by Kris Jackson
Chapter 1 | Chapter 2
The sleek black car pulled into the driveway of the comfortable suburban home. Two men got out. One stood looking thoughtfully at the house while his companion came around the car to him.
"Remember it okay?"
"Oh, I remember it fine. Its just, well, I appreciate it more now."
Gillespie nodded. "Given any thought as to how youre going to get in there? Your keys were stolen, remember."
Bell responded by going up to the bushes in front of the house and finding a rock. The rock had a trap door in the bottom containing a key. He opened the door, then put the key and rock back. He bowed Gillespie through the door. "Hows my memory now?"
"You pass, pal. You had me worried there. I thought you were going to break the glass and go in through the window."
A pile of letters made a fanlike pattern under the front door mail slot. He had no pets or plants so there was no other sign that the house had sat idle for three weeks.
"Only if you dont join me."
"Dont worry. Im going to be a real good boy."
"Scotch, then. The good stuff."
Bell sat down opposite his friend with a Diet Coke in his hand. Gillespie looked at it. "Is that caffeine-free?"
"Yeah. That means they dont charge you extra for the caffeine."
"I thought you were supposed to avoid caffeine."
"Avoid excessive caffeine, it says on the sheet. If it gives me a headache Ill stop."
"Well, all right."
"Dont give me that. You need to be watched out for."
"I can mostly take care of myself. Theres just one thing I worry about." Bell tapped his chest.
"If this thing stops for a second, he takes over. That thought scares the shit out of me."
"As well it might. That Gerry character was irrational."
"I feel hes like the genie in the bottle, just waiting to be freed."
"Hes very real to you, isnt he, Hamp?"
"Well, you talked with him, didnt you?"
"What did he seem like?"
"Very hostile to me. And to you. Very paranoid."
"Did he seem real?"
"Yeah, I guess." Gillespie paused. "Why?"
Bell got up and went to the window. "Can I level with you, Doug?"
"Remember when you were a kid? Going to school, riding your bike, staying awake for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve?"
"Well, I dont."
"What do you mean?"
"I dont remember being a kid. Not at all."
"What do you mean, nothing?"
"My earliest memories are of divorcing Donna. I think I remember my daughter being born but Im not sure. I dont remember starting to work for the company. I dont remember when I first met you."
"Well, it seems like you need more tinkering with that thing in your chest. You --"
Bell turned around. With the window light behind him Gillespie couldnt make out his face. "You dont understand. I didnt remember these things before, either. I never did."
"You didnt? But you know where you went to high school, you know who your parents were --"
"But I know those things just as rote facts, like I know my Social Security number. I dont know anything about them. What my parents looked like or anything. And I didnt before the shooting, either."
"At first I thought it was normal to not remember that stuff. You know, like no one remembers being born or being a baby. But little by little I realized there was something wrong with me. It really scared me there for a while but I didnt dare tell anyone."
Gillespie tossed off the scotch and nodded. "I believe it. I believe it. Do you know what you were like twenty years ago?"
"I remember the first time I ever saw you. I was working on the floor at the time in QC. I was in the john. The lock was busted on the door of that stall, but it stuck shut if you closed it. Anyway, there I am, taking a nice crap, when the door opened and you came bustling into the stall and started picking up toilet paper tubes and stuff off the floor."
Bell smiled. "I did?"
"There I am with my pants around my knees and your ass in my face. And when I complained you just gave me a ration of shit. Not even words, really, you couldnt even really talk back then."
"Thats funny. So thats how we met?"
"Three years later when you were promoted to the design department I could hardly believe it. Thats when I first took an interest in you."
Bell sat down. "What was I like then?"
"Eager to learn. You always had a book or a magazine or something. Often it was like a juvenile science book. And electronics. Someone, I think it was Charlie Lorkowitz, said it was like you already knew electronics and just needed reminding. That got me to thinking that you must be recovering from a head injury or something, or maybe a drug problem. I always hoped you would bring it up but you never did."
Bell looked thoughtful. "I think something happened to me."
Gillespie paused, then tapped his empty glass. Bell got up and gave him another dose, then sat opposite him again. "Well?"
"Something almost happened to you."
"What do you mean?"
Gillespie sipped the scotch. "Maggie Tarkasian said I could tell you about it when you were ready. But dont tell the other doctors she said this. Lamont wanted it kept a secret."
"Someone apparently tried to kill you in the hospital."
Bells only reaction was a slight flick of the eye. "Go on."
"Right after Gerry Sullivan made a phone call to Massachusetts someone came into the hospital and tried to kill him. He killed some other poor bastard instead."
Bell exhaled. "Jesus Christ!"
"Thats what Maggie thinks, anyway. Its open to interpretation."
"But who -- what --"
"I dont know. Neither did she. But it makes Gerry Sullivan seem more real. Hes real enough to have enemies, anyway."
"So will they be coming after me?"
"I dont know. I dont think so. For one thing, they havent yet, so they probably think they succeeded in killing you. For another thing, she says there are no hospital records connecting you to Gerry Sullivan. Your accounts were entirely separate. But Hamp?"
