Buddy Jellison was just the same, all right ¡ª same dirty cooks' whites and splotchy white apron, same flyaway gray hair under a paper cap stained with either beef-blood or strawberry juice. Even, from the look, the same oatmeal-cookie crumbs caught in his ragged mustache. He was maybe fifty-five and maybe seventy, which in some genetically favored men seems to be still within the farthest borders of middle age. He was huge and shambly ¡ª probably six-four, three hundred pounds ¡ª and just as full of grace, wit, and joie de vivre as he had been four years before.

'You want a menu or do you remember?' he grunted, as if I'd last been in yesterday.

'You still make the Villageburger Deluxe?'

'Does a crow still shit in the pine tops?' Pale eyes regarding me. No condolences, which was fine by me.

'Most likely. I'll have one with everything ¡ª a Villageburger, not a crow ¡ª plus a chocolate frappe. Good to see you again.'

I offered my hand. He looked surprised but touched it with his own. Unlike the whites, the apron, and the hat, the hand was clean. Even the nails were clean. 'Yuh,' he said, then turned to the sallow woman chopping onions beside the grill. 'Villageburger, Audrey,' he said. 'Drag it through the garden.'

I'm ordinarily a sit-at-the-counter kind of guy, but that day I took a booth near the cooler and waited for Buddy to yell that it was ready ¡ª Audrey short-orders, but she doesn't waitress. I wanted to think, and Buddy's was a good place to do it. There were a couple of locals eating sandwiches and drinking sodas straight from the can, but that was about it; people with summer cottages would have to be starving to eat at the Village Cafe, and even then you'd likely have to haul them through the door kicking and screaming. The floor was faded green linoleum with a rolling topography of hills and valleys. Like Buddy's uniform, it was none too clean (the summer people who came in probably failed to notice his hands). The woodwork was greasy and dark. Above it, where the plaster started, there were a number of bumper-stickers ¡ª Buddy's idea of decoration.




Humor is almost always anger with its makeup on, I think, but in little towns the makeup tends to be thin. Three overhead fans paddled apathetically at the hot air, and to the left of the soft-drink cooler were two dangling strips of flypaper, both liberally stippled with wildlife, some of it still struggling feebly. If you could look at those and still eat, your digestion was probably doing okay.

I thought about a similarity of names which was surely, had to be, a coincidence. I thought about a young, pretty girl who had become a mother at sixteen or seventeen and a widow at nineteen or twenty. I thought about inadvertently touching her breast, and how the world judged men in their forties who suddenly discovered the fascinating world of young women and their accessories. Most of all I thought of the queer thing that had happened to me when Mattie had told me the kid's name ¡ª that sense that my mouth and throat were suddenly flooded with cold, mineral-tangy water. That rush.

When my burger was ready, Buddy had to call twice. When I went over to get it, he said: 'You back to stay or to clear out?'

'Why?' I asked. 'Did you miss me, Buddy?'

'Nup,' he said, 'but at least you're from in-state. Did you know that 'Massachusetts' is Piscataqua for 'asshole'?'

'You're as funny as ever,' I said.

'Yuh. I'm going on fuckin Letterman. Explain to him why God gave seagulls wings.'

'Why was that, Buddy?'

'So they could beat the fuckin Frenchmen to the dump.'

I got a newspaper from the rack and a straw for my frappe. Then I detoured to the pay phone and, tucking my paper under my arm, opened the phone book. You could actually walk around with it if you wanted; it wasn't tethered to the phone. Who, after all, would want to steal a Castle County telephone directory?

There were over twenty Devores, which didn't surprise me very much ¡ª it's one of those names, like Pelkey or Bowie or Toothaker, that you kept coming across if you lived down here. I imagine it's the same everywhere ¡ª some families breed more and travel less, that's all.

There was a Devore listing for 'RD Wsp HI1 Rd,' but it wasn't for a Mattie, Mathilda, Martha, or M. It was for Lance. I looked at the front of the phone book and saw it was a 1997 model, printed and mailed while Mattie's husband was still in the land of the living. Okay . . . but there was something else about that name. Devore, Devore, let us now praise famous Devores; wherefore art thou Devore? But it wouldn't come, whatever it was.

I ate my burger, drank my liquefied ice cream, and tried not to look at what was caught on the flypaper.

