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CHAPTER 33

I'm pretty sure you 're my father.

Jenny's words hang in the air like ozone after a lightning strike. My discomfort escalates to panic in a fraction of a second. This is the root of the strange fascination Caitlin picked up that first night. It's something I've heard about my whole life, orphaned or adopted children convincing themselves that the father who abandoned them is some famous man.

"Look, miss-" I grope for her last name, then realize I never knew it.

"Doe," she says. "Isn't that pathetic? That's my last name. Jennifer Doe. It's on my birth certificate."

I'm backing toward the door, which leads to the stairs and the second floor and the spiral staircase and the restaurant and sanity. "I think we'd better go back down."

She holds up her hands in supplication, pleading for my attention. "I don't want anything from you. And I'm not crazy. Please believe me. I'm scared to death right now. I'm so scared. I just want to know who I am!"

Hot, clear water bubbles out of the coffeemaker, for tea that will never be made.

"I can't help you with that question, Jenny."

"If you'd listen to me for two minutes, you'll know you can."

My hand is on the doorknob.

"Livy Marston is my mother!"

This stops me.

"I was born in February of 1979."

My brain is working backward to the point of conception. February, January, December-oh hell, just go back twelve months and add three. If Jenny is telling the truth, she was conceived in May of 1978. The month Livy and I graduated high school.

"My birth certificate proves it," she says in a defensive voice.

I drop my hand from the knob. "Let me see."

She goes to the bookshelf, takes down my second novel, and opens it to the flyleaf. From there she removes a white sheet of paper, which she holds out to me. I don't look at her face as I reach for it. If I did, I know I would be searching for similarities to my own.

The birth certificate looks authentic. Issued by the state of Louisiana, the city of New Orleans. The child's name is listed as Jennifer Doe. What nearly stops my heart is what is printed on the line for Mother. Right there in black and white is the name Olivia Linsford Marston.

The line beside Father is blank.

"Jesus God," I murmur.

"It was a privately arranged adoption," Jenny says. "Set up before I was ever born. The adopting parents wanted the name Jennifer on the birth certificate."

My heart is skipping beats.

She rushes on, her voice shaky. "I didn't know any of this until a year ago. I spent most of my life in foster homes. I wanted to know where I'd come from. Who my birth parents were. I didn't have anybody-"

"Jenny, slow down." I hold up my hands. "I'm going to listen, okay? Just calm down and tell me your story."

She looks frozen, like a strip of film stopped in mid-motion. The relief in her eyes is heartbreaking. If she wasn't so caught up in her own emotions, she might realize that after seeing that birth certificate, it would take a winch to pull me out of her apartment. Already thoughts that haven't meshed for twenty years are falling into place. Livy was pregnant our senior year. Or the summer following it, rather. And she carried the child to term. That is why she disappeared. I guess the assumptions I made about female reproductive biology in 1978 were about as accurate as my judgments of Livy's true nature.

"Pour the tea," I say dazedly. "That'll calm you down."

"I don't want it."

"Okay you said you wanted to find out who your birth parents were. How did you go about doing that?"

"Well, like I said, it was a private adoption, which is big business in Louisiana, if you don't know. It took a lot of work, but I finally learned the name of the lawyer who handled the adoption. Clayton Lacour, from New Orleans. I did some checking on him, and I found out he was well connected. Mafia connected. I was afraid that if I just walked in and asked, Lacour wouldn't tell me anything about my birth parents. All the law required was that he ask my mother whether or not she wanted to be found by me. And I was pretty sure that whoever she was, she wouldn't be too happy about me showing up on her doorstep after twenty years."

Jenny's voice is leveling out; the act of telling her story has distracted her from the fears bubbling inside her.

"I'd been around a little. I knew the street. So instead of marching in and asking my questions, I applied for a job at Lacour's office. P.A., gofer, answering the phone, whatever. I dressed like a college girl-a loose one-and I made sure Lacour saw me when I went in. He practically licked me from head to toe. Took me into his office for a personal interview and hired me on the spot."

Jenny would have made a good D.A.'s investigator.

