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Part Eight

(Part One), (Part Two), (Part Three), (Part Four),

(Part Five), (Part Six), (Part Seven), (Part Nine), (Part Ten),

(Part Eleven), (Part Twelve)

Ginny Good, A Mostly True Story:

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Chapter Thirty-one


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.

"Who's Abraham?"

"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 girl—probably 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 Dow—she was, after all, just a little slip of a thing—but 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 ask—like 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 sense—but 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 belonged—for 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 her—Dow 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 circumstances—but 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.

Chapter Thirty-two

Giselle made her way out to the kitchen, carrying the empty containers of Chinese food Rocco and Davis had left in the parlor. She tossed them into the garbage, walked past the laundry room, looked at the window of the back door and was startled by her reflection in the black mirror of the glass.

Yikes! Who the fuck was that? She had to do some quick deduction to prove to herself it was really her she saw in the window. It was her kitchen in the background—her stove, her sink, her computer table, her straight-backed chair, the round white light fixture in her ceiling, the dirty one, yeah, the one with all the dead bugs at the bottom—so it had to be her. Ha! Maybe she was just jumpy in general, but it felt like there was more to it than that.

She didn't look anything like what she thought she looked like, for one thing. She thought she looked pretty cute. She always thought she looked pretty cute. But, in the reflection, her hair was flying out like bat's wings at either side of her head and sticking up in great curled horns in front—like the devil. Ha! She looked like the devil. That sounded like something her mother might have said.

"Giselle, you look like the devil."

Thanks, Mom.

Well, except for the sweatshirt, Giselle supposed. What self-respecting devil would have been caught dead in a pink Winnie-the-Pooh sweatshirt? Not only did she look like the devil, but not even a self-respecting devil, at that. That sounded even more like something her mother would say.

She made blinders around her eyes with her hands and looked through her reflection, then, and out into the backyard. Abraham wasn't there. She didn't think he would be. She thought he might be or she wouldn't have bothered looking out in the first place, but it was like about a million in one shot, at best...or, wait, one in a million? Sheesh. She was getting senile.

Ketchum was lying on the frozen ground. He had a dog house. It was filled with fresh straw, but he only went into his dog house when it was raining. He liked the cold. He was tough. She blew him a kiss, then saw her reflection in the glass again and tried to do something about the way she looked. She pulled out a few dead leaves and broken off twigs that were buried in her thick hair, smoothed out the bat's wings, patted down the horns. Yep. It was her, all right; big eyes, little nose, tiny mouth, man's watch, the whole enchilada.

Giselle hung the sweatshirt back up on its hook, kicked her running shoes off into the laundry room, then shimmied out of her short skirt, peeled off her sheer, hot, sticky, ripped-up stockings, slipped out of her panties and her silk blouse and threw them all onto the floor in the laundry room, too. She put on a thick blue terry cloth robe that was warm from hanging next to the water heater and felt about a billion times better than she'd felt since she'd got all gussied up like some high-class hussy early that morning. Whoa, what a day! The last time she'd taken off all her clothes was to get into bed with Abraham. She felt a lump growing like instant cancer in her throat.

She turned out the kitchen light, went back into the parlor and curled up on the sofa in front of the TV like it was any other Sunday night—but it wasn't any other Sunday night. The Simpsons was already over. The Simpsons wouldn't even have been on. It would have been preempted by the news of Oprah's death.

Oprah's death.

Holy fuck.

Giselle felt like the lump in her throat had metastasized. It was spreading into her lymph nodes. If Abraham didn't get there pretty soon she was going to...what? She didn't know. Cry? Die? Throw something? Call the police?

Nearly every channel was covering the story in one way or other—whatever way the producers thought would capture the biggest audience share, she supposed—but Giselle still didn't believe it. Something too weird was going on. Oprah couldn't be dead. It was too unreal, too impossible. But wasn't that what everyone said when someone died? Denial. Disbelief.

Dan Rather looked directly into the camera while he mournfully and soulfully encapsulated Oprah's amazing career: "Humble beginnings...rural Mississippi...1954...Nashville, Tennessee..."

His eyes had in them some exquisite combination of empathy and courage that the camera captured completely, but which Giselle couldn't have described if her life depended on it. That was why they paid Dan Rather the big bucks—he could look all sad-eyed and hopeful and distraught at the same time, and still stay indifferent enough to report the news, one page at a time.

