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Chapter 34

News of the shooting at the Eola Hotel sent the town into shock. Caitlin published a detailed account of the attack, based on the account I gave her after waking her from a deep sleep in my bedroom early that morning. There was no point in trying to keep it from her. Besides, I figured the more people who knew about my stolen Saab, the better the odds it would be found. Caitlin seemed particularly interested in what I’d been doing at the hotel with Mia at 2 a.m. I explained that Mia was helping Quentin and me investigate Kate Townsend’s life, and that beyond that I couldn’t say more. This didn’t satisfy Caitlin, but she was so glad to get the inside story of the attack that she let it go, at least for a while. After she exhausted my memory of the night’s events-the ones I could tell her about, anyway-I pretended to get ready for bed. Caitlin got dressed, called her editor, and drove down to the Examiner offices to begin working the story.

As soon as she left, I brewed a pot of coffee and retrieved Sonny Cross’s private case materials from my safe. Then I scanned twelve of Sonny’s MiniDV surveillance tapes using fast forward. It was a tedious process, but by the end of it, I’d found two that showed Kate Townsend walking into and out of Cyrus White’s building at the Brightside Manor Apartments. These tapes were what Quentin had asked me to get for him, but they didn’t satisfy me. I wanted Cyrus in the flesh.

I began sifting through Sonny’s case notebooks, line by line. They contained copious notes on the drug activity at Brightside Manor-and elsewhere in Natchez-but nothing that would help me locate Cyrus, unless he’s staying at one of his known safe houses. And Chief Logan assured me that all those are being checked on a regular basis. Sonny’s notes made it plain that he got most of his information from drug users or couriers he’d busted and then forced to work for him in exchange for their continuing freedom. My problem was that Sonny only referred to these snitches by code names. The code names seemed oddly chosen until I realized that they were all characters played by John Wayne on the big screen. ”Rooster.“ ”Chance.“ ”Ethan.“ ”Cahill.“ ”Big Jake.“ ”Chisum.“ ”McQ.“ Almost all the information Sonny had on Cyrus White had been provided by ”Ethan,“ but nowhere in the notebooks could I find a key to the identity of these snitches.

Setting aside the notebooks, I began scouring the files on Sonny’s laptop computer. After nearly an hour, I hit pay dirt. An encrypted file. I couldn’t open it, but what excited me was that this file seemed to be the only encrypted one on the computer. As soon as I was sure of this, I called Lucien Morse’s cell phone. Lucien happily agreed to meet me at the Eola the next morning to hack Sonny’s file. All he required was another five hundred dollars.

Then I called Quentin at the Eola and briefed him on the battle he’d slept through last night. He told me that Doris had awakened at one point, thinking she’d heard a shot, but no sound followed, so they went back to sleep. Quentin cared little about the deaths of the Asians, but the loss of Cyrus’s threatening e-mails left him sputtering with rage. He’d enjoyed about thirty seconds of euphoria after I told him about the existence of the e-mails-then disaster. When I tried to mollify him by telling him I’d draw up a subpoena for Cyrus’s e-mail records, Quentin just laughed.

”He uses that e-mail address for dope trafficking, man. You’re never gonna find that. He’s got that shit under somebody else’s name.“

”Then we somehow have to convince Cyrus’s crew that giving us that address is for Cyrus’s own good,“ I argued.

Quentin laughed harder. ”They’ll never buy that. The e-mails for that account could probably put Cyrus in Parchman for five hundred years on drug charges. The chances that he’ll be convicted of Kate Townsend’s murder are practically zero. Cyrus can read the newspaper and see that for himself. Drew looks like a slam dunk right now. You leave the defense strategy to me. I’ve been here before.“

After this conversation, Quentin left the Eola to visit Drew at the county jail. I called my father and asked him to take Annie out of town for a few days. He agreed without hesitation. He and my mother plan to leave for Jackson tonight.