"It was a race between finding out what I wanted to know and Lacour getting up the nerve to jump me right there in the office. Whenever I was alone, I'd search the place. I brought my lunch every day, told them I was dieting. File room, computers, his personal cabinets, closets, everything. A lot of the stuff had combination locks. It took five weeks to find out where everything was, and another week to copy it all."

"What did you find?"

"Lacour handled a lot of adoptions. All privately arranged, always white babies. And for real money. Thirty-five thousand dollars changed hands when I was adopted. You believe that? I went through all his records and finally found the Jennifer Doe birth certificate. I'd always been called Jenny, every home I went to. So I copied the file and studied it at home. I found out I'd been adopted on the day I was born, by a childless rich couple from New Orleans. Lacour had made notes in the file. He thought the couple was trying save their marriage by adopting a baby. He turned out to be right. They divorced when I was two, and neither one wanted custody. I went into the state system. I was adopted by another family, but" Her eyes glaze to opacity as she trails off. "I don't really want to go into that. It was an abuse situation. I ended up in the foster care system, and that's where I stayed until I was eighteen."

She doesn't have to go into it. As a young assistant district attorney in Houston, I handled cases arising out of foster care that are still burned into my heart.

"All that mattered," she says, "was that the file contained the name of my birth mother. Olivia Marston. It also contained the name of another lawyer, the one who'd brought me to Lacour's attention."

"Leo Marston," I say softly.

"Yes. Judge Marston and Clayton Lacour went way back. They'd done a lot of deals together. Oil leases, real estate, you name it. What had happened was obvious. Marston's daughter got pregnant when she was eighteen, and he arranged to get rid of the baby for her. I was that baby. What I couldn't figure out is why she didn't just have an abortion."

"The Marstons are big Catholics."

Jenny gives me the jaded stare of a runaway who has seen it all. "What's your point?"

She's right, of course. Livy's sister had an abortion when she was in college.

"What did you do after you found that out?"

"I quit Lacour. But before I did, I stole everything pertaining to Marston. Most of it was files. The rest were tapes."

"Tapes?"

"Lacour taped everything. He was connected, like I said. And totally paranoid. He'd worked for the Marcello family when he was younger. Carlos Marcello, the Mob guy? Anyway, he saved these phone tapes just like files. Sometimes when he was drinking, he'd talk about his 'insurance.' That was the tapes. There were twelve tapes coded for Marston's name. I took them all on the day I split."

"What did Lacour say about you quitting?"

"I didn't stick around to talk. I'm sure he thought I left because he couldn't keep his hands off me. I'd used a fake name, so he couldn't trace me. He's bound to have noticed the missing files, but so what? I stole some other files related to Judge Marston just to confuse the trail."

"What did you do next?"

"I went to Atlanta to find my mother."

"And?"

"She refused to see me."

"At all?"

"When I called her at home, she hung up on me. So, one day at her office, I sort of ambushed her. It's a big law firm. She was so afraid I'd make a scene that she took me into her private office. Acted like I was a client. She told me she didn't want anything to do with me. She had no interest in my life, nothing. She wrote me a check for twenty-five thousand dollars and told me to go away."

Jenny is crying now, but she wipes away the tears with fierce determination. "She broke my heart that day. I'd been through a lot in my life. I thought I was tough. But to have the woman who'd given birth to me offer me money to disappear to pretend that I'd never even been born. I just couldn't stand it."

She closes her eyes, takes a very deep breath, and holds it.

"Why don't you sit down?" I suggest.

She expels the air in a long, steady exhalation. "No, this is better. Really."

"What did you do next?"

"I tore up her check. I probably should have kept it, because I really needed the money. But I couldn't. I tore it up and asked her to tell me my father's name. She turned white, Mr. Cage. That question scared her to death. I begged her to tell me, but she wouldn't. I told her I would never do anything to hurt her, and asked her to please reconsider. Then I left."

"I'm so sorry, Jenny."

"After that I got stoned for about three weeks. From the file, I worked out that my mother must have gotten pregnant at the end of her senior year of high school. Which meant she was probably living here at the time, right? And her father still lived here. I figured if I hung around here awhile, I might be able to find out who she was dating back then. Maybe figure out my birth father that way. So I got on a Trailways and came to Natchez. When I got here, I found out Livy Marston was practically a celebrity. Everybody remembered her. They talked about her like she was like a princess or something."

