For the rest of the night, Harold was undisturbed, and he slept until nearly 11:00 in the morning. He drove into Ol' Spithead Village just before lunch, parked in the center of the square, and walked across the brick-laid street to open up Winstanley's Marine Antiques.367Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡDXopkrUlAZ
Ol' Spithead was a smaller version of Salem, a collection of 18th- and 19th-century houses and shops gathered around a picturesque marketplace. Three or four narrow streets ran steeply downhill from the square to the curved and picturesque harbor, which these days was always densely forested with yachts.
Right up until the mid-1950s, Ol' Spithead had been a rundown and isolated fishing community. But with the rise of middle-class affluence in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and with it the rise of yachting and deep-sea angling as widespread leisure pursuits, Ol' Spithead had quickly become a desirable place for anyone who wanted a waterfront cottage within driving distance of Boston. An aggressive planning committee had bullied out of state and federal funds enough money to remodel all of Ol' Spithead's most elegant and historical buildings, tear down street after street of slummy old fishermen's cottages, and replace the shabby warehouses and dilapidated wharves with jewelers, boutiques, art galleries, cookie shops, English-style pubs, beef-and-oyster restaurants, and all those fashionable and slightly unreal business ventures that make up the American shopping mall.
Harold often used to wonder where he could go in Ol' Spithead just to buy ordinary food and ordinary household necessities. You don't always want to eat Bavarian strudel and buy hand-crafted pottery mobiles for your designer kitchen.
Mind you, Winstanley's Marine Antiques was just as guilty of shopping-mall kitsch, with its green-painted frontage and mock-Georgian windows. Inside, there was an expansive clutter of ships-in-bottles, shiny brass telescopes, sextants, demi-culverins, grappling hooks, navigational dividers, paintings, and prints. The favorite, of course, was always the figurehead, and the more bosomy the better. A genuine figurehead from the early 19th-century, especially if it were a bare-breasted mermaid, would fetch anything up to $46,000, occasionally more. But the demand was so insistent that he employed an old man up at Avalon Beach to carve him "authenticated reproductions" of old-time figureheads, using the centerfold from the May 1982 issue of Playboy as his model.
There was a clutch of bills and letters on the doormat, including a note from the post office that they were holding all the prints that Harold had bought earlier in the week at Boulderkeep's auction. Later on, he would have to go over and collect them.
Although he had managed to catch some sleep, Harold was feeling depressed, irritable. He didn't want to leave Ol' Spithead, and yet he knew that he wasn't going to be able to face another night at Harvest Mills Cottage. He was torn by a one-of-a-kind combination of fear and inner pain. Fear because of the coldness, and the whispering, and the stark fact that he had seen one of those ghosts murder Mrs. Donald Baylor by means of something that could only be described as black magic; and inner pain because he loved Nancy, and to see her and hear her and feel her, while all the time he knew she was dead---well, that was more than his mind could stand.
A squat middle-aged couple came into the store, in matching maroon quilted jackets. They blinked through matching Coke-bottle spectacles at ships-in-bottles, and whispered between themselves. "Aren't they cute?" asked the wife.
"You know how they do that, don't you?" the husband suddenly asked Harold, in an arrogant New Jersey accent.
"I never thought about it," said Harold.
"They cut through the masts, see, so that they fold flat, and they tie them all with thread, and when the ship's inside the bottle, they tug the thread and all the masts stands up."
"Wow," Harold said.
"You learn something new every day," the husband added. "How much for this one? The whaler?"
"That was made in 1871 by a midshipman on the Amanda," said Harold. "Two thousand and seven hundred dollars."
"Two thousand seven hundred. I might go down to two-five."
The husband stared down at the bottle in his hand speechlessly. Eventually, he said, "Two thousand seven hundred dollars for a model boat in a bottle? I could build one of these myself for a buck-and-a-half."
"Then do it," Harold advised him. "There's quite a market for ships-in-bottles. Even new ones."
"Good Christ," the husband said, putting down the bottle as if it were the Holy Grail, and already starting his retreat from the shop. He kept on looking around, so that he wouldn't completely lose face, and Harold knew that he would ask the price of just one more item before he went, and say "I'll think it over, and come back later," before disappearing for good.
"How much for that hook thing?" he said, right on cue.
"The grappling-hook? That came from one of John Paul Jones's vessels. Eight hundred and fifty. A bargain, as a matter of fact."
"'H'm," said the husband. "Let me think it over. Maybe we'll come back after lunch."
"I hope so," Harold said, and watched them leave.
They had only just gone, however, when Bruce K. Wildman came into the shop, wearing a broad smile and a black London Fog raincoat that was one size too big for him.
"Harold, I just had to come by. I had a call from the D.A. this morning. They've decided to be reasonable, under the circumstances, and drop the murder charges. Insufficient evidence. They've told the press that they're looking for a maniac of considerable strength, just to make it look kosher; but the main thing is that you're free. Right in the clear."
"No money passed hands, I hope," Harold said, a little sarcastically.
Bruce K. Wildman was in too good a mood to take offense, and clapped the other man on the back. "The truth is, Harold, the modus operandi was giving the chief of police something of a headache. He had the coroner's report last night, and the coroner said that the only way in which Mrs. Donald Baylor could possibly have been impaled on that chandelier was for the chain to have been forced through her body before the chandelier was fixed to the ceiling, and then for the whole caboodle, chandelier and body and all, to be hoisted up, wired, screwed in, and left to dangle. Now--even given that the killer had a block-and-tackle to lift the chandelier and the body, it would have taken him at least ninety minutes to finish the job, not to mention the time it would have taken to remove the hoisting equipment, of which there was no trace in the house. Ninety minute places you well away from the Baylor house, according to Mr. Miller and Mr. Curtis, and so your alibi is absolutely solid. Case dismissed."
