Shakespeare's Dark Lady
The Search went on, orchestrated nationwide by a hyperactive Marcus. Tens of thousands lined up at the AIDS campaign mobile clinics . There were a few ugly incidents, the most serious in Little Rock, Arkansas, where the Democratic governor welcomed Mobile Unit 126 only minutes before local rednecks arrived to hurl insults and beer bottles at the men and women standing in the screening line. The units could handle up to fifty screenings an hour, but the line in Little Rock took so long to get through that it turned into an impromptu Gay Rights demonstration.
Marcus flew out from Los Angeles in time to appear with Governor Gorton on the CBS evening news.
"Let's be clear," he said. "The AIDS campaign and the Shakespeare Search are about HIV, and we're talking here about a disease that is no respecter of sexes or sexual preference. There are women taking the HIV part of the test."
Someone hurled an egg, which hit the governor on the shoulder of his jacket.
Polly Ann called Daniel into his lab office just as the camera panned to Dan Rather for commentary on the incident.
"See what you've started?" she said.
"Mostly it's going fine." He pursed his lips and watched intently as the camera returned to Marcus and the governor, shadowed by a placard behind them that read: Gays for Gorton.
"At least it doesn't say Hard for the Bard," Daniel said. He looked at Polly Ann, who was grinning.
Around the temple, Polly Ann was the nearest thing Daniel had to a female friend . The following day, out of a mixture of curiosity and prudence, he checked her for HIV.
"Negative," he said.
"Don't use that word--you never know who might hear you. Now what about you? Any diseases?" She framed the question in that joking-but-serious tone men use when they ask a potential bedmate if she's on the pill.
"Plenty," he said. "All mine are in little glass dishes. I was checked years ago."
C-J was teaching Polly Ann to batch-process Shakespeare hopefuls through the computypers. Automation made it a simple process that required no skill and minimal training. Meanwhile Daniel had shown her how to run the user-friendly BioScience test. He was surprised when she insisted on taking a sample of his blood for practice.
"Not positive for HIV," she called out to him from the path lab shortly afterward. "Like to try the gene machine?"
The gene machine was C-J's name for the computyper. "Do I look like Shakespeare to you?" Daniel called back. "I am more lovely and more temperate. But okay, why not give it a try?"
"Huh?" She walked into the room where he stood removing his gloves. "How do I know what Shakespeare looks like?"
"He doesn't look happy," he said.
"Neither do you, so I guess you do resemble him. Anyway, let's take a look inside your genes."
She'd filled in one of the reports they used for gene machine candidates. The Shakespeare logo looked up at him from the top and the Bard gave him a slow wink. Or so it seemed.
An hour later he was glancing at the report on his own genes: Negative.
"Disappointed?" Polly Ann asked, taking the paper.
"No. If I'm going to be famous, it'll be for something I've achieved, not something I inherited."
She peeled off her gloves and threw them in the trash. Without a word they went out to the patio in their white lab coats.
"Over there," he said, indicating two deck chairs where he took anyone he wanted to talk to in confidence. C-J had removed half a dozen transmitter-receiver bugs built into the walls of the House of Jacob, along with the wiretap on the lab telephones.
He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes to the sharp sun. "It's like a little totalitarian state here, run by the thought police."
"People come here willingly," she said. "They want to be freed from all the materialistic garbage that's been running their lives."
"Real freedom's about caring for people, not brainwashing them into believing the world will blow up in the year 2001." He sighed. "I feel out of touch with real people here. Isolated."
She seemed to be summing him up from where she sat sideways on her chair with her legs drawn up, one hand fiddling with the buttons of her blouse.
"There's no need for you to be isolated." She twirled a strand of blond hair around one finger. "What's your wife like?"
"I'm resting between marriages." His eyes twinkled.
"So have you got a girlfriend?"
"What's she like, then?"
He took a deep breath. "Me," he said. "The trouble is, you're so damned attractive you keep reminding me of her."
Polly Ann jumped to her feet. "I think she's very lucky."
He watched her heading for the cliff-top path and imagined the tempo of her buttocks beneath the baggy pants. She did make him think of Amelia and how much he missed her.
