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Intimate Friends
a novel by Charlotte Vale-Allen

December 12, 1963

He'd fallen asleep again with the television set on. Lynne smiled as she walked down the hall to the bedroom, seeing the familiar blue-gray light flickering over the walls and floor as the images on the set changed. She was struck by the unearthly quality of the light and its strange shadows, accompanied by disembodied, unrelated voices and music, a small battle of light versus sound. After all her years working in television she still found it a little eerie to come upon a set, playing to itself, casting diffuse messages into a darkened room.

She paused on the threshold to look at the screen. A cowboy movie. Alec's fascination with them seemed limitless, almost as limitless as the supply the local stations seemed to have in their libraries. She glanced over at the bed to confirm that Alec was, indeed, asleep, and bent to turn off the set. The room was all at once too dark, too silent. She turned on the lamp on the dresser and put down her handbag and keys, looking for a moment at her reflection in the mirror. She looked every bit as tired as she felt. She and Dianna had spent the last nine hours reviewing the final editing, redoing segments of the sound track for their piece on the explosion during an ice show at the state fair grounds in Indiana on October 31. Lynne had edited miles of filmed interviews with the families of the sixty-eight people who'd died, and with a large number of the three hundred and forty who'd been injured. From the moment her unit had arrived in Indianapolis, she'd known it would be a gruesome, emotional job. Once the filming got underway, she'd understood why a bigger budget than she'd expected had been allocated. It had taken two weeks longer than she'd estimated to complete the filmed interviews, now scheduled to air this Sunday.

She was looking forward to a month off before starting her next assignment for Up to the Minute. Hoping Ned, the producer, would allow her to do a low-key piece on the Kennedy assassination, she was disappointed when he'd given the assignment to Greg Waldren and asked her to put together a piece on the closing of the New York Mirror, a lightweight story in her estimation. Ned had promised though to give her a more important piece if she'd cover the Mirror closing. She'd long since learned to take the dogwork in her stride in order to land a plum piece every so often. As a point of principle, as a matter of integrity, she did her damnedest on whatever piece she did. Dianna balked, frequently and noisily, at some of the projects they had to do, but she too knew the futility of trying to fight not only Ned, as producer, but the entire male corporate structure of the network, from the executive producer right up to the network program director. She and Dianna simply weren't allowed the scope in their work that Greg and the half-dozen other male associate producers had.

The fatiguing aspect of the job was that no matter how hard she tried nothing ever seemed to change. Dianna, with whom she did the majority of the segments, had been more bitchy and impatient today than usual, making the time drag. She didn't like arguing with Dianna; neither of them derived any particular satisfaction from infighting, especially when they had to continue to fight for every inch of progress they made on the show. Dianna was the only female regular among four male hosts, and Lynne was the only female associate producer, of the seven under contract. She and Dianna had, almost at the beginning, tacitly agreed to keep disagreements between the two of them to a minimum in order to concentrate on doing their jobs well.

Despite the fact that she was one of the very few women employed by the network in a producing and directing capacity, Lynne had no illusions about just how tenuous her position was. Frequently she and Dianna were called in to production meetings where their work underwent the kind of close, nit-picking scrutiny the men were rarely subjected to. With time, it had turned Dianna harder and tougher. It had made Lynne tired.

Alec, she noted, had gone to sleep fully dressed. There was an odd unpleasant smell in the room that made her wonder if there wasn't a dead mouse in one of the walls again. Once, about five years before, they'd had to suffer with the smell for weeks before it finally faded away. She debated waking him, wanting to tell him about wrapping the Indiana segment, and to discuss taking a couple of weeks to go away somewhere, perhaps to Arizona. She wasn't in the mood for crowds of tourists, and liked the idea of going somewhere warm and quiet. Six, almost seven weeks, four of them in Indiana, had drained her. Dozens of interviews, hours of film to be edited, a focal point to be strongly established, all had taken far too long and far too much physical and emotional energy.

She went across the room, noticing a brandy snifter on the bedside table. He'd probably been waiting up for her, she thought, touched. She sat on the side of the bed, reached for Alec's hand and at once dropped it. Leaping up, her heart slammed in violent response to the cold slackness of his hand. The smell was very strong here. It took her several seconds to connect the smell, and the chill weight of Alec's hand, the snifter, and the empty prescription vial sitting near the base of the lamp. Something in her brain short-circuited. Her thoughts had gone completely out of kilter; she felt as if all the parts of her were working against themselves.