Those arrangements made, I drove to the Eola Hotel and found Lucien Morse waiting for me in the lobby. The St. Stephen’s sophomore was dressed to the nines, just as he was last night. Plastic sheets had been tacked up over the shattered hotel doors, and a construction crew was already working to repair the bullet damage. In the elevator, Lucien asked some morbid questions about the attack. The only answer I gave him was Sonny Cross’s notebook computer.

While Lucien tried to break Sonny’s encryption program, I sat at the coffee table and drafted a letter for the Top of the Morning column of the Natchez Examiner, a feature that usually contains editorials on the local political scene or articles on community events. The purpose of the letter was to announce my intent to enter the special mayoral election as a candidate. I’m not sure how the community will respond to it, but I know two people who will be profoundly affected. Shad Johnson will be enraged, and Quentin Avery will be ecstatic to have Shad distracted from Drew’s upcoming trial. A third person will be more deeply affected, of course. When I deliver that letter to the Examiner offices, Caitlin will know I mean to run for mayor. What will happen after that, I don’t know. But I have more important business to take care of before delivering the letter-business that Lucien made possible twenty minutes ago.

I am holding in my hand a printout of the contents of Sonny Cross’s encrypted computer file: a key to the true identities of Sonny’s snitches. Along with their names, Sonny recorded in this file the addresses and telephone numbers of each informant, and also details of the offenses they had committed-in effect the swords that he dangled over their heads.

Trying not to hope for too much, I lift the hotel phone and dial one of the two numbers given for code name ”Ethan“-a drug courier whose real name is Jaderious Huntley. ”Jaderious,“ I recall, was the name of the person who shot the photo of Cyrus and Kate that was stored on Kate’s flash drive. The ”597“ prefix tells me the number I’m calling is a Natchez cell phone. After five rings, I get the familiar automated voice-mail greeting of Cingular Wireless. I hang up without leaving a message, then try the next number beside Huntley’s name.

This one looks like a residential phone. After seven rings, a young male voice says, ”Jaderious.“

”Hello, Ethan.“

Jaderious gasps, and then the phone goes dead.

I dial the number again.

No answer.

I dial again and let it ring twenty times. No answer. I hang up and dial again. I can almost see a young black man staring at his telephone in horror, wondering if he’s hallucinating. I have no doubt that the only man in the world who knew the real identity of ”Ethan“ was Sonny Cross. And everyone knows that Sonny is dead. On my eighth try, someone picks up the phone but says nothing.

”This is Sonny Cross,“ I say in a calm voice.

The silence stretches to infinity.

”You might as well talk, Ethan. I’m not going away.“

A tense voice says, ”Sonny be dead.“

”That’s right. But I’m not.“

”Who are you?“

”A friend of Sonny’s.“

”Oh, man, don’t be telling me that. That shit be over with now.“

”It’s not over, Jaderious. But it can be. I need one thing from you. Just one thing. After that, I’ll burn your file. It’ll be like you never knew Sonny at all.“

”Don’t play that shit, man. You guys don’t never stop. You think I’m a slave or something.“

”You put yourself in this spot, Ethan. Not me.“

”Don’t say that name, man. Just tell me what you want.“

”I want to see you face-to-face.“

”No way! Shit gone crazy in the street. That task force be on everybody’s ass. Everybody’s uptight. I can’t be seen with you.“

”You don’t even know who I am.“

”I know you white, that’s enough. Just tell me what you want!“

”I need to know where Cyrus is.“

Jaderious sucks in his breath like a monk hearing the voice of Satan. ”You crazy, “ he hisses. ”You stone crazy, man.“

”You’re going to have to talk to me, Jaderious. One way or another.“

”No, I ain’t. If you know my number, you know where I stay at. And you ain’t coming up in here, I know that. Especially right now.“

”Tell me where he is, Ethan. Nobody will ever know it was you.“

Jaderious laughs openly. ”Not even if I knew, dog, which Idon’t.

