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I’d had time to mull over the call that I received while sitting under the poisonous brugmansia. Maybe the caller had dialed a wrong number. Maybe not.

“If it’s a woman with a smoky voice, cryptic, won’t give her name—I want to talk to her.”

She raised her eyebrows. “What’s that about?”

“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “Probably nothing.”

As I tucked her phone into a zippered pocket on my backpack, she said, “Are you coming back to work, Oddie?”

“Soon maybe. Not this week.”

“We got you a new spatula. Wide blade, microbeveled front edge. Your name’s inlaid in the handle.”

“That’s cool.”

“Entirely cool. The handle’s red. Your name’s in white, and it’s in the same lettering as the original Coca-Cola logo.”

“I miss frying,” I said. “I love the griddle.”

The staff of the diner had been my family for more than four years. I still felt close to them.

When I saw them these days, however, two things precluded the easy camaraderie we had enjoyed in the past: the reality of my grief, and their insistence on my heroism.

“Gotta go,” I said, getting to my feet and shouldering the backpack once more.

Perhaps to detain me, she said, “So…has Elvis been around lately?”

“Just left him crying in my kitchen.”

“Crying again? What about?”

I recounted the episode with the salt and pepper shakers. “He actually made an effort to help me understand, which is something new, but I didn’t get it.”

“Maybe I do,” she said, as she opened the door for me. “You know he was an identical twin.”

“I knew that, yeah, but I forgot.”

“Jesse Garon Presley was stillborn at four o’clock in the morning, and Elvis Aaron Presley came into the world thirty-five minutes later.”

“I half remember you telling me about that. Jesse was buried in a cardboard box.”

“That’s all the family could afford. He was laid to rest in Priceville Cemetery, northeast of Tupelo.”

“How’s that for fate?” I said. “Identical twins—they’re going to look exactly alike, sound alike, and probably have exactly the same talent. But one becomes the biggest star in music history, and the other is buried as a baby in a cardboard box.”

“It haunted him all his life,” Terri said. “People say that he often talked to Jesse late at night. He felt like half of himself was missing.”

“He sort of lived that way, too—like half of him was missing.”

“He sort of did,” she agreed.

Because I knew what that felt like, I said, “I’ve suddenly got more sympathy for the guy.”

We hugged, and she said, “We need you here, Oddie.”

“I need me here,” I agreed. “You’re everything a friend should be, Terri, and nothing that one shouldn’t.”

“When would it be a good idea for me to start worrying?”

“Judging by the look on your face,” I said, “you already have.”

“I don’t like you going down there in the tunnels. It feels like you’re burying yourself alive.”

“I’m not claustrophobic,” I assured her as I stepped out of the kitchen, onto the exterior landing.

“That’s not what I meant. I’m giving you six hours, then I’m calling Wyatt Porter.”

“I’d rather you wouldn’t do that, Terri. I’m as sure as I’ve ever been about anything—I’ve got to do this alone.”

“Are you really? Or is this…something else?”

“What else would it be?”

Clearly, she had a specific fear, but she didn’t want to put it into words. Instead of answering me, or even searching my eyes for an answer, she scanned the sky.

Dirty clouds were scudding in from the north-northeast. They looked like scrub rags that had swabbed a filthy floor.

I said, “There’s more to this than Simon’s jealousies and obsessions. A weirdness, I don’t know what, but a SWAT team isn’t going to bring Danny out of there alive. Because of my gift, I’m his best chance.”

I kissed her on the forehead, turned, and started down the steps toward the alley.

“Is Danny dead already?” she asked.

“No. Like I said, I’m being drawn to him.”

“Is that true?”

Surprised, I halted, turned. “He’s alive, Terri.”

“If Kelsey and I had been blessed with a child, he could’ve been as old as you.”

I smiled. “You’re sweet.”

She sighed. “All right. Eight hours. Not a minute more. You might be a clairvoyant or a medium, or whatever it is you are, but I’ve got women’s intuition, by God, and that counts for something, too.”

No sixth sense was required for me to understand that it would be pointless to try to negotiate her up from eight hours to ten.

“Eight hours,” I agreed. “I’ll call you before then.”

After I had started down the open stairs again, she said, “Oddie, the main reason you came here really was to borrow my phone—wasn’t it?”

When I stopped and looked up again, I saw that she had come off the landing, onto the first step.

She said, “I guess for my own peace of mind, I’ve got to lay it out there…. You didn’t come here to say good-bye, did you?”




“Swear to God.”

I raised my

right hand as though I were an Eagle Scout making a solemn pledge.

Still dubious, she said, “It would be shitty of you to go out of my life with a lie.”

“I wouldn’t do that to you. Besides, I can’t get where I want to go by conscious or unconscious suicide. I’ve got my strange little life to lead. Leading it the best I can—that’s how I buy the ticket to where I want to be. You know what I mean?”

“Yeah.” Terri settled down on the top step. “I’ll sit here and watch you go. It feels like bad luck to turn my back on you just now.”

“Are you okay?”

“Go. If he’s alive, go to him.”

I turned away from her and descended the stairs once more.

“Don’t look back,” she said. “That’s bad luck, too.”

I reached the bottom of the stairs and followed the alleyway to the street. I didn’t look back, but I could hear her softly crying.


I DID NOT SCOUT FOR OBSERVERS, DID NOT loiter in the hope that an ideal opportunity would arise, but walked directly to the nine-foot chain-link barrier and scaled it. I dropped onto the property of the Maravilla County Flood-Control Project less than ten seconds after reaching the alley side of the fence.

Few people expect bold trespassing in daylight. If anyone saw me scale the fence, he would most likely assume that I was one of the authorized personnel referenced on the gate sign and that I had lost my key.

Clean-cut young men, neatly barbered and beardless, are not readily suspected of nefarious activity. I am not only barbered and beardless but have no tattoos, no earring, no eyebrow ring, no nose ring, no lip ring, and have not subjected my tongue to a piercing.

Consequently, the most that anyone might suspect about me is that I am a time-traveler from some distant future in which the oppressive cultural norms of the 1950s have been imposed once more on the populace by a totalitarian government.

The slump-stone utility building featured screened ventilation cutouts under the eaves. They were not large enough to admit even a trim young man with a low-profile haircut.

Earlier in the morning, peering through the chain-link, I had noticed that the hardware on the plank doors appeared ancient. It might have been installed back when California’s governor believed in the healing potential of crystals, confidently predicted the obsolescence of the automobile by 1990, and dated a rock star named Linda Ronstadt.

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