Steadying herself, she switched on the lamp, took a deep breath and looked closely at Alec. There was a dark stain across his gray flannel trousers. He'd wet himself. That happened when someone died; the muscles relaxed. Covering her mouth with her hand she turned, looking for something; she wasn't sure what. She ran, still in her coat, to the living room, stopping first at the desk. Nothing. Then the bulletin board in the kitchen on the wall beside the telephone. Nothing. Just her shopping list, to which she added items daily until it was time to go to the supermarket. Then she would tear the list from the pad, stuff it into her bag or her pocket and, invariably, forget to refer to it once she got to the store.

Breathing hard, she raced back to the bedroom, and came to a halt in the doorway where she stood, holding on to the door frame for support, staring at Alec. Her body had entered into a palsied dance. There were things she was supposed to do. She'd have to call the police. The police. It seemed inconceivable that she should have to call the police about Alec. But who else would one call? No. Maybe she'd made a mistake. Maybe he was ill and she should call an ambulance, Alec's doctor. She couldn't be wrong. He was dead. She knew it. But where was the note? That was what she wanted, what was missing: the note. There had to be one. He couldn't possibly have done this without some sort of explanation, a letter, something. Again she went through the apartment, trying to take her time, methodically searching out every place where he might have left some words for her. She found nothing. The harder she looked, the more angry and frightened and confused she became. He had to have written something, even just a few words. How could he just turn on the television set, sit down on the bed with brandy and pills, and kill himself without offering any reasons?

She returned again to the bedroom, this time standing at the foot of the bed for several minutes before moving to the far side, studying Alec from every angle. Had he moved? No. When she'd thrust his hand away from her, his position had shifted slightly. That was all. He hadn't moved. She was breathing through her mouth, fast rasping breaths. Her lips felt parched. Her head ached. Her stomach was lurching up and down like an elevator out of control. Moving slowly, she inched her way around the bed to stand by Alec's side. He looked asleep. She touched her fingers to his throat. No pulse, only cool, yielding flesh. She looked around the room, trying to understand. It was no use. Perhaps she wasn't supposed to touch anything, disturb evidence. What had she touched? Nothing. She'd touched nothing, only Alec. Alec. He looked as if he'd just come in from the office. His tie was loosened but otherwise he was dressed as always for a business day.

She wanted to speak but was fearful of how her voice might sound, and perhaps if she didn't speak this couldn't be real, wouldn't be happening. Her eyes refused to leave Alec. Swallowing repeatedly, she remained positioned by the bedside, trying to think of what to do, of why he'd done this, of what he'd thought she'd do coming home to find him this way. No note, no words, no good-bye, just a dead Alec on the bed.

At last, she found the strength to turn and leave the room. She went to the telephone in the kitchen but couldn't remember the emergency number. She trembled, frustrated and more and more frightened, trying to remember, the receiver in her hand. Was it 999? Or 919? Had she waited too long before telephoning? Would they question her about the minutes she'd spent between the time she arrived home and the time she placed the call? She dialed the operator.

"I need the police," she said in a dry, shattered voice in no way recognizable to her as her own. The words seemed to echo off the walls, the high ceiling.

The operator put her through to emergency dispatch.

"My husband has ... he's dead," she said, staring at the kitchen cabinets, old and yellowing, in need of a fresh coat of paint. She'd intended to spend a week repainting the kitchen but had never managed to find the time. She gave her name, her address, her telephone number. The voice on the other end said, "We'll send someone right away. Stay put."

Stay put. That was an odd thing to say to her. She replaced the receiver and went to stand in the hall near the front door, her eyes on the bedroom doorway. She felt like a small child, helpless and alone. She needed people to come and explain this to her, to release her from the noisy cage of her random thoughts and colliding desires. The voice on the phone had been quite right to tell her to stay put. Her instinct now was to run, to flee this apartment with its dead husband and his soiled deathbed. How could he do this in their bed? He hadn't thought about where she'd sleep, or even if she'd be able to sleep in the bed he'd died in, the bed he'd taken his life in. He'd killed himself.

It had to be a mistake. He couldn't be dead. Her coordination lost, she reeled drunkenly down the hall to the bedroom. Nothing had changed. He lay as before, his head propped against the pillows - all four of them, including her two - turned slightly to one side. He hadn't taken his shoes off. She stared at his feet, noticing a piece of blackened chewing gum on the sole of his right shoe. Always meticulous, Alec would be greatly irritated to know he'd died with a piece of chewing gum stuck to his shoe. The idea made her want to laugh, or cry. She didn't know what to do.

