Linus Owen is a young professor of conspiracy theory at a small college just outside of San Francisco. He teaches graduate-level classes on JFK and gives seminars on magic-bullet theories and how the symbols on the dollar bill reveal the presence of a secret government that is leading the world to ruin.
Linus’ marriage is foundering, and his wife, Claudia, an up-and-coming advertising executive, has gone to Chicago to visit her mother. But if Claudia is in Chicago, how is it that two FBI agents show up at Linus’ office and inform him that Claudia has been killed in a plane crash on her way from New York to Brazil? And why did a man named Jeffrey Holden, the vice president of a major pharmaceutical company, buy her ticket and die beside her?
Enlisting the aid of Edward and Roy, his friends and fellow conspiracy theorists, Linus heads across the country in search of answers. Along the way, the trio encounters a legion of disturbing and provocative characters and clues, including an irascible talk-show host, a mind-controlling drug, and an emerging link between Claudia’s ad agency and the US government. As their journey progresses, it becomes frighteningly clear they have left the realm of the academic and are tangled up in a dangerous, multilayered cover-up. Finally, deep in the heart of the American desert, stunned by an ominous revelation, Linus sees he has a new mission: to try to stay alive.
With writing that is electric, whip-smart, and suspenseful at each turn, Noah Hawley draws us into a deliciously labyrinthine world of paranoia and plots.
Release date: June 5, 2018
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Print pages: 384
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A Conspiracy of Tall Men
Linus is afraid of money. Not the smaller bills, the Washingtons and Lincolns, the Jacksons and Grants, but the larger sums, the cashier’s checks with multiple zeros, the stock portfolios and escrow accounts, afraid too of what they buy, the new cars with their leather stink, the first-class seats on airplanes, the cellular phones and fax modems. He is afraid of office towers, where currency is acquired, afraid of suburban mansions and large screen TVs. He is alarmed by purebred dogs. Expensive suits make his teeth chatter, shoes that shine, organic fruits and vegetables purchased at gleaming, politically correct supermarkets, monogrammed handkerchiefs, pipes and cigars, flat platinum credit cards, symphony tickets, bread machines and espresso makers, ski weekends and barbecues with salmon and free-range chicken, bed-and-breakfasts, four-wheel-drive vehicles owned by anyone not living on the side of a mountain, laser disc players, multiple CD changers, summer houses and winter houses, spontaneous weekend getaways, the games of tennis and golf, penny loafers, angora sweaters, dry martinis and ten-year-old scotch, bay windows that don’t look out over parking lots or weed-cluttered yards, but over real bays, Jacuzzi bathtubs, all of Western Europe (especially France and Switzerland), electronic organizers with global position satellite locators, season tickets to anything, waterproof watches, corporate vice-presidents, crystal, gold. He is suspicious of comfort, not to mention luxury. He fears the implications of wealth, though he has never really had any. “I’m too cynical to be rich,” he says. He equates financial success with a certain soullessness.
This has been his philosophy since the early days of his youth. It is a byproduct of his own juvenile poverty politicized, and yet somehow he has found a certain comfort now in his middle age, sipping home-brewed coffee in the living room of his own home, looking out a bay window at a small section of San Francisco Bay. He is well aware of the contradictions, the small discrepancies between politics and life, between phobia and happiness. Does he wake up afraid, lying under sheets that are one hundred percent cotton or occasionally real linen? Can he be terrified of the sound of his own wife steaming milk under the gleaming silver nozzle of their espresso machine? No. As with all people he has altered his perceptions to retain both his dogma and his lifestyle, but there are problems. His life is not all contented moments of calm reflection. There is a noxious cloud that follows him, a sense of foreboding. The truth is, he is a man pursued by sinister forces, plagued by suspicious happenings, troubled by disquieting phenomena.
Things are happening to Linus. He has grown one and a half inches since October. A fact verified by his last physical. For a thirty-five-year-old man this is startling, and it makes him question the viability of his wardrobe. He can often be seen tugging down his pants legs, a look of alarm on his face. If this keeps up, he thinks, I will soon have nothing at all to wear. Not that he is a man preoccupied by fashion. On the contrary. It is the inexplicable nature of the occurrence that bothers him, the absurdity. The truth is, Linus is afraid that his life will soon be overrun by the minor mysteries of his body and mind, that he will no longer be able to work because of such distractions.
