurse you this afternoon or can you look after yourself?"
His hand groped to find hers and give it a squeeze. "I'll be okay."
"Then I'll see you later."
"You know, I still want to go back to Oxford," he said. "That much hasn't changed."
He lay in the warmth of the sun streaming in the open window, nursing the various hurts inside him. Wisteria shoots hung across the top of the glass, spreading a shadow over the foot of the bed. The pain in his temples persisted, as did the occasional wave of nausea, although his stomach was empty.
When he put out a hand to steady himself after a dry-heaves spell in the bathroom, his fingers touched the laundry basket. On top lay his scrofulous jeans beside a torn and crumpled shirt. For no particular reason he wondered if the strongbox at the safe deposit firm in St. James's was still all right..... curst be he . . .. . . . The left sleeve of the shirt, which smelled of stale sweat, was missing. He touched bloody patches on the shirt front. The cloth felt thick where the blood had hardened. He looked carefully at the dark patches, then checked his upper body. No cuts or scratches, just some yellowish bruises. An idea was beginning to jell.
He washed out the syringe Bendix had left by the bed and ran the needle under the hot tap--if not sterile it should at least be clean--then tore the remaining sleeve off the shirt and tied it around his left arm. Even then a vein was hard to find, but eventually he got the needle into his forearm. Pulling the plunger was more difficult with only one hand. When the chamber was full he bent and held it firm with his chin while he withdrew the plunger, then the needle, which he detached. Into the wastebasket it went, along with the makeshift tourniquet. The vial of blood he buried neatly in a box of cotton balls he found on the bathroom shelf.
His briefcase, which he'd last seen in his office in the holy city, lay by the wicker chair. He opened it using the combination and stuffed the box into it.
He hobbled to the window. Gone was the tundra landscape. Roses threaded a spiny course among the wisteria. An elm was in leaf; and beyond, screening the house from the view of neighbors, stood a copse of maple and high-crowned beech. Behind a stone statue of a nymph two gray squirrels were feeding busily. In the light spring sunshine Hungerford House had shaken off its doomsday air.
He flicked through the phone directory and found what he was looking for: the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. He jotted the number down beside that of the limo service Amelia had left out for him.
On a chair a few feet away, eyes glared at him. They belonged to Rosaline, Amelia's rag doll. For some reason the doll made him think of sweet Polly Ann. He saw her again, flashing her smile and jerking one hip the way she did, so cute and sexy that he always felt like a satyr just watching her.
Ben Talbot, director of the Whitehead Institute, welcomed Daniel the following day with a vigorous handshake.
"I've been hearing a lot about your work in California," he said.
Until now they'd been only one rung past nodding acquaintances at conferences, where Daniel knew him as the man whose genetic marker research led ultimately to the pinpointing of the gene cluster responsible for cystic fibrosis in the midsection of chromosome seven. In fact he was one of the best immunologists in America and a Nobel laureate to boot. Lucky bastard.
"That was nice work you did on enzyme blockers with the Fox Chase people," Daniel said. "What are you working on now?"
"We've got a big push on to sequence and map our share of the base pairs in the human genome by the year 2005. We decided if Wally Gilbert's grail of human genetics was good enough for the Department of Energy and the NIH it was good enough for us. How's the hunt for your green lamplighter going?"
Daniel shrugged. "It's not. Sixteen thousand tested without a direct hit. Maybe a few more months at the same rate and we'd have found someone."
"Pity. It would have been interesting to find him, if only for sentimental reasons." He picked up his briefcase. "I've got a meeting with the Human Genome Advisory Committee so I've got to go. The path report shouldn't take too long. Feel free to use anything here you think you'll need."
A lab assistant handed Daniel an envelope. "Results of the toxic screen."
He tore it open and scanned the path report on his blood. At the top, neatly typed on the Institute's official notepaper, was the date followed by his name in capital letters. He went over the figures, then reread the summary.
His blood pathology was far from what it should be. The neurotransmitter serotonin was way down low. The pineal gland secretion melatonin and the stress hormone noradrenaline showed abnormal levels. The toxicologist had found traces of four extraneous substances: an opium derivative that resembled morphine, a significant level of droperidol, a small amount of diazepam and traces of a serotonin reuptake inhibitor, probably Prozac. The report had a signature: J. S. Ficino, and a comment underneath: "Maybe you'd like me to get a forensic chemist to run some tests. This one looks serious."