One of the AIDS Campaign's mobile units came to the town of Mendocino and stationed itself in Mendosa's parking lot on the corner of Lansing and Little Lake. Two Gorgons put in extra time stamping passes as demand for screenings grew inside the Holy City. The next day Polly Ann brought Daniel the news that four disciples had tested positive for HIV. One was her friend Damian.
"He's really bummed out. Like, he won't let anyone come near him. I left him to chill for a while."
"Would it help if I talked to him?"
"Too late. The Gorgons have already declared them all negative. They'll be gone by tonight."
"Wherever. It's their problem. Only Damian's got nowhere to go, like he could develop full-blown AIDS. What if everyone infected does?"
He turned to face her. "I'm gambling on the few people who have natural resistance -- that's the key to a working antiviral. They've developed an immune response over generations through my weeping gene. It helps produce large numbers of the crucial proteins called chemokines that confer immunity, but so far as we know, only in males . That may not be a lot of consolation to Damian right now, so I'd prefer it if you didn't say anything to him in case it gets his hopes up. In the meantime, doesn't Joshua have a responsibility?"
"He says they should've been more careful. It's everyone's responsibility to take care of themselves."
"That's a copout. If I took that view, there wouldn't be any research into an HIV vaccine."
"Do you really think you'll find one? "
"We're most of the way there. Most other researchers haven't moved on yet from looking at ways to emulate HIV antibodies. We've got the advantage here of being able to study antigenic drift -- the way the virus mutates -- from such a wide selection of samples. So now we can concentrate on a different part of the immune system -- the cytotoxic T-Cells -- and find a vaccine that will stimulate them. That's the key to a level of chemokine production that will protect males susceptible to HIV, which is most of the male population. "
Polly Ann didn't actually say 'Wow!' but she looked it.
"I don't get it," John Fryer said late one afternoon. "Tillman says the suppressor T-cell ratio is already below one, but the antibody picture just doesn't add up. And what about the Gc protein?"
"It's got to be the core or nothing," Daniel said. "And a new adjuvant. A surface peptide's too risky."
Fryer seemed, for the moment, uninterested. "You're the first in every morning," he said. "Ever notice anything off?"
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know, in the lab everything seems in place but somehow not quite in place. I can't shake the feeling that someone's been poking around where they shouldn't be."
"Maybe Joshua has spies checking up on us," Daniel said, not giving a damn whether they were being overheard or not. "Or maybe, worse, it's spies in the lab reporting to the competition."
Fryer shrugged and went back to his work.
"Someone's been tampering with the gene machine, C-J said the next day. "Number two. Someone flicked the main applications switch."
"How do you know?" Daniel asked. "Maybe somebody flicked it by accident."
"Not possible. You have to depress the key next to it and turn it while you're still depressing it or else the switch can't be flicked. Whoever it was knew how to do that, but they didn't know to turn the key in the opposite direction to flick it back."
"Maybe. But doubtful."
"Unlikely but possible. I'll check with them."
"Let me know if anything else has been tampered with. John said yesterday he thinks someone's been poking around."
That evening C-J took Daniel out on the grass to tell him he'd quizzed everybody and nobody had touched the switch.
There was a full moon that Saturday night. Most of the team members had gone to join a marshmallow roast and sing hymns around a campfire by the lake.
Daniel abandoned Polly Ann and Bongo to a Mary Tyler Moore rerun on their precious TV, and slipped out for a breath of fresh air.
The lab was in darkness when he returned. He was about to switch on the main light when he heard a noise. Groping his way to the nearest computyper he flicked the power on/off switch, felt for the button marked 'Light Test,' and pressed it. Seconds later the balloon on top of the machine glowed eerily green. There was a faint swishing noise behind his back. He whirled around, unable to identify the figure standing in the doorway until his eyes settled to the semi-light. It was Polly Ann.
She'd changed into a short cerise tunic. "Forgot my shawl," she said.
