CHAPTER SIX

 

I HAVE NO FRIENDS...NO, NOT ONE

 


I found Knight's address in Russ' notebook. I went to her apartment, broke in.

 

She wasn't there.

 

In the morning I put some junk in a box, wrapped it up and went to the law offices of Holliday and Matheson. I told the secretary in the front lobby that I had a package for Miss Knight. My long-hair-and-leather-jacket look didn't bother the secretary; you should see some of the bicycle messengers around New York City. The secretary said that she was sorry, but Miss Knight was currently handling some business overseas. Would I care to leave the package with her? Sorry, I said as I backed toward the door, I can only leave it with her, have a good day.

 

Back on the street I tossed the box into a garbage can, knowing that Kathleen Knight would probably never show her face in town again. I wandered toward Central Park, brooding over my next move until I found an empty bench and sat on it. Then I took out the notebook.

 

I had spent the whole night reading Russ' notes. He had done a good job of tracking the Keats purchase to Kathleen Knight. ('Works for H&M. Specializes in rare books from estates. Handles transactions for wealthy clients interested in books.') However, his attempts to surreptitiously get information from her had failed. His notes described a conversation he had with her three days ago. ('Posed as possible client for H&M. Being a rich book-dealer helped there. Had superficial friendly talk with Knight, but learned nothing. Tried to steer conversation toward the Keats purchase. No luck.') Somehow he found out about Knight's internet adventures. However, Knight must have also figured out who 'Baron de Charlus' was. That was likely why her mystery client decided to end Russ' investigation in the most final way possible.

 

But over a book? No, not just one book. Russ had mentioned that he thought Knight had been doing many under-handed deals. Sounded like the Keats purchase was merely part of a much larger scheme. It was big enough for the boss to hire cool, calm assassins instead of just a couple of thugs who would break legs for fifty dollars.

 

Now those assassins were dead, Russ was dead and Knight had disappeared. Maybe it was time to turn everything over to the police.

 

I had one more lead to follow, though. Well, it really wasn't much of a lead. You see, Russ' notes didn't just ask 'who.' They wanted to know 'why.' Had the mystery client needed the Keats book so badly that he would threaten a dealer? Had time been short? 'Was some event coming?' Russ had written.

 

Russ had assumed that the event would be here in New York City, so he had proceeded to list every literary-related event imaginable -- every book-sale, every library event, every silent auction. He had even listed poetry readings. I thought that was really stretching it. Somebody had needed a rare book for a poetry reading?

 

Yet he had listed one such reading which was scheduled for the night after his murder. The reading would occur at The Wall of Sleep. I knew that place; it was a Goth club in the East Village. I wouldn't have made anything of it except for the fact that Russ had written '"She" comes there every year.'

 

Who was 'she?' Kathleen Knight? And why had Russ put quotes around that word? The note seemed so inconsequential...yet it stuck in my head. As I sat on the bench, I decided to go to The Wall of Sleep that night.

 

Wall of Sleep...sleep...God, I hadn't gotten any last night. For several hours I had been jazzed from the danger and violence I had encountered in The Live Letter Office. Now it was wearing off.

 

I hadn't even returned to Below last night. I had spent the night in an alley as I studied Russ' notes. The alley was a familiar haunt of mine. It was a good spot to hide from the eyes of the Helpers.

 

I thought about the number of nights I had spent there, and I realized how much independence I had. Despite an occasional rage from Father, no one could do anything to constrain me. Not only did I have more freedom than other teen-agers Below, but also I could do many things denied to teen-agers Above.

 

I was also alone. Even if you overlooked the feud between me and Father, how close was I to any of the Dwellers? I could have stopped seeing Max, Jamie, Mouse, Pascal and Grandfather, and my life would not have changed in the slightest. I realized that I had been gradually pushing them away for three years.

 

I had been pushing them away since Diana left. I didn't want to be hurt like that again.

 

Sure, Diana had returned, but I was already anticipating that she and Father would never reunite. After all, what had I done to help bring them together? In twenty-four hours I had openly sneered at the ghost of my mother no fewer than three times. I was almost daring Father to meet my low opinion of him. Maybe I wanted the worst to happen so I could...

