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Beth's Book

Tim Woods
"If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you
do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy
The Gospel of St. Thomas
Chapter 1
September 2009
Beth Shepherd squirmed under her blanket. Summers along onterey Bay meant !og.
"er #ood and glass $abin on the outskirts o! to#n #as en%eloped in it& lots o! !og and so
thi$k she $ouldn't see her $ar outside her bedroom's glass sliding doors. ornings like
this usually be$koned her to bolt up and go !or a run through the red#oods. But today she
$hurned under a #oolen blanket& trying to !erret out details that had tormented her !or
#eeks& a re$urring nightmare's bequest.
(n the dream& set in the lo!t o! her !amily's Saskat$he#an barn& Beth #as lashed to
a post #ith baling #ire. ) gossamer presen$e $ir$led her& !litting bet#een shado#s&
tipping o%er hay bales and rusted !arm equipment. The thing mumbled and re!used to
respond to her questions. She $hristened it anson.
What's ne*t #hen time slo#s do#n be!ore the $rash& Beth asked+ When she sat in
the dri%er's seat and $ould see the semi heading right !or her. ,%en as she reali-ed she
going to get it& she $ouldn't help but admire the !o$used mortality. .et& Beth's morbid
$uriosity $ouldn't entirely trump her !ear. She poked her head up !rom the blanket and
#ondered& shouldn't ( talk to someone+
But #ith #ho+ When it $ame to ideal s$hedules& therapists had long ago
supplanted bankers. "er therapist& (saiah Thompson& #as out o! to#n//!or a month. "er
!riend 0ulie #as setting re$ords in meaningless se*ual a!!airs #ith either gender
Beth normally rose at 1230 a.m.& bounded out o! bed& and $ould !inish a !our/mile
run be!ore break!ast. But today she #as already 20 minutes behind s$hedule and !elt like
one o! the banana slugs that sur%i%ed as the pinna$le o! indolen$e in the surrounding
She slid her long legs o!! the bed& plodded to the sho#er& and !orgetting to open
the #indo#& turned the hot !au$et on !ull. 4artially a#ake& she shu!!led ba$k to the
kit$hen& started the ele$tri$ kettle& returned to the sho#er& and stu$k her head under the
searing #ater. The sho#erhead #as positioned at 11 in$hes abo%e the tub's drain& and she
had to du$k and bend her knees to get under the !i*ture. While her mus$les loosened the
bathroom mutated into a dripping bog.
5o# a#ake& she remembered #hy she mo%ed so slo#ly6it #as that third glass o!
$abernet last night. 5ot that she'd e%er drink like her younger brother& Stephen. "e #as
hopeless. Shampoo suds sloughed do#n her head and shoulders and t#irled their #ay
into the drain. (! only her nightmare $ould so easily %anish.
Ten minutes later in the kit$hen she stu$k out her tongue at 4ru!ro$k& her ten/year
old tabby& and said& 7.ou kno# the drill. .ou eat a!ter ( get my tea.7 T#enty/one years o!
li%ing in Santa Cru-& Ca hadn't $hanged her to someone #ho treated their pets like
$hildren or royalty2 8('m ne%er telling a guest not to sit on a parti$ular side o! a $ou$h
be$ause it belongs to Simka the $at or 9u!us the dog. So #ait.:
"a%ing re/belted her #hite $otton bathrobe& tea mug piping hot a!ter t#enty/!i%e
se$onds in the mi$ro#a%e& and kibbles ser%ed& Beth booted up her )pple and stret$hed
her ba$k. She #aited !or last night's $hapter to appear on s$reen& hoping !or a better
#riting session than last one. While the $omputer #oke to $yber/da#n& she glan$ed at her
daybook& onday& September 1;th. <or the past !our years& on ondays& she led a
=ournaling seminar at the Washington St. Women's Shelter. She reminded hersel! she
should $all her son& 0ay& 21& in San <ran$is$o//but remembered the time. "e'd ne%er be
up this early.
Beth opened her diary in Word. This #as ho# she began e%ery #riting day2
musing on anything2 last night's reading& her last meal//#hi$h last night happened to be
#ith !riends at Santa Cru-'s ne#est (ndian restaurant. (t turned out to be surprisingly
good& espe$ially the s#eet and sour %indaloo and sorpotel. (t #as the bar a!ter dinner that
had done her in.
(n a 1>/year $areer as a no%elist& she'd honed her daily #riting routine6#ith or
#ithout $hildren& #ith or #ithout boy!riends& and& at times& #ith dogs& #ith $ats& then $ats
and dogs& and no#& one $at. ?omesti$ated birds le!t her $old. S$atter& the last parrot #ith
#hi$h she'd shared a li%ing spa$e& departed #ith husband number t#o& Brad& years ago.
Whom she detested more& bird or man& remained unresol%ed.
4ru!ro$k meo#ed& his reminder to her that he needed #ater. She tilted her head
and looked o%er her hal!/round& tortoise/shell glasses& smiled& and said& beast.7
Beth rose and re/!illed the gray& $heaply/made $erami$ bo#l& a gi!t !rom someone
she'd dated years ago #hose name she $ouldn't remember. )!ter an a!!e$tionate s$rat$h
and rub o%er the animal's head to its haun$hes& she said& 8@oo!/o!! time's o%er. ('%e got to
Seat positioned& ba$k straight& eyes on the s$reen& Beth suspended and #riggled
her !ingers o%er her split/handed keyboard& ready to type. ) large inhale& !ollo#ed by a
slo#& audible e*hale& and . . .
5othing. Beth dropped her hands in her lap and shook her head. 8What's the
matter&: she asked. 85ot again. Why is this happening+:
She $ounted the days on the $alendar6si*teen in a ro#//#here she $ouldn't #rite
a #ord in her latest book. ,a$h day she #as stalled be!ore she began. "er agent& arty
S$hienman& had been hounding her #ith an a%alan$he o! hysteri$al emails& phone and
te*t messages. )lready past deadline& this book #as supposed to ha%e been done t#o
#eeks ago.
She opened her do$ument entitled& 4assages #here she noted inspirational quotes
and phrases !rom #riters she lo%ed. The entries ranged !rom Aa!ka& to <o#les& to "ardy&
to Wool! and e%ery other belo%ed #riter she kne# $o%ing the past t#o $enturies. The !irst
nugget $ame !rom 0ohn @ardner's& The )rt o! <i$tion& #here he quoted William
<aulkner's admonition2 )ll meaning in the best !i$tion $omes !rom the heart in $on!li$t
#ith itsel!.
She thought that $ertainly !it her today and !or the past #eeks. She returned to her
manus$ript. She read her prose and !ound it impossible to keep her !o$us. She kne# i! it
didn't hold her& this manus$ript didn't stand a $han$e #ith her agent& publisher or !ans.
ind bu--ing #ith disparate thoughts& eyes blurred& Beth pushed her $hair ba$k&
!elt her !orehead and took her pulse. She asked hersel!& am ( si$k+ Si*ty beats per minute.
5othing #rong #ith the ti$ker. She rubbed her hands& and ble# on them like she had
years ago a#aiting a ser%e #hen she'd played %arsity %olleyball at BCC).
"un$hing again o%er the keys& she s#it$hed ba$k to her latest Aatie Shields book
and glan$ed at her last line. (t #as Aatie's last =ournal entry2 This #eekend& ('ll make
eggplant 4armesan !or my !riends.
She thought& yeah& Aatie& all you ha%e to do is !igure out #hat kind o! #ine to
ser%e #ith dinner and a dessert. ( ha%e to !igure out #hat the hell to do #ith youD
Beth sat ba$k& s$run$hed her shoulders three times& and tried again. But she still
$ouldn't #rite a #ord& like her hands #ere #ebbed together& entangled in glue. She
opened her bro#ser and read the headlines in the on/line %ersion o! the 5e# .ork Times.
)!ter s$anning some arti$le titles and making mental notes about #hi$h ones to $ome
ba$k to& she skimmed through the !all !ashion line/up. ?on't get too distra$ted& she
reminded hersel!. But !or a !e# minutes she lost hersel! in the latest o%er$oats.
oments later& !ully in!ormed #ith !ull/length& #ool/$oat lapel #idths& Beth
$he$ked the San <ran$is$o Chroni$le& #hose $ity she planned to %isit later in the #eek6
still unde$ided i! she #anted to spend the day alone or ask a !riend to $ome along. She
$al$ulated& an hour and a hal! dri%e there& !our or !i%e hours en=oying the $ity6hal! o! it
#ith her son& 0ay& the ride ba$k . . . do ( #ant to bring a Santa Cru- !riend or not+
She #ondered #hat $ould she and her son do in the $ity they hadn't done be!ore+
)nd to that question he'd al#ays reply& 8om& ( =ust #ant to spend the time #ith you.
Stop #orrying.: She shook her head and #ent ba$k to her manus$ript.
Beth had a$kno#ledged on many radio and tele%ision inter%ie#s that her !i$tional
dete$ti%e& Aatie Shields& #as a ni$er person than her. ore le%el/headed inter%ie#ers had
pi$ked up on that admission and asked Beth to elaborate The most Beth had e%er
$on!essed to in one o! these publi$ity e*er$ises #as that Aatie had more !riends that her
author2 a !un$tion o! her innate intro%ersion and pre!eren$e !or reading o%er idle gossip.
The latest in her Aatie Shields dete$ti%e series& Co%e in the 4re$in$t, #as& at least&
three/quarters done. (n it& Aatie #as tra$king do#n a homi$idal rapist #ho'd been stalking
and killing young #omen all o%er 5e# .ork City. Beth returned to her last entry. She had
to get her dete$ti%e out o! the poli$e station& pro%ide her #ith a !resh lead& and sho#
Aatie $on$erned she #as distra$ted and losing her edge. But #hom #as she really
des$ribing& Beth #ondered+ Chara$ter or author+
This parti$ular !i$tional day needed to be brought to a $lose. Beth needed to get
her protagonist beyond this pre$in$t s$ene and sho# her thinking about the man she
#anted to sedu$e. But no ideas $ame. Cike the !ro-en Canadian lakes #here Beth gre#
up playing ho$key& her imagination #as solid i$e.
She $he#ed on an eraser until she noti$ed ho# a$rid and bitter it a$tually tasted&
like a mash o! rubber and bark. She #ent to the sink& spit and rinsed her mouth out. This
isn't a ma=or plot t#ist& she re!le$ted& and sipped a $up o! #ater. She stepped to the bay
#indo# and thought& ('m not sear$hing !or some inno%ati%e #ay to $hara$teri-e my
protagonist or a !resh #ay to des$ribe light streaming through a #indo#. What's #rong
#ith me this morning+ She let her mind dri!t #ith the !og #a!ting through the trees.
Beth returned to her $hair and sat ba$k. She reali-ed she had a timing problem
#ith this s$ene. (t #asn't !itting #ithin the book's o%erall stru$ture. )lready si*ty per$ent
through the book& it #as late not to ha%e had at least one e*pli$it se* s$ene.
She lo%ed to #rite se* s$enes& and her publisher& agent and !ans e*pe$ted them
#ell be!ore her no%els' mid/ points. ,*perien$e #ith pre%ious episodes o! #riter's blo$k
6all minor//had taught her2 !ine& a$kno#ledge the problem& ta$kle it& but don't !orget to
sa%or #hat did #ork. 5o blo$k negated a #ell/dra#n $hara$ter& an in%enti%e plot de%i$e&
or erased a ma=or $hara$ter's personality $ontradi$tions. The problem #ith Co%e in the
4re$in$t #as Beth had already done three rounds o! e%ery strategy she had e%er employed
to get unstu$k//and none o! them had #orked.
She reminded hersel!& there #as al#ays a #ay out o! these roadblo$ks. Take a
detour. Take a day o!!. 9ead a good book. Talk it out #ith a !ello# #riter. )s opposed to
#hen she #as a younger #riter& she no longer #ent into paro*ysms o! sel!/hatred #hen
she had to squirm through the mine!ields& !alse dire$tions and booby/trapped $onundrums
littering !i$tional battle!ields. Beth had been telling hersel! !or ten years that her popular
and su$$ess!ul Aatie Shields series had $ured her o! $rippling sel!/doubt. 5o#&
yesterday's dogma had be$ome today's apo$rypha.
Beth liked one di%ergen$e !rom the pre%ious books in the Aatie series. Where in
earlier books her dete$ti%e #as al#ays in the se*ual dri%er's seat& in Co%e in the 4re$in$t,
Aatie #as smitten #ith a middle/aged medi$al e*aminer& Ciam iller//#ho merged his
morbid line o! #ork #ith an endearing #it& a !it physique and a drama/less a$$eptan$e o!
her odd pro!ession2 a $ombination she !ound irresistible. The !irst three times she #ent
out #ith him& Aatie #anted to squee-e the breath out o! him #ith her legs& and she had to
$lear her throat be!ore speaking to him. )s in real li!e& that #ould diminish& Beth noted&
a!ter the t#o $hara$ters had slept together.
So #here #as Aatie in her $urrent book this morning& Beth #ondered+ Where $an
she send Aatie out in mundus !i$tus a!ter another episode o! losing her balan$e against& o!
all people& a $oroner+ Aatie #as no rookie. She'd dealt #ith bigger !ish than a pathologist
#ith a $i%il ser%i$e =ob. Can't $ome up #ith a pro$edural lead& Beth asked+ <ine& ('ll send
Aatie ba$k to her parent's house to dis$uss dad's de$ision to name her e*e$utri* o! his
estate& setting up an up$oming #ar #ith the dete$ti%e's older brothers. "o# dare her
!ather name his one girl e*e$utri*+ This part o! the no%el& taken part/$loth !rom Beth's
o#n !amily subplot& #as $oming along ni$ely& $oales$ing to a mini/$lima* as Aatie's
$urrent murder $ase $ame to a head.
<i!teen years ago& Beth's parents had died #ithin ele%en months o! ea$h other& and
the politi$al !all/out !rom the Shepherd !amily inheritan$e deba$le still #asn't spent.
0ohn& >2& her older brother& still rankled about not being named e*e$utorF Stephen& ;G& the
last born& #as still $ampaigning !or more money.
Stephen mo%ed ba$k to the !amily !arm a!ter dad died& ostensibly to help mom.
But =unkies ne%er stop their o#n %ariant on #orking. When mom !inally died& Stephen
did the brunt o! $leaning out and selling the !amily house. Beth and 0ohn ga%e him an
e*tra t#enty thousand dollars !or his troubles. .et& he still !elt $heated. (n an e!!ort to
pla$ate Stephen& 0ohn and Beth thre# in dad's paid& year/old Ce*us//#hi$h still did
nothing to assuage Stephen's entitlement. 5e*t $ame the ne*t surprise. ?is$losed at
?uring her !inal si* months& Stephen had manipulated his aging mother into
selling o!! most o! the !arm to his drug suppliers. "e had $on%in$ed her& #ith good $ause&
his li!e #as in danger& and the !ortune in land that should ha%e passed to all three o! the
Shepherd $hildren #as redu$ed to a tenth o! its %alue. Beth al#ays belie%ed her mother
died o! a broken heart aggra%ated by shame.
Stephen's greedy righteousness still popped up e%ery t#o or three years. Beth
al#ays re!used to $a%e into his demands. Hlder brother& 0ohn& supported her position& but
!or the li!e o! her she $ouldn't understand #hy he #ouldn't $ome do#n harder on
Stephen to get his a$t together and stop trying to su$k more money out o! the !amily. But
0ohn had gotten ri$h #hile still young and married a #oman #ho guarded their #ealth
better than international $orporations.
Sin$e her parents' deaths an enduring radioa$ti%e #inter had settled permanently
o%er the Shepherd $lan//Stephen hadn't spoken or #ritten to her in three years. (n Beth's
real li!e& unlike in her !i$tion& !amily hearts really #ere $older. )s !ar as Stephen #as
$on$erned& he $ould drop o!! the !a$e o! the earth. But she #anted to maintain her
$onne$tion #ith 0ohn and his !amily and had emailed and le!t phone messages #ith his
#i!e& "eather& to =oin her #ith the $hildren at Cake Tahoe some time in H$tober.
Beth blinked her eyes& re!o$used on her $omputer s$reen and sat !or#ard& hoping
that i! she peered $losely enough at old prose it might re/start her engine. (! the Aatie
series hadn't made her a household name6she'd ne%er been on Hprah6Beth had long
supported hersel! #ith her $rime #riting& last year e%en making a ma*imum $ontribution
to her 9HT"/(9). (! that #easel& Brad& e*/husband I2& had been man enough to marry
his then ;0 year/old& ri$h girl!riend !i!teen years ago and release Beth !rom those J1&
G00Kmonth spousal support payments she'd paid him !or !i%e years& she'd be sitting
pretty. The bastard had bla$kmailed her during their son's early gro#ing/up years.
"al! o! her tea no# $onsumed& but not a #ord typed on her s$reen& Beth pushed
her $hair ba$k& #ent to the kettle and topped o!! her !a%orite mug& a por$elain A/art
spe$ial garlanded #ith bea%ers. )ll round the $up's sides the non/des$ript $ritters built an
in%isible dam. "olding the $up up to eye le%el and slo#ly turning it& she noti$ed
something !or the !irst time. There #as a $ute& !oreman/like bea%er #ith a $hipped !ront
tooth//reminding her o! her !irst husband& ?urone allory& grinning #hile the other
merry bea%ers duti!ully #ent about their #ork.
T#o husbands2 one a demon& the other too mu$h a saint. Was it too mu$h to !ind a
man #ho had a little o! ea$h+
Startled& she heard 4ru!ro$k =ump onto the $omputer. 7@et o!! o! thereD7 The drink
spilled& staining her #hite bathrobe. 7?amn.7 The $at had killed her last t#o $omputers
#ith hair and dander& and it #asn't going to happen again.
Beth rushed to the bathroom and grabbed her spray bottle o! stain remo%er. The
room #as still steamy& but she hated ba$kground noise #hen she #rote and re!used to
turn on the ele$tri$ %ent. She opened the other $asement #indo# as !ar as it #ould go&
sprit-ed the stain and tossed the robe into the hamper. With a #ash$loth she #iped the
steam o!! the mirror and e*amined the $ro#'s !eet around her bro#n eyes& #in$ed& and
positioned her still #et $urls to better hide the bird tra$ks. She didn't really mind a !e#
#rinkles6at least that's #hat she told hersel! and $hose to belie%e. She patted her behind
but didn't #ant to turn around to look at it. What really troubled her #as the beginning/
to/sag/=ust/a/little/bit butt.
"er body #as still toned& and she %o#ed again to stop using the light tint she'd
been using to keep !rom going gray. Ce!t alone& her page/$ut& light auburn hair #as still
more bro#n and red than gray. S#imming three times a #eek along #ith #eight/#ork&
bi$y$ling and running kept her !igure trim and only !our and a hal! pounds hea%ier than
she #as in $ollege. There $omes a time in e%ery #oman' li!e& she told hersel!& #hen it's
time to stop pretending you're in your 30's& and at ;9& Beth kne# that time had arri%ed.
9e$alling times be!ore gray hair #as an issue& her phone had rung o!! the hook
#ith #ould/be suitors three #eeks a!ter she and Brad had gone publi$ #ith their break/
up. Sure& she told hersel!& that #as t#enty years ago& but =ust last #eek she had pi$ked up
a !riend's daughter at s$hool and the prin$ipal& a handsome >> year old& had gone out o!
his #ay to engage her in $on%ersation& $ro#ding her by the !lagpole.
) !e# minutes o! $on%ersation #ith the prin$ipal made $lear she had no interest in
him//all those re!eren$es to his past #i%es #ere the gi%e/a#ay he'd be a pro=e$t. Beth
thought o! hersel! as a realist #hen it $ame to primary relationships2 more than #illing to
engage in the ups and do#ns o! $o/habitation& good times and bad& but #ould run !rom
men tethered to their sinking emotional baggage.
She stepped ba$k !rom the mirror. 7Shit&7 she said aloud. 7@et to #ork. Stop
da#dling.7 She passed into the hall that led to the kit$hen//but not be!ore pausing to
e*amine her !a$e again in the o%al mirror abo%e the mahogany $onsole. She e*amined the
roses and thought they had another day be!ore their nods turned into droops and le!t
them. She $len$hed her =a# and spread her lips apart #ith her !ingersF #ith a slight
turning right& then le!t& she e*amined her teeth. She had to s$hedule her ne*t teeth
Beth #alked past her desk and $alled her best !riend in 5e# .ork& 4enelope
Barnes& !rom #hom she'd !irst gotten the idea to #rite $rime !i$tion. 4enelope #as no# a
dete$ti%e in the 5.4?. Beth's $all #ent to %oi$e mail. (n her message& she said&
84enelope . . . ( need some urban eli*ir. "o# soon $an ( %isit+ Call me.:
The last time they'd spoken& 4enelope said she had some interesting men she
#anted to introdu$e Beth to& and she assured her author/!riend they #ere all o%er 3>. Beth
returned to her desk and yanked her $hair up to the keyboard.
Cli$king the $ursor on her =ournal& she returned to today's date that al#ays
de!aulted into the Cu$inda S$ript !ont she pre!erred !or her personal =ournal& letters to
!riends& and notes to !amily members. She told hersel!& =ust #rite anything2 mention
%enting the bathroom& #iping the mirror& hanging the #ash $loth so sloppily she kne# it
#ouldn't dry properly. What #as #riting any#ay+ (deas to #ords.
She e*amined her inert hands ho%ering o%er the keyboard. Whate%er magi$
$ir$uitry !ired thoughts !rom mind to physi$al a$tion upon plasti$ keys into
grammati$ally organi-ed senten$es $ouldn't $omplete their path#ay. "er mouth tasted
bitter. To hell #ith it& she told hersel! and $losed her =ournal. ('ll !igure it out later.
Beth stood up and #iped her damp palms on her thighs. ?on't make a big deal
about a routine being broken& she told hersel!. (t's $ommon& !or Christ's sake. We trudge
through li!e's ups and do#ns and e%entually #e all stop breathing& our hearts stop and #e
=oin the ranks o! the dead. (n an e!!ort to right hersel! and regain her !ooting Beth had
al#ays been able to rea$h $atastrophi$ absurdities.
,%en as she told hersel! this& Beth kne# she didn't seriously #ant to belie%e a
#ord o! it. aking light o! our $olle$ti%e mortality . . . #ell& that #as something she did
But this episode o! #riter's blo$k #as altogether di!!erent. (n the past& she'd $alled
a blo$k the !iend. ?espite the adoles$ent o%ertones o! su$h a term& all it's %ampire
$onnotations& it d#elled in the $re%asses o! her mind. They had ne%er lasted longer than a
day or t#o. But she $ould no longer s$o!! at it. (t had been going on !or too long.
She took pride in her !i$tional $hara$ters& al#ays $asting them as people #ho
$ould ne%er blo$k out the pain!ul aspe$ts o! their li%es. ?eath& Beth supposed& at least
!rom the li%ing side o! the $urtain appeared to be !airly simple. She didn't belie%e in the
a!terli!e #hi$h made grand e*istential questions simple. )ll gourmet meals presented
#ith impe$$able !lourishes and !it !or !ine palates ended up as sta$ks o! dirty dishesF
s$heduled routine stops and disappointing =olts o$$urred equally along li!e's tra$ksF
sentien$e guaranteed pain and su!!ering. She a$$epted this& !ully reali-ing that all =oys
and triumphs #ere !leeting but no less #orthy o! being $elebrated.
But i! she $ouldn't #rite . . . then it #as li%ing that s$ared the be=esus out o! her.
The li%ing death. She returned to her $omputer.
outh open like a !ish& lost in thinking about e%erything but her no%el& Beth
tapped her $heeks #ith either sets o! !ingers #ith enough !or$e to make hollo#/tube
sounds. She heard the $at s$amper out o! the room. )t least he #as ha%ing !un.
She s$rolled ba$k to the beginning o! her last $hapter& 3E& in 4re$in$t and read2
Aatie put on her !reshly laundered& slee%eless silk blouse& a pair o! (talian sandals& and
shorts6an out!it alluring enough to attra$t modest attention #alking do#n >
)%enue on
a s#eltering 5e# .ork Sunday.
That last line stunk& Beth thought. She'd slipped into telling, rather than pro%iding
those details in s$ene& say by ha%ing Aatie running in !or $o!!ee and meeting her !a%orite
barista2 #ho'd $omment on her out!it sho#ing o!! her legs. Beth kne# #hat she #as a!ter&
=ust enough physi$al re!eren$es to #het her readers' appetites that something se*ual #as
around the $orner.
Beth $he$ked her hard $opy outline. What a$tually #as supposed to o$$ur in this
$hapter #as an en$ounter #ith Aatie's best !riend& ?istri$t )ttorney& ?iane 9aemer& #ho'd
been introdu$ed in the last Aatie Shields no%el//and #hose de%eloping relationship #ith
Aatie #as $lose& $ompetiti%e& and tinged #ith a hint o! eroti$ism. Both $hara$ters #ere
nominally straight& and Beth kne# she had no intentions o! getting these t#o in bed
together6at least not in this book//but she liked the $omple*ity o! their !riendship.
Skimming through the rest o! the $hapter outline& Beth !elt she at least had her
mind ba$k on tra$k !rom #here'd she had last le!t o!!. She highlighted and deleted the last
des$ription o! Aatie's out!it6she #ouldn't be #earing su$h $asual $lothes i! she #ere
(t #as simple& Beth told hersel!. ?ress Aatie appropriately and ha%e her and the
?.). bump into ea$h other outside& $hoose a lun$h spot& and sho# them eating hors
d'oeu%res and salads dele$table enough to get her readers' mouths #atering.
She'd done %ersions o! this s$ene many times2 a ne# day& a ne# set o! $hara$ter
$hallenges& a $han$e en$ounter that had nothing to do #ith $han$e& !ashionable $lothes&
$hi$ lun$h menus and some mi*ed se*ual attra$tions that $ould take %aried turns. Beth
liked #riting this #ay& and her !ans liked it enough to buy her sleuth/books !or the last ten
years& o%er three quarter million $opies o! them.
Beth made $o!!ee and s#it$hed her attention !rom the $omputer to her $ell phone
s$reen. 5o ne# %oi$emailsF no te*t messages. The $o!!ee brought out the a!ter/taste o! the
eraser& so she de$ided to s#it$h to ba$k bla$k tea. She tossed the $o!!ee do#n the sink&
rinsed her $up and turned on the kettle. The tea shel! #as =ust high enough to make
rea$hing it an ad%enture.
She stret$hed up and grasped the bo* that held her tea options. Hut tumbled !our
open bo*es2 orange blossom& mint medley& nappy/time and ginger6none o! #hi$h she
liked. She only had them !or the Santa Cru- non/$a!!eine drinkers6most o! her lo$al
!riends. She squatted and repa$ked the tea bags in no parti$ular order and =ust be!ore
repla$ing them on the too/high shel! said& 7S$re# it. ( hate all o! them.7 The teas #ere
old. She tossed the lot o! them in the trash.
"er $ell phone rang. Caller (.?. sho#ed2 . S$hienman//her agent.
"is last pestering $all $ame yesterday #hen he'd asked& 7"o#'s the book $oming
along& Beth+7 She ga%e him a sto$k ans#er and kne# #hat #ould !ollo#. She'd heard a
thousand %ariations o!2
8.ou're past deadline&: arty said. 8<or Christ's sake& you'%e been on the last hal!
o! this book !or a year.7
<rom that opening it got nastier. Speaking to the phone& Beth said& 8Take a nap&
arty.: She told hersel! she needed to #rite. 7('m not ans#ering today.7
When they had spoken re$ently on the phone& Beth no longer $orre$ted arty's
e*aggerated time/lines. She had laun$hed the Aatie Shields series 10 years ago& #ith her
heroine as a t#enty/three year old assistant to an established 4( in C.). Aatie got !ired
#hen she #ouldn't put out to her boss& the boss' son or their !a%ored $lients and mo%ed to
5e# .ork. She #as a$$epted to the poli$e a$ademy as mu$h !or her aptitude and physi$al
strength as her blond good looks.
H! $ourse Aatie's attra$ti%eness had played a role in her rapid promotion up the
ranks. By age 32 she #as a !ull dete$ti%e. )s a young dete$ti%e her re$ord o! sol%ing
$ases #as the best in her department. The poli$e $hie! had publi$ly $ited her as the best
young dete$ti%e they'd seen sin$e his o#n nas$ent $areer in the Bron*6ba$k in the era
#hen he $arried a snub nosed '3G's.
The $hie! #as a nar$issisti$ asshole& Aatie thought. Still& the uno!!i$ial a$$olades
had rippled through the department pro$laiming she #as someone to be re$koned #ith//
her looks simply being a ni$e plus to an already $apable pa$kage.
Write something& Beth told hersel!& sitting ba$k at her desk6happy to least be
thinking about her book again.
Hn the right side o! Beth's desk& her landline rang. She glan$ed at the portable
phone that reminded her o! a dead& upside do#n beetle. (ts red diode blinked and arty's
name appeared in the $aller (.?. #indo#. Beth #ouldn't remind arty that the dete$ti%e
had sin$e aged to 3>& a !ull ele%en years sin$e the original story. @ood as S$hienman #as
at selling manus$ripts he stunk on keeping tra$k o! protagonists' ages. Whene%er Beth
pulled his $hain about this arty used the e*pedient o! getting old6though he $ould tell
you e*a$tly #hi$h horse on #hi$h obs$ure ra$etra$k had #on him e*a$tly ho# mu$h
money going ba$k to the late E0's.
arty still #anted Aatie to get pi$ked up in bars and s$re# a!ter !irst dates6one
o! arty's $hara$ter !la#s that had un#ittingly !ound its #ay into Beth's earlier no%els.
Cike so many men reared on 9aymond Chandler no%els& Beth sa# him as a#k#ardly
perple*ed in the presen$e o! se*ually $on!ident young #omen. 4ortraying Aatie as more
mature and daring than her author #as one o! the pri%ate ironies Beth allo#ed hersel!.
<inishing a no%el e%ery t#o and a hal! years had pro%en Beth a long/distan$e
runner in the publishing #orld. Was it too mu$h to e*pe$t& she pondered& that her agent
$ould remember some important details+ She had $ontributed a good share to arty's
being a $om!ortably #ell/o!! resident o! the Bpper ,ast Side. She pun$hed in his number
on her $ell and hit send.
7arty . . . is that you+ . . . arty+7
7.eah& it's me . . . ne#s . . . good ne . . .
7What+ What+ .ou're breaking up.7
7What ne#s+7 she asked. 7What good ne#s+7
7('m in the $ar. Beth . . . $an you hear me no#+7
7.eah. <ine. Coud and $lear.7
7Sit do#n. This is #hat you'%e been #aiting !or.:
Cra%ing any kind o! positi%e ne#s& Beth !lopped onto the $ou$h. 7H.A. ('m sitting.
Tell me.7
7<or your up$oming book . . . $an you say national tour+7 "e #ent on to talk
about the ad%an$e.
79eally . . . an ad%an$e o! ho# mu$h+7 She stood.
The last thing he said #as& 8<inish the damn book and get to 5e# .orkD:
)!ter a string o! thank yous& and this/is/#hat/#e'%e/been/hoping/!ors& Beth no
longer kne# #hether it #as she or arty #ho #as speaking. She hung up.
She !elt di--y. 4ru!ro$k poun$ed up on her stoma$h& but Beth shooshed him o!!&
!elt si$k and lo#ered her head bet#een her knees. She $lasped her hands behind her head.
"er $elebration o%er be!ore it began. Hh shit& she remembered& #hat i! ( $an't !inish it.
7@et ba$k to the story&7 she said. She turned to the emotionally in=ured !eline
sitting by her !eet and asked& 7What more do you need to get moti%ated+7
"er head hurt. Bo#ing& she $losed her eyes& !oolishly trying to hide !rom %ertigo.
7?id you hear that& 4ru+7 she said& in a pained %oi$e. 75ational tour. ) !i%e/!igure
ad%an$e !or my ne*t book+ ('ll be able to buy you !resh meat7
Slo#ly Beth sat up and s#allo#ed air. 5ausea returned. )gain& she lo#ered her
head bet#een her knees. She $losed her eyes and thought& !at $han$e ('ll #rite no#.
<eeling 4ru's $heek rubbing her leg& she thought& thanks2 4ru still lo%es me& and
('m use!ul as a s$ent/marker. She $losed her eyes& !inally hearing the %oi$e !rom this
morning's dream say& Beth& you'll ne%er #rite again. .ou're a !raud.
Chapter 2
Beth lay do#n !or an hour& let her nausea pass and $on$eded that she #asn't going to
make any progress on her Aatie no%el//$ertainly not this morning.
arginally !eeling better& She !ound her balan$e and stood at her $loset and $hose
tan linen sla$ks& a $ream& short/slee%ed $ashmere s#eater& and the %ery sandals she'd put
on Aatie's !eet in the book's last $hapter. )!raid to go ba$k to her desk and #anting to !eel
use!ul& she started to organi-e her linen $loset but $ouldn't get into it. She stu!!ed the bath
to#els o%er the hand to#els& sighed and said& 7later.7 There #as al#ays the kit$hen& but
there #ere no dishes to put a#ay !rom last night. <or a se$ond she $onsidered $leaning
the mirrors but #hen the glass $leaner #asn't under the sink& she muttered& 8Why
)pparently there #asn't anything use!ul she $ould do& so Beth $alled the Santa
Cru- Women's Shelter #here Chrissy& the re$eptionist& ans#ered the phone.
7Beth . . . hi . . . you're $oming in today. 9ight+7
7('m $oming in early. ( need to !eel use!ul.7
7This is the pla$e. We had three admissions last night.7
Beth reali-ed ne# admits #ere usually in no $ondition to parti$ipate in a =ournal
#orkshop& not #hen they #ere nursing a$ute #ounds !rom abrasions& $ontusions& bla$k
eyes and stit$hes6sometimes !ra$tures. <or the !requent %isitors& she'd seen the $orrosi%e
e!!e$ts o! abuse on their !a$es& imparting in a single passing glan$e #hat years o!
studying ?i$kens ne%er $ould. Soul/rot #as $orporeal2 the de!eated gait2 the lightless&
!urti%e eyesF en%eloped beings $aged in !or$e !ields o! terri!ied %igilan$e.
(n her three years o! #eekly t#o/hour #orkshops she'd learned that many o! the
#omen at the shelter qui$kly $ame to %alue an opportunity to e*press themsel%es outside
o! group therapy. )nd ha%ing attained some lo$al $elebrity in the #riting $ir$les !or her
$ommer$ial su$$ess& Beth's #ork here #as a respite !rom the hero/#orship %s. en%y
merry/go/round that $ame #ith her being a B/list $rime #riter.
<e# o! the #omen she met here read mu$h. (n these drab #alls Beth #as kno#n
only by her badge and title& Beth//Uolunteer.
?ressed and primed& Beth $he$ked her email. 5othing !rom 0ohn or "eather on
her in%itation to meet in Tahoe later in the !all. She thought it's been !our and a hal!
#eeks. "o# mu$h damn time did they need to de$ide i! they $ould get a#ay+
She #ent to her desk& opened her $omputer to the photo !ile album and studied the
ten/year old snapshots o! the three siblings !rom the last time they'd all been at the !amily
!arm in Canada. Beth stood in the middle& ea$h o! her arms around her brothers'
shoulders. ?ark haired& 0ohn #as an in$h taller than her//Stephen an in$h shorter. Stephen
al#ays looked happiest #hen posing !or photographs& al#ays at his best& the pi$ture o!
insou$iant ease. "is sto$ky& blonde good looks re!used to sho# the ill e!!e$ts o! all the
)!ter his third di%or$e& Stephen #as a $ommitted ba$helor and o!! and on
unemploymentF and the last she heard he #as $ampaigning to get a permanent psy$hiatri$
disability. "e'd long ago mastered unhealthy dependen$y but she doubted that $ould get
you a !ree ride !or the rest o! your li!e on the go%ernment. Whate%er& she thought. "e
#asn't her problem.
0ohn& her older brother& #as a di!!erent matter. "a%ing stru$k gold in Cali!ornia
so!t#are rush o! the 19G0's& he li%ed in Aensington in the ,ast Bay. H%er/$ommitted to
his $ompany& she #orried the heart atta$k he'd been gro#ing !or the past 2> years had to
be tapping on his door. "is e*$essi%e tra%el& obs$enely long #ork hours& lingering
smoking habit and la$k o! e*er$ise all made !or a gloomy medi$al prognosis.
Wealthy& Stan!ord graduate& #ith a beauti!ul #i!e and all/star $hildren& Beth
$ouldn't !or the li!e o! her understand ho# 0ohn resented that their !ather named her
e*e$utor o! his #ill. ?id 0ohn need to be the man in $harge o! and $ontrol o! e%erything+
Wasn't he li%ing in su!!i$ient o%er#helm+ Beth quit her photo appli$ation and shut her
$omputer do#n.
She $alled her dentist's o!!i$e and s$heduled a teeth #hitening !or ne*t #eek. She
noted it in her s$hedule. Beth got into her light blue 200E iata V/> $on%ertible and
took ,mpire @rade 9oad into to#n. The !og #as =ust belo# the Bni%ersity& and she kne#
she'd be losing at least ten degrees o! temperature in a mile. She put the top up and the
radio on. ,%erything the strident talking heads on the Ce!t and on the 9ight had to say
had be$ome as ine%itable as the phases o! the moon6#ithout the gra$e. Hld enough to
remember $i%il debate on the publi$ air#a%es& Beth turned o!! the radio and hit start on
the C? player. "er $ar entertainment sa%ior turned out to be Ba$h's Uiolin Con$erto in )
(t #as 12 degrees #hen she pulled up into the shelter parking lot at 9230. "ours
early !or her $lass& Beth $ould park !ree all day in do#nto#n Santa Cru- that had be$ome
notorious !or meter maids #ho patrolled the $ity #ith an e!!i$ien$y that #ould be the
en%y o! The ossad. She grabbed a pale green& hooded pullo%er and tied it around her
ne$k be!ore %enturing outside.
She #alked the !our blo$ks to the Santa Cru- Co!!ee 9oasting Company on the
1300 blo$k o! 4a$i!i$ )%enue and ordered de$a!. While do$toring her $o!!ee #ith hal!
and hal! she heard her name.
7Beth. ( #as =ust going to $all and ask you to meet me.7
"er !riend #as the $lassi$ small business o#ner& great at starting a business but a
lousy manager. Who else& Beth thought& $ould get a quarter o! a million dollar loan !or
t#o years #ith no interest !rom a lo$al high roller+ 0ulie hadn't e%en had to sleep #ith the
guy//or that's #hat she told e%eryone.
0ulie Sa#yer& 3E& #as three in$hes taller than Beth& ra%en/haired& a !ormer
Hlympi$ s#immer& and #ho pushed Beth to ride more road/bike miles on #eekends than
she e%er thought possible. 0ulie's bla$k hair pulled through the loop o! her 0eep Style
)rmy Cap !ramed a pretty !a$e #ith high $heekbones and $hatoyant green eyes. Beth
bi$y$led a $entury three times a year& something she $onsidered a ma=or li!e
a$$omplishment. 0ulie rode them on$e a month and parti$ipated in !our triathlons a year//
#hi$h she $hara$teri-ed as slo#ing do#n. "er best mo%e as a bike shop o#ner #as in
hiring a great store/manager& ike6#ho a$ti%ely en$ouraged his boss to ride as mu$h as
possible. ike #as smart enough to ha%e !igured out 0ulie's store time should be treated
as rare personal appearan$e by the bi$y$le blogger//li%e and in/person. But don't let her
near the books.
7Well here ( am&7 Beth ans#ered. 7(s that the latest bike =a$ket+ Cooks like nylon.
Hr is it polyester+7
@rinning and posing #ith her !ingers li!ting her $hin to the side& 0ulie said& 7(t's
the latest material& #ith =ust a tou$h o! ly$ra. Cike the raspberry $olor+7
0ulie's !a$e& and elegant mi* o! !eral beauty& $hanged by the se$ond& a re!le$tion&
Beth thought& o! her !riend's long history o! #inning and losing s#imming and bi$y$ling
e%ents& sprints and relays& by hundredths o! a se$ond. What Beth !ound $ompelling about
0ulie's !ier$eness #as ho# $ompletely her !riend had it $hanneled into athleti$ and
physi$al $ompetitions. Beth had dis$ussed this #ith mutual !riends& and they all agreed2
0ulie's li!e/long e*$essi%e training had le!t some ma=or gaps in her maturity. Still& she #as
!un& generous and !ier$ely loyal.
)t her o#n age& Beth !elt she #as #ell beyond needing to $ompete !or anything2
men& attention at parties& or physi$al endea%orsF and her #riting su$$ess had rea$hed a
le%el #here she no longer begrudged or en%ied anyone $ra-y enough to attempt to #rite
and publish no%els. The more su$$ess stories she heard o! struggling #riters the happier
she !elt !or them.
)t her stage in li!e& 0ulie #as $ertainly on the do#nhill side o! athleti$ su$$ess&
but her !riend's $ompulsions to remain !it at the le%el o! a pro!essional athlete& though
admirable& #as starting to #ear on Beth. The talk in Santa Cru- among mature or
maturing #omen al#ays tou$hed on the ethos o! this bea$h/to#n and sur!ing $apital as a
ha%en !or adoles$ent men// despite their being on the !ar side o! ;0. Hn o$$asion& Beth
#ould gi%e her opinion that this $on$ern #as not limited to men.
7Think you $ould tear yoursel! a#ay !rom your bike this #eekend+7 Beth asked&
taking a seat in a booth. aking sure the edges #ere aligned& she piled up the ne#spapers
to make room !or their $o!!ees. 7('m going to San <ran$is$o and might need $ompany.7
0ulie stret$hed her legs under the table& propped her !eet ne*t to Beth and tapped
her !riend's hip #ith her right !oot. 7What do you say+ 9ide our bikes up "igh#ay 1+7
Beth pushed her !eet a#ay. 7.ou're not serious+7
7?one it be!ore.7
She sipped her se$ond sip o! $o!!ee& and Beth kne# she #as !ine physi$ally and
didn't ha%e to #orry about her earlier stoma$h troubles. they do. )nd people sno#
board do#n a$ti%e %ol$ano la%a !lo#s #earing T/shirts and loud shorts.7
7Wimp&7 0ulie said.
Beth stood up. 7( don't kno# #hat got into me. ?e$a! =ust #on't do it.7 When she
returned three minutes later #ith a !resh $up& 0ulie had already !inished her si*teen/
oun$e& light/roast <ull City.
0ulie said& 7( keep telling you& i! you got a modern $arbon/!ramed road bike you'd
up your distan$es 20M #ith less riding !atigue.7
7Sorry i! ( $an't #rap my mind around spending !i%e/thousand dollars on a
bi$y$le&: Beth said. (nstantly !eeling the $a!!eine li!ting her mood& she $ontinued& 8('d
rather tra%el to !oreign lands and sleep in hotels.7
7But ( $an get it !or you !or hal! that pri$e. (t #ould be a big step up !rom that
$lunker you're riding.7
"olding the $up #ith t#o hands& Beth gently ble# a$ross its rim& sipped& and held
it an in$h !rom her lips #hile inhaling the aroma. 7What's it going to take to get through
to you+7
7Stop looking at me like ('m a $u$koo bird.7
4la$ing her $up on the table& Beth said& 70ust imagining getting blo#n o!! the side
o! the road by a semi isn't my idea o! !un. Sounds like torture& =ust behind digging dit$hes
by the teaspoon.7
7( kno# #hat my !riends say about me.7 0ulie took Beth's $up& drank !rom it and
kept a hold o! it.
7What do your !riends say about you& 0ulie+7
7That all those years ( spent as a kid in the pool to make the Hlympi$ Team #ater/
logged my brain.7
@esturing !or her $o!!ee ba$k& Beth said& 7That's not !ar o!!. But it's al#ays good/
natured& and #e all lo%e you.7 She squee-ed 0ulie's hand a!!e$tionately and took her mug
ba$k. 7What do our !riends say about me #hen ('m not around+7
7)ren't #e treading on dangerous ground& Beth+7
"anding her $up ba$k to 0ulie& Beth said& 7.ou're right. ( smell qui$ksand ahead
too. Cet's drop it. But speaking o! danger . . . ho# $an you think riding a bi$y$le up
"igh#ay& playing dodge/ball #ith $hemi$ally $ompromised tru$kers and sports $ar
dri%ers #hile plodding against !ree-ing& bu!!eting #inds and !og !or a ninety miles. That's
0ulie stood up and nodded to#ards the street. 7('m Super/Woman& and ( ha%e a
se$ret.7 She turned and #alked outside.
Wondering #hat the se$ret might be& Beth #ent to the $ounter& and poured her
remaining $o!!ee into a Styro!oam $up. She =oined 0ulie outside& and as they #alked north
Beth mar%eled at ho# no other pedestrians seemed to noti$e the eu$alyptus trees
!estooned #ith sho#y red !lo#ers.
They passed t#o men in their 30's entering a so!t#are $ompany #earing a %ersion
o! the lo$al business suit2 shorts& sandals and s#eat shirts bearing logos o! their alma
maters& Cal/4oly and BC ?a%is.
Beth noti$ed the !og starting to dissipate along 4a$i!i$ )%enue. ust be hot
inland& she thought& kno#ing the !og bank #as being su$ked o!! the onterey Bay by the
!urna$e kno#n as Central Cali!ornia. She pulled her hood up and o%er her head.
They didn't run into any a$quaintan$es. Be!ore ten in the morning& Santa Cru-
#as still a sleepy bea$h to#n. She tapped 0ulie's arm in !ront o! 5e# Cea! arket& a
health !ood store that in a pre%ious in$arnation had been a bran$h o! Bank o! )meri$a.
7Wait a minute&7 Beth said. 7( need to pi$k up some things.7
She !illed her basket #ith ne# bo*es o! mint& $hamomile and ginger root teas and
ignored the disappro%ing s$o#l $oming !rom a gri--led !ello# shopper #ho stunk o!
ni$otine. "e said& 70ust drink $o!!ee& !or Christ's sake.7 So mu$h !or mello# Cali!ornians&
she thought& mindlessly li!ting her lidded $up to his !a$e and shaking her head.
Beth re=oined 0ulie outside and they pro$eeded to #alk by the to#n $lo$k that
had be$ome the homeless morning gathering spot. They arri%ed at the !oot o! the steep&
$rumbling stairs on 5orth 4a$i!i$ that led up to "oly Cross ission.
0ulie said& 7See you at the top.7
She bolted up the stairs three at a time. With hal! a $up o! tepid $o!!ee and a small
shopping bag in either hand& Beth de$ided she #as un#illing to soil her $lothes =ust to
keep up #ith s. Hlympiad.
Hn$e Beth =oined her up top& they snaked their #ay along the narro# path that ran
so $lose to the houses' tiny yards that Beth !elt she #as in%ading people's personal spa$e.
She asked& 7Where no#+7
7<ollo# me to learn my se$ret lair.7
0ulie led her to the end o! the path and turned le!t. She entered the "oly Cross
ission& a Spanish style $hapel #ith darkly robed statues #ho looked more Uenetian than
Spanish. The stu$$o #alls and dark #ooden pe#s #ere #orthy o! an old ,uropean
$hur$hF it #as =ust the s$ale o! the pla$e that suggested this #as )meri$a and not the Hld
World. The entire stru$ture #ould ha%e been a tiny side al$o%e in a great $athedral.
Beth sat in the rear pe# and #at$hed 0ulie #alk as i! on air up to the altar and
re%erently genu!le$t She knelt& made the sign/o!/the/$ross and prayed& e*hibiting a side
o! her Beth didn't kno# e*isted6so mu$h so Beth #ondered& #as this a pra$ti$al =oke+
<i%e minutes later& on$e outside& Beth's took 0ulie arm and asked& 7( ne%er kne#
you #ere religious.7
7This is #here ('m supposed to say ('m spiritual&7 she ans#ered. 7( =ust like to
The park in !ront o! "oly Cross Chur$h #as an oasis o! quiet =ust a !e# blo$ks
!rom do#nto#n and imma$ulately kept2 grass $ut and neatly bordered& shrubs trimmed&
and hard sandy paths that seemed al#ays !reshly raked& de%oid o! trash& $igarette butts or
e%en a stray lea!. ature palm trees mi*ed #ith sugar magnolias pro%ided plenty o!
shade but #ere spa$ed proportionately su$h that the grounds still !elt spa$ious. The
ben$hes #ere still damp !rom the !og& so they strolled the paths& and Beth #ondered i! the
prayer session had someho# rat$heted do#n 0ulie's normal ma$h 3 metabolism.
Whate%er it #as& she liked this 0ulie6#ho in the past might ha%e badgered her all
morning about the bike trip. They meandered along the trails& making t#o $omplete
Beth ga-ed o%er the $ity& its roo!s $o%ered in gray #ater %apor& and re!le$ted on
ho# se$ulari-ed she'd be$ome2 there #ere -ero religious themes or re!eren$es in any o!
her Aatie no%els. 5ot that in a $rime series this #as e*pe$ted or e%en ne$essary. But #hat
about $onsidering a $ase& the murder o! a priest or rabbi& something that #ould pull the
poli$e into the inner #orkings o! a parti$ular parish or temple $ommunity. Sure& it had
been done $ountless times& but not #ith Aatie Shields.
0ulie broke the si*/minute silen$e and stopped. 75o# you kno# my se$ret.7
7Who'd ha%e thought+ .ou and prayer&7 Beth ans#ered. 7(n this to#n ha%ing a
tra$e o! main/stream religion is risking #orse than ridi$ule. Wi$$a& Buddhist& ?ruid . . .
all !ine. )ny kind o! mainstream religion+ 4eople here #ould talk behind your ba$k as an
antiquated !ool.:
Tossing her le!t hand and arm into the air& 0ulie said& 75o& no. ( don't $are #hat
people think about my belie!s . . . or mu$h else !or that matter.7
74er!e$tly sane philosophy to li%e your li!e by. ( appro%e. Why keep it a se$ret+7
0ulie shrugged. 7Bndesirable attention. ,nough about me. ( #ant to kno# #hat's
up #ith you.7 She pointed to the porti$o in !ront o! the parish hall. 7There's an o%erhang
on that building and the ben$h #ill be drier.7
Beth sat and $losed her eyes& and said& 7( lo%e these !oggy mornings& ho# it slo#s
e%erything do#n.7
7ost people in Santa Cru- $omplain like hell about !ree-ing all summer.7
85o one born here kno#s #hat $old is.:
They leaned against the #hite #all o! the building and pulled up their knees. Beth
#rapped her arms around hersel!.
7Tell me& ho# are you& Beth . . . ho# are you really+7
7('%e been better.7 Beth paused. 7('%e been #orse.7
7.ou'%e been %ague . . . you'%e been terse.7 0ulie play!ully sma$ked Beth on the
arm. 7Spare me the riddles& dearie.7
Beth hung her head and talked to her !eet. 7HA& HA. There's t#o things. y
!amily and my book.7
With her right inde* and middle !inger& 0ulie li!ted Beth's $hin and positioned her
head up until she #as looking straight ahead. 7We're tall #omen& Beth. 4roud. 9esolute.
<ore%er stead!ast.7
Beth shrugged her shoulders and stret$hed her legs out. 7Thank you& sergeant/
ma=or. ( kno#. We're an elite unit.7
7)ma-on Bnit. )nd don't you !orget it. So tell me. Book !irst or brothers+7
7Brothers.7 Beth took a deep breath& still not #anting to think about ho# blo$ked
in her #riting she'd been. 7Stephen is $ontrolling and demanding under the guise o! being
easy/going& but he's al#ays been like that. )nd he's still $arping about getting s$re#ed in
our parents' estate.7
0ulie had heard all this be!ore. She added the ne*t lines in the narrati%e. 7Cike an
e*tra 20 grand in $ash and a ne# Ce*us le!t him holding the short sti$k+ What a baby.7
7?oesn't e%ery !amily ha%e an addi$t on their roster+7 Beth kne# 0ulie #as
indulging her& allo#ing her to talk about sa!e sub=e$ts. 7"e didn't !inish s$hool& $an't hold
a =ob& $an't sustain relationships6but #ho am ( to talk/// and al#ays needs a loan. Their
entitlement runs to in!inity. The uni!ormity o! addi$ts' stories is mind/ numbing.:
0ulie stret$hed hersel! out o! her $rou$h& !a$ed the ground& balan$ed on her on toes
and using one hand& e*e$uted si* one/handed push/ups. 7)!raid so.7 She s#it$hed to her
le!t hand and polished o!! another si*. She sat ba$k on her rump. 7?on't you plan to see
0ohn and his !amily soon+7
7"ope to a!ter Cabor ?ay.7 Beth !inished the last o! her tepid $o!!ee and stood up.
7('%e rented a house in Tahoe but he's not gotten ba$k to me.7
7Cet me guess67
70ohn and "eather are a%oiding me.7 Beth e*tended her hand& yanking 0ulie to her
!eet. 7( $alled them #eeks ago and not a #ord.7
Win$ing& 0ulie said& 7,asy& tiger. .ou been #orking out+7 She raised her right
elbo#& made $ir$les #ith it and $onspi$uously rubbed her shoulder.
7.ou're a lousy a$tress& 0ulie.7
(nstantly re$o%ered& 0ulie put her arm around Beth's shoulders& and said& 7Time !or
me to get to the gym. Bpper/body $onditioning today #ith 5iko. ('m in !or it.7
"eading do#nhill on ission St& Beth said& 7.ou lo%e it. .ou're #orse than a
teenaged boy on a !ootball team.7
They rea$hed the top o! 4a$i!i$ )%enue. Beth hoped 0ulie had !orgotten her other
$on$ern& her latest book.
7('m getting a smoothie be!ore ( go to the gym&7 0ulie said. 7Want one+7
Beth shook her head. 7There's a ne# #ing/bank $hair in Bookstore Santa Cru-
#ith my name on it. ( ha%e a $ouple o! hours be!ore my $lass at the shelter.7
They parted in !ront o! the smoothie shop& but be!ore Beth got t#enty pa$es do#n
the street she heard 0ulie's %oi$e.
7"ey.7 )!ter her mini sprint ba$k& 0ulie halted. 7.ou ne%er said a #ord about your
book.7 She pla$ed both her hands on Beth's shoulders. 7.ou don't !orget stu!! like that
unless it's important. .ou're holding out on me.7
Beth #ished 0ulie hadn't remembered. "er one brie! spe$ulation about #riting a
Aatie Shields book #ith a religious subte*t had allayed Beth's !ear that she #as
hopelessly blo$ked and useless as a #riter. 7Hh& no big deal. 0ust the usual !alse narrati%e
path that led me into a snake pit& and no# ( ha%e to $ra#l my #ay out. (t's nothing.7
0ulie grima$ed and pulled her $ap lo#er o%er her green eyes. Beth $ould see her
!riend didn't belie%e her story about the blo$k being nothing.
7Sure&7 0ulie said. 7Sure.7 She ba$k stepped three pa$es and said& 7When you're
ready to talk about it . . . $all me.7
Chapter 3
5ot #anting to be re$ogni-ed& Beth #el$omed the !og& put on her sunglasses and hid
inside her green hoodie. ?espite her many author/readings in Bookshop Santa Cru- she'd
ne%er met any o! the morning sta!!& so she $ould bro#se in pri%a$y. ,arly $ustomers
pi$ked up their ne#spapers and maga-ines& and& as e*pe$ted& she had easy pi$kings on
the reading $hairs.
She glan$ed around and pla$ed a !ist!ul o! keys on a beige/ upholstered& #ingba$k
$hair. To s$reen hersel! !urther !rom other $ustomers #ho might re$ogni-e her& Beth
sidled o%er to the #all labeled2 Sta!! 4i$ks.
She s$anned the sele$tions. Hne title stru$k her. .ou're 5ot Who .ou Think .ou
)re& by Sri=an Surinam. 5ot surprisingly the three hand/#ritten $omments on the inde*
$ard taped to the shel! belo# the book #ere uni%ersally glo#ing. What else #as ne#& she
thought. Santa Cru- had an insatiable appetite !or 5e# )ge sel!/help books along #ith a
ne%er/ending $a%al$ade o! touring& $elebrity s#amis selling out yoga studios. <or no
dis$ernable reason she pi$ked up a $opy and returned to her $hair.
She slid her sunglasses to the top o! her head& nestled into the $hair and tugged the
sides o! her hood !or#ard& $ollapsing her !ield o! %ision to the book resting on her lap.
Beth opened it to its introdu$tion and read2
.ou are not #hat you think. .ou are not #ho others tell you #ho you are. .ou are
not your past. .ou are not your =ob. .ou are not the totality o! your roles Qhusband& son&
brother& #i!e& mother& sister& boy& girl& or out$astR by #hi$h you are de!ined by your
$ulture and your time. .ou are not . . .
Smirking& Beth looked up and thought& ( !eel liberated already. But& she asked2
H.A.& let's say ( agree #ith you& r. Surinam . . . then& #ho am (+ "er sunglasses slid
do#n onto her nose.
,yes $losed& pi$turing her parents sitting in their li%ing room by a roaring !ire
reading their 5e# (nternational Bible& Beth #ondered& #ell& a!ter noti$ing the non/
Christian author's name they'd toss a book like .ou're 5ot Who .ou Think .ou )re into
the !irepla$e and #ash their hands6as i! reading a book #ritten by a heathen #as
$ontagious. (! they read #hat she had =ust read in his introdu$tion6all those you/are/nots
6and say they had taken a moment to $ontemplate the impli$ations o! all those 7nots&7
she imagined her parents des$ending into an ,*istential $risis !rom #hi$h they might
ne%er return.
5o Santa Cru- household #as #ithout su$h books taking up shel! spa$e. .et
Beth's o#n rea$tion to #hat she'd =ust read le!t her !eeling like she #as !loating in a
blithe %apor $hamber& but she deemed the sensation as bogus2 ne#/age penny $andy&
si$kly s#eet. The prose le!t her !eeling nauseated. ,%ery pre%ious su$h book she'd
skimmed//she ne%er read them//had the same e!!e$t.
Thinking o! the book's author& Beth imagined a $on%ention held in some e*oti$
$ity #here authors like r. Surinam =okingly strategi-ed ne# #ays to market spiritual
!reedom to duty/bound Western ,uropeans and )meri$ans. Beth sa# this $on$la%e held
in an opium !illed $hamber #ith a geometri$ally/designed tile !loor& replete #ith
sashaying belly dan$ers& stoking the ardor o! these $apitalist #riters sporting hand/
tailored& "ong Aong suits6#ho& #hile on Western book tours and speaking
engagements& $hose to present themsel%es to the #orld in #hite robes. Huter purity
masking one o! the oldest o! souls2 greed.
Beth reread the line !rom the introdu$tion2 .ou are not your past. Could any
Westerner& steeped in a li!etime o! <reudian per$eption& and #ho belie%ed in e%ery !iber
o! their being ho# mu$h their !amilies and personal histories determined their li%es&
really take this book seriously+ <amily/o!/Hrigin perspe$ti%es so permeated H$$idental
thought that Beth understood #hy su$h a title& .ou're 5ot Who .ou Think .ou )re& $ould
plink the #ish!ul/thinking string lurking in e%ery long/su!!ering Western heart. <ree usD
<ree usD Someone. 4lease& !ree usD
<at $han$e. She $losed the book marking the page #ith her le!t pinky& pla$ed it on
her lap& pushed her sunglasses ba$k o%er her head& leaned ba$k in the $hair and $losed her
eyes. <rom her #riter's mind $ame this thought2 Aatie Shields had su$$ess!ully o%er$ome
her past& had matured in e%ery one o! Beth's su$$essi%e no%els& $hanging !rom a talented
but green poli$e re$ruit to a respe$ted high ranking dete$ti%e in the 5e# .ork 4oli$e
"omi$ide ?epartment. "adn't Aatie had o%er$ome her past+
)nd #hat about Beth's brothers& 0ohn and Stephen+ Thinking o! !amily !elt
nettlesome. 9egarding 0ohn& his negle$t o! his health maddened her. That his #i!e&
"eather& took delight in spending most o! his money and !eeding him too mu$h red meat
#ith too mu$h red #ine& a$$ompanied #ith too mu$h star$hy !ood& in!uriated Beth. Three
years ago a!ter too many gin and toni$s at a !amily re/union& Beth had lost it o%er a
platter o! $hi$ken/!ried steak in hea%y gra%y& mayonnaise/laden potato salad and green
beans smothered in $ream sau$e. She barked at "eather and said& 7.ou #on't be happy
until you kill my brotherD7 "eather had stormed out in tears& and Beth $hose to e*$use
hersel! early and took a $ab ba$k to her hotel.
The ne*t day o%er $o!!ee and $roissants& she apologi-ed to "eatherW#ho a$$epted
it #ith the !alse aplomb o! the grudge/nurturing& nou%eau/ri$he #ho #ould ne%er appear
publi$ly in a #ay that might re!le$t poorly on their pretensions o! gra$e. H! $ourse& sin$e
that time& "eather hadn't responded to hal! a do-en o! Beth's emails. When Beth
$on!ronted her months later on the phone about her e%asions& "eather's relied on the e%er/
ready parental sop2 7Hh& the kids . . . #e're =ust so busy.7
Beth had to pee. She remo%ed her hoodie and spread it o%er her seat& pla$ed the
=a$ket !lap o! the Surinam into page ii. and strode to the restroom. )ll the stalls #ere
o$$upied& and one young mother #as $hanging an in!ant girl on the plasti$& pull/do#n
table. To a%oid the smell& Beth #ent to the !arthest stall and #aited !or it to be %a$ated.
What& she asked hersel!& #as she doing all morning+ Wasting more time+ Couldn't she
ha%e brought her laptop and pu--led her #ay through her last Aatie $hapter+ Wasn't
e%erything she #as thinking about& !amily and this silly spiritual book all =ust diddling+
)%oiding her #ork+ Was there one thing she had thought about this morning that #as
That #ould be a resounding& 75o&7 she said out loud. 0ust then a #eary looking
BC $oed emerged !rom the stall and skirted as !ast and !ar a#ay !rom Beth as she $ould.
,mbarrassed& Beth du$ked into the stall and reali-ed #ho $ould blame the young
#oman's qui$k e*it seeing an older #oman talking to hersel! in the bathroom. <inished&
Beth #ashed her hands& dried them #ith $oarse paper and headed ba$k to her seat.
Threading her #ay through the sta$ks she passed Stephen Crane's& 9ed Badge o! Courage
and thought o! her younger brother. She returned to her $hair& sat do#n and put her
s#eatshirt ba$k on. She opened the book again but let it $lose on her le!t inde* !inger//
beguiled in her o#n obsessional $hains.
u$h as 0ohn $ould o$$asionally annoy her& mu$h as his =ealousy o! her ha%ing
been named e*e$utri* !or their parents' estate stru$k her as so mu$h se*ist& oldest/brother
$rap& Beth lo%ed and respe$ted him. Stephen #as an altogether di!!erent matter.
)loo! as a $hild& Stephen spent most o! his time being s$ar$e around the house.
That #as di!!i$ult to do on a Saskat$he#an #heat !arm #here $hores& like the hori-on&
stret$hed to in!inity. Beth and 0ohn had planted& tended and har%ested the !amily
%egetable garden e%ery year sin$e they $ould #alkF and !ed& lo%ed& groomed and
e%entually buried a menagerie o! !amily pets in their designated plot behind the main
barn. She and 0ohn had dri%en tra$tors sin$e age ele%en. "er !ather& 9upert& as stri$t a
!ather as anyone's in the area& $ommanded respe$t #ithout tyranni$al abuseF but dad
$ertainly e*pe$ted6and got6daily $ontributions to the !amily's #el!are !rom his
$hildren. ,*$ept !rom Stephen.
"o#+ The nearest neighbor #as !our miles a#ayF the $losest to#n #as t#o miles
!urtherF and hal! the year the roads #ere mired in sno#dri!ts high enough to s#allo#
tru$ks. "o# did Stephen get a#ay #ith doing so little+ Hn$e& #hen Beth #as eight and
a!ter sneaking do#nstairs #hen she should ha%e been asleep& she o%erheard her mother
say to her !ather& 7Stephen #as =ust born bad. There's no point !ighting it.7 That #as the
!irst and only time she e%er heard her parents o%ertly speak ill o! him.
Their disappointment #as #rit large in their eyes #hen Stephen graduated !rom
high s$hool//a$$omplished by taking a series o! spe$ial make/up $lasses that e%eryone
kne# #ere granted to s$re#/ups #ith no $ollege aspirations. S$hool authorities didn't
#ant kids like him ha%ing to re/do their senior years and take up %aluable $lassroom
"is pot smoking began in G
grade& and it had ne%er abated. )s rarely as Beth's
parents spoke ill o! him& at least in !ront o! the siblings& Stephen spoke in$essantly about
his parents and had a million %ersions o! ho# they #ere $ontemptible rubes. <or 0ohn and
Beth it #as Stephen's $entral topi$ o! $on%ersation. "is litany o! their !ailings hadn't
$hanged sin$e =unior high s$hool2 they #ere hi$ks& they #ere stupid& they #ere sla%e
dri%ers6something she !ound beyond ironi$al gi%en ho# early and #ell Stephen had
mastered not/#orking. By the time Beth entered high s$hool and got o%er/e*posed to
anti/drug le$tures& she #ondered i! Stephen's sophistry regarding their parents #as T"C/
indu$ed brain damage.
Beth opened her eyes and glan$ed at her #at$h. (t #as 11230. "o# had the
morning slipped a#ay+ She opened the pages o! Surinam& s$anned the table o! $ontents
and !ound #hat she #as looking !or2 the last $hapter2 Chapter 112 So& #ho are you+
)pparently its author #as going to !inally take a stand& risk rendering an opinion&
and open himsel! up to the imputations o! a !i$kle reading publi$. (ntelligent people kne#
#hat they #ere not #as a %eil behind #hi$h $o#ards hid.
She turned to the last page.
.ou are a blank page. Write #hat you #ill. That is #ho you are.
So& Beth thought #hile $losing the book& r. Sir=an Surinam you did $op out.
What #as that supposed to mean2 ) blank page+ Write #hat you #ill+ (s e%eryone #ho
reads your book a #riter+
Beth reali-ed she #as being stupidly $on$rete. .et& his $on$lusion #as $ertainly a
!ar $ry !rom the unrelenting di$tates o! !i$tion #ith its demands !or %i%id& $on$rete details
and ha%ing to sho# $hara$ters in a$tion. (t #as =ust a glib metaphor& not e%en #orthy o! a
tenth grade essay. ?isappointed& she pla$ed the book on both sets o! her !inger tips and let
the little book slip onto her lap2 like releasing a butter!ly onto the grass. She thought& light
as air. Cike all su$h books.
Ceaning ba$k in her $hair& she remembered something !rom )nnie ?illard's The
Writing Ci!e& #here its author had said something similar in a passage that opened #ith2
Who #ill tea$h me to #rite+ ) reader #anted to kno#.
The page& the page& that eternal blankness& the blankness o! eternityW
Beth $ouldn't re$all the rest o! the passage& but promised hersel! to look it up
#hen she got home tonight. She pi$ked up Surinam's book& stood and returned it to its
shel!F and a!ter aligning it #ith its neighbors tapped its spine #ith the tip o! her le!t inde*
!inger& a ritual she'd per!ormed sin$e third grade a!ter seeing the s$hool librarian do the
So r. Surinam& i! your message about a blank page is made more palatable by
my remembering a similar point !rom a belo%ed #riter !rom my o#n $ulture& does that
make me a pedestrian thinker+ Stephen thinks o! our parents as unsophisti$ated $lods&
$ountry rubes. )m ( the same+ Hr =ust a hopelessly blo$ked $rime/#riter+
She ad=usted her glasses and tied her s#eatshirt around her #aist. Beth still had
plenty o! time be!ore her $lass& so she #alked the do-en steps to the ?ete$ti%eKystery
se$tion o! the store& perused some ne#er titles she hadn't read& and pulled out an
un!amiliar title& (mper!e$t Crime.
(t #as an old strategy2 take a look at #hat her !ello# $ontemporary #riters #ere
doing. She opened (mper!e$t Crime at the t#o/thirds point& !lipped through a !e# pages
to get to a ne# $hapter and skimmed the opening paragraphs. ostly narrati%e summary&
she sa#. Cittle dialogue or a$tion. Con$luding it should be re/titled& (mper!e$t 4rose& she
repla$ed that book and took do#n ne# books one a!ter another& and repeated her
e*amination//tapping ea$h $o%er a!ter repla$ing it. )t the t#o/thirds point o! ea$h book
there appeared a re$urring theme.
Sin$e the story's last ma=or $ompli$ation& the #riters ga%e themsel%es& their
readers and their $hara$ters a break. Beth re!le$ted on her latest Aatie book and re$alled
the point #here her #riting had run o!! the $li!! and into the %ast nothingness . . . then it
$ame to her.
Beth had an earlier $hapter in Co%e in the 4re$in$t #here she dressed Aatie in a
summer out!it on her #ay to meet her !riend& ?iane 9aemer. Beth remembered the silk
blouse& the sandals& something about the out!it not being ta#dry . . . and hating the
passage. (t #as one o! the last lines she'd #ritten. "o#e%er terrible that passage& she
thought& dealing #ith $lothes #as $ertainly $onsistent #ith the breathing spell she'd !ound
in the books she'd =ust skimmed. 5o guns bla-ing& no sho$king multiple homi$ides and
no smelly $o%er/ups $oming !rom the poli$e administration or the ?istri$t )ttorney's
o!!i$e. Bnlike her !ello# #riters& ho#e%er& Beth's breathing spell had morphed into a
dead end.
Why didn't she !eel better #ith the reali-ation that her book's pa$ing and stru$ture
#ere similar #ith her !ello# genre #riters+ The ans#er #as simple.
So #hat+ This a#areness that she #as on the same !igurati%e page as other
authors sol%ed nothing. This supposed reassuran$e !elt as hollo# as the distra$ted
$onsolation o! a physi$ian's& 7Take this medi$ine and $all me in t#o days i! you don't get
better.7 S$anning the tiles& she !olded her hands behind her head and stret$hed ba$k#ards
as !ar as she $ould go.
(t stru$k her6a notion that le!t her in a deeper %oid than the $all/me/i!/it gets/
#orse kind. Beth reali-ed that i! her Aatie no%el's pa$ing #as right on $ue #ith her
genre's e*pe$tations there #as only one honest $on$lusion.
She'd $ompletely internali-ed the !ormula e*pe$ted o! $ontemporary dete$ti%e
!i$tion6do#n to the pa$ing o! the $hapters. To $all this $reati%e #riting #as& at best& a
stret$h. )t #orst it #as more like painting by numbers. What had the %oi$e in this
morning's dream mumbled to her+ Hh& yes . . . a !raud.
Beth sensed people $oming up behind her& but not be!ore her le!t elbo# hit
something//hard. She turned around and sa# a young bi/ra$ial $ouple. 7Hh& ('m so sorry.7
She said and stepped aside. 7('m su$h a klut-. )re you all right+7
The 30ish& handsome& $aramel/toned& young man rubbed his temple& smiled
through his grima$e and said& 7('ll li%e.7 "e sat on nearby ben$h.
