xvii. Ocelot

I waited outside Nigel's room for Aubrey to return. I wanted to go in there with him, but I didn't think it would be right for me to do that. So instead, I stood outside and wondered whether the old man would be able to get through to Winterhawk better than I did.

It wasn't long before he came out. His face was pale and sad, his posture sagging a bit. When he saw me standing there, he took a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh. "He's—asked me to make the arrangements," he said wearily.

I nodded. "Is he coming out?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I don't...think he was ready yet." Closing his eyes, he added, "I don't think it's good for him to stay in there too long. I need to...call the doctor. He asked me to keep it as quiet as possible."

"Yeah. That makes a lot of sense." I pushed off the wall. "I have an idea. Let me try one more thing...maybe I can convince him to come out of there."

"I hope so," Aubrey said. "I must go and make some...calls." Sighing again, he turned and went down the stairs.

I waited a few moments until he was gone, then followed him downstairs. My destination was the large and well-stocked liquor cabinet in the dining room. Fortunately, it wasn't locked; in fact, it looked as if it wasn't used often. I'd never seen Aubrey drink hard liquor, and Winterhawk usually preferred wine (there must be a cellar around the house somewhere, I figured, but I didn't have time to look for it). I surmised they probably kept the cabinet stocked on the off chance that Winterhawk might decide to throw a dinner party or something. Maybe he did that for his buddies at the University, but it obviously hadn't been any time soon.

Quickly looking over the cabinet's contents, I grabbed a large bottle of Scotch, then pulled down two glasses from the rack and hurried back upstairs with them.

Aubrey hadn't completely closed Nigel's door when he'd come out of the room, and Winterhawk hadn't gotten up and done it either, so it stood open about four centimeters. I pushed it the rest of the way open and went back in. This time, I went directly over to the bed and sat down on it. I could see by the impression in the covers next to Winterhawk that Aubrey had done the same thing. The mage wasn't lying across Nigel's body any longer; now he sat hunched over the bed, his head propped up in his hands. I couldn't see his face. "'Hawk, we need to leave now," I said gently. "Aubrey said he'd take care of everything, but we need to go so he can do it."

His face still in his hands, he nodded.

That was something, anyway. "You need a drink."

Again, he nodded.

I touched his arm with the glass. "Come on, then. Let's go back to your room, and you can have the whole bottle if you want it." Looking past him to Nigel, I felt a pang of sorrow. He had been a good kid—smart, well-mannered, courageous. The kind of kid I hated to see getting screwed over, but the kind that always seemed to, nonetheless. His face, framed by dark brown hair (the same color as Winterhawk's when he wasn't doing the stripe thing), looked more sleeping than dead; if I hadn't known, I probably wouldn't have guessed right away. I shook my head, silently, at the unfairness of it all. Yeah, life was like that. But I didn't have to like it. Lightly, so he didn't think I was trying to force him, I took Winterhawk's arm and tugged a bit. "Come on," I said again, still in a low, persuasive tone. "Let's go so Aubrey can do what you asked him to do."

With effort, Winterhawk pushed himself up off his elbows and to an upright sitting position. He looked at Nigel, then back down at his hands, but didn't look at me. "Yes," he whispered. Carefully he reached out and straightened the covers over the boy, then put his hand gently on the child's forehead and smoothed back his hair. "Yes, let's go," he said. Lurching to his feet, he took a last glance at Nigel and allowed me to steer him out of the room.

I got him down the hall and into his room with no trouble, though we moved very slowly. I didn't try to rush him. Once there I tried to maneuver him toward his bed, figuring sleep would be the best thing for him right now, but he resisted, moving instead to slump into the sofa facing the window, where he stared out into the night. True to my word, I opened the bottle of Scotch and poured a large glass, which I offered to him. For a moment, he didn't appear to notice. Then he reached out, took the glass, and downed the liquor in one quick motion. My eyes widened a bit; I'd never seen him drink like that before. I poured one for myself, but didn't touch it yet. There was time for me to get drunk later. "Another?" I asked him.

He nodded. I refilled his glass, but this time he just held it, gazing down into the amber liquid like he expected to see the secret of the universe in it. "Tell me something," he said after a moment, in a faraway voice.

I was pacing around the room, but stopped when he spoke. "What?"

He didn't turn around to face me as he continued. "You said before that you...had your reasons for staying—staying outside Nigel's room. You said you would tell me what they were later. What were they?"

