Maps in a mirror, p.106

Maps in a Mirror, page 106

 

Maps in a Mirror
 



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  The doctor leaned forward across the desk.

  “I think this is a very important day,” the doctor said.

  “Of course it is,” Reuben answered. “We’ve got to tell the authorities. You’ve got to, I mean, because they’d never believe me.”

  “And why do you think they’d never believe you, Reuben?” the doctor asked.

  “Because I’m a disturbed person. They’d just send you a memo about what crazy thing I did this time.”

  “And why do you think they’d do that?” the doctor asked.

  “Because,” Reuben said, “this is just the sort of thing a paranoid schizophrenic would cook up. You know I’m not a paranoid schizophrenic. They don’t.”

  The doctor looked very pleased with himself. “So you feel that you’re helpless without relying on an outside authority figure, is that it?”

  Reuben cocked his head and looked at the doctor. “Yeah, Doc,” Reuben said. “That’s it.”

  “You’ve had these feelings of personal helplessness for a long time, haven’t you? Or have they just started?”

  Reuben got up. “Come on, Maynard. The doctor’s busy.”

  “Not at all,” the doctor said, rising from his chair. “I have plenty of time to talk to you.”

  “I’ve got things to do,” Reuben said. The doctor sighed. But this time Reuben felt no pleasure in it. He should have known that the doctor would only see this whole thing as another symptom.

  So Reuben went to the only other person he could think of. His father’s office was in the old Kennecott Copper Building, right at the dead center of downtown.

  Reuben’s hands were cold when he punched the buttons on the elevator. And when the elevator stopped abruptly on the sixteenth floor, Reuben’s knees were shaky and he was breathing hard. He had only been to his father’s office once before. And that was five years ago, before the—before. The secretary told him his father was not in.

  “Don’t give me that,” Reuben said impatiently. “He’s always in. Tell him his little boy is here to see him.”

  The secretary glared at him and left her desk, motioning to a security man standing nearby. The security man came and sat at the desk. The secretary came back in a few minutes and whispered in the security man’s ear.

  “All right, sonny,” the security man said. “Come with me.”

  They went down a thickly carpeted hall with real wood walls and several doors. At the end of the hall they turned right and went down another corridor. At last they came to Reuben’s father’s office. The security man opened the door and let Reuben in.

  “Hello, Reuben,” his father said, looking at him strangely.

  “Hello, Father,” Reuben said, wondering why in the world he had come to this man for help.

  “What can I do for you?” his father asked.

  “I need your help,” Reuben answered. Maynard scratched his paws on the front of Reuben’s father’s real wood desk. He reached down and picked Maynard up. “Sorry.”

  “That’s all right,” his father said. “Sit down and tell me.”

  So Reuben told him about the short dumpy man and the messages and the envelope and the desert northwest of Enterprise. And his father nodded all the way through.

  “Have you told the police?” his father asked quizzically.

  “No, Father. I’m a disturbed person, remember? I need you to tell them.”

  His father nodded, and Reuben felt relieved. Until his father said, “Do you have any other evidence?”

  “Isn’t that enough?” Reuben asked.

  “Well, it seems a little farfetched. Why couldn’t it just be a wrong address that somebody put on the envelope?”

  “But it all fits,” Reuben said, with a sinking feeling. “And what about the things this guy does?”

  “Lots of people do lots of things,” his father said. “Have you talked to the doctor about this?”

  Reuben looked at his father and realized how carefully he was thinking of his words before he spoke and how he was playing nervously with his telephone receiver. And he knew that his father didn’t believe him, that he was afraid of him, that he wanted the doctor to be there.

  “The doctor?” Reuben asked. “Yes, Father. Go ahead and call him. I’m sure he’ll make you feel better about your little boy. He’ll call this a sign of incipient social interest, and tell you that you should be encouraged that my emotional dysfunction should now be bringing me to seek contact with my father and to try to win favor from society for my heroic but imagined deeds.” Reuben got up and went to the door. “Come on, Maynard. Don’t shed on the rug.” Maynard followed him out the door.