No wonder he couldn't remember a thing. Droperidol was literally mind-boggling--a behavior-altering drug used to control Tourette's Syndrome, for God's sake. An overdose could kill you, and who knew what effect it had when you mixed it with opium.On top of so much Prozac. If that was Marcus's tranquilizer what in hell had his security people been trying to do to him? As if he needed Valium on top of that lot.
He thought of Marcus and his fancy footwork the night of the party. Unlikely he'd ever get an answer out of him, assuming they met or spoke again. As for the notion that he'd spent days wandering around the hills of California in some kind of a trance . . .
"I had a visitor from England two weeks ago" Amelia said that evening. "Adrian Mannering--you know, the guy from the Birthplace Trust. Somehow he knows you took the cross from Shakespeare's grave. He said if you give it back he'll make sure you don't get prosecuted when you get back to England."
She wriggled to get comfortable, lying naked on top of him, and pressed her breasts down on his chest
"I wish you'd told me sooner. Does the offer still stand?"
"He called yesterday. Wanted to know how you were and if you agreed to his terms."
"He came all the way from England just for this?"
"Mmmmm. He even knew about you and me."
"Who doesn't?" he said. " Let's talk about it later, okay?"
"Lover, are you worried about Mannering?"
But something tugged at his memory--Bendix's voice on the phone, as Daniel was coming around the day before. It had seemed like a long conversation.
"Was that Mannering talking to the doctor on the phone yesterday?"
"Don't be silly." She pulled back, and in the moonlight he could see her frown.
"Just wondered if they knew each other."
"I doubt it," she said. "Just leave Mannering to me."
"I'm going back to face the music. Do you want to stay here?"
"Will you take me with you?" She sat up and ran her fingers down to his navel. "I'm tired of being a target for critics and my own advisor." Then, sweetly, "I just want to be with you."
He caught the soft camber of her cheeks between his fingers and slowly drew her lips to his mouth, where they lingered playfully.
"I'll take you anywhere you want to go," he said, "on one condition."
"That you marry me." He looked at her face and his heart turned over. "Will you?"
Just like that.
"Did you know I'd ask you?" he said later.
"Another of my hunches."
"We're both a bit loopy, you know. Think it'll work?"
She bent over to kiss him. "This time I'm sure of it. After all, wouldn't life be boring without a little madness?"
When he had breathing space to think about it later it still seemed like the right thing to do. He was crazy about her, but at the moment when she said "yes," he'd felt Janey threatening to resign.
The day began for Daniel with a my-god-what-have-I-done depression and ended with I'm-the-luckiest-man-in-the-world elation-both states of mind, he suspected, quite common to the newly engaged.
He suggested that Amelia wait until after commencement before coming to England. She refused, saying she wasn't going to let him go on his own. She'd have a word with Bob Carr and see if she could cancel her final lecture the following week.
"Anyway, there's still no news on the Dark Lady front. I could return and give my lecture in the fall, especially if I've nailed her down by then. Bob would love that."
When she called Lawrence in Washington to tell him they were engaged, he congratulated her without asking to speak to Daniel and insisted she leave the house untenanted. Maria would be back to look after the place the day after they left. Falstaff would have to stay in America too--English quarantine laws were too strict.
Then there was the question of his own relocation. He telephoned Erik Sigurdsson, back at his immunochemistry unit, then Professor of Genetics Godfrey Shanks. He called Sir Leon Fitzpatrick, the Warden of All Souls, with much more trepidation-- unwarranted, as it turned out. Not only would his Stratford escapade not cost him his All Souls fellowship, but no one seemed to care.
Now cautiously optimistic, he phoned Dunkley, who assured him that he wouldn't be infringing his agreement with the Rostrum if he pulled out now. Dunkley also confirmed that the pressure was still on from Drake and the file on his mother's murder still open. Why, he still didn't know. He had one good piece of news, though. Daniel's blueprint of the weeping gene was now registered officially with GenBank at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
He toyed with the idea of calling Santa Monica. Marcus had saved him-or almost killed him--at Big Sur. True, he'd brought Daniel back to Cambridge with his database, and it was hard to call that a slap in the face. In the end he decided not to phone. As for that frigging old fox the high priest of sex and sin. . .. . .
