Bell, Book, and Murder

The Bast Mysteries

Bast (Volume 3 of 3)

Rosemary Edghill

Forge Books

I
 
 
FRIDAY, JUNE 15, 5:20 P.M.
 
I could say this was any large Eastern city, but you’d know it was New York. I could say my name was Isobel Gowdie, or Janet Kyteler, or even Tam Lin, but what’s on my paychecks and phone bills isn’t important. My name—my real name—is Bast.
I live in New York and I’m a Witch.
Put away your pitchforks—or more likely, here in the nineties, stifle your yawns and stop edging toward the door. It’s just my religion, into which I put about as much time and money as you do into whatever you do that isn’t for the biweekly paycheck. I’m not inclined to criticize any way a person might have found to waste excess money, and I’m not having as much fun as you probably imagine I’m having. No naked orgies under the moon, for example; the Parks Commission would object and it’s no way to have safe sex. When modern Witches meet, the main concern is usually how to fit eight people and the couch into a room the size of a Manhattan living room and make sure you leave with your own Reeboks. No lubricious fantasy there.
Just one more thing about the W word and then I’ll leave it, since it’s a subject that either bores you silly or you’ve got all the wrong ideas and won’t change them for anything I say. Personally, I’d rather we called ourselves anything else, from Pagans to Earth Religionists to Aquarians. It would fit most of us better: over-educated ex-hippies trying to unscrew the inscrutable, trying to make sense of life through ritual and gnosis. But we got stuck with the W word back in the forties, when a lovely half-mad Brit picked up Dr. Margaret Murray’s anthropological dream-mongering about the witch trials in western Europe and tried to weave a modern religion out of it, patching and piecing from everything that caught his fancy.
By the time Gerald B. Gardner was done, his “wicca-craften” had damn little resemblance to the Witches out of history and fairy tales, and so do we. Now we’re stuck with the name and a tag-end of faded glory that some of us spend a lot of time justifying to anyone who shows the least interest.
I don’t. What I was trying to justify, this particular Friday, was a left-hand margin the typesetter had accidentally set ragged and the client didn’t want to pay to get reset. Since the typesetter didn’t want to eat the cost and reset it for free, that left me, a Number 10 single-sided razor blade, and a lot of freelance hours.
The Bookie Joint—Houston Graphics if I answer the phone before 5:00—is one of those places you’ve never heard of unless you’re in the business—a freelance studio that does layout and pasteup, turning piles of typeset galleys into pages of type. They call the people who do it artists, which is the only glamorous thing about the job. Layout artist is a dead-end job in a dying field; most books these days are set page-for-page, and desktop publishing is taking over for the really small presses.
But if you don’t mind earning less than ten dollars an hour with no bennies and no guarantees, it’s a great job. Everybody who works here is something else—actors, writers, artists. Your schedule is flexible to fit around your other jobs. You can get as many or as few hours a week as you need—except when something like the job in front of me comes up. I’d promised Raymond I’d finish it before I left tonight. He’s our art director and takes it almost as seriously as he does modern dance. Ray’s a dancer—at least he was while he still had his knees. We have some framed stills on the walls. Jazz Ballet of Harlem. Pretty.
Ragged left instead of ragged right. You’d think Stereotype never typeset a sheaf of poems before.
The phone rang and I was glad to answer it.
“Bookie-Joint-Can-I-Help-You?”
“Bast?”
This narrowed the caller down to a member of my immediate world.
“Bast?”
“Yo?”
“Miriam’s dead.”
It was Lace on the phone, which meant that Miriam was Miriam Seabrook, and Miriam was my age. People in their middle thirties don’t just up and die.
“Bast?” Lace sounded half a step away from hysteria. “We were going out to dinner and I used my key and she was lying there on the bed and I thought she was asleep—” Lace took a deep breath and started to cry in high, weepy yelps.
“Did you call the police?”
I thought I was fine—after all. I wasn’t the one who’d walked in and found my lover dead—but my jaw muscles ached when I pushed the words out. Not Miriam. Not dead. I didn’t even know her very well. I plea-bargained.
“I can’t. You know I can’t. You know what they’ll do to me—oh, please, please, can’t you come over?” Lace started to cry in earnest, a real Irish peening for the healins.
Lace is a dyke radical, which means she has a lot of not-quite-paranoid fantasies about what the Real World will do to her just for breathing. Not quite paranoid, because her mother got a custody order to take her kids away from her and the U.S. government revoked her passport when she came out of the closet. She used to be some kind of engineer until she joined the lunatic fringe.