CBS had dug up some black and white photographs of Oprah when she'd been a kid. Damn. Who would of thought, Giselle thought. How many chubby little black girls had there been besides Oprah growing up motherless in rural Mississippi? What did she have that the rest of them didn't?

"She was a trooper."

That was what Abraham's father had said about Oprah, although what the hell a trooper was, Giselle did not know. She flipped the channel.


Tom Brokaw was talking to an NBC reporter outside the chain link fence at the nuclear plant—some new, young, milk-fed farm girl type Giselle had never seen before...but something about the girl was familiar. The new reporter reminded Giselle of someone she knew. She couldn't think who. She was blond, but weren't they all? The reporter blinked her tiny eyelashes and wiggled her turned-up nose like one of the kids in one of Giselle's classes used to do. Wait a minute! Damn! It was one of her kids! Samantha something. Dearman! Ha! Samantha god damn Dearman, the cheerleader's cheerleader! Holy shit, was that ever weird.

Samantha had been in a remedial math class the first year Giselle started teaching. Big Dog couldn't let Samantha graduate unless Giselle could cram some rudimentary understanding of math into her woebegone brain. Poor Samantha! She'd had some preposterous dream of becoming a journalist someday, but this...talking to Tom Brokaw, wow. It was almost unimaginable.

Giselle was so happy for her! Then the possibility that Oprah might really be dead sank deeper into Giselle's consciousness. How could she be happy for anybody? Fuck. Oprah couldn't be dead. Could she? No. Something wasn't right. Samantha was a moron. How could she have gotten a job at NBC? That was preposterous. Nothing was adding up. Giselle flipped the channel again.


Peter Jennings was interviewing Michael Eisner from the ABC Studio in Los Angeles. Michael Eisner sounded all choked up. Pfssh. He always sounded all choked up. Sounding all choked up was a marketing ploy like any other.


Martha Stewart was talking to someone else somewhere else, Connecticut maybe. It was windy. Her hair kept blowing across her face, getting in between her eyes and the camera. That was pissing her off, Giselle could tell, but being Martha Stewart, she acted like she wasn't pissed off in the least.


The baldheaded shrink had tears in his eyes. Giselle didn't give a shit whether the god damn baldheaded shrink had tears in his eyes or didn't have tears in his eyes. She felt like she might have had some god damn tears in her own god damn eyes that were none of anybody's god damn business but her own.


Fox News had that Stedman guy on. They would. Fucking Rupert Murdoch was a marketing genius. Him and Roger Ailes. They could sell refrigerators to Eskimos. They did sell refrigerators to Eskimos. They sold anything to anyone; the more stuff people didn't need, the more stuff Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly sold them. Stedman was all tore up. He wasn't faking it. She could tell. She knew what faking it was and what faking it wasn't. So did Rupert Murdoch.




It was a regular Oprahfest, nonstop on every channel. Oprah should have been there. She would have liked that. She would have been right in the thick of things, reaching out to comfort the comfortable.

Suddenly all the channels cut to their correspondents in Washington, DC. John Ashcroft was standing behind his podium at the Justice Department. There would be no questions. Giselle was numb. She watched Ashcroft call upon God to help apprehend the "contemptible scum" who had murdered "our national treasure...Oprah Winfrey."

People were being lied to by the billions. The FBI was getting away with murder. How was anyone ever going to know the truth? She wanted to tell them, but how? What would she say? What could she say? Who would believe her? She felt grimy. Creepy. Her skin crawled. She needed to take a shower but stayed glued to the TV. She kept hoping that someone, Dave Letterman maybe, would come on and say it had all been an elaborate hoax, that Oprah wasn't dead, that she was alive and well and had simply taken a notion to go bowling in Byron, Illinois.

She wanted Oprah and Abraham show up, standing next to each other, holding hands the way they'd held hands in the car. Anyone with any brains would see the family resemblance and would understand once and for all that the two of them had been in on it together, that nobody meant any harm to anyone anywhere. They weren't going to show up, though. Oprah was dead. She had to be. Dan Rather didn't lie. CBS wouldn't have gone to all the trouble of digging up old photographs of Oprah if she weren't dead.

