THURLOW COUNTED FIVE SHERIFF'S CARS DRAWN UP at an angle to the curb in front of the Murphey Building as he pulled to a stop across the street. Spotlights drew patterns of erratic brilliance across the front of the three-story building and the blue and white sign above the entrance: "J.H. MURPHEY COMPANY -- FINE COSMETICS."
The lights reflected bursts of brilliance off the sign. The reflections speared Thurlow's eyes. He slipped out on the curbside, searched for Mossman. Two furtive huddles of men crouched behind cars across the street
Has Joe been shooting at them? Thurlow wondered.
He knew he was exposed to the dark windows of the building across there, but he felt none of the fragile loneliness he'd experienced in fire fights across the rice paddies of the war. He felt it was impossible that Ruth's father could shoot at him. There'd been only one direction for the man to explode -- and he'd already done that. Murphey was used up now, little more than a shell.
One of the officers across the street pushed a bullhorn around the rear of a car, shouted into it: "Joe! You, Joe Murphey! Dr. Thurlow's here. Now you come down out of there and give yourself up. We don't want to have to come in there shooting."
The amplified voice boomed and echoed between the buildings. In spite of the amplifier's distortions, Thurlow recognized Mossman's voice.
A second floor window of the Murphey Building opened with a chilling screech. Spotlight circles darted across the stone facing, centered the movement. A man's voice shouted from darkness behind the window: "No need to get rough, Clint, I see him over there. I'll be down in seven minutes." The window banged shut.
Thurlow ducked around his car, ran across to Mossman. The deputy was a bone thin man in a sack-like tan suit and pale cream sombrero. He turned to reveal a narrow face full of craggy shadows from the spotlights' reflections.
"Hi, Andy," he said. "Sorry about this, but you see how it is."
"Has he been shooting?" Thurlow asked. He was surprised at the calmness of his own voice. Professional training, he thought. This was a psychotic crisis and he was trained to handle such matters.
"No, but he's got a gun all right," Mossman said. The deputy's voice sounded weary and disgusted.
"You plan to give him his seven minutes?"
"I think so. I think hell do exactly what he said he'll do. He'll come down and give himself up."
"Seven minutes and no more then." "Did he say why he wanted to see me?"
"Something about Ruth and he's afraid we'll shoot him if you're not here."
"Is that what he said?"
"He's living in a rather involved fantasy, that's clear," Thurlow said. "Perhaps I should go up and ... "
"I'm afraid I can't risk giving him a hostage."
"You're here," Mossman said. That's what he asked for. I'll go along with ... "
A radio speaker in the car beside them emitted a clanging sound, then: "Car nine."
Mossman leaned into the car, put the microphone to his mouth, thumbed the button: "This is car nine, over."
Thurlow looked around, recognized some of the officers sheltered behind the cars. He nodded to the ones who met his gaze, finding it odd how familiar and yet unfamiliar the men appeared, their faces dim in the polarized light which his lenses admitted. They were men he saw frequently in the, courthouse, men he knew by first name, but now they exposed a side he'd never before seen.
A metallic crackling came from Mossman's radio, then: "Jack wants to know your ten-oh- eight, car nine. Over."
Has Ruth heard yet? Thurlow wondered. Who'll break this to her ... and how?
"Murphey's still up there in his office," Mossman said. "Dr. Thurlow's here now and Murphey says he'll give himself up in seven minutes. We're going to wait him out. Over."
"Okay, car nine. Jack's on his way with four more men. Sheriff's still out at the house with the coroner. Sheriff says don't take any chances. Use gas if you have to. Time is two forty- six; over."
"Car nine is seven-oh-five," Mossman said. "Over and out." He hung the microphone in its rack, turned back to Thurlow. "What a sweet mess!" He pushed his cream sombrero back from his forehead.
"There's no doubt he killed Adele?" Thurlow asked.
"At their house."
"Knife -- that big souvenir thing he was always waving around at barbecues."
Thurlow took a deep breath. It fitted the pattern, of course. A knife was the sickly logical weapon. He forced himself to professional calmness, asked: "When?"
"About midnight near as we can figure. Somebody called an ambulance but they didn't think to notify us for almost half an hour. By the time we got on it Joe was gone."
"So you came down here looking for him?"
"Something like that." Thurlow shook his head. As he moved, one of the spotlights shifted and he thought he saw an object hanging in the air outside Murphey's window. He jerked his attention upward and the object appeared to flow backward up into the dark sky. Thurlow removed his glasses, rubbed his eyes. Strange thing -- it had looked like a long tube. An aftereffect from the injury to his eyes, he thought He replaced the glasses, returned his attention to Mossman.