"She was, in a way. Did you tell anybody that she was your mother?"

"No. I played it very cool. I'd hear people talking about her sometimes, waiting tables or hanging out, and I'd ask about her. It didn't take long to find out that you were her boyfriend during her senior year. I even saw an old yearbook with a picture of you together. And you were a celebrity. I mean, you are. A real one. It freaked me out, honestly. I knew so many foster kids who made up those kinds of fantasies. But this fantasy was real."

I am past the point of being able to respond.

"People said Olivia disappeared for nearly a year after she graduated, that she'd gone to Europe or something. That's when she was pregnant with me."

The beginnings of nausea are welling in my stomach. The logic of Jenny's story-and its accordance with the known facts-is unassailable. In five minutes a waitress has supplied the missing piece of a puzzle that has haunted me for twenty years. Leo Marston went after my father because I got his daughter pregnant. Because I changed the course of her life and shattered the dreams he'd had for her. His dream that she would go to Ole Miss. That she would attend the same law school he'd gone to. Marry some suitable Mississippi boy and move back to Natchez to practice with her father. That was what Maude was talking about the night she threw the drink in my face. What I can't understand is why Livy wouldn't tell me she was pregnant at the time. Why keep it from me? And why hadn't her father called mine in a rage and demanded that I marry her?

But in that question lies the answer to the others. Livy's parents weren't white trash from the wrong side of the tracks, a family for whom a marriage to a doctor's son-even a shotgun marriage-would be a step up the social ladder. They were Marstons. Natchez royalty. The worst thing Leo and Maude could possibly imagine would be anything that might slow the momentum of their perfect daughter's perfect life. Marriage would never have entered their minds. They wouldn't want a single soul to discover that Livy was pregnant, and they would want the resulting child to disappear from the face of the earth. I can't believe Leo let Livy carry the child to term.

As for Livy keeping the pregnancy from me, her psychology was simple enough. She had ambitions, and marriage at eighteen wasn't one of them. When she thought of marriage, she envisioned someone who could not possibly be found in the backward and somnolent state of her birth. Yet for the past few days she has acted as though she'd like nothing better than to spend the rest of her life with me.

"She never told you anything about me?" Jenny asks in a small voice.

"Not a word. I never suspected that Livy had a child. No one did."

"Well, she does. She may not want me, but she's my mother."

"Jenny, I know this sounds pathetic, but I don't know what to say."

"I know I sprang this on you at a terrible time. I'm so sorry about your maid."

"It's all right."

She takes a tentative step toward me. "Will you do me a huge favor, Mr. Cage?"

"If I can. What is it?"

"Will you get a blood test?"

My stomach flips over. "A paternity test?"

"It's just one tube of blood. For a DNA test."

"Jenny-"

"I know you feel like you've been hit with a ton of bricks. I don't want to creep you out or anything. But when I saw you sitting down there today, you looked so vulnerable. The way I feel all the time. I just knew you were more compassionate than-her. Even if you didn't want anything to do with me, I knew you'd be nicer about it."

My mind has slipped away again. Livy's reaction to Jenny's appearance in Atlanta seems incomprehensible. I can understand her being shocked, or afraid of what her husband might think. But to be so cruel

"It is possible, right?" Jenny asks. "I mean, you were sleeping with Livy Marston in high school?"

"Yes."

She shakes her head as though she still can't believe we're talking face to face. "This is so scary. But it's liberating too. I really thought you were going to just run out of here. Straight to a judge to get a restraining order against me."

"Jenny-"

"And you have a little girl," she says excitedly. "I mean, I could have a sister."

Primal fear grips my heart. "Jenny, we've got to take this one step at a time. You-"

"I know. I didn't mean to be pushy. I don't want to crash in on your life or anything. I'd never do that. I've just felt so alone my whole life." In an instant her face seems to collapse in upon itself. "You don't know the things that have happened to me, Mr. Cage."

"I can guess. Look, the first thing I should do is talk to Livy."

