As Carson and Michael bent close to beam at her, Scout turned the bear upside down and said, “Ah goo, ah goo,” to its butt.
With alarm, Michael said, “Mary Margaret, what’s that in her mouth, there’s something in her mouth, what is it?”
“Relax, lad. It’s a tooth.”
“A tooth? Where did she get a tooth?”
“It came through in the night. She never cried. I found it when I prepared her bottle this morning.”
“She never cries,” Carson said, lifting her smiling baby from the playpen. “She’s one tough little cookie.”
“A tooth,” Michael marveled. “Who would ever have thought she’d have a tooth?”
Scout said, “Ga-ga-ga-ga, ba-ba-ba-ba.”
“Chains of vowels and consonants! She’s babbling. My God, she’s babbling!”
“She is,” Carson said. “She really is. Mary Margaret, did you hear that?”
Clutching the teddy bear by the crotch, Scout said, “Ga-ga-ga-ga-ga-ga, wa-wa-wa-wa-ga-ga.”
“Chains of vowels and consonants,” Michael repeated with wonder just short of awe. “Babbling. Scout’s babbling.”
“Not just Scout,” said Mary Margaret.
“She hasn’t even finished her seventh month,” Carson said. “Mary Margaret, isn’t it amazing, to babble this early?”
“Not considering her parentage,” said the nanny as she continued to peel apples. “Indeed, herself might be a couple of weeks ahead of schedule, the blessed angel, but let’s not just yet declare her a prodigy.”
“Ga-ga-ga-ga-ga,” Michael said, encouraging his daughter to repeat her stunning performance.
“Poor Duke,” said Mary Margaret, “you’ve been displaced,” and she dropped a slice of apple that the dog snatched from the air.
“Let me hold her,” Michael said.
Hesitant to hand over the precious bundle, Carson said, “Well … okay. But don’t drop her on her head.”
“Why would I drop her on her head?”
“I’m not saying you’d do it on purpose.”
“Look at that tooth,” Michael said. “A baby crocodile would be proud of that tooth.”
Mary Margaret said, “And what was all the vomiting about?”
Carson and Michael glanced at each other, but neither of them replied.
As the widow of a cop, Mary Margaret had no patience for those who evaded questions. “Am I talking to myself then, hallucinating your presence? See here, you couldn’t have worked homicide with a weak stomach.”
“It wasn’t a weak-stomach thing,” Michael said, dandling Scout. “It was a fear thing.”
“You were hard-charging policemen for years,” Mary Margaret said. “Or so I’ve been led to believe. You mean to say you never had a gun held to your head before?”
“Of course we did,” Michael said. “Thousands of times.”
“Tens of thousands,” said Carson. “But never while on a boat. Maybe it was the combination of the gun to the head and the movement of the boat.”
“Ka-ka, ka-ka, ka-ka,” said Scout.
Turning from the sink, facing them forthrightly, apple in one fist, paring knife in the other, fists on her hips, Mary Margaret appeared as stern as the mother of a priest, a Marine, and two nuns might be expected to look when she knew someone was shining her on.
“However I may appear to you,” she said, “I’m in fact not even a wee bit stupid. You were vomiting all over people—”
“Only one person,” Carson clarified.
“—because you now have more to lose, so you do, than when you were single with no tyke in diapers.”
After a silence, Carson said, “I suppose there could be a little truth in that.”
“I suppose,” Michael agreed.
“There’s not just a bit of a bit of truth in it,” Mary Margaret said, “it’s all truth, plain word for plain word, as sure as anything in Scripture.”
Scout dropped her teddy bear and clutched at her father’s nose.
Carson picked up the bear.
Michael gently pried Scout’s thumb out of his nostril.
“Do I have to say outright what conclusion this truth leads to?” Mary Margaret asked. “Then I will. If you’ve got so much to lose that a bit of risk makes you vomit all over people, then you don’t have the nerve for risk anymore. You’d best stick with simple divorce cases, bringing justice to wronged women.”
“There’s not as much money in that kind of work,” said Carson.
“But surely there’s more of it year by year.”
“It’s not always the woman who’s wronged,” Michael said. “Men are sometimes the faithful ones.”
Mary Margaret frowned. “And I would recommend we don’t take pride that we live in an age when such a thing is true.”