The buzzer sounded. She whirled around, her heartbeat gone crazy, to gaze down the length of the hallway. The police. She ran to lift the receiver on the intercom, wetting her lips before she said, "Yes?" She could still speak; it seemed astonishing.


"Yes," she said, and applied her finger to the button that would release the lock on the lobby door.

She was still standing with the receiver in her hand and her finger on the buzzer when the knock came at the front door. She dropped the receiver and hurried to the door where two uniformed policemen stood waiting. Wordlessly she led them to the bedroom. The taller of the two lifted Alec's wrist, then pressed his fingers to Alec's throat, as Lynne had done. Expertly, Lynne thought, he rolled back Alec's eyelids to check the pupils. He nodded at the second man - a language comprised entirely of gestures - who asked, "Where's the phone?" Lynne pointed to the extension on the dresser. Perhaps only she and the first officer were symbol-speakers.

As she stood watching and listening, the second officer made a call. He turned his back to Lynne as he spoke in a low murmur. She felt unreasonably excluded, as if she and not Alec had done something criminal. She remembered reading once that it was against the law to kill oneself.

The call completed, the two officers directed her to the living room. While the second man sat near Lynne with a notebook propped on his knee and ballpoint pen in hand, the first man left the room.

"Where's he going?" she asked, alarmed, her mouth too dry, her body alternately hot and cold. Everything these two men said and did seemed highly significant. If she missed anything at all, she might lose some vital clue to what was happening here.

"He'll stay by the door. I know it's not a good time, but could you answer a few questions?"

She nodded. The questions and answers began: name, name of the deceased, time of discovery of the body, circumstances of discovery of the body, places of employment, both hers and the deceased's, on and on, questions she answered with mechanical detachment as if she were filling out a job or loan application. She had no idea how long it took - but before she'd finished responding the front door had opened and closed several times and men's voices moved along the corridor to the bedroom.

"What are they doing?" she asked, feeling now alarmingly excluded. This was her home, her husband, her private life they were entering so noisily.

"Coroner," the officer explained, "and a photographer. Standard procedure. They'll want to ask you more questions when they finish up. You okay?"

"I'm okay," she lied, grateful someone had thought to ask.

"You sit here and take it easy for a few minutes." He closed his notebook, returned it and his pen to an inside pocket, stood, and left the room. He had a gun in a holster slung around his hips, and a nightstick, also holstered. Alec had taken his life and now her home was overrun by taciturn officials and men with guns.

She had to see what was happening, and got up to go to the bedroom, but the corridor was blocked by the two patrolmen who'd arrived first. They glanced at her but said nothing. She felt like an intruder, an imposition upon the orderly routine of their militaristic days. She shrank against the wall, watching the new shadows shape and reshape themselves in the bedroom light. Photo flashes, movement. Then two men appeared in the doorway with a stretcher upon which lay Alec's tightly-wrapped body. The small procession approached the now-open front door. They were taking him away. It didn't seem right. She said, "Wait!" and they came to a halt. Half a dozen faces turned inquisitively in her direction. She didn't know what she wanted them to say or do. She simply wanted Alec to end all this, to free himself of the enclosing - what was that! not a blanket, something more like canvas - wrap and announce that his joke had backfired, it was over now and they could all leave. Time hung in the air, filled with the slow, patient breathing of these strangers, suspended in their impersonal activity. They waited while her thoughts, like blind children in a schoolyard, ran explosively into one another. At last one of the men, a tired-looking, middle-aged man whose brown suit had a shiny, well-worn shapelessness, put his hand on her arm.

"Mrs. Craig?"

She looked into his face, discovering tired-looking brown eyes to match the suit.

"We'll just keep you a few more minutes. Why don't we step in here?"

She looked over at the package that had once been Alec and felt a cry rising through her body, gathering force. She closed her throat against it and allowed the detective to direct her back into the living room.

More questions, more answers. Then: "Is there someone who can corroborate ... someone who can verify that you were where you say you were this evening?"

She stared at him, absorbing the implication. Could they possibly think she'd killed Alec? Did she look like someone capable of murder? It terrified her to think that the person she believed herself to be was not visible, could not be readily perceived by these men.

