Lemuel Tippen stood in a very long line for a very long time, waiting to meet her.
It was in a Bradlee's, in a shopping mall just outside Leominster, Massachusetts, and her records, selling like hotcakes anyway, were getting a sales boost from a Personal Appearance -- one of a hundred or more -- in an endless publicity tour, by the singer, Holly Willstead.
The line was several hundred yards long, wending and snaking from "Records" through "Audio-Video Mart," "Gardening Supplies," "Sporting Goods," "Hosiery," "Misses," and the candy out in front before turning and disappearing through the exit door.
Did Holly feel a little put off by the masses of people who had come to see her, Lemuel wondered. Did she half-wonder, in the back of her mind, why they'd really come? Did she find it difficult to believe that she could be the focus of all this? Lemue l thought so. She felt out of place in the limelight; he was sure of that.
So I, Lemuel Tippen, will sweep her off her feet, and we will while away the years in a little cottage on Martha's Vineyard.
He chuckled. Yeah. And pigs will fly on gossamer wings.
"What's funny?" asked his companion, standing beside him but clearly not in line.
"Me, Bram. I'm funny. You know how it is."
Bram Morse shook his head, and laughed. "No, I don't," he said. "But at least I know I don't. I'll say this for her, Lem; she is purely easy to look at!"
Lemuel nodded and smiled, but inside, he was annoyed -- even offended -- by Bram's tone. All Bram would want from Holly Willstead would be to get into her pants. Lemuel could understand that -- he wouldn't have minded sharing her Calvins with her, him self -- but his feelings were more than that. It was stupid, he knew that. He had no more right to love Holly Willstead than had the Man in the Moon. He'd never even met her. She was just a singer and an actress, and he was a fan. Nothing more. That wasn' t love!
No. He didn't love her at all.
The line had been moving slowly, for Holly was stopping to chat for at least a moment, with everyone who came by, before signing whatever they handed her to sign. Lemuel glanced down at the freshly-purchased record in his hands, a second copy of Dream s Of Ojai. Ah, well. His old one was scratched anyway.
"Come on," shouted someone from back down the line. "Who's the snail?"
She leaned out, very near to Lemuel, and smiled prettily down the line. "Be patient," she called, with just a little of Texas still in her voice. "I won't leave before you get here, I promise."
Lemuel chuckled. Maybe if he shouted something churlish, he'd get some special attention, too.
She caught his eye, before disappearing behind someone three bodies down from him, and smiled. Lemuel smiled into her absence. She'd seen him, noticed him! Smiled at him!
Bram grinned, and Lemuel chuckled at himself.
"I want to thank you for giving me a ride, Bram. It was good of you to wait so long."
Bram smiled indulgently. "Not at all. I just wanted to watch you make an ass of yourself."
"What did Edgar Allen Poe say? 'I have great faith in fools. Self-confidence, my friends call it.'"
The line moved forward, and Lemuel suddenly realised he was next.
He was next! What was he going to do?!?
No-one would call Lemuel Tippen good-looking. He was just seventeen, brown-haired and a little way over the fine, fine line between "husky" and "fat." He limped slightly, a leftover from an auto accident which broke his leg when he was three months ol d, and his thumbs were one joint too long. His eyes were a disturbing shade of green, and his aquiline nose, a tot too long, and set atop a deviated septum. All of which he was sure glowed in the dark. To call him self-conscious would be tantamount to cal ling the heart of the Sun warm, or light, speedy.
The girl next to him said, "Thanks. Thank you very much," and moved on, and Lemuel was standing before Holly Willstead.
She was very beautiful. Her face was round, with a nigh-imperceptible padding beneath her chin, and her hazel eyes turned up sharply beneath well-shaped brows, and hair the color of dark honey spilled in lazy, silken curls around her shoulders. And sh e had an adorable nose, too.
"Hello," she said, still sounding more Texan than on television.
"I, uh," said Lemuel, feeling the panic well up inside him, "uh, I... Hi!"
"Oh, please," Holly asked him, "don't be nervous! I'm so nervous, one of us has to be calm!"
"I'll try," said Lemuel, and all of a sudden, he was. "I want you to know, I've been madly in love with you for years."
"Well, in that case, I think we should be introduced. I'm Holly Willstead."
"You certainly are," said Lemuel. "Lemuel Tippen at your service."
She smiled. Something inside Lemuel quivered, threatening to break.
"A fine Yankee name," she said, with no special southern emphasis on "Yankee."
"It surely is. You'd have liked my brother, too. Caleb Nathaniel Tippen."
"Another great name. Sounds like a proper Yankee family. And I'm sorry."
Lemuel looked a question mark.
"About your brother. You said 'would have liked.'"
Lemuel nodded uncomfortably. He didn't want to lay his shit on her! "I, uh, don't want to hold up the line... Would you be so kind as to sign this?"
He held out the new copy of Dreams Of Ojai. She looked for a moment at her sun-dappled face on the cover.
"This is my favorite cover," she told him. "We actually went up and shot it in Ojai on a perfect day in April..."
She thought for a moment, and jotted an inscription.
Lemuel read: "For Lemuel Tippen: a very proper Yankee on a very perfect day. Holly Willstead."
He smiled, and, on impulse, took her hand, and kissed it, his eyes never leaving hers.
And the world flared nova-bright for a moment, with a pulse of pure emotion, both his and, he felt sure, hers. He could feel it. She loved him! He could feel it!
And he was going to kiss her. He was going to draw her close, gather her in his arms, and kiss her, and she'd return his kisses. He knew it. He pulled her hand toward himself. And Bram laid a hand on his shoulder.
"C'mon, you're-- Uh... Holding up the line."
Bram took his elbow, pulled him away from the desk. "Come on, man, hurry up, time's a'wastin'. Come on, Lem!"
Lemuel looked helplessly at Holly, who was staring at him with a strange expression.
"Lemuel. come on, dammit!"
He let himself be led out the glass doors and Bram marched him across the parking lot to the golden Chevy Stepside pickup he'd helped Bram customize. Bram hustled him to the passenger side, practically put him in.
And all at once, in the prosaic confines of the little truck called "Doubloon," it came to him in a rush. What in God's name had he almost done?!? What had he been thinking of?!? Instantaneous telepathic contact?!? Lips brush against knuckles and she' s radiating love for him? That was-- That was insane!
Bram climbed into the driver's seat. "You okay now, Lem?"
"Yeah, I-- I think so. Yeah. Jesus."
"I'll tell you, Lem, you went weird on me for a minute, there!"
"Yeah. Jesus. Yeah. It was-- It was like I could... She loved me, Bram. I felt like she loved me, and I could feel it with a crystalline certainty that left no room for question or doubt. Like which way is down. I knew."
He shook his head. "It was so real, Bram."
Bram sat silent for a moment, thinking about Caleb, Lem's brother, who wound up in Guyana, with the Reverend Jim Jones.
"Aw, c'mon, Bram," said Lemuel. "I'm not Cale, you know. He looked for all his answers outside of himself. That was pretty fundamental."
"I don't think that," Bram said, defensively. "But, you were getting weird, there. And, you've gotta admit--"
"There's a family history, sure. Cale was fairly crazy even before he got into rent-a-god, and nobody calls Dad the apotheosis of normalcy..."
"Your dad's all right."
"Well, you probably couldn't commit him... But if he were already in a funny farm, I doubt they'd let him out."