When was the last time she'd taken a shower? That morning? It felt like a lifetime ago. That had been how this had all started. She'd taken a shower. She'd put on her white flannel pajamas and was on her way to get something to eat from the refrigerator. A dill pickle. And some bologna. Cheese, maybe, she couldn't remember. Carr's Crackers. Then Abraham was there, sitting on her sofa. Maybe if she went upstairs and took a shower, he'd be there again. Was it worth a try? No. Nothing was worth a try. The cancer had spread to her heart. She was going to die.

Maybe she'd get something to eat first, though. Giselle was still hungry. That was weird. She'd eaten a whole carton of Kung Pao Shrimp all by herself, and had nibbled on some of Abraham's red envelope surprise. Maybe it had something to do with being pregnant. It was probably too soon, but she'd never been pregnant before, so, like, who was she to say?

She turned the remote to another channel, one of the Spanish Language stations, and there was Oprah, again—smiling her little smile, twinkling her big eyes. Giselle waved to her the way she'd waved to her in the parking lot. Oprah hadn't seen her then. Oprah wouldn't see her now. But Giselle waved anyway.

She kept flipping channels, one after another, faster and faster. Her thumb started to ache.

Flip, flip, flip.

Somewhere in the middle of all that flippage, Giselle saw a white-haired woman who looked Mame. She was wearing the same powder blue flower print dress...but Giselle accidentally went way past the channel she'd seen her on. While she was pushing the back button on the remote to try to find the woman again, she found Officer Harley, instead. He was on the local news. His hat was off. Sweaty curls stuck to the top of his head. He looked goofy and disheveled. She caught him in the middle of saying something about having been "attacked" in his patrol car.

"The perpetrator said he had a gun pointed at the back of my head." Ron looked into the camera. A shy, frightened grimace crept over his face as if the gun was pointed at the back of his head again. "He made me hand over my weapon. He handcuffed my arms around a poplar tree. Thank God the sheriff came along and found me. I could of froze."

"Who was it?" one of the reporters asked.

"He said his name was Abraham Lincoln, but that might of been a lie," Ron said. "He claimed he didn't mean nobody no harm. I didn't get a good look at him. He tied a gol durn sweatshirt over my head. I think I seen a beard on him, though."

He held up the Eddie Bauer sweatshirt, the one Abraham had been wearing, the one with the ducks, Ted's sweatshirt, the one he'd left there. Giselle worried that Ted would recognize it and call the cops.

"Then he takes off in my patrol car. That's the last I heard of him," Ron said.

Giselle turned the channel. One of the other news stations was investigating the mysterious disappearance of one of its radio news anchors and two other members of his crew. According to the local announcer, they had been the first reporters on the scene at the nuclear plant. They were all missing. Nobody had heard a word. Holy fucking fuck, Giselle thought. Abraham was in deep shit. She was in deep shit.

Chapter Thirty-three

Out of the corner of her eye, Giselle thought she saw headlights flashing through the kitchen window. She got up, went into the kitchen again, and without turning on the light this time, looked out the back door. Ketchum raised his head. He looked hopefully up at her, then rested his nose back down between his paws and watched her only with his eyes. The poor guy, Giselle thought, alone out there night after night. She must not have seen headlights. Ketchum would have been barking.

She went outside in nothing but her blue terry cloth bathrobe—damn, it was cold—and quickly unhooked Ketchum's thick leather collar from his chain. She wanted all her dogs together so they could hop into Abraham's car when he showed up. Ketchum followed her as she ran shivering up the steps and into the house again. Ketchum nudged against her. He was grateful. He sniffed at the Pekes' empty dog dishes, then followed behind Giselle into the parlor, loping across the Chinese rug like a tame white lion.

The little dogs were on the sofa. She scooted them off, leaned back, stretched out and said, "Come on, Ketch." He jumped on top of her. His feet were dirty. She didn't care. His feet were always dirty. The dirt would wash out.

"Okay, settle down," she said.

He did—all hundred and sixty pounds of him sprawled across Giselle from her shins almost to her chin. She looked into his eyes, scratched through the thick fur under his chin without getting anywhere near his actual flesh. He was happy. That was when Giselle saw headlights shining through the windows in her dark kitchen, making their way around to the back of the house.

