Prologue

She squirmed and tried to ignore the pain. She knew he was watching. Watching while this man, this stranger, paid for the right to hurt her. It wasn’t the first time.

But it was the first time she had the Thought.

When he was finished the stranger left her there. Left her to clean up, to wait for the next time. Maybe it wouldn’t be tonight. Maybe it wouldn’t be for weeks. It was the not knowing that killed. Mama wouldn’t approve. Mama would say this isn’t right behavior for a little girl. This is what grownups do. Mama would hit her while daddy drank in the barn.

Thomas? Thomas, help me…

1

The Author. Was that what she was now? The Author with an imprint to herself. God, Harlequin was having a duck fit over this one. Fuck the little guys, this was worth millions. Sixteen, and a best-seller- New York Times said, it must be so. And what was it about? Scandal and intrigue. Couldn’t tell her sex doesn’t sell. Just so long as you pinned on the tidy label of Fiction people would pay through the nose for trash.

But it wasn’t trash. Twenty-five now, and as hard and cynical as an old beat cop. It was truth. She would announce that to the world, but the sales might drop. No, they wouldn’t. It was time.

What were the tiny lines around her mouth, between her eyebrows? They were new. So was the agent, the boyfriend, and the cellulite on her ass. Tell her she’s beautiful, and she’d roll her eyes and say something clever that would make you laugh.

Tonight, her hair was washed and shining above her ears, her jeans too tight, her turtleneck just the right shade of red against her pink skin. Her lipstick was the color of red wine. When she dropped the manuscript into her shoulder bag the rewrites were done.

Traffic was a bitch. Hit every red light in town, and no amount of goosing the gas got the Mustang through them before they changed. What was the game they played when they were kids? Red light Green light. Two lines of yelling kids, and one side shouted “Green light!” The other line would charge forward, and stop on a dime when “Red light!” was shouted. What was the point? She didn’t remember. That was a lifetime ago. That was before the manuscript. The one in the bag on the passenger seat.

She tapped her nails to the beat of Mellencamp. Ain’t that America. Ain’t it? All-American girl, success story from the breast. Her daddy a tycoon in tobacco in Carolina, her mama a socialite. Mama organized the church bake sale every year, and at Christmas volunteered her children to the living nativity. Three years running Angel was the Baby Jesus, till she was too big to fit the manger. She was a wonderful bitch, her mother. Sweet as honey-cured tobacco to your face, but behind the scenes? And daddy, his clothes always smelled sweetly nauseating of the long sheds filled with the leaves earning him his millions. The brothers, they watched their step. Take care of mama, keep clear of daddy, we’ll make it, Angel, we’ll make it. We’ll make sure you make it. That’s the way it had been.

Right now Sam waited. Sam the Editor, Sam with the Midas pencil and a smile softer than his critical nature. She’d called a little while ago, asked if he could wait for her. She had something to show him.

Of course he obliged. She was his million dollar girl. Can’t wait, hon. Be right here.

She tapped the horn when the car ahead sat too long under the green. Two or three seconds of motionless hell. And she stepped on it, pushing it right up to the car’s back bumper. Brake. Sigh. Curse. Fucking morons, all of ’em.

Sam was in his shirt sleeves, his tie loosened violently. But he was smiling. He took her arm and said all the usual things. He fetched a scotch, pressed it into her palm, and rested his buttocks on the front edge of the disaster zone he called Desk.

The pencil, a yellow #2, stuck out of the dark blond hair behind his ear. What was he, forty? Forty-five?

“So what have you got for me, Angel?”

Her bag was heavy with the manuscript. But she hesitated. “I’m not sure it’s anything-”

“You better not have called me up and made me stay in this prison cell late if it wasn’t anything. Come on.” His tone was light, teasing. His stare, not so much.

She gave him the manuscript. He opened it, read the first few paragraphs. His brow furrowed, but his expression was otherwise unreadable. He took down the pencil to bite on it. Then he looked up. “You want to do this? You’re absolutely certain?”

She stood, tossed off the scotch. “Sam, you’re the only one who knows about this stuff.”

“Yeah.”

“It’s time.”

“What made you decide?”

He had a very nice voice. He was comfortable, always had been. Been her editor since sixteen. “I don’t know.”

“God.” She heard him move, sit heavily behind the desk. “Angel, I don’t know isn’t a good reason to unleash this kind of shit. You do know what’s going to happen, right? I mean, I don’t want you unprepared for the fires this is going to light under some very important asses. Your readers’ asses.”

“I know. I’ve thought over everything.”

“Hon, you’re 25. It’s not in your genetic makeup to think over everything. That’s what you pay me for.”

“Just read it, and tell me if it’s crap.”

“And then?”

She sat down, laid back against the rich leather. Sam was rich, not as rich as daddy, but doing okay. “And then tell me if I should go ahead with it.” Her voice was hushed.

He nodded, read a little more. “It’s not crap,” he finally said with deceptive mildness. “You couldn’t write crap if you wanted.”

She smiled. “You look beat, Sam.”

A smile, a humph.

“I had to write it, had to get it out.”

He nodded.

She stood. She didn’t want to be late for the boyfriend. “Listen, I got a date. You take your time on that, call me.”

He came around the desk and cupped her elbow, walking her toward the door. “Sure, sure. I’ll read it tonight.” Followed by the obligatory brush of lips across her cheek.

2

The wife was waiting in some silky nothing by the fake fire in the facade hearth. What was the point of a fake fire? She smiled her pageboy smile, her long legs bare and crossed. It was late. He was tired. So very tired.

“Sammy, I thought you’d never come.” She purred it, literally purred. He hated being called Sammy. She’d been doing it for eighteen years.

She rose, wrapped him in silk and Pleasures, pressed her open mouth against him. He responded minimally to her touch.

“I didn’t think you would work late tonight,” she murmured thickly.

“A last minute surprise.” The manuscript was heavy in his briefcase. The image of its Author was emblazoned on his mind, the red knit stretching over her breasts, burgundy lips pressed and thin with worry and determination.

“I’m glad you’re here.” She was pulling him toward the bedroom, unbuttoning his shirt.

“Hey, Sylvie,” he whispered it, kissing her face. “Can you give me a minute?”

“I’ll give you anything, darling,” and she kissed him again, darting her tongue over his lips and pulling back. She turned and walked into the bedroom at the end of the hall. He watched her hips, great hips. Really fucking great hips.

In the bathroom he turned on the shower. Hot water. Wife wants to fuck, they’ll fuck. The water beat on his shoulders, on the too-tight muscles.

He remembered when he fell in love with Angel. She was sixteen, and came to him after her third book went national, came and sat in his office, young, cynical, broken. It was daddy, daddy drunk, mama abusive, mama and daddy hopeless. And that night she slept on the couch in his office, after she cried in his arms. He would never forget the softness of her body, the soft, terrible sound of her weeping.