“Lace. Listen. Call 911 and tell them. You don’t have to tell them who you are. Just do it. I’ll be right over.”
Muffled breathing. Too late I wondered if Miriam had been murdered and was the murderer still lurking around her apartment waiting to make it two for two.
“Lace? Are you there?” Fear is contagious; I was all alone in the studio and it had seemed a friendly place until the phone rang. I could see late afternoon sunbeams white with dust. Sunshine. Daytime. Normalcy. Right?
Lace.”
“I’m here.” A tiny little whisper.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can, okay? Okay?”
Lace hung up on me.
* * *
I barely remembered to lock all three of the inside locks at Houston Graphics, and I was halfway down the block before I realized I’d forgotten to lock the inside lobby door. By then I had no intention of going back.
New Yorkers are supposed to have this inborn instinct for getting cabs. I don’t. Hell, I can’t even figure out the bus routes. Fortunately, Miriam’s is right on the subway. I caught the D at Broadway/Lafayette, changed to the A at 59th Street, and headed uptown.
I got off at the 211th Street stop, staggered up the stairs (still under construction, as they have been for ever and aye) to the late afternoon howl of sirens and car horns, and into the building on Park Terrace East.
No answer on the buzzer. I punched buttons at random until somebody who should have known better buzzed me in. The elevator was broken so I took the stairs, and by now I was sure what I was going to find.
Fifth floor. Five flights up. Miriam’s door was open.
My mouth tasted like burnt copper. I almost called for Miriam, but Miriam was dead, so I heard, unless it had all been somebody’s idea of a sick joke.
“Lace?”
I stood in the open doorway. The apartment sounded empty. So I went in and hunted through the whole place real fast. No alien muggers with chain saws. No Lace, either, and no way of knowing whether she’d called the cops. Her set of keys to Miriam’s place was on the living room table, right where she’d probably dropped them.
Miriam was in the bedroom on the bed. And she was dead.
I don’t know why they always say in books that people weren’t sure or couldn’t quite believe it. You know—in the pit of your stomach, instantly, beyond doubt. This is no longer a person.
She didn’t look quite real—like a waxworks, almost-not-quite life-size. She had on her underpants and a khaki T-shirt, and she was flopped there just like she’d gone to sleep. There was a wet spot on the sheet—gritty reality of the relaxed sphincter—but the sense of peace, and rest, and absence was almost numbing.
Or maybe I was just in shock.
For something to do I went back out and put Lace’s keys in my purse. It’d been over an hour since she’d called me, and it was starting to look like a safe bet Lace hadn’t phoned 911. I wondered why she’d phoned me.
So I could do it, of course. And I knew I was going to, which irritated me. But first I was going to take another look around the place, which wasn’t as stupid at a time like this as it sounds. Miriam was a wannabe Witch, and a Neopagan, and I didn’t want a bunch of people who couldn’t tell the difference between that and Anton LaVey splashing “Satanist” all over the New York Post.
But all the posters on the walls looked more feminist than anything else, and no one who didn’t know what they were looking at would recognize Miriam’s altar.
I went back to Miriam. Priestess of the Goddess and death is all part of the Great Cycle of Rebirth and all that crap, but I still didn’t want to touch her. She had an intense perfume, like a cross between pine needles and fresh bread. I couldn’t concentrate on anything, and all the details except the body on the bed kept slipping away. Finally I made myself hook my fingernail under the silver box-chain around Miriam’s neck. It would be just as well if she didn’t go to the morgue wearing a pentacle.
Morgue. Miriam was dead. Damn it, she was my age, maybe even a few years younger, and people my age just don’t curl up and die.
And now I was stripping the body so no one would know she was a Neopagan.
And I call Lace the paranoid one.
I was more keyed up than I thought, which was why I yelped and jumped and jerked the chain so her head rolled toward me as the pendant slipped out of her shirt.
Because Miriam wasn’t wearing a pentacle—that nice chaste star-in-a-circle that’s the badge of office of practically everyone here on the New Aquarian Frontier. What Miriam was wearing on that long silver chain was little and brown and nasty, and eventually my heart slowed down and I saw it was a mummified bird claw of some kind, with the stump wrapped in silver wire so she could string it on the chain. The nails were painted red.
“Oh, fuck…” I said very softly. Then I unhooked the chain and slid it free, because out of civic spirit I did not want Miriam found wearing a dead chicken foot either. And I didn’t want it touching her.
