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THE MASTER OF MESH % they caromed off one another in the library of the Salmon mansion , Salmon Conservancy Trust Steward Birch Latour scrutinizing law books, Constable Howard Elman making a nuisance of himself by pacing, noisy handling of periodicals, and muttering. “This is Reggie’s journal, right?” Howard waved the book. “Part of it,” Birch said. “Grandfather Raphael actually kept several journals. Some were account books, but in the green journals he wrote his most intimate thoughts.” “It’s the paper you wrapped my present with.” “That’s right. He left reams of it, more than I’ll ever use.” “Because you don’t keep a journal.” “I do keep a journal, but it’s on note cards that an assistant inputs into the cloud.” “Birch?” “Yes, Grandpa.” “Thanks for the slippers. I’m sorry I forgot to buy you something for Christmas. Back when your grandmother Elenore was alive, she took care of all that.” “I know, Grandpa, it’s okay.” Howard, embarrassed at his outburst of affection, returned to the subject of the writing tablet. “The Squire’s scrawl looks like a poke in the eye,” Howard said. “Nobody’s cursive is perfect,” Birch said. “You’d think with all those pages he filled he’d a gotten the hang of it after a while. Now take someone like me, never had much schooling , I didn’t get the practice . . .” Howard talked on, and later reported to Cooty that he had no idea what he said in the middle stages of the 136 conversation. It wasn’t until he realized he’d gotten on the nerves of his grandson that he snapped to. He put the journal back in its place on the shelf, and said, “I’m going to New Yawk.” “Really? What’s in New York?” “Turtle Jordan.” “He’s one of Ollie’s sons, if I remember correctly,” Birch said, trying to sound like he wasn’t too interested. “Right, and Turtle is Tess Jordan’s daddy. I figure he might have some information to help our case.” “Not likely.” “I’m going anyway, Birch.” Howard was proud of himself, figuring he’d put a bug up his grandson’s behind. Maybe the irritation will lead to . . . what? The runs? Is it clarity you seek? Is that why you are wasting your golden years as Constable Elman? Yes, that’s it: clarity. A man ought to know the hours on his timecard before he stands before the paymaster for that last check. Birch explained to Howard that the best way to travel to the big city was to take the Amtrak train from Brattleboro. After a relaxing ride to the city, it would be a short taxi drive to his destination on East 30th Street between Madison and Park. “You’re going to the Nottingham,” Birch said. “No kidding,” Howard said. “It’s a Stanford White building.” “No kidding.” “Famous architect of desire, beauty, and danger.” “Sounds like my kind of guy,” Howard said. “Have a good trip, and remember that all can be saved.” Birch gave Howard that sly-shy closed-mouth smile that maybe he had picked up from Elenore, turned, then walked out of the library. Howard watched him. With his new foot there was no trace of a limp. Do you think he knows that you discovered Tess in that souped-up tree house? Not sure. Does it matter? Maybe not now, but eventually it will. % % % 137 It was nowhere near as cold in New York as it had been in New Hampshire , but it felt colder because it was windier—a nasty, damp wind that came out of an alley, slapped your face, and disappeared unpredictably , like a thug hired by an enemy to stalk and harass you. Howard was very good at reading maps, and with the sun shining he could always tell north from south, and with the streets laid out mainly by numbers, he had a pretty good idea how to get to his destination. The big city did not intimidate him. All these people walking briskly and brusquely did not intimidate him. He was a pretty brusque character himself. It was the yellow taxis that intimidated him. He told himself that he wanted to stretch his legs and that was why he decided to walk instead of taking a yellow taxi, but the fact was he didn’t have a script in his head of how you behave in a yellow taxi. Eighty-­something years old...


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