She moved out on her own after that. He helped her, found her a place, gave her his house and office keys. I’m always here for you, you know that.

He watched the men come and go. Watched her heart get broken, watched her chew them up and spit them out like her daddy’s tobacco. He wondered about the poor bastard she was with tonight. She never told him their names. Never said what she did, what she liked…

He killed the spray. Didn’t bother with the towel. After eighteen years, he knew what Sylvie liked.

3

Everything he painted contained light. That was the first thing she had noticed. Light on the brown horses’ skin, light in the womens’ eyes, light on the childrens’ hair, in each flower petal, gleaming off the sea. Even the angry ones were filled with it. Red, orange, black light. Yes, light could be black. When it was in his hands, it could be anything.

She arched her back, felt rough cotton under her buttocks. There was a canvas in her eye line beyond his shoulder. On the canvas great, angry strokes outlining a woman’s nude body, her skin the colors of earth. She lay against pillows, bright red, blue, purple. She watched them.

He rolled away breathing hard. She touched his face, neck, his smooth chest. No hair. He was still a boy. Not like Sam. He turned his head and smiled. “You’re like that kid in the Titanic movie,” she whispered.

“And you’re my Rose.”

She cringed inside. Changed the subject. “Who is she?” She gestured toward the painting.

He sat up, cast his arms over his bent knees. “I don’t know yet. She’s beauty. Happiness. Love.”

“You ever been in love?” She watched the way the light, dimmed by the high, dirty windows, cascaded over his back.

“Yeah.”

“With who?”

“Whom. And why should I tell you that?”

She looked back at the canvas. “It looks so angry. How can it be about beauty and happiness?”

He rose off the palette and padded to the painting. He lifted a brush laden with sepia and crimson to the woman’s face. “They’re complicated emotions, Angel. You should know; you write about them.”

“Doesn’t mean I understand them.”

“No.”

“Do you?” she asked.

“In part.” His hair was blond, to his shoulders. It hung in nats and twists, like baling twine. The shadows cupped his buttocks in purple and blue. “It’s like trying to get warm but being so cold that even when you’re warm, you still shiver. It’s habit. Spend so much time with anger, hopelessness…” he trailed off.

She understood that. Hair had appeared around the woman’s face while he spoke. “Love is an angry thing.”

He turned, looked. At her? Past her? At someone else, perhaps. She remained still. “It is,” he said. The moment passed, and he brushed light into the woman’s hair. So much light.

“How do you do that?”

“What?”

“The light. How do you make light out of so many different colors.”

He laid the brush on a sheet of newspaper. He knelt back on the palette and looked at her. “With my mind.”

She grinned. “That makes no sense whatsoever.”

“Sure it does. I will it to be there.”

“Seriously-”

“I swear. That’s all I know.”

She nodded. “Okay.” She leaned forward, kissed him. “I have to go.”

“I know.”

He had an angelic face, soft, beautiful. She dressed while he watched, then she said, “Thanks. I’ll call you.”

4

She supposed McAllister was an exception. In more ways than one. When she said “I’ll call you”, she usually did. He was unusual, lived like a tramp in that studio apartment though he had money. He was no starving artist. His work sold, and not just on the street corners for chump change.

The page glared at her. She was thinking about the manuscript. Thinking about the things it told. Wondering what Sam thought, if he’d finished it. Wondering if Wendy was available for lunch. The page remained as sterile as a hospital hall.

Was she in love with him? Or just with the idea of him? The headline: Author weds Artist. Wonderfully obscure, like everything in her own fame. To her readers simply Angel. Appropriate for the stuff she wrote. And McAllister? Did he want obscurity? Surely, otherwise he wouldn’t keep himself tucked away so. He wore his heart on his sleeve, but not for everyone. He was too angry for that.

The phone. She answered it brusquely. It was Sam.

“Hey, hon. I read it. I don’t think this is what you want to do.”

Irritation. It flared in the center of her brain and flowed downward. “You’re my editor. Not my daddy.”

“And as your ‘editor’, this is the worst thing you could do for your career right now. The worst. No one in their right mind would push you on this.”

“That bad.”

“No! Not bad, bad for you.”

“It’s what happened and the reasons why. It’s honest-”

“You don’t want to be honest with the general public. They will screw you over with it.”

“I’ve always been honest, Sam-”

“Honest in fiction. With this, you’re coming right out of the shadow of Angel and showing Mariangela Bowman for everything she’s ever said, done, been… they won’t get it. They won’t understand why you did it.”

“Do you?”

It was silent. The question floated back into her throat. Then he said, “Yeah. Yeah, I think so.”

It was ugly, so very ugly. “What if I said to go ahead with it?” she said.

“I would try to dissuade you.”

“It needs to be said-”

“Listen to me. You are at the height of your career. This could very well end that, and you’ve got a lot of life left to be washed up. Or in prison.”

“I’ve made enough to live comfortably-”

“Listen to yourself! You’re talking about giving up writing-!”

“No. I’m talking about giving up Angel.”

A sigh. Heavy with the world, heavy with worry.

“I’ve got a lunch. Can we talk about it later?” she asked.

“Dammit, Angel, don’t do this to me-”

“What?”

“Leave it. Run from it. This is serious-”

“Later. We’ll talk later.”

“Sure, Kid.” But his tone said, no we won’t. It’s done. I did the best I could.

5

McAllister believed in art. He believed in his mother, in America, in democracy. He believed in keeping his profile low and his money close. He believed in fucking and maybe love. But it was art, his art, he believed in most. The rest might come and go, but his own ability was his for always.

That’s what McAllister believed.

So when he picked up his brush after Angel left him and raised it to the canvas, when his fingers, independent of his control, released the brush and caused it to fall and leave an irreparable swathe over the nude’s face, he felt unreasoning fear. The kind that could choke a man, could leave him weak and sobbing in his own vomit. He stared at the brush on the press board floor, at the angry brown weal it left. He stared at his hand. That rebellious, unmoving hand.

The right hand. It hung for a moment on the end of his arm. Just hung there. Limp. Impotent. Disabled. “Bastard,” he whispered. “Bastard, move!”

After a moment it did. The fingers flexed and strength returned. But it wasn’t the same. The hand was. But his perception of it was changed.

He hated it. He hated that this was happening, and the doctors said it would only get worse.

He looked at the obscured face of the nude. What a beautiful face it had been, a broad forehead, sharp chin, large hazel eyes. Hazel eyes were beautiful because they hid from you until you looked for them. And when you finally saw them, God, the beauty. Only one still peered at him over the weal.

He continued to grip his right wrist. It burned, the hand, the offending one. It burned like it was on fire. It became unbearable and the sensation began to saturate his arm. What if he burned alive on account of this disloyal member? What if, for this hand, he never painted again?

His brain buzzed with the terror. It was blindness that pulled at him. Pulled him to the kitchen, to the cleaver, pulled him to lay his arm on the dirty butcher-board counter.

Then it lay apart from him, and the burning stopped.

