Table of Contents
To Professor Leonard Casper, who tried to teach me the short story form when I was a nineteen-year-old sophomore at Boston College, for his great patience and dignity in that most difficult of efforts.
Other Books by James LePore
A World I Never Made
Blood of My Brother
Have the courage to live. Anyone can die.
In the suspense novel, plot and pace are supposed to be more important than character. I can understand why. Long explorations of a character’s personal history, even if told in dramatic fashion, will inevitably distract the reader from the excited expectation or uncertainty about what may happen next that is the primary attraction, the point, as it were, of the genre. In the early drafts of my first novel,
A World I Never Made
, these explorations were done in flashbacks that had the benefit of allowing my characters to slowly reveal themselves to me. I was forced to concede, though, that they would be distractions to lovers of suspense novels. Ultimately, because of the deftness
of my editor, Lou Aronica, and my willingness to discipline myself, I was able to severely condense certain passages, eliminate others altogether, and even keep myself from writing some of them in the first place. The result was, I believe, a cohesive, well-paced novel, populated with characters whose personal journeys meld with but do not distract from what is essentially an action-filled plot.
However, though entirely satisfied with the novel’s fit with the world of genre fiction, I was nevertheless uneasy about the relationship that its readers would have with its central characters. Would Pat Nolan’s bitterness—a bitterness that resulted in his virtually abandoning his daughter—ring true? Was Megan Nolan’s conversion from cynic to patriot believable? Was there something in her past that the reader did not, but should, know that showed she had something resembling a human heart? I wanted readers to like my characters, to love them actually, as much as I did, and I was far from confident that they would.
Then, prior to publication, Lou asked me, as part of the marketing plan for the novel, to write three short stories involving the book’s main characters. The proverbial light bulb went off in my head.
This is my chance
, I said to myself,
my chance to both honor my characters and respect my readers
The human heart inflicts and suffers terrible wounds, and yet there is a path to both love and redemption if we look for it, if we are not afraid to live. Whether you read these stories or the novel first, it is my hope that you will recognize the wounds sustained
and inflicted by Pat Nolan, his daughter Megan, and the oddball F.B.I. agent Max French, and see that, despite those wounds, they each in their own way chose to live rather than die.
South Salem, NY
TILL DEATH DO US PART
“So, was it worth the wait?” Lorrie Nolan asked.
“Did it hurt?” Pat, her husband of just under five hours, replied.
“A little, but then it felt good.”
Pat remained silent. He placed his right arm around Lorrie as she turned on her side and pressed against him. Overhead, moonlight spilled through a small skylight, covering them with a silvery blanket. Out of the corner of his eye he could see her strawberry blond hair spilling like liquid gold over his shoulder and down his arm. Through the cabin’s screen door, which was only a few feet from the foot of the bed, he could see Lake Tahoe, black and sparkling in the moonlight. His orgasm had been mind-blowing, but
the tension of the last two days had not drained out of him, as he hoped it might once they made love. It was foolish of him, he realized, to think it would. He was the same person now as he was twenty minutes ago. Lorrie had said once that she saw his core and that it was strong and beautiful. What core?
Lorrie got up and, taking the towel she had placidly placed under her earlier, stained red now, she went to the bathroom. Pat watched as she crossed the small room, afraid to think of what a great body she had and how beautiful she was. He would be twenty-one in two weeks, a milestone that meant nothing to him, since, until recently anyway, he was sure he was already a man. An amateur boxer with fourteen wins and a draw under his belt; a heavy equipment operator since the age of eighteen, working on bridge sites in Ohio and Kentucky and a tunnel in Canada; helping support his widowed mother while his older bother, Frank, was in the service: if anyone had asked, he would have said that he had earned the right to call himself a grown man.
But that was before he met Lorraine Ryan, the incredibly beautiful Lorraine Ryan, with her long, silky red-blond hair, her green eyes and her dazzling smile. She had laid down a couple of rules: no sex until we’re husband and wife, quit the boxing, go to school for something. And he had obeyed: a boy again, desperately in love, despite his struggle to retain what he thought of as his dignity, which led them into a couple of terrible rows early on. Was that only six months ago, he asked himself, could it only be six months?
Lorrie came out of the bathroom, still naked, and sat cross-legged before him on the bed. Like they had been hanging out naked together all their lives.
“You didn’t answer my question,” she said.
“What question was that?”
“Was it worth the wait?”
“Yes, Lorrie, it was.”
“Are you sure?”
As she said this, Lorrie began stroking Pat’s thighs through the clean white sheet of their bed. Up one and down the other, coming close, but never touching his penis, which shortly began to lift the sheet as it grew. Pat blushed when he realized what was happening. He watched her breasts hanging heavy and free as she leaned forward to increase the pressure of her stroking. Before he met Lorrie, he had rarely blushed, even as a boy. Now his face was hot and red, like a teenager’s at a whorehouse.