While I was waiting for the sallow, silent Audrey to give me my change (you could still eat all week in the Village Cafe for fifty dollars . . . if your blood-vessels could stand it, that was), I read the sticker pasted to the cash register. It was another Buddy Jellison special: CYBERSPACE SCARED ME SO BAD I DOWNLOADED IN MY PANTS. This didn't exactly convulse me with mirth, but it did provide the key for solving one of the day's mysteries: why the name Devore had seemed not just familiar but evocative.

I was financially well off, rich by the standards of many. There was at least one person with ties to the TR, however, who was rich by the standards of everybody, and filthy rich by the standards of most year-round residents of the lakes region. If, that was, he was still eating, breathing, and walking around.

'Audrey, is Max Devore still alive?'

She gave me a little smile. 'Oh, ayuh. But we don't see him in here too often.'

That got the laugh out of me that all of Buddy's joke stickers hadn't been able to elicit. Audrey, who had always been yellowish and who now looked like a candidate for a liver transplant, snickered herself. Buddy gave us a librarian's prim glare from the far end of the counter, where he was reading a flyer about the holiday NASCAR race at Oxford Plains.

I drove back the way I had come. A big hamburger is a bad meal to eat in the middle of a hot day; it leaves you feeling sleepy and heavy-witted. All I wanted was to go home (I'd been there less than twenty-four hours and was already thinking of it as home), flop on the bed in the north bedroom under the revolving fan, and sleep for a couple of hours.

When I passed Wasp Hill Road, I slowed down. The laundry was hanging listlessly on the lines, and there was a scatter of toys in the front yard, but the Scout was gone. Mattie and Kyra had donned their suities, I imagined, and headed on down to the public beachie. I'd liked them both, and quite a lot. Mattie's short-lived marriage had probably hooked her somehow to Max Devore . . . but looking at the rusty doublewide trailer with its dirt driveway and balding front yard, remembering Mattie's baggy shorts and Kmart smock top, I had to doubt that the hook was a strong one.

Before retiring to Palm Springs in the late eighties, Maxwell William Devore had been a driving force in the computer revolution. It's primarily a young people's revolution, but Devore did okay for a golden oldie ¡ª knew the playing-field and understood the rules. He started when memory was stored on magnetic tape instead of in computer chips and a warehouse-sized cruncher called UNIVAC was state-of-the-art. He was fluent in COBOL and spoke FORTRAN like a native. As the field expanded beyond his ability to keep up, expanded to the point where it began to define the world, he bought the talent he needed to keep growing.

His company, Visions, had created scanning programs which could upload hard copy onto floppy disks almost instantaneously; it created graphic-imaging programs which had become the industry standard; it created Pixel Easel, which allowed laptop users to mouse-paint . . . to actually fingerpaint, if their gadget came equipped with what Jo had called 'the clitoral cursor.' Devore had invented none of this later stuff, but he'd understood that it could be invented and had hired people to do it. He held dozens of patents and co-held hundreds more. He was supposedly worth something like six hundred million dollars, depending on how technology stocks were doing on any given day.

On the TR he was reputed to be crusty and unpleasant. No surprise there; to a Nazarene, can any good thing come out of Nazareth? And folks said he was eccentric, of course. Listen to the old-timers who remember the rich and successful in their salad days (and all the old-timers claim they do), and you'll hear that they ate the wallpaper, fucked the dog, and showed up at church suppers wearing nothing but their pee-stained BVDS. Even if all that was true in Devore's case, and even if he was Scrooge McDuck in the bargain, I doubted that he'd allow two of his closer relatives to live in a doublewide trailer.

I drove up the lane above the lake, then paused at the head of my driveway, looking at the sign there: SARA LAUGHS burned into a length of varnished board nailed to a handy tree. It's the way they do things down here. Looking at it brought back the last dream of the Manderley series. In that dream someone had slapped a radio-station sticker on the sign, the way you're always seeing stickers slapped on turnpike toll-collection baskets in the exact-change lanes.

I got out of my car, went to the sign, and studied it. No sticker. The sunflowers had been down there, growing out of the stoop ¡ª I had a photo in my suitcase that proved it ¡ª but there was no radio-station sticker on the house sign. Proving exactly what? Come on, Noonan, get a grip.

