Peyton, what does paradise sound like?
Too short a night for so frequent a beep from the phone. Text messages, the ultimate means of passive aggressive communication. Ding.
What are you afraid of? Turn it on.
No sleep, just minutes and seconds between the bump, the next bump and the grind. Ding.
To the empty room, aloud. “What.” The phone twitched a tone. Ding. Irresistible.
The time has come to turn your heart into a temple of fire.
Clear instruction. Penny got out of bed. Time to leave Maine, thank fuck.
Your essence is gold hidden in dust.
Benny meant the metronome. Left in the basement after Devin made it work by accident with a DO NOT SHAKE post-it stuck on the base. And the note. The note inside was a nice touch.
Place, date, time.
The note crumpled neatly in the shape of the inside of her fist and stayed that way as it sailed across the room into the bin.
To reveal its splendor, you must burn in the fire of love.
So he knew about that. Penny chucked the phone in her bag. What did she expect, really. Benny spies. More cursory packing. She was going to New York. They have everything there, the fuck did she need to pack? Splendor. What’s that mean. What’s he got planned.
Rituals change is what Compton said. But they don’t change, not that much. He takes off after fuck-ups, and personal implosion. That is the old man’s ritual, whether he realizes it or not.
Still. Friday. And all that entails.
Penny would have to coerce someone into making the drive. Didn’t want to wake anyone in the house, have to explain why she was going before she left for however long.
Benny would ask about Chase. And vice versa. The note was specific. Benny would not ask about a stranger. She could make it look the right way.
It’s not work, it’s devotion, it’s correction, it’s necessity. What Penny was knew first and foremost about Friday is that love, as a method, continued to be a four letter word.
First impulse; release the catch, let the static weight swing, see what happens.
Penny felt it stir, the ghost in the machine and instinctively knew she had no way to channel whatever lay within. When the pendulum swung it was a feeling like .. like being the tide and feeling the pull of the full moon.
Something Keene said skimmed the surface of waking thoughts. “I’m not allowed to trust myself anymore.” Penny thumbed an expletive-filled response. She was not hungover, still had all her teeth, fingers, toes. For now.
Second impulse, bring it back to Benny.
It had no return address but after getting the run-down from Devin, of course it came from him. Of course he called her. Of course that’s why he was summoning her now.
So she left Maine in the middle of the night, the note on the fridge NYC BRB and she arrived two hours later by charter plane out of Bangor International, Eddie the doped-up cop trailing after in another of the follow-cars.
“Your instincts are getting better,” he greeted her on the tarmac.
“We’ve come to an understanding and it’s mostly a selfish act, Benny.” A beat, handing over the metronome “It’s not for me.”
“You read the note.” Penny hated the good girl tone he delivered that line with. Benny continued through, breaking the silence “And that Devin seems nice…” and Penny picked up the trailing comment “…a little,”
Benny interrupted to opine with firmness “Exactly-“
“-like me when I was that age.” Reluctant to admit it, “She even likes the old man, too.”
Their police escort flashed only red lights, lined up and led the way through the Midtown Tunnel. The checkpoint was backed up three vans long. Benny, impatient “Time may ever be with us but, for our friend the architect…” and the driver swung out into the unblocked lane.
Penny knew who he meant, she had met him at one of the mayor’s functions at a time when the High Line was just an installation at MOMA looking for investors.
“He’d like to see something special.”
“At least he got to see his vision come to life,” Penny offered.
Benny thumbed the metronome’s surface “Now he’ll get to see his dreams come true.”
Her favorite city was the light at the end of the tunnel. Speeding into lower Manhattan, looping to the West Side by the FDR every light shone brighter than she remembered.
Fewer sodium glares, fewer familiar faces, a sad thought, New York is closing.
He preceded her by minutes into the Tribeca loft. Some people were still superstitious about living downtown, others more or less comfortable witin a permanent haunt.
Penny, only slightly bothered, stood there with the body guard-slash-nurse in the hall. It did not hold the antiseptic smell she had thought might permeate the air. Instead it smelled of jasmine plants, loamy, lush, exotic considering how many stories they were vaulted in the air.
Another attendant adhered himself to Benny’s elbow, murmured something then stepped away brusquely to make their transition to street level as smooth as possible. The nurse had an agenda, believed he was escorting the dying man. The nurse was very busy and didn’t notice what Benny was up to. It was Penny’s job, he’d told her, to keep the nurse busy.
Penny, always good for a distraction. The best.
From a certain vantage point Penny could watch what went on in the foreground; Benny fastened something around the architect’s neck whom he then helped out of his death bed. She watched a trickle of blood drip down Benny’s thumb, pool in the cufflink. Caught sight of the key, the blood at the architect’s collar-line.
Sloppy, Benny. Or maybe deliberate. So she could see how it worked.
The moment the necklace touched his skin, the architect transformed. A man in his prime in rumpled clothes. The architect squeezed Benny’s hand, a profound gesture of thanks, went to change and returned in his best suit. The one he’d be buried in.