This is true, thought Bram. It never occurred to him to wonder how Lemuel had known to start the conversation as and how he did, in the middle of his own internal monologue; that was something the boy had always been good at.
He started the truck.
That night, Lemuel dreamt of Holly. That, in itself, was not noteworthy; Lemuel often dreamed of Holly, such dreams usually followed by a nocturnal change of bed-linens. This night, though, the dream was different. He dreamed that she was on a 737, Ea stern Airlines flight 217, Boston to New York City, with a stop-over to pick up passengers at Bradley International Airport, in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, which the airline schedule billed as Hartford... and he was there with her, by her side, and they w ere basking in each other's presence like seals in the arctic sun, because they were in love. But, all the while, he was asleep in his bed in Shirley, Massachusetts, sound asleep, and she was there with him, asleep by his side, loving him.
It was paradox, he knew in his dream, and it was true, and she loved him.
She loved him.
On a Sunday a month and a half later, his father, Drew, was hunting through the den for something to read when he happened across Lemuel's sketchbook.
It was not a private thing; Lemuel often took out the red-covered, wire-bound tablet for people to browse through. He was quite proud of his work, and with good reason.
Drew hadn't seen the sketchbook in some time, and he did genuinely enjoy his son's work, so he hefted the sizable book, and opened it.
His son had come a long way. It seemed to Drew that he could never remember Lemuel without a pencil and paper to doodle on. Only since Caleb's death, though, had he begun to take it seriously.
They'd been in a family-counseling session at Nashoba County Hospital, and the counselor, Dr. Stephen Trenton, had asked to see Lemuel's doodle-pad. Most likely, he'd expected to gain some insight into his feelings about his brother's death. He got th at, certainly, but he also got something of a surprise, for Lemuel's sketches were very, very good. He'd minored in Art, at Harvard, and knew good art when he saw it, and what he'd said to Lemuel that day had left Lemuel very much impressed with himself.
Most of the pages, much to Drew's surprise, were full. The sketchbook was a new one, less than two months old, and all but the first six pages or so dated from within the past six weeks.
They were good -- some of Lemuel's best work, in fact, and Drew felt a flush of pride for his son -- but they all centered around the same subject: that singer he liked, Holly Willstead.Some were straightforward portraits -- more than a few of which w ere nudes -- and others were fantasies -- usually sexual -- brought to obscene, but charmingly unpretentious, tongue-in-cheek life.
This content didn't bother Drew: it was normal and healthy for a boy Lemuel's age to want to look at beautiful beautiful naked women, and, young though she was -- just eighteen, he'd read recently -- Holly Willstead certainly qualified on that score.
Drew noticed, though, with naked admiration, that the pictures were all absolutely consistant; Lemuel had laid out a mental map of Holly Willstead's body, and he was absolutely faithful to that corporeal terrain. It was as if Lemuel had photographed h er naked body from every angle, and referred back to the photos with every stroke of the pencil. She had a small mole on her ribs, just too far back to be on her left side. There was a little scar inside the right knee, and a generous sprinkling of freckl es on her breasts. The nipples were not quite symmetrical; the left was slightly nearer the center of the breast, the right pointed ever-so-slightly away. The pubic hair was silky, not curly, in a convex-sided triangle, very neat and perfect, and just a s hade darker than the honeyed curls spilling about her shoulders.
Lemuel came into the room.
Drew was looking with admiration and amusement at one of the slightly self-mocking fantasy sketches, very graphic, but still quietly funny.
"Oh, uh..." said Lemuel. "Hi, Dad... I, uh, that is, uh, you see, I, uh..."
This situation, Drew knew how to deal with. He thought back to when he was seventeen and horny, and asked himself how he'd have wanted his father to deal with such a situatiuon. Put in those terms, the answer became obvious.
"Hello, son," he said. "I like your work."
"Uh... Thank you," replied Lemuel, obviously waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"Really, I mean it. These are very, very good. But, son, from now on, I think you'd better leave these sorts of sketches in your room. It could as easily have been your mother who found it. And you know what that would've meant."
"She'd've had a heart attack."
"Right after the conniption fit," affirmed Drew. "Then she'd make me explain the Facts of Life to you again, and, God, I couldn't take that again!"
Lemuel smiled, remembering. The first and last time, Drew had been more nervous and confused than he'd been!
"All right, Dad. I'm sorry."
"No need to apologize, son. No harm done. There's nothing wrong in this. Nothing at all."
Drew Tippen was a noticer. He noticed a great deal under normal circumstances, and even more when he got the feeling that something was up. As the months went on, he found himself noticing more and more.
He noticed that his son was taking a lot of commissions from his friends, selling a lot of pictures, and that the money was split two ways: into a bank account he'd opened for no apparent reason, and fan magazines, of the "Sixteen" and "Tiger Beat" va riety. When he'd raised an eyebrow at one of the latter, Lemuel had promptly shown him a picture of Holly Willstead on page seventeen. Always the magazines ended up in the trash within twenty-four hours, utterly denuded of photographs of the lady in quest ion.
He noticed that the boy hadn't had a date in months -- which, frankly, wasn't unusual -- but that he did seem to want one -- which was. He set him up on a blind date with a real knock-out, the daughter of one of his co-workers, and Lemuel took her to a nice place, and was a perfect gentleman, and made sure she had a good time -- according to the briefing he'd got from the girl later -- and hadn't given a damn about the whole operation.
("He's a nice kid," said the girl to Drew. "I hope he'll give me a call when he gets over her."
("Over whoever it is he's in love with.")
And he noticed that Lemuel never, ever, missed a chance to see Holly Willstead. He watched Phil Donahue. He watched Richard Bey, he watched Regis Philbin. He watched Jay Leno, he watched Sally Jessie Raphael, he watched Maury Povich. He watched bad TV movies, and good sitcoms, and anything else, anything at all, that might have her in it. He got his own subscription to TV Guide, and when the new one came each week, he sat down with it, with a yellow marking pen, looking at Extra, and Entertainment Ton ight, and Hard Copy, and anything else that might include her, and highlighted any mentions -- or even hints -- of the lady's name.
And he noticed that the walls of Lemuel's room were almost complete papered with photographs of Holly Willstead.
Lemuel, sitting beside Bram as the Chevy pick-up returned them from the little book-and-record emporium known as Bookberry, almost quivered with excitement. It had been a routine trip, for the most part, concerned with checking out the new releases in the Pop/Rock section, until Lemuel had happened across the new Holly Willstead album, Dream Lover.
His fingers made little stroking motions on the brown plastic bag. It was an important thing. He'd known that from the moment he'd seen the cover, seen the title. Great things, Lemuel was certain, were afoot.
"Thanks, Bram," he called,leaping from the truck as it pulled into the driveway, and ran past his father -- who stood, amused, rake in hand, in the front yard -- and into the house, and up the stairs to his room, where he set the disk on the turntable .
Great things were afoot.
Drew walked over, leaned against the passenger door of the truck. "What was that about?"
"New Holly Willstead album," said Bram. "He sure is crazy about her."
Drew nodded. Somehow, the whole business had become vastly less amusing as time went by; there was something off about Lemuel Tippen where Holly Willstead was concerned, and his father knew it.
"He hardly thinks about anything else," Drew said.
"Tell me about it. He almost made a scene at that autograph thing at Searstown back in June."
