Thursday, January 26, 2017

Death's Honesty (26)

Homer Price had speared the meatball while Blow was talking, and now he held it above his plate, face slack, watching sauce drip onto the steaming mound of spaghetti. He took a deep breath and let it out as he lowered the meatball to the plate. He cut it in half with his fork.
I didn’t know that,” he said quietly.
They were in the room Luigi’s reserved for large groups. Blow preferred its privacy when lunching with clients. He’d called ahead to make sure it would be available for a brunch with Homer. Yet his unease persisted. Separation from the trickle of early lunchers on the other side of the open doorway couldn’t shield him from his own misgivings. He had dropped Moriarty off at a strip mall she’d seemed to have chosen spontaneously, and watched her stroll to a discount fashion store. She turned, smiling, and blew him a kiss before disappearing inside. For future contact she had given him a disposable cell phone to use only for texting. Identification both ways was BooBoo, case sensitive. He’d put it on vibrate and slipped it in a side pocket of his jacket. Now at Luigi’s he resisted several times an urge to check the device for messages.
Where did you hear this?” Price said, after forking food into his mouth, chewing and swallowing. He sipped some beer and dabbed his mouth with a paper napkin.
Fellow calls himself Jay Mundaign. Lives in the little house by the pier. Alone.”
Calls himself? Know his real name?”
I guess that is his real name, now, Homer. He’s one of Moriarty’s people.”
Oh, shit, Blow. You’re gonna give me indigestion. What the fuck are you telling me?”
Blow explained. He left out the no-need-to-know parts, which meant he had to confide in Price his lawyer-client relationship with Moriarty and her contractual relationship with Jay Mundaign. Only one other person, Blow’s sister, Joan, knew Moriarty had retained him, and this had strained to the breaking point their close sibling affection. A Secret Service agent guarding an ex-president, Joan was the longtime number one squeeze of a senior FBI official whose purview included supervising the team charged with bringing to justice the woman who called herself Jamie Moriarty. Family gatherings at the Stone House from the instant Blow confided this with Joan had taken on for them a slippery layer of subliminal drama. He stared across the table at Price now, wondering at the toll this “Moriarty Curse” might take on the friendship of his most enduring childhood chum.
She came to me out of the blue, Homer, needing a lawyer. We don’t always get model citizens as clients, you know.”
But Jeezuz, man! She tried to run you and your sister down with a goddam bulldozer!”
Blow shrugged. “That was then, my friend. Water under the bridge.”
Price stabbed a meatball half and twisted his fork to wind several spaghetti strands around it. He dipped the result in a pool of cheese-sprinkled sauce at the base of the mound. But instead of raising the fork to his mouth he seemed to freeze, as if losing interest temporarily but not enough to let go. He looked up, grinning.
What did you order, anyway? What’s taking them so long?”
Just this salad, Homer. I’m not very hungry. You got some sauce on your mustache, Bubba.”
Price shook his head and swiped his napkin across the bush that rode along his upper lip. He studied his napkin, still shaking his head. “Did I get it all?”
Can you find out if Teach turned in a pistol? Same caliber, I assume, as my client’s.”
I’ll see what I can find out. So this dude’s been through the wringer. You think he’s holding onto something?”
Hard to know for sure, Homer. His story’s plausible, and I can see why someone would hound him, too, just for the hell of it.”
The fuck-you face?”
Yeah, it’s the strangest thing. He made perfect sense. He was cordial, cooperative, answered all my questions, but I kept getting this bad vibe, like he was smirking at me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, either, but it was there.”
He have any family?”
He was vague about it. A son in the Special Forces, daughter somewhere. They don’t keep in touch. He said his face bothers them, too.”
Their mother?”
Dead, he said. I forgot to ask him how he managed to find a woman who could put up with him, with that fuck-you air he gives off.”
Ha, that’s easy, Counselor. Women like that type, that arrogance. Some guys do, too.” He winked.
I’ll take your word for that last part, Homer. Hey, if you find the pistol, get hold of me right away. Okay? And don’t tell a soul!”
Cost you another lunch. Hell, make it dinner.”
Blow grinned.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

EMOTION AS MEANING: The Literary Case for How We Imagine – Keith M. Opdahl

My recurring nightmares about college seem to be tapering off—even the most frequent and most lucid one. It involves the only class I ever dropped. I was a third-semester sophomore at the U. of Wis., freshly released from the Army and eager to redeem the academic shame I’d brought upon myself and my parents four years prior by flunking out three times.


