I walked around the corner. A stone patio with white plastic lawn chairs extended from the back of the house. I moved across the grass onto the patio, where French doors led into a solarium. Creeping up to the doors, I peeked through the glass. No lights were on, but peering through the shadows, I could see beyond the sunroom into the kitchen. The house seemed empty. I tried the door, but it was locked. There was no dead bolt, though, and I was relieved I would have to break only a single pane of glass.
I withdrew a pair of leather gloves from the fanny pack and grabbed a baseball-size rock lying in a flaccid garden adjacent to the patio. When the gloves were on, I shoved the rock through the pane nearest the doorknob. There was a concussive crack, and splinters of glass spilled across the floor inside. Still holding the rock, I listened for the sound of an alarm, but the house remained silent. I dropped the rock and turned the lock.
The warm breath of central heating caressed my face as the doors swung open. I stepped inside, removed the leather gloves, and put them back in the fanny pack. After wiping my fingerprints off the outside doorknob, I squeezed my hands into a pair of latex gloves and pulled the doors closed behind me.
I distrusted the silence. Standing in a sunroom, I noticed the fading light filtering in through long, curved panels of glass. Wicker chairs had been placed somewhat erratically across the brick-patterned linoleum floor, and potted plants lent the room the earthy bouquet of a greenhouse. I moved cautiously across the floor, my footfalls crunching bits of glass. Taking my Glock from the fanny pack, I chambered the first bullet, praying I wouldn’t have to fire the unsilenced weapon in this tranquil neighborhood. Walter and I had been unable to locate black-market silencers.
From the solarium, I proceeded into the kitchen, which was decked out with white appliances on miles of counter space. I examined pictures on the refrigerator of a white-water rafting trip, and of Orson and a woman I’d never seen before, standing arm in arm on the barren summit of a mountain.
To the right, a doorway led into a dining room, complete with china hutch, chandelier, and a mahogany table set with crystal, silver, and china on a white tablecloth.
But I went through the doorway to the left, leaving the kitchen and entering the living room. Orson had impeccable taste. Over the mantel there hung a print of Odilon Redon’s monochromatic Anthony: What Is the Object of All This? The Devil: There is No Object. Incidentally, the subject of the black lithograph looked jarringly similar to the man who’d stopped me for an autograph on my mother’s street. Luther. In the far left corner stood an old Steinway upright piano, and before the gas-log fireplace, a Persian rug spread across the floor, framed by a futon and two burgundy leather chairs. A staircase ascended to my immediate right, and just ahead, at the foot of its steps, loomed the front door.
I walked through the living room, my steps resonating on the hardwood floor. A doorway on the left wall, near the Steinway, opened into a library, and I crossed the threshold into the room of books.
It smelled good in his study, like aged paper and cigars. A lavish desk dominated the center of the room, identical to the one in my office. Even his swivel chair was the same. Sifting through the drawers, I found nothing. Every letter was addressed to Dr. David Parker, and most of the files consisted of research materials on ancient Rome. There weren’t even pictures on the desk—just a computer, a cedar humidor filled with Macanudo Robusto cigars, and a decanter of cognac.
The walls were covered by bookcases. The titles indicated the same specific, academic sort of subject matter as the books I’d seen in his office: Agrarian Society in Rome in the Third Century b.c. Tribunal Policy and Imperial Power Before Caesar. Foreign Relations: Rome, Carthage, and the Punic Wars.
The low shudder of a car engine pulled me to the window. I split the blinds with two fingers and watched a white Lexus sedan turn into Orson’s driveway. I waited, my stomach twisting into knots. If Orson came in through the back door, he’d see the broken glass.
He appeared suddenly, walking swiftly up the sidewalk in an olive suit, briefcase in hand. I stepped back from the blinds, dropped to my knees, and crawled under his desk.
A key slid into the dead bolt, and the front door opened. Orson whistled as he strode inside, and I drew back as far as I could into the darkness under the desk. His footsteps moved through the living room, then into the study. A deafening clump shook the desk and set my heart palpitating. He’d dropped his briefcase on the desktop. As he came around the desk toward the chair, I readied the gun.
A phone rang somewhere in the house. He stopped. I could see his legs now, his pointed black wing tips. I smelled him—clean, cologne-sweet, familiar. The scent of our sweat after a long day was identical. The phone rang again, and he rushed out of the study, mumbling something indecipherable under his breath.
He answered from the kitchen after the third ring. “Hello? …Hi, Arlene.…Yes, of course.…Well, why don’t you, then? We’ll put something on.…No, don’t do that. And just come on in.…All right. Sounds good. See you then.”
He hung up the phone and went back into the living room. For a moment, I thought he was returning to the study, and I raised the gun. But his footsteps died away as he ran up the staircase.
Shaking, I climbed out from under the desk. As the shower cut on upstairs, I squatted down, took the walkie-talkie from the fanny pack, and pressed the talk button.
“Wilma,” I whispered. “Wilma? Over?”
“Over.” Walter’s voice crackled back through the speaker. I lowered the volume. “You’re Wilma. I’m Fred,” he said.
“He’s here,” I whispered. “Upstairs, taking a shower.”
“Did you find—”
“Can’t talk now. Go, Papa.”
“Get up here and wait for the next signal.”
I turned off the walkie-talkie and walked into the living room. The staircase was carpeted, so my footsteps fell silently as I ascended to the second floor. Emerging in the center of a dim hallway, I saw there was a bedroom at each end, and a closed door directly ahead, which, because it glowed underneath, I presumed to be the bathroom. Orson’s shoes, his navy-speckled brown socks, black belt, and olive suit trailed right up to the door.
He sang the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” in the shower.
I stepped toward the bathroom. Open the door, slip inside, and then stick him with the needle through the shower curtain.…
The doorbell rang, and I froze in the hallway, wondering if he’d heard it, too. After five seconds, the shower cut off, and I heard the plop of wet feet on tile and cloth rubbing frantically over skin. I ran down the hallway, then into the bedroom on the right. Because there were clothes strewn all over the floor, I assumed this was his room. To my right, a dormer window overlooked Jennings Road and, beyond it, the snowy Adirondacks. Pillows filled the alcove, and I couldn’t help thinking that Orson must spend a great deal of time reading in that dormer nook.