BEARING SECRETS by Richard Barre

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BEARING SECRETS, a Wil Hardesty Mystery by Richard Barre — 2nd in series (November 2011)

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Description

Everyone bears secrets. Some of them become the lies we live. Others become the lies that kill. Wil Hardesty knows about secrets and how they build, one on another, until the truth is buried. Faced with the ever-widening estrangement from his wife, Hardesty answers a young woman’s cry for help. The FBI and police are satisfied that her father, ’60s activist Max Pfeiffer, killed himself; Holly, steeped in the traditions of Max’s radical friends, is certain the government killed him — and that Hardesty’s initial discoveries make him part of the problem, not the solution.

Then a fiery attack brings them together in a desperate run for their lives. The chase takes them not only from Tahoe to Berkeley to Southern California but from today into a dimly remembered — or barely suppressed — yesterday: days of violence and manipulation, kidnapping and bank robbery, tear gas and terror, of bloodshed in Southeast Asia and the streets of America.

Praise for BEARING SECRETS …

“Good narrative, inventive plot, striking characters, and psychological depth make this a keeper. Recommended.” — Library Journal

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PROLOGUE

 

May 1974

He was lost, flat-out lost—somewhere over California in the miserable goddamn dead of night. He banged the compass, watched it spin slowly. Useless piece of crap… Fear was replacing annoyance now; it had been too long since the last lights.

The Piper bottomed out suddenly then steadied; lightning strobed a horizon thick with storm clouds and horsetails of rain. Clayton waited for the squirmy feeling to leave his gut, then swore. Some fucking pilot: Dead reckoning was going to get him killed at this rate. He felt better at the joke. What the hell, there was bound to be something before long. He knew the route like the back of his hand, just like he’d told the guy with the ten grand and the strange eyes. Change of plans? Your dime, pal—consider it delivered, whatever it is.

He reached under the seat and felt the hard metal skin and combination lock under the plastic handle, felt the man’s look again at his suggestion of curiosity. Covering: relax, just joking; it’s as good as there—my word. The man loosening his coat then, casually showing him the gun, serious shit.

“Radio silence, of course,” the man said.

“Silence,” he’d agreed. “Here, look—the damn thing’s not even working.”

He shook the man’s grim face from his mind and took a drag on the hand-rolled cigarette—product testing, he rationalized; besides, it was pretty good shit, hybrid strain he’d pollinated himself. He felt the package beside him. Ten K, counted out while the man fidgeted. He thought about spending it, about Lacey’s face when she saw the money. Ten thou for a few hours work; Christ, then, what was in the hard case? For a second, temptation gripped him.

Wind shear brought him back.

Fucking idiot is what he was. A daylight cowboy, follow-the-highway-there-it-is navigator; not something he admitted to—he still had his pride. But how often did somebody ask for a night drop? Hell, who remembered? For ten thousand, not him.

Dark, a sliver of moon lost in storm shroud: the moon and him. Some dumbshit move this, the fear coming again with the buffet of wind. He felt the drift, compensated for it. Time maybe for a closer look, reckon it out from the topography. Hell, it beat running out of gas—where he was headed if he didn’t find a bearing before long.

Last toke, then flaps, the descent as gradual as he could make it. Something’s out there—come on! He cracked the window and felt the cold touch his sweat.

Any second now… There, ahead. My God, he was low.

Water? He strained to see. What water, for crissake?

Too late he saw it: dead tree right side, a looming scarecrow. He felt the impact, saw the wing separate past the middle rivets and spin away. The plane sloughed sideways, banking, shattered side leading the plummet, metal groaning, control irretrievably gone, though he fought it awhile, strangely calm.

Just before the plane hit—when he knew he was in for it, water coming up fast—the thought formed. Something half-remembered he’d heard once as a kid and puzzled over, then twisted around occasionally to suit the joke he was making. The foolishness brought a half-smile: If no one was there to see or hear him fall—like the tree that made no noise in the forest—would he?

 

 

ONE

 

May 1991

Tahoe peeked through breaks in the green, then above it as he climbed. Puffs of dust rose around his boots, graying them; currant bushes and manzanita thinned out. Breath came quicker now, despite his climber’s shape.

