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DECISION % howard dropped the two-cycle oil container at the state police barracks. (“You really think you’ll get a print off this? Har-har-har.”) Then he drove directly to Critter Jordan’s place on the main highway in Darby Depot. The rambling structure of connected wood-frame buildings was so rundown it appeared about to collapse, but it had two brand new signs. One sign said in capital letters, “ike’s auction barn.” The other sign said, “Look for Grand Re-Opening.” There was no construction activity. Ike Jordan, Critter’s father, had started the flea market and auction barn business as a cover for his burglary forays. After Ike’s violent end, Critter had taken over the auction barn and had eked out a living from the flea market business and added a dirty book store with peep show booths. But the easy porn found on the Internet and some kind of Jordan mayhem Howard didn’t know much about put an end to the store. After Critter’s wife left him, he shut down everything. Critter’s Bedford truck was not in the lot, but Howard knocked on the door to Critter’s apartment in the auction barn anyway. No answer, no lights on inside. Howard walked over to the other apartment up the rotten wood stairs, which swayed as he ascended, to the second-story deck. It was like walking on a rope bridge. Estelle, the Jordan Witch, once had lived in this place. Tess Jordan opened the door before Howard had a chance to knock. Apparently, she’d watched him approach. She stood, blocking the doorway. Her black hair seemed to avalanche off her head, and she wore something that displayed her tidy cleavage. “You didn’t come to see me. I don’t get much company.” She didn’t talk in a Jordan accent, upcountry New England with a touch of south- 38 ern hillbilly in it. She talked like a college girl, her voice rising slightly at the end of her utterances as if all human communication had a question in it. Behind Tess was a cat with a J. Edgar Hoover face on a table with a slanted top, the kind artists used for sketching. “Copacetic cat,” Howard said. “That’s Dali, my Himalayan, very curious about our Western ways.” “Tess, are you going to let me in?” “I don’t think so.” “I’m looking for Critter.” “He took off with Billy.” “I was surprised when I saw Billy at Cooty’s birthday party. I thought Delphina took the kids.” “Billy ran away, or maybe she threw him out. They don’t tell me anything.” “Well, when they coming back?” Howard asked. “Or if they’re coming back?” It was as if she didn’t know the answer but somehow she thought Howard did. He decided to oblige her. “They’ll be back for supper, I imagine,” Howard said. “It’s suppertime now, but he’s not here, is he?” It was hard to tell whether she was conversing with him or talking to herself. Howard figured he could play the confusion game, too. “I’ll wait, or I’ll come back—take your pick,” he said. “Excuse me, that’s my phone chime.” Howard heard no sound. Tess reached into the pouch she kept on a cord around her neck. Dali watched Howard as one might watch a freak at a booth at the Cheshire Fair. Howard stuck out his tongue, but Dali did not seem to notice. Tess held the phone to her ear and listened with studied intensity to the imaginary voice. Then she said to Howard, “It was for you.” Keep playing along. Okay. “What’s the message?” he asked. Tess spoke in a different voice now that did not sound like her own but was vaguely familiar to Howard. “Men like you, Howard Elman, are passing from the scene. We have no use for you. Your best intentions 39 can only bring harm to us, to yourself, to your loved ones. Don’t inflict the wounds of your century upon my century.” Tess snapped off her cell phone, stepped back, and softly shut the door. “I’ll be back tonight,” Howard hollered in his Terminator voice at the door, even though he had already decided not to come back, to forget the whole thing. “You tell Critter. Okay? Tess—you tell him.” No answer. He peeked through the window. Dali had hopped on Tess’s...


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MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
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