Chapter 35

While waiting for Carl Vespa to arrive, Grace started picking up the bedroom. Jack, she knew, was a great husband and father. He was smart, funny, loving, caring, and devoted. To counter that, God had blessed him with the organization skills of a citrus beverage. He was, in sum, a slob. Nagging him about it  -  and Grace had tried  -  did no good. So she stopped. If living happily was about compromise, this seemed to her like a pretty good one to make.

Grace had long ago given up on Jack clearing out the pile of magazines next to his bed. His post-shower wet towel never ended up back on the rack. Not every article of clothing made it to its ultimate destination. Right now, there was a T-shirt draped half-in, half-out of the hamper as if it'd been shot trying to escape.

For a moment Grace just stared down at the T-shirt. It was green with the word FUBU plastered across the front, and it might have one day been in vogue. Jack bought it for $6.99 at T.J. Maxx, a discount clothing store where hip goes to die. He'd put it on with a pair of too-baggy shorts. He stood in front of the mirror and started wrapping his arms around his body in a bizarre variety of ways.

"What are you doing?" Grace had asked him.

"Gangsta poses. Yo, whatchya think?"

"That I should get you seizure medication."

"Phat," he said. "Bling-bling."

"Right. Emma needs a ride to Christina's."

"Word. Dawg. Hit dat."

"Please go. Immediately."

Grace picked up the shirt now. She had always been cynical about the male species. She was guarded with her feelings. She did not open up easily. She had never believed in love at first sight  -  she still didn't  -  but when she met Jack, the attraction had been immediate, flutters in her stomach, and deny it now as much as she wanted, a small voice had told her right then and there, first meeting, that this was the man she was going to marry.

Cram was in the kitchen with Emma and Max. Emma had recovered from her earlier histrionics. She had recovered the way only kids can  -  fast and with very little residue. They were all eating fish sticks, Cram included, and ignoring the side dish of peas. Emma was reading a poem to Cram. Cram was a great audience. His laugh was the kind that not only filled a room but pushed against the panes of glass. You heard it, you had to either smile or cringe.

There was still time before Carl Vespa arrived. She didn't want to think about Geri Duncan, her death, her pregnancy, the way she looked at Jack in that damned photograph. Scott Duncan had asked her what she ultimately wanted. She'd said her husband back. That was still very much the case. But maybe, with all that was happening, she needed the truth too.

With that in mind Grace headed downstairs and flipped on the computer. She brought up Google and typed in "Jack Lawson." Twelve hundred hits. Too many to do any good. She tried "Shane Alworth." Hmm, no hits. Interesting. Grace tried "Sheila Lambert." Hits about a woman basketball player with the same name. Nothing relevant. Then she began trying combinations.

Jack Lawson, Shane Alworth, Sheila Lambert, and Geri Duncan: These four people were together in this picture. They had to be linked in some other way. She tried various combinations. She tried one first name, one last name. Nothing of interest popped. She was still typing, going through the useless 227 hits on the words "Lawson" and "Alworth" when the phone rang.

Grace looked at the Caller ID and saw it was Cora. She picked up. "Hey."


"I'm sorry," Grace said.

"Don't worry about it. Bitch."

Grace smiled and kept hitting the down arrow. The hits were useless.

"So do you still want my help?" Cora asked.

"Yeah, I guess."

"Enthusiasm. I love that. Okay, fill me in."

Grace kept it vague. She trusted Cora, but she didn't want to have to trust her. Yeah, that made little sense. It was like this: If Grace's life were in jeopardy, she'd call Cora immediately. But if the kids were in danger... well, she'd hesitate. The scary thing was, she probably trusted Cora more than anybody, which was to say that she had never felt more isolated in her life.

"So you're putting the names through search engines?" Cora asked.


"Any relevant hits so far?"

"Not a one." Then: "Wait, hold on."


But now again, trust or no trust, Grace wondered what would be the point in telling Cora more than she needed to know. "I gotta run. I'll call you back."

"Okay. Bitch."