Midway up, Max Pfeiffer paused. Silence save for the jays and a boat, its razz carrying miles in the morning quiet. His time: He couldn’t recall a morning he’d slept in up here, no matter how much he’d put away the night before. The air was like heaven’s hand, slapping you awake, showing you things you’d seen a thousand times and never before: trees, lake, rock, sky—beauty like no other. Even Nam couldn’t compare, uncut emerald that it was.

Max Pfeiffer shifted his pack and scraped through a patch of buckbrush, its blooms hiding thorns that went unfelt, even in shorts. On his legs, thin red lines formed and began to weep lightly as he climbed.

This morning he’d picked a particularly hard route, one that brought him face-to-face with the lichen-crusted rock. Eagle Rock, his rock. Let the tourists follow the power-line trail in comfort. As in most things, they missed the point.

Two-thirds of the way, the trail left him to footholds and weathered spurs in the mottled lava. Not many knew the rock was old volcano core, he thought, breathing fast. Placid old Tahoe, wind-in-the-pines Tahoe. Not back then.

Hard minutes passed, and then he was on top, steadying a moment, taking it all in: Hurricane Bay, Sugar Pine Point, Mount Tallac farther south showing late snow. He could see the boat now, pulling its wet-suited skier, a far-below dot trailing silver wake. He checked his watch.

Six-eighteen, right on schedule.

Max Pfeiffer walked to a south-facing promontory and sat on a ledge above the sheer drop. He slid the pack off, fumbled inside it, unsnapped the container top and ate. He’d added honey to the yogurt before leaving, swirling it in carefully like the chocolate marbled through a cake. Tart-sweet, it was, just about perfect if he thought about it.

But his thoughts now were tight frames of Holly, random recollections back and forth across time that seemed terribly compressed. Birthdays, braces, outings, little incidents: how good she’d been about everything—little girl to woman in what seemed like two blinks. His knowing this moment would someday come, the time merely borrowed.

After a while, Max replaced the container and spoon, watched the sun emerge from yellowish glow over the east-side mountains: first rays like God streaming through a hole in the sky, touching his face, his hands, the hooded dark parts under permanent shroud. Soon it was so bright he no longer could look directly at it, and for a moment he closed his eyes, let it all go.

Ashes in the wind.

He blinked open, spent the next twenty minutes watching the new day unfold and drinking coffee, sweetened with the same honey, from a small vacuum bottle. Far below, green spires bowed in the breeze that ruffled his hair and cut through his sweatshirt.

Max shivered as he drew out the newspaper and scanned it again. There was no mistake, no chance for reprieve:

 

DROUGHT SOLVES SEVENTEEN-YEAR MYSTERY

Lake Isabella Yields Plane, Missing Aviator, Clues to Disappearance.

Bakersfield. County sheriff’s deputies today were examining the contents of a watertight case thought to contain clues to the disappearance of Clayton Lee Jones, who vanished with his plane the night of May l5, l974. The discovery was aided by California’s drought, which brought Lake Isabella levels to record lows and revealed the wreckage to a local fisherman who reported it. A sheriff’s spokesman, while declining to specify the contents of the case, said the department was working closely with federal officials to determine its origin. The plane, a single-engine Piper aircraft without markings, was traced from engine serial numbers. Jones’s remains were identified from dental records. As to why Jones…

 

Max released his grip on the pages; they were immediately stolen by a sweep of wind. He watched one spread settle a quarter mile to the south, toward his house. The other drifted more vertically, spiraling into a spruce near the car pulling in beside his own parked in the turnout.

He watched the occupants get out and look upward, followed them until they disappeared into the trees, shaking his head at the way they were dressed for the climb. He pictured them sweating already, tearing hell out of their cheap suits. The thought brought a thin smile.

Max Pfeiffer waited until he figured they were about halfway up. He stood slowly and stretched. Then, without looking down, he took a deep breath and stepped off Eagle Rock.

 

 

TWO

 

Wil Hardesty turned off the electric sander and rubbed resin dust from a spot where his mask didn’t fit quite right. He touched the just-roughened fill coat.

