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Authors: Jodi Picoult,Jennifer Finney Boylan

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BOOK: Mad Honey: A Novel
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I took off my hat and veil, and Asher unzipped himself from his suit. “This is where you get to help,” I told Lily. I lifted the hot knife and pulled the first comb out of the hive box. “You get to uncap these.”

I showed her how, setting the frame on a strut that had been placed across the plastic bin, slipping the edge of the knife into the yellow at the top of the frame. The heat made the capped wax curl away in a lazy peel, revealing the golden honey flowing from the comb. “That’s…mesmerizing,” Lily said. “It’s like visual ASMR.”

It’s harder work than it looks. The frames are heavy, and balancing them takes upper-arm strength. The hot knife is a hazard—I had plenty of burn marks on my hands. And it’s sticky, obviously. As the honey gets onto your hands, the knife will shift and slip.

The wax cappings collected in a soggy pile in the bottom of the plastic bin. Asher leaned over and plucked a little bit, popping it into his mouth. He did the same for Lily, slipping it between her lips. “I’m supposed to eat it?”

“Chew it. Like gum,” Asher said. “And when the honey’s all gone…” He spat the refuse into a trash bin. “It’s the best part of honey extraction.”

When he was little, I used to give him a tiny bowl with the wax cappings. He’d chew on them and watch me as I worked.

I finished uncapping the first side of the frame. Then I handed Lily the knife and turned the frame to the flip side, so that she could try.

She held the knife for a long moment, staring at the burning edge. “Okay,” she said under her breath, and she flawlessly mimicked what I’d done.

“She’s a keeper,” I told Asher.

As she uncapped the frames, Asher and I loaded them into the radial extractor. The combs have to be positioned evenly, or it shimmies like a washing machine with an unbalanced load, walking itself around the barn. The honey will run along the inside of the tank and
collect in a reservoir, after going through a straining sieve to remove wax and debris and bee parts. The reservoir has a honey gate, and when it’s full, we strain the honey through a second, finer sieve before storing it in five-gallon pails. Some of this I’d sell in bulk for four dollars a pound. The rest I’d bottle myself and sell for eight dollars at farmers’ markets.

After the frames were all uncapped, Asher and Lily stayed on bucket duty, waiting for the honey to finish straining through the gate into pails, while I carried the drained supers back to the hives. The bees would eat the remaining honey, finishing the cleaning for me. I had to make several trips, so I kept coming in at different scenes in Asher and Lily’s two-person play: trying to outdo each other by coming up with titles of songs about honey—possibly the only list ever to include Barbra Streisand, Cheap Trick, and Tori Amos. Next time I came in, Asher was pressing their initials onto a beeswax heart and giving it to Lily, who was delighted. The third time, I caught Lily holding up her sticky hands, Asher leaning forward to lick her fingers.

I grabbed another empty super and pretended not to watch as Lily kissed the honey back from his lips. “Ash,” she whispered, as if he had already been burned.


BECAUSE MY BROTHER,
Jordan, is ten years older than I am, I literally cannot remember a time that he wasn’t there. When I was a baby, he was my favorite diversion—one I could watch for hours and follow when I learned to crawl. When I was in elementary school, he convinced me that fireflies were broken stars and that if I walked through the strawberry fields at night, I could find them lodged in the plants. When I was a teenager and he came to visit, he used my eyeliner to draw on the bathroom mirror: knock-knock jokes, cartoon worms with monocles, eyes that said
I’m watching you
.

When he walks in the front door at 8:40
a.m
., having paid some exorbitant fee to an Uber driver who has likely never taken a fare this far from the Boston airport, I fly into his arms with a sob.

Jordan is six feet tall, with hair that’s more gray than brown now,
but instead of making him look old it just makes him look seasoned. He is arguably one of the most famous defense attorneys New Hampshire has ever had, given the high profiles of his past cases—which include a teen suicide pact and one of the worst school shootings in the country—but to me, he will always be the guy who swung me onto his shoulders at Adams Day so that I could see the juggler onstage, even if it meant that
he
couldn’t. He is one of those people who can eat junk food all day and still have to worry about keeping on weight, and in spite of this I never considered smothering him in his sleep, so clearly his strengths outweigh his flaws.

He holds me for an extra heartbeat, and then pulls back, his hands on my shoulders. “It’s going to be all right, Liv,” he says.

