I woke up smiling. It took me a second to remember why, but when I remembered, I grinned all over. The murders were at an end. I had convinced myself in my sleep that Benjamin was confessing because he had done it and wanted the attention and infamy, not because he hadn't done it but wanted the attention and infamy anyway. After all, he had announced his candidacy for mayor, that should have given him enough fuel to run on for a while. It was Friday, I didn't have to work this weekend, Phillip was coming, I was interested in two men and what's more they were both interested in me. What more could a twenty-eight-year-old librarian ask for?
I made myself up with great care, had some fun with my eye shadow, and picked my brightest skirt and blouse to wear. It was a definitely springy set, white with yellow flowers scattered all over, and I let my hair hang loose with a yellow band to hold it back.
I had a large breakfast, cereal and toast and even a banana, and sang on my way out to my car.
"You're chipper this morning," said Bankston, who was dressed in a very sober suit befitting a banker. He was smiling himself, and I remembered I'd seen Melanie's car pull out of the parking lot very early this morning. "Oh, I have reason to be! You may not have heard yet, but someone admitted to the murders."
"Who?" Bankston said after staring at me for a moment. "Benjamin Greer." Then I wondered belatedly if I was betraying a confidence. But my assurance returned when I remembered Arthur hadn't asked me to keep it quiet, and I hadn't told him I would. Also, I'd already told Robin, who would have throttled the news out of me if I'd hung up from my conversation with Arthur and refused to tell him. Wait; I wasn't even going to say exaggerated things like that to myself anymore.
Bankston was thunderstruck. "But he was just in to see me last week to get a loan for his candidate's campaign! Sorry, I shouldn't have mentioned that. It was a private transaction, bank business. But I'm just so - flabbergasted." "I was too," I assured him.
"Well, well, I'll have to stop by Melanie's and tell her," he said after a moment of thought. "This will be such a relief to her. She's had a hard time since Mrs. Wright's purse was found in her car." Right. Being pronounced a martyr at church and getting a marriage proposal was really a hard time. But I felt too cheerful to envy Melanie; I'd gone out with Bankston twice and wouldn't have him on a silver platter, as my mother always said.
Mother. That was someone who should hear the good news, too. I'd call her today. She was going to love being termed "what was worst about capitalism." That was a hard line to take after all Mother's hard work and struggle during the first few years with her business, though then she'd had my father's presence to give her renewed strength. He hadn't left until she was well on the road to success. I was trailing off into unpleasant thoughts, and snapped myself back quickly. Joy was the keynote of the day.
At work, all the librarians and volunteers seemed to have heard the good news, and I was back in the fold. Lillian went back to being her bitchy self, which was almost comforting.
Sam derrick ventured forth from his charts and graphs and budgets to pat me on the shoulder in passing. I poked book cards in the stamper vigorously, took overdue money with a smile instead of expressionless disapproval, shelved with precision. The morning didn't just hurry by, it hopped, skipped, and jumped by. The telephone rang twice while I was eating my micro-waved egg rolls and browsing through an encyclopedia of twentieth-century murderers. I'd had that familiar irritating feeling that someone, sometime, had said something interesting that I wanted to pursue, mentioned some names I wanted to mull over, and I'd thought flipping through the book would help. But the phone destroyed even this wisp of idea.
The first caller was my father, who always opened with, "How's my doll?" He hated calling me "Roe" and I hated him calling me "Doll." We hadn't come up with anything neutral. "I'm okay, Dad," I said. "Is it still okay with you if Phillip comes?" he asked anxiously. "You know, if you are upset about the situation in Lawrenceton, we can stay home." In the background I could hear Phillip piping anxiously, "Can I go, Daddy? Can I go?"
"The crisis seems to be over," I said happily.
"They arrest someone?"
"They got a confession. I'm sure everything's going to be okay now," I said. Maybe I wasn't all that sure. But I was pretty sure that I was going to be okay now. And I wanted to see my little brother.
"Well, I'll be bringing him about five o'clock, then," Dad said. "Betty Jo sends her love. We really appreciate this."