6

There were things that shouldn’t be recalled. Things in her childhood, things which shaped her into the Author. Without them maybe she’d have been a housewife, or a maid, or a clerk at Burger King. With them… she was what she was.

Sam was frightened, that was understandable. It was the reason she stood at his door now looking at him in his bathrobe, his hair wet and his face younger than she remembered. He beckoned her.

“Listen, I understand if you’re afraid for me, or for you…”

He stood with his hands balled in the oversize pockets. His face was smooth and unreadable.

“I want it published.”

“Use Angel’s name. Keep it about her.”

“Why?”

“Do I have to go into this again? You’re not stupid.”

She sat. “I know an artist,” she began. “He doesn’t take any bullshit. He tells it like it is without apology. He paints light…” her voice wandered away from her.

“Apology is what you need, Angel. You need forgiveness, from them, from yourself-”

“Why?” It came out angry. “I didn’t want it to be the way it was. It wasn’t my choice.”

“No. But it happened.”

“I have to apologize for that?”

He nodded. “You will.”

“I won’t. It wasn’t my doing.”

“Then keep it to yourself.”

“Fuck off, Sam.” And she left.

7

She found McAllister. He was dead. And though she’d seen death before it weakened her. His body was cold and he lay in blood and waste. Apart from his right hand which caused her to wretch when she saw it pooling black tar on the countertop. Blood smeared the once beautiful nude; she was unrecognizable.

She lowered herself to the palette they shared the previous afternoon and stared at him. She recalled the way the light had given his body its dimension, how the shadows held him. She remembered the feel of him, the taste of his mouth, his skin, his cock.

After some time she called the cops. Anonymously.

She rode down in the creaking old elevator, got into her black Mustang, and drove away from him.

8

Sylvie accused him of having an affair.

She stood in faded jeans and one of those cowl-necked sweaters with gold blinking in her earlobes, and told him to go to hell, to go live with the whore he’d taken and God bless them and their bastard children.

“What in the hell are you talking about?” he asked, not yelling.

“I smell her! I smell sex! And in this house, Sam, how could you humiliate me like this?”

All he smelled was Chinese take-out and W-D 40. He’d finally oiled the grate hinge on the fake fireplace. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

She walked up to him, planted her nose at his neck and inhaled. “You smell like sex!”

“It’s your imagination. I haven’t had any.”

“You’re lying. Get out!”

“It’s my house, Sylvie. If you don’t want to share, you get out.”

Her face was flushed, blotchy, so delicate. The color disappeared into the huge neck of the sweater. He’d thought it beautiful at one time, the way he could tell when she was excited, when she wanted him by the way she flushed. But now-

He turned away, went toward the bedroom.

“Sam, don’t walk away!”

He stopped.

“How important is this to you?”

She was weakening. The thought of being alone was something she had never been able to comprehend. He remained still.

“Sam?”

“I’ll file for a separation tomorrow,” and he closed the door behind him.

9

Separation? Sylvie felt as though she’d been sucker punched. A separation? And she dropped to her knees in the center of the room and let the tears come.

10

He hadn’t been a cop long enough to see this. Six months out of the Academy, and here was some poor sick bastard laying in his own blood and shit, because for some reason he cut off his own fucking hand. What kind of whackjob did that? And his partner, veteran that he was, walked around the body poking, prodding, lifting an arm, tilting the head, nodding to himself.

“Look at this, Danny,” he said. Len was intrigued by this stuff; Danny couldn’t understand how one could be intrigued. “He didn’t mean to die.”

“No?”

Len lifted a paintbrush. The drying paint in the brush matched a slash mark across the center of the canvas. “Na, he meant to live. Found those prescriptions in the kitchen for Parkinson’s. He was losing use of his painting hand. Older than the Bible, that one. If your right hand sins, cut it off.”

“Jesus H Christ,” Danny breathed deeply of solvents and cleaners and oil. They almost masked the blood smell.

“Older than the Bible. Almost older than me.”

“There was someone here after he died,” Danny said.

“Yeah?”

The edge of the pool was smudged, just a little. And there was a trace of blood on the palette. Danny pointed it out.

“Good work, kid. You’ll make a cop yet. Now figure out who. Why.”

“A woman called it in.”

Len continued to study the body. “Coroner will be here any time. Get your dusting done, your samples. Find the broad.”

He hadn’t meant to die. He’d meant to live and keep painting. Some people just didn’t know the power blood had, once it started. Stopping it, replacing it, it was harder than it seemed. Danny tried not to vomit.

11

Sylvie couldn’t believe he’d done it, filed like he said he would. But she was glad. It was a relief, right? Trying to make a life out of bullshit, trying to keep something alive on her own. Something that was destined for death from the beginning. From the alter. Remember that, when he was supposed to say “I will”? It surprised him and he stumbled around for a second, then just said, “Of course.” How Sam. No doubt deep in thought about some manuscript, or some agent he was having to deal with, or some temperamental author. Always was the job first then her. I am what I do, Sylvie, he’d tried to explain. You married all of me.

The sounds of voices and glasses pressed on her eardrums. The taste of martini salted her tongue. Bite of olive. She didn’t need him to be happy. That she’d given him half her life, that was maddening. But she was still young. Still beautiful, still had a body that turned heads.

She turned to the man at her side and looked him over. She touched his forearm and murmured, “Need some company, honey?”

12

It wasn’t about going home. Nor was it about McAllister’s death. Maybe she could have loved him eventually, but maybe love wasn’t real, honest to God, stick in your gut love. Going back to Boone hadn’t much to do with anything. It wasn’t weak to want to see her brothers again, to take them the gifts she’d bought at their birthdays and never sent.

She’d taken something with her from McAllister’s. A painting, 9×12 inches, of her. A bust, her face and naked shoulders. It shone, glimmered, her lips looked wet, her eyes looked moist, the tip of her nose protruded off the canvas. He’d have wanted her to have it.

The road wound upward often doubling back on itself. She didn’t miss the countryside, didn’t glance off to the side where the mountain dropped away and there lay out below a valley in tints of blue. The city was hers. The city spoke at night with its lights and traffic, its bums and thieves. The mountains were silent and old. Never moving, always cruel. They didn’t want people here.

The brothers. Four of them, the youngest fifteen, the eldest twenty-nine. That was Jack. He married last year. She didn’t make the wedding. They lived at the old place still and tended the tobacco and cabbage daddy left them. It looked like Biltmore House. She pulled into the circular drive and noted the winterized gardens, the horses lifting their heads from grazing to watch. The house itself loomed. She wanted to keep following the drive right back out.

But there they came. Henry, the little one. Not so little. What had it been, three years now? God, he was huge. And he ran, ran and picked her up in his arms and yelled, “Angel’s home!” over and over. He kissed her cheek. Gushed naively at the surprise of it, at everything. The others followed. Jack and a young woman from the house. What was her name? Megan? Melody? Melanie? From different corners there were Rick and Benji, and finally Thomas. Thomas, her twin. She and Thomas once inseparable, originally the same. He was broody, loved the horses, believed in innocent until proven guilty. Most of all he believed in family loyalty.