Grace hung up and stared at the screen. Her pulse started giddying up, just a little faster now. She had pretty much used up all the name combinations when she'd remembered an artist friend name Marlon Coburn. He was constantly complaining because his name was misspelled. Marlon would be spelled Marlin or Marlan or Marlen and Coburn would be Cohen or Corburn. Anyway Grace figured she'd give it a go.

The fourth "typo" combo she tried was "Lawson" and "Allworth"-two Ls instead of one.

There were three hundred hits  -  neither name was that uncommon  -  but it was the fourth one that jumped out at her. She looked at the top line first:

Crazy Davey's Blog

Grace knew vaguely that a blog was a sort of public diary. People wrote down their random thoughts. Other people, for some odd reason, enjoyed reading them. A diary used to be about being private. Now it was about trying to be shrill enough to reach the masses.

The little sample bit under the link line read:

"... John Lawson on keyboards and Sean Allworth who was wicked on guitar..."

John was Jack's real name. Sean was pretty close to Shane. Grace clicked the link. The page was forever long. She went back, clicked "cache." When she returned to the page, the words Lawson and Allworth would be highlighted. She scrolled down and found an entry from two years ago:

April 26

Hey, gang. Terese and I took a weekend up in Vermont. We stayed at the Westerly 's bed and breakfasts. It was great. They had a fireplace and at night we played checkers...

Crazy Davey went on and on. Grace shook her head. Who the hell read this nonsense? She skipped three more paragraphs.

That night I went with Rick, an old college bud, to Wino's. It's an old college bar. Total dump. We used to go when we went to Vermont University. Get this, we played Condom Roulette like the old days. Ever play? Every guy guesses a color  -  there's Hot Red, Stallion Black, Lemon Yellow, Orange Orange. Okay, the last two are jokes, but you get the point. There's this condom dispenser in the bathroom. It's still there! So each guy puts a buck on the table. One guy gets a quarter and buys a condom. He brings it to the table. You open it and whammo, if it's your color, you win! Rick guessed the first one right. He bought us a pitcher. The band that night sucked. I remembered hearing a group when I was a freshman named Allaw. There were two chicks in that band and two guys. I remember one chick played drums. The guys were John Lawson on keyboards and Sean Allworth who was wicked on guitar. That was how they got the name, I think. Allworth and Lawson. Combine it into Allaw. Rick never heard of them. Anyway we finished up the pitcher. A couple of hot chicks came in but they ignored us. We started feeling old...

That was it. Nothing more.

Grace did a search for "Allaw." Nothing.

She tried more combinations. Nothing else. Only this one mention in a blog. Crazy Davey had gotten both Shane's first and last name wrong. Jack had gone by Jack, well, for as long as Grace had known him, but maybe he was John back then. Or maybe the guy remembered it wrong or saw it written down.

But Crazy Davey had mentioned four people  -  two women, two men. There were five people in the picture, but the one woman, the one who was pretty much a blur near the edge of the photograph  -  maybe she wasn't part of the group. And what had Scott said about his sister's last phone call?

I figured it was about whatever new thing she was into  -  aromatherapy, her new rock band...

Rock band. Could that be it? Was it a picture of a rock group?

She searched Crazy Davey's site for a phone number or a full name. There was only an e-mail. Grace hit the link and typed quickly:

"I need your help. I have a very important question about Allaw, the band you saw in college. Please call me collect."

She listed her phone number and then hit the send button.

So what does this mean?

She tried to put it together in a dozen different ways. Nothing fit. A few minutes later the limousine pulled up the driveway. Grace glanced out the window. Carl Vespa was here.

He had a new driver now, a mammoth muscleman with a crewcut and matching scowl who did not look half as dangerous as Cram. She bookmarked Crazy Davey's blog before heading down the corridor to open the door.

Vespa stepped in without saying hello. He still looked natty, still wearing a blazer that seemed to have been tailored by the gods, but the rest of him looked strangely unruly. His hair was always unkempt  -  that was his look  -  but there is a fine line between unkempt and not touched at all. It had crossed that line. His eyes were red. The lines around his mouth were deeper, more pronounced.

"What's wrong?"

"Somewhere we can talk?" Vespa asked.

