Lacey Jordan stood beside the window of her hotel room, staring out into the darkness wondering for at least the hundredth time how she had ended up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, hundreds of miles from home and everything that could offer even the remotest sense of security and comfort. It was a time of darkness and nightmares and she ached for some kind of comfort – even a false sense of security would be better than this.
It was nearly three in the morning, September 12, 2001 -- lights were on everywhere. Apparently she wasn’t the only one who couldn’t sleep. She wondered as the ongoing horror continued to unfold on the TV screen, how long it would be before anyone in the United States really slept easily again. She thought about Ryan’s daughter and his grandson. She wondered again about the life that he’d led, the things he’d done. At this moment it seemed to her that he’d experienced payback in an unbelievably personal and painful way.
She tried going back to bed, but after tossing and turning for the better part of an hour she gave up and went to shower. By five thirty she had packed what few belongings she had in the back pack and took the elevator to the lobby. The clerk at the desk handed her a package and a set of car keys telling her that Mr. Donatelli had rented a car for her. Apparently, he was using his other name again and for a moment she wondered why, then wondered why she thought it mattered.
“I can have someone bring it to the front if you like.” He looked tired, his eyes red-rimmed and sad.
“Thank you, I’d appreciate that.”
While she waited for the car, she looked inside the package – there was a road map and more than enough money to get her back to Portland. There was also a sealed envelope from Ryan, but whatever was in it she wasn’t ready to look at just yet.
By seven the sun was trying to peep out from behind the clouds and she was on the road and out of the city. As the countryside slipped by she couldn’t help but wonder again how it was possible for everything to look so normal. While maybe not as many as usual, there were people going to work and kids going to school, just like any other day. But appearances and reality were two very different things and she was very sure that she didn’t feel normal in any sense of the word and wondered if she ever would again. Would anyone feel normal again? But then again – what was normal? Maybe “normal” was different for everyone. Maybe after yesterday everyone’s definition of normal would change – obviously some much more than others.
She took five days to make the drive back to Portland, trying to make sense out of the past few months. How had it all started and more importantly, where did her life go from here. She had talked to her business partner, Lori and she’d called Michael although she had wanted to let Lori call him for her, that seemed like a chicken shit thing to do. So she called from whatever hotel or motel she happened to be staying in each night. Their conversations weren’t long -- just checking in, she told him. In many ways she almost felt as though she were talking to a stranger and had a feeling he felt the same way. She wondered what it would be like when they were actually talking face to face. She didn’t have any answers and she wasn’t sure she was ready to see him, but she couldn’t stretch her trip back for much longer and on Saturday afternoon she finally pulled into her driveway trying to decide whether she felt relief or apprehension. She was relieved to see that Lori’s car was not in the driveway beside the house and studio that housed her small, busy landscape architecture firm. She’d called Lori earlier to tell her approximately when she’d arrive, and asked her not to wait for her, but then Lori usually had a mind of her own.
The next couple of hours were spent on the phone reassuring Lori – again, the kids and Michael that she was just fine, and that all she wanted or needed was a long shower and about twenty-four hours in her own bed.
Lori had restocked her fridge with everything imaginable, but she wasn’t hungry. She did want a drink, but settled for a beer, a little afraid to start on anything harder so early in the afternoon. For the next several hours she sat in the darkening living room with fat, gray Seymour the cat curled up happily in her lap; Ryan’s letter – still unread, laying beside her on the couch. She wondered for the hundredth time, just how all of this latest mess had begun and how was it to end.
Three more Sam Adams and still no answers, Ryan’s letter remained unread and she suddenly felt too tired to go down the hall to her bedroom. Instead, she reached for an afghan folded over the arm of the couch and pulled it over she and Seymour both. She was beginning to understand all too well the nightmares and flashbacks that had returned to haunt Michael after the school shootings the previous year.
Michael Manardi swung his feet to the floor and sat on the edge of the bed, sweat-soaked and shaking. He’d gotten to the point where he hated to see night come. It was the same old nightmare of rice paddies, foul-smelling, coffee colored water, gunfire and dead bodies, of leeches sucking onto his legs. The hellish dreams that started in Vietnam had returned ever since three students in his criminal justice class had been killed and four wounded by a scrawny, angry, wild-eyed, nineteen-year-old wearing surplus army camouflage who then turned the gun on himself. Michael had spent weeks in the hospital recuperating from his own wounds – a result of trying to save two of the students.
Reaching for his robe and a package of cigarettes – something else he’d picked up again, he glanced at his watch – three o’clock. Daylight was a long way off, but there was no point in trying to sleep now -- he headed downstairs to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee.
Lacey was right, he needed to get away for awhile, find some sun and lay on a beach, climb a mountain – anything that would get him out of his head, even if it was only for a little while. He wished it wasn’t the middle of the night -- he wanted to call, hear her voice. He wished even more that he’d never moved out her house where they’d lived together for over a year. He wished he’d been able to put Vietnam completely behind him ages ago instead of letting it continue to guide his footsteps in one way or another just as it had for the past forty years.
He poured a cup of coffee, turned on the gas logs in the fireplace and stretched out on the couch with the book he’d started earlier in the evening. Tomorrow, he thought, I’ll tell her I’m ready for that trip to Mexico – if she’ll go with me.
“I can’t believe we sat on the runway in Phoenix for nearly two hours,” Lacey Jordan muttered, staring out the window at the endless carpet of lights below that was Mexico City. “Think there’s chance that driver’ll still be there.”
“I doubt it – didn’t Luan say he’s with a tour bus service?
“Then we probably aren’t the only ones he was picking up,” Michael said, shifting in his seat and fastening his seat belt.
“But we’re probably the only ones who’re two hours late,” she added.
“Probably. We can always spend the night here and go on to San Miguel tomorrow. We’re on vacation – remember? No schedule but ours.”
“I know – I’m just not that fond of Mexico City, too big, too many people. Besides it’s nearly nine o’clock – what are our chances of getting a room?”
He shrugged. “Won’t know till we try – it’s only for a few hours. We can get some sleep and take the first bus out tomorrow -- next time we’ll fly into Leon.
“You already planning another vacation? I thought I’d never get you to take this one.”
“I’m contemplating a major life change,” he said with a grin and squeezed her hand.
“I’ll believe that when I see it. Speaking of major life change, are you serious about really quitting police work this time?”
“I’m not sure about anything now – except that we’re a long way from Oregon and right now that feels really good.”
“And you don’t want to talk about work or the immediate future. Right?”
“I want to concentrate on the present for the next three weeks -- period.”
He put his arm around her shoulders and nibbled her ear lobe. “Besides, aren’t you the one that’s always telling me to live in the now?”
“Yeah, me and my big mouth.” She started to say something else, then changed her mind and turned to look out the window. Things were still pretty iffy with them and she didn’t want to blow it before they even got to San Miguel.
“I just want us to put these past few months as far behind us as we can.”
He stroked her cheek with one finger. “Can we do that?”
“I hope so, Michael, I really do,” she said softly.
There had been a lot of changes for both of them. Three years earlier, Michael had been a detective with the Hillsboro, Oregon police department. Lacey was a landscape architect with her own business. They’d met when her business partner, Lori Palmer, was suspected of having killed her lover and the wife of one of their prominent clients. By the time Lori was finally cleared of the charges, Michael and Lacey no longer needed an excuse to see each other. Lacey was a widow and Michael, a single father, had been divorced for years. They both had grown children no longer at home and both of them had reached a point where they were ready to consider some new options. Several months later, to Lacey’s relief, Michael decided to leave the police department to join the Criminal Justice department of a college in Portland.
Their relationship continued to go smoothly and little over a year ago they’d decided to give living together a try. Michael rented out his condo and moved into her house, a large, sprawling property that also housed her business. For six months it was everything they both had hoped it would be, they had a house full of kids for Christmas – her four and his two, and they were seriously considering the next step, although neither of them actually mentioned the “M” word.
Then came the killings at the college. Michael had been wounded trying to save two of his students, but before it was all over four students were dead, including the killer, four others were wounded, including Michael. Even though he knew mentally he had done all he could possibly do, he became deeply depressed and by the time he left the hospital he’d decided to go back into police work.
Lacey understood all of his reasons -- knew that it was something he felt he had to do, but she wasn’t sure she wanted to spend the rest of her nights waiting for him to come home, never knowing if or when the night would come when he didn’t. She’d lost her first husband to a drunk driver and had almost lost Michael to a crazy with a gun -- she wasn’t sure she could or was even willing to risk her heart that way again. She tried telling herself – shit happens, but she still felt the need to put some distance between them since he was determined to go back to putting his life on the line on a daily basis. So, after tears and quarrels and unresolved questions, they had decided to live apart – at least for a while.
Then to Lacey’s dismay, she began to sink into her own depression. Must be catching she had grumbled to her daughter one night on the phone after she’d started waking up and going to bed in tears. Friends suggested a counselor, but she wasn’t exactly sure what she’d say to one, so she signed up for a Yoga class instead.
But as the weeks slipped into months, she discovered that it’s true – time is a great healer and they were slowly drifting back into something resembling their earlier relationship. Even so she wasn’t ready for them to live together again and although he joked that he would move back in as soon as she took the padlocks off the doors, she was convinced that he felt the same way. So they’d shelved the problem of arriving at a permanent solution and settled for occasional live-in weekends – when his new duties permitted.
Friends and family had been telling them both that what they needed was to get away, take a vacation -- learn to play again. One of their close friends had gone to Mexico the previous year to nurse her emotional wounds after a nasty divorce and she was still there. She considered San Miguel the ultimate tonic for everything and for several months she’d been urging them to come let her be their guide, and now here they were and Lacey didn’t want to screw it up before they even landed.
They were on the ground – at last. The plane taxied slowly to the gate and the passengers let out a communal sigh, as they unfastened their safety belts and squeezed into the crowded aisle. Twenty minutes later Lacey and Michael walked into the terminal, hopefully searching the crowd for a driver holding up a sign with their name on it, but they drew a blank.
“So, what’d you want to do? Stay here for the night or try to take a bus now?” Michael asked.
“Think we can find a bus?”
“Let’s give it a shot.”
Forty minutes later they followed a grumpy porter through the terminal to the bus -- the last one of the day, according to the porter, for the three-hour ride to Queretero. From there they could get a bus to San Miguel as there was no other direct route on public transportation with the exception of one train that ran once a day and about which the porter was pretty vague.
“Obviously, you have to have a real need or desire to get to San Miguel –not the usual touristy destination I guess.” Michael muttered as they climbed on the bus.
“How come we don’t have buses like this in the states?” Lacey asked, sinking down in the spacious seat.
“How long has it been since you’ve ridden a bus in the states?”
“Can’t remember. Hey, look – we’ve even got a movie.”
“Now if we could only understand what they’re saying we’d be in good shape.”
The last passengers boarded, the driver shut the door and pulled slowly away from the terminal. Michael looked out the window as a limousine drove up beside them. Their driver suddenly leaned on the horn, and threw on the brakes as the long, black car moved in front of the bus and stopped, its driver jumping out to take the luggage of two men standing at the curb. The bus driver angrily pulled around on the wrong side – Lacey didn’t understand what he was yelling out the window, but there was no mistaking the gestures.
“Just like New York,” she whispered to Michael, but he didn’t seem to hear her. He was staring at the two men getting into the back seat of the limo.
“Michael? What is it? You’re pale as a ghost.”
“Michael – what’s the matter?”
After a moment he shook his head. “Sorry, one of those guys getting into that limo – looked like a guy I knew once.” He loosened his tie and turned back to look out the window.
“You sure you’re all right? Who was the guy, anyway?”
“Someone I knew a long time ago – it couldn’t have been him though. I heard that he was killed in Vietnam while I was still in country,” he said, turning away from the window, he took her hand. “Sorry, didn’t mean to spook you.”
“No more than usual,” she grinned and slipped her arm through his. “What’re we going to do when we get to Queretero? Got any ideas?”
“Play it by ear, hopefully, get another bus to San Miguel tonight, and if not we’ll look for a hotel in Queretero.”
He shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Got any other ideas? You’re the one who didn’t want to stay here.”
“Am I being a pain in the butt already?”
“No more than usual,” he mimicked, putting his arm around her, but a few minutes later he turned to stare out the window again. Lacey leaned her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes.
“You say you knew this guy in Vietnam? The one you thought you saw.”
“I grew up with him and then we served in Nam together – but it couldn’t have been him.” He patted her arm, but she got the feeling he was trying to convince himself more than her and a few minutes later, he was again staring intently out the window at the heavy traffic that still filled the late night streets. Lacey had a sudden panicky feeling that this vacation might turn into just one more nightmare. Don’t even go there she told herself irritably, and she already knew better than to ask him questions about Vietnam.
She pushed away the disturbing thoughts and closed her eyes again, trying to envision the apartment Luan had rented for them with a big terrace overlooking the small colonial town of San Miguel de Allende, high desert country, warm sun, blue skies – welcome to Mexico. After a year that had seen nearly a hundred and twenty inches of rain dumped in Oregon, not to mention the emotional storms, San Miguel did sound heavenly. She sighed happily and drifted off to sleep, her head nestled against Michael’s shoulder.
“Hey sleepy head, we’re almost in Queretero,” Michael said, kissing the top of her head.
“Already? What time is it?”
“Nearly one o’clock.”
“Guess it must have been an uneventful trip,” she said, stretching and looking around at their fellow passengers – most of them looked as dopey as she felt. “Did you sleep at all?”
“I dozed a little.”
Suddenly the idea of a bus station in an isolated town in the middle of a foreign country at one in the morning didn’t seem like the best idea she’d ever had, but it was a little late to worry about that now. She ran a comb through her hair and replaced her lipstick as the bus came to a stop in front of a squat, ugly building. They joined the other passengers in the aisle and stepped off the bus. The air was dry, but chill. Lacey, shivered and wished for a jacket.
Michael managed to find a porter to take their bags to the ticket counter, where they were informed that the last bus for San Miguel would be leaving in about forty minutes and that no tickets were sold until it was time to board. While he went in search of a restroom Lacey sat with their luggage and pretended to read.
“Hi, going to San Miguel?”
Startled at hearing English, Lacey looked up to see a pretty, young woman with a tangle of red curls and a face full of freckles, wearing jeans, skimpy T-shirt and carrying a backpack over her shoulder.
“Yes, we are. Are you?”
“Yeah -- I live there, and I hate to wait by myself.” She plopped down on the bench beside her. “Did you say we?” she asked looking around.
“My friend’s in the restroom.”
“Oh. I’m Sarah Jameson,” she said, sticking out a hand that sported a ring on every finger. “Like I said, I live in San Miguel with my Mom, but I’m going to school here in Queretero. Your first visit?”
“I’m Lacey Jordan and, yes, it’s our first visit.” she took the girls outstretched hand. “Does it show that much?” she asked.
“Just a wild guess. Most people who’ve been here before usually manage to get here before midnight and they come into Leon -- not Mexico City. That way they get to miss Queretero all together – it’s a beautiful city, but you really should take a guided tour to see it at its best and one that doesn’t start at the bus station,” she said with a chuckle. “But you’re going to love San Miguel – everyone does. You moving here or just visiting?”
“A visit -- two or three weeks. Sarah, this is Michael Manardi,” Lacey said as Michael joined them. “Sarah goes to school here at the university, but she lives in San Miguel.”
“You have classes this late all the time?” Michael asked with a grin, shaking her hand.
“I stayed over to have dinner with some friends tonight – little celebration since today was the last day of classes for the semester.”
Michael kept looking around the terminal. Lacey thought he still seemed restless and edgy and wondered if was he still trying to spot that guy he thought he’d seen at the airport? And who in the hell was the guy anyway besides someone he’d known half a lifetime ago? She shook her head and reminded herself – again, to keep her mouth shut.
“Hey, that’s us,” Sarah said a few minutes later as a rapid staccato of Spanish spilled out over the loud speaker. “You guys have time to change your money? They won’t take US dollars here.”
“We’re okay, I got some changed in Mexico City before we left,” Michael said, helping Lacey gather their belongings.
No fancy bus this time, Lacey thought as they inched their way down the cluttered, narrow aisle. It was more like a school bus -- an old one.
They found seats near the back of the bus and Lacey wondered what they were going to do when they got to San Miguel, their friend, Luan, was in Cozumel and wouldn’t be back for a couple of days. They thought they had all their bases covered – obviously not.
Sarah took a seat in front of them. “Listen, I don’t mean to be nosy, but do you guys have a place to stay?” she asked, turning to sit sideways, stretching her legs out across the seat.
“We have a friend in San Miguel who rented an apartment for us, but our plane was late getting in and we missed our driver. He was supposed to have our keys for us – our friend is out of town until Friday,” Michael told her, putting an arm around Lacey’s shoulder. “Hopefully, we can find a hotel.”
“My mom and I have a guest room in our house and you’re more than welcome to spend what’s left of the night there. You won’t find a place to stay at this time of night unless you’re expected.”
“That’s very kind of you, but …”
“Really, I’ve bummed around a lot in the past few years and lots of people have been super kind to me – it’s cool to be able to return the favor,” she shrugged her shoulders. “There are tons of Americans in San Miguel and they all kind of try to be helpful – particularly to newcomers.”
“Sounds like our kind of place. Thanks, Sarah, we’d love to, if you’re sure it won’t be a problem,” Michael said.
It was almost two-thirty by the time they arrived in San Miguel. The bus station was a twin of the one they’d just left – ugly and dusty. They got their luggage and followed Sarah outside where she was talking to a cab driver, and minutes later they were crammed inside, hurtling down incredibly narrow, rough cobblestone streets. There wasn’t a lot to see at that hour, but you couldn’t miss the poverty – this was no glitzy resort city. Lacey wondered if it just looked like poverty to those from north of the border, besides she suspected you’d find the same poverty in the glitzy resort cities if you arrived by bus in the middle of the night. Tour guides usually had a different agenda than local cab drivers. As they got closer to what seemed to be the center of town, it began to look more like the pictures Luan had sent them. The cab came to a stop in front of a beautifully carved wooden door set flush against the sidewalk where the driver deposited their bags, took their pesos with a smile and drove away.
Sarah led them into a dimly lit courtyard overflowing with rainbow hued flowers, lush plants and a beautiful old fountain.
“My Mom’s in the states right now so it’ll just be us – actually, that’s another reason I’m glad you’re here. Our maid lives in, but I’m still used to little apartments and this place is way too big for just me when Mom’s gone. My bedroom is upstairs and this is the guest room,” she said, opening a door off the courtyard revealing a spacious bedroom and bath. “Just want to make sure you have plenty of towels,” she said, turning on lights in both rooms. Apparently satisfied they had everything they would need, she gave them a wave and walked towards the stairway in the courtyard.
“Make yourself at home -- see you in the morning,” she called over her shoulder.
“Sure can’t fault the hospitality here so far,” Michael said, closing the door and hanging his jacket on the back of a chair.
“Luan said it was like this here, but I don’t think I really believed it – till now.” She yawned and stretched. “Don’t know about you, my love, but I feel like I could sleep for a week.” She undressed quickly, leaving her clothes where they fell and crawled under the heavy hand woven woolen bedspread.
He was exhausted, too, but couldn’t sleep. The face of the man he’d seen at the airport in Mexico City continued to haunt him, threatening to turn the nightmares of the past few months into real time. It couldn’t have been Ryan – Ryan was dead or so he’d been told. But then he’d thought that once before -- Ryan hadn’t stayed dead then either.
Giving up on sleep, he slipped out of bed, taking care not to wake Lacey. He found a pair of sweats in his bag, put them on and went out into the courtyard. The air here was dry, unlike the suffocating humidity of Nam, but the dark, lush foliage and soft bubbling of water in the fountain brought back memories of another time and another place that he’d spent nearly forty years trying to avoid thinking about at all. It couldn’t have been Ryan, he whispered again to himself – but the man’s face flashed across the screen in his mind, a face he had known as well as his own and, reluctantly he let himself be drawn back in time.
It’d been a time of horror, of fear, of searing anguish, bone-numbing weariness, adrenaline rushes and utter boredom. The highs were the highest – you were still alive, and the lows – well, you got drunk, stoned, whatever it took to pull you out of that dark place where you almost hoped a bullet would put an end to it once and for all. You wanted to run away, but run where? Home? The times when he actually managed to be honest with himself he had to admit that he was afraid to go home. And where was home anyway? By that time he wasn’t sure of anything any more and he signed on for a second tour and then a third – that one got cut short when he was wounded too severely to stay in country.
Then the day came when they put him on a plane and in a matter of hours he went from one world to another and quickly realized why he’d been afraid to come back -- he didn’t fit there anymore. The people weren’t shooting at you, but they were yelling and spitting at you. So who was the enemy here? He’d thought at one point in time that these were the people he’d been fighting for, but of course that had been just more political bull shit like everything else. So how did you differentiate between them and the Gooks? Even now he winced at the term -- he’d always hated the word like he did any racial slur, but by that time most of what he had considered to be his morals and values had blurred beyond remembering. On top of everything else, somewhere between that last battle and arriving home he’d lost the incredible rush of having survived one more time. And suddenly he felt like a stranger in a place that was abruptly more foreign than the one he’d just left and he was more terror-stricken than he’d ever been in battle.
He knew he wasn’t the only one who had felt that way, he had learned all about post traumatic stress disorder the hard way. After spending six months in the hospital it seemed to him that most of the people he knew had that famous ‘thousand yard stare’. And then there had been the ones like Ryan – the ones for whom war, death, and destruction had become the ultimate high. And like Ryan, they’d even been known to turn on their own.
Her put his cigarette out, remembering the times he and Ryan and Mad Max, another high school friend, had managed to get away for some R&R at China Beach. They had spent the days and nights sprawled on the beach, when they weren’t with one of the local hookers, but always drunk or stoned. He suddenly found himself wishing for a drink – or better yet, a joint.
It was still so real that it was hard to believe it had all happened so many years ago, and although he had trouble admitting it even to himself, he knew that he’d never really stopped shaking inside.
In spite of the cool night he felt rivulets of sweat running down his chest. He sat staring across the darkened courtyard until the sky began to lighten. The dry, high desert air was cold by then. He went inside, crawled under the woolen spread, thankful for Lacey’s warm body, and fell into a troubled sleep.
It was nearly eleven the next morning before the three of them left the big house on Quebrada. Michael insisted on buying breakfast and Sarah took them to her favorite restaurant. El Pegaso, was a small cozy place near the center of town – there was even a cheerful fire burning in the corner fireplace to ward off the chill. Sarah insisted on ordering for them.
“I have to admit eggs benedict is not what I thought I’d be having for breakfast on my first day in Mexico,” Lacey said, accepting a fresh cup of coffee from their waiter.
“I know they’re about the best I’ve ever had,” Michael said, pushing his empty plate away and leaning back in his chair with a sigh of pure pleasure.
“If I’d given you a chance to see the menu you’d see they do have regular Mexican breakfast specials as well.”
“You don’t hear us complaining do you?” Lacey said, laughing.
Glancing at Michael, she decided that at least there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with his appetite this morning. She knew he had spent most of what was left of the night in the courtyard as she had felt him leave the bed soon after they had turned out the lights. And although he did look a little the worse for wear -- he insisted he was fine.
“What’s the address of your apartment?” Sarah asked, as they walked out of the restaurant.
“It’s on Sollano, I’ve got the number here somewhere,” Lacey said, digging in her purse. “Sollano 39.”
“Jeez, that’s not far at all from our place. What travel agency did your friend make the pick-up arrangements with – do you know?”
Lacey handed her the business card Luan had sent her.
“Great, it’s just down the street. I’ll go with you and we’ll see if they have your key.”
The travel agent did have their key, they got their luggage from Sarah’s house and she went with them in a cab to their apartment. She hung around until they made sure all the keys worked, then gave them both a hug, her phone number and told them to call her if they needed anything.
“I don’t know about you, but between too much breakfast, the time difference and everything else for the past twenty-four hours I’m pooped,” Lacey said, looking around the small, cozy, living room. “I think the only thing I’m really interested in right now is a long hot shower and taking an even longer look at the back side of my eyelids.” She put her arms around Michael’s neck. “I’ll wash your back if you’ll wash mine,” she murmured against his cheek.
“Hmm, sounds like a winner to me.”
Upstairs they made quick work of unpacking then headed for the shower. They pulled the drapes and climbed into bed for the second time in twelve hours. Sleep was delayed a bit, but was all the better for it.
When Lacey finally opened her eyes again, Michael was standing in front of the glass doors leading to the terrace.
“Get a load of this sunset,” he said. “And get a load of the view.”
“Well, I know one thing – the Mexicans must use their mattresses as a way of doing penance for serious misdeeds and I gave that up years ago. I think my first purchase is going to be a foam pad – a big thick one, if I can find it,” she grumbled, pushing the heavy spread to one side, suddenly feeling hot and sticky. The ochre tile floor felt deliciously cool beneath her bare feet.
“I found this from Luan downstairs,” he said, handing her a sheet of notepaper. “She’s stocked the fridge, so we don’t have to worry about going out again tonight anyway.”
“Not now for sure -- maybe later.”
“Think I’ll go down and explore,” she said.
Luan had loaded the small fridge, and the tiny kitchen came well equipped with everything needed to cook almost anything along with heavy, flowered dishes to serve it on. She took a bowl of grapes and a couple of bottles of water upstairs. The sun had disappeared and the velvety, black sky glittered with stars that seemed close enough to touch. Michael was sitting in the chaise on the terrace, staring out into the darkness. She went to sit on his lap.
“You want to talk about what’s bothering you?” she asked, putting a grape in his mouth.
“I’m sorry, babe, it’s really nothing -- seeing that guy last night just brought back a lot of memories that I could have done without – particularly right now.” He accepted another grape and massaged her back.
“You’ve never talked about Vietnam – does it still bother you even now after all these years?”
“It’s just a time in my life I’d rather not think about -- ever, but it always seems to be lurking in some dark hole in my mind and it grabs me when I least expect it.” He took a deep breath, put his arms around her, holding her tightly. “But I guess you deserve some kind of explanation for my weird behavior of late,” he said softly, rubbing his chin against the top of her head. “I was there for two and a half tours – would have been three, but I was wounded badly enough that they sent me home. You think you’ve healed all the wounds – physical, mental, emotional – whatever and then something happens that brings it all back and you realize it’s never really left you, that it’ll always be a part of you. It came back this time after the shootings at school.”
“Then you saw that guy at the airport. Did you say you grew up with him?”
“The first eighteen years of our lives we were rarely more than a block away from each other. There were three of us actually, but Max was killed the first year in Nam.” He paused, staring into the night. “Ryan wasn’t the only one -- there were a lot of guys over there that just got screwed up in the head.”
“Ryan? Is he the one you thought you saw the other night?”
“Like how was he screwed up? He wasn’t like that before?”
“If he was I didn’t see it then, but I think it was a feeling of power, control – maybe it was just that “on the edge” excitement, life or death -- who knows. They got where they enjoyed killing and if you got in their way they had no problem turning on you -- he hurt a lot of people.”
“Hurt? Or killed?”
“And he got away with it?”
“Some of it was part of the job and there was a lot of that – a lot of it made the papers, much of it didn’t. He was in covert operations and the rules of engagement in those tend to be somewhat different. I heard he’d been killed, but then he turned up again and more people died. I was injured near Saigon during the Tet offensive – it was serious enough that time for them to ship me home and that’s when I heard from a couple of guys that they were sure they’d seen him being put in a body bag outside Hue.”
“The guy at the airport was probably just someone who looked like him, Michael.”
“Probably -- I’m sorry, this trip was supposed to be nothing but one long, happy romp.” He ran his fingers through her hair, cupping her face, kissing her eyes.
“Well, we had a pretty good romp earlier this afternoon – want to try for seconds?” she murmured, standing and holding out her hand to him. He picked her up and carried her inside.
The bedroom was suddenly full of sunlight streaming in from the east windows behind their bed -- along with what sounded like a gigantic bee. Groggily, Lacey sat up and realized it was the doorbell – no sign of Michael, but by the time she found something to put on, she heard voices from downstairs.
“Hey, Michael, welcome to Mexico. Where’s Lacey.”
It was Luan.
“I’m coming. What time is it anyway?”
“Don’t mind her, Luan, she’s done nothing but sleep since we’ve been here,” Michael said, giving the tall red-haired woman a hug.