I started back to the car ¡ª the door was open, the Beach Boys spilling out of the speakers ¡ª then changed my mind and went back to the sign again. In the dream, the sticker had been pasted just above the RA of SARA and the LAU of LAUGHS. I touched my fingers to that spot and thought they came away feeling slightly sticky. Of course that could have been the feel of varnish on a hot day. Or my imagination.

I drove down to the house, parked, set the emergency brake (on the slopes around Dark Score and the dozen or so other lakes in western Maine, you always set your brake), and listened to the rest of 'Don't Worry, Baby,' which I've always thought was the best of the Beach Boys' songs, great not in spite of the sappy lyrics but because of them. If you knew how much I love you, baby, Brian Wilson sings, nothing could go wrong with you. And oh folks, wouldn't that be a world.

I sat there listening and looked at the cabinet set against the right side of the stoop. We kept our garbage in there to foil the neighborhood raccoons. Even cans with snap-down lids won't always do that; if the coons are hungry enough, they somehow manage the lids with their clever little hands.

You're not going to do what you're thinking of doing, I told myself. I mean . . . are you?

It seemed I was ¡ª or that I was at least going to have a go. When the Beach Boys gave way to Rare Earth, I got out of the car, opened the storage cabinet, and pulled out two plastic garbage cans. There was a guy named Stan Proulx who came down to yank the trash twice a week (or there was four years ago, I reminded myself), one of Bill Dean's farflung network of part-timers working for cash off the books, but I didn't think Stan would have been down to collect the current accumulation of swill because of the holiday, and I was right. There were two plastic garbage bags in each can. I hauled them out (cursing myself for a fool even while I was doing it) and untwisted the yellow ties.

I really don't think I was so obsessed that I would have dumped a bunch of wet garbage out on my stoop if it had come to that (of course I'll never know for sure, and maybe that's for the best), but it didn't. No one had lived in the house for four years, remember, and it's occupancy that produces garbage ¡ª everything from coffee-grounds to used sanitary napkins. The stuff in these bags was dry trash swept together and carted out by Brenda Meserve's cleaning crew.

There were nine vacuum-cleaner disposal bags containing forty-eight months of dust, dirt, and dead flies. There were wads of paper towels, some smelling of aromatic furniture polish and others of the sharper but still pleasant aroma of Windex. There was a moldy mattress pad and a silk jacket which had that unmistakable dined-upon-by-moths look. The jacket certainly caused me no regrets; a mistake of my young manhood, it looked like something from the Beatles' 'I Am the Walrus' era. Goo-goo-joob, baby.

There was a box filled with broken glass . . . another filled with unrecognizable (and presumably out-of-date) plumbing fixtures . . . a torn and filthy square of carpet . . . done-to-death dishtowels, faded and ragged . . . the old oven-gloves I'd used when cooking burgers and chicken on the barbecue . . .

The sticker was in a twist at the bottom of the second bag. I'd known I would find it ¡ª from the moment I'd felt that faintly tacky patch on the sign, I'd known ¡ª but I'd needed to see it for myself. The same way old Doubting Thomas had needed to get the blood under his fingernails, I suppose.

I placed my find on a board of the sunwarmed stoop and smoothed it out with my hand. It was shredded around the edges. I guessed Bill had probably used a putty-knife to scrape it off. He hadn't wanted Mr. Noonan to come back to the lake after four years and discover some beered-up kid had slapped a radio-station sticker on his driveway sign. Gorry, no, 't'wouldn't be proper, deah. So off it had come and into the trash it had gone and here it was again, another piece of my nightmare unearthed and not much the worse for wear. I ran my fingers over it. WBLM, 102.9, PORTLAND'S ROCK AND ROLL BLIMP.

I told myself didn't have to be afraid. That it meant nothing, just as all the rest of it meant nothing. Then I got the broom out of the cabinet, swept all the trash together, and dumped it back in the plastic bags. The sticker went in with the rest.

I went inside meaning to shower the dust and grime away, then spied my own bathing suitie, still lying in one of my open suitcases, and decided to go swimming instead. The suit was a jolly number, covered with spouting whales, that I had purchased in Key Largo. I thought my pal in the Bosox cap would have approved. I checked my watch and saw that I had finished my Villageburger forty-five minutes ago. Close enough for government work, Kemo sabe, especially after engaging in an energetic game of Trash-Bag Treasure Hunt.