I’m the only character in this dream. I’m wandering alone on campus worrying that I might have forgotten to officially drop the course, which I imagine will destroy any chance I might have of ending up some day with a decent GPA. Problem is, I can’t find the place where the records are kept, where maybe I can clear up what at the moment is the biggest worry of my life. All the while I’m thinking maybe I can still officially drop out before it’s too late, or, if not, return to the class and try to catch up from where I’d left off. I’ve not yet awakened screaming from this dream, but I’m always relieved when consciousness returns to banish the imaginary long ago dread, at least for the moment.

Were there another character in the dream it would be Opdahl, instructor of the tormenting class, which was also the only writing class I’ve ever tried to take. Despite its fraction of a flicker on the timeline of my conscious memory, I could take you to the exact spot—at a crosswalk on Bascom Hill--where Opdahl and I met by chance half a century ago within an hour or so after that illusion-dashing session. Then, with what I took to be casual disgust at a piece I’d turned in, he had critically wounded the aspiration that prompted me to enroll in his course. It was the first assignment he’d given us. It was either the first or second time that term the class had met. He’d wanted a page or two devoted to describing someone, anyone.

I knew most if not all of the others would do the lips like squirming worms, eyebrows arching lewdly toward the rafters, nose not even a mother could love…what I’d assumed was the usual sort of literary thing. I knew this from hearing their coded bragging after Opdahl’d introduced himself. Things like “Can we get credit for stories we’ve published,” delivered in confident, sophisticated voices intended to impress Opdahl while collaterally intimidating smalltown hicks like me. It worked, at least on me, the first step toward the door of no return.

At some point while coming of age I developed an iconoclastic nature. Not sure how this came about. I’ve never considered myself a smartass, and my approach to Opdahl’s assignment most definitely was not intentionally disrespectful. From the vantage of retrospect I wonder now if he took it as some sort of cocky, deferred rejoinder to the “published” students’ challenge. He had no way of knowing I’d never been a gamer, unless you count the passive aggressiveness I learned watching the family cat lure the family dog to a blitz-clawed nose surprise. And maybe that is what I was doing, or trying to do: while all the “smart” kids went one way I’d sneak around behind the target and surprise everyone. If that’s what I was thinking to do I failed, miserably, explaining during our brief meeting on Bascom Hill what I felt was an ingenious approach to his assignment. He didn’t bother trying to see it that way, although I like to think a fortuitous seed might have embedded itself in his mind at that very moment.

The only words I recall verbatim during our miniscule conversation--both spoken by me--were “Mr. Opdahl” and “Mathew Paust.” I remember making an effort to articulate that my intention with the assignment was, instead of describing graphically someone’s physical features, to suggest a sense of the person by his actions, the way he walked, moved, what he did with his hands, that sort of thing. I have precious little recollection of what I did write. I remember feeling this cross-walk talk was a final appeal of sorts, and that Opdahl was the appellate judge. My impression of his response is that he regarded me in the same vein he might have someone trying to panhandle or hand him a religious tract. He brushed me off like a fleck of dandruff from his collar. I never saw him again.
Keith Opdahl teaching at DePauw University

To be fair, I know now my mastery of the writing craft was barely incipient, and that one of the aspects of developing as a writer is to be able to create a detailed picture with words, using such tools as metaphor and simile—squirming-worm lips, rafter-reaching eyebrows--just as a graphic artist must master basic drawing skills before progressing to abstractions. I might well have been trying to skate around my inexperience, and Opdahl might well have seen this plainly. If this were so, I can say now, with no malice, he might have tried a little harder to be a better teacher.

I pretty much forgot about him over the years, to the extent he never appeared in my recurring nightmare about his class. His unusual name did stick in my craw, though, so that it about choked me a year ago while I was reading a collection of Saul Bellow’s letters, edited by Benjamin Taylor. One of Bellows’s letters was addressed to “Keith Opdahl,” who, I quickly learned, had authored The Novels of Saul Bellow: An Introduction. A bit of Googling followed, which assured me the late Keith Opdahl had indeed taught writing at U. of Wis., from 1961-67. My searching also turned up another book he’d written, Emotions as Meaning: The Literary Case for How We Imagine. Were I French, or the kind of dilettante to affect worldly chic with occasional French expressions, I might have shouted “Sacre Bleue!” or “voila!” Instead, alone in the apartment, I most likely gaped and wondered if my suddenly noticeable pulse was throbbing from excitement or from the midday Ritalin kick.