“So what’d you think? You like the apartment?” Luan asked eagerly, tossing her big straw hat and bag beside her on the couch.
“I can’t answer any questions till I have coffee,” Lacey said, coming downstairs and giving Luan a hug.
“It’ll be ready in a minute. Sit down and finish waking up.”
“That’s Maria, your maid,” Luan said, pointing to a small, slender woman walking past the glass front door of their apartment. “She’ll come and clean once a week, change your bed and do your laundry. Would you believe they even iron your underwear here? I’m so spoiled I’m not sure I’ll be able to live in the states again.”
“You know the other people who live here?” Michael asked, handing them both a mug of coffee.
“I know the woman who lives in the apartment behind yours. Her name’s Amanda -- she’s an artist and actually rents the adjoining apartment as well – she uses it for a studio and guesthouse. We play bridge and Mahjong with some other people a couple of nights a week. Marsha is the woman who lives across from you. “Oh, this smells heavenly, Michael. I was so excited about seeing you guys I didn’t even fix any before I left the house,” she paused to add sugar and cream. “Where was I? Oh yes, Marsha – she’s the one across from you. She was a dress designer in New York, she’s lived here about fifteen years, I think.”
“You actually play cards? When did you take that up?” Lacey asked.
“Everyone here plays cards.”
“I’m really sorry to hear that,” she said, making a face.
“Oh that’s right – you always were a card hater. Something wrong with you, girl.”
“I don’t know about you two, but I’m hungry. Want something? I’m cooking.” Michael was already rattling pots and pans.
“Don’t eat too much, I’m taking you to a fabulous place for lunch.”
“That’s hours away. Lacey, you want something?”
“Some toast and juice would be great – and you know you don’t have to worry about my appetite – I’m always hungry. What about the apartment next to us, anyone living there? Are there only five?”
“That’s all, the space beside Marsha’s apartment is where Maria keeps all the housekeeping stuff and does the ironing. I haven’t met the woman who’s renting the front apartment right now. She just moved in a couple of weeks ago, and no one has said anything about her – at least not to me, so I don’t know how long she’s here for. I’m not even sure if Marsha and Amanda have met her.”
Michael and Lacey ate while Luan drank more coffee and rattled on about the people and places of San Miguel. They finally got her to break long enough for them to change clothes. Then for the next few hours they trotted along single file behind her – behind her because the cobblestone walkways, for the most part, were too narrow to walk side by side.
It was sunny and warm and dry with a porcelain sky and scattered cotton ball clouds. It was noisy and crowded, and in some areas very dusty. There were beggars in many doorways along the streets as well as children with sad, dirty faces and outstretched hands. According to Luan, for some of the kids begging was a lifetime vocation – they could go from playing happily in the park to looking sad and pitiful if a tourist ventured along. But that was beginning to change, she told them, as the number of foreigners adding money to the local economy increased so did some programs to help with the children.
There were open markets filled with flowers and vegetables and meat, as well as pottery and arts and crafts. Tucked in between were pharmacies and small family owned shops carrying everything from staple canned goods to souvenirs and clothing. Both Lacey and Michael were surprised by the large number of Americans and Europeans, milling about the streets and sitting on wrought iron benches in the central plaza, called the Jardin, visiting, reading, and enjoying the sun. They heard fragments of conversations in several different languages; they dodged taxis and cars as well as burros some loaded with potting soil and some with fire wood for sale. There wasn’t a traffic light to be seen, in spite of lots of traffic. But there was no shortage of horns and drivers who were vocal and had no timidity about the gestures waved eloquently from car windows.
There was also a whole variety of Mexicans – those with classic Spanish features and those mixed with Indian. It was a glorious stew of peoples and cultures, and for Lacey and Michael it was just the distraction they had needed. For the first time in weeks Michael looked relaxed and happy -- Lacey prayed it would last.
By the time they’d purchased all the things Luan considered indispensable to life in San Miguel, plus a few that no respectable tourist could resist, they were both exhausted. Between humping up and down the narrow, hilly streets and the unaccustomed altitude, Lacey was ready for something tall and cool to drink with lots of shade. Michael seemed to be faring a little better, although they both decided that for now they were saturated to the point of cultural overload. But Luan still had a long list of places to see and kept tugging them from place to place. Michael finally called for a time out and insisted on food and wine – lots of wine.
Seated in a quiet, shady courtyard restaurant a short while later with glasses of cold, white wine, they sampled their first fried squash blossoms.
“My God, but these are fabulous,” Lacey sighed. “Who would have thought flowers could taste so good.”
“So, what do you think of San Miguel so far?” Luan asked, pushing another plate of squash blossoms across the table.
“It’s all I hoped it would be and I love it,” Lacey said between bites.
“Didn’t I tell you? Did I exaggerate?”
“Not this time,” Michael said with a grin.
“It’s not just that it’s a pretty place – there are parts that aren’t pretty at all, but its something else and I can’t describe it except to say its -- I don’t know, visceral is the only word that comes to mind.” Luan waved to the waiter for more wine.
“In some ways it reminds me of Vietnam – there were parts of it that were beautiful, too, and fascinating, but then you saw the other side – the hunger, the poverty, not to mention the war of course ….” His voice drifted off and he looked down at his glass of wine.
So it hadn’t gone away. Lacey watched him out of the corner of her eye. He chewed on a thumbnail and suddenly seemed miles away.
“From what I know about Vietnam, I can see why it would remind you – on the surface at least,” Luan said. “Some people I’ve met here have had a life long love affair with San Miguel – Mexico in general and they’ve contributed a lot to the community. There are others who become disenchanted and leave – go somewhere else maybe. And there are still others who apparently do what they came to do and go home. And then there are those who’re here strictly because they can live really well on far less than they could in the states, but they’re not interested in the people except as servants, the country, the language or the culture. Those I can do without, but I guess you find them everywhere, we didn’t get the ‘ugly American’ reputation for no reason.” She opened her menu. “What’d you want to eat – it’s all good.”
They took Luan’s suggestion of fresh tomato soup and beef filet with sauce béarnaise and she was right, everything was delicious. They lingered a while longer over flan and cappuccino, enjoying the fact they didn’t have to be anywhere but wherever they wanted to be.
“So, how was Cozumel? Did you do any snorkeling?” Michael asked.
“Every day! It’s a gorgeous place, not too touristy, just a kinda sleepy island. The cruise ships stop there, so there are a lot of tourists during the day, but by late afternoon they’re gone. I went with a friend of mine, we rented a jeep and drove all over the island the first couple of days and found the places where the locals go – those were the most fun, no other tourists. Then we found these dive guys and we went out with them on their little glass-bottomed boat with four or five others. The dive master was this really cute guy who helped us with gear and that sort of thing. It was fabulous.”
“That must be where you got your tan, don’t ever remember seeing you this dark before,” Lacey said, taking a last spoonful of flan.
“Yeah, well no one gets a natural tan in Portland, there’s not enough sun. I heard from someone -- maybe it was you, that it rained the better part of the summer. That sucks.”
“You won’t get an argument from me,” Michael said, handing his credit card to the waiter.
“I can’t believe I ate that much for lunch. Three weeks down here and I’ll look like a whale,” Lacey said.
“No you won’t. You’ll walk it off just like the rest of us. I’ve lost ten pounds since I’ve been here and I eat all the time.”
“How much longer are you going to stay here – or do you know?” Michael asked her, as they gathered up their purchases and left the restaurant.
“I didn’t really think I’d stay this long, but there always seems to be one more concert I want to hear, another class I want to take or another town I want to visit. I still haven’t decided what I want to do when I do go back – so I guess I’ll just stay here until I do. A couple of people are trying to convince me to open another salon here and I’m thinking about that. You’ll have to come up and see my house in the next day or two and have dinner. I have a great gal who comes to clean a couple of times a week and do laundry and she’s also a fabulous cook.”
“I could get use to that,” Lacey said. “So you’re really thinking of staying here permanently?”
“It’s an option I’d like to hold on to for a while.”
“I’m glad you talked me into buying this bag,” Lacey said, switching the large straw shopping bag to her other hand. “I’m not use to carrying anything further than the parking lot.”
“Yeah, they’re great, don’t leave home without it.”
They were quiet the rest of the way – it was still a little disconcerting trying to keep up a conversation with someone who has to stay ten steps ahead of you.
“I’m going to leave you guys here and go back to my place and finish unpacking,” Luan told them as they approached their street. “There’s a concert tomorrow night at the theater you might enjoy – twin guitar players and they’re great. I’ve seen them several times. Concert starts at eight, why don’t we get together about six and have dinner before we go?"
“Don’t even mention food right now,” Michael said, shaking his head.
“You’ll be ready by then,” she said with a laugh and a wave as she crossed the street.
As they stepped off the sidewalk and into the quiet courtyard of their small complex it was like moving from one world into another. It reminded Lacey very much of the French Quarter in New Orleans where she had spent her honeymoon over thirty-five years ago. It was easy to understand how Michael felt – this moving back and forth between worlds.
“I’m ready for a long nap,” she sighed.
“You’re really getting into the siesta mode, aren’t you?” Michael said, chuckling as he opened the front door.
They left their purchases on the table in the kitchen, climbed the stairs and walked onto the terrace. It was sunny, the breeze was deliciously cool and they could hear the soft splash of the fountain and the buzz of a bee worrying the bougainvillea that draped over the wrought iron railing like a purple-red curtain.
“This is so perfect -- maybe I’ll just sit out here for awhile,” she said, pulling one of the chairs out into the sun.
“Sounds good to me, think I’ll get my book."
“I wish I’d remembered to bring at least one of the half dozen books I’ve been wanting to read for the past six months.”
“Whoever lived here before left a stack of paperbacks on that book shelf under the stairway – you might find something interesting, want me to bring them up?”
“I saw those, I’ll go look through them.”
* * *
They spent the next week sampling San Miguel’s many beautiful restaurants – all of which served fabulous food, but not necessarily Mexican dishes. It was definitely “gringos rule”. The street they lived on was even referred to by the natives as Gringo Gulch – other Americans called it the Beverly Hills of San Miguel. Still, it didn’t take them long to discover the small out of the way places where the food was just as delicious, but a lot more native and a lot less expensive. They went to concerts that were held almost nightly at the Angela Peralta Teatro, where for fifty pesos (about five dollars) they enjoyed box seats. They took tours of the pottery factories in the little town of Dolores Hidalgo and went sightseeing in the neighboring colonial cities of Queretero and Guanajato. Their driver told them tales of the revolution and local history as they explored the birthplace of Diego Rivera and climbed the narrow steps of the street called Calle de Beso listening to the Mexican version of Romeo and Juliet.
For Michael it seemed the tightly wound spring inside was gradually unwinding and he was finding it easier to laugh, and food tasted better and he didn’t drink just to stop the movies in his head. As for Lacey, she’d forgotten she’d ever been depressed. They laughed, made love, played and decided there might be hope for them after all. He’d even stopped waking up in the middle of the night wondering about Ryan.
Eventually they met the other two women who lived in their complex – Luan’s friend, Amanda and Marsha, the dress designer from New York, but they had yet to see the ‘mystery woman’ – as they labeled her, who supposedly was still renting the front apartment. It seemed no one had seen her since shortly after she’d moved in. Then one day at lunch Luan told them she’d learned from the landlady that the woman had been in Mexico City for ten days and would be returning the first of the week. Lacey and Michael decided that the community of Americans in San Miguel was just like any other small town and local gossip was the first item of discussion at any gathering.
They’d originally planned to only spend ten days in San Miguel then go to
Cozumel for a little snorkeling, but at the last minute they decided to stay put for another week. Later, looking back Lacey wished one of them would’ve had one of those intuitive flashes.
It was a particularly cool morning and Lacey scooted around in the bed trying to locate Michael’s warm body to snuggle up to, but he seemed to be missing. She sat up, pulling the heavy bedspread around her as he came into the room and sat down on the end of the bed, putting on his running shoes.
“Where’re you going?”
“For a run, wanna come?”
“Oh, God, you’re not going to get into healthy living now are you?”
“It’s never too late. Want me to wait for you?”
“Forget it – I can barely walk fast at this altitude.”
“No excuse, we’ve been here long enough to be acclimated.”
“You may be, but I only run at sea level. How far you planning to run, and where? And what time is it anyway?” she asked, burrowing back under the covers.
“It’s six o’clock and I’m going to Jaurez Park. I’ll be back by seven and we can go have breakfast – if you think you can get out of bed by then otherwise we can have something here.” He laughed and swatted her butt, then ducked the pillow she threw at him and came over to kiss her.
“Sure I can’t talk you into some other form of healthy exercise?” she asked, tightening her arms around his neck and nibbling his ear.
“You really are a hussy, aren’t you?” he said, nuzzling her neck. “I’m not complaining mind you -- want to stay in bed and wait for me.”
“Go on and get out of here,” she said, pushing him off the edge of the bed.
She tried to go back to sleep after he left, but was already too much awake by then. Mumbling under her breath, she threw back the covers, grabbed her robe and hurried into the shower. By the time she came out of the shower she was ravenous and she headed downstairs in search of food. Michael had made coffee, so she squeezed some fresh orange juice, decided she could make do with a bagel until Michael got back and then they could go out for a real breakfast. She carried a tray upstairs to the terrace.
A few minutes later she heard voices below in the courtyard – one was definitely a male voice and American at that. That was funny, she thought Michael was the only man in the complex – at least that’s what Luan had told them. A few minutes later she heard someone go out the door to the street. Curious, she went to peek over the terrace wall. It would appear that the ‘mystery woman’ had returned and apparently she had a friend, she had already stepped back inside the apartment before Lacey could get a look at her. She started to go back to her coffee and bagel, when the woman stepped out again into the small courtyard outside the front door of her apartment bringing her own cup of coffee. She was small and slender with long dark hair brushing her shoulders. She was quite beautiful, but Lacey thought she looked sad. Feeling like a voyeur, she stepped back quickly, but when she heard the street door open again she slipped into the shadow of the bougainvillea and peered back over the wall.
It was Michael back from his run. He was wiping his face with the small towel he carried and didn’t see the woman sitting there. There was the sound of shattering glass as the woman dropped her coffee mug.
“Michael? Oh my God, Michael, is that you?” the woman said, moving across the courtyard towards him.
“Julie?” He dropped the towel and stood there staring at her for a moment before she ran across the space between them and into his arms.
Feeling as though she had been hit in the stomach, Lacey stepped back, leaning against the sun-warmed outside wall of their bedroom trying to breathe. The murmur of the voices from downstairs was too soft for her to hear what they were saying. Slipping back inside the bedroom, she closed the terrace door behind her. It seemed like hours before she heard their front door open.
She sat on the side of the bed for another fifteen minutes, all the while hoping she’d hear Michael bounding up the steps to tell her that the ‘mystery lady’ was actually a distant relative he hadn’t seen since childhood. But there was only silence. Finally, taking a deep breath, she started down the stairs.
He was sitting on the couch with his head in his hands.
“Michael … I heard you come in ….,” unable to say anything else, she just stood there staring at him.
He looked up at her, but she wasn’t sure he saw her.
“Who is she, Michael? Where did you know her?”
“She was a nurse in the hospital where I was in Nam. We were friends – she was Ryan’s girl.”
“The man I saw at the airport the night we got here -- I didn’t imagine it after all, Lacey -- it was him in Mexico City. She met him there – that’s where she’s been the past ten days. He isn’t dead, Lacey, he’s here – in San Miguel.”
She fixed another pot of coffee while Michael showered, and took her fourth cup of the morning out on the terrace. She wondered how everything could still look so peaceful and beautiful. She wanted to pack their suitcases and leave -- go to Cozumel, back to Portland, Canada, Alaska – she didn’t care. What she didn’t want to do was stay one more day in San Miguel. She’d never seen Michael like this even right after he’d gotten out of the hospital and it frightened her. He hadn’t said anything else about Julie – something about the look in his eyes had convinced her she didn’t want to know anymore about her anyway.
Julie had told Michael that she had flown to San Miguel from San Francisco, but had only been here for a couple of days and had planned to spend a couple of weeks. But Ryan had called to tell he had to be in Mexico City for a week, maybe more and talked her into meeting him there. After that she’d talked him into coming to San Miguel for a few days. It was the first real vacation they had taken together in nearly ten years.
“Ryan’s gone to Leon to meet someone’s plane – she didn’t know who, just business he’d told her, but he’s due back here mid-afternoon. I can’t believe she’s still with him after all these years.”
Lacey didn’t want to think about that or what might happen when Ryan returned.
“I made more coffee,” she said, motioning to the thermos when he joined her on the terrace a few minutes later.
“Thanks.” He poured the coffee then stood staring into the cup in his hand as if hoping to find answers there.
“Can we please talk about this? Who is this man and what really happened in Vietnam? If it’s this important to you, then I think I have a right to know what it’s all about.”
“You do, but I need to get away from here right now. How about that place up on the hill where we had breakfast once before?”
“Let’s do it.” Lacey reached for his hand.
They left the complex and hailed a cab. Twenty minutes later they followed a waiter to the terrace of a restaurant in the gentle hills above the town. They ordered breakfast although neither was sure they’d be able to eat. They were the only ones on the terrace; it was still a little too cool for the other patrons who’d gathered at tables near the fireplace inside.
“I’m not sure where to start,” he said after the waiter had brought their coffee.
“Okay, I know his name is Ryan, you grew up together and you were together in Vietnam, he was responsible for some people dying. From what I know about that war, that was pretty much the norm – so tell me what it is about this man that makes him such a monster for you.”
“We’ve never talked about it – primarily because I didn’t want to, but how did you feel about Vietnam -- then?” He leaned his elbows on the table, watching her intently.
“I didn’t like fact that we were there. I thought it was a lot of political bullshit. I was almost twenty, a junior in college in 1971. The war had been going on for – what? Seven -- eight years? There was anti-war stuff everywhere and I was as much a peace loving, flower child hippy as the rest of them, protesting, marching, even went to DC for one rally – what can I say? Later, I didn’t like the fact that my husband felt guilty until the day he died because he couldn’t go – he had a medical deferment but he had friends – close friends who went and didn’t come back – he just never got over that. But I didn’t go with the ones that booed, spit and yelled obscenities at the guys when they came back – I just blamed the politicians for sending them and the military brass – those were the ones I wanted to spit on – still do sometimes, more and more lately. Oh, what the hell difference does it make now, it was a shitty war and we didn’t have any business there to begin with.” She paused and took a deep breath, trying to find the right words. “But you were there for two tours and I want to try and understand why. And I want to know why something that happened over thirty years ago is still taking such a toll on you.”
He got up from the table and walked over to the courtyard wall. Dark gray clouds were gathering, witch fingers of lightening stirred them like a cauldron and the smell of rain and electricity moved on the air. There was an almost breathless hush, as though the whole town was waiting to hear what he had to say, but he remained silent.
She tried again. “I’m not trying to be a pain in the ass, I want to understand what’s happening with you. Help me, Michael, help me understand.
Ryan Quinn, Mad Max Kilcannon and Michael Manardi, they’d grown up together in Boston. They used to call themselves the “big I’s” – Irish and Italian. But their families had referred to them as the three musketeers almost from the time they began walking. They went to the same Catholic schools and after they graduated from high school they’d gone off to college together. No one was surprised when they quit school less than a year later to join the army together. And in the late summer of 1965 they had gone to Vietnam – they were eighteen and they were still together.
It was all just another big adventure in the beginning. But in November of that year their battalion was flown into the Ia Drang Valley west of Pleiku where they’d walked into an ambush that had seen over half of their battalion killed. The three of them had been lucky – again, they’d escaped with only minor injuries. But it wasn’t the big adventure any more -- except for Ryan. For him the adrenalin rush seemed to have become the ultimate high.
They’d been split up after that and sent in different directions. They bumped into each other occasionally and managed to get away to China Beach a couple of times for a little R&R. A few months later Max was killed in northeastern Binh Dinh Province. For Michael there always seemed to be too many frustrating, terrifying encounters with an enemy he seldom saw. He’d been wounded and was in the hospital for a while – that’s where he’d met Julie. Two weeks later he was back in the field, and yet when his tour was up he signed on for a second one and had no idea why -- except that he was afraid to go home and couldn’t explain that even to himself let alone his family.
After that he’d lost track of Ryan for a while, even heard that he’d been killed. Then he heard rumors that he not only wasn’t dead, but that he’d been involved in an incident that’d resulted in the death of a number of Vietnamese women, children and old people, not to mention the death of some Americans, including an officer. They called it ‘fragging’, a really dumb word to describe killing ones own. Unable to believe it, Michael had tried to find him, but Ryan seemed to have disappeared -- again.
Six months into his second tour he ran into Ryan in Saigon. He was with Julie and the three of them had dinner together. Later that night when Julie went back to the hospital, he and Ryan had finished getting drunk together. It was then that Ryan told him he’d gotten into covert operations for awhile and had been offered a chance to join a group that later would be known as the Phoenix Program – he’d decided to take it. He shrugged off Michael’s questions about what he’d heard and refused to talk about it – just said war was hell and he’d done what he had to do. Michael still found the story hard to believe. They saw each a couple more times then Ryan dropped out of sight again.
He’d tried to see Julie whenever he was in Saigon although it was soon pretty obvious that she was very much in love with Ryan.
A few months later, Michael met and became close friends with Martin Kipinski, a young lieutenant from Montana. Like Michael he had become completely disillusioned with the war, but had gone public in a much too candid interview with a newsman traveling with his unit. When an article was published a few weeks later along with gut ripping photos there were a lot of very unhappy people both in country and at home. His tour would have been over in a month and he was already planning to speak out publicly against the growing involvement in Vietnam and he’d made no secret of his intentions. A week later the helicopter Martin was supposed to have been in crashed and three men died, but Kipinski wasn’t one of them -- he’d been delayed and had made arrangements to take another one later. Two weeks after that his jeep was blown up and he was injured, but not killed. Then two days before he was to leave for the states he disappeared. His badly beaten body was discovered on a back street in Saigon. His tongue had been cut out.
Then one night about a week later Michael had found a note on his bunk. It read: ‘Hey Musketeer, if you don’t want to end up like your friend, keep your opinions to yourself, watch what you say and who you say it to.’ That was the last time he’d heard from Ryan.
Ironically, Michael told her, he’d ended up being involved in several covert special services operations himself and as a result it was nearly three weeks after his parents were killed in an auto accident before Michael learned of their deaths. His father’s sister had handled the funeral arrangements. He was an only child and whatever reasons he might have manufactured for going home eventually just didn’t seem to matter anymore. He signed on for a third tour, but, as he had told her before, he’d been seriously wounded during the Tet Offensive. While he was in the hospital waiting to be shipped back to the states he’d heard that Ryan had been killed near the MACV compound in Hue. As much as he had wanted to believe it, he wasn’t sure that he ever did.
He returned to the states and was in and out of hospitals for a number of months. There didn’t seem to be any reason to go back to Boston and he had no idea what he wanted to do besides drink. Finally, he bought a car and just started driving and managed to stay reasonably sober until he wound up in Montana where Martin Kipinski had grown up. He located Martin’s family and eventually went to work on the cattle ranch they owned. The following year he enrolled at the University of Montana finished getting his degree and stayed on for his Master’s. Three years later he married Martin’s much younger sister, Allison.
Over the years he’d managed to put Vietnam, Julie and Ryan Quinn in a corner of his mind and shut the door. He’d never wanted to go there again.
“And you never heard anything from him – even after the war?” Lacey asked after the waiter brought their food.
“Not from him, but I had several visits from the CIA while I was still in the hospital. The word was that Ryan was very much alive and had become an embarrassment because they couldn’t control him anymore, but the war ended and I didn’t hear anything else. Then about a year ago two FBI agents came to see me in Oregon. They wanted to know if I had any contact with Ryan. I told them the same thing I’d told the CIA. I couldn’t believe people were still looking for the guy, but he’d apparently become a real bad ass.”
“Did you ever really believe he was dead?”
“I preferred to believe he was.”
“Why did they come to you? That was years ago.”
He took a deep breath. “I guess I was the closest connection they had – at least from Vietnam. Well, there was Julie, but she couldn’t or wouldn’t tell them anything or so they told me. Anyway they said he definitely hadn’t died in Vietnam. He did hook up again with CIA covert operations when the Russians were causing problems in Afghanistan. And later they claimed he had ties linking him to a terrorist group there. One of the agents said they had good information that he had connections with those organization’s cells here in the states.” He pushed his untouched plate aside and lit a cigarette “I got the feeling that they wanted to find him pretty bad, but they had a lot of other stuff on their plate and were probably pursuing him sporadically. In any case they left me their cards and told me if I heard anything at all to let them know. I didn’t hear anything else and assumed they’d either been mistaken or they’d found him. In any case I didn’t want to know.”
“Why don’t we leave here and go to Cozumel like we planned before?” Lacey asked, reaching for his hand. “You don’t have to see him or Julie again.”
“I’ve got to try to talk to someone at the FBI, find out if they’re still looking for him.”
“Then let’s go home. We’ve had a great vacation and we can always go up to Whidbey Island for a few days if you’re not ready to go back to work – I know I’d love a few extra days.”
But he wasn’t listening.
“Julie told me she’s living in San Francisco now and that when Ryan is in the states he usually stays with her.”
“Is he still doing …. whatever he was doing or does she know anything about all that?”
“Obviously he is and she knows, but she wouldn’t have told me anything.” He motioned for the waiter and handed him his credit card.
“Michael, why don’t we call Luan and have her go pack up our stuff, we can stay at her house until we can go to Leon and get a plane home?”
“When Julie tells him she’s seen me – and she will, they won’t be here for long. I need to get back to the states, but you don’t have to leave, too, you could stay with Luan for a while.”
“I’m not staying here without you. Lets go back to the apartment.” She reached for her purse and moved towards the restaurant door before he could protest.
They didn’t talk on the way back to the apartment, each immersed in their own thoughts. Michael paid the driver and they walked into the complex, not sure what they would find waiting for them, but it was quiet – too quiet.
“Wonder where everyone is, I don’t even see Maria,” Lacey whispered.
“Let’s just get packed. I want to try and call the states before we go.”
Before they could get upstairs there was a knock on the door.
“Go on upstairs, I’ll get it,” Michael said.
It was Luan, all a flutter with her news. The ‘mystery woman’ she said had packed up and left without any notice and their landlady, Meredith, was fit to be tied because she’d just turned away a prospective renter.
“When did this happen? Lacey asked, coming back downstairs. “We both saw her just a couple of hours ago.”
“Did you talk to her?”
“Not really, just a ‘good morning’ on our way out to breakfast,” Michael said, squeezing Lacey’s hand. It was obvious he had no intentions of adding to the gossip fodder.
“I guess it was just about an hour ago, Amanda saw her putting bags into a cab out front and she called Meredith to let her know.”
“Lacey, why don’t you fix us some more coffee, I need to make a phone call,” Michael said, going up the stairs. “I’ll join you guys in a few minutes.”
“Oh, I can’t stay – I was on my way to class when I ran into Amanda, now I’m going to be late, but I had to stop and see if you knew anything,” Luan said, reaching for the door knob. “Why don’t you come to my place for dinner tonight?”
“We’d love to, but it kind of depends on the call Michael’s making – police business, we may have to go back sooner than we planned, too.”
“That should make Meredith’s week – two renters gone early. You think Michael will really have to leave? Couldn’t you stay?”
“No offense, but it wouldn’t be as much fun if he leaves. Besides I have a major project that I really need to get to work on or I’m not going to get it finished before the middle of September and my client is going out of town then and will want to see something before he leaves.”
“Well, call me after three and let me know, I’ll be back from class by then.”
As soon as the door closed behind Luan, Lacey ran up the stairs to the bedroom. Michael was sitting on the bed, phone in his hand.
“Did you already talk to someone?”
“Why not? Couldn’t you get through?”
“I’ll get in touch with them as soon as I get back to the states,” he said. He replaced the receiver and reached in the closet for his luggage. “There’s no need for you to leave, too, we have this place for another week or you can stay with Luan.”
“I’ve already told you that’s not an option. If you’re determined to track Ryan down, you’re going to have to do it with me along – besides how do you know he’s even with her, he was supposed to be in Leon. Maybe she just decided to go home.”
“Not likely and you can be sure she called him. I’ll lay odds he told her to meet him in Leon. They’ll be back in San Francisco before the day is over and he’ll disappear again, but he won’t take her and I have to talk to her.” He began tossing his clothes into the open bag on the bed.
