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He took the five o'clock shuttle out of Logan and arrived at La Guardia less than an hour later. The cab ride to his apartment on the Upper West Side came to almost thirty dollars, and once there, he walked to his desk, pulled out his business expense notebook and recorded the amount precisely for the IRS. Precision was everything to him, and he often clung to it the way another might cling to a log in a maelstrom, as something fixed within the chaos. It gave him comfort to see all his notes in order, all his books in a neat row. And though he recognized his obsessive orderliness, with its accompanying mother lode of rock-ribbed discipline and self-control, as a mild form of compulsiveness, its exact source continued to elude him. It was one of his own shadows, he supposed, but one that had always served him well, ensuring that he would complete one book after another while others foundered in a seedy alcoholism or stumbled groggily from one domestic horror to the next. Whatever else could be said of a clean, unencumbered life, he often thought, it certainly was clean and unencumbered, and he had never felt the inclination to apologize for the choices he had made.
Even the simple arrangement of his desk for the night's work brought him a sense of stability and resourcefulness, and after he'd done it, Kinley fixed himself a scotch and slouched down on the small sofa by the window. He always allowed himself a few minutes of calm between the interview and its transcription, though this, too, was "working" time, his mind playing it all through again, from the moment Spinola had opened the door until the time she closed it, her small brown face continuing to watch him, as witnesses always watched him, warily from the shadows behind their windows, as if he were somehow as threatening as the ones who'd done them harm.
He looked at the digital clock on his desk. It was now almost seven o'clock, and the evening shade was falling over the streets below. He could hardly wait for it to deepen, since, in a way, he had always thought of night as his best friend. It was silent and unpeopled, a world of vastly reduced distractions. In the quiet he could let his mind do what it did best, retrieve and analyze, order and distinguish.
He was nearly finished playing back the interview with Maria Spinola when the phone rang. It was Wendy Lubeck, his agent, and for the next few minutes, Kinley listened as she related the details of a series of murders that had occurred in the Maine woods along the Canadian border. A publisher had asked if he might be interested in doing a book on the case, Wendy told him, and in response Kinley promised to think about it.
But he didn't. Instead, as he sat down on the sofa by the window, he thought about something else entirely, a place about as far from Maine as he could imagine, the northern Appalachian foothills of Georgia in which he'd been brought up by Granny Dollar, the maternal grandmother who'd taken him in after his parents had been killed in an automobile accident.
Granny Dollar had died only two months before, and since then he'd noticed his tendency to drift back to his past from time to time, quietly, unexpectedly, in those dead moments when his work left him, and he found himself alone in his apartment, wifeless, childless, with only Granny Dollar to remind him of the texture of family life he'd once known.
That texture had been very dense, indeed, it seemed to him now. She'd raised him in almost complete solitude, the two of them perched on an isolated ridge overlooking a desolate canyon, with nothing but the sounds of crickets and night birds to break the silence that surrounded them. Since that time he'd been a loner, and over the years, he'd come to believe that for people like himself, the true solitaires, it was better to have no one to answer to, wonder about, no one whose affections mattered more to him than the esteem he expected from the little Chinese woman who did his shirts: Goo to see you, Missur Kahnley.
He was working at his desk when the phone rang. He looked at the clock. It was just nearly seven-thirty, so he suspected it might be Wendy, still chewing at her idea. It could not be Phyllis, his old-time drinking buddy, because she was on assignment in Venezuela. As for the type of woman other men spent so much time searching for, or trying to figure out, Kinley had long ago admitted that the Mythical She had either eluded him or he had eluded her. Instead, he dwelt in harmony with the dark-eyed murderesses of his work, admiring their coldly calculating eyes, the edge of cruelty and dominion which clung to their false smiles, their minds even more intricate, limitless and unknowable than his own.
The phone rang a third time, and he glanced at the message machine. He'd turned it off when he'd started to work, and now regretted it. There was no choice but to pick up the phone.
"Yes?" he answered curtly.
"Hello, Mr. Kinley?"
"It's Serena Tindall."
He thought it was odd that she'd said her last name, but he made nothing of it. "Hello, Serena," he said. "Are you in New York?"
"No, I'm at home," Serena said. "For summer break. I've been working at the high school."
"Your father's old stomping ground."
He heard her breath catch in that tense, briefly suspended way he'd often heard others pause before making the great plunge into their tragic tales. "It's about Daddy," she said.
"Ray? What? What is it?"
Her voice broke as she told him. "He died this afternoon."