She could still hear Mame's voice and felt her hand on her shoulder, poking her the way she used to poke her when the story was over, waking her up gently after Giselle had fallen asleep in her lap.
"Come on, wake up."
She didn't want to wake up. She was transfixed. She wanted to see what was going to happen when Abraham lay down beside Dow.
She felt her shoulder being shaken again. "Giselle?"
"Yeah?" She opened her eyes long enough to make out the fibers of her white carpet through her eyelashes, then closed them again. Whoever was shaking her could knock it the fuck off any time. It wasn't Abraham. It was a woman's voice, but it wasn't Mame, either. Mame was dead. It was someone with a small hand. Where the hell had her little dogs gone? Why weren't they barking?
"Hey, you're still asleep," the woman's voice said.
"No shit." Giselle swallowed. Her throat was dry. She opened her eyes again, wider this time, and saw her hand through wisps of her hair, saw the creases in the skin across her knuckles. She made her hand into a fist. The creases disappeared.
When she looked past her clenched fist, Giselle saw a woman's legs. The woman was squatting on the floor, balanced on the balls of her bare feet. Her knees were shiny. Giselle could see up the woman's skirt. It was Dow. She had that obscene little black thong of a thing stuck up between her skinny brown legs. She was still wearing that flimsy dark blue skirt with the white flecks. Close up, they looked like stars. Dark blue and black didn't exactly go all that well together, stars or no stars. The chick had no fashion sense. She needed some red somewhere. With a little red somewhere she could have been an American Flag. Ha! Her tits were pushed together down the front of the scoop neck of that shiny black tank top. How the hell had she gotten there?
"Where the fuck am I," Giselle said.
"On your floor." Dow nudged her shoulder again. "You need to wake up."
"Whoa. I crashed," Giselle said. "I was in the middle of a humongo dream."
"I know. You've had a big day. We were gonna let you sleep, but we need to get this TV turned on. Nobody can figure it out."
"It's tricky," said Giselle. "You have to push a button."
"We pushed all the buttons."
"There are three remotes. There's a sequence. One for the VCR...never mind." She raised herself up onto one elbow, looked right into Dow's wide, dark brown eyes and asked, "How'd you get in my house?"
"Back door." She glanced nonchalantly toward the kitchen.
"How come my dogs didn't go crazy?"
Dow shrugged, raised her bushy eyebrows, pursed her thick lips.
Giselle had had a hard enough time believing her little dogs hadn't barked at Abraham; that they hadn't barked at Dow was too much for her to swallow without a better explanation. "I'm serious," Giselle said.
"About what?" Dow cocked her head.
"My dogs. Why didn't they bark at you?"
"You could ask them, I guess," Dow said. There was something snippy in her tone of voice, like she wasn't giving the question the consideration it deserved.
"Where's Abraham?" Giselle frowned again.
"The fucking Mayonnaise Man." Giselle cringed. She hated calling him that. "Doesn't he have, like, some kind of nickname?"
"Nope," Dow said. Then a pesky little smile crept over her face, puckering up her dimples, and she went on to say, "Well, me and Davis and some of the other kids used to call him 'Mame,' but he didn't like that...not at all, not one tiny little bit."
The dimples made her look like a little girl, Giselle thought. She was a little girlprobably around the same age as that Davis kid.
"Yeah." Giselle was becoming more lucid. "He mentioned that."
"Why do you call him Abraham?"
"That's his name. Abraham Lincoln."
"Abraham Lincoln, ha! That's a name he'd pick, all right." Dow rolled her eyes. "Where is he, though?" She frowned. "We thought he'd be here."
"He took off." Giselle pressed the back of her hand against her forehead as the tête-à-tête with Harley started coming back to her. "We got stopped by a cop."
"Damn." Dow forced the word out between her big white teeth with her thick, pretty tongue. "That's not good. Where?"
"Up the road a ways. He might have gotten into the back of the cop car. I went back and looked for him. He was gone. I couldn't find him anywhere."
"Fuck," Dow said. "Okay, we really need to get the TV working."
Giselle pushed herself up onto her knees, scooted backwards to lean against the sofa and bumped into a pair of shins. That startled her. "What the..." she said, then frowned, turned around and sat back down onto the carpet again.
