Chapter 36: Wednesday, Dec. 27

In which takeout Chinese is ordered, but what's delivered brings forth a veritable satyr, and a frenzy beyond passion or love.

Published October 3, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

I have horrific news to impart, news so personal, so shattering, and yet so poignant, I scarcely know where to begin. Indeed, I would not begin at all, were it not also pertinent to this journal about the strange happenings that have rocked our little community to its very foundations.

I have just returned from Seaboard Police Department headquarters. (I'm sorry if this seems disjointed, but I am agitated beyond words.) We've finally had a real break in the case, but at an awful price. I sit here in my high study, my father's 38-caliber Smith & Wesson at the ready, my hands afflicted by a telltale tremor.

Let me start at the beginning.

Earlier this evening Diantha and I returned from a meeting with the Reverend Lopes and Father O'Gould to make arrangements for Elsbeth's memorial service at Swift Chapel. Such decisions are always draining. They take an emotional toll the worse for not being expected. What order of service? What hymns? (For instance, one of Elsbeth's favorites was Mendelsohn's "Why Do the Heavens Rage?" But it didn't seem appropriate to the occasion.) Who speaks? What about the reception?

At any rate, upon returning home, we simply felt too tired to cook anything for ourselves. Indeed, we were too drained even to contemplate going out for a quick bite. Ordinarily I do not enjoy takeout food, the kind that arrives in white cardboard containers with plastic accouterments and little pouches of condiments. But to indulge Diantha, whose spirits had ebbed woefully low, I agreed to call the Garden of Delights and order from a veritable laundry list of Chinese food. We ticked off black bean shrimp, some kind of shredded beef, sweet and sour something or other, and rice, of course.

I presently poured Diantha a glass of chilled white wine and made myself a martini of lethal potency with at least three shots of good gin and a fair dollop of vermouth, which I chilled briefly over ice before pouring it into a frosted glass with a pitted olive. I had just had the barest sip when the bell rang. I opened the door to find a young man of Asian aspect holding a white bag stapled shut with the cash register printout attached. I paid him the requisite amount, gave him a generous tip, thanked him and closed the door. I took the bag of food and my drink into the television room where Diantha was arranging plates and silver on the ample coffee table between the couch and massive screen of the television.

"Smells good," she said, smiling at me. "I'm famished."

"Yes, I agreed, and it's quite appealing when you present it on a dish." We were each ladling generous amounts onto our plates. Some sort of police drama from the big city was on the television, with people yelling at each other and exchanging significant glances in between scuffling with criminal types. I never really pay much attention. To me most of what's on television constitutes a kind of moving wallpaper with noise.

"The black bean shrimp is divine," I remember Diantha saying. In one of those endearing, almost intimate gestures that occur between two people who are close, she held over a heaping forkful for me to take. We ate in greedy silence for perhaps ten or fifteen minutes. Diantha had switched the channel to what's called a situation comedy, a low form of humor in which people make wisecracks about their bodily functions, contort themselves like idiots, and mug for the camera, all to the sound of canned laughter. Yet I was glad to see Diantha respond even to this meager fare, because of late she had become withdrawn and moody. I had taken just the merest sip of my martini, saving it for a postprandial. I remember thinking I should have made tea instead when Diantha turned from the television, let out a low moan, put down her plate with a clatter, and turned to me. "Norman, Norman," she said breathlessly, her eyes going wide, her mouth opening. In one quite amazing gesture, she reached under her skirt and peeled off her panties and nylon tights. She leaned back, opened her legs to me and implored, "Norman, please, Norman, please."

I might not have resisted even if, a minute or so later in time that had gone out of focus, the most powerful erotic sensation I have ever experienced rocked my entire body. I cried out a futile "no," but was already unbuckling myself, had turned into a veritable satyr, engorged as I have never been in my life. I was in the grip of a passion too urgent to allow for anything as basic as pleasure let alone the more tender delights of lovemaking. We conjoined with a thrusting, uncontrolled violence, a frenzy beyond passion or love, a kind of injuring madness as we pounded at each other, snarling and biting like panicked animals.

Don't ask me what made me do what I did to save us. In the midst of the madness, as I pummeled Diantha and she pummeled back, our voices shrieking and groaning like two demented demons, some minuscule particle of ordinary sense remained intact in what was left of my mind. Because, on some inexplicable impulse, springing no doubt from that tiny remnant of normalcy, I reached over, grabbed my martini, and, before much of it spilled in the heave and shove of our frenzy, managed to swallow it down, nearly choking on the olive.