“Michael, she’s in love with the man and has been for over thirty years. If you’re right, she’s already warned him. For God’s sake be realistic – surely you don’t think she’ll tell you where he is even if she knows?”
“I know, but it’s the only chance I have. I’ve got to try.”
“Please let the FBI or CIA – whoever, handle this. Tell them what you know and let them do what has to be done.”
“I can’t wait for them. What’s Leandro’s number? I want to get to Leon as soon as possible.”
“I’ll call him, then I’ll pack – I’m going with you,” she said, picking up the phone.
“Don’t even go there, Michael, I’m not staying behind.”
Leandro was already scheduled for a tour, but his brother-in-law agreed to take them and three hours later they were on the road to Leon. Lacey had called their landlady and left her a check for the extra week they’d reserved. They stopped by Luan’s house on their way out of town and promised her they’d call as soon as they got back home. They didn’t tell her they weren’t going back to Oregon immediately. With both of them locked in with their own thoughts it promised to be a long, uncomfortable trip.
They were able to book seats on a flight to Houston, but not until the next morning. They grabbed a few hours sleep at a nearby hotel and were in the air before nine. On stand-by to San Francisco, they hung around the Houston airport most of the day. Finally, unable to get on any flights, they got tickets for the following morning and checked into a hotel near the airport. Lacey ordered sandwiches and stared mindlessly at the TV while Michael spent his time on the phone trying to locate Julie in San Francisco.
Much later and still unable to sleep, Michael got up and went downstairs for a drink before the bar closed. He went out to sit by the pool, but the heat and humidity only made the memories of Vietnam seem more real than usual. He finally gave up and went back to their room. Lacey was asleep and he slipped quietly into bed and stared at the ceiling until a watery sunlight filled the room then got up and went to shower.
“Did you sleep at all?” Lacey asked when he came back into the room.
“An hour or so.”
“I’m going to shower, why don’t you order some breakfast. I don’t feel like sitting in a restaurant this morning.”
Three hours later they walked on board their flight to San Francisco.
“What about Ryan’s family – as close as you all were didn’t you go see them, talk to them or Max’s for that matter?” Lacey asked as their plane rolled down the runway.
“I heard from Ryan’s Mom after my parents were killed. She asked me if I knew anything about Ryan – said they hadn’t heard from him in months. His Dad had cancer and wasn’t expected to live much longer. One of his sisters was married to an Army Officer stationed in Europe and the other was living in Texas – I didn’t try to contact any of them – what was there to say or ask. I wrote Max’s parents after he was killed and I had a couple of letters from them, but later I heard they’d moved to Florida. It was like we all just wanted to forget everything.”
“So what makes you feel that Ryan even cares about you or what you think – or feel anymore?”
“For him it’s all about the game – lets see who’s the smartest, the cleverest, the toughest. Life isn’t worth living if you’re not putting it on the line every day – always living on the edge. In some ways I haven’t been any different, which is why I went into police work to begin with – there’re a lot of us like that. The difference for me and others like me is that we primarily went to work for the “good guys”. For people like Ryan, the “good guys” were too tame, you had to play by the rules and besides they didn’t pay nearly as well as the other side. He knows how I feel and he knows what I’ll do if I find him. And if he’s into something right now – and I’m sure he is, then it’s another game. If I get in his way, he’ll try and take me out like he would anyone else who gets in his way -- and he wouldn’t be above using you as a way of doing that. That’s why I want you to go home now.”
“You haven’t seen him in over thirty years, how can you be so sure he hasn’t changed?”
But he turned to stare out the window and didn’t answer her.
She tried again. “I can’t even imagine the horror you must have gone through over there, but it was so long ago. Don’t bring it all to life again and let it destroy you or us,” she whispered, reaching for his hand. “He was a childhood friend, he even warned you when he didn’t have to. Why are you so sure he wants to hurt you?”
“Because he betrayed all of us and he’s always known what I’d do if I found out the rumors about him were true – and he’s right.”
This was a side of Michael she’d never seen before; it frightened her and she suddenly felt cold inside. For the first time she wondered if it was true what she’d read and heard – that none of them – individually or as a country would ever be free of Vietnam.
Ryan Quinn stood beside the bed, staring down at her body – waiting, almost hoping for some feeling of remorse, but there was only a profound weariness. In the end he hadn’t been able to protect her after all. Some of the people he’d gotten involved with in Afghanistan felt that she had become a threat and they weren’t willing to take any chances with something going wrong now – too much at stake. And after all she was just a woman and therefore expendable in their eyes. If he hadn’t done it they would have taken it upon themselves as soon as he was out of town, he couldn’t take her with him and he couldn’t stay with her. There was no safe place for her anymore -- she wouldn’t have run anyway. He also knew them well enough to know that their solution probably wouldn’t have been quick or painless. In his mind there were no alternatives and he had done it himself -- in one last embrace. It had been over too quickly for her to even know what was happening, and yet he had seen it in her eyes before he kissed her that last time – she had known. He shuddered and felt bile rise in his throat. She’d been the only consistently innocent, good thing in his life for over thirty years. Every year he’d told her that this would be the last one -- she’d never really believed it and neither had he; but they had pretended and she’d remained his one quiet harbor. Maybe if they’d stayed in Mexico City instead of going on to San Miguel things might have turned out differently, or maybe this was the only way it could have ended anyway whether now or later.
He looked back down at her, pushed the dark hair away from her face and for a moment he felt such anguish that it was hard to breathe. Shaken by the unanticipated emotions, he took her lifeless body in his arms, rocking her gently, as though she was a child. He kissed her tenderly, placed a pillow under her head and tucked the comforter around her. At least she was at peace now, he thought, God knows he hadn’t given her much if any of that in the past thirty years – this was probably the kindest thing he’d ever done for her. How about that for justification, he thought, bitterly.
Whatever it was that he had persuaded himself over the years was necessary to fuel his existence had become a drug he couldn’t do without and he had always accepted the fact that one day that might include sacrifice of some kind – she had known that before he did. Some of the people he had worked with over the years did what they did for the money, some did it because they believed in a cause. Some did it because they were grease balls to begin with, but for him it was something else – a sense of invincibility, a high like no other -- who knew, certainly not him. He wasn’t even positive a shrink could explain it. And even if he’d been willing to leave it behind, it wasn’t that easy to walk away from the kind of things he had done over the years.
Of course the money had been extremely good and he’d wanted to do things for her – make her life easier in that respect at least, but she’d never wanted any part of it and had always insisted on taking care of herself. And as hard as it was for him to comprehend, she had always loved him – in spite of everything. Her career had been saving lives and his was taking them. Well, he thought, she was safe now from everything – including him.
He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror across the room and thought how bizarre it was – he didn’t look any different, but he knew that in the past hour he had crossed a terminal threshold.
He couldn’t afford thoughts like these – not now. It was time to go.
In the living room of her apartment, he took her laptop to the desk. It was time – past time, and he couldn’t take any chances now. He had to get to Michael and soon -- before Michael found him. He’d always known that if Michael ever found out for sure that he was alive he’d come after him. Now he’d have one more score to settle -- a powerful one. After all, Julie had been more than just a friend, but unfortunately perhaps for all of them, Michael hadn’t been the one she’d chosen to fall in love with.
It was nearly five o’clock before Michael and Lacey finally checked into their hotel in San Francisco. The traffic from the airport had been bumper to bumper and there was a steady downpour.
“I should’ve known it’d be raining,” Lacey muttered, sinking into a chair and kicking off her wet shoes.
“I tried to get you to stay, remember?” Michael said, with a grin. “You want me to order you something to eat?”
“Why? Are you leaving already?”
“I have to make a call first – I’ve got to find out where Julie lives – she’s not listed, but that doesn’t surprise me.”
“Who’re you calling – the FBI?”
“No, I have friends here in the police department, I’m hoping they can help.”
“But you are leaving,” she repeated, an edge to her voice.
“I told you, I’ve got to find Julie just in case Ryan decides she needs to disappear with him.” He avoided looking at her.
“He may’ve already done that – have you thought of that?”
Yes – I still have to try.”
“Who’re your friends in the police department?”
“Just one actually -- was with the department in Hillsboro for a while.”
“You’re being pretty vague.”
“Lacey, time is important right now and I’ve got a lot on my mind. I’m not trying to annoy you.” He stood and reached for his jacket. “Look, I’ve got to go now. Do you want me to order you something before I go?”
“No, I’m capable of doing that for myself, thank you.”
“I’m not sure when I’ll be back, so don’t wait up.”
Lacey shrugged and took her overnight bag and robe into the bath and shut the door – hard. Maybe a long soak in the tub was a better plan, she thought turning on the faucet and stripping off her clothes.
He didn’t really expect her to understand. How could she? But there was no turning back now and he knew he was going to do whatever it took to find Ryan. Feelings of loyalty to a childhood friendship had been destroyed a long time ago. He shook his head as if to shut Lacey out of his mind. He needed information and there was one person here in San Francisco who might be able to help him. He’d been vague for a number of reasons, for one, his friend was a woman he hadn’t talked to in nearly five years; two, they hadn’t parted on the best of terms. She had left her job with the Hillsboro Police Department primarily because of him, and three, although Lacey hadn’t said anything, he was sure that she had her suspicions about how he felt about Julie – or had. This didn’t seem like the time to tell her about still another woman from his past. God, if the shoe was on the other foot how would he react? There seemed to be lots of voices in his head vying for attention, but he didn’t have time to listen now, if Moriah O’Shaunessy still worked for the San Francisco Police Department she might be able to help him find Julie.
It was nearly an hour later when Lacey finally emerged from the bathroom. The bedroom was empty – not that she’d really believed he’d be back this quickly, but she had hoped – maybe. She ordered a hamburger, fries and a six pack of beer and channel-surfed until the waiter knocked on the door. She knew she should eat first, but left the food covered on the tray and opened a beer instead.
Two hours later she had finished the six-pack, the food was still under its stainless steel cover and there’d been no word from Michael. She switched off the TV and crawled into bed.
“I don’t need this shit,” she muttered to the pillow, reaching for the bottle of Tylenol PM she’d put on the bedside table earlier.
It was a little after eight the next morning before she woke and rain was still hammering against the window. She hadn’t heard the phone during the night and the message light wasn’t blinking, but she checked with the desk anyway. Nothing. She stepped into the shower, determined to take the first available flight to Oregon. She had battled her husband, Tim’s Vietnam ghosts and he hadn’t even been there and, no, she wasn’t going to take on Michael’s.
The phone was ringing as she came back into the bedroom. Her hand shook as she picked up the receiver.
“Michael, where are you? What’s happening? Have you found Julie?”
“I found her, but not in time.”
“What’d you mean? You sound terrible. Please tell me what’s happened.”
“He killed her, Lacey. We found her in her apartment, her neck was broken.”
“Oh my God! When did it happen, or do you know yet? How do you know it was him?”
“She’s probably been dead close to twenty-four hours. It looks like they may have come back from Mexico in a private plane, but we don’t know whose plane it was. It couldn’t have been anyone else but Ryan, her apartment hadn’t been broken into, he knows she talked to me but he couldn’t be sure what she might have told me – or would tell me if I found her again.”
“What are you going to do now?”
“I’m not sure, it looks as though he’s taken her computer. I have no doubt he’s long gone by now and I have no idea where he might be headed.”
“Michael, you’ve done all you can. Please can’t we go home now?”
“I can’t go right now, Lacey. I called the FBI and a couple of their agents are on their way over here now. I’m not sure how long I’ll be – I don’t know how much help I can be to them or if they’ll even want me around, but I can’t leave – at least not right now. Look, I’m sorry about all of this, it’s a lousy end to our vacation.”
She sat on the side of the bed, feeling like she’d been kicked in the stomach and fighting back the tears. “I think I’d really like to go home, Michael. I’d be more than willing to stay if I could be of any help, but I can’t and I don’t want to sit around in this hotel room.”
“I know you don’t. Give me a couple of hours, if it looks like there’s nothing else I can do here then I’ll go back with you. Go ahead and make reservations, if something else comes up I can always cancel mine.”
“When will you come back to the hotel?”
“It’s a quarter of nine now – I’ll be back before noon, if something else turns up I’ll call you. Try to make the reservations for around four or five.”
“All right, be careful.”
“I will – I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
He hung up the phone and stared around Julie Devereaux’s living room. Like the rest of the apartment it was comfortable but nondescript – it could have belonged to anyone – no photographs or personal touches. The drawers of the desk had been cleaned out.
“There’s not much to go on, very little personal stuff. Did she live here all the time?” Moriah asked, coming out of the bedroom behind the crime scene people and the men carrying the body bag. Two men from the FBI had come in while he was on the phone and were poking around the bedroom. They’d made it clear that it was their case now.
“As far as I know.”
“I know she was a nurse, but was she still working? The apartment manager said he didn’t think that she worked or least he didn’t know where. Her lease was renewed every year by someone from her bank.”
“I don’t know – she wouldn’t have had to, I’m sure Ryan took care of all of that – unless she refused and I doubt that was the case.”
“Guess we’ve done all we can do then – at least for now. Want to get some coffee?”
“Sure – Moriah, thanks for your help. If we hadn’t located this place God only knows how long it would have been before her body was discovered and Ryan would’ve had an even bigger head start.”
“Well, it’s in the Feds ballpark now – I guess they’ll be checking with other people here in the building – see if anyone knows anything,” she said, putting on her raincoat as they walked towards the elevators.
“She would have kept a low profile, more than likely, neither she nor Ryan would have wanted any nosy neighbors poking around – especially when he was here.”
“Do you know if he was here often?”
“I have no idea, like I told you, I didn’t even know for sure the guy was still alive -- I hadn’t seen or heard from her in over thirty years. Where do you want to have coffee?” He asked as they left the hotel.
“There’s a place across the street from the precinct that has great bagels and I’m hungry. What are you going to do now? Will you be going back to Oregon right away?”
“Probably this afternoon late – maybe they’ll come up with something by then.”
“I hope you’re not expecting the Federal boys to play show and tell with you on this.”
“They came to me first, remember? And they wouldn’t have anything now if I hadn’t run into Julie in Mexico.”
They got into her car and drove across town to her office, parked in the underground parking and walked across the street to a deli.
“What were you doing in Mexico anyway?” She asked as they took their bagels and coffee to table in the corner.
He told her about the classroom shootings, the flashbacks and wanting to get away, but didn’t want to say any more. When her cell phone went off she stepped away from the table to take the call and Michael had a chance to observe her. She hadn’t changed much in the five years since he’d last seen her; a few more lines around her eyes maybe, but she still had shoulder length, curly auburn hair, gold-flecked green eyes and white, white skin that refused to tan or freckle. Her seemingly fragile femininity had been the downfall of a number of perps who mistook it for weakness. She was a good cop and he’d enjoyed working with her. He had been attracted to her, it was mutual and they soon ended up in bed together, but she was fifteen years younger than him and while it hadn’t bothered her, it had him and it had begun making working together increasingly uncomfortable -- for him anyway. Apparently it hadn’t gotten any easier for her either and when it became obvious that she wasn’t going to convince him that age didn’t matter to her, she finally threw up her hands, handed in her resignation and moved to San Francisco. This was the first time they had talked since she left.
“So why Mexico? What part?” Moriah asked, coming back to their table a few minutes later.
“Have a friend who was living in San Miguel de Allende – it’s about a hundred eighty miles north of Mexico City. Great place, you should try it sometime.”
“You stay in a hotel?”
“Had an apartment in a small complex, that’s where I ran into Julie. Want more coffee?”
“I’ve got to get back to the office.” She paused for a moment, studying his face. “So you’re not going to tell me about your relationship with the landscape architect?” She asked with a smile.
“Don’t look so surprised – we have a lot of mutual friends in Oregon and I was curious about what you were doing. You know you really blew my theory that men generally preferred younger women. I’ll bet you something else -- your new friend may be closer to you in age, but she’s not a cop and I’ll lay you odds that’s as much of a problem for her as my age was for you – or more.”
“Well, you’re right about that,” he said.
“Is that why you tried giving it up for teaching?”
“One of the main reasons, I guess, but not the only one. Anyway, it obviously didn’t take since I’m back on the force.”
“I wasn’t surprised when Brad told me you’d gone back – it’s not an easy change to make after so many years. And she was with you in Mexico?”
He nodded. “We’ve had our problems about the job – we mainly went to San
Miguel to see if we could salvage anything.”
“Thought we might have a chance, until I ran into Julie and found out about Ryan. I can’t just let it go and I’m not sure she wants to deal with that.”
She put her hand over his. “I apologize for being so nosy – I really wasn’t trying to intrude.”
“It’s okay, I should have told you up front.”
“It really wasn’t any of my business, you had other things on your mind and it’s good that you did – like you said we probably wouldn’t have found her until someone complained about the odor.”
He winced and looked away.
“Sorry, no one’s ever accused me of being overly sensitive. By the way does your friend know how you felt about Julie?”
“I never told you about Julie.”
“No, but I suspected someone had gotten their hooks in you and I was pretty sure it wasn’t your ex-wife. So I asked Brad.”
“And he told you about Julie and Lacey?”
“Relax, he didn’t go into detail.”
”I’d never told Lacey anything about Nam until the past couple of days and that includes Julie, besides there was really nothing to tell – she’s was Ryan’s girl, remember.”
“I know that – but did you?”
“There’s still nothing to tell her about Julie.”
She shook her head and stood up. “You’re probably right – now. By the way, how’s Brad doing? Is he still in Hillsboro? I haven’t talked to him in a while.”
“No, we’re both working in Portland now – he went to work there after I started teaching.”
“Be sure and tell him hello for me. Can I drop you at your hotel?”
“I think I’ll walk, thanks anyway.”
“Whatever. When did you say you were leaving?”
“Probably late this afternoon.”
“I doubt if the Feds will be sharing any information, but if I hear anything before then I’ll let you know or would you rather I not call you at the hotel.”
“I’m going to try to sleep for a few hours, but I’ll check in before we leave.”
“Here’s my cell number,” she said, handing him her card as they left the restaurant. “Get some rest, you look like shit.”
He put his arm around her and kissed the top of her head. “Could always count on you to be subtle. Take care, Moriah, and thanks again.”
“Anytime, sure you don’t want a ride?”
“It’s not that far, thanks.”
She gave him a smile then turned and walked away without looking back.
He took a deep breath and walked towards the nearest intersection. “To hell with walking,” he muttered under his breath and hailed a cab.
Their plane was late and it was nearly seven before they took off from the airport in San Francisco. The Feds had nothing more to report – or at least nothing that they were willing to share with him. He didn’t call Moriah.
“Are you going back to work right away? We still have another week you know and Whidbey would be beautiful this time of year,” Lacey said, as the plane climbed above San Francisco.
“I’m not sure I’d be very good company.”
“I guess that means no to Whidbey and yes to going back to work early.”
“I’ve just got some stuff to work through and it’s things that no one can help me with.”
“Obviously, since they’re the same things you’ve been working with alone for the last thirty plus years. Ever think a new approach to the problem might be useful this time?”
“No.” He turned to stare bleakly out the window as the plane climbed above the thick gray clouds that still hovered over the northern California coast.
Tears stung her eyes and she wished they’d hurry and turn off the ‘Fasten Seat Belt” sign so she could at least go the restroom before the tears got the best of her and her mascara. It promised to be another long, uncomfortable flight.
Moments later the sign went off and she slipped out of her seat and headed for the back of the plane. Some powder to the nose, renewed lipstick and she was ready – more or less to make another stab at communication.
“I called Lori from the hotel before we left, she’s going to meet us at the airport. We can drop you off at your place.” Lacey told him when she took her seat again.
“Are you going to talk to me at all – I’m not responsible for what has happened, you know.” She bit her lip wishing, not for the first time, she would just stop asking questions.
“I know you’re not – I’m sorry. You have no idea how much I wish this hadn’t happened.” He reached for her hand and squeezed it gently.
“So do I, but it has and I can deal with that. Just don’t shut me out now.”
“Can you give me a couple days to regroup? Then if you want to we can still go to Whidbey for a few days.”
“Is that a promise? Or are you just hoping to buy some silence?” She asked, trying to smile.
“It’s a promise.” He lifted her hand and kissed it.
She put her seat back, took a deep breath and closed her eyes – determined to keep them and her mouth shut until they landed in Portland. That’ll be a record, she thought to herself – silence in times of stress had never been her forte.
Lori was waiting for them at the gate and by the time they got their luggage, dropped Michael off it was almost eleven when they pulled into Lacey’s driveway.
“You still haven’t told me why you’re back a week early and what’s wrong with Michael? He didn’t say three words tonight. You guys have a fight or something?”
“Or something – you want a drink? I do,” Lacey asked, dropping her purse in a chair in the hallway on her way to the kitchen.
“Thanks, but I have an early appointment – unless you want to talk. Oh, by the way, you had a call from a guy in Seattle this afternoon. He said he’d seen some of your work at the Street of Dreams project and would like to talk to you about landscaping for his new house in Vancouver, BC. Sounded really nice, had a great voice – I was hoping he’d ask me since you weren’t here,” Lori said, following her into the kitchen.
“What’s his name? You get a number?” She held up a glass. “Sure you won’t have a drink?”
“I need to get home. His name is – something Italian – I can’t remember, I wrote it all down -- it’s on your desk. How’s Luan?”
“She’s doing great, speaks Spanish like a native and so tan you wouldn’t recognize her. God, it’s cold in here, has it rained all the time we’ve been gone?”
“Just about – I should’ve turned up the thermostat before I left the studio this afternoon, sorry about that. Listen, I’m going to get out of here – sure you don’t want to talk?”
Lacey shook her head. “Not right now. Oh, where’s Seymour?” She asked looking around the room for the big gray cat.
“He’s at my place – he got lonely and he’d already sacked out when I left for the airport. I’ll bring him back in the morning.”
“Have you spoiled him rotten with sardines like you did the last time?” Lacey asked with a grin.
“Nothing like comfort food,” Lori said with a shrug. “Anyway, we’re both glad you’re back. Get some sleep.” Lori gave her a quick hug.
“I will – thanks, Lori.”
She locked up, turned out the lights and went into den and turned on the gas logs in the fireplace. She was glad she’d had them installed even though she missed the smell of real logs and the cheerful crackly sound they made, but it was sure easier to start on a minute’s notice. She wrapped herself in an afghan and curled up on the couch with her scotch and water. It had been a shitty day she decided – a really inglorious end to a great vacation.
Across town Michael was feeling both guilt and relief as he let himself into his apartment. Damn, it was cold, he thought. It wasn’t supposed to be cold in August, but then Oregon’s weather had never gone by the rulebook.
There was a stack of mail on the coffee table – his partner, Brad, had been collecting it for him. Nothing but bills and junk mail, he left the pile on the table and took his bags upstairs to the bedroom. Exhaustion that had been building for the past three days caught up with him, he stripped and crawled into bed, pulling the comforter over his head.
He called Brad Mosely early the next morning and they met at a Starbucks around the corner from his condo.
“What’re you, nuts, man? You weren’t supposed to be back until next week. What in the hell are you doing back here now?” Brad asked, dumping four packets of sugar into his coffee. “You and Lacey didn’t go at it again did you?”
Briefly, Michael told him about seeing Julie and what had happened in San Francisco. Brad was the one person Michael talked to about Vietnam, including Julie and Ryan, but Brad had been there in 68 and 69, too and had his own nightmares as well as two broken marriages and a fondness for alcohol that was only barely controlled most of the time. They’d been partners – good ones for twenty years. When Michael quit to teach, Brad had left the Hillsboro police department and accepted an offer from the Portland department. When Michael decided to return to police work, it was Brad who had urged him to come to Portland.
“So what’re you going to do now? You know the Feds aren’t going to include you in any of this and that’s good, you need to drop it, take the rest of your time off. All of this is ancient history, bud.”
“You’re probably right – they couldn’t wait for me to leave San Francisco, but I gave them the first clue to Ryan they’ve had in over a year. Besides I know it’s not over -- I don’t how or when, but he’ll show up again.”
“What about you – are you sure you’re not blaming yourself for Julie’s death?”
“Probably am – in a way.”
“That’s a crock of shit and you know it. You think he may try to get to you through Lacey?”
“I wouldn’t put it past him, but I don’t know how much he knows about me and I didn’t go into a lot of detail with Julie – there wasn’t time and there was no point anyway.”
“Did you tell Lacey about Julie?”
“Only that she was Ryan’s girl, that I had known her in Nam.”
“She wanted to know what I was doing in Mexico and if I was alone and I said no. She did tell me that Ryan already knew I was in Oregon, I’m surprised he hasn’t paid me a visit before.” He pushed his cup aside and lit a cigarette.
“Maybe he doesn’t really give a shit about you anymore – ever think of that?”
“Why else would they have left Mexico like they did?”
“But why kill her – it just doesn’t make sense, Michael.”
“I don’t know. I’m sure he knows the FBI is looking for him – even if he wasn’t sure about what I’d do anymore, but I’m also sure he knows they’ve been in contact with me. The guy stays one step ahead, always did and that’s why he’s still alive.”
Brad shrugged and drummed his fingers on the table. “So how’s Moriah? I’m surprised she’d have anything to do with you,” he said with a grin.
“She looks great – still has a smart mouth. She asked about you – said to tell you hello.”
Brad stood and picked up his cup. “I gotta get back – speaking of the FBI, I’m working with them right now – couple of teenage girls missing. Take the rest of your time, man, try to get your head on straight before you come back to work – I’m not going to tell Dave you’re back,” he said as they left the coffee shop. “I’ll call you tonight, maybe we can go to Pazzo’s for some comfort food – unless you’re seeing Lacey.”
“I doubt it, Pazzo’s sounds good.” he said as they walked towards their cars. “Talk to you later.”
He drove aimlessly around the city, reluctant to go home where there was a bottle of Chivas Regal waiting. Everything was gray – the sky, the river, the whole city seemed in mourning. Heavy clouds even obscured the view of Mt. Hood that usually managed to lift his spirits – when he could see it. He knew he should let his kids, Martin and Kimberly, know that he was back home. Kimberly was in school at the University of Oregon and Martin went to school in Berkley, California. He’d pretty much raised them alone from the time Martin was eight and Kimberly six. Martin would graduate in December and Kimberly in another eighteen months. Seemed as though they’d just grown up overnight. Sometimes it was hard to realize he actually had two kids.
His wife, Allison, had left them all for a lawyer she’d met when she’d gone with Michael to a seminar in San Francisco. He’d always hated to admit what a relief her leaving had been and still wondered why he had ever married her in the first place, other than the fact she was Martin Kipinski’s younger sister. And her father had come to think of him as a second son anyway – one to replace Martin. The only thing he and Allison ever really had in common was the fact they both liked to dance. Funny, he hadn’t thought about dancing in years – part of another life that he’d put behind him. But he and Lacey had given it a try when they were in California a couple of years earlier. It’d been fun.
Lacey. He did love her, but there was a lot he’d never shared with her – or anyone for that matter. He’d never wanted anyone to see beneath the surface where his demons lived. Lacey had only seen the parts that he’d been willing to share and looking back now, he realized that hadn’t been a lot -- so much for building a serious relationship. Maybe he hadn’t wanted a serious relationship to begin with, maybe he’d been fooling himself as well as Lacey. He knew she was hurting right now and wasn’t proud of himself, but maybe it was for the best, maybe their relationship just wasn’t meant to be.
“That’s a big stack of maybes, bud,” he mimicked Brad to himself.
Whatever, he didn’t have the energy to try and make it right – not now. Besides, putting some distance between them might be the safest thing for her right now under the circumstances.
It was raining hard as he pulled into the underground parking of his condo. Exhaustion mixed with frustration caught up with him again as he unlocked the door. He turned off his phone and went straight to the bedroom, stripped and fell into bed.
“You did tell me last night that someone wanted to talk to me about a project in Vancouver, didn’t you?” Lacey asked as Lori walked into the studio the next morning carrying a bag of bagels and a carton of cream cheese in one hand and Seymour the cat under her other arm. “Oh, Seymour, I’ve missed you – particularly last night when you weren’t around to keep my feet warm,” she said, taking the cat in her arms and scratching his chin.
“I wrote it all down and left it on your desk. Want a bagel?”
“Sure. Needless to say there’s nothing in my fridge and I couldn’t seem to generate enough energy to go to the store this morning.”
