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Chapter 27

Just as the kiss deepens, I hear the door swing open. I'm about to snap at the intruder, when I see it's Paul standing before us.

What's going on? I say, lurching back.

Paul looks around the room, startled. Vincent was taken back in for questioning, he manages to say. His shock at finding Katie in his room is mirrored by her shock at seeing him here at all.

I hope they're putting it to Taft. When?

An hour ago, two hours. I just spoke to Tim Stone at the Institute.

An uncomfortable hitch follows.

Did you find Curry? I ask, wiping the lipstick off my mouth.

But in the pause before he answers, we are silently rehashing our argument about the Hypnerotomachia; about the priorities I've set for myself.

I came here to talk to Gil, he says, cutting the conversation short.

Katie and I watch him edge along the wall toward the desk, gather up some of his old drawings, the ones of the crypt he's been sketching for months, then disappear through the door as quickly as he came. Papers swirl on the floor in the vortex he leaves behind, shifting in a tiny current by the door.

As Katie pushes herself off the table, I think I can read her mind. This book is inescapable. Not all the decisions in the world will make it possible for me to leave it behind. Even here at Ivy, where she thought we could shake it off, the Hypnerotomachia is everywhere: on the walls, in the air, breaking in on us when we least expect.

But to my surprise, she's only focused on the facts Paul relayed. Come on, she says with a burst of energy. I need to find Sam. If they arrest Taft, she'll have to change the headline.

Upstairs, in the main hall, we find Paul and Gil speaking in a corner. The room seems to have gone quiet at the spectacle of the club recluse making an appearance at such a public event.

Where is she? Katie asks, speaking to Sam's date. I'm too distracted to hear the answer. For two years I've imagined Paul as the butt of every Ivy joke, the curiosity chained up in the cellar. But now seniors stand at attention as if one of the old portraits has come to life. The expression on Paul's face is needful, almost desperate; if he's aware that the whole club is watching him, he gives no sign. I move closer to them, trying to hear, as Paul hands Gil a familiar paper, folded over. The map of

Colonna's crypt.

When they both turn to leave, the membership watches as Gil exits the main hall. The seniors understand it first. One by one, on tables and railings and old oak walls, the club officers begin to rap their knuckles. Brooks, the vice president, is first, then Carter Simmons, the club treasurer; and finally, from all sides, comes this knocking, tapping, rumbling of good-bye. Parker, still on the dance floor, begins rapping louder than all the rest, hoping one last time to stand out. But it's too late. Gil's exit, like his entrance when we arrived, takes place in precise time, the science of a dance step to be performed only once. As the noise of the crowd finally dies, I follow them up.

We're taking Paul to Taft's house, Gil says when I find them in the Officers' Room. What?

There's something he needs to get. A blueprint.

You're going now}

Taft's at the police station, he says, parroting what Paul explained. Paul needs us to take him.

I can see the cogs turning. He wants to help, the same way Charlie did; he wants to disprove what I said in the hospital parking lot.

Paul says nothing. I can tell from his expression that this was meant to be a trip he and Gil would make alone.

I'm about to explain to Gil that I can't, that he and Paul will have to go without me, when everything becomes more complicated. Katie appears in the doorway.

What's going on? she says.

Nothing, I say. Let's go back down.

I couldn't get Sam on the phone, she says, misunderstanding. She needs to know about Taft. Is it okay if I go to the Prince office?

Gil senses his opportunity. That's fine. Tom's coming with us to the Institute. We can meet back up at the service.

Katie is about to agree, when the look on my face gives us away.

Why? she asks.

Gil simply says, It's important. For one of the few times in our friendship, his tone suggests the importance he's referring to is much larger than himself.

Okay, she says warily, reaching out to take my hand in hers. I'll see you at the chapel.

She's about to add something else, when a huge thud comes from below, followed by an explosion of glass.

Gil hurries for the stairs; we rush down behind him to find a wide puddle of debris. Blood-colored liquid is seeping in all directions, bringing snags of glass with it. Standing at the center of it all, in a perimeter of space everyone else has evacuated, is Parker Hassett, flushed and fuming. He has just thrown the entire wet bar to the ground, shelves, bottles, and all.

What the hell's going on? Gil demands of a sophomore watching nearby.

He just went off. Someone called him a dipso and he went crazy.

Veronica Terry is holding up the ruffled skirts of her white dress, now fringed in pink and spattered with wine. They've been teasing him all night, she cries.

