Dale had sent her pictures.
That in itself was a novelty. Even being, as Dale so neatly called it, "visually challenged", which was just another way of saying her eyes were worth shit, Diane could get around well enough if she had to. Inch-thick glasses might not flatter her, but they got the job done. And when they didn't, well, the magnifying glass had been invented for a purpose. None of it was a big deal. But Dale had always gone out of his way to use other modes of communication, ones that didn't put her at a disadvantage. She could match steno skills with the best of them, so either he sent her tapes or he called her directly. Never before had he sent her pictures. Until now. They arrived in a stark white envelope, immaculately sealed, her name and address – work, not private – inked on in perfect block letters. She didn't need to check the return address to know it would be his.
There were two photos, one a postcard, the other a picture of a delapidated house. Dale's house. The house she hadn't even known he'd bought until Gordon had shouted the news down the phoneline: that Dale was on extended leave, and would be spending it in Twin Peaks. The picture had been folded and its corners stuck together, so she had to pry them loose with her fingernails. There were no tapes. Back in the day, correspondence from Dale had meant at least five stacks of them to transcribe. But the tapes had stopped after the incident. After the night in Glastonbury Grove.
She took out a magnifying glass for the postcard, which showed a straggle of dazed wildlife. Dale's neat script adorned the back. Diane, I hope this finds you well. I enclosed a photograph of the property I acquired in Twin Peaks, which still needs some finishing touches, as I'm sure you can see. Have already bought a coffee maker and a pair of slippers. Also discovered a new place in town which, apart from brewing a mean coffee, serves the best carrot cake I've tasted in my life. And that, as you know, Diane, is saying something.
It took her a moment to spot the catch. Dale loved anything that met the descriptions "sweet" and "baked", with two exceptions: gingerbread and carrot cake. She remembered it crystal clear from one of the tapes, because the justification had been pure Dale. For some reason, Diane, carrot cake evokes in me images of earth, whereas pie, in my opinion, should aspire to taste celestial rather than profane. Tastes could change, of course, as could people. But this was Dale. In matters like these, Dale was about as pliable as a baseball bat.
She wasn't sure yet how worried she should be, but all of her instincts said 'very'.
The call came in at around six in the morning. She was alone in the office; she liked to be the first one there. When the others arrived there'd be fresh coffee brewed, and she'd have had time to organize before people started dumping reports on her desk. Ringing phones at six were rare. She picked up, half-expecting a prank call which by some miracle had managed to get patched through. But instead she got a female voice: young, nervous-sounding and breathless enough to make her pause.
"Hello?" Beat. "Is this – is this Diane?"
"That's right," she said, warily. "Who's asking?"
"Audrey Horne." The girl didn't sound nervous, Diane realized; she sounded frantic. "I'm sorry, I didn't know who else to call. I tried to reach Denise, but I didn't know where she was stationed, and for you I had both a first name and a location, so I –"
"Wait. Audrey?" Diane licked dry lips, tried to remember why that name sounded familiar. Oh. Oh, damn it. "This is about Dale, isn't it?"
Stunned silence. Then, more firmly, "Yes. It is. I think… he's in trouble."
Diane reached for Dale's postcard, a tattered square shadow on the corner of her desk. "Tell me. Tell me everything."
They spoke for what felt like a long time, long enough for dawn to break and the other early risers – Albert, Krista from reception, Gordon – to filter in. As Audrey talked, Diane's heart sank. Dale had locked himself in his house, hardly ever coming out except after dark. Rumor went that he had taken up drinking, although how true that was, no one could say. Then last night, he'd shown up in Audrey's room, face covered in bloody scratches, only to bolt when she asked him about it. Diane hung up with shaking hands.
Gordon processed the news like she'd expected him to: with a shortage of tact and an excess of decibels. But he didn't sweep it off the table like she'd feared. She'd brought coffee to mellow him, and he turned the mug around in his hands, looking thoughtful. "SO, MISS HORNE CLAIMS COOPER'S GONE OFF THE DEEP END?"
"Not in those terms." Diane weighed her own words carefully. "But she said he seems… different. Darker. That the Sheriff is worried about it too, but hushing it up. Apparently Dale went to visit that girl, Annie, in hospital, ended up driving her into hysterics, then ran from the place like he had the devil on his heels."