Bought the book, struggled diligently through the academic linguistic abatises and felt my suspicion blossom into unmitigated certainty that either my unacceptable paper of yore or my fumbling explanation on Bascom Hill had unimaginably sparked alive a worm of interest in Opdahl that grew over the decades into his theory that provoking a reader’s imagination is an essential element of the literary author’s craft. Were I of a litigious bent and had he not died on New Year’s Eve three years prior, I just might have...oh, non, mais j’arrive pas!

At this late date I’m quite content to enjoy the irony and a certain sense of vindication.

In his book Opdahl employs several literary classics in examining his theory. He starts out with a single paragraph from Ernest Hemingway’s story Big Two-Hearted River:




Nick drove another big nail and hung up the bucket full of water. He dipped the coffee pot half full, put some more chips under the grill onto the fire and put the pot oil. He could not remember which way he made coffee. He could remember an argument about it with Hopkins, but not which side he had taken. He decided to bring it to a boil. He remembered now that was Hopkins's way. He had once argued about everything with Hopkins. While he waited for the coffee to boil, he opened a small can of apricots. He liked to open cans. He emptied the can of apricots out into a tin cup. While he watched the coffee on the fire, he drank the Juice syrup of the apricots, carefully at first to keep from spilling, then meditatively, sucking the apricots down. They were better than fresh apricots.

--Ernest Hemingway, “Big Two-Hearted River”




We do not simply translate Hemingway’s words into ideas,” Opdahl says. “Instead we embody the meaning we read, constructing a model of the author’s world so tangible that we can imaginatively enter it...when we look closely at Hemingway’s prose, we discover that he leaves out a great deal.

Do we...know what Nick looks like or where he positions himself? Do we know what kind of opener he uses? Does he brace the can on his knee or work between outstretched legs? Hemingway does not tell us.”

Big Two-Hearted River” was published in Hemingway’s collection of stories titled In Our Time sixteen years before I was born. Even a smalltown hick like me with the vaguest literary ambitions should be familiar with those stories, if not all of Hemingway’s work, by the time he or she sits down in a college writing class. I had read several of Hemingway’s novels, but not his stories. I had read him mainly for atmosphere, wasn't looking for fine points of craft. In fact, I barely had any concept of craft at the time, and no doubt this omission—this gross ignorance—came through with herald-trumpet clarity in my attempt to try “something different” in Opdahl’s class.

It is to weep (to bastardize Leonato’s comment in “Much Ado About Nothing”). To weep for my embarrassingly callow younger self. To weep for a man with a brilliant academic mind who lacked the chops for teaching when it mattered most to at least one student. To weep for joy time and accidental coincidence at last managed to breach that unimagined gap.




[for more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]




Saturday, January 21, 2017

Death's Honesty (25)

Jay Mundaign’s disclosure of the pistol and its possession by a shady sheriff’s deputy punched through Blow’s composure with the fierce surprise of a switchblade in a Michelin whitewall. The information tore apart his legal landscape, throwing into question defense strategies he’d been contriving for Chip Morowitz, and forcing him to confront further complications. His most pressing concern was the woman seated next to him on the bed.


Moriarty’s wink took some edge off the shock of Mundaign’s revelation, while simultaneously raising more questions. He stared at her, grasping for comprehension. The face under its tumbleweed curls had an elusive, inscrutable look. He felt his own face go cold. She shrugged with her eyes. He chose to ignore the insolence, assuming she would speak. She didn’t.

Did you know about Teach?” He kept his voice neutral.

I know he’s a jerk. I know he did something to lose his stripes and it wasn’t in the paper so it’s obvious he has something on Oglethorpe or he’d have lost his badge and maybe gone to jail. But I didn’t know Jay was interviewing him and I didn’t know Jay told him about the gun before Friday night. That’s all I can tell you.” She was glaring at Mundaign.

Blow, too, turned his attention to Mundaign, but the “fuck-you-face” told him nothing useful. He turned back to Moriarty. “You told me flat out this other gun fired the bullets that killed those kids. You said the ballistics wouldn’t match my client’s gun. What the hell am I supposed to do now?”

No need to raise your voice, Blow.”

Sorry. I’m just a little upset here.”

Well so am I. All I can say is what I told you yesterday was a pretty safe bet, so far as I knew. I didn’t know about Teach then.”

Pretty safe bet? I wish you’d have qualified it that way yesterday.”

I don’t remember how I put it then, but I wasn’t trying to mislead you. It’s still the most plausible explanation for planting the gun in Jay’s house. Someone could have taken it out earlier in the day or week, shot the kids with it, and put it back during the ruckus Friday night.”