"He what?" asked Drew, genuinely startled. In his mind, he matched the dates. It all fit together.
Bram told him about the Searstown incident. "He just went weird on me for a minute there," he finished. "I wouldn't worry about it-- Aw, shit, yes I would... He, he's..."
Drew nodded. "I know, Bram. Thanks."
And he was very worried indeed.
Lemuel sat back with a smile of sublime pleasure, unsure whether to shout, sing, or simply melt with happiness. He'd known from the moment he saw the title: Dream Lover, and when he'd seen the male silhouette on the cover that was so obviously his...
And then he heard the album's title track...
Music and Lyrics by:
And if I ever caught your name, I don't know now
Dreaming of a lover who passed before my eyes
Dreaming of a lover I've never seen again,
[repeat chorus to fade]
Dreaming of a lover who blew into my life
Like a colored leaf upon the autumn breeze
Scudding down the sidewalk, you brushed against my heart
And blew away again amongst the trees.
And if I'll ever be the same, I don't know how
But, in my dreams, we're all alone, and bittersweet
And when I wake up on my own, I'm incomplete.
Tell me what it is you want from me.
Tell me how to find you, tell me how to mind you,
Tell me how to blind you so you'll see...
Tell me how you bind yourself to me.
Like a momentary flicker on a screen,
But Fortune interceded, and you were gone again
Before I realized what I had seen
A lover in whose arms I've never slept...
Wishing for a future, and weeping for today
And weeping for the many times I've wept.
And if I ever caught your name, I don't know now
Dreaming of a lover who passed before my eyes
Dreaming of a lover I've never seen again,
[repeat chorus to fade]
The next day, Lemuel caught his mother on the way out the door, and handed her an envelope, the end of a second one protruding from the slot. "Ma, could you do me a favor? When you get to the Post Office, would you stamp the SASE, seal the outer on e, and mail the lot? I'm out of stamps."
"Okay," said his mother, and slipped the envelope into her purse.
She was sitting at her desk at the Post Office, about to seal the outer envelope, when she noticed the address:
TO: Holly Willstead
c/o Sirius Records
8254 Sunset Boulevard
Los Angeles, California
A frown creased her brow. This Holly Willstead business was getting a little out of hand. She pulled out the letter, and began to read.
November 12, 1997
I'm sorry it took so long, but I got your message. All the little clues you put on Dream Lover -- the code letters in the road signs on the cover, the thumbs of the hands of the silhouette, the lyrics -- of the title cut especially -- had their desire d effect. I'm contacting you now.
Just so we'll both know what we're about, I'll lay it out for you. My name -- how could you forget? -- is Lemuel Tippen. We've met once, briefly, at an autograph session at the Bradlee's at Searstown Shopping Center, in Leominster, Massachusetts. You signed my copy of Dreams of Ojai, and you told me it was your favorite cover, shot in Ojai on a perfect day. You said I had a fine name, a proper Yankee name.
I kissed your hand. And you loved me. Just that simply, you loved me, and I loved you, and in that golden moment, our souls pressed together, held apart only by the thinnest, straining membrane of self-containment, of ego... I'm not too comfortable wi th the words; I don't know what to call it. My friend, Bram Morse, saw me behaving in an irrational manner, and pulled me away. At the time, I was gratefull, for I'd already begun to try to convince myself that it was all a mad hallucination of some sort, just a fantasy. But I cannot hide from the truth.
I suspect that you made the same attempts, but your album tells me that you failed as abjectly as I did. I'm sure this is all very disturbing, even frightening, for you -- I know it scares the willies out of me! -- but our love is there, it's real. It 's a fact of life that must be dealt with on its own terms . If it skates around the edge of what we know as "reason," or "reality," it is only because we, in our arrogance have made judgements of what is "Real" or "Reasonable" prematurely, and with a clo sed mind. Just because nobody believes it doesn't make it false. While the Pope was banishing Galileo, the Earth still raced around the Sun. You are not crazy. Remember that!
I enclosed a SASE, that you may communicate with me. I think it's time, don't you?
I love you, with all my heart.
Drew looked up, from the standard 8x10 office stationery to his wife. "You're right, Mary. This whole thing has gotten way out of hand. But we can't just barge in and tell him to stop. It's serious business."
"And the letter?"
"Well, don't mail it."
"No, dear. Please remind me to breath tomorrow, okay?"
Drew shook his head. "I'm sorry. Look, what do you suggest?"
"We save the letter, and get in touch with Doctor Trenton. He's good, and he knows Lemuel. I hear he's working for a private psychiatric hospital in Boston. We get him to read it, get his opinion."
"Sounds like all you want is confirmation."
"Oh, for God's sake, Drew!" she snapped.
Drew put the letter into his desk, turning red in the face of her scorn.
"I'm sorry," he said.
When Lemuel answered the door the next day, the man from UPS wanted him to sign for a package of software for Drew, but his pen went dry after "Lemue".
"No problem, I'll get one," he said to the UPS man, trotting over to his father's desk. Inside, he saw a familiar envelope...
"A pleasant surprise!" said Drew, that evening, as he came in the door and saw the package and the UPS receipt on the kitchen table.
Then he saw the letter, placed carefully atop the package. Very neat block caps had been printed across it in black Magic Marker: TRUST IS VERY IMPORTANT TO A GOOD PARENT-CHILD RELATIONSHIP.
On the note pad by the phone was scribbled a phone number, under the cryptic legend AMER.
Drew dialed it.
"Hello! American Airlines, reservations! May I help you?"
"I, uh, I'm sorry. Do you have a reservation under the name Tippen? Lemuel Tippen?"
"I'm sorry, it's not our policy to give out that information over the phone, except to the customer."
"I'm Tippen," he said, glad not to have had to lie, exactly.
"Yes, Mr. Tippen, you'll be flying out of Logan at nine o'clock tonight, arriving at LAX -- that's Los Angeles International Airport -- ten-thirty, Pacific Standard Time. That's flight 2212. Would you like to change that?"
"Yes, I'm sorry, I'm calling to cancel."
"I'm sorry to hear that sir. IS there some problem with service?"
"No, no, a-- A family emergency has come up." There. That wasn't quite a lie either.
"Very well, sir. Your reservation is now cancelled. Thank you for almost flying American."
"Any time," Drew said, just managing to smile, and hung up. Now, what was Trenton's number?
"Okay, brief me," said Stephen Trenton, all brisk and businesslike, as he walked into the living room. When Drew had called him, he'd cleared his calendar and rushed right over -- which Mary, when Drew called her, pegged as a bad sign.
They told him everything, from the scene at Bradlee's to the note that day, and showed him the letter, and Lemuel's room, and Lemuel's sketchbook, which shocked Mary. They described hisincreasing obsession.
Trenton looked increasing grim. Finally, he said, "I ordinarily wouldn't make this kind of diagnosis without first seeing the patient, and please understand that Lemuel's behavior when I get a chance to do a psychiatric examination could change the fa ce of this judgement enourmously, but, if this is indeed indicative of his actual state of mind, Lemuel is one very sick young man. His grip on reality -- if this isn't, say, some elaborate stunt he's pulling -- seems extremely tenuous at best. We should leave for the airport at once."
Bram's Stepside pick-up was pulling into the driveway as they left the house.
"Hey," he said, "what's up? I ran into Lem in Ayer, at the bus station. he was getting aboard the Trailways to Boston, said something about California. You guys taking a trip?"