As the nanny continued peeling and slicing apples, as Duke resumed his vigil in hope of charity or clumsiness, Carson asked about her brother: “Where’s Arnie?”
“In the study,” said Mary Margaret, “doing what the name of the room implies. I’ve never seen a boy who took such pleasure in learning. It’s as admirable as it is unnatural.”
Michael led the way from the kitchen to the study, carrying Scout, repeating, “Ga-ga-ga-ga-ga, ba-ba-ba-ba-ba,” to encourage the baby to babble again, but she only gazed at him with astonishment—blue eyes wide, mouth open—as if aghast that her father appeared to be a gibbering loon.
“Don’t drop her,” Carson warned.
“You’re becoming a fussbudget,” Michael said.
“What did you call me?”
“I didn’t call you anything. I just made an observation.”
“If you weren’t carrying that baby, I’d make an observation.”
To Scout, he said, “You are my little bulletproof vest.”
Carson said, “I’d make an observation with my knee in your groin. Fussbudget, my ass.”
“Your mother is a type A personality,” Michael told Scout. “Fortunately, the gene for that is not a dominant gene.”
When they reached the study, they discovered that Arnie was no longer absorbed by his textbooks. He sat at a table, playing chess.
His opponent, looming large over the game board, was Deucalion.
Mr. Lyss was spooked. He looked as scared now as he looked angry earlier. His squinched face was still tight and knotted, but now you could see all the lines were worry lines.
Nummy O’Bannon couldn’t sit on the lower bunk, it belonged to Mr. Lyss. So though embarrassed, he sat on the edge of the toilet that didn’t have a lid. He watched Mr. Lyss pace back and forth.
Mr. Lyss had tried to talk to the people in the other two cells. None of them said a word.
Then he shouted at them. He called them names like numbnuts, whatever that meant. They didn’t even glance at him.
Finally he said he would cut off parts of them and then feed the parts to pigs. There weren’t pigs in the jail, but the threat was very convincing. Nummy believed it and shuddered. Mr. Lyss cursed the quiet people and insulted them. He spat at them. He shrieked at them while dancing in place in a most excitable way, like an angry troll in one of those fairy tales Grandmama sometimes read to Nummy.
Mr. Lyss was not used to being ignored. He didn’t take it very well.
After he calmed down, Mr. Lyss had stood at the bars between this cell and the next, watching the quiet people over there. From time to time, he shared facts he noticed with Nummy.
“They’re all in pajamas or underwear, bathrobes. They must’ve been taken from their homes without being given a chance to dress. None of them is wearing shoes, only slippers. Most are barefoot.”
Mr. Lyss saw Ms. Jessica Wanhaus, the pretty librarian, who was na*ed from the waist up. He whistled and behaved in a way that made Nummy half sick.
“And they’ve got some kind of shiny thing on the sides of their heads,” Mr. Lyss said. “At least the ones I can see clearly.”
“What kind of shiny thing?” Nummy asked.
“The kind of shiny thing that shines, you dumbass. How would I know what it is? I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Sorry, sir,” said Nummy.
“You should be sorry, Peaches. Sorry you were ever born.”
“I’m not though. I’m happy I was born.”
“Which proves how truly stupid you are. Some of them have almost dead eyes, like zombies.”
“I don’t like them kinds of movies,” Nummy said, and shivered.
“Others, their eyes never stop moving, full of terror.”
Nummy wished Mr. Lyss wouldn’t share the facts he noticed. Grandmama said happiness was a choice and you should always keep a positive attitude. But it wasn’t easy keeping a positive attitude with Mr. Lyss around.
His back to Nummy, gripping the bars, peering between them, Mr. Lyss said, “Shit!”
Sitting on the edge of the toilet seat, Nummy wasn’t sure if Mr. Lyss was giving him an order. If it was an order, it was rude.
“This is trouble, this is big trouble,” said Mr. Lyss.
Not only rude, it was wrong. Grandmama said that after she was gone, no one could tell Nummy what to do except policemen and Mr. Leland Reese. Mr. Leland Reese was Grandmama’s lawyer. He was a good man you could trust. Grandmama said if anyone else told Nummy what to do, they were being presumptuous. Presumptuous meant they had no right to order Nummy around. Mr. Lyss had no right to order Nummy around. Besides, Nummy didn’t need to poop.