It is plausible, but I have two questions. One, what would be the point of trying to frame this man for murder? They’ve already tortured him and used drugs on him and now you say they’re trying to protect him—safest person in Leicester, you said—how do they gain anything by framing him for murder?”

I don’t know, Blow. Maybe they’re just trying to shame him publicly, turn the community against him. Figure that will make him talk. Who can say what these crazy bastards are thinking?”

Or one crazy bastard. Any idea who this Darryl is?

Haven’t had any luck with that. Maybe Gladstone is Darryl. You know how proud he is of that big undercover gig, his Senator for the FBI thing. His book and the movie made millions. If it’s him I wouldn’t be surprised he’s just having some sadistic fun keeping after Jay.”

He hates me. I know that for sure. Hates me personally.” Mundaign held up a spiral notebook. “We damned near got into a fistfight over this before I even knew what he wanted to see me about. I had it in my briefcase. He demanded to see everything I had in there.” Mundaign waited a beat for his guests to express interest in the notebook, and when they didn’t he slapped it back onto the desk. “It’s a collection of poems. Gary Hardaway. He really lays it on the line. Gladstone called him a ‘goddam nihilist’--his words. I begged to differ. Told him Hardaway’s poems speak no ideology. They’re strictly realistic. Strictly. Most of his stuff is dark as the void we’re all facing whether we admit it or not, but he sprinkles in just enough humor to keep you from curling up on the floor sucking your thumb. I told Gladstone the poems expressed the outlook of an unequivocal entropist. I knew he didn’t know what I meant, which is probly another reason he hates me. Called me a self-righteous piss ant. Said Hardaway was one, too, and that he probly smirks just like me. He picked the book up, sneering at it. Called it trash, and said its presence in his office ‘sullied the room’--his words again. I took hold of it and jerked it away—I think the plastic binding scratched his hand--and started to put it back in my briefcase. He got up, this gorilla, and started coming around the desk, stomping his feet. Shook the floor like an elephant. His face got dark red, nearly purple. I was afraid he might have a stroke. No, cancel that. I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t care what happened to him, and I’m not usually like that. I was ready to punch the fat bastard in his fat face. His balloon nose, actually.

One of his assistants came out of nowhere and took my arm and led me to another room to wait while ‘the Senator takes care something that just came up,’ but I knew it was so they could calm him down. I felt like laughing in his face. When I went back in after fifteen or twenty minutes he was completely different, like he wanted to be my buddy. Gave me a glass of whiskey and a Cuban cigar. ‘Call me Bart,’ he kept saying. Barking, is how it sounded. Spooky.”

Blow nodded, feigning more interest than he felt. His concern for the Morowitz boy kept intruding on his concentration. He worried that the gun Teach took from Mundaign’s house would disappear, leaving his client’s gun as the only logical murder weapon. An apparent ballistic mismatch could be inconclusive--recovered projectiles deformed on impact or passing through a suppressor. He needed the other gun, but he had to be careful. If Teach had gotten rid of it Blow would be stuck. There were potential conflicts of interest in either instance: if the other gun turned up it could clear Morowitz but would implicate Mundaign. Blow knew he was in effect already acting as Mundaign’s legal counsel without the formality. He wanted that technicality on the table before the interview was over.

Representing two clients with different interests in the same murder case could cost him his license, provided it didn’t first drive him into what his father liked to euphemize as a “rest home”.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A SEPARATE PEACE – John Knowles

I’ve never liked coming-of-age novels. Not sure why. Maybe because I was coming of age myself when I tried those that I tried. I was probably pre-high school when the first one I remember, Catcher in the Rye, appeared on my radar. I might have read it. I know I read some of it. I recall not liking the snarky voice nor empathizing with Holden Caulfield.
I might have felt he was so cool I could not identify with him. A few times in later years I considered reading it to see if I might respond differently. Haven’t done it, yet.
Then came The Adventures of Augie March, assigned in my freshman English class at U. of Wis. Hated it, narrator way too smart for me, reminded me painfully of my Midwest smalltown hickness. Haven’t tried it again, although recently I’ve read Bellow’s more mature work and liked it despite its informing me my hickness, alas, will be evident to anyone who cares to look for it as long as I live. But I believe it also helped me reach a sort of peace with it--oy, what a clever aging boyhick am I!
A Separate Peace. I doubt I would have liked it had I tried to read it nearer the time it was published, 1959. For one, its language was too fine, too nuanced for my callow hickness. Nor would I have had the incentive of the publicity blast Catcher caught eight years earlier with its catchy (groan) title and forbidden-fruit flavor aimed at rebellion-itching adolescents. I’d seen references to it over the years, always with praise if not outright awe, and believe I might have bought a copy awhile back--quite awhile back--intending to pursue the promised enlightenment. I did pursue enlightenment during those days, and continue to pursue it (and hope to chase it to the end of my cognizance), but somehow neglected to seek it in John Knowles’s debut and universally acclaimed coming-of-age novel. The “coming-of-age” aspect might have been off-putting had I known of it. I realize now I had no idea at all what A Separate Peace was about.
I read it last week on the trusted recommendation of my literary adviser, the Fictionaut poet Kitty Boots, and I can say with unequivocal enthusiasm her record with me stands intact. So I bought the Kindle version, and right off felt vindicated for my Catcher distaste by this endorsement from the British newspaper The Independent:

A coming-of-age tale set in a New England boarding school, it bears immediate comparison to its better known contemporary The Catcher in the Rye but is an altogether gentler, more quietly brilliant book. . . . Reading this novel will feel like unearthing a forgotten gem.”

So I scrolled down to the first paragraph:

I went back to the Devon School not long ago, and found it looking oddly newer than when I was a student there fifteen years before. It seemed more sedate than I remembered it, more perpendicular and strait-laced, with narrower windows and shinier woodwork, as though a coat of varnish had been put over everything for better preservation. But, of course, fifteen years before there had been a war going on.

Hooked. Right at the git-go. The low-key, careful mix of memory and observation easing me into a narrative I still had little idea where it would lead. Two paragraphs down some gentle intimation of dread ahead:

Preserved along with it, like stale air in an unopened room, was the well known fear which had surrounded and filled those days, so much of it that I hadn’t even known it was there. Because, unfamiliar with the absence of fear and what that was like, I had not been able to identify its presence.
Looking back now across fifteen years, I could see with great clarity the fear I had lived in, which must mean that in the interval I had succeeded in a very important undertaking: I must have made my escape from it.
I felt fear’s echo, and along with that I felt the unhinged, uncontrollable joy which had been its accompaniment and opposite face, joy which had broken out sometimes in those days like Northern Lights across black sky.

At this point I was a captive of the Kindle app on my laptop, interrupted only by breaks for eating and using the—as Knowles presumably would have written—facilities. There’s a ‘50s gentility in his language, despite it’s near-decade gain on Catcher with its brat vernacular, somewhat shocking as I recall, in its day.
Knowles used language to conjure atmosphere, its nuances of beauty, dread, joy, and subtler, more civil irreverence than Caulfield’s. As to beauty, this scene took my breath with its quiet drama as well the incidental irony of reading it while getting snowed-in here in Hampton Roads, Virginia:


Not long afterward, early even for New Hampshire, snow came. It came theatrically, late one afternoon; I looked up from my desk and saw that suddenly there were big flakes twirling down into the quadrangle, settling on the carefully pruned shrubbery bordering the crosswalks, the three elms still holding many of their leaves, the still-green lawns. They gathered there thicker by the minute, like noiseless invaders conquering because they took possession so gently.

What am I forgetting? Oh! Of course! Plot, character, theme, that sort of thing! As we know, A Separate Peace was set against a background of World War II. Military thinking was influencing the school to arrange its priorities to prepare teenage boys for soldiering, toughen them up—bodies and spirit. The principle character, Finny, in one aspect is the ideal candidate. He’s far and away the toughest of heart, best leader, and best athlete on campus. Problem is, he’s the worst candidate temperamentally, taking great delight in disrespecting authority and breaking rules. Finny’s roommate and best friend is Gene, an introvert and the school’s best student, academically.

An odd couple. Their mutual devotion was one leap of faith I was never quite able to make. Much speculation has arisen over the years of a homoerotic thing between the two. For the record, there is no sex, described or implied, between or among any of the people in the novel. Noted gay author David Levithan (Boy Meets Boy) in a retrospective to the Kindle edition, quotes a comment by Knowles addressing this question in an interview twenty-eight years later: “Freud said any strong relationship between two men contains a homoerotic element. If so in this case, both characters are totally unaware of it. It would have changed everything, it wouldn’t have been the same story. In that time and place, my characters would have behaved totally differently. . . . If there had been homoeroticism between [Finny] and Gene, I would have put it in the book, I assure you. It simply wasn’t there.”