For God's sake, Gil demands, how'd you let him get that drunk?

She looks at him blankly, expecting pity, getting fury. Partygoers nearby whisper to each other, holding back satisfied smiles.

Brooks is telling an attendant to raise the bar and restock the shelves from the wine cellar, while Donald Morgan, looking newly presidential, tries to calm Parker amidst the hecklers. From the crowd come coos of Lush! and Drunk! and worse. Laughter at the edges of insult. Parker is across the room from me, cut in half a dozen places by the shrapnel of upturned bottles, standing in a great puddle of mixed drinks like a child, mashing out the lees. When he finally turns on Donald, he is full of rage.

Katie covers her mouth as it unfolds. Parker lunges at Donald, and the two topple over onto the floor, wrestling at first, then hammering each other with fists. Here is the show everyone has been waiting to see, Parker's comeuppance for a million petty offenses, justice for what he did on the third floor, violence to end two years of mounting hatred. A server comes out with a flat-faced mop, creating the spectacle at the fight's edge of a man shoveling liquid. On the hardwood floor the currents of wine and liquor careen past each other, reflecting off the oak walls, and not a drop is absorbed by anything, not mop nor carpet nor even tuxedo, as the two men continue to fight, a great throb of black arms and legs, an insect trying to right itself before drowning.

Let's go, Gil says, leading us around the brawl that is now someone else's mess.

Paul and I follow him, wordless, sloshing through the wake of bourbon and brandy and wine.

The roads we travel are thin black stitches on a great white gown. The Saab is surefooted, even with Gil leaning on the gas and the wind shrieking around us. On Nassau Street two cars have slammed into each other, lights flashing, drivers shouting, shadows flickering against a pair of tow trucks on the curb. A proctor emerges from the security kiosk at the north of campus, pink in the haze of safety flares, gesturing to us that the entrance is closed-but Paul is already navigating us away from campus, westward. Gil throws the gearshift into third, then fourth, passing roads in streaks.

Show him the letter, Gil says.

Paul pulls something from inside his coat and hands it back to me in the rear seat.

What's this?

The envelope is torn open across the top, but the upper-left corner bears the imprint of the Dean of Students.

It was in our mailbox tonight, Gil says.

Mr. Harris:

This letter serves to notify you that my office is conducting an investigation into allegations of plagiarism lodged against you by your senior thesis advisor, Dr. Vincent Taft. Due to the nature of the allegations, and their effect on your graduation, a special meeting of the Committee on Discipline will convene next week to consider your case and render a decision. Please contact me to arrange a preliminary meeting and to confirm receipt of this letter.

Sincerely,

Marshall Meadows

Associate Dean of Undergraduate Students


He knew what he was doing, Paul says, when I've finished reading.

Who?

Vincent. This morning.

Threatening you with the letter?

He knew he had nothing on me. So he started in on your dad.

I can hear it in his voice, the accusation sneaking in. Everything returns to the moment I pushed Taft.

You're the one who ran, I say under my breath.

Slush sprays the undercarriage of the car as the suspension dances over a pothole.

I'm the one who called the police too, he says.

What?

That's why the police took Vincent in, he says. I told them I saw Vincent near Dickinson when Bill was shot.

You lied to them.

I'm waiting for Gil to react, but he keeps his eyes on the road. Staring at the back of Paul's head, I have the strange sensation of looking at myself from behind, of being inside my father's car again.

Is this it? Gil says.

The houses before us are fashioned in white clapboard. At Taft's address, all windows are unlit. Just beyond them stands the tree line of the Institute woods, its canopy tinseled in white.

He's still at the police station, Paul says, almost to himself. The lights are off.

Jesus, Paul, I say. How do even you know the blueprint is here?

It's the only other place he could've hidden it.

Gil doesn't even hear us. Shaken by the sight of Taft's house, he lightens pressure on the brakes, letting us roll in neutral, prepared to go back. Just as his foot begins to engage the clutch, though, Paul yanks the door handle and stumbles out onto the curb.

Damn it. Gil brings the Saab to a halt and gets out. Paul!

The wind hisses around the door as he opens it, muffling his words. I can see Paul mouth something to us, pointing at the house. He begins hiking toward it in the snow.

Paul I get out of the car, trying to keep my voice at a whisper.

A light in the neighboring house comes on, but Paul pays no attention. He paces up to Taft's front porch and puts his ear to the door, gently rapping.