“I would’ve gone for you if you’d called a little sooner. Have you talked to Michael?” Lori asked, slicing the bagels and spreading the cream cheese for both of them.
“Okay, okay – I won’t say anything else.”
“I’m sorry Lori – it has to do with things that happened in Vietnam. He’s never talked about them at all, but I guess the shootings stirred up a lot of memories and then he ran into a woman in Mexico that he’d known over there …. Oh it’s all so complicated and I don’t really understand any of it. It seems like he’s become a completely different person – maybe not, maybe I just never really knew him after all.”
Lacey took a jar of raspberry jam out of the small office fridge, another concession to convenience like the gas logs. She spread the jam on top of the cream cheese on her bagel, and held up the jar to Lori. Lori shook her head.
“Don’t know how you can eat a bagel like that,” she said with a shudder. “I don’t know anyone who was in Vietnam that isn’t battling ghosts of some kind. When did he run into her? Was he like that the whole time you were gone?”
“He didn’t see her until the day we left, but up until then we’d had an absolutely fabulous time. We crammed so much into those two weeks and it was all fun – just wish it could’ve lasted. Oh well, nothing I can do about it now. I’m going downstairs, see if I can get in touch with that guy – a new, out of town project might be just what I need right now.” She poured herself another cup of coffee and started downstairs. “Are you going to be around all day?” She asked, pausing halfway down.
“I’ll be here, I’m working on some preliminary drawings for the Barnetts, they want to do something different this year with the backyard – they’re even thinking of putting in a hot tub – can you believe that? Why? You need me to do something for you?”
“No, just wondered. You know I’ve been thinking about putting a hot tub in the corner of the terrace outside my bedroom – what’d you think?”
“Great idea as long as you build a cover over it – you know, like a gazebo with plumbing. It’s no fun sitting in the rain.”
“That’s a thought.”
The message pad was propped against the phone and the man’s name was Jake Donatelli. She dialed his number and glanced through the stack of mail Lori had left there.
“My name is Lacey Jordan, you left a message at my office yesterday regarding some landscaping.”
“Oh yes, thanks for calling back. Your partner told me you were in Mexico, hope you had a good trip.”
“I did, thank you. What can I help you with?”
“I really liked the house you did for the Street of Dreams -- I was visiting in Portland and some friends took me. I’ve just purchased a house outside Vancouver B.C. and thought maybe you could take a look at it and see if it’s something you’d be interested in.”
“I’m always interested in a new project and I do love the Vancouver area. When do you want to do this – I’ve been gone for a couple of weeks and I have a little catching up to do.”
“I understand, but unfortunately, I have to leave for a business trip to Europe in three days. I was hoping perhaps you could fly up take a look and put together some ideas while I’m gone and then we could talk about where we go from there when I get back. Would that be possible?”
“I could probably fly up tomorrow if I can get a flight.”
“Maybe I can help with that – I’m actually coming to Portland later today for a meeting and plan to return tomorrow morning. I’ll be traveling in our company plane and you’re more than welcome to join me and in the meantime I’ll pick up a return ticket for tomorrow night. Would that work for you?”
“Sounds great. Where shall I meet you tomorrow?”
“I’m staying at the Heathman and a company car is going to pick me up there at eight-thirty, we can be at your place in Hillsboro, say by nine.”
“Better make that nine-thirty, the morning traffic’ll be bad in Portland, believe me. Do you have my address?”
“Let’s see, ah here it is – 1170 NW Ursula Drive?”
“That’s it. I’ll be looking for you about nine-thirty tomorrow then.”
“I really do appreciate this, Ms. Jordan – I know it’s short notice, particularly since you’ve been traveling. Was it business or vacation?”
There was a pause on the other end of the line as if he were waiting for her to say more. “I hope it was a good one,” he said after a moment. “I’m sure you have a lot of catching up to do so I’ll let you get back to it. Look forward to seeing you tomorrow.”
“Yes, tomorrow. Goodbye, Mr. Donatelli.” She replaced the phone and finished going through her mail. By the time she’d tossed the junk mail, it was down to a reasonable stack. She separated the bills to pay later and climbed the stairs to the studio.
“So, what’s happening?” Lori asked as Lacey made a fresh pot of coffee.
“I’m going to Vancouver tomorrow. He’s going to be here in Portland for a meeting – coming down in a company plane. I’ll fly back to Vancouver with him, take a look at the property and then take a flight back tomorrow night.”
“Doesn’t waste any time, does he?”
“He’s leaving for Europe in a few days. I’ll take a look, make some preliminary sketches, outline a plan and we’ll talk when he gets back. Should be fun and it’ll keep me busy for the next few days – I need that right now.”
“You going to talk to Michael before you leave?”
“Only if he calls me. He made it pretty clear he needs some time for himself and right now I think maybe I do, too.” She stared out at the rainy day and felt the gloom getting another grip on her. “Know what?” She said, pouring another cup of coffee and starting back down the stairs. “I’m going to mail out the bills, then I’m going over to the spa and get my hair done, have a massage, a facial and a manicure and pedicure – how does that sound? Wanna come?”
“Sounds great and I’d love to, but I’m not on vacation – you still have another week. I say make the most of it.”
“Good, because that’s what I’m going to do – well, at least for today.”
By the time she returned home late that afternoon she felt totally decadent and decided it was better by far than the way she’d felt for the past few days. She wanted to call Michael, but couldn’t bring herself to pick up the phone. Maybe it was best this way – there was so much about him that she’d never known. Come to think of it, there was a lot about her that she’d never shared with him. She’d never given him any reason to believe that her marriage to Tim had been anything but perfect, but that was a pretty inaccurate image at best. Although she had grieved when he was killed, missed him – as a friend, the love they had felt for each other in the beginning had mutated into something very different by the time he died. The changes in him had begun when he wasn’t able to join the military or go to Vietnam. Unknown to her at the time, he began seeing a psychiatrist and after a year of counseling he suggested they spend a long weekend at the coast. Excited at the prospect of a romantic, child-free holiday, she arranged for a sitter and packed her sexiest lingerie. She hadn’t needed it – instead, he had spent the entire three days trying to find an easy way to let her know that he was gay. He finally did get it out, just before they returned to their four kids. It had been desperately hard for both of them. She still couldn’t think about it without feeling some of the same sense of betrayal, disbelief, anger and frustrated pain. Two months later he was killed in a traffic accident. For years she wondered just how accidental it had really been. Mentally she understood and even admired the courage and honesty it took for him to come out at that juncture of his life, but emotionally she had taken it as her failure as a woman. Without ever saying it out loud even to herself she determined that she would never put herself in that position again and automatically ruled out any possibility of marrying again. It had been hard to raise their four kids alone, but at the same time there was enormous relief that she no longer had to pretend that all was well, that they were the perfect couple that everyone else thought they were. Over the years since his death, she had been involved in varying degrees with several men, but for her marriage had never been an option – until now. Maybe both she and Michael had been too damaged for too long to even consider having a normal relationship.
She shook her head, poured a glass of wine and turned on the TV. Lori had brought Seymour home earlier and she joined him on the couch where he’d taken up his favorite cushion.
* * *
Across town late that afternoon, Michael finally pushed himself up groggily on one elbow and squinted at the clock.
“Well, that takes care of one day,” he muttered, pushing his head back under the pillow just as the phone rang. He reached for it reluctantly.
“Hey, bud, you sound even worse than you did this morning – good thing I called. Meet me at Pazzo’s?”
As if on cue, Michael’s stomach growled. “Sure. When?”
“I’ve got some paper work to finish up – how about seven – seven-thirty?”
“Make it seven-thirty – in the bar.”
“That’s my man. See you.”
He rolled over on his back, stared at the ceiling and wondered if he should call Lacey – should was the operative word here – no, maybe tomorrow. They both needed some time.
The black Lincoln carrying Jake Donatelli pulled up in front of Lacey’s studio precisely at nine-thirty the following morning.
“He’s punctual, I’ll give him that,” she said to Lori, who walked to the door with her. “I’ve got my cell if you need me.”
“Call me if you want me to pick you up tonight.”
“It’ll probably be late – I can get a cab, but I’ll let you know.”
As she went down the steps, the back door of the car opened and the man she assumed was Jake Donatelli got out and walked towards her.
“Please call me Lacey, I can only take so much formality,” she said with a smile.
“Good, I feel the same way,” he took her extended hand and helped her into the car. “I’m Jake.”
The sun had put in an unexpected appearance and gave Lacey an excuse to put on her sun glasses which in turn gave her a chance to observe Jake Donatelli a little more closely as he told her more about the property he had purchased. He was a handsome man, tall, lean and muscular with black hair and eyes to match. It was difficult to guess his age at first glance, but the touch of gray in his hair and mustache, the lines around his eyes and mouth made it apparent he was older than she had thought at first glance.
Yes, she thought to herself, this is just what the doctor ordered – a really interesting distraction from the disappointing end to the Mexico trip and this new and hurtful side of Michael. She wanted to put him as far out of her mind as she could – at least for now.
They boarded the private jet just after eleven and as soon as they were airborne, a steward served them coffee and croissants. Jake Donatelli seemed to know a good deal about her and her work for having seen only one project at the Street of Dreams. She was pleased and complimented and her curiosity about him was definitely tweaked. She soon decided, however, that he was a lot better getting information from her than he was sharing any about himself.
“What do you do, Jake? Do you have offices in Vancouver?” She asked as the steward collected their dishes.
“I have a private consulting firm -- we have offices here in Portland and Seattle, Canada and Europe.”
“What kind of consulting?” She tried again.
“Mostly investment, stocks.”
“You must do a lot of traveling.”
“Quite a bit.” He glanced at his watch. “Excuse me for just a minute, Lacey, I need to speak to our pilot,” he said, unfastening his seat belt. “Would you like some more coffee?”
He smiled at her and moved towards the cockpit.
Lacey glanced at her watch, wondering how long the trip would take in the smaller private plane.
“I meant to ask you earlier, Jake, were you able to get my return ticket?” She asked when he returned to his seat.
“I guess we need to talk about that, Lacey. I’m afraid I haven’t been completely honest with you.”
“What do you mean?” Suddenly, the nagging question about him in her mind began to take shape and she had a scary feeling she already knew what he was going to tell her.
“It hasn’t all been a lie, I did see your project at Street of Dreams and I was impressed. But more importantly we have a mutual friend that I need to talk to.”
“You’re Ryan Quinn,” she said slowly. How was it possible to sound so normal when she felt as though he already had a strangle hold on her throat. And how was it possible that she had fallen into this so easily – no, eagerly was more like it. Michael had told her Ryan wouldn’t be above getting to him through her.
“Yes,” he said, his eyes never leaving hers. “And as I said, I do need your help – just not with landscaping.”
“I can’t help you with Michael – we’ve broken up. His vendetta with you is more important to him than I am.”
“Unfortunately, you’re probably right. Did he tell you about Julie?”
“Yes. Where are you taking me?”
“How much did he tell you? Did he tell you he has been in love with her for thirty years? Did he tell you that’s one of the reasons he hates me so much?”
“He told me – everything,” she lied defiantly.
“I don’t think you lie as well as you design landscapes,” he said softly.
“Where are you taking me?” She asked again.
“We’ll be landing in a place called Port Hardy on the northern end of Vancouver Island and I have a car waiting. The house is a few hours away on the coast. It’s incredibly beautiful, I’m sure you’ll love it.”
“Little hard to love places you’re forced to go to.”
“Don’t look it at like that, Lacey, this is just an extension of your vacation and it’ll give us a chance to get better acquainted.” He paused, searching her face in an almost tender way. “I don’t want to hurt you, don’t have any plans to, but I do need to buy some time.” As he talked he reached for her bag, looked inside and removed her cell phone and returned her bag to the seat beside her.
“Is that what you told Julie before you broke her neck?”
He grasped her arm, pulling her across the seat.
“I don’t expect you to understand and it’s not important that you do, but what is important is that you understand that this is the last time we speak about Julie, is that understood? Do I make myself absolutely clear?”
He gripped her arm so hard she winced, but she continued to stare at him for a moment then nodded. He let her go and leaned back in his chair, but his eyes never left her face. It was unnerving. She took a deep breath and turned to look out the window. They had dropped below the clouds now and she could see nothing but mountains, trees and coastline. It was beautiful -- and isolated. She shivered and turned away from the window still trying to avoid Ryan Quinn’s eyes.
Lori stood, stretched and glanced at her watch, it was after seven and she’d heard nothing from Lacey.
“Hope you’re having a good time, girl, but I think I’m going home, have a glass of wine and hope you don’t call me to meet your plane at midnight,” she said out loud to herself as she rolled up the drawings on her drafting table.
She locked the studio and courtyard gate that gave entrance to the studio/house complex and climbed into her new silver Acura. Twenty minutes later she pulled into her own garage.
She thought for a moment about calling Michael to see if he had heard from Lacey, but decided under the circumstances that wouldn’t be the coolest move -- as far as she knew, he didn’t even know Lacey had left town.
Several glasses of wine, some forgettable TV shows and a frozen dinner later she decided that Lacey was either staying the night in Vancouver or had made other arrangements to get home. She showered and went to bed, deliberately forgetting to set the alarm.
Arriving at the studio a little after ten the next morning she was surprised and a little alarmed to find that Lacey was neither in the studio nor her house. Picking up the phone, she checked for messages – none from Lacey. This time she didn’t hesitate and dialed Michael’s cell.
“Hey, Michael, it’s Lori,” she said when he finally answered on the fifth ring.
“Hi Lori, what’s up?”
“I’m probably being foolish, but have you heard from Lacey?”
“What do you mean? She’s not at home?”
“No, she went to Vancouver early yesterday morning to go look over a prospective client’s property. They flew there in his company plane, but she was supposed to come back on a commercial flight last night.” She paused for a moment, realized she was talking too fast and took a breath. “She said if it wasn’t too late she might call me to pick her up. When I didn’t hear from her I figured she either took a really late flight or was flying back this morning, but I haven’t heard from her. I was hoping maybe you had.”
“Who’s the client? You know them?”
“Him – and, no, I don’t. He called just before you guys got back, said he’d seen her Street of Dreams projects and wanted her to do his new house.”
“And the property is in Vancouver, BC?”
"Or near there. I was hoping she might have called you, this isn’t like her, Michael.”
“You’re at the studio now?”
“I’ll be there within the hour, I’m going to make a couple of calls, see what I can find out. Sit tight, let me know if you hear from her. I’ll get there as soon as I can. Does she have her cell with her – have you tried to call her?”
“I tried a couple of times – nothing.”
“Keep trying – I will too,” he said before he hung up.
She’d hoped Michael would’ve told her that Lacey had called and he’d picked her up at the airport and everything was beautiful.
“What a dreamer you are – anyway when did you start believing in happy endings – for anyone – and you’re talking to yourself again. Oh well, fuck it anyway, it’s not like I have an audience.”
She made a pot of coffee and tried to work on the design she had started the day before, but gave up after a few minutes and took her coffee out to the courtyard to wait for Michael. At least it wasn’t raining and there was even a little watery sunshine.
Michael headed for the shower, his head throbbing, God, he hadn’t gotten that drunk in years. He wanted to believe that Lacey stayed over and just hadn’t gotten around to calling, but Lori was right -- that wasn’t like her. This new client suddenly appearing at this particular time with a project that was out of the country – even if it was just Canada, made him very uneasy.
Twenty minutes later he was on his way down town. He called Moriah – she hadn’t heard anything from the Feds, but she did have a couple of names and numbers they’d left her in case she heard anything.
“They expect us to share everything, but they don’t give us jack shit,” she told him.
“Nothing new there – it’s always been a one way street. Thanks for the numbers though. One of these numbers is a Portland number – you know that?”
“Oh yeah, forgot to tell you – it’s Jim’s – I didn’t know if you knew him or not, but he said you’d met.”
“Could be, probably remember him when I see him.”
“Has something happened? You don’t sound too good.”
“I’m hung over – last time I’ll let Brad talk me into a night on the town.”
“Then you deserve to feel bad,” she said with a soft chuckle.
“Thanks for the sympathy.”
He would’ve told her more but decided he didn’t know enough to tell and besides, for whatever sick reason, he just didn’t feel comfortable talking to her about Lacey even if she had let him know that she was well aware of who Lacey was. He was angry with himself and now that the hangover was backing off his concern for Lacey was growing by the minute.
He tried Jim Margolins number first – the name did sound familiar, but he couldn’t put a face with it. The agent agreed to meet him at the Starbuck’s in Pioneer Square. He called Lori to let her know about his meeting and to see if she had heard anything from Lacey.
“No, nothing and I have an appointment myself with a client. I’ve already changed it twice, so I’ve got to go. I’m transferring the phones to the service and I should be back here by two at the latest. Do you have my cell?”
“Yeah, I’ll plan to meet you at the studio between two-thirty and three. Call me if you hear from her, okay?”
“Yeah, you do the same.”
Jim Margolin was already at Starbucks when he arrived, sitting at one of the outside tables. Michael did recognize him – tall, thin, not a hair on his head and wearing thick glasses. No wonder the name had sounded so familiar -- Margolin had been one of the agents who had contacted him a year ago about Ryan. They shook hands and Michael went inside to get his coffee.
“I didn’t realize you were with the Portland office – I got your name from the detective in San Francisco who was with me when I found Julie Devereaux’s body,” Michael said, sitting down across from Margolin.
Margolin nodded. “I transferred here six months ago. What did you want to see me about?”
“Has Ryan Quinn been seen in this area? Is that the real reason you guys came to me a year ago?”
“Why do you want to know?”
Depend on the Feds to answer a question with a question, he thought to himself and briefly told him the situation.
“You know this woman well?”
“Yes, we were in Mexico together when I ran into Julie Devereaux.”
“What makes you think something has happened to her? Maybe she just decided to stay over, Vancouver’s a great place – maybe she was having a good time,” Margolin said with a smile that was more of a smirk.
“Maybe, but it’s not like her not to let her business partner know. The guy called her just before we returned to Portland and insisted he needed her to come to Vancouver ASAP because he had to go to Europe on business in three days and he didn’t want to postpone the whole project until he returned.”
“So he’s impatient – that doesn’t mean he abducted your girl friend – although if it is Quinn, we both know he’s motivated. Right?”
“Look, all I want to know is do you know if Ryan Quinn has been seen in Portland or Vancouver recently.”
“He’s been seen here often enough that we thought the two of you might have been working together. But we couldn’t find anything to confirm that – that’s when we came to you. We got close, but never close enough and then he’d disappear again.”
“When was the last time you knew he was in this area?”
“For sure? About six months ago, but I suspect he’s been here since then.”
“Nothing solid, just a hunch – I’ve been on his trail for a long time – you get to the point where you start thinking like them -- you’re a cop, you know that.”
Michael nodded and Jim Margolin pushed his chair back.
“I’ve got to go. Stay in touch. I’ll get someone in Vancouver to check with the authorities in BC, see what we come up with. If you hear anything, let me know and don’t try to do this on your own.” He started to walk away, then turned and came back to the table. “I’ve always had the feeling that one of the reasons he kept showing up here was you – what I wasn’t sure of was why if you weren’t working together. Got any ideas?”
“Not really – just keeping me in his sights maybe. You know we grew up together, went to Nam together, you know the stuff he did there. He was responsible for the death of a friend of mine – two, now.”
“Seems like that would have been a good reason to keep his distance or does he figure you’re out to get him? Maybe wants to get the first shot?”
Michael shook his head. ”I don’t know, but I want to see him put away – permanently.”
“As in dead?”
“I didn’t say that, but it wouldn’t break my heart.”
“If this guy is him, don’t try to do this by yourself – understand?”
“Then don’t try to keep me out of it.”
They stared at each other -- Margolin looked away first. “I’ll let you know what I find – you do the same –hear me?”
He left the coffee house and started to go to the precinct, changed his mind and called Brad.
“What’s up, bud? Hope your head hurts as bad as mine.”
“Worse,” he said and told him what he was afraid had happened.
“Where are you?”
“I’m at Pioneer Square – what time is it?” He glanced at his watch. “Nearly noon – look I’ve got to meet Lacey’s business partner about two-thirty, can we meet somewhere before then? I’m going to need to access to some information, but I don’t want to run into Dave and have to explain why I’m not coming back to work yet.”
“Quit worrying, you’re not due back anyway. Make a list of what you need and I’ll see what I can do – be nice to accomplish something -- we’re sure not making any headway finding those two girls. Where’d you want to meet?”
“Marcie’s deli down on NW 23rd in a half hour. I’m going to need something to eat.”
“See ya there.”
He was half way there when his cell beeped – he had an e-mail. He started to ignore it when at first glance he didn’t recognize the sender’s address, but traffic was stalled due to a wreck and he pulled the phone out of his pocket again. It was from Ryan.
It was wet and cold, and in spite of the fact that it was still early afternoon, it was nearly dark when they landed in Port Hardy. Ryan Quinn gripped her arm tightly as they left the plane. He helped her in the passenger side of the black Subaru Forester and got behind the wheel. He hit the automatic lock then reached into the back seat for a blanket and laid it across her legs.
“I’ll have some heat going here in a minute,” he said. “Settle back and make yourself comfortable, we have a long drive ahead of us.”
“Where are we going now?” Lacey asked, as they drove through the small town of Port Hardy.
“I really do have a house here you know, but nature’s already done all the landscaping it needs.”
“What good am I going to do you? I’ve already told you I can’t help you lure Michael anywhere.”
“Did you break up because of Julie?”
“It wasn’t just Julie – there were other reasons,” she hedged.
“How much has he told you about me?”
“Until we went to Mexico Michael had never talked about anything remotely connected to Vietnam. I knew he was originally from Boston, that’s it. How did you find him –me?”
“I’ve kept tabs on Michael ever since he left Nam. I knew he went to Montana, I saw the woman he married, nice looking gal, but I think Michael only married her because he felt guilty about her brother, it was a lousy marriage. But that’s what guilt will do for you.”
“Obviously nothing you suffer from.”
He smiled. “You’re right about that.”
“Not even Julie?”
The smile disappeared. “I warned you before, I meant what I said. Don’t push your luck, Lacey,” he said softly.
She turned to stare out her window – they were already deep in a heavily wooded area – she hadn’t seen another car since they left Port Hardy. She fought back tears of anger, frustration. ‘Better get a grip, girl,’ she thought to herself.
“How long have you known Michael was in Oregon?” She asked.
“Since he moved there – like I said I’ve kept tabs on him, followed his career with great interest. I was glad to see him finally getting involved with an interesting woman.”
“Which one would that have been – I’m sure I’m not the only woman Michael has been involved with since he moved to Oregon.”
“Ah, but you’re the only one that lasted more than a few months – although I thought something might come of that young red headed detective, but she gave up on him and moved to San Francisco – Moriah I believe is her name.”
She turned to stare at him. “Moriah?”
He glanced at her. “Oh, I’m sorry, you didn’t know about her did you?”
She shrugged, wishing he hadn’t caught her so unaware with that bit of information. “I told you we’d both been involved with other people before we met. I didn’t discuss the men in my life with Michael and he didn’t tell me about the women in his.”
“Very sensible – I guess,” he said with a smile. “We’ve got a long drive. I arranged to have lunches packed for us -- if you’re hungry they’re on the back seat. By the way I meant it when I said I’d seen your work in the Street of Dreams –several times in fact. You’re very talented.”
She stared at him for a moment then turned away. The whole situation was surreal. Here she was in a strange, remote place against her will with a dangerous, violent man who seemed intent on making polite conversation. She had no idea where he was taking her or what he planned to do with her when they got there. And what were his plans for Michael? How had all this happened and how was it going to end? She rummaged through her mind trying to remember anything she might have missed that could have warned her that this trip was anything more than an ordinary business trip like she had made dozens of times in the past twenty years. She couldn’t come up with a single clue except Michael’s warning that she obviously hadn’t taken seriously. She had a sudden wild desire to throw a screaming tantrum and wondered if that would upset this man’s equilibrium or would he be prepared for that, too?
She had found out one thing about him however -- Julie was a sensitive spot. For God’s sake I should hope so, she thought, they’d been together for over thirty years – longer than most marriages these days. But why had he killed her? How much of a threat could she have been to him? What was so important that he felt he had to sacrifice her? Too many unanswered questions hounded her. She was aware of Ryan looking over at her from time to time, but she remained silent, staring out the window into the darkness and he made no further attempt at conversation.
Gradually, she realized she was feeling almost weak from hunger – the croissant and coffee had been a long time ago. Her back and neck felt as if they had knots the size of grapefruit and she shifted in her seat, hoping to find a more comfortable position.
Obviously, the man was physic – or hungry himself. She shrugged and hoped he didn’t hear her stomach growling.
“Good, so am I. There’s a rest stop a few miles from here, we’ll take a break and have something to eat – and there are restrooms there, too.”
“How much further is – wherever you’re taking me?”
“Another hour or so. It’s a very nice house – you’ll be quite comfortable.”
“Just what do you have planned for me, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“I’m not entirely sure right now, to be quite honest with you, but I do need – what shall I call it -- a means of getting Michael’s attention? I meant it when I said that I don’t want to hurt you, Lacey – but I’m not saying I won’t if I decide it’s necessary. I guess a lot of that depends on how hardheaded Michael decides to be. He can be very stubborn – but I’m sure you know that. Did he think I was dead?”
“He wasn’t sure until Julie told him.”
“Ah, Lacey, all of this must have come as quite a shock to you. I’m sorry.”
“I’m so sure,” she said, turning again to stare out the window. It was almost too dark to see anything except the narrow road lit by the car’s headlights. She felt as though the heavy trees that crowded the narrow road were swallowing her.
“Piss poor planning or unbelievably bad luck that we all ended up in that one little town in Mexico at the same time after all of these years. Sorry you had to be involved – this is really just between Michael and me. Makes you wonder a little about fate -- none of this would have happened if I hadn’t let Julie talk me into a side trip.”
She started to ask him if that was why he had killed her, but decided that antagonizing him right now might indeed be pushing her luck. He’d said just enough to let her know her well-being was solely up to him – besides, a man that could kill his lover of thirty years would surely have no problem hurting or killing anyone – least of all anyone closely connected to Michael. It wasn’t a comforting thought.
Ryan Quinn drove the Subaru into the rest stop and parked in front of the restrooms.
“Want to stretch your legs?” he asked pleasantly.
“I’d like to use the restroom.”
“Good, so would I – hope you don’t mind if we use the same one – not that there’s any place for you to go, but I don’t have time to waste chasing you and I’d rather not put cuffs on you.”
She shrugged. “Suit yourself – I just need to go.”
“Lacey, you’re a girl after my own heart,” he said with a chuckle as he unlocked the doors.
Back in the car a few minutes later, he handed her a black, thermal lunch pack.
“I’ll even let you have first pick. The sandwiches are turkey and roast beef, there’s coffee in the thermos and there should be a couple bottles of water.”
“Doesn’t matter,” she said, taking the sandwich on top and one the bottles of water.
He watched her as she opened the sandwich and ate without enthusiasm, staring out the side window, avoiding his eyes. She was an interesting woman, but he couldn’t help but wonder if he found her so because she was involved with Michael. If he were honest with himself, he would have to admit that he had become interested in Julie originally because Michael had fallen in love with her when he’d been hospitalized that first time in Nam. It had been like that all their lives, even when they were kids – whatever Michael had or wanted, Ryan automatically wanted and set out to get. Looking back he couldn’t help but wonder how they had remained friends as long as they had. All this speculation and soul searching was new to him -- he didn’t like it, but more importantly he couldn’t afford it. He tossed the remainder of his sandwich back into the bag and quickly drove out of the rest area.
“Fasten your seat belt, I wouldn’t want to throw you through the windshield in case we happen upon a deer or elk.”
“If that’s the worst that can happen to me under the circumstances I’ll count myself lucky,” she muttered, as she fastened her seat belt.
They were both silent for the remainder of the hour and a half drive.
“Ten more minutes and you can stretch your legs, we’ll have a drink and you can get a good nights sleep,” he told her driving off the main road onto what was little more than a overgrown path, the trees so close they brushed the windshield and windows.
“You act as though we’re on vacation. I’m not here because I want to be and I want to know what you’re planning to do with me.”
“All in good time, Lacey, but we’ve had a long day – tomorrow we’ll get on with the business at hand.”
“And just what is the business at hand?”
“Why, getting in touch with Michael, of course. I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear from you.”
“Then you’re surer than I am.”
