Koerner leaned against the glass wall of the booth and stared at the moonlight on Malibu beach while he listened to the telephone ringing.
Somebody picked up the receiver and a woman’s voice said, “Yes?”
“Who is this?”
“I’m calling Morris Reisling,” he said because the woman did not sound like Dana. “Do I have the right number?”
“Who are you?”
“My name is William Koerner.”
“It’s you,” she said. “Where are you?”
“On the highway near the ocean. Not far from the house.”
He expected her to turn away from the telephone saying, “Morrie, Bill Koerner’s here!” or “Morrie, guess who’s calling!” And then Morris would be on the telephone asking if he remembered how to get there, saying the extra bedroom was waiting and there was a pot of chili on the stove.
“I suppose you remember how to get here,” she said.
“I’ll find it.”
“Are you staying in Malibu, or just passing through?”
“I’m on the way to Mexico,” Koerner said. It was not what he should be saying and not what Dana should have asked, though more than a year had gone by without a word from them. He wondered if they had been divorced.
“I look forward to seeing you,” Dana said as though he was nothing but an acquaintance.
“Morris is dead.”
After a few moments Koerner said, “I didn’t know that.”
“I realize you didn’t. I’ll look forward to seeing you. Good-by.” Then she had hung up.
Koerner walked across the highway to his car and started driving slowly toward the house where he had spent so many nights. The house with the two people in it had meant as much as almost anything he knew, hut now he did not want to see it again.
Several minutes later he coasted to a stop in front of another telephone booth and sat for a while without moving, hut then continued on the highway and presently turned into a canyon. The night was warm and a deer sprang over the road, bursting through the headlights like an image on a movie screen. Going up the hill the lights followed a furry shape lumbering along, probably a small brown bear, which soon disappeared among the trees. Koerner put his head out the window to smell the pines. All of this he could remember and he had wanted to experience it again, but now none of it was pleasant.
Morris is dead, Morris is dead, he thought. Yet it might be a joke. They both were there when I called and Morris decided to give me a scare. Or he’s working on a script and needs to know how people react to shocking news. He could do that because he uses people. He’s experimented on me before, but it never hurt like this.
Dana was alone, wearing the ragged sweatshirt, dungarees and sandals. She shook hands calmly and then asked what he wanted to drink. After that she sat down on the hassock where she always used to sit and listen while they talked; and she asked how he was, and Koerner wondered how soon he could leave.
“You were suspicious on the telephone,” he said.
“I’ve become afraid of the telephone. There were so many bad calls after it happened. Anonymous obscene calls at night. I began to hate people. I can’t pick up the receiver anymore without being frightened. But that doesn’t concern you. I suppose you want to hear about Morris. He died a year ago September. It was in quite a few papers. Not as many as I expected, but quite a few.”
Koerner remembered that Morris was overweight and at times his breathing sounded like a locomotive.