Carol kissed him goodbye. Jane kissed him, too; hers was a shy, chaste kiss, lightly planted on his cheek, and when she got into the car, she was blushing brightly.
He stood in front of the house and watched them drive away until the red Volkswagen Rabbit was out of sight.
After almost a week of blue skies, clouds had drifted in again. They were flat, slate gray. They matched Paul’s mood.
When the kitchen phone rang, Grace steeled herself for the sound of Leonard’s voice. She sat down in the chair at the small built-in desk, reached up, put her hand on the receiver that hung on the wall, let it ring once more, then picked it up. To her relief, it was Ross Quincy, the managing editor of the Morning
News, returning the call she’d made late yesterday afternoon.
“You were inquiring about one of our reporters, Dr. Mitowski?”
“Yes. Palmer Wainwright.”
Quincy was silent.
“He does work for you, doesn’t he?” Grace asked.
“Uh.. Palmer Wainwnght has been an employee of the Morning News, yes.”
“I believe he nearly won a Pulitzer Prize.”
“Yes. But of course. . . that was quite a while back.”
“Well, if you know about the Pulitzer nomination, you must know it was for the series he did on the Bektermann murders.”
“Which was back in 1943.”
“That long ago?”
“Uh. . . Dr. Mitowski, exactly what is it you wanted to know about Palmer Wainwright?”
“I’d like to talk with him,” she said. “We’ve met, and we have some unfinished business that I’m rather anxious to take care of. It’s a.. . personal matter.”
Quincy hesitated. Then: “Are you a long-lost relative?”
“Of Mr. Wainwright’s? Oh, no.”
“A long-lost friend?”
“No. Not that either.”
“Well, then, I guess I don’t have to be delicate about this. Dr. Mitowski, I’m afraid that Palmer Wainwright is dead.”
“Dead!” she said, astounded.
“Well, surely you realized there was that possibility. He was never a well man, downright sickly. And you’ve obviously been out of touch with him for a long time.”
“Not all that long,” she said.
“Must be at least thirty-five years,” Quincy said. “He died back in 1946.”
The air at Grace’s back seemed suddenly colder than it had been an instant ago, as if a dead man had expelled his icy breath against the nape of her neck.
“Thirty-one years,” she said numbly. “You must be wrong.”
“Not a chance. I was just a green kid back then, a copyboy. Palmer Wainwright was one of my heroes. I took it pretty hard when he went.”
“Are we talking about the same man?” Grace asked. “He was quite thin, with sharp features, pale brown eyes, and a rather sallow complexion. His voice was several notes deeper than you’d expect from just looking at him.”
“That was Palmer, all right.”
“He was thirty-six when he died, but he did look twenty years older,” Quincy said. “It was that string of illnesses, one thing right after another, with cancer at the end. Jt just wore him down, aged him fast. He was a fighter, but he just couldn’t hold on any longer.”
Thirty-one years in the grave? she thought. But I saw him yesterday. We had a strange conversation in the rose garden. What do you say to that, Mr. Quincy?
“Dr. Mitowski? Are you still there?”
“Yes. Sorry. Listen, Mr. Quincy, I hate to take your valuable time, but this is really important. I believe the Bektermann case had a lot to do with the personal business I wanted to discuss with Mr. Wainwright. But I don’t really know anything about those murders. Would you mind telling me what it was all about?”
“Family tragedy,” Quincy said. “The Bektermanns’ daughter went berserk the day before her sixteenth birthday. Her mind just snapped. Apparently, she got it in her head that her mother intended to kill her before she turned sixteen, which was not true, of course. But she thought it was true, and she went after her mother with an ax. Her father and a visiting cousin got in the way, and she killed them. Her mother actually managed to wrench the ax out of the girl’s hands. But that didn’t stop the kid. She just picked up a fireplace poker and kept coming. When the mother, Mrs. Bektermann, was backed into a corner and was about to have her skull cracked open with the poker, she didn’t have any choice but to swing the ax at her daughter. She hit the girl once, in the side. A pretty deep cut. The kid died in the hospital the next day. Mrs. Bektermann only killed in self-defense, and no charges were brought against her, but she felt so guilty about killing her own child that she had a complete breakdown and eventually wound up in an institution.”