Damn. I was hoping he'd forget about that. I should have remembered that, while he may have been at the end of his tether right now, this was still Winterhawk, the man who rarely forgot anything that affected him. I sighed, deciding that it was safe to tell him now. Besides, I didn't plan to leave until he was either asleep or passed out in a drunken stupor, so it didn't matter. "I—I didn't know what you'd do," I told him. "I was afraid you might get...so upset that you'd try something drastic."

He turned around this time, fixing me with a probing gaze. "You mean you thought I'd commit suicide."

The man had a way with cutting to the heart of things, I had to give him that. "Yeah."

He sighed, shrugged. "I'd be lying if I told you I didn't consider it," he admitted wearily after a time. "Because I did. After—after I cast the spell, and it finally sank in, what I'd done..." He looked down, shook his head. "But I'm not insane, Terry. Much as a lot of people want to think I am, I'm not. Killing myself wouldn't solve anything. It won't bring Nigel back, and it won't make any of this—situation—right again." He looked back up at me, a trace of his old sarcastic gleam in his eyes. "So you needn't worry about me, touching as it may be that you did. If that's why you're here now, you can go." Returning to his former position, he bowed his head again. He rediscovered the glass he held and took another long drink, though he didn't finish the whole thing this time.

I stood behind him, wondering what to do next. I didn't want to leave him alone like this (not that I didn't believe him; I just didn't want to see him sitting awake all night tearing himself up over what he'd had to do). I looked around the room, not sure what I was looking for, and my eyes lit on the armoire Winterhawk used as a weapons locker. As usual, it was unlocked—I'd have to have a talk with him about that when he was feeling better—but it gave me an idea. A pretty unethical idea, true, but he could yell at me about it later. When he woke up.

Checking to see that Winterhawk was still staring down into his drink, I moved silently over to the weapons cabinet and opened it, looking over the arsenal quickly. I knew what I was looking for; my glance darted over the SMG, the carbine I'd given him a couple years ago (and which, to my knowledge, he had not yet fired), the heavy pistols—aha, there it was! Taking a quick look to see if he'd noticed me (he hadn't), I pulled the little Narcoject pistol out of its place on the rack and examined it. Good, it was loaded. I double-checked: yes, those were the right markings for a Narcoject round; he hadn't filled it with something else.

Winterhawk was, of course, going to kill me for this. But if it meant he got several hours of uninterrupted sleep, something he hadn't had in over a week, I'd take the chance. He may not be trying to kill himself directly, but between the exhaustion and the grief and the liquor, he might well succeed in doing it indirectly.

I took careful aim. The little pistol wasn't smartlinked, but that was all right; I had more than enough skill to hit him where I wanted to—right in the center of his right shoulder—without that extra advantage. I lined up the barrel and slowly squeezed the trigger—

Winterhawk chose that moment to remember I was in the room. He turned his head just a bit toward me. "Are you still here?" he asked. "I told you, I'm all right. I—" With a tiny thwip, the little dart flew from the pistol and stuck in his shoulder, right where I'd placed it. The stun toxin worked almost instantly. "Bloody hell! What did you—" he demanded, his voice already trailing off, slurring. Before he could finish his sentence, he slumped to the side and off the couch, unconscious before he hit the floor. The half-full glass slipped from his hand and fell to the thick rug next to him with a soft thump, the Scotch spreading a dark stain.

I put the pistol back in its position, closed the door to the cabinet and locked it. I figured that if he somehow woke up early and reconsidered his position on suicide, he wouldn't have the manual dexterity to work the lock at that point. Hurrying over to where he lay, I plucked the dart from his shoulder and picked him up (he was so light I barely noticed his weight with my enhanced strength—the man was all bones!) and gently laid him out on his bed. He didn't even stir as I pulled off his shoes and tossed them on the floor. I really did hate to have to do that to him—he'd have one mother lovin' headache when he woke up, I knew—but it was the only way I could guarantee that he'd get the rest he needed. At least it was better than the drunken stupor idea.

Moving quietly as if I was afraid I'd wake him, I picked up the fallen glass, set it on the table and turned to leave. Then I stopped, went back to the table, grabbed the bottle of Scotch, and left the room, turning out the light as I went. After all, Winterhawk wasn't going to need it, and I might before the night was over.

Downstairs, Aubrey was sitting off to one side of the main hall, obviously waiting for me. He looked up immediately, questioning, as I came down the stairs. He glanced at the bottle in my hand but said nothing about it.

"He's okay," I told the old man. "He's sleeping. I—uh—gave him something to help that."

Again, Aubrey looked at the bottle. "I see."