He used an opener to raise the door of the garage, drove in and lowered it again. He turned off the motor and lights – it was pitch dark. He reached for her wrist and gripped it so hard she gasped.
“We’re going inside now and as I said, we’ll have a drink and then we’ll both get some sleep. We can do this nicely or not – it’s up to you. I don’t want to have to tie you up – very hard to sleep comfortably that way, but I’ll do it if I have to. There’s no place to run, we’re nearly a hundred miles from the nearest town even if you could find your way out of these woods and there’s more than deer and elk out there. Do you understand what I’m telling you?”
“I’m stuck here with you?” she threw back at him, too angry and tired to be afraid.
“That’s about it. So what’s it going to be, Lacey?” he asked, twisting her wrist for emphasis.
“I get the picture. Can we get out of the car now? You’re hurting me.”
“Just as long as we understand each other.” He let go of her wrist, stepped out of the car and switched on an overhead light inside the garage. He opened her door, took her by the arm and led her into the house, turning on lights as he went.
She shivered as he guided her through the house in spite of the fact that it was comfortably warm inside. They had entered through a sizeable kitchen and over the serving bar that extended across one end she could see into a main room with an enormous fireplace that dominated one wall.
“The bedrooms are upstairs,” he said, and still holding her arm he guided her towards the stairs. “I’ll give you a chance to freshen up while I rustle us up something to drink and get a fire started.”
“I don’t need to freshen up,” she said, resisting his effort to lead her upstairs.
“I’m not into rape if that’s what you’re worried about. You’ll have your own room and I thought you might enjoy having a bathroom all to yourself this time,” he added with a grin.
“You’re all heart,” she said wearily and allowed him to lead her upstairs.
The bedrooms opened onto a walkway that looked down into the main room. The room he led her to was large, with its own fireplace flanked by comfortable chairs, on the other side of the room a king size bed set in an alcove.
“The bath is through that door, you might like to have a nice long soak – there’s a whirlpool tub, great for getting rid of the kinks after traveling all day. There’s a robe in the bathroom and some other clothes in the closet – they should fit reasonably well, I think. Make yourself comfortable, I’ll be up to check on you in a little while.”
“I’m sure you will.”
He shrugged and smiled. He hesitated at the door, then went out into the hall closing the door softly behind him and she heard the lock snap into place.
“You don’t have to lock the door, there’s no where for me to run – remember? she yelled after him, shaking with anger and frustration.
“Well, he’s right about one thing,” she thought to herself. “I wouldn’t have any inkling of which way to go even if I did manage to get out of the house.”
She tossed her handbag onto one of the chairs flanking the fireplace and wandered around the room. She was too wired to sit – besides she thought, I’ve been sitting in one place or another since early this morning. It was too dark to see anything out the windows and she pulled the drapes with a shiver, wondering if there were any other people out there watching the house – her.
“Don’t start getting paranoid – well, more paranoid,” she said under breath, “and keep quiet, idiot, the room’s probably wired.”
She looked in the closet. There were some sweats, a down jacket, knit cap and even some hiking boots that looked like they’d probably fit. She wondered if they had belonged to Julie, from what she had seen of her that day in San Miguel, she’d looked to be about the same size.
In the bathroom she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and flinched. Her hair was a mess, she was pale and there were dark circles under eyes. The deep, whirlpool tub looked inviting, but she wasn’t ready to be that vulnerable in a room someone else held the key to. She looked in the drawers of the built in vanity – all the make-up and beauty aids you could ask for.
She brushed her hair, washed her face and replaced her make-up. Feeling a little better she grabbed a pair of the sweats, discovered some wool socks in a drawer and found the boots did indeed fit perfectly.
“Well, at least I’m a hell of a lot warmer,” she told her reflection in the mirror. But her sense of comfort was short lived as she heard the door of her room open.
“Don’t you believe in knocking? Or did you think you’d catch me trying to climb out the window?”
“Ah, I see you found the clothes -- good, you look a lot more comfortable,” he said, ignoring her question. “I’ve built a fire downstairs, have some chili heating and I’m ready to fix you a drink.” He took her arm and guided her out into the hallway.
Obviously, ‘no’ wasn’t an option, she thought, as they went down the stairs together.
Michael parked in front of the studio, but couldn’t bring himself to get out of the car. He didn’t want to face Lori, didn’t want to tell her what he was afraid had happened to Lacey. If he said it out loud then he had to accept it as a reality and he wasn’t ready to deal with that just yet.
Lori had told him the name of the man that Lacey had flown to Vancouver with was Jake Donatelli, and for openers he’d run a check in the Oregon/Washington area – he had found a Jake Donatelli -- he had been dead for fifteen years. Lori didn’t have a company name and the one private plane they had been able to confirm had left from the Portland airport that morning belonged to a Daniel Justin who it turned out was also dead. The flight plan had been for Vancouver, but an hour out of Portland they had changed their destination to a place called Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. According to the airport there, the plane had landed, refueled and taken off again. One of the employees said he thought the pilot said something about flying to Quebec, but no one there remembered seeing any passengers – of course, he said, no one had been paying that much attention either. Quebec had no information about any private plane due there.
Ryan Quinn had done exactly what Michael had expected him to do – disappear, but since he had gone to the trouble to take Lacey, Michael knew it had to be only a matter of time before he heard from him. Lacey would be safe as long as she continued to serve his purpose and after that – well, he had killed the one person who had meant anything at all to him because he apparently felt she had become a threat to him and whatever he was into now. No, he wouldn’t hesitate to kill Lacey as well.
“Goddamn him,” he said between clenched teeth. Overwhelmed by waves of anger, pain, and a sense of loss so profound he found himself struggling to breathe, and fighting back tears. For a moment he wondered if it was delayed grief over Julie as well as fear for Lacey? When he’d discovered Julie’s body that day in San Francisco he had been stunned by his total lack of emotion. He was only aware of a sense of emptiness and was convinced he’d finally crossed the last boundary of any humanity he might have regained over the last thirty years. Maybe he wasn’t so different from Ryan as he wanted to believe.
Still shaking, he brushed the tears away with the back of his hand and got out of the car just as Lori came out of the studio.
“Michael, I was beginning to worry about you,” she said coming down the steps. “My God, you look awful! What have you found out?” she put her hand on his arm.
“Let’s go inside.”
“I don’t want to be bothered by the phones right now, lets go over to the house. You still have your keys?”
He shook his head.
“Never mind, I don’t have mine with me, but I think there’s one in the mailbox.”
He followed her across the courtyard to the house behind the studio that he had shared with Lacey for a year and a half. Lori opened the door and led the way into the kitchen.
“You look like you could use a drink,” she said.
“Thanks, but I’ve done more than enough of that in the past couple of days. Have you tried her cell phone this afternoon?” he asked, looking around the room that brought back memories that for now he could have done without.
“Several times and left messages, but I’ve heard nothing. What’ve you found out?”
Briefly, he told her about the various dead ends he had run into trying to save the worst until last.
“So what does it all mean? Who is this guy anyway and what is it he wants from Lacey?”
“It’s a long story – maybe I will have that drink after all.”
“Good, because I need one now. What do you want?”
She nodded, opened two Sam Adams and came to sit with him at the table.
Briefly and with as little detail as he thought he could get by with, he told her about Ryan, Julie and what had happened in San Miguel and San Francisco.
“Oh my God, you mean you think this guy works with drug dealers and terrorists and he’s kidnapped Lacey! But why, what good does he think she can do for him?”
“Like I said, he’s using her to get to me. I should never have left her alone after we got back. I was convinced he would try something – I just didn’t think it would be this soon and that makes me wonder what else is at stake – for him to kill Julie it has to be a lot.” He found himself doing what he usually did with a sweating bottle – making interlocking circles on the table, staring at them as if they could provide answers to the questions he was afraid to ask and not wanting to tell Lori what he already knew for sure.
“You don’t think it was just some fit of jealousy?”
“Lori, I got an e-mail from Ryan on my way over here. He has Lacey with him somewhere in Canada, but that’s all I know. As long as I don’t try to find him he assures me that she’s safe and that he’ll be in touch.”
“Oh my God, what‘re we going to do?”
“For right now there isn’t a lot we can do but wait and hope he does whatever it is he has to do. I’m working on a couple of things, but it’ll be best if you don’t know.”
“For God’s sake Michael, what is this all about and who is this man anyway? Is this all just because he was jealous?”
He decided to tell her what he could about Ryan -- that he could and had killed frequently, had no conscience because he just saw it as part of the job, he was never emotional. He and Julie used to quarrel, but for him it was almost like a game just to see how angry he could make her before she cried, tried to hit him or walked out.
“He was like that even when we were growing up. But I do believe he loved her as much as someone like him is able to love and he knew without any doubts how much she loved him. So to answer your question, no, it wasn’t jealousy, and that’s what scares me.”
“So what are you going to do? You know I’ll help anyway I can.” She went to the fridge for two more beers and put their empties in the recycle box.
“I know, but I’m not willing to put anyone else at risk, let alone you. I’ll wait --till I hear from him again and I think that’ll be soon, until then there’s not much we can do. And until then I’m certain he won’t harm her because she’s his safety net, his shield and that only works if she’s unharmed.”
“Are you really sure of that or are you just saying it to try and make me feel better?” She asked, laying her hand over his.
“I’m not sure of anything, Lori. Maybe I’m saying it to make us both feel better.” He pushed his chair back. “I’m going back to my place, I don’t have to go back to work for another week, hopefully we’ll hear from him before then.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?” She asked again walking with him to the door.
“I don’t think so – shit, there’s nothing I can do, but wait. Will you be okay?”
“Probably won’t get much work done myself until we know something – but, yeah, I’ll be all right. Just let me know the minute you know anything, promise.”
“Promise. You know how to reach me if you need to.” He put his arm around her as she walked with him across the courtyard and gave her a hug before climbing into his car.
He hoped it wasn’t going to be a long wait, but unless Ryan had changed a great deal Michael was certain he’d drag it out as long as he could. He had always loved the vintage game of cat and mouse.
In spite of everything that had happened, exhaustion and a full stomach won out -- Lacey fell asleep quickly and slept soundly until nearly eight the next morning when Ryan Quinn unlocked her door and came in to inform her that he was fixing breakfast if she wanted to join him. Startled, she sat up staring at him for a moment before she realized where she was.
“Come downstairs when you’re dressed, I’ll even leave the door unlocked,” he said with a grin.
She scowled and pulled the blanket up under her chin, but he had already stepped outside, shutting the door behind him. She heard him whistling as he went down stairs.
Twenty minutes later she was sitting at the table in the kitchen with Ryan Quinn, a plate of scrambled eggs, sausage patties and biscuits and a mug of fragrant coffee in front of her.
“Looks like we’re going to have a little sun today and I thought after we eat we could take a hike over to the coast – it’s not that far and it’s really quite beautiful.”
“Why are you acting like this?”
“Like we’re on vacation – I’m not here because I want to be, this little trip of yours isn’t for fun and games – well at least it’s not my idea of fun. When are you going to call Michael? Are you going to let me go home eventually or not?”
He leaned back in his chair and looked at her for a moment. “Questions, questions.” He smiled. “I want Michael to have some time to think and to appreciate what he’s lost – so I intend to let him wait for a bit. But not to worry, I don’t have a lot of time to waste on either of you, so I thought we might as well make the most of our time here. As for your going home, that will be up to Michael, not me.” He pushed his coffee mug to one side and lit a cigarette. “Care for one?” He said, pushing the package and lighter towards her.
She shrugged. “Might as well, doesn’t look like I have to worry about them shortening my life any more.”
“You have a great sense of humor, Lacey, I’m sure that’s one thing Michael must appreciate,” he said, chuckling. “So let’s hike over to the coast, see what we can find, then we’ll come back and maybe you’ll feel comfortable enough to enjoy the whirlpool and I’ll fix you a terrific dinner, a little music – who knows maybe we can even dance. Did you and Michael do much dancing?” He reached for a jacket hanging on the coat rack near the door. “That guy did love to dance -- he still as good as he used to be? If what I heard is true, you guys tried a little of that in California a couple of years ago. He didn’t miss the surprised look on her face. “Like I said before, I’ve kept up with Michael -- and you for some time now. Now go upstairs and get a jacket and cap and I have some gloves down here that should fit you, and we’ll be off for a great hike.”
She stared at him for a moment, then turned and went up the stairs to her room. Just how long had Ryan been keeping tabs on Michael – and her? How many more things was she going to learn about Michael? Right now she was beginning to wonder just who Michael Manardi was in reality, then was reminded again of the numerous things she had never divulged. And what did all of it mean? Had they both been playing a role designed to please the other or just to hide from things neither of them wanted to deal with?
“Beats hell out of me,” she muttered to herself as she put on the down jacket and tucked her short, dark curls under the knit cap and went to meet Ryan Quinn who was waiting at the front door for her.
They followed a path so narrow they had to walk single file. Ryan gave her directions from behind – obviously he wanted to keep her in sight. What a laugh, she thought; where in the hell did he think she’d go. Once they left the clearing surrounding the house he made no effort to keep up a conversation and they both retreated behind their own thoughts.
After about forty minutes they emerged from the woods and could see the rugged coastline and hear the thunder of the waves breaking against the rocks. It was incredibly beautiful and Lacey felt a lump in her throat. Ryan Quinn took her arm and motioned to a large rock.
“This is a good place to sit for a while,” he said quietly, lighting a cigarette. “Want one?” He held out the pack and she took one.
“I know you said you wouldn’t talk about Julie, but I can’t help but wonder why, if you stayed together all those years, didn’t you marry her?”
He glanced at her, shrugged and took a drag off his cigarette. “We were married – for five years,” he said after a few minutes.
“Five years? Out of thirty, when? What happened?”
“We married after Vietnam. Four years later she got pregnant – she hadn’t planned on that – neither had I,” he paused and opened the backpack he was carrying and took out two bottles of water, opened one and drank half of it. After a moment he turned to look at her. “I never knew she was pregnant, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway -- she didn’t want a child because of what I do for a living. Also she was a Catholic – both of us oddly enough -- and although she didn’t go to church anymore, she couldn’t bring herself to have an abortion. She didn’t tell me what she planned to do and I had business out of the country about that time. So as soon as I left she divorced me, had the baby – a girl and put her up for adoption.”
She stared at him, surprised at the flicker of pain she saw in his eyes. He was a killer, a terrorist and he was very likely going to end up killing her and maybe Michael before this all came to an end, and yet there was obviously another side to him. And at the moment that was something she was having trouble getting her mind around.
“When did you find out about the baby?”
“When I returned to the states Julie told me, she said the child deserved a better life than we could give her, she didn’t want to leave me, but she didn’t want to be married to me either. So we settled for – what did we use to call it? Living in sin?” He laughed, but it had a bitter ring. “Anyway, the baby was adopted by a couple in New York City. She still lives there, her name is Elizabeth, she’s thirty, married and has a four-year-old boy. She’s an investment broker for a firm in New York.”
“How did you find her?” She put her cigarette out, wrapped the butt in a scrap of foil she found in her pocket.
“You forget what I do for a living – very hard to keep secrets from me, as you’ve no doubt discovered.” He handed her the other bottle of water.
“Have you ever seen her or talked to her?”
“I arranged to meet her when I invested some money with her company – she’s my broker, but she doesn’t know I’m her father.”
“Did Julie ever see her again?”
“Once. She was with me in New York and I’d arranged to have lunch with Elizabeth. I tried to talk her into coming, too, but she said she couldn’t, that she wasn’t that good of an actress.” He gave a bitter laugh, grinding out his cigarette. “But she came to the restaurant and sat at another table and watched Elizabeth and I eat. Needless to say, it was a rather uncomfortable lunch – at least for me, and for Julie, I’m sure. Anyway, she left before Elizabeth and I did and she was gone before I got back to the hotel. She took a plane back to San Francisco.”
“Somehow I’m having a little trouble picturing you as a father let alone a grandfather.”
“Yeah, I have the same problem. I saw him once from a distance, he looked like a cute kid.” He stood and stretched. “We’d better be getting back – I think it’s probably time to give Michael that call or did you think all this chummy ‘true confession’ talk would have distracted me?” His voice was suddenly hard, his eyes cold.
“I’m not stupid,” she said just as coldly, getting to her feet and walking in the direction they had come.
There was no conversation on the walk back to the house. She wondered how it was possible for everything to seem so normal between them even for short periods of time and then just as quickly return to captor and captive mode. It made no sense to her whatsoever.
Once they were back at the house he went upstairs with her and locked her in the room again. A few minutes later she heard the garage door open and close again and the car drive away.
Where in the world was he going, she wondered, and for how long. She looked for any possible way to get out the windows of her room, but there was nothing between her and the ground two stories below and in spite of lots of trees, none were close enough for her to reach. Besides she wasn’t that sure of her tree climbing ability at this stage of her life. She tried to open two of the windows anyway, but they were either seriously stuck or had been nailed shut.
She shivered -- her clothes were damp from the walk and although the house was warm enough, she couldn’t seem to stop shaking. She checked the door leading into the bathroom, there was a lock although she was sure he could make short work of that if he felt he needed to, but it might allow her to feel comfortable enough to get in the whirlpool tub.
She turned on the water in the tub and while it filled she rummaged through a chest in the bedroom and found another pair of sweats and dry socks. She carried them into the bathroom, locked the door, undressed and sank into the hot, swirling water with a sigh and closed her eyes. She tried to assess her situation dispassionately and decided that while she was annoyed at having been abducted, it was difficult for her to be really frightened for her life although she had no doubt Ryan Quinn was capable of taking it – he’d already proved that. It was ludicrous, but for the most part he didn’t behave that differently from Michael – particularly when she and Michael had first met. She had no idea who he was working for, but assumed it was possibly a drug cartel of some kind and she didn’t understand what seemed to be his obsession with Michael, but there again, Michael had his own obsession with Ryan. The one focal point for both of them, as far as she could tell, was Julie. Deciding she was too tired and too confused to try and make any sense out of the situation, she folded a towel, put it behind her head, leaned back and closed her eyes. What she was most afraid of was that his relatively normal behavior was lulling her into a false sense of security.
Ryan Quinn knew he was driving too fast on the narrow, twisting road, but he needed to put some distance between himself and Lacey Jordan – it wasn’t her, it was the memories of Julie that she evoked. He was losing sight of what he was here to do; he kept being drawn back to that last day in Julie’s apartment, expending far too much energy on the past, -- all things that he knew for him were a death sentence. Pinpointing the problem wasn’t the issue, he just wasn’t sure he gave a rat’s ass. He’d never felt like this before -- defeated, old and tired – he hadn’t really slept in days. Over the past ten days he had gradually become aware that for the first time in his life he had lost interest in the cat and mouse games he’d played so well and enjoyed so much for the past thirty-seven years. The discovery had left him feeling disoriented and off balance. He knew that he could probably disappear successfully; he’d made all the arrangements years ago – just another part of the game. At the moment, however, he wasn’t convinced that he even cared whether he lived or died. The only thing he was convinced of was that he badly needed a drink.
Up ahead he saw the combination bar/gas station/grocery store he’d been looking for. He pulled in behind the building, got out, locked the car and went inside. The bar was nearly empty that early in the afternoon with only two people sitting at a table near the door. The bartender looked up from the paper he was reading and nodded. Ryan ordered a double scotch on the rocks and took it to a booth at the back of the room. He nursed the drink – in no hurry to return to the house and the woman locked in the upstairs bedroom. He knew he was going to want another drink and another and another, but he couldn’t afford to drown himself in booze – not now. He had a package that had to be delivered by September 8. After that he didn’t know – he’d just have to play it by ear. Lately, he’d begun to get a bad feeling about the group he’d been working for – entirely too fanatical and that made them doubly dangerous. Funny, he’d never thought about things like that in the beginning. It had always made things that much more exciting because you didn’t screw up with them – one slip and someone would find you in an alley somewhere with your throat cut. Always the game, but in the last ten days he had begun to seriously wonder if maybe the price of playing was more than he wanted to pay any more. Unfortunately, this pristine insight had come too late to save Julie. He suspected that it might have come too late to save him as well, but he was neither willing nor prepared to dwell on that unfortunate concept.
He finished his drink, purchased a couple of bottles of scotch from the bartender and left the bar. In the small grocery store he loaded a cart with food for the next couple of days including beer, bottled water and soda.
He filled the car with gas and unable to find any other excuse, he reluctantly drove out of the parking lot and turned toward the house.
The whirlpool tub had been deliciously relaxing, but she was hesitant about getting too relaxed, but the water was getting a little too cool and gave her the excuse she needed to get out. She stood, wrapped a towel around her and dried her hair. By the time Ryan Quinn had been gone for over an hour she was dressed and wondering what to do next. She hadn’t heard anything from downstairs that would indicate he’d returned from wherever he’d gone. A little more nosy poking around the room produced a couple of books in the night stand and she had just settled into one of the chairs in front of the fireplace when she heard the garage door open and close again. She went to look out the windows but couldn’t see anything. A few minutes later she heard the key turn in the lock of her room and she laid the book on the table beside her, waiting for him to come in like he had done earlier. When he didn’t she went to the door and opened it just enough to see him going back downstairs.
“Come on down if you want,” he said over his shoulder.
She hesitated for a moment, then shrugged and followed him downstairs and into the kitchen where he was putting away groceries.
“Getting hungry?” he asked.
“Not particularly. Where did you find a grocery store? I thought from what you said earlier we were miles and miles from everything.”
“It is miles and miles from everything. I just drive fast.”
She jumped when she heard a phone ring. Ryan Quinn took a cell phone out of the pocket of his jacket.
“Quinn here,” he said, glancing at her, then frowning as he said something in a language she didn’t recognize. “This will take a few minutes, go back upstairs for now. I’ll let you know when to come back down.” It wasn’t a request.
Shaking her head, she turned on her heel and left the kitchen. He followed her, carrying the cell phone, watching as she climbed the stairs and went into her room. She left the door slightly ajar and stood close hoping to hear more of the conversation and she could, but still couldn’t understand a word. She was pretty sure it wasn’t Spanish, French or Italian and she didn’t think it was Russian. Whatever it was, he spoke it quite well.
His voice got fainter and she peeked through the crack in the door and saw he was going out onto the deck off the living room. He shut the door behind him, glancing up towards her room. She quickly closed her door and picked up the book she had started before he returned – not that she was able to focus on reading, but in case he came looking for her hopefully she wouldn’t look as guilty as she felt.
A few minutes later she heard him coming up the stairs and looked up from her book, expecting him to walk in as he usually did, but he walked past – apparently going to his own room. She waited, but there was nothing but silence. Curiosity getting the best of her, she went to the door, opened it a crack and peeked out just as he came out of his room into the hallway.
“We’re going on a little trip, so get whatever you think you’ll need for a couple of days,” he said, coming into the room and handing her a backpack. “This will hold as much as you’ll need.”
“Why? Where are we going?”
“That really doesn’t concern you, just get what you think you’ll need and do it quickly. I don’t have a lot of time to wait around.” He started back down the stairs.
“What about Michael?”
“What about him? Thought you said you two had split. Come on down as soon as you’ve got your stuff.”
“So if I can’t help you with Michael why are you keeping me here?” she asked, following him halfway down the stairs.
“Why, for your own charming company of course,” he said lightly, but he wasn’t smiling. “Now get whatever you want to take – now, unless you want me to do it for you.”
She hesitated for a moment, trying to think of some other argument for letting her go, but he turned and went into the kitchen before she could come up with anything. With sinking heart she returned to her room and put a change of clothes and her toothbrush and some makeup in the bag and slowly went down stairs to the kitchen where he was waiting for her beside the door leading to the garage. He took the backpack from her and put it in the back seat of the Subaru and motioned for her to get in.
He backed quickly out of the garage and within minutes they were speeding somewhere, but Lacey couldn’t even imagine where that might be this time. She huddled in her jacket watching smoky wisps of fog weaving like silvery, gossamer ribbons among the branches of the trees that squeezed the road to little more than a path. She glanced at her watch, only a little after three. A fine rain began to fall, it made her think of teardrops as it slipped softly, silently down the windows of the car.
It was several hours later and much darker when Ryan pulled into what looked like a small private airport and parked outside a lighted hangar.
“Let’s go,” he told her, getting their bags out of the back.
“Where’re we going?”
“A short flight, give you a chance to see some more country.”
“Unless I can find something on the plane you’ll just have to wait until we get where we’re going. Now get out of the car.”
She followed him inside the hangar where a Lear Jet was parked. She saw a man inside a small office, but he didn’t come out and Ryan headed straight for the plane.
“Sit and make yourself comfortable. I’ll be right back. There’ll be someone watching the plane so don’t get any ideas.” His face was grim as he turned and went back outside.
She peered out the window, trying to see where he had gone. She thought she heard voices, but could see no one. It was nearly a half hour later before he and another man, apparently the pilot, entered the plane and shut the door. The other man went into the cockpit. Ryan took the seat next to her, pushed another backpack under his seat and fastened his seat belt.
“Buckle up. As soon as we’re in the air I’ll see if I can find you something to eat, otherwise you’ll have to wait.”
“Couple of hours.” He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the back of the seat.
Less than ten minutes later they were in the air.
As the plane reached its cruising altitude, Ryan unbuckled his seat belt and went towards the back of the cabin. He came back a few minutes later with three bottles of water, some chips and a couple of candy bars.
“This is all there is. We can get a meal once we get to the hotel.”
“Hotel? How long are you planning to be wherever it is that we’re going?”
“Long as it takes. Couple of days max I imagine.” He handed her a bottle of water, dropped the chips and candy bars into the seat beside her.
“I have to go up in the cockpit for a few minutes.” He took a couple bottles of water with him and went up the aisle.
Once he was inside and the cockpit door was closed, she leaned over to take a look in the backpack he’d brought on board earlier. It wasn’t part of the luggage they had brought with them in the car and he had pushed it under the seat in front of him. She couldn’t tell what was in it without pulling it out and opening it and she wasn’t sure she had that much time before he returned. Frustrated, she ripped open a bag of the chips and opened the water bottle. The water was okay – warm, but okay, the chips tasted stale. She tried the candy bar and it was little better, but then chocolate usually was. She finished off two bars and half the water before he returned. He put his seat back, pulled the backpack from under the seat in front of him, propped his feet on it and closed his eyes.
“How much longer?”
“Is that your standard question?”
“When I don’t get an answer, I keep asking.”
“I’d noticed. Not much longer – why don’t you try to get some shut eye.”
“I’m not sleepy.”
“You weren’t hungry either, but I don’t see much left but empty wrappers. It won’t be long.”
She stared out the window into the darkness. She was tired, but afraid to let herself sleep. She had no idea where they were or where they were going or what they were going to do when they got there. And when, if ever, would she be able to go home? What was Michael doing? Did he have any idea she was even gone? Surely, Lori would have contacted him by now. Lots of questions – no answers. In spite of her fears, her weariness and the quiet, steady sound of the plane’s engines finally lulled her to sleep.
“Ryan, come to the cockpit for a minute. I’ve got a question.”
The voice seemed to fill the plane and both of them jumped, wide-awake. Ryan unfastened his seat belt.
“Just stay where you are. I’ll be right back.”
Lacey yawned and rubbed her eyes and wished she could brush her teeth. Again she noticed the backpack and again she looked away and wished she didn’t have so much curiosity. After several minutes, however, she looked at the cockpit door, waited again and then leaned forward and tugged on the zipper across the top and opened the backpack enough to see inside. There were packages of US dollars, packages of passports, credit cards and driver’s license. She started to open the bag a little wider when she heard the sound of the cockpit door and glancing over the back of the seat in front of her she saw Ryan coming back into the cabin. She quickly closed the bag and reached for her purse under her own seat.
“What’re you doing?”
“Getting my purse, I’d like to brush my teeth. Is that all right with you?”
“Go ahead, but don’t take too long, we’ll be landing in about a half hour.
“I think I can do that – my teeth aren’t that dirty,” she muttered.
He reached for the backpack and took it with him as he went back into the cockpit.
What on earth was he doing with all that kind of stuff, she wondered, making her way up the aisle to the restroom. There must have been thousands of dollars in those packages and all those credit cards, driver’s license and passports – who did those belong to, or better yet who were they going to belong to.
She combed her hair, brushed her teeth and put on some lipstick. It didn’t help much. She went back to her seat. The cockpit door was ajar and she could see Ryan sitting in the copilot’s seat, talking to the pilot. He watched her for a moment then turned back to the pilot and closed the door.
