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I squeezed hers back, then released it. "You’ll do your part of the deal later."

Lillian managed a smile. "It’s funny. Dan’s the one I’m nervous about seeing. You’d think . . ."

She let the thought go.

The security guard let us through with no problem. Inside, Dan Sheff was lying in bed in the middle of what seemed like a commercial for springtime. The drapes had been pulled back, so the white walls and newly mopped tile floor glowed with huge squares of yellow Texas sunshine. Multicolored flower arrangements exploded all over the windowsill. Dan’s built-in bedside radio was playing Vivaldi or Mozart or something equally peppy—it wasn’t Lightin’ Hopkins, that’s all I knew. The usual hospital odors were overpowered by warm flowers and Polo cologne. Everything about Dan’s bed was white and crisp—his pajamas, his neatly turned down sheets, the thick gauze bandages that encased his right hand and leg. Even his IV looked like it had been recently polished.

Dan didn’t look quite so good as his room. His complexion was pasty, the lines around his eyes tightly drawn from days of lying around in pain. His hair was all canary—wings. The way he focused on us, slowly and with great effort, made me suspect he was on some pretty serious medication.

His smile seemed genuinely friendly, though. “Hello, Lillian, Tres. Come to see my Purple Heart?"

He wasn’t kidding. Somebody had brought him an old Purple Heart medal in a little display case and set it on his nightstand, next to a vase of daisies.

I came up to the side of the bed and shook Dan’s good hand. Lillian came around on the other side. I looked at the war medal.

"Your dad’s?"

Dan smiled sleepily. "Mother had one of my cousins bring it to me. I guess it was her idea of a reminder--where I come from, where my loyalties are."

"Or it could be a peace offering," I suggested.

Momentarily, anxiety and anger tightened up his face, making him look once again like the Dan Sheff I knew. Then the tension unraveled. Maybe it was the drugs that kept Dan so content. If so, maybe he’d agree to lend me some for the rest of today.

“A peace offering." He sounded dryly amused. "Fat chance."

Dan started telling us about his condition. He clidn’t sound bitter. He talked about the surgeons at BAMC removing the destroyed bones in his hand, closing the hole in his leg, telling him he was very lucky considering the amount of blood he’d lost. The Sheff family doctor had then arranged a transfer to Northeast Baptist for recuperation and daily antibiotic cocktails. Dan was due for reconstructive surgery in a week, then a transfer to Warm Springs Rehab for several more weeks of rehabilitation, learning to walk with crutches and to use a right hand that would only have two fingers. About halfway through his story, Dan reached over and pressed the little button that self-administered his morphine.

While Lillian listened, her face readjusted itself several times. She had the alert, almost alarmed expression, the flickering eyes of a professional juggler who was being thrown a new knife every fifteen seconds. All her effort went into not losing control, keeping everything just barely balanced.

“I don’t know where to start with the apologies, " she said finally.

Dan shook his head. "Maybe I should start. I should tell you—the D.A. visited me this morning. I plan on cooperating. "

Lillian’s expression stayed tightly controlled while she readjusted her interior rhythm to that new knife in the air. "That’s all right."

“I have to try to salvage something of the company," Dan explained. “If I can do that by striking a deal—"

"It’s really all right, Dan."

Lillian said it with conviction, like she was almost glad. She’d spoken with equal conviction this morning when she’d told me she wouldn’t press her own charges for the abduction, wouldn’t volunteer any information for the case against her patents. She had even helped her mother find a good lawyer.

Dan was probably wondering the same thing I was. Lillian looked at both of us briefly, seemed to hear the questions we weren’t asking, then tightened her lips into a perfectly straight line. When she spoke she addressed Dan’s IV bottle.

"I’ve had ten years," she said. "The first two or three of those, I almost tore myself apart with mood swings, private screaming fits—I didn’t know whether to be resentful that my parents had put me in this position, or angry that they weren’t the good people I’d thought, or guilty because I still loved them, or scared because my father was a monster. Beau—" She stopped, took a few heartbeats to regain her balance. "Beau actually helped me with that a lot. After a few more years I learned to build partitions. To stay sane I had to learn how to love my parents and resent them at the same time." She looked at me, reticently. "Do you understand that, Tres? I’ve been defending and prosecuting them simultaneously in my head for years. It’s stopped being a contradiction for me. I know they’re guilty; I’m glad they’ll be tried for what they did. But it’s a relief to be able to give up that side to someone else. Now I can just be the defense, just concentrate on the side of me that forgave them a long time ago."

Dan’s eyes were drooping. The morphine had kicked in.

"I can’t even think about forgiveness." His tone was oddly pleasant, like the Vivaldi soundtrack that was still playing merrily along in the background.

