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Thanks to a superb medical education, the doctor knew exactly how tears were manufactured, stored, and dispensed by the human body. Nevertheless, he expected to learn something from the dissection of his father’s lacrimal apparatus.

In this he was to be disappointed. After trimming away Dad’s eyelids and then gently extracting his eyes, the doctor discovered each lacrimal gland where he expected it: in orbit, superior and lateral to the eyeball. The glands were of normal size, shape, and design. The superior and inferior lacrimal ducts serving each eye were likewise unremarkable. Each lacrimal sac—seated in a groove of lacrimal bone, behind the tarsal ligament and tricky to tease out intact—measured thirteen millimeters, which was the median size for an adult.

Because the lacrimal apparatus was tiny, composed of very soft tissue, and damaged in the doctor’s limited autopsy, he had not been able to save any of it. He had only the eyeballs now, and in spite of his diligent preservation efforts—fixative, vacuum-packaging, regular maintenance—he could not entirely prevent their gradual deterioration.

Shortly after his father’s death, Ahriman had carried the eyes with him to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he believed that he would be better able to become his own man beyond the great director’s shadow, in which he would always stand if he remained in Los Angeles. Out there on the high desert, he achieved his initial successes and discovered his abiding passion for games of control.

From Santa Fe to Scottsdale, Arizona, the eyes came with him, and most recently to Newport Beach. Here, little more than one hour south of Dad’s old stomping grounds, the passage of time and his own numerous accomplishments had brought the doctor forever out of that patriarchal shadow, and he felt as if he had come home.

When Ahriman bumped the leg of the desk with his knee, the eyes rolled slowly in the formaldehyde and seemed to follow the progress of the last fried pecan as he conveyed it to his mouth.

He left the dirty dishes on the desk but returned the jar to the safe.

He dressed in a sartorial-cut, double-breasted, blue wool suit by Vestimenta, a custom-tailored white shirt with spread collar and French cuffs, and a figured silk tie with a plain but complimentary pocket square. From his father’s flair for period dramas, he had learned the value of costume.

The morning was almost gone. He wanted to get to his office as much as two hours ahead of Dustin and Martie Rhodes, to review all his strategic moves to date and decide how best to proceed to the next level of the game.

In the elevator, descending to the garage, he thought fleetingly of Susan Jagger, but she was the past, and the face that most easily came to mind now was Martie’s.

He could never wring tears from multitudes, as his father had done time and again. Delight could be found, however, in the drawing of tears from an audience of one. Considerable intelligence, skill, and craft were required. And a vision. No one form of entertainment was more legitimate than another.

As the elevator doors opened at the garage, the doctor wondered if Martie’s lacrimal glands and sacs were plumper than Dad’s.


Already scanned, rayed, scoped, graphed, and bled, Martie was required only to pee in a small plastic cup before she could leave the hospital with all tests completed and samples given. Thanks to the Valium, she was sufficiently calm to risk going into the bathroom alone, without the mortified and mortifying presence of Dusty, though he offered to be her “urine-sample sentinel.”

She was still not herself. Her irrational anxiety had not been drenched by the drug, merely dampened; hot coals smoldered sullenly in the darker corners of her mind, capable of flaring again into an all-consuming fire.

As she washed her hands at the sink, she dared to look into the mirror. Mistake. ‘Within the reflection of her eyes, she glimpsed the Other Martie, pent-up and full of rage, chafing at this chemical restraint.

As she finished washing her hands, she kept her eyes downcast.

By the time that she and Dusty were leaving the hospital, those embers of anxiety were glowing bright.

Only three hours had passed since she’d taken the first Valium, not an ideal spacing of doses. Nevertheless, Dusty tore open the sample package and gave her the second tablet, which she washed down at a drinking fountain in the lobby.

A greater number of people than earlier were going to and fro in the quadrangle. A quiet voice in Martie, as soft as a sinister spirit speaking at a seance, kept up a running commentary regarding the comparative vulnerability of the other pedestrians. Here was a man in a leg cast, walking with the aid of crutches, so easy to topple, defenseless when down, vulnerable to the toe of a boot in the throat. And here, now, rolling along with a smile, was a woman in a battery-powered wheelchair, left arm withered and slack in her lap, right hand operating the controls, as defenseless a target as might pass this way all day.