At the same time, there is twenty-one dollars and sixty-three cents less than there should be in his checking account. This is similarly something that can’t be accounted for. Even by men with doctorates. Even by bank presidents. When he comes home at night particulars are not where he left them, books lying on tables open to different pages than they were that morning, coffee cups stacked on wholly new shelves. His wife has gone to visit her mother, so she cannot be blamed. She is in Chicago, fighting wind chills and the insistent demands of the elderly. Linus is understandably at a loss. It would seem that scientific reasoning no longer applies in his life, that the laws of nature and physics have been suspended as he moves onward into middle age.
He has been married six years this December, the time simply rushing past him as he waits on street corners and supermarket checkout lines. It is his plan to bring Claudia flowers on their anniversary, to go for a drive to a seaside bed-and-breakfast. This is something he plots in secret, smiling and nodding when she suggests her own itinerary. It is only fair, he thinks, that I have secrets. There is so much kept from me, tiny plots and greater schemes. Everyone has his or her own agenda. This much is clear. He wonders if he will ever know why his body has chosen to grow, why his hair has decided to thin. Not in one spot, but all over; a general wearing away, an erosion of brown, like water driving at a jut of rock. He has resigned himself to ignorance.
There is no alternative, he feels, but to blame all these things on some greater conspiracy, which he does. Linus, you see, believes there is a clandestine cabal running the world. A machination comprised of bankers and businessmen, military leaders and intelligence agencies. He believes in UFOs, in the secret agenda of the Freemasons, the monopolies of industry. At least this is what he tells his students, who scribble down all of his paranoid imaginings as if they were science or math, as if the very act of teaching them made them irrefutably true. Linus is a professor of conspiracy theory at Modesto College in San Rafael, California. He teaches, among other things, a graduate-level class on JFK, gives seminars on magic bullet theories and the hidden etymological meaning of the words “Dealey Plaza,” shows slides meant to prove the faking of the 1967 Apollo moon landing, explains how the symbols on the dollar bill reveal the presence of a secret government leading the world toward unified socialism and biblical Armageddon.
On this particular day he is making his way from the main history building of the college to his office, which is sequestered underneath the cafeteria in a building known as “the Landfill” because of the creeping smells that emanate from its windows and doors around mealtime. As he walks he is holding his head back, pressing one hand to his face, clutching a wad of wet Kleenex. This is his third nosebleed this week. The joke is that he has been given an implant by extraterrestrials. His students have tried to convince him to comb his body for unexplained scars and triangular marks. It is only by the strongest power of will that he has not done so so far.
Above him the sky is cloudy, a gray glove, fingers drumming restlessly. Walking with his head elevated like a man applying eye drops, he stumbles his way down the stairs into the narrow hallway that leads to his office, a small square of yellowed wall photos and overburdened bookshelves.
He manages to dig out his keys, to wrestle the rusty lock and shove the door open. He drops his briefcase, throws himself into his scarred wooden desk chair, which bends back alarmingly on well-stretched springs. He has not bothered to turn on the light. His eyes are tearing. He tastes blood, salty, filled with heavy metals and his own spiraling DNA. The clock on his desk says 11:45, insistently, in red digital numbers, as if the only thing an occupant of the room must be aware of is the time. Linus, it should be noted, is not a big fan of time. There is too much of it, he thinks, and to no good end. However, it would behoove Linus to pay some attention to his clock, for by this point his wife is already dead.
* * *
He has lunch with Edward and Roy at a vegetarian bistro just off Route 101 in Mill Valley, parking his car in the lot and crossing the ruptured asphalt to the front door, noting that Roy’s ’84 Monte Carlo is already parked outside. Inside the greetings are brief and businesslike. Edward and Roy live a few miles away. They’re neighbors who conspire each month in Roy’s basement to publish two separate government watchdog newsletters. As paranoid intellectuals go they’re a lot like Lucy and Ethel, mulishly determined to pursue every harebrained scheme. Edward is twenty-four, but already retired. He’s saved a startling sum of money working as a software engineer for several Silicon Valley start-up companies at the top of the decade. He lives off this now, investing and allotting. He’s still just a narrow youth, from some angles almost two-dimensional, with a slight crest of curly brown hair and a dress code comprised mainly of black jeans and combat boots.