"Well," Harold said, "thank you very much. You'd better send me a bill."
"Oh, no, no bill. Not for you. Not when you've managed to bring back Nancy."
"Bring back----?! Bruce, be reasonable!"
Mr. Wildman gripped Harold's upper arm, and looked at him steadily in the eye. He smelled of Jacomo aftershave, $135 a bottle. "Harold," he said, in his best courtroom voice, "I know how you feel about this. It's creepy, yet also deeply moving. I can understand, too, that you may want to keep these visitations to yourself, particularly after the way in which Claudia and I have blamed you so much for what happened. But both of us understand now that it couldn't have been your fault. If it had been, Nancy wouldn't have wanted to come back to you, and comfort you from the spirit world. Claudia, I can tell you, is deeply, deeply, apologetic for the way she's felt about you. She's filled with remorse. And she begs you, Harold, even though she's not a begging woman---she begs you to let her see her only daughter again, even for the briefest moment. I guess I do, too. You don't know what this means to us, Harold. We lost everything we ever had when we lost Nancy. Just to be able to speak to her again, just to see that she's happy in the next world. Just once, Harold. That's all I ask."
Harold lowered his eyes. "Bruce," he said, huskily, "I can understand your desire to see Nancy again. But the reality is that she's not exactly the Nancy you knew. Nor the Nancy I knew, either. She's---well, she's very different. For God's sake, Bruce, she's a ghost!"
Bruce stiffened his lower lip, and gave a little shake of his head. "Don't call her a 'ghost,' Harold. 'Visitation' sounds so much better to me."
"We're arguing about what to call her? Bruce, she's a ghost; a phantom; a restless spirit."
"I know that, Harold. I'm not trying to deny the truth. But the point is----do you think she's happy? Do you think she likes it, where she is?"
"I don't think anything, because I don't know where she is!"
"But is she happy? That's all we want to ask her. And Claudia wants to ask if she's managed to located Lance. You know, Nancy's younger brother, who died when he was five."
Harold just couldn't answer that question. He tiredly rubbed the back of his neck and tried to think of something he could possibly say to put off Bruce K. Wildman. Something that wouldn't anger him again, and lose him his most munificent benefactor; not that 'munificent' was quite the word that anyone would use in connection with Bruce K. Wildman. "Prudently generous" was likely more accurate.
"I don't really thing that any of us are going to be able to determine whether or not she's happy. I have to tell you that she appeared again last night, and..."
"You've seen her again? You've actually seen her again?"
"Bruce, please! She appeared last night, in my room. The whole experience was very upsetting. She spoke my name a few times, and then---well, she asked me to make love to her."
Bruce frowned, and stood suddenly rigid. "That's impossible," he said. "My daughter is dead."
"I know that, Bruce. God help me!"
"Well, you didn't actually...."
"Didn't actually what?! Didn't actually have sex with my deceased wife? What are you accusing me of, Bruce? Necrophilia? There was no corpse there, only a face, a feeling, and a voice. It was like freezing electricity, that's all."
Bruce K. Wildman seemed to be shaken. He walked across the shop and stood with his back to Harold for a while. Then he picked up a brass telescope, and began opening it and closing it, opening it and closing it, in nervous distress.
"I think that we will be able to discover whether or not she's happy. We are her parents, after all. We've known her all her life. So it's possible that some of the little nuances of expression that you might have missed, not knowing her so well; some of the little giveaway words that you may not have recognized....it's possible that these may mean something to us that wasn't immediately apparent to you."367Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡ47o7qCdtEz
"Bruce, Goddamn it!" Harold growled. "We're not dealing with a cozy transparent version of Nancy here. This isn't a warm and friendly ghost that you can have conversations with. This is an alien, hostile and frightening manifestation with eyes that look like death itself and hair that crackles like it's running through with fifty thousand volts. Do you really want to meet it? Do you really want Claudia to meet it?"
Bruck K. Wildman closed up the telescope and put it back on the table. When he looked at Harold, his eyes were very sorrowful, and he was close to tears.
"I'm prepared for the very worst," said Bruce. "I know it won't be easy. But it can't be as bad as that day when they called us up and told us that Nancy had been killed. That day was the blackest of all."367Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡbiPocl74lb
"Can't I do anything to put you off?" Harold said, quietly.
He shook his head. "I'll have to come anyway, invited or uninvited."
Harold bit his lip. "all right then. Come tomorrow night, if you want to. I'm not staying at Harvest Mills Cottage tonight, I can' t face it. But please do me a favor."
"Warn Claudia, over and over, that what she may see may be horrifying, and alien, and even malevolent. Don't let her come to Harvest Mills Cottage thinking she's going to be meeting the Nancy she knew."
"She is her mother, you know. The visitation may behave differently when her mother's there."
"Well," Harold said, not wanting to prolong the argument any further, "I guess that's possible."367Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡrfpsWisNnn
Bruce K. Wildman held out his hand, and Harold didn't have any option but to shake it. He gripped Harold's elbow at the same time, and said, "Thank you, Harold. You don't know what this means to us, you really don't."
"Okay," Harold told him. "I'll see you tomorrow night. Make it late, will you? 11:00, something like that. And please, don't forget to warn Claudia."
"Oh, I'll warn her," said Mr. Wildman, and he left the shop like a man who's just learned he's inherited a great deal of money.ns 188.8.131.52da2