"You’ll be testifying against your mother as much as the Cambridges," I said. "Have you told her?"

"I won’t see her," he said. “I know I can stand up to her now. It’s just . . ."

"You’re not sure you want to test it, yet."

Dan looked uneasy. "I’ve had the same relationship with my mother for twenty-eight years, Tres. It’s going I to be hard not to fall into an old pattern. If that happened . . . I think part of me would feel like this was for nothing." He looked down at his bandaged hand affectionately, like it was a pet curled up at his side. "It’s funny. I should’ve gotten myself shot a long time ago."

Dan smiled. He’d spoken with a kind of brave, self-deprecating humor, but there were undercurrents in his tone that I’m not even sure Dan was aware of—fear, bitterness, uncertainty, loathing. I knew it was only a matter of time before those things became more than just undercurrents.

“We should probably let you get some sleep," I said. Dan nodded. "All right."

Lillian put her hand on Dan’s shoulder. She hesitated, then leaned down to kiss his forehead. She straightened up again so quickly her pearl necklace almost hooked itself on Dan’s chin.

"I’m sorry, Dan," she said. "I’m sorry that you got involved the way you did. Until you told me about the pictures being sent to your family, I didn’t know. I didn’t see the connection, why our parents were so insistent on us dating. I blew up at you."

Dan had closed his eyes as if he were trying to identify a particular instrument in the classical music playing. It apparently wasn’t an unpleasant task,. but it did take his full attention.

"Nothing to apologize for," he said.

Lillian pushed a stray lock of coppery hair behind her ear. Her fingernails were painted red. I tried to think whether I'd ever seen her fingernails painted before.

"Your mother must’ve been pushing you toward marriage as hard as my parents were pushing me," Lillian said, almost hopefully.

“That’s true." The way Dan said it, he knew it wasn’t true and so did I. If Lillian believed it, it was only because she was trying so hard.

“Get better," she said.

Dan nodded. "Do you mind going ahead? I’d like to say something to Tres."

I thought about the first time Dan and I had tried to say something to each other without Lillian, on the front of her lawn. Lillian’s reaction this time was perhaps not as angry, but every bit as uneasy.

"Of course," she said, then to me: “Meet you at the elevator."

She turned and walked away as if she were conscious that our eyes might be on her. They were.

When she was gone, Dan sighed and let his head sink into his pillow. His hair made a spiky blond aura against the white linen.

"I wanted to ask about that night," he said. “What you told me about coming up against a brick wall."


Dan looked half-asleep, like one more bedtime story would do it.

"I felt that," he said. “I knew there was nothing I could do, but I did something anyway."

"You almost died because of it. "

“I know. " He sounded content. "That’s not my question. I just wanted to know: Would you be able to do it?"

"Do what?"

"Realize when you’ve hit a brick wall."

"I think so."

“Would you be able to let go of it, like you said, and walk away?"

“Probably not."

He laughed with his eyes closed. "I think I’d rather get shot."

When he was asleep, he looked content, but his mouth kept moving, changing expressions, knitting and unknitting the frown that used to be the main feature of his face.


If funerals came in sizes, retired Chief Deputy Carl Kelley’s was extra small. It was me, Lillian, the priest, Larry Drapiewski, and Carl. No son from Austin. No other friends except those Carl was about to be buried next to. The only thing Carl left behind him was the brooch he’d given me just before he died, three nights ago in the Nix, with directions to give it to his son. I planned on keeping that promise. If I ever found the bastard, I planned on giving him a lot more than just the brooch.

After Drapiewski’s red jeep drove off, taking the priest back to his church, there was nothing stirring in the cemetery except the cicadas. They droned so persistently I started to doubt my own sanity at those moments when they suddenly stopped.

Lillian and I sat in a little gazebo outside the Sunset Mausoleum. It was a hundred degrees in the shade, a hundred and ten inside my black suit.

It was my turn to say: “Thank you for coming with me."

Lillian had her hands folded in her lap and her legs extended, crossed at the ankles. She looked distracted, like she was trying to read a tombstone several acres away.

“Really," I told her. “If you hadn’t been here we wouldn’t’ve had a quorum. Carl wouldn’t have been legally able to die."

Lillian looked at me, still following her own line of thought. "I wonder if it’s true, that we all turn into our parents as we get older."

“Thanks," I said. "That cheers me right up."

"I’m serious, Tres. It bothers me. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t been able to apologize to you yet."

“What do you mean?"

She ran her thumb inside the arm opening of her black sheath dress. Even with her base tan, it  looked like Lillian’s shoulders were reddening from being outside so long.

“I mean the way my father scares me . . . the amount of violence he’s capable of. Sometimes what really scares me is I see that in myself."


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