Rocco and Davis were on the sofa eating the rest of Woo's food from the cartons she'd left in the refrigerator. They'd taken off their jackets and had tossed them onto the La-Z-Boy. Davis had taken apart one of the remotes. The batteries were in his lap. He was blowing into it with a befuddled expression on his face.
That was too much! Her little dogs might not have barked at Dowshe was, after all, just a little slip of a thingbut for them not to raise total holy hell when two great big burly guys came into her house, well...that was stretching her credulity way too far. It was simply not possible, period. No fucking way.
"Where are my dogs? Little dogs!" she called.
All four dogs immediately scampered out from behind the La-Z-Boy, wagging their tails and whimpering and yawning and stretching. Toot seemed to be ticked off that she'd woken him up. He growled at her. "Oh, great," Giselle said. "Let the whole neighborhood in and growl at me? Pfssh. I need something to drink."
"I'll get it." Dow bounced up. "What do you want?"
"Just water, thanks." It irked Giselle that she sounded so polite, so subdued and conciliatory, when there were so many questions she wanted to asklike what the fuck are all you people doing here? Why didn't my little dogs tear you to pieces?
She made a mental note to ask Abraham why her dogs hadn't barked. He had to be there pretty soon. Maybe down at their place in Tennessee they had some kind of secret way of communicating with animals nobody else knew about. What had Dow said? "You could ask them, I guess?" Giselle thought she was just being snotty, but maybe not. Three strangers simply could not just come into her house, sit on her sofa, eat her food and fiddle with the remote without her dogs going nuts, period. She didn't get it. It didn't add up. It didn't make any sensebut not having a headache didn't make any sense either.
"Here." Davis handed her the remote after he'd somehow managed to get the batteries put back where they belongedfor a guy who was supposedly going to be a nuclear engineer he didn't seem all the mechanically inclined. "I quit," he said. "I give up. Throw me in the shallow water."
"Hey, that's Edie Brikell," Giselle said. "I love that song."
"Yeah?" Davis perked up. "Me, too." Their mutual interest in music seemed to rekindle his desire to stare at Giselle's tits.
"Did you guys ever see that Simpsons where Bart sticks plutonium in the remote control and him and Lisa end up in that Itchy & Scratchy cartoon?"
"Yeah, ha!" Davis laughed. "We watched that at the plant. It was one of the Halloween ones. Itchy and Scratchy shoot a school of piranha fish at Bart and the piranha fish eat him down to a skeleton, then Homer rewinds the remote and the piranhas put him back together again."
"Then Scratchy falls in love with the cat. Marge is gonna have him neutered. Ha! Remember the expression on Scratchy's face? Crack me up," Giselle said.
"Hey, guys." Rocco cleared his throat. "I hate to interrupt, but we need to take care of some business, here."
"Yeah, yeah, sorry." Giselle pointed vaguely beyond where Rocco was sitting on the sofa. "There should be two remotes stuffed down behind the last cushion."
Rocco felt around, produced the other remotes and handed them to Giselle. She lined them up, pointed them at the TV and, voila, Oprah's face was everywhere. She turned up the volume, switched from channel to channel. Nearly the whole array of channels the cable company had to offer was jam-packed with stories of Oprah's disappearance. Giselle left it on the Cartoon Network for a second.
"Don't fool around," Rocco said.
Giselle's first instinct was to say, "Don't fool around, my ass." But she thought better of it when she heard the tone of Rocco's voice. He was serious. Well, she couldn't blame him. He probably had a lot at stake. They all did.
"So, how'd it go?" she asked Davis, who was, by then, quite busily but not very surreptitiously looking up her skirt.
"Like clockwork." He made an OK sign. "Rocco is the man!"
"Shh." Rocco held up his hand.
"Here, you run the thing." Giselle handed the remote to Rocco.
"Thanks," he said. "I didn't mean to get edgy. Something should be going on by now. They should have a camera crew out there. We should be seeing Oprah."
"Did you call the TV station?" Giselle asked.
"Dow did, yeah. TV, radio, newspapers, everything," Davis said.
"Talking about me behind my back?" Dow had returned with the water.