Should about do it.

Steadying the longboard on the shaping rack, he examined the ding crater—no worse than the dozen or so she’d picked up over nearly thirty years of surfing. Southern Cross he’d named her, after blue and red stripes that intersected aft of center; a Hobie clone he’d made when he was, what—seventeen? He shook his head, positioned the fiberglass patch. He was spreading resin over it in the area he’d taped off when he heard the phone, then Lisa at the window.

“Wil, it’s for you, a Holly Pfeiffer. You know her?”

“No,” he said, pulling down the mask. “And I can’t leave this right now.”

“Well, she knows you.” A pause. “She mentioned the Innocents.”

Over a year now and he was still getting calls, most of them morbids. He cursed this one silently, knowing how Lisa would be. It was always the same. “Some reporter, likely. Get her number, will you?”

“I made the mistake of telling her you were home. She said she’d wait.”

“My luck.” Hardesty turned back to the laminating resin; already the stuff was getting tacky. He carefully squeegeed the goop around, then inspected his work: an hour’s sanding and a final coat of gloss would finish it. Back in business. He crossed the carport and headed up the stairs, opened the door.

Lisa looked up, then went back to slicing bell pepper as he picked up the receiver. “This is Hardesty. You know me?”

He caught the caller off guard. “No—yes. I saw a story about you. About the child murders. You, um…killed…”

The voice was youngish, twenties maybe. He waited.

“You’re still a private investigator?”

“Off and on. How can I help you, Miss Pfeiffer?” Her uncertainty indicated she was probably not a reporter; they went right for the jugular. Like you owed them a pint.

“It’s Ms., and I’m not sure I can afford you,” she said. “What do you charge?”

Good question, he thought, save us all some time. “That depends, Ms. Pfeiffer. Fifty an hour, three-hundred day rate for most things. What did you have in mind?”

“Three hundred?” It was said with heat. “You should be ashamed, Mr. Hardesty.”

“That right? Ashamed of what exactly?”

“Greed is out, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“I take it you disapprove.”

“I thought you helped people,” she said. “Instead you’re just another damn capitalist.” The phone was hung up abruptly.

Wil rubbed his eyes, replaced the receiver. He looked at Lisa working: indigo tee worn loose over white jeans and pink-swooshed Nikes. Usually she was curious. He walked over and rubbed her neck.

She stiffened. “I’m fine.”

He dropped his hand. “No,” he said. “Not fine. You want to talk?”

She shook her head slowly. “About what? It’s still there for me, Wil. You know that.”

“Yeah.” He said it gently, conscious of the irony in all this: their nearly splitting up over his not wanting another child; her engineering a pregnancy; his finding out only when she miscarried after the beating she took from Guerra. Of Wil suddenly feeling the need, as she had then, only to be told after months of trying that the damage to her system was most likely permanent.

This time there was only so much he could do. Her scars, like her condition and the reasons for it, like her rising anger, could not be masked by time. Like infected wounds that weaken and kill long after the skirmish, they were the Innocents’ final casualties.

The Innocents: He’d taken bad risks, lied to her, buried two friends, put her in the danger that resulted in the miscarriage and left them with this hollowed-out shell of a marriage—pain driven home by the occasional call, the well-intentioned remark. New pain for her, old for him; twenty-four years of marriage on the line.

The sound of the phone dispelled their awkward silence. He moved to get it as Lisa went downstairs for something.

“Wil Hardesty.”

A sigh. “Nobody else will even talk to me.” Holly Pfeiffer’s voice.

“Wonder why,” he said finally. “You want to start over?”

“It’s just that my father always warned me about being exploited.”

Something clicked. Pfeiffer: somewhere recent. “Max Pfeiffer?”

“That’s right. You saw the story, then.”

“Yes.”

They killed him, Mr. Hardesty, the fascist FBI. He was the most wonderful, loving man, my father, and they killed him, hounded him all his life because he fought for justice, and now he’s dead. My father—” She fought for control.

“Ms. Pfeiffer, if I remember correctly, the paper called it suicide.”