They embraced, all of them. The woman’s name was May. And there was a baby asleep in the house. A little girl named April. How trite, the Author thought.

Eventually it quieted down. Rick took her bags out and carried them upstairs. Thomas stood and stared at her, not quite trusting, not quite mistrusting. Henry pulled her arm, said come look at the Massy-Ferguson, new, it is. Biggest tractor they ever had, bigger even than the old F1000.

There was nothing weak about coming home.

13

Danny did the footwork. Asked everybody within a mile radius of McAllister’s studio about him, who his friends were, his family, his habits, his routine. Nobody knew anything. He was quiet, kept to himself. Young and beautiful and wonderfully talented. Every now and then he brought in a model, sometimes used the same one several times. Did anyone know their names? Were they independent? Was there a figure modeling agency or something?

No one knew. Until Bobby.

Bobby was a bum who lived out of the Dipsy Dumpster under McAllister’s fire escape. He said when it was really cold McAllister asked him into the lobby, gave him soup and coffee and a blanket. Once, McAllister had sat with him down there all night and drawn him with charcoal. He’d given Bobby the drawing. Bobby showed it to Danny.

Danny asked when was the last time he’d seen McAllister.

“Four days,” said Bobby. “Four days ago he had a woman up there, and they screwed all fucking day.”

There had been traces of semen on the palette and hair and skin that weren’t McAllister’s. “Could you recognize her?” Danny asked.

“Yeah, sure, she’s been coming and going for the past month. She was here the day he-” Bobby stopped. It seemed to pain him, McAllister’s death. “You know.”

“Do you remember the time?”

“Not really. After middle day.”

“Can you describe her?”

He nodded emphatically when Danny pressed a fifty against his filthy palm. “Pretty thing, maybe twenties, though s’hard to tell these days you know. She’s kindly tall, with short red hair. Got a face like an angel, big green eyes… I seen her someplace.”

“Like around the city?”

“Na, na, like she’s famous or something. Like maybe one of them Super Models.”

“Supermodel, huh. Bobby, will you call me if you see her around again?” Danny pressed his card into the bum’s hand.

“Sure, yeah, Cop. Sure I will.”

14

Where the hell was she? Sam sat while the phone at Angel’s rang and rang and rang. It had been days with nothing. The answering machine wasn’t picking up, no message on his service, nothing. It was as though she’d died. Nothing.

15

Sylvie hired a detective. Actually, she fucked him first then hired him. But that was beside the point. He had some stupid policy about not sleeping with his clients so no more sex as long as she was paying.

His name was Dick Tracy. No, seriously, she said. His name was Tracy Blackman. But he was a private dick, right? So he changed it. “So what do you want, sweetheart?” he asked her.

“I want to know all about the woman my husband left me for.”

“Okay, so what’s her name?”

“That’s part of what I want to know.”

“Where she lives?”

Sylvie shook her head, staring at his chest. Her eyes seemed drawn there. He worked out and for all his thirty-five years he looked about nineteen. It was Body by Jake. That’s who he looked like.

“You know nothin’?”

“That’s your job, right?”

“It’s nice to have a starting place or somethin’.”

“Are you complaining? With this fee I’m forking out, you’re complaining?”

“Nope.” He shut up quick after that. And he took her money.

16

“Thomas, can we talk?”

She’d found him at the stables running his hands in that soft way of his over the body of a days-old colt. “He’s a beaut, ain’t he?” he asked, never looking up.

“Sure.”

“Thing about them when they’re this little they can grow up into anything. But he’s got a deep chest, see? And look at the length of the pasterns-”

“Thomas-”

“Long pasterns, he’ll be fast-”

“Thomas, please!”

He looked up then, his dark face a little surprised, a little closed. Thomas was always closed off. He stepped back from the colt. “Why’d you come back?”

“It’s my home, my family-”

“No it ain’t, Angel. Not any more.”

She understood his meaning. Understood how what she’d done had hurt him, and not for the act but because she hadn’t trusted him enough to tell him herself. “I’m sorry.”

“Ten years is a little late for a sorry.”

The scents of the stable got to her, tickled her throat, made her want to draw her face up.

“You don’t know how it was.”

He smiled sadly. “Only ’cause you didn’t tell me, sis.”

They left the stable, her following him. They were the same height but his hair was black, his body willow-slight. His eyes, too, were black. He said, “You ran from us, left me and Benji and Henry when we could have really used a woman, someone to take mama’s place for awhile. You ran off with that editor.”

“I didn’t run off with that editor. I ran off alone.”

Thomas was silent.

“I didn’t know how to stay.”

“Yeah, well, neither did we. But we did.”

It was twilight and cold. The wind picked up, biting through her clothing.

Thomas said, “Jack wanted you gone, wanted you to make something out of your life that wasn’t this damned tobacco. An’ you did.”

“You can come back with me.”

“I can’t leave.”

“Why not?”

“I like it here. It’s my home.”

The accusation. She flinched. “Okay. All right. You don’t have to skewer me with it.”

He stopped, stopped her, made her look at him in the half-light. “I never want to hurt you, Angel.”

She looked away, saw lights twinkling far off, thought maybe she should call Sam.

“I hated him too, you know. Daddy.”

“Yeah.”

“We all did. But it took you to come up with the whatwithall to do something about it.”

“I am woman,” she cracked. She felt tears.

“You are.”

“Does that mean you forgive me?”

She heard him shrug. “It’s done with, you know. We’re safe from it, so long as it never comes out. I couldn’t stand that, I don’t suppose.”

She hugged him. “I’ve got to make a phone call. Hey, Thomas? I came home to see you. Just you.”

17

Sam answered the ringing phone. It was late for business calls, but it was his business line. Then he heard Angel’s voice. “Dammit, where have you been?”

“I’m home, in Boone.”

“Well thanks for the warning, For all I knew you were dead or something.”

“I’m sorry, Sam. Listen, hang onto that manuscript for me, will you?”

“It’s right here.”

“Good.”

“Can I ask you why?”

“I’m going to hold on to it for now.”

He was quiet.

“You can get that self-satisfied grin off your face, Sam.”

“You know me better than that.”

“Sorry.”

“I left my wife.” Why tell her that? What was wrong with him? Did he crave her that much? Was he angry at her for not being here when he hurt because he’d always been there for her?

“Wow, when?”

“Not soon enough. Call me when you get in. We’ll get a drink or something.”

“Yeah, that sounds good.”

After Angel was gone again the emptiness of the house settled down on his chest, filled his lungs, and he wept.

18

Len and Danny sat in the patrol car. It was filled with rich smells; sweat, coffee, leather, body odor. Danny was telling Len what Bobby the bum had imparted.