Ketchum lifted his head. The little dogs' ears perked up. It had to be Abraham—finally. Phew. Her heart filled with hope. Maybe he'd found himself an ambulance too, so they could avoid roadblocks like Rocco and Davis and Dow. Giselle had it all pictured. She and Abraham would hop in his ambulance, jam the dogs into the back, turn on the siren and drive like a son of a bitch, straight through to Tennessee. How long it would take, she had no idea. She got lost after Springfield, but Illinois ran eventually into Kentucky, and Kentucky was right around the corner from Tennessee, so it couldn't take that long.

Ketchum pressed his paws into her abdomen, jumped off her and bounded, barking his big bark, out into the kitchen. Before she could get up, all four little dogs hopped like fluffy bunny rabbits onto her, then onto the back of the sofa, and started barking like crazy out the picture window. Giselle clicked off the TV.

The whole front yard was covered in cars—cop cars, plain cars, all kinds of cars, including a fancy black Ford Explorer. She counted eight vehicles all together, but there may have been more. She ducked her head down away from the window, rolled off the sofa, crawled over and stood up with her back to the front door. She made sure the dead bolt was locked, then peeked out a crack in the curtains. The cop cars didn't have any lights on. They'd snuck up on her out of nowhere. The whole thing looked like that scene in Cool Hand Luke where Paul Newman says:

"What we have here...is a failure...to communicate."


Giselle could see into the kitchen. Ketchum had his paws up against the door and was barking out the back window. She pulled the front curtains closed. She could still see out but now that the TV was off she knew nobody could see in. There were men in suits and FBI flack jackets crouching behind unmarked cars. The sheriff's deputies were crouched behind their cars, as well. Sheriff Wittingham was the exception. He was right out in the open like he knew he had nothing to fear. He didn't. Giselle knew that.

The sheriff had a bullhorn.

"Giselle. This is Sheriff Wittingham," he said through crackles of static. He adjusted the volume higher and said, "We need to have you come outside."

"I'm not dressed," Giselle yelled.

When Ketchum heard her raise her voice he came tearing in from the kitchen. He jumped onto the sofa, knocked the little dogs aside, stuck his nose between the curtains, pushed his paws against the glass and barked his big, deep, Great Pyrenees bark at all the cars in his front yard. The cars didn't budge an inch. Ketchum barked louder. The little dogs were going nuts. Toot got up onto the back of the sofa alongside Ketchum and pushed the curtains open even wider.

"Get down," Giselle whispered loudly. "Ketch. Knock it off."

"Calm your dogs and come outside," Sheriff Wittingham said.

"Blow it out your ass," Giselle said, but knew he couldn't hear her.

She peeked out the right side of the picture window, through the crack at the end of the curtains. Her father was standing next to the sheriff. Her mother was standing next to her father. There was an equal number of Winnebago County Sheriff's vehicles and unmarked FBI vehicles.

"We have your accomplice in custody," the sheriff said, then rested the bullhorn onto the hood while one of his deputies opened the back door. The deputy motioned whoever was in the back seat to get out of the car.

It was Abraham. It took him awhile to get all the way out. His arms were handcuffed behind him. They must have taken away the army coat. He was still wearing her Levi's but didn't have a shirt on. It was freezing. She could see his breath. He didn't look like he was cold, though. Talk about tough, whoa. God, he was beautiful; submissive, aloof, benign, forgiving. His twitchy smile tugged painfully at the corners of his pretty lips like he might have been Jesus hanging between two crooks on a Russian Orthodox cross.

Abraham looked right at the spot Giselle was peeking out from, like he knew right where she was, like he could feel her there. She couldn't tell from his expression what he wanted her to do. He looked beat, bone tired, but still twinkly somehow, still confident, still cocky, the way he'd been as long as she'd known him, the way he'd been since before she knew him, the way he was when she'd first heard his voice on the phone. She wanted to run to him, to throw her arms around him, to warm him, to hug him, to kiss him. What good that would do either of them, she did not know—probably not much more than get them both shot.

Abraham then took a step forward and said something in Sheriff Wittingham's ear. The sheriff made a funny face. He frowned a big frown while Abraham was talking to him, then the sheriff looked right at the spot Giselle was peeking out from and gave her a quick wink. Why was Sheriff Wittingham winking at her? What had Abraham told him? The deputy pushed a nightstick into Abraham's ribs, put his hand on Abraham's head, and eased him into the back of the Sheriff's car. Motherfuck. Her heart ached. She didn't know what to do. What was there to do? Nothing.