He needed some fresh air. He walked through the screen door to the porch and tripped over a forsythia planter at his feet. After he picked himself and the planter back up, he settled onto a garden bench by the loggia and drew a long deliberate breath of the spring air. A crumpled old man with his back to Daniel was jabbing at the Boston ivy over by the patio wall.
When he glanced back that way a minute later the figure had vanished.
He all but ran back inside, then called Amelia.
"Something happened?" Amelia asked when he got through to her.
"I just decided I'd like to meet you some place for coffee."
"Let me think. . ..Okay, I can meet you in the Coffee Connection at quarter past one. Ask how to get to the mall, corner of Dunster and Mt. Auburn."
He had over an hour, enough time to go down into the cellar and check on all the stuff that had come from Mendocino. He took a high-beam flashlight, which was just as well since the red bulkhead light seemed even fainter than before. It didn't take long to locate his stuff. It looked as though it had all been professionally packed--the two containers were even covered in heat-shrunk plastic.
He imagined Marcus's pugmark on everything as he tore open the larger container, turned the security cabinet's combination lock from memory--and breathed deeply when, inside, he found the file on his mother. The cooling cabinet was there too, stuffed in dry ice. The disks were in the adjacent container. Before they left he'd arrange to get everything air-freighted to London.
Just as well there was heat-shrunk plastic around everything. Even so, the cellar seemed cleaner than when he last visited it. He nosed around a bit and this time took a good look at the wine bottles. Some of them were priceless and virtually all were vintage. It could almost have been the All Souls cellar.
He approached the snug in the fireplace. This time, with his flashlight, he could see right inside the baker's oven. It looked to be about eight feet deep. A few ancient ashes still covered some of the blackened brickwork.
Red wax lay in a dried puddle on top of the old stove in the fireplace. He broke off a piece that hung on the edge like an icicle and crumbled it into fragments. The candle wick lay like a black worm in a frozen caldera. The temperature down here was pleasantly cool, the air odorless. No hint of the nauseating smell he'd felt so strongly the other time.
He took a last sweep around with the flashlight, then headed back up.
He walked self-consciously through the crowd in Harvard Square to the Coffee Connection. Amelia was already at a table in the far corner.
"As far as Oxford's concerned I can go back as if nothing has happened" he said after they'd ordered cappuccino. " My sabbatical was for six months, so I'll actually be returning early."
Amelia looked at her watch. "I've got to see Bob Carr at two, and if we're going to London at the end of the week, we need to talk about Mannering."
Daniel sighed. "I'll go along with him. Phone him myself and tell him the cross is safe and sound, he can come with me to collect it. I think he'll accept my putting it back where it came from myself. In his presence, of course. I think that's the way Shakespeare would want it."
"You've got other ways of placating Shakespeare's shade," she said . "You've turned him from a run-of-the-mill saint into a megastar."
"Maybe he'll withdraw his curse out of gratitude."
"If he wants peace as much as you do, maybe he'll double it. Did I tell you the Radcliffe Seminars have asked me to run a study tour of Stratford in August? They'll meet me in Oxford. You can come too if you're not still working your tail off." She leaned over and gave him a quick kiss.
"It's nearly two. You're going to be late."
"Oh, Bob won't mind." She looked at him expectantly. "Notice anything?"
He looked at her, enjoying the view, and made a wild guess based on no evidence whatsoever. "You highlighted your hair?"
"Don't be idiotic." She grinned like a little girl. "Take your eyes off me and look around you."
Along the walls were a dozen or so of her paintings, each with a white sticker bearing a letter.
"They're the ones the gallery didn't sell," she said. "They've sold two here so far . . . on commission. Katie says I should take my painting seriously. It's therapeutic."
"It's art," he said. "I've told you, they're good. . .Before you go, who works in the garden? I saw a man there, about an hour ago."
Daniel tried to describe him and found he couldn't remember a single detail. "An old man," he said. "I only saw him briefly, from behind."
"Two girls do the gardening, on Fridays. Today's Tuesday." She gathered her bag off the table. "I'll be home at six."
He stared after her as she dashed away.
I'll be home at six. Five monosyllables strung together, the coziest and most reassuring words in the world.. . .