He'd never seen her dressed in anything but baggy pants. . . or any color but white. She sashayed past him with Bongo scampering behind and when she came back she stepped straight up to him, blocking his way. In the poor light he could only sense her anticipation. For a second she made to go around him. But she paused and seconds later she was pressing her mouth to his.
Bongo had climbed onto a bench and now crouched there tugging at his scalp while he grinned foolishly and made smacking sounds with his lips.
Polly Ann stood on tiptoe, her lips now brushing his ear.
He grabbed both her wrists.
"I thought you really liked me," she said in a smothered voice.
"Then kiss me. Put your arms round me."
He was still gripping her wrists. "It isn't that simple. I have someone else to think about. We shouldn't even be here like this. "
"For you, " she said in a hoarse whisper, "I'd do anything."
He could feel the computyper pressing against his buttocks. He dropped his guard and she pulled her hands free.
She hitched up her tunic, under which she wore nothing. She took his hand forcibly to guide his fingers between her legs.
"Please," she said, "can't you feel how much I want you?"
Never taking her eyes from his, she drew her tunic over her head and dropped it to the floor.
He stared down at her breasts. Between them in the green light beamed the face of Joshua.
He sucked in his breath.
She wriggled to a sitting position on the edge of the computyper and spread her thighs. Bongo squatted on the bench nodding his head and simpering .
Daniel took in the full measure of her.
Then leaned forward and planted a tender, lingering kiss on her forehead just before he walked out.
He spent the next hour heated by the fantasy of making love to Polly Ann in the lab late at night. He fantasized about Black Jenny, too, pleasuring her wildly, though eaten with guilt at such thoughts and unable to shake the feeling that he was a married man out on the sneak.
Finally he thought of Amelia, entirely herself; of her body that excited him no more than did her mind. . .
It was the last fantasy that aroused him to climax.
Amelia walked from her office in the English Department annex on Kirkland over to departmental headquarters on Prescott. She had an appointment with Bob Carr-who, she was convinced, had more on his mind than her fall teaching schedule. Someone else was there, she was sure of it.
She mounted the steps to the verandah of the elegant building that was Warren House, passed the reading room, went up the stairs to the chairman's mahogany door and knocked.
"Come in, Amelia." The professor rose from a high-backed chair and waved toward a seated figure. "I think you know Reverend Adrian Mannering."
"By reputation," she said carefully. "And on a couple of occasions at Shakespeare conferences." The anodyne Mannering was in his early sixties, with dense silver hair and gray eyes that gazed through half-moon spectacles crimped on the tip of his nose.
As she crossed the room he rose and mumbled something about the last time their paths crossed. Swords was more like it. She shook his hand, which was surprisingly warm, almost electric, and took a seat.
Bob Carr wore his habitual paisley bowtie, and she spotted his malacca cane and brown fedora slung on a hat stand in the corner of the book-filled room. He was a staunch supporter of Amelia's. She in turn liked his unkempt style, the chalky corduroy jackets, even the smell of the briar pipe he invariably smoked or waved in the air as he was making a point. None of his lectures on William Blake would have been the same without the pipe.
"Miss Hungerford"--he waved the short stem in her direction--"as you know, is something of an expert on Shakespearean biography."
The fingers of Mannering's right hand lingered for a moment at his reverse collar. "As you might imagine, Miss Hungerford, the Birthplace Trust takes a great interest in maintaining the Bard's good name. We receive large numbers of visitors in Stratford, many from the States. A part of the money they bring rubs off on Holy Trinity."
"From what I hear," Bob said, "you can't get a seat any more, it's so packed after all the stories in the press."
"Since Dr. Bosworth's desecration of the Bard's final resting place, the number of visitors to Holy Trinity has reached almost unmanageable levels." Mannering's voice had an elegiac rhythm better suited to sermons than conversation "The result is a growing pressure on the Trust and the church to arrange an official opening of the tomb this time. To make matters worse I'm being pushed from within the Trust itself. It's like 1964 all over again--and I was just as opposed to this bardolatry then as I am now."
Christ, Mannering was full of piffle. Knowing where he was headed, she focused hard on not tuning out.
