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They continued on a northern route up the coast highway, fairylands of woods breaking into dazzling vistas of rock cliffs and crashing ocean waves. Charles was beginning to enjoy the road. The scary, hairy turns made it more like a carnival ride with a view. When he gave the wheel over to Mallory, her malaise seemed to brighten, and he picked this lighter moment to ask about her fathers eyeglasses.

No, she did not remember if he had been wearing glasses when she saw him all those years ago. Probably not. Ray Adler said he never wore them.

And now Charles had her permission to ransack her knapsack for the old photographs and the letters. He sifted through the pictures of young Peyton Hale, studying them by the poor light of the dashboard. In every snapshot, a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles rested in the mans shirt pocket. He always kept them close-the glasses.

But he never wore them. Neither did Riker. Did Peyton Hale also have the flaw of vanity? That would explain so much.

Mallorys concentration was elsewhere. Her eyes were on the twisty road, the ride. She simply did not care why Peyton Hale had passed her by on that faraway beach in her childhood. Charles might as well be talking to himself when he said, Hes very young in these photos. His prescription for glasses wouldve been much stronger by the time you met him. You could be mistaken about-

Oh, no. She was listening that time, and how dare he challenge her? She turned to glare at him while completing a sharp turn with the precision of a missile guidance system, no sign of human fear for the inch-away trees and rocks in the headlights. He saw me, Charles. He was as close as you are now. He looked right at me. But he didnt recognize my face, my mothers face.

Well-Mallory the Machine was back.

Charles sensed more progress in these moments when he irritated her the most. She was rebuilding herself, taking back all the flyaway pieces, the paranoia, the suspicion and her cold calculation for debit columns of cheats and losses. Cold as stone, but such a lovely face-unforgettable. In the old black-and-white photographs, it might well be Mallory standing beside Peyton Hale, so alike were mother and daughter.

With the aid of her penlight, Charles read the letters written for O.B. They had been authored by a deeply romantic man, though there was nothing to say that Peyton had ever taken a lover and not one word about Cassandras coming child. The letters were all about Route 66, the mans only passion. In one context, they comprised a book of rules on how to live in a world of constant motion, where the road could suddenly shift beneath the travelers w heels or vanish from sight. Every line was polished prose and suitable for publication.

And the opening-for O.B.? A book title perhaps, or the initials of an editor.

Mallory must have been so disappointed in these pages, for her theory was vindicated here: When the letters were all one had to go by, it seemed that she and her mother had never existed.

The silver convertible drove on in a winding fashion, climbing, climbing, and then came a sensation approaching freefall as they dropped down the roller-coaster road in the dark, kissing mountainside then leafy branches. They were heading toward that far patch of coastline once visited by fourteen-year-old Kathy Mallory. He could see her as she was then, a girl poised on a beach at the edge of the world-so young to have no safety net-so full of hope for this meeting of father and child. Then came the moment. And the child had walked away alone.

It was a rare road that had three endings and one resolution.

They had arrived in this small coastal community at an unnatural hour for visiting. And so it was morning when the silver car pulled away from the hotel on Main Street and rolled through the fog that shrouded Mendocino, California. The sun had risen hours ago; Charles took this on faith since he could not see it.

Not an auspicious beginning for the day.

The road climbed up through cloudland, and the car broke into bright sunlight and lush green forest thick with fern and flowering plants. There were no houses visible from the road, only lot numbers to tell him that the more reclusive citizens of Mendocino were in there somewhere. These outlying rural householders seemed to like their privacy. The car approached a small dirt road that could only be a private driveway, and here Charles slowed a bit for there was no number to be read on the mailbox-in fact no mailbox, only a broken post. Half of it protruded from the ground, and the rest of it lay on the grass, having fallen victim to wood rot.

Through breaks in the foliage, he could see a man walking down the driveway and carrying a mailbox attached to a sound new post. His hair had silvered in middle age, but Peyton Hale was not an altogether different creature. The boy of the photographs remained in his lined and sun-brown face. His shape was much the same and still clad in blue jeans and a T-shirt. The cords of his arms stood out in bold relief as he pulled the remains of the rotted post from the ground.

Charles rolled onto the side of the road and cut off the engine.

The broken wood was cradled in one arm when the man looked up, as people will do when a stranger comes calling. The vehicle surprised him, and his smile was wide.


Most likely, for this car was the image of Peytons o w n silver Volkswagen convertible, and he must have found it worthy of closer scrutiny. With his free hand, he reached into a breast pocket and pulled out a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles with thick lenses. He donned them in the moment that Mallory stepped out of the car to face him down on this road.

Her shoulders rolled back, and her feet were planted slightly apart in pugilist fashion. She would give him one more opportunity-only one- to know her by her mothers face and his own green eyes staring back at him.

Charles remained behind the wheel. His heart ached for her; she had set the bar far too high. He whispered a litany, Last chance last chance

An answered prayer-Peyton Hale was turned to stone.

It was easy to follow the workings of the mind behind those bespectacled eyes so magnified and shocked wide-then shattered. Charles could virtually see Peytons b rain crashing with the overload of irony in memory and possibility-the hammer fall of Savannah s lies. Here before him was the living evidence that Cassandra had not died with his child still inside her.

Peytons mouth contorted in pain, as if his daughter had stabbed him in the heart-and, in a very Mallory way, she had. Now her father had no bones, legs failing him, arms dangling and helpless. The old mailbox post dropped to the earth, and Charles feared the man would also fall. Peytons eyes were fixed upon his daughters face, the image of her mother, and Charles Butler well understood the mans new expression. He called it epiphany, the hallelujah of a father who has beheld his child for the first time-his perfect child. Still unsteady on his feet, he reached out for her, as if she could save him. Our baby, he said.

Charles closed his eyes. Of course-our baby. Peytons child had not yet been named when the man had begun his final road trip. The letters for O.B. had been written to Mallory before she was ever born. Her fathers passion for a vanishing highway was his present to welcome her into the world. He had wanted to give her his road before it was gone.

Upon opening his eyes again, Charles saw that it was Mallory who had fallen. She was on her knees, her face full of tears. Her head was thrown back, and she was laughing, laughing.

Charles was awed by this evidence that all her possibilities were intact, and he had no more fears for her. Joy augured well for a life worth living.

Not wanting to play the voyeur at this reunion of the lost father and the lost child, he turned the car around, steering it toward the hotel in town, and the silver convertible descended below the fog line. Charles Butler had completed his assignment per Rikers request, though not in the anticipated order of things, not the specified destination or even the proper route; but he had seen the lady home.

And Mallorys road was run.

| Find Me | Carol OConnell