“And that’s the story that won Mr. Wainwright his Pulitzer nomination?”
“Yeah. In the hands of a lot of reporters, the piece Would have been nothing but sensationalistic garbage. But Palmer was good. He wrote a sensitive, well-researched study of a family with serious emotional, interpersonal problems. The father was a domineering man who set extremely high standards for his daughter and very likely had an unnatural attraction to her. The mother was always competing with the father for the girl’s heart, mind, and loyalty, and when she saw she was losing that battle, she turned to drink. There were extraordinary psychological pressures brought to bear on the daughter, and Palmer made the reader feel and understand those pressures.”
She thanked Ross Quincy for his time and consideration. She hung up the phone.
For a while she just sat there, staring at the softly humming refrigerator, trying to make sense of what she had been told. If Wainwright had died in 1946, whom had she talked to in the garden yesterday?
And what did the Bektermann murders have to do with her? With Carol?
She thought of what Wainwright had told her: This damned, endless pursuit. It’s still going on, and it’s got to be stopped this tune around ye come to tell you that your Carol is in the middle of it.
You’ve got to help her. Get her out of the girl’s way.
She felt she was on the verge of understanding what he had meant. And she was scared.
Even though a number of impossible things had transpired within the past twenty-four hours, she no longer questioned either her sanity or her perceptions.
She was sane, perfectly sane, and in command of all her faculties. Senility was not even a remote possibility any longer. She sensed that the explanation for these events was far more frightening, more soul-shattering even than the prospect of senility, which had once terrified her.
She recalled something else that Palmer Wainwright had said yesterday in the garden: You aren’t only who you think you are. You aren’t only Grace Mitowski.
She knew the solution to the puzzle was within her grasp. She sensed a dark knowledge within her, long-forgotten memories waiting to be tapped. She was afraid to tap them, but she knew she must do precisely that, for Carol’s sake, and perhaps for her own sake as well.
Suddenly, the air in the kitchen, though still quite clear, reeked of wood and tar smoke. Grace could hear the crackle of fire, although there were no flames here, now, in this place and time.
Her heart pounded frantically, and her mouth turned dry and sour.
She closed her eyes and could see the burning house as vividly as she had seen it in the dream. She could see the cellar doors, and she could hear herself screaming, calling Laura.
She knew it hadn’t been only a dream. It had been a memory, lost for ages, surfacing now, reminding her that, indeed, she was not only Grace Mitowski.
She opened her eyes.
The kitchen was hot, stifling.
She felt herself being pulled along by forces she could not comprehend, and she thought: Is this what I want? Do I really want to flow with this and discover the truth and turn my little world upside down? Can
I handle it?
The stench of nonexistent smoke grew stronger.
The roar of nonexistent flames grew louder.
I guess there’s no turning back now, she thought.
She held her hands up in front of her face and Stared at them, amazed. Her flesh had been miraculously disfigured by stigmata. Her hands were bruised, abraded, bloody. There were splinters of wood embedded in her palms, splinters from the cellar doors
on which she had pounded such a long, long time ago.
At ten o’clock, when the phone rang, Paul had been at his desk, writing, for almost an hour. The work had just begun to flow smoothly. He snatched up the receiver and said, a bit impatiently, “Yes?”
An unfamiliar female voice said, “Could I speak to Dr. Tracy, please?”
“Oh. Uh.. no.. . the Dr. Tracy I’m looking for is a woman.”
“It’s my wife you want,” he said. “She’s out of town for a few days. Can I take a message?”
“Yes, please. Would you tell her that Polly called from Maugham & Crichton?”
He jotted the name down on a note pad. “And what’s this in reference to?”
“Dr. Tracy was here yesterday afternoon with a young girl who’s suffering from amnesia. . .
“Yes,” Paul said, suddenly more interested than he had been. “I know the case.”
“Dr. Tracy was asking if we’d ever heard of anyone named Millicent Parker.”
“That’s right. She told me about it last evening. It was another dead end, I gather.”
“It seemed to be a dead end yesterday,” Polly said, “but now it turns out that one of our doctors is familiar with the name. Dr. Maugham himself, in fact.”