"Im still worried. After all, they find guys in the witness protection program. They can find you."
The community seemed to have more of New England about it than southern California. The
houses were not mass-produced boxes but actual homes. They had porches and tire swings and
stuff. Bell felt that it must have been a nice town to grow up in.
It was six-thirty. Someone was home here. He had even seen someone moving around inside the house. Stupidly, he found himself wishing he smoked so he would have an excuse to not get out of the car for another minute. He steeled himself and went up the sidewalk.
The lady who answered the door didnt recognize him nor he her.
"I believe Im your son, Hampton."
Her eyes widened, then narrowed. "Wait here."
From inside the house he heard a mans voice: "What the hell is this! Where are they?" A barrel-chested man came to the door. He was in his late sixties and was wearing a tee shirt and baggy pants held up with suspenders. He was carrying a newspaper. "Our son is dead."
"What do you people want?"
Bell gave a vague wave and started back to the car. The man said something else but Bell could only hear the blood roaring in his ears. He drove to the edge of town, then stopped to compose himself.
This little encounter had gone much worse than he had expected. His heart was pounding. He took his hand off the wheel. It was trembling and the palm was sweaty. He grabbed the wheel again just to keep the hand still.
He was much too shook up to drive. He would end up killing himself. And wouldnt that be a swell development, he thought. Hampton Bell, the man who was born once and died twice.
Why the hell did the old man say "you people"? That was creepy.
He looked around and noticed that he was parked right across the street from the town cemetery. He steeled himself. There was no good reason to go into that cemetery and every good one not to. He walked into the place as if in a trance.
It was getting dark. The stones stood out as huddled shadows. It was very quiet.
He would never find the one he was looking for.
But there it was. He went over and knelt in front of it to be sure.
The name read HAMPTON BELL. There was a border of crosses intertwined with ribbon. He was born on June 17, 1948, and he had died on June 21, 1967.
He traced his fingers over the letters. On impulse he pulled the road map and a pencil out of his pocket and tried to make a rubbing of the name. He felt that if he didnt do this he wouldnt believe later that all this had actually happened. It was difficult work. The paper shifted around on the smooth stone and the pencil wasnt really sharp enough to give a good image.
Out of the corner of his eye he spotted the silhouette of a man standing a few feet to his left. He gasped and looked over, then sighed with relief. It wasnt a man but a monument that loomed over him. He just hadnt noticed it before.
He struggled to his feet. He was alone and it was nearly dark. The gravestones all around seemed closer and more oppressive than before. Behind him was his grave, his hungry grave. He felt as if he had no right to be alive, that this place of death would suck him in if he stayed. He found himself beside his car with no recollection of crossing the street. There was a moment of panic when he couldnt find his keys, then he spotted them in the ignition. Ten minutes later he was back on the highway heading for home.
She was seated in what she called her Picasso chair. It was a wicker chair with a high wide back and she had bought it with her own money. She kept it at her fathers house because her mothers apartment was too small.
While her father told his story she tried on various articles of clothing, stealing glances at herself in the full-length mirror on the door of the linen closet. If he had not known her so well he might have thought she was paying him little attention. When he got to the end of the story she was sitting upright, her feet sole-to-sole on the seat before her, her hands on her ankles. A broad-brimmed hat set at a rakish angle on her head was the only thing that broke the perfect symmetry of her pose. He concluded the tale by bringing out the road map. She took it and inspected it.
"I see," she said. "Yes, I can make out part of the name here. I believe all this happened, anyway."
"So what do you think?"
"I think this is more Ricky than Oprah."
"I dont know. Under what category should my thoughts be? Diagnosis or a course of action?"
"Start with diagnosis."
"I think you used to be Gerry Sullivan and became Hampton Bell."
"Swell. What do I do about it?"
"What do you want to do about it?"
"I dont know."
"I believe it was you who said that in most situations the best thing to do is nothing."
"So let all of this go?"
"Well, youre living a decent life as you. I dont see how youd go back to being Gerry Sullivan without abandoning being who you are."
"What about whoever tried to kill me?"
She shrugged. "Not a nice guy, I suppose, but he thinks he succeeded. Leave him with his little illusion."
"Arent you curious?"
"Sure I am. Im just playing devils advocate because I can tell you want to go out and stir up the silt. Is that a mixed metaphor?"
"No. Theyre sort of sequential metaphors."
"And those are okay?"
"I dont mind."
"And if you wanted to let things go, Id say you should check it out."
He thought this over. "Is all of this to discourage me from confiding things like this in you?" he asked.
"No. Its merely inherent in our relationship that we have conversations like this."
"Say you approved of me looking into this. Where would you advise me to start?"
"Right here in this room."
"What, with you?"
"Sure. Ive known you since you were a little kid."
He had to smile at this. She remained deadpan.
"All right, wise one. What do you know about me?"
"How much do you remember about when I was little?"
"Not much, unfortunately."
"Do you remember me teaching you to read?"