I pulled on my suit and walked down the railroad-tie steps which lead from Sara to the water. My flip-flops snapped and flapped. A few late mosquitoes hummed. The lake gleamed in front of me, still and inviting under that low humid sky. Running north and south along its edge, bordering the entire east side of the lake, was a right-of-way path (it's called 'common property' in the deeds) which folks on the TR simply call The Street. If one were to turn left onto The Street at the foot of my steps, one could walk all the way down to the Dark Score Marina, passing Warrington's and Buddy Jellison's scuzzy little eatery on the way . . . not to mention four dozen summer cottages, discreetly tucked into sloping groves of spruce and pine. Turn right and you could walk to Halo Bay, although it would take you a day to do it with The Street overgrown the way it is now.

I stood there for a moment on the path, then ran forward and leaped into the water. Even as I flew through the air with the greatest of ease, it occurred to me that the last time I had jumped in like this, I had been holding my wife's hand.

Touching down was almost a catastrophe. The water was cold enough to remind me that I was forty, not fourteen, and for a moment my heart stopped dead in my chest. As Dark Score Lake closed over my head, I felt quite sure that I wasn't going to come up alive. I'd be found drifting facedown between the swimming float and my little stretch of The Street, a victim of cold water and a greasy Villageburger. They'd carve Your Mother Always Said To Wait At Least An Hour on my tombstone.

Then my feet landed in the stones and slimy weedstuff growing along the bottom, my heart kick-started, and I shoved upward like a guy planning to slam-dunk home the last score of a close basketball game. As I returned to the air, I gasped. Water went in my mouth and I coughed it back out, patting one hand against my chest in an effort to encourage my heart ¡ª come on, baby, keep going, you can do it.

I came back down standing waist-deep in the lake and with my mouth full of that cold taste ¡ª lakewater with an undertinge of minerals, the kind you'd have to correct for when you washed your clothes. It was exactly what I had tasted while standing on the shoulder of Route 68. It was what I had tasted when Mattie Devore told me her daughter's name.

I made a psychological connection, that's all. From the similarity of the names to my dead wife to this lake. Which ¡ª

'Which I have tasted a time or two before,' I said out loud. As if to underline the fact, I scooped up a palmful of water ¡ª some of the cleanest and clearest in the state, according to the analysis reports I and all the other members of the so-called Western Lakes Association get each year ¡ª and drank it down. There was no revelation, no sudden weird flashes in my head. It was just Dark Score, first in my mouth and then in my stomach.

I swam out to the float, climbed the three-rung ladder on the side, and flopped on the hot boards, feeling suddenly very glad I had come. In spite of everything. Tomorrow I would start putting together some sort of life down here . . . trying to, anyway. For now it was enough to be lying with my head in the crook of one arm, on the verge of a doze, confident that the day's adventures were over.

As it happened, that was not quite true.

During our first summer on the TR, Jo and I discovered it was possible to see the Castle Rock fireworks show from the deck overlooking the lake. I remembered this just as it was drawing down toward dark, and thought that this year I would spend that time in the living room, watching a movie on the video player. Reliving all the Fourth of July twilights we had spent out there, drinking beer and laughing as the big ones went off, would be a bad idea. I was lonely enough without that, lonely in a way of which I had not been conscious in Derry. Then I wondered what I had come down here for, if not to finally face Johanna's memory ¡ª all of it ¡ª and put it to loving rest. Certainly the possibility of writing again had never seemed more distant than it did that night.

There was no beer ¡ª I'd forgotten to get a sixpack either at the General Store or at the Village Cafe ¡ª but there was soda, courtesy of Brenda Meserve. I got a can of Pepsi and settled in to watch the lightshow, hoping it wouldn't hurt too much. Hoping, I supposed, that I wouldn't cry. Not that I was kidding myself; there were more tears here, all right. I'd just have to get through them.

The first explosion of the night had just gone off a spangly burst of blue with the bang travelling far behind ¡ª when the phone rang. It made me jump as the faint explosion from Castle Rock had not. I decided it was probably Bill Dean, calling long-distance to see if I was settling in all right.

