Shortly after 10:00, Harold left Mulligan's Tavern and went upstairs to his room. Michael had left around 9:30 to go home to his sister, and there had been no sign of Pauline, so he decided to have a stake and potato on room service, and spent the rest of the evening boning up on the diving manual that Michael had left him.337Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡpiYEKT9BWb
Harold had a corner room on the 6th floor overlooking Salem Common, and through the trees he could just make out the cupola of the bandstand where he had met the old witch-woman the other day. The room was rather too brown for his taste, brown carpet, brown-and-orange drapes, brown-and-white bedspread, but it felt secure and warm and it was a long way away from Harvest Mills Cottage.
As he lay back on the twin bed with his shoes off, waiting for his filet medium-rare, he wondered what was going on at the cottage right now. Would Nancy appear there, even if he wasn't there to witness her visitation? How much did the appearance of a ghost depend on the people who were being haunted? He could imagine her flickering image wandering from room to room, searching for him; and the whispering voices everywhere.
He thought of something else, too. Supposing he did drown tomorrow, or die in some other way. Would he find himself in that same electrically-charged limbo as Nancy? Would he become one of those distorted figures like her, fading from one reality to another, never at rest? Was she aware of what she was? Was it really her, in the sense that she knew whom she'd once been?
He was still thinking about Nancy when there was a staccato knock at the door, causing him to involuntarily jump in fright.
"Coming," he said, and padded across the carpet on socked feet. He unlocked the door, and opened it; but rather than his filet medium-rare and potato, it was Nancy. She was red-nosed from the cold, but smiling, and she was carrying a brown-paper bag which looked more than suspiciously like a bottle of wine.
"Here's a peace offering for being late,' she said. "Can I come in?"
"Sure. Let me take your coat. You look like you're half-frozen."
"More like half-thawed. I was totally frozen when I was out at Hartpool. Those little old spinsters are dedicated believers in doing things the old-fashioned way. If you can't get your house warm enough with your Franklin stove, then put on another couple of sweaters. Central-heating is the work of the devil, making people soft and complacent and idle."
"Have a seat," Harold told her. "I'm having some steak sent up in a while. Want some?"
"I'm dieting, but I'll nibble at yours?"
"What kind of diet are you on?" he asked her.
"I call it my Pricey Diet, I allow myself to eat anything so long as it costs more than $7 per pound. That takes in caviar, smoked canvasback duck, salmon, finest aged filet steak. Really expensive food is rarely fattening, and in any case you generally can't eat too much of it."
They talked for a while about antiques, and the tourist trade. They were both shopkeepers, after all. Then the waiter came up with Harold's steak, and they opened the bottle of wine, Casson Branco 1978, and drank a toast to each other. Harold cut up the steak and they shared it, barely talking at all while they ate.
"You probably think it's very rude of me, coming up to your room like this," said Pauline.
Harold put down his napkin and smiled at her. "I knew you were going to say that."
She blushed. "I guess I had to see it sometime. I had to give you your opening for telling me that of course I'm not rude, of course it's perfectly acceptable for a girl to come up to a strange man's hotel room unescorted, and eat half of his dinner."
He looked at her seriously. "It seems to me that with Satin & Calico you've shown that you're quite mature enough to do what you want, without seeking any justification from me."
She thought about that, and then she said, in a higher voice, "Thank you."
He pushed the dinner trolley outside into the hallway, and then he came back and lay down on the bed, with his hands behind his head. Pauline stayed where she was, kneeling on the floor.
"You know something," he said, "I'm never quite sure how it is that two people meet each other, or how they decide whether they're mutually attracted, or what the ground rules of their relationship are going to be. All that part of it, the most vital part, seems to me to be decided almost instantaneously, and without any talk at all; and any talk after that is just a matter of trimming the sails here and there."
"Well," said Pauline, "you are nautical."
"Living here will do that to you. I haven't got salt in my blood yet, but I've started sprinkling it on my salad."
She stood up, and looked down at Harold. Her lips were slightly parted, and there was a thoughtful, sexy look in her eyes which he hadn't seen in a woman since he first met Nancy. She said, quietly, "Do you mind turning out the light?"
He reached out and switched off the beside lamp. The only light of the room now came from the TV; and Pauline was outlined against it. Carefully, slowly, she unbuttoned the cuffs of her blouse, then the lace front panel and drew it over her head. She was wide-shouldered, but her breasts were bigger than he had thought, warmly cradled in a satin bra. She unzipped her skirt, and let it fall, and he saw that she was wearing dark gray stockings and a black garter-belt. No panties. The light from the TV silhouetted the wayward curls of pubic hair.
She unhooked her bra, and her breasts were freed with a soft, complicated little bounce. He held out his hand to her.
"I'm a tough person to satisfy," she said, in a husky voice. "I guess that's one of the reasons I always avoid relationships with men. I need a very great deal; I ask a lot--emotionally and sexually."
"For what it's worth," he said, "I can give you everything I 've got."