Roy is more substantive physically. He has a masculine build, wears his dirty blond hair trimmed at the ear, harbors a crooked mouth and a square jaw. His hands are weathered. He gestures in expansive swings. Unlike Linus, who has the rest of the afternoon free except for a student conference at three o’clock, Roy has to be back to work in exactly an hour. A new, tyrannical boss at Radio Shack, he explains, “As if I were a scientist at a Lockheed missile facility instead of an overage computer geek selling second-rate electronic equipment to a steady trickle of the condescending middle class.”
Here among the tabouli salads and unprocessed soy drinks the three conspiracy theorists meet each week to discuss developments in the interconnected network of plots driving the world toward a new order. The words that emerge from their mouths are rooted in the language of suspicion, the discussions of secret technologies, of alien abductions, of governmental machinations traceable to the highest levels. They are representative of the uneasy outcasts, some with academic credentials, who fill the nooks and crannies of the American experience. They seek the truth the way soothsayers read entrails. In order to understand them you must first understand that there is no such thing as History with a capital H. Everything is a matter of perception and interpretation. Facts can be manipulated, photographs altered. As Linus has explained to his students: People do not come to believe things after seeing them. They see things only when they already believe them. Be alert. Watch the skies.
“There’s an online conference on corn circles and cattle mutilation tonight, Professor,” says Edward, who has taken out a small tube of antibacterial spray and begun wiping off his silverware. They sit in a booth by the window, vinyl seats the color of beef blood. “Sixty percent rise in mutilated cattle since February. This guy who’s running the conference has an impressive collection of downloadable photos. Can you read .gif files on that lumbering Goliath of yours?”
Edward is referring to Linus’s file-cabinet-size computer, which runs at the speed of an overweight, asthmatic civil servant.
“Print them out for me, will you?” says Linus. The nosebleed has stopped, but he is wandering around Northern California with a small clump of toilet paper jammed up one nostril. They order salads and shrimp cocktails. Edward and Roy won’t eat beef because of the growth hormones the government injects into cows. It’s a sore spot with Roy, who was a meat eater for twenty-nine years until Edward wore him down with slides and spreadsheets. Now he suffers through fish, chicken, and vegetables with a subterranean resentment that borders on the spoiled. Edward mentions that antibiotics used in livestock feed are creating strains of drug-resistant food-poisoning bacteria: “So now when you get salmonella poisoning from that Egg McMuffin, you’ll need to start thinking in terms of eulogies.” They offer to show him documentation that the hormone injections are part of a plot to control the human mind by introducing particular pharmaceuticals through diet.
“Write me up a paragraph, will you? Include sources.”
Edward and Roy, despite Roy’s innocuous job at Radio Shack and Edward’s mostly shut-in status, are cutting-edge anarchists, publishers of anarchic newsletters, organizers of the new virtual revolution. Linus, in contrast, feels sheltered in the fat nest of academia. Sometimes he doubts his phone is even bugged. He picks it up and listens for the comforting clicks and whirs of government surveillance. This is how people in his profession confirm their importance, by identifying the size of the file with their name on it in a gray-green file cabinet in Washington, D.C. Linus hasn’t published an article or done an interview in almost six months. He has been distracted by his own life. His friends have become his lifeline to the daily rumbles of secret groups, plots and subplots. Through a mixture of cleverness and cash they have set up one of the premier databases in the country for tracking clandestine government projects.
“Think of it this way,” says Roy. “Knowledge is power, therefore ignorance is slavery. Correspondingly, terrorism becomes the fear of the unknown. Innocent activities take on sinister characteristics. We stop trusting our mail. What could be a teddy bear could also be a bomb. We learn to fear crowds, for crowds are the target of desperate individuals. Terrorism strips us of our identities. Crowds strip us of our humanity. We are the smudgeable ink rushed into newsprint. We are yesterday’s papers, yellowing in trash heaps and collecting dust in the living rooms of yuppies.”
He takes a sip of his Orangina, which is the closest thing to a Coke he can get in this restaurant.
“The answer, if your intent is to make people feel empowered—though without actually empowering them—is to overload them with knowledge, with information. In this way they feel as if they are inside a loop of knowing. You show them the type of information they need to feel secure, whether or not it’s true, and in this way you have a population that is content. They believe that they possess answers to the questions they ask, and that they have access to the information they need. Now you are free to do whatever it is you like. Our job is to decipher the truth from the flood of data, to extrapolate meaning from an assault of news and facts meant to overwhelm us and keep us from ever finding out just what is going on. Witness the Internet. What is the information age if not a ploy to make us feel informed when every year we know less and less about the things that really matter?”