Drew shook his head. "He's running away. We're stopping him."
"Can I come?"
"I don't think," Drew began.
"Look, Mr. Tippen," Bram interrupted, "sometimes, when a kid is making a bonehead play, his buddies can reach him, make him see that, when his parents, and other assorted authority figures, can't."
Trenton nodded. "He's right. Come on, in back."
And they piled into the big Buick, and were on their way.
"I... Wow," said Bram Morse, quietly, in the American Airlines VIP lounge at Logan International Airport. The airline had been most co-operative, giving them a lounge for what was certain to be a confrontation, as had the airport police, agreeing to f ollow Trenton's instructions to the letter. "I still can't believe it! I knew Lem had it bad for this girl, but I never-- I mean, secret code messages on records?!? That's... Wow!"
Mary looked worriedly at Trenton. "Do you think he could be dangerous?"
"Mary!" gasped Drew. "How can you say that about your own son?"
"Oh, for Christ's sake, Drew!" She stared him down, turned her attention back to the Doctor. "Well?"
Trenton shook his head. "It's too early to make that kind of judgement. This whole thing could still be an elaborate stunt on Lemuel's part. If it's not, it could be more or less severe than the physical evidence would suggest. I'd tend to doubt he's dangerous at this point, though. But, then, before, oh, December of 1980, a psychiatrist would've tended to doubt that Mark David Chapman was dangerous."
Drew spun at this, and stared at him, shocked.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Tippen," said Trenton, softly. "It's a valid comparison."
"Well, I wish he'd hurry up and get here," said Bram. "I, for one, am getting twitchy with all this waiting."
"Aye," said Drew. "Yea, verily."
"Don't worry," said Trenton. "When it goes down, it'll go down like clockwork."
When it went down, it went down like clockwork.
Lemuel walked up to the American Airlines desk, smiled at the clerk. "Hi. I'm Lemuel Tippen, I've got a reservation for flight 2212 to Los Angeles; I believe you've a ticket for me?"
The clerk ran a hand through her hair -- the signal -- and said, "I'm sorry, I'm afraid that reservation has been cancelled."
"What? Canceled? What do you mean?" Lemuel took a backward step, starting to put two and two together.
And large hands took firm grips on his shoulders, as the airport police came into play. Lemuel's muscles tensed, fight-or-flight reflex kicking in, but the moment passed; he wasn't about to try and duke it out with the airport fuzz.
"Would you please come with us," said one of the blue-suited men.
"Gee," Lemuel answered pleasantly -- just working stiffs, why give them shit? -- "I sort of have a plane to catch."
"No, you don't. Not even sort of."
"Yeah, I was meaning to ask about that..."
"Please come with us, sir," said the cop again.
Lemuel nodded slowly. "Right," he said glumly. "Walk this way."
He walked docilely between them, held fast by the firm, gentle, firm grip. As if I had a fucking choice, he thought.
"Hello, Lemuel," said Drew, as they walked him into the lounge.
"Father," he said, his voice like the wind on an arctic tundra.
Father. The last time he'd called Drew that, Drew had just had Cargo put to sleep, ignoring Lemuel's pleas, the day after Lemuel had heard about an effective new treatment for canine meningitis.
"Lemuel," said Mary. "Are you--"
"Shut up," said Lemuel. Compared with this, his tone toward Drew had been warm and cordial. There wasn't even the heat of anger to give his voice warmth.
"Lemuel! You don't talk to me that way!"
"I trusted you," he said, explaining, not accusing, and somehow that made it all the crueler. "You betrayed that trust. That's all there is."
He turned his gaze on Bram. "Et tu, Brute?"
But Bram wasn't having any. "Get off it, Lem. That's uncalled-for, and you know it."
Lemuel smiled indulgently, and nodded. "Yeah. You figured to defuse a bad situation by convincing me that this was a bonehead play."
"But it isn't, Bram! Listen to me, listen to what I'm telling you: It's real. It's real, it's true. What happened at Bradlee's, what it says in the letter -- I assume Mother showed it to you -- all of it. It's absolutely real. She told me so, with the record. Will you trust me on that?"
Bram shook his head firmly. "No. I'm sorry, Lem, but... No. You're my friend, and I care about you -- I wouldn't be here if I didn't --"
"I know that."
"But, Lem... Secret messages on record jackets? Songs written just for you? Psychically induced love from one kiss of the hand? that's craziness, Lem. I can't believe in that."
"Ah, craziness," said Lemuel, theatrically turning his attention to Trenton. "This, I take it, is where the good Doctor comes in."
Trenton snorted. "Stop talking like an old movie, Lemuel. You've got our attention."
Lemuel closed his eyes wearily. "Somehow, I get the feeling that this is going to be a long, hard fight. I'm not after attention." he shook his head. "So, we all troupe back home with our wayward lamb in tow, and then what?" He asked his parents. "I'm not giving up my afternoons and evenings to lie on his couch," he gestured at Trenton, "telling him things he'll never understand or believe because he lives on a flat Earth."
"I'm sorry son," said Mary. "But you aren't going home with us. Your behavior here has been more than sufficient to convince me that you need some sort of ongoing institutional therapy."
"Mary!" Drew Tippen was shocked to the very core. "You can't be serious!"
"That's almost exactly what you said when I hired a deprogrammer for Caleb. If he'd been allowed to do his work, both of our sons would be alive. I've already lost Caleb; I'm not losing Lemuel, too!"
Drew looked away, with the expression of a man who's been simultaneously punched in the solar plexus and kneed in the groin.
"You already have," said Lemuel coldly.
"Doctor," said Mary Tippen, " I hereby authorize you to commit my son Lemuel to your institution for treatment."
"You can't do that," said Lemuel.
"Of course she can," said Trenton. "You're seventeen, a minor child."
Lemuel looked around sharply. two airport cops by the door, plus Trenton. Father would be useless, as long as his mother used caleb for ammo, and there was no telling where Bram would fall. And even if he got out of the room, out of the airport, there 'd be an APB out on him, as a runaway and -- probably -- an escaped mental patient.
"It looks," he said softly, "like I'm going to spend some time in a hospital."
And then, he just couldn't hold it in any more, and tears began to flow.
They brought him to the hospital, hit him with a sedative, and had a nurse -- large and male -- ready to convey him to Trenton's office when he woke up the next morning.
"Well," said Trenton, when he was seated comfortably, and the nurse was gone, "let's have it."
"Why bother?" Lemuel looked at him levelly. "I'm not going to convince you of anything. Whatever evidence I produce, you won't believe me. Why the hell should I waste my time on a straight-jacketed mind?"
"You've got nothing better to do."
"True. I'll need a copy of Dream Lover. It'd also help if I had my copy of Dreams of Ojai."
Trenton shrugged. "Sorry. Can't be done."
"Let me guess. Part of the treatment requires that I be segregated from any materials relating to Holly Willstead."
"Look, why don't we do this the easy way? Get on the phone and call her record company, Sirius Records, and identify yourself. say you've got a patient who is seriously deluded, and Miss Willstead could be helpful to his -- my -- treatment. If she agr ees, fax the record company a copy of my letter -- I'll even type up a fresh one for you -- and have her read it. She'll affirm everything in it as true, you'll be World-famous as the shrink who proved the existence of telepathic empathy, she'll have foun d me, and we'll all live happily ever after."
