Gone for Good Page 70

“You wanted to help your family, and in the process you sacrificed mine.”

Pistillo snapped then, knocking the glass across the table. The iced tea splashed on me. The glass fell to the floor and shattered. He rose and looked down at me. “Don’t you dare compare what your family went through with what my sister went through. Don’t you dare.”

I met his eye. Arguing with him would be useless—and I still did not know if he was telling the truth or twisting it for his own purposes. Either way, I wanted to learn more. Antagonizing him would do me no good. There was more to this story. He was not done yet. There was still too much unanswered.

The door opened. Claudia Fisher leaned her head in to check on the commotion. Pistillo put up a hand to tell her it was fine. He settled back into his chair. Fisher waited a beat and then left us alone.

Pistillo was still breathing heavily.

“So what happened next?” I asked him.

He looked up. “You haven’t guessed?”


“It was a stroke of luck actually. One of our agents was vacationing in Stockholm. A fluke thing.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Our agent,” he said. “He spotted your brother on the street.”

I blinked. “Wait a second. When was this?”

Pistillo did a quick calculation in his head. “Four months ago.”

I was still confused. “And Ken got away?”

“Hell no. The agent didn’t take any chances. He tackled your brother right then and there.”

Pistillo folded his hands and leaned toward me. “We caught him,” he said, his voice barely a whisper. “We caught your brother and brought him back.”


Philip Mc Guane poured the brandy.

The body of the young lawyer Cromwell was gone now. Joshua Ford lay out like a bear rug. He was alive and even conscious, but he was not moving.

McGuane handed the Ghost a snifter. The two men sat together. McGuane took a deep sip. The Ghost cupped his glass and smiled.

“What?” McGuane asked.

“Fine brandy.”


The Ghost stared at the liquor. “I was just remembering how we used to hang out in the woods behind Riker Hill and drink the cheapest beer we could find. Do you remember that, Philip?”

“Schlitz and Old Milwaukee,” McGuane said.


“Ken had that friend at Economy Wine and Liquor. He never ID’ed him.”

“Good times,” the Ghost said.

“This”—McGuane raised his glass—“is better.”

“You think so?” The Ghost took a sip. He closed his eyes and swallowed. “Are you familiar with the philosophy that every choice you make splits the world into alternate universes?”

“I am.”

“I often wonder if there are ones where we turn out differently—or, conversely, were we destined to be here no matter what?”

McGuane smirked. “You’re not growing soft on me, are you, John?”

“Not likely,” the Ghost said. “But in moments of candor, I cannot help but wonder if it had to be this way.”

“You like hurting people, John.”

“I do.”

“You’ve always enjoyed it.”

The Ghost thought about that. “No, not always. But of course, the larger question is why?”

“Why do you like hurting people?”

“Not just hurting them. I enjoy killing them painfully. I choose strangulation because it is a horrible way to die. No quick bullet. No sudden knife slash. You literally gasp for your last breath. You feel the life-nourishing oxygen being denied you. I do that to them, up close, watching them struggle for a breath that never comes.”

“My, my.” McGuane put down his snifter. “You must be a barrel of laughs at parties, John.”

“Oh indeed,” he agreed. Then growing serious again, the Ghost said, “But why, Philip, do I get a rush from that? What happened to me, to my moral compass, that I feel my most alive while snuffing out someone’s breath?”

“You’re not going to blame your daddy, are you, John?”

“No, that would be too pat.” He put down his drink and faced McGuane. “Would you have killed me, Philip? If I hadn’t taken out the two men at the cemetery, would you have killed me?”

McGuane opted for the truth. “I don’t know,” he said. “Probably.”

“And you’re my best friend,” the Ghost said.

“You’re probably mine.”

The Ghost smiled. “We were something, weren’t we, Philip?”

McGuane did not reply.

“I met Ken when I was four,” the Ghost continued. “All the kids in the neighborhood were warned to stay away from our house. The Asseltas were a bad influence—that’s what they were told. You know the deal.”

“I do,” McGuane said.

“But for Ken, that was a draw. He used to love to explore our house. I remember when we found my old man’s gun. We were six, I think. I remember holding it. The feeling of power. It mesmerized us. We used the gun to terrify Richard Werner—I don’t think you know him, he moved away in the third grade. We kidnapped him once and tied him up. He cried and wet his pants.”

“And you loved it.”

The Ghost nodded slowly. “Perhaps.”

“I have a question,” McGuane said.

“I’m listening.”

“If your father owned a gun, why use a kitchen knife on Daniel Skinner?”

The Ghost shook his head. “I don’t want to talk about that.”

“You never have.”

“That’s right.”


He did not answer the question directly. “My old man found out about us playing with the gun,” he said. “He beat me pretty good.”

“He did that a lot.”


“Have you ever sought revenge on him?” McGuane asked.

“On my father? No. He was too pitiful to hate. He never got over my mother walking out on us. He always thought she’d come back. He used to prepare for it. When he drank, he’d sit alone on the couch and talk to her and laugh with her and then he’d start sobbing. She broke his heart. I’ve hurt men, Philip. I’ve seen men beg to die. But I don’t think I ever heard anything as pitiful as my father sobbing for my mother.”

From the floor, Joshua Ford made a low groan. They both ignored him.

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