Martie lowered her attention to the pavement ahead of her and tried to block out all awareness of the people she passed, which might also silence the hateful inner voice that so terrified her. She held fast to Dusty’s arm, relying on Valium and her husband to get her to the car.

As they reached the parking lot, the January breeze quickened and brought a slight chill out of the northwest. The big carrotwoods whispered conspiratorially. The busy flickers and flashes of sunshine and shadow off scores of automobile windshields were like semaphored warnings in a code she could not read.

They had time for lunch before the appointment with Dr. Ahriman. Even though the second Valium would soon be kicking in, Martie didn’t trust herself to spend forty-five minutes in even the coziest café without making a scene, so Dusty went in search of a drive-through, fast-food restaurant.

He had driven little more than a mile before Martie asked him to pull over in front of a sprawling, three-story, garden-apartment complex. The development stood behind a lawn as green as a golf course, shaded by graceful California pepper trees, lacy melaleucas, and a few tall jacarandas with early purple flowers. Pale yellow stucco walls. Red tile roofs. It looked like a clean, safe, comfortable place.

“They had to rebuild half of it after the fire,” Martie said. “Sixty apartments burned down.”

“How long ago was that?”

“Fifteen years. And they replaced the roofs on the buildings that weren’t destroyed, because it was the old cedar shingles that allowed the blaze to spread so fast.”

“Doesn’t look haunted, does it?”

“Ought to be. Nine died, three of them small children. Seems funny. . . how it looks so nice now, you know, like that night must’ve been just a dream.”

“Would’ve been worse without your dad.”

Although Dusty knew all the details, Martie wanted to talk about the fire. All she had of her father now were memories, and by talking about them, she kept them fresh. “It was already an inferno when the pumpers got here. They couldn’t hope to knock it down fast. Smilin’ Bob went in there four times, four times into the fiery smoky hellish heart of it, and each time he came out. He was the worse for it, but he always came out with people who wouldn’t have survived otherwise, carrying some of them, leading others. One whole family of five, they were disoriented, blinded by smoke, trapped, encircled by fire, but out he came with them, all five safe. There were other heroes there, every man on every crew called to the scene, but none of them could keep at it the way he could, eating the smoke as though it was tasty, all but reveling in the heat like he would a sauna, just going at it and going at it—but that’s how he always was. Always was. Sixteen people saved because of him, before he collapsed and they packed him out of here in an ambulance.”

That night, rushing with her mother to the hospital, and then at Smilin’ Bob’s bedside, Martie had been in the grip of a fear she had thought would crush her. His face red with a first-degree burn. And streaked with black: particles of soot pounded so deep into his pores by the concussive force of an explosion that they could not be easily washed out. Eyes bloodshot, one swollen half-shut. Eyebrows and most of his hair singed away, and a mean second-degree burn on the back of his neck. Left hand and forearm cut by glass, stitched and bandaged. And his voice so scary—scratchy, raw, weak as it had never been before. Words wheezing out of him and with them the sour odor of smoke, the scent of smoke still on his breath, the stink of it coming out of his lungs. Martie, thirteen, had only that morning felt grown-up and had been impatient for the world to admit that she was an adult. But there in the hospital, with Smilin’ Bob brought down so hard, she suddenly felt insignificant and vulnerable, as helpless as a four-year-old kid.

“He reached for my hand with his good one, the right, and he was so exhausted he could hardly hold on to me. And in that awful voice, that smoky voice, he says, ‘Hey, Miss M.,’ and I say, ‘Hey.’ He tried to smile, but his face hurt pretty bad, so it was a weird smile that didn’t do anything to cheer me up. He says, ‘I want you to promise me something,’ and I just nod, because, God, I would promise to cut off my arm for him, anything, and he must know that. He wheezes and coughs a lot, but he says, “When you go to school tomorrow, don’t you brag about your dad did this, your dad did that. They’ll be asking you, and they’ll be repeating things said on the news about me, but don’t you bask in it. Don’t you bask. You tell ‘em I’m here. . . eating ice cream, tormenting nurses, having a high old time, collecting as much sick pay as I can get before they figure out I’m goldbricking.’”

Dusty had not heard this part of the story before. “Why’d he make you promise that?”