"Cigarette?" the detective offered casually, as if he hadn't just asked her that most offensive question.

She accepted the cigarette and drew on it, the first inhalations making her dizzy. She wanted and needed a drink, but thought it might be wrong, another semaphore to be misconstrued.

"I was with Dianna, Dianna Ferguson. I can give you her number. She'll tell you where I was." For a moment her mind was occupied by a bizarre scenario. The detective contacted Dianna, Dianna lied and said she hadn't seen Lynne in a week, Lynne was arrested, charged with Alec's murder. She was in a courtroom begging a tight-faced Dianna to tell the truth, but Dianna slowly turned her head away, refusing to hear, to admit that Lynne was innocent.

" ... there'll be an autopsy ... as a matter of course. We'll let you know when the body's going to be released. You'll want to make arrangements. Is there anybody you'd like me to call, someone to come stay with you?"

She shook her head, puffing on the cigarette. The smoke was like sandpaper on her too-dry throat. She wanted to be left alone.

"We'll be in touch," he said, getting to his feet, his eyes all at once sympathetic. He seemed to be seeing her, now that he was preparing to leave. "Will you be all right?"

She nodded.

He left, closing the door quietly. She put the chain on the door, feeling hopelessly drawn back to the bedroom. Her head floating yards above her feet, she traveled the length of the hallway.

Alec's impression remained on the stained bedclothes, on the pillows. His keys and wallet sat on the dresser, near her handbag and keys. She hadn't noticed them before. On impulse, she lifted his wallet and opened it. Seventy-eight dollars in bills, half a dozen credit cards, no note.

Suddenly the smell and the heat and a ravaging grief overcame her. She had to get out of there. She cast a final accusing look at the guilty bed and tore down the hall to the front door, fumbled with the chain, got the door open, and slammed it shut behind her. In too much of a hurry to wait for the elevator, she ran down the nine flights of stairs to the lobby and pushed out into cold air that assaulted her like a physical blow.

She turned to look up the street, and then down, then back up. Third Avenue seemed a logical choice. But for what? She had no idea. She began to walk. At the corner was an all-night deli. She stood outside its steamy windows for several minutes. Behind the counter, a young bearded man sat on a high stool reading a paperback book. On the counter near the cash register was a Styrofoam cup of coffee which he picked up from time to time, sipped at, then returned to the counter. Music was playing somewhere. Listening, she tried to decide where the music might be coming from. She managed to reposition her body in order to scan the street. Half a block away a woman stood waiting while her dog lifted his leg against a lamppost. The woman watched the dog intently, as if its activity was of paramount concern to her. Yet her physical attitude was one of utter boredom. Lynne, too, watched - both the dog and the woman - until at last they continued on down the street and out of sight.

Lynne returned her eyes to the deli window. For several moments she felt she was on the verge of losing control of her bladder. It seemed to swell, filling with her body's fluids. Then, the sensation was gone and she felt emptied, as if some invisible hand had scooped her organs from her body, leaving her hollow. She moved forward to the door and entered, causing a bell above the door to ring startlingly.

The counterman flicked his eyes at her before looking back at his book. She was interrupting his reading, and felt guilty. She'd buy something quickly and leave. She approached the counter and asked for a package of Marlboros - the first brand that came to mind - and watched the man set down his book, reach for the cigarettes, and slap them on the counter. She found money in her bag, paid, was about to leave when she remembered to ask for matches.

"Cost you a penny," the young man said.

She left a penny on the counter, and tucked the cigarettes and matches into her bag. That convict feeling was with her again, the feeling she'd had when she'd asked all those people to wait because there were things that had to be said, statements she'd wanted to make both to Alec and to the collection of strange men who couldn't possibly understand - not that she was sure she herself did - just what had taken place inside her home on this night.

Out on the street again, she got to the corner of Third Avenue and had to stop once more, directionless. A question had formed in her mind and was demanding her attention. What am I supposed to do now? She didn't know. She could hardly deal with obligations when she felt precisely as if she'd stepped off the table in the midst of a complicated and lengthy surgical procedure, neatly incised, the lips of the wound clipped tidily out of the way in order to facilitate access to the pulsing organs inside. Surely if she dared to unbutton her coat yards of intestine in slippery coils would come spilling out onto the sidewalk.

