Micah was impressed by the economy and cooperation with which the snake was dispensed, and he said so. In fact, he went on about it. They shuffled around the parking lot, Jo distracted and distraught, and amid sorrowful consideration of her predicament, she’d catch little bits of his monologue now and then, filtered through the ambient crackles and croaks of celebration.
“That’s the kind of intuitive tactical agreement we’re so often lacking in my department,” he said.
And, “The whole thing resembled a pitch, don’t you think? The decision, the slow wind-up, the sudden release. It was a thing of beauty.”
And, finally, “Do you think that was staged?”
Jo wondered at the fact that Micah hadn’t brought up the obvious kinship on display between Jack and Ben, or the fact that Jack had given the child his name. Was this an insignificance compared to the death of a snake? It was a strange omission, and the more she focused on it the more it concerned her. Had she gotten it wrong? Was she crazy? The thought occurred to her that a highly emotional state might force the brain to draw connections where none existed, and the heart to support them with false emotional heft. By the time she decided that the only answer was, simply, to ask Jack, she was walking alone. A man ran in front of her, carrying a woman upside down. Her laughter seemed desperate, frantic. Jo spun around and saw Micah standing beside Reginald Ash, backs turned to Marci’s booth.
Marci started yelling.
Cursing herself for not just walking away, Jo stood by as Micah explained to the people around that he’d seen Reginald buy the shard fair and square, that Marci was crazy, that she was trying to steal from him. Jo closed her eyes, hoping it would resolve itself, and considered the miracle of peoples’ will to settle disputes with language. Then she felt hands on her shoulders. She didn’t need to look to know who it was. But the time wasn’t right. She couldn’t bear to look into Jack’s eyes, let alone ask him about Ben. She kept her head lowered until the hands left her body, watched Jack take two steps away from her through partly opened eyes, then left.
Once she’d broken from the crowd, Jo immediately felt better. She paused to watch a paper mask tumble across a bare portion of the parking lot, and for the first time she noticed the wind. She continued on past the visitor center, where Larry was administering water to some preppie kid sitting on the steps, then kept walking, the sun at her back, and was about to take the path to Jack’s house when she heard whimpering. It was coming from the utility shed.
She approached the shed cautiously. She thought it could be a hurt animal, maybe a Javelina, even, behind the building, or under it. She walked slowly around, but found nothing outside. The animal whimpered again, and it was now clear that it must be inside the shed, whatever it was. She opened the door, slowly, and peeked through the crack. She flipped on a light, but saw nothing until she was fully inside. Then she let out a small cry. It was Rockette, tied up. Jo ran to her and dropped to her knees, embracing the animal and letting her face be licked.
“What are you doing in here? Who tied you up, Rockette?”
Jo buried her face in the dog’s neck, feeling the cool, soft fur against her skin. She knew Rockette wanted to go outside, but Jo wanted to sit with her for a moment, to be alone with her. It felt selfish and good. When they’d first taken Rockette home, she’d looked forward, each morning, to waking up as the still-small dog tried to jump into the bed. She’d inevitably fall backwards and try again, pawing at the cascading wool blankets spilling onto the floor.
But Rockette was less interested in her now, and Jo didn’t blame her. She probably smelled like the city, like the hospital where her son was being kept. Jo gave her one final squeeze, and then set about to undo her. The knots were very tight, the dog tied in something like a harness, and Jo struggled unsuccessfully to loosen them. Needing a tool to finish the job, Jo started to rummage through the shelves.
“Jo, are you in there?”
It was Micah. Jo felt relieved—he’d have no trouble with the knots.
“Help me, would you?” she called out. “Someone tied Rockette up in here.”
Micah stepped in the door and looked at Jo, then past her to Rockette, whose tail thumped against the floor in anticipation of being petted by someone new.
“Fuck,” he said. “I thought they’d pull something like this.”
“Who’s ‘they’?” Jo shook her head. “The knots are too tight for me.”
She looked up just in time to see Micah’s hand swinging at her head.