"There's also the question of Shakespeare's curse, Miss Hungerford. The tomb has been violated by Bosworth and visited by me. I'm not superstitious, mind you, but I think if I were in Bosworth's shoes I might just be fairly uncomfortable.
"As for me, I have no time for genetic engineers and all this tomfoolery with chromosomes. My personal view-limited and unscientific, granted-is that if man wants to arrogate to himself the right to play God, he's in for a bigger fall than he ever got in the Garden of Eden.
"And if Bosworth's grave robbery hasn't caused enough problems, that article of his has finished the job. The Trust now has to answer hundreds of letters each week, mostly from Shakespeare supporters--and I count myself among their number--defending the Bard's good name against accusations of adultery and suggestions that he frequented whores and fathered children outside his marriage."
Amelia took a deep breath. "I'm sorry to hear about your problems, Reverend Mannering, but I don't see what I can do about them."
"I understand that in the past few weeks your father has come to be connected with Dr. Bosworth," Mannering said. "Miss Hungerford, you should know that your father's new colleague is wanted by our police for questioning about his invasion of my church. It's possible that our Director of Public Prosecutions will see fit to bring charges against him, depending largely on my advice. Should they choose not to, Holy Trinity is left the option of prosecuting privately. Again that's largely up to me."
"What are you trying to tell me?"
"Simply this," Mannering said. "We cannot extradite Bosworth to England for grave-robbing. But while we have no way of knowing for certain, it seems likely that he took a valuable artifact from the tomb. I understand he's continuing his research in California in a so-called religious community noted for armed guards and hostility to visitors. A place I doubt I'd be very welcome."
"If you're suggesting--"
"Local Stratford legend holds that Shakespeare was buried with a cross in his hands."
The liar. There never had been such a legend. Daniel's reference to the cross, during his post-grave-robbing phone call from England, was the first she'd ever come across. So how did Mannering know about it? And did he know what kind of cross? Heretical Tau or conventional Christian?
"I've been conducting one or two inquiries," Mannering said. "It would seem to be public knowledge that you and Bosworth know each other extremely well."
"That's a bit strong, Reverend," Bob said.
Mannering sat back in his chair with a smug look Amelia preferred to the unflinching stare it replaced.
"I am prepared to compromise with Dr. Bosworth," he said. "If he's willing to hand over the cross--which is, after all, a part of England's national heritage--then I will do everything in my power to see that there will be no prosecution if and when he returns to England. There will be some questions, in all probability, but no prosecution."
He looked directly at Amelia, who this time returned his intense gaze. He had attacked her repeatedly in his amateur but widely read articles on Shakespeare. If he knew it was a Tau cross, was he trying to get it quietly returned to save face? The Tau proved once and for all that Shakespeare hadn't just been an orthodox believer or even a closet recusant like his father.
Mannering's need to cover Shakespeare's name with whitewash struck her, not for the first time, as extreme. Now he'd come all the way to America--and for what? To restore Shakespeare's grave to its state before the break-in? Maybe just that, but if he was sincere, why the fabrication about the Stratford legend? Still, she could hardly ask him what kind of a cross was missing in front of Bob Carr.
"However well I may know Dr. Bosworth," she said at last, "I don't see that I'm in any position to answer on his behalf. Tell me, if there is a further opening of the tomb as you suggested, will only a limited number of people be present?"
"I'd like to be one of that limited number."
"I suppose it could be arranged." Mannering stroked his chin. "Of course, I can't guarantee the tomb will be opened again. I'm strongly opposed to the idea, and my voice carries a lot of weight in such matters."
"I'm sure it does," Bob said.
It was Mannering's turn to look hostile. "I can make no promises, but if Bosworth cooperates and there is a reopening to reinstate the cross, I shall make sure you're invited."
"What if Dr. Bosworth doesn't choose to cooperate? And what if he didn't remove a cross from the tomb in the first place?"
"I'm sure, Dr. Hungerford, that you have influence where Bosworth is concerned. As to whether a cross was removed, let's just say I have information, shall we?"