"She won't talk about it."

"She'll talk to me."

Jenny is wringing her hands again. "I heard a rumor last night. Someone in the restaurant said you were seeing her again. They saw you out driving. I've been so weirded out by that. I thought you had a thing for the publisher of the newspaper."

"Jenny Livy may have been cruel to you, but she's not a monster."

"I'm telling you, she's not rational about this."

"Does Leo Marston know about you?"

"Oh, yeah." She nods slowly. "I talked to him once. He heard me out, then told me that he had to honor his daughter's wishes regarding me, and he expected me to do the same."

"I'll bet he offered you fifty grand to disappear."

"Ha. He told me it probably would have been better if I hadn't been born, but that I had been, so I had to do the best I could. Life is tough, he said. You believe that? Like his life was ever tough. That son of a bitch. But he scared me. He told me if I tried to make any public scandal, he'd have to take steps to 'resolve the situation.' And he wasn't talking about legal steps. God, I wish I'd taped that conversation. I'd seen mob guys in Lacour's office in New Orleans. They were basically okay guys, most of them. But Leo Marston he's not a nice guy. He made me feel like I'd be doing the world a service if I slit my wrists."

"I'm sorry, Jenny. That's all I can say right now." Though I probably shouldn't, I walk to her and take her hands in mine. They're alarmingly cold. "I don't know what the truth is. I honestly don't. But if I am your father, I'll take care of you. It's too late for me to be a father in the real sense. But you won't want for anything, and you won't be alone."

To see a grown woman break into a child is a terrible thing, and I will not speak of it here.

The Examiner building is humming like a beehive, but I see no sign of Caitlin as I pass through the newsroom. I go straight to the conference room, which at the moment contains two female reporters poring over the Marston files, patiently separating wheat from chaff.

"Ladies, could I have the room for a few minutes?"

They look up at me like graduate students disturbed in their library carrels, then blink and look at each other.

"Uh, sure," says the one wearing glasses.

As soon as the door closes, I tear through the stacks of paper on the table, looking for something that seemed trivial only two days ago: the scrawled note listing the income Marston realized from private adoptions. Yesterday it was just another scrap of paper among thousands. Now it's my personal Rosetta stone.

It's not on the table.

I drop to my knees and start working through the carefully stacked piles on the floor, shoving aside page after page, letting them fall where they will. In five minutes the room is awash in paper, and sweat is running down my face. In ten I am trying to suppress the furious panic of an Alzheimer's patient who sets down his car keys and can't find them five seconds later.

And then I am holding the damn thing.

One sheet of yellow legal paper, with a column of years beginning in 1972 and continuing to the present. Some years aren't listed, but beside each that is, an amount of money is noted. The highest figures correspond to the 1980s, and some of these are followed by a one-digit number in parentheses, which probably indicates the number of adoptions handled in that year. Beside the year 1978 is written the figure $35,000.

Jenny Doe is telling the truth.

The weight of this knowledge is staggering, but before I can begin to absorb it, the door to the conference room opens a crack, and Caitlin walks in, her face flushed with excitement.

"I just heard you were here. Listen to this. My father called twenty minutes ago. He found out why Dwight Stone won't testify for us."

I fold the scrap of legal paper and slip it into my pocket. "Why?"

"Stone has a daughter."

"So? I have a daughter too." Maybe two.

"Your daughter's not an FBI agent."

The scrap of paper is momentarily forgotten. "Dwight Stone has a daughter in the FBI?"

A triumphant smile lights Caitlin's face. "Ten years in. John Portman can ruin her career with a single reassignment, and he can make it the same way."

It had to be something like this. In Colorado I had gotten such an impression of integrity from Dwight Stone that I couldn't fathom what would keep him from helping me expose the truth of what happened here in 1968. But children make us all vulnerable. They're hostages to fortune, as the poet said.

"Hostages to fortune?" says Caitlin.

I must have spoken aloud. "Nothing. It doesn't matter."

"Penn, what's the matter? You looked zoned out."

"I'm fine."

"Bullshit. You look terrible." She glances around the room, which is strewn with loose pages like leaves on a forest floor. "What happened in here? What are you looking for?"