"THAT DOESN'T SOUND LIKE OUR COOP." Gordon was still gazing into his mug as if waiting for a revelation. "ANY CHANCE THE YOUNG LADY IS COOKING UP A STORY? LOOKING FOR ATTENTION?"
Diane forced herself to consider that. Audrey was rich, pretty, raised in a screwed-up family; also prone to flights of fancy, if Dale could be believed. But from what she'd gathered, Audrey genuinely cared for Dale, and he for her. At the phone, she hadn't struck Diane as a pining schoolgirl. On the contrary, she'd sounded more clear-headed than Diane thought she'd have been at that age, in that situation. "Actually," she began, "I don't think –"
"Gordon! Permission to get to the bottom of this?" Albert came strolling around the corner, walking that innocuous-looking walk of his which never failed to get him right where he wanted to. Diane breathed a sigh of relief. Much as he hated to be reminded, Albert's instinct for trouble was every bit as sharp as Dale's. Or hers.
"REQUEST NOTED, ALBERT." A slight drop in volume. So Gordon was thinking about it, at least. "BUT ISN'T THIS OUT OF YOUR LEAGUE? IF COOPER IS INDEED A FEW SANDWICHES SHORT OF A PICKNICK, A FIELD AGENT WOULD BE BETTER SUITED TO –"
"The hell he would. I know the town and I know Cooper, better than any field agent you could dredge up." Albert didn't bat an eyelash. "Besides, I was just getting melancholy for that rustic affair they call country cooking. The Bureau canteen does a fair job in serving repulsive food; Twin Peaks cuisine, however, has managed to turn it into an art." He cleared his throat, his way to signal her that yes, that was a joke, but no, he sure as hell wasn't laughing. Diane took the hint and stayed quiet. "In short, I'm volunteering."
Not ten minutes later, she was booking Albert's plane.
He came to see her before leaving for the airport, supposedly to check on his flight times, in reality to suck his way through an illicit cigarette and get her version of the facts. His face was a blur in the shadows, but his tone, hushed and urgent, told her enough. Albert never talked like that. Not unless the sky was coming down.
"I got a call of my own last night," he said in between drags. "Harry Truman, if you'll believe it. Told me they'd found Cooper on a backwater road, dripping wet and grinning like a maniac. I didn't know what to make of it, but the Horne girl's version just sounds too damn similar to be coincidence. I'm officially spooked."
"Same here," Diane said, seeking purchase on the typewriter keys. They were both thinking it. Having worked on the Palmer case, it was impossible not to think it. The question was who'd be first to call the thing by its name, and she didn't intend for it to be her. "What are you planning to do?"
"I'll have to figure that out when I get there." Albert stubbed out his cigarette on the windowsill. The smoke bit into her nostrils, tangy and harsh. "I need your help here, Diane. I want you to call as many people as you can who'd know anything about Coop, where he's been, what he's up to. By the time I get to Twin Peaks, I want to be prepared. Can you do that?"
"I hope that's a rhetorical question," she said, but she didn't smile as she walked him to his cab.
She called Harry Truman first thing in the morning. For all she'd heard about him, first from Dale, then the uncensored version from Albert, he sounded a lot more subdued than she'd thought. She committed his voice to memory as he talked: a pleasant voice, slightly hoarse, more than slightly frayed at the edges. The voice of a man who could be trusted, but was no longer sure if he trusted himself.
"Ironic, isn't it?" He chuckled dryly. "If you'd told me two months ago that I'd be thrilled at the news of Albert Rosenfield being on a plane to Twin Peaks, I'd have told you to take a hike. But we're out of our depth here. I took Coop home last night, after we found him, and he..." Heavy pause. "Damn. I don't know an easy way to say it. There was blood on his cuffs, and it couldn't have been his."
Diane ignored the chill that inched slowly up her spine. "I'll need names, numbers. Anything you can give me. If what we're thinking is true, there's no time to lose."
