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"Proof of abandonment is very, very difficult," she was explaining to me. "In this case, probably impossible. But you're right, there are legal alternatives. The cornerstone of an adoption of this type would have to be the written consent of the child's natural parents. And you would need to be named in the document."

"What if there are no natural parents? If they were to be dead, for instance."

"Then it would have to come from the nearest living relative, the person who would normally have custody, and a death certificate would have to be presented as well. But the most important thing, as I said, is that the document would name you, specifically, as the new guardian."

"What kind of document exactly?"

"The law varies. In some states the mother would have to acknowledge her consent before a judge or a representative of the Department of Economic Security. In others, a simple written statement, notarized and signed before witnesses, is sufficient."

"What about on an Indian reservation? Do you know that sometimes on Indian reservations they don't give birth or death certificates?"

Cynthia wasn't the type that liked to be told anything. "I'm aware of that," she said. "In certain cases, exceptions are made."

Cynthia's office was tiny, really, and her desk wasn't actually all that big. She didn't even have a window in there.

"Don't you miss knowing what the weather's like?" I asked her.

"I beg your pardon?"

"You don't have a window. I just wondered if you ever kind of lost touch with what was going on outside, being cooped up in here all day with the air conditioning and the fluorescent lighting." It was the first time in my life I'd ever said anything like "fluorescent lighting" out loud.

"As you recall, I came to your house on the evening that your, that April was assaulted." Cynthia always called Turtle by her more conventional name. "I do my share of field work," she said.

"Of course."

"Have I answered your questions, Taylor?"

"Mostly. Not completely. I'd like to know how a person would go about finding the information you mentioned. About the laws in different states. Like Oklahoma, for instance."

"I can look that up and get back to you. If you like, I can get you the name of someone in Oklahoma City who could help you formalize the papers."

This took me by surprise. "You'd be willing to help me out?"

"Certainly. I'm on your side here, Taylor." She leaned forward and folded her hands on her desk blotter, and I noticed her fingernails were in bad shape. It's possible that Cynthia was a nailbiter.

"Are you saying that you'd rather see Turtle stay with me than go into a state home?"

"There has never been any doubt in my mind about that."

I stood up, walked around the chair, and sat down again. "Excuse my French, but why in hell didn't you say so before now?"

She blinked her gold-coin eyes. "I thought that ought to be your decision."

At the end of my hour I was halfway out the door, but then stopped and came back, closing the door behind me. "Thank you," I said.

"You're welcome."

"Can I ask you a kind of personal question? It's about the cameo brooch."

She looked amused. "You can ask," she said.

"Do you have to shop at the Salvation Army? I mean, is it because of your pay, or do you just like rummaging through other people's family heirlooms?"

"I'm a trained therapist," Cynthia said, smiling. "I don't answer questions like that."

Out in the lobby I stopped to chat with one of the secretaries, who asked where my little girl was today. The secretary's name was Jewel. I had spoken with her several times before. She had a son with dyslexia, which she explained was a disease that caused people to see things backwards. "Like the American flag, for instance," she said. "The way he would see it would be that the stars are up in the right-hand corner, instead of the left. But then there's other things where it doesn't matter. Like you take the word WOW, for instance. That's his favorite word, he writes it all over everything. And the word MOM, too."

Before I had gotten around to leaving the building, another secretary came hustling over and handed me a note, which she said was from Cynthia. It said, "I appreciate your sensitivity in not wishing to discuss April's custody in her presence. I'm sorry if I have been careless."

There was also a name: Mr. Jonas Wilford Armistead-along with an Oklahoma City address-and underneath, the words "Good luck!"