"It's safer than the streets. Leave them alone," she said.
"The streets. I guess I'm ready now."
"Then we'll go."
They found the car and Scott drove north along the Hudson and across the bridge at Beacon into dusk and secondary roads, connecting briefly with the thruway and then dropping into networks of two-lane blacktops, hours into night, the landscape reduced to what appears in headlights, to curves and grades and the signs for these, and there were dirt roads and gravel roads and old logging trails, there were steep hills and the sleet-spray of pebbles firing up at the car, there were pine stands lit by the moon. Two near strangers in night confinement inside the laboring drone of the small car, coming out of long silences to speak abruptly, out of long thoughts and memory chains and waking dreams and every kind of mindlife, the narrative that races just behind the eyes, their words sounding clean and shaped in the empty night.
"I feel as if I'm being taken to see some terrorist chief at his secret retreat in the mountains."
"Tell Bill. He'll love that," Scott said.
The room was dark and the man stood at the window waiting for headlights to appear at the top of the hill and weave across the field, across the tree stumps and bent stalks and rock debris. It was not eager or needful waiting but only a sense that the thing was about to happen and if he stood here a moment longer he would see the car turn into the rutted lane, a wobbly shadow set behind the lights, and come down the hill toward the house, taking on dimension. He resolved to count to ten and if the lights did not appear he would go to the desk and turn on the lamp and do some work, going over what he'd written during the day, the scant drip, the ooze of speckled matter, the blood sneeze, the daily pale secretion, the bits of human tissue sticking to the page. He counted to ten and when no lights showed he began to count to ten once more, slower now, standing in the dark, making an agreement with himself that this time he would really go to the desk and turn on the lamp if the car did not appear at the top of the hill by the time he reached ten, the mud-spattered compact, and settle down to work because it was only children who thought they could make things happen by counting, and he went to ten one more time and then one more time and then just stood watching until the headlights finally showed, splashy white, the car dipping off the rim of the hill and the lights sweeping briefly across the scrub, and strange children at that, the squinters and crappers, the ones who ball up their fists when they cry.
The car moved into the glow of the porch light. Mud stains on its lower flanks, layers of dust settled at the edges of the windshield outside the overlapping arcs of the wipers. When they got out and walked to the porch steps he went to the door of his workroom and listened to them stamp their feet on the mat and come in downstairs, mingled voices, the ruffle of people entering a house, shaking off coats, making all the incidental noises of transition, the sigh of the full body, homeyness and deep relief, the way it seemed a danger and a lie.
He closed the door and stood in the dark room, moving his hand across the desktop to find his cigarettes.
Glad to be indoors after a long journey on a chill night, nowhere. Goulash soup and black bread. Glad to be reminded that kitchens are places for long talks, the late hour, the wood stove and musty wine. Brita had shared a thousand odd dialogues with strangers on planes, intense and shallow, whispery with Existenz. Totally fake really. She could not talk seriously in cars. The car was serial travel, a sprocketed motion that shot her attention span to pieces. Even when the car generated a dull flat landscape she found it hard to unravel herself from the stutter reality of the broken white line and the picture in the window and the Kleenex in the box and break into real talk. She talked in kitchens. She was always following people into kitchens when they cooked meals or got ice for drinks and she talked into their faces or their backs, it didn't matter, making them forget what they were doing. Scott sat across the table, lean and bushy-haired, something of a monochrome, with a beach glow in his pale brows. She thought he was happy to have company, a full-tilt voice from the breathless cities, pieces of experience, and he leaned toward her as if she were whispering, telling him rare and private things. But all she did was push out words, eat and talk, working the human burble. And he gazed, he stared at her, examined with uncalculating interest. If women her age were creatures who went mainly unseen and if she was a slightly weathered Scandian in jeans and sweatshirt who crushes cigarettes in dinner plates, then maybe he wondered what arresting things they might possibly have in common. He was in his absurdly early thirties, faintly unsure.
"I'll tell you the truth. I have no idea where we are. Not a bloody clue. And I suppose when I leave we do it by night so I don't see landmarks."
"There are no landmarks," he said. "But we do it after dark, yes."
"Now that I'm here it's hard to talk for very long about anything but him. I feel there's something at my shoulder and I can't help thinking I should refer to it now and then. Many people have tried to find him, I'm sure."
"Nobody's gotten this far. There have been media forays that we've heard about, intrepid teams with telephoto lenses. And his publisher forwards mail from people who are setting out to find him, who send word of their progress, who think they know where he is, who've heard rumors, who simply want to meet him and tell him what his books have meant to them and ask the usual questions, fairly ordinary people actually who just want to look at his face."
"Where is he?" she said.
"Upstairs hiding. But don't worry. Tomorrow you get your pictures."
"It's an important shoot for me."
"Maybe it will ease the pressure on Bill. Getting some pictures out. He's felt lately that they're moving in, getting closer all the time."
"All those fairly ordinary people."
"Someone sent him a severed finger in the mail. But that was in the sixties."
Scott showed her a room off the kitchen where some of Bill's papers were kept. Seven metal cabinets stood against the walls. He opened a number of drawers and itemized the contents, which included publishing correspondence, contracts and royalty statements, notebooks, old mail from readers-hundreds of sepiaedged envelopes bound in twine. He narrated matter-of-factly. There were old handwritten manuscripts, printer's typescripts, master galleys. There were reviews of Bill's novels, interviews with former colleagues and acquaintances. There were stacks of magazines and journals containing articles about Bill's work and about his disappearance, his concealment, his retirement, his alleged change of identity, his rumored suicide, his return to work, his work-in-progress, his death, his rumored return. Scott read excerpts from some of these pieces. Then they carried their wineglasses out along the hall where there were shelves filled with booklength studies of Bill's work and of work about his work. Scott pointed out special issues of a number of quarterlies, devoted solely to Bill. They went into another small room and here were Bill's two books in every domestic and foreign edition, hardcover and soft, and Brita went along the shelves studying cover designs, looking at texts in obscure languages, moving softly, not inclined to speak. They went to the basement, where Bill's work-in-progress was stored in hard black binders, each marked with a code number and a date for fairly easy retrieval and all set on freestanding shelves against the concrete walls, maybe two hundred thick binders representing drafts, corrected drafts, notes, fragments, recorrections, throwaways, updates, tentative revisions, final revisions. The slit windows high on the walls were shaded with dark material and there were two large dehumidifiers, one at each end of the room. She waited for Scott to call this room the bunker. He never did. And no hint of ironic inflection anywhere in his comments. But she sensed his pride of stewardship easily enough, the satisfaction he took in being part of this epic preservation, the neatly amassed evidence of driven art. This was the holy place, the inner book, long rows of typewriter bond buried in a cellar in the bleak hills.