Chapter 36

ANTHONY worked as a bouncer three days a week at a skeezy gentlemen's club called Upscale Pleasure. The name was a joke. The place was a dank pit. Before this, Anthony had worked at a strip joint called Homewreckers. He liked that better, the more honest moniker giving the place a real identity.

For the most part, Anthony worked the lunch crowd. One would think that this would be a slow time for business, that places like this would not draw much of a crowd until late night. One would be wrong.

The daytime crowd at a strip club is a United Nations event. Every race, creed, color and socioeconomic group was well represented. There were men in business suits, in those red flannel tops Anthony always associated with hunting, with Gucci loafers and off-brand Timberland boots. There were pretty boys and smooth talkers and suburbanites and inbreds. You got them all in a place like this.

Sleazy sex-the great unifier.

"You're on break, Anthony. Take ten."

Anthony headed toward the door. The sun was fading, but it still made him blink. That was always true with these joints, even at night. It is a different dark in strip clubs. You go outside and you have to blink that dark away like Dracula on a bender.

He reached for a cigarette and then remembered that he was quitting. He didn't want to, but his wife was pregnant and that was the promise he always made-no secondhand smoke around the baby. He thought about Mike Baye, his problems with his kids. Anthony liked Mike. Tough dude, even if he had gone to Dartmouth. Didn't back down. Some guys get brave from alcohol or to impress a girl or a friend. Some guys are just plain stupid. But Mike wasn't like that. He just didn't have a backup switch. He was a solid guy. Weird as this sounded, he made Anthony want to be more solid too.

Anthony checked his watch. Two more minutes for his break. Man, he wanted to light up. This job didn't pay as well as his night gig, but it was total cake. He didn't believe much in superstitious nonsense, but the moon definitely had an effect. Nights were for fighting, and if the moon was full, he knew that he'd have his hands full. Guys were more mellow at lunchtime. They sat quietly and watched and ate the most wretched "buffet" known to mankind, stuff Michael Vick wouldn't let a dog eat.

"Anthony? Time's up."

He nodded and started turning for the door, when he saw a kid hurry past him with a phone pressed against his ear. He only saw the kid for a second, maybe less, and he never really saw his face clearly. There was another kid with him, trailing a little. The kid had on a jacket.

A varsity jacket.


"I'll be right back," he said. "Something I gotta check out."

AT the front door of his home, Guy Novak had kissed Beth good-bye.

"Thank you so much for watching the girls."

"It was no trouble. I'm glad I could help. I'm really sorry to hear about your ex."

Some date, Guy thought.

He idly wondered if Beth would ever be back or if this day would understandably chase her away. He didn't dwell on it much.

"Thank you," he said again.

Guy closed the door and moved to the liquor cabinet. He wasn't much of a drinker, but he needed one now. The girls were upstairs watching a movie on DVD. He had yelled up for them to relax and finish the movie. This would give Tia time to pick up Jill-and Guy time to figure out how to break the news to Yasmin.

He poured himself whiskey from a bottle that probably hadn't been touched in three years. He downed it, let it burn his throat, and poured another.


He remembered how it started all those years ago-a summer romance down the shore, both of them working in a restaurant that catered to the tourist crowd. They would finish cleaning up at midnight and bring a blanket to the beach and stare at the stars. The waves would crash and the wonderful scent of saltwater would soothe their naked bodies. When they went back to college-he at Syracuse, she at Dela- ware-they talked on the phone every day. They wrote letters. He bought a very used Oldsmobile Ciera so he could drive the four-plus hours to see Marianne every weekend. The drive seemed interminable. He couldn't wait to sprint out of the car and into her arms.

Sitting in this house now, time zoomed in and out, toying the way it does, making something far away suddenly appear right over your shoulder.

Guy took another deep swig of whiskey. It warmed him.

God, he had loved Marianne-and she had pissed it all away. For what? This ending? Horribly murdered, that face he had so tenderly kissed at the beach crushed like eggshells, her wonderful body dumped in an alley like so much refuse.

How do you lose that? When you fall so hard, when you want to spend every moment with a person and find everything they do wonderful and fascinating, how the hell does that just go away?

Guy had stopped blaming himself. He finished the whiskey, stumbled up, and poured himself another. Marianne had made her bed- and died in it.

You dumb bitch.

What were you looking for out there, Marianne? We had something here. Those blurry nights in bars and all that bed-hopping- where did it lead you, my one true love? Did it give you fulfillment? Joy? Anything besides the empty? You had a beautiful daughter, a husband who worshipped you, a home, friends, a community, a life- why wasn't that enough?

You dumb crazy bitch.

He let his head loll back. The pulp of what was left of her beautiful face... he would never lose that image. It would stay with him always. He might put it away, force it into some closet in the corner of his mind, but it would come out at night and haunt him. That wasn't fair. He had been the good guy. Marianne had been the one who decided to make her life a destructive search-not just self-destructive, because in the end she'd taken plenty of victims-for some unreachable nirvana.

He sat in the dark and rehearsed the words he would say to Yasmin. Keep it simple, he thought. Her mother was dead. Don't tell the how. But Yasmin was curious. She would want details. She would go online and find them or hear them from friends at school. Another parental dilemma: Tell the truth or try to protect? Protection wouldn't work here. The Internet would make sure that there would be no secrets. So he would have to tell it all to her.

But slowly. Not all at once. Start simple.

Guy closed his eyes. There was no sound, no warning, until the hand cupped his mouth and the blade pressed up against his neck, breaking through the skin.

"Shh," a voice whispered in his ear. "Don't make me kill the girls."

SUSAN Loriman sat by herself in her backyard.

