Chapter 22


    Lucy walked down Eighteenth Street in what she had once heard, from one therapist or another, was a fugue state.

    She couldn't get that photograph out of her mind.

    That couldn't have been her house on Melbourne Road. It wasn't possible. It was just a picture of one of a million bungalows. They all looked alike, didn't they? Especially the crappy ones.

    But what about that flag, Luce? Did they all have that raggedy flag hanging off the porch by a rusted nail, that stupid pennant that was supposed to mean Spring? The one you were supposed to change every three months but no one ever did, not once in all the time they lived there? They had all of them - Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, all four seasons, each looking more tattered than the other - but they never changed Spring.

    What about that, Luce?

    What about the Spring flag?

    She didn't have an answer, just as she had no idea what had happened during those twenty minutes she couldn't recall. Somehow she must have talked about the day she disappeared. What did she say? And why didn't Mr. Costa tell her what she'd said? Wasn't that why she went to see him?

    It was all part of the process, she guessed. And she had two more visits to go.


    From the time she was six or seven years old, Lucy had been an ace mechanic. Not with cars, necessarily, although she could now do basic maintenance on most cars - changing oil, replacing plugs and belts, the occasional brake job if it didn't involve turning the drums or rotors. No, her forte was small appliances. Bring her a stopped tape player, a cold toaster oven, a dimmed lamp - and a lot of the staff of Le Jardin often did - and she would have it up and running by the end of lunchtime.

    She had not gone to a vocational training school, or taken any classes, correspondence or otherwise. It was a natural ability, combined with a necessity of life.

    When she was small, on the night forays during which she and her mother picked through trash they would often find all kinds of discarded items - toaster ovens, blenders, tape players. Lucy's mother would haul them back to their apartment, giddy with swag, then pretty much forget about them. Weeks later she would throw them out, and Lucy would rescue them a second time. She started with the easy ones, but eventually got better at repair.

    Although she didn't know it, she was practicing reverse engineering.

    By the time she was ten, Lucy would go out to dumps, finding her own things to repair. She knew every second-hand dealer in their small towns. Where most kids were reading Dick and Jane, Lucy pored over Sam's Photofact.

    In addition, on her jaunts into the stores Lucy always stole the same color clothes - sweaters, sweatshirts, skirts. She even replaced some of her mother's clothes. Her mother was always falling down, ripping her clothes. Lucy got it down to a science. She could steal a brand new dress and worry the material just enough so that her mother never knew she was wearing a different garment. Her mother was a proud woman in many ways, and it broke Lucy's heart to see her going around in ratty clothes.

    On this day, Lucy found herself in the Macy's near City Hall. She made her way over to the children's section, found a sweater that looked to be the right size. She picked up two of them, carried them around for a while. When she got to the women's section she selected a dress, brought it into the dressing room.

    Inside she got out her small toolkit and, with her back to the mirrors - she knew all the tricks - removed the electronic tags from one sweater and the dress, affixing them to the second sweater. She slipped the first sweater and the dress into her bag, left the dressing room, replaced the other sweater on the display rack, tarried a bit to make sure that she wasn't being watched, then walked out of the store.


    When she arrived back at Le Jardin, with just a few minutes to spare, Lucy could see that the convention guests - the members of Société Poursuite - were milling about the lobby. They weren't all guests, of course. It was a convention that attracted a lot of locals, as well as people from all over the tri-state area who drove in for the three days of seminars, lectures and dinners.

    In all, over the next few hours there would be ninety-two new guests, and all of them had to be quickly and efficiently processed, greeted with smiles and pleasant repartee, their concerns listened to with rapt attention, their every need anticipated and met, their next three days in the city of Philadelphia - and specifically in Le Jardin - a promised and delivered haven.

    Lucy stopped by the Loss Prevention office, picked up her room key.

    A door to your subconscious, Mr. Costa had called it. A portal to what happened to you nine years ago.


    Lucy finished her last room, room 1214, at 3:45.

    She stepped into the closet, closed the door, sat down. In moments, the darkness embraced her. When she closed her eyes she saw the town of Shanksville, Pennsylvania from above, saw the school on Cornerstone Road, Lake Stonycreek, and the church on Main Street.


    The Dreamweaver had asked her questions, his silken voice floating above her, behind her, around her, like a warm breeze. Her own voice belonged to a little girl.

    What day is it, Lucy?


    Is it morning, afternoon, evening?

    It's morning. Tuesday morning.

    What time?

    Around ten. I didn't go to school.

    Why not?

    Mama was out the night before, and she didn't get up in time.

    Where are you?

    I am across the street from the church.

    Are you alone?

    No. Mama's with me. She is wearing her long leather coat. The one with the rip in the right pocket. She is wearing sunglasses. She asked a lady for a cigarette and the lady gave her one.