She wasn't leaving her house, period. She didn't care what they said. They'd turn her over to the FBI. Then what good would she be? Someone had to tell them what really happened, that it had been FBI agents who were responsible for Oprah's death, that nobody had meant any harm, that Oprah had been in on it from the beginning. Yeah, they'd smuggled Oprah into the containment building, big deal. It had been a ruse, a ploy, a publicity stunt. If Oprah were alive they could ask her. She'd tell them. "Get over it," she'd say. But Oprah wasn't alive.

God damn Dow never should have said anything about Semtex. What the hell did she do that for? Was she just being cute? Yeah, well, Oprah shouldn't have blabbed to the FBI, either. Fuck. Who but Oprah would anyone trust? Who else even knew? Rocco? Davis? Dow? They were the ones who'd smuggled Oprah into the reactor building in the first place. Of course they'd lie; they'd lie to save their own skin. People might believe Giselle, though. She'd grown up in Rockford. People liked her. She taught math at the high school. Her uncle was a judge. She had no ax to grind. But even Sheriff Wittingham didn't know the truth. He'd turn her over to the FBI. She had to get to someone she could trust; someone who would trust her. Her Uncle Norman, maybe. But how? How would she get to him? How would he get to her. If they turned her over to the FBI, she'd end up dead.

She saw Sheriff Wittingham hand the bullhorn to her father. Then the sheriff got back into the front seat of the patrol car, slung his right arm over the back of the seat and turned toward Abraham. Giselle could see the two of them talking to each other. Maybe Abraham could convince the sheriff that the FBI had killed Oprah. The sheriff was a fair guy. He listened to all sides of everything. He always had. Giselle felt a glimmer of hope again. Maybe that was what that wink was all about. Maybe he was letting her know, like Santa Claus, that she had nothing to fear. Ha!

"A wink of his eye and a nod of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread."

After Abraham and Sheriff Wittingham had been talking awhile, she saw the sheriff get on the car radio.

Her father was fiddling with the bullhorn, trying to figure out how to get it to work. He pushed a button. "Giselle," she heard him say. "This is your father."

No shit, Dad, she thought.

"Your mother has something she would like to say to you."

Giselle's father handed the bullhorn to her mother. She couldn't seem to get it to work at first, either. Giselle watched her dad try to teach her the mechanics of a bullhorn in that quiet, patient way he had of helping her to do things and not insulting her intelligence at the same time. It was a fine line. Her father was such a pussy.

"Hello," her mother said. "Can you hear me?"

Loud and clear, Mother dear, Giselle thought.

"You really have to come outside now, darling," her mother said.

Darling? What the fuck was that? Her mother hadn't called her "darling" since she'd mistaken her for Mimi Crenshaw at a school picnic in the third grade.

"That's all I have to say," her mother said.

Giselle could see her trying to hand the bullhorn back to her father. He wouldn't take it. Ha! Good for you, Dad. Make her squirm. He whispered something in her mother's ear. Giselle saw her mother frown. Then she couldn't seem to get the bullhorn to work again. Her father helped her mother one more time. She had to push the button and keep it pushed when she wanted to talk.

"Giselle," her mother said, finally. "This is your mother again. We don't want any harm to come to you. FBI agents are everywhere. We've spoken to the special agent in charge."

A dapper, gray-haired man in a dark wool suit and a wide designer tie stepped out from behind the cab of the black Ford Explorer. He smiled a cunning, unassuming, deferential, aw shucks little half-smile and waved a quick, one-fingered wave toward the picture window, then ducked behind the Explorer again. The guy looked like Bill O'Reilly. That was absurd, of course. Giselle had just seen Bill O'Reilly on TV, talking about "the inevitable involvement of Islamic extremists" not twenty minutes ago.

"They want you to come out," her mother went on. "Sheriff Wittingham says if you don't come out on your own, they will have to come in and forcibly remove you. We don't want that to happen, Giselle. Your father and I."

Her mother handed the bullhorn back to her father again. Her father still wouldn't take it. Giselle could see their breath when they spoke to each other.

"We care about you, Giselle," her mother said. "We love you."