"is !emale )sian $ompanion& equally #ell dressed& tou$hed his arm and said& 7Cet
me see& ar$us+7
Beth surmised they #ere lo%ers6re%ealed by the #oman's pla$ing her right hand
!amiliarly on his le!t thigh. This mu$h attention embarrassed the young man. 7Aimi. ('m
!ine. ?on't !uss.7 "e stood up& $orralled his girl!riend's hands& looked at Beth& and said&
75e*t time ( sneak up on someone ('ll $lear my throat or something. (t #asn't your !ault.7
4eripherally& Beth $ould see Aimi #as none too happy that ar$us s$rutini-ed his
assailant. 7The !ault #as mine&7 Beth said smiling at him and then at the girl !riend. Beth
re$ei%ed a sneer !or her troubles.
They #ere ob%iously !rom out o! to#n. She #at$hed Aimi administer the !irst aid
o! a gentle !inger& $ooing sounds and so!t kisses. Co$als& espe$ially young adults& rarely
presented themsel%es in su$h a polished #ay6and $ertainly not in the morning.
Break!ast attire in Santa Cru- #as shorts& s#eat pants and !lee$e pullo%ers. ar$us's gray&
light/#ool trousers #ere pressed and his s#eater looked e*pensi%e. "is tasseled loa!ers
#ere shined& re!le$ted the o%erhead lights& and his di$tion and manner marked him as
someone o! #ealth and edu$ation. The young #oman& hanging on his arm& #as taut o!
!a$e& %oi$e and body& and #ore a skin/tight leather skirt and =a$ket. Beth guessed she
didn't #eigh a hundred pounds. They mo%ed on to the maga-ine se$tion o! the store and
disappeared behind the shel%es.
Beth e*ited the !ront door onto 4a$i!i$ )%enue and turned le!t to#ards the o$ean.
She thought o! ?urone allory& her !irst husband& #ho had the e*a$t same skin tone as
ar$us. She'd met ?urone at BCC) #hen they #ere both =uniors& 19G0& #here she
studied ,nglish& and he #as in !ilm s$hool. "e #as handsome& sophisti$ated& $harming in
an easy& non/un$tuous #ay& and& at the time& !itted per!e$tly #ith Beth's need to renoun$e
e%erything about her origins as a small/to#n& Canadian !arm/girl.
Still distra$ted& Beth nearly $ollided #ith a ;0ish sur!er/dude& sporting a !aded
9aiders s#eatshirt de$orati%ely ri%en into tiger stripes. "e $he$ked Beth out #ith a smile.
"e #as one o! those Cali!ornia boy/men more su$$ess!ul than most at holding onto his
adoles$en$e. "is gelled& bottle/blond hair helped set o!! some o! bluest eyes she'd e%er
seen. She smiled ba$k at him& and he suddenly be$ame shy. Sur!er stepped aside to let her
pass& made a s#eeping gesture #ith his hand& gi%ing him time to regain his !alse renegade
airs and to prolong his e*amination. Beth interpreted his maneu%ers as that o! a younger
man in the a#k#ard dis$o%ery that he $ould a$tually be se*ually attra$ted to an older
The last thing Beth noti$ed about the sur!er #as the remains o! the number on his
9aiders =ersey2 00. ?urone's !amily #as !rom Hakland. Beth and he married a!ter
graduating !rom BCC) in 19G1 and mo%ed to Berkeley #here being a bi/ra$ial $ouple
had be$ome old/hat6e*$ept !or Beth& #ho& the longer the marriage #ent on& !ound
hersel! in$reasingly edgy and irritable. She had ne%er stopped being sel!/$ons$ious about
being married to a bla$k man.
(n those !irst t#o years& ?urone #ent out o! his #ay to integrate her into his
$ir$le o! !riends and made $ertain she #as rarely the only #hite in the $ro#d. ?espite the
strain& he al#ays supported her trips to %isit her !amily in Canada//!ar more than the
young $ouple $ould really a!!ord. "is !amily& only three miles south in Hakland&
reiterated o%er and o%er to her and their son& that they $ould %isit as mu$h or as little as
they #anted. ,*$ept !or ?elronda& ?urone's !amily $ouldn't ha%e been more #el$oming
or lo%ing. Com!ortable around athleti$s& Beth $onne$ted #ith his younger sister& Ceanna&
a tra$k star at Cal& but al#ays kept a respe$t!ul distan$e !rom ?urone's parents. )lthough
she #as ashamed o! it& she !ound their soli$itousness a#k#ard. Shaking her head& she
thought2 ho# $li$hX. Bptight #hite girl.
"is !amily's initial rea$tion to their son's bringing yet another attra$ti%e& young
#hite #omen home had be$ome a non/e%ent. ?urone had dated many Cau$asians& so
many that that the good/natured teasing by Ceanna& about his inability to !ind a suitable
bla$k girl had re%ersed itsel!. )t Beth's !irst !amily dinner in Hakland& ?urone
en$ouraged Ceanna to ask Beth !or assistan$e in !inding a good #hite man. Beth dealt
#ith that moment by $omplimenting her !uture mother/in/la#& #ho'd studied at the
Sorbonne& on her %i$hyssoise.
?urone's older sister& ?elronda stood out in a number o! #ays. Si* !eet t#o in$hes
tall& she played basketball !or San <ran$is$o State. ?arker than her parents and her
siblings& she #as !ier$ely beauti!ul and had a presen$e that dre# attention like a bla-ing
morning sun in the Bay )rea a!ter a season o! !oggy da#ns. Beth had hoped she $ould
$onne$t #ith ?elronda through their mutual a$$omplishments as ?i%ision ( athletes. She
$ouldn't ha%e been more #rong. "o# to des$ribe ?elronda's personality+ Se$reti%e . . .
reti$ent . . . aloo! . . . pri%ate+ )ll Beth kne# #as that long be!ore this Canadian girl
be$ame part o! the allory $lan& their easy/going& in$lusi%e !amilial ethos had its
$ounter/point in their oldest daughter//#ho #as setting 5C)) re$ords in points&
o!!ensi%e rebounds and te$hni$al !ouls.
When ?urone announ$ed to his !amily that he planned to marry her& Beth sa#
sho$k !lare a$ross the !amily's !a$es. ,*$ept !or ?elronda& #ho #as a#ay on a %arsity
road trip& e%eryone's' !a$es turned in unison& pulled by some prime%al !or$e to their !ather.
"is sho$k lasted !or hal! a se$ond& repla$ed by an angeli$ smile& allo#ing e%eryone else
in the room to breathe//Beth in$luded. Whate%er ra$ism or personal ob=e$tions any o!
those present might harbor !or the ne*t !amily member by marriage #ould ne%er rea$h
Beth's ears. Beth o!ten #ondered ho# mu$h o! ?urone's remarkable $hara$ter #as due to
his ha%ing been brought up by a dis$iplined and lo%ing patriar$h. "is mother #as the !irst
to hug Beth and o!!i$ially #el$ome her into $lan& but not until a!ter she'd re$ei%ed the
subtlest o! nods !rom 4apa.
The ne*t morning ?elronda arri%ed& =ust ba$k !rom an unde!eated road trip. While
Beth ate at the kit$hen table #ith her !uture mother and !ather/in/la#& seeing this #hite
girl in the most !amiliar o! rooms& ?elronda stopped in her tra$ks. This #as di!!erent.
5one o! ?urone's !ormer girl!riends had e%er eaten in the kit$hen& and Beth #at$hed
?elronda quietly mauling her gym bag. (n!ormed by 4apa about her !uture sister/in/la#&
?elronda said nothing and merely nodded #hen the announ$ement $on$luded. Without
e%en looking at Beth& she started to lea%e.
Ba$k !rom a morning run& ?urone entered a!ter the announ$ement. (n response to
his sister's rudeness& he said& 7?elronda . . . it's $ustomary to say $ongratulations to the
!uture bride and groom.7
To #hi$h ?elronda turned around and replied& 7) lot o! things are $ustomary.7
She turned and le!t.
?urone's !ather said& 7,%ery !amily has an angry $hild& no matter ho# #ell they're
raised. (t's Bibli$al.7
To #hi$h& Beth thought& %isuali-ing Stephen #ith his shi!ty grin//amen.
"al! an hour later Beth $rossed paths #ith ?elronda in the hall by the upstairs
bathroom. They engaged in a lingering stare. ?elronda #hispered& 7( don't trust you.7
?elronda made her se$ond #ordless e*it. Beth dated her se$ond/guess a$$epting
?urone's marriage proposal at that moment.
Beth #alked by the Cinema 9 and s$anned the titles. (t listed a smorgasbord o!
testosterone =oy rides that !eatured large maga-ine #eapons& $ars or bothF and a sele$tion
o! idioti$ looking !ilms that relied on meatball and beer humor. These #ere mo%ies her
brother Stephen #ould a$tually go to and $ome home ra%ing about. Beth long ago
reali-ed Stephen #as #rong about their parents. "er younger brother might be a li!e/long
dead/beat and a $ommitted stoner6but as she re!le$ted on her !irst marriage she reali-ed
she& and not their parents& had turned out to be the $ountry rube.
Soon a!ter her honeymoon ended #ith ?urone& Beth& then 2;& got the $all !rom
her mother. 7?ad has had a heart atta$k. .ou should $ome home.7
4er!e$t timing& she thought. She and ?urone had been quarreling. "is patien$e at
ha%ing to generate most o! their in$ome had %anished along #ith the late a!ter/glo# o!
the ne#ly #ed. 7Beth&7 he said& 7( $an't do any o! my photography #orking this mu$h.:
"e gestured to her desk& her #orkpla$e !or the ne*t great )meri$an no%el. 8.ou'%e got to
get a paying gig.7
H! $ourse he #as right& and as soon as she got ba$k !rom Canada she promised
she'd !ind a =ob. With her !ather in the hospital& ?urone sent her o!!. 9ising to the
o$$asion he en$ouraged her to stay as long as she needed& to $all o!ten& and promised he'd
%isit #hene%er she #ished. The ne*t day she $ouldn't belie%e ho# relie%ed she !elt =ust
a!ter they'd kissed& said goodbye& and she turned to board the airplane.
4er!e$t timing& she thought. She and ?urone's relationship had de%ol%ed !rom the
o$$asional spat to the daily rag2 #hose turn #as it to do the dishes+ Who mo%ed my
keys+ Who's not repla$ing trash bins #here they belong+ )nd that sin/o!/sins2 not
hanging up damp to#els so they #ould dry.
But that relie! #as soon repla$ed by the an*iety o! her !ather's health. By the time
she deplaned at 9egina (nternational )irport& rented a $ar& and dro%e to the $ity's @eneral
"ospital& Beth !elt she #as millions o! miles a#ay//not thousands//!rom Cali!ornia.
Climate& terrain& and $ulture all $onspired to transport her !ar !rom her li!e as a struggling
#riter #ho'd married too young. When she rea$hed her !ather's room in the Cardia$ Bnit
she =oined the !amily puddle around dad's bed6her mother& "elena& 0ohn& and "eather
#ere all there. Beth hugged them all #armly. Sin$e her !ather #as re$o%ering #ell& and
the do$tors told them he $ould go home in t#o days& the anti$ipatory tension o! seeing
her !ather in a hospital bed dissipated& and she took her !irst !ull breath sin$e lea%ing
S<H. When she !inally sat do#n& it #as all she $ould do to keep her eyes open.
)n hour later& Beth settled into her $hildhood bedroom and told hersel! she should
$all ?urone be!ore sleeping. She made it through brushing her teeth& pulling the $o%ers o!
her bed do#n& stroking her $heek against the linen pillo#$ase her mother had ironed& and
pulled the du%et up o%er her $hin. She !ell into an e*hausted sleep.
,le%en hours later she a#oke. "er mother greeted her at the stairs #ith an
embra$e& hot $o!!ee& and the smell o! hot $innamon rolls #a!ting o!! her apron and hair.
She said& 7?urone $alled. "e #ants to hear !rom you as soon as you get up. ( told him
things #ere going mu$h better #ith ?ad.7
?elighted #ith the house's old s$ents& !resh $o!!ee and her mother's presen$e&
Beth also !elt a tinge o! annoyan$e at being e*pe$ted to $all ?urone. She masked
broad$asting this emotion by thro#ing her arms around her mother's ne$k and
#hispering& 7('m so happy to be home.7 "er mother patted her ba$k and stepped ba$k.
"olding her mother at arms length& Beth added& 7)nd that ?ad's going to be all right.7
She rushed to the hospital a!ter break!ast& telling hersel! she'd $all ?urone !rom
there. That plan got #aylaid #ith bad medi$al ne#s2 her !ather had de%eloped an
in!e$tion and #as running a !e%er o! 10;. ?ad #as sleeping& so she $alled 0ohn at home
and told him to in!orm their mother. Ten steps a#ay !rom the pay phone in the (CB
#aiting area Beth turned and reminded hersel! to $all Hakland. Change in hand& she
rea$hed !or the re$ei%er& but an o!!i$ious nurse interrupted& took her arm and told her her
!ather #as a#ake and $ould see her no#. She rushed to his side.
"e #as a#ake& i! delirious quali!ied as a#ake. The do$tors said they #ere trying
ne# antibioti$s but #eren't sure i! he #as allergi$ to the ones gi%en pre%iously. Beth's
an*iety spiked along #ith her !ather's !e%er. Wat$hing his labored breathing& #ith the (U's
and $annulae dangling !rom his body& only #orsened her o#n !ear& and she #as grate!ul
#hen the do$tors asked her to step out.
She reali-ed 0ohn #ould no# be dri%ing mom to the hospital and !elt relie%ed
kno#ing it #asn't Stephen behind the #heel. Stephen #ould ha%e run e%ery red light and
played ;/#heel dodge ball $riss$rossing lanes. er$i!ully& her younger brother #as in the
Bahamas s$uba di%ing& and the !amily hadn't been able to get a message to him. S$uba
di%ing+ Stephen must ha%e !ound another ri$h girl!riend& and Beth #ondered i! that
#ould last longer than !our tanks o! o*ygen.
)t ten that night ?ad's !e%er broke. Beth !inally $alled ?urone !rom her parents'
house& #aking him up =ust in time so he #ouldn't be late starting his $ab shi!t. She
relayed the bad ne#s about her !ather's in!e$tion& and ?urone did his best to $onsole her.
They promised one another to $at$h up tomorro#. She hung up& but Beth didn't !eel
$loser to her husband& only !urther apart. (t #as as i! she #ere on another planet in a !ar
$orner o! the ilky Way. ?urone's %oi$e had been tender and $on$erned& and he told her
again to remain #ith her !amily as long as she needed. Hn the phone& the last thing she
mumbled #as& a tepid. 7Sure.7 (t #as as i! lo%e seeped !rom her heart& !illing a bu$ket o!
bland indi!!eren$e.
She #alked to the pi$ture #indo#& pulled the $urtain ba$k and looked a$ross the
yard. ) milky !ull moon's light !ought its #ay through bare trees and a barren lands$ape.
She $ould sense the marriage bonds loosening. Ba$k in Canada& Beth !elt at home2
$o$ooned in the !amily bosom& #ith all its smells& the !amiliar rugs& the #inter
lands$apes& and the !amily photographs atop the mantle pie$e. The idea o! going ba$k to
Hakland seemed an absurdity& like sunbathing naked in Saskat$he#an in <ebruary. <or
the time being she re!used to $ons$iously think about her marriage.
Beth !ound it surprisingly easy to stash her marriage a#ay in a musty $orner o!
her psy$he& like sto#ing a tool in the shed that #asn't needed until spring. The !amily's
preo$$upation #ith her !ather's health and Stephen's $oming in !rom the Caribbean6he
needed to be pi$ked up at the airport6o! $ourse he #ouldn't rent his o#n $ar6meant
!amily dinners #ould be$ome grimmer than the in$lement #eather. To add to the stress&
ne#s !rom the hospital be$ame maddeningly $ontradi$tory. ?id do$tors e%er $onsult+
9ead their $harts+ Talk #ith nurses+
The %ery idea o! Stephen $oming added to Beth's an*iety. She started to talk #ith
her mother about ha%ing him stay in a hotel. 7.ou kno# ho# he is& momD "e al#ays stirs
things up.7
"elena silen$ed Beth #ith a stern look& and said& 7( need my entire !amily $lose
by& Beth. ,%eryone.7
To #hi$h Beth replied #ith #hat she thought #as an o!!er& and said&
7('ll go to a hotel.7
"er mother& #ho had aged ten years sin$e Beth !irst sa# her in the hospital t#o
days ago& turned and #alked a#ay. 7( said e%eryone& Beth.7
True to !orm& be!ore Stephen arri%ed& things began to happen. "e #asn't at the
baggage $laim #here he said he'd be& ne$essitating 0ohn and Beth's taking an e*tra hour
and a hal! to sear$h the airport. They made a se$ond s#eep o! e%ery $on$ourse bar& $ame
up empty and ga%e up. 0ohn had one o! those spe$ial male moments o! spot/on intuition2
they stopped at the !irst titty bar outside o! the airport. Stephen drunkenly reported he'd
arri%ed on an earlier !light and& not #anting to disrupt pre%iously set plans& de$ided to kill
some time.
They made a hostile& %oluble ride ba$k to the !amily !arm and =ust a!ter putting his
bags do#n in the entry#ay& Stephen pi$ked a !ight #ith 0ohn o%er bedrooms. Beth sol%ed
the $on!li$t by gi%ing Stephen her room and %olunteered to sleep on the $ou$h. )t the
!irst !amily dinner #ith e%eryone home e*$ept !or dad& Stephen snored o!! his bender in
#hat had been Beth's room. om #ent to bed be!ore dessert.
"er !ather's !e%er !inally broke& and he $ame home t#o days later. Si* hours a!ter
being in his o#n bed& his temperature spiked again& ne$essitating another trip to the
hospital and another admission. This time he lapsed into a $oma& and the do$tors had no
idea #hy. Stephen arri%ed late to the !amily $on!eren$e =ust as the attending do$tor #as
lea%ing& ha%ing deli%ered a report in hushed& anodyni$ tones& 7We're doing e%erything #e
$an !or your !ather.7
Ano#ing nothing had e%er been an impediment !or Stephen to open his mouth&
be!ore the do$tor had both his !eet o%er the threshold leading to the hall#ay& Stephen
said& 7Wait a minute& do$D That's not good enoughD7
The physi$ian turned around& lo#ered his $hin to look o%er his #ire/rimmed
glasses at the ne#est !amily member and #as kind enough to say nothing//nor
immediately lea%e. Beth stood up simultaneously #ith 0ohn& and they stood in !ront o!
Stephen to blo$k him !rom approa$hing the do$tor& quelling any !urther histrioni$s. (n her
peripheral %ision& Beth noti$ed the do$tor had assessed the situation and le!tF she
imagined he'd seen a !e# hundred episodes o! this !amily hospital a$t and learned that not
rea$ting in$reased the $han$es !or a !a%orable out$ome.
Beth sat do#n& trying to $alm hersel!. )t #hat point in the !amily dramas #as one
=usti!ied in #ielding a $hair o%er a brother's head+ (! it hadn't been !or 0ohn's presen$e&
Beth !elt $ertain she'd ha%e $rossed that line minutes ago. .et #hat really stood out to her
#as her mother's non/response. (n the past these a#k#ard sibling puppet sho#s #ould
ha%e garnered some #ords o! admonishment. 7Settle do#n& no#. Cet's all a$t a little more
gro#n up. Can't #e do better than this+7
Beth interpreted her mother's resignation& her $hoosing not to respond at all to the
=ust played/out s$ene #ith her brothers& as e%iden$e o! a #oman letting the reality o!
losing her husband seep into her being. 9egular time had stopped. Cooking ba$k at this
episode in her li!e& Beth reali-ed her mother had pun$hed her o#n ti$ket into the spe$ial
san$tum o! a death %igil2 #ithout a #ord to anyone& no a#k#ard announ$ements& no
blindingly lit up marquee//her entire #orld had turned a#ay !rom the sun.
"er mother #as sitting alone at the end o! a 5augahyde $ou$h& her head resting
ba$k on the #all #ith her eyes $losed. Tou$hing her mother's hand& Beth #ondered& had
mom e%en apprehended Stephen's gau$he beha%ior+ )nd& i! so& did it matter anymore+
The in and out o! the hospital template had been set. ?ad impro%ed& #as sent
home& got #orse and #as re/admitted. ) good #eek be$ame #here this o$$urred on$e a
#eek. The #orst #eek it o$$urred ; times. H! $ourse as time slipped by& ?ad be$ame
#eaker and #eaker and slept more and more. @etting a squee-e !rom her !ather's hand on
the ba$k o! hers be$ame !or Beth their most intimate& their most $omplete&
$ommuni$ation. 5e%er talkati%e& her !ather !ollo#ed the di$tums prea$hed by hospi$e
#orkers e%ery#here2 people die like they'%e li%ed. Yuietly& digni!ied& and #ith a rusti$
gra$e& 9upert Shepherd died !ollo#ing $ompli$ations post $ardia$ surgery on 5o%ember
E& 19G;.
?urone arri%ed in 9egina the ne*t day at the $ost o! his $ab =ob. T#o days later
Beth stood by him during the !uneral and gra%eyard ser%i$es. "er grie! ga%e su!!i$ient
e*planation !or the distan$e she sho#ed her husband& and he #as too mu$h a gentleman
to demand anything !rom her. Certainly not se*& #hi$h she o!!ered the night he arri%ed.
"e ended that possibility #ith a ta$t!ul& 7Why don't #e #ait until you a$tually #ant to.7
T#o days later& 0ohn& Stephen and Beth all dro%e ?urone ba$k to the airport& the
threat o! losing his remaining =ob being the ostensible reason #hy he $ouldn't remain
longer. (n a !amily #here dis$ussing emotions #as as rare as a #arm 0anuary midnight&
only her mother %oi$ed the ob%ious #hen her $hildren returned !rom the airport. She took
Beth aside.
With her brothers no# standing in the hall#ay& "elena asked. 7)re you and
?urone all right+7
(t #as one o! those questions that ans#ered itsel! by the asking. Cong e*perien$e
had taught Beth that the qui$kest #ay to disarm her mother #as #ith a lo%ing embra$e
$oupled #ith a re/#orking o! one o! mom's !a%orite phrases. 8.ou'%e got more important
things to do right no# than #orry about me.7
Hnly this time Beth's ta$ti$ !ooled no one. om broke the embra$e and stepped
ba$k !rom her daughter. 7.ou're #rong& Beth. y married li!e is o%er. .ours is beginning.
What's going on+7
The strength o! mom's assertion and her married/li!e ending announ$ement dro%e
0ohn and Stephen a#ay. Beth told her mother she thought the strain o! dad's dying&
?urone's and her prolonged time apart& and her husband's o#n $areer and !inan$ial
!rustrations had $onspired to put undue pressure on the marriage. Beth kne# she hadn't
molli!ied her mother's $uriosity& but she did manage to end the $on%ersation #ithout
re%ealing her innermost thoughts& that she simply didn't !eel ready to be married. That//
Beth $ould barely tell hersel!.
The ten days !ollo#ing her !ather's !uneral #ere a #hirl#ind o! $leaning house&
doing dishes& hosting old relati%es and !riends& ha%ing to thro# out the remnants o!
$asseroles that $ould no longer be eaten due to age or insipidness//and making $ountless
round/trips to and !rom the airport. Beth kne# the distra$tions helped her mother6
though Beth !ound the hubbub tedious.
)s someone #ho treasured her pri%ate time& Beth ne%er understood the appeal o!
busy houses so ideali-ed in ethni$/!amily !ilms. Cike e%eryone else in the mo%ie theater&
she $ould laugh at the =okes and pranks. But in real/li!e& the la$k o! pri%a$y& the endless
$omings and goings in the kit$hen and $ro#ded bathrooms #ere dri%ing her mad.
T#el%e days a!ter the !uneral& Beth dro%e her aunt& argaret& dad's youngest
sister& to the airport to $at$h her plane ba$k to 5o%a S$otia. Both began to say things
about her !ather but stopped& reali-ing it had all been said. )lone in the blue Bui$k&
neither o! them had anything le!t to say about 9upert Shepherd or ho# #ell "elena
seemed to be $oping #ith things. ?ad& Beth reali-ed& #as no longer the headline& and&
like it or not& #as sliding to the ba$k pages.
0ust like that& she thought2 #e're born& #e li%e& #e die2 #e're $ried about&
$elebrated a bit& reminis$ed o%er//and e%entually the rest o! us ha%e to go ba$k home and
!eed the $ats. Hne $ouldn't e*pe$t the neighbors to tend your pets !ore%er and kennel !ees
#ere preposterous. <unny thing #as& Beth kne# her !ather a$$epted that #as ho# li!e
#as& #ithout protest6in !a$t& he endorsed it. "e #as the !irst person she had heard say&
7Ci!e is !or the li%ing.7
Beth didn't dri%e dire$tly home !rom the airport a!ter dropping o!! her aunt. She
!ound a #eather/beaten bar& The 4rairie <o*& on the outskirts o! the $ity and pulled in.
The parking lot #as !ull o! pi$k/up tru$ks and older& hal!/rusted $ars that #ould be lu$ky
to make it through #inter. )pproa$hing the !ront door& Beth took in se%eral large breaths
o! !resh air& kno#ing on$e inside she'd be assaulted by too mu$h toba$$o smoke and i$e
ho$key play/by/play. But she #anted to get laid. )nd this #as part o! the pri$e.
By the time she rea$hed the bar and ordered a Canadian oose Co$ktail& Beth
$ould tell hersel!& at least no one seemed to be smoking $igars. The third guy #ho hit on
her turned out to be the one. "is name #as Cars& des$ended !rom Hld 5orse sto$k& more
blonde than anyone she remembered !rom her Cos )ngeles days& stood 1 !oot 3 in$hes
tall& #as barrel/$hested& and had a %oi$e like #arm maple syrup. "e also managed to keep
his hands o!! her body until a!ter she'd pla$ed his le!t hand on her thigh6that a!ter their
3rd drink. She dro%e him to his $abin in her $ar.
She'd !orgotten #hat it #as like to !u$k all night. But it $ame ba$k to her. )ll her
grie!& mi*ed #ith a dash o! marital angst& along #ith some artisti$ and !inan$ial !ailure&
$omposted and spontaneously !lamed into a drunken& multi/orgasmi$ e%ening o! se*ual
satiation. By the time the sun $ame up& Beth ne%er #anted to a see a naked man again& or&
at least& not !or a month. She #anted break!ast and a bed to hersel!. Cars #as in the
sho#er singing 0oni it$hell's& <ree an (n 4aris. "is bass %oi$e #as surprisingly good&
and Beth $ouldn't help but read into it some metaphori$al message about her and ?urone.
She slipped out the side door& kno#ing she'd put a sil%er stake through the $enter o! her
marriage's heart.
Hn her dri%e ba$k to the !amily !arm& #in$ing time to time !rom her $ha!ed
thighs& Beth #ondered i! she #ould e%er $ome $lean about this #ith ?urone. 4robably
not. (t #as all so ta#dry.
The lands$ape #as an endless stark plain& tu!ts o! grass poking through shallo#
dirty sno#. 5ot a bird in sight& and the sky #as the $olor o! the land& making a hori-on
impossible to de$ipher. @ray on gray on gray. )lthough she #ould ne%er $hara$teri-e
#hat she did as a good thing& she didn't !eel guilty about sleeping #ith another man. )nd
#hat i! ?urone did the same thing+ )t this %ery moment& he $ould be $urled up in the
arms o! some naked& ebony goddess.
(! he #ere& #hat she reali-ed #ith only mild surprise& #as it #ouldn't
bother her. ?id she #ant ?urone to be happy+ Without a doubt. Was she
happy+ 5ot in the least. )nd& she reali-ed& her unhappiness had nothing to do #ith her
!ather's death. )bout that she #as sad& $ertainly& and #ith that thought she !or$ed hersel!
to $ons$iously !a$e a banality2 she'd a$ted like a slut.
?espite its ma#kishness& the $li$hX des$ribed #hat she !elt2 ?urone deser%ed
better than her. Beth $ra$ked the dri%er's side #indo#& allo#ing 1>/degree air to $hill her
burning !a$e. "er ne*t thought #as& thank god !or men. They #ere su$h easy %essels
upon #hi$h to pro=e$t one's sel!/hatred.
Chapter ;
With a hal! hour be!ore needing to be at the Washington Women's Shelter& Beth #alked
by a do#nto#n gym and sa# 0ulie doing her best to thrash a stationary bi$y$le into
submission. 5iko& her trainer& #as no#here to be seen. 0ulie s#eated pro!usely as she
spoke #ith a man in a three/pie$e suit. "is hand #as pla$ed hal! on the small o! her ba$k
and hal! on her butt//in a #ay that suggested more than e*er$ise guidan$e.
(t #as att edom& Santa Cru- County's )ssistant ?istri$t )ttorney& another o!
0ulie's long/distan$e bi$y$list !riends and someone& #ho despite his marriage& had =oked
publi$ly about his $ommitment during an o!!i$e party to get a =udge to issue a #rit o!
dis$o%ery2 to get into 0ulie's pants. Bnnoti$ed& Beth slipped past the #indo#& troubled by
0ulie's $hoi$e in men. att #as one o! those =o#ly& pudgy men #ho& no matter ho# mu$h
he #orked out& $ould ne%er rid himsel! o! his not/so/baby !at.
Beth slipped into the Santa Cru- 9oasting Company& #alked to the ba$k and
$ontinued through ,l 4alomar Ta$o Bar. She slipped into the tunnel that led onto <ront
Street and lingered inside. She $ouldn't get 0ulie being #ith edom out o! her mind.
"o# #as it& Beth asked& !a$ing the !irst o! the $ampy signs along the tunnel's
#alls& that politi$ians& real or !i$tional& $ould rail about la# and !amily %alues !or
e%eryone else& yet go about their li%es #ith su$h $a%alier disregard !or their o#n $ondu$t+
(t #as one thing in your teens and early t#enties//perhaps !orgi%able in your early 30's.
But a!ter that+ Cads #ere $ads& e%ery#here. ,%ery intera$tion Beth had had #ith edom
$on%in$ed her he $ouldn't be trusted. 4re%iously& she #as relie%ed that 0ulie seemed
$ontent to keep him as a bike/riding $ompanion and nothing else. So #hy #as she
allo#ing him to tou$h her like that+ 9e!le$ting on her o#n sordid a$tions that killed her
!irst marriage& she thought& #ho am ( to talk+
She glan$ed at her #at$h. <ortunately the Washington St. Shelter #as only a !e#
minutes a#ay and absolute pun$tuality !or a %olunteer #asn't required. To kill some time&
she lingered in !ront o! the tin signs adorning this passage#ay. They #ere all depi$tions
o! >0's bathing beauties ha#king the allure o! Santa Cru-. The girls #ore one/pie$e
bathing suits or short/shorts and halters. Their $heeks #ere arti!i$ially red& polished to a
high sheen like apple adsF the bea$hes sho#ed the same $ontours o! #ater meeting sand
that Beth had #alked $ountless times. Things ne%er $hange2 put pretty girls on a poster
and gi%e the boys that implied promise2 this is a to#n you might s$ore in. Worked then/
#orked no#.
(n !a$t& one o! the signs& depi$ting a speedboat sli$ing through the #ater& a$tually
read2 !ast/girls and !ast boats. Beth #ondered #here the phrase !ast/girls had $ome !rom.
(t #as men& espe$ially young men&
#ho #ere al#ays too !ast. Cike most se*ual %erna$ular& Beth assumed the phrase
originated in some $rude ta%ern& illuminated in !luores$ent beer signs& !ull o! o%er#eight
and underse*ed men masking their physi$al de$lines. The idle boasts o! the lonely #hose
!antasies had been stoked leering at hooter/girls ha#king their #ares.
)nother #all sign sho#ed a smiling& orange/haired beauty& !or ine*pli$able
reasons #earing !lats& balan$ed on the pro# o! a speeding bla$k boat. Both her legs #ere
suspended o%er the bo#& !eet in the #ater as she rode the arro#/shaped %essel& suggesting
a $ir$us a$t o! aquati$ masturbation. Beth re$alled sitting in =unior high $lasses and
dis$o%ering that boys =erked/o!! under their desks& but she $ould ne%er re$all a girl doing
so. 5or $ould she imagine #omen $oining the phrase2 =erking o!! any more than #omen
$oming up #ith !ast/girls. Women eroti$a #riters #eren't mu$h better #ith their o%er/
relian$e on !looding #a%es o! passion& s#it$hed/ons& sti!!ened nipples& and #et/do#n/
Whether in language& a s$ene in a book& a mo%ie& a play or in her o#n bedroom&
Beth pre!erred se*uality be to e%oked& its pleasures and e*$itement to be eli$ited !rom a
melding o! sound and sense2 #ith the requisite ingredients o! mood& smell& taste and
tou$h//at on$e play!ul and deadly serious.
Still in the tunnel& she stopped and read an attempt at a !ar$i$al poster o! 4ool
9ules& all $orn/ball humor !or 1; year/olds that ended #ith the !inal admonition2 the
!loating -ebra is !or the kids.
Beth had had enough o! puerile #all/art and headed !or the e*it& stepped onto
<ront St and turned right.
She thought again o! her Aatie no%el& disappointed that lingering in the
passage#ay and studying its art hadn't =arred her out o! her brain/lo$k on ho# to pro$eed.
She imagined sitting in a 5e# .ork $o!!ee house a$ross !rom Aatie Shields and trying to
inter%ie# her dete$ti%e. "elp me out& Aatie+ Beth %isuali-ed the s$ene.
Aatie =ust stared blankly at Beth& more ins$rutably than any Charlie Chan. Come
on& Beth& she told hersel!. ('m not a rookie. ('%e #ritten si* pre%ious no%els. ('%e sold o%er
hal! a million books. ( kno# ho# to plot and stru$ture a story. (t's not that hard.
When Beth turned right on Soquel )%enue and $rossed 4a$i!i$ )%enue& she re/
in%oked the s$ene o! sitting a$ross !rom Aatie at @reen#i$h Uillage a $a!X table& smelling
$o!!ee. But all that happened #as her protagonist patted Beth's hand #ith the aplomb and
disdain #orthy o! an ,dith Wharton do#ager& telling her she had to #ork harder.
5ot smarter& Beth thought. 0ust harder. Wasn't she #orking hard enough+ Beth
$ouldn't meet her o#n e*pe$tations& mu$h less her $hara$ters.
aking a #ide ar$ around a side#alk posse o! young homeless& Beth turned her
head and held her breath so as not to take in any more o! the se$ond/hand toba$$o and
mari=uana smoke than ne$essary. <i%e o! them #ere busy $hugging upon and passing
their hand/rolled inhalers. She dashed past them and #ondered ho# long it #ould be !or
be!ore the to#n !athers implemented the smoking ban on 4a$i!i$ )%enue.
Three minutes later she entered the Washington St. Shelter and sa# Chrissy
behind the re$eptionist's desk. Chrissy talked on her headphones #hile typing on her
$omputer keyboard and held up one !inger& signaling Beth to #ait.
Beth #andered o%er to the bookshel! and s$anned a book$ase !ull o! roman$es&
mysteries and sel!/help books& in$luding t#o o! Beth's o#n no%els. She aligned them&
tapped their spines and turned at the sound o! Chrissy's %oi$e.
7Beth&7 Chrissy looked around and #hispered& $onspiratorially& 7Aeep your head
up. The boss is in a snit.7
This #as ne#& Beth thought. Bosses in a snit #ere a problem !or sta!!& not !or
%olunteers. 7('ll be $are!ul. What do you suggest+7
Be!ore she $ould ans#er& Chrissy took another $all. Beth o%erheard her telling the
$aller that it #as a good time to bring someone o%er& and Chrissy started a $on%ersation
about some reality tele%ision sho#. Beth rea$hed around the $ounter and pinned a generi$
%olunteer badge o%er her le!t breast.
Beth #alked do#n the hall to#ards the group/room #here $urrent and !ormer
shelter residents gathered to attend the a!ter/$are =ournal #orkshop. Typi$ally she $ould
e*pe$t to see three to si* past residents and at most one or t#o $urrent residents6ne#ly
admitted people #ere rarely in any kind o! emotional $ondition to a%ail themsel%es this
indulgen$e. Still early& Beth entered the room& $losed the door& turned and #as startled.
7@ood morning& s Shepherd&7 0assy orneau said.
0assy's %oi$e bordered on strident& and Beth had ne%er !elt easy around the Shelter
?ire$tor. Thirty/t#o years old& #ith bro#n/bla$k eyes& the re$tangular/!a$ed 0assy had a
thi$k mane o! bla$k hair. She #as one o! those smart& all/too/$apable young #omen #ho
#ere either de%oid o! respe$t !or their elders or #hose sel!/$on!iden$e ne%er allo#ed
them the slightest o%ert display o! inse$urity. 4erhaps both. She'd probably played !irst
%iolin in her youth or$hestra. 7( think it's a!ternoon&7 Beth said and took a seat on the
#ell/#orn blue $ou$h. 7.ou startled me.7
0assy got up and took the $hair a$ross !rom Beth. 8( kne# you #ere $oming& and (
had to ha%e a #ord #ith you be!ore the residents arri%ed.7
0ust like 0assy& Beth thought. 5o apology !or surprising her. Why 0assy $ouldn't
ha%e had Chrissy simply pass a message to her and meet in her o!!i$e had something to
do #ith the dire$tor's !ondness !or asserting po#er o%er people at e%ery opportunity. Beth
had noti$ed none o! the shelter sta!! spoke !ondly o! their younger boss. <or hersel!& Beth
had al#ays =ust maintained a $ordial distan$e. 75o time like the present.7
7This is a#k#ard !or me& Beth&7 0assy began& 7but one o! the residents
approa$hed me last #eek a!ter your #orkshop and $omplained.7
The t#inkle in 0assy's eyes and the $res$ent $ur%es on either side o! her lips
suggested something besides a#k#ardness. She #as sa%oring this moment. Beth said&
79eally+ ('m glad you're bringing this up #ith me right a#ay.7
Beth #anted to needle her =ust a bit and imagined 0assy must ha%e delighted in
planning this $on!rontation6!or a #eekD Why hadn't she simply $alled a!ter the initial
$omplaint+ The inter%ening #eek had gi%en 0assy plenty o! time to strategi-e ho# best to
t#ist Beth's tail& do#n to surprising her in this group/room ambush.
7( don't ha%e time to get into the details&7 0assy said. 7y in%estigation . . . ( mean
my assessment o! these $omplaints isn't $omplete. )nd o! $ourse ( had to bring this up
#ith you.7
5o& you meant the !irst #ord& in%estigation& Beth thought. "er best stan$e #as to
say nothing& lea%e the tension in the air and let 0assy su$k it ba$k up #ith her ne*t breath
as the young #oman !loundered in her e!!ort at non$halan$e.
7( ha%e to get to a $ity $oun$il meeting in a !e# minutes. Budget time is around
the $orner and . . . 7
7Be!ore you ha%e to go o!! and politi$&7 Beth said& taking the o!!ensi%e. 7Tell me
more about the $omplaints against me+7 She paused. 7This all sounds so Aa!ka.7 Beth
doubted 0assy #ould get the re!eren$e& but kne# i! she didn't& the young dire$tor #ould
ne%er admit it.
Cike a ma=orette& 0assy stood and strutted to the door. 7Some people thought
inappropriate topi$s #ere being dis$ussed inside a #omen's shelter.7
Beth kne# she #as supposed to bite on that ampli!i$ation& $hose not to and noted&
no# it #as som e people and not one resident #ho'd $omplained. She re!used to gi%e
0assy the satis!a$tion o! a response. )s e*pe$ted& 0assy didn't respond to the Aa!ka $ra$k.
Smart and talented as this young shelter/dire$tor #as& one ma=or omission !rom her list o!
$ompeten$ies #as being #ell read.
9egaining her $omposure& 0assy took her time& smiled ba$k at Beth and said& 7('ll
$all you and arrange a time #hen #e $an dis$uss this in more detail.7
)!!e$ting the tone she'd used as a #aitress #hen diners had !inished their desserts
and $o!!ee and she handed them the bill& Beth asked& 7(s there anything else+7 0assy
straddled the threshold& gathering her thoughts. This is going to be good& Beth thought.
0assy turned& smiled and said& there is.7
Beth tilted her head to one side& announ$ing she #as ready !or the $oup de gra$e.
7.ou $an go home& Beth. ('%e $an$elled your =ournal program pending !urther
noti$e. We #on't need you !or a #hile. ( need more time to gather my . . . !a$ts.7 0assy
turned& e*ited and $losed the door behind her.
Sitting alone& Beth #hispered& 7Tou$hXD .ou bit$h.7
Beth hadn't seen that $ombination $oming2 summarily ordered to lea%e a!ter the
%aguest o! a$$usations $oupled #ith a $utting #e/#on't/need/you dismissal. Beth
thought& ordered to go home #as a ni$e tou$h& like being sent home a!ter re$ess be$ause
you'd deliberately poked some kid in the eye. The only thing missing #as the phone $all
!rom the prin$ipal to your mother to make your =ourney home ri!e #ith tension.
Beth #ondered about her ne*t instin$t2 her #ish to storm out to Chrissy's desk&
demand paper and pen and !ire o!! an indignant resignation letter. But #as it a resignation
letter #hen you #ere a %olunteer+ That snotty& little/shit prin$ess& Beth thought. She $an't
speak to me that #ay. But o! $ourse 0assy $ould//she =ust had.
Beth #as smart enough to suppress her impulse to put her !eelings into #riting6
at least anything that #asn't $lassi!ied as ultra top/se$ret and meant e*$lusi%ely !or her
pass#ord/prote$ted& personal =ournal. She s#ung her legs up on the $ou$h and stret$hed
out. She #anted to be $ertain her breathing and her $oloring #ere absolutely normal
be!ore lea%ing this room and passing Chrissy6!or that matter& be!ore she en$ountered
another human being.
The #hole matter #as ludi$rous. Charged #ith something inappropriate by an
anonymous shelter resident& or more than one& but not in!ormed #hat she had said that
had gi%en o!!ense. Beth !irmly set her !eet on the !loor& bent o%er and gripped her knees.
"er stoma$h #as $hurning. Hutraged& she thought& this small/to#n bureau$rat speaks to
me in a #ay that is patroni-ing& disrespe$t!ul and absurd.
)t least she hadn't gi%en 0assy the satis!a$tion o! seeing her s$ared. (n !a$t& Beth
took some small $onsolation in her not ha%ing !lin$hed in the !a$e o! 0assy's insolen$e.
The t#it. Beth bolted up and pa$ed around the middle o! the room.
Uo#ing to #rite this all do#n #hen she got to her $omputer& Beth #alked as
naturally as she $ould to the re$eption area. Surely the mood she #as in& something o!
this episode $ould !ind its #ay into her Aatie book. ight it e%en help her to resume
Chrissy looked up at her and said& 7"o#'d it go+7
Beth asked& 7?id you kno# ( #as in !or a li$king+7
Shaking her head& Chrissy said& 75ah. ( did see 0assy mo%e !rom her o!!i$e to the
group room #here she kne# you'd be going.7
7Why didn't you #arn me+7
7( #as going to. But you #alked right by.7
Beth belie%ed Chrissy and thought about asking i! she'd heard any $omplaints
about her. Chrissy shook her head. Sensing re!le$tion #as a better $ourse o! a$tion than
engaging in a re$eption area bit$h/session her de$ision #as easy. The entry#ay !rom the
street opened and in #alked t#o Santa Cru- 4oli$e H!!i$ers& one #oman and one man.
<lanked by the poli$e o!!i$ers #as a young #oman #ho $ouldn't ha%e been more than 20
years old& appeared to be near term& and #hose un#ashed& s$raggly hair $o%ered a !a$e
that $arried multiple bruises. Hnly one o! the bruises looked !resh& but this young #oman
had !ar more pressing problems than Beth6#ho nodded goodbye to Chrissy and slid out
behind the poli$e.
Hne blo$k a#ay !rom the shelter& Beth stopped and looked ba$k at the building
#here she'd gi%en so many hours o! her time. Something da#ned on her. Besides her son&
this #as one o! the !e# pla$es in her li!e #here she !elt generous. To lose that #ould be
Beth #alked on. The !og #as burning o!! and the tops o! the do#nto#n trees #ere
all %isible2 red#oods& sy$amores and eu$alyptus. Beth #anted to think and $onsidered
#hi$h $o!!ee shop or bookstore she #anted to hide in& but de$ided she didn't #ant to be in
any popular spot #here she might be re$ogni-ed.
She headed !or 5eary's Cagoon #ith it's ele%ated #alk#ay meandering through
tule/ri$h marsh and #ater!o#l. She $ould amble through this #etland oasis& only a !i%e
minute #alk !rom do#nto#n& lea%e it on the #est entran$e& $limb the short in$line up to
ission Street& de$ide i! she #anted to keep #alking to the uni%ersity& maybe 4ogonip& or
=ust $ir$le ba$k do#nto#n to her $ar. (nitial route plotted& her ne*t thought #as2 #hat
$ould she possibly ha%e done to o!!end one o! her =ournal students+ She $ouldn't think o!
)pproa$hing the lagoon& the lo#est point in the $ity& the !og lingered o%er the
#ater. She relished the area's temple/like isolation. )s !ar as she $ould see in e%ery
dire$tion& she #as alone. Beth !olded her arms on the railing and ga-ed into the #ater.
She spotted a large koi& o%er ten pounds by the look o! him& languishing in t#o/!oot deep
The last time she'd ga-ed at koi #as last spring in San <ran$is$o #ith her 21/year/
old son& 0ay& near the 0apanese Tea @arden in @olden @ate 4ark. The main pond in the
Tea @arden #as home to the #hole kaleidos$ope o! koi& !rom the most luminous oranges
to irides$ent sil%ers. While sitting #ith her son under a maple tree a year ago& 0ay had
also surprised her.
Chapter >
"e stared at the grass. 7om&7 0ay said& 7( think ('m bi/se*ual.7
With her son being only 21 years old& Beth reali-ed his se*uality #as still !luid&
but his suggesting he #as ready to solidly $ategori-e himsel! as bi/se*ual le!t her
momentarily spee$hless. )ll she $ould think to inarti$ulately say #as& 7"o# long ha%e
you . . .
7<elt this #ay+7 0ay !inished her thought #ith arrogan$e only one's o#n $hild
$ould beget. So!tening his %oi$e& he said& 7ost o! the past year& ('d say.7
7(s there someone spe$ial+7 Ano#ing !ull #ell she shouldn't& Beth tossed a bit o!
her lemon/poppy seed mu!!in into the koi pond. )s soon as those #ords $ame out o! her
mouth& Beth !elt embarrassed and ashamed She $ontinued& 7('m sorry& 0ay. ( kno# ho#
stupid that sounded.7
0ay put one arm around her shoulders and #ith his !ree hand took #hat remained
o! the mu!!in and tossed it into a trash$an. 7Cook& mom& ( kno# this isn't easy.: "e
grinned at her. 8But try not to get us thro#n out o! here& H.A.+ ( don't #ant si$k& dying
Aoi on my $ons$ien$e a #eek !rom no# #hen ( read in the Chroni$le that the 0apanese
Tea @arden !ish are dying& and they suspe$t re$kless patrons o! !eeding them mu!!ins.7
"e nodded to#ards the trash$an. 7(magine #hat that $rap is doing to us+7
Beth stood straight& letting her son's arm slide o!! her& and tou$hed his $heek.
7.ou're too s#eet& 0ay. .ou al#ays $ould make a =oke out o! my most boorish !au* pas.
5e*t time& ('ll eat a mu!!in made !rom ground #ild/!o#l seed.:
"e smiled at her& sloughed her hand a#ay. 7But ('m not easy !or you. Hr anyone
else !or that matter. Shit& at my age you #ere engaged and planning to marry& and ('m still
trying to eat the #orld into a better pla$e by being a !ood 5a-i.7
)$tually& raising a healthy& $reati%e& and spirited son #as her most $herished li!e
a$$omplishment. "eading !or the teahouse& Beth said& 7( #as so straight and narro#.7
7Come on& mom&7 0ay said& protesting. 7.ou #ere a Canadian plains kid #ho
married a bla$k guy !rom Hakland. .ou $ertainly bush#ha$ked your #ay o!! the main
trails o! middle/$lass li!e.7
7Thanks !or thro#ing me a bone& but you deser%e a more serious response.7 Beth
appre$iated 0ay's use o! a hiking metaphor& !eeling a sense o! satis!a$tion about ha%ing
e*posed her one $hild to nature and e*er$ise.
(n a mo$king gesture& $o%ering his ears and s#aying his body& 0ay $rou$hed and
#alked like a troll. 7Hh& no& no& no. Seriousness is so . . . seeer/reee/ous.7
Beth stopped in her tra$ks and pla$ed her hands on her hips. She pursed her lips
and said& 7)re you !inished+7 0ay $ut the a$t and stood straight. 7.ou're absolutely right.
.our being bi/se*ual is di!!i$ult !or me. ( don't e%en kno# #hy& besides the ob%ious
parental $on$ern there are still goons running around #ho #ill kill you !or being anything
other than straight.: She looked around her. 8,%en in San <ran$is$o.7
"e shrugged. 7('m pretty sa!e here.:
She pla$ed her hands on his shoulders. 7.ou kno#& ( =ust #ant you to be67
7?on't say it& mom. .ou're a best/selling #riter and $an say something less
7('m a mid/list selling #riter. @i%e me a minute.7 Beth's $hin !ell to her $hest and
she took& a moment to think. She looked ba$k up and said& 7When ( #rite ( $an al#ays go
o%er the dialogue and make it sound better. This is mu$h tougher.7
0ay embra$ed his mother& letting the pressure o! his body $on%ey reassuran$e and
gratitude more %is$erally than any #ords. Beth's heart #armed in response to her son's
emotional generosity.
"e stepped ba$k and said& 7H.A. ('m still #aiting !or the su$$ess!ul& mid/list
#riter& mom.7
They resumed #alking. 7( kno# this is trite& 0ay. But your se*uality is something .
. . #hate%er you $hoose . . . ('ll support you& as best ( $an.7
(t's not a $hoi$e& mom. We are #hat #e are67
7( kno#. ( kno#. Wrong #ord& $hoi$e& ( reali-e. ('m sorry. Cook& ('ll embra$e
#home%er you bring to Thanksgi%ing and promise not to embarrass you at the dinner
table.7 Beth had a sudden thought2 perhaps her dis$om!ort #as as simple as 0ay's being a
target o! bigots lurking in any $orner o! the se*ual/identity di%ide
0ay dismissed her last $omment #ith a #a%e o! his hand. 7What i! it turns out you
don't like the indi%idual ( bring home !or holidays+7
7('m not #orried about that. ('%e al#ays lo%ed your !riends sin$e you #ere little.
H! either se*.7
They headed arm in arm to#ards artin Cuther Aing ?ri%e #here Beth had
Cetting go and stepping ba$k& 0ay said& 7So my !riend tra$k re$ord is good but that
doesn't guarantee you'll like a ne# person ( bring home at this stage o! my li!e.7
Beth gestured south#est to#ards the parking lot #here a gaggle o! pier$ed&
tattooed @oths lingered. 7Will they ha%e nose rings+7
7ost de!initely not. ( like body pier$ing limited to earlobes.7
(n !alse sho$k& Beth thre# up her hands. 7Say no more.7
They rea$hed her $ar. She unlo$ked it& stood behind the opened door& rea$hed
o%er it and stroked his $heek. 7Bring someone home !or Thanksgi%ing. 0ust let me kno#
i! they eat !ish or !o#l+7
"e smiled and said& 7But not both+7
Chu$kling& Beth said& 7Hnly i! you ha%e a person o! either gender. ( #ant to keep
some semblan$e o! balan$e in the house.7
"e $lasped her hands in his and said& 7('ll see #hat ( $an do.7
Beth sat in the $ar& turned on the ignition and rolled her #indo# do#n. 7Thanks
!or a lo%ely a!ternoon.7
7?e nada.7
She #at$hed his !a$e sag and $hange $olor. She took her hands o!! the #heel. She
poked her head out the open #indo# and asked& 7What is it+7
7We ne%er talked about dad. 5ot on$e. ,%en a!ter being together t#o hours.7
Beth kne# she had to $hoose her #ords $are!ully. She $lamped her lips together
and s#iped her !ront teeth #ith her tongue. 7Should #e ha%e+7
7What do you think+7
She no# kne# #hat she'd be mulling o%er on her ninety/minute dri%e ba$k to
Santa Cru-. 0ay& though 21& #as still thinking and a$ting as an adoles$ent2 laying a
$hallenging bomb on her6#ith no time to dis$uss it.
She asked& 7Can ( $all you tonight a!ter ( get home+7
0ay stepped ba$k !rom the $ar. 7)s long as it's be!ore nine o'$lo$k. ( ha%e a busy
night ahead o! me.7
Choosing not to !ill in his last $omment #ith her o#n !antasies& Beth said& 7(
promise.7 She rea$hed out and tou$hed his arm.
Beth pulled out o! the park and onto the $hariot/ra$e/!rom hell that #as19

)%enue. (nstantly& her #hole body tensed up and her mood darkened. Something $aught
her eye.
She slammed on the brakes and bolted !or#ard. Thank god !or seat beltsD ) bike
messenger had sped right through the red light& missing her by millimeters. )s Beth
resumed speed amid blasting horns and lurid s$o#ls& she glan$ed in her side/%ie# mirror.
The bi$y$list& though !ully at !ault& #as still gi%ing her the !inger #hile he sped a#ay.
T#enty minutes later& Beth redu$ed her speed to 10 mph as multi/lane "igh#ay 1
entered ?aly City& and she thought& !u$k him. The bi$y$list had been le!t behind literally
20 minutes be!ore. The '!u$k him' #as !or Brad& 0ay's !ather.
Uisiting !rom C.) and staying #ith !riends in Berkeley& Beth had %isited San
<ran$is$o to support a !riend's 19GE summer photography sho# in a gallery on @eary
Street. Brad& 0ay's !ather& #as e%erything ?urone #asn't. Besides being #hite& Brad $ame
!rom a t#isted& =ust outside o! <resno !amily #ith so many skeletons and drug addi$ts
e%en he said it #ould take the merger o! an orthopedist and an addi$tion spe$ialist to take
an a$$urate !amily history. Brad #as rakish& impulsi%e& and o%er se*ed. But #hen they'd
!irst met at the art opening6the only time they e%er attended an artisti$ e%ent in the
#hole history o! their relationship6Brad #as 31& ri$h& and singing a tune any struggling&
lonely& horny& #ould/be no%elist $ould !all !or.
7(t's time !or me to settle do#n&7 Brad said& handing Beth her se$ond martini. 7y
sto$k #ill ne%er be higher than it is no#.7
75o& thanks.7 "is smile #as killing her. When he tou$hed her shoulder and pla$ed
his hand on her torso that her open/ba$ked dress made readily a$$essible& she $onsidered
taking his hand and !inding an empty bedroom !or a qui$kie. She lied and said& 7( ha%e to
dri%e home&7
75o you don't.7
7( don't+7 Who #as he to $hallenge her+
7( need a !e# minutes to #ork out a #ay to get you to $ome home #ith me.7
7Bold& aren't you+7 Beth stepped ba$k& !or$ing his hand o!! her ba$k and denying
him the !eedba$k o! the goose bumps on her skin. 7(t'll take a lot more than al$ohol to get
me in bed.7 But #hat $ould she do about the !lush she kne# #as brightening her !a$e+ 7(
ha%e a dog ( ha%e to get home to. "e $an't sleep #ithout me.7
"e grinned& sipped his drink and said& 7Cie number t#o.7
<orty minutes later and a!ter the third martini Beth sat beside him in his Triumph
$on%ertible& top do#n& $ar heater at !ull blast and restraining hersel! !rom gi%ing him a
blo# =ob. 4leasantly drunk& she still #asn't stupid enough to go that !ar as Brad dro%e
o%er the @olden @ate in a !og so thi$k you $ouldn't see the guardrails. Better #ait& she
told hersel!& taking her $ue !rom the gau-y headlights $oming !rom the opposite dire$tion.
"e had his right hand bet#een her legs and #ould #ork her up to little gasps& =ust
a !e# stops short o! orgasm. 4ulling o!! the bridge she remo%ed his hand and said& 7"o#
did you kno# ( #as lying about ha%ing to go home to my dog+7
"e smiled at her& rea$hed o%er and slipped the strap o!! her le!t shoulder and
gra-ed her breast. 7)s soon as you a$$epted that third drink ( kne# you didn't ha%e to go
home tonight. y $lair%oyan$e impro%es #ith al$ohol.7
Beth again remo%ed his hand& raised his !ingers to her mouth and teasingly
nibbled. She liked ho# he tasted. 7.ou don't look like the psy$hi$ type.7
"e !eathered the skin on her ne$k #ith the ba$k o! his right hand. 7( also
re$ogni-ed your dress label.7
7y dress' label+: She laughed and slipped a#ay !rom him. 8( kno# you're not
"e looked her o%er. 7( kno# the brand. (t's $outure !or2 ('m/not/going/home/alone
tonight.7 Brad pla$ed t#o hands on the #heel to better steer the t#isty roads beyond the
bridge and said& 7y house is t#o miles !rom here. ( ha%e a roommate you should kno#
(nitially& she #as disappointed& not #anting any restraint on #hat might happen&
or #here it might happen on$e they arri%ed at this house. The roommate turned out to be
a parrot& S$atter& #hose eponymous name $ame !rom the mass o! seeds and shells that lay
beneath his $age. Hn$e inside& Brad $o%ered the $age #ith a thro# and the humans #ent
to the bedroom.
They made lo%e all night and se%eral times the ne*t morning. To ha%e been
#anted like that #as #onder!ul2 hour a!ter hour as i! he tried to inhale her #ith e%ery
kiss. She $ouldn't de$ide i! being se*ually ra%ished like that #as more satis!ying than
seeing his eyes and !a$e light up #ith his !irst %ie# o! e%ery square $entimeter o! her
naked body& $oupled #ith !eeling him throbbing inside her. Beth summari-ed& at !irst it's
al#ays great.
When that !irst Sunday together ended& he dro%e her ba$k to Berkeley& both o!
them in a buoyant mood. She !elt an*ious to talk to her girl!riends about this ne# man in
her li!e& #ondered i! she #ere in lo%e and !elt a surge o! energy to di%e ba$k into her
latest no%el& her !irst attempt at #riting a roman$e. <or the ne*t !our months they sa#
ea$h other e%ery #eekend bet#een C.). and the Bay )rea. Hn one o! their S<H/C)V
#hirl#ind $ommutes& Beth agreed to marry him. She quit her #aitress =ob at "amburger
"amlet o%er the phone.
)!ter three meaningless& short/term relationships post her !irst marriage& Beth
married Brad in 5o%ember 19GE at age t#enty/si*. They mo%ed into in a modern three/
bedroom house in arin County& and her husband dro%e into his San <ran$is$o o!!i$e&
three/pie$e suited and #ell/$oi!!ed& and dri%ing a sil%er 0aguar sedan//his signature
%ehi$le that garishly announ$ed !or all to see2 he'd made it.
(n those days Brad #as more than ambitiousF he #as dri%en. )s a real/estate
de%eloper e%erything he tou$hed turned to gold. ) surging Cali!ornia market made his
!irm and e%ery one o! their agents look like geniuses//unless they got $aught up in
)t t#enty/se%en years old& she thre# hersel! into her roman$e no%el& read e%ery
ho# to book on the genre and took se%eral #riting #orkshops. (t turned out to be harder
than she thought but !elt grate!ul that Brad's in$ome supported both o! them& and she
$ould de%ote so mu$h time to her o#n #ork.
H%er the ne*t year she $ompleted a 3>0/page book. 5ine publishers re=e$ted it.
Brad's o%er#orking meant she $ould re/#rite eight hours a day and #ork out e%en more
than she had #hen she had played %arsity %olleyball at BCC). )s ne# lo%e $ooled #ith
Brad& she spent more and more time li%ing the good li!e #ith the arin $ro#d. H! $ourse
a!ter getting pregnant& Beth stopped drinking and her running e%ol%ed to %igorous hiking.
She e*plored the headlands o! 4oint 9eyes and the trails en$ir$ling t. Tamalpais& o!ten
#riting in her =ournals during her rest stops.
0ust be!ore deli%ery& they hired a li%e/in nanny so Beth $ould still #rite. )!ter
0ay's birth in )ugust 19GG she de%oted her time to #riting and spending more #ith the
amateur and pro!essional tri/athletes that li%ed in the area. She got qui$kly ba$k in shape
and ran her !irst marathon. Beth s$ar$ely noti$ed Brad keeping e%er/longer hours in the
$ity. She kne# the real estate market had turned !or the #orse and %ie#ed his
o%er#orking as his response to the !irst real bump in his $areer. The drop o!! in his se*ual
demands she #el$omed& allo#ing her un!ettered time do the three things she lo%ed2 be a
mother #ith a pre$o$ious& responsi%e baby boy& #rite and run. With Brad& their #eekends
together #ere al#ays so$ially !un and $arnally satis!ying enough to $arry both o! them
through the #eek.
(n ?e$ember& her roman$e no%el $ame ba$k re=e$ted !rom Cherry Blossom
Books. Cherry Blossom& !or Christ's sake& she thought. She and Brad both de$ided they
$ould no longer a!!ord the nanny and had to let her go.
But #alked about the house #ith the baby and the re=e$tion letter. "er =a# set so
tight it hurt. She obsessed2 ho# hard #as it to get a no%el published by them+ Beth pla$ed
0ay on the !loor and tore up the !orm letter. 5e*t& she pulled do#n the Ainko's $opy o!
her manus$ript and shredded it& page by page& stre#ing the pie$es all o%er the li%ing
room. The baby lo%ed it& though she !elt no better.
S#eating and hea%ing #hile standing o%er the mess& a phone $all $ame in !rom
Brad's se$retary telling Beth he #ouldn't be home until a!ter eight. Without a #ord& she
hung up.
With this latest publishing disappointment& Beth #as able to see !or the !irst time
=ust ho# mu$h Brad #as a%oiding her. )nd the reali-ation hit her like a head/on $ollision2
she #as in her se$ond bad marriage. She heard 0ay $ry& $he$ked on him& patted his ba$k
and he #ent ba$k to sleep. 8Thank @od !or you little man&: she #hispered& and #ent ba$k
She poured hersel! a glass o! #ine& looked about the empty house and reali-ed
there #as only one thing she $ared about2 her son sleeping upstairs. The rest o! it $ould
burn. Beth took out a pair o! s$issors and massa$red Brad's three 5<C/logo thro#
pillo#s& adding them to the pile o! her torn manus$ript. )!ter her tantrum she !elt si$k and
!ell asleep on the $ou$h.
She #oke up the ne*t morning #ith t#o surprises. 0ay had slept through the night
and Brad had ne%er $ome home. 5or had her husband $alledF and she still !elt nauseous.
Being re=e$ted by "arlequin #as a su!!i$ient e*planation !or the stoma$h issues//but
#here #as Brad+ ?oing his %ersion o! stop/o!! at the 4rairie <o*+
"e !inally ans#ered the phone =ust a!ter ten in the morning. "is e*planation #as
he'd slept at his desk and #ould be home early. Could she make dinner6it #as
?ungeness $rab season+ She !elt marginally better.
Bntil an hour later #hen she got #ithin ten !eet o! the !ish stand in Sausalito and
got a #hi!! o! the sea's bounty2 she thre# up all o%er her ne# running shoes. orti!ied&
the men in the bloody aprons !rom behind the $ounter $ame rushing o%er #ith bu$kets o!
sa# dust to soak up the mess. )n older #oman put her arm around Beth's shoulders&
es$orted her to a nearby ben$h and asked the pertinent question.
7?ear& $ould you be pregnant+7
Beth #as at her gyne$ologist's that a!ternoon and got the ne#s6!i%e #eeks along&
too soon to kno# the se*. She ser%ed Brad a !ro-en dinner that he ate #ith the bad gra$es
o! a sports/obsessed put- #hose relu$tant responses to her questions about last night
teetered bet#een2 7( #as #orking&7 to 7(! you spent a little more time in the kit$hen and
o!! the trails ga-ing up other guys' asses& maybe you $ould $ook a de$ent bo#l o! pasta.7
She let this go on until the dessert $ourse& a !ro-en mud pie& #hi$h he lo%ed but
tonight re!used. "e #as nodding in his $hair& looking like he might keel o%er. (n!orming
him o! her pregnan$y eli$ited Brad's best 0ohn $,nroe imitation& 7.ou $an't be
seriousD7 H%er the ensuing #eeks any re!eren$es about the pregnan$y #ith him resulted
in one three utteran$es& 7This $an't be. ( don't belie%e it. Why is this happening no#+7
With ea$h passing #eek& the #ords ne%er $hanged& =ust the tone in in$reasingly
strident %olume. Brad #as so restless he $onsumed a steady diet o! beers until it !inally
da#ned on her2 he #as seriously si$k. "is eyes #ere dead& he had bla$k bags under his
eye so$kets& and he $ouldn't sit still no matter ho# many Coronas he put a#ay.
"e spent the ne*t nine days in bed and $ame out only to snarl at her. 7Beth& you're
a shitty housekeeper. Beth& ho# $ould your mother ne%er tea$h you ho# to $ook+ Beth&
#hen are you going to get a real =ob and make some money+7
Brad ne%er #aited !or her responses. She kne# he didn't #ant any. "is depression
mani!ested in the $lassi$al t#o/step2 outbursts o! insulting& hostile put/do#ns %arying
#ith lying in a dark room& o%er/eating& and literally saying nothing !or days at a time. (t
took almost three days& but she !inally identi!ied the quality Brad's silen$es2 mena$ing.
This nightmare6#hy& Beth asked hersel!& don't #e ha%e a #ord !or daymare6
ended& mira$ulously& one onday morning. Brad had sho#ered& sha%ed& put on a ne#
suit& and $ame into the kit$hen #here Beth #as nursing her son #hile she drank green tea.
"e hugged and kissed them both& gulped do#n a $up o! $o!!ee and said he'd home by
se%en that night. 5ot a #ord about the last nine days o! his sullen !unk.
Beth sur%i%ed that time hiding out in a tran$e o! maternal preo$$upation and
#riting in her =ournals #ith #hat amounted to depressing thought loops. Bra$ing 0ay in
the $rook o! her elbo# and pulling the $urtain aside& she #at$hed the 0aguar peel out o!
the dri%e#ay. Beth thought2 ( need to talk to a do$tor about Brad. By ten o'$lo$k that
morning she had !i%e messages parked on %arious !riend's ans#ering ma$hines. Who
kne# a good shrink+
She started a $oq au %in at !i%e in the a!ternoon. (t #as timed to be ready by
Brad's arri%al& but she kne# better than to think he'd be pun$tual6and he did ha%e o%er a
#eek's #orth o! #ork to $at$h up #ith. But it #as an easy dish and $ould braise on the
sto%e and be deli$ious no matter #hen he got home. Beth's best guess+ "e'll be home by
9230 4..
She #as #rong. She sipped the 5apa Cabernet to belo# its label and !ell asleep in
a #arm house !ull o! sa%ory aromas. With a =olt at 1221> 4..& the phone rang. )gain&
Brad said he #as s#amped at #ork and #ould spend the night there. "e didn't $ome !or
three days.
By no# Beth had spoken #ith three se$retaries and had $onsultations s$heduled
#ith three psy$hiatrists& one in Sausalito& and t#o in San <ran$is$o6!or ne*t month. She
#as on the $all list should there be any $an$ellations. <at $han$e. She #ondered& #as
there a shrink in Cali!ornia #ho needed patients+
That Thursday Brad !inally $ame home and said& 7Beth. We're ruined. The
$ompany's going into re$ei%ership.7 "e !ollo#ed that up by going to the den& turned on
,S45 and opened a !i!th o! e*pensi%e s$ot$h.
,ight hours later& he stumbled into bed. She pretended to be angry& re=e$ted his
ad%an$es& and demanded he sleep on the $ou$h. "e #ouldn't lea%e& so she lo$ked hersel!
in the baby's room and slept in the ro$king $hair. (n hindsight she al#ays #ondered2 #as
she in sho$k that night+ Hr =ust beginning to $ome out o! the $loud she'd been li%ing in
!or months+ But Beth !elt one $ertainty2 she had be$ome a single mother.
The !lashing/red/lights o! e$onomi$ $ollapse took o%er their li%es. They let the
nanny go the ne*t day. Brad ri!led through her purse and took s$issors to all her $redit
$ards. (n the ne*t t#o #eeks& bill $olle$tors morphed into a @reek Chorus that managed
to =oin their %oi$es into plainti%e threat& pleading& impatien$e and $ontempt. Beth lo%ed it
#hen the $olle$tion agen$ies $alled and 0ay #as in the middle o! #ailing.
Brad got home the ne*t night a!ter nine o'$lo$k and got nastily drunk. She asked
#hat they #ere going to do. That night& Beth's got her !irst e*posure to !ull/on male rage.
Three holes in the #alls later& t#o broken $hairs& !our pi$tures destroyed and her !eeling
e%er so grate!ul !or being able to outrun her husband& Beth and baby 0ay spent the night
in the Sausalito "oliday (nn. )!ter that e*plosion& she %o#ed to ne%er again allo# hersel!
or her son to be alone #ith him.
They rende-%oused the ne*t onday a!ternoon at his o!!i$e in do#nto#n San
<ran$is$o6she had no #ish to see him in anything but a publi$ setting #here he'd be
!or$ed to beha%e6#here a!ter gushing protestations o! his guilt and remorse& seasoned
#ith a !e# de!ensi%e allusions to his drinking problem& Brad and his boss spelled it all
out to her in a rational #ay. They #ere broke. They #ere in a mountain o! debt. They had
to #alk a#ay !rom their house.
Cike e%ery market& this real estate bubble had !inally tanked& and Brad had taken a
short $ut to ruin& getting buried in #hite po#der like an re$kless skier $onsumed by the
G0's $o$aine a%alan$he. They $ertainly $ouldn't a!!ord another baby.
Still& Beth told Brad she #ouldn't e%en $onsider an abortion. Suddenly !o$used&
Brad #ent into !i*/it mode and pleaded #ith Beth to go into $ounseling #ith him. With
an aplomb that surprised her& he reminded her that things #ere going too !ast !or them to
make any ma=or de$isions2 about the pregnan$y& or lea%ing the house impulsi%ely.
,%erything should be tabled. Sound $ounsel& $ertainly& but his mer$urial personality
$hanges sho$ked and !rightened her& and she kne# he had the reliability o! an intermittent
short $ir$uit.
She had read about psy$hopaths but had ne%er $onsidered she'd married one//until
no#. Beth #ould ne%er again =oke about men thinking #ith their $o$ks. What had she
been thinking #ith the last t#o years+ "o# $ould she ha%e missed so mu$h o! her
husband's des$ent+ aybe she hadn't so mu$h entirely missed it& as under/rea$ted to him.
She hadn't seen the seriousness o! Brad's debau$hery and !ailing health #hile she #as
$onsumed #ith baby& running and #riting.
She mis$arried a #eek later. Beth $alled an old !riend !rom Hakland& 4enelope
Barnes& #ho'd mo%ed and be$ome a rookie poli$e o!!i$er in Santa Cru-& and asked i! she
$ould take in a roommate #ith an in!ant. To her in!inite surprise& 4enelope said yes.
Turned out it #as a house #ith three other single mothers& 4enelope being the only
$hildless member o! the household and #ith a gun on her hip& the de !a$to !ather.
