Shakespeare's Dark Lady
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CHAPTER FOUR


Or why is Collatine the publisher
Of that rich jewel he should keep unknown
From thievish ears, because it is his own?
Perchance his boast of Lucrece' sov'reignty
Suggested this proud issue of a king;
For by our ears our hearts oft tainted be.
Perchance that envy of so rich a thing,
Braving compare, disdainfully did sting
His high-pitch'd thoughts that meaner men should vaunt
That golden hap which their superiors want.

The Rape of Lucrece
William Shakespeare



Amelia came into the third-floor bedroom to which Daniel had been banished for the duration of Lawrence's stay.

"Maria will move your things back downstairs as soon as Daddy leaves," she said.

"This is really necessary, I suppose?"

"It's only for two nights, and he'll be gone most of the day--he has a full schedule whenever he comes back to Cambridge. Besides, he sleeps in the master bedroom, right next to mine. Come on, he's waiting."

Daniel finger-combed his protesting hair and followed her downstairs, grumbling about jealous fathers.

A curtain bellied in the draft as he opened the library door. Maria was laying things out for tea. Lawrence stood heels to the fire, looking every inch the patriarch with his daughter fawning at his side. Amelia was knitting her fingers in front of her the way she sometimes did if she got into one of those rare passive moods that could, from one moment to the next, sweep her personality of all its assertiveness.

A teapot stood on a silver tray on the sideboard. Amelia, who'd said nothing after the pleasantries, went dutifully to pour. Lawrence made a feudal gesture and Daniel sat down, careful not to take the green wing chair--which, he gathered, was reserved for the master of the house.

"I've got a full program while I'm here," Lawrence said, eyeing his daughter as he spoke. "Perhaps you and I can update each other on the Shakespeare Search, and when we've done talking I'd like to spend a little time with Amelia on her own."

"I'm happy to talk with you now if it's convenient," Daniel said. His eyes lingered on the portrait of James Hungerford above Lawrence's head. There was no mistaking the resemblance.

When a formal tea had been taken, Amelia drew her chair closer to the fire.

"Why don't you go help Maria organize the weekend's menu?" Lawrence said.

"Of course." She was out of the room in a flash.

This was Amelia? Apparently obsequiousness was yet another side to her--one that jarred even more than it surprised him.

Lawrence led with an attack, a habit Daniel had been warned about.

"One thing first, Daniel. I care a lot about Amelia. I've got no illusions what the pair of you are up to. But goddammit, you'd better get this straight--you're fooling around together, but you'd better not fool with her affections. Is that clear?"

Clear? It was straight out of the last century.

"I care about her too," he said. "A great deal. And we really understand each other."

"For God's sake don't tell me you understand women. In my book that's a hanging offense. By the balls."

What the hell could he say to that? Fortunately Lawrence changed the subject.

"As for your little hunting expedition"--he raised a fat Havana to his lips, moistened the head, then turned to the fire long enough to flick the cap off with one well-aimed fingernail--"I'll carry on endorsing it, strictly from the wings. The rest is up to you and Marcus."

A whisper of smoke rose from the end of the cigar, and he took a meditative puff.

"Sometimes I have my doubts about Marcus," Daniel said. "Not his integrity, it's more his past and his reputation."

"Don't make the mistake of thinking Marcus is flaky because of his nothing's-impossible approach to life. It works for him. I wouldn't be involved in this whole thing if I didn't know he was rock-solid." Another puff. "Nor do I want you to think I've got any doubts about you personally." Puff. "I did at first, but I had your credentials checked out, and frankly I was impressed. It was your professional credibility that convinced me." Puff-puff. "And will convince millions of others to buy this cock-a-mamie plan."

"I'm glad to hear it .Now maybe you'd like to hear what I've got to say?" He looked directly at Lawrence and saw a tiny facial muscle twitch, just below the left eye. He hadn't noticed it before. "I've had some time to think the whole thing over, and everything seems to have been carefully planned along lines I have no trouble following. My only problem is with the lab."

He raised a hand, palm out, to quash the interruption he saw coming. To his surprise, Lawrence respected the stop sign.

"It's not the lab itself. The design, equipment, size, specifications are all ideal, and I've never worked in a lab I'd describe that way. The problem is its location. I don't --"

"For God's sakes," Lawrence said, "the two of you come up with an insane plan to bust into a grave and start looking for some descendant who probably doesn't exist, we build a dream lab to your specifications, and you have a problem with the location?"

Daniel held back from reminding Lawrence that the original plan had not been his but Amelia's and Marcus's. . . Hadn't it?

Lawrence's face was an apoplectic puce. Daniel watched the tic under his left eye, a flicker so subtle that it was barely visible. Lawrence took a pill from what looked like a snuff box and turned to face the fire, but Daniel saw him swallow it. When he swung back his livid hue had abated.

"What the hell difference does it make whether you work in a religious community or some scientific institution?" he said.

"Not a lot, I suppose." Which was true. Wasn't he really objecting to get the old boy worked up a little? "And besides, I gather they've already built most of the lab by now. But still, a so-called church does seem a bit odd. I've checked up on the Reverend Joshua Smith, and apparently his real name is Jerome Desroches. My sources tell me he's a hillbilly from Quebec who used to teach philosophy at the University of Toronto."

Lawrence moved away from the fire to pour himself a scotch. "Let's look at this from another angle. Here you are-an active man, a brilliant man--twiddling your thumbs in Cambridge while other scientists are out there working their butts off on their own vaccines. . . ." He paused and looked at Daniel.

"Couldn't have put it better myself."

"Then believe this: with Marcus and me behind you, no one's going to beat you to the punch."