If he wanted to think that was the cause, it was probably for the best, so I didn't correct him. "He's gonna be out for a long time. Probably until at least tomorrow afternoon." I met his eyes. "How are you doing?"

"I am fine, sir," he said formally. "I've called the doctor...he will be over shortly. I—made sure he understood the circumstances. He is the same fellow Dr. Stone took the boy to earlier this week, so he knows what to expect. He—he knew what was coming."

I nodded. "Good."

"The doctor...can authorize the burial on the grounds."

"Huh?" I looked at him in puzzlement. I hadn't heard anything about this.

"Oh, I'm sorry, sir. You see, there's a little family cemetery out at the edge of the property. I thought you knew that. Dr. Stone wanted...asked if Nigel—" he broke off.

Now I remembered seeing, on my runs around the grounds, a tiny burial ground, surrounded by trees, out near one of the walls that marked the boundary of Winterhawk's land. "Yeah," I said. "Okay." I sighed. "Listen, I think I'm gonna go make myself scarce until the doctor leaves, all right? Call me when he's gone. And you might have him take a quick look at 'Hawk while he's at it. I—uh—I gave him a little more than this—" I raised the bottle '—to help him sleep."

"Yes, sir," Aubrey said. "But don't you think that you should get some sleep as well? It has been a long night for all of us."

"Later," I told him. "Time for that later. Like I said, 'Hawk's out for the count. I'll have plenty of time to sleep before he wakes up. You call me, okay, if I don't hear?"

"Yes, sir," the old man said again. He stood and nodded a farewell, then headed off.

I used the time to go back to my room, unpack my stuff (I figured I was staying awhile) and have a few swigs of the Scotch. It was good stuff. I only had a little, though, since I wasn't ready to get drunk yet.

In a few minutes, I heard a car pull up to the house, and then, shortly, the sound of Aubrey's voice and another far off in the distance. The two came upstairs, and for a long time there was no sound. I turned on the trideo in my room and tried to lose myself in the inane show that was on, assuming it would be quite some time before Aubrey came back.

In reality, it was about forty-five minutes, which was good, because I was having a hell of a time sitting still. The inane show had finished and another had gotten about halfway into some plot that was too stupid to pay attention to when I heard a soft knock on my door. I snapped off the trid gratefully and stood up. "Yeah?"

Aubrey opened the door and came in. "The doctor has departed, sir," he said. "You asked me to inform you."

I nodded. "Anything wrong?"

"No, sir. He—took Nigel with him. He was...prepared for that."

"Is 'Hawk okay?"

"Yes, sir," he said. "Although the doctor did want to know what it was you gave him. He appears to be not just sleeping, but heavily sedated."

"He needed it," I said, carefully avoiding his question. "If he's okay, don't ask. It's better that way."

Aubrey didn't reply to that. He stood there, arms hanging at his sides and head bowed like a man who had fought too long and now was realizing just how tired he was. He sighed. "I suppose I'll be going, if you don't need me for anything else, sir. I don't expect that my services will be required further tonight."

I nodded. "Yeah. Okay. Thanks, Aubrey." It didn't seem like the right thing to do. I was as far from tired as I had ever been; I didn't relish the thought of spending the night in the old mansion with nobody but the unconscious Winterhawk for company. I wished it wasn't too late to go out for a run or something, to work off some of this energy—


The old man turned back from where he had started to walk off down the hall. "Yes, sir?"

"Do you have—uh...can you show me where you keep the garden tools?"

"Sir?" Aubrey looked confused for a moment, then recognition dawned in his eyes and his lined, weathered face set into an attitude of resolve. "No, sir."

"Why not?"

He came back, looking up into my eyes with great dignity. "Because, sir," he said quietly, formally, "That duty would be mine."

I nodded, realizing what that meant to him. "I'm not really tired right now. I need something useful to do, to work off some steam. Could you use some help?"

He stared at me hard for several seconds, then nodded wearily. "Yes, sir. I think I would appreciate that."

So together, the two of us went out into the misty, moonlit night. The chill in the air felt good, as did the chance to stretch my muscles. After a brief stop at the toolroom to pick up lights and spades, we headed off toward the outer edge of the property. When we returned several hours later and our paths split, Aubrey moving off toward his apartment and me back toward the house, we were dirty and sore (I had done most of the work while carefully allowing Aubrey to think that he was), but I think both of us felt better knowing that we had done something useful. If someone had told me before that I would get so much satisfaction from spending half the night in a tiny cemetery, silently digging a grave in the moonlight, I would have told them they were crazy. Until tonight, that is. Even now I'm not sure why it was so important to me; I just know that it was. Maybe I felt like it was the only thing I could do for Nigel.