That 4enelope #ore a uni!orm #as an added plus. 5o one e%er broke into their
house despite its lo$ation in one o! Santa Cru-'s #orst neighborhoods. Beth mo%ed to the
ramsha$kle Ui$torian in the !lats o! Santa Cru- three days later& a!ter her maternal aunt
#ired her !our thousand dollars. She hoped she $ould get her li!e ba$k together and this
seemed like a good pla$e to do it.
) #eek later her !ather's sister& )unt argaret Shepherd& $ame !or a monthF she
li%ed in a motel& and de%oted hersel! to pure helping. (! she had any& she kept her
=udgments to hersel!. Bet#een argaret's $hild$are& homemade bread& $akes& and pies&
the household happiness quotient rose. Beth's aunt #as a =e#el to the entire household
and be$ame an instant surrogate grandmother to all the babies.
Surprisingly& Stephen %isited her in Cali!ornia. "e #asn't #orking and needed a
ne# distra$tion. ) day and hal! a!ter arri%ing& bored in Santa Cru-& Stephen mo%ed in
#ith Brad in a Tenderloin #alk/up in San <ran$is$o #here they sang the blues about ho#
bit$hes only #anted a guy's sperm and his money. ore bi-arrely& Stephen politi$ked
Beth to re$on$ile #ith her se$ond husband. Brad's being hopelessly addi$ted to $oke&
bankrupt& unemployed and had threatened bodily harm to her #as o! no $on$ern to her
younger brother.
)!ter %isiting brie!ly #ith Stephen in Santa Cru- a se$ond time6#here he stayed
#ith their parents in their motel//Beth told him to stay a#ay !rom her. "er aunt $onsoled
her #ith the& 7Well& dear& !or !amily/support you'%e got other $hoi$es.7 Cike all older&
de$ent !amily members& Beth took re!uge in those #ho lo%ed her and thanked the
uni%erse that the demands o! a young $hild made banishing an idiot brother that mu$h
(t turned out Brad #asn't a psy$hopath. But ne# daddy Brad #as no longer
ambitious or dri%en6e*$ept to get high6and his health bottomed out in #hat the
hospital psy$hiatrist diagnosed him as ha%ing rapid/$y$ling Bi/4olar ?isorder aggra%ated
by substan$e abuse. To make matters #orse& Brad's mood s#ings #ere initially
intra$table to medi$ations.
Beth dealt #ith the disintegration o! her se$ond marriage by =uggling single/
motherhood and a #aitress =ob at the Cro#'s 5est& a popular harbor/side restaurant #here
she made de$ent money. She began trying to di%or$e Brad& #ho& on that topi$& be$ame as
unresponsi%e as his medi$ations. "e ignored all her letters and phone $alls. She got a
lo#/$ost attorney to help//but nothing got done due to Brad's re!usal to parti$ipate and
his mer$urial emotional health.
Ci%ing in a house !ull o! other young mothers pro%ided on/site& around/the/ $lo$k
$hild$are& and the #omen a$$ommodated ea$h other's #ork shi!ts. "ardly anyone dated&
nor #anted to. They all had their Brad stories.
Bet#een $ountless battles !or more #aitress shi!ts& the in$essant $ares o! young
$hildren running around the house and #orking hard at short !i$tion& Beth !elt se$ure in
the daily routine o! li%ing !rugally among other #omen. They all simply #anted the best
!or their $hildren. )nd !or the !irst time in her li!e& Beth !elt relie%ed to ha%e -ero interest
in men or se*.
Beth had $onsiderable su$$ess impro%ing her $ra!t as a #riter and got published in
hal! a do-en literary anthologies. (! there #as any payment at all it #as nominalF but she
gre# in $on!iden$e. 4enelope $ame home !rom the Santa Cru- 4oli$e Station a!ter #ork&
and Beth #ould qui- her about her day. These $on%ersations pro%ided the material !or her
nas$ent !antasy o! #riting $rime !i$tion& #hi$h gre# into the hope she $ould someday
o#n a home. onths later& at her sorority's prompting& she tried again through the lo$al
?istri$t )ttorney's o!!i$e to get $hild support !rom Brad.
(n her !irst years o! li%ing in Santa Cru-& Beth #rote to the point o! sleep
depri%ation and earned a !ile dra#er !ull o! re=e$tions. She re/polished her old literary
no%el that she'd #orked on #hile li%ing in C.). Bnlike her $ollege pro!essor& that no
agent personally insulted her& she %ie#ed as a sign o! progress in mastering $ra!t. (n the
meantime& her interminable di%or$e battle dragged on& made all the more grueling
be$ause o! Brad's emotional instability.
H$tober 1E& 19G9& the Coma 4rieta ,arthquake shook and shattered the Bay )rea.
Beth lost a good !riend on the Cypress )%enue H%erpass& her li!e squashed out !or no
reason other than she #as dri%ing home !rom #ork at the #rong time. Tens o! thousands
o! li%es $hanged in those 1> se$onds. Brad did #hat a lot o! people did2 he mo%ed.
)pparently the t#in sho$ks o! a ma=or earthquake and !eeling the long arm o! la# about
to $lut$h his ne$k and squee-e him !or $hild support #ere su!!i$ient moti%ators !or him to
pa$k up and disappear. 9umor had it he mo%ed to endo$ino& 5orthern Cali!ornia's last
stand !or dead/beat !athers. )t that point& Beth ga%e up at getting $hild support.
Cooking ba$k& Beth !elt i! Brad had simply remained out o! the #ay she #ouldn't
still be $arrying this %enom. But the bastard sho#ed up !i%e years later in 199;& a!ter the
su$$ess o! her !irst Aatie Shields no%el. Beth had re$ei%ed a letter !rom one 0ebediah
H!!eman& 0.?.& #ith o!!i$es in Bkiah and Willets& endo$ino County.
When Beth !irst glan$ed at the letterhead and the address her !irst thought #as2
sure& 0ebediah. "o# Hld West $ould you get+ But be!ore that& she thought& his !irst name
had probably been ?aryl or "eath$li!!. 9egardless& 0.H.& as she instantly $hristened him
!or all her !uture legal #rangling& had been retained by Brad to get spousal support out o!
Spousal supportD <or Brad+ )bout to tear the letter up& she !or$ed hersel! to read
the ne*t paragraph. )!ter gutting through the legalese& Beth sa# the game. 4oor Brad
must not ha%e been making it on his psy$hiatri$ disability pay.
Brad #ould gi%e her #hat she #anted& a !inali-ed di%or$e& !or a !ee. The pri$e+
She'd pay spousal support until 0ay rea$hed eighteen. What had happened+ ?id Brad& or
0.H.& or one o! his drinking buddies at the saloon see a re%ie# o! her book in a
ne#spaper+ "er !irst Bay )rea re%ie# mentioned Beth had signed a $ontra$t and re$ei%ed
an ad%an$e !or the Aatie Shields Series. She paid her !irst tangible $ost asso$iated #ith
her #riting su$$ess.
What brass& she thought. ?emanding she pay Brad spousal support. True& they had
ne%er di%or$ed6but only due to his re$al$itran$e and hiding in the @reat 5orth Woods.
But Beth #anted !inality and no# she $ould ha%e it//!or a bounty.
0.H.'s ma$hinations in $ourt o!ten had the arin <amily Court's magistrate
s$rat$hing her head. (! #hat Beth heard in $ourt #as logi$& it #as o! a sort only those
trained in the la# $ould $omprehend6!or& surely& she $ouldn't. Brad and 0.H. made quite
a pair2 t#o !irst/$lass di$ks. They stret$hed out the pro$eedings as mu$h as possible. She
$onsidered the marriage as ha%ing e*isted !or one year& t#o months& si*teen days and
t#enty/three hours. 9unning !or your li!e #hile holding a baby& Beth had testi!ied on the
stand& $on!erred in$redible po#ers o! pre$ision in matters o! re$olle$tion. But in the end
she agreed to pay !or her !reedom.
The galling/time& Beth had labeled those years o! paying support to her e*/
husband. Brad got J1G00Kmonth. @i%en the bre%ity o! the marriage& the =udge ordered her
to pay him !or the ne*t !i%e years and not tie her up until their son hit 1G. Beth $al$ulated
in her head& t#el%e time eighteen hundred times !i%e #as something o%er a hundred
grand. ,%en that #as outrageous& she thought. She brie!ly $onsidered going to some
redne$k bar in 5orthern Cali!ornia and !ind someone #ho spe$iali-ed in !ishing
a$$idents. "o# mu$h #ould that $ost+ She dismissed that !antasy #hen she sa# little 0ay
smiling up at her& sti$king his tongue out to get her attention.
But she had her di%or$e and a $learer& lighter mind. By no# Beth's #riting $areer
mo%ed along $om!ortably//though the support payments kept her li!estyle a not$h or t#o
abo%e sur%i%al.
H%er the multiple $ourt appearan$es Beth hadn't !ailed to noti$e that Brad al#ays
pulled up in a shiny& sho#room $lean& pi$k/up tru$k. 4ersonally& he'd kept some o! the
Xlan he'd pi$ked up during his San <ran$is$o de%eloper days and made his $ourt
appearan$es adorned in pressed !lannel shirts under a $orduroy sports =a$kets and $hinosF
and his bordering/on/the/garish $o#boy boots #ere al#ays polished to a high gloss. "e
al#ays $ould $ut a dashing !igure. Through a !riend o! a !riend #ho had !amily in
endo$ino County& Beth learned that Brad had #orked his #ay up the pot/gro#ing !ood
$hain and had been li%ing !or the past t#o years #ith one )urora ?eUarga& a pseudonym
!or a Susanne ?ela$roi*& reputed to be the $ounty's most su$$ess!ul mari=uana di%a. @uys
like Brad al#ays ended up li%ing #ell.
)ll this reminis$ing//or #as it better des$ribed as $hoking on ran$id bile//had
a$$omplished one good thing. Beth #as already in San @regorio& hal!#ay home to Santa
Considering $alling 0ay on her $ell phone& Beth thought the better o! it. "er son
didn't need to be burdened #ith the bla$kest $hapters o! her li!e60ay had nothing to do
#ith his !ather's being a useless son/o!/a/bit$h besides being one o! his %i$tims.
But a!ter spending the a!ternoon #ith 0ay in @olden @ate 4ark& on her =ourney
ba$k to Santa Cru-& Beth approa$hed ?e%il's Slide& that part o! "igh#ay 1 bet#een
4a$i!i$a and "al! oon Bay that periodi$ally !ell into the 4a$i!i$ H$ean. So pre$ipitously
per$hed on the side o! the 5orth )meri$an $ontinent& sane dri%ers !rom around the #orld
predi$tably questioned a!ter their !irst pass o! this death/de!ying stret$h o! high#ay&7 (s
this a =oke+ Build a roadD "ere+7 Cike thousands o! other 5orthern Cali!ornia residents&
Beth $ouldn't #ait !or the bypass tunnel to be $ompleted.
Still& Beth lo%ed this stret$h o! road. ,*$ept !or those su!!ering !rom %ertigo& #ho
#ouldn't+ Winds#ept %istas o! the open 4a$i!i$ H$ean ran !or mile upon mile along
Cali!ornia "igh#ay 1. ?epending on the time o! year she $ould see migrating gray
#hales& dolphins& peli$ans and eaglesF and& i! she #ent inland and hiked the $haparral& an
obser%ant hiker like her $ould pi$k out bob$ats and $oyotes.
Beth usually turned do#n 0ulie's o!!ers to ride bi$y$les this !ar north& but ne%er an
in%itation to dri%e up here !rom Santa Cru- and run or hike these trails. She $ould
tra%erse ridges that #ent !rom s$rub oak to red#ood thi$kets& dash by riparian #illo#
stands& run abo%e the !og& burn under the sun& and des$end ba$k to the $oast and be
bu!!eted by sea gusts and salt spray along deserted bea$hes. (n any dis$ussion o!
topographi$ and !lora and !auna %ariety . . . this $ountry had to be in the $on%ersation.
She stopped !or gas and put on her hooded $otton pullo%er. The #ind pi$ked up
and the temperatures headed !or the lo# >0's. ) third o! the #ay through her 11 oun$e
$o!!ee $up& she remembered one good thing about Brad. ?uring that period o! paying him
spousal support he ne%er demanded anything more o! her. H%er the years her
e*planations to her son about #hat $onstituted disability took on greater sophisti$ation.
7.ou're daddy $an't #ork&7 to& 7Some people ha%e so mu$h stress they hold a =ob&7 and&
by high s$hool& they had e%ol%ed into& 7.ou might #ant to read Sur%i%ing Bi/4olar
)t nine years old 0ay #rote the !irst o! his many letters to his !ather& but Brad
rarely replied& and i! he did& it #as by #ay o! $ard #ith a !e# lines o! #ishing his son
#ell and promptings to listen to his mother. By age t#el%e& 0ay stopped trying.
Brad's abdi$ation o! his paternal responsibilities& physi$ally& !inan$ially& and
spiritually hadn't made Beth's li!e any easier. 9aising $hildren #as hard enough to
dismiss the pop #isdom that anything that didn't kill you made you stronger. S$re# that&
she though. )s a single parent you =ust hang on& take e%ery $rumb o! pro!!ered assistan$e
and relinquish any notion o! keeping your house $lean.
The #ind ble# her hood o!! her head& so she -ipped up her pullo%er and let the
bree-e roar in her ears. Suddenly $old& Beth pulled her hood ba$k up o%er her head& tied
the dra#strings& turned her ba$k to the #ind& and headed inland.
The $o!!ee had turned tasteless and she spat out the last mouth!ul and dumped the
remainder on the ground. @od& #hat a nightmare Brad had turned out to be& she thought&
#at$hing her $o!!ee stain the hard $lay soil. She returned to her $ar and pulled onto the
high#ay. (! she boogied& she $ould get home in thirty minutes& $all 0ay& and take a hot
Beth arri%ed home to a protesting 4ru!ro$k& !ed him& hung up her keys and noti$ed
the message light blinking on her phone. Waiting !or the !irst message to play& she
smelled urine. @lan$ing at 4ru!ro$k& he looked guilty and s$urried under the $ou$h.
7.ou'll spend the night outside !or that stunt.7
<rom the %oi$e mail& 0ay's %oi$e said2 om& ( #ent out early. ?on't bother $alling
tonight. ('ll be out late. Sorry i! ( sent you o!! on a bad note mentioning dad. ('ll $all you
later in the #eek.
Beth erased the message and #ondered had she dodged an a#k#ard bullet+ Hr&
had she =ust slipped another rung in her son's emotional hierar$hy+
Chapter 1
Beth re!o$used her eyes and peered into the 5eary Cagoon #ater. The koi+ Uanished.
Sti!!ness in the small o! her ba$k prompted her to stand straightF ne# #alkers $on%erged
on her !rom t#o dire$tions//her #etland san$tuary shattered.
She didn't #ant to run into 0assy& so Beth took a longer route ba$k to her $ar&
headed home and listened t#i$e to The )llman Brothers' 7(n emory o! ,li-abeth 9eed.7
That eight/minute dri%ing tune al#ays #orked #onders to blo# the noise out her head&
espe$ially #hen listened to at ear/splitting de$ibels.
Beth pulled into her unpa%ed dri%e#ay& noti$ed a skunk skittering a#ay& and had
to !ight the impulse to run it do#n. The per!e$t bastard2 e%en i! you su$$eed in killing it
its mashed s$ent glands emitted a ran$id s$ent and he got the last laugh.
"er house #as $old. Wanting to #ork& she kept her =a$ket on and #ent right to the
$omputer. 5early booted up& Beth said& 7S$re# you& Aatie. 5o more lying do#n. Cet's get
to #ork.7
4ru!ro$k =umped on her lap& and she brushed him aside in a #ay that e%en a !eline
understood. Why not& she thought& go ba$k to an earlier s$ene in her no%el2 maybe she
$ould redis$o%er the true prose trail.
Beth #ent !urther ba$k in her book and remembered #hy she lo%ed #riting $rime
Aatie entered the %estibule o! a slummy apartment building on 11
a%enue and
St. She rang the bell to apartment I;12. 5o ans#er.
She rang again. (t #as se%en o'$lo$k and already dark. What in hell #as she doing
ringing doorbells by hersel! #ith no ba$kup+ But in her $areer& Aatie had ne%er been as
mu$h as sho%ed.
Aatie kne# this #as more than stupid. (t #as re$kless. She had hunted rapists and
murderers be!ore this. But a murderous rapist #as ne# prey& and she reminded hersel! she
should be more $autious. ) disturbing option $rept into her mind. To be murdered or
raped+ (! it had to be& she de$ided she'd take the !ormer.
)!ter taking a deep breath& she reassured hersel! #ith2 ('m an old pro& kno# #hat
('m doing& and ('m lu$ky. )ll it took #as one $len$hed hand on her shoulder and her
bra%ado %apori-ed.
7.ou're ringing my apartment. ?o ( kno# you+7 "e %iolently spun Aatie around.
The baritone mena$ed its #ay through her eardrums and spread like an ar$ti$
hand around her heart. 7('m dete$ti%e Shields&7 she managed. The !a$e leering abo%e her
#as s#arthy and stubbled.
What this unidenti!ied man did ne*t shot Aatie's adrenaline to the stratosphere. "e
positioned himsel! so there #as no #ay she $ould es$ape. "e had to go 2;0 pounds on a
1'>7 !rame& and none o! his bulk looked !labby.
Aatie thought do beetles about to be stepped on !eel like this be!ore they be$ome
$ement stains+
7('m ?ete$ti%e Shields. 5.4?D Step ba$k.7 "is response to her $ommand only
added to her terror.
"ulk's ans#er #as to look around behind him at the street6as i! he hadn't a $are
in the #orld//and seeing #hat Aatie sa#. 5o one in sight. The $losest streetlight
!li$kered//more o!! than on. Aatie sensed a sudden need !or toilet paper.
)pparently& imminent death did a!!e$t one's bo#els. Aatie rea$hed !or her 9mm
Aimber. But be!ore it made its #ay out o! her holster& "ulk torqued her #rist and
snat$hed the gun.
(n a deep& sibilant %oi$e asked2 7"o#'d you !ind me+7
Aatie kne# she should s$ream her bloody head o!!. But the likelihood o! her %o$al
$ords #orking no# #as as likely as this guy $alling her ba$k up.
"oping to s$oot around him& Aatie do%e into the small spa$e bet#een her atta$ker
and the #all//desperate to rea$h the door. <or that !orlorn hope& he pi$ked her up and
slammed her against the interior door6and she learned that teeth really $ould rattle.
ira$ulously& she !elt $apable o! spee$h. Hpening her mouth& about to s$ream& a
hand the si-e o! a $at$her's mitt $len$hed her throat. She $ould hear her o#n gurgling&
qui$kly shi!ting into the pani$ that $omes #ith -ero breath.
7"o#'d you !ind me+7 "e demanded& easing up on her throat. To sho# he meant
business& he banged her head against the #all.
Aatie #anted to $ome ba$k #ith a snappy& 7We ha%e mutual !riends on
<a$ebook&: but no#& gasping to breathe& she bent to#ards his $hest as i! seeking $om!ort
and got #hat she hoped !or.
) split se$ond to knee this guy in the $rot$h.
"e yelled& but ne%er took his hands o!! her. But his grip loosened. She elbo#ed
him in the nose. T#o things $on!irmed her aim2 a splash o! blood and a loud& 7.ou bit$hD7
"e spun her around like a rag doll.
(! be!ore she'd learned about teeth rattling& she ne*t !elt the side o! her !a$e
turning to ra# pulp against the tiled #all. She spat out blood and at least one tooth.
5o# behind her& he pressed her up against the #all and pla$ed his le!t arm around
her throat& immobili-ing her head. With his !ree hand he pinned her right hand against the
She kne# he meant to kill her. "er le!t hand #as !ree. She rea$hed ba$k and tried
to poke his eyes out& in!uriating him more. "er best hope& Aatie !igured& #as that he
#anted her ali%e& ho#e%er brie!ly& to !or$e in!ormation out o! her.
She sa# a !ire e*tinguisher to her le!t. @od or the de%il had to be on her side. (!
she sur%i%ed . . . she'd !igure out to #hom she o#ed homage.
(n more o! a gro#l than a %oi$e& he asked again. 7"o#'d you !ind me+7
The e*tinguisher #as a small one. (ts retaining $lamp #asn't se$ured. Aatie
imagined the thing #as empty and hadn't been ser%i$ed in years. 5o matter.
She grasped the metal $ylinder and managed a good ar$ o%er her shoulder. The
ta$tile !eedba$k #as solid. "e !ell o%er. Hut $old+ ?a-ed+ ?ead+
Should she run+ <igure that out later.
"is eyes opened. "er Aimber #as an arms length a#ay on the !loor. "e !umbled
!or it. She ki$ked him in the !a$e. She re/li!ted the e*tinguisher and s#ung it straight to
his !a$e.
"is !a$ial bones shattered& !ollo#ed by a puddle o! blood. She'd ne%er been
happier to see gore. "e $ertainly #ouldn't be getting up no#.
She grasped the e*tinguisher #ith both hands& and in a blood !ury& mauled his
head into !ragments. Bleeding !rom se%eral pla$es& she stumbled out to side#alk and
<our minutes later the pla$e s#armed #ith t#o ambulan$es& a SW)T team and at
least 20 uni!ormed o!!i$ers. ) hundred $i%ilians ga#ked about.
With a paramedi$ applying a trauma bandage to her !a$e and her boss qui--ing
her. Aatie didn't hear a thing.
The only #ords Aatie did hear abo%e the din #as some hysteri$al young man
saying something about ho# the #oman killed the guy in the door#ayD "e'd seen it& and
s$reamed& 7The guy #as do#n #hen she bashed his head in.7
)ll she $ould think #as . . . good. .ou're ne*t.
Beth liked the s$ene. She stood up and looked at an indi!!erent 4ru!ro$k& so
$omposed on his s$rat$h pad by the sink. She pointed at him. 7?amn right ( $an do this.7
She sat ba$k do#n and !elt suddenly e*hausted. She $losed the no%el !iles and
opened 4assages& reading2
7(t is not so mu$h a question o! $hoosing the right as the energy& the earnestness&
the pathos #ith #hi$h one $hooses. Thereby the personality announ$es its inner in!inity&
and thereby& in turn& the personality is $onsolidated.7 // Soren Aierkegaard
Soren $ould al#ays be relied upon !or something mind/numbingly hea%y. She
mused2 7announ$es its inner in!inity . . . 7
(s that #hat she'd lost+ )nd #hat the hell #as that+ "er inner in!inity+ aybe her
barn dream $ould help #ith that one. <or no# she #ould sa%or ha%ing #ritten something
she a$tually liked e%en i! it #as in the past. Beth #ent to the bedroom& took o!! her
$lothes and $hanged into gray& hea%y $otton s#eats& the ones she'd le!t spread o%er the
#i$ker hamper this morning.
5o# dressed& she noti$ed her pi$ture o! 0ay on her bureau& age 1& in his 4eter 4an
$ostume. <orest/green !roli$. She remembered the =oy o! that day6it #asn't anyone's
birthday or "allo#een or some e*$use !or a $ostume party. "e =ust #anted to #ear his
4an out!it. Someho# that made the day all that mu$h s#eeter.
She sat do#n on the bed and thought2 When had the lie #ith her son be$ome
$odi!ied2 mom pretending she didn't despise the !ather+ <rom young $hildhood& she
reali-ed that as 0ay got older all e!!orts to shield him !rom ho# she really !elt about the
dad #ere !utile. <or Christ's sake& a parent $an't hide anything !rom their $hild.
What an insane spe$ies #e are& Beth thought& lying do#n on the bedspread. What
are the outer limits to ho# long members o! a !amily $an ignore the sten$h o! a rotting
body #a!ting up !rom behind the $ou$h+ Wishing it other#ise& she kne# the ans#er2 till
death does us part.
Too tired to #rite but too #ired to read& Beth thought2 bath. (t #ould take a !e#
minutes to !ill the deep tub. She got up and started the #ater& took o!! her $lothes& and
#rapped hersel! in a $otton bathrobe. 9eali-ing she hadn't $he$ked her ans#ering
ma$hine she returned to the kit$hen and sa# the green !lashing C,?. She hesitated&
sensing someho# it #ould be better to #ait until morning to listen to these messages.
Who #as she kidding+
Beth en%ied men's ability to $ompartmentali-e& to put things o!!. 9eleasing the
!antasy that she $ouldn't hold o!!& she e*haled and pushed the button.
7essage one&7 %oi$e mail announ$ed& in the tones o! a bored& se*less robot2
<ollo#ed by 0ohn's %oi$e2 7Beth& hey& it's 0ohn. Sorry& "eather and ( $an't get a#ay this
year to meet you in Tahoe. Too mu$h going on. ('ll $all you this #eekend. )nd keep up
the good #ork and !inish your book.7
0ust like 0ohn& Beth thought& deli%er the bad ne#s and pun$tuate it #ith a topi$/
$hanging bit o! rah/rah. Cike that !orga%e him. She hit erase and then the message button.
7essage t#o&7 %oi$e mail $ontinued& 7s Shepherd& this is 0assy orneau at the
Washington St. Shelter. 4lease $all me ne*t onday be!ore 10200 a.m. We ha%e some
things #e need to dis$uss.7
Beth hit the erase button. 7Call yoursel!& bit$h.7
7essage three . . . Beth& this is 4enelope. Things ha%e gotten . . . $ompli$ated
here in 5e# .ork. ( $an't e*plain. Call me this #eekend.7 Beth thought& must be man
7essage !our . . . Beth& This is )aron 0ennings. 0ulie Sa#yer ga%e me your name
and phone number. She promised me she'd tell you to e*pe$t my $all so you #ouldn't
think ( #as some $reep. ( hope she did. )ny#ay& be!ore ( make a $omplete !ool o! mysel!&
i! you #ant& $all me at 3>9 0022 . . . i! you're up to meeting someone !or $o!!ee.7
Beth replayed message !our times. "e didn't sound like a $reep. She summari-ed2
lo# tenor %oi$e& middle aged and she liked ho# he'd said he didn't #ant to yammer on.
H! $ourse 0ulie telling this guy she'd gi%e Beth a head's up about his $alling had the
likelihood o! the 4a$i!i$ H$ean drying up in the ne*t three days. What the hell+ This
might be amusing. She hadn't had a date in o%er a year and masturbating had be$ome so
unsatis!ying she rarely bothered.
She =otted do#n )aron's phone number. (n the hall#ay& she pushed the Zplay'
button on the portable. 7essage > . . . om& this is 0ay. ( kno# this #ill disappoint you&
but ( $an't spend Thanksgi%ing #ith you. Things ha%e $hanged. ('ll $all you later. H.A.+
What #as going on #ith 0ay+ (t #asn't like him to $hange plans on ma=or
holidays. "e ne%er had.
Beth bruised her shoulder on the door =am bet#een the hall#ay and bathroom.
She let the robe slide to the !loor& rubbed the bruise and e*amined hersel! in the mirror.
7ShitD7 She sa# a red #elt on her shoulder. @reat& she thought. This #ill make a great
impression i! ( end up sleeping #ith this )aron guy.
Shaking her head at the presumptuousness o! that thought& Beth slid into the tub&
held her breath& $losed her eyes and immersed her head under #ater. Christ& she thought&
am ( this damn desperate+ Well let's tally up the s$ore2 t#o re=e$tionsF an un#anted
in%itation to parti$ipate in 0assy's idio$yF an o!!/putting message about staying #ith her
oldest !riend in 5e# .orkF and a !eeler !or a $o!!ee date. Well& there's a day's #orth o!
e%ents. ,ntirely out o! breath& she slid up the ba$k o! the tub and inhaled gulps o! steamy
While studying her toes at the !ar end o! the tub& she de$ided she'd $all this )aron
guy. She liked his %oi$e and his name.
@oing obsessi%e #as one #ay to prote$t her !rom 0ay's message. What do you
mean& she asked& #eeks be!ore Thanksgi%ing telling me you're not $oming+ .ou
ungrate!ul . . . no& no& she didn't #ant to go there.
@etting pissed at 0ay #asn't going to $hange anything. 5or #as telling him she
#as hurt and disappointed about this last minute $hange in plans. "er idea o! ha%ing
Thanksgi%ing dinner in a Santa Cru- restaurant simply didn't meet her standard o!
gra%itas !or a ma=or holiday& but she #ouldn't lose sleep o%er it either. But she kne#
Thanksgi%ing meant a lot more to 0ay than it did to her. "e al#ays had been more
sentimental about holidays than she #as& making his $an$ellation do#nright mysterious.
ore than on$e in her adult li!e& Beth had silently $ursed any number o! bit$hy
#omen #ho'd $rossed her #ith2 may you gi%e birth to a highly sensiti%e son.
Contemplating 0ay's holiday bo# out& Beth reali-ed o%er the past year she and her
son had ine*pli$ably and #ithout intention bored into ne# depths o! the By-antine
single/motherKson relationship.
She !elt uneasy about this and at the same time sensed it #as ine%itable. Aarmi$
e%en. Christ& she thought& ha%e ( been in Cali!ornia this long+ ( need to get ba$k to
4enelope and get ba$k ,ast !or a #eek.
Beth thought& time #ith a real 5.4? dete$ti%e #as good on many !ronts2 hanging
#ith an old !riend& $ultural immersion in the $ity's museums& theaters& restaurants and art
openings. 4enelope's poli$e gossip al#ays helped her Aatie no%els. )nd in a #ay no other
pla$e e%er $ould& 5e# .ork al#ays le!t her !eeling both energi-ed and grounded.
But 4enelope's last message #as stando!!ish. Beth glan$ed at the $lo$k o%er her
sink. Too late to $all her no#& she thought. Tomorro#+ (n the last $ouple o! years Beth
$ould only rea$h her !riend in the morning.
(n addition& Beth re$alled& arty and her publisher #ere breathing do#n her ne$k
to $ome east. This !all #as shot as !ar as spending time #ith !amily. Son $an$els turkey
day& and big brother begs o!! the annual Tahoe trip. 0assy $ame to mind. Beth thought&
lea%e 0assy a %oi$e mail message that she #ould be out o! state !or an e*tended period
and didn't kno# #hen she'd be ba$k//in a %oi$e tone #ith =ust the right blend o! disdain
and $ontempt. 8So sorry to disappoint you& 0assy& but ( ha%e to meet #ith my publisher in
5e# .ork& and ('%e no idea #hen ('ll be ba$k.:
Beth poured t#o tablespoons o! #hite/tru!!le shampoo into her le!t hand& smelled
it and instantly !elt her mus$les rela* as she lathered up her hair. She stret$hed out her
legs and noti$ed !or the !irst time that her !eet looked older. 5ot #rinkled or any more
$allused !rom all her running& =ust older. Beth re!o$used on the #ater temperature& still
bla-ingly hot. She dismissed her !irst impression& telling hersel!& it's =ust the hot #ater
altering her skin tone.
She thought #ho am ( to in%oke !amily %alues #hen !eeling alienated and
!rustrated #ith her son and brother+ She'd been the one #ho #alked out o! both o! her
marriages. Well& #alked out o! one and ran !rom the other. She #ondered2 #as it
$ompulsory as siblings got older they had to dri!t apart+ She pulled the plug on the drain&
stood and sho#ered o!! the shampoo.
)!ter to#eling o!! and drying her hair Beth put on $lean pa=amas& poured hersel! a
shot glass o! merlot& tossed it do#n and #ent to bed& hoping to $ould get some de$ent
Chapter E
Beth lo%ed #aking up in the onterey Bay )rea $limate& #arm under her goose/do#n
du%et& !eeling toasty. <og/$ooled air #a!ted through the #ide/open #indo#s. (t #as ne%er
so $old at night that she $ompletely shut the #indo#s.
She kept her eyes $losed. Though she didn't like this about hersel! and kne# it
petty2 more than one man #ho'd shared her bed had trouble #ith this pre!eren$e&
$omplaining about sleeping in a !rigid bedroom6though she $ouldn't re$all anyone
#ho'd e%er de$lined an in%itation to share it. But on list o! ideal partners& a pre!eren$e !or
$hilly bedrooms ranked high//body #armth besto#ing so mu$h more su$$or than $entral
Seeking dream !ragments& Beth !ound none. aybe this #ould be a better day she
thought& re$alling she had at least #ritten something yesterday. She opened her eyes& sat
up and s#ung her legs o%er the side o! the bed. 5o night %isitations to propel her no%el
!or#ard& but #hat a relie! not to #restle #ith sleep/demons $alling her a !raud. She
dressed in pressed =eans and a lamb's #ool turtlene$k and strode into the kit$hen. She
!lipped her kettle on& sat and dialed 5e# .ork.
(t #as ten o'$lo$k in the ,ast& and she got 4enelope's %oi$e mail. )!ter the
message played& #hi$h $onsisted o! one #ord2 4enelope's& Beth said& 7( got your $all&
!riend. ,%eryone's abandoning me here. 0ust let me kno# #hen's a good time !or me to
,yeing a hungry $at she said& 8Time !or me to get my butt to #ork.:
4ru under!oot& she poured kibbles into his bo#l and ser%ed !resh #ater !or "is 9oyal
"ighness. Tea made& ele$tri$ spa$e heater turned on ne*t to her #riting desk& Beth booted
up her Aatie no%el and re/read !rom the beating s$ene.
)t the $rime s$ene& Aatie had passed out. She didn't a#ake until the ne*t morning&
still in (CB& surrounded by beeping robots and a nurse telling her #here she #as. Be!ore
Aatie $ould respond to the nurse's question i! she #anted to kno# the e*tent o! her
in=uries& eager 95 !ired a#ay2
7.our =a# is broken in t#o pla$es. .our right #rist is broken along #ith three
ribs. The side o! your !a$e has a !ra$tured $heekbone and you'll ha%e a ma=or league
shiner !or a #hile. .our le!t lung $ollapsed& but qui$kly re$o%ered and #e'%e already
remo%ed your $hest tube. .ou're breathing on your o#n. )l#ays a good thing. ( ha%e to
$all your super%isor. "e said he #anted to talk to you as soon as you #oke up.
5o o!!ers !or #ater& no ho#/are/you/!eeling& nothing about& are you #arm
enough& too hot& hungry+ 5ope. Hn$e a $op& the !irst thing is al#ays2 #e'%e got to get
your superior. ,%ery#here Aatie looked& limited to ho# !ar she $ould mo%e her eyes6to
mo%e her head #as e*$ru$iatingly pain!ul6there #ere no mirrors. Thank god !or that&
she thought. She !elt short o! breath and tried to take a deep breath.
That didn't last longF three broken ribs s$reamed in a siren o! agony.
T#enty minutes later& "ead ?ete$ti%e 9oga$ae%i$- stood at her bedside. 7?on't
#orry& Aatie. ,%en #ith your =a# #ired shut and a hell o! a bla$k eye& you're still the best
looking member o! the department.7
Aatie had ne%er liked 9oga$e%i$-& the $lassi$ dirty old man doing a lousy =ob
masking it. ,%ery #oman on the sta!! kne# he #anted to get into their pants. <ortunately&
#ith so$iety's shi!ting progress sin$e the 19G0's& he'd $leaned up the most egregious signs
o! his problem2 he no longer made $rude se* =okes out loud& but he $ouldn't keep his eyes
!rom head/to/toe e*aminations #ith his sly eye. Aatie had heard all the stories !rom the
old timers #hen ass grabbing #as all in day's #ork.
9oga$e%i$- $ontinued& 7We'%e got problems& Aatie. Three $iti-ens ha%e reported
that they sa# you bash that son o! bit$h's head in a!ter he #as do#n on the ground. Said
he #asn't mo%ing. ?oesn't look good.7
Well& #hat a $heer!ul& $on$erned %isit !rom the department& Aatie thought. (ts
priorities al#ays in the right pla$e. C.) #as al#ays the !irst thing on their minds. She
#at$hed 9oga$e%i$- look around and lean $loser to her ear. "e put his hand on the edge
o! her bed and Aatie !elt a $reepy $hill run do#n her leg& but mer$i!ully he had the good
sense to not a$tually tou$h her.
"e said& 75o#& ('m glad you killed the !u$ker& Shields. Bad hombre there& and you
sa%ed the state megabu$ks and the trouble o! in$ar$erating& trying and e*e$uting him.7
"e stood ere$t and looked around& making sure no one #as $lose enough to hear
his %oi$e. Ceaning o%er again& he said& 7H! $ourse& none o! those bystanders sa# #hat
you sa# in the %estibule& and they sure as hell didn't see his hand rea$hing !or the gun.
The one you told us about be!ore you passed out at the s$ene.7
"e must ha%e seen the question on her !a$e.
7?on't $hange a #ord o! your story. "e patted his gun but didn't a$tually pull it
!rom its holster. @ood girl. .ou de!ended yoursel! #ith #hate%er #as a%ailable.:
<rom his e*pression& Aatie dedu$ed he #as gushing #ith satis!a$tion
at ha%ing $losed ranks #ith his !ello# o!!i$er. She $ould appre$iate the sentiment but
still #ondered& shouldn't he at least get her $ons$ious a$$ount about #hat happened
be!ore he's gi%ing her ad%i$e+
8Cook& Aatie&: 9oga$e%i$- said& 8( kno# this su$ks& but (nternal )!!airs is $oming
to drill you. They ha%e to in%estigate. ( $ashed in some !a%ors to let me see you be!ore
those !u$kers got a shot a you.7
Bnable to talk and her hand in=uries $ertainly #ouldn't allo# her to #rite anything&
Aatie #orried ho# mu$h it #ould hurt shaking her head yes and no !or t#o hours. ()
inter%ie#s #ere ne%er less than that. )!!airs guys had the broadest asses in the
department2 there seemed to be no limit as to ho# long they $ould sit and =a# things o%er.
With that thought a bolt o! pain ran along the length o! her =a# bone.
"er boss $he$ked his #at$h and nodded. 7Aatie& $all me !or anything. 9eally&
Wat$hing her super%isor making goo/goo eyes at the pretty young (CB nurses as
he #addled out& she thought& right boss2 a!ter losing my taste !or broth and 0ell/H ('ll $all
you and #e $an go out !or haute $uisine.
Beth sat ba$k and re!le$ted. )ll she'd done #as $lean up a !e# nits in her prose
and re/#ork a !e# senten$es& but e%en that !elt good. She'd ha%e to do more resear$h
about broken =a#s. Were they al#ays #ired shut+ )nd the medi$al terms+ Were they
really suitable !or (nternal )!!airs+ ,%ery department had its o#n argot& and sin$e she'd
ne%er used () be!ore she'd best learn them to authenti$ate this part o! her story.
Hpening up her email& Beth !ired o!! those questions to 4enelope& saying she
didn't need to respond until they #ere ha%ing lun$h in a trendy Chelsea restaurant.
@oing ba$k to Aatie& Beth re/read the last lines . . . losing her taste !or 0ell/H and
broth. The !ood asso$iation hit her. Beth #as !amished. She sear$hed her memory !or the
last time she'd eaten and $ouldn't remember. <ortunately she had some !resh @ranny
Smith apples& $hopped one up& and mi*ed it #ith #alnuts and lo#/!at plain yogurt. When
she'd !inished eating& she made another $up o! tea #hile she $leaned up the kni!e& $utting
board and bo#l.
She kept her kni%es e*tremely sharp& and #hile running the kni!e through a sudsy
sponge sli$ed the tip o! her le!t !ore!inger. (t didn't hurt at all& it happened so !ast& but it
bled pro!usely. @rabbing a $lean #ash$loth she started applying pressure to help the
$lotting. <i%e minutes later& a!ter !lushing it #ith hydrogen pero*ide and taping t#o
layers o! gau-e o%er it& she se$ured it #ith bandage tape and no# had an inde* !inger
that& at its tip& that measured three quarters o! an in$h in diameter.
0ust as she !eared& #hen Beth #ent ba$k to her keyboard& her typing #ent hay#ire
!rom her Bunyanesque !ore!inger& and it pulsed in pain. Beth remembered #hat Aatie #as
going through& and instantly !elt better.
Still& e%en this tiny amount o! #ork on her no%el& a!ter the #eeks o! being unable
to produ$e anything& !elt good& and she #as $ertain her blo$k #as slo#ly breaking up.
Why not& she asked hersel!& go !or a run. Breathing hard and s#eating up and do#n hills
#as al#ays the best medi$ine !or a host o! ailments.
Care!ul not to use her bandaged !inger& she put on shorts and la$ed up her running
shoes. She #as ready to head out the door #hen the phone rang. Beth paused& thought
t#i$e& but de$ided to at least s$reen the message. She turned the %olume up on her
7Beth& arty S$hienman. Where the hell are you+ We'%e got to talk. 4i$k up the
phone& god damn it.7
)h& Beth thought& the raspy tenor o! an agent #ho smokes too mu$h and #ould be
lu$ky to make it to 10 years old. She'd put him o!! too long and pi$ked up the phone.
7@ood morning arty.: To pull his $hain& she de$ided to a!!e$t a Tinsel To#n %oi$e tone
and $ontinued& 8(t's di%ine to hear your %oi$e.7 She stared at her bandaged !inger and
noti$ed the pain rising.
7Cook& Beth. Cut the $rap. ( need to kno#. "a%e you !inished the book+7
75o& arty. But ( am #riting again.7 She hated the apologeti$ tone she heard in
her %oi$e.
arty $oughed& $aught his breath& $oughed again& and said& 7?one& Beth.
<inished. Complete. <inito. @alley ready. Those are the kinds o! #ords ( #ant to hear
$oming out your mouth.7
Beth giggled but reali-ed it #as o! the ner%ous kind. 7('m #riting again.7
7What's so !unny+ Santa Cru- getting to you+ Too many mushrooms+ ,$stasy+7
7?on't #orry& arty. ( ga%e those all up #eeks ago along #ith the CS?.7
7Try to be serious& Beth. "a%e you !orgotten . . .7 arty ha$ked his #ay through
the ne*t !i%e se$onds . . . 7about that !i%e/!igure ad%an$e+ The national tour+ .ou keep
blo#ing o!! this deadline that all goes up in smoke.7
4erhaps& Beth thought. "ad she had o%er/appre$iated her $apa$ity to #rite again
!rom the tiny passages she'd re$ently managed+ She hadn't !orgotten her !irst deadline
#as already past& or that there #as a small !ortune at stake and in%aluable publi$ity.
7Beth&7 arty yelled. 7)re you stoned+ ?o you hear me+ We ha%e to get your
book in !ront o! the yello# ties at Syne$do$he 4ublishing.7
7(t's =ust that your re!eren$e about things going up in smoke #as a shitty $hoi$e o!
7What the !u$k are you talking about+7
Beth shook her head. 5ot #anting to tell him ho# bad it really #as& she $ame up
#ith the e*pedient& 7( kno#& arty. ( kno#. (t's =ust that ('%e been blo$ked and no# ( $an
7Sa%e it& Beth. 4ublishers don't $ut anyone sla$k these days. .ou s$re# up #ith
them on$e& you're done. 5o ad%an$e. 5o tour. 5o deals. )nd they sure as hell don't gi%e a
$rap #hat you #rote yesterday. Then ( go brokeD:
7( thought you had tons o! money& arty. But i! you don't stop smoking you
#on't be able to en=oy it.7
arty $oughed t#i$e be!ore ans#ering. 7('m hoping to out/li%e you. But ( #ant to
pay my kids' #ay through $ollege so my #i!e doesn't ha%e to #ork at a$y's. So ( need
to . . . 7
7ake money.7 She heard him pain!ully $lear his throat.
Beth's $ut !inger began to !ire& and she kissed her bandage. 7@ood ne#s& arty.
('ll probably be in 5e# .ork soon. ( $an sho# you #hat ('%e done in Co%e in the 4re$in$t.
.ou'll be in to#n& right+7
7S$re# that& Beth. ( don't #ant to see #hat you'%e done. ,mail the #hole bookD
)nd& noD 5ot in less than a #eek. Tomorro#D Can you do that+7
75o. ( $an't. Cook& ('%e got less than 10 $hapters to !inish. ('ll $ome as soon as (
$an and get it done in the $ity.7 ?espite ha%ing e*pe$ted this !or days& arty's
e*asperation o%er the phone !elt palpable. Beth kne# i! she #ere sitting a$ross !rom him
in 5e# .ork he'd blo#ing smoke in her !a$e. She held the phone a#ay !rom her ear as he
$oughed !or the ne*t 10 se$onds. When he !inished& she asked& 7arty& ha%e you seen a
7The only do$tors ( e%er see are in !i$tion. 4re!erably leggy& under 3>& and likes
older guys #ho smoke. Cook. ('m not happy about this. <inish the damn book and get
here. SoonD7 arty slammed the phone do#n.
7Tou$hy& tou$hy&7 Beth said& deli$ately pla$ing the phone ba$k in its $radle& a light
gesture used to $ounter her agent's episodi$ harshness.
Beth had lost her desire to go !or that run and #ent ba$k to her $hair and opened
up to #here she'd le!t o!! in 4re$in$t. 9egardless o! the inter!eren$e her bandage #ould
$ause& Beth de$ided to pe$k a#ay at her book.
<inding her pla$e& the phone rang again. She s$o#led at the phone& annoyed she
hadn't turned o!! the ma$hine's ringer& and burst out& 7<u$k you& arty. .ou got your li$ks
in. 5o# bug o!!.7
)!ter her message ended& Beth heard the li%e %oi$e o! )aron 0ennings. )!ter he
identi!ied himsel!& he began& 7"ope ('m not being a pest. But 0ulie pressured me to $all
you and said #e should get together !or a $up o! $o!!ee. That you might be lea%ing to#n
soon . . . or #hate%er.7
Beth pi$ked up the phone. 7"ello. This is Beth. ('m here.7 Wo#& she reali-ed& that
#as stupid to say. H! $ourse she #as here.
7Hh& good. ('m glad ( $aught you.7
Hdd phrase& Beth thought& $aught you. 4resumptuous at best// sala$ious at #orst.
70ulie told me you might $all. ('m glad you did.: Was she& she #ondered+ With her
history #ith men+ 7( #as going to $all you #hen ( got ba$k !rom seeing my !amily in
Cake Tahoe . . . but those plans !ell through and no# ('m here.:
"e ans#ered& 8('m tra%eling soon.:
7Hh& #here to+ <or the holidays+7
84re/holiday %isit to my !olks. They li%e in Hregon.:
7y !amily le!t me high and dry !or the holidays&: Beth said. 8 ('%e got a $op
!riend in 5e# .ork ('m going to go see.7 )s soon as she said it she reali-ed she #as
being ridi$ulously !amiliar #ith a $omplete stranger.
)aron said& 7Cea%ing you high and dry. That sounds . . . sad.
Beth let the $omment hang and said nothing.
7Cooking !or#ard to your trip ,ast+7 he asked.
Seemed& she thought& he $ould think on his !eet. 7Uery mu$h so. ,arlier& you said
something about $o!!ee.7
7( hope ( #asn't being too assuming.7
Well& he had a %o$abulary beyond >
grade. 75ot at all&7 Beth said. 7)sking me
out to dinner at 112 00 4.. #ould ha%e been assuming.7
75ope.: "e said& laughing. 8('%e ne%er had that kind o! $on!iden$e.7
8Hr presumptuousness.: "e seemed se$ure enough& at least in this brie! e*$hange.
Beth said& 7('m not getting on a plane in the ne*t ten minutes. When #ee you thinking+7
7Cater today+7
74eet's+ Hn the mall.7
The $o!!ee #as too strong there !or Beth's tastes& but she appre$iated his
thought!ulness to meet in the most publi$ o! spa$es in do#nto#n Santa Cru-. 7Sure&7 she
said. 7<our H'$lo$k+7
7See you there.7
She $ould sense he #as about to hang up the phone. 7Wait&7 she said& 7#hat do
you look like+7
) pause.
7('ll be the guy #ho looks like he =ust got out o! the penitentiary.7
5ot kno#ing #hether to $an$el the date or laugh& Beth surprised hersel! and said.
7Well& #e'll see ho# #ell ( re$ogni-e the latest in big/house style. See you there.7
She $alled 0ulie immediately& but her !riend ne%er ans#ered her phone& and Beth
re!used to te*t. Beth's spoke to the ans#ering ma$hine& and said& 7So this guy& )aron&
tells me he looks like a guy =ust out o! prison. What's up #ith that+ Call me on my $ell.
('m ha%ing $o!!ee #ith him at !our o'$lo$k. TodayD So $all.7
<eeling good she had at least a $o!!ee date to look !or#ard to& Beth returned to her
desk and read the last line o! this morning's #ork. "er !ore!inger hurt like hell and
distra$ted her. She remo%ed the bandage $are!ully and !elt pleased the bleeding had
"er !ingers ho%ered o%er the keyboard but #ouldn't mo%e. She !elt a pall $ome
o%er her& let her !a$e !all into her open hands and $losed her eyes. ?amn& she thought.
This again+ The deadening. She $ouldn't #rite a #ord. She pulled ba$k !rom her hands
and sa# her $ut had opened.
74iss and %inegarD7 Beth pushed her $hair ba$k& #ent to the bathroom and #ashed
blood o!! her !a$e and hands. She applied a bandaid and hoped !or the best.
She returned to her kit$hen and s$anned her bookshel! that had her $olle$tion o!
#riting guides2 Strunk O White& ,gri& Aing& Stein& and a host o! lesser names. 7What
damn good are you&7 she s$reamed& 7i! ( $an't produ$e.7 She #at$hed 4ru s$urry !rom the
room. "e'd seen and heard this tantrum be!ore and looked bored.
Beth #ent to the sink& !illed it and dabbled $old #ater on her !a$e #ith her un$ut
hand. 7This is #hat must kill #riters&7 she said& slamming the !au$et o!!. 7This damn&
useless thinking.7
(t #asn't that she $ouldn't think2 it #as #hat she #as thinking. Certain she #as
losing 0ay to her se$ond husband& Brad& and his damn hippie #i!e. 4enelope in 5e# .ork
#as a$ting #eirdly. 0assy at the shelter #as !le*ing her punk& @eneration . mus$les& and
Beth !elt $hagrined ha%ing to admit it bothered her. )nd& i! she #as honest #ith hersel!&
no matter ho# mu$h positi%e thinking she applied& she #as losing !aith in her latest Aatie
book. What other part o! her li!e $ould !all apart+
She stripped to the bathroom and stood naked in !ront o! her bedroom mirror&
holding her running shorts in !ront o! her pel%is and spoke to her image and said& 8@reat&
a date #ith a $on. ('%e got a lot going !or me.: She stepped into running shorts and put on
a long t/shirt& la$ed up her running shoes& hit the uphill trail that led o!! her property and
$limbed #est& paralleling ,mpire @rade 9oad.
She kne# the importan$e o! stret$hing& espe$ially #hen running #hile !rustrated
and mad. But this #as one o! those o$$asions #hen $aution& added #eight on her soul&
seemed a per%erse en$umbran$e.
Beth =ogged along& rea$hed the root/in!ested stret$h and pi$ked up her pa$e. <i!ty
yards ahead& the path bent to#ards the $oast& took her out o! the trees and onto a
smoother trail//but steeply do#nhill. She needed no e!!ort to pi$k up speed and !a$ed a
$hoi$e2 shorten her stride or s#it$h ba$k and !orth on the trail to slo# hersel! do#n . . . or
let it all go& thro#ing $aution aside.
This #asn't running. (t #as steeple $hasing. Beth had run this trail hundreds o!
times& kne# e%ery ro$k& e%ery root& and e%ery dit$h that $on%erged #ithin the panoply o!
trails that $riss$rossed Wilder 9an$h. (! the illegal mountain bikers #ere here today& that
added to the risk. @oing this !ast& to be sa!e& had one requirement2 let all $aution go. <eel
gra%ity pull you sea#ard& let your instin$ts make e%ery !oot pla$ement. Aeep your hips
and shoulders loose. Cet it rip.
Beth had seen numerous bikers and runners eat it on the ne*t stret$h o! trail. The
path made a sudden upli!t that required !our strides to rea$h its ape*2 then it dropped& a
mini pre$ipi$e& demanding a leap that had to be timed per!e$tly to a%oid a !all. She
stepped it up.
Breathing hard& pumping her arms parallel to the ground& Beth hit the rise too !ar
up. (nstantly& she kne# she'd ha%e to ad=ust. But ho#+ 5o time. 5o room to maneu%er.
5o pla$e to bail out2 either side o! the trail #as lined #ith =agged ro$ks spiking out o!
hardpan earth. She stutter/stepped and lunged as hard as she $ould to make the other side.
"er !ront !oot made it three/quarters to her spot. 5ot enough. Beth kne# she had
one $han$e to get out o! this #ithout in=ury. She lunged !or#ard& hoping the #eight o! her
head might propel her !ar enough !or#ard to make it.
She did. Sort o!. <a$e !irst& arms and hands spread in !ront o! her& she slipped and
belly/!lopped a$ross the gap. outh !ull o! grit& she spat and said& 7Shit.7 (t #as too soon
to kno# the damageF she didn't !eel any pain. )t least she hadn't sprained an ankle or
broken any bones.
She stood up and started brushing dirt o!! her arms& torso and legs. She tasted
blood and spat again. Thank @od she hadn't brought a mirror. Beth still #ondered ho#
mu$h she'd s$rat$hed up her !a$e& and& she thought& ('m sure to make a great impression
later #ith r. 4risoner.
She #iped her !ingers on her shorts as $lean as she $ould and $he$ked to see ho#
solidly her !ront teeth #ere set in her =a#. She tapped the knu$kles o! her right hand on
her teeth . . . no problem there. She spat again. Cess blood. Couldn't be anything too
serious& but she noti$ed her heart hadn't slo#ed do#n e%en though she #as no longer
running. She looked around to see i! anyone #as $oming2 she $ould at least ask him or
her ho# badly her !a$e #as bleeding. She $upped her !a$e& padding her $heeks& !orehead
and nose. "er nose #as bleeding but only slightly. ,*amining her hands& the s$rapes #ere
minor& so she !elt $on!ident in her diagnosis2 minor running in=uries.
,spe$ially a!ter she !le*ed her knees and !elt relie%ed not to register any stru$tural
damage. The tiny po$kets in her shorts #ere empty2 not e%en a used tissue to stop up her
nose. She $alled the run short and de$ided to =og home. What do you think happens& she
asked hersel!& !or being stupid and not #arming up+ The taste o! blood and dirt in!ormed
her ans#er. Hn the plus side o! things& her !ore!inger no longer hurt.
Chastened& Beth got home in !i!teen minutes and& a!ter remo%ing her !inger
bandage& got in the sho#er #ithout looking in the mirror. Time !or that post dirt and
grime remo%al& she told hersel!. With steaming hot #ater running o!! her ba$k& Beth more
deli$ately e*amined her !a$e and legs #ith her !ingers/tips& !eeling !or tiny pebbles and
grit that may ha%e lodged into her skin.
To#eling o!!& she looked at her !a$e. 7irror& mirror on the #all . . . #ho's the
s$rat$hiest one o! all+7 Turning her head le!t and right& Beth e*amined the damage. Well&
no skin gra!ts #ould be needed. "ea%y makeup $ould hide most o! the marks& but she
hated hea%y make/up and didn't o#n any. The tip o! her nose had three s$rat$hes in
per!e$t parallel stripes. ( $ould tell this )aron guy it's my ne# look. 9unner's grunge.
Comes #ith ni$ks and abrasions pre/installed.
)!ter putting on her !orm/!itting lyr$a riding out!it& Beth got on her best road
bike. "er $al$ulation+ Sho#ing up !or $o!!ee a bit s#eaty #ould make the messed up
!a$e easier to display. )nd sho#ing o!! her !igure might help distra$t the trail/markings
all o%er her hands and !a$e.
She made it to the end o! her dri%e#ay. She braked hard and skidded to a stop. (n
!ront o! her a giant SBU bore do#n on her. Who in hell+
The #indshield #as $o%ered in thi$k dust. The dri%er hit the sprayer and turned on
the #ipers. Who& she #ondered& $ould possibly be on the other side o! that streaked
7.ou're shitting me&7 Beth said. 8(t $an't be.:
Hut =umped her younger brother& Stephen& grinning at her #ith his arms
outstret$hed. 7<resh !rom Uegas. "appy to see me& sis+7
She straddled her bike. 7Where'd you get the SBU+7
7Won it last #eekend in a poker game.7 "e approa$hed her slo#ly. 7Thought
sin$e ( #as so $lose ('d drop by and say hello.
<or a se$ond& Beth $onsidered =umping ba$k on her seat& aiming !or his $rot$h and
pounding on the pedals. 7?elighted.7 She slumped o%er the handlebars and e*amined the
tread design o! her !ront tire. She kne# Stephen #ould get the irony o! her ne*t $omment.
7( lo%e surprises.7
Chapter G
7Cooks like you =ust stu$k your !a$e in a Cuisinart& sis.7
Beth s#ung a leg o%er the bike& lo#ered the ki$kstand but didn't approa$h him.
7.ou $ould ha%e $alled.7
Shrugging his shoulders& grinning& Stephen said& 7.ou $ould ha%e in%ited me+7
"e leaned !or#ard to hug her.
Consenting brie!ly to the !ormulai$ hug& Beth said& 7Stephen& ( ha%e to meet
someone in to#n in hal! an hour. (t's not a $on%enient time.7 She stepped ba$k.
7@o& go. ('ll =ust hang out in your pla$e. ( $an make you dinner later.7
Wondering #hat that meant sin$e she didn't ha%e any !ro-en pi--a or pot pies in
her !ree-er& Beth said& 7('d rather you not hang out in my house #hile ('m gone.7
7( dro%e straight here !rom 5e%ada. ('m bushed. 5ot sa!e !or me to be on the
"e didn't look tired and his eyes #ere $lear. Could he be on some ne# kind o!
uppers& lying& or simply #heedling his #ay into staying #ith her+ 7)re you $lean&
)!ter #histling& he said& 7)s a surgi$al steel s$alpel !resh out o! the auto$la%e.
Stephen al#ays $ould manage a good $omeba$k on a $li$hX& question. Beth had
no idea ho# he'd $ome by this talent& gi%en ho# rarely he read anything besides dog and
horse ra$ing !orms. She said& 7('m not sure #hen ('ll be ba$k. ('m meeting a man !or the
!irst time.7 <rom the look on his upturned !a$e& Beth surmised Stephen #as $ombing his
storehouse o! retorts.
7(! you don't $ome home tonight& any instru$tions+ 4ets to !eed+ 4lants to #ater+7
)s al#ays& he #as making this di!!i$ult. 7Stephen& ('m not $om!ortable #ith you
in my house.7
7Beth.: "e spread his arms. 8Calm do#n. y lar$enous days are behind me. )nd
('%e ne%er stolen !rom our !amily.7
7,*$ept boo-e& any pot hiding bureau dra#ers& bills in purses and #allets& and i!
someone #as on pain killers& they'd be $alling the pharma$y !or re!ills the morning a!ter
you arri%ed.7
4ursing his lips& hands in prayer& he bo#ed in mo$k atonement& you're right.
Some trinkets and baubles& ( must admit. But that #as a problem in the past. ( beg
She had to $hange ta$ti$s. 7Stephen& you $an't stay here. )nd #here ha%e you
been the last nine months+7 "is ability to tri%iali-e #as stronger than her outrage&
something& Beth thought& must ha%e something to do #ith the distribution o! sibling
"e stood up. 7@ot out o! rehab a si* months ago in Colorado and made it to
5e%ada #here ( !ell o!! the #agon again and #ent ba$k into treatment. 9eally& Beth& ('m
too old to keep s$re#ing up. Cook at my SBU.7
Cike a good politi$ian& #hen he got a question he didn't like . . . $hange the
sub=e$t. 7)ll that pro%es is you $an still get a good run o! $ards.7
"e grinned. 7True. ,spe$ially against rubes !rom Cali!ornia and Hregon. Cook& (
don't #ant to hold you up.: "e pointed at her !a$e.8 (! some guy is #illing to go out #ith
you a!ter you #ent !i%e rounds in a $at !ight& #ho am ( to stand in your #ay.7
7?id you hear #hat ( said+7 ?id he e%er hear #hat anyone said& Beth #ondered.
Hther people's #ishes #ashed o%er him like mild bree-e. 7.ou $an't stay in my house.7
"ands up in surrender& Stephen said& 7But ( need to sleep. H.A. i! ( rest up in my
tru$k in your dri%e#ay+7
Stephen $ould al#ays a!!e$t a pleasing tone& regardless o! ho# $ontentious the
e*$hange. 7There's a state park =ust a !e# miles do#n "igh#ay 1. 5e# Brighton State
Bea$h.: Beth pointed south. 8Well marked. .ou $an't miss it.7
4ulling his empty pant po$kets out& the e%er/ready !inan$ial statement o! users
e%ery#here& Stephen said& 70ust !or the night& Beth. Wouldn't be sa!e !or anybody on the
road a!ter ('%e dri%en so !ar. Cook& =ust go meet your guy. ,n=oy yoursel!. ('ll be here
#hen you get ba$k.7 "e #inked at her. 7)nd i! you spend the night #ith him& ('ll keep
your pets $ompany and guard your property.7 "e smiled more broadly. 8<or nothing.:
Beth kne# i! she didn't lea%e soon her brother #ould only $oa* more $on$essions
out o! her. 7( #on't be spending the night #ith this guy. ('%e ne%er met him.7 She re/
ad=usted her helmet and got ba$k on her bike. 7Stay out o! my house& Stephen. .ou'%e got
one night in my dri%e#ay.7 She sped o!!.
The bruises on her !a$e and the ba$k o! her hands stung as Beth rode do#nhill to
4a$i!i$ )%enue& regularly glan$ing behind her looking !or be!uddled dri%ers. (n the
hierar$hy o! bad dri%ers& teenage girls surrounded by !riends& gabbing on $ell phones&
o$$upied !irst pla$e. She deliberately kept her speed do#n& so the ra$ing in her heart had
nothing to do #ith physi$al e*ertion and e%erything to do !amily dynami$s.
)t the !oot o! ,mpire @rade& by the main gate to BCSC& she stopped and
retrie%ed her $ell phone !rom her !anny pa$k. The only person in the #orld she #anted to
talk to at this moment #as her brother& 0ohn. But #here the hell $ould he be+
Bn!ortunately& it $ould be any#here bet#een ,astern ,urope and "ong Aong. She dialed
his number. She remo%ed her helmet and $alled.
ira$ulously& 0ohn ans#ered. 7Beth& good to hear !rom you. Cook& ('m sorry
about Tahoe67 "e e*plained he #as =ust ba$k !rom ,urope.
7Cet's do that later& 0ohn&: Beth said& $utting him o!!. 8('%e got Stephen parked in
my dri%e#ay.7 Hlder brother's %oi$e tone $hanged immediately.
7What's he doing there+ Cast ( kne# he #as in rehab in <lorida.7
7"e told me he =ust got out o! treatment in Colorado.7
0ohn sni$kered. 7?oes it matter+ What's he #ant+7
7What he al#ays #ants. ) !ree pla$e to stay and #hate%er else he $an su$k out o!
7What did you tell him+7
7( told him to lea%e. That he $ouldn't stay #ith me. H! $ourse he =ust dug in and
ignored me. ( !orbade him to go into my house. "e said he didn't ha%e any $ash& that he
had =ust dri%en here !rom Uegas #ith a ne# SBU he #on in a poker game and #as too
tired to dri%e.7
8@ood old& Stephen. an #ith the $redibility o! the C().: 0ohn paused and
asked& 7"o# good are the lo$ks on you doors+7
Beth hesitated to ans#er sin$e she !elt so stupid. 7The lo$ks are !ine& but my
#indo#s are ne%er lo$ked. The #orst thing ( !ear $oming into my house at night are
ra$$oons and skunk in%asions.7
7?id he look high+7
75o. "e seemed H.A. on that !ront.7 She heard 0ohn about to go into his re!le*i%e
keep/your/guard/up rant e%ery time they spoke about Stephen& so she interrupted him.
7)s al#ays& he $aught me o!!/guard. ('m supposed to meet someone !or $o!!ee in a !e#
7?oes Stephen ha%e a phone+ ( $an $all him. aybe ( $an talk "eather into letting
him $rash in our dri%e#ay !or a $ouple o! days. 9ight no# ('m in C) !or business. ( think
my #i!e's the only person in the #orld Stephen's a!raid o!.7
,%en i! the assistan$e #as purely symboli$& Beth !elt better not being $ompletely
alone #ith the Stephen problem. 7Thanks& 0ohn. ( don't kno# i! he has a phone or not. ('d
be surprised i! he did. When ( get ba$k there tonight& i! he's still here& ('ll make him $all
7?on't !orget.7
8That's not likely. "e'll probably tell me his ba$k hurts and has to sleep on the
best bed in the house. ine.:
She #as sure 0ohn #ould re$all that absurdity !rom years ago a!ter he and Beth
had pi$ked Stephen up !rom the 9egina airport and Stephen demanded Beth's bed in their
parents' house.
8?on't replay that s$ene& Beth& #hate%er you do.:
8"a%e no !ear.: 4erhaps it #as hearing 0ohn's %oi$eF Beth #asn't sure. But
suddenly she had to ask. 70ohn+ What happened about Tahoe this !all+ ('m so
7(s this really the time to dis$uss that& Beth+: "e didn't #ait !or an ans#er. 8.ou
said you #ere in a hurry to meet someone.7
(t #as his turn to shut do#n the $on%ersation. Beth !inished the $all& reiterating
her promise to $all later this e%ening. )ma-ing& she thought& ho# she $ould !eel so
embra$ed by one brother and so on guard #ith another.
Beth glan$ed at her #at$h. (! she hustled& she $ould shoot do#n Bay St& make a
le!t on Cali!ornia& missing the nasty tra!!i$ on ission& and take Walnut to 4a$i!i$
)%enue. ?epending on the lights& she $ould make it in se%en minutes.
Be!ore lea%ing she $alled 0ay and le!t him a message. 80ay& $all me #hen you $an.
)nytime. ( need to talk to you. .ou're addi$t un$le has des$ended on me& and ( might
need your help.:
She kne# that message #as pro%o$ati%e& but #hen Stephen #as around she
needed all the support she $ould get. She strapped on her helmet& got on her bike and rode
The s$rapes along her le!t leg stung. She noti$ed her right #rist !elt t#eaked and
her bruised lo#er lip& no# s#ollen& shot her a ni$e stinger that #ashed into soreness
along her lo#er her =a#. 4erhaps& she thought& ( should slo# do#n. She dismissed the
idea as she nodded at the motor$y$le $ops #ho al#ays sat at the bottom o! Bay St.//Santa
Cru-'s most predi$table o! speed trap. They #a%ed ba$k. 9unning in=uries probably
didn't display too badly #hen you #ere #hi--ing by at 30 miles per hour on a t#o
She arri%ed and lo$ked her bike in !ront o! 4eet's Co!!ee. 5o simple matter sin$e
she had her e*pensi%e bike that required a B/lo$k and atta$hed her bike's !rame and !ront
#heel and an e*tra $able to se$ure the bike seatF she remo%ed t#o lights that had to be
pulled !rom their slip housings& pla$ing them in her po$ket. She took o!! her helmet and
glo%es and entered the $o-y shop looking !or someone #ho looked like he'd =ust gotten
out o! a penitentiary6#hate%er that meant. Beth !igured i! this )aron $ould so des$ribe
himsel!& #hy should she $an$el be$ause o! a !e# abrasions and bruises.
The $ro#d #as typi$al2 some $ollege students& a $ouple o! middle/aged $ouples&
three gray/haired !riends #ho looked like they #ere ha%ing a better time than anyone
else. (n the !ar $orner #ere !our teenagers in !ull @oth regalia& doing their best to appear
!ier$e/looking. Beth ordered a medium !ull roast and sat do#n& pi$king o%er the ba$k
pages o! a Santa Cru- Sentinel someone had abandoned. 0ust as she be$ame engrossed in
an arti$le about gro#ing or$hids& she heard her name.
8Beth Shepherd+: The %oi$e asked.
Cooking up& Beth sa# a $lean/sha%en man& about >0& o! medium build and ruddy
$omple*ion. (! her bruises bothered him& he didn't sho# it. Beth stood& and said& 8( am.:
She e*tended her hand& and he shook it. 8Was the penitentiary $lue supposed to be the
bald head+:
"e smiled. 8(t gets old des$ribing yoursel! as the bald guy. Thought ('d =ust mi* it
8<or no%elty. ( see.:
8.ou $ould say that.: )aron gestured !or her to sit do#n and #aited until she had
done so.
5ot kno#ing #here else to start& Beth said& 8( don't usually ha%e this many
s$rat$hes all o%er my !a$e.: "e looked at her #ith mi* o! $uriosity and $on$ern.
8They look !resh. "appen today+:
8.eah. <ell running on a path ('%e been on hundreds o! times. is/timed my =ump
and . . . kerplunkD ( get to meet a ne# person #ith the latest look.:
"e grinned and stood up. 8Cooks good on you. Cet me get something to drink.
5eed anything else+:
Beth shook her head and nodded at her $up. She returned to her or$hid arti$le&
read the #ords but $ouldn't remember a #ord o! #hat she read. )aron #as handsome&
polite& had a sense o! humor& and she hoped his easy/going manner #as genuine. "is
handshake hadn't send $hills up her spine& but #as !irm #ithout being needy& and he
$ould be asserti%e #ithout being pushy.
She looked up and sa# him returning #ith a mug& a teabag string draped o%er its
side. She hoped he drank $a!!eine and #asn't one o! Santa Cru-'s purity !reaks. "e
leaned o%er the $hair and pla$ed his $up on the table be!ore taking his seatF she !elt
relie%ed6he #as drinking bla$k tea.
<oolish on her part& Beth reali-ed& but still . . . e%erything said something about people.
)aron took his seat. Cooking o%er his le!t shoulder& Beth sa# 0ulie Sa#yer and
att edom get in the ordering line. 8Hh shit&: Beth mumbled.
)aron sat ba$k in his $hair& grinned and said& 8That's got to be my personal best
to make a so$ial !au* pas. What'd ( do+:
Beth shook her head and #hispered. 85o& no. (t's !riends o! mine. Well& one
!riend& #ith a guy ( $an't stand.: (! that #as too mu$h in!ormation& )aron didn't sho# it&
but she thought2 #asn't it too soon to get $onspiratorial #ith a person ('%e =ust met+
8Want to lea%e+: )aron asked. 8Hr should #e =ust bu$k up and in%ite them o%er+
Besides& it's al#ays good to meet someone's !riends.:
Sensible& this guy& Beth thought& e*$ept he #as meeting her !riends and had no
skin in the game. But she liked that he'd o!!ered her a $hoi$e. 5ot that she really had one.
They'd been spotted.
0ulie said& 8BethD "o# ni$e to run into you and )aron.8
Beth and )aron stood up. (ntrodu$tions #ere made as they squee-ed around a
%ase stand masquerading as a table. att& as i! speaking !or him and 0ulie& o!!ered to
lea%e them to their o#n $ompany& but Beth shook o!! his o!!er. att's presumptuousness
#as one o! things she most disliked about him. ?amn guy #as married and still strutted
around like he o#ned the pla$e.
Turned out )aron had =ust bought a ne# mountain bike !rom 0ulie and gotten
a$quainted #ith her. Beth thought& )aron might ha%e heard o! assistant ?). edom//
#ho al#ays handled the most gruesome and high pro!ile gang $ases so he $ould get his
name in the papers and his mug on tele%ision.