I didn’t want it touching me, for that matter. I put it in her bedside table drawer. Then I went and called 911, and it wasn’t any work at all to sound convincingly rattled.
* * *
The books have another thing all wrong, too. I’d expected the apartment to be swarming with police just like on “Murder, She Wrote.” I got two EMTs and a bored policeman, none of whom cared about my careful, plausible story. We’d had a dinner date. I got here and used my key. I found Miriam.
I lied because even with my limited experience I felt that police do not like to hear about people who find other people dead and just leave, and because if I told the truth they’d probably come down on Lace and Lace already has enough problems. She was going to have some more when I got ahold of her, too.
And if anyone had to pitch an idiot story to the heat, it might as well be me, since I had a number of advantages over Lace. I looked like something I was in most respects: a straight white blue-eyed thirtysomething wage-earner, dressed off the racks of Macy’s Herald Square and five foot eight in my stocking feet. Hair the same color I was born with (black), no makeup, no earrings, and no bizarre jewelry out where it could push John Q. Lawdog’s buttons. I was highly plausible, in my humble opinion.
But nobody was asking for my opinion this evening, and even the EMTs didn’t seem that interested in my story. They zipped Miriam up into a gray plastic mummy bag and wheeled her away. I got out Miriam’s phone book for next-of-kin and the policeman copied out her sister Rachel’s name and address.
That was it. He made me leave the apartment first and then he took a sign that said NOTICE followed by some type it was too dark in the hallway to read, and put it on the door and told me not to go back in, and that was that.
The police probably wouldn’t get around to notifying Rachel Seabrook until at least Monday, he said, if I wanted to call first.
He was nice. I guess he was nice. I’d just found someone I knew dead and lied to the police on top of it and my stomach was full of old scrap iron and I was going to ring Lace’s chimes but good and something was wrong.
I wanted to cry.
The cop got into his cop car and I went back across the park and down the steps to Broadway. The motorists were still at it—the only thing more dangerous than the subways in New York is the streets—and when I went to put the token in the turnstile at the subway platform I found I was still carrying Miriam’s address book in my hands.
Miriam was dead.
“You’re so together,” Bellflower tells me. Yeah, sure.
* * *
I came to New York from the Real World about fifteen years ago. Everybody comes to the Big Apple for something they can’t get anywhere else. In my case it was Craft. The One True Polytheism. Wicca.
Unlike a lot of other people I got what I came for.
Miriam was one of the others.
I first met Miriam about five years ago hanging around The Snake—the largest and most out-of-the-broom-closet occult shop on the East Coast. It’s been named, at various times, The Naked Truth and The Serpent’s Tooth, and is known to its intimates as The Sneaky Snake, or, more briefly, The Snake.
Most of us in what I laughingly call the New York Occult Community, which includes Pagans and Witches and ceremonial magicians and Crowleyites and permutations of all of the above too numerous to catalogue, have been through its doors at one time or another, and about half of us have worked there. It’s a nice place to spend Saturday, helping Julian-the-manager with the jewelry inventory and watching the tourists gawk.
Miriam stood out like a sore thumb, striking up bright little conversations with the other browsers in the “Witchcraft and Women’s Mysteries” section (Tris, the actual owner, is nothing if not conservative), copying the notices of “Covens Forming” off the bulletin board, and earnestly attending every event the shop offered, from “Enochian Invocation, Calls and Chants” to the Sunday afternoon semi-open Neopagan circles.
I avoided her. The new ones are always trouble, looking for god or guru or someone to tell them the True Facts, and ready to latch onto anyone who will hold still long enough and “Yes, my Lady” her to death.
There are some people in the Community who enjoy that, like Risha the Wonder Witch with her forty-member coven of eternal First Degrees.
I don’t. If I had the nerve and the energy to start my own coven, those are the last sort of people I’d pick. They stick forever, they don’t learn, and they don’t grow. If they wanted to sit in the chorus watching a priest perform, why didn’t they stay in the monotheism they came from?
But I digress.
I saw Miriam, and I heard about her (Newbies are an eternal source of gossip. They’re so cute when they’re dumb), and I met her at just about every “open” event in the city, and we had some conversations and I suggested some books that would probably settle her head on straighter than the moonshine she was reading. Her eyes bugged out when she realized a Real Live Initiate was willing to talk to her and practically oozed down her face when she found out I was entitled to wear the Third Degree silver bracelet and be called “Lady” in A Real Wiccan Circle. Then she got disappointed because I was still a clay-footed human being and wouldn’t tell her that what I had was The Answer. Eventually she worked her way through that, too, and forgave me, and we became “sort of” friends.
