Dreamless and puzzled, Loomis hovered for hours just below where it hurt. He would drift upwards and as the noise began again and his head began to hurt again and his eyes began to see only swollen, swirling images, he would dart quickly down and embrace the blackness as if settling on the bottom of an aquarium.
Once, after many aeons, he seemed to make a decision to find out what was above the pain. He struggled up onto his elbows and even raised his head most of the way. It was a bad decision and he fell again, deeper than ever, into unconsciousness. Two things he took with him. One, it was morning. The light was soft and indirect, but nevertheless unbearable. Two, Joey Ciscone was squatted in front of him and he looked like Loomis felt, deep in shock and profoundly unhappy. He took these things down with him as prizes and felt he had done very well. Well enough to earn utter obliteration. He let go and fell all the way.
The next moment he awoke feeling very good indeed. He said hello to the pretty nurse. She smiled at him and walked out of the room. A minute later she returned with a doctor and Trooper Schneider.
"How are we feeling?" asked the Doctor.
"Well," said Loomis, "if you're on the same pain killer I am then we're both feeling pretty out of sight."
"Out of sight," mumbled the doctor, pretending to write it on his chart. Loomis thought that was pretty good. The doctor started doctoring with his blood pressure kit and his eye peeper.
"Hi, buddy," said Schneider.
"Hello, Trooper Schneider. You talk to my mother?"
"Hell, yes. She's been here for the last two days. I just sent her home an hour ago."
"That's right, Francis. Well, day and a half. It's Monday evening, son. They brought you in 8:30 yesterday morning."
"Who did it, Francis?"
"I don't know. I have no idea."
"You want to talk?"
"No," said Loomis. "Not yet."
"Nothing important? Nothing we need?"
"You heard him," said the Doctor. "We're going to put this boy back under for awhile. Come back in the morning." He stuck Loomis with a needle.
"Wait," said Loomis. "Is Keever dead?"
"Oh, yeah. He's dead."
"Joey was there. He was there."
"Joey Ciscone? When? You saw him there? Loomis, what was he doing there? Loomis?"
But Loomis was long gone.
* * * * *
He awoke early the next morning with a monster headache. The nurse gave him something that pushed it back most of the way.
"How about some of that stuff I had yesterday?" he asked her.
"Not a chance," she said and she left.
The doctor came and checked him over. He gave Loomis the menu.
"You have two nasty cracks to the back of your head. The first one gave you a concussion and the second one gave you a slight depression fracture of the skull. There was some swelling of the brain. You were very, very close to some permanent damage."
"Powder burns on your face. They're mostly healed already. The bullet took most of your friend's face off. It couldn't have missed you by more than an inch or two. That's all I can find."
"You ready to talk to people?"
"Sure. Thanks, doc."
"Don't mention it. You're going to be here a while. Four or five days anyway. Take it easy. If you get tired ring for me. I'll clear the room."
When he left Loomis expected Schneider to replace him, but it was Martha who came in. She smiled and sat and took his hand.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"Don't be silly," she said, but his apology bothered her. It bothered him, too, because he immediately knew he was apologizing for not having thought of her once since the Toms River toll plaza. They both decided he must have meant something else, but the conversation was difficult to start.
"How are you?" she said.
"Well, I guess I'm better than Keever."
"Hm," she said. She was angry. Angry at Loomis for the fear he had caused her. Angry at herself for being mad at Loomis. Angry at his job, his clients, his whole drifting, pointless life. They had no plans together, they had no clear commitments. If she looked at it honestly, all they had were memories and that made her furious.
"How have you been?" said Loomis.
She thought for a second and they both watched her choke back a sarcastic reply.
"I've been very worried," she said.
"Hm," he said.
Nothing more was said until Loomis let go of her hand and stared at the ceiling.
"I'm sorry," he said and neither of them tried to make it anything else.
"I know, Fergus. I know you are. I'm very sorry, too."
Nothing more was said until she stood.
"Look, if you want, if you want to find someplace else to live, I can have somebody looking for you. I'm not saying you should or you have to. I'm not saying anything, really. But it just seemed like the thing to say. Think about it."
And she left. He would think about it, but not now. Even if he could he wouldn't think about it now. Even if he wanted to he wouldn't. Even if he had to he couldn't.