Giselle reached for it. Their fingers touched when the glass of water passed from Dow's hand to Giselle's hand. She was so thirsty she was going to die of dehydration. Dow had put ice cubes into the glass. That was thoughtful. Maybe the little slut wasn't so bad, after all. Giselle and Abraham hadn't even known each other a year ago. They'd barely known each other two days ago. Was he supposed to have been celibate his whole life? Had Giselle been celibate her whole life? No. She'd been married, for gosh sakes, and there was all that folderol with Father Gregory, too. She drank big deep gulps of ice water and felt each dried up, desiccated, half-dead cell in her whole body plump up with new life again. That little Dow chick was probably an okay person, Giselle supposed. They probably all were.
"Did they mention the Semtex?" Dow asked.
"The guy on the radio talked about what kind of damage a couple hundred pounds of Semtex could do to the inside of a reactor building, yeah," Rocco said. "But there hasn't been anything about it on TV. That's...not good. That worries me."
"Semtex is an explosive, right?" Giselle asked.
"Plastic. Yep. Powerful stuff." Dow stood above Giselle, staring at the TV with her hands folded under her breasts, pushing them up all the more. Giselle took back every nice thing she'd just thought about the little slut and was jealous all over again. She didn't like it that Dow said "yep" the same way Abraham said "yep." Fleeting pieces of the dream came back to herDow and Abraham on that mossy rock. Then she pictured Dow naked in the shower...with her little brown butt sticking out, getting herself soaped up. Giselle stopped picturing things, but her heart beat so hard it hurt.
"What's plastic explosives got to do with anything?" Giselle frowned.
"Nothing." Dow shook her head, screwed up her mouth, smiled her pretty smile, dimples and all. "I told them all they'd either find Oprah or Oprah's weight in Semtex in the containment building of reactor number two."
"Something's really strange." Rocco narrowed his eyes.
"Strange like how, honey?" Dow asked.
Honey? Hey, maybe Dow and Rocco were a couple, Giselle thought. Ha! She was relieved. She saw Dow in another whole new light all over again. Pretty little girl. Kind of a bundle of fluff. Not anyone she had to worry about. Giselle cracked herself up. Did she vacillate or what? Maybe she was nuts. Nah.
"I want to know what the hell happened to the guy on the radio," Rocco said. "Did we hear that or didn't we? Did he say he saw Oprah being led from the building by two FBI agents or not? So where the hell is she? That was a long time ago."
"I wasn't listening to the radio," Giselle said.
"I was," Dow said. "Davis was. We heard it. Sure."
"Nobody's picked up on any of that. The guy on the radio described her jacket, that lynx thing, the whole bit. There hasn't been anything about any of that."
Rocco flipped the remote faster, more frantically. On one of the channels that flashed by, Giselle got a brief glimpse of a still photograph of Ron Harley.
"Hey, turn it back. That's the cop that stopped us," she said.
Rocco flipped the channel back. One of the local announcers was saying: "In a related development, Sheriff's Deputy Ronald Harley's patrol car was found abandoned in the woods adjacent to the Rock River, five miles north of Rockford..."
"Holy shit," said Giselle.
Rocco turned the channel. Wolf Blitzer was covering the story for CNN.
"We've been waiting on this," he said. "But it appears certain now that our worst fears have been realized." Wolf Blitzer took off his glasses and looked directly into the camera. "Oprah Winfrey has been shot...and killed." He paused. He cleared his throat, put his glasses back on, looked down at a single sheet of paper on his desk, then back up into the camera again. "I repeat. We now have official confirmation from Attorney General John Ashcroft that FBI agents on the scene at the Byron Nuclear Generating Plant in northern Illinois have reported to him that Oprah Winfrey has been murdered." Wolf Blitzer's voice cracked.
"That's horseshit." Rocco expectorated the words at the television. He had moved to the edge of Giselle's sofa. "They had her out of there, man. She was halfway to the parking lot! The guy on the radio said she was waving to him!"