“What’d he think I was going to do – try to jump out of the plane? And you’re talking to yourself again.” She stared out the window into the dark. She felt enveloped in her own black cloud and for the moment she could see no light at the end of the tunnel.
A few minutes later he emerged from the cockpit and returned to his seat beside her. He wasn’t carrying the backpack. A few minutes later the plane began to descend.
“After we land we’re going to a house where we’ll be staying. I have a meeting and I’m not sure just how long I’ll be, but you should be quite comfortable. You’ll have a room with a bath. You won’t have access to a phone, your room will be locked and there will be a guard outside the door and you’ll be on the third floor.” When she started to speak, he put a finger against her lips and almost smiled. “Just listen for a change, okay? I’ve arranged for meals to be brought to your room, starting with dinner tonight after you have a chance to get settled in.”
“What do you mean – meals? How long are we going to be here?”
“A couple of days – maybe.”
“Ryan, how long is this going to go on? When are you going to let me go home?”
“We’ll be landing soon, you can have a nice dinner and get a good night’s sleep and we’ll talk again tomorrow.”
“What in the hell kind of answer is that?” She asked, angrily.
“The only one you’re going to get.”
Minutes later they were on the ground. Ryan took her arm and together they went down the stairs. There was no hanger, just a landing strip in a clearing surrounded by trees. The only lights were the small ones along the landing strip and from the plane. Ryan put Lacey and both their backpacks into the dark SUV parked beside the strip, closed the door and returned to the plane. For a moment she was almost afraid he was going to fly off again without her and a moment later, she almost wished he would – as long as there was gas in the SUV and she could find her way out of wherever they were. But a few minutes later he returned to the car with the other backpack. He put it with the others in the back of the car.
Within minutes the plane took off, it’s lights blinking brightly in the inky darkness.
“It’ll be warm in a few minutes,” he told her, setting the car’s thermostat on 68 as they drove slowly onto a narrow road and into the woods.
“How long before we get where we’re going?”
“About a half hour. Getting hungry?”
He chuckled. “You will.”
It was closer to an hour before they pulled into the garage of a building that looked more like a warehouse than a home.
“I have to leave in about fifteen minutes, so lets get you inside and settled.”
He got out of the car, handed her backpack to her and motioned towards the steps.
“Where’re you going? How long will you be gone?” She asked as he opened the door and led the way inside the house.
“Missing me already?”
“Don’t count on it,” she muttered under her breath. “Look, I don’t know where I am or where you’re going to take me next. My family don’t know what’s happened to me and I want to know what you plan on doing with me.”
“I told you that we’ll talk later, I don’t have time now. Besides, wouldn’t hurt Michael to be a little worried about you considering his behavior this past week.”
“I wasn’t thinking about Michael,” she said, following him inside.
The house it dark, but warm. She couldn’t see anything, but felt sure there was someone else in the room. Ryan took a flashlight and pointed to the stairs.
“Just keep climbing till I say stop.”
He said stop when they reached the third floor. He pointed the flashlight at the second door on the right side of the hallway. Inside, she was relieved when he switched on a floor lamp beside a king size bed. For a moment she had been afraid there wasn’t any electricity.
“The bath’s in there. Make yourself comfortable, someone will bring a tray up for you later. He’ll unlock your door and leave the tray in the hallway, but if you don’t pick it up right away, you may go hungry because he’ll only leave your door unlocked for a couple of minutes.”
“Is all this bullshit really necessary? Where in the hell do you imagine that I’m going to go?”
“Ah, but you’re a resourceful woman, Lacey. Besides I’d prefer to keep you alive for now at least and these people have no feelings about you one way or the other – believe me.”
“What people? I haven’t seen anyone but you and the back of the pilot’s head in three days.”
“Just do what I say. Do you understand me?”
She nodded and he turned and left the room. A minute later she heard the key turn in the lock – a sound she was becoming very familiar with. She sat on the side of the bed fighting back angry tears. About fifteen minutes later she heard the garage door open and close -- then no sound at all. She curled up in a tight ball on the bed, hugging a pillow to her. The tears were gone, even the fear was gone, all she felt was exhaustion and within minutes she was asleep.
The sound of the key turning in the lock woke her. She sat up quickly, still hugging the pillow to her. She waited, listening for any other sound -- nothing. She dropped the pillow, walked to the door and opened it. A tray sat on the floor in front of the doorway. The hall was as dark and empty as it’d been when Ryan brought her upstairs earlier, still she felt someone there and a chill ran down her spine. Quickly, she bent and retrieved the tray and stepped back inside the room, closing the door with her shoulder. A few minutes later she heard the key turn in the lock again.
There was a pre-packaged turkey sandwich, a bag of chips, package of cookies and a bottle of water.
“Glad no one went to a lot of trouble,” she mumbled, unwrapping the sandwich. She ate half of it, finished the chips and cookies standing in front of the window. It was too dark to see anything outside other than the tops of huge trees that seemed to indicate it was indeed a long way down to the ground.
It seemed like weeks, not days, since she’d gotten into Ryan’s limo outside her office and longer than that since she and Michael had returned from San Francisco. Somewhere during that time Labor Day had come and gone along with her plans for extending their trip. So, what day was it anyway she wondered, not that it mattered, she obviously wasn’t going anywhere until Ryan decided what he was going to do with her and when. She wondered if Michael had any idea what had happened to her, had Lori been in touch with him? Probably, but what could either of them do?
A sense of hopelessness wrapped around her and she reached for the pillow she’d been clinging to earlier. She crawled under the comforter on the bed, closed her eyes and prayed sleep would come -- quickly.
It was the smell of smoke that woke her – cigarette smoke. It was still dark. She had no idea what time it was. She saw him sitting in a chair next to the window – that was where the cigarette smell was coming from and for a moment her heart seemed to stop. But it was Ryan and she felt sense of relief, then mentally shook her head that she should feel relief that that it was him – him, the man who’d killed the woman he had supposedly loved so much for thirty years.
“What are you doing here?”
“We need to leave now. It’s going to be a long trip, I thought I’d let you sleep for a little while longer.” His voice sounded different somehow, but she wasn’t sure what the difference was – or what it meant.
“Why? Where’re we going?”
“I’m going to try to get you back to Oregon.” He put out the cigarette and stood. “Get your things, bring that comforter and a pillow and wait for me by the door, don’t talk, don’t make any noise.”
“Ryan, what’s going on?” She asked, but she was already on her feet, folding the comforter.
“Can’t talk now, just be ready to leave in about fifteen minutes and no talking – understand?”
She nodded her head and he opened the door and went out into the hallway, shutting her door.
Fortunately, she hadn’t unpacked anything earlier and after a quick trip to the bathroom she pulled on her boots, gloves and jacket and carried everything to the door and stood listening. A few minutes later Ryan opened the door, reached for her backpack with one hand, took her arm and led her down the long, dark stairway and into the garage.
“Get in the back for now, lay down on the floor and put that comforter over you,” he said softly, opening the cars rear door. “I’ll be back in a moment,” he said, closing the door gently.
She decided this wasn’t the time to argue and quickly climbed into the back and pulled the comforter over her. It was hard to breathe and then realized she was holding her breath. She pushed back the cuff of her jacket to see her watch -- glad it was a cheap, glow-in-the-dark Timex. Two-thirty.
A few minutes later he got in the car, closed the door softly and the car seemed to roll backwards a long way down an incline. Funny, she thought, she hadn’t noticed that when they had driven in earlier, but then she hadn’t been aware of much of anything except feeling scared shitless. A few minutes later she heard him start the engine and it seemed that the car literally leaped ahead, rolling her back against the seat behind her.
“Can I get up now?”
“In a few minutes.”
“I don’t guess you’re going to tell me what’s going on, are you?”
“I’ll tell you what I can, but not right now.”
“Full of questions aren’t you? But I’d guess you’ve been told that before, huh?”
“Yeah, I bet. Why don’t you do us both a favor and catch a quick nap. ”
“On the floor? You’re all heart.”
“You can get up on the seat, just keep your head down and stay out of sight.”
“Ryan, please tell me what’s happening.”
“I told you before, we’ll talk later and that’s all I’m going to say, so save your breath, catch a nap.”
She started to say something else, decided it was pointless and stretched out on the back seat, pulling the comforter over her. She was sure she’d never be able to sleep, but she did.
The further they got from the house the more Ryan felt the tension subside and the knots in his neck had begun to relax. So far he was certain no one was following them. He glanced over his shoulder and wondered if she had actually fallen asleep – he hadn’t heard sound out of her for nearly an hour now.
He wished he could figure out just what was happening with him. Why all the warning flags were suddenly waving. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t been in dangerous places before – far more dangerous than they seemed to be here, at least on the surface, but maybe it was what he sensed under the surface that was bothering him so badly. But why now? He did know that he had changed since San Francisco, since Julie, but just how he either didn’t know or didn’t want to know. The one thing he did know was that it was time to disappear again, but this time it would be for good. That was the one thing Julie had longed to hear from him and she’d been ready to disappear with him. The irony made him hurt inside. Before he disappeared though he wanted to get back to New York and see their daughter one last time. He glanced in the rear view mirror, not sure he even recognized the man that stared back at him. Maybe he was changing – whatever, but it was too late to save Julie and without her it didn’t really matter anyway. He found himself thinking about his parents, growing up in Boston and Michael. He was beginning to see that the thrill of the chase, the danger, the money, the power, the ego trip that had fueled the man he’d become while in Vietnam was no more than living out an adolescent fantasy – but with a much deadlier consequence. The realization now that the money meant nothing along with the knowledge that it was all he had left and that it couldn’t buy him anything that he wanted or needed threatened him with a blackness that made it difficult to breathe.
He shook his head, enough of that crap. He shifted in the seat, aware of the nagging pain in his back – one more reminder that he wasn’t as young as he would have liked to believe – at one time. He wasn’t sure what they would do when they discovered he’d left early, but felt reasonably sure that whatever they were up to, it was too important to them to spend any time chasing him. He couldn’t help but wonder just what their plans were, but it had to be something big. He’d never been privy to any of this group’s plan, actually he was the outsider this time and had been used only as a messenger and only that because of a couple of people he’d made friends with in Afghanistan in the early 90s. But with the money they were paying, who cared? He certainly hadn’t – not in the beginning anyway, but it wasn’t long before he had begun to get really bad feelings that had set off his carefully honed alarm system and he decided that he just might be in over his head this time. By the time they went to Mexico he knew he was, and for the first time in his life he also felt that he’d lost control. That was a new feeling for him and he hated it -- particularly when about the same time he’d finally realized that he couldn’t save Julie. Payback, he thought, grimly.
It would be light soon. He glanced at his watch – nearly six, Saturday, September 9. Looked like it was going to be a decent day – at least it wasn’t raining, but they had a long, hard trip ahead, no plane this time.
He’d already replaced his own passport, driver’s license and credit cards. The next sizeable town they came to, he’d ditch the car and rent another and from there he’d head for the biggest city he could find and right now that looked like Minneapolis. A big airport there -- good place to get lost. Shouldn’t be a problem unless Michael had filed a missing person report in spite of the e-mail that he’d sent him. But he felt pretty confident that Michael knew him well enough to have taken him seriously. He didn’t need her anymore and she’d become more of a liability than an asset at this point. There’d been a time when he could and would have simply eliminated her. But for whatever reason his plan was to put her on a plane back to Oregon as soon as possible. I don’t even recognize myself any more, he thought. What a difference a week made – God, had it only been a week? He yawned and shifted in the seat again, trying again to ease the nagging pain in his back and hoping he could find a place to stop soon. Then with a few changes to match his new passport photo and the other documents, he’d fly to New York. From there, who knows? He not only had no idea where he was going, but he wasn’t sure he even cared, as long as it was somewhere with lots of sun and a well stocked bar. He heard her moving and pushed his gloomy thoughts to the backside of his mind.
“Where are we going?” Lacey asked, pushing aside the comforter and sitting up on the edge of the back seat.
“Good morning. Sleep well?” He asked, glancing into the rear view mirror. “Ever been to Minneapolis?”
She shook her head. “Why?”
“Well, that’s where we’re going and as much as I hate to lose your charming company, I’m going to put you on a plane back to Oregon.”
She stared at him, not sure she had heard him correctly. “Are you serious?”
“I’ve done what I needed to do, Michael did what I told him to do and now I’ll do what I said I’d do.”
“You talked to Michael? When?”
“I sent him an e-mail”
“How did you ----“
“There’s very little that I don’t know about Michael – including phone numbers and e-mail addresses, so I found a cyber café while you were sleeping. We’ll be getting into a little town in a few minutes, we can get some coffee and something to eat.”
“I need to use the restroom.”
“We’ll save that until we get to a rest area.”
“Why the precautions if you’re really going to let me go?”
“I have my reasons and for now I still make the rules.”
“Whatever,” she sighed and leaned back against the seat.
Michael had stared at the e-mail message, wondering if he could believe what he was reading even though, among other things, Ryan admitted to killing Julie. And in spite of the many things Ryan had done in the past, the one thing he’d never done, that Michael was aware, was lie to him – evasive, yes, but he had never caught him in an out and out lie. Still, a lot had changed since they had actually communicated on a regular basis and all of that was a very long time ago. What could he possibly be involved in that had resulted in him killing the one person, as far as Michael knew, that he’d ever had any real or deep feelings for?
He glanced at his watch, September 8. Ryan said if everything went according to plan, Lacey would be on her way back to Portland no later than the 11th. So what was he supposed to do for nearly three days – sit on his ass, read a book? It looked like it was going to be a long weekend.
The car behind him was honking and looking up he saw that the traffic ahead of him was moving again. By the time he arrived at the deli in Northwest Portland, Brad had already ordered.
“I was getting ready to call you,” he paused and put his sandwich on his plate. “You don’t look so good – just the hangover or is it something else?”
“Just got an e-mail from Ryan.”
“He does have Lacey, said if I just sit still and don’t make waves, he’ll put her on a plane back to Oregon no later than the 11th and that he’d let me know her flight number once she’s on a plane.”
“You believe him?”
“Know it sounds stupid, but I do.”
“You’re right, it does sound stupid. Wanna explain?”
“Can’t – gut feeling, I guess.”
“Hope you’re right, bud.”
“So do I.”
He went to the counter and got a cup of coffee. Whatever appetite he’d had earlier had disappeared.
“So, what’re you going to do? Have any thoughts as to where he is?”
“No idea – to both questions.”
They fell silent, Brad finished his sandwich and Michael finally pushed his untouched coffee aside – it was cold anyway.
“I am going to take the rest of my time off and stay close to a phone, but I am going to put out a few feelers of my own – you know the Feds as well as I do, the whole organization is a dinosaur. They spend most of their energy trying to make sure the CIA doesn’t get their hands on anything they consider their area and neither one of them are worth a shit as far as connecting the dots – it’s all about territory. For God’s sake they’ve had Ryan in their sights for what – thirty years and he still plays with them. I’ll lay you odds when push comes to shove they don’t know anymore about him today than I do, maybe less.”
“I guess there’s no point in asking if you told Margolin what you found out about Quinn using fake IDs.”
“No, but you can be sure that Ryan has a whole bag of IDs and he’s going to use them once and toss them. I’m sure they know that, too, but they’re not going to let me know what they know, but two can play that game.”
“I’d ask if that might not be counterproductive, but I know better,” Brad said, shaking his head. “Is there anything I can do?”
“Not much, keep your ear to the ground, let me know if you hear anything. I’ll touch base with you from time to time and you know how to reach me. Right now I’m going to meet Lori then I’ll probably go home, make a few calls, see if I can come up with anything useful. Mostly, I guess, I’ll just be waiting to hear from Ryan.”
“And you have no idea where he is right now?”
Michael shook his head. “The last place where I know he was seen was Vancouver BC – that’s where he dropped off the map, but whether he’s still there or not is anyone’s guess. I’d be surprised if he was still in that area though.”
“Considering what you know about this guy, what makes you think he’s not just playing you?”
“Like I said before, I don’t know, but there’s something different and I couldn’t begin to tell you what. Maybe he’s not as hard as even he thought he was -- maybe killing Julie forced him to take another look at himself. He’s not a twenty year old kid living on the big rush anymore.”
You got all this from an e-mail? You sure you’re not fooling yourself?”
“I might be, I just fucking don’t know. What I do know is that the Feds aren’t going to make it any better even if they get more mixed up in it than they already are. The only reason I got in touch with them was to try and find out what they knew – not the other way around. I don’t trust those assholes any further than I could throw an elephant. All I know is that I’ve got to trust myself on this.”
“Just remember, bud, if this goes bad you’re going to be a lot worse off than you were after the school shooting shit.”
“Yeah, thanks for the reminder,” he said, grimly.
They left the deli a few minutes later. Michael called Lori to let her know he was on his way.
Lori was working in the garden area surrounding the courtyard outside the office when he arrived. A sudden flashback reminded him of finding Lacey working there one afternoon soon after they met. She was up to her elbows in mud, but he’d liked what he saw.
“Is this therapy for you, too?”
“Huh? Therapy?” Lori looked puzzled for a minute as she stood and rubbed her hands on jeans. “Oh, you mean playing in the mud? Yeah, I think I get it from Lacey – this is always where she comes when she’s frustrated or at a dead end. Something about dirt under the nails, back to the earth, 60s shit was what I used to tell her and here I am.” She held up her hands. “ Want some coffee if I promise to wash my hands?”
“No, I’m already caffeine saturated. There wouldn’t happen to be a beer in the fridge, would there?”
“That sounds like bad news – have you heard something?”
“Not bad, but don’t know how good.”
“Come on inside, I picked up a couple of six packs yesterday.”
“A couple? Good planning.”
As they went into the kitchen, Lacey’s enormous gray cat, Seymour, hopped off the windowsill and began winding his way between Michael’s legs, head bumping against his shins and purring loudly. As soon as Michael sat at the kitchen table Seymour immediately jumped into his lap.
“Yeah, I’ve missed you, buddy,” Michael said, scratching the cat’s huge head.
“I’d say he misses you, too. Not many people get that kind of reaction from him.” Lori took a couple of Sam Adams out of the fridge. “Want a glass?”
“No, thanks. Never thought I’d say it, but I’ve missed him, too. How do you miss a pain in the butt like him?”
“He does have his ways.” She pulled out a chair across from. “So, tell me what’s happening.”
“By the way – where’s Mai? Haven’t seen her recently.”
“She took a couple of weeks off to go house hunting with Eric in Seattle. I’m really happy for them, but I surely do hate to see her go. Now, what have you heard?”
Briefly, he told her about the e-mail from Ryan, trying not to get her hopes up, but at the same time trying not to frighten her anymore than she already was.
“Have you talked to the kids at all?”
“No – guess I’m going to have to now, but I kept hoping it wasn’t what you thought it was. All of them have been pretty involved with stuff going on in their own lives right now,” she held up her hand when she saw the concern on Michael’s face. “No, there’s nothing bad happening, but you know how Lacey pushes them to worry about their own lives and stop being so concerned about hers. Adam is in Forestry school for the next six weeks training for a new position. Like I said, Eric and Mai are trying to find a house before they get married. Carrie’s showing some of her paintings for the first time in a little gallery in Mendocino, so she’s there most of the day and into the evening. And, Amy’s baby is due in less than a month. I kept hoping we’d hear something from Lacey before now, but there’s nothing they could’ve done anyway – except worry. But I know they’re not going to be very happy with me.”
“You want me to talk to them?”
“I think maybe it would be a good idea if we both talked to them – together, particularly now.”
“Look, tomorrow’s Sunday and Ryan’s message said probably the 11th -- that’s Monday. If I don’t hear from him by tomorrow night we can send them all an e-mail and set up a conference call.”
“I guess that’d work.” She pushed her chair back from the table and went to stand by the window looking out on the courtyard. “Oh, Michael, are you sure you can believe this guy?”
“Lori, I’m not a hundred percent sure of anything right now, but it’s all I’ve got. I plan to do some a little poking around, but frankly, I suspect the Feds are watching me because they think I know more than I do. If I do go looking into the only place I know to look and they follow me, you can be sure Ryan will know. I can’t take that chance with her life at this point.”
“But knowing what you do about him, how can you trust him to keep his word?”
“Because he didn’t have to let me know anything and he risked blowing his own cover to do what he did.”
“I just hope you’re right.”
“Believe me, you don’t hope for it anymore than I do.”
“I’ve got to clean up and go drop off some drawings to a client,” she said, leaning over to get Seymour’s food and water bowls. “Come on Hairball, it’s chow time.”
“Speaking of chow, you want to get something to eat after you drop off the drawings? I need something besides the liquid diet I’ve been on the past couple of days.”
“Sounds good although I don’t have much appetite. You want me to meet you somewhere?”
“Why don’t I take you by your client’s place and we can go from there?”
“That’ll work. Give me a few minutes to change clothes and wash the rest of the mud off.”
“You staying here for now?”
“Yeah – Seymour gets lonely and he doesn’t like my place. Besides, I haven’t been sleeping much the past few days and end up working late so figured I might just as well sleep here. Have another beer, I’ll be ready in a minute.”
“Take your time.”
He got a second beer from the fridge and reminded himself to go slow with the booze tonight. He found himself thinking again about the first time he and Lacey had gone out together. It was nearly three years earlier and he was looking for Lori’s then lover who’d gone missing. He’d stopped by for a second time that day under the pretense of having another couple of questions for Lacey and he’d found her, too, in the flowerbeds of the courtyard, and like today with Lori, they’d had a beer together and then gone out to dinner. He loved this house that he’d shared with her for a year. Julie had been pushed to a dark corner in his head. His kids were grown and he had been ready to love someone again. One of the reasons she’d been easy to love was the fact she didn’t particularly want to talk about the past anymore than he had. But as it turned out that had been a mistake – for both of them.
“Okay, let me get the drawings from the studio and I’m ready. What’re you hungry for?” Lori asked coming back into the kitchen.
“I don’t know -- how about Yanni’s?” he said following her out of the house.
“Sounds good to me.”
He had Lori home with Seymour before nine, and promising to call if he had any other word, he returned to his apartment and sat it the dark in front of a cold fireplace nursing a glass of scotch. So much for watching the booze intake, he thought. It was almost dawn before he finally stretched out on the couch and fell asleep.
It was early Sunday evening as they approached Minneapolis. He’d been driving for nearly eighteen hours, stopping only to pick up food from various drive thrus and make restroom breaks at rest areas.
He’d called ahead to the airport and had Lacey booked on an eleven twenty-two flight to Portland on Monday morning. At their last stop he’d sent Michael an e-mail to tell him that once Lacey’s plane was in the air on Monday, he would send him the flight info. He didn’t want Michael getting nervous. He felt certain as long as Michael remained convinced that he was being straight with him, he wouldn’t do anything to put Lacey at risk. He reserved a double room for them in a hotel near the Minneapolis airport -- everything was in place. He’d made all the phone calls from various rest areas while Lacey was using the restrooms. He didn’t want her having anymore information than necessary at this point.
By this time tomorrow, he thought, he’d be in New York. He hoped he’d be able to spend a couple of days there, maybe even see his grandson. Grandson – God, that sounded weird. For a moment or two he found himself thinking what it’d be like to tell his daughter, Elizabeth, who he really was, but of course, that was out of the question. It would just lead to questions about Julie that he couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to answer, not to mention that it could put her and her son in danger.
“We’ll have to share a room tonight”, he told her with a grin. “But I promise to be a gentleman – you can even have first choice of a bed and the first shower.”
“You’re all heart. At this point I could care less as long as I can get out of this friggin’ car for more than fifteen minutes.”
“Hey, at least you got to nap.”
“I offered to drive. Were you afraid you’d go to sleep and I’d drive to the nearest police station?”
“It crossed my mind.”
“And who’s going to watch me while you shower?”
“There’s an easy way to solve that one,” he said with a grin.
“An answer for everything.” She shook her head and turned to look out her window.
“Hey, lighten up a little, Lacey, this time tomorrow you’ll be on your way home to Michael.”
“So you keep telling me.”
They checked into the hotel just before eight. Lacey headed for the shower while Ryan ordered from room service.
“Wasn’t sure what you were hungry for so I ordered a little of everything,” he told her, as she came out of the bath wearing a hotel robe, her wet hair wrapped in a thick towel. “Knowing your appetite I’m sure nothing’ll go to waste.”
“Haven’t you ever known a woman with a healthy appetite?”
“I haven’t known many men with an appetite like yours. Amazes me you don’t weigh a couple hundred pounds,” he chuckled as he pulled a chair to the table for her. “Enjoy.”
Ryan turned on the TV and they ate in silence, staring at the tube. Lacey was struck – not for the first time – with the almost absurd normalcy of the situation. She felt sure she had good reason to be terrified of this man and there had been those moments when she had been, but for the most part she felt more inconvenienced than frightened.
Just after eleven, Ryan stood, yawned and stretched. “I think I’ll shower now and just in case you decide a late night walk would be a good idea, I’m sure you’ll understand if I take your clothes in with me,” he said, gathering up her clothes and backpack.
“Be my guest – don’t know where you think I’d go, clothes or not, I don’t have money or credit cards,” she told him, not looking away from the TV screen.
“True, but you are a resourceful woman and I’d be woefully remiss ignoring that.” He laughed softly as he went into the bathroom, but left the door open. She couldn’t see where he might have put her clothes.
For a minute she seriously considered slipping out the door and trying to find a phone.
“Don’t screw up now – piss him off and there’s a good chance you won’t be getting on that plane tomorrow,” she muttered to herself and reached for the piece of German Chocolate cake that she’d refused earlier. She wondered if she was naïve believing that he had actually made reservations for her since she hadn’t seen him using a phone since they had left so secretly nearly twenty-four hours earlier. She guessed he’d probably used pay phones or a cell phone – but when? Except for the restroom breaks, he hadn’t been out of her sight during that whole time.
She pushed the last few bites of the cake aside and reached for the remote just as Ryan came back into the bedroom.
“Don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some sleep,” he said, turning back the spread on one of the beds and tossing her backpack onto the other.
“Might as well.” She turned off the TV, took her backpack into the bathroom and put on the one pair of clean sweats she had left.
Going back into the room, she reached for a blanket that lay folded on a shelf in the closet and wrapping herself in it, she propped herself up with pillows on the other bed. He watched her for a moment, smiled, shook his head then closed his eyes.
“You plan to turn the lights off or do you usually sleep with them on?” He asked a few minutes later, eyes still closed.
She reached over and turned off the lamp on the table between their beds.
“Better?” She asked, but he didn’t answer and a few minutes later she heard a gentle snore. For her sleep was more elusive, it was almost dawn before she began to doze off. She was vaguely aware of Ryan going into the bathroom, but she was soundly asleep before he came back into the room.
Later she wouldn’t be able to remember just what it was that woke her. All she could remember was sitting up, still wrapped in the blanket, the room still dark and seeing Ryan staring at the television screen. From what she could see there seemed to have been some kind of airplane crash, but the sound was so low she couldn’t hear what was being said.
“What’s happening?” She asked, moving to the edge of the bed where she could see the screen better.
“They’ve just flown two planes into the World Trade Center Towers,” he said, speaking so softly she could barely hear him.
“They? Who’s they?”
“A group from the Middle East.”
“How’s that possible? You mean some guys just walked onto a plane, pushed the pilot out of his seat and took over the plane?”
“Believe me, it’s possible,” he said, reaching for his jacket, he pulled his cell phone from the pocket, punched in a number and began pacing the floor. “Elizabeth? Thank God. This is Ryan Quinn, are you okay? Can you get out of the building?” He listened intently for a moment, then the color drained out of his face.
“Elizabeth? Elizabeth, are you still there?” He stood there holding the cell phone to his ear as they both watched one of the towers as it sunk slowly to the ground, producing an enormous cloud rolling towards the cameras, a tsunami of dust and debris enveloping everything in its path. People screaming, running, stumbling, desperate to escape the inescapable.
He dropped the phone on the floor and sank onto the side of the bed beside her.
“She’s gone,” he whispered.
Lacey stared at the horror unfolding on the screen before turning to look at him. Elizabeth! Dear God, wasn’t that his daughter’s name? One look at the anguish on his face and without thinking any further, she knelt in front of him, wrapping her arms around him.
“Maybe that wasn’t the building she was in.”
“She answered her cell phone, I heard her voice and then she was gone, the phone was dead.”