Schneider poked his huge placid face around the corner.
"Francis? You okay?"
"Yeah. Well, we have to talk anyway. We really do."
"Come on in, Trooper Schneider. You arrest anyone yet?"
"Not yet. Give us a few days and we'll have Arlene Babayev."
"Get outta here. She killed Keever? No way. She confess?"
All of a sudden Schneider looked more like a cop than Loomis had ever seen him look. He leaned both hands on the edge of Loomis' bed so that his substantial weight tipped Loomis almost onto his side and right into Schneider's face.
"I think you're confused, Mr. Loomis." He pointed at himself. "Cop," he said. He pointed at Loomis. "Material witness."
"I see," said Loomis. "Lemme see if I got this straight." He pointed at Schneider. "Needs a nap." He pointed at himself. "Clinging to life." Schneider let a small puff of mirth part his lips and sat down. He sat for a few minutes just looking down and shaking his head slowly before he spoke.
"I'm sorry, Francis. I've held this off as long as I could. I want to tell you the truth, my friend, you're not really a popular guy in police circles this morning."
"Is that right?"
"Sure. This isn't a universal feeling, mind you. You have your supporters. More or less."
"What'd I do? I mean aside from tracking down one of your felons and providing valuable information that resulted in the formation of a task force investigating possible mob activity in Ocean County?"
"Francis, I'm only being nice because of your mother and because it looks bad hitting a guy on an IV. You know goddam well you had to tell me last night when you located Keever. You had to."
"If I did . . ."
"What? You wouldn't have got paid off?"
"Look. The deal was if I found him I tell her and she talks him into giving up. I told her, but I didn't take her because he said no."
"She was paying off on a live body, right?"
"She was afraid . . ."
"She was afraid we were going to gun him down, right? Is that what you think? If you brought me into it last night you think he'd be alive or dead? You think she'll pay off on a corpse? What's that make you?"
"A chump, I guess."
"That's one of the words I heard."
"What about Joey?"
"What about him?"
"He's going to roll over on his brother. He's going to deliver the whole package."
"We're talking about Joey Ciscone, I presume?"
"As in thin air? As in without a trace?"
"That's another word I've heard. As in stupid shit. All right." He pulled out a notepad and sat in a military posture.
"I'm going to take a preliminary statement. Pending the information contained therein the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office will be conducting a more thorough interview. The current view is that you've screwed up the situation to the point they can wait a day or two without losing any ground. This, of course, is subject to change. Now you're going to tell me all about it."
It hadn't seemed so bad, when it was happening. Elements of the story had been risky, to be sure, and he had been aware of competing alternatives, but as events unfolded he had never been aware of any seriously wrong turns. In reconstructing the events for Schneider, however, certain gaps in his thinking became apparent. One example was his negotiating a plea bargain on behalf of the Ocean County Prosecutor and then letting Joey traipse off into the night. Schneider didn't need to point out that depending on how events evolved the prosecutor might well be inclined to view that act as one of fraud, or even Fraud, since (1) he clearly had no authority to enter such negotiations, (2) he clearly had an obligation to notify the authorities immediately of a willing witness and (3) clearly, the only reason he engaged in (1) and (2) was to collect a fee. Even in the unlikely event that he did collect that fee, it was unclear if he would be allowed to keep it since you had to have an investigator's license to accept a fee. Whether or not he was to continue as a licensed investigator would probably depend on how much good will he could engender in the Ciscone investigation.
So he talked. Everything he knew or suspected. He started with the afternoon at the OB Diner that he met the Cap'n and ended with Schneider pulling out his notebook. He was expecting to get into a lot more trouble over the things he hadn't told before, but it turned out there really wasn't much he knew that Schneider didn't know. He told Schneider that he still believed and, as far as he knew, was still the only one who believed, that Keever and Arlene Babayev were lovers and pointed out that their common connection with the Mayflower certainly stiffened his position. Also, if Arlene and Elroy were running a game on the Cap'n that would explain how the Cap'n knew where to find Sandra and Elroy to have their pictures taken. The Cap'n tells Arlene he's hired a detective. She tells Elroy. Elroy has his reasons for making the divorce difficult for Sandra so he sets up the lover's nest and tells Arlene. Arlene tells the Cap'n she overheard something. Cap'n tells Loomis. The rest is photographic history. Schneider wrote down Loomis' theory with large brackets around it.
