The Mass was the first that Joey had attended in twenty years. Evidently at the insistence of the parishioners, it was a classic Mass in Latin, with the grace and eloquence that had been lost when the Church had gone trendy back in the sixties.

The beauty of the Mass did not affect him, did not warm him. By his own actions and desire over the past twenty years, he had placed himself outside the art of faith, and now he could relate to it only in the manner of a man who studies a fine painting through the window of a gallery, his perception hampered by distorting reflections on the glass.

The Mass was beautiful, but it was a cold beauty. Like that of winter light on polished steel. An Arctic vista.

From the church, Joey drove to the cemetery. It was on a hill. The grass was still green, littered with crisp leaves that crunched under his shoes.

His father was to be buried beside his mother. No name had yet been cut into the blank half of the dual-plot headstone.

Being at his mother's graveside for the first time, seeing her name and the date of her passing carved in granite, Joey did not suddenly feel the reality of her death. The loss of her had been excruciatingly real to him for the past sixteen years.

In fact, he had lost her twenty years ago, when he had seen her for the last time.

The hearse was parked on the road near the grave site. Lou Devokowski and his assistant were organizing the pallbearers to unload the casket.

The open grave awaiting Dan Shannon was encircled by a three-foot-high black plastic curtain, not to provide a safety barrier but to shield the more sensitive mourners from the sight of the raw earth in the sheer walls of the pit, which might force them into too stark a confrontation with the grim realities of the service that they were attending. The undertaker had also been discreet enough to cover the mound of excavated earth with black plastic and to drape the plastic with bouquets of flowers and bunches of cut ferns.

In a mood to punish himself, Joey stepped to the yawning hole. He peered over the curtain to see exactly where his dad would be going.

At the bottom of the grave, only half buried in loose earth, lay a body wrapped in blood-smeared plastic. A na*ed woman. Face concealed. Ribbons of wet blond hair.

Joey stepped back, bumping into other mourners.

He was unable to breathe. His lungs seemed to be packed full of dirt from his father's grave.

As solemn as the sepulchral sky, the pallbearers arrived with the casket and carefully deposited it onto a motorized sling over the excavation.

Joey wanted to shout at them to move the casket and look, look below, look at the tarp-wrapped woman, look at the bottom of the pit.

He couldn't speak.

The priest had arrived, his black cassock and white surplice flapping in the wind. The interment service was about to begin.

When the casket was lowered into that seven-foot-deep abyss, atop the dead woman, when the grave was filled with earth, no one would ever know that she'd been there. To those in the world who loved her and sought her with such desperation, she would have vanished forever.

Again Joey tried to speak, but he was still unable to make a sound. He was shaking violently.

On one level, he knew that the body at the bottom of the grave was not really there. A phantom. Hallucination. Delirium tremens. Like the bugs that Ray Milland had seen crawling out of the walls in Lost Weekend.

Nevertheless, a scream swelled in him. He would have given voice to it if he could have broken the iron band of silence that tightened around him, would have shouted at them, would have demanded that they move the casket and look into the hole, even though he knew that they would find nothing and that everyone would think him deranged.

From the grave or from the mound beside it rose the fecund smell of damp earth and rotting vegetable matter, which called to mind all the small, teeming creatures that thrived below the sod—beetles, worms, and quick-moving things for which he had no names.

Joey turned away from the grave, pushed through the hundred or more mourners who had come from the church to the cemetery, and stumbled down the hill, through the ranks of tombstones. He took refuge in the rental car.

Suddenly he was able to breathe in great gasps, and he found his voice at last. "Oh, God, oh, God, oh, God."

He must be losing his mind. Twenty years of all-but-constant inebriation had screwed up his brain beyond repair. Too many cells of gray matter had died in the long bath of alcohol.

He was so far gone that only another taste of the same sin would give him surcease. He took the flask from his coat pocket.

Aware that a month's worth of gossip was in the making, the startled mourners at the grave site must have followed his stumbling flight with considerable interest. No doubt many, afraid of missing the next development, were still risking the disapproval of the priest by glancing downhill toward the rental car.

Joey didn't care what anyone thought. He didn't care about anything any more. Except whiskey.