“Suicide—” Holly Pfeiffer sniffled sharply and exhaled. “They threw him off Eagle Rock. Murdered him. And if they didn’t, they might as well have.”

Wil settled against the chair facing the window. Traffic streamed left-right on highway 101; just beyond it waves rolled up on La Conchita’s broad beach. Two miles north, the Rincon entertained a few diehards and grommets, though surf conditions were poor, he knew, two-footers at best.

He gentled his tone. “Ms. Pfeiffer, can I help you with something?”

“Now they’re trying to blame that horrible kidnapping thing on him. It’s so unfair—” Her voice broke, then steadied. “I want you to help me stop them, but I have very little money, and I refuse to go to her.”

“Her?”

“My grandmother—his mother, I mean. One of them.”

“What about your mother?”

“She died a long time ago. It was just my father and me.”

“Where are you calling from?”

“Lake Tahoe, the west shore. Where our home is.”

Wil thought, seeing a possibility in it for them. “Listen, it might work for my wife and me to take a few days and go up there. Since we’ll be at the lake, I could come by. No charge for the visit and we can discuss money when I see you. Sound doable?”

The change in her tone was like sunlight parting clouds. “Yes—that would be—please. Let me give you directions.”

He reached for pencil and pad, wrote as she spoke. She concluded with “Mr. Hardesty, I’m… Can you come soon?”

“I’ll check flights and get back to you. What kidnapping?”

“That awful thing with Angela DeBray. I don’t remember the year.”

Angela DeBray. Click: seventy-something, Wil just back from Nam. Taped demands, media circus, ransom fiasco, ultimately the little girl found dead. Click-click: gunfire, flames spewing, urban terrorists incinerating. Front row center via TV. Final body count: seven, eight, ten? He couldn’t recall.

“I’ll do some reading,” he said. “D-e-B-r-a-y, right?”

“Right,” she said. “I’ll be expecting you.” The dial tone returned.

As he hung up, he heard Lisa on the stairs, watched her come in, put a jar of chutney on the counter. Her eyes still glistened.

He came over and leaned against the countertop. “An idea…”

She looked up.

“Couple of days at Tahoe. You, me, the lake. No phones, just us.”

For a moment there was a gleam, then it faded. “I’m booked solid, Wil, you know that.”

“Let Bev handle it.” Dismissive and impatient sounding, it came out not as he’d intended. Her accounting practice was her: LISA CPA on the plates of her brand new Infiniti. Though things had been somewhat better for him, she still brought in the bulk of their income.

“I only mean she’s good, Leese. Capable.”

“She’s also working on extensions. It’s not fair to pile my stuff on.”

“Good chance to heal up a little.”

“Damnit, don’t put that on me. And which part was going to be my healing, the time when you’d be around or the time when you weren’t?”

He shook his head. “The girl needs help. I just thought we’d—”

“—combine business with pleasure,” she finished for him. “Thanks, but you do your work and I’ll do mine.” She twisted the jar violently, spilling chutney. “Goddamnit.”

Wil moved off toward the bedroom, paused at the door. “I’ll call her back, tell her I’m not coming. We’ll do something here.”

Lisa looked down at her hands then up at the ceiling. “No, don’t do that. A break might be good for us both.”

“Come on, Leese.”

“Just go,” she said quietly, still not looking at him. “Please.”

 

***

 

Hardesty kicked a rock, watched it skid down the tunnel and out the beach end. Then he was clambering over rocks that supported the roadway and heading down hard-packed sand toward Mussel Shoals. Late-afternoon sun threw his shadow toward the revetment; gulls pecked through washed-up kelp. Four pelicans squadroned out toward the offshore oil rigs, horizon-outlined.

He fiddled with the coins in his pocket. Hell, maybe what they needed was just to chuck it, start over with new people, new lives. How many friends were helping themselves to thirds—forty-something fantasies?

He thought again of how Tojio Shigeno had reacted—Tojio’s beautiful almond-eyed daughter taking up with a blond, six-two, surfer college boy with no prospects save Vietnam duty. A Samurai with hemorrhoids; if Tojio’d had a sword, he’d have fallen on it. As it was, he retired to his orchids and left his only flower to a justice of the peace and Wil Hardesty. To this day they barely spoke.