Linus chews the ice cubes from his glass.
“How’s the missus?” Edward wants to know. He smiles nervously. There are spaces between his teeth that should never have survived adolescence.
“She’s in Chicago visiting her mother.”
Edward blows his nose into his napkin. He has a sip of water to try to judge if it hurts his throat to swallow. “Talk about ice and snow,” he says. He’s on the verge of a cold or the flu. His joints hurt, his nose is running. Edward has taken the bold step of retiring at twenty-four in part because of his health. Roy calls him a hypochondriac, but then Roy doesn’t appreciate the full danger of the bacteriological world.
Linus folds and refolds his napkin, distracted by his own hands moving.
“Claudia also has some business. A client of her agency. Some meeting or other. A presentation maybe.” He shakes his head. Claudia is in advertising. She is the head of a creative team at a midsize agency. He carries pictures of her in his wallet. He feels she endows his money with a certain holiness. Linus himself is, at best, unremarkable looking, not unattractive, just bland and not given to the best grooming habits, while Claudia, aside from being compelling visually, is someone who says the cleverest things in all the appropriate places.
Recently she has been showing irritation that he has not yet blossomed into some greater academic, become the chairman of some committee or the national authority on a subject other than the ridiculous paranoid sophistry he is renowned for. He is beginning to think she wants a husband who is more cosmopolitan. A Rockefeller, a Kennedy, a bright, handsome young urban professional who drives a German-engineered sports car and knows how to choose wine. To this end he has purchased a book on vineyards. He is planning to learn a foreign language as soon as the semester is over. Study French, perhaps, or Russian. He vows to buy a tuxedo and take her to the opera. To throw out all of the corduroy pants and the jackets with off-colored elbow patches. But he wonders: How can you teach the underside of American history in a twelve-hundred-dollar suit? Though Claudia’s friends will take him more seriously once he begins to dress like an Italian stockbroker, his own friends will take him less. He could lose credibility in his field.
There are corners and then there are corners and this is a sticky one, but Claudia has become very obstinate recently. She wants to be happier than she is. Work problems, she tells him, though it is he who suffers the brunt of them, whatever they are. He plans to bring her flowers on their anniversary. To take her somewhere nice. Though it seems to him they have been growing apart, he is sure this is just his suspicious mind. That underneath his fear everything is fine. She still looks at him sometimes over dinner, in restaurants, still gives him the same brilliant smile. It’s just a rough period, he thinks, just a little matrimonial turbulence.
“She’s fine, really,” says Linus, dwelling. Roy and Edward exchange a look. The shrimp cocktails arrive.
“Ah,” says Roy. “Fresh frozen.”
* * *
Linus met Edward and Roy at the opening of the Conspiracy Museum in Dallas. Rectangular rooms filled with apprehensive men looking over narrow shoulders, drinking bottled water purchased independently to deter any governmental tampering with their bodily fluids. At the reception, the two led an impromptu seminar on how to avoid government security forces when visiting the Area 51 UFO testing area in Nevada.
“You need a four-wheel-drive vehicle,” they said. “Some good infrared camera equipment, plenty of beer.”
After the reception, which Claudia had found a way to avoid, Linus ended up in the museum parking lot with Edward and Roy drinking champagne from stolen bottles, slipping his shoes off to air the holes in his socks. There was a small series of confessions then between them, as if the three were participants in some prison support group or twelve-step program. First Edward, arms like pool cues, volunteered that he belonged to an unofficial organization of men known as skinny nervous guys: poorly shaven, Adam’s apple a little too prominent, awkward around women, uncomfortable with direct confrontation. Then Roy confessed that his wife left him for a Pontiac salesman from Boise a week before their third anniversary and the next day the bulldozer he was driving slipped into a ditch and broke his leg. He was trapped inside for ten hours staring at the carcasses of trees and the sinister circuitry of his crippled machine. When his leg healed he took the insurance settlement and moved to the Bay Area, bought a house in San Rafael, and did nothing but take computer classes for a year.
“There’s something about being pinned under a giant motor next to the carcasses of five-hundred-year-old trees that strips you of the ability to keep on killing,” he said. He felt the need to study machines in detail. He said, “It’s important to try to understand the things you fear most.”
