The next morning, from a public comm in the hotel lounge, I called Calvin Lee to tell him that he could close down the investigation into the death of Molly Laird. I didn't need the Police Department stipend, and there was no reason I couldn't continue any investigation on my own hook. Besides, until the case was officially closed, they couldn't release the antique pistol from the evidence lockers. I figured that the time had come to sell the damn thing and turn the money over to Marjori as soon as she became Anna's legal guardian.
Calvin also told me that I had a file waiting for me at Police Headquarters. I guessed that it was the list of names that Landau had promised me. Calvin said that he didn't know where it came from, since it carried a high level code. I told him I'd come in and get it as soon as I could get away.
I felt better after the call, and Lewis commented on it. "You're looking a little better," he told me as I ordered juice and porridge for breakfast. "Last night Joey told me that he was worried about you."
"I get worried sometimes, myself," I told him. "One can tilt at windmills only for so long."
"'So saddle up my Rosinante, and sing a song of madness due,'" he quoted from a popular musical of the last century.
"'And when I've had my fill of love, I'll end my quest and marry you,'" I finished.
"I think that the production number starts about now," he observed. "All the poor hung-over gentlemen are now supposed to throw off their gloom, jump onto the tables and begin to gyrate."
I surveyed the room. "Right," I told him. "And we should all be so clever in the morning."
He shrugged. "So how are things going in Carnival?" He knew that I was spending a lot of time there, but I hadn't told him much besides the fact that I was looking for someone.
I shrugged back at him. "I broke a guy's foot yesterday," I said. "Other than that, nothing much happened. I was looking at the sideshows."
"They have a couple of casinos there, too, but the games are rigged."
"So what else is new?" I said.
I ate my breakfast, caught a couple of news summaries, then watched a live feed on the megastorm. It was indeed winding down; there had been no fatalities on this one, unlike the previous ones. One analyst attributed the good showing to the long lead time. It seems that there was some old research satellite out past Anchorage that some guy had managed to reactivate into a remote sensing station, and he'd made a prediction on the storm a full month before it happened. So everyone was expecting it. Hats off to the rebirth of meteorology, I suppose.
By that time it was clock noon, so I went over to Marjori Low's.
She greeted me at the door with a hug and a kiss. "How was your evening?" I asked her.
"Passable," she said. "You know how I hate society functions. But it was for charity, and Leo made it bearable. We went out for drinks afterwards."
She led me into the sunken living room but we remained standing, a little awkwardly, two people unsure as to exactly what to next say to each other.
"Would you please bring us a couple of fruit punches, James?" she said to one of the servants. He nodded, bowed and left the room.
"How is the adoption petition going?" I asked her.
"Smoothly," she said. "It's maybe a little slow. Leo says that it is unusual for a widow with grown children to try to adopt a young child. He was tactful enough not to mention the age factor."
"Leo is a good man," I told her, just as we got our drinks. Still, we both remained standing as the butler left the room.
"Yes," she said. She hesitated, then said, "Last night he asked me to marry him."
I took a long swallow of the fruit punch and put the glass down on a table. "I can see how that would make sense," I said carefully. "It would probably help the adoption."
She said, "Leo said that, too. He also said that children should have a father while they are growing up."
I nodded. "I'd make a lousy father figure. About as poor a role model as one could find."
She closed her eyes tightly, as if she were in pain. I stepped closer to her and she embraced me, small choking sounds coming from her throat as she seemed to be fighting back tears.
"I told myself that I wouldn't screw this up," she said. "That I wouldn't make demands, that I wouldn't ask things of you that you didn't want to do. But I'm so afraid of losing you."
I wiped a tear away from her eye and held her face between my hands. "Do you love him?" I asked her. She nodded, then shook her head.
"How the hell do I know?" she asked me. "What is love anyway? I loved Henry, loved him dearly, and I was so lost and angry when he died. Then I loved you, but it's not the same as it was with Henry. Now maybe I love Leo, and again it's not the same. He'd make a wonderful husband and father, and I don't think he's even that concerned with being compared to you."
She closed her eyes again and another tear leaked through. "As if anyone could compare with you," she said.
I snorted at that, and she said, "It's true, though. You're not like anyone else. Part of me is very proud of that, proud of my time with you, proud of the looks that people give us when we're together. First they think one thing, then they think something else, then they learn a bit more and they finally realize that they don't know what to think. I like that. I like shocking people. I like not being easy to figure out. Is that so bad?"
"No," I told her. "There's no harm to it, and it's not so bad at all."
"But now I'm greedy," she said. "I want both the excitement, and I want security, too. Pure contradiction. Like harnessing lightning. You can do it, but it won't be lightning anymore, just electricity."
I felt that I owed her something, owed her because she had come along when I needed someone like her, owed her because she thought so much more highly of me than I thought of myself. I wanted everything to be different from the way it was, for me to be different from the way I was. I wanted to be able to fight for love the way any normal man will fight for it, even at the cost of losing. Maybe I'd have even preferred to lose. Maybe I even wanted to experience normal loss, and normal heartbreak. Anything but what I really had.
Instead, I told her, "Please sit down. I have something that I need to tell you."