Levithan’s own reaction concurs with Knowles’s explanation, but he adds, “But when it comes to what the story means to me, so much of what Knowles writes gets to the heart of what it would have been like to be gay at that time— and what it can still be like to be gay now.”
Perhaps A Separate Peace tickled my Midwest smalltown prejudices a tad, keeping me from engaging fully in the special friendship of Finny and Gene. I did find the incident leading to the death of one of them the most realistically rooted in male competitiveness, from my experience.
As to theme, as it relates to the novel’s title, I have a quibble. This, from one of the two protagonists, would seem to sum it up: “I never killed anybody and I never developed an intense level of hatred for the enemy. Because my war ended before I ever put on a uniform; I was on active duty all my time at school; I killed my enemy there.”


The following quote from the book seems to challenge, I believe unintentionally, the previous notion, that one can kill the evil in one’s heart simply by understanding it. To me this quote is nearer the truth: “It seemed clear that wars were not made by generations and their special stupidities, but that wars were made instead by something ignorant in the human heart.”
Ignorant or malignant, take your pick. It can be tiny, almost unnoticeable, but no matter how seemingly insignificant or how eloquently one can rationalize its presence, it can sprout evil when the conditions are ripe, without a moment’s warning. It’s known in criminal law as “irresistible impulse.”
This was the unforgettable, horrifying lesson I took from A Separate Peace.


[for more Friday's Forgotten Books check the links on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]




Monday, January 16, 2017

Death's Honesty (24)

Adults crying in his presence ordinarily disturbed Blow deeply. Too much devastation—theirs from life and his by empathy. He often had to fight to keep from crying with them. Jay Mundaign’s tears had this effect at first, but soon Blow felt an ebbing of the nervous tension that had been building in him, and he had to fight to keep from smiling.


The tears had surprised him, although in retrospect they came in a natural sequence. Blow had turned to Moriarty after Mundaign mentioned the risk to both of them were he to take his own life, or, by implication, were he to die by any means. Moriarty’s face looked strange. Blow saw a tightness there that had seemed to appear once she’d made the introduction. She’d gone silent, seemingly relaxed on the bed, but the muscles in her face hardened, becoming more noticeable as the two men talked. Blow was studying her rigid expression when he saw the change: Her eyes widened. There was a quick intake of breath. The rest of her appeared the same, poised but relaxed, fixed on Mundaign, and when Blow followed her gaze he saw the tears, glistening on the man’s flushed cheeks.

Mundaign was holding a sheet of paper he’d apparently taken from the file folder on the little desk, suggesting to Blow this had caused the emotional outbreak. He was about to say something when Mundaign looked up, eyes wet and reddened. It was clear in his voice he’d regained control. “This country is fucked up—my apologies, Jamie, but it’s true. Somebody out there is ordering innocent people killed because he or she, or some committee or, for all I know, the whole damned government wants to find some damned laboratory and refuses to believe I haven’t the remotest idea where it is. Jeezuz, I’d tell them if I knew. If only to stop the senseless killing, and the torture and whatever the hell else is being done. I’d tell them if it would stop all this and because I don’t care if they find the damned place. I don’t care one fucking bit. It’s not my fight. All I care about right now is this!”

He’d delivered all but the last word dispassionately, almost morosely. The last word burst out a hiss. He waved the paper as if presenting evidence to a jury, and then tossed it on the floor. It landed near Blow’s feet. “Don’t bother,” Mundaign said as Blow bent to pick it up. “It has nothing to do with why you are here.”

Blow looked up, feeling the toxic anxiety seeping back into his nerves. “So why am I here?”

To defend me. Soon as the ballistics come back from that boy’s gun they’ll turn to me. I’m on deck, so to speak.”

You have a gun?”

There was one in the house. It’s not mine.”

Whose?”

Whoever planted it there.”

Have you touched it?”

I’m not a fool, Mr. Stone.”

How long has it been there?”

Was. It’s gone now. Deputy Teach took it with him Friday night. I found it about a week ago. It was in a small burlap bag, a Whitley’s Peanuts bag, under my couch. I knew it was planted there because I didn’t own a gun. I told Teach about it a couple days before, before the shootings. He told me not to touch it, that he’d have a detective come out. No one did.”

You know Teach?”

He’s a descendant of Blackbeard. The so-called pirate? I’ve been interviewing him. Teach, that is.” Mundaign laughed, modestly, the first sign of mirth Blow had seen in him since they’d met, but it didn’t help his anxiety. He looked at Moriarty. She caught his glance and winked. That helped, some.