But his dad still wasn't buried. He had promised himself that he would remain sober until the interment was complete. He had broken uncounted promises to himself over the years, but for reasons that he could not quite define, this one was more important than any of the others.

He didn't open the flask.

Uphill, under the half-bare limbs of the autumn-stripped trees, beneath a bruised sky, the casket slowly descended into the uncaring earth.

Soon the mourners began to leave, glancing toward Joey's car with unconcealed interest.

As the priest departed, several small whirlwinds full of dead leaves spun through the cemetery, exploding over headstones, as if angry spirits had awakened from an uneasy rest.

Thunder rolled across the heavens. It was the first peal in hours, and the remaining mourners hurried to their cars.

The undertaker and his assistant removed the motorized casket lift and the black plastic skirt from around the open grave.

As the storm resumed, a cemetery worker in a yellow rain slicker stripped the tarp and flowers from the mound of excavated dirt.

Another worker appeared behind the wheel of a compact little earthmoving machine called a Bobcat. It was painted the same shade of yellow as his raincoat.

Before the open grave could be flooded by the storm, it was filled—and then tamped down by the tread of the Bobcat.

"Goodbye," Joey said.

He should have had a sense of completion, of having reached the end of an important phase of his life. But he only felt empty and incomplete. He had not put an end to anything—if that was what he had been hoping to do.


BACK AT HIS FATHER'S HOUSE, HE WENT DOWN THE NARROW STEPS FROM the kitchen to the basement. Past the furnace. Past the small water heater.

The door to P.J.'s old room was warped by humidity and age. It squealed against the jamb and scraped across the sill as Joey forced it open.

Rain beat on the two narrow, horizontal casement windows that were set high in one basement wall, and the deep shadows were not dispersed by the meager storm light. He flicked the switch by the door, and a bare overhead bulb came on.

The small room was empty. Many years ago, the single bed and the other furniture must have been sold to raise a few dollars. For the past two decades, when P.J. came home, he had slept in Joey's room on the second floor, because there had been no chance that Joey would pay a visit and need it himself.

Dust. Cobwebs. Low on the .walls: a few dark patches of mildew like Rorschach blots.

The only items of proof that remained of P.J.'s long-ago residence were a couple of movie posters for flicks so trashy that the advertising art had an unintentionally campy quality. They were thumbtacked to the walls, pus yellow with age, cracked, curling at the corners.

In high school, P.J.'s dream was to get out of Asherville, out of poverty, and become a filmmaker. "But I need these," he had once said to Joey, indicating the posters, "to remind me that success at any price isn't worth it. In Hollywood you can become rich and famous and celebrated even for making stupid, dehumanizing crap. If I can't make it by doing worthwhile work, I hope I've got the courage to give up the dream altogether instead of selling out."

Either fate had never given P.J. his shot at Hollywood or he had lost interest in filmmaking somewhere along the way. Ironically, he had achieved fame as a novelist, fulfilling Joey's dream after Joey had abandoned it.

P.J. was a critically acclaimed writer. Using his ceaseless rambles back and forth across the United States as material, he produced highly polished prose that had mysterious depths under a deceptively simple surface.

Joey envied his brother—but not with any malice. P.J. earned every line of the praise that he received and every dollar of his fortune, and Joey was proud of him.

Theirs had been an intense and special relationship when they were young, and it was still intense, though it was now conducted largely at great distances by phone, when P.J. called from Montana or Maine or Key West or a small dusty town on the high plains of Texas. They saw each other no more than once every three or four years, always when P.J. dropped in unannounced in the course of his travels—but even then he didn't stay long, never more than two days, usually one.

No one had ever meant more to Joey than P.J., and no one ever would. His feelings for his brother were rich and complex, and he would never be able to explain them adequately to anyone.

The rain hammered the lawn just beyond the ground-level windows of the basement. In a place so far above that it seemed to be another world, more thunder crashed.

He had come to the cellar for a jar. But the room was utterly empty except for the movie posters.

On the concrete floor near his shoe, a fat black spider seemed to materialize from thin air. It scurried past him.

He didn't step on it but watched it race for cover until it disappeared into a crack along the baseboard.

He switched off the light and went back into the furnace room, leaving the warped door open.