He turned at the Shoals and started back, squinting into the sun. God, Lisa had been gorgeous then; not that she’d lost much. Maybe they’d just grown in different directions since the miscarriage, the finality of it like some vault door closing—common enough, according to the therapist they’d seen. Harder to accept when the statistic was you.

He thought about ways to talk her into Tahoe, giving up finally—better to not push it. He shielded his eyes toward the Rincon: surfers gone now, sun descending on the incoming sets, impossible not to think of what happened there. The bright bloom of blood, Gringo lolling in the swells, Wil carrying him up the beach, his friend’s blood streaking off the longboard. The sirens.

Over a year it had been. Five since Devin.

The tip of a wave hissed over Wil’s bare feet then receded. He watched it go, chucked a rock at it. Then he started back up toward the house.

 

 

THREE

 

Wil timed a gap in the traffic and hit the accelerator, throaty roar the payoff. Nearly restored now, the ’66 Bonneville, awaiting the scratch for a new paint job, looked like a patchwork quilt from the color-mismatched body panels he’d scrounged to replace the ones with bullet holes. Still, it flew, no dropoff there. Still swallowed the longboard through the panel he’d cut in the rear seat.

The Southern Cross hadn’t been out much since Gringo; twice, maybe—way down for him. Occasionally he’d run into some other surfing graybeards and they’d ask, wondering about one of their own. Some even remembered him from the sixties, from Newport Beach days: dawn patrols and thermosed coffee, doughnuts you never got completely free of sand, the sunny pre-Vietnam insouciance—days that had stayed with him for thirty years. In time he’d be back; he always was. Even after losing Devin to it.

Beyond finding a house he and Lisa could afford then, surfing was how they wound up in La Conchita—not much for size, but hard by the best winter swells in California. Every now and again they were tempted to move closer to city conveniences. Then they’d go for a walk on the beach.

Heading north, he passed the Rincon, noticed the surf unimproved over yesterday, the usual optimists riding out the glass-off. Lisa was gone when he got up; an early client meeting the note read—sorry about Tahoe. He was, too. After a shower and coffee, he booked a flight for the following day, secured a car and a west-shore room through the travel agent, thinking maybe Lisa was right. A little distance just now wasn’t such a bad idea.

Wil exited the freeway; several more minutes and he was pulling into one of Santa Barbara’s elevated parking structures. From the top floor, he took in red tile roofs, the harbor, Channel Islands caressed by a finger of haze reaching up the ninety miles from L.A. He descended, entered the library, stopping first at the newspaper index file; downstairs then, to microfilm. After some noisy scrolling, he found what he was looking for.

It came back quickly enough.

Two months the drama had played out, beginning March 23, l974, with the kidnapping of Angela Justine DeBray, thirteen days after her third birthday. She’d been abducted from the Atherton home of her parents, Elden and Collette DeBray, he of the publishing and media empire. An employee, Thomas Littlefield, was shot to death by the intruders; other shots terrorized the help, who remembered nothing beyond the masks and guns, the militarylike precision of the grab.

Wil scanned a grainy photo of the little girl: big eyes fixed on something out of frame, smile showing even baby teeth, wisps of hair touching her Peter Pan collar, a face that tugged at the heart. The parents too: Elden DeBray pleading into a bank of microphones, Collette DeBray, younger but aging, a handkerchief to her lips. Anguish the collective facial feature.

Three days later, Field Marshal Z of the Army of Revolutionary Vigilance claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, denouncing DeBray’s crimes in a tape delivered to a San Francisco radio station along with one of the child’s shoes. The ARV: known wanteds for a series of Bay Area bank robberies, ostensibly to finance the coming revolution. Field Marshal Z: self-styled urban terrorist, aka Cleon Lamar Chapman, violent recidivist and paroled felon.

The governor, in advance, rejected any kind of capitulation to terrorism. The FBI took over the Angela DeBray case.