She wanted to weep. Her lungs heaved in anticipation of the relief of tears, but her eyes felt rusted into their sockets. She told herself Alec was dead and a part of her believed it absolutely, had seen the proof; another part of her longed to deny it, and protested actively her presence out here alone on these dangerous nighttime streets. She didn't care. Were someone to approach her now, intent on bodily harm or the theft of her possessions, she'd simply brush past and continue on her way. She turned the corner and walked into the wind, looking for the right place to go.

She sat in a booth in the 2 a.m. near-silence of a coffee shop on the corner of Seventy-seventh and Third Avenue. Three young men sat together at the counter and she could feel them turn every so often to look at her. Lynne studied the untouched cup of coffee on the table before her. Words in her brain ran in loops, circling endlessly. The whirring motion might be slowing, and she waited, knowing at the end would come a certain clarity. She'd be able to decide on an orderly way to proceed.

The sudden bass-pulsing blare of music from the jukebox shocked her and she looked up to see that one of the young men was standing by the machine, dropping more coins into the slot. The overloud music would play on for at least another half hour. She wouldn't be able to think here; she'd have to leave. She left a dollar on the table and slid out of the booth feeling giddy. Go slowly, she cautioned herself. No sudden, jarring moves. She felt as if she were moving through a haphazardly pasted paper construction that might disassemble were she to risk increased momentum.

She got to the door, opened it and stepped out into the street, buttoning her coat. The wind blew up her legs, her sleeves. She huddled inside the coat trying to remember where she'd left the car. Or had she brought it? She couldn't recall. She stared at the traffic on Third Avenue, amazed that there was always traffic on the streets of Manhattan, no matter what the hour. Where were people going at this time of the morning? To bars in the Village. That was possible. She'd once coerced Alec into taking her to a late-night rock show. It had cost them ten dollars to gain entrance but she'd found it worth every penny. For two hours she'd watched and listened, riveted, as a quartet of musicians, clad in the most outrageous outfits she'd ever seen, had gyrated and performed to their deafening music; the gaudy scene had been enhanced by the spectacular lighting effects and the rapt attention of the very young audience. She had been, for those two hours, encased perfectly in a capsule of understanding, knowing in her late twenties what she hadn't been able to make sense of as a teenager: that she was merely a witness to most events and could, if she cared to make the effort, participate more fully than she'd realized. This discovery had seemed profoundly momentous to her, but when she'd attempted to convey it to Alec he'd merely smiled at her in avuncular fashion as if she were, in fact, a feckless teenager and not a grown woman trying to share something of importance.

The experience had eventually proved invaluable when, after working her way up from production assistant - having paid her dues first as a secretary, then as an assistant production assistant, while studying film technique at nights - to associate producer, she'd at last been allowed an opportunity to demonstrate what she'd learned. Despite the fact that her early assignments had all been dogwork, she'd applied her knowledge of editing, of lighting, of script blocking. Two years later, Ned had patted her on the shoulder, said, "Nice job," of a segment on which she'd labored extravagantly, and rewarded her with her first decent assignment. Believing she'd finally broken through to acceptance from her peers, she felt herself slam closed inside like a bank vault door when the assignment after that was another piece of dogwork. Nevertheless the rock show experience and her comprehension of her role as a witness paid off. She only wished she knew how to curb her eternal optimism, how to make herself accept that no matter how hard she tried or how good her work was she was never going to have the kind of freedom journalistically on Up to the Minute that she craved. There was something in her that insisted she could break through the imposed limitations with a carefully put-together filmed segment that would tear the tops off peoples' heads. She refused to be defeated by a power structure of men whose competency was inconsistent, whose vision was defined by the choices of other men, and who would never move over to make room for a woman in their ranks because that would be an admission, a recognition of her ability. At best her associates congratulated her from time to time on a job especially well done, but constantly distanced themselves from her, professionally, socially, and intellectually.

She'd forgotten Alec! Appalled, she looked about quickly, as if passersby might recognize how remiss she was. What was it she'd been trying to remember? The car. No, she hadn't brought it. She started toward the corner thinking she'd go home. It was all over now and safe to go home. Everyone was gone - the detectives, the coroner, the two patrolmen, the photographer, the ambulance attendants, and Alec. She couldn't go home. She crossed the Avenue and started walking down the east side of the street. At Seventy-second she spotted another open coffee shop and pushed inside. No music. Good. She slid into a booth and ordered coffee from the bored-looking, overweight waitress. Then she lit a cigarette. The trembling in her hands was worse.