"The kids are with Cram in the kitchen. We can use the living room."

He nodded. From a distance they heard Max's full-bodied laugh. The sound made Vespa pull up. "Your son is six, right?"


Vespa smiled now. Grace did not know what he was thinking, but the smile broke her heart. "When Ryan was six, he was into baseball cards."

"Max is into Yu-Gi-Oh!"


She shook her head to indicate that it wasn't worth explaining.

He went on: "Ryan used to play this game with his cards. He'd break them up into teams. Then he'd lay them out on the carpet like it was a ball field. You know, the third baseman  -  Graig Nettles back then  -  actually playing third, three guys in the outfield  -  he even kept the extra pitchers in a bullpen out in right field."

His face glowed in the memory. He looked at Grace. She smiled at him, as gently as she could, but the mood still burst. Vespa's face fell.

"He's getting released on probation."

Grace said nothing.

"Wade Larue. They're rushing his release. He'll be out tomorrow."


"How do you feel about it?"

"He's been in jail for almost fifteen years," she said.

"Eighteen people died."

She did not want to have this conversation with him. That number  -  eighteen  -  was not relevant. Just one mattered. Ryan. From the kitchen Max laughed again. The sound shredded the room. Vespa kept his face steady but Grace could see something going on inside of him. A roiling. He did not speak. He did not have to, the thoughts obvious: Suppose it had been Max or Emma. Would she rationalize it as a stoned loser getting high and panicking? Would she be so quick to forgive?

"Do you remember that security guard, Gordon MacKenzie?" Vespa asked.

Grace nodded. He had been the hero of the night, finding a way to open up two locked emergency exits.

"He died a few weeks ago. He had a brain tumor."

"I know." They had given Gordon MacKenzie the biggest spread in the anniversary pieces.

"Do you believe in life after death, Grace?"

"I don't know."

"How about your parents? Will you see them one day?"

"I don't know."

"Come on, Grace. I want to know what you think."

Vespa's eyes bored into hers. She shifted in her seat. "On the phone. You asked if Jack had a sister."

"Sandra Koval."

"Why did you ask me that?"

"In a minute," Vespa said. "I want to know what you think. Where do we go when we die, Grace?"

She could see that it would be useless to argue with him. There was a wrong vibe here, something out of sorts. He was not asking as a friend, a father figure, out of curiosity. There was challenge in his voice. Anger even. She wondered if he'd been drinking.

"There's a Shakespeare quote," she said. "From Hamlet. He says that death is  -  and I think I have the quote right  -  an undiscovered country from whose borne no traveler returns."

He made a face. "In other words, we don't have a clue."

"Pretty much."

"You know that's crap."

She didn't say anything.

"You know that there's nothing. That I will never see Ryan again. It's just too hard for people to accept. The weak-minded invent invisible gods and gardens and reunions in paradise. Or some, like you, won't buy into that nonsense, but it's still too painful to admit the truth. So you come up with this 'how can we know?' rationale. But you do know, Grace, don't you?"

"I'm sorry, Carl."

"For what?"

"I'm sorry that you're in pain. But please don't tell me what I believe."

Something happened to Vespa's eyes. They expanded for a moment and it was almost as if something behind them exploded. "How did you meet your husband?"


"How did you meet Jack?"

"What does that have to do with anything?"

He took a quick step closer. A threatening step. He looked down at her, and for the first time Grace knew that all the stories, all the rumors about what he was, what he did, they were true. "How did you two meet?"

Grace tried not to cringe. "You already know."

"In France?"


He stared at her hard.

"What's going on, Carl?"

"Wade Larue is getting out."

"So you said."

"Tomorrow his lawyer is holding a press conference in New York. The families will be there. I want you there."

She waited. She knew there was more.

"His lawyer was terrific. She really dazzled the parole board. I bet she'll dazzle the press too."

He stopped and waited. Grace was puzzled for a few moments, but then something cold started in the center of her chest and spread through her limbs. Carl Vespa saw it. He nodded and stepped back.

"Tell me about Sandra Koval," he said. "Because, see, I can't understand how your sister-in-law, of all people, ended up representing someone like Wade Larue."