Another possibility occurred to her--or maybe a hunch? What if something more sinister lay behind Mannering's mission and his obvious need to make sure that the cross didn't become public? She thought of the exaggerated interest Scotland Yard was showing in the incident. Could Mannering belong to a secret society with ties to one of Freemasonry's higher orders and their web of influence, especially among senior police officers and politicians and the more heterodox elements in his own Anglican Church?
Or could he be a member of some secret order so ancient that they still revered the Tau cross as a sacred symbol? If so he might secretly agree with her theories on Shakespeare and not want them proved, especially if Shakespeare really was some kind of surviving Gnostic.
Mannering could even be part of a cover-up that--
The look Mannering was giving her was very odd. Almost lecherous.
She dragged her mind back to Mannering's proposal. "All right, I'll do what I can."
"Amelia, are you sure?" Bob said.
"Don't take too long," Mannering said. He looked more normal suddenly, almost kind.
"I'm sure Miss Hungerford will do her best." Bob Carr gave his visitor a hard look. "And I'm sure what has been said between these walls will stay here."
"Fine." Mannering looked across to Amelia.
"Gentlemen," she said, "I have a class to teach, in twenty minutes. You'll have to excuse me."
The two men stood.
"Miss Hungerford, I'd like to attend your lecture if I may," Mannering said.
She found herself agreeing. She had to admit, there was something appealing about him. Perhaps Englishmen were an acquired taste.
A minute or two later they were crossing Quincy in the direction of Sever Hall. Mannering's iciness totally thawed in the spring sunshine.
She glanced sideways, catching his eye, and found him smiling at her.
"Don't look so alarmed." Gone, too, was the pontificating tone. "The disappearance of the cross won't be divulged if it's put back safely where it belongs."
"It wouldn't be a good idea if it were to become known, would it?" She tried to sound threatening, not so easy a matter as it would have been inside Bob's office.
At least they agreed on that. Though the hermetic cross proved one of her theories about Shakespeare, something she could not have explained to Mannering or Daniel forced her to admit that the cross must remain a secret. She even agreed, though she'd been careful not to say so, that the cross should not have been taken in the first place and now should be returned. Not that she believed in the curse either, but you never knew.
"What kind of a cross d'you think Dr. Bosworth took?" she asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Maltese, Celtic, Tau, Christian, Egyptian?"
"Christian, of course."
The number rang and rang. Daniel let the phone dangle and smoothed his bed. It was his fifth fruitless attempt to reach Amelia in two days. Life in the Holy City was so circumscribed he was ready to explode. No vaccine breakthrough, though things looked promising; no green lamplighter, except for a false alarm caused by a circuit malfunction; no Amelia.
And to make matters worse his relationship with her had been splashed all over the tabloids three weeks earlier, kicked off by a piece in the National Enquirer headlined : Shakespeare had pox claims Harvard heiress. Polly Ann read the story too, and her seduction of Daniel, if you could even call it that, became more subtle from that time.
Now he had to forcibly bring to mind a particular image of Amelia--naked, supine, inviting--every time he felt the oh-so-physical urge to respond to Polly Ann's invitation. This technique kept his conscience in line but left him frustrated, downright horny if he was honest . And confused? Yes, without a shadow of doubt.
Polly Ann stormed into his office from the lab and waved a piece of paper in his face.
"You bastard. You've been telling her everything I tell you. Aren't you ashamed."
"Hey, hang on, what is this?"
She handed him the letter.
He glanced down at Amelia's handwriting. They talked on the phone regularly. This was the first time she'd written. It was a love letter, and at the top of the page she had written out in full Shakespeare's sonnet: "Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment."
Surely Amelia's sixth sense had told her something.
"For chrissakes," he said, "this letter's private." He swung away from her to read the letter properly. At the bottom it said: "How's your little lab playgirl? Keeping you out of mischief, I hope."
True, he'd thought "playmate," but only as a smokescreen. And he was almost positive he hadn't used it on the phone. Sometimes he felt transparent where Amelia was concerned. He imagined her reading his thoughts, able to see the way he fantasized about Polly Ann--and what might have happened if he'd given in.
"You little bitch. Nosing into my private affairs."