I even showed her to Bellflower, who is my High Priestess, but Miriam wasn’t the kind of person who was comfortable with the kind of coven Belle ran, and I sometimes get the feeling that actual religious passion makes Belle nervous.
It’s the same old story. Some people just don’t manage to click. Every coven is different, and covens with styles that would suit them are full, or gossip of one sort or another ensures they don’t get asked when there is an opening, or they just drift away. Score one for the Goddess’s winnowing process.
Miriam was one of the ones who drifted. After a year or so on the fringes she gave up on being what she called a “real Witch” when none of the Welsh or Alexandrian or Gardnerian covens would take her and started trying the evanescent trads that spring up and vanish overnight. She even tried Santeria and the O.T.O.—in fact, after a while, every time I saw her she was into something new.
I tried to steer her back toward the safe stuff; that was how she met Lace, shopping the Dianic trads down at Chanters Revel, which was where I was heading now. Lace worked there.
But Miriam hadn’t really been “womyn” enough to suit the Dianics. She’d kept looking. Or drifting. And now she was dead. And she had The Answer, if there is a The Answer.
Hard and jagged and unwanted I remembered the chicken claw she’d been wearing around her neck, and I felt a niggling in the part of my brain I reserve for jumping to conclusions. I beat it down because I was not, damn it, a flake like Lace. I’m a charter member of the Conspiracy to Prevent Conspiracy, and I don’t look for hidden meanings.
The subway jerked to a stop. The niggle would stay flat for a while. I got off the A at West Fourth Street and started walking toward the Bowery. It was about eight-thirty on a Friday night in June.
* * *
Once upon a time a bunch of devout, right-thinking lesbian separatist Goddess-worshipers got fed up with The Sneaky Snake and decided to start their own occult bookstore.
Chanters Revel first opened its doors about five years back, and contrary to conventional wisdom—which is that 50 percent of all new businesses fail every year—is still going strong. They don’t cater as much to the dried-bats-and-floorwashes crowd as The Snake does—the Revel shopper is more likely to be shopping for homeopathic herbs and crystal jewelry, along with the hottest new titles on how to start your own feminist ecosystem. The Revel also brews a mean cup of Red Zinger tea, twenty-five cents and bring your own cup.
I pushed open the door and slid into the shop. For reasons involving rents and overhead, the Revel is located in an area that only the most depraved real estate agent could call SoHo. It’s south of Houston, all right—and probably east of the sun and west of the moon as well. It’s also one of the few establishments of any sort that has its own herb garden out back.
It was Friday night, and Tollah, who is one-half of Tollah-and-Carrie, the Revel ownership, holds a TGIF Ritual every Friday around nine P.M., East Coast Pagan Time. Which means, in practice, around ten-thirty, but the Friday ritual is mostly for regulars and they don’t mind.
The Revel doesn’t have indoor ritual space like The Snake does, so Fridays are held in the Revel’s little back garden, or with everybody crammed inside if it rains. Tonight was going to be a back garden night, Goddess willing. People were already queuing up to drink quarter-a-cup tea and stand around and gossip.
Tollah waved from the cash register beside the door. I headed for the tea urn. I didn’t see Lace anywhere.
I fished my cup out of its hiding place—rank hath its privileges—and dropped a quarter in the box. I poured myself some Zinger. I had a number of reasons for wanting to see Lace, number one or possibly two on the list being that if she’d phoned the police about Miriam before I had and got herself on tape with it, I was probably going to have some really awkward questions to answer eventually.
And for no good reason I wanted to ask Lace why Miriam was wearing a chicken foot around her neck when she died.
* * *
I’m not a religious bigot, and I can’t have an opinion on something I haven’t studied. This leaves me voting “No Award” on a lot of New Age so-called spiritual pathways. Most people are turned off by the Santerios sacrificing chickens to their gods, but exactly how is that different from a kosher butcher slaughtering baby goats for Passover?
Mostly the difference is that the fleisher  is pulling down $80,000 a year and has a condo in Palm Beach, and the oshun is on welfare and lives in a fifth-floor walk-up in Queens. Never tell me money doesn’t talk. Money’s the left-hand path, the ruler of the things of Earth.