There was so much to do, she thought exhaustedly, finally confronting the logistics. How could she possibly get it all done? She wouldn't have to worry about work. The next four weeks were free. Arizona ... The scream was threatening again to rise into her throat. She drew hard on the cigarette.

Alec's family, and her sister, their friends ... How would she explain this? How would they understand when she wasn't sure she ever would? Objectively she could put it together. If she suspended her emotional self for just a few moments, there was an alarming clarity to Alec's actions. All the reasons curved inward in her mind, folding protectively around a central core; reason upon reason layered thinly, one atop the other, forming patterns, curling, curving, crisping at the edges like yellowed newspapers. One atop another, reason after reason, the final, dried pages of someone's life.

She picked up the cup and took a swallow of the strong bitter coffee. The bottom of the pot. Good coffee, her mother used to say, should never be allowed to stand for more than half an hour. How many pots of coffee had her mother poured down the sink in her lifetime of seventy-seven years? Lynne thought of the occasion when her old school friend Andrea had come to visit. Lynne had carried a half-pot of stale coffee to the sink and Andrea had let out a shriek of protest, exclaiming, "Don't throw it out! Reheat it! It's still good." Lynne had paused a moment, then smiled, saying, "I'll make fresh." Andrea, looking scandalized, had murmured, "It's such a waste."

Why think of that now? Because it was a waste. Angus Alexander Craig, known affectionately as Alec, took his life, ended it voluntarily, on this night of December twelfth, 1963. He took it quietly, she had to grant him that, in typical understated Alec fashion, choosing to sleep it away with a bottle of large red sleeping spansules obtained by legitimate prescription from his physician. The large red pills had been washed down with one or more snifters of vsop brandy.

The detective who'd talked with her in the living room had observed that it was usually women who opted for sleeping pills. Men, he'd assured her, seemed to prefer louder or messier ways of ending their lives. But they hadn't known Alec. Given that there was choice involved, he'd have preferred the quieter, cleaner death. He'd have been incapable of placing a gun at his temple, or of leaping from the bedroom window. God! He'd thought of everything but her, of how she might react to coming upon his body, of how his electing their bed for the scene of his death had forced her out into the streets because just the sight of that bed might be sufficient to send her mad. She took another sip of the acrid coffee, then another puff of the cigarette. She hadn't smoked in two years. The smoke seemed to swell her head, to wizen her brain somehow so that, pea-like, it rattled ineffectually within the sere bone hollows.

How could she ever go home? Home no longer existed. Home had been a life she and Alec had structured attentively for seventeen years. They'd worked out their lifestyle over the years and made choices together, but he'd failed to include her in this decision. She brought her fist down hard on the tabletop, her eyes filling. The half dozen people in the place all looked over at her. She failed to notice.

There was so much to do, so many details to be attended to. Too clearly she could call to mind the countless things that had had to be done when her mother had died eighteen months earlier. The shock of that death was still with her; it didn't seem possible she now had yet another death to cope with. If she could just decide where to begin, perhaps it might all fall into some sort of pattern. There'd be an autopsy. After that, the body would be released to a funeral home of her designation. Should she call Dodie first? No. Alec's sister would find too much to relish in the drama; she'd beat her fleshy fists against her wealth of breast and create more drama. Tommy was in the West Indies, some island seething with political turmoil. Typical of Tommy; he liked to take advantage of situations. Political unrest, hints of murderous natives appealed to him. His motto, Alec had once said, could easily have been: Relax in a state of danger. "My brother Tom's never done anything ordinary in his entire life," Alec had often declared, not without a hint of pride. The amazing thing was that Tommy didn't look or act like someone who'd relish life's more unsavory aspects. From his appearance, and his old-maidish, rather finicky habits, he seemed like the archetypal English teacher, or accountant. In reality, he was president of a bank.

Having ruled out Alec's brother and sister, only his father, and her sister Amy were left. She glanced around the restaurant and spotted a telephone near the door. Leaving her cigarette burning in the ashtray, she picked up her bag, found some change and walked woodenly toward the telephone. In her mind, she could already hear the conversation, and anticipated the immediacy of Amy's warmth and concern. For a few seconds she saw herself and Amy, small girls in their nightgowns and robes, sitting on the window seat of the old house, watching the snow fall as they waited for their father to come.