Stumbling upstairs, I took a fast shower and fell into bed in my shorts. I don't remember falling asleep, but I do remember that, for the first time in a while, I was not haunted by bloody nightmares.

I slept a long time. When I awoke, not remembering for a moment where I was, the dim light of a gray and overcast day was shining in through the window. I had forgotten to draw the curtains last night, but if that was the worst thing I'd forgotten to do, I wasn't going to complain.

The chrono I'd placed on the nightstand said it was a little after noon. I'd slept for about seven hours, which was longer than I'd expected. My muscles ached from digging, but it was a good ache, the kind of pain you get when you know you've done a good job. A hot shower should take care of the last vestiges of it.

In about half an hour, I was heading downstairs to see who was up, if anyone. I didn't expect Aubrey to be around; I had been worried about the old guy last night, trying so hard to keep up with me even when he knew he had no chance. I didn't want to cause him to have a heart attack or anything. I hoped he'd stay in bed awhile and rest.

The main hall was silent except for the soft click-click-click of the grandfather clock's pendulum going about its business. I walked through and out the other side to check the kitchen: it too was empty, and didn't look like it had been disturbed recently. Maybe Aubrey really had stayed asleep like he was supposed to. I was about to return to my room and prepare for some exercises when I heard a tiny sound coming from the dining room. Cautiously, I crept over there and looked in through the open doorway.

Winterhawk was there, sitting at the table looking out through the large window at the gray day. Slowly, he turned his head to look at me as I peered in. "Afraid to show yourself?" he asked softly.

I stepped into the room, looking him over. He looked pale and tired, his eyes still sunken into dark hollows. His thin leather jacket and white T-shirt hung on him as if he were a child trying to wear his father's clothes. An open datafax lay spread out over the table in front of him. When he saw me, he turned away, regarding the view out the window over his steepled fingers. I moved over and sat down at the table opposite him and off to one side. "Didn't think you'd be up yet," I said.

"Why?" he asked without looking at me. "Did you expect that your little lights-out would last a bit longer?" His voice, very quiet, dripped with sarcasm.

I sighed. "Yeah, I deserve that. Look, I'm sorry about what I did. I couldn't think of any other way to get you to take a rest. If you want to levitate me off the roof, I guess you'd better go ahead and do it."

He shrugged and shook his head, still not looking up. "It's done now. I was much more unhappy with you when I woke up. I suppose it was a good thing you were nowhere to be found then, or I might have taken you up on your suggestion." Rubbing his temples ruefully, he added, "I didn't realize that stuff gave you quite such a headache."

"It might have been the two glasses of Scotch you tossed down before I did it," I reminded him.

"I don't remember that," he said distractedly. Then he finally raised his head and met my eyes. "Where's Aubrey?"

"Sleeping. It was a long night. I think it was a little too much for him." I didn't think it would be wise to mention the grave just yet, so I kept quiet about it.

"Good. I'm glad to hear it. He—works too hard, sometimes." He paused, glancing over some story on the nearest page of the datafax. "Did he...tell you anything about the arrangements?"

I told him about the doctor's coming last night. "I don't know if he did anything else. Probably not, since it was so late. He said he'd take care of it, though."

Winterhawk nodded. "All right, then." After a moment, he said, "Are you still planning to leave today? That much, I do remember from my fogbound state last night."

I shook my head. "No, not unless you want me to. I—I thought I'd stick around until everything's—taken care of."

He didn't reply to that. "Of course, you're welcome to stay as long as you like. I believe I'll be going back to Seattle after...the funeral. Don't tell Aubrey yet, though. I—just find it a bit hard to be around this place right now."

"Yeah, I hear you," I agreed. I was about to continue when Aubrey came in. He must have entered the house through the back door, because I hadn't heard him and I didn't think Winterhawk had either. He still moved slowly and stiffly, and he looked like he hadn't gotten as much sleep as he should have, but next to Winterhawk he was the picture of health and cheerfulness.

"Good morning," he said. He looked over at Winterhawk. "You're looking much better this morning, sir."

"I hope so," the mage said dryly, but with no humor.

"Shall I prepare breakfast?"

Winterhawk shook his head. "No, stay a moment, will you? Tell me...what needs to be done yet."

Aubrey came over and sat down gratefully with a sigh. "Not a great deal, sir. I've taken care of most of the arrangements already. I just wanted to check with you—I assume you want to have some sort of...service."

