The substance that had once crippled his mind and body had been gone from
his system for years, but Garth Frederickson had been permanently changed.
Some layer of emotional insulation had been stripped from him, leaving him
rawly sensitive to emotional and spiritual signals sent by others. He
experienced others' anguish and need as physical discomfort, a shortness
of breath, and in the presence of people who would do harm he experienced
a taste in his mouth not dissimilar to bitter chocolate. The poison's
strange legacy was a sometimes cruel gift that he didn't question and
couldn't explain-not to Mary Tree, his wife, and not even to his brother,
who tended to make jokes about his "nose for evil."
The Broadway actor in centerfield caught the fly ball hit by the ballet
dancer and threw home, but he was too late to prevent one of the three
local politicians on hand for the celebrity softball game to benefit the
sloop Clearwater and its efforts to clean up the Hudson River from tagging
up at third base and coming home. With two outs for Mary's team, one of
the five film actors who lived in Cairn stepped up to the plate, while one
of the two film directors who were his neighbors prepared to pitch to him.
The rock star coaching at third base, virtually unrecognizable without his
elaborate hairpiece, shouted encouragement.
From his seat at the top of a bleacher section on the west side of the
high-school athletic field, Garth watched as a short, husky man,
incongruously dressed in an ill-fitting tan suit and wearing a black
leather beret, emerged from the bleacher section on the north side and
made his way around the cinder track toward Mary, who had come off the
field after her turn at bat and was standing on the apron of the field
autographing copies of her latest album that people had brought with them.
Garth, tasting bitter chocolate, was out of his seat and heading down
toward the field as the stocky man in the baggy suit and black beret
roughly shouldered his way through the knot of autograph seekers. He said
something to Mary, and then thrust the bulky manila envelope he had been
carrying into the hands of the startled singer, who shied and backed away
a step. As the man reached out for Mary's wrist, Garth grabbed his
shoulder, pulled him back, and spun him around. He found himself staring
into pale-green eyes that first registered shock, then rage. A dark flush
spread from his thick neck to his fleshy face, highlighting the
alcohol-ruptured veins in his broad nose. He cursed in German.
"Security," Garth said evenly, using his free hand to display the
card that identified him as a member of Cairn's auxiliary police force.
"Wait your turn and keep your hands to yourself."
"Mind your business!" the man shouted in English laced with a
heavy German accent. "Get your hand off me!"
"If you have something for my wife to sign, line up and wait with the
others. If not, get the hell back to your seat. She's here to play
softball. If you want to meet her, buy a ticket to the reception after the
game." The man reached into the sagging left-hand pocket of his suit
jacket, withdrew a black snub-nosed revolver with an elongated skeleton
grip, and pressed the bore against Garth's sternum.
Garth slowly released his grip on the man's shoulder and dropped his hand
to his side as he calmly stared at his death in the pale-green eyes.