“Honey,” he said softly, “do you know who I am?”
Eyes still averted, the girl nodded.
“Will you come with me?”
“Mother has a knife.”
“I’m not afraid of her.”
“She kills you sometimes.”
He trusted inspiration. “Not with our attack dog.”
Following his gesture, she saw the golden for the first time. Her face brightened, and her eyes. “Doggie.”
Considering this an invitation, Nickie went to the girl, plumed tail celebrating the making of a new friend, and Hope flung her arms around the dog in a display of instant and total trust.
Brian glanced at Amy, and she motioned him to her.
Amy worried that even if they could find keys for Michael’s vehicles, they couldn’t drive away. The engine would be heard. They would be shot down as they backed out of the garage.
At any moment, they might encounter Michael or Vanessa. They had been in the house maybe three minutes. They were already overdue.
“We can’t hunt them with Hope. The dog will keep her safe.”
She saw the anguish in his eyes as he said, “That would make sense if you were right about…what Nickie is.”
“My daughter will take your daughter to safety.” As Hope petted Nickie, the pendant on the chain hung visible. “Look.”
The silver word stunned him.
“Believe what you know,” Amy urged.
She crouched to hug Hope, who was awkward about the affection, though she had been easy with the dog.
“Honey, you’re going outside with Nickie. Hold her collar. Stay with her. She’ll keep you safe. Don’t be afraid.”
Smiling at the dog, Hope said, “I’m not. She’s a Forever Shiny Thing.”
With a glance at Brian, Amy said, “Yes, sweetie, she is.”
The hall was deserted. They went to the nearby front door. Fog entered, and Hope left with Nickie.
The dog hesitated on the stoop, testing the air, then led the girl quickly away into the fog.
Harrow on the beach searches sand, fog, and surf foam for any sign of the bodies, when belatedly he realizes that he saw no blood in the Expedition.
He feels deceived, not only by his quarry but also by his own expectations.
Amy got lucky once, back in Connecticut, but she’s a submissive, not a transgressor, just like her architect, and it is an affront to Harrow’s deepest-held views to imagine that she could get the best of a killing machine like Billy.
He hurries back to the steps and climbs two at a time, clutching at the rusty iron railing.
He is not worried about Moongirl, only about missing something that she might do to them if she finds them in his absence.
Vanessa catches the little freak doing it, mumbling over a HOPE pendant as though it’s a fragment of the Lord God Almighty’s toe-nail, hallelujah, smell that toe-jam residue!
She always thought this would be long and slow when the time came. Thought she might like to take a couple of days breaking down the little freak before burning her.
Now she just wants it over. Tonight. Right now.
She has a gallon of gasoline for the third act.
The second act is just going to be punching Piggy. Except for the burns on the bottoms of her feet, Vanessa never marked the little creep before. You have to be careful: all the meddlesome bastards who see one bruise and they’re on to child welfare. She really wants to hit her. She’s got a lot of years of hitting saved up.
The first act is some little pretend-drowning in the big bathtub upstairs. Tie her up, do some dunking, see how long she can hold her breath. If it’s good enough to get some answers out of terrorists, it’s good enough for Piggy, who doesn’t even have any answers to give.
Vanessa has just finished filling the tub with cold water, as cold as she could draw it. She’s selected and set out some scarves she doesn’t want anymore, to tie up the little freak.
She has wasted ten years with this. Ten years. She has never gotten from it the level of satisfaction she expected.
It’s very difficult for a pleasure in reality to be equal to what you work up first in your imagination. The world is always failing her. Pleasure is the only thing, everything, and yet it is never what it ought to be.
Maybe she’ll find something better in the desert. She likes the heat of the desert, the barrenness, the emptiness.
There’s too much nature here on the coast. She just wants sand and heat and white sky and silence.
She bought a book, The World Without Us, she wants to read it in the desert, someplace isolated, where there’s just her and Harrow, and then maybe not him.
Death is the only thing that satisfies. It’s the only thing that is complete, everything you expect it to be. The dead never fail you.