The house he bought in San Rafael was small and run-down, a crippled runt in a neighborhood of villas. Two weeks later Edward moved into the Victorian next door. All it took was one beer for them to discover they shared a morbid fascination with the misty plots of ruling bodies and the secret doings of science. Soon afterward, financed mostly by Edward’s software portfolio, they invested in computer equipment and desktop publishing software, which they used to monitor government agencies from Roy’s basement and publish a bimonthly newsletter called Saucer Watch and a weekly titled American Conspiracy. In the newsletter Edward and Roy ran abductees’ stories, sightings, and conspiratorial speculations, driven mostly by the brainstorming of friends and frequent trips to desert military sites that are usually surrounded by barbed wire and patrolled by dogs.
Linus swallowed what remained in the black Freixenet bottle. The world was full of stars and spinning pinwheels. He considered the possibility that he might be having an out-of-body experience.
“More booze,” said Roy, staggering to his feet and throwing the last empty champagne bottle into a Dumpster, where it broke with a rich, heavy crash. “We should stop our girlish whining and go find more booze.”
Edward moved his head somewhat ambiguously. Linus managed to get to his feet with the assistance of a brick wall and the sleek cold corner of the Dumpster, which he leaned on for support despite its rich aroma of restaurant leftovers and wet cardboard.
“I miss my wife,” Linus slurred. This was his confession. He was a man who could no longer sleep alone without landscaping the pillows beside him to simulate a human form.
The three of them wandered off onto the streets of Dallas, brushing clumsily at the seats of their pants and listing badly, first to one side, then the other. Buildings passed by in darkness, cars with their bright anonymous lights. Edward told them how Marilyn Monroe’s home had been bugged by J. Edgar Hoover and somewhere there was a tape of what really happened the night she died. Roy offered that one couldn’t get too close to the Kennedy brothers and live to tell about it. Linus lurched on toward the promise of fermented liquids. In this way they found themselves standing on the corner of Houston and Elm, swaying slightly and waiting for the light to change. None of them had to speak. They all knew they had arrived. It was an evening in October and late, 2:00, maybe 3:00 A.M. There was little traffic, the occasional headlight, a low wind pricking past their faces. The overpass beside them was a dark tunnel. Linus pulled his coat a little tighter, tried to think of something to say. They stood in the shadow of the world’s most famous book depository. Above them the light turned green.
“Bang,” said Edward.
“Pow, pow,” said Roy.
Just as eloquently, Linus turned around and threw up into the road.
The next thing Linus will remember in the days to come is rising from his desk when his office door opens. He will already have been sitting with the student from his “JFK and the Long Arm of the Mafia” class for maybe fifteen minutes, having returned to campus directly after lunch. He will remember putting up his hand in midsentence to stop her from talking. Two men in brown suits have entered after a slight knock. They wear no expressions. Their faces are young, but no younger than his. One of them has a small notebook out, a pen. They ask him if he is Linus Owen. This seems like a reasonable question and so he agrees that yes, he is, and who might they be? They do not answer but ask to speak to him privately. He excuses his student, who, imagining she is witnessing some secret meeting between her conspiracy professor and intelligence operatives, will scurry back to her dorm to spread the word of his clandestine tryst. The men identify themselves as Sikes and Peterson. They are with the FBI. Linus offers them a chair, though there aren’t enough for all three of them. There is a feeling in his stomach, dread.
“Mr. Owen,” says Agent Sikes. “We have some bad news.”
Claudia, thinks Linus for no reason. Instinct, maybe. Telepathy? Somehow he knows.
“I’m sorry. There was a plane crash this morning. A flight from New York to Brazil.”
Linus is confused. He is experiencing a hundred emotions.
“But my wife is in Chicago,” he says, a feeling of relief spreading through him.
“Your wife is Claudia Owen, maiden name Morris? Parents, Raymond and Astrid Morris?”
“Well, yes, but…but I don’t see how. I spoke to her Tuesday. In Chicago.”
“I know this is difficult, Mr. Owen,” says Agent Peterson. “But your wife was on a plane flying from New York City to Rio de Janeiro that crashed yesterday at five P.M. Eastern Standard Time. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that it was her. Identification was found on the body.”
Linus sinks down into his seat when Peterson says the word body. He begins to recite the names of California wines in his mind, Mondavi, Stags’ Leap, Kendall Jackson. There are cabernets and chardonnays and dark red burgundies. He will learn French and Russian, Spanish, even Portuguese. He will become as sophisticated as Jacqueline Onassis.