"I already found it."

"What?"

"Something personal. Nothing to do with our case."

Caitlin goes to the table and picks up a few pages, straightens them into a stack, and sets them back down. Then she turns those remarkable green eyes on me and speaks in a voice raw with hurt. "It's Livy Marston, isn't it? Nothing else would get you so worked up."

"It has to do with Livy, yes."

"You can't tell me what it is?"

"Not yet. Not until I know something for sure. Right now I need a telephone."

She waves her hand with disgust. "Take any one you want."

"It has to be private."

"You can use my office." There is something like pity in her eyes.

She escorts me through the newsroom, shrugging at Kelly on the way. As soon as she shuts the door behind me, I dial Tuscany. Thankfully, Livy answers.

"This is Penn."

"What do you want?"

"We need to talk."

"You haven't thought so for the past three days."

"I do now. It's important."

"Important." There's a long pause, but I don't jump to fill it. "All right," she says finally. "Where?"

I close my eyes. "I haven't eaten. I was thinking of getting a bite at Biscuits and Blues. That sound okay to you?"

Silence.

"Livy?"

"I'm not really hungry."

"You could watch me eat," I say, pushing it.

"Why don't we take a ride instead? It's nice outside."

Sure, and why don't we ask our daughter to come along? "Is your father home?"

"No. He's at his office with Blake Sims, preparing for the trial."

"I'll pick you up in five minutes."

"Five minutes?"

"It's important."

"All right. I may look ghastly, but I'll be waiting on the gallery."

Livy Marston has never looked ghastly in her life. "Just have the gate open."

I hang up and start through the newsroom, heading for the front of the building. Caitlin and Kelly are talking quietly in a corner. When she sees me, she breaks away from him and physically bars the door.

"Penn, you've got to tell me what's going on."

"It's nothing to do with you. It's personal."

She looks around the newsroom and realizes that her employees are staring at her. Taking my wrist, she speaks in a quieter voice. "I consider your personal life personal to me."

I have no response to this. Caitlin matters to me, but right now there is a motor spinning in my chest, driving me irresistibly toward Tuscany, the only place where the truth of my life can be found. "It could be, someday. But it's not now. Let me by, Caitlin."

She hesitates, then drops my wrist and moves aside.

Kelly starts to fall into step with me.

"Stay here," I tell him. "I don't need you for this."

He stops, but before the main door closes behind me, I hear Caitlin say, "Go with him."

Tuscany is a magnificent mansion, but it would look incomplete without the indelible image of Livy standing on the gallery. She's wearing a royal blue sun dress, belted at the waist and falling just below her knees. The air is cool beneath the trees, and the freshly fallen leaves have been gathered into random piles by the wind. The scene looks staged, like a rich color shot from an ad in Architectural Digest. Who is that beauty waiting for? you wonder as you flip past it. If only she was waiting for me.

This beauty is waiting for me. Only she has no idea what a dreadful gift I bring. The last thing she wants to receive. A demand for the truth, and the means to compel her to speak it.

I park beside the Negro lawn jockeys and remain in the car. Livy comes down the steps, her tread light, her movements graceful. Her eyes are curious as they take me in. She walks around to the passenger door, clearly wondering why I haven't scurried around to open it for her. Unable to wait for the pretense of a drive to speak to her, I get out and address her over the gleaming black roof of the car.

"Do you know a girl named Jenny Doe?"

She freezes with her hand on the passenger door. Behind those eyes I know so well, have dreamed of for years, another pair of eyes is looking out. Frightened, hunted eyes.

"Who have you been talking to?" she asks, her voice oddly devoid of emotion.

"Does it matter? I want to know if you were pregnant in 1978."

"That's none of your business."

"Not my business. Is that girl our daughter, Livy?"

She takes a deep breath, recovering her composure with remarkable resilience. "No," she says simply.

"No, she's not my daughter? Or no, she's not yours either?"

She purses her lips, as though calculating the impact of various replies. "Stay out of this, Penn. It's none of your affair."

"Were you sleeping with someone besides me in the spring of seventy-eight?"

Her eyes flash. "Weren't you?"