Len nodded while staring straight ahead. “So we’re looking for a beautiful red-head.. Worse things than looking for a beautiful red-head.”

Danny smiled. “But I got it figured out, Len.”

“Do you there, boy? Go on.”

The radio hummed just above a whisper, all the calls coming and going from dispatch. They were tuned into blocking out everything but their own unit number. “How many red-headed celebrities have been in and out of this town in the past week?”

Len nodded. “Yeah, yeah.”

“I figure I can follow that out.”

“Well, it just so happens there’s one lives right here.”

“Who?”

Len stretched a little, the leather of his belt creaking against the vinyl seat cover. “Author. Writes under the name of Angel.”

“How do you know this stuff?”

“Wife reads her. Got all six-fucking-teen of her books layin’ all over my house. She writes those ones with that Fabio guy on the front.” He bit off the “a” in Fabio.

“Maybe I should start there.”

“Yeah, I can get you a picture. Show it to the bum.”

The radio crackled. “Car nineteen, request for backup on the corner of 9th and Market, do you copy.”

“That’s us,” Len stated.

19

Sylvie met Dick Tracy in the bar where he’d first picked her up. “So?” she asked before he’d even settled.

“God, a little patience. I need something to wet my throat ‘fore I go into the gory details.”

He was a dick, that was for sure. She pondered this while he ordered a Heineken and downed half of it in one pull. Then she said again, “So?”

“Your husband – Sam? – he spends an awful lot of time in his office. Alone.”

“I know. He’s addicted to being an editor. Tell me what I don’t know.”

“The only thing I’ve found is that he seems to have a soft spot for his biggest star.”

“Angel.”

“Yeah. She’s gorgeous, this lady. Anyway, he’s paid her rent for the last nine years, and in a good part of town. They go out a lot, business dinners and such. He’s also bought her some expensive gifts, a watch, a pair of diamond earrings, and latest a new Mustang convertible.”

“It was right under my nose,” Sylvie felt like she’d been struck. How many times had that whore slept on her couch, how many times had they run into each other in Sam’s building?

“Yes, ma’am. That’s usually the way it works. But I don’t have any proof that they’re an item. She’s been out of town for a week now.”

“Do you have a tap on his phone?”

“Hey lady, I am not authorized to do that sort of junk.”

“Can I authorize you?”

“The cops can. If you want to bring them in.”

“Okay.”

“Could be humiliating for you and him both, you do know.”

“He’s a prick. He needs a taste of his own medicine.”

“But if I dig around a little more, I might find something better. Something you can really screw him with. Or her.”

She considered that while Dick Tracy swilled beer in his mouth. Then she got distracted watching him. She licked her lips. “Whatever you think is best.”

He grinned. “You bet.”

20

Danny supposed he was lucky with this case. Bobby the bum had I.D.’d the writer. Said absolutely one hundred percent that was the lady friend.

Only now it seemed the lady had disappeared. Poof, just like that. Tough break, is what Len would say. Keep diggin’.

Danny had talked to the agent, some uptight bitch with a phone voice that made Carol Channing sound like Billie Holliday. The agent was seriously pissed, seemed Angel hadn’t been in touch for over a week, and there was a book-signing coming up and she didn’t know whether to cancel or not. Then he tracked down the editor. Sam Winston. He had a Ph. d. and still was just an editor! Danny couldn’t imagine being smart enough for letters after your name and choosing to correct other people’s mistakes. But Sam said he didn’t know where she was either. He seemed never to have heard of McAllister. Was surprised at the “extenuating circumstances.” That was Len’s phrase. And it had impressed the doc.

Now he knew she was from North Carolina, the mountains in the western part of the state. He knew she was wealthy, came from wealth. And now, due to this file just faxed in from Raleigh, there were some interesting things went on in the Bowman family. Was Angel a suspect? Not in this case, the case of the dead artist. But elsewhere…

21

He was great at poking his nose in where it didn’t belong. That’s what made him a good gumshoe, right? His ma had always been on him about it, said he didn’t have the sense the Good Lord gave a rock to be lookin’ in other people’s windows.

Well, he had a grand in his back pocket that proved she was way off. Not that he wanted to make a fool of his ma. No, but hell, the dough felt like heaven, didn’t it? And now he sat in the Honda in the dark and waited for Sam to show. Some tailing was in order. Maybe he’d lead him right to the pretty one. Maybe he could get some snaps. He reached over and adjusted the camera on the seat. Didn’t want it sliding off and busting if he had to take off pretty quick.

A good dick was always prepared.

22

Danny noticed the white Honda across the street. The fellow was staking something out. It was a little suspicious. But he had bigger fish to fry. He had to find out where Angel was, and it seemed she was pretty tight with the editor. Follow him long enough, and maybe, just maybe.

But then when Winston came out on the street and hailed a cab, off went the Honda. Danny fell in behind them. What the hell. With any luck this clown wouldn’t screw anything up.

Who knew what Sam Winston was into.

23

It was time to go. Home would never be a place Angel would cherish. She loved her brothers, especially Thomas; not as much as she loved being elsewhere. She was the Author. She had the Life. The Apartment on the Upper East Side. She had the Paycheck. And now it was time to write again.

She packed the Mustang. Henry helped, his lip dragging. “Why, Angel?” he asked. “Why d’you hafta go off again, Angel?”

“Just because, Henry.”

“Mrs. Ellis, she’s my math teacher, she says that ain’t no kind of answer.”

It pained her that Henry would never be older. “You have yourself a fine teacher, Henry.”

He grinned, wide, goofy.

“I’ll come back and visit. I promise.”

Henry grinned some more. He hugged her, lifted her up and gave her wet kisses on her face like a puppy.

“I’ll go now, okay?”

“But the others. The others wanna say ‘bye too.”

“No Henry, it’s better like this.” She was getting into the car.

“But Angel-”

“You look after them for me. You promise?”

“Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ll take good care of everything.”

She waved as she pulled away. He jumped up and down then ran a little ways after the car. Then he stood in the driveway yelling “Bye bye, Angel!” over and over again.

24

“Hey, Sam.” She stood in his door then reached out and hugged him. He was warm and tired, and utterly familiar. He pulled her inside, throwing the dead bolt. “You paranoid?” she asked.

“I’ve got these two creeps been following me all over the place for the last two days.”

“Really.”

“Sylvie. I smell her Este Lauder all over it.”

He brought her a Coke still in the can. “How was it?” he asked.

“Hell. No,” she amended. “It was actually all right. Just bad memories. But I talked to Thomas.”

“That’s good.”

“I didn’t know you and Sylvie were in trouble.”

“I didn’t know you were fucking a painter and found him dead in his studio.”

“Sam!”

“What? What surprises you, my bluntness or that I know?”

She looked down. Why did this shame her? Why did talking about other men with Sam always make her feel disloyal, guilty, dirty?

But Sam went on more gently. “Did you love him?”

“No.”

“He cut off his hand.”