Two more tapes, rambling diatribes about the impending massacre of rich by poor and the unification of revolutionists under ARV leadership, were broadcast on April 8 and 20. Wil read the transcripts, recalling the stilted bullshit from before. As yet no ransom set by the kidnappers.

He recalled his revulsion as the case unfolded: Wednesday, May 1, the ARV demanding $2 million, further instructions to be sent later. The DeBrays and their repressive allies were to move quickly if they were to see Angela alive. For effect, her screams had been tacked on to the end of the tape.

Seventeen years and he still could hear them—scrolling, focusing, scrolling; knowing the outcome yet fixed by a growing sense of horror. Tuesday, May 14: The ARV instructed a watertight case with the money in it be left under an overpass in a wide spot off the southbound James Lick fast lane, 10 A.M. the next day. Any attempt to interfere, Angela would be fed to the traffic. 10:16, May 15: a Chevy sedan, windows smoked, slowed and picked up the case. At 10:35 the car suddenly veered off into the ramps and caverns of San Francisco International Airport. Fearing an incident, the authorities closed in, sealed the airport.

Too little, too late.

Three minutes it took to locate the car; arriving units ordered a terrorist to halt. The terrorist, masked and shoving black coveralls into the car’s trunk, resisted and was shot four times by the agents. Barely alive: Deborah Ann Werneke, parolee in a campus bombing rap. Firearms analysis matched her weapon to one fired during an ARV bank holdup, a B of A in the Marina.

Angela Justine DeBray was not in the car. Nor was the money.

About an hour later, Field Marshal Z’s angry call—too brief to trace—directed authorities to a shallow grave off Skyline Drive. She’d been killed by a crushing blow to the head, the weapon a Dom Perignon bottle later ID’d from the DeBray’s trash. The note said: Die, then, by the blade of your own sword. Field Marshal Z, Army of Revolutionary Vigilance, Day 1, World War III.

She’d been dead almost from the beginning.

Thoughts of Devin flashed, the familiar ache. Where the miscarried fetus had also been a boy, it was still more abstract to Wil than flesh and blood. Devin, forever ten going on eleven, was no abstraction. Wil thumbed aspirin from his pocket pack and went to wash them down.

Back at it, feeling for the DeBrays as he hadn’t in 1974, he scrolled further. Based on a tip, law enforcement units had closed in on a prefab in L.A., the Pacoima area of the San Fernando Valley. A hundred lawmen were in no mood: After automatic rifle fire responded to their surrender demands, they’d cut loose.

Newspaper pictures triggered Wil’s memory of the coverage—ugly house squatting in a lawnless yard, bullhorned voice demanding surrender, tear gas canisters shattering window glass. Gunfire taken and returned, the bullets like firecrackers popping, scattering the crowd. Smoke appearing—puffs at first, then a horrific black column rising from the inferno toward helicopters circling like scavenger birds.

Nine dead, it turned out: three of gunshot wounds, six of smoke and burns, anyone watching awed by their decision to die that way—Field Marshal Z and his martyrs to the revolution. Deborah Ann Werneke, miraculously, lived to be the only ARV survivor.

Next editions were predictable: photos of Lincoln Stillman with the forearm crutches, half-glasses shoved back on his forehead, face frozen in mid objection. Deploring the use of excessive force, demanding an investigation. Stillman the Mamba Negra legal counsel, defense attorney for the Atlanta Seven, Raymond and Ella Robbins, the Liberty Ship bombers, Berkeley Eleven. Name it, Wil thought, wondering what became of the wild-maned defense attorney with the polio-weakened legs.

Something flashed: back to the indexes, to the Berkeley Eleven trial, 1969 microfilm—and bingo.

Max Pfeiffer as one of the Eleven: Tonkin Gulf Patriots they’d called themselves, an SDS spinoff group, arrested in a violent counteroffensive to retake the UC chemistry building, seized initially by the TGP to make some point about Vietnam. After a week, campus police stormed in. Result: one officer killed, hammered with his own nightstick.

The Patriots were tried for murder.

Lincoln Stillman entered self-defense.

