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Authors: Kem Nunn

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Chance (106 page)

BOOK: Chance
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Captain America
 

M
ORE THAN
two hundred of the gems had in fact arrived. Some had been mounted and framed and these individually packaged. Many more had been stored in the particular type of large brown envelopes Chance had seen the art students use in transporting their drawings. Each of these contained dozens of photographs separated by sheets of newsprint. “I know you liked the guy,” Lucy said at one point. “But . . . we get up and running again . . . I would recommend keeping the ones we hang to a minimum.”

“I’ve learned how to look at them,” he told her. “It’s all about the light in their eyes.” He waved to the old man in the diaper, Captain America. “Check out that fucker. No surrender there.”

“Umm. I would still suggest limiting the number.”

“Yes, well . . . Moderation in all things, I suppose.” He was taking this to include the amount of truth people might be asked to confront at any one sitting then moved on to something else that had been on his mind of late, the subject of his French furniture, the Printz collection.

“That old stuff you sold?”

“I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately. It’s been kind of eating at me if you want to know the truth and now I’m thinking it might look good in the office.”

“I thought you couldn’t wait to get rid of it.”

“I needed money,” he told her. “I cheated a bit on the sale.”

Lucy pursed her lips.

“It’s a bit complicated but what I would like to do is contact the current owner, make him an offer to buy it back.”

“And tell him he was cheated?”

“I intend the offer as generous to the point of being ridiculous. Is that good enough, do you think?”

Lucy shrugged but he was willing to take it as a yes.

“The other thing I’d like to do . . . There was a girl on a skateboard that got hit the day I fell. I’d like to find out who she is and how she’s doing.” He was at the point of asking her to look into it when he became aware that a fashionably dressed woman of perhaps forty had come to occupy the doorway that separated the waiting room of his office from the hallway beyond. The woman had very black hair and very white skin and seemed to tilt slightly to one side.

 

Her name, she said, was Veronica Woods and she was recently of the Unit for the Victims of Violent Crimes at San Francisco General where she had spent the better part of the summer. He could see that she’d had some manner of reconstructive work done on one side of her face, the net effect of which was to render her both gaunt and striking, a damaged bit of fine art. Like Chance, she carried a cane and walked with a slight limp. Unlike Chance, her condition was, she said, permanent. There was a story that came with her of course. It involved failed restraining orders and threats of violence, a cultish religious group she’d somehow managed to run afoul of. The story appeared to involve the attempted extraction of a family member together with a car bomb and would require a good deal more attention than Chance was just now prepared to give for the picture to become complete.

Someone on the ward had mentioned Chance by name, one of the volunteer orderlies, she thought now. She’d heard that he had been in some kind of accident and was sorry to intrude unannounced but had
not known what else to do or where to turn. “These people are still out there,” she told him, by which he took her to mean the perpetrators of the violent crimes that had landed her among the victims of such. She had rarely been out of her apartment since leaving the hospital. Her life was in shambles, to say nothing of her career. Her medical insurance was no longer. “My life’s a thing of the past,” she told him and began to cry. He could not help noticing that the part of her face where the work had been done remained quite rigid. “I was a chef,” she said finally. “But now, since all of this . . .” She lifted a hand to her face. “I’ve lost the ability to smell . . . I was told this was an area in which you have some expertise . . .”

Chance said that he was sorry and he was but he had begun to think about this place she had named and to think about it in a particular light. The phrase
mutiles de guerre
came to mind. The French had coined it for those mutilated in war but
life and love
might do as well and he was somewhat taken aback that he had not heard of it until now, this abode for the Victims of Violence, and thinking too that he needed to get out more while at the same time experiencing some difficulty in mastering his own bit of vertigo, attributable no doubt to the sudden, simultaneous rush of so many large ideas.

 

They had moved to Chance’s office where he was now half seated and half standing, braced on the edge of his desk near a partially open window and so able to take the full measure of the day, unlike the poor creature before him. The air at last was full of the season he wanted to tell her, the coming of winter—all white light and seas the color of naked pearl. At which point the woman alerted him once more to her presence. “Should I go?” she asked.

The words stopped him in his tracks. It was what J . . . he had started thinking of her only as J . . . had once said to him in very nearly the same way and place and hadn’t he caught some rhythm in her voice, some trace of the familiar like a scent left upon the room and was there not too some certain slant to the line of her jaw, the height of her cheek . . . impossible to conceal even by the work that had been done or the dark glasses she’d chosen to hide behind? Surely this
was impossible, for any number of reasons but what he understands as by the flash of a strobe is that
every
woman in distress would from this point forward not only look like J but in a very particular way
be
J and the thing is . . . he’s
kind
of all right with that. And then he knows something else too, that one day it just might be. There was after all an address in what she left, a place she visits now and again in Baja California. One might even go bearing gifts. The drive, though a good deal farther than Mariella Franko’s apartment in Palo Alto, no longer seemed so constrained by the workings of the world. What after all was any of that to him, or the caged heart any but his own? But as of now there was this new creature before him, this victim of violent crime. One might just as well have said manna from heaven but he could see that he was making her nervous, twisting one chafed hand inside another, nails bitten to the quick so that he was moved to place his own upon her shoulder. “It’s okay,” he told her. “Really. I’m a bit preoccupied and I’m sorry but I’m thinking I’d like to help.” He took her tears as those of joy or at least relief and when she had gone he phoned Big D by way of Allan’s Antiques. It was the first they’d spoken since the day Chance had called from the hospital lobby.

“What’s up, buddy?” D asked. He put the question to him as if they had spoken only yesterday and then about the weather.

“I may have something,” Chance said.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
 

I
WOULD LIKE
to thank Tom Kier, Ronald Newquist, and Jonathan Mueller, MD, for their incredible generosity of both time and spirit. Also . . . mention is made of Steven Pressfield and Huge Macleod, excellent writers who don’t know me from Adam and should not be held responsible.

ULRIKE NUNN

 

KEM NUNN
is a third-generation Californian and the author of six novels, including the National Book Award nominee
Tapping the Source; Tijuana Straits,
which won the
Los Angeles Times
Book Prize for Best Mystery/Thriller;
The Dogs of Winter; Pomona Queen; and Unassigned Territory.
In addition to writing novels, he writes screenplays for television and film, most notably
John from Cincinnati,
which he co-created with David Milch;
Deadwood;
and currently,
Sons of Anarchy.
He lives in Southern California.

 

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authors.simonandschuster.com/Kem-Nunn

 
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