He sat up, and stripped off his shirt, and socks, his pants and his shorts. Pauline lay down beside him, still wearing her stockings and garter belt, and he could feel the softness of her hair against his shoulders, and the heaviness of her wide-nippled breasts against his chest, and the warm slipperiness of nylon against his thighs.
They kissed, tentatively at first, then with increasing passion. Her hands tugged at his hair, caressed his shoulders, gripped at his hip. He held her breast in his hand, arousing the nipple between his fingertips until it stood crinkled and stiff. His erection rose against the shiny tightness of her stocking, and she put her hand down and held it tight in her fist, pressing and massaging it against her pubic hair.
Neither of them needed very much foreplay; neither of them could actually stand it. For different reasons, both of them had been deprived of sexual company for longer than was good for them, and the pressure suddenly rose between them until there was nothing that either of wanted but forceful, urgent, sex.
He thrust himself into her, and she was hot and moist and gasping with every thrust. The inside of his brain felt as if it were expanding; she clutched her legs around her so that he could thrust deeper still, and her fingernails dug into the flesh of his back and her teeth bit deeply into the muscle of his shoulder.
"Oh, God, harder, harder, harder," Pauline urged him, and he grasped her hips in his hands and forced himself into her until she gasped and yelped and thrashed her head from side to side on the pillow.
He could feel the orgasm began to tighten and ripple inside her like shockwaves just before an earthquake. She spoke words that he couldn't understand; breathy and high-pitched, almost as though she were cursing and pleading at the same time. Her eyes were squeezed tight shut and her face was congested. Her breasts were flushed and her nipples tight and erect.
It was then, right on the brink of climax, that he opened his eyes and looked down at her----and froze! For superimposed on Pauline's face was a coldly-glowing mask of Nancy's face, hollow-eyed, emotionless, flickering in that threatening electrical way. And for one hideous instant Harold didn't know if he was making love to Nancy, or Pauline, or to nothing at all but his own demented imagination.
Pauline opened her eyes, and they showed through the black sockets of Nancy's electrical mask in fright and shock.
"Harold---help me! My God! What's happening?!"
He opened his mouth but he couldn't speak. Pauline's eyes had brought Nancy's deathmask to life, and it was the scariest vision he'd ever seen. It was like a painted portrait, with eyes that moved. And it was so cold, so heartless, so accusing!
There was a roaring, screeching, mind-breaking crack. Every window in the room detonated, and a devastating gale swept the drapes aside, so that the air was thick with glittering, tumbling, knife-sharp shards of glass. He hunched over Pauline as much as he could, but even so the frigid gale brought a vicious scattering of glass all over his back, and into the flesh of his buttocks, and into the muscles of his thighs. The bedspread was cut to pieces, and feathers rose from the glass-slashed pillows like snow.
He kept his eyes shut until the last tinkle of falling glass had subsided. The cold March wind blew steadily in through the windows, and flapped at the cover of the magazine he'd left on top of the TV. He looked down at Pauline and she was just Pauline, nobody else, not Nancy; also she was white-faced with fright and there was a cut on the side of her forehead.
"Slide out from under me," Harold whispered. "Watch out---there's glass on the bed. There's a whole lot of it sticking out of my back. I don't think it's too serious, but I can't move until you've taking it out."
Tears started to pool in Pauline's eyes; tears of shock and fear. "What happened?" she trembled. "I don't understand what happened."
"I think I overdid the climax," Harold told her, trying to be ridiculously nonchalant.
"You're shaking," she said. "Don't move."
She managed to wriggle out naked from beneath him. Then she said, "Lie flat. You've got about twenty pieces in your back. They don't look too deep, though."
She found her shoes, and went to the bathroom to fetch a facecloth and a towel. Then she sat down beside him and plucked the fragments of glass out Harold's back. There wasn't much blood, but the wounds were sore, and he was glad when she had managed to take out the final piece, on the inside of his right thigh.
There was a knock at the door. A voice said, "Sir? Are you three, sir? Assistant manager, sir."
"What's the matter?" Harold called.
"Someone reported a loud noise in your room, sir, and the sound of breaking glass. Is everything all right?"
"Wait a minute," Harold said. Pauline found his trousers for him, and he shook the glass out of them, pulled them on, and then tiptoed to the door. He opened it on the chain and peered out. The assistant manager was a tall man in a tuxedo with very shiny black hair and very shiny black shoes.337Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡBZPgsz4227
"I bought my cousin a set of Collins glasses today," Harold told him. "A souvenir of Salem. Unfortunately I caught my foot in my bathrobe when he was carrying them across the room. I fell over the table, too."
The assistant manager looked at him beadily. "I hope you're not in any way, sir."
"Hurt? No. Not hurt."
He paused, and then he said, "You won't mind if I just take a look?"
"If you don't mind."
He took a deep breath. There was no point in trying to bluff it out. If the assistant manager wanted to take a look, then there was nothing at all he could do to stop him.
The thing is," he said, "we had a little trouble with the windows. But, I'll pay for them. As long as you understand that."ns 220.127.116.11da2