Darkest Fear Page 51

“He thinks he has no one,” she said.

“He has you.”

“I’m a daughter-in-law. He sees me and it’s like a tether to Michael. I don’t have the heart to tell him I finally started dating.”

When they reached the street, Myron asked, “Were you and Melina close?”

“I think so, yes.”

“Did you know about her relationship with Stan Gibbs?”


“But she never told her father.”

“Oh, she would never. Papa didn’t approve of most men. A married one would have sent him off the ledge.”

They crossed the street and into the mid-city wonder known as Central Park. The park was packed on this rather spectacular day. Asian sketch artists hustled business. Men jogged by in those shorts that look suspiciously like diapers. Sunbathers lazed around on the grass, crowded together yet totally alone. New York City is like that. E. B. White once said that New York bestows the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy. Damn straight. It was like everyone was plugged into their own internal Walkman, each playing a different tune, bopping obliviously to his or her own beat.

A yah-dude with a bandanna around his head tossed a Frisbee and yelled “Fetch,” but he had no dog. Hard-bodied women skated by in black jogging bras. Lots of men with various builds had their shirts off. Examples: A guy thick with flab that looked like wet Play-Doh jiggled past him. Behind him, a well-built guy skidded to a stop and arrogantly flexed a bicep. Actually flexed. In public. Myron frowned. He didn’t know which was worse: guys who shouldn’t take their shirts off and do, or guys who should take their shirts off and do.

When they reached Central Park West, Myron asked, “Did you have a problem with her dating a married man?”

Sandra shrugged. “I worried, of course. But he told Melina he would leave his wife.”

“Don’t they all?”

“Melina believed it. She seemed happy.”

“Did you ever meet Stan Gibbs?”

“No. Their relationship was supposed to be a secret.”

“Did she ever tell you about lying in court?”

“No,” she said. “Never.”

Sandra used her key and swung the door open. Myron stepped inside. Colors. Lots of them. Happy colors. The apartment looked like the Magical Mystery Tour meets the Teletubbies, all bright hues, especially greens, with hazy psychedelic splashes. The walls were covered with vivid watercolors of distant lands and ocean voyages. Some surreal stuff too. The effect was like an Enya video.

“I started throwing her stuff in boxes,” Sandra said. “But it’s hard to pack up a life.”

Myron nodded. He started walking around the small apartment, hoping for a psychic revelation or something. None came. He ran his eyes over the artwork.

“She was supposed to have her first show in the Village next month,” Sandra said.

Myron studied a painting with white domes and crystal blue water. He recognized the spot in Mykonos. It was wonderfully done. Myron could almost smell the salt of the Mediterranean, taste the grilled fish along the beach, feel the night sand clinging to a lover’s skin. No clue here, but he stared another minute or two before turning away.

He started going through the boxes. He found a high school yearbook, class of 1986, and flipped through it until he found Melina’s picture. She’d like to paint, it said. He glanced again at the walls. So bright and optimistic, her work. Death, Myron knew, was always ironic. Young death most ironic of all.

He turned his attention back to her photograph. Melina was looking off to the side with the hesitant, unsure smile of high school. Myron knew it well. Don’t we all. He closed the book and headed to her closets. Her clothes were neatly arranged, lots of sweaters folded on the top shelf, shoes lined up like tiny soldiers. He moved back to the boxes and found her photographs in a shoebox. A shoebox of all things. Myron shook his head and started going through them. Sandra sat on the floor next to him. “That’s her mother,” she said.

Myron looked at the photograph of two women, clearly mother and daughter, embracing. There was no sign of the unsure smile this time. This smile—the smile in her mother’s arms—soared like an angel’s song. Myron stared at the angel-song smile and imagined that celestial mouth crying out in hopeless agony. He thought about George Garston alone in that jaundice-lit study. And he understood.

Myron checked his watch. Time to pick up the pace. He thumbed through pictures of her father, her brother, Sandra, family outings, the norm. No pictures of Stan Gibbs. Nothing helpful.

He found makeup and perfume in another box. In another, he stumbled across a diary, but Melina hadn’t written anything in it for two years. He paged through it, but it felt like too much of an unnecessary violation. He found a love letter from an old boyfriend. He found some receipts.

He found copies of Stan’s columns.


In her address book. All the columns. There were no markings on them. Just the clippings themselves, held together by a paper clip. So what did that mean? He checked them again. Just clippings. He put them aside and did some more flipping. Something fell out near the back. Myron picked up a piece of cream-colored or aged-white paper torn along the left edge, more a card really, folded in half. The outside was totally blank. He opened it. On the upper half, the words With Love, Dad had been written in script. Myron thought again about George Garston sitting alone in that room and felt a deep burn flush his skin.

He sat on the couch now and tried again to conjure up something. That might sound weird—sitting in this too empty room, the sweet smell of a dead woman still hovering, feeling not unlike that tiny old lady in the Poltergeist movies—but you never knew. The victims didn’t speak to him or anything like that. But sometimes he could imagine what they’d been thinking and feeling and some spark would hit the edges and start to flame. So he tried it again.


He let his eyes wander across the canvases and the burn under his skin started up again. He scanned the bright colors, let them assault him. The brightness should have protected her. Nonsense, but there you have it. She’d had a life. Melina worked and she painted and she loved bright colors and had too many sweaters and stored her precious memories in a shoebox and someone had snuffed that life away because none of that meant anything to him. None of that was important. It made Myron mad.

He closed his eyes and tried to turn the anger down a notch. Anger wasn’t good. It clouded reason. He’d let that side of him out before—his Batman complex, as Esperanza had called it—but being a hero seeking justice or vengeance (if they weren’t the same thing) was unwise, unhealthy. Eventually you saw things you didn’t want to. You learned truths you never should have. It stings and then it deadens. Better to stay away.

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