  Back on the street Reuben felt angry and bitter. Why had he bothered? They had never believed him, never seen things his way. They all tried to cope with him, as if he were an epidemic or a forest fire that they had to keep under control. Even his mother, back in the early years—in all his memories of her, Reuben could see her trying to talk to him, trying to answer his questions, but afraid, like his father, like his doctor, like the people on the street.

  He pulled out his purple card and watched people move aside, opening a path for him through the crowd. The huge trees on Main Street even seemed to recoil.

  Maynard stopped and went to the bathroom on one of the trees. “Not a bad idea,” Reuben said. “Let ’em all drop dead. Let the enemy come down and take over everything. They deserve it.”

  It was when Reuben was eating a sandwich at the restaurant in the overhead station that he thought of what an enemy invasion would mean. It was all right to think of huge blond men with white eyes dragging his father off in chains. But when he thought of them coming to his mother, he set down his sandwich, got off his chair, and left, flashing his purple card at the checkout lady, who smiled at him with fear in her eyes.

  He took the overhead to Murray, where he transferred to the overhead up Cottonwood Canyon. It was full of sightseers and retired people heading up to their cabins.

  He got off at the seventh stop and walked up a winding asphalt path to a large house nestled among huge pines on the north slope of the canyon. The house was all wood—it could only belong to a millionaire many times over. Reuben chuckled to think of his father’s wealth.

  He went to the door but did not touch the knob. Instead he stood and thought for a moment. They must have expected him to come here sometime. The doorknob would be keyed so that his palm or fingers would trigger an alarm. He remembered the household routine.

  He knelt on the welcome mat close to the door, where the camera would not catch his face—only the top of his head, which would make him look like a little boy. He pushed the doorbell strip with his elbow.

  A woman’s voice spoke. “Who is it?”

  “Groceries,” Reuben answered.

  “Today?” The woman paused. “This is Thursday. There aren’t supposed to be deliveries on Thursday.”

  “They send me, I come,” Reuben answered.

  “All right,” the woman sighed. The door slip open. Reuben came in on his knees. Once past the door he stood up. He could hear the kitchen intercom saying, “Just leave them on the table, please.” But he did not go into the kitchen. Instead he climbed the stairs in the living room and went down a short hall to the door that stood ajar. Inside the room someone was typing. Reuben went to the door and pushed it farther open. Well, there—

  His mother sat at the typewriter, her long dark hair falling on the keys as she leaned over her work. He had often seen her like that, years ago when he had lived at home.

  Then she felt his presence in the door and looked up. She was beautiful, with soft features and large eyes and a white scar down her left cheek.

  She looked at him for a moment, and then fear and recognition entered her eyes at the same time.

  “Reuben,” she whispered.

  “Mother,” he said, stepping into the room.

  She got up and moved back toward the window.

  “Wait,” he said.

  “S
tay there,” she said.

  “Mother, listen to me.”

  “You aren’t supposed to be here,” she said, her voice husky with fear. “They’ll take away your card. They’ll put you in a—place.”

  “Not if you listen to me. Not if you help me.”

  She shook her head, her face white. She touched the scar on her cheek.

  “Mother, I’m sorry,” Reuben said. “Please believe me. Please trust me.”

  “Go away,” she said. A tear ran down her cheek.

  “Mother, I love you,” Reuben said, reaching out his hand. “See? My hands are empty. I won’t hurt you, I promise.”

  “No.”

  “Mother, you’ve got to listen to me!”

  She closed her eyes. “I’m listening,” she whispered desperately.

  And for the third time that day Reuben told the story of the short dumpy man and the message on the envelope. He told her about the doctor and about his father.

  “Do you believe me?” Reuben asked.

  She opened her eyes and looked at him. “Is it true?” she asked softly.