“Do you know why your wife would be on a flight to Brazil when she was supposed to be in Chicago, Mr. Owen?” they ask him. Sikes is poised to write. Linus shakes his head. He picks up the phone and dials his mother-in-law’s number. A woman’s voice answers and for a moment he is certain that it is Claudia, and he sits up straighter.
“Claudia, Claudia, it’s Linus.”
But the woman is weeping and she says, “Linus, Linus, how could this happen? How could they have taken my Claudia, my baby?”
And Linus has the feeling of tumbling miles above the ground, the feeling that this time his parachute isn’t going to open and he will end up a very small and sorry stain on the thin blade of reality.
He sits there with the phone, without thought, unable to decode, unable to believe.
“It’s impossible,” he keeps repeating. “Astrid,” he says into the phone, “Astrid, what happened? Calm down.” He repeats what she said in his mind: How could they have taken my baby? Who? Who took her? He says this. She cries harder.
“Astrid, who took Claudia?”
“Sir,” says Agent Sikes, “your wife’s ticket was paid for by a man named Holden, Jeffrey Holden. The two were seated together on the plane. This is from the passenger log. The ticketing clerk remembers them, a man and a woman, the woman tall with long brown hair, quite pretty. He says the two were together, holding hands. Sir, I realize this is difficult. Mr. Holden appears to have been a client of your wife’s company. Maybe this was a business trip. Did your wife mention anything about a business trip?”
“Astrid,” says Linus, holding the phone so tightly that there will be grooves in his hand when he finally lets it go, “what happened to Claudia? I thought she was visiting you. How did she end up in New York?”
The agents wait, step back, allow him to finish the call. On the other end of the line his mother-in-law tries to compose herself.
“She got a call Tuesday evening. She said it was business and that she had to go home, back to California. She said she would call me when she was back. She didn’t say anything about New York. Why did she go to New York? I don’t understand. Linus, what’s going on here? How could she be dead flying from New York to Brazil? What’s in Brazil? Linus? Linus?”
Linus feels an emptiness, a total lack of being.
“I don’t know anything, Astrid. I don’t know. Let me talk to the police and see if I can learn any of the details. I’ll call you later.” He hangs up the phone with defeat. Right now the details seem a hollow reward, a terrible trade of love for knowledge. He looks up at the agents. He feels weak and totally exhausted, all of the verve and energy he has mustered to prepare for her return fallen away like a seat belt that failed in a car crash.
“Okay,” he says. “Okay, what happened?”
* * *
The facts are these. Claudia left Chicago on Wednesday morning. She flew to New York. The airline says she arrived in New York at 12:53 P.M. She boarded flight 613 for Brazil at just after 2:00 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, and she was not alone. As the FBI has explained, her ticket had been purchased that morning by a man named Jeffrey Holden. The two boarded together and sat side by side in seats 18 F and G. Holden worked for a company called Hastings Pharmaceutical, for which Claudia had been involved in preparing a television and print advertising campaign. The flight departed at 2:31 from New York’s JFK. It flew south on a path that took it over Washington, D.C., past Virginia, and down over Florida, where it crashed just outside of Orlando, allegedly from a sudden decompression in the fuselage.
“We think there may have been a bomb on the plane,” says Agent Sikes. “Can you think of anyone who may have wanted to kill your wife?”
And Linus begins to laugh. He says,
“Agent Sikes, I am a professor of conspiracy theories. I could come up with more names in the next ten minutes than you could write down. But my wife wasn’t that kind of woman and…and…No. No one.” He is overcome for a moment by the enormity of it, by the realization that with Claudia’s death he too has ceased to exist. “Who could have wanted to kill her? What was she doing there? I just don’t understand.” He tries to shake it off. He looks like a man disagreeing with the world. “I just don’t understand.”
The three of them stand there awkwardly. Because they are in a basement office the ceiling is quite low, and Linus can see that Sikes, who is tall, feels the need to crouch slightly, to stoop.
“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to come to Florida and identify the body.”
Linus thinks of the smooth planes of her back, the long cylinders of her legs. “Is she…?”
Agent Sikes clears his throat.
“Sir, I won’t lie to you, a body that’s been in a crash like that is not pretty. If it’s any comfort, she must have died instantly.”
Linus continues to shake his head like a dog worrying a bone.
“Agent Sikes, when death i
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