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Both feet on a vertical bar, gripping the gate with one hand, I extracted the fishing knife from my jeans. On the third try, when he had drawn within arm’s length of me, I flicked the blade out of the handle.

The grievous hour had come round at last. It was him or me. Fish or cut bait.

Fearless of the knife, he crabbed closer and reached for me.

I slashed his hand.

Instead of crying out or flinching, he clutched the blade in his bleeding fist.

At some cost to him, I ripped the knife away from him.

With his wounded hand, he seized a fistful of my hair and tried to yank me off the gate.

As dirty as it was, and intimate, as terrible as it was, and necessary, I drove the knife deep into his gut and without hesitation slashed down.

Relinquishing the twist of my hair, he seized the wrist of the hand that held the knife. He let go of the gate, fell into the flood, and pulled me with him.

We rolled across the gate-held trash and plunged underwater, broke the surface, face to face, my hand in his, the knife contested, thrashing, his free hand a club battering my shoulder, battering the side of my head, then pulling me down with him, submerged, blind in the murky water, blind and suffocating, then up and into the air once more, coughing, spitting, vision blurred, and somehow he had gotten possession of the knife, the point of which felt not sharp but hot in a diagonal slash across my chest.

I have no memory from that slash until a short but inestimable time later, when I realized that I was lying across the accumulation of debris at the base of the gate, holding to a horizontal bar with both hands, afraid that I was going to slip down into the water and not be able to get my head above the surface again.

Exhausted, all power drained, strength consumed, I realized that I had lost consciousness, that I would pass out again, momentarily. I managed, barely, to pull myself up farther on the gate, to hook both arms around verticals, so if my hands relaxed and slipped loose, the crooks of my elbows might still hold me above the flood.

At my left side, he floated, snagged on the trash, faceup, dead. His eyes were rolled back in his head, as smooth and white as eggs, as white and blind as bone, as blind and terrible as Nature in her indifference.

I went away.


THE RATAPLAN OF NIGHT RAIN AGAINST THE windows…Wafting in from the kitchen, the delicious aroma of a pot roast taking its time in the oven…

In his living room, Little Ozzie fills his huge armchair to overflowing.

The warm light of the Tiffany lamps, the jewel tones of the Persian carpet, the art and artifacts reflect his good taste.

On the table beside his chair is a bottle of fine Cabernet, a plate of cheeses, a cup of fried walnuts, which serve as a testament to his genteel quest for self-destruction.

I sit on the sofa and watch him enjoy the book for a while before I say You’re always reading Saul Bellow and Hemingway and Joseph Conrad.

He does not permit himself to be interrupted in the middle of a paragraph.

I bet you’d like to write something more ambitious than stories about a bulimic detective.

Ozzie sighs and samples the cheese, eyes fixed on the page.

You’re so talented, I’m sure you could write whatever you want. I wonder if you’ve ever tried.

He sets the book aside and picks up his wine.

Oh, I say, surprised. I see how it is.

Ozzie savors the wine and, still holding the glass, stares into the middle distance, not at anything in this room.

Sir, I wish you could hear me say this. You were a dear friend to me. I’m so glad you made me write the story of me and Stormy and what happened to her.

After another taste of wine, he opens the book and returns to his reading.

I might have gone mad if you hadn’t made me write it. And if I hadn’t written it, for sure I would never have had any peace.

Terrible Chester, as glorious as ever, enters from the kitchen and stands staring at me.

If things had worked out, I’d have written about all this with Danny, too, and given you a second manuscript. You would have liked it less than the first, but maybe a little.

Chester visits with me as never he has before, sits at my feet.

Sir, when they come to tell you about me, please don’t eat a whole ham in one night, don’t deep-fry a block of cheese.

I reach down to stroke Terrible Chester, and he seems to like my touch.

What you could do for me, sir, is just once write a story of the kind you’d most enjoy writing. If you’ll do that for me, I’ll have given back the gift that you gave me, and that would make me happy.

I rise from the sofa.

Sir, you’re a dear, fat, wise, fat, generous, honorable, caring, wonderfully fat man, and I wouldn’t have you any other way.

TERRI STAMBAUGH SITS in her apartment kitchen above the Pico Mundo Grille, drinking strong coffee and paging slowly through an album of photographs.

Looking over her shoulder, I see snapshots of her with Kelsey, the husband she lost to cancer.

On her music system, Elvis sings “I Forgot to Remember to Forget.”

I put my hands on her shoulders. She does not react, of course.

She gave me so much—encouragement, a job at sixteen, the skills of a first-rate fry cook, counsel—and all I gave her in return was my friendship, which doesn’t seem enough.

I wish I could spook her with a supernatural moment. Make the hands spin on the Elvis wall clock. Send that ceramic Elvis dancing across the kitchen counter.

Later, when they came to tell her, she would know it had been me, fooling with her, saying good-bye. Then she would know I was al

l right, and knowing I was all right, she would be all right, too.

But I don’t have the anger to be a poltergeist. Not even enough to make the face of Elvis appear in the condensation on her kitchen window.


CHIEF WYATT PORTER and his wife, Karla, are having dinner in their kitchen.

She is a good cook, and he is a good eater. He claims this is what holds their marriage together.

She says what holds their marriage together is that she feels too damn sorry for him to ask for a divorce.

What really holds their marriage together are mutual respect of an awesome depth, a shared sense of humor, faith that they were brought together by a force greater than themselves, and a love so unwavering and pure that it is sacred.

This is how I like to believe Stormy and I would have been if we could have gotten married and lived together as long as the chief and Karla: so perfect for each other that spaghetti and a salad in the kitchen on a rainy night, just the two of them, is more satisfying and more gladdening to the heart than dinner at the finest restaurant in Paris.

I sit at the table with them, uninvited. I am embarrassed to be eavesdropping on their simple yet enrapturing conversation, but this will be the only time that it ever happens. I will not linger. I will move on.

After a while, his cell phone rings.

“I hope that’s Odd,” he says.

She puts down her fork, wipes her hands on a napkin as she says, “If something’s wrong with Oddie, I want to come.”

“Hello,” says the chief. “Bill Burton?”

Bill owns the Blue Moon Cafe.

The chief frowns. “Yes, Bill. Of course. Odd Thomas? What about him?”

As if with a presentiment, Karla pushes her chair away from the table and gets to her feet.

The chief says, “We’ll be right there.”

Rising from the table as he does, I say, Sir, the dead do talk, after all. But the living don’t listen.

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