Trenton shook his head. "No," he said firmly. The last thing he needed was to thoroughly destroy Lemuel's fantasy world,at this point. It was when his fantasy world collided with reality, and, as it always must, lost, that a patient like this became d angerous. "I don't have to prove you wrong; you have to prove yourself right."
"Fine." Lemuel reached for the phone. "I'll spring for the call."
Trenton plucked the phone from his hands, returned it to its cradle.
Lemuel sat back and stared at him for a long time.
"Is that how it's going to be?" he finally asked.
Trenton opened his mouth to reply, but stopped, as Lemuel stood, and began peering under the desk, the sofa, the chairs, into wastebaskets, and behind lamps.
"As a matter of fact, yes," said Trenton, "I do record these sessions."
"Sshhhh!" he scolded. "Be vewwy, vewwy quiet! I'm hunting wabbits!"
"Non-toxic, I take it?" Lemuel asked him.
"Uh, yeah," said the nurse, looking blank.
"Never mind," said Lemuel. "What's this for?"
"Show me the clues."
"What? Oh, you mean draw the stuff Holly put on the cover for me? Why bother? It won't convince Trenton."
The nurse shrugged. "Convince me. I believed Paul was dead."
Lemuel shrugged. "All right. You're on assignment from Trenton--"
"Never denied it."
Lemuel nodded affirmation. "But it won't hurt for him to know, and maybe I can show you the truth. Here." He started sketching.
"Okay," he murmered, as he sketched, "First, we've got this silhouette. The thumbs are a joint too long -- like mine. Now, if you'll look at these road signs, here, and here, you'll see that by alternating every third and fourth letter, going from the ends toward the middle, left side first, that you'll get the words BRADLEES YANKEE WHERE ARE YOU. When she signed my copy of Dreams of Ojai, -- at the Bradlee's in Leominster -- she wrote, 'To Lemuel Tippen, a very proper Yankee, on a very perfect day.' Now, over here..."
As Lemuel went on sketching and describing, Trenton, behind the two-way mirror, shook his head slowly. It was sad that such a talented kid was so damnably disturbed.
For three days, Lemuel presented Dr. Trenton, during their 'sessions,' with a split personality, divided more-or-less evenly between Napoleon Bonaparte and Marvin the Paranoid Android, with switchovers instantaneous, and timed for greatest comic effec t.
On the fourth day, he walked calmly into the office and declared he had made an astonishing recovery, denouncing the whole psychic love bit as a deluded fantasy.
"You're full of shit, Lemuel," said Trenton, genially. "I'll give you points. You're good. You're very good. If this hadn't been following your three-day comedy revue, I might -- just might have bought it. But as it is, forget it. Call it ego: if I di dn't cure you, you're not cured."
"But, God damn it," he said, with exaggerated clarity, "I don't need curing! I need to get in touch with Holly!"
"Step one.and don't try to bullshit me again."
And Lemuel didn't. Nor did he try to do anything else. He didn't speak, except to ask for necessities and order meals. He didn't draw, he didn't write. He watched TV on occasion, when he was allowed, and he contrived to get his hands on a Boston Globe every day, and he otherwise was still, but the nurses, and orderlies, and Trenton, into whose presence he was ushered every day for an hour of silent confrontation, all had the feeling that nothing that passed before those quiet eyes was missed.
His parents visited once, disastrously; his father received open contempt, his mother, an emotional void. After they had gone, he'd started throwing furniture out the window.
"I'm so sorry, Son," he snarled, again and again, mocking his father's voice. Sorry, but not sorry enough to get him out. His mother hadn't even had the good grace to be contrite.
Other than that one catastrophe, his condition didn't change. He sat or stood or walked or lay, and let the hospital sweep around him.
It was the day after Washington's Birthday when the story showed up in the Globe: An April Second-through-April Fifth concert run at Herdman Hall by the one and only Holly Willstead, three shows daily: matinee, dinner, and late.
He memorized the article immediately, detail by detail, using three mnemonics for each one.
It occurred to him to wonder if Trenton had somehow planted the story, but he could see no way that the doctor could manage it, and even if he could, he had to admit that Trenton had always played him straight. That sort of duplicity just wasn't Trent on's style. Besides, to what end would he plant such a story? What possible purpose could it serve?
No. The story was legitimate. Lemuel casually turned the page, and thought of Trenton, and the nurses, and the hospital's security schedules and systems, with an intellect vast and cool and unsympathetic; and slowly and surely he drew his plans agains t them.
"Oh, good God," said Stephen Trenton, in his office, later that day. He hit the intercom. "Bill, I need you."
The nurse entered. "Yeah, Doc," he said. "What do you need?"
"Did Lemuel read his Globe yet today?"
"Sure. Business as usual."
"Damnation!" He held out his own newspaper. "Look here."
Bill looked at the story. "Oh, damn! I'm sorry, sir! I-- we didn't get a directive that he wasn't to see the paper, so..."
"Not your fault, Bill. I know that. I got behind, that was my doing." He shook his head. "Damnation! Bill, from now on, reverse it. No more papers unless I specifically okay them."
Still, he thought, it was nothing, only a small story. Nothing to worry about.
When Lemuel was a little younger, he'd realised that his thumbs made him a little more dextrous than other kids his age, and he'd become interested in thaumaturgy. Before he lost that interest, he'd become quite proficient in the basics of prestidigit ation.
And the key to any magic trick, he knew, was misdirection. The audience watches the right hand, while the left does its simple work unobtrusively. Meticulous planning, manual dexterity, elegant confidence and simple misdirection; that was how you made an elephant -- or a mental patient -- disappear.
The emergency sprinklers went on throughout the building just after nine o'clock on the morning of April first.
Trenton jumped, at first -- ever since that damn newspaper cock-up, he'd had the feeling that an invisible smirk hung in the air when Lemuel was present -- but, no... It couldn't have been... Could it?
Almost in spite of himself, as he made his way through the halls and the milling people, hospital staff getting the patients out -- it could be a real fire, after all -- he steered himself away from the front door, and toward Lemuel's room.
He met him halfway there. Lemuel had made a kind of poncho out of his bedspread, it hung voluminously about him, giving him the appearance of being much fatter than he really was.
He essayed a tight smile at Trenton, hair wet under the hood, still being rained on by the sprinklers. "Came to make sure I got out safely, Doctor? I'm touched."
"After you," said Trenton.
"That an expensive suit?" asked Lemuel, as he sloshed down the hall ahead of the Doctor.
"As a matter of fact, yes."
Lemuel walked on down the hall ahead of him, and Trenton dearly wished he could see his face. His back tingled ever so slightly; he was held by an unshakable feeling that something -- something -- was up.
They got out the door, into the yard, and Trenton looked back over his shoulder, trying to see whether there was any smoke, and if so, from where.
When he looked back, Lemuel had gained almost fifty feet on him, in the general direction of the main gate.
"Hold it right there, Lemuel!"
Lemuel froze, and Trenton ran up to him, spun him around by the shoulder.
"Open the poncho!"
Lemuel gulped, put on a shocked expression. "I beg your pardon!"
"Do it!" snarled Trenton.
A few people -- patients, mostly, but also a nurse and an orderly -- turned and stared.
"All right, all right," said Lemuel, soothingly, and spread the poncho wide.
Under it, he wore his hospital jammies.
"Satisfied? Or shall I drop trou, too?"