So my self-image requires an open mind. Fine. And some gods require blood sacrifices. Fine. It’s between them and their worshipers and the legal code of the United States. And some spiritual paths have window dressing that’s a real cage-rattler (ever check out Tibetan Buddhism?). This is also fine.
But since all these things were so fine, why was I getting grue and goose bumps because Miriam was wearing a piece of a chicken that the chicken certainly wasn’t going to miss now?
Oh, it isn’t that I don’t believe in evil. It’s just that it’s rarer than the funny-mentalist televangelists like to think. I prefer to distinguish among evil and stupid and weird. Maybe if I could talk to Lace I could be sure which category Miriam’s jewelry fell into.
And maybe I could get some kind of handle on why she was dead. It made no sense. There hadn’t been a mark on her that I remembered—not AIDS, not drugs, not terminal cancer—and if she had any medical kinks from diabetes to a bad heart she would have been sure to mention it at some point as proof of her great psychic power. People do.
Miriam Seabrook was dead. For no reason, without even the excuse of traffic accident or urban violence. I wanted to talk the experience to death and bury it in words and the only person I could do that with wasn’t anywhere.
If it wasn’t unfair, you wouldn’t know it was Life.
* * *
I poured myself a second cup of tea and tried to distract myself with the bookshelves. There wasn’t much there I wanted: I do my book buying at Weiser’s or The Snake—my kind of Wicca is too masculinist and hierarchical for the good ladies of Chanters Revel, which is where I do my fraternizing. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, as someone said just after he jumped political parties.
I took one more hopeful look around to see if Lace had come to Earth. It has often been said that a significant percentage of Grateful Dead groupies make their living by touring the country following the band and selling Grateful Dead memorabilia to other Grateful Dead groupies who also make their living by touring the country following the band and…You get the idea. For sheer incestuous symbiosis, Neopagans have them beat all hollow. Without moving from my place under a “Women Hold Up Half the Sky” poster, I could count two occult silversmiths, one mail-order herbalist, a candlemaker, a guy who sandblasts mirrors with the holy symbol of your choice, a pretty good (and very expensive) astrologer, and a couple people who regularly read Tarot at The Snake on Wednesdays. It’s a wonder Tollah and Carrie don’t go broke—half the customers at the Revel are their suppliers.
No Lace.
I suddenly realized that I could not face a TGIF Ritual tonight. Miriam’s death didn’t belong in it, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to tell anybody about that just yet anyway.
I also realized I’d promised Ray I’d finish those damned galleys still sitting on my board at work. Before Monday.
Weekends are for sissies.
I decided to circulate a little more in the name of showing the flag and also to give Lace one last chance to show up and make me a great excuse for leaving. I saw everybody else but I didn’t see Lace. Just as the party was starting to move outside—Tollah pulled the shade with the picture of Mama Kali and the “Closed” sign down over the glass part of the door—I managed to corner Carrie.
“Seen Lace?”
Carrie frowned—which made her look cute and ultramundane both and made me wonder yet again what life would be like if I weren’t so painfully straight—and made a sincere effort to remember every personal interaction of the last twelve hours.
“She left here about five. She was going to meet that Miriam Seabrook—” Carrie wrinkled her nose in a way that indicated Miriam was Not One Of Us, and from Carrie that was the equivalent of anyone else’s screaming phillipic-”and go to that new Greek place to eat. Lace was supposed to bring us back some falafel—but it’s okay because Lugh brought in pizza and we split that,” she finished in a rush, just in case I might think she was—Goddess avert—mad at Lace.
That settled it. If Carrie said Lace hadn’t come back, she hadn’t. And in a store that measured ten feet by thirty, someone Lace’s size wouldn’t exactly be invisible.
“Well, okay,” I said, which Carrie could take any way she liked. I went out the back door of the Revel with everyone else, and then down to the bottom of the garden and through the gate and down the alley and out.
And I wondered what Miriam Seabrook, dead space cadet, could possibly have done in life to put that look on gentle Carrie’s face.
* * *
It was pretty late when I finally got home. New York, you may have heard, is a summer festival: I’d wandered around until I fetched up in front of that bar (you know, the one with no windows and the walls painted black) that seems to be a favorite with all my friends.
Not me. It’s not that I mind five bucks for a beer. It’s that for that I want light to see and room to drink it afterward.
Despite that, I went in and blew twenty bucks on Tsingtaos until the Real World got to be more irritating than the show I was replaying in my head and I headed for home sweet ungentrified home.