“Over there in the farther cell,” Mr. Lyss said. “There’s Chief Jarmillo in his damn underwear. And the sergeant in his uniform. Sergeant Rapp. How can they be in the cell after they locked us in here and went back upstairs?”
Nummy couldn’t answer that question. Even if he could answer it, he’d be called dumb no matter what he said. So he just sat with his lips zipped.
Most of the time, according to Grandmama, silence was wise. Only the biggest fools always had something to say.
“Maybe Jarmillo is a twin,” Mr. Lyss said, “or Rapp, but not both of them. Twins isn’t what’s going on here.”
After that, he turned away from the other prisoners and began to pace, looking worried and then afraid.
Watching Mr. Lyss be afraid, Nummy grew fearful, too. The old man seemed like he hadn’t been scared of anything since the day he was born. So if he was scared now, then things were worse than Nummy thought, and he already thought they were pretty bad.
After a long time of pacing, Mr. Lyss suddenly turned to Nummy and said, “Get off the toilet.”
Nummy was going to say that only policemen and Mr. Leland Reese had the right to tell him what to do. But the sight of the old man’s snarling gray teeth changed his mind. He got up and stood by the bunks.
Mr. Lyss unzipped his prisoner jumpsuit to the waist and then pulled it down off his bony white hips.
Shocked, Nummy turned his back to the old man and hurried to the door of the cell. His face was hot, and he thought he might cry with embarrassment.
He heard Mr. Lyss grunting, then a little splash. He prayed for the sound of the toilet flushing, which would mean it was all over.
Instead, Mr. Lyss was suddenly beside him at the door, dressed again, holding a yellow tube maybe five inches long. “Get out of my way, Einstein.”
“My name’s Nummy.”
“Your name’s anything I want it to be,” Mr. Lyss growled, and Nummy got out of his way.
The yellow tube was made of soft plastic that dimpled between the fingers of the old man’s left hand as with his right hand he carefully screwed off the cap.
“Where’d that come from?” Nummy wondered.
“From out of my ass,” Mr. Lyss said.
Disgusted, Nummy said, “How’d it get there?”
“I put it there.”
Nummy gagged. “Why would you?”
“A lot of hick-town cops don’t do cavity searches.”
“What’s a cavity?”
“My butt’s a cavity, moron. In your case, it’s your skull.”
From the open tube, Mr. Lyss shook out six tiny steel sticks, each with a different shape at its tip.
“What’re them?” Nummy asked.
“Lock picks. As small as I could make them.”
“When did you make them?”
“When they were up my ass. What’s it matter when I made them? Something extraterrestrial is going on here, and I’m not sticking around to meet the Martians.”
“What’s that mean?” Nummy said.
“It means get away from me and shut up.”
“I seen a movie like this,” Nummy said. “You’re a jailbreaker is what you are.”
At the farther end of the corridor, the stair door opened.
Mr. Lyss turned his back to the corridor. With shaking hands, he put the picks in the yellow tube and capped it.
Offering the tube to Nummy, the old man whispered, “There’s no pockets in this jumpsuit. Hide it in your jeans.”
“No way, not after where it’s been.”
Mr. Lyss grabbed him, pulled him close, and shoved the tube in a pocket of his blue jeans.
“You’re a jailbreaker,” Nummy whispered.
As footsteps approached, Mr. Lyss looked as fierce as the people-eating zombies in movies Nummy didn’t like to watch. “You mention the tube, I’ll chew your eyes right out of your head.”
The jailbreaker turned toward the cell door.
A moment later, a young man with a nice face appeared. He stopped at their cell and smiled at them. He had a very friendly smile.
Nummy liked the young man right away, liked him a lot more than he liked Mr. Lyss. The young man had white teeth instead of gray. He seemed to be very neat and probably wasn’t stinky the way Mr. Lyss was. And he didn’t look like the kind of person who would keep anything up his butt.
Because Grandmama had taught him always to do the right thing and because helping a jailbreaker could never be good, Nummy almost handed over the set of lock picks. He hesitated only because he would have to reach into his pocket and touch the yellow plastic tube, and the thought of touching it disgusted him.
As Nummy made gagging noises, Mr. Lyss said to the young man, “What’re you grinning at, pretty boy? You better not be the attorney I asked for. You’re wet behind the ears, just out of law school.”