She nodded.

“The cops came and questioned me. They’re looking for you. Maybe that’s who has been following me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. Why are you sorry? It must be horrifying to walk in and find your lover dead.”

“No. Not nice, but I’ve seen worse.”

He was so quiet for so long she looked to see if he was still there. He was watching her intensely.

“Don’t, Sam.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t pity me.”

“I have never pitied you. I think you’re an amazing, strong woman. You’re above pity.”

“You’re doing it again!”

“I know. But I can’t help it.”

She hated when he idolized her, when he made her feel better than she knew herself to be. “What about you and Sylvie?” she diverted.

“Clever girl,” he acknowledged the diversion, then went with it. “She thought I was having an affair. She tried to kick me out. So I kicked her out and filed for separation the next day.”

“Isn’t that harsh?”

“Hell no.”

“But, Sam. Eighteen years! Don’t you fight for anything?”

He flashed anger. Then the surface once again stilled. “I’ve fought for everything. Sometimes it’s just time to let go.”

She finished the warming Coke. “Are you?”

“Am I?”

“Having an affair?”

“Is that your business?”

“No.”

He sighed. “No. Of course not. I wouldn’t do that to her.”

She watched him, thinking of how strong he’d been through the years, how like the bulwark he’d been when she had nothing. His generosity. She was his million dollar girl. “I know.”

“I guess maybe that hat got you past the Keystone Cops.”

She took it off, smiled, then cried. He moved to sit in the chair with her, pulling her close, rocking her like a child.

25

Angel was back in town. Danny reported back to the precinct. It was late. The chief said wait until tomorrow, then bring her in to make a formal statement. They also needed her to identify the body.

Danny started the car and left the Honda waiting for the missing red-head.

26

Dick drank coffee laced with Flask. The second night, and still no sign of her. Sam did nothing out of the ordinary. Tracy followed him to the office, out to lunch, back to the office, to the grocery store, to a Chinese restaurant, back home. Last night he’d gone out for a drink about midnight. Talked to a dumpy waitress, tipped her, went back home. The guy wasn’t exactly going for man about town.

A trickle of people came and went from the building, none of them with red hair. Damn.

27

Thomas watched the colt. It was already dark out and not even suppertime. The wind whistled around the corners of the stable sounding meaner than it actually was. She’d left. Again. Without saying good-bye. Angel hated good-byes, but sometimes you had to do what you hated. That that was the thing she chose to run from was pretty unbelievable.

The mare nickered, the sound of her voice pulling the colt to her side. He buried his nose behind her stifle and commenced to butt, suckle, butt, butt, suckle. Thomas figured she must be low. A quart low, daddy would have said. He might need the bottle before the night was through.

He missed daddy, after all these years. What Angel had done frightened him because he felt what made her do it, and what she felt when she did it. It was strange, to feel what another felt. And it happened when she was away. He would feel flashes of emotion and know they were hers.

“Hey, Tom?”

Jack’s voice floated along the aisle. He peered over the half door, his long face unshaven.

“Yeah.”

“Just wanted to check on that one,” he flapped a hand at the colt. “How’s he look?”

“Good. Might need to nurse him tonight.”

“She dry?”

“Not yet. Almost.”

Jack sat back on his heels. “She’s always been that way.”

“Yup.”

There was an awkward stretch. Then Jack said, “So she’s gone.”

Thomas looked away.

“She’s made us purty proud, that’n.”

Angel, or the broodmare?

“Writin’ all them books. Somethin’ else.”

It was as though he were talking to himself. Thomas nodded anyway.

“You should forgive ‘er, Tom.”

Thomas looked around quickly, then away again. “I did a long time ago.”

“Well, that’s good. You gonna nurse the colt?” Jack rose with a grunt.

“Yeah. I’ll take care of him.”

28

“It seems,” said Dick Tracy to Sylvie, “that our girl has herself a past.”

Sylvie smiled. Ah, but victory was so very sweet. She stroked his arm lightly. “Do tell.”

“According to my research,” he smiled as though proud of himself for the line. “She left home when she was sixteen.”

“Sam helped her.”

“She left home for a reason.”

She perked up and leaned toward him. “Yes?”

“The old man was whoring her out.”

“You’re kidding.” She hated Angel, but this? She wouldn’t wish it on anyone. “How could he do that?”

“Well,” Dick opened the manila file folder in his hands and took out some Polaroids. “She was a gorgeous kid. Look at this.” He extended the pictures.

She was beautiful. Almost as beautiful as she was now.

“Guys’ll pay a lot to sleep with a beautiful virgin.”

“You say that with no shame,” Sylvie accused.

“I didn’t make myself a man, lady.”

She watched him for a moment, and he looked large and dirty and obscene.

“According to this file, the old man and old lady vanish, and Angel moves out. All in pretty quick order.”

Sylvie was still seeing a beast, barely hearing what he said. Trying to decide if it turned her on to think of him as such, or if it was repulsion. Sometimes they were very similar.

“This don’t say any more than that, so I figure I need to head down to the Tar Heel state and check out the family.”

“The where?”

“North Carolina.”

“Oh.” It was repulsion. She wanted to slide away from him in the booth.

“So…”

“What?”

“So, I’ll need some cash. You are the one paying.”

“Right.” She opened her handbag, handed him a wad of bills. She couldn’t believe she’d ever slept with him. Beautiful virgins? Little girls? Those pictures, she couldn’t have been more that nine or ten years old! Men were perverts, perverts and pigs. All of them. Every last one.

Except Sam.

“Thanks for the drink, little lady.”

He was leaving.

He turned and laid down a tip that embarrassed her. “I’ll call you when I get back, and we’ll meet someplace.”

After he was gone, she quickly added another ten percent. Beast.

29

Danny spent all evening on the file from Raleigh. Angel was more than a writer. The things he read turned his stomach. The things about the father, the mother, the brutality of her childhood.

“Dan? Dan, come to bed.” The wife sounded sleepy and tired of having the light on.

“In a minute, honey.”

“I was up with the baby all last night. I really need to sleep.”

“Of course.” He laid the file aside, covered it with papers. Tomorrow he’d call her in, Angel, and hopefully get to the bottom of things without anyone getting hurt. Or maybe it should be off the record. He pulled the sheet over him, and the wife burrowed beneath his arm. He had a feeling about Angel, a feeling that maybe she needed his help in this. Maybe she was the greater good. Just a gut thing.

30

It was going great. The Author. She smiled, self-satisfied. The words marched across the page and they were powerful. Then the bell rang.

There stood a young man with a crew cut and leather bomber jacket. He introduced himself as Danny Buccelli. Cop. Her heart turned into an anvil in her chest. “What do you want?”

“Can I come in?”

“Is this about McAllister?”

“Yes, ma’am. Indirectly.”

She let him in and slid the security chain back in place. She stood in her sweats, her heart now in a full gallop. Stretched out and taking the bit, Thomas would say.