I wasn't so sure about Betty Jo's love, but I was sure she did appreciate having a free, reliable babysitter for a whole weekend. The next call was from my mother, of course. She still had some sort of psychic link to Dad, and if he called me she nearly always rang within the hour. If she was like Lauren Bacall, he was like Humphrey Bogart; an ugly guy with charisma coming out his ears. And bless his heart, he seemed quite unaware of it. But that charisma was still sending out alpha waves or something to my mother. I knew that she must already have heard of Benjamin's confession, and sure enough, she had. She'd also heard he'd said Morrison Pettigrue had mailed her the chocolates. She was skeptical.
"How would Morrison Pettigrue hear about Mrs. See's?" she asked. "How would he know I always eat the creams?"
"He didn't have to know you always eat the creams," I pointed out. "There's just no way to get rat poison in the nut-filled ones." "That's true," she admitted. "I still have a hard time believing that one. I barely knew the man. I'd met him at some Chamber of Commerce meeting once and if I remember correctly, we talked about the need for new sidewalks downtown. It was a cordial conversation and he certainly gave no sign then that he thought I was some kind of leech living off the masses, or whatever." But if Benjamin was lying about the chocolates, he could also be lying about other things. And I wanted him to be telling the truth and nothing but the truth.
"Let's just shelve this until we find out more about it," I suggested. "Maybe he'll say something that'll make sense out of the whole thing." "Is - your brother - still staying with you this weekend?" Mother asked, in one of her lightning turns of thought.
I sighed silently. "Yes, Mother. Dad's bringing Phillip by around five, and he'll be here until Sunday evening." It would have been beneath Mother's dignity to avoid the sight of Phillip, but having made a point of talking to him once or twice, she usually stayed away while he was at my place. "Well, I'll be talking to you again," she was saying now. I could bet on that. I asked her about her business, and she chatted about that for a few minutes. "Are you and John still thinking about getting married?" I asked. "Well, we're discussing it." There was a smile in her voice. "I promise you'll be the first to know when we definitely decide." "As long as I'm the first," I said. "I really am happy for you." "I hear you have a new beau," Mother said, which was a logical progression when you think about it.
"Which one have you heard about?" I asked, because I simply couldn't resist. In someone less grand than my mother, I would've called the sound she made a delighted cackle. We hung up with mutual warmth, and I returned to work with the distinct feeling life was on the up and up for me.
My mother's "beau," John Queensland, came into the library that afternoon while I was on the circulation desk. I realized he was practically the opposite of my father: handsome in an elder-statesman way, and overtly as dignified and reserved as Mother. He had been a widower for some time and still lived in the big two-story house he'd shared with his wife and their two children, both of whom had children of their own now. My contemporaries, I reminded myself gloomily.
As John was checking out two staid biographies of worthy people, he mentioned that his garage had been broken into some time within the last three weeks. "I never use it anymore, I just park behind the house. The garage is so full of the boys' old stuff - I can't seem to get them to decide what to do with all their junk." He sounded fond rather than complaining. "But anyway, I went to track down my golf clubs since I intended scheduling a game with Bankston in this warmer weather, and the darned thing had been broken into and my golf clubs were gone."
Since John was a Real Murderer, I was sure that this theft meant something. I told John about Gifford Doakes and his hatchet - amazingly, he hadn't heard - and left him to draw his own conclusions.
"I know Benjamin Greer has confessed," I told John, "but that's a bit of evidence the police might need. Just a confession isn't enough, I gather." "I think I'll go by the police station on my way back to the office," John said thoughtfully. "Those clubs had better be reported. The whole bag was taken, and it was a pretty distinctive set. Every time my kids went somewhere, they got a bumper sticker and put it on my golf bag, just a family joke .. ."And trailing off with unheard-of abstraction, John left the library. I thought of Arthur and sighed. I wondered if he'd appreciate being handed another out-of-the-blue fact. Golf clubs. Maybe they'd already been used. Maybe they'd been used on Mamie. The weapon in that case had never been found, that I knew of. Maybe Benjamin would tell the police where the clubs were.