In the summer before Jo died, we'd gotten a wireless phone so we could prowl the downstairs while we talked, a thing we both liked to do. I went through the sliding glass door into the living room, punched the pickup button, and said, 'Hello, this is Mike,' as I went back to my deck-chair and sat down. Far across the lake, exploding below the low clouds hanging over Castle View, were green and yellow starbursts, followed by soundless flashes that would eventually reach me as noise.

For a moment there was nothing from the phone, and then a man's raspy voice ¡ª an elderly voice but not Bill Dean's ¡ª said, 'Noonan? Mr. Noonan?'

'Yes?' A huge spangle of gold lit up the west, shivering the low clouds with brief filigree. It made me think of the award shows you see on television, all those beautiful women in shining dresses.


'Yes?' I said again, cautiously.

'Max Devore.'

We don't see him in here too often, Audrey had said. I had taken that for Yankee wit, but apparently she'd been serious. Wonders never ceased.

Okay, what next? I was at a total loss for conversational gambits. I thought of asking him how he'd gotten my number, which was unlisted, but what would be the point? When you were worth over half a billion dollars ¡ª if this really was the Max Devore I was talking to ¡ª you could get any old unlisted number you wanted.

I settled for saying yes again, this time without the little uptilt at the end.

Another silence followed. When I broke it and began asking questions, he would be in charge of the conversation . . . if we could be said to be having a conversation at that point. A good gambit, but I had the advantage of my long association with Harold Oblowski to fall back on ¡ª Harold, master of the pregnant pause. I sat tight, cunning little cordless phone to my ear, and watched the show in the west. Red bursting into blue, green into gold; unseen women walked the clouds in glowing award-show evening dresses.

'I understand you met my daughter-in-law today,' he said at last. He sounded annoyed.

'I may have done,' I said, trying not to sound surprised. 'May I ask why you're calling, Mr. Devore?'

'I understand there was an incident.'

White lights danced in the sky ¡ª they could have been exploding spacecraft. Then, trailing after, the bangs. I've discovered the secret of time travel, I thought. It's an auditory phenomenon.

My hand was holding the phone far too tightly, and I made it relax. Maxwell Devore. Half a billion dollars. Not in Palm Springs, as I had supposed, but close ¡ª right here on the TR, if the characteristic under-hum on the line could be trusted.

'I'm concerned for my granddaughter.' His voice was raspier than ever. He was angry, and it showed ¡ª this was a man who hadn't had to conceal his emotions in a lot of years. 'I understand my daughter-in-law's attention wandered again. It wanders often.'

Now half a dozen colored starbursts lit the night, blooming like flowers in an old Disney nature film. I could imagine the crowds gathered on Castle View sitting cross-legged on their blankets, eating ice cream cones and drinking beer and all going Oooooh at the same time. That's what makes any successful work of art, I think-everybody goes Oooooh at the same time.

'You're scared of this guy, aren't you? Jo asked. Okay, maybe you're right to be scared. A man who feels he can be angry whenever he wants to at whoever he wants to . . . that's a man who can be dangerous.

Then Mattie's voice: Mr. Noonan, I'm not a bad mother. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before.

Of course that's what most bad mothers say in such circumstances, I imagined . . . but I had believed her.

Also, goddammit, my number was unlisted. I had been sitting here with a soda, watching the fireworks, bothering nobody, and this guy had ¡ª

'Mr. Devore, I don't have any idea what ¡ª '

'Don't give me that, with all due respect don't give me that, Mr. Noonan, you were seen talking to them.' He sounded as I imagine Joe Mccarthy sounded to those poor schmucks who ended up being branded dirty commies when they came before his committee.

Be careful, Mike, Jo said. Beware of Maxwell's silver hammer.

'I did see and speak to a woman and a little girl this morning,' I said. 'I presume they're the ones you're talking about.'

'No, you saw a toddler walking on the road alone,' he said. 'And then you saw a woman chasing after her. My daughter-in-law, in that old thing she drives. The child could have been run down. Why are you protecting that young woman, Mr. Noonan? Did she promise you something? You're certainly doing the child no favors, I can tell you that much.'

She promised to take me back to her trailer and then take me around the world, I thought of saying. She promised to keep her mouth open the whole time if I'd keep mine shut ¡ª is that what you want to hear?

Yes, Jo said. Very likely that is what he wants to hear. Very likely what he wants to believe. Don't let him provoke you into a burst of your sophomore sarcasm, Mike ¡ª you could regret it.