"All right," said Trenton. "Go over there, with the others."
There came a howl of sirens, a clangor of bells, and the fire department arrived, to add to the fun.
Lemuel shrugged, and meandered over to the crowd. Most were in robes, a few in coats, one or two with newspapers over their heads, but only Lemuel had a poncho like that.
Good, thought Trenton. He'd be easier to keep an eye on that way.
Firemen were in and out for more than an hour before they found it. The fire chief waved Trenton over.
"Right," He called, and started walking. "What can I do for you?"
"Do you know what patient's in room, uh, one-oh-seven?"
Trenton's heart skipped one. Lemuel! "Yes. His name's Lemuel Tippen. Why?"
"There was no fire, but the sprinkler in this Tippen's room went on first. He must have held some sort of heat source up to the sprinkler. I hope you've got an eye on him."
Trenton turned swiftly, almost in a panic, but there was the familiar, billowing bedspread poncho.
"Thanks, Chief," he said. "I've got him. I'd better go give him hell."
"You do that. There could be real fires killing people right now, while we're here playing footsie with you."
"I understand, believe me."
Trenton trotted over to the ponchoed figure, grabbed the shoulder.
"Nice try, Lemuel," he began.
The figure turned, and Leonard Tannoy, who'd lost an eye, an ear, and something far more precious, in Viet Nam, stared monoptically at him from beneath a scarred brow. "No, but he gave me this poncho. Nice, isn't it?"
Trenton paled. "What?!?"
"Oh, yeah, and he had a message for you!" Tannoy held out a slip of fairly wet paper in his trembling hand.
Trenton snatched it from him, and he cringed away from the savage anger in the gesture.
Trenton stared down at the message: slightly runny letters in blue ink on the wet paper.
APRIL FOOL! it said.
Lemuel stood in the alleyway, brushing down the navy-blue janitor's jumpsuit, patting the second, at his belly, into a more natural, more beer-induced, shape, and smiling.
It had been a close thing, he realised. Close, but no closer than Doug Henning or Harry Blackstone got to their audiences. The trick, always, was to misdirect. Try and sneak off, early on, because he expects you to try something. Give him what looks l ike an ace up his sleeve, like the folded corner in Three-Card Monte, a distinctive outfit to look out for. He'd considered "trying to smuggle" something in the poncho, to give Trenton something to find, but had decided against it. He couldn't have afford ed the further search that would've ensued. Not with two folded coveralls stuffed in the back of his Jammies! He'd felt that he must look like Quasimodo with all that stuff in his back, but Trenton hadn't noticed, and that was what counted. The switch-off into a coverall had been surprising easy in the crowd of patients, and Leonard had been genial about accepting the poncho-- and the irresistable message.
His feet were still in hospital slippers over his sweat socks. He dumped the slippers -- worse than useless: a dead giveaway! -- and swore quietly as his stocking feet came to rest on the cold, wet pavement. He'd only been able to steal the janitor's coveralls through chance -- he'd got the first pair, almost just so he'd have something to do, even before he saw the story in the newspaper, and repeated the process shortly thereafter -- there was no immediate chance of better footware.
Time to shove off. He was far too close to the hospital, much too far from Herdman Hall. he moved back through the alley, and came out beside a 7-11 store.
He stood for a moment, looking around, getting his bearings, and set off in the general direction of Herdman Hall at a brisk, steady pace.
Trenton stared around his office in a fine fury, mostly at himself.
A seventeen-year-old kid!
He picked the still-wet phone from its cradle on the soggy desk, and dialed. Hallelujah! The phone still worked.
"Miss Timmins, I want Herdman Hall -- security."
He waited for awhile, on musical hold, if you wanted to call it music. "If I'd had anything to do with that orchestration," he said to nobody, "I'd have slit my wrists in shame." One day, he was going to find the musical hold machine in the hospital, and slip some Doors and Hendrix tapes into it. That ought to liven up the--
"Herdman Hall, Security Chief Whelch. What can I do for you, Doctor?"
"I'm, uh, calling to give you warning. I think you ought to beef up security."
"Any particular reason?"
"This is kind of a complicated situation. I've got a patient who's here because of an obsession with Holly Willstead, and... Well, he's just escaped."
"And he's dangerous, he could hurt her, is that what you're saying?"
"Well, that's where it gets difficult. He hasn't shown any proclivities toward violent behavior... But that's no guaranty of this future behavior. Let's put it this way: he's not dangerous as in Friday the 13th, ad nauseum, but he could very well be d angerous as in Mark David Chapman."
"Any particular way I might recognise him?"
Trenton gave a brief description, mentioning the extra thumb joints. "But," he finished, "I don't know how he'd be dressed. He escaped in his Jammies."
"All right, Doc, I'll get right on it. Thanks for calling."
"The least I could do."
Cody Whelch laid the phone gently on its cradle, and looked at the desk for a minute. Poor Bastard, he thought, and looked over at his assistant.
"All right, Bob, listen up. I want security tightened up. That was a Dr. Stephen Trenton, from Bachmann Memorial Psychiatric Hospital. A patient with an obsession for Miss Willstead has escaped from their custody, and it's a fair bet he'll try to get here, probably tomorrow, and certainly before the end of her last concert here. Trenton thinks he could conceivably be dangerous to Miss Willstead. I don't see how we can ignore the possibility."
"Okay, so we stop the fruitcake."
"We capture the poor bastard, alive and as unharmed as we can manage."
"All right. I'll be sure to tell Miss Willstead tomorrow."
"Bob, if you were as good-looking as you are dumb, you'd be rich, do you know that? You'd be a star! No, You won't tell Miss Willstead. She's got a show to do, she doesn't need you fucking up her concentration with stories of obsessed looneys hunting her down, so you can play yourself up as noble knight-protector. You just keep your eyes open. Here." he jotted the description on a pad of paper, handed it over. "Give this description to the men. He'll have to be dressed in something he picked up, unles s he comes in his P.J.s. So keep a lookout for the usual sorts of stolen outfits: Janitors' uniforms, sporting outfits, tuxes, messenger's uniforms, surgical greens... You know the drill."
"That's all, Bob."
Bob nodded, and left.
"Poor Bastard," said Whelch, quietly.
Trenton looked at his phone for a moment after hanging up, and wished there were some way he could avoid the job. None came to mind.
He dialed. Tippen answered quickly, almost too quickly.
Drew Tippen was no longer the amiable, eccentric dreamer who'd raised Lemuel. he was thinner, and his face held more years than his age could lay claim to. His laughter was heard seldom, these days, and his eyes had lost their sparkle.
"Hello, Mr. Tippen. Stephen Trenton. I'm afraid I've got bad news."
"Lemuel? What's happened, is he all right?"
"As far as we know. He escaped a couple of hours ago."
"Yes. Look, you've heard about the concert tomorrow. Obviously, Lemuel found out about it, and he's going to try to get to her. He, uh... Well, the details don't matter, I'll fill you in when you get here. I think you should come."
"I'm on my way."
"Will Mrs. Tippen be coming?"
"No. She's in Michigan with her family for a few weeks. She couldn't stand the publicity blitz for the concert. As if it was that poor girl's fault."
"It's not uncommon, Mr. Tippen. Do you think you can find his friend? Brian, is it? Brian Moore?"
"Bram Morse?" "Yes. Could you bring him?"
"Bram? Why Bram?"