An image came to his mind: he was sitting in a chair with a little girl in his lap. She was tracing over the words in a big colored storybook. He could hear her high, earnest voice, see her black hair, her tiny finger moving over the page. He opened his mouth but couldnt speak.
"Good," she said.
"I havent thought about that in years," he said. There was awe in his voice.
"Do you remember any of the books?"
He frowned at her as she got up. "Is this any time to dig out your old storybooks?" he asked.
"Yes," she said primly, and led the way to her room. Her bookcase contained nearly every book she had ever owned. She pulled one out. "Do you remember this?"
"Babar? An elephant? No."
"When I read the name you yanked it away and looked through it. Said you wanted to see Babar. You got upset when you couldnt find him, even though Babar the elephant is on nearly every page."
He frowned. "No. I dont get anything about that at all."
He took the book. "The Hobbit? Whats that?"
"A hobbit is like a little elfy creature. The main one in the book is Bilbo Baggins." She scrutinized him. "Doesnt mean anything?"
"You flipped out over that one, too. You seemed to be saying that you were Bilbo Baggins."
"Yeah? I was?"
"Near as I can recollect. But that doesnt seem to be operative any longer. What about this?"
"Beetle Bailey? What is that book?"
"Just a collection of the comic strips."
"Maybe I was in the army."
"One of the characters is named --" she paused for effect "-- Zero."
He shrugged. "And zero is what I get out of it."
"Well, you got a hell of a lot more, pardon my Urdu, when I first read it to you. You said you werent Zero, or didnt want to be, or something. You scared me you got so upset. You stormed out of the house and didnt come back for two or three days."
"When you came back all had been forgiven, or at least forgotten. I never mentioned the comic strip or even the number zero to you again. How about this one?"
"Elvis? Were you an Elvis fan?"
"No. I dont even know how I got this book. But I was reading it to you and I got to the part about his home, Graceland. And you beamed with pride and said that you used to live there."
"Really?" He flipped the pages to a picture of the mansion. "Maybe we were army buddies."
"Do you think you got anything out of this little session?"
"Yeah. I know now that I used to be a little elf whose name wasnt Zero. My elephant friend and I met Elvis in the army and lived with him after we got out."
"So are you going to go digging into this mess?"
"I think I better."
"Well, someone was trying to kill me, for one thing."
"You might just succeed in telling them that they failed, and then theyll try again."
"Theres more to it than that. They deprived me of my past. Somebody owes me."
"Do you expect to get your twenty years back?"
"No, but --"
"Do you regret marrying my mother?"
Comments from left field were a hallmark of their conversational style and he took it in stride. "No."
"Because its where I was at the time. And because I got a neat daughter out of it."
She glanced around the room. "Neat in the colloquial sense of about a century ago, perhaps. What was the point of that question?"
"To show that it does no good to regret the past?"
"Very good. And why not?"
"Because you cant change it, and because -- its just the way it is. With its good and its bad."
"A for effort."
"So you think I shouldnt do this?"
"No, I think you should. But you should be careful."
His personnel file at work was a condensed reprise of his life. There were all sorts of goodies he had never examined before. His application for employment had been filled out in a womans flowing hand, with his only direct contribution being the scrawled signature. Accompanying the application was a copy of his high school diploma, his birth certificate and a letter from his former employer. He copied this last into a notebook.
Nuns made Bell nervous. He always felt he would spontaneously start swearing or farting
or something. It had never actually happened but he knew it was only a matter of time.
Getting an appointment to see a retired nun at a convent nursing home had been surprisingly difficult. Everyone seemed to suspect he was out to steal the Holy Grail or something. He was dressed in his most conservative suit and was on his best behavior, yet the nun scrutinizing him now still didnt trust him. She seemed to sense that he wasnt even Catholic. Just the same, the nun he had written to had written back, asking to see him, so they couldnt send him away.
"Mister Bell, you must remember that Sister Agnes has a fairly advanced case of Alzheimers Disease. She has her good days and her bad days. Some days she doesnt even remember her own name. If she doesnt remember you, then you must not hector her. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Sister." He glanced up and rose.
A very old and frail looking nun was entering the room on the arm of a younger nun. The "younger" nun looked to be in her seventies herself; Sister Agnes looked ancient. He had found her through an old newspaper article at the library. The article said that when she had come out of retirement to open the Saint Francis Mission she had been 79, so she had to be 108 now. Her face was thin, nearly skeletal, and her open mouth contained no teeth. Her habit was threadbare and worn but clean. It was probably one she had worn thirty years ago.
She let the other nun guide her to the armchair. She sat down with a sigh and shifted around as if trying to find a comfortable spot. When she had settled she looked around as if confused. "Who -- who is coming to see me now?"
"Hampton Bell, Sister." Bell instinctively raised his voice.
"I worked for you at the Saint Francis Xavier Mission in San Francisco."
"Do you remember me, Sister?"
"You -- youre not Hampton Bell." He suddenly realized that she was blind. Her pupils were white with cataracts. Her hands settled in her lap and moved as if she were knitting.
"Why do you say that, Sister?"
"Hampton Bell couldnt talk."