“Ms. Bowman-”

“How do you know my name?”

“Police information, Ms. Bowman.”

“Do I need a lawyer?”

“Please, Ms. Bowman, sit down. I just want to talk with you for a few minutes.”

“Why aren’t you in uniform?”

“I’m off-duty-”

“Get out!” She gestured at the door. She felt hot and cold and short of breath. She wanted to call Sam. Sam would get rid of him. Sam would keep her safe.

“Ms. Bowman, I want to help-”

“Help? Help with what?”

He sat on the sofa. She stood. Folded her arms tight under her breasts. Watched him.

“Do you remember your father?”

“Of course I remember my father.”

“How old were you when he died?”

“What does it matter?”

“It doesn’t.” He sat quietly and watched her.

“I don’t understand.”

“Did you kill him?”

Her vision clouded. “I’m calling the cops.”

“Please don’t. Listen, I know what he did to you. About the child prostitution-”

“I’m serious.” She was holding the cordless now. The plastic was warm in her cold hand.

“Angel,” he was standing beside her, his hand light on her wrist. “I want to help you.”

“Help me? Like I need your fucking help,” she bit.

“You do. Because you’re going to get called up on the McAllister case. We have evidence that puts you at the scene. And I have a file that, if it gets opened up, if somebody gets curious, could get you in hot water. I mean hot water, Angel.”

She sat suddenly and hard.

30

Henry stood close while Jack talked with the detective in the drive. He shrugged deeper inside the sheepskin liner of his denim coat. Tracy was talking, talking and talking. Talking about Angel. Henry was watching him while he talked, and every time Tracy said Angel’s name, Henry smiled and frowned. Smiled and frowned.

“So tell me about her,” Tracy said.

“Nope. Ain’t your business.” Jack turned to walk away.

Tracy grabbed his arm. “Hey man, I can go get a warrant. I can open up what I’m thinking is a huge can of shit on all you people.”

Jack turned back slowly. Looked at Tracy’s lewd slash of a mouth. “You threatenin’ me?”

Tracy stood.

“You fuckin’ threatenin’ me on my own land? You know you’re tresspassin’? You know I could shoot you where you stand, an’ no fuckin’ jury would see anything wrong with it?”

Tracy stepped back without backing down. “Listen man, hold your mustangs there, I just need to know about Angel.”

Jack stepped up close to him. “Angel’s family. She ain’t none a your business. I recommend you beat it on outta here while you still got the option.” Jack turned and walked away. Tracy didn’t try to stop him again. “C’mon, Henry. Got work to do.”

Henry thought he was a bad man. He would say Angel’s name, and Jack would look real mad. Mad like the time when Henry hadn’t closed the big door on the horse barn and Rooster Bill had got out and chased the mares all over the place. Wow, Jack had a duck fit over that’n, said Henry weren’t worth beans if he couldn’t even remember to close the goddamn barn door to keep the horses in. But that was a long time ago. Jack had him close up the barns all the time now, and Henry never forgot. That was Henry’s job. Jack said if Rooster Bill ever got out and chased mares again, he was gonna hang Henry by his bootlaces. That didn’t sound like no fun, no sirree. Hangin’ by your bootlaces, all the blood making thunder inside your head and your eyes poppin’ out like boiled eggs. Henry figured it would be a good thing to do to the man asking about Angel.

Henry followed when Jack went toward the big shed. It weren’t time to do his work, his work being closin’ the barn doors and it not yet dark, but Henry knew it all had somethin’ to do with the bad man. He looked back where the bad man stood alongside his car watching Jack and Henry. Then he waved and didn’t seem so bad. Henry waved back. Jack smacked him on the back of his head.

“Cut it out, Henry.”

“Ow! Ow, Jack! Ow!”

“All right, ow, it hurt.” Jack was mad again.

“Yeah, Jack. Ow.”

“C’mon. Help me move these leaves.” They were in the big shed, the one what stretched on and on and was filled with long tables piled with dry leaves.

“Don’t hit me, Jack, okay? Okay, Jack?”

“All right, Henry. But don’t you go be makin’ nice to that bastard.”

“That bastard. No makin’ nice to that bastard.”

“Right. He wants to hurt Angel. You don’t want Angel hurt, do ya?” Jack was grunting, lifting the heavy bundles of leaves.

Henry helped him. He grunted too, just like Jack. He loved Angel. She was always gone, but sometimes she came back and hugged him and kissed him and told him he’d growed a foot and was smart. An’ Thomas, Thomas said if anybody ever hurt Angel he’d kill ’em, and it was up to him and Jack and Henry and Rick and Benji to keep her safe. Henry would help keep her safe from that bastard.

He walked back to the door of the shed and looked out at the drive. That bastard was gone. He went back to tell Jack ’cause he didn’t like it when Jack was mad.

31

She’d never told the whole story before. Not to a live person. Never started at the beginning with the nasty stuff and gone through it like that. When she told about the old ten gauge with the rusting barrel, how she’d thrown it out in the pond at the bottom of the property, Buccelli’s face changed. More so than when she told him how she’d shot daddy in the gut, though she was aiming for his head, and then mama when mama came in and saw what had happened.

“God it was a mess. How could I know? You know? How could I know the blood would be everywhere, that dead bodies are so damn heavy…”

Buccelli didn’t know where to set his gaze.

“I buried them deep. Didn’t want them coming back to… didn’t want them coming back.”

“Like now?”

She nodded. She hadn’t buried them. They were too much for her to move, so Jack had done it. But she wasn’t about to bring Jack into this.

“Were there cops?”

She took a deep breath. “Only after folks got curious, started missing them.”

“The report talks about some suspicions. Why weren’t they ever acted on, investigated?”

She shrugged. “Jack took care of all that, of the cops and all.” His name was out before she could catch it.

He was quiet.

“But what’s done is done.”

“You have no regrets?” He sounded incredulous.

“Yeah, of course I have regrets. I regret being born to such awful people. I regret it was left to a fourteen year old to keep her brothers safe. I regret all kinds of stuff.”

“But none about murder.”

“It wasn’t murder. It was self-defense.”

“There are better ways, Angel.”

She shook her head. He didn’t understand. He never would. No one would. That’s why it was a secret. “Are you going to arrest me?”

He was quiet for a long time. A moral dilemma, she could see it on his round face. If he were a character in a book his name would be Morality. Then he said, “No. Like you said, it’s done.”

“Thank you.”

“I don’t suppose you’re a threat to society.”

Ah, an attempt at levity. She smiled the obligatory smile. “I need to give you anything for your silence?” she
cracked.

“Now bribing an officer? I’ll put you away for that.” Another forced smile.

In all seriousness, “So what now?”

He looked at the file in his hands. He stood, walked to the fireplace, tossed it in. All of it. It blackened and curled at the edges.

“You supposed to do that?”

“No.”

32

One brick wall after another. That’s what Dick Tracy was up against. One freaking brick wall after another. If he could have gotten to the retard he’d have had it made. But Jack Bowman was a mean one.