"What's Joe doing in there?" Thurlow asked. "Any idea?"
"Calling people on the telephone, bragging about what he's done. His secretary, Nella Hartnick, had to be taken to the hospital in hysterics."
"Has he called ... Ruth?"
Thurlow thought about Ruth then, really focused on her for the first time since she'd sent back his ring with the polite little note (so unlike her, that note) telling of her marriage to Nev Hudson. Thurlow had been in Denver on the fellowship grant that had come to him through the National Science Foundation.
What a fool I was, he thought. That grant wasn't worth losing Ruth.
He wondered if he should call her, try to break this news to her as gently as possible. But he knew there was no gentle way to break this news. It had to be done swiftly, cruel and sharp. A clean wound that would heal with as small a scar as possible ... under the circumstances.
Moreno being the small town it was, he knew Ruth had kept her job after her marriage- night shift psychiatric nurse at the County Hospital. She'd be at the hospital now. A telephone call would be too impersonal, he knew. It'd have to be done in person.
And I'd be irrevocably associated with the tragedy, he thought. I don't want that.
Thurlow realized then that he was daydreaming, trying to hold onto something of what he and Ruth had known together. He sighed. Let someone else break the news to her. She was someone else's responsibility now.
An officer on Thurlow's right said: "Think he's drunk?"
"Is he ever sober?" Mossman asked.
The first officer asked: "You see the body?"
"No," Mossman said, "but Jack described it when he called me."
"Just gi'me one good shot at the sonofabitch," the first officer muttered.
And now it starts, Thurlow thought.
He turned as a car pulled to a screeching stop across the street. Out of it jumped a short fat man, his pants pulled over pajamas. The man carried a camera with strobe light
Thurlow whirled away from the light as the man crouched and aimed the camera. The strobe light flared in the canyon of the street ... and again.
Expecting the glare, Thurlow had looked up at the sky to avoid the reflected light and its pain on his injured eyes. As the strobe flashed, he saw the strange object once more. It was hanging in the air about ten feet out from Murphey's window. Even after the flare of light, the thing remained visible as a dim shape, almost cloudlike.
Thurlow stared, entranced. This couldn't be an illusion or aftereffect of the eye injury. The shape was quite definite, real. It appeared to be a cylinder about twenty feet long and four or five feet in diameter. A semicircular shelf like a Ubangi lip projected from the end nearest the building. Two figures crouched on the lip. They appeared to be aiming a small stand- mounted tube at Murphey's window. The figures were indistinct in the fog-like outline, but they appeared human -- two arms, two legs -- although small: perhaps only three feet tall.
Thurlow felt an odd sense of detached excitement at the vision. He knew he was seeing something real whose strangeness defied explanation. As he stared, one of the figures turned, looked full at him. Thurlow saw the glow of eyes through the cloud-blurring. The figure nudged its companion. Now, both of them peered down at Thurlow -- two pairs of glowing eyes.
Is it some form of mirage? he wondered.
Thurlow tried to swallow in a dry throat. A mirage could be seen by anyone. Mossman, standing beside him, was staring up at Murphey's window. The deputy couldn't help but see that odd cylinder hovering there -- or the vision of it -- but he gave no sign.
The photographer came panting up to them. Thurlow knew the man: Tom Lee from the Sentinel.
"Is Murphey still in there?" Lee asked.
"That's right," Mossman said.
"Hi, Dr. Thurlow," Lee said. "What you staring at? Is that the window where Murphey's holed up?"
Thurlow grabbed Lee's shoulder. The two creatures on the cylinder had returned to their tube and were aiming it down toward the crowd of officers. Thurlow pointed toward them, aware of a strong musky smell of cologne from the photographer.
"Tom, what the devil is that up there?" Thurlow asked. "Get a picture of it."
Lee turned with his camera, looked up. "What? Picture of what?"
"That thing outside Murphey's window."
"Don't you see something hovering just out from that window?"
"A bunch of gnats, maybe. Lots of 'em this year. They always collect like that where there's fight."
"What light?" Thurlow asked.
"Huh? Well ... "
Thurlow yanked off his polarized glasses. The cloud-like cylinder disappeared. In its place was a vague, foggy shape with tiny movements in it. He could see the corner of the building through it. He replaced the glasses. Again, there was a cylinder with two figures on a lip projecting from it. The figures were now pointing their tube toward the building's entrance.