"So you have. So you have." She looked down at her invisible knitting. "You have -- your voice. So what are you doing now?"
"I have a job. Im doing all right."
"You, you could talk then, you know. You could say some things. Your name. Your Social Security. Some other things. But it was just rote. Like you were saying the Rosary in Latin. No understanding." Her head drifted around on her shoulders like a balloon on a string.
"Sister, Im trying to find out about my past."
"Who was I? Where did I come from?"
"You came from the street. Same as all the other shitbums at the mission."
He knew he had heard her wrong but couldnt figure out what she had really said.
"What was wrong with me?"
"Drugs or something. Same as all of them." Her hands were clutched before her now as if in prayer. She was looking past him, over his shoulder. Her hands dropped into her lap. "No, thats not right," she muttered. "You were different. It wasnt drugs. It was an injury. Or something psychic. I -- I could never believe in demons, but still..."
He tried to keep her on the beam. "When did I come to the mission, Sister?"
"The night they died."
"The night who died?"
"The crazies. God knows I was against the war, but the crazies fed off of it. They were breaking windows and there were guns ... and she brought you in."
"The bloody woman. Red hair. She said you were innocent. She carried a rifle into the goddam mission. The hippies I ministered to, they were always troubled, but they were harmless. She wasnt like them. Her eyes were on fire. And she gave you a look, a look of loss, and she was gone."
"And I stayed."
"Yes. You werent like her. But you werent like the hippies, either. Not a shitbum. You had a fire but it was extinguished. Innocent, she said." She looked around, hands in the air before her, as if someone had just snatched away her knitting. "I didnt know if she meant innocent of a crime or ... or ... So I didnt tell the police. I put a broom in your hand. For two years ..." Her eyes closed.
And just like that she was asleep. Bell had never seen anything like it. He had a million questions but he couldnt ask a single one. He could only sit and look at her.
"Sir, its time to go." The nun still standing behind him made it clear by the tone of her voice that this wasnt negotiable.
He stood up and said, as loudly as he dared, "Thank you, Sister Agnes."
"Youre welcome." She was suddenly wide awake and struggling to her feet. The other nun came over to lead her back into the residence. Sister Agnes muttered something as she turned away.
"What did you say, Sister?"
She turned and looked over her shoulder at him with her white eyes. "Paul said the truth will set you free. But Christ said let the dead take care of the dead. I could see something sad in your past even then, Hampton Bell. Something very sad and very evil."
As the large black man came into the room the door automatically closed behind him. It
made a sound like a spacecraft hatch sealing.
Bell and Gillespie cringed slightly. He was almost by definition a very bad man. In addition, he had a dangerous air that went beyond his color, his imposing height and his muscular build. His smile, however, belied all this. It was refined and self-confident.
He spoke first: "Hampton Bell."
"Ah, the past, that sweet sweet drug. I should now pass the cup of nepenthe back to you and call you Commandante Zero. But I shall not. I am now no longer Truth, and seldom even Donald. Everyone here calls me Pate."
He sat down opposite them. "And here is a strange sight. The silent revolutionary has returned as legal aide to my attorney. Let me say welcome, welcome to my home, and its nice to see you." He solemnly shook Bells hand, then Gillespies. He told the latter, "I understand youre my attorney now."
"Well, that was the only way to get Mr. Bell in here."
"Be that as it may. Am I to assume that the ground rules apply here?"
"You mean between an attorney and his client? Absolutely."
Pate sat back and crossed his arms. "Well, then, to what do I owe the honor?"
"Donald," Bell began, " -- may I call you that?"
The slightest nod of the head from Pate.
"Im trying to find out about my past."
"Id rather not go into it."
"Then its not mere curiosity."
"Well, I suppose I can help you. Both in terms of what I know and what I can find out."
"But it will cost you."
"And what could you have thats of value to a man serving five life sentences for the killing of police officers? You, Doug, are a pretty good attorney."
"Well, yes, but I dont handle criminal."
"You supervise the passing of large sums of money between rich men. A dirty job, et cetera."
"I have need of such services from time to time."
"Forgive me, but I wouldnt want to do anything which is, well --"
"Salacious? Unsavory? It would in fact be more honest work than much of what you now do."
Gillespie huffed, "I dont think you know much of what I do."
"I know the name Marion Shipley."
"Jesus Christ! Who told you about that?"
"You get two-fifty an hour. The information I can provide is worth ten thousand dollars."
"You want forty hours of work out of me?"
"Over the course of about a year. And if anything offends your ethical sense, as it will not, you are free to refuse."
"I dont know if your information will be worth that amount."
"You will have to agree it is after you hear it or you are free."
Gillespie thought about it. "All right," he said at last.
Pate turned to Bell. His serene smile was back. He examined Bell like a lab specimen for about thirty seconds, then said, "I did a pretty good job on you."
"What -- what do you mean?"
"You were clay when I first saw you. I molded you. I gave you your name and your identity. I made you a soldier, although a soldier in name only. You were a spear carrier but never a spear chucker."