 

What? Finally leave the Tunnels? Live Above? For me living in New York City was like being a drop in an ocean. Every person was connected, but every person was alone. Was I ready to lose myself in that ocean and simply enjoy the pull and ebb of the currents?

 

I closed my eyes and lifted my face to the sun. I stayed like that until a finger tapped my shoulder. My eyes jerked open and saw an attractive dark-haired woman. She smiled in a unique way, as if she had more experience with her face than other people had with theirs.

 

"Laura!" I exclaimed.

 

Her hands quickly flittered through the air. Hello, Jacob, they said.

 

I invited her to sit down, and our fingers danced. A year had passed since our last meeting. She had plenty to tell about her husband, about her counseling job, about how she guided her fellow travellers through a soundless world. I told her...well, I omitted certain details. I told her things about Mouse and the rest, but I used the sign for 'fine' several times.

 

My reticence was too noticeable. The happiness in Laura's eyes gradually changed into concern. Was there something wrong? she asked me.

 

I decided to come clean, more or less. Why, my fingers replied, did you leave the Tunnels?

 

Her smile returned. I didn't leave anyone, she answered.

 

I know you keep making return visits...

 

She waved her hands as if to wipe my response off the air. Then she pointed at the ground, followed by pointing at the sky. She concluded by signing 'No difference.'

 

I was so surprised that I said out-loud, "Are you kidding? There's a big difference between..."

 

She shook her head. All the same, she signed. The world is all the same. She pointed at my ears and nodded. She pointed at her ears and shook her head. Then she signed 'But...we are the same.'

 

I couldn't help smirking as I signed the lyrics of a Michael Jackson song about world hunger. She tilted her head to the left and smirked back. Wise guy, she wrote on the air. But, yes, we are the world. Below could not exist without Above. Above could not exist with Below.

 

"Uh..." I said, then my fingers told her that while the Tunnels salvaged goods from the city, the city could exist just fine without the Tunnels.

 

She just looked at me and smiled. Are you sure, her expression asked.

 

I didn't know what Laura was arguing, so I just shrugged. She asked me if I was thinking about leaving the Tunnels.

 

I hesitated, then told her that I was trying to solve a problem alone. I wasn't sure whether I just wanted to handle it alone, or if I simply was alone.

 

Laura examined my face for a long time. However, her heightened sensitivity to expressions could only tell her what a person was feeling, not why.

 

Finally she gave me some advice. She touched her forehead, then waved her hands to each other. She touched her forehead again before she pressed her fingers against my chest.

 

"I'll try," I told her.

 

She soon left me after that. Her 'words' echoed in my head, in my conscience.

 

Remember hope.

 

Remember love.

 

At that moment, though, I could only remember Russ Garner. I wondered if anybody had discovered his body yet. Perhaps some customer who wondered about the broken alley door...

 

Then I speculated about whether Russ had known anybody except customers. He had never mentioned any friends or talked about his family. I would have suspected that he had been a lonely man, but he had never seemed that way. He had been obviously content with books for companions. Of course, he obviously had a lot of 'contacts.' He could learn things about a woman who hadn't wanted to be tracked down.

 

He had been alone yet connected. Just like me. I could map the city inside my head. I knew the name of every Helper and every Dweller. I could tell you who could provide you with what. And yet there I sat on that bench, watching mothers push strollers and students play frisbee and winos sleep in the shade of trees, feeling apart from everyone. I had just met a friend, yet she had made me feel no less alienated than before.

 

That's why I wanted to find the ones responsible for Russ' murder on my own. If I had turned it over to Joe Maxwell, he would have looked for the killers because it was his job. I wanted to do it because I wanted to prove that I was a true friend to somebody. I wanted to show that I didn't break literal and metaphorical windows because I needed a thrill. I wanted to prove that someone gave a damn about Russ Garner and that I was capable of giving one.

 

Well, it sounded good to me at the time. That's how I rationalized going to the Wall of Sleep alone. Of course, I didn't really expect to find anything important.

 

But I found the most important thing of all.


Continued in Chapter 7