Dulaney dreamed there was no war. A thousand years had passed and he had come to the end of an endless journey, closing an infinite circle in time and space. But when he opened his eyes it was still Sunday, May 3, 1942.
He had slept less than two hours. The sky outside his window had just gone dark but the moon was up, shrinking his world to a small silver square on the floor, this eight-by-ten room with bars. His eyes probed the shadows beyond his cell -- the dark hallway, the line of light on the far side of the bullpen where the office was. He had come awake thinking of Holly.
His peace had been shaken. The steadiness born in his soul now drained away, leaving a growing sense of unease. He heard the radio droning in the outer office. Charlie McCarthy had given way to Walter Winchell with no loss of comedy, but even when the jailer laughed at something Winchell had said, even with the sound of another human voice in close proximity, Dulaney felt isolated, alone on an alien planet in a time he barely knew.
Winchell had a name for Hitler's gang. The Ratzis had struck again. Exeter had been bombed in retaliation for RAF raids on Lübeck and Rostock. There was an almost imperceptible lull as Winchell hit a word beyond his grade-school vocabulary. Baedeker raids, Dulaney thought as if coaching. They were called Baedeker raids because they were aimed at the guidebook towns that symbolized British antiquity.
Winchell blew the word, but by then Dulaney was only half listening. He was thinking about Holly and the last time he had seen her, almost two years ago in New York. He had collected his pay and gone back to his apartment to clear out his stuff, and there she was waiting for him. She had been sitting on the floor all night, in the hallway outside his door. They walked through Central Park and the air was clear and cold, the trees stripped bare in the third week of autumn and the leaves rustling under their feet. The skyline loomed over the trees and at last she made the effort to say her piece. She looped her arm in his and drew him close. "These things happen, Jack. It's nobody's fault, least of all yours." But he wouldn't let her get into it any deeper than that, and it was the only time they had touched even the edges of what they both knew had always been between them.
She understood then the hopelessness of it. They walked out of the park and stood self-consciously outside the apartment house that in another hour would be his former address. Dulaney offered coffee but she said no, she'd rather just say good-bye here on the street. She took his hand. "It's all right, Jack. Everything's fine."
Just before she walked away she said one last thing to him. "You told me something once and I can't get it out of my mind. A man needs something that's bigger than life, something he'd die for. I've been thinking about that all night."
"That sounds like me. Sounds a little silly now, doesn't it?"
She shook her head, impatient at his attempt to belittle it. "Good-bye, Jack. I wish only good things for you. I hope you find whatever life holds that makes you feel that way."
But he had already found it. He knew it then, in New York; knew it now, sitting alone in a California jail cell. This thought sank into silence. Then, from the darkness beyond the bullpen, he heard Winchell's announcer, recapturing the moment for the makers of Jergens lotion.
Today, if she should by some trick materialize in the jail beside him, he could do a better job explaining it to her. It began with the fact that his lifelong pal had seen her first. He would always think of them as a couple, even if the stars weren't working and they never actually married. She knew this, of course, but there are shades of truth. He and Tom had been closer than brothers.
Copyright © 2001 by John Dunning
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