"So how am I supposed to open your mail every day and sort it . . . with my eyes shut?"
"You shouldn't have read it," he said. "Not from Amelia."
"This little playgirl doesn't give a flying fuck who it was from."
"You're not meant to be here this morning, you're meant to be in that bloody prayer meeting. Were you spying for the Almighty himself?"
"It's canceled until Joshua gets back from Frankfurt. Why don't you go to the next bloody prayer meeting. You might just see the light."
"You can stuff your prayer meetings--and all the other crap that fat-ass rams down your throat." The brutality in his voice sickened him.
Her face was bilious. Then without warning she began to wail. With her palms pressed to her face she took one step toward a chair and plonked herself down.
"You don't care about me," she said between sobs. "All you think about is your goddamned work, work, work and that woman. If she means so much to you, why didn't you stay with her in the first place?"
"I bloody well wish I had. At least she doesn't go round making a public spectacle of herself. You've gone into this job with your eyes open"--he barely stopped himself from saying legs. "We like working with each other. Why can't we just leave it that way?"
When she spoke again her voice was sniffly. "Don't you feel anything at all for me?"
"Of course I do, Polly Ann." He went over and put his arm around her. "But if you're asking me what it is, I don't know. I do know that I care about what happens to you, almost as if I'm your father. . . Well, big brother, anyway."
She shrugged his arm away and stood up, swabbing her face with her sleeve, then weaved in the direction of the glass door to the patio.
He followed and touched her shoulder as she leaned in the doorway looking toward the ocean. Everything was gray. She made no attempt to move when he put his hand on her shoulder, but the sniffling stopped.
He led her back inside and made her lie on the sofa in his office. Her face, usually so perky, was streaked with tears. He settled himself on the edge beside her and smoothed her hair
"I'm sorry if I bitched you out." She lifted her arms and hugged him in a bosomy clinch."Want you," she said. "I love your brown eyes."
He stroked her hair gently, over and over, feeling no temptation to do anything with this child other than protect her.
Twenty minutes later, she was asleep.
"There's a call for you."
Polly Ann, who'd strutted around C-J's lab all morning, popped her head around the office door and held out the phone.
It was Marcus, calling for the first time in a week. "How's progress?"
"Steady," Daniel said. "Shakespeare hopefuls are running close to capacity. But not a green lamplighter in sight."
"Something interesting from our market research people. Over half of them can trace descent from an English immigrant in the seventeenth century. We're getting the most likely candidates, the way we hoped. Lots of them have taken the AIDS screening just for the Shakespeare test."
The samples they worked with on his side of the lab were identified only by Red Cross numbers, but Daniel guessed if they could check actual names on both sides of the lab they'd find a much lower incidence of HIV among the men with traditional English surnames.
"How are the screenings going?" Daniel said.
The Rostrum's latest projection from their resident seroepidemiologist showed just under two million HIV carriers in the US. That was in line with CDC figures.
"Do we ever have a profile of these people!" Marcus said.
Damn him. A quarter of a million Americans had already died of AIDS, and Marcus wanted the largest possible number of carriers.
"How goes the fundraising?" Daniel said.
"Gift flow is up, mostly through appeals on local TV and the CBS concert. We're sixteen million ahead, after costs. And get this: the computer's saying over a million people will be screened in the US this year, almost half of them by us."
Numbers, dollars--what about people? And why bother to tell him anything? Hadn't Marcus got what he wanted: millions of dollars' worth of free publicity? This self-made shit didn't care one way or the other whether a green lamplighter was found. Even an HIV vaccine had only limited value for the Rostrum so long as they had no stake in the royalties. It would be worth a little more media glitz, that was all.
"Lawrence sends you his best, Daniel. Says he hopes Joshua's keeping you out of harm's way."
Daniel sucked in his breath. "What about the two journalists those zombie enforcers caught sneaking in here? They beat the poor buggers till they nearly died, all in the name of Jesus Christ. Now one's in hospital."