  “Every word,” Reuben said, wanting to shout, but keeping his voice to a whisper. “I didn’t make any of it up.”

  “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know if I believe you.”

  Reuben’s heart sank again, only this time the pain and tightness in his chest and throat were more than he could bear. Tears came to his eyes.

  “Well you’ve just got to,” he said. No sound came, but his mother saw his lips move. She took a step toward him and then stopped, seeing what no one had seen for five years. Tears on Reuben’s cheeks.

  “Show me,” she said. “I’ll go with you and you show me.”

  Reuben nodded, and then he fell to his knees and began to cry, saying, “You’ve got to believe me,” over and over again. When he stopped crying, his head dizzy and his throat thick, he realized that his mother’s arms were around him. Suddenly ashamed, he stood up and stepped away. He looked in her eyes and saw that even though she was looking lovingly at him, his sudden movement had made her afraid again. “What time is it?” he asked.

  “Two-fifteen,” she said.

  “There’s time. Come with me and I’ll show you.” They walked down the hill together to the overhead.

  They got to the park a half hour later. He led her to a waiting place he had used before. “We’ll toss sticks for Maynard. It’ll look natural. Just pretend you’re my—”

  She nodded. “All right,” she said.

  In ten minutes the woman with the poodle came. Maynard looked over wistfully, but kept playing with the sticks. Reuben told his mother not to watch the woman. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her give a dog biscuit to Gertrude, then shake the box and toss it to the ground by the bench, just like the last two weeks.

  Then the woman got up and moved away. Reuben knelt by Maynard. “All right, Maynard,” he said. “Earn your biscuits. Get the box.”

  Then Reuben stood and threw a stick toward the bench. Maynard took off after the stick, but when he got near the box he stopped and sniffed around, went to the bathroom on the bench, then picked up the box and ran back to Reuben.

  “Bad dog,” Reuben said loudly, but Maynard understood, waiting patiently for the biscuit that Reuben surreptitiously dropped. Then Maynard set down the box and picked up the biscuit. Reuben grabbed the box and said to his mother, “All right. Let’s go. Slowly and naturally, in case they’re watching.”

  They walked away from the park without looking back, and caught the overhead for Magna. On the first stop Reuben told her to get out, and he followed her to the overhead to Kearns. They hopped a few more overheads, then got on one heading back downtown. Only then did Reuben look at the box.

  “What does the box mean?” asked his mother.

  Reuben shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve never picked up one of these before. I just know that she leaves this, and the guy picks it up and throws it away.”

  And then he felt a terrible fear that the box would be meaningless and that his mother would think he had made it up, that he was really crazy. And she would tell the doctor, and the doctor would know that he had broken the rules and gone to see her, and he would lose his pass and go to the hospital, and he would rather die.

  He reached into the box and found something taped to the inside. He peeled off the tape and pulled out three microfiches. It was too small to read, of course, but his mother looked at them and her face went white.

  “There’s really something there,” she said.

  She hadn’t believed him.

  She turned to him and smiled. “Reuben, Reuben, I hoped so hard that it would be there.”

  He felt strange. Her smile was so warm that he felt his face flush with heat that pulsed rapidly. She had hoped that they would find something.

  “Here,” he said. “Put them in your purse. We’ll go to the federal building. There’s an FBI office there.”

  “All right,” she said, putting the film in her purse.

  “You saw,” he said. “You saw the woman leave the box. You saw how it happened.”

  “Of course,” she said. “I saw it all. And with this, whatever it is, I’m sure there’ll be somebody down in Enterprise on the fourteenth.”

  “There better be,” Reuben said. “This is a serious business.”

  They rode the rest of the way in silence. But when Reuben got of the overhead to walk to the federal building, it seemed perfectly natural to be holding his mother’s hand.

  The FBI believed Reuben and his mother. Or rather, they believed the microfilm. Reuben and his mother were in the federal building for several hours, explaining how and when and what and where, and the FBI agent listened respectfully to Reuben’s reasoning about the envelope.