Rocco, Giselle could tell, wasn't moved by much. He seemed to her like the kind of guy who always remained calm no matter what. He reminded her of her dad or of Sheriff Wittingham. He seemed like the kind of guy who thought things through and always knew just what to do under any circumstancesbut the report that Oprah had been killed threw him for a loop. She could almost see his mind working. He put his fists together at either side of his jaw and glared at the TV. His face turned red. She bet his face never turned red, but it just did. Yikes. It was like things were more fucked than any of them could have imagined.
"You think they got it wrong?" Dow asked softly.
The whole room, but for the TV, had become desperately quiet.
"Nope," Rocco said. "They killed her. The morons killed her themselves." His arms dropped like dead weights onto the sofa. "It's the only thing that makes any sense. They're going to have to get rid of the guy on the radio, too. Holy Christ. They're going to have to get rid of all kinds of people."
"Other people must have heard the radio," Giselle said.
"I'm sure other people did. So what? Other people heard gun shots from the grassy knoll." Rocco squinted his eyes. 'They'll just deny it. Covering this up is going to keep the bastards busy forever. Anyone who knows the truth is going to end up dead or nuts."
"Where does that leave us?" Davis asked.
"Fucked," Rocco said. "We have to get out of here."
"Would they really do that? Kill Oprah?" Dow asked.
"You bet your cute little tushie they would," Rocco said. "She probably started shooting her mouth off about how the whole thing had been a setup."
"You told her to keep quiet until she got on TV. I heard you," Davis said.
"Apparently she didn't listen." Rocco shook his head, then said, "Christ."
"Other people would have seen her safe," Davis said.
"They'll deny it," Rocco repeated. "Killing her was the cleanest thing to do. The agent in charge must have run it by Ashcroft. They'll blame it on terrorists."
"Wow," Dow said. "Will they figure out who we are?"
"They'll know who I am," Rocco said. "They'll know who Davis is. They'll dig around in our high school year books and come up with profiles. We'll be some kind of terrorists; what kind of terrorists is anybody's guess."
"We knew all that anyway," Davis said. "We can still get to Tennessee."
"Yeah, but we have to get going," Rocco said. "This changes everything."
"What about Abraham? The Mayonnaise Man?" Giselle asked. "What about his mom? This can't be happening. He wouldn't let it."
"He didn't let it happen, Giselle," Rocco said. "I don't know what he'll do."
"What will he do?" Giselle asked.
"Find his way back down to Tennessee, I expect," Rocco said. "You best come with us. Bring your dogs if you want, but we have to leave. Now."
"What if he comes here?" Giselle asked.
"He won't." Rocco stood up.
"I think he will," she said. "I'm staying. I didn't do anything wrong. Did I?"
"Nope. None of us did. But that's not the way this is going to go down." Rocco spoke slowly, calmly, rationally, like he had everything under control. "They're going to seal this area up tight as a drum. It's good we got the ambulance. There's plenty of room for your dogs, Giselle, but you need to come with us. You won't be safe here."
"You'll like it in Tennessee," Dow said. "He'll show up there. He always does. You'll see. I know it's what he'd want you to do."
"My ass," Giselle said. "He's going to come back here. I just know he is. I need to stay. I grew up here. Everybody knows me. My uncle's a judge."
"That won't mean diddly," Rocco said.
"I think it will," she said. "Abraham won't leave without me."
"Suit yourself. You might be right. He trusts you." Rocco grabbed his red and black hunting jacket off the La-Z-Boy. Davis put on his flight jacket.
"We trust each other," Giselle said. "I'll be okay. We'll both be okay."
Dow touched Giselle's hair. "Please come with us," she said.
"I can't," Giselle said.
"Be careful, then. Be wise. You have our love." Dow touched Giselle's cheek. There were tears in her big brown Asian eyes. Giselle felt the same way she'd felt with Ray's mother, Mrs. Blovits, in the parking lot.
"Thanks," Giselle said.
The three of them went out the back door. She heard their vehicle start, saw its headlights moving, shining through the back windows, then through the side windows, and finally through the big picture window in the parlor as the ambulance they'd somehow gotten a hold of turned right and went out of sight at the corner of the street in front of her house. That was a good idea, getting themselves an ambulance, Giselle thought. Then she remembered she hadn't heard Ketchum barking when they took off. That was weird. Maybe they could talk to animals.