Gone for Good Page 36

Lucille Miller headed into the kitchen. Katy followed in silence. Her mother began to wash dishes. Katy watched, wishing—also for the umpteenth time—that she could say something that would not wound her mother deeper. Her parents never talked to her about Julie. Never. Over the years, she had caught them discussing the murder maybe half a dozen times. It always ended like this. In silence and tears.


“It’s okay, honey.”

Katy stepped closer. Her mother scrubbed harder. Katy noticed that her mother’s hair had more streaks of white. Her back was a little more bent, her complexion grayer.

“Would you have?” Katy asked.

Her mother said nothing.

“Would you have helped Julie run?”

Lucille Miller kept scrubbing. She loaded the dishwasher. She poured in the detergent and turned it on. Katy waited a few more moments. But her mother would not speak.

Katy tiptoed upstairs. She heard her father’s anguished sobs emanating from the computer room. The sound was muffled by the door but not nearly enough. Katy stopped and rested her palm on the wood. She thought that maybe she could feel the vibrations. Her father’s sobs were always so total, so full-body. His choked voice begged, “Please, no more” over and over, as if imploring some unseen tormenter to put a bullet in his brain. Katy stood there and listened, but the sound did not let up.

After a while she had to turn away. She continued to her own room. Then she packed her clothes in a knapsack and prepared herself to end this once and for all.

I was still sitting in the dark with my knees up against my chest.

It was near midnight. I screened calls. Normally I would have turned off the phone, but the denial was still potent enough to make me hope that maybe Pistillo would call and tell me it was all a big mistake. The mind does that. It tries to find a way out. It makes deals with God. It makes promises. It tries to convince itself that maybe there is a reprieve, that this could all be a dream, the most vicious of nightmares, and that somehow you can find your way back.

I had picked up the phone only once and that was for Squares. He told me that the kids at Covenant House wanted to have a memorial service for Sheila tomorrow. Would that be all right? I told him that I thought Sheila would have really liked that.

I looked out the window. The van circled the block again. Yep, Squares. Protecting me. He had been circling all night. I knew that he would not stray far. He probably hoped that trouble arose just so he could unload on someone. I thought about Squares’s comment that he had not been all that different from the Ghost. I thought about the power of the past and what Squares had gone through and what Sheila had gone through and marveled at how they’d found the strength to swim against the riptide.

The phone rang again.

I looked down into my beer. I was not one for drinking away my problems. I sort of wished that I were. I wanted to be numb right now, but the opposite was happening. My skin was being ripped off so that I could feel everything. My arms and legs grew impossibly heavy. It felt as though I were sinking under, drowning, that I would always be just inches from the surface, my legs held by invisible hands, unable to break free.

I waited for the answering machine to pick up. After the third ring, I heard a click and then my voice said to leave a message at the beep. When the beep sounded I heard a semi-familiar voice.

“Mr. Klein?”

I sat up. The woman on the answering machine tried to stifle a sob.

“This is Edna Rogers. Sheila’s mother.”

My hand shot out and snatched the receiver. “I’m here,” I said.

Her answer was to cry. I started crying too.

“I didn’t think it would hurt so much,” she said after some time had passed.

Alone in what had been our apartment, I started rocking back and forth.

“I cut her out of my life so long ago,” Mrs. Rogers continued. “She wasn’t my daughter anymore. I had other children. She was gone. For good. That’s not what I wanted. It was just the way it was. Even when the chief came to my house, even when he told me she was dead, I didn’t react. I just nodded and stiffened my back, you know?”

I didn’t know. I said nothing. I just listened.

“And then they flew me out here. To Nebraska. They said they had her fingerprints already, but they needed a family member to identify her. So Neil and me, we drove to the airport in Boise and flew here. They took us to this little station. On TV they always do it behind glass. You know what I mean? They stand outside and they wheel in the body and it’s behind glass. But not here. They brought me into this office and there was this . . . this lump covered with a sheet. She wasn’t even on a stretcher. She was on a table. And then this man pulled back the sheet and I saw her face. For the first time in fourteen years, I saw Sheila’s face. . . .”

She lost it then. She started crying and for a long time there was no letup. I held the receiver to my ear and waited.

“Mr. Klein,” she began.

“Please call me Will.”

“You loved her, Will, didn’t you?”

“Very much.”

“And you made her happy?”

I thought about the diamond ring. “I hope so.”

“I’m staying overnight in Lincoln. I want to fly to New York tomorrow morning.”

“That would be nice,” I said. I told her about the memorial service.

“Will there be time for us to talk afterward?” she asked.

“Of course.”

“There are some things I need to know,” she said. “And there are some things—some hard things—I have to tell you.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Will. We’ll talk then.”

I had one visitor that night.

At one in the morning, the doorbell rang. I figured it was Squares. I managed to get to my feet and shuffle across the floor. Then I remembered the Ghost. I glanced back. The gun was still on the table. I stopped.

The bell sounded again.

I shook my head. No. I was not that far gone. Not yet anyhow. I moved toward the door and looked through the peephole. But it wasn’t Squares or the Ghost.

It was my father.

I opened the door. We stood and looked at each other as if from a great distance. He was out of breath. His eyes were swollen and tinged with red. I stood there, unmoving, feeling everything inside me collapse away. He nodded and held out his arms and beckoned me forward. I stepped into his embrace. I pressed my cheek against the scratchy wool of his sweater. It smelled wet and old. I started to sob. He shushed me and stroked my hair and pulled me closer. I felt my legs give way. But I did not slide down. My father held me up. He held me up for a very long time.

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