I let this nag at me until I got home and saw my father's car waiting at my apartment. As I greeted my father and hugged my half-brother, I made a resolution not to think about these killings for a couple of days. I wanted to enjoy Phillip's company.
Phillip is in the first grade and he can be very funny and very exasperating. He will eat about five things with any enthusiasm - five nutritious things, that is. (Anything with no nutritional value whatsoever is always acceptable to Phillip.) Luckily for me, one of those things is spaghetti sauce and another is pecan pie, not that either is exactly a health food.
"Roe! Are we having spaghetti tonight?" he asked eagerly. "Sure," I said, and smiled at him. I bent and kissed him before he could say, "Yuck! No kisses!" He gave me a quick kiss back, then scrambled to get his suitcase and (much more important) a plastic garbage bag full of essential toys. "I'm going to put these in my room," he told Father, who was beaming at him with unadulterated pride.
"Son, I've got to go now," Father told him. "Your mom is anxious to get where we're going. You be good for your big sister, now, and do what she says to do without giving her any trouble."
Phillip half-listened, mumbled "Sure, Dad," and lugged his paraphernalia into my place.
"Well, Doll, this sure is nice of you," my father said to me when Phillip had vanished.
"I like Phillip," I said honestly. "I like having him stay here." "Here are the phone numbers where we'll be staying," Father said and fumbled a sheet of notepaper out of his pocket. "If anything goes wrong, anything at all, call us straight away."
"Okay, okay," I reassured him. "Don't worry. Have a good time. I'll see you Sunday night?"
"Yes, we should be here about five or six. If we're going to be any later than that, we'll call you. Don't forget to remind him about his prayers. Oh - if he runs a fever or anything, here's a box of chewable children's aspirin. He gets three. And he needs to have a glass of water by the bed at night." "I'll remember." We hugged, and he got in his car with a lopsided smile and half-wave that I could see a woman would have a hard time forgetting. I watched Father drive out of the parking lot, and then heard Phillip shouting from the kitchen, "Roe! You got any cookies?"
I supplied Phillip with two awful sandwich cookies that he'd told me were his favorites. Very pleased, he bounced outside with his garbage bag of toys, having dumped the "inside" ones in the middle of my den. "I bet you have to cook, so I'm going to be out here playing," he said seriously. I could take a hint. I got busy with the spaghetti sauce. The next time I glanced out the window to check, I saw through my open patio gate that Phillip had already commandeered Bankston into playing baseball in the parking lot. Phillip had great scorn for my baseball playing ability, but Bankston had his approval. Bankston had taken off his suit coat and his tie immediately, and seemed not nearly so stuffy as he pitched the baseball to Phillip's waiting bat.
They'd played before when Phillip had visited, and Bankston didn't seem to consider it an imposition.
Then Robin was drawn into the game when he got home, and he was acting as Phillip's catcher when I called from the patio gate that supper was ready. "Yahoo!" Phillip shrieked, and propped his bat against the patio wall. I smiled and shrugged at his abandoned playmates and whispered to Phillip, "Thank Bankston and Robin for a good game."
"Thank you," Phillip said obediently and dashed in to scramble into his chair at my small dining table. I glimpsed the top of Melanie's head in Bankston's open door as he went in, and Robin said, "See you later, for pecan pie. I like your little brother," as he strolled through the gate to his patio. I felt warm and flushed with pride at having such a cute brother - and a little warm too at Robin's smile, which had definitely been of the personal variety. For the next twenty minutes I was occupied in seeing that Phillip used his napkin and said his prayer and ate at least a little serving of vegetables. I looked fondly at his perpetually tousled light brown hair and his startlingly blue eyes, so different from mine. Between bites of spaghetti and garlic bread, Phillip was telling me a long involved story about a fight on the school playground, involving a boy whose brother really knew karate and another boy who really had all the G.I. Joe attack vehicles. I listened with half an ear, the other part of my mind being increasingly occupied by the niggling feeling that I was supposed to know something. Or remember something. Or had I seen something? Whatever this "something" was, I needed to call it to mind.