Not that they aren’t trying—the gentrifiers, I mean. It was worse back in the eighties when there were still yuppies, but you can feel the hot breath of the real-estate developers panting down your neck six blocks away even now. Let’s go co-op! Condo! Loft!
And when there is nothing anywhere on Manhattan Island but studio apartments renting for $1500 a month, they’ll say “Where is the charm of the old neighborhoods?”
Sure they will—I don’t think. It’s the social equivalent of strip mining: They’ll be laughing all the way to the bank for the twenty seconds or so it takes their jury-rigged wonderland to turn into slums that’ll make Calcutta look like Westchester County, and for the New York economy to crash because nobody but drug lords and lawyers can afford to pay the kind of money that lets people live in places that cost that much.
It’s not wanting things like that to happen that leads to block associations (and you thought they were only to stop the spread of crack), and banners across the street saying “Help Save Our Neighborhood,” and large informational signs discussing New York City’s tax structure as it relates to Alphabet City. And other landmarks of my neighborhood.
Never mind what I pay in rent, or that even if I could afford to live uptown I might not. Think instead about the cultural fallacy that holds that the idea of making money is so sacred that the means by which it is made cannot be questioned—and that anyone saying that sometimes it isn’t a good idea to get all the cash profit you possibly can would probably be arrested for heresy if there was a Holy Vehm for the First Church of Money.
When I drink I think too much.
I walked up five flights of stairs and I was home.
The light on my answering machine was blinking as I came in—welcome to the wonderful world of consumer goods. Stupid, but it’s my one techno-toy: I can’t stand not knowing who wants to talk to me, and since I do a bit of freelance artisting, it’s actually a deductible business expense.
I closed the door and flipped the three locks back into place and walked over and pushed the button next to the flashing red light before doing anything else. I have one window and it has no shade; there was enough light to do that by.
The thing obediently played through the part about “leave your name and number after the beep” and got to the point.
“Bast? It’s Miriam. Seabrook?”
I am not superstitious, but for a moment I wondered wildly if they had pay phones in the county morgue. But Miriam must have called earlier today, while she was still alive.
Right. Real bright, girl.
“—and I’ve got to see you,” the ghost in the machine went on. “I’ve really got to see you. It’s—” Recorded Miriam drew a shaky breath. I hit “Save” and the tape went back to the beginning and started flashing again.
I went over and turned on the lights. White walls, cracked linoleum, kitchen table old enough to be a Deco-era collectible that isn’t. One long room with a bed at the other end and a bathroom with no bath. Home.
And Miriam on my answering machine, person-to-person from the Twilight Zone. Once I played it back she’d be gone for good; the next message coming in would record right over her.
I thought about it for a minute or so, feeling very lucid, and rummaged around until I found my old rinky-dink Sony that I use for taping lectures and stuff. I popped out the tape—music, San-greal, live, at Rites of Spring—and stared at it while my mind helpfully provided the information that there probably wasn’t another blank tape in the place and if there were I wasn’t in any shape to look for it. So I flipped Sangreal over to Side B and hit “Record” and let it tape a few seconds of my not-too-steady breathing before I went over and hit “Play” on my answering machine again.
Sometimes I just love my life.
“Bast? It’s Miriam. Seabrook? I know it’s…I haven’t been in touch, but I’ve really…I need to…There’s this weird stuff, and I’ve got to see you. I’ve really got to see you. It’s—” the long pause again, and this time, listening, I could hear tears. “It’s too weird. I’m scared. I think they’re going to—” The voice stopped abruptly, and when it started again it was bright and upbeat and jarringly fake. “So anyway, call me, okay? Or I’ll be down at the Revel, until eleven?”
Clatter of phone hanging up, and then a beep and my message again and Miriam calling back to leave her number. Long hiss of open line, as if she’d waited, not hanging up, hoping I’d come in and pick up the phone and save her. But the answering machine cut her off with a little self-satisfied choodle, and there weren’t any other messages on the tape.
I stopped the recorder and rewound the tape and popped it out, and popped the answering machine tape out too, and stuck both of them in a Ziploc Baggie, and put that in a cookie jar that holds subway tokens and incense charcoal and other things that roaches won’t eat.
Then I went to bed and tried to convince myself that Miriam’s death was from all-natural causes, that Lace’s paranoid disappearing act had nothing to do with knowing too much about something, and that Miriam hadn’t died as a direct result of being in over her head somewhere.
And I couldn’t.
 
Copyright © 1994 by Rosemary Edghill,