Marcus took a long time before saying anything. "We're onto it. They weren't reporters, Daniel. One was a federal agent from their undercover cult squad. The other's a detective . . . from Scotland Yard. Name of Frank Hillaby. He's the one in hospital, but it's just a busted collarbone."
Almighty Christ, what did those people want? He'd only broken into a bloody grave without permission.
"They're not after you," Marcus said. "They're after Joshua. The FBI always gets heavy with Joshua when they can't crack the cult of the month. You're just the excuse. It's nothing, really."
"Marcus, if it was Scotland Yard, it's me they were out to get. Not Joshua."
"If the Peace Force didn't adopt a tough line half the reporters in America would be trying to gate-crash the place, not just the FBI and English bobbies."
"Bloody hell, I've been here a month and a half and I still haven't been outside the gates. There's an electric fence around the place. Is that to keep people out or to keep me in?"
"Do you like parties?"
"I've got a party on at my place this Thursday night. Some journalists will be there, but only ones I know personally, all highly respected. It's not going to turn into a press conference, promise, just a party. Maybe a few Rostrum people involved in the Search will be there, and naturally some of the guests would want to ask you one or two questions."
"How can I be sure I won't get mobbed?"
"Let's put it this way, my house isn't exactly open to the public. By the way, you'll need overnight things. You'll be back Sunday."
"How do I get there?"
"A chopper will come by the lab at five Thursday afternoon. Dress down. Everything'll be fine, okay? Take it easy now."
"Are you going someplace?" Polly Ann said when he put down the phone.
Her crestfallen look was endearing. "Just for one night. Marcus is giving a party."
"Can I come too? I like parties."
"Sorry, it's strictly to meet the press. They might get the wrong idea." He zapped a kiss on the end of her nose.
It was almost eleven. The sky had turned clear after the squalls that brought rain sluicing down in the early evening. Polly Ann usually came by for a chat after communion, but the service was over at ten. Maybe she'd come anyway. . . .
He must have dozed off, because when he next looked at his watch it was 1:20. He went to the glass door, splattered with raindrops, and pulled it to. Moisture in the air had already blotted out the scent of the bug candles on the patio. Time for bed.
There was a tap on the door. He opened it to find a rain-soaked Polly Ann standing there shivering, with bruises on her arms and legs and one breast jutting from her torn shirt. He fumbled with the door and slid it open, expecting her to come in, but she gestured for him to join her outside.
He went back in, put on his oilskin, and rummaged in the closet for his leather bomber jacket and a pair of corduroys. Back out on the patio he helped her into his oversize clothes.
"Put your arms around me, please." As she spoke he realized she was more frightened than cold. "Rub my back."
He rubbed her shoulders while they walked away from the A-frame. The wind had picked up and soon would be blowing a gale, and when they reached the edge of the cliff she was trembling again. The smell of the sea was in the sky. The beam from the lighthouse punctuated the dark.
"Tell me what happened."
She stood there looking out to sea as if she were invoking the elements. A wave bursting against the cliff-face sent spindrift into the air. He pulled her back as salt water rained down on them.
"He. . .me," she said, "I couldn't . . . it." The wind whipped her words away.
"He what?" He had to shout over the noise of the waves below. His spray-drenched hair hung over his eyebrows, half covering his eyes.
"Samuel . . . he made me watch." She raised her voice. "Joshua's back. He just sat there staring at me. Martha walked in and started screaming at him. While she cursed him I got away."
More spume rained.
He tried to sound calm. "What were they making you watch?"
Between sobs she was shouting. "He's got an infra-red camera in his ceiling. . . . . . . . . . some of his movies. . . " --he lost a few words --". . . him and me . . . . And him and other women. Samuel made me watch them. He kept hitting me if I shut my eyes or looked away." A long wail. "Please take me to the party. I knew I should have told you about Joshua before."
"Until you came I had this relationship with him."
Clouds had parted to the west, and a waning moon came and went, bouncing light off the broken water.
"I'll talk to Marcus, sweetie." His mouth was against her ear. "You'll be okay until then if Martha's on your side. We'll get you away from that bastard."
She was crying. "No, you don't understand," she said between sobs. "You've got to take me tomorrow. Got to."