CRAIS: EXCERPT - LULLABY TOWN
"I'm afraid I've come to you under
She made a small frown, wondering what I was talking
I said, "I'm not moving to the area, and I don't
want to finance a house. I'm a private investigator. From Los Angeles."
Her left eye flickered and she didn't move for several
seconds. Then she made an effort at the professional smile and sort of cocked
her head to one side. Confused. "I'm afraid I don't understand."
I took out the 8 x 10 of nineteen-year old Karen
Shipley made up like a waitress, unfolded it, and put it on her desk. I said,
She leaned forward and looked at the 8 x 10 without
touching it. "I'm sorry. My name is Karen Lloyd. I don't know what you're
"Your ex-husband, Peter Alan Nelsen, hired me to
She shook her head, smiled patiently, then used a
pencil to push the picture back toward me and stood up. "I don't know
anyone named Peter Alan Nelsen and I've never been to Los Angeles."
I said, "Karen. Come on."
"I'm sorry. But if you're not here to discuss
business with the bank, I think you should leave." She came around the desk
and opened the door and stood there, right hand on the knob.
I picked up the 8 x 10 and looked at it and looked at
the woman with her hand on the knob. They were one and the same. "Ten years
ago you and Peter Alan Nelsen were divorced. Your theatrical agent was a guy
named Oscar Curtiss. You lived in an apartment house on Beechwood Drive owned by
a woman named Miriam Dichester for almost a year, and then you skipped out on
three months' back rent. Twenty-two months after that, you mailed a U.S. postal
money order for four hundred fifty-two dollars and eighteen cents to Ms.
Dichester. It was postmarked Chelam. This is you in the picture. Your maiden
name was Shipley. Then you were Karen Nelsen. And now you're Karen Lloyd."
She was gripping the door knob so hard that the tendons
in the back of her right hand were standing out like bow strings, as if the
force of the grip was not so much to hold on to the knob as it was to hold
together something that had been carefully constructed over many years and was
now in danger of being pulled apart. Her eye gave the flicker again. "I'm
sorry. I don't know what you're talking about."
She made the professional smile, but it didn't quite
work this time. "I'm sorry."
I held up the picture. "This isn't you?"
The little smile again. "No. We do look alike,
though, so I can understand your confusion."
I nodded. Outside, the woman with the blue hair put
money in a plain white envelope and put the envelope in her blouse and walked
away. Joyce Steuben talked on the phone. The guard read Tom Clancy.
Nobody seemed ready to jump up and give me a hand, but
then they rarely do. I said, "Peter doesn't want anything from you. He
doesn't want to impose on you or to interfere with either your life or the
boy's. He just wants to meet his son. He seems sincere in this. You're not going
to gain anything by acting this way."
She didn't move.
I spread my hands. "Karen, you're found."
She made a little shrug and shook her head. "I
hope you find whoever you're looking for. I really do. Now if you don't mind, I
have work to do."
She didn't move and I didn't move. Outside, a black man
in a New York Yankees baseball cap approached the teller and Joyce Steuben hung
up the phone and began to write on a yellow legal pad. Somewhere in the back of
the little building the heating system clicked on and warm air came through the
vents. I said, "If there's nothing to anything I've said, call the guard
and have him throw me out."
She squinted to make the left eye stop moving. The
knuckles on the hand holding the knob turned white. Neither of us said anything
for quite a while. Then the tip of her tongue appeared and wet her lips. She
said, "1'm sorry that you've wasted your time, but I know nothing about any
I took a deep breath and let it out and then I nodded.
Yes. That's my name.
"Never been to Los Angeles."
"Don't know Peter Nelsen."
"I can understand your confusion. I do look very
much like the girl in the picture."
I nodded again. The black man finished his transaction
and left and the teller walked over to Joyce Steuben's desk and sat down. Toby
Nelsen appeared in the teller's window, reached through, took a pencil, then
disappeared again. Karen Shipley stood very still, legs together, elbows tight
at her sides, right hand on the knob and left hanging down at her side. The left
was red as if blood had pooled there. I folded the 8 x 10 and put it in my
pocket and stood up. "Sorry," I said. "You do look very much
"I'll be seeing you."
"Have a nice day."
I walked past her and past Joyce Steuben and around the
end of the tellers' counter and out past the guard to the front door. I stopped
and looked back at her. She had not moved. Her face was tight and contained and
her right hand was still gripping the knob of her door. She stared at me a
little longer and then she stepped back into the office and shut the door. Toby
was concentrating on the math workbook and did not look up.
I went out to the parking lot and stood by my car
beneath a sky that had grown heavy and dense and the color of shale. There was a
cold wind coming from the northwest and a formation of large black crows beating
their wings a hundred feet overhead. Because of the wind, the crows were
pointing in one direction but traveling in another. I wondered if they knew it
and, knowing it, understood it, or if they were simply oblivious, carried along
by a force that was felt but not seen. The same thing happens to people, but
most of the time they don't know it, or when they know it they think it an
action of their own devising. They are usually wrong.