Winterhawk looked down at the table. "Service. Yes—yes, of course," he said softly. "But—who would perform it? Wouldn't it be a bit—well, hypocritical—for me to ask anyone?" He glanced up at Aubrey. "Do you know the proper words? Perhaps you could do it...just for the three of us, you know." He sounded uncertain, which was very unlike him. I did know, though, that he was one of the most agnostic people I regularly hung around with, so I guess his comment about hypocrisy was warranted. "We...we never got the chance to get to know any of his friends..."

Aubrey paused for a moment before answering, and I saw a tiny look of disapproval (or was it disappointment?) flash across his face and vanish. "Yes, sir," he finally said. "I know you've always been uncomfortable around priests." Another pause. "I'd be honored to say a few words. Let's set it for tomorrow, shall we?"

"Yes, that would be fine. Thank you, Aubrey," Winterhawk said in that same soft preoccupied tone. "I do—appreciate it."

Aubrey stood. "Right now, though, sir, I'd like it if you would let me make breakfast. You both could use something to eat." Before anyone could protest, he hustled out of the room as fast as his dignity and his obviously-overworked muscles would allow.

The morning of Nigel's funeral was, as usual, drizzly and damp. The sky was a uniform shade of dreary gray, with no sign of the sun. If I was getting any good at all in judging British weather, it didn't look like it was going to get any better as the day went on.

The funeral was held early in the morning. When I walked out there in my new dark suit that I'd gone into London to buy the previous day, I saw that Aubrey had erected a small canopy over part of the gravesite, and placed a table with a Bible on it under the canopy. The grave that we had dug loomed open (I wondered if Aubrey had told Winterhawk how it had come to be yet, because I hadn't) and lowered into it was the small gray casket, on top of which was a small, elegant bouquet of flowers. Across the grave, Aubrey had spread out a tarp to cover the wet, slightly muddy ground. He himself was dressed in a dark, conservative suit, hat, and staid dark coat. He had hat pulled down low over his eyes to keep the drizzle out of his face.

I took up a position away from Aubrey at the far side of the tarp and waited, looking around the little graveyard. Although I never was fond of cemeteries (they reminded me too much of the mortality I and those like me faced every day back in the Sprawl), I had to admit this was a beautiful little place, surrounded by trees on three sides and a high overgrown wall on the fourth, the ground covered over with lush green grass. I glanced at the nearby headstones, noting the dates; a couple of them, very hard to read, went back to the late 1700s. Nearby, a large elegant monument proclaimed the resting places of Neville and Elizabeth Stone, who had died on the same day in 2037, he at the age of 48, she at 43. Winterhawk's parents? He had said once that they had died in a mysterious plane crash when he was a young man, so it fit.

Winterhawk arrived at that moment and silently nodded to me and to Aubrey, then moved to stand next to me, closer to the old man. He wore a severe black suit that accentuated his tall, thin form, a heavy black overcoat with the collar pulled up against the drizzle, and black leather gloves. With his white-streaked black hair and pale face, he was a study in blacks and whites save for the electric-blue glint of his eyes. He did not speak, but just nodded to Aubrey to begin.

The caretaker nodded and opened the Bible. He spoke quietly, with a kind of calm assurance and gentleness that instantly put me at ease. Naturally a man of few words, he didn't speak long; he said a few words about Nigel's coming and how much he had enjoyed having the boy stay with them if even for a brief time. He gave thanks that Winterhawk was able to have the chance to know his son, and expressed sorrow that the child was taken from him so soon after. Throughout the eulogy, he maintained that calm, comforting tone, occasionally glancing up at me or, more often, at Winterhawk. The mage stood still and silent, his eyes straight ahead. His jaw had that characteristic tightness that most men and many women knew well: keep the teeth gritted and the eyes straight ahead to avoid showing emotion. I felt a little like crying too, though I didn't do so; I hadn't known the kid for very long, but he'd struck me as a good kid with a lot going for him. I'd seen that kind of kid get taken down too early in the Barrens too many times, and it gave me no comfort to know that rich kids in highbrow London suburbs had to face it too. Adding to my sorrow was the fact that Winterhawk was one of only a handful of people in the world I considered to be a true friend, and watching a friend go through something like this wasn't an easy thing to do. Yeah, life sucked, but why did it have to suck like this?