Wil recalled Stillman’s critics later asserting that Max Pfeiffer had more to do with the acquittal than any of Stillman’s maneuverings. Reading Pfeiffer’s testimony, it was hard to argue. The protest of an immoral, unjust war was what was really on trial, he’d said. To a person, the Eleven regretted the cop’s death. But it was the inevitable result of the assault—political repression of their right to protest—not murder. Pfeiffer, his arm broken in four places during the melee, then asked the jurors which of them would hesitate to intervene to prevent genocide.

Cheers from the packed gallery, the judge clearing the court, the jury finally deadlocking. The prosecution declined to retry, in part because no one actually witnessed the policeman’s death. The other part was Max Pfeiffer. The final article included a photo of Lincoln Stillman, braced up and wearing his trademark bow tie and sandals with ragg socks, his arm around Max’s shoulder.

Wil looked more closely at something in Max Pfeiffer’s eyes, a vulnerable quality, enhanced by nearly toneless pupils. The face was handsome enough, though unsmiling. Lincoln Stillman’s was jubilant.

Wil cross-referenced, found another entry. Three years later, Christmas Eve, l972:

 

Berkeley. Paulette Miles Pfeiffer, wife of prominent anti-war activist Maxwell Pfeiffer, Jr., was killed by a car bomb while driving home from a candlelight vigil at the Naval Weapons Station, Concord. Mrs. Pfeiffer, a longtime advocate of anti-war causes, had been arrested numerous times. Her death represents an escalation in the number of violent incidents concerning Vietnam within the last twelve months.

 

Wil searched for the rest of the article.

With Mrs. Pfeiffer at the time of the 12:30 A.M. incident was her daughter, Holly, age one. Miraculously, the child was found unhurt in bushes near the burning automobile. Mr. Pfeiffer, legal representative for many local protest groups, accused the FBI of murder. Pending his wife’s funeral services, he was unavailable for further comment.

Holly Pfeiffer—fascist FBI; he checked further, but it was the last time Max Pfeiffer made news until his obit.

Wil called Holly Pfeiffer from the library. Getting her machine, he left the approximate time she could expect him tomorrow. For a while he turned his imagination loose on what her life had been like in the interim, what she was feeling now, the tough-hurt quality he’d heard in her voice. Then he picked up his tickets from the travel agent, retrieved the Bonneville, and hit the freeway south.

 

***

 

Lisa’s note said she’d be late—midnight oil for an impending IRS audit. After some debate, he decided on taking a weapon, packing his shoulder holster in the suitcase, rebuilt .45 automatic in the airline shipping container. Calming a paranoid girl seemed no cause for armament, but since the Innocents, he’d taken to having the gun along when he traveled.

Following microwaved leftovers, he went for a walk on the beach. Moon sent shimmers up the wet sand; an offshore breeze carried inland warmth and the fragrance of something blooming. He remembered Berkeley Eleven, the trial happening as he recovered in an Oakland hospital from three rounds taken during the attack on his eighty-two-foot patrol boat. Hurting, he’d followed it every day in the papers. Exercising their rights, they’d been; a shattered building and a dead UC cop so much traded coin to protest an evil war fought by evil exploiters for evil purposes.

Stillman; Pfeiffer; Berkeley Eleven.

He’d wished them straight to hell.

Even better: proximity to the Viet Cong ambushers who’d used a mother and her three kids to bait the Point Marlow, everything but their own cause expendable. They had a lot in common with the Eleven, he’d thought then. Not much since had changed his mind.

Still, he was intrigued by Holly Pfeiffer’s call, her link to all that. As if an echo had finally returned from some distant canyon.

He sat awhile, absorbed in the ocean’s pulse, the rumble-hum of traffic on the highway. Then he walked back to the house, climbed the stairs, let himself in and went to bed. For a while he drifted, random thoughts coming in bright snatches like fast-burning flares. And later, time-disconnected in the hospital room, holding Devin’s ice-cold hand while the sound of his son’s flatline cut through him.

At some point, he was vaguely aware of Lisa getting in beside him. Waking up late to pale light and overcast, he wasn’t sure he’d dreamed it or not. At any rate, she was gone again.

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