The garden was having a good year. She and Dante worked hard on it, but they rarely enjoyed the fruits of their labor. She would try to sit here and relax amongst the fauna and green, but she couldn't shut off her critical eye. One plant might be dying, another might need trimming back, another wasn't blooming as wonderfully as last year. Today she turned off the voices and tried to fade into the landscape.


She kept her eyes on the garden. Dante came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders.

"You okay?" he asked.


"We'll find a donor."

"I know."

"We don't give up. We get everyone we know to give blood. We beg, if we have to. I know you don't have much family, but I do. They'll all get tested, I promise."

She nodded.

Blood, she thought. Blood doesn't matter because Dante was Lu- cas's true father.

She fiddled with the gold cross around her neck. She should tell him the truth. But the lie had been there for so long. After the rape she had quickly slept with Dante as often as possible. Why? Did she know? When Lucas was born, she was certain it was Dante's. Those were the odds. The rape had been once. She had made love to her husband many times that month. Looks-wise, Lucas had favored her, not either man, so she made herself forget.

But of course she hadn't forgotten. She had never moved past it, despite what her mother had promised her.

"This is best. You'll go forward. You protect your family..."

She hoped Ilene Goldfarb would keep her secret. Nobody else knew the truth anymore. Her parents had, but they were both dead now-Dad from heart disease, Mom from cancer. While they were alive, they never spoke of what happened. Not once. They never pulled her aside and gave her a hug, never called to ask how she was doing or if she was coping. There was not even an eye twitch when, three months after the rape, she and Dante told them that they were going to be grandparents.

Ilene Goldfarb wanted to find the rapist and see if he would help. But that wasn't possible.

Dante had been away on a trip to Las Vegas with some friends. She hadn't been happy about that. Their relationship was going through an awkward stage, and just as Susan was questioning if she'd gotten married too young, her husband decides to run off with the boys and gamble and probably hit some strip clubs.

Before that night, Susan Loriman had not been a religious person. Growing up, her parents had taken her to church every Sunday, but it never stuck. When she began to blossom into what many considered a beauty, her parents kept a stern eye. Eventually Susan rebelled, of course, but that horrible night sent her back to the fold.

She had gone with three girlfriends to a bar in West Orange. The other girls were single and for one night, with her husband running off to Vegas, she wanted to be too. Not all the way single, of course. She was married, mostly happily, but a little flirting couldn't hurt. So she drank and acted like the other girls. But she drank way too much. The bar seemed to grow darker, the music louder. She danced. Her head spun.

As the night wore on, her girlfriends hooked up with different guys, disappearing one by one, thinning the herd.

Later she would read about roofies or date-rape drugs and she wondered if that was part of it. She remembered very little. Suddenly she was in a man's car. She was crying and wanted to get out and he wouldn't let her. At some point he took out a knife and dragged her to a motel room. He called her horrible names and raped her. When she struggled, he hit her.

The horror seemed to go on for a very long time. She remembered hoping that he would kill her when this was over. That was how bad it was. She didn't think about survival. She longed for death.

The next part was a blur too. She remembered reading somewhere that you should relax and not fight-get your rapist to think he's won or something like that. So Susan did that. When his guard was down, she got a hand free and grabbed his testicles as hard as she could. She held on and twisted and he screamed and pulled away.

Susan rolled off the bed and found the knife.

Her rapist was down and rolling on the ground. There was no more fight in him. She could have opened the door and run out of the room and screamed for help. That would have been the smart move. But she didn't do that.

Instead Susan plunged the knife deep into his chest.

His body went rigid. There was this horrible convulsion as the blade pierced the heart.

And then her rapist was dead.

"You feel tense, hon," Dante said to her now, eleven years later.

Dante began to knead her shoulders. She let him, though it offered no comfort.

With the knife still in the rapist's chest, Susan ran from that motel room.

She ran for a very long time. Her head began to clear. She found a pay phone and called her parents. Her father picked her up. They talked. Her father drove past the motel. There were red lights flash- ing. The cops were already there. So her father took her to her childhood home.

"Who will believe you now?" her mother said to her.

She wondered.

"What will Dante think?"

Another good question.

"A mother needs to protect her family. This is what a woman does. We are stronger than the men this way. We can take this blow and go on. If you tell him, your husband will never look at you the same. No man will. You like the way he looks at you, yes? He will always wonder why you went out. He will wonder how you ended up in that man's room. He may believe you, but it will never be right. Do you understand?"

So she waited for the police to come to her. But they never did. She read about the dead man in the papers-saw his name even- but those stories only lasted a day or two. The police suspected that her rapist died in a robbery or drug deal gone wrong. The man had a record.

So Susan went on, just like her mother said. Dante came home. She made love to him. She did not like it. She still did not like it. But she loved him and wanted him happy. Dante wondered why his beautiful bride was more sullen, but he somehow knew better than to ask.

Susan started going to church again. Her mother had been right. The truth would have destroyed her family. So she carried the secret and protected Dante and their children. Time did indeed make it better. Sometimes she went whole days without thinking about that night. If Dante realized that she no longer liked sex, he didn't show it. Where Susan used to like the admiring looks from men, now they made her stomach hurt.

That was what she couldn't tell Ilene Goldfarb. There was no point in asking the rapist for help.

He was dead.

"You're skin is so cold," Dante said.

"I'm fine."

"Let me get you a blanket."

"No, I'm okay."

He could see that she just wanted to be alone. Those moments never happened before that night. But they happened now. He never asked either, never pushed it, always giving her exactly the space she needed.

"We will save him," he said.

He walked back into the house. She stayed out there and sipped her drink. Her finger still toyed with the gold cross. It had been her mother's. She had given it to her only child on her deathbed.

"You pay for your sins," her mother had told her.

That she could accept. Susan would pay gladly for her sins. But God should leave her son the hell alone.