The wind had evidently shifted.

"What about the American Red Cross? Will they still touch it with a connection to a guy like the Reverend Joshua Smith and a bunch of cult screwballs?"

"I don't see why not. I've negotiated an intermediary role for the Red Cross, and they've given Marcus's screening units the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. They'll be supporting the AIDS Campaign right down to the release forms, which I understand all the screenees will sign--confidentiality guaranteed--before they take the test for HIV in one of the mobile units. Isn't that what you and Marcus worked out on the phone?"

Daniel nodded. "Marcus's plan now is to put an extra box to check on the form: a request for the sample of blood to be analyzed for Shakespeare's gene. Any male being screened for HIV can ask for the test. Publicity will stress that only men with an old Anglo background--worded more diplomatically, of course--need check the box. That will keep time-wasters to a minimum. Among screenees a small proportion will be Shakespeare hopefuls, maybe one in twenty. Their blood samples, HIV positive or not, will be sent to the lab after being batched by four hand-picked hematologists who'll be working through Marcus's office in Santa Monica."

It was Daniel's plan that these samples should serve two completely separate functions. Enough would be seropositive to give him a more than sufficient spectrum of HIV strains to work on after the lab technicians carried out the weeping gene test. Tillman and Cunliffe-Jones had reconfirmed their willingness to join him, as would another molecular geneticist of serious repute along with half a dozen lab technicians.

Lawrence stood with his back to the fire and peered into his highball, his cigar wedged between two fingers. Daniel crossed the room to fix himself a drink. When he came back, glass in hand, he sat down in the green wing chair without thinking.

Too late, the damage was done. From the hearth Lawrence uttered some profanity which he garroted before it fully escaped. Then without a further word he stalked out through the library door. Daniel stayed seated in his wing chair, toying with his glass, and allowed himself an astringent smile.

Standoff.

The curtains were open. The half-moon, through a rent in the clouds, pooled bluish light on the rosewood vanity. Falstaff growled where he lay on the rug.

Daniel was standing naked at the side of Amelia's bed. The coverlet was peeled partly back and he was looking down at her sleeping shape.

His head was buzzing, and not just with all the '61 Petrus he'd consumed with dinner. He knew the buzz of Prozac when he heard it.

He glanced at the door and climbed into the bed forbidden to him while Lawrence was in residence.

Under the covers he felt something small and lumpy pressing into his hip. He pulled it out and held it up. In the half-light he made out the features of a rag doll with gimlet eyes and Hecate hair. He placed it carefully on the other side of Amelia.

As he teetered at the edge of sleep Falstaff rose and stretched before padding out to the corridor through the half-open door. A long canine wail--then he rushed back, hair bristling, and squeezed his bulky shape under the bed.

Daniel roused himself and listened. There was no sound apart from Falstaff's whimpering. Amelia was sprawled on her side with her knees drawn up. He pulled up the coverlet and snuggled toward her as close as he could get with her bent knees between them. Her hair brushed his chin as he drifted off to sleep.

He woke with a jolt. Felt for Amelia and found the bed empty-except at the foot, where Falstaff now lay sleeping peacefully.

He groped his way into a dressing gown that hung over a wicker chair in the corner, then tried the light switch.

Nothing.

More groping, until he found in an end-table drawer what he was looking for: a pocket flashlight. The batteries were going, but it gave some light.

He slipped into the corridor and passed the closed door to the master bedroom, very quietly so as not to wake Lawrence. The only sound was the sighing of the wind and the faint scrabbling of an unpruned oak's branches against the panes of the stained-glass window.

At the top of the staircase he groped for the banister rail and felt his way down. The woody texture under his fingers prickled his skin.

"Amelia?" he said in a carrying whisper. Then, louder, "Amelia?"

He felt almost detached from himself, recalling his experience in the cellar. He called her name again and heard a faint echo. Not her name.

Daniel?

His name. . . wasn't it? A voice in the wilderness, calling Daniel.

Where was Janey?

At the half-landing he shone his light up at the only portrait of Amelia's mother in the house. The eyes, so like Amelia's, seemed relentless. He paused to listen.

No human sound, but all around him the house was prowling. He put one hand against the wainscoting and read Sarah Hungerford's dates: 1932-1979. The wind outside had risen. He lingered to listen and heard, or imagined he heard, plaining and keening like a woman's voice, or a castrato's, or a lych-owl's. No. It was like the cry of a part of you long forgotten, in response to the waxy pallor of a corpse washed and dressed and laid out on a catafalque, the bombazine mort-cloth folded back to reveal the face. . . .

This sudden burst of memory that-again--did not belong to him sent him moving quickly on down the stairs, stumbling, picking himself up and feeling his way through the hallway. The batteries were almost dead. Under the sink in the kitchen he found another flashlight, not much better.

He tried the library, where he checked behind furniture. He cast the light up at James Hungerford, at his green wing chair. Spindly shafts of light came through the windows from the moon that hung one moment in a crisp starless sky, the next moment came riding in to flood the library, dazzling him. A clock outside in the hallway struck three quarters of the hour. A heap of embers still glowed in the grate.

"Amelia?"

He whistled under his breath and looked at his watch: 3.46 a.m. Close enough to the midnight of the soul. Then came a hush in the cry of the wind. Five minutes he waited, then ten, fifteen. With a glance at the wing chair he headed for the door and stepped through. A clock chimed four in the library behind him, losing time in its old age.

In the hallway he shone his beam down the corridor. The chest still sat beside the rug that covered the trapdoor. Already he was shivering.

His head was spinning, spinning. . .

Floating.

Janey, are you there?

The light in his hand, adrift from his body, was fading fast.


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