He was much more interested in the details of Ciscone's operation at the Mayflower and had Loomis go over it several times. It seemed to Loomis that Schneider was already moving on to building a case against the Ciscone. It seemed evident that he wasn't really that interested in who killed Elroy Keever and was willing to hang it on Arlene until something fell out of the sky to change his mind.
He told Loomis that the shack outside of Dover Forge belonged to Anthony Ciscone, father of sons, of Jersey City. Said sons, those who could be located, were invited in for questions, but had alibis "like a Buick."
"Is this a Riviera alibi, or more like a Skylark?" asked Loomis.
"This Tony. Would this be one of those 'Tony the Tubas' or 'Fat Tonys' or anything like that?"
"Forget it. He runs a shoe store off Journal Square. Nice guy, I hear. Kind of embarassed by his boys. He hasn't seen Joey. He sometimes uses the place when he goes hunting and fishing and like that."
"Oh. So, say you're right and Arlene plugged Keever. Why'd she do it?"
"Because he killed her lover, you moron. Her real lover."
"You'll need more than that, parter."
"Thanks for the tip. We'll keep looking for Joey. Who knows, maybe he did it."
"No way. Why would he kill Keever and not me? I'm more dangerous since he's got something on Elroy, but not me."
"Maybe. But you're assuming you know what's going on. A hundred bucks says you're flailing in the dark."
Loomis shook on it with what he hoped was apparent confidence. Schneider might well be right, but he was sure he knew more than the cops.
"By the way," said Schneider, "where was Mrs. Fishbein last night?"
"She was home around quarter to eleven, but why ask me?"
"She's your client, isn't she?"
"I guess. Technically."
"Why don't you ask her."
"Maybe I'll do that."
Schneider said he would return that afternoon or have the typed up version delivered for Loomis' signature. He wouldn't tell Loomis anything about what was known about what happened after the lights went out.
"C'mon, Schneider. Maybe I screwed up a little, but I'm not a bad guy, am I?"
"You screwed up a lot and I used to think you weren't a bad guy."
"Look, I'm about to get fired. I'm done with this whole thing."
"Not quite. When we get a grand jury you're going to be on the grill but good."
"Okay, okay, you know I'll play it straight. Just tell me what's going to be in the papers."
"All right. Just so you know what not to go yammering around town, I'll give you the outline. Anything I don't mention that gets out came from you. And you will hate it if that happens. That includes any and all mention of Ciscones, John, Douglas and Joseph."
"A call came in at a little before 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning to the Toms River Barracks. Anonymous male reports a shooting."
"Arriving at the scene the officers discover one male white identified as fugitive Elroy Keever. Medical personnel arriving minutes later pronounce him dead. Also at the scene was one unconscious male white asshole who is transported to Community Memorial Hospital in Toms River and spends the rest of the day in intensive care."
"Yeah. At the scene is recovered one Colt Python 357 magnum . . ."
"Is that right?"
"Mean anything to you?"
"That gun I told you Arlene was waving at me? Guess what?"
"Maybe you ought to just shut up and listen. We're way ahead of you. Gun is registered to Lawrence Fishbein and permit is limited to Mr. Fishbein's boat. The Carousel. A search of the boat reveals a box of shells with half a dozen missing. The box and the girl are brought in. Her prints match the only ones found on the gun."
"That's the way we like it."
"You take them from the trigger?"
"The barrel. It was mostly wiped."
"That sounds familiar."
"It should. Nine out of ten times they try to wipe the gun and nine out of ten times they don't get them all. She's got a shaky alibi from a bartender in Belmar who says she might have been in his joint around 1:00 a.m. He won't swear to it. So the way we got it figured, the Fishbein case is closed and the Keever case is swinging shut."
"Her prints are on the cartridge box, too?"
"No," said Schneider, as if it were of no consequence whatsoever. "Listen, I'd love to stay all afternoon and hold your hand, but I got work to do."
"Listen, Trooper Schneider, I appreciate your being the one to take my statement."
"Don't mention it. None of the other wanted to trust themselves alone with you. Say hello to your mother for me." And he left.