"My baseball!" shrieked Phillip suddenly.
He had my full attention. The shriek, which had sprung with no warning from his throat while he was telling me what the principal had done to the playground combatants, had scared the whosis out of me.
"But Phillip, it's dark," I protested, as he catapulted out of his chair and dashed to the back door. I tried to remember if I'd ever seen him walk, and decided that I had, once, when he was about twelve-months-old. "Here, at least take my flashlight!"
I managed to stuff it in his hand only because he was so partial to flashlights that he slowed down long enough for me to pull it from the kitchen cabinet. "And try to remember where you last saw the ball!" I bellowed after him. I'd finished my meal while Phillip was relating his long story, so I scraped my plate and put it in the dishwasher (Robin was due in a few minutes, and I wanted the place to look neat). The dessert plates were out, everything else was ready, so while I waited for a triumphant Phillip to return with his baseball, I idly looked at my shelves, putting a few books back in place that were out of order. I stared at the titles of all those books about bad or crazy or crazed people, men and women whose lives had crossed the faint line that demarks those who could but haven't from those who can and have.
Phillip had been gone a long time; I couldn't hear him out in the parking lot.
The phone rang.
"Yes?" I said abruptly into the receiver.
"Roe, it's Sally Allison."
"Have you seen Perry?"
"Has he been... following you anymore?"
"No ... at least, I haven't noticed if he has."
"He ..." Sally trailed off.
"Come on, Sally! What's the matter?" I asked roughly. I stared out through the kitchen window, hoping to see the beam of the flashlight bobbing around through the slats in the patio fence. I remembered the night Perry'd been across the street in the dark waiting for Robin to bring me home. I was terrified. "He didn't take his medicine today. He didn't go to work. I don't know where he is. Maybe he took some more pills."
"Call the police, then. Get them looking for him, Sally! What if he's here? My little brother's out alone in the dark!" I hung up the phone with a hysterical bang. I grabbed up my huge key ring, with some idea of taking my car around the block for a search, and I pulled out the second flashlight I kept ready. It was my fault. The thing in the dark had gotten my little brother, a six-year-old child, and it was my fault. Oh Lord God, heavenly King, protect the child.
I left the back door wide open, the welcome light spilling into the deep dusk. The patio gate was already open, Phillip never remembered to close it. His bat was propped beside it as he'd left it coming in to supper. "Phillip!" I screamed. Then I thought, Maybe I should be quiet and creep. In a frenzy of indecision, I swung the flashlight to and fro. A few yards away, a car started up and pulled out of its space. As it went by, I saw it was Melanie in Bankston's car. She smiled and waved. I gaped after her. How could she not have heard me yell?
But I couldn't reason, I just kept walking and sweeping the ground with that beam of light, seeing nothing, nothing.
"Roe, what's wrong? I was just on my way over to your place!" Robin loomed above me in the dark.
"Phillip's gone, someone's got him! He left to get his baseball, he ran out the back door, he didn't come back!"
"I'll get a flashlight," Robin said instantly. He turned to go to his telephone. "Listen - " he half-turned back but kept moving, "he wouldn't think it was funny to hide, would he ?"
"I don't think so," I said. I would have loved to have thought Phillip was giggling behind a bush somewhere, but I knew he wasn't. He couldn't have stayed hidden this long in the dark. He'd have jumped out long before, screaming "boo," his grin of triumph making his face shine. "Listen, Robin, go ask the Crandalls if they've seen Phillip, and call the police. Perry Allison's mom just called and he's loose somewhere. She may not call the police. I'm going to work my way around to search the front yard."
"Right," Robin said briefly, and vanished into his place. I walked quickly through the dark (and it was full dark now), the beam of the flashlight on the sidewalk before me. I'd pause, and swing the flashlight, and step on. I passed the Crandalls' gate, and had found nothing. I opened Bankston's gate. The flashlight beam caught something on Bankston's patio. Phillip's baseball.
Oh, God, it had been here all the time, no wonder Phillip couldn't find it. Bankston had probably picked it up out of the parking lot to keep it to give Phillip tomorrow morning.
