After he sees Abigail and the kids off in the predawn darkness, Randall goes back to bed. When he wakes in the stillness a couple of hours later, it’s as if all the fizz has left the house as flat as day old champagne. Bub looks at him accusingly.
“Don’t blame me,” Randall says. “It wasn’t my idea.”
Next year he will put his foot down. No family vacation to see the leaves turn in southern Oregon, the land of Jell-O salad with canned peaches and pears and a scoop of cottage cheese on the side.
“We can watch the leaves turn here,” he says as he does every year.
“Mom’s not well.”
He wants to say what’s new? Her father dragged out illnesses for years requiring annual visits before he turned toes up, and it looked to him like the old lady was up to the same trick.
He lets the dog out to do his business, showers, puts his uniform on and pulls belt and straps tight. He pours a cereal like brown cardboard peelings into a bowl with nonfat milk. This mixture is supposed to be good for constipation, the curse of the desk-bound officer. As he eats standing up, he is oppressed by the house’s quiet. Abigail has made a nice place out of it with the curtains and throw rugs and other touches. The curmudgeonly owner—there appears to be something about living in the woods that brings that out in people—is an odd duck with taste to match. The house has a steeply pitched roof and tight rooms like for a dwelling in a fairy tale about dwarves who march off at dawn to dig for gold. He has to turn his torso sideways to climb the narrow stairs to their bedroom where the ceiling’s slope matches the sharp angle of the roof and has left him a more or less permanent bump on the head. He reckons in four years they can buy a modern house in a pleasant neighborhood and live like normal people. He’s passed the lieutenant’s exam and if Frudenthaler will just ease his fat ass into retirement life will be good.
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t,” he tells Bub. A flurry of indignant barking comes from inside as Randall walks to the cruiser.
“Things never did quiet down last night,” Lieutenant Frudenthaler says at the brick station house as he looks up from the printouts. “Five calls and a dozen silent alarms. I think we’re looking at a gang hitting at random.”
“What did they take?” Sergeant Randall asks.
Leaning on the counter, Frudenthaler shifts a large haunch as he thumbs through the reports. “It looks like nothing,” he says. He raises eyebrows so thin the wags in the station house joke about Maybelline.
“There goes your theory.”
“Then it’s teenagers messing around.” He passes the reports to Randall.
After Frudenthaler lumbers to the coffee maker and returns with two cups, Randall says, “Teenagers in big black SUVs?”
“That would be different,” the lieutenant concedes. “It’s strange, whatever it is. I’ll do the morning shape up so you can head this up in the field. Cook called in. He’s feeling better so you don’t have to fill in tonight.”
“Did you ask how the fishing was?”
“He said a cold kept him in bed all weekend.”
“Amazing how often that happens.”
The lieutenant drifts away humming to himself. His way of dealing with personnel problems is to pretend they don’t exist. A new world awaited Cook and one or two others when Frudenthaler finally shoved off.
Randall spends the morning and afternoon driving to the homes the intruders had visited. Only a few are still occupied this late in the season and he reset the burglar alarms. An elderly Filipina caretaker named Iris Corizon had exchanged the only words with them.
“I open upstairs window and say what you want this time of night? He tell me ‘Shut the fuck up,’ you pardon the expression.”
“How many were there?”
“Four, five. Maybe eight.”
“You didn’t get a license number by any chance?”
“It too dark.”
“You couldn’t describe them.”
“It too dark.”
“No, they just look around with flashlights.”
You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to connect this to the amnesia victim on the road. Randall drives to Templeton Hall where a woman waits on the broad steps in welcoming mode. “Hi,” she says. “Back again so soon?” She is Emma Rasmussen, head of the nursing staff. She is round and pleasant.
“Did we meet yesterday?” he asks, squaring his cap after getting out of the cruiser.
“I was one of the faces in the crowd.”
“How’s he doing?”
“Awesome except that he still can’t remember anything.”
“How’s it awesome then?”
“Nobody’s ever met anyone like him. He is just so . . . I don’t know . . . nice. We’d just about die for him.”
Randall gives her the look he reserves for speeders who say the radar gun must be malfunctioning.
“No, I mean it,” she insists. “There’s some quality he’s got.”
Purity. The word pops into the sergeant’s head. Was that the some quality about him?
“Would you like to see Doctor Ashford?” She leads him inside as he removes his cap. Ashford is wearing a light blue turtleneck and gray slacks.