She is descending the front stairs when, just as she’s about to turn onto the landing, she hears whispering in the vestibule. She stops, puts her back to the wall, and eases to the corner.
She’s just in time to see Piggy going out the door with a dog. What the hell is that about?
Amy Redwing looks after the girl for a moment, then closes the door and turns to Brian.
Vanessa eases back from the corner, for fear they’ll glance up at the stairs. She hears fragments of their quick exchanges: search…kitchen…back stairs.
She retreats to the second floor and races across it, as light-footed as always. She descends the back stairs.
They have guns, and she just has the knife she was going to use to mess with Piggy’s mind a little, the old Bear knife. She doesn’t care if it’s a challenge. She doesn’t even care if she dies. But she won’t die, precisely because she doesn’t care. It’s when you care about dying that you hesitate, and when you hesitate, Vanessa cuts you down.
Redwing and Bry want to live. They’ll hesitate, which makes a knife faster than a bullet every time.
She is very excited. She has wanted him dead a long time.
Off the back stairs, across the kitchen, where fog creeps through the open door, toward the pantry, but instead into a narrow broom closet. The closet contains only a mop, no broom, and Vanessa has just enough room to close the door. It’s like standing up in a coffin.
Returning from the front of the house, Amy and Brian searched the rooms that they passed by earlier when Nickie led them through the place. As it turned out, the dog’s disinterest in those spaces proved to be wisdom at work, because they were all deserted.
In the kitchen, the pantry seemed unlikely to yield either one of the charming couple, but Amy yanked open the door while Brian covered it with his pistol.
The hinges creaked on the pantry door, and behind Amy other hinges creaked almost simultaneously, and she started to turn, but the knife took her in the back and went deep, and the air went out of her, and the strength.
Amy made a small bird cry, and Brian turned to see Vanessa behind her, and Amy’s face as white as the whites of her eyes.
Running horses on stone could have clopped no harder than his heart, and he hesitated to shoot because Amy was blocking Vanessa.
His hesitation coincided with movement glimpsed from the corner of his eye, and he saw a man, surely Michael, coming through the open kitchen door, a pistol in his fist.
Brian wasn’t familiar with the gun that he had taken off the shooter earlier, but he didn’t hesitate to fire before being fired upon. The weapon was a machine pistol; a quick squeeze pumped out five, six rounds.
Michael went down, but maybe not because he was hit, maybe only for cover, and as Brian turned back to Vanessa, he saw her stab Amy a second time, with another down stroke, and then she surprised him by shoving Amy toward him and surprised him again by coming at him as Amy fell forward between them. She might have half climbed over Amy to slash his face, but he emptied the gun at her, and she was done.
Quaking with terror, he threw aside his gun, dropped to his knees beside Amy, whose face had darkened from white to pale gray, and took her pistol.
Looking under the table, he saw Michael across the room, lying in blood, looking as if his shade had already left his flesh and was boarding the Hellbound train. His arm was stretched out in front of him, his pistol pointed at Brian, and enough of a quiver of life remained in him to pull the trigger.
The round hit Brian in the abdomen, knocked him off his knees, and onto the floor beside Amy, where his left hand fell into her upturned right palm.
If he was going out for good, he wanted to squeeze her hand, but he didn’t have the strength, and neither did she.
The pain was so fierce, a furious white heat, that his vision blurred, but he nevertheless saw Hope toddering through the back door, trying to stay on her feet as Nickie dragged her with all the power of a team of sled dogs. In fact, as Brian began to go blind, in the strange euphoria accompanying massive blood loss, he saw Nickie fly over the table, toward them, and Hope flying, too, one hand clutched around the dog’s collar.
Amy and Brian agreed that they were not cut out to kill people. They just didn’t have the right stuff.
For one thing, they regretted having to pull the trigger even on certifiable sociopaths like Philip Marlowe. That turned out to be the born moniker of Billy Pilgrim et al., a name he never used because he hated all that it stood for.
Their regret did not go as far as maturing into remorse. But when they thought about pulling the trigger on Billy and Michael and Vanessa, they sometimes felt a little sick to their stomachs, though Alka-Seltzer usually helped, also Rolaids Softchews.