"He cuts through Lemuel's fantasy world in a non-threatening manner. And there's a classic male-male bond there; that could prove most valuable in capturing him."
"Yeah," said Drew, bitterly. "I guess if we can get his best friend to conspire with us, we can trap him like a rat."
"Look, Mr. Tippen, Lemuel could be a real danger danger to that girl. You don't have to like that fact -- I surely don't -- but you do have to accept it. If he had some contageous disease, and didn't know it, you'd want to do everything in your power to find and isolate him, before he could spread it to anyone else. You wouldn't want anyone else hurt by your son's illness.
"Well, Lemuel is ill. Very, very ill. And if he gets through to Holly Willstead, that illness could hurt her."
Drew closed his eyes, and leaned against the wall. Oh, God...
"He believes," continued Trenton, "seriously believes, that Holly Willstead loves him, that she's waiting for him. So. Imagine. He manages to get through the security, gets right into the same room with her, a hotel room, a dressing room. His whole ex istance is keyed to that fantasy of love.
"He comes into that room, sees her there, goes to her, takes her in his arms, kisses her, maybe, or tries to. And he says, oh, say, 'Darling, I've escaped! Now we can be together forever!'
"But she's only seen him once her life, for less than a minute. She doesn't remember him! She struggles, backs away, screams. Total and unqualified rejection. To Lemuel, a betrayal. Moreover, his subconscious will recognise her as a threat to the fant asy-world he's built for himself.
"I don't want to hone it too finely, Mr. Tippen, but gentler men than Lemuel have killed for far less."
"I-- all right, Dr. Trenton. I'll get Bram; we're on our way."
All that meticulous planning had got him out of the hospital, away from Trenton, and free, but there were too many variables, out here. But, he had the germ of a plan -- more than that, really -- and he knew what he needed to do next.
Holly would be there tomorrow. Waiting. Lemuel had a lot to do.
Drew just simply didn't feel up to driving, so they took Bram's pick-up to the hospital.
Bram liked it better that way, to tell it truthfully. He preferred the driver's seat, the control, the movement; he liked the way his brain smoothly shuffled together the data from the dashboard and windshield and rear-view mirrors.
So Lem hit the highway, he thought, worried and happy and amused and concerned all at the same time. I wonder how he did it? The Astounding Lemuel, here to confuse and amuse, confound and befuddle you! Watch closely, now, nothing up my sleeves, and, A bracadabra! I disappear!
Yeah. The Astounding Lemuel. That had been a long time ago, hadn't it? He missed those days. Life had been a whole slew easier to deal with before the onset of puberty.
Drew was just staring morosely out the window. Poor Mr. Tippen. It'd been rough on him. First, Caleb -- Bram had been there, seen the fight, when Mrs. Tippen had brought in the deprogrammer -- and now Lem.
The Astounding Lemuel. What amazing feat would he pull off next?
He pulled off into the driveway of the hospital. From where they parked, they could see the mess that had been made of the place that day.
"I wonder if that all has anything to do with Lem," said Bram. "Look at all those tire-tracks on the lawn!"
He climbed out of the truck and started toward the hospital, and his brown hair and easy gait reminded Drew, not for the first time, of Lemuel.
Bram stopped and looked back. "Mr. Tippen?"
Drew nodded, and climbed out his side, and followed along behind him. He was unbearably tired.
Trenton met them at the door, looking harried. "Mr. Tippen, Bram. Hello."
"Doctor Trenton," said Drew, and Bram nodded.
They stood for a moment, in awkward silence.
"Well," Bram finally said, when it became plain that Drew wasn't going to, "What happened?"
Trenton looked at him for a moment, then at Drew. Drew was silent.
"Well," the doctor finally said, "he held some sort of heat source -- probably a disposable lighter, there have been two on the possibly missing list for a month -- up to the emergency sprinkler in his room. When it starting pouring, we cleared the bu ilding, as per usual. Lemuel was wearing a poncho he'd made out of his bedspread--"
"Big, colorful, easy to spot?" asked Bram.
Trenton nodded affirmation.
"Remind me to get you in a game of three-card Monte sometime. Go on."
"Look, Morse," Trenton began, bridling. He cut himself off. "When the building was cleared, he used the cover of all the confusion to switch off the poncho with another patient, and slip away."
Bram nodded slowly. "Right. The Astounding Lemuel. Same old techniques he used for his conjuring tricks: Confidence, Skill, and Misdirection. Stage magic. He took you like an amatuer, Doc."
Trenton shot him a look. "Stage magic? What the hell are you going on about?"
A frown crossed Bram's brow, and then the light dawned. "My God! You don't even know!" The astonishment on his face turned to contempt. "You've had Lem here for six months, and you don't even know that he used to do a magic act! Six months! I don't be lieve you!"
Trenton stiffened, but Bram cut him off.
"Look, never mind that, what are you doing to find him?"
"Well, for starters, we've got the police out in force--"
"Oh, hey, there's championship thinking for you! Did it, mayhap, occur to you that the last time a cop clapped his hands on him, Lem landed up in this hole? You sicc the cops on him, and he'll rabbit for sure!"
"Don't tell me my job, boy!"
"Somebody has to! You've had him here for six months, and all you've got to show for it is a soggy hospital and ruined landscaping!" He spun on Drew. "Mr. Tippen, you stay here, playing Footsie with the Doctor! I'm going to find Lem!"
"All right," said Drew, quietly, and Bram turned and strode back to his truck, and drove away.
Lemuel walked at an easy pace away from Herdman Hall. Holly wouldn't be there, yet, and it would be silly to get himself caught at this point. But the yard out behind the hall was still as littered with old flats as it had been when he'd seen Godspell , eight years before. Good, good.
Lemuel smiled. "Soon, Holly," he said. "Soon."
Dawn found Bram Morse sitting in his truck, outside a 7-11 store not too far from the hospital, with a Coke in his hand, thinking.
I'm Lem, he thought, and I'm walking out the back door. What's my first worry? Recapture! I've got to get to Holly, so I can't let them catch me again. First order of business, then, is to ditch the Jammies. Lem wouldn't even try it, if he hadn't had that angle covered. So... I walk among you, dressed even as you, unseen and unnoticed, but I see, and I hear, and I remember... My first concern, my absolute, overriding priority, is to get in to see Holly Willstead. Do I have a plan? Sure I do... But, it 'd have to be pretty flexable, and nebulous.
Hotel room? No. No way he could find it. Herdman Hall, then. Three shows a day, starting today, April 2nd: matinee, dinner, and late.
For a matinee, figure her to be there at noon, to prepare and rehearse. He'll want to get to her as soon as possible, so figure him to show up at about the same time.
But, crazy or not, Lemuel was just too smart to show up without an ace up his sleeve. Figure him for a plan.
Great, Bram. Now what? Come on, I'm Lem, and I've got to make a plan to get into the hall, to get to Holly. What do I do? What's my plan?
Well, I'm sitting here thinking like Lem. Lem'll sit where he is, thinking like the problem. The problem is that there are hordes of guards there who must have been specifically instructed to be on guard against me, Lemuel Tippen.
Think like a guard. What gets me out of the way? Nothing! Not if I'm any damn good! I'm here to watch for Lemuel Tippen, and nothing else will budge me.
Bram took another pull at his Coke, and shook his head. It seemed so damned hopeless!