Ha fucking ha, Giselle thought. Gimme a fucking break.

"I love you," her mother said, then quickly handed the bullhorn back. Her father took it from her this time. She'd said everything he'd wanted her to say.

"I love you, my ass," Giselle said under her breath. "Fuck you, Mom. Fuck you too, Dad. Fuck you all." She was immobilized with disgust and disbelief. She couldn't do anything but stare out the window. Her lower lip was quivering.

What the fuck kind of a mother would wait her whole life to say, "I love you," to her only daughter—and then only to get her to turn herself over to the FBI? The FBI will kill me, Mom. The FBI will kill me the way they killed Oprah, the way they killed those radio guys. Nobody will know. That was sure worth waiting for, Mom, Giselle thought. Jesus. Didn't anybody have a god damn clue?

"I love you, Mom."

"Thank you."

Ha! Call a fucking spade a fucking spade.

"I love you, Giselle."

"You're a liar, Mom."

How her mother could use love, how she could say, "I love you," for the first time ever in her life to try to get her own daughter killed, Giselle did not know. Her head shook. It was more like a twitch, like she'd been shot through the head by the words, "I love you." She wanted to grab something, to throw something, to break something. Why her mother wanted her dead, Giselle did not know. Why her mother had never wanted her to be born, Giselle did not know.

That was the answer, of course. Giselle didn't know. Nobody knows. That's the fucking truth, right there. You want the fucking truth? I'll tell you the fucking truth, Giselle thought. Nobody knows. That's the fucking truth. Her mother didn't know. Her father didn't know. Abraham didn't know. Oprah didn't know. Nobody knew—not Dennis or his parents or her parents or their parents; not Father Gregory or Ted or Woo or Ray or Darrell or Mrs. Blovits or Big Dog or Dr. Javid or Tom Riley or Officer Harley or his wife or Sheriff Wittingham or her Uncle Norman, nobody, not anyone. Nobody knows. Period. That's it. That's all there is to it.

"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."

Was that really it? The answer? The key? The way? The truth? The light? Something so god damn simple? Yep. Mame knew! Ha! She was dead. Motherfuck. What had she said?

"You have all my love forever. What more is there to say?"

"Nothing," Giselle had said.

"God help me," Giselle said then.

Chapter Thirty-four

A spotlight from one of the FBI cars flashed through the curtains, illuminating her parlor with an eerie white shaft of light. Then another spotlight lit up the room. The lights crisscrossed, moving up and down and from side to side like smart, sinister, see-through creatures, seeking her out. None of the cops in her yard could see Giselle, not even with their spooky spotlights. She was still behind the wall by the window. But they could sure see Ketchum snarling and barking at them.

The spotlights glared off his canine teeth and glinted against his wet black lips. The fur along his spine was quivering with the instincts of a cornered animal. He looked like a ghost, a dangerous, otherworldly beast glowing a bluish shade of pale white against the glass of the picture window. She was glad he was on her side. They might think twice about trying to come in and...what had her mother said? Forcibly remove her?

"Forcibly remove this," Giselle said under her breath, then gently flipped off everybody in the known universe and beyond with both hands.

Besides, the door was locked. Sheriff Wittingham wouldn't let them break it down. Would he? Nah. That was inconceivable. He was her dad's best friend. She'd voted for him...most everyone else in town had, too.

Then. Damn. The back door wasn't locked. Motherfuck. Some stealthy FBI trained assassin asshole with a silencer on his service revolver could sneak up behind her and blow her brains out before anyone could do anything about it—shoot first, ask questions later; deny, deny, deny. "Anyone who knew the truth was going to end up dead or nuts." Hadn't that been what Rocco had said? Had he added, "Those cocksuckers?" Or was that something Giselle was thinking?

Giselle got down onto her hands and knees and crawled under the roving spotlights. Ketchum stayed on the back of the couch, along with Toot. The three other little dogs followed Giselle out through the kitchen. They thought it was a new game—she was always coming up with new games to play with them. They liked it. They were having tons of fun, prancing around her like she was a float and they were clowns in the Rose Bowl Parade. She got through the kitchen and to her back door again, reached her hand up to turn the dead bolt and froze. It was already locked.

"What the fuck?" She frowned and tried the lock again.

"Shhh..." She heard a voice say. It was coming from the laundry room.