“What did she say?”
“She said she was all right, she was just worried about Jesse and Justin – they came downtown with her this morning – then the phone went dead.”
“Jesse? Is that her husband?”
He nodded. “Justin is my grandson.” He took a deep breath, gently pushed her away and stood up. “I’ve got to get to New York, but I’m pretty sure flights there will be cancelled if they aren’t already. I’m going to drive. You’ll be stuck here, Lacey, at least for now, but I have to go. Call Michael, see about renting a car if you want. I’ll leave you enough money to do whatever.” He was already tossing his things into his bag. “I won’t be driving the same car,” he paused and stood looking at her for a moment. “I know all of this has been difficult for you and there’s no way you could understand why I’ve done any of the things that I have and there’s no way I can explain any of it to you or anyone else – and that includes myself much of the time. But things are what they are and we do what we do and I’m going to ask one more thing of you. Will you promise to give me a couple of hours before you do anything?” He came to sit beside her on the end of the bed. “Will you do that for me?”
She looked at him for a long moment, wondering how any one man could be as complicated, as contradictory as Ryan Quinn, but regardless of that, there was no mistaking the anguish in his eyes. She glanced back at the unfolding horror on the TV screen and then back to him. “I won’t do anything until tomorrow – it seems I have a lot of sorting out of my own to do right now,” she told him.
He took her face in his hands and kissed her gently on the forehead. “Thank you -- I’m sorry, Lacey. Take care.” And he was gone.
As the nightmare continued, Lacey huddled in the blanket, arms wrapped around her knees and cried until there were no tears left.
Michael continued to stare at the television screen like he had been doing since. Bleary-eyed, unshaven, he’d scarcely moved all day. He had talked briefly to Lori, promising to call her as soon as he knew something – anything, and he’d called Brad, but other than that he hadn’t answered the phone and he hadn’t eaten. It was still another nightmare come true.
When the phone rang again late Tuesday morning, he glanced at it, started to let it ring then for whatever reason, he finally reached for it.
It was Lacey.
“Lacey? Thank God! Where are you? Are you all right?”
“I’m all right and I’m in Minneapolis, I’d hoped to be home by now, but as you know, there are no flights going anywhere.”
“Yeah, I heard. Is Ryan still there?”
“No, he’s gone. I would’ve called sooner, but with all that’s happening the circuits have been busy and besides I needed some time. I have a rental car and I’ll be leaving in a few minutes, but I wanted to let you know that I was okay and that Ryan kept his word to both of us – he just couldn’t put me on a flight.”
“Are you sure you want to drive all that way? Look, why don’t you let me come get you ----,”
“No,” she interrupted him. “I can’t sit here in this room for another day, besides I thought you were going back to work.”
“I was, but after – well, I wasn’t going back until I heard from you or Ryan. Things are bad everywhere, no one knows what else may happen, I just hate to think about you driving half way across the country just now. If I leave now, I could probably make it by late tomorrow afternoon.”
“No, I can’t wait and I need to do this my way, Michael. I need to get out of this hotel and away from the television -- now. I just wanted you to know that I was all right.”
“Guess you are okay – you’re head’s just as hard as ever. You really determined to do it this way?”
“Where’d Ryan go? Do you know?”
She paused and took a deep breath. “No, I don’t know where he’s gone, but he left early this morning. Look, I need to go now, I’ll call you tomorrow from wherever I get to.”
“Sure I can’t change your mind?”
“Yes, I’m sure – but please let Lori know. Has she been in touch with the kids?”
“We agreed that if we didn’t hear from you or Ryan by today that we’d set up a conference call with all of them. But with all that’s happened we decided to wait until Tuesday – hell, it is Tuesday isn’t it?”
“Barely. Let Lori know I’m all right. Do you know if any of them have tried to call?”
“She hadn’t heard from any of them when I talked to her last. To be honest with you, this is the first time I’ve answered the phone all day, but I’ve checked for messages and she hasn’t called back, I’ll call her now and let her know. Want me to call you back?”
“No --- Michael, I’d rather they not know about any of this. I’m fine and there’s nothing they can or could’ve done anyway.”
“All right, I’ll let her know. What else can I do?”
“Nothing that I can think of right now, but we do have a lot we need to talk about, Michael. A lot of things we should have talked about long before now and that goes for me as much as for you.”
“I know, and we will -- just be careful, promise?”
He sat for a moment, phone in hand, staring into space and feeling more alone than he had felt in a lot of years. Finally, he called Lori. She told him that Carrie and Adam had both called and she’d had e-mails from Eric and Amy.
“What’d you tell them?” Michael asked.
“I just told them that you guys had gone to the beach for a long weekend and I’d have Lacey call when she got back although I wasn’t sure just when that would be.”
“Were they all right with that?”
“Oh, yeah, Lacey has never felt a need to keep them informed of her every move any more than she expects them to. You’re sure she’s okay?”
“I think she’s shaken up like all of us are, but apparently Ryan didn’t hurt her in any way – I wouldn’t have expected him to anyway.”
“Knowing all the things he’s done, how can you say that?”
“He’s a very complicated guy, he’s hurt a lot of people and after Julie I really can’t say why I still believe that. I do suspect there’s a lot more to his killing Julie and if Lacey had given him any real problems, I have no doubt he would’ve done the same to her. But, just maybe, Julie’s death damaged him more than we know. All I know is Lacey assured me she was quite all right – physically at least. I don’t guess any of us are in great shape mentally and emotionally right now with all that’s happening on the East Coast.”
“That’s an understatement. Thanks for calling, Michael. Let me know when you hear from Lacey again.”
“I will. Try to get some rest.”
He laid the phone on the coffee table, reached for a pillow and turned off the TV – he’d had more than enough horror for one day, maybe for a lifetime. But with Lacey safe for the moment, maybe he’d be able move past his own feelings of guilt enough to sleep – at least for a few hours.
The clock on the mantle said eight-ten when she finally opened her eyes. For a moment she wasn’t sure whether it was night or morning. She was stiff from having slept in one position, but Seymour was obviously trying to help by kneading her shoulder and purring loudly. She tossed the afghan aside and sat up. Seymour gave an encouraging meow and headed for the kitchen, question mark tail held high.
“Guess it’s pretty clear what your priorities are,” she mumbled, following him into the kitchen and filling his bowl with dry Friskies before putting on a pot of coffee.
She stood in the shower, water as hot as she could stand it until the kinks in her neck and shoulders surrendered, then dressed in clean sweats, she joined Seymour in the kitchen. She found a package of her favorite jalapeño bagels in the breadbox and a carton of cream cheese with onions and chives.
“Ah, Seymour, did you tell Lori to get these?” she asked the gray cat as he jumped up onto the cabinet to check out her plate.
A knock at the door startled her and then she saw Michael standing outside in the courtyard. She walked over and unlocked the door. He stepped inside and they looked at one another for a long tense moment, but neither seemed ready or able to say anything. Finally, he took the first step and put his arms around her, she stiffened for a moment then put her arms around his waist and leaned her head against his chest.
“I was going to wait for you to call, but I wanted to see you, make sure you were really here and safe and that I hadn’t just dreamed it all,” he said, softly against her hair.
“I’m fine and I’m glad you’re here.”
He dropped his arms and she stepped back. “Want some coffee? A bagel? Lori stocked up on all my favorites.”
“Just coffee for now. Sit, I’ll get it.”
“This is the first day since the mess in New York that I haven’t turned the TV on as soon as I opened my eyes,” she told him, staring out the window into the courtyard. “For the last six days it’s been the first thing I’ve seen in the morning and the last thing at night. Somehow I felt like that if I didn’t turn the TV on once I got home then the whole nightmare would go away and I’d realize that’s all it was, just a nightmare after a bad vacation.” She shook her head and took a sip of her coffee. “Pretty dumb, huh?”
“No, I’ve done pretty much the same thing – I haven’t left the house except to make a beer run to the 7-Eleven. But it was still there – everywhere.” He put his hand over hers. “I know we need to talk about a lot of things, but we don’t have to do it now.”
“I think we do need to do it now – that’s been the problem with us up to now, we’ve pretended that some really big pieces of our lives just didn’t exist, but they did and they’re what has been tearing us apart. If we’re truly going to try and salvage what, if anything, is left then we need to deal with it now, otherwise I’m afraid we’ll keep putting it off until we finish destroying whatever little is left.”
Do you really feel like it’s so little?”
“Right now I don’t know, but then right now I don’t know a lot about anything.”
“Well, how about this then – it’s Sunday and neither of us have to be anywhere or do anything for at least twenty-four hours, there’s plenty of food to eat, stuff to drink. How about we take the phone off the hook, lock the doors and I’ll tell you my tale then you can tell me yours and we’ll go from there.”
“You think it’ll be that simple?”
“I don’t know, but I believe we love each other in spite of everything and it’s worth the effort. Don’t you?”
She looked at him for a long moment. “Yes, I do think we’re worth saving, but there’s a whole lot of baggage we both need to unload and Ryan is only one small part of it.”
“Did he ----,” he couldn’t finish his thought.
“He didn’t hurt me, if that’s what you’re thinking. I suspect he suddenly found himself in the same place we’re finding ourselves right now, desperately trying to sort out the truth, but for him it’s too late and he knows that now. Otherwise, I’m not sure I would be here now.”
“Because he wouldn’t have let you come back or because it would have been your choice not to?”
“It’s more complicated than that, but I think in some ways we both acted as a mirror for the other. He saw, in me, a part of himself that he hadn’t dealt with in a long time, if ever. And I realized how selective I’ve been about what I chose to see in myself, in you and our relationship, certainly a big part of my past -- and even the kids to some degree. And more importantly maybe, what I chose to remember about my marriage and Tim.” She finished the bagel, put her plate in the dishwasher and poured another cup of coffee for them both. “I’m going to change the message on the answering machine, that’ll buy some time.”
“I’ve already turned my cell off. I picked up a box of Duraflame logs they’re in the car – thought we could have a fire without the effort.”
“Sounds good to me.”
A half-hour later she’d left a message assuring any callers that she was fine and would talk to everyone again on Monday. Michael brought in the box of logs and fired up one then made a fresh pot of coffee. They took their coffee to the couch and for a while they both just stared into the fire, until gradually their silence began to be uncomfortable.
“It’s not going to get any easier,” she said, softly. “Shall I go first?”
“No, we probably wouldn’t be where we are right now if I’d faced up to a lot of things years ago.” He continued to stare into the fire for a few minutes more, then taking a deep breath, he began to talk.
He told her about growing up in Boston, about Ryan and Max and about Vietnam and what had happened to all of them there and finally about Julie and later his marriage to Carolyn.
“Funny, I’ve gotten close to your kids and love them, but I never knew their mother’s name until Ryan told me – maybe I just didn’t want to know, but then I didn’t know about Moriah either.”
“Ryan told you about her? Guess he’s kept even closer tabs on me than I realized. Yes, I was involved with Moriah for a brief time, but I always felt she was way too young and somehow the idea of two detectives in the same family just didn’t seem like a good idea. At least that was the excuse I gave myself as well as her, but she wasn’t going to give up her career – and shouldn’t have, she’s good at what she does. But on the other hand I wasn’t ready to give up mine either. I did care for her, I just wasn’t ready for any kind of relationship at that time. I had my hands full with the kids and my own job.”
“Did you love Carolyn?”
“I tried to convince myself that I did, but I think I still felt guilty about her brother and was just trying to make it right. It was a piss poor way of doing it I might add, but if I hadn’t of married her I wouldn’t have the kids and for a long time they were the only things that really gave my life any purpose – at least in my eyes. Not to mention the fact they kept me from crawling into a bottle and staying there.”
“Ryan told me that he thought that was why you had married her – he’s kept up with you all these years – you know that, but he knows you very well.”
“Keeping track of me was one way of saving his neck – he knew what I’d do if I ever found him, even before he killed Julie.”
“Yes, that, too. It was more than that for him, but I’m not sure even he understood exactly what or how much anymore than you do.”
“Lacey, I found out something three days ago that has put a whole new spin on Ryan – in light of what happened on Monday. I heard from one of the Feds again yesterday and he finally told me that the reason they’ve been looking for him is because they believe that he has been working with a terrorist cell – probably Al Qaeda.”
“You know? He told you that?”
“No, he didn’t tell me, but I saw some of the people he was meeting with, I heard him talking on the phone – I didn’t recognize the language, but I thought it might be Mid Eastern. But believe me, he’s paid for whatever he’s done.”
“What do you mean?”
“He and Julie were actually married for five years right after they came back from Vietnam, but when he took off on one of his “missions”, she divorced him. She had discovered that she was pregnant and didn’t want to have an abortion, but didn’t feel she and Ryan had any business having a child. So she gave her up for adoption.”
“A child? When did they get back together?”
“After he returned from wherever he had been – he was gone for almost a year.”
“So he never knew?”
“Not for a long time. She finally told him, but made him promise not to try and find her. He promised and kept it for over twenty years. But he couldn’t forget it and finally figured that even if he could find her, he wouldn’t tell her who he was. By the time he did find her she was grown. And she was married and had a young son of her own. She was a broker, and Ryan had her handling some investments for him. He tried to get Julie to at least meet her – not tell her anything, but just to see how well she was doing. The closest she could come was to have lunch at the same restaurant where Ryan and Elizabeth were eating and she slipped out and returned to San Francisco without Ryan. He said it was several months before she would see or talk to him again.”
“That sounds about right for both of them -- their daughter’s name is Elizabeth?”
“Yes. She worked for Cantor Fitzgerald and Monday morning her husband was on vacation so he and their son went to work with her and they all had breakfast together in a restaurant near the World Trade Center.”
“My God!” He got up from the couch and walked over to the windows, staring out at the courtyard.
“We were in Minneapolis by then, of course, and Ryan saw what was happening on TV, called her cell phone and she answered. She said she was worried about her husband and son, whether they had had time to get out of the area. Ryan told her he had planned to be in New York later that day but didn’t know if he’d be able to get there with all that was happening. She started to cry, she was coughing and he said he could hear screaming in the background – then her phone went dead and a few minutes later we watched the building collapse. Ryan had already made up his mind to get out of whatever he was doing, but he wanted to make one last trip to New York to see Elizabeth and Justin -- his grandson. Like I said, they didn’t know who he was, but he wanted to see them one last time anyway. He didn’t make it – or at least not in time.”
“And that’s where he was still going to go – New York?”
“I don’t know for sure – there wasn’t much point anymore and I didn’t ask.”
“Don’t know or don’t want me to know?”
“I didn’t want to know because I knew you would ask and I didn’t want to lie to you. He’s done terrible things in his life and all I can tell you now is that he’s paid for them. He killed Julie, not because he was mad at her or because of you, but rightly or wrongly, he believed it was the only way he could save her. He was just beginning to realize what he had gotten himself into over the past eight years and while he was pretty much on the fringes, these people weren’t going to take any chances with anything going wrong. He realized he couldn’t save her, couldn’t protect her anymore. I’m not defending what he did, I’m only telling you this was his rationale at the time. Once he had done it, for the first time in his life – I suspect, he began to feel, see what his actions had precipitated ever since Vietnam. The price of those “games” was higher than he could’ve ever imagined.”
“But you are defending him?” He shook his head. “I guess I have to know not only why, but how can you defend him?”
“No, I said it before, I’m not defending him. I am trying to explain his reasoning both back then and now. Something I saw him trying to work out in his own mind –for him, not me. I was just a sounding board, I guess. I’m not sure he was very successful at it though.”
“First Julie and now you.” He rubbed his hands over his face, walked over to the cabinet where they had kept the liquor while he had lived there – it was still there and he poured a shot of Chivas. “Lacey, this man has killed I don’t know how many people – innocent people, not just ones that might have deserved it. To my way of thinking he was – is a heartless, cold man who cares for no one buy himself. Julie knew that and loved him anyway and now you.”
“I’m not in love with Ryan, Michael. I’m not condoning or making excuses for his actions ……”
“Then what are you doing?” He interrupted her, angrily.
“I’m saying that some of us create our own hell on earth – even though we may not know it at the time.”
“If I had my way I’d make certain he got there for real just to be sure.”
“Would that bring Julie back? Would it bring any of them back? Would it change anything – except you and for the worse? Wouldn’t that make you just like him? No matter who does the killing, Michael, it’s still not the answer to anything.” She sighed and took both their coffee cups to the kitchen to refill them. When she returned he had poured himself another shot of Chivas and was standing at the window looking out at the gathering clouds. She put their coffee cups on the table and watched him silently for a moment.
“The reason I’m telling you this, Michael, is because I think Ryan knows all of that now and probably feels pretty much the same way about himself – it’s the only reason I’m sitting here with you. He had ample opportunity to make his life a lot easier and you know I can be a pain in the ass, and I was, I did get under his skin more than once. But he made you a promise and he kept it. He could’ve moved a lot quicker and a lot easier if he’d just shot me and dumped me in the woods. They wouldn’t have found my body for months if not longer and believe me he had plenty of opportunities, but strangely enough, for whatever reason, he didn’t do it. And he got me to Minneapolis safely before anyone else he might have been working with could do what he chose not to do. But the main reason I’m trying to convince you is not to try and save Ryan, but you. Because I’m hoping you’ll let it go. You’ve been hanging on to this hatred of Ryan for – what – thirty years? Let it go, Michael. If we’re ever going to move past the last year we’ve both got to let go of a lot of baggage.”
He turned to look at her for a long moment before coming back to sit beside her on the couch. He left the Chivas untouched and picked up the coffee cup instead.
“Maybe you’re right, all I know anymore is that I don’t know – anything anymore. So what baggage are you carrying around? Couldn’t be as bad as mine.” He made a half-hearted attempt to lighten his mood, but found he was having trouble smiling -- even a little.
Finally, she reached for his hand and held it tightly.
“Don’t misunderstand me, Michael, I’m not making excuses for the things Ryan has done. He’s a very complicated man, a violent man who can be incredibly cold and unfeeling, and yet in spite of everything, I feel that there is still a tiny piece of the young boy you grew up with. If you can’t let it go now I just feel you’re going to not only destroy our relationship, but you – the person you are inside, the person that I fell in love with even without knowing about all your extra baggage.”
He turned away from her and stared out the window.
“I’ll have to take your word for Ryan I guess,” he said quietly. After a few minutes he turned back to her. “Right now I’d really like to forget about him. I want to hear about you – about the part of you I don’t know.”
Slowly, she began to tell him about growing up an only child with parents who always seemed to be looking at her as though they were trying to figure out just where she had come from. Her response to what she had seen as rejection had been defiance in and to everything. She told him in more detail about being the typical 60s flower child and protester. She told him about meeting Tim and how she had moved in with him in spite of her parent’s outrage.
“We married a year later when Tim graduated and I found out I was pregnant with Amy. Gradually, I think we both became quite normal – even to my parent’s way of thinking. Tim became a teacher and we bought this house and had the other three kids. I thought we had the perfect life.
“He had been given a medical deferment some years before – he had a mild heart problem, and as I told you before he didn’t go to Vietnam. I think, to begin with, he felt guilty because nearly all of his friends did go and a lot of them didn’t come back. We had been married for about ten years, had four kids, we did some traveling to Europe, Mexico and Canada and I had about decided to start doing what I do now. I loved growing things, the house was big enough for me to have a studio, I could still be at home for the kids, Tim encouraged me, so I started going to summer school in Eugene. It seemed perfect – Tim didn’t teach during the summer so he could be home with the kids and it gave both of us a chance to do something different for a few months out of the year.” She paused, sipping her coffee.
“Sounds good to me, what happened?”
“After I returned home the second or third summer, I thought Tim seemed different, remote. I thought that maybe it was my imagination, that after all, I’d been gone every summer for several years. Maybe he was having second thoughts about being a stay-at-home Dad for three months out of the year. But when I tried to talk to him about it, he just brushed it off saying he had a lot on his mind getting prepared for the new school year. But as that year wore on he became increasingly distant and spent more and more time away from home. The next couple of years were a nightmare, I quit school, tried staying home again, but things just seemed to get worse. Of course, the next thing that came to my mind was that he was having an affair and I confronted him.”
“When was this?”
“The year before he died in the car crash. He denied it repeatedly, but when I kept bugging him, he suddenly changed again and became more like the Tim I had married. He assured me that he’d just gotten depressed over losing so many friends in Vietnam and still felt guilty that he hadn’t been able to go, too. I’m not sure I believed him, but I wanted to so badly that I did. Later, in the spring he suggested that we get Lori – who had been our babysitter for a couple of years, to come stay with the kids over a long weekend so we could get away to ourselves and spend a few days at the coast. I was thrilled silly, immediately went shopping for some sexy lingerie, thinking second honeymoon,” she paused and took a deep breath. “I didn’t need it though.”
It was her time to go stand by the window and stare out into the courtyard, angry to discover that even now, after all these years the memory of that weekend could still hurt.
“He was having an affair then?”
“Not in the usual sense -- he told me he was gay, that he had known it for years but had denied it partly because he couldn’t accept it about himself for one thing, his parents for another and, of course, me and the kids being the biggest reason. But he said he couldn’t continue with things as they were. He wasn’t seeing anyone in particular, he didn’t really want to move out and leave me and the kids and that he hoped we could always be friends. Needless to say, I was stunned – not because I had any negative feelings about gays, I just couldn’t believe I was married to one. Anyway, I put away the sexy lingerie, we walked on the beach and talked for two days and before we came home we agreed to separate rooms, but otherwise continued as we had. I’m not sure it was the best thing to do, but for us it was at least a first step towards – something. Then about ten months later he died in the car crash. I think I’ve felt guilty about that because as devastating as it was, I actually felt a sense of relief because it meant that I didn’t have to deal with his homosexuality any more. The real problem for me had been the sense of failure, of not being “enough”. I felt like the same old family rejection thing had come back to haunt me again. So, I proceeded to do the grieving wife thing and did it so well I think I even believed it myself – up until recently.”
“Until everything that has happened between you and I over the past year brought it all back?”
She smiled and shrugged. “You got it.”
“By God, we are a pair, aren’t we?” He cupped her face with his hands and kissed her softly, then pulled her into his arms and held her tightly. “We’ve both been carrying around enough baggage for a half dozen people.”
“Yeah, and you know what? No one else cares and we’ve done it to ourselves.”
“Think maybe it’s time to chuck it?”
“Without a doubt.”
“Still have some of that sexy lingerie?’
“Well, not the same stuff from ten years ago – I restocked after I met you.”
“Think maybe this would be a good time to check it out?”
“I need to know one thing more,” she said, leaning back to look in his eyes.
“And that is?”
“Are you still in love with Julie?”
“To be completely honest with you I think the love I felt for Julie in Vietnam was mostly based on loneliness and fear and the very fact that Ryan wanted her, but whatever, it was mostly all in my mind. And, I suspect that it probably died a long time ago, but I wasn’t ready or willing to admit that. It had become a safety net that I used as my excuse for not getting emotionally involved with anyone. Seeing her and Ryan in Mexico was like stepping back in time, as though the last nearly forty years simply went away -- gone. Then when I realized that you were with Ryan –regardless of the situation, I had a lot of stuff to deal with and had to decide what was real and alive and what had been an illusion and dead for a long time.” He pulled her back into his arms. “I don’t want to risk losing you again.”
“I was hoping you’d say that, but I don’t think I knew just how much until you walked in here this morning.” She leaned against him and put her lips close to his ear. “Now, you still want to check out that lingerie?”, she whispered.
“Absolutely,” he whispered back.
“I don’t know about you but I’m starved,” Michael said, several hours later, propping up on his elbow, looking down at her and gently pushing her dark hair off her forehead.
“I was hoping you’d say it first. Seems like I’m the only one that thinks about food all the time. Even Ryan made jokes about it,” she stopped as Michael looked away, then sat up, leaning against the headboard. “We’re going to have to talk about him sooner or later, Michael, we can’t just act as though the past couple of weeks didn’t happen.”
“I know you’re right, but I wish we didn’t.” He swung his legs to the floor and reached for his shorts. “Hey, how about this, why don’t we order out and at least put off this conversation until we don’t have to have it on an empty stomach -- that work for you?” He asked with a grin.
“Deal. You order and I’ll take a shower,” she said, throwing back the covers and heading for the bathroom.
“Don’t hurry and I’ll wash your back.”
“You’re on,” she said. Then sticking her head out of the bathroom, she fluttered her lashes and gave him her femme fatale look. “So tell the delivery guy to take his time.”
“Do like the way you think. So what’re you hungry for?”
“Food – lots of it, your choice.”
He reached for the phone on the table by the bed. Everything suddenly seemed so normal and he wondered, tentatively, if they really could get back to where they’d been before – no, that wasn’t quite right, could they get past where they’d been and make it better than it had been. That was his goal and for the first time in months he was actually beginning to believe that just maybe they could – in spite of Ryan. He had a wide grin on his face by the time a cheery voice welcomed him to the Happy Panda and he proceeded to order almost everything on their takeout menu. The day was looking brighter by the minute.
Two hours later, the Happy Panda’s cartons of Oriental Chicken, Dim Sun and Egg Rolls had been warmed over and devoured, and Michael and Lacey were still at the kitchen table with cups of hot tea. Ryan’s letter lay between them, still unopened.
“When did you say he gave this to you?” Michael said, picking up the envelope and looking at it as though he wished he could make it disappear.
“He didn’t give it to me in person, he left it with the desk clerk along with enough money to get me back to Portland. He’d already rented me a car and had it delivered to the hotel.”
“But you didn’t read it then – why?”
“I don’t know really. Just felt I had to put some distance between me and what had happened over the past week.”
“And what had happened?”
“Now don’t start trying to read more into my words than I’m saying.”
“So, tell me, what are you saying?”
“It seemed to me that I had spent the last several months finding out things about you that I had never known – particularly the past several weeks and I slowly began to realize I’d never really known you and at the same time you didn’t really know me either. We’ve both played roles that we created for ourselves – roles that were preferable, in our minds, to the real ones. Then all of sudden Ryan was there and it was like seeing all three of us – four really, counting Julie, for the first time. And Ryan was suddenly suffering from guilt, loss, uncertainty and he’d begun to question everything about his life. He was in a lot of pain – for the first time, I suspect. The rest of us were better acquainted with it.
“In some ways I guess I became his confessor and the more he confessed the more I learned not only about him, but you and me. Nothing physical happened between Ryan and I – the closest we came to that was when the North Tower fell and his daughter’s phone went dead and he knew she was gone too. I put my arms around him and held him and he cried.”
“Well, you certainly saw a Ryan than I never did.”
“That’s really not surprising, Michael, considering that you hadn’t seen him at all in over thirty years. I doubt that he had changed much from the man you knew in Vietnam – until he killed Julie and in that one moment he became a man that he didn’t recognize and couldn’t comprehend or relate to and it was devastating.”
“Killing was nothing new to Ryan, Lacey.”
“Killing someone he loved was and he did love her – a great deal more than even he
knew until she was dead.”
Michael got up from the table and walked over to the windows overlooking the courtyard.
“Read the letter, Lacey.”
“You can read it yourself if you like.”
“No – not now. Maybe it’s true what you say about him and maybe that’s the hardest part for me – that you can see humanity in a man I can only see as a killer. And don’t blame it all on the war in Vietnam. Not every man in Vietnam became a cold-blooded killer because of what they experienced there, but he did. And it wasn’t like he had a miserable childhood that somehow triggered that side of him. The three of us grew up together, had normal homes and families – lives. And I’ve said all this to you before.” He ran his hands through his hair, suddenly hating himself for being unable to let go of his hatred of Ryan.
“Michael, it’s not going to happen all at once, you can’t just shrug your shoulders, and say okay I was wrong about him and push it away. But neither can you continue to hold on to your hatred, feeding it, keeping it alive. You do need to try and let it go, even if it’s just a little at a time. You need to move on. Maybe you can never forgive him, but you can forgive yourself. ”
He turned to look at her, thinking that it was almost as though she could see inside his head, read what he was thinking – maybe she could.
“That’s true, but probably not all at once.”
“No, but you can take it one day at a time.” She got up from the table and coming over to him, she put her arms around him and they held each other.
“Looks like it’s going to be a pretty nice afternoon, why don’t we drive down to the coast and have dinner at that great place that’s right on the beach – remember where we went that time right after Lori went missing? We can stuff ourselves with crab and lobster, all dripping with butter,” she whispered in his ear.