I lifted my hand to knock on Bankston's back door and my hand froze in midair. I thought about Melanie pulling out of the parking lot so strangely - she must have heard me scream.
And I'd told Phillip to think of where he'd seen it last. He'd seen it last in Bankston's hands.
Had Bankston been lying down in that car? Had he been lying on top of Phillip, to keep him quiet?
A long brown hair had been found in the Buckleys' house. Benjamin didn't have long brown hair. He had thinning blond hair. Like Bankston. He was medium height, like Bankston, and he had a round face. Like Bankston. It was Bankston the young mother had seen in the alley, not Benjamin Greer. Melanie had long brown hair. Together. They had done the killings together. And then I remembered that niggly little thing that had been bothering me. When John Queensland had described his golf bag, he'd said it had stickers all over it. That had been the golf bag Bankston was carrying into his place on Wednesday, so long after my lunch hour he hadn't expected me to be around at all, much less popping out of the Crandalls' gate. Bankston had stolen them from John Queensland.
Had Phillip been in Bankston's townhouse? I turned my flashlight on my key ring. You couldn't call it breaking and entering, I told myself hysterically. I had a key. I was the landlady. I turned it in the keyhole, opened the door as quietly as I could, and stepped inside.
I didn't call out. I left the back door open.
The kitchen light was on, and the kitchen/living room was a mess, but an ordinary mess. A library book was lying open on the counter, a book I had in my own personal library, Ernlyn Williams' Beyond Belief. I felt sick, and had to bend over.
This time they were patterning themselves after Myra Hindley and Ian Brady, the "Moors Murderers." They were going to kill a child. They were going to kill my brother. The monster was not sitting in a jail cell in the Lawrenceton City Jail. The monsters lived here.
Hindley and Brady had tortured the children for a few hours first, so Phillip might be alive. If he'd been in the car, if they'd taken him to Melanie's place, wherever that was - right, the same street where Jane Engle lived - he might have left some trace.
Abandoning silence, I raced up the stairs. No one. In the larger bedroom there was a king-sized bed with a coil of rope beside it, and a camera was on the dresser.
Hindley and Brady, two low-level office workers who'd met on the job, had tape-recorded and photographed their victims.
The extra bedroom was full of exercise equipment: the source of Bankston's newly bulging muscles. There was a file box with its lid hanging back, key still in the lock. Anything he locked up, I wanted to see. I knocked it over and the magazines inside spilled out like a trail of slime. I looked at an open one in horror. I did not know it was possible to buy pictures of women being treated like that. When I had heard of the anti-pornography movement, I'd thought of the usual pictures of women who at least were apparently willing, being paid, and still healthy when the photo session was over.
I ran back downstairs, glanced into the living room, opened the closets. Nothing. I opened the door to the basement. The light was off, so the steps were dark from halfway down to the bottom. But something white was on one of the lower steps, just visible in the light spilling down from the kitchen. I went down the stairs and crouched to pick it up. It was a baseball card. I heard a muffled noise, and had time to think, Phillip! But then I felt a terrible pain across my shoulder and neck, and I was falling forward, my arms and legs tangled, my face scraping the edge of the steps. The next thing I knew I was on the floor of the basement and looking up at Bankston's face, stolid no more in the dim light but grinning like a gargoyle, and he had a golf club in his hand.
There was another switch at the bottom of the steps, and he turned it on. I heard the noise again, and with great pain turned my head to see Phillip, gagged and with his hands tied, sitting on a straight chair by the dryer. His face was wet with tears and his whole little body was curled into as tight a ball as he could manage on that chair. His feet could not touch the floor. My heart broke.
I'd heard people say that all my life; their heart had broken because their love had deserted them, their heart had broken because their cat had died, their heart had broken because they'd dropped Grandma's vase. I was going to die and I had cost my little brother his life, and my heart broke for what he would endure before they finally tired of him and killed him. "We heard you come in," Bankston said, smiling. "We were down here waiting for you, weren't we, Phillip?"