“I asked why, too. He said all the other kids at school had fathers, and they all thought their fathers were heroes, or they badly wanted to think so. And most of them were heroes, according to Daddy, or would be if given a chance. But they were accountants and salesmen and mechanics and data processors, and they just weren’t lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, like my dad was lucky because of his job. He says, ‘If some kid goes home and looks at his father with disappointment, because of you bragging on me, then you’ve done a dishonorable thing, Miss M. And I know you’re not dishonorable. Not you, ever. You’re a peach, Miss M. You’re a perfect peach.’”

“Lucky,” Dusty said wonderingly, and shook his head.

“He was something, huh?”


The commendation her father received from the fire department for his bravery that night had not been his first and would not be his last. Before cancer did to him what flames could not, he had become the most-decorated fireman in the history of the state.

He insisted on receiving every commendation in private, without ceremony and without a press release. To his way of thinking, he was only doing what he was paid to do. Besides, all the risks and all the injuries were evidently insignificant compared to what he’d been through in the war.

“I don’t know what happened to him in Vietnam,” Martie said. “He never talked about it. When I was eleven, I found his medals in a box in the attic. He told me he’d won them because he’d been the fastest typist in the division commander’s secretarial pool, and when that didn’t wash, he said they used to have Bake-Offs a lot in Nam, and he made a fabulous bundt cake. But even at eleven, I knew they don’t give you multiple Bronze Stars for bundt cakes. I don’t know if he was as fine a man when he went to Nam as when he came out, but for some reason I think that maybe he was better for what he suffered, that it made him very humble, so gentle and so generous—so full of love for life, for people.”

The willowy pepper trees and the melaleucas swayed in the breeze, and the jacarandas shimmered purple against graying sky.

“I miss him so damn much,” she said.

“I know.”

“And what I’m so afraid. . . about this crazy thing that’s happening to me...”

“You’ll beat it, Martie.”

“No, I mean, I’m afraid that because of it. . . I’ll do something to dishonor him.”

“Not possible.”

“You don’t know,” she said with a shudder.

“I do know. Not possible. You are your father’s daughter.”

Martie was surprised to be able to manage even a frail smile. Dusty blurred before her, and though she pressed her trembling lips tightly together, the taste of salt seeped in at the corner of her mouth.

They took lunch in the car, in the parking lot behind a drive-through restaurant.

“No tablecloth, no candle, no vase of flowers,” Dusty said, enjoying a fish sandwich and french fries, “but you must admit we’ve got a lovely view of that Dumpster.”

Although she had skipped breakfast, Martie ordered only a small vanilla milk shake, sipping it slowly. She didn’t fancy having a full stomach of greasy food if she were stricken again by that devastating spook show of death images that had flashed through her mind in the car between Skeet’s apartment and Dr. Closterman’s office.

With the cell phone, she called Susan. She waited through twenty rings before she pressed end.

“Something’s wrong,” she said.

“Let’s not jump to conclusions.”

“Can’t jump. All the spring’s out of my legs,” she said, which was true, thanks to the double Valium. Indeed, her worry was soft and fuzzy around the edges, but it was worry nonetheless.

“If we can’t reach her after seeing Dr. Ahriman, we’ll swing by her place, check up on her,” Dusty promised.

Tormented by this bizarre affliction of her own, Martie hadn’t found an opportunity to tell Dusty about Susan’s incredible claim that she was being victimized by a night visitor who came and went at will, leaving her with no memory of his intrusion.

This wasn’t the moment, either. She had achieved a precarious balance; she was concerned that recounting her emotional conversation with Susan would make her wobbly again. Besides, they were due at Dr. Ahriman’s office in a few minutes, and she didn’t have time to report the conversation to Dusty in appropriate detail. Later.

“Something’s wrong,” she repeated, but she said no more.

Odd, to be here in this stylish, black-and-honey-toned waiting room without Susan.

Crossing the threshold, setting foot on the black granite floor, Martie felt her burden of anxiety lift significantly. A new lightness in body and mind. A welcome hope in the heart.

This, too, struck her as odd, and quite different from the effect of the Valium. The drug covered her anxiety, repressed it, yet she was still aware of it squirming under the chemical blanket. In this place, however, she felt a measure of her apprehension float up and away from her, not merely repressed any longer, but dissipated.