“How can you even think about food after all we’ve just put away,” he asked, grinning.
“Chinese food never stays with you for very long and besides, it’ll take us a few hours to get there.”
“Okay, you’re on.” He kissed her hard and led her back down the hall to the bedroom, leaving Ryan’s letter still lying unopened on the table.
It had been a perfect ending to what had been an emotional and sometimes painful weekend, she thought, lingering over a third cup of coffee after Michael left that Monday morning. After a leisurely drive to the coast they had stuffed themselves with lobster and crab, they had walked along the beach. They watched the moon moving from cloud to cloud, listened to the waves crash against the enormous rocks, that seemed to be getting further and further away as the tide rolled in and up onto the shore. She almost wished they had stayed overnight, but it was time for them to get back to making a living. She smiled, thinking that yesterday had been living, today was facing the real world.
She needed to shower and get dressed and be ready for Lori when she arrived for work. Lori was going to have a million questions and Lacey had to decide just how much she was willing to tell her. She stood and stretched, refilled her cup and took it with her to the bedroom. She made the bed, took a few minutes to rub Seymour’s stomach and scratch his chin, then reluctantly stepped into the shower. “Sometimes reality really sucks,” she muttered.
But the hot water felt good and helped melt some of the stiffness in her back and neck that after the past several weeks, she thought might be permanent. Then again if the past several weeks hadn’t left some kind of a calling card she probably was dead already and just didn’t know it. Shivering, she quickly rubbed on some lotion, blower dried her short dark hair, managed to ignore the growing number of gray hairs and pulled on a pair of jeans, over-sized sweat shirt, thick socks and her favorite, worn and scuffed New Balances. She took another look in the mirror before leaving the bathroom – definitely an improvement, she thought, tilting her head from side to side. Either that or her eyesight was getting worse.
She was making a second pot of coffee when she heard Lori’s car in the drive and set out another cup, filled the sugar bowl, opened a new carton of coffee cream, took a deep breath and prepared for the endless stream of questions she knew Lori was bringing along. She probably had a list long enough to fill one of her briefcases.
Lori didn’t say anything at first, she just closed the door behind her and reached out to hug her.
“Uh huh, now you know how I felt when you just disappeared two years ago.”
“You’re right and in case I didn’t apologize then, I’m doing it now. This has been one of the scariest weeks of my life.”
“The last week has been enough to scare the world, never mind me. Come on, sit down. Ah, hah! What’s that in the bag from Great Harvest?”
“Croissants and whipped honey butter,” she said opening the sack. “Hand me a plate.”
“Good thing I’ve lost some pounds, otherwise you know I’d have to refuse.”
“Yeah, right.” Lori hooked her jacket over the back of the kitchen chair. “Oh, that coffee does smell good! I remembered to get more for you, but forgot that I was out, too.”
“Take this home with you this afternoon, I have more in the freezer in the basement.”
“Yeah, but is it this good stuff?”
“I splurge now and then.”
“Okay, enough of the small talk. I want to know everything. You look a little tired, but I guess that’s a lot better than how you were looking in my nightmares. I assume you’ve seen Michael.”
“We spent most of the weekend together – even went to the coast for dinner last night and walked on the beach.”
“We both unloaded a lot of excess baggage and it felt good. We both want to give us another try.”
“I’m glad for that,” she paused, buttered another croissant, waiting for Lacey to go on, then realized that Lacey was finished. “You’re not going to tell me about that guy are you?”
“Ryan? Not now – he didn’t hurt me, he made Michael a promise and kept it and was responsible for getting me back home safely. He’s a strange man, but I’m not ready to talk about him – I did enough of that with Michael over the weekend and right now I‘d just like to get back to at least a semi-normal life. Well, that is if I ever really had a normal life to begin with – I’m beginning to wonder.”
“I guess I can understand that – God knows I’ve felt that way about mine plenty of times. Then again, what’s normal?” She shrugged then stacked her cup and plate to the sink, rinsed them and put them in the dishwasher. “Have you talked to the kids yet?”
“Briefly, yesterday morning. They’re fine and I think all of them plan on showing up here for Thanksgiving.”
“How much have you told them?”
“Just about as much as I’ve told you,” she said with a grin. “So there’s no need for all of you to be comparing notes.”
“Sure know how to take the spice out of things, don’t you?”
“I’ve had years of experience. You ready to go to the studio?”
“Don’t guess I have much choice, do I? Actually, I have a meeting with a client in about an hour. Not sure how it’s going to go – they’re pretty shaken up about what happened in New York, that’s where they’re from and I think planning a garden and landscaping is about the last thing on their minds right now.”
“Probably a lot of people feel that way. I’m prepared to see several projects go down the tubes before people begin feeling reasonably normal enough to start thinking about gardens and lawns etc. etc. etc. I’m pretty sure we’re not the only ones who’ve decided that they don’t really know what normal is anymore anyway.”
“Count on it.”
“Listen, I’ve got a few things I need to do here, but I’ll be over in a few minutes, okay?”
“Take your time.” She started out the door, then stopped and turned around. “You know what, speaking of time, I wonder how many people in New York were “taking their time” a week ago. Promise me, that we won’t waste ours – ever.”
“I’ll remind you if you’ll do the same.”
“You’re on.” She closed the door behind her and walked slowly across the courtyard to the door of the studio.
Watching her, Lacey wondered if perhaps now Lori was ready to appreciate her life for what it was rather focusing on failure and seeking ways to destroy it as she had in the past. True, she had changed a lot in the past couple of years – they both had. Maybe this was the beginning of better times, at least for them personally. God only knew where the country or the world for that matter was headed now.
The next week slipped by uneventfully. Michael went back to work and Lacey was soon involved in several design projects including the one for her own hot tub and gazebo outside the double doors from her bedroom. Instead of having less business, they seemed to be acquiring more. It was as if more and more people were realizing the importance of making the most of their lives, not putting things off to some distant date that might never arrive for them. It wasn’t negativism so much as wanting to make the most of every day, every hour. The “now” became the operative word for nearly everyone they talked to – it just might turn out to be their busiest season yet.
Lacey was glad to be busy for more reasons than the income that was being generated -- it kept her from thinking too much. Consequently, between Michael getting caught up and back in the swing of things at the police department and her own tightly packed schedule, their time together was limited. She almost felt guilty at the relief she felt at not having to deal with their still fragile relationship – at least for now. And while she wasn’t positive, she suspected that Michael felt the same way. They talked on the phone every day and each assured the other that they’d be glad when things slowed down so they could have more time together. But she was pretty sure they if they were honest, they both protested a little too much, and that Michael hung up the phone with the same sense of relief that she did.
The still unopened letter from Ryan lay on her nightstand and was the last thing she saw before turning out the lights and the first thing she saw when she got up in the morning, but she couldn’t bring herself to open and read it. She tried over and over to rationalize not only her unwillingness to read what he had written, but there was an equal unwillingness to tear it up and throw it away. So far she had come up with a blank in both cases, so it remained a silent, troubling reminder both of the experience and the man.
“You and Michael going to do anything this weekend?” Lori’s voice pulled her back to her drawing board and the plans in front of her.
“Oh, I don’t think so. He’s still trying to get caught up and frankly I just want to work on my own plans for the hot tub. I’ve worked on everyone else’s stuff all week, everything is in pretty good shape and I can’t do much more until Monday anyway. Why? You have something in mind?”
“Oh, not really – kinda got an urge to go down to the coast, thought you might like to go, too.”
“Thanks, but I have trouble right now even thinking about getting in a car for more than a trip to the grocery store.”
“I figured that’s what you’d say, but thought I’d ask. I’m pretty sure if I’d done as much traveling in the past few weeks as you have I wouldn’t want to step foot in a car either let alone make a trip regardless of how short. Well, I’ve finished up here, think I’ll take off.”
“Enjoy the beach, see you Monday.”
“Yeah, have a good weekend yourself.”
She watched Lori go down the steps and get into her car, then stacked the drawings she’d been working on, stuck them in a folder, turned out the lights and headed for the door. She had no idea just what she was going to be doing for the weekend, but whatever it was she was going to do it alone. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, listen to anyone or even be in the same room with anyone. She’d always been a loner to some degree, but since her return to Portland she felt as though she’d climbed inside herself and slammed a door.
She locked the studio door and walked across the courtyard and into the kitchen. The first thing she reached for was a bottle of wine and a glass, she flipped off the lights and went into the darkened living room.
“It’s not even October and the days are already getting shorter,” she mumbled to herself as she lit the wrapping of a Duraflame log and poured a glass or wine. Seymour came to sit with her stretching and yawning before settling down to knead her leg.
“Hey, guy, your claws are sharp, go knead somewhere else.”
A few more glasses of wine, a half of a ham sandwich and another log later and still she continued to sit, staring into the fire. She’d left a message on Michael’s answering machine that she felt like she was coming down with a cold and just wanted to go to bed early and that she’d call Saturday or Sunday when she was feeling better. She was fairly sure he’d get the message that she didn’t want company and could almost hear his sigh of relief – it matched hers as she hung up the phone.
She had come to the point of feeling that his hatred of Ryan was considerably greater than his professed love of her – well, it’d had more time to fester and grow since it started long, long before they met. Still, she’d hoped that the love he professed for her was greater than a forty-year old grudge. Well, it was more than a grudge and she did understand at least partially, but then explaining Michael’s problem surely didn’t explain hers. What was she so scared of, holding on to and why? Whatever it was and the why were probably going to continue being evasive and that was what she hated. How could she ever be free of all this crap if she didn’t even know for sure what it was?
She went into her bedroom, picked up Ryan’s letter from the bedside table and went back into the living room, tearing it into tiny pieces as she walked quickly down the hall. She tossed the pieces into the fire and stood there watching the edges curl, blacken and crumble into ashes.
“Enough is enough,” she muttered to herself and poured another glass of wine. “Too bad I don’t feel that way about the wine, probably wish I had in the morning. Well, at least I won’t have to fake feeling like shit.”
Seymour reached up to butt his head against her chin and began kneading her leg -- again, purring contentedly.
“Thanks, old buddy, I can always depend on you can’t I?”
She fell asleep on the couch again, woke up a little before four in the morning and stumbled down the hall to her bedroom and climbed into her bed where Seymour was waiting for her. It was almost noon before she woke again – even the cat had slept in. A shower, clean sweats, some breakfast and she almost felt human again. It was also raining, giving her the perfect excuse to stay inside. Sorting through a stack of new books she’d gotten two days earlier at the library, she found a couple that looked interesting, added some logs to the fire, made another pot of coffee and once again headed for the couch.
It was nearly eleven that night when she put the book aside, surprised to find that she was three-quarters through it and more importantly she was suddenly feeling more at peace than she had felt in weeks and this time with no wine. It was a good feeling – she was even feeling sleepy again. Afraid to break the spell, she turned out the light and reached for the afghan again.
“Sweats are marvelous to sleep in,” she murmured to Seymour. Within minutes she was sound asleep.
The soft rustle near the fireplace in the quiet, dark room penetrated her sleep and she pushed herself up on her elbow to look around. A man, who was not Michael, was replenishing the dying flames. It didn’t take a second look to know who it was.
“My God, Ryan, what in the hell are you doing here and how did you get inside?” Her voice came out a hoarse whisper as she sat up, pulling the afghan around her shoulders.
“Sorry to wake you, but it was getting cold in here.” He stood, brushing his hands off against the sides of his jeans.
“You didn’t answer my questions – how long have you been here anyway?”
“Which one do you want me to answer first?” he asked with a grin, pulling an ottoman up beside the couch. He sat down, leaned forward to look at her in the suddenly bright light of the re-fed fire.
“What are you doing here?”
“To begin with, I’ve made peace with my former employer and I’m leaving for Afghanistan in a few hours. I’m here because I wanted to make sure you were all right and to say thank you and tell you goodbye.”
“What former employer are you talking about? The good guys or the bad guys – or do you even know the difference?” She paused, the anger and shock at seeing him, fading as she got a good look at his face. “Did you get to New York? What did you find?”
“Elizabeth died when the building collapsed, her husband and my grandson are still missing, but I suspect they didn’t make it either from what little I could find out.” He paused and turned to look into the fire. “As for which former employer, my friends at the CIA are willing to forgive and forget if I’m willing to use my knowledge of the language and the terrain in the area between Pakistan and Afghanistan to help them find as many of the bad guys as possible. I suspect I won’t be coming back and I wanted to make sure you were okay before I left -- that was my one condition with the good old boys.”
“Did they find you or did you go to them?”
“Doesn’t matter, we got together. You have any coffee?”
“I’ll make some,” she pushed aside the afghan and felt for her slippers beside the couch. “You didn’t tell me how you got in here or how long you’ve been here?”
“I’ve been here about an hour, as for getting in, remember what I’ve done for a living most of my life. Besides, I hate to tell you, but your house is a snap to get into anyway, you should see a good security company about that, but I’d been here before and had a key made so I didn’t break in – this time. How’s Michael?”
“Wait a minute,” she turned to look at him, setting the can of coffee on the counter. What’d you mean, you probably won’t be back?”
“I know you have more questions than just about any woman I’ve ever known,” he grinned, poured water into the coffee maker and began measuring the coffee.
“Just answer the last one.”
“It’s a very unfriendly area, I’ll be on my own for the most part until they officially start sending troops there and even then I’ll be way ahead of them and I’ll be working alone, the odds of coming back in one piece are pretty small. Now, it’s your turn, how’s Michael?”
“Angry, bitter – thinks I just stepped into Julie’s shoes. Oh, we’ve talked, tried to patch things up, but I don’t think either one of us has any idea where we’re headed right now.” She touched his arm. “Look at me.”
He switched on the coffee maker and reached for a couple of mugs before turning to look at her.
“You don’t care if you come back, do you?”
“Honestly? Not really, but I pretty much told you that before. So, did you read my letter?”
“You seem to be the one with all the answers, you tell me. Are you hungry?”
“No, coffee’s all I have time for. My guess is that you didn’t, probably just as well.”
“And why’s that?”
He shrugged and poured them both a cup of coffee.
“I am sorry I startled you, but I did want to make sure you were all right before I have to leave the country and I wanted to say goodbye. I wish I could answer all your questions, but I can’t – oh, I could, but I’m not sure it would make any sense to you. I’m not even sure it all makes sense to me anymore, but all of that is pretty unimportant right now. It’s too late, but I guess I’m really doing this for Julie and Elizabeth and my grandson.”
“It is too late for them, so maybe you’re doing it for yourself.”
“Yes, but not in the way you may be thinking. This is – what shall I call it – my mea culpa? Too late, but better late than never, don’t you think?” He finished his coffee and set the mug in the sink. “I’ve got to go.” He looked at her, smiled and pushed a lock of hair off her forehead. “Give him some time, Lacey, time and some space. You’re good for each other and I think you need each other, so don’t throw it away. You can take that from someone who knows.”
“I guess I find it hard to understand why it took you so long to realize what you were throwing away. You were little more than a kid in Vietnam, but you had a woman who gave up everything for you, a woman you obviously loved in your owned warped way.”
“Ah, you do know how to put things, don’t you. I doubt if I could ever make you understand what it was, how it all started or what lay behind it, frankly, I’m not sure I understand it myself anymore. Now, let me give you a hug and I’ll be gone.”
“I need to know one more thing.”
“Make it quick, I’m running out of time.”
“After what happened in California, why did you come here, why did you take me with you on that wild goose chase? Michael had no idea where you were, the Feds didn’t know, you could have done what you felt you had to do a lot easier without me. Was it to hurt Michael again? And if so, why? Was it just another game? Was it just another part of the game? I need to know, Ryan, otherwise none of it makes any sense at all. You’re not stupid and yet taking me upped the risk for you.”
“Lacey, if I had all the time in the world I couldn’t tell you why anymore than I can make you understand why I’ve done any of the things I’ve done – I’m not even sure I understand anymore, maybe I never knew, maybe I just never thought about it. I did it because – because I did it.”
He shrugged, smiled and wrapped his arms around her, held her tightly for a moment then kissed her cheek and was out the kitchen door before she could respond.
“What good would it have done to know the answer -- I’m not even sure I really want to know anyway. What good would it do?” she went to the window, staring out into the courtyard, but he had already disappeared.
She was sure there would be no more sleep for what remained of the night. She wanted to talk to Michael, but couldn’t bring herself to call him at four in the morning. Maybe he could come over for dinner tonight, she thought then wondered if she was deliberately delaying a call to him. What was it she wanted to tell him or say to him and did any of it really matter anymore?
She went back to the couch, wrapping the afghan around her, wondering where Seymour had disappeared to. In spite of the coffee and the questions spinning around in her head, she fell asleep again.
Sunlight streamed through the windows and Lori was leaning over her, gently shaking her shoulder.
“Hey, are you okay?”
“What time is it? Did you just get here?” Lacey pushed herself up on an elbow, hoping she didn’t look as dopey as she felt.
“I went to the studio first – about eight and when you weren’t there and didn’t show up after a half hour I decided I’d better come looking for you. Is there something wrong? You look a little weird.”
“I always look weird first thing in the morning and there’s nothing wrong, I’m fine. I’m going to shower and I’ll be over in about a half an hour. Did you already start the coffee?”
“Fresh pot ready right now, you want a cup?”
“No, after I shower will be fine. If the Maddens call before I get over there, tell them the drawings are ready and see when they’d like me to bring them out.”
“Okay, I’m out of here – you sure you’re okay? You --- “
“Yeah, I know, I look a little weird, you already said that.” She hurried down the hall to avoid any more questions.
She couldn’t believe she had slept so hard and wondered if Ryan was on his way to Afghanistan and if Michael had any idea he’d been in Portland. She almost reached for the phone to call him, then decided she wasn’t up to the conversation she knew they were going to have to have – but it’d have to be soon. Maybe dinner tonight.
Less than an hour later she was drinking coffee and putting some final touches on the drawings for the Maddens, they were coming by in a couple of hours – at least that saved her a trip to Lake Oswego. She’d left a message for Michael before she left the house, but so far he hadn’t returned the call.
Lori left to see a client and Lacey felt like she could finally get a deep breath, without Lori hovering over her asking if something was wrong for the tenth time that morning. God, did she look that bad? She was afraid to look in the mirror.
She had just stepped into the storage room to get a new ink cartridge for her printer when she heard the studio door open. It was Michael.
“Hi, got your message, decided to stop by. How’re you feeling?”
“Better, how about you? How’s it feel to be back at work?”
“Actually, I think it’s a relief – other things to think about, forces me to get out of my head.”
They stood across the room from one another, neither making a move to get closer.
“I understand that – I feel pretty much the same, makes me feel almost normal again. I was hoping that maybe you could come over for dinner tonight. I’ve got an appointment later this afternoon, but I thought maybe we could order out.”
“Sure, what time?”
“That’ll work – what’re we ordering?”
“Your choice – I was kind of thinking Dim Sum from Happy Panda.”
“That’s cool. Sure you wouldn’t rather go out?”
“I’m sure, let’s have a fire and eat in the den.” She took a deep breath and walked over to him. “Think I could get a hug.”
He grinned. “Thought you’d never ask,” he said, putting his arms around her and kissing the top of her head.
She closed her eyes and leaned against him, wondering if what she wanted to talk to him about tonight would be the final straw and for a moment even wondered if she even cared, one way or the other.
“Okay, then I’m out of here. See you about seven.” He gave her a quick kiss and a wave and was out the door.
“Maybe he’s as unsure as I am,” she thought to herself. She suddenly felt tired again and wished she could cancel her appointment and at the same time was glad that wasn’t an option – it would keep her from thinking about tonight.
* * * *
Michael didn’t want to think either – about anything, but most of all tonight. He had things to tell Lacey and he had no real idea just what her reaction would be.
He glanced in the back seat as he unlocked the door of his car – it was full of stuff from his desk at the precinct. He had an hour before he was to meet the guy from the real estate office who was going to handle selling his condo. The past couple of days he had cleaned out everything except what he wanted to take with him and that wasn’t much. A couple of his neighbors who saw him stacking boxes on the porch had asked where he was going. He didn’t tell them where, only that he was leaving town and offered to let them have their pick of his stuff. That had taken care of almost everything and the Salvation Army had picked up the rest. He’d have to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor for tonight, after that he’d be on the road and probably still wondering where exactly he was headed.
He wasn’t even sure when he realized that he had to get out of Oregon, away from the job and particularly, away from Lacey. But once the idea took root in his head, he couldn’t seem to move fast enough. His boss had been more understanding than he’d even hoped for all things considered and insisted that he just take an extended leave of absence rather than resigning. He’d talked to his kids and they had been full of questions, and concerns. Some of which they’d expressed, others they’d just hinted at, but he suspected there were a number of things that bothered them and that they were quite likely totally bewildered by what seemed to be a move very unlike the father they knew. But then they’d both been gone for several years and had their own lives and he’d always encouraged that. They were mostly curious about Lacey and what was happening with her because they both liked her and had felt like he’d finally found someone to fill his life – whatever it was. There was a lot that they’d never known or understood in the first place. He’d put up as much of a wall between them and himself as he had with Lacey where his past was concerned.
Brad had given up trying to talk him into staying – actually he hadn’t even tried that hard. It was as though he’d known all along and had accepted it even before Michael actually told him. But then they’d been pretty much of one mind from the beginning. There had been an almost wistful look in his eyes when they said goodbye, as though he wished he could do the same thing.
Horns blared behind him and he realized the light had changed. He drove back to the condo and continued packing his remaining things into the SUV. He’d about decided to leave town right after dinner tonight.
As he stepped inside the empty living room he saw the letter he’d left unopened on the top of one of his bags. Ryan had apparently been at it again – Michael had found it in his mailbox that morning, but had no idea just when it’d been left there – and it had been left, as there was no postage. He found himself wondering if Lacey had finally read her letter from Ryan. He was also finding it hard to believe that the guy was still walking around free and even harder to believe he’d come back to Portland. He’d started to call the Feds, but then decided, what the fuck, Ryan was totally their problem now.
One more look at the letter lying there and he picked it up, tore it into tiny pieces and flushed them down the commode and carried the last load to the car. Twenty minutes later he parked in front of the real estate office.
Last minute errands took up the remainder of the afternoon and after deciding he definitely wanted to get on the road as soon as he left Lacey’s, he made one last stop at the house to shower, change clothes and pick up his sleeping bag. He took a last look around, surprised that he felt nothing, but then he wasn’t even sure he’d felt anything but anger for weeks now. Dropping the extra keys on the kitchen cabinet, he locked the doors and left through the garage. Twenty minutes later he pulled into Lacey’s drive, it was ten to seven.
“You’re early,” Lacey said as she opened the kitchen door. “Hope you don’t mind, but I decided a pot of soup would taste good tonight, besides it gave me an excuse to get away a little early.”
“Hmmm, smells great,” he said, brushing his lips against her cheek.
“It’ll be ready in about twenty minutes. Want a glass of wine or a beer?”
“A beer’ll be good.”
“That sounds good to me, too. Go on in the den, I’ve got a fire going and I’ll bring them in.”
He sank down on the couch and stared at the fire. This was going to be harder than he’d thought earlier this afternoon.
“Here you go,” she said, handing him a frosted mug and a bottle of Sam Adams. “I’m glad you’re here early, I have something I need to tell you and I think I’d like to do it before we eat if that’s okay with you.”
“Yeah, good idea – I’ve got something I need to tell you, too.”
They both stared into the fire, sipping their beer, the comfort level sliding downward with each passing minute as both of them suddenly found themselves struggling for the right words.
“Okay, you first,” he said, forcing what he hoped was an encouraging smile.
“I was afraid you’d say that – all right, here goes. Ryan was here this morning, he’s back with the CIA and is on his way to Afghanistan. His main concern was you, but he did want to make sure I was okay and to say goodbye, he doesn’t think he’ll make it back. His daughter did die on the 11th and his son-in-law and grandson are still missing, he’s fairly sure they’re dead as well.”
He stared into the fire and finished his beer before he answered her.
“I knew he was here – in Portland, I mean, but it figures he’d come here first. I didn’t think about it though until I found a letter from him in my mailbox today. I tore it up without reading it.”
“I did the same with mine.”
“I wish I could say that I’m okay with everything that has happened, but I can’t and I don’t know if or when I will be okay with anything remotely connected to Ryan. It seems that he’s had an unfortunate impact, in one way or another, on my life since we were in our teens and while I know that it’s stupid, I just can’t seem to shrug it off and move on.
That’s basically what I came here to tell you. I’m leaving Portland tonight, don’t know for sure where I’m going, I’ve handed in my resignation although Jim insists that he’s just going to consider it an extended leave of absence. I’ve listed my condo with a realtor, gotten rid of everything that I couldn’t pack in the car. I have no idea when or if I’ll be back, but it for sure won’t be until I get my head straight. Maybe it’s too late for that, I don’t know, but I have to try. I do love you, Lacey, but until I work through the stuff I’ve been refusing to look at for nearly forty years it’s not going to be enough and I feel I’d just hurt you more than I already have. Who knows, maybe I can finally shed the demons, but until I can I’m no good for anyone including myself.”
“Have you told your kids?” She couldn’t believe how calm her voice sounded and wondered if it was really calm or just relief that she wasn’t going to have to tell him that she’d already come to the same conclusion.
“Yeah, they think I’m nuts, but that’s not necessarily anything new.”
“What are you going to do, where are you going to go? Or do you know?”
“I think I’m going back to Montana for starters, from there, probably Boston. Frankly, I don’t have the faintest idea – what’re you always telling me, one day at a time? Right now it’s more like one minute at a time. You don’t seem surprised, are you just relieved I’ll be out of your hair?”
“I guess what I wanted to talk about tonight was along the same lines. While I understand how and why you feel the way you do about Ryan, I do think it’s time you let it go and really no one can help you do that – least of all me. I’m having enough trouble with my own ghosts without trying to take on yours as well. Regardless of what you may think I don’t have any special feelings for him beyond sincere empathy. But right now he’s going through a lot of the same stuff you are – that’s why I think he keeps trying to reach out to you and he’s used me to try to do that. I’m okay with that because I understand where he’s coming from. Right now he’s paying dearly for the life he chose and he’s doing the same thing you are, trying to go back, reach out – whatever to find some kind of peace. It may not be possible for him -- it is for you. But you’re the only one that can do it for you – if I could help I would and I’ll probably still be around if one of these days you think you can finally put it behind you – really behind you, not just out of sight.”
“Probably?” he asked with a wry grin.
“Well, darlin’ we ain’t getting any younger and I suppose it depends on just how long it takes you.” She smiled and reached for his hand. “How about we let it go, have some of my splendid comfort soup and maybe you can at least start out on your journey with a full stomach.”
“Good idea.” He stood, then sat back down beside her. “But first, can I hold you for just a minute?”
“I was afraid you’d never ask,” she said, softly and reached for him at the same time he reached for her.
He could feel the tears on her cheeks as well as his own and they sat wrapped in one another’s arms for several minutes before she gently pushed him back and held out a hand. “Want another beer?”
“Yeah, thanks.” But he continued to stare into the fire.
“Want to eat in here?”
He nodded and with a sigh got up to follow her into the kitchen.
It was almost ten when they took their almost empty dishes to the kitchen.
“Here’s some snacks for you to take with you,” she said, handing him a bag.
“Thanks.” He put it on top of his jacket and put his arms around her. “Great soup, as always. And thanks for not trying to make me feel more guilty than I do already and for understanding that this is something I have to do.”
“I do understand and I’ve had enough guilt in my life already without taking on yours, too. Just take care of yourself and if you feel like it, let me know how things are going, but if I don’t hear from you that’s okay, too. Do what you have to do.”
A brief last kiss and he grabbed his things and went quickly across the courtyard to his car. An hour later he was well on his way to Montana – the first stop on his self-imposed odyssey. He had no idea what the outcome of all of this would be. He didn’t plan to visit his former in-laws in Montana, but it was there he had begun to build a new life for himself nearly thirty years ago, from there he wanted to go back to Boston, to his old neighborhood. Maybe, just maybe he would be able to clean out the closet of horrors that he still carried in his mind, maybe he could finally write the last chapter and close the book on the past. And maybe, just maybe he could find some peace, some clarity so that he could begin to live – really live again without fear, without secrets, without pain he was afraid to explore. Was there still a chance for him and Lacey? Would he eventually come back to Oregon and police work? He had no idea. Well, he thought, at least it’s a start, one minute, one hour, one day at a time -- for now.