“Sergeant, so soon?” There is an edge of irritation in his voice.
“The case is still open. How’s he doing?”
“He’s adjusting well for someone who is basically a blank slate. Although obviously well educated, he doesn’t know what day or month it is, who the president is, what country he is in. On the other hand, he sat down at our piano and played like he makes his living at it.”
“So he might be a musician?”
“He might be a hypnotist. He practically has my staff eating out of his hand. They call him Rex.”
“For king, I gather.”
“I’d like to ask Rex a few questions.”
Admiring staff people stand around him in what was a large game room and still has a covered billiard table. Rex is perfectly relaxed with one leg over an arm of his chair. “And then a car stopped,” he is saying, “and . . .” He spots Randall. “And he picked me up.” The staffers beam at the sergeant as if he had done them all a great favor.
He asks for a few moments alone with Rex and they file out. “Everything all right?”
“Everything is great.”
“People like you.”
“They told me what you do. Protecting and serving – that’s an honorable calling.”
“You didn’t know about cops?”
“I don’t seem to know anything.”
“You know how to talk. You’ll pick things up fast.”
“I think you’re right,” he says with an engaging grin.
“I don’t suppose you know why anyone would be after you?”
“Is someone after me?”
“It seems so.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“My guess is bad. They’re trespassing on property and looking through windows. We’ll have extra patrols out tonight to see if we can catch them.”
“Do you know why they are after me?”
“I was hoping you could tell me.”
He shakes his head. “No, I can’t.”
The sergeant asks a few more questions that don’t get him anywhere. In the hall outside, a gangling young dreadlocked black guy in T-shirt, baggy shorts and yellow Converse high-tops introduces himself. He has a basketball under one arm
“Hi, I’m Jameel. I’m the P.E. director.” He smiles at Rex. “You ready to shoot some hoops?” To Randall, he says, “It’s part of the therapy.”
“Whatever hoops are,” Rex says with good humor. Randall follows them outside to a full-size basketball court.
“People who lived here had lots of boys,” Jameel explains. “Got stuff up the ass pipe—a tennis court, a putting green, a pitching machine and ball diamond and lotsa other stuff. Pretty sweet, huh?” He shoots a three-pointer and misses. “That’s why I didn’t make it to the pros.” He fires it back to Rex who effortlessly sinks a jumper from midcourt. A bunch of patients applaud.
“Woo! Not bad for somebody don’t know what hoops is.” Jameel retrieves the ball and misses another three-pointer. “Shit, man.” He returns the ball and Rex scores again from midcourt. “Lemme see you do that again.” He sinks six more times. The patients are high-fiving.
Jameel comes over to the sergeant. “This rock star is a no-shit athlete. Somebody gotta know him.” He turns back. “OK, man, one on one. Let’s see how you shoot with someone in that pretty-boy face.” He explains the rules and they start to play. Jameel wins the first one 21 to 12, but Randall can see Rex is learning fast. He wins the second game 21 to 14 and Jameel is blanked in the third.
“That’s it, man,” Jameel says. “You just playin’ with me.” He is angry leaving the court. “Man made a fool out of me in front of all these people,” he says as he passes Randall. “Pretendin’ he don’t know the game! He good as LeBraun.”
“You made the poor guy mad,” Randall tells Rex.
“What did I do?” He is genuinely surprised.
“You showed him up.”
“He said the object is to win.”
“When did you learn to shoot like that?”
“Just now.” The patients mob him before Randall can ask more.
This is making less sense as time goes on he thinks on the way back to the cruiser. The man sits down at a piano and plays like a pro. He claims not to know basketball but beats a former college player one-on-one after giving a clinic on three-point shooting. Back in the office, he searches law enforcement data banks for a missing person who matches up. He becomes aware from the strong cologne—another source of waggish comment around the station—that Frudenthaler is behind him looking over his shoulder.
“Who are you looking for, Sergeant?”
“A man with amnesia turned up at Templeton Hall last night.”
“I didn’t see it on the log.”
“I dropped by to see if the gang had turned up there.”
“That’s miles away.”
Randall doesn’t reply.
“Did you call it in?”
“No, I didn’t.”
A disapproving silence falls. “It should’ve been logged.”
“Sorry, you’re right. I’ll get to it right away.”
“Find anything on him?”
“Do we really need four men working overtime tonight? Seems we could get by with three.”
The lieutenant wanders off humming.