My heart feels suddenly cold. "No. But if you were, how do you know for certain who the father was?"

"Maybe I don't care who it was."

The steel in her voice cannot mask the fear and anguish in her face. "Livy-"

"Listen to me, Penn. You are not that girl's father. I know that with absolute certainty. And if you thought hard about it, you would too."

"What the hell does that mean? I worked out the months from her birth certificate. I could easily be her father. You got pregnant right before you disappeared."

She studies me with cold objectivity, as though taking some life-altering decision. "If you ever mention what I'm about to say, I'll deny I said it. Jenny Doe is my daughter. But she is not yours. She's twenty years old now, and I have no legal responsibility to care for her. As far as I'm concerned, she doesn't exist. Since she's not your child, you have no say whatever in the matter, and you should never mention it to me again."

"Livy, where is this coming from? How can you be so cruel to this girl?"

"You're so naive. You don't know anything. You-"

She stops as the low purr of an engine murmurs through the trees. I assume it's Kelly until Leo Marston's silver Lincoln Town Car rounds the bend by the azalea bushes.

"Get out of here," Livy says in a taut voice. "Go. And don't come back. I was stupid to think we could ever make it work."

I don't move. I can't.

Leo's face is masked by the glare of the sun on his windshield as he parks behind the BMW. When he gets out, his face is not mottled red with fury, as I expect, but calm. A smug smile curls his lips as he walks toward me. When he stops three feet away, I see that his upper cheeks are flushed, and when he speaks I smell the sweet odor of bourbon.

"Livy?" he drawls, glancing at her over the roof of the BMW. "Does this person have your permission to be on our property?"

"He was just leaving."

"That doesn't answer my question. I asked if he's a guest, or if he's a trespasser, like the other night."

Livy looks at me with pleading eyes, the familiar eyes I once knew. "He's my guest, but he's leaving. Let's go inside."

"In a minute, in a minute." Leo is grinning like a six-year-old boy with a secret. "I'm glad I ran into you, Cage. I've got some news you'll be interested in."

"Is that right?"

"You're damn right that's right. A friend of yours was just arrested in the Hoover Building in Washington, D.C."

Fear and guilt for Peter Lutjens clench my stomach.

"Seems this fellow was attempting to steal a file," Leo drones on. "A file sealed on national security grounds. He had a funny name. Foreign name. Dutch maybe. There's some question of treason, I believe. John Portman is personally investigating the situation."

He turns to Livy. "This boy's got no case, Livy. None at all." He turns back to me, laughter rumbling low and deep in his chest. "When Wednesday gets here, you're gonna wish you never opened your mouth about me. You're gonna rue the goddamn day you decided to fuck with Leo Marston."

Confused images fire through the synapses of my brain. My father on the floor of his bedroom, felled by a heart attack. My mother in tears, unable to cope with the stress of the malpractice trial. Jenny Doe describing her meeting with the man who stands before me now, the man who made her feel she'd be doing the world a favor by committing suicide. Peter Lutjens being handcuffed while his wife and children wait for him at home in a clutter of U-Haul boxes.

Victory is written on Leo's face like blood after a hunt, and the wolfish blue eyes are laughing. I have not struck another human being in anger since I was fifteen years old, but my knee rises into his groin with preternatural speed and force. The air explodes from his lungs. As he doubles over, my elbow crashes into the side of his head, just the way a Houston police detective once taught me.

"Stop it!" Livy screams. "Penn, stop!"

She is running around the car to get between us. Some part of my brain knows I should stop, but I'm still moving forward, pursuing Leo as he staggers back. He shakes his head and raises his big left hand to his jaw. I draw back my fist, then freeze as a silver derringer appears before my nose as though by magic. He must have had it palmed all along, a little nickel-plated gambler's special.

"Go ahead, you little pissant," he snarls. "Go ahead."

"Daddy?" Livy stands two feet behind her father, her voice riding a current of hysteria.

"Go inside, baby. You don't want to see this."

"Daddy, I love him."

This simple declaration hits Leo like an arrow. He actually flinches, like a bear struck between the ribs, and an expression of pure hatred comes over his face. "Go inside, Livy! This boy's forgotten his place. He assaulted me on my property."

