would simply have to tell her he was not ready to leave. That should be easy enough.
Regardless of what he had told Ms. Zoe, he always got his wayunless it did not
matter. This, however, matteredmattered deeply; it was absolutely essential he
finish The Game.
But what could he tell Mother Dear to keep her at a distance?
And should they talk in private or should Ms. Zoe be present?
His earlier tantrum, no doubt, had gotten the old nun worried; she had
confirm his morbid state. How, then, to use that as a means for gaining timetime to
work on Melanie?
Julian plotted as he walked. The snow compacted underfoot. Upon
reaching the nun's quarters, he heard the chapel bell toll twice. He knocked and entered.
"Punctual as usual."
"I said I'd be here. Here I am."
"You still sound angry, Julian. Are you?"
"Yes. I'm missing Melanie's lesson."
"Oh, I am sorry. I had forgotten, or I would have suggested
"Skip it. Let's get this over with, shall we?"
Sister Zoe retreated behind her desk, picked up the telephone and
"Mrs. Filomena Papp, please
"No. It's Sister Zoe. Your son's here with me, though. Just a
second, I'll put him on."
She offered Julian the receiver.
He did not hesitate. In fact, he veritably snatched the phone from her
"Hello, Mother Dear. I'm fine. Don't come. Goodbye."
He clamped his hand over the mouthpiece and spoke to the nun.
"Always keep things short and sweet, do Mother and I
now protesting that I'm cruel
and that after having traveled all this
He stopped to glower at Sister Zoe.
"Where is she?"
"Where the hell is that?"
"Julian, talk to your mother. When she heard that you were
"Right. Sorry, mom. Sister Judas has just informed me that you're
practically in town. Payson, is it?
Fifty, sixty miles away
Hm, hm. 'Goddamn
snow.'" His hand again covered up the mouthpiece. "She's frantic about my
quoting her within your hearing."
"Would you like some privacy?"
"No, no. I'll edit." He addressed his mother. "I'll give
her only an expurgated version. So, what's up?"
He listened quietly for a moment.
If only the nun could see his eyes, but with his glasses onand
with his usual deadpan expressionhis face proved unreadable. She would have to
depend on scraps he tossed her, and on their conversation afterward.
"She's expressing doubts, now, about your competence, Ms. Zoe.
She's in a bit of a snit about my 'sabbatical.' Should I bail you out?"
"No, Mother. The fault was mine not hers."
He grinned sardonically.
"I took a walk, was all. Got lost. It started to snow. I found a
cabin. What's to tell; I rode out the storm in stylethe place had all the creature
The nun had expected as much, and wondered at Julian's withholding this
account. She watched him closely, aware more than ever before, of a chess player's
"Oh, oh. She's asking about my seizures. Treacherous footing here,
"Yes, Mother. I cannot tell a lie; I've had one recently. Again,
my fault. I've been remiss in popping the pills. They give me nightmaresor so I
thought. Ms. Zoe has been trying to convince me to the contrary."
"She wants to speak to you when we're finished, Ms. Zoe. Don't
forget how generous I have been."
Sister Zoe felt a pang of guilt. Julian was drawing her into his own
conspiracy. He was enjoying himself; it was obvious. Why? Because Julian, it was apparent,
had total control.
Then suddenly he changed. He turned aside as he spoke. His tone grew
"She's just a patient here."
"No, she's just a kid. Amnesia victim."
"Yes, she's prettyif you're into baldness and
"As a bat. A little fuzz is all."
"I didn't say. None of us know. I'd guess thirteen. What is this?
"I'm getting the third degree about Melanie."
"Listen, Ma. I think you'd better go back home."
"That's right, without your baby boy."
"I know you're close, but I've been feeling kind of down."
But not before. Okay?"
"Fine. I'll tell her."
"Mother Dear wants to wait it out, in case I change my mind when
the roads are finally cleared. I said okay."