Incredible, Bankston the banker. Bankston with the matching almond-tone washer and dryer. Bankston arranging a loan for a businessman in the afternoon and smashing Mamie Wright's face in the evening. Melanie the secretary, filling up her idle time while her boss was out of town by slaughtering the Buckleys with a hatchet. The perfect couple.
Phillip was crying hopelessly. "Shut up, Phillip," said the man who'd played baseball with him that afternoon. "Every time you cry, I'll hit your sister. Won't I, sis?" and the golf club whistled through the air and Bankston broke my collarbone. My shriek must have covered Melanie's steps, because suddenly she was there looking down at me with pleasure.
"When I pulled in, the Scarecrow was searching the parking lot," she said to Bankston. "Here's the tape recorder. I can't believe we forgot it!" Gee, what a madcap couple. She sounded for all the world like a housewife who'd remembered the potato salad in the fridge just as the family was leaving on its picnic.
I decided, when the pain had ebbed enough for me to think, that "the Scarecrow" was Robin. I managed to look at Phillip again. God bless him, he was trying so hard not to make sounds, so Bankston wouldn't hit me again. I tried to push the pain away so I could look reassuring, but I could only stare at him and try not to scream myself. If I screamed, Bankston would hit me quite a lot. Or maybe he would hit Phillip.
"What do you think?" Bankston asked her.
"No way we can get them out of here now," Melanie said matter-of-factly. "He said he'd called the police. One of us better go up soon and offer to help search. If we don't the police will want to look in here, I guess, get suspicious. We can't have that, can we?" and she smiled archly, and poked, my leg with her foot, as if I were a piece of naughtiness that they had to conceal for convention's sake. She saw me looking at her. "Get up and get over there by the kid," she said, and then she kicked me. I moaned. "I've always wanted to do that," she said to Bankston with a smile.
It was not only the fall and the blows that made it hard to move, but the shock. I was in this most prosaic basement with these most prosaic people, and they were monsters that were going to kill me, me and my brother. I had read and marvelled for years at people living cheek by jowl with psychopaths, and not suspecting. And here I was, trying desperately to crawl across a concrete floor in a building my mother owned while friends looked for my brother outside, because I had never never thought it could happen to me. I got to Phillip's side in a few moments, though the young woman I'd known all my life and gone to church with did kick me a few times on the journey. I grabbed the edge of the seat and dragged myself to my knees, and clumsily draped my good arm around Phillip. I wished Phillip would faint. His face was more than I could stand, and I had no consolation for him. We were looking at the faces of demons, and all the rules of kindness and courtesy that Phillip and I had been taught so carefully did not apply. No reward for good behavior. "I got the tape recorder, but now we can't use it," Melanie was pouting. "I think that's when she got suspicious, when she saw me pull out of the parking lot. I didn't want to have to help her look, so I had to act like I didn't hear her. I don't guess we'll get to have any fun tonight." "I didn't think this through," Bankston agreed. "Now they'll be out there looking for the boy and her all night, and we'll have to go volunteer, too. At least now we've got her keys, they can't use the master set to come in here." He held them up. I must have dropped them when I fell. "You think they might insist on searching all the apartments?" Melanie asked anxiously. "We can't turn them down if they ask." Bankston pondered. They were at the foot of the steps still. I could not get by them. I could not see any weapons besides the golf club, but even if I did attack them with my one good arm and my little remaining energy, the two of them could easily overcome me and the noise would not be heard by anyone... unless the Crandalls had decided to spend the evening in their basement. "We'll just have to wing it," Bankston said finally.
The baseball! Maybe Robin would see it, like I had.
"Did you talk to anyone when you pulled in?" Bankston was asking. "Just what I told you before. Robin asked me if I had seen the boy, and I said no, but that I'd be glad to help look," Melanie said with no irony whatsoever. "Roe left the back door open, so I closed and relocked it. And I picked up the kid's baseball, it was still out on the patio." That was our death warrant, I reckoned.