”If I have to come talk to you at home, people will see.“

”You come talk to me in person, you won’t make it out of here. So it don’t matter. You bluffing anyway, dog. I gots to go. Don’t call back.“

He hangs up before I can respond.

I sit quietly on the sofa for a while. Then I call Quentin Avery’s cell phone.

”What is it?“ Quentin asks in a taut voice.

”Are you still at the jail?“

”Yes. And I’m not happy.“

”I need to get into the Brightside Manor Apartments.“

”So?“

”I need to get in there safely.“

”And?“

”Shit, Quentin, don’t play stupid. Can you get me in and out?“

Silence. ”I suppose so. But I’m not sure I want to do that.“

”Why not? Drew’s acquittal could depend on it.“

”I’m not sure that’s a good enough reason, considering the price I’ll pay for doing it. Besides, this deluded ass you call your friend is ready to move to death row right now. He won’t listen to me.“

”What do you mean?“

”Are you at the Eola?“

”Yes.“

”Stay there. I’m on my way.“

Twenty minutes later, Quentin storms into the suite with as much violence as a man with one foot can muster. His eyes are almost wild.

”What did Drew do?“ I ask.

”Just what you said! He’s demanding to take the stand!“

I nod but keep silent. There’s no point in saying I told you so.

”This fucking guy,“ Quentin mutters, ”he’s the worst kind of chump, you know that?“

I still don’t respond. The best thing to do with this kind of anger is let it be vented as quickly as possible.

Quentin opens the minibar, takes out a small bottle of bourbon, unscrews the top, and swallows half the contents. ” Hell,yeah,“ he says, wiping his mouth on his sleeve. ”Doris would fry my ass if she saw that.“

”Why is Drew the worst kind of chump, Quentin?“

The lawyer walks to the plush sofa, ponders it for a moment, then turns and lets himself fall into it. ”Because that fool has decided he wants to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.“

”And that surprised you?“

”He’s a fucking Boy Scout!“

”An Eagle Scout, actually.“

Quentin drains the rest of the bourbon. ”Drew Elliott is a chump because he thinks the rules are different for him. Because he’s done the right thing for ninety-nine percent of his life, he thinks all he has to do now is get up on the stand to explain to everybody how it really was. And what I can not make that boy understand is that if he does that, he’s going to destroy himself. I mean, this guy has been lying to his wife every day for almost a year. He’s been fucking his babysitter! And now the girl is dead! Dead and pregnant! So why the hell should a jury believe anything he has to say now?“

”You’re preaching to the choir, Quentin.“

”There’s no way in hell I’m letting this guy get up and tell the jury he found Kate’s body and didn’t report it.“

”How can you stop him?“

”I can’t. But maybe you can.“

I don’t want to have this discussion right now. ”What about getting me into Brightside Manor?“

”What’s in there that’s so all-fired important?“

”A snitch who knows where Cyrus White is.“

Something tugs at the corner of Quentin’s mouth, something disagreeable. ”How about another bottle of bourbon?“

I go to the minibar and retrieve another bottle. Quentin sips slowly from it, his eyes still smoldering. ”I can get you in and out, all right. But if I do, every black man and woman in that complex is going to know I did it. And that’s going to cost me down the road. You understand? That may not be the noble thing to say, but it’s the truth.“

”What’s it going to cost you?“

”Cases. Business. Reputation.“

The question I left unasked on the day I met Quentin at my father’s office returns to haunt me now. Why did he stop taking civil rights cases to pursue personal injury and class action suits? But at this point, I feel the answer is self-evident.

”What the hell am I supposed to do?“

”I’m not saying I won’t do it. I’m just saying it would be better if you could find another way.“

”Such as?“

”Lure the guy you need out of there.“

”With what? He’s scared shitless.“

”Then find somebody else to get you in.“

”Such as?“

As Quentin ruminates over his whiskey, anger rises into my throat. Drew’s life is on the line, and his lawyer is worried about some personal injury case five years down the road? I get up without a word and walk to the door of the suite.