"It was a reference at once to the leader of the Nicaraguan resistance, to the idiot in Beetle Bailey and to your value to our organization."
"Thanks a lot. Where did I come from?"
"You came from Lebanon." He paused a moment. "No, for this amount of money I wont jest. But then again, thats the truth. She called herself Lebanon and as a nom de guerre it fit her and it fit our needs. Lebanon she always was to us.
"Her revolutionary feelings were passionate but unformed. We taught her the doctrine, we fed her, we trained her in the art and science of war. You merely came along for the ride."
"She had red hair?"
"You dont know what her name was?"
"Not before she came to us. We had rap sessions, true rapport sessions in which we plumbed our souls. But she never opened up. I knew from her accent that she came from the Northeast. Thats all I ever knew about her."
"How did you meet her? Meet me?"
"The Altamont Rock Festival. It was in the summer of 1970."
"I was there," Gillespie said. "It was a bummer. Bad acid, bad vibes, violence."
"I passed it up, myself," Pate continued, "but some of my comrades went. It was officially for the purpose of recruitment. They passed out literature and talked to people. Lebanon was there, with you in tow. She was instantly attracted to the group. She seemed to be not just on the road but on the run."
"There was just the two of us?"
"As a matter of fact she was with a larger group. My people dismissed them as lumpen proletariat, a rather snobbish designation for a Marxist to apply to someone, I should think. She seemed different. More edgy, more bitter. The perfect recruit for our organization."
"Who were these people? The ones she was with?"
"They seemed to be members of a commune."
"Did she ever say the name?"
"She may have. Happy Land or something."
"Perhaps. Yes, I think that was it."
"And you gave me the name Hampton Bell?"
"How did you get the name?"
"Oh, that was easy. Do you know how its done, Doug?"
"Ive heard of it. Find the grave of someone who was born about the same time that you were. Then write to that town, say youre that person and request a copy of your birth certificate. The birth certificate establishes your identity. All the other documentation flows from that one."
Bell thought it over. "But wouldnt the town have that persons death certificate on file, too? So theyd see what you were trying to do?"
"Well, yes, but they wouldnt be correlated. And even if the town picked up on what you were trying to do, theyd just turn you down and you try another town."
"These days, of course," Pate said, "its all done electronically. There are in fact people on the Internet who provide new identities for a fee. In those days, however, you had to do it yourself. I provided identities, in some cases several, for the members of my band." He looked at Bell. "I snuck into a cemetery in the dead of night to collect yours. You have a rather nice headstone, by the way."
"Thank you. Ive seen it." The thought of this dark and bitter figure kneeling on his grave in the middle of the night made him shudder. "Do you know what happened to Lebanon?"
"She walked away. I remember the day." He sat back and ruminated for a minute. "Or the night, I should say. Not a particularly good evening for the Patrice Lumumba Revolutionary Front."
"We had just liberated an armory in San Francisco."
"I saw that in a newspaper article. You -- we -- were trying to steal weapons, right?"
Pate studied him for a moment. "Not weapons. A weapon. We succeeded, too. Then as now I was a master of information. I had intercepted a telex that a device was to be moved into the armory for temporary storage. The country in those days was a lot more lax in its handling of nuclear weapons. It sent them around the country, unaccompanied, on trains, in airliners. It actually sent them through the U.S. Postal Service. Can you imagine?"
"No," Gillespie said. "Thats true?"
"It came out in the middle 70s after they lost track of one for about five months. It turned up in a crate marked canned goods. A stationmaster had stolen it and kept in his cellar. Imagine his chagrin upon opening it."
"Unbelievable. No, actually, I believe it."
"We waited until there was a large anti-war protest. We didnt take part in these protests, actually. In fact, we quite approved of the Vietnam war. It demonstrated for us the complete bankruptcy of the American moral position. At any rate, the protest became violent, as we had hoped it would, and the police had their hands and squad cars full. Thus it was that, with the breaking of a single padlock, our little band came into possession of a nuclear artillery shell, sans primer. Unfortunately we also set off a burglar alarm. The police, busy as they were, still found the time to pay us a visit."
"They got the bomb back?"
"No. We tossed it off the end of a dock. To my surprise they never asked me about it. Apparently they never missed it. To my knowledge it sits in San Francisco Bay to this day."
"So continue. The police came?"
"And came and came. They realized who we were. We were pinned down between two parked cars. I killed two officers with a high-powered rifle. Comrade Che Guevarra was shot in the head. His brain exploded all over us. Sister Harriet Tubman was shot in the chest as she pulled the pin from a grenade. The grenade went off and took the legs off of my brother. I could have escaped at that moment but I let sentiment get the better of my revolutionary discipline. I stopped to talk to him as he bled to death. Lebanon took your hand and walked off into the fog, the smoke and the darkness. The police apparently thought you were innocent bystanders or else simply didnt see you. I alone was taken alive. I alone stood trial."
He paused, looking at the floor. The other two could tell that he had more to say. They waited.
