There’s a knock on the door. Two tentative raps that make me think it’s the desk clerk coming to tell me the state of Vermont has deemed the place a health hazard and ordered the premises vacated. Instead, I open the door to find Dane standing outside.
“I’m sorry I broke your ceiling,” he says sheepishly. “To make up for it, I brought apology gifts.”
He lifts his hands, revealing a bottle of bourbon in one and a six-pack of beer in the other.
“I didn’t know how drunk you needed to get,” he explains.
I grab the bourbon. “Very.”
Dane correctly takes it as an invitation to join me. He steps inside and closes the door behind him. The presence of the alcohol momentarily masked just how damn good he looks. He’s in jeans and a threadbare Rolling Stones T-shirt that fits tight across his chest. There’s a hole in the shirt, right where his heart is located, revealing a patch of tanned skin.
“Nice shirt,” I say when Dane catches me staring.
“I’ve had it since I was a teenager.”
“Nice blanket,” Dane says.
I twirl a corner of the comforter. “I’m pretending it’s a caftan.”
Dane uncaps a beer. I open the bourbon. There aren’t any glasses in the room—it’s not that kind of hotel—so I swig directly from the bottle. The first swallow does nothing but burn the back of my throat. The second proves to be a repeat of the first. The third gulp is the charm. Only then do I start to feel that welcome numbness creep over me.
“How did you find me?” I say.
“Process of elimination.” Dane takes a sip of beer. “I went to the house first. The police were still there, which meant you were staying somewhere else. Which in Bartleby means here.”
“Lucky me,” I say before two more swigs of bourbon.
The two of us fall into a comfortable silence, Dane on one bed, me on the other, content with simply drinking and staring at the Red Sox game flickering on the twenty-year-old television.
“Do you really think it was Petra Ditmer in the ceiling?” Dane eventually says.
“Yeah, I do.”
“God, her poor mother.”
“Did you know her?” I ask.
“I might have met her one of the times I was here visiting my grandparents. But if I did, I don’t remember it.”
“You said you talked to my father when he came to the house each year,” I say. “What did you talk about?”
Dane sips his beer a moment, thinking. “The house. The grounds. If anything had needed fixing.”
“That’s all? Basic maintenance stuff?”
“Pretty much,” Dane says. “Sometimes we’d talk about the Red Sox or the weather.”
“Did he ever mention Petra Ditmer?”
“He asked me about Elsa and Hannah. How they were doing. If they needed money.”
An odd question to ask someone. I want to think it was my father being charitable. But I suspect it might have been something else—like a guilt-prompted desire to pay them off.
I gulp down more bourbon, hoping it will stop me from thinking this way. I should be certain of my father’s innocence. Instead, I’m the opposite. Waffling and unsure.
“Do you think it’s possible to believe two things at once?” I ask Dane.
“It depends on if those things cancel each other out,” he says. “For example, I believe Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. I also believe he’s an asshole. One belief does not negate the other. They can exist at the same time.”
“I was talking about something more personal.”
“You’re in New England. The Patriots are personal.”
On one hand, I’m grateful for the way Dane is trying to take my mind off things with the booze and the banter, but it’s also frustrating—the same kind of avoidance tactics my parents used.
“You know what I’m talking about,” I say. “I truly believe my father wasn’t capable of killing anyone, let alone a sixteen-year-old girl. He was never violent. Never raised a hand to hurt me. Plus, I knew him. He was doting and decent and kind.”
“You also think he was a liar,” Dane says, as if I need reminding.
“He was,” I say. “Which is why I can’t stop thinking that maybe he did do something. That if the Book was a lie, then maybe everything about him was. The things he said. The way he acted. His entire life. Maybe no one really knew him. Not even me.”
“You really think he killed Petra?”
“No,” I say.
“Then you think he’s innocent.”
“I didn’t say that, either.”
The truth is that I don’t know what I think. Even though all signs point to his being involved in Petra’s death, I’m having a hard time seeing my father as a killer. Equally difficult is thinking he’s completely innocent. He lied to me literally until the end of his life. And people don’t lie unless they’re hiding something.
Or want to spare someone the truth.
Whatever that truth is, I know Petra’s death was part of it.
“One thing is clear,” Dane says, interrupting my thoughts. “Your reason for coming here has changed. Big-time.”