Aubrey finished his eulogy and began a prayer, asking God to watch over Nigel in Heaven, and also to watch over those he left behind back on Earth. I closed my eyes and bowed my head, but first shot a quick glance over to see how Winterhawk was dealing with this. He still stood in the same position, except that he had brought his hands together in front of him. His eyes were still open; now he stared at the casket and down into the grave. That was all I saw before I closed my eyes. What a waste, I thought. Why this kid? Of all the kids you could have had, why this one? What a rotten end for a nice kid, getting put into the ground at the age of ten, surrounded by the only three people in the whole world who gave a damn about him...

"...In the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, amen." Aubrey soberly opened his eyes and closed his Bible, then looked up at the two of us. He looked like he was waiting for something, but I didn't know what.

"Can I—can I say something?" For a moment, the voice was unfamiliar, then I realized it was my own. Both Winterhawk and Aubrey looked a little surprised, but the old man stepped out from under his canopy and motioned for me to take his place.

I moved over there, at the same time unsure of what I wanted to do and knowing exactly what I wanted to say. I stood there a moment, looking out over the grave, the casket, the cemetery, Winterhawk, Aubrey, and then began speaking, slowly and quietly:

"Ha-Makom yenahem etkhem betokh shear avele Zion ve-Y'rushalaim..."

I looked up at Winterhawk and Aubrey again: they were both watching me with thinly-veiled amazement. Truth be told, I was actually surprised at how easily the words of the prayer for the dead, learned from my old friend Jakob Weisberg, came to me even though I had never actually said them myself. Ignoring the surprise of the other mourners, I continued by reciting part of Psalm 39:

"Lord, let me know my end,
and what is the measure of my days...

I went on, through the rest of the prayer. When I finished, I bowed my head for a moment, then slowly left the shelter of the canopy and returned to my place next to Winterhawk. I felt better that I had been able to put some of my feelings into words. Winterhawk was staring straight ahead again.

Aubrey returned to his place, with a small nod to me as he went by. I think he approved. To Winterhawk, he said, "Sir?"

The mage shook his head quickly, as if trying to clear a fog. He nodded to Aubrey and took a slow step forward, though he did not move under the canopy. He stood staring down into the open grave and was silent for a long moment. Then, unclenching his jaw, he said quietly, "I don't know any prayers...and I don't think they would—mean anything—if I were to say them anyway." He paused, took a deep breath, and continued: "I...I really don't know what else to say...except... except, I'm sorry..."—another deep breath—"And...I wish...I'd had a chance to know you better." His voice caught a bit, and he drew himself up quickly, tightening his jaw again against tears. When he got himself back under control, he stepped back and looked down at the ground.

Aubrey put his hand on his Bible. He looked at Winterhawk, who was not responding to anyone right now, and then at me. He walked over to the mage and gently took his arm. "Let's go in now, sir."

Winterhawk shook his head. "No...we can't...leave him like this." He indicated the casket, covered with tiny droplets from the drizzle.

"Yes, sir. Of course you're right." He looked over at me with a questioning expression. "We'll wait. Someone...is coming in a while."

"No...let me...finish this." Winterhawk's gaze came up and met Aubrey's.

"Sir, I don't think—" He stopped when he saw something in the mage's eyes. "Are you sure, sir?"

Winterhawk nodded. "You...you two already did the hard part." He indicated the large mound of earth piled up next to the grave. Aubrey must have told him about it after all, I thought. Slowly, with utmost concentration, he took off his overcoat and his suit jacket and laid them on the table next to the Bible, loosened his tie, and rolled up his sleeves. There was a spade leaning unobtrusively on a tree nearby; he picked it up, hefted it, and methodically began shoveling damp earth into the gaping hole.

He gave up long before he finished; I could have told him how long it would take, but I didn't think he would have listened. By unspoken agreement, neither Aubrey nor I moved to help him. We stood back out of the way and watched as he worked, stopping often to lean on the shovel and catch his breath. The quick pace set by his enhanced reflexes was more than a match for his lack of physical strength, resulting in a slow, fluid rhythm that gradually grew more erratic. By the time he finished shoveling about a quarter of the earth into the grave and patting it down, we could hear his harsh, labored breathing even from where we stood. Sweat ran down his face and soaked his shirt, and the legs of his crisp black pants were covered with spatters of mud. Aubrey looked at him worriedly, then at me, but I shook my head and indicated the way back toward the house as Winterhawk once again leaned on the shovel and stared at the grave, ignoring us completely.

Silently, the two of us turned and headed back to the house, leaving him alone with his thoughts. I think we both knew that there was nothing we could say to him at that moment.

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