)!ter e%eryone had drinks edom asked Beth& 89un into a mountain lion+ .ou're
pretty $he#ed up.:
8Come& $ome& att.: 0ulie mo$ked being o!!ended. 8@et serious. .ou $an't ask a
#oman something like that unless she %olunteers in!ormation.:
(n her le!t peripheral %ision& Beth sa# )aron sit ba$k in his $hair// seemingly not
to #ithdra# but to get a better obser%ational %antage. 8Cut mysel! sha%ing& att.: Beth
stared at him. 8Cook& ( ha%e a problem in my book. .ou might be able to help me.:
8Hh& $ome on& Beth&: 0ulie interrupted. 8.ou'%e got to gi%e us a $rumb or t#o
about #hat happened be!ore #e mo%e on to something so intelle$tual.:
(ntelle$tual+ That #asn't a #ord 0ulie used o!ten. Beth said& 8<ell this morning on
my run. ?o$tor assured me ( ha%e at least a year to li%e.:
(n a tone o! =udi$ial imperiousness& att asked& 8What's your question+:
,%en as $urt as that sounded& Beth thought att #as doing a better =ob than usual
at masking his arrogan$e. Was that be$ause there #as another man present+ She #asn't
sure. Could he kno# something about )aron that she didn't+ 5e*t& edom surprised her.
att turned to )aron. 8Cook& #e need to in$lude )aron in the $on%ersation.: "e
looked ba$k at Beth. 8(sn't that right& Beth+ .ou're a ma%en o! manners.:
That snide $ra$k put him ba$k in line #ith her pre%iously held =udgments. Beth
stared ba$k at the pompous blo#hard she kne# him to be.
)aron leaned !or#ard into the a#k#ardness& sur%eyed all the !a$es& and said&
8We're all gro#nups here. 4eople should do #hat they #ant. )nd r. edom has already
o!!ered to help Beth #ith something in her book. ('m sure #ere all interested to hear his
ans#er. "o# o!ten do any o! us get to hear a question posed by a su$$ess!ul #riter on a
#ork in progress+:
Beth thought& )aron's re!erring to att as r. edom suggested he #as !ar !rom
done #ith military !ormality. Hr #as he being $oy+ That edom didn't immediately
insist on being re!erred by his !irst name #as $on!irmation o! his inse$urity.
8Hh& ( remember no# #here ('%e heard your name& )aron.: att said.
Beth regretted not ha%ing a$$epted att's earlier o!!er to lea%e them alone #hen
he and 0ulie had !irst entered the $o!!ee shop. edom #as one o! those men #ho $ouldn't
help themsel%es. 5o matter ho# hard he tried& att al#ays teetered along the line
bet#een teasing humor and boorishness6#ith !ar too many lapses into $oarseness.
edom $ontinued& 8.ou're the guy trying to e*pose that radioa$ti%e #aste #e're
lea%ing all o%er the pla$e in (raq and no# )!ghanistan. What do you $all it+:
8?epleted uranium&: )aron said. 8(t's also a!!e$ting thousands o! the )meri$an
Uets #ho'%e $ome ba$k !rom those theaters. But you #on't hear mu$h about it.:
8?epleted uranium+ ?oes that mean it's not strong enough to do that mu$h
damage+: 0ulie asked.
8?epleted uranium is a euphemism&: Beth said. 8(t should be $alled enhan$ed
uranium. They take lo# le%el& naturally o$$urring uranium and make it stronger and
deadlier.: )aron looked pleased she had at least an elemental understanding o! the stu!!.
But that #as the e*tent o! her kno#ledge.
8?epleted uranium #eapons are something ('m $ommitted to eradi$ating&: )aron
said. 8)meri$ans need to kno# #hat's being done in their names. But this isn't really the
time. <or that& #e'll need at least t#o bottles o! #ine.: "e smiled at e%eryone and let his
ga-e stop at Beth. 8('d lo%e to hear the question you #anted to ask r. edom about to
your book.:
8@reat idea&: att said& looking un$ertain as he si-ed up this )aron& a man #ho
seemed to ha%e larger things on his mind than getting appointed to the lo$al superior
$ourt ben$h. 8Cet's start #ith less $ontro%ersial topi$s.:
Beth sear$hed )aron's !a$e taking in edom's last $omment. )aron looked like
he #as holding his tongue. aking eye $onta$t around the table& Beth said& 8Well& !irst
o!!& ( lied to all o! you.: That brought all eyes ba$k to her. 8y question is legal. Sort o!&
( think. But it has nothing to do #ith my book.:
8Spit it out& Beth&: edom said.
8.ou kno# ( %olunteer at the Washington St. Women's Shelter+ ) !e# days ago&
0assy& the dire$tor& $alled me on the $arpet and told me to stay a#ay. Cike ( #as on some
kind o! probation. Hr maybe ( #as !ired. ('m not sure.:
8Why+ That's outrageous&: 0ulie said. 8They're lu$ky to ha%e you.:
80assy told me one o! the residents $omplained ('d made some inappropriate
$omments during a #orkshops. She #ouldn't say anything spe$i!i$& so it !elt like a mind/
8<irst& there's t#o questions&: att said. 8"a%e you signed anything to %olunteer
there+ (! so& you need a $opy o! that. But as a %olunteer you $an't be !ired or pla$ed on
probation. Those $ategories pertain only to employees. But a %olunteer $an $ertainly be
dismissed. ('m sure !or any number o! reasons.:
Beth asked& 8?oes that in$lude the dire$tor being a =ealous& $ompetiti%e t#it+:
edom laughed and sipped his $o!!ee. 8Well& ( do $riminal la#. But my best
guess is probably& yes. She'd =ust ha%e to alter the language. .ou kno#& something like&
%olunteer isn't per!orming $onsistently #ith the agen$y's mission. That's al#ays a good
Cooking at Beth& )aron asked& 8"o# important is it to you to %olunteer there+:
Beth paused. 9e!le$ting on her !our years& it had all be$ome so routine she'd
stopped asking hersel! that question. But $onsidering it& she said& 8.eah& it is important to
me. (t gets me out o! mysel!& something #riters really need. )ll that time alone in !ront o!
a $omputer s$reen $an turn you into a na%el/ga-ing bu!!oon #ith pretensions o! literary
att said& 85o danger o! that #ith a dete$ti%e series.:
"umbling hersel! as a pop #riter #as something Beth $onsidered her pri%ate
domain. She suppressed an urge to thro# her $up o! hot $o!!ee in att's !a$e.
0ulie said& 8(! 0assy runs you out& there's plenty o! non/pro!its around here that
#ould #el$ome you.:
8?oesn't hal! the population #ant to #rite a book+: )aron asked.
Beth shrugged.
8What 0assy did is so ambiguous&: att added& 8sounds more that she's trying to
shame you out. There's an un#ritten handbook o! middle managers e%ery#here #ith their
oldest tri$ks. @ets handed do#n generation to generation. 4iss people o!! #ith a dose o!
ostra$ism& thro# in a dash o! humiliation and people $ra$k. Then they run a#ay.:
Beth thought edom #as right but didn't #ant to gi%e him the satis!a$tion o!
telling him so. She looked at )aron& #ho #as looking dire$tly into her eyes& peering o%er
the rim o! his $o!!ee $up. "e smiled ba$k at her6but this time #ith more $uriosity than
#armth. She smiled ba$k and glan$ed at edom.
8Belie%e me&7 Beth began& 8my %olunteer =ob is the least o! my problems. To be
honest #orking #ith those #omen means the #orld to me. 4robably the most meaning!ul
thing ( do.: Wanting the !o$us o!! her& and thinking there really #as nothing more to
e*plore& she turned to her date. 8)aron& tell us more about your #ork+: ) suitable silen$e
passed #ith e%eryone re/positioning his or her seats.
8( ser%ed in the !irst (raq War and sa# the damage $aused by depleted uranium
#eapons. Hur go%ernment %ie#s skyro$keting (raqi birth de!e$ts as a$$eptable $ollateral
damage. When ( $ame home the de%astation $ontinued. ) quarter o! my !riends #ho
ser%ed o%er there are dying !rom $an$er.:
8Sounds like noble #ork&: edom said& petting )aron's arm like a good old boy.
edom sni$kered& #ithdre# his patroni-ing hand and $ontinued& 89ight up there #ith
slaying #indmills.:
Beneath the si$k =oke& Beth thought edom sounded $ontemptuously en%ious.
She #at$hed )aron smile politely ba$k at edom. The attorney $ouldn't hold eye $onta$t
#ith a %eteran #ho #ouldn't rea$t& e%en though he'd =ust been insulted. att turned to
0ulie and probably had his other hand belo# the table near her $rot$h. u$h as this
si$kened her//gi%en Beth's o#n history o! relationships& she thought//#ho #as she to
8.ou kno#& e%eryoneD: Beth slid her $hair ba$k. 8This is a$tually )aron's and my
!irst time together& and #e aren't getting to kno# one another as #ell as #e #ould i!68
0ulie bolted upright. 85o& you stay.: She tugged on att's $ollar in su$h a #ay he
understood it #asn't a negotiation. 8We're going.:
)s soon as they'd le!t& )aron said& 8Thanks. ( didn't like #here that #as going.:
8Whi$h part+: Beth asked.
)aron sat ba$k in his $hair. 8Cet's =ust say ( thought att took too mu$h li$ense.:
4ondering that a moment& Beth said& 8( should ha%e said something about this
being our !irst meeting be!ore they sat do#n.:
8( think they kne# that.:
8.eah& she set us up.: Beth $he#ed on the phrase. 8When did so$iety s#it$h !rom
introdu$ing people to setting them up+:
8( ha%e no idea. But ('d pre!er the old #ay.: "e !inished his tea and stood up.
8Can #e #alk+:
Beth said& 8('d lo%e to on one $ondition.:
85o ro$ky trails& ( promise. But #hat's your $ondition+:
8.ou $hoose the route. ( $an't make any more de$isions today.:
)aron laughed and said& 8?eal.: "e took her arm lightly as they stepped onto
4a$i!i$ )%enue. 8( hope you like hills.:
Bnlo$king her bi$y$le& she grinned up at him. 8@otta #arn you. ( get
"e smiled ba$k do#n at her and said& 8@ood. ( don't.:
Chapter 9
While #alking her bi$y$le& Beth $ouldn't de$ide #hat $onstituted appropriate
proto$ol #hen #alking on a !irst date #ith a bike in to#. Should she #alk #ith the bike
bet#een hersel! and )aron+ "a%e him on her le!t #hile she pushed the bike #ith right
hand+ Ui$e %ersa+
They headed up Walnut Street and Beth !elt pleased her normal #alking pa$e
didn't seem to !a-e him. So many people had #alked #ith her in the past and %oi$ed a
thousand %ariations o!& 8(s this a ra$e+ ?oes the person #ho arri%es last ha%e to buy
lun$h+: Hr& 8)re you sho#ing o!! ho# you're in su$h better shape than me+: Beth had
be$ome sensiti-ed to $ompanions' #alking styles6but still !ound it nearly impossible to
hersel! do#n.
8('%e al#ays #alked too !ast !or most people.: Beth said. 8,*$ept maybe 0ulie.:
)aron nodded at her as he lightly gra-ed his !ingers along the o%erhanging shrubs
and the bark o! the %arious trees they passed. 8('%e had the same problem. 8aybe #e'%e
!ound our se$ond thing in $ommon+:
She noti$ed as they #alked he'd dis$reetly and e%er so lightly run his !ingers o%er
the lea%es& blooms& and stems o! the plans they passed. Was he tou$hing the !lo#ers to
distra$t himsel! !rom tou$hing her+ 8What #as the !irst thing #e had in $ommon+:
Beth laughed a!ter )aron said& 8) shared dislike !or blo#hards. Thanks !or
pulling the plug on things ba$k in the $o!!ee shop.:
They turned le!t onto Cali!ornia Street and #alked under a $anopy o! sy$amore
trees past the high s$hool& #el$ome relie! !rom the onset o! Santa Cru-'s (ndian summer
temperatures& no# in the G0's. )aron stopped at a pi$ket !en$e.
8Cook at this&: he said.
Beth stepped to his side& e*amining the yard.
8"o# o!ten do you see this $ombination o! $olors+: )aron asked& as he tou$hed
the stalk o! a blue hollyho$k& and stroked a petal o! the nasturtiums $limbing up the
!en$e. 8)ll bordered #ith "eidi )nn <u$hsias.:
Though she kne# a !u$hsia !rom a rosebush& Beth #as impressed that )aron kne#
his !lo#ers better than she did. They $ontinued on and a !e# minutes later they stood at
the base o! the .;/mile !ootpath that meandered up Bay St.
)aron nodded uphill and asked& 8Why don't you let me #alk your bike+:
They had #alked a mile and a hal! !rom do#nto#n to get to this point& through
tightly pa$ked neighborhoods and hardly spoken a #ord. She gladly slid the bike into his
#aiting hand& noti$ing she !elt se$ure and $om!ortable #ith him. ,spe$ially a!ter her
se$ond husband& Brad& she'd mastered the art o! limiting her time in the $ompany o!
motor mouths. )aron's quiet #as !eather edged& $ompanionable and in$lusi%e.
With the bike on his opposite hip& )aron stood beside Beth and gestured up the
hill. She al#ays silently $ounted the eight small spans that $riss$rossed this stream&
#hi$h& ama-ingly& ne%er dried up no matter ho# long the latest Cali!ornia drought
endured. There #ere still bla$kberries to pi$k along the tree $o%ered and shrub/lined path
amid the smells o! old summer. With his longer rea$h& he retrie%ed a hand!ul o! berries&
de!tly #inding his arm bet#een the brambles #ithout sustaining a s$rat$h.
She #aited until they $rossed bridge number !our be!ore asking him about his
#ork. 8"o# long #ere you in the military+:
8Still am. ('m a arine a=or in the reser%es. Three tours bet#een (raq and
5ot kno#ing #hat to say& Beth managed& 8Hh& my.: Spee$hless& she had not idea
ho# to pro$eed.
8@o ahead&: )aron said& sa%ing her. 8)sk #hate%er you like. ( don't ha%e to
They #alked another ten yards& a million questions s#irling around her brain.
Beth !inally asked& 8Well& here's one sel!ish question.:
8"a%e at it&: )aron said& taking her arm #ith his !ree hand as they $rossed o%er a
partially damaged !ootbridge.
<eeling reassured Beth paused. 8Sure+ ( $an ask anything+: "e nodded. 8( guess
the most basi$ question ( ha%e . . . in terms o! getting to kno# you . . . is . . . did you
$ome out o! those e*perien$es . . . inta$t+:
)aron laughed so hard he had to stop a moment. 8.eah. ('d like to think so. But
many o! my superiors in the military and the go%ernment #ould disagree #ith that
They resumed #alking. Beth said& 8They see you as a trouble maker+:
8Worse than that&: )aron said. 8any o! them see me as a traitor. ,%en people (
used to think #ere my !riends.:
Shaking her head& Beth said& 8Same as it e%er #as.: She #ondered i! )aron kne#
the Samuel 0ohnson quote& patriotism being the last re!uge o! a s$oundrel.
8.ou #ant to kno# more about the depleted uranium& right+ Hr the big one2 did (
e%er ha%e to kill anyone+:
5ot ready to ask a man i! he'd had to kill in the military& Beth asked& 8@ot me.
What about the uranium+:
8The usual radiation gi!ts&: )aron said. 8Ceukemia& birth de!e$ts& #eird
neurologi$al symptoms& and the shit has a hal! /li!e measured in billions o! years.:
8Cet me guess&: Beth said& rubbing her $hin like the maddest o! s$ientists& 8and a
go%ernment that says these #eapons are per!e$tly sa!e.:
8H! $ourse. ?on't you sleep better at night kno#ing that+: "e told her it #ould be
best !or her to do more home#ork on the sub=e$t be!ore they had a more substanti%e
$on%ersation. 8Cet's not spoil a per!e$tly ni$e #alk together by talking about something
so hea%y. 4lenty o! time !or that later.:
She #ondered #hy he hadn't asked her about her s$rat$hed !a$e. Beth $onsidered
telling )aron about her deadbeat brother ba$k at home but de$ided it #as too soon to be
so !amiliar. Besides& all those unspoken horrors o! $ombat and depleted uranium put her
!amily troubles #ith Stephen into proper perspe$ti%e. ,merging !rom the path at (o#a
Street she rea$hed !or her bike.
8( li%e a !e# miles up ,mpire @rade.: She hopped on her bike and strapped on
her helmet. 8('ll take it !rom here.:
"e smiled at her and said& 8Thanks !or the #alk.:
8Thank you&: she replied. 8When $an ( see you again+:
"e grinned at her as he turned a#ay and des$ended do#n the trail. "e #a%ed and
said& 8Call me a!ter you do your ?B home#ork.:
)s she stood on her pedals and began the steep $limb up ,mpire @rade& Beth reali-ed
)aron #as not like the other men she'd been attra$ted to. She thought& ( must be making
progress in my therapy.
eeting and spending time #ith )aron and kno#ing she #anted to see him again
ga%e her a #el$ome sense o! deta$hment in #hat lay in !ront o! her2 $on!ronting Stephen.
What a relie! to ha%e spent some time #ith a ne# person #ho had larger things on his
mind than old !amily dynami$s. H! $ourse& she re$alled& she'd be speaking #ith 0ohn
soon& and he'd make good on his o!!er to try and take Stephen o!! her hands. She made a
%o# to hersel!2 no matter #hat horseshit Stephen dished out& she #ouldn't get into an
argument #ith him. Stay $ool.
) quail dashed in !ront o! her. She missed him by in$hes. She dodged to#ards the
road edge& #obbled a moment& and regained her balan$e. To slo# her heart rate do#n&
she pla$ed her !eet on the ground and took time to breathe.
She looked le!t& s$anning the e*panse o! the onterey Bay. The sky #as
$loudless& emerald blue and t. Toro rose up on the !ar side o! the bay. Seen in relie!
against the surrounding geography& the Santa Cru- uni$ipal Whar! looked like a toy
stru$ture. Beth lo%ed the onterey Bay's $ontrasts& mountains& !orests and bea$hes6so
at odds !rom the plains and !eature/less& open/sky $ountry in #hi$h she'd gro#n up//
#here the only thing that e%er $hanged #as the #eather. Bad to #orse.
"ere& in Central Cali!ornia& you $ould $ross miles o! deserted bea$hes& $ome upon
$oastal #etlands teeming #ith #ater/!o#l& enter to#ering red#oods that made you !eel
tri!ling& and !ind yoursel! in rolling $haparral studded #ith oak and madrone//all in a
matter o! minutes. 5o #onder people had su$h a hard time lea%ing here2 Santa Cru-ans
al#ays said the to#n dro%e them $ra-y . . . but they'd ne%er $onsider li%ing any#here
else. Composed again& Beth resumed pedaling.
Beth pulled into her dri%e#ay and didn't see Stephen any#here. She #alked up to
and $losed the still open door o! his SBU. 8Ca-y shit&: she said. "e $ould irritate her
#ithout e%en being present.
<rom the red#oods o%erhead& the Stellar 0ays made a noisome ra$ket& so she
pi$ked up some small stones and pit$hed them at the squa#kers. 5ot only didn't they !ly
a#ay6they #ere too high up !or her to rea$h them6but be$ame more strident& mo$king
her inadequa$y. 0ays& she thought& masters o! retaliation. She hadn't e%en seen Stephen&
and she #as already losing her $ool.
9emembering her earlier %o#& Beth thought& so mu$h !or my resol%e. She
tramped through the !ront door& !earing he'd ignored her e*pli$it #ishes not to enter her
house& and $alled out& 8StephenD )re you in here+:
5o ans#er& but she !elt her $at t#irling around her ankles. 4ru!ro$k !ed& Beth
glan$ed at her $omputer& its bla$k s$reen staring ba$k at her. )t that moment the s$rapes
on her thighs stung& her bruised lip sang out a dull a$he and the dried blood in her le!t
nostril dislodged. She #ent to the bathroom& took out a $lean !a$e$loth& moistened it and
applied it to her bleeding nose. 4ressure applied& head held ba$k& she mo%ed to the
5o# leaning ba$k on the $hair& eyes $losed& and her pain subsiding& Beth rela*ed
into a da-e//
8?eep shitD: Stephen skipped into the kit$hen. 8That's #hat you're in.:
)rms and legs akimbo& Beth staggered. 8?amn you& StephenD: Balan$ed again&
she $ontinued& 8.ou $ould ha%e let me kno# you #ere $oming.: She got up and leaned
against the sink& surprised at ho# tepid her %oi$e sounded. <eeling like her o#n home
#as no longer hers& Beth asked& 8What are you doing in here+:
8Bonding #ith my older sister.7 "e strolled about the kit$hen like he'd li%ed there
!or years.
Beth !or$ed hersel! to breath and told hersel! not to get baited. She said& 8.ou $an
see ('m banged and s$rat$hed up all o%er the pla$e.: "e grinned& delighted he'd sho$ked
her. 8Where ha%e you been+ ?o ( need to $he$k and see i! my sil%er#are and =e#elry are
still in the house+:
8They're already under blankets in the ba$k o! my SBU. That& and any ele$troni$s
( thought ( $ould sell on the street.: "e slid o%er to the sink& $ro#ded her and poured
himsel! a glass o! #ater said& 8an& BethD Suspi$ious should be your middle name.:
Beth slid a#ay !rom him and sat at the kit$hen table. "e sat a$ross !rom her. Their
knees tou$hed. Beth !elt disgusted& !lin$hed and slid ba$k. She pointed at his glass and
sar$asti$ally said& 8Thanks !or o!!ering me #ater. Should ( apologi-e !or being late #ith
lun$h+: "er bruises stung& but also another pain betrayed itsel!//!rom #here she $ouldn't
tell//=ust that her lo#er body a$hed !rom some an$ient grie%an$e. She #ondered. )m (
=ust getting old+
"e s#ished a mouth!ul o! #ater around and be!ore s#allo#ing& a$$entuated
su$king in his $heeks and pu$kering up his lips. Stephen rolled his head around his
shoulders and said& 8.eah. ( #as hoping you'd make mom's meat loa!. 9emember her
re$ipe that had ground pork and bee! smothered in onions+ .ou do kno# ho# to make it&
don't you+: )$ross the table& he slid his hal!/!ull glass.
8What are your plans& Stephen+: Beth pi$ked up the glass& thought about it&
repla$ed on the table and slid it to#ards him. 8.ou $an't stay here. ('%e already talked
#ith 0ohn68
8Hoo.: Stephen =utted his head ba$k and dodged side to side& like he #as a%oiding
poorly thro#n pun$hes. 8Si$ big/brother on !u$k/up little/brother. 5o# ('m in deep doo/
doo. Where do ( run+:
Beth supposed she deser%ed his last $ra$k. She took a moment to $ompose hersel!
be!ore saying& 80ohn said he'd talk things o%er #ith "eather. That you $ould probably
$rash at their pla$e in Aensington.:
8('m out o! gas and out o! money. y $redit $ards+ Well+: "e shrugged. 8"a%en't
had one in years.:
8('ll gi%e you >0 bu$ks to get there.:
8Sure& Beth.: Stephen smiled. 8"o# long ago #as it #e stopped pretending those
#ere loans+ What'd #e $all it+ Hh yeah. Shut/the/!u$k/up/and/go/a#ay money.:
Bnable to hold it any longer& Beth said& 8<u$k you& Stephen+ What happened to
?ad's Ce*us+ Cose that in a $rap game+:
Coolly& Stephen asked& 8.ou think ('m in trouble& Bethy+:
8What's that supposed to mean+ "mmm. Cet me think.: She tilted her $hin to the
side& lightly tou$hing her =a#bone #ith a !ore!inger. 8The last time you #eren't in trouble
. . . oh& yes . . . you #ere in diapers.:
"e #rapped his arms around his torso and leaned !or#ard. 8Hu$hD @ut shot by
Beth the blaster.: "e unbuttoned and rolled up his slee%es
Beth slid her $hair !urther a#ay !rom the table. 8Ano$k it o!!. Stop a$ting like
you're 1;.:
Suddenly healed !rom his #ounds& Stephen stood& simpered at her& turned his
$hair around and sat& $rossing his arms a$ross it's ba$k. 8Be!ore you go on #ith the $ross/
e*amination& Beth& ('%e got t#o messages !or you.:
Beth sa# slee%e tattoos she'd not seen be!ore& an amalgam o! angels& all s$o#ling&
and demons& all grinning& !loating o%er an ominous red !ield. 8"o#'d you a!!ord those+:
she pointed.
"e e*amined his o#n !orearms. 8These+ These #ere a gi!t.:
8?on't tell me.: But Beth $ouldn't stop hersel!. 8<or #hat+:
8"mmm . . . it in%ol%ed some older #omen. .ou really don't #ant to kno#
more.: "e e*amined and t#isted his arms slo#ly& admiring the art#or& and looked ba$k
at her. 8Cike your messages no#+:
8.ou ans#ered my phone+ .ou shitD "o# dare you+:
@rinning& he said& 8Calm do#n. ( kno# you're upset #ith me !or $oming here.
But really. .ou'%e got bigger problems than me.:
8What are you talking about+: 5eeding spa$e& Beth rose& sidled past him into her
li%ing room and sat in her leather arm$hair.
"e !ollo#ed her and leaned on the door =am. Where in hell& Beth asked hersel!& do
these delinquents per!e$t that insou$iant posture+ (s there some se$ret punk/s$hool !rom
#hi$h people like Stephen graduated be!ore the age o! 10+
The son o! a bit$h #as en=oying #at$hing her squirm. She re!used to look at him.
8"o# am ( in trouble& Stephen+
"e sat on the $ou$h opposite her. 8.our agent $alled. an& $an that guy s#ear. (
guess 5e# .orkers still take the pri-e !or potty mouth. arty+ Was that his name+
Crapped all o%er me #hen ( told him ( #as your brother. )ssumed ( had some in!luen$e
on you and your #riting . . . like it #as my !u$king =ob to get you to !inish your book.
Son o! a bit$h said something about losing tens o! thousands o! dollars though. @uy #as
li%idD: Stephen s#ung his legs up on the $ou$h and leaned ba$k. 8Can't blame the guy&
though. ?id sound like serious money. "e really needed to talk some shit& and ( #as
$on%enient. Aind o! en=oyed it& a$tually.:
Beth thre# her head ba$k against her $hair so hard the impa$t rattled through her
=a# and !urther aggra%ated her #ounds. )!ter #in$ing& she said& 8arty talked to you+
)bout my !u$king book deal+:
8Canguage/#ise& ('d say arty's got nothing on you.: Stephen pointed at her
!a$e. 8.ou're nose is bleeding& sis. @o easy on those ba$k#ard head butts . . . you might
really hurt yoursel!.: "e o!!ered her some $lean tissues.
Beth grasped the tissues and stopped up her nose. Stephen's smile so!tened like he
might really $are. "e #ent to the kit$hen. Was the last look on his !a$e prote$ti%e+ Was
the bastard #inning her o%er+ What had (saiah her therapist e*plained to her+ So$iopaths
#ere almost al#ays $harming as hell.
"e returned #ith a bag o! !ro-en peas #rapped in a plasti$ bag and o!!ered it to
her. 8Steady pressure on the nose& sis. )nd lean !or#ard& not ba$k#ards. (t'll stop in a
She leaned !or#ard #ith the i$y bag against her le!t nostril and $losed her eyes.
u$h as she appre$iated the gesture& she $ouldn't let her guard do#n. 8.ou still $an't
stay here& Stephen.:
8Sure.: "e sat ba$k do#n. 8(s Bea$h <lats still the pla$e to go to sell your =e#elry
and sil%er#are !rom the ba$k o! my SBU+:
She li!ted the $old bag o!! her !a$e. 8(t's as good as any. 0ust stay a#ay !rom City
They sat in silen$e !or a !e# minutes. Beth !elt her blood pressure lo#er and her
breathing got easier. Shit& she thought& damn& she #as getting used to ha%ing him around.
Stephen said& 8There's something else& Beth. There #as another $all besides
arty's tantrum.:
8What& pray tell& is that+: She asked.
8"eather $alled.:
Beth prepared hersel! !or the bad ne#s and #as already $al$ulating ho# mu$h
more money he'd need !or a motel. 8Cet me guess&: she began& 8"eather said you $an't
$ome to Aensington+:
Smiling broadly& hat$hing an enormous stret$h like he #as preparing !or a long
nap& Stephen said& 8What a surprise& huh+ Big 0ohn takes his orders !rom bit$hy& i$e/
queen& "eather.: Stephen stood up and pu!!ed himsel! up like a butler and in his best
Aing's ,nglish snobbery said& 8She said it #asn't a $on%enient time.: "e plopped ba$k
do#n on the $ou$h.
Beth said& 8('m not stu$k #ith you& Stephen.:
8H! $ourse not.: "e pla$ed a thro# pillo# o%er his !a$e.
4ru!ro$k =umped up on the $ou$h and $urled himsel! into Stephen's $rot$h. "e
petted the $at t#i$e.
8Why don't you ha%e any money+: Beth noti$ed her tone sounded almost $o-y.
89emember ( told you ( got $lean in Uegas+:
8('m listening.:
8That's #here the money !rom ?ad's $ar #ent. 4aid !or rehab. ( #asn't lying.:
Beth didn't !eel e*a$tly stunned& but she did sense her ar$ti$ indignation at
Stephen's presen$e had =ust broken o!! a ma=or slab o! i$e the si-e o! ?ela#are. 4ru
draped his !orepa#s o%er Stephen's leg in one o! those endearing poses that e%en the
#orld's most niggardly S$rooge #ould !ind $ute.
)nd like that2 Stephen started snoring. 8?ear @od&: she said. She stood up&
draped a light thro# o%er her brother and 4ru6#ho'd already =oined the intruder in
She booted up her $omputer. She should $all arty in 5e# .ork but reali-ed she
#asn't in the mood to e%en lea%e him a message//e%en though arty $ould be #orking in
the o!!i$e at three in the morning =ust as #ell as at ten in the morning. Besides& Beth
#anted to read up on )aron's ?B.
Cet's see& Beth thought& #hat the net says about ?epleted Branium. Seemed they
took relati%ely lo# radioa$ti%e& naturally o$$urring& uranium out o! the ground and mi*ed
it #ith other !orms o! uranium. This al$hemi$al nightmare produ$ed the #orld's best
material !or making armor pier$ing rounds to use against our enemies !ar and #ide. The
stu!! $ould penetrate granite. 4roblem #as it also poisoned ground #ater& soil& plants&
inno$ent bystanders and our o#n troops.
5e*t& Beth read this stu!! had a hal!/li!e o! o%er !our billion years. Some #riters
had already deemed this to*i$ material as responsible !or a large per$entage o! returning
troops' health problems. )!ter pier$ing metal or bunkers& a radioa$ti%e dust spread and
#as easily absorbed into people's lungs. 4hotographs o! iddle ,astern in!ants produ$ed
models o! mal/!ormed human beings that $ould stand in !or the ne*t generation o! horror
Beth looked o%er at Stephen& #at$hed him roll o%er& and turned ba$k to her s$reen
as he and !eline snored in unison.
She read !urther& and as in most things& the more she read the more $on%oluted the
tale be$ame. Co%er/ups& go%ernment and industry denials& ina$tion against the Bnited
States by international regulatory agen$ies& and& o! $ourse& the requisite $ounter
arguments that al#ays $on$luded #ith statements that radioa$ti%e e*posure !rom these
#eapons #as at le%els a$$eptable to human health. Hne look at the de!ormed babies made
short shri!t o! that publi$ ser%i$e announ$ement.
Beth reali-ed she $ouldn't $on$lude anything !rom a hal!/hour's reading on the
(nternet. She'd $all )aron& make sure they got together pri%ately #ith no one else around
and hear him out on the sub=e$t. "e ob%iously kne# the !a$ts !rom the net's pro and $on
propaganda. She sat ba$k and thought about this ne# man.
Hther than that he #as sel!/possessed& quiet& and en=oyed nature& she really kne#
nothing about him. ?id she like him+ She $ertainly didn't dislike him. "e #as hard to
read. She'd en=oyed being #ith him& but there $ertainly #as no o%er#helming $hemi$al
attra$tion. "e #as good looking& despite the la$k o! hair6Beth had ne%er dated a man
!rom the sha%ed/head $lan. .et& she reali-ed she #asn't going to hesitate to $all him. Beth
!elt proud o! hersel! !or t#o things and $ouldn't de$ide #hi$h out#eighed the other2 !or
opening up to the possibility o! kno#ing a man #ho #asn't an ob%ious rehabilitation
pro=e$tF and not #anting to immediately =ump in the sa$k #ith him.
)!ter $he$king the time& 9230 4..& she $alled his number. )aron didn't ans#er.
She le!t a simple thank you message !or meeting her& that she en=oyed their #alk and that
she'd read up& $ursorily& on the uranium topi$. She en$ouraged him to $all #hen he $ould.
She hung up and sat at her desk. "ad she sounded like a dit-+ Was she =ust
an*ious+ Beth didn't think so& but $on$luded she #as still making one o! her $hroni$ li!e/
errors2 o%er/thinking things. (t had been her >
grade tea$her in 9egina #ho'd !irst told
her that a!ter Beth had submitted a ten/page book report on Cittle Women. 8.ou don't
ha%e to #rite so mu$h& dear&: rs. "eard had told her. 8There are only so many times
you need to tell me you lo%ed the book.:
<orgetting her in=uries& Beth patted the sides o! her $heeks until she sa# three
drops o! blood turning into red stars on a $lean sheet o! paper beneath her $hin. She
rea$hed !or some tissues& stopped up her nose& leaned !or#ard like Stephen had told her
and #iped up the red splot$hes.
Beth opened her 4assages !ile. )n old time !a%orite $aught her eye2 it #as !rom
0ohn @ardner's The )rt o! <i$tion. The quote2 Z)ll true suspense is a representation o! the
anguish o! moral $hoi$e.' @ardner had taken the quote !rom <aulkner.
She s#it$hed !iles and opened up Co%e in the 4re$in$t6#here Aatie Shields lay
#ith her =a# #ired shut& still lay in an (CB unit doped up on painkillers and still mad as
hell at hersel! !or being stupid and #alking into a beating that almost $ost her her li!e.
Beth slid her $hair ba$k2 #ith <aulkner's quote %isible on her desktop behind her
manus$ript& she asked& does Aatie ha%e a moral $hoi$e here+ "ad Aatie kno#n her
suspe$t #as out $old in the door#ay a!ter the !irst blo# #ith the !ire e*tinguisher+ Was
that se$ond skull/rushing blo# really ne$essary !or sel!/de!ense+ Hr had she simply
indulged her blood lust to ma*imally hurt someone #ho'd hurt her+
,%entually& Beth kne# she'd ha%e to ha%e Aatie !a$e (nternal )!!airs& #ho
$ouldn't skirt o%er this killing no matter ho# seemingly =usti!ied. )nd there #ere
#itnesses #ho'd $ome !or#ard to say Aatie had used unne$essary !or$e6$ra-y as this
seemed #hen you sta$ked a 2;0 pound man against a 130 pound #oman& no matter ho#
!it she might be.
) deeper question emerged. Was anything Beth #rote in this book belie%able in
the least+ Hr =ust so mu$h $ra$kpot prose sho#ing a heroine $op #asting a guy #ho $ould
play tight end in the 5<C+
Beth rubbed her eyes and ran a hand through her hair. Was her book e%en #orth
!inishing+ Stephen's !ielding arty's last harangue about her $ontra$tual obligations had
to mark some kind o! $hange in her pro!essional #riter's lands$ape. But !or the li!e o! her
she kne# not #hat.
She noti$ed the room had turned $old. She rose& turned o!! the $omputer and
tiptoed past Stephen& #ho seemed in one o! those sleeps that might go on !or a day and a
hal!. 4ru looked up at her #ith one barely open eye.
8Why am ( being so tied up in knots& 4ru+: She asked. )s al#ays& Stephen slept
like the dead. She arranged the blanket to $o%er his shoulder and pla$ed his tattooed arm
under the $o%ering.
She lo$ked hersel! in her bedroom and dre# a bath. )ll she $ould think about #as
0ay up in endo$ino #ith is !ather. Hn$e in the #ater& she tried to shi!t her thinking ba$k
to her no%el. Bnsu$$ess!ully.
Beth sloshed around in the tub& trying all kinds o! ne# positions2 !eet dangling
o%er the side& pressing her !eet against the !au$ets and e%en propping a plasti$ shampoo
bottle behind her head !or a pillo#. <amily questions plagued her. Was Brad& her se$ond
husband& e*a$ting his !inal re%enge by dra#ing their son ba$k into his orbit+ Wasn't
thinking this #ay e*treme& Beth asked+ What son #ouldn't #ant to re$on$ile #ith his
!ather& assuming the !ather had !inally done his o#n gro#ing/up+ But still& Brad had
e*torted thousands o! dollars out o! her o%er a period o! years =ust so she'd $onsent to
gi%ing him a di%or$e6lea%ing her #ith the bitter a!tertaste o! single/motherhood li%ed in
ab=e$t po%erty.
"er eyes stung& a $ertain sign she needed sleep. She dried o!!& slipped into
pa=amas and got into bed. Cla#ing a pillo#& Beth turned o%er and glan$ed at a pi$ture on
her bureau o! her son at age 1 #earing a $ape. Could she lose her bond #ith 0ay she'd !elt
sin$e his birth& her little superhero+ "e #as the one pure positi%e in her li!e. Would the
!uture $ondemn her to !amily %isits #here she'd ha%e to sit at the same table #ith Brad
and his ne# #i!e+
@et a grip& Beth told hersel!. other/son relationships like she had #ith 0ay ne%er
lasted !ore%er. Boys gro# into men. Take partners. "a%e $hildren o! their o#n. H! $ourse
she and 0ay #ould still $elebrate holidays together. 5othing $ould truly =eopardi-e their
unique mother/son link.
Be!ore !alling asleep& Beth's last thought #as2 i! only ( belie%ed it.
Chapter 10
Beth a#oke at >200 a.m.& her legs sti!! !rom sleeping a#k#ardly. She got up& headed !or
the kit$hen and noti$ed she mo%ed #arily not to make noise& like she had royalty do-ing
in her li%ing room.
What am ( doing& she thought. She didn't #ant Stephen in her house. "e hadn't
mo%ed !rom the spot #here she'd last seen him. (t #as pit$h bla$k out and $old enough to
numb yesterday's in=uries. She stepped outside to $he$k the air and !ound it tingling #ith
a $risp $hill. 4er!e$t !or a run& she thought. She stret$hed on the stoop and #ent ba$k
insideF telling hersel! she'd go !or a run as soon as the sun $ame up.
She $onsidered $alling 0ohn& but he'd blo# a synapse i! she $alled him this early
in the morning6the only time o! day he allo#ed himsel! to stop the inhuman pa$e at
#hi$h he li%ed. She !ired up the $omputer and turned on the kettle kno#ing she $ould
ha%e turned her kit$hen into a $haoti$ $ommer$ial kit$hen and not #oken Stephen.
)nother %ariation on urphy's Ca#2 #hy #as it lo#/li!ers ne%er had di!!i$ulty sleeping+
Beth kne# she should use the time to #ork on her book. She glan$ed at her last
entry on Aatie. 5othing $ame to mind. 4ushing the story !or#ard #ould require some
kind o! an as yet in%ented prose bulldo-er. She de$ided to #rite 0ohn %ia email2
?ear 0ohn&
.ou $an imagine ( #as more than disappointed #hen ( got home yesterday& and
Stephen told me "eather had !orbidden him to $ome to Aensington. ('m $ertain she
$alled you a!ter speaking #ith Stephen.
H! $ourse& our brother %oi$ed the requisite insult about #ho runs things in your
house. (n this $ase& ( share Stephen's opinion.
Was your earlier o!!er to support me res$inded+ H%erruled by your #i!e+ Hr $an (
interpret Stephen's mandate !rom "eather as a temporary restraining order& one that
allo#s him to $ome to your house a!ter a short& and temporary stay here in Santa Cru-+
<or the time being& he seems to be beha%ing himsel!. "e's pro$laiming sobriety6
but #e'%e all heard that one too many times. )ny#ay& !or the time being& he's not
ob%iously on anything.
4lease $all me later this morning.
She hit send on the mail& made her tea and #ent to dress.
But #hile putting on her running shorts and shoes& Beth's thoughts returned to her
son& 0ay& and her e*& Brad. 5o matter ho# she di$ed it in her mind& she !elt Brad #as
intruding into her li!e by luring 0ay into his.
Beth stepped out the ba$k door o! her $ottage and told hersel! she'd mi$ro#a%e
the tea #hen she got ba$k. The sun #as peeking up the hori-on& but& #ithin the red#oods&
the light #as still on the darker side o! da#n. She'd run this trail so many times she !elt
she $ould do so blind!olded& but she kne# enough& espe$ially sin$e yesterday's !all& not to
push it.
Standing in the open door#ay& she let the $ool air !lush into the house and noti$ed
Stephen& still asleep& pull the blanket o%er his head. She $onsidered !or a moment lea%ing
the door open but reali-ed to do so #ould merely be des$ending to his le%el o! non/
maturity. She thought o! )aron.
0ust as she bounded o!! the steps& she told hersel!& it's too early to $all him. ( $ould
email. But ('ll think $learer a!ter #orking out. She ran to the deserted road and headed
do#nhill. "al! a mile !rom her house she turned onto the !ire road that started the
labyrinth o! trails that #o%e their #ay through BCSC. Beth #as out be!ore any other
runners and at most e*pe$ted to see only the hardest o! the hard/$ore mountain bikers out
this early2 the ones #ho rode all night #ith halogen helmet lights that did an ama-ing =ob
illuminating trails.
<ully #armed up and ha%ing established an easy& $are!ul pa$e& Beth glided along
the rutted trail& hopping o%er the ro$ks and roots& all the #hile being !ar more $are!ul than
she #as used to as a %eteran runner. She thought& ho# long am ( going to get stu$k #ith
She told hersel! she should be more $on$erned #ith her un!inished no%el//=ust as
she should be #ith arty S$hienman breathing do#n her ne$k and the possibility o!
burning her publishing $onne$tions in 5e# .ork. She'd been poor enough in her younger
years to kno# she didn't #ant to start li%ing the resear$h that #ould equip her !or #riting
a no%el about e$onomi$ ruination as a middle/aged #oman.
She took on the grade a mile !rom her house and no# the easy running turned to
straining. 5o matter ho# hard she ran she $ouldn't distra$t hersel! !rom her thoughts.
Beth kept imagining 0ay #arming up to his !ather& and no matter #hat rationali-ation
$ame to her& she $ouldn't =erk the !eeling that the one truly good thing she'd really done
in her li!e& raising a son& #as about to be undone. Brad #as poison.
)t the top o! the slope& she leapt o%er a tangle o! roots and ro$ks and !elt the onset
o! a $ramp in her le!t $al!. Beth slo#ed her pa$e& hoping to run out the problem on her
#ay home.
Hne thing #as $lear. Beth ran by a stand o! red#oods that #ould be the per!e$t
hiding pla$e !or a rapist. Cike all uni%ersity $ampuses& BCSC had its share o! them. She
still had $on!iden$e in her $lose/$ombat training that she'd taken a de$ade earlier. But she
#as also $ertain& she #ould ne%er do #hat Aatie did2 go a!ter bad guys inside a dangerous
building by hersel!. She told hersel! she should take a re!resher $ourse in sel!/de!ense and
ran on.
Beth made it to the pa%ed roads that ran around the $ollege $ampus and $ontinued
do#nhill. She planned to take the long loop around the uni%ersity and at Bay St. and
,mpire @rade de$ide i! she #anted to head home or e*tend her run do#n to the $oast.
Coming out o! the trees and onto the broad s#eeping $ur%e that o!!ered an
e*pansi%e %ie# o! the entire onterey Bay& Beth o%erlooked all o! Santa Cru- and the
surrounding mountains. 4a$i!i$ @ro%e appeared& !ree !rom !og& $learly due south o! her
line o! sight. She heard a red/tailed ha#k s$ree$h o%erhead.
9ed/tail #as making his li!e #ork& she thought. )nd that's #hat ( need to do #ith
Aatie& Beth told hersel!. (! 0ay #ants to re$on$ile #ith his !ather and his hippie
girl!riend& he's old enough to make up his o#n mind. 0ay #as more mature than she #as
as a t#enty/one year old.
But the heart al#ays trumped reason. )nd& no matter ho# her $on%ersation played
out later #ith 0ohn& or e%en "eather i! she dared get on the phone& Beth had made her
de$ision. She had to get a#ay.
She #as going to 5e# .ork. (t #as $ru$ial to ha%e some !a$e/to/!a$e time #ith
her agent and publisher//her entire !inan$ial !uture #as at stake. <lying $ross/$ountry
#ould gi%e her time to think. Time to #rite. )nd time to breathe some ne# air and see
some ne# sights. She'd take the red/eye//at least that kept modern airline tra%eling at the
le%el o! a #aking nightmare. )nd& she re$alled& she $ould get through se$urity in less than
an hour.
)t Bay St& the bottom o! $ampus& Beth ran uphill& to#ards home. )s she passed&
she #a%ed at the etro bus dri%er #ho ga#ked at her. She ran e!!ortlessly& her heart
pumped at a steady& strong beat. "o# ri$h& she thought& to be able to do outside a$ti%ities
year/round. The road rose gently =ust past the uni%ersity arboretum. This is #here Beth
usually de$ided to open it up and see i! she $ould sprint all the #ay home.
Beth de$ided to gi%e it a go. Bnless her legs ga%e out. But a!ter >0 strides she had
to slo# do#n. "er lungs started to hurt. She pumped her arms more !or$ibly& determined
to get in another >0 yards o! sprinting& but la$ti$ a$id in her mus$les #on out. She slo#ed
to trot.
) young man $ame !rom the other dire$tion on a mountain bike. "e #as
splattered #ith mud. "e must ha%e $rashed into the streams sin$e there hadn't been any
rain in months. @oing by her at 30 miles per hour& he ga%e her broad smile and $heer!ul
thumbs up. )$kno#ledged by a !ello# athlete& she thought& maybe there #as hope !or the
male spe$ies.
) do-en pa$es later& out o! breath& her legs and lungs smarting& Beth thre# her
head ba$k and put on the breaks& $oming to a #alking/stop. She pla$ed her hands on her
hips and $ontinued the uphill $limb. She told hersel! she'd !inish stronger the ne*t time
she ran this !our/mile loop.
She had her breath ba$k be!ore rea$hing the house. "er $al! hadn't knotted up6at
least not yet. (n the kit$hen she snat$hed a dishto#el& #iped her !a$e and arms& and
gulped do#n hal! o! her $old tea. She $he$ked Stephen& #ho'd managed to turn to his
other side but still looked !ast asleep.
She #ent to her bedroom and $alled 0ohn& hoping he'd ha%e already $onsulted
#ith his #i!e& and that they #ould allo# younger brother to Aensington. But they kne#
as #ell as Beth did that Stephen's emotional history #as so mer$urial he $ould go !rom
$ompliant brother to badass brother in less time than it took to eat through a $ommer$ial
=et/si-e bag o! pret-els. 0ohn's phone =ust kept on ringing until the annoying !i%e option
ans#ering message droned on.
Beth supposed she $ould gi%e Stephen money !or a hotel& or& at the %ery least& !or
a !e# days let him sleep in her dri%e#ay& allo#ing him bathroom pri%ileges. She said into
%oi$email& 80ohn& $all me as soon as you get up.:
Bsually& morning runs a!!orded her the best time !or $ontemplation. ,spe$ially
early like this #hen there #ere so !e# people about. But so many threads o! her li!e
$onspired to make this anything but a typi$al morning.
She !eared she'd ne%er !inish her latest Aatie no%el. She had to !a$e it& unless
things turned around soon& she $ould lose her house. The idea o! renting a room again in
house #ith other people #as enough to//she settled into her #riting desk.
The quiet o! the house shattered as Beth heard the high s$ree$h o! a red/tail ha#k&
hidden high abo%e the trees. The predator's $hilling sound made him easily identi!iable&
yet she kne# it odd !or a red/tail to be hunting so early in the morning. Well& Beth
thought& nothing #as normal anymore.
Beth re$alled her !irst #riting su$$ess. (t #as titled 4romotion and marked the
beginning o! her Aatie Shields series. Aatie had =ust earned her dete$ti%e's badge in the
5.4?. )!ter $ountless books& $lasses and #orkshops& Beth had !inally !igured out ho#
to #rite a publishable manus$ript. But no# she had to ask hersel! a question. "ad she
!orgotten+ She skimmed earlier $hapters o! her no%el.
What #as it about Aatie that e%eryone had told her #hen Beth !inally broke into
publishing+ "er agent& her publisher& her editor and her !riends #ho'd read the
manus$ript all said the same thing.
Aatie made things happen. Aatie sel!/ad%o$ated and politi$ked her #ay into a
promotion #ithout spreading her legs !or departmental !a%ors. Aatie mus$led her #ay
around her department to get the $ases she #anted. (n those earlier books& Aatie attra$ted
men and tossed them aside #hen they #anted too mu$h !rom her& #hi$h #as al#ays.
Beth's !ans6or #ere they Aatie's//ate this dete$ti%e up2 this spunky& smart& ambitious
young #oman #ho $ould outshoot her training o!!i$ers on the pistol range. Was Aatie =ust
a !antasy pro=e$tion o! #ho Beth #anted to be+
(t #as late enough in the ,ast to $all. Still s#eating& she sat by her phone and
dialed 4enelope Barnes' number in 5e# .ork. But be!ore it rang a se$ond time& Beth
killed the $all and hung up.
She remembered 4enelope's last message2 a %ague $omment about it not being a
good time !or her to %isit//something about it being an a#k#ard time6but not saying
But Beth #anted to get out o! Cali!ornia& to #alk $older streets& to #ear a long
$oat #ith a s$ar! and see some plays. She didn't ha%e to stay #ith 4enelope. Though& that
#ould be odd& Beth reali-ed. Thinking ba$k& she $al$ulated ho# many years had she
stayed in 4enelope's ,ast Uillage apartment+ <i!teen+ )t least that many& she thought& so
it #ould be alien to stay else#here.
Beth got on the $omputer and booked a red/eye !light !or tomorro# night. 5e*t&
she booked a room in a Sa%oy "otel so she'd be in #alking distan$e o! arty's mid/to#n
o!!i$e. She $onsidered emailing her tra%el plans to 4enelope but de$ided to $all.
84enelope. This is Beth. ('m arri%ing in 5e# .ork in t#o days. ?on't #orry. ('%e
booked a room so #hate%er the a#k#ardness ( #on't be imposing. ('ll be $lose to my
agent's o!!i$e. "e's dying to $he# me out in/person. ('ll $all you #hen ( get in. aybe
later #e $an ha%e a drink or dinner.:
Beth hung up and de$ided to take a sho#er. )!ter dressing& she pa$ked one
suit$ase !or her !light& s$heduled to take o!! at 11200 4.. tomorro# e%ening. She'd #ear
her bla$k #ool o%er$oat that #ould double as a good blanket on the plane.
"unger had set in& but she de$ided to #ait and see i! Stephen a#oke& and she'd
make ba$on and s$rambled eggs !or both o! them. She opened up her Aatie manus$ript.
She had more than a #hole day to #rite be!ore heading to 5e# .ork& and she reminded
hersel! she $ould #ork on her laptop on the plane i! she $ouldn't sleep. Surely she $ould
get most o! the book done be!ore !a$ing the #rath o! arty.
The phone rang. 0ohn said& 8Beth& ('m sorry about yesterday. "eather #ent $ra-y
#hen ( told her about Stephen $oming to our house.:
8What'd he steal !rom your house the last time he #as there+:
Sni$kering& 0ohn ans#ered& 8T#o o! "eather's #at$hes and an e*pensi%e spotting
s$ope ('d =ust bought. What do you think he got !or them all+ ) hundred bu$ks+:
Beth didn't like the humor. 8Cook& 0ohn& ('%e got sti$ky !ingers sleeping on my
$ou$h as #e s#ap !amily gossip.:
8)re all your pi$tures still on the #all+:
8Uery !unny.: Beth let him !inish laughing at his lame =oke. 80ohn& ('m !lying east
tomorro# night. ( ha%e to see my agent. ('m up against a deadline& and ( really need the
money !rom this book. Hr& ('m broke.:
8Hk& Hk& you $an send Stephen up here a!ter you lea%e. 5ot be!ore. "eather's
parents are here already and her brother and !amily are $oming tomorro#. Hur house is
bursting. By then& "eather #ill so!ten up. She al#ays does a!ter she gets her
righteousness booster/shot a!ter being marinated !or a !e# days in the bosom o! her
8(sn't that a $ontradi$tion+: Beth asked. 8So!tening up and righteousness+:
0ohn laughed again. 8.ou don't ha%e time !or me to e*plain that& Beth.:
8('m getting o!! no#& 0ohn. ( $an't endure any more o! this laugh riot. Thanks !or
letting me do#n.: Beth hung up. She kne# 0ohn #ould !orgi%e her later& that he #ould
$ome to see her hanging up as simply balan$ing the sibling emotional balan$e sheet !or
his not standing up to his #i!e.
The $on%ersation #ith 0ohn had ruined her appetite. Beth #ent ba$k to Aatie and
re%ie#ed her most re$ent $hapter. Aatie remained in (CB. Beth had some (nternal )!!airs
H!!i$ers !rom pre%ious Aatie no%els she $ould resurre$t to interrogate our in=ured
dete$ti%e& but Beth #as bored #ith them. Too hard/boiled. Too $li$hX.
"o# about a hip/hop (nternal )!!airs dete$ti%e+ Someone under 3>& has
dreadlo$ks& #ears street $lothes+ Was any o! that possible+ She $ould ask the one real
5e# .ork dete$ti%e she kne# the day a!ter tomorro#.
Beth de$ided to send 4enelope an email #ith her questions about an () dete$ti%e
#ith street $red. @od& she thought& ho# did anyone e%er #rite a book be!ore the (nternet
and email+
The phone rang. Too soon !or 0ohn to be $alling ba$k6he'd be eating his $orn
syrup dren$hed $ereal #ith #hole milk by no#. Beth stayed in her $hair& t#o hands on the
keyboard and de$ided to s$reen the $all.
8"ello& Beth. This is Brad $alling !rom endo$ino. Cook& ( kno# this is . . .
inelegant . . . but $an #e talk+ 0ay's here and tells us you're . . . #ell& ( don't #ant to lea%e
a message about this. 4lease $all me. )nytime.:
"e le!t his phone number t#i$e. Uery deliberately. Stunned at the sound o! Brad's
%oi$e& Beth didn't belie%e #hat she'd =ust heard. Stephen's snoring shook her ba$k to
reality. She re/played the message//t#i$e.
5o& she hadn't hallu$inated2 it #as Brad all right. "e sounded good. "e e%en
sounded like a gro#n up. )nd #hat #as up #ith his use o! the #ord inelegant+ When
they #ere together& he #ouldn't ha%e used a #ord like that #ith a gun to head. When #as
the last time they'd spoken+ (n $ourt& she thought& thirteen or !ourteen years ago& right
a!ter they signed that bla$kmail $ontra$t that had her pay the bastard spousal support.
"ad he !orgotten all the money she'd paid him+ What $ould he possibly #ant !rom her
Beth glan$ed at her no%el. 85ot today& Aatie. ?on't talk to the () dete$ti%es until (
$ome ba$k . . . e%en though you $an't talk #ith your =a# #ired.: Beth shut do#n her
#ord pro$essor.
She #ent outside and $alled 0ay on her $ell phone. "is message said2 8('m in
endo$ino #ith !amily !or the #eekend. Cea%e a message. ('ll be ba$k in the Bay )rea
early ne*t #eek. Ciao.:
?amn you& 0ay. ('m your !amily& Beth thought. She'd ne%er told her son about the
thousands o! dollars she'd paid his !ather to get di%or$ed !rom him. But she !elt that
dis$losure #as $oming and probably soon. Whate%er shine Brad had managed to put on
his e*terior& Beth $ould !oresee taking some satis!a$tion in re%ealing Brad's darker&
sel!ish sides& about #hi$h 0ay kne# nothing.
She ambled around her dri%e#ay and squa#ked ba$k at the blue =ays he$kling her
6to no e!!e$t. "o# dare Brad $all here. She had his phone number !resh in her head and
dialed him ba$k.:
8"ello& Beth+:
"e must ha%e $aller (?. 8(t's me. What did you #ant to talk about& Brad+ 5eed
more money+ Beth heard him $at$h his breath and $ould !eel his pause& being $autious
about his ne*t $omment.
85ot no#& Beth. We $an talk about money later i! you #ant. ('m happy to. (n !a$t&
( #ant to talk about money. But right no# ( #ant to talk about our son.:
8Hur son68
8Beth& ( #ant this to be $i%ili-ed. ) mature dis$ussion. (! this is a bad time& let's
talk later68
8Why did you $all no#+
8Be$ause o! things 0ay's told me. )bout you.:
Was it $on$ern Beth heard in his %oi$e+ 8('m game. Tell me& Brad. What did 0ay
say about me+:
8"e told me things #eren't going so #ell !or you. That you and your brothers
#eren't getting along68
She spoke o%er him. 8That's old ne#s. 5othing's $hanged.: ChristD Beth thought&
i! 0ay #ere $on!iding #ith his !ather like this it $ould only mean one thing6and Beth
didn't #ant to belie%e it. 80ohn and ( al#ays make up. With Stephen& it's hopeless. Same
as it #as #hen #e #ere married.:
8That doesn't sound so great.:
She $ouldn't e*pel the s#irling history out o! her mind2 right a!ter they split up&
Brad and Stephen had been roommates and $hasers o! $oke/#hores ba$k in their
Tenderloin ?ays. Beth ans#ered& 8Stephen's sleeping on my $ou$h as #e speak. "e's
$lean no# and going to 0ohn's soon.:
Beth reali-ed she #as da#dling !or time& sensing Brad's urgent need to talk to her.
She !elt simultaneously terri!ied and intensely $urious about #hat he had to say& this man
#ho had so #ronged her and !or so many years.
8 . . . ('m glad&: Brad said. 84erhaps ('%e gotten a #rong impression !rom 0ay but
please& belie%e me& ('m $alling& really . . . to o!!er an oli%e bran$h.:
8)!ter all #e'%e been through& isn't it more than a little late+: Beth didn't like
sounding so harsh but $ouldn't stop hersel!. )n image $ame to her2 0ay as a !i%e year old.
)ll skinny& #iry strength $lut$hing onto her a!ter =umping into her arms !rom the top o!
the $limbing stru$tures he so lo%ed as a little boy//#ith ne%er his !ather around.
Brad said& 8( $an understand this all sounds strange& Beth. (t's long o%erdue sin$e
#e'%e spoken. ('m not the man you used to kno#.:
Beth $ouldn't help !eeling that Brad #as someho# yanking a mu$h younger 0ay
out o! her arms in a pantomime o! a nasty& $ustody battle bet#een young parents.
Brad !illed the silen$e #ith another $omment. 80ay has something to tell you also.
( told him it should $ome !rom him and not me.:
Brad's re!usal to relay 0ay's message told Beth enough. "er son #as $on!iding in
his !ather be!ore talking to her. That assault ran through her like a steel pike.
9etreating ba$k to his pre%ious $omment& she asked& 8.ou're o!!ering
!riendship+: "er question $ame re!le*i%ely& like a beaten prisoner no longer
$omprehending #hat #as being asked. Beth sensed she #as disembodied& !loating abo%e
her o#n house& hardly belie%ing the s$ene she #as in.
8Well . . . yeah. ( am&: Brad said. 8)nd ('m hoping #e $an bury the hat$hets that
ha%e hung bet#een us !or too long. ( kno# it #ill take some #ork. )nd ( belie%e that
$ould only help our son. )nd ( kno# you support thatD:
Beth stopped hearing #hat he #as saying. Bastard #as right& o! $ourse. She #ould
support anything to help 0ay. But the #ord& our . . . she soundlessly !ormed the #ord
#hile her mouth !illed #ith the taste o! $urdled milk. ?amn& she thought. Brad #as
$reeping ba$k inside her li!e.
Brad asked& 8)re you still there& Beth+ Say something . . . anything . . . tell me to
go to hell. 0ust let me kno# you're there.:
8('m here& Brad.: She !or$ed hersel! to $on$entrate. 8('m =ust trying to understand
#hy you $alled.:
Brad said something& but Beth might as #ell be dea!. She re$alled her last session
#ith her therapist& (saiah. (n his mid >0's& all gray& he #ore tortoise/shell therapist
glassesF he #as al#ays dressed impe$$ably& in $ontrast to most Santa Cru- therapists #ho
generally #ore $lothes appropriate !or shopping at garage sales. Their last $on%ersation in
his o!!i$e dealt #ith depersonali-ation. What she e*perien$ed no# had to be #hat (saiah
had been talking about. Brad's rising %oi$e $ut through her mental !og//
8 . . . Well&: Brad began a!ter another long pause& 8at the risk o! repeating mysel! .
. . ('d like to make things right bet#een us. ( kno# ( o#e you a !reight train o! apologies
and a ton o! money. ( kno# #e're all too old no# to $o/parent 0ay. "e's a young man
no#. But ('d like him not to ha%e to go through the rest o! his li!e !eeling his parents hate
ea$h other.7
Beth sat on the bumper o! Stephen's SBU. 8What do you #ant !rom me& Brad+:
8( kno# this in%itation is a bit odd& but )urora and ( thought& #ell& #ith 0ay
here . . . i! you #anted to $ome up here& %isit #hile//:
She shot up on her !eet. 8Stop& Brad. Stop right there.: Beth needed a moment to
think. 8Cook& ('m going to 5e# .ork tomorro# to sa%e my #riting $areer. ('m under a lot
o! stress.:
8There's no rush #ith any o! this& Beth. ( =ust #ant to e*plain #hy ( $alled you
a!ter su$h a long time. <or you& it must be68
8Sho$king& out o! the blue& surreal+: Beth $ompleted his senten$e. 8Cook& Brad& (
need time. Cots o! it. Can ( $all you a!ter ( get ba$k+:
8H! $ourse.:
They hung up. Beth stood up and s$anned the skies. What ne*t& she pleaded to an
in%isible god. She turned to go ba$k into the house.
Ceaning in the door& hair aske#& arms $rossed and #ith his most mena$ing grin&
stood Stephen. "o# long had he been #at$hing her+ Seeing her unra%el+
8Trouble in paradise& sis+:
Without a #ord& she dashed by him into the house. Beth kne# Stephen #as
re%eling. )nd& odd thing& in some #ay she !elt she deser%ed it.

Chapter 11
Stephen !ollo#ed her into the house.
Beth sat at the kit$hen table& looked around and said& 8?on't say a #ord.: She
glared at her brother. 85ot a #ord.:
"e pursed his lips& pla$ed his !ore!inger o%er them and slo#ly shook his head.
<orgetting she had an ele$tri$ kettle to boil #ater in& Beth stood and #ent to the
$upboard. She pulled out and slammed an empty 1/qt. sau$epan on her sto%e. She turned
the burner up to high and #ent to another $upboard and pulled out one o! the ne# bo*es
o! tea.
Stephen got up and shut the sto%e o!!. "e said& 8.ou !orgot the #ater.: "e tilted
the kettle ba$k and !orth to determine i! it held #ater& repla$ed it on its base and pressed
its on/s#it$h.
Beth heard him& turned& and barked& 8What are you doing+ Why are you here+:
8('m pre%enting you !rom burning your house do#n& Beth.: "e pointed at the
kettle. 8)nd& you usually boil #ater in that.:
Beth shi!ted to embarrassed rationali-ation& #a%ed her hand& and said& 8('m upset
is all.:
85o shit& Sherlo$k.: Stephen stepped ne*t to her and pulled out a teabag !rom the
bo* she'd !orgotten she #as still holding. "e said& 8('m starting to like tea. .ou're a good
in!luen$e on me& Beth.:
8@lad to be o! ser%i$e.: Beth #ent to the sto%e and put her pot a#ay.
Stephen sat at the table. 8.ou'%e had an e%ent!ul morning.:
She stared at him& trying to get a read on #here he #as going #ith this. 8.eah. (
ha%e. Sin$e ( last sa# you& your po#ers o! obser%ations ha%e impro%ed $onsiderably.:
"e nodded to#ards the #indo#. 85i$e to hear you standing up !or me #ith Brad
on the phone out there.:
8y pleasure.: She ga%e him the !inger. 8"o# did ( de!end you+:
8Said ( #as $lean and . . . ( #as genuinely tou$hed by that& sis.:
Beth stared at him.
8( kno# this is hard to belie%e $oming !rom me.: 4ru!ro$k =umped into his lap&
and Stephen began petting him. 8We're old !riends no#& 4ru and me.:
8)ll ( said #as that you #ere $lean. Should ha%e said you #ere bet#een
5odding his head #hile ginning& Stephen said& 8( kno# ( deser%e that Beth. But
this time ('m really turning o%er a ne# lea!.: T#isting around in his $hair& Stephen
pointed all around& and said& 8(s anything missing in your house+ ( really didn't $ome
here to steal or moo$h o!! o! you. ( e%en $leaned up a!ter mysel! in the bathroom.:
8.ou $ame here #ith no money.:
8True& e*$ept !or the 20 bu$ks or so ( ha%e in my po$ket. But ('ll be #orking as
soon as ( get a =ob.:
When Stephen got a =ob . . . ho# many times ha%e she heard that+
Stephen smiled and pointed his !inger at her. 8( kno# #hat you're thinking& Beth .
. . no#& no#. Try to resist. ('m an easy target.:
"e #as so right. The kettle turned itsel! o!!& and Beth poured her tea.
Stephen $ame up behind her and e*tended his o#n mug so she $ould !ill it. 8(
really #ant you to belie%e me& Beth. ('m done #ith drugs& #ith the #hole li!e. ('m si$k to
death o! it.:
She put the kettle ba$k on its base. 8"eard it be!ore& Stephen.: Beth said it
dismissi%ely but inside kne#& no matter ho# !oolish& she still #anted to belie%e him. She
#ondered i! any hard/$ore addi$t $ould e%er $omprehend the pain they $aused their
Stephen #ent to the re!rigerator& took out a beer and uns$re#ed its $ap.
8Thought you #ere $lean and sober& r. 0ust/out/o!/9ehab+:
8Want one+: She ignored him. Stephen pulled a long drink !rom the Sam )dams.
8Suit yoursel!.: "e sat& staring do#n her $ontempt. 8Beer+ 4ot+ )re you kidding+ Those
aren't drugs.: "e took another long s#allo#. 8This is aspirin.: "e put his !eet up on the
table. 85o# $ra$k+ Coke+ eth+ 5asty shit. ('m staying a#ay !rom those !ore%er&
belie%e me.:
Beth turned a#ay and looked out the #indo#. 8.ou're impossible.:
Tipping his bottle to#ards her& Stephen $ontinued& 8Wat$hing
you talk to Brad . . . looked like you #ere talking to the bogyman.:
Beth paused !or a moment. 8('m not used to being in%ited to the homes o! e*/
husbands #ho e*torted thousands o! dollars !rom me to get a di%or$e.:
8When are you going to let go o! all that bitterness& Beth+: Stephen sat ba$k do#n
and said. 8(t's only money.:
8Coming !rom an all/star user like you& that's the dumbest thing ( e%er heard.:
Beth didn't #ant to talk anymore. She took her $up and strode into her bedroom.
Beth dragged her largest $arry/on out o! $loset and $are!ully !olded a $ouple o!
out!its that $ould stand up to a 5ortheast <all. She hated to admit it& but Stephen #as
right about one thing. She'd been $hoking on her o#n bile about Brad& money& and
single/parenthood !or !ar too many years.
)ny time Beth had had an honest $on%ersation #ith someone about addi$ts in
their !amilies& it al#ays got around to money2 ho# mu$h money the !amily had spent on
therapy& on rehab& on this or that #it$h do$tor #ho had the latest magi$ $ure !or
addi$tions6al#ays pri$ed e*orbitantly. "o# many s$ores o! thousands o! dollars+
)ddi$ts& it seemed to Beth& #ere e*traordinarily good at spending other people's
moneyF ironi$ally most o!ten !rom the people !rom #hom they'd stolen the most. They
only thing they did #ell #ith money #as to eli$it !orgi%eness !rom those #hom they had
taken !or a ride//!inan$ing their $y$li$al re$o%eries.
She remo%ed her #ool o%er$oat !rom the ba$k o! the $loset. @ood& she thought& it
#as still #rapped in plasti$. She'd !orgotten that a!ter the last time she'd used it she'd had
it dry $leaned. Beth hung it o%er the ba$k o! the arm$hair.
) !e# more toiletries and Beth #as pa$ked. She'd mastered tra%eling light long
ago. She rolled her suit$ase into the kit$hen& le!t it by the door and $alled 0ulie& and asked
to meet her in an hour at Ca Cabana on ission Street6they had the best !ish ta$os in
to#n. She needed some non/!amily time. )nd espe$ially no men.
Stephen $ame in !rom the bathroom and said& 85oti$ed you pa$ked already. Can't
#ait to get out o! here& huh+:
8.ou $ould say that. Can you !eed my $at+:
8"appy to. .ou going to see 0ulie+:
Beth's $ell phone played its !e# bars Ba$h's 4relude in @. She turned a#ay !rom
hr brother and looked at the number on the s$reen. (t #as her son.
80ay&: she said& ans#ering. 8( =ust got o!! the phone #ith68
8( kno#& mom. ( kno#. Cook. We'%e got to talk.:
80ust a se$. ('m saying goodbye to someone.: Beth dropped her phone to her side&
turned and signaled Stephen to gi%e her pri%a$y #ith an e*pression that #as hal!/
pleading& hal! li!e/and/death threat. "e read her signals and #ent out. 9aising the phone
ba$k to her ear& she said& 80ay& #here are you+:
8.ou kno# #here ( am& mom. endo$ino. Cook//&: "e $leared his throat& 8('m
#alking the grounds o! dad and )urora's pla$e. ( =ust le!t their house.:
Beth sat do#n& uneasy about her son's tone o! %oi$e6hostile and sharp. She
asked& 8?id you !eel you had to lea%e their house to $all me+:
) long pause !ollo#ed. 8.eah. ?ad didn't #ant me $alling you right a#ay. "e
kne# his $all upset you.:
She !elt sli$ed to her heart hearing him talk about dad//like he'd been some
paragon o! suburban !atherhood. Beth gasped. She $ouldn't $hoke ba$k her outrage and
blurted out& 8?id you listen to our phone $all+:
8Chill& mom. Chill&: 0ay said. 8('m the in=ured party here. 5ot you. .ou'%e got to
listen to me.:
)!raid o! #hat she might say ne*t& Beth shut her mouth and took in a generous
%olume o! air through her nose and slo#ly e*haled. 8@o on&: she said. 8But ( don't
appro%e o! anyone ea%esdropping on pri%ate $alls.:
8,%en #hen you're talking about me #ith my !ather like ('m si* years old+:
"is tone $ut her. 0ay had ne%er be!ore $hallenged her #ith su$h striden$y. 8Cook.