Why was I bothering to protect Mattie Devore, anyway? I didn't know. Didn't have the slightest idea of what I might be getting into here, for that matter. I only knew that she had looked tired, and the child hadn't been bruised or frightened or sullen.

'There was a car. An old Jeep.'

'That's more like it.' Satisfaction. And sharp interest. Greed, almost. 'What did ¡ª '

'I guess I assumed they came in the car together,' I said. There was a certain giddy pleasure in discovering my capacity for invention had not deserted me ¡ª I felt like a pitcher who can no longer do it in front of a crowd, but who can still throw a pretty good slider in the old back yard. 'The little girl might have had some daisies.' All the careful qualifications, as if I were testifying in court instead of sitting on my deck. Harold would have been proud. Well, no. Harold would have been horrified that I was having such a conversation at all.

'I think I assumed they were picking wildflowers. My memory of the incident isn't all that clear, unfortunately. I'm a writer, Mr. Devore, and when I'm driving I often drift off into my own private ¡ª '

'You're lying.' The anger was right out in the open now, bright and pulsing like a boil. As I had suspected, it hadn't taken much effort to escort this guy past the social niceties.

'Mr. Devore. The computer Devore, I assume?'

'You assume correctly.'

Jo always grew cooler in tone and expression as her not inconsiderable temper grew hotter. Now I heard myself emulating her in a way that was frankly eerie. 'Mr. Devore, I'm not accustomed to being called in the evening by men I don't know, nor do I intend to prolong the conversation when a man who does so calls me a liar. Good evening, sir.'

'If everything was fine, then why did you stop?'

'I've been away from the TR for some time, and I wanted to know if the Village Cafe was still open. Oh, by the way ¡ª I don't know where you got my telephone number, but I know where you can put it. Good night.'

I broke the connection with my thumb and then just looked at the phone, as if I had never seen such a gadget in my life. The hand holding it was trembling. My heart was beating hard; I could feel it in my neck and wrists as well as my chest. I wondered if I could have told Devore to stick my phone number up his ass if I hadn't had a few million rattling around in the bank myself.

The Battle of the Titans, dear, Jo said in her cool voice. And all over a teenage girl in a trailer. She didn't even have any breasts to speak of.

I laughed out loud. War of the Titans? Hardly. Some old robber baron from the turn of the century had said, 'These days a man with a million dollars thinks he's rich.' Devore would likely have the same opinion of me, and in the wider scheme of things he would be right.

Now the western sky was alight with unnatural, pulsing color. It was the finale.

'What was that all about?' I asked.

No answer; only a loon calling across the lake. Protesting all the unaccustomed noise in the sky, as likely as not.

I got up, went inside, and put the phone back in its charging cradle, realizing as I did that I was expecting it to ring again, expecting Devore to start spouting movie cliches: If you get in my way I'll and I'm warning you, friend, not to and Let me give you a piece of good advice before you.

The phone didn't ring. I poured the rest of my soda down my gullet, which was understandably dry, and decided to go to bed. At least there hadn't been any weeping and wailing out there on the deck; Devore had pulled me out of myself. In a weird way, I was grateful to him.

I went into the north bedroom, undressed, and lay down. I thought about the little girl, Kyra, and the mother who could have been her older sister. Devore was pissed at Mattie, that much was clear, and if I was a financial nonentity to the guy, what must she be to him? And what kind of resources would she have if he had taken against her? That was a pretty nasty thought, actually, and it was the one I fell asleep on.

I got up three hours later to eliminate the can of soda I had unwisely downed before retiring, and as I stood before the bowl, pissing with one eye open, I heard the sobbing again. A child somewhere in the dark, lost and frightened . . . or perhaps just pretending to be lost and frightened.

'Don't,' I said. I was standing naked before the toilet bowl, my back alive with gooseflesh. 'Please don't start up with this shit, it's scary.'

The crying dwindled as it had before, seeming to diminish like something carried down a tunnel. I went back to bed, turned on my side, and closed my eyes.

'It was a dream,' I said. 'Just another Manderley dream.'

I knew better, but I also knew I was going back to sleep, and right then that seemed like the important thing. As I drifted off, I thought in a voice that was purely my own: She is alive. Sara is alive.

And I understood something, too: she belonged to me. I had reclaimed her. For good or ill, I had come home.