”Where are you going?“ Quentin asks.

”To do my job. You need to start thinking about whether you’ve got what it takes to do yours.“

”Hey, don’t-“

I slam the door and hurry down the hall.

The Brightside Manor Apartments stand like a visual reprimand to every liberal fantasy of government-subsidized housing. The dilapidated buildings look like sets built for a Blaxploitation flick from the seventies, like you could walk up and push them down with your foot. Thirteen big saltboxes grouped on the edge of St. Catherine’s Creek, all centered around a massive square of asphalt crowded with one of the strangest collections of motor transportation in the nation.

At least fifty people are sitting or standing within sight of me. The oldest ones sit on their stoops beneath dented metal awnings. The middle-aged stand in little knots, the men sharing bottles wrapped in paper sacks, the women holding babies. I don’t see any teenagers-it’s as though they’ve been drafted for some special war-but several toddlers walk unsupervised through the parking lot. Three of them are naked.

”How long has he been gone?“ asks my father.

Dad is referring to James Ervin, a retired black police officer he has treated since the 1960s, when he was the doctor for the Natchez police department. After Dad agreed to help me get into Brightside Manor, he recruited Ervin to make the initial foray into Jaderious Huntley’s building. Ervin graciously agreed, and also volunteered his beat-up pickup truck for the mission.

”Eleven minutes,“ I answer.

Dad clicks his tongue against his teeth. ”I don’t like it.“

”Let’s give it a little longer. Ervin sounded calm before he went in.“

Dad nods thoughtfully.

When I called him from the lobby of the Eola, he and my mother were only minutes from leaving for Jackson with Annie. He told me he’d visited Brightside Manor many times in the old days, which to him means the era when he made frequent house calls. Back then, he carried a spotlight and a pistol in his black medical bag. He rarely makes house calls these days, but he still has patients who live at Brightside Manor. He understood my anxiety about visiting the place uninvited, but he felt confident that with him along for the ride, we could do it. I was inclined to believe him. No white doctor in this town has treated more black patients than Tom Cage. More important, he’s treated them exactly as he treats his white patients, and the black community knows that.

Today could be the acid test of that goodwill.

Our plan was to send James Ervin up to Jaderious’s apartment to verify that the informant was inside. Then we would go up ourselves, pretending to make an emergency medical call at number 28. This subterfuge was primarily designed to protect us, not Jaderious; that it might also give the snitch some cover is incidental.

The ring of my cell phone makes us both jump in the seat.

”Hello?“ I say, putting my cell on speakerphone.

”Your boy’s up here,“ says James Ervin. ”He tried to rabbit. I’m holding a gun on him now.“

”Damn,“ says Dad. ”I didn’t know James took a gun up there.“

”Bring your black bag,“ Ervin says. ”He’s more likely to talk if we give him an out with Cyrus’s people.“

”We’re on our way,“ I promise.

Any hopes that we might make a covert approach to Jaderious’s building were dashed when we arrived. Our white faces began to draw attention as soon as James Ervin left the truck. A lot of people have pointed at our truck, but no one has yet confronted us. If we weren’t sitting in such a junky vehicle, they’d probably think we were cops. They may think that anyway.

Dad and I are both armed, but something tells me we should leave our guns behind. Dad doesn’t agree, so we compromise. I leave the Browning behind, but he brings his small Smith amp; Wesson.38-the ”Lady Smith“-in his bag. We cross the parking lot with purposeful strides, but not too fast. People sense fear the same way animals do. We’re just two guys with a job to do.

Two white guys.

I’m glad one of us is over seventy. The people milling around the buildings don’t know what to make of that.

Like most apartments in the South, the staircases at Brightside Manor are outside the buildings. We climb to the door that James Ervin entered fifteen minutes ago, give a perfunctory knock, and walk inside.