('m sorry& 0ay !or . . . ( don't e%en kno# #hat ('m sorry !or& but ( am68
8.ou should be&: 0ay shot ba$k. 8( $an tell you #hat you should be sorry !or.:
)s i! gut/shot& she managed to ask& 8Then& please. Tell me. What should ( be sorry
8<or keeping me estranged !rom my !ather !or t#o de$ades. <or starters.:
8(s that #hat ('%e done+: Beth's heart a$hed and tears #elled up in her eyes.
8Aept you estranged !rom you !ather all those years.:
8u$h #orse than that& mom. .ou kept me !rom him. .ou #anted me all to
80ayD: Beth sat do#n& ran her !ree hand through her hair and $losed her eyes.
Be!ore she $ould !ormulate a response& she did reali-e the last part o! his statement held
some truth. She did #ant him to hersel!. 8.our !ather . . . your !ather le!t us68
8( kno# all that. ?ad and ( ha%e gone o%er all those years. "e's taken
responsibility !or his his drug use and abandoning us. "e #as $ompletely !u$ked up. But
that's long o%er.:
Beth thought& Brad o!!ers !i%e senten$es o! e*planation !or #hat transpired o%er
t#enty years. )nd no# it's some ne# da#n bet#een !ather and son+ ?isgusted& she let
the phone drop in her lap.
0ay said& 8omD )re you there+ ?on't spa$e out on me.:
Beth pi$ked the phone ba$k up. 8('m not spa$ing out& 0ay. ('m . . . dumb!ounded
is all. ( don't kno# #here to begin to try and e*plain all that's happened bet#een your
!ather and me. Hr #hy68
8.ou don't ha%e to mom. We'%e ob%iously got a ton o! shit to #ade through and
this isn't the time.:
8)ll right.:
) long pause !ollo#ed that Beth re!used to !ill. She !eared #hate%er she might say
#ould only makes matter #orse. She $ould sense 0ay o%er the phone& $are!ully $ra!ting
#hat he #anted to say.
8om. ( kno# this is hard. But !or right no# all ( #ant to say is . . . 8
80ust say it&: Beth said.
8('m so pissed o!! at you ( don't ho# long it's going to take to get o%er it.:
H! $ourse Beth had !elt the same #ay at times #ith himF #hat mother doesn't+
But she ne%er said so. "er insides turned into a kind o! $austi$ $ompost.
8?o you #ant to say anything to me& mom+:
She kne# she had to respond. Someho#. 89ight no# . . . ( =ust #ant to say . . . 8
Beth remembered (saiah telling her do-ens o! times& #hen someone tells you ho# they
!eel& simply re!le$t it ba$k to them. 8( hear you're disappointed and !urious at me+:
)!ter another pause& 0ay said& 8.our $ounselor tea$h you that+:
@ood thing 0ay #asn't present. (! so& Beth kne# she'd ha%e slapped his !a$e. )!ter
another breath& she said& 8)s a matter o! !a$t he did.:
8( think #e should talk later mom. .ou're going to 5e# .ork aren't you+:
8Tomorro# night. ('ll be gone at least a #eek.:
8Call me #hen you get ba$k. Hh& and ('%e de$ided to spend Thanksgi%ing this
year up here #ith dad and )urora.: "e hung up.
Beth thought she should be grate!ul !or !eeling numb//simply be$ause some
$ontradi$tions #ere impossible to re$on$ile.
She grabbed her $ar keys and stood !ro-en in the middle o! her kit$hen& t#irling
the key ring like an absent/minded gnome. She heard the door slam behind her. She
looked at Stephen and said& 8('m lea%ing. ( ha%e an early dinner date #ith 0ulie.:
"e a!!e$ted his most las$i%ious e*pression. 80ulie still playing in the lesbian
s$ene& as you $all it& the rodeo+ Hr do ( still ha%e a $han$e to get in her pants+:
(nstantly& Beth !elt like she #as in a Bergman mo%ie. ,%erything slo#ed. The
#orld turned bla$k and #hite. She !elt simultaneously numb and enraged. What and #ho
#as real at this moment #as an impossible question to ans#er. ) moment ago& she spoke
#ith her brother. Be!ore that her son had hung up on her. What ne*t+
8Beth&: Stephen's %oi$e $ame !rom another #orld.
Stephen took the keys !rom her unresisting hands. "e guided her to a $hair& had
her sit do#n and repeatedly snapped his !ingers t#o in$hes !rom her !a$e. 8BethD What's
She !lin$hed ba$k#ards& breaking a#ay !rom his tou$h. The #orld #as $oming
ba$k. She $ould see the $olors o! her kit$hen& the light in the room& the blue o! Stephen's
=eans. She looked up at him.
8( don't kno# #hat happened&: she said. 8But stand ba$k. @et a#ay !rom me.:
"er tone must ha%e done the tri$k. Stephen retreated to the sink.
She remembered his last question about 0ulie and a $han$e to get in her pants.
Who $ould possibly be #orse !or 0ulie+ Stephen+ Hr att edom+
8Sure&: Beth said& glaring at him. 8('ll ask her o%er margaritas and send her o%er
in a se*y negligee. ('m sure ( $an sell her the idea #ith your $urrent sterling resume2 no
=ob& broke& $lean and sober !or less than a #eek. Hh& and homeless. .ou're a $at$hD:
Stephen looked $ontemplati%e and said& 8Well& !or !ull dis$losure . . . #hy not add
that ('%e been in =ail !i%e times.:
Beth grumbled something about his grossness& pa$ked her $ar and le!t. She
inserted a assi%e )tta$k C? in the $hanger. )s she ba$ked out o! her dri%e#ay she sa#
her brother lurking behind. She ba$ked up to him& rolled do#n the #indo# and said& 8('m
going to do e%erything in my po#er to $on%in$e 0ulie to sti$k to #omen.:
)s she sped out to the main road& the $loud o! dust she sa# in her rear/%ie#
mirror obs$ured her brother's smirk. She had some time be!ore she #as supposed to meet
0ulie& so she dro%e north on "igh#ay 1. She stopped in ?a%enport and ambled along the
$li!!s& doing her best to $alm do#n and get some perspe$ti%e on #hat had =ust transpired
#ith her son and e*/husband. Time #ith the sea& #ind and the o%erpo#ering 4a$i!i$
helped her $alm do#n. )s dusk settled in& she dro%e ba$k to to#n.
)t the Ca Cabana restaurant& a!ter ordering and settling in #ith their $hips& salsa
and 0arritos& 0ulie asked Beth. 8Come out #ith it& girl. What did you think about )aron+:
8)t the moment& 0ulie& ('%e got mu$h bigger !ish to !ry.: Beth looked into her
eyes. 8( ha%e to talk about 0ay and my e*& Brad.:
H%er the ne*t !i%e minutes& as dinner #as ser%ed& Beth brought 0ulie partially up
to speed about the a!ternoon's phone $alls. She des$ribed the $on%ersations in headline2
there #as no room to really say ho# she !elt be$ause 0ulie& although nominally attenti%e&
#as bursting #ith her o#n need to talk about att edom.
But no matter ho# 0ulie spun it& Beth $ouldn't e%en pretend to appro%e o! her
union #ith the assistant ?.). So #hat i! the se* #as great. edom had e%en introdu$ed
0ulie to his parents& #ho& thus& Beth $on$luded& had to be as s$ummy as he #as. The
damn man #as still li%ing #ith his #i!e and t#o young kids.
8.our bi$y$le shop employees lo%e this guy. Their bonuses ha%e s#elled&: Beth
said. 8edom's gotten a do-en o! his attorney !riends to !ork o%er a !e# grand !or high/
end road bikes. ('m sure it's all part o! a s$heme to #easel his #ay into your bed.:
8H.A.& ( $an see #here this is going&: 0ulie said& piling =alapenos on top o! her
en$hiladas. She s#allo#ed a mouth!ul& and said& 8So& ('ll shut up about my lo%e/li!e.
Ba$k to )aron. What did you think o! him+:
8)aron is the last thing on my mind& and he seems like a !ine man& but . . .8
8But #hat+: 0ulie asked.
Beth put her sil%er#are do#n and took 0ulie's arm. 8( had a bomb dropped on me
be!ore ( got here. 0ay is . . . 0ay is . . . 8
Truly $on$erned& 0ulie took Beth's hand. 80ay is #hat+ (s he H.A.+:
Beth looked out the #indo#//then ba$k at her !riend. 80ay is #ith his !ather in
endo$ino. Bonding #ith daddy. Seems all is !orgi%en bet#een them. 5o# ('m the pain
in the butt.:
8Well& that's a $hange.: 0ulie stood up. 8( need a drink. Want a Te$ate+:
While 0ulie ordered at the $ounter& Beth looked around and sa# hal! a do-en !a$es
she re$ogni-ed as regulars. Santa Cru-'s small to#n !amiliarity ate a#ay at her ner%es.
She $ouldn't #ait to get on that airplane tomorro# night.
0ulie brought ba$k !our open bottles o! beer. 8?on't #orry&: 0ulie said& arranging
them in the middle o! the table& 8#hate%er you don't !inish& ( #ill. ?on't #orry. ('m
#alking home.:
8edom dri%ing you to drink more+: Beth asked. 8Should ( be #orried about
<looding her =alapeno/singed throat& 0ulie gulped do#n hal! o! her !irst bottle. She
said& 8So& #hat's all this supposed to mean+ 0ay and Brad+ That's hard to imagine.:
Beth sipped her o#n bottle& and said& 80ay told me he #as $an$eling our
Thanksgi%ing plans and spending it #ith Brad and )urora.:
8)uroraD: 0ulie sprit-ed out hal! a mouth!ul o! beer all o%er their $hip basket.
8.ou're shitting me& right+ )urora+: She had a hard time stopping laughing.
4ushing a#ay the soggy $orn $hips& Beth said& 8.ou're making it #orse by
0ulie $omposed hersel! and dried her mouth and hands #ith her paper napkin. She
#a%ed both hands in mo$k surrender& and said& 8('m sorry. ( really am.: She took another
healthy sip !rom her ne# beer. 80esus& your li!e is going to hell.:
8Thank you&: Beth said. 8This is the se$ond time today ('%e had the honor o!
$on%ersing #ith a %eritable genius o! obser%ation.:
0ulie !inished o!! her !irst bottle& tipped it in salute to Beth and grabbed the ne*t
one. 8)l#ays happy to make someone's day& Beth. ?on't !orget ('m on your side. ( lo%e
85ot i! you keep drinking like this.: Beth stood up& signaling she #as ready to
8Be!ore #e lea%e&: 0ulie stood up and began to #ol! do#n the se$ond. 8.ou'%e
got nothing else to tell me about )aron+ ( thought he #as the per!e$t guy !or you. Yuiet&
smart& handsome& sel!/su!!i$ient. Come on. What did you t#o talk about+:
Beth thought !or a se$ond. (s 0ulie too drunk to see the seriousness o! her pain
regarding her son+ Hr =ust a%oiding the topi$+ She $hanged the sub=e$t& pointed and said&
8.ou're not !inishing that last beer.:
8Tell me one thing& Beth. 0ust one.: 0ulie held her ground& holding the beer at
arms length to her side.
Beth took 0ulie's arm and tugged her to#ards the door. 8Said !or me to $all him
a!ter ( read up on his $ause& the depleted uranium thing.:
8?id you+:
8( did. 5asty stu!!. 9eally is one o! those horrid $rimes against humanity that any
$ountry #ould use su$h #eapons.: Beth started #alking. 8( $an't sit still anymore. Cet's
#alk around the neighborhood.:
Cooking outraged& 0ulie said& 8)nd abandon all this good beer+:
8.eah& lea%e it here. .ou'll li%e longer.:
8('m not ready to lea%e& Beth. Sit do#n. .ou asked me out& remember+ <i%e
minutes& !or Christ's sake. Why are you so antsy+:
Surrendering& Beth plopped do#n. 8y li!e's a mess& 0ulie. Call it a mid/li!e
$ra$k up.:
80ay's going to his dad's is eating you up& isn't it+: 0ulie asked& 8)nd it's $risis.
id/li!e $risis. What's the #orld $oming to #hen ('m $orre$ting your ,nglish+:
Beth said. 75o. (t's men #ho ha%e mid/li!e $rises.7 She dabbled salsa on another
$hip& and pla$ed it #ith the deli$a$y o! a $ommunion #a!er into her mouth& $he#ed and
s#allo#ed. 7Women arri%e at the gray/haired and !labby/armed abyss and kno# their
time as %isible human beings is o%er.7
7.ou're better preser%ed than ( am& Beth& and !ourteen years older.7 0ulie
s#allo#ed another quarter/bottle o! beer. 7"al! the to#n #ants you& but you ha%e that . . .
too/good/to/be/tou$hed aloo!ness/%ibe hanging o!! you. )ren't you lonely+7
8Cook& bet#een my son pulling a#ay !rom me& my agent and publisher about to
$ut me loose& and !or all ( kno#& Stephen's already !allen asleep and burned my house
do#n #ith his $ra$k pipe//:
8Thought you told me he #as $lean. 0ust out o! rehab.:
8,*$ept !or his aspirin& yeah& he's $lean. <or no#. 4eople like Stephen are al#ays
$lean . . . bet#een benders& relapses and re/admissions to programs.:
0ulie eyed Beth's barely tou$hed beer bottle but ba$ked o!! a!ter taking in Beth's
disappro%ing s$o#l. 8H.A. Time !or that #alk.: )s 0ulie put on her =a$ket& she said& 8.ou
kno#& Beth& that per!e$tly good beer #ill get drunk in the kit$hen as soon as they bus our
8@ood. (t's hot ba$k there $ooking and #ashing dishes. They need it more than
#e do. )nd you need to #at$h your drinking. (! you turn al$hy on me& ('ll drop you !aster
than soiled bathroom tissue.:
They headed do#n S#i!t St to#ards West Cli!! ?ri%e. Beth didn't $are ho# !ar
they #alked as long as they #ere out in the !resh air.
T#o blo$ks !rom the restaurant& 0ulie said& 8( hope you get together #ith )aron.:
Beth ga-ed up at the sky& seeking di%ine guidan$e. 8"o# $an you say su$h a
thing+ This isn't high s$hool.:
8(t's al#ays high s$hool& dearie.: 0ulie began skipping do#n the side#alk.
Beth paused. 89aise a kid by yoursel! !or t#enty years and tell me #e ne%er get
out o! high s$hool. Childless adults belie%ing they ne%er lea%e high s$hool+ That ( $an
0ulie entered @arland Street 4ark and signaled Beth's to !ollo#. )t !irst& they sat
on the s#ings in opposite dire$tions& s#aying gently and using the s#ings like ro$king
8.ou need to !all in lo%e&: 0ulie said.
ZHh& Christ.: Beth pushed hersel! higher on the s#ing. 85o# you're my
85o. .our !riend. .ou'%e been so damned #rapped up in yoursel! the past !e#
months e%en ( $an hardly stand you.: 0ulie pumped her legs and #as soon s#inging
higher than Beth. 8)nd you really piss me o!! #ith all your brooding. Cet's make a $ross/
$ountry bike trip in the spring.:
Beth slo#ed to a stop& smiled& and said& 8('%e told you be!ore& 0ulie. 4laying
dodge ball #ith $oked/out& energy/drink addled& $ross/$ountry tru$k dri%ers on the do#n
side o! the Continental ?i%ide is not my idea o! a good time.:
0ulie s#ung on& rea$hed o%er and gra-ed her !riend's arm. 8<or me+ That'd be a
per!e$t #ay to go. 0ust me and my bi$y$le !lying do#n a !our thousand !oot pre$ipi$e to
the great beyond.:
85o# ( kno# you're drinking too mu$h& 0ulie.: Beth got o!! her s#ing and
gestured to#ards the street. 8.ou're going morbid on me.:
Catapulting out o! her s#ing and sprinting to the street& 0ulie said& 8)nd you need
to get laid. 9a$e you ba$k to the $ars+:
Beth let her go ahead. She supposed i! 0ulie $ould run like that her drinking
$ouldn't really be that mu$h o! a problem. "er ne*t thought #as2 am ( that mu$h o!
bummer to be around that no# my !riends are literally running a#ay !rom me+
Breathing hard& 0ulie returned and said& 8.ou #ere supposed to run a!ter me. iss
your $ue+:
Beth said& 8)lready got my miles in today. )nd you shouldn't be running in those
shoes. ,spe$ially a!ter t#o beers and spi$y en$hiladas.:
0ulie said& 8Be!ore #e get ba$k to your $ar& $an you please tell me #hat's going
on #ith you+ .ou're =umping do#n my ass about att& my drinking68
8)lready told you. ('m $ra$king up.: They'd rea$hed her $ar& and Beth hugged
0ulie. 8( !ly to 5e# .ork tomorro# night.:
8@ood. )s !ar as ('m $on$erned& you're already there. Take a break !rom all o!
this and don't $ome ba$k till you get your head straight. "o# long #ill you be a#ay+:
Beth stepped into her $ar and inserted her keys #ithout $losing the door.
8?epends on a lot o! things.:
8Cike #hat+: 0ulie had her hand on the door's handle.
8('ll probably !ind out my #riting $areer is o%er. Cose a ton o! money& maybe my
house. ?is$o%er ( #ouldn't kno# #ho ( #as. Hr ( might hang around and !inish my book&
but that #ill take some !an$y dan$ing. <or no#& ( $an't !inish it& and ('m past deadline.:
8Stay up all night& Beth and !inish the damn thing. ('%e got some $hemi$al helpers
i! you #ant them. 5o# keep your hands on the #heel #hile ( slam your door shut and get
your ass to #ork.:
Beth de$lined the o!!er !or the amphetamines& #a%ed goodbye through the
#indo# and dro%e home. The idea o! #aiting around all day tomorro# be!ore dri%ing to
the San 0ose airport !elt like %olunteering !or a misery/laden purgatory. Beth !elt neither
so$iable nor like she $ould be produ$ti%e sitting in !ront o! a $omputer all day at home6
not #ith Stephen lurking around. "e'd bug the $rap out o! her #hether he #as in the
house or not. )t an important time #ith this #riting pressure hanging o%er her head& older
brother 0ohn really had let her do#n.
Ten minutes later she pulled into her dri%e#ay. Stephen's SBU #asn't there.
@ood& she thought& hope he stays out all night and impulsi%ely dri%es ba$k to 5e%ada&
home to the #orld's greatest medley o! addi$ts.
"e might ha%e enough gas money to get thereF you $ouldn't belie%e a #ord he
said. "e $ould ha%e a grand hidden under a spare tire.
"er phone rang. )aron. She hit the talk button.
8"ello&: Beth ans#ered. 8Be!ore you say anything& )aron& ( ha%e to tell you
8"i& ba$k&: he said. 8<ire a#ay. What do you need to tell me+:
Beth paused and !elt hersel! s#eating pro!usely under her arms and her throat
$onstri$ting. She $oughed to $lear her throat. 8)aron. .ou seem like a lo%ely man. 9eally.
But right no#& my li!e's a mess. )nd getting messier by the day. ('m =ust not in pla$e right
no# to meet someone ne# . . . ('m sorry.:
8.ou don't ha%e to e*plain. ( kno# e*a$tly ho# you !eel. <or no#& no room inside
your head or heart !or a ne# person& right+:
She !elt $almer hearing his #ordsF the sound o! his %oi$e $arried the per!e$t balm.
8,*a$tly. "o# did you kno#+:
"e paused a !e# se$onds. 8When you $ome ba$k !rom a #ar -one . . . you need a
!e# months& sometimes years& to open up again. ( sa# it in your eyes. .ou're in one o!
those -ones.:
Con$iseness #as a quality Beth lo%ed in good #riting and people she liked and
respe$ted. "er brain !looded #ith a million thoughts& but she said& 8,*a$tly.:
8(t's $ool. ( #as glad to meet you. Take $are.:
8Thank you.: Beth paused and said& 8@oodbye.:
"is hanging up a!ter a #arm and sin$ere e*pression !or her to take $are #as the
last thing she e*pe$ted to hear !rom him. Was the man an emotional sa%ant+ This $ool+
This mature+ "o# $ould it be this easy+ But she kne# one thing.
She had to get out o! to#n2 !rom this non/!ling #ith )aron& her house& 0ay and
Brad& !rom Stephen& !rom Santa Cru-. She pa$ked her luggage into the $ar and dro%e
!orty/!i%e minutes to the Santa Clara "otel ne*t to the San 0ose )irport. The hotel had
ine*pensi%e long/term parking and she $ould pi$k up her $ar on the #ay ba$k. She
$he$ked in& put on a long t/shirt and s#eats pants& sat at the desk #ith her laptop and
opened it to her Aatie manus$ript.
She $ouldn't #rite a #ord. )!ter !i%e minutes o! listening to her head spin #ith
e%ery dimension o! ho# her li!e #asn't #orking& she opened up 4assages looking !or
something that !it her mood. There it #as again& <aulkner's quote 8)ll meaning in the
best !i$tion $omes !rom the heart in $on!li$t #ith itsel!.:
Staring o!! into spa$e& Beth thought& #ell& seems ( ha%e all the quali!i$ations.
Chapter 12
Hne sho#er& t#o short baths and a less than satis!a$tory yoga session in her hotel room
later& Beth sat do#n to #rite =ust a!ter ten o'$lo$k. "er plane's time o! departure #as
tomorro# e%ening at 11200 4.. <a$toring in a !e# hours to sleep& she $al$ulated she had
20 hours to #rite be!ore heading to the terminal !or the se$urity gauntlet. With a si*/hour
!light she $ould probably add another !our hours o! #riting time.
Beth returned to her Aatie no%el and reread a s$ene//Aatie o! the #ired =a#.
?id Beth #ant to $ontinue this s$ene #ith the (nternal )!!airs (n%estigators taking
yesKno ans#ers !rom her protagonist #hose $ommuni$ation #as limited to minute head
mo%ements and li!ting up %arious $ombinations o! !ingers+ Beth thought not2 hadn't
readers all been saturated #ith that s$ene !rom tele%ision and mo%ies+ She #anted to
#rite the s$ene in su$h a #ay that she $ould in!use it #ith something !resh.
But #hy not& Beth asked hersel!& =ust =ump $ut to a month in the !uture+ "a%e
Aatie ba$k on her !eet and be able to at least mumble+ "a%e her $on%ales$en$e be an
opportunity !or Aatie's !amily to $ome %isit her in the ,ast+ "a%e them settle in her
apartment #hile Aatie re$uperated+ end some old !amily #ounds !rom her past+ But
none o! that !elt right.
?isgusted #ith this line o! thought& Beth stre#ed the hotel pens& phonebook and
notepad a$ross the room. 8What $rapD: She ran her hand through her still damp hair and
mumbled aloud2 8( $an't !i* my o#n damn li!e by #riting !i$tion.:
Ano#ing she #asn't going to #rite anything #orth#hile !or god kne# ho# long&
Beth stood up and pa$ed. Bnhappy a!ter t#o minutes o! #ea%ing bet#een the beds and
going in and out o! the bathroom& she slipped on some =eans& a s#eatshirt and put on her
The hotel had lo%ely gardens and de$ent se$urity& so she de$ided to stroll through
the #arm San 0ose air and pretended not to smell the smog. )!ter t#o !ast pa$ed loops
around the garden's periphery& she took a path to this san$tuary's middle and sat on
$on$rete ben$h near a poorly done !au* (talian !ountain. She thought about her last phone
$all #ith )aron.
"o# $ould he be so non$halant about breaking up #ith her+ Breaking up #ith
herD She thought ('m not right in the head. "o# $an you break up #ith someone you #ere
ne%er #ith+ They'd had a $up o! $o!!ee and one #alk together. Beth !olded her hands in
her lap& looked do#n and noti$ed ho# she #as dressed. Cook at me& she thought. ('m a
s$hlub& a yokel !rom Western Canada.
H!! to her le!t something $aught her eye. ) uni!ormed se$urity guard strolled past
and #as $learly $he$king her out6more as a %agrant than a se* ob=e$t& she thought. Beth
dangled her room key $ard in !ront o! her& pro$laiming her legitima$y. She $losed her
eyes& kno#ing she should be ba$k in her room #orking on her book& but =usti!ied her
dallian$e by saying& one more another minute.
9e/opening her eyes& =ust beyond the !ountain& she sa# a !u$hsia. She re$alled
ho# surprised she'd been that )aron kne# so mu$h about !lo#ers. Why had she $losed
the door on the possibility o! getting to kno# him more+
Be$ause ('m an ass& Beth thought. y li!e is a mess. She stood up and #ent ba$k
to the lobby looking !or $o!!ee. They #ere out& but the $lerk told her she $ould get some
at the bar i! she didn't #ant to use the $o!!ee maker in her room. She $rossed the lobby
and stood in the bar's entry#ay. ) do-en sets o! male eyes dis$o%ered her& #ol!ing her
do#n like a pa$k o! depri%ed rakes. Beth thought& despite her appearan$e2 either ( don't
look as bad as ( thought& or these guys are so $ompromised #ith boo-e and sleeplessness
('%e taken on the late e%ening allure o! #omen e%ery#here//#hen you #ere still about
and the one ob%ious $reature #ith a %agina.
?e$lining to test this =ungle& Beth turned around& #ent to her room and started the
$o!!ee maker. )s the ma$hine dripped its bla$k gold she #ent ba$k to her Aatie
manus$ript and re/read the entire last $hapter. <eeling stupid& she told hersel!& yeah. (t
al#ays ends up in the same pla$e. Aatie in a hospital bed #ith her =a# #ired shut and
!a$ing a long $on%ales$en$e.
She stood up& passed on the $o!!ee and brushed her hair. When she $ame ba$k to
the desk& she opened up a blank page and #rote2 Today's Aatie (nter%ie#. Time& she told
hersel!& to use an old te$hnique to get the #riting =ui$es !lo#ing. @i%en ho# unprodu$ti%e
she'd been& #hat did she ha%e to lose+
She represented her o#n %oi$e #ith regular !ont. <or Aatie& she assigned itali$s.
)s i! on a mo%ie set& Aatie remo%ed her !alse =a# #iring and li!ted her head o!!
the pillo#. ZSo& Beth& you're !inally sho#ing up !or #ork. )bout time.
ZAatie& ( need your help. Badly. ore than ('%e e%er needed it.'
)s soon as Beth #rote this the room $hanged. She stopped typing. ,%ery ob=e$t in
the room shimmered. Beth !elt here . . . but not here. Then& hearing Aatie's %oi$e& Beth
returned her !ingers to the keyboard2
ZThis #ould be a good time to ask your question&: Aatie said. 8('m bored to hell
lying in this hospital bed #here you're lost in some pity pot.'
Beth #asn't hearing the %oi$e in her head. (t $ame !rom outside o! her. <rom
e*a$tly #here& she had no idea. She typed2
Z( $an't #rite& Aatie. ( $an't mo%e the story !or#ard& and ( don't kno# #hy.'
Z.ou do kno# #hy& but you #on't !a$e it.'
Beth paused be!ore ans#ering. She typed2 Z<a$e #hat+' She !elt s$ared and
irritated& stood& and poured $o!!ee. She returned to her $omputer and #rote2 Z( don't kno#
#hat you're talking about.'
<rom her bed& Aatie bolted upright onto her elbo#s and glo#ered at Beth so
intently Beth slid her $hair ba$k.
ZStop lying to yoursel! Beth. .ou $an't !inish this book be$ause o! =ust that . . .
lyingD .ou thought you $ould bury the past. Cet enough de$ades elapse that e%en you
$ould truly !orget it.'
Bnable to look her $hara$ter in the !a$e& Beth looked all around the hotel room.
5othing #as rightF it #as as i! she and her laptop #ere in a pri%ate bubble deta$hed !rom
the rest o! the #orld. "er !ingers dri!ted ba$k to her keyboard& #ondering #hat #as
happening to her. Z<orget #hat& Aatie+ What are you talking about+'
Supine on the bed& Aatie said& ZWhy do you think ('%e been slo#ing you do#n all
these months& Beth+'
Aatie #ent ba$k to her laptop. ZAatieD .ou'%e been messing #ith my head. .ou
kno# #hat's at stake !or me #ith this book.'
Aatie propped hersel! up again on her elbo#s& looking none too sympatheti$.
Z?on't a$t outraged #ith me. ('m not the one #ho's $aused this.' She pointed an a$$using
!inger at Beth's !a$e. Z<a$e itD .ou did.'
Z( did. ( brought this #riter's blo$k on mysel!+' Beth pi$ked up her $up but
$ouldn't !eel #armth $oming through the por$elain. <rightened at this oddity& she put it
do#n like diseased tissue& and #rote2 Z4utting my $areer& my li%elihood in =eopardy+ .ou
had nothing to do #ith it& Aatie+ (t's all on me+'
Aatie rolled o%er on her right side and propped her head up on her bent elbo#.
Z?amn right. .ou $an't blame this on your $hara$ters.'
Z.ou =ust said you slo#ed me do#n. <or months. .ou admitted it.'
Z( didn't stop you.' Aatie shook her head. Z( slo#ed you do#n& yes. When are you
going to ask me #hy+'
Standing up and stepping ba$k !rom the desk& Beth turned and darted to the
bathroom. She stared into the mirror. (t #as as i! she #ere looking into a !ish tank that
hadn't been $leaned in #eeks. Without makeup& #earing baggy $lothes& !eeling marooned
on an atoll surrounded by rising #aters about to engul! her& she #hispered to the image o!
her !a$e. 8So& Aatie kno#s #hy she slo#ed me do#n. But am ( #illing to hear it+:
Beth #ashed her !a$e. She massaged her gums #ith her !ore!inger& bringing the
blood to the sur!a$e o! her mouth tissue. She brushed her hair again& stood tall and said&
:@o talk to that #oman. She's got something to say. Seems the only #ay !or me to hear
9eturning to her $omputer& Beth tried to $ontinue the inter%ie# #ith Aatie. But
a!ter hal! a do-en re/phrasings o! her questions& ea$h more a#k#ard and $on%oluted than
the last& Beth's dete$ti%e said& Z.ou're still not ready to listen to me&' and slapped her
#ired/=a# $ontraption ba$k into her mouth& !lopped ba$k on the bed& $losed her eyes and
ga%e Beth the !inger.
,*hausted& Beth slammed her $omputer shut& #ent to the room's bay #indo# that looked
out o%er the gardens. ,%erything outside looked right& but there #as not a soul to be seen.
She e*amined the bed. The idea that she #ould be sleeping alone again le!t her !eeling
empty. She allo#ed hersel! a brie! moment o! imagining& #hat i! she had in%ited )aron to
$ome #ith her to 5e# .ork+ She qui$kly shook the thought a#ay. <irst& be$ause she had
$rashed the possibility o! ha%ing a relationship #ith himF and& se$ondly& she reminded
hersel!& she'd gro#n a$$ustomed to sleeping alone.
The hotel bible lay on top o! the bed stand& and she $onsidered opening it to some
random page to see i! some passage might speak to her. But& as she #alked past& she
settled on tapping the bible's spine and thought& it's too easy to impart meaning to a bible
passage and deemed doing so #ould be a $op/out. She got into bed.
Shi%ering& she pulled the blankets up to her $hin& qui$kly !ell into an e*hausted
sleep and dreamed she #alked into ?urone's photography studio& no# magi$ally
relo$ated to 9ome. Cu$id dreaming #as ne# to Beth& and she e*pe$ted she #as in !or a
roller/$oaster ride.
Beth entered the shop on a s#eltering H$tober day& hoping to bump into her !irst
Hn$e past the shop door& Beth's dream took a !urther le!t turn to#ards the surreal.
?urone's se$ond #i!e& <eli$ia& had been his hometo#n s#eetheart& #ho in real li!e #as
dying o! breast $an$er . . . but in this dream& <eli$ia #as (talian. ) Bla$k (talian.
Beth retained her )meri$an identity and <eli$ia greeted her like a $ustomer.
<eli$ia spoke (talian in a 9oman diale$t and slo#ed her spee$h !or the tourist. Beth
#ondered& #as she being soli$itous or =ust hoping to make a sale+
(n $lunky ,nglish& riddled #ith (talian tourist phrases& Beth tried to tell <eli$ia
#ho she #as& ?urone's !irst #i!e. Worried she might be too o!!i$ious& Beth didn't #ant to
make <eli$ia un$om!ortable . . . but #hy #as she intruding on her !irst husband's li!e+
)nd he'd taken his se$ond #i!e hal!#ay round the #orld. Was it to get as !ar a#ay as
possible !rom Beth and their miserably !ailed !irst marriage+ Why #asn't ?urone here+
What did she #ant to tell him+ What did she #ant to ask o! him+
<eli$ia and Beth kept grinning at ea$h other in the a#k#ard pantomime o! people
#ho speak di!!erent languages and& though trying& are not getting any#here. They #ere
up against the t#o/minute deadline that go%erned $ourteous dis$ourse bet#een people o!
dis$repant tongues. Their mutual smiling gre# more and more !or$ed. ?espite the
!rustration o! not being able to make hersel! understood& Beth !elt enthralled #ith her.
Beth #anted to be her !riend. Wanted to embra$e her. But #ith this (talian %ersion o!
?urone's se$ond #i!e& Beth kne# it #ould be terribly #rong to presume su$h intima$y.
Beth uttered her best gra-ie6ne*t& her legs #ent leaden. She $ouldn't mo%e.
Terri!ied& unable to breath& Beth struggled to retreat. 0ust be!ore the dream ended& <eli$ia
allory's !a$e 6moments be!ore lo%ely and open// bubbled& blistered& and $oales$ed
into a snake/in!ested mask.
"orri!ied& Beth reeled ba$k& kno$king o%er a shel! o! $ameras. Crashing sound
!illed the room. The edusa ho%ered o%er her. Beth !elt like she #as dissol%ing in some
a$idi$ pit& bla$k pie$es o! <eli$ia's skull !alling in #ith her.
8@o. @oD: Beth s$reamed& struggling to get a#ay& but her limbs re!used to mo%e.
Beth #oke #ith a ra$ing heart. "er body dren$hed in s#eat and she rushed to the
bathroom sink.
She splashed #ater on her !a$e and #ashed up. What in god's good name #as that
about+ Suddenly nauseous& Beth knelt in !ront o! the toilet& bra$ed her hands on the seat&
lo#ered her head and let the hea%ing begin.
5othing $ame up. But her mouth tasted like she'd been su$king on a diesel
e*haust. She hoped she'd puke//maybe she'd !eel better.
The a$id $ame !irst. Then the up!lush o! her stoma$h $ontents. Beth hea%ed
hersel! hoarse and empty. S#eat dripped o!! her !orehead& topping the si$kening dribble
that she'd spat into the toilet bo#l.
She !lushed the toilet t#i$e& !eeling a tinge o! $ool !rom the !resh #ater s#irling
around the bo#l& pulling the $ontents o! her insides a#ay to some %ast se#er.
The %omiting had drained her o! energy. Beth struggled to make it ba$k to the
sink. )!ter brushing her teeth t#i$e& she returned to her desk& noting that an hour had
passed. She #rote notes about her dream and hoped her stoma$h #ould settle. Still di--y
and #eak& she slid o%er to the bed& sat do#n and tried to remember #hat she'd last eaten.
Beer and e*i$an !ood #ere something she ate at least #eekly& and !ood poisoning& she
reminded hersel!& usually sho#ed up #ithin an hour a!ter eating. So it #asn't that.
(n the morning& she #ould $all 0ulie and ask i! she'd any problems& but as soon as
Beth thought this& she kne# it #as !utile. What #as bothering her #as !ar beyond the
pedestrian ba$teria you pi$ked up !rom inadequate kit$hen hygiene. "er heart and
breathing #ere returning to normalF she sat on the edge o! the bed& rubbed her stoma$h
and !elt she #as on the mend.
But #hy& she #ondered& #as ?urone sho#ing up in her dreams+ )nd seeing his
se$ond #i!e& <eli$ia& someone she had ne%er met in real li!e+ aybe i! she begged (saiah&
her therapist& she $ould ha%e an emergen$y phone session in the morning. They'd done it
be!ore. She $alled and le!t him a message& a$kno#ledging this #as out o! the ordinary&
but i! he #ere in to#n& $ould he $all her at her hotel be!ore she !le# east.
She'd le!t Santa Cru- to get a#ay !rom distra$tions& to #ork !uriously on her
book. She'd planned to #rite like a demon. She reminded hersel! she #as past deadline
and told hersel!2 0ust #rite& Beth. Write. Write like your damn li!e depended on it.
Be$ause it did.
Teetering bet#een e*haustions and mania& Beth reminded hersel! she $ould sleep
later on the plane. ) polished manus$ript #as impossible6she hadn't $ompletely lost her
mind6yet& she still hoped to sho# up to her agent's o!!i$e #ith a near/!inished& !ull dra!t
o! Co%e in the 4re$in$t.
Wasn't that still a possibility& she hoped+ She kne# she #as a$ting like a s$re#ed/
up $ollege kid #ho had a term paper assigned at the beginning o! the semester and no#
had a day to !inish it. She #as o%erdosing on her o#n an*iety. Beth had done lots o!
papers that #ay in $ollege. But no%els& as she'd learned years ago& #ere hardly term
She reminded hersel! o! ho# old she #as& !orty/nine. She !elt #orse& $arried
hersel! ba$k to the bathroom and re/e*amined her !a$e.
Beth had been beauti!ul her entire li!e. But as her peers aged and lost their looks
at a$$elerating rates o! de$ay& Beth's genes had taken o%er& preser%ing her appearan$e to
the en%y o! all her !riends. ,%eryone in her !amily #as a de$ade or more younger/looking
than their a$tual ages//e%en Stephen a!ter de$ades o! to*ins and abusing his body. 0ulie
hadn't been kidding #hen she said Beth #as better preser%ed than her despite 0ulie being
!ourteen years her =unior. 0ulie had the $urse o! being a nati%e/born Cali!ornia girl and
ha%ing e*$eeded her li!e/quotient o! sun e*posure by age 12.
Shaking her head briskly in the mirror& Beth thought& s$re# this. Who $ares+
9unning had al#ays $leared her head. (! she $ould& she'd kno$k o!! a mile run& think
about her book and nothing else& $ome home and kno$k out at least t#o $hapters.
Be!ore heading out& she do#ned hal! a pint o! orange =ui$e !rom the mini/bar&
sugar$oating the last o! the metalli$ a!tertaste in her mouth and headed !or the main
boule%ard. She trotted around the parking lot to test her legs and energy. She #as okay.
These ma=or streets #ere #ell lit. She %o#ed to run only on side#alks along main
through/!ares. (t #as early enough that she probably #ouldn't run into any muggers& and
e%en i! she did& she !elt $on!ident she $ould outrun them.
She did ha%e to run through three long blo$ks o! an industrial neighborhood to get
do#nto#n& but she soon slipped passed them and !ound hersel! among the tall buildings&
restaurants and $ro#ds. ,ight minutes !rom her starting point& she entered do#nto#n San
0ose& a mile !rom her hotel.
)s she ran& she asked o%er and o%er in her head2 #hat does Aatie #ant+ What
does Aatie #ant+
Beth kne# some o! the ans#ers. Aatie #anted to be done #ith tra$king do#n
%iolent hoodlums and out o! the poli$e #ork. Though Aatie #as good at #hat she did& it
had long ago turned into an endless rat ra$e o! $hasing bad guys& #ho as soon as they
#ere behind bars or got killed in some tur! #ar& #ere repla$ed by a ne# set o! $riminals
6e%er younger and e%er more %iolent.
@oing by the San 0ose useum o! )rt& $ro#ds o! people #ere e*iting
some e%ent& and Beth had to slo# do#n among the $ro#d. 4eople #ere dressed up& and
in her s#eatband& shorts& s#eatshirt and running shoes& Beth stood out like a sports !an
attending the opera.
Where #ere all these people going& Beth asked. "ome& o! $ourse. "ome to #arm
beds& !amiliar surroundings& sleeping $hildren and pets o%er/delighted to see their
keepers. "ome. Beth had it. @et Aatie home. H! $ourse . . . a ne# home.
)s qui$kly as this idea $rystalli-ed in her brain& Beth ran around the blo$k& the
!oot tra!!i$ thinned and she headed ba$k to the hotel. Sin$e the hour #as late and tra!!i$
sparse& she ran against t#o red lights. (deas spun as !ast as her !eet $arried her o%er the
$on$rete side#alks. Beth a$hed to get to her $omputer and start #riting.
@rasping onto this une*pe$ted burst o! #riting energy& Beth !or$ed hersel! to
think ahead about Aatie's !uture2 beyond the (CB& past hospitali-ation& past ()
in%estigations& beyond being a dete$ti%e. This had al#ays been the most e*$iting part o!
the Aatie no%els& !inally tra$king do#n the perpetrator. Aatie needed to sol%e her $ase.
)nd soon.
Beth sped into her room& to#eled o!! and opened up her manus$ript. @lan$ing to
her right& she sa# her $ell phone i$on !lashing. u$h to her surprise she had a %oi$e mail
message !rom (saiah6he said to $all him at G200 a.m. She took that as a positi%e omen
and made !resh $o!!ee. She smiled and #ent ba$k to her #riting.
Writing #ith a speed and !luidity she hadn't !elt on this book sin$e its in$eption&
Beth took #ired/=a# Aatie and qui$kly had her re$o%ered enough to !a$e her
interrogators. Aatie told them she no longer $ared #hat the department thought about her.
5o matter ho# many eye#itnesses said they sa# Aatie kill her suspe$t& all anyone had to
do #as read her medi$al !ile to kno#& beyond any doubt& she'd been !ighting !or her li!e.
)t the s$ene Aatie reported that the perpetrator had rea$hed !or her loaded pistol& and she
took appropriate steps to prote$t hersel!. She had learned long ago to let do$umented
!a$ts argue her de!ense.
Beth sat ba$k and sipped her $o!!ee. She reread the last page and hal! o! dialogue&
$on$luding it #as a !airly entertaining depi$tion o! an in$reasingly strident Aatie&
essentially telling her superiors they $ould take this =ob and& i! not e*a$tly sho%e it& pass it
on to the ne#est ambitious young dete$ti%e. Beth $losed the !ile& ba$ked it up on the !lash
dri%e she $arried on her key$hain and lay do#n.
She $losed her eyes and a!ter a minute and a hal! !a$ed the !a$t2 she #asn't going
to sleep. Sitting up& she asked& #here #ould she take the story+ Hut o! habit& she glan$ed
at the $o!!ee pot. Beth didn't need more $a!!eine to !ire up her neurons. She bolted up&
#ent ba$k to her laptop and re/opened her manus$ript. She had some !resh ideas #here
she #anted to take the story.
She =umped ahead in her the no%el and #rote2
Aatie& no# on )dministrati%e Cea%e& set the insubordination $harges out o! mind.
She !elt relie%ed& got out o! 5e# .ork and $amped at a !riend's empty $ottage in
ontauk//#here a $ombination o! long bea$h #alks& $at$hing up on her !i$tion reading
and sleeping more than she e%er had in her li!e did #onders !or her re$o%ery.
Three #eeks later& her =a# no# !ree o! #ires& the only symptom Aatie had !rom
the atta$k #as a limp on her le!t side !rom #here her knee bore the brunt o! the brute's
#orst body slam. She #rote in her =ournal !or t#o hours a day and $on$luded #riting out
her memories and emotions o! the e%ent bene!ited her !ar more than talking things out
#ith $ounselors.
Being this isolated !rom her superiors& ignoring all phone and te*t messages& and
temporarily !orgetting she e%en had email& Aatie re/dis$o%ered a pla$e in hersel! she'd all
but lost. That $hild/like =oy o! sitting in one spot and #at$hing the shado# o! a pine tree
make its trek a$ross a sand dune. The $ompany o! shore birds and seagulls #ho ne%er
ga%e up hope !or a !ree meal tossed their #ay !rom a human hand. She smiled at the
plump birds& e%er so !aintly& be$ause i! she e*pressed more& the stret$hing o! her mouth
and !a$e mus$les #ould shoot pain through her =a# and do#n her ne$k. 4erhaps& she
thought& she #asn't as re$o%ered as she #ished.
Beth stopped typing and read #hat she'd =ust #ritten. Was it Aatie #ho #as on
the bea$h in ontauk re$o%ering !rom line/o!/duty in=uries+ Hr Beth's o#n #ish!ul
thinking !or es$ape+ "o# $ould she separate author and $hara$ter+ .et& Beth kne#& she
had to. )utobiography made !or lousy !i$tion. Still& Beth re$alled ho# in an earlier
=ournal entry& she and Aatie had argued. Without spe$i!i$s& Aatie had a$$used her o! not
looking at something.
Beth !elt queasy. Hh& damn& she thought& not this again. She #anted to #rite all
night and !inish as mu$h o! her book as she $ould. But this blurring o! boundary bet#een
author and protagonist #as getting a bit . . . #ell& ridi$ulous might be good des$ription !or
it. Che$king on ho# she #as s#eating again and her stoma$h hurt& Beth kne# ill boding
might be the better ad=e$ti%e. @rasping& she told hersel! she #as probably $oming do#n
#ith a %irus+
Beth tried to distra$t hersel! !rom this on/$oming spell and !or$ed hersel! to
$on$entrate on her Co%e in the 4re$in$t manus$ript.
)t this point& Aatie's tenure in ontauk #as nothing but a brie! interlude. )
$han$e to stop and ponder the ne*t phase o! her !i$tional li!e& or& as Beth liked to $all it2
<i$tus undus. Could Aatie go ba$k to the $ity+ <a$e an embarrassing and brutal inquiry
into #hether she'd used too mu$h !or$e in apprehending a %iolent $riminal+ ,ndure
listening to morons $hallenge her !or sa%ing her o#n li!e+
Hh& Beth thought. ( get it. That earlier e*$hange& the hallu$inatory =ournal entry
#ith the dete$ti%e #as really #hat Aatie had to do. Aatie had to !a$e the reality o! her
$urrent li!e. 9esol%e her past. <a$e her !uture.
<eeling relie%ed& Beth #rote2
Aatie #as too young and not su!!i$iently #ell o!! to simply retire. arrying !or
se$urity #as a delusion many years o! poli$e #ork had shattered !ore%er2 the number o!
spouse on spouse homi$ides d#ar!ed those o! pro!essional hit men.
(n her #alks along the sailing slips in ontauk& Aatie started to kno# some o! the
regulars. "er isolation ine%itably lessened& and the lo$al diner o!!ered at least a mirage o!
some kind o! so$ial intera$tion. ) #eek o! $hi$ken !ried steaks& pork $hops& hamburgers&
mashed potatoes and peas turned into being asked out on a date by the short/ order $ook&
a 0ohnny 5ietupski. 0ohnny #as t#o years post (raq #here he'd le!t the lo#er part o! his
right leg in the sands and no# #alked #ith a prostheti$ limp that $omplemented Aatie's
limp per!e$tly.
Cying in bed a!ter making lo%e& Aatie said& 80ohnny& this $an't go any#here& you
kno# that+:
0ohnny leaned o%er& lit a $igarette& took in a long pull o! smoke and let it out. "e
said& 8Cet's see& Beth& We gimp along together on the bea$h& eat sea!ood& drink& !u$k in a
#ay that seems mutually en=oyable . . . ('d say things are going great.:
Be$ause o! her sore ribs& Aatie had had to limit se* to her being on top. She
#ondered i! 0ohnny had made that spee$h be$ause o! hurt pride& !rom ha%ing lost part o!
his body in #ar& or !rom her simply not allo#ing him to rut into her like a randy dog. 8e
too&: she said.
0ohnny stu$k his hand outside the #indo# and tapped the ashes o!! his $igarette.
8Still think you're too good !or a hobbling 4ollo$k& iss Shields+:
The !a$t o! the matter& Aatie reali-ed looking a#ay& his a$$usations #ere spot on.
She did think she #as too good !or 0ohnny. 5o amount o! his kindness& his great
lo%emaking& or his sel!/depre$ating humor $ould alter that they $ame !rom di!!erent
$lasses. "e #as the son o! 5e# Bed!ord !isherman. She #as the daughter to t#o S$ripps
9esear$h (nstitute marine biologists #ith enough 4h?'s bet#een them to #allpaper their
o%er/built $ustom bathroom.
8.ou kno#& Aatie. ( run into #omen like you e%ery year or so. Brooding&
edu$ated #omen getting o%er marriages& dead kids& a!!airs& bad $areer mo%es . . . you
name it.: She turned her ba$k to him. "e asked& 8@oing some#here+: "e leaned o%er
and let his hand stop on her stoma$h. 8Together+ )part+ Where%er #e end up is !ine #ith
me. ?on't #orry about it.:
<or the ne*t !orty minutes. Aatie $ried bet#een multiple orgasms. )!ter that& she
lay a#ake staring at the $eiling #hile 0ohnny slept6like a baby. She supposed he really
meant all those de%il/may/$are remarks.
Beth pushed her laptop !or#ard and s$anned the room//her so empty room. She
#ondered #hat arty S$hienman& her agent& #ould think about this ne# ending.
She $ould see him saying& 8Beth& this stinks. Why is Aatie !u$king on the bea$h in
ontauk+ @et her ass ba$k in the $ity and kno$k some pompous =erks o!!2 () guys&
$rusading reporters& or e*/bosses. )ny kind o! big shot. That's #hat your !ans e*pe$t.
What the hell is she going #ith this 0ohnny guy+ ) qui$k !u$k. <ine. But $ome on+
Aatie's a $ity/girl.:
Beth thought& blast o!!& artyD aybe ('ll ha%e 0ohnny s$re# all the pretensions
out o! her& all the need she'd on$e thought she had to pro%e to hersel! she #as tough and
smart enough to #hom+ "er parents+ "er $olleagues+ "ersel!+ Beth returned to typing2
Aatie thought o! hersel! as ha%ing a$hie%ed some kind o! %i$tory o%er her
pri%ileged and a$$omplished parents #ith all their 5obel 4ri-e and (nternational S$ien$e
)#ard/#inning !riends. Aatie had made her #ay through si* no%els along the mean
streets o! suburban )meri$a& and at this point in her li!e& do#n#ard mobility looked
espe$ially good.
Beth $losed her eyes and re!le$ted on all that she had =ust #ritten. u$h o! it
stunk& she reali-ed. )nd o! $ourse she'd ha%e to make ma=or $hanges to all o! it. But& at
least& she #as #riting something.
arty and Syne$do$he 4ublishing #ould be surprised at this ending//that #as a
gi%en. Beth imagined a!!e$ting her personal brand o! 5e# .ork Bit$h& learned o%er a
de$ade o! business meetings #ith the snakes and salamanders o! @otham publishing. The
snakes& the men& #ore yello# or red tiesF the salamanders #ore turtlene$ks& $hinos and
tessellated loa!ers.
The !emale %ersion o! snakes and salamanders #ore& respe$ti%ely& bla$k suits #ith
petite but taste!ul =e#elry and the salamanders #ore the same mono$hromati$ out!its//but
#ith lo#er quality !abri$ and ta#dry a$$essories. By the time the third speaker in those
business meetings opened their mouths& the !our letter #ords #ould go unnoti$ed. They'd
talk o%er one another& opining %o$i!erously& and pretending they kne# best #hat readers
The hell #ith them& Beth thought. By the time the sun $ame up& she $ould at least
sket$h out the last $hapters and sho# Beth at the bea$h in repose& ha%ing reali-ed she'd
met the man o! her des$ending dreams in 0ohnny 5ietupski. The only thing her publisher
really $ared about #as making money. Hnly she& Beth !elt& truly kne# #hen it #as time
to retire this $hara$ter. )nd she !elt e%ery $ell in her body s$reaming to !inish this series.
(n this late $hapter o! Co%e in the 4re$in$t& Beth $onsidered getting Aatie kno$ked
up& marry 0ohnny on a !ishing boat bede$ked #ith sea#eed garlands and their guests
getting toasted #ith 5arragansett Beer. While pregnant Aatie $ould #aitress at the diner
and master the nuan$es o! !ish $ho#der. Aatie Shields resol%es all o! her guilt about
$oming !rom an upper $lass& Southern Cali!ornia !amily and li%es happily e%er//ha%ing
!ound lo%e and happiness among the salt marshes o! Cong (sland.
"urriedly& be!ore her brain snapped shut& Beth #rote out all these ideas. )t the
same time& !rom the ba$k o! her mind& she reali-ed this #as all so mu$h dri%el. But she
had to get something done.
Beth tried to $on%in$e hersel! one more time2 5one o! the proposed $hapters
stru$k her as parti$ularly $hallenging6nor did she #ant to add any serious
$ompli$ations. This #as it !or Aatie. @et out& get her married and li%e out her li!e a#ay
!rom the dirt and $orruption o! the $ity. Super!i$ially& Beth liked it& but& at the same time&
kne# her agent and publisher #ould !ind this& to put it mildly& a stret$h. 9eali-ing she
#as going in $ir$les& Beth ga%e up and shut her $omputer do#n.
,*hausted& she !olded her arms on the desk& laid her head on her !orearms and
dri!ted o!!.
Chapter 13
Beth #oke up& li!ted her head& and dis$o%ered she had a $ri$k in her ne$k. "er $o!!ee #as
$old. She glan$ed at the digital $lo$k on the nightstand. (t blinked2 1222; )..
Sitting up straight& her ba$k #as killing her& and she had a sti!! ne$k. She glan$ed
at her laptop. Bn$ons$iously& she must ha%e $losed it. Standing up and stret$hing& she
thought& damn it& ( planned to #rite all night and instead #imped/out and !ell asleep.
Telling hersel! she needed $a!!eine as mu$h as she needed to #alk the kinks out o!
limbs& Beth #ent to the $on%enien$e store a$ross the street and bought a 2;/oun$e =umbo
Ba$k in !i%e minutes& Beth re/read the notes she'd #ritten be!ore !alling asleep
and got to #ork. She a$tually #rote qui$kly& taking no time to go ba$k and polish any o!
her prose. She =ust #anted to !inish the damn book& and i! that meant mar$hing into her
agent's o!!i$e #ith the last third o! the book in the !orm o! an early dra!t . . . so be it.
She #ent ba$k to #here she had Aatie out o! the hospital and ba$k to her mid/
to#n apartment& #here she pa$ked& made t#o phone $alls to her $aptain and $an$elled her
() inter%ie#.
Aatie smiled& imagining the e*pressions on their !a$es #hen the se$retary told the
in%estigators the ne*t morning that it #asn't a $on%enient time !or her to be appearing.
Beth line/edited the pre%ious se$tion and put in more ba$kground2 Aatie had
ne%er tra%eled that !ar out on Cong (sland. (n earlier no%els& she had merely %a$ationed in
the $hi$ $oastal %illages !or !un and se*ual !roli$6usually in%ol%ing ya$hts& sheer
$lothing& bikinis and $hampagne.
Hn her last day in her apartment& Aatie pa$ked one suit$ase. )!ter instru$ting her
landlord to gi%e a#ay #hat remained o! her meager possessions to #home%er he liked&
she rented a $ar in mid/to#n and dro%e out to Cong (sland. (n an hour& Aatie's es$ape/
!rom/5e# .ork #as $omplete. The only thing she'd miss #as her espresso ma$hine.
The e%ening $hill #as settling in& so Beth stood up !rom her desk and put on a
s#eater. What ne*t& she #ondered& pa$ing around the room. Where does Aatie need to
be+ What does she need to do no#+
"ugging hersel! to #arm up& Beth hopped by the thermostat. (t read !i!ty/eight
degrees. @reat running temperature but too $old to $om!ortably #rite sitting on your butt
!or hours on end. She sat ba$k do#n.
Beth liked the s$ene o! Aatie and 0ohnny lying in bed together& !eaturing her
a#k#ardness at 0ohnny's $on!rontation o! her !eeling superior to#ards him.
Hh& there's so mu$h more to do& Beth thought. But it #as in general easy material.
(t #ouldn't do to =ust ha%e Aatie drop o!! the !a$e o! the earth in ontauk and get
married too qui$kly. Sho# her& Beth thought& ha%ing to s#eat a little to get this ne# li!e
laun$hed& undergo some $hara$ter $hange . . . perhaps dis$o%er she really did lo%e
0ohnny. )!ter all& Aatie #ould bore qui$kly simply reading books and staring at the o$ean
a!ter her !irst #eek at the end o! the #orld.
<or no#& as a pri%ate authorial =oke& Beth $alled the diner& Burgers O Cittle 5e$ks.
Beth re$alled 0ohnny #as an (raqi War Uet #ith prosthesis !or a le!t leg. )lso& she
thought& make him a guy #ho doesn't read anything more $hallenging than the sports
pages& and& during se*& liked to #at$h porn.
,erie& Beth thought& re$alling )aron also #as an (raq War (. Uet& but she qui$kly
dismissed the asso$iation. )aron #as !ar smarter than 0ohnny and didn't ha%e an arti!i$ial
leg. They're nothing at all alike.
Beth kne# ho# she #anted the book and the series to end2 Aatie #ould re=e$t
e%erything she'd $ome !rom& e%erything she'd pre%iously aspired to& and lose hersel! in
the #orld o! the $ommoner. 0ohnny #ould be a use!ul %ehi$le !or that subplot and
surprise the hell out o! the typi$al Aatie Shields reader.
Wanting to get this transition $hapter !inished so she $ould !eel good about
sho#ing it to arty S$hienman and her publisher& Beth re/#rote the entire se$tion& thirty/
!our pages. She !elt e*hausted and lay do#n.
Without taking o!! her s#eat pants& under all the hotel room's blankets and !inally
!eeling #armer& she !ell into an e*hausted sleep.
Bntil she #as startled a#ake by ringing. @lan$ing at her $ell phone& Beth thought& Christ&
it's !our in the morning. Who'd $all no#+
8Beth. (t's 0ulie.:
Beth sat up. 8What's #rong+ (t's the middle o! the night.:
8( kne# you'd be up #riting&7 0ulie said. 7Wasn't that the plan+ Write all night to
!inish your book.:
5ot #anting to admit to ha%ing !allen asleep& Beth lied and said& 8.eah& right. But
#hat's going on+:
8('m #orried&7 0ulie said& yelling. 8)bout Stephen.:
Beth held the phone a#ay !rom her ear& and thought& Christ& $an't ( e%er get a#ay
!rom baby brother+ She brought the phone ba$k to her ear& being $are!ul not to press hard
sin$e the slightest pressure against her ear or $heek turned it o!!. 8"e's a not big boy. But
#hat are you #orried about+:
8( sa# him do#nto#n stumbling drunk and !alling do#n.:
@lan$ing at the $lo$k& Beth said& 8The bars $losed t#o hours ago. .ou #ere
#alking do#nto#n at t#o in the morning+:
8att and ( #ere $oming out o! Soi!'s !rom a pri%ate a!ter/hours party. We sa#
Stephen #ea%ing a$ross the street.:
Beth kne# her younger brother #ouldn't be drinking at an elegant #ine bar. "e'd
ha%e been at The )%enue on lo#er 4a$i!i$ )%enue #here the #hores and drinks #ere
$heap. She said& 80ulie& again& that #as hours ago. Why are you $alling no#+:
0ulie mumbled something Beth $ouldn't hear. 8.ou're $ell phone is breaking up&
0ulie. Can you $all me on a landline+ ('m at the Santa Clara "otel.:
0ulie must ha%e heard Beth sin$e she immediately hung up. Beth #ent to the
bathroom and #ashed her !a$e. <u$k you& Stephen& she thought& but thanks too. )t least
she #as ba$k& groggily a#ake and $ould get ba$k to her book a!ter hearing #hate%er 0ulie
needed to tell her. So #hat i! Stephen #as drunk+ ?id rehab e%er #ork+ (diot had been
drinking beer& smoking pot and $alling it aspirin only hours be!ore.
Beth's hotel room phone rang. She sat on the edge o! the bed and let it ring a !e#
times& debating #hether she really #as open to hearing any o! this. Sin$e she'd been
si*teen& ho# many nights had she and her !amily6and no# she and her !riends6been up
in the middle o! the nigh talking about Stephen+ Wouldn't it be better i! he'd =ust hurry
up& o%erdose and get it o%er #ith+
9ea$hing !or the phone& Beth $leared her throat and ans#ered. 8Stephen
Shepherd's all/night $risis $enter. Can ( help you+:
8Beth. ?on't !u$k around&: 0ulie said. 8Stephen's a mess.:
8Tell me something ( don't kno#.: Beth lay ba$k on the bad and studied the
$eiling. 8.ou sa# him drunk a $ouple o! hours ago& and you're $alling me no#. Why+:
There !ollo#ed a long pause. Beth asked& 80ulie+ ?id you !all asleep+:
8( $alled&: 0ulie began& 8be$ause ('m ashamed.:
)t the mention o! shame& Beth's #hole being turned up a not$h2 she !elt tight& on
edge and sensed some nameless threat. She sat up. 80ulie&: she said& 8#hat's up+:
8att and ( should ha%e taken Stephen to your house and put him to bed.:
8That #ould ha%e been #ell beyond the $all o! duty.: Beth $rossed her !eet and
thought& might ha%e kept Stephen !rom killing himsel! on ,mpire @rade 9oad i! the idiot
had been dri%ing. 8But you didn't take Stephen home. 9ight+:
89ight&: 0ulie said. 8But ('%e been $alling Stephen !or the last hour and he #on't
ans#er the phone.:
8?o you ha%e any reason to think he's doing anything besides sleeping o!! his
latest drunk+:
0ulie took her time ans#ering.
8When #e sa# Stephen on the street . . . he #as %omiting.:
Beth thought that's #hat drunks do. )nd stupid drunks up/$hu$k on do#nto#n
streets obli%ious to #hat anyone else thinks. 8That surprised you+:
8att and ( #alked by him. "e'd %omited up some blood.:
8?id you talk to him+ )sk him i! you $ould dri%e him home+: Beth asked.
8We meant to. But #hen #e approa$hed him& Stephen =ust sloughed us o!!& said
he'd be H.A. and stumbled to#ards a parking lot.:
8.ou let him dri%e like that+: Beth !elt simultaneously like she #as out o! line
#ith that question and had a per!e$t right to ask it.
8.ou =ust said . . . !or us to ha%e dri%en him #ould ha%e been more than #hat
anyone should e*pe$t.:
Beth stood up and pa$ed the !loor. 8( kno# #hat ( said. So #hat happened+:
8Well& ah . . . 8
"a%ing heard enough& Beth interrupted& and said& 8So you $alled me in the middle
o! the night be$ause you think ( should $all Stephen+:
85o& no. att $alled the Santa Cru- poli$e and asked them to do a #el!are $he$k.
The $ops ha%e been to your house and already $alled an ambulan$e.:
8)n ambulan$e+: Beth's !irst thought #as2 and taken her brother to the morgue+
She had to breath t#i$e be!ore she $ould ask& 8Where's Stephen no#+:
8"e's at ?omini$an "ospital. ( thought you should kno#.:
The #ay 0ulie's %oi$e trailed o!! Beth kne# her !riend #anted to get o!! the
Beth asked& 8(s he ali%e+
8"e #as #hen the ambulan$e got to your house. 9ight no#& ( don't kno#.:
(n su$h moments Beth had learned people had the strangest thoughts. She'd
al#ays hated att edom& thought o! him as a sel!ish s$oundrel and someone 0ulie
should stay a#ay !rom. But& possibly& Stephen o#ed his li!e to this man !or $alling the
8Thank att !or me&: Beth said. 8Yui$k thinking on his part. ('m getting o!! and
$alling the hospital.:
Beth $alled ?omini$an "ospital and asked about her brother. The ,9 do$s
#ouldn't take her $all but the nursing sta!! told her Stephen #as there !or some unkno#n
$hemi$al $o$ktail& he #as ali%e& and the sta!! #ere doing e%erything they $ould. That #as
all they $ould report.
Beth shut her $ell phone o!! and dropped in on the bed. She should $all 0ohn& she thought.
But no& it's the middle o! the night and there's nothing he $an do right no#.
(! Stephen died in the hospital& must she $an$el her trip to 5e# .ork+ )rrange her
brother's !uneral in Santa Cru-+ Would her agent and publisher belie%e su$h a story+ She
slapped hersel! on the $heek. She told hersel!& ('m thinking $ra-y.
Beth pa$ed the room. She de$ided to go outside and trot through the gardens to
burn o!! stress. She glan$ed at the $lo$k on the lobby #all and told hersel! to $all
?omini$an "ospital in 30 minutes.
?espite the hour& she $ouldn't #ait. She remembered& 0ohn #as in C) and no
matter in #hat time -one he #as in he'd #ant to kno# #hat #as going on. She $alled her
older brother kno#ing she'd probably s$are him. "e did ha%e young kids and a #i!e at
home& and this kind o! ne#s hit a !amily ner%e shared by the Shepherd $lan.
0ohn a#oke !rom a deep sleep #hen Beth $alled& and she told him that Stephen
#as in ?omini$an "ospital !or an o%erdose. "e surprised her.
8('m in onterey& Beth&: 0ohn said. 8( de$ided to rent a $ar in C) and dri%e up
"igh#ay 1.: "e paused. 8Cook& you'%e been on the !ront lines #ith Stephen long
enough. (! ( get up and pa$k no#& ( $an be in Santa Cru- in an hour.:
Beth !illed him in on the last ne#s about their youngest brother2 that he #as in
serious $onditionF that they didn't kno# #hat drugs he'd ingestedF and the medi$al sta!!
kept telling her there #as no point $oming to the hospital until they kne# more.
0ohn didn't mu$h $are #hat other pro!essionals thought and insisted he'd dri%e to
Santa Cru- and get his o#n ans#ers. 0ohn #as one o! those men #ho $hanneled his
an*iety into making other people un$om!ortable& and she had no doubt he'd be alienating
the hospital's administrati%e and medi$al dire$tors by late morning.
80ohn& ('m supposed to !ly to 5e# .ork City tonight. Should ( go+: she asked.
)t %arious $risis points in their unending !amily saga about Stephen& 0ohn had
done this be!ore. "e'd remain on the sidelines until the darkest hours and e%entually
sho# up.
8Beth& hang up&: 0ohn said. 8('m $alling ?omini$an no#. ('ll get right ba$k to
She !elt grate!ul !or the dire$tion and relie! !rom ha%ing to think !or hersel!.
Seeking sola$e any#here& Beth studied the #allpaper2 ho# many %aried patterns o!
paisley strings she $ould de$ipher be!ore trepidation pulled her ba$k to the present+
She ga%e up $ounting and de$ided to #alk around the gardens again. )t this point
the young #oman at the desk stopped noti$ing as Beth traipsed by the main entry#ayF the
se$urity guard had seen too many insomnia$s in his day to noti$e or $are.
Beth $he$ked her #at$h. Hnly ten minutes had elapsed. She re%ersed $ourse and
made $ounter/re%olutions around the !lagstone #alk#ays. "o# #eird+ ?espite her
meandering& she !elt breathless. She $he$ked her pulse and heart rate to see i! it #as
ele%ated. She took slo#& $ons$ious inhalations and e*halations to bring her an*iety do#n.
She passed !our 30/somtheing& besotted men #ho turned around and leered at her. She
!eared they #ere about to do some !rat/boy a$t& so she s$urried ba$k to her room and
lo$ked the door.
Beth $ollapsed on the bed. She should sleep but kne# she $ouldn't. She should
#rite& try to make progress on !inishing her no%el6but that #as equally hopeless. "er
mind =umped re$klessly !rom impossibility to impossibility. <i%e more minutes #ent by
#ith her mind looping more e!!i$iently than bad so!t#are.
"er $ell phone rang. She bolted upright and looked at her phone. 0ohn.
8)re you sitting do#n+: 0ohn asked her.
Beth !elt her heart stop. Hh& @od& she thought& don't tell me6
0ohn inter=e$ted& 8Beth& $an you hear me+ )re you there+:
Beth !ound her %oi$e& 84lease& 0ohn& don't tell me Stephen is dead . . . please
8"e's not dead& Beth.:
Cat$hing her breath& Beth asked& 8What's . . .+:
0ohn $leared his throat t#i$e& !inding it di!!i$ult to !ind his %oi$e.
80ohn&: Beth asked& pleadingly. 8What did the hospital tell you+:
8Calm do#n&: he said. 8Stephen's gone into a $oma. ?rug indu$ed& o! $ourse.:
) $oma& Beth thought. She kept saying the #ord o%er and o%er in her mind& trying
to digest this ne#est medi$al term asso$iated #ith her addi$t brother. She !inally asked&
8What does that mean+:
0ohn #ent on to e*plain the do$tors said it #asn't un$ommon !or drug addi$ts
#ho'd been $lean !or a #hile& i! they resumed sudden hea%y use& to go into $omas. 8"ad
0ohn been $lean #hile he #as in Santa Cru-+: he asked.
Beth tried to think. Besides his re$ent pot and beer ingestion& she didn't think he'd
used hard drugs. She told 0ohn he'd ne%er appeared glassy/eyed or stumbled through the
door. She $ontinued& 8Stephen said he'd been $lean& at least sin$e getting out o! that rehab
$enter in Cas Uegas. .ou $an ne%er $ompletely belie%e him& o! $ourse68
0ohn interrupted her. 8The do$tors said his labs $ame ba$k and sho#ed he'd taken
$o$aine& ben-odia-epines and other unkno#n opioids. )nd& o! $ourse& he #as pi$kled
#ith al$ohol and T"C.:
8)ll this means+: she asked& her %oi$e trailing o!!.
8)dds up to a $oma. ('ll pass your bit o! history on to his do$tors. ('m getting up
there this morning& and #hen ( learn something ('ll get ba$k to you.:
Beth stood up and pa$ed around the room. 8('ll pa$k up my things and meet you
at the hospital.:
85o& Beth&: 0ohn said. 8Stay #here you are. Work on your book. (! ( need you&
a!ter ( talk to the do$tors& ('ll $all. There's nothing you $an do sitting around ?omini$an
"ospital but !ret. Work on your book. Hr get some sleep. ?o you ha%e any drugs//:+
85ot sleepers. 5o& it's better !or me to #rite. (! ( $an//7
8('m taking o%er !or no#&: 0ohn said& $utting her o!!. 8Cook& ( o#e you. ('ll $all
you i! there's any ne#s.:
Beth got o!! the phone. <rom sheer e*haustion and #orry& she $ra%ed sleep. She
lay do#n& $losed her eyes but only shi%ered. She got up& !eeling #ired and #ent to her
$omputer. 9eali-ing that #orking on her manus$ript #as hopeless she opened up her
Trying to $lear her mind& staring blankly at the s$reen& Beth reali-ed =ournal
#riting no# #as as unthinkable as #riting !i$tion. Closing her laptop& she pi$ked up her
$ell phone and $alled the nurse's station in the (CB. They told her Stephen's status
remained $riti$al. They told her to get some sleep and $all in the morning.
Beth made them promise to $all her i! Stephen's $ondition $hanged in any #ay.
They agreed& and she hung up. She thought& easy !or them to say.
She turned o!! the lights& tossed her s#eat pants o%er the three/in$h high digital
$lo$k numbers to blo$k the light and pulled the $o%ers up to her $hin. <i%e se$onds o!
opening and $losing her eyes $on%in$ed her//sleep #as !utile.
Beth got up& #ent ba$k to her desk and re/opened up her laptop. She laun$hed the
do$ument titled2 $hara$ter inter%ie#s.
('ll inter%ie# Stephen here& she thought. 4erhaps questions in !i$tion $ould get
straighter ans#ers !rom him.