"I'm missing something," he murmered. "I don't know what, but I'm definitely missing something."
He tipped the bottle, and attacked the problem again.
Trenton and Drew had gone out cruising the streets, to look for Lemuel, but that had got them nothing except vaguely car-sick, and now they were just sitting in Trenton's office, brooding.
"It's wrong," Drew finally said.
Trenton looked a little blearily over at him."What is, Mr. Tippen?"
"This, all of this, the whole thing. It's all wrong."
"Come on, Mr. Tippen, we've been through all this. Lemuel is--"
"Sick, I know. The thing is, the more I think about it, the less I believe it."
"You sat right here, Mr. Tippen, in this office, watching video-tapes of Lemuel trying to decode secret code messages out of an album cover--"
"And doing a pretty good job, I must say."
"Really, Mr. Tippen, what's that supposed to mean? Are you seriously implying that your son isn't deluded? That he really is somehow linked to this girl's psyche? Come back to the real world, Mr. Tippen."
"I made an observation, Doctor. It was an accurate one. I never drew a conclusion to go with it."
"What is it that you want, Mr. Tippen? "
"I want my son to be sane. I want him home, and safe, and unscathed. I want my life back."
"That's not impossible, Mr. Tippen. Lemuel can be treated."
"But he isn't willing to accept treatment."
Trenton looked down. "No."
"Have you ever heard of this sort of a patient holding out so totally, and for so long?"
"Hmmm." Drew was silent for a moment. "Have you ever considered the possibility that maybe -- just maybe -- he's not deluded? That he just might be right?" :"Mister Tippen!"
"I'm asking a question. I imply nothing."
"Have I ever considered it possible that he might be right?"
Lemuel sat on an upended trashcan in the alleyway, trying not to feel defeated. It was no good. He looked around at the other inhabitants of the alley: bums. It had been so plausible, in theory. Need a double? Use a bum! Trade him a nice fresh clean j anitor's coverall for his services for a short time. But he hadn't considered one thing, one hole in his plan. There wasn't a one of these guys who could pass as him, even from a distance. they were old, and thin, and dirty, and bedraggled, and sloppily b earded, and just totally unacceptable. Not one good candidate in the lot.
And he was so close, so damnably close!
Lemuel spun at the voice.
"Hello, Bram. How'd you find me?"
Bram smiled, sat on a trashcan. "Wasn't hard, Lem. I put myself in your place, and figured out what you'd need: a double. But, you couldn't hire an actor: no time, no money. You'd want someone more tractible, less official. A bum, right?"
"Now," continued Bram, "bums aren't hard to find, in Boston, but there aren't many places this near Herdman Hall that offer any sort of selection. So, I started checking big alleys... and here I am."
He smiled gently. "Come on, Lem. It was a good try -- really good -- but it's over. Let's get going."
"Oh, don't be an ass, Lem. This is a bonehead play, and you know it. I'm taking you back."
"Not conscious, you're not. Look, Bram, I know you mean well, you really do, but... Bram, you've got to learn to see that perception has limits. The universe is infinite, and we understand very little of it. You've been trained to box psychic phenomen a in with Bigfoot and the Devil's Triangle and astrology, fit only for the Star or the Enquirer... But, Bram, just because a few crazies have got hold of it, doesn't mean it isn't true. the World was round before the third century, B.C., when Eratosthenes used his towers and wells to prove it. The fact, the truth existed before the discovery occurred.
"I'm telling you, Bram, here and now, what I told you before. This is real.
"And I'm going to her. Make no mistake, Bram, I'm going. Now, you can try to knock me out, and throw me into the back of Doubloon... Or, you can help me. Think quickly; it's after eleven. Time grows short."
Bram gazed back at him for a long moment, and made his decision.
At about eleven-twenty, Drew suggested to Trenton that it might be a good idea to wait at Herdman Hall. Combing the streets for Lemuel had proved useless; they'd have to let him come to them.
Trenton had agreed readily, having come to more-or-less the same conclusion a few minutes earlier.
That was why, at a little before noon, Trenton was in the theatre lobby, to look up, and recognise a familiar form in a janitor's coverall, just inside the backhall doorway.
"Whelch," Trenton yelled. "That's him!"
And, with Cody Whelch's security crew behind him, he ran in hot pursuit, Drew Tippen close at his heels, yelling, "Lemuel, stop, wait!"
But Lemuel neither stopped nor waited. he went straight out the back door, between two very surprised security men, and was off through the junk-strewn yard.
"That's him," yelled Trenton. "Stop him!"
The two guards joined in the pursuit, but he'd gained a lot of yards. He dove through a sort of quasi-natural lean-to -- leftover flats from old plays -- and was off with renewed speed, up the alleyway, his big brown work-boots splashing through the m ud.
And a hint of a frown, and then something else, flashed across Drew Tippen's brow, and he faltered, and redoubled his efforts, shouting, "Lemuel, Lemuel, stop! Get him, he's my son!"
A guard with a good running start and a familial relationship of some sort with Rocket J. Squirril took off in a flying leap worthy of Chris Reeves, and got his arm's around the ankles of the big, brown boots, and the running figure fell with a "Whoom pph!"
Trenton loped up and stood over the prone form.
"It's all over, Lemuel," he said.
His only reply was a panting gasp.
"Come on, Lemuel," he said. "You've fought the good fight." he reached for the shoulder, and turned the panting figure.
Trenton's blood rushed in his ears.
"Oh, my God..." He said quietly.
It was Bram Morse.
Lemuel walked softly down the hallway toward Holly's dressing room, his blood rushing in his ears.
I'm coming, Holly, he thought. I'm coming. Soon, it'll all be over, and everything will be right.
There were musical sounds from the stage, as the band set up for their rehearsals. He rounded a corner, and there was the door with the star on it, just like in the movies.
As he came closer, he heard her humming, within. Humming Dream Lover.
Suddenly, there were distant,pounding footsteps in the building -- they'd caught Bram!
He grabbed the doorknob, threw the door open.
She spun, stared at the doorway in apprehension...
Which melted into relief when she saw his face.
She ran to him, threw her arms around him, touched his face with her fingers. "Oh, God, it's you! You finally came! I waited, and I waited, oh, God, it's been months! Why didn't you come? I thought I must be going mad!"
"My parents thought I was mad. They had me committed!"
"Oh, I'm so sorry... I--" She faded into embarrassment.
"Lemuel," he said. "Lemuel Tippen."
"I'm-- I-- There aren't words..." she said.
"There needn't be."
And where words failed, the mute language of a kiss succeeded.
And, as the sensative nerve-endings aligned, bio-electrical energy was exchanged between two low-level mono-specific telempaths, and their minds and souls were one, and their hearts rejoiced.
And Dr. Stephen Trenton came pounding into the room, and dragged Lemuel away from her.
"It's all right, Miss Willstead," he began, as Lemuel struggled indignantly.
"It was," she retorted, "until you barged in! Good God, Dr. Trenton, what does it take? Lemuel showed you the messages on the record, told you everything... What does it take to convince you?!?"
"You don't understand! He's a dangerous lunatic!"
"No! You don't understand! He's a perfectly sane telepath!"
Trenton gulped. "But, he, he's..."
"The man I'm going to marry!" said Holly Willstead, with great finality.
And so, after two months of grueling but vindicating torture at the hands of the boys from M.I.T.'s parapsychology lab, it came to pass.