He wished his father would have taken up golf, or anything else he could love enough to brighten his days. He pictured his own life at seventy-nine. Golf? Tennis? Tinkering with cars? He’d read once of someone who had a “diminishing portfolio of enthusiasms” and he thought this applied to his father and, for all he knew, could someday apply to himself.
“I was thinking of getting back into tennis,” he said.
“You should. You don’t have enough recreation in your life.”
“Neither do you.”
“I’ll learn, too. We can play together, Charlie. Are you competitive and sullen if you lose?”
“They say couples don’t make good doubles partners.”
“I’d try to make an exception for you, Beth.”
“Who knows? Maybe we’d be winners.”
Hood reached across the counter and pulled the laptop screen to face him. He hit the “send/receive” tab and watched the new message drop into place as he slapped away at the potatoes.
Instead of sitting down to eat when the food was ready they surrendered their pretenses of self-control and Hood led her by the hand to the bedroom in happy anticipation. The lovemaking was heartfelt and strong and to Hood well worth the cold dinner. He put the plates in the microwave and as it roared along noisily he looked at Beth in the candlelight pouring wine, her thick dirty-blond hair piled and pinned up and her white satin bathrobe open high at the leg and deep at the chest.
“What are you looking at?” she asked, smiling.
“You take my breath away.”
“A girl could get self-conscious.”
“I’ll avert my eyes.”
They managed to clear the dishes before heading back to the bed again. There were stars beyond the windows and a moon still low. Hood looked up at her, facing away from him with eyes closed and lips parted and the loose strands of her hair swaying with their rhythm. His hands were free and he ran them down her face and neck and arms and over her breasts and rested them on her thigh tops, smooth and taut with strength. He watched her and felt the tides of pleasure pushing through him and when her breath caught and she began to shake he loosed them into her.
They raided the refrigerator as lovers do. Beth poured chocolate syrup on the ice cream and Hood finally opened the lone message on his laptop. He didn’t recognize the sender.
But he was pleased to read that one of the German birders at the Volcano View on Arenal had written back to him.
Dear Charlie Hood,
I received your e-mail of two weeks ago and was not able to find a picture of Father Joe Leftwich. I did find many superior images of birds and flora. Then Gretchen remembered that she had used her cell phone one day because she had allowed her camera battery to become uncharged. And to my satisfaction I found this picture of Father Joe, here attached. It didn’t turn out very well but you can tell who it is. We were all in the Volcano View bar and we were having Schnapps. I hope you are well. We are now making plans for a return visit. We have trogons and quetzals in our dreams!
Hood was eager to see a picture of the man who had tortured and destroyed the Ozburns. He opened the attachment and looked at Father Joe Leftwich. His heart was beating hard and his breath came fast. “Oh.”
“What’s wrong, Hood?”
“Father Joe Leftwich, the priest.”
She came around the counter and stood next to Hood. “I’ll be . . . He’s gained weight and dyed his hair black since he graced my ICU. But look. He’s got the Catholic priest’s shirt and collar but it’s still Mike Finnegan. No doubt.
Leftwich? What do you mean? When I treated him he was selling bathroom fixtures in L.A. What’s going on?”
Finnegan walked down South Olive Street
downtown and ducked into the J Lounge. He sat alone and had a quick drink and looked out at the downtown L.A. skyline.
, he thought.
Would love to have been born here.
Then over to West Eighth for another drink at the Golden Gopher. He talked to some people he knew there, bought a round, then excused himself and left. He hit the Broadway Bar and enjoyed his chat with another patron, a young guy named Marcus, wife had just passed on, had a brother in prison—interesting what strangers would tell you if you just asked the right questions and listened to the answers. But he didn’t stay long.
The night was cool and there was a breeze and he loved being out of doors in the autumn. He hit the Edison on West Second, then La Cite on Hill Street, very much enjoying the ranchero music and the bartender, a handsome woman of Chilean-German extraction who held a degree in history from UCLA. She stood him a beer and they talked about the river-laced countryside of southern Chile, well below Puerto Montt, near the village of Coyhaique where Gisela had visited as a tourist and Finnegan said he had fly-fished. Chile was still struggling after the big oh-ten quake, she said. The worst thing was the looting. He told her about his daughter’s growing career in commercials and of course Gisela had an agent but not many calls so Mike said he’d pass along her number to Owens, and Gisela wrote it on a bar napkin and gave it to him.
He looked in at the Redwood but the crowd was small. He decided against the Bordello, not wanting to wear out his welcome there or run into Bradley Jones, who was clearly hot to jump into Mike’s world. Bradley would keep. Bradley would be a father. Bradley would improve with age, like a good red wine.
At Bar 107 he stood outside and listened to the murmur of the drinkers each time the door opened.
The music of humankind
, thought Mike. It was late but the bar was busy with people coming and going. He looked up at the sky and saw the stars faint above L.A. and when the door was held open for his date by a big man in a black leather jacket, Mike took hold of the handle and stepped aside, smiling, so they both could pass. The big man nodded and the woman said thank you.
Mike held the door and looked into the bar. It was filled with people.
, he thought. Some of them he knew, while the others, as with everyone else on earth, he would like to know.
I offer sincere thanks to the following people for their generosity and patience in answering my endless questions.
David Bagley, for his spirited descriptions of the Piper J-3 Cub and of the pleasures of flying in general.
Michael Dee, retired curator of the Los Angeles Zoo, for his expertise on bats and snakes.
Dr. Doug Lyle, a physician and fine writer, for his very intuitive guidance on how a doctor would approach a medical mystery.
John Torres, of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Los Angeles, for his street-smart stories and good-humored enthusiasm.
Larry Ford, Steve K. Martin, Tim Carroll, Scot Thomasson, Drew Wade and Donna Sellers of ATF headquarters in Washington, D.C., for their insights into undercover work.
Sherry Merryman, aka Supersleuth, for her wide-ranging and always enriching research on topics too many to name. Thanks so much.
Last but not least, thanks to Dr. Rodney Willoughby and his fine colleagues at the Medical College of Wisconsin, for leading the charge against the most terrifying disease in the world.
Thank you all for being my lights for this journey. You took me to some wondrous places.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
T. Jefferson Parker
is the author of seventeen previous novels, including the Charlie Hood thrillers
and the Edgar Award winners
. In 2009 Parker won his third Edgar, his first in the short story category. He lives with his family in Southern California.