Another thing they were not good at anymore was skepticism in spiritual matters. Amy always had been a believer with an open mind, although stories about phone calls from dead nuns would once have tested the limits of her credulity.
Brian traveled a greater arc than she had; now he acknowledges layers of mystery in the world, and he recognizes that what he saw in Nickie’s eyes was the light of a divine presence, perhaps the innocent soul of Amy’s murdered daughter empowered to return for a brief time and a limited purpose, or an angel.
He is certain now that the sound he heard in his apartment, when he obsessively rendered Nickie’s eyes, had been the laboring of enormous wings, which argued for the angel answer. Amy’s view is that, since the job-assignment and promotion policies in celestial realms are not known to any living person, there is every reason to assume that the entity in Nickie was both her lost daughter and an angel, which were one and the same.
A thing Amy and Brian were good at was dying without serious consequences. They had been mortally wounded in the kitchen of the caretaker’s house. They entertain no doubt about that, yet here they are, not only alive but without scars.
The way Hope tells it-and she does not lie-Nickie dragged her into the kitchen and flew with her over the table. Hope had seen dead people often enough, but she had never flown on a dog before. She let go of the collar and “sat down plop and said Whoa.”
Nickie spread herself over the wounded Amy and Brian as if she were a furry blanket. Their pale faces regained color, their eyes fluttered open, a few minor blemishes unrelated to the shooting and stabbing cleared up, Brian’s beard stubble vanished, Amy remembered where she had misplaced a recipe for fudge a year earlier, Brian found he’d regrown the wisdom teeth he’d had pulled years ago, and all the blood on their clothes and on the floor just “kinda went somewhere some way.”
Hope also says Nickie did a “really silly lot of face licking” during the first few minutes of the healing, which explains why Brian’s first complaint after resurrection was that his lips tasted funny.
Neither Amy nor Brian has any doubt that in addition to physical healing, they received psychological and emotional healing, for they have found peace sooner than their experiences would seem to allow. Likewise, considering how well-adjusted Hope is after the ten years of hell in her mother’s care, she may have received a similar grace.
Hope has learned to read and write at a seventh-grade level. She has not called herself dumb in many months. She has to give back a dime of her allowance every time she does.
Having experienced a number of those small supernatural moments that can arguably be explained away with psychology or science-such as still having a pencil in your hand every time you put it down-they were also parties to a genuine miracle, with the result that they have become more aware than ever of the mysterious patterns in life. This does not mean that they cope with life any better because of their perceptions. Seeing a pattern and making sense of it are different things, and maybe the only people who make sense of the patterns and properly shape their lives to them are saints in the making or the pleasant kind of lunatics. Hi-ho.
Fred, Ethel, and Nickie continue to share life with Amy and Brian, and they are a happy bunch of kids. Three days after the events that September, the winged Nickie in the furry Nickie went back to her forever home. After a particularly long and sweet cuddle on the sofa, she signaled her departure with a joyous sound of wings that reverberated from one end of the bungalow to another. Now Nickie, bought for two thousand dollars-a bargain-from a crazy drunk guy, is just a good dog, nothing more, though a good dog is one of the best of all things to be.
Millie and Barry Packard’s blind dog, Daisy, regained her sight one day after the visit by Nickie, but three-legged Mortimer did not grow a fourth. So it goes.
Golden Heart thrives. The estate of a man named Georgie Jobbs (no relation to Steve Jobs), who was thought to have been a person of modest-and mysterious-means was settled entirely on Golden Heart, to the tune of $1.26 million. No one knew he admired goldens until, in his last will and testament, he said that the only person in his life who ever loved him was a golden named Harley. Amy’s dream center for goldens may someday be built.
Too many dogs continue to be abused and abandoned-one is too many-and people continue to kill people for money and envy and no reason at all. Bad people succeed and good people fail, but that’s not the end of the story. Miracles happen that nobody sees, and among us walk heroes who are never recognized, and people live in loneliness because they cannot believe they are loved, and, yes, Amy and Brian were married.