But Livy doesn't go. The three of us remain locked in our positions, a pathetic standoff on the edge of tragedy that lasts until Daniel Kelly's rented Taurus rolls slowly up the drive.

Kelly parks alongside the cars, five feet from us, and rolls down his window like a tourist asking for directions. But what comes through his window is not a map but a Browning Hi-Power pistol, which he points at Leo's head.

"Please go inside the house, sir," he says.

"Who the hell are you?" Leo asks, keeping the derringer in my face.

Kelly's suntanned face remains calm, as though he were listening to a soothing piece of music. "I'm the man who's going to end your life unless you take that gun in the house."

"Bullshit," Leo grunts. "Get the fuck off my property."

"I'm here to do a job, sir," Kelly says in the same lazy voice. "Don't make yourself part of it."

At last Leo really looks at Kelly, and the muscles in his jaw tighten. He has vastly multiplied his family fortune by accurately judging men's characters. And whatever he sees in Daniel Kelly's eyes convinces him that today is the wrong day to tempt fate. He lowers the derringer.

"You just made yourself part of my job, sonny." He raises two fingers in a little toodle-loo gesture, then turns and walks up the broad steps of his mansion.

"Livy," he says without turning around. "Your mother needs you."

"I'm coming." She steps toward me and tries to take my hand, but I pull it away. "Make a public apology, Penn," she pleads. "Please. Do that, and I'll convince Daddy to drop the suit."

"It's too late for that."

She looks at me sadly. "You can't play my father's game and win. Not in this town. Not in this state. Nobody can. You could lose everything you have."

"You've got a short memory, Livy. Your father lost his case against mine twenty years ago, and he's going to lose this one."

"That was different. It was a weak case to start with."

"Then why did he take it?"

Unreadable emotion flares in her eyes. "I don't know. But I do know you nearly fainted when he told you that man had been arrested. He was your last hope, wasn't he? He was your case. If you walk into that courtroom Wednesday, you'll be like a lamb going to slaughter."

I step back from her, trying not to think of Peter Lutjens. "That's my problem. Your problem is a lot bigger than that. Your whole life is built around some secret tragedy whose real victim is a girl crying alone in a room three miles from here. What are you going to do about that?"

Her eyes go cold again. "Nothing. And you'd better not either." She turns and walks up three steps, then looks back to me. "Don't say I didn't warn you about the trial."

This time she goes all the way up and through the massive door.

I get into the BMW and start to leave, but Kelly pulls his Taurus in front of it, blocking my way. Then he gets out and comes around to my window.

"Boss? To an objective observer, it looks like you're trying awful hard to get killed."

"I've learned some upsetting things in the past half hour. I haven't even begun to understand them yet. All I know is that I want to nail that son of a bitch more than anything I've ever wanted in my life, other than to save my wife from dying. And that was beyond my power."

"Maybe this is too," Kelly says gently. "I wouldn't mind bringing that bastard down a peg myself. But things seem pretty seriously stacked against you. Sometimes you've got to pull back. Regroup. Fight another day."

"No," I say doggedly, perhaps stupidly. "If I let the momentum die, Marston and Portman will never pay for whatever they did. Any evidence that exists will disappear." Althea Payton's words sound in my head like a ghostly refrain. "If not now, when. You know?"

A skeptical grunt. "Yeah, maybe."

"I've got one shot left, Kelly."

"What?"

"Dwight Stone. He knows the truth. He could bring down the whole damn temple."

"Caitlin says he won't testify."

"He wants to help me. I know he does. But he's got a daughter in the FBI. That gives Portman total control of her life, and by extension, Stone's."

"So, what can you do?"

"I'm going back to Colorado."

The old Kelly smile returns to his lips. "Well I was ready for a change of scenery anyway."

"Do we still have FBI surveillance covering us?"

"I've seen them three times today. They're good."

"That's okay. You're going to keep them nice and busy for me."

"Yeah, and? How do we lose them?"

"We don't. This time I'm going alone."


CHAPTER 32 | The Quiet Game | CHAPTER 34