“Kiss me with the kisses of thy mouth,” Pat said. “For thy love is better than wine.”
At this Lorrie quickly pulled the sheet away and knelt over Pat, straddling him, looking him directly in the eye.
“The Song of Solomon,” she said.
“Yes, I’ve been saving it.” Pat was breathing rapidly now, and pressing his crotch up into Lorrie’s.
“You know, Paddy,” she said, reaching down to guide him into her, “you may have potential. You just may.”
Five days later, they were in their rented car, Pat at the wheel, headed north on Route 522 in northern New Mexico’s high desert, looking for a bar called Elmo’s, where they would turn to head down into the Rio Grande Gorge to a hot spring they had been told about on the river. They had gone from Reno, where they were married, down into New Mexico at the Four Corners and then back to Nevada to tour the Hoover Dam and hike in the Grand Canyon. New Mexico had lured them back. Not for nothing was it called the “Land of Enchantment.” Yesterday they had hiked up Atalaya Mountain, outside Santa Fe, and made love at 9,000 feet. At breakfast they had heard about the hot spring up near Pilar and decided to pack a lunch and make a day of it, free and easy like any near-penniless, naïve young couple would be on their low-end honeymoon.
Except that Pat was not completely free and easy. He could not believe his luck in landing Lorrie, and worried that it would not last once she realized that, though he could throw a killer punch and move the earth and build things, big dumb Irishman that he was, he did not know the first thing about loving someone or being a husband. And, now that they had made love twenty times or so—he was insatiable, which so far she didn’t seem to mind—there was something new. He could not entirely repress his feeling that their use of condoms—most of the time—was a mortal sin. He had thought he had shed his parents’ Irish Catholic guilt years ago, along with stopping going to mass and confession and all that hoopla as he
called it. But he was now learning the lesson, as everyone does, that theory was one thing, practice another. And neither, Pat was learning, was Lorrie all that naïve. She had definitely been a virgin, but how then did she know so much about making love, about how to please him?
“You’re not telling me something, Paddy,” Lorrie said.
“Huh?” Pat replied, his reverie abruptly broken.
“Something’s on your mind.”
There it is again, Pat thought, she knows things. I can’t anticipate it, and I can’t fake her out once she throws that first pitch.
“You’ve been brooding,” Lorrie said. “You’re too serious, I keep telling you that. I’m not smart, but together we can be.”
Pat looked over at his wife, who looked back at him, her head slightly down, as if to say, stick with me, big guy, I’ll navigate. I’ll get us there.
“Is it the sex?” Lorrie asked. “It’s not a sin. We’re married.”
“Come on, Lorrie.”
“Then what is it? You think I’m a brazen hussy?”
“I’ve actually heard that before.” Pat smiled as he said this, as did Lorrie. After dating for a few weeks she had told him that she had decided that she would be trying out lots of words and phrases on him that he may not have heard before, as, she had said, he was such a tabula rasa: a big, dark-eyed, incredibly handsome, muscular, sexy, blank slate. He had not been
offended—so madly in love was he, and so obviously affectionate was her teasing.
“The Jesuits again?” she asked.
“I don’t remember.”
“Your prior girlfriends, whom you’re supposed to have totally forgotten by now?”
They both stared ahead for a moment, their eyes on the empty two-lane highway that was now cutting through a vast, flat Indian reservation, their compact car chugging along at a steady 55 miles per hour.
“What is it, Pat?” Lorrie asked after this moment passed.
“I’ve been offered a job.”
“It must not be your average, run-of-the-mill type of job.”
“No, it’s not.”
“What is it?”
“Operating a dozer in Paraguay. They’re building a dam.”
“Paraguay!” Lorrie said.
Pat snuck a look at his wife, confirmed that she was, for once, dumbfounded, then quickly returned his eyes to the road.
“Jimmy King,” he said, “is putting a crew together. The pay is unbelievable.”
“A thousand a week.”
“A thousand a week!”
“Plus a place to live.”
“What did you say?”
“I said I would think about it.”
“You should have said you had to talk to me.”
Shit, Pat thought. I can’t win.
“That’s what I meant,” he said.
“When do you have to tell him?”
“When we get back.”
“When does it start?”
“Are wives invited?”
“Yes,” Pat replied, lying, and immediately feeling guilty. He didn’t know if wives were invited. He hadn’t asked. Jimmy King—Pat’s boss, a boxing fanatic and the owner of King Excavation—had mentioned the roughness of the jungle site, where they would be moving the Paraná River, creating a new mile-long channel where the dam would be located. Pat didn’t know which he loved more, the idea of moving the Paraná River, or his new wife. He literally did not know that he did not know this. It was not a question he would think to ask himself until later, when it was too late.
“We have to discuss it,” Lorrie said.
“Of course,” Pat replied. “It’s a big move,” thinking: please God, let her say yes.
“There’s Elmo’s,” said Lorrie, pointing to a building ahead on the left. “Let’s stop and get beer.”