Tom and Ellen spent another two days lying low. Sal’s smoking gun was more of a water pistol, not nearly what Tom had hoped. Ellen kept her distance. They watched movies. They made dinner. Sometimes Tom would sit on the porch, and now and then she’d hear him coming in, finishing a conversation with Mrs. Day. But no matter what they did together, Ellen knew only a fraction of Tom was ever in the same room. The rest of him was gone off somewhere, trying to make something useful out of the scraps and pieces he’d gathered the last few weeks.
This came to an end when Remley called.
“I am free, baby!”
“They let you out?”
“They let me choose to leave,” Remley said. “All the same.”
“Christ,” said Tom. “Shouldn’t you be, I don’t know, under observation?”
“Nah. They topped off my blood, changed my bandages, the whole nine-point service check. I am road ready, my friend. I am good for three thousand miles.”
“We need to talk.”
“So come over.”
“It’d be better to talk here,” said Tom, glancing out his window. He’d thought he’d seen Valiss’s Toyota down the block the last time he’d said good morning to Mrs. Day, and wasn’t keen on stepping outside.
“I just put on some soup,” Remley said. “You can’t just leave soup. It’ll get a skin.”
“It’s my skin I’m worried about.”
Remley clucked into the phone. “Let’s compromise. You guys come over, and if Valiss shows up I’ll make you waffles.”
Remley’s argument—argument? Concussed ramblings?—didn’t hold much water, but as Tom heard himself talk he became annoyed with his own paranoia. If Valiss really wanted him dead, he could have done it by now. It wasn’t as if Mrs. Day would notice the sound of gunfire, not over her Wednesday night marathon of Apocalypse Now.
He closed his phone and found Ellen. “Remley’s out. Saddle up.”
Tom kept one eye on the rearview mirror as they drove, but if Valiss was following he was doing a damn good job keeping hidden.
Remley was waiting outside for them, a portrait of good cheer. This despite the bandage wrapped around his head, and the wide thatch of hair they’d shaven in order to put in clean stitches. He looked admiringly at Tom’s scalp.
“Almost,” Tom said.
Remley went on about the nurses, two in particular, as they walked together inside, Ellen following behind. Tom had noticed her knife—she took it out of her pocket with increasing frequency, and it was out now, her fingers wrapped tightly around the black resin handle. November had come in with a biting crispness, and in the shadows there were still traces of a morning frost. Inside, Remley attended to his soup, sitting covered on a cooling burner. Beside it was a teakettle, just starting to titter.
“I timed it perfectly,” he announced, pulling three mugs from the cabinet. “Ellen, how do you take yours?”
“I think the blood loss altered his personality,” she said to Tom.
“No sugar,” he said. With a wink he added, “You’re sweet enough.”
“Remley, listen to me. I need to catch you up.”
Remley nodded but began whistling. Despite this, Tom went into his story, explaining the documents they’d gathered, the implications of Valiss’s guilt, and the very real possibility that, at best, they might only get Valiss to cop to a lesser charge.
“I mean, god knows what they’ll drum up,” Tom concluded. “Extortion? Breaking and entering? An assault charge? If Prelligate thinks it will keep her clean, she’ll come up with something.”
Remley sipped his tea. “So what do you need from me, exactly? Wait, let me guess—you’re the brains, she’s the beauty, so, by default, that makes me the muscle. You wants I should rough somebody up?”
Ellen laughed. “Remley, how many bones could you have left unbroken?”
“I can be tough,” he said. “I think we’ve proved I can take a beating, anyway.”
Tom shook his head. “I’m going to need in your basement, Remley.”
“What? Why?” His eyes went wide. “Oh, Tom, you can’t be serious.”
“I need it.”
“What?” Ellen asked. “Need what?”
Remley set his teacup down on its saucer. “To catch you up, Ellen: Tom wants to take back my all-time, favorite ever Christmas present. Tom wants to open my Doomsday Kit.”