The stink of burnt grease and garbage hits me like a sucker punch. Jaderious Huntley is sitting on his hands in a wooden chair at the center of the front room. James Ervin stands eight feet away, a nickel-plated pistol in his hand. Sonny’s notes said Huntley is twenty-eight years old, but he looks forty. He’s wearing nothing but a pair of gym shorts, and his torso is so gaunt that I wonder if he’s eaten in weeks. His face is hollow, his eyes set deep in their sockets. If he’s a drug courier, he’s been using the product he carries for a long time.

I walk to the chair and kneel in front of him. ”Let’s make this quick and painless, Jaderious.“

Refusing to meet my eye, he shakes his head as though he’s being addressed by a moron. ”You don’t get it, dog. You done killed me already.“

”I tried to do this long distance. You wouldn’t play.“

Huntley leans back and folds his arms. He seems to equate this gesture with donning a suit of armor. ”I ain’t saying shit about what you asked me on the phone. You ain’t cops!“ He points at James Ervin. ”’Cept this useless motherfucker, and he too old to do shit now. Too old to fuck his old lady no more.“

Ervin’s face remains as unmoved as the face of a cliff.

”You’re right,“ I say patiently. ”We’re not cops. That’s why you’re looking at this the wrong way. You’re thinking that if you don’t tell me what I need to know, I’m going to have you busted for that old drug charge.“

Jaderious sniffs with the arrogance of an exiled dictator. Then he begins picking his fingernails.

”But I’m not going to do that,“ I go on. ”Because it doesn’t help me any. No, if you don’t tell me what I need to know, I’m going to put it out on the street that you’ve been Sonny Cross’s snitch on Cyrus for the past year and a half.“

The informant’s whole body jerks.

”Then I’m going to give your name to the task force. They’ll haul you over to Tracetown and question you for about six hours. And all your homeys will know about it.“

”You can’t do that, man!“ he cries, shaking his head violently.

”I don’t want to. Because if I do, you won’t see the end of the week. Maybe not even the end of the day. And I really don’t have anything against you personally.“

Jaderious’s eyes watch me as they might an angry rattlesnake. ”You don’t know Cyrus,“ he says softly. ”You don’t know the things he do.“

”I have an idea.“

”No, you don’t. I’m talkin‘ ’bout mutilating people, man. Cutting off parts and shit! Drilling holes in their bones . While they still alive, dog.“

Spittle flies from Jaderious’s mouth, and the whites of his eyes betray true panic. His tale of torture has taken me by surprise. I would have expected such tactics from an Asian drug gang, but not from a Natchez drug dealer. If Jaderious were to suffer such a fate because of my visit here today, what would I do? If I were still a prosecutor, I could offer him police protection. But as a private citizen, I can offer nothing. Yet when I think of Sonny Cross dying in his front yard, afraid for his sons’ lives, and Kate Townsend jammed half-naked into the waterlogged limbs of a tree, my concern for Jaderious Huntley quickly bleeds away.

”You’ve got one way out of this,“ I tell him. ”This man over here“-I jerk my hand at my father-”that’s Dr. Tom Cage. He can give you something to make you puke like you’re going cold turkey. And when people ask what we were doing up here, you can say he made a house call as a favor to your mama. You got a mama, Jaderious?“

He nods suspiciously.

”The story may be thin, but it’s all you’ve got. And you’re not getting that unless you give me what I need. If you don’t give me what I need, you get a neon billboard screaming, ‘Jaderious Huntley is a punk for the cops.’ And then you get some personal quality time with Cyrus White.“

Huntley blinks with jittery speed, as though his eyelids are a meter for brain activity. I look over at James Ervin. The retired cop has the eyes of a beagle, perpetually sad. What does he think about me interrogating a fellow black man? Does he see Jaderious as a brother? Or does he see a lost soul who long ago gave himself over to evil?