Loomis got the opportunity to pass along Schneider's greetings early that afternoon. Marty Baez came by with Loomis' mother. She had had a small stroke two years ago. It had landed her in the same hospital for a week and made her occasionally a little unsteady on her pins, but she had escaped any further apparent damage. It was nice of Marty to drive her over. He would occasionally drop by her house and sit and talk for awhile or do some little thing like mow the lawn or clean the storm gutters. Then he would call Loomis and bawl him out for not going to see her more often. Sometimes it seemed that the only reason people hung out with him at all was because they liked his mother and these charges of filial neglect were tiresome. He loved his mother. He usually saw her a couple times a week. Its just that lately things had kind of crowded her out. He felt bad about that, but didn't really think the situation was improved by the hectoring of his friends. He toyed with the idea of going to the tattoo parlour on Chambersbridge Road and getting a nice big MOM on his forearm.
She sat next to Loomis' bed and Marty stood behind her with one hand, then the other, then both on her shoulders. In all the time they were in Loomis' room he never once was not touching her. He said very little, all the while looking as if anything he had to say to Loomis was not fit for his mother's ears. Mrs. Loomis talked about his brother in Philadelphia and his indefatigable sister-in-law, his nephews and nieces, her flea-bitten and brain damaged dog, her compost heap and her damp cellar. She talked about her ever-evolving plans to enter a Methodist home. She talked with that hideous smile that made people love her. It said she was trying her darndest to go into denial, but she never quite got the knack. Mrs. Loomis was a person that sometimes had to fool herself to face the hard corners in life, but she always faced them. Loomis lapsed into the bragging, saucy, foolish swagger he always adopted around his family. At some point he had gotten the idea that it amused them. Whether or not that was true it didn't amuse Marty and when he steered her out he didn't look back.
Gallagher called that evening but only to check if Loomis had sent him his money. He didn't seem the least bit curious about what had happened or how Loomis was, but at least he didn't sound mad at him.
The same could not be said for the two gentlemen from the Ocean County Prosecutor's office who interviewed him the next morning. They looked like gym teachers in nice suits. One was tall with bad skin and the other was a short Italian who was into gold accessories. They had a copy of Loomis' statement and went over every word of it with a hostile tenacity that exhausted him. They kept exchanging glances that were meant to install a rising level of anxiety in Loomis about his future, his livelihood and his sanity. It was not impossible to intimidate Loomis, but with the aid of his painkillers he remained aloof and only mildly irritated by their techniques. Despite their persistant questioning he wasn't able to add much of anything to his statement, but he did manage to throw a serious crimp into their assumptions.
"So you never saw the person that fired the shot?"
"For a second. For half a second."
"You did see the person."
"No, not really. I mean, the gun flashed and I saw the outline of someone for a split second. But no, I saw no features, really. I couldn't tell you . . ."
"But you did see the outline."
"You're familiar with Arlene Babayev?"
"Oh, yes. We've met."
"And the outline you saw would be consistent with Ms. Babayev's form."
He hadn't really thought about it before but, in fact, it wasn't.
They looked at each other and seemed to have a silent conversation that made each of them very angry. The tall one leaned over Loomis' bed, his blemishes radiating fury.
"Are you telling us, are you going to testify that the shooter was not Arlene Babayev."
"No. I couldn't testify that it was, though. And if someone were to ask my opinion, I'd say that it wasn't her."
The Italian sat in his chair with his neat hands folded and his beady little eyes locked onto Loomis.
"Who was it, then?"
"I have no idea. As I said in my statement. Whoever it was, I believe they were thicker and bigger than Arlene. I believe it was a man."
Finally the two of them left without any formalities or warnings. It seemed like they had just gone into the hall to talk to each other and Loomis waited for them to return, but they were gone.
By now he had accounted for the past two weeks, and defended that account, so often that it seemed even to him like a dry report of distant events. He had made mistakes, sure, but you have to make mistakes to get anywhere. You have to use what little information you have to construct a scenario and go with that until you have a reason to change it. Such a reason might be a fact or it might be a feeling and it was that whole subjective sequence that was being ignored. He must have had some reason for some of the things he'd done, even if it would be difficult or even dangerous to explain. He closed his eyes and began once again at the OB Diner and slowly put together his own private story. He had plenty of time.