  “Thanks, kid,” the man said when it was over. “We’ll handle it from here.”

  So Reuben and his mother left. Reuben went to the door of the house in the canyon with her, and she asked him to come in.

  “I would only leave again,” Reuben said.

  He turned to go, but then, as an afterthought, he said, “Mother.”

  “Yes,” she said.

  “Uh, Father shouldn’t . . .”

  “I won’t tell him.” She closed the door.

  Reuben and Maynard went back to the apartment. Reuben slept badly that night. He kept dreaming of his father hitting his mother, though he had never seen him do such a thing. And then he dreamed of the lady in the park with the dog named Gertrude. He watched her and watched her in his dream, but he could never see her pick up the package from Auerbach’s. It always just disappeared during the first split second he glanced away.

  He woke up feeling foul. Even brushing his teeth didn’t take the taste out of his mouth. He went to where he usually found the short dumpy man and waited. Now that the FBI was taking care of things, there was no real point in following him. Except that there was nothing else to do.

  But the man did not come. Reuben waited all day. Finally he went to the theater at the time the man usually came out. The dirty movie ended, but the short dumpy man was not among the crowd that came out.

  Why did the routine change today?

  But it was the weekend, and Reuben followed someone else on Saturday and Sunday.

  On Saturday he followed a prostitute to the Nevada border. He didn’t have a passport, so he took the overhead back to Salt Lake.

  On Sunday he followed a wino along Second South and finally used his purple card to buy a bottle of something. The wino said thank you and offered to share. Reuben said no but Maynard drank a little.

  Reuben and Maynard went home and watched murders and happy families on television.

  Sunday was October 22nd, and as he went to bed Reuben realized that northwest of Enterprise whatever the enemy was doing was being stopped tonight.

  The next day the short dumpy man was right on schedule: the package from Auerbach’s, the bench in the park, and the lady with the dog.
Since it was all over by now Reuben let Maynard chase Gertrude again.

  The lady was more irritated than ever, and Reuben laughed. The two dogs raced barking along by the pond, and the geese swam away in a hurry.

  “Stop your dog,” the lady said. “Please. Gertrude gets an upset stomach.” She spoke carefully, remembering Reuben’s purple card.

  Reuben looked at the bench, ignoring her. Once again the Auerbach’s package had disappeared. But he was sure the woman hadn’t gone anywhere near it.

  Gertrude ran back to the woman, who was trying to control her fury. She scooped up the female dog. Maynard bounded up and tried to jump on Gertrude. He missed, leaving muddy pawprints all over the lady’s skirt. Reuben laughed.

  The lady kicked Maynard. Reuben stopped laughing. That was dangerous—Maynard had a mean streak a mile wide, and he always bit the legs that kicked him.

  Maynard snapped at the lady. She kicked again, and this time Maynard bit, sinking his teeth into the loose flesh of her calf.

  But the woman didn’t shriek as Reuben had expected. She just shook her leg, and Maynard loosed his grip and dropped away. She glared at Reuben and walked off, carrying Gertrude. She didn’t limp.

  Maynard lay on the ground, not moving. Reuben walked up to him. “Hey, Maynard, getting weak in your old age?”

  But Maynard didn’t even resent the gibe. He was dead.

  When Reuben was sure of it, he picked up his dog’s corpse and walked home. He laid Maynard’s body on the carpet. There was no blood. There was no sign of any damage. There was no sign there was any disease. Maynard had bit the lady and died.

  Reuben called the FBI. The man told him to come down and bring the dog. He sounded worried, Reuben decided.

  “What happened?” Reuben said to the FBI man as soon as he arrived. At the same moment the FBI man looked at Maynard’s corpse and said, “What happened?”

  Reuben answered, “The lady in the park. He bit her.”

  “And?”

  “And nothing. And he died.”

 
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