The long distance operator told her to deposit her money. Lynne got the coins into the slots, and the ringing started at the other end. Lynne pictured the house in Greenwich, saw lights going on as, in alarm, Amy reached for the receiver. A call at this time of the morning - it was now two-thirty - could only signify bad news.

"It's me," Lynne said, almost before Amy finished saying hello in a sleep-encrusted voice. "I need to see you." Suddenly Lynne had the feeling again that her bladder might burst.

"What's wrong? What's happened?"

"I can't talk about it on the phone. I'm going back to the apartment to get the car. I'll be there in about an hour."

"What's wrong?" Amy nearly shouted. "Where's Alec?"

"Alec." She stopped to take a breath. Christ! she thought. How was she going to get through this? "Alec's dead. I'll be there in an hour." She replaced the receiver, her pulse racing. No one was looking at her; apparently no one had been listening. Why then did she feel so naked, so conspicuous, so guilty of some unspecified crime? Thieflike, she stole back to the table to throw down a dollar before making her way quickly out of the restaurant. Her bones seemed to be getting smaller moment by moment; her skin was stretching so that the bones hung loosely inside her. Her coat felt several sizes too large, the empty spaces between the coat and her body puffed with pockets of cold air.

As she hurried along Seventy-fourth Street she fumbled in her bag, praying she had the spare set of car keys with her. She couldn't go back up to the apartment; she wouldn't. If she didn't have the keys, she'd stop a taxi and hire it to take her to Greenwich; anything not to have to go back to the apartment. She found the keys at the bottom of her bag and went past the doorman without bothering to acknowledge his greeting.

In the supposedly heated indoor garage she shivered as she tried to fit the key into the lock of the bmw. She felt now as if people were chasing her and it was vital not to be caught. She got the door open, threw herself into the driver's seat, fastened the safety belt, then started the car. She knew it was wrong, could hear Alec's admonitions against attempting to drive before the engine was properly warmed, but she simply could not attend now to things like properly warmed engines and observations of polite protocol, greetings to curious doormen. She had to see Amy.

The fdr Drive was clear, with very little traffic. She threw the shift into fourth and put her foot down on the accelerator, that feeling of being pursued even more pronounced. They might have called Dianna by now, and Dianna might, for reasons entirely her own, have lied about Lynne's being with her all day and evening. The police could easily be out looking for her. The sturdy little car jounced over potholes and took the badly-planned curves of the highway at a speed that would have frightened her had anyone else been driving. Once over the bridge and headed for the New England Thruway, she relaxed somewhat and again tried to consider all that would have to be done. She couldn't concentrate. Birdlike, her brain darted here and there, landing on random thoughts, memories.

The first time she'd seen Alec she'd loved him. Tall with sandy-red hair and a capacity for blushing that was one of the most endearing qualities she thought she'd ever discovered in a man; a quiet, even-tempered soul with a wry sense of humor and an inner core of finely-tempered steel pride. It was the pride, of course, that was to blame. If he hadn't been so rigidly determined to do it all on his own; if he'd allowed her to contribute financially, to contribute at all. But no. "I've never touched a penny of yours and I never will. I've never objected to your working and I'm not about to begin, but I won't take your money."

He'd refused to allow her to help and now he was dead. She was never again going to hear him speak or laugh. He would not be there in the morning when she awakened. There'd be no one to meet her on nights when she worked late at the station, no one to call her and ask how things were going in Indiana, or Florida, or Ohio, or any of the dozen other places she'd gone on assignment. He was dead.

She pulled over onto the shoulder and sat gripping the steering wheel, aware of the gentle hum of the car's engine, and the heat pushing out from the vents. She closed her eyes. She felt bewildered, devastated, dry; dry as if all the life-sustaining fluids in her body had evaporated in that moment when she'd mentally connected the empty brandy snifter and the topless vial with Alec's chilled rubbery hand. The lids of her eyes slid open and she stared at the highway ahead. It was so goddamned easy to die, she thought, sensing an anger she suspected would grow to enormous proportions in the days to come. It was such a cruel, thoughtless thing to do to the people you left behind. Unanticipated, the scream rushed into her throat and hurtled out of her mouth. She screamed until her temples throbbed and her throat gave out. Her fists pounded on the steering wheel until they, too, gave out. Then she lit a cigarette and sat, gutted by the loss of the scream, and smoked until the cigarette was done. After a few minutes she directed the car back onto the road.

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