”If he’s that scared,“ Ervin says quietly, ”Cyrus must be close by.“

Jaderious turns to Ervin. ”Close enough to cut your motherfucking head off, old man. You Tom-ass mother fucker.

Ervin stares at the drug courier for a bit, then takes three deliberate steps toward him and looks down into his face. ”Boy, you nothing,“ he says. ”You know that? You worse than nothing. You dragging your whole people backwards, and you don’t even know it. And you ain’t got nobody but yourself to blame.“

Jaderious turns his head and looks at the wall, as though pulling a curtain around himself.

James Ervin walks to the door. ”I say feed him to his boss.“

I join Ervin at the door. ”Come on, Dad. He’s too stupid to save himself.“

My hand is on the doorknob when Huntley says, ”Hold up, now.“

I open the door.

The snitch jumps up from his chair. ”I said hold up, dog!“

”Your mouth is moving, but I don’t hear anything.“

Fresh panic twists his face. Even this desperate to live, he can’t wring the information out of himself. ”I don’t know where Cyrus be, man! But I know somebody who might.“

I step outside the apartment.

”I ain’t playing, man! That’s all I got! Please, dog. It’s Cyrus’s cousin!“

This stops me. ”What’s his name?“

”Stoney Washington.“

I look at James Ervin. He nods and says, ”He’s a truck driver. Couple of possession busts.“

”That’s him!“ says Jaderious. ”Cyrus fucked up his sister. Quenisha was a ho‘ over in Ferriday, and she got crossed up with Cyrus over some coke.“

”And?“

Jaderious’s eyes close, then open slowly. ”Cyrus fucked her up, man.“

”How?“

The snitch shakes his head again.

”Tell us.“

”He cut her up, man. He messed up her insides and shit. I don’t want to think about it. Cyrus be bad, man. He’s like the devil when he’s mad. Why you think I been talking to Sonny?“

”Because he could send you to Parchman.“

Jaderious stops twitching and stands before us, like a starving soldier in the act of surrender. ”No, man. Cyrus makes Parchman look like Christmas. I knew that girl. I loved her. She was a ho’, but I don’t care ‘bout that. Now she just be fucked up. Stays home all the time. Takes medicine to keep her from killing herself.“

I force myself to focus on the problem at hand. ”What about her cousin?“

”Stoney still be tight with Cyrus. Moves shit for him in his truck. After the thing with Quenisha, Cyrus made him choose, see? Stoney swore he wouldn’t try to do nothing ’bout what Cyrus had done. Said Nisha deserved that shit. What else could he say?“

”Go on.“

”If Stoney believes you can really take Cyrus down, he might talk to you. You give me your number, and I’ll call you.“

”You think I’m stupid, Jaderious?“

”What choice you got, dog? You wouldn’t be here if you had something else. And I’ll probably be dead tomorrow anyway.“

From behind me, my father says, ”Give him your number, Penn.“

I pick a pizza box off the floor and write my cellular number on it. Then I walk back to the door.

”Wait!“ Jaderious cries.

”What?“

”You forgot to give me the stuff. The shit to make me puke.“

I’d already forgotten.

Dad opens his bag and digs in it for a few seconds. Then he takes out the bottle of syrup of ipecac we purchased at Walgreen’s an hour ago.

”Open your mouth,“ he tells Jaderious.

Huntley obeys. ”Will this get me high, Doc?“

”No, low. In a few minutes, you’re going to make a beeline for the john.“

Dad pours a stream of the syrup down Jaderious’s throat. The snitch gags, then swallows three times. When he straightens up, he grimaces. Without a word he walks swiftly out of the room.

”Throw an opened syringe in his trash,“ I tell Dad.

He does, and then we depart.

There’s a reception committee waiting at the foot of the stairs. Two large black men in their thirties block our passage, with a woman who looks about sixty standing to the side of them.