    What happened then?

    There was a big bang. It was loud. Even the ground shook.

    What did you do?

    I don't remember exactly.

    Try to remember. Do you smell anything? Taste anything?

    I taste milkshake.

    What flavor is it?

    Chocolate. But it's warm milkshake. I don't like warm milkshake.

    What about smell?

    I smell smoke, but not like regular smoke. Not like burning leaves, or logs in a fireplace. More like when people burn their plastic garbage bags.

    What happens next?

    I stand here for a long time, watching the fire and smoke rise up into the sky.

    Where is your mother?

    Right beside me. Or maybe not.

    What do you mean?

    Someone is beside me, but I'm not looking at that person. I can't take my eyes off the smoke over the trees. It is making pretty patterns in the sky.

    What kind of patterns?

    At first it looks like the face of Jesus. Then it looks likes birds.

    What happens next?

    I reach up my hand for my mother to take me somewhere. Anywhere but here. I'm scared.

    Does she take your hand?

    I take the person's hand, but as we walk away I realize it can't be my mom.

    Why not?

    The hand is too big. And rough. It is a man's hand.

    Is there anything else you remember?

    Yes. We get into a car. And there is a new smell. Two new smells.

    What are the new smells?

    A different kind of smoke. Different from the burning plastic smell. Like from a pipe, I think. A pipe that people smoke. Like men smoke.

    And what else?

    Apples. Empire apples. We have lots of apples in Western Pennsylvania. Especially near the fall.

    Do you remember what else happened that day?

    The fire. The ground shaking. Being scared.

    What about the man? What happened with him?

    I don't know.

    What about his face? Do you see his face?

    When I look at his face it isn't there.

    What about the fire? Do you remember what that was? Do you remember what caused the fire?

    Yes. I remember, but only because I found out later.

    What was it?

    It was Flight 93. It was September 11, 2001, and Flight 93 crashed right near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.


    Lucy looked down at her hands. She had been clenching her fists so tightly that she had eight little red crescents on the palms of her hands. She eased her fists open, stepped out of the closet, looked around. For a few crazy moments she did not know what room she was in. Most people, even people who worked at Le Jardin, would be hard pressed to tell the standard guest rooms apart, their only clues being, perhaps, the view from any given window But Lucy knew every room on the twelfth floor. It was her floor.

    She smoothed out her uniform, stepped into the bathroom, went through the mental checklist in her mind, then checked the entire room.


    She opened the door, stepped into the hall. Two older men were approaching from the elevator. They were probably with the convention. Everyone on the floor this week was with the convention. They nodded to her, smiled. She smiled back, although she didn't feel it inside.

    When she reached the business center on the twelfth floor - really just a small niche with computer, fax machine and printer - she sensed another guest coming down the hall. The unwritten rule was that in the hallways, elevators and most public spaces, guests, along with all front-of-the-house personnel, had the right of way. You didn't hide or sidestep from anyone, but if you were any good at your job you knew how to defer with style.

    Lucy stepped into the alcove just as the man passed the door of the business center. She did not get a good look at him, just a glimpse of his dark coat.

    But she didn't have to see him. It was not her sense of sight that took the floor from beneath her. It was her sense of smell.

    There, beneath the hotel smells of cleaning products and filtered, heated air, was another smell, a scent that closed a cold hand over her heart, a smell that unquestionably trailed behind the man who had just passed her in the hallway.

    The smell of apples.

    She looked down the hall, and knew that he had come out of one of the rooms. Was it 1208? It had to be. She had just cleaned the other two rooms at that end, and they were empty.

    Lucy pushed her cart madly down the hall, caught the service elevator to the basement. She left her cart in the basement, ran up the steps toward the service entrance to the first floor. She tried to calm herself as she walked toward the lobby. She didn't know what she would do if she confronted the man, or even who she was looking for.

    She stepped into the northern end of the lobby. There were three men in the lobby, none of them wearing or carrying a dark overcoat. Everyone else was staff.

    She went out the side door, onto Sansom Street. The sidewalk was crowded. Men, women, children, people making deliveries, cab drivers. She rounded the corner, looked in front of the hotel. Two bellmen were taking bags out of a limo for an elderly couple.

    Lucy's heartbeat began to slow. She took a moment, then walked up the drive on the east side of the hotel.

    The smell of apples.

    It had to be her imagination. Brought on by going to see that crazy old man. She was never going to find out what had happened on those three days. Not really.

    She rounded the wall at the back of the hotel, turned the corner.

    'Hello, Lucy.'

    She stopped, her heart in her throat, her legs all but giving out. She knew the man standing before her. She knew his face.

    'It's you,' she said.

    'Yes, Lucy,' he replied. 'It's Detective Byrne.'

The Echo Man
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