My brother also knows exactly what to say and when to say it.

When he called me back yesterday after getting my message, Asher was only a suspect. Jordan doesn’t even know the worst of it yet. “Asher was arrested last night,” I tell him.

He nods, as if this doesn’t surprise him. “What’s the charge?”

“Murder.”

A muscle tics in his jaw. “Jesus.”

“The arraignment is this morning at the superior court,” I tell him. “I don’t even know where that is.”

Jordan glances at his watch. “Fuck,” he says. “It’s in Lancaster.”

Lancaster is an hour away.

“Gimme five.” He ducks into the bathroom and by the time I gather my wallet and car keys, he is standing in the parlor again, this time in a suit.

“Why did you bring a suit on vacation?” I ask.

“In case I drop dead,” Jordan replies, not missing a beat. He gives me directions—
turn here, get on the highway, drive like the cops are chasing you
—because there’s an excellent chance that arraignments will already have begun by the time we reach the courthouse. New Hampshire, he tells me, has a Felonies First program. It means all preliminary processing happens in superior court, instead of starting at the lower circuit court level—a building I pass all the time, which is only fifteen minutes away from my home.

As we drive to the superior court, I give him all the meager details I have. “It’s a mistake, Jordan,” I finish. “Asher’s girlfriend was found dead. And he was found
with
her. He swears he didn’t do it.”

Jordan taps his fingers on his leg. “If they’re charging him with murder, they must have
something.
” Too late, he hears his words the way I have. “Look,” he says. “I don’t know the facts yet, but Selena and I will figure this out.”

For the first time, I think of Jordan’s wife—the mother of his second son, and his longtime investigator. I’m embarrassed that I haven’t asked about her yet. “Where
is
Selena?”

“Dropping Sam off at her mother’s,” Jordan says. “That way she can do a little digging for us. She’ll get here tomorrow.”

I nod. Jordan always refers to Selena as his secret weapon. “We’ll be able to take Asher home, right?”

Just then we pull into the courthouse lot, and I have to jam on the brakes. There are news vans from Concord and Manchester affiliates and a swarm of reporters. “Is it always this busy?” I murmur, and Jordan doesn’t respond. He waits for me to realize that they are here for Asher.

For me.

“Don’t say a word,” Jordan says.

He jumps out of the passenger seat and is opening my door before I can even unbuckle my seatbelt.

I step out into a sea of monsters: Cyclopean cameras, with black, blind eyes staring at me, microphones thrust at me like bayonets.

Did you know Lily Campanello?

Why did your son kill her?

Does Asher have a history of violence?

“No comment,” Jordan says. “No comment.”

I am shaking so hard that without his arm around me, I would have already collapsed. As Jordan shepherds me into the courthouse, I realize he never answered my question about bringing Asher home.


BECAUSE I’VE BEEN
doing ninety on the highway, we manage to slip into the front row of the courtroom just as arraignments are
beginning. There’s a broad table in front of us on the left that is empty, and a matching table on the right, seated behind which is a woman with an angular black bob. There is also a bailiff, a clerk, a court reporter, and a judge—an old white man whose chin slopes directly into his neck, like that of a turtle. “Do you know the judge?” Jordan asks.

“Isn’t it that guy in the black robes?”

He glances at me. “I meant his
name
. If he tends toward harsh sentencing, or if he’s a bleeding heart.”

“I have no idea,” I tell him, wondering why we are wasting time sitting here when my son is somewhere in this building.

“Rhimes,” Jordan says, looking at his phone. “That’s who’s presiding over arraignments today. Selena texted me.”

“How does she know?” I ask, stunned.

“She casts runes,” Jordan replies drily. “But also, the New Hampshire judicial system website.”

“When do we get to see Asher?” I ask.

As if I’ve conjured him, Asher enters through a side door with a deputy, still handcuffed. He is pale, with dark circles under his eyes. He is still wearing that T-shirt, those sweatpants. His eyes rove around the courtroom, and when he spots me—and his uncle—his shoulders relax.

The deputy leads Asher to the empty table, waits for him to sit down, and removes his handcuffs. “State versus Asher Fields,” a clerk announces, passing a file to the judge. “Charge of murder in the first degree.”

Beside me, Jordan sucks in a breath. “Fuck,” he murmurs.