"There he comes!" It was a shout from their left
Lee almost knocked Thurlow down pushing past Mossman to aim the camera at the building's entrance. Officers surged forward.
Thurlow stood momentarily alone as a short, stocky, partly bald man in a blue suit appeared in the spotlight glare at the street doors of the Murphey Building. The man threw one hand across his eyes as the spotlights centered on him and the strobe light flared. Thurlow blinked in the glare of light His eyes watered. Deputies engulfed the man at the doors. Lee darted off to one side, lifted the camera overhead, pointing it down at the milling group. "Let me see his face!" Lee called. "Open up there a little."
But the officers ignored him.
Again, the strobe flared.
Thurlow had one more glimpse of the captive -- small eyes blinking in a round florid face. How curiously intense the eyes -- unafraid. They stared out at the psychologist, recognizing him.
"Andy!" Murphey shouted. "Take care of Ruthy! You hear? Take care of Ruthy!"
Murphey became a jerking bald spot hustled along in a crowd of hats. He was pushed into a car off near the corner on the right. Lee still hovered on the outskirts firing his strobe light.
Thurlow took a shuddering breath. There was a sense of charged air around him, a pack smell mingled with exhaust gasses as the cars were started. Belatedly, he remembered the cylinder at the window, looked up in time to see it lift away from the building, fade into the sky.
There was a nightmare feeling to the vision, the noise, the shouted orders around him.
A deputy paused beside Thurlow, said: "Clint says thanks. He says you can talk to Joe in a coupla hours-after the D.A. gets through with him, or in the morning if you'd rather."
Thurlow wet his lips with his tongue, tasted acid in his throat. He said: "I ... in the morning, I think. I'll check the probation department for an appointment."
"Isn't going to be much pretrial nonsense about this case," the deputy said. "I'll tell Clint what you said." He got into the car beside Thurlow.
Lee came up, the camera now on a strap around his neck. He held a notebook in his left hand, a stub pencil in his right.
"Hey, Doc," he said, "is that right what Mossman said? Murphey wouldn't come out until you got here?"
Thurlow nodded, stepped aside as the patrol car backed out. The question sounded completely inane, something born of the same kind of insanity that left him standing here in the street as cars sped off around the corner in a wake of motor sounds. The smell of un- burned gas was sharp and stinging in his nostrils.
Lee scribbled in the notebook.
"Weren't you pretty friendly with Murphey's daughter once?" Lee asked.
""We're friends," Thurlow said. The mouth that spoke the words seemed to belong to someone else.
"You see the body?" Lee asked.
Thurlow shook his head.
"What a sweet, bloody mess," Lee said.
Thurlow wanted to say: "You're a sweet, bloody pig!" but his voice wouldn't obey him. Adele Murphey ... a body. Bodies in crimes of violence tended toward an ugly sameness: the sprawl, the red wetness, the dark wounds ... the professional detachment of police as they recorded and measured and questioned. Thurlow could feel his own professional detachment deserting him. This body that Lee mentioned with such avid concern for the story, this body was a person Thurlow had known -- mother of the woman he'd loved ... still loved.
Thurlow admitted this to himself now, remembering Adele Murphey, the calmly amused looks from eyes so like Ruth's ... and the measuring stares that said she wondered what kind of husband he'd make for her daughter. But that was dead, too. That had died first.
"Doc, what was it you thought you saw up by that window?" Lee asked.
Thurlow looked down at the fat little man, the thick lips, the probing, wise little eyes, and thought what the reaction would be to a description of that thing hovering outside Murphey's window. Involuntarily, Thurlow glanced up at the window. The space was empty now. The night had grown suddenly cold. Thurlow shivered.
"Was Murphey looking out?" Lee asked.
The man's voice carried an irritating country twang that rasped on Thurlow's nerves.
"No," Thurlow said. "I ... I guess I just saw a reflection.
"I don't know how you can see anything through those glasses," Lee said.
"You're right," Thurlow said. "It was the glasses, my eyes -- a reflection."
"I've a lot more questions, Doc," Lee said. "You wanta stop up at the Turk's Nightery where we can be comfortable. We can go in my car and I'll bring ... "
"No," Thurlow said. He shook his head, feeling the numbness pass. "No. Maybe tomorrow."
"Hell, Doc, it is tomorrow."
But Thurlow turned away, ran across the street to his car. His mind had come fully to focus on Murphey's words: "Take care of Ruthy."
Thurlow knew he had to find Ruth, offer any help he could. She was married to someone else, but that didn't end what had been between them.