"I thought myself unhappy, frustrated and angry in those days. They were actually the happiest days of my life." His voice, deep and sonorous, seemed to emanate from the concrete floor. "There was so much to do, so much to think about. All of us were so young. We were thinking things, feeling things that no one else in history had ever thought or felt before. We were revolutionaries, but even saying that beggars the fact. From our perspective Marx and Lenin and even Mao and Fidel seemed effete and stodgy. We would change the world -- we were changing the world, every day and in every way, just by being there and being alive. I myself changed more in a week then than I do in a year now. And in the midst of all this whirling chaos, some things still seemed perfectly clear to me." He looked up. His smile was like the smile of a Buddha. "I just wish I could remember what they were."
"Donald," Gillespie asked, "are you still a revolutionary?"
"No. Im a Reagan Republican."
"Within a few days I will send you a list of names and addresses. I believe Lebanon will be living as one of those people."
"How will you send it?" Gillespie asked.
"Ill e-mail it to you."
"Do you need my address?"
"I have it."
"Do you have access to the Internet?"
"Yes. As you know, everyone in prison has a job. I direct IT."
"Really? You run the computer system here? Im surprised that a prisoner even has access to it."
"I have it quite personalized. Everyone, black and white, con and guard, considers me their friend because I help everyone out. God knows how things would run around here if I died. The place would shut down. Theyd have to open the doors and tell everyone to go home, except they wouldnt be able to open the doors."
The other two considered this. "Well -- dont," Gillespie said. All three laughed.
Pate turned to Bell. "Hampton -- do you really remember nothing of those days? Those heady, wonderful days?"
Pate sighed. "I envy you, my friend." He knocked on the door, then stepped back to shake their hands.
"This is Gillespie."
"Doug, its Hampton."
"Hi, Hamp. Did you get my e-mail?"
"Yes. I take it the attachment was from our friend?"
"Yes. Get this. He didnt just send it via e-mail. He broke into my server and put it there."
"What, he broke your password?"
"I have no idea how he did it. I think he was just showing off."
"So does he have any work for you yet? That forty hours of legal work?"
"No. Itll be interesting to see what he has me doing."
"Hey, what was that name he invoked? The one that got you so shook up? Marion something?"
"Hamp, nobody knows about that case. I have no idea how he ..."
"Son of a bitch is good."
"Hes damn good."
"One visit to the guy and he has you working for him. I owe you for that, by the way."
"Dont worry about it, Hamp. You can mow my lawn or something."
"Are you going to contact that woman?"
"The one he e-mailed you? I guess so."
"She doesnt have a telephone. And hes not even sure its her."
"Well, hes pretty sure. The alternative is that two women assumed the same dead womans identity."
"Yeah, pretty unlikely. So what are you going to do?"
"I like your painting."
The painting hung above her head. She was curled up on the couch, scrutinizing him as he scrutinized the painting.
At first he hadnt thought it was a painting at all. Four rocks were grouped together in a shallow wooden box in imitation of the mountains visible from the window of the trailer. A shard of sandstone stood for the desert in the foreground, with four little sticks simulating trees. Everything was painted in such detail that he had to look very closely to see that the rocks and twigs werent real. Even the shallow box was just a part of the flat canvas. He wondered what it all meant.
He was also wondering what either of them had to say to the other.
When the dark-haired woman had opened the door he at first thought that he had the wrong place. Then she had screamed.
He glanced down from the painting. She was regarding him with a look of -- what? Fear? Anger? Tears were rolling down her cheeks. He shifted in his seat.
"I dont even know what to call you," he said.
"Im trying to find out about my past."
"Why? What do you remember?"
"Nothing. I dont remember you."
She looked away.
"Do you sell your paintings?"
"Do they sell well?"
"Not really. I keep changing my style."
"Well, thats good, isnt it?"
"I dont dare to become well-known."
"Come back tomorrow." She got off of the couch and pushed him out the door. Just like that he was standing beside his car in the blinding desert sunshine.
When he came back the next morning there were a police car and an ambulance beside the
trailer. There was no sense of urgency about the scene. Everyone looked very somber. He
gave the scene a glance such as any other citizen would give and drove on.
He realized that he would have to turn around and go back to the highway. This dirt road led nowhere. He glanced in his rearview mirror to see that the pickup truck parked beside the trailer across the street was now following him.
There was nowhere to go. He waited until he was in a slight gully which hid him from the view of the police car, then stopped.
The battered red pickup truck pulled up behind him in a cloud of dust. A heavyset Navajo woman in a SHIT HAPPENS tee shirt got out and came up to him. She gave him a searching look. "You Gerry?"
"Dottie said I should give you this." She handed him a sealed envelope. Bell nodded and put it on the seat beside him.
The woman hesitated. "Why did she do it? What did you say to her?"
The billowing dust choked his throat and made his eyes water. He shook his head and stepped on the gas.
Silverheels, Montana was a ghost town. The silver mine or the uranium mine or whatever
had drawn people here in the first place had given out and everyone had left. The place
was populated entirely by buffalo now.