The wind whips through the columns of the facade, licking puffs of snow from the eaves. The window next door goes black. When Paul gets no answer, he tries to turn the knob, but the lock holds fast.

What do we do? Gil says, beside him.

Paul knocks again, then pulls a ring of keys from his pocket and cradles one into the slot. Putting a shoulder into the wood, he sweeps the door forward. Hinges squeal.

We can't do this, I say as I walk toward them, trying for some authority.

But Paul is already inside, scanning the first floor. Without a word, he's deep into the house.

Vincent? comes his voice, feeling out the darkness. Vincent, are you here?

The words become distant. I hear feet on a staircase, then nothing.

Where'd he go? Gil says, moving toward me.

There is an odd odor in here, distant but strong. The wind comes at our backs, snapping our jackets, making the fingers of Gil's hair twist in the up-draft. I turn and shut the door behind us. Gil's cell phone begins to ring.

I flip a wall switch, but the room stays dark. My eyes are beginning to adjust. Taft's dining room is in front of me, baroque furniture and dark walls and claw-legged chairs. At the far end is the foot of a staircase.

Gil's phone rings again. He is behind me, calling out Paul's name. The odor intensifies. Three objects sit in a tangle on the credenza by the staircase. A tattered billfold, a set of keys, a pair of eyeglasses. Suddenly everything comes into focus.

I turn back. Answer the phone.

By the time he reaches into his pocket, I'm already climbing the stairs.

Katie? I can hear him say.

Everything is overlapping shadows. The staircase seems fractured, like darkness through a prism. Gil's voice rises.

What? Jesus

Then he's racing up the stairs, pushing at my back, barking at me to hurry, telling me what I already know.

Taft's not at the police station. They released him more than an hour ago.

We reach the landing just in time to hear Paul screaming. Gil is pressing me forward, forcing me up toward the sound. Like the shadow of a wave at the moment before impact, it settles over me that we are too late, that it has already happened. Gil pushes past me, moving down a corridor to the right, and I'm aware of myself in flashes, in the gaps between instincts. My legs are in motion. Time is slowing; the world is cycling in a lower gear.

Oh God, Paul moans. Help me.

The walls of the bedroom are shot with moonlight. Paul's voice comes from the bathroom. The smell is here, of fireworks and cap guns, of everything out of place. There is blood on the walls. In the tub is a body. Paul is on his knees, bent over the porcelain rim. Taft is dead.

Gil stumbles out of the room, but my eyes trip over the sight. Taft lies on his back in the basin, his gut flattened on top of him. There is a gunshot in his chest, and another between his eyes, with a well of blood still seeping across his forehead. When Paul extends a trembling arm, I feel the sudden urge to laugh. The sensation comes, then fades. I feel sleepy, almost drunk.

Gil is calling the police. An emergency, he says. On Olden Street. At the Institute.

His voice is loud against the silence. Paul mumbles the house number, and Gil echoes it into the phone.

Hurry.

Suddenly Paul raises himself from the floor. We need to get out of here.

What?

My senses are returning. I put a hand on Paul's shoulder, but he darts into the bedroom, looking everywhere-the space beneath the bed, the crack between the doors of Taft's closet, odd slats in tall bookshelves.

It's not here he says. Then he turns, struck by something else. The map, he blurts. Where's my map?

Gil looks at me as if this is it, the sign that Paul has lost touch.

In the lockbox at Ivy, he says, taking Paul by the arm. Where we put it.

But Paul shakes him off and begins toward the stairs on his own. In the far distance there comes the sound of sirens.

We can't leave, I call out.

Gil glances at me, but follows him. The sirens are closer now-blocks away, but rising. Outside, through the window, the hills are the color of metal. In a church somewhere, it is Easter.

I lied to the police about Vincent, Paul cries back. I can't be here when they find him.

I follow them out the front door, pushing toward the Saab, Gil fires the engine, flooding it with gas, and the car roars in neutral, loud enough to bring on the lights in the house next door. Throwing the gearshift into first, he guns the engine again. When the tires catch asphalt, the car rockets into motion. Just as Gil turns onto an adjoining road, the first patrol car arrives at the opposite end of the street. We watch as it comes to a stop in front of Taft's house.

Where are we going? Gil says, glancing at Paul in the rearview mirror.

Ivy, he says.


Chapter 26 | The Rule of Four | Chapter 28