Have you seen them? They’re crawling into my room now, through the window. Dragging the shadows behind them, like its made of their wings, all tied together. Like bats dragging a big old shroud. I’m gonna try and catch one. I’ll send it to you. Keep an eye out for them. Maybe you get a different sort where you live.
Pace put the letter down on the counter-top. It ended there. As if Lilly had forgotten to finish it before folding it up and mailing it. He smiled ruefully. Then he looked at his pile of books. Pace took a deep breath, feeling the pain in his shoulders. He let it out with a sigh, and ran his hand through his bumpy hair.
The letter sat there, doing nothing. Pace smiled at it again, and felt a little better. She sounded… well, not as bad. Calmer. That was worth something, right? The warm cream color of the paper reflected in a puddle on the stainless steel. Pace reached out, flipped the letter over and began to fold it up. When he reached for the envelope (flimsy paper, labeled in sputtering blue pen) a scrap fell out.
P.S. Maybe I’ll bring it, instead of sending it.
Pace frowned as his stomach sank. He tucked the scrap and the letter back into the envelope. The house computer made a gentle ping. Someone was calling. The lights over the counter briefly faded blue.
“Who?” Pace asked. Then, “Who’s calling?” he corrected, so the computer knew what he was talking about.
“Belham Rest Home for the Mentally Ill.” The computer said, in her posh lady voice.
His eyes flicked to the return address on the letter automatically. Lilly Rosenhiem, Room 37 (they’d moved her again) Belham Rest, 918 Ford Road, Santa Anna, TX. 76878.
“I’ll answer it.” Pace said. He tucked the letter in with his books and then picked up the whole pile. There was a lot to do tonight.
The computer beeped again.
The speakers in the kitchen came to life, and a professional male voice said, “Good evening. This is Pablo Pajari with Belham rest. I’m calling for Mr. Pace Saba?”
“Hey.” Pace responded. “That’s me! Is Lilly calling?” He walked through the door into his bedroom and put the pile gently on his desk. The desk groaned.
Last time he’d tried to call her, she hadn’t had calling privileges. Apparently she’d set fire to someone’s hair, and they’d been worried that “stimulus” might cause it to happen again. Whatever that meant. Knowing Lilly, she’d gotten bored, and would do it again as soon as possible.
The speakers in his room started up. “No, although this call is in regards to Ms. Rosenhiem.”
Pace frowned. That couldn’t be good.
“I’m not legally allowed to manage her care.” Pace said, carefully. That was Lilly’s mom’s job. Very firmly Lilly’s mom’s job.
“I’m from the security division, Mr Saba. I just need to ask you a few questions.”
“Sure thing.” Pace reached over his book pile and tapped the computer screen by his desk.
“Ms. Rosenhiem has contacted you frequently by letter.”
“Yes.” Pace confirmed, as he rapidly typed in a search.
“When did you most recently receive one?”
“You guys don’t keep track of that stuff?” Pace asked, keeping it casual. He could feel the calm falling onto him, molding his voice. The computer brought up the website for Belham Rest. Pace hesitated, and then had it search everything it could find for Pablo Pajari.
“We do, Mr. Saba. I’m checking for the record.”
The little loading circle spun and spun. A few moments later it brought up a list of employees. Pablo Pajari was listed as a manager in the security division, under ‘recovery’. No other description.
“Mr. Saba?” His pleasant voice asked.
Pace stared at the listing and licked his lips. “I just received one today.” Pace caught himself and corrected. “Actually, I haven’t checked my mail box since Monday, so it could have come yesterday or the day before.”
“Could you tell me the post date on it, please?”
Pace started flipping books over. “Sure, let me find it again.” It was stuffed in the stupid-huge book about weed growers in the 40s. “That’s the date that’s printed over the stamp, right?”
“Yes Mr. Saba.” Strained patience. How many people had he talked to today?
“Says last week, March sixteenth.”
“And the location of the post office?”
“El Paso.” Pace said. He hadn’t noticed that. They were normally marked for Abilene.
Mr. Pajari hissed between his teeth. “May I ask what she said? Anything out of the ordinary?”
“I mean, no.” Pace said, on auto-pilot. “Not out the ordinary for letters from Lilly.”
“She didn’t indicate that she was planning to go somewhere?”
Pace hesitated, chewing his lip. “No.”
“We’re concerned about her safety, Mr. Saba.”
“She’s escaped?” Pace asked, absently, still chewing, turning the letter over and over in his hands.
“She has evaded treatment, yes. She needs help, badly. In an unsupervised environment she is a danger to both herself and to others.”
Pace smiled at that, involuntarily. He remembered the time she’d driven Darren’s car off of the bridge, just because he’d bet her she couldn’t.
“Anything you can tell us would be of help.” Mr. Pajari continued.
“I’m sorry, sir.” Pace said, as honestly as he could. “I don’t really know what to say.”
The computer interrupted, the lights fading blue to let him know the microphone was muted. “Someone is at the door.”
“Bring up the video.” Pace said. Everything all at once! The lights faded back to white, as Mr. Pajari spoke again.
“That’s fine, Mr. Saba. I’ll leave you my number. Please call if you think of anything. We’re very concerned about Lilly’s safety.”
The video was up. It was Lilly, on his doorstep, huge backpack at her feet. Brilliant eyes glaring out of her scorched red face, ragged dusty coat visible through the empty holes in her ears.
“Yes. Thank you. I will.” Pace said, mouth doing its job without his brain’s help. “Please have a nice evening.” Of course it was Lilly. Who else would it be?
“You too, Mr. Saba.” The call ended.
The computer chimed. “Message from the visitor at the door.” The computer said.
“Play it.” Pace managed.
Lilly’s voice. A tight, hissing whisper. “God damn it, Pace!”
“Let her in.”