In the end we may shake our heads, baffled, and have to admit that many lines of seeming relatives, rather than merely one, lead to man. It is as though we stood at the heart of a maze and no longer remembered how we had come there.
"Duard," Dominique said. "Your pants are on fire. Would you look at your pants? Your cigarette fell in your lap. That's what's making the car smell like burnt plastic."
Duard shook his head again. "Nice try, Dominique," he said. He reached toward Phoebe and took the Southern Comfort from her.
"My pants aren't plastic," he said, conclusively.
"Phoebe, will you tell him his pants are on fire?"
"They are," Phoebe said, knowing he would not be convinced. Duard would keep burning for years now, probably. In a way he was like the Centralia mine fire, only with more hair.
When she hung out with Elaine, Phoebe's name had been Icky. It was short for Ichabod, as in Ichabod Crane. They had called Phoebe that because she was ridiculously tall and skinny for a ninth grader. She already towered over all the other girls in her class, and most of the boys. That was another reason she had started hanging out with Dominique. Ever since she started having big hair and wearing leather and torn-up stocking, no one called her Icky anymore.
"Yaaaaaaahhhh!" Duard yelled suddenly. He jammed on the brakes and the Swinger skidded to a halt. He opened his door and leaped out onto the road, still yelling. Duard quickly grabbed his belt buckle and his fly and pulled his pants down and was hopping all over the sidewalk. Dominique turned to Phoebe, handed her the Southern Comfort, and said, "So: what do you think of him?"
If the plaid shirt was really Lentz, then this woman was truly his wife. In this clasp, the couple graduated to inseparable, mutual foreigners. Love is the feedback cycle of longing, belonging, loss. Anti-Hebbian: the firing links get weaker. C., after a decade, grew stranger to me than that college girl who had comforted me on the Quad the day after my dad died. At the end, we shocked each other in the hall of our overlearned apartment, 911 material, intruders. And we'd gotten there without a child to make us wall calendars, to arrest in scissors and glue the secret of who we once were.
I looked at the young Lentz's blueprint expression, the advance world of crevasses that would range across those facial wastes. I started at those two shivering bodies, gone half-insubstantial already. I looked up at the real Lentz, studying the grackle dragnet outside. I measured the size of the mistake that had found him out.
“The thumbprint wasn't in the case summary Lecter saw. We better let Lecter's message run. At least it'll encourage the Tooth Fairy to contact him again.”
“What if it encourages him to do something besides write?”
“We'll feel sick for a long time,” Graham said. “We have to do it.”
Ford ordered coffees and carries the to the table. She looked at him directly, her brown eyes disconcertingly alert. “You start first. Tell me who you are and why you're looking for the meteor.”
“I'm a planetary geologist--”
She gave a sarcastic snort. “Cut the bullshit.”
“What makes you think I'm not?”
“No planetary geologist would have mixed up the words meteor and meteorite. A real planetary geologist would have used the scientific term, meteoroid.”
Ford stared at her, flabbergasted at being smoked out so easily—by a small-town waitress no less. He quickly covered up his confusion with a smile. “You're a bright girl.”
She continued to look at him steadily, her arms folded in front of her on the table.
When all is said and done, any attempt to sort out the origins and the patent history of the paper clip might be an exercise in futility. For there appear to have been countless variations on the device, a great multiplicity of forms, and some of the earliest and most interesting versions seem not to have been patented at all, which is perhaps not so surprising for such a modest artifact. Nevertheless, however obscure their provenance, there is little doubt that alternate forms of the artifact evolved in response to the failure of existing forms to reach perfection, and therein lies the value of this most common object as a case study of how failure can drive forms to fanciful extremes in quest of parallel objectives.
Life energies. Luke recalled the human presences he'd touched, despairing and anguished. He leaned forward.
The robed boy reappeared. “To allay your fears, let me show you a bit of the entechment procedure. Then when the time comes, you may greet your destiny with joy.” A smaller image appeared beside him. A man sat on a chair, anchored to it with clear bindings, head lolling. Luke squinted. Were those tubes stuck into his throat? A smaller image-within-an-image of the robed boy lowered a glowing white metal arc around the man. The small image froze.
“It is joy,” said the larger image. “It is peace. It is freedom. It is our gift to you.” He stretched out a pale palm.
Those had been humans they'd been fighting. Luke clenched his hands. The Ssi-ruuk weren’t simple slavers, but robbers of souls...
“I will, but let me start by astonishing you. This letter is a diary written over a period of three months. Compare the first page with the last.”
He handed me two pages.
They did astonish me, though the first, as I expected, was covered with big capital letters cryptically grouped:
DR GD I HD N PC T WRT BFR
W R FLT PN THS BN BN S
The last page contained forty lines of closely written words, of which a sentence caught my eye.
“Tell my dear Candle that his wedding Bell no longer thinks he must do all she bids.”
“Good for a three year old?” asked Baxter.