Beth #rote2
8Stephen& #hy do you hate me+:
8( don't hate you& Beth. .ou dri%e me !u$king $ra-y #ith your holier than thou
#riter bullshit. But ( don't hate you.:
Beth imagined the t#o o! them #alking around the !amily's barn ba$k in
Saskat$he#an& not as kids& but as #ho they #ere no#. (n her !antasy it's dead #inter. 5o
li%ing thing sho#ed itsel!6i! ali%e& higher order mammals ho%ered near !irepla$esF lo#er
order mammals sensibly li%ed under the ground in hibernation. <ebruary& on the Canadian
4lains #here it #as so $old you had to e*perien$e it to belie%e it. ) day o! gusting #inds&
!orty belo# -ero& #ind/$hill o!! the $harts& and the sky a leaden gray.
She %isuali-ed the barn& #hi$h& as $hildren& had al#ays been painted #hite and
meti$ulously maintained& but no# #as a shambles o! its !ormer sel!2 its paint peeling in
s$raggly strips& re%ealing s#aths o! bare rotted #oodF doors hung lopsided on their
hingesF rusted !arm equipment sulked about the grounds. Why these images $ame to her
mind& she had no idea. But she #rote on2
8( $an't ha%e a de$ent $on%ersation #ith you& Stephen&: Beth said. 8.our binges&
your sar$asm and your #ay o! tri%iali-ing e%ery topi$ pre$lude our ha%ing an honest
Stephen stopped& spread his arms and pirouetted. 8Cook around& sister.:
8What& Stephen. Cook at #hat+:
Stephen turned on her. With his !a$e in$hes a#ay !rom hers& he said& 8@et real&
BethD <or on$e in your !u$king pre$ious li!e& get realD:
"a%ing nothing to do #ith the #eather& a !rigid& sli$ing !ear pier$ed through Beth.
She pushed ba$k !rom her $omputer. But kne# she had to $ontinue #riting.
Stephen's !a$e #ore a mask o! pure hatred. Beth said& 8( $an't do this& Stephen.
('m a!raid o! you68
8.ou're a $o#ard& Beth&: Stephen said& pulling the glo%e o!! his right hand and
pointing at her. 8) $hi$ken/shit $o#ard.:
(n her hotel room& Beth li!ted her !ingers o!! the keyboard. "er hands trembled.
She s#eated so pro!usely she sa# #ater droplets on her keyboard. "er entire body !elt
ensnared in gau-e. The only thing $learly %isible #as her s$reen.
Where in hell #as this $oming !rom& she #ondered. She #rapped hersel! in her
o#n arms and ro$ked on the $hair. ( must be si$k& she thought. )ll the stress. The sleep
depri%ation. Stephen's being in the hospital. She !elt trapped in a mind #arp o! personal
and pro!essional issues.
Beth reread her prose. What in god's name& she asked& #as she doing #riting a
s$ene #ith her brother at the !amily !arm+ She had no idea. (t had emerged like an
ominous moon peering through bla$k& !ra$tured $louds. )s a #riter she kne# the mind
#as a repository o! the purest deli$a$ies//or//all things loathsome. 5o e*pedition to this
%ault promised anything but astonishment2 an endless $ounterbalan$e o! disillusion and
She remembered her !raud/themed dreams o! the last months. But here& in #hat
she'd =ust #ritten& something ne# $oales$ed.
Stephen a$$used her o! $o#ardi$e. Where had that $ome !rom+ Beth stood up&
#ent to the #indo# and separated the blinds =ust enough to peek outside. "ad the !ear
she !elt #hile typing been sur%i%al instin$ts& pi$king up on some e*ternal threat+ Those
drunken businessmen she'd spied earlier+ Some rapist #easeling his #ay around the hotel
)ll she sa# #as mani$ured shrubbery dim ground lighting and deserted garden
paths. ?espite her distress& spying out on the real #orld an$hored her. "er heart rate
slo#ed. She released the blinds and returned to her keyboard. She had an idea.
Beth #riggled her !ingers& pointed at the laptop's s$reen. 8S$re# you& Stephen.
('m taking me out o! the s$ene and sending Aatie instead.: Beth returned to her Canadian
s$ene and #rote2
5e%er taking her eyes o!! o! him& Beth stepped a#ay !rom Stephen& #alking
8Where are you going& genius+: Stephen asked& s$rambling to put his glo%e ba$k
on. 84la$ing us out here in this !ree-ing shit.:
Beth kept retreating& noti$ing his !eatures !ading #ith ea$h step. But& mer$i!ully&
he #asn't $oming a!ter her. 8She'll be right here. Aatie $an do this better than ( $an.:
8What am ( going to do #ith your !u$king dete$ti%e+ Talk !ashion trends and
Stephen's !a$e shape/shi!ted into a diaphanous mass obs$ured inside a #inter
hood against the ba$kdrop o! a dilapidated barn. Beth raised her %oi$e shouting against
the #ind. 8( thought you liked Aatie+:
8<or hal! a book&: Stephen said& yelling. 8But& ( al#ays #anted to !u$k herD:
Typi$al Stephen& Beth thought. She hollered and said& 8She #on't be as easy as
your usual slutsD:
"e #a%ed in disgust #ith his le!t hand and turned a#ay. Soon& Beth had retreated
to in%isibility on the hori-on/less plain. She $ould barely make out the outline o! the
dilapidated barn and assumed she #as equally sa!e and in%isible to her brother.
Beth shi!ted in her $hair& sat up straighter and %o#ed to make Stephen's dialogue
as authenti$ as she $ould.
5ear the barn& Aatie Shields appeared #earing an out!it she ha%e #orn in Uail&
CH. Warm as toast& she #ore a $ontemporary green and #hite ski/suit $o%ered in a
sno#!lakes and pine trees pattern that $ould ha%e $ome !rom an (talian designer.
0abbing his thumb o%er his shoulder& Stephen said& 8.ou're #ay o%erdressed here&
?ete$ti%e Shields. .ou don't #ant to mu$k out stalls #earing that butt/hugging& ski/
bunny $ostume. The $losest resorts are !i%e/hundred miles that #ay.7
Aatie had been greeted& insulted and hit/on by so many #ise/ass guys in her li!e
she ignored his a!!ronts. She a!!e$ted her ('m/about/to/interrogate/you poses& #hi$h
$onsisted o! her $o$king and slightly bo#ing her head #hile patting her le!t hip& sending
a unsubtle message she #as pa$king.
Cooking up& Aatie asked& 8"o# did you kno# my name+ We'%e ne%er met.:
Stephen smiled broadly& !olded his arms a$ross his $hest and said& 8( #as told by
her royal highness. y sister thinks she o#ns me. )nd you kno# #hat+7 "e so!tened his
%oi$e. 7Can ( $all you Aatie+: Stephen didn't #ait !or an ans#er. 8That same prin$ess
also thinks she o#ns you.:
Aatie kept her le!t hand on her pistol grip and stepped $loser. 8Writers don't o#n
their $hara$ters any more than real !olks o#n people.:
8"ea%y.: Stephen turned around and pointed at the barn door& stu$k open by a
!ro-en sno#dri!t. 8Why don't #e step inside and get out o! this tempest+ Though ( $an't
o!!er you anything to drink besides #arm $o# piss.:
Without #aiting !or an ans#er& he stepped to#ards the =ammed/open door.
8('m not going inside that building #ith you& Stephen.: Aatie didn't mo%e !rom
her spot. 8( no longer go into $on!ined spa$es #ith men ( don't kno#.:
8ust get lonely.: "e turned around. 8Hr are you another one o! Beth's !riend's in
the rodeo+: Stephen s#aggered t#o steps to#ards her. 8.ou'%e got nothing to !ear !rom
me or this barn& s Shields. <or Christ's sake& you're the only one armed.:
Saying nothing& Aatie held her ground.
"e stret$hed his arms !or#ard and #riggled his hands in an ('m/a!raid/o!/the/
bogeyman pantomime. "e padded his shoulders and $ir$led #hile making bunny hops.
8Come on. (t's !ree-ing out hereD:
8We'll stay outside& r. Shepherd.:
Stephen straightened up and tightened his hood and s$ar! around his !a$e. 8Can
#e at least stand on the lee#ard side o! the barn+:
Aatie !ollo#ed him around the $orner to get out o! the ho#ling $hinook.
8)re you here to interrogate me& s Shields+ )m ( a suspe$t+: he asked.
8)s a matter o! !a$t&: Aatie began& 8you are.:
Stephen bra$ed himsel! against the rotted boards and spoke through his s$ar!.
8.ou reali-e ( #as long ago a$$used& $on%i$ted and senten$ed to a meaningless li!e o!
endless s$re#/ups. ('m the bane o! the Shepherd !amily. The s$apegoat and !amily drug
addi$t. "a%en't ( been punished enough+ 5o home+ 5o money+ 5o real assets+ 5o kids+
The stablest relationships ('%e had ha%e been #ith probation and parole o!!i$ers+
Aatie stared at him and let him run his mouth until he had to pause and take a
breath. 8)re you !inished& r. Shepherd+
umbling& he said& 8Truth hurts& eh+: Stephen pulled his s$ar! do#n and bit his
lip& glo#ering ba$k at her. 8.eah. ('m !inished.: "e pulled his s$ar! ba$k up& $o%ering his
mouth and $hin.
Aatie thought& the a$$essory #as per!e$t2 the masked bandit. 8.ou're like e%ery
other $riminal ('%e met2 sel!/pitying and blaming others !or #hat you'%e #rought.:
Sni$kering& Stephen said& 8'Wrought.' That's a #ord my old man #ould ha%e
used. So Hld Testament. )re you trying to s$are me+ ake me !ear !or my immortal
85othing o! the sort. y e*perien$e is people like you already li%e a li!e o!
damnation. .ou des$ribed it #ell a moment ago. By the time you're dead& you'%e endured
enough pain !or se%eral li%es. 4roblem is you $ause so mu$h pain !or e%eryone around
you. That's your real sin.:
8?amn&: Stephen began& 8you're e%en more san$timonious than my sister. That's
hard to do.:
Aatie stepped $loser to him. 8.ou kno# anything about ho# hard it is to #rite a
book& r. Shepherd+:
"e grinned at her. 8?o you kno# ho# hard it is to get o!! $rystal meth& s
Aatie shook her head and smiled at him. 8Tou$hX. Cet's mo%e on. ( ha%e !urther
8<u$king great&: Stephen said. 8We're !ree-ing our asses out here in <ebruary&
and you ha%e questions. Can ( get that #ith $o$oa+:
8)ren't you in serious trouble+ "ospitali-ed !ollo#ing an o%erdose you took
#hile $amping out at Beth's house+ Bnin%ited.:
8.eah& in a $oma !or $hrissakes. ( hope you $are more about me than my sister.:
8?o you #ant to talk about it+:
"e laughed. 8To a $opD: Stephen ripped his s$ar! o!! and mo%ed $loser to Aatie.
8What ( really #ant to kno# is . . . #ould you like go up there . . . 8 "e pointed up#ards
to#ards the lo!t. 8)nd soothe my #ounds+ ('m sure you $ould help me !ar more than
Beth Shepherd. Cike she gi%es a shit.:
Aatie kept her hand on her Sig Sauer 4232 3G0& her !a%orite $on$eal #eapon. She
didn't trust this guy anymore than any other suspe$t she'd had to $on!ront !or more years
than she #ished to $ount. She noti$ed& like all bad/boy addi$ts& this guy $ould s#it$h
!rom s#eet talk to %enom be!ore !inishing a breath. Hne se$ond trying to get in her
pants//the ne*t talking sma$k. ,%erything about him s$reamed2 Caution. ena$ing.
Stephen interrupted her thoughts. Ceering& he asked& 85o more questions&
?ete$ti%e Shields+:
85ot at the moment.: Aatie ba$ked a#ay. 8But& sti$k around. ('ll be ba$k.:
Wagging his !inger at her& Stephen said& 85o#& no#. )re you sure you got #hat
you $ame here !or+ 4osed all the rele%ant questions+ 8
So !ar out o! her urban element& on the !rigid plains o! Saskat$he#an& more than
anything& Aatie !elt be#ildered. 8That's enough !or no#. But don't lea%e.:
8Can you send me to "ilo+ ?on't #orry.: "e put his hands on his hips and yelled&
8('ll build us an igloo and ha%e a !ire built be!ore you $ome ba$kD <ry up some #alrusD:
Aatie ba$ked a#ay and o$$asionally looked o%er her shoulder& making sure she
#asn't !ollo#ed. ?isappointed that she hadn't resol%ed anything& she #anted to talk #ith
Hn the grim& !eatureless Canadian plain& re/tra$ing Beth's steps she $aught up
#ith her author.
Beth stopped typing and put her hands in her lap. She read #hat she'd =ust
#ritten. Where am ( going #ith this& she #ondered+ She noti$ed it again2 the sensation
she #as #at$hing hersel! #rite !rom some disembodied plane that !elt strange//yet oddly
!reeing2 allo#ing her to $on!ront things she kne# she needed to. 9epla$ing her hands on
the keyboard& she thought& #here #as Stephen+
Tramping about the barn& Stephen spat in the sno#. 8Co#ards& both o! them. Why
do ( e%en try+: "e ran in the dire$tion #here both Aatie and Beth had disappeared. (nto
the #ind& he s$reamed like an abandoned man& 8AatieD BethD Come ba$k hereD:
Aatie heard the !aint %oi$e $oming !rom behind. She stopped& paused and turned
around. "is %oi$e $arried the shrill terror o! an animal being slaughtered. 8Beth& one o! us
has to go to him.:
8.ou go&: Beth said. 8( $an't !a$e him. .ou ha%e to do it !or me.:
Aatie heard his %oi$e again& someho# boring its #ay through the !rigid gusts. ?uty
$onquered reser%ations. She #ent ba$k.
Stephen emerged !rom the stinging #ind and gloom. "e stood by the barn #ith
his !a$e e*posed& slapping his arms and li!ting up and do#n on his toes to keep #arm. "e
looked so %ulnerable. 8What is it& Stephen+: Aatie so!tened her %oi$e. 8Why did you $all
me ba$k+:
"e headed !or the barn's open door. 8Come on& Aatie. Cet's get out o! this damn
The pleading in his %oi$e stru$k Aatie as sin$ere& she !elt she had nothing to !ear.
She !ollo#ed him into the barn's entran$e& not a degree #armer but at least out o! the i$e
pelting squall. 5or had she let go all $aution. 8That's !ar enough&: she said. 8( #on't go in
any !urther.:
Shrugging his shoulders& Stephen asked& 8?o you kno# #hy you're here&
?ete$ti%e+ T#o thousand miles !rom your pre$in$t+:
8,nlighten me.:
Stephen grinned. 8To do #hat you al#ays do.: "e tamped the !ro-en dirt !loor
#ith his right toe& raised his $hin& stared at her !or a long moment and said& 8To sol%e a
Chapter 1;
Beth bolted up and $ouldn't ha%e mo%ed !aster i! the keyboard had burst into !lame. She
kne# she #as still in a hotel room. But her %isual !ield #as murky. She looked do#n and
$ouldn't see the !loor. She stood on a $loud and looked up. 5o $eiling. 5o $olor. 0ust
diaphanous emptiness.
Uertigo set in. <earing she'd !all& she sat on the !loor. She $lasped her hands
together but $ouldn't !eel them. She #anted to s$ream. But $ouldn't. She shook her head
side#ays hoping to someho# #ake hersel! up. But& she remembered& she #asn't asleep.
Hr #as she+ She leaned !or#ard& padded the rug and slapped her $heeks//anything to
arouse her.
She #as $oming to. But #here had she been+ That last bit o! #riting held equal
parts blasphemy and $ompulsion. The #ords $ame as easily as turning on a !au$et. )nd
instantly& they shut do#n. She trembled #here she sat on the !loor& but at least the $olors
and details $ame ba$k2 the bed& the #indo#s& the !loor and $eiling. The light !rom the
bathroom spread into the bedroom.
She stood and #ent into the bathroom& sat on the toilet& $radled her !a$e in her
hands and sobbed. She had no idea #hy.
Ten minutes later& she took a ten/minute sho#er& to#eled o!! and put on the
bathrobe. Without bothering to dry or brush her hair& she #ent ba$k into the bedroom&
re!used to look at her $omputer& and $alled the hospital in Santa Cru-. They pat$hed her
through to the (CB.
The $harge nurse told her Stephen's status had impro%ed !rom $riti$al to serious.
That he #as resting and they #ere letting him sleep. Beth !elt better and hung up be!ore
the nurse $ould tell her again that she should get some sleep. That empty reassuran$e
must ha%e be$ome as automati$ !or those nurses as $he$king patients' blood pressure.
Beth kept as !ar a#ay as she $ould !rom her laptop and #ent ba$k to the
bathroom. She dried her hair and looked at hersel! in the mirror. She looked a#!ul. ,yes
pu!!y and red. "er skin looked #an& older than she'd e%er seen it. But at least the !loor
!elt solid. So did the #alls. She brushed her hair& looked intently at hersel! again and said&
8@et a grip& Beth. This is all in your head. (t's nothing. @o ba$k and !a$e it.: Whate%er
Zit' #as. She didn't kno#.
She returned to her desk and laptop. She $losed the $hara$ter inter%ie#s do$ument
and #ent ba$k to Co%e in the 4re$in$t. She e*haled& shook her hair and said& 8Talk to me
Aatie. What happens no#+:
Beth #rote2
Ba$k in small neighborhood park in ontauk& Aatie #ore =eans and one o!
0ohnny's #ool bla$k and red $he$kered hunting shirts. 8"o# the hell do ( kno#+
Saskat$he#an isn't e*a$tly my =urisdi$tion.:
Beth !ro-e. Saskat$he#an belonged in her other do$ument. What #as it doing
here+ Torn bet#een going ba$k to her pre%ious #riting but a!raid to lose this thread& she
resumed typing//
8Aatie. What the hell is happening to me+ ( need your help.:
8( did =ust help you.: Aatie stood up !rom the park ben$h in ontauk and began
to #alk a#ay. 8Sol%e your o#n damn problems. What the hell am ( doing in the sti$ks out
in Canada+ <or that matter& #hat am ( supposed to do at the end o! Cong (sland+ Su$k
do#n littlene$ks and oysters !or the rest o! my li!e.:
Beth #rote& 8Aatie& don't go smart/mouth on me no#. ( don't kno# #hat to do+
What #ould you tell a $olleague or one o! your !riends in our no%els+:
Waiting !or an ans#er& Beth !elt $old and transported ba$k to the Canadian
4lains//ba$k in the dead o! #inter& shi%ering #ith a !ree-ing !ear.
Aatie stopped and pla$ed her hands in her po$kets. 8('d tell that person to take a
lea%e o! absen$e !rom #ork and get hersel! a good shrink.:
8That's not help!ul& s. Shields.:
Beth de$ided this #as too #eird& shrugged her shoulders& t#irled her head in
!igure eights& deleted those last lines and set Aatie ba$k in ontauk.
The dete$ti%e resumed #alking to#ards the do$ks and !ishing boats. She stopped
in !ront o! a #oman #earing a broad/brimmed hat #ho sat on a park ben$h reading a
no%el. 8)ny good+: Aatie asked.
85ot $omplete.: The #oman looked up and sho#ed the book's open $o%er to
Aatie. (t read2 not/!or/publi$ation. Co%e in the 4re$in$t. Aatie shi!ted her eyes to the
#oman's !a$e. 8 Beth Shepherd. <an$y meeting you here.:
Beth pushed her laptop to the side. She $losed her eyes shut so tight it hurt. She
massaged her temples. ( am mad& she thought. She ro$ked ba$k in her $hair& pointed at
the $eiling like it $ontained some imaginary spook and said& 8<ine&: she said& !eeling
resigned. 8('ll go #ith it . . . 8 She re/$entered her $omputer and pla$ed her hands o%er
the keys.
8( don't kno# #hy ('m here& Aatie. But ( guess ('m supposed to be. ( $an't seem
to es$ape your story.:
Aatie e*tended her hand and helped Beth up !rom the ben$h. 8Cet's #alk. ('ll
introdu$e you to 0ohnny.: While they #alked she opened up some spearmint gum&
o!!ered a sti$k to Beth. 9e!using& Aatie pla$ed t#o sti$ks in her mouth.
Walking side by side& Beth said& 8( already kno# 0ohnny. ( $reated him.:
Aatie laughed. 8.ou don't kno# him like ( do.:
8( suppose not&: Beth ans#ered.
5or& Beth thought& had Aatie had e%er $he#ed gum be!ore6a habit in real/li!e
Beth detested.
Beth stopped typing and stared at the $lo$k//like it might hold some digital ora$le.
Where in @od's name am ( going #ith this& she asked. She remained $lueless. 5ot #ith
the story. 5ot #ith #hat she #as happening to her. <or a moment& she $onsidered getting
up and going to the bar. )t least there she $ould distra$t hersel!F but& o! $ourse& she hated
bars and =ust as qui$kly dismissed the idea. Sometimes you =ust had to #rite out #here%er
your !ingers took you6
Aatie and Beth #alked by a !lo#er shop run by a man smoking a $igar. "e $ould
ha%e been her agent's t#in brother. 8arty+: Beth asked. 8.ou #ork here+:
This arty #ore o%eralls& a stained t/shirt& and sneakers. 9eal/li!e arty smoked
!ine& e*pensi%e $igars& but this man smoked a White H#l.:
"e said& 8.eah& ( sell dead !lo#ers.: "e $len$hed the $igar in his mouth and
spread his arms around his #ares. 5e$roti$ roses& dahlias on the nod& and strung/out
)siati$ lilies. See anything you'd like+
Beth grabbed arty and Aatie by the hands& squee-ed as hard as she $ould and
said& 85o# ( kno# ('m in a dream. ,ither that or . . . 8
8Hr&: they ans#ered in unison& 8you'%e gone totally psy$ho.:
Beth asked& 7Why are you here& arty+ What's this supposed to mean+: They
simultaneously #ithdre# their hands and ba$ked a#ay. Beth !elt terri!ied. 8)re you
disgusted #ith me+:
Tilting her head& peering intently at Beth& and using a tone o! si$kening s#eetness&
Aatie said& 8H! $ourse not. We're =ust $on$erned.: She held up the no%el she'd been
reading on the ben$h. 8Can you&: she looked $onspiratorially at arty& then ba$k at Beth
and asked& 8!inish this book+:
arty stared at Beth #hile holding in a lung!ul o! $igar smoke.
Beth stopped #riting& be#ildered at this unsummoned s$ene and seeing hersel! in
her o#n narrati%e. She glan$ed at the $lo$k. (t #as >230 a.m. Wra$ked #ith !atigue& she
slumped onto the bed& pit$hing and rolling bet#een %igilan$e and $apturing snippets o!
!ra$tured sleep.
Beth #oke up to her $ell phone ringing and said& 8"uh.: She glan$ed at the $lo$k. ,ight
).. (! he #as anything& (saiah& her therapist& #as prompt. "is %oi$e #as $lear. 8@ood
morning& Beth.:
8( thought ( #as supposed to $all you+:
"e said& 8( really don't ha%e mu$h time& Beth& so ( de$ided to make the $all.:
Beth uttered t#o e*tra rounds o! appre$iation !or his #illingness to ha%e this
phone session//be!ore (saiah $ut her o!!.
8Beth& ( ha%e to get to a meeting& so let's get do#n to business&: he said.
8( don't kno# #here to begin& (saiah. There's so mu$h going on.:
8"o# many $ups o! $o!!ee did you drink in the last 2; hours+: he asked. 8.ou're
talking a mile a minute.:
8(t's been a $hoppy night.: Beth blinked her eyes and mussed her hair to help her
#ake up. 85o $o!!ee yet. .ou #oke me up.:
8We're in session&: (saiah said as smoothly as i! it #ere t#o in the a!ternoon.:
Beth took the $ue.8 y li!e's a goddamned mess.:
"e said& 8Start #ith one o! the things going on.:
Beth paused& #ondering ho# honest she $ould be& and imagined he #as opening
his laptop to type notes.
8This is #here ( $ome in& Beth&7 he said. 79emember. ( make my li%ing dealing
#ith people's emotional messes. Cay it on me.:
H! the %arious #ays in #hi$h Beth admired him& his nudging her to get to the
point ranked high. She sear$hed into her o#n $haoti$ thoughts& #ondering #here to begin
8ost people's li%es are in some state o! shambles #hen they talk to people like
me&: (saiah began& 8start #ith #hate%er is $ausing you the most pain.:
What #as that& Beth #ondered2 "er sabotaging her o#n #riting $areer+ 0ay being
#ith his !ather+ Stephen+ "er o#n mysti!ying #riting that had her in the Aatie
manus$ript and %isitations in her $hara$ter inter%ie#s by her brother and lead dete$ti%e+
She %isuali-ed (saiah #aiting patently in his #ingba$k $hair. Why #as it& a!ter !eeling
desperate !or this time #ith him !or days and no# had his attention . . . she !ound it
arduous to begin+
8Take your time& Beth.:
Why did he say that& she asked. She #as taking her time//to the point o! !eeling
embarrassed. H%er the phone& she heard (saiah $li$k to some other page on his o#n
8)re you doing something besides taking notes+: she asked.
8( entered an in%oi$e in my bookkeeping program #hile ( #aited !or you to
8Hh.: Beth hoped she hadn't $ome o!! as mistrusting& like he #as $he$king his
email or the s$ore o! some pro!essional sports team he !ollo#ed. She kne# he had a small
4hiladelphia 4hillies $lo$k on his desk.
H! $ourse& he $ould be $he$king baseball s$ores or sports $ar sites and ho# #ould she
8Should ( remind you&: he began& 8anytime you #ant to read my notes& you're
#el$ome to see them. But& more to the point& you're ha%ing another one o! your mistrust
atta$ks. What's going on+:
(t !elt better ha%ing to !ield his $on!rontation. )t least his question #as solid
$ompared to her re$ent #riting sessions. 8Thanks.:
8Why are you thanking me& Beth+ <or asking a question+:
8,*a$tly.: Beth reali-ed she had no #ay to e*press her gratitude !or simply
ha%ing a $on%ersation #ith an a$tual& li%ing human being.:
8)ny signi!i$ant dreams+: he asked.
She ans#ered& 8"ad a doo-y last night.:
8Would you like to dis$uss it+:
Though Beth appre$iated he didn't use the phrase& e*plore it& she $ouldn't help
sense o%er the phone the hungry glee (saiah #ould be trying to suppress at the possibility
o! dis$ussing a dream. "e #as like e%ery therapist she'd e%er kno#n. Therapists and
dreams2 put them together and the pro!essionals sali%ated like ra%enous dogs o%er
8@i%en your long pauses& ( get the impression you'%e thought about your dream&:
he said. 8)ny ob%ious $onne$tions to #hat you're dealing #ith in your li!e right no#+:
Beth sear$hed the kaleidos$ope o! her re$ent $ra-y thoughts& re!le$ting on ho#
mu$h to tell him. 8Well& ( #as dying to talk to you about a dream ( had. But a lot o! other
things ha%e $ome up.:
8Tell me more.:
Without e%en seeing him& she $ould %isuali-e the disappointment in his !a$e. Beth
hated talking about dreams #ith any therapist& and she !elt $ertain he #ould make a note
her o! dodging this instan$e and bring it up in the !uture.
8y brother& Stephen . . . 8
8What about him+: (saiah asked.
8( $ame to a hotel in San 0ose yesterday so ( $ould #ork on my book be!ore
$at$hing my !light. ( had to get a#ay !rom him. "e $rashed at my house. "e #as dri%ing
me $ra-y.:
(saiah must ha%e heard something in her %oi$e. 8.our addi$ted brother+ What
about him+:
Cat$hing her breath& she said& 8"e o%erdosed last night. ?omini$an said he #as in
serious $ondition.:
8Hh& dear.: (saiah absorbed this sho$king ne#s. 8<rom e%erything you'%e told me
about Stephen& ( guess #e $an't be surprised.:
85o. We $an't. (t's =ust that . . . he #ent into a $oma+ ?o you kno# anything
about the prognosis+:
84ositi%e i! the patient's state o! o%erall health is good to begin #ith&: he said.
8Best ask his treating physi$ian.:
8y oldest brother& 0ohn& is dri%ing to the hospital !rom onterey this morning.
0ohn told me to stay here. <inish my book. That there #as no point in my going to the
8Sound ad%i$e. Aeep at it #ith your o#n #ork as best you $an.:
(saiah paused. 8"o# are you !eeling& Beth+:
Beth took her phone a#ay !rom ear and pla$ed in her lap. @i%en ho# mu$h she
$ould say& she had no idea #here to start. She e*amined the #allpaper. Those eerie stripes
again. She kne# she #as spa$ing out. She heard his %oi$e $oming !aintly !rom the phone&
asking the same question2 ho# did she !eel+ What $ould she say+ She brought the phone
ba$k to her ear.
Beth said& 8('m terrible. ore terrible than you $an kno#.:
(saiah asked& 8?o you !eel responsible !or Stephen's $oma+:
85o. H! $ourse not&: Beth ans#ered. 8"o# $ould ( possibly be responsible !or
8.ou'd be surprised #hat people $an think they're responsible !or&: (saiah said.
8Tell me ho# you're !eeling.:
(n usual $ir$umstan$es Beth #ould ha%e s$reamed2 Z"o# the hell do you think
('m !eelingD' She simply said& 8Cousy. H%er#helmed.:
Beth let the silen$e hang bet#een them. (t #as someho# easier on the phone.
(saiah had al#ays been patient during silen$es6though& also& there'd been times #hen
she'd !elt so e*asperated she #anted to thro# a shoe at him. 5ot this time. She
appre$iated this hush& taking it as a reprie%e !rom ha%ing to talk.
<inally& she said& 8(saiah. ('m going to get o!! no#. Thanks !or $alling me. That's
all ( had to say !or no#.:
8)re you sure that's su$h a good idea right no#+: "e let a !e# moments pass.
But Beth kne# i! she !illed the silen$e #ith her o#n #ords this $all $ould easily
go another t#o hours.
"e asked& 8"o# do you plan to spend the rest o! the day& Beth+:
Beth looked o%er at her laptop. Without reali-ing it& the last time she'd le!t the
desk she'd o%erturned the $hair. Still holding the phone& she got up& righted the $hair and
sat do#n. 8('m going to do #hat ( $ame here to do& (saiah. )nd !ollo# e%eryone's ad%i$e.
@et ba$k to #ork.:
8@ood idea&: he said& sounding none too $ertain. 8( think.:
Beth thought& ( #onder #hat he'd say i! ( #as hallu$inating& be$oming a $hara$ter
in my o#n no%el& and transposing !igures !rom real li!e into !i$tion. 8('ll $all you&: Beth
began& 8!rom 5e# .ork #hen ( kno# #hen ('m returning to the West $oast.: @etting into
her phantoms #ith him& or #hate%er they #ere& #asn't something she $ould do right no#.
8( =ust needed to hear your %oi$e&: she said. They said goodbye& and Beth returned
to her book.
T#enty minutes later& a!ter a hot sho#er and re/reading her last pages& but not
ha%ing #ritten a ne# #ord on her Aatie manus$ript& Beth !elt su$ked ba$k into a %orte*
o! !atigue and stress. She should sleep and returned to bed.
She !ell into a dream. (n it& she sat a$ross !rom (saiah in his o!!i$e. Still lu$id&
Beth thought& greatD 5o# ( $an't talk to my a$tual therapist on the phone but $an in my
o#n dreams. )t least it had to be $heaper.
8What do you think about your o#n dream+: (saiah asked.
Beth shi!ted her eyes !rom his baseball $lo$k to his !a$e. 8('m in 9ome o! all the
pla$es. ('%e ne%er been there in real li!e. (t's super hot out& and ( stumble upon a
photography shop. ?urone's photography shopD:
8.our !irst husband+: (t #as a !air $lari!i$ation& Beth thought. ?urone had $ome up in!requently
in prior sessions. 8But ?urone ne%er appeared. "is #i!e& <eli$ia& ran the shop. She #as
both )!ri$an/)meri$an and (talian. But she only spoke (talian.:
8Could you $ommuni$ate #ith her+:
85o. She #as soli$itous as all get out. Slo#ed her spee$h so #e $ould at least try
to understand ea$h other.: Beth paused to remember the sequen$e. (saiah #as good2 he
kne# #hen to keep his mouth shut and let her !ind her #ay. 8<or a se$ond& ( thought&
maybe she's =ust being ni$e& trying to sell me something. That passed right a#ay& though.
(t #as #eird. ('%e ne%er met nor e%en spoken #ith ?urone's se$ond #i!e. But it #as
absolutely $lear #ho she #as.:
8The last time you and ?urone spoke& he told you his #i!e had breast $an$er+:
Sometimes his memory astonished her. That had to ha%e been o%er a year ago&
and Beth had mentioned it in passing.
8That's right&: she said. 8<rom the sound o! his %oi$e #hen ?urone told me . . . (
got the impression she #asn't long !or this #orld.:
8?id he say that+ Hr imply it.:
Beth #at$hed and !elt suspi$ious as (saiah typed notes on his laptop. "e
implied it.:
8)nd you didn't $ome out and ask him be$ause . . .+8
Beth said& 8To do so someho# !elt . . . sa$rilegious.:
8Strong #ord.: (saiah said. "e paused& as i! $at$hing himsel! being too intrusi%e.
8@o on.:
Beth thought ba$k. 8(t #as #eird. (n the dream& ho# mu$h ( liked her. ) lot. But
#e $ouldn't $ommuni$ate e*$ept in gesture. ( sensed ?urone #as around& but he ne%er
sho#ed up in the dream.:
(saiah asked& 8?id she reali-e #ho you #ere+ ?urone's !irst #i!e+:
8( don't kno#. That remained un$lear.:
8?reams rarely are.: (saiah pla$ed his laptop aside. 8)nd #hene%er #e think
dreams are ob%ious . . . they $ome ba$k and surprise you.:
8(s that #hy $ounselors lo%e them so+: Beth heard the de!ian$e in her %oi$e but
$ouldn't stop hersel!. 8Something that $hallenges them intelle$tually+ )nything besides
the same old depressions& an*ieties& $ra-y !amilies and s$re#ed up marriages they hear
about hour a!ter hour& year a!ter year+:
(saiah paused& and Beth #at$hed him sit ba$k in his $hair $almly un#illing to
rea$t to her pro%o$ation. She #ondered2 is this #here therapists suppress their urges to
=ump a$ross the room& s$ream at and slap their patients and demand& ZWhat's #rong #ith
you+ Why are you so damn !u$king $ra-y+'
8What are you angry about+: he asked.
Beth thought& o! $ourse& he's right. Still& she asked& 8?o you think my $yni$ism
says anything+:
"e nodded. 8.ou said you !elt <eli$ia #as being soli$itous. Slo#ing her (talian to
make hersel! understood. .ou said you mistrusted her moti%es& like she #as =ust trying to
put something o%er on you.:
8Well&: Beth shi!ted in her seat. 8This is #here it got #eird. Hn$e ( had the
!eeling she #as hustling me& her !a$e turned grotesque. She #ent monster on me.
She paused& thinking her therapist #as going to say something. But he $hose not
to interrupt her line o! thought.
8Then&: Beth said& squirming in her seat and no# looking at her trembling hands.
8( #as as s$ared as ('%e e%er been in my li!e. ( !elt mysel! dissol%ing #ith her. "ers and
my body being gobbled/up by some !lesh/eating a$id.:
She hoped (saiah #ould say something reassuring. But he remained sphin*/like. )
long pause !ell bet#een patient and therapist. "er sense o! time bent into ambiguity.:
8What happened ne*t+: he !inally asked.
8( #oke up. 4etri!iedD y heart ra$ed. ( dashed to the toilet and thre# up. (t #as
(saiah #aited through the long pause. When she didn't say anything !urther& he
asked& 8Can you des$ribe the !eeling tone o! the dream+ "o# you !elt through the #hole
Beth thought a moment. 8)t !irst ( #as surprised. Curious. But it =ust got
grotesque. ( mean& #hat am ( doing in 9ome #ith my !irst husband's se$ond #i!e+ )nd
she's (talian& but still a bla$k )meri$an #ho $an't speak her o#n language. ('m in some
bi-arro/#orld. .et& ( had no idea #hat ( #as really doing there&:
(saiah said& 8( think your dissol%ing at the end o! the dream is another
depersonali-ation episode. .our rea$tion to o%er#helming an*iety. .ou'%e had pre$ursors
o! this be!ore& in earlier dreams.:
She asked& $hallengingly 8)bout #hat+: Beth !elt bad !or her attitude. 8('m sorry.
( don't kno# #here this hostility $omes !rom. ( kno# it's not about you.:
8?on't apologi-e&: (saiah said. 8The an*iety in your dream has many sour$es
!rom your li!e& Beth.:
"e allo#ed her time to think. She reali-ed he #as allo#ing her time to $ompose
hersel!& #hi$h #as good be$ause she noti$ed her heart ra$ing.
<inally& he said& 8(t $ould e%en be anger and an*iety at yoursel!.:
Beth #at$hed him sip his tea& no# $old. "e asked& 8What do you think+:
Why #as he being so $are!ul& Beth #ondered. That #asn't like him. 8What do
you mean+ )nger at mysel!.:
80ust an idea ( thought #orth e*ploring.:
Beth's =a# tightened. That #ord. She noti$ed she held the arms o! her $hair in a
death grip. Was it !or his suggesting she #as o%er#helmed #ith her o#n !eeling+ Saying
Ze*ploring+' She glo#ered at him.
But he =ust sat ba$k in his $hair in that maddening therapist pose that said2 ('m/so/
$ool/and/don't/get/ru!!led look. 0ust be$ause you're $oming unglued doesn't !a-e me in
the least.
Beth e*tended a $losed !ist in !ront o! her and& #ith a great a$t o! #ill& began
releasing her !ingers one at a time 8Hne& my son's in endo$ino #ith his asshole !ather&
doing @od kno#s #hat. T#o& unless ( pull o!! a mira$le in the ne*t $ouple o! days& ( lose
a si-able ad%an$e on my ne*t book& my !irst national book tour& my publishing $ontra$t
and you $an probably thro# in losing my house. Three& my !riends are telling me in so
many #ords ('m being a pain in their $olle$ti%e asses. <our& drug/addi$t brother& Stephen&
is $amped out at my house !or reasons that es$ape me.: She paused& and !li$ked out her
thumb. 8)nd& !i%e& ( met this guy that& !or the li!e o! me& ( $an't !igure out in the least//
not e%en i! ( like him or not.:
(n!uriating her& (saiah took his time and didn't say anything !or #hat seemed like
minutes. She #at$hed him sitting #ith that dumb& ins$rutable smile spread a$ross his !a$e
that she detested.
8By the #ay& you only $ount o!! on your !ingers #hen you're pissed at me.: (saiah
asked. 8Whi$h one o! those topi$s #ould you like to look at !irst+:
8<u$k you.: Beth tossed hersel! into the ba$k o! her $hair& slid ba$k a !e# !eet and
slumped do#n. She kne# she looked the pi$ture o! a depressed teenager. Cooking a#ay&
she asked& $hallengingly& 8"o# about you pi$k one+ ('m e*hausted.:
(saiah said& 8Well& it's not kosher. But H.A. Cet's start #ith this man you met+:
"e #ould go there o! $ourse& she thought. )nother predi$table therapist query not
unlike the !ren-ied $uriosity o! high s$hool girls dis$ussing a ne# boy. <or Beth& it #as
the least signi!i$ant thing she'd mentioned. 8('%e hardly thought about him. ( =ust thre#
that in there to end #ith a !lourishD:
8Bn$ons$iously& your dream suggests other#ise+:
Beth straightened up in the $hair. 8"o#'s that+ There #as nothing in the dream
about )aron. S$re# you& (saiahD Bn$ons$ious moti%ation is no more s$ienti!i$ than
assbite ministers sele$ti%ely $iting s$ripture to =usti!y their pre=udi$es.7
8)aron&: (saiah took in his name. 8What $an you tell me about him+:
8Wait a se$ond&: Beth heard her %oi$e rise. 8?idn't you listen+ )aron #asn't in
my dream. .ou pla$ed him there. (sn't that one o! the $ardinal sins o! dream
interpretation+ Therapist intrusion o! his or her belie!s into the patient's dream+:
8)bsolutely right& Beth. (t is. (n !a$t& #e $ould ele%ate my in!ra$tion to the le%el
o! mortal sin.: (saiah sipped his tea. 8But the emergen$e o! old lo%es in dreams& in this
$ase& ?urone& espe$ially #hen it seems to $ome out o! the blue& is o!ten a harbinger o! a
ne# lo%e. Something old. Something ne#. .ing/.ang& all that.:
(n!uriated& Beth stood up and pointed at him. 7(saiah& you're all o%er the !u$king
map& and you'%e been in Santa Cru- too long. .ou're $iting ,astern philosophy& Catholi$
$reed& and <reudian Hrthodo*y. ake up your damn mind.7
"e grinned. 7.ou le!t out 0udaism. But& let's get ba$k to )aron.7
)t times like this& he dro%e her $ra-y. 8( don't lo%e this guy. ( hardly kno# him. (
took a long #alk #ith him is all. (n the middle o! the day.:
8.ou sound de!ensi%e about this. That $on!irms there's something emotional
going on.: )gain& he sipped his tea. 8)nd #hat $omes to mind& re!le$ting on meeting
?urone's #i!e& but you $an't $ommuni$ate #ith her& yet you !elt !ondly to#ards her
be!ore you got suspi$ious+ That's intriguing.:
8Cike ( said&: Beth s$rat$hed the ba$k o! her hand to distra$t hersel! !rom tears
#elling up& 8('%e ne%er met nor spoken to <eli$ia. But #hen ?urone told me she had
$an$er ( !elt terrible. <or both o! them. ( #as surprised at the time ho# mu$h ( !elt about
8( don't re$all you e%er telling me that. We'%e al#ays !o$used on the time #hen
you #ere #ith him and ho# you sabotaged the marriage. 5ot about subsequent e%ents in
his li!e and ho# you !elt about it.:
Tear!ully& Beth said& 8Cosing a #i!e #hom you lo%e& #ho lo%es you. @od& #hat a
terrible& in$omprehensible thing !or anyone to ha%e to go through.:
(saiah $leared his throat. 8(n prior sessions& #hen #e spoke about ?urone& it #as
al#ays about ho# unready you #ere to be married. "o# you a$ted out. But you ne%er
denied that you lo%ed him. 4erhaps his !inding happiness #ith <eli$ia helped you !eel
less guilty about your o#n a$tions+ That might e*plain your initial !eelings to#ards her.:
Tears streamed do#n her !a$e. 9ea$hing !or a tissue& Beth gulped and ble# her
nose be!ore !inding her %oi$e. 8( pushed his lo%e a#ay. )nd his !amily's lo%e. ,*$ept his
sister& ?elronda. She al#ays sa# right through me. Sa# #hat a sel!ish bit$h ( really am.:
8"arsh& don't you think+: (saiah asked it matter/o!/!a$tly& not like some
therapeuti$ sop.
Beth ble# her nose again and tossed the tissues a#ay. She grabbed a hand!ul o!
!resh ones and #iped her tears. 8.eah& ( guess.: She and (saiah had gone o%er this
$ountless times2 #ith him al#ays reminding her o! her immaturityF and her ne%er being
able to get past her o#n =udgment that//immaturity be damned// at that =un$ture o! her
li!e it #as still no e*$use !or ha%ing a$ted like a bar/!ly slut.
8There's no sin in being too adoles$ent to be married. illions o! people do it
be!ore they !igure it out. Bsually takes a !e# years. )nd %ery !e# people #ho do& deal
#ith it maturely.:
8.ou'%e told me that too many times& (saiah&: Beth said. 8y e*it strategy le!t a
lot to be desired. ( grunge/!u$ked my #ay out o! that marriage.:
8H.A. )nd #e'%e spoken about this se%eral times. But you still need to reali-e
ho# $ommon it is that people marry prematurely. 4erhaps #hat you ha%en't e*pressed
su!!i$iently is ho# mu$h you a$tually lo%ed your !irst husband . . . and his !amily. )nd
ho# mu$h guilt you'%e !elt !or tossing them all aside+:
8That's #hy ('m a s$hmu$k. ?on't you see+: Beth $ried harder. )!ter she
$omposed hersel! and desperate to $hange the sub=e$t she said& 8.ou didn't press me
strongly about )aron& (saiah. Cosing your tou$h+:
8Bndoubtedly.: "e laughed. 8.ou $learly didn't #ant to dis$uss him then. ?o you
85oD: Beth turned and stared out the #indo#. She !elt her =a# $len$h to the point
o! pain. She turned ba$k. 8( need to talk about my son.:
84lease do. .ou said 0ay #as in endo$ino #ith this !ather.:
8.eah& my #orst !ears ha%e $ome true. What started out about ten months ago as
some $asual phone $alls bet#een 0ay and his !ather and pot/queen #i!e has e%ol%ed to
0ay spending more and more time #ith them up in ari=uana%ille.: Beth massaged her
(saiah didn't respond %erbally but typed something. Beth $ould ne%er determine i!
there #as some pattern to his note taking. "e o!ten didn't #rite anything #hen she
thought he #ould& some stret$h o! the session #here she #ould toss out a !lood o! details
at him . . . and then& like no#& he #ould take notes #hen she least e*pe$ted it. Without
kno#ing #hy& she rarely dared ask him about it.
8(n the past you'%e des$ribed that as your #orst !ear& Beth. 0ay reuniting #ith his
!ather. Say more.:
She leaned !or#ard& pla$ed her elbo#s on her knees and propped her $hin up in
the heels o! her hands. Speaking #ith the up#ard pressure against her =a# relie%ed a bit
o! the pain. She straightened ba$k up and !olded her hands in her lap. 8Cook& ( kno# it's
generally a good thing. <athers and sons and all that. But& still& ( !eel ripped o!!. Why
should that bastard #ho abandoned his son all those years get to be !riends #ith him
no#+ akes me #ant to puke.:
8.ou're still angry at Brad. But no matter #hat 0ay does no# #ith his !ather is not
a repudiation o! #hat a good =ob you did raising him.:
Beth thought& didn't ( =ust say that+ She s$o#led at him. Sometimes his
$ompulsion to play ba$k her #ords !elt patroni-ing.
(saiah asked& 8<rom your e*pression . . . did ( say something stupid+:
8Beyond stupid.: Beth rose& #alked to the #indo# and stared out into the street.
Commandingly& #ithout turning around& she said& 8But let's mo%e on.:
(saiah gu!!a#ed& and said& 8That's my line.:
Beth turned around but didn't mo%e !rom the #indo#.
8( don't pay you to e*plore the stupid things you say& (saiah.:
"is laughed again. 8.ou're so right.:
She obser%ed him gathering himsel!& reali-ing he #as being too glib.
8.ou kno#& Beth&: he said. 8( think a lot o! #hat you'%e been talking about is
$aptured in your dream.:
9olling her eyes& Beth said& 8By all means Sigmund . . . analy-e on.: She lo%ed
ho# he $ould laugh so easily at her =ibes& that he $ould a$tually en=oy them.
8Cike you&: he began& 8('ll be $ounting o!! one !inger at a time. <irst& someone
#ho's supposed to be there isn't. ?urone in the dream ne%er sho#ed . . . 0ay is not home
and plans not to spend the holidays #ith you.:
8(t's a stret$h&: Beth said. <rom years o! #at$hing Ca# O Hrder& she borro#ed
the =udge's line !rom the ben$h& 8But ('ll allo# it. Continue.:
8Se$ondly&: he said& 8the un!airness theme. ) !ather doesn't raise his son and no#
it appears Brad and 0ay are re$on$iling& pushing you to the side. .our !irst husband's
se$ond #i!e's tragi$ illness& breast $an$er . . . there are !e# things more arbitrarily tragi$
than a young person getting terminal $an$er.:
Beth !ollo#ed the logi$& but said& 8('m not buying the $onne$tions& but go on.:
8,%en by your standards& Beth&: (saiah took a breath& be!ore $ontinuing& 8the
amount o! sar$asm you'%e e*pressed in our session today is unpre$edented. .ou must be
hurting terribly. .our gi%ing su$h short shri!t to a !ather and son re$on$iling is telling. (
suspe$t #ith time you might be able to support their reuniting i! you look at it !rom your
son's perspe$ti%e.:
<lushed in the !a$e& Beth said& sar$asti$ally 8)!ter ( #ork through more o! my
8)nd hurt& and disappointment& and shame o! ho# you le!t ?urone.: (saiah took a
moment and $ame ba$k #ith& 8.ou $ouldn't $ommuni$ate #ith <eli$ia allory in the
dream. Cike you $an't $ommuni$ate no# #ith your son& your agent or your publisher.
Cea%ing you s$ared& angry and terribly %ulnerable.:
8"o#'d you get all that !rom my dream+:
(gnoring her& he $ontinued& 8)t the end o! it& #hen <eli$ia's !a$e trans!orms !rom
pleasant and in%iting to . . . #hat did you $all it+ edusa. 4robably her $an$er. )nd you
and she dissol%e in an a$id pit and you #ake up in a terror. Then get si$k.:
Beth shu!!led o%er and $ollapsed in her $hair. 8( don't kno#& (saiah. .ou might be
!alling in lo%e #ith your theories here. "o#'s )aron& the man ( hardly kno# represented
in my dream+ Cay that one on me& s#ami.:
8Could be&: (saiah began& 8that pu--ling intense a!!e$tion you des$ribed you and
rs. allory ine*pli$ably !elt !or one another #hen you !irst entered the photography
studio. "ere& you'%e ne%er met be!ore. She's o! a di!!erent ra$e. Hnly speaks a language
you don't understand& yet both o! you go out o! your #ay to $ommuni$ate this !ondness
!or one another& #ordlessly. Yuite beauti!ul& ( think. .ou'%e said repeatedly& )aron isn't
like the men you usually go !or. .ou #alked a long time and barely spoke.:
Beth slo#ly shook her head. 8an& that makes =umping a$ross the @rand Canyon
seem simple. Cook& do$& the !ondness <eli$ia and me !elt !or ea$h other #asn't the kind (
!eel #hen ( meet an attra$ti%e man. There #as no se*ual $hemistry.:
8,*a$tly& Beth.:
She heard him $lose his laptop and set his tea$up do#n #ith an emphati$ thump.
Beth understood the signals2 $losed laptop meant #e're almost out o! time.
)!!e$ting her mo$k therapist tone& she asked& 8What are you making o! that& (saiah.
8('%e kno#n you !or three years& Beth. .ou'%e ne%er told me about meeting a ne#
man in anything but se*ual terms. Was there $hemistry+ Would your !riends like him+
Would you !eel sa!e going home #ith him+ That kind o! thing.:
Beth stood up& more pu--led than #hen she !irst $ame into his o!!i$e. 8So+: She
didn't !or a se$ond think #hat (saiah #as $oherent. 8.ou make this all up !rom <reud's
Wish/<ul!illment Theory+:
8( think you're making enormous progress& Beth. .our dream tells us that.:
Beth stood up but looked a#ay. Try as she might none o! this made a li$k o! sense
to her. She glan$ed at the pi$tures on his #alls& looking !or some kind o! $lue on ho# to
pro$eed. ostly lands$apes& she thought& yeah& get lost. She looked ba$k at her therapist&
lost in his intelle$tuali-ed re%erie& then ba$k at the lands$apes.
Cooking up at her& (saiah said& 8There #as pure liking& pure $aring #hen you
entered the studio #ith someone you =ust met. (t's got to be $onne$ted to your !eeling !or
8( told you& (saiah. ( took a daytime #alk #ith him.: Beth !a$ed him. 8We hardly
said a #ord& and ( really don't kno# i! ( like him or not.:
89ight&: (saiah said. 8) nearly #ordless #alk !or an hour. eeting in the
language o! silen$e. 5ot ha%ing to #ork at anything. 0ust en=oying a man's $ompany.:
8( still don't kno# i! ( like the guy+: Beth hated #hen she sounded petulant& and
his ignoring her $omments about her !eeling !or )aron in!uriated her.
<inally& he spoke& 8Cast time ( $he$ked in #ith the uni%erse& Beth& people #ho
spend that kind o! time on a #alk #ith someone they'%e =ust met& like you and )aron did&
de!initely like ea$h other.
)nother pause that Beth interpreted as (saiah's taking the time to deliberate on
#hat he'd say ne*t. She beat him to the pun$h.
8('ll $all you #hen ( get ba$k&: she said. Standing up and lea%ing his o!!i$e& she
#ent to the outer door& noted the engul!ing !og and en%ied its #a!ting indi!!eren$e.

Chapter 1>
Startled by the din o! a no*ious lea!/blo#er and #hat sounded like a !lo$k o!
$ommer$ial =ets simultaneously taking o!!& Beth rolled o%er in bed. She remembered she
#as in a San 0ose hotel room and re$alled (saiah's last #ords to her in the dream.
Blinking her eyes a#ake& she said& 8Cast time ( $he$ked in #ith the uni%erse . . .
#hat horseshit.: But by the time she made it to the toilet to urinate she added& 8But look
#hat ( ga%e him to #ork #ith.:
Be!ore sho#ering& she de$ided to $all 0ohn and !ind out about Stephen's
$ondition. 0ohn ans#ered right a#ay. True to !orm& he #as already in the edi$al
?ire$tor's #aiting room. 4romptly& he told her Stephen's $ondition remained the same&
that his %ital signs #ere stronger and that he'd $all her ba$k a!ter this audien$e #ith his
She hung up. 0ohn pra$ti$ed the ne# Sili$on Ualley mores that allo#ed $ell phone
$ommuni$ation& literally& at all times.
0ust like 0ohn& Beth thought& go to the top and make e%eryone #ork// !or him. She
#ondered& #hat #ould the edi$al ?ire$tor say to 0ohn to get him out o! his o!!i$e2 8So&
r. Shepherd& #ould you like to donate !i%e million dollars to our endo#ment& and ('ll
make sure your brother gets $lean sheets !our times a day and e*tra 0ell/H+:
Beth sho#ered& dressed and looked at the $lo$k. (t #as 11200 ).. She had the
ne*t ele%en hours to #rite be!ore going to the airport to $at$h her plane !or the ,ast
Coast. That #as a lot o! hours to #rite& she thought. (! only she $ould be produ$ti%e.
She sat do#n to #rite on her manus$ript2
Aatie let 0ohnny sleep& slipped out o! bed and put on a #hite 5e# .ork 9angers
s#eatshirt and =eans. The sun #as =ust up. She #anted to be the !irst person on the bea$h
be!ore the $lammers des$ended en masse out o! their old station #agons and mini
0apanese pi$kup tru$ks digging !or Bigelo#s. (t #as $ool along the #ater& so she pi$ked
up her #alking pa$e. "er ribs no longer a$hed !rom the beating& but her le!t hip $ontinued
to $ry out in pain i! she landed too hard& e%en on #et sand. Hdd& she thought& that no
matter ho# %igorously she and 0ohnny #ent at it in bed that ne%er aggra%ated her hip
Aatie #ondered . . . $ould she go ba$k to #ork+ Wear a badge again+ Take on
another $ase+ She had another month and a hal! o! administrati%e lea%e. )!ter that& they'd
sti$k her on light duty& #hi$h meant she'd sit behind a desk& ans#er phones and take pot
shots all day long !rom o!!i$ers she neither liked nor respe$ted. Their $omments&
predi$tably& #ould $ome either in the !orm o! =o%ial sur%i%or =okes& making !un o! broken
bones and treating #eeks o! se%ere pain as i! it ne%er happenedF or& take on the mask o!
nothing/really/ happened& let's =ust treat that beating that almost killed you like the bus
that missed you standing too $lose to the $urb on >
)%enue during rush hour. 5o#& let's
get some !resh bagels.
"al! a mile !rom 0ohnny's $ottage& she parked by an o!t/repaired hot dog stand
held together by rusted $oke signs and #ood s$raps liberated !rom $onstru$tion sites.
Aatie let her !eet sink into the $old sand and thought this #ill be hard to lea%e.
Beth's $ell phone bu--ed !rom the bed stand& busting her #riting $on$entration.
She retrie%ed the phone and looked at the s$reen. (t !lashed 0ay's number.
She $rossed her legs& ans#ered and said& 8"i& 0ay. @ood morning. (sn't this early
!or you+: Beth #ondered i! he'd heard anything about Stephen.
8.eah& it's $ra$k o/da#n& mom. 9emember& ('m still under 30.:
(n $ontrast to their last $on%ersation& Beth !elt relie%ed. "is %oi$e had its usual
=o%ial and good/natured tone. Beth asked& 8What's up+: "e'd paused too long. 8(s
something #rong& 0ay+ Tell me.:
85o. 5othing's #rong. (t's =ust this s$ene is so #eird.:
Beth re/$rossed her legs. 8What's #eird+: Beth !elt the #arm sal%e o! being
needed and de$ided not to bring up their last en$ounter unless he did.
8Being here in endo$ino. With ?ad and )urora. )nd not you.:
Sti!ling the urge to say& ( told you so& Beth asked& 8"as something happened+:
She s#allo#ed and allo#ed hersel! a smidgen o! triumph.
85ot at all. (! anything& they're going o%erboard #ith their generosity. They'%e
introdu$ed me to e%ery gay man under 30 in endo$ino County. ?ad and )urora really
do seem to kno# e%erybody& and they're planning to host a Thanksgi%ing dinner !or a
$ast o! thousands. Well. ) $ouple o! hundred at least.:
"earing the disappointment in his %oi$e and happy to hear an e*ample o! his
pre!eren$es akin to her o#n& Beth bragged& 8Hur Thanksgi%ings #ere al#ays small&
intimate a!!airs.:
8.eah& ('m missing them. (t's o%er#helming here. They li%e in this log/$abin
pala$e&: 0ay said. 8H%er !i%e thousand square !eet. Se%en bedrooms. Thank god it's so big
you $an al#ays !ind a nook to hide in& and the grounds e*tend !or a$res be!ore rea$hing
the !orest. Spe$ta$ular pla$e i! you like . . . 8
8ari=uana/empire $hi$+:
"e laughed. 8om& it's a$tually all quite taste!ul.:
80ust Brobdingnagian.: With her !ree hand& Beth patted her !orehead in a s$olding
gesture& and said& 8Stop me. What's )urora a$tually like+:
8Think Betty ?a%is in aging/hippie& peasant garb. She's $harismati$. She runs the
$ounty& really. )ll the politi$os here kiss her ass at e%ery opportunity. @etting in%ited to
her soirees& here at the ran$h& marks you as in . . . or out. She's really the lo$al king/
Beth relu$tantly took in the !e# positi%es. 8?o you like her+: Waiting !or his
ans#er& she #ondered& should ( tell 0ay about his un$le in the hospital+
8( do.:
0ay ans#ered that so qui$kly that she !elt a stab o! pain run through her heart.
8@ood&: She lied& and took in another breath. 8"o# are you and your !ather getting
8Sure you #ant to hear this& mom+:
Beth #iped a single tear !rom her le!t $heek. 8H! $ourse. .es& o! $ourse. .ou $an
be honest #ith me.: She took another breath. 8.ou #on't hurt my !eelings.:
8.ou're lying& mom. ( $an hurt your !eelings by pausing !or three se$onds on the
phone. Hr taking !orty/eight hours to ans#er your email.:
8Stop bragging and ans#er the question.: Beth sipped #hat remained o! her $old
$o!!ee !rom last night and glan$ed o%er at the digital $lo$k. She really should be #orking
on her manus$ript.
8( don't kno# i! you $an handle this& mom+:
"o# bad $ould it be& Beth #ondered. 8H! $ourse ( $an handle itD ('m your
mother.: ?ear& Cord& she thought. She hadn't e*pe$ted to hear anything like that $ome out
o! her mouth until she #as li%ing on a so!t diet in assisted li%ing.
8?ad's . . . ni$e. "e's mello#ed sin$e you and he #ere together. "e's #ell liked
by e%eryone. "e's help!ul #ithout being a pest& and he and )urora seem to really lo%e
ea$h other.:
Beth suppressed her urge to say& it's an a$t& and asked& 8What do you do
8We'%e hiked about a hundred miles sin$e ( got here. ( thought ( #as in great
#alking shape but $an barely keep up #ith ?ad.:
Beth said& 8('m glad to hear that.: )t the use o! ?ad an a$he spread through her
$hest. 8?o you talk+:
8Hh& yeah&: 0ay said& 8mostly me going on and on about my li!e and all the years
that ha%e gone by. "e's asked about you& too.:
"e paused. 0ay must ha%e !elt her !lin$h o%er the phone. Beth didn't kno# #hat to
say and tapped her !ingers on the desk #hile staring into spa$e.
8.eah. @o on.: Beth shu!!led in her seat but $ouldn't get $om!ortable. 8.ou said&
he's asked about me.:
0ay $leared his throat. 8?ad's asked about you in the most respe$t!ul terms. "o#'s
your $areer+ .our health+ "e really #ants the best !or you . . . at least& that's ho# it seems
to me.:
Bastard $ould read about her $areer on/line& Beth thought. 8('m glad he sounds
#ell.: (t's great getting to kno# him as a real person. ?on't get me #rong. We'%e
had some a#k#ard spots.:
8@roo%y.: She shook her head& snapping hersel! out o! the tran$e she'd entered.
8('m sorry& 0ay. ( didn't mean to be sar$asti$.: 0ay kne# her too #ell and #ould absorb
e%ery atom o! her $austi$ity.
8So& om&: 0ay hesitated. 8?ad and )urora ha%e asked me to ask you something.
(! you might like to %isit here+ (n the !uture.:
Beth thought& sure& ('ll $ome up and buy a !e# pounds o! pot !or resale in Santa
Cru-. aybe they $ould gi%e her a dis$ount. She suppressed those bon mots and
$ontinued& 8"o# thought!ul o! them. Cet me $onsider it.: She reali-ed& grimly& i! she lost
her publishing $ontra$t she might ha%e to a$tually $onsider su$h a thing to hold onto her
house. Shrugging& she dismissed the #hole thing as ridi$ulous. She hated drugs.
8Cook& mom& ('ll let you go. 0ust think about it. ight be good to bury the hat$het
8Cook&: Beth interrupted& suddenly irritated and an*ious to get o!! the phone. 8(
said ( #ould $onsider it. 5o# en=oy yoursel! up there. ('%e got a plane to $at$h. )!ter ('%e
been in 5e# .ork a !e# o! days and get settled ('ll $all you. Co%e you.:
8Co%e you& om.:
Beth #ent outside to stret$h her legs. She $ouldn't remember the last time she'd eaten&
but she didn't !eel at all hungry. She took the long #alk around the gardens to get to the
lobby. @lan$ing at her #at$h& she #ondered i! it #as too early to $all the hospital.
Hn$e in the lobby& she took an orange !rom the !ruit basket ne*t to the hot
be%erages& sat do#n and peeled the !ruit. @etting pith under her !ingernails she broke o!!
an orange se$tion and reali-ed she $ouldn't e%en ingest !ruit. She made tea& and as it
steeped& de$ided to $all 0ohn.
0ohn told her the same thing he had be!ore& but at least this time he #as eating
lun$h in a nearby restaurant and not making enemies #ith the hospital administration.
0ohn sounded tired& and Beth urged him to use her house i! he #anted to rest. "e thanked
her& en$ouraged her to go ba$k to #ork on her book and insisted he'd $all her i! there
#ere anything to report.
Ba$k in her room& Beth sat do#n to #ork on her last three $hapters. She hadn't
outlined them& but she kne# the sequen$e o! s$enes she #anted in ea$h $hapter//e%en i!
she had no idea ho# the #hole thing ended. <or this to be a labor/intensi%e day o! #riting
!i$tion& she #ould ha%e to goad hersel! into #riting.
But ho# hard $ould it be& Beth asked hersel!& opening up her do$uments yet
another time+ She #as a pro!essional #riter. ?is$ipline had ne%er been her problem. .et&
nor had she e%er had to #rite through a phantasm that !or$ed her to question her sanity.
She made a !resh pot o! $o!!ee. Toiling a#ay& Beth did her best to $lean up her the
latest $hapters. She deleted as many o! the odd passages as she $ould& the ones that
blended her real li!e into her #riting//making Co%e (n The 4re$in$t not so mu$h the latest
in the Aatie Shields Series& as Beth Shepherd's debut no%el into hypnagogi$ meta!i$tion.
"ours later& she $on$eded. The same inertia that had haunted her these past #eeks
still held her like a %ise. She edited nothing more than $leaning up #ord orders in
senten$es& $orre$ting $ommas and simpli!ying $ompound/$omple* senten$es. "er
manus$ript no# had three partial endings6none o! them $ompete& all o! them riddled
#ith her personal demons and #ha$ky tangents.
She dressed !or a run& ran around the San 0ose )irport and got ba$k to her room
!eeling none the better. When e*er$ise didn't impro%e her mood& Beth kne# she'd entered
an ominous -one.
She pa$ked& sho#ered and dressed. Beth stood in the door#ay o! her hotel
making last se$ond $he$ks to be sure she hadn't !orgotten anything.
Hutside the day had turned $ool& damp and dreary& so she turned up her o%er$oat's
$ollar. The dri%er o! the shuttle posed the automati$ greeting& 8@ood a!ternoon& ho# are
,*$ept !or this mess o! a no%el ('m $arrying& Beth thought& as she smiled& nodded
at him& stepped up onto the bus and said& 8<ine.:
Sleeping to the droning #hite/noise o! t#in Boeing =et engines some#here o%er Btah&
Beth startled a#ake !rom the rattling gasps o! t#o snoring o%er#eight men& like t#o
%ol$ani$& sputtering bookends to her one slim %olume. They snorted in $ounterpoint& one
as$ending a laborious& panting s$ale& desperate !or breathF the other& des$ending that s$ale
and #hee-ing through obsolete& rusted ba!!les that $ould ser%e as a symphoni$ prelude to
"un$hing !or#ard& stret$hing as best she $ould& she s$anned the entire plane and
sa# only three people a#ake& all reading to the glo# o! laptops. )t least& she thought& she
#asn't the only insomnia$ aboard. )nd her last phone $all #ith 0ohn had gone #ell2
Stephen #as out o! his $oma& all his neurologi$al signs #ere goodF and a!ter a !e# days
o! obser%ation& assuming all #ent #ell& he #ould be trans!erred to a residential drug
treatment !a$ility.
Beth pulled her $omputer out !rom the maga-ine po$ket in !ront o! her and
returned to page 2G9 in Co%e in the 4re$in$t. Beth had last #ritten& . . . Aatie had made
her de$ision.
Beth thought& ho# many times ha%e ( thought that+ She hit the $all/button o%er
her head and ordered t#o $ups o! $o!!ee. When Beth #as !o$used& she $ould #rite !i%e
hundred #ords an hour o! unpolished prose. She reali-ed no matter ho# mu$h bluster and
noise they made about late deadlines and $ontra$ts& arty S$hienman and Syne$do$he
4ublishing still #anted a !inished no%el. The book still needed ma=or editing& but e%en in
its present state had to be #orth something. The Aatie Series $ouldn't end #ithout a book.
)nd they #eren't going to #alk a#ay !rom a no%el that guaranteed a pro!it.
9eassuring hersel!& Beth thought& there's enough Aatie Shields !ans out there that
they'll buy this last book =ust to say goodbye to a dete$ti%e they'd spent se%eral years
reading and passing around to their $rime/!i$tion lo%ing !riends. Beth $ontinued6
0ohnny dro%e Aatie to the train station be!ore the sun $ame up& kissed her
goodbye& and said& 8(! you $hange your mind about $oming ba$k here& don't s#eat it. But
i! ( don't see you in a $ouple o! months& ('ll be pi$king up the ne*t attra$ti%e #oman ('%e
!ried up hash bro#ns !or.:
8?eal.: Aatie #a%ed to him as got ba$k in his $ar and peeled out o! the parking
lot in his t#enty year old Camaro. )t this point in her li!e Aatie kne# t#o things. She
#as done #ith poli$e #ork and li%ing in the $ity6la# en!or$ement !or good and the $ity
!or at least a !e# years.
The se$ond thing Aatie reali-ed #as she #ould be $oming ba$k to 0ohnny. 5ot
that that relationship #ould last long. She kne# his dirty T/shirt routine #ould mo%e !rom
primal/se*y to hopeless slob6and probably mu$h sooner than she'd like it to. 5e*t&
she'd try to re!orm him2 make him sha%e more o!ten& #ear $leaner $lothes& and drink less.
The only thing she didn't #ant to $hange about him #as ho# he made lo%e to her.
But lo%ing on a so$ially do#n#ard slope had an ine%itable progression. 0ohnny
#ould put up #ith her makeo%er o! his lo#er/$lass habits !or a month& maybe si* #eeks&
be!ore the trade o!!6great se* !or being yoursel!6#ould turn him against her. They'd
quarrel more o!ten& bit$h about #ho le!t the milk out or #ho #as supposed to pi$k up
liquor on their last trip into to#n. Couples $ould !ind things to bit$h about li%ing in
paradise2 think ho# easy that #ould be on the tip o! Cong (sland in mid/#inter.
Aatie bought a de$ent #omen's suit in a $onsignment shop in Southampton& and
at this point in her physi$al re$o%ery& !our months past her beating& one #ould ha%e to
sear$h hard to !ind the s$ars and dis$oloration on her =a#. 9iding the train #est& she
thought& shitD "ere ( am& going to the $ity to resign& and ('m still #orried about my
Some things ne%er $hange. To her le!t& Aatie #at$hed someone in a death/!ren-y
!illing in the 5e# .ork Times ?aily Cross#ord 4u--le. To her right& a young man #as
reading the 5e# .ork 4ost #ith its usual shrill headline about a sports star dating some
marginally talented skank. )n eight/year/old boy smoked his bialy like a Tony Soprano in
training #hile his o%erburdened mother attended to a set o! !ussy& toddler t#ins.
Three hours later& #alking south !rom 4enn Station& Aatie #alked to the 13

4re$in$t at 230 ,. 21
St and hoped her old peers kept to the same s$hedule.
They did& and she #alked into her $aptain's o!!i$e #ho no# had 30 minutes to
make phone $alls. She handed him her resignation letter. "e read it quietly& sho#ed no
emotion& looked up and stared at her.
Captain Stuko#ski !inally said& 8?ete$ti%e Shields& you kno# #hat this means+:
8H! $ourse ( kno# #hat it means. ( #rote it&: Aatie ans#ered 8Bnless the
meaning o! the #ord 'resignation' has $hanged sin$e ( le!t.:
85ot yet.: Stuko#ski leaned ba$k in his $hair. 8('m =ust $on$erned #ith ho# !ast
you're making this de$ision. .ou ha%e another t#o months o! medi$al lea%e. What's the
8('%e been thinking about this !or months& Captain. ,%en be!ore ( got beat up.:
Aatie looked at the mound o! paper on his desk and thought& that's #hat the !uture holds
!or me i! ( stay here. 8('%e been in la# en!or$ement long enough. ( need a $hange. ) big
Stuko#ski got up and sat in the $hair ne*t to her. 8Cook& ?ete$ti%e& you'%e had a
great $areer here68
8y ambition took an abrupt turn #hen ( got assaulted&: Aatie said. 8Corre$tion.
y ambition #as annulled.:
Con$eding !or the moment& he asked& 8What are thinking about doing !or !uture
8y $urrent =ob is to think about #hat ( #ant to do !or #ork. ('m planning on
doing nothing !or a year or t#o. (n the meantime& ('%e got a ontauk boy!riend #ho $an
keep me in hot dogs and beer.:
Caughing& Stuko#ski said& 8( kno# a lot o! di%or$ed guys around here #ho'd be
happy to keep you burgers and gin . . . and some not di%or$ed.:
Aatie got up and poured a paper $up o! #ater !rom the $ooler. 8.ou kno# #hat
made me a good poli$e#oman& Captain+: "e nodded !or her to $ontinue. 8( #as de$isi%e.