The little dogs ran toward the strange voice, barking their heads off. Giselle didn't move. She stopped breathing. Her hair felt like it was trying to stand on end.

"It's just me," Officer Harley said.

"Holy shit, Ron. Jesus," she whispered. "You scared the crap out of me."

"I knew I would, I didn't know how else to do it, though." Ron was standing beside the water heater. He didn't have his hat on. "Shhh..." he said to the dogs.

"Little dogs! Shut up!" Giselle whispered as loud as she could.

"We have to talk," Ron said.

"How'd you get here? I just saw you. On TV." Giselle was truly perplexed.

"Ain't you never heard of videotape? I was on TV a hour ago. The sheriff needed me back on duty. We have to be real careful, Giselle. We have a serious situation on our hands."

"Yeah, no shit." Giselle blew into her bangs.

"Something ain't right about the federal government agents. I been on the horn to the sheriff. He talked to your boyfriend—that's how I knew to come in through the back door. Things ain't adding up. Some of our deputies seen Oprah come out of the plant. She was fine. Not a scratch on her. She waved to them. Now they're saying she's dead and the only ones who could have done it is the FBI."

"Phew," Giselle said. "That's exactly what happened, Ron. God, I'm glad you guys know that. You have no idea."

"The sheriff's trying to get backup from the State Police. The Feds is bringing in the ATF. We might end up having us a standoff. Some kind of Ruby Ridge, Waco deal. The FBI don't know we know. They want your boyfriend in their custody real bad."

"Fuck," Giselle said. "Don't turn him over, Ron. Tell the sheriff. I know he didn't do anything wrong. I was with him the whole time."

"Not when you was throwing my flashlight in the bushes, you wasn't."

"That must have been when he got into your car," she said. "He didn't really have a gun, you know. He wouldn't have hurt you. He wouldn't hurt anyone."

"He kept saying he was sorry the whole time," Ron said.

"We'd been with each other all night. You were right. But we didn't do anything wrong. Oprah's his mother. We were all going to go on her show and explain things. You have to let the sheriff know. I'm pregnant. We're going to have a baby. We're going to get married. You can't let anything happen to him."

"We'll try not to, Giselle," Ron said. "All that's pretty much what he told the sheriff—well, not the baby part."

Giselle had crawled into the laundry room by then. She stood up, close to him. He put his arms around her. She wanted him to. It was the first time she'd wanted Ron Harley's arms around her in twenty years.

"Thanks," she said. "I never had a baby before."

"I did," Ron said. "Your whole life changes." He patted the back of her thick hair. "We have to get us all out of this FBI mess first. The sheriff's been stalling them...saying it's his jurisdiction, but he don't know how much longer he can keep it up. They want your boyfriend something fierce."

"So do I," Giselle said. Then she backed away, but not very far, and asked, "So what are they going to do? Nobody wants anyone shooting at anyone, do they?"

"The FBI might. That's what's got the sheriff so worried. They're going to be in some deep doo-doo when people find out they were the ones who killed Oprah. It could go all the way up to the president." Ron's eyes got wide. "The sheriff's thinking even he might of known about it."

"Holy Christ. So it's like what? Just us in Rockford against the whole god damn United States?" Giselle batted her eyelashes. It was a reflex. She was so glad Ron and the sheriff knew the truth about her and Abraham she wanted to kiss someone. That was probably what Sheriff Wittingham's wink had been about. He trusted her. He trusted them, her and Abraham, both. Ron and the sheriff were on their side. The whole sheriff's department was on their side. All of Rockford was on their side, on their baby's side. Nobody was going to turn either of them over to anybody. Everything was going to be all right.

"I don't want anyone getting hurt," she said.

"Neither does any of us. Let's get back to the living room. Stay low."

The two of them crawled on their hands and knees back into Giselle's parlor. There were now four discrete spotlights, three shining through the curtains in the parlor and one coming in through the kitchen window. Her heart was pounding. Sheriff Wittingham was a smart, thoughtful man. He loved her father. They'd been buddies forever. He'd figure a way out. He wouldn't let any harm to come to her or to Abraham or to her parents or to any of his deputies if he could help it. Giselle was so hopeful her heart felt like it was about to explode.

When they got into the parlor again, Ketchum turned away from the front window, jumped off the sofa and lunged toward Officer Harley, snarling and baring his dangerous teeth. Giselle stopped him in his tracks.