“Mr. Fields,” the judge asks, “do you have counsel, or do you need an attorney appointed for you?”

Jordan rises to his feet. “I’m representing Mr. Fields, Your Honor. Permission to approach the court?” When the judge nods, my brother steps through the gate of the wooden bar. “My name is Jordan McAfee, and I am counsel for the defendant.”

“Thank you, Mr. McAfee,” Judge Rhimes says. “Have you filed your appearance with the clerk’s office yet?”

“No, Your Honor. I just arrived from Ireland. I still have clover in
my shoes.” The judge doesn’t crack a smile. He doesn’t even blink. “Right,” Jordan continues smoothly. “I will make sure to contact the clerk.”

Judge Rhimes grunts, satisfied. “For the record, the State is being represented by Assistant Attorney General Gina Jewett.” The woman with the black bob nods at Jordan. “Mr. McAfee, have you had the opportunity to talk to your client about the charges before him?”

“No, Judge. If I can have five minutes, I think we can be ready to move forward.”

The judge doesn’t even look up from his file. “You have two,” he says.

“Understood.” Jordan turns to Asher, speaking quickly and quietly. I am close enough, in the front row, to hear every word. “You’ve been charged with first-degree murder. Do not freak out. We will talk through this outside the courtroom.”

“But, Uncle Jordan—”

“Asher,” Jordan says, “do you trust me?”

Asher nods. He swallows hard.

“All we’re going to do is enter a plea of not guilty. You don’t have to say anything else yet. Do you understand?”

“Yeah, I just need you to know that I didn’t—”

“I don’t want to hear anything, Asher,” Jordan interrupts. “Save it for later.” He clears his throat and turns back to Judge Rhimes. “Your Honor, we’re ready to proceed.”

The judge perches a pair of glasses on the end of his thin nose. “Mr. Fields, you’ve been charged with murder in the first degree. How do you plead?”

Jordan stands, and Asher follows suit. He remains tight-lipped, tugging at the bottom of his T-shirt. Jordan elbows him in the side. “Not guilty,” Asher says quietly.

“Let the record reflect that Mr. Fields has entered a plea of not guilty.” The judge sounds bored. Tired. As if his entire life has not suddenly come apart at the seams, the way ours have. If you do this long enough, I wonder, do you even notice that the people in front of you are falling to pieces?

Judge Rhimes turns to the assistant attorney general. “Are we going to consider the matter of bail today, Ms. Jewett?”

She rises, a cobra. “Your Honor, as is clear from the record, Mr. Fields has been charged with one of the worst crimes that can be committed, in a town where this, frankly, does not happen. We have evidence that the victim was his girlfriend, that they were in a volatile relationship, and that it spiraled out of control and ended in death for the victim.”

Every word she lays in place is a brick, a wall being constructed between me and my son. I stare at the prosecutor.
You know nothing,
I think.

“This is a defendant who is obviously not in control of his anger, and therefore is a risk to the community,” Gina Jewett concludes. “The State asks that Mr. Fields be held without bail.”

I must make a sound, a terrible sound, because both Jordan and Asher go rigid before me. But you would never know it, from the casual tone of Jordan’s reply. “That’s ridiculous, Your Honor. Asher has lived here most of his life. He has no criminal record.” My brother’s voice hitches just the slightest bit, and I realize he is hoping like hell that this is true. “He’s a good student, he has ties to the community. He’s eighteen and has no substantive income. His mother is a single parent—she’s right here, Your Honor.” He turns, revealing me in the space between his shoulders and Asher’s. I lift my hand in a half wave. “She will make sure that Asher goes nowhere.” Jordan glances back to the judge. “The defense asks that bail be set at a minimal amount that—quite honestly, Judge—my client may not even be able to meet.”

Judge Rhimes looks up and seems to realize for the first time that his courtroom is packed with reporters hanging on his next words. “Considering Mr. Fields’s long ties to the community and lack of a criminal record, but also considering the fact that this is a murder charge…the court sets bail at a million dollars cash or surety.”

I feel like a butterfly, pinned. A million dollars. That is the stuff of game shows. Of celebrities. Of dreams. Not actual money, in an actual bank account.

What the hell will I do?

“The defendant is remanded into custody unless and until bail can be established,” the judge says, and he bangs his gavel. “Next?”

BOOK: Mad Honey: A Novel
12.82Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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