)l#ays de$isi%e no matter #hat the $ase or obsta$les. Then got the $rap beat out o! me.
5o#+ ( ha%en't $hanged. ('m quitting.:
8?e$isi%ely.: Stuko#ski pla$ed a penholder on the letter& intert#ined his !ingers&
laid his hands a$ross his belly and said& 8@oing out the #ay you $ame in. Same #ay you
#orked as a dete$ti%e.:
8.ou got it.:
The $aptain stood& !iled the letter in a $abinet behind his desk& and said& 8('m
storing this& Aatie. ( #on't pro$ess it !or t#o months. ( #ant you to take more time and
think about it. ( #ant you ba$k.:
8Thanks& Captain. But ( #on't return. "onestly& ('m done.:
"e es$orted her to the door. 8<or your sake& ('m happy !or you. <or mine . . . (
#on't lie to you& Aatie. .ou're the best dete$ti%e #e'd had here sin$e the G0's. "ope you
$ome ba$k.:
She kissed him on the $heek& turned and #alked out. Aatie Shields kne# this #as
the last time she'd e%er #alk through a poli$e building as anything but a $i%ilian.
Beth thought& right here. Why not& she thought2 Aatie #alking triumphantly out o!
the 4re$in$t "eadquarters& ne%er looking ba$k.
arty #ouldn't like it& be$ause he didn't #ant the Aatie Shields series to end. (t
had been his meal ti$ket !or years. Same thing #ith Syne$do$he& e*$ept they'd reali-e the
series #as getting stale and #ould #ant a s$hmalt-ier ending. <or them& e%en the
impli$ation o! Aatie ending up ba$k in 0ohnny's bed #ould ne%er do. Better to dump
0ohnny on the spot and get pi$ked up in ni$e deli by someone #ho better suited her
so$ially and li%e the rest o! her li!e in an upto#n to#nhouse6surrounded by hip& lo%ing
!riends a la Se* in the City. "er ne# !riends #ould& o! $ourse& #ear !abulous $lothes and
ha%e bank. Cots o! bank. Thinking about it& Beth !elt si$k.
Wired !rom the $o!!ee& ha%ing to pee& Beth #riggled her #ay o%er her snoring
seatmate. Hnly one other passenger& a handsome man in his late 30's& #as still up #ith his
reading light on. "e must ha%e sensed being looked at2 he turned around and ga%e her a
qui$k& little salute. She smiled ba$k at him6a pleasant& silent e*$hange bet#een
@etting ba$k& Beth ad=usted her seat ba$k& $losed her laptop and nestled under her
$oat. She guessed they #ere some#here mid/!light and ad=usted her #at$h three hours
!or#ard to ,astern Standard Time. Sitting here& #orrying about ho# arty and
Syne$do$he #ould !eel about this latest possible ending !or Aatie//e%en though she'd
been saying !or days ho# she didn't $are #hat anyone thought// #hat $ame to her mind
#as& Christ& ('m s$re#ed.
But& ho# did she really !eel about ending the Aatie series !or good+ Beth reali-ed
she'd ne%er really thought it through. "er entire su$$ess as a #riter& e%ery penny she'd
earned !rom her prose& e%ery e*pression o! admiration& en%y or respe$t she'd garnered !or
being su$$ess!ul at a $hallenging $ra!t #as due to the t#in %ainglories o! hard #ork and
good !ortune. Whate%er her !ans e*pressed to her in letters& on her #eb site& at readings or
$rime #riting $on!eren$es had long ago be$ome trite. .et Beth ne%er took it !or granted.
5ot e%en #hen a $ompliment #as %oi$ed or #ritten in su$h a #ay that a bright ten year
old $ould dete$t the messenger's $o%etousness. That =ust $ame #ith the territory.
She ne%er !orgot the $ountless #aitress shi!ts she'd #orked in 5e# .ork& Cos
)ngeles and Santa Cru- as a young #oman& #hether it #as !or po$ket money& re/building
her li!e a!ter her marriages& !inan$ing her se%en year apprenti$eship in learning ho# to
#rite saleable !i$tion& or keeping her and 0ay !ed and under a roo!. Thank @od !or su$h
=obs. (! you $ould #ork !ast and e!!i$iently& and didn't mind asserting yoursel! #hen you
had to keep bo-os in line& you $ould make de$ent money #ithout in$urring the soul/rot
she sa# in the !a$es o! prostitutes to #hom she'd ser%ed tanker/loads o! $o!!ee a$ross
5orth )meri$a.
Waitresses had !igured prominently in all se%en o! the Aatie no%els. Women in
short skirts and aprons had pro%ided tips to sol%ing $ases& identi!ying suspe$ts& and
tra$king the $omings and goings o! $hara$ters in and out neighborhood lo$ales. "o#
!itting& Beth thought& that here at the end o! it all& i! ho#e%er brie!ly& she had Aatie
slinging <ren$h toast and s$rambled eggs in 0ohnny's kit$hen6and learned #hat
#aitresses kne# all o%er the #orld2 the tighter the blouse& the rounder the butt& the
milkier the a& and $ro#ned #ith a smile& the better the tips.
Beth re$alled she hadn't put the $lea%age bit into Aatie's latter s$enes in ontauk
and made a mental note to do so. ,%en at ;9 years old& Beth $ould still $at$h a $a!!eine
high and get #ork done. But the $rash !ell e%er more steeply& and she had to $lose her
eyes and dri!ted o!! to sleep.
She a#oke to the tinny sounds o! the $aptain saying& 8Cadies and @entlemen&
#e'll be landing at Aennedy (nternational )irport in t#enty minutes. "ere in 5e# .ork
the #eather is . . . 8
Beth didn't need to kno# it #as $old and o%er$ast under partly $loudy skies. What
else #as it this time o! year in the 5ortheast+ <or a Canadian girl the $old here #ould
ne%er ri%al the #estern plains& but anhattan #inds had le!t their mark in her memory&
and she buttoned the top o! her blouse. She took the 0<A )irtrain to the sub#ay ) train
and got o!! at 4enn Station.
4enelope li%ed in the West Uillage& a part o! to#n Beth kne# #ell& and #alked to
the Sa%oy "otel& $lose her !riend's apartment. She le!t 4enn Station& got her bearing and
#alked south on E
)%enue. Beth had ne%er o%er$ome her =udgment o! anhattanites
#ho #ouldn't $onsider #alking ten blo$ks be!ore hailing a $ab or $at$hing a bus//yet
al#ays boasted 5e# .ork #as su$h a great #alking $ity. Beth ne%er thought t#i$e about
#alking !i!ty blo$ks.
The ten blo$ks to the hotel !rom 4enn Station #ent by qui$kly. She $he$ked into
her room and took a sho#er. 5o# she really did ha%e to hustle to get the book& i! not
done& at least $lose to !inished. She had to meet arty S$hienman at one o'$lo$k in
idto#n. <rom that meeting the t#o o! them #ere to go on to her publisher's.
H%er the ne*t hours& Beth !urther polished her no%el& took se%eral brie! and brisk
#alks around the blo$k& drank three more $ups o! $o!!ee and #orked through another G0
pages o! prose. She !ound the $risp !all air in%igorating& and it helped her #riting. Hn
some o! her #alks& she #ondered& $an ( really gi%e up this $hara$ter& this series+ The
money+ But i! her book stunk& arty and her publishers #ould thro# her a#ay like
yesterday's $arryout $o!!ee $up.
She returned to her hotel room and de$ided to make her last pass on the
manus$ript. Hne more hour o! proo!ing her last $hapters and she #as done. ,*$ept it still
had three possible endings.
Beth #anted to get lost in the #arrens o! the Chelsea arket& smell baked goods&
!resh !ruits and %egetable and mar%el at the limitless !ish and meat $hoi$es. 4erhaps i! she
ate she $ould re%i%e her ability to !o$us. She hadn't eaten anything resembling a meal
sin$e . . . she $ouldn't remember.
She settled !or #ater and ordered a bagel #ith lo* and $ream $heese !rom a street
%endor& #hi$h still did its magi$. She !elt more energeti$ and optimisti$. She mo%ed on&
stopping at a =e#elry stand on the $orner o! her blo$k. ) tall& strikingly beauti!ul ebony
#oman !rom 5igeria sold her a brass/ring $ollar.
The asking pri$e #as t#el%e dollars. The #oman's ,nglish #as $hoppy& but Beth
mar%eled at the gra$e o! her mo%ements6e%en pa$king the ne$kla$e in a plasti$ bag !elt
like #at$hing a bene%olent queen stroking the $heek o! her !a%orite $hild. Beth le!t her a
t#enty/dollar bill& smiled at her and #alked the short distan$e to her hotel.
0ust as a $on%i%ial en$ounter #ith a stranger $ould li!t one's mood& so $ould an
une*pe$ted run/in demolish it. Beth !elt her heart skip a beat and noti$ed she held her
breath. Walking dire$tly to#ards her #as the last person she e*pe$ted to see in 5e# .ork.
9eal/li!e 5.4? ?ete$ti%e 4enelope Barnes hadn't yet seen her. 4enelope #as
engrossed in $on%ersation #ith a shorter& younger #oman at her side. Beth had a $ouple
o! se$onds to de$ide to stay #here she #as& or gi%e a #ider berth and let 4enelope #alk
pastF or& Beth $ould simply turn around and peer into the store #indo# and hope she
#asn't re$ogni-ed.
T#o se$onds passed. Beth lost those options.
4enelope said& 8BethD What a surprise.:
"er %oi$e bore the !or$ed !riendliness o! an oa!ish bar introdu$tion. S#allo#ing&
Beth said& 84enelope.: )!raid o! #hat she might say ne*t& Beth turned to 4enelope's
$ompanion& nodded and e*tended her hand.
4enelope introdu$ed her !riend& an early thirties& up/and/$oming dete$ti%e. (nitial
pleasantries $ulminated the #ay they al#ays do2 they arri%ed at the a#k#ard6#hat's
ne*t+ 4enelope #ent on so long about her protXgX's a$$omplishments the young #oman
blushed and gra$iously e*$used hersel!.
?ete$ti%e 4enelope Barnes #ore a subtle plaid& bla$k business suit that #ould !it
right in on Wall St. "er only a$$essory !or the $old #eather #as a bla$k/tartan s$ar!. The
same age as Beth& 4enelope #as no# more gray/haired than auburn& still slender& but her
!a$e sho#ed #eariness that Beth hadn't seen be!ore. She also smelled !aintly o! al$ohol.
So many years on homi$ide #ould do that.
4enelope& saying she #as on/duty& had to get ba$k the 10
4re$in$t on West 20

Street. They headed there& and as 4enelope prattled on and on saying nothing& Beth
noti$ed ho# many pairs o! people #alked by& ostensibly together& but all o! them pre/
o$$upied #ith their $ell phones. Chasms bet#een people& Beth thought& #ere so tangible&
so palpable that #e needed better language to des$ribe them. ,/spa$e+ 5o& too deri%ati%e.
?igital malaise+ 5o& too pretentious. "o# about& ebyss+ aybe.
They #alked along G
)%enue. 4enelope $hatted a#ay #ith insipid bragging
about #hat ne# restaurants and plays she'd been to//#hile Beth pa$ed alongside her
oldest !riend& re$alling the old days #ith 4enelope. ) li!e/time ago& Beth and she had
shared a Santa Cru- house #ith other single mothers #hen 0ay #as a babyF Beth had
stayed #ith 4enelope on e%ery trip she had e%er made to 5e# .ork !or the past !i!teen
yearsF and Beth had spent $ountless hours dis$ussing the realities o! modern la#
en!or$ement #ith her& #ithout #hi$h Beth's Aatie Shields series #ould ha%e been little
more than roman$e $artoons gra!ted onto a TU $op/sho# plots. But the gul! bet#een
4enelope and Beth #as as e%ident as the tall buildings surrounding them. 0ust as
imposing//=ust as untou$hable. (mmaterial//yet su$h brea$hes bet#een people #arp
hearts into e*$ru$iating knots.
5ot kno#ing ho# #ell she masked the hurt she !elt& Beth glan$ed at 4enelope&
interrupted her !ree asso$iations and said& 8)re #e going to @rumpy's Ca!X+:
4enelope shook her head and said& 85o. <ollo# me. ( kno# a pri%ate pla$e.:
)rri%ing at Bungalo# G& a pri%ate $lub& on W. 2E
St& the boun$er #as o!!
some#here. The only %isible sign read2 5o Ua$an$y. 4enelope held the door open !or
Beth in a #ay that le!t Beth e%en more $on$erned. This degree o! !ormality made no
sense to Beth e*$ept to $on!irm her suspi$ions that things bet#een them had !ore%er
Hn$e seated& 4enelope ordered a Sa-era$ $o$ktail& and Beth asked !or i$e tea.
<inally in a pla$e #here she !elt she $ould talk& Beth !elt $ompelled to ask& 84enelope . . .
#hen ( $alled you !rom Cali!ornia you said it #ouldn't #ork !or me to stay #ith you.
That's !ine. ( respe$t your spa$e and all. But #hen ( asked you about it& you said
something about it being a#k#ard. "o# so+:
The #aiter returned& ser%ed the drinks& and said& 8?rink up ladies.:
Beth #at$hed 4enelope delay the #aiter and make small talkF the se$ond time in
so many minutes that Beth !elt disrespe$ted. Waiter and ?ete$ti%e Barnes ob%iously kne#
ea$h other #ell. 5ot surprising sin$e 4enelope& her pre$in$t on a nearby tree/lined blo$k&
had said on their #ay here she'd be$ome a regular. The pla$e #as trendy. But in true 5e#
.ork !ashion& o! $ourse only !or the right kind o! people. Beth sat& tapped her !ingers and
took in the surrounding #hile getting more annoyed #at$hing these t#o re!le$t ba$k one
another's superiority.
Beth !inished hal! her tea be!ore the !lirting birds broke o!! their $hatter& !ull o!
!a#ning $ompliments that added up to nothing.
4enelope un!olded her napkin& glan$ed into her lap& looked up and said& 8( ha%e
some things ('%e needed to talk to you about !or a long time& Beth.:
Beth thought& !or a long time+ Some grudge+ 84enelope. ( don't kno# #hat to
say. y brother& Stephen ba$k in Cali!ornia68
8Stephen in another $risis.: (mpatient& annoyed& 4enelope interrupted her. 8What
else is ne#//:+
85o& he really68
8?o you #ant dis$uss us or not& Beth+ ake up your mind. ('m on duty and don't
ha%e any time !or round 900 o! the Stephen Shepherd Saga.:
9ed !a$ed and tight& 4enelope sounded =ust like a . . . a $op& taking $ontrol o! the
situation. The imperiousness in her %oi$e kno$ked Beth o!! balan$e. )nd& she's on duty+
?rinking+ 8H! $ourse ( #ant to dis$uss us& 4enelope. ( $an see ho# upset you are.:
4enelope nursed her drink. Why the attitude in 4enelope's %oi$e+ What in hell did
she mean//she's on duty+ Why #ere they here then+ "ad their relationship $hanged so
mu$h in the last !e# months that Beth $ouldn't tell a !riend that her brother had nearly
killed himsel!+ )pparently so.
4enelope pulled her $ell phone out o! her po$ket. 8( hate these things $oming
bet#een people&: 4enelope said. She turned the ringer o!!.
With that gesture& Beth !elt an iota o! relie!. 8Thanks& ( !eel the same #ay about
all these gadgets. But ( need to keep mine on. Stephen's in the hospital ba$k in Cali!ornia.
( need to keep the line open.:
4enelope #in$ed and #a%ed her hand& announ$ing again her disinterest in hearing
any o! Beth's !amily drama. She glan$ed at an impossibly handsome& #ell built young
man sitting at the bar& smiled broadly at him and nodded. She looked ba$k at Beth. 8"e's
my !a%orite bartender at Ulada's.: "er !a$e $hanged to annoyed un$ertainty. 8Hr maybe
it's Splash. ( don't kno#. They're all the same. Teeming #ith gorgeous men.:
Hn his #ay out& the o!!/duty bartender sashayed o%er& #inked at the t#o #omen&
and a!!e$tionately stroked the dete$ti%e's shoulder. "is passing #ords #ere2 8('m
inno$ent& dete$ti%e.:
Beth and 4enelope #at$hed this eye!ul mo%e a$ross the room. "e stopped at the
door #here he turned around laughing& assuming they'd both taken a keen interested in
his ass. Be!ore lea%ing& he turned around& grinned& and said& 85ot really.:
4enelope looked ba$k at Beth and said& 7The boys there all lo%e me.:
8H! $ourse they do&: Beth said& #ondering #hen gays #ould tire o! running the
('m/so/#i$ked routine. 8.ou tip #ell. (! only a$tual relationships #ere so easy.:
8@ot that right.: 4enelope sipped her drink. 8The gays ha%e it !igured out. Sleep
#ith #home%er you #ant& and the rest o! the #orld be damned.:
Beth !inished her tea& suddenly desi$$ated !rom all the $o!!ee.
8.ou'%e been using me !or years.: 4enelope pun$tuated her a$$usation #ith a tip
o! her glass in Beth's dire$tion.
Whate%er relie! Beth had !elt a moment ago %anished. 8('%e #hat+:
4enelope !a$e turned grim. 8When #e talked on the phone a #hile ago ( said (
$ouldn't put you up in my apartment. That's #hat #as a#k#ard.:
Beth peered o%er her empty glass and reali-ed her old !riend #as building up to
something that $ouldn't be pleasant.
Cooking a#ay& drinking too qui$kly& 4enelope drank like a #oman possessed.
8The $urtness and hostility in your %oi$e&: Beth began& 8and your #hole %ibe
s$reams ('m some kind o! leper. What's #rong& 4enelope+ "o# ha%e ( o!!ended you+:
?o#ning the rest o! her drink& 4enelope $aught the #aiter's eye and looked ba$k
into Beth's !a$e. 8('%e been pissed at you !or months& Beth. aybe years.:
8<ine.: Beth sat ba$k in her $hair but maintained eye $onta$t. 8Talk to me. Cet's
$lear this up.:
The #aiter $ame o%er #ith another order. 8Hnly pla$e in to#n that kno#s ho# to
make these $orre$tly&: 4enelope said& handing him her empty glass. 8"as to ha%e
4ey$haud's Bitters !rom 5e# Hrleans.:
)t this moment& Beth !elt no patien$e !or the anhattan sophisti$ate bullshit.
Beth ignored the #aiter. 8What are you angry about& 4enelope+ Tell me.:
8( stopped $ounting ho# many times you'd $all me up only to tell me you #ere
$oming the 5e# .ork and #ere looking !or a !ree pla$e to stay.:
8What's this about+: Beth immediately regretted the e*asperation she heard in her
o#n %oi$e. She !lashed ba$k at ho# many times she'd spent hal! a day deep $leaning
4enelope's apartment& treated her to dinners& drinks& and brought her to publishing
8)ll these years& Beth68 4enelope stopped and s#allo#ed a !ourth o! her se$ond
drink& 8you'%e used me as a !ree re!eren$e desk !or your Aatie books68
8)nd ('%e $redited you in e%ery one o! those books& dedi$ated three o! them to
you& talked you up in more inter%ie#s on tele%ision and radio inter%ie#s than ( $an $ount
8( ha%en't !orgotten that& Beth.: 4enelope interrupted her and gestured #ith
another empty glass to the bartender.
Beth leaned !or#ard and peered into 4enelope's !a$e. Bnder her !riend's makeup&
Beth sa# the signs2 broken blood %essels on her nose and around her mouthF the $ro#'s
!eet around her eyes #ere deeper than her last %isit. 8.ou might #ant to slo# do#n on the
boo-e& 4en.:
8.eah. Cots o! people telling me that lately.: 4enelope smiled at the #aiter& young
enough to be her son.
)nnoyed and disappointed& Beth said& 84erhaps you should listen to them.:
8That's #hy ( $ome here. 5o =udgment. 0ust drink& go home& get !u$ked& and
drink some more.:
?is$on$erted by 4enelope's $yni$ism& Beth retreated to the earlier topi$. 8What do
you #ant& 4enelope+ oney+ "o# else $ould ( thank you !or ho# mu$h you'%e
$ontributed to Aatie Shields+:
4enelope slou$hed o%er her !resh drink and $upped her glass in both hands. "er
e*pression reminded Beth o! #at$hing Stephen a!ter !ar too many& staring into his empty
beer bottles. Cost. 4ained. Blaming. Bnrea$hable.
84enelopeD: Beth tried to rouse her. 8Talk to me. .ou look terrible. .ou $an't !ool
me. .ou kno# my brother. ( $an smell an al$oholi$ three pro%in$es a#ay.: 4enelope
suddenly looked small.
8( !eel like shit& Beth. )nd ( kno# ( look that #ay. 4robably #hy ( $ome here and
su$k up $ompliments !rom the boys. That and boo-e are the only things that bring me
8This is surreal. Stephen's ba$k in Cali!ornia& maybe dying !rom an o%erdose and
you're68 Beth grasped 4enelope's drink !rom her hands and pla$ed it on the table ne*t
to them as !ar a#ay as she $ould pla$e it. 8We ha%e to talk& 4enelope. What else are you
mad at me about+:
8That's =ust it& Beth. .ou $an't thank me. .ou'%e pi$ked my brain !or years and
years& $ome to 5e# .ork and let me play tour guide to your !ri%olous s$ribbling about a
!ake dete$ti%e. .ou #rite $rap& Beth. 4ulp. ('m embarrassed to be asso$iated #ith it.:
@utted& Beth !or$ed hersel! to breathe and $ould !eel blood rushing to her !a$e.
8Why didn't you say something earlier68
8( didn't #ant to hurt your !eelings& Beth.: 4enelope retrie%ed her drink.
8@o ahead& ?ete$ti%e&: Beth said& raising her %oi$e. 84erhaps ( $an get a t#o/!or
one. ?rink yoursel! to death& and ( $an bury a sibling and an e*/best !riend be!ore the
year is out.: She regretted saying this as soon as it $ame out o! her mouth. "er !riend #as
ob%iously seriously ill and this #asn't the time to de!end a genre belo%ed by millions o!
4enelope sipped her drink and said& 8.ou might #ant to re$onsider be!ore you get
smartass #ith me& Beth. ('m out o! your league.:
8ess #ith you+: Beth sat ba$k in the booth//sensing greater physi$al distan$e
#as the #ise mo%e. 8When did you turn into a $o#ard& 4enelope+ What's happened to
you+ Someone's hurt you. Tell me.:
4enelope put her drink do#n& $losed her eyes and leaned ba$k. Beth appre$iated
the breathing spa$e and at least $ould !eel her o#n heart rate slo#ing do#n.
4enelope said& 8('m en%ious o! you& Beth.: She glan$ed o%er again to#ards the
Be!ore the bartender $ould smile ba$k& Beth stood up& positioned her !a$e bet#een
4enelope and the bartender's line o! sight and glo#ered at him. "e leaned ba$k#ards and
raised t#o hands in mo$k surrender& turned and #alked to the !ar end o! the bar.
Sitting ba$k do#n& Beth asked& 8,n%ious . . . o! #hat+ .ou =ust said ( #rote pulp
dete$ti%e !i$tion. .ou're ob%iously not =ealous o! my prose.:
8.ou ha%e a son.:
8.eah. )nd t#o e* husbands. )nd ba$k in Cali!ornia& ('m losing my son to his
deadbeat !ather. Who's supposedly re!ormed+ "o#'s that !or gratitude !or being a single
mom !or t#enty years+ ( $an't !inish my latest book e*$ept in a #ay that no one #ill take
seriously. <or that& ('ll !or!eit an ad%an$e that ( planned to li%e on !or the ne*t t#o years.
4robably lose my house. )nd& ( don't e%en $are anymore. ('m killing Aatie any#ay. Well&
not killing her. 0ust retiring the series.:
8Wo#& Beth.: 4enelope #iped the $ondensation o!! the sides o! her glass #ith her
!ore!ingers. 85i$e rant. 0esusD We'%e both gotten patheti$. Sure you don't #ant another
drink+ We $ould !ind some shit/hole do#nto#n #here the $ro#d is aggressi%ely straight
and get pi$ked up by some bikers.:
The preposterousness o! that idea allo#ed Beth to $at$h her breath. 8)nd #hy do
@rinning& 4enelope said& 85o better #ay to make us both !eel $heap.:
8Hh& 0esusD Se* is the last thing on my mind&: Beth said. 8What do you mean+
.ou're =ealous o! my ha%ing a son.:
4enelope sat ba$k& li!ted her $hin and studied the $eiling. Beth #ondered #as she
trying to organi-e her thoughts+ The bar #as !illing up !or the late lun$h $ro#d. The
median age rose and e%eryone #asn't gorgeous.
8What do ( ha%e to sho# !or my last !i!teen years+: 4enelope asked. 8) bo* !ull
o! $ommendations and pay stubs that sho# slo# but steady progress up the pay s$ale o!
the 5.4?.: She #riggled upright& #ent into her !inan$ial/planner %oi$e and said& 8y
retirement plan has gro#n steadily i! not spe$ta$ularly.: She slumped in her $hair& let her
$hin !all to her $hest and used her normal %oi$e. 8Big !u$king deal.:
8Aids don't $omplete you& 4enelope. They lea%e you& and you still ha%e to !a$e
the mirror in the morning and try to make some sense out o! your li!e.:
Beth stood up and grabbed 4enelope's drink !rom her. 8Wait a se$ond& 4en.: She
headed !or the bar& slammed the glass do#n and $aught the bartender's attention. "e
stumbled ba$k& a!!e$ting !ear. Beth put her hands on her hips and s$o#led. She
pantomimed the raising a $o!!ee $up up to her lips. "e understood the a$t and bo#ed.
8.ou take another drink& ('ll toss it in your !a$e& dete$ti%e.: Beth said be!ore
sitting do#n. 8.ou $an arrest me !or assaulting an o!!i$er.:
8There's no satis!a$tion in that.: 4enelope tossed one hand in the air& a
%anquished !ighter un#illing to go another round. 8)nd all the !u$king paper#ork. (t'd
!eel better =ust to beat the $rap out o! you.:
8s Barnes. (n your state& in a $at !ight . . . ('d bet on me.: Beth !inished her i$e
tea. 8( ordered you a strait/up $a!!eine. 5ot in!used #ith $ogna$ or bitters.:
Beth sa# 4enelope #ea%ing a bit in her $hair& her eyelids drooping. The #aiter
$ame by and made goo/goo eyes at Beth. She s$o#led at him& and said& 8Call us a $ab&
please. ('m taking your money tree home.:
With a qui$k tilt o! his head& a hand on his hip& other arm e*tended and #riggling
an inde* !inger at the door& he said& 8They're outside& hon.: With that& he strutted a#ay.
<u$k you& Beth muttered under her breath. She e*amined 4enelope #ho'd !allen a
long #ay !rom her earlier bluster. The dete$ti%e #as sloppily drunk& spent& and Beth kne#
it #asn't sa!e to send her home in a $ab.
8.ou're not really on duty& are you+: Beth asked.
85ah&: 4enelope ans#ered& 8 . . . =ust messing #ith you.:
8What's really going on& 4enelope+: Beth asked.
Cooking patheti$ally ashamed& eyes do#n$ast on the table& 4enelope said& 8('m
suspended !rom the !or$e. ( !lunked rehab . . . #hat is it+ Three+ <our times no#. ( lose
8We'%e got to go.: Beth helped 4enelope up and slung her !riend's arm o%er her
ne$k and shoulders. 8.ou're $oming #ith me.:
Standing on the side#alk& trying to hail a $ab #ith 4enelope barely standing on
her o#n po#er& Beth thought& at least ('m not the only person in #orld #hose li!e is
!alling apart.
Chapter 11
Hn the $ab ride !rom Bungalo# G to her hotel& Beth tried to tease out a !e# more details
about 4enelope Barnes's suspension. But her !riend #as so pi$kled all Beth learned #as
that it had been going on !or months. 4enelope's $ondition& sallo# skin& baggy eyes and
roseate nose told Beth all she really needed to kno# about the dete$ti%e's non/re$o%ery.
Beth !eared she might already ha%e !allen hopelessly do#n the al$ohol #ell& hurtling
to#ards liquid immolation.
Settled in the ba$k o! the $ab& the dri%er peered in his rear%ie# mirror& and& in a
thi$k Brooklyn a$$ent and missing some teeth& said& 8"oly shitD (sn't that ?ete$ti%e
Barnes+ 4assed out in my $ab.:
The tra!!i$ #as stalled and the going #ould be maddeningly slo#. But 4enelope
#as too drunk to #alk. 8.ou kno# ?ete$ti%e Barnes+:
8Hh yeah. She arrested me !i%e years ago !or assault. 5i$est $op #ho e%er busted
<or a split se$ond Beth $onsidered asking to be let out. But a qui$k glan$e at the
streets told her she'd be stranded #ith a du!!el bag o! drunken !riend slumped on the
side#alk and #aiting !or another $ab that #ould end up stalled in the same tra!!i$. 8Well&
( like her too.: Beth hoped he'd take the hint and lea%e them in pea$e.
8Way ( !igure it& ?ete$ti%e Barnes got a pay raise be$ause o! me.:
Beth thought& perhaps #ith people like this beholden to her& 4enelope's depression
made more sense. Be!ore he $ould say anything more& she said& 8( ha%e a relati%e in the
hospital&: she held up her ringing phone& 8and ha%e to take this $all !rom my brother.:
With 4enelope leaning on her shoulder Beth ans#ered 0ohn's $all. "e said&
8Stephen #as dehydrated. They're putting !luids in him& and he's $oming to. They ha%e
to assess ho# mu$h li%er damage he's sustained be!ore dis$harging him. They don't like
drunks taking up hospital beds.:
"o# many times had Beth heard that in her li!e+ She asked& 7)ny idea #here
Stephen #ill be dis$harged+7
7( talked to the so$ial #orker&7 0ohn began& 7and he told me there's a great
program in 5apa. The Cypress Center& or something like that.7
7)nything else+7 she asked.
80ust a lot o! #aiting.: 0ohn $leared his throat and asked& 8"o#'s 5e# .ork+:
Beth leaned her head against the #indo# o! the non/mo%ing $ab and ad=usted her
position to better prop up a slumping 4enelope. 8)pparently& our !amily doesn't ha%e a
monopoly on al$oholism.:
They agreed it #ould be better to e*plore that $omment at a later time. Beth
thanked him again !or helping.
The $ab in$hed up on the streetlight =ust in time !or it to turn red. )t this rate it
truly #as !aster to #alk& but Beth #as trapped. She read the dri%er's !a$e in the rear %ie#
mirror and $ould see he #as looking !or an opening to initiate another $on%ersation. She
grima$ed at him. "e opened his mouth to speak and =ust as qui$kly $losed it and !a$ed the
But he $learly #anted to talk about something. Then& it $ame to her//the magi$
#ord. (t #as late in the baseball season2
8.ankees. What do you think+ Can they repeat+: Beth asked& hoping this #ould
gi%e him ample material to !ill up the time #hile they #ere stalled in tra!!i$.
8Hh& yeah& #ith ?erri$k 0eter around . . . 8
H%er the ne*t t#enty minutes& Beth uttered a !e# strategi$& 8Bh& sure/they/$ans&:
and 8Tisk/tisks&: that kept the dri%er talking on and on about his !a%orite team. She
re$alled yesterday's strange #riting. She began again to e*perien$e some o! same
sensations2 suddenly hot and s#eating& she !elt her head $onstri$ting in an in%isible %ise.
"er %ision blurred. The head pain& administered by some dedi$ated torturer $hained
inside her skull& gre# minutely sharper #ith ea$h turn o! the #in$h.
) !ully passed out 4enelope on Beth's shoulder reeked o! al$ohol !umes. Beth !elt
nauseous. Beth tried to !or$e her mind to grasp onto her surroundings2 the $abby's %oi$e&
the pedestrians #alking by !aster than the $ars mo%ed& the stalled& honking tra!!i$& the
omnipresent urbanity o! 5e# .ork6but she !ailed. ?espite all e!!ort& she $ouldn't hold
on to the present.
She still o%erheard disembodied spee$h $oming !rom the !ront o! the $ab2 9i%era&
S#isher& @iradi . . . but those names %apori-ed& and her $ons$iousness returned to sitting
at her $omputer and #riting the Saskat$he#an s$ene.
(n !ront o! the barn& Stephen stared at Aatie !or a long time and $leared his throat.
"e pointed up#ard again and said& 8We ha%e to go !urther in& ?ete$ti%e Shields.:
Aatie !ro-e. She $ouldn't tell i! he had addressed her as Zdete$ti%e' out o! respe$t&
his trying to #in her trust& or i! he #ere playing out his $ontempt. She settled on a #eakly
e*pressed& 8( don't !eel good about going any !urther. Con!ined spa$es and ( don't get
8What about $on!essionals+ <ollo# me.: Stephen e*tended his hand. 8?on't
!orget. ) lot o! good things happen in $on!ined spa$es. But don't #orry. )mong my rap
sheet you #on't !ind rape . . . ('m not hitting on you.:
Aatie took his hand and let him lead her !urther inside. 5o#& #ell past the
sno#dri!t that held the door a=ar& the light qui$kly dissipated. There #ere no lights on in
the barn//#ho kne# i! there #as ele$tri$ity+ The best illumination $ame !rom the sun&
sneaking through $ra$ks in the barn's side#alls.
They #alked gingerly past a line o! empty $attle stan$hions to the !oot o! a
narro# stair#ell. Aatie #ondered& $ould it possibly be $older inside this stru$ture than
outside+ ,a$h step seemed to $orrespond #ith a three/degree temperature drop.
The #arped !loorboards squeaked #ith e%ery step. ?ue to the $old and dark&
Stephen sluggishly led the #ay. Aatie still gripped his hand and mat$hed his pa$e. )s he
took the !irst o! the stairs& he stopped& looked ba$k at her and asked& 8)re you ready !or
"is question surprised her. She s$anned her surroundings& e*pe$ting to !ind @od
kne# #hat. <rom the looks o! this pla$e it had been de%oid o! li!e !or de$ades. <ear
t#isted in her stoma$h. She s#allo#ed be!ore speaking& hoping not to betray ho# she
!elt& doing her best to sound $omposed. She !ailed. 89eady !or #hat& r. Shepherd+:
) semi/tru$k blasted its horn. Ba$k in the $ab& Beth blinked her eyes se%eral time.
The ha-y light hurt her eyes. She !elt like she #as !ighting her #ay out o! hibernation&
and she sensed the bulk o! 4enelope's body #eight leaning against her. The dri%er still
babbled his #ay through ar$ane terms2 pit$h $ounts& ,9)'s& slugging and on/base
The sun ar$ed o%er the "udson& #eakly relie%ing the dullness o! a gray day. Beth
shrugged her a$hing shoulders and looked do#n at 4enelope #here a drop o! drool
appeared on the $orner o! her !riend's mouth. Blotting a#ay the spittle& Beth !elt $old
s#eat run do#n her o#n sides. She pondered& #hat is going on #ith me+
The $ab pulled up to the hotel. She paid the dri%er #ho #as kind enough to help
her get 4enelope !rom the $urb to the !ront door. They deposited 4enelope in a lobby
$hair and Beth paid him. Smiling& his last $omment #as& 85i$e talking baseball #ith
another !an.:
The $on$ierge helped Beth get 4enelope into the ele%ator and up to her room.
Beth $losed her hotel room door and laid 4enelope out on the bed& took o!! her !riend's
=a$ket& shoes and sto$kings and loosened her blouse. She $o%ered a snoring 4enelope
#ith a blanket and $ra$ked the #indo# open !or !resh air. (t #as ama-ing ho# mu$h
boo-e/sten$h seeped !rom 4enelope's pores. Beth $ouldn't de$ide #hi$h #as #orse2 odor
or snoring.
Wanting to be alone& Beth #ent into the bathroom and sat on the toilet. Hn
$ountless o$$asions during her teen years& a!ter s$hool dan$es& o%ernights #ith !riends&
double dates that usually ended on lonely roads #ith hea%y petting& boo-e had been the
eli*ir that !ueled and blurred se*ual ardor. Beth al#ays hated al$ohol. <rom her !ist use&
her drinking had al#ays been a ruse. She ne%er kept up #ith the others in ho# mu$h she
drank. She'd long ago mastered the art o! !itting in #ith peers. (n $ollege& it only got
#orse6#here dormitory parties had the impli$it goal o! drinking until people thre#/up.
Beth loathed the #hole s$ene//but a$ted as i!.
<eeling tears $oming& Beth lo$ked the door and $ried !or ten minutes. There is a
!atigue that is beyond e*haustion& and this one o! those times. Without thought& #ithout
sel!/e*amination& she simply let all that had built up inside o! her roll out in #a%es o!
tear!ul #eariness. But& she thought& at least ('m not hallu$inating. )!ter $rying hersel! out
she re/entered the bedroom and $he$ked on her !riend.
"o# sad& Beth thought& besides other $ops& she didn't kno# one person in 5e#
.ork to $all on 4enelope's behal!. She #asn't going to $all one o! the dete$ti%e's
$olleagues and say& hey& $ome o%er get your drunken $olleague out o! my hotel room.
Beth looked at her laptop $losed on the bed stand. Could she #rite no#+ With a
!riend sleeping it o!! in her bed+ ?id it make any sense to try and !urther $lean up her
manus$ript be!ore heading to her agent's o!!i$e+ She do#nloaded the imper!e$t
manus$ript onto a !lashdri%e kno#ing it had ma=or !la#s6not the least o! #hi$h #as all
those =umbled endings. Task $ompleted& she #ent ba$k into the bathroom.
5ot e%en a long& hot sho#er $ould $lear her head. But Beth had to get going. She
$hanged into a taupe suit and silk blouse and #rote a note !or 4enelope//saying she #as
going to see her agent& #rote out her o#n and her agent's $ell phone numbers and
estimated she #ould be ba$k by !i%e o'$lo$k. She signed the note2 4enelope& ( lo%e you.
4lease #ait !or me. WBeth.
She pulled the blanket up to 4enelope's $hin& patted her on the head like a $hild
and headed !or the lobby. Hn the street& she de$ided the ten/blo$k #alk to arty
S$hienman's #ould do her good.
(nside her agent's building& Beth got o!! on the 30th !loor& #alked the hundred
steps to arty's o!!i$e and reminis$ed ho# many times and in ho# many phases o! her
#riting $areer she'd taken this path. <rom initial meeting& hoping to be taken on by a
5e# .ork agent& to early #riting su$$ess #ith Aatie Shields& to e%er larger sales !or her
ne*t !i%e books . . . until no#.
Stopping be!ore entering his o!!i$e& she $ontemplated& her $areer had been a
$omplete $ir$le2 beginning& middle and end. Wasn't that the #ay it #as supposed to be+
Startled& be!ore Beth $ould open the door& arty stood in the open door#ay and
said& 8What took you so long+: "e turned around and headed !or his desk.
y @od& Beth thought. The sten$h o! $igar smoke hit her like a dangling (/beam
suspended !rom a $rane. But more sho$king #as ho# thin arty looked. Bsually& the !irst
thing Beth did #hen entering his o!!i$e #as to open se%eral #indo#s #hile arty glared
at her !rom his desk $hair& playing the part o! the angry prin$ipal a#aiting his #ard to sit
and take their s$olding. But not today.
"is lips and $heeks sagged& and he looked s$ary thin. "is !a$e #as sinking& hea%y
bags under his eyes& and his skin #as pallid& gray and $repe/like. "e must ha%e lost !orty
or !i!ty pounds. (t had to be $an$erF nothing else $ould #ra$k a human body like that
$urse. "e stared at her& grinning& like he kne# #hat she #as thinking.
8Cook like shit& don't (+: arty said& pla$ing his !eet on his desk #ith a lot o!
e!!ort and leaning ba$k on his oak& s#i%el desk/$hair.
Balan$ed pre$ariously& he looked like he $ould easily topple o%er. The #hole
s$ene #as a #ell/polished a$t. arty #as hard/bitten e*ternally but an altogether honest
and de$ent man6a rare a$$omplishment a!ter so many de$ades in the publishing ra$ket.
What she suppressed saying #as ho# sho$ked and horri!ied she !elt. But his damn $igars
#ere so hard to take. 8Still smoking& ( see.:
8Coming !rom Cali!ornia& ('m surprised you're not mun$hing on ung beans&:
arty said. 8Cots o! people #on't enter my o!!i$e #ithout #earing gas masks& $he#ing
gum or taking other prophyla$ti$ measures.:
Beth took the $hair in !ront o! his desk. ,%en through the nimbus o! smoke
surrounding his head Beth noti$ed arty looked t#enty/years older. "e'd al#ays been so
%ital. 5ot no#. 8arty& ho# are you68
8Where's your manus$ript& Beth+: he asked& interrupting.
She rea$hed in her po$ket and set the !lash dri%e on his desk blotter. 8Hh& ye o!
little !aith.: Cooking $loser& she noti$ed arty's suit hung on him like it #as three si-es
too big.
"e pi$ked up the !lash dri%e #ith his !ree hand like it #as a ma$erated mouse.
With his other hand he pla$ed his Cohiba in the ashtray. 8Christ& ( hate te$hnology. (
remember the good old days #hen #riters brought me impe$$ably typed manus$ripts on
quality linen paper.:
Beth nodded. 8) de$ade !rom no#& #riter's #ill be $hanneling their manus$ripts
arty sat& smiled at her and said& 8The older you get the more you #ant to
!orget.: "e grasped the dri%e in his hand and made it disappear in his large mitt. Hpening
his hand slo#ly& he stared at& like a man reali-ing he #as reli$ o! a passing time. 8So&
Beth& ho# does this story turn out+:
)bout to go into a long/#inded $ommentary about ho# Aatie got nearly beaten to
death& had $ome to the end o! her rope as a $op& no# su!!ered !rom o%er#helming !atigue
and disgust at poli$e #ork& #as gi%ing into an o%er#helming urge to re=e$t the last ten
years o! her $areer and take up #ith a short/order $ook and part/time !isherman . . . Beth
asked&: "o# are you . . . really+:
"e lightly tapped the end o! the !lash dri%e on his blotter& dismissed her question
#ith a #a%e o! his hand& and said& 8('%e got a good idea. Why don't you get out o! here
!or a !e# hours+ Cet me read this. Come ba$k at !our.:
8('m happy to& arty. But& #hat's #rong+ .ou must ha%e lost a !i!ty pounds sin$e
( last sa# you.:
"e dre# in a huge pull o! smoke !rom his $igar& leaned ba$k in his spring/loaded
$hair and ble# three per!e$t rings that no# !loated abo%e his head. "e pointed up#ards.
8Well& ('%e booked a !light hea%en#ard.:
She asked& 8Can$er+:
arty propped his !eet ba$k on the desk. 8.ou surprise me& Beth.:
8"o#'s that+:
8( thought !or sure a!ter ( told you ('d booked a !light to $loud/land you'd ha%e a
great $omeba$k. Something like2 ZSure it's not "ades a!ter a le!t turn o%er the @eorge
Washington Bridge and straight on to the 9i%er Sty*+': "e tamped his $igar out in metal
ashtray o%er!lo#ing #ith stubs and ash.
8Come on& arty. Tell me #hat's going on+: She didn't #ant to ask but !or$ed the
#ords out o! her mouth.
8Chemo and radiation three times a #eek. ( stopped that shit a #eek ago& though.
Couldn't take it. <elt like shit all day& e%ery day. )t least this #ay& bet#een bouts o! pain&
( $an en=oy a $igar on$e in a #hile.:
Beth let out a long e*hale& shook her head and studied the !loor. 8?ear @od.:
8.ou #ant to kno# ho# mu$h longer ( $an e*pe$t to li%e. 9ight+: he asked.
She looked up& nodded& and !elt tears #ell up in her eyes.
8('m hoping to make it to your resurre$tion !east& ,aster. But& to be realisti$& ('m
beginning to #rap my mind around dying in the middle o! #inter2 bare trees& !ro-en
ponds& #ith the added ad%antage my body #on't stink up the house in a $old room . . .
and ( like the symbolism.8
8arty. 4lease. Stop.: Beth #iped her tears #ith the ba$k o! her slee%e. arty
ne%er pla$ed tissues on his desk& something she'd pulled his $hain about !or years.
8"o#'s your #i!e+ iriam+:
8.ou're losing your tou$h.: "e spread his hands& hun$hed his shoulders and said&
85o tissues+: arty pantomimed blo#ing his nose #ith an imaginary handker$hie!. 8(
lo%ed #at$hing people struggle #ith #hat to do #ith their snotty noses during !lu season.
.ou al#ays ama-ed me ho# a Canadian 4lains kid $ould keep up #ith 5ortheast smart/
"er agent had al#ays been one o! those men !or #hom pity #ould be the #orst
!orm o! $ontempt. Beth leaned !or#ard. 8arty& you ne%er remember. ,arned my stripes
#orking as a #aitress !or three years at the ,ast 9i%er ?iner in my early 20's. What about
iriam+ "o# is she+
8<er Alempt& o! $ourse. She still doesn't belie%e ('m dying. 5or #ill she until ('m
$old and laid out. .ou goyim #ould say her !aith in the $urati%e po#ers o! $hi$ken soup
and an*iety is absolute.:
Beth stood up& #ent and opened the #indo#& and #at$hed ant si-ed people thirty
stories belo#. She had her ba$k to arty and $ouldn't $ontrol tears streaming do#n her
!a$e. <rom behind she heard2
8"ey& Beth. Cet's not make a big deal about this. )!ter tons o! pastrami and $rates
o! $igars& it's a mira$le ( made it to >0.:
8aybe.: Beth !a$ed him and sat in the $hair by his desk. 8.ou'%e done a lot !or
me& arty. ( $an't68
8Sa%e it.: arty stood up& $ame around the desk& took her arm& and lead her to the
door. 8)ll ( gi%e a damn about right no# is am ( going to like the end o! your book+:
She looked into his eyes and said& 8( doubt it . . . there's problems68
8('ll de$ide !or mysel!.:
The ne*t thing arty did sho$ked her. <or the !irst time in their long years
together& he hugged her.
"olding her a#ay no#& at arms length& he said& 85o#& get the hell out o! here
be!ore ( get sloppy.:
Tenderly& arty nudged her into the hall#ay and $losed the door. Bn$ertain& but
the last thing Beth thought she sa# him $hoking ba$k his o#n tears.
)!ter three unsu$$ess!ul attempts to rea$h 4enelope by $ell phone& Beth assumed her
!riend #as still sleeping it o!!. Still& she #anted to $he$k on her& so she headed !or the
With the ne#s that her long/time agent #as dying seeping its #ay through her
sho$k& Beth thought ba$k on Stephen ba$k in Cali!ornia. "o# #as he+ )s i! that #eren't
enough to #orry about& no# she gre# in$reasingly apprehensi%e about 4enelope. Hnly
@od kne# #hat kind o! shape her oldest !riend in the $ity $ould be in #hile she slept o!!
her latest bender.
Beth stopped and looked inside the #indo# o! a pi--a parlor& the small stand/up
tables $ro#ded #ith !resh/looking $ollege kids and laborers #ol!ing do#n sli$es amidst
amiable $hatter. The energy o! the pla$e sparkled #ith hungry people de%oid o! #eighty
personal problems. .et& Beth kne# it #as all an illusion.
)ny one o! them $ould ha%e a dying parent in the hospitalF a gro#n $hild in a
hospi$e dying o! )idsF a younger $hild getting treated !or leukemia in a nearby $an$er
$enter. The thought o! losing her o#n #riting $areer stru$k Beth as !ri%olous& nothing
more than one more author's #ork being taken o!! the !ront shel%es !ollo#ing an
unsu$$ess!ul laun$h6another ho/hum bad in%estment by publishers.
<i!teen minutes later& Beth entered her hotel room and !ound 4enelope splayed out
a$ross the bed. er$i!ully& her snoring had stopped& and she breathed easily.
<ortunately& her al$ohol sten$h had abated. Beth opened her laptop ba$k to #here
she'd last le!t o!! in Aatie. )!ter reading her last putati%e ending& Beth reminded hersel!
ho# arty #as probably reading the hodgepodge o! endings to her book. 5one o! #hi$h&
she kne#& #ere right. aybe he $ould ad%ise her.
"er spirit le!t her2 0ust like 4enelope had said& it hit her2 she #as #riting pulp.
Cong ago& she'd be$ome an assembly line storyteller. The !irst Aatie no%el& Blue Caun$h&
had been a =oy& and getting it published #as a high like no other. 5o matter ho# minor
the spot light or ho# insigni!i$ant money//the e*ternal %alidation that she #as a #riter
had in!used her !or months in a $on$o$tion o! lu*urious =oy and $on!iden$e. That lasted
and sustained her through hal! o! her se$ond no%el.
The se$ond Aatie book& 4romotion& at !irst #ent like a dream2 her !aith in hersel!
and in the dete$ti%e genre gre# #ith e%ery senten$e& paragraph and $hapter. ,%en the
plotting $ame e!!ortlessly. Whereas in the !irst no%el she'd #ritten si* outlines& 4romotion
took only three. 4romotion's release brought radio and small regional tele%ision
inter%ie#s and outsold her !irst book by !orty per$ent.
But by Aatie Book number three& ?epartmental Ceiling& Beth had per!e$ted the
template. Beth's outlines had be$ome skeletal. She kne# to the page #hen she'd ha%e to
plant a !resh $lue& to the $hapter #hen she'd ha%e to introdu$e a ne# suspe$t& pose a
possible romanti$ interest& and had her $lima*es plotted out #ith an e*a$titude that #ould
please an ,*$el (nstru$tor. )s her earning gre# to respe$tability& it seemed to her& her
prose only a$$rued in medio$rity.
Still& the notoriety& though minor& #as grati!ying. Beth got to sit on panels at $rime
#riting $on%entions. )n on/line Aatie Series !an $lub !lourished& and she !elt pleased
seeing the number o! her <a$ebook hits !ly into the thousands. H$$asionally re$ogni-ed
in publi$& people approa$hed Beth to tell her ho# mu$h they en=oyed her booksF strangers
asked !or autographs and many people told her they #ere #riting no%els themsel%es. Cike
all su$$ess!ul authors& Beth had mastered a battery o! responses !or street en$ounters2
ranging !rom& 8Hh& #hat's it about&: i! she !elt generous and had time to $hat !or a $ouple
o! minutes& to& 8@ood& keep at it . . . are you in a #riting group+ ) $lass+ Cike all #riters
she'd ne%er !orget the years be!ore gaining entry to the $lub.
Si* published no%els behind her& Beth thought& ( guess ( $an go to my gra%e
$alling mysel! a #riter no matter #hat happens !rom here on out. But my books end up
#here all popular no%els end up2 selling !or a quarter at garage sales.
She glan$ed at the last $hapter o! Co%e in the 4re$in$t. With the $ertainty o! day
turning into night& she kne#2 Beth Shepherd had #ritten her last dete$ti%e no%el. Whether
Aatie Shields got married and sailed o!! in a !ishing boat $ommandeered !or a #edding&
tying hersel! !or li!e to a short/order $ook and seasonal !ishermanF or& she !ell in lo%e #ith
a sophisti$ated Broad#ay produ$er and ser%ed $anapXs in some ten million dollar
anhattan $o/op . . . #hat did it matter+
But the $ompulsion to !inish a no%el =ust right isn't simple. Hn$e again& obsession
trumped !atigue and abnegation. Beth #ent to her $omputer and pi$ked up on one o! the
threads in her multi/%ersioned endings in 4re$in$t. She #rote//
Aatie's parents in San ?iego #ould be appalled. They #ouldn't $ome to a
marriage $eremony that san$tioned their daughter's union #ith a smoking& tattooed&
legless #ar %eteran #ho #ould ne%er make enough money to keep her properly dressed.
Cike most upper/$lass people they %ie#ed the blue/$ollar $lass as !ore%er one slight a#ay
!rom mayhem. This entire phase o! Aatie's li!e $on!irmed to her parents that their
daughter had be$ome unhinged& probably right a!ter $ollege in $hoosing la#
en!or$ement. Aatie took sola$e reali-ing her !ello# $ops #ho #ould attend her #edding
#ere her real !riends.
8Hh& brother&: Beth said& spitting out the #ords& standing and rushing to the
#indo#. She pointed her !inger at the pedestrians !our !loors belo# her and said& 8?amn
itD This is supposed to be $rime !i$tion. (t's not !amily drama.:
She turned and said to a still passed/out 4enelope& 8.ou're right. What ( =ust
#rote is shitD: Beth rea$hed o%er and pi$ked up the no%el she'd brought !rom home&
4er!e$t ?e$eits. (t #as the se$ond time she #as reading it in less than si* months.
This no%el& #ithout murders or the the!t o! tens o! millions o! dollars& $hallenged
Beth. (t #as the antithesis o! an easy read. Beth admired its author& Uirginia Summer and
%ie#ed her as a genius. The ,nglish#omen made no apologies !or #riting a literary no%el
that #ould ne%er rea$h a mass audien$e. s. Summer had in abundan$e #hat Beth
hersel! la$ked2 moral $ourage.
Beth belie%ed she had be$ome a $yni$al& sel!/righteous& =udgmental ha$k #ho
#rote books !or people6despite her publi$ persona//she deemed too dull and insipid to
e%er be!riend. )t this stage o! her li!e& the $orrosi%e e!!e$ts o! $ontempt had #on out. (n
$omparing her o#n prose to s. Summer's& she $on$luded she didn't deser%e to #rite in
the same language.
Beth stared at the book's title2 4er!e$t ?e$eits//an eponymous rendering o! her
sel!/hood. (ts %ery title made her reali-e #hat a lie her o#n li!e had be$ome6and unlike
Uirginia's book& minus the art. She had to get outside !or some !resh air. She put on a
s#eater& pla$ed the no%el in her handbag& $he$ked 4enelope's breathing one last time and
le!t the hotel. She had to get a#ay !rom this sel!/hate atta$k.
She turned le!t on 23
St and entered the "igh Cine on 23
and 10
)%enue. (t
#as $ertainly no brisk hike through the Coastal 9ange red#oods like ba$k homeF but this
ele%ated rail line that had been $on%erted into a pedestrian #alk#ay a!!orded spe$ta$ular
%ie#s o! the "udson 9i%er& the anhattan Skyline and instantly transported all #ho
#alked along it's $are!ully lands$aped promenades into an urban oasis. Beth turned
south& to#ards the Uillage.
She !ound a se$luded se$tion o! ben$hes in the 10
)%enue Square and lightly ran
the ba$k o! her !ingers against the sky blue asters and =ade $orn!lo#ers that adorned the
gardens. Trying to !o$us on the %ie#s& Beth sat on a ben$h& pla$ed the no%el on her lap&
and tapped its spine.
She didn't #ant to think about arty reading her bungled manus$ript. But ho#
$ould she not+ She'd gi%en him =unk. (n $ollege she'd studied 0ohn @ardner& the great
#riting tea$her& #ho had ad%o$ated2 8(t is this quality o! the no%el& its built in need to
return and repeat& that !orms the physi$al basis o! the no%el's $hie! glory& its resonant
Sure& along the #ay in her Aatie Shields series Beth had returned and repeated on
numerous o$$asions. aking re!eren$e to !ormer $ases Aatie had #orked onF re/%isiting
!ormer lo%ers no# as !riends6or enemiesF ha%ing rende-%ous at the same lo$ations that
ran through her no%els like one !amiliar thread negotiating its #ay through a !oreboding
tapestry. Beth's readers had lo%ed this about all the Aatie books& al#ays ad%ising their
!riends to start at the beginning and read the series in sequen$e. Hne re%ie#er had said&
Zs Shepherd keeps to a !amiliar lands$ape that grounds her narrati%es and $hara$ters
like they li%ed in same neighborhood.'
But Beth reali-ed she had a$hie%ed #hat r. @ardner ad%o$ated only on the most
super!i$ial le%el. "er no%els ended #ith the $heap satis!a$tion o! ha%ing #rapped up a
$rimeF #orthy o! being in a potboiler& yesF but $ertainly nothing about her books tou$hed
on any moral theme but the most super!i$ial& the $hild/like battle bet#een good and bad
guys. "er books pro%ided the same e*istential satis!a$tion one #ould gather& like
4enelope& !rom kno#ing your retirement plan #as in good order. Hr& she thought& !eeling
#holly de!lated& a!ter you'd #ritten a su$$ess!ul dete$ti%e series.
Beth tried to $onsole hersel! that she'd #ritten si* entertaining no%els that had
!ound an audien$eF that she'd rea$hed at least medio$rity as a !i$tion #riterF she $ould
%ie# hersel! as a su$$ess as a $ommer$ial author. ?idn't buying and o#ning her o#n
home in $oastal Cali!ornia pro%e that& in an area o! stratospheri$ally o%erpri$ed real
But #ho $ared& Beth thought. Who really ga%e a damn+ Couldn't she at least take&
i! not pride& a sense o! satis!a$tion that $omes #ith mastery o! $ra!t+ ('ll $on$ede that&
she thought. But art+ 5o. )rt lay in the small no%el resting on her knees& the same =oints
she should be do#n upon& i! she #ere a belie%er& and praying to an absol%ing and
generous muse.
.ears ago& Beth sa# she'd abandoned her true #riting dreams. (t #asn't until this
moment she $omprehended #hat this had $ost her. Sel!/prote$tion terminates #ith a
de%il's bargain//diminishing the soul. Beth had used the $urren$y o! smart/ass dialogue
and de$epti%e plot tri$ks to sell books at the $ost o! stunting her gro#th as a #riter&
guaranteeing a !i$tion opus less memorable than so many series o! $omi$ books.
5or #as raising a $hild as a single #oman an alibi !or turning so absolutely to
$ommer$ial !i$tion. Beth reali-ed& she $ould ha%e kept #orking as a #aitress or done any
number o! things to put !ood on the table and plied a#ay !or years to #rite something
about #hi$h she $ould !eel truly proud. (nstead& she had sold out and li%ed !or years in a
da-e o! e$onomi$ bromides& that ultimate sedati%e that !e# #ould $hallenge. (n the
mainstream& al#ays& se$urity $ame !irst. ) stable home. ) triple/lo$ked !ront door in a
de$ent neighborhood #ith a shotgun in the $loset !or prote$tion. <eeling de!eated and
small& Beth stood up and $ontinued to#ards the Uillage.
She $oasted past do-ens o! other pedestrians//#ho a$tually seemed to be
nourished by their surrounding2 the sky& anhattan's panoply o! ar$hite$ture& the "udson&
!lo#ers and $ountless %arieties o! grasses. "o#e%er these people's li%es really #ere& they
appeared !ree !rom internal stri!e. (! only she $ould be one o! them. The entire setting put
her ba$k into her pri%ate #orld o!& 'as i!.'
She passed an old man& stooped slightly& sitting on a park ben$h and so o%er/
bundled in hea%y $lothing he belonged abo%e the )r$ti$ Cir$le. "is $aretaker doled out
tiny mints that he struggled to pla$e in his mouth #ith a shaking hand. She thought o!
arty's impending death and ho# that put her o#n super!i$iality in perspe$ti%e.
?ispirited& Beth looked around& sa# $ouples strolling arm in arm& a mother
laughing #ith her toddler sons in to# and& a!ter they passed& they #ere !ollo#ed by t#o
young men in deep philosophi$ dis$ussion. Beth needed some unkno#n restorati%e& the
one that these people seemed to ha%e in abundan$e #hile they pulsed #ith li!e and #hose
%ery being mo$ked her !or e*a$tly #hat she la$ked.
She'd $ome to 5e# .ork in a sleep depri%ed& o%er/$a!!einated& sel!/righteous
!ren-y//$omplete #ith delusions o! sho%ing her latest Aatie no%el do#n the throats o! her
publisher and agent. What a nar$issisti$ !ool she'd been. arty had a #i!e& t#o gro#n
kids and a short !uture. Stephen had nearly died this #eekF and her best !riend in the $ity
lay $omatose in her hotel room.
Beth !elt o%er$ome #ith e*haustion. ?ays o! apprehensi%eness& sel!/doubt and a
ne%er/ending $y$le o! personal and pro!essional setba$ks $oales$ed into an o%er#helming
urge to sleep.
She $ame upon another semi/pri%ate sitting area and nestled up ne*t to a light
pole to shield hersel! !rom other people& buttoned her s#eater and $losed her eyes.
)s her %ision darkened and the outside shi!ted to inner spa$e& Beth !ell into a
dream. She sa# hersel! ba$k at her keyboard& #riting about Saskat$he#an& and re/
$omposing the s$ene2 Stephen standing on the barn's inner stair#ell& !a$ing a skepti$al
and !ear!ul Aatie Shields.
89eady !or #hat+: Aatie asked Stephen& #hose !a$e had turned impassi%e.
80ust !ollo# me&: he said.
,%ery intera$tion Aatie had had #ith this man reeked o! mena$e& his !lippan$y&
his bad/boy insou$ian$e//but no#& and this $hilled her more than the air temperature&
looking at the e*pressionless !a$e& her blood turned to slush.
8)re you $oming& ?ete$ti%e+: he asked.
She shi%ered and said& 8@o on.:
"e turned his ba$k to her and labored up the stairs. ,%erything in this pla$e
#hispered de$ay and negle$t.
Stephen and Aatie $ame to the darkest part o! the stair#ell& $ast in shado# and
=ust out o! the dim light they $ould see abo%e them. Aatie's !ear knotted her stoma$h and
she thought& ha%e ( set mysel! up !or another beating+
"e led on. Aatie mat$hed his deliberate pa$e. )s they mo%ed up#ards& he slo#ed&
looked ba$k and asked& 8)re you ready !or this+:
Aatie nodded at him.
(n truth& Aatie kne# she #asn't ready. But !rom the moment she responded to
Stephen's disembodied %oi$e ba$k out on the plains and be!ore they entered this barn&
there really #as no other option. She'd $ome ba$k to the sound o! his %oi$e& the sheer
animal pain o! his $alling. What $ould possibly turn this li!e/long s$re#/up o! a man into
a ho#ling& tortured soul+ But no# he a$ted roboti$ally.
Stephen kept going. Hn$e on the upper !loor Aatie stepped ne*t to him.
Speaking lo#& he said& 8This #ay.:
They tread a$ross rime/$o%ered !loorboards& the light gi%ing =ust enough
illumination so as not to bump their heads on lo# beams or ea$h other. The lo!t had
ob%iously last been used as a =unk area& !ull o! broken/do#n equipment and rusted !arm
The barn's roo! pit$hed dramati$ally in this $orner and that& $ombined #ith the
$eiling/high piles o! hay bales made this area hard to see in.
8Cook& Stephen said& pointing to#ards a dark shado#y spa$e to their le!t.
Aatie stepped in $loser& bending slightly to a$$ommodate to the roo!. She sa#
nothing. <eeling ridi$ulous& she ba$ked out o! the small spa$e and glo#ered at Stephen.
8)re #e looking !or ghosts+ "ibernating rats+:
9esolute& Stephen stood like a man #ho'd de$ided he #as done retreating and
#ould stare do#n #hate%er multitudes stood be!ore him. "e said. 8.ou don't #ant to see
#hat's in there Aatie. But it's there. Cook again.:
She $rou$hed do#n to her hands and knees and $rept !urther into the spa$e. Still
nothing. She looked ba$k at Stephen and shook her head. 8What+ What am ( supposed to
be seeing+:
Stephen gestured her !or#ard. 8Aeep looking.:
Aatie $omplied. "e #as right. She $ould see #ater %apor rising !rom t#o sour$es.
She didn't hesitate& pulled her gun& released its sa!ety and said& 8Who's in there+: She !elt
silly& looked ba$k at Stephen and said& 8(s this some kind o! =oke+ T#o ra$$oons+ H#ls+:
8(t's people.: "e stepped to#ards her& pulled a !lashlight !rom his ba$k po$ket&
handed it to her and stepped ba$k. Stephen's %oi$e #as serious. 8.ou need to see #hat's
there. CookD:
S$ared& !eeling !oolish& yet determined& Aatie pointed her gun and !lashlight into
the dark. She !ound her street $op %oi$e. 8Come out o! there. 5o#D7
Chapter 1E
Startled a#ake #ith $hills and a ra$ing heart& Beth had lost tra$k o! time. S#eaty& damp
hair stu$k to her !orehead. She shi%ered& stood up and patted her arms. <ueled #ith
adrenaline and pani$& she pa$ked her book& glan$ed at her #at$h bet#een beating her
arms !or #armth and thought& ( #as supposed to meet arty an hour ago.
She hoo!ed it !or the nearest e*it to get o!! the "igh Cine and do#n to the street.
She thought& shouldn't ( $all (saiah and ask him !or a pre$ise de!inition o! a ner%ous
breakdo#n+ Was she possessed by Stephen and Aatie Shields& su!!ering !rom an
o%era$ti%e imagination or =ust psy$hi$ally unra%eling+
Beth re$alled the sequen$e2 !irst& brother and protagonist sho#ed up #hile she
#rote in her =ournal& then in her $hara$ter inter%ie#s and in her Aatie manus$ript. 5o#
they #ere skulking around in her dreams li!e.
<eeling sti$ky and gross& she had to $lean up. She headed do#nto#n& $alled arty
and le!t a message that she #as returning to her hotel. ?odging in an out o! pedestrians
like a mad dri%er on a pa$ked !ree#ay& she tried to out/run her demons.
4artially su$$ess!ul& !i!teen minutes later she entered her hotel room. 4enelope
had le!t. Beth s$urried about looking !or a note. 5one. She $alled %oi$email and her
!riend hadn't le!t a message//neither had arty. )dding to her !rustration& nor #as there
ne#s !rom Cali!ornia.
"a%ing a#akened !rom another bi-arre dream& Beth $ra%ed the !amiliar !ar more
than she $ould get !rom #alking the streets o! a $ity #here she didn't li%e. <or a se$ond&
she $onsidered $alling arty again and asking ho# it #as going #ith the manus$ript//but
remembered she'd already le!t him a message.
Beth kne# she had to get a grip. She sho#ered& hoping it $ould quiet the bedlam
in her brain and body. (t didn't.
But at least she !elt $leaner. She put on !resh =eans and a s#eatshirt& $alled and le!t
a %oi$e mail message !or 0ohn and le!t her phone number #ith the admissions department
at the Cypress Treatment Center. She asked them to $all anytime.
4assi%ely #aiting #as out o! the question. Beth $ouldn't eat. The idea o! sleep&
she dismissed as a bad =oke. Besides #hi$h& she didn't #ant any more T#ilight [one
%isitations !rom the Stephen or Aatie.
She opened her $omputer and #ent to the end o! the Aatie manus$ript. She typed
a page/#ide string o! asterisks to mark her pla$e and began to !ormulate another ne#
ending to her story. She retra$ed ba$k to Aatie lying in an (CB bed& and #rote2
Aatie had to $all her parents and let them kno# ho# she #as. H! $ourse she kne#
her parents might already be on a plane to 5e# .ork and they'd #ant to take her ba$k to
Cali!ornia to re$uperate. Aatie #ondered& $ould she re$uperate in San ?iego& re%el in a
#arm $limate and let the sea bree-es #ash o%er her+
Sitting ba$k in her $hair& Beth thought& #ait a minute. "o# $an Aatie $all her
parents i! her =a# is #ired shut+ What about starting this s$ene #ith Aatie on the day her
=a# is liberated+ Hr& ha%e her #rite a note to the nurse #ho $ould relay the message !or
Slumping in her $hair& noti$ing ho# shallo# her breathing had be$ome. Beth
reali-ed she #as $hasing her tail& getting no#here but di--y. Being a #riter and being a
mother #ere %ital to her sel!/$on$ept. 5o#& both those identity an$hors #ere dissol%ing.
To simply quit& to toss e%ery %ersion o! this manus$ript a#ay #as tantamount to dying.
4erhaps& she thought& she needed to die.
Con%in$ed she $ould only make the book #orse& Beth $losed her $omputer like
she #as $losing the lid on a $o!!in that $ontained the $orpse o! her #riting li!e. She lay
do#n on her bed& propped a pillo# under her knees and dragged another pillo# o%er her
head& kno#ing she'd ne%er sleep but seeking the $hild's re!uge2 make the bogeyman go
indless spa$ing/out #as ne%er her strong suit& and she !elt relie%ed #ith the
intrusion o! her hotel phone ringing.
8iss Shepherd+: Beth #ondered #hy the !ront desk #ould be $alling.
8.ou ha%e a %isitor here in the lobby #ho'd like to speak #ith you. ) r.
S$hienman. Can he $ome up+:
)nyone $ould !ind the name o! her agent on the (nternet. Hh& damn& Beth thought&
#as it some !an that'd re$ogni-ed her and #anted to take her out !or $o!!ee+ 8Who is it+:
(n an ele%ated %oi$e& arty said& 8Stop being paranoid.:
Beth s#ung her legs o%er the side o! the bed& sat up and said& 8Come on up.:
(t #as arty S$hienman #ho had !irst used the term brass o%aries #ith Beth on
their !irst business meetings. That's ho# he des$ribed #hat he liked about Aatie Shields.
Beth ne%er thought o! arty as not ha%ing brass balls& but as a !ighter !or the right
$auses. (n the time she'd kno#n him& he'd been anti/#ar #ith e%ery )meri$an (mperialist
ad%enture that had been sold o%er the non/ne#s net#orks. 5o# he had the !ight o! his
li!e//!or his o#n li!e. But #hy #as he $oming here+
She rearranged the pillo#s on the bed& tossed her running shoes and so$ks in the
$loset and dragged a brush through her hair. She $ra$ked the door open.
arty's $oming to her hotel #as so out o! $hara$ter2 he'd al#ays pre!erred to
meet at his o!!i$e or one o! his !a%orite o! three bars6all old/ boy& #ood/paneled& leather
$hair emporiums that reeked o! $igars& brandy and #hiskey e%en though no one had
smoked in them !or years. "is buddies =oked that simply breathing in those rooms #ould
shorten your li!e span. )nd !or arty& no#& it #as $oming true.
Beth heard kno$king. 8Come in& arty. ('m so sorry ('m late. ( !ell asleep68
"e held up his hand. 8Sa%e it& Beth. .ou did me a !a%or. ( got hit #ith the pain and
ga%e in to the morphine. ( =ust #oke up.:
arty shu!!led in& #earing gray sla$ks& a bla$k turtlene$k and a gray sports $oat.
,%en more so& he looked older& slo#er& and dramati$ally less %ital.
Beth sa# him #in$ing. Why #ould he $ome o%er here and take on this e*tra
strain+ 8.ou don't need to be heroi$& r. S$hienman.: Beth said& gesturing to#ard one o!
the arm$hairs that !lanked the dresser. She #anted to help him but he #a%ed her o!!.