Bankston cursed. "How did it end up out there? I was sure I'd brought it in." "Don't worry about it," Melanie said. "Even if they did find it, you could just have said you'd been keeping it for him but he didn't ever show up looking for it."
"You're right," Bankston said fondly. "What shall we do with those two? If we leave them tied up down here while we go help to search, they might somehow get loose. If we kill them right now, we lose our fun with the boy." He strolled over to us and Melanie followed.
"You acted on impulse when you grabbed him," Melanie observed. "We should just go on and take care of them now, and hide them down here good. Then when the search dies down, we'll see if we can get them out to the car and dump them. Next time, no impulses, we'll do what we planned and nothing extra." "Are you criticizing me?" Bankston asked sharply. His voice was low and dangerous.
Her posture changed. I had never seen anything like it. She cringed and folded and became another person. "No, never," she whimpered, and she bent and licked his hand. I saw her eyes, and she was role-playing and it excited her immensely. I was nauseated. I hoped I was blocking Phillip's view sufficiently. I huddled closer to him, though the pain from my collarbone was becoming more insistent. Phillip was shaking and he had wet himself. His breath was getting more and more ragged, and muffled sobs and whimpers broke out from time to time. Melanie and Bankston were giving each other a kiss, and Bankston bent and bit her shoulder. She held him to her as though they would use each other right there, but then they unclenched and she said, "We'd better do it now. Why run any more risks?"
"You're right," Bankston agreed. He gave her the golf club, and she swung it through the air experimentally while he searched his pockets. In her black slacks and green sweater and knotted scarf she looked ready to tee off at the country club. In that small area the club whistled past me with no room to spare, and I started to protest, when I realized yet again that Melanie absolutely could not care less. Old assumptions die hard. I saw a foot on the stairs behind them.
"Give me your scarf, Mel," Bankston said suddenly. Melanie unknotted it instantly. "This would be less messy, and I've never done it before," he observed cheerfully. They never looked at me or at Phillip, except in passing, and I could tell to them we were not people like they were. The foot was joined by a matching foot, and silently took another step down. "Maybe I should tape this," Melanie said brightly. "It won't be what we had planned, but it might be interesting."
The next step squeaked, and I screamed, "God damn you to hell! How can you do this to me? How can you do this to a little boy?" They were as shocked as though a chair had spoken. Melanie swung the club instantly with both hands. My body was covering Phillip's on the chair, but the blow was so strong the chair was rocked. It was easy to shriek as loud as a freight train. I saw the feet descend all the way in a rush. "Shut up, bitch!" Melanie said furiously.
"Naw, you shut up," a flat voice advised her.
It was old Mr. Crandall, and he was carrying a very large gun. The only sound in the basement was the sobbing coming from me, as I struggled to control myself. Phillip raised his bound wrists to loop his arms over my head. I wished more than ever that he'd faint.
"You're not going to shoot," Bankston said. "You old idiot. With this concrete floor, it'll ricochet and hit them."
"I'd rather shoot them directly than leave them to you," Mr. Crandall said simply.
"Which one of us will you shoot first?" Melanie asked furiously. She'd been sidling away from Bankston a little at a time. "You can't get us both, old man." "But I can," said Robin from higher on the stairs, and he wasn't nearly as calm as Mr. Crandall. I managed to look up. I saw Robin descending with a shotgun. "Now I don't know as much about guns as Mr. Crandall, but he loaded this for me, and if I point it and fire I am real sure I will hit something." If they tried anything desperate it would be now. I could feel the turmoil pouring from them. They looked at each other. I could only stare through a haze of pain at the green silk scarf in Bankston's hand. Oh, surely they must see it was over, over.
Suddenly the fight oozed out of them. They looked like what they used to be, for a moment; a bank loan officer and a secretary, who could not remember where they were or how they had come to be there. The scarf fell from Bankston's hand. Melanie lay down the golf club. They did not look at each other anymore. There was a gust of people noise, and Arthur and Lynn Liggett came pelting down the stairs to be stopped short by the tableau.
Phillip's breath came out from behind the gag in a deep sigh, and he fainted. It seemed like such a good idea that I did it, too.
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