Bell pulled to the side of the road and looked around. Many of the buildings were boarded up; most were simply abandoned. Grass grew thick in the cracks in the street. The late afternoon sun slanted directly into the open door of the bank across the street and lit the place up all the way back to the tellers windows. The Ace Hardware and the drug store leaned against each other like friendly drunks. He consulted his map.
According to the map, Silverheels was a little circle and he was there.
"Excuse me. Do you know the way to Graceland?"
The buffalo turned its huge stupid head to him, then turned away. Bell pulled out his geodetic survey map.
He figured he would have time to explore one of the roads leading out of town, then he would have to head back to Missoula for the night. He drove straight through the town and into the hills. There was a fork in the road ahead. He hesitated, then took the left fork.
The road got rougher almost immediately. It also sloped upward. He started to wish he had four wheel drive.
This was nuts. The road was getting worse and it was starting to get dark. If he damaged his vehicle here he would be stranded and probably get eaten by wolves in the night. Even as he thought this, however, the road leveled out and passed through a fence with a ruined gate. He kept going.
Apple trees. Little craggy apple trees with aspen growing among them. Had the Internet listing said anything about them? He resisted the temptation to accelerate.
Finally the road did just what he thought it would do: it leveled off and became straight and smooth. First there came the low building on the left, a sheep pen or something. Then the great barn with its silo on the right, followed by the stone house. He slammed on the brakes in front of the stone house, sliding to a stop in the dirt. He got out, whooping with excitement. He could only see the buildings as silhouettes but he felt he knew just how they should look.
And now that he was here, so what? The Internet article had said that Graceland was abandoned. But this was the last link to his past he had been able to find. He had to come.
The door to the stone house pushed open easily. There was a flashlight in the car but he didnt feel like digging through the trunk right now. As his eyes adjusted to the gloom he could see heavy wooden pillars running floor to ceiling down the middle of the place. Heavy buttresses came out at an angle near the top of each pillar.
He moved toward the rear of the great hall. There was a massive stone fireplace in the back wall. Beside the fireplace crouched a man with long hair and a beard. They regarded each other in silence for a minute, neither able to see the others face.
Bell made another connection. "Babar," he said.
"Bob Bar," the man replied. "Why, its Bilbo Baggins. There and back again. Have you eaten?"
Dinner consisted of fish and vegetables. To Bells surprise it was quite good. Bar
had a knack for finding spices among the local plant life. The dishes and silverware were
relics of some long-forgotten suburbia. They were at least fifty years old.
Their mealtime conversation had covered such generalities as the local fish supply and the weather. Bar said he hadnt spoken to another person since the sheriff had come by to say that the last people were leaving town and did he want to come along. He wasnt sure what year that had been.
Bar signaled the end of the meal by turning from the table to look at the fire. Bell followed suit. Bar picked up a little wooden box and took out a meerschaum pipe carved into a human skull. He filled the pipe from the same box, found a burning splinter in the fire and lit up. He puffed in solemn silence for a minute, then remembered his guest. He offered the pipe to Bell. Bell took it, realizing for the first time that this wasnt tobacco. He took a puff and handed it back.
"Bob, do you wonder why Im here?"
"Im looking for my past."
"Do you know where I came from?"
"No." He passed the pipe back.
Bell took another puff for politeness sake and handed it back. As far as he could remember he had never smoked marijuana before. He wondered what he was supposed to be feeling.
"Do you know anything else about me?"
"Im looking for help, here, Bob."
"How did you meet me? Do you remember?"
"I didnt meet you." He took a puff and handed the pipe back. "The others did. Picked you up on the road."
"One of em."
They puffed in silence. Bell figured he would let Bar take his time.
"You were hitchhiking. Yeah. They picked you up in the bus. Bus is out back. When the bus died we used it as a chicken coop. The chickens all died from some -- thing they all had about a coupla years back. Yeah. Bus is still there, ya wanta see it."
"Was it just me?"
"You couldnt a hitchhiked. Lebanon was with you. You were, excuse me, you were all fucked up."
"See, in them days, if someone was on the run, you pick him up. Cause it was all, the police and everything, it was all us against them, and conspiracy like. And thats what you were like."
"Like running from the police."
"Yeah, like that." Bar seemed pleased Bell understood and reloaded his pipe. "So we here at Graceland took you in. Yeah. And you did what you could around here."
"Did she call me Bilbo Baggins?"
"No, that was Seadog. You see, in those days, Seadog would give everybody names. Except you, you called me Babar, and it stuck. But Seadog, he named people. Yeah. Because somebody, they called you Gollum, because thats the sound you would make. Like Gollum. But Seadog, he said no. Gollum was a bad guy, but you werent bad. You were just lost in the world, like Bilbo. So Bilbo Baggins."
Bell nodded although he had no idea what the hell Bar was talking about.
"But Lebanon, she called herself Lebanon when she came here."
"Did you know her real name?"
"Never heard it?"
Bar frowned. "Something tells me she had another name. Because when she was just with you she tried to get you to talk. And she would say another name for herself. Like she wanted you to call her another name."
"Do you remember it?"
Bar puffed in silence, frowning.
