God. I’m inside. The cage. The whole thing ends as it began! Crumley comes to find me! beckoning behind the bars at dawn. Christ. My lungs ballooned with fire. I tried to whirl and knock free. I wanted to shout him off with my last breath. I wanted to …
It was over.
Shrank relaxed his grip.
What? I thought. What? What!
He almost let go.
I seized him to push but it was like grabbing a dummy that had suddenly lost its ability to gesticulate. It was like handling a corpse that had leaped out of the grave and now wanted back.
He’s quit, I thought. He knows he must be the last one. He knows he can’t kill me, it doesn’t fit.
He had indeed made up his mind and as I held him I could see his face, the merest pale ghost, and the shrug that said I was to at last go free and move up toward night and air and life. In the dark water, I saw his eyes accept his own dread as he opened his mouth, flexed his nostrils, and let out a terrible gaseous illumination. Whereupon he took a deep breath of black water and sank away, a lost man seeking his final loss.
He was a cold marionette I left behind in the cage as blindly I thrashed for the door, pushed out, and pushed up, wildly praying to live forever, to seek the fog, to find Peg, wherever she was in all the dread damned world.
I broke up and out into a mist that had begun to rain. As my head burst out, I gave a great cry of relief and sorrow. All the souls of all the people lost and not wanting to be lost in the last month wailed out of me. I gagged, threw up, almost sank again, but made it to the bank and dragged myself out to sit and wait on the rim of the canal.
Somewhere in the world I heard a car pull up, a door slam, running feet. Out of the rain, one long arm reached and a big hand clutched to shake my shoulder. Crumley’s face, like a frog’s under glass, came to view in a movie closeup. He looked like a father in shock, bending to his drowned son.
“You okay, you all right, you okay?”
I nodded, gasping.
Henry came up behind, sniffing the rain, alert for dread smells and finding none.
“He okay?” said Henry.
“Alive,” I said, and truly meant it. “Oh, God, alive.”
“Where’s Armpits? I got to give him one for Fannie.”
“I already did, Henry,” I said.
I nodded down at the lion cage, where a new ghost drifted like pale gelatin behind the bars.
“Crumley,” I said, “he’s got a whole shack full of stuff, evidence.”
“I’ll check it.”
“Where the hell have you guys been?” I wondered.
“Damn-fool taxi driver’s blinder than me.” Henry felt his way to the canal rim and sat down on one side of me. Crumley sat on the other, all of us letting our feet dangle over almost into the dark water. “Couldn’t even find the police station. Where’s he at? I’ll give him a hit, too.”
I snorted a laugh. Water flew out of my nostrils.
Crumley leaned close to look me over.
Nowhere anyone could ever see, I thought. Ten years from now, some night, it’ll all surface. I hope Peg won’t mind a few screams just to get a little mothering.
In a moment, I thought, got to go phone. Peg, I’ll say.
Marry me. Come tonight, come home. We’ll starve together but by God we’ll live. Marry me at last, Peg, and protect me from the Lonelies. Peg.
And she would answer yes and come home.
“Not hurt,” I answered Crumley.
“Good,” said Crumley, ” ’cause who in hell would read my novel, if not you?”
I barked with laughter.
“Sorry.” Crumley ducked his head with embarrassment at his own honesty.
“Hell.” I grabbed his hand and put it on the back of my neck, showing him where to massage. “I love you, Crum. I love you, Henry.”
“Damn,” said Crumley, gently.
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