Chapter 25: Saturday, Nov. 26

In which a fireside chat veers toward aphrodisiacs, and Diantha gets saucy and confessional.

Published August 31, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

It's evening and we are back from a couple of days out at the cottage. Elsbeth, weak and frail as she is, asked several times to spend Thanksgiving at the lake. I remonstrated with her, saying what if something happened? What if there was an emergency?

She smiled and took my hand. "Norman, dear, it's already happened. I'm beyond emergencies."

"But ..."

"What's the worst that could happen? That I die out there. I've love to die out there." She laughed her wonderful laugh, even if it were only a slight echo of itself. "you could build a bonfire on the lakeshore and cremate me right there like they did Byron. And have an orgy afterwards."

It turned out to be, despite everything, a wonderful time, of the kind that haunts you afterwards. We all knew, of course, that this would be the last time Elsbeth would make the journey, taking the same roads, the same turns, winding our way through the needle-carpeted evergreen forest until we come to the fork in the road that I always used to miss. I think we fear death because we think we will miss all the things we do again and again in life.

It hasn't changed much over the years. We've cleared back the hemlock saplings encroaching on the drive that leads to the cottage. We've had the rotting sills replaced, a new well dug, and some new wiring installed. But otherwise, it's not a lot different than it used to be all those years ago. We packed an extra space heater, because Elsbeth does suffer from the cold.

Upon arrival, I plugged in an electric blanket for Elsbeth on the wicker sofa in front of the fireplace. I lit the fire while Diantha started the turkey breast in the oven. She said it looked like something that had been given thalidomide, what with the stumps where the legs had been. But we had all the fixings -- stuffing, cranberry sauce, creamed onions, gravy and mashed potatoes, three kinds of squash, a decent white wine, and pumpkin pie. We toasted our lives and we said a prayer of thanks and asked that Korky be returned safe and sound to us.

While there was still light, Diantha and I took a walk along the lake shore to the pines on the point that reaches like a widow's peak into the mirroring water. Why, I wondered, is there consolation in the beauty of dying nature? All around, the light of the setting sun touched to gold the browns and yellows of the trees, shrub, and withered grass. I could hear the blue jays of my youth and the chiding of chickadees. I wanted to weep out of sheer poignancy.

Perhaps sensing my mood, Diantha looped her arm in mine, as though to remind me that life goes on. Her gesture both deepened and sweetened my melancholia, because it was exactly the way, over the past couple of years, Elsbeth and I had walked these paths -- in a communing bliss so complete we were as one with each other and with everything we could see and hear.

Later, as it darkened and the wind came up, we made Elsbeth comfortable on a bed we had moved into a small room downstairs. Then we sat together on the same wicker sofa Elsbeth and I had courted on when we were young. The sensation for me was not so much of déjà vu as of temporal collapse, as though time had contracted and vanished, as though back then and right now were one and the same.

"Do you miss Sixy?" I asked as Diantha sipped an iced Pernod and I toyed with a dry sherry.

She laughed and shook her head, pleased, I think, that I was that interested in her personal life. "Naw. I was outgrowing him, anyway. I can't believe I ever took that stuff he calls music seriously, never mind listened to it."

I nodded. "And there are lots of other young men in the world."

"I'm not sure I want another young man."


"Really. It's like breaking in a new puppy." She turned to me, pulling closer, her face animated in the firelight. "They're very cute and they wag their tails at you and bark and yip and lick your face and other places ..." She giggled at her boldness. "But they leave messes all over the place. I think I'm one of those girls that likes sophisticated older men."

"Lots of those around, too," I said, sighing. "Lots of other loose people around these days. I often wonder what they do for Thanksgiving."

She pulled closer, her hip touching mine. She took my hand. "Let's promise, right now, Norman, no matter what happens, that we'll always have Thanksgiving together."

"Done," I said, deeply touched.

"You know. I keep thinking about that video clip. You know, of the three people."

"Yes, it's strangely moving."

She gave a giggle. "You mean it makes you horny."

"Well ... yes."