Mirabile dictu, it worked. Not right away, but a minute or so later, I experienced a prodigious, prolonged emission. I immediately lost the insane compulsion I was under, but detumecsed only slowly. I was then able to subdue Diantha enough to get her to swig from the gin bottle that I hastened to bring her. She convulsed orgasmically as well, then fell weeping into my arms, her tears dampening the top of my shirt. When she lifted her swollen eyes to mine, she said, "They're trying to kill us, aren't they?"

"Trying to kill me, at any rate," I said, treading between the risk of sounding self-important and the need to reassure her.

"It's horrible, horrible," she cried, ready to weep again. Then she said something that startled me. "That's not the way I would have wanted it to happen ..."

"I know," I said placating her as best I could.

We were silent for a moment as acknowledgment registered. Neither of us, I think, was sorry it had happened, only how it had happened.

She gave a tearful little laugh. "You're quite the stud, Norman, you know that?"

I think I blushed. I stammered something about overplaying the part. By then I had made myself presentable. Before I left her so she could do the same, I told her to stay in the television room while I checked the doors and windows.

"You mean they could still be around?" She pulled on her panties without any false modesty. It seemed as though, in some strange way, we were already a couple.

I went then and fetched the revolver. I loaded it carefully and put it in the holster, which I had strapped on under my arm. The holster still smelled reassuringly of new leather. I went downstairs and, on some instinct, opened the front door to check outside.

Surprise, strangely enough, is often sharper when you expect something rather than the reverse. I all but jumped at the sight of the deliveryman coming up the front walk carrying what looked like a video camera. But I wasn't nearly as startled as he was. He turned immediately and ran out the gate and up the street. I pursued, drawing my revolver, and calling for him to stop. I saw him climb into one of those truck-like station wagons and drive away. I suppose I could have, as in the films, fired at him, making him skid out of control and crash dramatically into an abutment. But I lack the killer instinct, or whatever it takes, to do that. I did manage to get the first four numbers on his license plate.

I rushed back into the house and quickly explained what had happened to Diantha. She stood by calm and collected as I telephoned Lieutenant Tracy on his private line. I gave him as dispassionate an account of what had transpired as I could muster, telling him about the suspect, where he worked, the kind of car he was driving, and what I had seen of the license plate number.

The Lieutenant was most sympathetic. He asked if there was anything we needed. He said he would call headquarters right away and then call back in a few minutes.

Diantha and I sat on the couch holding hands for a while. Though we were both scared and excited, I think we were both thinking about what had happened, about the intimate aspects of it, and how that might change our lives. It might mean, for instance, that she would no longer be able to live in the house with me. As though intuiting my thoughts, she touched my face. "Norman, I don't want this ... to come between us. I mean it doesn't have to start anything or stop anything. I don't want to move out."

I nodded. I said, "I don't want you to. I know Elsbeth is hardly gone from us, but ..."

Diantha laughed. "She would mind much less than you think. She told me to take care of you."

"But not like that."

"Who knows?"

Just then the phone rang. It was Lieutenant Tracy. He said he would come by to drive us down to Keller Infirmary to have blood samples taken. He said not to touch any of the leftover food. He would bring a crime scene crew to go over everything. He said they also had a safe house where Diantha could spend the night if she felt threatened.

When I related the Lieutenant's offer she shook her head. "No way. I'm staying here with you."

Well, to make a long story short, we went to Keller, gave blood, and then went with Lieutenant Tracy to the home of the deliveryman, which the police had ascertained through his employers. I counted no less than five cruisers on the scene, some of them with their lights flashing. It turned out to be a lavishly appointed condominium in one of the better downtown neighborhoods, certainly not the kind of place one would expect to be inhabited by a delivery boy from a restaurant.

The Lieutenant told us, on the way over, that the restaurant owners had been very cooperative. They said Bob Fang, the delivery man, had worked for them nearly a year, had been reliable, but had wanted to remain a delivery boy even though they offered to make him a waiter, which pays much more.

Sergeant Lemure was already there with another crime scene crew. There were signs of a hasty departure, with drawers pulled open, items strewn about, the back door ajar.

"He looks like he was searching for something to take with him," the Lieutenant remarked. "Perhaps we'll find it instead."

After a few moments there, he drove us home. He arranged to have a cruiser drive by every few minutes. I carefully locked all the outside doors. I have left the door to my attic eyrie open to keep an ear, so to speak, on Diantha. She finally drifted off into a deep sleep in her room, which is down the corridor from mine. What a night this has been.

I can only be thankful there was no one else here to join us for supper, say Alfie Lopes or one of the neighbors. It boggles the mind what might have happened.

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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