"Could it have been Barbara?"
"Coulda been. Coulda not been."
"Look at this."
He handed an opened envelope to Bar, trading it for the pipe. Bar took the single sheet of typing paper out and held it toward the fire, squinting at it. "Gerry, I love you, Barbara," he muttered. He smiled at Bell. "Seems your name is Gerry."
"Yeah, I guess so."
Bar gave Bell the envelope back and tossed another log onto the fire. Sparks came coursing off and flew in clumsy spirals up the chimney. Bar stared at the fire, puffing.
What a strange life this man led, Bell thought. Every night getting high and watching the fire. Never anyone to talk to. Bell was sure he would go insane within weeks. Bar had been doing it for years.
The new log was catching now. The flames crawled around the wood like living things. He thought it looked interesting but it would never replace television. He giggled at the thought.
"Do you remember how long we stayed, Bob?"
"No. That was too long ago to remember something like that."
"Do you know why we left?"
"You wanted to go to see the Rolling Stones. Yeah. Everybody wanted to go. Yeah. Everybody except Bob Bar. I never liked large crowds. Still dont." He leaned forward and knocked the pipe out against the log he had just tossed in.
"Okay. So we went to see the Rolling Stones and never came back."
"No. The others came back and you didnt. That was right at the end."
Bell nodded and they both stared at the fire.
He thought about it. Finally he asked, "The end of what?"
"The end of Graceland."
"Why ... was that the end of Graceland?"
"Well, they all came back. But then they all went away again."
With a great effort Bell turned his head to look at Bar. Bar was staring at the fire.
"They came back from seeing the Rolling Stones, theyre all fucked up. Everyone mad at everyone. You did this, I cant do that ... Bob Bar cant listen to that. So I go and talk to fish. Yeah. And I come back in two days, and everyone is gone."
Bell searched for a word. "Gone," he said at last.
"All their stuff was left here. Things were pushed around. Signs of a struggle. Yeah. Blood and all. I missed it." He turned his hairy head to Bell. "I missed all the heavy shit, man. Yeah. I missed it. But Im still here, man."
"It was about us," Bell said. "Me and her."
"Im sure it was."
"Im sure it was, too."
"Why -- why are you sure?"
Bar turned to look at the fire. "This was just before you all went to see the Rolling Stones. Yeah. She asked me if I had any money. I said maybe I had a little bit, you know? And she said could she borrow it. And I said how much do you need? And she says she needs a dollar or two in change. So I got the coffee can and I gave her two and a half dollars in change. And she says thank you."
Bell wanted to say something but couldnt think of a single word.
"Yeah. And she said another thing I never heard her say."
"She said she had to call the monkey house."
Kiowas voice was cheerful and confident. She went into her crouch as Bell tossed the ball into the air and drove it skillfully into the net.
"One bad!" she cried.
"You can still concede, you know. Theres no dishonor in conceding when you know youve been beat."
"Just serve the ball, Daddy."
Bell looked at her, crouching, racket at the ready. Would she ever stop growing? She was getting strong, too. And smart. Meanwhile, his muscle, bone and brain tissue were all turning into something akin to connective tissue. Soon she would be beating him all the time.
He served again, acing her to the surprise of both. She retrieved the ball in her leisurely fashion, giving him a minute to think.
What to do about Gerry Sullivan? He had been telling himself that he wanted to discuss the matter with his daughter on her next visit, but now that she was here that no longer seemed such a good idea.
His search had really turned up nothing. The trail was too cold. One way or the other, whoever had tried to kill him before must have thought he had succeeded.
So now what would he do?
One course of action alone seemed feasible: he could ask Gerry Sullivan. He had run this plan over in his mind a hundred times. He could be tied up or put in a straightjacket or something, then the power could be turned off to the pacemaker. Then someone could ask Gerry face to face what was going on.
And then what? Turn the pacemaker back on forever? If that was the plan, then why would Gerry agree to help him?
He grabbed the ball as it bounced over the net to him and watched as his daughter went into her crouch. "Deuce," he said. She nodded.
He served. She hesitated, then stepped aside. The ball struck about two inches beyond the line. "Long," she cried. She began her slow plod to retrieve it.
Back beyond the brick wall of his memory something really nasty was lurking. He was coming to the conclusion that he couldnt free it, and moreover he shouldnt even try.
Kiowa finally gave him the ball back. When he served this time she didnt even try for it. The ball was still going up when it hit the chain-link fence. "Receiver," she called out. There was a wicked joy in her voice.
He had built a pretty nice life for himself, and he had done it against great difficulties. He had a daughter who needed him and a job where he was appreciated. All Gerry Sullivan had managed to accomplish in his shot at the brass ring was to die in the strangest way anybody in history had ever died.
He double-faulted, losing game, set and match. They surrendered the court to their successors twenty minutes early. During the walk to the car Kiowa celebrated her victory by prattling on about some boy in her karate class whom she couldnt stand.
She would never know about the decision he had made during this tennis match. If she ever mentioned the subject of Gerry Sullivan again he would gently brush her off.