For the second time tonight, I land on my bed after being nudged out of somebody by their death—this nudge out of Damian being rather ruder than the nudge out of Pippa. The charming apparition I just observed was presumably the shriek that Damian told me Sound & Vision had dug up inside him. I see why he’d have preferred that it be left buried. For all his reputed brutality, I do recall also the gruff decency that he exhibited towards Angel and, as far as it went, towards me too on the occasions I was alone with him. I wonder whom else Alaia and I have killed around the world, through our broadcasts, by scaring up what might have been better hidden?
Sitting in my room a minute later, she listens grimly as I tell her about the gunfire, its unlucky victim’s death and the revelation Pippa fetched out of her pocket.
It’s been such a dose of new information I’ve given her, coming in the context of such an odd sequence of non-communication on our part, that I’m not surprised to see her struggling for a moment to process it. A practical and decisive conclusion emerges, however: “OK, yes. I’d like to do that, for Pippa.”
We reconvene in the corridor, sneak out of the Metropolitan and turn left. Two blocks on, under the ambiguous grimace of Tillie from the Palace Amusements wall, we stop and peer down the length of Kingsley Street, where a couple of parked police cars’ roof-lights are twirling, down at Fourth Avenue.
“Where’s the envelope, then?”
“Well,” I begin, noticing a somewhat accusing quality in her eyes. So complex a creature is she that I would have no idea why this is, without tuning in to her, but I dare say the reason will emerge at some point. “I can remember exactly where Pippa saw the envelope land. But now she’s dead, I’m afraid I can’t just tune in to an envelope…” As we stare at each other, the faintest flicker of mirth hovers disruptively in the air between us, at the absurdity of this idea, and her accusing quality softens a little. “I think we should approach it from over there, so we’ll be less obvious,” and I steer us a block further down Asbury Avenue, past a shuttered Paradise, and swing us left on Ocean Avenue.
Alert for anyone who may apprehend us, we pass the rest of the shuttered Empress Motel and the Stone Pony on the left, the weeded-over miniature golf course on the right and the ruined shell of the Albion Hotel on the left. We encounter no one. Taller than the Albion, the carcass-building beyond it looms close to us now. The scent of the sea comes through the yellow shine of the isolated streetlights. Here at Ocean and Third Avenues we are at the opposite corner of the carcass-building from the flashing police cars, which we can see through the empty ground floor between the numerous concrete columns. Their headlights provide illumination for three cops, two of them in conversation and the other one searching the ground.
“Pippa saw the envelope land beside the wire fence: from where the flashing light on the car is, it landed about fifteen metres towards the sea, I should estimate, so that’s where I need to be looking.”
“OK, let’s hold hands—it’ll look more innocent.” She grabs my hand and swings our arms forward and backward. “Then I’ll walk on ahead and distract anyone we meet with dumb questions.”
We reach Fourth Avenue hand in hand and wander left, entering the headlights. Beyond the police cars a few scattered onlookers have gathered, but we are the only ones on this side of the crime scene, which has been sealed off ahead by a tape across the road, half a block from where Pippa’s corpse lies covered by a sheet. Fine—the envelope should be not far this side of the tape. She and I pull off a good act of casual nosiness: as intended, she goes on ahead and distracts the lone cop who comes towards us as soon as he sees us, and she points him in various directions with questions and earnest ditzy comments, while I scan the ground. —There’s the envelope. I wander to a stop above it, pull out the rumpled tissues from my pocket, make to blow my nose with them but lose hold of them, directly above the envelope. Idly I stoop, retrieve it and the tissues together, pretend to blow my nose with the envelope still in the tissues, and pocket the lot. “Hi,” I say, ambling over and joining the two of them.
Soon she and I are making quick, quiet tracks, the way we came. “Found it,” I murmur.
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