Authors: Rick Riordan
We got married in a thunderstorm. That should’ve been my
The Southwest Craft Center courtyard was festooned with white crepe paper. The tables were laden with fresh tamales, chips and salsa. Cases of Shiner Bock sweated on ice in tin buckets. The margarita machine was humming. The San Antonio River flowed past the old limestone walls.
Maia looked beautiful in her cream bridal dress. Her black hair was curled in ringlets and her coppery skin glowed with health.
The guests had arrived: my mother, fresh from a tour of Guatemala; my brother, Garrett, not-so-fresh from our long bachelor party in Austin; and a hundred other relatives, cops, thugs, ex-cons, lawyers—all the people who had made my life so interesting the past few decades.
Then the clouds came. Lightning sparked off a mesquite tree. The sky opened up, and our outdoor wedding became a footrace to the chapel with the retired Baptist minister and the Buddhist monk leading the pack.
Larry Cho, the monk, had a commanding early lead, but Reverend Buckner Fanning held steady around the tamale table while Larry the Buddhist had to swerve to avoid a beer keg and got blocked out by a couple of bail bondsmen. Buckner was long retired, but he sure stayed fit. He won the race to the chapel and held the door for the others as we came pouring in.
I was last, helping Maia, since she couldn’t move very quickly. Partly that was because of the wedding dress. Mostly it was because she was eight and a half months pregnant. I held a plastic bag over our heads as we plodded through the rain.
in the forecast,” she protested.
“No,” I agreed. “I’m thinking God owes us a refund.”
Inside, the chapel was dark and smelled of musty limestone. The cedar floorboards creaked under our feet. The crowd milled around, watching out the windows as our party decorations were barraged into mush. Rain drummed off the grass so hard it made a layer of haze three feet high. The crepe paper melted and watery salsa overflowed off the edge of the tables.
“Well,” Buckner said, beaming as if God had made this glorious moment just for us. “We still have a holy matrimony to perform.”
Actually, I was raised Catholic, which is why the wedding
was half-Buddhist, half-Baptist. Maia had not been a practicing Buddhist since she was a little girl in China, but she liked Larry the Buddhist, and the incense and beads made her feel nostalgic.
Buckner Fanning was the most respected Baptist minister in San Antonio. He also knew my mom from way back. When the Catholic priest had been reluctant to perform the ceremony (something about Maia being pregnant out of wedlock; go figure), my mom had recruited Buckner.
For his part, Buckner had talked to me in advance about doing the right thing by getting married, how he hoped we would raise our child to know God. I told him we hadn’t actually talked to God about the matter yet, but we were playing phone tag. Buckner, fortunately, had a sense of humor. He agreed to marry us.
We were a pretty bedraggled crew when we reassembled in
the old chapel. Rain poured down the stained-glass windows and hammered on the roof. I glanced over at Ana DeLeon, our homicide detective friend, who was toweling off her daughter Lucia’s hair. Ana smiled at me. I gave her a wink, but it was painful to hold her eyes too long. It was hard not to think about her husband, who should have been standing at her side.
Larry the Buddhist rang his gong and lit some incense. He chanted a sutra. Then Buckner began talking about the marriage covenant.
My eyes met Maia’s. She was studying me quizzically. Maybe she was wondering why she’d agreed to hook up with a guy like me. Then she smiled, and I remembered how we’d met in a bar in Berkeley fifteen years ago. Every time she smiled like that, she sent an electric charge straight down my back.
I’m afraid I missed most of what Buckner had to say. But I heard the “I do” part. I said the vow without hesitation.
Afterward, we waded through the well-wishers: my old
girlfriend, Lillian Cambridge; Madeleine White, the mafia princess; Larry Drapiewski, the retired deputy; Milo Chavez, the music agent from Nashville; Messieurs Terrence and Goldman, Maia’s old bosses from the law firm in San Francisco; my mom and her newest boyfriend, a millionaire named Jack Mariner. All sorts of dangerous rain-soaked people.
We ate soggy wedding cake and drank champagne and waited for the storm to pass. As Maia talked with some of her former colleagues, Garrett cornered me at the bar.
My brother was wearing what passed for wedding garb: a worn tuxedo jacket over his tie-dyed T-shirt. His scraggly beard and poorly combed hair looked like a wheat field after a hailstorm. His tuxedo pants were pinned up (since he didn’t have legs) and he’d woven carnations through the spokes of his wheelchair.
“Grats, little bro.” He lifted his plate of tamales in salute. “Good eats.”
“You congratulating me on the tamales or the marriage?”
“Depends.” He belched into his fist, which was for him pretty darned discreet. “What you got planned for the honeymoon?”
Right then, my internal alarms should’ve been ringing. I should’ve backed away, told him to get another plate of tamales and saved myself a lot of trouble.
Instead, I said, “Nothing, really. Maia’s pregnant, you may have noticed.”
Garrett waved his hand dismissively. “Doing nothing for your honeymoon don’t cut it, little bro. Listen, I got a proposition.”
Maybe it was the joyous occasion, or the fact that I was surrounded by friends. Maybe it was just the fact that it was raining too hard to leave. But I was in the mood to think well of my brother.
I would have plenty of time to regret that later. But that afternoon, with the rain coming down, I listened as Garrett told me his idea.
He got to the cemetery at sunset, drove around it twice to
make sure there was no surveillance. He doubted there would be, but he’d learned to be paranoid.
The sky was blood red. Corpus Christi Bay glowed like metal on the forge. The old cemetery had iron gates and limestone markers, the oldest worn smooth by storms and Gulf winds.
He found the graves with no effort: one large, two small, lined up cozily on a knoll, enjoying the million-dollar view. Like they come to watch fireworks, he thought.
He knelt and ran his hands along the names, as if that would erase them.
The top of the smallest tombstone was lined with seashells: a cockle, an Easter oyster, a blood ark. He’d spent years collecting shells like these along the Texas coast. He’d dug them out of the sand, let the ocean wash them clean, held them up to the sunlight and admired the pattern of their veins.
Had the child liked seashells? He didn’t know.
He’d never even met them.
The mother’s obituary picture had run in the newspaper. Her smile had seemed so familiar, the dates of her birth and death. Cold had gripped him as he realized what he’d done.
He’d caused this. And now there was no way to bring them back.
The only thing he could do was make amends.
he had the courage.
He took something from his pocket: a tiny sugar skull, grinning and blind. He crushed the skull and dropped it on the mother’s grave.
A flash from the bay caught his eye—a rich man’s yacht coming in for the night. The afternoon had been beautiful, as unexpected as yesterday’s storm. Forecasters were optimistic about a nice weekend. The bad weather was supposed to skirt around them. But he knew better. A bigger storm was on the way.
He watched the yacht disappear behind the fishing piers. The Texas coast had always protected him. However far he roamed, he always came back here, putting his feet in the water, hoping it would wash away his travels and his mistakes the way it washed sand off shells.
But maybe not this time.
Sunset. He had to catch the evening ferry.
He took one last look at the tombstones, lined up so peacefully, long evening shadows pointed toward the sea. Then he turned to leave. The island was waiting.