So Dick talked to the neighbors. Not many of those in the mountains. It seemed people liked to keep to themselves, so they built their houses in the middle of cabbage and tobacco and corn fields. How they could live with the stench, even in winter he smelled the skunk cabbage rotting in the red furrows. He couldn’t imagine what it must be like in the summer. All the orange dirt. Godforsaken, that’s what it was.

He talked to the folks in town. Some of them. It was a decent size for a town, a lot of tourist junk. But everybody knew the Bowman boys, and they were fine, upstanding Christian boys. That sister of theirs? She’d done good for herself. The parents, they just disappeared. There one day, gone the next.

Then he met Ollie May.

33

It weren’t easy being a colored woman in North Carolina. But it were easier than being a colored woman in Georgia. Ollie May was born in Georgia, on a plantation where they raised peanuts. Peanuts, mind you. Not cotton. She’d wag a bony finger while she told you. She’d come up digging them peanuts outta that red clay. Then papa said they’s moving to Carolina where the sky’s always blue and the niggahs is free. That’s what he’d said. Free niggahs. Who’d ever heard such a thing? Supposedly they was free in Georgia, but it didn’t feel like it; not back in them days.

Ollie May was eighty-three years young now. Been in Carolina since she was the size of a peanut. And she worked hard. Brought in mending and a little washing for them with no machines. Did they think the clothes was dirty before they come along with these machine contraptions? No woman worth her beans ever let her man go in dirty clothes. Her man was never dirty while he was living.

Now there was a white man knocking on her door. He wanted information. Well, Ollie May enjoyed imparting what she knew to young folks. Even if they was white. So she invited him in. Poured him a glass of sweet sun tea and offered him to set in the big rockers on the porch.

He asked, what do you know about them Bowman’s up on the tobacco farm?

She knew plenty. What exactly did he want to know?

Anything you got, and he called her ‘ma’am’. The young folk, they had too little respect for their elders these days. This boy had manners. Even held his hat in his hand. So she told him all about the Bowmans and how she’d been in Mr. Roy Bowman’s employ at the time of his death.

34

Angel talked to Jack on the phone and he said some bastard had come around asking about her. “Some bastard?” she asked.

“P.I., Angel. They’s lookin’ into you.”

Fear gripped her. “Why? Why would they do that? And who?”

“I don’t know. But you be careful. Should I come down…?”

“No, no. I’ll be fine.” She told him about the cop.

“The whole fuckin’ story? Angel!”

“I didn’t have a choice.”

“Hope you’re praying, Angel.”

She hadn’t done that in a very long time. And it had never done her much good when she did.

35

Sylvie paid him more. It seemed like it was costing more than it should, finding out who Sam was balling. Tracy sat across the table from her and twisted a beer mug on its napkin. “So you still don’t know, that’s what you’re telling me.”

“I have a suspicion.”

“That’s what you had two grand ago!” She was hissing through her teeth, and she sat back and tried to relax. “Is it or is it not, Angel?”

“Listen, lady,” Tracy sat forward. “I’ve got something on this Angel character that will blow your mind. I’m taking it to the press. They love this kind of shit, and you know what they’ll pay for an exclusive like this?”

“What is it?”

He shook his head.

“What about Sam? I need proof of an affair for the court case. Do you know what I can take him for if he’s been unfaithful?”

“Hey, if I can tie him to Angel, he’s going down. Then you’ll get everything.”

36

Sam watched Angel while she talked. She had a beautiful, lilting voice still softened around the edges by a southern drawl. She was telling him about this Buccelli guy, how she’d given him everything. She also told him about the detective who visited the Bowman farm. She said, “I don’t know what to do, what to expect. It’s fixing to fall in on me.”

He put his arm around her shoulders. “We won’t let that happen.”

“What can you do, Sam? What can you possibly do? Nothing. That’s what.”

Nothing. His million dollar girl, the world’s million dollar girl, was about to fall from grace and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do.

37

“I’m Andrea Collins, reporting live for News 6.”

“And that’s a wrap!”

Andrea Collins shook her blonde hair away from her face and dropped her script on the ground. Her feet were killing her. And the smell, God the smell was awful. A burst sewage pipe off Main Street, and this was ‘breaking news’. So they sent her down here in the freaking cold and told her to do what they’d hired her for.

She’d seen a guy trying to catch her eye in the small crowd of bystanders. A good-looking man, six/four, two hundred pounds. Brown hair, blue eyes… it was all part of investigative journalism. She made her way toward him.

“Ms. Collins? I’m Detective Tracy and I’ve got a story I think you want to hear.”

38

It was Sunday morning when the story broke. Angel was eating a bagel and drinking weak tea, one eye on 6 News.

“Our top story this morning,” said Andrea Collins, “Involves a national success story, a childhood sex scandal, and two tragic murders. Million dollar author, Angel, also known as Mariangela Bowman to those she’s closest…” The voice droned on. Angel stared at the screen, at the blonde ditz who’s career had just been made, and felt the fight drain out of her.

The sound of Sam’s name brought her back to the program. “Bowman’s editor, Sam Winston, is said to be involved with the best-selling author, and possibly in on the cover-up thirteen years ago.”

“What?” She said it aloud to the empty room. She dialed Sam’s office. Nothing. Nothing at his house. She grabbed a coat, put it on over her sweats, and headed home.

39

She pulled the Mustang into the drive and cops swarmed her. In the waning light she saw Henry, looking confused and lost, being held from her by an officer. She killed the engine and sat. A cop leaned down at her window, his voice muffled by the glass, and said, “Angel? Would you please step out of the vehicle? Step out of the vehicle.”

When she did they cuffed her, cold metal on her wrists, hulking bodies all around her, their hands sweeping every part of her body, somebody reading her rights. You’re under arrest for the premeditated murders of Roy and Esta Bowman.

Jack tried to come to her but he was cuffed, too. The rest of them, the brothers, were held off.

It was over. Author placed under arrest. Author sentenced to life in prison.

Not Author any longer. Angel was dead.

Epilogue

The Inmate. That’s what she was now. Had been for a long time. You stopped counting after a while because the days ran together.

Sam had been exonerated. He’d come in two years after the fact, and that saved him. She was glad. He tried to visit, but there was some special circumstance- she didn’t know. It was too hard to care. Too hard to do anything in here but exist. She’d plead guilty. She’d confessed the whole thing. Said she deserved to rot in this hell hole. They could have her so long as they let Jack off. They did.

The bodies were found. Identified. They’d even dragged the pond for the ten-gauge. Found that too. She was guilty, guilty as sin. The Bowmans’ appealed, and there were lawyers working on an insanity defense. It could be tied up for longer than she had.

She lived with the nightmares. They would be with her no matter where she lived out her days. She figured one prison was the same as the next. But she did miss being the Author.

the end

5 thoughts on “The Author

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