"Ketch! Knock it off," she yelled.

Ketchum cowered. He so adored her. Oh my gosh, did she ever know what that felt like.

Officer Harley got on the far side of the picture window in the parlor and peeked through the same crack in the curtains Giselle had been peeking out from. She'd liked looking out from that side, but she wasn't going to argue with him. She looked out between the curtains near the front door. Ron carefully removed his new Beretta from its holster.

"United We Stand."

Hell, yes, Giselle thought.

She felt bad that she'd been so mean to Ron. His heart had always been in the right place. She knew that. So he had a little crush on her, so what? Lots of people had little crushes on her. He cocked the pistol and clicked off the safety. She peeked out from the side of the curtains closest to the door. Ketchum jumped back up onto the sofa and resumed barking at all the strangers and all the cars in his front yard.

Then, CRASH! A tear gas canister burst through the curtains, shattering the picture window into tinkling shards of glass like a broken disco ball reflecting thousands of points of light everywhere all at once. The tear gas canister barely missed Ketchum's head. He jumped off the sofa and grabbed the smoking aluminum cylinder in his mouth and shook it like he wanted to kill it, to bite into it and rip it to shreds. The heat made him yelp in pain. He had to let go.

The people in the yard were scattering, forming separate sides, Sheriff Wittingham and her parents ducked down beside the sheriff's patrol car. Abraham jumped out of the back seat. His handcuffs were gone. His shirt was still off. He was so beautiful she couldn't breathe. He crouched down between her parents and the sheriff. The other Sheriff's Deputies and the federal agents all got behind their respective cars. It was a standoff. An FBI agent was aiming another tear gas canister toward the front window. Ron Harley fired a shot over the FBI agent's head.

The sheriff grabbed his bullhorn and said, "This is Sheriff Wittingham. I'm in charge here. Cease firing all weapons immediately."

The tear gas canister that had crashed through the picture window was still hissing and sputtering and emitting a cloud of acrid, noxious gas all over Giselle's beautiful white Karistan carpet. She reached for it. Her eyes were burning.

"Don't touch it, Giselle. It's hot," Ron said.

"Hot, my ass." She picked up the canister and threw it back through the broken window. "Ow!" She shook her burned hand and said, "Motherfucker!"

"Stay cool, Giselle. The sheriff's got things under control."

"Stay cool, my ass. I can't even see!"

Giselle wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her terry cloth robe, then looked out the window again. Abraham's head was sticking up above the hood of Sheriff Wittingham's patrol car. He looked like he was at a track meet, crouching at the starting line. It looked to Giselle like he was about to take off toward the tree line, like he and the sheriff were in on it together, like Abraham was about to make a run for it and Sheriff Wittingham was going to cover for him.

There was a man with a gun in his hand that neither the sheriff nor Abraham saw. It was that Bill O'Reilly guy, the special agent in charge. His service revolver was aimed directly at Abraham's head.

Giselle turned the lock, flung open the front door and screamed. "Hey! Knock it the fuck off!"

That was when all holy hell broke loose.

Ketchum tore past her and out the open door like an angry wolf, snarling and barking and curling his upper lip, exposing his vicious white teeth.

Gunfire erupted from behind the FBI vehicles. Sheriff Wittingham fired a shotgun blast toward the FBI agents, pumped his shotgun again and fired another shell toward the Ford Explorer. Ron fired his weapon again and again. The other deputies and the FBI agents were all shooting at each other. The man in the suit, the special agent in charge, popped up above the hood of his buckshot riddled black Explorer and fired toward the open door.

Ketchum fell to his knees. He cried out in pain but got back up onto his feet and kept charging toward the man with the gun.

The man with the gun fired another shot.

Giselle lurched backwards, clutching her face. She saw blood explode from her forehead and squirt between her fingers. Her torso twisted like she was in agony, but she didn't feel a thing. It was weird. She'd been shot in the head. She knew that. She'd seen it. She'd touched the blood. The blood had touched her. But she didn't feel anything. Nothing. It didn't hurt. Period. Not a bit. Why it did not hurt, she did not know. She collapsed, then, onto her green and beige Chinese rug.

Previous, Part Seven

Next, Part Nine


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Gerard Jones
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