Truman complied with an eagerness tasting of despair. He had Lucy supply a list of phone numbers, and Diane ran through it steadily: the Haywards, Margaret, Norma, Hawk. Names she knew like the back of her hand, filtered through the sharp lens of Dale's observations. At the Briggs' home, she was treated to a philosophical lecture that left her reeling; Phillip Gerrard, as she'd feared, greeted her politely but then put down the horn. She was impressed with Hawk, who seemed to have deep thoughts about practically everything; the Log Lady was civil but mystifyingly vague. She'd worked her way through most of the names when Albert called from Seattle for an update. She gave him the news straight up: no one knew any details, but they all confirmed it. The Dale who'd settled in Twin Peaks was not the same Dale they remembered from before.
Albert didn't call back the following day, or the day after. That could mean one of two things: there was no crisis yet, or there was. It was pointless to call him either way. She had her job to do and Albert had his; it was as simple as that. Instead she spent her hours catching up on reports, squeezing out transcripts of postmortems and generally trying to keep from going insane. On the third evening, her office phone rang.
"Diane." There was a slur in Albert's voice that was hard to place. Not alcohol, she guessed; more likely exhaustion, topped with caffeine. "I can't talk long. I just wanted to let you know, what we were afraid of…"
"BOB?" she cut him off, in a sudden impulse to save him from saying it.
Albert didn't reply, but his breathing caught and that told her enough. "I have a plan," he said, with some effort. "We have a plan – Harry and I. I did some research, and there's a procedure that might work. Then again, it might not, but either way we have to try. It's a dirty game, but it's the only fucking game in town."
Diane nodded, unseen, against the horn. Dale would want them to try. "When?"
"Tonight," Albert said. "That's all the details you're getting. I don't want you tagged as an accomplice if I screw up, so if anyone asks, you deny everything. Got that?" Albert's tone had turned harsh. It was a tone Diane knew too well, from countless exchanges with another man who pushed himself too often, too hard. It meant: I'm counting on you to be tough, so I can be. She could do that. She'd done it before and she could do it again.
"Yeah, I got you," she said, and took a deep breath. "Now let me tell you something: I'm not ready to accept it'll come to that. You're the Bureau's forensical wonder boy, so they tell me, and I know you don't think of yourself as a creative genius, but in a pinch, you are. Dale thinks you are, and I've never heard Dale stake a claim he couldn't back up. Whatever you intend to try, you can pull it off. So you damn better make sure you do. I trust you." She wasn't even sure if it was the truth, but she couldn't afford to wonder. Convince Albert she believed it, then maybe he would too.
It was only next morning when the call came in, when relief hit her like a brick and she had to bite her knuckles to keep back the tears, that she knew for a fact she'd been lying.
They brought Dale home on the first day of spring. The hospital felt like a Bureau reunion when she arrived: having worked her way through unfamiliar hallways, squinting at badly lit signs, she found Albert, Gordon and, unexpectedly, Denise, cluttered outside Dale's room. Harry Truman, who'd flown in with Dale and Albert, was wearing tracks in the carpet outside the door.
"How is he?" Diane asked. She didn't need to see Albert's face to know he looked grim.
"Stable," Albert said. "Lucid. More or less sane. No physical injuries. Apart from that, your guess is as good as mine."
"He still isn't talking," Denise said, enveloping her in a tight, perfume-soaked embrace. "I tried. He said he needs to be alone."
"We think he killed a man." Truman scrubbed at his eyes. "I can't even imagine what else BOB put him through. We believe he's safe now, but even that…" He swallowed. "It's not like there's a way to be sure."
"I'll take my chances," she said, and went inside.
Dale wasn't in bed like she expected. Instead he was perched on the windowsill, face pressed to the glass, staring fixedly at the clouds rolling by.
"Hello, Diane," he said, in a tone devoid of emotion. Still, it was an effort. "I'd like some privacy, if you don't mind."
Diane nodded, unsurprised. It had been a long time, but she'd lived through more than one of Dale's crises, after all. "I know," she said. "I thought you might need to talk anyway, so I brought you this." She retrieved the dictaphone from the pocket of her coat and put it, cautiously, on the nightstand. Then she turned around.
Closing the door behind her, she ignored the puzzled noises as she pressed her ear against the wood. "What–" Truman began, but she shushed him.
There was a soft thump of feet touching the ground.
There was the rustle of sheets.
There was a click from the dictaphone.
Only then did she dare to breathe again.