Book: Ask the Right Question

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My last day on the case was February 20, 1971. It was a big day. I had been feeding myself for three weeks—including buying the food and cooking it. I had been answering the phone and talking civilly. Joking with people sometimes. That morning I had actually walked to the library and back, all by myself. I took out a book, the whole bit. I felt pretty whole and moderately functional. Though I spent three hours resting after I got back. I felt pretty proud of myself.

By three thirty I got up again. By four I had eaten an orange and some potato chips and I was sitting at my desk in the office. Showing off. And thinking about whether maybe I ought to get married again. It might be the time. My woman was feeling sorry for me and she might give in over her better judgment. Besides a wife, I would be gaining another daughter. Her girl is twelve.

At four fifteen I had company.

A rather subdued teen-ager, a girl, opened the door and walked right in.

“I’m glad you’re here,” she said. Without a moment’s hesitation she sat down in my very, very dusty client’s chair.

“Nowhere else, honey,” I said. I was much more relaxed than I had been the first time I talked to Eloise Crystal. So was she, until she started looking me over. I was redecorated, though I try to hide it. A little cast for the right arm here, a little brace for the ribs there. Very fetching, and fortunately impermanent. I’ve even found that it’s harder to drink orange juice left-handed.

“I didn’t realize you were still—”

“Trussed up? Yeah. For a while yet. They had to get me out of the hospital because my insurance only went through ninety days.”

“You mean you have to pay?”

“It’s not settled yet. My man says that I was on police business. The police say that I’m not a cop. We’re playing it safe. I’m out of the hospital and we’re not talking about it all until after I’ve testified in the trial. But how are you? How have you been?”

“OK. Pretty good.”

She was lying of course, as children will. I knew she had had a hard time, physically on top of mentally. With her environmental mother dead and her father in jail they had kept her in a guardianship home for two weeks. Then, when I got around to asking Miller about her, I suggested that they put her in Mrs. Forebush’s house. When they checked it out, they found Mrs. Forebush had been down at the station asking about the child every day since the story hit the papers. She had come to the hospital too, only she came before I was seeing anybody. It was a month before I was allowed to see anybody besides immediate family and cops. And you know what that meant: 99 percent cops.

“Shouldn’t you be in school?”

She gave me a smile, a decent one. “It’s Saturday.” We sat and looked at each other.

“Happy birthday,” I said. “A little belated, but I haven’t forgotten.”

Before I knew it she was next to me and crying. I rose to meet her and took her in my arm. I pulled her close, and I seemed to squeeze tears out. I knew I wasn’t hurting her. I was still too weak to hurt people. The pain was inside, and it was raw and it was sore and it was not healing very fast.

How can you comfort someone who has been hurt worse than you ever have? A poor little girl, who would always be beautiful to me, and young, and daughtery.

She cried and cried and cried. I didn’t get tired, standing there, holding her, and listening to her heart.

And to mine. When she finally subsided we sat down again and she pulled the chair over to mine. We sort of knew where we’d been and where we were going. We each had a new family, of sorts. I would teach her to drink whiskey, in time. A couple of weeks at least. When she got married, she would invite me and my other daughters to come and take a trip on her yacht. I don’t know; it’s clear enough to me.

When she left to go back to Mrs. Forebush’s, it was about five thirty. My nap time. But instead I went into the back room, clanked around until I found my field glasses, and trotted, as well as I was able, to the office next door. I rested on the window ledge. I didn’t open the window to lean out, but she had crossed the street and I could watch her walking, slowly, in the general direction of the circle and the bus out to Fiftieth Street. You have to be nostalgic sometimes; you have to round out the old times to get yourself ready for the new.

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