Climbing the stairs, almost to the kitchen, Joey said, "Jar? What jar?"

Puzzled, he stopped and looked down the steps to the cellar.

A jar of something? A jar for something?

He couldn't remember why he had needed a jar or what kind of jar he had been seeking.

Another sign of dementia.

He'd been too long without a drink.

Plagued by the persistent uneasiness and disorientation that he'd felt since first entering Asherville the previous day, he went upstairs. He turned off the cellar lights behind him.

His suitcase was packed and standing in the living room. He carried the bag onto the front porch, locked the door, and put the key back under the hemp mat where he had found it less than twenty-four hours ago.

Something growled behind him, and he turned to confront a many, rain-soaked black dog on the porch steps. Its eyes were as fiercely yellow as sulfurous coal fires, and it bared its teeth at him.

"Go away," he said, not threateningly but softly.

The dog growled again, lowered its head, and tensed as if it might spring at him.

"You don't belong here any more than I do," Joey said, standing his ground.

The hound looked uncertain, shivered, licked its chops, and at last retreated.

With his suitcase, Joey went to the head of the porch steps and watched the dog as it hunched away into the slanting sheets of gray rain, gradually fading as though it had been a mirage. When it moved around the corner and out of sight at the end of the block, he could easily have been convinced that it had been another hallucination.


THE LAWYER CONDUCTED BUSINESS FROM THE SECOND FLOOR OF A BRICK building on Main Street, above the Old Town Tavern. The barroom was closed on Sunday afternoons, but small neon signs for Rolling Rock and Pabst Blue Ribbon still glowed in its windows brightly enough to tint the rain green and blue as it fell past the glass.

The law offices of Henry Kadinska occupied two rooms off a dimly lighted hallway that also served a real-estate office and a dentist. The door stood open to the reception room.

Joey stepped inside and said, "Hello?"

The inner door was ajar, and from beyond it a man responded. "Please come in, Joey."

The second room was larger than the first, although still of modest proportions. Law books lined two walls; on another, a pair of diplomas hung crookedly. The windows were covered with wood-slat venetian blinds of a type that probably had not been manufactured in fifty years, revealing horizontal slices of the rainy day.

Identical mahogany desks stood at opposite ends of the room. At one time Henry Kadinska had shared the space with his father, Lev, who had been the town's only lawyer before him. Lev had died when Joey was a senior in high school. Unused but well polished, the desk remained as a monument.

Putting his pipe in a large cut-glass ashtray, Henry rose from his chair, reached across the desk, and shook Joey's hand. "I saw you at Mass, but I didn't want to intrude."

"I didn't notice ... anyone," Joey said.

"How're you doing?"

"Okay. I'm okay."

They stood awkwardly for a moment, not sure what to say. Then Joey sat in one of the two commodious armchairs that faced the desk.

Kadinska settled back into his own chair and picked up his pipe. He was in his midfifties, slightly built, with a prominent Adam's apple. His head seemed somewhat too large for his body, and this disproportionateness was emphasized by a hairline that had receded four or five inches from his brow. Behind his thick glasses, his hazel eyes seemed to have a kindly aspect.

"You found the house key where I told you?"

Joey nodded.

"The place hasn't changed all that much, has it?" Henry Kadinska asked.

"Less than I expected. Not at all, really."

"Most of his life, your dad didn't have any money to spend—and when he finally got some, he didn't know how to spend it." He touched a match to his pipe and drew on the mouthpiece. "Drove P.J. crazy that Dan wouldn't use much of what he gave him."

Joey shifted uneasily in his chair. "Mr. Kadinska ... I don't understand why I'm here. Why did you need to see me?"

"P.J. still doesn't know about your dad?"

"I've left messages on the answering machine in his New York apartment. But he doesn't really live there. Only for a month or so each year."

The pipe was fired up again. The air was redolent of cherry-scented tobacco.

In spite of the diplomas and books, the room wasn't much like an average law office. It was a cozy place—shabby-genteel but cozy. Slumped in his chair, Henry Kadinska seemed to be as comfortable in his profession as he might have been in a pair of pajamas.

"Sometimes," Joey said, "he doesn't call that number for days, even a week or two."

"Funny way to live—nearly always on the road. But I guess it's right for him."