Be!ore sitting& he paused by and opened her laptop. Sensing she #as about to
speak& he held up his hand in a stop sign gesture and read !or se%eral minutes. "e $losed
the $o%er& sat in the $hair& and took out a $igar and pla$ed it in his mouth. 8?on't #orry. (
#on't light it.:
4ointing at the $igar she said& 8@o ahead. ( #on't tell.:
Wa%ing his !ree hand& arty said& 85o. ( don't #ant to get you thro#n out o! your
room.: "e pulled the !lash dri%e !rom his side po$ket and tossed it onto the bed. 8What
#ere you thinking sho#ing me that+ )nd #hat's #ith your brother and you sho#ing up in
Co%e (n The 4re$in$t+ ( stopped $ounting ho# many endings #ere in there. )nd ( see&:
he pointed his $igar at the $omputer& 8you'%e begun a ne# one.:
Cooking a#ay and rubbing her temples& Beth said& 8( . . . don't kno# #here to
start . . . 8
arty leaned !or#ard in his $hair and said& 8Cook& Beth. ('m the sa!est guy in the
#orld !or you to talk to. .our se$rets die #ith me.:
Something #as di!!erent. arty spoke in a tone she didn't re$ogni-e. "e #as
being gentle and $are!ul. "is matter/o!/!a$t tone la$ked any bluster/!illed& 5e# .ork
insolen$e. )nd he #as $learly more $on$erned than annoyed #ith her.
8Beth& ('%e been $o%ering !or you !or months. 9emember the original deadline+ )
month ago. Then there's the matter o! a !i%e/!igure ad%an$e Syne$do$he #anted to gi%e
you !or your ne*t book and a possible national tour. .ou kne# they'd ne%er a$$ept this&:
he said& $oughing again. 8,%en ( $an't sell them a story #ith !our endings.:
Suppressing the urge to go into a litany o! all her personal problems& Beth kne#
she better start talking. 8arty&: she asked& 8you shouldn't ha%e to be looking out !or me
right no#68
8StopD This is e*a$tly #hen ( need to be looking out !or you.: "e leaned ba$k in
his $hair& $losed his eyes and let out a long breath.
"e #as ob%iously managing a deep pain. She #ent to him and asked& 8arty&
#hat $an ( do//.:
Shaking his head& he re/opened his eyes. 8There's nothing you $an really do !or
me no# e*$ept let me help you.:
Beth leaned !or#ard to hug him.
Cigar $len$hed bet#een his teeth& arty held up both hands and said& 85o Beth.
4lease. ('%e H?'d on sympathy. )!ter a $ouple o! days o! it& belie%e me& it's un$ommonly
@oing to the #indo#& leaning on the sill& Beth gestured to his hand !ingering the
$igar. 8Why not =ust smoke that thing+:
8Some $osmi$ bullshit has in%aded my brain.: Ci!ting his legs up as i! by some
ri$kety $rane& arty pla$ed his !eet on the edge o! the bed. 85o matter #here you turn
these days& all you hear are #e're going straight to hell as a $ountry on the one hand. )nd
on the other& =ust let the spirit in and #e $an meditate oursel%es into paradise. @uess ('m
$hoosing the latter.:
8arty& you're not telling me you'%e gone spiritual on me+: Beth still #anted to
ask him i! he kne# ho# long he e*pe$ted to li%e. But kne# he'd let her kno# i! he
#anted to.
8Christ& no.: "e stared at his $igar and let it dangle to his side. 89emember. ('m
arty gestured to her laptop. 8( see you'%e started another ending !or Co%e in the
4re$in$t. ( think ( kno# #hy you $an't make up your mind.:
"e kne# her so #ell& Beth reali-ed. H! $ourse she'd kept on #riting endings until
she had so many %ersions she'd made it impossible to pi$k one. 84lease& tell me. )ll ( $an
think o! is that ('m truly going out o! my mind.:
8.eah& you might be&: he said& regaining his $omposure
"e used a tone one #ould use to ask someone to hit the light s#it$h on their #ay
out the door. Beth !elt oddly $almed.
8( think&: arty began& 8 you'%e $ome up #ith an original author's problem.:
8What's that+:
8Well& #e'%e all heard o! #riters getting taken o%er by their $hara$ters. But this is
an interesting t#ist.: "e gestured again to#ards her laptop. 8Seems you're e*perien$ing a
ne# %ariation& a kind o! sub/type. 9eal/li!e $hara$ter possession. By the #ay& #hat am (
doing in your damn no%el+: "e held up his hand& not letting her ans#er. 8Hh& and ( lo%ed
the $orn/poke #ay you $hara$teri-ed me.: "e grinned at her& ob%iously amused. 8)nd
you kno# ho# ( hate !arms and o$eans.:
8arty& (68
8Stop. Stop&: he said. 8Cet me !inish. But these s$enes #ith you and your brother
and Aatie ba$k in Canada+ Wo#. .ou had my head spinning. So& #hat are you looking
!or in that damn rundo#n barn out in the middle o! no#here+:
<eeling small and de!lated Beth said& 8"onestly& ( ha%e no idea. This keeps
happening to me. The #ords =ust $ome& the s$ene =ust keeps #riting itsel!. (t's like my
brain has been taken o%er by some outside !or$e68
8Wrong. Wrong. Wrong&: he said. 8.our brain has been taken o%er by some inside
She let out a long e*hale. 8( suppose.: She noti$ed the tension in her shoulders
releasing and rolled her ne$k. 8But ( really $an't e*plain this . . . 8
8This+: arty looked at her tenderly. 8This& s Shepherd& is stress and o%er/
#orking. )dd in sleep depri%ation& gallons o! $o!!ee and you get . . . : he pointed at her
$omputer !ull o! dis=ointed prose. .ou need to take a month o!!. 4robably t#o. Better&
8Sounds like hea%en. ( #ish ( $ould. But ('m running out o! money. <ast.:
8?on't #orry&: arty said. 8.ou'%e #ritten #hole books eating instant noodles
and $arrots. .ou $an do it again i! you ha%e to.:
H%er$ome #ith e*haustion and needing to sit& Beth sat on the end o! the bed. 8(
kno# Syne$do$he #ill hate all those endings They're too . . . 8
8.ou hit the tri!e$ta& Beth. Too in$onsistent& too tepid and too many.:
She kne# he #as right. )ll these endings la$ked pi--a--. What had been a
si--ling dete$ti%e series #as e*piring//#orse than a !ire#orks sho# that ended #ith a
arty stood up& unplugged the $omputer& sat and set it on his lap. Beth didn't dare
resist. "e settled into his $hair and said& 8( #ant to see your latest e!!orts !or mysel!. @et
out o! here. Take a nap or something.: "e looked at the s$reen and started reading. 8@i%e
me a $ouple o! hours. Will ( !ind all the do$uments+ ( #ant to see i! there's anything ( $an
sal%age out o! this mess.:
8)ll the %arious endings are open on the desktop. 0ust keep reading. .ou'll see . . .
the ranting o! a desperate #riter looking !or a #ay out.:
)nyone besides arty #ould ha%e asked& Za #ay out o! #hat+' But he #as
already immersed in his reading& lost in the goulash o! her !i$tional #orld. Cus$ious as
the idea o! nap $ould be& Beth kne# she'd ne%er sleep. She lingered around the edges o!
the room& o$$asionally glan$ing out the #indo#.
Without li!ting his eyes !rom the s$reen& but& pointing sky#ard like some dog
$ommand& arty said& 8HutD Cet a man read in pea$e.:
Beth #anted to do as he'd asked and lea%e him to his task. .et she $ontinued to
mill about on the other side o! the room& !iddling #ith her #at$h& #allet and taking mu$h
longer than she needed #ith her hair. She didn't #ant to lea%e him alone.
)gain& #ithout looking up& arty asked& 8Whate%er your big& dark se$ret is& do
you #ant to tell me+:
She gathered her things and said& 85o. ( #as =ust #orried about my $at.:
8Ciar he said& 8but i! you're not going to talk about it . . . get the hell out o! here.:
Beth #alked a$ross the room& grabbed her =a$ket& and squee-ed his shoulder as
she #alked by him. Being ki$ked out o! her hotel room !elt no%el. 9emembering her
!ather& she thought& you don't argue #ith a dying man #hom you'd $ome to lo%e.
She took a $ab to Times Square& got out and =ostled her #ay through the $ro#ds&
!eeling lighter in the $rammed humanity. The giant neon #alls li!ted the mood o! a $old&
o%er$ast night as tourists s$urried !or ti$kets. <amilies tried to !ind one another #ith
in$essant $ell phone $alls and te*ts. (t #as hard to !ind a human being #ithout a de%i$e
ne*t to their ear or in their palm. (mmersed in this $ommunal s$rum& Beth #at$hed
e%eryone dodge& $ut and mus$le their #ay through the mob. "o# long& she #ondered&
be!ore phone plans had an option !or lo#/%oltage tasers.
She $rossed Broad#ay on ;2
St and entered Bryant 4ark& $rossing the la#n until
she !ound an open kiosk and bought a ginger ale. Beth !ound a ben$h& pulled out her
phone and $alled 0ohn.
8)ny ne#s+: Beth asked.
8@ood ne#s&: 0ohn ans#ered. 8Tomorro#& Stephen #ill be going to Cypress
Treatment Center up in 5apa Ualley. They say it's got a great re$ord !or people #ith
Stephen's history.:
Beth had heard that too many times to $omment or hope. She asked& 8?id the
hospital say #hy they $hose that program.:
8They #ork #ith the #hole !amily and take as long as it takes to get to the bottom
o! things.:
Beth's brain !looded #ith a trainload o! !ra$tured !lashba$ks& all her s$rambled
#ritings and dreams o! Stephen and Aatie. 8That&: Beth s#allo#ed& struggling !or #ords&
8sounds good. But do you think it $an possibly be any di!!erent !rom all the other
8They don't arti!i$ially lo$k themsel%es into 2G days or any other pre/determined
$onstraints. ?on't #orry& ( $an a!!ord it&: 0ohn said. 8?o$tors say Stephen's head #ill be
!ine a!ter a #hile. There's minor li%er damage that needs to be re%ersed& and that'll take
years and only i!68
8"e $leans up.: Beth !elt grate!ul !or the healing po#ers patien$e. (t #ould
$ertainly take something as in%in$ible as time to $ure Stephen. 80ohn& ho# mu$h longer
$an you stay a#ay !rom your o#n !amily+:
8The Center is pretty $lose to my house. ('ll dri%e him up there #hen they
dis$harge him and go home. Cook& ('m getting a $all !rom "eather. ('ll $all you later.:
They hung up. Beth& suddenly $old& abandoned her ginger ale on the ben$h and
stepped into a nearby bar. She ordered a hot $ider& endured the bartender's super$ilious
e*pression and $alled 0ulie ba$k in Santa Cru-. 5o ans#er. Beth's message #as limited
to& 8(t's me. 4lease $all.:
Sur%eying the $ro#d #hile she sipped her drink& Beth determined this #as one o!
those bars !or businessman getting their night$aps be!ore heading home. 5one o! them
looked like they #ere gearing up !or a night o! $lubbing and $hasing #omen. Beth
appre$iated being le!t alone. "er phone rang.
arty asked& 8"o# !ar a#ay are you+:
8"al! an hour&: Beth said.
8Cook. ('%e got some ideas. Aill some time but get ba$k here in an hour.:
arty hung up and Beth headed to#ards the "udson& unable to de$ide i! she
should !eel good about his asking !or more time& or i! arty #as re/dra!ting a letter
res$inding her $ontra$t. Beth hoped he someho# !ound a #ay through the mess she'd
(n the old days& that phone $all #ould ha%e triggered his ranting and ra%ing at her.
<our/letter #ords #ould ha%e littered his spee$h like so many rats in a restaurant alley. )s
Beth #aited !or the light to $hange on Broad#ay& she thought& #ell& i! it took a terminal
illness !or arty to mello# out . . . #ho #as she to =udge.
She meandered through side streets be!ore strolling do#n the "udson 9i%er 4ark&
timing her return. Beth sat on an empty ben$h& looked up and grima$ed at star/less sky.
She looked at her #at$h and $losed her eyes. Wait !i%e more minutes& she thought& be!ore
resuming her trek.
(t began again. Bet#een agitation and e*haustion #ashing o%er her& Beth's brain
!elt #rapped in a no*ious !og. <e%erish& she sa# hersel! standing in the barn behind
Stephen and Aatie6all three o! them peering into the dark spa$e. Aatie $ra#led !urther
in and s$anned the area #ith her !lashlight and dra#n pistol.
She shook her head& looked around and reminded hersel! she #as sitting alongside
the "udson 9i%er. But she $ouldn't keep her eyes open. Beth $losed her eyes& grasping
the ben$h #ith both hands& #a%ering bet#een #orlds.
?ropping her head bet#een her knees& Beth tou$hed the 5e# .ork side#alk #ith
her !ingertips and took in three huge breaths o! !resh air. She !or$ed hersel! up on her
!eet. She hoped i! she ran& she $ould e$lipse this %ision//dissipate it be!ore it $oales$ed
into another haunting nightmare. But #ith %ertigo and !e%er& $ould she+
She took a !irst step like she #as testing a Canadian i$e pond in ay. )t least
standing up didn't #orsen her already #obbly !ooting. With ea$h tiny !oot!all her head
$leared. She !or$ed hersel! to e*hale and pi$ked up her pa$e& got up to a =og and& #ithin
t#o blo$ks& #orked her #ay up to a !ull/on run.
)!ter !our more blo$ks& Beth had #orked up a s#eat and hoped she'd outpa$ed
her demons. "er mind ba$ktra$ked to the urban surroundings. She noti$ed people
#alking by& took in their e*pressions& listened to the in$essant $ar horns along the streets&
and she e%en smiled #hen a diesel tour/ bus dro%e by& ne%er be!ore ha%ing been reassured
by the sten$h o! diesel !uel. )ll her sense per$eptions #ere ba$k to normal. She #as
responding the e*ternal #orld. 4anting hard& Beth slo#ed do#n and allo#ed her heart
rate to !all ba$k to 10 beats per minute.
<i%e minutes later& Beth kno$ked and opened her hotel room door. She didn't see
arty. 8.oo hooD artyD:
"e $alled out !rom the bathroom. 80ust a se$.:
She heard the toilet !lush and the sink !au$et ran too long. )lmost a minute later&
arty $ame out. Beth gasped.
arty held up his hand. 8?on't say anything& Beth. ( kno# ( look like dog shit.:
That #as an understatement. arty s#eated pro!usely& and he #iped his bro#
#ith a stained handker$hie!. "is skin #as a pale/yello# and his eyes looked hal!/ali%e.
8?o you #ant me to $all a do$tor& arty+:
8(t's $alled terminal $an$er.7 "e dismissed her #ith a #a%e. 7( get these spells
#here ( %omit and turn green.: "e stumbled o%er to the $hair and $ollapsed. 8( s#eat like
a pig !or a #hile and start taking on my $orpse/look.: "e $losed his eyes& held up a hand
and said& 8)ll #ithout make/up.:
Beth #at$hed his !a$e $ontort in pain. She !elt her pulse ramping up and hoped
he'd start talking soonF or she !eared she'd either !aint or ha%e to bolt out o! the room.
arty opened his eyes& looked straight ahead& sat up straighter& and said& 8y
body's going through dress rehearsal !or the great beyond. ( thought about $remation but
dismissed the idea. That'd =ust piss o!! all my "olo$aust relati%es. Can't !a$e spending
eternity being hounded by pissed/o!!& )shkena-i dybbuks.: "e $oughed again& and
looked at her. 8Can't be too $are!ul.:
8Can ( $all a $ab+: Beth asked. 8.our #i!e+:
"e #iped his bro#. 8Beth& you're doing me a mit-%ah letting me be here. )s long
as ('m #orking& my #i!e and kids $an !end o!! the !a$t that ('m dying.: arty put his
handker$hie! ba$k in his po$ket. 8Cet's #ork.:
She sat in the other $hair and #at$hed the $olor return to his !a$e. "e nodded at
her. Beth said& 8So& you read the endings. What did you think+:
arty smiled at her& ob%iously past the pain episode. 8What'd you think ('d
8That you'd hate it.:
Sitting pro!essorially& leaning ba$k in his $hair& arty asked& 8)nd #hy #ould (
hate it+:
8There are too many endings !or one thing.:
8Hld ne#s&: arty said. 8( see you tried to $lean up some o! that =unk. Who #as
that guy in Toronto+ Some old !lame o! yours+ 5e%er mind. ?on't ans#er. Cook& you
seem atta$hed to this short/order& $ook/!isherman and Aatie getting together.:
8( kno#. ( kno#.: She paused a moment to gather her thoughts. 8( kno# it doesn't
!it #ith #ho Aatie Shields has been all these years. y !ans #on't like her marrying a
s$hlub out on Cong (sland. )nd Syne$do$he #ill hate it be$ause they think it'll kill
arty pi$ked up his $he#ed $igar stub and mo$k smoked it !or t#o drags. 8)nd
#ho says agents don't impart #isdom to their $lients+: "e leaned !or#ard& stared at the
!loor and ble# more imaginary smoke around his head. 8Christ& ( miss& smokingD:
8Stop mind/!u$king me& arty&: Beth said. 8What did you think o! the ending+:
What arty said ne*t sho$ked her.
"e pulled the stub !rom his mouth and stared her in the eyes. 8( liked it. But not
!or the reasons you'll think.:
8,nlighten me.:
"e dabbed moisture !rom his !orehead. 8Hne ending in Co%e in the 4re$in$t is
right !or you& Beth. (t might e%en be right !or Aatie Shields . . . i! she #ere a real human
being and not a !i$tional $op.:
8)nd #hat about me as a $rime #riter+: Beth asked.
Ceaning !or#ard and remo%ing his =a$ket& arty said& 8That's& as you kno#& the
most pri%ate o! matters bet#een Beth Shepherd and Beth Shepherd. ( $an't ans#er that.:
5ot only had arty ne%er appeared like this& he'd ne%er arti$ulated anything like
this be!ore. Beth said& 8( didn't kno# you $ould be so philosophi$al.:
arty undid a $ouple o! more shirt buttons& !reeing gray $hest hair and said&
8Bet#een s$h%it-ing& my body de$aying and ni$otine #ithdra#al& belie%e me& it really
messes #ith your head. Think So$rates e%er !elt this bad+:
8Some#here a!ter drinking hemlo$k and be!ore taking his least breath.: Beth
#alked to the bathroom and returned #ith t#o glasses o! #ater. She handed one to arty.
8"o#'s this all play out& arty+ With Syne$do$he+ With you+:
"e a$$epted the glass and took a sip. 8e+ That's easy. ('m the guy #ho dies at
the end.: arty drank more #ater and put it do#n #ith a none/too steady hand.
8)nd your !amily. ?o they ha%e enough money+:
@rinning& arty nodded to#ards her laptop and said& 8Well& ( #as hoping
bet#een this book and your ne*t one ( $ould get another hundred grand or so in the bank
!or the #i!e and kids. That looks gone.:
8('m sorry.: Beth made an e!!ort to $ommiserate. 8('ll probably ha%e to put my
house on the market. .ou kno# . . . high $ost o! li%ing in Santa Cru-.:
Caughing& arty said& 8Santa Cru-+ Try anhattan. ( told my #i!e she might
ha%e to mo%e ba$k to Brooklyn and ha%e dinner #ith her parents !our times a #eek. <rom
her rea$tion you'd think ( #as sending her to ?ar!ur.:
4erple*ed& Beth asked& 8.ou don't ha%e enough money !or your !amily+:
arty #a%ed his hand. 8They #on't star%e. The kids #ill get through $ollege& and
iriam #on't be selling pret-els on the street. )s !ar as ('m $on$erned they're pro%ided
Beth drank !rom her glass and #ent to the #indo#. 8('m sorry& arty. ( ne%er
meant to s$re# you.:
arty patted his thigh. 8S$re# me+ Beth dear& #e'%e made a ton o! money
together. y !amily and ( are indebted to you.:
@a-ing outside again& Beth said& 8Christ& arty. Why'd you go dying on me+ This
8Tell me about it.:
8( ne%er imagined ('d ha%e to !eel sorry !or you&: Beth said& turning around. 8But
( think ( $ould like this ne# arty.:
8Consider this a passing phase.: arty !inished most o! his #ater. 8Sorry to bore
you #ith my late epiphanies.:
Beth stood in the middle o! the room. 8What's ne*t+:
8('%e got a plan: "e gestured to#ards the bed. 8Come sit do#n.:
She sat a$ross !rom him as he sat on the ondrian bedspread.
Cooking intently at her& arty said& 8Beth& #e'%e got to le%el #ith me no#. 5o
She sat and $rossed her arms.
8Cook& ('m not !ooling anyone&: he began.: ( $an go play my !eel/ sorry/!or/me/
dying $ard #ith Syne$do$he and probably get them to e*tend your deadline. aybe a
month.: "e $o$ked his head to the side& held both palms out to the side& shrugged and
pleaded& 8Who kne#+ ?ying has !ringe bene!its.:
8What do you #ant me to do& arty+:
80ust be honest #ith me. Can you re/#rite one ending o! the book or not+
eaning& something along the lines o! #hat Syne$do$he #ould #ant. Same bullshit& you
kno#+ Aatie marries a Broad#ay produ$er& hedge !und boss or something. She retires to
the The "amptons. 4ark )%enue. )nything but this ontauk s$hti$k.:
Wanting to say& yes& to make him happy& Beth turned and !a$ed the blank #all. "e
totally sho$ked her.
8BethD: arty said. 8S$re# #hat ( #ant. ( told you. ( don't need the moneyD (t's
not about me. But Syne$do$he's another story. What do you #ant+ Can you end Aatie
Shields this #ay& you kno# #ith this 0ohnny guy& and look ba$k ten years !rom no# and
be happy #ith ho# you $losed the series+:
"e $ared #hat she #anted& although it #as $hallenging sin$e she'd ne%er be!ore
thought o! arty as truly looking out !or anything but his o#n !inan$ial interests. But
here& no#& he #as as sel!less as a saint.
<a$ing him& Beth said& 8This ending !eels right to me. (t's the most human ('%e
e%er allo#ed Aatie to be. ?oing #hat she desires& no longer trying to pro%e anything to
anybody. She =ust #ants to li%e her o#n li!e& and i! the 0ohnny marriage !ails& at least it's
#hat she #anted& sink or s#im. ( think my readers #ill get that.:
arty nodded. 8) !e# #ould& but you might be right.:
8"o# do you think ( should re/#rite it& arty+:
"e stared at her a long time. )n un$om!ortably long time.
Cooking straight at her& he said& 8,ntirely up to you& s. Shepherd. Aatie Shields
is your $hara$ter& your series& and your su$$ess. .ou end it the #ay that !eels right to
Beth #ent to him and hugged him !or an e*tended moment. "e !inally nudged her
ba$k and asked& 8Beth& $an ( tell you the one thing ( don't like about this ending.:
8H! $ourse.:
8There's #ay too mu$h autobiography.:
(t #as too ob%ious to deny. What $ould she say+ 8.ou're right. ( $an't de!end it. (
kno# you ha%e to !a$e the publisher. What do you think Syne$do$he #ill do+:
arty got up& #in$ing. "e labored into his $oat and ad=usted the $ollar. 8)t !irst&
they'll blo# a gasket. The room #ill !all eerily silent be$ause they'll e*pe$t me to be
!iring ba$k.:
8.ou're too si$k to do that no#+:
8Hh& ( $ould get it up !or that i! ( #anted to.: arty made it to the door. 8But (
#ant to thro# them a $ur%e ball& be $ool& and =ust #alk out. 0ust on$e in this li!e& ( #ant
to !ake being 5ordi$.:
8What #ill that do+: Beth asked.
8By the time ( get ba$k to my o!!i$e ('ll ha%e si* $alls !rom them. The possibility
o! lea%ing money on the table dri%es them !u$king $ra-y.: arty opened the door and
stood in the threshold. 85o# it's your $all& Beth.:
8( don't understand&: Beth !elt suddenly under siege.
8( $an buy you a month to re/$onsider the ending. Syne$do$he doesn't gi%e a rat's
ass about you or any other #riter& but ( ha%e si* other mid/list $lients #ho publish #ith
them. Colle$ti%ely& that's the kind o! re%enue they $are about. ( ha%e great la#yers #ho
#rote the $ontra$ts& and ( $an pull all o! my #riters to other houses #ith a month's noti$e.
So ('%e got le%erage. )nd #hate%er you do #hile in 5e# .ork& don't go to their o!!i$es.
(! you sho# up at there they'll rip your $ontra$t up in !ront o! your !a$e =ust to mess #ith
8?o they kno# ho# mu$h o! a mess this book// 8
84robably. But look& other publishers in 5e# .ork ha%e been $ourting my #riters
and me !or years. They don't mind that ('m an asshole. They #ouldn't trust me i! ( #as
anything else.:
Beth kne# she $ouldn't a%oid the question !ore%er. ) dying man #as standing in
her door. 8.ou really $an buy me a month . . .:
79ela*&7 arty smiled. 8('m going to last at least that long.:
8But the book& Beth+: he said. 8.ou $an tell me right no# that this is it. The
Aatie/marries/0ohnny ending and Syne$do$he $an take it or lea%e it. But they'll lea%e it.:
8( don't kno#. But you really $an buy me that time+ When do ( ha%e to de$ide+8
8(n the time it takes me to $lose this door.: "e took a step into the hall and slo#ly
began pulling the door. 8Can't #aste any time these days& Beth.:
"er heart pounded& Beth $leared her throat and said& 8Buy me the month& arty6
"e nodded. 8Hne last thing.: "e paused& =ust be!ore $losing the door behind him.
8.ou're done here in 5e# .ork& Beth. @o ba$k to Cali!ornia and #rite.7
Chapter 1G
Collapsing on the bed& Beth asked hersel!2 #hy did ( ask !or the e*tension+
Beth had $ome to 5e# .ork #anting $losure on the Aatie series. (nstead& she'd
#ritten a bun$h o! endings !or Co%e (n The 4re$in$t& ea$h ne# %ersion a symptom o! her
tenuous hold on reality.
She $alled 4enelope again& but she #asn't pi$king up. Beth took a $ab to the
dete$ti%e's apartment in the Uillage and rang the doorbell. (! she #as home& 4enelope
#asn't ans#ering.
?ire$tly a$ross the street& Beth !ound an o%erheated $o!!ee shop& busy #ith
prostitutes& $ollege students& and $ops. She snagged an empty #indo# booth #ith an
abandoned 5e# .ork Times. (n bet#een sips o! a tasteless latte and s$anning arti$les& she
peeked up !rom time to time hoping to see the lights $ome on in her !riend's #indo#.
5eeding to get out o! the heat and #eary !or reading about the endless #ars her
$ountry #as !ighting& Beth le!t and de$ided to $all !rom 4enelope's stoop. She let her
phone ring and ring #hy she $raned her ne$k up#ards to see i! she $ould see 4enelope.
Where%er her !riend #as6physi$ally or psy$hologi$ally//she #asn't talking to Beth.
She #alked the eighteen blo$ks ba$k to the Sa%oy "otel to $lear her head. Beth
began to $hange into sleeping $lothes& but stopped. She reali-ed she #asn't tired in the
least& in !a$t she !elt #ired. The idea o! staying in the $ity and $hasing 4enelope do#n
stru$k her as !oolish. Beth $ould $all her !rom any#here6e%entually& unless she died&
4enelope #ould ans#er the phone. )nd& Beth re$alled& arty had all but ordered her out
o! the $ity. Why #as she still here in the ,ast+
She pa$ked her suit$ase& $he$ked out and took a $ab to Aennedy. Hn the #ay out
o! the $ity she $alled arty and le!t him a message that she #as $at$hing a plane. She got
on a red/eye going to Cos )ngeles& kno#ing she'd easily !ind a $onne$ting !light in the
morning to San 0ose. These last minute !lights #ould $ost her a !ortune& but she !elt she
had no $hoi$e. <or no#& she had to get ba$k home& see her brothers& try to $lean up her
no%el& and get some serious rest.
T#o hours later she #as airborne. ost o! the passengers slept& but she kept
reading and re/reading the %arious endings she'd $omposed !or Co%e in the 4re$in$t.
5othing she had #ritten !elt right. She !ound the passages arty had alluded to2 #here
Aatie got out o! the hospital& mo%ed to Toronto& and hooked up #ith an old boy!riend
#ho'd gotten ri$h in $ommer$ial real estate. Where in @od's name did that ending $ome
!rom& Beth #ondered+
"oping to at least snoo-e& she rea$hed up& turned o!! the o%erhead light and $losed
her eyes. )nd ho# $ould she ha%e so $ompletely !orgotten ha%ing #ritten it+
)gain& sleep #as !utile. She opened her laptop and a!ter !orty pages o! reading&
she hit the prose/maker's #all o! shame//#here she !ound re!uge in the #riter's only
absolute2 highlight the passage and hit delete.
She opened 4assages& sat ba$k and s$anned a number o! her inspirational quotes
and aphorisms2 none o! them remotely tou$hed the $onstellations o! dilemmas s#irling in
her psy$hi$ skies. Whate%er the origins o! dis$ord6brother& son& $areer& arty& 4enelope&
e*'s& money6rebu!!ed appeasement by the su$$or o! #ise/#ords !rom pithy authors.
Beth reread the last !i%e pages& the ones arty had last read. <or #hate%er
reasons& it #as the only one that !elt remotely right2 the part that portrayed Aatie's
do#n#ard so$ial mobility& e%en i!& ironi$ally& it might presage Beth's o#n e$onomi$
Aatie marrying 0ohnny+ Beth kne# that #as more than stret$h to her !ans. 0ohnny
had long ago de$lared his independen$e by going through #omen in mid/li!e $rises t#i$e
a year. )nd the sea#eed garlands+ Was that e%en possible+ ?rinking 5arragansett beer+
Beth tried to $on=ure up the last #orkingman's #edding she'd been to and $ouldn't re$all
#hat people had a$tually drunk. Sure& there #ould be beer& but today e%eryone drank
#ine& %arying only in $ost and quality. Hr #as that more in Cali!ornia and not as
appli$able in the ,ast+ Too tired to tease that out& she $losed her eyes and daydreamed.
)!ter she got home& she #ould bike do#n to the do$ks in the Santa Cru- "arbor
and ask some !ishermen #hat they'd ser%ed at their sons' and daughters' #eddings. (t #as
easy to !ind ,ast Coast transplants in Santa Cru-. (n!orming strangers she #as #riting a
book $oupled #ith a #ell/targeted smile had al#ays opened up $on%ersations. This beer
item #ould be easy to resear$h.
But there #as a larger problem. 5o matter ho# she spun it& she $ouldn't $on%in$e
hersel! that her readers #ould like it. Aatie Shields had al#ays been $ool& smart as hell&
an a$$omplished operator in the labyrinthine politi$s o! the 5e# .ork City 4oli$e
?epartment and muni$ipal go%ernment. ) gi!ted& a$$omplished and appealing dete$ti%e
#ho'd dated C,H's& ambassadors& pro!essional sports !igures and a$tors//all at the tops o!
their games.
)nd here Aatie #as marrying 0ohnny 5ietupski on a rented !ishing boat+ (! Beth
$ouldn't buy it hersel!& #ho else #ould+ She ran her hand through her hair and let out a
long sigh. (t's bad enough to be a ha$k& she thought.
?id that mean she had to end this series in a ridi$ulously implausible $ari$ature
and lose all her hard/#on $redibility+ She opened her eyes& gi%ing up on sleep.
"er plane arri%ed at C)V at >200 ).. and the airport bustled #ith morning
$ommuters. She got o!! the plane and hiked to a quiet gate #here she $alled 0ohn in
Aensington. Waking him up& 0ohn told her Stephen #as ad=usting #ell to his latest
treatment $enter and had e%en asked !or Beth.
Surprised& Beth !elt relie%ed hearing he'd asked !or her. )!ter she hung up #ith
0ohn she $alled the $enter but $ould only lea%e a message sin$e Stephen #as still a ne#
admission and hadn't yet earned phone pri%ileges.
Beth got the last seat on the San 0ose !light and ga%e thanks !or modern air tra%el.
(t stru$k her as mira$ulous2 she'd $rossed the $ountry #ithout %isitations by her mind/
gremlins. She took the shuttle to the hotel& pi$ked up her $ar and began the !orty/!i%e
minute dri%e home.
Beth ga-ed at the intersti$es o! red#oods and morning sky as she dro%e o%er the
Santa Cru- ountains. (! she'd still been in her t#enties or thirties and been dri%ing on
this $loudless& brilliant morning& she #ould ha%e $alled )aron immediately. @oing
against the morning $ommuters& dri%ing along the high#ay hemmed in by red#oods&
Beth en%isioned hersel! skiing through a mysterious #ood.
<antasi-ing !urther& she #ould ha%e $alled )aron !rom her 5e# .ork hotel be!ore
she $he$ked out. "e'd ha%e pi$ked her up at the airport& and the t#o them #ould ha%e
gone to her house #here they #ould ha%e made lo%e and a!ter#ards gone out and eaten
break!ast. Then& gone !or a run or a long #alk in either the red#oods or along one the
#ider bea$hes. She opened the #indo# and let the $old morning air slap her ba$k to
reality. She didn't really kno# the guy. )nd 0ay+ 0ay #as up in endo$ino dri!ting e%er
!urther a#ay !rom her.
,s$aping the tall trees& Santa Cru- opened be!ore her. She sa# the steeple o! "oly
Cross Chur$h& the long muni$ipal #har! pointing south like an arro# to#ards Big Sur&
and the e*panse o! the small $oastal $ity spread out be!ore her.
?espite all the re$ent tra%el and drama in her li!e& the phone $alls& the serious
ne#s about arty's dying& she !elt as alone as lost kitten abandoned on the side o! a rural
Thinking about )aron had to a simple distra$tion. (saiah #ould ha%e told her it
#as the longing/!or/the/prote$ti%e !ather she'd lost. "e #as probably right. Hr #as
thinking o! )aron this #ay =ust another sign o! losing her mind.
She turned o!! ,mpire @rade 9oad into her dri%e#ay. Stephen's SBU hadn't
mo%ed !rom #here he'd parked it. Beth #alked slo#ly to her house.
0ulie's $ar& unlo$ked #as parked ne*t to Stephen's. 0ulie $ould be here #ith any
number o! partners& male or !emale. So as not to startle anyone Beth tapped on the !ront
door. Beth !elt surprised at ho# mu$h she hoped i! 0ulie #ere here& that it #asn't #ith
att edom.
Wondering #hat #as the sour$e o! this disdain !or the )ssistant ?.)& it hit Beth.
"e had the same grin as Brad. ) grin that #ent !rom $harming to si$kening a!ter you
really got to kno# them. She remembered ho# the attorney had helped Stephen get
hospitali-ed and %ery #ell may ha%e sa%ed his li!e. Shouldn't she ad=ust her opinion o!
the man+ Cike so many things& Beth really didn't kno# #hat to think. But it didn't take
long to reali-e a lot more than $at sitting had been o$$urring in her house #hile she #as
@oing inside& her house stunk o! $igarettes and boo-e. Beth sa# 0ulie asleep on
the $ou$h $o%ered by pillo#s& and 4ru!ro$k lay prone on her ba$k. )s $ats do a!ter long
absen$es& 4ru ignored her o#ner& like a petty spouse #hose !eeling had been hurt and #as
intent on punishing their partner #ith subdued& resent!ul s$orn. Beth opened some
#indo#s and looked in her bedroom.
8Hh. .ou.: 0ulie said& struggling to sit up on the edge o! the $ou$h as the $at
s$urried a#ay. 8When did you get in+: She slumped ba$k do#n& groaning& and $o%ered
her head #ith a thro#.
Beth turned around !rom her bedroom door& shook her head and asked& 8"o# are
Beth heard 0ulie mumble something in$omprehensible and& !rom all the signs&
qui$kly diagnosed a serious hango%er. While li!ting the thro# o!! 0ulie's !a$e& Beth said&
8@lad to see me+:
0ulie's eyeballs barely opened& and she turned o%er. Beth thought& at least
someone in this house looks #orse than ( do.
@i%ing up& Beth made her #ay to the bathroom and made it as dark as she $ould.
She dre# a bath& hoping the s$or$hing #ater and lo# light #ould soothe her into sleep.
)s soon as she s$oo$hed do#n into the #ater she thought& #hom am ( kidding+ <or her
entire li!e she'd ne%er been able to sleep during the day.
When the #ater $ooled !rom hot to tepid& Beth rose and to#eled o!!. She put on
$lean s#eats and lay on her bed& staring at the $eiling. )gain& she #ondered& $ould she
#rite some $ommer$ially a$$eptable alternati%e ending to Co%e in the 4re$in$t+ Was the
money that important to her+ The task #as $ertainly doable. She'd only ha%e to re/#rite
the last three $hapters& 10 to G0 pages #ould do it. "a%e Aatie #ake up !rom her
slumming #ays& run a#ay !rom 0ohnny and ontauk. Who kne#& she asked& perhaps ('ll
ha%e a $hange o! heart and re/$ommit to #riting the Aatie Shields Series.
0ulie stumbled into her bedroom and !lopped ne*t to Beth.
8y ba$k is killing me&: 0ulie said& nudging Beth to the edge o! the bed.
8Consider yoursel! lu$ky&: Beth said& sliding a#ay !rom her !riend #ho smelled
o! s#eat and se*. 8y li!e is killing me.:
8?o you ha%e any orange =ui$e& Beth+: 0ulie asked. 8)ny kind o! =ui$e+: 0ulie sat
up on the edge o! the bed& her !a$e in her hands. 8(! not& you ha%e to take me out and buy
me enough !ruit smoothies to $ure a hango%er.:
85o one $an drink that mu$h mango slush.:
0ulie sho#ered and put on a s#eater/dress that sho#ed o!! all o! her $ur%es. She
positioned a smart beret on her head. Beth put on some pressed =eans& sandals and a
yello# $ashmere s#eater. T#enty minutes later they sat in the smoothie shop in
do#nto#n Santa Cru-. 0ulie inhaled her !irst 2; oun$e mi*ed !ruit $on$o$tions #ith
enough supplements to alter her p"6but not #ithout spilling hal! a $up o! her drink on
the table.
8"o#'d 5e# .ork go+: 0ulie asked.
85ot like ( e*pe$ted.: Beth sipped a small berry smoothie #ith protein po#der.
8What's that mean+: 0ulie inserted her stra# through the plasti$ lid o! her se$ond
drink and already appeared to be re%i%ing.
Beth got up and grasped a larger bun$h o! napkins. 9eturning to their table she
tossed them onto the s#eet puddle and $ontinued. 8y agent said he $ould get me
another month to re/#rite the ending. <or some reason& ( took him up on the o!!er. But (
$an't #rite anything but $rap.:
0ulie #orked on her se$ond drink& sma$ked her lips and #iped up the mess she'd
5ot #anting to talk more about her trip or her book& Beth asked& 8So& tell me
about the party at my house last night.:
8Some #oman. ( think her name #as Cheryl+ Cherie+ Some Ch/name. She pi$ked
me up at The 9ed. ( didn't dare take her to my pla$e. She seemed a bit . . . unstable.:
8( kno# the type&7 Beth said& shaking her head. 7?o ( need to $hange my lo$ks+:
Beth reali-ed there #ould be no reasonable e*planation o! 0ulie's $heeky a$tions. Besides&
she #as too e*hausted to $hastise 0ulie no matter #hat she did. 8"o# $ome Cheryl or
Cherie #asn't lying ne*t to you #hen ( $ame home+:
8( thre# her out at three in the morning.: 0ulie looked up at the $eiling& e*tended
her arms o%er her head and stret$hed. She looked at Beth. 8Can you belie%e it+ Hn a !irst/
night pi$k/up date and she #anted to $all her boy!riend to =oin us. That's #hen ( kne# (
had to get rid o! her.:
8)ll in a night's !un.: Beth thought& are you really this re$kless+
8( #asn't going to get mysel! to get su$ked into someone else's man/#oman
drama. ( told her you #ere $oming home and #ould thro# a shit/!it i! you !ound her
there& so it #asn't hard to get rid o! her&: 0ulie impro%ised su$king sounds through her
stra#. 8?on't #orry& she'll ne%er !ind her #ay ba$k to your house. She #as #ay too
drunk to remember anything.7
Beth $ould see the $olor returning to 0ulie's $heeks& her eyes gro#ing brighter.
8So& #hat ha%e all your gender e*plorations taught you+:
8So many things. With gay #omen& they #ant e*$lusi%e a$$ess to my $rot$h. Hr&
they might #ant a sugar mama to support them.:
<eeling more #orried about her !riend than she e%er had be!ore& but reali-ing this
#asn't the time !or heart/to/heart #ith 0ulie& Beth said& 8So #hen #omen ha%e asked you
!or keys to your house& #hat do you tell them+:
0ulie tilted her head ba$k and took in a huge breath. 8We're done. AaputD:
Ceaning !or#ard she said& 85obody gets keys to my house& Beth. That's #hy you and (
are still !riends.:
8Be$ause ('%e ne%er asked you !or a key+:
0ulie leaned o%er and tapped the side o! Beth's head and said& 8Cle%er& r.
"a#king. Can you e*plain Bla$k "oles and ,%ent/"ori-on one more time+:
4u--led& Beth asked& 8(s there any real di!!eren$e . . . bet#een men and #omen+:
8Aeep Zem all o!! balan$e my dad used to say.: 0ulie leaned ba$k in her $hair&
!olded her hands together behind her head and grinned 8)aah& li!e. ?on't you =ust lo%e
8)nd #hat about men+ 8Beth had already re$alibrated 0ulie's maturity le%el
8en.: 0ulie squinted& sear$hing !or the depth o! her ans#er. 8They're =ust more
easily satis!ied. With . . . #hate%er.:
Beth stood up and pointed to 0ulie's nearly !inished $up. 8Cet's go& !ro-en/heart. (
need to keep mo%ing& or ('m going to keel o%er and !all asleep . . . or& !orget my manners
and try to slap some sense into you.:
Beth dropped 0ulie o!! at her house and dro%e on to West Cli!! ?ri%e& parked by the
lighthouse and #at$hed sur!ers trying to $at$h small& $hoppy #a%es. "er phone rang. (t
#as arty.
8.ou #ork !ast& arty&: Beth ans#ered.
arty started des$ribing ho# he'd met #ith the publishers and la#yers at
Syne$do$he earlier that day. But Beth sensed he #as stalling #ith e*traneous details//
#hi$h $ould mean only one thing.
8So&: Beth interrupted& 8they said no.:
8?idn't think ( $ould bullshit you this long&: he said.
"e e*plained that Syne$do$he's $orporate re/stru$turing had =ust #rapped/upF the
po#er !igures he had had $lout #ith !or years had all been demoted. 5ot in title or salary&
not yet any#ay& but no# all brea$hes o! $ontra$t #ould be handled by their legal
department based in Chi$ago.
8They ambushed me&: arty said.
8What do you mean+:
8Well& it got so bad& ( e%en played the dying $ard hoping to get some ad%antage&
but they used it as a #eakness.: arty paused to think. 8Smart !u$kers. But in the end&
=ust a ne# %ersion o! out #ith the old& in #ith the ne#.:
9ubbing her temples and $losing her eyes& Beth said& 8('m more sorry !or you
arty than me. This stinks.:
8Bastards played me&: arty said.
8"o#'s that+:
8( thought ( had some le%erage #ith my stable o! authors. .ou kno#& threaten to
take my #riters a#ay to some other publishers. Ano# #hat they said to me+:
8Tell me.:
8(n the board room& some punk =ust out o! 4rin$eton Ca# stands up and
straightens his yello# tie like he's pra$ti$ed the mo%e !or de$ades.: )!!e$ting a $allous
tenor& arty began& 8r. S$hienman& #e'%e already e*tended letters o! interest to your
other $lients and . . . gi%en your medi$al $ir$umstan$es . . . ha%e ad%ised them that #e
#ould be happy to maintain relations #ith them #hen you are no longer . . . #orking.:
8So& publishing is that $old no#+: Shaking her head& Beth bit her lip.
)ssuming his normal spee$h he said& 8.ou got it& kid.: arty paused to $ough.8
They !u$k you up the ass be!ore your body's $old.:
8@ood @od& arty. (s there anything ( $an do+ ( mean& !or you+:
8.eah. When the time's right . . . $ome sit Shi%a #ith my !amily !or a $ouple o!
days. iriam's al#ays liked you. )nd ('d appre$iate it.:
8Consider it done.:
arty took a #hile be!ore he ne*t spoke. Beth !elt grate!ul !or the time/she had to
absorb this latest ne#s. <inally he had his thoughts $lear.
8Beth& your Aatie/marries/0ohnny ending !or Co%e (n The 4re$in$t is =ust !ine. (t's
your book. ?o it the #ay you #ant&: he said. 8.ou'%e earned the right to stop listening to
the likes o! me or Syne$do$he. 4ut the book up on/line. .ou'll at least sell a !e# thousand
Sni!!ling& Beth said& 8They say it's the trend.:
8Shit. ?on't #orry about it&: arty said. 8(t's only money. .ou'%e got better days
ahead o! you as a #riter.:
Someho#& in keeping quiet& Beth managed to a%oid going maudlin.
8('m not dead yet& Beth. ?on't spa$e out on me&: arty said. 8( #ant to do some
good !or as many people as ( $an #ith #hate%er time ('%e got le!t.:
Beth !elt tears $oming to her eyes& not bitter& but tears o! s#eetness. 8.ou $an $all
me anytime& arty. ?ay or night. .ou kno# that& don't you+:
8( do.: arty $oughed three times. 8@i%en that #e all die& it's $urious that talking
about death should be so #eird. (t's a natural as not breathing.:
Beth $rossed her legs and sat ba$k. 8Can ( use that in my ne*t book+ ('ll $redit it
to you.:
8"ey& s#eetheart& you $an use anything about me in your !uture books . . . turn me
into some kind o! a* 4erkins. ('d like that. But no o%eralls or !arm s$enes.:
8( $an do that&: Beth said.
8Hne last thing& Beth+:
8What is it+:
8( need at least one person ( kno# use my name in a senten$e #ith the #ord death
in it. To my !a$e. Hr& in this $ase& to my ear.:
Beth #in$ed& but said& 8)!ter you're dead& arty& #e'll ra-- your ass !or years
and takes %otes about #hat #as #orse about you. The $igar smoke or the la$k o! tissues.:
Caughing heartily& arty said& 8Thanks. ( needed that. 5o# ( $an go to my gra%e
a happy man.:
8.ou're #el$ome.:
8)nd& in old ne#s&: arty began& 8people don't kno# shit. Christ& our $ountry
$an't go a de$ade #ithout a #ar& and the same ri$h bastards #ho al#ays pro!it obs$enely
pull the same rabbits out o! their butt/holes e%ery time. @od& !lag& demo$ra$y and
e*aggerated threats. Their bullshit $an make super/!und sites look like prospe$ti%e
lo$ations !or playgrounds.:
8Well& arty& i! there's more =usti$e on the other side& see i! you $an $hange all
that #ith the e*e$uti%e editors up in the sky+:
8<or both our sakes& Beth. ( #ill.:
The skies turned leaden. The #ind o!! the 4a$i!i$ $arried an )leutian $hill and nibbled
pain!ully on e*posed skin. Beth buttoned her =a$ket and pulled a sto$king $ap !rom its
inner po$ket and pla$ed it o%er her head. She started #alking and passed the heartiest o!
the =oggers #ho ran this $oastal road regardless o! rain& !og or $old.
Beth turned around and #alked ba$k to her $ar. (t didn't take long be!ore she #as
!ree-ing. The reality o! arty's dying and the end o! her mainstream #riting $areer #as
going to take longer to sink in than a #alk to the ne*t ma=or landmark& the sur!ing statue.
Beth #ent !rom sho$k and e*hausted to numb. She got to her $ar& ran the engine and set
the heater on ma*imum.
"er phone rang. ?istra$tedly she ans#ered.
(t #as her e*'s %oi$e. 8Brad+: She turned the !an to a lo#er setting to hear better.
8Why are you $alling+:
Clearing his throat& Brad said& 8(t's about 0ay. Can you talk #ith 0ay no#+:
Beth tapped the steering #heel se%eral times be!ore ans#ering& $ertain this ne#s
#ouldn't be to her liking. 8Sure.: Beth turned in her seat& pla$ed her !eet a$ross the
$onsole and& as best she $ould& e*tended her legs. 0ay got on the phone.
8om& ('m mo%ing to endo$ino.:
Sounding some#here bet#een apatheti$ and blasX& 0ay's tone o! %oi$e #as the
#orst o! de$eits. 8StopD: Beth said& interrupting& 8this isn't a $hit/$hat $all.:
Beth's head hurt& and she $losed her eyes. She kne# she had to be $are!ul and not
erupt. She didn't #ant to make a di!!i$ult situation that mu$h #orse. 80ay. )re you still
8Still here& mom.:
The timbre o! his %oi$e resumed its normal modulation. Beth said& 80ust . . . ('m
$on!used . . . ( thought you lo%ed li%ing in San <ran$is$o.:
8( ha%e& om. But . . . ( !eel ('m !inally getting $lose to dad& and ( need more time
#ith him. "e's o!!ered me something ( $an't turn do#n.:
Cyni$al retorts !looded her brain& none !it !or human hearing. Beth's throat sei-ed.
She !elt !lushed and her stoma$h knotted up. Sin$e her =a# #as $lamped shut& she made
hersel! breathe through her nose. <inally& she managed to ask& 8What did he o!!er you+:
8.ou #on't like it& mom.:
Beth time/tra%eled ba$k#ards 20 years. (n her mind& Brad re%erted to the
$okehead %illain o! their early marriage. ) $ontemptible& dead/beat dad #ho'd !udged on
his $hild support paymentsF #ho years ago had nearly beaten her& !or$ing her to run #ith
a baby in her arms out the doorF and e*torted money !rom her as a single mother. She
shook her head& trying to get ba$k to present time.
8?oesn't really matter i! ( like it or not& does it+: Beth said.
8Sounds like #hate%er it is& it appeals to you. So unless this is top se$ret or something&
=ust tell me+:
0ay $hanged the sub=e$t and began talking about )urora//
8)nother time& 0ay. What e*a$tly is it your !ather is o!!ering+:
8(t's simple&: he said.
\ 0ay's %oi$e had be$ome stronger o%er the $ourse o! the $on%ersation. She $ould
hear him gro#ing up. 8.ou $an tell me.:
8) $han$e& !inally& to ha%e a !ather.:
Chapter 19
(! Beth had !elt numb be!ore this phone $all& she no# !elt en$ased in a kind o! stuporous
gelatin//a $omatose state that #ouldn't allo# her to !eel pain i! someone pounded an a#l
through her temple.
There #as nothing to argue. 0ay #as simply in!orming her o! his de$ision.
4erhaps later she $ould appre$iate his thought!ulness o! telling her himsel!& but she didn't
like Brad's running inter!eren$e and making the initial $all. But she asked hersel! did it
Beth said goodbye to her son& kno#ing their relationship had irre%o$ably
trans!ormed. H! $ourse 0ay #ould a$$ept su$h an opportunity& to ha%e su$h a primal need
!illed6ha%ing li%ed his #hole li!e #ithout a !ather. 5o matter ho# mu$h she #anted to
argue or ob=e$t to do so #ould be un$ons$ionable. )nd !utile.
The Brad #ho had !ailed her as a husband and their son as a !ather #as an$ient
history. She =ust had to $ome to belie%e it hersel!. (! she $ould.
Beth dro%e home& !eeling the $rushing strains o! $ross/$ountry tra%el& $hroni$
sleeplessness& arty's dying& and& no# 0ay's mo%ing a#ay. She had to talk to someone
and sear$hed her phone's $onta$t list.
S$rolling through her list o! !requently $alled numbers& she re=e$ted names as
soon as they appeared. 0ulie+ 0ulie #as bottom/!eeding along the sediment o! the maturity
stream and #ouldn't be help!ul. 4enelope+ ,%en i! she did rea$h 4enelope& her 5e# .ork
!riend #as in su$h a mess it #as in$on$ei%able she $ould be a help. 0ohn+ 0ohn needed a
break !rom the Shepherd !amily/drama and time to re/enter into his o#n !amily. 0ay+ "er
son didn't quali!y to help his middle/aged mother's anguish about her little boy gro#ing
(saiah Thompson's number $ame up. She thought ( $ouldn't $all him no#. "e
#on't ans#er. 0ust lea%e a message. She hit send and got (saiah's %oi$e mail. She hit the
pound key to skip the message about #hat to do in an emergen$y& though& as soon as she
did so& Beth ended the $all. aybe this #as an emergen$y.
She $alled (saiah ba$k. 8This is Beth Shepherd. 4lease $all me as soon as you
$an. )ny hour o! the day.:
Was that too needy+ Too hysteri$al+ "er tone too urgent+ S$re# it i! it #as. She'd
paid him thousands o! dollars o%er the years. Too many thousands to $ount. She !eared i!
she really kne# ho# mu$h money she'd spent on her emotional $are she might ha%e to
!a$e an appalling $al$ulation2 =ust ho# mu$h return had she earned on her in%estment+
@i%en her re$ent mood s#ings and eerie emotional episodes& she didn't #ant an ans#er.
She parked in her dri%e#ay and ran into her li%ing room. She set the thermostat to
its highest settings. 5o matter ho# hot she made the house she $ouldn't e*pel the
!rigidity that gripped her. (t !elt like her heart pumped liquid nitrogen. She !elt dro#sy but
$ouldn't sleep. She #rapped a do#n $om!orter around her shoulders& sat on the $ou$h and
shi%ered. She !elt it $oming.
4sy$hosis+ <ugue+ ?epersonali-ation+ Spa$ed+ Tripping+ Whate%er the #ord&
Beth had spent too mu$h time in #eirdness/-one to sit idly and simply let it happen to
her. 4hysi$ally& she #as too debilitated to run. (! she $ould #rite& perhaps she $ould
outrun the haunting.
Beth thre# o!! the $om!orter& put on a hea%y %est& and opened up a ne# do$ument
on her laptop. Be!ore she typed& Beth said& 8Aatie. "elp me.:
She #rote2 Aatie shone the light in the darkened ea%es o! the barn. ,%en #ithout
e%iden$e that #hate%er #as breathing ba$k there #ere people& she yelled& 8Come out o!
there. 5o#D:
<ed up& Aatie #ent into a $rou$h and sho%ed aside t#o hay bales. 5o# she $ould
hear better. u!!led human& sounds. She looked ba$k& sear$hing !or Stephen. "e #as
To make more spa$e& she had to pla$e her gun on the !loor and use t#o hands to
mo%e the >0/pound bales. )m ( an idiot doing this she asked hersel!+
Sho$ked& !eeling pro!oundly alone& Aatie asked& #here the hell $ould Stephen
ha%e gone+ But she #as too $lose to this mystery to stop. She made a #indo# through the
hay& pointed the !lashlight into the re$esses& and gun in hand began to $ra#l in.
But no# it #as $lear2 the sounds #ere people . . . ha%ing se*. Aatie heard a girl's
%oi$e $ommanding& 7?o itD "arderD <u$k me.7
Aatie heard a boy's %oi$e& pleading& 75o& #e shouldn't . . . ( $an't . . .7
Aatie !lashed the light on their naked bodies. ?is$o%ered& the boy and girl
s$reamed& rolled o%er and s$rambled to $o%er themsel%es #ith their nearby $lothes& their
!a$es obs$ured by long& s$raggly hair. Aatie stu$k her head in !ar enough to obliterate
their san$tuary. The kids a$ted ashamed and s$rambled to put on their $lothes.
Aatie put her gun a#ay but le!t the !lashlight on& balan$ing it on a hay/bale and
keeping the area illuminated as the kids qui$kly dressed. (t da#ned on Aatie& so #hat i! a
$ouple o! kids #ere s$re#ing in a se$ret haylo!t+ "o# #as this any business o! hers+ (t
didn't take long to get the ans#er.
8Button up your $lothes& kids&: Aatie said& ordering them #ith an authority that
a#k#ardly suited this =urisdi$tion. She re/holstered her gun. 8)nd $ome out here #here (
$an get a good look at you.: Aatie ba$ked out o! the $ra#l spa$e.
Carrying their shoes in their hands and #earing mis/buttoned shirts& the teens
$ame out to #here they $ould stand up.
Aatie dire$ted them to pull their hair ba$k !rom their !a$es so she $ould get a
better look at them. She #at$hed as the both dropped their shoes and slo#ly brought their
hands up to their youth!ul !a$es. Simultaneously& they parted their hair and sho#ed their
Aatie gasped. 8Beth+ Stephen+ "o# old are you+
Beth stopped #riting. She ran to the bathroom& ret$hing and =ust made it the toilet
be!ore she puked #hat little remained in her stoma$h. ?ry hea%es !ollo#ed. She $radled
the toilet bo#l #ith her head !our in$hes !rom the dis$olored #ater. Spittle hung !rom her
mouth la$ed #ith oily !ilaments. She #ondered had all that $o!!ee $ongealed in her gut.
oaning so loud& her $at ran a#ay& Beth managed to prop hersel! up on her knees
and !lushed the toilet. She hadn't the strength. ) $ompetition #ra$ked her body !ighting
!or !irst position& !e%er %s. $hill.
Too #eak to remain on her knees& she lay do#n on the !loor& kno#ing more
hea%es #ere $oming. She lost tra$k o! time #hile her head spun and her bo#els sear$hed
!or any kind o! equilibrium.
By the time she !elt strong enough to rinse her mouth out& brush her teeth se%eral
times and $ra#l into bed she $ollapsed& kno#ing one thing6she had to $all.
She #oke up three hours later and $alled Cypress Treatment Center in 5apa. She
#as put on hold.
) minute later& #ith the so$ial #orker on the phone& Beth said& .es& ('m his sister&
Beth Shepherd . . . Stephen's no longer a ne# admission . . . @ood. Can #e talk+ When
$an ( %isit+:
The hospital ad%ised her not to %isit !or at least !our days to allo# Stephen to
!urther deto*& integrate into the program and rest. "e #as eating no# and $ouldn't $ome
to the phone. Without hesitation& Beth told the so$ial #orker& yes& to attending the
$enter's !amily program s$heduled to begin t#o #eekends !rom no#. Beth !elt like she
took her !irst real breath in days. aybe months.
(t hit her. She had to $all her therapist& (saiah. She s$heduled an appointment !or
tomorro# at 10200 a.m.
)!ter a#k#ardly saying hello and sitting do#n a$ross !rom (saiah in his o!!i$e& Beth
stumbled and a%oided talking about #hat she needed to say.
<inally& (saiah said& 7Beth. We both kno# you're #ithholding something you $ame
her to say. ( suggest you $ome out #ith it be!ore our time is up.7
Beth stared at him. (saiah #as ba$k in his ins$rutable therapist pose.
She #anted to get angry #ith him but $ouldn't. Tried to #ork hersel! up to baiting him
into demanding she $ome $lean and stop a$ting out all her $lassi$ a%oidan$es2 talking
politi$s& railing about Santa Cru-'s lousy restaurant ser%i$e and the obs$ene pri$es o!
li%ing in $oastal Cali!ornia.
But the gap bet#een #hat Beth #anted to do and #hat she had to do had gro#n
too #ide. The !issure had gro#n to a $hasm. She had to tell him the truth.
7When ( #as !ourteen ( plied Stephen #ith al$ohol and se*ually molested him. (
bullied him into ha%ing se* #ith me. Se%eral times.7
(! he !elt any sho$k or outrage& (saiah didn't sho# it. "e $almly listened and urged
her to tell him e%erything she remembered about those in$idents. The damn burst.
Beth relayed ho# she #ent about sedu$ing Stephen. (n%iting him into her
bedroom& letting her $otton negligee slip o!! her shoulder& her initiating pillo#/!ights that
led to #restling mat$hes on her bedF her =oy in !eeing his ere$tions against her and his
a#k#ard es$apes lea%ing her #ith guilty pleasure.
The noise they made during their pri%ate rumpus parties led to it's o#n demise.
om and ?ad started making sure Stephen #ent to his o#n bedroom #ithout %isiting
Beth's. H! $ourse& se* #as ne%er e*pli$itly dis$ussed in the !amily6by anyone. But Beth
!ound a #illing $o/$onspirator in her younger brother #hen she hinted//none to subtly//
they $hange %enues to the barn's upper lo!ts. (t #ent on !or a #eek.
Beth #rote do-ens o! re$olle$tions o! these e%ents !rom e%ery $on$ei%able angle.
But there #as one $onstant2 she'd initiated and es$alated the se* play and the
e*perimentation to getting naked together. She'd stolen her !ather's al$ohol& pro%ided it
to Stephen #hile she !alsely a$ted like she #as drunk6but ne%er #as. She'd molested
her younger brother.
<or the ne*t three days& (saiah met #ith her. ,a$h molestation episode #as
re$alled& inspe$ted& s$rutini-ed and probed bet#een Beth's gut #ren$hing #a%es o! tears&
shame and humiliation. 5ot on$e did he e%in$e the slighted =udgment to#ards her& saying
repeatedly& 7Beth& you'%e done de$ades o! =udging and punishing yoursel!. .ou don't need
my or anyone else's inquisition.7
Beth asked& 7)nd #hat about Stephen's+7
(saiah !olded his arms and looked a#ay& deep in thought. <inally he !a$ed her& and
said& 7When are you going to the Cypress Treatment Center to parti$ipate in <amily
75e*t #eek.7
7(! you think these sessions #ith me ha%e been hard& Beth& think again.7
Beth sank in her $hair. 7Thanks& (saiah. 0ust #hat ( need.7
"e stood up. There time #as o%er. Standing ne*t to her on the threshold& he said&
7What #e'%e done this #eek& Beth is preparatory !or your !amily and group sessions. (
kno# you'll do !ine up there. .ou had to do this !irst. Call me #hen you get ba$k.7
H%er the #eekend& Beth #alked the bea$hes& ran the Santa Cru- hills& and stayed
home #riting in her =ournal. She had to #rite. She !inally got her sleep $y$le re/set and
rested. She slept through the nights& and the =ournaling helped get her head $lear. She
!illed page a!ter page #ith memories o! her early li!e2 her budding a#areness o! her o#n
se*uality a#akened by biology& Ui$torian 9oman$es and e%er more e*pli$it mo%ies she
and her brothers #eren't supposed to see. But 0ohn's dri%er's li$ense and the mo%ie
$omple*es in 9egina made the per!e$t $ombination to !lout parental authority.
Beth $alled and told 0ohn e%erything. "e agreed to attend the !amily sessions.
Though in sho$k& he #as happy to parti$ipate. They #ould meet in 5apa& at Cypress
Treatment Center& on onday a!ternoon.
Hn Sunday night be!ore she'd be dri%ing north& Beth re/opened 4assages and read
again Aa!ka's quote2 the one she $ould ne%er de$ide i! the Bohemian #as mo$king his
!ello# #riters6or besee$hing them to get out o! their o#n #ay. 9egardless& she lo%ed it.
Z.ou do not e%en ha%e to lea%e your room.
9emain sitting at your table and listen.
?o not e%en listen& simply #ait.
?o not e%en #ait& be still and solitary.
The #orld #ill !reely o!!er itsel! to you to be unmasked.
(t has no $hoi$eF it #ill roll in e$stasy at your !eet.'
What an image& Beth thought.
She reali-ed her o#n !i$tion #riting had ne%er $ome $lose to embodying those
sentiments. H! $ourse there #ere times #hen the #ords !lo#ed& a s$ene #rote itsel!& an
e*$hange o! dialogue !le# o!! her !ingertips through the magi$ o! the #ord pro$essor. But
those mysti$al tran$es #here a generous muse dispensed prose $ame rarely. But& #ho
4erhaps no# . . . it $ould happen.
Beth had ne%er #ritten a $rime no%el in the #ay r. Aa!ka had des$ribed. But her
o#n personal history& abetted by Aatie Shields& had been unmasked . . . had rolled& not in
e$stasy& but in shame and guilt at her !eet.
4ain!ul as it #as& she kne# it had long been ne$essary to !a$e her past. Hther#ise&
her entire li!e $ould ne%er be anything but a lie.
She remembered bro#sing in Book Shop Santa Cru- #eeks ago. She had glan$ed
at a spiritual title $alled& .ou )re 5ot Who .ou Think .ou )re. Cooking ba$k& Beth
reali-ed ho# propheti$ it had been.
Could you kno# yoursel!+ H! $ourse not& Beth thought. We $an't kno# oursel%es.
)ll #e $an do is $reate oursel%es2 either ane# or $hase our o#n tails #ith time#orn
stories about #ho #e think #e are in some e%er/ deadening spiral o! e*hausted $li$hXs.
)nd she !inally understood )nnie ?illard's essay. We are the blank page.
She slept #ell that night& the last night be!ore dri%ing to 5apa to parti$ipate in
Stephen's treatment. H! $ourse& she reali-ed& it #as =ust as mu$h her o#n.
<or three grueling emotional days& she attended the !amily program. 0ohn attended also
but mu$h more as a bystander and support person than either o! his siblings. With a
maturity and dignity she #ould ha%e thought impossible be!ore those sessions& Beth&
tear!ully and publi$ly a$kno#ledged ha%ing supplied Stephen #ith their !ather's %odka
and ha%ing had se* #ith her younger brother #hen they #ere 13 and 1; years old.
(t helped that three others o! the ne# admissions to the program had had se* #ith
siblings in their !amily histories. )l#ays a$$ompanied #ith al$ohol. (n the group
sessions& e%erything e%eryone $ould remember #as admitted to& dis$ussed& and e%ery
$on$ei%able question had been posed and ans#ered as truth!ully as all parti$ipants $ould
muster. The ine%itable distortions o! so many years #ere !ar less important than the $ore
Beth learned many people had emotionally in=ured ea$h other and themsel%es in
the pro$ess o! gro#ing up. ?e$ades o! sel!/abuse had ensued #ith its predi$table stre#n
#re$kage o!& abusi%e relationships& #asted li%es& $hroni$ substan$e abuse& broken
!amilies and e$onomi$ally ruinous di%or$es. She mar%eled2 nothing #as o!! limits !or
Beth re$alled she $ried so hard listening to Stephen's a$$ounts o! ho# messed up
he had been and ho# guilty he'd !elt all those years& thinking he'd someho# sedu$ed her.
Hb%iously& %i$tims' blaming themsel%es !or being abused #as not limed to #omen.
orning sessions !ollo#ed by a!ternoon sessions !ollo#ed by e%ening sessions//
e%eryone's story& patients and %isiting !amily members& rea$hed the point o! emotional
e*haustion. Hn the last day& the therapist addressed the group as a #hole.
8We're all adults in here. Cet me remind you o! something you all kno#.
Sedu$tion and e*perimenting #ith se* in hidden $orners o! a house&: he glan$ed at Beth
and Stephen sitting ne*t to one another& 8or in a barn& happens e%ery day. Beyond blame
lies responsibility. Cet's get past this68
Beth had ne%er spoken o! !orgi%eness like she had during that series o! group and
pri%ate !amily sessions. The more she tried to e*press her sense o! sorro#& the more
Stephen tried to trump her #ith his o#n apologies. With e%ery heart/!elt a$kno#ledgment
o! #rong doing& o! e*ploitation& o! abuse o! po#er and age& $ame $orresponding gi!ts o!
repentan$e and $ontrition. Bntil the therapist assigned to see them in pri%ate session as a
t#osome told them& 8Cook& you'%e said it enough. 5o# you ha%e to go li%e it.:
The hospital !ound a $lean O sober house in Aensington #here& a month !rom
no#& Stephen $ould begin the long pro$ess o! trying to li%e straight and rebuild his li!e.
0ohn had numerous $onta$ts in the area& and #as $ertain he $ould help Stephen get a =ob.
) #eek later& Beth #rote her three thousand #ords in a still untitled no%el and got up
!rom her #riting.
?ays be!ore& she'd pulled her !irst e!!ort at a literary no%el o!! her shel!& a book
she'd begun #hile still in $ollege//#hi$h had been deser%edly e*$oriated by her
That #as !ine #ith her. ?espite the a#!ul #riting& the purple des$riptions& the
e*$essi%e ad%erbs and transitions that made moto$ross tra$ks seem smooth& there #ere
still some de$ent $hara$ters in that early e!!ort. 5o#& so years later& Beth resurre$ted this
$ast and began re/#riting more mature $hara$ter sket$hes and =otting do#n notes !or
possible s$enes. She !elt $on!ident she $ould do something #ith this material.
She #as on the !irst dra!t& !i!th $hapter& and so !ar pleased #ith #hat she'd
#ritten. She kne# #hy. Chastened by li!e but #riting #ith a lighter heart& Beth kne# she
#as on$e again a$tually $reating. )nd it had been too many years to $ount sin$e she'd !elt
Beth didn't kno# i! she #as going to be able to hang onto her house. But& no#
essentially broke& she'd gotten a =ob as a hostess on #eekend e%enings in one o! Santa
Cru-'s ne# ups$ale restaurantsF and had !our lun$htime shi!ts in one o! the #har!'s tourist
traps. )t least she'd eat and& like thousands o! others& #as learning ho# to li%e in her o#n
house #hile it o!ten !elt like it #as slipping through her !ingers. But #hat $hoi$e did she
ha%e but to deal #ith it.
By mid/a!ternoon she'd #ritten another thousand #ords. The phone rang.
8)aron&: Beth ans#ered. 8What a surprise.:
8Would you like $ompany+:
4ausing as mu$h to $at$h her breath as to gi%e her time to think& Beth said& 8('d
lo%e $ompany. When $an #e get together+:
8( #as thinking in about an hour. ( $ould bring a pi--a.:
Beth petted 4ru!ro$k #ho looked pu--led at the Cheshire $at grin on his master's
!a$e. 84epperoni. ,*tra $heese and hot peppers.:
The ne*t day& !eeling !ul!illed& Beth needed to do something besides sit at a
$omputer s$reen !or ten hours. She dro%e into to#n and parked on Cedar Street. She
#anted to people/#at$h& drink $o!!ee again and #ile a#ay an a!ternoon. She ordered a
latte and sat by a $a!X table in !ront o! Culu's.
Washington Street Shelter dire$tor& 0assy orneau #alked by. Beth reali-ed so
mu$h had elapsed in her personal li!e these past #eeks she hadn't !or a se$ond thought
about that bi-arre business that hung bet#een them like an a#k#ard %eil. Where had that
noise gone+ Those %ague& unsubstantiated $omplaints !ollo#ing one o! Beth's #riting
0assy stopped and said hello. Beth said hi and 0assy glan$ed around& ob%iously
$he$king to see that no one #as in earshot.
Sidling $loser to #here Beth sat& 0assy said& 8Things are !ine no# at the shelter&
Beth. We'd lo%e to ha%e you ba$k. Clients ha%e been asking !or you.:
8Well&: Beth asked& 8#ho do ( need to thank !or $learing me o! the unspe$i!ied
0assy said& 8Cet's =ust say& 0ose! A. dropped by my o!!i$e and $leared up all the
mis$on$eptions. ( hope #e'll see you ne*t #eek+:
Beth made the !aintest o! nods.
Smiling& 0assy #alked a#ay #ithout !urther $omment.
Well& a!ter all& Beth thought& 0assy had gotten that earlier Aa!ka quip. @rinning&
Beth !elt pleased being asked ba$k to the #riting program. )nd o! $ourse she #ould. But
more importantly Beth appre$iated 0assy's $rypti$ #ay o! e*punging #hat had happened
bet#een them. (t someho# !it.
Beth looked northeast and ga-ed up at Coma 4rieta& the highest peak in the
surrounding $oastal range. <eeling the #armth o! an H$tober sun on her !a$e she breathed
easily& $losed her eyes and thought& thank you& Aatie. Thanks !or $at$hing me.
,spe$ially a!ter one's li!e had gone to su$h pie$es& Beth thought& ho# delight!ul
to bask in su$h symmetry.