”What y’all doing up there?“ asks one of the men. ”You cops or what?“

Before I can answer, Dad says, ”I was making a house call. That boy was near death. He was trying to go cold turkey, and it almost killed him.“

”What you mean ‘house call’?“ asks the woman. ”Doctors don’t make house calls no more.“

”I do,“ Dad says, walking to the bottom of the stairs without the slightest hint of anxiety. ”You ought to know that, Iola Johnson.“

The woman’s eyes go wide. ”Dr. Cage!“

Dad smiles. ”In the flesh.“

”What you doing up in here? Lord, I ain’t seen you in twenty years. I should have known you, though.“

”That boy’s sick, Iola. Dope sick. His mama called me, and then James Ervin called me, and I thought I’d better get on out here.“

The woman shakes her head in wonder. ”That boy ain’t no good, Dr. Cage. He’s all up in that dope, just like most of these young no-goods.“ She nods at the men with her. ”We didn’t know who you was, that’s all. Me and my boys try to stay up with who comes and goes round here. Now and then we get some bad white men.“

”Who have you been seeing for medical care?“ Dad asks. ”Dr. Jeffers?“

Iola cackles. ”Ain’t been seeing nobody! Ain’t had to, thank God. Ain’t got no money to see one. I tell you, though, old Arthur starting to get me now that I’m getting up in years.“

Dad gives the woman advice about her arthritis, and then we walk out to James Ervin’s truck. As the engine rumbles to life, Jaderious’s terror comes back to me, and with it his description of Cyrus’s acts of retribution: I’m talkin‘ ’bout mutilating people, man. Cutting off parts and shit! Drilling holes in their bones. While they still alive, dog

”It’s time to get Annie out of town,“ I say softly.

”Past time,“ Dad agrees. He turns to Ervin. ”Thank you, James.“

The retired cop shakes his head, his beagle eyes filled with pain. ”This world be goin‘ down, Dr. Cage. I never seen it this bad. It’s like the end times or something.“

Dad squeezes Ervin’s knee but says nothing. Then he turns to me and says, ”I read that Mayor Jones finally stepped down.“

Perfect timing, as ever. ”I heard that, too.“

”You heard what James just said. Do you still think you want that job?“

”I’m considering it. Caitlin seems to think this town doesn’t want to be saved. I recall you expressing that sentiment not long ago.“

”Not precisely that sentiment.“ Dad reaches into his pocket, takes out a cigar, and begins unwrapping it. ”There’s a quote I remember-I don’t recall where it’s from. It may be the Torah.“

”What is it?“ I ask, ready to hear a proverb about the wisdom of knowing when to walk away from something.

” ’Just because you will not see the work completed, does not mean you are free not to take it up.‘ “ Dad smiles and takes out his lighter. ”Or something to that effect.“

”Like Moses,“ intones James Ervin. ”He never saw the promised land, but he sho’ led his people there. Sho‘ did.“

Dad’s eyes twinkle with mischief.

An hour after we left Brightside Manor, Annie and my parents were on Highway 61 South, bound for the relative safety of Jackson. When I got home, I found Caitlin sitting on my front steps. It was odd to see her at rest, without even a cell phone in her hand. I started to ask if she wanted to cook dinner together, but before I got five words out, she stood and put her finger to my lips. Then she took my hand and led me through the blue door. She didn’t stop in the kitchen, but walked me down the hall to the door of my bedroom. There she stood on tiptoe and gave me a long, gentle kiss. The resentment that kept me from making love with her two nights ago still simmered somewhere within me, but I’d been through too much in the intervening time to worry about who was right or wrong about anything. Desire rose in me with primal intensity, and Caitlin responded with passion bordering on violence. As our clothes fell around us, she turned and splayed both hands against the wall, then thrust her hips back against me. I stood back for a moment, enthralled by the black mane of hair falling over her shoulder blades.

Hurry,“ she said roughly.


Chapter 33 | Turning Angel | Chapter 35