“Listen, rather than waiting for my wife to call you back, why don’t you just tell me what you’ve come up with, and I can pass the information along to her.”
“Well, sure, why not? See, Dr. Maugham is the senior partner in the practice. He bought this property eighteen years ago and personally oversaw the restoration of the outside and the renovation of the interior. He’s a history bug, so it was natural for him to want to know the history of the building he purchased. He says this place was built in 1902 by a man named Randolph Parker. Parker had a daughter named Millicent.”
“You haven’t heard the best part,” Polly said, the eagerness of a gossip-monger in her voice. “Seems that back in 1905, the night before Millie’s sixteenth birthday party, Mrs. Parker was in the kitchen, decorating a big cake for the girl. Millie snuck in behind her and stabbed her in the back four times.”
Unthinking, Paul snapped the pencil he’d been holding ever since he’d written Polly’s name on the note pad. One broken piece popped out of his hand, spun across the top of the desk, and fell to the floor.
“She stabbed her own mother?” he asked, hoping that he had not heard correctly.
“Isn’t that something?”
“Kill her?” he asked numbly.
“No. Dr. Maugham says that according to the newspaper accounts at that time, the girl used a short bladed knife. It didn’t sink in far enough to do really major damage. No vital organs or blood vessels were affected. Louise Parker—that was the mother’s flame—managed to grab a meat cleaver from a kitchen rack. She tried to hold the girl off with that. But I guess Millie must have been completely off her rocker, ‘cause she charged straight at Mrs. Parker again, and Mrs. Parker had to use that cleaver.”
“Yeah,” Polly said, obviously enjoying his shocked reaction. “Dr. Maugham says she put that cleaver right into her daughter’s throat. Pretty much cut the girl’s head clear off. Isn’t that a terrible thing? But what else could she do? Just let the kid go on jabbing that knife into her?”
Stunned, Paul thought about yesterday’s hypnotic regression therapy session, which Carol had recounted for him in some detail. He remembered the part about how Jane had claimed to be Millicent Parker and had insisted on writing out her answers to questions and had written that she was unable to talk because her head had been cut off.
“Are you still there?” Polly asked.
“Oh. Uh. . . sorry. Is there more to the story?”
“More?” Polly asked. “Wasn’t that enough?”
“Yes,” he said. “You’re absolutely right. That was enough. More than enough.”
“I don’t know if this information is of any help to Dr. Tracy.”
“I’m sure it will be.”
“I don’t see how it could have anything to do with the girl she brought in here with her yesterday.”
“Neither do I,” Paul said.
“I mean, that girl can’t be Millicent Patter. Millicent Parker has been dead for seventy-six years.”
In the study, Grace stood at her desk, looking down at the open dictionary.
REINCARNATION (re’-in-kár-na’shen), n. 1. the doctrine that the soul, upon death of the body, comes back to earth in another body or form. 2. rebirth of the soul in a new body. 3. a new incarnation or embodiment, as of a person.
Bunk? Nonsense? Superstition? Bullshit?
At one time, not long ago, those were all the words she would have used to write her own irreverent definition of reincarnation. But not now. Not any longer.
She closed her eyes, and with only the slightest effort, she was able to bring back the image of the burning house. She wasn’t just envisioning it; she was there, hammering with her fists on the cellar door. She was not Grace Mitowski now; she was Rachael Adams, Laura’s aunt.
The fire scene was not the only part of Rachael’s life that she could recall with perfect clarity. She knew the woman’s most intimate thoughts, her hopes and dreams and hates and fears, shared her most closely held secrets, for those thoughts and hopes and dreams and fears and secrets had been her own.
She opened her eyes and needed a moment to refocus them on the present-day world.
She closed the dictionary.
God help me, she thought, do I really believe it? Can it be true that I’ve lived before? And that Carol’s lived before? And the girl they’re calling Jane Doe?
If it was true—if she had been permitted to recall her previous existence as Rachael Adams in order to save Carol’s life in this incarnation—then she was wasting valuable time.
She picked up the phone to call the Tracys, wondering how in God’s name she was going to make them believe her.