She tittered. "I love your reticence, Norman. It's so sexy."

"Oh, dear," I said, which made her laugh and give me an affectionate kiss on the side of the lips.

Perhaps to break the spell, to keep my heart and my lips from wandering, I brought up the Ossmann-Woodley case directly. "What I don't understand," I said as we both stared into the flames, "is why anyone would go to the trouble of trying to get their hands on a powerful aphrodisiac."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, for starters it's not possible for someone, even if they got the dosage right, to simply sell it to some company and make lots of money."


"The whole research file has to be available and those files are usually several feet thick."


"It's all very cumbersome, involved, and expensive."

"But it wouldn't have to be legal to make money as a drug."

"What do you mean?" But lights were starting to go on in my dim brain.

"Good God, Norman, there's like a huge, multi-bizillion dollar illegal drug business out there."

"Even for a drug, if there is one, that induced Ossmann and Woodley to kill each other with sex?"

"That's why people do Ecstasy."


"It's a drug that makes you feel good about everything. It opens you up, especially if you do it with something else. I still have a little stash ..."

"Oh, right," I said, remembering the autopsies. I wondered for a bewildering moment of she were proposing we try it.

"Is that what you and Sixy ..."

"Yeah, sometimes." Then she put her put her hand to her mouth and gave an embarrassed laugh. "God, the things we used to do."


"Yeah. One afternoon me and Shelly, she was going with Danko, the drummer, we popped some Ex and did a little blow and I don't know what else and ended up doing the whole band."

"Had sex with them?"

"You don't think the less of me for that?"

I sighed. "I half wish I were there."

The ensuing heavy silence I broke saying, "So, Di, you think there would be a market?"

"Are you kidding? I mean once they get it right, if that's what they're trying to do. Think of all those billions of Chinese over there that can't get it up. You whip up a concoction, call it Tiger Balls or something like that. I mean the Asian market alone is incredible. They all seem to suffer from limp dicks."

The light went on very brightly. I sat forward. "You're a dear," I said. I leaned over to give her a little kiss. "You're a very smart dear. And now I must go to bed before I have another one of these and make a fool of myself."

Diantha stood up with me and gave me a real kiss. "I'll never think of you as a fool, Norman."

But of course I am a fool, an utter, low fool. The very next morning I watched her as she left the upstairs bathroom with a small towel draped so haphazardly over herself that I could not but help seeing her naked form in its every robust detail. My breathing all but stopped. I suppose she doesn't realize what this does to me. I am not one of those casual males where displays of this kind are concerned. As someone once said, the beauty of women makes good men suffer. Not that I count myself good. Because I find myself utterly infatuated. Can one love two women at once? Can one love a mother and daughter simultaneously, love them like a man loves a woman?

We came back on Saturday to find that Amanda Feeney-Morin had done a long "think" piece in The Bugle, dredging up the Bert-Betti and Ossmann-Woodley cases, linking them together, of course, rehashing the details with insinuating, subtle invective, and speculating about the management of the Museum of Man "which has resisted efforts by the University to provide modern institutional leadership." She then has comments from President Twill of Wainscott in which he voices "ongoing concerns with the policy directions underway at present in the Museum of MOM [sic]." The man doesn't even know what we're called.

I have written to Don Patcher asking him to assign a more unbiased reporter to cover the University and the Museum. I pointed out to him that Ms. Feeney is married to Mr. Morin and is doing nothing more than serving as a mouthpiece for Wainscott in its continuing attempt to take us over. As it stands, I wrote, you might as well put Malachy Morin's byline next to hers. I don't know whether that will do any good or not, but it is right and proper to respond to these matters.

By Alfred Alcorn

Alfred Alcorn, formerly a journalist at the Boston Herald and CBS, is also the former director of the travel program at Harvard's Museum of Natural History. In addition to "The Love Potion Murders (in the Museum of Man)," he is the author of two previous novels, "The Pull of the Earth" (Houghton Mifflin, 1985) and "Murder in the Museum of Man" (Zoland Books, 1997). He lives in Belmont, Mass.

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